Friday, July 28, 2017

Ministry in the World of Social Media

     I went into full time ministry in 2005.  When it comes to social media, it was an entirely different world then.  MySpace was the popular site and it was a bit of a big deal to choose who your "top friends" were.  Facebook was new and you had to have a university email address to use it so it wasn't nearly as easily accessible as it is now.  Pinterest, Instagram, and Twitter were not even much on the radar yet if at all.  So, to connect with the world around you, it was necessary to actually go out into that world.  Email was an easy way to communicate, but folks did still send actual letters from time to time.  However, in order for people to really get to know who you were, they generally had to talk to you face to face.
     Today, it is a different story.  Now, most people (though not all people) are on some form of social media.  They use it to connect with people all around the world and it is now a necessary tool for many types of jobs...ministry included.  However, the thing about Social Media is that you have a platform from which to talk to the world...the whole world.  And our circle of influence for the Kingdom got a lot bigger.  We "like" or "share" posts we find interesting or funny.  We comment on world events.  We cheer on our favorite sports teams or promote our favorite entertainment choices.  We are pretty transparent when we are online.  And, that is a good thing...but it is also something we need to be aware of.  Because our witness can be damaged by the choices we make online.
     Now, I am not saying that we should not be authentic when we are online.  Hypocrisy is not good in any form, but when we sit behind a computer screen, sometimes the filters that we use in our real life, seem to disappear.  But living a life of Holiness, doesn't pause when we sit down at our computers.   We, as Christians, are meant to live all the parts of our lives in such a way that everything we do points people to Jesus.   Here are a few things to remember when it comes to our online witness:

     1)  Be Christlike in your online speech. 
          This is maybe the biggest thing I see online.  Can I tell you how often I have seen something that a fellow Christian has posted and been disheartened?  From politics, to sports, to family interactions, it is important to look over what you are posting and ask yourself: 
   A) Does this really need to be said?   And if it does, is this the proper forum in which to say it?
   B) Am I venting simply because someone else thinks differently than I do?
   C) How would I react if my child/grandchild/neighbor kid were talking like this about a classmate? 
   D) Is this building up the Kingdom of God?

     2)  Don't Steal
          Do you own the rights to the picture you are posting online?  If not, you are stealing.  It is very easy and inexpensive to create photo graphics for your church or blog through sites like www.canva.com.  If you share a picture online through a share tab, that is fine...after all, that is what the share tab is for.  But if you save it to your computer, then share it as if you created it, that's not ok. You wouldn't steal it from a store, so don't steal it online either.
    
    3)  Do a quick social media check on yourself from time to time
         Every so often, go through the items you have posted online.  Do they reflect who you want to be?  What would your impression be if you saw those same posts on the social media account of someone else? 

    4)  Fact Check
         If you see a news article, warning, or alert about something, check it out before you share it.  There are a ton of bogus "warning" articles and lots of inaccurate news/stories out there.  Before you "share" at least check out the story on snopes.com or some other fact checking site and find out if there is any truth to it. 

Living a life of Holiness is not something we turn off and on.  If we really want to be like Jesus, then we have to include our online world in that journey as well.  After all, in today's day and age, the first place someone may meet you could be online...and as they say, "You never get a second chance to make a first impression."  

Until next time!

Friday, June 30, 2017

We Are A Part of Something Bigger...#GA2017

I just got back from General Assembly.  This event takes place every four years in the Church of the Nazarene and it is when delegates come together from all parts of the globe (we are in 162 countries and minister in more than 200 languages worldwide) and do the business of the church. During these days, changes are adopted to our Manual (this contains the bylaws of the Church of the Nazarene) as well as looking at policies and procedures for the global church.  I talked quite a bit about what goes on at General Assembly in a former post so I won't spend a lot of time now, but if you want to learn more about what General Assembly is, you can read about it here. Today, I want to share a couple of highlights from General Assembly 2017.

First, there were amazing worship services.  It is hard to put into words what it is like to worship with so many brothers and sisters from around the globe, but it is amazing.  Since I am trying to learn Korean, I decided to get a translator headset so I could listen to the services and the some of the business meetings in that language.  That was an experience all its own.  I don't know enough to be able to follow along solely in Korean, but it was cool when I would be able to pick out the things I did know.  On Saturday night, they brought out on stage dozens of people to sing "The Revelation Song," and it was broken up into multiple languages.  What a moving experience that was.  You can watch the video below if you'd like to see it.  Wow!  In fact, you can find videos of all the services as well as this week's business meetings on YouTube.
 
