6 things that keep me up at night in ministry…

I’ve had the privilege of working with middle school and high school students since mid-2009. There are so many different things that I get to experience that make me wonder why God saw fit to choose me for this particular calling, but I try to never complain about His decision to do so. That being said, among all the rewards for being in vocational ministry, there are still some things that keep me up at night and I figure I might as well share some of them with you. My prayer is that this is an encouragement where needed, and that maybe you’re in ministry too and you lose sleep on occasion because of some of the same things I do but felt like you were alone in that.

sleepless

6. Am I teaching these students in a way that they grasp the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
I know that when I study for a lesson I try my best to put what I learned from studying into words that will illuminate what it means to grasp the Gospel of Jesus. The hardest part for me to remember isthat nothing I can say will change a life if the Holy Spirit isn’t the inspiration for the words. I also have to remember that sometimes words just don’t have the capacity to describe what the Gospel is, and that’s tough for me. I’m a fixer and I hate when I can’t fix something.

5. Do I have the faith to quit trying to fix things and let the Holy Spirit work?
Sometimes I have to sit back and realize that I’m not the best at something. Although this point has been driven home many times in many different ways, the realization of it being true is difficult to accept. This is an issue that stems from my personal life as well. So many times I’ve tried to figure out how to fix a situation before praying and asking guidance from God. So many times when we look at Paul in scripture, he is seeking guidance from the Holy Spirit. Not only is he seeking guidance, but he is also encouraging and advising others to seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 8:26 being one such instance)

4. Am I doing enough to encourage these students in their walk with Jesus?
In looking back at my youth, I see so many of my peers who have walked away from even thinking about attending church. I’ve seen several who felt called to ministry who gave up on that calling soon after surrendering to it. I don’t want the students I’m charged with teaching, mentoring and ministering to being the next wave of students who walk away to never look back. My desire is to see them be a difference for God’s kingdom in their generation. For that to happen though, I have to first be faithful to the calling I’ve been given. Secondly, I have to stop trying to coddle them and let them grow some legs and stand on them. I can’t make these students do what I think they ought to, I have to have faith they’ll follow the calling God has placed in their lives.

3. Am I setting the example of being a servant before being a leader?
This is the question that gets some of the most play in my head during the day and night. I see so many guys writing books on being the best leader, the most effective leader, the greatest leader. A good deal of these guys are writing about how to be the best CEO of their ministry. I was looking at a conference to go to that was geared specifically for youth pastors this fall, and every single speaker that was attending the conference was a CEO or something similar to that position in a wildly successful secular company. Now, don’t get me wrong, I appreciate those who are business-minded and organized and super driven, they keep the wheels turning. The problem I see with this is that too many ministers are worrying about being a CEO and not the janitor of the ministry. If we aren’t willing to serve those around us, can we be effective in ministry? I don’t want students to ever ask me if they’re getting paid to do work on mission projects. I say that in jest, but I’ve been asked that before and it really got me to thinking. We eventually had to cancel those projects because students didn’t want to participate if they weren’t being paid. The realization that I came to was that I wasn’t focusing enough on the characteristics of Jesus, who came to serve and not be served.My goal is to find ways to promote this mindset and encourage serving our fellow man/woman/boy/girl in an effort to walk as Jesus. Unfortunately, I don’t think having a CEO mindset is one of the ways we can do that because we are called to a relationship with Jesus and therefore we are called to a relationship with other followers of Jesus.

2. Am I ministering to my family at home as much as I am ministering to my family at church?
I have the opportunity to be the youth pastor at the church where I am currently employed. Along with that, I get the privilege of leading the musical portion of our worship services on Sunday mornings. This is an area where God is stretching me to my limits. Prior to being called to our current church, I was a volunteer as the youth pastor and filled in on occasion for my father-in-law on Sunday mornings when he was out of town or sick. My level of responsibility went up a few notches when we were called here, and I’m incredibly blessed to have this opportunity. Along with that though, I’m having to adjust how I manage myself around the time that I have during the day. One of the most difficult has been to make sure that I still spend time at home with my lovely bride and our 3 crazy awesome kids. I have found myself at times focusing more on what was going on at the church and in my office than what I had going on at home. I have to make intentional efforts to spend more time focusing on ministering to my own kids and wife than I have, and that can be tough for me because I am not a multi-tasker.

