Thursday 25 January 2018

Overwhelmed, Burned-out, and Discouraged from "Limited Church: Unlimited Kingdom"

Telling it like it is and not mincing his words, Rob Rienow in his book Limited Church: Unlimited Kingdom:

These three words describe many pastors I know. Their days are spent counseling, setting up chairs, answering email, attending strategic planning meetings, preparing to preach, reading about current events and culture, fixing the sound system, visiting the sick, interviewing for a new youth pastor...and that is just the list for Monday.

These pastors frequently tell me about how overwhelmed they are, and at the same time how frustrating it is for them that their congregation is not as "engaged in the mission" as they should be. Sure, there are 20% of the people doing 80% of the work. Thank God for those 20%, but what about those other 80%? How can we get them engaged? How can we get them to volunteer more?

What are pastors to do with all these passive people? We need to work harder. We need to lead better. We need to cast more vision. We need to offer more equipping and training. The pastors need to do more.

But what if the passive congregation is not the result of the church leaders not doing enough, but doing too much?

Remember our basic jurisdictional principle? When larger jurisdictions overstep their bounds, lesser jurisdictions suffer a loss of resources, time, and motivation to do what God created them to do. The lesser jurisdictions usually become less effective in their God-given role of advancing the Gospel and building His Kingdom.

Here is the ugly truth. Many Christians in our churches today are passive because they can be. They don't need to engage in mission, because whether they engage or not, the church leaders will make it happen. I can just show up, sit, and soak, and all these wonderful programs happen anyway! Not only that, I can take pride in being a part of a church that offers such wonderful programs, even though I have no part in making them happen, other than an occasional donation.

The root of the problem is often not that Christians in the church are doing too little, but the leaders in the church are doing too much!

Could it be that our great youth and children's ministries have had the unintended effect of separating parents from their children and decreased the ability of parents to disciple their children at home? Is it possible with all our great intentions of "reaching the youth" and "leading kids to Jesus" we usurped the responsibility of parents to be the primary spiritual trainers of their children in the home? We didn't mean for this to happen, but in many cases we have robbed parents and families of the motivation, time, and resources they needed for their family to function as God intended.

Could it be that our dynamic and "non-threatening" evangelistic events at church have had the unintended consequence of Christian families and Christian individuals not being evangelistic in their own homes and neighborhoods? The evangelistic call to the Christian has changed from "Invite your neighbors into your home. Share your life with them. Pray for God to give you an opportunity to share the Gospel" to "We have an incredible outreach event here at church next month. Pray about who you can invite to church so they can hear the gospel from our special speaker." Is it possible that the more pastors and church leaders focus on running outreach events at church, the less Christians share their faith in their neighborhoods and workplaces?


Church leaders are not the only ones who are overwhelmed. Remember the 20% of the congregation doing 80% of the work? We usually focus our concern on how to get the 80% motivated and on-board.We need to pay equal attention to the probability that those 20% are just as overwhelmed, burned-out, and discouraged as the pastors are.

These are the ones who "answered the call!" They "stepped-up" to volunteer! They are the ones who are serious about living missional, externally-focused, gospel-driven lives...right? Maybe. Volunteering has become the gold standard for "serious" Christians.

But I have lost track of the number of people who have come to me for counseling because they were giving it all at church, volunteering in a wide range of ministries, yet their marriages were crumbling, and their children were walking away from God. All the wonderful programs of the church, and the pressure to be involved in them, can be a factor in robbing people of the time they need for their most important ministry, their ministry to their own family members.

I'll never forget one particular morning of ministry. At 9:00a.m., I had an appointment with two young men. One was in his late teens, the other in his early twenties. I had known the family for some time, and the young men wanted to meet with me to talk about their struggles in their relationship with their father. To put it bluntly, they were struggling with feelings of hatred for him, and they wanted guidance with how to handle those feelings and develop a better relationship with their dad. It was not an easy meeting, but I admired their willingness to meet with me.

At 10:00a.m., we had a pastoral leadership meeting. A special guest was invited to join us, the father of the young men I had just met with. He had done a great job volunteering in summer outreach ministry and one of the pastors had invited him in to celebrate his good work. I was the only one in the room with the knowledge of what was going on with his sons. Those two hours, back to back, broke my heart. Here was a group of pastors celebrating his impact in the lives of other children in the community, while his own children were struggling in a broken relationship with him. More had become less. I must commend my friend at this point. When he learned about this series of events, he deepened his commitment to reach out to his sons and restore his relationship with them.

