3 Reasons Why People Lose Their Faith

I’m a notorious loser. But not in the way you are thinking. See, I lose things. I lose my keys and my phone just about every day. I can never find my computer power cord. I couldn’t tell you the last time I owned a pair of sunglasses for more than a week or two.

But it’s one thing to lose your keys, and it’s another thing to lose your faith. Replacing your keys (though troublesome) is possible. Replacing your faith is much more challenging.

There are a lot of reasons that people walk away from their beliefs. Each person has their own set of motives, I’m sure. But in my experience as a minister over the last many years, there are three reasons I see most often.

The Teaching Is Too Hard to Understand

In John 6, there is a fascinating exchange between Jesus and his followers. In verse 56 Jesus says, “Those who eat my body and drink my blood live in me, and I live in them.” This must have been the first time many of his followers heard anything like this and they didn’t like it. According to John, they said, “This teaching is hard, who can accept it?” After that, many of them stopped following Jesus.

Of course, Jesus was speaking in spiritual terms. The followers, who had recently feasted on the miraculous loaves and fishes, thought Jesus was being literal.

Today, a lot of people decide to walk away from their faith the moment they can’t understand every tiny detail. To them, if God cannot be rationalized and categorized then they can’t believe.

It’s okay to have questions if you’re a believer. It’s ok to have gaps in your belief.

Faith is what lies in the gap between what you know and what you don’t know yet.Click To Tweet

You would think that because I’m a pastor I don’t have any doubts or questions about my faith. I have tons! There are many things I don’t understand, but I know that one day I will.

The Lifestyle Is Too Hard To Follow

Can we be honest? It’s hard to be a good Christian. It’s tough to forgive others. It’s challenging to be patient with people. And it’s near impossible to forgive in all situations.

My default mode is to be selfish–to look out for #1. But following Jesus means that we need to act opposite of our selfish ways. We should put others first. We should turn the other cheek when wronged. We should be patient with people. It’s just much, much easier not to.

In Matthew 7:13, Jesus said we should “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.”

The narrow gate is the harder path to navigate. The wide gate is easy to enter. Anyone can do it.

Frankly, people give up on Christianity because they thought it would be easy. Someone must have told them that when they decided to follow Jesus life would be a cinch. Sorry, the opposite is true. Those who decide to place their faith in Christ face an uphill battle. They must suppress their fleshly desires and seek God and his desires.

I realize that I’m not painting a rosy picture of Christianity here but I’m being honest.

People leave Jesus because it’s harder to believe than not to.Click To Tweet

The People are Too Difficult To Live With

Of all the people I’ve known that have fallen away from Jesus, most have left because of other Christians. They’ve been mistreated, spiritually abused or exploited, taken advantage of, and lied to.

Maybe you’ve felt this way too? Perhaps you trusted someone who professes to be a “Christian” but acts like the devil. You may feel betrayed and rejected by them and so you turn your back on God.

Remember that Jesus was betrayed too. He was rejected. In the gospel of John, chapter 6, Jesus asked his disciples, “Did I not choose you, the twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.”

Jesus knew that Judas would betray him and yet, he still chose him. Do you ever wonder what it was like for Jesus to spend three years with Judas, the whole time knowing that Judas would sell him out? And yet, during the last supper, Jesus washed the feet of all his disciples. That included Judas, his betrayer. What an incredible picture of love and acceptance.

So, What To Do?

I know that it’s tempting to abandon faith because a few of the “faithful” are poor examples of Christianity. But don’t. Remember that Jesus accepted Judas. Remember that Jesus died for everyone, including those who left him because his teaching was “too hard.”

Learn to rely on Christ for guidance on the narrow path. Lastly, learn to be comfortable not understanding everything. After all, the prophet Isaiah quoted God as saying, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.”

A Better Way To Communicate

Today’s Toolbox Tuesday brings me to one of my favorite ministry tools of all time: Slack. It’s a powerful too to help you communicate.

Slack shortens the communication chain within your organization, tying leaders and volunteers together with a beautiful interface on mobile or desktop platforms.Click To Tweet

The application allows you to create a private “intranet,” complete with discussion “channels.”

