Episode 095: A Conversation on Church Discipline

In this conversation, we sit down to talk about the issue of church discipline, what it is, and why it is so important.

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I have children who are now 19 and 21… I can’t imagine what kind of human beings they would now be without rules and safeguards, without discipline…

When I was a young pastor, we had to subject a man to church discipline… when we came back to church the next Sunday, there was a palpable shift in the air… we had regained the ethos of our community…

Let’s not be surprised: if we start treating people like customers, they are going to start acting like customers… we have a sacred responsibility to make sure that the atmosphere inside our congregations is as healthy as we can make it…

Two of the lenses we can use to think about church discipline are: is it threatening the unity of the church, and is it threatening the witness of the church?

Everything is highly relational and gentle, as the Holy Spirit is with us… we’re not talking about coming in with an iron fist, but about loving one another enough to keep people from going off the cliff…

Jesus doesn’t say “get behind me Satan” because he hates Peter but because he loves Peter… this is part of the ministry of Jesus…

To be holy is to be healthy, so if we’re not concerned with holiness, we’re not concerned with health… church discipline needs to be a ministry of healing…

What we want is our congregation to take ownership of this… this is the Matthew 18 model… it’s not until “step 3” that the church gets involved…

I want 98% of the correction in the church to happen within relationships where trust has been forged… the elders are called in when grassroots correction doesn’t work…

No matter what size of church you have, there is a core group that is helping you lead… your core is like the engine of your car: if your engine is broke, your car is useless…

I believe the reason that most church leaders don’t get involved in church discipline is that they know that the first person to be judged will be them… so they ignore the topic altogether…

Episode 093: Covid-19: Where Are We Now?

Welcome to the start of Season 7 of the Essential Church Podcast. In this episode we sit down to discuss the state of the church seven months into Covid-19.

We’re seeing that fear is a powerful motivator… fear is front and center in our culture right now… pastors are wrestling with it in a way they haven’t before…

Pastors weren’t trained for this in seminary… they weren’t trained in social media or on the nuances of the culture right now…

I am concerned that if we’re not careful we are going to see a mass exodus of pastors from pastoral ministry… there’s a growing concern about this around the country…

I am telling pastors to mute the wrong voices and amplify the right voices… who we listen to will very much determine the condition of our souls…

Right now about half the churches in the US are open for in-person worship… what I am hearing from pastors across the country is that 25-30% of people are actually returning to church… people have started forming new habits…

In person church attendance has been on the decline for years… all Covid did was accelerate a trend that had already started…

I’m hearing from really committed churchgoers that they have new habits on Sundays… they wake up late, eat brunch, turn on the broadcast, and then head out hiking… that’s the new habit… we’re going to have to reshape people’s ecclesiology to help them understand the power of the gathering…

Our services don’t feel the way they used to feel from a “production” standpoint… but the spirit was as strong as ever… that’s something we can’t manufacture…

For most of church history and most of the church global, “suboptimal” is just how you do church… and those pastors who don’t want to jump in because it’s going to be suboptimal are making an enormous mistake…

I think right now we need to simplify what we’re doing… the pastors out there that are trying to push forward with a big, bold vision – you’re going to burn out…

I’m taking about simplifying everything… meetings, what you say yes to, your fall relaunch… complexity is not our friend right now… you need to have one or two things every day that you’re doing well…

We have been breathing out really hard these last seven months… now we need to start to breath in again… simplify everything…

Episode 088: The Church in an Election Year

In this episode we talk about the challenge of pastoring in an election year. (Note—this episode was recorded before Covid-19 hit, which is why there is no reference to it.)

I’ve been accused of believing that politics aren’t important; I believe they are EXTREMELY important, because the laws that are passed by our officials will affect the most vulnerable among us…

Miroslav Volf says, “A great government gives everyone the conditions opportunities and tools to live a flourishing life” – this is a fantastic reason for the church to engage in politics…

We have become not a prophetic voice but a partisan voice… we play right into the tribal aggravations and distinctions that the culture is forcing us into…

The tricky part is, how much pressure do we assert on institutions that are not the church…? Does the emperor get to appoint bishops or does the church leader get to say which emperor is excommunicated…?

