Check out my review of Greetings From Tim Buckley for RELEVANT Magazine.
This film can be seen in select theaters and is also available on iTunes.
Check out my review of Greetings From Tim Buckley for RELEVANT Magazine.
This film can be seen in select theaters and is also available on iTunes.
Many Christians are concerned about church growth, but instead of focusing on church growth, Christians should first focus on creating and fostering healthy churches that people want to be a part of. No one wants to be a part of a community that is unhealthy or immature. People want to be a part of a community that is stable, supportive, giving, and one that helps them grow and mature into the image of Christ. There are many factors that go into creating and maintaining a healthy congregation, but I believe one of the most significant is long term leadership.
Longevity in ministry needs to be dealt with both at the ministerial and the congregational level. Some ministers are seeking more money, a more prestigious position, or a congregation they believe has less problems. These ministers jump from position to position, never staying at one congregation for very long. Some congregations have problems and do not intend to do anything about them, do not fully support the minister and his family, or are always looking for the next best thing. These congregations are pushing the minister out the door shortly after they hire him. If long term ministry is going to take place, both the minister and the congregation need to be on board. Long term ministry can be a blessing to both the minister and the congregation.
Here are 6 practices that encourage long term ministry.
Understand It’s More Than a Job – The congregation needs to understand that they are doing more than hiring a person to fill a position. They are inviting a person to join their family. The minister is going to be the person who stands by your side when you lose a loved one or go to the hospital. He is going to be the person you see when problems mount up and you have nowhere else to turn. Ministry is an intimate thing at times. Hiring a minister is different than hiring someone to work a 9 to 5. If the congregation treats the minister as nothing more than an employee, then the minister will have no problem leaving that congregation, just as your average worker would have no problem leaving his or her secular job.
The minister needs to understand that the congregation has hired him to be a leader. They have given him a special responsibility that requires him to be mature, honest, and truthful. The minister needs to set up certain boundaries, but he must also be more open and available than your average employee. The minister must love and take care of his own family, but he must also be there for his church family. The minister must find a way to carefully balance the two. He has been given a responsibility and he must not jeopardize it by taking it too lightly.
Be Open About Your Expectations – Both the minister and the congregation need to be open about their expectations during the hiring process and beyond. The congregation needs to make it known they are seeking a long term minister. They need to look for someone that is not only a good minister, but also someone who is a good fit for their congregation. They need to ask anyone trying out what their plans for the future are. They need to ask them why they think their town and their congregation is right for them. Once a minister has been hired they will need to bring up expectations again every few years to make sure the two parties are not going in opposite directions.
When interviewing for a position ministers need to explain why they believe long term ministry is important. They need to find out if the congregation has thought about this and if it is something they are interested in. Ministers not only need to look at the congregation, but they also need to consider the town. They need to ask themselves if this is a place they want to live and raise their children. If it is not, then long term ministry will be difficult. Ministers must continue to ask about expectations once they are hired. They must make sure they are meeting the expectations of the congregation, and they must hold the congregation accountable to the expectations they have promised to keep.
Grow Together – The best thing a minister and congregation can do to insure a fruitful and long term ministry is grow together. Once a minister or congregation stops growing this invites one to become displeased or frustrated with the other. Stagnation is toxic to long term ministry. The minister and church leadership must assist the congregation in growing and maturing in Christ, and the congregation must be willing to go along. The minister must also be open to listening and learning from the members. The minister is not the only teacher within the congregation. Ministers can often learn much from other members who have spent a lifetime studying their Bibles. The relationship of growth must be mutual. It must go both ways.
Serve Together – Just as the minister and congregation should grow together, they should also serve together. Jesus, the greatest leader of all time, was a person whose life was devoted to serving others (Matt. 20:26-28; Philippians 2:5-8). Serving together brings people together. It allows people to form bonds and strengthen ones that were already present. When the task of serving gets out of balance within a congregation this can lead to trouble. If a minister is doing all the work and not getting any help, then he will be tempted to leave. If a congregation cannot get the minister to serve, then they will be tempted to look for another minister. The minister and the congregation must work at serving side by side.
Be Willing to Face Difficult Situations Together - Ministers and congregations will face difficult situations and they must be willing to do this together. They must view each difficult situation as an opportunity to grow closer. When times get tough the leadership must stand up for the minister and the minister must always speak well of the leadership. Do not allow rifts to form during hard times. If the issue involves sin, then deal with it. Do not ignore sin and allow the problem to grow until it eventually gets out of hand. Part of being a healthy congregation is having forgiving and repenting hearts. Difficult situations will test the minister and the congregation, but they are not a cause for divorce.
