Category Archives: Ministry

When My Fist Meets Your Chin

I had a friend in High School named Rocco Bomareto. I’m not kidding, that was his real name. He was Italian, like many others in my high school, but I don’t think his family belonged to the Mafia even though it would have been a great name for a local mob boss. Rocco and I shared a locker for a couple of years, and we were an unlikely couple. I was a skinny kid in a wheelchair, and he was the state heavyweight champion wrestler for two years.

We had a new kid show up one year at school. You remember how it is with new kids—they have to make their way, so they often do strange things. This kid came in as a tough guy, wanting everyone to know he was not to be messed with. It only took a few days for us to realize the new kid needed to be put in his place, so Rocco took it upon himself to do so.

Rocco climbed on top of a covered walkway between two buildings. Three or four boys on the ground took the news kid’s motorcycle and lifted it up to Rocco who reached down with one arm and pulled it up to the roof. There it sat for the rest of the day. I don’t know how he got it down; we all went home after school.punch

Looking back now I can say that Rocco was wrong in putting the motorcycle on the roof. It was not a very caring thing to do, although it was kinda funny at the time. At the same time, the new kid should not have been surprised that something like this happened. After all, if you attend a school with the state heavyweight champion wrestler named Rocco, it is probably a terrible mistake to try and be the tough guy.

When I was in school, they taught us about the interconnectedness between freedom and responsibility. It was drilled into us that we could not continue to enjoy freedom if we were unwilling to accept responsibility. It seems that most of us understood that and we continued to enjoy the freedom of being an American.

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Why Are You Giving Money to Your Church?

It is probably safe to say that money is the most thought about subject. We spend an inordinate amount of time and energy thinking about how to get money, what to do with the money we have, how to survive without money, and myriads of other questions. Money is not only the “root of all evil,” but also it is one of the factors that control our lives. If money guides much of our lives as individuals, then it is equally correct to say that money guides much of the life of our churches.

I’ve never done a survey, but I suspect the biggest complaint people have about the church centers around the issue of money. You’ve heard people say, “All that church wants is my money.” We frequently hear stories about church leaders abusing money given by members and living extravagant lifestyles.

I have an extensive background in studying and teaching biblical stewardship. Even though my views on the subject changed over the years, the importance of the relationship between the church and money is something I still strive to understand.church and money

The ability of a church to raise funds is strictly dependent upon the intended use of the money. For example, in the matter of capital-fund raising, everyone in the business knows it is easier to raise money for a new sanctuary than for a classroom building. The most challenging capital fund project for raising money is debt elimination. It seems that paying off debt doesn’t excite church folks nearly as much as getting a new worship center.

When it comes to raising money for other needs, missions tops the list. Inspiring people to give to share the Gospel, especially in the far corners of the world, is not that difficult. Another good fund-raising project is children. When I was a pastor if we had children who needed money to attend camp all we had to do was make an announcement, and the money would be quickly provided.

Once again I will pose the question of what your church would look like if you took money out of the equation. In other words, if your church had no money, zero income, what would happen?

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The Unholy Use of Money

An entirely unsurprising announcement came out this week that a mega church in the Dallas area has decided to escrow their mission money. I’m not going to identify the church, but if you type these four words into Google it will pop up quickly – Dallas, church, escrow, money. The reason cited by the pastor is that he felt disrespected. That’s correct, a leader for the Southern Baptist Convention said something he didn’t agree with, so he has instructed his church to hang onto the one million dollars that would have probably been given this year.

At first thought, it sounds like a reasonable decision. After all, why should we support someone who disrespects us, or give to an organization that doesn’t share our values and opinions?unholy-money

What causes me concern is the use of the word “escrow.” The dictionary definition is “a bond, deed, or other document kept in the custody of a third party, taking effect only when a specified condition has been fulfilled.” What this church is doing by escrowing money they had originally intended to give to the Southern Baptist Convention is to allow someone else to hold the money until the issue has been resolved. (I seriously doubt if the money actually goes anywhere other than the church’s bank account.)

In this case, it appears the use of the term “escrow” suggests a threat—if you don’t change we are going to punish you by withholding our money. This money, a significant amount, is being used as a financial club to get their way.

I don’t have any problem if this church decides the Southern Baptist Convention does not represent your values and beliefs and then simply stops the support. Quit giving—plain and simple. However, once they use the term “escrow,” it suggests the money will still be there whenever the Southern Baptist Convention sees things your way.

Don’t try to force a mission agency to do things your way. Go find someone else you can support. Find someone who shares your values and is already doing the things you desire.

The concept of escrowing money intended for the Southern Baptist Convention has been a favorite among churches for decades as they have sought to gain and control power. The big irony for me is pastors get extremely upset whenever church members do the same thing to them. Have a significant contributor to the church walk up to the pastor after a Sunday sermon and say, “Pastor, I didn’t appreciate what you said this morning. I’m not going to give another offering until you apologize.” We would learn quickly if that pastor believed what he preached.

Using money to manipulate people is not right. Money is a tool to help others, to provide for the needs of others. It is not to be a source of power and control. That is exactly why money is so dangerous.

