Category Archives: Church

Why I Love My Church

This Sunday morning I find myself reflecting on the joys and sorrows of doing life inside the local church.  Specifically my local church, Cityview Bible Church, over the last 8.5 years.  Being heavily involved in any kind community has its shares of ups and downs because we are most vulnerble to pain when we allow ourselves to care deeply about other people.  All the risks considered, I still believe that commitment to a local church is one of the most important contributors to long-term spiritual growth.  As I think about our church family this morning, here’s what I’m grateful for:

1- Their passion for God.  Our congregation loves to worship, loves to pray, and loves to serve God.  I am constantly challenged by their ongoing fire for God’s glory above all else.  When I lose my focus or my passion, the people of Cityview remind me what is really important: we are here for God.

2- Their service of one another motivated by love.  I often say that I’m not sure where people turn for support and help when they are not connected to a local church.  Because I have seen the people of Cityview serve one another through the most difficult of circumstances.  As Barie and I have been through deep waters this year, we have experieneced the love of the local church in a whole new way.

3- The spiritually mature leaders.  The strength of any church is not really built on the communication gift of the pastor or the musical ability of the worship leader.  It is built on the spiritual health of the lay leaders in the church – the elders, the small group leaders, the ministry leaders.  I am continually encouraged by the spiritual maturity of our leaders.  I love serving with our elders, and I love watching the ministry leaders at Cityview use their gifts in such amazing ways.

4- Their patience with me.  I was 28 when we planted our church and in hindsight, a very immature pastor.  But our association and our elders were willing to take a risk on my leadership and to help mentor me along the way.  Now, at 36, I am exceedingly grateful for the patience of our congregation as they have given me room to grow in the Lord and learn how to be a pastor.

5- Their generosity toward our mission.  I don’t even have words to describe how amazed I am that people invest the amount of time, money, and energy in our mission that they do.  When we say that we are committed to reaching every man, woman, and child in Greater Austin with the life-changing reality of Jesus Christ, we mean it.  And our people are so supportive in seeing that become a reality.

6- Their grace toward one another.  I think one of the true marks of the people of Jesus is their ability to forgive one another and extend grace to each other.  Our church is a grace-filled environment.  I am so thankful to lead a church that is willing to press into the hard conflicts of life together and at the same time extend grace and mercy to each other.

I love the people of Cityview Bible Church.  They are truly our extended family, and they have walked with us through so much over the last 8.5 years.  I’m excited to see what the Lord has in store for us in the years ahead.

A Changing Spiritual Landscape

There has been much discussion in our country this week about how to interpret a new research report from the Pew Research Center on the state of religion in the United States in 2015.  You can watch the editor of the report talk about the research on the PBS Newshour.  The most common national headline has been about the “decline in Christianity” in the USA.   But if you dig deeper into the numbers, they reveal something more nuanced and interesting:

As Ed Stetzer writes in USA Today, evangelical Christianity continues to grow in our country.  The most massive decline is among those who used to associate with mainline Protestant traditions or the Roman Catholic Church.  Now, when asked, a growing number of them self-identify as having no religious affiliation.  This isn’t necessarily growth in the number of atheist or agnostics, but growth in the number who have no religious affiliation.

Russell Moore reads the report as saying that nominal Christianity (a form of civil religion) is in rapid decline because fewer people feel pressured to say they are Christian when they are not.  In other words, they don’t feel any social obstacles to revealing their true religious convictions.  Moore thinks this is bad for America (a decline in general Christian identity) but maybe helpful for the church (in making true Christianity more clear).

I personally think the report reveals what we see all around us every day: a decline in the importance of religious faith for many people in our country.  The research shows an increase in the disinterested middle of the nation – those who simply don’t care about God and religious faith at all.  This is seen in the fact that former self-identified “Christians” are not converting to another religion, but to no religion at all.

Here’s my take: as a church, we are living in a time in our nation’s history when more and more people are apathetic toward the church and indifferent toward issues of faith.  We live in an era of constant distraction and entertainment, and we are seeing the results around us – a lack of attention toward faith and worldview.  What does this mean for us as a church?  A few things:

1- We need to feel an increasing urgency for evangelism right here in the United States.  Many times, we wrongly assume that Americans are Christian or have heard the gospel.  This is an increasingly wrong assumption.  May we be the generation who takes serious our charge to re-evangelize the 320 million people who live in America.

