Train wreck

As I sat in my “Introduction to Preaching” at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Rev. Dr. Charles Briscoe asked a question I’ll never forget “Which one of you want to be a preacher?”  Honestly, it seemed innocent enough so I, along with everyone in the class, raised my hand.  Dr. Briscoe chose myself and 9 others and made these statements, “I want the 7 of you to raise your hands.”

He then said pointing at us, “you will fall in moral failure.”  “

Another one of you raise your hand, you, you will fail because of financial impropriety.”

At this point we are all nervous, “Next one, raise your hand”, he did slowly, “you will either burn out or give up on ministry.”

Then he turned to the class and dropped this bomb, “Statistically 1 out of 10 of you (that’s only 10% for those of you counting) will be in ministry after 20 years.”

We were in stunned silence until he said “Now, which one of you still want to be a preacher?”

Dr. Briscoe then began telling us about the many ministers that he had walked with as a part of a ministry called Pastor Serve

“PastorServe is both a crisis response team and a disaster prevention team for the Kingdom… We provide support, direction, coaching and consultation on navigating conflict and crisis – confidentially.  More importantly, we can help ministry leaders, their family or their Church proactively preempt the pain and suffering that often follows a crisis.”

That day has stuck with me and never so much as the day as I was called into an urgent meeting at the church I was a new staff member at.  When I walked upstairs, turned the corner and there he was.  Immediately, I knew what we were about to hear and I was crushed but I didn’t want to admit it.  My Pastor, who showed me the Gospel, baptized me, challenged me, helped identify my call to ministry, encouraged me and so much more, had admitted to being in an affair.  If you talk to my wife and me we refer to this part of our life as “the train wreck”.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t the first time I heard this speech and I’m starting to realize that will not be my last.  My heart broke as I opened up twitter today and saw that Pastor Bob Coy had resigned because of moral failure.  My heart broke as I realized Calvary Chapel Ft. Lauderdale was just involved in her own train wreck.

Pastor Bob was another man instrumental in my entering the ministry.  I’ll never forget telling my wife that I was not worthy to stand in the pulpit and preach God’s word.  She gave me a cassette tape and I listened to his testimony and realized that if God could use him He would have no problem using me. Pastor Bob is truly gifted, and God has truly used him and by His grace He will still use him.  I can’t imagine the heartbreak and confusion that is happening in the lives of those who are close to him. I am particularly praying for him and his family and the church.  While it will be tough and painful for all parties involved, the church and the Coys will get through it, God will reign, people will grow, and lives will continue to be transformed.

In the wake of this crisis I wanted to offer some things (some of which I’ve  learned from other pastors) that will hopefully help you if you ever find yourself in the middle of a crisis like this:

  1. Stay away from media:  Do not search the Internet and look for all the details about Bob Coy, but to scour your own life and “consider ourselves lest we also be tempted.” (Galatians 6:1) We now know enough. It’s bad. We need to avoid our natural tendencies to want to know more about the situation than what the church and the Coy family chooses to release. And, hopefully that will be minimal. More information only stirs more false information and broadens the damage.
  2. Bob Coy (and your pastor) can be restored: It will depend on his brokenness, humility, willingness to be completely transparent to those who need to know, and his acceptance of the grace of God but he can be restored.  If God used Moses, David, Noah, Jacob and so many others as Biblical examples, He can again use what is sinful for eventual good.
  3. Every pastor (even yours) is susceptible:  Stand guard. If we ever believe we are above temptation we have opened the door for the enemy’s plan to be effective.  No one wakes up and thinks about destroying their personal life and ministry. It happens gradually over time. The time to build our systems of accountability, support and protection is always now.
  4. This does not negate Bob Coy’s teaching:  I remember the decision to take down my pastor’s sermons from the web and I remember hearing people wondering what it means from all the things they learned under him. Under both men there are thousands who have been positively shaped by the teaching of those men and even more so in the case of Bob Coy.  Remember this, if the person was teaching truth, God’s Spirit is the ultimate teacher and that doesn’t change with this failure.
  5. [We] Do not shoot the wounded:  I am not sure why we have to say his but In this time Christians tend to become self-righteous and look down those who sin differently than we or have been in caught in the same sin.“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us. My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.” – 1 John 1:8-2:2
  6. Christ and His church will survive:  The gates of Hell shall not prevail. Jesus promised this.  When it comes to popular pastors and teachers, many of us put them on pedestals on which they should not to be. While leaders are held to a high standard (1 Timothy 3:1-7;Titus 1:7-9), they are not to be looked upon as idols or “stars”. We all have our favorite teachers, I’m as guilty as the next man, but we must look beyond any pastor and keep our eyes on Jesus Christ, the author and perfecter of our faith and leader of the church. No man went to the cross for your sin except for Jesus Christ.

