A Step Back, and The Path Ahead

Last Sunday morning, I shared with our church family that I am stepping back from the role of Senior Pastor. At the end of this post is an excerpt of what I said, explaining the reasons and giving a few details about the plan for moving forward. I have a few thoughts related to this decision to share with you who read this blog.

If you’ve been following this blog, you know I have posted several articles recently related to a pastor’s discouragement. I have one more article on this topic yet to post. It’s obvious that discouragement has been part of my experience as a pastor. The assumption of some might be that I resigned because of it. However, I want to be clear that my reason for resigning as pastor of Calvary is not discouragement. There have been times, I’ll be honest, when I have been so discouraged that I was ready to hang it up. But I worked through those times, by the grace of God and with help from my wife and some friends. I began this year with great anticipation of serving the Lord, sharing the Word, and working with our pastoral team here at Calvary.

In mid-January, some circumstances and my ensuing thoughts prompted me to take a step back. (The “circumstances” did not involve another church contacting me 🙂 ). I determined to undergo a period of evaluating God’s will for me and what is best for Calvary. During this two-month period I prayed, meditated on Scripture, sought counsel from a number of advisers and friends, had many conversations with my wife, read suggested books, and did everything I know to do in determining God’s will. The answer became clear to me that God is directing my heart toward a new place of ministry (yet unknown) and that it is time for Calvary to have a new person in the role of Senior Pastor.

As I say in the announcement below, I will always be grateful for the opportunity to minister at Calvary. I have learned much, and hopefully have contributed to the growth of the church and her people. We will miss the dear people of Calvary deeply. I am thankful for the reunion we will enjoy around God’s throne!

We will celebrate our Lord’s resurrection this Sunday. Then I plan to preach four messages on Sunday mornings to prepare everyone for what is ahead. This is my preliminary plan, to be fleshed out over the next few weeks. Titles and themes may change, but it will go something like this:

  • Sunday, April 3 – Be Confident – This will be a message of encouragement for our people.
  • Sunday, April 10 – Be Careful – I will share several warnings the church will need to consider.
  • Sunday, April 17 – Be Committed – The people of Calvary need to remain dedicated to the church and to the cause of Christ.
  • Sunday, April 24 – Be Christ-Focused – Jesus Christ is the Cornerstone of the church. He is the Person around whom the church will be unified and will grow even stronger and thrive through the days ahead.

Yes, I know this sounds like Warren Wiersbe. 🙂

I would appreciate your prayer for our church family and for me as we walk this path together. Thank you.

____________________________________________

From our church website:

Following is an excerpt of an announcement Pastor Dean shared with our church family this morning. We ask that you please pray for Pastor Dean and Faith as they seek God’s direction for their future ministry.

We love you, Pastor Dean, and we are grateful to the Lord for the twelve years you have faithfully ministered the Word to us.

After a long process of prayer, seeking counsel, and deliberation, I’ve determined it is time to step back from my role as Senior Pastor at Calvary. I believe Calvary needs fresh vision, clear direction, and someone with the gifts and passion to lead the church through its next stages of life and growth. And I believe God has a new place of ministry where Faith and I can use our gifts and experience to serve the Lord and His church.

For a while I have had a question in my heart about whether God may have another assignment for me to complete in my lifetime. I love Calvary and am willing to invest the rest of my life here if that is what God wants. But through prayer and the counsel of a number of people I respect and trust, I have reached a place of certainty in my heart. God has something else for me to do. I do not yet know what that will be. Faith and I are seeking the Lord’s direction and will wait on Him to lead us. It will probably involve pastoring, teaching, or some combination of both. When God is leading, we must obey. I’ve walked with God long enough to know when He is moving me in a direction, and that is what is happening now. I know you will understand that I must follow His will for my life.

Different kinds of leaders with varying gifts and strengths are used at different stages in the life of any organization, especially a church. God used Pastor Guy Altizer to plant and grow this church. He used Dr. Jim Binney to lead and grow the church through a time of transition. And He has used Dean Taylor to lead the church through another stage of maturity, growth, and change. I believe it is time for a new shepherd with fresh vision, clear direction, and the gifts to lead the church in pursuing what God has next for Calvary.