1. Am I practicing what I preach?
This is the thought that haunts me every night. Like everyone else, I sin. If I said I didn’t, I  would be called a liar. Am I being consistent with what I’m teaching my students? Am I loving everyone as Christ teaches us to? Are my words edifying and encouraging to everyone I talk to? Are my words indicative of my relationship with Jesus? Is my life a reflection of the one who took my sins and gave me a chance to spend eternity with God the Father? Unfortunately, I can’t always answer those questions with “yes.” The beauty of Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins though, is that I have an advocate to speak for me when I repent of those sins. This doesn’t give me license to act like an idiot, but it does give me the chance for redemption upon repentance.

What are some things that keep you up at night?

God. Is. Always. There.

The following is the testimony of a childhood friend of mine, I pray that no matter what perspective you are reading it from, your heart will be touched.  God loves us, enough to send His son for us.  When we come to Him in recognition of that fact, He will always beckon us back to Him.  This is an anonymous story, mainly because some of the details are very personal and are better left nameless.

God has been so good to me in my life and has brought me out of so much and delivered me from more than I could ever tell you. I began my walk with God when I was 15.  I was headed down the wrong road, and the youth pastor of a local church stepped in and showed me Gods love. I got very involved and threw all my energy into my youth group, and all that I could do for God.

Throughout high school, I dated a guy off and on for three years but things began to get out of hand and I called the relationship off. My senior year a met a guy that loved God and liked me for me, not for what most teenage boys wanted.  We had only been dating for a few months when we had a horrible wreck.  God saved our lives but my faith was shaken. I finished my senior year at an alternative school, and was home bound for some time and that amounted to too much idle time. My parents had been having problems for some time and the stress began to get to me, and I broke up with my boyfriend.  I did this even though we both had known that God had called us to be together. I began to hang out with the wrong people, and stopped going to church.  One day my first boyfriend came back into town, so I decided to spend the weekend with him and his family. That was the decision that caused me years of pain. Just a crack in the door of sin, and the whole world began to drown me.  In a matter of two weeks, I started drinking and smoking, and began sleeping with my boyfriend. Things started out on the wrong foot.  Soon after he proposed, I found out he had cheated on me, and the young woman was pregnant. But I was so desperate for a way to hide my pain and lonesomeness, I “forgave” him and we were married just five short months of dating, I was only 19.

Our first baby came with in the first year of our marriage as did a move that took me 1,500 miles away from everything I had ever known. We had the typical arguments that all newlyweds experience, but soon they turned to him pushing then slapping me.  The first time it happened, I was so shocked but he told me it was my fault for pushing his buttons. The abuse got worse over the next year, as did his addiction to pornography and video games. I learned that he was having an affair over the internet and over the phone with the same girl he had cheated on me with before we were married. Despite all of this, we had our second child just a year after our first child was born. My life revolved around my children, and at times, I felt so helpless.  He would get angry and hurt me over stupid things, and demand I performed as his pornography girls did.  I was trapped. Over the next two years, there were good times. But unfortunately, the bad outweighed the good by far. It got to the point I didn’t care anymore about making him happy, only my girls. I truly hated that they lived in a house where their parents fought. But there was one light in my dark world…a friend…the guy I had dated when I had my wreck.

