Category Archives: Church

Why I Love Children in Worship

I was editing the church podcast this morning and I heard the joyful coo of a baby in the background of the sermon. (If you’re a regular listener, sorry I’m a bit behind on getting those uploaded). I laughed, remembering another time when this sweet boy threw his arms in the air and shouted “tough-down!” while another baby screeched at a pivotally emotional moment in the sermon. It was a sweet, albeit distracting, moment. I love it! (Someday I’ll compile a book of “children in church” moments.)

I love the sound of children in the service! When they cry, I’ve tried to incorporate it into illustrations. I’ve held children that were walking around the front during the service. I’ve simply pressed through and ignored the cries. I often try to remind everyone, “it’s ok, we all love children here.” Sometimes they distract, sometimes they don’t. Always, they are a joy! Here are a few reasons why I love children in the service.

  1. They make me a better worshiper. Worship is a skill that is developed with practice. I want to learn to do it well! As a fellow worshiper, the cries and grunts of little ones push me to work harder to worship well. Just as when standing next to someone who can’t seem to sing on key or keep the rhythm, I am pressed to focus on Christ and press through distraction. Similar to sitting next to one who can’t stop fidgeting, so a child squirming forces me to work harder to focus. Often I’m convicted that the little one that is laughing or crying and the person who cannot seem to stay on key are both worshiping with greater abandon than I am able to muster. So, I have to press harder into Christ and I am grateful for the “joyful noise” that I must learn to worship through.
  2. Children remind me that worship is a corporate activity. Their sweet noises inspire me to love God with greater abandon and remind me that worship is corporate, not simply individual. We are a body of believers gathered together to worship. We are to work for the good of one another. So children are part of that body. I have an obligation to figure out how to worship with the hand and the feet of Christ! I cannot simply expect the feet to not dance while I am exercising the mouth. We are a body together, we worship together. Sometimes that worship looks like a peaceful pasture, sometimes it looks like a thunderstorm, always it is worship. So my goal must be to work in worship WITH the entire body.
  3. A child’s need to cry reminds me of my own need to cry out to God! I can often be too intellectual. I forget that my heart and Spirit groan with words un-utterable. A baby has a way of jarring me from my emotionally detached state and reminding me of my need. As a pastor, their cries remind me that Jesus answers my own cries. Their laughter delights my soul and I see the delight of God in the joy of children. It’s no wonder that Jesus says, “let the little children come to me!” When I hear the cry of a child, I am reminded of the gospel given to me, a child. I am held in my Father’s arms as His greatness is proclaimed!
  4. Children remind me that I am only one voice in the body. Their noises challenge me to remember that I am not the most important person in the room and the voice of the Lord extends to all ages! Preachers get this twisted on occasion. We start to think that what we have to say is more important than anything else. But, the Spirit sometimes wants to work in the voice of the baby, not the scholar. My voice is not the only voice proclaiming the greatness of God today. If a church begins to think that the pastor is the sole voice proclaiming worship, then that church needs to learn more about worship.
  5. Finally, children inspire admiration in me for the parents. What a joy it is for me to preach and worship with parents who work so hard to train their children in the Lord! If you struggle with children being in worship, I get it… it’s hard and it is OK for you to have difficulty. If you are a parent striving to raise even your babies in the corporate worship setting, you’re amazing! Thank you. Thank you for allowing me to see your struggle and help when I am able. Thank you for pressing into the community despite the awkwardness. Thank you for coming, even though it is hard to manage. I appreciate you. We know it is difficult. We know you are tired. We want to help and lift you up.

Full disclosure: At SGF we have a nursery for 3 and under during the sermon only. We ask that parents keep their kids in the service for the music, scripture reading, and prayer. We recognize this is difficult for some, but at SGF we are all in this together. So, if you come to visit, we will embrace your children being in the service. Occasionally we will not have nursery and just press through the difficulties children sometimes present, because we love them and we love you. We all love children… we’ll help as best we can… Thanks for reading.

