Tuesday, Tuesday – November 2014

All the Duties of Your Ministry  (audio)

In Paul’s charge to Timothy in II Timothy 4, Paul tells Timothy to “discharge all the duties of your ministry.”

At ordinations and installation services, I often hear this read with an inflection that implies a concern that the pastor might not be faithful or diligent in ministry.

That is a message that some pastors need to hear, of course. Laziness can be a problem for pastors. But I think we also need to hear this charge with a different emphasis: “discharge all the duties of your ministry.”

Ministry stress and imbalance often comes when we try to do everybody else’s’ ministry as well as our own. We all understand the doctrine of spiritual gifts and callings, but as pastors we are prone to feel the expectation that we should be willing and able to do all parts of ministry, and do them well.

This view is harmful to both pastor and people. It’s harmful to the pastor, forcing him to constantly do ministry that he is neither gifted for nor called to do. It’s harmful to the congregation, leaving them with the sense that they can avoid serving because “we pay the pastor to do that,” and the idea that church work is best left to the pro’s.

I am completely hopeless when faced with a room full of Jr. High students. It’s not that I don’t care about them, I just have no ability to connect with them in a classroom setting. Because I was the pastor, I’ve given in a few times to the “somebody’s gotta do it, and you’re here” motivation and taught Jr. High classes. They’ve suffered and I’ve suffered every time. I do many things well, but not this.

Early in ministry, my wife, Bev, realized she was burning out in church work. When she backed up and did an assessment, she discovered that she had taken on nine different ministry roles in the church, ranging from very minor to very major. It happened very innocently. She saw a need, and wanting to be a good pastor’s wife, she stepped in. Most of the ministries were outside her gifts and callings, and they had begun to make church life a burden rather than a joy. She stepped away from a number of the jobs she wasn’t gifted for and discovered that each one of them had someone willing and able to take it on.

I’m not a crackerjack administrator. I’d like to be. I’ve read the books, attended the conferences, made the lists and otherwise tried to overcome my weaknesses, …but I’m still a mediocre administrator in my best days, and a disaster in the bad days.

I don’t like to reveal my weaknesses in ministry, so I’ve been too slow to ask for help and too reluctant to just say “No” to requests or demands that I commit to ministry outside my gifts and calling. But I’ve learned that when I step outside doing “my” ministry, everyone loses.

If God wants it done, He has gifted somebody to do it. If it isn’t you, all you’re doing by stepping into the gap is holding back someone else’s service to God.

Of course, there are times we all need to step in during an emergency and fill the gap. When the Junior High teacher doesn’t show up and the kids are starting to gather in the Sunday School room, I will step in. But I won’t say “Yes” to taking on the next six months of teaching.

Pastors, live by the standards you raise for your congregation. Discern your gifts and callings, then focus there. Operate out of your strengths. In the process, help your people learn to operate out of their gifts and callings.

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November 2014 Newsletter

PREPARE YE THE WAY!

John the Baptist had the unusual task of preparing the way for someone else. His whole ministry focus was getting the people of Israel ready for the coming of their Messiah, a Messiah whose identity he did not even know until well into his ministry.

I find myself in a similar situation. I’m not trying to compare myself to John the Baptist, of course, but my main job at DHF these days is preparing the way for someone else, someone whose identity I don’t yet know. I’m trying to do my part to “prepare ye the way,” and I want to ask you to make a special effort to do your part in the next few weeks as well.

My tenure at DHF will end on December 31. My greatest concern is that my successor be the one God has called to lead us into the future. The DHF board is working hard behind the scenes to find the next leader for our fellowship. Please pray for them as they wrestle with the possibilities and seek the leading of God.

I have one overriding concern as we work toward this transition, and that concern is financial. I have hesitated to say much about this for fear of seeming to be self-serving or a whiner. But you need to know the situation in order to respond appropriately to the leading of God for DHF.

This is the bottom line: For this calendar year, my salary has only been paid up through mid-May. I am grateful that DHF has been able to keep up my health insurance payments for the year, but the DHF board is facing a really tough task. How do you invite someone to take leadership of DHF when we’re half a year behind in paying the current leader?