Second, not only did I get to meet and/or catch up with friends from all over the USA, I was blessed to meet and get to know Nazarene Brothers and Sisters from all over the world. I met an amazing group from Nassau, Bahamas during the first couple days of Assembly and then was blessed to see them several times throughout the event. They brightened my day each time we got to see each other. Then another day, I met two women from Taiwan, one of which was the pastor of her church and had been pastoring there for many years.  What an inspiration she was.  I met the District Superintendent's wife from one of our India Districts as well as the General Assembly Delegate from another India District, both of which were amazing women of God.  I was blessed to chat several times with the fantastic woman, named Sun, who was manning the booth for Korea Nazarene University and I got to see the show their Tae Kwon Do Team put on.  It was jaw dropping.   It was great to get to catch up with the people Mom and Dad had worked with at Africa Nazarene University as well.  There were literally people to meet from all parts of the world and I tried to meet as many as I had the opportunity to do so.

Finally, I was there to witness the election of our two newest General Superintendents.  For those not familiar with the Church of the Nazarene, we have six General Superintendents who lead our church globally.  It is a huge job and not one that any of us take lightly.  They have the responsibility of chairing every District Assembly worldwide, ordaining all ministerial candidates each year from all parts of the world, as well as many many more duties.  This year, we elected Dr. Filimeo Chambo from our Africa Region and Dr. Carla Sunberg who has been the president of Nazarene Theological Seminary.  Dr. Chambo's election brings our Board of General Superintendents to three from within the US and three from outside the US and Dr. Sunberg in our second ever woman to be elected a GS.  It was an incredible honor to see these two wonderful leaders in our church elected to our highest office. 

General Assembly reminds me once again that we are bigger than just our local church.  Bigger than our Districts and even bigger than our countries.  We are a part of a global team all working together to reach the world for Jesus.  And when we include our brothers and sisters from other denominations that team just gets bigger.  It's important to remember that we are not alone.  It's important to remember that there are others working for the Kingdom in places we may never get to visit ourselves.  And it's important to remember that we are indeed all ONE team, pursuing ONE goal and that is the share CHRIST with the world.  I'm honored to be a small part of this global team.  

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

General Assembly 2017...

It happens every four years and it's my favorite event in the life of my denomination.  It's General Assembly and it is happening later this month in Indianapolis, Indiana.  What makes it so special?  Well, there are many things that I look forward to at General Assembly, but here are my top 3 reasons why I love it:

1) It is very much a family reunion...
I grew up in the Church of the Nazarene.  In fact, I joined the church when I was about 10 years old.  I have been on staff in 6 churches across three states, been the Preacher's Kid in 11 churches (ranging from infancy-now) since my Dad is a Pastor, went to a Nazarene University ("On a hill stands old Trevecca..."), and the list goes on.  To say I have Nazarene friends around the world is not an understatement and the only time I have opportunity to catch up with those amazing people is when we all come together for General Assembly.  It's a time to see how God is working in the lives of people across the world.  And there will literally be people there from all parts of the world (except perhaps Antarctica...I don't believe we have any churches on that continent...yet. 😁)  At Assembly we get to encourage and learn from each other in ways that simply are not possible at any other time.  It's amazing.  This year, I gave myself a challenge and I have been learning Korean.  I'm not even remotely fluent, but I can hold a short conversation pretty well now. I'm excited to be able to greet the participants who speak Korean in their own language this time.  Why?  Well, why not?  They are a part of my global family and not many of us in the States had the opportunity to learn any Asian languages in school, so now as an adult, I'm trying to learn.  Eventually, I plan to learn a little Japanese, Chinese, and even Vietnamese as well and then at the next General Assembly I'll be able to greet them properly too...but this time...I'm focused on Korean. We shall see how well I do. 

2) We get great training for ministry...
There are tons of workshops covering every area of ministry throughout the first few days of General Assembly.  This free training is available to anyone who wants to attend and is an amazing resource for those who want to grow in their faith, add to their ministerial toolkit, or simply learn more about the Kingdom of God.  Plus there is a large exhibit hall where you can get more information about ministry tools, learn about the work God is doing around the globe, check out the large number of Nazarene Educational Institutions that are represented, or even shop for a souvenir.  There really is something for everyone.

