8 things I’ve learned as a young lead pastor [reblog]

Leading a church as a young man is tough, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Every week I see the changed lives and hear the stories of people being saved by Jesus, being healed by Jesus, and growing in their relationship with Jesus.

As a former pastor, I can relate to every point he makes. Though, sadly, I’m not sure how much my presence helped “change lives”.

Read the rest here

Thank you pastor…

Thank you pastor…

“Pastors have hard lives. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul referred to being “poured out as a drink offering on the sacrifice and service” of the church. Paul uses the image again in writing to Timothy of his death. Being poured out for the church at Philippi meant Paul’s life being emptied out for the church at Philippi; it meant dying for that church.”

Read the whole article over at First Things

The Announcement

Today I announced to my congregation, that after just over a year of service to my church, I would be stepping down. It was an emotional decision to come to and an emotional decision to deliver.

I will stay on until Easter Sunday so as to lead them through the Easter Sunday.

Please pray for Pam and I, my church elders and the congregation.

My Sermon writing tools and a little more

So, I’m supposed to be working on my sermon, but I’m procrastinating. I wanted to write a post on the tools I use to write a sermon. I’m part of a group of folks that call ourselves the MennoNerds (I know, not quite the Justice League). Seriously though, some good writing going on and you should check them out. I’m not 100% sure how I got the privilege of being included with such great writers, but I’ll take what I can get.

Anyway, my primary tool for sermon prep is the Holy Spirit (is that a cop out?). Good thing is He doesn’t cost money, bad thing is I pay with my life. All joking aside, I try to remember to pray to bring His intercession and guidance into the process. Do I always remember? Sadly no. I’m no different than anyone else; life gets busy, I feel stressed and I just want to plough ahead instead of taking the time to pray and meditate – not a good recipe for communicating the message of the Creator of the Universe.

Second, my Bible. This is where I risk loosing all my nerd cred. I don’t primarily use an electronic bible. I far and away prefer my 1312 page, paper, leather-bound English Standard Version Bible. I do own electronic Bibles, notably the ESV Study Bible app on my iPhone and iPad, but I rarely use them if I have my print Bible with me.

Third, Logos Bible Software. Maybe this will make up for #2. Logos some pretty industrial strength software. I own quite a large library with 2837 resources ranging from commentaries to encyclopaedias and dictionaries to biographies, and of course multiple translations of Scripture. It has great language tools and a variety of other features beyond making all my resources searchable. They recently released Logos 5 which I would love to upgrade too, but I don’t have $500 at the moment. They also have apps for iOS, Android, Kindle Fire (cough), and HTML5 (the apps are actually free and come with some content).

Fourth, Safari and Chrome. I use Safari as my primary browser and Chrome if I need to view something in flash (ugh).

Fifth, MacBook Air. I love my MBA, it’s lightweight, holds everything I need and lets me get out of the house to get work done.

Sixth, iPad. I have a first generation iPad (yup, still runs). I use it occasionally along with the Logos app if I don’t want to read a commentary on the screen of my MBA. Seems a bit overkill I understand, but I didn’t buy them all at the same time and I’m certainly not going to throw the iPad out just because it’s 15 generations behind. It’s a great e-reader.

Miscellaneous

Trollope on Sermons

I preach. I’ve preached around 47 or so sermons in the last year. I suffer from low preaching esteem to be sure. If anyone asks me how things went, I always defer to my wife, because I’ll almost never give myself a good review. This invaluable quote from HW is both helpful and scary for me. The responsibilities of a preacher are great and I’m never sure I do a good job.

The Backlist

I’m reading Barchester Towers. Oh, the deliciousness of this book. Rush out and get it if you have not yet read it. Possibly you should start with The Warden, the first of the Chronicles of Barsetshire. I totally meant to do that, but didn’t. People kept saying Barchester Towers was their favourite, so to Barchester Towers I went. I’m not very far in yet, but have found a fabulous rant on sermons which I think as pertinent today as when Trollope wrote it a little over 150 years ago. This is at the end of the sixth chapter of the first volume, a chapter called “War.”

There is, perhaps, no greater hardship at present inflicted on mankind in civilized and free countries, than the necessity of listening to sermons. No one but a preaching clergyman has, in these realms, the power of compelling an audience to sit silent…

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A preacher’s lament…

“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.
 – John 17:20-23

 (ESV)

Well, it has certainly been an interesting week in the church at large. First, we had the release of the Ordain a Lady video by a group trying to gain equal access to ordination in the Catholic Church for women (a cause I support even I didn’t like the method). Second, the House of Bishops in the Church of England ended its ban on priests living in same-sex relationships being able to be considered for the episcopate. The catch is that they agree to abide by the church’s teachings on sexuality (i.e., stay celibate). In general I don’t see a problem here except I do have to wonder how one polices such a thing.

