In its simplest definition, culture is the attitudes and behavior characteristic of a particular social group. Essentially, culture is the environment in which you live, culture is the environment in which you worship, and culture is the environment in which you work.
But the culture of our home, church, and workplace are not the only cultures we interact with every day. We visit the cultures that we like and avoid the ones we don’t. For example, McDonald’s has a familiar culture. You know what the food is going to taste like, you know the happy meals are $2.99, and you know the general menu options. If you like that culture, you visit it and you buy their food.
My family won’t go to McDonald’s. One, we found their environment “moist” because all too often their buildings are wet and dirty. I don’t want McDonald’s because I think the food will kill you so we don’t visit that culture.
Instead, we go to restaurant cultures that we like, and the ones that we think are safe and friendly. We go to ones where we think the food is affordable and good for us.
This is true for church.
This is true for your gym.
This is true for most places you go.
You go to the culture you like.
Additionaly, at work, at home, and at church, you play a part in creating your culture. And, cultures change. They don’t stay the same. Cultures are dynamic; they’re not static. You get to create the culture that you work in, worship, and live.
Let me give you an example. Let’s say you’re working hard, you’re working safe, you are working steady, and you are working sturdy. This could be home, this could be at work, and this could be serving at church. Good job, but the person beside you is complaining.
“Ugh, this is so hard. I don’t like this. I’m so tired of this.”
Now, one of you is about to create the culture. They are going to create a culture of complaint or you are going to create a culture of something else. You can say, “Yeah, I’m tired of this too,” or you can say, “Hey man, I know it’s hard, but it won’t get any better if we complain. C’mon, let’s do this.”
One of you is going to create the culture, and one of you has the opportunity to be the dominant voice and create the dominant example.
The dominant voice and the dominant example always create the culture. So, today, at home, work, church, or wherever, be the dominant voice to create a culture that is encouraging, inspiring, honoring, and enjoyable. It will encourage and transform the weary and transform your jobs, your church, and your home.
Psalm 122: 6 Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: “May those who love you be secure. 7 May there be peace within your walls and security within your citadels.” 8 For the sake of my family and friends, I will say, “Peace be within you.” 9 For the sake of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek your prosperity.
The expression “glorious burden” describes the privilege that those in places of authority have to seek the good of those under their care.
Pastors have this as they shepherd and preach to their people.
Parents have this as they raise and teach their children.
Teachers have this. Politicians have this.
Essentially, all who have the privilege to care have this.
In reading David’s prayer in Psalm 122, you see a clear love for His people. He wanted their security. He wanted their peace. He wanted families to be safe. He wanted the prosperity of all of the people of God.
Today, each and every one of us bear this same glorious burden. It is neglected at times as we seek our good above others under our care, but we must always right ourselves to the heart of Jesus.
Hebrews 12:1b And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Our perseverance in loving and caring for others comes from Jesus’ love and care to joyfully endure the cross for our sake. So then…
Pastors, pray for the ongoing needs of your people asking God for mercy at every turn.
Parents, pray for the safety and godliness of your children in a world where both are rare.
Spouses, pray for each other as the road of lifeline companionship is fraught with obstacles.
Business Owners, pray for your employees to serve with dignity in an environment that you have created that enables it.
Teachers, pray for learning and appreciation in what you teach.
Children, pray for you parents and their perseverance in the long road of caring for you.
Pray for all who you love and even your enemies that they may be blessed.
With multiple seminary graduations around the corner in the Washington/Richmond/etc., my mind returned to 11 years ago when I was preparing to walk up to the podium and receive my sheepskin. I was fortunate enough to have a ministerial call in hand the day I graduated, so I knew where I was going, to whom I was going to minister, and I even had a sense of how much money I was going to make.
My oh my, how times have changed.
Most of the seminary grads I know are presently without a formal call meaning, that they do not have a secure job in the ministry. At best, some of them have part-time youth or part-time music positions. I even know a couple of grads who have multiple part-time ministry positions. It would appear the day of giving newly graduated seminary students full-time, full pay ministry jobs has come and gone.
So, what to do? Let me offer a few practical suggestions.
