General Assembly
of the Church of God
in Michigan

"equipping local congregations
to extend the Kingdom of God"

November 13, 2017

The Next Generation

Rev. James L. Sparks is Church Health Minister
for the Church of God in Michigan

Garrison Keillor, the former host of “The Prairie Home Companion,” recently wrote about his current gig of traveling around the country doing a “dog and pony show” – generally telling stories and singing songs. During one such show on a college campus, he started singing

“My country, ‘tis of thee, sweet land of liberty…”

and found that the young people weren’t singing along. After a few bars of music, others began joining in because they had goggled the lyrics of their cell phones, but it was apparent that most of the students simply didn’t know the words to the song.

Keillor said that his first thoughts centered on frustration and dismay.

“This generation doesn’t even know the lyrics of one of our national songs!”
“Do I want this generation in charge of my health care?”
“What a sad commentary on our nation’s future.”

Then he thought better of it. If they didn’t know the lyrics, he reasoned, it was because someone didn’t teach them. That places the “blame,” not on the younger generation, but on the older.

I realized that same reasoning applies to the church as well.

Many older people “blame” younger generations for their failure to continue certain traditions, to sing certain songs, to follow certain rules, to behave certain ways, and to hold certain beliefs. In many of those examples, the “fault” lies not with the student, but with the teacher.

Someway along the journey, the older generation must have assumed that the younger generation would believe, think, act, and feel as they do, without taking the time and making the effort to teach, explain, rationalize, and model. “Because I said so,” didn’t work on me when I was younger, and I would be the epitome of narcissism if I assume it would work on the next generation.

There is a lesson here – for our country, our parents, and our churches – that desperately needs to be understood. If the younger generation doesn’t know, believe, or act as we do, our first reaction may be frustration and dismay, but our better response should be self-examination and personal renewal.

Perhaps we can teach old dogs new tricks.

Rev. James L. Sparks, Church Health Minister

Email your comments and thoughts to Jim.

November 6, 2017

Spiritual Direction

Rev. David Aukerman is Lead Pastor of Mt. Haley Church of God in Midland, Michigan, and a doctoral candidate for a D.Min in Spiritual Direction, and Chair of the Pastoral Health Ministry for the Church of God in Michigan.

The LORD said,

“Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:11-13 NIV)

Elijah could be any of us today. He worked all by himself for God’s sake, tried to achieve God’s purposes, and stood up for God’s truth in the face of great opposition. He had just completed the dramatic demonstration of God’s supremacy over Baal with the burnt offering on Mt. Carmel. But he felt completely alone, overworked, and burned out — as if he were a living sacrifice who had been completely consumed on Mt. Carmel along with the bull, wood, stones, and water.

What Elijah needed — and what all of us need — was enough space in his spiritual life to pay attention to the presence of God in the midst of his journey. Elijah could not sense God’s presence in the wind, earthquake, and fire. Only when these “loud” experiences were cleared out of his attention could Elijah sense the presence of the living God in the gentle whisper.

Ministers are really good at sharing Bible stories like these with people who are stressed out and heavily burdened, people who need space in their lives to see God’s presence and activity. But who ministers to the ministers? Who shepherds the shepherds? Have you ever said to yourself, “I’m the one who is supposed to provide people with spiritual care. I don’t need to receive spiritual care, do I?”

Well, Elijah says that you do. Elijah says that even when things are going really well in our ministries, we can lose track of God’s presence and activity in our own lives. And it’s not a sign of weakness - but rather a sign of honest seeking - to say that we need someone to walk with us in our spiritual lives.

That’s what spiritual direction is all about. As Rev. Sandy Kuepfer puts it,

“Hospitable, strictly confidential, and grounded in Biblical truth, spiritual direction is a ministry that helps believers draw closer to God through prayer and spiritual exercises, attend more fully to the presence of God in daily life, and live in one’s calling as a follower of Christ. Spiritual direction is a relationship in which you work with one trusted person who helps you learn simply to be in God’s presence, rather than doing things for God all the time.”

I have begun to learn the value of spiritual direction in my own life, and while I am not yet an expert, I fully recommend it to you as a means of forming your own spiritual life in imitation of Jesus Christ.

In the Church of God in Michigan, we are starting a new ministry of spiritual direction. Rev. Sandy Kuepfer, who I quoted, is a trained spiritual director who lives in Lansing, and she is interested to explore spiritual direction with ministers in our state, whether in person or by video chat. Our Pastoral Health Ministry will subsidize a portion of the cost of spiritual direction sessions with Sandy as well. We hope to make this service very affordable to anyone who wishes to deepen their spiritual lives. You will hear more about this opportunity at the General Assembly. In the meantime, you may contact Sandy Kuepfer at sandykip4@yahoo.com with questions or to schedule an initial appointment to discern if spiritual direction might be a good fit for you.

Rev. David Aukerman, Pastor of Mt. Haley Church of God

Email your comments and thoughts to David.

October 30, 2017

Digesting the Fruit of Opposition

The Rev. Dr. Robert O. Dulin, Jr. is Pastor Emeritus of Metropolitan Church of God in Detroit and Southeastern Regional Pastor for the Church of God in Michigan

As quiet as I’ve tried to keep it – until now – ten consecutive years of my thirty-five years at Metropolitan Church of God were laced with congregational conflict. The conflict, the opposition – to say the least – was brutal. I will not belabor the forces that fueled the conflict. I have, however, identified those forces and named them. This has helped me to understand some of the “Whys and Wherefores” that birthed the conflict and kept its fires ablaze. During those ten years I had occasion to debate with God on many fronts. Following each debate I was reminded of Paul’s words to Titus: “The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished… (Titus 1:5a NIV).

Opposition has the capacity to produce different kinds of fruit, including frustration, bitterness, low self-esteem, discouragement, consternation, anger, burnout, and contemplation of resignation from ministry. I’ve had my fill of all these fruits. Nine years have passed since my retirement from Metropolitan. Rather than spend time fretting about what I might have done better during those difficult years, I’ve chosen to focus upon what I’ve learned about ‘digesting the fruit of opposition’.

The fruit of opposition is more easily digested when one is convinced of his/her calling. Nothing is more critical to sustainability in ministry than to know that one has been — and is being — called by God to do ministry, at a particular time, in a particular place, with a particular people. I cannot explain or offer proof to others of my calling, — nor am I obligated to do so — but I knew in my gut that I was where God wanted me to be. As the thirty-five years unfolded I received confirmation on numerous occasions that I was fulfilling God’s will for my life at that time.

The minister’s devotional and prayer life are also critical to digesting the fruit of opposition. It was through prayer and ‘quiet-time’ that I experienced the needed rest that came from casting my frustration, bitterness, low self-esteem, discouragement, and anger upon the Lord — He always knew what to do with it. Apart from prayer and venting one’s feelings at God, we risk venting our feelings through our preaching. When negative feelings are vented through our preaching we betray our calling to feed God’s people. Those in the opposition party may not eat what they are fed, but we have an obligation to preach Good News to all.

A healthy family life is also a helpful enzyme for digesting the fruit of opposition. It is not unusual for pastors to hurl their anger and frustrations at their spouse and/or children. One’s family should never be the dumping grounds for our need to vent. PK’s (preacher’s kid’s) number in the thousands who grew to hate the church because they could not deal positively with the stress and mess they saw their parents endure. My plea here is for ministry couples to give adequate attention to their marital health, and to the development of their parenting skills; skills to help one’s children understand that the opposition party does not represent the entire church — God’s church is also populated with people who love them and value their parent’s ministry.

Maintaining good eating habits and exercise are also critical to digesting the fruit of opposition. Anger, frustration, discouragement, and bitterness affect one’s digestive system. During times of conflict we can better digest the fruit of opposition when we exercise routinely and eat foods that are easily digestible.

Finally, involvement in the life of the larger community in which one’s church is located helps one to digest the fruit of opposition. Our church is not the only arena in town where God is at work. Finding satisfaction through involvement in God’s larger work causes the opposition in one’s congregation to grow strangely dim in the light of God’s larger work.

While others may have experienced different means to process the stress, conflict, and opposition that often accompanies pastoral labors, these five behaviors have been particularly helpful to me. I offer them in the hope that each pastor will find his/her own creative ways to digest the fruit of opposition.

Rev. Dr. Robert O. Dulin, Jr., Southeastern Regional Pastor

Email your comments and thoughts to Bob.

October 23, 2017

Pain Points

Rev. Jerry Webb is Lead Pastor of Hope Crossing Church in Sterling Heights, Michigan, and founder of The Go Commission (www.thegocommission.org). This article on “Pain Points” recently appeared on his website from colleague Roy Ferguson. It is shared here with permission.

2 Ways to Discover Pain Points in Your Community
Getting to Know Your Community

How well do you know the pain points in your community? Roy Ferguson, pastor of the Busti Church of God in Jamestown, New York, recently suggested these two powerful coaching questions:

What are the significant “pain points” in your surrounding community? What conversations are you having with your church family to address them?

The church has to know the community before it can engage it. Let me suggest two ways to get to know the pains points in your community.

Ministry Area Profile
The first suggestion is to purchase a Ministry Area Profile. The profile will help you discover psychographic needs. Psychographics is “the study and classification of people according to their attitudes, aspirations, and other psychological criteria, especially in market research.” Insight is given to such things as faith involvement, primary concerns, key values, family structure, demographics, and much more. It is well worth the financial investment.

Community Needs Assessment
A community needs assessment will help you talk to key influencers in your community. I’m not suggesting the full blown assessment that a hospital or government agency would do. Sufficient results could come from sitting down with 10 – 12 people to talk about your community.

It could be as simple as creating a contact list, developing interview questions, conducting interviews, and evaluating results. A team of 4 or 5 people from your congregation could do it fairly quickly. David Mills of Compassion by Design offers a range of helps if you want professional coaching to guide you.

Why Do an Assessment?
A ministry area profile and an assessment will help you better serve your community. The pain points that you discover will lead you to develop ministries that your neighbors want and need. You will also meet the leaders in your community. Networking with them can open untold opportunities. You might even find a few potential new members who want to get on board with solving the pain points you discover.

Who Should You Interview?
 A good group of people to interview will be vital to the success of the survey. You will want to talk to people from representative groups like those on this list:

Community Leaders
Government Officials: Mayor, City Manager, City Council Members, State Representative
Public Service Officials: Librarian, Police Department, Fire Department
Hospital Directors / Medical Professionals
City Recreation Department
School Administrators
School Counselors
Chamber of Commerce
Key Business Owners
Leaders of Faith Based Organizations
Leaders of Local Non-Profits and Charities

Rev. Jerry Webb, Pastor of Hope Crossing Church

Email your comments and thoughts to Jerry.

October 16, 2017

The Church's Dirty Word

Rev. James L. Sparks is Church Health Minister
for the Church of God in Michigan

As I travel the state and talk to pastors and congregations, I have found that there is one word that I say that always elicits a response … and that response is rarely positive. When I utter this word, some folks will give me a blank stare while others will shoot fire out of their eyes toward me; some will sit bolt upright in their chairs while others will squirm and fidget; some will stop all dialogue and become silent while others begin to interrupt me with arguments. As the meeting progresses, rather than backing off, I use the word more and more. It is the Church’s “Dirty Word.” The word? Change.

Churches are inherently resistant to change, yet change is all around us and happens continually to us. We are truly powerless to prevent it, yet we resist with all our might. The Greek philosopher, Hericlitus of Ephesus, was famous for his insistence of ever-present change as being the fundamental essence of the universe, as stated in his famous remark, “No man ever steps in the same stream twice.”

The reason is, of course, that the stream is never the same, for new water is constantly replacing that which has already flowed past; and the person is also different in that new cells have grown as old cells have died, and even the experience of previously stepping in the stream changes the experience of stepping into it for a second time. The same truth is expressed when someone shows you a photograph saying, “This is a picture of me when I was younger.” In point of fact, all photographs were taken when we were younger.

If we are leading the change, we are often tempted to back off, or to voice our pain, or to shout louder than our critics. We avoid the subtle confrontation that always accompanies change. We hide behind our office door, don’t read our email, fail to make certain pastoral visits, retreat away from the lobby area after services … anything and everything to avoid the constant exposure to our critics.

Take heart. All those emotions are there because we are leaders. Leaders naturally love change simply because they are leaders. That’s how they are hard-wired. That’s their default setting. Discouragement is a natural by-product of leading change.

And I’ve found an interesting trait about those who resist change. They are not as populous as they think they are. Yes, they talk to a lot of people – in many instances contrary to biblical instruction – but not everyone agrees with them as much as they think they do. In most instances few people in any institution are truly opposed to change. Of course they will say, “Everybody feels as I do,” or “Many people agree with me,” but “I’m not at liberty to give you their names.” In most cases, a leader’s true opponents to change are a very small number and a fairly insignificant percentage. Yes, they are loud and negative and confrontational and difficult, but that’s all they are. Very rarely do they have any meaningful solution to the problem the change is addressing. It’s usually because they didn’t think of it, or because they feel it threatens their pet project, or voicing opposition fulfills some personal psychological need.

The tension and apprehension that many pastors and leaders experience is centered on the fear of the opposition to change more than the actual opponents. Pastors can fairly accurately predict which board members will speak against a proposal, and therefore pastors hesitate to fulfill their call to ministry simply because they are afraid of the criticism they will face. Leadership involves courage and change rarely occurs without courage.

When people understand the problem and are given a voice in seeking the best solution, change is often seen as an improvement for our lives rather than an intrusion in our lives. As leaders, we need to change the question from “what” and “how” to “why.” When people understand “why” change is needed, consensus can be attained in determining the “what” and “how.”

Jesus gives the pastor/leader a word of encouragement in John 16:33 (NIV),

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Jesus is still the Lord of the Church and the Leader of Change.

And, by the way, it’s not really a dirty word.

October 9, 2017

Church Staff

Rev. James L. Sparks is Church Health Minister
for the Church of God in Michigan

As congregations grow and develop, there is often a need to add other professionals to the church staff. The first hire, most frequently, is a qualified administrative assistant, but then other pastors are hired, often as specialists in a certain field: youth, worship, children, administration, etc. Often these team members have no training and little experience in how to serve in their roles and function in relationship with others who are gifted differently.

