Pastor Appreciation Month

There is a danger in my writing about this! I’ll address that below.

If you’re a Christian not in the church of Christ you already know October is Pastor Appreciation Month or in some circles Clergy Appreciation Month. Like most of the holidays, somebody made this up. According to THIS ARTICLE, the beginnings of it are fairly recent, going back to 1992. Hallmark started selling related items in 2002.  One site I read declared that the Apostle Paul started Clergy Appreciation Month. Doubtful.

Anyway, in churches of Christ we do not emphasize a clergy/laity system, thus there can be no Clergy Appreciation Day or Month. The change to “Pastor” appreciation day probably made some more conservative evangelicals feel better about the title.

The danger in me writing about this is that it could appear that I am attempting to draw attention to myself and seek approval from my church. So, how can I make an appeal for Christians to encourage their pastors / minister / clergy  without the appearance of hoping to benefit from this myself? Like anyone, I appreciate encouragement but I can only promise you that this is not my purpose. My church is very encouraging! I hope you’ll believe me. 

But I do post this on behalf of other pastors/ministers. In Churches of Christ, we do not refer to our ministers as “pastors” because the origins of that word seem to relate to the Elders of the church, not the preachers.  For non-Church-of-Christ people, that probably sounds petty, but it just is what it is. That does stand in the way of a “pastor appreciation” effort!

I saw this infographic today. I cannot attest to its origin nor the reliability of the stats here, but I’ll share it.

You can exchange the terminology if it makes you feel better. I’m going to guess some will doubt these statistics. Given the number of ministers that I know and am in contact with, I believe them all. 

I actually think we should consider encouraging our ministers year round, not just once a year. The work being done by ministers is stressful and the fruit of the work is not always evident. The pressure to reach out to an unbelieving world and also try to keep the believers happy while mostly and primarily upholding God’s Word, well, it’s a lot. So here are a few ideas – several of these are things that the good people at my church do well, so this is also an expression of appreciation for them.

*A text every once in a while that simply says, “I’m praying for you” – and really do pray for your minister.

*A card or call every once in a while to the minister’s wife that expresses friendship and encouragement. Include her in some ladies lunches or some projects where she doesn’t have to be in charge.

*Refusing to participate in critical gossip or church power plays. In addition, correcting those who are.

*A gift card to a local coffee shop (or other places your minister frequents) would remind him that you know he needs a break every once in a while.

*Support your church’s social media efforts. Liking and sharing posts from your church helps to spread the word to the community but it also affirms to your minister that you are on the team and ready to help out.

*A kind and encouraging word. I know it’s cliche to say “good sermon”, and you may be able to be more creative than that, but a word that expresses appreciation 

If you are a leader in your church on a Board or Eldership, your support is key to the success of the minister. Like everyone who works hard and does well, it encourages the minister when:

*There are annual raises, even if they do not change income appreciably. Sometimes it really is ‘the thought that counts’.

*Urge your minister to take his days off, and time away. If he needs help making that possible, offer that. One elder, now passed, used to exclaim to me, “What are you doing at the building on your day off?” He noticed. That meant a lot.

*Be open, honest, plainspoken, trustworthy. It’s better for your pastor to know what you are thinking than to try to guess. Let your minister get to know you as a person, not just someone to whom he reports.

*Work together as a team. When the minister doesn’t know what the board is trying to accomplish, he can’t do his work well.

Finally, I would like to say that I know every minister isn’t working hard. I know that some are at odds with members and leaders. Some have a negative attitude and it’s hard to work with them. So, it’s hard to think about encouraging them. I wonder how many ministers are perceived this way because they are not viewed as friends who need encouragement?

Most ministers I know are not looking for a trophy or a plaque. They aren’t expecting to get a big raise or have the whole church singing their praises. The vast majority of preachers don’t want to be singled out as church superstars. When they started in ministry they understood that it wasn’t about them. They do want to partner in friendship with godly people and reach out to the world with the gospel. When you know people are ‘with you’ in that mission, it’s a great day no matter what day it is. 

If you are one of those ministers who is discouraged and ready to give up, reach out. You are needed, loved, and appreciated – even when it’s hard for you to see. 

I’m so thankful for those who have ministered and ‘pastored’ me. I’ve been blessed to know many outstanding ministers.

Thanks for reading.

 

 

 

The Way We Respond

I’d like to tell you which side is right, which person is telling the truth, and which party is carrying the banner of righteousness in the matter before our nation yesterday. 

