What I've been thinking and what I've been reading for you to compare notes.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Product and Service and Church

I just got back to my study. Went about a half a block to a local Subway sandwich shop to get lunch.

It bugs me that the same lady who is there every time I patronize the shop still doesn't accept the fact that I will not pay for a sandwich made with the heels of the tomato. She'll put the slice of the tomato with the stem still showing (can anyone eat those?) on the sandwich and I'll say, "Please don't leave that on my sandwich," and then she'll change it. It's like a game we play.

Its funny because she knows I'm standing right there watching. How much money is Subway going to lose worldwide if they don't try to pass off the heels of tomatoes on their sandwiches? And why do they have a glass where you can watch your sandwich being made "the way you like it" if they don't expect you to watch?

Now I'm not spouting off on the web about tomatoes. Well I guess I am, but I'm not spouting off JUST about tomatoes. This whole scenario makes me think of the quality of service and product in the church.

I try my best to make the quality of my teaching and preaching worth people's time. I really want to pray and study hard to make the Word of God practical and encouraging to those who hear it. (Not like the pastor of one church Deb and I attended while at college where the pastor got up on Wednesday night and for his teaching read from a daily devotional guide and then dismissed with prayer. I wanted to stand up and say, "I invested my time and the gas in my car coming across town for this?")

I know a faulty piece of tomato or brown lettuce winds up in my sermons once in a while but its not on purpose. Sometimes I'm distracted by things going on in the congregation and I can't keep my concentration on what I'm saying. And it's always difficult for a pastor to look at the seats of where a certain family sits every week and notice those seats are empty and you don't know where they are. Are they sick? Are they discouraged? Have they become indifferent to spiritual things? Did they have another family fight?

It takes a tremendous amount of mental discipline to stay focused sometimes. That's why I try to ask people to do their best to remember that guests will see these "heels of the tomato" in the worship gatherings and they might be distracted from true worship.

Besides the preaching and teaching and the atmosphere of the worship gathering, there's the music and the child care and the greeting of guests, the care and cleaning of the facilities and the church grounds - all of which should represent the very best for those who come for the product and services that the church offers.

I must admit that when I think about it all sometimes it is a daunting task.

George Barna defines leadership as "the process of motivating, mobilizing, resourcing, and directing people to passionately and strategically pursue a vision from God that a group jointly embraces." (From "A Fish Out of Water")

That is a big job description. God please help me.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The Importance of Knowing What's Important

It's personal reflection time.

I do this every summer - I look back over my life and try to refocus my aim - see where I've been and where I'm going. Tomorrow I turn 51 - so on my birthday I don't just celebrate - I also ruminate.

Here's what I've learned so far about what is important in life.

1. Spending time getting to know God is the "one thing" that's most important!

"One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life. To gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek Him in His temple. Psalms 27:4

"Martha, Martha," the Lord answered, you are worried and upset about many things but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her." Luke 10:41-42

"Jesus looked at him and loved him. "One thing you lack," he said. "Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." Mark 10:21

"Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead. I press toward what is ahead. I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." Philippians 3:13-14

I'm very glad that I came to know Christ and realized my need for nurturing my spiritual life right around the time of my 12th birthday. Knowing God has been the one thing that has radically made my life worth living!

I really have a spiritual dimension and it is the most settled and structured part of me even though I can't see it. I really need God. Every day. All day long. Knowing God is life's greatest pleasure. And pursuing God is life's greatest challenge. After 39 years of knowing God I still sometimes wrestle with finding time for God. I jotted down this quote recently from my readings:

"Knowing God is a process that can no more be exhausted than the exploration of the universe."
[Wayne Gordon, pp131-132, "Standing Fast: Ministry in An Unfriendly World" (Chapter on finding time for God)]

I will go on investing my life in the process of knowing God more and more.

2. Living my life with love for others is the next priority.

Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:37-40 (NLT)

It still boils down to this. 1) Love God. 2) Love others as I love myself.

