This month: 184 - Grace and truth
Exploring the Heart of Restoration

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Craig Cottongim

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I hadn’t ever thought about until recently, but, is it possible that living an uncluttered life is a spiritual discipline?  My maternal grandfather, “Father Bear,” was a hoarder. And when I say hoarder, yes he was just like the unimaginable type they film for cable TV — his house was beyond disgusting. Coming up through the Great Depression he eventually saved everything from all the newspapers that came across his table, empty cans of dog food, to the seeds of the fruit he ate.  I grew into adulthood abhorring clutter, also witnessing my parents following Father Bear’s example. Maybe you can relate to such an experience too? 

Are you ready to hear about a resource from a strong chrisitan woman’s voice that addresses decluttering all aspects of our lives?  It’s the book that triggered the question in my mind that decluttering might just be a spiritual discipline.  It’s my honor to commend Angie Hyche on a book well-written and to recommend to you her “Unholy Mess: What the Bible Says About Clutter.” 

Less is more, so I won’t boil down a prize ox into a bouillon cube by summarizing her entire book point by point. I hope, instead, to entice you to pick up her book and see for yourself how much better your life can be when you apply the principles she lays out. Her holistic approach holds more profound implications than simply tidying up your basement, though.

Maybe you’re thinking we don’t need another book on organization, but maybe it’s time for a book written from a Christian perspective. And that’s where Angie’s book comes in — her aim is to feed your soul and help shape your perspectives on your relationship with God and to navigate the areas of your life where being better organized (your attention, your schedule, and yes your possessions) will bring you more peace and joy. She wants to help us tame the chaos to experience the abundant life Jesus promises.

Angie packs “Unholy Mess” with ample research and statistics. She cites several studies and articles, and she sprinkles in volumes of vulnerability — she doesn’t claim to be perfect, and she won’t shame you. If you want to assess your values and priorities, Angie’s book is helpful, plus she isn’t dogmatic and her theology isn’t “Do this or you’re a sinner.” Instead, she provides Scriptures at nearly every turn of the page that help us prioritize our actions and our views, while confronting the cognitive dissonance we struggle with when we allow disorder to run amok.

We all need coaching in establishing healthy boundaries and the motivation to change. With clear writing and experience to back up her ideas, “Unholy Mess” will help you to adjust your habits and your attitudes, again all from a Christian approach/perspective. You’ll be encouraged and uplifted along the way as you learn about ways to apply the many practical strategies she offers. She offers a great filter on how to organize our lives: Declutter, arrange, and then maintain.

One of the aspects I liked most about Angie’s book were the reflective questions she provides to help you as you try to set realistic goals. The initial third of the book primarily addresses our relationship with God, the next third transitions to the “how to,” and the last third —which was my favorite part of the book — covers the obstacles to decluttering and how to manage our future so we don’t fall back into our old habits.

Some of the big takeaways I found to be extremely helpful were her thoughts on being purposeful with our possessions, her stewardship strategies, and how she aptly blended theology with theory, philosophy and application. She does so, balancing topics covering the physical mess we observe along with the inability we wrestle with to be fully present, like with others over a meal, and how much more of an abundant life God has for us when we overcome the chaos.

This book is a great resource, and it has a lot of potential for small group ministries. Certainly your small group could go through the book together, but that’s not my point. How often have you been embarrassed to have company over because your countertops haven’t seen daylight and the couch is hidden under a pile … OK, I know that’s an exaggeration, but my point is, many people feel uncomfortable inviting people over when their house isn’t up to the standard they would like it to be. So this book will help us with the ministry of hospitality and help us as the church to open our homes to others more as we tame the chaos.

I know minimalism is in vogue these days, but I assure you Angie isn’t preaching privation and asceticism. She simply offers a better way to contentment as you organize the space you occupy, free up a lot more of your time, and experience more joy than you ever will when your inner and outer life are cluttered. The consequences of a cluttered life simply aren’t worth it, and Angie will show you clearly that clutter is not a burden we were designed to carry.

By Craig Cottongim

The direction this article is taking: Address why church planting is more relevant now than ever in recent history, why many plants fail, clarify what a church plant is, and discuss the nitty-gritty of church plants.

Why planting matters now

With the Covid-19 crisis, many churches will run low on funds, fold their tents and shut down, but there will still be many believers and ministers with a fire in their bones who want to see the kingdom of God continue to expand.  The traditional format of a church owning property and having a fulltime, fully loaded staff is waning and has been at risk for decades.  

