Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Beware of Church Leaders?

I have been somewhat detached from "ministry world" for quite a while now.  I haven't really had the time to keep up with the latest headlines in the tiny slice of the world we know as evangelical Christianity (and if you don't believe it is a tiny slice then you haven't spent much time outside of that world or outside the bible belt). 

Honestly it has been somewhat refreshing for me.  

However with a couple of weeks of downtime before I begin a new position, I have been playing catch up. I'm not sure it is the best use of my time because I have read copious reports of church leaders manipulating numbers and manufacturing baptisms, pastors building seemingly oversize houses with questionable resources, disingenuous practices to land books on the NYT bestseller's list, abuse of power, unwise use of church funds, self-promotion, undue harsh criticism of other leaders, limited accountability, and multiple other underbelly realities of ministry that most church attendees tend to ignore or be unaware of.

I was involved in "full-time" ministry for about 20 years.  I have worked in and led churches of all sizes and shapes. I have rubbed shoulders with some of the most influential leaders of the evangelical movement. I have been a part of the good, the bad, and the ugly of ministry world.  I know firsthand the brutal reality that pastors are human. They are sinners.

I have known personally church leaders who...

are prideful
teach sketchy doctrine
misuse church money
drink too much
are arrogant
manipulate the numbers
are racist
have cheated on their spouse and been caught
have cheated on their spouse and not been caught
look regularly at porn
sneak into strip clubs
have an unhealthy marriage
are poor parents
are judgmental
are abusive
struggle with same sex attraction
cover things up
live a double life
are greedy
are selfish
are easily angered
refuse to repent
have a temper
rarely pray
rarely read their Bible
make inappropriate comments
use sexual innuendos constantly
exploit their position to take advantage of and control people
are lazy
falsely accuse
never share their faith
talk bad about individuals in their congregation
worry constantly
are bitter
are unforgiving
want out of ministry but feel they have no viable option
maintain a secret life
prioritize the wrong things
are jealous
desire revenge over reconciliation

and on and on and on...

I do not know any church leaders who struggle with all of these things but I also have not known any church leader who did not struggle with some of these issues. 

I would also say the average pastor wrestles with...

a lack of confidence
feeling inadequate
feeling underqualified
feeling overwhelmed
feelings of not measuring up
faulty comparisons

and on and on and on...

And yet, the average church leader I know also loves Jesus and His church, believes the gospel, has a genuine heart for God, wants to be an effective leader, wants people to follow Jesus, wants to live a holy and pure life, and wants to be a solid husband, father, friend, and pastor.  I don't believe there are a lot of intentional religious charlatans out there. A Few? Yes.  Most? Absolutely not.

In my worst moments, I still loved Jesus, my church, and my family. 

So what are we to make of this ever-present tension?  How do we embrace both the reality of our own sin and the call to live "above reproach" (especially those in leadership)?  What choices ultimately disbar a person from leading? What sin struggles separate the qualified from the disqualified?

I'm not sure I know the clear cut answer to these questions. I know my personal sinful choices left me in a place where I did not believe I was qualified to lead effectively any longer so I walked away.  And I am not sure if there is a "re-qualifying" process that will provide me a peace about returning to ministry. I am not sure I even want to re-enter that world.

What I do know is that church leaders are human. They sin. Allow them to be sinful humans. 

What I also know is that church leaders are called to a higher level of accountability and so they should never use their "I am human" tension as an excuse to live with unconfessed and unresolved sin.  We should constantly be seeking repentance in our lives.

Being exposed to the underside of church leadership can be disheartening to those who have a misconstrued idea of what it means to be "called" by God.  Even the biblical accounts of God-called leaders do not pull any punches. Most of the Bible's Hall of Fame is filled with leaders who struggled with many of the sins mentioned above.

Ministry is a brutal world led by fallen humans.  But guess what? That's God plan. At the end of the day, church life is not about who we are. It is about who He is and who we are IN HIM.  Our brokenness propels His goodness. Our sin enunciates His grace. Our fallenness points to His glory.

Ministry is not about us ... and maybe that is part of the problem ... maybe we tend to make it about us instead of about Him.  And that's why there will always be headlines.  

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Our Next Step...

Ashley and I are about to take a new step in our journey.  For the past 3+ years, I have worked in real estate seminar world. Looking back, it was exactly what we needed for that season of our lives. However I have officially resigned from my current position and have accepted an offer from a different company outside of seminar world.  We are so excited about what lies ahead.

