Model teamwork

“When he had finished speaking, he knelt down with them all and prayed” (Acts 20:36). Much of Acts chapter 20 describes the relationship Paul had with the elders at Ephesus (particularly from verse 17 to the end of the chapter). I am inspired by the cooperation and teamwork of Paul and the elders. This section serves as a model for how I want to be a cooperative teammate with elders in church leadership.

God in action

One of the great joys of the ministry life is having a front row seat to watch God in action, changing the hearts and lives of people.

I recently enjoyed a second pastoral conversation with a woman, a couple of months after the first. Clearly God had been at work, bringing peace and clarity to her heart and life.

Thanks be to God.

Preachers and Plagiarism

An educator friend of mine recently shared a link to a website designed to help teachers check their students’ work for plagiarism.  A teacher can just paste a section of the student’s paper into the search engine and in a matter of moments know if the work has been copied from some online source.  After just a minute or two of exploration, I found there are many sources teachers can utilize to detect cheating by plagiarism.  I have no idea how well these websites deliver on their promises, but I do know from the number of available sites this must be a serious problem teachers face as they seek to educate their students.

As I looked at these sites I remembered students aren’t the only ones who plagiarize. Preachers plagiarize, too.

As far as I know there is not a website designed to check whether sermons are plagiarized, but if there were, the red light would be flashing constantly. Some preachers do not consider plagiarism to be a problem. After all, if a sermon is good, what is the problem with it being preached again in another setting by another preacher?  Why not preach the best sermons you can find?

Plagiarism presents multiple problems.  A preacher who plagiarizes cheats himself and his church. By presenting someone else’s well-researched and well-written sermon the preacher escapes the hard work that is disciplined research and writing.  By plagiarizing sermons a preacher can pretend to be something or someone he or she is not. By plagiarizing a preacher avoids difficult work, misrepresents himself, and steals from another.

I know of  one minister who presents himself as an expert in a particular field when in reality his “expertise” is entirely “borrowed.” I know another who regularly posts the words of others as his own in status updates and tweets. I know of preachers whose sermons series are lifted directly from the latest release of a book on the Christian bestseller list. The sermons are preached without any prayerful digging into the text, critical thinking and processing, theological reflection and disciplined writing.

I’m writing this to remind myself and my preaching friends that when we quote others in sermons, blog posts, or even status updates or tweets — let’s give credit where it is due. There can be great benefit to using good, helpful material from others when we properly give credit. Let’s not allow plagiarism to undermine our own spiritual maturation. And if we have such a craving to be thought an expert or witty or wise that we would steal, perhaps we need to address the underlying heart problems.

A Time of Transition

Several months ago Lourene and I began a search for a new ministry opportunity. The search was triggered not because of a moral failure. It was not started as a result of a doctrinal disagreement or some other blow up at the church where I was serving. We were not leaving because we were mad at anyone, nor were we being chased out of town.

So why the move? Lourene and I, after a season of prayer, believed our current ministry had been completed and we were being led to a new ministry opportunity. This whole process may have you asking questions as to how all that worked. I can only tell you that we were, and are, convinced this is the path God wanted us to take.

So we said goodbye to the church that had been our home for nearly 13 years. That was a difficult process because we look back on those years and that church with thanksgiving to God.

And we said hello to an adventure of faith that would last about six months as we searched for a new ministry opportunity. Along the way we met some wonderful people and saw God at work in some big and bold ways through the ministry of a number of churches. We enjoyed fellowship with some of the most devoted shepherds we have ever seen. We saw vibrant children’s ministry. We experienced worship being led by gifted ministers. We witnessed a devotion to ministry to the poor and homeless that we didn’t know existed. We made some new friends and renewed a couple of old friendships.

And we prayed.

And God answered in leading us to the Lafayette Church of Christ in Ballwin, MO (located in west St. Louis County).

For the last five weeks we have been getting acquainted with people. We have been schooled in what Christian hospitality looks like. We have listened to stories of faith. We have seen demonstrations of faith, hope, and love before our very eyes.

Yes, God has answered our prayers in a very gracious way that exceeded anything we could ask or imagine. We are so grateful for our new church home and the ministry opportunity provided.

We entered a new phase of the transition process last Friday night about 6:00 p.m. when Lourene and I finally finished getting my office set up.

But this transition is still in progress. We are running back and forth between St. Louis and Jackson. We are still seeking to sell our house. Lourene is interviewing for various job opportunities.

Throughout this process we have been blessed by the encouragement of our family and friends. We have been blessed by the presence of God who is walking with us every step of the way.

And we continue to pray.

To Servants and Ministers

“Praise the LORD. Praise the name of the LORD; praise him, you servants of the LORD, you who minister in the house of the LORD, in the courts of the house of our God. Praise the LORD, for the LORD is good; sing praise to his name, for that is pleasant” (Psalm 135:1-3).

