Monthly Archives: July 2018

Five Tips for Dealing with Church Politics

The rule of thumb in the art of not offending people is to avoid two conversations that generally get people’s panties in a bunch: politics and religion. Talk about the weather, sports, or something innocuous and no one is offended. Talk about the democrats, republicans or the Second Coming and tread lightly. As a pastor, it’s kind of hard (read: Impossible) to not talk about religion. Call it an occupational hazard. But politics is an area I try my best to avoid knowing I will get into a fight with half the crowd quicker than I can say “Russian Collusion.” But even more dangerous is to venture into the even murkier merged world of “politics in the church.” This topic virtually assures that church folks will be offended at some point in this little essay. (I apologize in advance).

You could make the argument that politics within the church has been around since Ananias and Sapphira wanted to make a big splash with their donated land scheme. What would you call the election of the deacons in Acts 6 if it was not politics in the church? Surely there was some backroom church politics discussions with the circumcised/not circumcised debate of Acts 15. And Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 1 about those who follow himself or Apollos or Cephas or Christ sounds an awful like a political brouhaha. All of this to say that church politics have been around nearly as long as cheesy potatoes at church potlucks.

Not a News Flash: Politics still exist in the church today. When pastors with a thoroughly unremarkable record get appointed to the role of District Superintendent based on the big wig they know and not on what they have done, politics is at work. When a district “votes” on a lone candidate during an “election,” then you might assume some backroom politics were in play. When a female pastor with a Masters of Divinity can’t get a sniff at an interview with a church, but a first-year home study male pastor does, then you know church political “gerryMANdering” has taken place. When a pastor with a famous last name gets a choice assignment and more qualified candidates get passed over, nepotism is still in style. When people refuse to speak up at injustices within the church for fear it might hurt their career or hurt their chances at the next sweet assignment, church politics is thriving as the shadowy underbelly of the church.

As stated politics within the church have been around for nearly as long as the church has existed, so what is the answer? Here are a few reminders, I’ve told myself:

1) Remember the church isn’t perfect (neither are you). Humility, gentleness and submission to Jesus’ are still the answer to shortcomings within and without of the church.

2) Refuse to become bitter when you see things that might discourage you about the church.

3) Be glad your name is in the Lamb’s Book of Life more than on a church ballot or on a “big wig’s list of candidates.”

4) Walk in the footsteps of Jesus who according to John 1:14 came “full of truth and grace.” Be that way too– truthful and loving. Always.

5) Your work is for the Lord, not anything or anyone else. I have a friend who was snubbed this week by a religious big wig remind me, “I work for Jesus not that guy.”  Sometimes I need to remember that too.

In response to my questioning of the “Diversity” of the Global Ministry Center Leadership of the Church of the Nazarene

Following yesterday’s blog on the lack of diversity in the leadership of the Church of the Nazarene (with the exception of the Board of General Superintendents), I received a few less-than-supportive messages questioning how I could possibly believe that the Church of the Nazarene was not diverse or how I was simply wanting to be “politically correct” to suggest that we should be more diverse. I believe the term is “doubling down” (a gambling term that this life-long Nazarene shouldn’t know) and I confess that the accusations that I am less-than-loyal to a church that I deeply love may have gotten my “panties in a bunch.”

From the chart below (which admittedly might not be complete. If there are mistakes message me without calling me names, and I will adjust it.  And for some reason I couldn’t justify the columns, I apologize for that too), you decide on the question of whether there needs to be more diversity at the Global Ministry Center and how “international” our leadership really is at the GMC.

Draw your own conclusions on how well our 1,917,022 non-USA/Canada members (out of a total membership of 2,550,374 members) is represented with the below list of leaders.

Once again for the record: I love the people on this list (I was pastor to some of them when I served as Lenexa Central’s pastor).  I have no beef with the people or their qualifications or competence. I know they love Jesus and the Church of the Nazarene.

My issue is simply: If we are going to call ourselves an “international church” instead of an American Church that has some missions’ programs shouldn’t we be a bit more “international”?

Position                           Name                  Nation of Origin

General Secretary           Gary Hartke             USA

General Treasurer           Keith Cox                  USA

Chief Financial Officer   Bill Sawyer               USA

Global Mission Director  Vern Ward               USA

President the Naz Foundation Ken Roney       USA

Pres. The Fountry Pub        Mark Brown          USA

NYI Director                 Position Open

NMI Director                 Lola Brickey                 USA

SDMI Director               Scott Rainey                 USA

Clergy Education/Ed Comm     Dan Copp         USA

General Editor               Frank Moore                 USA

Regional Director            Bob Broadbrooks       USA

P&B Director                 Don Walter                    USA

Research                     Dale Jones                         USA

Church Planting              Mark Bane                  USA

Communications               Cort Miller                USA

Multicultural                Roberto Hodgson         Guatemala?

