Tag Archives: Ministry

Fall To Grace, Not From It

This time it’s Perry Noble.

Perry Noble was founding and Lead Pastor of NewSpring Church in Anderson, South Carolina. NewSpring is a mega-mega church 17 campuses and a weekly attendance of around 30,000 people. Perry was removed as Lead Pastor of NewSpring after admitting to alcoholism and “unfortunate choices.” It is a sad time for NewSpring Church and for the Church of Jesus Christ.

I have heard Perry Noble preach. I  have also heard and read things about his church and ministry that have caused me pause and made me question his orthodoxy in certain areas. However, to give him the benefit of the doubt, I pray that he had been genuinely engaging people with the gospel.

This isn’t the first high-profile pastor that has made a mistake. In recent memory  we have seen Mark Driscoll resign from Mars Hill Church and Acts 29 removed him from the organization (even thought he founded Acts 29) because of controversy surrounding, what has been called, abusive behavior toward church members, ex-church members and ex-staff. Mars Hill Church then announced that it would dissolve and sell all 14 campuses.

We have also seen the fall of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church pastor Tullian Tchividjian (who is Billy Graham’s grandson) who resigned after confessing t0 extramarital affairs. There’s also the revelation from Naghmeh Abedini who filed for separation from her husband, Pastor Saeed Abedini, who was the Irania American pastor imprisoned in Iran because of “allegations of physical, emotional and spiritual abuse.”

As I mention these three “high-profile” examples, I’m sure you know of others- both locally, nationally and internationally (like South Korean pastor David Yonggi Cho who was convicted of embezzling $12 million from his church).

With all these example of pastors falling from grace, what are we to do? What do we do as Christ followers? What do we do as church leaders?

There is a lot that could be said, but I believe it can be boiled down to one overarching idea: fall to grace, not from it.

The phrase is not unique to me and it summarizes many of the other points. It reminds us that we all need grace. We are all sinners saved by grace. And we continually need grace because, though we are saved sinners, there is still the desire to sin within us. All of us are one mistake, one bad decision, one lapse of judgment away from being a thief, murderer or adulterer. That realization is a sobering one. It’s only by pressing into Jesus and falling into God’s grace each moment that helps us put to death the sinful nature and walk in the Spirit.

When we fall into the temptation that our strength, our ministry, our very life are derived from anywhere else but Christ, we move one step closer to falling from grace- in the eyes of those around us; we can never fall from God’s grace. When we don’t continually fall into God’s grace, rest in him and rely on his strength, we find that we will be let down by others and we will let others down.

I can’t say that I will never make a mistake. I can’t say that I will never let my wife, my children or my church down. I can’t say that I will never say the wrong thing. But I can say (because I believe it to be true) that the further I fall into grace, the harder it will be to fall from it.

 

References:

Alcohol Abuse, Perry Noble, and the Church’s Response” by Ed Stetzer

How a Megachurch Melts Down” by Ruth Graham

Tullian Tchividjian Confesses Second Affair Concealed by Two Coral Ridge Elders” by Morgan Lee

The strange case of the pastor released from Iran and his wife’s abuse allegations” by Bob Smietana

FYI: You Aren’t God; Don’t Try to Be

Unknown-1I’ve been reading The Imperfect Pastor by Zack Eswine. It is a phenomenal book that is a must read for every pastor, minister and Christian who serves in ministry. Each ones of these groups face a temptation, Eswine argues, the same temptation that faced Adam and Eve- to be like God. It is the temptation to do everything, be everything, know everything for everyone and to do it as quickly and as famously as possible. Seeing the problem in this way, we can see how it’s only a matter of time before we go down in flames. We, whether a pastor, minister, ministry leader, ministry volunteer, simply cannot do everything, be everything and know everything for everyone- we aren’t God.

But we still try to be.

Technology helps us in our attempts to be like God. What we do and what we know can be placed before hundreds or thousands of people all with the click of a button. We are told to expand and build our platforms- which is a nice way to say that we need to make ourselves more famous. If you want to get the promotion, you have to promote yourself, in other words. We are also encourage to move up quickly; to lead to company, chair the group, add followers. It’s only the leaders who matter.