The future of how churches are structured and operate is fluid, and it will look different in 10 years than it does today.  Many churches, even those with 200 members or more will see an increase in having a bivocational staff.  Giving is down,  based along generational lines, and many churches face shrinking budgets.  Therefore church plants which can streamline, simplify, and operate with a minimalist structured format will become, more and more, a better option over time.  Church plants can operate on a smaller scale, with less financial resources, and they can generate more enthusiasm than an established congregation.  

Also, many people in and out of church are disillusioned with how established churches have handled their resources and people.  They long for something that feels more authentic and real.  They aren’t looking to their churches for where to have funerals and weddings, or where their kids can find alternatives to sports.  People want to make a difference and be a part of something that gives them a sense of belonging and purpose, and they aren’t finding that in declining churches who argue “over the color of the carpet.”  

We are entering, or have entered, a day and age when planting churches is necessary to replace congregations whose doors have closed, and to open doors to people who wouldn’t necessarily visit an established church.  I see this transition in how the church will look sort of like when we moved from horse & buggy to the automobile, but now somewhat in reverse.  Imagine a world where we no longer had paved roads, and cars pretty much became obsolete, you would return to horseback rather quickly.  That is what our landscape reflects in the realm of church and ministry, we have plenty of automobiles, but the roads are washed out and unnavigable.   

Nothing compares with starting off with a clean slate and pursuing a God-given dream to reach lost people.  But, after the dust settles and the new wears off, nothing can prepare you the cycle of the highs & lows either…. 

Why plants fail (and the overwhelming majority do in the first few years)

There has been a lot of ink split over how to launch a church plant, but the reality is there is no “one-size” fits all church planting formula.  There are many books & seminars on church planting, but don’t depend on those resources too much, if you do you won’t last long.  Many plants fail because having consulted their resources and 3-ring binders, they only see the need to raise money, find a location, aim for the attractive bells and whistles, and generate the initial excitement of a launch… without a vision for the future or comprehending what church plants should eventually become.  

Your church isn’t a carnival, it isn’t a slip & slide park, it’s not an outdoor concert venue or an inflatable castle in the park.  The old axion, “What you win people with is what you win them to” is extremely applicable in planting a church.  Fads, gimmicks & tricks are not synonymous with evangelism and they will not sustain your church plant for long.  You are doomed from the start if you think your plant will grow when you base it on anything less than a Christcentered community.  

Find your niche and reason for planting a church that goes beyond what you are against or what you don’t like about other churches in your region.  Plants fail because their vision of ministry was limited only to how everyone else was doing it all wrong…

Also, planting a church is a lot of hard work and seemingly unrewarding work.  It gets lonely for the leadership team and there are plenty of feelings of being unappreciated to go around for everyone.  For example, talk about boring, think about filling out the paperwork for your 501 c3 exemptions/status, drafting your articles of incorporation, and building your website…

Church plants also fail when conflict goes unresolved, just like in an established church.  The difference is, in a church plant you experience magical-thinking that deceives you into thinking you’ll never disagree with your “dream-team.”  Sometimes, core members work overtime and never rest, and they experience compassion-fatigue which wears thin on patience, which is a tinderbox for conflict.  Share the load and keep an open line of communication.  Your leadership team needs to spend time relaxing together, playing games, going out to eat, and talking about other things in life other than just the plant.  

The independence of a church plant comes at a cost, and people forget to count the cost until it’s too late.  For example, your relationships with former churches and members will be strained, especially when members or extended families are separated by “loyalties” to one congregation or the other.  Your reputation will be on the line too, people will question your motives and methods.  None of the planting process is ever easy.  

What usually kills a church plant though, is contentment.  When the dust settles and the hard work seems over, people slow down, they invite less friends, they back off in participating.  Planting a church is hard work, the hardest perhaps.  

What is a church plant?

When a church of 500-1000 peels off 100-150 members and relocates their “team” to the other side of town, that’s not a plant.  That’s a transplant.  By the way, some of the largest and most successful multi-campus churches are paring down their multiple locations and restructuring to accommodate members at their central campus.  When you get angry and leave your “home” church with the rest of the correct members to start a church, that’s not a plant, that’s a spant (split-plant).  

“It’s easier to birth a new body than revive a dead corpse” – Anonymous

A church plant is when a group of believers establish a new congregation.  They might own a building, rent a school gym, or meet in someone’s basement.  They might have paid-preachers, they might have a crew of volunteers.  It’s doubtful your community “needs” another church, but they probably do need a better/contextual church that can reach your community more effectively.  