Stewardship                 Position Open

IT Director                  Jeff Beam                         USA

HR Director                  Cindy Armstrong         USA

BGS Office Manager           Joy Hartke              USA

NCM Director                 Nell Sweeden               USA

Global Mission Personnel     Marty Haskins           USA

General Counsel              Michael Thompson        USA

JFHP Director                Brian Helstrom          USA

NCN News                     Chad Schnarr            Canada

Editor of Holiness Today     Charles Christian       USA

I completely agree that some of these positions should be filled by folks from USA/Canada (maybe even more than half… I don’t know the “magic number” that would be fair and equitable).  But can’t we agree that as a denomination we can do better?  Can’t we agree that if heaven is going to be as diverse as Revelation 7:9 indicates (“I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb”), then our goal should be that we are a reflection of heaven too if we are praying for God’s kingdom to come and His will done on earth (at the GMC) as it is in heaven.

I love the Church of the Nazarene and pray that we can improve and truly be representative of heaven on earth.

No Congratulations Yet on the Leadership Demographics in the Church of Nazarene

A quick look at the Church of the Nazarene leadership says changes are happening. Three of the six general superintendents are non-Americans (two African and one Guatemalan) and there is a female GS. This summer along with the typical white, middle aged men who were elected District Superintendents in the USA/Canada region, also elected were a man born in the West Indies, a Hispanic man and a woman. All were good choices and this is good news. Our leadership demographics look a little more like the diversity that will exist in heaven than before the last General Assembly!

But let’s not start patting ourselves on the back just yet. Over the last few years those who were elected to the other general leadership positions in the church have all been white, Americans. (Please know, I have nothing against any of these people.  Some I know very well, and think they are great.  They love Jesus, love the Church of the Nazarene and are qualified to do the jobs they’ve been asked to do).  My problem isn’t with the individual selections or their qualifications but rather with a system that seems to favor white, USA born males in key leadership roles.

In the last few years, William Sawyer was elected to be the Chief Administrator of the Global Ministry Center.  The announcement is here.  Keith Cox was elected as General Treasurer.  The announcement is here.  Gary Hartke was elected as General Secretary. The announcement is here. Scott Rainey was elected to be the Global Director of Sunday School and Discipleship Ministries.  The announcement is here.  The lone exception is Nell Sweeden, a female from the USA who was elected to be the Director of Nazarene Compassionate Ministries.  Her announcement is here.

What do all of these major decision makers have in common?  Yes, they are all qualified for their respective positions.  They are also all white men (except for Nell) from the USA (including Nell).  We are a global church, aren’t we? There are more Nazarenes living outside the USA than in it. Surely there must be some wonderful, competent Nazarenes worldwide that can fulfill the duties and obligations in these important roles.

As the search for a new Global Nazarene Youth International Director (to take Dr. Hartke’s place) is being conducted can this white, American, middle aged pastor request that we look outside of the USA to find someone to fill this role?  If we are going to be an international church, then we need to diversify our meeting places (read: General Assemblies not just in the USA) and diversify our key leadership roles (not just the Board of General Superintendents).  I’m glad that three of our six General Superintendents are from outside of the USA and a few of the USA/Canada DSs are from minority groups, but can we admit that we can do much better. If we want our “international” church to be an answer to Jesus prayer that His Kingdom would come and His will done on earth as it is in heaven, then I think our church will look a little more international, a little less white and a lot more diversified in all areas of church leadership and not just at the tippy top.

Is God answering our Prayer in the Church of the Nazarene? I think so!

At our local Nazarene church in Flint Michigan, we are constantly praying a slightly altered version of the prayer that the Lord taught us to pray.  We pray that “God’s kingdom would come and His will be done in Flint as it is in heaven.”  We believe that is a prayer that Jesus not only told us to pray, but a prayer that we should expect and want God to answer.

What would it look like if God actually answered that prayer?  When “God’s kingdom comes and His will is done” then love for neighbor will be continually experienced.  We will only have neighbors in heaven. No outsiders allowed. In Revelation 7, John gives us a glimpse into heaven when he talks of seeing “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:9). I’m pretty sure that means there will be no barriers based on where one’s passport is issued, the color of one’s skin, one’s ancestry, or any of the other things that too often divide us. Jesus talks about heaven being like a great banquet, as such plenty not poverty will characterize the gathering of saints.  Later the Revelator says it will be a place where ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain” (Revelation 21:4).  Healthy and happy will describe us.  All of this happens, when God’s kingdom comes and his will is done.

Some look at our world and say, “We aren’t close to the Lord answering that prayer. There are problems and divisions like never before.” But like the people the Old Testament prophet Zechariah called us to be, I am a “prisoner of hope.” As such that doesn’t mean we have to put on “rose colored glasses,” instead you just need to look a little closer to see God’s work. I refuse to believe that God is done. He still wants to answer that prayer that Christians have been praying for 2,000 years. We have a long, long way to go, but I see evidence of his working.

