We are learning the “why’s” and “how’s” of leading our friends to faith and trust in Jesus. It is important that we understand what that means. We have seen, already, that we are to trust and believe that Jesus died for our sins, was buried, and rose from the dead, but how does a person respond to Jesus and the resurrection for salvation.
Paul shares two concepts with the Ephesian church that constitute our salvation: Grace and Faith. In the famous and mighty discussion of how God saves and transforms lives, Paul indicates that we are “saved by grace through faith.”
When we think of the Grace and Faith that are necessary for our salvation, it is helpful to think of it in terms of direction:
According to the text, Grace is a gift from God! So grace begins with and comes from God. Grace is God offering us salvation. Without God’s grace in offering us salvation, we could not be saved.
According to the text, we are saved when we respond to God’s grace (offer) “through faith.” So, faith, directionally, is how we respond to God’s grace in order to be saved and forgiven.
These are incredibly important concepts for us to understand, for our own good and in order to help lead our friends to Jesus.
1. GRACE: Salvation is a Gift from God, not a Reward we have Earned.
Paul is extremely clear in helping us understand grace. He refers to “grace” as a “gift” that is “not of our own doing,” “not a result of [our] works,” and something we cannot “boast” about having accomplished.
Paul, in Romans, reiterates that it is impossible for us to keep God’s law and therefore it is impossible for us to “earn” salvation through our good works!
When I was a child, my parents would tell me every November, "Charlie, you need to be good to get on the 'nice' list this year and you will get presents for Christmas." I tried as much as I could to be good, but I inevitably reverted by to my mischievous ways. Thankfully, even though I had not been "good" I still woke up to presents under the tree. Why? Because of grace. My parents loved me in spite of my shortcomings. Their love and affection were symbolized in the unearned and unconditional gifts they gave to me.
God is the same with us. We are not saved because we have earned it or deserve it. We are saved by grace, which is a gift from God.
2. FAITH: Our Singular and Sole Dependence of Jesus Resurrection for Our Salvation.
After studying the concept of “faith” in the Bible, scholar J. I. Packer concluded that faith is “the unqualified acceptance of, and exclusive dependence on the mediation of the Son as alone securing the mercy of the Father.”
We must be careful that we are not carrying an illegitimate and impotent faith in our works instead of God’s grace and Jesus’ resurrection. A person is not saved by baptism—if you are trusting your baptism, you are not saved. A person is not saved by their good works—if you are trusting your works, you are not saved. A person is saved when they are depending on Jesus’ resurrection!
Packer also concluded that “the nature of faith is to live by the truth it receives; faith, resting on God’s promise, gives thanks for God’s grace by work[ing] for the glory of God.”
Faith is not just for mental assent—“I believe this is true”—but, have you actually given your life to follow Jesus? This is why Jesus tells us:
John 14:12 “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do…”
James shares the same thoughts, that genuine faith changes a person so that they begin to follow Jesus and His teachings:
James 2:18-20 “But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works,’ Show me your faith apart from works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?”
Right now we must realize that the only way we can come into a right relationship with God is acknowledging our sin and our inability to save our selves. We do not come too God with a list of our accomplishments--attempting to prove our worthiness of His time and attention. Instead, we beg God for mercy, we accept His gift of salvation, and we move forward in life by obeying Him.
 Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, under heading “Faith”.
In our text, we see a portrait of our greatest fear in sharing the Gospel message: Rejection, Persecution, and Failure.
Stephen is a deacon in the church at Jerusalem. The church was formed by the followers of Jesus on the day of Pentecost and would add thousands more believers after Paul preached later that day. As a deacon, Stephen was required to know and believe the Gospel and he served as a waiter and food deliverer to the widows in that church.
Stephen was also a great sharer of Jesus’ Resurrection. Because he shared his faith so freely and effectively, the unbelieving religious Jews in the area would argue with him (Acts 6:8-15). In arguing with him, it became obvious that Stephen was able to convince a lot of people to trust Jesus, so they conspired to falsely accuse, arrest, and kill him.
This is what we fear—not necessarily that someone will kill us for sharing Jesus—but we fear they will reject us and that we will have failed. This morning we should ask three questions before we dive into this text and discussion:
Yes. We are followers and voluntary slaves of Jesus. He has given us the mandate to make disciples a part of living our lives (Matthew 28:18-20). Just as we get up every day and make it a priority to go to work, care for our family, and to pay our bills—so ought we make it a priority and part of life to share the Good News about Jesus’ resurrection.
If we fail to tell others about Jesus’ Resurrection and His gift of salvation, then we fail to give them the opportunity to follow Jesus and avoid an eternity in Hell. If we knew CPR we would not walk past a person having a heart attack. If we could perform the Heimlich Maneuver, we would not sit back and watch a person choke to death, and if we saw a house on fire we would not pass by without calling 9-1-1. If we did, we could not live with that type of guilt the rest of our lives. Even more so, we cannot fail to share the Gospel, because too many eternities are at stake.
We fear sharing our faith, because we fear failing in one or more ways. Do you understand that you cannot fail, unless you fail to share the Gospel. This leads to our first observation:
1. A Person’s Salvation Depends on God’s Power and their Decision.
We do not save anyone. We cannot forgive a person, change their heart, or spare their soul from Hell. That is not our job—it is God’s. God does all of the saving, changing, and rescuing.
Our job is to do the telling. We are God’s agents or representatives. We carry the message of the Gospel—the Good News—that Jesus is God and He rose from the dead with the power to forgive you and change your life. For a lack of a better analogy, we are salespeople for Jesus, only we aren’t selling anything, we are telling people how to accept God’s free gift of salvation.
