The Fake Church – And Why It Needs To Die!

churchI’m H.A.P.P.Y.  I feel like I can fly, I’m going to heaven, I’ll get there by and by…
or so an old Sunday School chorus goes, but is that really true ALL the time?

Are we supposed to be happy all the time?  And if we’re not happy all the time – is there something wrong with us?  If happiness is the measure of our Christian faith, then I’m afraid to say that we have all failed.   I am willing to venture a guess that we are NOT usually happy every moment of every day…that’s just not going to happen.

pretendI think we do ourselves a great disservice in the Church when we pretend everything is A-Okay all of the time.
We sometimes have this temptation to “play” church because we want to keep up appearances to the false-fact that we have it all together.  Leaders and Pastors of churches are especially good at this.  We’re supposed to be the shepherds of the flock that we’ve been entrusted with – how could we possibly reveal that we struggle…too?

We sometimes run scenarios in our heads that sort of go like this:  “I must show them that the joy of the Lord is my strength, but I can’t reveal to them I have issues at home too.”  Or;  “Let’s just get through this hour of worship and then I can go home and wallow in my pain – no one understands me in this church.”  Let’s face it, we all know that pastoring and leadership can be a lonely place sometimes.  pastorsWe have to make crucial decisions, not everyone in our churches will like those decisions or even like us.  We struggle sometimes making real friends because it is hard to be vulnerable to members of your own flock, especially when sometimes some members have hurt you or stabbed you in the back with gossip, back-biting and malicious silly struggles for power.

I’m not condemning anyone today, I just wonder if this is all we can become as the body of Christ (right now, in our seemingly stagnant ways and phony pretenses) – or if there is more in store for us?

One of the hindrances of real, tangible church growth is also a two-edged sword:  Trust.
Pastors, Leaders and Congregants struggle with truly trusting one another.
It’s hard on all sides.  Guards are often left up.  Church-goers are afraid to be open and honest with their pastors; pastors are afraid to show any weaknesses or doubts in front of their congregants.  The two-edged sword slices both ways, and in this regard, it keeps us from truly experiencing authentic koinonia fellowship.

The Opposite of Trust is?  
Yes, you guessed it – mistrust.
If we continue to worship in the Fake Church, we will continue to wear plastic smiles, but deep down we will be a hollowed out building made up of cold individuals trying to warm a pew on Sunday mornings – it’s just not going to work.  Some have been playing this game for years.  Some blame their trust issues on their upbringing or their personality type, or timing, or….but the reality is we weren’t called by God to be a church of fakers.  NO!  We are called to be united as one body; but what happens when the body doesn’t work together or trust one another?  We get a bunch of people doing a lot of hard things but never together!

knife“But I’ve Been Hurt Before”
I get that!  I have too.  I’ve experienced the sharpening of knives in a place where God calls us to holiness.  I’ve felt the scorn of supposed “loving” church members (it kind of felt more like hate at the time).  I have witnessed leaders, with whom I had trusted, break my trust, burn the bridges and they stood there to watch it burn. I’m not pretending that these painful things don’t happen in Church – they do.  Should they?  Absolutely not!  But does that mean we stop attempting to trust one another?  Does that mean we put on our “church clothes” each Sunday and continue to hold up the facade while inside we’re struggling?  Absolutely not!

We’ve both been hurt a time or two.  Most likely (and I hope not) we’ll be hurt again.  This shouldn’t hold us hostage as Christ-followers.

I Believe believe
-I believe God WILL work all things for good to those who love Him (Romans 8:28).
-I believe despite ourselves, He is still prompting us to be holy!
-I believe in the transforming power of The Holy Spirit – do you?
-I believe that forgiveness is a game changer!
-I believe that the only way to transform our churches is to be authentic in our struggles and real with one another.
-I believe that God still has work to do in His Church!
-I believe that the time for fakery and phoniness (if there ever was a “time” for it) is over – unless we want to die a slow painful Church-death.

stopJUST STOP!
Pastors, Leaders, Church Members – Stop attending the fake church!
Put down the distractions.
-Stop playing on your phones, stop keeping to yourselves, stop sitting idle in the pews!
Stop pretending to care when you don’t.

This may sound harsh – but it’s true.
I’ve been there.
I too have played the game…and it goes nowhere!
This is why the Fake Church needs to die, and die fast!
In its place, I hope we find an authentic group of people who care for one another despite their faults, issues and struggles.  I might be naive, but I believe such a Church still exists, do you?

Something more to ponder today!
To God be the glory!

Dear Pastors, Authentic Joy Can Inspire Your Congregation!

sleepThe Pastor looked tired.
He gets up to preach the message and delivers an impassioned four point sermon with colorful illustrations and “all the fixin’s”…still no one comes forward to altar.  He starts to doubt his abilities to lead people to Christ.  He starts to grow frustrated and restless in his calling.  He looks out at his church congregation and believes most are just without “ears to hear” and have settled into Christian mediocrity.

