Kraig Lowell Pullam

My thoughts. My reflections. My journey…. On pastoring, preaching, leading & learning.

Archive for the category “Leadership”

Three Years in Retrospect

 

img_7334My blogs have been few and far between these days.

I could not go into another Lord’s Day without chronicling the past Lord’s Day celebration. Last week, God blessed us to celebrate three years together as Pastor and People at the Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church.

I am beyond grateful for the People of Shiloh!!!

The journey thus far has been joyful, amid the natural challenges any congregation experienced along the way. I am sure I have said it more than once – that I have never fathomed Pastoring in Ft. Worth, let alone a church like SMBC. This is not a negative notion at all; but just one of life’s curve balls providentially thrown in my direction. In just one example, my father and mother have been married for over 51 years. She was only 16; and he was 19 years of age. God forbid something should ever happen to my father first. But I contend that no sane man, in his right mind, could ever realistically fill the shoes of a man who has so met the challenge, that I have never even seen my mother pump gasoline into a tank. In like manner, no aspiring young preacher (who has any sense) would initially dream of following a Pastor who has literally set the bar and pastored one congregation for 57 years. It can almost seem that he is doomed for failure. I have always said that this is a recipe for disaster; and that any preacher who does it is a fool. But God….

Three years ago I didn’t know what to expect. It is often said that, at a good church, it will take a leader 5 to 7 years to become THE PASTOR. That is at a good church. While many laypeople are taken aback by this notion, it is actually true. I have yet to determine if that number is greater when considering the tenure of my predecessor. My greatest challenge was trying to get settled while also learning the people and my environment. The culture was changing at Shiloh. Unfortunately, as the new guy, I didn’t know it. It took me some time to learn my congregation, her history, the people who comprise our church, the issues, the strengths, the weaknesses, along with how I fit into making our congregation better; and grow and move forward. In fact, it has taken me three years!!!

In the first three years, the major challenge for me has been patience, by far. God has done a major job on me in the area of just being patient – with myself and even with others. More than this….others being patient with me. The people of Shiloh have been patient with me. With any given (and new) relationship, what keeps us going and flourishing is our love for Christ and our love for one another. We are forever called to love one another; and I pray each day that we walk together until we realize God’s vision for us together.

It is always refreshing to have my friend Rev. Parish Lowery and our sister church, Greater Friendship MBC with us for Pre-Anniversary; and my father with us on Anniversary Sunday. They both did a stellar job of sharing with us God’s Word.

How I thank the Lord for Brenda Jordan, who chaired our celebration this year. The tributes each week were inspiring and touching; and my wife and I enjoyed going through and reading the wonderful notes and seeing the gifts and expressions given by the Shiloh members. It was beyond encouraging.

My personality is always upbeat. But on the day of the celebration I was overwhelmed by who wasn’t there in the room with us. My Uncle, Rev. Lloyd A. Pullam, went home to be with the Lord this past May. He is the one who told me about Shiloh. He was very proud of my being called there. And he is the one who assured me that Shiloh was a good church; and would become great one day once I had ‘a few funerals.’ I miss him so very much. And I shall never forget the seeds he planted in my even realizing the plan God has for me for the remainder of my ministry.

If there are any members of Shiloh who may read this…I LOVE YOU!!! I thank you for your support; and I cherish your prayers and your presence. The best is truly yet to come!!!

Integrity versus Perfection

img_1087Living in the public square and the fishbowl of Pastoral ministry, I have often felt the pressure of being dissected by others.  As a PK (aka Preacher’s Kid), this comes with the terrain.  Even more, being the “kid” of a man and minister (William Lanier Pullam) who could do no wrong to me as a Christian, husband, father, spiritual leader and friend to others, in a small town where everybody knows everyone…could often be a challenge.  I’ve met countless PK’s who developed a sense of resentment, even anger, towards the church and church leaders because of the display of hypocrisy, duplicity, inconsistency and the like exemplified by people in the church.  This breaks my heart.  On the one hand it breaks my heart because the church can be such a ‘messy’ place.  Church people, in the scripture, are likened to sheep.  Sheep get dirty.  Tragically, we often fail to comprehend our ‘sheepish’ comparison and reality.  On the other hand, I think that we subconsciously lift people to a standard that they can never realistically attain.  It is really a standard upon which only Christ can be seated.

