Category: Pastors (page 2 of 8)

What I Learned from a Coffee Meeting with Three Gay Men

Recently three gay men in our community invited me to meet for coffee. It wound up being the best meeting of my week. Challenging, thought-provoking, enlightening—I’m grateful I said yes.

I’ll admit that as we all were getting settled around the small table in the downtown café, immediate tension was our common bond—not because any of us is an unkind person, but because there exist thick and longstanding stereotypes about them—gay men—and about types like me—evangelical megachurch pastors—as well as myriad assumptions to overcome. Would they lash out at me in anger? Would I condemn them for their sinful ways? Both parties were suspicious: where was this thing headed, anyway?

What follows are five lessons learned from that hour-long meeting, courtesy of one who stands today renewed in his hope that bridge-building still is possible, regardless of the chasm we’re trying to span.

One: Our stories are more similar than we think.

As I took in the tales of their upbringing—their families, their histories, their quirks—I realized that the details that separated my experience from theirs were grossly outnumbered by the uncanny similarities we shared. The truth is, none of us had perfect families.

Two: Truth isn’t always conveyed in love.

To a person, these three men explained to me that as soon as they came out as gay, they were treated terribly by Christ followers, all of whom wanted them to “know the truth.” Consequently, these men were well versed in the evangelical theories of marriage, family, and sexuality. They were also well versed in the art of being judged and scorned.

Three: Homosexuality is more bipartisan than we may think.

Two of the three men were Republicans, which spurred on more than a few laughs about how both straight and gay people like to keep their money in their pocket instead of adding to the government dole.

Four: Common sense points to common ground.

As we continued our conversation, it became apparent to me that while we may never agree on what the Bible means when it speaks of both sexuality and homosexuality, certainly we can agree that both the gay community and the evangelical Jesus-following community can do a better job of being kind toward one another. “Bullying is never okay,” I said to them, just before affirming my commitment to help stand up for everyone in our city—both gay and straight—who is being targeted for insults and outright violence. I shared my story of being falsely accused of being a “hater’ when, in fact, I have never felt that way about the gay community.

Five: Coffee tables are places of peace.

The four of us—three gay guys and a straight pastor—agreed that further dialogue held in neutral territory was imperative to our bridging a volatile gap.

Listen, I have not budged a bit on my theology regarding biblical marriage being solely between a man and a woman. I have not wavered in my belief that acting on homosexual tendencies remains an outright sin. I’m simply determined to live as Jesus lived. He had real relationships with people who believed and lived differently than him.

We are called to be people of peace. Join me if you dare.




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The Praying Church

Recently, I sat down with Pastor David Perkins, who oversees the prayer movement here at New Life, to talk about the practical steps churches can take to create life giving prayer meetings. We talk about planning the meeting, leading the meeting and empowering others to take ownership of these prayer gatherings.

Click here to watch the video.

What have you learned that works well at prayer meetings? Leave your comments below.

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Building Strong Internships in Your Local Church

Recently, I sat down with Pastor David Perkins and talked at length about building a student leadership ministry in every local church or what a lot of people call internships. Pastor David leads our student ministry here at New Life, which includes the Desperation Leadership Academy. We talked about lots of issues, including the use of volunteers, empowering student leaders and keeping people engaged. I think this will be really helpful to your church if you are serious about building relationships and discipling high school, college and 20-somethings. Let me know what is working in your congregation in the comments section below.


Click here to watch the video.

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The Immovable Ladder

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem. Psalm 122:6

I just returned from a trip to Isreal with some friends and one of the sites we visited was the  Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City of Jerusalem. Under the front facade of this beautiful building is a wooden ladder that has been in the same place since the 18th century. It is not a part of the decor, but it is a stark reminder of how petty we can be as church leaders.

The story of the ladder dates back to 1757 when some work had to be done on the building, which is operated jointly by six different Christian denominations. That is when the trouble started, because due to an understanding,  no cleric of the six ecumenical Christian orders may move, rearrange, or alter any property without the consent of all six orders. So, the ladder was readied for the repairs, but the leaders could not agree about who was really responsible for the work.

After a heated dispute that almost ended in violence, the ladder was abandoned by the mason who just wanted to repair the building and go home. The arguments became so intense in the years ahead that even Pope Paul VI tried to intervene. He became so disgusted with the petty squabbling that he appointed two different Muslim families to open and close the church each morning and afternoon. But even taking the keys to the church away did not bring peace. Today, each of the six denominations has someone sleep inside the church while it is locked to make sure someone from one of the other sects does not rearrange or change anything in their areas.