What’s wrong with this picture?
It seems like some sort of fictional story and yet this is not so uncommon among pastors today.
Many pastors get out of seminary and believe that they will make a difference…and most will.  Most Pastors are prepared for the fray, and for “ministry life”.  Yet, as reality sets in, the risk many might face is disillusionment, ministry fatigue, and a loss of mission.

The problem that I have with the above illustration is two-fold: 
1) It’s all about the Pastor.  me
We pastors and ministers of this amazing grace can often get it wrong or backwards.
It’s not about us, it never was.
It’s not about how awesome we are, or how contemporary or traditional we are…it isn’t about how much media we utilize on a Sunday morning either.  Oh, and it’s also not about how amazing our worship band is or isn’t.  These are all surface things.

Dare I say that we as Pastors can begin to have an ego problem.
We call the shots, we make the executive orders, we plan the service and we preach that sermon that our congregation needs to hear each Sunday morning.  Is it easy to miss the point of “Church”?  You bet it is.  Especially when it becomes all about the Pastor.

This is a real danger, so be aware of its beckoning ego-centric call! 

2) The authentic joy is vacant in the Pastor’s life & ministry.  bored
The second problem I see in the uninspired ministry goes hand in hand with the last issue.
If it’s all about us and our ministry team, we run the risk of displaying that misaligned vision to our congregations.  And when we “put up a front” and paint this perfect picture for them, they see right through it. It’s like that elementary teacher who is terrified of elementary students…those kids just know when the teacher is scared to death.

Authentic joy cannot be faked.
People, especially our congregation, will know and see through inauthentic fakery.
It doesn’t matter how flowery your sermon is…
It doesn’t matter how “on point” the worship band was this Sunday…
It doesn’t matter if you have everything right on the bulletin this Sunday…
IF you aren’t authentic and you’re just going through the motions, it will be more evident than you think.

What I’m not saying today:
I’m not saying that we have to be Happy all the time – I know that it’s just not possible to put on a happy face when things are far from happy in your church.
I’m not saying that we have to perpetually seek joy and happiness for our church members either.

What I am saying is this: 
Authenticity, in every season is a hard commodity to come by all the time.
I have preached those sermons.
I have lived that illustration.
I have been there.

So how do we recapture that Authentic joy once more?
Not by some feel good seminar or self-help section (but sometimes that helps).
Not by continuing to fake it and gut it out for a little while longer.
No, we have to find fellow brothers and sisters in Christ to confide in and to share each other’s burdens.
We need (and crave) fellow Pastors to tell us that they’ve been to those desert places as well.
We have to feast on uplifting, yet challenging spiritual readings by theologians and thinkers who will push up out of our funk from time to time.  If the iron isn’t in the fire being sharpened by other iron, then it is growing rusty and dull.

Don’t hole up in your office.
Don’t internalize your struggles and think no one else will relate.
Don’t pretend that you have it all worked out.
Talk, share, connect with other Pastors…

We need to go back to the source of living water…and sometimes (many times) we need each other more than we think.

Capturing authentic joy and passion for your ministry once again requires other pastors, mentors and leaders to help you.  Don’t become rusty and dull…let’s help recapture that spark in your life once more!

Something more to ponder today!
To God be the glory!

“You’re Reading It Wrong” – 2 Mistakes of Interpreting Scripture

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Admit it, at one point or another you have misinterpreted what the Bible has said.  Sometimes we do it by accident while other times our intentions are quite clear.  

The Bible was written by many different people, but we do believe that the Bible was “God breathed”.  That being said, Jesus was the only perfect human to have walked the face of the earth, therefore all other people, including those who wrote the bible, were imperfect.  Each writer experienced life through their own filter and each writer faced their own imperfections.  This doesn’t mean that all the writers of the Bible were bad people, but rather that each struggled with the realities of life and with their own humanity.  Understanding this is important when we read the Bible.  Though we know that God is the same today as He was in the past as well as the future – He is being written about through the life experiences of very human (sometimes very earthy) people.   

This brings me to my point – be careful how you interpret scripture!  Many cults have begun just by taking one single passage in the Bible out of context and applying it to something it was never intended for.  If we are true seekers of The Way then we will want to pay extra attention to the ways we apply scripture and its meanings both then and today!  There are two mistakes that I would like to highlight today for us here (I know there are more) and I hope it will help you as it has helped me. 