This really helps to free us from the fear that Satan brings into our life. I do the saying and Jesus does the saving! I am a messenger, but He is the Savior. I will do my job, and I know God will do His!
2. Our Job is to Trust Jesus and Share His Message.
In a few weeks we are going to show you a couple of different ways to tell others about Jesus. There really are several different ways to do it, and it depends a lot on who you are as an individual. One person may be very bold, while another talks to people more privately. Some will prefer to share the Gospel over a cup of coffee, and another may share a meal in order to talk about the Gospel.
At the end of the day, it is our job to trust Jesus and to share His message. If you commit to that and act on it, many of your friends will trust Jesus and follow Him.
3. Do not Take Rejection of the Gospel Personally, it is not About You.
If you share your faith and someone responds, “No thanks…I don’t believe that garbage!” It can be natural and easy to feel hurt, offended, and rejected. None of us enjoy that experience, but over time, you certainly can learn to understand it and not take it personally.
In not taking it personally, we must remember that a person who rejects the message of Jesus’ Resurrection is a sinner rejecting the idea that they need to be saved. When we share the Good News, we also are sharing bad news—you are a lost sinner destined for Hell. Most people don’t like hearing that they are wrong. Most people don’t want to acknowledge that they have offended God. Most people don’t want to admit that they need God. Why? Because they are sinners, and sin messes with our hearts and minds and tries to keep us from Jesus. Remember what Paul teaches in Romans—sin is a slave master who wants to control you.
Here is what God says in the Bible about those who reject us because they reject Jesus:
“The one who hears you, hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects Him Who sent me.” (Luke 10:16)
Be careful though, and make sure that we are not rude, arrogant, or hypocritical when we share our faith (1 Peter 3:13-17)
In our text, Paul gives us the heart of Jesus’ message: Jesus died for our sins, was buried, and rose from the dead three days later! What makes the Gospel even better, is that Jesus appeared to over 500 people who could and would verify that He really did rise from the dead.
This is the greatest evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus—the fact that over 500 people saw him after He died. They talked with Him. They ate meals with Him. Even Thomas saw and touched the scars on His body left from the wounds of the Resurrection (Jn. 20:24-29).
Because they saw Jesus alive, they believed and understood that He was God in human form and that He had the power to save them and forgive their sins. They understood that as His followers they were to serve Jesus by living and sharing this Good News. Jesus had already told them that His mission was to “seek and to save the lost” (Lu. 19:1-10). Now there was zero doubt in their minds about Who He was, what He came to do, and how they were supposed to respond. Jesus gathered them together and told them, “You are my witnesses, so go everywhere and share the Good News, baptize those who believe, and teach them to follow me” (Matt. 28:16-20; Acts 1:6-8).
Jesus was always and only about saving sinners. His followers obeyed Him and used the rest of their lives to be always and only about saving sinners. The Apostles and many other disciples dispersed and made followers of Jesus throughout Europe, Asia, the Middle East, Russia, India, and North Africa—in a single lifetime. They were arrested, beaten, and killed for their faith and trust that Jesus did rise from the dead.
For the last 2,000 years, believers have taken the Good News to the 6 inhabited continents of the world and shared the Good News while making hundreds of millions of disciples. Along the way, millions have been persecuted and killed for their faith and trust that Jesus did rise from the dead.
This morning we are part of that ancient lineage and that powerful heritage. We are the church of God. We are the followers of Jesus. We have been entrusted with the care of the Bible, the mission to follow Jesus, and the mandate to share the Good News with every soul on this planet. We are the people, called by God, to live, teach, and share the Good News of Jesus’ resurrection. We are the ones who should believe, trust, and live for Jesus—even through persecution and death. If we do not share the Gospel, then this world dies in their sins without hope.
Today we begin a brief series intended to give each of you the tools and leadership to begin sharing your faith—the basic duty of the Christian.
1. The Problem: We are Sinners who Cannot Save Ourselves
If we are going to share our faith in Jesus, then we must first understand why Jesus needed to come and save us in the first place!
The Bible teaches what we already know—that everyone sins (Rom. 3:23). There are very few people who sincerely believe that anyone is perfect. We know full well that we hurt people and people hurt us also. We read the paper, follow the Internet, and watch the news—we know that evil resides in the heart of all people.
But what few people fail to understand is that sinners cannot save or fix themselves! The Bible says that what we earn from our sin is death, and that salvation is a free gift (Romans 6:23).
We cannot save ourselves, because we cannot go back and unbreak the Law of God that our sin has broken! Even if we could go back in time, our sin nature guarantees that we will sin again and again. We don’t need rehabilitation and repair—we need a rescue. We need divine intervention…God coming to us and doing for us what we cannot do ourselves. We need Him, and we need Him to save us from our sin.
2. The Power: Jesus Took Our Place and Rose from the Dead
There is no message and there is no Good News without the death and Resurrection of Jesus. In Romans 1:16, Paul states that it is the Resurrection that is the source of power, energy, and vitality of the Good News:
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel (good news), for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”
Two things jump out at us here: First, do not be ashamed or embarrassed to be a believer in Jesus. The world has it backwards—they sin and ignore God without any shame. Instead, they mock God, Jesus, and His people as if we ought to be ashamed! Like Paul, we are unashamed! Why, well, secondly, Jesus and His Resurrection demonstrate and prove God’s power to save us from sin and transform our life! Why in the world would I be ashamed of Jesus? He has saved me from my sin! He has blessed my life and my family! He never leaves me! He meets all of my needs! And when everyone else is gone—He is still there—loving and leading me! There are moments when I am ashamed of myself and others, but I ought to never, ever be ashamed of Jesus!
