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When You are Weary With Your Work

Nehemiah’s trouble with his workmen was not that they wanted higher wages. As a matter of fact, they didn’t get any wages. His trouble was that they grew weary, and lost both their interest and their vision, as though their labor was being done in vain. Do you ever feel like one of Nehemiah’s workmen? It’s not the wages or the pay – instead, it’s that dread sense of incompleteness. The work is never done.

Perhaps there is no better test of one’s courage than how they act when enthusiasm vanishes. No sea is always at full tide; in every ocean, there is an ebb. I’ve had to remind myself that, how I act in the ebb-tide of life, and when life is bounded by swampy uncertainty, is one of the surest marks of character. We have to adjust to the reality of ministry under pressure and with a tangling web of weariness. It has been accurately said, “The world is run by tired men.”

Whence the Weariness

Aloneness

Dr. David G. Congo surveyed ministers in thirty-two denominations in thirty-eight states to discover the significant factors involved in ministry burnout. His study isolated a number of significant factors involved in burnout. Of the pastors surveyed:

● 70% worked more than sixty hours per week.
● 85% spent two or less evenings per week at home.
● 75% spent less than one evening a month purely for social time with their wives and other couples.

His pastoral burnout survey also showed that 61% of pastors spend less than one hour a week talking with other pastors. A key factor can be noted from Congo’s survey. Beside becoming burned out because they “grow weary in well-doing,” many pastors receive little support from their peers.

Wrong Motivation

In Galatians 6, Paul warns of “sowing to the flesh” saying it only reaps corruption. It is in that setting that we are warned to not be weary in well-doing. Perhaps it is possible for those in a noble work to “sow to the flesh.” In Mastering Personal Growth, part of the Leadership Mastering Ministry series Gordon MacDonald notes that some motives tend to result in weariness. Specifically:

● The need for approval.
● A need for validation by achievement.
● The longing for intimacy.
● Idealism.

Such motives seek their satisfaction in the “here and now.” It may be found in a position . . . or the size of a congregation one pastors . . . or the pulpit one is invited to fill. Those motives are ever unsatisfied and become the source of weariness.

Remedies for Weariness

An Adequate God

Historians note that Charles Spurgeon struggled with deep depression. One time as, Spurgeon was riding home after a difficult day at the church, feeling “weary in well doing” a scripture came to his mind: “My grace is sufficient for you.” Spurgeon began imagining he was a little fish in the Thames River, fearful lest by drinking so many pints of water each day he might drink the Thames dry. The Thames said to him, “Drink away, little fish. My stream is sufficient for you.”

Spurgeon’s mind then took him to the granaries of ancient Egypt, where he was a little mouse, afraid lest his nibbles would drain the supplies of the Pharaoh and cause him to starve. Then Joseph came by and said, “Cheer-up, little mouse. My granaries are sufficient for you.”

Finally, Spurgeon imagined himself a mountain climber, ascending to some lofty summit. Once there, he feared his breathing might exhaust all the oxygen in the atmosphere. The Creator then boomed from the heavens and said, “Breathe away, oh human, and fill your lungs. My atmosphere is sufficient for you.”

It is easy in the hectic pace of ministry to “forget with whom we have to do.” Your God is adequate. Be encouraged as you know His grace is sufficient. His faithfulness is not exhausted. In my weariness, He is not weary! Any spiritual work depends on Him. He is more than capable.

Change Gears for a Bit

If one follows the movement within the gospels Jesus and His disciples are in an almost constantly changing scenario. It was never the “same old, same old.” Repetition is often the foundation of weariness. Winston Churchill wrote an essay titled “Painting As a Pastime” in which he revealed his secret of maintaining a peaceful mindset.

Many remedies are suggested for the avoidance of worry and mental overstrain by persons who, over prolonged periods, have to bear exceptional responsibilities and discharge duties upon a very large scale. Some advise exercise, and others, repose . . . some travel, and others retreat. Some praise solitude, and others, gaiety. No doubt all these may play their part according to the individual temperament. But the element which is constant and common in all of them is change.

Change is the master key. A man can wear out a particular part of his mind by continually using it and tiring it, just in the same way as he can wear out the elbows of his coat. There is, however, this difference between the living cells of the brain and inanimate articles: one cannot mend the frayed elbows of a coat by rubbing the sleeves or shoulders; but the tired parts of the mind can be rested and strengthened, not merely by rest, but by using other parts.

It is not enough merely to switch off the lights which play upon the main and ordinary field of interest; a new field of interest must be illuminated. It is no use saying to the tired mental muscles if one may coin such an expression — “I will give you a good rest.” “I will go for a long walk,” or “I will lie down and think of nothing.” The mind keeps busy just the same. If it has been weighing and measuring, it goes on worrying. It is only when new cells are called into action. . . that relief, repose, refreshment are afforded.

Churchill made a valid point. More modern research has indicated that this works. Take a bit of time to read about the Pomodoro Technique. The Pomodoro Technique suggests changing what you are doing every 25 minutes. There are apps to assist in doing this. I’m to go do something else for 5 minutes before returning to the project. After three such cycles, I’m to spend an extended period of time doing something different. The Pomodoro Technique works when I work it. 

Do Something Different

Shifting gears and doing something different is clearly seen in the life and ministry of Christ. How often He must have been weary. We must learn that like long distance Airforce bombers, we can’t land every time we are out of gas. You have to learn to refuel in midair. Another of the Leadership books, Growing Your Church Through Training and Motivation talks about the need to refuel by:

  1. Divert daily – do something that’s fun.
  2. Withdraw weekly – take a day off every week.
  3. Abandon annually – get away from the church to vacation and don’t call in.

What is being communicated is that rest comes by moving away from the problem at hand . . . dealing with another issue, making a call to a peer or mentor, visiting a church a few cities away, reading a good book . . . or the Wall Street Journal. Just doing something different.

Your different can be horseback riding or a golf course. What you do is not as important as to do something different. Simply put – change! In practical life, there will be times of exhaustion and weariness. There is nothing wrong with feeling weary, but there is everything wrong with abandoning ship in the midst of the fight.

If the world is actually run by tired people, and I think it is,  then some tired people are reading this. My reading audience is made up of “impact making” men and women. I’ve looked at one facet of the challenge of staying fresh for the sake of life. I’m interested in learning what has worked for you. Please share in the comment section.

I recently published a book on encountering depression.  You know someone who needs to read, Light in a Dark Place – Encountering Depression. To read a sample chapter click here.

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Identifying Disrespect

The ability to identify and minimize connection with those who are patently disrespectful is important. Disrespect affects revival, destroys unity and limits a group’s ability to function effectively. This post is part of a semi-regular series of “Spotlight on the Scripture” writings posted directly to the Facebook page of  Calvary – Springfield, Missouri.  Springfieldcalvary 

Matthew 27:5 And he (Judas) cast down the pieces of silver in the temple . . . 

The late Billy Cole would often speak of the importance of respect. Respect validates others. Respect sets boundaries for our behavior. Those who respect, seek a way showcase other people in a positive light.

Recognizing Judas Disrespect

Because Judas may have supported a revolt against Rome, he has been called, “Judas the zealot.” He could also be labeled, “Judas the disrespectful.”

  • Judas disrespected Mary’s worship. He said her offering could have been used in a better way.
  • A kiss of betrayal disrespected Jesus. It also disrespected the significance of a kiss.

Did Judas respect anything or anyone? Probably not. When disrespect is a person’s norm, nothing is off limits.

Judas’ behavior at the temple was disrespectful. Every Jew was taught the sanctity of the temple. The temple had several sections. The Holy of Holies was where the High Priest entered on the Day of Atonement. Nobody else went there.

A second section was the Holy Place. It contained the table of shewbread, altar of incense and golden candlestick. The Holy Place was busier than the Holy of Holies. Priests were constantly serving in the Holy Place. Again, there were constraints. Nobody but a priest was to be in the Holy Place. Judas knew all of this.