I have served on a staff four times in my life; twice as an associate and twice in the lead position. I have had one horrible experience and one wonderful experience in both settings. While I make no claims as an expert on the intricacies of such relationships, I do know something, and in the spirit of “in the land of the blind a one-eyed man is king,” I offer the following traits to all pastors who find themselves in a staff setting. Like any good preacher, I have three points.

1 Loyalty
I have known many Lead Pastors who use the word “loyalty” the way Barry Bonds used his bat at Candlestick Park, constantly reminding their associates of their “place” on the team and their obligation to the Lead Pastor. And while that is true, loyalty is a two-way street. Nothing inspires loyalty in others like loyalty that is given to them.

All team members – pastors, secretaries, and directors – need to “have each other’s back,” and defend one another and their ministries in all situations. While I have not always approved of the words and actions of my associates or my superiors, such disagreements are always expressed in private. When the proposal or question is presented publicly, I’m in agreement with the team.

2 Sacrifice
No one knows your work ethic better than those on staff with you. A person who habitually sleeps late, procrastinates in completing projects, can’t keep a schedule, and is late for appointments should consider a “lone wolf” ministry. Such a person, by those traits, devalues and diminishes the work of the entire team.

While the very nature of pastoral ministry requires a “self-starter,” a person yoked in a team relationship must pull the load in concert with the others in that yoke. Such individualism that lacks sacrifice is destructive to the team relationship and the fulfillment of the congregation’s ministry.

3 Submission
There are times when the team leader makes a decision and the associates must – and should – be obedient and loyal to that decision. It’s important to remember that one person must be “in charge.” Associate Pastors and other team members, by definition, enter into that relationship knowing that a certain level of obedience in required.

Similarly, there have been times when my associates have presented clear and compelling positions that are counter to the ones I’ve held as Lead Pastor. I have always considered that the leader needs to be equally submissive to the team, especially when the team member is a specialist in the topic under discussion. I think it wise for the Lead Pastor to submit to the Worship Pastor regarding worship decisions, or to the Administrative Pastor regarding IRS regulations. This is the other side of “loyalty” coin.

Finally, a word about meetings. No team ministry can be successful in the long term without multiple opportunities to meet together. During weekly staff meetings, a team not only coordinates schedules, gives updates on programs and ministries, casts visions and goals, but also has the opportunity to address difficult issues when they arise. There is no need to seek a time to meet to correct a problem since there is a regular staff meeting already on the calendar.

Many books, even entire libraries, have been devoted to this topic and these brief words seem woefully inadequate. These are offered, however, in the hope that pastoral teams can operate as one staff working toward common goals.

Rev. James L. Sparks, Church Health Minister

Email your comments and thoughts to Jim.

October 2, 2017

Creating a New Culture

Rev. Kevin Spencer is Lead Pastor of First Church of God in Monroe, Michigan and the author of Evangelism 101 (Practical Application of Evangelism)

Cultural change is not easy, but necessary if we want to achieve the goal of fishing for souls in the world we live in today. As the world we live in evolves, so must we evolve with it! Worldviews change, but two things remain the same:

  1. The imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth (Genesis 8:21).
  2. Jesus came to seek and save that which was lost (Luke 19:10).

Yes, it is true that Jesus calls us out of this world, but He still expects us to continue the work He has called us to do in the world. “Soul Winning” does not look the same way as it did in the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s, so we need to create new ways to speak the Word of God to today’s culture and fulfill the expectations Christ has for His followers. I am reminded of Luke’s writings in the Acts of the Apostles in chapter 17 where we find Paul and Silas bringing the good news of the Gospel into Greece. The Greeks had a polytheistic view and worshipped many gods and demi-gods. Paul and Silas are introducing (for the first time) a monotheistic view while claiming that the one and only true God that we serve is Trinitarian. Reasoning with the men of Greece at the Areopagus, Paul uttered these truths:

Acts 17:22-31
22 Then Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious; 23 for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription:
TO THE UNKNOWN GOD
Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you: 24 “God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. 25 Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things. 26 And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their pre-appointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, 27 so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; 28 for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’ 29 Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man’s devising. 30 Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, 31 because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.”

Those of us born in the 1970’s or before do not even recognize our world anymore. And just like the Roman-Greco world that Paul and the rest of the early church were contending with, we too, are also living in a pagan world. In the biblical days they had to contend with polytheism but today we call it pluralism. Cultural pluralism is a term used when smaller groups within a larger society maintain their unique cultural identities, and their values and practices are accepted by the wider culture provided they are consistent with the laws and values of the wider society. Pluralism mandates that we must be “all accepting”.

Stephen Ray, in his message, Swimming Upstream, puts it this way:
“Pluralism doesn’t just mean you have to accept different cultures, it means you have to accept every different kind of idea and philosophy. We have lost the culture that we once had, and we live under the tyranny of relativism because relativism comes along and says everything is o.k.”

If we are going to create a new culture in our church today we must use the blue print that got us here today…God’s Word. The early church was formed by simple men and women being bold enough to take a stand for what they believed in while using the tools that God gave them.

Rev. Kevin Spencer, First Church of God, Monroe

Email your comments and thoughts to Kevin.

September 25, 2017

A Unique Relationship

Rev. Michael Potter is Pastor of TriPoint Church of God in Alpena, Michigan

In 2010, the Church of God congregation in Alpena, Michigan was dangerously close to closing its doors. Attendance had declined, the church was struggling financially, and the future was bleak for this small church in this beautiful community, located on the shores of Lake Huron. About the same time, there was a split in one of the larger Lutheran churches in our community, and they began to share our facility.

When I arrived as pastor in late 2014, I was excited about two congregations in the same facility, and working together in ministry. We created a community garden, shared Sunday school and Bible study time together, and as well as pulpit duties. We have supported individual ministries in one another’s congregations and walked away from joint ventures that were not effective.

As expected, there were growing pains and times of frustration. We worked hard at coordinating calendars and took the time to discuss and resolve issues. We both have services on Sunday mornings; one at 9:00/am and the other at 11:00/am. We share a coffee time at 10:15 and, while it sometimes gets cramped and parking space is limited, we enjoy working through those problems. Through it all we’ve learned the importance of logistics and have even found it possible for other organizations to use our building for teaching occasions.

For a while, we were using two separate soundboards and computers for different services. Now, using a digital soundboard, we can have both congregations using the same equipment with each having their own settings. Not only is it user-friendly, but the margin for error is greatly reduced.

With both congregations taking responsibility for building maintenance and on-going expenses, we have not only solved financial and physical problems for one another, we’ve become a model for our community that is becoming more mainstream in many communities. Together, we are making ministry happen.

Rev. Mike Potter, TriPoint Church of God, Alpena

Email your comments and thoughts to Mike.

September 18, 2017

The Problem with Porcupines

The Rev. Dr. Robert O. Dulin, Jr. is Pastor Emeritus of Metropolitan Church of God in Detroit and Southeastern Regional Pastor for the Church of God in Michigan

When last did you try to stroke a porcupine? When, if ever, is it safe to hug a porcupine?

I’m told by those conversant with porcupine-behavior that “porcupines are affectionate and rub against peoples’ legs, like cats, and there’s no danger of getting stuck with the spines.” Really? That’s what I’m told; I have no firsthand knowledge, or existential experience. But I’m cautiously willing to give students of porcupine-behavior the benefit of the doubt.

Porcupine quills or spines, I’m told, usually lie flat against the porcupine’s skin. It is only when the porcupine is alarmed, or feels threatened that its spines stand up. The porcupine cannot, as commonly thought, shoot its spines at objects of its displeasure. Its spines, however, are easily released and, like the barbs on fishhooks, affix themselves to other mammals only when touched by other mammals. This makes stroking or hugging porcupines no small challenge. The challenge is intensified, of course, if the porcupine’s quills are standing up; a strong warning – APPROACH WITH CAUTION! TOUCH AT YOUR OWN RISK! There is the possibility that the risk might be mitigated if one can get the porcupine’s quills to resume their calm posture and lie flat against the porcupine’s skin.

This is akin to the pastor’s challenge to deal with difficult people; i.e. getting their quills to lie down. Every congregation has in its membership at least one porcupine; a person full of sharp pointed quills of negativism, habitual skepticism, and persistent defiance of authority.

What causes difficult people’s quills to stand up? Allow me to offer one possible answer –unhealed damaged emotions resulting from past hurts, disappoints and unfulfilled dreams. Rather, than yield to the temptation to avoid difficult people, let’s ask the Lord to help us engage such persons in conversations aimed to help them find healing for their damaged emotions. It might be helpful to understand “porcupines” by better understanding ourselves. One or more of the following questions may be helpful for better understanding:

  1. As you think about your past, what experiences have given meaning to your life? What’s the most significant experience you’ve had during the last two or three years?
  2. What have been some of your greatest joys? In what ways have these joyful experiences influenced your life?
  3. What have been some of your greatest disappointments? In what ways have you dealt with these disappointments? What are some of the things you’ve done to manage these disappointments?
  4. As you think about your future, what two or three things do you want to see happen in your life? What challenges do you see in your future and what are some of your greatest fears?

In conversing with “porcupines,” the wise and compassionate pastor will listen attentively; i.e. without bias, and without body gestures that signal disapproval or approval. Engage in the kind of listening that evidences interest. Offer verbal responses which convey the feeling that what is shared is safe with you. Attentive listening coupled with prayer will encourage difficult people’s quills to — figuratively — lie down – making it safer to hug a porcupine.

Rev. Dr. Robert O. Dulin, Jr., Southeastern Regional Pastor

Email your comments and thoughts to Bob.

September 11, 2017

Church Work

Rev. James L. Sparks is Church Health Minister
for the Church of God in Michigan

Any institution — General Motors, Red Cross, Amway, and even the church — eventually makes their priority their own survival. And that usually means a preservation of the status quo. And that usually means that the majority of time and money goes into preservation issues, such as, building maintenance (gas, electric, water), building improvements (paint, carpeting, furnace, air conditioning), program management (curriculum, video, amplifiers), and staff (pastor, secretary, office supplies).

We all acknowledge that those issues must be addressed. The difficulty is when that amount of time and dollars is the primary force and focus of our endeavors. One must honestly ask how many dollars are being used to fund missionaries, to assist the homeless, to prevent exploitation, and to address other ills of society. One must compare the amount of time that is spent on church workdays and potluck dinners compared to the amount of time spent mentoring teenage mothers, prison parolees, and victims of abuse, addiction, and violence.

Far too many congregations seek volunteers to serve as ushers, greeters, tellers, worship leaders, instrumentalists, teachers, and custodians — in other words, to keep the institution operating — and then wonder why no one in the congregation has the time or energy to spend with the hurting in our neighborhoods. Far too many congregations view visitors to their facility as adversaries — people who will eventually cause them to change the way they have always done things, or as potential workers in their institution so they can be relieved of one of their “jobs.” Far too many congregations operate in a manner that is eerily similar to the local Rotary Club or Elks Lodge: existing for their own pleasure. Far too many congregations blend into their communities much like the local library: a beautiful structure where people come and go but never in large numbers. Far too many congregations are far too busy doing “church work,” and seem to have forgotten “the work of the church.” If our Commission is to “go,” then we must honestly ask why we spend so much time and money in and on a single facility.

Many have left the modern church because they were seeking to be touched spiritually, and valued honestly, and have grown weary of being fodder for the machinations of a club. The people around us are in so much pain that they fill their senses with anything that will numb the emptiness of their spirits. I believe they will be drawn to the One who is high and lifted up, but not to another organization that consumes their time and drains their energy. Somewhere along the line, we’ve become so institutionalized that the passion of Jesus no longer burns in our hearts.

This is about more than a fall and spring revival where we remind ourselves to be holy. This is about a “social holiness,” where we become the hands and feet of Jesus to those in our communities. This is about more than budgeting one or two Wednesday nights to clean up the local park. This is about being invested in individual lives that which carry a load of baggage that sin has laid upon them. This is about more than doing “church work.” This is about “the work of the church.”

Rev. James L. Sparks, Church Health Minister

Email your comments and thoughts to Jim.

September 5, 2017

Counting Backward

Rev. James L. Sparks is Church Health Minister
for the Church of God in Michigan

David and Darlene came into my office to ask me to perform a wedding for their daughter, Debbie. Since Debbie hadn’t yet graduated from high school, I immediately understood the rush to have the wedding in April. “We haven’t told anyone anything,” Darlene explained, “and we just want a simple wedding.”

A month later the entire church was in attendance for the wedding, and the ladies had prepared a wonderful reception in the church basement. A few short months later, a beautiful baby girl was born.

Less than a year after that, David and Darlene were back in my office telling me they were leaving the congregation. “We were heart-broken about Debbie’s pregnancy, and we feel that we’ve never had the church’s love and support.”

I leaned forward in my chair and asked if I could be candid with them. (Most folks have learned to never let me candid.). “Here’s the deal, folks,” I began. “Anyone can count backward from nine, and they discovered when Debbie became pregnant, but you never shared that with them. You never invited them into your secret, so they merely helped you keep the secret.” They nodded with understanding. “Compassion is the natural companion of vulnerability,” I explained, “but your lack of transparency has created a barrier to their compassion.”

The following Sunday, during a planned testimony, Darlene stood and asked the congregation to forgive her for not trusting them with her pain. She spoke of the darkness that surrounded her loneliness, and realized it was a despair of her own making.

In the following months, the congregation experienced a rebirth of fellowship and tenderness toward one another that was previously lacking. Looking back decades later, I’ve often wished for a repetition of that experience of congregational transparency. It was an “Aha!” moment for me, and I learned two lessons:

There’s no such thing as a secret; only a truth not yet discovered. Confession is a necessary preamble to compassion.

For you and your congregations, I wish you to have some discovered secrets and some painful confessions.

Rev. James L. Sparks, Church Health Minister

Email your comments and thoughts to Jim.