8 Qualities to Develop Before Going into Ministry.

I am a young pastor. As a result, other young men look at me and ask about going into pastoral ministry. One of the common things people will ask is what they need to be good at before they start training to go into ministry. In my 17 years of ministry, I would say these are things that one needs to be good at before start training for church ministry. They are necessary disciplines BEFORE one starts trying to lead others. They are things God can teach you along the way, but they are best as disciplines you implement before the pressures of ministry are added. So, if you want to be in ministry, here’s my list. Every pastor has a list of things they look for in younger ministers… Take mine with a grain of salt… before I went into ministry I was pretty solid on 5 of these… the other three I have grown in. It might be that you follow the Lord and He grows you in these places as you work. But, when I am asked what qualities need to be in a young man before ministry, these are the ones that come to mind.

  1. Attend church. If you will not be disciplined to attend church before you are in leadership, then you probably are not ready to be in leadership. The fortitude to attend church when you’re not in leadership is the same fortitude that will enable you to persist among dry seasons and difficulties. Many young men think that they will be good leaders in church ministry, but then they refuse to discipline themselves to attend church with any regularity. If one will not discipline themselves to attend church when they are not in leadership, then it is highly unlikely that they will have the discipline to lead a congregation.
  2. Read your Bible. Ministry is the work of the study and teaching of the Word. So, you need to read the Bible. You don’t need to know the original languages before starting in ministry, though it is helpful. You don’t need to be able to preach wonderfully, though that is an advantage. You don’t even need to have large portions memorized! But, you do need a love for the Word of God. If you cannot discipline yourself to study and read the Word, then you will not discipline yourself to teach it. So, read it… every day.
  3. Worship well privately. Part of leading in ministry is leading other people to have a deep personal relationship with the Living God! As a manifestation of that relationship, there ought to be some sort of private worship that you regularly engage in. This private worship is what will save you in moments of despair in the ministry. It will be the balm necessary for you to press through difficult situations. This private worship is a pre-requisite for survival in your training. Every church has dry spells. We cannot always depend on the community to fuel our worship. We must learn to fuel our Spirits. Only then will we be able to lead others.
  4. Worship well corporately. One of the marks of Christianity is corporate worship. In Acts 2, the first church begins in corporate worship. Church History records corporate worship as an act that EVERY church engaged in regularly. Preaching, singing, prayer, and feasting all were weekly and normative in the church. The best people to worship with are those who are totally absorbed in worshiping the living God. I stood next to a young man who couldn’t sing well and was constantly bumping into the person next to him (me). At first, I was bothered and considered his zeal an impediment to my ability to worship. I grumbled quietly and moved a few inches. Suddenly I was bumped again. Slightly irritated I turned to look at him, determined to say something. As I turned I felt his arm wrap around my shoulders, eyes filled with tears, he was singing at the top of his lungs and I was drawn into the presence of the Living God! This young man worshiped with abandon and it was contagious. Immediately I forgot my shame and joined in the worship. Be like that before you try to lead others to be that way.
  5. Learn to be wrong. I am wrong often and I know it. I am comfortable with being wrong. I learned early to accept when I am wrong and move forward. I will seek to see the truth and, if someone presents a better case, I’ll gladly say I was wrong. As a pastor, you need to be able to be wrong. Churches will often prove you wrong. You’ll be wrong about people, passages, policy, and even Jesus. A good leader will recognize when they are wrong, apologize, and figure out how to move forward. If a pastor cannot admit when he is wrong, then he will not be able to lead people.
  6. Learn to be wrong, when you’re probably right. I distinctly remember being scolded by a person about something I said in a sermon. I was young and their statement was false. They accused me of something I had not said and misunderstood something I had said in the message. I apologized for what they heard me say and simply said, “That was not right of me, please forgive me.” I was pretty certain I hadn’t said what they accused me of so, afterward, I went back and listened to the sermon. Indeed, they were wrong. I had never said what they accused me of saying. However, they heard what they heard and as a leader, it is not mine to correct perception. My job is to help people move beyond perceived offense and model granting grace. If I had to be known as right or gracious, I’ll choose gracious. So, I’ll be happy to be wrong if it means I can model grace to those who believe themselves to be right even if they are wrong.
  7. Learn to listen. It is difficult to listen when you know things. Perhaps the first step in listening is recognizing that we don’t know everything. I have a dear brother who always says, “Better to stay silent and thought a fool than to open your mouth and prove it.” The Proverbs put it this way, “Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent” (Proverbs 17:28). Being silent and listen. Prove that you can learn before you start trying to teach.
  8. Learn grace extended. This is perhaps the chief and most helpful perspective I had before training for ministry. To read more about it go here.