The irony of this entire story is the church is built over the traditional site where many church scholars believe Jesus was crucified, buried and was resurrected.  Millions of pilgrims journey here each year to see this sacred place, which should represent ultimate joy and celebration, but his followers are still fighting over a ladder.

I left there this week with a new understanding of how to pray for the peace of Jerusalem, but I also realized we aren’t much better here in the US. We, too, have a lot to learn as leaders in the local church about competition and cooperation. We can do better than we are doing. If none of us cared who got the credit, we could work alongside one another and get some great things done.

May the peace of our Christ move mightily in the leaders of  our churches and denominations, so that humility can define us. May we forgive those who have spoken or acted against us. May we leave the petty for the beautiful and abandon ambition for the sake of only His renown. May we learn to move ladders together in peace, so we can eventually move mountains.



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Sincerity Is Better than Cool

Sincerity – speaking and acting honestly and truthfully; someone who is free from pretense and is genuine.

We pastors are a troublesome tribe at times.  None of us will admit to being copycats of the cool, but let one young pastor start a fast growing church and suddenly many of us will begin wearing the same bow tie and preaching the same sermon series, hoping for the same quick results. For those of us tired of this charade, I have good news! The age of slick and smooth is over and the era of sincerity is back.

It is true. The best you can do is be you. Sincerity is better than cool. What people want, better yet, what our congregations really need is for pastors to really be real. If we are a middle age man with thinning hair and a graying beard, it is ok. In fact, to earn the trust of our younger congregation members, we must put aside all the pretense and speak honestly about our core beliefs with conviction. They know when we are pretending, anyway.

They want to know what we really believe. They have grown up inundated with tricky marketing slogans. They are not moved by highly produced worship services and sermons that have all the humanity rehearsed away. They are eager to know what is sustainable, what will endure through the trials of adversity and the temptations of prosperity. They do not want to be tricked. They want to be taught by teachers who have learned themselves. Vulnerability reaches them much quicker than polished presentations.

If you are naturally quick witted and funny, then be funny when you speak. If you are more serious and studious, practicing a punchline to be funnier will only fall flat to those trying to connect with you. We want truth and we need it from genuine people, the real McCoy’s. Bona fide believers are discipled best by veritable pastors who have stopped trying to mimic the latest crazes and have embraced the right now move of the Holy Spirit.

So let’s get on with authentic teaching and embrace the sacred call of pastor. Let us stop the comparisons and embrace the reality that God has called us, just as we are. That is enough, now and forever.



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FOMO -The Fear of Missing Out

Ten minutes into our requested breakfast meeting, I regretted having said yes. The young man who had asked for the get-together—he needed some pastoral coaching, evidently—was sitting across from me at the diner, and now, there at the restaurant, with my full attention pointed his way, he had the gall to check his smart phone what seemed like every sixteen seconds. He checked it while I was ordering my meal, he checked it just after he ordered his meal, he checked it while I answered his questions, and he even checked it while he asked them. Unless the guy was waiting on word of an organ transplant—which I quickly learned he wasn’t—his lack of focus was totally unacceptable.

The world of psychology has a term for this annoying phenomenon of neglecting to pay attention to the person or situation immediately in front of you, choosing instead to see who else is doing something interesting or what else is going on. “FOMO,” it is called, otherwise known as the fear of missing out. FOMO is what causes us to “text while driving … interrupt one call to take another … and check [our] Twitter stream while on a date [or at a breakfast meeting with our pastor].” In short, we do these infuriating things because “something more entertaining just might be happening.”

I’m convinced that some of us could experience a visit from Jesus himself—live and in the flesh—and yet still we’d brazenly stick an index finger in the air and say, “Hang on, Jesus. Let me just check my Facebook wall real quick.”

There is an underlying fear motivating all this craziness; we don’t just want to be “in” on other people’s excitement, but we want them to find us exciting too. We want to be seen and heard and recognized and admired; we so desperately want someone to care. But what’s interesting is that when we shout along with hundreds of millions of others who are shouting, still we cannot be heard; our voice is simply lost in the others’ me-focused cacophony of sound.