The Source of Disrespect

When Judas returned the thirty pieces of silver, the English translation reads, “He cast down the pieces of silver in the temple.” The Greek word translated temple is naos. Naos referred to the “Holy Place.”  The area of the temple where a sign might have read, “Priests Only!”  Judas was not a priest. He was not even from the tribe of Levi.

What was Judas doing in the holy place?

  1. Perhaps Judas presumed that his business relationship with the priests allowed him access.
  2. Judas could no longer respect anything. Not only did Judas not respect Jesus, but Judas also did not respect the constraints of Judaism.

How to Know Those Who Disrespect

Mark those who disrespect and carefully watch for such behavior in yourself. Be careful of a “disrespector.” Several characteristics you will see in those who lack respect:

  • They never say a good thing about any other person.
  • When anyone comments on the positive qualities of someone else, a “disrespector” rolls their eyes or something similar. . .
  • The word “I” will be one the person uses often. Those who have a bold “I” in their vocabulary are never a team-player.
  • They say or do things at the most inappropriate times. An example:  confronting one of your failures or some area of conflict in front of other people. The intent is to bully and humiliate.
  • They have no sense of boundaries. You can hear Judas saying, “If I want to go in the Holy Place, bless God I’ll go to the Holy Place.”

In our age of social media dumping those who respect others will become people we prize. What about you?  Do you respect or disrespect?

My latest resource for evangelism – “What the Bible Says . . . “ a seven lesson topical Home Bible Study is available. It provides student handouts and worksheet for perpetual reuse. A pdf of the student handout material is made available to you.  The seven lessons in What the Bible Says . . . :

  • The Word of God
  • Salvation
  • Repentance
  • Baptism
  • The Holy Ghost
  • Speaking in Tongues
  • The Nature of God
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How Leaders Correctly Respond to Criticism

In modern ministry, experiencing criticism is a norm. Unfortunately, my peers tell me that such criticism is increasing. Perhaps there should be, but there is not a class at Bible College or seminary titled, “How to Respond to Criticism.” Few preachers are prepared to deal with it. Criticism is often mishandled.
Expect criticism! Some people are never criticized. It is the people who do nothing, make no changes and do not press for progress. Such people are non-entities in shaping the future. They will never be criticized!  
My readers are different. You are world changers.  Expect to be criticized!

Critical Realities

  1. Accept that criticism is part of the job description of ministry. No meaningful Bible character was not criticized. Roman numeral II of the pastor’s job description should read:  “You will be criticized. Sometimes the criticism is fair. Often it is not.”  Of course, the job description I refer to is imaginary.
  2. These days, criticism is over rather trivial things. A leader needs to keep that in mind. If you don’t keep it in perspective, you can turn something minor into a “big deal.” Rarely will doctrinal matters, or some grand philosophy of evangelism or disciple-making be challenged. Criticism will be about a perceived mistreatment or even something as inane as the color of the usher’s badges.
  3. Unanticipated criticism will come your way. A now retired heavy-weight boxer said, “It’s the shot you don’t see coming that knocks you out.” The unexpected criticism is what gets you. This will likely come from people you have treated with kindness.

More important is how to deal with criticism.

Explain but Don’t Defend

As a pastor, you cannot defend yourself. Adopt Jesus’ model. At Pilate’s hall, “He opened not his mouth.” A leader may attempt to rationally explain a decision. However, you cannot defend your decisions. The challenge is this:  some people don’t want to understand, they want to gripe. Logic and rational explanation will never satisfy such people.
It is tragic but true, much criticism is fueled by emotion. Any time a leader responds to criticism in an emotional way that leader begins to be sullied by the process. As a leader, leave the anger, hyperbole, over-statements and long-standing feud to others. Effective leaders rise above the criticism.

Add no fuel to the Fire

For some years, I led North American Missions for a major religious organization. Early in my administration, an email came criticizing a decision our board had made. I was angry. The email was filled with innuendo, inaccuracies and had the tone of intimidation. I was loading the cannons to fire back.
Before I did, thankfully, I reached out to Mike Williams, a friend who pastors in the Orlando area. Mike’s advice was simple, “Carlton, don’t escalate the problem. Don’t add fuel to that fire. Let the fire die.
Wisdom: if you don’t add fuel to a fire, it will die.
  • A pastor who addresses a parishioner’s complaint from the pulpit adds fuel to the fire. Actually, that pastor just poured gas on the fire!
  • Seeking support from others in the church body in hopes of getting them on “your side” does not work either. This creates division, unlikely to be healed.

In my experience, if a criticism has little merit and the leader has been gracious in dealing with people – others will become defenders. Mike had it right, “Don’t add fuel to the fire.”

Turn it Over to Jesus

Really! At least talk to Him about it. This is His church you know. Pray and surrender the criticism to the Lord. In many instances, you will have to give it to Him more than one time. Either the criticism will continue or the echoes of the criticism will resonate in your mind.
I’ve offered some suggestions on how a preacher can approach prayer in an earlier blog:  Five Steps in a Preacher’s Quiet Time

Lessons that Come from Criticism

The corporate world teaches leaders to look for a lesson in a customer’s complaint. It helps to be able to learn from criticism, even criticism that is intended to be destructive. To learn from criticism requires three things:
  • Step back from the heat of the moment. Look at the situation as though these events were happening to someone else. Are there things you could have done better?
  • Stop being defensive.
  • Get over the “papal” inspired idea that we preachers never make a mistake. We can and do make wrong decisions. When we get it wrong . . . learn and if necessary do everything possible to correct the mistake.

Leaders do not please everybody. While in an executive role and as a pastor, I knew decisions would come under close scrutiny. Decisions were made knowing that someone would be disappointed with the decision. Count the cost of the decisions you make. Three questions may help:

  1. Will the decision stand up under the weight of Biblical scrutiny?
  2. Is the decision the ethical thing to do?
  3. Does the decision make good business sense?

Consider the Source of Criticism and the Method of the Criticism

When criticism comes, consider the source of the criticism. One of my most vehement critics was a person who would not be considered a saint anywhere. My response was to basically ignore the person. That person was not going to help pay the church bills or grow the church. Why be concerned about the opinion of someone who is playing for the other team.
Second, if a mature person has come directly to you the person has handled the issue correctly. Hear them out. Such a person usually has your best interest in mind. Faithful are the wounds of a friend. (Proverbs 27:6) 
Daily Unity is the goal for the entire body. The friend who speaks to you, expressing wise and valid concerns is not seeking to divide. That person can often be your best help.
Will you ever get beyond being criticized?
Simple answer, “No!” The later James Kilgore told one of my peers, “As a pastor, no matter how long you have pastored, you must always sit easy in the saddle.” The elder was referring to a horseman never being complacent in the saddle. Even the best-trained horse can be startled by a snake or rabbit. A good horseman is alert. A pastor needs to be similarly alert.
No matter how long you have been in ministry or how long you have pastored in a particular location – don’t imagine yourself to be beyond criticism. You aren’t. You never will be!
So wrapping it up. Criticism – it is going to happen. It is happening, whether you hear it or not. Being forewarned that criticism will happen is the first step in preparation.
Decide now how you will handle the whispers, rumors and occasional character assassinations. As you do – keep an “old rugged cross” on the horizon to help guide your response. Some years ago, a mentor, directed me to Marshall Shelley’s book that further addresses these issues. It was helpful. I recommend it. His title is fitting:  Well Intentioned Dragons
What has been the most unfair criticism that has been sent your direction? How did you respond and how did it work out?
A final note of interest to some:  My book Questions Pentecostal Preachers Ask is available to you for free. You pay the shipping and handling.
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Six Ways to Keep Your Preaching Cupboard Full

You can stay powerful, relevant, eternal and interesting with your preaching. Bruce Mawhinney’s book Preaching With Freshness is recommended for anyone serious about being consistent in the pulpit.
This topic is important. A pastor, evangelist or anyone who fills the pulpit must offer quality in feeding Jesus’ flock. Having one “A+” sermon or Bible Study per month and everything else grading a “D” or “F” won’t do.