August 28, 2017

Isolation

Rev. James L. Sparks is Church Health Minister
for the Church of God in Michigan

Billy Baker is a feature writer for The Boston Globe and one of his most recent articles is getting a lot of attention. It certainly got mine. The title of it claims that one of the killers of middle-age men is isolation. It’s more deadly, according to Surgeon General Vivek Murthy and many experts, than smoking or obesity or cancer – and that’s saying a lot!

Studies show that women are better at friendships than men for a very simple reason: they work at it. They are more comfortable talking on the phone for longer periods of time about important topics, whereas men keep phone conversations brief and shallow. Women talk to one another face-to-face, whereas men talk side-to-side while looking out at the world or engaging in another activity. Women schedule time to simply be together, whereas men will only schedule activities together and then not schedule another, ending that activity with “Catch ya later!” Men simply – as a general rule – don’t work at relationships.

Almost 40 years ago, a friend of my own age, mentioned that the Chicago Auto Show was coming up the following week, and he wanted to see the new models. Another friend, standing nearby, thought it would be fun, and the next Saturday we joined thousands of other “guys” at McCormick Place for several hours of walking, followed by a great meal at The Berghoff, a well-known (at that time) Chicago restaurant. We didn’t get together again until the next year, but by that time we had gathered other “guys,” and eight of us made the trip to Chicago, first to the auto show then The Berghoff. The next year “The Berghoff Boys” were born.

We created an unspoken contract that we all liked one another and we would be friends. We’ve remained friends through a lot of difficult situations. We have worked hard at being with one another and for one another through crises and tragedies. We stood by Mike when his wife left him; comforted Paul when his wife died; helped Dave when his kid went into rehab; worked with Dan when he lost his job. We drove moving vans to help others move away to Michigan, Wisconsin, California, and Arizona. We’ve vacationed together – just The Berghoff Boys – in Seattle, New Orleans, and New York City. We’ve grown old together – the oldest is 95; the youngest is 58.

This relationship has cost me money out of my pocket and time away from my job and family, but I’ve gained a deeper understanding of the pain and joy of other people, and have experienced the love and support of The Berghoff Boys during my own dark days.

Many men will tell you they are not depressed, but if you press them hard enough they will admit to loneliness. If you press their loneliness hard enough, you will find depression.

What is true of the American male is general is doubly true of the American pastor in particular. Pastors, generally speaking, feel unable to be honest about our feelings and experiences with anyone: We avoid honest relationships with our peers and colleagues either through a lack of trust, a feeling of competitiveness, or an unequal balance of status. Men in our congregation will – many times – ultimately use our transparency against us during a congregational crisis. Our wives – God knows – have enough on their plates without dealing with our insecurities.

And so we find reasons – valid as some may seem to be – to procrastinate correcting the disease that will – ultimately – kill us. Our kids will move away; we will resign or retire from our pastorate; our spouse will die. And, unless we work at relationships outside of our homes and workplaces, we will end our lives lonely and isolated because we chose to live our life that way.

Pastors: This is more than an occasional email or brief phone call. This isn’t something that is a checkmark on a to-do-list. This is a task that will require time, money, and a commitment of years. But it might just save your life.

Rev. James L. Sparks, Church Health Minister

Email your comments and thoughts to Jim.

August 21, 2017

My Social Media Rant

Rev. James L. Sparks is Church Health Minister
for the Church of God in Michigan

Social media started out at colleges as a way of finding a date to the movies, and have quickly taken over our cultural lives. From the President of the United States to our elementary-age children, we Twitter, Facebook, match, Google, SnapChat, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Wikipedia our way through the days. It has become such an addiction (yes, I used the word “addiction”) that whole families gather around the dinner table with plates, glasses, silverware, and smartphones. Family conversations are interrupted because someone just sent an iMessage.

We have not only become shut off from real relationships, we’ve become so self-absorbed that we believe all our 742 Facebook friends want to see a picture of the hamburger and fries we’re about to eat. We also believe that they will encourage us as we begin yet another diet to lose the 10 pounds we gained from all the hamburger and fries we just ate.

I guess I really wouldn’t care about it so much if it didn’t damage the Body of Christ. The sad fact is that, for many people, what you say on social media creates images that others misuse and abuse. If we post – or repost – a picture that can be interpreted as Democratic, Republicans will not want to sit next to us in worship, and visa-versa. If we share a picture of a conference we attended, there will be someone who will comment on how we are wasting our time in that endeavor.

Pastors have lost their jobs because they tweeted a political view that the governing board took to be offensive. Families have left congregations because they suddenly discover the pastor they loved for ten years is of a different political persuasion.

Here’s the rule of thumb: If you post something on social media that can be taken two or more ways, you can be sure that most people will choose the wrong way; the bad interpretation; the evil intent. I know this because I’m guilty of that myself. When pastors call me about how they are so busy that they can’t properly prepare a sermon, or visit the sick, or …whatever, my heart goes out to them – until I find them on social media working on their crafts, refurbishing their camper, going on a fishing trip, attending concerts, etc. You can be sure that their congregants are viewing the same social media and drawing forth opinions about the pastor’s work ethic.

So here’s my rant: “Social Media” – and that entails all the “internet” aspects associated with it – has created a drain of time, energy, and focus on real and eternal issues; and a sense of rage over minor differences between people; and a rift between honest relationships – especially in the church.

Many readers could, I believe, add to the list of evils this addiction (yes, I used the word “addiction”) creates. I also know that there are many readers who could list all the great experiences and opportunities social media provides. And I will agree with them. Sadly, however, it has been my experience that far too many people misuse the opportunities and merely feed their own addiction (yes, I used the word “addiction”).

So...that’s my rant. What’s yours?

Rev. James L. Sparks, Church Health Minister

Email your comments and thoughts to Jim.

August 15, 2017

Reputation

Every preacher has a reputation. Well, technically everyone has a reputation, but preachers have a reputation as preachers. Preachers are known for how they preach. Do you doubt that? Try this experiment: Name some doctrinal preachers. Chances are you can, because they are known for preaching doctrine. Name some exegetical preachers. Chances are you can, because they are known for preaching through a book of the Bible. Try this one: Name some long-winded preachers. Chances are you can because too many preachers simply preach too long.

I’m often reminded that I have a reputation as a brief preacher. A twenty-minute sermon is, for me, a l-o-n-g sermon. My father was a layman who sat through hours of sermons and was not entirely thrilled with my decision to enter pastoral ministry...primarily because of long-winded preachers. When I entered seminary he gave me a plaque – probably purchased somewhere – that read,

Lord, fill my mouth with worthwhile stuff
And nudge me when I’ve said enough.

But the best advice came from my grandfather, the son of a preacher, who taught me:

Stand up.
Speak up.
Shut up.

I know preachers – and I’m sure you do as well – who can preach for an hour or more and hold the audience in the palm of their hand; virtually every sentence is profound and memorable; every story captivating and relevant. I’m not one of those preachers … and chances are you aren’t either. Those preachers are rare because they are seasoned with years of both preaching and pastoral experience. Their reputation extends beyond their preaching and into their living.

Similarly, congregations have reputations as well. Most congregations do not value length over content, and sadly too many preachers are rich in length and poor in content. A wise preacher leaves people wanting more, not wishing for less.

A preacher friend called me one evening after a meeting with his church board. “They criticized the length of my sermons,” he said, “but I just have so much to say!” My response was brutal but honest: “If it’s too long for them, it should be too long for you. If you still have more to say, then say it next week.”

A final word: A young preacher asked for my secret to brevity. It’s only one word: EDIT. Write it out in full, even the familiar illustrations, then enhance for rhetoric, alliteration, and transition, then EDIT. Cut out every unnecessary aside or remark; every incidental and non-consequential phrase. I don’t care if it is your favorite illustration, you can use it on another sermon – next week – next month – next year. Edit. Edit. Edit.

What’s your reputation?

Rev. James L. Sparks, Church Health Minister

Email your comments and thoughts to Jim.


August 7, 2017

If These Trees Could Talk

Rev. David D. Rails, Senior Pastor Burlington Church of God.
He wrote these words while resting at Warner Memorial Campground, just outside of Grand Junction, Michigan.

“June 1891: two men headed north from Grand Junction, following the railroad track, fishing poles in hand. Approaching a substantial tract of timberland, they followed a winding path through giant maples, beech, hemlock, and pines, an route to Lester Lake. Around them were blackened tree trunks, stumps, and other victims of the destructive fires that burned their way through earlier. Entering the heavily timbered grove, the men enjoyed the morning concert by the songbirds. Deep into the grove, the older man said, “Let’s stop for a while and enjoy this wonderful music that is being given by these feathered songsters.” Seating himself on a log in the faint light of the early morning, D. S. Warner listened to the concert. Finally, he remarked, “Do you know, Brother Byrum [Noah] , since enjoying this beautiful spot I have been thinking what a wonderful place this would be for a camp-meeting grounds” (The Book of Noah/132).

For all of us who came to the 125 Year Anniversary of Warner Memorial Camp Meeting this year, and had the privilege of hearing our General Director Jim Lyon share about the history that happened on these grounds; the very place that D.S. Warner envisioned as the perfect location to hold “camp meetings,’ it reminded us that a vision was birthed on the shores of Lester Lake and under these large majestic trees. It was on these very grounds the Church of God was launched out into the world around them, sharing the “Good News” of Jesus Christ. Through meetings that were held at Warner Campground and in nearby Grand Junction; through was the printing center of “The Gospel Trumpet” – the clarion voice of the early Church of God that carried the message of Jesus - the hope of a life transformed – to a lost world. The words that were born at this place spoke of the unity of the body of Christ and the holiness of a life surrendered to Jesus.

I sat under these large trees all around Warner Memorial Camp’s Tabernacle, and spreading out in all directions across the camp grounds, and thought about the many tent revivals, camp meetings, healing services and summer camps that have taken place in the shade of these trees. I contemplated about the man, the leader of the Church of God, Daniel Sidney Warner, buried within steps of my resting place. I mused about how Warner, E.E. Byrum and his brother Noah Byrum, song writer Barney Warren, F.G. Smith, Pastor A.B. Palmer and others who preached here, who led many souls to salvation and baptisms in Lester Lake, and of these who threw away their crutches at divine healing services – all happening under these magnificent trees.

I thought, what if these trees that have been silently listening and observing over these many years, could talk? What would they tell us? Would they tell us of the great singing and prayers lifted by the saints, the sermons they heard about Jesus challenging the saints to live an exciting Christian life, and of the many lives transformed, even to boys and girls sitting quietly under a tree, pouring out their souls and giving their heart to the Lord. If only these trees could talk!

I am so very grateful for D. S. Warner’s vision: his vision for this campground, surely, but also his vision for how seeds of ministry could be sown at this place, how a paper called “The Gospel Trumpet” could touch the hearts of men and women and boys and girls.

Sitting under these trees, remembering that vision of old, I’m thankful for the fresh vision that is being shared through Jim Lyon, our General Director, to “reclaim what hell has stolen.” What better place to begin than here, under these trees.

Rev. David Rails, Senior Pastor Burlington Church of God

Email your comments and thoughts to David.

July 31, 2017

Smile

Rev. Jim Horn recently retired from Clio, Michigan, Community Church of God after 33 years of minister to that congregation. He is Northeastern Regional Pastor of the Church of God in Michigan

I just read of a mom having a tough day, who apologized to her kids, “hey guys, I’m really sorry I was such a grump this morning. I think I misplaced my smile, but I’m going to do everything I can to find it again.”

Tell me – do you think we take ourselves and life too seriously? I shared in the responsibilities of doing a funeral a while back and afterward heard someone comment, “That didn’t even seem like a funeral. There were tears, yes, but there was so much joy and laughter. It was one of the most celebratory services I’ve been too.” Well, I certainly hope so. I always like to sprinkle a little humor into these services of doom and gloom realizing that a life lived was filled with all types of experiences and emotions…including joy. Joy, in fact, is one of my favorite words.

I remember one of the funniest things that ever happened in our family. My mother was still learning to drive along side of my anxious father. One day he let her drive us to school, a few blocks away. A policeman at the crosswalk just outside the school held up his hand for my mom to stop. She did. And then preceded on. Later my mother said, “For the life of me I could not figure out why that policeman was laying on the hood of our car yelling and pounding on the windshield.” My dad, who was obviously also yelling and humiliated, never let her drive again.

How easy it is to lose our smiles and forget to laugh at the crazy circumstances of our lives. I wish we would smile and laugh together more often. Joy is truly a gift from God.

I believe a smile is the universal language that we can all relate to. Maybe that’s why it happens to be the most popular emoji! Of all the memories you leave on this earth to others, I hope they will remember you with joy…and smile! Remember, if you swallow your smile, it goes down and spreads your hips!

Enjoy your summer. Find your smile. Tell your favorite joke (ok, maybe not that one). Laugh out loud!

Dear Lord, help me not to lose my smile today. Let my joy be found in you!

Living, Loving, and Laughing

Rev. Jim Horn, Northeastern Regional Pastor

Email your comments and thoughts to Jim.

July 24, 2017

FOR I AM NOT ASHAMED OF…

A few years ago, in the midst of a bitter February, I decided that a golf course in Phoenix (any golf course in Phoenix) was calling my name. I hopped on a Southwest Airlines flight and was in my usual aisle seat when the fellow across the aisle struck up a conversation with me. He noticed I was wearing a hat that advertised “The Gailes,” a golf course near Oscoda, Michigan. He had played the course as well, and we began talking golf – all the great courses, all the great shots, all the holes-in-one we’d made. We were laughing and having a great time.

I asked what he did for a living that allowed him the time to play so much golf, and he told me he was a psychotherapist, specializing in marriage and couple counseling. Since I’ve done a great deal of that, we continued that line of conversation. Then he asked me, since I knew so much about counseling, what I did for a living. I told him I was a pastor, serving (at that time) a congregation in Battle Creek.

My new friend became suddenly silent, bowed his head, and looked away from me. All thoughts of emotions galloped through my mind: “Was he an atheist?” “Had I offended him?” “Did I remind him of something terrible?” When he turned back to me, his eyes were moist and his voice shaky. “I’m a pastor as well. I just never want to admit it.”

