Wednesday, May 28, 2008


Memorial day and church...

I have survived another Memorial Day weekend at church. We have a tradition at Southern Hills of honoring our military vets the Sunday before Memorial day. We have them stand and people applaud as we thank them for their service to our country. We acknowledge the debt we owe as a country to those who died to give us our freedom (national and political freedom, that is). This last Sunday Phil recognized the policemen and fire fighters along with veterans. Usually there is a standing ovation, but not this year.

What makes this interesting is that Southern Hills has a number of non-Americans in our church family. I can think of members from at least six different countries. I always wonder how they feel about American patriotism in an assembly of the church.

We have people who are very patriotic, have served in the military, or who have lost loved ones in war. Even some of them are uncomfortable with the emphasis given to this in a worship assembly. To speak of the "ultimate sacrifice" of soldiers in service of their country is embarrassing when we are about to partake of the Lord's Supper. Jesus was the ultimate sacrifice and nothing else compares to what he did.

We also have a number of conscientious objectors at Southern Hills. These are people who believe the idea of a Christian serving in a nation's armed forces is at odds with the concept of citizenship in a heavenly country with a mandate to make disciples from every nation on earth. I am proud of these people because they are modeling how to stay in fellowship as brothers and sisters when we disagree on something.

Those who have issues with Christians serving in the military do not walk out. They simply do not join in the applause. Those who think in is inappropriate to have patriotic acts during a worship assembly do not threaten or demand things be done their way. I think there may be a lesson there.

Don't misunderstand. I think it is wrong to honor American veterans in our Christian assemblies. It communicates the wrong message to those who are seeking Jesus. It reinforces the wrong concept that we live in a Christian nation and that God favors this country. I am in an army and I belong to a kingdom not of this world. I do not need divided allegiances.

But I do know that I have brothers and sisters who do not agree with me, and who think we honored God and our salute to veterans was right and appropriate. And some of us worship together who do not agree on praise teams...or instrumental music...or Bible school... or how to dress for worship... or any number of other issues.

Maybe we will figure out how to be in unity even when we do not agree. Maybe we will learn that what unites us is so much greater than those things that would divide us.

So let me know what you think...

Friday, May 23, 2008


In and out of ministry...

I have been thinking quite a bit lately about how to know when to get out of full-time ministry. Part of it is healthy self examination. Some of it is that we are going thru some staffing issues at Southern Hills, and part of it comes from the conversations I have had with ministers trying to decide whether to "stay or go" in terms of ministry. So here are the questions and/or observations I have been considering.

The issue is not about doing ministry. It is about how to support yourself and your family. If you only do ministry because it is your job... quit now.

Spiritual identity should never be wrapped up in what you do. Full time ministers are no more, or less, spiritual than any one else.

Do I still like what I do? Am I excited to get up and go to work? If my material needs were taken care of (Publisher's Clearinghouse? Lottery? Inheritance? Rich spouse?), would I still do what I am doing now?

Am I still effective at my ministry position? Do I still have the energy and patience to work with young people? Do I still relate to university students? Are my sermons,. lessons, programs, or ministry functions still life changing... for me and for those who hear me?

If I could do anything else, would I?

Does my wife and/or best friend think I should still be doing this ministry?

What would I do if I could do anything I wanted in life?

These are some of the questions I help preachers think about. What are some you have asked? Or some you think helpful for preachers to ask when evaluating whether to stay in full-time ministry.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


35 years with Marsha, Mom, and Mimi...

Yesterday Marsha and I celebrated 35 years of marriage. In that time she has gone from wife to Mom to Mimi. That is a long time together. Life with her is still fun, exciting, and I'd be happy to get another 35 years together. Probably won't, but you never know. So since this was one of the big numbered years, I thought about what it is that has made it so special. And why it is that we are so happy? So here is my free wisdom and advice for today.

God has always been there. Always.

We still like hanging out together. I don't know anyone I would rather spend time with than her.

She still lights up the room when she comes into it. She still makes my heart race.

