Month: July 2012

Book Review – The Measure of Our Success

A few weeks back, I finished reading Shawn Lovejoy’s book, The Measure of our Success: An Impassioned Plea to Pastors. I loved it. I was challenged to rethink what success looks like in my ministry and my life. Overall, it was a great read.

Summary

The book was broken down into three sections: (1) Standard Measurements, (2) Redefining Success, and (3) A New Set of Metrics. In the first section, Shawn emphasized that pastors are struggling as they attempt to measure up to what they believe the standard of success in the contemporary American church looks like. Pastors are burning out, losing their families, and forsaking the call of God on their life. He stressed that three C’s are to blame for a majority of this: (1) Comparing, (2) Copying, and (3) Condemning. He wrote, “Could it be that you and I are limiting the movement of God in our churches because we’re trying to fight the battle in someone else’s armor? Could it be that we relentlessly pursue church growth – numbers, activity, approval, or fame – because we are insecure in our own skin and in our own armor? Could our anxiety, fatigue, and discouragement be symptoms of ‘success syndrome?’” He concluded this section with a personal story about his struggle in his calling as a pastor and as a husband and father. This was one of the best parts of the book in my opinion because it showed Shawn’s vulnerability and openness. I was greatly challenged to consider my schedule and desires as a pastor in light of my primary calling – husband to Janie and father to Anna and Leah.

The second section was entitled “Redefining Success” and the first chapter focused on spiritual, emotional, relational, intellectual, and physical vitality. This was a great chapter and very practical in nature. He then emphasized that our primary focus should be making disciples and displaying Christ’s love to a lost and dying world. He wrote, “Jesus said, ‘Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples’ (John 13:35). Love is all that matters to him. Love is what makes me a disciple. Love is success. Love is the essence of the Christian life. There is nothing deeper than that.” He then challenged pastors to develop strong teams and work well with these teams to accomplish God’s mission. The last two chapters in this section focused on the expectation for pastors to fulfill the role of prophet within the church – challenging the status quo, accept criticism, and stand on God’s Word. Pastoral ministry is a calling and it is not for the fain of heart!

In the final section, Shawn offered a set of new metrics that should guide pastors. He stressed that we need to look at conversion growth and discipleship growth in our churches. “All of us would be counted as worthier servants of God if we would stop worrying so much about building the biggest church and start focusing more on building his kingdom through our church!” One of the most powerful chapters in the entire book was in this section – “Christology before Ecclesiology.” In this chapter, Shawn argued that we need to be certain that we emphasize Christ as the hope for the world and not the church. This was convicting!

One of my favorite things about this book is that Shawn included guest writers at the end of each chapter and several of my favorite quotes came from them. Overall, I thought this was a great book and would be a great read for any pastor.

Favorite Quotes

“God gave us a certain amount of talent, and he only holds us accountable for the gifts we have. Success is not reaching megachurch status. Success is using the skills and talents God gave each of us to live out the mission he assigned to us.”

“God doesn’t need you. Serve him because you love him and because you want to pour out your life in response to him, but not because he is in heaven wringing his hands with worry about whether you have what it takes. You don’t. He does. Your responsibility is to be faithful, not to be God.” (J. D. Greear)

“Daily I must decide if I want to substitute my work for God for my relationship with God.”

“The tyranny of the urgent keeps us from developing our strengths and improving our weaknesses.”

“Your primary responsibility as a leader is your own spiritual development. If you’re growing in the spiritual disciplines and in your love for Jesus, everything else will take care of itself. Don’t worry about church growth. Church growth is a byproduct of personal growth.” (Mark Batterson)

“Just like the Pharisees who lived in Jesus’ day, somewhere in the process we have forsaken love. Pastors, we must stop chasing models and start chasing Jesus again! The health of God’s church depends on it. There is no secret model or system that can guarantee success. It’s a myth. Only Jesus can draw people to himself. Not even well-thought-out plans can accomplish what only he is capable of doing.”

“In order to get the most accurate picture of the mission of the church, we need to have an accurate picture of Jesus.”

“If we really believe that Jesus was the hope of the world, we as pastors would spend more time with him. By our actions, most of us prove that we actually believe our music, preaching, programs, productions, and even meetings produce more life change than prayer.”

Pastoral Priorities

I have been a pastor now for almost two months. Time has flown by and I have to pinch myself every once in a while to make sure I am not dreaming. It is an amazing privilege to get to do what God has called you to do!

One of the things that became evident to me quickly was the need to develop a set of pastoral priorities. These are the things that are most important to my calling as a pastor and what I seek to spend my time each week doing. I can promise that these priorities did not originate with me (Scripture along with other pastors and mentors have helped me see the need for these priorities) but I thought it would be helpful to write them down.

1. Preach and teach the Word of God faithfully. I think we often underestimate the power God’s Word can have on a group of people. I recognize that my time spent studying and digging into the text is unbelievably valuable. Each week I stand before our congregation and speak, “Thus says the Lord” and I want to make sure that I am preaching His Word faithfully and not my own opinions or ideas. I have set aside my mornings to spend in study and prepare my messages. I do everything possible to guard this time.

2. Pray. PRAY. PRAY! The past two months have reminded me more and more of my dependence on God’s power and His Spirit. I pray daily for my personal relationship with Jesus Christ, my family, our congregation (see Brian Croft’s post on this), and our community. I cannot do what God has called me to do apart from His power and strength. God works when His people pray and I don’t ever want to hinder what He wants to do in my life, my church, and my community.