We moved our heads closer together and talked honestly with one another for the rest of the flight. We spoke of the loneliness, the long hours, the unending variety of the tasks. But mostly we spoke about the frustrations, the, opposition to change, the pettiness of opinions.

We exchanged numbers and emails just before landing and promised to stay in touch…and we did…for a short time. He later moved to another state and I retired, and we lost contact with one another.

But my mind has returned to that conversation again and again through the years. He never clearly stated why he avoided identifying his vocation. It could have been that he thought the other person’s own opinions and expectations would ruin the beginnings of a good friendship, or that he would have to spend the next three hours talking theology or arguing doctrine or counseling a dysfunction.

Or was it something else? Something deeper? Had the inappropriate actions of a few – infidelity, pornography, financial mismanagement – made him embarrassed to be counted among them? Was it that he thought his choice of vocation had become little more than a career? If guilt has to do with something we do, and shame is related to something we are, then his reluctance to identify himself has to do with his selfhood, his identity, his shame.

And then there are other questions nagging at the back of my mind: Are there other pastors who share the opinion of my traveling companion? Others who would rather be thought of as a therapist, fund-raiser, motivational speaker – even a used-car salesperson – rather than a pastor? Are there others among those I know? How many of us may not be ashamed of the gospel, but are ashamed of…?

Rev. James L. Sparks, Church Health Minister

Email your comments and thoughts to Jim.

July 17, 2017

Love Hunger

by Rev. Michael T. Smith

Mike Smith is Lead Pastor at Hope Community Church in Niles and Southwestern Regional Pastor of the Church of God in Michigan

I’m more convinced than ever that we live in a world that is starving. In my 25 years in ministry, I’ve met people who have gone years – literally – without a human touch. This is a world that filled with broken hearts.

We have a divorce rate that is spiraling out of control. People run from bed to bed, nightclub to nightclub, app to app, searching for someone to love them. They are, like the old country song, “looking for love in all the wrong places.”

We have a generation of young adults who, ignoring all sensible warnings, seek some sense of belonging by using marijuana, meth, even heroin, to experience something other than the pain within. Their slavery to the drug is, at least, some sense of connection to something when they feel disconnected from everything else.

1 John 4:7-8 admonishes us:
“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.”

The Gospel of Jesus Christ proclaims hope for the love-starved people of the world, but the hope is only realized through the love of God’s people. The Church that God died for must allow God’s love for ALL His children to so permeate our lives that ALL His children are loved through the Church.

The love-hungry world must be offered hope. The love-hungry world must be offered the gospel. The love-hungry world must be offered love. WE are the ones who must offer it.

Rev. Mike Smith
Southwestern Regional Pastor
Pastor at Hope Community Church in Niles

Email your comments and thoughts to Mike.

July 10, 2017

Be-Attitudes

The Rev. Dr. John F. Davey is Lead Pastor of Pennway Church of God in Lansing, Michigan.

Our American culture has developed a “do” mentality rather than a “be” mentality. Even in the church, our congregants are taught to do religious things: attend church three times a week, serve on committees, join a group, etc. Our very teaching about discipleship has centered on doing religious disciplines, as if the action of doing will create the attitude of being.

I know I’m being a little cynical, but I’ve seen generations of believers whose passion for the holy is centered around only knowing what they need to do. “Did they serve on a committee…go on a mission trip…enter the ministry…do missionary work…?” Our discipleship programs have created people who could do religion fairly well, but were never encouraged to have a hunger or passion to be an ardent follower of Jesus…even those who were called to be pastors. Pastors without passion for Christ are hard-pressed to create passionate followers of Christ.

My heart hurts for those trapped in this do-action without ever moving on to be-attitudes. I’m grateful to be taught about a quiet time, a life of prayer, fasting, retreats and solitude. I’m more grateful that wise men have continually reminded me of the goal of that action: a personal relationship, rather than a professional religion. That wisdom has kept me sane on Mondays when I’m ready to quit and Thursdays when the sermon won’t come together.

My heart hurts for those whose time in the Word is devoted to a study for a public presentation rather openness to a personal divine revelation. My heart hurts for those whose prayer life consists of a quick recitation of a prayer list, often for mere physical maladies, rather than listing the burdens of our hearts for souls or opening our own spirits to counsel. My heart hurts for those who desperately need to be quiet and alone with God, but chose instead to invest their energy in reading a book about how to do ministry rather than endeavoring a first-hand experience in a quiet retreat.

My position is simple: we need to reverse our teaching. Rather than doing so we can be something, why don’t we focus on being that will motivate us to do something. Let us resolve not to do more religious things; let’s be holy, passionate, faithful. Then we will desire to become more like Jesus. We might be the only Jesus many will ever see.

Rev. Dr. John Davey, Pastor at Pennway Church of God

Email your comments and thoughts to John.

July 5, 2017

Third Week of Prayer

In this book, A Diary of Private Prayer John Baillie introduces the reader to committing one’s personal prayers for oneself and others into the discipline of writing. This not only enables new insight into the very practice of prayer, but also allows the Holy Spirit’s wisdom, imparted during the time of prayer, to remain the focus throughout the day.

The Rev. Dr. Robert O. Dulin Jr, Pastor Emeritus of Metropolitan Church of God in Detroit and Southeastern Regional Pastor of the Church of God in Michigan, offers us insight into his personal prayers with the hope that both the words and the practice may find root in the lives of other pastors.

Daily Prayers for this Week
By Robert O. Dulin, Jr.

MONDAY: Lord, I thank you for patient teachers, mentoring pastors, great books, and wise friends. I thank you for creating me with the ability to listen, to read, to learn, to think, to reason, to express doubt, to choose and to affirm values that exemplify holiness and humility. Thank you, Lord, for so many resources and others who have helped me get it right in my head. Now, Lord, as each day of my life unfolds I ask you to help me get it right in my behavior and conversation with others.

TUESDAY: Lord, was “The Teacher” right to conclude: “… that all labor and all achievement spring from man’s envy of his neighbor (Eccl. 4:4 - NIV)? Please, Lord, let the motivation for all my labor and desire to achieve spring from pure motives -- motives that are void of envy and jealousy. Grant me the courage and the good sense to rejoice in my neighbor’s achievements.

WEDNESDAY: Lord, I see so many individuals searching for happiness in all the wrong places and for all the wrong reasons. Help them to embrace the thought that happiness is not a goal to be achieved, but a by-product of working with all people of good will to make this a better world in which to live, and with better people to live in it. And save me, Lord, from involvement in this maddening search for happiness, lest my search become the source for my unhappiness. Give me the good sense to expend my energies in doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with You; knowing that happiness is about doing good, as well as feeling good.

THURSDAY: Dear God, building relationships with some people is like a risky walk on a frozen lake! I don’t know if I’m going to fall and break a bone on the icy footing, or if I’m going to fall through and drown in freezing water, but for some alluring reason I keep walking.

FRIDAY: Dear God, please, please, please forgive me for thinking that those who claim to walk in hope and holiness would also be committed and able to walk with one another in unity and in harmony and peace.

SATURDAY: Lord, I know You know my thoughts before I speak them (Psalm 139:4), so I might as well be emotionally honest and confess that the way I now feel: I’m not sure I want to go through all this trouble just to be a blessing to others.

SUNDAY: God of goodness, God of kindness and love; may the words I speak today be cordial in their content, attractive in their spirit, kind in their appeal, and pleasant in their tone. Save me from uttering words that are “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in Your sight” (Psalm 19:14).

Rev. Dr. Robert O. Dulin, Jr.,
Southeastern Regional Pastor

Email your comments and thoughts to Bob.


June 26, 2017

Three Principles

Rev. Dave Perry is pastor of Edgewood Church of God in Ithaca, Michigan and Northwestern Regional Pastor of the Church of God in Michigan.

For church leaders, leading a congregation is no easy task. Many look for a “magic” way to make it happen. Some think the magic is the polity and structure; for others the magic is about “charismatic personality;” and still others it is “mystical giftedness.” It's really about three principles: The Bells, Process and Buzzers of church leadership. These principles will work for you regardless your polity, personality or giftedness.

The Bells:

John Maxell defines leadership as “influence – nothing more and nothing less.”

“True leadership cannot be awarded, appointed, or assigned. It comes only from influence, and that cannot be mandated. It must be earned. The only thing a title can buy is a little time -- either to increase your level of influence with others or to undermine it.” ~ Maxwell’s book “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership”

To improve your leadership within your congregation, work on your ability to influence others. The best way to influence your congregation is to find the "Bell Sheep" who the others follow and influence them.

Bell sheep were usually the older sheep that the rest of the flock look up to and follow. In the church, they may or may not be on a board or committee. They may or may not be real “spiritual.” But people know who they are and follow their lead. Find your bell sheep and work with them to influence the congregation for the Lord.

The Process:

Like most good things in life a Process is needed in order to obtain good results. In making homemade bread, for example, you cannot rush or shortcut the process of the rising and kneading of the bread (unless you like dense, flat, tasteless bread). There are the necessary steps to take, a process to follow in order to make good bread.

People need to be led by a process. Process requires time, education, persuasion, and getting "buy-ins." Folks won’t support what they don’t understand or don’t see a benefit from. Leadership has to provide answers to gain support.

Develop a Process Plan for launching new ideas to help you gain the support you need.

The Buzzer:

At some point we need to call for a decision and move on. In game shows there are “buzzers” that call for a decision and the show moves on. The Church needs a “host” to call for a decision and to move them along. It is not always fun or glamorous but it is necessary.

“Now it’s up to you. Be on your toes—both for yourselves and your congregation of sheep. The Holy Spirit has put you in charge of these people—God’s people they are—to guard and protect them. God himself thought they were worth dying for."~ Acts 20: 28 The Message

Email your thoughts and comments to Dave.

June 19, 2017

Second Week of Prayer

In this book, A Diary of Private Prayer John Baillie introduces the reader to committing one’s personal prayers for oneself and others into the discipline of writing. This not only enables new insight into the very practice of prayer, but also allows the Holy Spirit’s wisdom, imparted during the time of prayer, to remain the focus throughout the day.

The Rev. Dr. Robert O. Dulin Jr, Pastor Emeritus of Metropolitan Church of God in Detroit and Southeastern Regional Pastor of the Church of God in Michigan, lets us look into his personal prayers with the hope that both the words and the practice may find root in the lives of other pastors.

Daily Prayers for this Week
By Robert O. Dulin, Jr.

MONDAY: Lord, it seems sometimes that life is lived with too many complications; too many extremes and opposing views for dealing with critical issues. Finding common ground, a healthy mid-point, and balance requires Your divine intervention. So teach me, Lord, how to live a balanced life: balance between compassion and tough love; balance between patience and urgency; balance between courage and risk; balance between truth telling and loving kindness; balance between self-interest and concern for what happens to others; balance between commitment to principle and commitment to forge a good compromise; balance between legalistically following rigid rules and sensitively following wisdom’s identified exceptions to the rules.

TUESDAY: Lord, help me on this day to be calm, unruffled, and even comfortable with the unexpected. Help me to listen carefully, to interpret the words, actions, emotions and body language of others in ways that will encourage meaningful dialogue and enhance mutual understanding – otherwise, the potential events of this day promise to be additional proof that there is a ‘HELL’ and it is sometimes encountered here on earth.

WEDNESDAY: Like so many others, dear God, the past has bequeathed so much to me: good things, as well as bad things, blessings as well as disappointments. And I find myself having to do something with all that I’ve inherited. Help me to build upon the good the past has so generously laid in my lap. And help me to rework, transform and reframe the bad I’ve inherited.

THURSDAY: Dear God, I am keenly aware of Lord Acton’s oft-quoted comment that “power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Nevertheless, I still want power. I want power because there are many noble things that cannot get done without it. So help me, Lord, to get it, keep it and use it wisely.

FRIDAY: Dear God, in this Fallen World where evil has a long and continuing history; where injustice and acrimony and abuse of power and the most atrocious cruelties are often exercised consciously and sometimes unconsciously; where wickedness and brutality toward the innocent and helpless abound; where callousness of heart rules the night and the day; where violence is routinely accepted as entertainment; and where justice and the cry for equity struggle to receive a modest hearing – save me from becoming accustomed to what is inherently wrong.

SATURDAY: Lord, in view of the confusion that abounds in this world and the senseless killings that occur with increasing regularity; in this world where power is exercised over the powerless with neither justice nor mercy – will this world ever become the world You envisioned when You created humankind; a world of justice and equity, of compassion and mercy; a world where the dignity of the individual is prized and affirmed, where the sanctity of life is valued and Your presence is honored? I believe we are still traveling toward that world, but Lord, there are days when I need You to help me overcome my unbelief. Give me courage to do Your will, to keep the faith, while I live betwixt and between the world that is and the world that ought to be.

SUNDAY: Lord, You created this marvelous universe, but life on this planet where mankind has lived, warred and struggled for millenniums is messed up far from what you wanted created “in the beginning.” Mankind’s inhumanity to mankind begs the question: In what part of this messed-up planet did King David live to be able to say: “I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread” (Psalm 37:25)? I have! I’ve seen the forsaken righteous!! I’ve seen the righteous suffer needlessly for lack of health insurance. I’ve seen their drug-addicted children aimlessly wandering on city streets begging bread, yea, begging money to sustain their addiction! Surely, there is a more accurate understanding of the phrase: “I have never seen.” Lord, was David oblivious to the plight of the forsaken righteous? In his position of power and influence, did he merely standby and watch the righteous forsaken while their children roamed the streets begging bread? Answer me, Lord!

Rev. Dr. Robert O. Dulin, Jr.,
Southeastern Regional Pastor

Email your comments and thoughts to Bob.


June 12, 2017

True Forgiveness

Rev. Dr. John F. Davey is Lead Pastor
of Pennway Church of God in Lansing, Michigan.

My friend and I have had an ongoing discussion about the order and relationship between repentance and forgiveness. He argues that forgiveness of another person is pointless unless that person repents and desires to be forgiven. My point is that it is his obligation to first, not only offer forgiveness, but to, in fact, forgive.