Again, take these with a grain of salt, I learned many of these growing up. Some I still grow in. If you’re a pastor, what’s your list to give to young men who ask what they need to be before they go into ministry? Leave it in comments.

How we Address Error: 3 problems, 5 requests

In recent days famous Christians (particularly in the SBC) have been arguing about various issues within the church. Issues range from the nature of the atonement to the role of women in the church to how much poetic license we should allow in worship music. Before you read any further, I have no intention of solving those issues in this blog post. I only want to address the manner in which we are discussing these things. To be clear, I do not always do these things well.

Necessary disclosure: Sovereign Grace Fellowship of Brazoria (the church I serve) is a member of our local SBC Association (the GCBA) and we are a part of the Southern Baptist of Texas Convention (the state convention.) We associated when we planted in 2016 with the confidence that God was leading us to do so and we have not regretted that association. As a church that strives to be a healthy gospel-centered church, we believe this to be a valuable association to enable us to do more Kingdom work than we could accomplish on our own.

But, as of late, I have personally been disappointed by our famous representatives. They have given into snippy argumentation rather than loving engagement with one another. So, in this post, I intend to line out some bad habits we have developed as a Christian culture in America (this is not exhaustive, I promise I’ll keep it brief). Then I’d like to lay out a few ways I hope people would approach me when I write something or preach something that people believe is in error. You can feel free to skim as I put stuff in bold for easy reading. Ready: let’s go!

PROBLEMS:

  1. We lack charity: In response to each other, there has been little charity. Sadly, it has become a rare occasion to grant someone the benefit of the doubt. Rather than asking for clarification, we lash out in twitter-storms at our accusers or post passive-aggressive comments on our social media platforms. This is not helpful. In this way, we are behaving much like junior high students who have yet to learn how to engage in honest, thoughtful dialogue. 1 Corinthians 16:13-14 admonishes us to “stand firm as men” AND to “let all be done in love!” The mark of a Christian is love, or charity, (John 13:35) particularly “agape” love – love that is self-sacrificing. We must consider what we say and do in the context of this defining marker.
  2. We’ve embraced sound bites: Much of what has been spoken is based on hearsay and short comments captured in sound bite formats. This should not surprise us as our culture thrives on the sound bite. Our news is boiled down to 145 characters and much of our opinions are formulated on the basis of short pithy phrases caught on cell phone video. The problem with this is that sound-bites lack clarity. 1 Peter 3:15 admonishes us to “be ready to give an answer for the hope that is in us!” The word here for “answer” can be rendered defense or the classical definition – apology. It implies a well thought out response. Sound-bites are rarely well thought out.
  3. We don’t finish books: One of the most troubling realities I have witnessed in my work as a pastor is that most leaders do not finish the books they start. This is troubling in the sense that it indicates a lack of full engagement with the author’s ideas. Most pastors I know have copious books on their shelves and seldom finish or read all of them. In the same way, our Christian culture seldom investigates the sound bites in a thorough manner. Yet Paul exhorts Timothy to “consider all that I am saying, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything” (2 Tim 2:7). The exhortation to “consider ALL” seems to indicate that you should listen to the full argument before formulating your response. In our culture, however, the sound bite is accepted as if it is the complete and authoritative response of the speaker. This leads to tragic misunderstandings and demonization of ideas. Finish the book!