An Attitude for Consistency

How does a “man of God” have a consistent “word?”  Part of this comes with being mindful that another time to preach or teach is ahead of you. Even for someone who occasionally fills a pulpit, preparation does not start when you are asked to speak. This is, even more, the case when someone is in the role of a pastor or evangelist. Good preaching and teaching is the result of good work.
You are never not getting ready. It does not work out well if the preacher is always a last-minute chef. Having a “meal plan” is better.  Preaching or teaching in series will make your preparation easier. My observation is that at times, a pastor has the foundational concept of a 4 or 6-week series, but tries to get all of it into one message. This is often a misuse of resources. It also over-estimates the average person’s ability to receive.
Take the same material and use your outline to develop four sermon/lessons instead of a single forty minute discourse. Then spend some time each week reviewing the prior week’s material. People will respond. People will retain more of what you are sharing. Repetition is the mother of learning.  Beyond that, here are some things that work for me.

Be always gathering material.

Be like the ant rather than the sluggard. Never stop gathering resources. Every thing you might ever use, about any thing you may ever teach or preach about should be drawn into your net. This is not material you will use this week, or even this year. Today, I use material brought into my net 30 years ago. For years, this looked like 8-12 file drawers full of “stuff.” Today most of the “stuff” is digitized.
To be sure, some will never be used. However, you never know where life will take you. The resources you put in the cupboard today may well benefit you in situations you cannot currently imagine.

Read, read and read some more!

In addition, read! Leaders are readers.  I collect and read sermon books. I don’t read them for sermons. Such books help me provoke thought. I don’t think I’ve ever “cut and pasted” someone else’s sermon. However, the sermons I read are the source of seed thoughts and illustrations. Treasures can be found in sermons preached by C.E. McCartney, G. Campbell Morgan, Vance Havner, C. M. Ward and dozens of others.
Incredible nuggets are found in the old journals from events such as the Keswick Convention in England and Founder’s Week at Moody Bible Institute. My preference for both, are the journals more than 50 years old.
Books I read are well-used.  Where I see a thought that is preachable the initials “ST” for “Sermon Thought” are placed in the margin. Any quotation or illustration that resonates with me is put in parenthesis and a letter “Q” for “Quote” is put in the margin. These “ST” and “Q” items get copied or typed and saved. Use my pattern or create your own. Do something to retain access to these resources.

Listen, Listen, Listen Some More

Through the years, any inexpensive audio material available became part of my resource library. Cassettes by the thousands are stored away. I’ve listened to 99% of them. While driving, constantly listen to something enriching.
My listening is not limited to my own organization. The flow of communication from fellows like Jack Hayford, Warren Wiersbe and leadership resources from the corporate world have helped me. These days, podcasts including TED Talks help keep me thinking.

Systematic Study

Do some study “the book” for a sermon instead of in order to get to know the author of “the book?” Good preaching and teaching should flow from a constancy of study, rather than study being based on needing a sermon.
There are many ways to study. Read and apply Tim LaHaye’s book, How to Study the Bible for Yourself. The What the Bible Says Home Bible Study that I teach the unconverted is based on a topical study. Other forms of systematic study can include the study of a particular book of the Bible, the study of a person of the Bible, the study of a particular epoch of history – such as the life of Christ or the early church.
In my approach, the systematic study is usually moving toward teaching. But, it becomes the source of my evangelistic preaching. It has been said:  study yourself full, pray yourself anointed and preach yourself empty.
Anointing on an empty head is not as effective as an anointing on a head that is full of the good word of God.

Stay Focused

Furthermore, work with a limited number of topics in mind for your preaching and teaching. My Twenty Topics to Preach About Two Times Each Year keeps me focused on thinking about relevant truth.
It is easy to get lost studying and teaching the typology of the Old Testament and miss the fact that marriages are struggling because they don’t know how to budget their money. Irrelevant truth seldom benefits. Stay focused and simple. My twenty topics help keep me on point.

Take Notes

Take notes as you listen to other people preach or teach. I’ll never totally make the digital transition, so I’ll continue carrying my legal pad or journal to any meeting I attend. Pen and paper have a much better memory than I do.
When I listen to others preach or teach, good preaching ideas come to me. Often the ideas have little to do with that preacher’s topic. However, that idea won’t stay with me if I don’t write it down. If I want to keep it – I write it down.

Freeze and label your “stuff”

My parents had a garden. A benefit of the garden is the produce frozen to be used later. In preparing these things for future use my mom would label the freezer bags then freeze it. The garden produce was collected, identified and preserved.

A good preacher is almost always intent on collecting, preserving and labeling material for future use. From whatever source(s) you gain good material, the best way to “label it” and “freeze it” is a program or app called Evernote.
Evernote is a program that saves ANYTHING and EVERYTHING. Handwritten notes can be scanned or a picture taken. Audio files. Adobe PDF Files, Files imported from Word or Wordperfect, pictures, emails or through direct input.
Evernote allows “tags” the equal of the freezer bag labels. You can find your “stuff.” So get the material off your notepad into Evernote.
This can be done by something as simple as taking a picture of your handwritten note using an Evernote companion called Scannable. Evernote for the Preacher is a good resource to learn about how one church planter is using Evernote. With Evernote, you can tag what you save. It is also easy to search for the material you have saved. For most people, the free level of Evernote is adequate.
I’m sure some others have even better ideas for staying fresh. Please share them. If you have a question, please ask it as a comment. I may not be able to answer it. More than likely one of my readers will.
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Systems for Church Growth

Systems are the making of effective life. The Bible says, “Jotham prospered.” The Bible says, “Jotham ordered his ways.” (2 Chronicles 26:7 RV) Jotham’s prosperity and the ordering of his ways are connected. The two things are always connected. People who establish no order for their life will not prosper. I cannot think of one person in my life experience or any person in history who is an exception. Can you?

You see the value of order everywhere.

  • Nature follows a system.
  • Jesus had the crowd sit down in orderly rank before he multiplied the loaves and fish.
  • When Jesus abandoned the tomb, He folded the grave-clothes.

Whether with spiritual gifts or elsewhere in life, “Let things be done decently and in order.”                              (1 Corinthians 14:40)

Systems work for the ministry. Some of the value of this is addressed in last year’s book “The Details Matter”.

Essential Systems For a Church To Grow

  • Systematic Evangelism
  • Disciple-making Systems
  • A System for Involving People

There are other areas of ministry like pastoral care, study, counseling and preaching/teaching where order helps. These will be a later topic.

The systems you put in place depend on you, the congregation and the resources available. Resources, as used here are money, people, energy and available time.  Do not feel guilty for not being able to do something when the resources are not available. However, regardless of limits these three things evangelism, disciple-making, and involvement should be approached systematically.

Systems will help a church grow. Systems will help you be effective in ministry.

Systematic Evangelism

In the Apostolic Continuum, there is no impact without evangelism. Our local congregation is just a bit above average in size. Currently, our evangelism is not as systematic as it will be. There are some things we do right. Each guest gets a personal hand-written card. Where the guest if receptive, they get a text message.

When we get an email address the person begins receives a battery of emails about the church. At Calvary,   AWeber manages our email list. I don’t know that AWeber is the best. It was not the most expensive and came highly recommended. A caveat:  I also use AWeber for carltoncoonsr.com. If you are interested in information about Aweber for church or some other effort take a look here:   Aweber

The email letters we use in followup also follow a system. A copy of the letters is in my book “The How and Why of Follow Up Visitation.” Hint:  This week the e-book with all those letters is available for $2.99.  It is normally $9.99.

