Polycarp and Pastors Gone Awry

Sometime between AD 120 and 140, Polycarp wrote a letter to the Philippian church.  Polycarp was a disciple of the apostle John and was appointed the bishop of Smyrna (now Izmir, Turkey).  He died in AD 159, being burned a the stake for his bold proclamation of the gospel.  Polycarp, like John and Paul had a deep love for the church.  He also had a keen sense of the importance of godly leadership in the church.

In his letter to the Philippian church, Polycarp addressed an issue of pastoral misconduct.  That pastor’s name was Valens.  We don’t know exactly what the problem was, but we get a hint that it may have had to do with money and power, lying and integrity.  Let’s look at what he wrote.

“I am greatly grieved for Valens, who was once a presbyter among you, because he so little understands the place that was given him [in the church]. I exhort you, therefore, that you abstain from covetousness, and that you be chaste and truthful.”

He goes on to write… “I am deeply grieved, therefore, brethren, for him (Valens) and his wife; to whom may the Lord grant true repentance! And be then moderate in regard to this matter, and do not count such as enemies, [2 Thessalonians 3:15] but call them back as suffering and straying members, that you may save your whole body.  For by acting you shall edify yourselves. [1 Corinthians 12:26].”

There’s a lot of wisdom in this old brother.  Here’s what I notice.

1 – A pastor who falls has forgotten what God has given.  A pastor has a unique, hard, challenging, stressful and blessed position.  And when it is not handled well, it can do great damage to the Bride of Jesus. In the midst of the daily grind it is easy to forget.

2 – If a pastor fails, the church should take care to watch their own lives.  It is so easy to become embittered, angry, seeking revenge – hurt for hurt – and that just destroys us.  Mourning and grief are the appropriate responses.

3 – The failing pastor is not an enemy.  We must pray for repentance (healing requires honesty).  We must call them back as suffering and straying members (though not necessarily back into leadership).

4 – The goal is to redeem the whole body!  That includes the offending pastor. The miracle comes when hearts are broken and the reconciling love of God is displayed to the world.

This doesn’t discount the pain.  It doesn’t let anyone off the hook. It doesn’t mean that there may be times when legal issues have to be addressed. It doesn’t mean we ignore the victims, they need special care in healing. It does bring everyone back to the cross, so we can see our own need for redemption.  We must pray, hope and work together until that happens.

Whether it’s James MacDonald, Bill Hybels, or the local pastor at the corner church, we should mourn, watch, pray, hope and long for God to save us all – together.

Pray with me for the churches who are suffering from pastoral failure.  Pray for those who are walking away from church and Jesus because of the failures they’ve seen.  Pray for wisdom and honest repentance.  Pray for healing and wholeness in all the church.

I’m Tired… Tired of Christianity

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Like you, I read several online papers, I keep track of social media.  I even subscribe to 3 email alerts each day for news items with the words, “church,” “pastor,” and “faith.”  I understand the brokenness of the world.  And I understand the limitations of the church.  But it seems like something else has happened.  We have built a system of faith that is making me tired.

So, on this December 20th morning, at 4 a.m. I confess: I’m getting a little tired of the Christianity we have constructed.

  1. I’m tired of a Christianity that believes in the kingdoms of this world to solve the world’s issues.
  2. I’m tired of a Christianity that relegates Jesus to the corner of our existence, instead of being Lord of all.
  3. I’m tired of a Christianity that offers tricks, tips and strategies for improving our lot, rather than leading others to the Jesus who comes to bring life.
  4. I’m tired of a Christianity that snipes at itself instead of learning to submit to one another for the sake of reconciliation.
  5. I’m tired of a Christianity that allows anger to motivate a call to justice, instead of love.
  6. I’m tired of a Christianity that is not distinct from the world in its words and ways.
  7. I’m tired of a Christianity that is not engaged enough with the world and doesn’t hear its questions.
  8. I’m tired of a Christianity that explains away the hard things Jesus said, instead of wrestling with them with open hearts.
  9. I’m tired of a Christianity that doesn’t look for the miraculous, but trusts in the mechanical.
  10. I’m tired of a Christianity that Jesus isn’t invited into and depended upon to lead.

I confess, I’m a co-conspirator.  I’ve helped build this Christianity.  I’ve chased human dreams sanctified by holy words.  It makes me sad and tired.  We’ve traded away our birthright for a pot of stew.

I’m not tired of Jesus.  I don’t think we make a big enough deal over him.

I’m not tired of the community Jesus started, the church. I love her and have big hopes for her.

I’m not tired of serving. I want to serve those Jesus loves and died to give life to.

