What is your pastor thinking?

Have you ever wondered what your pastor is thinking about in the lead up to Easter?

As I was getting coffee this morning, a lady in line wished me luck for the weekend. It was similar to what you might say to a football player before a big game. It kind of feels that way. A big buildup, lots of nerves, hyper planning, large crowds.

But it’s not the Super Bowl. It’s a church service. A celebration of the greatest event in history. Nobody loses. Everybody wins!

So, as I’m now sitting in a bagel store (does too much of my world revolve around food?), putting the finishing touches on the Easter message, let me tell you what I’m thinking. I’ll distill it down to five words:

How I nearly ruined Mother’s Day

I’ve got to admit – Mother’s Day is one of the most fear eliciting, stress inducing weekends of the year for me. It’s not so much about my ineptness in selecting a gift or honoring the mother of my house – Debbie. Although, I’ve messed that up more than once :-)


No, the trepidation comes from the annual exercise of trying to prepare and deliver a message that navigates the veritable minefield of emotions that women are feeling on that day. You’ve got women who are: mom’s, want to be mom’s but haven’t been able to yet, mothers who’ve lost a child, women who’ve lost a mother recently, moms with wayward children, women who have lost their husbands, women who would LIKE to lose their husband, women who would like to find a husband, career moms, stay at home moms. The list goes on.

I try to do my best but over the years, admittedly, there have been times that my sermons probably did more harm than good. My heart was right but my sensitivity meter was broken. Clueless might best describe it.

Honestly, we could probably just blow right thru Mother’s Day. Ignore it from the pulpit. It not in the Bible. Just a few years after it became a holiday, the person who created it was arrested for disturbing the peace while protesting against it. We could just take a pass and avoid the potential pain entirely.

That’s probably the best idea, but unfortunately it’s not the one I’ve chosen. I still think its a great weekend to tackle issues that impact women and give them an encouraging word from the wisdom of God. We’ve just got to be less clumsy.

So here’s what I’m doing this year:

  • First – Debbie sat me down and made me read this blog post by Amy Young. It was golden! I was going to innocently violate the most basic no-no – asking mothers to stand so I could pray for them. I would have ruined Mother’s Day for someone. Good catch Deb!
  • Second – I made a list of several women who represented some of the above mentioned stations in life and then asked them to help me with the message.
  • Third – I’m praying like crazy that God will use it in a powerful way.

Now I’m really looking forward to Mother’s Day. It should be great – if I don’t figure out a new way to mess it up :-)

Why do I feel this way on the day after Easter?

As a pastor, you have a variety of emotions on the day after Easter. Since this is my 25th Easter (we’ll celebrate that later this year), I’ve experienced all of them at one time or another – sometimes all on the same Monday.

Sometimes you feel…

  • Delirious – The service went great, or your neighbor came for the first time, or you broke through a growth barrier and you feel like you’re walking on air. We’ve had a few of those in our time. I can remember being dog tired on Sunday afternoon but wanting to take a walk in the neighborhood just to talk to God about my feelings. I couldn’t believe that he would use us like this. I couldn’t believe how many people came to church on Easter. We broke through a growth barrier on this our 25th year. It never gets old.

Highlights from my 2nd day in Israel

I’m about to wrap up my second full day in Israel.  Here’s what’s going on…

[slickr-flickr tag=”BlogIsrael1″ type=”slideshow” size=”large” sort=”date” direction=”ascending” delay=”7″]

Wednesday afternoon we arrived and stayed our first night in Tel Aviv.

  • We stayed close to Joppa, the city that Jonah caught a boat going the wrong direction and also the city that Peter saw a vision to eat things that he thought were unclean.  Because of Peter’s vision, Joppa might be called the city where outreaches to Gentiles began.
  • I slept thru the night. (Praise God!)

