Ministry Life Wed, 01 Oct 2014 16:32:32 -0400 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb 6 Reasons Your Musicality Has Stalled

In this post, I'm going to outline six reasons that your musicality isn't as strong as it could be, in hopes that you'll re-imagine your instrument and rediscover the joy of music.

1. You're stressed. It's impossible to avoid stress, but it's an acquired skill to ignore it. Your best music will be played when you're relaxed. Before showtime, develop a ritual that helps you relax. Ever hear of Michael Phelps? Yep—he approached every competition with the same routine. It helped him not only relax but visualize the win. Go for a walk, massage your hands, take deep breaths, trust the Holy Spirit to work in and through you.

2. Your instrument doesn't feel natural. The best musicians, by far, are those who have developed a close relationship with their instrument. Please, don't misunderstand me and start taking your guitar on movie dates. That's the fast track to complete social awkwardness. What I mean is that you've worked with, held and practiced your instrument enough that it feels like a natural part of you. Any musician who just starts to play an instrument lacks this. But it can be done, and it doesn't have to take 10,000 hours.

3. You're too critical. Most musicians have perfectionist tendencies. This can be harnessed for good or for ill. On the bright side, you're driven to accomplish. You want to get it right. On the other hand, you can become so critical of your performance that you never enjoy it. You never actually step into your full potential because you're wasting too much emotional and mental energy hating on yourself. Reserve that energy for being expressive, loving the sounds you're creating, and getting lost in the music.

4. You don't practice creativity. Learning and mimicking another musician is a great thing—a fantastic way to learn quickly. But too many musicians never move on from this. They don't learn how to improvise, take risks, try new things, create their own melodies, and innovate. Yes, you should mimic and learn from others. But be sure to create space in your schedule for creating something new. Become fascinated with tone, sound, melody and harmony again.

I challenge my students all the time: Create something new every day. Sit with your instrument and just get started. Stop over-thinking, over-analyzing and judging. Just flow with the music.

5. Your heart seems disconnected. Great music has more to do with the heart than you may think. It's not just about technical prowess and perfect execution. Great musicians feel something. They want to express something. They want to influence, inspire, encourage, change the atmosphere with their playing.

So try this: The next time you play in front of people, don't just play the part. Visualize the glory of God in your mind, and use your instrument to express that for others. Help them see a little clearer, feel a little deeper.

6. You're not sharing your gift. One of the fastest ways to stall as a musician is to only play music for yourself. When you don't have a place to play, people to play for, and you're not counted on as a part of a team, you'll stop growing. Music was meant to be shared. Don't just wait for opportunities; seize them. Don't just wait for paid gigs. Get out there and play all you can.

On another note, some of you may need to set a deadline for a song you're writing, a project you've dreamed about, a musical idea you've had brewing. Creativity begets creativity. You may never know what's possible until you release your work.

Music is a journey. We'll never unravel the full possibilities of what we can do with it. So shake off the dust, and approach your instrument with a fresh perspective.

There's a world waiting to hear your creations.

Question: What inspires you to keep growing as a musician? How do you keep it fresh? Please leave a comment below.

David Santistevan is the worship pastor at Allison Park Church in Pittsburgh. For the original article, visit

]]> (David Santistevan) Worship Wed, 01 Oct 2014 16:00:00 -0400
4 Things We Can Learn From How Jesus Ate

Did you know that 80 percent of the gospel accounts are made up of Jesus either going to or coming from a meal? Many of his miracles surrounded food, his ministry happened around the table, and his first miracle was turning water into wine.

I don't know about you, but it sounds to me like Jesus may have been a bit of a foodie.

I was taking communion this weekend and was struck by the significance of the last supper. Jesus used bread and wine as the staples of his last evening with his disciples. He used it to symbolize the sacrifice he was about to make. He linked his death and resurrection, the gospel of our salvation, to something we eat, to something tangible—to bread and wine.

I love the way Leonard Sweet talks about Jesus and food: "The gospel has been summarized as 'Jesus ate good food with bad people.'"

Eating was a major part of Jesus' life and ministry, and it should be in ours too.

Here are four things Jesus taught us by how he ate:

1. No one is "beneath us." In Jesus' time, maybe even more than now, there were certain people you just weren't supposed to talk to. Jesus' interaction with the woman at the well is a perfect example. She was a sinner, a woman, and a Samaritan—all things that made her a social pariah for a Jewish man like Jesus.

But Jesus didn't care what people thought of his choice of friends.

There wasn't a requirement for who could eat with him, an entrance exam or a pedigree necessary for an invitation to his table. Jesus ate with everyone. No one was beneath him.

And the same should be true for us.

2. The table is a great place for ministry. In ministry, our goal is to make connections. The best ministry happens when a relationship is formed and when people are able to come together to discuss their lives.

The table provides this better than any other place because it facilitates this kind of connection. A meal is a time removed from the busyness of life, reserved for conversation and nourishment—both physical and relational.

