Church Chat

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If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you know we are all about encouraging pastors.  But you may be thinking, “Sure, but that’s just you.  That’s just your job.”  So today we want to share ACTUAL words from REAL people about their pastors, and you.  Without further ado, here are your people, speaking to you:

Pastor, remember that time the matriarch of our family died and everyone flipped out & turned on each other? We had a family meeting with wailing & gnashing of teeth…sackcloth, ashes & a pretty sweet rendition of Stairway to Heaven in the background. Well, because of the beautiful things said about her and the godly wisdom you gave us, we were all able to get through what was undoubtedly one of the hardest times in our lives. Your presence & words would not have been as effective if you didn’t know us all on a personal level. And that didn’t happen because we went to your church. You knew us because you’re an amazing shepherd.

The most amazing pastor I ever had was ___________. Joy, gentleness, loving are just a few of the words I would use to describe him. And such a wonderful gift for teaching with incredible clarity. I miss him greatly.

I can say without pause that my pastors operate in unconditional love and humility before our Lord and Savior. They are men and so therefore like all human kind miss it now and then …. But oh they are true shepherds and they love and protect their sheep, Love, acceptance and forgiveness is what our church was founded on…..I think they both have strived to do it well!

And a special shot out to Pastor… We have walked life out together… He has genuinely been there for me at every twist and turn in my life since my twenties! He prayed me through, loved me through some hard places, some grievous times! God bless the man who stands in the gap and loves Gods people!

Ron Dunn said ” Don’t just stand there- Pray something”

Your calling is so important. Please protect that by making time to renew yourself. The adage “you cannot give what you do not have…” is very true. You must take care of yourself as fill your vessel to give to each in the measure they need or require. Also, do things outside of church that energize you. That energy will be needed.

I am blessed to call him my pastor and my friend. He is an incredible man of God and it’s a pleasure to do life with him.

Self-care isn’t selfish

Spend time with your family! If you’re not caring for them, you can’t care for anyone else. (From a PK)

Vacations are a good thing. Schedule time away or you’ll burn out. Maybe not today, and maybe not tomorrow, but inevitably it will come.

What you do matters…eternally!

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek His will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take. (Proverbs 3:5, 6 NLT)

Thank you. Thank you for your service and for the gift of yourself. Please take time to care for yourself and your family. Please take time to nurture your marriage. Please do not feel compelled to say YES to every demand and request. I appreciate you and don’t want to lose you.

For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do. And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. Hebrews 6:10-12

What would you like to say to your pastor or to pastors in general?  Share it with us!

Tell Me the Story of Jesus

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One of my earliest memories – sitting in a semi-circle in front of a flannel board listening to Mrs. Nanson tell us about Jesus. I can still feel the scratch of the backing against my little fingers as she shows us what holds the paper figures on the sky blue felted board. It’s just a mental snapshot of something that happened every week without fail, but there it is. A moment of sweetness captured like an insect in amber.

Two or three years later and I’m six years old. An odd little child who befriends all the neighbors, I’m four doors down at Sherri Graham’s house, laying out in the sun in the backyard with my friend – who just happens to be about 17. The memory is all wrapped up in the smell of suntan lotion, the loops of the terry cloth towel against my face, and the warmth of the summer day wrapping me up like a big blanket. She’s telling me about Jesus and I consider in my heart that it’s time to accept Him as Savior. Years later she has no recollection of the day when I remind her. I know that I will never forget a teenage girl took the time and undoubtedly patience to talk to a little girl about eternal things.

When I turn seven, I decide it is time to get baptized. Mrs. Badry teaches my group the significance of the step we are about to take. She is all musical voice and hair the color of light as she tells us about Jesus. Forty-something years later she remembers me as the girl who rode her bike all over town so she wouldn’t miss out on anything. I certainly didn’t miss out on this.

