Thursday, April 20, 2017

 

How to destroy your credibility as a Bible teacher...

The worst thing that can happen to a preacher, Bible class teacher, or Christian parent is to lose your credibility.  And even worse is if you claim to teach from the Bible but no one believes you.  Even when you try to just open your Bible, or to speak directly from Scripture, you are not heard.

Here are a few ways you can destroy your credibility as a Bible teacher.

Act as though you do exactly as you teach.  No you don't.  You know it and we know it.  If you are lying about your life, what else are you lying about.

Live differently than you teach.  Of course you are not perfect.  But we need to know you are trying to live up to your teaching.  You repent, you do the work, you bring your life into harmony with your words.

You teach that the Bible means what it does not say.    

You teach that the Bible does not mean what it does say.

Which leads us to think you believe that we cannot understand what Scripture means so we will just have to trust you to tell us. It is as if you do not even want anyone to read or think for themselves.

Credibility.

Do your best to live what you teach.

Do your best to be honest about what God's word does -- and does not -- say.

 

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

 

Three tests for every elder...

Being an elder is not always easy.  You make decisions that deeply and personally affect your community of faith.  I believe as an elder I am accountable for the spiritual welfare of my flock.  I have to deliver them safely home.  There are times when truth must be spoken into the lives of people who do not want to hear it.  There are times when you will not be popular and not be liked.  I have been yelled at, cussed out, and threatened as an elder.  And there are times when you will have to make policy decisions about core beliefs, or worship, or personnel.  Any of those decisions will not always please everyone in you church.  You wrestle with Scripture, you call on a long history of spiritual experiences, and you partner with other elders in leading your flock.  

And sometimes you will wonder if you are right.  You will have to urge to quit.

So how do you know you are doing the right thing?  How do you know what to do?

For me personally, I have found there to be three things that help me focus and decide things.  These tests have gotten me through difficult times with individual sheep and with my community of faith.  These are the reminders that help keep me going.  These are even the tests that I believe will help me know when it is time to quit.

And these are the only things that really matter to me when evaluating my shepherding.

I have to look myself in the mirror.

I have to look my wife in the eyes.

And someday, I will have to see my God face to face.

That's it for me.  My three elder tests for any action I take.

Can I look at myself in the mirror, can I look Marsha in the eyes, and can I look my God in the face?

My ultimate elder tests.




Thursday, April 13, 2017

 

Thinking about Lou Elmore, heaven, and role models

Most of you have never heard of Lou Elmore.  I have known her all my life because she married my older cousin Eppie Elmore.   For most of my growing up years our families lived near each other.  And when I preached in Winnsboro, TX Eppie was one the deacons.  Our kids were little then and Eppie and Lou helped us raise them for about five years.

A few years ago, Eppie lost a leg and Lou became his full-time caregiver.  Then she got cancer.  Fought cancer, took care of Eppie, and loved her three boys and their families. I still remember when Lou told us she was stopping chemo.  It wasn't making her well and she was too sick from the treatment to enjoy the days she had left.

And now she has gone home and I will be preaching her Memorial service tomorrow.  Fitting that on Easter weekend I get to talk about Lou.

She loved God with all she had.  Taught Bible class for years.  Cooked thousands of meals for people.  Raised her boys.  She was a good lady.  Raised in a Christian home and decided to follow Jesus when she was young.  Never stopped following.

Loved her neighbors as if they were her own family.  Loved her church family.  Everyone felt like they were family with Lou and Ep.  She cooked, cleaned, and cared for a lot of people.

She shared her faith.  There will be people in heaven because Lou cared, invited people to church, and talked about her faith.  And that group includes Eppie.  She led him to Jesus (with help from my Mom and Dad).

And now she is home.  With her God and her Savior.  With her folks.  With her twin sister Sue.

She wasn't famous.  She never was in the spotlight and did not want to be.  But Lou was a doer not a talker.  She lived her faith.  She was love in action.

We need more like Lou Elmore.  She made a difference in my life and in the lives of my family.  She made a difference in this world.  She helped people find the way to Jesus and she helped people stay on that road.

I am glad I will see her again.

So God thanks for Lou.  You used her to help a lot of people.  You used her to make a difference.  So give us more people like her.  People who do for You.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

 

So my wife had a birthday last week...



Marsha is 64.  Doesn't act it.  Doesn't look it.  And here are just a few reasons I love her and am proud she is mine.

She lives her faith.  She is a genuinely good person.  Tries to treat people like Jesus would.  She opens our home and our pocketbook to help people.  She prays lots.  But most of all she acts.  Faith is a verb for her and not just a noun.

