3 Things To Do When A Pastor Leaves: an Open Letter

Dear Church,

When a pastor answers the call to go to another church there can be lots of thoughts and emotions. I want to address three of those thoughts. Please know that as much as I love you, my biggest desire is still to see you complete in Christ (Philippians 1:6, Colossians 1:28). So here are three things I think you should do in light of one of your pastors answering a call to go to another church.

3 Things to Do When a Pastor Leaves

  1. Remember: God has called you to the local body, not the man (Romans 12).

You were called to be a part of the body of Christ, not to the Pastor (Romans 12). Don’t get me wrong. I love you. But your calling, just like my calling is to a local church. Sometimes when a pastor leaves, we can be tempted to think that maybe we need to leave and explore other churches too. I want to encourage you, that we all play a part in the body of Christ. I’ve been asked a lot lately from those both inside and outside our church about why I was able to stay for nearly a decade as a student pastor at not only one, but two different churches (a rarity). My answer was simple. “I love the church.” I love the church so much so that I would rather suffer than see her suffer and so I stayed during seasons when it cost me personally but was a benefit for the congregation as a whole.  The only reason I’m leaving now is to answer a crystal clear calling. I don’t think it’s healthy to move otherwise.  When you leave a church, you don’t leave a pastor (or lack of a pastor in a certain position) so much as you leave all the other people.  There will be moments where it feels easy to leave, but I want to encourage you to stay with your local church unless you are sure God is calling you somewhere else. We all need to fulfill our calling in the local body.

2. Find your place and serve (1 Corinthians 12:4-27).

To that end, I want to encourage you to find your place and serve. If ever there were a time for you to discover how you benefit the church, today is the day. It is an all hands on deck opportunity. Often when God calls a pastor to another church it is so the church can grow by having individuals step up and fill the void. You have people in your midst who will be able to exercise their gifts and calling in my absence in a way that they would be unable to do if I were present. I rejoice at this! I earnestly desire that the church grow spiritually, numerically, and in influence in the community in my absence! My feelings won’t be hurt if the church does greater things than they did when I was there. I will be first in line to boast in what God is doing in your midst!

3. Trust your next shepherd (Ephesians 4:11-16).

Finally I want to acknowledge that you will call someone to replace me and IDEALLY they will conduct ministry differently than I have while I was with you. This is a VERY GOOD thing! So if you catch yourself thinking negatively, “this isn’t how Pastor Jonathan would have done it.” I want you, for the sake of the glory of God, rebuke that thought and think about this same phrase positively. Give him the benefit of the doubt (Philippians 2:1-11),  even if he were to speak negatively of me and how I did things (Philippians 1:14-17). Consider me his biggest fan.

I hope this helps you understand my heart for the Glory of God in the midst of this transition for both of us. I love you because of Christ. Please pray for me and my family as we transition to answer God’s call in our next church.

Your Partner in the Gospel,

Pastor Jonathan

 

3 Simple Habits We Have Adopted in our House to Honor Mom All Year

When I was a little boy I said something hurtful to my grandmother. A few moments later I saw the angriest version of my grandfather I had ever seen. It was just a conversation but I listened, as through tears of righteous anger, he let me know that was his wife that I had just insulted and he wouldn’t stand for it. The message was clear, “grandma was precious to him and she would be treated as such by me!” Somehow when he stood up for grandma, he had raised the level of respect in my heart for both of them.

I learned that day that husbands have a big influence in the way that their wives are viewed by their children.

I have another set of grandparents where my grandfather was an alcoholic and often verbally abusive and pushy towards his wife. I regret that as a child I did not regard this grandmother with as much honor and respect. My grandfather took her for granted and I’m ashamed to think that I did too as a child.

There came a point where I decided that I wanted to be more like my grandfather who was jealous (in a good way) for his wife and less like the grandfather who quite frankly mistreated his wife. I wanted something better for my marriage and for my children. So over the years I’ve adopted 3 simple habits and hope to adopt more to honor my wife in our home and in front of our children. 

Simple Habit #1: The first thing I did was I got the door for her. I know it’s a small thing, but for me it’s a heart thing. It’s one small way that I can demonstrate my love for her. My wife is very capable of getting her own door, but this is a simple way to honor her. My kids see this and think it’s normal. When my son was about four he walked one of the students from our youth group to her car and “got the door for her.” I want them to always think this way about their mother and about me. Small habits can sometimes teach big lessons.