Thursday we visited several sights:

  • First stop was Caesarea, a beautiful city with a port built by Herod the Great not long before Jesus birth. Peter went to visit Cornelius there, preaching to the first Gentile converts. Paul had a hearing before Felix in Caesarea before going to Rome as a guest of the Roman government.
  • Second stop was Mt. Carmel, where Abraham offered Isaac as a sacrifice by faith.
  • Next we visited Megiddo and Tel Yizre’el, where Ahab and Jezebel had a summer palace.  It is also the place where Jezebel was thrown off the walls to her death.
  • First days learning: If Ahab was judged on his accomplishments he would be considered a success.  The Bible says otherwise.  It was never the intention of God for the King to become powerful and famous.  He wanted him to just be obedient and dependent on him.  God’s metrics are different than mine, most of the time.

Today we visited several more sights:

  • First, the ancient synagogue of Arbel, located on the road between Nazareth, Jesus boyhood home, and the Sea of Galilee. The fields were full of wild flowers.  As I spent time reflecting this morning, I could imagine Jesus teaching his followers not too worry and using the wildflowers as examples.
  • Next we went to Zippori, an ancient city where Jesus father Joseph may have helped in construction
  • We spent the afternoon with an Orthodox Jewish community, making bread and learning about life 2000 years ago.  Absolutely one of the most fascinating experiences in my life.
  • In the late afternoon we visited Nazareth and the church that sits where the boyhood home of Jesus probably was.  We received a private tour of excavations not normally seen.  It will change how I approach preaching on Christmas.

I am now back in our hotel on the Sea of Galilee.  Hoping to get another good nights sleep then it’s off for more adventure tomorrow.

If you’d like to see more pictures, you can click HERE.


When people leave – Pt 2 How did Jesus handle rejection?

(To read the first post in this series click HERE)

I was reading John 6 the other day and the headline above verse 60 screamed out at me: “Many disciples desert Jesus”.

I wondered how that made him feel. Seriously.  Go with me here.

I know he was God. And I know he knew in advance who would be staying and who would be leaving. But I also know he was human like me, capable of human emotions even when he knew the outcome. Like when his friend Lazarus died. He knew that he was going to raise him from the dead, but the shortest verse in the Bible says that “Jesus wept” anyway. He cried. Like I cried when my best friend died in a car wreck. It makes me feel better to know that he was capable of feeling what I feel.

So how did he feel when disciples started bailing?

You get the feeling that these weren’t just faces in the crowd. By this time the crowds had grown extremely large. He has just finished a miracle of feeding at least 4,000 people. That’s the second time he’d done that one. People were so desperate to see him that they literally chased him across a lake. When some of them misunderstood something he taught, they started grumbling about it. Some of the crowd decide that he was getting a little to full of himself and they start to leave. The murmuring grew until many of those close to him, his disciples, decided to quit following. They weren’t just faces and you get the feeling that they didn’t go quietly.

How did he feel? How did he process it?

At that point he turns to the ones that he is closest too, the Twelve, and he asks, “Are you going to leave too?” Hit the pause button. What are the emotions of those words? Words are never spoken in a vacuum. There is always texture and feeling and context. What were his? What was he thinking?

Honestly, we don’t know. He’s God and we are not. But I think we can learn some things from Jesus about a healthy process when people leave.

