Tuesday, March 5, 2019

For Young Pastors Series

My Advice For Young Pastors

I have written a series of short thoughts for young pastors that I have posted on Facebook and Twitter. These are drawn from my four plus decades of congregational ministry. Some are things I practiced from the beginning. Others I learned with experience and implemented. Still others are thing I learned too late to fully integrate into my ministry. I hope to publish a collection of these, each expanded into a 2 to 3 page chapter.

For Young Pastors #1: if you truly hunger for the Word of God it will form you and you will embody it. If you embody the Word of God your life will make your sermons come to life.

For Young Pastors #2: Greatly desire to hear the voice of God for yourself, but desire more for the members of your congregation to hear the voice of God. That is your calling. When they hear from Him, we all hear from God. Only, first teach them well how together to discern the voice of God.

For Young Pastors #3: never forget that preaching is not about or for you; it is for the glory of Christ and the good of the people. Always hide behind the cross. On the other hand, never forget that the sermon must speak to you before it can effectively speak to others.

For Young Pastors #4: prayer is foundational for all ministry, ministry done in and with Christ, i.e., in His name, is itself a form of prayer. Minister as a living sacrifice and your service will be an effectual petition for God's intervention in the lives of others.

For Young Pastors #5: Don’t try to fix everything for everybody; your job is to equip, release & encourage others to fix things for others (to edify the body). When you are doing that which God has called someone else to do, you are hindering that person's growth in Christ.

For Young Pastors #6: Acts 6:2 (ministry of prayer and Word) should focus your ministry and not restrict it. Be an example of how Christians should live AND serve. Don’t avoid the thankless tasks; take your turn doing the dirty work.

For Young Pastors #7: Discipline yourself to listen; learn to listen well. Don't formulate a response before fully hearing what is being said. Practice active listening with responses like "I hear you saying..." Hear the person and not just the words. People need your presence & your understanding more than they need your wisdom.

For Young Pastors #8: Monitor how you speak with others. How you interact says more than what you say. Don't patronize minorities and women; don't "talk down" to them as if they are children. The value you give to their words reveals the value with which you hold for them.

FYP #9: Don’t get distracted by all the hype about becoming a great leader; your first, foremost and abiding responsibility is to be a diligent and faithful follower of Christ, be an example of life in the way of Christ. Otherwise, you may end up effectively leading people in the wrong direction. 

FYP #10: In ministry, do nothing for vain glory, exalting the self. Instead, in all things seek to know and be known by those you serve. "Adoration of" is a hollow substitute for "identification with." The former produces brief applause while the later produces lasting disciples.

FYP #11: If you are married, your first calling is to encourage and support your spouse’s callings. Pastors recognize, honor, encourage and support the gifts and callings of others. That kind of ministry to one’s spouse validates a person's call to pastoral ministry.

For Young Pastors #12: If you have a family that includes believers, you share the same covenant with Christ. Live together as members of His body. In all things be Christian with each other. Model with one another what it means to be true followers of Christ.

For Young Pastors #13: Rightly dividing the Word of truth is a search for theological integrity. Preach with theological integrity, but don’t preach your theology. Preach the Word. Sermons should lead into sound theology, but never substitute doctrine or tradition for the Word.

FYP #14: The call to pastoral ministry is a call to a life of study. Never stop learning & growing in knowledge & wisdom. Get the best general education that you can. Know creation in order to better know persons. Read, read selectively & critically; read books & read the world. 

FYP # 15: Create opportunities for testimonies. Spiritual growth requires expression of a lived faith, including questions, struggles, trials and victories. Encourage people to speak the truth that is in their own hearts, to speak to and for God; in this they become overcomers.

For Young Pastors #16: Don’t get distracted by church growth hype; it tends toward the vanity of winners & losers. Keep your focus on the Great Commission; make disciples & baptize them into the Lordship of Christ. Never reduce people to numbers, ministry to programs. Grow saints

For Young Pastors #17: Teach sound doctrine. Instruct people in the foundational Christian doctrines before baptism. Instruct in the distinctive teachings of your denomination before church membership. Include courses in basic theology in the educational curriculum of the church.

FYP #18: Lest you become a stumbling block, learn to act & not react. Become critically self-aware. Know yourself, your story, your joys, and fears. Know how you impact others and how they impact you. Understand why you respond the way you do. Know what motivates you and why.

ForYoungPastors #19: Lead from a posture of thankfulness. Create a culture of appreciation instead of a culture of correction. Focus on making the good better instead of identifying, criticizing & correcting problems. People need to know you appreciate them, their ideas & efforts.

ForYoungPastors #20: Jesus is the Truth & the way of Christ is a joyful quest for the fullness of the truth that dwells in us in Christ. Know what you believe & why you believe it. Be able to explain & defend it. But never stop pursuing more & always be open to correction by it.

ForYoungPastors #21: Cherish your call. Remember well & share often the story of how you came to know your call. God's call to anyone is far more than what He wants him/her to do. It reveals to us who we are & who we are to become. It is the blueprint of one's place in Christ.

ForYoungPastors #22: The most central duty of a pastor is to follow Christ in a manner that others will join in following Christ.  The open display of your own life as a follower Christ is essential to being a good pastor & it is the most effective method for making disciples. [Your lived testimony (words and actions) is the most read book in your congregation.]  1

ForYoungPastors #23: Apply the Biblical standards that elders must be capable of teaching the faith & that deacons & other church leaders must be steadfast in the faith. Expect more of church leaders than that they be faithful in tithes and attendance. Know what they believe.  3

ForYoungPastors #24: The pulpit is not the place to discipline individuals or groups. Preach to edify & not to tear down or put people in their place. Correct people in private; never try to shame them in public. Never profane corporate worship with personal conflicts.

ForYoungPastors #25: Preach to people & never at them. And, try to preach with people even more than to them. Sermons should invite people to reaffirm what people already know and expose new truths to them. Pastors must preach to renew & celebrate their faith as well as expand it.