After having considered the pace Jesus lived by, I arrive at an early conclusion: Jesus didn’t know FOMO very well. Actually, I don’t think he knew it at all. What concerned him was not being included on all the right lists, being retweeted by all the right handles, being known by all the right names. What concerned him was being hidden away in the character of his Father, and from there living life at peace.

John 15 contains a fascinating metaphor along these lines. Jesus is talking here to his disciples and explains his relationship to them in agricultural terms. “I am the Real Vine and my Father is the Farmer,” he says. “He cuts off every branch of me that doesn’t bear grapes. And every branch that is grape-bearing he prunes back so it will bear even more. You are already pruned back by the message I have spoken” (vv. 1-3).

He then goes on to say exactly how this fruit-bearing is going to occur: “Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you. In the same way that a branch can’t bear grapes by itself but only by being joined to the vine, you can’t bear fruit unless you are joined with me” (v. 4).

So, it’s not that we are expected to live the Jesus Pace alone; he is the one who will get us there. He is the band leader in our quest for a rhythmic life.

“I am the Vine,” the passage continues, “you are the branches. When you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can’t produce a thing. Anyone who separates from me is deadwood, gathered up and thrown on the bonfire. But if you make yourselves at home with me and my words are at home in you, you can be sure that whatever you ask will be listened to and acted upon. This is how my Father shows who he is—when you produce grapes, when you mature as my disciples” (vv. 5-8).

As it relates to our present-day plague of FOMO, here is what I think Jesus is saying in these verses from John 15: “You’re only missing out if you’re missing out on me.”

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Leadership Under Pressure

“What you have heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you – guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.” 2 Timothy 1:13-14 (A letter from his mentor Paul)

When a leader feels pressure and has to make a decision, there is little or no time to decide on core convictions in that moment. So, the leader makes the call based on the convictions he has already established. That can be good or bad, depending on who has primarily influenced them. If they have had healthy mentors, the chances of a healthy decision are greatly improved. If they have had flawed influence, the opposite can be true.

Peacetime is the best time to establish core values and convictions. The best sailors prepare their boats for storms while in the harbor, not in the gales of hurricanes. In fact, most boats sink because there was little preparation before the storm, even though the sailors knew full well that storms were coming.

Leaders know there are times of calm and times of chaos. I have experienced both while serving my congregation here at New Life Church. Just 100 days after I arrived as pastor, in December 2007, we were attacked by a young man with gun and two of our young girls were killed in the parking lot after our Sunday gatherings. That was no time to decide on my core values and convictions.

Instead, what I had been taught rose to the surface and shaped my decisions. Only later did I realize how much I appreciated the sound leadership wisdom I had received in the years before from men like Robert Morris, Jimmy Evans, and Tom Lane. I had no choice at that moment but to lean upon what I had already learned from them. I share a lot of these learned life lessons in my book Sons and Daughters if you want to read more.

Since that fateful Sunday, I have become a student of leaders under pressure. Almost always, they make decisions under pressure based upon the influencers who most defined them. Sometimes that is great and sometimes that is disaster.

The seas are calm at New Life today and I am grateful. This is the time for me to learn from healthy leaders, to grow, and to mature. I presume other storms will arrive, along with the pressure to make critical decisions. My prayer for all of us is that we make those decisions under the influence of the Holy Spirit and from the wisdom and health of the leaders God has sent us along the way.

Questions for us to consider:

Who are we learning from right now?

Are they healthy leaders? Is their home and marriage healthy? Is their walk with Christ healthy?

Have their leadership convictions stood the test of storms?

What are our core values? Will these values survive the inevitable trials of life?

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Weighty Words

In your teaching, show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned … Titus 2:7b-8a

I had not seen this young leader in almost a year and the difference in 12 months was remarkable. In times past, I could see the obvious talent and the potential for influence, but the big difference was in the weight of his words. He spoke and lead with authority and the congregation was listening, leaning in and following him.

His words carried a serious and sound tone that resonated from a deep place he had discovered somewhere along the way. I was proud of him and I told him so. That is no easy accomplishment. Similar things were said about Jesus after he spoke the Sermon on the Mount. The crowds were amazed because he spoke with authority (Matthew 7:28-29).

We can suppose this happening for Jesus, but how does it happen in us? What is it that calls us out of adolescence and into deeper waters? I do not want to melt this down into some overly simplistic list of actions, but I do believe the scripture from Titus that I quoted above gives some insights into the process.

