Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Seeking a Senior Minister – Can’t Miss Interview Questions

I love meaningful conversations with my church members. They are intelligent and fun – a great combination.

I love a conversation that leaves me thinking. I had one this Sunday morning. It was about finding a new minister. Our church is in the process of searching for a Senior Minister. It is a difficult task and it is difficult for several reasons. The minister – church member relationship is exactly that – a relationship. It is much more like a marriage than it is a boss-employee relationship. Though some church members believe they are the pastor’s boss, he or she is not. The pastor answers to the Board of the church and ultimately to the Lord.

It is impossible to use the usual (normal) methods of filling a position. The information about the candidates on the papers denominations circulate fails to give the search committees much help. It is nice to know where the candidate went to school and where they worked. But it is impossible to read the papers and get a feel for their theology, philosophy, work ethic, personality and the really important things that make or break a successful pastorate. Of course the search committee has available to them sample sermons and references. But, as a preacher friend once told me, every preacher has at least one good sermon. And references: if they can’t find three people with something nice to say about them, they should just go ahead and leave the ministry.

The interviews are something else. In all of the interviews I have experienced, it has been the rare occasion that I have been asked any meaningful or relevant questions. Instead, when interviewing candidates, the committee members dip into their own experiences of being interviewed for their jobs and end up asking “normal” interview questions that are almost meaningless for finding a minister. But the committee tries to use them anyway.

I have been asked questions like:
  • What is the most difficult situation you have dealt with in your ministry? Answer: People like you.
  • Do you visit people in their homes and in the hospital? Answer: Do preachers do that? I had no idea.
  • Are you a good preacher? Answer: Or course I am. I am Billy Graham’s role model. (I have yet to hear a preacher describe him or herself as an average preacher.)
  • Do you think children and youth are the future of the church? Answer: It is supposed to by a resounding YES. But the correct answer is – Children and youth are the church, now.
  • What would you do if someone criticized you? Answer: I would be totally shocked. I’ve been in the ministry for four decades and no one has ever criticized me.
  • Can you work well with our Board of Directors? Answer: Can anyone work well with your Board of Directors?
  • What will you do about evangelism and church growth? Answer: I, of course, will do all of the evangelism for the church. That is what you are paying me for, isn’t it? And, with my awesome preaching, people will just flock in.
  • Will you work forty hours a week? Answer: Are you kidding? I only work on Sunday mornings. That is why I went into the ministry.
  • Will you keep office hours? Answer: Only if I am allowed to use the church computer to check my Facebook, Skype with my friends, watch Youtube videos for hours at a time and shop on Amazon and Ebay.
  • Do you do pastoral counseling? Answer: Yes. But only hot single chicks.

Okay, I have been asked those questions but those were not my answers. It was what I was thinking but not what not what I was saying.

Here is a list of questions I think I should have been asked.
  • Tell us your spiritual journey with emphasis on what your life was like before you accepted Jesus, how you came to know Jesus as a reality in your life and what difference has being a Christ follower made in your life?
  • On a scale of 1 -10, rank how much authority you attribute to the Bible.
  • What are your personal spiritual disciplines?
  • Describe the thing or things that you find most challenging in being a Christ follower.
  • What is the primary purpose of the church?
  • What are your core values?
  • What are you attempting to accomplish through your preaching?
  • What would you encourage church members to do to facilitate their spiritual growth?
  • What methods would you put in place to engage church members in ministry?
  • How is your relationship with your wife?
  • What will be her involvement in the church?
  • You are divorced. Tell us about that?
  • Who are your mentors and spiritual heroes?

If you are going to ask me questions, ask me questions that matter. Instead of trying to discover what I can do, find out who I am, what I believe and what moves and motivates me. Those are the things that will direct and empower my ministry in your church. The other things are learned skills or skills I can learn.

I am looking forward to my next interview. Hope there are some good questions.