Jesus spent so much time eating with people because he knew the kind of connection that happens when people gather together over a meal.

The table should not be overlooked when it comes to ministry. If you want to connect with someone, or get to know someone, ask yourself: What would Jesus do? Invite them over for dinner.

3. Sinners wanted to eat with Jesus. Jesus ate with sinners, we know that, but the thing we fail to realize is how much the sinners wanted to eat with Jesus. How do you relate to people outside the faith? Are you loving them or are you converting them? There's a difference. Do they feel important when they're around you? Or like they're a project?

Often we make it our goal to love people outside the faith, but our "love" comes off as judgmental and full of agenda. There's a great lesson to the fact that sinners wanted to be close to Jesus. They loved Him because He loved them. And it's only through genuine love and relationship that life-change can happen.

4. Jesus sees people, not status or lifestyle. Jesus ate with people of all different backgrounds, but I bet if you asked Him, He wouldn't have seen it that way. Jesus didn't see people classified into where they were from, what they believed, or how they lived their lives. He saw them for who they were, what was inside of them, and that's how we should work to see people too.

With more than a dozen years of local-church ministry, Justin Lathrop has spent the last several years starting businesses and ministries that partner with pastors and churches to advance the Kingdom. He is the founder of (now Vanderbloemen Search), Oaks School of Leadership and, all while staying involved in the local church.

For the original article, visit

]]> (Justin Lathrop ) Relationships Mon, 29 Sep 2014 16:00:00 -0400
How to Form the Perfect Singles Ministry

"I don't belong here." That was the first thought that entered my mind when I walked into the room labeled, "singles."

I had recently relocated and was interested in building relationships in my new church home. On that particular Sunday morning, I was greeted in the church entrance and asked what kind of class I would like to attend. After a short discussion, the greeter led me to a small classroom upstairs.

To be honest, I felt like I had been dropped off in the "lost and found" box for Christians. Other than being single, "What else could I possibly have in common with these people?" I thought.

You see, the term, "single" has multiple meanings. It can refer to a 26-year old graduate student who has never been married, a 43-year old divorcee and mother of three, or a 74-year old widower, or a million different other combinations!

I sat down and waited for the lesson to begin. My mind was filled with curiosity as I scanned the room. "I wonder what his story is?" "What brought her to this class?"

The lesson was great. But what was even better was the discussion. It was during that time that I learned a valuable lesson: No matter how we all ended up single, we all had similar needs that only Christ can fulfill.

Over the course of several months, the unthinkable happened: I fell in love with my singles class! There is just something about sharing common struggles and needs that brings people together.

In the midst of that time, my perspective of what a singles ministry should look like has changed. It's not about age categories and marital status classifications. It's about a common need for grace—God's grace.

Perhaps no other group of people in the church are as "in touch" with their need for Christ as singles. Why? Because God created marriage to teach us about Christ's love for us (Ephesians 5:25). When someone is missing a marriage relationship, it touches a nerve that heightens the awareness of our need for Christ.

For that reason, if I were starting a singles ministry from scratch (or revising an existing one), I don't think I would worry so much about making the meetings "cool" or "trendy."

It wouldn't bother me if multiple age groups wanted to attend. And I wouldn't cringe at the thought of mixing divorcee's, widowers, and never-marrieds.

Instead, I think I would focus on something more vital that every single person desires: an atmosphere of grace. That's the kind of place where everyone belongs!

Scott Attebery is executive director of DiscipleGuide Church Resources, a department of the Baptist Missionary Association of America. You can read his blog at

For the original article, visit

]]> (Scott Attebery) Singles Fri, 26 Sep 2014 19:00:00 -0400
Why Mental Illness Remains a Taboo Topic for Many Pastors

One in four Americans suffers from some kind of mental illness in any given year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Many look to their church for spiritual guidance in times of distress. But they're unlikely to find much help on Sunday mornings.

Most Protestant senior pastors (66 percent) seldom speak to their congregation about mental illness.

That includes almost half (49 percent) who rarely (39 percent) or never (10 percent), speak about mental illness. About 1in 6 pastors (16 percent) speak about mental illness once a year. And about quarter of pastors (22 percent) are reluctant to help those who suffer from acute mental illness because it takes too much time.

Those are among the findings of a recent study of faith and mental illness by Nashville-based LifeWay Research. The study, co-sponsored by Focus on the Family, was designed to help churches better assist those affected by mental illness.

Researchers looked at three groups for the study.

They surveyed 1,000 Protestant senior pastors about how their churches approach mental illness. Researchers then surveyed 355 Protestant Americans diagnosed with an acute mental illness—moderate to severe depression, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. Among them were 200 churchgoers.

A third survey polled 207 Protestant family members of people with acute mental illness.

Researchers also conducted in-depth interview with 15 experts on spirituality and mental illness.