  • Be secure in the Fathers love. There was never any doubt in Jesus mind about whether or not the Father loved him. I’ve got to believe that he knew his worth had nothing to do with how many were at the synagogue this Sabbath as compared to a year ago. The echo of the words of his baptism, “This is my son and I am really pleased with him”, can’t be under estimated. A friend told me recently that our first thoughts every morning should focus on how much our Father loves us. Everyone else may think you are a jerk, but hey, what difference does it really make if God loves you?
  • Try to play for an audience of one. Jesus says in verse 38, “I have come to do the will of God who sent me, not what I want.” There’s a lot of pressure in trying to please everyone. As the crowd grows there will be more voices clamoring for your attention and potentially becoming offended if you don’t play their hand. One is a much less stressful number.
  • Learn to process it with your inner circle. Even Jesus didn’t go at it alone. In response to his question Peter says, “Where are we going to go? You have the words of life.” You need people like that. “I’ve got your back” type of people. Sure you need some who will tell you when you’ve got spinach in your teeth, but you also need a few “I’m not going anywhere boss” types for situations like these. Do you have people like that in your inner circle? Do you have an inner circle?
  • Trust in God’s sovereignty. Jesus knew ahead of time who would leave and who would stay. You and I don’t. It would be a great gift to have. It would certainly save time and a lot of grief. You may not know, but God does. And according to Romans 8:28, he’ll weave it into the plan in a way that serves both yours and his best interest.

The bottom line: When people leave for whatever reason, God’s got your back. What else do you really need?

Question for pastors: How does Jesus example help?

Question for church members: Does your pastor know you’ve got his/her back?

When people leave – Part 1

If you are a pastor, you know how it feels.

It’s the phone call, the appointment, the whispered news. “We’re leaving the church.”

As much as they say “It’s not about you”, it usually feels like it is. It starts as a lump in the pit of your stomach that slowly makes it’s way up the twists and turns of internal plumbing, until it gets stuck firmly in the back of your throat. You didn’t see it coming and the hurt is commensurate to the level of the relationship. The closer the connection, the more intense the pain.

I watched my Dad and Mom deal with it in churches when I was growing up. Dad externalized, Mom did the opposite. She would hide her hurt behind the duties of raising a family, but I’d see her tears and wonder what was really going on. You didn’t have to wonder with dad. He would sometimes vent his hurt on those who didn’t leave, using thinly veiled references in sermons or conversations. These days I see evidence of the same in hurting pastors twitters and blog posts. It’s hard to keep communication above the fray when your heart feels like it’s been kicked to the curb.

None of us are immune. In the early days of starting Seacoast, I used to wince when someone asked for an appointment. “Was this another ‘core team member’ hanging up their spurs?”, I’d think to myself. It seemed to happen about once a month and I’d become a little gun-shy. Even these days I’ll feel that lump from time to time.

Occasionally, when I meet a newcomer that has transferred from a local church, I’ll wonder how much pain our “success” has caused area pastors?

Why do people leave?

  • Sometimes people leave because of a misunderstanding. Some of the people who left in the early years thought that Seacoast was going to be different than it was. Some couldn’t understand the vision or wanted it too be more like the mother church or another church they had been comfortable in.
  • Some people leave because of an offense. A lady told me once that her family was leaving the church because I had not acknowledged her or her husband in several social settings. Truthfully, I couldn’t recall any of them, but they had left an impression on her, so they left. Often they are offended with others in the church and rather than facing the issue, they just leave.
  • Some people leave because the excitement of the new has worn off. Long term relationships are difficult to maintain, whether it be in a marriage, a friendship, or a church relationship. In our bigger, better, faster culture it’s easy to become enamored with the new and shiny rather than put the investment in renewing what seems old and dull.
  • Some people leave because it is the sovereign will of God. He has a new assignment, a specific mission, or a better fit somewhere else for this season of life. Almost everyone who leaves chooses door #4, and for some, it’ may actually be the true motivation.
  • So, how do you respond?

  • Some leaders internalize it – they become paralyzed by the rejection. They risk isolation and distancing themselves from future relationships in order to avoid further pain.
  • Some leaders externalize it – they lash out to anyone who will listen. They risk collateral damage as they are processing thru their pain.
  • Some leaders learn from it – they realize that sometimes people leave. They learn to process it in a healthy way and move forward stronger from the experience.
  • Next time we’ll look at how Jesus handled the rejection of close followers and suggest some ways that leaders can survive when people choose to leave.

Does this ring true to you? Have I missed anything so far?

To read Part 2 – “How did Jesus handle rejection?” you can click HERE