Copyright © 2014, William T. McConnell, All Rights Reserved

Bill McConnell is Senior Minister at Lindenwood Christian Church in Memphis, Tennessee and is a Church Transformation consultant and a Christian Leadership Coach. He is a frequent speaker at Church Transformation events. His latest book on church transformation is DEVELOPING A SIGNIFICANT CHURCH and is available at Westbow Press. He can be contacted @ Connect with him on Facebook @ William T. McConnell or on Twitter @billmc45053 or visit his Amazon Author Page @ Amazon

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Expecting God – To Be Real

The Advent church season is a time of preparation for the coming of the savior of humankind.

For centuries the Jews were expectantly watching for the coming of the Messiah. As expectant as they were, they still missed him. Jesus failed to look like or act like they expected the Messiah to look and act like. They were expecting a conquering warrior and, instead, got a suffering servant. As we prepare our hearts this Advent I pray we don’t miss the Messiah. Jesus was called Emanuel which means God with us. What are we expecting God to be like and act like? Sometimes when it comes to things spiritual we tend to make them other-worldly, unreal and a bit strange. My hope is that when we are looking for God to be with us (Emmanuel), we are expecting God to be real.

The most important preparations we can make for the coming of the Messiah is Getting our Heads on Straight.

After we arrive on this earth, we start the process of learning and developing. In the process we develop a World View. Our world view is the lens through which we sees the world; attempt to make sense of the world; makes our decisions; makes judgments; makes plans; it is how we see and understand other people; it dictates how we live. The recent events in the news clearly show that different people have different world views which cause us to live differently and see and understand events differently.

As Christians our challenge is to have a Biblical Worldview. We are called to learn, as best we can, to see the world through the viewpoint of God as He is revealed in the Bible. It is a difficult challenge in many ways. First because research tells us that Americans are basically Biblically illiterate. And that includes a majority of us who claim to be Christ followers. And it is a challenge that is not for the meek nor the weak. Non-believers like to proclaim that claiming a faith in God is a copout for those too weak to live in “the real world.” Those who espouse such a view obviously don’t understand the full and true ramifications of being a disciple of Christ.

Jesus calls us to be Upstream People in a Downstream World. He asks us to love the unlovely and the unlovable. He insists that we no longer insist on being first in line and the center of our little universes. We are told to give rather than receive, to be givers instead of takers. He told us to forgive early and often. To even forgive the unrepentant. The world says that seeing is believing but we are encouraged to live by faith, not by sight. That believing is seeing.

If it is so difficult, why not take the easy road and live by a non-Biblical world view? There are a multitude of reasons. But central is the fact that such a world view doesn’t take into consideration God’s plan. The difference looks subtle but it is huge. The non-Biblical world view seems to make sense - like in this short story. “From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” (Matthew 16:21-23)

What Peter said made sense but was uninformed because he did not have an understanding of God’s plan.

Without a Biblical worldview we are left to make up our own standards for living. This leads to ungodly living and to our approving of ungodly living. Paul, in his letter to the church in Rome said this about that: “Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind; to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.” (Romans 1:28-32)

Why live by a Biblical worldview? What are the advantages? What is the payoff? Again looking at the letter to the Roman church: “Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.” (Romans 8:5-8)

We begin to understand and pursue the things of God. We are empowered to do what God is calling us to do and be who God is calling us to be. As we understand the ways and will of God, we can please God. We see others with the eyes of God. “’For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?’ But we have the mind of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 2:16)

At the core of having and living by a Biblical worldview is the choice of making Jesus the Lord of your life. Jesus put it like this. “You can’t worship two gods at once. Loving one god, you’ll end up hating the other. Adoration of one feeds contempt for the other. You can’t worship God and Money both. If you decide for God, living a life of God-worship, it follows that you don’t fuss about what’s on the table at mealtimes or whether the clothes in your closet are in fashion. There is far more to your life than the food you put in your stomach, more to your outer appearance than the clothes you hang on your body.” (Matthew 6:24-25)

As a young person I was urged to accept Jesus as my savior. And I did. But then I did something radical. I read the Bible. Over the years I have come to the conclusion that one cannot accept Jesus as ones savior. It is not an option. One must accept Jesus as the Lord of one’s life and he becomes ones savior.