He had moved on and gotten married, but we had remained friends. No one but him knew of the abuse, and one day I had had all I could take.  So I wrote a note to my sister telling her what had been going on, and I had a bottle of pills.  I sat down and prayed for the first time in a long time asking, “God where are you?” At that moment my computer went off telling me I had a message. When I looked up it was a message from my friend telling me how much God loved me and how special I was to him. My heart cracked just a little that night, and as I knelt beside my children’ s bed and began to pray, my oldest who was about 3 years old at the time, asked me what I was doing.  When I told her I was praying to Jesus, she asked, “Who is Jesus?” All I could do was hold her, and ask God to forgive me. From that night on, I decided I was going to try to “find” God again. I began to pray for my husband, and ask God to change me or change him or give me a way out.  Those 6 months seemed to be the hardest, but one day my husband received orders to be gone for 6 months, and I thought that might gives us the time apart to heal. I was wrong.  The night before he left, he got angry with me and punched me. He then went to punch again, and I ducked as he put his arm through a door up to his shoulder.  Had he hit me, I can only imagine what would have happened.  That hit cut the last thread of love my heart had for him. I had been used, threatened, and made to do things even when I said no.

When he left, I left for my home town with my girls. My heart longed for someone to love me.  I felt ugly and stupid for what I had allowed my kids to go through, and I thought no one would ever want me because I thought I was used goods. I had two children and no clue what I was going to do. I had talked to my friend through all of this, and he had been through a very rough time as well.  His wife had left him while he was deployed to war, and we had been praying for each other. Though my heart still loved him, I felt ashamed because of the situation being as it was. I got a lawyer and told no one what was going on till the last minute, and I was legally separated from my husband in January. My friend had also moved back to our hometown and in April we had begun to spend time together.  He was divorced, and I was in the middle of mine. Everyone, including my family, was under the impression I was leaving my husband for another man.  I spoke with my soon to be ex-husband, and told him I could not live the life I lived anymore. I was tired of being scared, and wanted a better life for the kids.

When he got back from his deployment, he went to my parents and begged them to help him, and he ended up telling them an abbreviated version about what had happened, about the abuse, but only that he had hit me. My family turned on me and told me I was wrong and needed to work things out.  But I had been so hurt, and there was no going back.  My friendship turned into a relationship, and I was afraid to love again.  But he loved me, and loved my children and he gave us a place to call home. We knew that the way were where living was wrong, but we could not get married until my divorce was final, and my ex was making that as hard as possible. We had gone to a few churches trying to find our way back to God, as we had both walked away from God in our own way. We both desperately wanted God in our lives, and in our soon to be marriage. He had grown up in a church that was different from what I was brought up in.

So we visited another church in our town but some of the people made it very clear they didn’t want us there (not many churches welcomed a couple like us), so we visited another church. This one we liked, but one day the pastor asked to talk with us.  When we came to his office, he sat on the edge of his desk and looked at my boyfriend and said “How dare you raise your hands to God and call yourself a man of God, and walk in to the church with an adulterous woman?” He looked at me and told me I was going to condemn my children (then 2 and 3) to hell if I got a divorce. He then began to explain how divorce had damaged his life, and his children’s. This pastor never picked up his bible, nor asked for an explanation. The little faith I did have began to shake, and I didn’t know what to do.  After that “meeting” my boyfriend told me we could not see each other for two weeks, until we both had time to pray. Again, I was alone and scared. I went home and prayed, and ask God to show me what to do. The next day, the same pastor asked if he could meet with my ex-husband and me. We went to his house and he took my ex to talk to him, and I spoke with his wife. We came back together and I began to tell my side of the story, during which he stopped me and told me to stop lying!  I was shocked!  The pastor told me he knew my (ex) husband and he would never do that, and that I was just looking for a way out to be with the “other” man.  Again, he told me I was going to condemn my children to hell. My heart was shattered I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to go back into the prison of my marriage, but I didn’t want to condemn my children.

