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Second-Handing and Your Bag of Tricks

Sep. 1, 2016By: Darren CarlsonAuthor Bio

Some of the best advice I have ever received came from my advisor Scott Manetch in seminary. He warned me not to use a "bag of tricks" when I got into ministry.  He explained how most pastors stay at a church for 3-4 years and then move on.  One reason, he suggested, was because many pastors only had three years worth of sermons, ideas and programs in their bag of tricks. When the pastor ran out he would move on to another church and recycle everything again.

The root of this (I think) is being a second-hander.  We may push children to make their faith their own, but pastors seemingly must do the same.  Here are seven signs that you are setting yourself up to be or already are a second-hander.

1.  In school, when you are assigned an exegesis paper, you run to the commentaries and your conclusion first.  You short-circuit your own work and effort by not staring at the text over and over again.  Time is of the essence so you hurry through the process.  The result - you have just written a paper on Romans 8 that is almost identical to Doug Moo's commentary.  You get a good grade, you learned something about the text, but you skipped the process of learning.

2.  Speaking of languages, you rely on your computer software to parse everything for you.  Even when called upon in class, you look hard into your computer screen and then say what the program tells you.  Teachers would be smart to not allow computers in exegesis classes!

3.  You get assigned a text to preach and you immediately go to The Gospel Coalition and Desiring God websites for help. You listen to a few sermons, make an outline, add a personal story and boom, you are done!  Funny thing - it sounds just like John Piper's sermon last week.  I remember being in preaching lab while in seminary and three people had the same sermon.  To say pastors continue to use other people's sermons in an unhelpful way is an understatement.  Just read here. By the time you preach on Sundays, your sermons really are just insights from your three favorite preachers.  

4.  You would rather read book reviews than books, books about the Bible instead of the Bible,and books on prayer instead of praying. Books reviews are helpful. So are commentaries and books on prayer. But these are secondary sources, not primary.  

5.  You rely on what you learned 10 years ago instead of what you learned over the last 10 years. The Bible is not fresh. All of your insights are from mentors and teachers before they unleashed you on the Church.  You may have bought books at a conference or from a great online deal, but you only read a few, if you are lucky!

6.  When you awake in the morning, you run to the blogs and news to hear what people say about Scripture instead of reading it for yourself.

7. All of your ideas are someone elses.  This includes ideas for what your church is involved in. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. It is bad if you find that you are reduplicating the same plan in different contexts with different people.  

I believe what happens in the process of using secondary sources first, is that you become a caricature of what you had hoped to become.  You imagine yourself to know far more than you do. But honestly, the roots of Scripture are only an inch deep. You can not be a firmly planted tree by streams of water without delight and meditation. One thinks of the end of C.S. Lewis's Four Loves as he reflects on his own experience of God:

God knows, not I, whether I have ever tasted this love.  Perhaps I have only imagined the tasting.  Those like myself whose imagination far exceeds their obedience are subject to a just penalty; we easily imagine conditions far higher than any we have reached.  If we describe what we have imagined we may make others, and make ourselves, believe that we have really been there.

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Remembering the Day I Was Fired

Apr. 22, 2016By: Darren CarlsonAuthor Bio

In the spring of 2008 I was brought into the principal’s office. I had been teaching at a Christian school for two years, where I had started working after I graduated from seminary. The first 18 months had gone really well and I truly enjoyed what I was doing. I had seen kids come to Christ, enjoyed teaching the students, loved coaching the basketball team, and was privileged to serve as a board member. At home, my wife and I had just welcomed our second child into the home we bought in 2006. However, the last six months had been pretty difficult and in the morning of a spring day I was asked to resign. We all know what that means - I was being fired. 

It is hard now to recapture exactly what happened. I write with eight years of perspective. The day will forever be ingrained in my mind. Getting called in. Sitting with friends who were letting me go. Telling my wife I was being fired from my first vocational ministry job. I had heard that only 1 in 5 people that graduated from seminary were in vocational ministry after five years. Would I be a casualty? Would people think less of me and wonder whether I was competent or qualified to serve in a role I had been trained to do? Most of what I say below would apply to all types of firing, but I am speaking specifically about being fired from a vocational ministry position for reasons other than significant moral failure or cut backs - I’m talking about the hard and unclear cases.