I am generally against same-sex marriage, not because I am against homosexuals but because I am in favour of what I honestly believe I see presented in scripture (though I really want to research the opposing views one day). I am not against someone with same-sex attraction entering ministry on any level if they remain celibate because we are all attracted to all sorts of people and we can’t help that. How we act on those impulses is what matters. A married heterosexual man may find woman other than his wife attractive, that’s not a sin. Having sexual relations with a woman outside of his marriage is a sin. There’s a world of difference between the two.

I have friends who would be against the CofE decision and some who don’t think it goes far enough and believe they should affirm same-sex marriage. I have other friends who believe scripture is clear in its statements that woman are not to minister, especially to men. So, on the one hand I am for traditional marriage (not a great term, but the best I can think of) but also in favour of women’s ordination. How does one sort through this mess of ideas, opinions, and differing interpretations? I mean, the friends of which I speak are not the kind of people to take doctrinal stances lightly. They love Jesus and want to follow Him as best they can and yet we all look at the same written text and come up with different answers. When I was first considering becoming a Christian, some 8 years ago or so, this issue troubled me. It all comes down to authority.

I know the stock answer is that we all ultimately trust in the Holy Spirit to illumine the truth to us but we can’t all be right (and perhaps, none of us). There are days when I feel like Pentecost (Acts 2:1-41) never happened, that the curse of what happened at Babel (Genesis 11:1-9) has never been lifted because we’re all speaking different theological languages. If you read studies done of evangelicals returning to “Home, Sweet, Rome” (i.e. the Catholic Church), there are two central themes that pop to the top of the list. 1) Historicity and 2) Authority. The Catholic Church has an undeniably strong central teaching authority in the magisterium headed by the Pope. A single body and in some cases a single man (yes, always a man, I know), to proclaim and make definitive statements on various aspects of the faith (though not on as many topics as you might think). This is an incredibly powerful draw on a number of levels. The rest of us generally trust either in the Holy Spirit to speak correctly to an officiant (or I suppose, to be heard correctly) or if we’re lucky we have an officiant who surrounds themselves with a group of elders who help him discern the Spirits leading and teaching of scripture.

While I clearly don’t agree with all the Catholic Church teaches, I find affinity with much of it and I don’t find it at all incompatible with my core Anabaptist values. Still, I clearly don’t buy Papal infallibility: if I did I’d really have no choice but to convert to Catholicism tomorrow. On the other hand whatever problems the Catholic notion of authority has brought us, we really must confess that the situation we find ourselves in since adopting “Sola Scriptura” has not improved our unity; if anything it has made it worse (from 1 to 41, 000 denominations and counting?).

Even with the most spiritual understanding of the Body of Christ/Church being invisible and that we are all joined to Him through our confession of faith, I don’t see how anyone can see us as united or that Jesus’ prayer has been answered (John 17:20-23). It makes me sad, it makes me mad, and at times it makes me want to throw in the towel in my ministry because I think “how do I know I’m preaching anything close to what the truth is?”

I keep preaching though, week in and week out, trusting that I’ll get out of the Spirits way long enough for Him to speak to me or at least through me to my congregation. I am flying solo on much of my prep so I try to read as much as I can of differing opinions to try and eliminate my bias towards a text. I pray over the passages and I do my best to make things practical, but most weeks I barely feel like I’m ready. I could have spent all week preparing and I usually feel no more confident than if it was a Saturday night special.

I often despair when I realize we can’t even agree on the nature, content and implications of the Gospel message: the main thing we’re supposed to preach! This surely must be the saddest tragedy since Christ died on the cross, not even agreeing on why He died.

Unity isn’t just an option, it’s essential. In His great prayer for unity Jesus tells us the reason for the prayer: “so that the world may believe that you have sent me” and “so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me”. Our disunity is working against us and the cause of the Gospel.

Lord, help us be united. We clearly can’t do it (or won’t do it) on our own.

Jesus is Lord.

Amen.

 

Urban Reality: Mental illness

I am a pastor at an inner city church in Toronto, Canada and it is my first pastorate coming out of school. The church isn’t flush with cash by any stretch of the imagination and can only afford to pay me 10hr/week to preach. Still, they do amazing things, particularly on Wednesday nights when they manage to feed 120-200 marginalized people a hot meal. It is pretty impressive how the Lord can use even a small congregation (I regularly get 15 people on a Sunday. Though I have noticed both the numbers and the actual people attending have become more stable since I was hired and the preaching became more regular.).

