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Time to have the funeral

December 31, 2014 — 8 Comments

2015-aheadThis is a difficult post to write because it’s about something near and dear to my heart: the local church. And it impacts far more congregations than we’d probably want to admit.

Having served on staff for many years in Christian churches and ministry organizations, there’s a pattern of dysfunction that must be addressed. I look around and see so many churches struggling to be effective in today’s environment. While the reasons are often numerous, one in particular seems to wreak havoc, especially in terms of unity and momentum.

It goes beyond worship styles and preaching styles. It has little or nothing to do with denominational ties or affiliations. And it’s not something that prayer alone can fix.

A closer look, usually including honest conversations with members and staff ministers, often reveals that the key problem is a failure to appropriately move through the stages of grief. Whether related to a specific ministry — or a specific minister — drastic change, even over a period of years, can bring feelings of shock, denial, anger, sadness and despair. However, acceptance of the new reality is extremely difficult for many people, particularly those who place great value on tradition and history.

Inherent in the much-needed acceptance stage is the important process of recalibrating life and perspectives in light of the loss, whether real or perceived. This lack of emotional recalibration is potentially paralyzing and poisonous to the health and growth of a church.

Let me explain. Continue Reading…


When I was growing up, I always wanted to be a meteorologist. Well, not always. I toggled back and forth between meteorology and journalism, giving up on the weather gig out of sheer fear for the level of math involved.

So, now I’m a pastor and counselor. Fairly seasoned too, at this point. Makes perfect sense, right?

Actually, as strange as it may sound, the truth is that God’s call on my life has done something that I never would have believed all those years ago. In His own wonderful way, God has allowed me the best of both worlds. You see, I have the opportunity every single day to talk with people — to interview them — about various aspects of their lives, their beliefs, their passions, their hopes and dreams. I also get to walk with many of them through the storms of life.

Of course, these storms are generally not weather-related. They come in a wide variety of forms: unplanned pregnancies, unemployment, loss of loved ones, major illnesses, freak accidents, honest questions, doubts, fears, and crises of faith. Sometimes the storms of life come as a result of a real-life meteorological event, as was the case this week in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Mississippi, and various other places.

Fortunately for me, I didn’t really know anyone that well who was impacted by the tornado that scourged the earth just miles from my city. But I had met a couple of them — and I am friends with several families whose extended families were directly and severely affected.

It has been a tough week for many people across the South. The stubborn cut-off low just continually churned an environment ripe for severe storms. The photos, as bad as they are, don’t even come close to telling the whole story of the total devastation wreaked by the monster EF4 tornado that cut a path some 40 miles long as it traveled on the ground for an hour.

The news reports have documented the heartbreaking tragedy inflicted on so many people during the storms. People lost loved ones on Sunday, April 27 — a day I preached about the grace of God. And while I believe wholeheartedly in the sovereignty of God, sometimes I require reminders that His grace is always there when we look for it. I’m grateful that amid the stories of incomprehensible loss, there have been many stories of God’s grace — often from the mouths of the very people who lost the most. Their mom or dad or grandparent or son or daughter or co-worker or close friend.

For me, this particular storm has really affected me personally. Even though I don’t know anyone who died in the storm, and even though I’m not close to any of the ones who lost everything, I’ve felt a certain amount of survivor guilt — that somewhat irrational but still palpable feeling that life is just not fair. Questions like these pop up frequently:

  • Why should I get to hold my kids, tell them I love them, and tuck them safely in bed?
  • Why should I get to laugh and play with them and tease and tickle them?
  • Why should I get the privilege of being annoyed by their typical bickering and whining?
  • Why should I get to enjoy the company of my beautiful wife?
  • Why them and not me?

Life isn’t fair. And there’s no answer to those questions other than the amazing grace of God.

I’ve hurt deeply this week for those who have lost so much. I don’t understand how mini-vans can just completely disappear. Or how family pictures can be found 110 miles away from home. Or how people even begin to pick up the pieces of their broken lives, knowing that they lost not only their loved ones and their homes but also, in some cases, their place of business too.

I’m thankful that God has given me a heart of compassion for people. But sometimes it’s tough to be so tender-hearted. I’ve cried real tears this week. I’ve prayed the kind of prayers you pray when you don’t even know what to say or ask for. And I’ve felt the very uncomfortable sense of knowing that when my tears dry and my prayers fade, these people — in many ways, people just like you and me — will still be hurting, grieving, and doing the best they can with whatever and whoever they have left, to continue this journey of life, one day at a time.

May we always remember that old but true saying, “But by the grace of God go I.”

Life isn’t fair, but tragedy and death are no discriminator of persons. If it’s not our turn to experience some tragedy or trauma today, then we’ll have another chance tomorrow and the next day and the day after that.

Dear reader, I ask you to please pray for Arkansas — and for all the other areas that suffered crippling blows in this wild weather week. May we bear each other’s burdens by loving one another, and may we allow God’s grace to freely flow through us to those who need to know Jesus is real.

Life isn’t fair, but God is good. Check out a couple stories about that by clicking here and here.