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!

 

The First Thing You Should Ask When Approaching God

The first petition in the prayer is “Hallowed by your name.” This is not in the language of a statement, but a request. Everyone knows that we pass around petitions when we want folks to sign their name to something that we will be presented to a governing body. It can be a petition to remove the coke machine from the cafeteria lobby or it can be a petition for congress to address an issue. The idea is the same. It is a request. After the introduction the model prayer becomes a list of six petitions. These are the sorts of things that should be at the top of our prayer list. These are the sorts of things that we should ask from God.

The first thing Jesus lists has to do with the name of God. The word “hallowed” simply means holy, set apart, special, revered, honored. Perhaps the best synonym for this word is “glorified.” You could read this petition as, “May your name be glorified.” The implication of this are profound. The very first thing that we are to ask God for is more glory for his name!

I don’t think you can utter this with sincerity without first looking inward and asking, “do I glorify God?” Do my actions point to Him? Earlier in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus has already told those in attendance:

Matthew 5:16 ESV In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

There is a contrast here between the deeds of a disciple and the deeds of a hypocrite. Hypocrites perform their works in the hopes that you will give THEM praise. Those who follow Jesus recognize that all Glory, all honor, belong to GOD ALONE!

We should honor God with all that we do in His name. There has been much done in his name that does not bring Glory and Honor to him. Folks have picketed funerals, held up signs that “God hates fags.” Armies have waged wars in the name of God. We should be careful what we say and do in the name of God. Just because we use his name, it doesn’t guarantee that God is with us. Many people who have done things in his name will find themselves kicked out of the kingdom because they never really knew the king (Matthew 7:21)

One of my favorite phrases is, “I don’t have the answers, but I know who does.” This simple response to a friend in crisis has a way of pointing them back to the truth. This was what Joseph said to Pharaoh when he had a dream that needed an interpretation. This is what Daniel said to Nebuchadnezzar when he had a vision that needed interpreted. Both men put the glory back on the father and said, “We are powerless, but we know the one who has the power.” This was a way of bringing both kings to glorify God.

By the way, there is something in our hearts that rebels against this notion. Apart from the wonderful work of Jesus in our lives we are very self-centered individuals. We want the glory. Often we make ourselves the center of prayer. The first petition out of our mouth is for something we want. It’s not even for something we need. We beg God for a raise, a promotion, peace to cover over the anxiety in our hearts, we come upset over how we’ve sinned against him again. We offer prayers to him like he is a genie and he has to grant us wishes. I think a large part of our population miss God because they have this preconceived notion that God is like a generous grandpa who is supposed to give us what we wish for without asking too many questions. And so those kind of prayers go unanswered they give up and assume God isn’t real because he didn’t clean up the mess they made. It’s not a prayer aimed at Heaven, it’s not a prayer centered on God’s glory rather it’s focused and motivated on an exchange. “I pray, you give.” It’s how a consumer mindset hijacks prayer. It’s also arrogant because we assume that this is how God operates. We don’t consult him. We don’t go to his book. We don’t seek him out. We simply make demands. We’re like children accusing our parents of unusual cruelty because we’ve been ordered to eat our green beans or even worse we’ve taken a gun and blown a hole in our leg and complain to the surgeon that it’s his fault that we are in so much pain.

Isaiah lived in a society that had experienced decent economic growth for its time. Then when the king died he saw a vision of God in the temple and all he could utter in his presence was:

Isaiah 6:5 ESV “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”

The first thing he could utter from his mouth wasn’t, “Man this is awesome!” but a very real prophet of God all he could think was that his mouth had not done justice to the holiness, the glory, the worthiness of God. I wonder if we were to truly grasp the glory of God if we would not have the same utterance. It’s not like Isaiah cussed. He was a prophet and he had treated the name of God casually and when we saw a very real manifestation of the presence of God he couldn’t help but utter a curse on his own head.

Does it surprise you that God cares so much about his name? I mean you care about your name right? I’m fortunate to have one of those simple names that almost anyone can say, but I remember this one time when my wife and I had started dating we went to go see her grandmother. And for the life of me, she could not get my name right. She kept calling me “Jeremy.” At this point a little back story is helpful. Jeremy was the name of one of her’s Ex-boyfriends. Every time this sweet lady said Jeremy part of me was very offended. I had to take a moment to calculate whether or not she was doing it on purpose or if she was truly a forgetful woman. (Now that I know her, there is a very good chance that she did it on purpose).

If you and I can get that way over our name being misrepresented, pronounced wrong, or forgotten, how do you suppose God ought to be over his name that is to be the most highly respected name in the whole universe? Do you think he’s glorified when we let his name slide like a curse word? Is he honored when we use his name to mock others? Especially the name of Jesus when the bible says that at His name every knee will bow and that there is no salvation in any other name.