3. The Promise: Those Who Believe and Receive Christ will be Saved
Over and over again in the Bible, Moses, the Prophets, Jesus, and His Disciples tell us that if we accept God’s gift of salvation and forgiveness and follow Him then we will be saved from our sin and hell!
This is the only way to right our wrongs…we turn everything over to God, acknowledge our sin and brokenness, and ask for His mercy and forgiveness. Stop trying to be better, because you cannot change yourself completely. Stop trying to earn God’s forgiveness, because it is a gift you receive—not a badge you earn.
We are forgiven and saved from sin when we come to the end—the end of ourselves, the end of trying, and the end of depending on this world. It’s at the end of this rope that we realize that we need God and He is the only way out. God reaches out to us and offers us salvation.
Have you taken His hand? Will you take His hand?
Share the Good News of Jesus' Resurrection with your friends and loved ones. I remember being nervous in high school about sharing my faith. I would put it off over and over again. Finally, I invited my 6' 5" friend Mike to church. He came a few times, trusted Christ, and followed in baptism. A few weeks later his family moved and I have never seen or heard from him since. But I know one thing for sure, because of our mutual faith in Jesus, we will reunite in eternity someday. Christian, do your job and tell this world about Jesus!
This morning we must understand the significance of God’s Word, the Bible. The Bible teaches that it is inspired by God. In other words, every word of the Bible is true and represents God’s message to mankind. When you or I disagree with the Bible, we disagree with God. When we disagree with God, we are wrong and must change our lives and behaviors to agree with God. This is the obligation of the Christian.
Therefore, when we come to a portion of the Bible like Romans 6, we must stop and remember, “This is God speaking to the world…this is God speaking to me.” These are not recommendations or helpful advice, these are clear commands of a holy God to people He created. This morning we do not shake our fists at God as the world does. Instead, we bow before Him and confess that we are sinners who need someone to save us.
1. Are Saved People Permitted to Live a Lifestyle of Sin?
Answer from God: “Absolutely Not!”
Paul, under the inspiration of the Spirit, answers the question God’s people have been asking for thousands of years, “If I am saved and forgiven, can I still live in sin?” Modern American Christianity has become weak and anemic because pastors have failed to teach and the churches have failed to answer and live this out correctly. When Paul was asked, “Can I still live in sin?” He used the strongest language available to him and said, “Absolutely not!” or “God forbid!” When the Romans read this letter they would have left with the impression that under no circumstances will the child of God return to their old life and continue unrestrained in a lifestyle of sin.
This is God’s will. This is God’s teaching. Yet inside American churches today are people who claim to be saved…they claim to know Christ…and they claim to follow Jesus…but they regularly get drunk, sleep with and live with people they are not married to, look at pornography online, cheat on their taxes, and knowingly mistreat others. Please understand this today, if you claim to be saved, but you live in sin with absolutely no guilt and you see no need to change, you may not be saved or born again. The Bible is plain, “If any man or woman are in Christ, they become a new person! The old passes away and all things become new!” (2 Corinthians 5:17)
“But I have a prayed a prayer…I have been baptized!” But have you been saved? You must give up your life…trust in Jesus…and give your life to him! If you are rolling around in the sin and filth of this world with no guilt and no remorse you have not given your life to Jesus…you just think you have. This morning there are people in Hell who thought they believed in Jesus and were baptized. Look at what the Bible says,
Matthew 7:21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
Are you saved this morning, or are you living right in the middle of sin and wickedness like you don’t have a care in this world? Stop deceiving yourself and humble yourself and give your life to Jesus today!
If you truly are born again and have seen a change in your life, never, never go back to your old ways. Never give yourself to sin.
2. Why Not?
Answer from God: “Because You are in Christ and Christ is in You.”
If you have given your life to Jesus then you are now in Jesus and He is in you. You don’t belong to yourself…you belong to Him. You do not have the right to go out and shack up, get drunk, smoke your joint, watch your porn, curse and swear at others, if you know Jesus. If you know Jesus and act like that, you can expect Him to bring some judgment and correction into your life! You need to repent…leave the sin and come back to Him!
3. What Does That Mean?
Answer from God: “Salvation means we fully participate in Christ’s death and resurrection. Participating in His death to sin, means we are dead to sin and no longer a slave to sin. Participating in His resurrection, means we are given a new life that is lived as a slave to God. We are freed from sin and obligated to obey God!”
When Jesus died on the cross, He died for our sins. When He arose, He showed his power over sin (1 Corinthians 15:55-56). So being inside of Jesus and having Jesus inside of you means that His power over sin is available to you. You can live a life and not be controlled by sin. You are now His slave…not a slave to sin.
4. How Do I Realize this Freedom and Live this New Life?
Answer from God: “Hate your sin (not yourself) and do whatever God tells you to do!”
The solution is not hating yourself, or hurting yourself. That is what sin does to you—it hurts you, brings guilt and shame, and makes you hate yourself. More sin and addiction creeps into your life when you try to cover up the sin and shame. This leads to a deadly spiritual spiral that destroys marriages, careers, and lives.
Like the Apostle Paul, in Romans, we must see sin as a separate entity from ourselves. Sin is in our life, even as a believer, but it is not who we are. We need to learn to hate sin. When you are tempted, you must overlook the immediate gratification and pleasure it will bring into your life and look, instead, at the horrible harvest of destruction it will bring into your life!