Woven in and among these are memories of my grandmother. By weekday, she scurries along with a spotless home and a boundless kitchen. A woman who never sat down through an entire meal – always hopping up to serve. Ah, but on the Sundays when it is her turn to tell us about Jesus, the power flowing from her nearly five foot tall frame is a sight to behold. A well-worn hankie tucked into the palm of her hand, she speaks with authority but never harshness. When she teaches Sunday school in her tiny church, we march into the room to the left of the stage and sit in wee chairs from Mexico. She sings with us, “The devil is a sly old fox. If I could catch him I’d put him in a box. I’d lock that box and throw away the key, for all those tricks he’s played on me.” Her faith is a ponderous and awesome thing that she shares with the smallest of her grandchildren. Even then I can feel the responsibility of the truth she entrusts to us.

It is the first day of November – the month of thankfulness. I am so thankful today for the women in my childhood who gave to me the gift of faith, time, patience, life. Women young and old who did not discount my youth or dismiss my presence. Women who were the Light-Bearers to my lonely heart and welcomed me into the circle of belief. All but one of these are already at the feet of Jesus and will stretch out their arms to receive me on the day I join them there. They already know their significance in my story, but I wanted you to know them as well.

Take a moment today to honor the women in your story. The Light-Bearers of faith that made the difference to you. And tell them or their families of their legacy of eternity.

Tips On Parenting a PK

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Glenn Burris, Jr. is currently serving as President of The Foursquare Church. A longtime Foursquare leader, Burris graduated from Mount Vernon Bible College in 1975 and served as a youth pastor before leading churches in Georgia and North Carolina. He became supervisor of the 10-state Southeast District in 1992, serving in that role until 2002 when he became general supervisor of Foursquare, a vice-presidential position. He also served a brief term as president of LIFE Bible College East in Christiansburg, Va. His passions are planting churches and caring for pastors. This post is one in a series he has written on the needs of pastors and their families.

Pastor’s kids live under a microscope. The expectations of them at times are unreasonable. They attempt to carve out their own identify, as well as discover God’s plan and purpose for their own life, while living in the wake of their parent’s successes or their parent’s struggles. I was a P.K. and Debbie and I were incredibly privileged by the Lord, to parent Heidi & Joshua. A few tips on parenting children in the environment of ministry.
1) Be transparent with them, but also be wise. Sometimes parents share information about issues and people. Just remember that your kids will not process it as easily as you do.
2) When you’re with them, be with them, body and mind. Today’s accessibility with smart phones and tablets make staying connected 24/7 with your ministry responsibilities sometimes too easy. They need your full attention.
3) Model the things you want them to learn, don’t just teach them. They learn more from what they see than what they hear.
4) You can’t love them too much, you can’t hug them too much, and you can’t encourage them too much. But you could under prepare them for a world that they’ll face one day as an adult. Train them, equip them, set boundaries for them, teach them about responsibility and honor.
5) Share your love and walk with God, share about your love and relationship with your spouse and share with them about the values and spiritual principles they’ll need to navigate a complex world.
6) Then trust God with their future and be there for them when they need you.

Waking up with Leah: Learning to Love a Disappointing Church

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Guest post written by Chad Bird. Click here and check out his blog.

In the tiny Texas town where I grew up, sleeping in on Sunday morning was as inconceivable as rooting for someone besides the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday afternoon. Going to church made the list with apple pie and Chevrolet. My dad was a deacon; my mom a Sunday School teacher; and I was the typical daydreaming boy fidgeting in the pew. Fast-forward a couple of decades, and I found myself in a job where sleeping in on Sunday was highly frowned upon since the pulpit would’ve been quite empty without me. There I was: seminary trained, armed to the teeth with confessions and creeds, zealous to convert a world—or, at least, our Oklahoma town—to the faith once for all delivered to the saints.

Looking back at myself as that twenty-something pastor, I have to admit that I was almost as steeped in naïveté then as I was as a twelve year old boy. Sure, I knew plenty about the church, but it was heavily freighted with the good stuff. The good stuff of the ladies’ guild cooking casseroles for grieving families, youth groups pounding hammers in Mexico to build homes for the poor, a rancher showing up on the pastor’s doorstep with half a beef from his own herd to stock the freezer. But as good and giving and beautiful as the church can be, there’s a dark side, too, that at times can be dog ugly. The day I stumbled upon a secret meeting of the church leadership and one of the elders stood up and slammed the door in my face—that comes to mind. Over the years, there were the not-so-veiled threats of violence, pastors who broke the seal of confession, bishops issuing warnings about me, and occasional rumors about me so outrageous they could have been ripped from the cover of the National Enquirer. I learned plenty through those years, the most obvious lesson being that the church can be a place that’s just as mean and nasty and royally screwed up as the world.

