“Taking the Church’s Biblical Pulse”

(This is a continuation of an  article I wrote for Light and Life Magazine’s January issue)

photo by: urbanchristiannews.com
photo by: urbanchristiannews.com

Most Churches have a degree of illness in them.  It’s to be expected…Church is comprised of flawed people.  Now, we really can’t talk about Church health without utilizing the Bible.  I know we ‘say’ that, but do we regularly compare our Church health to Biblical principles?  Let’s take a look at what I believe to be 5 key issues that make up the foundation of a healthy Church.

1) People Before Task Lists –  Jesus instructed us to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matt. 22:39), not to put our ‘To-Do’ lists before people.  Life gets busy for all of us.  Tasks and errands affect everyone.  If we are not careful, however, we will get all of our boxes checked off but miss the hungry soul that crosses our path and not even know it.  This is what I normally refer to as Spirit Awareness.  I am constantly finding myself praying daily for the Holy Spirit to grab my attention when I am about to have an opportunity to plant a seed for the Kingdom.  If I do not ask for this I am typically not going to look for it.

2) Scripture Before Comfort –  This one is so uncomfortable, yet singlehandedly kills Churches.  When a fellow believer needs to have an unhealthy aspect of their life addressed, Ephesians 4:15 encourages the Church family to speak the truth in love, not ignore it in hopes that the issue will magically disappear (because it never does).  And if there is an offense or sin between believers, Matthew 18:15-17 clearly tells us how to go to the individual and take care of it.  Note, texting or sending them a direct message on Facebook does not count.  Trust me, even if Jesus had an iphone in his day I am pretty sure he would say what he had to say to your face and not drop subtle hints on your Instagram account.

3) Lord Before Pastor –  I realize this one might be a bit sensitive for some folks,  but it is right there in the Ten Commandments (Exod. 20:3).  We are to have no other gods before Him.  Did you know that the use of ‘gods’ here could translate “person of greatness or power?”  Lead Pastors are in this category.  This does not make them bad people, but Churches often place their Pastor on a pedestal so high (unintentionally) that they become the focal point of who is leading the Church instead of God.   Here is a tough question.  If your Pastor left your Church (circumstances aside) would it continue making an impact for Heaven without skipping a beat, or would it completely implode?

4) Sabbath and Prayer – There are seasons when we simply must rest.  Jesus modeled this with his disciples saying, “Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile.” (Mark 6:31)  This applies to us as individuals as well as to the Church.  Might I suggest that it is O.K. occasionally for the Church to shut down ministry for a week of prayer?  Our church does this three times a year.  During a week of prayer we strongly encourage (all but mandate) all Bible studies, groups, student ministries, and outreach events to cease.  We then ask the congregation to join us in prayer and worship each night at the Church.  

5) Keep everything in the light – In other words, do not lead the Church via top secret Board meetings and ‘off record’ one-on-one talks with people who have personal agendas.  Likewise, avoid ignoring problems of gossip, infidelity, and other compromises of the faith within the Church.  Address these issues head on and with everyone involved once you become aware.  When evil is brought into light it cannot thrive away from darkness (Eph. 5:13-14).

Healthy Churches make greater impact for the Kingdom of God.

Is there anything you would add to this list?  What are some examples of solid Church health that you have seen?

Comments are welcome below, or you can leave me a voice message HERE.  God bless.

* Credit:  The majority of these principles come directly from our Operational Values at Christ Community Church, compiled by Rev. Keith Cowart.

8 Tips to Having a Good Day of Rest

photo by: www.fredmckinnon.com
photo by: http://www.fredmckinnon.com

Common excuses:

– My job doesn’t allow time.

– I don’t know anyone who really takes a full day Sabbath every week.

– I wouldn’t know what to do with a whole day of nothing.

– I simply have too much to accomplish.  Resting one entire day would be a waist!

Have you said any of these before?  Be honest.  I have.  In fact, I’ve said all of them.

God set the example for us.  He rested after 6 days of work, not because He was tired….but because He knew we would need real rest.  He was simply modeling the importance of a Sabbath rest for us.  And it wasn’t simply a loving, well-meaning suggestion.  It’s included in the 10 Commandments!  This is important, people.  Especially for those of us in church leadership.

We must take what God modeled for us, and model the same to those we lead!  It should be a large focal point of how we approach making disciples.  Disciples are learners……followers.  Therefore, they need to have something worth following.  

So, what does this ‘day of rest’ look like for us today?  Let me offer some suggestions of things I’ve put into practice.

