Meet Virginia

In April I was in Benin, Africa leading a pastors training conference on 1 Timothy. While I was there I met the most beautiful 9-year-old girl. She lives out in Ci country where there is no medical care (not that the care in Benin as a whole is much more). I met Virginia because her local village pastor brought her to me for prayer. You see Virginia had a large tennis ball size (at the time) tumor growing in her mouth/cheek.

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Her pastor wanted to see if there was anything we could do. Of course my first thought was that we would put her own our flight out, bring her to the states, have the surgery, and everything would be great. That however was impossible. I learned a long time ago that in that culture it is far better not to promise anything than to even hint at a possibility of something that you may not be able to follow through on. So we prayed, and we prayed, and we prayed. One of the things I prayed was that God would do a mighty work in this girl so that her testimony might be one of great glory to God. God answered that prayer!

Upon returning home my partner on the trip, Matt, refused to let this little girls situation fade to the background. As a result we were able to secure the initial funding we needed to have the tumor diagnosed. As the results came in so did the needed resources. I began posting about it on Facebook. The deacon’s at our church took up a collection among themselves. Money actually began to come in from people I went to high school with, but that my I had not seen in 20 years. I was and am still amazed.

Last Friday Virginia had her now softball size tumor removed. She is doing well and today we got word she is eating for the first time without a feeding tube. Praise God!

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Here are some of the things I either learned or was reminded of through this experience.

1. Sometimes God leads you to actually do something as a result of your own prayer. Sometimes God working through you is His answer.

2. God’s people are generous. I should never be afraid to ask God’s people to give sacrificially to the ministry of the church and to needs like Virginia’s. Generosity and Stewardship is part of disciple-making. Asking people to give is no different from asking people to pray.

3. Social media can be used in many destructive ways, but it is a tool and when used correctly it can raise awareness about real needs and can give good people an opportunity to respond.

4. Virginia reminded me that so many more people in our world live conditions similar to hers than live like my family. No wonder Jesus wants us to care for the least of these. To whom much is given much is required.

The Introverted Pastor Part 2 (How to Build on this Strength)

A few weeks ago I wrote a post on how to connect with an introvert. I received a lot of positive feedback from the introverts out there who felt better understood. This week I want to expand our discussion so that we know how to maximize this personality trait as a positive instead of a negative. As with most things our greatest strengths can also be our greatest weaknesses. This is especially true in the life of a pastor where every word and action is observed with heightened scrutiny.  Here are some ways to make sure you enhance the strengths of your personality and minimize its weaknesses.

1) Surround yourself with some extroverts. If you have a team of people you serve with then make sure you intentionally place people within your circle of influence (the circle that can influence you) that are extroverted and that have strong people skills. Thankfully I married one of the best extrovert I have ever met. She knows and understands people. She thrives on interaction with others and has a magnetic personality. I try to listen to her when she tells me something about how to connect with people. I watch her engage people and I try to learn from her. I also try to stand near to her when she meets new people so that I can be included in the conversation without always initiating it.  Don’t be an introvert who only listens to other introverts.

2) Find 2-3 extroverted type things that you can do and then work at them. One of the things I decided to do when I first begun to pastor is that I would walk around the worship center every Sunday and talk to every single person I could. I wanted to do this so I could meet people and force myself out of my comfort zone. Little progress or growth happens in our lives when we refuse to leave our zone of comfort. In order to do this I arrive 20 minutes before the services start and I go seat by seat talking to and shaking hands with every person I can. I don’t always make it to every person, but if I don’t I start in that same spot the next Sunday.  I also purposely stand in the lobby after every service to make myself available to listen and to speak to anyone and everyone. You can not lead people or shepherd people from behind a desk or even from a stage. It takes getting involved in lives and the only way to do this is to look them in eye, shake their hands, and listen to their hearts. Loving people means getting involved in their lives.

3) Plan you day around your strengths. As an introvert I understand that I am energized by alone/study time. I also realize that I am physically/naturally most energized during the morning hours. Therefore, I try to plan my schedule so that the majority of my interactions with people happen before or during lunch. That way when I get into the afternoon and I am starting to tire I can focus on the part of my job that energizes me (sermon prep). This helps me to do better at both. This does not always work out to an exact science, but it helps to start with a plan.

What are some ways that you work to engage people?

Promises of God you Won’t Find on a Bookmark

Why do you follow Jesus? I recently asked this question to myself and then to my church.  For most of us our answer begins with some reference to either heaven or hell, but does it go any deeper? Am I following Jesus because He is the reward or am I following Jesus because I enjoy the blessings He can give?

In John 6:26 we see Jesus make an interesting comment. He has just fed 5,000 hungry men with five barley loaves and two fish and has walked across the Sea of Galilee to the other side. As the crowd catches up to him (Jesus got a surprise head start by walking across the water) they are eager to be on the receiving end of more of God’s blessings.  It is in that context that Jesus says “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.”

In light of that statement I began to think about how many people stop “seeking” Jesus when He does not give them what they want. Perhaps they prayed for healing and it was not granted. Or they sought the Lord for a child and she does not become pregnant. Or a young couple faithfully tithes, but never gets that raise or promotion. What do we do then? What do we do when we seek Jesus for the blessings instead of for the relationship?

We are very quick to seize upon the great promises of God throughout the Scripture (and we should), but too often we choose only to focus on those promises that we like. What if we meditated on these promises of God also?

Hebrews 12: 6-9 “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. “

Luke 14:27 “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.”

Philippians 1:29  “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake”

1 Peter 4:12-13 “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.”

When is the last time you saw these promises of God on a Bible bookmark or prayed these as your prayer?