Like the patriarch, Jacob, who after his wedding night, awoke to the wrong wife in his bed, I too one day opened my eyes to find that the Rachel with whom I had fallen in love, for whom I’d labored long years, was not the one beside me as the sun rose. I rolled over and came face-to-face with the uncomely, undesirable, older sister. And then I had a decision to make: leave the church, or learn to love Leah.

Have you been there? Maybe you too grew up with a congregation as your second home, perhaps even served in the ministry, but later encountered within its walls abuse or neglect or a whole host of other ills. While going through a divorce, or struggling with a sexually charged issue, you found not clasping hands of support but wagging fingers of accusation. As the shards of your broken life fell about you, when simply having a Christian show you they cared, when that alone would have meant the world to you, all you saw was the church’s back, turned away, walking the other direction. Or maybe you just slowly slipped away, skipping a Sunday here, a whole month there, and eventually never darkened the doors again, but not a single believer took the time to call or visit to reveal they missed you. You have your story, and I have mine, but all such accounts shoulder a common burden: the fellowship that is supposed to be a hospital for sinners can seem more like a religious country club, a xenophobic clique, or a horde of hypocrites. Call it what you may, it’s not been a church to you and for you. So what do you do? Do you leave or learn to love Leah, walk away from the church or stay?

I could’ve washed my hands of the whole affair and walked away. In fact, I gave serious thought to just that, and for several years, rarely planted my butt in a pew for, when I did, I could taste the bile rising up my throat. But over time, and through a whole lot of healing, re-wounding, and re-healing, I finally came to the point where I see and love Leah for what she is: a beautifully ugly church in whose arms I encounter the God who loves beautifully ugly sinners like me.

A beautifully ugly sinner like me—that’s where healing has to start, with an honest acknowledgement that there may be a slew of unattractive things about the church, but I’m no supermodel of holiness myself. Part of the way we humans deal with our grief or anger or guilt is to deflect any culpability from ourselves by blaming others for almost everything that goes wrong. And though there are important exceptions—such as the victims of sexual predators—most of us who’ve had a rocky relationship with the church must fess up to our own failings. There’s a good chance Leah finds me just as ugly as I find her. I see hypocrites in the church, but I see in my own soul times galore when I wore a mask of piety in public and a face of shame in private. I deplore how the church’s tongue can destroy a person’s reputation, but my own tongue loves the desserts of lies and rumors and gossip more than it loves the bread of honesty. In our society, where it seems everyone claims to be a victim, it needs to be said that we are all perpetrators ourselves. We struggle with the same faults with which we fault the church.

In addition to personal accountability, we’ve got to kill and bury any utopian daydreams we have about the church hitting the gym to tighten her glutes and getting a boob job so we have a hotter, sexier Leah. There has never been, nor will there ever be, a time when the church was flawless. Barely had Jesus ascended before the church descended into trouble. Squabbles arose, heresies spread, pastors played favorites, sexual immorality mushroomed, and hearts grew cold. In the last book of the Bible, there are letters from God to seven different churches. Although he commends those congregations for many good things, he also complains of them leaving their first love, holding to false teachers and teachings, spiritual death, and lukewarmness. And this while the church was still basking in the afterglow of the earthly ministry of Jesus! As long as there are people in the church, there will be problems, for if humanity is anything, it is problematic.