Don’t mistakenly view seminary as the end of the struggle and your first job as the opportunity to exhale. Ministry is never easy even if you do receive full-time pay. Many of you have worked multiple jobs, put off having children, missed family events, and experienced a host of other sacrifices in the past 3 (or more) years to get to this point. The temptation is to think that now that you have graduated, you can exhale, get one job, and that life will smooth out a bit for you. Wonderful though that might sound, that view of ministry is idealistic and even a bit naïve. The freedom to eat pizza and laugh with your spouse or friend (and a host of other freedoms) without the worry of someone calling you on the phone with an emergency shouldn’t be taken for granted. The ministry is the most joyful, rewarding vocation of them all, but it will not be the period of your life where you all of a sudden get to exhale and take it easy. More thank likely, it will be the time where every aspect of you (physical, mental, spiritual, etc) will be demanded. More than likely, these same things will be demanded of your family to some extent. A fulltime ministry position may help alleviate your financial situation (maybe), but that doesn’t mean it will be the panacea for your ills.
The most practical advice I can give any seminary graduate is to find a paying job with benefits along the lines of a Starbucks or something similar. Starbucks offers benefits with an insanely low hourly commitment coupled with a decent wage. If you are applying for a part-time position and can express a willingness to work said job until a full-time ministry position opens, you will instantly become one of the more attractive candidates. Scripturally, we call this “tentmaking” as Paul provided for his income by making tents on the side, and worldwide, more pastors probably do this than receive full-time wages from their ministry. Coupling part-time ministry with another job allows for a larger mission field and offers the opportunity for your brain to think practically about ministry in the day to day. It also gives a church’s committee the opportunity to see your willingness to sacrifice, your maturity, and your heart in a way that they cannot in a candidate who is not willing to tent-make.
Personally, the years I have spent tentmaking benefited me greatly. They have taught me patience as I waited for the church to grow. They provided an avenue by which I could relate better to the people to whom I was ministering. They also guarded my heart against any sense of entitlement that my degree or ordination might tempt me towards. I view the days of working another job as a day for my heart and brain to be challenged in a way that full-time ministry cannot. I generally return refreshed and renewed.
And most importantly, I suggest you make the Gospel both your humility and your confidence. The wonderful truth that Christ has provided you with all the qualification before God that you will ever need should humble you to no end. You could never qualify for such status before God as a Christian much less as a pastor without the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. That heart attitude will also be your confidence. Knowing that you are loved and accepted as the Father loves Christ (John 17) gives you the confidence to do the work of ministry (in whatever form that God provides) without the fear of rejection or failure. All that needs to be accomplished has been accomplished on your behalf before day one of your ministry whether it be full or part-time.
Congrats to you and to your families for making it to this point. I pray great things for you as you seek to know and understand God’s will for you in future ministry.
How can listening to your feet improve running and your relationship with God?
On a recent mid-week run, I was cruising along listening to my favorite podcast. There was the typical fatigue that mid-week anything brings, but this run was more difficult. Something else was going on. What was it?
In a rare moment of silence during my 1.5x speed podcast, I heard it. The balls of my feet were striking the ground, not propelling me. The way my feet were landing was actually fighting each step I took (that is a good way to get shin splints btw). The correction for this is easy: correct your posture, swing your arms like pendulums, and elongate your step. The next thing I knew, I was running confidently, faster, and with less fatigue.
I would never have discovered these things had I not listened to my feet.
This is true spiritually as well. In our relationship with God, lows are common, but we often don’t know the source. And just like my running with podcasts, there are too many distractions for us to actually know the cause of those lows.
Recently, I enjoyed leading 7 couples of church officers, future church officers, and their families in a roundtable Q&A about life in church leadership. We talked about time demands, family demands, church stresses, and unspoken expectations from church members. In the evening, my lovely wife helped me process the conversations. She highlighted that I missed stressing the joys of Gospel partnership and instead, over-emphasized the challenges. As is typical, she was right.
How did I miss that? I love preaching the Gospel. The Gospel is the basis solution for everything we do and the drive of my ministry. The answer? I hadn’t taken time for silence to hear what was going on in my own heart. Upon reflection, and in a bit of silence, I realized that I was struggling with ministerial disappointment and with my expectations with God. That struggle affected the tone of my leadership in that conversation.
So, whether in running or relationships (with God or family), listen to your feet. Where are you dragging them and where are you stumbling? That time to listen will teach you much about your heart and will teach you where to make changes.
I have been blessed with an amazing father and father figures throughout my years. And while every man sits under the influence of his father (good or bad), I know that I would not be who I am without their influence, and by God’s grace, I am thankful. But in less than a 4 year period of time, my father, my mentor, and my father in law have all passed.