How I would like people to respond to me (take note- each of these assume that I have communicated poorly or I am actually wrong. I am placing myself as the errant brother in these examples.) –

  1. Assume that I am simply not clear enough or that I did not mean to express heresy. I have yet to meet a Christian teacher who purposely accepts heresy. The genuine believers that I know are trying their best to teach well. More often than not, if they are shown in Scripture where the error of their teaching is, they often do a 180. If you ever catch me in error, please assume that I did not intentionally venture into error. I may be utterly convinced that I am right, but I also may have just failed to communicate clearly.
  2. Ask for clarification: As a pastor, clarity is something that is extremely important and I am sad to say that I am not always clear. Sometimes that is because I don’t have the grasp that I should on linguistic nuance. Sometimes it is because I have not been able to crystallize the concept in my head. Sometimes it is because I am wrong. But, it is NEVER because I am intentionally trying to be false. Ask me to clarify the position I am taking and then go from there.
  3. Grant that I can be a Christ-follower and be wrong. Christians don’t always get everything right. Peter had to be confronted by Paul in Galatians 2, Paul had to be confronted by Barnabas in Acts 15, and even Timothy required some admonition from Paul! Christians do not always do what is right and they do not always get everything correct. I can be devoted to Jesus and still get some things wrong. Please consider this before condemning me as anathema.
  4. Present to me a thorough argument from Scripture and trust the Spirit to open my eyes if I’m wrong. Being a pastor invites critique from theologically minded brothers. Indeed, often people who have started to study at a deep level are quick to critique the pastor’s work and sermons. When you need to challenge something I say, please do so thoroughly. Many people ask a question with a larger/underlying question hidden behind the first. (Example: one man asks, “what do you think about famous Christian X?” Famous Christian X just wrote an article endorsing avocados. What they really want to know is what you think about avocados. But they didn’t ask about avocados, they asked about famous person X, who just endorsed Avocados… their real question is about avocados but I have no way of knowing that.) Give the entire context of your argument and grant me the privilege of struggling with a complete discussion.
  5. Be willing to accept that I may not be ready to go where you are yet. I may be the weaker brother in this discussion (as I have assumed I am for all these examples). Please grant me grace and recognize that I am still growing in Christ. I may not be ready to accept your position as viable or Biblical. If your view is correct, then the Spirit will work in me (potentially through your discussions) to correct my error. Be patient, I may not be where you are, but we’re following the same King and He will lead us.

Are there anythings you would add? How would you want someone to confront you if you were errant?

Photo by Frida Bredesen on Unsplash

Galatians 2:11-15; brief thoughts

11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. 13 And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

Conformity is a common unspoken demand of any society. When someone joins a community that community has a defining set of social norms. Sometimes those norms are explained and clearly articulated. More often those expectations are unspoken and are not so clearly defined. In order to truly integrate into the community, the adherent must submit to these demands in order to be considered a legitimate member.

As in any group, Christianity demands a conformity of sorts. The problem is that sin often corrupts our ability to discern the difference between what Christ demands and what we demand. As a result of sin, we demand that people conform to us. We have an unwritten expectation that people who come to share in Christ must behave and look as we do. They must submit to the same societal norms in which we have been immersed. When we insist on such an ethnocentric legalistic expression of Christianity, we miss the Gospel. The Gospel reaches across cultural and societal norms to establish life through the pursuit of God and His life! Indeed, Jesus does not require the Pharisees to surrender their religious customs of hand and foot washing when he goes to have a meal with them. Neither does Jesus require his fishing buddies and tax collecting friends behave as the Pharisees. He opens His arms to both groups and rescues any who will believe. He lays no additional law upon His followers.

In obedience to the Gospel, the early church opened her arms to anyone who would trust in Christ for righteousness. Peter and the disciples spoke a variety of tongues at Pentecost. They did not demand everyone learn Hebrew. God showed Peter that the Gentile, Cornelius, was admitted to the Kingdom, giving Peter a vision that defied the dietary restrictions of the Jew. He did not demand Cornelius become a Jew. Further, the model we have from Paul and the apostles at the Jerusalem counsel is one of reasoning together to understand overt Scriptural commands and exercising freedom where Scripture is silent.

Still, Peter and the apostles were just men and, even they, fall to hypocrisy at times. When Peter was worshiping with the gentile brothers at Antioch, there came a moment of such weakness. The “Circumcision party” came to join in the worship and Paul witnessed the shaming of the gospel message. Peter, desiring to be approved by these brothers, withdrew from the gentile believers.