I believe the right person with the right gifts will enable Calvary to go to the next level of fulfilling her potential for the glory of God. I do not want to hinder the growth that can take place here by God’s grace. So I am stepping back to allow Calvary to seek the right person to shepherd the church through its next stages of life and growth.

This is a decision I have considered and made completely of my own initiative. No person or group has pressured me or even suggested that I do this. It is my own decision before God in following His will and doing what is best for our church.

My last Sunday to preach will be April 24 and I will be available for some time after that to give any help necessary to a smooth transition. The pastoral staff, in close coordination with the deacons, will give leadership to the church once I am finished.

Faith and I will always be grateful for the years of life and ministry He has allowed us to have at Calvary. You are dear to us, and we will always treasure you in our hearts.

We love you.

Pastor Dean 

 

On Being Generous

Tipping, Tithing, and Grace Giving Part 8*

I ordered an ice cream cone one time and watched as the server prepared it. She pushed the first scoop all the way to the bottom of the cone. She packed the second so it was even with the top. On this solid foundation, she constructed a towering ice cream edifice that looked like it would fall over any second, but held firm as she placed it in my hand. As I lapped at the overspill, I thought, “Wow, I got more than my money’s worth on this one.” The menu offered one scoop or two. She gave me way more. That’s the way to serve an ice cream cone. No hollow, soggy cone that caves in on empty space as you near the end. Delicious, creamy goodness from the first lick down to the last cold, crunchy bite.

Generosity Reaps Generosity
Jesus used a similar experience to illustrate an important lesson about being generous. He said, Give, and it will be given to you; a good measure—pressed down, shaken together, and running over—will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you (Luke 6:38, HCSB).

Jesus alluded to the common practice of using a fold in one’s garment to carry grain purchased in the market. A very generous grain merchant might say, “Pack it in, shake it down, and I’ll add some more.” No one would keep pouring the grain until it ran onto the ground.

Jesus was saying, If you are generous toward others, you will be overloaded with blessings yourself. Generosity reaps generosity. And God is sometimes extravagantly generous, especially to those who are generous to others.

This is not an absolute promise that you will be rewarded in kind 100% of the time, but is a principle of life. People who live this way will generally experience these results.

Sinful humans are not naturally generous. Most grab what they can and use it for their own needs and pleasure rather than look for opportunities to help others. Jesus pointed out the differences that should mark people who are in God’s kingdom. They stand out because they love their enemies, do good to those who hate them, pray for those who spitefully use them, do not retaliate when insulted or attacked, and don’t even resist when someone forcibly takes their property (27-30). They are, in fact, like their Heavenly Father – kind and merciful (35-36). And they are extremely generous (30, 38).

The primary objectives of New Testament giving are helping people in need and supporting Gospel work. I encourage you to familiarize yourself with Scriptural teaching on these here.

Consider this: Are you world-like in how you give to these objectives – helping people in need and supporting Gospel work – or are you God-like in your giving? A God-like giver says, “Here, let me give you more – so much that it runs over.” And when you and I give generously, we find out just how generous God can be.

Apathy Dries Up Generosity
Malachi was God’s messenger to the Jewish people a few hundred years before Jesus. The priests and the temple operations were supposed to be supported by the peoples’ tithes and offerings. These tithes of agricultural produce also helped to feed the poor (Deuteronomy 14:28-29). But the people had stopped revering God and stopped obeying His law, including the instructions about giving to the Lord and supporting the temple ministry.

The Jewish people living under Old Testament law were commanded to tithe. In the New Testament era, believers in Jesus are not required to tithe. They are instructed to practice grace giving. But we can see in Malachi’s message timeless principles that show the problem with apathy about God and about giving.

God confronted the Jewish people for not revering Him (Malachi 1:6); offering Him their worst instead of their best (1:7-8); misrepresenting His Word (2:7-8); breaking their marriage vows (2:13-16); and more. In addition to these indictments, He made a very serious charge: You have robbed Me! They asked, In what way? He answered, In tithes and offerings (3:8). These people had lost their awe of God, had become apathetic toward Him, and it showed up in their lives and their offerings.

So what did God tell them to do? Begin honoring Him, and start giving! Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house (3:10). The “storehouse” refers to the area in the temple where the grain and other offering materials were stored. “Food” may refer either to animal sacrifices or to meals for the priests and temple workers and the poor. God told them to stop hoarding and consuming, and start sharing with others and supporting the temple ministry.

