pastor

Seven Steps to Affect Change In Your Church Culture

agriculture-animal-car-270112

Changing the culture in a church can be a difficult endeavor. This is especially true if you are facing a church with a long tradition and heritage or if you are low-man (or woman) on the org chart. My hope is to encourage you in this post that such change is possible, but will require some serious seeking of the Lord in the process. Be encouraged: if you hope to improve the culture of your church, it means that you care about your church, and that is a good thing! So, here are seven steps to affect change in your church culture.

Step 1 – Pray!

The first step when you hope to affect change in your church culture is to seek the Lord! There is something beautiful that happens when we pause long enough to ask the Lord what His will is in a given situation. God invites us to seek Him concerning our circumstances specifically so that we can align our hearts with His. This is particularly important when we are thinking about changing church culture. Remember, he cares about the culture of His church more than you do! So, make sure to take time to align your heart with His in prayer. You may be surprised with the results after step 1. You may begin to see change in the culture immediately. You may not. You may see that your heart changes in the process. If you are praying for change in the culture of your church, make sure first to align your heart and your desires with His. You may also ask the Lord for patience in the process of change. You’re going to need it!

Step 2 – Listen.

The second step when you hope to affect change in your church culture is to take the time to listen to those that have been a part of the church for longer than you. Most of the time, there are stories, details, history of which you are not yet aware. If this is true, you owe it to the church and to yourself to do some research on the culture of the church before attempting to change it. Most new pastors should wait somewhere between nine months and one year before even thinking about changing major aspects of the church culture. Take this time to listen to those that have information that you do not.

Step 3 – Build.

If you are hoping to affect change in your church’s culture, you will need to build trust and relationships with leaders that are already in place. Leaders will not be effective in leading culture change within the church if they have not yet gained the trust of those they work with or for. So, since you are taking your time, use it to build loving relationship with the people in your church. If you are not able to build these kinds of relationships, you won’t want to be together where you are going anyway. Decide that the people you are traveling with are more important than the destination where you are heading.

Step 4 – Ask.

Most of the time, church cultures exist because of the ways leaders in the church have led. As a result, it is helpful to ask those leaders what they had in mind in certain decisions regarding the church culture. You might be surprised to learn that you have many of the same goals in mind, but have different ideas about how to reach those goals. At that point, you are all on the same team. You just have different ideas about the right game plays. If nothing else, this process can help all parties to understand that you are part of the same body of Christ, looking to fulfill the same Great Commission, and partnering together in how to do that best. And, if you differ on ways to do this, asking gives you the opportunity to work that through in meaningful conversation.

Step 5 – Share.

After you have shown the respect and courage to ask leaders about their thought process, you will likely find that these leaders will return the favor. You should be prepared at this time to be asked about how you would handle given situations and decisions were it placed in your hands. This is the right time and context for you to share your solicited thoughts on how you would choose similarly or differently than leadership has chosen. More often that not, if leadership is going to receive your thoughts will, it will be in a setting such as this. They’ve asked for it! Be respectful and clear, giving a well-prepared plan of action with appropriate reasoning. You may find that the leadership of the church is ready to move and was simply looking for the right plan of action that you have presented. When asked, don’t be afraid to share what you have in mind.

Step 6 – Understand.

Even after being asked for your thoughts on the direction of the church, understand that the answer may still be “no.” This is possible for any position in the church, as we mutually submit to one another out of love and respect for Christ. From the first time Worship Leader to the veteran Senior Pastor, there will be times that the answer is simply “no.” This may be a result of theology, philosophy, vision, finances, stewardship, relationships, limitations on time, or any number of other elements that cause leadership in churches to say no. But, even if this is the case, the process has been helpful. You have learned to align your heart with the Lord, listen to those who know the church better than you, build trust with leadership, ask for leadership’s vision and process, share your thoughts in an appropriate context, and understand if the answer is no. These things are progress in themselves and often, in themselves, have the effect of changing church culture. The answer might be yes next time, and you have moved the starting line.

Step 7 – Repeat.

