Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Get to the Why

Over the years, I've attended many training sessions.  I've taught more than my share of them and have found that often, it is the simple ideas that can be the most profound. 

In my ministry of equipping pastors and churches and sharing our vision of the Church, one of the lessons I've learned and teach often is the "What, How and Why."   All are important but it's the 'Why' that matters. 

1) All churches and ministries know what to do.

 Here are some of the ‘whats’:

"Churches hold services, volunteers greet visitors", "pastors preach sermons", "children’s ministry has volunteers", "offerings are taken", and "contributions are collected."

2) The better, teaching ministries and churches know ‘how’ to do it and can teach others.  

Here are some of the “hows’:

“Contemporary services are preferred by the majority of people”, “Appreciate and train your volunteers”, “Prepare sermons in a series to keep people coming back”, “Pray before the offering is taken”,

3) Remarkable churches and ministries know ‘the why’ and inspire others.

If you were expecting a list of ‘why’s’ you are likely disappointed. The why is personal and unique. It is the way that the distinct vision of the senior leader is expressed.  There are many ‘whys’ in a church or ministry.   At the top are all of the whys related to who it is that the church is trying to reach.  A suburban church likely has a different ‘why’ than an urban church.  A church reaching primarily young people has a different 'why' than most other churches. 

You likely know some of your ‘whys’ but don’t necessarily articulate them consistently or in a way that motivates staff, volunteers and members.  For example, we know that visitors that are welcomed in a friendly and casual manner are more likely to want to return.   This is why churches should train and constantly remind their volunteers that they are the critically important and function often as the visitors first impression of the Church. 

Another ‘why’ is that we know that one of the most important aspects of children’s ministry today is to assure the parents that their children are in a safe environment.  This is why churches that are aware of this use check-in systems and name tags for both the children and the parents.

Get to the why in your church and ministry.  Spend some time examining the various aspects of the ministry and identify the whys.   Then, take the time to create short, memorable and creative tag lines for the various whys of your church or ministry.    Don’t just tell people the what or train in the how but give them the why and your church or ministry will become not just better-than-average but remarkable and inspiring. 

Thursday, January 07, 2016

Winning the $700 Million Powerball

While the odds may be slim, the news that the next Powerball jackpot has grown to $700 million gets a lot of people lined up at your local supermarket or convenience store.  I think all of us wonder what it would be like to all-of-a-sudden have that kind of money.   Just this morning a pastor friend and I were talking and after we both talked about what we would do with the jackpot, we had the obligatory conversation regarding whether playing the lottery was sinful or not.

While I have an advanced degree in theology and have served as a pastor for fourteen years,  I’m very shy about giving advice where something is a sin when it isn’t mentioned in the Bible.  In addition to theology, I'm business trained and educated and pretty well read but trying to determine exactly what God would consider sin is not one of my talents.

To gamble or not to gamble 

Of course there are many that oppose buying a lottery ticket as it's really the equivalent of gambling (knowing somehow that gambling must be sin). I'm not too sure if playing the lottery is gambling. The likelihood of a lottery ticket paying off is so low even the government looks at the purchase of a ticket as the equivalent as making a "voluntary contribution to our schools and senior citizens". While I'm still not willing to venture into the discussion on what makes a sin a sin, I do recall back when I was working on Wall Street that some of my Christian friends felt that even "playing" the stock market was gambling and as a result was sinful.

I assured them (and my wife!) that I was working and I wasn't "playing". My employer paid me good money to be a good steward of the funds that were entrusted to my care. I was able to define the difference (actually a chasm) between buying stocks and gambling. Stocks are purchases of small bits of equity or ownership in a company. Stocks are also purchased in the hope (not guarantee) that the shares of stocks will be worth more money in the future. There are differences between putting money on a blackjack table or in buying a lottery ticket and buying stock. Investors in the stock market buy shares in a company in order to participate in the profits of a for-profit enterprise. Gamblers are counting on luck and chance, for if it was a skill or based on knowledge it wouldn't be gambling.

What is the intent? 

The difference perhaps comes down to intent. Isn't that possibly the defining line for sin as well? Jesus said in Luke 6, "The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks." If we have a good heart, or have good intentions, we'll be doing good things. The Bible gives us plenty of examples of good things. We don't have to worry too often about the grey areas that are not specifically mentioned in the Bible.

I think one of the reasons that some would look at the Powerball Lottery as being evil or sinful is that it does resemble a "get rich quick" attitude. That is typically not a good attitude for followers and disciples of Christ. Proverbs 28:20 says, "A faithful man will be richly blessed, but one eager to get rich will not go unpunished."

Warnings against the love of money

While it's not bad being rich, much of the Bible's teaching about wealth is a warning against putting trust in wealth rather than the Lord (i.e. 1 Timothy 6:17-18) or to the detriment of those who depend on us (i.e. Ecclesiastes 5:13-14). The New Testament teaches that we are to be good stewards of all that God has entrusted to us which includes our money.  Jesus spoke often about money and riches and we should be careful to love people more than things and to hold very loosely all that God has given us. In this way, when we have opportunity to use our possessions in ways that the Lord brings to mind, we won't hesitate to instead keep our possessions to ourselves.

The next time you are inclined to play the Powerball Lottery think first about what you would do with the money if you win. If your intentions are good then I think you've passed the first test. For the second test take a look at what you do with the rest of your money when you aren't buying lottery tickets. If you honor the Lord with your possessions, if you are generous towards those that have need, and if you tend to be unselfish and even sacrificial in your pursuit of helping your local church accomplish the ministry that you've determined to be a part of, then, and only then, I say, go ahead, put a couple dollars down and have some fun.

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