Christians and culture

In 2011 the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life polled church leaders from around the world. Evangelical ministers from the United States reported a greater loss of influence than church leaders from any other country — with some 82 percent indicating that their movement was losing ground.  This is a trend that has been happening for a while but most Christians were either to scared to admit it or had their heads in the sand.  With the abuses in the church, the lack of constancy in our application of the Bible  (i.e. Homosexuality greater sin than other sexual sins), and much more our culture has summarily dismissed the truths out of God’s word by looking at the people who claim to follow it.

How can we right ourselves? Honestly, I don’t believe we can but we can, however, use the economic, social and spiritual crises facing America to refashion ourselves into a more sensitive, spiritual and humble movement and a main part of this is something I call “Relational Capitol”

Years ago as I sat across from my mentor I first heard the term that would describe shape my ministry and relationships moving forward.  That phrase was “relational capitol”.  This is one of the strongest bond we have with those around us. Honestly the concept is rather simple, the greater the capitol you have put into the relationship (pouring into those in your sphere of influence) the greater the trust and influence, the lower the capitol the less the trust and influence you will have.  This something that is carefully cultivated and preserved by those who desire to influence others. It is an intentional investment in relationships over time that causes others to trust, count on, value, and appreciate our relationship – whether it is a close one or from a distance. This investment, much like a regular monetary one, is not built quickly.

What are the factors in building this?

  • First it is built over time because time validates our intentions and builds trust.  It took years to get to this point and it will take some time to get back.
  • Second, it is clear to others that we have their best interests in mind – all the time by our actions and service to them.
  • Third, we have not stepped over appropriate boundaries in the relationship or taken advantage of others.
  • Fourth, our interactions are respectful, honoring and have the effect of building others up.
  • Fifth, we can be counted on, are faithful friends and show up when needed. All of these qualities over time build significant equity in the relationship. When any of them are violated we lose equity.

There are no investments more worthwhile or important than relational ones. Those investments are the currency of influence and growth as we interact with people with whom we have mutual trust. They are to be guarded carefully because once violated, they can be hard to rebuild and if you do not believe me you should look at the current state of Christianity in America today.

Racial Reconciliation

This is a blog post written by Dr. Eric Mason who is the lead pastor of Epiphany Fellowship in Philadelphia and originally featured here.  This subject is very near and dear to my life as we try to model this to others in our spheres of influence.

Racial reconciliation is a phrase that I have heard about for the last 30 plus years. It has been paraded in conferences, sermons, books, etc. With non-Christians, the subject matter isn’t really a subject matter any longer. There seems to be a bit of a conversational transition as it relates to civil items to other so-called civil rights matters.

However, when you bring up the idea of racial reconciliation in the Church, there seems to be a sign of frustration among God’s people concerning it, mainly among blacks and whites in America, because it continues to be a subject of failure in how it is addressed. Whether it is through messages that bring temporary conviction but lack repentance for all who are involved or any other mechanism, something is lacking. Therefore, a sense of apathy has developed which has stalemated the process.

Let’s start with a few items as we seek to add to the discussion on the subject. Might we define reconciliation?

Reconciliation is the restoration of friendly relationships and of peace, where there had previously been hostility and alienation. Ordinarily, it also includes the removal of the offense that caused the disruption of peace and harmony (Rom. 5:102 Cor. 5:19Eph. 2:16).

Although racial reconciliation is not the gospel or the central focus of it, it is a qualitative application of the gospel in function and practice.

On the matter of race, theologically, there are only two races: redeemed and unredeemed (1 Peter 2:9). The people of God are spoken of as “a chosen race,” “a holy nation.” We are spoken of in the singular as “a” unified, eternal nationality whom Jesus Christ, through His blood, has brewed together as His eternal subjects of representation.

Wow! So beginning with the gospel and continuing in its implications is important.

The key in the definition is the “removal of the offense.” We know that in Jesus the sins of injustice and inequality have been removed, but functionally they still exist. The gospel deals with barriers. It doesn’t merely overlook them. Jesus bore our sin on the cross (2 Cor. 5:21). Therefore, He didn’t look beyond our faults. He looked at them and dealt with them through Jesus.

One of the great challenges of the aforementioned subject is faults are not dealt with. On the one hand, African-Americans can deal with the issue of bitterness, and whites can deal with not fully confronting the sins of commission that happened in the past overtly and those that are done today covertly. In addition, there can be a response on both sides to walk in a sin of omission, failing to do something good when you know you should do it.