I’d like to. 

But no one reading this post was at a house party thirty years ago. Even those who were there don’t remember much. Some say there wasn’t such a party, that they recall. 

So that’s the end of the evidence on the matter.  Opinions, on the other hand, there are no limits. We all have them. They don’t matter.

Just a side note: All of this is about abortion rights and everyone knows it.

That’s another post.

It was an ugly show yesterday in our nation’s capital. The whole world watched the demeaning proceedings. Surely there was a better way to do this. But that’s not what matters. Elected officials have one job – to be reelected. If we really want to stop politicizing our politics we would fix that. The ones who can fix that really want to win the next election. So that’s that. Yesterday was a display of politicians doing what they do best. They use people against one another to promote themselves. In that sense, nothing unusual there.

What bothers me most is the way we all respond to such a mess. We all have the right to make up our minds about the matter. But many people also feel that they have the right to demean those who have come to a different conclusion. What I saw on Facebook and Twitter yesterday was disheartening. I know where our kids learn to bully one another. They learned it from us. 

I saw people making fun of a judge because he cried. I saw people call a woman who testified of a sexual assault a whore. I saw ‘funny’ memes that made light of victims who suffered sexual attacks years ago that are still dealing with the aftermath of them. I saw people make light of mistakes of the past. 

If you express out loud which person you believe, or to which party you remain loyal, get ready to be slashed by everyone on the other side. It’s vicious. And Christians have been in on this behavior too. 

When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone…” John 8:7

The truth is that everyone in that courtroom and everyone watching has sinned in their past, and bear the shame of that.  Many politicians who have well-known sins continued to serve. (Chappaquiddick anyone?) So it’s in the greatest of hypocrisy for these two people to be grilled and propped up for questioning for our viewing pleasure. (Are we far removed from the Roman Coliseum?).

I suggested recently that we not treat people – even people with whom we disagree vigorously – with rancor and hatred. Christian friends rejected that idea. Really! So as ugly as the proceedings yesterday were…

They are a mirror of who we are.  And that is never going to change until we change. The only judge we need to concern ourselves with is the One who judges righteously. We need to continue to pray for a revival across the land. Not so that God will save America, but so that God will reach the whole world with the message of his Son which teaches us to love one another. To love as we have been loved. To treat others as we would like to be treated. To place the good of others above our own.

When the world rejected Jesus, the very foundation of civilization was rejected. 

I wish I could say I live this out perfectly, I don’t. 

But let’s try. 

Let love win.

Thanks for reading.

Getting Ready

This has been a week of pretty intense preparations to be gone next week. I have a list of all the things I need to do and it’s impressive! Not that I’m through with them. As the day wore on today I was feeling pretty weary and probably not as chirpy as I like to be at the Wednesday night gathering. More on what I’m working on below… 

Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body. – Ecclesiastes 12:12

I’m thankful that I have a break this quarter. Gary Kirkendall is doing a thought-provoking series of lessons called “How We Got Here”… a look at the history of the churches of Christ in America. I have found it fascinating and Gary is a great teacher. Tonight we finished discussing the Declaration and Address and worked through Alexander Campbell’s death. I’ll miss next week, and it looks like it is going to be a great one as the church deals with the outbreak of the Civil War. 

Ok, so I’m trying to get my studies ready for sermons and classes the next few weeks. I also have a pretty big assignment due for my class at Amridge University. I’m taking Dr. Tim Gunnells’ course Contemporary Issues in Ministry.  I’ll share the books we’re reading in another post sometime.

I need to compose a post for the Fall Blog Tour… more on that soon.

In addition, I’m preparing four lessons for the Harding University Bible LectureshipThis is my second time to speak at Harding Lectures (Thanks Dan Williams!). This time I’ll be doing four presentations on grief and grief recovery. All of them are on Wednesday, the last day of lectures… I’m sure that lecture sensory overload will be in full effect. I believe the audio will be available for those who can’t make it. So one week from today will be a pretty heavy duty day for me… it takes a lot out of you to speak four times in a day. I’m not complaining, just recognizing! I am a little out of place on a University campus among all the smart folks. But we’ve been through some tough lessons when it comes to grief and I think it is the right thing to do to share what we’ve learned. I’m grateful for the opportunity. But over the next few days, I really need to revise what I have prepared and make sure it is quality for those who choose to come to my classes. I notice friends Willie Nettle (fellow MBC alumnus), Tim Archer, Kent Jobe, Don Delukie (Go Monroe!), Jim Martin and I’m sure others are on the program in the long list of presenters. And the pressure is off, during the times I’m speaking because Jim McGuiggan is teaching down the hall. ha! Oh my word, I may have to skip my own class!