1. Integrity

There must be integrity in our study and teaching. We should only teach what we have truly learned and practiced. I agree that we can teach things we have not perfected, but we can only give away what we have acquired. If we are not generous, our teaching on giving will fall flat. If we are not loving our own spouses, speaking on marriage is a waste of our time. Private devotion always precedes public promotion, especially with teaching the scriptures.

2. Seriousness

Serious study leads to serious teaching. I believe we should not only read our favorite commentaries but we should also read some challenging viewpoints from other tribes of scholars. If we cannot listen to honest debate and then defend our position, maybe we should pause our teaching until we are really believing. Find some teachers who are more conservative or liberal than you and get to know them. Try hard to understand their differing viewpoints. I promise it will only make your messages more clear and less combative.

3. Soundness of speech

The language we use to speak does not just happen accidentally. Our words are formed in us either purposely or haphazardly. Readers become better writers and writers produce better speakers. We must learn to read not just for information, but as students of “how” they communicate. That is one reason any serious speaker must learn to appreciate the storytelling of the classic novelists. The way details are woven through the fabric of a story will only help our own writing skills which then shapes our own storytelling. Reading to write and writing to speak takes discipline and time, but in the end, it gives our words weight.

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Does Jesus Need Us to “Take a Stand for Him”?

When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. 1 Peter 2:23 NIV

It occurred to me today while speaking about Christ on the cross, that he never once asked his followers to defend him or attempt some rescue. I’m guessing if he did not need defending that fateful Friday, he probably does not need our defense today. I am certain Jesus would much rather us follow him than defend him.

Heaven and its advancing kingdom are not under threat of siege or hostile takeover. Each generation has moments when it seems the world is about to suffocate the teachings of Jesus, but the light of truth always overcomes darkness. We are not the first Christ-following generation that has faced tough and complex questions about sexuality, marriage and violence. We will not be the last.

Yes, we should preach and teach the Scriptures and proclaim the coming kingdom of Christ. We should repent and teach others to live lives that are honoring to God, but the reality of Jesus, the fully human and fully Divine savior of the world, will survive and thrive despite any secular debate or scrutiny.

Historically, the church that humbly follows Jesus by loving each other and serving others has flourished and multiplied, while those who felt the need to perpetually protest were swept away by public cynicism. We have the same choice today. I choose love and serving. It was the radical new way of living that Jesus showed us on that bloody cross. He could have called for an angelic rescue and maybe a few generations would have retold that story.

Instead, Jesus joined us in our sufferings, gave up his life, and allowed the same Holy Spirit that is at work in us today to bring him from the grave. This story will be told for all time. When Jesus ascended a short time later, he went to an established kingdom that has no end and left behind a church that was built on an immovable rock. He needs no defense but he sure needs believing followers who will live as he did, maybe die as he did, but most certainly will be resurrected as he was.

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Feet on the Rock, Head in the Clouds

In N.T. Wright’s profound book, Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision, he writes, “The point of discourse is to learn with and from one another. I used to tell my students that at least 20 percent of what I was telling them was wrong, but I didn’t know which 20 percent it was: I make many mistakes in life, in relationships and in work, and I don’t expect to be free of them in my thinking. But whereas in much of life one’s mistakes are often fairly obvious—the shortcut path that ended in a bed of nettles, the experimental recipe that gave us all queasy stomachs, the golf shot that landed in the lake—in the life of the mind things are often not so straightforward.”

The reason I appreciate Wright’s candor here is that in my experience, those who suppose they have figured out all there is to figure out about God rarely are extravagant worshipers. We don’t chase what we’ve already caught. We don’t seek out what we’ve already secured.

Certainly, there are things we “know that we know” about God—creeds, for example, bedrock issues of faith that simply aren’t up for debate. But aren’t there thousands more things that we still wonder about, things we take strong positions on but in our heart of heart say, “You know, I really don’t know.”

Here’s an image that is helpful to me, a sort of visual goal I keep close by: I want to keep my feet planted on the solid rock of truth, while my head stays in the swirling clouds of mystery—those things I just don’t know about God.

Whether we’re talking about the silencing of women or the ordination of women or whether you can root against the LSU Tigers and still call yourself a Christian, I want to stay open, curious, eager to be swept away by the wonder that is God himself. Feet on the rock, head in the clouds. This is a very good way to live.

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