We’re in a crisis in the West because our definition of the common good came from Christian roots… now we’re trying to figure out if we can enjoy Christian fruit when we are disconnected from Christian roots?

The church doesn’t have a politics as much as the church IS a politics… as we listen to the Scriptures and Jesus, the Word made flesh, we become a different kind of political being…

The best thing that we can do with our politics is to be really transparent, authentic followers of Jesus first… the ministry of Jesus had political ramifications…

We need to be aware of what’s happening in our communities and in local politics… many Christians are nationally engaged but locally distant… we should, first of all, be aware of what’s happening in local politics…

A long time ago I decided that I was going to turn my outrage into outreach…

If all your talking points line up with one party’s talking points, you haven’t taken the time to understand the logic or motive of the other party… sometimes our “opponents” have the same end in mind…

Are we more at home with people who share our faith and not our politics, or those who share our politics but not our faith…? There are some really godly people who vote differently than you…

Episode 084: Pastoral Wisdom for Coping with Covid

In this episode we sit down to talk about how Covid-19 has impacted us as well as some best practices we’re learning as we navigate this. (Also, in a related conversation, Andrew and Glenn sat down this same week with Dr. Mark Mayfield to talk about Covid-19 from a mental health and family perspective. Listen to that conversation here.)

The key to this entire thing is to simplify yourself really quickly, to get back to the basics… this is when you go to blocking and tackling… you need to lead in a steadfast way…  

We need to be aware of how emotionally fragile everyone is… we’re home, but we’re not decompressing… we’re all a little fragile and thin, and we need to be aware of that…  

I actually think we’re doing a better job pastoring people now than what we did before… we’ve made personal, lingering phone calls to over 4,000 people in our congregations… the best thing we did wasn’t live streaming, but getting on the phone with our people…  

The creativity in connection… our congregations are using Zoom as a digital lobby, allowing us to see people’s faces between services… 

I think this virus is making us more human… there is going to be a hunger for church gatherings unlike any other time I’ve ever seen in my life… there is a longing for the gathered church…

I think church attendance is going to skyrocket, and the churches that are ready for that are going to grow… I can see 20-30% growth happening… the Spirit is using all of this to shape and form a new church…  

Many pastors right now are producing too much content… if you’re going to go online, have something to say…  

I think it’s wise that we love our neighbors and NOT meet… in this time right now, defiance is foolish… pastors shouldn’t politicize this… this is a human issue… it’s a chance for us to be pro-life from womb to tomb by staying home…  

Our messaging needs to be simple right now… most of the Bible is written by and to a people under duress… so let the text speak to people… simplify and shorten your services…  

Clarity of message is huge right now… this isn’t the time to do a deep, multilayered exposition of this or that…  

When the quarantine lifts, pastors need to start thinking “micro”… have you deep-cleaned your building…? How are you going to make hand sanitizers available…? How are you going to dismiss people…?  

Pastors are used to thinking at 30,000 feet, but I think it’s going to be the small things that will make us prosper over the next several months…

Episode 079: Four Rules for Teams

In this episode we discuss four rules for how teams should function in their meetings.

Rule number one is you have to tell the truth… if it’s a bad idea, we want to hear about it… I need people in meetings who will tell the truth…

I would rather hear that something is a bad idea on Tuesday rather than on Sunday after my sermon… if you are thinking it in a meeting, don’t walk out carrying it with you…

If we can’t tell the truth in meetings, over time it will weaken the organization…

Rule number two is that you need to share the best ideas… I want creativity in the meetings… if people aren’t sitting in the meetings exploring and pushing the envelope, they don’t need to be in the meeting…

I want there to be a tension in the room that we challenge the status quo… I do not want people sitting there holding onto all their best ideas…

There needs to be robust debate in meetings for them to really work… I want my team members thinking outside their boxes, looking at everything with a fresh set of eyes… the best meetings are when there is really good debate… the best idea always wins…

Rule number three is that you can’t be in the meeting if you are afraid of being decisive… we have to make a decision…

I like to be around people who don’t get bogged down by data… at some point we need to make a decision…

A good leader with good instincts recognizes that if there is division in the room, we can’t move forward… we need to come to unity…

Rule number four is that if we make the decision, the people in the room all need to own it in public… but this is impossible if people haven’t been given an opportunity to weigh in…

The cardinal sin of team is to walk out of the meeting and say, “Well, you know I had a different perspective on this”… you can’t go out of the meetings nodding yes with your head but no with your heart…

Episode 075: Creating a Culture of Ongoing Leadership Development

In this episode we sit down to talk about how senior leaders can create a culture of ongoing leadership development—both values and methods.

It’s so important in ministry to never stop growing… oftentimes churches get a bad rap for using and using up people… our hope is to actually leave people better than when they joined our team…   

Pastoral ministry is so diverse and requires a really unique toolbelt… people pick some of those tools up naturally, but struggle with others… if we just assume that they’ll pick everything up on their own, we’re shooting ourselves in the foot…  

We used to do a once a month training time for our staff, but we realized it just wasn’t enough… so not we’ve switched to three, eight-week runs of gatherings where we can spend longer on topics and get more return…  

Part of how we’re deciding on topics is that we’re putting our finger on the pulse of our staff and saying, “What is it that we NEED?”

At a very basic level, culture is shaped by the stories, practices, and language we share… these meetings are not just about information transfer but about learning a shared language and developing shared practices…  

The conversations we’ve had have tended to breed a lot of compassion and connection among our staff… we’re sharing about our stories, our families, and the things that have shaped us… it’s helped develop relationship and connection…  

For our volunteers we do three big events a year… one is a huge celebration, one is a vision event, and one is investment… that model gets replicated at a smaller level across our ministry teams…  

The truth of this is that if you don’t invest in other leaders, it dies with you, or is limited by you… your limitations will become the boundaries of your ministry… if you invest in others, you increase the Lord’s work exponentially…

Start small… find an initial group of key leaders and do what is manageable and life-giving for you… start there and let it build and flow naturally… don’t try to do too much at first…

Episode 070: A Conversation with Ray Johnston

In this episode we sit down with Pastor Ray Johnston of Bayside Church in Sacramento to talk about church health, growth, and the kind of leadership both require.

Health is more important than growth… I always wanted to pastor a church that the closer you got to the core, the healthier it would be…

People are attracted to health… we don’t have growth goals and have never set growth goals… if something is healthy and visionary, it will likely grow… 

Our secret is our team… team ministry is important to us… we spent years praying and talking about our leadership model and now each of our campuses has two senior pastors… because we believe that team ministry is healthier and more sustainable…  

I believe that the solution to everything is the right person… anything going well in our churches is going well because we have the right person there… you can have the right plans and right strategies but without the right person it will fail… 

You need to hire slow and fire fast… and if you hire slow enough, you usually won’t have to fire… we look for character, competence, and chemistry… the older I get, the more important chemistry is to me…

The most important thing I do personally as a leader is to make sure I stay encouraged… discouragement precedes destruction… it is the anesthetic the devil uses on a leader just before he destroys their ministry…  

Years ago some people encouraged me to become more public in my ministry… so we met with an agent… they developed a plan for building my “brand”… and I felt like God said to me, “If your goal is to build your brand, I’m out…”  

We’re here to build Jesus’s “brand” and not our own… I told my team that God doesn’t want me to build my brand… that we needed to go home and bury ourselves in our ministry, and that’s what we’ve done for the last 15 years… and we’re having a ball…

Episode 069: An Interview with Sean Morgan

In this episode we sit down with Sean Morgan to talk about some current trends among leaders in the North American church.

The number one thing I am encouraged by is the caliber of leaders I am meeting in the church today… I am very encouraged by their obedience of these leaders…  

The sad part about the “A-game” leader is that they can get used and abused very quickly when the church gets off mission…

A lot of churches have fancy mission statements, but the truth is that the mission is the Great Commission and the Great Commandment taken together…  

Top shelf leaders can prevent the whole church being about them by empowering others and building good systems… the larger church pastors are often the ones who have done a better job building a good team and really empowering them…  

One of the reasons we’re seeing more plural and co-leadership teams is that different people can bring their gifting and own a slice of the ministry even though they might be personally lacking in other areas…  

The church growth movement in the last forty years has left a lot of people feeling inadequate because of church size in some way, shape, or form… at the end of the day, you have to do all that you can do and trust God with the results…  

Sometimes the most mature people in the church are the most resistant to a movement to reach people if it is at the expense of their personal project or ministry…

A lot of pastors in their 50s are not ready to retire financially… which means that they become okay with leading stability which leads to their church becoming comfortable… which in turn can cost a church its life…

Elders often don’t have perspective outside their local church… in denominations, district superintendents can help churches with succession… one of the best ways to combat this is to have 3rd party outside influencers of some kind to help…

*Learn more about Sean and his work at ascentleader.org.