It is a decision that will impact every area of your life: how you live; how you treat your family; who your friends are; your lifestyle; your spending; your use of time; every decision and choice you make.

Again in Romans: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:1-2)

Give yourself completely over to God as a living sacrifice and decide to no longer live like the world. Allow God to change your life and renew your mind through study, prayer and fellowship. Let the God who is with us be the God who changes us.

Copyright © 2014, William T. McConnell, All Rights Reserved

Bill McConnell is Senior Minister at Lindenwood Christian Church in Memphis, Tennessee and is a Church Transformation consultant and a Christian Leadership Coach. He is a frequent speaker at Church Transformation events. His latest book on church transformation is DEVELOPING A SIGNIFICANT CHURCH and is available at Westbow Press.

He can be contacted @ Connect with him on Facebook @ William T. McConnell or on Twitter @billmc45053 or visit his Amazon Author Page @ Amazon

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Locked Out of Church

It was Tuesday evening and my Life Group was deeply involved in our weekly meeting. Ironically we were discussing doing evangelism as a small group. During that conversation one of our group members, whom we assumed wasn’t coming, arrived late to the meeting. I won’t call her by name. Sally (oops) texted one of the members and said, “Hi y’all – church doors locked – can someone let me in?” That was her first of five texts to a group member who had shut off her phone. Finally she texted another group member, “HELP! OPEN THE DOOR!” What a great example of evangelism as we talked about evangelism.

There is nothing friendlier than a locked door, is there? What is a better way to make someone feel welcome at church, or anywhere, than by locking the door?

Every church I have ever been associated with has told me that they are friendly. In my denomination we like to talk about hospitality. For us that is about inviting everyone to participate in communion. Unfortunately sometimes we fail to be welcoming in the time and space between a guest’s arrival in the parking lot and being seating in the worship area. We expend much time, energy and words talking about welcoming people different than we and lose track of just being welcoming to everyone who shows up.

Many of us church folks fail to understand that visitors to a church worship service have decided whether they are coming back, or not, well before the sermon has started. And a big part of that decision is based on how they were welcomed (or not) upon their arrival. As much as it galls us preachers, the sermon is not on the top three list of why people come back to church after a primary visit. Unfortunately our (we think) fabulous preaching comes behind: a friendly and adequate welcome; a safe, clean and well-staffed nursery; and clean restrooms. Boy that can burst your “I am important” bubble.

Several years ago I was serving a church in a ministry to young adults and singles. I had gotten word of a Methodist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, that had a great singles ministry so I went there to visit on a Sunday morning. I remember getting out of my car, looking at the church, and thinking, where in the world to I start? Within seconds a very friendly person showed up in the parking lot and asked if I could use some help. They took the time to take me where I needed to be. Not only was the door unlocked, they were ready for visitors.  

I often enter into conversations with unchurched people who feel, in many ways, locked out of church. They feel they are different and thus unwelcome. They think they have to believe first before they can attend. That they need to make lifestyle changes before they would be welcomed. That there are “secret” things they must know and do before they can fit in. That if they come to worship they will stick out like a sore thumb, do something stupid, be singled out as an outsider or a sinner, used as a bad example, excluded from the insider, Christian part of the service. They fear being ignored and they fear being overwhelmed by aggressive, religious people. They thought of going to a worship service is very stressful to them. They feel locked out.

Church folks, it is time for us to unlock the church doors. Because the people out there who do not yet know and have not yet experienced God’s love and grace are trying to get inside the church to hear that message. “HELP! OPEN THE DOOR!”