I firmly believe that a new leader with fresh vision and energy will quickly turn the situation around. I don’t think at all that God is done with DHF. In fact, I see incredible opportunities for expanding the fellowship in the next few months. I am sorry to miss leading us through the next wave of opportunity, but it is clear that God is calling someone else to do that.

There are two things you can do that will help us make a smooth transition.

1. If you are able to make a special gift to DHF in the closing weeks of 2014, it will help us clear the decks for our next leader.

2. It would really help our DHF board to know that you are going to faithfully support DHF throughout 2015. We need to assure our next leader that he will have the ongoing support upon which to build a greater future.

Leadership transitions are always critical times in the Kingdom of God. We need to discern the call of God for a new leader and we need to get behind the one God calls.

I invite you to stretch your support for DHF in the next few weeks, and to make a note on the reply card indicating your plan to continue your support during 2015.

God has great things in store; let’s step up by faith and “prepare the way” for our next leader.

-Doug

DHF IN NORTH CAROLINA BECOMES A REALITY

Under the primary leadership of Gary Edens, pastor at Richlands Christian Church, and Lynn Maxwell, pastor of Pleasant Hill Christian Church, DHF in North Carolina has been organized as a regional affiliate of DHF. We have wanted to create such fellowships for many years, but haven’t had a lot of success. This time, it was the initiative and hard work of the regional group itself that pressed through.

We welcome them into the fellowship of DHF, and hope the model they have created can offer a template for more regional affiliates.

Welcome, DHF in North Carolina!

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November 2014 Elder Update

The Right Focus    (audio)

The Center for Disease Control recently released a study that said 110,000,000 Americans are infected with sexually transmitted diseases at any given time. Twenty million are newly infected each year, while some of the previously infected can be treated. The report was nearly unnoticed in the media.

At the same time, a few thousand people in West Africa have contracted the Ebola virus, and a handful of those infected have been brought to the US for treatment. The media is going wild with this story. Sales of survivalist supplies are surging, there are calls for blocking all flights from West Africa, people possibly exposed are being quarantined and experimental drugs are being fast-tracked.

Why is one epidemic virtually ignored and another given front page status for weeks on end? Ebola is a fast-moving virus with a very high mortality rate. Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are usually slower to show symptoms and often don’t lead to horrible deaths (though some do). But most important, to reveal that over a quarter of the US population has an STD would force us to admit that the sexual revolution has been a disaster for our nation. Too many people, especially  those in the media elite, insist on the narrative that it has been liberating to toss aside any and all sexual boundaries.

What does this have to do with church leadership? It’s a reminder that we tend to be blind to those things that challenge us personally, but often overreact to things that are abstract to our personal lives.

In the 1960s the conservative churches tended to ignore the civil rights movement while fighting  rock and roll music and long hair and beards. Then battles raged over speaking in tongues while  the church largely ignored the fact that Christians were abandoning marriage at an alarming rate. And on and on it goes.

Today I see churches shredded by battles over musical styles while oblivious to the huge numbers of people around them trapped in addictions and lifestyles that assure lifetime poverty. Churches struggle over whether or not they can put projections screens in the sanctuary while ignoring the fact they’ve not needed to fill the baptistry for three years.

Elders, you are the spiritual leaders of the congregation. Part of that leadership is keeping the right issues on the front burner. The most important issues are usually not the hot-button issues in a congregation. Sometimes we have to deal with those lesser issues, but part of your assignment as spiritual leaders is to keep the congregation’s attention on the things that matter most in the long term.

Keep asking, “How can we bring more people to Christ?” “What will enable more Christians to grow toward maturity in the faith?” “What areas of the church need special prayer to defend from spiritual attack? What is God calling this church to do to serve our community at this time? On whom of the weak and hurting around us are we called to focus ministry?”

Elders, don’t let yourselves get distracted from the deeper issues. Keep wrestling with the most important issues, whatever else you have to do as well.