Sunday the Narrative Lectionary has me preaching from the edge of the Red Sea. That’s already prepared and ready to go. It is hard to get a really fresh look at something so familiar. But I think we have a word here that speaks to our hearts today. Looking forward to that lesson. In September the theme has been the Faithfulness of God. In October we will study Being Faithful to Our Faithful God!

So, I’m getting ready. For what are you getting ready? Thanks for reading.

 

Dear Blog, I Miss You

Yes, I admit that’s weird. I also admit that you really can’t go back to ‘the good old days’. So this is probably of very little interest and if you want to move on along right now I wouldn’t blame you.

Photo by Alvimann at Morguefile.com

Out Here Hope Remains has gone through several revolutions since the time that Steve Martin, Joel Jordan and I sat in my office at Central Church of Christ in Pascagoula, MS and thought up the idea. We were reading other people’s blogs and wanted to get in on the cool way people were sharing ideas and thoughts. For you youngsters, this is before Facebook and maybe before everybody had a cell phone, I’m not sure. I think it was Joel who pulled the title from a lyric by Caedmon’s Call. We were each going to take turns writing. That didn’t happen, though. I did keep writing most days. And people read and responded. Which made me want to write more.

Though I enjoyed the interaction it provided, I didn’t know at that time that there would be two times (at least) in the future when this blog would play an important role in my ministry and life. The first was in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina roared ashore on the Mississippi Coast.  The other was our own personal storm when John Robert Dobbs died in 2008. During both of those really difficult times, friends and family were able to keep in touch with us through the blog. Later, through Facebook, yes. But the blog seems much more personal than the instant like and forget flow of Facebook or Twitter.

I still post and share the posts through Twitter and Facebook and anywhere else I think it might be of interest. But what I miss is the personal side of blogging. Now we get hourly updates on all our “friends” and it’s way too much information to process. Or maybe I’m just getting older and the processor doesn’t work at the top speed anymore? Anyway, there are days when I toy with the idea of just disengaging from the social media stratosphere. But I do like the interaction…it’s just … too much. It seems impossible to slow down. 

But back in another technological age, I could send out a post once a day and

Photo by deemac1 at Morguefile.com

if I wanted to share what I had for lunch, or talk about something that’s been on my mind and not have the instant (and /or hostile) feedback of the universe, I could. A few friends would stop by and notice there was a new post. But I’m afraid Facebook and Twitter killed it. I don’t hate them for it. How could I? I’m neck deep in them! I’m not even going to put this post on Facebook.

I don’t even know why I wrote this post … grandpaw on the front porch in his rocking chair ruminating on some bygone memories I guess. I am a grandpaw but I don’t consider myself very old … yet. But when I was 25, people my current age were old. So, there’s that. 

If you are one of the subscribers to this blog and you even occasionally open it up and read it … thank you. There might be some posts coming ahead that aren’t theological reflections (though I hope to post weekly some thoughts on the Narrative Lectionary text). There are still some book reviews ahead (doesn’t everyone love book reviews?).  But there might be some personal reflections on the day. I’ll try to think of some clever title for those so you can just delete when you see those come across. 

Unless you’re super intelligent and like human interest pieces.

I’m a human anyway.

So, yeah, I miss my blog…the way it was…before it had reasons to exist … other than to suggest that Out Here Hope Remains.

Thanks for reading this far! JED

Oh, I want to give some credit to Bill Hooten and his delightful blog Hoot’s Musings. When I read it I feel like I’m on Bill’s front porch with a glass of iced tea and just listening to his delightful reflections. So I recommend you bookmark his blog and subscribe to it. Thanks Bill!

Israel’s Question

The texts for the Narrative Lectionary this week are Exodus 14:5-7, 10-14, 21-29 (just say Exodus 14, it’s just annoying for them to leave snippets out! Ok, got that out of my system) and the Gospel text is Matthew 2:13-15. The very familiar story of the Exodus is one of the overarching themes of the Bible. So much is happening in this text.  Dr. Cory Driver notes the many movements of the text: 

The Israelite experience of freedom was deeply confusing: 
The Israelites were freed with gifts of gold and silver. 
And then they were pursued by an army. 
And then Moses told them to be still and see what God would do. 
And then God told them to stop standing still and move forward.
And then the pillar that had been leading them moved behind them.
And then they walked through the depths of a sea on dry land.
And then the army pursued them.
And then the army was drowned.