Habit #2: I gossip about the goodness of my wife to our kids. From the time they were little they have heard me say, “you have got the best mom in the whole world! You need to honor her! God gave you an incredible mom!” When they were younger I would remind them about how she fed them, and clothed them and looked after their needs. I made it a point for them to know that I am truly their mom’s biggest fan. I go as far as to let them know that while I love them and want to be the best for them, that I love their mother most and I illustrate this by talking positively about her to them even behind her back!

Habit #3: The “Every Day is Mother’s Day” Motto. My wife truly does a lot, she’s not the kind of person you have to motivate, but the kind you have to slow down. She is very independent and will do everything rather than ask for help. So with the baby on the way we made a new rule in our house: “every day is Mother’s Day.” I love what this simple motto has done and is doing for both our children and my wife. It reminds my kids that they don’t need to be invited to do something like help their mother, but they can jump in and serve her like it is Mother’s Day. I also love watching my wife have to take a step back sometimes and let us help.  The other day I asked my son to do something to help his mom and he started to complain (he wanted to hang out with me) and so I simply reminded him that “Every day is Mother’s Day” and he stopped complaining and went right over and started helping his mom! He’s catching the vision.

What about you? What sort of things do you do in your house to honor mom all year long? We are always looking for more ideas!

 

3 Things I Taught My Son By Cutting The Grass.

Being a dad is a big deal. Last week I taught my seven-year-old to cut the grass (push mower). I was hesitant to unleash him with a spinning mechanical blade, but his mom wasn’t there to stop me so I went for it and I’m glad I did (just kidding, she trusts me). In the process we had several unplanned father-son moments as his attention was hyper-focused on learning to mow the grass. Here are a few that I caught myself teaching him.

cutting the grass

  1. Your Actions and Lack of Actions Affect Others.

Our first task was to fix the self-propelled components of the mower. Though he is a strong kid, he is just seven. Having the self-propelled component working would help him be successful. So we got out the tools, pulled the cover off and started cleaning things up and looking at why it didn’t work. As we were doing this together, he was goofing around and touching stuff on the mower. I knew there was no real danger since starting a mower is an involved process but I asked him, “What would happen to my hands right now if you accidentally started the mower?” Of course he knew by where my hands were that he would “cut them off.” I then asked, “Is that something you want to do?” Of course he didn’t. So I suggested that when someone is working on a machine the best thing to do is stand back and watch, unless you are asked to help.  We then talked about how all of our actions affect others.

2. It is Easy to Mistake The Symptoms for the Problem.

Once we were fixing the mower we talked about how what we perceived as the problem (the self-propelled component wasn’t working) was actually a symptom of the real problem. Likely a part had broken, a belt had slipped, or we simply got to much stray grass had gotten under the cover. As it turned out there was a ton of grass and the belt had slipped off. It was an easy fix. In the process though we talked about how in everything from lawn mowers to relationships that when something is broken, we often see the effects before we can analyze the cause. It takes wisdom to look for what caused the problem and fix it instead of just looking at the problem and complaining.

3. Always be on Guard Against Mission Drift.

Mission drift is common in everything from cutting grass to life in general. If we are not careful we will be more concerned with where we are than where we are going and in doing so we will end up way off course! Without a vision for what needs to be accomplished it is easy to worry more about pushing the mower than where you are pushing the mower too. He learned this all too quickly as the first few rows were crooked, leaving pockets of uncut grass in some places, and mowing over the same territory twice in other places. I shared that We must always keep an eye on what God has called us to or we will miss the mark simply because we thought more of the moment than we did the outcome. I applied this especially to living under authority. I shared that even I as a parent and pastor fall under the authority of scripture.  It’s easy to respond to the feelings of the moment, but wise men go back to what God has said and follow that path.

I’m sure that a lot of the conversation went over his head. Yet, it has also become a background song to his life. He knows more about cutting grass and more about life than he did a week ago. I’m reminded that our children often learn more from us as they join us in activity than they do when we sit them down to have a specific conversation. I’m always looking for those teachable moments.

COULD WE BE GETTING JESUS WRONG? (REVIEW)

Getting-Jesus-Wrong-smCould we be getting Jesus wrong? Author Matt Johnson thinks so, he’s done it. He offers a compelling read simply entitled Getting Jesus Wrong: Giving Up Spiritual Vitamins and Checklist Christianity. Matt offers several ways that Christians in America misunderstand Jesus. The first several chapters cover different ways that we have reimagined Jesus to be something more of a life coach, a visionary, a keeper of the checklist, etc. Through it all Matt is very transparent with his own struggles of how at different times he had different false images of Jesus in his mind. I appreciate this introspective look very much and Matt comes off as very approachable so when he turns his attention to the remedy the reader is willing to hear and weigh what Matt has to say.