Share the Right Goals – The minister and congregation need to do more than share the same goals. They need to share the right goals. The Biblical goals that foster long term ministry are maturity in Christ and developing a healthy community of believers. When the minister and congregation are both working towards these goals it makes it much easier for long term ministry to take place.
The book of Revelation is perhaps the most controversial document within the New Testament. It has received many different interpretations dating back to the early church until present. The interpretations have grown more wild and extravagant over the years. Due to the controversies, multiple interpretations, and difficulties posed by the book some Christians have ignored it altogether, while others seem to revel in its vivid imagery. Luke Timothy Johnson suggests that in order to avoid “misinterpretation” one must properly understand the book’s “literary form and purpose” (Johnson, 573).
Revelation resembles both Jewish and Christian apocalyptic literature. It makes use of symbols and numbers to convey important messages (Johnson, 575). Because it is understood to be apocalyptic it is sometimes compared and studied alongside Daniel 7-12. However, Revelation contains hints of other genres as well. At both the beginning and ending of the book it purports to be a book of prophecy (1:3; 22:6, 10, 18-19). In this regard, it has several things in common with the book of Ezekiel. Both authors receive multiple visions. These visions include reports of glorious “thrones” and “four living creatures” that resemble a lion, ox, human, and eagle (Ezek. 1; Rev. 4). In both accounts the authors describe their visions in similar ways. They make use of the word “like” throughout their descriptions (Ezek. 1:4-5, 7, 13-14, 16, 22, 24, 26-28; Rev. 4:1, 3, 6-7). Revelation also contains elements of a letter. It begins and ends like a letter (1:3-6; 22:21). Chapters 2 and 3 contain seven letters to seven churches and although they are brief, they share similarities with other letters found in the New Testament. Revelation is a book that fits within the apocalyptic genre, but it would be a mistake to ignore the other genres also found within this book.
Revelation is written to churches and Christians who are being persecuted. The persecution is taking place at the time the letter is written, but it is also something the author believes will get worse (2:3. 9-10, 13; 3:10; 6:9-11). The author’s concern is not that these Christians escape persecution, but that they remain faithful even if it means death (2:10; 6:9-11; 12:11; 13:10). Although modern readers may not find much comfort in passages that speak of remaining faithful to the point of death, this was good news to early Christians living in the Roman Empire.
The Christians are encouraged to remain faithful while a battle takes place between Satan and God. Satan has his own “throne” (2:13; 13:2) and “kingdom” (11:15). God and Jesus are reigning from heaven (Rev. 4 & 5), but they are in control of all things. God sits on his “throne” (4:10; 5:13; 7:10), and Jesus is “the ruler of the kings of the earth” (1:5). Christians who faithfully serve Jesus are priests within his kingdom (1:6). God is aware of the events on earth and the persecution that is taking place (6:9-11; 7:14-17). Although he allows the persecution to continue for a period of time in the hope that more people will repent, he will ultimately judge those who are on the side of evil. In the end the evil “kingdom of the world” will become the “kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah” (7:15). Those Christians who remain faithful will be “victorious” (2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:5, 11, 21).
Throughout the book there is a clear distinction made between those who are serving Satan and those who are serving God. This is often described as having some sort of marking on the body. The faithful followers of God are given seals on their foreheads (7:3; 9:4; 14:1). Even after evil has been defeated and God is dwelling with his people, the name of God will still be on their foreheads (20:4). In contrast, those who worship the beast are given a mark on their forehead (14:9, 11; 16:2; 19:20). The book of Revelation is full of symbolic language. The marks are probably not literal, but are a way of describing where one’s allegiance lies. Those who have the “mark of the beast” have devoted their lives to worldly things and following Satan, and those with the “seal of God” are those who are faithfully following God.
Evil is presented in several forms throughout the book. In chapter 12 readers are introduced to the “dragon” which is Satan (12:9). The main characters in chapter 13 are two beasts. The first beast is given Satan’s throne and authority (13:2). The second beast “made the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast” (13:12). In chapter 17 a prostitute is introduced into the story. This prostitute is called “Babylon” and is identified as “the great city that rules over the kings of the earth” (17:18). In the following chapters God judges each evil. First, the prostitute is judged (Rev. 18), then the beasts are defeated (19:11-21), and finally Satan is first bound (20:1-3) and then thrown into the lake of fire (20:10). Evil in the form of the dragon, the two beasts, and the prostitute is allowed to do much damage upon the earth, but evil is not allowed the final word. Evil will ultimately face God’s judgment.