2 Mistakes of Interpreting Scripture: 

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1.  Context – 
New Christians and even “seasoned” veterans of the Word often do not do the “homework” when reading passages in the bible.  The context of what is written is vital to our interpretation of what is being said.  I have known people (myself included) who at times have simply opened the Bible and pointed to a passage and thought “this verse was meant for me” without studying the initial context.  Of course God can work that way but we should spurred on to really study the deeper meanings and implications of what is being said.  

Questions to ask when studying a passages might include: 
      a.  When was this written?
      b.  Who was this written to?
      c.  Why was this being written? 
      d.  What did it mean for the people then? 

Once we have asked these questions (and possibly more) we can then ask the question – “What does this mean for me today?” 
Context is extremely important!

2.  Culture

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Culture in the Bible was vastly different from our culture today!  This doesn’t mean that the Bible is obsolete or out of date it simply means in order to interpret the Bible correctly we have to understand the culture of biblical times.  For instance in Jesus’ day Women were not equal to men nor did they possess many of the rights that men possessed.  Jesus was counter-cultural (even revolutionary) in His day to include disciples who were Women.  

Secondly this becomes apparently clear through the writings of Paul when He says things like – “Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says.” 1 Corinthians 14:34  To understand this we need to understand the Apostle Paul a little bit more and also the context of what is being written.  Paul addressed numerous issues in the early church including a few women who were causing trouble and creating dissension.  The problem becomes worse when many traditional churches take these specific passages of scripture out of context to mean in our day and age Women should act the same when in fact Paul was writing to very specific situations.  There is a danger in painting with large brush strokes here because then we begin to lose the detail and meaning of the words written in Scripture.  

Culture played a big part in biblical times and it still does today.  That doesn’t mean that culture shapes the Word but rather humanity continues to change and alter yet Biblical truths and the words of God are always consistent despite the seemingly inconsistencies of some of the biblical writers.  Make sure when we interpret scripture that we attempt to understand not only context but the culture of the time that passages were written.  

 

Wrapping it up

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Be careful not to take liberties with scripture!  Don’t pick and choose passages that best suit your needs, but rather read it for what it was intended for.  Some are historical narratives, others are prophetical for a specific people and time, while others are meant for instruction of an early church.  One truth should always stand out above the rest:  God desires a right relationship with us.  Throughout the Bible God is always seeking this with those who encounter Him.  There is punishment for those who disobey yet a remnant always remains because God never gives up on us.  In the finality of things Christ comes into full view and we can see just how far God’s Divine love will go to reach us.  The rest of scripture leads us to this place through some very imperfect writers and people – and so are we.  

I could write so much more on this topic…but for now I am thankful to the many instructors and teachers that I have had along this journey…and I am still learning.  

Just something else to Ponder today 

Pastoral Battle of the Bulge

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Let me meddle for a moment…ok more than just a moment.  Staying in shape and eating healthy is something we must seriously consider within our pastoral lives.  Not just as examples to our parishioners but also because we can and will live longer more active lives for God if we do so!

In our culture today it is very common to just go and grab a quick bite to eat because we are so busy.  When we eat out all of the time we quickly realize that pastors on a tight budget have to be very selective in where we eat.  Most likely the healthier places to eat are undoubtedly more expensive.   So much of the time, out of convenience, we will hit the local McDonalds or the Burger King or another fast food chain that offers convenience and quantity over quality.   Don’t get me wrong a good burger and fries once in a while is great to grab but it shouldn’t become our staple diet on a daily basis.

I must confess that I too struggle with this issue.  I have not always been healthy.  I have often succumbed to the fast food junky lifestyle.   In my world, the Christmas season is one of our busiest times.  Often times we find ourselves at the end of our day hungry and running through the drive-thru window at a local fast food chain.  Because of this habit, largely out of necessity and busy-ness, many pastors face health issues such as diabetes, heart issues and a slew of other complications.  We struggle through sleeping issues because of being overweight.  We struggle through back problems and pinched nerves.  We find eventually  that the quality of life is, in a nutshell, miserable all because our eating habits have taken us down these sedentary  roads of crisis.

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Did you know that gluttony is a sin?  As a pastor I’m sure you do.  I’ve been convicted of this issue in my own life.  It wasn’t that I intentionally wanted to become a glutton and gorge myself, but stress eating is a crux of mine.  Truth be told we minister to many people who find themselves in crisis situations.  We counsel individuals and couples through difficult situations.  We have to sometimes confront immoral sin in the church.  We deal with our stress differently.  Some internalize it.  Some blow up in anger, anguish, tears…etc.  So eating through stress with our comfort foods leads us down the road of obesity and health issues.

Secondly, if we have children and we live on a tight/fixed income we never want to waste the food that we purchase, and so when our children only eat a certain portion and we’ve prepared more we graze because we are frugal with our resources.   It’s almost a great depression era mentality in which we never ever ever throw out food but rather consume it all.  This may not be an issue with some of you, you don’t have a problem discarding excess food, while there are others of us who cannot see food left on the plates go to waste.