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is difficult for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19:23-24)

It is next to impossible for a rich man to get into the kingdom of heaven. It makes me wonder if the same can be said about a rich church.

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Celebrity Preachers

Perhaps you heard about the young pastor recently who preached a twenty-four hour sermon. This was not a case of the Holy Spirit falling upon the preacher and inspiring him to keep at it. It was a planned event. He actually designed and advertised the sermon as a means of promoting his new book. By all accounts, he has been a successful pastor, starting and growing a rather large congregation. He had just finished writing the book and felt like the message would “change lives.” Speaking as a writer who has published a few books myself, I agree that if you do not have something important to say that needs to be heard, don’t bother writing a book. To be honest, when I heard about this twenty-four hour sermon, my first thought was that I am glad I have lived long enough that people have forgotten all the dumb stuff I did in my twenty’s. Hopefully this young man will live long enough as well.

The underlying issue of this whole business is preachers performing some kind of stunt in order to attract attention and draw a crowd. It raises the question of celebrity preachers. The basic definition of celebrity is quite simple. A celebrity is someone who is widely known. We have raised the idea of being a celebrity to new heights. There are magazines, websites, and television programs that exist for the sole purpose of revealing insights about celebrities. preacher

It is a viscous cycle–do something that get’s noticed, appear in a magazine or newspaper, other magazines notice, people follow you around, do something else, everyone notices, get on more magazine covers, do something stupid, one last burst of notoriety, loose all your friends. The amazing thing is that so many folks are striving to be celebrities it is almost like a chosen profession for some – What do you want to be when you grow up? A celebrity!

I do not have a problem with celebrity preachers. The issue that concerns me is preachers who strive to be celebrities without realizing the cost. I think it is safe to say that Billy Graham was a celebrity preacher. He is very well-known all around the world. However, he became famous by preaching. His celebrity was a by-product of his work. I don’t know him personally, but I never felt like he sought out the celebrity status, although he certainly knew how to utilize it. There have been many celebrity preachers throughout history – Charles Spurgeon, George Whitefield. It might even be correct to say that Jesus was a celebrity preacher in his day.  Continue reading

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An Open Letter to Church Leaders

If you are interested in a potential church member, here I am. My wife and I are prime candidates to be a part of your congregation. We are ready to be welcomed and put to work.

Both of us are experienced and quite capable. We were both raised in families where church involvement was at the hub of family life, and the subject of most conversations around the dinner table. I have served as a pastor for more than 15 years, and a church consultant for nearly 20 years.

Yes, I know you can do the math–that puts us in our mid-60’s. We might not fit the target demographic of your church, but I can assure you the problem is not with us. We don’t especially want to be a part of a senior adult ministry, and I think I am correct in saying that younger folks are comfortable with us so our presence won’t torpedo your ministry plans.OpenLetter

I will confess up front that you might want to accuse me of being too selective when it comes to church. I like to think it is because I have high standards. Either way, what I’m trying to say is I’m not interested in what you are doing simply because you tack the word “church” onto your legal papers.

For the past few years I have felt like we were living on an island all by ourselves, but I recently discovered I actually belong to a labeled category of people. Church leaders have long talked about the “unchurched.” Apparently there is another group of people known as the “dechurched.”

This term is used to describe those who have left the historic Christian faith. This group consists primarily of young people who grew weary of the church’s message that if you obey God your life will be blessed. They dropped out of church once they saw the fallacy of this message and began to experience the natural pain and sorrow of life. They were once a part of the church, but because their experience didn’t ring true with the church’s message, they walked away. Continue reading

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Angel

Frequently in our morning prayer time, Sharon and I will ask that God will use us to minister to someone today. Since I work from home, and many days she doesn’t have work that requires leaving the house, I sometimes wonder how God can find a way to answer our prayer. Today, God certainly answered the prayer in a most unusual way.

Sharon had just returned from the store and unloaded her car. She noticed a man looking through the discarded items a neighbor had placed on the curb. I looked out the window to see what he was doing, and observed as he backed up his truck and loaded a few items.

For some reason, I remembered a wheelchair that I don’t use any more that sits idly in my office. It needs some repair work, and I’m not even sure if it can be made usable. However, I would be happy if someone just hauled it away.ibot

So I went outside and got the man’s attention before he drove off. I asked what kind of stuff he was looking for, and he said, “Metal stuff, or things I can repair.”

I asked, “How about an old wheelchair that’s not working?”

He got real excited about that, and I warned him that it might be beyond repair. He was unfazed, so I took him into my office to examine the chair. He was thrilled, explaining that he can send it to Mexico where it can be used to help people get to church.

I found a neighbor who was home, and the two men lifted the heavy chair into the back of the pickup. I told him everything I knew about the chair, gave him the owner’s manual, and told him I hoped he could get it to work.

Before he left, he asked my name. Then he asked if he could pray for us. He did. A powerful prayer that God would bless us and that Jesus would be glorified.

When he finished, he reached out to shake my hand. I asked for his name, and he replied, “Angel.”

He really is Angel. I hope God uses the chair to bless someone, perhaps as far away as Mexico. I do know that he has already blessed Sharon and me by sending Angel to our house today.

 

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