May we seek Jesus as the reward as a means to a reward!

I would love to hear your thoughts!

4 Things I learned from African Pastors

In April I had the opportunity to speak to the Benin Baptist Pastor’s Conference. Benin is a small African country about the size of Tennessee when stood up on its end. There were about 150 pastors at the conference and I had been asked to teach the book of 1 Timothy over the course of 3 days. As usual I returned having learned more than I taught. Here are four of the things these extraordinary Baptist pastors taught me.

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1) Pastoring is Pastoring.

Big church, small church, big budget, small budget, African or American it makes little difference when it comes to the victories and struggles of pastoring. These men had a deep dedication to their calling. Almost all of them are bi-vocational which means they work in the fields during the day and lead their churches in the evenings and on weekends. It quickly became clear that every man there desired to give more time and effort to the work of the gospel than to farming in the fields. Pastors usually have trouble with time management because their deepest desire is to minister to people. This is no different whether you carry a shovel or an iPad. I was reminded that the problems these pastors face are the same ones I face here. As I listened to their questions and prayed with them I was reminded that the same truth I shared with them from 1 Timothy is the same truth for the issues I face here. You never out grow, out-think, out-plan, or out give, the truth of the Scripture.

2) Church Planting.

These pastors were serious about church planting and expanding the gospel beyond their own churches. We often talk about church planting here in the states, but while we are busy planning, budgeting, and discussing church planting they are planting new churches.

The church that I pastor (FBC Kettering) sent a team to Benin a year earlier to work with some of the local churches in planting new congregations among the unreached Ci people group. On that trip we were successful in launching several new starts. While I was there this year one of the churches that was planted during that first trip was already running over 50 people and had already planted another church. There is a true desire for multiplication.

While I was there one of the local pastors asked me how old the church I pastor was. I told him we had just celebrated 55 years. What he asked me next will haunt me for years to come. He asked me how many churches we had planted in the past 55 years. In America whatever answer I gave him would have been accepted as normative. Because I have only been at my church for about 30 months I could honestly say I was not sure, but truthfully I was glad he didn’t ask me how many we had planted in the last two years. May we get serious as  serious about Kingdom expansion as they are!

3) Basics.

The basics are not basics for them, they are the essentials. At the conference we gave away French Bibles. For many of these pastors it was their first Bible in a language they could read and understand. I was blown away that so many of these men preached and led churches every week without a copy of the Bible to read and study from. They were so hungry for the Word. In fact they were so hungry to be taught the Word that they would sit for hours to listen to me teach. I am pretty sure I got tired of hearing myself before they tired of hearing the Scripture be taught!

4) Generosity.

Most of us make more in a week then these pastors make in a year, but they are some of the most generous people I have ever met. They made me think of the words of the Apostle Paul in 2 Cor. 2:8-1-3

“We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord.”

These people were so generous that they served us the Bush Rat with the teeth still in (yes I said bush rat). This honor is usually reserved for the person of honor and it is a true act of sacrifice to offer this up to people who were not nearly as dependent upon the need of this protein to thrive. May we who have been given much be as generous as those who have so little.

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If you have never had the opportunity to be  a part of an international mission trip I highly encourage you to go! It will we will make a great impact on the Kingdom, but more importantly the Kingdom will make a greater impact on you!

Introverted Leadership

In the past two weeks I have read two different postings on the introverted pastor. Seeing how I fall into that category I thought I would expound some on them and add of few additional thoughts from my seat as a pastor. I will phrase them in the form of questions that I sometimes get when people find out I am introverted.

1)  Why do introverts dislike being around people!

Most of us do enjoy being around people.  The reality is that while I love being around people it drains my emotional energy. I already feel that as a pastor I need to be “the guy” in most situations who is “on.” People look for my input on most topics. People expect me to be around and engaged in most facets of church life. Because of this always “on” factor it is hard to feel energized after being around people for extended periods of time. I feel most at ease when someone is not analyzing each word or taking direction from each remark.

2) What is the hardest thing for you to do as an introverted pastor?

For me it is to initiate conversation with people I do not know very well. I know I need to do this and I work extremely hard at this each week, but it does not come naturally to me. I can usually do this effectively at church, but I find it even more difficult in other places.  I actually find it far easier to preach in front of a thousand people than to go to a social gathering with people who I do not know very well.

3) Are introverts shy?

Not really. I do not find it difficult at all interacting with people…if there is a reason. Introverts usually don’t create a reason for interaction they respond to a reason for it. The best way to engage an introvert is simply to begin a conversation with them by asking questions. I am more than eager to engage in great and meaningful conversations with people. I just don’t always know how to start them.

4) Why does it sometimes appear that you are uninterested in people? Why does that sometimes come across as rude?

I think I hate this perception the most, but I really do understand it. Because introverts usually are not the ones pursuing/staring conversations it can easily come across as being rude or uninterested in people.  The reality is I have no intention of being rude or snobby and I certainly do not think better of myself than anyone else. I find it much easier to be very close with a small group of people rather than a large group of people. Therefore, I tend to surround myself with a small but trusted circle of relationships and I feel content and safe within that group. As a result when I walk into a room where I am not responsible for leading the event I tend to immediately drift towards those in the room I know the best. This is not because I don’t like everyone there, it is because I finally have an opportunity to relax emotionally. This has nothing to do with how I feel about you and everything to do about how I feel about me.

5) Where do you feel the most energized?

When I am alone or in a group of people who I completely trust. When I am out in front leading or preaching to groups of people. And when I am alone in my office or on the beach with a book and my iPod.