I have written much since Thom Duncan passed in 2012. Truly a great, talented, Godly man, “Sam,” as I affectionately called him, was amazing. An accomplished pianist, interior designer, floral designer, teacher, and pastor, Sam had more gifts than most collections of people could hope for in a span of generations. When he died, I could not remember 5 arguments between us, though the few that came to mind were memorable. I was corrected by him countlessly, but the arguments were either rare or have faded from memory. In an amusing re-telling, one of our more serious conflicts was resolved by theologian RC Sproul when I convince RC to say hello to my dad from the PCA General Assembly floor from a cell phone. Sam was an amazing father in that he wanted so many things for me but allowed me to pursue them at my own pace and with little meddling. When I was ordained as a pastor, it was one of the happiest days of his life. At his passing, I could only look back and reflect on his unwavering love and approval of me despite my many sins and flaws.
In 2013, my mentor, Terry Traylor, passed. He was the closest to Superman as any man that I ever met. Wise beyond his years, respected by nearly everyone he knew, and ridiculously strong (physically and spiritually). While I wouldn’t have been a Christian without my father, I definitively know that I would not have been a pastor had not Terry confidently said, “I think you should be a church planter. Let’s get you into seminary.” Terry gave me ear anytime I needed despite his insane schedule. He gave me wisdom, often without even realizing that he was giving it (and without me even realizing I was receiving it). Like my dad, I had few conflicts with Terry, though the few were epic. Unlike my dad, his death was sudden. 24 hours prior to his passing, I had a lunch and a bull session with Terry that was filled with his usual big laughs and big wisdom. At his funeral, all I could do was confess that I didn’t deserve a father figure like him. Even in death, Terry displayed grace.
And on New Year’s Day of this year, my father in law, Jack, passed. Now, Jack and I knew how to fight, but we also respected and loved each other. While Sam and Terry entrusted me with mission, Jack entrusted me with his daughter, my wife, Amy. Because of that, I have to think Jack had more faith in me than the others. There were times we wanted to strangle each other, and on Christmas Day, I literally had to chest compress him back to life after a heart attack. But just like Sam and Terry, I know that I would not be a pastor without Jack’s influence. Soon after meeting, he encouraged the bible study I was leading to come under his church’s accountability. He asked me to lead worship in singing at his church alongside Amy. He loaned me countless books, and I do not have a number of the John MacArthur tapes he gave me. Even his funeral inspired me. I walked away thinking, “I want to be more Godly.” His passing hurts as it turns the page onto yet another stage of my life, as well as my wife’s. She could easily write, “I am a fatherless daughter,” as she shared similar relationships with all 3 men.
So, at the young age of 45, my formative mentors have passed. Others are beginning to take their place, and I am growing into the role of being father figures for younger men. To my dread, I pray that I can father the young men who marry my daughters.
But my true comfort is this verse from Galatians:
Galatians 4: 6 Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” 7Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.
No believer in Jesus is fatherless. In fact, the fatherhood of the Christian is inseparable and more intimate than any earthly relationship. Our faithful brother, Jesus, has made us children of God, and the Spirit of God moves in our heart (my heart) to cause me to cry out, “Abba Father!” – the most intimate name of God of all. And now, because of that inseparable security, we live not as slaves to sin or this world, but as heirs to God.
Thank you Sam, Terry, and Jack. I know that I am the man that I am and that I am set on a course that is far more joyous and great than any other that I would have chosen.
A year ago, Mars Hill Pastor, Mark Driscoll, resigned over allegations ranging from misappropriation of funds to the verbal abuse of his staff and church members. Critics of his brash, confrontational approach felt justified.
A few months ago, Billy Graham’s grandson, Tullian Tchividjian, resigned in an admission that he had an affair. Critics of his free Gospel felt justified.
We live in dangerous times. The danger is not merely that our leaders or heroes continue to fall and fail us – that has never been a surprise in Christendom. No, the dangerous times are that these failures cause critics to pat themselves on the back, and as a result, many drop their guard. Dropping one’s guard is an invitation to a knockout blow.
Focusing on other’s failures always lessens the personal vigilance needed to protect our own soul – you know, that whole speck and log business that Jesus talked about (Matthew 7:5). Simply, how we view these men’s failures will teach us more about us than them.
Pray that God would guard your heart from sin. Pray that prayer for your family. Pray that prayer for church leaders, whether they be your church’s or someone else’s. As 1 Timothy 2 commands us:
1 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. 3 This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior
Finally, let’s pray for the honor of Christ to be lifted up and restored, as in many people’s minds, our vigilance against cultural sin seems misguided when our own house is out of order. Lessons of truth and grace are hard right now, but they are the only lessons we had in the first place.