Copyright © 2014, William T. McConnell, All Rights Reserved

Bill McConnell is Senior Minister at Lindenwood Christian Church in Memphis, Tennessee and is a Church Transformation consultant and a Christian Leadership Coach. He is a frequent speaker at Church Transformation events. His latest book on church transformation is DEVELOPING A SIGNIFICANT CHURCH and is available at Westbow Press. 

He can be contacted @ Connect with him on Facebook @ William T. McConnell or on Twitter @billmc45053 or visit his Amazon Author Page @ William T. McConnell

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Worship in the 21st Century Church

The church I presently serve has had a contemporary worship service for almost 15 years. They
have done this type of worship well for a very long time. The contemporary worship services at this church are some of the most deeply spiritually moving I have ever been in. What is different for me is having professional musicians as worship leaders. They have a completely different way of expressing things than I am used to hearing. Last week I heard these phrases during worship prep: “I will change instruments when I feel you ramping down.” “Don’t use a bunch of worship jargon.” “While you are praying I will be grooving in the background.” “Back out of the prayer time gently.” My favorite was when we were talking about opening the service and the praise leader said to the minister, “Just say something profound and spiritual.” Gosh, I thought everything I said was profound and spiritual. It is an interesting bunch to work with. I love them.
Several weeks ago I was engaged in conversation with one of our senior members who attends our wonderful traditional worship service. She was sharing with me about how much she enjoys the worship and music in the service she attends and really can’t understand why anyone would want to attend the contemporary worship. To her ears, the music is just noise. I am thinking she feels about contemporary Christian music like I feel about rap music – that’s not music. She was shocked and amazed when I told her that some of the deepest spiritual experiences I have ever had were during contemporary worship.
I have been involved in what is known as “Contemporary Worship” since the early 1970’s. I have seen it move through several changes and the genre has morphed in many ways. Each decade has fostered a change in songs and musical approach – a generation of praise music. When I was first involved there were no publishing companies involved in the movement and songs were passed around the church and the nation through word of mouth. If I heard a song while worshiping in Kansas City, I would write it down and take the song to my church in Louisville. It was cool to watch that happen. It felt a little 1st Century.
Slowly publishing houses were established that started providing songbooks, chord charts, music tapes and then CDs and then worship DVDs. There was Maranatha Praise and Worship, Vineyard Music, Hosanna Music, Integrity’s Praise! Music, Brentwood-Benson, Word, Hillsong and the list goes on. It has grown from nobody publishing that “new stuff” to a multimillion dollar industry.
Contemporary/Praise worship has been exciting to me because it was a great opportunity to move from doing worship as I had known it to something very different. The greatest change needed was not in music style but in the basic intent in our worship and what it accomplished. I know, because I was there, that for most of the 20th century the church became proficient in developing what could be called the consumer church. People came to church to consume; to have spiritual their needs met; to develop networks of friends; to have a place to marry them and bury them; to have Christian education provided for their children; to hear a good sermon (whatever that is) and enjoy some good music. People often bluntly state that they are church shopping. We came to church to take, not give. Mission and ministry opportunities were extremely limited. The emphasis was on hands-off missionary work. We paid someone to do it for us and prayed God never called us to the mission field. Not us – we had lives to live.
Sunday morning was the ultimate consumer experience. We went to a worship service. There was little emphasis on worship and a great emphasis on consuming. The average family went and occupied a pew and felt we were doing our Christian duty and doing God a favor by just showing up. We sat and watched and observed and critiqued. It wasn’t that blatant but it was close. After worship we gathered with family and friends and critiqued the sermon. Was it interesting? Was it understandable? Was it doctrinally correct? Was it too long? What was the theme? Next we moved on to the choir. Did you like the selection? Could you understand the words they were singing? Did anybody hit a wrong note? Next on the agenda were the Elders. How were the prayers? Too long or too short? Did they wander from the subject? Sunday dinner was critique time.
In all of the critiques I sat through, I never heard the most important, necessary and critical question asked: “Was God pleased with our worship?” In fact, mention of God never showed up in those sessions. It is not because we didn’t care about God, it was because we were a part of the consumer church and in that church those kinds of questions never came up.
My excitement about and hope for contemporary worship was that we could move from watching worship to participating in worship. And, for me, a few times in a few places that has happened. And when it does, it is awesome. God shows up and it is a powerful, moving, empowering and life changing experience.
Christianity in America still tends toward being a spectator sport that is watched and enjoyed but is rarely participated in. But I see a trend in the church of the 21st Century of a church that is becoming more missional, more participatory, more hands on. And that is happening some in worship. Lately many have been saying, “Don’t go to church; be the church.” May I add this: don’t go to worship; be the worship.
 Copyright © 2014, William T. McConnell, All Rights Reserved
 Bill McConnell is Senior Minister at Lindenwood Christian Church in Memphis, Tennessee and is a Church Transformation consultant and a Christian Leadership Coach. He is a frequent speaker at Church Transformation events. His latest book on church transformation is DEVELOPING A SIGNIFICANT CHURCH and is available at Westbow Press. He can be contacted @ Connect with him on Facebook @ William T. McConnell or on Twitter @billmc45053.

