The Ministry of Reconciliation

Several weeks ago, I was prompted by the Holy Spirit to reconnect with someone from my past. This was not one of those things I was quick to embrace. Something took place many years ago that affected this relationship, and I was in the dark about it for a long time. Communication ceased, and I did not know why for several years. Then the truth came out. So many questions were answered in that moment, but I was all over the map emotionally. What the offense is does not matter, and I was going to do what most people do and accept the relationship as irreconcilable.

But God sees things differently. After nearly a decade of no communication, we reconnected on social media. Several weeks went by as I prayed about what to do next. Finally, the Holy Spirit led me to send a message. Through a few messages, forgiveness was extended and communication resumed. I had the first phone call this evening, and it felt great to reconnect. There was no discussion of the offense, but there was a lot of catching up and focusing on some positive things that have transpired. God still does beautiful things.

As I reflect on this, I think about what Paul talks about when he mentions the ministry of reconciliation in 2 Corinthians 5:18-19. He says, “Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.” Christ has done the work of reconciliation, but He has also given us the ministry of reconciliation. Allow me to expound on this a minute.

He has given us the ministry of reconciling lost sinners to the Father. People will not know of salvation in Christ unless someone shares the message. God chooses to use the mouths of those who have been changed and forgiven in Christ. I’m glad I can have a part in helping people be reconciled to the Father through repentance and faith.

On a more practical level, we see reconciliation play out in earthly relationships. So many right now are separated from each other because of various differences. Christians can’t get along due to doctrinal differences and preferences. People fall out with each other due to various types of offenses. God gives all kinds of commands on how we can restore these relationships, but we allow pride to get in the way.

Some may tune out on this one, but that’s okay. Christians should be leading the charge in racial reconciliation. How can we do that? We should be showing the world how we can love people of a different ethnic group. We should be leading the way in how we love those with different religious and even political views. A few more may have even checked out after the last sentence. Jesus prayed in John 17 that believers would be one, yet I hear many preach division and hate. I would rather side with Jesus on this one.

Reconciliation in our relationship with God plays out in our relationship with others. When Jesus was asked about the greatest commandment, He said it was two-fold: love God, love people. If you and I really love God, we will really love people. ALL people! Republican people. Democrat people. Asian people. Hispanic people. African-American people. Caucasian people. Mean people. Nice people. You get it by now.

All I know is I’m glad God kept chasing me down until I was reconciled to Him in Christ. I would be hopeless without Him. Because I have experienced reconciliation, God help me to minister reconciliation and model it.

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Blog Name Change

I did it again! As the seasons of ministry change, so does the title of this blog. Why would that be? In this case, I returned to a title I used for a little over a year with my former blog site – “Honest Thoughts from a Pastor”. Here is why:

Much of my ministry in this season of my life is to pastors as a field shepherd with Standing Stone Ministry. So, ministry to those in ministry is a great deal of what I talk about. My ministry is to also help the local church. With these pastoral gifts still pulsating through my veins, the blog title seems to fit.

People have identified with the honest, raw authenticity and vulnerability with which I write. God has used this writing ministry to connect with many over the last 5 years. With that attitude and mission in mind, I will keep writing.

I’m beginning a podcast soon, and “Honest Thoughts from a Pastor” seemed fitting. This podcast will be a combination of honest thoughts about ministry, helpful episodes on tough topics the church does not want to address, and helpful things for pastors and those not in vocational ministry.

The overall reason is consistency in theme. People are looking for real answers and honesty now more than ever. My prayer is that God will continue to use me to help others along the way. I trust He will.

Who Are Pastors?

Who are pastors? That’s an easy question to answer, right? Most of us would say these are the people who preach and minister in churches. On the surface, that is correct. The truth of who pastors are is much deeper.

Pastors are people who don’t have all the answers. I have 3 degrees, and all I can say I have other than basic knowledge is student loan debt. My first death as a lead pastor was a church member whose family did not like me (at least some of them didn’t). I experienced so little loss in my life that I was nothing more than just a presence there. I didn’t know what to say and felt so awkward in the moment. I have improved in that area as I see death more frequently as a hospice chaplain, but classes could not adequate prepare me for reality.

Pastors are people with insecurities. We are often afraid for people to notice, so we try to cover it with arrogance and forced leadership. I know from experience that it does not go well.

Pastors are people who bring baggage with them. We have pasts full of abuse and family dysfunction. We bring our struggles of anxiety, depression, and maybe even addictive behavior or temptations. We often don’t feel safe sharing those things, so we portray a life that is altogether while we are still trying to heal from our past or maybe even present struggles.