ForYoungPastors #26: Study closely the “one another” passages of the NT & review them frequently. They instruct in the ethos of the people of God. Use them to model & teach what it means to be the Body of Christ. Make them the measure of your own maturity in Christ.   3

Romans 12:8-10, 16; 13:8; 14:13; 15: 5, 7, 14; 16:16; I Corinthians 12:25; 16:20; II Corinthians 13:12; Galatians 5:13, 16, 26; 6:2; Ephesians 4:2, 25, 32; 5:2; Philippians 2:3-4; Colossians 3:13, 16; I Thessalonians 4:18; 5:13, 14, 26; II Thessalonians 1:3; 3:12; 4:9; Hebrews 10:20, 25; 13:1; James 5:9, 11,16; I Peter 1:22; 4:8, 9, 10; 5:5, 14; I John 1:7; 3:11, 23; 4:7, 11, 12; II John 5; Jude 22-23

ForYoungPastors #27: (Rom. 12:10) Pray until you overflow with fervent love for all people, the kind common to healthy families. Learn to give & receive such love. By grace lead the church to be known to the world as a people for whom exceptional love is common.

ForYoungPastors #28: (Rom 12:10) Out do all others in showing honor. Nurture a culture of honoring one another especially honor the marginalized. Avoid carnal honors that nurture pride. Show public honor in a way that edifies the whole & does not divide or belittle others.

ForYoungPastors #29: (Romans 12:16; 15:5) Strive to live in harmony with all believers. Do not allow personal (political/philosophical) differences to disrupt unity in Christ. Make the essentials essential; tolerance, love for & acceptance of all who are in Christ are essentials.

ForYoungPastors #30: (Romans 14:13, 19) Diligently walk in the light of God’s Word as He shines it upon your path & encourage all others to do the same. Look at the heart more than behavior. Nurture relationships of mutual up building that are free of judging & tearing down.

ForYoungPastors #31: (Romans 15:14) Have confidence in Christ’s active work in all believers. If the Word of God dwells in people, they can live righteously & encourage, teach and admonish each other to live righteously. Christ is not limited to your knowledge, wisdom & voice.

ForYoungPastors #32: (Rom 15:7; I Cor 16:20) Spontaneous responses to the presence of others reveal your heart for them. Receive brothers & sisters in Christ as Christ has receive you. Make each know they are special. Welcome them with the cultural equivalent of a holy kiss.

ForYoungPastors #33: (Gal 5:13; 6:2; I Cor 12:25; I Pet 4:9, 10) Be on constant guard against pride. Identify with & exalt the lowly. In humility serve others; bear their burdens. Practice hospitality; receive the needy into your home to share the blessings of God with them.

ForYoungPastors #34: (Gal 5:15, 26; James 5:9) Try not to compare yourself to others. Such comparisons often lead to pride, rivalry, jealousy, grumbling, self-deception, self-recrimination and/or discouragement. Choose instead to rejoice in diversity as the grace of God works in each one severally.

ForYoungPastors #35: (James 5:16) Create an environment in which people can safely be open & honest concerning their spiritual lives. Openly share your own spiritual journey up to the point you edify without harming. Maintain personal covenant relationships of accountability.

ForYoungPastors #36: (James 5:16) Know the needs of the members of your congregation & pray for them daily. Be specific & call their names in prayer. Pray about their spiritual and material wellbeing. Make their burdens your own & pray fervently, with faith, for them.

ForYoungPastors #37: (Heb 10:25) Desire the fellowship of the saints. Attend church gatherings because you want to be there. Do not let your ministry devolve into professional obligations. Stay emotionally/spiritually connected. Be a member of the Body of Christ 1st & leader 2nd.

ForYoungPastors #38: Be the pastor of all the people: young & aged, rich & poor, learned & illiterate, men & women, healthy & infirmed, politically left & politically right, spiritually mature & spiritual immature, the righteous & the sinful. Show preference for none. 

ForYoungPastors #39: Make visitation a regular practice in your ministry. Visit the sick, the shut-ins, the discouraged & the lonely. Go "prayed-up." Carry the peace of Christ into every home. Be salt & light, a grace-filled presence. Go with confidence God is already at work.

ForYoungPastors #40: (Ephesians 4:2, 25, 32; 5:2, 21) Make mutual submission & Christian unity constant priorities in church life. Don’t obsess on avoiding conflict; create opportunities for people to learn to live in unity through shared reflection & action (ministry/service).

ForYoungPastors #41: (Ephesians 4:32) Offenses will come. Forgive. Forgiveness is not a feeling; it is an attitude & a choice. Decide to love those who offend you; bless them. Pray for them & for all that is theirs; pray until your passions match your decision.

ForYoungPastors #42: Don’t settle for merely keeping confidences; keep all conversations sacred. Confidentiality merely hides the truth. Sacred conversations are those knowingly held in the presence of God. The truth is then kept in the light of holy covenant.

ForYoungPastors #43: Use the authority of your office sparingly. Do not claim authority Christ has not given. You are not a franchise owner; you are to be an agent of Christ. Don't confuse your will with His. Honor the authority He vests in others through their gifts and callings.

ForYoungPastors #44: You must address sin, but people cannot be driven from sin; under the unction of the Spirit, they must choose to flee from sin. Name only sins that are clearly identified in Scripture, i.e., the “works of the flesh.” Avoid preaching personal convictions.

ForYoungPastors #45: Do the work of an evangelist. Tell people the good news of Jesus Christ. Don’t argue. Don’t try to prove people wrong or prove yourself right. Share your testimony. Affirm the power of Christ to deliver from all evil. Pray the Spirit confirms the Gospel.

ForYoungPastors#46: In personal life, know & obey the voice of God, but in major decisions gather a small group of saints to help discern the will of God. Their council should inform but not determine what you do. Do what you believe is His will in the light of the Scriptures.

ForYoungPastors#47: In sermons, be accurate with your vocabulary without a showy use of theological jargon. Understand complex theological concepts & terms well enough to communicate them in the vernacular. But, do introduce basic theological vocabulary, especially of redemption.