The study found pastors and churches want to help those who experience mental illness. But those good intentions don't always lead to action.

"Our research found people who suffer from mental illness often turn to pastors for help," said Ed Stetzer, executive director of LifeWay Research. "But pastors need more guidance and preparation for dealing with mental-health crises. They often don't have a plan to help individuals or families affected by mental illness and miss opportunities to be the church."

A summary of findings includes a number of what researchers call "key disconnects" including:

  • Only a quarter of churches (27 percent) have a plan to assist families affected by mental illness, according to pastors. And only 21 percent of family members are aware of a plan in their church.
  • Few churches (14 percent) have a counselor skilled in mental illness on staff, or train leaders how to recognize mental illness (13 percent), according to pastors.
  • Two-thirds of pastors (68 percent) say their church maintains a list of local mental-health resources for church members. But few families (28 percent) are aware those resources exist.
  • Family members (65 percent) and those with mental illness (59 percent) want their church to talk openly about mental illness, so the topic will not seem taboo. But 66 percent of pastors speak to their church once a year or less on the subject.

That silence can leave people feeling ashamed about mental illness, said Jared Pingleton, director of counseling services at Focus on the Family. Those with mental illness can feel left out, as if the church doesn't care. Or worse, they can feel mental illness is a sign of spiritual failure.

"We can talk about diabetes and Aunt Mable's lumbago in church—those are seen as medical conditions," he said. "But mental illness—that's somehow seen as a lack of faith."

Most pastors say they know people who have been diagnosed with mental illness. Nearly 6 in 10 (59 percent) have counseled people who were later diagnosed.

And pastors themselves aren't immune from mental illness. Almost a quarter of pastors (23 percent) say they've experienced some kind of mental illness, while 12 percent say they received a diagnosis for a mental-health condition.

But those pastors are often reluctant to share their struggles, said Chuck Hannaford, a clinical psychologist and president of HeartLife Professional Soul-Care in Germantown, Tennessee. He was one of the experts interviewed for the project.

Hannaford counsels pastors in his practice and said many—if they have a mental illness such as depression or anxiety—won't share that information with the congregation. He doesn't think pastors should share all the details of their diagnosis. But he said they could acknowledge they struggle with mental illness.

"You know, it's a shame that we can't be more open about it," he told researchers. "But what I'm talking about is just an openness from the pulpit that people struggle with these issues, and it's not an easy answer."

Those with mental illness also can be hesitant to share their diagnosis at church. Michael Lyles, an Atlanta-based psychiatrist, says more than half his patients come from an evangelical Christian background.

"The vast majority of them have not told anybody in their church what they were going through, including their pastors, including small-group leaders, everybody," Lyle said.

Stetzer said what appears to be missing in most church responses is "an open forum for discussion and intervention that could help remove the stigma associated with mental illness."

"Churches talk openly about cancer, diabetes, heart attacks and other health conditions; they should do the same for mental illness in order to reduce the sense of stigma," Stetzer said.

Researchers asked those with mental illnesses about their experience in church:

  • A few—10 percent—say they've changed churches because of how a particular church responded to their mental illness. Another 13 percent ether stopped attending church (8 percent) or could not find a church (5 percent). More than a third, 37 percent, answered "don't know" when asked how their church's reaction to their illness affected them.
  • Among regular churchgoers with mental illness, about half (52 percent) say they have stayed at the same church. Fifteen percent changed churches, while 8 percent stopped going to church, and 26 percent said "don't know."
  • Over half, 53 percent, say their church has been supportive. About 13 percent say their church was not supportive. A third (33 percent) answered "don't know" when asked if their church was supportive.

LifeWay Research also asked open-ended questions about how mental illness has affected people's faith. Those without support from the church said they had struggled.

  • "My faith has gone to pot, and I have so little trust in others," one respondent told researchers.
  • "I have no help from anyone," said another respondent.

But others found support when they told their church about their mental illness.

  • "Several people at my church (including my pastor) have confided that they too suffer from mental illness," said one respondent.
  • "Reminding me that God will get me through and to take my meds," said another.

Mental illness, like other chronic conditions, can feel overwhelming at times, said Pingleton. Patients can feel as if their diagnosis defines their life. But that's not how the Bible sees those with such conditions, he said.

He pointed out that many biblical figures suffered from emotional struggles. And some, were they alive today, would likely be diagnosed with mental illness.

"The Bible is filled with people who struggled with suicide, or were majorly depressed or bipolar," he said. "David was totally bipolar. Elijah probably was as well. They are not remembered for those things. They are remembered for their faith."

LifeWay Research's study was featured in a two-day radio broadcast from Focus on the Family on Sept. 18 and 19. The study, along with a guide for pastors on how to assist those with mental illness and other downloadable resources, are posted at

LifeWay Research also looked at how churches view the use of medication to treat mental illness, about mental and spiritual formation, among other topics. Those findings will be released later this fall.