Elders, lead your church with wisdom. Keep the main thing the main thing.

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Tuesday, Tuesday – October 2014

Keep Your Head (audio)

In II Timothy 4:5, Paul exhorts Timothy to “keep your head at all times.”

This advice to a younger pastor is still important. If you want to be the spiritual leader of a church, you’ve got to be able to keep your head.

If you are easily drawn into confrontation and argument, even if you win the battle, you will lose the war to become the pastor of your people’s hearts. If you get upset and despair when setbacks come, you will get a depressed, immature congregation. If you unthinkingly rush into every new idea or program that comes down the pike, you will quickly exhaust the patience of the church. If you allow every issue in the church to become a life-and-death struggle, you will find your whole life defined by conflict, not the Gospel.

“Keep your head” emphasizes the importance of staying in control of ourselves in the stresses of ministry. The more that others are emoting, falling apart, raging and so on, the more imperative it becomes that we stay calm and act as the adult in the room. Every church has some folks who thrive on emotional excess. If they can use that to draw you into actions you later regret, they own you.

I’ve noticed that in meetings where someone starts to get too loud and belligerent the only response that has a chance of bringing things back to sanity is a calm, positive, confident reply. It doesn’t have to directly challenge them. The contrast exaggerates their loss of control and gives them a chance to respond in kind. It’s not a guarantee of a good reaction, but joining the escalation of emotion guarantees that it will keep building.

What I say next can be misunderstood, but it’s important. It is important for pastors to keep their composure in times of grief and loss. The deeper the chaos of mourning, the more we need to stay in control of ourselves. I don’t mean a pastor shouldn’t weep with those who weep, but I mean a pastor shouldn’t join in the uncontrolled expressions of emotion that sometimes emerge when there’s a major loss. In that situation, a pastor represents both the love of God who mourns with His children, but also the peace of God who, seeing the big picture, doesn’t join in the despair or hopelessness that easily follows unexpected loss.

Keeping our heads also means keeping criticism in perspective. A friend of mine recently preached a sermon that will mark a positive watershed moment in the congregation’s history. He left the sanctuary in the joyful confidence that follows when you know you’ve made a difference by a single message. After the crowd thinned, he headed to his office to put his Bible and sermon notes away. A man from the church was impatiently pacing at the office door. He proceeded to lay into the pastor for an innocuous, offhanded comment he had made setting up an illustration. The offended man mercilessly pressed his point and demanded a public apology. When he didn’t get satisfaction, he went home and got on the phone to stir up some other folks.

When some of us met with him a couple of days later, he was still reeling from the attack. Anyone with a pastoral heart is devastated by this kind of frontal assault, especially when you can’t apologize because you haven’t actually done anything wrong. I’ve spent days and weeks trying to recover from this kind of incident.

Keeping our heads can mean getting the perspective to get up and keep moving after a paralyzing blow.

Pastors, keep your heads. You need it, your people need it.

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October 2014 Elder Update

Protecting Your Pastor  (audio)

The Secret Service is tasked with keeping the President of the US safe from harm. If you ever saw the video from the attempted assassination of President Reagan, you saw them in action, giving their full attention to getting Reagan into the car and out of harm’s way. Their first reaction was not self-preservation, but the president’s safety. The common saying is that they would “take a bullet” for him.

Elders, I want to encourage you to be the spiritual Secret Service for your pastor. I don’t think you can imagine how vulnerable pastors are, not to assassins, but to people who would like to see the pastor fired, humiliated or forced to bend to some particular agenda. Most of the time your pastor never mentions the anonymous letters, the attempts at intimidation or the veiled threats to his job, but you can rest assured he deals with them with more frequency than you’d imagine.

The most important thing you can do to protect your pastor, of course, is to pray for him.

But after that, the most important thing you can do is to be ready to come around him and protect him from the “biting sheep” in the congregation.

Now, before you protest, let me be clear: I don’t mean you should protect your pastor from legitimate criticism. I don’t mean you should protect your pastor from accountability. These things are appropriate and necessary when they come in the right way from the right people.