Example: Let’s say that I need to share some information about an upcoming Sunday programming change. I can share that information within the #sunday_programming channel. Once I do, only those who subscribe to that channel will be notified of the change. But, if I need to share something with everybody I can post in the #general channel, which allows everyone to see it.

communicate with Slack

Slack permits you to create as many channels as you like, and even to specify who has access. You may lock “private” channels so they are invitation only. This is good for conversations between staff members, your board of directors, or for sensitive topics.

You can share files, and upload videos or audio files. There are also tons of integrations with apps you may already be using like Google Drive, Diggbot, and Paypal.

The application is free as long as you don’t need some of the extra features like voice calling, screen sharing, or priority support.

We have been using the system for about 9 months and have about 25 people using the free version. It works like a charm.

The best way for you to understand how it works is to start using it. Download the Slack iOS app or the Google version or sign up at slack.com.

This is a no-brainer – check it out!

Need more toolbox suggestions? Check out my review of Calendly and Canva

If you want to read more about the founder and designer of Slack, I found this cool article.

3 Solutions For Church Summer Slump

This is going to sound unbelievable but I assure you it’s 100% true.

When I was about 10 years old my family attended a little Baptist church in Detroit. It was a while ago but I’m guessing that there were about 100 members.

Like any little church, the dreaded “summer slump” arrived every June, July, and August as church-goers chose to spend their summer time on vacations, traveling, or at the beach on Sunday.

In an effort to drum up attendance the pastor came up with a brilliant idea. The idea was to make a life-sized dummy called, “Mr. Summer Slump.” Someone in the church made him by stuffing old rags into some second-hand clothes, complete with a head, a hat, and a painted on face. Seriously, it was creepy!

Each Sunday School class was made to keep attendance and the teacher with the lowest amount of people was forced to sit next to Mr. Summer Slump in the front row of the church! I guess embarrassing your key volunteers is the best way to provoke them to action.

I’ve been in ministry for many years and I’ve experienced the summer slump regularly each year. Here are some better ways to handle it.

Decrease Your Worship Services

It seems obvious, right? You’d be surprised how many churches don’t consider moving from 3 services to 2 for the summer, or from 2 to 1. The great fear is that you won’t be able to regain attendance in the fall. The opposite is true. In my experience, minimizing services is exciting and allows more people to connect. Plus, it’s a nice break for your volunteers.

I know this doesn’t help you if you already only have one service. However, you might even consider moving your regular service back an hour. A lot of people get used to sleeping later during the summer and that extra hour of sleep is just what they need on Sunday morning.

Rearrange The Chairs

Really? Can you do that? Yes! Is there anything worse than that oh-so-empty feeling in the auditorium? Whenever 70% or less of the chairs are filled on Sunday it sends a subconscious message to the congregation: “Where is everybody? And if they’re not here, why am I here?”

Try rearranging your normal chair setup. Okay, this isn’t going to work if you have pews, but if you have movable chairs you can minimize the size of your rows by a chair or two. You can also spread them out a little bit so that whatever space was taken up by 150 chairs is not taken up by 115.

Increase Your Social Media Connections

Many people miss church in the summer simply because they are on vacation. They aren’t really lazy or trying to avoid God, it’s just that they have been planning a family trip in the summer.

Try being really intentional about sharing all of what’s happening in the church family via social media. Obviously, that means uploading the teaching for the week but how about sharing the vision on a regular basis with those who are away? You can also connect by writing to your congregation through email or on a blog. That way it won’t feel like the only way to experience the church family is by attending on a Sunday morning.

And by the way, if you’re worried about breaking people’s routine or stepping on a few toes by changing stuff then good! That’s exactly what the summer slump needs. Something different. In the summer, different is good!

3 Mistakes Ministry Leaders Make

As a professional ministry leader for the past 25 years, I have made many, many mistakes. Some of them I have learned from and some I am still learning to overcome.

Here are three early challenges that I faced in ministry. Perhaps, you can relate:

Mistake 1: A Congregational Constituency?

The church is not a nation, town, or a city, but sometimes pastors fall into the trap of treating their congregation like voters. Rather than teaching the truth of the scripture and proclaiming the gospel of Christ, ministry leaders often make decisions based on trying to gain the acceptance of the church body. It’s the pastor as a politician. In becoming a politician the leader is more interested in maintaining an “approval rating” over bold leadership.