LifeWay Research conducted 1,000 telephone surveys of Protestant pastors May 7-31, 2014. Responses were weighted to reflect the size and geographic distribution of Protestant churches. The sample provides 95% confidence that the sampling error does not exceed plus-or-minus 3.1%. Margins of error are higher in sub-groups. In addition, LifeWay Research conducted 355 online surveys July 4-24, 2014 among Protestant adults who suffer from moderate depression, severe depression, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. The completed sample includes 200 who have attended worship services at a Christian church once a month or more as an adult. LifeWay Research also conducted 207 online surveys July 4-20, 2014 among Protestant adults who attend services at a Christian church on religious holidays or more often and have immediate family members in their household suffering from moderate depression, severe depression, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.

For the original article, visit

]]> (Bob Smietana/For LifeWay Research) Special Needs Thu, 25 Sep 2014 19:00:00 -0400
Why Preschool Ministry May Be More Important Than You Think

How important is the preschool/early childhood ministry in your church? Many people think preschool ministry is simply "childcare" and not as important as elementary, pre-teen or student ministry.

This reflects the view of the culture as a whole. But I would beg to differ. I believe the early years of a child's life are the most critical.

This period is the foundation that shapes children's lives. Research confirms that the first five years are particularly important for the development of a child's brain, and the first three years are the most critical in shaping a child's brain architecture.

Early experiences provide the base for the brain's organizational development and functioning throughout life. They have a direct impact on how children develop learning skills as well as social and emotional abilities.

Children learn more quickly during their early years than at any other time in life.

Each week we spend lots of hours and resources creating preschool classroom and chapel environments that will effectively communicate God's Word to the kids. Even in the nursery, our leaders pray over the kids, sing songs to them, teach them, and get them acquainted with the Bible.

Please ... please ... please ... make your preschool/early childhood ministry a top priority. From the nursery to 5 years old—pour, pour, pour into the lives of children. Remember ... "In the race to a child's heart, the first one there wins."

Dale Hudson has served in children's and family ministry for over 24 years. He is director of children's ministries at Christ Fellowship Church in Palm Beach, Florida. He was recently named one of the top 20 influencers in children's ministry. He is the co-author of four ministry books, including Turbocharged: 100 Simple Secrets to Successful Children's Ministry.

For the original article, visit

]]> (Dale Hudson ) Children Wed, 24 Sep 2014 16:00:00 -0400
Are We Worshipping Our Own Egos Over Jesus?

"It's not that you shouldn't lead worship. It's just that your passion to lead others has overwhelmed the necessity of leading yourself.

The best worship leaders are those who are in tune with the Holy Spirit—so engaged in the Person of Christ—that they help others to be vulnerable. They lead with an honest, open heart—freeing others to surrender all."

When I first wrote that, I was preaching to myself. I felt God challenging me to step up my leadership.

I mean, how could I lead a room in worship if I was unwilling to lead myself?

Lead myself in worship—that's something we don't think about, right?

But when your personal times with God drift to few and far between, when you're more excited for the things of this world, and when your passion revolves around the spread of your own name and influence, something needs to change.

Cliche as it is, it's easy for worship leaders to make worship about us. How we sound. Our opportunities. Our reputation.

What Do You Really Love About Worship?

Is it OK if we ask some scary questions?

Sometimes I wonder if we're more obsessed with being used for the glory of God than we are the glory of God Himself. Are we more concerned with our careers and platforms than the Name of Jesus? Are we worshipping our own egos over Jesus?

Sometimes I wonder if we chase a certain feeling over running hard after Christ Himself. It's easy to enjoy the emotional impact of a well-written song, but do we enjoy His presence on Monday morning when the feelings have left? Do we still have any passion left? Do we have anything to say?

What would it look like to be "all-in," "sold out" for the glory of Christ? What would our services look like?

How Vulnerable Are You?

Vulnerability. It's a scary word. It conjures up thoughts of being exposed, found out, known.

But it's the only way effective leadership happens.

What would our worship look like if we were completely honest? Our vulnerable worship just might free the gathered church to find her own vulnerability; to not just sing the songs, give in the offering, and listen to a sermon; to not just attend services and check church off the weekly to-do list.

A better option? Lay bare your heartwith all its secrets, fragility, hurt and history—and run. Run with all your might into the wide-open arms of your Savior.

God sees it all anyway. What He wants is for His children to come home—to be exposed to a love that will change us.

One more scary question:

Think about it: What if at the end of your worship-leading days someone took a survey of your effectiveness. Would people love you and your leadership more than Jesus? Were you leading people to find refuge in Him or your fan base?

I don't say that to fill you with regret; but instead, to re-evaluate. Use today as a fork in the road—a chance to recommit your life and ministry to the fame of Jesus Christ and the spread of His greatness in everyone's eyes.

What do you think? What keeps you from being an honest, vulnerable leader?