Maybe Christmas is a good time to admit we’re tired and from there we can seek a quiet, humble, and prayerful way back to His path.  I think there we will find rest.

What are you tired of?  Is there a way back?

As always, thanks for reading, commenting, and sharing.  

A Pastor’s Heavy Heart: 7 Things Your Pastor Carries

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I have a unique role.  I get to be a pastor to pastors.  One of the primary responsibilities in ministry is to care about and care for 42 different pastors.  This is a joy – usually.  Like any pastoral call, there are things that weigh on my heart. There are times when I want to step in but I’ve not been invited. There are times when I lay in bed and wonder how a particular pastor and his wife are doing. There are times when I see a wounded pastor and wish I could carry his pain away.   I feel what they feel deeply because I served as a local church pastor for 29 years before I stepped into this role.

During October, when many in the church are expressing appreciation for their pastors, I thought I might share some of the things that weigh heavy on your pastor.  Most of these burdens are unique to the pastoral role.  While you can’t take most of them away, you can understand and pray.  Your pastor will just be happy that you care enough to consider these things that are his to carry and what you might be able to do to lighten the load.

1. A pastor carries the weight of what his family feels about the church. The church isn’t just his job. It is his family’s church. He wants his kids and his wife to love their church. That can be tough during stressful seasons. I know of pastor’s wives who have sat on certain committees in the church and heard people on the team criticize the pastor’s leadership with her in the room.  The same has happened to pastor’s kids in the hallway of the church.  He wants his kids to some day choose to be involved in church and serve faithfully.

What you can do: If you’re frustrated, first think about who’s in the room. Love the pastor’s family whether or not you like the pastor.  Be tender with them.  Include them in your life if you can. Do what you can do to make them fall in love with the church!

2. A pastor carries the weight of his own failures. I don’t know a pastor who can’t quickly list his latest failures.  Unlike many jobs, a pastor’s job is tied to his spiritual life. If you blow it in your ministry, you know you’ve blown it with God.  You know how it feels when you know you’re not praying enough? Or, you’re struggling with giving?  Now make it your job and it adds another layer of responsibility.  Failure adds another layer of guilt.  It’s personal, and it’s professional.

What you can do: Communicate appreciation for what he’s doing well. Give patience and understanding when he doesn’t seem to get it quite right. In subtle ways let him know you understand his human frailty and you’re okay with it.

3. A pastor carries the weight of the church’s apparent success, or failure. Even when a pastor tries to measure ministry by Jesus’ standards of life transformation and discipleship, he knows that many in his church are measuring him by the budget and bottoms in the seats. Most ministries have seasons of ebb and flow.  There are a lot of reasons for these things. Even if the pastor doesn’t own it all, he still knows that many lay it on him.

What you can do: Remind him often that we are all in this together.  Find ways to celebrate the new life that is happening around your pastor and his ministry.

4. A pastor carries the weight of his own responsibility toward Christ. Have you ever walked away from a conversation with a neighbor and thought with regret, “I should have said…”, or “I shouldn’t have said…”  A pastor feels that nearly every day.  I know I have times I’ve thought about standing in front of Jesus while he goes through my sermons and measures what I said against the truth.  It isn’t a comforting thought.

What you can do: Pray for him to honor Christ and let him know when you think he is.

5. A pastor carries the weight of serving in a confusing time. The same way you see the world changing, the pastor sees the world changing.  For most, the ministry we were trained to do isn’t the same ministry which exists today. It is hard enough for all of us to understand the huge shifts.  Your pastor has to try to help you navigate them with hope and joy of Jesus. He wants to lead people to Jesus when fewer and fewer want to be led.

What you can do: Help him by joining in the mission of Christ in your own neighborhood, workplace and family.  Let him see you engaging your world and discover with your pastor, where God is moving and how we should join him.

6. A pastor carries the weight of caring for Jesus’ flock. Jesus has given your pastor a love for God’s people. He may be tired. He may be worn. But he still cares. It isn’t his job, it’s his vocation, his calling. And most do it 24/7 even when people would rather he not care. When one leaves because they are hurt and angry, it hurts. When people won’t make godly decisions, but are being choked by the world, it crushes his spirit. When people drift away, he still watches for their return, hoping it’s today.

What you can do:  Show up.  Ask how you can pray for him.  Commit yourself and encourage others in the church to seek the path of peace before heading out the door.

7. A pastor carries the weight of other pastor’s failures.  In our society, pastoral failure seems to be everywhere.  Your pastor carries that.  25 years ago, I sat in front of a bank manager, applying for a mortgage. I thought being a pastor would be an asset, because the bank would know that I was a person of integrity and a good risk. The bank manager said it was a liability because many pastors walk out on their loans and just leave town.  I was horrified when I realized I was carrying that reputation with me.  Today we know the clergy stories are even worse.

