When God Opens A Door

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This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him. Then the word of the Lord came to me: “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. (Jer 18:1)

When God is closing one door and opening a new door, we know this is going to lead to something better. Thomas Carlyle wrote; “When the oak is felled the whole forest echoes with its fall, but a hundred acorns are sown in silence by an unnoticed breeze.” When that tree falls (that door closes). In silence, hundreds of acorns are planted in the forest (the new door opens).

This is not just our struggle, all believers have had this struggle. The 16th Chapter of Acts tells about Paul’s Third Missionary Journey. (6) Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. “…kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word….” The door is closed. When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. “…but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to.” The door is still closed. So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas. Something we clergy learn the hard way is, “a need does not necessarily demand a call.” During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” It is a vision or dream. Here is an open door. The door in Asia is shut. After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them. The Gospel was heard in Macedonia.

Lord, may I be the clay on the Potter’s wheel. May I know that you have not finished with me. May I in the reshaping and changing, hear Your voice and have the courage to walk through the new open door.

Finding The Right Youth Minister

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I’m tired of fakes. I want someone called by God. I’m tired of laziness. I want someone who will really apply themselves to the job. I’m tired of hearing that I have to work all of these long hours and yet no one sees anything happening that would verify the long hours. (I’m like James the brother of Jesus, I want to SEE the work.) I’m tired of lies and deception. I want the refreshing truth. I want a Youth Minister that is more than a babysitter. Anyone can entertain children for a couple of hours, but not just anyone can minister to young people.

I want someone that is willing to learn and be taught. I don’t want someone that would rather listen to false advice because it feels good, but is all wrong. I want someone that respects authority and understands and appreciates accountability. Because all of us are accountable to someone. I want someone that has their priorities straight and doesn’t make the church and its ministry the last priority in their life.

I want someone that will grow the youth of our congregation and not use them as revenue generating. I want someone that cares who shows up for Sunday school and calls on the missing. I want someone that sees the Scout Troop as an opportunity for Christ and not as another night away from home. I want someone that really loves the Church!

God, I have had enough! The Search Committee is at the point of recommending a candidate to the Church Board. In the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) finding a youth minister is very difficult. And good youth ministers are even more rare. We received 17 applications, and they were excellent applications. The committee interviewed 8 candidates, face to face.

The Search Committee is planning a very special weekend on February 1st. The candidate will meet with the Search Committee, have dinner with the Staff, participate in worship, be introduced at a church wide reception, meet leaders in the congregation, attend the Youth Super Bowl Party, and see the community.

The young man is intelligent, sharp, compassionate, and exudes a calling. He graduated at the top of his class at both the University of the Cumberlands and at Asbury Theological Seminary. All of his references have spoken of his abilities and have done so freely and generously. His background check was totally clear. (No problems with the law.) He is ordained, and has a Master of Divinity degree which is seven years of study beyond high school. He is qualified.

With all of that training and pedigree, there are three things that impressed me the most. 1) When the Search Committee was interviewing him, there was a slow down in conversation, not because of the candidate, but the Committee was tired. The candidate took control of the conversation and brought the committee to life. That is leadership. 2) When children and youth were present, he always included them in the conversation. They felt important! One young child said, “I hope you become our youth minister.” (Out of the mouths of babes.) 3) He wants to work under a seasoned minister. At my age they don’t get any more seasoned.

Yes, I am convinced of this young man’s calling! And I have hope.

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I704 (2)

We express our condolences to the family of
Robert Peugh who died Monday, January 19th.
A memorial service will be held in February.

When God Closes One Door

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A friend was sharing with me that his church, for all the best of reasons, bought themselves an expensive security system in order to keep thieves and vandals out of their building. Trouble was, the security system also secured the church building against the intrusions of the congregation! Congregation members were reluctant to enter the building to arrange the flowers, or to prepare for a Sunday school lesson, or to meet for a Bible study, for fear of tripping the security system. Which suggests to me that the great challenge of big locks is to be sure that you are not locking out the criminals while at the same time not imprisoning yourself!

The Risen Christ moved through closed doors in order to get close to his disciples. The power of the resurrection is a promise that there is no force on earth, including the forces of our own doubts and unfaithfulness that can keep the Risen Christ from us. The predominate response to the resurrected Christ, at least among his closest followers, is fear. We fear the new life and demanding discipleship that he brings us in his resurrection. Yet the good news is that he comes to us, he breaks down our locked doors and shows himself to us, empowers us, and sends us forth.