I began blogging in 2006.  And over the course of the past twelve years (particularly the past several) I have blogged less and less.  For me, writing and blogging has been cathartic; and it has been a way for me to process my thoughts and to shape direction in my own life.  But, as my life moved more into a public light, I felt as if my quest for integrity became stifled.  It would irk me to blog about something; and then the next several days become aware of how my life did not reflect what I had written about.  After a while, I no longer knew what to write about…so enamored in how I might contradict what I’d said…if just a minuscule deviation of my words or thoughts.

Then I read that the definition of perfection is “without blemish”.  Interestingly, those who are in Christ are “without blemish.”  But the key difference in what tormented me and what the scripture says about being unblemished is crucial: one is built on LAW; and the other is settled in GRACE.

The law tells us to “Do.”  Grace informs us it is “Done!” 
The law teaches us that we have missed the mark; and grace reminds us that Christ has won the race and settled the debt.

In Psalm 17, David asks the Lord to vindicate him, and to protect him from his enemies and foes.  I find it interesting that David uses as his collateral to God’s answering his prayer is his integrity.  Really? David?  The notorious rebel of the Old Testament?  It is then that we must understand that integrity is not perfection.  It is exposing one’s self before the sovereign Lord; and giving God a heart of surrender.  We often quote David as being, “A man after God’s heart.”  Kenneth Ulmer has said, “The issue was never David’s heart.  It was the heart that David was running after.”  I contend!

We will fail.  We will make mistakes.  We will be imperfect.  Integrity understands this where perfection cannot.  Integrity also gives permission for others to fail, make mistakes and be imperfect.

Granted…this is not a license to live a double-faced, reckless, ungodly life.  We should want, more than anything, to walk the lives that we talk.  As Christians, spouses, parents, disciples and leaders…this should be our aspiration.  It is my sincere hope and prayer to live in a way that reflects the character of Christ (amid my own imperfections), in a way that ultimately points to God’s glory.

I don’t need to be perfect; because Jesus was; and because He is.  You don’t either.  His grace is sufficient where the law and man’s standard falls way too short.  Live in this truth and act like you’re free…because you are!

Celebrating 2 Years at Shiloh

I’m reflecting upon the place we were two years ago. On the 4th Sunday of September ‘16, I felt life had come full circle. Certainly in ministry. All of the questions I had about my peculiar journey in ministry to the challenges and obstacles along the way in my education; to the friendships and relationships both forged and razed; to the unusual opportunities given throughout the years – for once, it made sense. God knew what He was doing all along.

Fast-forward, 2 years later…and I see how that day has kept me from then until now. I could not have prepped myself for the amazing victories and the astounding challenges that were sandwiched between my “then” and my “now”. Only my loving Father could have sustained me through it all. Please note…this is not any subliminal writing suggesting I went through hell. It is a declaration of one who now fully lives in his purpose.

God elevated me to a new level…that I’m convinced was a combination of 5 elements: His grace, my faithfulness, my integrity, a strong devotional life and His faithfulness. It certainly had little to do with my ability or gifts. God (as He had done in many years prior to 2016) just continued to opens doors for me that would’ve never been possible without Him. From moving to higher visibility, a national stage to being able to be a greater blessing and facilitator of blessings to others…it has led to a place of peace, being able to live in my purpose, to glorify God, exalt Christ, share my faith and bless others. With new levels, come new challenges and moments of persecution. While I have known this to be true for many and even for me through the years, I never knew it could be 10 times more intense than I could’ve realized 3 years ago. But somehow, while envy, jealousy, being misunderstood, being misquoted, days away from my family, being taken advantage of, has sometimes been overwhelming. I am beyond grateful that most of that has come from outside of our congregation. But God seems to always replenish and renew the strength of those who run to His well and drink deeply. He has faithfully done that!

Several months ago…I was sitting in the blue chair in my study at the church. Some have asked me why I still have it. Others have admitted to leaning back in the chair and they’ve fallen. The chair is old. Loud. Scratched up. Torn. But I’ve never fallen in that chair. Out of every item in the office, that’s the item I love the most. When I walk into that office, the first thing I look for is not my degrees on the wall, or to see if someone left me something on the desk. I look at my chair. It belonged to my predecessor, but I admit that’s not the reason why I love it. It just feels good-I love how it comforts me when I sit down-but that’s not why I love the chair. I love it because it’s mine. I love it because it’s the place where I sit.