The nitty gritty, down and dirty…

Most of church planting isn’t glamorous and it doesn’t reflect what you’ve read in a seminary textbook.  It doesn’t take long to discover there’s nothing beneath you, from setting up chairs in a rented space to picking up donuts for worship.  Soon, you’ll be delivering groceries to people who hear about you, you’’ll be serving in your local foodbank, running errands for people who can’t afford a car, and you’ll help out in a soup kitchen run by people with polar opposite theological views.  

You’ll be a cheerleader to the troopers who helped you launch, a promoter of your church in your town, a vocal recruiter, and chaplain to any local group who needs you, what you won’t be for long is super excited.  Planting churches is exhausting and it’s mostly uphill work, one step forward and two back.  Yes there’s forward movement, but it’s not all peaches and cream.  And eventually, your church needs a new identity beyond being a “plant.”  When the dust settles and you pass a certain threshold of so many years, you’re no longer a plant, you’re just a plain old simple church.

Also, you’ll find more ministry will take place in your small groups and informal settings than in your temporary space where you gather.   One of the biggest drains on your energy and time will be “Sunday morning,” which is fine, but the return on your efforts will more than likely be from what happens during the rest of the week.  

Even though in a church plant you can do whatever you want, there are no traditions you have to worry about violating or established ways of “how we’ve always done it”, you don’t do whatever you want.  Church planting teaches you to respect people in ways established church ministry can’t.  Suddenly (picture in your mind those Forest Gump memes “just like that…) contemporary and traditional struggles evaporate.  You see the need to blend music genres and topics, for the benefit of the whole body, not just those you “want to” reach.

A church plant doesn’t need anyone’s approval or acceptance to be authentic, quit looking for permission to begin a very biblical practice.  A lot of church members think planting a church is exciting, but it’s not for them.  Hogwash.  I think everyone should participate at least once in a plant.  It will stretch your faith and hone your skills.  It requires a deep trust in God, an ability to hear the whispers of the Holy Spirit, and a desire to see people experience Jesus in new and fresh ways.  

PS: One piece of advice I want to pass on as far as preaching is concerned to a church plant.  I know most of us feel Exegetical/Expository preaching is the only authorized style of preaching, i.e., Book by book, chapter by chapter — that’s fine and has its place, but not in a plant.  Topical preaching becomes the best form of preaching in a church plant because your audience is shuffled from week to week.  Even your team will be in and out of the worship service, and expository preaching will increase the difficulty of people following your trajectory.   Topical preaching is more flexible, adaptable, interesting,  and it can be relevant to whatever the current situation is with an audience that is shifting from week to week.  

Craig Cottongim, Minister at New Song Church, Kingsport TN 

Chances are, your minster won’t tell you what I’m about to.  In no particular order, eventually, I want to share some insights with you into the inner world of being in ministry.  

Before I get started, let me say, I’ve been preaching for over 25 years and I love the church and I enjoy the role I have in ministering.  I can’t think of anything more rewarding than ministry. The road I’m on has been bumpy at times, smooth and extremely blessed at other times.  I have no axe to grind here, but I do want raise your awareness on some areas we usually remain silent on.

Why do I want to articulate this?  Congregations all across the nation are faltering, but one key component to a healthy church is stable leadership.  The longer most preachers remain in a congregation, the greater their influence in the community can be. I simply want to help out here, and help you know what goes on in the mind of the minister so that maybe you can understand us a little better, and maybe something good can come from these points.  

This is not a rant, I’m not angry, and I do not think negatively of the church. I simply hope to help you minister to your minster more effectively than perhaps you have in the past.

“But, aren’t we all ministers, aren’t we a priesthood of believers?”  If this is really your first question, I hope you’ll keep reading. When I write “minister” I’m referring to someone who has dedicated their time and energy to full-time church work and occupationally they earn their bread from ministering in a local congregation.

Here are some insights into the mind of the minister for your consideration:

We are more introverted than you assume.  It’s hard to imagine how a life of study and hours of reading wouldn’t attract introverted individuals.  Yet, many members are surprised when we confess our introverted leanings — but since there’s a stigma attached to being introverted, we mainly keep quiet about it.  We aren’t shy. It’s not that we don’t love people, and we aren’t hermits, it’s just that an overexposure to people leaves us sapped and drains our emotions and our ability to be creative.  We are recharged and energized when experience the blessings of solitude. We relish the time we have to study quietly. I wish I could’ve been like Marvin Phillips, but that’s not how I’m built and more than likely, neither is your minister.  

Often, we feel alienated and misunderstood.  When we went to Bible college and Seminary, we were surrounded with “like minded” people who deeply shared our passion and our goals.  Serving in a congregation, we are surrounded by people who have full time obligations like raising kids, working jobs, and commitments that stretch beyond the church.  We don’t always make the transition into the local church without carrying this tension of being between two worlds as well as we should, and sometimes this keeps us from forming deeper personal relationships with you.  