The final two chapters of the book of Revelation are not only important to Revelation itself, but they are also important to the entire Biblical narrative. Genesis 1 and 2 tell of God’s creation and Revelation 21 and 22 tell of his new creation. The followers of God who have remained faithful will live with God in the “new heaven and new earth” (21:1). “The New Jerusalem” will come down out of heaven and God will make his home with man (21:2-3). The tree of life which appeared in the Garden of Eden reappears in the New Jerusalem and the “curse” of sin that held creation and humanity hostage is done away with (22:1-3).
The book of Revelation is a powerful and moving book full of vivid imagery. It is a reminder to all Christians that God is in control and that victory is available to all who remain faithful. No matter how bad things look in the world it is possible to overcome.
“They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death” (12:11).
Johnson, Luke Timothy. The Writings of the New Testament: An Interpretation (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1999)
O Lord God, our Father through Jesus Christ thy Son in the power of the Holy Spirit! Give light to our eyes, we beseech thee, that we may see thy light, the brightly shining light of reconciliation! For man’s greatest plight is not to see the light in the broad daylight…Bless whatever efforts are made to bear witness to thy name, thy kingdom, and thy will in our church as well as in other churches…Govern also all honest efforts on the part of civil authorities, administrations, and courts here and in all the corners of the world! Strengthen the teachers in their commitment to the high task of educating the coming generation; the editors and reporters in their sense of responsibility for influencing public opinion; the doctors and nurses in their faithful work of alleviating the pain of those entrusted to their care! Make up by thy comfort, thy counsel, and thy help for our failure to provide for so many of the lonely, the sick, the poor and the perplexed! Show compassion also to all the people of this house and to their loved ones…Into thy hand we commend ourselves and our needs, together with those of the world. In thee we hope. In thee we trust. Thou hast never put to shame thy people when they earnestly called on thee. What thou hast begun, thou shalt bring to fruition. Amen.
The Dangers of Fear
Terry Briley has written an excellent post on the dangers of fear and how fear in our life can keep us from following Jesus. He says,
Fearing others produces deadly consequences. Fear plays to our most basic, self-serving nature and inhibits our ability to think and act reasonably. It often leads to hatred. We can’t love our enemies if we fear them.
Check out The Price of Fear Is Too High
How Old is the Bible?
Is the Bible as old as it claims to be? Benjamin Williams provides some great evidence in favor of claims found within the Bible. If you are interested in archaeology, ancient history, and Biblical texts, then check out Hebrew Shard From the Time of David
A Kingdom Story
Here is a powerful story of transformation that took place on the streets of Rwanda. Bishop was a young man who gave his life to Satan before finding God. This is a story about the breaking in of the Kingdom in our lives. Chris Shelby writes,
That’s the way of the Kingdom. It waits for willing hosts to take up home in them. It changes them rapidly and slowly and then uses them as an incredible outlet to unleash itself on the world. The Kingdom’s true goal is not to make good people or nice people or decent people. The Kingdom’s goal is to radically recreate people who then partner with God to recreate the world. It is a reclamation process of an entire human and an entire humanity.
Check out I Prayed to Satan
The Sin of Excess
Jason Todd has written an outstanding article on gluttony and excess and how we can redirect our desire for more into something positive. He suggests that gluttony is something we all probably wrestle with. He defines this rarely mentioned sin in the following way. “At its simplest, gluttony is the soul’s addiction to excess. It occurs when taste overrules hunger, when want outweighs need.” Check out The Socially Acceptable Sin
Practicing the Golden Rule
In the wake of the recent tragedy in Boston how should we treat our Muslim neighbors? This is an honest and serious question. This is a question Jesus wants us to think about. K. Rex Butts has provided some great thoughts on this subject. Check out The Golden Rule and Our Muslim Neighbors
Christianity and Culture
Because we live in a culture that in some ways is becoming more secular we sometimes read stories about religious rights being taken away. Sometimes this is serious and sometimes it is not. This week I came across two stories with this theme. The first was a story about Bible verses being taken off of U.S. Army scopes and rifles. This news should not have bothered Christians at all, but the article went viral and many Christians shared it on the internet. Alan Noble has done a great job of cutting through the mess and getting to the heart of the issue. Check out Citizenship Confusion: Do We Need the Word of God on Our Guns?