ForYoungPastors#48: Don’t underestimate church youth. More like young adults than children, they can comprehend truth, think logically, solve problems, live the faith, witness, minister grace, bear fruit, teach & lead. If you challenge, empower, oversee, they can change the world

ForYoungPastors#49: Encourage diversity: age, sex, ethnic, racial, socio-economic. Homogeneous groups lull people into complacency, are a-critical, making it too easy divide the Body of Christ, & to overlook shortcomings & strengths. Diversity sheds light & fuels spiritual growth

ForYoungPastors#50: Encourage intergenerational relationships. Create ministry opportunities that are intergenerational. Generations learn best from each other through purposeful (meaningful) activity. Shared mission fosters shared vision, shared lives & mutual support.

ForYoungPastors#51: Frequently, if not always, include children in intergenerational worship. Don’t banish them to a damp basement or a gilded ghetto. They need encounters with the mystery of Christ in the worshipping church. Adults & youth need them & the gifts they bring. 

ForYoungPastors#52: Honor those who went before you: former pastors & staff, lay leaders & members. Do not criticize former leaders. Don’t entertain criticism of them. They serve the same master as you, who will judge us all. Failure to honor them is a self-inflicted dishonor.

ForYoungPastors#53: Pursue and maintain long term, healthy, spiritual, peer relationships of accountability: a spiritual director, a mentor, a covenant group. Choose trustworthy, wise, Spirit-filled persons with whom you can be open, honest and vulnerable. Be the same for them.

ForYoungPastors#54: Live out of the past, not in it. Know, learn from & honor where you came from. Live into the future, not in it. Tomorrow is certain only to God. The faithful live now in the promises of tomorrow, the already of the not yet. Embrace every day as the Lord's day.

ForYoungPastors#55: Practice hospitality. Invite people into your home/parsonage & make them feel wanted. Make fellowship gatherings essential to the life of the church. Create an environment of love & acceptance for all people. Share meals. Include non-church, needy persons.

ForYoungPastors#56: Sermons should speak to all ages but focus on early adolescents/older children. They can reason/understand on the same level as most adults. What they lack in life experience is made up by a drive to learn. If they comprehend your message, adults can as well.

ForYoungPastors#57: Minister out of your pain without surrendering to it. Identify with Christ’s suffering & with that of others but don’t let your brokenness define you or your ministry. People need you to identify with their problems but to also exist as a promise of victory. 

ForYoungPastors#58: Establish healthy boundaries for yourself & your family. Be accessible without being constantly available. It is not sin to screen your phone calls. Your children are yours & not the churches. A parsonage is your home; insist on others viewing it that way.

ForYoungPastors#59: Oversee church finances; don’t manage them. Distance yourself from receipts/deposits & distributions. Have regular internal “3rd person” audits and when feasible professional audits. Establish a “rainy day” fund for emergencies and a deferred maintenance fund.

ForYoungPastors#60: When you accept a ministry assignment, go to stay. Never use a church as a steppingstone to something bigger. They will soon know if you are there for them or for yourself. Let God decide when it is time to move. Until then be fully committed to this church.

ForYoungPastors#61: Carefully distinguish that which is essential to the Christian life from the non-essential. Make the essential central to your life, teaching & preaching. "In necessary things, unity; in doubtful things, liberty; in all things, charity." (Richard Baxter)

ForYoungPastors#62: Don't just love the people, love the place of your ministry. People will find it hard to believe you love them if you do not love the place they call home. Make it your home as well. Try as we may, we cannot separate our identity from the place we call home.

ForYoungPastors#63: Leave no one behind; drive no one away. If your vision of the church leads you to reject people because they don’t fit into your vision, your vision is anti-Christ. The church must embrace all who follow Christ & give seats of honor to the least in its midst.

ForYoungPastors#64: Trust your spouse when he/she warns you about a person’s attraction to you. She/he can see what you do not see. Even if she/he is wrong, your marriage covenant requires that you take the steps needed to address his/her concerns. Flawed compassion is dangerous.

ForYoungPastors#65: Avoid worship wars. Understand & instruct the congregation in the nature of true worship. Make sound theology in form, content & practice a top priority. Have variety in styles, appealing to diverse groups with a slight preference toward youth. Be consistent.

ForYoungPastors #66: Make hospital/sick visits more than a perfunctory duty. Be fully present. Listen. Stay focused on their concerns, pain, fears, hopes & dreams. Encourage faith & hope without offering false promises. Avoid platitudes. Don’t weary them by staying too long.

ForYoungPastors #67: Be a member of the Body of Christ & not a lord over it. You serve a community of equals, a nation of priests & prophets, fellow servants of God. Christ has uniquely gifted you for pastoral service to His Body. He has also equipped the Body for ministry to you

ForYoungPastors#68: Discover the joy in giving. Give anonymous, personal & creative gifts. Include funds in your personal budget for gifts to the needy. Bless visitors to your home with simple gifts they will cherish &/or use. Joyful giving embodies the grace we have received.

ForYoungPastors#69: Bible study should be dialogue with God, i.e., less about interpreting Scriptures & more about being interpreted by them, less about defending your beliefs & more about forming them, less about understanding God & more about seeing yourself through God's eyes. 

ForYoungPastors#70: If blessed with children, be a good steward over them. They belong to God, not to you. Love them abundantly. Nurture them healthily. Guard them diligently. Restrict them appropriately. Discipline them carefully & be consistent. Correct, without provoking. 

ForYoungPastors#71: Be certain of your call. If you are not, wrestle with God until you are. You must be absolutely confident that ministry is God’s will for your life. Your call should define you & not just describe you. Your ministry must be a confession more than a profession. 

ForYoungPastors#72: Take great care to not become jaded or bitter. You will be disappointed, deceived & betrayed. You will be hurt. Grieve. Anger without sinning. Love & bless. Keep believing God’s grace is at work in & for people. Never stop being a vessel of His grace.