We frequently worry about how ministry impacts our family.  There’s a memorable song from another generation that goes something like, “The only one who could ever reach me, was the son of a preacher man…” Worry about the stresses and strains of vocational ministry and its impact on your home go far beyond being concerned “will our children rebel?”  The “fish bowl” analogy is real but it pales to the notion that the church expects far more from the minister’s family than it does most of the rest of her families. What we’d like to say is, “You ‘hired’ me, not my family,” but we don’t want to rock the boat too much. We need help guarding our family at home more than we let on.  

We aren’t experts, but we have special skills you should utilize.  It can be awkward having a room full of volunteers deciding your next pay raise, but it’s extremely frustrating when your ideas are neglected on a whim because someone doesn’t like to change.  Forget that you’ve had a few courses on the subject and the time to study it out, and the good fortune to meet with other church leaders who’ve implemented the idea. Hear us out, we only want what’s best for the Kingdom.

We have real financial needs.  Sadly, the average preacher spends more time in school than in the pulpit.  The last statistic I read concerning this said preachers quit ministry before their fourth year.  Yet, many of us rack up tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt to get the training we need to serve.  It’s been a long time since I’ve heard the saying, “We keep’m poor to keep’m humble,” but still many ministers languish with lower than usual salaries.  Ministers would like to be ample providers for their families too. No, we don’t go into ministry to get rich, but we don’t pursue the ministry to struggle either.

We are workaholics.  Unfortunately, we suffer from burnout long before anyone notices.  We need, not want, but need sabbaticals. When the average person goes home from work, they leave their responsibilities at the office.  Not us. We are on call 24/7, we “work” most holidays, and even when we are not in person-present serving, our minds never shut down. Every four or five years, beyond our vacation time, bless us with a month or two off to recuperate, the dividends that would pay are immeasurable.  

There’s probably more I could add, but please think on this: Your minister needs to be ministered as much as anyone else in the congregation.  We are constantly trying to feed the flock, and sometimes we end up malnutritioned ourselves. No one wins when that happens. For the sake of the Kingdom, if you haven’t already I hope you’ll consider meeting the needs of those who minister to you and mutually blessing each other.  

I really thought we belonged to a loving church, the kind that accepts broken and wounded people.  Lately I’ve learned it’s easy to pay lip service to being a loving and welcoming church, the type that doesn’t judge people. It’s easy to claim this when it’s in the abstract. It’s another story when you have a concrete opportunity to test out just how loving a church is.  

You never really know how healthy a church is until it’s faced with the chance to manifest its true colors.  We had just that type of opportunity recently where I preach, when one of our sons returned home after a month in rehab.

Our son wrapped up 2018 wrecking two vehicles and he kicked off 2019 racking up two DUI’s in the first month.  That’s when he decided he was ready for rehab. He spent a month there. Two days ago I drove over 100 miles to pick him up from rehab, and when he came to church today, no one shunned him or treated him differently.  

Our church has been loving and supportive, and this is a breath of fresh air for me.  There are enough people trashing “the church” these days, which is why I’d like to share our family’s experience — to let you know there are good churches out there who do love people even when they make major mistakes, even in a minister’s family.  

I realize in some churches, I would’ve been taken into the boardroom and the elders would’ve “quietly” asked me to relocate when our son’s recent problems became public.  For us, that wasn’t the case at all. Our church has been praying for our son weekly during the worship service and we’ve received a lot of encouragement.

I’m not now, nor through this whole process have I been ashamed of our son.  He’s the preacher’s kid with the tattoos and the child out of wedlock. He’s also the one with a heart of gold, and a sense of compassion that reaches beyond my understanding.  My love for him hasn’t diminished in the slightest. Am I sad and disappointed? Have I cried, have I grieved, have I been frustrated? Sure. But not once did it ever enter my mind to be embarrassed of him.  In fact, as troubling as this situation has been, we’re proud of our son for admitting he has a problem and for taking steps to recover.

How did we get here?  I’m sure there’s a multifaceted answer as to how our son fell into this abyss, but I know of at least one contributing factor.  Sadly, ministry can be tough on its families. Our son was at the wrong age when we went through the fallout from a catastrophic church conflict.  Our older two sons were more stable emotionally being college-age at that time and our youngest son was too young to know what was going on then. But our son who just finished rehab was in his mid-teens back then and he was hit the hardest.  Coincidentally, he shared with my wife and me, he wasn’t the only preacher’s kid in the rehab.