I’ve found that many Christians struggle with forgiveness. I believe many of us, at our core, find it difficult to comprehend the magnitude of Jesus’ sacrifice “while we were yet sinners” (Romans 5:8), and are still endeavoring to earn that forgiveness. Yet, struggle as we might, that is a reality of our faith. He forgives us. That forgiveness is then cemented when we, in faith, receive that forgiveness and repent.

While we struggle with our forgiveness from God, we struggle even more with our forgiveness of others. Jesus, over and over, states that there is a direct relationship between God’s forgiveness of us and our forgiveness of others. He makes this very clear in His parable of the unmerciful servant found in Matthew 18:21-35. Peter was asking Jesus how many times he should forgive someone who sins against him. Jesus said not just 7 times, but 70 x 7 times. Then Jesus went on to tell of the servant who owed the king over $10,000,000. Of course the man was not able to pay that, just like we are unable to pay for our own sins. The servant begs the king to be patient with him (like he was going to be able to pay that back in his lifetime!). But the king instead forgives the debt. It is canceled; erased from history – that is what Jesus does to our sins. Then this servant goes out to a man who owes him about $200 and demands that he pays. The man begs for grace but the servant has him thrown into jail -- no forgiveness. The king is very upset. After he had been forgiven so much, why could he not forgive this little debt of this other man? Jesus points out that we need to forgive others from our heart.

Often, as leaders, we want to attack those around us who “owe” us a paltry amount, but forget that we have been forgiven a King’s ransom. To fail to forgive others does not encourage or enable their repentance; only our forgiveness can do that. In fact, to withhold forgiveness only pollutes our own lives, not the lives of others. Further, that root of bitterness can poison the well of all our relationships, even our relationship with God.

I find solace in that fact that the very thing I have difficulty in forgiving in others is the very thing that God has already forgiven in me through the sacrifice of Jesus. However badly someone may have hurt us, their Heavenly Father has already forgiven that child of God.

Rev. Dr. John Davey, Email your comments and thoughts to John.


June 5, 2017

Daily Prayers

In this book, A Diary of Private Prayer, John Baillie introduces the reader to committing one’s personal prayers for oneself and others into the discipline of writing. This not only enables new insight into the very practice of prayer, but also allows the Holy Spirit’s wisdom, imparted during the time of prayer, to remain the focus throughout the day.

The Rev. Dr. Robert O. Dulin Jr, Pastor Emeritus of Metropolitan Church of God in Detroit and Southeastern Regional Pastor of the Church of God in Michigan, offers us insight into his personal prayers with the hope that both the words and the practice may find root in the lives of other pastors.

Daily Prayers for this Week
By Robert O. Dulin, Jr.

MONDAY: Dear God, I want to be a Team Player. So today I pray that you would save me from being so focused and tied to my technique and vision that I fail to see the approach of others, or seeing their viewpoint I cannot appreciate the originality of others. In my drive to create new things and ways to serve this present generation, grant that I not forget the old sources of my new ideas. For as I search history – I’m humbled to discover how old some new ideas are.

TUESDAY: Dear God, as I work diligently to pursue primary goals and dreams, I find I pass through a never-ending series of challenges and problems, each solution begetting another problem that must be faced and overcome. Help me to keep my primary goals and dreams in view, lest in the face of never-ending challenges I wander into the ditch of making problem solving the primary goal, and, as a result, lose sight of my dreams.

WEDNESDAY: Dear Lord, surely there is more to life than managing conflict and putting up with foolishness. I confess that the stress and mess of this day borders on the insane and the unbearable. Calm my spirit and help me remember that “trouble don’t last always”; that this too will pass. But in the meantime help me to sense Your presence, so that I might feel the pleasure of being alive and embraced by You.

THURSDAY: Dear God, this thing called “commitment” is more than a notion! Why so much struggle to maintain my commitments? Why so many challenges to my commitments? Why so many temptations to put my commitments on hold? Lord, I have come to understand that commitment is a decision followed by a process; an initial beginning, to be sure, and when adequately nurtured can grow and evidence a deeper resolve. Help me to better understand the nature of commitment so that I might know how to nurture and care for my commitments. Help me to encourage others, and to be patient with and supportive of others as they grow and strive to nurture and maintain their commitments.

FRIDAY: Lord, I understand that “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (II Timothy 3:16). And should I ever have occasion to use the Scriptures to rebuke or correct others – Lord, help me to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15); help me to balance critique and rebuke with support, and correction with encouragement.

SATURDAY: Lord, I’ve heard it said, “If you talk with yourself you may be crazy.” Yet, some of the best conversations I’ve had have been with myself – I call it thinking. Moreover, when I talk with myself, I know someone is listening. Thinking and listening are two vital disciplines I’m privileged to practice when talking with myself. Tell me, Lord, how can I get some of the people I know to talk more frequently with themselves?

SUNDAY: Today, Lord, I pray for patience; patience to teach people why they should change and patience to lead them through change. I need patience because on the one hand, if I go too fast or push too hard for people to change, people rebel and resist even the change that is for their good. On the other hand, if I go too slow and don’t push hard enough, people become complacent and in some instances just plain lazy. Lord, it may be that I need more than patience; help me to understand that transformation takes time and may not occur until the next generation.

Rev. Dr. Robert O. Dulin, Jr.,
Southeastern Regional Pastor

Email your comments and thoughts to Bob.


May 30, 2017

Change the World

"Now go out there and change the world!" Those were the last words the pastor spoke before he returned to his seat. Those were the last words of his sermon. He had admonished us that the world was the enemy of the church, the world was going to hell, the world was lost and undone without Christ, the world needed Jesus. "Now go out there and change the world!"

Great idea! But not one word on how to change the world. Perhaps I'm pessimistic, but I believe that next week, the congregation would again be admonished to do that same thing, be issued that same challenge, and have the same results.

Here's a scary fact: Approximately 90 percent of practicing believers have never once shared the gospel of Jesus with another person. I wonder how percentage of practicing pastors have shared their faith with an unbeliever.

My seminary and graduate school experience taught me about understanding the psychological underpinnings of the conversion experience, the meaning of the Greek present perfect tense of scripture, the history of the Christian church in general and the Church of God Reformation Movement in particular...but never a word on how to practically share the gospel in general and my own faith in particular.

Standing in the checkout lane at a large, metropolitan grocery store can be a tedious event, especially if you have a half gallon of melting ice cream in the shopping cart. The lady in front of me made some disparaging remark about the actress on the cover of The Star who was caught in the very act of adultery. I responded that neither of us knew the circumstances of her past life or the pressures of her present situation. A conversation ensued, and before either of us made it to the cashier I had led her in prayer to accept Christ. Although she now attends a Methodist congregation (yes, Methodists are Christians, too), I still receive a Christmas and birthday card every year.

When I later shared my experience in a small group setting, my flock wanted to learn how I did it; what did I say; what scriptures did I use. I began a special class to teach believers how to share their own story and win others to Christ. As a result, our congregation grew and the kingdom of God gained.

I often ask "church members" how many people they led to the Lord this last year...the last five years...or in their entire lifetime. Ask that question of your "church members" and you will hear a very long silence. Regrettably, the same silence often happens if we ask the questions of ourselves.

Now go out there and change the world!

Rev. James L. Sparks, Church Health Minister

Email your comments and thoughts to Jim.

May 22, 2017

Part of the Spectrum

by Rev. Michael T. Smith

Mike Smith is Lead Pastor at Hope Community Church in Niles and is Southwestern Regional Pastor of the Church of God in Michigan

Ask anyone what their favorite season is, and they’ll say “Autumn.” They’ll talk about peaceful country roads filled with the brilliant colors of the trees – reds, oranges, yellows, interspersed with shades of green and brown.

Every leaf is a different shape; every tree a different size. Almost everyone loves the diversity of the trees. Just like a human body, every tree has its own DNA and each tree produces its own unique color on the spectrum of light. This is true throughout the natural world. Each snowflake is different, as is each plant and each human being.

Our very individualism is a delight to our Heavenly Father. Our Creator loves diversity. We are all different colors, sizes, and shapes, and – to Him – we are a beautiful bouquet of people. Yet, the very thing we love about nature, we hate about each other.

I hope that someday soon, just as all plant life on earth exists together in harmony, the human race will come to appreciate the diversity each of us brings to the spectrum of the universe. We need not share the same preferences, but our differences are what make us unique. We have so much to offer each other; so much to learn from one another; so much to add to the spectrum of our communal life.

When we dismiss others from our relationships because of difference of skin color, or politics, or geography, or…whatever, we are devaluing our own unique part of Creation. When we disenfranchise a person or a group or a culture or a race, we are behaving against the very commandment of Christ. Jesus told his disciples – then and now:

“They will know that you are my disciples because you love one another.”

It’s time that the Church shows the world what that looks like.

Rev. Mike Smith
Southwestern Regional Pastor
Pastor at Hope Community Church in Niles

May 15, 2017

Convictions

Rev. Dave Perry is pastor of Edgewood Church of God in Ithaca, Michigan and Northwestern Regional Pastor of the Church of God in Michigan.

Most pastors have dealt with a person with...what shall we call it?..."strong convictions." I knew such a woman. Although she occasionally spoke of her desire for her children and grandchildren to know Jesus personally, her behavior, words, and attitude certainly didn't help achieve that goal. She reminded me of the old country saying,

"She could make a freight train jump its
tracks and go ten miles down a dirt road!"

Everyone has some convictions, and every conviction is based on something. This lady's firmly-held convictions seemed to base themselves more on the circumstances of her life than on the principles of God's Word.

Convictions guide us in what we do, and in what we do not do. They define who we are and where we are going. In this age, more than ever, we need to be clear on our convictions. May I offer some thoughts on developing and sharing convictions?

  • Think hard about what your convictions are. Spell them out. Define them. Based them on a good interpretation of scripture, not personal preferences or political rhetoric. Study what the Lord is saying about what our convictions should be.
  • It's better to be known for what you stand for rather than for what stand against. Convictions should be based on light rather than heat.
  • Far too few Christians have mastered the art of speaking the truth with love. Too many state our convictions in an argumentative and combative manner. We have forgotten that we were loved into the kingdom with grace and joy. Even the strongest words of the Old Testament prophets were based on the offering of hope and restoration.

Believers should hold onto their convictions firmly, but biblically. Convictions that are based on love and a pathway to the repentant offer help and restoration, not just judgment and condemnation.

Email your thoughts and comments to Dave.


May 8, 2017

ROOTED – to Thrive

(Rev. Dr. Tim Foreman has served three Michigan congregations and has a doctorate from Anderson School of Theology.

In the early years of the Church of God, Grand Junction, Michigan was base camp for The Gospel Trumpet and the new movement. During those years, D. S Warner purchased land along a nearby lake, which became the location for the new camp meeting that annually brought saints from near and far – as well as a host of local people. This year marks 125 years since that long-ago date in 1892. Those days were not just ordinary days, just as our times are not just ordinary times – and we believe this year’s camp meeting cannot just be ordinary.

This year’s camp meeting is set for July 15 to 21. Pastor Jim Lyon, General Director of Church of God Ministries, is the speaker for the week. Lyon is the premier communicator in the church today and a proven friend of Warner Camp. It will be great privilege for all who attend to be a part of his impactful teaching and prophetic ministry. Chad Harlan will lead our worship. He serves at St. Joseph First Church. The First Church choir will be participating a couple of nights. One of the key conference leaders is Dr. Barry Callen, former dean of the Anderson School of Theology and a prolific writer of dozens of books. His two conferences will focus on the holiness streams in the church world at the beginning of the early Church of God days – as well as the flow in our times.

The kick off concert will host Alanna Story on Saturday July 15. Alanna Story is an up and coming musical band that is already having great impact in today’s musical world. They are true worship leaders who bring new energy and new twists to some of the great hymns as well as the songs of today. Warner Camp believes this will be one of the best concerts you can be a part of anywhere this year. Tickets will be available through Warner Camp or perhaps your church office.

This LINK will take you to a short video about Warner Camp and July’s Camp Meeting, narrated by Jim Lyon. We encourage you to use it during a congregational offertory or in any promotional manner.

Warner Camp has lodging available in the Warner lodge, several bunk houses, Yurts and its RV Park, which has 21 additional new sites opening this summer. There are also nearby motels. Camp lodging may be reserved through the camp office. Meals will be available at the camp each day. Information is available at warnercamp.com.

For some Warner Camp is like a family reunion; for others it can provide a whole new world of adventure, growth and fun. We believe the 125th year camp meeting will be best for these new folks who join in. Activities abound for people of all ages- children, youth and adults. Camp meeting always provides a great opportunity for intergenerational activities and this year we anticipate doing that with even more intentionality.

This year’s theme is ROOTED – to THRIVE. Warner Camp is far more than a miracle of surviving. It is a place with a ministry designed for thriving today. The current Imagine fund campaign has played a major role in updating facilities and enhancing ministries. We remain true to our vision to provide life-changing ministries. These ministries reach hundreds of people each year including more than 450 children and youth in Warner Youth Camps last summer. These kids cross state and denominational lines and include many unchurched. We believe that for too long Warner Camp has been like a well-kept secret that more need to discover including hundreds of Church of God congregations and families even across our home state of Michigan.

The beautiful lake which captured Warner’s eye and heart 125 years ago is still a key part of camp life with swimming, the Iceberg, kayaks, fishing, and much more. Another center of activity is found in the new climbing wall with dual ziplines dedicated just last summer. These are enhanced this summer with the addition of a high-adventure ropes course. These new activities are uniquely designed to help people stretch and thrive. After 125 years one has to agree Warner Camp has some deep roots – and these roots are made for thriving!

Warner Memorial Camp, 60 55th Street, Grand Junction, MI 49056;
(269)-434-6844; www.warnercamp.com

Email your questions and comments to Tim.


May 1, 2017

The Offering in 2017

(Rev. Kirk Bookout is a former Michigan pastor who currently serves as Director of Development for Children of Promise.)

I talked to four people (who were about 25 years old) about writing checks. Two had never written a check; two rarely did. Writing checks was not normal for them at all.