ForYoungPastors#73: Practice church discipline: always lovingly, always for restoration, never shaming, never punitive, never publicly & only for grave sins (e.g., works of the flesh). Never disfellowship a penitent. Help them overcome besetting sins. Expel only as a last resort.

ForYoungPastors#74: Be fully present with your children. Listen to them. Talk with them & not at them. Make God, the Bible & sound doctrine natural conversation pieces. Give them your testimony. Connect them with their heritage. Be a friend to whom they can turn for guidance.

ForYoungPastors#75: You are a priest because you are a believer, not because you are a pastor. Be a priest for & with the people. Stand in the gap. Teach them to be a nation of priests standing together before God in behalf of themselves and others, each a conduit of God’s grace.

ForYoungPastors#76: Ground everything you do as pastor in the Scriptures. Diligently seek to be faithful to the Word & the Spirit. Be informed by traditions but not controlled/limited by them. Let no tradition or modern innovation silence the Scriptures or quench the Spirit.

ForYoungPastors#77: Do not despise the day of little things. No matter how small, every congregation is the Body of Christ. The Spirit is present & unlimited. Use those days to learn how to be a good pastor, how to care for souls. Develop the gifts needed for pastoral ministry.

ForYoungPastors #78: Keep worship holy & centered on God; avoid attendance gimmicks designed to attract crowds and/or entertain the faithful. Give the Christian calendar priority over civil holidays. Encourage patriotism without nationalism; keep both out of worship.

ForYoungPastors#79: Protect the children of the church. Workers must be vetted & trained & multiple adult supervisors must always be present. Keep facilities safe. Make policies & procedures & insist they be kept. Teach the children about proper & improper touch & reporting abuse

ForYoungPastors#80: Study carefully your church bulletin & church budget; they are theological documents. We declare what we believe & value by how we spend time & money. Lead the church into faithful stewardship of both. Maintain inward & outward mission. Integrate the two.

ForYoungPastors#81: There is honor in being a bi-vocational pastor, the Apostle Paul was. Be where God wants you to be; do what he wants you to do. Only, don’t take a job that will tempt you away from ministry or make it impossible to fulfill ministry or damage your family.

ForYoungPastors#82: Make articles of our faith prominent. Creeds & declarations of what we believe aid in the formation of an identity that is faithful to Christ. They can be means of grace; God can work through them. But remember, we are saved by faith and not by mental assent.

ForYoungPastors#83: Avoid the extremes of modern innovations and cultural, archaic traditions. Both appeal to our fractured selves, confusing relevance with substance & comfort with security. An over emphasis on being current & an overemphasis on the past hinder growth & mission.

ForYoungPastors#84: Be vigilant about being faithful to your spouse: body, soul, mind & spirit. Fidelity is a mindset. Thoughtlessly nurturing affections for someone that rightfully belong only to your spouse & withholding affections from your spouse are both forms of infidelity.

ForYoungPastors#85: Before asking WWJD (WhatWouldJesusDo) wrestle with WIJD (What Is Jesus Doing). He is more than an example; he is the Way, Truth & Life. Our call is to follow him & not just imitate him. He didn’t leave principles to live by; he sent the Holy Spirit to be with us

ForYoungPastors#86: Build true Christian community; don't settle for social/recreational events. Community requires deep personal relationships, mutual accountability, risk & interdependence. It is formed by shared testimonies & burdens. Create environments for spiritual intimacy

ForYoungPastors#??: Build true Christian community; don't settle for social events & parties. Community requires deep personal relationships of mutual accountability, risk & interdependence; it is formed by sharing testimonies & burdens. Create environments for spiritual intimacy

ForYoungPastors#87: Don't fight over doctrinal opinions of no eternal consequence. In gentleness, refute false teachings that are spiritually damaging. Unapologetically condemn heresies, doctrines that deny the core of Christian faith & by nature lead to separation from Christ.

ForYoungPastors#88: Walk with people through their loss of a loved one; grieve with them more than for them. Help them grieve well. It is not a time to teach or exhort; it is a time to listen, explore your own faith, value & celebrate life, comfort by presence more than by words.

ForYoungPastors#89: Funerals should accomplish 3 things: honor the deceased, comfort the grieving, and proclaim the Gospel (not evangelize). But don’t cheapen the cross by romanticizing death. Grieve as those who know the value of life & have hope in the resurrection of the dead.

ForYoungPastors#90: Premarital counseling is one of the most formational pastoral opportunities/duties. It can save a marriage before it begins and bless a family yet to be born. Ask the hard questions and make certain they are hearing each other's answers. Love is deaf and blind.

ForYoungPastors#91: Don’t get lost in time management; manage your self. Have God-given priorities & keep them sacred. Time management can result in a sense of failure &/or making people objects to be squeezed into your schedule. Learn to say no & put God & people over programs.

ForYoungPastors#92:  Weddings inaugurate a couple's covenant of union, with God as chief witness, participant & guarantor. They give birth to new relationships within/between families, congregations, & society. But more than promises made, they are God's creative action renewed.

ForYoungPastors#93: It is your sacred duty to create an environment of safety & security for everyone. Establish a covenant of civility. In times of disagreement everyone must be free to speak for themselves without fear being judged as to intent & without being coerced to speak.

ForYoungPastors#94: If the church rises & falls on the ebb & flow of your life you are not doing something right; you have failed to anchor the church in Christ. Avoid making yourself indispensable. Learn how to have the joy of the Lord & to bless others in trying times.

ForYoungPastors#95: Give children personal attention. Value them as your fully human equals. Be happy to see them. Get down on their level to talk; look them in the eye; call them by name; listen to their words & to their hearts. Listen to God's voice in them. Learn from them.

ForYoungPastors#96: Stay involved with the youth of the church. Let them know you love them, you’re interested in their lives & you believe in them. Have fun with them, but don’t act like a perpetual teenager. They need you to be yourself & to be an elder to whom they can turn.