It’s one thing to wait for the prodigal to return, it’s another to have them home and try to navigate through the emotional minefields.  None of our ministry classes at Harding prepared me for this, none of my professors ever admitted to dealing with this type of struggle.  There have been many sleepless night, many tears, and a lot of stress. I’m not going to lie, it’s not easy. Drug addiction is like cancer or layoffs, you always think, “That happens to other people, not us.”  

While our son was in rehab we’ve had a lot, I mean tons of folks encouraging us.  At first I was surprised, but it really only makes sense. For starters, we aren’t alone in this problem; lots of people are going or have gone through this (many, sadly silent out of shame).  And secondly, authentic christians rally around those who are hurting and they minster to each other. I’m thankful for the love we’ve received in the midst of this turmoil — especially from our church family.  

There are awesome congregations out there, yes even in our Restoration Movement!  And while sometimes “church” takes its toll on us, not all churches are backwards and legalistic.  If you haven’t already, may you find a church family that “practices what they preach” and may your church family grow in grace and mercy.    

It’s been nearly seven years since I’ve preached in a church of Christ.  And on certain nights I lose sleep, suffering through the nightmares that occasionally haunt me as scenes play out from old elder’s meetings, and the negativity cranky members spewed out.  So, I’m really not sure why I still engage in conversations surrounding the churches of Christ, in person or on social media.

While I was saved worshiping in a mainline church of Christ, and I preached for about 15 years in churches of Christ, presently I’m preaching in a “non denominational” congregation.  It seems weird, nearly sacrilegious, saying I have a love-hate relationship with the C of C, but that sums it up for me.  

I love many of the people and the core ideals that are foundational to the acappella branch of the Restoration Movement, but I’m emotionally exhausted and repulsed by the latent legalism and judgmentalism that is corroding her.  It seems like I can’t shake off my past completely, since apparently I still care.  

Someone recently asked me in a Facebook thread after I pointed out Paul’s practices, why the “brethren” in the C of C ignore Paul’s continued ties to his judaistic roots as Luke records in the book of Acts, and it struck me, if you pull one thread too much, the whole fabric unravels.  In other words, if we accept that Paul worshiped with instruments (thus offering an “example or inference” of New Testament believers worshiping with instrumental music), then maybe we are wrong about our acappella stance, and if we are wrong about that, what else might we have been mistaken about?  It’s too scary to even contemplate for some.  

No matter how firm the foundation is, a house of cards is doomed to failure.  The fragile-faith of many of the well-intending but ever so fearful members of the C of C is the crux of the issue.  If one gray area can hold complete sway over us, then we are in trouble.  There I go, using “we” when most of the folks I know wouldn’t consider me as part of the fold, based on my understanding of the non-essentials.  

It’s unhealthy to claim “who’s in and who’s out” because of doctrines that are argued mainly through the silence of the Bible on those topics.  To come back from the brink, it’s time to reassess how “we” will deal with gray issues.  Simply quoting, “In the essentials unity, the non-essentials liberty, and in all things love” isn’t enough and it has to become more than a platitude, if people are going to grow and mature.   

Jesus didn’t say all men would know we were His disciples, if only we would understood every doctrine correctly.  He said love was the ultimate testimony.  Therefore a good starting point in interpreting and applying the Bible would be to focus on developing love, instead of attempting to prove we are the only ones who are right.  Love is the only way to build on the firm foundation.  

Shortly after the discovery of fire and just before the end of the last ice age, I was a student at Harding. In one of our ministry classes, we were supposed to write a book review on a certain preaching textbook. I remember in my paper, critiquing the fact that the author used the term “pastor” when referring to the “minister.” Ugh, I had so much yet to learn.

October is “Pastor Appreciation month.”

Just visit any Christian bookstore or turn on your local Christian radio station, everyone, everyone else that is, is talking about it. If you are one of the folks who never gets to sit with your spouse during Sunday morning’s worship service, never gets a three-day weekend, has “elders’” meetings before Sunday School, often neglects your children from working 60-70 hours a week while being on call 24 hours a day, and you have about 200 volunteers deciding too much of your future, this month’s special recognition of “pastors” holds some significance.

Our “non-denominational denomination” needs to realize that “Pastor” isn’t a denominational term. It isn’t copyrighted, no one owns the word “Pastor.”

After over 20 years in ministry, I can tell you, it gets old when the mayor introduces you during a prayer breakfast, or when you read a book to an elementary classroom and you are introduced, or when you perform a funeral and you are introduced, it gets old saying, “Technically, I’m not the pastor…” Not only does it get old, it’s kind of silly and pointless.