The second system for evangelism is a process to get newcomers in the door. Until a church has a consistent flow of guests resulting from lifestyle evangelism, “big events” are required. Last Veteran’s Day weekend we had a “big event.” Several newcomers attended. “Big events” include experiences like All Nations Sunday, Friend Day and Pentecost Sunday.

Big events are not my preferred approach to evangelism. In my opinion, it is better to have a steady flow of visitors. However, at times events are needed to increase the visitor flow.

What are you doing for systematic evangelism? I’d like to learn from your best practices.

Disciple-making Systems

The church is not called to make converts. The commission is to make disciples. How does a disciple-making system look?  Again, this will vary from one church to another. At the least, there should be some classes designed to orient newcomers to the church.

There should also be a time to officially welcome spiritual babies.  Below are some links to my YouTube Channel and some online teaching I’ve provided on the topic of disciple-making.

An overview of New Convert Care

Overcoming Sociological Issues for the sake of Disciple Making

Don’t Drop Your Spiritual Baby

There is more on the topic of Disciple-making at my YouTube channel. If you decide to visit, I’d appreciate an honest comment or two in the review section. (Hopefully positive, but I’ll take them all.)  While on the Youtube channel do not forget to hit the “Subscribe” button.

Retaining converts will depend on how strong and consistent your system is. A sporadic system will produce an inconsistent outcome. My little book “The How and Why of New Convert Care”  provides the skeleton of a system that can be established and sustained.  To get you headed in the right direction, with your own effort for Disciple making the job description for our church’s current Director of Disciple-making can be downloaded here. Discipleship Director

At Calvary we use the ten lessons of “Take Root” to give basic concepts about Christian life. This includes prayer and how to read the Bible. Then there are eleven lessons of “Bear Fruit” to develop concepts of Christian responsibility. Then the seven lessons of “Fitly Framed” help a person find a place of ministry in the church. In this process, we do our best to “Velcro” newcomers into the church.

What I’m describing reflects an ongoing system. Just as the sun will come up tomorrow, the things I’m talking about happening unceasingly. The consistency is what makes it a system. 

Involvement

A church seems to naturally grow if people are involved in meaningful roles of ministry. However, getting people involved requires a system.

I’ve done this the wrong way and I’ve done it the right way. The wrong way was for me to simply teach my series on motivational gifts. The seven lesson series is the aforementioned “Fitly Framed”. It is good stuff. It helps every person find their unique gifting.  Thousands of pastors have a copy of Fitly Framed.

The material is good. But, like most teaching Fitly Framed does not give the structured system to engage people in ministry. Thus, the wrong way was to just dump the information out before the audience hoping it would somehow bring them to engagement. My audience found it interesting, but it did not significantly change people’s involvement in ministry. I’d given information but had not established a system.

The Correct Approach to Getting People Involved

  1. Have ministry leaders think of ways to involve people in the ministry they lead.
  2. Ministry leaders draft a simple job description for those roles.
  3. The church has a “Personnel Director” in place. Initially, this will be the pastor.
  4. Fitly Framed or something similar is taught to the entire church. This same material then is taught as a third level of caring for converts. Going forward every convert or transfer into the church is taught Fitly Framed.
  5. During the class, people take a gift test and discover their various gifting.
  6. The “Personnel Director” works with the students and ministry leaders to connect each person with an opportunity for meaningful ministry. Some ministry opportunities do need the pastor to sign off on a person’s involvement.

Best Practice for Involving People

What I’ve described is the way to get started. But, an order is only sustained with constant effort. How did my best constant effort look?

  1. I”d annually teach/preach a series about Christian Service. This teaching involved at least three weeks of consistently aiming at the target of involving people.
  2. On the last Sunday of this series, the various ministries of the church set up booths presenting their ministry and asking for volunteers.

It works! The first time we did this, our system was overwhelmed. We had far more volunteers wanting to serve than places to put them to work. We learned and did not make that mistake again.

Notice, everything I’m describing happens systematically and repetitively. Neither evangelism, disciple-making nor involving people should be a “one-off.” These are things you should be doing over and over.

System! Remember Jotham prospered. Jotham ordered his ways. The two are connected.

I’m interested in your experience in establishing sustainable systems in these three areas of ministry. This week, my reading has reminded me of the importance of learning from people who are following what the business world would call “best practices.”

What have been your best practice for evangelism, disciple-making and involving people?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Surviving Depression–Look Behind the Green Screen

Depression
Hope and Despair

Mental or emotional depression is compared to many things. Let me add another. Depression is for the mind and emotions like the physical experience of walking through a swamp. My upbringing was in central Louisiana. On occasion, I duck-hunted in a swamp. At times, I’d walk several hundred yards through water mid-thigh, with mud sucking at every step. Wading through a swamp is muddy, messy, slow and exhausting. Similarly, depression is also muddy, messy, a slow trudge. It is also similarly exhausting.

To make matters worse, the swamp of depression seems perpetual. When a hunter is trudging back to higher land, he can see and know that dry ground is just ahead. Such is not the case with the swamp of depression. In every direction, there is the swamp extending as far as the eye can see.

It is a mental and emotional trip through the thigh-deep water with muck sucking at your boots each step.

The swamp goes forever. It seems that life does not exist beyond depression. Every sun-rise will find you in the same swamp. Walking through a swamp of depression is hard. When the swamp is the only thing, you can see it generates unspeakable despair.

The swamp of depression is real. It is exhausting and debilitating. Let me offer expanded perception.

Depression surrounds you with a “green screen”

“Green screen” is the technique of photographing or filming a person or object against a green monochrome backdrop. With the use of technology, a different image then replaces the monochrome backdrop. The person in the photo may not have traveled to the desert or mountain. Photographic or cinematic sleight-of-hand created what you see.

Understand, I’m not suggesting depression is fake. The defining characteristics of:

  • Sadness without reason
  • Lack of motivation
  • A sense of helplessness
  • Worthlessness
  • Hopelessness
  • Lack of focus
  • Less energy than usual
  • No pleasure in things you have always enjoyed.
  • It being a struggle to maintain normal social activities
  • Breathing taking all of your energy

All of these, along with several other symptoms are as real as this morning’s sunrise.

Depression’s Green Screen

But there is a falsehood in depression. It prompts my “green screen” analogy. Our mind can create its version of a “green screen.” Remember, a “green screen” allows an unreal image to become part of the picture being seen.

In depression, when you look ahead – you see the swamp. It extends as far as your eye can see. Look behind you, and it seems you have been in the swamp forever. All past success has little value while in the swamp of depression. On every side is the same – more swamp. The dark, muddy, and forbidding surrounds you. Every single step is an effort. Beyond that, the “green screen” says your current struggle will be there for every tomorrow. The sense that the depression will be perpetual is debilitating.

Does this not describe depression?

Depression’s green screen lie tells you that you are surrounded by a perpetual swamp of despair. The fable is that you have been here forever and that your life has no value. That part of depression is a “green screen.

Look Past the Green Screen

Surviving depression may become a bit easier, if you can know the lie for what it is. Depression, regardless of its source seldom lasts forever. Mine never has. High ground awaits. But, the false “green screen” would have you think different. Know better!

Use your past survival as a source of present encouragement

Many readers will have already walked through this swamp. In your previous journey through depression, didn’t it also seem as though the marsh would never end? You felt hopeless back then. Remember! You felt then, just like you feel now. Most people eventually come out of the depression. Your earlier depression may have lasted six months, a year or five years. You survived. Remember that survival – it will help you make it now.

Really Think about Tomorrow

For a moment limit your feeling and elevate your thinking. By the way, what we “think” and what we “feel”  are not the same thing. Emotions can be illogical. Look at your calendar. Before you walked into the swamp of depression what coming event would have brought you joy? Is a grandchild about to be born? Maybe, college graduation is just ahead? Perhaps, a conference you have always enjoyed awaits. Possibly, some of your “laughing friends” are coming to town. “Laughing friends” is my term for the small group of people with whom we can laugh with abandon. For most of us, such friends are a rare treasure.