Why did Peter withdraw? It is not common to see this particular apostle seek to accommodate the whims of men. He has a reputation as headstrong and often taking the leadership role. Perhaps Peter thought he could win over these Jews to the Gospel by showing himself to be disciplined in religious affection as they. Perhaps he was simply afraid that he would lose his prestige among the Jews, maybe even rationalizing that a loss of prestige for him would be the same as a loss for the gospel. Whatever his reasoning, Peter shows favoritism and Paul addresses him directly.

Paul’s response to Peter seems brazen and very confrontational. Indeed, Paul addresses Peter “to his face,” but he does so only because “he stood condemned!” Paul’s response to Peter was bold and forward for three obvious reasons. First, Peter was obviously in contradiction to the gospel and was in danger of God’s discipline. Paul states that Peter “stood condemned.” In saying this, Paul is framing the scene as one in which Peter is in danger of God’s intervention. He is guilty of wrongdoing and it is an act of mercy to confront him. Confronting Peter as an errant brother spares him from being disciplined as a disobedient son. Second, Peter was leading others away from gospel community. Gospel community includes ALL tribes, tongues, and nations. It is not restricted to Jewish people alone but includes gentiles as well. When Peter showed favoritism to the Jewish brothers, he was acting in contradiction to the gospel message itself. So Paul publically addressed Peter in an effort to clarify and defend the gospel witness as he states, “their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel.” Third, Paul is concerned with defending the reputation of his brothers in Christ. When Paul saw that Peter and the brothers were living in hypocrisy, he recognized a need to preserve them through a minor error that could have massive implications. Hypocrisy is a dangerous poison that can damage the testimony of even the most devout believer.

Through Paul’s example, we can see the proper way to confront one another in gospel community. As we strive to walk in gospel obedience together we must first check our motives. Paul confronts Peter because of a gospel motivation. He does not desire power, he seeks to honor the gospel and preserve his brother’s integrity. We must consider the implications of what is being confronted. Paul addresses Peter publically because multiple people were actually being addressed. He recognized that his true target was a large group of believing brothers who needed to be corrected. Finally, when we approach each other we must strive to pose the question, and not simply demand correction. Questions allow for introspection and self-examination. Paul challenges Peter and poses the question, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?” His point is well made. Yet, in posing it as a question he leaves room for rebuttal. Pose your confrontation in the form of a question and you are offering grace to the person you are challenging.

Oh, that we would always confront one another with such grace!

Where Are You?

At first, the question “where are you?” seems a mere geographical inquiry. As though the only value in the question relates to a compass and a map. Yet, the question bears some deeper, nuanced consideration. It begs a sort of self-examination. Not unlike, “How are you?” or “Who are you?” These simple introductory questions can often be overlooked, but ought to give us pause.

Where are you?

To be fair, I’ll answer first: Where am I?

I am in that place where I wouldn’t be surprised if the glorious blazing ball of fury that seems so determined to destroy Texas in the summer, was revealed to be nothing more than a large light bulb. I have been exposed to the majestic reality of the Omnipotent Being, thus the great sky candle serves only to stand as a dwarfed microcosm of His greatness. The more I learn of my King’s glory, the less I am impressed by the things I am given to compare to Him.

I am settled in the mud, ever pressing up-hill. Life may not always be wonderful or grandiose, but it is life, and it is real… and it is great! I have discovered an abundance from which I can draw freely in Jesus. A well-spring of full-life with unimaginable graces. I’m in the place where life is real and delightfully full.

I am on the cusp of fame, resting securely and peacefully in my obscurity. That place where my voice is heard by any I impose it upon, while simultaneously remaining in the confident silence of a shadow in a world of searchlights. I am spinning round the mountain of God laughing freely with my King over the spoken voice of self-proclaimed rulers who have no power over my soul.

I am in the hands of a mighty King who declares love for me in spite of myself. A place where I can be “not ok” and know that I am not going to remain in such a state forever. Walking with the King of Glory through bramble patches and clear pastures only rarely needing Him to carry me (though I am sure it is more often than I imagine.)

I am in a community of faith that exalts our Lord and faithfully pursues the mission of God. We labor side by side, though imperfect in our expressions, exalting the King and advancing the gospel. We care little for the trivial concerns of this life and are consumed with the next. We are here, but we are not here. We build our castles in the eternal sky where no rules of architecture constrain! We are in the heavens with our feet planted firmly in the promises of God.