3) The Worship Services...
There are amazing church services in the evenings of Assembly.  They are dynamic, they are fast paced, they are really cool to be a part of, but more importantly, they are filled with the power of God as we hear His Word brought from one of our General Superintendents.  It is amazing and it really is something that you have to experience to fully appreciate.

There is also a huge service project that takes place leading up to General Assembly called "One Heart, Many Hands" (See the video below) and the work they accomplish is highlighted during one of the evening services.  It is always amazing to see just how much can be done when everyone bands together.  Hundreds (perhaps even thousands) of people will come early to participate in this amazing outreach.  

If you have the opportunity to come to General Assembly, I hope you will come and see all that God is doing in the life of the Church of the Nazarene.  And if you will not be attending, please pray for all those who are.  We appreciate it.  I'll share some highlights from the event next month.  

Until next week! 

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Memories and Ministry

 
Memories are important in our lives.  All the pieces of our past make us who we are currently.  The good, the bad, the painful, the fun, the humorous, and the heartrending....all of those memories help make us who we are.  While some are more pleasant than others to remember, none are more or less important because without even one of them, we would be different than we are now.
     Memories are important in the life of the church as well.  I have been in literally hundreds of churches throughout my life and all of them have their own stories and their own history that brought that particular church to where it is today.  However, just like in our own lives, our churches can not live in the past if they want to keep moving forward.  That being said though, we never want to forget what brought our churches to where they are today.  And it is a great idea to find ways to highlight special memories in the life of our churches.
     We often have members in our churches who have been a part of the congregation for dozens of years longer than the current pastor.  They like to share what it was like in the church when they first arrived or the changes they have seen take place over the years and it's important that those perspectives are not lost.  So, how can we celebrate the past without clinging fiercely to it?  Here are a few ideas:

     Create a memory video to share on a special anniversary or other celebration of the church.  This allows members to share memories and pictures as well as allowing new people to see a brief history of the church.  For me it's always fascinating to see the changes in churches over the years.  Plus seeing the fashions change as well as familiar faces from days gone by is sure to bring smiles to the faces of all those who watch it.

     Make a small church history display in the building.  Many churches have gone through building changes or additions over the years.  A small display of pictures that shows how the church has changed is always an interesting way to remember the past.  My home church in Middletown, IN has gone through major physical changes in the last 30 years.  Since the current building began construction around 30 years ago, there are few people who attend now, who also attended when it was in it's previous building.  (I remember loving to ring the church bell in the old church.  The rope would practically lift us kids off the ground when we rang it.)  Then that new building was added onto twice over the next 20 years and there are many people who attend now who didn't begin attending until after the 2nd or 3rd addition was built.  So seeing the visual changes over the years just in the building itself is an amazing testament to how God has worked in that church over the years. 
Current Middletown Church of the Nazarene



Original Middletown Church of the Nazarene










 
     Highlight a long term member on the church website.  Most churches have a website now (and if they don't, they should) so why not use one page of it to highlight the memories of those members who have so faithfully attended and supported the church over the years.  You could choose one person or couple every month and interview them.  Allow them to share how they have seen God work in your church.  Their memories can be such an encouragement to others, but they are rarely asked to share what they have seen God do.  Then sadly, so often, the stories of those who went before us are lost after they pass away.  This gives your church an easy way to record their thoughts and memories so that they can be shared for many years...even after they have gained their heavenly reward.  

     Seeing how God has moved in the past can be a great encouragement to us today.  While we never want to "live" in the past, we also never want to forget it.  If you have other ideas for celebrating the past in your church, I'd love to hear about them, so feel free to drop me a line and tell me about them.

Till next time...

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

A Motorcycle and a Miracle...