This second part of the book from a pastoral perspective is golden because Matt simply comes back to the gospel. He reorients the reader to the simple facts of law, grace, and redemption through Jesus offering a better way forward in following Jesus than some of the false impressions he had tried earlier.

Over all I thought it was a great read. I enthusiastically recommend it as a brief look into the modern church and how if we are not careful we can lead folks astray. I really appreciate Matt and his heart in writing. You can find it on Amazon for a reasonable price, here.

An similar book written from a different pastoral perspective is Made in Our Image  by Steve Lawson.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received an electronic copy of this book free from LitFuseGroup.com as part of their Blog Tour Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission from Amazon. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

How A Widow Helped a Little Boy

When I was younger my dad told me that a particular widow always had ice cream sandwiches and coke at her house.  So once or twice a week I would stop by for a snack and a conversation. I wasn’t smart enough to figure out then that my dad had tricked me into regularly visiting Mrs. Robinson. As time drew on I went for the conversations more than for the sweets. God used my dad’s creativity and sweets to bless both Mrs. Robinson and me more than any gift he could have given either one of us.

widdow

As a little boy I never would have dared visit a widow from the church, but for ice cream sandwiches I’d knock on anyone’s door. I was a chatterbox back then, much like I am now, and would talk anyone’s ear off given the chance.  I also knew how to be polite and listen, especially when I was taking a bite out of a sweet treat. I was blessed to hear her talk about her life and how Jesus had walked with her through it all in the good and the bad.

I didn’t know it as a little boy, but I needed to hear how Jesus had helped her through the hard times. I needed to hear it and she needed to say it, because somehow in the saying, it reminded us both that Jesus was still there. What started out as ice cream sandwiches became worship. We didn’t sing songs. She didn’t break out any music. She just simply testified of what Jesus had done and maybe for the first time I saw someone who had a real relationship with God besides the people in my family.

Things changed, my family moved on, and we lost touch. But her life marked mine and I count her as my first true senior adult friend (other than my grandparents of course). I don’t think she or my dad set out to do anything profound other than introduce a little boy to a widow who could use some company, but it ended up being so much more than that.

As our society has transitioned, one of the things I miss the most is the cross generational conversations. We are fortunate to have several folks in the life of our family that we look up to and are blessed to count them as a friend. One of the things I hope my kids always experience is the blessing of Godly saints, telling true stories about how they have walked with God.

The Power of Prayer

When we pray for others we don’t often know the outcome this side of Heaven. There were some women who prayed for me several years ago and I thought I should share the outcome of their prayer.

Around 15 years ago my mom went to a Christian camp in Montana. While she was there she came across a group of women who were serving at the camp. In the midst of conversation my mother mentioned that she had a son in Mobile, AL. She had always known that God had a call on his life and she had a burden to see him go to seminary. These women mentioned that their church had a seminary extension center. They then took the time for a special moment of prayer with my mother, asking God to birth a desire and work out a plan for me to go to seminary.

I was around 23 years old at the time and had absolutely no plans or ambition of going to seminary. At the age of 25 I was gloriously saved and had submitted myself to a group of men from my church for oversight and prayer. They came together after a year and confirmed my call to ministry but felt it essential for me go to seminary. Through these men, perhaps one in particular, God provided for the full cost of my first few years of seminary. (I could not have afforded it otherwise).

I attended seminary through the extension of the very same church that these women were from and eventually graduated in 2012!

Recently I was talking with my mother and she shared the incredible story I just outlined for you. She has always known God had a call on my life and she could often see my path clearer than I could at any given moment. She wisely takes everything to God in prayer and when her prayers are answered she quietly points back to God and in doing so she has proven to me over and over again that God hears our prayers.  I know this because for years my room was next to my parent’s room and I have silently witnessed her pray for many people and seen many things come to pass.

I know without a doubt that much of my life is a product of the faithfulness of a praying mom. When it came to praying for me to go to seminary, she enlisted the help of a few women from a particular church, that had a seminary extension. I ended up not only attending seminary, but attending through the extension center at the church these women attended. These women prayed a small prayer with my mom, but heaven was listening and they played a small but crucial role in seeing me go to seminary.

I am humbled and blessed that God would listen to the prayers of these women, that he would move on the hearts of a few men, that he would organize and orchestrate things so clearly that I could see His hand. In a very real sense my ministry is a fruit of their faithfulness. One of many I am sure.

Unity is Good, But Why is it so Hard! (Meditations on Psalm 133)

A Song of degrees of David. Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard: that went down to the skirts of his garments; As the dew of Hermon, and as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion: for there the LORD commanded the blessing, even life for evermore. (Psalms 133:1-3 KJV)

Unity is good, but why is it so hard?