You must then see the upside of living for God. God brings peace instead of guilt and shame. God heals your soul and relationships instead of destroying them. Then you have the joy and happiness of knowing that God is pleased and that you have set the right example for your family. Remember, your spouse, kids, and grandkids are watching you. Give them the version of you they will respect!
10. Doctrine Matters
It does…it really does. I tire from my colleagues, the tele-evangelists, and the rock star pastors who sarcastically loathe Bible doctrine. Their argument is often presented in the language of “no one church has it all right…people mean more than doctrinal differences…and the greatest command is love.” I would agree with each of those statements…except they are misleading. While all of those things are true, they are no reason to minimize, water-down, or avoid the clear, explicit teaching of the Bible. A church without doctrine is like a car without an engine, a school without a curriculum, and a computer without an operating system. Doctrine defines not just what we believe, but also what we will do.
Contrary to what “non-denominational” churches tell you, they have doctrines too. Every church…every person believes something about God and themselves…that is doctrine. So, to pretend like doctrine is divisive or meaningless is to divorce Christianity from Jesus Christ. Jesus taught doctrine, pointed out false doctrine, and condemned those who preached false doctrine. Doctrine matters, because it is the doctrine of Jesus Christ that saves us from our sins.
9. God, Alone, Changes the Heart
I have been told I am a persuasive person. I admit it is a skill that comes in handy when teaching, preaching, or even negotiating the price of car. I am most guilty of attempting to persuade others and change hearts through my own reasoning, wit, and logic. At this point in ministry, I recognize that my persuasion effectively changes the mind, but not the heart. If the heart is not changed then the soul is left unchanged. When the heart and soul remain selfish and self-sufficient a person is not born again. In Romans 1, Paul made it clear that the Gospel message is the power of God for salvation. I am sure God intentionally gifted me and others in many ways in which He chooses to use us. But none of these gifts replace or augment the power of the Gospel. The Gospel is all-powerful by itself.
8. You are a Shepherd
It’s going to sound like I don’t like leadership. That is not true. I love, love, love leadership. I have a Ph.D. in Leadership. I like everything about leadership. I use leadership as much as I can to help the church. But I am not a CEO. It’s not that I couldn’t be one—I have the skillset and experience to do well there, like a number of pastor’s I know—there is nothing wrong with being a CEO.
The issue is that God has called pastors to be shepherds…and actually, that is what the word “pastor” means. You see, you can be an effective and successful church CEO, but be a horrible shepherd. CEO’s need a bold vision, they balance the spreadsheets, they promote organizational unity, and they run things efficiently. There are a number of pastors and churches who see this as the primary duty of the pastor. They are successful at this, they build buildings, they expand programs, and they meet the financial bottom-line. Many of these churches are also lifeless and lack the power of God. Why? Because churches need shepherds. Shepherds feed, protect, and care for the sheep. Jesus said that a good shepherd will give his life for his sheep. A shepherd has a totally different mindset than a CEO does. A shepherd’s commitment comes from his heart, and more times than not a CEO’s commitment is chained to his wallet. God, in his wisdom, gives the church shepherds. Be a good shepherd and that will be enough.
7. You Will Treat Most People Much Better than They Treat You
This is basic leadership. In fact, if people treat you better than you treat them, you aren’t leading well and you aren’t doing Christianity very well. The Bible tells us to “outdo one another in showing honor” (Romans 12:10b). Jesus said if we follow Him we can expect to be persecuted just as He was. Pastors and believers in China, Africa, and the Middle East know exactly what this means as many have died for their faith while worshipping God.
I have learned to be okay with the relatively “mild” mistreatment I have endured as a pastor. Compared to my Savior and my martyred brothers and sisters, I have never needed much more than a band aid…maybe a stitch or two. But it still hurts. That family who got mad because I had to cancel lunch with them because of my daughter’s seizures refused to shake my hand for three months. Every week for three months I went up to them, smiled, extended my hand, and they refused to shake my hand. The week before they left, the wife actually slapped my hand out of the way. Was I hurt? Yes and no. My feelings were hurt. I was frustrated. I took the high road. That is really all I can do.
I have learned, that this is as much a part of ministry as preaching and visiting. It doesn’t excuse their bad behavior, but I have it settled in my heart and mind. Pastors are examples, even in the middle of many other poor examples. It never feels good. It never fails to hurt. You just have to forgive, heal, and move forward.
6. People Will Make Mountains out of Mole Hills
In one of my churches I unknowingly broke about 300 unwritten rules in their 30 year-old turf war in a single day. The church was old school traditional, with chairs on the platform and tons of greenery. I was slowly building a praise team and needed space on the cramped platform for myself and two others. So I moved what I called the “thrones” off of the platform. These are the ornate chairs that priests and pastors like to sit in up in front of their churches. I moved the four chairs that no one sat in. No big deal, right? Wrong. Huge deal.
A week later I was confronted by a guy who notified me it was his job and calling “to make sure the church never changes!” This is the crazy stuff people do sometimes at churches. Every pastor I know can relate to this story and share dozens more. People can just be weird, emotional, and selfish. They will blow things way out of proportion. We have to learn to deal with it, without being caught up in their emotional frenzy.
5. You Will Be Severely Hurt by People under the Pretense of Helping You
I won’t share a specific personal story here. Honestly, some memories are still too fresh and painful. With that said, I can tell you over the years I have received angry anonymous letters, threatening phone calls, and offers to engage in fistfights. Ridiculous…I know. Many of those people actually told me and others that they resorted to their outrageous behavior because they believed it was best for me and the church.