I began to pray. I felt led to call the pastor of the church I had visited with my friend. I was afraid of what their view might be, but still I felt that is who God was leading me to talk with.  I went and told the pastor what had been happening, and I told him my story. He had already known how we were living, and that I was in the middle of a divorce. He looked at me and told me the other pastor was mistaken, but that he too did not agree with how we were living.  He let us know that it was not his place to condemn. He reminded me that although God did not like divorce, my husband’s infidelity and abuse had released me from being bound to him any longer. He told me God loved me, and that He hated the sin but LOVED me.  I was precious to God and that I would not condemn my children to hell, that nowhere in the bible did it say that.  My last hope, my last grasp at God had been answered through this pastor.

The road to divorce was hard, but in November of that year, I was finally divorced, and in December I married my best friend. No, we didn’t start things right, but since that day we have done our best to live for God and raise the children to know and serve the loving God that turned a horrible decision of my youth into a wonderful blessing. God has blessed us with more children and a church that loved us even when it was hard to.

All during those hard years I would ask God “Where did you go?” But I have realized since it was me that left God, and when I was ready, He was waiting with open arms to take me back, love me, and heal my heart that had been shattered. I went from a young woman who felt hopeless, used, ugly and unlovable to a woman of God who knows she is the child of The King, and is loved beyond words by a loving God and Godly husband.  God has done so much for me in my life, He has delivered me, brought me back from the dead (literally), and shows me every day through simple things -HE loves me!

If you take anything from this please let it be this, don’t judge someone walking through your church doors by what is on the outside, instead, take the time to get to know them and see how you can show Gods love to them. I can only imagine were I would be had my pastor not shown me God’s True love…. God bless, and remember:

 

“You may be the only bible someone reads”

 

It is amazing to me that our churches sometimes can push those who need to hear the love of Christ most away and out the doors.  Not all churches are like this, and those that show love and embrace people no matter who they are, are doing as the church in Acts did, loving and caring for everyone that came in the doors.  Be careful if you are part of the church, love everyone the same, and share the love of Christ endlessly.  Be encouraged that you can come running back to the Father if you’ve strayed away from Him.  You have to intentionally make that choice to come back, He won’t force you.  Praise God, for He alone is worthy!

 

Worship: Part I

Worship.  The context of the word varies greatly from culture to culture, religion to religion, and generation to generation.  I took the liberty of looking up the definition of worship on the Merriam-Webster website, and this is what it had to say worship meant:

As a noun-

1

chiefly British : a person of importance —used as a title for various officials (as magistrates and some mayors)