ForYoungPastors#97: True intimacy is knowing as we are known. It requires trust, self disclosure & mutual submission. It involves risk & commitment: timely peeling away layers of self protection, exposing & surrendering the true self & increasing devotion to the good of the other.

ForYoungPastors#98: The incarnation of Christ boldly announces the worth of the human body & our need for tactile connection. Christ touched and welcomed touch. Model & teach holy touch, touch that extends God's love & our desire to communicate His blessings. Virtue & grace are shared in holy touch.

ForYoungPastors#99: Learn to distinguish between brokenness & bitterness. While often intertwined, the former needs comfort & healing. Worn like a cloak of honor, the later needs healing, correction & forgiveness. It is both sin & disease. Only the Holy Spirit can heal & restore.

ForYoungPastors#100: Believe in people. Believe the Holy Spirit is always at work for & in them. Pray about their futures. Share with them your hopes & dreams for them as children of God. Do this for everyone but especially the young of the church, new converts & the wounded.

ForYoungPastors#101: Become a good liturgist. People are formed more by the patterns, practices & character of worship than by the words of sermons. Oversee (not control) all aspects of worship so that the Spirit leads, God is glorified, faith is nurtured & the church is edified.

ForYoungPastors#102: People are transformed in crises, good & bad crises: altar experiences, trauma, marriage, birth of a child, death of a loved one, etc. God is present & speaking in every crises. More than miracles, seek His presence. Seek to bear His presence for others.

ForYoungPastors#103: In essence & form, by happenstance or plan, every portion of a worship service is a drama that through movement, words & emotions communicates our faith. For good or bad, the truths of our existence & our beliefs are proclaimed & absorbed. Make worship a faithful proclamation of the Truth.

ForYoungPastors #104: Don't use vulgar language, not in anger or in jest. Profanity springs from an undisciplined mind & a profane heart. It lessens those who use it & those who hear it. Resolve to use speech that edifies & clearly & accurately expresses what you desire to say.

ForYoungPastors#105: Encourage dating couples to get pre-engagement counseling as soon as they begin to get serious. Once a couple is engaged their commitment is so high it is difficult for them to be honest with themselves. They need guidance before they make a commitment.

ForYoungPastors #106: Offer friendship to everyone & Christian fellowship to all who profess Jesus Christ as Lord. Deny Christian fellowship only from those whose lives clearly demonstrate otherwise, i.e., those whose lives are marked by heresy and/or the “works of the flesh.”

ForYoungPastors#107: No matter how strong the vote, every new pastor serves on a trial basis. The members want you to succeed. They want you to be the right person for the job. But they will have reservations about you until you have earned a place in their hearts as their pastor

ForYoungPastors#108: Do not despise the day of small things or yourself because of them. The size of your congregation is not a reflection of your worth to God or your relationship with him. Neither is it a reliable statement on your call or your effectiveness as a pastor.

ForYoungPastors#109: The full gospel calls for worship that presents the whole of our lives to God as living sacrifices: adoration, praise, rejoicing, prayers, giving, Scripture reading, sermons, testimonies, as well as lament, penance, & silence should be normative & normalizing

ForYoungPastors#110: Worship should glorify God, edify the faithful & facilitate encounters with God that bring deliverance from evil. Reclaim the altar as a place to be buried into & raised up with Christ. Never incite emotional responses, but don't forbid them either.

ForYoungPastors#111: Penitent hearts & confession of sin should be normative in church life. Restorative confession must be sincere, to God & before a trusted follower of Christ. It should also be as public as knowledge of the sin is public. It should free from all condemnation.

ForYoungPastors#112: Have faith in God, His Word, His purposes, His Name. Christ is with you and in you. Know Him in the power of the Holy Spirit. Always minister and pray in His Name, but remember, his presence is not in the syllables of a word; His name is in His presence.

ForYoungPastors#113: Serving God requires constant willingness to go or stay. Stay where God places you until you know He wants you to leave. Avoid the temptation to view difficulties as signs from God to move & the temptation to view all golden opportunities as gifts from God.

ForYoungPastors #114: During worship pray efficacious pastoral prayers, those that reveal the heart of Christ, teach the faithful how & what to pray, expand the people's vision beyond their own community: prayers for peace & justice, prayers for the Kingdom to come for all, etc..

ForYoungPastors#115: When you arrive at a new church, be slow to push for change. Pray. Preach the Word. Provide pastoral care. Support the ministries already in place. Get to know the people & vice versa. Listen to their hearts. See their vision. Love them. Serve their needs.

ForYoungPastors#116: Learn to mediate conflicts well. Be objective. Don’t take sides.  Insist on mutual respect. Ensure all parties feel safe & have equal opportunity to speak. Focus on what is being heard as much as what is said. Try to help each to hear the heart of the other.

#116B: Accept the fact that some are so wounded and/or narcissistic that they cannot or will not allow the other to be heard. They will despise you for every effort to help them hear the other side and hate you for not taking their side. This is a price you must pay to be a pastor.

ForYoungPastors#117: Be a model of submission. Submission to Christ requires submission to others. Submission is not blind obedience; it is unwavering loyalty, action that grows out of devotion. It is choosing to stand by the side of another in times of disagreement &/or danger.


Monday, May 18, 2015

They Laughed Out Loud


The women in my mother’s family were clearly cut from the same piece of cloth. There were eight sisters born to Tyler and Maggie O'Quinn. Three are still living: Mary Lou O'Quinn Turner, Betty O'Quinn Johns, and Mildred O'Quinn Daniels. Admittedly, I might be biased, but each was/is an attractive woman who has consistently conveyed a sense of humility with dignity.  All eight of the sisters have been known as Godly prayer warriors who could touch the throne of God. They have been faithful as servants of God, wives, mothers, church members, and neighbors. They have known and kept the faith of their mother, Maggie Harris O’Quinn.