It is not just the young. As treasurer of a small group I have four regular bills to pay. All are paid with automatic withdrawal. Many, perhaps most, of the “Social Security” generation love the convenience.

The last report I saw from my own congregation was that over 40% of giving was electronic giving or automatic bank withdrawal and that number is growing. It’s not the wave of the future; it is already here.

The way people give has changed over the years. People used to bring goods, grains, and animals to the temple. In the 1800’s people often paid the pastor through food and goods (Weddings and funerals were the only source of cash money for many pastors). Then, over time, a new high tech way of giving developed – checks.

We live in a rapidly changing world. Adapting offerings to the culture in which we live recognizes that today wealth is transferred in a variety of ways. Each generation experiences their own "new normal."

It is simple for people to set up automatic fund withdrawal from a bank or credit card account. The bank statement shows the payment and the congregation can still provide a giving record.

This is especially helpful to families that travel; they don’t need to worry about catching up in missed giving. If a significant number of families gives through Electronic Fund Transfer (EFT), it is helpful to the church to have a more consistent income especially in summer months when traditionally giving declines.

Heads up! More and more churches are making it possible to give directly from their smart phone during worship. I have been in several congregations that have tablets in the lobby for people to give. It seems new ways to transfer funds emerge monthly.

There are several benefits in providing on-line web giving for a church. While people can give to a basic budget, buttons can be customized to give to specific events and causes. Memorial gifts can be received, sometimes from people who live all over the country. Some people who move may still want connection with the ‘home’ church and take joy in giving.

The church continues to live in a changing world. Besides dealing with HOW the money comes in, it means that the church must have intentional purpose at offering time in worship. This is a great opportunity to be sure that offering and worship are interchangeable, blended, and in many ways the same thing.

Good questions to mull over: • How can you keep offering relevant and an act of worship in your own congregation? • What core values in receiving an offering must not change? • What must change?

Rev. Kirk Bookout, Director of Development for Children of Promise.

Email your comments and thoughts to Kirk.


April 24, 2017

The Case for Preaching

(Rev. Dr. Steve Wimmer is Lead Pastor
at First Church of God in Alma, Michigan)

When I was in seminary in the mid-80’s we were instructed to spend an hour in preparation for every minute spent in the delivery of a sermon. (Had I followed that advice, there would have been a few times that my sermons should have lasted about 30 seconds.) In recent years, the pendulum has swung in the opposite direction. It is commonly said that we are spending too much time in sermon preparation. The tasks of leadership are so great, so the reasoning goes, that we should spend less time preparing for sermons and more time leading.

I’m writing to make the case for better preaching. And I’m writing to make the case that good preaching requires time. Lots of it. While the hour-per-minute advice was overstated and unrealistic, what we do from the platform is, I believe, a top-tier commitment of the pastoral vocation. And I believe that a high commitment to our preaching is more important than ever, given our current climate. We are surrounded today by ‘spin-masters’ ‘truth doctors’ and the charlatans of consumerism. We need prophetic truth-tellers who help people claim the meaning of their lives in God’s story.

I’m concerned by a thread I hear frequently. According to this thread, sermons are ‘only words.’ People won’t remember 75% of what we say. Okay, there’s surely some truth to that. But someone should tell that to the advertising industry which has learned that carefully chosen words can influence our behavior and choices, whether we remember those words or not! Well-chosen words can sink deep into the gray matter, affecting us in ways that even we ourselves are unaware of. Perhaps my favorite comment related to my preaching is when someone says, “that reminds me of something I heard recently....” and they then go on to tell a story or describe an image that I had used in a sermon. Though they can’t remember the context or the origin, something of the sermon’s words has sunk in. Words matter!

Preaching is hard because it requires that we go to the text of Scripture and give our best efforts to drawing out the meaning of these documents in their original context. It’s hard because it requires us to gather those fresh insights and express them in our own setting. It’s hard because it requires that we think deeply about how every text fits into the great story that stretches from creation to new creation. And it’s hard because it requires that we speak to that in our world and in our hearts that resists the reign of God. Our preaching carries the possibility of casting a vision for life under God’s reign lived in God’s redeeming story. We don’t need to choose between preaching and leading. We can lead with our preaching, if we give it the hard work it requires.

Rev. Dr. Steve Wimmer, Pastor, First Church of God in Alma

Email your comments and thoughts to Steve.


April 17, 2017

Busy-ness

My friend stopped outside my office door, looked in, and asked if I had a few moments. He's not only a friend, but a colleague and peer. He pastors a church in my area and I'm always happy to spend time with him. He entered the room rather stiffly, as though he was physically trying to hold himself together. He sat down on the sofa and immediately slumped over, elbows on knees and head in hands. The change was startling. He went from rigid to limp in a nano-second. He was silent for a moment and then summarized his condition with this key statement: "I'm exhausted."

Then he began his litany of complaints: board members who were oppositional, older congregants that constantly complained, working with a minutia of details to keep programs functioning, weekly sermon preparation, counseling of marriages, the list went on for about five minutes.

I then made a very astute and insightful statement: "It sounds like you're very busy." That statement prompted another five minutes of bragging about how much time he spent with each of the previously mentioned problems. I finally had to stop his recitation. "Wait a minute!" You're very busy, but I can't decide if you're bragging or complaining. Which is it?" That shut him up.

I then suggested that he look at his situation from a different angle. It might be helpful is he changed his viewpoint: Yes, he was "busy," but was his busy-ness being effective, or was his busy-ness working against his effectiveness. Here's my point: The Enemy of our souls wants to detract us, deflect us, and, in that way, defeat us. Anyone who has read C. S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters understands that the Enemy wants us to appear to be effective, but not really. More recently, Chuck Lawless' book, Discipled Warriors, addresses this same issue. "'Busy-ness,'" he says,"is the most common sin of pastors." Yes, I said "sin."

When we are "busy" we center our ministry of task-oriented, details-oriented, success-oriented thinking and behavior. That, by definition, means we spend less time and energy on relationships. When we are busy, we communicate through phone calls, text messages, and emails - even with our spouses and children. We must never confuse social and electronic media with real relationships...with others or with our Lord.

When we are "busy" we become increasingly self-reliant. That implies that we depend less and less on being Spirit-led, and eventually become more and more lonely. While we are mostly unaware of it, we increasingly do ministry "on our own." That creates within us a "comparison mentality," causing us to measure our effectiveness by our numbers to someone else's numbers. When all this happens, we become oriented toward "success" and less and less able to truly be successful.

When we are "busy" we become increasingly un-focused. We are doing more and more nominal activities that accomplish very little real change. We lose our focus on, and zeal for, evangelism. Our compassion for others take a second- or third-place to stewardship campaigns and board meetings. The people who live down the street become less important to people than those who sit in the pews.

As he left my office, he went with my advice, "Get lazy!" That's counsel that I very rarely give, but I believe that pastors who are busy with "church work," are usually pastors who are not doing the "work of the church." Sadly, it's a common sin.

Rev. James L. Sparks, Church Health Minister

Email your comments and thoughts to Jim.


April 10, 2017

Easter Grip

I first met Peggy when I was serving as a volunteer chaplain at West Virginia University Medical Center. Citizens from throughout the state made their way there to receive treatment for severe diseases. Doctors, nurses -- even chaplains -- were trained in that facility.

Peggy's little boy, Gregory, was in the final stages of leukemia. She sat by his bedside hour after hour, day after day, for weeks on end. The tears had stopped long ago; as the end drew near there was only a dry sadness. We encouraged her to make use of the pediatric library. She would get the books and read to Gregory, who was often asleep.

One book -- I've forgotten its name and author long ago -- told of two boys sharing a hospital room. One of the boys expressed fear of the dark and the other boy offered a word of advice: "The next time you're afraid, just reach your hand in the air, and an angel will take hold of it, and you'll be OK."

Peggy lost control, found her tears once again, dropped the book and ran from the room. A few hours later, little Gregory slipped into a coma. Peggy, a nurse and I were in Gregory's room later when the little boy reached his hand over his right shoulder, gripped the hand of an unseen angel, smiled, and quietly died.

After all the devotions of the Lenten season, and all the pageantry of Passion Week, and all the cantatas and children's programs, it would be sinful for our people to leave Easter without something to grip in their own private darkness.

Let us agree to pray for and with one another, and for our people, to leave this Easter season with something more than vague memories of ethereal principles, but with a real and lasting experience that can be gripped in the darkness and fears of life.

Rev. James L. Sparks, Church Health Minister

Email your comments and thoughts to Jim.


April 3, 2017

McDonald’s and Jesus

by Rev. Niki Christiansen

(Reverends Paul and Niki Christiansen just completed eighteen years of ministry as associate pastors and interim pastors at West Court Street Church of God in Flint, Michigan)

It was a source of our shame. We didn’t want anyone to know. We wanted to hold that information close to our vest.

Sometimes life leads you to a place you never wanted to go so you can see a little more clearly.
… like when he saw the exhaustion in her eyes. The brand new mom. Single and without a partner.
.. or when he saw the man fight for the right words, and when those words wouldn’t come, his hand went to his forehead and he began to shake. Followed by profuse apologizing.

Sometimes life takes you where you wouldn’t normally choose to go so you can hear a little better.
… like when he heard the thirty-something’s dream of being a stand-up comic. And then came the invite to open-mic night at the bar so he could watch his new friend.
… like when he heard her say she didn’t want to be there, which is understandable. She’d recently lost twin babies at 5 months pregnant.

Sometimes life rocks you to the core so you can learn something you thought you already knew.
… like when his own prejudice for minimum wage workers was shattered as he rubbed shoulders with them everyday, never dreaming he’d find people he liked so well.
… like when he found himself surrounded by real people with real stories and no church background and realized he unexpectedly uncovered a makeshift congregation to love.

Yes, it had been a source of our shame. An embarrassment we wanted to hide away. A fact we were hoping no one would have to find out.

Our little secret?

For the past two months, my husband has been working at McDonald’s.

Sometimes life takes you to a place you never wanted or would choose so you can actually get where you thought you were all along.

Almost five months ago, my husband and I completed eighteen years of ministry at a single congregation. We knew we were making the right decision for our family. Putting emotional health and family care above a certain future. We walked away not knowing what was ahead. Without another job in place. Without an alternative source of income in place. And this has been the hardest 5 months of my life.

Nothing has gone as I expected it. The job market is brutal, especially in a city that is fighting for survival. Potential employers don’t rush to your schedule. They don’t call when they say they will. There’s very little face-to-face interaction in this day of internet job postings and electronic applications.

So what do you do when your community contacts are tapped out, your ministry degree gives you a breadth of experience that qualifies you for nothing? Seventy applications later no job has come through, your hope is slipping, your savings is dwindling, and there are bills still to pay?

Enter McDonald’s.

The going has gotten tough. And sometimes you just take what you can get in the meantime. But who really expects “the meantime” to be the main thing? Maybe that’s what John Lennon meant when he said, “Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans.”

It took a whole lot of humbling, for my husband and me, to come to the place of accepting McDonald’s as an option for employment. That’s where we go to grab dinner, not to get a paycheck. We smile from the lobby, let others wait on us, get frustrated when the burger isn’t plain, and slowly begin to buy into a lie we never would have admitted before - that we who have been college educated, white collar workers are better than the people behind the counter.

Sometimes life seems to be closing in on you so you can realize how small-minded you’ve been.

Nearly every day after work, Paul has a new (sometimes entertaining) experience. He spent a whole shift at the fryer making sure those fried potatoes of deliciousness haven’t been sitting for more than 7 minutes. Most days, he works the register and will take your order with a clean-shaven baby face because corporate doesn’t allow facial hair.

Nearly every shift sends him returning home with a story. A new co-worker he’s met. A talkative customer he’s encountered. The 911-call that had to be placed. Co-workers he has come to care about. Faces that have become precious to him. People who have shattered his biases and his prejudices. Individuals he might never have crossed paths with except for the intersection at the golden arches.

Just the other night, I sat on the bed and watched Paul’s eyes grow red-rimmed as he talked about the people with which he works. People who months ago had been relegated in our hearts as less than…lower…beneath us.

And in that moment, I was convicted by my unknown blindsides. Rattled by my arrogant attitudes that would dare to exalt me above another simply because of employment. Because of hourly wage. Because of prejudice.

I looked at Paul and murmured, “You’ve met Jesus, at McDonald’s haven’t you?” He has been working the drive-thru window, stacking the Big Mac, ordering a fish filet combo. He’s had black skin and white skin, been female and male, old and young. He’s been staring back at my husband every day as his defenses have dwindled and the layers of our prejudice lay exposed.

The fast food business has served up a needed glimpse in our hearts. It's also allowed a precious glimpse into the face of Jesus. McDonald’s has brought us to a place we never would have chosen so that we could get where we needed to be…loving those at the margins of our lives; embracing those at the other end of our prejudices; leveling the ground at the cross in our minds.

Months ago, our shortsighted, small-minded thinking led us to believe we had already overcome these points of intolerance. We thought we would recognize Jesus when He showed up.

We were wrong.

Had we overcome this bigoted classism, we would never have felt embarrassed. We never would have resisted wanting to tell others what we were doing to have some money coming in. What we had hoped would be a short stop at an unwanted station has become one of the sweetest gifts we could experience in these uncertain moments of our lives.

We have seen Jesus…
…in the eyes of an exhausted mom.
…in the fumbling words of a customer.

We have seen Jesus…
…in the coworker’s dream of being a comedian.
…in the story of a grieving mother whose arms are doubly empty.

We have seen Jesus…
…and He has exposed our sin of prejudice.
…and He has seen fit to gift Paul with a community to love.

Sometimes life isn’t what you expect at all, and you realize you are the better for it.

Jesus said, "Whenever you failed to do one of these things to someone who was being overlooked or ignored, that was me—you failed to do it to me." – Matthew 25:45b –

Reverend Niki Christiansen

Email your comments and thoughts to Niki.


March 27, 2017

Hearing Their Story

Matthew 9:36-38 says,

“When He saw the crowds, He felt compassion for them, because they were weary and worn out, like sheep without a shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few. Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.”