2
: reverence offered a divine being or supernatural power; also : an act of expressing such reverence
3
: a form of religious practice with its creed and ritual
4
: extravagant respect or admiration for or devotion to an object of esteem <worship of the dollar>
As a verb-
1
: to honor or reverence as a divine being or supernatural power
2
: to regard with great or extravagant respect, honor, or devotion <a celebrity worshipped by her fans>
I find it incredibly interesting that in both forms of the word, the examples the dictionary used were for very surface level things.  One was worship of the dollar, and the other of a celebrity.  Kinda points to the foremost thoughts of our culture as Americans, doesn’t it?  This series will probably get some of you to raise an eyebrow and wonder “what in the world is this guy talking about,” and for others it may be an opportunity to see things through the eyes of a guy who was raised in church and has seen the good, the bad, and the horror of this thing we call religion.  Some of you who may read this may be familiar with how we have seriously mangled what worship is intended to be, and some may not have even thought about it before.  My intentions with anything I type in here are, as always, not intended to create dissent or to bash on the church, they are simply to help me and others to grow and learn.  I realize that some of my prior posts haven’t been the most positive things to read, but I do try to keep an honest and objective point-of-view, especially since I know that I’m nowhere near the perfect example of what a Christian is supposed to look like, sound like, behave like, and just be like in general.  With all that mess in mind, let’s begin!
Worship, to many, is the attention we give the object(s) of our desire and focus in life.  One needs not to look long at the corporate sector of our country to see that the dollar is an object of affection for many.  Another example, would be the attention we give to celebrities and dignitaries.  The main thing I can see pointing people in the direction of materialistic worship, is  the lack of Christ in culture and life.  The current president of our country made a comment that “We no longer consider ourselves a Christian nation…”  As much as has been made of this quote by the president, I think he inadvertently hit the proverbial nail on the head with this statement.  He meant the comment to promote religious diversity in our country, which there definitely is, but I agree that we can no longer consider ourselves as a Christian nation.  If you take a step back and look, at what our nation’s focus is on, you cannot honestly say we are a Christian nation.  When the majority of our nation makes the dollar, celebrities who live in and promote a sinful lifestyle the focus, we cannot say that Christ is the center of our nation.  The very label “Christian” implies that one is a follower of Christ, a “little-Christ” if you will.  There are areas and groups of people in our country that are definitely focused on following Christ, and that rebuke those who claim Christ but live directly and intentionally in darkness.  What does this paragraph have to do with worship?  Keep reading…
The only reason I used the president’s quote was to give a litmus of our nation’s status, not to begin a political firestorm, as I’ve really begun to separate myself from politics as much as I possibly can.  To determine what worship is, what it’s supposed to look like, what it’s supposed to sound like, we have to go to scripture.  All throughout the Old Testament, people worshiped God through sacrifice for sins, through praising Him for provision, protection, wisdom, etc.  This, with the exception of sacrifice of animals, still held true throughout the New Testament.  Worship in Biblical times was a lifestyle lived out through giving praise to God and to Christ for our salvation and His grace and mercy.  Too often we have substituted that lifestyle for just Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday night programs and corporate fellowship.  The church has become a club that we attend so we can be counted on the roll and noted as “being there,” as opposed to the intention of a gathering of believers to praise THE Almighty God in recognition of the grace we have in our lives because of His great love for us.  I really have to think that if Paul came to any one of our churches nowadays, he would be like Christ in the temple, tossing over tables and saying “What are you guys doing?!?!?!?!”  Since when does praising our creator get limited to learning about the stories in scripture by coloring pictures and gluing animals to a paper ark, and then going to “big church?”  When we get to “big church,” we sit for a few minutes, maybe make some rounds saying our howdy’s and shaking a few hands.  Then, we have the introduction and announcements, followed by some hymns/contemporary songs that we either sing or don’t sing, based on our preferences on music, then we have a pastor come and deliver the Words that have been laid on his heart by the Lord.  After that, we have an invitation/alter call where people can come down and pray with the pastor or at the steps in front of the stage about things God has spoken to them about.  Then, we all shake hands, say a prayer and go eat lunch and take a nap.  Where in here is worship?
I’ve been a born again Christian for almost 20 years now, and I can almost count on two hands the times that I have truly felt the Spirit of God in worship on Sunday mornings.  How sad is that?  Some will attribute this, and sometimes rightfully so, to the lack of focus on my part to be included in the Spirit moving.  Others will attribute this, and sometimes rightfully so as well, to the lack of focus on those who are leading the body of believers in corporate worship.  The example of worship that we are to follow is lined out for us in Romans 12:1.
“Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship.”
We don’t attend church to “get something out” of the message brought by the pastor, the Bible is not for our benefit.  That’s right, you read correctly.  Our pastor made this statement several months ago, and it really got me to thinking about how I had always looked at scripture.  To be honest, it really brought about a totally different perspective on how I need to be reading scripture.  The Bible is not for our benefit, it is for the Glorification of God!  What does this mean?
It doesn’t matter how much music we play or sing, how many programs or activities we organize, how great our choir sounds, how many people we attract because we have such a cool “worship experience,” if our hearts are not tuned into where God is leading us, it is all for naught. If we are not seeking to bring glory to the One who has created us and given us life through His son’s sacrifice, we are nothing but noisy busy-bodies.  I will be taking apart different aspects of our culture’s view of worship as churches and as a society throughout this series.  I have no idea how long it will go on, but I hope you’ll join me for the duration, as well as adding some feedback and opinions along the way.  I always invite any differing opinions on things I say, as it provides a way for me to learn more, and possibly have my perspective changed.  Thanks, and I look forward to continuing this series!
Phillip

Part Deux of the 3 Deadly C’s of Today’s Church

So the next segment of this series is all about compassion, and where it fits into our lives and churches. Now, I know that compassion isn’t deadly, but the lack of it is, so that’s what I’ll be talking about. As I’m finishing up studying for this evening’s Bible study time with our youth, compassion is something that is irreplaceable in ministry as well as everyday life. Here’s my heart, try not to stab it, hehe.