David Santistevan is the worship pastor at Allison Park Church in Pittsburgh. For the original article, visit

]]> (David Santistevan) Worship Wed, 24 Sep 2014 13:00:00 -0400
5 Ways to Use the Offering to Enhance Financial Stewardship

I have been visiting and consulting with churches and church leaders for over 25 years. Do you know what that means? Mostly, it means that I'm old. But it also means I have seen a lot of what takes place in congregations in a variety of settings.

Because of the number of times I have been in different churches, I can come pretty close to determining how healthy the financial stewardship of a congregation is just by listening and watching the time of offertory in a worship service. In most churches, that time has little meaning. Some people come to the front with offering plates, and someone prays. About half the time the prayer includes a request to "bless the gift and the giver." It's mostly tradition and ritual.

But in churches with very healthy giving relative to their demographics, something different takes place in the offertory. It is meaningful. It is engaging. And it makes a difference.

Here are five ways I have seen it done well in a number of churches:

1. The offertory time is led by a key leader. Many times that person is the pastor. On other occasions it is a staff member or layperson who speaks well and is respected in the congregation.

2. There is clear communication that the offertory time is a time of worship. It is not a parentheses in or postscript to the worship service. It is a vital part of the worship service. The leader always communicates that reality each service.

3. The offertory is tied to the vision or mission of the church. Of course, that presumes the vision or mission is well known by the members. And it is often repeated for newer members or guests, or it is communicated to reinforce what the members already know. The leader speaks clearly to demonstrate how the financial gifts carry out the vision.

4. There is a practical example given of how the financial gifts are used in the church. There may only be one such example or, perhaps, a few examples. The congregants hear every week how God is specifically using these gifts in the ministries of the church.

5. The leader is not reticent to emphasize the importance of each member's gifts. It is thus readily apparent to the congregants that financial stewardship is part of the process of growing as a disciple. It is not just what the church does with the money; the act of giving is an act of obedience of the believer.

My pastor, Mike Glenn of Brentwood Baptist Church, leads the offertory time as well as anyone I know. Here is a brief video clip of the offertory time during a worship service at Brentwood.

Thom Rainer is the president of LifeWay Christian Resources. For the original article, visit

]]> (Thom S. Rainer) Money Tue, 23 Sep 2014 19:00:00 -0400
3 Things Christians Do That Make Us Unlikable

It is no secret that Christians don't exactly have the best reputation outside (or even inside) the church. Jesus says we should be known by our love, but today it seems we're known for traits and behaviors that are much less flattering.

I've heard Christians referred to as judgmental, hypocritical, pushy, and just plain mean. Unfortunately, the people who call us those things are often correct.

But that needs to change. The world needs the gospel more than ever, and we're supposed to be the messengers of that gospel. Turn on the news and you will come face to face with the prevailing darkness in our world. The world needs bringers of light, love and joy—people to bring light and life into places that know nothing but darkness and death.

People don't listen to people they don't like—and our reputations are getting in the way of our ability to share Christ with the people who need Him most.

No, being a Christian won't always be popular; Jesus promised that. The decisions we make and the ways we live our lives are counter-cultural in almost every way. But unpopular and unlikable are not the same thing.

Here are a few things Christians do that can make us unlikable—and how we can curb those bad habits.

1. We insist on being right. We are people of conviction, people who believe something strongly and fight for that belief no matter what. But all too often, those convictions make us bad listeners.

Have you ever had a conversation with someone who was convinced they were right even before you opened your mouth?

That conversation starts to look a lot more like a monologue.

I'm not suggesting we weaken our convictions, but rather that we practice the art of listening and work on understanding. Hearing new ideas doesn't weaken our own, and listening to someone who lives their life differently won't compromise our integrity.

Instead it will help us connect to someone new and give that person a new frame of reference for the kind of friend Christians can be.

2. We use Jesus as an excuse to be angry or rude. Rejection is a fear deeply ingrained in each of us, and I think as Christians, we're just waiting for the moment we're going to be rejected. So you know what we do? We work to make that happen sooner. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy. We feel that we have to fight for our beliefs, that we're going to be challenged or rejected, and so we become headstrong, mean, even rude before anyone else gets the chance.

We site Scripture saying, "Jesus was hated, so I'm going to be hated too."

But we forget just who hated Jesus: Religious people.

Jesus being hated isn't an excuse to be rude. Jesus was hated because of His love. And if there's any reason we are hated or rejected, I vote that it be because of love too.

3. We let our agenda be "conversion" over love. I want to be careful in how I say this, because I am not at all undermining Jesus' command in the Great Commission. But sometimes we focus on converting people instead of loving them, and that's where I think we are disliked the most.

I've heard people on the receiving end of evangelism compare it to their experience at a used-car lot. Someone who doesn't know you is trying to sell you something—something you're not sure you want in the first place.

While evangelism is part of our job, and the Great Commission is something we should be working to fulfill, we should be doing it a whole lot more the way Jesus did it—through love.