Why do so many of our congregations struggle to identify our pulpit-filling, teaching, counseling, leader, and “face of our congregation” as a “pastor?” It seems to be more about power and control than it does Biblical interpretation. We seem to like to keep our “preachers” under the authority of the elders more than we want to empower our preachers to unleash all of their God-given gifts. We’d rather emasculate our preachers than risk having them, potentially, become too powerful to control.

Why is that we have to have at least two men to have an “eldership,” but we can have a congregation with a “preacher” without any elders if there are none “qualified” to serve as elders? How have we overlooked the fact that Paul gives instructions to the “evangelist” for the evangelist to select the elders in 1st Timothy? Because we are inconsistent. We split hairs, and in doing so, we split heads and break hearts.

There’s nothing in the Scriptures forbidding us from identifying the “minister” as the pastor or “a” pastor. Do the passages in the Bible regarding this topic require a plurality of elders, pastors, or shepherds? I actually prefer the term Shepherd to elder, and words do have meaning in our minds. I’m not interested in arguing over the “number” of those who serves, as much as I am for standing up for the folks whom God says are a “gift” to the body in Ephesians 4:11 ff..

May we all come to a better understanding of the role of those who preach, teach, guide, protect, counsel and pastor our flocks, and may we express our appreciation for those who serve our congregations as they follow God’s calling. May we do so with honor and integrity, and may we do so with sincere hearts. May we empower our servant-leaders to dream big dreams for God’s Kingdom, and to lead us to love God and our neighbors wholeheartedly.

Bivocational, it’s a term that not everyone is familiar with. It means to work two jobs simultaneously or to serve in two vocations at once. When applied to pastoral work, it is to serve in a church and to support oneself financially with some supplemental income from a secular occupation.

Does this lifestyle have pros & cons? Certainly. Is it for everyone who pursues ministry? Probably not, or is it? There is some data suggesting future trends will include many more churches who will turn to staffing which will be mainly bivocational. Why? Between decreasing attendance and lower contributions in many churches across denominations, this leadership transition might become more of a necessity than a personal choice for ministers and congregations alike.

So what does it feel like to be bivocational? It’s an odd position, given our culture’s projection of what the successful preacher supposedly looks like. On the one hand, you feel like something is wrong with you, or you don’t measure up, thus the need for a secular job as well. After all, if you were doing your job well enough, your church would be able to support you financially. On the other hand, you feel connected with more people who might never darken the doorway of your local church.

At times, when you are bivocational, you can feel rather second-rate, B-team, subpar. Instead of people greeting you as “Brother” (that affectionate moniker for the minster) you think they see you as their “step-brother.” Sometimes you think people don’t take your ministry role as serious as they would if you were in full-time ministry, or they assume the bivocational phase is just a stepping stone.

Also, when you are living in two worlds at once like this, you feel at times rather ineffective. You are stretched rather thin between trying to be engaged in full time “work” and attempting to be fully dedicated to the ministry you feel called to. It’s confusing, at times, to say the least.

Is there a Biblical precedent for this style of ministry? The Apostle Paul is probably the most common case, he was considered a “tentmaker” and he often fully supported himself as well as his companions. Of course there are some differences in what we experience today in contemporary bivocational ministry and what we read about in Paul’s case. For example, Paul traveled more often than he ever settled down in a local community. And, he might have turned down financial support from local congregations to teach certain churches a meta-lesson, or he may have chosen to be a tentmaker to distinguish himself from false apostles who were out to bilk believers.

So why does this subject matter? For starters, it might become more familiar to a wider range of believers as time goes on, so it’s good to be up to speed on this topic sooner than later. Also, it is an important topic since so many people are already involved in a bivocational ministry, and they could use the encouragement of the masses.

This topic matters since there is probably a slight social stigma attached to being bivocational, and most people (more than likely) won’t all understand the circumstances. Bivocational doesn’t mean under-trained or incompetent, and it would be helpful for people to recognize the validity of this style of ministry.

If you thought ministry in general was tough on the preacher’s family, it’s even more demanding when you are bivocational. Churches who have a bivocational minister should be more sensitive to this strain on their ministers.

Yet, there is a sense of authenticity when you find yourself in a bivocational ministry, a rewarding feeling that you are following your true calling. There is certainly nothing wrong with a church providing you with your entire income while serving as their minister, yet, when you are out earning a living elsewhere you know you aren’t in ministry solely for the money and the folks you minister to know you know what they experience week-in-week-out. Being bivocational feels odd at times, but it also feels rather incarnational as well.

By the way, I never aspired to being bivocational when I attended Bible College and then Seminary, but after about 20 years of serving in full time ministry in mainline churches, God led our family into a bivocational ministry. We’ve been serving this way for over five years, it has its ups & downs, but the blessings outweigh the struggles.