It may be loud and squeaky…but it is where I sit.

It may have some bumps and scratches…but it is where I sit.

It may break down tomorrow, but today…it is where I sit.

How I thank the Sovereign for calling me to serve in a good vineyard. It didn’t have to be so. I’m humbled that He did. And if He permits, I pray to serve long and faithfully as the spiritual shepherd of such a great church, until the day I pass the mantle on to the next man who I will serve and call my Pastor.

Sunday Reflections

It is Monday.

While most Monday’s for any Pastor privately unveil his vulnerabilities and fatigue, for me it also reveals God’s power in clay pots and flimsy vessels.

Following 2 Saturday funerals, my day began as the guest preacher of Grace Tabernacle Baptist Church, where the Pastor is Rev. Roy E. Brackins. Grace was celebrating their 31st church anniversary; and it was an honor to share with these precious people. Pastor Brackins is both a gifted preacher and an outstanding Pastor; and he has been very kind to me.

The past Lord’s Day was Pentecost Sunday. For several years, I’ve inconsistently sought to atleast familiarize myself with the liturgical calendar, beyond Christmas and Easter.

In January, I spent the month in a series on Giving. In February, I preached a series on Prayer. In March, my preaching focus each week was on Christ’s sacrifice leading up to the resurrection.

My intention was to begin a series on ‘Breaking the Huddle’ in April. It is now the middle of May, and I have not started that series. The Lord has simply lead me to deal with other passages over the course of this past month and some weeks. I am a living witness that even when we as Pastors put together an annual preaching schedule, the plans can often change.

I found myself, yet again, preparing my notes for Breaking the Huddle from a passage tucked away in Matthew 17:1-8. God then led me to deal with Acts 2 in the surrounding story of Pentecost. The sermon title was “The Spirit’s Filling”. I attempted to deal with the formula, the fallout and the freedom surrounding the filling.

I trust that God was pleased with the sermon; and accepting of our worship on a rainy morning. Grateful for our 2 baptisms.

On this Monday, I am admittedly drained. For any Pastor, we must remain encouraged and learn to guard our space and take care of our temple. The work, expectations and being misunderstood is often overwhelming and overrated. But we must remember that we are not in this because it’s easy or comfortable; but we’ve been chosen and commissioned to be a “prisoner for Christ.” Every church member should pray for his or her Pastor; and every Pastor should lift their fellow-Pastors up as well.

Sadly, the Rockets lost to the Warriors last night in game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals. This makes the series 2-1.

How was your Sunday? I would love to hear from you.

January in Retrospect

God be praised for 2018! And thank Him fully for the Month of January.

January began COLD in North Texas. After a festive Christmas enjoyed by family, the last Sunday of December left many parishioners our way at home. I left home that Sunday morning at 8:40am; and arrived at church at 10am…. considering Shiloh is approximately 15 miles from my home, the timeframe gives light on how much ice was on the road. Interestingly, I did not expect anyone to show up; and yet we had a good number. Because of the inclement weather, we had to cancel our New Year’s Eve service for 5pm. Nevertheless, we entered 2018 grateful because we did not receive any reports of accidents from our members or family.

In the second week of January, we began to gear up for the installation of my brother, Rev. Kevin Lanier Pullam, at Fort Worth’s Pleasant Mt. Gilead Baptist Church, in the historic Como area of our city. While our schedules have limited our personal time together, I am extremely elated to not only have he and our sister, LaTonya, in town; but to have him as leader of a church many of us have grown to know and love. PMG installed him in a grand fashion; and God’s providential plan for both Pastor and People coming together were evident and clear. I am praying for days and years of fruitful and productive ministry.

On the 14th of January, I presented my first Vision Plan to our congregation. It is a 20 page document that entails my vision for 2018, a short synopsis of where we’ve been, proposed budget and important dates for the year, along with speakers and our annual focus. I was glad to see the Vision Plan warmly received by our people.