Tough times don't last. Tough people do. Every marriage goes thru those really hard times. Sometimes it's your fault, sometimes it's their fault, and sometimes it's Satan...or life. I hope you married a keeper. I did. Anyone can make it thru the good times. Marsha is someone who has helped me thru the tough times. I believe we can make it thru about anything together... and we have.

I look at her, and our kids, and grandkids and I am amazed at how good God has been to me.

So if it was so great, how did we celebrate our big weekend? We had all the kids and grandkids together Friday and Saturday. Helped host the elder's breakfast on Sunday for our graduating Seniors at church. Went out to eat. Went to a show. Bought some shower gifts (wedding and baby). Had three long shepherding calls (I know, but I did finally turn off the phone). Did three shepherding visits. All unplanned, just people we ran into. I did one, she did one, and one we did together. Had a couple over to plan a wedding. Set up a Bible study with a seeker who has been visiting Southern Hills.

One of the best weekends of my life. Pretty ordinary but so special. All because of who I got to share it with.

Hope your next anniversary is just as extraordinary as mine was.

Friday, May 16, 2008



OK, this is not going to be a building rant, but I do think we need to see what we did wrong concerning buildings in our movement so we do not repeat the same mistakes. I suspect we have spent more on buildings than we have on missions, benevolence, and evangelism. The critical mistake we made was believing we had to have a building to establish identity and credibility. I think we had to collectively know in our hearts that buildings were not the Biblical way to identify ourselves, but it became our practice in this culture.

I also think the building boom was wrapped up in our "wrong side of the tracks" mentality. Nice buildings showed we had "arrived" as an important entity in our city. However, Christianity always has grown faster on the "wrong" side of the tracks. We moved away from our base, we took pride in our buildings, and we quit growing.

Once we built buildings, they became the center of our church life. We even refer to buildings as the church. Very unbiblical concept. Our buildings centered on a large auditorium for collective worship, so that became our focus: Sunday morning large corporate worship became the core of Christianity for many people. And because of the way we designed the auditorium, the sermon became the core piece of our worship, thus elevating the preacher to the most important role in worship.

After the auditorium, we added classrooms, again using them mostly one or two times per week. So we invested enormous sums of money in buildings rarely used for a function that is only one aspect of our lives as Christians. And to make it worse, we continued to foster the building as church attitude by thinking it was a holy place. So we fought about whether we could eat in a "holy" building, so there was quite a bit of resistance to the idea of fellowship halls at first. But we could have a bathroom in the main church building. Draw your own conclusion here.

So what should we have done? If we have to have buildings, make them functional places for use every day. Open them to the community. As we try to do at Southern Hills, make them be a community front porch. And quit building larger and larger auditoriums. Go to multiple services and use chairs, not pews, so worship can be centered on things other than the performers, oops, leaders up front. If you want spend money of buildings, start with fellowship halls. At least we can use those for fellowship, evangelism, and service.

Well, maybe this was a rant against the mistakes we have made in the past with our buildings.

So tell me, what do you think about our philosophy of buildings? And how do they impact you in terms of worship, evangelism, and fellowship?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


Youth Ministry

I am not sure we have done youth ministry well in the churches of Christ. I grew up in a church that hired one of the first full-time youth ministers in our fellowship. I served as the first full-time youth minister at Southern Hills. I have spoken at hundreds of youth rallies and events. So I think I am somewhat knowledgeable on this subject.

I do believe the concept of youth ministry has value. I believe an active youth ministry can be a tremendous tool for evangelism. But after forty years of heavy emphasis on youth ministry (including multiple full-time youth ministers on staff in many congregations), we still do not do any better at raising faithful children. We baptize almost all of our children, but we convert very few of them. Statistics show that only 25% to 33% of our young people stay active in church when grown.