Do you have kids? I have 2 kids. I had visions when I was younger that when I had kids that I would tell them what to do and they would obey me. I would see people lose their cool with kids in public or have a kid on a leash or something and I’d judge them. I would think, “I’m not going to do that when I have kids.” Then I had kids and the first time I chased my kid across 3 soccer fields (he had a huge head start) I was looking up how to buy one of those leashes… I also dreamed that they would get along, but they can find away to get on each others nerves from two different rooms in the house.  Unity is good, but why is it so hard?

Anyone have to travel home for the holidays? There are four of us siblings and then most of us got married, and had kids. My parents have like 14 grandkids. Visiting is one thing, but staying is something else. Some people have room, but get a hotel room for their family to stay in when they travel just to save on the family drama. Then there is the gossip. There is always the black sheep of the family and they have always done something (by the way if you are thinking… not my family, we don’t have a black sheep… look in the mirror, you are probably it). Unity is good, but why is it so hard?

Then there is work, right? You work hard, do your best, and all of the sudden everything you were just working really hard on doesn’t count for anything and you have to start over on a new project because the higher ups had another great idea. Or your boss loves to dole out the criticism, but doesn’t seem to recognize what’s going on. You’re not the only one to notice this either. Sometimes you have a little prayer request session for the boss… never prayer… always prayer requests though… And if you’re the boss you are always wondering why people don’t just do their jobs. Why aren’t they happy with a paycheck, you don’t have time to go around and pat everyone on the head and give out golden stars… what is this kindergarten? Unity is good, but why is it so hard?

This is a Psalm of David written for the people to sing as they would come into Jerusalem, the Holy city, to celebrate one of the three major feasts they would have each year. It would be sung by travelers who met on the road headed for a common destination. They wouldn’t know each other but they would join each other in singing this song.

I find it interesting that David is the author. If anyone knew about the need for unity it was David.  David was anointed to be the next king of Israel when he was a young boy. He kills the giant Goliath in battle. He serves in the king’s court as a musician. He marries the King’s daughter. But Saul get’s very envious of David and tries to kill David on several occasions. David has several opportunities to kill Saul but never does. Finally Saul and his son Jonathan die in battle and David attempts to reunite the kingdom but Saul’s family rebels and for about the first 5 chapters of 2 Samuel Israel has a civil war. People are killing their own countrymen until a truce is called, the bloodshed is stopped and David is the rightful king, but there are some that still resent his kingship.

David knows what it is like to be leader and try to unite a people who seemingly don’t want to be united. I think this Psalm (song) serves as a good reminder that some things are bigger than the petty things that divide us.

There is something that can cause unity to occur among even seemingly total strangers on the road to a common destination.

UNITY IS WORTH IT

The first thing we note is that unity is both good and pleasant! Some things are good, but they aren’t pleasant. Vegetables are a classic example of something that is good. I mean no one doubts the general health qualities of fresh raw vegetables. But unless you have acquired the taste for raw broccoli it taste and looks like a mini tree. I remember one time my wife an I stayed at a hotel and we were a bit late getting to the breakfast buffet the next morning and all the good stuff was taken and everything that was left was just “good for you.” I was  scraping to get a few bacon crumbs so I could sprinkle them on my grapes and banana halves.

There are some things that are pleasant, but aren’t good. The world is full of things that we might enjoy a little too much, like a biting remark, or talking behind somebody’s back, that are not good.

But before we go on and address some of the difficulties of unity. King David wants us to know and sing up front that Unity is good but that it is pleasant. We should not only need unity, but we should want it!

What kind of sacrifices do you make for the things you want?

If you are in a hunting club, You are up there on weekends planting food plots, putting up trail cams, tracking where the deer are. Everything gets put on the back burner when dear season rolls around.

Maybe it’s your kids. No one is going to fault you for wanting the best for your kids, right? So maybe you want to get them in a better school and so you borrow grandma’s address or you move so your address will be right or you contact everyone you know so you can figure out how to get little Johnny or Suzie in the right district for school. Or maybe it’s not a district issue, it’s a private school and so that costs more money and you sacrifice there.

The first thing in this song is about how good and pleasant unity is and it’s there to drive in us a desire to go and get it. To find it, even if it costs us something, because it is worth it!

UNITY AS WORSHIP

In this next part David brings to mind the image of when the high priest would be anointed. Specifically he goes back to the first High Priest, Aaron. The high priest was someone who was set apart to mediate between Israel and God. The people know they had sinned against God and they needed someone who could make sacrifices, sin offerings on their behalf.