Therein is the reason I found my way (or rather, like a lost sheep, was carried) back to the church: because it’s a place pregnant with problems. Because of those imperfections, I fit in perfectly. If you’ve got it all together, have no struggles, live a full and happy life, free of sin, then the church is not for you. But if you struggle with selfishness, greed, lust, addiction, problem children, a cheating spouse, fear, loneliness, or anything else that plagues our race, then the church is the ideal place for you. For Leah struggles with all that crap, too. Don’t let the pretty stained glass and padded pews and vested clergy fool you; all around the church are wounded sinners wheeled about on gurneys, doctors sewing up stab victims, nurses checking IVs, and double amputees carried by the blind who are led by the mute while the deaf sing prayers for healing. The church is messy place for messed up people who are in dire need of a God who cares.

In uncomely, undesirable, older Leah, that’s just what you’ll find: a God who cares. You’ll find a God who was born of an unwed teen whose neighbors likely whispered was a slut. You’ll find a God who hung out with outcasts, welcomed whores as followers, touched untouchables, called bullshit on the holier-than-thous of his day, and walked eyes wide open into the clutches of those who would torture him to death so as to save a world that really didn’t think it needed saving. In the church you’ll encounter the God who takes all his beautiful and exchanges it for your ugly.

And so, after a few years of growing up, maturing in a some areas, and realizing a bit more clearly what life is all about, I can now honestly say, “Leah, just as you are—not who I want you to be, not who others say you should be—but just as you are: I love you.”

Love Letters

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The musty odor of stored memories clings to the dust motes suspended in the air of my home.  Boxes of birthday cards, football ribbons, and headlines proclaiming the first moon landing and its return blast from creased yellow newsprint weighted down by a hula girl flask.

In a shoe box carefully wrapped with wedding shower paper lie page after page, envelope upon envelope of words of love and devotion.  The letters are numbered and dated, and there is a secret code in the top right corner – a special message meant only for me.

I carry the crumpled box of letters to my class on my 30th wedding anniversary.  My husband sits in the corner of the room trying unsuccessfully to remain inconspicuous.  I read the tender phrases, “I told the lady at the car rental place about you and showed her your picture.  I said, ‘Isn’t she pretty?'” A smile turns up the corners of my mouth as I recall how I poured over each phrase, committed each one to memory, struggled to decipher the code, and haunted my college p.o. box in anticipation of the next delivery.

Gradually my mind turns to other letters written to me long ago.  “Every time I think of you I give thanks to my God,” (Philippians 1:3).  These letters also have words of love and devotion.  They’re numbered and dated (in a way).  There is definitely a secret code that speaks only to me – the right word at the right time.

When these words were new to me I read them again and again.  I memorized each line and told anyone who would listen about the letters written to me, and about his love for me.  I examined them to figure out the code – as much a mystery to me as the binary message written on notebook paper. But somewhere along the line the reading became a responsibility and not a treat.  A limited grasp of the mystery became sufficient.  I filed a great deal of it away where it has become dusty and faded – a sweet memory of young love.

I share these things with my class, not as a Jesus Juke, but as a very real example of love growing cold.  I want to show them that although this is common, it’s not o.k.  My goal is not to heap guilt and condemnation on them, but to stir up the fire of their first love.

I walk them through the steps of the Lectio Divina  – read, meditate, pray, contemplate – encouraging them to hunger for intimate relationship, not settle for casual acquaintance.  I challenge them that discipline doesn’t increase your righteousness, it just prepares you to hear, grasp, and experience the deep things.  I remind them that prayer is more about receiving His love and acceptance, and less about talking and asking.  All the while I am teaching these things to myself.  I wonder how long it has been since I have simply rested in His presence, quietly, patiently, lovingly.

Whenever things are inevitably packed away, these words of love will not be forgotten.  The delight of my beloved will remain when he thinks of me – that he accepts me in all my unacceptability.  His love for me will remain palpable because there will be new letters, new codes, new hope.  We will discipline ourselves to spend time just being together without an agenda because it puts us in the best place to receive blessing.

I will pack these keepsakes again.  The newspapers must be sealed lest they disintegrate.  Old soda bottles must be rewrapped to protect against damage.  We’ll box everything up and it will make its way back up into the hot, dusty attic.  Time will cause more names to fade from memory. But the love represented in the letters will not fade away.