It is not unheard of to arrive on a Sunday morning to find one of the elders washing vomit off our stoop. The one thing I did not consider when I first arrived was the degree to which I would encounter parishioners with mental illness. Depending on how you crunch the numbers approximately 20% of my congregation – that I know of – struggles with mental illness. Now, mental illness is a very broad term and can cover a lot of different things with varying degrees of severity. I have congregants with most of these. Some of them admit their problems and others do not and some of them know they have an illness but they don’t see it as a problem. Needless to say the one’s who do not acknowledge their issues are harder to deal with.

Even after 9 years as an Emergency Medical Dispatcher for the City of Toronto I still have trouble navigating mental illness issues with all their variety and complexity. It is brought all the more urgently to the forefront in pastoral ministry. I have to consider questions such as how do you communicate the truth of God’s love and His gospel message to such a group?

Here’s a snapshot of what I’ve learned so far in terms of pastoring those with mental illness:

  • They are made in the image of God just like everyone else
  • Treat them with the same dignity and respect as others
  • They must be shown love, grace and everything else we expect to get ourselves
  • They need a pastor who will listen to them and spend a reasonable amount of time listening to them. Ministry in this setting is largely a ministry of presence. Just being there. Sometimes they are lucid, sometimes not.
  • Realize that it’s not your job to ‘fix’ them. Speak the truth and help them understand the love God has for them.
  • Realize that many, many people have mental illness and that you probably aren’t aware of most of them.
  • We are to work towards reconciliation for those who are routinely stigmatized and marginalized by society.

There will undoubtedly be many more lessons I will learn from this unique environment and I will share as I discover.

An open letter to congregations: Let us pray

Brothers and Sisters in the faith,

I don’t know you, but I know something about you. I know you take your faith very seriously and you want to serve the church and the world. I know you have definite opinions about what scripture says on all sorts of subjects and that you have high expectations of your clergy. This is all great and I certainly do not want to discourage you from being involved. There is one thing though that I think you can help us with.

Give us our quiet time.

No, I’m serious. We need time to pray and to reflect. This is different than it is for you because it is part of our job description. If you want clergy that aren’t burnt out, that are as in touch with the Holy Spirit as possible and as ready to serve as possible, we need time to pray.

Jesus withdrew quite frequently to pray (Read the Gospel of Luke) and He is our model for Ministry (and life in general). I know too many clergy who are stifled in their time alone by their congregations. They often have to “pray in secret” because their congregations, elders or wardens do not think that time spent in prayer is appropriate to do “on the clock”.

If anything you should be concerned with clergy that do not pray.

Prayer is how our link with God, it is our communion with the Holy Spirit that illumines the scriptures to us for our Sunday morning sermon, it allows us to survive dealing with the intense emotions that come from doing pastoral care and it helps us maintain healthy marriages and relationships outside our official duties.

A praying clergy is a healthy clergy. Support your priest, pastor, or minister by giving them the time and space to pray. Give them time to go on retreat every so often. Give them the opportunity they need to spend time communing with their Creator.

The responsibilities of the clergy are great and they want to serve you to the best of their abilities. They can not do this if they are feeling disconnected from their source of life.

Fraternally yours,
Andrew

The Men’s Ministry Manifesto

This article was inspired by my AA (awesome acquaintance) Natalie Frisk who blogs at Holy Shift. The specific article is found here. What follows here is not a response to anything she said, I agree with pretty much everything she says regarding Women’s Ministry. I have been thinking about the topic of Men’s ministry for a while and this gave me the push to proceed. So, nothing herein should be construed as a rebuttal to anything Natalie has said, but rather, I think of it as the other side to the same coin.

Why Men’s ministry is essential

I go to a really great church, known as The Meeting House. It does a lot of amazing things, but over my five or so years now, I have sensed a failing that is common to many (if not most) churches.

We are failing men (and woman and children and families).

We are failing them by not having sufficient focus on men’s ministry. Men’s ministry is not just a ministry to men, but by default it will be a ministry to women, to children, and to families.

The Meeting House is organized along the lines of Home Churches. These are groups of believers from both genders that come together in the tradition of the early church to worship, study God’s word and “do” life together. Overall, I think it’s a great model. With home churches dotted all around Southern Ontario (and beyond), we are making a great impact for the cause of the Kingdom.

There are areas however where this model starts to break down. We see this when we take a look at areas of specifically male or female concern. Be it, sexual addiction or overcoming the grief of a lost pregnancy. In these instances, the homoegenous model of home church simply does not provide a safe structure to address these issues.

To understand why, we must understand a few of the presuppositions that seem to undergird the Home Church model.