We were saying “unity is good, but why is it so hard?”  We’ll it is difficult because of our sin, isn’t it? We are sinful people. We sin against others and we are sinned against. Whether it be my sinful children terrorizing each other, or a family bickering about a situation, gossip at work, or even quarrels at church.

Sin separates us from one another and it separates us from God! When we sin we put a break or tear in our relationship. Just take the 10 commandments. If you steal from someone it affects your relationship to them. If you commit adultery it affects relationships in two families and then creates wider trust issues in the whole community. If you lie, if you disrespect your parents, if you murder… these things all have relational consequences. There is no unity where sin is practiced and tolerated.

The biggest problem we have with unity is that we are all sinful people. Not only are we separated from one another but we are separated from God by our sin! Paul writes in Romans 3:23 that, “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” The prophet Isaiah wrote, “your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God” (Isaiah 50:2).

For true Unity to exist, Sin has to be addressed!

In the context of this Psalm the high priest would be the one who would address the sins of the Nation of Israel before God. He would make a sacrifice to atone or pay for their sins. Every year on the day of Atonement there would be a national day of repentance and this high priest would reconcile the people to God.

The imagery here is that of the anointing of Aaron this man who was Israel’s high priest. When he was anointed they would use a ton of super fragrant oil that would pour out and all who were present would be able to smell it and thus were taking part in the ceremony. It covered his head, his beard, his robe, it covered everything.

This is important because it was abundant. It wasn’t anointing on a budget, but extravagant. It was this way to show what great love God has for us in that he would deal with our sins. His love is poured out on us. We deserve the wrath of God for the sins that we have committed but we receive the Grace of God through his appointed mediator.

The priest would be wearing a special vest that would have twelve stones representing the twelve tribes of Israel and as the oil flowed down it would cover over them all! This was another symbol of unity that this man didn’t make atonement or offer a sacrifice for the forgiveness or sins of just one tribe, but of all the tribes.

In our context we know that Jesus is our Mediator (1 Timothy 2:5); He is our high priest (Hebrews 4:14-16). We have the benefit of looking back on this now. We don’t have a high priest like Aaron. We have one better. We have Jesus Christ who made atonement for sins! He paid the price so that we might know God and have fellowship with him. His blood was poured out so that we might live.

The Apostle John wrote in 1 John 1:9 that, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to purify us from all unrighteousness.”  Also in Acts 3:18 we are told, “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out.” It is through the work of Jesus on the cross that we can even know God and come into a relationship with Him through the forgiveness of our sins.

When we do we become a part of his church. Unity is one of the hallmarks of Christianity. Where there is no real unity, the devil has crept in and there is no real Christianity. Jesus said in John 13:35, “By this everyone will know you are my disciples, by your love for one another.”

Our unity is worship because it is evidence that our sins have been forgiven and that we have forgiven each other.

However, we’ve all seen or been in social situations where folks put on a plastic face and smile for the camera, but you know there is deeper tension beneath the surface. There is a sin issue that has to be resolved. I’ll never forget there was a woman in my former church who HATED me. I didn’t know why. She tried to get me fired! I didn’t know what was going on until someone told me.

My pastor said to leave it alone, but I couldn’t leave it alone, because for unity to exist, sin had to be addressed. For all I knew I had sinned against her somehow. If that was the case, her reaction was wrong, but while there was this issue between us, there would be no unity in the church. So I pulled a Matthew 18 and went to see her and her husband, asked point blank what I had done to offend them and sought reconciliation.

And do you know what… we were reconciled! It was a misunderstanding. She thought she heard something and rather than give me the benefit of the doubt she assigned me thoughts and motives that weren’t even there at all. She said she was sorry for saying all those mean things about me and trying to get me fired. I said I was sorry for not being clearer in what I said.

Unity is a WITNESS

This last part can appear a bit mystical. If you don’t know your bible geography very well you’ll always read these passages and just consider them as difficult names. However if you have the book of maps in the back of your bible you can look for these. If you see a map of Israel and in the north above the Sea of Galilee is Mount Herman. In the south is Jerusalem which is often referred to as Zion. There is over 100 miles between the two.

Mount Herman is the tallest mountain in the region and often has snow on the top. The mountain of Zion in the summer months especially is dry and arid. There is no way the abundant dew from Herman literally fell on mount Zion.

So this is what we see when we read this, the song writer David says Unity is an abundance of refreshing dew, that doesn’t occur naturally where we are… in other words it’s supernatural! It is something that can only happen because God has commanded it!

When we are united in Jesus Christ it sends a message to the world that something supernatural is taking place in our midst. We are drawn together not because of our love for bowhunting, or a particular nascar driver, or even for an SEC football team, but because of Jesus Christ.