Beginning the 22nd of January, a couple of ministers were able to travel with the president of our national convention, Dr. Samuel Tolbert, and Dr. G. V. Clark (my state president) for both a cohort with President Tolbert and also as a delegation to the midwinter board of the Progressive National Convention. It served for us as a busy week. However, the convention and our work was held in Nassau, Bahamas. What a place to do the work of ministry. This time really gave us an opportunity to hear the vision of Dr. Tolbert; gain some leadership nuggets and wisdom from both he and Dr. Clark; and also a refreshing time to fellowship with the other pastors, Rev. Kennedy Young and Rev. Ricki Ferrell.

I came back home with helpful insights on how to enhance my own ministry and leadership; and also grateful to have met some great people in Progressive; and also the Rev. Jesse Jackson, whom they honored in one of their services.

During the last week of January, I journeyed to Austin, Texas to serve as evangelist for the Stewardship Institute at Mt. Zion MBC. Incidentally, Dr. George Clark is the pastor there. Again, I was humbled and grateful for the opportunity to not only preach on the subject of stewardship for 3 nights; but just to fellowship and spend time with Dr. Clark. Pastor Clark is 86 years of age; but he is one of the most innovative, energetic, wise and disciplined men I have ever known. As an extra bonus…he was very good friends with my Shiloh predecessor, Pastor Albert Chew, Jr. I love hearing the stories of Rev. Chew told from his friends and family; because it’s the closest I can get to a man who left me the mantle of leadership in such a place as Shiloh. Since I never knew him personally, it makes me feel like I know him for myself.

I am grateful for a wife and a church who daily entrust me with the wisdom to discern when I need to stay, and when I must go and do ministry. I think the Lord has always given me discretion in the Pastorate to discern when I need to be home; and when I need to spread my wings. I am also thankful for accountability partners who keep things in perspective for me; when I am away and wish to be home. I have literally seen the results of some of the sacrifices I made in late 2016 and 2017 as a new pastor. At this juncture, Shiloh is stronger than I anticipated it would be at this point, with us together as Pastor and People.

I am praying for wisdom, help and anointing as we continue to move forward and move ahead in ministry. Thankful to have a couple of weeks at home before I am away again.

I would love to hear from you. If this blog is a blessing to you, please share with others. Blessings!

Sunday Reflections

Well….God be praised for another Lord’s Day.

October has come and it is almost over. Since my last blog, there have been a few notable milestones. For one, my eldest biological brother, Kevin, was elected to serve as the next Pastor of Pleasant Mt. Gilead MBC in Fort Worth. Not only did he follow the Pastoral personality of Rev. Larry J. Mouton; but also stands in the place where my beloved friend and mentor, Dr. R. L. Sanders, served for many years as Pastor. How grateful I am that God has chosen Kevin to serve there. I am praying for this marriage between pastor and people; and that the Lord will grant His favor, direction and provision in what is prayerfully the beginning of a long-standing heritage in the making.

The Lord also blessed us to celebrate one year as the Pastor of Shiloh. I grow to love our people more and more each day. It is comforting and empowering to know they love us. I’m looking forward to greater things occurring; and pray to one day look back on the work, and provide a paradigm on how to faithfully and steadily lead a congregation to growing greatness amid a changing community, an epic legacy and a larger than life predecessor.

A pastor’s first year (particularly following a long-tenured pastor) can make or break a church and even his personal calling. I intentionally took a few days off to do nothing but pray, bask in God’s presence, initially view the calendar for 2018, reflect on what actually took place this past year and….REST.

For sure….the calls, pressing demands, emergencies and life altering situations didn’t stop. In fact, they were awaiting me on the other side. But nothing fell. Everything got done. And…I am excited about our future.

This past Sunday I concluded a Series I entitled: Fake News: Trumping the Lies We’ve Been Told.

Because of my need for a break, I’m not sure I enjoyed this series as much as I anticipated. I took the general idea from Kerry Shook, a Pastor in the Houston area. I liked the creativity of the “Fake News” connecting to pop culture…but did my own play on the words. Kerry Shook and I are completely different preaching types, along with our contexts; therefore our preaching content was nothing alike. It really forced me to step out of my comfort zone. In addition, I also have been going to the pulpit without a manuscript or my iPad, and minimal notes. God is faithful.

I am looking forward to continuing our study through the Book of James that we began over a month ago. This Wednesday our plan is to conclude the first chapter.