Monday, November 24, 2014

5 Thanksgiving Thieves

My life experience tells me that being thankful is not at the core of human nature. Like most children my mother often suggested and sometimes demanded that I thank someone for something they did for me. It didn’t come naturally. I remember back in the days of pen and ink communications having to write thank you notes to aunts and uncles for gifts I was not all that excited about or thankful for. Sometimes saying “Thank you” was much more mechanical than it was heartfelt.

Being thankful is one on those things about us that change when we come to know God. Thankfulness is just a part of knowing God. God is good and knowing God brings a new dimension to our lives: A deep heart of thanksgiving. Scriptures are full of the people of God giving thanks to God. If you want to see something powerful, do a scripture word search on thanks, thankful and praise. Those words are all over the Bible. For example: “Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever.” (1 Chronicles 16:34)

For most of us we are taught that the appropriate time to be thankful is after we have received something, when something has gone our way, when we are pleased with an outcome. Looking at scripture we sometimes see that there other times when it is appropriate to praise the Lord – to be thankful. Rarely does it occur to us to praise God first, before something happens. What we lose sight of is that it is powerful to praise, that there is power in praise. Get a load of these unusual battle plans. The Israelites are about to enter into battle with an enemy with far superior numbers. “After talking it over with the people, Jehoshaphat appointed a choir for GOD; dressed in holy robes, they were to march ahead of the troops, singing, 'Give thanks to GOD, His love never quits.'” 2 Chronicles 20:21 (MSG) It never world have occurred to me to send the choir first into battle. (Though I do know a couple of battered pastors who might consider it.) The choir went first because of the power of praise. God inhabits our praise and there is power in the presence of God.

As Thanksgiving approaches I am reminded of my father’s habit of asking each of us at the Thanksgiving dinner table to share something we were thankful for. I am fairly sure I missed the meal the year my reply was, “I would be thankful if I didn’t have to answer this stupid question and could go ahead and eat.” That didn’t work out so well for me.

So, what are you thankful for? Like my father, I suggest making a list of things you are thankful for. Here is my partial list.

  • My amazing wife
  • The joy of having seven wonderful children and 11 grandchildren.
  • An ever expanding circle of friends to share in living the life God has given me.
  • The ability to live a full life even with some health challenges.
  • A warm home and something to eat.
  • This church family.
  • My parents and how they raised me.
  • Being a part of a great church.
  • Beautiful sunrises and sunsets.
  • Laughter.

Thankfulness is difficult to learn and easily deflected. I find it interesting how one bad thing in our lives seems to cancel out all the good things? Like I used to tell the ambulance crews I supervised, “One ‘Oh, crap’ cancels out 12 ‘Atta, boys.’” Sometimes it seems there is a conspiracy afoot to keep us from living lives of thankfulness. I call these things Thanksgiving Thieves.