Pastors are people with doubts and questions. Many of us were taught exactly how we should believe when we were in seminary or growing up in a church or Christian school. Some of us were never given the gift of thinking for ourselves, so we find ourselves in a crisis of faith when we wonder how a good God would take a child from us when we have faithfully served Him. We grapple with reconciling the tough truths of Scripture. I remember telling a pastor search committee I was still struggling with an answer to a particular thing, and the church still called me to be its pastor. They connected because they struggled too.

The bottom line: pastors are people. People who still sin though they try to walk the right path. People who make mistakes though they really want to please everyone. People who try to be top-notch, fail along the way, and get back up.

I minister to pastors who are all over the map. But I have encountered some great ones who love the Lord, the churches they lead, and people in general. As much as their humanity can get in the way at times, they mean well and want to give God and others their best.

As you think about your pastor(s), think about those who have family conflict at home just like you. Those who struggle to organize their time each day to include daily time with God. Those who accidentally say things they regret. Those who need your prayers and encouragement. As you think about these things, stop, pray, and/or send a note of encouragement. It may be the one thing that keeps them from giving in to the belief they are failures. And that could make an eternal difference.

Should the Church Be Silent About Racism?

One crime with racist intent is too many, but we have seen multiple. The number keeps climbing. People stand back and say, “It’s just coincidence that this keeps happening” or “Not all of these crimes are about race”. We can say whatever we want, but the truth is that racism still exists. How do I know? I live in the rural South. I still hear the derogatory and racial slurs. I see the segregation among schools, churches, and activities, although this is not mandated. Racism is alive and well, and the church should be addressing it.

I can hear some pastors say, “Let’s not address issues; let’s just preach the Bible.” I have a shocking revelation for you…The Bible addresses it! Furthermore, our Lord and Savior was scandalous in that He defied the ethnic and social norms of His day.

Take a look at John 4 where Jesus encounters the woman at the well. Jesus defies the customs of the day by speaking to a woman. This was not viewed too kindly in Jewish culture. He also defied the customs of that day by speaking to a Samaritan. Samaritans were half-breeds (half Jew, half Gentile). Jews, as God’s chosen people, had this supremacy mindset (one that Jesus addressed on other occasions). They did not like Gentiles. This Samaritan woman who was a product of a Jew-Gentile relationship was an even greater outcast because neither ethnic group wanted to accept her. But she encountered a loving Savior who wanted to redeem her from a life that was void of satisfaction.

Even the Apostle Paul who is viewed by some as a male chauvinist levels out the ethnic playing field. He said in Galatians 3:28, “There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.” These principles still apply, and the church should address it.

It is high time for us to listen. As a lily white boy from Portsmouth, Virginia, I don’t know much about being treated unkindly by another race. It has happened before, but it is not something I face daily. I would dare say I am treated with greater respect by some of my African-American brothers and sisters than I am by my white brothers and sisters. The African-American community I know possesses qualities I admire. While I do not understand their struggle from experience, I want to take time to listen. I want to hear their perspective so I can better understand and find a way to see some of these walls fall.

It’s time to stop pretending everything is just fine. Good people have been silent for way too long. The church is quick to call a lot of things sin. Let’s call racism what it is too – a sin! We might not know what to do to see things change, but we can take some steps in the right direction.

Lessons from Quarantine

Some personal thoughts about what this pandemic has taught me…

Life gets hectic, and we take a lot of things for granted. For almost 40 years, God has placed some absolutely wonderful people in my path. I have lived in 4 states and ministered in more churches than I can count now, at least 11 of those on some sort of staff position (if you can’t tell my ministry is more transitional in nature than long-term). I would say I could count a few thousand people who have come into my life in some capacity.

I have learned to value those relationships more during this time. I have reached out to people I haven’t spoken to in years, and it has been wonderful. I want to value those who have invested in my life and let them know it.

My challenge to you – don’t take the people in your life for granted. I know we don’t have a ton of time to stay close to everyone, but a few minutes to make a quick call, write a note, or send a message means more than you’ll ever know. Don’t leave this season without holding those you love a little tighter.

Why Every Pastor Needs a Pastor

In the Fall of 2018, I began reaching out to pastors. I was discouraged and knew that other pastors just might need as much encouragement as I did. I was right. After receiving some pretty heavy prayer requests from pastors, I asked God if He could allow this to become a ministry. He did that through a ministry called Standing Stone. As I have been doing this, I have discovered exactly why every pastor needs a pastor – someone who will safely shepherd their soul.

Pastors are so prone to temptation. It is easy for us to think of pastors as those who close themselves in a prayer closet with a glass of water and don’t come out until they have spent all day with God in prayer and Bible study. While I would have loved that, it wasn’t achievable with the demands of three weekly services, visitation to the sick and others within the church, counseling sessions, committee meetings, etc. It is easy to self-medicate when stress hits. Some pastors have turned to gambling, pornography, extramarital relationships, food, and many other things to cope. The sad part is that many get defeated by these things. They needed some soul care way before it ever got this bad.

