Thursday, August 30, 2012


More things that distinguish congregations...

Last time I talked about distinguishing marks of a congregation that seem to be intentional.  But there are other things that distinguish congregations that just seem to have happened over time.  They become part of the congregational fabric.  It is important to recognize these because, whether intentional or not, when these marks get changed, or when they are not seen as healthy, people get upset.

These may be things like fellowship meals, or small groups.  After last post, several people at Southern Hills mentioned what some of ours are.

Here are two that have been consistent for the last fifty years:  active youth programs and great congregational singing.  Do you have to have an active youth program to be a strong church?  Probably not.  Don't see much mention of it in the New Testament.  And some churches are examining the whole concept.  But nothing gets people as riled up at SH as perceived problems in that program.  I even know some of the reasons, not the least of which is that Robert Oglesby has been here for 30 years.  We have ex-youth ministers in the eldership and on staff.  And our youth ministry has historically been evangelistic so it fits well in our DNA.

And we have always been a singing congregation.  Worship ministers all over the church of Christ got their start at Southern Hills.  I don't think our singing  is a result of any grand plan or any great theological insight.  We have just always loved to sing and have been really good at it.  It has become part of us.

So if you want to mess with youth ministry or singing at Southern Hills, you better be prepared to weather the storm.  And if things don't go well in these areas, people are going to be upset.  It's just who we are.

I think about these things because churches, including us, are always wondering and thinking about what our identity should be.  What programs are effective?  What needs to change?  And for of the things I have talked about, it is not a matter of theology.  That is, must we?  It is a matter of what gets emphasized -- missions and evangelism in our case -- or what becomes part of your identity -- youth ministry and singing.

So for me, the take-away is to be sensitive to what matters to a congregation.  So if you are looking for a church home, and you see no purpose whatsoever to a youth ministry program, you will be a little out of step at Southern Hills.  Not right or wrong, just different.

In future posts, I will share some other observations some of you shared with me.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012


What is THE THING at your church that defines you?

I am often intrigued by discussion of church mission statements.  Who are we?  What are we known for?  And for right now, I am not thinking about what the community thinks of you.  That image is important, but it is also important to figure out what is in your core DNA as a church.  I am going to assume that every church would answer Jesus as their fundamental DNA and I get that.  But churches have things they do that define them -- some articulated, some just are.

There are churches that are worship driven, churches that are heavily involved in social justice, or evangelism, or strong preaching, or missions, or benevolence.  That is who they are.  Nothing wrong with any of these, but in my experience most churches are really known for only a couple of things.  The things that are core to their identity.  There are three ways to quickly identify the things that your church views as essential to their identity.  What have they historically emphasized?  Where do they spend their money?  What do they talk about?

Here is why I think it matters to know what is your unique emphasis.  Most churches can't be all things to all members.  So if someone is passionate about evangelism they may not be at home in a worship or benevolent church.  It is OK to know who you are and to realize everyone may not be drawn to what you emphasize.

And it is difficult to change a church culture.  If I really want to emphasize corporate worship, should I try to change emphasis and resources from benevolence?  Or if I think missions should be the main emphasis of who we are as a church, should I try to change a social justice church?  I am not sure there is an answer to these questions, but I have been thinking about them.

So I have been thinking about my church at Southern Hills.  Who are we?  What is at the core of our DNA? And I have identified two things that we have been involved in for the 40+ years I have been in and around SH.  We have always talked about these things.  It hasn't mattered who are elders have been or who has been doing the preaching.  We spend money on these.  Not saying this makes us good -- or bad.  It is just who we are.

Missions.  We raise missionaries, we send missionaries, we seek mission opportunities.  Our people go on missions.  We talk about missions.  We always have.  Almost every one -- if not all -- of our elders and ministers have gone on a mission trip within the last couple of years.

Evangelism.  I still remember as a college student going with our ministers on Bible studies.  We talk about Jesus.  We baptize non-believers.  We tell their stories.  Always have.  Our elders and ministers are all passionate about this.  Probably more than anything else.  It's why we disagree on a million other things but stay together.  It is our spiritual DNA.

So if missions and evangelism aren't what excites you the most, you may not be happy at Southern Hills.  Not a matter of good or bad, but more a matter of a good fit.  Couldn't we change and find our identity in some other worthy emphasis.  Sure we could.  But should we?

And some of you are thinking:  OK Steve, these are your personal hot buttons.  Well sure they are.  That's why I love Southern Hills and why we are there.  It fits us.  

