By David Lee, BCM/D Executive Director
I bet I am not alone in this experience.
“It” doesn’t work. The “it” can be any device—your computer, your television, anything that has a plug. You work on it. You push every imaginable button. You shake it. You may even kick it. Some of us reserve choice words for just such occasions (Greek or Hebrew words, of course). A select few of us may in despera-tion resort to reading the instruction manual. (You know real men don’t do that unless they are really desperate.). Nothing seems to work. So finally you call the repairman. “This job calls for a professional,” you say. He or she walks in, assesses the situation, and sticks the plug firmly in the socket. “It” now works like a charm. You are embarrassed, but what can you do? You have been the victim of “disconnect.” You were un-plugged, cut loose from your source of power.
I think most of us would agree that things are not working as well as we wished they would. I don’t think things are as bad as some say they are. Neither do I think things are as good as some of us try to pretend they are. But we can’t deny we are facing some issues when it comes to accomplishing our mission as the church of Jesus Christ. Could ours be a problem of disconnect? When you are disconnected, things don’t work the way they were designed to work.
I come to you with a burden.
We may have a disconnect from God.
In Isaiah 30:1-3, the prophet Isaiah chides Judah for their disconnect. “Woe to the rebellious children! This is the Lord’s declaration. They carry out a plan, but not Mine. They make an alliance, but against My will, piling sin on top of sin. They set out to go down to Egypt without asking My advice, in order to seek shelter under Pharaoh’s protection and take refuge in Egypt’s shadow. But Pharaoh’s protection will become your shame, and refuge in Egypt’s shadow your disgrace” (HCSB). Process that a moment. The king and the nation were disconnected from God. The symptoms were obvious. They carried out their own plan, but not God’s plan. They ignored God’s will and pursued their own design. They set directions without asking God’s advice. They ran to Egypt because that seemed to be the easiest of the options they faced.
I was in a conversation recently with a national leader in collegiate evangelism. He was advising us on our approach to this strategic part of our missionary work as MD/DE Baptists. In the course of the conversation he made this statement. “Many godly people are spending their time doing many things that don’t matter to God.” That was one of those “zingers” that just gets stuck in your head. “Am I, are you, are we, engaged in doing things that really don’t matter to God?” Are we working his plans or our plans? We spend time networking online and off, but are we spending enough time connecting with Him? We listen to our coaches and our counselors, but are we really seeking His advice? Do we really want to follow his lead or simply want him to bless our plans and our self-prescribed journey?
I discussed with lay leaders this morning my list of the twelve top reasons that we are struggling. I know that some of us are doing well. I also know that not all of us are struggling in all areas. Yet, the majority of those with whom I speak tell me they are struggling. The question is why.
Here is my list of twelve reasons why we are struggling in reverse order. I started with (12) economics. Truthfully, I do not believe this is our primary issue, but many do. There is no question that the economy has caused us to awaken to what is most likely the “new normal” and assess where we are and what things really matter. And that is a good exercise for us in any area of life. The list continued: (11) bad DNA (Because we have not dealt with the issues in a healthy way, there is old (in some cases really old) stuff in some of our churches that continues to be a stumbling block for those trying to do ministry today.); (10) awkward, slow-moving, high maintenance systems (The Holy Spirit sometimes doesn’t have time enough to wait for us to work through our processes before he needs to act. Won’t it be tragic in judgment when we see how many times we got passed over for God’s assignment and blessing because we couldn’t respond quickly enough?); (9) strained relationships between pastors and key leaders (Church conflict is killing us and in some cases setting back a church’s missional effectiveness for years.); (8) lack of equipped leaders (If we were an army, we would be in trouble because of our lack of training. If we were a football team, we would be out of the game in the first quarter. If we were a “for profit business,” we would be bankrupt. Have we abandoned our effort to equip our leaders to be spiritual leaders because we assume the task is too hard with people’s schedules and priorities today?); (7) Pastor and leadership not on the same page. (Each works from a different, often competing, script); (6) leader fatigue (I meet so many pastors who are battle weary.); (5) absence of intentionality. (Things are allowed to happen rather than made to happen with the leadership of the Spirit. Unfortunately, in too many of our churches things appear to happen accidentally instead of being the result of focused prayer and planning.); (4) the absence of a strategy and a plan to accomplish that strategy; (3) people have lost sight of the mission (Have we forgotten what we as the church of Jesus Christ are called to do?); (2) lack of God-sized visions. (We have locked ourselves into plans that we made and plans that we can achieve with our resources and often lack the faith to tackle things that only God can make happen.)