Episode 064: What Are Summers For? (Pt 2)

In this episode we pick up our conversation on summers to talk about the purpose of pastoral sabbaticals.

Every fulltime employee on our staff gets a sabbatical at least once every seven years… 

More and more companies around the country are allowing extended leave, recognizing the value of extended time off during key periods of a person’s life… 

When you give your employees extended time away to refuel, in the long run you’ll get more productivity… the cost of replacing that employee is far greater than the cost of giving them time off… 

The first time I had a sabbatical I didn’t really know what to do with it… then I started to realize that there is a three-fold dynamic to sabbaticals: rest, recreation, and renewal… 

Honestly, though, it doesn’t take long to physically rest… but the reflecting takes longer… in our daily schedules we tend to go from one episode to another, and sometimes it is difficult to stop and really pay attention to how things are affecting us… 

These sabbaticals can teach the world how to live again… the church has always been a provocation… the sabbatical reminds us and the world that God is a God of rest… 

Sometimes we forget that Jesus was hidden for thirty years, and then during his three-year ministry he never ran anywhere… we can show the world a better way… 

St. Bernard said that the servant of the Lord is not like a pipe, where God’s work just comes through us… the servant of the Lord is more like a bowl, where we wait until we’re full and then we pour out… sabbatical is a time to become full again… 

If you’re going to go on sabbatical, you need to make sure the sheep are cared for… we stagger our sabbaticals so that our church is cared for well… 

Every person is unique, but for most pastors, they need to get out of town… so if your pastor goes on sabbatical, you need to make sure he has money to travel… if the sabbatical is going to really benefit your pastor, they need to get away…

The first two or three weeks of sabbatical is all about decompression… a four week break is not a sabbatical… six weeks is the minimum for a pastor who’s carrying a preaching weight… any less than that and you won’t come back refueled… six to ten weeks is great if you can get it… three months is even better… 

Episode 063: What Are Summers For? (Pt 1)

In Part 1 of What Are Summers For?, we talk about the personal side and the organizational side of summers and how to make the best use of them.

It’s important for pastors to plan to rest… if you don’t plan to rest, you won’t rest… so many pastors don’t take vacations… 

Summer is a time to show trust to your team… disappear and show them that you trust them and don’t call every other day to find out how they’re doing… 

Summer is a great time to play… there’s space for a restoration of childlikeness… for me, I get to reconnect with my kids… rediscovering them and finding out what God is doing in them…

This requires thinking about ministry as an ebb and flow… one of the traps we get into as leaders is thinking that we need to maintain “momentum”… summer is ordinary time… there’s a sense in which we’re trying to say that it’s okay to have seasons that aren’t epic and exciting… 

On the other hand, the fall will be here before you know it… if you have a bad summer, you will have an awful fall… you can dial back the activity, but not the planning… 

If you’re going to make changes on your staff, June and July are the two best months to do that because the activity is light… so you can make changes without creating a lot of disruption inside the church… 

Summer is a great time for self-evaluation as well… you can’t evaluate your team unless you evaluate yourself… in the summer we pastors need to evaluate how we’re doing, what our schedule looks like, and what we’re saying “yes” to… 

People talk about a “summer slump”, but we don’t see that too much around here… for a lot of families, the break in school-year activity means they have more time for church… just keep things vibrant and alive and excellent, and they’ll come… 

There are preachers in every church that just need opportunities… you need to take a chance on these people… summers are great for that… 

If you’re the young preacher holding the pulpit over the summer, tackle the topics that are in your sweet spot and aren’t going to cause problems for the senior pastor when he gets back… 

Another thing to think about for the summer is that there are other ways to do sermons than just having one person on the stage… maybe take three men or three women and put them on the stage and have someone interview them about a topic… tackle the pulpit as a team…