Here’s the part that connects to what Jesus said in Luke 6:38. God speaking through Malachi issued a challenge to the Israelites: Try Me now in this . . . if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such a blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it.

These people depended on crops for their livelihood. The two great enemies of agricultural productivity were drought and locusts. No rain, no grain. Swarms of locusts would descend on vast fields of produce and devour them in a day. This was God’s way of chastening the Israelites for their unfaithfulness by causing their crops to dry up or be devoured. They had to learn the hard way about the importance of giving.

But even under law, and even in dealing with disobedient people, God always acts in grace. The “windows of heaven” being opened probably refers to heavy rain showers. The “devourer” God promised to rebuke in verse 11 is the swarms of locusts. He was saying, If you return to the practice of providing grain and livestock for worship and to help the needy, I will restore your supply so that you can eat and so you can give.

Then He went further. God said that if they began giving, He would overwhelm them with abundance. That’s what the end of verse 10 means. There will not be room enough to receive it.

Here are some other translations of this amazing promise that help us understand its meaning (emphasis mine).

Yea, I have emptied on you a blessing till there is no space. (Young’s Literal Translation)

. . . see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. (New International Version)

See if I will not open the floodgates of heaven and pour out a blessing for you without measure. (Holman Christian Standard Bible)

. . . if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows. (New American Standard Bible)

Remember the ice cream cone? The grain pouch? Same idea here. God wants us to be generous in our giving, but He is more generous than we will ever be.

Grace Enables Generosity
We move from Old Testament to New Testament, from law to grace. The messenger this time is Paul the Apostle. Paul was not shy about urging Christians to be generous in helping others in need and supporting Gospel work.

2 Corinthians chapters 8 and 9 contain the most extensive teaching on giving in the New Testament. This is where Paul says to “abound in this grace also” – the grace of giving (8:7).

He emphasizes generosity all through this section. But as he reaches the end, he really pours it on.

He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work. (9:6-8)

There are so many things to say about this I can’t cover it all, so here are a few key points.

The challenge to give generously is obvious – sow bountifully, not sparingly. The promise of a reward in kind is clear too – you will reap bountifully. This sounds similar to what Jesus said, right? Give and it will be given to you . . . running over . . . And it reminds us of God’s promise to Israel: I will pour out for you a blessing until it overflows.

But there’s an additional point that isn’t emphasized in Luke or Malachi. Paul says that God will give abundantly to you so that you can give abundantly too. See it? God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you . . . may have an abundance for every good work. It’s in verse 11 too – while you are enriched in everything for all liberality.

God is the most generous giver of all. He pours resources into our lives, more than we need. He does this so we can share with people in need and support Gospel ministry.

He provides for us sufficiently and abundantly so that we can give generously.

This is the reverse of what the health and wealth preachers say. God doesn’t promise to make you rich. He promises to enable you to share, not hoard and consume. He provides for you, not so you can live large, but so you can give large.

When you are presented with an opportunity to help someone in need or support Gospel work, consider two questions: What do I have? What can I give? Do not be bound to or limited by the Old Testament concept of tithing. Practice New Testament grace giving. Be as generous as you can.

The grace of God is running over in your life. This is most clearly demonstrated by what Jesus did for you. Paul reminds us of this in 2 Corinthians 8:9, For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich. And again in 9:15, Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!

God’s gracious generosity toward us is the model that guides us and motivation that compels us to be generous as well. Grace giving is generous giving.

*This article is an add-in to the series of posts on Tipping, Tithing, and Grace Giving. As I have continued to study what the Scriptures say about grace giving, I have seen an emphasis on generosity through both the Old and New Testaments. Grace giving is by definition generous.

The Church Member Migration (AKA Church-Hopping) Phenomenon in My Community (Part 3)

The previous post on this subject presented reasons people leave one church for another and concerns that our pastors have about this practice. Let me say again, there are legitimate reasons for leaving a church and going to another one in the same community. It may seem that I should discuss those reasons in these articles. But I want to focus on problematic church-hopping rather than the acceptable variety.

SOME RECOMMENDATIONS

For church members who are considering making the jump to another church in your community, may I encourage you to walk through the questions I listed at the end of the previous post. You may not realize how important you are to your church, how much people care about you, and how your decision will affect you, your family, and the churches involved. Please take the time to prayerfully and honestly consider your answers to those questions.