These are all our temptations to be like God. And if we try to be like God, we will go down in flames. And as ministry leaders, we may actually hinder people from knowing the real God because, as little gods, we block the way.

How can we resist this temptation?

Eswine suggests that we need to change our perspective to see the extraordinary in the ordinary. He writes, “when did it happen that a life purposed to help ordinary people in their ordinary struggles locate God became too small a thing?” Of course it’s not too small a thing but we are tempted to believe that it is. Where do you feel that tension? Where do you feel like your life purpose to ________ became too small a thing?

The same holds true if we flip the saying: we need to change our perspective to see the ordinary in the extraordinary. Last weekend I was at a training workshop where we did some things that were extraordinary but (as the leader for the weekend said), they should really be the ordinary way we live. We told our stories. We listened. We looked past exteriors and into the heart. We took time to listen to God before speaking. Shouldn’t that be the ordinary way followers of Jesus live? Shouldn’t listening to each other and listening to God be our ordinary way of life?

If you are a follower of Jesus, the Bible tells you that you are: beloved, made alive, holy, redeemed, righteous, rescued, chosen, adopted, shown mercy. Nowhere does it say that you and I are God. We need to stop trying to be.


Bibliography:

Eswine, Zack. The Imperfect Pastor: Discovering Joy in Our Limitations Through a Daily Apprenticeship with Jesus. Crossway, 2015.

 

Shoes, a Sales-Pitch and the Church

Stephen Curry is already being called the greatest shooter of all time but I still hope the Spurs will beat them in the Playoffs. Photo from USA Today.

Stephen Curry is already being called the greatest shooter of all time but I still hope the Spurs will beat him in the Playoffs. Photo from USA Today.

Nike lost Stephen Curry; the church is losing a generation.

Last week the sports site ESPN ran an article by Ethan Strauss on the events that led current NBA MVP Stephen Curry to leave the shoe and athletic apparel company Nike. I was first made aware of the article through a summery written for Bleacher Report by Kyle Newport.

Strauss’ tells the story of Curry’s shoes. In the NBA shoe endorsements are a HUGE deal. Companies pay athletes millions of dollars (sometimes even more than what they make playing basketball) to wear (and therefore entice the public to buy) a certain brand of shoe and clothing apparel. Since Michael Jordan the pinnacle of the shoe brand has been Nike.

Back in 2013, Stephen Curry was an up-and-coming NBA star. His stardom hadn’t yet exploded but he was a player that was definitely on the way up. He was a Nike athlete and when the time came to re-up his contract, it seemed that Nike had the deal all but done- but then they blew it.

Under Armour shoe ad with Stephen Curry

Under Armour shoe ad with Stephen Curry

Strauss tells that, according to Stephen’s father who was present, the Nike executives made several huge errors that caused Stephen to ultimately leave Nike and sign an endorsement deal with Under Armour. The first was they mispronounced Stephen’s name- and no one corrected it. Second, they used a Powerpoint presentation (which was out of date even in 2013) that was prepared for the sales pitch to another NBA star. Stephen’s father said the presentation still had the other player’s name on it along with material specific to that particular player. Third, Stephen wanted to participate in the Nike basketball camp program, since he went to them often as a kid, however the prospect of a camp wasn’t on the table as far as Nike was concerned. So Stephen Curry left Nike and went to Under Armour.

What does all that have to do with the church losing a generation?

The mistakes that Nike made in their sales-pitch to Stephen Curry are the same mistakes that churches are making today when it comes to the largest yet most religiously apathetic generation ever- the Millennial generation.

Courtesy of the Barna Group

Courtesy of the Barna Group

First, far too often the church is speaking to the wrong audience. This is like the Nike executives mispronouncing Stephen Curry’s name. I’m sure you’ve been in a situation where someone calls you by the wrong name. Maybe you understand the first time but if you correct it and it continues to happen you know that the other person just isn’t listening to what you’re saying and you, in turn, tune them out. The same thing is occurring in our churches today. Millennials see the church speaking to audiences other than them. Or if the church does attempt to speak to them, many times it’s mispronouncing who they are, what they value and what they are seeking out of life.

