Monthly Archives: October 2013

Leaving Mecca (Nazarene Version)

Mecca:  The birthplace of Mohammad and considered the holiest city in Islam.  All devout Muslims are to make a pilgrimage (hajj) to Mecca at least once in their lifetime.

Mecca (Nazarene Version):  The hub of Nazarene-dom.  The greater Kansas City area is home to the church headquarters (known now as the Global Ministry Center or GMC); the Nazarene Publishing House; the Nazarene Theological Seminary (at least for the time being); and one of the Nazarene universities (MidAmerica Nazarene University).  There is no required pilgrimage to Kansas City but if there was I think it would be as much for the barbeque and jazz as it would be for our religious heritage.

For the last eight years, I have pastored in Mecca.  Lenexa Central Church is the only Nazarene church in the same municipality as the Global Ministry Center of the Church of the Nazarene.  We have hosted general church gatherings and several people in the congregation receive their salary because some person somewhere dropped some money in an offering plate and that local church gave to the World Evangelism Fund (WEF).

Prior to my eight-year foray in the hub of Nazo-world, often I heard at preacher’s meetings and other gatherings a little distain for “Kansas City.”  The majority opinion seemed to speak of “Kansas City” as if it was the evil empire in Star Wars or the IRS or worse (it’s hard to be worse than an organization led by Darth Vader).  I heard how “Kansas City” issued edicts that were unrealistic to the “real world.”   “Kansas City” was filled with waste and mismanagement.  “Kansas City” didn’t get the grass roots.  And of course, the real question and consternation:  Why does “Kansas City” need so much of our money?  (Sadly, even in the church it all boils down to money.) The World Evangelism Fund (WEF) was likened to “franchise fees” or “taxes.” The Publishing House materials were expensive and the seminary was a bubbling caldron of liberalism not worthy of our investment.

This weekend a moving van will be taking me away from my “Meccan” home and deliver me to a place (Flint, Michigan) where if someone mentions the “GMC” they think of a truck manufactured by General Motors and not the Global Ministry Center of anything.  If I tell someone I am a “Nazarene” in Flint, I am just as likely to have my new Michigander friend ask, “Did you say ‘Nasty Green’ or Navy bean’?”

“Neither,” I will say, “I said, Nazarene.’ It’s a church. I pastor a Church of the Nazarene.”  A blank stare is what usually follows.

So as I head back to the world where most of the people who do not attend a Nazarene church (and probably a few people who do) couldn’t describe a Nazarene if Phineas Bresee was standing in front of them.  Here’s what I have learned living in Mecca (Nazarene version) contrary to some of the notions I have heard:

The people I know who work at the GMC—love Jesus, love the church, and most generally could be making more money working at a job someplace other than 17001 Prairie Star Parkway.  They work hard.  Many of them view their job as a ministry.  They do this all for little recognition.  Little pay.  And too often, too little support from those outside of Mecca (Nazarene version).

No one is getting rich at the GMC.

Not the administrative assistants.

Not the ministry leaders.

And not the general superintendents.

There are no slush funds.

There are no extravagant parties.

I did not witness obvious waste and mismanagement.

Your WEF dollars are doing what we were told they would do—funding the mission of making “Christ-like disciples in the nations.”

Would I spend the money differently if I were the Nazarene Czar?  I am sure I would spend a little less here, and maybe a little more there.  But overall I would not make drastic changes.  That’s no different than if I gave you the opportunity to audit my personal spending habits.  You would probably spend my money a little differently than I have spent it  (I’m guessing you would not have as much Detroit Tiger apparel in your closet).

Likewise, the Nazarene Publishing House is not rolling in cash.  In fact, it’s tough these days in the publishing world.  Have you noticed how newspapers are going the way of the horse and buggy? If we want materials printed or disseminated from a Wesleyan-Arminian, Biblical worldview, rather than griping over the price of a the toddler Sunday school material or the cost of a book we should be in daily prayer for our Publishing House and then order one of the Publishing House’s newest, not-even-off-the-presses-yet-book like, Chronic Pain: Finding hope in the Midst of Suffering.  (I apologize for that shameless, self-serving plug).  As a soon-to-be Nazarene Publishing House author, I can assure you I am not taking any trips around the world or buying any Rolex watches with the royalties from my upcoming book.

The Nazarene Theological Seminary is not a hot bed of liberalism. While none of the NTS professors attended the church I pastored, several students and support staff have attended.  Again, they are not living in an ivory tower.  They do not have their heads in the thin air of academia.  They are not closet New Agers.  The people I know from the seminary love Jesus; love the Church of the Nazarene; and have a deep understanding and appreciation of our heritage.