Do these words strike you as odd? I’m not talking about the encouragement to “praise the LORD,” that seems almost common. But did you notice this encouragement is directed at ministers and servants  who work “in the house of the Lord?”

Are these wasted words? I mean, do ministers and servants need to be told to praise the LORD? Can’t we just assume those devoted to kingdom work will be singing praises along the way?

As one who serves and ministers in the courts of the house of our God, I can tell you these words are not wasted, but are sorely needed.  Truth is, it is easy to be so caught up in the service, the ministry, the work in God’s house that the praise fades away until eventually the songs cease. And when that happens, it is not along until the ministry dries up, too.

I need these words. I need to hear them loud and clear.

Today and everyday, I need to praise the LORD as I minister and serve.

Ministry is much more meaningful, even pleasant, when it grows out of praise.

After the Sermon

reflections on Matthew 8-9

“As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth” (Matthew 9:9).

When Matthew’s account of the sermon concludes, the crowd is amazed at the teaching of Jesus. Jesus was different. The sermon was different. This was not the kind of teaching they normally heard. You get the sense they were not only amazed, but refreshed as well.

This morning I have been watching Jesus as he descended from the mountain. I am struck by what catches Jesus’ eye. Jesus doesn’t seem affected by the large crowd that followed, a crowd that might be described as “adoring.” In fact, Jesus seems to be taking evasive action to escape the pressing throng. Clearly his words directed at them are more challenging than pandering.

Jesus had taken time to address the crowd as he preached, but after the sermon something else caught his eye. People. Individual people caught the eye of Jesus. And the people catching the attention of Jesus were those many would consider a distraction, maybe even a burden. People with problems. People with messy lives. People with needs. People who were not lined up to tell Jesus how amazing he was, but people who were lined up to get something they needed from Jesus.

Jesus may have made an evasive move to escape the adoring crowd, but here he walks right into one encounter after another with needy, messy people. A man with leprosy, that disease. A soldier of that army. A sick mother-in-law of that impetuous friend. A group who wanted a relationship with Jesus, but didn’t want to make that tough decision. A couple of violent demon hosts who lived in that graveyard. A paralyzed man on a  mat being watched by that bunch of religious watchdogs. A tax collector who domineered for that government. A disciple of John with that list of questions. A dead girl from that family of oppressors. A sick woman with that disease of uncleanness. A couple of blind man who want stop that yelling. A mute with that demon.

Jesus saw them. Jesus saw them all. Jesus saw them as individuals. Jesus saw them as people. Jesus saw them not as a distraction, but as the creation of the Almighty.

Today they will be all around me, too. People. Hurting people. Messy people. Distracting people. Interrupting people. People that have been marginalized. People that have been neglected. People that have been shunned. People that have been labeled hopeless. Yes, they will be all around me. They will be in my path.

Jesus saw them. The question is, will I?


Recently I was at a gathering of church leaders, preparing for a special presentation about Christian education. These words spoken to God in the opening prayer captured my attention and my heart: “Keep us from anything that is self-promoting.”

Self-promotion is about as ugly as sin gets. The ugliness is magnified, in my opinion, when church leaders are involved.

As I have pondered the ugliness and the sinfulness of self-promotion in the days since the gathering, a Bible passage and some lyrics keep coming to mind.

The passage? John 3:30, where John is speaking of Jesus.

  • NIV “He must become greater; I must become less.”
  • NLT “He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.”
  • MSG “This is the assigned moment for him to move into the center, while I slip off to the sidelines.”

The lyrics? The song “Disappear” written and recorded by Out of the Grey. Below is a YouTube video that includes both the song and the lyrics.

Ministry and Icebergs

Lately I’ve been thinking about how icebergs and ministry are a lot alike (and for you jokers — no, this is not about being frosty-cold or drifting aimlessly). I’m talking about the visibility of icebergs and ministry.

Because the density of ice is different from the density of salt water, only about 1/10 of an iceberg is visible above water. Likewise, only a fraction of what goes into ministry is visible. Just a few of the most obvious examples.

  • Hours of research, study, prayer, and sermon writing are unseen while only 25 minutes or so of sermon time is visible.
  • Hours of research, study, prayer, and class preparation are unseen while 45 minutes or so of teaching time is visible.
  • Extending periods of vision casting and administration are unseen while a 5 minute announcement is visible.
  • Weeks of theological reflection are unseen while a brief teaching document is visible.
  • Seasons of prayer are unseen while the resulting life changes are visible, but often completely unnoticed.
  • Lengthy conversations and counseling sessions are unseen and more often than not, never visible to anyone.

The more I reflect on icebergs and ministry the more I realize that for ministry to be successful, it has to be this way — about 90% invisible. If it is not, I am convinced it will lack the prayer, study, imagination, and theological reflection that is essential for that 10% to be meaningful.