A second story that was not shared nearly as much was a story about Catholic priests being denied access to victims of the Boston bombings. This story should have been reported more, and should be of great concern to all Christians. First responders, paramedics, and doctors should be given top priority in tragedies, but clergy should also have access to victims especially if it is something the victim requests. To read the full report check out At Boston’s bombing scene: Catholic priests need not apply
Coffee Shop Workers
If you frequent coffee shops like I do, you may enjoy this piece by Tim Schraeder on 8 Coffee Shop Tips For Remote Workers
Steve Martin and Edie Brickell
This week I have been listening to the lovely new album by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell. Lately, Steve Martin has turned from focusing on comedy to devote most of his time to playing the banjo. He has made some great bluegrass records with the Steep Mountain Rangers, but this album goes beyond bluegrass. It is a banjo and voice album. Steve Martin’s talented banjo playing and Edie Brickell’s soothing voice and song lyrics are the focus of this album. If you like good music, then I would encourage you to take a listen.
Mother India is a powerful and moving short film about two Americans who travel to India to see what life is like for the 31 million orphans living in that country. These two men meet a group of 25 homeless orphans who are living as a family unit behind a train station and begging for money. The story of each individual is heartbreaking. The film allows the viewer to see firsthand what life is like for an orphan living on the streets of India. These poor souls are broken, bruised, and injured, but they have not lost hope. Although they live in terrible conditions and have little to eat, they still enjoy life and have dreams of a bright future.
I was blessed to get to travel to India in 2008. I met orphans just like the ones in this film. Mother India would be a great film to show to a church group or to watch as a family. It is only 49 minutes long and in that short period of time you will be moved to want to help the many orphaned children in India and other parts of the world. We can make a difference if we decide to do something. Mother India does not just give the viewer a picture of what life is like for orphaned children, it encourages people to get involved. I hope you will take the time to view this film, and I hope you will look for ways to help people who are suffering all over the world.
You can purchase Mother India on Amazon.
The Gift of Life
Ann Voskamp offers a moving post on Gosnell, Steubenville, and the gift of life. This is a must read. Check out What Gosnell and the Gospel Mean to the Brave
When Fear Holds Us Back
Fear can stunt the growth of a church and keep a Christian from becoming a mature follower of God. In Leading When We’re Afraid Tim Spivey addresses how fear affects church leaders and the church. He says,
Courage is at the core of both walking with God faithfully and leading in ministry. Caution and discernment are good. Fear, other than fear of the Lord, will hold us back in life and ministry.
Here is a great reminder of some important words spoken by Martin Luther King Jr. Check out Sean Palmer’s post Returning Hate for Hate: Perhaps Our Greatest Temptation
A Letter to a Son
On the day of the Boston bombings Michael Whitworth wrote a moving letter to his four week old son. Check out A Letter to Little Man
Where Do You Create?
Check out these 40 Inspiring Workspaces of the Famously Creative
Gotta Serve Somebody
God is good – God is not the author of evil. He is good (Matt. 19:17). He blesses both saints and sinners (Matt. 5:45). All good things come from God (James 1:17). He desires nothing but good for His creation. When bad things happen in this world, they are not God’s doing. Evil does not come from God. It has another source. When tragedy strikes, we should not blame God, but instead turn to Him because He can bring healing and hope to the most awful situations.
We are not alone – When tragedy strikes, many people want to search for answers. They want to rationalize why such a thing would happen. They want to offer explanations no matter if they are right or wrong. Jesus did none of these things. He entered into our brokenness to walk beside us. He was tempted and tried just as we are (Heb. 4:15). He endured the horrors of the cross. He was beaten, cursed, and spat upon. No matter what tragedy we face in life, we can rest assured that Jesus cares and He is right beside us. He wants us to know that we are not alone.
Lament and sorrow are a natural response – The book of Psalms contains many lament psalms because this is a natural response to tragedy. If we do not lament because of the evil in our world, then there is something wrong with us. If we do not weep for the fallenness all around us, then we do not see things as God does. Jesus wept (John 11:35). In the book of Jeremiah, God weeps for His people. Mourning because you have felt the effects of tragedy, loss, or evil is something all Christians should do. When we experience tragedy sorrow is a perfectly healthy response. In fact, it should be our faithful response as Christians who yearn for the return of Jesus.
Good things can come – The first response to tragedy should always be lament. We should always allow plenty of time to mourn and grieve before we ever begin to offer an explanation or look for a silver lining. Once we have grieved, we can then look to God to do something good with the awful situation we find ourselves in. God is not responsible for the evil inflicted on us or the world, but He can make good things come from it. Paul writes, “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God” (Rom. 8:28). The trials we face in life may never seem like a blessing, but they are able to help shape us into the image of Jesus (James 1:2-4).
Check out my review of To the Wonder for RELEVANT magazine.