What you can do: Affirm your pastor’s love for Christ which is lived in integrity. Let him know when his lifestyle is a positive influence in your life.  And pray for him that he doesn’t become one of those statistics.

I am not asking you to shower him with “atta-boys.” But by your presence, prayer and involvement show you understand and appreciate his unique challenges. Most pastors I know gladly carry this weight and wouldn’t trade their calling for anything. But we should remember that the burdens our leaders carry are our burdens to carry together.  That is the nature of community.  And you are your pastor’s community!  You are his church family.

I would love to hear of your pastor who’s doing it well, or any other comments you may  have!

Note: I use the male pronoun because I come from a complementary tradition. If your pastor is female, I am sure she has many of the same struggles.

3 Reasons Why You Should Never Go Church Shopping Again

churchshoppingIf you’ve ever looked for a church, you probably know the term “church shopping.”  It usually means an uncomfortable process of going from church to church, in order to figure out where you, or your family should attend on Sundays.

It can be a simple process of going to a few churches and seeing where your feel comfortable.  Or it can be an involved process of mental checklists, websites, surveying the kids, etc.  It can take a few Sundays, or it can take some people years.

I heard this term on Christian radio yesterday and it was being affirmed as a good thing to do.  Let me tell you why I think church shopping is not a good thing for you, or for the church.

  1. Shopping is focused on the needs, or desires of the shopper.  When we shop, we have been taught, “the customer is King.”  We expect a church to cover our checklist and to do it well.  Now, there might be some good things on this list, like use of Scripture, but when we shop, we tend to expect it to be delivered our way.  We are so shaped by our world, that we can even turn biblical things into a way of seeking our own fulfillment.
  2. Shopping is driven by consumption.  We shop for goods and services for us to use and consume.  We shop with different standards.  But generally speaking, we want the best bang for the buck.  We want quality at a price we can afford.  When we measure a church like this
  3. Shopping turns everything into a commodity.  We shop for things we want to possess.  If church is primarily about relationships, shopping doesn’t fit.  How many of us would feel comfortable if our daughter went out next Friday night to “husband shop?”  Or, how about if a couple went into an adoption agency to shop for a child?  That just sounds offensive.  It turns people into something we own.

It hurts us by tapping into our cultural (or fleshly) drive to measure everything’s value by how it makes us feel.  We ask, “will this congregation give me enough to justify what I will spend in tithes, time and relational energy?”  Or in other words, “will this group of people cost me more than they will give me?” Simply, it reinforces our thinking that church, like the rest of life, is all about us.

It hurts the local church because now, we are chasing shoppers instead of growing servants.  When shoppers are what’s coming in the door, the church is tempted to pursue them.  The church is being shaped by the heart of the attender and we end up being better at marketing then at being a community of people living in service, worship and sacrifice together.

My experience is that church shoppers easily turn into church hoppers.  If we go into a church as if it’s a commodity we consume to make us feel better, when it stops, we will probably look for a new, better deal down the road.  And pastors, if we’ve used the shopping mentality to get people in, we really don’t have much to say when that same drive moves them along to a happier place.

In my next blog, I’ll address just what we should call this process of entering into a church and how we can do it in a uniquely Christian way.  Let me give you a hint… the word discernment is key.

I’d love to read your comments.

Part 2 is here!

Jim Renke is also the author of “Transformed Pain; How God Makes it Good.”

Pray for This Church

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I saw this on Facebook the other day and it disturbed me greatly.

This picture does remind us to pray for our pastors.  And that’s good.  But this picture reminds us why many churches never fulfill what God has called them to do and be.  A church that is being carried by its pastor is not a biblical church.  Let’s look at this from a few angles.

First, the church is designed to be a community of people, led by Jesus Himself and empowered by His Spirit.

Second, the church (the community) has a mission.  This mission is to display and declare the good news of God’s kingdom to a world run amuck.

Third, a pastor’s job, along with other leaders, is to guide and equip the church into stepping into the very thing they were created to be.

With these things in mind, look at this picture again and mourn what the church is missing.

This church is missing a real sense of community.  It is a group of people relying on one person to hold it together and move it forward.  Community is built as each part lives in active, sacrificial love.

This church is missing its mission.  It clearly exists to hang out together, supported by the limited strength and gifts of the leader.  Any hope of mission is dependent on the members carrying the call of Christ in their hearts.

This church is missing Jesus.  It has lost its heart to discern the leadership of Jesus himself.  It has traded in divine power, for measured human results.  There is no sense of Jesus speaking direction, correction, or healing.