Regardless of where you are on this spectrum it’s important to consider your health, weight and life choices when it comes to the foods that we eat.

Questions:

Q: I’m overweight and experiencing health issues now in my life how do I lose the weight and get healthy again? 

A: It took a considerable amount of time to gain the weight that you are now carrying.  In so saying it will also take some considerable amount of time to lose that excess weight, so don’t think it’s impossible and don’t get frustrated when you begin to get serious about your fitness/health.   Consult your doctor, get a checkup and perhaps even setup an appointment with a nutritionist in your area.   You must recognize that you may not, at the onset, be ready to engage in extreme physical exercise.  So don’t just start jogging or take a tough physical course at the local YMCA/fitness center.  Check with your doctor first.

Set goals:

 What do I mean by setting goals? Start off small.  After you’ve seen your doctor/nutritionist then begin setting goals slowly.  You’ve heard of baby steps?  Make baby step goals that are a challenge yet not overwhelming.  Make a commitment to walk a couple miles a day.  Make a commitment to avoid the fast foot drive-thru windows.  Be determined to eat better.  Avoid the heavy starched foods and the sugary sweets.  Lay off the Soda/Pop (I know that hurts doesn’t it?).  Carbonated sodas are not good for us.  Not only the sugars in the regular sodas add to the fat in our bodies but the acids in these drinks lead to other problems in our health down the road.  Make the attempt to first cut way back on your intake of Soda/Pop.  Even cutting back can have some positive effects on the body.  Don’t buy the gimmick that Diet soda is better for you either.  Do some research and notice that excess of these diet drinks can actually be worse for you.

Lastly, don’t consider gastric bypass to be your only way out of this weight issue.  It helps some, but eating habits have to be long term.  Surgery is not the answer it is only a part of the solution for some who are extremely obese.  Getting healthy has to involve some sort of exercise coupled with better eating habits.  Just remember if it’s seems too easy perhaps it is and will not help you in the long term in the goal of keeping off the weight and staying healthy.

-Just a few thoughts today to all of you pastors out there!

God called His Bride to be Sheep-stealers and growth competitive??

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We utter agreements to work together.  We vow to ‘come along side one another’.  But are all these promises false?  Are we faking it ? I’m speaking to fellow pastors and church members.  Do we really intend to support each other even if we don’t belong to the same denomination or brick and mortar church?

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It seems all too often that we are so preoccupied with what we are doing in our ministries that we do not have time to support the greater ecclesia.  We have our heads down and we are plodding onward completely oblivious that there are other Christians in our own community struggling and in need of Christian fellowship and support.

Is this what Christ had in mind when He prayed to the Father “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message,  that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” John 17:20-21  I don’t think this is what Christ had in mind at all.  In fact I believe that He is greatly saddened by our separation from one another.

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“Don’t be a sheepstealer!”

Conversely then, if we are called His bride, we the church, how can we justify the sheep stealing that takes place among churches?  Are we in competition with one another?  Has it become strictly about who has the most congregants in the pews?  Will God, one day reward us in heaven for the amount of sheep we have stolen from another flock?  NO!  I’ve literally seen the smirks and pride on the faces of some pastors when they compare their churches.  This ought not be!!!  I have witnessed the arrogance of some who look down on smaller congregations simply because of their size of memberships.   This cannot exist in the body of Christ!  I am not saying this because I grew up in small congregations and also now pastor one.  I’m saying this because when we start comparing our church flocks and when we start looking down our noses at other Christians we allow sin and pride into our midst.  After all didn’t Jesus say; “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:42-45 (NIV)

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“Sad but true!”

Pastors, stop acting prideful of your accomplishments.  Stop comparing yourselves with what other churches are doing and looking down your noses at smaller congregations.  Don’t let pride seep into who God has call His body to be.   Congregations stop trying to be better than the church down the street.  Stop wearing a fake front in order to impress and steal congregational members from other churches!  You are hurting the body of Christ!

Is this an indictment on the Western Church?  Perhaps.  But am I to judge?  It’s not my place to throw blame anywhere, I’m just as guilty as the next pastor is.  But what I am saying is beware, be careful pastors and church members!  Satan would love nothing more than to tear you down with your pride and arrogance so that you resemble more of the world and less like Christ.  Watch out, because he would love nothing more than to destroy our fellowship of believers!

God’s Bride needs to stop comparing.  She needs to stop the sheep stealing and competing with itself.  We cannot act like the world because we are made for so much more than this.  We are to reflect the very heart of Christ…and if we aren’t then we either need to readjust our course or be prepared to face His displeasure and judgement.

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