Here are some of the positives from the past 3 years:

- The Schedule.  My normal schedule involved leaving on Thursday afternoon and returning on Sunday night.  This schedule allowed us to have the kids half of the week.  And when I was home, I was able to focus primarily on the family.

- The Speaking.  The one thing I miss the most about ministry is speaking. I love to speak. I believe I am a gifted speaker.  Seminar world allowed me to continue to exercise my gift (even though my topic was very different).

- The Money.  God provided me a job that allowed me to make solid money. We needed that financial stability during a time that is anything but stable. In the process, we have been able to buy a new home, car, take some awesome vacations, and meet some of our financial goals.

- The People. I have been able to meet some really great people the last few years.  It has been refreshing to spend time around people outside of the Christian bubble I have known for so long. I have an entirely different perspective on people "outside" church life now.

- The Education. I have learned a ton the past few years about real estate, business, leadership, sales, and a number of other subjects.  My education has worn a number of faces that were not always pretty and tied with a bow. Sometimes education is as much about what "not" to do as it is about learning what to do. In both instances, my education has helped shape me.

With that being said, it is time for us to transition to a new season.  I have been offered an amazing position with an awesome software company.  It is an established growing company that dominates the market in their field.  The opportunity is a God-story in and of itself.  We have considered this transition one step at a time and trusted God to open each door.  He has made it crystal clear to us that we need to take this position.  I start in April.

Here are some of the positives that helped us make our decision:

- The Schedule.  Although my previous schedule worked for a season, I have missed being at home on the weekends.  I miss spending weekend time with my wife and kids. I miss church. I miss being lazy with the people I love. I miss being able to go somewhere for the weekend.  This position gives me a more "traditional" week that opens up my weekends.  I will travel less and work from home the rest of the time.  I am not much of a "go to the office" 9-5 kind of guy so this position is perfect for me.

- The Speaking.  I will be able to continue to use my gift in this position as I will be making presentations.  Also this new position will allow me to speak on weekends in churches as the opportunities arise.  I am finally at a place where I believe God wants me to use my story and gift to speak into the lives of others.  I am not sure exactly what that calling looks like but I am open to whatever God has.

- The Money.  I will not be taking a "pay cut" with this new position. That's good news.

- The People. I have been blown away by the leadership of this company.  They have impressed me every step of the way.  I look forward to working alongside these amazing people.

- The Education.  This area will be new for me. I am excited to learn, grow, and use my education. I am a student by nature so I look forward to stretching my knowledge in a new area.

God has orchestrated each step of this journey.  We have grown a lot in the past 3+ years and now it is time to enter a new season with new opportunities of growth and development.

Here we go...

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Our January

Ashley and I decided to take the month of January and recharge our batteries by saying yes and no to certain things. The primary purpose of our month long commitment was to focus our lives spiritually, relationally, and physically. Here are some of the things to which we said no and yes.

Regarding our health:

- We said yes to water and no to any other beverage.

During the month of January, we abstained from all beverages except water.  On a couple of occasions we did drink a cup of coffee as a reward and Ashley drank a little tea along the way but other than that, we only drank water.

- We said yes to healthier food and no to desserts, fried foods, and bread.

Because I travel so much, this commitment was the toughest one for me.  Restaurant eating is not exactly conducive to healthy eating, but I was able to make healthier choices and maintain our commitment. We also chose to avoid starches and carbs as much as possible. I didn't give up meat but I even made better meat choices.

- We said yes to exercise and no to laziness.

I need to work out. On the road, I normally have access to hotel gyms. So this discipline was more about choosing to wake up, get up, and go work out when it is easier to sleep in.

As a direct result of our health commitments, I lost 20 pounds in the month of January.  Ashley lost what she wanted to lose as well.  Basically my 20 is the equivalent to her losing 5 pounds!  And we both feel healthier.

Regarding our spiritual lives:

- We said yes to reading the Bible together every day and no to just private devotions.

In January, we wanted to hear from God and talk to God as a couple. So we developed the discipline of reading the Bible together at some point every day - usually in the mornings.  Again my travel schedule puts me in every time zone so it was not always easy to make the time to do this, but we did and it helped us listen more intentionally to God.

- We said yes to praying together and for each other every day and no to just praying privately.