Loves her family.  Intensely proud of her kids and grandkids. She is an amazing daughter.  I watched her with her Mom when Granny was dying.  It was holy.  Watching her with her Dad now.  Amazing.  And she helps my Mom.  She pours her time and energy into helping her folks and into Julie and her kids.  Loves Joe Don, Jamie, and their bunch.  Makes time to go see them.  Takes grandkid baskets for every holiday.  Every holiday.

Makes everyone feel special.  Our family.  Our friends.

Great elder's wife.  She cries with, hugs on, and helps a lot of hurting people.

Let's me do my thing in ministry.  I am gone preaching a lot.  She keeps everything going while I am gone and keeps me centered.

She cares about the marginal and disenfranchised.  I don't mean just talks about them, but actually does for them.  As a friend would.

She is a world changer.  Keeping believers connected to Jesus.  Helping bring others to know him.

Busy all the time.  For others.  Doesn't spend time on herself.

So I celebrate her 64 years in this life and her eternity in the life to come.

God thanks for Mimi.  She is your child, an amazing daughter, wife, Mom, and Mimi.  She is a real friend.  Bless her with continued energy and health.  She learned from you how to pour love into others.  So thanks for what you have done -- and will do -- thru her.

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

 

Why I Tell Church Leaders How to Behave...

There has been quite a bit of discussion about spiritual disciplines and behavioral standards between Christian men and women because of the recent publicity given the Vice President over his guidelines.  Preachers often have heard of the Billy Graham rules.

Of course many non-believers are making fun of these rules for how to interact with the opposite sex.  But many believers also seem disturbed by them.  Some think they are legalistic.  Others think they reduce women to sex objects or men to little more than animals governed by their lust.  some even seem to think these rules keep women from being fully involved in ministry and church life.

Some even insist that spiritual disciples do not need these rules.

It does seem to me that in the rush to point out perceived problems with these rules, that some may not understand all the reasons so many of us use them.  And by the way, I strongly urge everyone to have a set of guidelines they follow and I am very concerned about church leaders (and even members) who insist they do not need them.

So I have followed my own set of strict rules now for several years.  I call them Ridgell Rules and I have taught them to many preachers and elders.  Most think they are wise and implement them.  Others seem offended and insist they will not be bound by them.  

I am not going to explain my rules in this post.  Maybe I'll do that later.  But just know they are basic things like not being alone with a woman other than family, letting my wife have access to all social media passwords, etc.  Similar to Pence and Graham.  

So here are the reasons I live by the Ridgell Rules and encourage others to do the same.

It protects me from temptation.  Some of us know our demons and want to ensure that we are protected.  But I know of so many instances where temptation ambushed one or both of the people involved.  Sometimes it becomes an emotional affair, which provides an opening for Satan to work.  Better to be on guard.  And I have never know anyone who got in trouble by following the rules.

It protects your flock.  In this day and age, how can someone feel safe at church?  One way is to protect them from situations that have potential for sin.  The leadership at churches that follow some set of rules like these are letting their flock know that they are absolutely safe.  The only way for someone to be in danger is for someone to intentionally violate the rules.  And if you publicize the guidelines/rules, then people know something is not quite right when someone wants to change them.

It protects you from false accusations.  It is hard to lie about what someone said or did when there was someone else there.  Nothing is worse than a "he said... she said" controversy.  And do not think people will not lie about you.

We have all known great leaders ambushed by temptation.  We have all known Christians hurt by leaders.  We have all known people falsely accused.

Living by a set of protective rules/guidelines seems wise to me.

So I do, I teach others to, and I am concerned about those that don't.

Protects you from temptation.  Protects your flock from leadership sin.  Protects you from false accusations.

Makes sense to me.

 


Thursday, March 30, 2017

 

Why so many churches have relationship issues with their preacher

Churches really do have a love/hate relationship with their preachers.  Or at least a frustrating, complicated relationship with them.  And most preachers can sense that.  It is a terrible thing.  It is a natural thing.  And the way that most of our churches and preachers operate, I think it may be inevitable.

And let me say I am a fan of preachers.  I am one.  I have been supported in local ministry, I have been a vocational preacher, and now I am a traveling preacher.  So I see the complicated relationship between churches and their preachers.

Here are a few reasons why that relationship is difficult.

Preachers come and preachers go.  If we love you, you will break our heart when you leave.  And you will leave.  A bigger church will come calling.  Someone will make an offer you cannot refuse.  You may want to move closer to family.  We hire you and say we hope you stay forever -- even knowing you will move on in the next 2, 5, or 7 years.  You tell us you want to stay forever, all the while listening to other offers (otherwise cleverly described as God's call).  Hey, we get it.  We all move all the time for our professions, and for the same reasons you do.  You are not the first preacher we have had and you will not be the last.  So remember that when you talk about the kind of church you want us to be, we know you probably will not be there for the long haul.  

