Devotional Life

Discipleship, Personal Growth

At the church where I serve we are currently focusing on growing as disciples of Jesus. We learned many lessons during the pressures and strain of the pandemic. One was a recognition of the resilience in our isolation of those who had already established patterns of personal growth and discipleship. That knowledge led us to a theme for the church called A Time to Grow. With that in mind, I want to share some keys for me that I have picked up from mentors in my own personal time with the Master.

Just do it.

So this first encouragement on personal growth and discipleship is not fancy. Simply put, just do it. One of my favorite passages about Jesus is His simple commitment to spending time with the Father.

But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray. Luke 5:16 ESV

However and wherever you can, spend time with the Father. I am reminded if Jesus needed time alone with the Father, I for sure do! Before Jesus made His selection of the disciples, he spent time alone in prayer. Before Jesus made His way to the cross in the Garden He spent time alone in prayer.

Withdraw

It’s okay, check that, it is healthy to wall off time for yourself to be absolutely alone with the Father. To be poured out like Paul as an offering means you have to be filled up! True empowerment and full-fillment can only come through time ALONE with God. I love the images shared of Jesus going alone to “desolate places” the “mountain” or the “hillside” to be alone with the Father.

And pray

Spending, or rather I like to say investing time with God is key. What I mean is this is not simply a nature stroll, or time in the study contemplating life. This is not about emptying your mind. It is a time to talk with God. It is a time for God to speak to you. This may sound overly simplistic, but this simple step, this simple action can transform your life. God wants to spend time with you.

I love my wife. One of the ways you know I love my wife is, I want to spend time with her. A lot of time with her. I don’t care if I have to drive her to every fabric store and home decor outlet in the western hemisphere. I love my son. We like to chill and watch stupid shows, talk about jets and trains, fish and shoot. I love my daughter, we grab coffee. She is an athlete and it is a ball to get beat by her in any sport or simply watch her do her thing. You would know if I did not love them because I would be doing something else with my time.

I love God. I want to spend time with Him.

Don’t quit

This is all so simple, yet so deadly. Here’s the enemy’s plan. If he can convince you that spending time with God is not important he will, period. He does not want you to talk with your Father, read what your Father has to say, or listen to Him speak to you by His Spirit.

Here’s one of satan’s main tricks. You kick off having a time with the Lord daily. If you start, you are going to miss time with God here and there. But the enemy will say, “See, you know you couldn’t keep this up. You’re such a disappointment. Plus, this really doesn’t matter, God knows you love him.” And, you’ll quit. Listen, if you miss time with God for one day, two days, ten days, start right back where you left off.

Over time, and the enemy knows this, you will cherish this time. You will miss this time when disrupted. It will become one of the most important parts of who you are as a disciple.

Have you talked with the Father today?

With you and for you – Ray

Spiritual Influence

Leadership, Personal Growth

Early Sunday morning, a mentor in my life passed away. Back in the early 90s I had the opportunity to serve on a church staff led by Pastor Rod Masteller. Putnam City Baptist Church in OKC happened to be my future wife’s home church, the same church where her parents were married in 1969. This church and serving there has a special place in my journey no doubt. While there are many good memories wrapped up in this place of service, one significant factor is the opportunity to cross paths with this Pastor and experience his influence in my life in 3 key ways:

Guiding through Key Transitions

As a leader, you would be familiar with being asked, “What do you think I should do?” I hit a key transition point in my life: stay and serve there locally at the church, or move on to seminary and move forward with that pursuit right away. Jennifer had another year before graduating from University nearby. I was already taking seminary extension courses while serving. Should I stay and serve there longer, or should I move on ahead of my fiance settling in the area of the seminary in Texas?

Here’s the thing for decision making. It is not the easy stuff I am referring to in this pursuit of wisdom and direction. There are truly easy pitches that take no time in deciding, clear choices between right wrong, good evil, sinful, all of those are easy. What is complex are the choices of actual good options. There is nothing good or evil about pursuing seminary in Oklahoma City or Ft Worth, but the decision is still weighty! He did not have the answers, but he knew the Answer – get with Jesus.

How did he recommend this time with Jesus? For my decision point, he recommended I take a day, find a unique place – in this case, one of the meeting rooms there in the church – and schedule the day for me, alone, to meet with the Lord. He recommended taking my Bible, journal, pen and be ready to pray, read, write. But, most of all my task and “appointment” that day was to ask the Lord to lead. I still use this technique to this day when someone asks me advice about a life decision or ‘crisis point’ fork in the road. Get with Jesus. Bro. Rod was not the Holy Spirit junior. The will for my life was not Bro. Rod’s but God’s and he knew what I needed most was to connect with God.

I did that very thing. Obviously as disciples we all walk daily with the Lord in dialog with Him. But for crisis points like this, I still believe it is important to go alone to the hillside, pray, focus, meditate, read, wrestle and ask God for clarity. I walked away from that day with the Lord giving confidence he was guiding me in my decision. When important life ‘crisis point’ decisions come up in your life (and there could be just a handful), invest time by scheduling large chunks of time to literally focus on the decision before you with the Lord.

Pointing to Key Resources

I still have a copy of a book in my library that Bro. Rod encouraged me to walk through. He knew the direction I was pointing my life in ministry and he had a key tool to put in my mind. The book is Spiritual Leadership by J. Oswald Sanders. This simple read is chunked into bite-sized portions that cover the span of healthy spiritual leadership and life.

Even as I flip through the preface by the author, I read and am reminded as he shares, “If I had my life over again, I would devote much more time to the ministry of comfort and encouragement.”

