Thoughts on another pastor’s fall

Yesterday I learned that David Yonggi Cho is going to prison. Here’s the scoop:

David Yonggi Cho, the 78-year-old leader of the world’s largest Pentecostal mega church, was recently convicted of embezzling $12 million and sentenced to serve three years in prison. (You can read the entire story here).

The following are my unfiltered soul rumblings…

I’m devastated. This man has been a giant in the other world in which I live… the world of the church. He has written books, created paradigms, and showed lots of pastors “how to do it.” He has effectively built a church that has brought honor to God and resulted in hundreds of thousands of lives being transformed… and now this. I feel betrayed. Angry. and even a little skeptical… for if David Yonggi Cho succumbed to temptation then who isn’t vulnerable? Are there any trustworthy spiritual leaders?

I’m not as surprised as I used to be. Over the last decade of my life I’ve watched many leaders fall; leaders ranging from political (e.g. Mark Sanborn) to religious (e.g. Ted Haggard). I’ve staggered and been nauseated as I learned, multiple times, of personal acquaintances and mentors who have made irresponsible choices that have led to their public disgrace and put a dent in the reputation of the organizations they represent. I used to be surprised… I’m not so much anymore.

I’m scared. I’m a leader. I’m also a man. The things that led to every other leaders failure (e.g. sex, power, money) could also lead to mine. I promise myself, my wife, my children, my accountability partners, and my God that I’ll not fail. I’m sure these leaders said similar things before succumbing.

I am grateful for the men and women I know who consistently model integrity. There are men and women who live lives of integrity. They are gentle and courageous souls who quietly live lives of righteousness. They remain consistent when the times are good and equally so when suffering is required of them. I am grateful to know people like this… I’d name names but I know some of them read this blog and I don’t want to embarrass them. I am grateful for you.

This is to be expected. Not to be a Debbie Downer here but if you believe that all of humanity is smeared by sin then you can expect that ugly monster to rear its head and crash a life. I believe that God rescues us from the damaging control of sin, but it is absolutely necessary to continually nurture our relationship with Him and “run from” those things that would make us vulnerable to bad choices. Check out what St. Paul said to his protege in ministry, Timothy, on this subject.

OK, enough “soul rumblings”. Here are a few things I am doing in an effort to live a life of integrity:

  • Every day I put my face in the Bible. God gives warnings about this stuff and instruction on how to live a strong, long life of integrity. I really need to have this conversation with God every day… because I’m vulnerable to stupidity if I don’t… and often vulnerable even when I do!
  • I pray with my wife every night and give her a kiss before we go to sleep. This daily ritual reminds me of my spiritual and relational responsibility to my family. It keeps me humble before my wife as I talk to God, out loud, in front of her.
  • I have accountability partners who ask me anything and everything about my life. I tell them the truth.
  • I share my mistakes/sins in appropriate environments. Be wary of a man who never admits to being wrong. (You wouldn’t believe how many times I just edited that sentence! I had a pretty sophomoric way of saying that… but cleaned it up because of the nature of this post). On the other hand, I also like to hear, and share, successes so that others can see how it’s done! Sharing just failures leads to a sense of pessimism. We all fail. And we can all rise!
  • I have hope! I have hope because of this piece of wisdom from the Bible – “Though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again….” (Proverbs 24:16).

OK, the ladies are all getting out of bed… it’s time to get ready for school so I’ve gotta wrap this up.

Today I encourage you to pray for those in leadership, and then do a self-check… how’s your integrity level?

How do preachers come up with sermons?

Thinking ManWell, I can’t answer this question for everyone, but I can tell you how I figure out what I’m going to teach (aka preach) at Church180.

I find it helpful to plan what I’m going to teach 9-12 months ahead of time. This gives me time to pray, study, think, and apply whatever it is that I will be teaching at our church.

Now I don’t always teach what I plan because sometimes it just doesn’t seem to fit. Like for instance, we just finished a three week teaching series called, “Putting Fear in a Headlock.” Originally I was planning on doing a four week series called “Living at 90%.” However, as I was preparing for that series it just seemed like everything was pointing in a different direction.

By “everything” I mean, the stories I was reading in the Bible, the thoughts that were clicking in my mind, the “gut feeling” that said “this is where we need to go.” So, I changed the series direction and we tackled the topic of fear. Based on people’s feedback, it was the right decision. Isn’t it cool how God knows what the people at His church need to hear?

So how do I come up with sermon ideas?