3. Love the people. It is humbling to think that God has entrusted the people at New Vision Fellowship to my care. The old adage is true, especially in the pastorate, “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Even though I have been called and given the title of pastor, I recognize that it is a title that must be earned. There is no better way to earn the right to be the pastor than loving the people.

What an exciting journey that lies ahead!

Journaling And The Christian Life

I began writing in my 3rd journal today but, before I did, I went back and read through the other two. I started seriously journaling in November of 2009 and have journaled at least 3 times per week since then. There is really no method to what I write. Often I write down what God is teaching me in His Word. I also write out prayers that I am praying for specific people, including myself. At other times, I have journaled my goals and dreams or what God is doing around me.

Reading back through the past 2.5 years of entries has brought me to this reality: God is at work! I have recorded highs and lows, successes and failures, tragedy and triumph. There are things I have written that describe the most intimate details of my relationship with my Savior and the areas of struggle in my life.

God’s sustaining hand over this time has been unwavering. Reading back through all that has happened helps me gain perspective and illuminates the grand picture that God is painting around me. All too often, I can’t see the forest for the tree that is right in front of me. I get tunnel vision and the most immediate concern seems to cloud out everything else going on at that moment. But reading back through helps me to see God at work.

Perspective is everything. Reading back through my journals helps to strengthen my faith. It helps me trust God more deeply as I head into the unknown. I have seen God work in situations over the course of weeks or months even though I had no idea what He was doing from day to day. The truth is He was always at work but, in the moment, I could not see what He was doing.

The lyrics to “Trust His Heart” by Eddie Carswell and Babbie Mason sum it up well:

All things work for our good

Though sometimes we don’t see how they could

Struggles that break our hearts in two

Sometimes blind us to the truth

Our Father knows what best for us

His ways are not our own

So when your pathway grows dim

And you just don’t see Him

Remember you’re never alone

God is too wise to be mistaken

God is too good to be unkind

So when you don’t understand

When you don’t see His plan

When you can’t trace His hand

Trust His heart

Trust His heart

He sees the master plan

And He holds our future in His hand

So don’t live as those who have no hope

All our hope is found in Him

We see the present clearly

But He sees the first and the last

And like a tapestry

He’s weaving you and me

To someday be just like Him

God is too wise to be mistaken

God is too good to be unkind

So when you don’t understand

When you don’t see His plan

When you can’t trace His hand

Trust His heart

Trust His heart

He alone is faithful and true

He alone knows what is best for you

God is too wise to be mistaken

God is too good to be unkind

So when you don’t understand

When you don’t see His plan

When you can’t trace His hand

Trust His heart

Trust His heart

When you don’t understand

When you don’t see His plan

When you can’t trace His hand

Trust His heart

Trust His heart

Pastoring Is Hard!

I am currently reading Shawn Lovejoy’s book, The Measure Of Our Success: An Impassioned Plea To Pastors, and it has been a joy. This morning I read a portion that challenged me and I thought I would share it. It comes from a chapter entitled, “Prophecy, Criticism, and Success,” which deals with the responsibility for pastors to fulfill the role of prophet in their respective churches. By prophet, he simply means speaking “Thus saith the Lord.”

Here is what he wrote:

God is looking for prophets on whom he can pour out his Spirit – prophets who recognize that criticism comes with the call to be a prophet. We will be accused. People are going to get upset. We’re going to have to release people from our ministry and care. People are going to leave. We are going to lose followers along the way. We might even lose a few “friends.” Jesus did. Loss will bring hurt, loneliness, and discouragement our way.

He continues with this:

There are three things every pastor needs to know:

  1. Pastoring is hard.
  2. Pastoring is very hard.
  3. Pastoring is the hardest thing you could do with your life.

I am not at all discouraged by this – I am challenged. What a great reminder for all of us in ministry!

The God Of Sesame Street

I had quite a unique experience this morning. My 4 year old was watching Sesame Street as I was getting ready to head into the office and the episode featured Jimmy Fallon as the “Wild Nature Survivor Guy.” Here is a basic rundown of the episode (if you are interested).

Basically, Jimmy Fallon is discussing what it takes to survive out in the wilderness (think Bear Grylls) even though he is in Sesame Street where there is no real need for survival skills. This is the funny part.

The not so funny part is the way Fallon talks about nature as if nature is god. Numerous times he talks about nature providing everything we need (ie. water, leaves to keep warm, food, etc.). Interestingly, in the politically correct world of Sesame Street, there is no mention of God creating this world to function as it does. There is no mention that it is God who provides for our needs. There is no mention that he causes it to rain on this earth or causes food to grow.

I was reminded of the words of Matthew,

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble (Matthew 6:25-34).

I am by no means calling for a boycott of Sesame Street nor do I believe we should expect anything different from a secular media outlet like this. Sesame Street may be a good resource for teaching kids about various things but we, as Christian parents, must recognize that they will not teach our children the things of the Lord.

In fact, they are teaching the exact opposite of what we believe and we must be prepared to train our children in godliness. We must listen to what is being communicated and then correct the errors that are pouring into our living rooms day after day.

Moses reminds us of our responsibility in Deuteronomy 6:4-9,

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

What a challenge! There is no greater responsibility that we have as Christian parents than to train our children when we sit in our house, when we walk along, when we lie down, when we rise, and when we watch Sesame Street.