I know what you are thinking, “Pastor, the idea of spending time with anybody or going to any event makes me feel exhausted.” Remember, in this exercise you are not feeling. You are “thinking.” When you think about it, there is great value in the time with those “laughing friends.” Somewhere ahead there is the likelihood of better times. There is a reason to slog on. The surrounding green screen says it is not so. Remember, it is a green screen. The green screen lies!

Really Think about the Past

For a second moment, limit your feelings and elevate your thinking. Open the pictures and videos on your phone or get the box of photos from a closet. Look at the pictures. Think about what you are seeing.  Some examples from my world:

  • Pictures of Lane and Chris as boys,
  • The picture of our two grandsons (holy children to me) at three years old having a whispered conversation on the drive leading to our home.
  • The pictures of our wedding
  • A framed copy of my first published book, Daily Things of Christian Living.
  • The video clip of 18-month-old Elsie, for the first time, discovering her shadow and head-butting it.

These help me peek around the green screen of despair. My life has not been so bad. Pictures of experiences shared with “laughing friends” like Stan and Melba, Tim and Joan, Jerry and Phyllis, Perry and Loretta, or Roy and Debbie help remind me. I have not always been walking through this swamp. As you look at your pictures – remember.

God IS – There!

Job had a similar experience. Job was depressed with good cause. He looked for God in front of him and behind him and on each side. (Job 23:8-9) In spite of Job’s search, God was not to be found. Job was seeing “green screens.” What Job felt was Job’s emotional reality. But, what Job saw was not the conclusion of this. Job said, “He knoweth the way that I take . . ..” (Job 23:10). Job’s based this final conclusion on faith, not feelings. While in his dark place, Job did not know where God was. By faith, Job understood that God knew right where he was.

In conclusion, take heart – this describes your situation as well.

Depression is real.

Depression being permanent – unlikely.

Your past life having no value – nonsense.

All of that is a “green screen.” Know the green screen surrounding your depression for what it is.

ONLY 4 Remain: Signed, First editions of Daily Things of Christian Living Includes letter of authenticity!

 

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Identify the Destroyers Without–The Science of Shepherding

Destroyers come from without. It is common. People backslide. Unfortunately, in some cases, they are no longer even present at churches. Others backslide into comfortable carnality. Sadly, precious people are devoured. Through history, some of the finest of God’s flock became prey. Especially noteworthy, destruction comes in different forms. Most of these destroyers, a pastor/shepherd will need to repeatedly address as a part of the “Science of Shepherding”. The primary tools to deal with “destroyers”:

  • Strong, consistent, relevant Bible-based teaching and preaching.
  • An environment where the Holy Ghost minister, convict, direct and re-direct.

Feed the Flock with Protective Intent

It takes intentional behavior from the pastor/shepherd for the tools to work. Intentionality, means you are not always providing an exciting “that will preach” type sermon. Sadly, my “that will preach” sermons tend to be dessert rather than main course. While feeding with intent, this includes quite a few meals of spiritual oatmeal. Similarly, the flock needs some “fiber.” Feed with intent!

Further, studying and preaching about enjoyable topics is easy. My list of “enjoyed topics” is a bit narrow. The needs of the flock are broader than my preferences. For this reason, I have a list of 20 topics to preach or teach about two times each year. As a result, my “list of twenty” keeps me ignoring important topics.

Fortunately, relevant teaching and preaching will address the “destroyers.” Defending the flock begins in the pulpit. Therefore, a pastor/shepherd must patiently and repeatedly identify the predators. The world, flesh and devil are out to destroy people of the flock. My last blog post addresses identifying and dealing with those destroyers in the science of Shepherding series: https://carltoncoonsr.com//know-your-wolf-pastor/

Loose the Spirit

Make room for the Holy Ghost to work. When people are being confronted by a predator the spirit can warn and direct. It is the Holy Ghost who becomes the “teacher” about life. Firstly, let the Holy Ghost have a free channel in which to work.

Such moments often come during a praise and worship service, corporate prayer, and at the altar. The Holy Spirit can do more in seconds than my effort can do in years. So let God have access to the flock.

First of all, let’s consider the destroyers that attack from without.

Destroyers Wolf Lurking

Destroyers from Without

Those destroyers “out there” are identifiable. Responding to the predators without is easier than responding to things within. The late Billy Cole said, “Dealing with a demonic spirit is much easier than dealing with a human spirit.” Wolves can be seen as they flit about. In time, a pastor/shepherd identifies the predator.

So in the natural world, no sheep challenges a wolf. Consequently, a sheep who plays game with a wolf won’t survive. Unfortunately, we humans tend to enter into dalliances with our destroyers. People you pastor who interact with the wolf, imagining they can prevail, don’t survive. Some are so foolish as to imagine their ability to overcome what no human before them has overcome. Most of all, know the destroyers from without.

Bad influences

“Evil communication corrupts good manners!” (1 Corinthians 15:33) The word communication here does not refer to language. It instead refers to interaction with others. Good people spending time with others who are a bad influence, generally has a bad outcome. “Bad” influences result in people misbehaving. As a result, people find themselves acting in ways  they would have earlier found unimaginable.

Because one bad apple will spoil the whole bunch, Paul warned the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 5) of immoral behavior they were tolerating. And Paul’s concern with their tolerance was the fornication being like yeast in dough. Especially relevant, in the chapter, Paul spoke of the leaven of fornication, malice and wickedness. Do not be so deceived and misled! Evil companionships (communion, associations) corrupt and deprave good manners and morals and character (AMP 1 Corinthians 15:33)

Unfortunately, negative influence does not just come from individuals. A pervasive sense of unrighteousness surrounds your flock. It flows from academia, politics, sports, entertainment, media, etc. Christians are the frog in the kettle. And the heat is being turned up. Behavior held in disrepute a generation ago is now accepted. It is affecting those you lead. Consequently, you will find defending against individuals who are a bad influence is a challenge. Most often, it is less of a challenge than defending against the surrounding “evil communication.”

Protect the Flock from Bad Influences

  1. You cannot protect people who don’t want to be protected. It’s not in a pastor/shepherd’s job description to micromanage. Jesus respected people’s right to be wrong. Examples:  The rich young ruler and Judas Iscariot. As a pastor, you do the same. Respect people’s right to be wrong. When people make bad choices, they don’t become my enemy. This is important. If you keep on loving people, in time, some realize their error and return to the fold.
  2. Identify bad influences. Warn the people. Preach and teach about influences. Describe the sorts of people who are a bad influence. Prepare the flock to know predators. Idolatrous nations surrounded Israel. Unfortunately, God’s people often took on the identity of their neighbors. The Israelites made those choices. They didn’t make those decisions unwarned. You must sound a warning identifying bad influences.
  3. Emphasize spiritual disciplines. People don’t pray if the pastor/shepherd does not lead them to prayer. People do not pray effectively, if their pastor/shepherd does not equip them to pray. One of my earlier and most oft-read posts addressed, How to Establish a Prayer Program for a Church of any Size.
  4. When someone is under the sway of bad influences, express concern in a personal way. The Bible calls this “exhortation.” Keep it confidential. Don’t share your concern with ten other people, rather, talk to the person directly. You can express your concern, in moments of conversation. When the predator of bad influence is near don’t delay raising your concern. As part of the “exhortation”, always pray with them. Conversational prayer has been effective for me. The prayer should not be generic. Ask the Lord to open that person’s eyes and understanding and give them strength to rise above “evil communication.”
  5. Ask, a person coming under such attack, “How can I help you?”

False doctrine

First of all, false doctrine is a ravenous wolf. As a result of our “no doctrine” world people don’t “know doctrine.” In some churches, a person attending for decades will still not know what the church teaches. And this is particularly true of those who attend Sunday worship, because most evangelistic preaching gives little doctrinal depth.