The eight sisters also shared their father’s knack for spinning a story but with a heightened gift for building it to a climatic outburst of laughter. They laughed out loud. When they got together there was always a flood of stories about childhood pranks and missteps. I remember stories such as the one about the hen that roosted in the rafters of the kitchen properly positioned to make a deposit on the chocolate cake Grandma had made for the preacher.  The sisters had been instructed the evening before to get the hen out of the house. Rather than admit their disobedience, when they found the poop on the cake the next morning they just blended it into the icing for a little extra flavoring. In another episode two sisters felt sorry for Grandpa’s work-horse and fed it double rations of molasses and oats; the horse died.

It was the way they told the stories that made them truly special. The stories were actual events from their lives and they had learned to laugh in difficult times. They were remembering and reliving the past through the lens of humor. I suspect it was their faith that had helped them find the positive in those situations and their sense of humor that helped them reinterpret those events as modes of private entertainment. At any rate, they laughed with wild abandonment as they told the stories of their lives and I often laughed with them until my sides hurt.

The funniest of them all was my Aunt Dot, Dorothy O’Quinn Daniels. She was the one who could tell stories with a straight face even while everyone else was bursting at the seams. She also had a phenomenal gift for creating humorous events and enjoying the telling of them afterwards. My Uncle Coleman was often the target of her pranks. At various times in his life he was given to drink. During one of those seasons she would plead with him to not stay out drinking late at night lest something bad happen to her and the children. One Friday night he came home late to find her and the children spread out around the living room, each covered in “blood.” Actually, it was ketchup she had carefully applied. They each played their role as victims of violence, at least long enough to hear him sobbing out his regrets as a husband and father.

Someone should have recorded all those stories as they were told by the women who lived them. They are a legacy that is slipping away. One measurement of the character of a people is their humor, specifically what it is that they find funny and at/with whom they choose to laugh. Whenever I was with my aunts telling their stories I always came away feeling happier and cleaner. There was nothing in their humor that defiled or demeaned anyone. They each knew how to laugh at themselves and with each other just the way families should.

Friday, May 15, 2015

King David Harris -- And He Danced

David danced before the LORD with all his might; David was girded with a linen ephod. (2Sa 6:14 NRS)

I am a direct descendant of King David, King David Harris that is. He was my mother’s maternal grandfather. I don’t know a lot about him. When I was a child there was an old one-room shack in the lower field on my Grandparent’s farm, down by a spring and closer to the river. The shack was called “the old kitchen.” There were a couple of pear trees at the shack that seemed to be loaded every year. I absolutely loved the jam my mother would make.  In time I learned the old kitchen had once been adjacent to a beautiful two-story house King David had built for my great-grandmother, “the finest in the county.” But after he died it fell into disrepair and was eventually torn down.

As I heard it, somewhere in his life he developed a weakness for alcohol and when he was drunk he was abusive of my great-grandmother. He died apparently inebriated after a night of heavy drinking. He was by himself when he stopped at a spring for a drink of water on his way home and apparently choked to death.

Like his namesake, my great grandfather was known to shake a leg. My Dad said that he had heard that whenever King David got some spirits in him he was the best buck dancer in the region. My Dad also said that people who knew both him and my grandmother, Maggie Harris O’Quinn, said that when the Holy Spirit came on her she would dance just like her father. He died in 1921, long before I was born. But I was blessed to witness my grandmother dance under the influence of the Spirit. Well into her seventies, she could move like the lead dancer in a River Dance performance, when she felt the Power.  Someday, I shall dance with wild abandonment.

George Washington Johns - A Survivor

A Line of Survivors

George Washington Johns (1841-1913) was my Great-grandfather. He was born and died in Bachlott, Georgia. His only sojourn of which I am aware was as a soldier in the Confederate Army.  Family lore has it that he was wounded and left behind by his compatriots. They leaned him against a large tree next to a split-rail fence with expectations he would soon die.

As the story was passed down, he would state that he shot at a lot of Yankees during the war but he only knew that he hit and killed two of them. Both were killed as he leaned against that tree awaiting his own death. They were apparently scouts on a mission. When they came to the fence a short distance from where George rested. One jumped on top and over the fence and one squeezed through the space beneath the top rail. He shot the jumper first and the one caught in the fence second.

This must have happened near the end of the war when Confederate soldiers were reduced to wearing tattered uniforms because George confiscated some clothing from his dead counterparts. Later, when he reunited with his Southern troops, one of them commented, “Johns, we left you behind for dead and here you show up with a new pair of breeches and a new pair of boots.” He responded, "I’d be wearing a new coat and a new hat too, but I figured you fellas would have shot me.”

There are many ways to interpret this story. It is not the portrait of a hero, but rather one of a survivor. The Johns on my branch of the tree are known for their stubbornness; I prefer to call it steadfastness. We are not quitters; we will stay the course and finish the hard tasks of life. Others may take us for granted or abandon us for their own pleasures, but we will remain true to our commitments. We will keep on fighting when others have given up on us, or as I use to say in my youth “I am going to keep on keeping on until I can’t and then I’m going to die and go to heaven.”


Monday, August 4, 2014

Ministry Principles

I wrote the following lists of ministry principles about twenty years ago for the Church Manual of the New Covenant Church of God.

Principles of Ministry Development

*The church belongs to Jesus Christ and he desires to give direction to the ministries of the church through the leading of the Holy Spirit.

*The chief responsibility of the church is not to carry out pre-packaged programs but to jointly discover and fulfill the will of God. 

*The holy Scriptures clearly reveal God's will for the church but each congregation must discover and live out that will in its own setting.

*All believers are to be joined to the church and in the context of the church they are to discover the will of God for their lives and "work out their salvation with fear and trembling."

*Every member of the church is a voice through whom God can speak to make his will known to the congregation and therefore must be heard with discernment.

*All members of the church must work together to plan and carry out the ministries of the church.

*The primary tasks of the pastor and elders in ministry development are to (1) instruct the congregation in the truths of God's Word, (2) hold the congregation accountable for living according to God's Word, (3) "perfect the saints for works of service" by preparing them to serve others through their individual talents, (4) release the members of the church to fulfill the ministries God has called them to, and (5) oversee the entire process so that all work together for the glory of God.