To be honest, I don’t have a solution for this. I don’t think there is a way to be a shepherd to your people and a servant to Jesus Christ and not have this happen to you. In fact, I have come to believe this is what separates the men from the boys. You cannot lash out in anger and you cannot give in and curl up in a ball. You simply endure and obey the Lord. You leave it to God to sort out.
4. 95% of it Can Wait
I rarely answer my cell phone when it rings…except when my wife and children call. I let it go to voicemail and I wait to hear what is going on. There are two reasons for this. First, often I am in a meeting, on a visit, or preparing a message. Sometimes I am eating supper. Sometimes I am on a date with my wife. Sometimes I am resting and decompressing. Second, I want both me and the caller to be prepared for whatever is going to be discussed. So, I let the call go to voicemail, I listen to the message, and I call back if and when appropriate based on the message that is left…and “This is John Doe, call me back!” is not a message that gets returned very quickly! ;-)
Why? Because I have had a lot of people call me when they are mad. They unload and sometimes it ruins my day and theirs. I have learned, over time, that many people make calls out of anger. If they get a hold of you, they’ll embarrass themselves so badly they often won’t come back to church. If they wait, they are likely to cool off and when you call back they’ll say, “Oh, I already figured it out, thanks.” This helps everyone.
But then there is the true emergency…the retiree in ICU with a heart attack, the family in the ER after an automobile accident, the death of a member, or the person who is suicidal. I listen to the message, as soon as possible, and respond appropriately…no matter the day or time of night. When it can wait, I have learned to let it wait. This saves me a great deal of time during the week and gives me the opportunity to be my best for people in genuine emergencies.
3. God Builds the Church, We Follow His Blueprints
Jesus said He would build His church and it would endure. The Church is His bride and not ours. Jesus alone is responsible for the power and well-being of the church. Our obligation is to follow His instructions in the daily task of helping Him build His church. Thankfully, God gives us all of the doctrine and important elements of training and being the Church. We ought to never change these doctrines and principles. We are equally blessed that God did not dictate and script the minutiae of every single action for us. Instead, He has given us a great deal of liberty and creativity in choosing methods and programs to make disciples. This allows each pastor and church to deliver the unchanging Gospel message in the context of the culture they serve.
2. God Never Fails
God doesn’t do everything they way I wish He would. I have learned to be okay with that…really what choice do I have? Then I learned that God never fails. Whatever He wants done, gets done. I am only one of 7 billion people He cares about. He has called me to do hard stuff and He enables me to complete or endure those tough assignments. I stumble. I grumble. I mumble. But God has never failed me, and He never will. This becomes our anchor.
1. It is Worth Every Minute.
I would not trade my life for anything. I love being a pastor, even though it is incredibly humbling and difficult. All the free time and money in the world is but a drop in the bucket compared to caring for the Body of Christ, making disciples, and leading His Church. Being a pastor is both excruciating and exhilarating at the same time, but I wouldn’t trade it for one thing this world offers. Whenever I get discouraged, I remember the names of faces of friends who have trusted Christ over the years. Yes, it is definitely worth it.
I am now in my 20th year of vocational ministry. Many of those years have buzzed by with a blink and a blur. Twenty years ago I was single, no kids, and no car. Now I am married to the love of my life with three daughters—one set to graduate in the spring. Wow…that was quick…really quick.
Then there is another perspective on those twenty years of ministry. There are those harrowing moments that lingered and lasted for what seemed like a lifetime. They are deep, dark, and depressing. Unlike my wedding and the birth of my children, these are not moments to be relived. In fact, I am more than happy to see them shrinking and fading in the rear view mirror.
But life is about the good and the bad—and also how you respond to both. As long as you learn and grow from both, both types of experiences make you a better man, husband, father, and (in my case) pastor. So here are 20 Lessons I learned (the hard way) in 20 years of ministry:
20. Family Must Come First
Paul taught the young pastor, Timothy, that his leadership inside the home was the primary qualification for his leadership inside the church. The pastor’s leadership and care for his family becomes the barometer for how he will lead the church.
I will never forget the retired couple who walked into my office several years ago. They were super angry that I had to cancel a Saturday lunch appointment with them. I had cancelled it and explained that it was because one of my daughters had several seizures that week. At the time, we did not know what was going on. We had spent all week driving back and forth from the hospital—a 4 hour round trip. Two of those nights our daughter was required not to sleep, and for those two nights April and I took turns staying up with her. Somehow I managed to write and give four sermons that week and make a few hospital visits. By Saturday I was completely exhausted.
I explained all of this to them a second time. It did not matter. I told them I made the decision that was best for my family under the circumstances and that I still wanted to reschedule. Needless to say, they did not want to reschedule. On Sunday morning, two displeased deacons and their wives met me in my study on behalf of the disgruntled members.
I have learned to put my family first, without apology. I believe reasonable people will understand. I also believe unreasonable people will be just that…unreasonable.
19. Discipleship = Behavior
In twenty years as a pastor and 14 years as a senior pastor I believe that about 80% of those who attend our churches believe the extent of their duty to Jesus Christ is to attend services a couple of times a month and to simply believe (mentally assert) the “right” things. So, they show up, nod along with the sermon, and drive away with no intention to live out the actual principles and behaviors of Jesus.