Thanksgiving Thieves come in many forms and many disguises.
  1. Greed & Coveting. What I have is never enough. I want more. If I have something I want something that is better. If someone else has something and it is better or different than what I have then what I have suddenly becomes junk. Modern Advertising is predicated and based on our inherent greediness. Advertising is designed to cause us to desire to have more and new and better stuff.
  2. Selfishness & Self-centeredness. It is difficult to be thankful when it is all about me. I can never have enough. It can never be anyone else’s way. I never stop wanting and taking more. I never notice that someone else has needs. I am never really thankful because I deserve to have everything I want any time I want it. Being self-centered doesn’t allow us to take our eyes off of ourselves and see what is going on around us. We have no perspective, nothing to compare our lives to. That is one of the reasons being involved in ministry or going on a mission trip is such an eye opener. It forces one to realize how fortunate and wealthy we are.
  3. Short sightedness. If you have ever been having a good day and had one person crab at you, most likely for the rest of the day you probably told everyone who asked that you were having a bad day. One blemish makes us feel ugly. One mistake makes us feel stupid. One sin makes us feel unworthy.
  4. Concentrating on the negative. I lived in a small town in Iowa for several years. We were surrounded by farmland and most people in the community either farmed or worked in the nearest city. Don Altman was a one armed farmer I knew in central Iowa. I knew many farmers lacking parts of their anatomies. These are farmers who attempted to release a bound up corn picker without turning it off. Like most Iowans, Don was no nonsense and direct and fun to be around. We were in the second year of a rather severe drought. It was early winter and several of us were at the Coop gathered around the stove listening to the farmers complaining. Don was greatly respected in the community, so when he spoke others listened. After listening to several minutes of nonstop complaining Don spoke up. “Is anybody at your house real sick? Was your house warm last night? Did you have breakfast this morning? Then shut up.” When I was a kid and ran around without shoes, I loved the good feelings of the surfaces under my feet until I happened to stub my toe. Suddenly all I could think about was that toe. My world revolved around that toe. My day was ruined because of that toe. Like me as a child, sometimes all we can see and think about is what is wrong; what we don’t like; what is not going our way. Somehow we can ignore all of the good and great things going on around us. A part of what causes that is that we truly believe that everything going on in our lives should be good and perfect. We deserve that. For something to be going against our will is just wrong, it is unnatural. Just as being positive is a habit, so is being negative. Always seeing the bad in a plan, a person or a possibility is learned behavior through practice. We can learn to do better.
  5. Taking and never giving. We start life as takers. If we weren’t we would not survive. Part of growing up is learning to be a giver. Unfortunately some people never learn this. They remain takers and develop a life-view that causes them to believe that everything should be given to them. And when life fails to deliver, they are both amazed and angered. Expecting everything to be going your way causes one to not be truly grateful for all one has. Why should I be grateful for getting what I deserve?

Like most things Jesus talked about, being thankful is, at the core, about attitude. We need to turn it around and develop an Attitude of Gratitude. A great piece of Biblical advice to develop this thankful attitude is found in Philippians 4:4-9. “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to GodAnd the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”

Gratitude is something we practice and develop in practicing these things.

  • Replace worry with prayer.
  • Replace complaining with thanksgiving.
  • Replace stinking negative thinking with positive praiseworthy thinking.
  • Put that into practice and the Thanksgiving Thieves who steal our thankfulness will fade out of our lives.

Copyright © 2014, William T. McConnell, All Rights Reserved

Bill McConnell is Senior Minister at Lindenwood Christian Church in Memphis, Tennessee and is a Church Transformation consultant and a Christian Leadership Coach. He is a frequent speaker at Church Transformation events. His latest book on church transformation is DEVELOPING A SIGNIFICANT CHURCH and is available at Westbow Press.   

He can be contacted @ Connect with him on Facebook @ William T. McConnell or on Twitter @billmc45053.

