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.  


Tuesday, March 14, 2017


No I Don't Think You Are Sorry

Over the years I have found myself in many situations where someone was using the phrase... "I am sorry."  I have seen public apologies and many private ones.  I have listened to parents, children, and mates say they were sorry.  I have heard it expressed by people who have had their secret life discovered and those who evidently made a horrific choice and it really was the first time.  I have seen repentance expressed by those caught in sin and those who were not caught but decided to confess their sin.  I have seen people confess to what nobody else knew about and to what everybody else knew about.

And over and over again I have heard someone ask...

"How do I know they really mean it?"

Only God really knows the heart but I have learned over the years to recognize signs that help reveal the sincerity of repentance and confession.

So watch out for these indicators of an apology that is not quite sincere.

Use of the words "but...", "if you only knew", and "I know this doesn't justify what I did, but..."
There may be an appropriate time to identify the causes of our sin, but not in the confession.  I am concerned when establishing the excuse is emphasized more than the apology.

The blame game.  When the confession is couched in an explanation of how someone else made -- or influenced -- you to do something it is easy to lose sight of the fact that you still made the wrong choice.  Their may be lots of factors that contribute to our bad decisions, but those are for future attention.  Do not try to shift the blame.  

When the apology shifts onto the faults and problems of the one being apologized to then it is easy to lose focus.  Our sins are not excused because of the actions of others.  They are forgiven because of the action of Jesus.

Watch out for comparison language.  When they start defending their actions because they could have been so much worse, or they want to point out how others made even worse choices it cheapens the confession.

I am leery of people who do not want help.  My suggestions for dealing with sin may not be the best, but to refuse any suggestions or to deny the need for help always raise red flags in my experience.

Most of these are very natural reactions to facing our sin.  I try to not do these things when I am the one doing the confessing.  And when working with others, I try to help them focus initially on their sin that is being confessed.

But I have lived long enough to recognize that a confession or apology is not always genuine.  They can be manipulative or calculated to achieve something different than what God intended.

Genuine heartfelt confession is difficult.  There are people that you may have deeply wounded.  There are consequences to be faced.  It is our human tendency to excuse, explain, or justify what we did.

Of course, time is the ultimate proof of true sorry and repentance.  Because genuine repentance will result in changed lives.  And over time it will be evident.

So recognize your sin, acknowledge it, and confess it without rationalization.  Then accept God's forgiveness.

And help others to do the same.


Thursday, March 09, 2017


Jesus calls us to radically live... exactly as we want

Following Jesus is not determined by how I want to live, but how he wants me to live.

Jesus said if we want to follow him, we need to deny ourselves first.

Baptism is described as a death.

When we are crucified with Christ, we no longer live but Christ lives in us.

When Jesus told people to follow him, that journey ended on a cross -- a place of death.

But I am not sure we Christians really believe this applies to us.

Listen to some of our questions...

How much do I have to give?

How often do I have to go to church?

Listen to how we insist on our rights ... to worship like we prefer, to marry whoever we want, to use our money the way we want, to use alcohol the way we want.

Why to listen to some of us, it is amazing that the demands of Jesus happen to exactly fit the way we want to live.

The Bible speaks of transforming out minds and not being conformed to the world.  We are to be formed into the image of Christ.  Dying with Jesus in baptism leads us to a new life.

We work to convince ourselves that the Bible fits our preferences.  We try to make it say what it does not say, or assert that the things we don't like were surely for people a long time ago in a different place.

Scripture speaks of us as foreigners and aliens who are citizens of a heavenly country.  We seem afraid to be different than our culture and in fact convince ourselves that Jesus does after all want us to live in ways that do not offend our culture.

Does Jesus expect us to radically alter our lives to follow him?

If there is never one thing in my life that I have to change for Jesus, am I really serious about following him?  Or am I really wanting him to follow me?

I get it.  I've been there.  To look at Jesus and then at your life and to change for him no matter what rather than try to convince yourself and others it is OK to go on living the way you have been.