In the book of Ezra, as God returns His people from a time of exile, we find that God sends thousands of them back home to begin rebuilding the temple. In chapter two, there are 70 verses of names. These are the people who are sent back to start that difficult work.
Why in the world would God include 70 verses of almost unpronounceable names?
Well, determining why or why not God would do something is a dangerous game. However, we can take away a couple of important principles. Including these names shows the value and dignity that God gives each individual as they make up the people of God. In the midst of those thousands, God wanted the individuals and families to be known. God was working among His people, but He was stirring individuals first. And we give those names honor and dignity in their reading.
The inverse is true as well. Yes, we are saved into a personal relationship with Jesus as we cry out in faith for the forgiveness of sin. That personal relationship is also part of the larger work that God is doing within the church.
But what application should this have for our worship? Worship removes our anonymity.
No Christian, no child of God, should ever be nameless or faceless in the church. The church should be the one place that understands that each person is valued. As any person enters our doors or enters into our communities, they should be treated with dignity, and they should be on the progression of being known and known well – not as a number, but as a person.
Does this mean that larger churches are getting it wrong as they have so many thousands to get to know? No, reading the book of Acts and seeing the thousands coming to know Christ would argue against that. However, the church (and especially our worship) should be about each person becoming known as they are known by Christ. We should reach out across socioeconomic (and pretty much any other lines) to know each other well. So, big or small, the church’s emphasis must be about bringing people to deeper intimacy with Christ first and then deeper intimacy within the church.
These things must be grounded in a worship of Jesus creating a thankfulness for His work that draws us out of the loneliness and deserts of our lives. Worship should be an eye to eye experience of the many becoming one in lifting up the name of Jesus. That should mean that the focus of our worship cannot be about us. The focus of our worship must be on the name of Jesus as He alone is what unifies us. No mission, no takeaway, no benefit will ultimately unify us and remove our facelessness. Jesus alone will give us a true name and a true face.
A lonely person among the people of God should be an oxymoron.
We are known well by Christ as we cry out to Him. Our worship should be moments where we engage each other in an act of unity, and all the other elements that go into the functions of the church should move people towards deeper relationships under the name of Jesus.
You may ask, “But aren’t there portions of the service that do create isolation and alienation like the Lord’s Supper?” In our next post in our worship series, we will wrestle with how a worship service can speak to both believers and non-believers without creating an unnecessary alienation for those who don’t believe.
This is our second post of worship observations. You can find our first here. This week, we talk about when things don’t go well – a common challenge for young churches.
At Evident Grace, we have been meeting for a year and a half. For church planters and church plants, a year and a half feels like five regular years. Each Sunday, you feel like you are taking giant leaps forward as you become more efficient in everything from setup/takedown, greeting, music, children’s ministry, etc.
And then there are the Sundays where you feel like you take giant steps back. It feels like you have never met for worship before. No one seems to get anything right.
Here is my encouragement, fellow planters and young churches: While each good Sunday feels like five years ahead, an off Sunday is not a five year setback. Let me give a painful example.
This past Sunday, we were launching a new series, “Journey to Worship – a Study of Ezra”. Excitement built fairly well, and several folks joined in to help with a decent amount of web/social media promotion. While I am given to hyperbole like many church planters, I could realistically say that folks were pretty excited.
But things didn’t go as planned.
For some reason, from the onset, I stumbled over my words. Apparently, I said that, “Christ was circumcised for our sins.” While true in one sense that was far away from my wanting to say that He was crucified for our sins.
I was leading our music as well. Leading a crowd in singing is something that I have comfortably done for over 25 years now, but apparently, comfortable was not yesterday. I couldn’t get into a groove no matter what. In fact, the team finally stopped one song and just began again.
My sermon was never was comfortable either. I felt rushed. I felt the need to over-explain everything, and I continually lost the ability to pronounce most every world.
We made plans to take the Lord’s Supper, but our elder wasn’t able to make it, so the elements remained lonely on the table – something we had to explain to our congregations and visitors.
I left assured that no one was ever going to show up ever again.
But here is the encouragement to my heart and to yours, young planter and young congregation. Our worship is not about professionalism and perfection. While starting songs together and ending them together is preferable, while a commanding sermon delivery is helpful, neither of those are necessary for worship. Worship must always be about grace. Worship must always be about the lifting up of Christ. Grace and Christ equal worship. Preciseness is a bonus.
Yes, you seek to improve in every area. You learn from things that go both well and poorly. You practice and study more. You offer areas that continue to struggle to God in prayer. And then you give thanks for what happens.