The last step when you hope to affect change in your church culture is to repeat the process. Leaders in the church must understand that growing the church is an ongoing process. There are no quick fixes and this kind of journey is inherent in the shepherding process. A good shepherd does not just point the sheep in a direction and yell, “Go!” Similarly one cannot drive a truck through the flock and expect for the sheep to respond well. Instead, a good shepherd (like our Good Shepherd) walks in the Spirit, walks with the flock, seeks to understand, engenders trust, develops good communication, is humble to serve, and hangs in there even when things get tough. May our Good Shepherd do this for you especially as you head down the long path to affect change in your church culture!

Red-Tailed Hawks, Running Towards Pain, and Black Lives Matter

If only hurt people did not hurt people. But they do. To one degree or another, people always have. They are doing so at this very moment. And they are us.” – Sandra Wilson

14828316047_fd1fb8e60e_b

As I finished breakfast this morning, I heard a loud crash just to the left of me. I looked out the window and discovered that a bird had flown into window and was now sitting on the fence outside. As my daughter and I walked out, we realized that there was not only one bird, but three hawks sitting on the fences; one of them was eating some sort of small animal. We took a step outside and then we heard it, that famous hawk scream. I had never been so close to one red tailed hawk, let alone three. And sadly (this was the part my daughter was most affected by), a bunny rabbit had lost its life.

At lunchtime, I attended a panel discussion on “Race Relations and the Church,” as a part of the Citywide Worship Movement in Denver. About 60-70 pastors and Christian leaders from the Denver area gathered at Elevate Church and there was a sense that what would happen would be more than word. The panel was comprised of Elliot Sawyer, Doug Lasit, Del Phillips, Eric Garcia, Nirup Alphonse, Greg McDonald, and Dr. Raleigh Washington. They took their places and the group that had gathered begin to quiet. The ensuing conversation was beautiful…and painful.

I heard one panelist say that until all people have a place at the table, the conversation will be impossible. I heard one panelist say that the answer to the world’s problems is relationship; the relationship between people and their God, and the relationship between people and one another. I heard another panelist say that if a pastor isn’t multiethnic in his own life relationships, how can he hope that his church will be made up of multiethnic relationships. One said that if you want to see segregation in America go to a church on Sunday. One said that pastors themselves must be willing to talk about these issues from the pulpit. And yet, I heard every pastor say that God desires people from every tongue, tribe, and nation come together as one as He is one.

Nirup Alphonse suggested that the passage in James 5:1-7 contains content that is paramount for the world at this time. And so I looked it up. It says,

Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments have become moth-eaten. Your gold and your silver have rusted; and their rust will be a witness against you and will consume your flesh like fire. It is in the last days that you have stored up your treasure! Behold, the pay of the laborers who mowed your fields, and which has been withheld by you, cries out against you; and the outcry of those who did the harvesting has reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. You have lived luxuriously on the earth and led a life of wanton pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and put to death the righteous man; he does not resist you.

This was one of those moments when you read Scripture and it just cuts to the core of what you see going on around you. Now, not many consider the book of James to be prophetic as its primary intention. But, look at the way James nails what is going on in our culture today. The material possessions of the rich won’t hold up in the last days. The wasted riches will witness against those who hoarded wealth. The laborers of the field, who have not been paid justly, will also cry against the rich. The rich have grown full and fat in a day of killing. A righteous man has been put to death, one which has not put up opposition. And God has seen it all.

Now, most of us read that passage and think that James is talking about someone else. The rich. That’s not me. But, this is ludicrous. Most of us that are reading this passage (online, on a computer, smartphone, or tablet) are among the wealthiest in the world. Just look at the Global Rich List sometime. Most reading this will come up in the top 1%.

As such, the message is for us. We hoard our stuff. We ignore the laborers all around us who have not been paid appropriately. And we feast while innocents are slaughtered. It’s sobering, really. The Good News is that the Lord of Sabaoth both hears and sees. And, in the end, each panelist declared the reason for their hope, Jesus Christ.

We all stood together, held hands in a circle, and prayed. It was beautiful because it was a picture of the eternal body of Christ. It was painful because it is not what we experience most days and there is much to be done.