All this to say, Mecca is not the evil empire.

As I leave Mecca, I do so with a deep appreciation for the church and the people that are leading the way.  Far from disillusioned or with some bitter taste from being immersed in our Nazarene world for eight years, I am departing with a renewed hope for the future. I love our message of holiness and heart purity and believe it is exactly what our world needs to hear. I love our willingness to be the hands and feet of Jesus and compassionately serve wherever a need arises.  I love our commitment to make “Christ like disciples in the Nations.” I love the church.

Good bye Mecca!  You’ve made me proud to be a Nazarene.

Seven Don’ts During a Pastoral Transition

With my upcoming transition from one great church to the next– here are my seven tips for managing the period between pastors well.

1.  Don’t Waste this time.  Use the pastoral interim time to seek the Lord.  Pray. Really Pray.  Fast even.  Your church needs you to use this time to call out to God for your new pastor, his/her family, those young in their faith who are experiencing the first pastoral transition, and those older in their faith who may be reluctant to change. Prayer should be your first priority.

2.  Don’t Watch from the sidelines. Be ready to involve yourself in the ministries of the church.  Step in.  Volunteer.  Ask one of the remaining pastoral staff how you can help.

3.  Don’t Warp the truth.  Refuse to fall into the temptation of murmuring, gossiping or allowing any unwholesome talk to come from you.  Keep your heart and words focused on God’s heart and truth.

4.  Don’t Wander from home.  Sometime sheep take this time to check out other pastures.  That’s Baaaad (I apologize for the poor sheep humor).  Your church is a community– stay near it.  Draw closer.  Don’t walk away when God’s people need you more than ever.

5.  Don’t Wallet your tithe.  The bills go on even after the pastor has left.  Tithing is not giving your hard earned money to the pastor or any institution. Tithing is the faithful response to the blessings that God has given you.  So why stop responding in faithfulness just because the pastor has left?

6.  Don’t Wish for yesterday. The recent past may have been great, but the future can be even greater if you believe in the God that taught us to pray, “Thy Kingdom come on earth (in your home town) as it is in heaven.”  The town where you live might be wonderful, but it’s not heaven. God’s will isn’t being fully realized in your home town as it is in heaven– not yet anyway. There is still work to be done and lives to be changed.  All this to say, with God’s leading– don’t look back– He is making all things new!  The best is yet to come!

7.  Don’t Worry for tomorrow. Jesus asked it, “Does God take care of the lilies and the birds?”  Of course!  Then God will take care of his church.  It’s not my church or your church– it’s God’s church and He will take care of it.  So why worry?  He’s got this one!  Deuteronomy 32:4 says it best:  The Lord is a mighty rock, and he never does wrong. God can always be trusted…! (Deuteronomy 32:4 CEV)  Trust God as your church transitions from one pastor to the next.  Trust Him it’s His church!  



World Series Infamy and Finishing Well

With the Detroit Tigers about to make their way in to the World Series again (I hope), I give you this baseball quiz:

Can you name this ball player (feel free to hum the theme song from Jeopardy while answering the question)?

He played in the Major Leagues for 22 years (one more year than George Brett);

Had a career batting average of .289 (higher than Hall of Famers Johnny Bench and Ernie Banks);

Hit 174 career home runs (more than Hall of Famers Ty Cobb and “Homerun” Baker);

and Played for the Kansas City Royals for parts of two seasons (which is more than Kirk Gibson and Harmon Killebrew, but sadly is not more than Kyle Davies).

Do any Denny Matthews wannabes (The Kansas City Royal’s Hall of Fame broadcaster) have an answer?

One more clue: In the early morning hours of October 26, 1986, in the tenth inning of the sixth game of the World Series, with his team leading the series three games to two, opposing player, Mookie Wilson, tapped a weak ground ball in his general direction. The loser in a race between a snail and a turtle would have been faster than the slow rolling baseball. All our mystery player had to do was reach down, grab the ball, touch first base, the inning would have been over and his team would have had a chance to win the championship– instead the ball dribbled through his legs. Whoops! The Mets won the game and the next game too and this ball player has forever been known for the biggest gaff in World Series history.

As all Boston Red Sox fans know (sorry for bringing up a painful memory, Larry and Lynne Bollinger)– I speak of Bill Buckner.

Except for that error, Bill Buckner had an outstanding career. A player with similar statistics today would have more money in the bank than T. Boone Pickens (well, not quite than much). Instead, the only thing that most people remember him for is the ball that gently rolled through his legs. Poor Bill Buckner, we should remember all the great plays he made in his 22 year career, the good times he provided or the year when he led the league in hitting, but instead we remember that one error in his second to last baseball game. He suffered such heartache and distress over that one game, he moved from Boston to Idaho (where presumably Idahoans know Boise State football and potatoes but not baseball). Needless to say, the baseball career of Bill Buckner did not end well.