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The allegations, whatever they are, are probably not 100% false

The last six months of my job were difficult. I needed to wade through all that was being said about me and learn. Even if 99% of it was false, some of it was probably true and even if it was minor I needed to mature. Do some pastors get sifted by their people even though they are 100% in the right? Yes, but it is rare. I have sat with many people who have been let go from ministry positions, and as they have told me their stories I have usually been able to see why the whole thing went south, even if they can not see it yet. It took me some time, but I Iearned quite a bit about leadership, personal interaction, clarity in speaking, keeping better attention to details, and much more.

Submit to Authority

Almost everyone is under the authority of someone else. It is easy to submit when you agree with the decisions being made, but the true test of submission is whether you can submit to decisions you do not agree with. I am not talking about submitting to immoral decisions. Over the course of a job we are bound to disagree with someone making decisions in leadership. I am sure I could have reasoned that what was happening was unjust. Maybe I could have reasoned they were my enemies and prayed the imprecatory Psalms over them. Maybe I could count it as persecution. Maybe I could have planted seeds of discord in the staff, parents, and students and try a divide and conquer strategy. 

Or not.

“Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” Does Romans 13:1 only apply to the government rulers? I don’t think so.

Let no bitter root grow

Being fired by a Christian brother or sister is a terrible experience. I was sitting in a room with four people who took little pleasure in letting me go. They knew what it meant for my young family. Some of them were and still are close friends. I had actually taught or coached three of the four’s children. We had a relationship. They were parents, spouses and friends. They had prayed for me and the person who made the decision thought he was making the best possible decision.

There were also the colleagues - those who liked me and were on “my side” and those that were not. Again - all believers for whom Christ had died. For me, Hebrews 12:14-15 came to mind: “Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” Even for the people who treated me terribly, I was responsible before God to be at peace with others and not let bitterness grow. 

Eight years later I can say that I have prayed with all four of the people that were in the room with me and keep in contact with two of them. As for the others who pushed for me to leave, I have prayed for reconciliation but life has taken us different places and I have no idea where they are. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God (Matt 5:9).

As a man and the only one who received income for work, this was especially important for my family. I needed to provide a safe and calm environment for my wife and kids. They needed me to not be angry, anxious, or full of contempt. They needed me to lead.

If it keeps happening, you really need some perspective from others your trust

I got some good advice from a wise man when this happened. He told me that if this only happened once it was not a big deal. If it happened again it was a cause for concern. If it happened 3-4 times it was a big red flag.

If you constantly find yourself being let go from ministry positions it is probably a sign that you need some perspective and feedback. It could be that you are not cut out or gifted for the type of jobs you are applying for. You may be taking jobs beyond your competency. You might need to learn to actually love people and not just on your own terms. It could be that you don’t know how to discern a situation that is a good fit for you. Whatever it is, find some friends and get some perspective. 

The Lord will take care of you, even if it’s your own fault

I had an immediate problem in that I had no job in April of 2008, which was beyond the hiring cycle for most churches and schools. It’s difficult to not be anxious when you walk into your home you purchased right before the market crash, look into the eyes of your wife who had just had a baby and tell her you were fired. Would the Holy Spirit carry me through?

In June of that year, I pitched the idea of Training Leaders International to a pastor at the church I attended. In July, I began an interim pastorate that lasted two years. And though the Lord extracted quite a bit of flesh from me, TLI was launched and now serves pastors around the world. 

The firing taught me a lot about myself, which the Lord used to shape me. The pastorate was one of the greatest blessings of my life. Now I am in a position where I have to ask people I love to resign. It is painful, and I remember what it was like to receive the news

The truth is, TLI would not exist if I had not been fired, nor would I have been ready to lead it. So Lord - thank you for firing me from a job I loved.

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But in the Greek it Says....

Aug. 17, 2015By: Darren CarlsonAuthor Bio

When I was in seminary a man I knew came up to me in the library asking me how to pronounce some Greek words out of Revelation 2.  I did my best without thinking twice.  Later I realized he wanted to say the Greek correctly in a sermon.  He didn’t know Greek. 

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It’s a situation I hope never to be a part of again and it still makes my stomach turn thinking about it.

"But in the Greek it says…”  I am sure you have heard it before or possibly even said it.  You know the pastor (or you!) is getting serious when they do. 

It is here where I want to throw a whole lot of caution.  It’s a dangerous thing to utter such a phrase in a sermon.  So what follows are five cautions to think about if you dare venture to use this phrase.