Yet, at the end of the day our number one problem (in my opinion) is a lack of spiritual health. We search for the silver bullet, the quick fix, the latest and greatest. But only God can fix spiritual disconnect. We can theorize. We can blame. We can yell at one another. We can even use Hebrew and Greek. But nothing will work as long as we remain disconnected from the power of the Holy Spirit. You can’t accomplish spiritual things without the power of the Spirit.
I know you know this. I know I am preaching to the choir. But would you not agree that it is so easy to drift. Most of the time, we don’t consciously rebel. We don’t rip the plug out of the wall. What has been my experience is that in most cases the plug gradually works itself loose without our noticing it—that is until something important stops working and the power is gone. Or else someone or something bumps the system and we find ourselves unplugged.
We drift. Soon we become disconnected. Disconnect from God leads to powerlessness. Activity may continue or even increase, but spiritual transformation cannot take place while we are disconnected.
The solution is obvious. If there is a disconnect, then reconnect. Is it possible that our problems stem from the fact that we are not where we need to be spiritually? We are unplugged, disconnected, and thus powerless, doing things that really don’t matter to God. I beg Maryland/Delaware churches to spend 2010 focused on assessing the spiritual side of things, making sure we are plugged in with God and connected to his will and purpose and power.
Allow me to shift gears a moment.
Part of our problem as ministers may be our disconnect from other ministers.
I want you to listen to Paul’s last written statements to Timothy: Timothy, please come as soon as you can. Demas has deserted me because he loves the things of this life and has gone to Thes-salonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, and Titus has gone to Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me. Bring Mark with you when you come, for he will be helpful to me in my ministry. I sent Tychicus to Ephesus. When you come, be sure to bring the coat I left with Carpus at Troas. Also bring my books, and especially my papers.
Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm, but the Lord will judge him for what he has done. Be careful of him, for he fought against everything we said.
The first time I was brought before the judge, no one came with me. Everyone abandoned me. May it not be counted against them. But the Lord stood with me and gave me strength so that I might preach the Good News in its entirety for all the Gentiles to hear. And he rescued me from certain death. Yes, and the Lord will deliver me from every evil attack and will bring me safely into his heavenly Kingdom. All glory to God forever and ever! Amen.
Give my greetings to Priscilla and Aquila and those living in the household of Onesiphorus. Erastus stayed at Corinth, and I left Trophimus sick at Miletus. Do your best to get here before winter. Eubulus sends you greetings, and so do Pudens, Linus, Claudia, and all the brothers and sisters. May the Lord be with your spirit. And may his grace be with all of you (2 Tim. 4:9-22 NLT).
There is so much feeling in those words. You can literally feel Paul’s loneliness. There were ample reasons to justify Paul’s feelings—his circumstances (in jail, unfairly charged, persecuted) and people (He felt cut off from good people who had blessed his life and was still stinging from “not so good people” who had hurt him. You know that you cannot do ministry without getting hurt, don’t you?).