Most noteworthy, over thirty times the New Testament references false teaching or doctrine. People whose parents/grandparents came in the church are susceptible to false doctrine. There is no such thing as “hand-me-down” knowledge. Knowledge has to be gained personally. This is true, whether we are speaking of the multiplication tables or the new birth.

The Remedy for False Doctrine

  1. Teach correct doctrine. A strong flock is built by teaching. Unfortunately, Bible-teaching has fallen from favor. The result:  Many get a steady diet of preaching. The sermon begins with a Bible text. After the text has been read, it is often never again referred to. Because we can do better, we must do better.
  2. To combat false doctrine, let the word of God be the authority. Topical teaching that uses verses within context helps. Expository teaching and preaching are also effective. In both instances, God’s word rules!
  3. Empower people to study for themselves. Each person you teach must assess what is being taught. It works well to encourage people to study for themselves. My approach is to say, “Don’t accept what I’ve taught without examination. Someone is a false prophet offering false teaching. Perhaps I am such a false prophet.”  Several times I’ve preached, “Am I a False Prophet?”  We do believe false prophets exist.  “What We Believe and Why”.

Hence, a caveat is needed. A pastor/shepherd can do everything possible to teach people. Unfortunately, those who need it the most may not be present to be taught. In such instances you cannot protect them from false doctrines. There are others who do not mentally apply themselves. Such people are like a child sleeping through the math class. Finally, they gain nothing.

Furthermore, is there a remedy for people who are unteachable? I’ve not come up with one. If you have please pass it on.

Worldliness

A final common devourer from without is worldliness. When people become worldly, they “love the world.” (1 John 2:15-17) The world referred to is not planet Earth. We see that the Greek word translated world is kosmos. The kosmos according to Kenneth Wuest is the “ordered system of things.” (Wuest Word Studies in the Greek New Testament are a great help to the majority of us who are not Greek scholars.) The world as Wuest describes it includes your career, financial transactions, education, entertainment, etc. In essence, the world is our society’s operating system. So we are all living in the world. The pastor/shepherd and his flock are part of the kosmos.

Consequently, worldliness comes when people love the kosmos. John described worldliness:

  • The lust (desire) of the flesh.
  • The lust (desire) of the eyes.
  • The pride of life.

These things that are not of the Father, become the things a person cares about. Unfortunately, the topic of worldliness is broad ranging and ever-growing.

  • Ambitions for success are good. Worldliness is when the ambition causes someone to regularly miss church for extra work.
  • Worldliness is a love for the NFL that keeps someone home from church to watch the Super Bowl.
  • Worldliness is the competition for possessions. Richard Foster called it, “the kingdom of thingdom.” We have to keeping pace with the Jones’ and Smiths.
  • Dressing in ways that while not immodest is extravagant and attention-getting is worldliness.
  • An enjoyment of video games to the point that the musician no longer practices to do their best – worldliness.
  • Loving fishing, golf or quilting can become worldliness. How great is the hold any of those thing have.

While worldliness came come in many guises, worldliness is often not a specific behavior, but rather it is the love of the behavior.

The Remedy for Worldliness

So you may have noticed that the remedies tend to be similar. Again, preach and teach about the world. You will have to define the “world” for your people. As a result, you will also have to give them examples of what “loving the world” looks like. If you don’t name the symptoms, people won’t know worldliness when they see it.

People who love the world do not do God’s will with their life. Similarly, the wolf of “worldliness” is always lurking. The world is the system that surrounds us. So everything people deal with is an opportunity to fall in love with the “ordered system of things.”

Pastor/shepherd, the predator of worldliness is one you won’t run off for long. Worldliness is always near. Finally, worldliness always returns with another effort to destroy the Lord’s lambs.

In conclusion, I’m interested to know the efforts that you have used to deal with the destroyers that have come against the flock. Perhaps the struggles you have been through are different from mine. Someone may well be dealing with a situation similar to something you have worked through in the past.

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After You KNOW Your Wolf

A wolf will attack sheep. Predators destroy. A previous chapter talked about “The Sheep Can Smell What the Shepherd Cannot See!” https://carltoncoonsr.com//sheep-can-smell-shepherd-cannot-see/ Predators do not remain hidden. The lion, wolf or bear come from behind a bush or arise from a swell in the landscape. Their location is no longer secret.  It is important for the pastor/shepherd to:

  • Know WHAT you are dealing with.
  • Know WHERE the destroyer is at.

When You Have Seen the Wolf

In the natural, sheep have no defense against a predator. Their only choice is to flee. The problem: sheep are not good runners. This makes sheep relatively easy prey. It is not flattering to we humans that the Lord chose this particular word picture to describe us.

Throughout human history, the answer for defenseless sheep has been a shepherd. A shepherd defends the flock in its entirety. Not only that, the shepherd is the defender of individual sheep (Amos 3:12). A good shepherd tries to save all the sheep under his care.

Shepherds Feel Loss

A good shepherd feels a sense of loss when one of the flock does not survive. Jesus expressed dismay at not being able to keep Judas safe in the flock. A good shepherd never says, “Good riddance,” at any loss. Over 30 thirty years back, I heard Jerry Jones preach, “Please Take It Personal.” He spoke of Paul’s concern for those who made bad choices. He referenced Hymaneus and Demas. Hymaneus was devoured by doctrinal error. Demas lost out to worldliness. These were men who had abandoned Paul. Paul’s sense of personal loss is clear.

Paul did not feel their departure to be, “good riddance.” His prayer was for their recovery. At times I am moved to pray for two “sons in ministry” who have followed Demas’ path. Most days I find myself angry at their choices. Yet, I felt an acute sense of loss and grief at a sad story not yet completely written.

Strategically Defend

A pastor/shepherd is intentionally strategic in defending the flock against a predator. As discussed earlier, it is a mistake to hurry to “do something.” The sheep are restless and smell a predator. But, upon identifying a predator, timely, decisive and appropriate action is required. I chose the underlined words to specifically describe the sort of action needed for strategic defense.

Appropriate action

This is an action that matches a situation. Don’t use a cannon to deal with a mosquito. A pastor/shepherd can address most things with a quiet conversation sitting on a pew. This extends to spiritual predators. In my experience counseling appointments tend to validate a problem. The wolf begins to look bigger than he is. The late J.T. Pugh confirmed my approach as he talked about pastoral ministry. That conversation is found in a CD set that David Elms did with Bro. Pugh. The title is, “A Conversation with J.T. Pugh.” Every preacher should be required to listen to the series. The series is available at the Pentecostal Publishing House.

Timely action

This means the action is right on time. Not early and not late. Moses experienced a miracle as his rod became a serpent. When the Lord told Moses to pick up the serpent, Moses waited till he could grab the serpent by the tail. Moses picked his time! You do the same. At times you must wait until a predator gets positioned right before dealing with it. The “right time” may be during or after a mighty move of God’s spirit. Many times, the predator can be dealt with in almost a casual aside during a conversation over coffee. You won’t kill every predator. Most of them you will scare away. Like a wolf or bear, the destroyers will return.

Decisive action

The shepherd made a decision. There is no vacillating. No uncertainty about what will be done. I’m not describing a knee jerk reaction. Effective leaders seldom take decisive action on the basis of emotion alone. You determine the strategy through prayer, deliberate thought, and counsel.

When military leaders defend a city, their success is not found by, “do something.”  They take appropriate, timely and decisive action. Their action is intended to defend what they have been assigned to defend. Can those who protect the flock for the Lord Jesus be any less intentional?

As You Deal with Predators Find a Coach

This suggestion may not apply to you. If not, ignore it. Our first pastorate was a Home Missions setting in northeastern Louisiana. I’d not been equipped to be an effective pastor. Few people ask: Is there a course on “Effective Pastoral Ministry?”  If such existed, it might be a best-selling training program.