Some ways we are seeking to unearth and deal with racial reconciliation:

  1. Find out the secret of where people are. In this, we throw out subjects in the sermons to be tackled in small group interaction. For instance, through our series on Nehemiah, we dealt with the injustice of white privilege. Nehemiah repents for the sins that he has benefited from and lives in because of the sins of his fathers.Some of the whites were a little unsettled about my commentary. After a few weeks of it being a discussion with the gospel at the center (and having a white elder’s help), some of what might have come off as harsh was cleared up. He even coached me on bringing more substantial examples to clarify my claims so that white members wouldn’t feel alienated. He stated, though, that I should be candid.
  2. Speaking about the missiological challenges of whites helping with inner-city missions as leaders. In our neighborhood, there is some mild gentrification and development issues that cause blacks to feel bypassed. As we do outreaches, prayer walks and relational interaction to share Jesus, we were candid with our church about how many neighbors feel towards whites. Frankly, they don’t trust them.Therefore, I stated that until trust was built, other ethnicities must lead the missiological charge. Some people had a romantic understanding of missions and were frustrated that I made the statement. However, upon walking the neighborhood and seeing the conditions that people were in, understanding began to develop and dialogue began to ensue because of contextual ignorance. Whites began to understand, as well as blacks who were not a part of the neighborhood. People began repenting of sin in prayers and asking the Lord to remove barriers.
  3. Getting people in the room together. This may seem obvious, yet people like going to a multiethnic church but have issues with multiethnic community. When you get one race of believers in multiethnic interaction and doing life together, this is when we have to face the barriers. If we do not face the inferential barrier of sin that exists, we live in a delusion.The center of the discussion should not be racial reconciliation. That can get annoying, but when the gospel is the center and the Holy Spirit is at work, it will come up just as any other issue. Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would lead us into all truth. If that is true, the subject will come up in a more multifaceted manner.

Is it really murder?

A year or 2 back I remember reading an article that said something to the sort of Parents should be allowed to have their newborn babies killed because they are “morally irrelevant” and ending their lives is no different to abortion.  This began a disturbing trend that came next to the Dr. Kermit Gosnell arrest and subsequent conviction but no real news of the horrors of this man.  Next, I had the privileged of listening to Lila Grace Rose at a local banquet and her inspiring ministry for the unborn nationwide.  Next, I watched as Rep. Wendy Davis (D) from Texas filibustered a bill, in some spiffy shoes I might add, that would have severely reduced and restricted access to abortions in Texas thus she became a quick celebrity on Pro-Choice circles.

As I have been on this journey from hardcore pro-choice to hardcore pro-life I have tried wrestled with my level of participation in this conversation.  No matter where I seem to hide, this subject seems to follow me, and now this week a new controversial pro-life documentary came out that examines the truth about abortion and the single biggest failure of the pro-life movement, not calling abortion what it really is…Murder.

Please [actually] watch this movie and then tell me where you stand on this subject.

Sanctity of life and MLK

Over the last few years of my life, around this time of year, I have been placed in a conundrum in my life. Every January the celebration of Martin Luther King’s (MLK) Birthday and the Sanctity of Life Sunday seem to fall on the same Sunday.  Growing up in Kansas City I went to a traditional Black church every Mid-January we spoke of Dr. King and his Christian impact on the nation in the civil rights movement.  Now that I’m a part of a majority Caucasian church Mid-January’s bring reflections the infamous Roe vs. Wade decision.  If you didn’t know Sunday (1/19) was “Sanctity of Life Sunday” is followed by Martin Luther King Jr Monday (1/20), which is followed by Roe V. Wade’s 41st anniversary on Wednesday (1/22).  There is a chilling contrast between the January 20th celebration of the life of MLK and the advancement of civil rights his legacy leaves; while simultaneously mourning the January 22nd anniversary of legalized abortion and the millions of innocent dead babies its legacy leaves.  Depending on the context, it seems that focusing on one issue or the other we are missing the boat on one of the most incredibly important subjects that affect our church today.

“…it is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning.” - Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

How much have things changed?  This is the largest chasm that is extant in the body of Christ in the US.  Our continued segregation preaches something to our surrounding culture, and it is not positive about the Kingdom of God.  We must find a way to intentionally seek racial reconciliation while addressing such a grievous sin of our nation, which happens to affect African Americans disproportionately.  The problem is both [majority] Black and Caucasian churches miss the issues that have not historically effected our communities, by doing this we miss the larger issue that severs the Kingdom of God and is simultaneously is destroying lives.

So what’s the solution? Maybe churches should make this a period of intense focus both on the protection of life and racial reconciliation.  I do not think that this is a mistake by God but orchestrated in His plan for us to take advantage two subjects that seem so different yet speak to similar injustices in our nation and in the Kingdom of God.

“The Negro cannot win if he is willing to sacrifice the futures of his children for immediate personal comfort and safety. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

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