Compassion is something that I struggle with in my life, both as a believer and as a husband and daddy. I sometimes have this thought that my kids (4,2,6m) should automatically know what’s right and wrong. I have this mindset that the youth I teach and counsel will listen to my “wisdom” from life experiences and avoid doing the things they are doing and walk away from destructive life decisions. Along with those perspectives, I also sometimes think that my amazing wife should just know what I am thinking and expecting without voicing anything. These expectations, when not met, very often create a mentality of no compassion inside my heart when things end up badly. Christ lived a life of compassion, He knew that people were sinners, knew that some would not come to know the saving knowledge of His existence and purpose, and that people would deny Him after they said they loved Him. How did He respond to these things? With grace, mercy, and incredible compassion. One of the key things in my life that I need to improve on is compassion, especially because Christ set the example and standard of compassion. People always pray for patience and things like that, but you can’t have patience without compassion. If you are compassionate with your kids, then the times they go crazy, your patience will be heightened and increased because you understand they are just kids. If I am compassionate with my youth at the church, then my ability to minister to them is increased because I remember that they are still learning, and that I didn’t really apply what I was taught at church until after I was out of high school. As for my wife, well, that’s always going to be a work in progress, especially because I’m usually the offender in that area, I often miss subtle and non-subtle hints, and I pay for them in the end.

As a minister, we are called to be compassionate to those in our congregation and to those in our community around us, irregardless of what they may have done, said, or thought about us. Paul writes about the requirements for ministers in his first letter to Timothy. Among the requirements for overseers(pastors), is the ability to be temperate, self-controlled, respectable. So many times we find ministers who don’t have those characteristics, I believe it is due to a lack of our ability to have compassion on others. Pride is another factor that I have seen that drives congregates away from churches. A pastor or youth minister who is constantly bragging about himself or his accomplishments stands a great chance as being labeled arrogant, and arrogance pushes people away from the church. Christ set the example of humility that we should follow, no matter our position in church, whether every Sunday morning attendees or lead pastor at a church of 900 members. If we are not able to think of ourselves as no better than those who come to be taught, we have no right to be doing the teaching. The very first requirement that Paul writes about in 1 Timothy 3, is that the overseer must be above reproach. Compassion is a necessary characteristic of ministers and followers of Christ, because it comes out of humility, which is a key characteristic of Christ. All that being said, I realize daily that I have a looong way to go to get where I need to be in terms of being an effective minister.

So, to commemorate some compassion I will be giving away a free copy of Shane and Shane’s newest album, called “The One You Need.” I will not lie when I tell you that this album has changed my mindset and perception of my role as a father, and when used in conjunction with the movie “Courageous,” the two will bring you to tears…not even joking.

So here are the rules to the game:

You will have the ability to gain 2 entries.

1) Comment on Part 1, 2, or 3 of the “3 Deadly C’s of Today’s Church” series and tell me what you think. (Part 3 will be posted next week.)

2) Post this link by copying and pasting the following text to your Facebook or Twitter account and then leaving a comment telling me that you have shared it: Behindthecross is giving away Shane & Shane’s new album, “The One You Need”. Check it out here! http://wp.me/p1KLvl-H

The deadline for the contest will be next Thursday(Nov.16th) at 11:59pm. The winner will be chosen on Friday by random.org and the winner will be posted on Saturday, the 18th. Comments will be numbered in the order that they are posted, beginning with Part 1 of the series, with the comments on Part 3, being the highest numbers.

I look forward to seeing who wins!

Thanks and God Bless!

Phillip