It is not that hard to get to the point where you feel disconnected. Disconnect from fellow ministers breeds isolation. Isolation breeds all kinds of bad things. There was a recent series of articles in the North Carolina state Baptist paper on ministers and depression. Listen to this assessment by Greg Warner. “It’s a prescription for tragedy. A high-profile, high-stress job with impossible expectations for success starts you down the road to depression. Then a stigma against weakness and treatment, along with a cultural and professional code of silence, keeps you on that destructive path until you can’t take it anymore. Sometimes the result is the unthinkable—suicide. Most often, however, depressed ministers suffer in silence, unable to talk about it even with family. Sometimes they leave the ministry. Occasionally, they get help.”
My friends, disconnect can be dangerous and destructive. Sherry and I believe that the situation is even more intense and widespread with ministers’ spouses. We also have seen first hand the effect on the children of ministers.
I was asked recently by a group of young church planters to share my list of priorities if money keeps getting tighter. I believe all that we do as a state convention is important, but I honestly sought to answer the question. I listed church multiplication as one of the priorities, not because I was with church planters, but because I am convinced that we will not significantly reach this important region without planting more churches—all kinds of churches, especially language churches. Church planting is also a key to reaching our cities. But I quickly established providing support and equipping for our pastoral leaders as one of those key priorities as well. Again, in my opinion, that is the single most important way we can help strengthen our churches, both new and old. Healthy pastors and healthy pastors’ families build healthy churches.
Your job as a pastor is one of the hardest jobs on this planet, and it will become even more challenging as we move forward in this century. Just like Paul, we desperately need one another. It is the sheep isolated from the flock that becomes easy prey to the lion. Peter warned us about that. Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings (1 Peter 5:8-9 NIV). Call it “misery loves company” if you wish, but we ministers need one another. We need to stay connected. There is strength in journeying together. May I also suggest two things for pastors as a goal for the next year?
• Get connected in a network with others pastors. Iron does sharpen iron! Expanding network opportunities will be a priority for us as a convention in 2010. We are already making plans.
• Make and/or strengthen a deep friendship with a fellow pastor. Make it one of your priorities.
One other “disconnect burden” before I finish…
A church’s disconnect from other churches can limit our kingdom effectiveness and our power. Do you recall the Acts 15 story? The early church leaders came together to address a challenge that threatened to derail the early Christian movement. Staying connected was essential to the mission.
I am concerned about the direction of our denomination. We are always in need of assessment and re-tooling. I would be the first to argue that point. But I am not sure that what I see happening is constructive. From the church all the way down to the national convention, economics have caused all of us to reevaluate. We are talking about what to do and what not to do. Things that were previously not on the table now are at the center of focus. The good thing is that we are talking. It is my prayer that the mission, not money, will drive our conversation. I also pray that the process as well as the outcome does not end up dividing us and giving excuse to some to disconnect.
There is another temptation that confronts us here. In times like these it is so easy to become self absorbed and turn our energy and focus to preserving and/or building our kingdoms. God intended that we build His kingdom and that we do it together! Read 1 Corinthians 12. Study the church at Antioch. Look at the churches that were praised by Paul. He spotlighted the churches that gave beyond themselves—those who connected to others.
One of my dreams for this next year is to encourage each MD/DE Baptist church to connect and partner with another BCM/D church. My ultimate dream continues that our churches will become true Acts 1:8 churches directly connected in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and even in the uttermost parts, while continuing to share some of that synergetic power and resource so that together we can reach the pockets individual churches alone cannot reach. Your church may have arrived at a point to which you no longer need us as a convention. Yet, we desperately need you. I know you must grow weary hearing me say this year after year. We cannot, however, afford to lose sight of the call and the opportunity before us here.
Friends, we serve in the most strategic geographical region in this world. The entire world has its eyes focused here. The task before us is so much bigger that any one of us. But with God’s help we can do this together. We can make a difference together. Disconnect creates fallout.
The ultimate fallout from what we have discussed is a disconnect from the world we are seeking to reach. Disconnected from God, there is no power. Disconnect from partners in ministry can leave us vulnerable and even cause some of us to check out. Disconnect from the mission and from others who are on mission will dwarf our efforts at building his kingdom. The solution is obvious… CONNECT!