I do not know a pastor who has not preached on this text. The ending of the sermon is usually a "Now go out there and get 'em!" admonition. Unfortunately, pastors rarely tell their audience how to go out there and get 'em. And, sadly, many pastors do not know how to do this themselves.

As a young believer who had not yet received a ministerial call, I was filled with optimism as I left the altar rail. The forgiveness and grace of Jesus was such a wonderful blessing in my life that I just knew all I had to do was tell the story of my experience, and the whole world would soon know Jesus.

Now, more than a half century later, I have discovered that the harvest is still plentiful; always has been and probably always will be. I have also discovered that people do not care about my story. They only care about their own story.

My mentor once gave me a spiritual exercise; one I commend to you: He told me to walk into the sanctuary and sit in various places among the pews, calling to mind that this was the usual place where Brother or Sister so-or-so sat. At first I thought he was going to tell me to pray for them, but instead he said, "Think about their lives. Understand what they are going through each day. That awareness will not only inform your prayers; it will inform your preaching."

It was a revealing experience. Among this family there had been an abortion; that couple was talking about divorce; this family's teenager is dealing with addiction; that woman's husband is dying of cancer; this couple's daughter is planning her wedding. While congregational members show us a smiling face and a life of celebration, we -- as pastors -- need to feel their pain and touch their scars, and understand their worries.

What is true within the church is also true within our communities. They, also, "are weary and worn out, like sheep without a shepherd." Until we are willing -- even eager -- to hear their story, they will never be interested in hearing our story. We should be listening to their story.

Rev. James L. Sparks, Church Health Minister

Email your comments and thoughts to Jim.

March 20, 2017

Five Reasons Why Pastors are Getting Fired Because of Their Social Media Posts

“It’s not fair I lost my job,” the pastor told me.

“My church members post a lot worse things than I do on social media. It’s a double standard.”

He’s right. It is a double standard. But it’s reality. And, with greater frequency, more pastors and church staff are losing their jobs because of what they post, particularly on Facebook and Twitter and, to some extent, their blogs.

By the way, churches will not always tell the pastor the specific reason for the firing. But, once we begin to infuriate our church members with our posts, many will find a myriad of reasons to give us the boot.

I recently recommended a pastor to another church. I think very highly of him. Indeed, the search committee chairman seemed genuinely enthused when I recommended him. He contacted me a couple of weeks later with this comment: “We can’t consider him. He’s just too snarky and sarcastic on social media.”

Of course, this pastor was not fired. But he never had a chance to be considered by another church.

So what are pastors posting on social media that is raising the ire of church members? It typically falls into one or more of these five categories:

    1. Generally combative and sarcastic comments. Do you know someone that seems always to be in debate on social media? They always want to prove their points, and they will take you on personally if you disagree with them. There are now a number of former pastors in this category.
    2. Political comments. If you make a political comment in today’s incendiary environment, you will offend someone. The persons you offend may just be the ones who push you out the church.
    3. Taking on church members. I cringe when I see church members posting critical comments against a pastor or church staff member. I cringe even more when the pastor decides to take them on in a public forum. Most readers have no idea the context of the conflict. They just see their pastor acting like a jerk.
    4. Criticizing other people. I have a friend who served as pastor of four churches. He loved criticizing well-known pastors, celebrities, Christian leaders, and others on social media. He was fired from his last church without a stated cause. I believe I know why. And he has gone three years without finding another place in ministry.
    5. Unsavory comments. A pastor or church staff member making lewd or suggestive comments on social media gains nothing, even if it’s a quote from a movie or someone else. The consequences are always negative.

This post is not about pastors losing their prophetic voices. It’s about pastors and church staff losing their ministries because of their failure to control their digital tongues.

“If anyone thinks he is religious without controlling his tongue, then his religion is useless and he deceives himself . . . (The tongue) pollutes the whole body, sets the course of life on fire, and is set on fire by hell.” (James 1:26, 3:6)

Social media is not the place to vent or to wage petty battles.

The consequences are simply too great.


This article was originally published at ThomRainer.com on March 6, 2017. Thom S. Rainer serves as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam, Art, and Jess; and ten grandchildren. Dr. Rainer can be found on Twitter @ThomRainer and at facebook.com/Thom.S.Rainer.


Rev. James L. Sparks, Church Health Minister
Email your comments and thoughts to Jim.

March 13, 2017

Questions

I've been incredibly fortunate to have learned the art of ministry from some wonderful mentors. I'm indebted to Rev. S. Samuel Lovelace who was, for over twenty years, pastor of the East Tenth Street Church of God in Indianapolis. He was my wife's pastor when she was a child, and he became my teacher and model as I entered ministry. It was my great privilege to officiate at his funeral in 1994.

During a dark period of difficulty, I sought out a Christian counselor who could guide me through the briars and tangles of my life. I'm sure that many families go through what we were going through, but when it happens to you, it becomes very personal and very important. My counselor was the Rev. Dr. Henry Coffer. I'm attaching a picture of this wonderful mentor.

I didn't want to learn general truths. I didn't want to create a philosophy of ministry. I didn't want to deal with the principles of a good life. I wanted straight-forward answers to very difficult question. That was something I rarely got from Henry Coffer. But Henry was very good at asking questions.

Henry asked more general questions. When I resisted, he explained. "Before you can be a good pastor," he would say, "you first must be a good person. Before you can be good in the world, you must be good in the home." With that as his only explanation, he questioned me. Let me ask Michigan pastors three of Henry's favorite questions to me.

1. Are you feeding yourself?
Your job is to tend the flock; to care for and feed the sheep. But if you're not being fed, the flock will eventually starve. And, yes, I'm talking about prayer, and Bible study, and meditation, but I'm also talking about attending the kind of continuing education experiences that help you be not only a better pastor, but a better person. When was the last time you went on a spiritual retreat? Spent a whole day in prayer? Recharged your spiritual and emotional batteries? Too many pastors work so hard to get the applause of their congregation that they've forgotten that their primary audience is heaven.

2. How's your family?
Virtually every week a story comes along about a pastor who has lost his ministry because he has lost his family. The congregation we love all too often becomes our primary love, our time-keeper, our mistress of ministry. We put the congregation before our spouses, our children, and sometimes even before our Lord. Our loving spouses usually share our same sense of call and duty, and are often shamed into silence when they are turned into second (or third) fiddle in the orchestration of our lives. Far too many pastors are so caught up in ministry that they can't give a full and honest answer to the question, but I ask it anyway: "How's your family?"

3. Who's invited into your life?
This was one of Henry's favorite questions. He told me that there would always be a few would be happy to tell me that everything I said, did, or thought was wrong. The precious ones, he said with a smile, will be those who encourage you to get up when you're flat on your face. "Find a Barnabas," he said, "and you'll find courage to face every morning." He was right. If Henry Coffer was my "Barnabas," then Sam Lovelace was my "Paul" -- the one who always spoke truth to me. It was Henry who counseled me to find someone to teach. "We learn by what we hear, what we see, what we write, and what we do," he admonished me. "But we retain what we've learned by what we teach." Find someone who respects you and wants to learn from you. Pass on your wisdom to others, and you'll be wiser.

Questions. We can all learn from them.

Rev. James L. Sparks, Church Health Minister

Email your comments and thoughts to Jim.

March 6, 2017

Church Health

That's the title on the door and the job description. State Pastor Bill Jones expects me to handle Church Health. How does one do that? I sometimes envy doctors who have all sorts of tools like stethoscopes, and sphygmomanometers and CAT scans and MRIs and X-rays, and all the rest. Well, actually, the 21st century church does have some very useful tools and centuries of discoveries that are pretty accurate at detecting and gauging church health. I guess the difference is when a doctor tells you, "You're sick unto death," you believe him. Congregations usually deny their illnesses. As the old saying goes, "Denial is not just a river in Egypt."

So...just as a doctor asks about your symptoms to determine your level of health, may I encourage Michigan pastors to ask their congregations about their symptomatology. Here's a few questions.

  1. Are you still in love?

    Revelation 2:4 issued a charge against the church at Ephesus that "you have forsaken the love you had at first" (NIV). The church was formed for outreach. And, yes, that can take many forms, but the one common denominator is that the needs of others are more important than our own. Congregations that guard the carpeting while people in the community go hungry have forsaken the love they had at first. Congregations that spend more time criticizing other Christians rather than meeting the needs of unbelievers have forsaken the love they had at first. Congregations that can count conversions and baptisms on the fingers of one hand have forsaken the love they had at first. This isn't brain surgery; it's common sense. The fact that we ignore this illness only demonstrates how the church has accepted the world's view of it as a mere social institution.

  2. Is there a clear plan?

    Too many unhealthy congregations skip blissfully along with potluck dinners and living nativities and believe that's their mission. The Church of God that Christ bled and died for requires much more than that. There ought to be a clear mission and clear understanding of the congregation's values, not only by the congregational leadership, but the congregation-at-large. There ought to be a clear plan for reaching the lost, and if the plan isn't working there should be a concerted effort to develop a better one. There ought to be a clear plan for making disciples and teaching them the way of Jesus. Here's a good test: how many Christian believers in your congregation tithe? Tithing -- the use of money -- is a spiritual issue, and has proven to be a great test of Christian maturity.

  3. Are we celebrating?

    Christian leaders should celebrate who and Whose we are. We should discover and plan ways to recognize -- celebrate -- our leaders, our volunteers, and those with servant hearts. We should tell stories to one another about victories achieved and lessons learned. Too many testimonies are about how the Lord saved and sanctified (and pasteurized, petrified and putrified) them decades ago. How much have we given to missions? How many souls were saved? How many baptisms this month? There should be smiles on our faces because of joy in our hearts as we share in what Christ is doing in, to, and through us.

If you don't like the answers to these questions, perhaps you should find a good hospital or a good health plan. It's a matter of Church Health.

Rev. James L. Sparks, Church Health Minister

February 27, 2017

The Slavery of Nostalgia

The Rev. Dave Perry is Lead Pastor at Edgewood Church of God in Ithaca, and Northwestern Regional Pastor for the Church of God in Michigan.

Psalm 137:1
"By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion."

After their defeat by conquering invaders, many Israelites were slaves in Babylon. The sweat of their brow mingled with the tears of their eyes as they remembered their former lives. They were looking behind them, and remembering all they had lost.

We can certainly identify with such behavior. It is, in fact, fairly normal to reminisce about the positive aspects of our history. What isn't normal - or productive - is to be consumed with nostalgia. I cannot help but wonder how long they sat by the rivers of Babylon, letting their tears for the past consume their plans for the future. It reminds me of the old warning:

"Stop driving by looking at your rear view mirror. You ain't going that way no more!"

For both the Hebrew exiles and for the Church of God in Michigan, there's a strong temptation to look in the rear view mirror at the past, instead of looking ahead at the present and future possibilities. Far too many of us want it to be 1965 again, but it ain't and it won't be. We are in a new time, a new era, a new context for doing church, and our tears for the past only blur our vision for the future.

Jeremiah 29:11 gives us these words of hope: "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

If we ever hope to escape from the slavery of nostalgia, we need to start seeking God for a new direction, praying with anticipation for what God will provide in the future. Our present days would be well-spent assessing our programs and style, and deciding where our eyes are focused -- the windshield or the rear view mirror.

If we are to learn anything from biblical models, we should look to the books of Nehemiah, Daniel, and Esther. These world-changers left the captivity of their nostalgic exile to create their own new reality. Peter's first epistle lays out key principles for the Church in a new era.

The state office is available for counsel and resources to help congregations navigate into that new age. The Church of God in Michigan has a great journey ahead of us -- focusing forward with faith in the future, and the Lord of that future.

Rev. Dave Perry

February 20, 2017

How To Pray

I was sitting in a Cracker Barrel and just getting ready to dig into my Uncle Hershel's Breakfast when my cell phone rang. My wife gave me "the look" that said to ignore it. When I reached for my phone she rolled her eyes as I stepped away from the table.

I'm glad I answered it. My friend and colleague was in tears. Here was a pastor who was the very definition of "steady," "reliable," and "steadfast." And he was losing it. After spending the greater part of the evening with the extended family of a parishioner who was dying, the congregant publicly chastised him for not doing enough to win her family to Jesus.

He said he felt he had shown love and understanding, hope and help to the family, and they seemed genuinely glad he was with them during their dark hour. He never expected to be stabbed in the back by the very person he was serving. Through his tears, he quoted the old saying, "The church is the only army that shoots it's wounded."

Kenneth Haugk has written an insightful book titled, "Antagonists in the Church." It speaks of how to deal with destructive conflict within the Body of Christ. It's one of the topics that's rarely discussed in seminary and college religion classes. It's also one of the reasons that pastors leave ministry at such an alarming rate; indeed only one out of every ten people pastoring today will stay in ministry long enough to retire in ministry. An overwhelming majority of pastors fight depression on a daily basis. They struggle with self-confidence. They weep over how they are working long hours yet seem to be misunderstood by the very people they love the most. Pastors are required -- not asked or urged -- but required to feed their flock, but quite often they struggle to feed themselves.

After listening to his pleas and emotionally drying his tears, I offered to pray with him and he was eager for that. Ah, but how to pray...what to pray for...those were twisted questions. So I prayed for three things:

I prayed for my friend to have wisdom in his ministry. The fact is that while most pastors know that they will make mistakes and assume the congregation will know that they are doing their best, the sad fact is that is not true. Many people don't take the time or trouble to see another person's point of view.

I prayed for my friend to have power in his ministry. I asked God to help him keep his own holiness in check. I reminded him that ministry is less about pragmatism and skills, and more about the power of the Holy Spirit in the life of the church. His primary task is not to please people but to please the Lord.

I prayed for my friend to have perspective in his ministry. Regretfully, for many of us our ministry has become like an idol that we worship. We forget that it is Christ's Church and we are merely the under-shepherds. We must not allow ourselves to take it personally when attendance lowers or offerings dip. Too many of us allow minor criticism to crush us because we have made the church about us rather than about Him.

Perhaps that's how we should pray for one another.