But as an elder team, you need to protect the pastor from inappropriate criticism and attempts to hold him to an accountability that is not legitimate.

Every church has a few people who seem to get some kind of gratification from criticizing pastors. Often, they have made a hobby of criticizing pastors for decades. To avoid setting off a congregational fight, church leaders often protect the critic rather than the pastor.

When the pastor comes under fire, look at two key issues:

First, was the concern handled according to Matthew 18? That is, did the critic first go to the pastor with the concern? Then along with a church leader? And only then did he or she deal with it beyond that small circle? If someone is just intent on stirring up conflict, the New Testament is clear that the job of leaders is to lovingly put the person out of the fellowship, not to give in to them.

Secondly, was the concern legitimate and was it significant enough to justify the negativity and chaos that follows open criticism? When someone threatens to quit attending or giving because of some issue of personal preference, refuse the bait and stand with your pastor. Don’t give in, or you will get a generation of similar blackmail over every issue that comes down the pike.

If it needs attention, take care of it at the appropriate level. If the pastor has violated the ethics of his office, it needs to be dealt with by you, the elders. Don’t allow it to go to a congregational vote if at all possible. If it’s just a disagreement over the direction the pastor is leading the church, you elders need to seriously consider whether that direction is of God or not, and work with the pastor to either confirm the direction or make appropriate adjustments. Again, if you allow this to go to a free-for-all congregational meeting, the Kingdom of God will be undermined. Accept the responsibility of your office, and stand for what’s right.

Unaccountable pastors are a danger to the church and to themselves. But pastors who are accountable to the entire congregation are put in an impossible spot. Step up to the plate and see that accountability is practiced at the right level and for the right reasons. Give your people the leadership they deserve in Christ. The elder’s calling includes protecting the flock. Protect your flock by protecting your pastor from “biting sheep.”

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October 2014 Newsletter

CHANGE IS IN THE AIR

Over time, all things change. DHF is no exception. We began as Disciple Renewal, a grassroots movement for biblical truth in the Disciples of Christ denomination. Then we added a fellowship of churches so those who left the DoC did not just drift into isolation. Then we dropped the effort to move the DoC to acknowledge the concerns of evangelicals and focused nearly all our energies into the fellowship.

During that time we moved from an all-volunteer staff to a part-time, then a full-time office administrator, then a full-time executive director, then two full-time ministry staffers, then one, then two, then back to one.

In recent months I have realized it’s time for another change. A few weeks ago I announced to the DHF Board that I would resign as head of DHF as of the end of 2014. It’s another change, but one we need to keep in perspective. I want to encourage you to keep several things in mind as the DHF Board plans for the future.

My first concern is that everyone understand that my departure is just a transition for DHF, not the end of anything. The ministry will go forward.

I also want to be clear that my decision was in response to the leading of the Holy Spirit, not any dissension or pressure within DHF’s leadership. We have a board that is united and healthy. They have consistently supported and encouraged me. Their choices for future staffing and direction will emerge from unity and love for Christ and DHF. Please pray wisdom and discernment over our Board as they seek God’s leading.

I am leaving this phase of my ministry with a good feeling. I have been able to spend years developing relationships with pastors and churches across this continent. I’ve been allowed to speak new ideas and strategies into many of those churches. I’ve been trusted to step into some very tough situations and try to bring unity out of division. I’ve been free to write on practical topics and advise churches in implementing the steps suggested. I’ve been blessed to serve God in this role. I am eager to see what God will do next through DHF.

DHF’s future will be envisioned through our next leader, but even before he is called, I am excited about the doors God is opening up for regional affiliates of DHF. A group in North Carolina is creating an area DHF group which will be a model for other areas. With some better administrative gifts in play, I believe this will be a key to a fresh move forward in strength.