2- We need to prioritize our outreach to the next generation.  The highest percentage of Americans who describe themselves as having “no faith” are the youngest millennials.  We need to prayerfully consider how we can share the gospel effectively with the newest generation of young people.

3- We need to live as an attractive counter-culture inside the larger secular culture.  I believe one of the reasons that non-Christians find Christianity unattractive is that the Christian community fails to present a true alternative to the larger cultural narrative.  In other words, we look too much like the world around us.

This Sunday, I’m starting a sermon series called Contrast: A Study of 1 John where we will be looking at the distinguishing marks of the Christian faith and the Christian community.  The apostle John helps us understand how we can know that we have experienced the true Christian faith and not a distortion of the truth.  I hope that you will join us for this powerful and life-changing study of God’s Word.

What were your take-aways from the Pew Research?

Pastor Taxes

Full-time pastors are considered self-employed in the eyes of the IRS.  Because of this, pastor taxes can be complex and confusing.  In order to clear up confusion on how to plan for taxes, our church provides this explanation of pastors taxes and requests that all of our pastors turn in two numbers to our finance team before the start of each calendar year: (1) their requested federal withholding, and (2) their requested housing allowance.

To define our terms, a pastor’s total income (PTI) = church salary + housing allowance + other income.

Pastor Federal Taxes

Full-time clergy pay two different kinds of taxes.  The first is federal income tax.  Federal income tax is calculated as a percentage of your adjusted gross income (AGI).  How is your AGI calculated by the IRS?  For the purpose of federal income tax, a pastor’s housing allowance is non-taxable income.  Therefore, a pastor’s AGI does NOT include his housing allowance.  This means that federal income tax is levied only against the pastor’s salary + other income.  The AGI for a pastor is his total income – housing allowance – all valid deductions.

Once a pastor calculates his AGI and multiplies it by his applicable tax-rate, he gets his federal income tax burden.

The second federal tax that a pastor pays is federal self-employment tax.  This goes by many different names.  It is sometimes called the payroll tax or FICA or the social-security/Medicare tax.  All of those names describe the same tax.  Some pastors have opted out of social-security and Medicare (by completing a Form 4361 which says that the pastor has a conscientious opposition to public insurance based on your religious convictions – meaning a pastor cannot exempt himself for economic reasons).  If a pastor is opted out of SS/Medicare, then he does not owe Self-Employment tax, but he is also therefore not participating in the Social Security or Medicare systems and will not have those benefits in his retirement.

For those pastors who have NOT opted out of SS/Medicare, they must pay Self-Employment tax every year on their total income (salary + housing allowance + other income).  A pastor’s housing allowance is NOT shielded from SE tax.  Therefore, a pastor will owe 15.3% of his total income as federal self-employment tax.

At the end, a pastor’s total federal tax burden (who is participating in SS and Medicare) is the combination of these two taxes minus any credits (child-tax credit or earned-income credit).  As an equation, it works like this:

Pastor’s Total Federal Tax = Federal Income Tax + Federal SE Tax – Federal Tax Credits

To figure out how much money should be withheld from your paycheck, a pastor should estimate his total federal tax burden and divide it by the number of paychecks he receives in a year.  In our church (that pays out salary in 24 paychecks), the withholding amount should be the total tax burden / 24.

Pastors, what questions do you have about federal taxes that I can help with?

Five Lessons Learned From Preaching on Race

Preaching on race in our church over the last five weeks has been one of the most formative experiences of my ministry.  I have grown in my understanding of racialization in our society today, and I have grown in love for my neighbor.  I am so thankful to have walked through this journey with our congregation at Cityview Bible Church in Round Rock, TX.  Their faithful feedback, honest reflection, and personal obedience has shaped the way I think about race today.  Here are five lessons we learned as a community of faith as we explored what the Bible teaches about race in light of the grace of the gospel:

