Saturday, July 23, 2016

Becoming a Disciple

“When are we finished being formed as disciples of Jesus Christ? It’s not over until it’s over (in the ultimate sense). We are always a work in progress, with more room to grow. So every congregation needs ways to continue the journey.”—SHIFT

I have always loved the analogy of the Christian life as a journey.  The paradox is that each of us begins that journey in a unique place but we all begin at the same place.  Not everyone has a Damascus road experience as the apostle Paul did but this does not make our decision less valid.  Some of us grew up in the church while others came to a commitment to Christ in our maturity.  We brought our own backgrounds, experiences, and God-given gifts into that relationship. At the same time, we all begin the journey as babes, unformed and untested.

The wonderful thing about our journey with Christ is that it is ongoing and continuous.  As Mark Tidsworth points out in the quote above from SHIFT:  Three Big Moves for the 21st Century Church, we are always in the process of being formed as disciples.  What are some steps we can take to engage more effectively in that journey?

First, we can acknowledge our need to abide in the presence of Christ daily.  We are never apart from Christ, but we can recognize that relationship more effectively if we take times during the day to breathe a prayer of thanks or appreciation.  I am not talking about praying for a parking place (but you can do that if you wish) but simply expressing gratitude for the presence that abides with us as believers.  How do you acknowledge the presence of Christ in your life each day?

Second, we can set aside time for prayer, Bible reflection, and listening to God.  Please note that I did not use the term “Bible study.”  We study the Bible to learn and teach, but sometimes we just need to meditate on scripture and let God speak to us through the text.  How do you listen for the Word of God to you each day?

Third, we can commit ourselves to fellowship with other believers.  We don’t make the journey alone.  Although the decision to follow Christ is an individual one, we are expected to travel in company with other pilgrims.  In so doing, we are not only strengthened, but we encourage others as well.  How are you involved in community with other believers?

So the journey continues.  As the Apostle Paul wrote, “Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6, NIV)

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Economic Challenges Facing Pastoral Leaders

During the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly in Greensboro last month, I attended a workshop led by Bo Prosser, CBF Coordinator of Organizational Relationships, and Gary Skeen, President of the CBF Church Benefits Board.  They announced the launch of an initiative by CBF to address the economic challenges facing pastoral leaders which is largely funded by a grant from the Lilly Foundation.

One of the most striking parts of the meeting was the report of a survey of 642 pastoral leaders on the topic.  Four pressing concerns were identified from this data.

First, those surveyed carried a heavy debt load.  Of those surveyed, 67 percent carry a debt that equaled up to two times their annual salary.  Student loans or educational debt made up 41 percent of respondent debt.

Second, health benefits are limited.  Forty-four percent of the participants did not receive medical benefits from their employers.  Of this 44 percent, half were employed by a church with an annual operating budget of $101,000 to $500,000.

Third, retirement benefits are not being addressed.  Three out of five participants did not feel prepared for retirement.

Fourth, financial advisement is lacking.  Only one of four participants had met with a financial advisor to address these concerns (which is in itself a concern).

My recent blog on “The Topic Churches Avoid” on the economic challenges of ministers has received the most “hits” in three days  that any of my posts have ever received.  It is now the second most accessed post of the almost 1000 I have written.  This touches a nerve.  We have a problem, don’t we?

I applaud those who are attempting to address this challenge and encourage both pastors and church leaders to be proactive in addressing the topic we want to avoid.

Change is Personal

“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” -- Leo Tolstoy

We often think about and plan for change in society, culture, and organizations, but ultimately all change is personal.  Whenever something shifts in our environment, we are impacted by the change.

On the personal level, it may be entering into or leaving a marriage.  On a family level, it might be the birth of a child, the departure of a young adult to take on a job or pursue education, or the loss of a loved one.  On the professional level, the change may occur due to taking a new position or losing an old one.  These relationship and environmental changes have direct personal implications for us as individuals.

We often fail to see that organizational changes also are personal.  When your church decides to add a new worship service and change the Sunday schedule, your world changes.  Extended family may choose to attend another service than the one you attend.  Traffic patterns change and you don’t see the friends you usually encounter of Sundays.  You are challenged to adapt.

Perhaps your employer decides to restructure.  You probably had nothing to do with the plans, but you are impacted nonetheless.  Schedules shift, new responsibilities are assigned, office space is reallocated, and old relationships with coworkers end.  There is a certain level of stress and discomfort.

In your community, a favorite restaurant or coffee shop closes.  Comfortable habits of socializing are no longer available.  The “place where everyone knows your name” is no longer there.  You feel at a loss.

No matter what the change is, it becomes personal.  The individual is called (or pushed) out of his or her comfort zone.  Old habits and preferences die hard and there is a certain amount of grief involved.  If we fail to recognize that grieving process, change will be even more difficult. 

In a conversation with a pastor friend this week, we talked about the role of pastoral care in the midst of change.  Providing such care may be a challenge, especially if the pastor is seen as a key player in the change that has occurred.  Even so, the pastor cares for the flock and this is especially important when the pasture is a new one.  When change occur, people need to be able to process it in a safe place.

Remember that all change is personal.