At the same time, I strongly sense that DHF needs someone with a different set of gifts at the helm. After 14 years, any ministry begins to be strong at the leader’s strong points and weak at his weak ones. I sense the two places where DHF needs more strength are administration and fund raising. To a degree I can delegate administration, but a national ministry like DHF must have a top leader with skills at encouraging people to give generously. I’ve done well at this in the local church, but the kind of skills that work on the local level to not work as well in a para-church setting.

Bev and I are praying and seeking God’s next call on our lives. My core ministry calling is the local pastorate, and I’m sure God’s next call will be there, but we don’t know what church that might involve. We would appreciate your prayers for guidance as we search.

This letter goes primarily to those who have supported DHF financially. I am grateful for the sacrificial giving of churches and individuals. You have kept DHF strong through the years. I ask you to remain strong in your financial support so our next leader will not have to give undue attention to the money side of ministry.

Doug

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Tuesday, Tuesday – September 2014

Even the Best…… (audio)

I wasn’t particularly interested in the latest Apple announcement about their new technology releases, but apparently “techie” folks spent three months awaiting the big moment. The internet was full of speculation and predictions about the next generation of Apple products. The big moment arrived and a 90 minute presentation began, showcasing the i-Watch, the next generation of i-Phones and such.

Then it happened. The greatest tech company in the world lost its streaming capabilities and the presentation ceased on millions of computers. There was great wailing and gnashing of teeth across the land. It didn’t take too long for Apple to fix whatever happened, and the great show soon continued.

I was a bit amused by the technical glitch by the greatest technical minds in the business. If they can’t get it right, I don’t feel so bad about my own electronic klutziness. I don’t expect myself to get technical stuff right the first time. But Apple? Yeah, it was a bit of a surprise.

Even the best of us don’t get everything right every time. We know that in our heads, but sometimes our hearts still expect perfection, and when they do, we are regularly crushed by our disappointments.

For me, it’s particularly important in preaching. I want every sermon I preach to speak to people’s minds and hearts, hold their interest and motivate them toward Christ. It’s a great ideal, but a terrible expectation if I think I will succeed every time. I like to think I preach well most of the time, but there are those occasions when it just doesn’t seem to “click.”

I take heart from some past experiences. I remember a convention where one of the most noted preachers of the day spoke. It was apparently an off day for him. The sermon just didn’t work. As we left the auditorium, I heard one preacher say to another, “I’m so glad I heard that sermon. If he can preach a clunker once in a while, maybe I’m not so bad, either” At another meeting I eagerly went to hear a preacher who had written books on preaching and was known as one of the best. He bombed. He preached a mediocre sermon, then spent ten or fifteen minutes trying to land it. Just as I thought it was finally going to end, he’d sense that it still hadn’t delivered, and he started his conclusion again. And again. And again. He just needed to stop and accept the situation, but he couldn’t quit trying.

Pastors, I encourage you to strive for excellence in preaching and whatever else you do. But when you preach a clunker or say something clumsy in a meeting or schedule special music that ruins the service, accept it and keep moving.

Even the best have off days. Strive to have as few as possible, of course, but don’t allow yourself to be broken by the failure to be perfect every time.

We pastors are particularly vulnerable to discouragement. We let ourselves down, and we let our people down. And when we let our people down, some of them are more than eager to make sure we know it.

Don’t let a bad sermon or meeting take you down. You and I both know it will happen sometimes. Learn from the failure, but then get up and keep marching. You’re doing far more right than wrong. People need you at your best, not broken by discouragement. Accept that you’re imperfect, but also accept that you’re called and empowered by the Living God and keep giving Him room to work.

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Arise, Shine – September 2014

Hallowing The Name of God

By Sue Buttry

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September 2014 Newsletter

CONNECTED

(For the next several months these letters will feature messages from folks who have received ministry through DHF. We hope their stories will inspire you to stand with and support DHF as we encourage and lead church leaders)

It has often been said that a friend in need is a friend indeed, and this is certainly the case in ministry. As much as we don’t like to admit it, from time to time we encounter circumstances that are beyond our own ability to bear. Since individuals in our care often rely on us to be strong for them and help them through their crisis, we mistakenly may believe that any admission of a need for help is somehow an indictment against us and our ability to lead. Sadly, this mindset can eliminate divine counsel from being received.