While I did not have experience, God had blessed me with enough gumption to realize when I was in over my head. When faced with a situation “new to me” I’d phone a mentor. Each man influenced me in specific areas of ministry. It never diminishes a person’s standing to seek advice. As I moved along in life, I continued to seek counsel from people more experience than me. Young pastors are wise to do the same.

Mentors and How They Helped

In my case the mentors and their role were:

  • Crawford Coon is my uncle. More important, he is an accomplished speaker and writer. He also had pastored in situations complex enough to have seen many different things. When I dealt with people challenges I’d call Crawford. I’d lay out the situation and share with him what my strategic response was going to be. Crawford would then coach me along to improve the outcome.
  • If my challenge had to do with leading the church through a difficult season, T.F. Tenney was my leadership coach. He was my district superintendent. Again, I’d explain the challenge, offer my plan of action, and get his perspective.
  • Finally, at times the church was out-of-sync. A revival was somewhere but not at the Vidalia Revival Center. My call would be to the late G.A. Mangun. I knew Bro. Mangun’s direction before I even asked. In the stubbornness of my youth, I needed to hear it anyway. The elder’s solution was always, “Get those people praying. Call a fast. Go on a fast yourself.” Things Learned From G.A. Mangun https://carltoncoonsr.com//things-learned-from-g-a-mangun/
Wise Elders Help You Strategize

Notice, there was more than one coach. Each man brought specific value to the table. I include this side journey for a reason. Talking with such men helped me develop an intentional strategy to respond to a predator. Now, I spend some amount of time coaching others dealing with attacking predators. As I write, a young pastor has asked about how to respond to a particular situation. A district leader has sought advice about a divisive matter of concern. Do not be afraid to get help as you develop your strategy. Through the years, meaningful men and women have always made time for my questions. They will do the same for your questions.

 

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The Sheep Can Smell, What a Shepherd Cannot See

Because they are prey animals, sheep have a well-developed sense of smell. Sheep are short. Further, they graze with their head lowered. Sheep have a limited range of vision. While a sheep is limited in what he can see, he is not anywhere so limited with the sense of smell. The smell of a predator in the vicinity creates a restless flock. The predator may well be out of sight of the shepherd. Yet, the shepherd does not have the acute sense of smell. The shepherd can’t smell what the sheep smell. So, a shepherd can be unaware of the presence of danger to the flock – while members of the flock are aware.

 

When the Sheep are Uneasy a Pastor/Shepherd Should Beware

Be sensitive to your sheep. The late Ralph Reynold’s book title, If the Sheep Could Speak is interesting. (By the way, this book should be required reading for anyone who will lead a church.) The title makes a powerful point. Shepherds are the ones who “speak.” Yet, as most pastors know, there are times when the sheep do speak. The speech can be about a problem. The speech from the flock will at times be patently unfair to the best efforts of the shepherd. Yet, the sheep do speak. Sometimes, I’d prefer they be silent.

The Benefit of Listening

Yet, I need to express appreciation for some occasions when the sheep spoke. A wise pastor/shepherd is not oblivious to uneasy sheep. Our home missions experience was in Vidalia, Louisiana. V.C. Etheridge was one of our men. V.C. had no formal education. He signed legal documents with an “X.” There is a difference between education, understanding, and wisdom. V.C. had no education. He had a world of wisdom. To get this picture, you need to see the contrasts:

  • I was V.C.’s pastor. The pastor of Vidalia Revival Center. I’m the guy in charge. The fellow running things. V.C. was “just a saint.”
  • Me – a young fellow near 30 years old. V.C. was near 70.
  • My name was on the sign in front of the church. V.C. was a significant member of the church, but his name was not high profile.
  • I had a bit of education from Louisiana College and elsewhere. V.C. had no formal education.
  • My signature is a scrawl scribbled so fast as to not be legible. V.C.’s signing a document was painful to watch. His “X” was not a quick “X.”  Even marking his “X” required him to focus.

Now please understand, V.C. was no rabble-rouser. He and his wife Eula were not prone to gossip. The Etheridges were some of the finest supporters in the church. Beyond retirement age, V.C. continued to work so he would have more money to give to God’s work. As a “baby church” we did not have many options for trustee. V.C. was one of those church trustees.  He loved me and Norma without reservation. V.C. was always excited to introduce me as his pastor.

Just a Sheep?

Still, in the analogy of sheep and shepherd. V.C. was one of the sheep. One among a couple of dozen in the flock. I was the shepherd. I’m the “big kahuna,” with V.C. my underling. As is at times communicated by insecure pastor/shepherds – “Me – Pastor, You – Saint.” In such situations, you can almost hear the guttural communication of egotism gone to seed.

On some church business matter, the specifics of which I cannot recall, V.C. came to me in private. He said, “Bro. Coon, I’m not sure I’d do that. At least not yet.” One of the lead sheep in my flock was nervous. V.C. was no “nervous Nellie” who was afraid of every shadow. His instincts, his sense of smell was something to trust. Something didn’t smell right to him.  V.C. wasn’t rebelling. He was not being contrary. V. C.  was alerting me to danger and uncertainty. He could sense something that I could not.

Responding to Nervous Sheep

There are at least two responses available.  A pastor can become defensive at the sheep’s unease and respond, “Don’t question me.” or “Are you trying to tell me what to do?” The classic response is, “V.C., where is your faith.”

Another option existed. I was a novice pastor/shepherd. Even then I had enough gumption to know that the flock was restless. V.C. could smell what the pastor/shepherd was unable to see. I put the decision on hold. A man who was a financial backbone for the church soon relocated his membership. It was good that I had “listened to the sheep.”  Be wise – a good pastor will not overuse the, “Bless God, I’m running this church,” approach. Watch the flock. Be aware of nervous sheep.

It is worthy insight, “When certain sheep speak, you need to listen!” Listening to V.C. Etheridge helped me keep the flock from great stress.

When the Sheep are Sniffing – Move Slow

When there is danger, the inclination is fight or flight. There is much drama in both fight and flight. Good pastor/shepherds do all they can to limit the drama.  The more of your life and ministry that can be spent not having to “fight or flee” the better. Fight and flight create a tumult in the flock. Sheep are healthier where there is less tumult.

Don’t do the wrong thing, just to do some-thing!

Let’s set the scene. The flock is not grazing. As they huddle close to each other the sheep sniff the air suspiciously. Their weak eyes strain as they try to see the source of the danger they can smell. The shepherd senses the nervousness of his flock. In our scenario, the shepherd decides something has to be done! We have to do it now! Quickly, he begins to move the flock along. The shepherd berates the laggards and uses his staff to pull others along. The pastor/shepherd is leading. He is doing something. Since the shepherd does not actually know where the danger is; he leads the flock to the wolf. 

The sheep knew there was a danger. It was communicated by their behavior. The shepherd was not wise. In his haste to resolve the matter, to escape the danger, the pastor/shepherd led his flock into chaos. When the sheep are nervous, it is not wise to act without knowing for sure where the danger is. Some take the approach, “I’m going to do something, even if it is the wrong thing.”  Most of the time, it is the wrong thing.

Wise shepherds don’t panic.

A panicked pastor/shepherd does not inspire confidence in the flock. God has provided tools to respond to any crisis or to any predator. His Word and the Holy Ghost provide you deliberate guidance. Don’t act outside the guidance of His word. So while quaking on the inside, outside the pastor is a rock.

Do you see this? If you don’t know exactly where the predator is, your impulsive action may move the flock into greater danger. Don’t move the flock into harm’s way. Take it slow. Somewhere a wolf waits. The sheep can smell it. it isn’t time to figuratively take a nap while the flock is restless. Hear what is being communicated. There could be a wolf in sheep’s clothing. There may be moral turpitude. Personal grievances may not be being addressed. Some key family may be on the verge of divorce. When the sheep are nervous be aware but don’t panic.