The people Jesus was harshest with were the people who claimed to know Him—religious people who were missing the point altogether. Love was always the point, and love is what Jesus showed to the people who didn't know Him, the people whose lives were changed most radically.

We'd find our audience much more receptive, and ourselves much more likable, if we focused on making disciples through love instead of through apologetics.

Being a Christian is a hard balance to walk. We want to be true to our beliefs no matter what—even if that comes at the price of not being liked for them. But often I think the opinions of those outside the church can be used as a spotlight, highlighting places in us where we're missing the mark, or off from where Jesus wants us to be.

Let's not compromise ourselves for the sake of popularity, but rather let's respect the feedback we're being given and use it to take a good hard look at ourselves and the way we're coming across. We'll be better for it.

With more than a dozen years of local-church ministry, Justin Lathrop has spent the last several years starting businesses and ministries that partner with pastors and churches to advance the Kingdom. He is the founder of (now Vanderbloemen Search), Oaks School of Leadership and, all while staying involved in the local church.

For the original article, visit

]]> (Justin Lathrop ) Relationships Mon, 22 Sep 2014 13:00:00 -0400
10 Books Pastors Simply Must Read

It seems that everyone on the Internet is now required to either dump a bucket of ice water on their head, criticize Victoria Osteen, post narcissistic selfies, or make a top-10 books list. Since I have no interest in the first three, I am choosing door number four.

I'm not sure about the rules of a top-10 books list, so I am making up my own parameters. These are not my favorite 10 books. They are not the best 10 books. My list is simply the top 10 books that I think had the greatest influence on my life.

Here they are, in no particular order:

1. No Wonder They Call Him Savior by Max Lucado. I have lost count of how many times I have read this one. It taught me that complicated difficult-to-understand theological concepts can be communicated with a clarity and simplicity that even a child can comprehend.

2. C.T. Studd by Norman Grubb. First missionary bio I read as a new believer. The C.T. Studd story planted seeds of sacrifice and service deep in my soul as a teenager. Not sure I would have stayed in Manila had I not read this foundational book about absolute surrender to the Lordship of Christ and cross-cultural mission.

3. Knowing God by J.I. Packer. Helped me know God, and made me want to know Him better. Another book I read over and over and over. Today it is held together by duct tape.

4. The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer. Ignited a lifelong desire to pursue and please God wholeheartedly. Reignites that desire every time I read a page.

5. The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul. Opened my eyes the first time I read it. Opened my heart the second time. Pierced my heart the third time. Healed my heart the fourth. Every time I read this book, I go deeper with God.

6. A History of Christianity: Volume I: Beginnings to 1500 by Kenneth Scott Latourette. Everything Latourette wrote about history is worth reading, but his early church history is the best. His experience as a missionary to China and later as a professor of Ecclesiastical History at Yale gave him a unique perspective on the expansion of the church. The combination of missional passion and scholastic detail make these 700 pages feel that they read like an adventure novel.

7. Focus by Al Ries. I read a lot of leadership and business books. None has impacted the way I work or shaped the way I think more than this one. I think I need to read it again soon.

8. The Making of a Leader by Frank Damazio. More than any book that is not part of the Bible, this book has influenced how I think about leadership, how I lead, and how I equip and empower leaders.

9. Shepherding Your Child's Heart by Tedd Tripp. Whatever my sons have become as men, Deborah and I owe a debt of gratitude to this book. Best parenting book, period.

10. The Old Man and the Boy by Robert Ruark. My dad's all-time favorite book. I finally read it when I had my first son, and I understood  Dad's parenting philosophy as never before. "This book captures the endearing relationship between a man and his grandson as they fish and hunt the lakes and woods of North Carolina. All the while the Old Man acts as teacher and guide, passing on his wisdom and life experiences to the boy, who listens in rapt fascination." (Amazon description.)

Steve and Deborah Murrell went to the Philippines in 1984 for a one-month summer mission trip that never ended. They are the founding pastors of Victory Manila, one church that meets in 14 locations in metro Manila and has planted churches in 60 Philippine cities and 20 other nations. Currently, Victory has more than 6,000 discipleship groups that meet in coffee shops, offices, dormitories and homes in metro Manila. Steve is co-founder and president of Every Nation Churches and Ministries, a family of churches focused on church planting, campus ministry and world missions.

For the original article, visit

]]> (Steve Murrell ) Marketplace Fri, 19 Sep 2014 13:00:00 -0400
10 Ways to Reignite Your Love for Your Church

Having been in ministry for over 30 years, I understand. The church is sometimes not easy to love.

People claim to be Christian but act like the devil. We say the words, "I love the church" while knowing our heart isn't there. When you've had enough bad days in ministry, love for the church seems to disappear completely.