Beginning in November, I’m looking forward to kicking off our Sunday Preaching Series entitled: THANKFUL.

In others news, the LA Dodgers and Houston Astros are in the World Series. At this moment, the series is tied 2-2. I love the Astros. To date, it is the only professional team I’ve enjoyed attending quite a few of the games. This is a very surreal moment, however it turns out.

I would love to hear from you; and have you share your thoughts and share this blog with others. May God bless and keep you!

Sunday at Shiloh

What a journey this has been!

2577006675_b5dd38dca6Admittedly, the road I’ve been treading has been bittersweet.  Leaving my old life and people, where everything was great, along with all of the things that come with being apart of a new assignment, have been bitter.  In juxtaposition, experiencing a fresh new season of life, relationships and the realization of God’s promises…have been sweet!  My difficulties in preaching, pastoral ministry and in life amid remaining faithful have truly prodded me to stop and thank the Lord for every facet and aspect of my new journey.

Shiloh has been phenomenal.  Let me be more specific – the PEOPLE of Shiloh have been phenomenal.  As I have been in a constant haze as to why and how God sent me to them; I am certain they have their own set of mixed emotions.  This is only natural and to be expected.  The loss of their leader only one year ago; the expectations of someone of his caliber;  many’s uncertainty of “where do I fit with this new guy?”; and wondering how things will look moving forward – are actually all LEGITIMATE concerns for those of us who are human.  But in the midst of this, the people have made this transition much easier.  All of the ministers, deacons, leaders and members have been encouraging; even those who have quietly shown their support through their presence; and looking me over.  As I tell them, I am looking them over as well.  The common thrust is that I believe they love Christ; and I think they may feel the same towards me.  Therefore, we can love one another through Him.

On October the 2nd, I began a 7-week series entitled, “The Journey Begins…the Legacy Continues.”  This series concluded on November 13, 2016.  After that, I took a couple of weeks to preach on Giving Thanks:

November 20, 2016: “What to do in the Meantime”, Romans 1:8-15
November 27, 2016: “The Supernatural Power of Human Gratitude”, Luke 17:11-17

Now that we are in Advent, I am simply preaching a series of sermons from Luke 1.  On Sunday, December 4, 2016. I tried my best to deal with Luke 1:26-38; entitling the sermon, “When God Doesn’t Make Sense.”  My hope is to begin live streaming our services, posting our messages and expanding our distribution of sermons in early 2017.  Please keep us in this regard.  In short, it had been a very busy week before Sunday.  I have been going nonstop since my first Sunday in September.  I had a couple of meetings on Saturday, as well.  I found myself finishing up my sermon into 1am or so, Sunday morning.  I laid down Sunday morning after 2am; and woke up when my wife said, “It’s time for you to get up.”  She was dressed!!!  I was so tired, I almost asked one of our associates to prepare to stand and preach.  I didn’t do it.  After making it through salutations and all, I just preached; and God spoke through me.  God took my few notes; and breathed upon me, us and the message.  Interestingly, I got happy toward the end.  Shiloh does communion a little differently than many congregations.  It is really on another level.  I think I’ve done communion over a hundred times.  After everyone had been served by the deacons, I began to serve the deacons before the deaconesses on the front row (lol).  I said to myself, “Kraig…go home and take a nap!”  We made it through; and worship was stellar.  Followed by meetings, I was able to try out a new restaurant with Dee and the boys; go to a place we like called Marble Slab; and made it home and went to sleep.  Although I missed several calls, texts and messages; and also my plan to attend a meeting with our Young Adults….the Lord assured me the world would not end because I took a nap; and that all of the people who needed me, didn’t need me as much as I may have thought they did.

In short, I had a great Lord’s Day.  Now that things are beginning to settle down, my hope is to continue to flesh out my thoughts in writing.  It is my additional hope and prayer that this will be of some benefit to someone who reads.  I hope and pray that you are blessed during the course of your week; and that you find a lesson and message every day of your life, in something.  Anything.  If this has been helpful to you, please share with someone else.