Rarely do couples pray out loud together and for each other.  Ashley is my best friend and I love her more than life.  I don't want her to just know that I pray for her. I want her to hear me pray for her. I pray for her protection, for God's work in her life, for her heart, and for her mind. I pray for her to be everything God intends her to be. I pray for her job and for her moments of loneliness when I travel. I pray out loud for whatever is on her heart. And she hears me pray for these things.  On the other hand, she prays specifically for me and what's going on in my life and I get to hear the person I love so much pray to God over me.  It encourages my heart. This discipline joined our heart together unlike anything we have ever done.

- We said yes to talking about our spiritual lives and no to assuming what is going on.

For the first time in our relationship, we did not wait until something was actually going on to ask our spouse how we could pray for them. We were proactive about it.  And it allowed us to catch a glimpse into what was going on in our hearts.

As a result of our spiritual commitments, we are making these practices a normal part of our married lives. We are not going to be legalistic about it but we are going to be intentional about it. Statistics suggest our marriage will not survive. God says otherwise so we are going to be highly intentional to give God the space to work individually and as a couple in our lives. It is not something either of us did consistently in our first marriages and we suffered the consequences.

Regarding our personal lives:

- We said yes to quiet and no to noise.

We both have a habit of needing noise in our lives - particularly when we are apart.  It is a natural habit for me to turn on the TV when I am alone in a hotel room just for the noise. This month we chose to leave off the TV most mornings and just allow it to be quiet.  It gives you the space to talk to God and to meditate - not something we tend to do if there is consistent noise in the room.

- We said yes to vulnerability and no to privacy.

Ashley and I have both had times in our lives when we kept dark secrets from those we claimed to love. We know that trust is essential in our relationship and something we must continue to build. The best way we know to continue to build trust is through vulnerability and accountability. No limits. No topics off limits. We talk about everything. We hold nothing back.  And in the process, it allows us to stare into the soul of the other person. We love it.

- We said yes to our future and no to our past.

For those who know our story, they know our past is something that can create some serious issues in the life of a couple or an individual.  Now more than ever, we are determined to focus on our future and to learn from our past.  We don't have time to maintain regrets. God has redeemed our past so there is no reason for us to live there.  It is an insult to the God who set us free from it.

As a result of our personal commitments, God brought us closer than ever.  I can honestly say I love Ashley now more than I ever have.  In the midst of our crazy and conflicted story, there is a thread of redemption, healing, and unconditional love that has brought us together in a way no one believed possible.  And that is a God story.

Ashley and I are in the midst of making some really big decisions that impact our lives in a significant way. We wanted answers in January.  And at the end of January, we are still unclear about our next step. But what we figured out when reflecting on this reality is that God didn't take us through this month to give us specific answers. He took us through this month to draw our hearts closer to Him and to each other.  January wasn't about what He wanted to do for us. It was about what He wanted to do in us.  And now regardless what the next step looks like, we know now more than ever that He is in control of us and whatever steps we take.  

Monday, September 30, 2013

Life Lessons from Breaking Bad

I am a fan of the AMC series Breaking Bad. The show depicts clearly the depth and results of doing the wrong thing for the "right" reasons. It is a tale of consequences. For an overview of the series, go here. Unlike some other headline series I have watched, Breaking Bad came to a rightful and satisfactory conclusion last night. Without over-spiritualizing a TV show, here are a few life lessons the series reiterates in a powerful way.

Sin has severe consequences.
In my opinion, Breaking Bad did not try and sensationalize wrongdoing. Instead the series shows the digression of a life marked by sin and the destruction and death it delivers. As the series ended last night, my mind immediately went to Romans 6:23a ... "the consequences of sin is death." Sin takes life - it destroys everything in its path: relationships, trust, love, moral awareness, and even physical life itself. Sin leaves a wake of brokenness and death in its corrosive path.

Sin will always take you further than you intended to go. 
One of the Christian cliches I heard growing up was "Sin will always take you further than you want to go and keep you longer than you want to stay." Walter White, diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, decided to cook meth so he could provide for his family after his pending death.  What he did not realize was how far his "good intentions" choices would take him. In the end, he lost everything and it happened one step at a time.

Sin is always about getting my way.
For me, one of the best moments of the series finale was when Walt finally admitted to his estranged wife Skylar that his actions were never really about providing for the family but fulfilling his own selfish desires. We often have a tendency to justify our sinful behavior with faulty reasoning that allows us to do what we want to do. But in the end, sin is always about choosing my way over God's.

Sin will strip you of the things you love the most. 
Walt's actions eventually cost him the very things he claimed to love the most - his relationships. The Enemy will not stop until he has taken everything from you - even the things closest to your heart. His goal is not to just wound you. His goal is to destroy and kill.