Still, though, we're called to love one another (John 15:12). Here are some ways to begin reigniting that love:

1. Read 1 Corinthians. In 1 Cor. 1:4 Paul wrote, "I always thank my God for you" (HCSB). In the last verse of that book, he wrote, "My love be with all of you in Christ Jesus." In between these sections, however, the apostle essentially said, "You're an absolute mess." Paul thanked God for and deeply loved one of the messiest churches in the New Testament. That's a good model for us to follow.

2. Read the Gospel of Mark to see the portrayal of Jesus' disciples. They were untrained and uneducated men who often did not listen, seldom fully understood, and sometimes failed miserably. Meanwhile, they debated who was the greatest and fought over the best seats in the kingdom. Still Jesus loved them—and we must love our church folks who are often quite like them.

3. Check your heart. Sin still haunts us, even as church leaders. Sometimes we hold bitterness as an idol. Be honest: We're not always lovable ourselves. Nevertheless, even those who know us best still love us. We owe to the church the patient love that others give us.

4. Count your supporters. Just a few opposing folks in a church can make it difficult to love the whole church. My experience is, however, that leaders often overestimate the opposition and give too much attention to a few people. Count your supporters instead of the opposition, and you might be reminded of lovable people in the church.

5. Take a vacation. Sometimes our lack of love for others is really just fatigue. The little things get magnified when we're tired. Frustration sets in. Love gets strained. Take a break to recover and replenish, and you might find yourself more open to loving your congregation.

6. Take some folks on a mission trip. Get away from the day-to-day grind of church work while also taking the gospel to the nations. Something unique often happens among a team of believers on the mission field. Get them to focus on those who need to hear the good news instead of on themselves, and you will likely see them as more lovable.

7. Hang out with a few members who want to grow. Loving the church is not possible without loving a few. Rather than trying to immediately love the whole body again, focus on a few. Find some believers who are open, and invest in them. It's amazing how just a few healthy relationships can change your perspective about the whole church.

8. Get a vision about something in the church. Ask God to help you concentrate on one area of the church's ministry that most motivates you. Just as focusing on a few believers can be helpful, finding that one area can begin to reignite your love for the church. An outward focus just does that: it takes your eyes off self, and renewed love often follows.

9. Seek reconciliation with that person. Whether we recognize it or not, one sour relationship can color the way we feel about an entire congregation. Maybe it's time to say something like, "I'm sorry," "please forgive me," or "I fear you have something against me, and I want to fix it."

10. Keep doing ministry. When your love for your church is strained, withdrawal is not the answer. Nor is laziness or disobedience. Real love demands that we continue to serve the church even when we don't feel like it. Be faithful in doing loving ministry for your church, and you might find your heart catching fire for them again.

The church that has worn you out is still God's church. Perhaps undiscipled and often stunted in their growth, they still need our love. Ask Him who loves them enough to have died for them to reignite your love for them.

What else might you suggest for this list?

Chuck Lawless serves as Professor of Evangelism and Missions and Dean of Graduate Studies at Southeastern Seminary. You can connect with Dr. Lawless on both Twitter and Facebook.

For the original article, visit

]]> (Chuck Lawless) Relationships Wed, 17 Sep 2014 16:00:00 -0400
Why Everyone Needs a Mentor and How to Find One

A few years ago, I wrote a study called Mentor: How Along the Way Discipleship Can Change Your Life. That study was directed to college students, because I believe every young person needs a mentor.

Now, at age 53, I'm convinced EVERY person needs a mentor. Here's why:

It's biblical. We can name them. Moses and Joshua. Jethro and Moses. Naomi and Ruth. Elijah and Elisha. Jesus and His disciples. Paul and Timothy. Paul himself told us that elders must teach the next generation (Titus 2).

We're created to be in relationship with others. When God declared it was not good for Adam to be alone (Gen. 2:18), He was not indicating that every person must be married. Instead, He was showing us that none of us is created to be a loner. He expects us to walk together with others.

None of us knows everything. I don't know anyone who would say he knows all things, but I do know people who live that way—distanced from others, standing alone, and completely unteachable. We are not so smart that we have nothing to learn from one another.

All of us have blind spots. By definition, a "blind spot" is something we don't see.  So, if you say you don't have blind spots, you just admitted that you do. We need someone else to help us see ourselves fully.

Experience is a great teacher. We know that truth because we've been there. We know better now because of mistakes we made in the past. In a good mentoring relationship, we learn from someone else's experiences as well.

Life will sting sometime. It happens to all of us. The proverbial floor drops out beneath us. Our plans get redirected or shattered. Life hurts—and we need someone to help us carry the burden when it does.

People are God's gift to us. Dr. Bill Lane, the mentor of Christian musician Michael Card, put it this way: "When God gives a gift, He wraps it in a person." We miss this gift when no one walks beside us to guide and encourage us.

So, how do we find this mentor? Here are some steps to take.

Forget about how old, well trained or smart you are. You will need somebody to pour into your life until you die.