  • I regularly pray and ask God what He wants our church to hear. It’s not uncommon that an idea will pop up during those prayer times, and will keep popping up until I finally realize, “Oh! This might be something God wants to say to our church!”
  • Often while reading the Bible, a question, idea, or topic will pop up and I’ll think, “Ohhh! That’s something our church needs to talk about!” So we’ll put it on the schedule.
  • Sometimes I get ideas while talking with and listening to people. I listen to their questions, ideas, etc. and often walk away thinking, “That’s something we need to talk about at church.”
  • Movies, YouTube clips (that’s where I got the idea for “Living at 90%”), songs, Facebook posts, and even tweets have all provided ideas that led to a teaching series.
  • I listen to other preachers. Sometimes they have such great material that I think, “Our church needs to have this conversation.” Our current teaching series, “Climate Change” is such a case. I was listening to Jeff Henderson, a pastor at Northpoint Church teach this series. It moved me so deeply that I knew I needed to share it. What happens then? I take his big idea and make it my own. In several cases I used different Scriptures than he used. I, of course, have to make the stories my own (although he tells some stories that are such good illustrations that I considered becoming Jeff for a Sunday just so I could tell his stories 😉 )
  • Many times there are conversations in our culture and in the headlines that we need to discuss. This was the case in our teaching series, “Breaking the Silence” in which we talked about divorce, suicide, and homosexuality.
  • Finally, there are a few things that are so important that we just plan to talk about them every year. At our church we plan on talking about these things every year: Marriage/Family, Money, Men, How to help a friend discover Jesus, Volunteering.
  • Once the big idea is in place I go to work discovering what the Bible says about this topic, looking for stories to illustrate, applying it to my own life, reading other materials about this topic (both Christian and secular), and writing out the lesson so I can best present it to you!

 

One thing I always say is that God has the trump card. He can redirect any series at any time, BUT I have been preaching long enough to realize that God works incredibly well through our planning! I love it when people come up to me after church, or send an e-mail later in the week and say, “That was just what I needed to hear!” What they don’t know… well, what they didn’t know until they read this post, was that often that sermon was planned months in advance!

Do you know what that means?!

It means that God knew you would be at Church180 on that Sunday and He’s been preparing for your arrival months in advance!

So there you go… that’s how preachers, at least this one, comes up with sermons!

Why I don’t tell our church when I’m not going to be at church

This weekend I didn’t preach at Church180. In fact, my family and I weren’t even at church!

I told no one in advance (with the exception of our pastors) that I wouldn’t be there.

When I have done this in the past people ask me, “Why didn’t you tell us you weren’t going to be at church?”

That’s a fair question. Here’s why I don’t tell people when we’re not going to be at church…

I want people to love the church and come for the experience of worshiping God, enjoying friends, and learning new things from the Bible. None of this depends on me. Sure, I’m the primary teacher, but there is so much more to the church than me.

When I first became a pastor our church grew from 30 to 130 and it was largely because of me. Let me explain. People came because they liked me (honestly it was probably Sherri they liked and came to see). They stayed because they liked us.

One day I realized, “Our church has grown because of us, but now it cannot grow because of us!” I had been the catalyst for growth, but now I had become the obstacle to growth. I didn’t know what to do.

Shortly after that we were moved to a larger church. When we first started there the church was running 600+ on a weekend. Immediately my leadership/pastoral style had to change. I led through a team. When we left, two years later, we consistently ran 900+ on the weekends.

One of the key differences between the two experiences was the role I played. In the first church I was in the center of everything. In the second church I was in the center of a small group of leaders. It was in the second church that our church had the greatest impact in the community and in the world… and incidentally, people were better cared for too!

I’ve realized that if the church is all about me then we’ll be pretty ineffective and people won’t be cared for well. If I have to be there for it to be “church” then what we’ve built is a cult… not a church.

I want for Church180 to be filled with strong leaders who can teach, lead worship, lead Life Groups, make decisions, etc. I want our church to function at full capacity when I’m not there.

I know that some people won’t come to church if they know I’m not going to be there (and I’m pretty sure that there are some who would come if they knew I wasn’t going to be there). I don’t like that, and so I don’t tell people when I’m going away for this reason… I want our new teachers/leaders to feel the weight of teaching/leading the entire church, and I want our entire church to support, love, and respect the new teachers/leaders. It is good for the teachers/leaders and the church when I’m not there and everyone shows up!

So there you are… why I don’t tell in advance when I’m going to be gone.

Some thoughts on preaching

I am a pastor.