You are paid.  We get that you want to be treated like everyone else in the congregation.  But the truth is, you are not like everyone else.  Nor do you want to be.  We give money to you.  You are an employee.  That is what you call people who get paid.  It is horribly conflicting for you to wrestle with call and profession.  And it is confusing for us.  We should be ashamed of how little we sometimes pay you.  And some of you make more than most of your church.  So it is hard to remember that when you are asking for investments of our time and energy on a project. We are volunteers.  You get paid.  Not just supported, but paid a salary.  And by the way, I approve of that.  Just don't act like that does not make you different from us.

You are not as good as the last preacher.  This is true for CEO's, coaches, salesmen, and any number of other professions.  The last preacher gets better with time.  All you can do is be yourself.  And that will have to be enough.  Some people will never get losing the last preacher.  Even if they really didn't like him.

The last preacher was terrible.  Or he did major damage.  So of course we will not trust you until you prove yourself.  Even worse, sometimes you do not even know the situation you are walking into until you get there.  

So it is a hard job.  So are many of our jobs.  But I am sorry we seem to hold you to a higher standard just because you preach.  I have know preachers who are among the most faithful Christians I have ever known.

And I have known preachers who did horrible things but repented and changed.

And I know preachers who did horrible things and did not repent.  I have been lied to by preachers.  Who then lied about lying.  I have seen preachers steal from the church or church members.  I have listened to ministers say cruel things about elders and had to resist the urge to get up and set the record straight.

I guess what this all means is that preachers are just like us.  They have a job just like us.  They sometimes sin just like us.  And sometimes they do amazing Kingdom work just like us.

Maybe we just need to remember that.  We will try to remember it if you will.  It may help us both.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

 

Why Churches Die

No church wants to die.  And I am no church growth expert.  Nor am I an expert on dying churches.  But in traveling all over the world working with churches, I have learned that there are some common things I see in churches that seem to be drying up and dying.

So here are things I notice in churches that are dying.

It is hard to grow a family without any new births.  Churches that are not evangelistic are going to die.  So think about how many non-believers your church is converting.  If most of your baptisms are your own kids, you are a dying church.

Inbred churches are not healthy and are going to die.  This is obviously a result of not being evangelistic but survey your church to find out how many members are third, fourth, and fifth generation Christians.  First generation Christians want to share what they have found.  They bring life and excitement.  Even second generation Christians can see the difference Jesus has made in their family.  But by the third or fourth generation, there seems to be a dramatic shift to an inward focus.

Because dying churches are all about themselves.  They are concerned with having their needs met.  And if your church does not meet their perceived needs, down the road they go.

Dying churches think they are growing if they get enough troop transfers.  Christians leaving other congregations to come to yours because you offer something the last church did not.  But eventually you do not offer enough to keep up with the church down the road, so...

Dying churches spend more time on what they are against than what they are for ... even preaching against other churches.  You know, take the spotlight off of us.

Dying churches make excuses for shrinking.  Culture, the economy, the preacher, the youth program.  It starts with individual families but sometimes becomes a hallmark of your church.  Blame, blame blame.  Well, blame everyone but us.

Dying churches are much more worried about keeping who they have than reaching out.  Don't do that or this group will leave.  Do this or that group will not stay.

Dying churches worry more about being popular than faithful.  And everyone of them denies it.  They want to be popular with culture, or popular within their religious tribe.  Or with certain segments of their tribe.  They become obsessed with what others think.

Dying churches are constantly reinventing who they are.  Be careful of leaders that know more about the latest congregational survey, or the latest trends in Christianity, than they know about Scripture.

Dying churches talk way more than they act.  

And every dying church I have ever known has people that refuse to see the signs.  They are not inward focused, they are not entertainment driven, and they are not catering to culture.  And they will cling to that conviction until they shut the doors.

But here is the good news.  All it takes is for some members -- doesn't even have to be your preachers or leaders -- to decide they are going to live radically for Jesus.  When you start doing that, others notice and some of them will also start living in radical, courageous ways.  Start serving those in need around you.  Emotional needs, physical needs.  You do not need permission.  You do not need a program.  Just start.  Others will be inspired to do the same.

And start telling people about Jesus.

It changes everything.

And all of a sudden you are growing.  The Kingdom expands as new births occur.  And they reach others who reach others who reach others.

So God help us to grow your Kingdom.  We want to partner in bringing this world back to you.  Help us to be courageous enough to take the focus off of us and to trust you.  We want to make disciples of your Son.  

 

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