Pray for a mentor. God alone creates "divine intersections" when one life crisscrosses another in such a way that both lives are strengthened. Ask Him to show you those intersections in your life.

Look around. Watch for believers whose lives you trust. Look for those whose walk with God you want to emulate. Pray about asking one of those persons to mentor you.

Realize that most people have never been a mentor. Any person you ask is likely to not understand what mentoring involves. Your very request may catch him/her off guard. Don't be surprised—and don't let this truth stop you. Start a conversation.

Ask . . . and keep asking until you find a mentor. The issue is really quite simple: If you want a mentor, you'll likely need to ask somebody. Take a risk, and do it. Tell somebody you've watched his life, and you want to learn from him. If he says "no," ask somebody else. Don't stop looking and asking until you find somebody. It's the devil that wants you to give up.

Be grateful for whatever a mentor might offer. You may want to meet with a mentor once a week, but he has time only once per month. Your preference may be for your mentor to focus on theological training, but he feels unqualified to concentrate there. Even if your mentor cannot give you all you want, be thankful for what you get. One hour with the right mentor is worth weeks of waiting to meet.

Invest in somebody else yourself. Even while you seek a mentor, you have something you can teach somebody else. You might find that God will direct you to a mentor after you begin giving yourself away.

Here's an idea: If you are seeking a mentor, send this post to someone who might invest in you—and then ask. Tell us how we might pray for you, as you trust the Lord for His divine intersections.

Chuck Lawless serves as Professor of Evangelism and Missions and Dean of Graduate Studies at Southeastern Seminary. You can connect with Dr. Lawless on both Twitter and Facebook.

For the original article, visit

]]> (Chuck Lawless) Counseling Tue, 16 Sep 2014 13:00:00 -0400
Pastor, What Does Your Future Look Like?

I was raised in Texas. When I was a young pastor, I had no idea what my future would be. Quite honestly, I still do not.

When I surrendered to God's calling to come to my church more than 27 years ago, I would have never dreamed I would be here this long. Growing up, it seemed our small church had a new pastor every two or three years. Frequent transition was all I knew.

Therefore, it is quite amazing that I find myself at this point in life, having served the same church for 27 years. Years ago, when I surrendered to ministry, I did not imagine much at all about my future. All I knew was that I wanted to be where God wanted me.

A Basic Conviction

I have operated by a basic conviction throughout my ministry: I want to go wherever God wants me to go, anytime, anywhere. After all of these years, I still live by this conviction. I am drawn to one basic thing: I want to be where God wants me to be.

I have told this to other pastors—and I mean this with all my heart—when you surrender to God's calling to go to a certain place, always live like you are going to be there your entire life.

At the same time, always have your bags packed, ready to follow God's calling for your life. My wife, Jeana, and I still live with this zealous desire to follow God and His calling for our lives. We truly believe we have fulfilled that calling in northwest Arkansas.

How a Pastor Should Navigate Toward His Future

I want to challenge each pastor and minister of the gospel to keep these things in mind as they navigate toward the future God has for them:

1) Be 100 percent willing to go anywhere at any time to do anything God calls you to do. Are you willing? When He calls, will you follow Him? Will you operate so much by this conviction that it does not matter if the geography is your preference, the timing is to your advantage or the ministry is not what you have ever seen yourself in as a God-called minister?

I am reminded of my friend, Dr. Jeff Crawford, president of our Cross Church School of Ministry and teaching pastor of Cross Church. He is gifted, educated and called. He could be in the academic realm elsewhere or be serving as a pastor of a large church, just like he was a little over one year ago. Yet, God has called Jeff to be here. It seems all of his gifts, training and passion merged in this position with us. Just think what it would be like if Jeff had held on to his position so closely that he would have refused the calling of God to come here.

2) Live with your "yes" on the altar. When is the last time you placed your "yes" on the altar? I mean, you said, "God, whatever it is you want me to do, my answer is yes. Whatever you are calling me to do, the answer is yes."

There is something liberating about living with your "yes" on the altar. Oh yes, I have been somewhat sobered by this statement when there have been moments I sensed God was about to do something new with me. I mean, while exciting on one end, it is extremely sobering on the other end.

3) Be willing to stay as much as you are willing to leave. Pastoral ministry is hard. It is much easier, especially in today's world, to leave after three or four years than it is to stay. People are hard to please.

Many times, we are like football coaches: Not only are we judged by our wins and losses, but we are also judged and scrutinized by the way we win.

My point: It is easier for a pastor to leave than to stay. Pastors, some of you may need to stick it out where you are. God will use it all to work in your life powerfully. Sometimes God does something fresh in us not when we leave but when we once again realize that He wants us right where we are.  

Dr. Ronnie Floyd, the senior pastor of Cross Church, Northwest Arkansas, has been a pastor for 36 years.

]]> (Ronnie Floyd) Legacy Mon, 15 Sep 2014 16:00:00 -0400