I don’t want to have the same thing said about my pastoring at Central ( and Karla refuses to move to Idaho). I’ve been pastoring about as long as Bill Buckner played major league baseball. I’ve been blessed with a wonderful “career” (I don’t like calling pastoring a “career.” It’s more “calling” than “career.” But you know what I mean). These last eight years in particular have been terrific. God has done great things at Central Church. We have seen some mighty victories, and now as I am about to leave– I certainly don’t want the proverbial ball to roll through my legs.

I want to finish well.

Finishing a pastorate well means being faithful to the last amen.

It is saying “thank you” with the same fervor as a hot dog vendor at Kauffman Stadium.

It is reminding the congregation that they are like a ball park plate of nachos without the cheese sauce–they are not done yet and there is more goodness to come! In fact, our Lord has a lot of good things in store!

It’s preparing the way for the next pastor– so that he/she can take off running (like ol’ Mookie darting to first base).

It’s recognizing just how blessed I have been to pastor such a great church and wonderful people (unlike the 1986 Red Sox– you’re all champs in my book!)

The Apostle Paul didn’t know an “infield fly” from a “fruit fly” and he certainly never heard of Bill Buckner, but he used a sports analogy when he wrote Timothy on how he was finishing well (not simply in ministry but in life). He wrote: I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. (2 Timothy 4:7) My prayer is that declaration will be said of you and me. Let’s finish well.

Why the Worship Hour must be all about Jesus

One Hour.

That’s what most of us devote to God in public worship each week― just one hour. (I know, I know― some of us spend two hours. I am usually in three worship gatherings on Sundays― so I spend between three and four hours in public worship gatherings. There are some people that probably do more than that― but for most people reading this little article― it’s one hour.)

There are exactly 168 hours in a week. If we attend one hour of worship a week, then we devote to God in public worship exactly .59% of our week to Him.

In the course of the year there are 8,760 hours. If we miss a few worship gatherings because of sickness, vacations, a couple of Jimmy’s soccer games, a Chiefs’ game, our second cousin’s wedding at the Precious Moments Chapel in Carthage, a get-away weekend with friends, etc then we will not even spend one half of one percent of our time in public worship in a year.

Less than one half of one percent!

I know that for many― the Sunday morning worship gathering is not their only time of worship. Lots of Christians spend time in private worship in prayer and Bible reading at home; they are involved in a life group or small group or Sunday school class where worship takes place; and they attempt to worship God throughout the day. There are a lot of people like that. But I also know there are plenty of people whose only time of worship is that one hour in church. That’s it. One hour. Less than one half of one percent of their lives in the course of a year is spent worshipping the God who created them, loves them, and died for them.

If we are going to be in the world for 8,760 hours a year― with all of the downward influences, pressures and temptations that draw our attention away from God― then the one half of one percent of our time that we intentionally set aside to corporately worship God is vital.

Because I know that is true, as a pastor I try my very best to protect that hour. We gather on Sunday morning (or Sunday night) to worship God. Period. That is what the sacred hour is all about.

It’s about worshipping the Creator of the Universe.

It’s about having a divine encounter with the One who loves us more than we can imagine.

It’s about being captivated by the Savior who came and died for us.

It’s about imagining and seeking that His will would be done on earth as it is in heaven.

The Bible says when two or more are gathered in Jesus’ name, then He is with us.   So we don’t have to invite Jesus to be in our gatherings; instead He invites us to be fully engaged in worship and to give Him all of our praise and all our attention.

As such, worship gatherings are not about seeing friends (although that happens).

It’s not about hearing the latest news on Uncle Joe’s battle with gout (although sometimes that happens).

It’s not about finding a place to sit and relax while our kids are in the nursery (although that sometimes happens).

It’s not about noticing if the music is too loud, too soft, too new, or too old. Or if the preacher was wearing jeans or a suit. Or if the room was too bright or too dark or too hot or too cold (although occasionally we focus on those things instead of God too).

It just makes sense to me that if we are only giving one half of one percent of our year to public worship then that whole time (however brief it is) should be about Jesus.

Only Jesus.

So I hope you will worship God someplace this week. Gather in Jesus’ name― singing praises to Him, hear from His word, celebrate the Lord’s supper and expect God to transform that one half of one percent of our lives into something that will sustain us, motivate us and captivate our imaginations for what God can do with the other 99.5% of our time.