Pastors are isolated. You might think, “How can a pastor be isolated when he has so many people to minister to on a weekly or even daily basis?” Many of those receiving ministry will only communicate with the pastor when a need exists. Otherwise, pastors often hear from no one. What about friends? Many pastors have no time for friends. I always tried to have good relationships with other pastors, but that is often unsuccessful because pastors can be so competitive. Pastors of higher profile will often not associate with the “lowly” pastors who lead smaller churches, or they will try to steal another church’s members because they feel like they have something better to offer. I do my best to advise pastors to develop friendships with people who are not pastors – people who will be there for you when you have nothing to offer them.

Pastors struggle with pride and other cancerous attitudes. Here is one that I struggled with. Early in ministry, I didn’t want people knowing I didn’t know what I was doing. I was trained to a certain degree, but I tried to cover my insecurity. It didn’t work to well, but I tried. After I gained some years of experience, I thought I had something great to offer people. I have learned that all I can offer is what God offers others through me to them. Some of the isolation I experienced was because I did not surround myself with the help of others. I didn’t want to be under the control of others, so I would often plan things without consulting others. I could have been much more successful had I worked the people in place than around them. After many discussions with other pastors, I know my story is not the only story like this.

Pastors get hurt just like anyone else. Many would say, “You must be forgiving.” While that is true, hurt must be processed. I discovered in the midst of this pandemic that I had past hurts I had never processed. They came back with a vengeance, but God has been so gracious. Pastors deal with betrayal, abuse, depression, anxiety, and so many other painful things like everyone else. The journey to healing is just that – a journey that takes time.

I have discovered that God has opened some great doors for me to be a pastor to other pastors. It has been beneficial to me that I am not on permanent staff in a church. I am not “the competition”. I’m just a guy who wants to pour my life into ministry leaders because I know their churches are at stake if I don’t, and I can’t let pastors become casualties if I can help it. If you are a pastor who is struggling, please contact me at Matthew.w@standingstoneministry.org. I would love to assist you.

The Church Never Closed

The reopening of the church has been a very hot topic among pastors and parishioners alike. I see daily remarks on social media. Some churches are continuing online while others are continuing drive-in services. Some churches never stopped meeting, and others have already resumed corporate worship services. The criticisms of what churches are doing is disheartening, and the sad part is some of this hatefulness is spewing forth from the mouths of pastors. That’s a subject of another post. The bottom line is that the church never closed.

You might read “the church never closed” and scratch your head. Some churches have completely ceased ministry during this time, and that is sad but many have streamlined while still continuing to function and operate within their biblical purposes. That’s awesome!

What I have seen during this time…

The gospel is not hindered. People have still made decisions for Christ and have even followed in baptism during this time. Churches are reporting high numbers of online visitors through Facebook and YouTube. That’s a great thing!

Churches have been more determined. Pastors and church leaders have worked hard to accomplish ministry during this time. There has been little rolling over and playing dead.

Ministry has become more personal. Handwritten notes and phone calls have picked up. Some pastors who don’t see this kind of ministry as part of their role have been doing this.

Outreach has still been happening. I have seen churches do disaster relief, food distribution, and other forms of community ministry while following the guidelines of social distancing, masks, etc.

The church has not closed and it will not as long as the redeemed are still alive. Your perspective will hinge on one thing. Do you define the church as this…

Or this…?

Cross-Cultural Ministry Thoughts

A few weeks ago, I was invited by a pastor in Kenya to speak on the subject of “Team Leadership” to some of the leaders in his church via a Zoom call. I typically don’t turn down an opportunity to speak and teach God’s Word, especially when I can actually speak on a subject to relates to one of my masters degrees. I fulfilled this opportunity today at 1:00 pm (8:00 pm in Kenya). We finished about 10:00 pm their time. I was blessed by a few things (actually more, but I will mention these).

These people were much more interested in learning Scripture than many I have observed in the American church. I spoke for approximately 50 minutes from a biblical and practical perspective, and they were not in a hurry to go. We continued for nearly another hour with questions and discussion from the people involved. I was disappointed to see the time end.

They were more eager to be biblical than “relevant”. I’m honestly tired of hearing these cliche American church phrases like “relevant”, and I have been guilty of using them. We discussed things like conflict, confrontation, correction, and church discipline. Most churches I know won’t touch these things because they’re scared. These topics won’t pack the house, but they’re 100% biblical. It wouldn’t hurt us to be a little more biblical.