So thanks to my brothers and sisters that are faith fighters.  Those of you who are changing and being formed into holy children of God.

No excuses, no looking for loopholes... just fighting to be who God called you to be.

So God you know it is hard to follow your Son.  There are so many things we want to do that we know we should let go of -- and so many things we do not want to do that you call us to.  Help us never to cheapen your grace or try to conform you to our image.  

Tuesday, March 07, 2017


My policeman friend David, death, and heaven

My friend David is being buried this morning.  I guess everyone sort of things David was their friend because he was one of those people who was everyone's friend.  David's wife Cindy is the Finance minister for our church.  They were a core part of our church family.  David loved life, he loved his family, and he loved his church.  He was diagnosed with cancer a couple of years ago.  Said it was one of the best things to ever happen to him.  Cancer forced a strong man to depend on God and others.  It helped him treasure his time with Cindy and their grown daughters.  Helped him value life even more.

David was a policeman.  He was one of those cops who believed his job was to help people.  He was the one you wanted to be there if your kid was in a wreck.  Or when your kid got in trouble.  His cancer journey was a testimony to the whole city of Abilene about God, love, faith, family, and church.

He died last week and it got me to thinking about how heaven looks to a policeman.  By the way, I want to be clear that I believe David is in heaven because he is a believer, not because he was a policeman.  His identity was in Jesus.  Police work was his profession.  I know a lot of Christian police and I know some who are not believers.

But I knew David as a brother in the Lord first, and a policeman second.

So here are some things I think David must be enjoying in heaven.

As a cop and as a cancer patient, David sure understood that we live in an evil world.  And now he is in a world where evil cannot be.  He has seen God's face and sin, cancer, and the evil of this world is gone forever.

Policemen see a lot of bad things.  They will tell you that evil works in darkness.  Crime is more difficult to do in the light.  David is home in a city where there is no darkness.

David had to deliver bad news as part of his job.  Crime, death, and tears were part of his job.  He sometimes had to be the bearer of bad news.  And he knew how it felt to get bad news.  Cancer diagnosis is never what you want to hear.  He and family shed tears.  But now God has wiped away all tears from David's eyes.

Best of all, David finished.  He is home.  Forever.

Some see the death of a mid-fifties policeman as tragic.  And his family grieves.  Our church family grieves.  Our city grieves.  But his family and his church family do not grieve as those who have no hope.  In the midst of tears and pain, you see our smiles and hear our laughter.  Because of Jesus. Because we are happy-sad.  Sad for us, happy for him.  Because we believe.  Because David believes.  
He is where we want to be.  By God's grace.  And by God's grace we will be together again.

So thanks God for the hope we have in your Son.  Thanks that David has seen that hope realized.  You brought him home safely on many nights here.  And now you have brought him home safely forever.  Thanks for the great memories of life shared with David here.  Thanks for the life we will all share together again around your throne.  

Thursday, March 02, 2017


Happy birthday to our Jamie

Our daughter-in-law, Jamie Ridgell, had a birthday a couple of days ago.  As is my custom, here is my tribute to why I love her and am so proud of her.

She is a sold-out, passionate follower of Jesus.  She lives her faith, serves others because of her faith, and shares her faith.

She uses their home as a place of Kingdom business.  Showers, small group gatherings, parties, meals, kids hangout ... well, you get the idea.  It is a place where Jesus is seen.

She loves our son Joe Don.  I am so thankful God put them together.  Great things are done by them in the Kingdom.

She never seems to get rattled or "lose it".  I know she must sometimes but I am amazed that she is always calm in the midst of her crazy life.  

She is a great Mom.  Supports, loves, teaches, disciplines, molds, and encourages her three kids.  And her nieces and nephews.  And her friend's kids.

I have absolutely no doubt that she views Mimi and me as parents.  Just like we believe she is our daughter.

So God thanks for our Jamie.  You have blessed so many lives thru her.  Give her health and long life. Continue to use her and her family in powerful ways.  

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