Here are some ways church leaders might address the problem of church-hopping in our community.

Make members aware of the deep level of commitment they are making when they join the church. We have a membership class, as many churches do. As part of this class, we should include teaching that emphasizes the commitment members make to the body of Christ and to one another. This commitment includes working at living together in unity.

Paul’s instruction, “endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, “(Ephesians 4:3) implies that there will be a tendency toward disunity. All members should be challenged to do the hard work of living together in harmony.

It’s much like a marriage. If you are committed to permanent marriage, you will work through the differences and problems, big and small, that threaten to push you apart. Church people need to learn to do this!

Cultivate an environment of open communication within the body of Christ. Church members who have disagreements, conflicts, or concerns with church leadership or other church members should know they can and ought to talk face to face with those parties. There should be clear and repeated teaching from the Scriptures that addresses how believers handle offenses with one another.

Pastors should work at developing personal relationships with church members so that when concerns arise, the members feel comfortable discussing them. Also, the pastors might plan some informal Q & A meetings in order to hear what is on people’s minds and have an opportunity to respond. The point is, church members should know that their pastors are available and eager to listen to their concerns.

The reality is, although pastors teach extensively on this topic and provide opportunities for expressing concerns, there are people who will still not practice it. But some will be encouraged to handle difficulties and disagreements in a way that strengthens the body of Christ rather than divides it.

Challenge the thinking that leads to church-hopping. Everyone can do this, not just pastors. It can happen from the pulpit as well as in private conversations.

Challenge the consumer mentality that drives much of the church-hopping phenomenon. Challenge idealism about the church – the thinking that there is a church out there that will meet all the needs and expectations without conflict or disappointment.

Challenge the idea that the church should never change. If a church is growing toward “a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,” (Ephesians 4:13) then it will be changing. Some of these changes will make certain church members uncomfortable. Rather than reactively looking for a church that “is like what our church used to be,” these members should consider whether they should let go of the preferences they hold so dear in order to grow in the likeness of Christ, both individually and as a church body.

Challenge people to learn to live with others who are different. Many Christians make lifestyle applications of Scripture in differing but legitimate ways. These people can function and fellowship within the same local church.

Improve communication among churches in the community. This is a tough one. Independent churches are known for being, well, independent. There’s not much cooperation among them. And every church eagerly seeks new people. They’re welcomed with wide open arms, usually with few questions asked.

Maybe we as pastors should make a better effort at being in touch with each other when one’s sheep shows up in another’s pasture. In the past, many churches required a transfer of letter for someone coming from another church to join. I was taught by the senior pastor where I started in full-time ministry that it is both ethical and wise to make a phone call to another pastor in the community when someone from his church visits yours. When I first came to the Greenville area to pastor, I tried doing this. I’ll confess my practice of this has waned. At the same time, I have rarely been contacted by other pastors in the community regarding our members who have started attending their church.

A quick email to a fellow pastor when we realize there’s a potential hopper in our midst might help. “Hope you’re doing well. Just letting you know that Mr. & Mrs. Churchhopper have been attending our services lately, and I understand they have been members of your church. I’d be happy to discuss their circumstances with you if you’d like.” I’m not sure if this would directly discourage church-hopping. But it would at least provide a level of awareness among the pastors that might increase accountability for the migrating members.

We do require new members, if they are coming from another church, to indicate on their membership application form whether they have notified their previous pastor of their decision and if they have resolved any issues between themselves and others. If we think there’s any reason for concern, we make contact with the previous pastor.

IN CONCLUSION

Church-hopping goes with the territory, especially in the greater Greenville community. It’s tempting to accept it as the way things are. And there is a tendency to be hardened and embittered by it. Ultimately it’s not about me, nor is it about keeping names on a roll. It’s about the strength, unity, and growth of the body of Christ. The church is bigger than our local expression of it. I need to realize this, and accept that God is sovereign and people can thrive and serve in more than one setting. However, I believe we should do what we can to reduce unnecessary church-hopping.

I’m very thankful for the many faithful, loyal people whose feet are in concrete, who are committed to the church and tell me so. Only a cataclysmic upheaval would dislodge them from their place in our assembly. May their kind increase.