I am in that place where music is sweet and full. Where melody fills my days and evenings as songs of grateful praise echo in the throats of my children and flow from my own heart as well. Where every morning brings beautiful songs of creation and creativity as each new day brings more reason to sing. In that place, I feel overwhelmed by the song of my Creator. The song that is changing my soul to be more like Him and more like who I was created to be.

So, that is where I am… where are you?

Four Things Seminary Did Not Teach Me.

Before you read this list, I want to say Seminary was wonderful and I learned a ton from seminary! My professors were amazing and I was prepared for ministry because of Seminary. Further, this post is my own experience and is not intended to be a criticism of Seminary. Others may have learned these things in Seminary, I did not.

I am a 37 year old pastor of a small church plant in south Texas. I have been in vocational ministry for over 15 years and have served at some level of leadership in a variety of churches since I was 14 years old. When I began in ministry, I recognized my need to learn. I entered Seminary with a deep desire to learn everything I could and I did so with a fierce and steady methodology. I took seminary slowly and strove to soak up everything I could from my professors. I coveted opportunity to learn from older pastors and professors who had proven track records.

I learned a great deal in Seminary. Necessary Biblical training and historical understanding of the church has served to shape me and improve my own life. I believe my seminary studies taught me much of what I need to know to serve and lead a church well. That having been said, I did not learn EVERYTHING I needed to know from seminary. There were some things that I had to learn on the job.

  1. How to plan for church events and yearly schedule.I’ll never forget the first time I was asked to present a schedule for a youth group for the year. I was informed that the staff had a meeting on Sunday night with the other leaders of the church. I began to panic. I walked across the hall to the associate pastor’s office with as much composure as I could muster and asked him to clarify what I was supposed to present. He graciously walked me through a basic understanding of what to do. Over the next 8 years in that position I developed a pattern of planning in advance. I would prepare sermons months in advance, events were planned almost a year ahead, and the general calendar of the youth ministry was completed in September. My fellow pastors suffered as a result of not being able to sit down and plan. So I resolved to be ahead and as a result I was often available to run events for them as well.

    Now, I am always about 4 months ahead in planning for worship. I can usually tell you what I am going to teach and where the teaching is headed 8 months in advance. I can preach the sermons about 4 months ahead of time. I plan events months in advance and I have a pretty good grasp on how to schedule and plan in general.

    Seminary did not teach me how to plan. I had to learn on the job. I was fortunate to serve with ministers who knew what they were doing and had experience in leading organizations. In short, here is how you plan. Pray, lay out a calendar, put your schedule down with some flexible dates, start with the easiest event to plan (most often something you’ve done before that does not need to change), then work from most common to most unique. Don’t fall into the trap of doing the soonest first. If you will plan the most common event first and then work your way to the most uncommon (or new events), then you will find momentum and you’ll enjoy the work a lot more.

  2. Conflict resolution.Being a pastor means that you are a shepherd. Funny thing about sheep… They bite. People are sheep. We bite, jockey for position, shove, and butt heads when we do not get our way. Seminary does not teach your pastor how to deal with Mrs. Contentious when she has upset Mrs. Overly-dramatic. The difficulty of these conflicts is that it rarely ever works out in a room with all parties present. Most of the time, conflict resolution involves talking to each party individually and slowly leading them to make decisions that help to grant grace.

    To be honest, I’m still not an expert in conflict resolution. I know what the Scripture says, and I try to follow those principles. But conflict resolution is rarely an issue of HOW I read Scripture and often an issue of getting others to READ the Bible. In my inadequate amount of knowledge on conflict resolution I’ve learned four things that help me in dealing with others.

    First: Remember, unless it is genuine heresy, it is not as important as we think. Do not make a big deal over secondary issues.

    Second: Address confusion, gossip, and rumors immediately from the source. This is sin. So when gossip or rumors surface, address them immediately. Grant grace and be casual about the address, but do not leave sin unaddressed.