The question that the children of Israel ask has always stood out to me. 

Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us out into the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? – Exodus 14:11

I could probably read too much of myself into this text. I’m the king of second-guessers. I can feel so sure about something one minute, then wonder if it’s the right path the next. The children of Israel were rich with the gold of the Egyptians. They were free. They were following a leader who demonstrated that God was with him through ten plagues. After 400 years of oppression, people who had only known themselves as slaves marched victoriously out of the hands of their heavy-handed master. 

But with a sea before them and an aggressive army behind them, they began to second guess this decision. 

Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert! – Exodus 14:12

I am wondering what Moses was thinking at this point. He flounders a little. What do we do? we just stay put and trust that God will deliver us. But God doesn’t intend for them to stay put. He wants them to move forward. And when his providential pathway opens up, they do.

I’ve been there, haven’t you?

When tragedy strikes we can wonder, “God, is this the best you can do?”

When we are victimized by others we can think, “Lord, I’m doing what I can on this end… but there’s so much pain to deal with and it seems like you’re just busy somewhere else.”

When our lives have fallen apart we can ponder, “Maybe I should just give up on God and live however I want. It can’t get any worse.”

God, are you there? No path forward? Going backward seems … somehow safer? More comfortable? I wonder if God is going to do anything? 

I’m sure there was that moment when the children of Israel bathed in their doubts, but then God came through when He knew it was the best time to do so. This did not stop the children of Israel from ever doubting again … by a longshot. But it did give them a clear picture. 

And when the Israelites saw the mighty hand of the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant. – Exodus 14:31

Israel’s question was answered. Moses didn’t bring them out into the desert to die, but to live. 

If you study/preach with the Narrative Lectionary you are invited to my Facebook group called Narrative Lectionarians where I’ll share resources each week.  JD

 

Shattered Dreams

The book SURRENDERING TO HOPE is a compendium of chapters by several different authors, each identifying how a relationship with God helped them through the worst of circumstances. If you think that sounds trite or easy, read through some of my posts as I have blogged through this book. I am truly stunned at the experiences of these authors and how they managed to hang on to faith when there was nothing less. When all their dreams were shattered, they still knew that God was with them.

Shattered Dreams is a chapter written by my friend Bobby Valentine. He begins his chapter by relating with enthusiasm the time he met his wife and the beautiful daughters that they enjoyed. They moved to Arizona to work with a church. They moved into a house that they had built. His wife took a class at the local college that Fall. It all seemed so perfect.

One Sunday morning in December, my wife and I went to church early so that she could email her final assignment from the office computer. Between Bible class and the worship assembly, she left. … I discovered on my computer her unclosed email to her professor with whom she had run off.

As Bobby writes, “The dream was over.” He shares vividly the painful feelings and consequences of his wife’s departure. “Shattered dreams hurt like hell. They are, in fact, hell.” Those who have suffered through the hurt of divorce can relate, I’m certain of that.

In a search for God’s wisdom grace in all of this painful experience, Bobby found that through ‘glimpses of God’ he could see the ‘gifts of grace’ that would help him move forward. These included the church.

When I literally had no place to stay, God reached out through Christ’s body to pick up my broken pieces.

Other gifts from God included Solitude and silence, friends, and the fellowship of tears.

God has not chosen to reveal to me why hell invaded my family. I have not discovered secret insights from church, solitude, or friends. What I have found is the communion of broken hearts and the fellowship of tears. My own tears are reflected in God’s pain, suffering, and tears.

Scattered throughout Bobby’s chapter are somber but helpful Scriptures that remind us that God suffers as we suffer. In many ways he discovers that after Shattered Dreams, “God raises up new dreams.”

I invite you to get a copy of Surrendering to Hope and read in much greater detail Bobby’s journey through the pain of divorce. Especially if you have been left behind by someone you once loved, I believe it will bless you.

Bobby Valentine is the minister for the Eastside Church of Christ in Anitoch, California. You can find him on Facebook and Twitter. You can follow his blog Stoned-Campbell Disciple. 

Surrendering to Hope is published by Leafwood Books and is edited by John Mark Hicks, Christine Fox Parker, and Bobby Valentine.