In the really gripping stories, the bad guys have some secret weapon that seems to be overwhelmingly superior in strength to anything the good guys can muster, and with a bit of cunning, the enemy will surely thwart the good guys with their diabolical weapon.  In these enthralling stories, the bad guys always have some powerful tool at their disposal that disables and immobilizes even the strongest hero. And while we know the good guys will win somehow, we never know how until nearly the end of the story.
How many times in your life have you had a well-intentioned conversation shut down with a simple, “Jesus said ‘Thou shalt not Judge”?  It seems like “who are you to judge me” or “you christian people are so judgmental” is like Kryptonite for modern believers.
In our culture, if you feel the slightest bit uncomfortable with the direction of any conversation, simply cry out, “Don’t judge me” and like a blue-statically-fizzling-forcefield, you will be protected from a distasteful dialogue, you are instantly shielded from anything incriminating and you can go along your merry way.  “Don’t judge” is your get-out-of-jail-free card, and oh, here’s your free $200 as you pass Go.
It seems like we are in quite a quandary.  They have us up against the wall.  Our hands seem tied.  Their ace in the hole has, it seems, successfully stifled us.  Who are we to judge?  What gives us the right to point out the faults in others?  Maybe they are right, and we should just mind our own business.
After all, didn’t Jesus clearly say, “Don’t Judge” and didn’t He say something about getting the log out of your own eye before you go fumbling around, swatting at a speck of dust in someone else’s eye?  Of course He did.  And isn’t it ironic that people will point to one prohibition from Jesus, that being don’t judge, to justify a lifestyle that elsewhere, had they bothered to read, Jesus would clearly denounce?  Yes it is.
My goal isn’t to let anyone off the hook here; judgmental people have issues they need to deal with, and the people being “corrected” for messing up their lives have serious issues to fix too.  Perhaps the missing piece for most people is the vulnerability factor.  Whenever we go down the road of pointing out the faults in others, we invite in some critiquing of ourselves as well.  Which after all, is not only fair, it should also be welcomed, as Proverbs 27:17 points out, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.”  Let’s see if we can reconcile this conundrum about do we judge or do we keep our lips sealed, and let’s see if we can remain inline with the heart of Jesus along the way.
Let’s look at what Jesus actually said in Matthew 7:1-6,
“Judge not, that you be not judged.   For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.  Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.  Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.”
Number one, there are ways to address people who are screwing up their lives without being critical or harsh or hateful.  And frankly, if someone is on the train-tracks and a train is about to run them over, we have an obligation to warn them about the direction they are headed.  So, yes, just like the saying, “friends don’t let friends drive drunk,” if we care about someone, sometimes we do have to interject ourselves.  Remember, James writes, ” My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” (James 5:19-20)
Also, Jesus’ famous statement “don’t judge” comes within the context where He warns about pigs and dogs, and pearls such things, in other words He requires we make judgement calls about situations and people, without sentencing them eternally.  There is a difference between judging someone and making a judgement call.  Judging someone entails we know their status with God, and we are assigning them their eternal status in heaven or hell.  Making a judgment call, on the other hand, is pointing out an observation on an objective fact without playing God.   See the difference?
The “don’t judge me” phrase being tossed around these days forgets, we do have the obligation to discern good from evil, safe from harmful, right from wrong, and this is in the context that we need to do a little self-checking along the way.  Jesus never forbids or prohibits us from stating the obvious, He simply says make sure your own lifestyle reflects someone with credibility.  Be someone worth listening to.  Don’t miss it, Jesus said once your log is out of the way, you’ll see clearly enough to help remove that irritating speck of sawdust from your brother’s eye.
Brother’s eye.  Brother’s eye?  Does this mean this passage is built on the relationships between believers, and those outside the church aren’t even at stake here?  Wouldn’t that be judgmental too, though?  Paul wrote in Romans 6:20, “When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.”  Yet, if someone is outside of Christ, don’t they deserve to hear about His saving grace?  From Jude 1:22-23, it looks like yes, “And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.”  Perhaps christians should be held to higher standards, but everyone deserves a shot at life.
One thing is clear here, our standards which we have for others will be held up for us to uphold.  If we expect perfection from others, Jesus may just expect that out of us.  Also, it seems like it’s human nature to point out other people’s mistakes while ignoring our own, this may be one of our greatest character flaws.  But also notice, this whole paragraph requires we recognize the significance of sins, i.e., lesser & greater wrongs summed up as sawdust & logs.  And, we need to be cautious with whom we distribute holiness to and with whom we share our jewels with.  Events could turn bad quickly, and we could be endangered instantaneously if we are unable to make a judgement call.
So, you can’t have it both ways.  You can’t be a christian who lives like a hypocrite and call out the sins in others, and, you also can’t live like a reprobate pagan and quote Jesus only on the “don’t you judge me” verse.  If you want to help others live holier lives, set the example.  If you want to use Jesus’ phrase about not judging others, you need to accept the rest of His teachings as well, which call us to submit to Him and live lives of holiness.
The reality of it is, there are consequences from our actions and attitudes.  When we live in sinful lifestyles and when we are judgmental, we suffer and other people suffer.  I could be wrong, but I think Jesus teaches in this passage that being judgmental might just forfeit our own salvation.  I doubt I’m wrong about this, but I’m fairly certain that Jesus teaches several times in the Gospels sin is bad because sin separates us from the Father.
Everyone seems to think Jesus will condone whatever course of action they see fit, at the time.  Would Jesus condemn a critical person’s judging of another?  Yes, absolutely.  Would Jesus let the one being judged off of the hook because they got “judged” by some bible-thumper?  Hardly.
Maybe, if we showed more respect, lived lives that displayed unconditional love, and freely offered forgiveness, maybe people would ask us for advice or help more often?  And, maybe if we didn’t make stupid choices, people wouldn’t feel obligated to point out our mistakes.  Ouch.
Consistency, that’s usually what’s missing whenever we take the words of Jesus out of context and seek license to live however we want or treat others however we want.  Seek for better consistency, and maybe you’ll gain the credibility you desire.  I’m pretty sure consistency is the way we disarm the evil one’s secret weapon.  Now, do we cut the blue wire or the red wire…?