  1. If you have to say, “But in the Greek…” a lot, you probably are preaching from a bad translation. I have a friend who teaches Greek at an Evangelical seminary who, when he hears anyone say, “But in the Greek…” he says to himself, “Then why didn’t the translators say that.”  You are not using a good translation if you feel the urge to go this way often.
  2. You probably only know enough Greek to be dangerous.  Of course, it’s hard to know when you know enough!  Reading Exegetical Fallacies is a good start, but that is just the tip of the iceberg! You are most likely getting insight from a commentary, which you probably do not understand fully.  Be slow to think you understand Greek.
  3. Knowing the original languages is a gift from God, but it is also elite knowledge.  99% of Christians don’t know it and when you quote the Greek you undermine the translation in their hands, which is their only access to Scripture.  It sets you a part and can turn you into, at least in the eyes of your church, a professional.  
  4. If you really feel there is such an egregious error in the translation, maybe it would be best to say, “I am really helped by another translation here that translates this passage…” There is no reference to Greek and it still allows a thoughtful Christian to think and appreciate the text you are talking about more deeply.
  5. Consider your audience.  If you have a bunch of farmers, you might want to steer clear.  If you have a bunch of academics, you might dare mention “Greek.”  You just need to be careful.  Not mentioning Greek does not mean your preaching is shallow.  Academic does not mean more godly.  Deep preaching does not mean more intellectually stimulating.  

These are not excuses to be lazy.  Seminaries don’t teach Greek and Hebrew so their students can forget and discard what they have learned.  Knowing the original languages for most of us is a life-long process which takes a lot of discipline and hard work.  We are average linguists at best, but are afforded the benefit and joy of reading the Word of God in it’s original.  That is AMAZING.  Just be careful how you wield the sword.

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Dependency and Missions - An Indian Perspective - Part 2

Feb. 4, 2015By: Vijay MeesalaAuthor Bio

This is a continuation of yesterday's post in response to this email question:

Hello Vijay, 

……..As for more churches and organizatons for support… I will think and pray and let you know if any come to mind. However, I would also like to ask you if you have done your best to invite local churches in your area to contribute to your ministry. Please don’t be offended by this question…. But I want you and the churches of your area to experience the blessing and testimony of 2 Corinthians 8:1-5.

At the most fundamental level there is little comparability between the typical India village church and the Western church. Below are some areas of comparison (The following is from a Westerner missionary with more than 30 years of experience).

 

Issue

Western Church

Indian Village Church

1

Cultural Hostility                     

Little or none                   

serious differences

2

Level of believers employed     

high 97%    

Perhaps 40% full time

3

Level of education                   

near 100 % high school   graduates       

very low %

 

4

Care of widows and Orphans           

Less/no care given        

Cares for widows and orphans

5

Economic situation                   

wealthy

Hand to mouth existence

6

Spiritual development            

reflects society 

more than Kingdom        

prays, fasts and actively involved in evangelism

 

7

Church outreach                    

self contained                 

involved in starting new fellowships

 

I'm sure there are many other areas of comparison. 

I hope you understand my heart, I am not saying these things to judge which church is superior and which is not. But there is a general misunderstanding from the Churches in the West that we (Indian and Asian Churches ) only and always seek help from the West. I don't believe this is true for all the Churches. Frankly, it is a great exaggeration.

I am not denying the fact that, there are many who seek help including our own mission work, and also receive unbelievably large and generous support from the West. Praise the Lord! I also want to acknowledge that there is a dangerous side of being dependent on the West or on some other. But to think that the Church in India or elsewhere is existing only with the support of the West and there is no local support - is something that I firmly disagree because it is not true. In our contexts - that is in Andhra Pradesh rural area - (I may not be very accurate on this but I am guessing in general) I suppose that less than 25-30% church only receive help from outside of India .

The support that we seek from the west is to enhance or further the work of God more efficiently and faster. It is also because more than 75% of the wealth is in the hands of Western Christians (according to some mission statistics about 5-7 years ago). Someone said that if the Church in the West thinks that they are doing a favor to the Churches in developing countries by giving money and other things, then that is not a biblical attitude but an attitude of worldly superiority. Church belongs to God and God will raise His Church. But by supporting each other I believe we are doing our part in God’s family.

From this, I am in strong faith that the Church in India enjoys the joy of 2 Cor 1:5 much more like other Churches with similar contexts. Believers in Indian villages give to the Lord out of their extreme poverty and they give it willingly as said in the scriptures.

1509301_4680181a878de078I hope to continue to dialogue on this and am willing to learn more on this. I just wrote what is in my heart with much prayer and reflection. These are my general feelings about the Church in the West but not particularly against any individual or Church. Please let me know what you think of this. I will be happy to hear from you.