So, this week, we will work towards getting the songs right and pronouncing the words correctly knowing that Christ will once again meet us on Sunday. If we make mistakes, we haven’t stepped back five years.
Christ will be lifted up, Christ will be honored, and we will be transformed. We will wait for eternity for mistake free worship.
Sunday, August 3rd, will be the final worship service for Sovereign King Church in Garner, NC.
Much like many of you, I wept when I heard the news.
Unfortunately, ministries, churches, and pastors come and go. As one friend reminded me, “Everything in this world has a lifespan.” And though death, endings, and even graduations are something we grow comfortable with, they are never pain-free. While numbers vary, some estimate that between 3,000 and 4,000 churches close their doors each year. The question I wrestle with (and I imagine others do as well) is, “How is the death of a church redeemed?”
Towards that end, individual stories make up the end of a church. This is my portion of SK’s.
Redeemer Church and Eastern Carolina Presbytery sent me and my family to Garner in 2005 with the commission of an evangelist to do what is called scratch planting. Scratch planting, also known as parachute planting, is when you move onto the field without anyone previously committing to help start a church. You start from scratch after you parachute onto the field.
We launched quickly with coffee shop bible studies, blogging, and community service. Soon, we gathered 20 or so people together and huddled with Christ our Comfort, PCA (now Christ the King) as they replanted. The 40 to 50 of us gathered each week in the old YMCA building (also now non-existent) on Hillsborough Street in Raleigh, NC. Eventually from those humble beginnings, SK grew to a consistent 70-80 in worship with vibrant chaplain ministries to the police and EMS in addition to service ministries to a local women’s shelter.
In hearing that, one might ask, “Well, what happened?”
There is no scandalous story here. There is no corrupt tale of money-laundering or sordid affairs. It appears that through God’s providence, things have just come to an end. People moved on to new jobs. Some preferred a different music style. Vibrancy of ministries became lukewarm. Things just came to an end.
I can’t speak to the philosophy of ministry presently at SK as I left to plant Evident Grace Fellowship in Spotsylvania, Va. nearly two years ago, but I know that their pastor, their elders, their families, and all the congregation have been faithful. Perhaps, and hopefully, many of them will add their voice of thanks to what has God has done in Garner through Sovereign King because there is so much to celebrate…
Relationships with Christ deepened.
The homeless found Christ, education, employment, and even marriage.
Broken marriages were restored.
A young man and his family suffered a tragic car crash and were loved and served.
Police officers came to know Christ.
Children in the church made professions of faith and took their first Lords Suppers.
And most significantly, the saving faith of Jesus Christ was raised and defended in the marketplace of ideas in that small town.
This apparent death is not a useless, hallow shoveling of dirt on the casket of yet another church. In Christ, all death is redeemed. Some of those redemptions may not be seen immediately, but in God’s grace, many of them will be apparent (even in this lifetime).
I’ve been a pastor in some sense for over 10 years now. Redeemer Church sent me out to plant Sovereign King. I left Sovereign King to plant Evident Grace. Most of our children will leave their home church to prayerfully worship and work at another when they become adults.
The death of Christ and His glorious resurrection mean that the curse of death and ending is redeemed with continuity and eternity.
While SK won’t be gathering in its present form each Sunday in Garner, the pastor, elders, and members will be sent as missionaries to points on the compass that aren’t even known at this point. And that truly is the hope of this applied resurrection. As another friend reminded me, the worship of Jesus is never restricted to a specific address. Out of the death of this church, countless others will arise, and Christ will be glorified…now in even more places each Sunday.
In death, it is right to mourn, but that mourning is not pointless, nor is it morose. It need not be comforted with platitudes and moronic, thoughtless expressions. Christ is risen, and His church and His people are risen with Him. His fame goes forward.
God did so much for His glory in His people’s heart and in the town of Garner. He still will beyond SK. His name is forever praised in the heart of many, and the legacy of Sovereign King is one drenched in the hopeful Gospel of Jesus resurrection.
I hope other people add to this story. So much needs to be shared and even learned from it because where Christ is lifted up, you will find His people. Where you find His people, you will find the hope of the resurrection. Those stories deserve to be told.
And I can’t wait to learn what happens next.
Thank you for the incredible response. Now, you can purchase the limited edition, two-in-one “I am my father’s son” and “Bedside: A Memoir of Care” hardback in honor of Thom and Ann Duncan just by clicking the button below or the photo to your right. Thanks.