Strategies for the “Nervous” Times

There are things a pastor/shepherd can do when he senses the nervous flock.

  1. Keep the flock close together.  Keep them near you. Be at the door as people enter or exit. Be available. Listen. Be close. Hug the old ladies and kiss babies. Use the power of touch and blessing.
  2. Be watchful of people on the outer edges of the church. Do your best to reach out to them.  It is a good time to send cards and make phone calls that say, “I had you on my mind today. I prayed for you.” Don’t talk problem, be their pastor.

Most things a pastor/shepherd can do to keep the flock secure focus on spiritual disciplines. These include:

Lead a season of focused prayer and fasting.

  • Jesus taught that unclean spirits can only be cast out through prayer and fasting. Most issues of carnality are addressed in the same way.
  • Call the church to a prayer chain, or have several nights of prayer. Leading this is not something you can delegate. The pastor/shepherd will have to lead the church in focused prayer.
  • On occasion, I’ve forgotten the normal protocol of Sunday church. Instead, leading the church in an entire service devoted to prayer.

Preach the exaltation of Jesus and nothing else.

  • When there is church stress, the default setting is to preach Jesus. When you don’t know what to do preach and teach on the “exaltation of Christ.”
  • How do you preach the exaltation of Christ? Each message celebrates some unique attribute of Christ. When Jesus is preached, Jesus comes in as the protector and provider. As Jesus is exalted the presence of a predator is less ominous. Jesus is bigger than whatever the battle may be. When you exalt Christ, it is as if the flock settles down to feed on the good things of God.
  • A suggested resource for preaching and teaching of this sort is Charles Rolls books. Specifically the five books on the Names and Titles of Christ.

Take communion together.

  • There is something profoundly spiritual in celebrating the Lord’s supper.
  • It is somehow humbling yet powerful in remembering His body broken and His blood poured out.  This practice has served well in times when the sheep can smell what the pastor/shepherd was unable to see.

I have spent a bit of time on this topic. Here is a recent blog post about the “science to shepherding: https://carltoncoonsr.com//practically-spiritual-science-sheperding/

Now I need to learn from you. Many of you have similar experiences to what I address here. Would you be kind enough to share your story? It is also helpful to share times when we did not handle things in exactly the right way. There are some other occasions, when I’d have done well to listen to some other key sheep. How I wish I’d listened. We learn from each other. We learn from each other’s mistakes.

I’ve shared three strategies for “nervous times.” Perhaps because Norma and I, “don’t do drama” there have not been many of these times. I’m thankful. I’ve not had to seek many solutions to these challenges. Others will have needed more strategies. You may have used different strategies. Teach us. What have you done when “the sheep could smell, what the shepherd could not see?”

The next post will address things to do when a predator is identified….


Questions? A practical and understandable guide to dealing with the real world stuff in ministry:

“Questions Pentecostal Preachers Ask” https://carltoncoonsr.com//product/questions-pentecostals-preachers-ask/ $7.99 SALE

 

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As One Plants Multiple Churches–Is There Room in the Church for Me? Guest Post–Scott Sistrunk

Is There Room in The UPCI for Me?

 

This is a post from a time back on Detroit Career Church Planter Scott Sistrunk’s blog.  It needs a repeated hearing. Have me failed to validate the gift of those who are more gifted to plant churches than to pastor them?  Think about this . . . perhaps God has gifted you as he has Bro. Sistrunk.  If so, I’ll speak for the fellowship I’m part of and say, “We desperately need you.”  I’d love to clone Scott Sistrunk about 100 times over.  Planter Sistrunk’s article is posted with his permission.  I’ll speak for him and actually ask you to pass it on to others.

 

Is there a place for me in United Pentecostal Church?

I am a church planter. I am called to evangelize North America. I have no choice really; it is my calling. If I was a church planter in Africa, I would be called a missionary. I am having difficulty communicating my calling to my ministerial brethren. You see, I really feel called to be a missionary to North America. Of course, most of my friends know what a foreign missionary is. Of 31,966 licensed ministers (worldwide) only 652 are missionaries. Yes, I know, home missionary is a term often used to describe a person who plants a new church in North America. In that sense, the home missionary refers to a minister (usually a novice) who plants a new church in a city in North America and remains there long term, or moves on to other ministerial opportunities eventually, and the home missions ‘phase’ of their ministry becomes part of their history. Even a “Metro Missionary” who is supported by partners much like foreign missionaries has only been supported for 4 years and has been responsible for planting a single church. No, that is not me. I am a home missionary permanently; a career church planter.

Is there room for me in North America?

It is hard to explain, but I can hear a city’s cry. I don’t know exactly when I started being so in tune with cities. I do remember the first time I heard a city cry out to me. I was a youth pastor and I was on a golf outing with friends. I never expected what hit me as I prayed before going to bed. It seemed to me as if I felt the anguish of every lost soul in that city all at once. I doubled over in pain and began to weep. I was embarrassed and didn’t want my roommate to think I was trying to be “super spiritual.” I buried my face in a pillow and lay between the wall and the bed and prayed until the burden lifted. Shortly thereafter, I began to feel a heavy burden for a city that I eventually started a church in. I was so consumed with the need of this city that the Lord rebuked me for neglecting my current duties and told me to spend more time praying for the young people I was responsible for and the time would come for me to give myself to prayer for that city. I can’t go through a town or village without wondering, “Do they have a church?” Many times the tears come so suddenly and unexpectedly that I am embarrassed. I know more than I should about the number of churches in every district and every metro area. I can’t help but gather information on North American cities. My friends look at me weirdly when I start spouting off population numbers and churches per capita of each metropolitan city. I can’t help it; I am driven by a vision and a burden. You see, I know very well that this kind of passion is not understood in our North American ministerial culture.

What do I do with this passion?

This passion feels like destiny. It is unstoppable, irresistible, strong, deep, powerful, controlling, and exhausting. I am not called to pastor long term. My passion burns relentlessly and it is white hot continually. It is a powerful thing when used in the context of founding a work in a city full of strongholds and no church. My calling makes me almost impervious to discouragement. I never lack motivation. I thrive on adversity and challenge. Once a church is firmly established, self-supporting, stable and growing I can feel the restlessness coming on. It is time to go to a new place. Saints cannot live in this heat long. They need someone who is not always looking for the next place. They need someone who burns with a passion for them… not others. They need a pastor long term, I am a missionary. I envy foreign missionaries who only pastor short term if at all and it is what is expected of them. They are expected to be too busy training leaders, gathering resources, opening new areas and building coalitions and networks of preachers to pastor one church. I feel the pressure of the North American culture to pastor long term. But it is not my calling. I long for a structure in North America similar to what exist for overseas missionaries that I can submit to in order to fulfill my calling. I hope there is room for this kind of ministry in North America. It is what God has called me to do. What else can I do?

Is there room in the United Pentecostal Church for me?

I want to live and minister like a foreign missionary, but in the United States. I want to have a set, known, controlled standard of living. I want be accountable to many. I know this is the price of my calling. I know that God has not called me to enjoy the fruits of long term labor in a particular vineyard. This reward is reserved for and earned by pastors. I am a missionary. My reward comes from knowing there is now a church where there was none before. It is the only reward I seek.

Does the United Pentecostal Church know that it needs me?

Why has our growth been so explosive in foreign countries? Missionaries. Why do we struggle to plant churches in North America? A lack of missionaries. We have asked those without the calling, anointing or grace to plant churches. They have answered the call because of the need. But they have struggled terribly. We have asked those who burn with a missionary’s passion to pastor and teach in one location for life. They have struggled terribly.

We, in North America, have left the work of missionaries to pastors and teachers and evangelists. I ask you; doesn’t New York deserve a Bruce Howell? Doesn’t Los Angeles deserve an E. L. Freeman? I ask the United Pentecostal Church to make room in North America for the passion and ministry of a missionary.