Yet, Jesus told his disciples to “follow” Him. Jesus literally meant for them to leave their old lives and to literally travel around with Him. 2,000 years later we have watered that message down and taken it so often as a “metaphor” that we fail to see the true meaning. Following Jesus is not a metaphor. It is a literally command for the slave of Jesus to literally obey His commands. To be a disciple means desiring and disciplining yourself to act and live exactly as Jesus did.
18. Spiritual Warfare is Real
I cannot see the enemy, the weapons, or the actual battle. But every day I see the weary and wounded casualties of the spiritual warfare. Spiritually, emotionally, and physically I walk with a limp—the abstract injuries of an unseen war that knows no ceasefire. I am not alone. There are tens of thousands in service to Jesus the same way I am, who have been through much worse. Many have physically given their lives. Then there are 7 billion people on this earth who are daily injured by their own sin and the evil strategy of Satan. Prescription medication, psychology, and education fail to make a difference in this war. As pastors, it is our job to faithfully arm people with the spiritual weapons that are successful in this type of war. If we could convince the people that the spiritual war was real, our churches would fill themselves with people hungry for the truth that will conquer their pain.
17. It’s not About Income
Because guys like Joel Osteen and Benny Hinn travel the world in private jets and live on opulent estates, somehow the average person (even church members) assume that all pastors are overpaid and that they are only concerned about their income. It is true many have found ministry and the pulpit to be far more profitable than anything else they can do…so they exploit and manipulate their churches to maximize their own income.
But the vast majority do not. Most pastors I know live paycheck to paycheck and work 60 or more hours a week. Many pastors work another full time job and then work for the church on top of that! They also live under the pressure of meeting the material expectations of their members. Church members, in general, want their pastors to be viewed as respectable, which translates into “drive a nice car, live in a nice house, and wear nice clothes.” For every Joel Osteen, there are 5,000 other pastors who cannot afford to save for retirement, take a nice vacation, or send their children to college.
So why go into ministry? Because it is God’s holy calling on your life. You serve God knowing that you must depend on your people to understand and value the example you set, the leadership you provide, and the truth you teach them. Like a t-shirt I saw said, “I’m a pastor for the outcome, not the income!” Truly churches would be well-served to treat their pastors well in this regard—it is an investment in themselves!
16. You Must Serve
It is true…as a pastor you must serve. First, you serve as the slave of Jesus Christ. This means you obey Him and do exactly what His Word tells you to do. Secondly, you serve your people. But do not make the mistake that many do—trying to serve their people the same way they serve their God. God is our master—so we obey Him. Our people are not our masters. If they are, then God is not. Pastors are not to obey the wishes and whims of their people. Instead, they serve them as God commands them to serve them—gracefully as examples, spiritual guides, and shepherds.
15. You Must Lead
Leading and serving are not mutually exclusive. A pastor can serve God and His people and still provide high quality leadership. In fact, I believe a pastor is not leading unless he is also serving as mentioned in the previous section. Leaders are strong, confident, and determined. As a pastor you must know what God asks from you and the church and lead your people to that end.
14. Your Personal Walk Matters
Paul told Timothy that as a pastor he must be a proper example for his people. This means being faithful to your wife, having integrity with finances, and practicing what you preach. This is not perfection, so don’t dismiss this responsibility in the name being “human” or through the accusation of “legalism.” Men of God who preach the Word of God to the people of God ought first be submitted to God.
13. True Friendships are Rare
It can be difficult to have friends in the church in the same way members are close friends with each other. Notice, I did not say “impossible.” It is not impossible, but it is rare. To be a friend with the pastor means that the friendship and access will not be used to leverage a decision being made in the church. To be a friend of the pastor means you allow him to have human weaknesses. You do not hold his weaknesses and limitations against him. You view him as a person, not only a pastor. You spend time with him outside of the church and meetings and encourage him to care for himself and his family. These types of people are rare on the earth. When you find a friend, keep them close.
12. Tradition is Easy, Change is Hard
It’s easy just to keep meeting, keep singing the same songs, and get out at exactly noon each day. It’s easy just to keep going through the motions. It’s easy because, after a while, you do not even have to think or care about what you are doing. You just keep doing it. This is good, let’s say, if you are talking about breathing. But in a dynamic world where the people and culture change significantly every 5-10 years, churches who do not adapt in basic ways to the language and culture of the people they are trying to reach become religious time capsules…museums. Change is hard, but change we must. We never change doctrine, but the building, services, styles, and programming can and must change over time. “Good” people will fight change every step of the way, but the pastor must be determined and resolute to keep the church culturally up-to-date while also delivering a message that never changes.
11. Relationship Skills > Greek Skills
I have taken four semesters of Greek and a semester of Hebrew. I really, really, really like Greek. I consult the Greek text every week in sermon preparation. It is a vital part of ministry, and should be studied. But out of about the 2,500 people I have led over the past 14 years as a senior pastor, only 3 have expressed any interest in biblical languages. I am sure the rest would appreciate the work I do with the text if only they knew about it or understood its significance. But from the first day I walked out of college until now, I have needed relationship skills. Ironically, I managed to earn a Bachelor’s degree, two Master’s degrees, and a Doctoral degree and only had 2 classes related to relationships—neither of which was required. You can lead a church without a great Greek background, but you cannot lead a church without good relationship skills.
Can you relate to the first half of this list? What have you learned the hard way in ministry? Please share in the comments below, and look for the second half of this list later this week!