Monday, November 17, 2014

When Done is Done

This past Sunday I preached on my favorite topic, Jesus. I am a huge fan.

It was the final sermon in a series. And even though it isn’t Easter, I preached on what happened on the cross. I thought my topic was well worn and would not be new information to many of the veteran church members I was preaching to. I was shocked at the response. Over a dozen long time church members took the time to speak to me about how what I said was news to them and shared about how much that information impacted them. Some suggested I share the sermon in a blog. So here it is.

In John 19:28-30 (NIV) we pick up the narrative of Jesus at the very end of his life during the crucifixion. “Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, ‘I am thirsty.’ A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. When he had received the drink, Jesus said, ‘It is finished.’ With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”

When Jesus said “It is finished,” he said a mouthful. It has always been my observation that God sent Jesus to earth at the time He did because his story would be recorded in Greek. As all Biblical scholars know, Greek is a very exact language; much more exact than English. The definition of words in Greek are much clearer than in English. The word used to record Jesus’ final phrase is, in Greek, Tetelestai. It can be translated as: It is finished; it has been finished; it has been accomplished; as used in the market place – it has been paid for; written on a bill of sale it said, paid in full; at the end of a task – it has been accomplished; written across a court document of sentencing after the prisoner has done his time and paid the price – paid in full.

As we look at the scene of the crucifixion it would seem that the Romans government is in charge. Because of that, it seems strange that Jesus would be the one to declare that “It is finished.” Though it looked like his life (and death) was out of his control, he remained in control. Jesus was not killed on the cross. The scripture tells the reader that Jesus gave up his life. It was his choice. It was a sacrifice on his part for us.

When Jesus made this sacrifice we must investigate to understand what has really happened here. What has been accomplished on the cross? What has been finished? I believe several very important things happened. The Old Testament law and prophecy of the coming Messiah have been fulfilled. The power of evil on this earth has been broken. We no longer have to live under the control of sin. We don’t have to be controlled by: Others; By the fear of failure; Set free from our past and past mistakes; We are completely forgiven; It is paid in full – It is finished – It is done. Peter wrote to the early church and said, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.” 1 Peter 3:18 (NIV) Jesus did all of this so that he could bring us to God.

That is what Christ has done for us – Done for you. A question that begs answering is, “How does that impact your life?” It does in many ways. You can stop holding on to your failures. You can stop beating yourself up. You can stop being defensive. You can stop letting the past control the present and your future.

It is our human nature that causes us to struggle to understand and embrace God’s mercy and grace. We, somehow, want to earn and deserve what Christ has done for us. If that were possible, Jesus’ death on the cross would have been avoidable and a horrible insult to God and humankind. When we attempt to earn God’s gift of forgiveness I believe Jesus would say to us, “How dare you. I paid for your mistakes. It is finished.”

In Galatians 5:1 (NKJV) the writer gave some wonderful advice, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.”

It is finished. Your relationship with God is not dependent on what we do; it is dependent on what Jesus has done. What is done is done. It is finished.

Copyright © 2014, William T. McConnell, All Rights Reserved

Bill McConnell is Senior Minister at Lindenwood Christian Church in Memphis, Tennessee and is a Church Transformation consultant and a Christian Leadership Coach. He is a frequent speaker at Church Transformation events. His latest book on church transformation is DEVELOPING A SIGNIFICANT CHURCH and is available at Westbow Press. He can be contacted @ Connect with him on Facebook @ William T. McConnell or on Twitter @bill45053.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Off the Deep End

The following is taken from my latest book, Developing a Significant Church.
As a child, I remember going to church every Sunday. My father had a policy. The only valid reason for missing Sunday school and church was a death in the family… yours. Since I survived childhood, I attended church a lot.