The favorite part of my job is preaching. This year I have enjoyed preaching more than ever and I believe my preaching is more effective than ever. Here are some reflections on what I’ve been doing…

I’ve been teaching verse by verse through books of the Bible. Since January of 2011 we (at Church180) have gone through:

  • Song of Solomon (4 weeks)
  • Romans (8 weeks)
  • James (13 weeks)
  • And are now working our way through 1 Peter in what will be a 16 week journey.

Teaching verse by verse does a few things for me as a pastor:

  • I don’t spend much time thinking “What am I going to preach next?” I just go to the next “chunk” of Scripture and teach what it says!
  • Because I’m following the lead of the Scripture we are talking about things we might never talk about otherwise. For instance, the last two weeks in Peter have been: 1) how to live as a Christian under the authority of government and 2) how to function as a Christian under the authority of a superior you might not like.
  • Teaching verse by verse allows me to speak with new, bold authority. It is clear that what I am saying is not my idea. I’m just saying out loud what God spoken to us through the authors of Scripture.
  • Teaching verse by verse through a book allows me time to read the through the book multiple times in addition to reading through at least three commentaries on the book. The bottom line is that after I have taught through a book I have a solid understanding of that book and what it teaches.
  • Teaching verse by verse through a book of the Bible forces me to hear from God on matters that I might otherwise avoid… because I don’t know what to say about it, because it’s too uncomfortable for me to talk about, or because it hits to close to home!

Here’s the process I follow as I teach through a book of the Bible:

  • I determine which book we are going to teach through. Right now we are working book by book through the “General Epistles.”
  • I read through the particular book multiple times until an outline becomes clear. After I have written down what appears to be the outline of the book I will check with 5-7 experts to see how they have outlined the book. After making any necessary adjustments I have my teaching outline for the series (for instance, 1 Peter has 16 “chunks” (technically called a “pericope“) which equals 16 weeks worth of teaching).
  • Every week I print out the “chunk” I am going to be teaching that weekend. I print it out in five different Bible versions (New American Standard, New International Version, New Living Translation, The Message, and The Amplified Version). I read over and over and over the verses in the different versions. While I am reading I take notes, write questions, and collect stories to be used that weekend.
  • Also during the week I read three different commentaries on the “chunk” of Scripture I will be teaching that weekend.
  • Now I have read five different translations, worked with my own thoughts/ideas and study, and have also gained insight from the scholars who have written the commentaries.
  • Then I write and teach the sermon.

I am enjoying teaching verse by verse through the Bible! It is growing me personally and our church is growing too, both spiritually and numerically. God was right when He said about His Word, “I send it out, and it always produces fruit. It will accomplish all I want it to, and it will prosper everywhere I send it” (Isaiah 55:11 NLT)

Thoughts from a bi-vocational pastor

It’s been over two months since I’ve started my second job working at the hospital as a patient sitter. It’s time for some reflective thoughts on the journey thus far…

  • I am surprised at how my Christian faith compels me to acts of mercy. Things I would not have imagined myself doing, like wiping eye boogers from the eyes of sick patients, holding the hand of lonely and confused patients, helping to clean patients, etc. I now do… and I can’t help but do them. It’s as if I see the need and am compelled to meet the need. I’m confident that this is not a normal “Paul response” but rather the result of Jesus working in and through me. WOW!
  • I sleep less than I used to but I still accomplish the most important things (dating all of my ladies, exercising, basic spiritual disciplines, reading, pastoring, etc.). This second job has forced me to prioritize and act on those priorities.
  • It’s neat to work outside of the church. As a pastor it’s easy to get swallowed up in the church world so that everything you do and everyone you know is connected to the church. After a while, if you’re not careful, you forget what it’s like to be like the man or woman who comes to your church. They don’t think, read, talk, and breathe church like you do. I’ve typically staved off the “swallowing effect” of church life by things like: gym membership, doing office work at local coffee shops and restaurants, etc., but this is an entirely new and effective means of getting outside of the “pastor mind set” (which by the way is not necessarily a bad thing… as long as one doesn’t forget that it is a unique one).
  • It’s neat to be a “nobody”. In the church I’m a “somebody.” Everyone wants to meet with, talk with, hear from or speak to the pastor. That has nothing to do with me… every pastor experiences this phenomenon. If we’re not careful this can go to our heads. We (i.e. pastors) live in a small world (the local church) where we fill kind of a “big” role. Being in an environment with several hundred employees and several hundred patients is completely different! No one cares much what a “Patient Sitter” thinks and not many people are lined up outside of my office to talk with me… oh, that’s right… patient sitters don’t have offices!
  • Working outside of the church gives me a great opportunity to sharpen my “faith sharing” skills. As a pastor everyone expects you to barge into conversations with “Hey, let me proselytize you… then baptize you.” As a patient sitter no one sees it coming! It’s been fun to share with people (after they ask) how my life has changed because of Jesus!
  • Working outside of the local church has done a couple of things for me: 1) it has made me realize how much I love the local church (in my case it is Church180)! 2) It has helped me realize that ministry is so much bigger than standing in front of people and preaching!
I’m grateful to God and Piedmont for this chance to step outside of my normal environment, serve people, make a little extra income, and see how God works outside of the church environment!