The catch is to nail these priorities every day. Some days I get caught up in accomplishing the tasks I've set for that day and forget to show others the love I feel for them in my heart.

I wonder if I should put "frontlets" before my eyes like the ancient Hebrews did - little Scripture quotes dangling from my forehead?

Well...this year I think I'm just going to focus on those two things: loving God, loving others.

I haven't found anything else in 51 years worth more than that.

Friday, June 01, 2007

12 Positive Reflections for 12 Years

Twelve years ago today I began serving God as pastor at Pathway.
At the time the church was called Huntsville Free Will Baptist.
Here are 12 positive personal reflections on the last 12 years.
1. The name has been changed to reach the unchurched. Research shows that the unchurched feel more comfortable visiting a church without denominational trappings. As in the logo above, we sometimes mention that we are a Free Will Baptist Fellowship, in case someone with a church background wants to know more about our heritage. But since adopting our Vision Statement several years ago, we have opted for a name that is more in keeping with our target - unchurched young families. We want to help put them on a path of reaching their full potential for God.
2. The church has a clearer vision than ever before. Our official Vision Statement reads: "Reaching out to unchurched young families by offering practical biblical solutions that meet the needs of the whole person and providing opportunities to reach our full potential for God." Over the last several years we have become more and more conscious of utilizing the vision that God has given us in our preparation and planning of ministry opportunities. As we sharpen our axe this way we are becoming more and more effective at hitting our target.
3. We sold our old, outdated, and less advantageously located property. After much prayer God opened the door in only the way He can. He sent us a buyer for our old property and they did not even balk at our asking price. We are not in a permanent home yet but we have much more freedom to follow God's leading for relocation.
4. Pathway Church has no indebtedness! Because God allowed us to sell our old property we are not only out of debt, but we even have money in the bank for future property purchase!
5. The people of Pathway are not afraid to take risks for God! We don't do foolish things but we're not afraid to try new things to reach people with the Good News about Jesus.
6. Pastor and people have a history together. I know I can trust the people of Pathway and they know they can trust me. We love one another even though none of us is perfect.
7. New people! When God adds new members to our family they already know about our vision and our mission - they're going where we're going and want to be a part of helping the church get there. Our Mission Statement (How we'll accomplish our Vision Statement):
* Hosting attractive and relevant events and programs tailored to the interests and concerns of our community.
* Equipping each believer to enjoy a biblically based daily walk with Christ by presenting God, his purposes, His principles, and His plans.
* Offering opportunities for spiritual, mental, emotional, social and physical development through small groups and activities that build up relationships within the body of Christ.
* Challenging believers to discover and develop their S.H.A.P.E.* that they may serve on ministry teams in the church in ways that are both fruitful and fulfilling. (S.H.A.P.E. is an acronym for: Spiritual Gifts, Heart, Abilities, Personality, and Experience.)
* Expressing our love for god through authentic contemporary worship in an interactive setting that inspires an ongoing worship experience.
8. Small Groups. This ministry has a long way to go in our church but in its infancy it contains a lot of promise. As we build new small groups we will accomplish our mission on a more personal level.
9. Vital Worship! Over the last twelve years we've made the transition gradually to a more updated, contemporary style of worship. The reason we did this was to help reach our target of unchurched young families. I have heard many positive comments about our worship!
10. People have grown and are growing in Christ! When I look back and see how so many people have grown up in Christ through the ministry of Pathway Church I am amazed at what God is doing! To see others become more like Jesus has been one of my greatest joys as pastor the last dozen years! And I have seen and experienced God doing many things to make me more like Jesus as well - and He's still working on me.
11. From a family standpoint, Deb and I have seen our three children take wings during the last twelve years. Since we've been in Huntsville all three of our children have graduated from high school and college and are all happily married and serving Christ in other states and foreign countries. Pathway is still their home church. We're thankful that we had a solid and stable church in which to raise our children.
12. The future is bright! After twelve years I am more excited than ever about the future of Pathway Church! Because of what God has done for us in the past we are ready to fulfill His vision together for our future!