One of the joys of my job is that I get to coach students on how to impact their campus with the gospel. I’m at three or four schools each week. One week I was at one of our local schools and a student was in the club and he was saying things like, “Oh my G___” and using Jesus’ name as a cuss word. We quickly jumped into a conversation about what it means to “Not use the Lord’s name in vain.” Which is also one of the ten commandments. This particular day was a leadership meeting and we were meeting to establish which students would lead in prayer, and the other various aspects of the club. This student wanted to pray. And we quickly got caught up on the Model Prayer. I said, “Man you can pray, but only if you are repent of how you use have used God’s name. When Jesus teaches us to pray the very first thing we are supposed to ask God for is that his name would be glorified and I don’t see how you can do that while using his name as a cuss word.”

Philippians 2:25-30 (Devotional Thought)

I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need, for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men, for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me. (Philippians 2:25-30 ESV)

Who are your heroes? What did they do to become your hero?

We look to all different kinds of people as heroes. We honor men and women for all kinds of different achievements. We give athletes awards like “most valuable player” and “rookie of the year” we give singers music awards, we give awards to actors and actresses, and we bury men and women who have served faithfully in our military with military honors.

While these awards and recognition are nice, Paul lifts us a different sort of hero to us. To the church at Philippi he held recommended a guy by the name of Epaphroditus. This guy traveled to Paul on behalf of the church at Philippi and he almost died. He got sick, but even when he was really sick, even to the point of death, he was concerned about everyone else. He was still thinking of Paul’s needs and church at Philippi. I don’t know about you, but when I’m sick, I’m not on my A game. I’m usually cranky or sleepy. My fuse can be shorter than normal… but Ephaphroditus was actually concerned that people back home will be worried about him.

So now that Epaphroditus is better, Paul is sending him back home and he reminds the church to honor this guy. We don’t really give out awards in Christian circles. As far as I know there aren’t any missionary honors at missionary funerals, your pastor isn’t secretly hoping for the “pastor of the year” award, and that dear sweet lady at church that is faithful to give above her tithe to missions each month isn’t doing it so she can get a “Widow’s Mite” award… but when we know of people in our midst who put the needs of others above their own, we should be thankful for their example, and we need to honor them.

How do you honor someone who puts the need of others above their own? I think it begins with joy in their presence. You rejoice to be with them. Count it a blessing when you come across someone who is proficient at true humility, you will learn a lot from them. I think you also thank them, especially if they have imparted some gift or words of wisdom along the way. Epaphroditus carried a gift from this church to the Apostle Paul. Obviously he was serving God, but at the same time he was serving those who had partnered together in the gospel at Philippi.

Who do you need to honor today?

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3 Things to Do After You Graduate

So you’ve just graduated! Congratulations! If you’re like me, everyone is asking about what you will be doing next. Maybe you have plans to attend a college or university. Maybe you are stepping out into the armed forces or a career field. Or maybe you just don’t know yet. Regardless of where you are I want to offer you three great pieces of advice that I wish someone had told me along the way.

  • Be intentional with the friends you want to keep. After graduation people have a tendency to go their own way. The things you once had in common like homeroom, the football team, etc. tend to slip into the background. Don’t worry though, you don’t have to lose your friends, but you do need to be intentional about the ones you want to keep. With Facebook, Twitter, and Google +, it’s a lot easier to keep up with the day to day stuff in the life of your friends, but you need to take it a step further. Create a list of friends that you don’t want to lose touch with (I would keep the list down to 3 to 5) and make the effort to connect on a monthly basis with a lunch, coffee, or phone call. Make the personal contact beyond what you see on social media and it will go a long way in preserving your friendships. Don’t wait on your friends to initiate contact. Be the one to get something going.
  • Thank the people who helped you along the way. Have your parents supported you? Did you have a teacher that made the difference for you? Often times the only thing these people hear from us are our gripes and complaints. Take time to show them your appreciation. Go beyond the thank you card and either make or buy them something nice. It can be a good meal together at a nice restaurant, time helping your teacher redecorate the room, or even a thoughtful gift. Give back generously to those who supported you along the way.
  • Remember where you came from and encourage others. Keep up with your alma mater. Is there an alumni office or an alumni page on Facebook? Stop by and keep up to date on everything that is happening. Show up for alumni events. Encourage others who are still taking classes. Wear your team colors and stop back in from time to time to see how things are going. Support your school with both volunteer hours and financially.  Sometimes you will find that the connections you have made with the faculty and staff at your alma mater are still helpful beyond graduation.

Congratulations on making it this far! Keep pressing on. Some of the best days in your life are ahead of you!