It wasn’t until this afternoon that I connected the dots between the two major events of my day. At breakfast time, I was fascinated with the three red-tailed hawks in my backyard. They were beautiful, especially up close. But, it took my daughter’s concern for the bunny rabbit for me to recognize the pain of the situation as well. While there is nothing wrong with my enjoyment of something beautiful, it is wrong for me to ignore the simultaneous pain. My precious daughter, in that moment, was drawn to the pain of the situation that I, having been desensitized by decades of life, movies, and newsfeeds, barely noticed. Sometimes, I don’t even see the pain that exists all around me. And what is worse, sometimes I do not see how my ignorance allows the pain to continue.

But, I can choose differently.

The experiences that I had today, the people that I spent me time with, and the lesson I received from my daughter, can all contribute to different choices tomorrow. How can I walk in this life with a better awareness of the pain that exists all around me? How can I move past sentiment for those in pain and towards action for resolution? How can I be a follower of Christ who runs toward the pain instead of from it? As a voice in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, my friend Carlos Delgado asks the following questions:

How many millions of people throughout how many hundreds of years—how many voices crying out had I been taught never to hear? And how ought this Black suffering belong to my education, to my intellectual life, and finally to my actions in the world?

Lord Jesus, you, for the joy set before you, endured the cross for us. You ran towards the pain in order to bring us from death to life, from darkness to light. Teach us to better hear your voice and the voices of those who suffer around us. Give us the strength to offer our thoughts, our feelings, our actions, and our very selves to the purpose of your will be doing on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.

What Does the Pastor Do the Rest of the Week? or The Top Five Tasks of the Pastor

“Shepherding animals is a semiskilled labor. No colleges offer graduate degrees in shepherding. It is not that difficult a job; even a dog can learn to guard a flock of sheep…Shepherding a spiritual flock is not so simple.” – John MacArthur

empty-chairs-in-church-3888x2592_78169

The title of this article is “What Does the Pastor Do the Rest of the Week?” or “The Top Five Tasks of the Pastor.” I cannot tell you how many times I have been asked this question, sometimes in jest and sometimes with genuine interest. And, I suppose the question is understandable, as, often, people who attend church only on a Sunday have a difficult time imagining what the pastor does the other six days a week. So, a clear answer regarding the top five tasks of a pastor may be helpful.

The top five tasks of a pastor are: (1) to be a disciple of Jesus, (2) to make disciples of Jesus, (3) to shepherd and administrate the local church body, (4) to teach the local church body, and (5) to equip the local church body for ministry. John MacArthur notes that Titus 1:6-8 is the “standard for any pastor’s character and is thus the primary consideration in preparing for pastoral ministry” (John MacArthur, Pastoral Ministry: How to Shepherd Biblically, Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2050, 67). In other words, MacArthur argues that the primary task of being a pastor is to first be a disciple of Jesus Christ. Charles Spurgeon, likewise, says, “It should be one of our first cares that we ourselves be saved men” (Charles Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1979, 9). For this reason, Titus gives instructions to the character of the pastor as the first task of the pastor.

The second task of the pastor is to make disciples. In Matthew 28:19-20 Jesus says, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20, NIV). This instruction is given to every Christian, as the missional purpose of the Church. In this way, the second task of the pastor is to make disciples.

The third task for the pastor is to shepherd and administrate the local church body. Thus, MacArthur states, “The basic function of a New Testament leader is overseeing” (MacArthur, Pastoral Ministry, 89). And so, the third task of the pastor is to shepherd, administrate, and oversee the church).

The fourth task of the pastor is to teach the local church body. As mentioned above, part of the Great Commission in Mathew 28:19-20 is that new disciples be taught to obey everything that Jesus had instructed. In other words, the teaching and preaching responsibility of the pastor is very significant in the local church.

The fifth task of the pastor is for the pastor to equip the local church for ministry. Ephesians 4:11-13 says, “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of services, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-13, NIV). In this way, the pastor must be able to equip the church to participate in ministry as a body.

The list is hardly exhaustive, as there are countless other responsibilities that face a pastor on a weekly basis-correction and protection of the church body, just to name two more. But, the next time you here someone ask, “What does the pastor do the rest of the week?” here is a handy response.