This church is missing a joyful pastor.  It has laid on him expectations that even Jesus has not promised to fulfill.  And he will grow more weary, becoming open to all kinds of human maladies and temptations to hide from the pain of never being able to win.

So, if this is the church you go to, for sure, pray for the pastor.  But pray for him to be delivered, not for him to bear up.  More importantly, pray for the church!  Pray for the church to be what was designed to be, “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9).”  No one person can do this no matter how much we pray for him.

What Have We Christians Done? (get ready for a rant)

evernote-camera-roll-20161018-210724We Christians live with such angst about the nature and tenor of our politics.  But look at the real danger to the faith.  It is us!  Check out the headline:  CHURCH ASKS FORGIVENESS FOR BANNING FAT PEOPLE FROM THE WORSHIP TEAM.

In their worship guidelines the New Creation Church lists”excessive weight” along with inappropriate clothing as something that won’t be accepted on the team.  Maybe we want to give them the benefit of the doubt.  After all gluttony is a sin.  Let’s look again at their reasons, “We are the first thing the congregation sees. People do judge by appearance. We never get a second chance to make that first impression. Please be sure that your style and clothing bring honor and glory to God, isn’t excessive and doesn’t draw unnecessary attention to yourself,”

Now check out their apology.  “There has been some media circulating about our Worship Team Guidelines. Forgive us if we offended anyone. That certainly was not our intention. These guidelines have never been used to discriminate against anyone and have never been enforced,”

This is the apology that is not an apology.  “Forgive us if we offended…”  You obviously offended.  Just own it.  But don’t apologize for offending me as much as for offending God and His Bride.  Before you say, “You go Jim.”  Realize now, I am not only speaking to New Creation Church.  I am speaking to all of American (Western) Christendom because this is what we have created!  And it is what we continue to perpetuate.

As long as we have a system of church that is based on attracting people, getting them in the door and then doing all we can to make them stay and pay, this is what we will produce.  We will obsess on the immediate over the long-term, the appearance more than the heart, the tangible over the intangible Kingdom of God.  We will seek crowds first and the fruit of the Spirit second.

In the words of my friend and colleague, Kent Carlson, “the way we attract people, actually forms them.”  The fact is we have tried the old bait and switch for more than a generation.  We have produced greater and greater shows, drawing people into our religious malls where they can choose their product.  We thought we could get them in and in time, they would choose to “deny themselves, take up their cross and follow Jesus.”  But instead we have reinforced our own patterns of consumerism and consumption.  The results are a shallower and not even broader form of Christianity.

Disciples are not formed by having attractive people on the stage.  Disciples are formed as they live in community with others under the lordship of Christ.  Have you ever wondered what the unbeliever should experience, if they happen to wander into our services?

Paul describes it this way.  “…if all prophesy (declares truth), and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you (1 Cor. 14:24-25).”

Don’t hear from me that quality doesn’t matter.  We should be giving God a worthy sacrifice.  But it is a sacrifice of substance, rather than a sacrifice of appearance. It is and offering for His good pleasure, not to appease the whims of the masses of unregenerate souls.  Treating guests well is important.  Hospitality matters as an expression of our love for God and others.

Nor is this a rant against big churches.  Larger churches can provide a powerful witness when they are making disciples who are being formed by the Spirit and the Word.  They can also often accomplish great Kingdom works that a smaller church can’t.

But our life together should not display how we have it all together.  It should reveal our weakness, humility, and neediness for God’s grace and mercy.  The faith is not just for pretty people.  Nor is the goal of faith to make people pretty.  Faith in Christ seeks to transform our emptiness into a fullness that the world can drink from.  Now that would be a show the world needs to see.

As always, thanks for reading, liking, sharing and commenting.

Be Encouraged and Challenged in Prayer

Prayer is one of the greatest blessings.  Yet most of us believe we are missing something in our prayer.  Prayer, at its core, is a conversation with God.

The following links are videos that we developed to use with leaders.  Our goal is to see believers step into a conversation with God that is increasingly rich.  Please feel free to use them with small groups, or leader boards.  I pray they will be of encouragement and spur you toward the Lord in prayer.

Prayer and Mission Pt. 1
Prayer and Mission Pt. 2
Prayer and Mission Pt. 3
Prayer and Mission Pt. 4

You can download a handout here…prayer-and-mission-video-hdt

They include Pastor Kent Carlson who is now VP of Leader Formation at the North American Baptist Conference, and Dr. Paul Covert who is Pastor of Prayer at Central Christian Church, Mesa, AZ.

Special thanks to Kent Carlson and Paul Covert for their invaluable service and commitment to a life and ministry of prayer.