Dad is the man lying on the ground.
     A week and one day ago, (April 10th, 2017) I got a phone call that would change me.  My parents (Dr. Randy and Mary Jane James) live in Oak Hill, West Virginia where my Dad is the Pastor of the Oak Hill Church of the Nazarene.  That afternoon, my Dad had been out calling on his motorcycle.  He was on a four lane highway headed back toward home and he was going the speed limit, which in that area was 65mph.  Suddenly a drunk driver in a pick up truck pulled out in front of my Dad and with no time to swerve or stop, Dad crashed into the side of that truck.  He hit the truck hard enough that he knocked the back wheels off of the vehicle.  When he fell to the ground we are told that his helmeted head hit the ground and bounced 2 or 3 times as it did.   He should have died.  There is literally no earthly way that my Dad should have survived such a terrible crash...but he did.  In fact, not only did he survive, but he had no broken bones, no head injuries, and no shoulder injuries.  None!
     When he was taken to the hospital, he was found to have bumps and bruises and the next day they found that he had compartment syndrome in his right leg which required two surgeries...both of which were successful and the first of which exposed a deadly blood clot that was removed without incident.
     Everyone who saw the crash or the wreckage from it expected the worst.  But, that's not what happened.  Miracles happened.  Several of them, in fact.  Within moments of the crash, a nurse (who had been coming the other direction at the time of the crash) stopped to help and was administering aid even before an ambulance could be called.  Bystanders stopped traffic to keep him from being run over since he was now in the middle of the highway.  Dad, who was awake and alert after the crash, pulled his phone from his pocket (which didn't break) and called my Mom to tell her that "he'd had an accident and thought he probably better be taken to the hospital to get checked out."   The drunk driver had just dropped off a hitch hiker who saw the entire incident and could tell the police what happened. We think that Dad's Honda Goldwing made impact with the tire area of the truck which would have had more "give" than other areas of the vehicle when struck.  But even with all those things happening...the speed Dad was going at the time of the crash should have killed him. 
     We often talk about miracles and sometimes we use the term too loosely.  But last week, no other word fits Dad's survival.  We look at this incident and we can only stand in awe and wonder.
     As a Pastor, I know that miracles happen.  I have seen them take place in the lives of people.  But this one hit me differently.  Seeing my Dad survive an unsurvivable crash makes me think that I now understand what it was like for the people who watched Jesus heal the blind or make the lame walk.  Those kinds of miracles are hard to wrap your head around because there is nothing you can even remotely attach as another reason it happened.  It's not like they could say, "Well, he wasn't really blind," or "I think the doctor gave that lame man some better medicine and it's just now taking effect."  I think I can also better understand how the disciples and the women who went to the tomb felt when they realized that Jesus was indeed alive.  Those kind of miracles just leave you staring in disbelief.  And that is the way I felt when I saw my Dad in the hospital.  I could see with my own eyes that he was alive and yet, my mind could hardly process it because I know HE SHOULD BE DEAD.  But, he's not...Dad is alive.
     We serve a God who does miracles...but now I see them in a different way.  Now, I will read those Scriptures with new eyes.  Now I think I can explain how amazing they were/are a little better.  Because now, I have seen one of those unexplainable miracles up close.  And when you see God do something that can not be explained except to acknowledge that HE did it...you walk away changed.
    
    

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

There will be rain...but God is bigger than the rain.

"Into each life some rain must fall."  That is from a song sung by the Inkspots in 1944, but my Mom used to say it to me when I was growing up.  It generally would be said when things were not going my way and I was being a bit of a brat about it.  But, it's a true statement.  In life, there will be times of rain.  Times when things just don't go the way you planned.  When something happens that throws you for a loop.  Leading during those times can be difficult because our focus can easily be on ourselves...and in some ways it needs to be. 

Rain can come in many forms.  It can be an unexpected big expense that you have to find a way to afford (like a car or home repair).  It can be a family crisis like an extreme illness or death.  It could even be a job change or some other life transistion.  Sometimes the rain is annoying but not overwhelming.  Sometimes it comes in huge torrents that you're not sure how you will ever get through.  The only thing we can be sure of is that in life, there will be rain.  And we still have to lead even in the midst of that rain. 

So what do we do when the rain hits?  Here are a few things I've learned from my own rainstorms:

1)  Don't forget your time with God
When the rain comes, it can be easy to get so focused on whatever the problem is that we neglect our time with the Lord.  And when the rain feels torrential, sometimes it seems like it's all we can do to get through the day...But keep your focus on the One who is bigger than the rain.  Depending on what is going on in your life, you may not be able to form the words you want to say, but that's ok.  Sometimes just being in His presence is enough.  Lean on Him.  Let His strength be your strength.  He won't let you down. 