  1. We are often blind to our own prejudices (whether they are toward those of another race or a subgroup inside our own race) because they are rooted in pride. We need the truth of the Bible and the power of the Spirit to open our eyes to our own racial stereotypes.  We shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking that we are personally beyond all racial biases.  We are not, and we need to own that race matters, even today in 2015.
  2. People want to talk about race in a constructive way, but are not sure how or where to have the conversation. I was amazed at the participation in our small group each week during this series and the feedback from the elders, staff, and congregation.  Not everyone agreed with everything I had to say on the subject, but everyone was thankful that I had broached the subject.
  3. White evangelicals tend to over-individualize racial problems today and fail to see systemic injustices in the culture at large. As long as racial problems today are seen as the result of individual racists, then we can let ourselves off the hook personally if we don’t see ourselves as racist.  We fail to see that we live in a culture with systems that can also be racially unjust and treat groups of people differently.
  4. Racially isolated people can more easily create stereotypes of other races than those who are genuinely connected to people from other races. This is another reason that diverse congregations and schools and civic organizations are so important.  It is too easy to unfairly categorize people that you have never taken the time to know.  And because we are naturally drawn to those who are most like us (the homogeneous unit principle), we are always in danger in moving toward racial isolation.
  5. In order to build a unified, diverse, multi-ethnic congregation, individual congregants must make the decision to value diversity more than their own cultural preferences. If we believe the Bible mandates the local church be both unified and diverse, then each one of us must make the choice to lay down our personal preferences for the sake of the whole.  The goal of building a healthy multi-ethnic church is one where our personal consumerism directly conflicts with the Kingdom of Jesus.

I hope these lessons will help you to take a next step in building bridges of love and peace between people of different races.  For in the end, if we believe the first chapter of the Bible is true, then there is really only one race – the human race, created in God’s image to worship and serve Him forever.

A Biblical Introduction to Elders

On Saturday, 10/4/14, I taught a two-hour class on what the Bible teaches about elders in the local church.  In session #1, I covered the character and qualifications of an elder.  In session #2, I taught on the role and responsibilities of an elder.  Each session includes a few minutes of Q&A.  Here is the video:

Biblical Introduction to Elders Video (10/4/14)

Here are the handouts that go with the video.  The first one covers includes the scripture that I cover in the two teaching sessions.  The other two handouts are just additional resources for elders – one that covers church-discipline and one that covers the role of the elder-chairman (in our specific ecclesiology):

A Biblical Introduction to Elders Sessions 1 and 2
Notes on Church Discipline
Roles and Responsibilities of Elder Chairman

 

Don’t Stifle the Spirit

Deuteronomy 4:24 says that “the Lord your God is a consuming fire” Hebrews 12:28-29 tells us to “serve God with reverence and awe because our God is a consuming fire.”

BurningCampfire2We’ve all seen the power of a consuming fire – a powerful image describing our powerful God.

When John the Baptist announced Jesus’ ministry in Matthew 3:11, he said that One was coming who would “baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”

In Acts 2:3, on the day of Pentecost, when the Spirit of God fell on the original disciples, the Scripture says that the Spirit rested on each one “like flames of fire that were divided.

This same God is present within our church today in the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.  I think it is helpful to imagine our church as the kindling for the fire – we are putting the pieces of wood together in such a way that is most conducive for the fire to burn.  But we are not the fire.  Only the Holy Spirit can bring the fire and set us ablaze for the glory of God.  And He is doing that.  He is with us.  He is igniting us.  He is burning within us and among us.

With that image in mind, I want to turn your attention to a key verse for NT spirituality: 1 Thessalonians 5:19.  It is a short one – only four words – don’t stifle the Spirit.

The verb translated ‘stifle’ means to “extinguish a fire” to “stop something from burning.” So here’s the picture – the mental image that the Scripture is putting before us:

The Spirit is a fire, and He is setting His church on fire to burn brightly for Him.  But if we are not careful, we can take a bucket of water and douse the Spirit.  We can stifle the Spirit, quench His work in our midst.  And when we do that, we just go back to being a pile of wood without any heat or power.

So, we don’t want to stifle the Spirit.  What does that look like?

What are the things that we do that pour water on the fire of the Spirit in our midst?

We might not even realize what we are doing – we are just doing what comes natural to us.

But we are so desperate for God.  We need Him more than we need air and water.  Without His empowering presence, we are simply going through the motions.  But with Him, all things are possible.

To understand how we are stifling the Spirit, we must first know what He is doing in our midst.  Only then will we see clearly how we are opposing Him and quenching His fire.

As I have studied the Scriptures, I see four areas where the Spirit seems to be powerfully working:

1-      He is leading us toward dependence on God (prayer)

Scripture:  Romans 8:26-27

“In the same way the Spirit also joins to help in our weakness, because we do not know what to pray for as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with unspoken groanings.  And He who searches the hearts knows the Spirit’s mind-set, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”

The moments in the Scriptures where the Spirit moves most powerfully in the church is through prayer – Acts 2 (Pentecost), Acts 4 (place was shaken, they were filled, spoke boldly), Acts 6 (devote ourselves to prayer), Acts 10 (Peter’s vision as he was praying), Acts 13 (praying when the Spirit set aside Paul and Barnabas for missions), Acts 16 (Paul and Silas in prison praying)…

The Spirit’s fire burns where there is faithful prayer.

2-       He is convicting us of sin and turning our hearts toward Jesus

In the gospel of John, Jesus talks about the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

Listen to Jesus’ words in John 14:25-26

“I have spoken these things to you while I remain with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit —the Father will send Him in My name—will teach you all things and remind you of everything I have told you.”

Listen also to His words in John 16:7-8

“Nevertheless, I am telling you the truth. It is for your benefit that I go away, because if I don’t go away the Counselor will not come to you. If I go, I will send Him to you. When He comes, He will convict the world about sin, righteousness, and judgment.”

A couple of thoughts on these passages:

  • The Holy Spirit is working among us to point our hearts back to Jesus.
  • He is leading us to study and read the Word of God.
  •  And the Spirit is convicting our hearts where our lives are out of line with the Scriptures.
  • His conviction is not one of shaming us, but one of changing us.
  • He desires us to trust in Jesus, to follow Jesus, to live like Jesus.
  • And He is speaking to our hearts toward that end.

3-      He is gifting us for making disciples (living for others)

Scripture: 1 Corinthians 12-14

We just recently preached a five-week series at our church through these chapters, and we learned some important truths:

ONE, that the Holy Spirit has gifted every Christian for the work of ministry, and

TWO, that the gifts are given for two reasons:

  • First, that the name of Jesus would be lifted high among all peoples (mission)
  • Second, that the church would grow in maturity

The fire of the Spirit comes to the church not just for the good of the church.  It comes also to equip the church for the work of the ministry.  The Spirit wants us to live for others.   The Spirit gifts us to make disciples – both inside and outside the church.  The Spirit is not just at work inside your congregation.  He is Lord of the whole earth and calling the church to go into the whole world.  The NT is clear: the Spirit gifts believers to accomplish the mission He has given us – to serve one another (to build up the church) and to reach the world with the gospel

4-      He is bringing unity among brothers and sisters in the church

Jesus prayed in John 17:20-21 for us.  Here’s what He prayed:

“I pray not only for these, but also for those who believe in Me through their message. May they all be one, as You, Father, are in Me and I am in You. May they also be one in Us, so the world may believe You sent Me.”

I think we are safe to assume that the Holy Spirit is working to accomplish the prayer of Jesus in the world today.  He moves as the people of God are unified and love one another.

Listen to Paul’s encouragement to the Christians in Ephesus in Ephesians 4:30-32:

“30 And don’t grieve God’s Holy Spirit. You were sealed by Him for the day of redemption. 31 All bitterness, anger and wrath, shouting and slander must be removed from you, along with all malice. 32 And be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God also forgave you in Christ.”

A couple of thoughts:

  • We grieve the Spirit when we don’t get along with each other.
  • Jesus wants us to be unified as His church – under One Master, One Savior, One Spirit.
  • The Holy Spirit is working to build one church with one mind and one heart.
  • The church is powerful when we work together as one people with one heart.
  • We honor the Spirit and stoke the fire of His work when we love one another.
  • But we grieve Him when we don’t – when we can’t get along and are divided.

All of that being said, here’s the real question I want us to wrestle with:  how does Satan work in our midst to tempt us to stifle the work of the Spirit?  Remember, Satan is a liar.  He works to deceive God’s people so that they do not believe the truth.  And if we are not careful, we will fall right into his traps. Here’s what Satan is doing to lead us to stifle the fire of the Holy Spirit:

1-      Satan is feeding our self-reliance and causing us to doubt God’s goodness.

If we are not on guard, this leads us to a lack of prayer.  Now God is sovereign and He will do as He pleases, but He has set up this world with a key spiritual principle in place – if we do not pray, He will not move.

It is time to check our hearts and minds when it comes to prayer.  Are you praying at all?  Is it sincere?  Is it consistent?  Are you and I declaring our dependence on God for all of life and ministry?

Or do we simply go through our daily routine without God?  And then when the bottom falls out, we run back to the Lord in prayer.  If that is our routine, we are stifling the Spirit in our midst.  We need to return to prayer as the church.  We need to cry out to God and lean on His strength.

Not as an afterthought, but as our heartbeat.

2-      Satan wants us to justify our sinfulness and ignore the voice of the Spirit.

I wrote earlier that the Spirit is convicting us of sin and leading us back to Jesus.  But Satan doesn’t want us to respond to the Spirit’s conviction and repent and find healing.  And so we are tempted to excuse our sin and give up on the pursuit of holiness.

This is one of our biggest struggles.  The church doesn’t look any different from the world in our value and practices.  This grieves the heart of God and stifles the work of the Spirit. We need to return to a place of holy sorrow for our sin.

We need to not just acknowledge our sin, but see it for what it is and turn from it.  The temptations don’t change – to run to sex and money and power and substances for our pleasure, to treat our spouses and kids with hateful words, to lie and steal and betray.

But our attitudes toward them need to change.  God’s grace is sufficient to cover all our sin, but that doesn’t mean we should keep on doing it!

3-      Satan seeks to convince us to pull away from ministry and mission

In most churches, a small percentage of the people do most of the work.  That is terrible and dishonors the gifting of the Holy Spirit.

At its core, it takes the gifts of the whole church to build up the church.  And it takes the witness of the whole church to reach the whole world.

I don’t think a church that is full of people who are sitting on the sidelines will ever see God honor that and bless it with His powerful presence.

When we live selfishly (it’s all about me) and fail to live for others (both inside and outside the church), we quench the fire of the Holy Spirit.

4-      Finally, Satan plants seeds of distrust and division inside the church (lack of unity)

This is the one that the Lord has been speaking to me the most about recently.  I think this is the area where Satan does his greatest damage and hurts the church.

Relationships are hard.  They are challenging for so many reasons.  In the church, you will experience some of the greatest friendships and community anywhere.

Talk about the challenges of relationships here…

  • Lack of love
  • Unkind words
  • Disrespect
  • Lack of communication and follow through
  • Forgetfulness

Satan uses all of this to plants seeds of distrust and division in our midst.  And instead of reconciling as we should when we are hurt, we hold on to our pain and gossip about one another.

And we dump bucket after bucket of cold water on the fire of the Holy Spirit.  We need to work on this as the people of Jesus.

We need to move toward each other in love and forgiveness.  We need to stop blaming others for our relational difficulties and take responsibility.  We need to be unified and be the one body that God has called us to be.

Jesus died for us all – every one of us.  Not so that we could create factions and divisions, but so that we could love one another.

So that we could be ONE body – unified under the banner of Christ..

With all of that being said, what do we need to do to stoke the fire of the Spirit rather than stifle His work?

1-      We need to welcome Him and express our dependence on Him for our life and ministry.

2-      We need to confess our sin (both of omission and commission) and turn back to God.

3-      We need to use our Spirit-given gifts to serve others and reach the world.

4-      We need to repair relationships in the church that are strained.

My prayer is that every church would repent of stifling the Spirit and get in step with the Lord again.

Four Marks of Deception

Last Sunday (5/18), I preached a sermon from Colossians 2:4-7.  Verse 4 in particular has stayed with me.  Paul shares his desire for the Colossians to “not be deceived by persuasive arguments.”  He was concerned that the Christians in Colossae would hear arguments from others inside the church that sounded good at first but would ultimately lead them to destructive ends.  As a pastor, I resonate with this concern.  I meet with Christians all the time who are struggling in walk with God because they have believed something false.