At some point our view of youth ministry seemed to shift to an inward focus, tho maybe this is just a reflection of the church as a whole. Parents seemed to abdicate responsibility for the spiritual welfare of their children and turn it over to the youth ministry. It seems as if this ministry has become entertainment focused and activity based. Our young people do not know the Word. They do not know how to share their faith. In fact, many of them do not even know why they believe what they believe. Or in some cases, they don't even know what they believe. We seem to be driven more by what our teens say they want than what we know to be good for them.

In fact, I would say generally that the youth ministry model in our fellowship has failed. It is time to take the focus off of ourselves and challenge our youth with Jesus centered, Bible based ministry. Parents, and especially Dads, need to step up and take responsibility for the spiritual development of our children. Our youth programs must be about Jesus, not the teenagers. Our youth ministers must be people of the Book. Or maybe we would be healthier to drop youth ministry as a separate function of congregational life and work on integrating our teens into the church body as a whole.

I become more and more convinced that our small congregations that don't have "youth ministries" turn out a higher percentage of faithful children than do our larger congregations. Maybe there is a lesson there.

Now I know many of you grew up in active youth programs. And many of you have children in youth programs now. What made a difference for you growing up? Where you impacted by youth ministry, or by family, or by other church activities? What do you see that is working? What concerns you? Does our current model work? What can we do better?

Thursday, May 08, 2008


Ministry Staffs

Growing churches have multiple staffs. That is the theory we have all bought in to, and I happen to think it is Biblical. I am convinced Antioch had five preachers on staff. However, I believe growing churches have multiple evangelists on staff. I mean they have people whose full-time job is to bring people into relationship with Jesus. Most of our staffs today have ministers to work with the members. We typically have one preacher, no evangelists, and the rest of the staff are ministers.

Think about it: most of our church staffs are hired to minister to us. Youth ministers, small group ministers, worship leaders, educational ministers, campus ministers, and involvement ministers are mostly to serve us. Some of these positions can be evangelistic, but the truth is that most of these are not. We are focused on us.

If we are going to survive as a fellowship, we had better get this one right. It is hard to grow when the overwhelming majority of our paid staff is for us. Even our pulpit ministers spend most of their time interacting with us instead of non-believers. Our own language betrays us. We hire ministers, not evangelists and preachers. My latest frustration is with the preachers whose title is minister of the Word. What does that say about everyone else on staff?

So how would you feel if your church hired evangelists whose job was to seek and save the lost? Would that change the make-up of your congregation? Should we hire more than one preacher? Would it change the dynamics of our churches if all staff members were required to spend at least half their ministry working with non-Christians, or new Christians?

Tuesday, May 06, 2008


Church of Christ Preachers

Here is one we got wrong: preachers. I am not against preachers. I am one. But I think the way we have evolved in this position is one of the things we have gotten wrong in our heritage. First of all, we have made preaching a profession, not a calling. We want degreed, career oriented preachers. We have made the sermon the center of our assemblies. We have created a system where one voice has out of proportion influence.

We have preached that every member is a minister, but our practice betrays us. As a result, we have unfair expectations for the men who do preach. They are expected to entertain, enlighten, and inspire. That is a set of unrealistic expectations. Our church experience revolves around how we feel about the preaching. We have created a system where it is hard to keep egos in check, where the "I know best" syndrome is fed, and where churches get built around a personality.

Most of our preachers function as senior pastors. We argue that they are not elders, but in practice we treat them as if they are. And in function, they do serve as the senior elder. Then we wonder why so many preachers have a "pope" complex. WE set them up that way. Now one of the trends in evangelical circles is to have a "senior pastor". Many of our preachers want that same system. The only thing new about it is that they want formal recognition for an existing practice.

We have somehow come to expect our preachers to be more spiritual than everyone else. We have confused talent and function with spirituality. They are no better, or worse, than any Christian using their abilities for the gospel.

We have given lip service to a Biblical model while creating a practice that is not healthy or sustainable. We need evangelists who will equip others. Most of the healthy churches I am seeing today have multiple preaching voices and a clear distinction between preaching and pastoring.

Just my opinion. What do you think about our preaching model?

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