  • Church should happen organically at a grass roots level
  • While occassional “calls to action” are provided from the senior leadership around certain projects, the specifics of how those projects are carried out are left up to the individual Home Churches.
  • If members of a Home Church want to gather together separately, they are free to do so by organizing their own book study, etc outside the normal Home Church meeting time.

In general, I don’t have a problem with this approach or these presuppositions. The problem is that while woman are naturally relational and will seek out support from other women with certain “women-specific” issues, men… well, not so much.

I am referring to one class of problems in particular and that is Sexual Addiction. Whether it be internet pornography, the use of prostitutes, or having extramarital affairs, Sexual Addiction is destroying men from the inside out: and it’s taking families down with them.

There are many reasons one can cite as to why such addiction is on the rise, be it ease of availablity, confusion about gender roles, or general anxiety about life. Underlying them all however is a problem with lust. Suffice to say though this is a serious problem. Divorce lawyers report that sexual issues are now the #1 reason for a couple seeking divorce. It is separating husbands and wives and makes it harder for men to relate to woman.

Most of us are familiar with Matthew 5:28:

But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with
lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his
heart. (ESV)

At some point, we need to decide whether we can control our lust like Jesus said we should, or whether this is an impossible ideal that is for a future to come, not yet realized.

I believe it is the former, not the latter. We can and must deal with this problem. Sexual Addiction is not just a medical problem (though it is that), but it is also, as Jesus makes plain, a spiritual problem. The medical problem is
the domain of therapists, psychologists, or counsellors. The spiritual problem lands sqaure in the lap of the church and most churches are doing squat about it.

I once heard the results of a confidential survey of youth group members within a particular church: a significant portion of the youth were sexually active. I know committed Christians who know God designed sex for marriage, but are engaging in fornicaion anyway (see also this article from Relavant magazine).

Where is the church? Why don’t we explain to people why it’s wrong? I know, we shouldn’t have to, we should just give in to God’s commands. Well, we are a prideful people, so we need to be told why. It doesn’t take long and it’s not hard to understand, but it is not being preached with fervor and regularity.

We need to explain that the use of pornography or staring at a women’s breasts on the street, is tantamount to abuse of that woman and a SIN (we hate that word don’t we).

We need men’s ministry. We need a ministry that can focus men on learning what God expects of them. Strong men, make strong husbands, strong fathers and strong leaders in the community.

Do you know why many girls enter the sex trade (because surely they aren’t women yet)? A shitty home life. They are often abused by their fathers or other male family members. They are then lured into the sex trade where they are further abused by men. Even a stripper who may not be in physical contact with the men is being abused. She is being objectified and raped of her dignity every time someone watches her on stage or everytime someone rents a pornographic video.

I hear so few voices from the church speak out against this anymore that it makes me angry, sad and frustrated. I know there are men in my church suffering from this, but I have no idea who or where they are. I try and help some of them, but I find them by sheer happenstance.

One of strongest voices against sexual sin is the Roman Catholic Church. Their moral theology on this subject is unequivocal and loud. Recently, speaking in Germany, Pope Benedict XVI said that the abuse of women is “a critical problem which, due to materialistic and hedonistic tendencies, seems to be on the increase, above all in the Western world”. He further stated that “The time has come to take an energetic stance against prostitution and the widespread availability of erotic and pornographic material, also on the Internet.”

Without a focussed men’s ministry how does this happen?

Sexual addiction, fed by lust, messes with a man’s brain. It literally rewires it, just like any other addiction. This doesn’t make them bad people, but it does make them confused and messes them up. While in this state they will fail to become the man, father, husband, God is calling them to be.

In this way, men’s ministry is not just a ministry to men, but a ministry to women and children.

Society is asking “where are the men?” and the church’s answer is…..? While I wouldn’t want to see the end of a model that brings both genders together we need leadership from the top to make programs available that will help men break the cycle of addiction and become who God created them to be: leaders. A man who is consumed by lust cannot be a leader because he is so consumed by anger and self-hatred.

We need to preach about this more, we need to organize around this more and we need growth from both ends of the pyramid. We need men to stand up and be courageous and organize, but church leadership also needs to respond by preaching and providing organizational tools and structures to allow that to happen.

I pray that churches everywhere will stop failing their men (and women and children and families) and will respond with positive steps towards ridding the body of Christ of this horrible affliction.

I don’t pretend to know what form this should take, but I will continue to think about this and will post any future thoughts here.

The body of Christ is made up everyone who professes a faith in Christ and accepts his Lordship over their lives. We need both Godly men and women and it’s time we recognized that while we are both created in the image of God (Gen 1:26), we are different and as such need to come together as men or women as well men and women, in order to accomplish God’s will.