Take my little tribe, the Church of the Nazarene, for example.  When you looked at our leadership circles a few years ago, it looked like we were communicating that the kingdom of heaven would only be occupied by white haired, American men (and who mostly pastored a church in Olathe, Kansas).  But now our six General Superintendents includes two from Africa, one from Guatemala and a woman. This summer in the USA/Canada region we have elected a Hispanic man, a man born in West Indies and a woman to the role of District Superintendent. All this to say, we are changing.  We are looking more and more like heaven.

I know the change (the answer to the Lord’s prayer) is not happening as fast as some would prefer. I know we have a long, long way to go. I know our country is divided and sometimes those divisions are seen in the church.  We still have problems. But I am a prisoner of hope and believe that God is at work both in my local church and in the larger global makeup of the Church of the Nazarene. So, I’m going to keep being a prisoner of hope and keep praying and keep expecting that God’s kingdom will come and his will done on earth, in Flint, in the Church of the Nazarene as it is in heaven.  Won’t you join me in praying that prayer too.


Churches that Keep the Folks Who are Thinking about Leaving Have these 4 Qualities

LifeWay Research released a survey this week indicating that 15% of church attenders have thought about leaving their church in the last 6 months. You can see the survey Here.

Why would so many people think of leaving their church? Of course, there are a few legitimate reasons: moving from the area; marrying a heretic (I’m kidding) who attends another church; not getting your way in the Carpet Color Committee Meeting (oh wait… that’s not a legitimate reason).  It’s been my experience that people are too quick to start “church shopping,” but the churches that keep the 15% have taught its members/attenders the following:

1) The Truth about Pastures.  The “grass in the other church’s pasture may look greener” but it’s not.  Churches like cow pastures are filled with shades of green and brown. Since cow pastures are both the cattle’s kitchen and restroom, they contain opportunties for growth, but you also have to watch your step. Just like every church. All the churches I’ve pastored have had a less-than-perfect pastor (me) and have had room to improve. They’ve also had plenty of good folks and ministries. Your pasture (church) just like the next pasture (the church down the road) has its share of green and brown too. You will find whatever color you are looking for, so look for the lush green grass on your side of the fence.

2) Math Rules. Good members/attenders have learned to add and multiply, not subtract and divide. Add to the body by offering your talents, love and positivity. Then watch God multiply what you’ve given for His glory.  Those that subtract from the ministries, who are negative toward leadership and mission become a fraction of themselves and play into our enemy’s goal of dividing the body.

3) Churches should be more like camping, than a cafeteria.  Church isn’t a cafeteria where you pig out on piles of bacon, mounds of potatoes and more of everything offered only to leave as soon as you can’t eat another bite. It’s more like a campground, where you pitch your tent. You stay. Make friends with the next campsite’s residents. Share stories, supplies and maybe eat some s’mores together. Just because there may be rain clouds forming, you don’t pull up your stakes. Instead, happy campers hunker down with a “this-storm-will-pass” attitude. It’s not about consuming all you can and leaving, but joining in life and sharing with others even (especially) through the storms.

4) Members/Attenders should be more like Gorilla Glue than real Gorillas. Gorilla Glue’s marketing campaign states that the glue can hold anything together. On the other hand, you never know what a real Gorilla is going to do: charge or start throwing their own messes. Churches aren’t places to beat one’s chest and claim your territory, instead we need members/attenders who are more like the glue that holds things together.

Conclusion:Your church needs you.  Look for areas of growth, adding and multiplying to God’s work, camping out with a positive attitude and being the glue that holds things together.  Your church needs you to be in the 85% that says: “I’m staying! God’s up to something and I don’t want to miss it!”

Happy July 5th!

We all know what happened on July 4, 1776.  The 56 delegates to the Second Continental Congress officially adopted the Declaration of Independence so that 242 years later fireworks stands could occupy vacant lots across the country, Joey Chestnut could be free to eat 74 hot dogs in 10 minutes and the rest of us could enjoy life in an independent and free country. But what about July 5th?

A quick Google search of things that happened on July 5 shows a few interesting historical events.  It was on July 5, 1937, Hormel Foods introduced the world to Spam (maybe Joey Chestnut should eat 75 cans of Spam today to celebrate).  On July 5, 1946, fashion designer Louis Reard introduced “Le bikini” at a Paris swimming pool (If it’s all the same to you, I don’t want to see Joey Chestnut anywhere near a bikini).  On July 5, 1947 Larry Doby started playing baseball for the Cleveland Indians (becoming the first black man to play in the American League) and on July 5, 1975 Arthur Ashe won at Wimbledon becoming the first African American to win the prestigious tennis tournament.  July 5 is Independence Day in other countries:  Algeria (from France, in 1962), Cape Verde (from Portugal, in 1975) and Venezuela (from Spain, in 1811).