As a pastor my greatest challenge is looking into the eyes of new Christians and seeing them simply shut down. They had failed so often in life, had experienced so often the door slamming in their faces, that they had withdrawn; they had locked the door and thrown away the key, so to speak. Paul writes, “We live by faith, not by sight.” (2 Cor 5:7) Our greatest struggle as people of faith is learning that God closes one door and opens another door for us. We walk by faith, therefore it is not always easy to know when God is closing a door, nor when He is opening a door. This often occurs in an inaudible way, without burning bushes, or lighting bolts. We like the security of the known, so we want to remain behind our present door. The unknown bothers us, so it is difficult to go through the open door.

Men at my age close doors more slowly. The longer we live the more we learn to be careful upon closing a door. Be careful when we slam the door in someone’s face saying, “I’m done with you! It’s over!” True, part of growing up, becoming wise, is learning when to close a door. Sometimes we keep coming back again and again, going over the same old script, trying to make the unworkable work. It is wisdom to know when to close the door firmly and move on into another room. We have got to know when to risk and put down our bet, and we’ve got to know when to fold, when to cut your losses, and close the door on the game. When the door is closing and the new door is opening, we will struggle. We will go through a season of prayer. We will seek the advice and counsel of people we respect and feel have more wisdom then us.

We will sit in the silence and wait.

Sometimes You Have To Be The Lone Ranger

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Ever feel like the Lone Ranger? I do at times. We all do at times. Some of the most unpleasant times in my life happens when it is necessary to change staff. Churches rarely make change easily. It is easier to handle the known than the unknown, even when the known is not acceptable.

It was necessary to let staff go. Years of working with them to improve performance and help them grow in character, failed. You want to beat yourself up because YOU FAILED. I’m clergy and I failed. The hardest thing in life for me is realizing some people don’t want to change and that I have to accept that fact.

When the big decision has to be made, you make it as the chief administer of the congregation in cooperation with the approval of the corporate executive officers. (That means as Senior Minister and Executive Council.) It is a painful moment because while you didn’t make the decision alone, you feel alone because everyone sees you as the cartelist for the change. You are very much aware of the cost. The staff person’s family will be affected. Member’s of the congregation will feel hurt, sad and even mad, because they have become friends. The parting staffer rarely says goodbye gracefully. This is all compounded by the fact, you can’t share the full story. All these things must remain confidential to protect the departing staffer, the Church and even others that may be involved. So, you bare the burden of “trust.” We live in a time when everything demands transparency. But sometimes transparency isn’t always the wise or correct thing.

Ministry is a very public job that has to deal with some unpleasant things quietly. The Christmas story this year jumped out at me when I read that part about Joseph. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. (Matt 1:19) I rarely hear of a quiet divorce or a staff departure.

So why write this blog? Because as church members we need to be educated as to our process in our tradition. We need to understand that this is a painful process for a lot of people, including the one that leaves. As painful as it may be, you do the right thing. The future of the Church is in the balance and the integrity of the staff is on the line.

Church Leadership In A New Year

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Ilya Pozin wrote an article entitled “Seven Things Successful People Never Say.” When I read the article I was struck by the fact that these are not only seven things not found in successful people, but these were seven things not found in successful congregations.

1. That’s not in my job description. No one in seminary told me that one day I would be moving chairs and calling a plumber for a broken toilet. You do what you have to do. As Jesus said, “The servant of all.” The most challenging thing that congregates struggle with is being creative and new. You can’t write a job description for creative and new.

2. It can’t be done. If our faith has taught us anything, it is that in God all things are possible. Small churches are small because they choose to be small and large churches are large because they choose to be large. My grandmother used to say, “Where there is a will, there is a way.” She was right. It just takes someone with passion.

3. It’s not my fault. We are all good at pointing the blame. “It was that preacher’s fault.” Church isn’t growing, so it’s the preacher’s fault, when in reality 80% of church growth happens because of the leadership of the laity. When we point the finger, three fingers are always pointing back at us.

4. This will just take a minute. Change takes time. If I have learned anything in ministry, it is about patience. Can I just say, that isn’t my strongest suit. “They that wait upon the Lord,” the Bible says. God’s time just isn’t our timing.

5. I don’t need any help. Ministry is a team effort. Jesus could have done it all by Himself, but He chose twelve men to work with Him. We may very well be able to do it ourselves, but what does that teach the next generation? It is also a lot more fun when we work together.

6. It’s not fair. No, a lot of things that happen aren’t fair. But they happen anyway. We learn from our mistakes and we learn from our failures. As Christians we don’t hold grudges, we forgive. The ones who hurt us the most are the ones we least expect it from.

7. This is the way it’s always been done. This is one of the deadliest sins in the Church. The Church has to be ever changing.