They are people of prayer. One by one, they mentioned how they pray for America. One man mentioned how much other countries look at America because they see us as a beacon of hope. They are praying for our presidential election in November. How many of us who live in America are praying for our election and see how serious it is?

These brothers and sisters challenged me. Some people may not have taken 2 hours of their Sunday afternoon to accept an invitation from a pastor he met on Twitter to teach people he doesn’t know. I saw it as an opportunity from God, and I’m so thankful for this open door. God moved through me as He always honors His word. I haven’t taught like that in a long time, but I would do it again and again if God so opened the doors.

To my brothers and sisters in Christ, never think for one second you are too good for a certain opportunity. People need the gospel, and you may be the only one who will deliver it. Don’t be disobedient and miss a God-given opportunity!

Thoughts on Pastoral Suicides

In light of what has been reported by some as another pastoral suicide, I have received quite a few messages about why this might happen. I will give you a glimpse into the pastor’s mind. Hang with me for a moment.

It is easy for a pastor to find his identity in his job as a pastor. I did. As a man, I allowed success to be determined by how many were in attendance, how many people were actively involved in various ministries, etc. When my work was criticized, I took it very personally. Often, I took it way too personally. I allowed myself to believe I was failure. That spirals into long bouts of depression. You begin to question if you do anything right. You feel an intense responsibility, wondering if you have failed the people God has entrusted to you and that you have ultimately failed God.

Some might read this and think, “A pastor should be more spiritual than that. That’s what a pastor gets for taking his eyes off Jesus.” Meanwhile, that same pastor will walk through fire with you and withhold such judgment toward you when your world is falling apart. Pastors are human…they are people JUST. LIKE. YOU.

What do I recommend to those who are not in church leadership? Extend the same grace to pastors and staff that God extends to you. Speak words of affirmation to your pastors. You may think, “They have been called to give.” Here is my question – How will they give from an empty tank? Your response might be, “Well, Jesus should be filling His tank.” The truth is, Jesus should be filling yours too. While Jesus is all we need, God also designed us to thrive in community. Let your pastors in to be part of that community too. It could make a difference between life and death.

Leftovers, Anyone?

Some of you who read this are finicky and would never eat leftovers. I am not included in that number. I grew up with a grandmother who wasted NOTHING! The artist in her found a creative purpose for EVERYTHING! I picked up on some of that…at least not wasting leftovers.

What does God think of leftovers? Is He blessed and pleased when you slap something together and say, “Here God! I hope you like this half-hearted sacrifice”? Here is what one verse says, “Then King David said to Ornan, “No, but I will surely buy it for the full price, for I will not take what is yours for the LORD, nor offer burnt offerings with that which costs me nothing.”” (‭‭I Chronicles‬ ‭21:24 NKJV)

Malachi 1 addresses this more in depth. ““A son honors his father, And a servant his master. If then I am the Father, Where is My honor? And if I am a Master, Where is My reverence? Says the LORD of hosts To you priests who despise My name. Yet you say, ‘In what way have we despised Your name?’ “You offer defiled food on My altar, But say, ‘In what way have we defiled You?’ By saying, ‘The table of the LORD is contemptible.’ And when you offer the blind as a sacrifice, Is it not evil? And when you offer the lame and sick, Is it not evil? Offer it then to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you favorably?” Says the LORD of hosts. “But now entreat God’s favor, That He may be gracious to us. While this is being done by your hands, Will He accept you favorably?” Says the LORD of hosts. “Who is there even among you who would shut the doors, So that you would not kindle fire on My altar in vain? I have no pleasure in you,” Says the LORD of hosts, “Nor will I accept an offering from your hands. For from the rising of the sun, even to its going down, My name shall be great among the Gentiles; In every place incense shall be offered to My name, And a pure offering; For My name shall be great among the nations,” Says the LORD of hosts. “But you profane it, In that you say, ‘The table of the LORD is defiled; And its fruit, its food, is contemptible.’ You also say, ‘Oh, what a weariness!’ And you sneer at it,” Says the LORD of hosts. “And you bring the stolen, the lame, and the sick; Thus you bring an offering! Should I accept this from your hand?” Says the LORD. “But cursed be the deceiver Who has in his flock a male, And takes a vow, But sacrifices to the Lord what is blemished— For I am a great King,” Says the LORD of hosts, “And My name is to be feared among the nations.” (‭‭Malachi‬ ‭1:6-14‬ ‭NKJV‬‬) 

These people were bringing God unacceptable sacrifices, and God was not pleased. He does not want your junk; He wants your best! Leftovers might be great for me, but God demands and deserves a higher standard. If you have been giving God your junk, today is the day to change it all and begin giving Him your best.