    Third: Accept that some conflict is just going to be around and you’re going to have to learn to live in that tension. In a church that I served in for several years there was a particular man who just did not like me. I would try to be polite, earn favor, and do a good job in effort to somehow garner his approval, but to no avail. Eventually I just accepted that he was not going to like me and I moved on. There was no overt sin to address and he stayed in his area of ministry without causing issues elsewhere. Once I accepted that I was not going to be liked by everyone, this particular conflict stopped bothering me. I wish I had some great reconciliation story for this one, but as I said above, “Sheep bite.”

    Fourth: Give people the benefit of the doubt. Seldom is anyone just being selfish or rude. Most of the time, in the church, people believe they are doing what is right. They don’t mean to be hateful or malicious. Recognize that and treat people accordingly.

  3. Humility.I love seminary students, I really do. They are filled with zeal and they often know the right answers. I love seminary students… especially AFTER they graduate. When I was in Seminary I was trained in how to find the answers I needed in Scripture! I know the languages of the Bible and I love to study old dead guys. I went into ministry with a tremendous grasp on theology, ecclesiology, eschatology, and every other ology! I felt as though I had answers.

    While my professors worked hard to teach me that I did not know the answers to every problem, the critical environment of Seminary inadvertently taught me that I am right! I was taught to identify problems in the church and offer theoretical answers to those issues. Seminary was intended to produce a servant who would labor to display the character of Christ in the midst of fellow Christians. The result of my own arrogance produced a young man who needed some chips knocked off his shoulder.

    It took me several years to realize that I am not. It took me years to learn that I needed other leaders who could walk with me through difficult circumstances and give counsel. It took me years to learn that I needed the voices of other leaders to call me out when I was in error.

    The church I serve now has a plurality of elders who hold me to account. They know me well and I loose a lot of battles to those guys. I trust them and as a result, my confidence is bolstered and humility is honored.

  4. How to define successI was one of those students who could read the book in a day and write the report that evening and make an A on the paper. If a professor favored content over grammar, I was going to make an A+ in the class. I could make a B with little effort and found seminary to be a long, but enjoyable experience. With all my work in seminary, I never learned how to define success. I learned how to fail and what it meant to work your way back from the bottom. I failed Hebrew twice and worked hard to overcome failing Hebrew 1 eventually make an A in Hebrew 1, Hebrew 2, and Exegetical Hebrew. I knew what failure way, and I knew how to press on to overcome failure. But I did not know what success was.

    Seminary does not teach you how to measure success in ministry. I did not know if I should measure myself according to the numbers in attendance or if I should find another metric. Eventually I landed on another method of judging success, you can read about that here. (article also linked below.) Whether you judge success in numbers, or life transformation, or personal devotion, strive to learn how to judge success in your ministry. It will be the catalyst for purpose and your ministry directives.

When I first began to seek a full time position at a church my first question for every church was, “can I learn from your pastors?” I was fortunate to meet a man who had been in ministry and was serving as an associate pastor. He was not a seminary grad or a wise old seasoned pastor. He was a genuine pastor who knew some things I didn’t. I credit him for much of what I do in ministry. We sharpened each other. If you are considering ministry. Find a guy that is a little further down the road from you and learn what you can from him.

HOW TO JUDGE SUCCESS

We Hide From Conflict; Ways we Rob Ourselves of Joy, Part 2

The time had come to address the issue. My stomach seemed to drop beneath the ground and my head began to spin. The weight of conflict landed heavy on my shoulders and made my fight or flight reflexes begin to wrestle with unrivaled fury. I knew this issue must be dealt with and I also knew I did not want to do what was necessary.

As I entered the room and sat across from the man I needed to speak with, my legs felt like jello and I could see on his face the same weight was heavy on him. Small talk and light banter covered over our awkward attempts to dance around the issue. Then, one of us spoke of it.

This sort of encounter is normative in communities. People are fragile. Relationships break and fracture. Often these confrontational meetings are necessary. However necessary they may be, we don’t like them and we often try to avoid them. We convince ourselves that we can just sweep the issue aside and persist in a false sense of harmony. Overwhelmed with the prospect of effort it will take to overcome the conflict, we run from the opportunity for joy! You see, when conflict arises, we are given a rare opportunity to press hard into the community and find joy. We are granted the grace to test our faith community and see the grace of God. We are given the chance to trust God in the midst of our failures. We are given the opportunity to love and know God more fully.