Deception inside the church is notoriously difficult to see and refute because it always includes some portion of the truth.  The most dangerous false-teachings, the ones that deceive the highest number of Christians, are half-truths, teaching one part of the Bible but hiding the whole truth.  Every Christian has to grow in his or her ability to discern truth from error for three reasons.  One, most deception is subtle, not overt.  Two, your spiritual leaders can’t be with you at all times.  And three, deceptive teaching leads to destructive living.

How can you begin to grow in your ability to discern truth from error?  Let me give you four marks to look for:

First, false-teaching usually proposes something new or better than historic, orthodox Christianity.  While Christian truth must be applied in fresh ways to the unique challenges each generation faces, this doesn’t require new truth.  Deceivers tend to propose that they have insight into truth that has been hidden until now.  Always beware of novelty when it comes to truth.

Second, false-teaching usually seeks to justify sin as acceptable to God.  The moral code presented in the Bible has not changed since the canon was closed 2000 years ago.  And yet, in every generation, some part of the moral foundation of Scripture is considered outdated.  Usually, those who seek to change the moral teaching of the Bible want to justify something they already desire to do.

Third, false-teaching always appeals to some authority outside of the Bible.  This authority can be a person or an organization or an experience.  The deception lies in telling us that while Scripture is respected and valued, we must decide which parts of it are fully true and authoritative in today’s world.  As soon as the whole Bible is removed as authoritative, truth is in trouble.

Fourth, false-teaching turns our eyes from Jesus and denies our need for His grace.  In Colossians, Paul was concerned that some were encouraging the church to move on from Jesus to deeper truths.  They were teaching that Christ was great, but not sufficient.  This deception continues to this day.  False-teachers tend to point people to themselves rather than Christ, emphasizing self-effort rather than dependence on God’s grace.

Hopefully, these guidelines begin to give you a grid by which to evaluate what you hear and read.  In today’s world, everyone with a webpage, a blog, and a YouTube channel is “an accomplished author and speaker.”  Be on guard against those who seek to deceive you with persuasive arguments and hold on tightly to Christ.

Four Ministry Lies

I find that many people give up on serving in ministry because they have believed a lie about the nature of ministry.  We have to carefully confront our misconceptions about ministry with the truth of God’s Word.  Have you ever been deceived by these four lies?

1- “If I am serving the right ministry, it should be easy.”  While we need to serve in a capacity that utilizes our gifts, many have bought into the lie that if we find the right ministry for our gifts, serving will be easy.  Because of this, I see people too quickly giving up on ministry when it is difficult, concluding that they must be in the wrong area of ministry or the wrong position.  The truth is that all ministry is hard work.  Faithfulness in serving others over time is challenging, regardless of your spiritual gifting or ministry context.  Paul acknowledges as much in Colossians 1:28-29 and 1 Corinthians 15:10.  In both verses, he writes of his dependence on the Spirit of God and the grace of God to fulfill his ministry, and then he reminds us that he “labored” in ministry and “worked more than any of them.”  Obviously, dependence on God’s strength doesn’t make ministry, but rather gives us the ability to persevere when ministry gets hard.

2- “Ministry is hard because people are immature.”  This is a half-truth that gets us into trouble.  People (including us) are immature and self-centered, but people are not our enemy in ministry.  Ministry is about serving people, not using them.  When ministry is hard, it is not primarily because of the people you serve.  It is because of the spiritual enemy who wars against God’s Kingdom.  The Scripture is clear that we serve in ministry in the midst of a spiritual war between the forces of evil at work in this world and the Sovereign God who reigns over all (see Ephesians 6:10-13).  If we forget about the spiritual nature of our battle, we will too quickly focus on how to rid ourselves of certain people and fail to pray as we do our ministry.  Satan wants people to quit serving others and will do whatever it takes to get you to stop serving in ministry.

3- “Ministry is first about personal fulfillment.”  It is hard to believe that we could take something as others-centered as ministry and make it about us, but the human heart can be selfish to the core.  We all struggle with asking, what am I getting out of serving in this ministry role, when it reality the right question is, how am I helping others grow in Christ through serving in this ministry?  God calls us to serve in ministry for the good of others.  Do we benefit from serving in ministry?  Absolutely.  But that is not the first reason we serve.  The first reason we serve is so that others can be built up.  Ministry is first about helping others, not helping ourselves.  1 Peter 4:10 and Philippians 2:3-4 remind us of this important truth.