When the leaders in a local church do too much, when the church goes beyond its biblical jurisdiction, the church becomes quickly filled with a mix of passive and exhausted Christian families and Christian individuals. When this cycle takes hold churches suffer, families suffer, individuals suffer, and the Gospel is hindered.

Other excerpts from the book:
Death in the Ditches
Pastoral Repentance
The Great Commission and The First Commandment
God's Call To Fathers
Transforming Youth and Children's Ministry

Monday 22 January 2018

Pastoral Repentance from "Limited Church: Unlimited Kingdom"

Challenging existing structures and paradigms for how church is run, Rob Rienow in Limited Church: Unlimited Kingdom:
For the first decade of my pastoral life, I had little to no understanding about the sufficiency of Scripture as it related to my leadership in the church. During those years, I was a youth pastor, and one of my favourite principles was, "I have an unchanging message in a constantly changing package." In other words, the message of the Gospel is unchanging, but my ministry methods will be constantly changing to meet the changing needs of youth culture. I was quite proud of how missiological this sounded! I felt I could and should do anything to evangelize and disciple the teens in my community.
But there was a terrible problem with this philosophy. When it comes to ministry in the local church, God is not silent on the method. The Bible doesn't say, "Here is the Gospel, get it to children however you want to," Instead, God's Word is filled with His ends and His means. He tells us what He wants and how He wants it done.
Remember that God has spoken to us on four levels in the Bible. I only saw the first two levels of "God's truth" and "God's will." I believed and embraced that the Bible taught God's love and heart for children (God's truth). I believed and embraced that in the Bible God expresses His will that children are to be evangelized and discipled (God's will). But, that was as far as I went. I completely missed His methods and His jurisdictions. I embraced God's ends, but not God's means. I did not understand that He had given the local church responsibility and authority to nurture, bless, and equip the Christian family for spiritual success.
In the Bible God not only tells us His heart to reach children for Christ, but he tells us how He wants it done. If you locked yourself in a room with the Bible and you asked the question, "God, how do you want young people to be evangelized and discipled?" what do you think the answer would be? What method has God given us to raise the next generation for the glory of God?
If you used the Bible and the Bible alone, the answer would be overhwelmingly clear. God created parents and grandparents to be the primary spiritual trainers of their children at home. God created parents and grandparents to shepherd and disciple their children. This is the divine strategy for next generation ministry.
Despite the fact God has spoken so clearly about this in the Bible, I created a youth ministry where parents could drop their kids off with me and the other "professionals" so we could teach them the Bible, equip them for ministry, pray with them, and keep them accountable.
In the same way I had to repent of my lack of following the Bible in my life at home, I had to repent in my professional life at church. When it came to ministry decisions, I was doing things my way, in my wisdom, with my innovation, and through my creativity. I had to repent of the fact I was leading an unbiblical ministry. This is not to say everything I was doing was sinful, but when it came to my youth ministry, I was not allowing the Bible to determine my methods.
I believe that ministering to children and youth is a "good work!" Therefore, I believe in the Bible God has given us everything we need to be successful. Not only is the Bible sufficient for youth ministry, but for every "good work of the church." When we believe this - it changes everything.
- Do you believe the Bible is sufficient for women's ministry in your church?
- Do you believe the Bible is sufficient to direct your church in how you care for the poor?
- Do you believe the Bible is all you need to develop a strategy to minister to singles?
- Do you believe the Bible is sufficient to teach us how we are to worship God?
The easy answer is, "yes!" But how often is the Bible open in your ministry planning sessions? Are your leadership decisions based on what you think will work best, what seems most creative, or what God has specifically said in His Word? Do you seek to make every ministry decision in light of the commands and patterns for the New Testament church? God has spoken clearly and directly about every necessary ministry in His church, but are we listening? More importantly, are we willing to be obedient to what He has said?
Other excerpts from the book:
Death in the Ditches
Overwhelmed, Burned-out, and Discouraged
The Great Commission and The First Commandment
God's Call To Fathers
Transforming Youth and Children's Ministry

Sunday 21 January 2018

Repentance from "Limited Church: Unlimited Kingdom"

More words of wisdom from Rob Rienow in his book Limited Church: Unlimited Kingdom, especially for those of us in ministry:

For many years, I did not follow the simple instructions God gives to fathers... I had been serving as a youth minister for over a decade. If you had asked me at that time what my priorities in life were as a Christian man, I would have responded quickly and with conviction, "My first priority in life is my personal relationship with God, followed by my love relationship with my wife. My kids come next, and my fourth priority is my ministry in church." God, spouse, kids, others.