Friday, August 24, 2012


And preaching is sometimes a career too...

I believe ministry is a calling.  The only ministers who are effective for the Kingdom long term are those who see it as a calling.  They cannot do anything else.  They may -- or may not -- get paid to do it.  It is more than what they do.  It is who they are, called and gifted by God to lead others to his son Jesus.  And many ministers/preachers do make a living doing what they love.

And sometimes it is frustrating.  For the preachers whose ministry is also their career  So let me share a few observations about ministry as a career.

It is easy to get drawn into a ministry model that has you doing everything except ministry.  I actually know preachers who think they do more real ministry when not working for a church than they do when on a church staff.  Don't let your career pull you away from your calling.

As a career, you can change jobs to better yourself or your family.  Churches have to get over it when a preacher moves on.  Maybe another church is a better fit for his talents.  Or it fits a family needs better (closer to parents, better schools, better opportunities for his wife).  Or maybe it is better financially.  The really called preachers I know are not it it for money, but why can't they take a better job?  They will still be doing ministry.  I mean, do you turn down your opportunities to do better financially?  Be happy for them.

And it is their career, not their wife and family's career.  You didn't hire her, unless you want to pay her too.  Quit expecting her to do more than other members.  Though I do think it is true that if a preacher's family is not active in ministry, he cannot lead a church to be active in ministry.  It is hard to ask your church to do something your own wife won't.  And I don't mean she has to do everything, but she better be doing something.

And it is frustrating for churches to hire ministers who want the upside of a career (pay and benefits) without the responsibilities of a career.

Preachers have the right to take better jobs, accept raises, or resign when they want to.  And, just like any career, preachers can get fired.  It happens in every career.  Bad fit, personality conflicts, politics, wrong skill set, loss of effectiveness, different expectations, lack of shared vision for the church.  Talk to your members.  They have lots of experience in just, and unjust, firings.  It happens in the job market.

Every career has it's downside.  If you are a preacher, don't whine about having to work Sundays.  Youth ministers can't complain about working nights and summers.  It is the nature of your career.  Just like football coaches should not complain about not getting Friday nights off.  Retail salesmen have to work Saturdays.  Every career has good things and things that are not so good.  If you hate some of the issues involved with ministry as a career, then find another way to support your family.  You can still do ministry.  Just like your church members do.

Don't complain about 60 hour work weeks.  Your members work 40 or more hours a week in their jobs and put in another 15 or 20 weekly going to church, preparing Bible classes, visiting the hospital, taking care of needy members, serving on committees, and sharing Jesus stories.  If you work more than 60, you may be a workaholic and need someone to help you cut back.  You work less than 50 you are either lazy or taking advantage of the church.

Finally, like every other career, some preachers will say it is the greatest choice they ever made.  Others will get out and never want anyone they care about to do it either.  But don't confuse the career with the calling.  Or confuse the career with Jesus.  Or even the church.  They are not the same.

One is life.  One is a job.  Don't mix them up.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012


Ministry is a calling not just a career...

A good friend of mine just resigned his position as a full-time minister and is not sure if he will work for a church again.  Not mad at the church, just felt like it was something he needed to do.  He may go back into full-time supported ministry next week.  Or he may never go back into supported ministry.

I have been in and out of full-time ministry.

But here's the thing.  Being a minister/preacher has nothing to do with who pays you.  My friend will always be a minister.  He just may make a living doing something else.  There has never been a time in my life when I did not think of myself as a preacher.  That was true when churches supported me, when I sold advertising, and when I roofed houses.

Because real ministers are called.  It is what they are, not what they do.  And it really has nothing to do with how they make a living.  It is life.

Which is why I worry about the way we often see ministry as a profession and not a calling.  I hurt for preachers who have lost the calling but do not know what else to do to support their families.  So they make themselves and their churches miserable.

I hate that so many ministers now have forgotten why they wanted to preach in the first place.  It can easily become  about position, power, and making a good living.  There are lots of churches paying their preachers more than most of their members make.  Some are worth it.  They give generously, they have a reasonable standard of living.  They devote themselves to ministry.  You really can't overpay those ministers.  And some are not worth it.  Anything you pay them is too much.

Some of the best ministers will never work for a church.  I know salesmen, lawyers, teachers, coaches, retirees, carpenters, and nurses who are great ministers.  Never got a dime from a church.  Never will.  But they are preachers, elders, Bible class teachers, and evangelists.

And I know a lot of ministers paid by churches who are called to ministry.  Churches pay them, but it wouldn't matter if they did.  They would still find a way to minister.  It is life.  It is what they were made to do.

So I love preachers who are fulfilling their calling.  Paid or not.  Supported by a church or not.

And maybe the only difference in all of us is not what we do, or who is the professional.  Maybe we are all called to ministry.  Some of us spend 40 or 50 hours a week doing something to make a living.  We use that money to support family and kingdom.  Others of us are supported by our community of faith to spend all of our time doing ministry.

So ministry is not just a career.  It does not even have to be a career.  Maybe should not be a career.

But it does have to be a calling.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012


Balancing second chances and protecting the flock...

Eloise had a good question during my posts on second chance churches concerning legal records.  When is it    acceptable to do background checks?  Do you check every "questionable" member?

So here a couple of my reactions based on what we do at Southern Hills.  I welcome input from those of you who have worked on this in your congregation.

In some ways, we are all questionable, but I get the point.

We do not do random searches to find issues, but we have a couple of standard rules for certain situations.

Anyone who wants to teach in our children's department thru high school agrees to a standard background check  By the way, all of our staff and elders do this also.

Anyone who drives one of our vehicles, or a private one on church business, agrees to a licence check.

We have a risk management team that looks at those types of things.

We have a security team that circulates thru our building and grounds during every service.

Registered offenders are not allowed in certain parts of the building.  Our security team and leadership knows their identity.

Having said all of this, we welcome them to be part of our fellowship.  There are just certain restrictions and limitations.  For their protection and ours.

We have had many ex-offenders in our fellowship.  And by that, I mean from the legal system of our country. 

Spiritually, we are all ex-offenders.

Thursday, August 09, 2012


And today Austin is 2...

Our oldest grandchild, Anna Claire, turned seven the other day.  Today our youngest, Austin Ridgell, turns 2.  And yes, this is my blessings blog.  I know he can't read it yet, nor understand it when it is read, but someday he will.  And Mom and Dad can.


I love that Austin thinks he can do anything his big brother and sister do.  And doesn't like it when he is not allowed to try.  Always go for it Austin.  You will do it someday.  And you will learn that with God's help, you can do great things.

I love that he is always happy.  Nothing keeps him upset long.  He loves life.  I pray he always gets over life's disappointments quickly.  Always stay happy.

You have known nothing but love, support, and security your whole life.  Someday you will realize how blessed you are to have been born into the family God chose for you.

You are prayed for every day by lots of people.  Your Mom and Dad, Anna and Andrew, Aunt Julie and Uncle Bobby, Jake and Avery, Mimi and Pops, Granny and Grandpa, Mam-ma and Pap-pa.  It is making an incredible difference in your life and you don't even know it yet.  But you will someday.

You have brought great joy to your whole family.  I pray you always bring light and laughter into your world.

And I really, really love the way you like being with Pops.

I love you and every day I thank God for you.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012


Anna Claire, our oldest grandchild is 7

It was tough enough watching the kids get older.  Now it's the grandkids.  Anna Claire Ridgell is seven now. She is Joe Don and Jamie's oldest and will be in first grade this year.

And I love her and am proud of her.  So Anna, here are some of the reasons why.

You love God.  I am so happy when I hear you pray.  I love to hear your sweet voice when you sing praise songs.

You love your family.  Not just your Mom and Dad, but your grandparents and great-grandparents.  I love the special relationship you and Mimi have.  One of my greatest memories will be of watching you sitting on the cabinet helping Mimi cook.  And I love watching movies and cartoons with you.

You love your brothers.  I know they drive you crazy but you hug them, watch out for them, and protect them.

You love your cousins.  I like knowing you and Jake talk on the phone.  Avery wants to be just like you and you are a good role model.  I can't wait to see your friendship with them grow.

You love children that are not as blessed as you.  You give up things that are important to you so that others can be blessed.

You are so generous.  I am proud of how you spend the money you earn at Cousin's Camp.  You want to take your family to eat, you give some back to Mimi because you appreciate how much she does, and you give most of it to the children's offering at church.

I love seeing the joy on your face when you run to the door to greet Mimi and Pops.

So Anna, I don't know what all you will do in the future.  You are loving, friendly, smart, athletic, and pretty.  But one thing I do believe.  Whatever you do, it will be because you love God.

Pops loves you and is so proud of the girl you are becoming.  You may not be our little girl any more, but you are still our special Anna Claire.  God will do great things with you and through you.

Thanks God for the gift of Anna Claire.

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