He’s Looking At You

Over the course of this past week, I have had the opportunity to fellowship with several Pastors and Leaders within Shiloh and in the city of Fort Worth. This has been a tall feat; but ultimately the rewards of such have outweighed and minimized the task altogether. But I must admit…the highlight of my week began on the 2nd Sunday. While in my office, talking to several church leaders before the start of Worship, the phone rang in my office. I answered!  Someone asked, “Hello, is the new Pastor of Shiloh preaching this morning?”  My response: “I believe he is. If he is not preaching, I’ve not received the memo!”  As it so happens, the person asking the question happened to be the assistant of one of my preaching heroes, Pastor Isadore Edwards. He is the Pastor Emeritus of the New Rising Star Baptist Church of Fort Worth; having served there as Pastor for over 40 years. He and my predecessor, Dr. Albert Emmit Chew, Jr. were very good friends. Interestingly, I’d learned a few weeks earlier that Pastor Chew helped to found New Rising Star, and was responsible for Pastor Edwards’ going there and serving as Pastor there. As I had heard around town…Pastor Edwards wanted to hear me preach; and had intentions of stopping by Shiloh to hear me. He wasted no time!  As service began, he came in with several preachers, sat on the front row and quietly listened in as I preached. 

My Sermon for the day came out of Romans 15:1-7. The title: Let’s Stay Together. 

For some reason, God has wasted no time leading me to deal with some very intense passages of scripture during the opening weeks of my time at Shiloh. This sermon was about unity and living in harmony as fellow-believers, amid our varying distinctions, preferences and ideologues.  I was on-edge regarding the message.  The presence of Pastor Edwards, I admit, intensified my internal tensions and prayers. 

Earlier in the week, I received a call from one of the deacons at New Rising Star, stating Pastor Edwards enjoyed the message, and his affirmation that I was a gifted student of God’s Word; and that he would like to have lunch. I was informed that Pastor Edwards, who is now 90, has good days and bad days; and that he may not talk much, but still has his memory and enjoys good fellowship. 

As we dined together, I had an interesting discourse with Pastor Edwards. 

I told him how pleased I was to have had him in service; and admitted to him I was nervous, after listing him as one of my favorite preachers growing up. That’s not hyperbole. He was, and still is!!!

Here’s what followed….

Him: Why were you nervous? Me: Because as I was preaching, I could look out right in front of me, and see you. Him: Can’t you see Jesus in front of you while you preach? Me: yessir, but I’m not looking at him physically. Him: You can believe He’s looking at YOU!

I was floored and speechless!  He got me!!!  Jesus is looking at me. 

Whether it is my character; my witness; my preaching or leading God’s Precious people; leading my family or my personal devotion – He is looking at me!!!

In the midst of his seasoned years and waning strength, God used Pastor Edwards, to reassure and afffirm His all-seeing eye is on me, as it was on Pastor Edwards’ old friend, Pastor Albert E. Chew, Jr. God knew exactly what I needed, when I needed it most; and I am grateful for the angels (messengers) He sends along the way, to remind me of His constant presence in my life and ministry. 

Enjoying the Process (Pastoring)

I began pastoring my first church in March of 2005. At 26 years of age, married with a 2-year old son, I had absolutely no idea what it took to pastor or lead a congregation. Because I had been preaching since the age of 15; and the youngest son of a pastor…I thought I knew. But Bible College and seminary training did not prepare me for what I would encounter at 26. The Lord blessed me to preach almost every Sunday for four years, where I served as the Minister of Christian Education. My pastor let me preach each Sunday to the people in his congregation during the early service there. But my four years of preaching did not quite prepare me for what I would experience in pastoral ministry. Too often we can make the mistake of thinking we can handle certain functions because it either looks easy, or it seems as if we have all of the appropriate answers for any given situation. Even now, Donald Trump’s rhetoric will change regarding some of his promises if he were to receive the vote of the American people and actually become the President of the United States. This same truth applies to Hillary Clinton as well. 

 

By far, pastoring has been one of the most difficult tasks in my own life. Being the husband of D’Ani seems easy. Being the father of Kai, Kaden and Karter….well, that’s another story. But I digress!

