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.
A wife watches a cheesy, action movie with her husband.
A husband goes on a walk with his wife at the end of a busy day.
And on and on. What do all of these have in common? They are examples of showing love by enjoying something that another person loves. Oh, the sister, the wife, and the husband may very well enjoy Barbies, actions movies, and walks, but in these instances, they are playing, watching, and walking purely to show love.
What the other person values, they will value, because that is loving as they want to be loved.
This is not an easy skill to learn. Many a child, and even adult, have said, “I don’t care about that. I don’t want to do it.” And that may be true. People we love have interests that we don’t have. But nothing shows love to another like spending time doing what the other wants to do.
It is a skill long lost.
It is a passion that needs to be revived.
At first, it is discipline.
In the long run, it is an act of love.
How can you love what someone else loves today to show them you care?
Your joyful presence will say more than many words.
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.
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.
What value would there ever be in any book whose introduction is longer than the story itself? Well, believe it or not, this is not a marketing ploy. I pray this book is engaging and affecting to the soul. It is succinct purposefully to make a point.
And ironically, this sentence took me more time than some of my prior books (that may not be a good thing). But this all came together while thinking through several recent, revealing events (more on that in a minute).
When you read this sentence, you will discover that it is themed around a hurtful father. Thankfully, I can say that theme is not my story, but it is much of my life. As a pastor, there is almost no greater wound that I see must be addressed than the family wound. So many people spend their days with the echo of their father’s mocking words in their ears or the memory of his disapproving glance in their minds. Men and women, even children, are so often driven by a need to either disprove their father or to disdain him, and so much wreckage lies between.
These truths became heightened in the past few months, and ultimately moved me to start writing, after watching two very different cultural tent poles.
My wife loves “Gilmore Girls”, and I joined her recently on a Netflix binge. In the series, Lorelai Gilmore works to establish a life in the attempt to distance herself from her disapproving mother and father. All the while, there are hints that she would love a random, “Well done.”
In one poignant scene, she returns home with her ex-boyfriend (the father of her daughter) for dinner with her and his parents. Awkwardness and pleasantries abound until his parents accuse Lorelai of ruining their son’s life and derailing his chances of going to college. Finally, Lorelai’s father stands up to defend her. This appears to be the moment in which Lorelai has dreamed.
Afterwards, there is a powerful scene where she goes to thank him, but this moment hurts her all the more. He wasn’t defending her. He was defending the family name. She defeatedly slinks out of the room knowing that she will never win her father’s approval.
Oddly enough, the other cultural tent pole that spurred my thinking came by watching “Christmas Vacation”. In one famous scene, Clark Griswold spends the day decorating the house so that they can have the hap-hap-happiest Christmas since…well, you know the line.
So, as Clark prepares to turn on the Christmas lights, he brings the entire family out to see his creation. He plugs it in, and nothing happens. There is a wonderful clanging symbol of side-effect in the background that perfectly summarizes his feelings.
Clark’s father-in-law, Art, responds by saying, “I hope you kids see what a silly waste of resources this was.” Clark is crushed. Yet, he is not going to give up.
Finally, Clark gets the house to light once his wife realizes that they needed to flip a light switch. The entire neighborhood dims as Clark’s home takes off in light.
Clark is proud.
Clark is triumphant.
However, Art comments that the lights don’t blink. Clark resigns with a, “Thanks for noticing.”
Seeing these images pushed me to attempt to articulate the pain of many.
Thankfully, this is not every person’s story, but a Father’s words are powerful. His words of affection are restorative. His words of pain are damning, and the efforts to heal the lack may take a lifetime.
That healing is my joy to proclaim as the Gospel of Jesus declares an ending from the Heavenly Father of, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”
Those words are desperately needed and hopefully attractive. I hope you search them out after this reading.
Ah, the stubbled father who thinly hides behind the humor of personal arrows and laughs at the wounded’s cry for dignity, delegating it to sensitivity.
A Final Word…
As I was wrapping this project up, I began the Amazon research necessary to have it published. I then discovered that there is a wonderful movement surrounding the single sentence expression. I found there brave men and women seeking to articulate what is or what has been in their hearts.
This tiny tome is not part of those works as it was created in complete ignorance of those efforts, but it is a contribution of sorts as I hope it is a collection of words with which many will resonate.
Ultimately, I pray this sentence is redemptive in that it will free up someone to understand their own heart and move towards reconciliation either earthly or heavenly.
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.
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.
We are God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works, and God went so far to insure that we become like Christ that He mapped out the whole plan for you to His glory. This is an incredible hope for us to trust in, but sometimes, it feels ephemeral and far off.
I enter in this lightly, but let me attempt an illustration.
Most everyone loves going to the beach, but going to the beach as a parent is not like what it was when I was in college. In college, all it would take was a couple of folks saying, “Hey, you want to go to the beach today?” 15 minutes later, we were on the road.
But now, with kids, it takes coordination with the NSA, FBI, and Homeland security to get out the door. You have to pack bathing suits, towels, sunscreen, flip flops, paddle balls, umbrellas, coolers, juice boxes, food, and pretty much every other device imaginable. And why do parents do all of that? Pretty much so the kids can have hours of fun and you as a parent can enjoy the beach for about 30 minutes. Maybe you are able to get a couple of cool pictures to post on Facebook and Instagram, but even that is not guaranteed.
That’s a shadow of what God has done for you. Just as God chose you before “let there was light” was even declared, God also prepared beforehand that you would grow in good works and obedience. Your obedience is just as sure as your salvation because God prepared for it.
The good news is that God never tires and He always enjoys the good works of His children. Parents often wonder, “Why are we doing this” when they apply the tenth layer of sunscreen. But your obedience is planned by a never tiring Father, your growth is secured by the work of Jesus, and your growth are essential elements of the masterpiece that God is creating in His children’s lives.
So, today, as you grow weary in wanting to mature in Christ, as you are tempted to give up, remind yourself that God has already made plans to grow you. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus provide for both a sure forgiveness and a sure maturity for you.
There will be struggles, and there will be setbacks, but the Gospel of what Jesus has done, provides hope.