2) Don't try to go it alone
Sometimes, in ministry, we feel like we are islands.  But we are not.  Share your burden with your spouse, or if like me, you're not married, share with a friend or family member.  Sometimes just hashing out an issue with someone you trust can change your whole perspective. You don't have to publicly share your pain on Facebook, but you should share it with a trusted confidant. 

3) It's ok for your congregation to know you are hurting
In the past 7 months, I lost both my Grandfather and Grandmother.  And it has been a process to deal with the grief of their passing.  In fact, I'm still grieving, but my church family was amazing. My Grandfather's passing was unexpected and quick and my church family hugged me and prayed for me during those shocking days.  Then five weeks later, my Grandmother's death came after watching her weaken for 10 days in the hospital.  On the day she passed, several people from my church showed up to the hospital, gathered around me and prayed.  I can't tell you how much that meant to me.  In the days and weeks that followed, they were a constant source of strength during a very trying time.  We pastors don't always share all the things going on in our lives with those in our ministry, but there are times when it is appropriate to let the congregation know our hearts are hurting.  Let them be the hands and feet of Jesus during those difficult times in your life.

4) Don't be afraid to get professional help when it's needed.
Sometimes, it takes more than advice from a friend or spouse when the rain is falling particularly hard.  In those times, don't be afraid to reach out to a Christian counselor or therapist.  As Pastors, it is not uncommon for us to refer people to get counselling during particularly difficult times in their lives and sometimes we need to take our own advice.  It is much better to reach out for help than to continually struggle without improvement. 

Rain will come, but Praise the Lord that He is with us in the midst of the rain.  And in the words of that great Gaither song, and He will sustain us "till the storm passes by."   


Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Making Memorable Moments...

Every time we put together a service, we want to make what we are doing memorable for those in our congregation.  Whether it is a child, a teen, or an adult, the goal is the same.  We want the lesson we are teaching to stick with those who are hearing it.  And more than likely it won't be the whole lesson they remember, but it's very possible that one moment will stick.  So we have to make as many memorable moments in our lessons as we can.  Now, there is no sure fire way of doing that.  After all, we have all prepared lessons that we thought were going to be awesome only to see them fall flat, or taken a lesson that we were not sure would work and see people really respond to it.  So, there isn't a foolproof way to make memorable moments, but there are a few things that when incorporated generally help.  And though, we usually deal primarily with children, they can be helpful for any age group.

1) Don't just read...make the lesson fun.
I know, this seems like a no brainer, but how many times have you seen someone stand up in front of a group and then just simply read a lesson.  Or perhaps the teacher doesn't have much inflection in their voice.  These are things we have to work hard not to do.  Now, I'm not saying you can never read something.  Sometimes there might be a brief passage that you want to quote properly and so reading it is appropriate, but just standing and reading for an entire lesson simply isn't memorable.  Move, smile, change your voice, change your inflection.  The lesson should feel like you are chatting with a friend, not performing and essay. If what your teaching is fun, there is a great chance that it is also memorable.

2) Incorporate more than one of the senses. 
The more senses involved in a lesson, the better someone will remember what is being taught.  Is your Scripture focused on the woman with a jar of oil?  Perhaps you can bring in some oil and let the kids touch it.  Will you be learning about John the Baptist?  Bringing in some wild honey for the kids to taste will bring the lesson to life.  Will you be talking about faith the size of mustard seed?  You can buy small containers of mustard seeds at nearly any grocery store.  The kids will love seeing how small they really are.  Don't be afraid to use multiple senses in your lesson.  The more you use, the better they will remember what they are being taught.

3) Teach the point through many avenues
Let's say that your lesson focuses on caring for each other as Christ cares for us.  Your game could be a cooperation game where the team has to work together in order to win.  There could be an activity where the kids all have to complete a task (such as throwing a ball into a basket), but give each group a problem they have to overcome in order to complete the task (like making one of them pretend to have two broken arms, or blindfolding one).  They will have to figure out a way to help the person who has the challenge so that they all can finish the task.  You could even choose songs for the day that focus on how God cares for us such as Jonathan Shelton's "Counting on God" or Group Music's "His Great Love."  All these things together add to and build up the teaching time where you will bring out the Scripture of the day and help continually focus the listeners attention on what the lesson is...which will lead to more opportunities for memorable moments.

It takes a lot of planning an preparation to bring about memorable moments, but it's worth it.  Why?  Because God often brings those memorable moments back to our minds just when we need them most and they help us draw ever closer to Him. 

Until next week...