4- “I should see immediate fruit from my ministry.”  Again, this is a half-truth.  Fruitfulness is important in ministry, and a lack of fruit may be a sign that we are not honoring God with some part of our ministry.  But a lack of visible, short-term fruit may just be related to the kind of ministry in which we serve.  For example, if I hold babies in the nursery or make coffee for visitors or stack chairs after church, I may not see the immediate results of my ministry.  But the Bible tells us that we don’t ultimately serve for temporary results.  We serve for eternal rewards.  This distinction has been very important for me as I seek to serve Christ in ministry for a lifetime.  I may not see the fruit of my ministry labor in the next six months or six years or even sixty years.  I may only know how God used my service when I stand before Him in eternity.  And that has to be enough for me.  If it is not, then I will give up when I don’t see the temporary results I think I should be seeing.  Faithful service over a lifetime requires a conviction that God see your service and will reward you for everything you did in this life for His glory and the good of others.  (see Hebrews 12:1-3 for a reminder of how Jesus kept His eyes focused on His eternal reward when His ministry involved suffering and death)

I hope and pray that God will help you confront the lies of the enemy when it comes to ministry and that you will not give up in serving others!

The Legacy of John Pound

Our city lost a great spiritual leader and I lost a friend this week when John Pound, the pastor of New Hope Community Church, died of heart-failure on Wednesday afternoon.  John was only 55 years old.  He leaves behind a wife, three grown daughters, and a church and city that will greatly miss him.  I met John seven years ago when I moved to Round Rock to plant a new church in our city.  In our short time together, John made a profound impact on my life.  I obviously don’t have the same perspective as his family and church-members.  Their insights and memories are different, I’m sure.  I was a co-laborer in the field with John.  As we celebrate John’s life, I wanted to write down a few of the reasons I respected John so much.

First, John was a man of prayer.  He led his elders to build a dedicated place of prayer on a hill behind their church building that he called “fire-mountain.”  He prayed for his people, he prayed for our city, and he prayed for the churches in our community.  He called others to prayer – to come out to fire-mountain and pray for the city of Round Rock.  He believed that what we needed most desperately in our churches and in our city is a move of God’s Spirit.  And so he led through prayer.  I have always prayed, but not like John prayed.  He made me want to be a better man of prayer.

Second, John was a man of encouragement.  John was one of the best in seeing spiritual gifting in others and calling that out.  John was able to see the hand of God at work in your life and encourage you to respond to God’s gift and calling.  Most pastors would say they believe that God blesses every believer with His Spirit and gifts for the church, but John actually put his belief into practice.  As a young church-planter who was insecure in my calling and my gifting, I so needed men like John who could see God’s hand at work in my life and call those things out.  I will so miss his support and encouragement.  He made me want to be a better supporter of other people.

Third, John was a Kingdom man.  We have been saying for years that there is only One Church in Round Rock with multiple expressions.  And I think the more we talk about it, the more we actually believe it.  We hope and pray that the pastors in our city (and the churches they lead) will not see other churches as competition, but as teammates serving the same Master.  John really believed that and lived it out.  He had a blessing-mentality, wanting every church to do well and fulfill their calling from God.  Oh, how we need more Kingdom men like John, who live to build up the whole church, not just their corner of the church.  He made me want to live for all of God’s Kingdom, not just my expression of it.

John, I know that you are rejoicing today in the presence of Jesus our Savior.  But I want you to know that you will be missed, friend.  I will see you soon.  Thank you for teaching us how to pray big, love well, and live for His greater glory.

Eleven Reasons CP Movements Plateau & Decline

I’m pleased to be able to share part of my sabbatical research with all of you.  I have spent many hours in the last month reading and thinking about WHY once-thriving church-planting movements plateau and decline.  I have put my thoughts done in a fifteen page paper called Why Movements Die.  I hope and pray that this challenges you as much as it has challenged me.

Until All Treasure Him-
Keith

Why Movements Die v1 by KPF (Aug2013)