Presence at Key Moments

I have a church member friend who recently shared that Bro. Rod was the kind of pastor who related personally with those in his care. My friend shared of Bro. Rod being available recently, decades later, to preach her mom’s funeral. He was the kind of Pastor who was blessed with a large platform and reach, but balanced that with a strong ability to connect on personal levels with many, especially at times of pastoral care. For those of you in ministry, you know this is a hard balance.

For me, his ministry presence involves marrying my wife and I. He invested through many moments of observing his ministry. He invested in me and my ministry by leading that church to grant my License to the Gospel Ministry, when I was still green and thought I knew so much. I am grateful to Bro. Rod and his influence on my life and ministry particularly at key points.

The older I get, I have such profound gratitude for the daily grace and mercy applied to my own struggles and flaws, and the grace and mercy given by God to serve through them. Bro. Rod was not perfect, I am not perfect. But, we are responsible to keep on serving, keep on confessing, keep on striving, and to keep on pointing the way forward. When I think on Bro. Rod and his influence, I am mindful of this key verse:

Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their way of life, imitate their faith.

Hebrews 13:7

Now minister/leader, it’s your turn. Who will you influence? You can be intentional or accidental in guiding. You can be present or absent. I am grateful that in many ways and by many leaders, leaders in my life have been intentional at key times. Be ready with the tools, advice and direction for key moments in others’ lives. You will have an impact.

Pastor: Are you fulfilling these four key tasks?

Leadership

It’s surprising how often we engage in an activity or work without thinking about all the parts and pieces involved. I drive a manual transmission car. Yes, by choice. When I drive, I don’t even think about shifting gears up or down. It’s automatic, or unconscious to me. In certain contexts, this isn’t always a good thing. In ministry, you could be about the work and not be aware of the parts you may or may not be fulfilling. You could be drifting along automatically doing what you do without understanding some key parts. Are you aware of at least these four key tasks of a Pastor?

I grew up in a pastor’s home. I have invested 30 years of my life in local church ministry, as an Education Pastor, Family Pastor and the like, and now serving over a decade as an Executive Pastor. Whatever the role or title, from Senior Pastor on, we all have components of ‘the work’ to fulfill. The opportunities to learn some lessons and make some observations about pastoring the local church are abundant, and we never stop learning and growing.

I have an immense gratitude for being able to serve the Lord in this way through my life. The kindness of the churches to me and my family is great. The gratitude I have for those who have shared life in ministry is immeasurable. It is also such a joy to see young ministers now being equipped and trained to continue to serve the church as we move ahead together.

Over the last decade, I had the great privilege of serving with Dr. Hance Dilbeck at Quail Springs Baptist Church. He now leads the work of Oklahoma Baptists. Through that season I not only heard the following framework for ministry, but observed it and then practiced it. It is beautifully simple in its concept and practice. When done well, its balance yields strength and growth for you as a minister and for the congregation.

Listen to Peter’s admonishment to pastors from 1 Peter 5:1-3…

Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock.

Feed

A primary task of pastoring is feeding. Shepherds guide their flocks to safety, cool water and food. If the congregation is starved for God’s word, there will be problems. A primary task of the pastor, in any position, is preaching and teaching. I feel the burden anytime I preach as I see the eyes of individuals who are looking to be fed the Word of God.

Paul reminds us In 2 Tim 4:2 to preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.”

Care

Think about the hungry crowds following Jesus as they longed for help physically and spiritually. Jesus saw them like sheep without a shepherd. Pastor, pray for your people, visit, care and call your people. Share notes of encouragement with them. Weep with them. Laugh with them. Counsel and guide them. Do life with them.

Do you see your people as a burden, or as problems, or as the whole reason for shepherding? Jesus responded to the people in Matthew 9:36, “Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd.

Lead

We see the early church leaders almost immediately making decisions and guiding the church. They led the church to select servants/deacons to help with distribution of food and care of widows, the work of councils and meetings on important doctrinal decisions, and the financial care of the early churches. Some have asked me, what does an Executive Pastor do? My quick answer, “Make decisions.” All day. Every day. I fulfill a duty with the church and our leadership to help make decisions. It is not easy. 99% of the decisions made are not simply right and wrong, good and bad, but a choice of options. If we go this direction, these are potential outcomes, or if this way, other outcomes. And then there are big decisions and issues that birth gray hair. Pastor, do not neglect the importance and privilege of making decisions.

And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues. 1 Corinthians 12:28

Share

Of the four areas I am mentioning here, One area of my own ministry that suffers the most is this one. Regardless if I say I have the “gift of evangelism” or not, the bottom line is the command of the Lord to share the Good News and make disciples. Disciples cannot be made apart from hearing the Good News and surrendering to it.

Paul shares this so plainly in Romans 10:14-15. “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? 15 How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!”

Paul also directly admonishes Timothy to this work in 2 Timothy 4:5. “But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.”

Ask Yourself…

Are you aware of these four areas of responsibility? Score yourself, 0-10, from worst to best effort in each of the four areas? How are you Feeding, Caring, Leading, Sharing? What area is naturally easy for you (automatic)? Which task is an area for growth? What will you do this week to enhance one of these areas of growth in ministry?

One word about Church Staff Pastoring teams. While I am responsible to fulfill duties as a pastor like those listed above, I also serve at a church with multiple pastors, including most importantly, the Senior Pastor. The beauty of these tasks is I can, and prayerfully do, take a portion of some of these duties off of the Senior Pastor. For example to focus more of his time and attention to Feeding the flock (preaching), I tend to focus more of my time and attention and giftedness to Caring and Leading. The only caution is for me or anyone to neglect any of the other areas on your Pastoral Staff team. For example, while I preach infrequently, I still stay sharp and preach often. I find great fulfillment and clarity in serving with my Senior Pastor in this way!

It is a joy to serve with you – Ray