Heisenberg lurks inside each of us. 
Inside Walter White, the chemistry teacher, lived Heisenberg, the meth-cooking, power-hungry murderer. Life lesson: creating an image is easy but eventually what's on the inside will surface. The Bible is clear that God looks on our hearts even when we do a great job of hiding behind our image.

Breaking Bad did not end with any true story of redemption other than everyone basically got what they seemed to deserve. Even Jesse (portrayed by pastor's son Aaron Paul) walking away seemed right in light of everything he has been through in the show. The show did a great job of demonstrating the consequences of sin in a five season storyline.

Thankfully the gospel story ends differently. The gospel is the story of how Jesus takes our consequences. He takes what we deserve. He dies so that we might live. The sinless one in the gospel story confronts and bears the sins of the guilty and in so doing he allows the undeserving to go free. In the gospel story, Jesus becomes Heisenberg so that we might walk away innocent.

Vince Gilligan did a masterful job telling the story of a man who in the end got what he deserved. In many ways, Breaking Bad is my story. It is your story. While the sin may take a different face or name, its destructive consequences are the same.  However my Breaking Bad story ends with the innocent dying and coming back to life so that the guilty can walk away free. And that is a true life-changing storyline! 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Convergence: a light bulb moment

Do you ever have one of those light bulb moments when you realize that years earlier God was shaping a bigger picture you had no clue in the moment was being formed? I had one of those moments last night.

We are being more intentional to attend church with the kids as much as possible. My travel schedule and other factors have hindered our involvement in this area of their lives and I have missed it. However as God has worked in our lives and in the hearts of others, we are feeling more compelled to be as involved as my schedule allows.

So last night we attended Convergence with the kids. Convergence is an occasional gathering that Epic Church creates to bring together their multiple services and campuses for the purpose of unified worship, Communion, prayer, vision casting, and teaching. It is intentional, engaging, and effective.

Convergence is actually a concept that God birthed in my heart years ago when we were leading Grace Point Church in Las Vegas.  At the time, we were looking to create an environment outside of Sunday mornings where our people could come together (converge) for the specific purposes described above.  God specifically gave me the name Convergence when I was praying about this concept. So we launched Convergence in a local movie theater.  However we eventually discontinued Convergence at Grace Point because it simply wasn't generating the results for which we were looking so we moved in a different direction. I often wondered why it did not "succeed" when I believed so strongly God led us to start it.  Now years later I know.

God didn't birth that vision in my heart for just a specific church in a specific location. He actually created it for another church in another city at a different time!  You see during the season at Grace Point when we were developing Convergence there was a couple God led to move to Las Vegas to serve with us.  That couple was IV & Bene Marsh - who are now the pastors of Epic Church in Decatur, AL.

IV and Bene were in Las Vegas for less than a year yet God used that year to birth a vision in their hearts that eventually became a reality that far surpassed the vision God originally gave me. What God is doing through Epic Church in North Alabama can only be contributed to a movement of God.

Last night I realized God did not birth Convergence in my heart for just that time and place. God was doing something bigger that would only be realized years later!  That is crazy God stuff.

It is overwhelming to think that God was shaping a movement years ago that would transcend time, location, people, and yes even sinful choices. He was bringing glory to Himself when no one could see it. And through His sovereign plan, He continues to write His redemptive story through fallible humans.

I can't begin to unpack how "full circle" this story is becoming. It is truly a God story. And yet it is the way that God continues to write His story (history). He is in control even when we don't realize it. He is writing His story even when we can't see it. He is working in a way that transcends time, people, and places.

We worship and serve a God who is bigger than any limits we place on Him and yet He is also the God who speaks individually into our lives to remind us that He works in and through us in spite of us.

Who would have thought that back then that I would be sitting in a theater in Decatur, AL participating in a vision God birthed year earlier in Las Vegas? God - that's who! 

Friday, August 09, 2013

Dear Kayleigh: a father's thoughts as his daughter turns 16

This weekend my oldest daughter Kayleigh turns 16. I still remember the moment she was born. I cried as much as she did as I witnessed our incredible gift enter the world. It is a moment that cannot be described. It can only experienced. I can hardly believe she is now turning 16.  As I reflect on the past 16 years God has given me with Kayleigh, here are a few thoughts that I have for her this weekend.