My conclusion is this, please do not generalize and make hasty decisions based on some past experiences or because someone said it so, but rather, let the Western Church/Pastors/Mission leaders examine themselves if they too are dependent. Perhaps they are not seeing while pointing fingers at the Indigenous missionaries.

One last thing, I am saying this with much caution and love: I am not sure if a Western Pastor/Mission Executive/Leader/staff of a mission of organization would continue to serve and minister in the same ministry/organization if/when he knows that the next months check/money/support is not going to come or he will try to find another placement of job because he has a wife and children (I am not generalizing there may be exemptions)….But I know and am sure that almost all the Indigenous missionaries I personally know of in Asia or Africa will continue to serve the Lord no matter what may come…may it be persecution/famine/or anything.

Please do not misunderstand me for being harsh…I will be happy to hear and learn from you.

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Dependency and Missions - An Indian Perspective - Part 1

Feb. 3, 2015By: Vijay MeesalaAuthor Bio

I once received an email that read:

Hello Vijay,

……..As for more churches and organizations for support… I will think and pray and let you know if any come to mind. However, I would also like to ask you if you have done your best to invite local churches in your area to contribute to your ministry. Please don’t be offended by this question…. But I want you and the churches of your area to experience the blessing and testimony of 2 Corinthians 8:1-5.

Here is how I responded:

These following reflections are my general thoughts on the Issue of dependency and theATO-ID-2014-6-financial-dependency Western Church. This gives me an opportunity to share my heart. Correct me if I am wrong, we can continue to discuss this matter. In fact, this email made me reflect prayerfully on this issue of dependency. There may be some sweeping statements and generalizations, please forgive me for that. I am willing to continue to dialogue and learn from you. Thanks.

Surely, many of you have seen many examples where the Church in India and other parts of the world are seeking help from the West and Europe and so on. I have also seen the same. It is true in many cases that help is sought from the Churches in the West, but this does not mean that there is practically no support given or raised from the local Churches. I guess this is dangerously misunderstood.

2 Corinthians 8:1–5 (ESV)
1 We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, 2 for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. 3 For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, 4 begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints— 5 and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.

I believe that the Church in India is not so different from Churches elsewhere. They do give for God's work. I am 100% sure that not all the Churches in India are receiving the support from the West and surviving only because of the help from the US or elsewhere. Indian churches do raise support locally for various things in small and big measures. I suggest it won’t be an exaggeration to say that the Church in India experiences the joy of 2 Corinthians 1-5 just like or maybe more than most of the Churches in the West.

I can tell from my own experience, that with some of our Churches in villages, they show their support of the Church and pastor by bringing a glass of rice, a chicken or egg or a little money from all they have. Another example, I came to the US only in 2005 for the first time in order to receive some support from the US, from 2006 October onwards. I can testify on behalf of churches around me, who have zero support from outside but yet they still exist, survive and give birth to new congregations with the support of the local church. They do God's work in their own capacity. Just like it is said in 2 Corinthians 8:1-5. This happens with most of the Churches in India and it is very encouraging.

Speaking from our own ministry experience with Reach All Nations – my father, with support of God and local churches could establish about 30 churches without any support from West. His support has been less than $5 month. And I can share many more example of this nature.

Here is an example of an average village farming believer’s financial situation and contributions to Church and mission work:

Average members in the family: 6-8

Average annual income (approximately) : Rs 36000 – 50000 ($860 - $1190 - $1 counted for Rs 42)

The contribution to Church and Mission work per year:

1

Tithe (Most of  the believers bring tithe to the Church at least in our mission context).

Rs3600 – 5000

$86 - $119

2

Other offerings per year to support pastor’s family (in the form of Rice, Chicken, lentils, paddy, and so on) and Sunday offering.

Rs1000– Rs 1500

$24 - $36

3

Church Electricity bill payment for the Church per year:

Rs100

$2.38

4

Support for other local Churches and other Church mission related activities

Rs600 – Rs 1000

$14.28 - $28

 

Total

Rs5300– Rs7500

$126.19 - $178.57

 

This table explains that the village Church believes in giving to the Church, pastor, and mission work more than they could and they give it even while they are under great poverty. That is such a joyful thing. If the Churches are bigger the missionary or the pastor has enough to support the family in a very average way, but not really sufficient. If the Churches are smaller, then the missionary and pastor will have a very difficult time to take care of the needs of the family. In spite of insufficient income difficulties, they continue to serve the Lord. Praise the Lord for this.

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