What I’ve loved about Wineskins for over two decades now, is its safe environment to exchange our new ideas, or to even stretch our comfort zone.  I would like to utilize this format now to raise an issue none of us really want to face head-on, yet this common struggle is decimating us.

Take a deep breath, and let’s be brave together.  If there’s one great weakness we’ve mutually experienced through our blessed Restoration Movement, it is the inevitable fracturing within our fellowships.  Our tendency towards fragmentation is the “elephant in the room” and it is our Achilles tendon.

The main factor contributing to our division isn’t necessarily what we typically think it is.  Our main problem does not stem from the way we individually view Scripture, or how we might understand doctrinal positions like women’s roles, or even how we chose to worship.  I think those are all red herrings.

Our inability to maintain unity is due to our lack of one very particular skill.  Conflict resolution.

We are afraid of conflict because we are unequipped to manage it.  Our anxiety levels skyrocket at the mere thought of confrontation.  We therefore repeat an unhealthy cycle, over an over again, one that almost feels like a self-fulfilling prophesy.  Conflict, to be clear, isn’t the problem, but not knowing how to deal with it is killing our brotherhood.

I know about this fallout from a painful and very personal experience.  Several years back as I ministered in what could be described as a fairly mainline church, we eventually called up the “Church Doctor” when our corporate pain was unbearable.  Yes, we reached out to none other than Charles Siburt.  Two years after our work with Dr, Siburt concluded, the pain was still too raw for a slim percentage of our congregation, and nothing would satisfy this small group short of my departure.

This is a story that feels as old as time itself.  A church has a conflict, the minister moves on or there’s a new set of elders installed, and we repeat the same scenario three to five years later.  As a result, we all limp along, somewhat wounded, somewhat cynical.  Could this be why so many of our younger people shy away from our churches?

But that’s not the end of the story.  We can write a new chapter when God happens to breathe new life into those who are open to His moving.  It seems like the Spirit is closest to us in our most difficult times, or shortly thereafter.  And, afterwards, once the healing begins, we learn to apply some of the core Scriptures that instruct us on how to live as a community, on how to get along, on how to be the Body.

If we want to thrive in our congregations and see God’s Kingdom increase, we need a new perspective on conflict.  If you attempt to implement change, you can be sure there will be conflict.  Conflict is almost necessary for growth, because at its basic level conflict is nothing more the friction that happens as two or more opinions are shared.  Conflict is neither evil nor harmful, what makes conflict healthy or unhealthy is how we manage it.

Sadly, in our Movement we haven’t had the greatest history of dealing with our conflicts very well.  The good news is, once we acknowledge our very real problem, we can turn a new page and embrace our differences, and we can overcome our conflicts through practicing the one doctrine that unequivocally bonds us together, that being, Love.  It’s only by this Love that all people will know that we are His people.

Call me old fashioned, but maybe it’s time we revive an old saying in earnest, “In the essentials unity, in the non-essentials liberty, and in all things love.”