Yet, given the opportunity to walk through difficulty and feel the grace of God, we often deny ourselves the joy in favor of complacent comfort. There are numerous reasons for this avoidance, here are four common reasons why I have avoided conflict:

1. I was afraid of the outcome. Indeed, the end result of conflict terrifies us. We convince ourselves that vulnerability will result in our own self-destruction. We look across at the other person as though we are in a contest that must result in the death of someone or something. However, death is not required in conflict. Indeed, if you have trusted in Christ, death is not on the table. Conflict will not result in your demise, only your betterment. Romans 8:28 is true! God works all things for good. In the midst of conflict, we need to remember death is not on the table.

2. I don’t trust God’s grace and sovereignty. In general, it is safe to say that most people believe that God is all powerful and CAN do what He desires to do. While some may argue over the self-imposed limitations or the preservation of free agency, Christians agree that God is actively playing a role in the world and in our individual circumstances. If it is true that God is actively involved in the world and that His involvement is good (Romans 8:28), then it stands to reason that the conflicts we face can be used by God for our good and His glory. When we avoid necessary confrontations and difficult discussions we deny the truth that God is good and we fail to trust that God is at work in our circumstances. We fail to trust God.

3. I fear I will be fully known. Most people do not have close personal friends. Indeed, many are living rather lonely lives even in the midst of crowded spaces. In truth, we don’t want to people to know who we really are. Self-identity and thorough self examination are terrifying to our sensibilities. We want people to think that we are perfect and that we have everything together. However, there is great comfort in being known. When someone knows us, we need not fear that we will fail to live up to expectations or disappoint through conflict.

4. I misunderstand the value of conflict. Conflict is inherently valuable. It is through conflict that we grow and produce valuable means of grace and maturity. It is often through the greatest conflict that God develops the greatest soldiers in the Kingdom.

Here are three ways to press through conflict and grow.

1. Remember this is not the end, take the long view. My dad used to say, “don’t sweat the small stuff and if you back up far enough, everything is pretty small.” Remember there is a great deal more to life than this one issue. Gain some perspective and realize that this is not the end. Indeed, for a believer, none of this life is the end. Heaven awaits and this is merely a training ground. So, if this is not the end, then press on towards action. Instead of dwelling on and dealing with past offense, move forward. Make plans of how to move forward in the relationship. Ask forgiveness for wrongs committed, offer forgiveness when wounded, and make plans to advance the Kingdom of God. (A truly practical way to do this is to make specific plans to hold eachother accountable for gospel work. Commit to pray for specific gospel opportunities for one another. This way we turn conflict into conquest!)

2. Remember grace given to you, Jesus overcame the ultimate conflict for you. Often, in times of conflict, we forget the grace that has been given to us. A “woe is me” mindset begins to set in and our ability to see the reality of our circumstance is skewed. But God has granted us grace beyond our own ability and has rescued us from certain death! In Jesus, He has taken the punishment for sin upon Himself and forgiven you. You who were an enemy, He has made His child. Can you not extend grace to someone else? Is this conflict going to result in your literal crucifixion? If not, I think you can bare a little tension and struggle for the betterment of your community. Extend grace to the other person. Don’t take things personally, even if they are and go ahead and let yourself die for the other person. After all, if Christ is in you… then you have the power to do so.

3. Remember to cherish life. Through storm comes life. The aftermath of storms is devastating. Houses are destroyed, lives are lost, and even nature seems to be crying out in despair after a hurricane or tornado. However, when we return to the sight of a storm years later, houses are built stronger, lives are restored, and even the ground seems to have blossomed with a life-ferocious. Storms may bring pain, but they also strengthen the resolve to live. When conflict comes, do your best to preserve life, remembering that you will be stronger on the other end. Confess your wrongs, own your faults, take the blame (even if you’re right). Let the storm land on you so that you can preserve and protect the other. IN this way you will be stronger and the other will be loved.

Are there things you do to press into conflict? Share them in comments!

See part 1 of this post here