On July 5, 1776, the news of the ratification of the Declaration of Independence began to spread. By July 9, a statue of King George III was torn down in New York City and melted into 42,000 musket balls that the fledging United States army would use in the fight against the British.  On July 5, copies were made of the Declaration of Independence.  A Philadelphia printer named John Dunlop made approximately 100 copies that were distributed to the colonies, newspapers and commanders of the continental army (There are 26 known copies of the “Dunlop Broadsides” in existence today.  In 1989, a Philadelphia man found an original Dunlap Broadside hidden in the back of a picture frame he bought at a flea market for $4. It was in excellent condition and sold for $8.1 million in 2000.  Now that’s reason to shoot off a few fireworks!).

All this to say, on July 5, 1776 the work of fulfilling the Declaration of Independence began.  It was a costly work.  Approximately 25,000 people died during the American Revolutionary War. The war began before July 4, 1776 with the Battle of Lexington and Concord, on April 19, 1775, and lasted until the signing of the Treaty of Paris on September 3, 1783.  While July 4, 1776 made the Declaration of Independence from British rule official, the fulfillment of the Declaration of independence took time, effort and sacrifice.

Why the July 5 history lesson?

You and I can pray a prayer of surrender to the Lordship of Jesus in our lives—anywhere at any time. The decision doesn’t have to take long (a shorter time than it took John Hancock to place his John Hancock on the original document), but like the original signers of the Declaration of Independence deciding to follow Jesus doesn’t mean that the “fight” is over.  In some ways, it is just beginning. Following our Declaration of Dependence on Jesus our enemy will try to get us to recant our decision (one signer of the Declaration of Independence, Richard Stockton, recanted after being captured by the British). There will be challenges and temptations. It takes a daily commitment to serve Jesus with all of one’s heart, mind, soul and strength.  We must daily rely on him for His grace and mercy. Simply bumping one’s head on an altar isn’t the end point, but the beginning of a lifetime of serving, learning, loving and leaning into the loving arms of the Father.

If you haven’t made a Declaration of Dependence on Jesus, July 5this an excellent day to do it.  Don’t delay. Give your life to Jesus today.


LeBron, Boogie and the Body of Christ

The big news out the basketball world was that LeBron James (also known as “King James,” not for his love of the 1611 translation of the Bible, but for his prowess on the basketball court) left Cleveland for the Los Angeles Lakers and the 154 million dollars that they are going to give him to play a game for the next four years.  The pastor in me can’t help but dream…  “if only LeBron tithed.”

The other news in the basketball world was that “Boogie” Cousins (I do not think “Boogie” is related to Central’s Gwen or Gary Cousins, and I don’t know how he got the nickname “Boogie.” Hopefully it’s because he can dance and not because of a nasal drainage problem) signed with the Golden State Warriors.  The Golden State Warriors were already a good team (they’ve won three of the last four NBA championships).  Picking “Boogie” makes the Warriors have five all-stars. You might say, “It snot fair” (sorry for the continual booger jokes), since they will be the first team since the mid-seventies to have that many all-star players.  In other words, the 2019 NBA championship may have already been decided when Boogie blew into the Golden State hanky… ummm arena (sorry these booger puns are a curse).

Who cares? We cheer for the Pistons. The Pistons haven’t sniffed a championship in nearly 15 years and won’t again this year with or without a Boogie on their roster.

I write all of this because God has placed us on his team too. It’s called the church.  Paul used a body metaphor to describe the church in 1 Corinthians 12. But if Paul were a basketball fan maybe he would have written 1 Corinthians 12 this way:

Just as a basketball team, though one, has many players, but all its many players form one team, so it is with Christ…. Now if the center should say, “Because I am not a point guard, I do not belong to the team,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the team, And if the shooting guard should say, “Because I am not a power forward, I do not belong to the team,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the team. If the whole team were a point guard, who would guard the taller centers? If the whole team were centers, who would guard the quicker guards.  But in fact God has placed the positions on the team, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.  If they were all one player, where would the team be?  As it is, there are many players, but one team.

 The point guard cannot say to the center, “I don’t need you!” And the starters cannot say to the bench players, “We don’t need you!” On the contrary, those players on the team that seem to be riding the bench are indispensable, and the player that we think are less needed we treat with special honor… But God has put the team together… so that there should be no division on the team, but that its players should have equal concern for each other.  If one player suffers, every player suffers with it; if one player is honored, every player rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” (A very loose paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 12:12-26)

LeBron can’t win a championship on his own. He needs teammates. Just because Golden State picked their Boogie, doesn’t mean the other players don’t matter. Likewise, we need each other. If we are going to win the world for Jesus, we must be united and on the same team!