Set your day – Schedule it…plan ahead for success.  Mine works best on Mondays, so I get things done on Sunday.  The things I don’t finish I add to my ‘to do’ list for Tuesday.  The only way to make your Sabbath Day a success is to make it Holy.  We need to treat it like gold!  Otherwise, it becomes just another day.

Communicate – Talk openly about it.  Let your spouse, kids, co-workers, and friends know what your Sabbath Day is.  This is an important piece of training.  Over time, most people will learn to respect this day for you.  The calls, texts, knocks on the door will be greatly reduced.  (wouldn’t that be amazing?)

Dont’ check email – Turn off email alerts on your phone.  Put your laptop away.  You could even set up an ‘out of office’ message every week to explain why you’ll be returning emails the next day in the office.

Screen your calls – Personally, I don’t answer any phone calls on my day of rest (except from family).  If the caller is not already in my contacts so that I can know who’s calling, it goes to voicemail.  Period!

Turn ‘chat’ off on facebook – I have a feeling you know where I’m going with this.  Have you ever been on facebook just catching up with family and friends before going to bed….when someone starts up a ‘live chat’ with you regarding work/ministry?  This is a simple issue of setting good boundaries for yourself.

Leave work at work – This is another type of boundary.  If you know that you lake the level of discipline to completely refrain from getting caught up on your ‘to do’ list at home…leave those things at the office.

Open your Bible – Sounds cliche, right!  But this really is part of honoring a Sabbath.  Growing closer to God needs to be a central theme.  And the easiest way to do that is to read His Word.  (studying for your next sermon or Bible study does not count here, btw)

Meditate – No, not sitting with your legs crossed in an empty room filled with incense.  Think about the things of the Kingdom.  About the character of Jesus.  About the goodness and blessings in your life because of Him.

Now, where have you succeeded or wrestled with implementing a day of rest?  How do you think you could benefit from having a regular day of rest as described above?  And the big question…are you willing to attempt practicing a weekly Sabbath?

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Time off…with pay?

God modled health for us by resting on the 7th day.  (Gen. 2:2)  He asks us to do the same…every week!  Now, broaden  this concept and apply it to the leadership of the church.  The idea of a pastor taking a Sabbatical Leave every seven years isn’t necessarily a new idea.  Its just not a widely accepted one.  Here are some reasons I’ve personally heard over the years that some most churches won’t honor their pastors with a Sabbatical Leave.

“We can’t justify paying you for not being in the office.”   Can you justify paying your pastors an hourly wage and not a salary wage?  I’m not complaining about my pay…from any church I’ve served at.  But if you’re going to take this approach toward this question, please consider the average 55-80 hours the average pastor dedicates each week for 40 hours of pay.  Two to three months leave every seven years doesn’t seem so extravagant.

“It’s not in the budget.”   Here’s the simple truth.  It’s not there because you didn’t put it there.  It’s not a priority!  Good grief, you have seven years to budget and plan for it a little each year.  Make it happen.

“The rest of us in the secular job market don’t get one…why should you?”   Honestly, this kind of attitude is cancerous to a church.  Pastors’ entire lives are focused on God’s Kingdom agendas.  This is not the case with corporate America.

“Who will preach on Sunday and shepherd the church.”  First of all, its God’s Church….not a pastor’s!  Plan ahead and find guest speakers in your own congregation, sister-congregations, etc.  As for shepherding, pastors are called to train up the Church for the work of the ministry.  (Eph. 4:11-13)  The Church should be able to take care of itself for a short while.

The general purpose of a Sabbatical Leave is to gain much-needed rest at the soul level of the pastor.  It is NOT vacation, an early exposure to retirement, or even to make time to complete a doctoral dissertation.  I have only experienced two churches in 25 years that offer this to their pastors.  Usually, there is a healthy variety of rest and leisure time with family, learning and growing by visiting other churches that are thriving, and personal/spiritual restoration and quiet-time with God.  I am personally blessed to be serving in a church that believes in offering a Sabbatical Leave to our Lead Pastor AND the rest of the pastoral staff every 7 years.

To the Pastor who might be reading this post, if this blessing is offered to you….take it!  Spend 2-3 months with God and your family.  Don’t think about ministry work.  Your calling and soul will be renewed and strengthened more than you know.

To the Elders Board or Leadership Team, pray and discuss this as a group of believers who have a significant level of responsibility for the health of your Lead Pastor.  Ask yourselves, “Is there value in our Pastor leading our church for another seven years?”  Talk to churches that have given Sabbatical Leaves to their Pastors.  See how they do it, and ask  about the benefits they’ve seen from it.

May your church be richly blessed with healthy leadership.  What’s your response to this subject?