I recently conducted an online pastoral leadership survey in order to understand the unique leadership challenges pastor’s face and how they address these issues. Almost half (48%) of the pastors had been in ministry over 21 years. The least represented group were millennial pastors (16%). 86% of pastors were employed full-time at the church and 14% were bi-vocational pastors, also referred to as marketplace pastors. Results and observations are as follows:
1. Pastors put in long hours.
64% of the pastors surveyed reported working more than 45 hours each week, and an astonishing 15% reported exceeding 60 hours per week. According to Gallup, the average work week of a salaried employee in the US is 49 hours. In this study, full-time salaried pastors averaged 52-55 hours per week.
2. Pastors enjoy leading people.
The leadership activity pastors listed as the most enjoyable is preaching (39%), followed by training/leadership development (19%), and casting vision (15%). A majority of other answers involved meeting and working closely with people (19%). A small fraction listed administrative tasks (8%). It appears that most pastors enjoy leading and working with people when the pastor’s task is giving advice or direction.
3. Pastors struggle most with business and conflict.
When asked what leadership task they enjoy least, the big three are administration/planning (31%), conflict resolution/church discipline (27%), and finances/financial meetings (15%). This does not necessarily mean that pastors lack these skills, this means that they do not derive satisfaction or fulfillment from these tasks.
4. Pastors demonstrate great diversity in the confidence they have in their leadership abilities.
31% of all pastors report a confidence level of 81%+. Initial analysis of the data appears to support that leadership confidence increases as pastoral experience increases. This may be due to low confidence pastors leaving ministry and/or pastors learning and growing over time. 37% of respondents settled in at a leadership confidence rating of 61-80%. 32% of pastors have a leadership confidence level below 60%.
5. Pastors favor leadership books and printed materials.
When asked, “What support do you need to grow as a leader” pastors chose books (81%) most often, then peer interaction (74%), and least of all mentoring/coaching (67%). When only given the opportunity to choose one, however, pastors favored books (64%)over online training/podcasts (23%), and working with a mentor/coach (14%).
6. Pastors spend more time developing others than they do developing their leadership skills.
A majority of full-time pastors (75%) reported spending 11+ hours a week preparing their sermons, or an average of 14-15 hours. A similar percentage (69%) reported spending 4 hours or less on personal and professional leadership development, or an average of 3-3.3 hours. According to the rest of the data, it is likely that most of this time is spent reading leadership materials.
© Charles D. T. Miller, 2016
When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
When you hear a person’s name, what is your first thought?
Too often we notice the negative aspects of a person, before considering the whole of their person. You see, every person—yourself included—is a complex, layered being. Each of us is a body, a soul, and a spirit. We are emotions and experiences. We are individuals tied to our intellect and our idiosyncrasies. Somewhere in there is weaknesses and insecurity. And then there is sin, the wrong we do.
Much more importantly, there exists a spark and a flame inside of us that reminds us that we are created in God’s image. As beings created by God, we are also gifted by God. Thanks to God and His grace we possess redeeming qualities and valuable attributes. We are loved and capable of loving. We are joyful and enjoyable. With God’s help we are strong and confident.
We have a choice. We can see God’s goodness and giftedness, or we can look for disease and deficiency.
When we look in the mirror, we can focus on blemishes, or choose to find blessedness.
When we look at children, we can notice their naughtiness, or pray for their potential.
When we hear the name of our spouse, we can find faults, or appreciate how they complete us.
It is our choice. We see what we choose to see.
When we determine to see others as their best selves, we will find them being just that, their best selves.
More importantly, when we see the best in others, we are also realizing the best in ourselves.
In order to be at your best, learn to see the best in others!
© Charles D. T. Miller, 2016
The other day I sat down and calculated how many hours I have spent communicating in front of people. After scratching some figures down, counting using both fingers and toes, I came to estimate that I have spoken to crowds ranging from 10 to 3,000 people—not including a television audience—to an average crowd size of about 300. I have spoken over 2,500 times for over 2,000 hours. When I put these numbers together I realize that I have talked and presented while others have invested 600,000 hours listening to me, or 68 ½ years! That is an accumulated lifetime.
I wondered to myself, “I spoke and they listened. Did I add value to their life during this time? Did I invest in them? Did I connect with them?”
I am 38 years old, so I hope to have another 25-30 good years left to engage, inspire, and connect with the people I speak with. I began to think, meditate, research, and inquire about the best way to connect—not just talk—but how to communicate in a way that invests in and adds value to others.
1. Communication that Connects is Passionate
For some, Passion = Emotion. Many times this is the case. Certainly Martin Luther King, Jr. passionately connected with thousands while using extreme amounts of emotion. But this is not always the case. I have heard people speak with great volume, emotion, and energy—yet they failed to connect. They came across as insincere and unbelievable. Passion is more than emotion. It is commitment. When a person is passionate about something, they fully immerse themselves in it. They live and breathe it. When they speak about their passion, they connect, because they love it so much they communicate their joy and enthusiasm to others.
2. Communication that Connects is Positive
Simply put, there is was too much negativity and despair is most communication these days. The 24-hour new cycle throws a continual barrage of mass shootings, celebrity scandals, and political fights at us until we are left psychologically drained and emotionally spent. While the news is the news and must be reported, it usually lacks a message of hope. This is what it means to be positive. Being a positive communicator is not withholding the truth or embellishing the facts to “put a positive spin on things.” Not at all. Being positive is telling the truth—no matter how ugly it is—but then providing a real solution and a message of hope about how to make things better.