I am reminded of Moses’ visit from his father-in-law, Jethro. I am sure that we all can relate to Moses in terms of the constant hard work that ministry requires, yet the truth is that sometimes we can find ourselves in situations that can drain us of our energy and the needed ability to think clearly and effectively solve problems. What do we do in these times? How can we come up with viable solutions when we ourselves are far too close to situations to look at them with unbiased eyes?

These are times when we need solid and trustworthy kingdom relationships. For this very reason, I am thankful for our relationship with Disciple Heritage Fellowship. DHF is a network of life-giving churches that offers relationships and resources that are invaluable at such times.

Recently our church went through a very difficult time. I was surrounded with complicated and complex decisions that had to be made, and to be quite honest, I felt very vulnerable and alone. I found my ability to clearly sort out and prioritize the many entangled issues I was facing was compromised. I prayerfully did my very best to make effective and godly decisions, yet I longed for some confirmation and counsel. I reached out to my DHF family and they were there for me with prayer, counsel and encouragement. Many of us in ministry dislike ever being on the receiving end, but I must confess that it meant the world to me. I literally felt strength and life being breathed into me and the situation became more and more clear. That is not to say it was any easier, but I was more able to effectively lead. Sometimes situations won’t change, but we certainly can.

The more I reflected on my situation, the more I felt that I had, in fact, been a better model to those I was called to lead because I was demonstrating how the body of Christ is supposed to function in support of one another.

The DHF network is making a difference in lives and churches all across America. I strongly encourage you to support the DHF network with not only your financial contributions, but also by getting more connected. A relational network is something that is best built in calm times, but then it is in place for the storms that occasionally come.

Get connected!

Michael Ten Eyck
DHF Board President

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DHF Elder Update- September 2014

Thrive  (audio)                 

LEADING to THRIVE

I’ve recently dealt with several churches struggling with the reality that they can no longer afford a full-time pastor. These churches have been full-time for a generation or more, but have slowly been dwindling, cutting a bit more here, a bit more there and staving off the big decision as long as possible. But the time has arrived for them, and they see part time ministry as their only hope for survival.

This may seem to be a topic more suited for pastors than elders, but I want to speak especially to elders about this. Here’s the bottom line message I want you to hear: In 2014, churches cannot just hold their own and keep turning the wheels and survive. Most churches today are either thriving or withering away. The difference between thriving and withering churches is not one of demographics or the local economy or the myriad of other explanations we often hear. The difference is in how the top level leaders of the church (that’s the elder/pastor team) view the church.

In withering churches, the top level leadership team is concerned with the survival of the congregation. Oh, they want the church to grow and add new people, but they want those new people to be well-adjusted families who already live like Christians, whether they are or not. They don’t really want people who mess up the stability of the church, who have serious addiction issues or who are in the country illegally. They want the kind of people who make good members of a religious institution, people who love to sit in committee meetings, people who offer to teach children, people who display classic upper-middle class values and lifestyles. The leaders of withering churches are pleased with the church when the bills are being paid, the pastor hasn’t upset anyone, attendance is stable and committee members are showing up for their meetings.

Thriving churches have a top level leader team that believes the church is on a mission for God. They don’t want to preserve the congregation, they want to reach messy people and change their communities for Christ. They love people who love hands-on ministry and hate sitting in meetings. They expect new people to be messy and to consume a lot of energy and attention as they struggle to put their lives in God’s hands. They expect to be stretched and challenged, because the church is on a mission that can only succeed if God Himself steps in. The leaders of thriving churches are pleased when they see lives being transformed, heartfelt worship being offered to God and people “not like us” receiving ministry.

Withering church leaders want to preserve their particular local church. Thriving church leaders want to see their local church fulfill a mission from God or die trying.

What kind of leadership are you offering your congregation? The attitudes and expectations you project will have a major impact on the rest of the congregation.

The top leadership of any congregation set the tone and the momentum. How are you doing?

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