Principles of Decision Making Within the Church

*All decisions are spiritual in nature and should be preceeded by prayer.

*All decisions are personal and corporate.  They will affect people in the church locally and universally.  Therefore, their impact on persons and programs should be considered.

*All decisions are theological and should be made in dialogue with the beliefs and traditions of the church.  They must be made with a focus on knowing and doing the will of God. 

*Decisions should be made by the persons directly affected by them. Direction should emerge from the persons responsible for the ministry, the workers.

*Decisions directly affecting the church as a whole should be submitted to the church  in conference for approval.

*It is the responsibility of the pastor and elders of the church to oversee all ministries and assure decisions within the church are made in harmony with the Scriptures, church tradition, denominational polity, and other programs of the church.

*The central questions to be asked are: (1) is this in harmony with the known will of God?, (2) will it contribute to the mission of the church?, (3) is this in harmony with the mission statement and other established beliefs and programs of the church?, (4) will this make our shared ministry more effective, (5) will this place an undue burden on people?



Sunday, August 3, 2014

Thoughts on Church of God Polity

The following "Thoughts" are generally collected from my series of "Thoughts" posted on Facebook. As the title indicates, they all concern issues of Church of God polity. New items are added from time to time.


Thought on the 2014 General Council: For me the most troubling item on the General Council agenda was one which attempted to divide the Supplement to the Minutes into two sections, one of which would become an “Operations Manual.” I believe a dear friend of mine who I greatly respect largely wrote this item, but I strongly disagree with him on this matter. If passed, the item would have placed the sections dealing with “State Government,” “Local Church Government,” and “Personnel” in an operations manual. The argument included a description of these items as managerial and not doctrinal in nature. Items such as the Bylaws and General Church Government would remain in the Supplement to the Minutes and continue to require General Assembly action to revise. The Items in the Operations Manual would be overseen by the Executive Council, which would be authorized to amend as needed. Should they determine a revision would significantly alter Church of God polity they would submit it to the Ordained Bishops for approval through online and snail-mail voting.

This item contradicts our theological heritage and, if adopted, it would have contradicted the founding vision of the Church of God. One of the foundational principles of our movement is that we follow the New Testament as our “only rule for government.” Our founders were driven to renew the Christian church through the restoration of Biblical government. They placed emphasis on love and personal conscience in the life of the church, including its government. Unfortunately, and ironically, their commitment to be guided only by Scripture led to the loss of this vision. We have interpreted the mandate to limit government to Biblical statements, i.e., we have no rules that are not specifically stated in Scripture. A proposal we both reaffirmed and ignored for decades. In my opinion this is what led to the development of a polity that is guided by pragmatism instead of the Bible. The results are an eclectic set of policies shaped by the whim of whatever seemed right in our own eyes at any given time; Scripture quotations alone are inadequate for a defined polity for a large organization. What is needed is a defined understanding of Biblical government. It is the absence of a clearly stated ecclesiology that has brought us to this point where some in leadership can now see the polity of the state/regional and local church as an issue of mere management, which is therefore not subject to the General Assembly. The “management” of the church is a theological task and not mere management as though management and administration are not to be governed by the Word of God. Rather, our position must be that whatever rules of administration we adopt they must be grounded in the Biblical patterns of government.

Finally, if this motion had passed it would have shut down the voice of the laity on the things most directly affecting them, i.e., local church government, including the rules governing membership and spiritual discipline. This is illogical an untenable. It would make more sense to me to place the sections of general church government under the control of the Ordained Bishops; with the General Assembly completely limited to an agenda set by the General Council that is after all our functioning polity. We need to move in the direction of more voice for the laity, not less.


Just a Thought: I am at the Church of God General Council meeting in Orlando. As I listened to our deliberations this morning I kept thinking of the old adage “a large ship cannot turn on a dime” and adding my on thought that this is especially true when the ship is locked into a circular motion by circular reasoning. Today, we debated a motion to amend the qualifications for ministers by adding a statement that we must “agree with and adhere to” the teachings and doctrines of the church. Someone rightly pointed out that if we adopted this wording we could no longer discuss the doctrines of the church even in a General Council meeting without fear of loosing our credentials. The “agree with” portion was dropped and the motion to “adhere to” passed with near if not total agreement. Immediately afterwards I leaned to my neighbor and whispered “I hope we all understand that we just voted to go home and start practicing footwashing in our churches.” Everyone get ready for am emphasis on “Social Obligation,” including a commitment to correct social injustices and care for the environment – the first of our Practical Commitments. I can hope, even if it is in vain. JDJ # 476

Just a Thought: Yesterday the General Council approved an agenda item that prohibited our ministers from performing weddings and civil unions under any circumstances other than the marriage of one man to one woman. It was a somewhat lengthy but well worded item that also instructed our ministers that when discussing this subject they were to do so in a manner that reflects the love of Christ. I believe it passed unanimously. There were however a couple of attempts to make minor amendments, but they failed. One motion to amend was made by my dear friend Dr. Dale Coulter who attempted to revise a clause requiring that ministers who perform such ceremonies have their credentials revoked. Dale’s substitution was to use the exact language already used in situations of adultery, which specifies that the credentials be suspended for a period not less than two years. I could feel the rejection of the amendment before he every spoke. The body liked the original motion just the way it was and resented any attempt to change it. The speeches against the change reflected more emotion than reason. By that I mean they were off topic having nothing to do with the discipline of an errant minister; instead they all focused on how we must take a firm stand against the tide of cultural acceptance of homosexual marriage. It was clear to me they had fixated on the words “revoked” and “suspended” believing the former to convey a stronger message. I sat there, literally with a headache, amused at the irony that Dale’s motion would actually make the revocation of the credentials more definitive, i.e., for a period not less than two years. In its current form, within our current polity, I believe any minister who has his or her credentials revoked for this offence could in fact have them reinstated within a matter of months if they jump through the right hoops in front of the right people. Sitting in the General Council sessions is highly frustrating for those of us with highly analytical personality types. JDJ # 477