3. Communication that Connects is Prosperous
In your communication, do you speak with others for your benefit or theirs? Are you investing in their life, their goals, and their best interest? Or are you concern primarily about what’s in it for yourself? If we are not careful, our motivation to speak and communicate with others can become about ourselves. When this happens, we miss a perfect opportunity to help others. Whether we are speaking to 100 people in a public setting or one person in a private conversation, our goal ought to be to help them. Sometimes we can reach a “win-win” and sometimes we reach an impasse. But our goal is always to add value to their life. We can accomplish this by asking ourselves:
· What do I know or have that they need?
· How can I help them?
· If I cannot help them, who can I direct them to that can help them?
A vast majority of communication in our culture is built around what is best for the communicator. The one who will stand out, influence, and connect with others is that person who is primarily concerned about the needs of others. Learn to communicate passionately, positively, and prosperously and you will connect with others on a level that will help them live better lives.
© Charles D. T. Miller, 2014
Two years ago this January, my father passed away suddenly. By suddenly, I mean too soon. It is not as if I couldn’t see it coming, I refused to see it coming. A few years earlier he had quintuple bypass surgery, and followed that up with 2-3 TIA’s (mini-strokes) a year. He was only 61 years old, so it was reasonable to think he would stick around longer.
But he did not.
The month of January 2013 is a blurry mess. It involved a weekly flight or drive from Ohio to the VA Hospital in Augusta, Georgia. Each week Dad became less and less the man I had known all of my life. I remember Dad as funny, smart, kind, and sincere. His weekly stroke was stealing his ability to communicate, and robbing all of us of the joy and love we probably took for granted.
The last week was filled with hard conversations and difficult decisions. As a family we discussed the end of Dad’s life and how we preserve his dignity and show respect. That was extremely difficult—fighting the selfish desire to hold on to him, when it is best to let him go. There were times when we discussed his funeral arrangements with him semi-conscious in the next room. That was a guilt-ridden endeavor—after all, he was not gone yet.
All too soon he was gone. Dad had written the last word, in the final sentence of his life. He set down his pen, removed his glasses, and closed the book…the book of him. Dad cannot add one more thing to a life that has already been lived and is now gone. I remember many, many conversations with him. I often wonder, “Is that really the way it was?” or “Is that really what he said?” Or, maybe that is only how I remember it. It is difficult to keep our sentimentality from revising our history—causing us to rewrite our memories into stories that are selfishly more pleasant. I want precious memories—as you do—but, I also want an accurate archive of my Dad and our relationship.
I have a precious gift from my Dad. I did not realize the significance of the gift at the time it was given, because it was typical of Dad. The gift is a voicemail he left on my phone following his visit with our family less than one month before he passed away.
(Dad's message is at the end of this article.)
This is the last recording of his voice. It is special to me because of what it says, and what it says so sincerely. “Charlie, I love you, and I appreciate you.” These are not words I had to wait my whole life to hear. These are words I heard every time we spoke. It is not the rarity of these expressed emotions that made them so special. In fact, it is the redundancy of his love and affection that makes this message so important.
This is vintage, Dad. This is Dad being the father I knew every day for almost 37 years. This was not a special recording he made to “make up” for bad parenting, being a workaholic, or for not being there. My father is a good man and he was always there—at the games, at the graduation, and best man in my wedding. This was not a mulligan on a life of relationships full of regret and unresolved problems. This was simply Dad. This was who he was. This is how he lived. This is the measure of an obscure life lived extremely well for the things that matter most.
This voice mail is special because it is a precious memory and an accurate one. I do not have to pretend or assume that my father loved and respected me. I do not have to be concerned about whether I remember him the right way or not. He left me a treasure—an enduring love and affection that has been instilled in me through the tenderness of his heart and the resolution of his character.
Dad had very few possessions. He passed away and left only a small trailer, a pick-up truck, and a few dollars. His financial footprint is nonexistent. But his spiritual and emotional imprint on those who knew him is profound, deep, and permanent.
All of this causes me to wonder—“How will I be remembered best, by those who matter most?” Will I leave my daughters a financial inheritance, but fail to leave them a legacy of love? As a pastor, will my family have to go to church to find fond memories, or will our most special moments end up being the mundane, routine, and ordinary moments we shared every single day?
I used to envy the rich kids growing up. And by rich, I mean, lower middle class. They seemed to have it all—at the time. They drove a car, but I rode a bike. They had designer labels on their clothes, but I had patches. They had the best sports equipment, but I had duct tape on my kicking shoe.
As I have grown older and become a father myself, I no longer envy the other kids and their families. Many of them have my sympathy. They had the best things money could buy—there was no doubt about it—but they did not have the treasure I took for granted…a father who loved and cared for me… a father who took the time to show it.
Dad’s legacy is what it is and it will not change. The final chapter is over and nothing can be added. I am of the opinion that nothing needs to be added—it is perfect as it is written. I also realize that my life is an active narrative. I write a few lines in it every day. I am not sure when the final chapter will come. I am not even sure how my story ends. I am certain of one thing—it will end and when it does it will be what it is and not what I or anyone else might wish it to be.
So I choose to follow the example of my father. I live each day true to my real self, faithful to my wife, fully-engaged with my family, helpful to my friends, fair and honest with strangers, and all for the glory of God. If my life ends tomorrow—it will contain many regrets—but they will be of no real consequence or significance. I have chosen to live each day the right way. Thank you, Dad!
© Charles D. T. Miller, 2014
Charlie has served in numerous leadership and executive ministry roles since 1997, specializing in organizational change, visionary leadership, and strategic planning. As a senior pastor and non-profit leader he is recognized for growing churches and organizations that suffer from decline. Charlie holds numerous graduate degrees, including a Th.D. and a Ph.D. in Executive and Organizational Leadership.