Friday, May 27, 2016
I was asked a question this morning that was, in a sense, a request for an apologetic of my life. I was asked this question as I trained coaches who will be engaged in a ministry for the summer that uses soccer to gather inner-city children into teams, which will provide an opportunity for these children to be mentored and discipled by Christian young adults. This is a ministry I helped to start some years ago to use sports to “reach’ children of middle school age in the inner-city.
The question was essentially, “is it worth it?” When there is so much against these kids, to realize that many of them will not make it out of high school, some of them will be killed, and some will become killers, why keep trying to “reach” them? As someone who grew up in the inner city and was “reached” by a loving church I am unequivocal in my response, “yes, for one or many, it is worth it!”
There are some who seem to always be standing on the sidelines criticizing us for “proselytizing.” They have no complaints for us to use sports to cut down teen pregnancy, which we hope to do. They have no complaints that we are fighting obesity and diabetes by using sports, which we try to do. They have no complaints that we are giving inner city kids a productive summer in learning how to play a sport and develop sportsmanship, which we try to do. What our critics don’t want is for us to think that we have to, nor should we, call these children into our religion.
Let me explain our positive view about proselytizing. When we use the word “reach” we mean to so relationally grab hold of a child that we can present, proclaim, and explain Jesus to them. We do this without coercion or force. We do this so that they might come to faith and believe in Jesus for themselves. We also intend for this to simply be a part of a lifelong discipleship process by introducing them into a local church whereby their life can be transformed by the Word of God.
Is that too religious for you? Well, we don’t apologize for that. Instead we simply declare, “…I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ for it is the power of God unto salvation for everyone that believes, to the Jew first, and also for the Gentile.” (Romans 1:16) I think inner city children need a power so strong that it will deliver them from the captivity of sin and the devil. They need a power so strong that no matter what life has thrown at them they will be able to survive, and have hope, and believe that tomorrow will be better than today. I think children of poverty, and from broken homes, who live in communities of violence need a shield and deliverer from trauma. I think they need a friend in God, a new identity in Christ, and a different outcome from those who won’t believe.
So many folks do good things for the poor, and for children. They give them things, they give them experiences. I’m grateful, but I would much rather they be given a new life, a life of power, a life of hope, and a life of meaning. This life comes through their faith and by being loved and cared for by a community known as the church.
It is legitimate to ask if this idea, this effort, this ministry, and in fact a lifetime of ministry such as mine has made any difference at all for anyone? Of course we see the failures, and we sometimes see their faces in the newspaper after they have been a shooting victim, or we see them as a mug shot on their way to prison. We also see the faces of those children coming to church, we see the faces of mothers who thank us for loving their children, we see the faces of those kids graduating from school, we see them making their way and establishing families for themselves. We believe in the face of all the statistics that would make us doubt the value of our life and work that we will see their faces in heaven.
I think the more relevant question might be is anyone’s effort worth it if they are not “reaching” these children? We intend to change the character of boys and girls, and we intend to change their emotions from despair, frustration and rage to emotions of hope and love. We intend to change their futures; concerning education, work, justice, and family. We intend for them to change their culture. We intend, by the grace of God, to change their eternal destination.
I am not intimidated by the question since there has been much good fruit to show for the effort. I am not intimidated by the critics of our evangelical faith, since I see no real contribution from them on the streets. I am downhearted and brokenhearted every day by the statistics, the newspaper accounts, the gunshots, the blood on the street, the caskets at the funerals, the sound of prison bars slamming shut, the absent seats of those we wish we could have reached, the silent voices we will not hear when they could have been singing in the choir. I do not advocate this work because I am ignorant of the mess and disaster, I advocate this work because I have been called, saved, and know the Master, and have seen what He can do.
Tuesday, May 3, 2016
1. Pastors ought not to yell at people. You might yell when you preach but if you ever have to personally confront, rebuke, or reprove someone use a gentle tone of voice. Often members will feel you are “yelling” at them simply because you tell them the truth about themselves, just don’t really yell. It makes you look like an emotional abuser.
2. Don’t be an emotional abuser. You should never use guilt to get your way, or maneuver someone into a decision so they will be more useful for your ministry or program. Guilt is a powerful and useful tool, and a good tool, when used by the Holy Spirit to convict people of real sin. If you use guilt (making people feel guilty) to get more money, more time, or their cooperation in your personal agenda then you have misused it and brought shame to the cloak of your authority. Guilt should always lead someone to the cross, not to your advantage.
3. Pastors ought to ask themselves what it is they are selling. What is your life an advertisement for in terms of what you brag about, what you post pictures about on your Facebook page, what everyone knows about you or thinks about first when they hear your name? Is it that you love sports, hunt, drink Scotch whiskey, smoke Cuban cigars, play in a rock band, that you are an expert on various aesthetic experiences, or social justice causes; just what are you making famous? Wouldn’t it be good if it was Christ, and that the first thing people thought about when they thought about you was your love for Christ, your labors for Christ, and that you treat others with the love of Christ? Enjoy life, but stop wearing everyone out with all your interests, hobbies, fetishes, or ego pumps.
4. Stop glad handing, grinning, complimenting, and using flattery when you know you are lying. You don’t have to be mean, or unkind, or frowning all the time but you can at least be honest. If you don’t think something was done well, if you don’t think a decision was right, if you think this is the wrong person for the job then even if you have to keep your opinion to yourself for the sake of peace, don’t lead people on that you are in agreement. If you are a “people pleaser” and afraid of the faces of men get back in touch with the fear of God.
5. Take yourself and your doctrine seriously, but don’t fool yourself. Others can see your faults, idiosyncrasies, mistakes, and sins pretty readily. They know the difference between truth lovingly presented and dogma that only make an impression when you use it like a club to beat people over the head. Give everybody a break and lighten up about yourself. Learn to laugh at yourself and not get all bent out of shape when somebody makes fun of you. If your insecurity won’t allow you to own up to being human, maybe you need a touch of confidence in your sonship. Being serious about being a preacher and a man of God should not mean presenting yourself as a jerk. Share your humanness with the church by using your own mistakes as illustrations in your sermons, by admitting that you don’t know everything, and by humbly taking advice especially from your Elders.
6. Pastors should be good haters. They should hate evil, real evil, and not waste time doing a lot of hating over the insignificant and what is “petty bad.” Some pastors waste too much time being censorious, judgmental, and legalistic about stuff that doesn’t really send anyone to hell or kill human beings. They should be good at hating, and never stop hating cruelty, injustice, oppression, poverty, abuse, disease, sickness and death. They should hate it when the people they love fail, when they fall into sin, when lives are wasted, when people give up the faith. They should hate it when the church leaves its first love, when it starts believing lies and liars. But they should hate in a good way, and that by never actually hating people, nor by using evil means to stand up to evil but rather by overcoming evil with good.
7. The tougher you are the sweeter you need to be, especially to those who oppose you. The smarter you are, the more educated, the more skilled means you need humility in converse or inverse proportion. Let others praise you and not your own mouth. The stronger, harder, and more powerful you are the lower you need to stoop to wash the feet of those you lead, or those who you know are wrong. The more you want to fight the faster you need to forgive and love. Humility is a great and powerful weapon and we keep it in our holster far too long.