Not only did I preach about this prioritized Christian life, I lived it. If the phone rang and my boss was on the other line with a crisis, and at the same time the other phone rang and Amy was on the line with a crisis, where would I go? How would I respond? I would go home. In a crisis, I would not put my work ahead of my wife.

Over the course of that summer, the Holy Spirit began to press me with a difficult question. "What are your priorities if there is no crisis?" During a normal week, where did I give the best of my heart, passion, energy, leadership, and vision? When I considered my life in light of that question, I did not like what I saw. I preached the Christian life priorities of God, spouse, kids, and others, but in my everyday life, the order was completely backwards: others, kids, Amy, God. It sounds horrible to say it this way, but my heart was at my job. When I was at work, I was thinking about work. When I was at home, I was thinking about work. This was followed by my relationship with my children. I was not an absent father, physically or emotionally. I tried to spend time with them and connect with them personally. However, I had no plan, whatsoever, to pass my faith on to my children. As a youth pastor, I had tremendous strategic plans to pass my faith on to everyone else's children! But with the immortal souls that God had entrusted to my care... I was just showing up. I gave them my spiritual leftovers after I poured myself out at work.

My next priority was my marriage to Amy. After I gave my best at work and gave the leftovers to the kids, Amy got what few scraps were left. This is not to say that I did not try to spend time with her and do what I could to help around the house, but my heart was not with her first and foremost. I was seen as a strong spiritual leader at my church, while I was providing virtually no spiritual encouragement for my wife.

Because my life was upside down and backwards, I was so far from God...and I didn't even know it. It was a dark summer because I had to admit that the life I thought I was living was a mirage. I was not a man who put my ministry to my wife and children first. God brought me to a place of brokenness and repentance. I confessed and acknowledged the broken state of my life to God and repented to my wife and children. Then God began graciously to rebuild my family on the sufficiency of His Word and His grand purpose for our lives. Now, eight years after the rebuilding began, our family continues to learn, grow, repent, and seek God together.

Other excerpts from the book:

Death in the Ditches from "Limited Church: Unlimited Kingdom"

Just read in Limited Church: Unlimited Kingdom by Rob Rienow:

The doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture is a narrow path that leads to pleasing God in all things, but there are deep ditches on both sides. These ditches are the detours to sin and death. On one side is the ditch of rebellion, on the other side the ditch of legalism.

I believe the ditch of rebellion is easier to see. Do you remember the warnings from Deuteronomy and from Jesus not to "take away" any words of the Bible? This is a warning against rebellion... When we deliberately think or act contrary to God's revealed will in the Bible, that is rebellion. When we disregard any portion of Scripture, we have begun sliding down the steep slopes of rebellion.

One of the most surprising things I have learned as I have explored the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture is that there are more warnings in the Bible against adding to what God has said compared to the warnings against taking away. For whatever reason, the ditch of rebellion seemed like a big, scary one, with the sharp rocks and wolves waiting at the bottom. The other side, the ditch of legalism, was bad, sure, but certainly not as bad as rebellion... Right? Not according to God.

When we take away from God's Word that is rebellion. When we add to God's Word that is legalism... I am convinced that many churches today are filled with legalism, and they don't even know it!

Simply defined, legalism is creating human rules for righteous living, which are not in the Bible, and judging yourself and others by those human rules...

Legalism is not seeking to follow the Bible in every area of thought and life. Legalism is adding human rules and regulations on top of the Bible...

A legalist is not someone who seeks to rightly obey and apply every word of the Bible to his or her life. A legalist is someone who disobeys the Bible by adding to the Bible human rules and regulations for thought, life, and morality, and proceeds to judge themselves and others by these rules. A legalist is not someone who places divine law above all else. A legalist is someone who places human law above all else...

When legalism infects a church, the results are predictable. Leaders become prideful and divisions grow. This is the inevitable result when church decisions are made based on human wisdom, human creativity, and human innovation rather than the revealed Word of God.

Other excerpts from the book: