Burning Bridges Instead of Reaching Out

There are many church signs with cute sayings. There are many with profound sayings, some with ones that are witty and some that show great creativity. Then there are those that are offensive or just downright rude, like the one I saw while taking my daughter to school this week.

What was on the sign? “If Christmas offends you than go to Thailand for 30 days. They don’t like it there either. Grow up or shut up.” I don’t really know why poor Thailand was singled out, as far as I know they have never gone out of their way to ruin anyone’s Christmas in south Georgia, but what bothers me is the attitude portrayed in the sign from a church  with the word “grace” in their name.

The unsaved are not the enemy. They are our mission. To unnecessarily offend them makes it ten times as hard to witness to them of God’s love. Christmas is God showing love to man by coming down and becoming one of us. It was for dirty, sinful, lost mankind that He came, not for the smug religious crowd. As a minister, this sign offends me. It also offends the unchurched in our community.

Wouldn’t it be better to hold a community party to celebrate Jesus’ birth? Maybe they could be proactive and do a food drive or help gather presents for the poor that would show God’s love in action instead of belittling those who have not yet experienced the grace of God. Come on church, live up to your name — show grace, the giving of a gift to someone undeserving of it this holiday season instead of being snarky and strident.  Telling a large segment of your community to “Grow up or shut up” simply shows them how childish and immature you are. Why would they come to your church for answers when their life falls apart?

Lost people act lost because they are spiritually blind and without hope. They are spiritually dead and incapable of acting any other way than what they do. So-called Christians acting the way this church did just shows stupidity. I know that is harsh but it is true. The sign may play well to the frozen chosen inside her walls but it embarrasses those of us going out and meeting people in the marketplace and introducing them to a Jesus who offers grace, mercy and new life. I truly wish that this church would grow up and until that happens, please – shut up so the rest of us can give a message of hope to our town. It desperately needs it.

When Life Reflects Songs

First, an apology for the lack of posts in recent weeks. Phase 2 of our re-location from Montana to the Eastern US is now complete. We have purchased property in Jeff Davis County, Georgia for Ta Ethne’s new home. This gives us access to Savannah and Jacksonville airports as well as 2 interstate highways. It also allows us to expand our donor base, something future growth will need. Thank you to all those who have been praying with us about this process.

Now, for today’s blog. At church this past week, we were singing a hymn, “Footsteps of Jesus.” One of the verses happened to strike me. It went like this:

Though they lead through the Temple holy, preaching the Word

Or in homes of the poor and lowly, serving the Lord

Why did these verses speak to me? Because I have been a pastor for the last 21 years, preaching the Word in churches across America and SE Asia. Now, as well as leading Ta Ethne’s ministries, I serve as a chaplain with a local hospice here in south Georgia. Oh, I occasionally preach and speak at churches – fill in, revivals, conferences and the like, but mainly I am in people’s homes, ministering to the dying. I have the opportunity and the privilege of meeting people when they are most vulnerable. I am able to serve families after death in learning how to cope with grief. Rich or poor, death comes to every person. Many I meet have no relationship with God. They would never come to hear me preach. I become their pastor by going into their homes and caring for them. They know I come not to get anything from them, but to serve them.

Being a chaplain has allowed me to use my whole repertoire of pastoral skills. It may not be as glamorous as preaching the Word in the Temple, but I hope it mimics my Savior in proclaiming hope to the hopeless, freedom to the captive and healing (ultimate healing) for the sick.

Continue to pray for Ta Ethne as we build community relationships and continue to grow in our mission to bring leadership training to churches worldwide.

What it Means to be a Pastor

                Being a pastor in Montana means many different things to me. Since arriving in 1995, I have served churches in Red Lodge, Columbus and Havre. Being a pastor in Montana means unloading trucks outside at work at 4:30 in the morning in  -40°F weather so that the church can still afford to have a pastor.  It means reaching out to people who have never heard basic Bible stories such as Noah and the Ark, David and Goliath or the real Christmas story.

Pastoring in Montana means enduring weeks of loneliness, isolated by geography and finances from family, friends and even other pastors. It means driving hours to conferences for the fellowship with friends and the opportunity to sharpen ones skills. It means penetrating reclusive lives and investing time into communities. It means sharing your home with people from all walks of life and all kinds of backgrounds. It means being vulnerable and authentic and living a transformed life in front of a watching world.

Pastoring in Montana means that you start laying the foundation for future works to take place.  Very quickly you learn that there is no prestige, no glory, no “bigger” church to aspire to. What there is, is plenty of is hard work, years of discipleship, mentoring, teaching and engaging. There is the joy of seeing a second generation come to know and serve the Lord. There is the joy of seeing families and marriages being put back together. There is the satisfaction of establishing stability and credibility in a community that is constantly watching to see if your Christianity is real. There is the awesome exhilaration that comes from seeing new believers mature and go out in service for the kingdom, taking the gospel to yet another place that needs to hear it.

Being a pastor in Montana is a tale of two extremes. It is a tale of hardships and frustration and of rapture and joy. It will cause you to grow closer to God than you thought possible because there is no one else around for you to turn to. It will drive you to your knees over and over seeking strength, guidance and wisdom. It will also lead you to give God all the credit because only He could possibly penetrate the darkness and hardened hearts of those who do not know Him.

Jeff Iorg, President of Golden Gate Seminary, sums up what I think being a pastor in Montana is all about when he says in his book, The Painful Side of Leadership, “Most leaders easily forget their primary reason for being placed in their leadership role. The primary reason isn’t for you to do things for God. It’s so God can use your leadership setting as a laboratory for shaping the image of Jesus in you.[1]

I pray that the image that is being shaped in me, as I pastor in Montana, is that of Jesus Christ.


[1] Iorg, Jeff. The Painful Side of Leadership. P12. B&H Publishing Group 2009