 

Going back to my first pastorate…it was a new church! The pressure of starting a new work (specifically, a ‘cold start’) is second to none. It is one thing to start a new church that is branching off from another congregation (either a split or from a sponsoring church), it is something altogether different to start from scratch. No money. No building. No sponsors. No members! Just….a dream…

 

As I reflect, I would have done quite a few things differently. If I had pastored my SECOND church FIRST, I would have saved myself some of the trials I faced along the way; and I would have become more appreciative of the things that come with a new ministry that you are forced to endure in the old. It being my first church, and the church I started…it became my baby. Consequently, I didn’t give away enough of the ministry to others. I carried the bulk of the burden, particularly financially, upon myself and my family. When the church struggled, it fell upon me and my family. This, of course, is the price we pay for ministry. The ultimate hurt is when the church does well; and some wonder why those who’ve sacrificed are benefactors of that blessing. Ultimately, I should have been doing better financially, already finished seminary and prepared to carry the finances of the church, with or without anything in return. Ultimately, I loved Cornerstone in a way that I will never adequately describe; and the people of Cornerstone loved me and my family in a way that cannot be put into words. Not a day passes that I don’t think about and have fond memories for, “My First Church.” 

 

In my second pastorate…I was at a different place in my life: 6 years later; over a decade-long marriage; 3 children…seminary degree complete; nice chaplaincy job in Houston. Things were better for us personally. I was learning so much in the chaplaincy about pastoral care, ministering to hurting people and specializing with those who were mentally ill, along with a specialization in AIDS/HIV patients…my preaching and my ministry to the people to whom I was pastoring was transformed. In a real sense, the issues I would encounter in my current pastorate paled in comparison to the many of the issues I’d faced in the hospital (at Ben Taub in Houston). AGAIN….I am certain I’ve made mistakes along the way. I often wonder how effective I’ve been as a bi-vocational and commuting pastor. I have often wondered how many more relationships I could have cultivated in the city and at my own church had I not been on the road, or been so busy in my travels. At other times, I am amazed at how God has blessed our congregation; and how far we’ve come spiritually and in many other ways, since my arrival over 5 years ago. The challenges I had in my first pastorate were different from the challenges in my current. My greatest challenge (as I reflect) has been being an agent of change. In an older congregation, especially Baptist…not everyone is welcoming toward change. This is just a reality. As strange as it seems…I knew this by the time I came into my congregation at Mt. Salem. I knew (as I do now) that change must be gradual; and that patience is a powerful virtue. For example, I waited an entire year before starting a praise team. When I eventually did, I didn’t call is a ‘praise team.’ I called it the “A.L. Randon Ensemble”, named after the longest-tenured pastor of our church. The term “praise team” can be threatening to some who know nothing but choirs in the “old church”. And, for the same demographic, ‘praise team’ and ‘praise dance’ are one and the same. 

 

Over the years, I’ve gradually implemented change….at a much slower rate than I either have wanted or anticipated. But the most important thing (atleast in my context and in light of our church’s history before I arrived) that the Holy Spirit impressed upon me was for UNITY to remain in our congregation. For this to occur, I could not and cannot have one generation competing against another. This would have brought in a busload of new, young people. Because of my experience, I know how to get that demographic in the building… But I will never forget my pastor telling me that much of pastoring is about the “managing of many personalities”. In this instance, it is not just about gaining new people; but about resisting the need to damage the faith of some mother in the church who has been apart of the same congregation for 50 years. Make no mistake…change MUST occur. And I am not suggesting that any given pastor should stunt their growth to cater to the midget-mindset of an individual who is centered on self and convenience. I am simply saying that pastors should be sensitive in not burning bridges to get to the next town. In this case, PEOPLE are our bridges! 

I know that my blog is long and it seems as if I am rambling. But there is a method to my madness. I do have a point. In a few weeks I will celebrate 38 years of life. My point is: ALL of this has been a part of my journey. I would not have been as sensitive to the feelings of others at Mt. Salem if I had not gone through some of the backlash of not consulting anyone and just moving, at my first church. I would have not been as prepared for the journey personally and in my own financial life for my second church, if I had not gone through some of the financial struggles in starting a church in my mid-20’s while in seminary, after leaving my job at a church to start that new work in ministry. 

 

Here’s my ultimate point: ENJOY THE PROCESS. And LEARN from the process. LEARN to manage WHERE YOU ARE with gratitude and humility. Don’t take for granted that God is at work. EVERY SINGLE THING has led me to where I am at this very moment. God has blessed me tremendously! 

 

Spiritually – I’m growing.