Second, the church can’t simply repackage what its done before. Just like it’s inexcusable for Nike to repackage a presentation obviously created for another athlete, the church cannot repackage it’s old “presentations” and hope that Millennials don’t notice. Details matter. One of the main points in Strauss’ piece is that Nike failed to play to Stephen’s ego; they failed to show that he was going to be a major piece in their company and not a second tier athlete. This generation doesn’t need it’s ego stroked but it does need to know that it deserves something new, distinct, creative and to know that they are not second tier.

Third, the church isn’t providing for the deepest desires. For Stephen Curry, his desire was to give back to aspiring basketball players through Nike camps and when it appeared that Nike wasn’t sharing that desire, he went to a company that did. What are the desires of Millennials? Being a Millennial I can speak to some of our desires. We desire relationship and community with each other and across generational lines. We value being involved in something bigger than ourselves, especially if that “something” is trying to make a real difference in the world. We want to be connected to the past, as well as, to the future. We desire to be challenged to do big things. Most of all we desire to be loved and accepted.

I’ve written this post about how the church is making a sales pitch to the Millennial generation but the church isn’t trying to reach only them. The church is making a sales pitch to Baby Boomers, African Americans, Asian Americans and Hispanics. The church is making a sales pitch to people with graduate degrees and those with no education. The church is making a sales pitch to the highly spiritual and the atheist. No matter where your church is located or who you and your church are in position to reach, the truth is if you haven’t thought about the ways and the message you are communicating, then you’re probably driving people away, not from Nike, but from God.


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Introduction to “Benchmarks”

In this week’s post is the introduction to a mini-book that I have been working on. The subject of the mini-book is mentoring and discipleship and, specifically, how do you measure the effectiveness of mentoring and discipleship within a Christian community or a mentor/ mentee relationship. I am in the process of formatting the work into a pdf that will be available for free download on this blog in about a week.

Introduction to Benchmarks: How Do You Measure the Effectiveness of Mentoring?

This mini-book was birthed out of almost a year of thought. It began as a Bible study I taught to a group of college students over Colossians 2:6-7, the text we will examine closely in this book. It then morphed into a blog post that was featured on the website of LifeWay Christian Resources’ Threads Media and the Baptist General Convention of Texas’ Collegiate ChurchLife Network. From there, the ideas and principles tossed and turned in my mind over the subsequent months. My plan was to put these ideas on paper in order to implement them into the mentoring and discipleship program that I hoped to begin at the church where I served as College Minister.

However, I never had the chance to implement any of these ideas. After just a year as a college minister, a new Executive Pastor decided that the position was not needed and cut it. With that, the idea was placed on the backburner, so to speak. But I decided that even if I could not use the ideas at this point, I would make them available for others to read and incorporate as they see fit.

This is not an exhaustive book on the subject of mentoring and discipleship- as you might expect since it is less than 20 pages. I am not an expert in mentoring and I admit that I am not even very good at it. However, I know mentoring and discipleship are vital for the Christian life and it is vital for ministers, mentors and Bible teachers to understand what mentoring is, why it’s important and how to do it. Essentially, this is a book written to myself as I studied and thought about how to mentor within our current culture. More than anything, I think ministers, mentors and Bible teachers need help in knowing whether or not they are on the right track as they disciple, mentor and teach.

This book seeks to answer that question. It seeks to examine, by way of Paul’s words in Colossians, five benchmarks that can be used to measure the effectiveness of mentoring and discipleship. I pray that you will find this book, and the ideas within it, helpful. I pray that it will encourage you to start mentoring or continue to mentor. Finally, I pray that it challenges you to mentor better, disciple better and teach better so that this generation will have the tools to mentor, disciple and teach the next generation. With that, let’s jump in and answer the question, “What is discipleship?”

© Ryan Vanderland 2013