 

I wrote an article for Tony McCollum’s website

Tony McCollum is a pastor in Atlanta. He is the founding pastor of Fusion Church and the creator of such goodness as pastormojo.com and pastorgear.com.

Tony is a friend of mine and a mentor who I look up to and learn from. Recently he asked me to write an article for pastormojo.com. Today it was published.

I wrote about recovering from a disaster. It might be helpful for you. You can check it out here.

P.S. you can check out more of Tony’s goodness on his blog.

I don’t know what I want to do. Do you?

I am thirty-six years old. Strong. Intelligent. Blessed. And pretty darn humble too.

OK seriously… I am thirty six years old.

When I was twenty-five I knew what I wanted to do “for the rest of my life.” I’m not so sure about that anymore.

I don’t know how or where, but somewhere along the way things have gotten blurry. For the last couple of years I have wrestled with this thought:

Most young people are idealists. They come charging into life with intentions and plans to change the world, but somewhere along the journey “reality” sets in. They have a setback or two and before you know it the dreamers wake up, and “settle” for simply showing up and staying out of trouble.

When Idealism meets reality it seems like reality wins more often than not. Dreams get shelved… or worse, forgotten.

“Mature” men snicker and “poo poo” the enthusiasm of youth. They have forgotten what it felt like to dream. They have accepted “reality.”

And yet there is something beautiful about a man (or woman) who has taken a strong dose of “reality” and still continues to press forward with the dream… a person in whom idealism continues to breath!

I have met “reality” and tasted the bitter taste of disappointment and failure. I have felt the tug towards complacency and even been encouraged by some to “slow down.” And yet I live with the sense that these are the danger days… the days in which choices are made that separate dreamers from settlers… risk takers from security seekers. These are the days when I will choose to shelve my passion and hunker down or I will choose to light it up and move forward. I have seen enough middle aged and older people living with regret that I am determined not to be one of their number.

But I am troubled. What used to be so clear is not so clear any longer.

Somewhere along the way I have lost my clarity… my driving purpose… my “hill to die on”… the crusade for which I will give my life.

Now, I know that to write this is risky. It means that the people I pastor may wonder about me. It means that those who look up to me (everyone shorter than 6’1) may not look at me the same any longer. Some may not understand. This note is not for them.

This note is for you… those of you who, like me, still have a passion to change the world, to make an impact… you’re just not sure exactly how YOU are going to do it. This note is for you… for us.

I don’t have an answer… yet. But I know that there is a clear and specific purpose for each person. I have a general sense of purpose… to study, write, teach, and call people to God… but I lack specifics beyond that. I wish I knew what they were.

So, I’ve been reading a book called, Leaders Who Last, by Dave Kraft. In this book he discusses the importance of knowing your purpose… it’s critical for lasting in the leadership arena.

He gives eleven pointers that are well worth my time to follow up on so I thought I’d share them with you too. From Dave Kraft, “here are a few steps that will help you on the road to identifying your purpose”:

1. Record Bible passages God has applied to your life.

2. Reflect on how God has used you in the past.

3. Determine what you are passionate about.

4. List your known gifts and strengths.

5. Delineate what you have excelled at in your work experi­ence.

6. Define what action words best describe what you like to do.

7. Write down what you enjoy doing in your free time.

8. Reread all your answers.

9. Take note of common themes.

10. Write down key words or ideas that repeat.

11. Summarize those key words in a short, energizing state­ment about yourself.

Now I share this, my story and Dave’s tips, for two reasons:

  • I want to encourage you! Dave Kraft was thirty-eight when he really began to wrestle this matter to the ground. He went on to figure it out… and write a book about it! If Dave did it we can too!
  • I want to give you a process and a forum to begin discovering clarity! I’ve talked with enough of my colleagues and friends to know I’m not the only one wrestling with this need for clarification so I decided to throw the door open on this one and begin a conversation… one that begins with honest confession, assumes the confident belief that there is a purpose for everyone, and assertively moves forward and works through Dave’s eleven ideas!

Want to join me on this quest?