Just a Thought: Another motion was offered to amend the General Council item forbidding our ministers from performing weddings or civil unions for gays and bigamists by adding the words “or baby dedications” to the list. Form some unknown reason the maker of the motion wanted it inserted between “weddings” and “civil unions.” As I listened to the debate my head throbbed with pain and simultaneously tingled with amusement. Most of the argument centered on “our” beliefs about baby dedications. [I will not take time to describe the debate surrounding an amendment to the amendment, which attempted to substitute the word “child” for the word “baby.” I will note that my good friend Dr. Ken Archer gave a passionate plea from Scripture that we must bless children and not punish them for the sins of their guardians.] The speakers seemed certain in what we believe; they just kept contradicting each other about what we believe. In truth, the Church of God has not defined the purpose and nature of baby/child dedications. This failed attempt to use them as a form of spiritual discipline for the unredeemed suggests we seriously need to have that discussion, but I truly fear the outcome if it is decided by our deliberative process. JDJ # 478


Just a Thought: For me the most troubling item on the General Council agenda was one which attempted to divide the Supplement to the Minutes into two sections, one of which would become an “Operations Manual.” This item contradicts our theological heritage and, if adopted, it would have contradicted the founding vision of the Church of God. Our founders were driven to renew the Christian church through the restoration of Biblical government. Unfortunately, and ironically, their commitment to be guided only by Scripture led to the loss of this vision. Scripture quotations alone are inadequate for a defined polity for a large organization. What is needed is a defined understanding of Biblical government. The absence of a clearly stated ecclesiology has brought us to this point where some can now see the polity of the state/regional and local church as issues of mere management, which is therefore not subject to the General Assembly. But the “management” of the church is a theological task and not mere management as though management and administration are not to be governed by the Word of God. Rather, our position must be that whatever rules of administration we adopt they must be grounded in the Biblical patterns of government. If I understand this motion correctly, if passed it would have shut down the voice of the laity on the things most directly affecting them, i.e., local church government, including the rules governing membership and spiritual discipline. This is illogical an untenable. We need to move in the direction of more voice for the laity, not less. JDJ # 479


Just a Thought: The following is a list of principles I have tried to live by as a pastor. I first wrote them over twenty years ago.

Principles of Ministry Development

*The church belongs to Jesus Christ and he desires to give direction to the ministries of the church through the leading of the Holy Spirit.

*The chief responsibility of the church is not to carry out pre-packaged programs but to jointly discover and fulfill the will of God.

*The holy Scriptures clearly reveal God's will for the church but each congregation must discover and live out that will in its own setting.

*All believers are to be joined to the church and in the context of the church they are to discover the will of God for their lives and "work out their salvation with fear and trembling."

*Every member of the church is a voice through whom God can speak to make his will known to the congregation and therefore must be heard with discernment.

*All members of the church must work together to plan and carry out the ministries of the church.

*The primary tasks of the pastor and elders in ministry development are to (1) instruct the congregation in the truths of God's Word, (2) hold the congregation accountable for living according to God's Word, (3) "perfect the saints for works of service" by preparing them to serve others through their individual talents, (4) release the members of the church to fulfill the ministries God has called them to, and (5) oversee the entire process so that all work together for the glory of God.  JDJ # 480


Just a Thought: What follows is another list of principles I wrote decades ago. As the title states, they address the processes of making decisions within the church.

Principles of Decision Making Within the Church

*All decisions are spiritual in nature and should be preceded by prayer.

*All decisions are personal and corporate.  They will affect people in the church locally and universally.  Therefore, their impact on persons and programs should be considered.

*All decisions are theological and should be made in dialogue with the beliefs and traditions of the church.  They must be made with a focus on knowing and doing the will of God.

*The persons who are directly affected by them should make decisions. Direction should emerge from the persons responsible for the ministry, the workers.

*Decisions directly affecting the church as a whole should be submitted to the church in conference for approval.

*It is the responsibility of the pastor and elders of the church to oversee all ministries and assure decisions within the church are made in harmony with the Scriptures, church tradition, denominational polity, and the other programs of the church.


*The central questions to be asked are: (1) is this in harmony with the known will of God?, (2) will it contribute to the mission of the church?, (3) is this in harmony with the mission statement and other established beliefs and programs of the church?, (4) will this make our shared ministry more effective?, (5) will this place an undue burden on people?, (6) will this build the church up in unity, strengthening the fellowship of the saints? JDJ # 481



Just a Thought: One of the great errors of the General Assembly in years past was when we adopted the wording “hierarchical government.” Historically, the church had used the term “centralized” to describe our polity. I was a young minister when there was an attempt to adopt “hierarchical” as a descriptor. Dr. Gause, the Parliamentarian of the General Council and Assembly, stepped out of that position to speak against the change. He powerfully described the difference between “hierarchical” and “centralized,” convincing the Council to reject the change. A few years later the change came back with an argument that it was needed on legal grounds, society (and the courts) knew the meaning of “hierarchical” but not of “centralized” and the change was made. But there is a difference. “Hierarchical” means rule from above or rule by the sacred (i.e., priests) and is viewed as a synonym for “Episcopal.” In this model, authority resides in the “Episcopos” or “Bishop(s)” of the church. Decisions are made from the top downward. The very statement that the General Assembly is the highest authority of the Church of God combined with the definition that the Assembly is comprised of all members sixteen years or older who wish to attend and who register contradicts the statement that we are hierarchical. “Centralized” coveys the image of order and control but also implies interconnectivity and interaction. In my opinion, this simple change in terminology solidified the transition from seeing the church organically to seeing it institutionally; ever since we have been gravitating more and more into clergy control of all aspects of the church including congregational life. It is no wonder that we lament that our people are voting with their feet; we have gagged their voice by robbing them of opportunity to speak and we have treated them like children with no authority or influence. We have forced our members into the role of spectators. JDJ # 482