Rev. James L. Sparks, Church Health Minister

February 13, 2017

Toughen Up?

by Rev. Mike Smith

Before I was a church pastor, I was a church planter. Hope Community Church in Niles started out with five people meeting for Bible study in the basement of a home. We now have more than 800 people attending multiple services. Colleagues have often asked me for some sage piece of wisdom. Here it is: "Toughen up!"

The fact is that almost 1,500 pastors drop out of ministry every month for a number of reasons, but mostly because the fantasy of pastoring didn't match the reality. It's not lollipops, unicorns, marshmallows, weddings, Bible studies, and prayer meetings. Pastors, as a general rule, truly like people, and want people to like them. The fact of the matter is that a lot of spiritual church folk are eagerly awaiting for the pastor to make a mistake so they can tell the whole community about it.

I would remind prospective pastors that we are at war for the souls of mankind. God's Word calls us to be "good soldiers" for Jesus, and to be "content for the faith." Paul asked Timothy to "come suffer with me for the cause of Christ," and described the Ephesians church saying, he "fought wild beasts at Ephesus."

The call to pastor is brutal. Having spent eight weeks in boot camp and four years in the military, I fought my way through the recovery process from drugs and alcohol, and had to live down a reputation of being a jail bird. I've had a stroke, three heart procedures, seven back surgeries, and received a new hip and a new knee. Nothing compares to pastoring for sheer, brutal, tough, grueling, hard work.

Having said that, I hasten to add that ministry is the most rewarding activity I've ever done. I have been at it for 28 years and look forward to more of the same. Here's why: I believe that I'm called by God to do what I do.

So if you believe you are called, then toughen up, cupcake. We have more than enough pansies in the pulpit.

Rev. Mike Smith
Southwestern Regional Pastor
Pastor at Hope Community Church in Niles

February 6, 2017

A Tale of Two Memes

by Rev. David Aukerman

Not takin’ in Syrian refugees and closin’ our borders isn’t “mean” or “heartless.” I lock the doors to my house every night. I don’t lock them because I hate the people outside my house. I lock them because I love the people inside my house.

If you claim to be a Christian and you’re not outraged over America’s treatment of immigrants, you’re a hypocrite. Source: UH, THE BIBLE. “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt.” (Leviticus 19:33-34)

These two paragraphs appeared one right after the other in my Facebook news feed yesterday. They were memes shared by two of my Christian friends, two people I know personally, two people who don’t know each other but live in the same community as I do, two people who worship the same Jesus that I worship.

This past Sunday, I preached on Micah 6:1-8 (the OT lectionary reading for the day), and I emphasized our need to “act justly.” I spoke for a few minutes about the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis and invited people (a) to donate money to international refugee programs and (b) to join me at a meeting in a couple of weeks, where community leaders will continue making plans to prepare our area for accommodating two or three Syrian refugee families, should such families be relocated to our area. I made a passing reference to the uncertainty of this work, given recent decisions by our new President. After the service, one of our church leaders initiated a brief but emotional conversation with me, in which our differing political beliefs were made quite apparent.

Reading the news online or flipping through my Facebook feed has become a difficult, emotional, conflicted process for me. There is a lot of shouting out there, and not much listening.

There’s probably a lot of shouting in me, too, and not a lot of real listening.

You may have very strong opinions about Syrian refugees, American security, and presidential politics. The people in your congregations likely do, as well. Is there one correct Christian approach to all these issues? Is there a way to overcome the massive polarization in our society, even (and especially) among people of Christian faith? How do we move forward together?

I keep coming back to Psalm 46:10 – “Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

It’s hard to be still when our emotions are engaged. It’s hard to be still when we feel passionately about one topic or another. It’s hard to know that God is God. Our inclination is to put ourselves in God’s place; I would much rather say, “everyone else be still, and recognize that David is God, that David has all the right answers, that David’s perspective is the best. Soon you will see that David’s way is exalted among the nations.”

But God’s ways are higher than our ways, and his thoughts are higher than our thoughts. Isaiah 55 points us to that truth, which we so quickly forget. That chapter also urges us to listen for God’s word, the word from his mouth, the word which will accomplish God’s purposes and will bring joy and peace to those who hear it.

That word is not a book; that Word is Jesus.

Maybe we should seek Jesus and listen for his voice. Jesus only ever argued with the Pharisees, the religious leaders; would he argue with us today too? Perhaps, when we seek Jesus, we should not assume that we know what his opinions are about Syrian refugees and other important issues. Maybe we should be still before him.

Perhaps he is not yet finished speaking.

Rev. David Aukerman
Pastor at Mount Haley Church of God in Midland

January 30, 2017

Children of Promise

Several years ago a church in Michigan asked if I would come and preach on stewardship. I was told, "You can come and talk about money. We will handle the spiritual things."

I asked, "What part of our life is not spiritual?"

What we do with what we have is spiritual. If we fail to address the stewardship of our resources, we fail our own people. Part of being a disciple -- a follower of Christ -- is the dedication of our entire life...all that we have. This includes not just our treasure, but also our time and talents.

The Bible references money and possessions about 2,350 times. Possessions was Jesus' most common topic of conversation. More than love; more than heaven and hell; more than healing; more than...well...anything else. I believe that this might be because our possessions are intertwined with so many other areas of our Christian walk.

Yet pastors are often hesitate to address stewardship of possessions because of that voice whispering in their mind, "They will think we are only about getting their money." Well, guess what: the people who make that charge will make it anyway. We should then talk about it in a way that makes it clear that it's not a money issue but a discipleship issue.

Our goal must not be to simply fill the pews; not even simply to have people accept Christ. Our goal is for people to become disciples; to become ever more complete in Christ. What we do with what we have is a spiritual issue. Helping Christians grow in their life means we talk about those things that are important...like our possessions. And in doing so we are not in the business of building budget, but Christians.

Rev. Kirk Bookout
Director of Development
Children of Promise

January 23, 2017

The Top Nine Reasons I Will Not Be Returning

The Rev. Dr. Robert O. Dulin, Jr. is Pastor Emeritus of Metropolitan Church of God in Detroit Michigan, and Southeastern Regional Pastor for the Church of God in Michigan. In his current position, he visits many churches and has heard many sermons. He writes on the reasons why congregational guests and visitors may not want to return to a church. He writes from a satirical point of view.

9 A LONG SERMON

Even a short sermon can seem long if it isn’t sprinkled with appropriate life-situation illustrations. It can be especially long when delivered without conviction and compassion. I would much rather hear what I should do rather than what I should not do. I want to grow and flourish, not fall and fail. I want sermons that help me do that. A sermon should never extend beyond the capacity of the average bladder.

8 ANNOUNCEMENTS

I feel like dozing off when the entire congregation is given an announcement only a few committee members need to hear. I feel intellectually insulted when the announcements in the worship folder are read to me. Many announcements are both repetitious and redundant. For example, nearly everyone knows that there will be a mid-week prayer service on Wednesday, an 11:00am worship service on next Sunday, and that there will be Sunday school classes starting at 9:00am. Furthermore, these announcements are printed in the worship folder and displayed in large letters and numbers on the church marquee. Additionally, the entire congregation does not need to know that next week’s choir rehearsal has been cancelled; tell that to the choir gathered in the choir room before the worship service begins.

7 POOR WORSHIP PLANNING

When your people decide to give a pastor an hour or so of their time (their most precious, irreplaceable commondity), it is incumbant on the pastor to use that time well. A worship service that seems disorganized and does not bridge the various part of worship, does not do honor to the King of kings. Testimonies from “whosoever wants to testify” usually are composed of the same words by the same people week-after-week. It is putting the precious time of parishioners into the hands of the unprepared. Worship that honors God has a good beginning and – hopefully – a good ending. Altar invitations that seem as long as the worship service itself edifies very few.

6 SCRIPTURE READING

The Word of God was originally written to public reading. Reading scripture publicly should be done in a way that helps listeners feel the Bible is relevant and applicable to their lives; never poorly, or without excitement. When the reader is dull and confused, can we expect any less from the listener?

5 MUSIC

Music that attracts attention to the musician or worship leader rather than God, encourages the congregation to be an audience of worship rather than a participant in worship. Additionally, music that lulls people to sleep, or requires them to put in earplugs because it’s too loud has the same effect. Music to worship by should encourage and facilitate the maximum number of people’s desire and hunger to sense the presence of God.

4 OFFERINGS

Offertory appeals and meditations that fail to enhance one’s understanding of biblical stewardship does not create healthy congregations or spiritually mature Christians. Every time I hear the intended exhortation – and it is quite often that I hear it stated or sung – “You can’t beat God giving,” – I want to stand up and yell, ‘And who among us is trying to beat God giving? Anyone who tries to beat God at giving is at least a fool!’ Just give as God has prospered you. If you have a problem trying to decide the extent to which God has prospered you, start with the tithe and ask God to help you to grow in the grace of giving. When this growth takes place, one will be well on their way toward being “a cheerful giver.”

And I’m thrown into confusion when the offertory meditation is introduced with the statement: “And now we come to that part of the service where everyone can participate.” I’ve always thought that I could participate in every aspect of the worship service; even if in a vicarious way. When the sermon is preached, my participation is to pray for the preacher, listen and respond appropriately. When prayer is offered, my participation is to “agree in prayer” with the one leading the prayer. The worshiper’s mental participation and heartfelt emotion – though difficult to see, if it can be seen at all – is participation.

An offertory culture based upon the premise that people give more money when they are told to “march” to the front of the sanctuary and put their offering in baskets gracefully held by smiling ushers.

3 TREATMENT OF VISITORS

Asking visitors/guests to stand and introduce themselves is a poor practice, usually done because the pastor or worship leader didn’t take the time to visit with them personally prior to the service. Visitors/guests should be recognized and some word of appreciation for their presence should be authentically stated, but the chances are very great that they did not come to your church to introduce themselves; if they came to introduce themselves they are most likely seeking public office and want the congregation’s vote and they will probably not be back until the next election.

2 PRAYERS

Prayers, even pastoral prayers, which by their boisterous, rough and rowdy presentation send the message that one needs to pound the pulpit, yell and scream at God in order for Him to hear. God is not deaf! God, who hears “the voice of my weeping” (Psalm 6:8), – our silent tears – can hear us when we pray in a ‘pleasant and conversational tone’. Have you ever tried to yell and scream your way through the Lord’s Prayer? Even the imprecatory prayer, the prayer offered when one has cause to be angry and desires to invoke a curse upon another, can be offered in a moderate tone; with heartfelt emotion to be sure, but not in deafening, thunderous tones.

1 RESTROOMS

Rick Warren wrote, The Purpose-Driven Church. I believe that most churches are “Restroom-Driven.” It’s the one room in the building that everyone will enter. If it’s dirty, people will never enter it – or the building that houses it – again.

Rev. Dr. Robert O. Dulin, Jr.,
Southeastern Regional Pastor

January 17, 2017

Regrets

After 17 years of service, I resigned from North Avenue Church of God in May 2013 to begin my "retirement." My successor, Jeff Eckman, was sitting in the congregation as I preached my last sermon. He would take over as pastor the next morning. I knew he would be with us that Sunday, so I preached my last sermon to him, not to the congregation.

I assured him that North Avenue Church would continue to receive my tithe and my support. I promised that I would not allow a negative word about him to reach my ears. I committed to him my complete and total support. I then did something that, I believe, shocked others in the congregation. I looked directly at him...and apologized.

No one knows a pastor better than their spouse and their successor. I was confident that Jeff would discover many mistakes that I had made. Hopefully, he would make haste to correct them, and some he would just have to live with, but they were mistakes nonetheless.

Dr. Robert Dulin had retired from Metropolitan Church in Detroit just months before me, and he told me that his last sermon included an apology to the congregation. Since Jeff was in attendance on my last Sunday, I thought I'd apologize to him.

It's been almost four years since that time, but the experience comes back to my memory over and over. And, I think, its a common experience for many pastors. We've all made mistakes: many small ones and a few whoppers. We've spoken when we should have listened. We've acted when we should have waited. We've moved when we should have stopped. Or...we did the opposite.

Of course, there's a few folks I know who have made some mistakes, and I'm still waiting for their apology. ...perhaps I'll just start by offering mine.

Rev. James L. Sparks,
Church Health Minister

January 9, 2017

Missing the Barn

The New Year is beginning. Three Hundred and Sixty Five days of opportunity and challenge. How well have you planned for this New Year? I would recommend that if you have not yet done so, do some long-range planning.

Early January is a great time to plan what you are going to preach this next year.  Some might say: “I wait from week to week, so I can hear fresh from the Holy Spirit.” I would ask; cannot the Holy Spirit lead us months in advance as well as in the spur of the moment? It seems to me God is a planner. Did he not plan from the beginning of time that he would send his Son and did he not know us from our mother’s womb? Did he not tell Abraham that a day would come when his descendants would be numbered like the sand on the shore? God works in the moment, but plans far ahead.  It is good for pastors to plan their sermons a year in advance. Why? It forces us to be sure we are preaching the whole counsel of God and not just a few topics that we are most passionate about. Or that we pick on people or circumstances from a “bully pulpit.” It helps us think in advance of new and innovative ways to address regularly occurring topics like Easter, Mothers Day, Fathers Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.

In the same way we should plan the church calendar of events a year in advance; this gives us time to recruit leaders to plan and implement special activities for the coming year. Whether they plan worship, fellowship meals, outreach events, Bible School, or mission trips, planning ahead allows time to prepare, raise money, and do our best. Thinking ahead through the year helps us to avoid making time for a special celebration, or a critical need that must be met that year. When is the last time you took a day or two and planned your sermons/series, for a year in advance? When is the last time you took key leaders with you and dedicated a day to dream and pray about how to best honor God in the year ahead? It is a great leadership development time.

The old saying is still true: “If you aim at nothing… you will certainly hit it.” Let’s hit something by taking time to aim at the right things. Years ago, a friend tried to teach me to be an archer. I was terrible. Couldn’t hit a bale from ten yards. But I did hit the barn behind it. By aiming I at least got in the ball park of what I wanted to hit. Doing advanced planning is like aiming and even if we don’t hit the bale, we will be much closer than if we did not aim at all.

Dr. William H. Jones,
State Pastor