Some adults who were forced to attend church as children resent that and refuse to
attend as adults. That wasn’t my response. Attending church was a generally good experience for me. The church I grew up in was a positive, loving place. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a place where I experienced the reality of God. Nice… but more like a club than a church. I sense that my home church wasn’t all that different than most other mainline denominational churches of the time.

At our church we practiced religion. A nice, comfortable, socially acceptable, not terribly spiritual, let’s not get carried away with being Christian style of religion. It was understood that if one got too religious, too excited about God, he or she was to be viewed with suspicion and some degree of disdain. Getting too religious could immediately call one’s credibility into question. Such a person was said to have “Gone off the deep end.” God forbid that I, or anyone I know, should go off the deep end.

This concept made absolutely complete sense to me. It is my natural inclination to be cautious, to live life close to the vest, and to stay in the shallow end. Perhaps that inclination comes from my introverted, shy nature. Perhaps it comes from an incident from my early childhood. My family was on an outing to Cox’s Lake for a day of fun in the sun and water. Our good time was interrupted when I, at the time a preschooler, decided to follow my older brother out into the deep water. This idea would have had a more successful outcome if I had either been using a flotation device like he was or had known how to swim. Since I did neither, I casually strolled in over my head… and drowned. You know, like suck in a bunch of water and stop breathing drown. Fortunately someone noticed. A lifeguard dragged me out of the lake, pumped the water out and replaced it with some air. Needless to say, since that day I haven’t really enjoyed being in the deep end.

After my jaunt to the deep waters at Cox’s Lake, I spent most of my growing up years in the shallow end of any pool I entered. I was a shallow end person when it came to swimming and when it came to practicing my religion. I felt safe and comfortable in the shallow end. Unfortunately, as I got older and my contemporaries moved on to deeper waters, it also became lonely and boring in the shallow end. As I entered young adulthood, neither swimming nor practicing my religion was much fun. So I quit doing both. Most of us can stand anything except boring.

Then one day I was challenged to get into the deep end. For swimming it came when I took a job as a program director at a Boy Scout camp. Like every other Scout camp in America, ours had an aquatics area. The Camp Director, Don Craig, expected me, like every other staff member, to take and pass a swimming test. That test required me to swim several laps in the pool. A friend coaxed me into the deep end and off I went. I passed the test. I could now enjoy going into the deep end.

It was my older brother who challenged me to enter the spiritual deep end of Christianity. He was the one who explained the difference between being religious and having a relationship with the Living God. And that made all the difference in the world. As I grew in this new found relationship, Christianity became exciting and fulfilling… anything but boring. Occasionally it has been a little frightening. I am constantly aware that I am in over my head, just a little out of control. Instead of experiencing my faith as soothing and safe, it is now challenging and unsettling.

Before I could get into the deep end I was forced to answer an important question. Why was I confining myself to the shallow end of life? What kept me in the places I considered safe? Fear, mainly. I was afraid. I was afraid and too lazy to learn how to swim. I sense that my motivation or lack of it is not unusual. Those are probably the same reasons most people doom themselves to lives lived in the shallows of life.

May I encourage you to consider, as I did, the differences between living in the shallow and deep ends. What happens in the shallow end? Not much. People wade around and splash around and play silly little repetitious games. In the shallow end one is surrounded by the immature – children. And we all know what children are known for doing in the pool. Is that where we want to be? I think not. In the shallows I perceive myself to be totally in control. But not much of any consequence is happening. It is safe but boring.

What happens in the deep end? The deep end is for those serious about swimming and diving. It is where the purposes of being in the pool really happen. One is surrounded by others who are going for it and one can be challenged to grow and develop. Being in over one’s head tends to give opportunities for one to grow and develop new skills and competencies. Spiritually speaking, the deep end is where God is. So, if you want to hang out with God, you have to get into the deep end. That’s where I want to be.

I really don’t see how any adult Christian could take being accused of splashing around in the shallow end as a compliment. So, if anyone ever accuses me of being off the deep end, and unfortunately no one, as yet, has, I will certainly take it as a compliment.