1. You are beautiful. 

My daughter Kayleigh is beautiful inside and out. Like any teenage girl, she battles her own insecurities with the unfounded pressures our society places on young people to look, think, and act a certain way. In reality, she is one of the most beautiful 16-year-olds I have ever seen. 

Even more importantly, she is beautiful on the inside.  Kayleigh has an incredible heart for God.  Her inward beauty dwarfs her outward appearance.  She seeks after Jesus. She is a leader. She loves to serve. She worships passionately. She listens to the voice of God. She hungers for God's truth.  She cares about people. She is a good friend. She makes wise decisions. She is pure.

She is a beautiful girl.

2. You are strong.

Kayleigh has always been a daddy's girl. We have always been very close.  A few years ago my actions damaged our relationship in a deep way.  It is one of my gravest regrets.  In many ways, Kayleigh's image of me was scarred. My actions could have permanently broken her. But God used her season of hurt to make her a stronger person. She has not only survived but she has thrived.

3. You are way too much like me. 

Kayleigh and I have almost the exact same personality in many ways. We react. We need time to think through things. We want to be right. We argue vehemently our points even when we are wrong. People can take us the wrong way. We love to read and we are both decent writers. At times I wish Kayleigh was not so much like me. But most of the time I just smile and shake my head and know she is stuck with the good, bad, and ugly of being like her dad.

4. You have a world of potential. 

I am excited to watch Kayleigh's life unfold. She has more potential than she even realizes.

5. I am not ready for you to grow up. 

Part of being a parent is facing the tension of between protecting your children and allowing them to spread their wings and fly.  I am not ready for Kayleigh to get behind the wheel of a car and drive without any adult supervision. But that is the reality I must face as a parent.  I am not ready for Kayleigh to graduate from high school in a couple of years and go to college. But that is the reality I must face as a parent. I am not ready for Kayleigh to become less dependent on her parents and more dependent upon her own decision making. But that is the reality I must face as a parent.

Watching your children grow up is a blessing and a curse. I'm not sure you are ever ready for them to grow up but that's the reality we face as parents. In the end, it makes me pray harder and trust God more.

6. You have a Father who loves you even more than I love you. 

Although it is difficult yet rewarding to watch Kayleigh grow up, I know that she has a Heavenly Father who loves her even more than I love her.  Her inward beauty is a reflection of His grace. Her strength comes from the fact that His strength is made perfect in her weaknesses.  Although her natural human tendencies reflect her earthly father, her heart reflects her Heavenly Father - the same Father who created her with so much potential.  And it is this same Heavenly Father who will love, heal, redeem, protect, pursue, and forgive her as she grows up as a fallen yet forgiven young lady who makes her earthly father proud to be her daddy.

Happy 16th Kayleigh. I love you.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

A Husband and a Dad

My blog has been quiet in recent months. To be honest, I haven't really wanted to write anything which is strange for me.  By nature, I love to write.  I am a fairly gifted writer but recently I have had little desire to write.  I was even asked to write some articles for a widely read website but simply did not have the craving to put together anything.  I even sat down to write a few times but what I wrote just didn't seem that important so I left it unpublished.

What does seem important to me right now is being a good husband and father. For most of my life, I have focused on a number of things that most people consider important: getting a good education, growing churches, networking, teaching, mentoring, leading, and a number of other "important" matters that occupied most of my time.

Don't get me wrong - all of those matters are wholesome and valuable in their own way. And they have their proper place in life.  But they are not the matters that seem most important to me now.

What matters to me most are the precious gifts that God has given me in my wife and children.  I took those gifts for granted in the past and it cost me.  I don't plan to make that mistake again.

For the last several months, I have been intentional to create memories with my children - to love them deeper. We have spent a lot of focused time together. We have taken trips. We have done things we probably would not have done a few years ago. We have laughed. We have acted crazy. We have taken multiple vacations. Put simply, we have enjoyed life. And I feel closer to my kids today than I ever have. That reality alone is a testimony of God's redemptive grace.

A counselor once told me when my first marriage was struggling that I would learn to love and be loved at some point in my life.  He hoped it was during my first marriage and not after I had lost everything.  His prophetic words became my truth.

I did not learn to love and be loved during my first marriage.  But God has given me a second opportunity. And this time, I am focused. I am centered on loving Ashley as Jesus loves me. I am focused on allowing her to love me as Jesus loves me.  And I am learning that marriage truly is a gift to be cherished.

I have worn a lot of titles in my life but only two really matter to me right now: husband and daddy. And I have a feeling that when most of my life has passed that those are the two titles that will continue to matter.