Domestically – I am married to the woman of my dreams, with 3 healthy boys who are active, smart and growing in their knowledge of Who Christ is.

Financially – I’m not a millionaire; but I have everything I need, and much of what I desire (I don’t desire much!)

 

Ultimately…I am enjoying the process! My encouragement to someone reading this blog is for you to enjoy the process as well. Stop listening to the voices of the enemy. I have this voice that likes to remind me of much I have not accomplished at 37. “You’ve done this and you’ve been there….BUT…”

Get this: I am where God wants me to be. My job is to do the BEST with what I am given; and to remain faithful; and to BLOOM where I am PLANTED. I am doing that; and I am grateful!!! This is my continual prayer for me, my family and for you. 

 

The Entitlement Cure

 
I’ve just finished reading John Townsend’s book “The Entitlement Cure”. After hearing and reading several stellar reviews, along with seeing the intriguing title, I wanted this book in hand. And while the subtitle sparked my interest more than the title, I knew I needed to read it…amid my difficulty in reading all things Townsend. I don’t know what it is; but I’ve always found the writings of John Townsend a chore and bore…to the extent of having to play music in the background not to fall asleep. Admittedly, I realize this is an unfair criticism; and something I would hate for anyone to say about my writing. After all, Townsend is a well-respected author and the co-mastermind behind New York Time’s bestselling “How People Grow”, a book I have used during my days of Christian Education in our Book Club. The fact is…Townsend is not a wordsmith. But getting beyond the style, there is substance couched in “The Entitlement Cure.” Therefore, I wouldn’t 1) Discard this book as irrelevant 2) Misdiagnose this book as a prompt of any political propaganda 3) Write off this volume as being unworthy of investment. 
“The Entitlement Cure” addresses a prevailing problem that now infiltrates every vital organ in relational life as we’ve come to know it. Whether it is in the church, marriage, home-life, work-environment…Townsend asserts that we are all infected by the disease of entitlement. In fact, entitlement is a byproduct (well, he shows how it pre-dates human creation) of man’s fall in the Garden of Eden. Townsend contends that entitlement is the belief that “….I am exempt from responsibility and I am owed special treatment…”, and that the problems in human society stem from this crippling disposition. In this volume, the author not only analyzes, but also speaks to both the culprit and enablers of the entitled on how to jettison this attitude of being special, being owed, refusing to take responsibility and blaming others.

Hitting at the core of the book, I realized I actually love Townsend’s style of writing! Addressing the relational patterns that drive entitlement (Chapter 2), he gives the practical markers of how we often feed the entitlement monster and thereby foster attitudes of entitlement (example: praising what takes no effort; praising what is required; praising what is not based on reality; etcetera). Unfolding five principles that can restore the problem ALL of us have with entitlement (some more than others.) While all five principles are of notable mention, I do think one of the components outlined by Townsend is how denial, perfectionism and narcissism attribute to the pressure, stress and emptiness that accompany their intended. Entitlement limits our good and our growth, according to the author. I do agree! 

One of the very central themes in this volume is Townsend’s description of feeling deserving to taking responsibility. He says that there is a right way to deserve and there is a wrong way to deserve; and explains how responsibility is not only right, but the practical ways to assume responsibility (Chapter 8). One of the things I like is Townsend’s conventional use of what he calls “NHT”. In short, this means “Next Hard Thing.” Townsend argues that our NHT is the choice we all need to make that moves us beyond the difficulty. In a real sense, what separates the good from the great, the best from all things average…is the ability and willingness to move past the proverbial areas of discomfort. According to the author, this requires 1) Carving out time 2) Going against the flow of life 3) Going against other’s expectations 4) Starting a ground zero (ie – “at the bottom”), etc. In this recourse, there are two (2) specific dynamics I would like to spotlight here in conclusion. One is saying when you are wrong (Chapter 13) and facing the pain that gets you somewhere (Chapter 14). I think that these two chapters and dynamics are key to understanding Townsend’s entire point. 

In summary, I would suggest this as a read for anyone who is looking to practically stop being an enabler to those who are highly entitled; and as a practical guide to taming the entitled monster who lives inside of us all. I give the book two thumbs up; and a 9 on a scale of 1 to 10. I would also suggest this as a great read for parents, couples and church leaders. 

 

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