The word pastor means shepherd. As in, the shepherd of a flock of sheep. Remember, God’s people are often described as sheep in the Bible (Is 53:6). Remember when Jesus asked Peter to “feed his sheep?” The pastor’s mission is to care for God’s people.

I can’t imagine a world where any shepherd would need to manage the approval rating from his sheep! Instead, the shepherd knows what’s best for his sheep–even when it’s something that doesn’t seem best at the time.

Of course, I’m not saying that there’s no democracy within a church congregation. I’m pointing out that a pastor should lead God’s people to the truth, even when it’s difficult or unpopular.

My motto: Please God first, if the congregation is happy too–all the better!

Please God first, if the congregation is happy–all the better.Click To Tweet

Mistake 2: Sacrificing The Sabbath

Simply stated: pastors and ministry leaders must learn to take a day off. Too many of us have gone down burnout lane just because we fail to see the value in time away from our congregations.

Being a pastor is hard work and it’s often frustrating work too. Without a weekly recharge of our mind, body, and spirit, it’s not possible to continue to run at a break-neck spiritual pace. Still, many pastors and ministry leaders work non-stop. This always surprises me because taking a Sabbath is clearly regarded as an important part of God’s expectation of all people (Ex 20:8-11).

Remember, it is not critical which day you take off as a minister. But it is important to set ONE day aside each week. Turn off your phone, disregard email, ignore text messages, and leave social media alone. I preached about this very topic in detail…listen here.

After more than 25 years in ministry, I have learned that the church won’t fall apart in a single day. There are very few emergencies that can’t wait 24 hours.

And besides, if God rested on the seventh day, shouldn’t we?

Mistake 3: The Jack of All Trades

The problem with being a new pastor in a new church is that you sort of have to do it all. A small church pastor is often the preacher, the song leader, the media guru, the web designer, the carpet vacuumer, and more.

But eventually, as the congregation grows and as the church matures, more people can and should fill those roles.

Often young ministry leaders fail to give up some basic tasks because they feel they won’t be done well enough. The problem with that thinking is that it’s not sustainable. At some point, the new pastor needs to concentrate on bigger issues.

Andy Stanley says, “Only do what only you can do.” That’s a great mantra. What he means is that the ministry leader should concentrate on doing what they are uniquely gifted to do. This is not always possible in the beginning but it should be the target on the bullseye for every ministry leader.

Follow up questions:

  1. Where are your big challenges in ministry?
  2. Have you made these mistakes in the past?
  3. What mistakes have you learned from and how did you overcome them?

Consider leaving a comment and let me know about your experience as a ministry leader or pastor.

What The Church Is Not: Part 1

One of my favorite TV shows is Mythbusters. I love the way Jamie and Adam take a well-known idea and apply testing to confirm whether it’s true or just a myth. I plan to do the same in a new 4-part series called, “What The Church Is Not…”

Part 1: The Church is not a BUILDING, it’s a BODY.

In Matthew 16, when Jesus told Peter that he would “build his church” he was not talking about any kind of structure. He was talking about the founding of a group of people, called for a specific purpose. Much has been made of the Greek word Ekklesia, but the simplest understanding of the word is an “assembly or congregation.” Here are the biggest challenges Christians may have when they perceive the church as a building.

The Property Becomes More Important Than The People

When someone tells me, “Phil, I’ll meet you up at the church” I respond, “Yes, I’ll see you at the building where our church meets.

Frequently, I get eye rolls.

Yet, if we don’t get this right people will place too much importance on the structure–the steeple, the carpeting, the pews, the pulpit, and so on. Historically, this has lead to arguments about carpeting, decorations, remodeling, and a lot of other pointless things.

Plus, it can lead into an expensive capital campaign, causing the congregation to place all or most of their finances into erecting a structure rather than allowing the people to spend their dollars within the community where help is severely needed.

It might seem like splitting hairs but it is drastically important. See, Jesus didn’t die for the bricks and mortar that make up our building. He died for the people that fill the building each Sunday and during the week.

The Danger of The Stationary Church

Almost every church body holds at least one weekly gathering. Most of the time this is on Sunday. So, for one or two hours the people are being the church. But, the people should be the church during the 166-167 hours when we aren’t gathered together as well.

Joel Hunter, the pastor of Northland Church in Florida, said it best, “the church happens not so much when we gather, but when we scatter.”

The church happens not so much when we gather, but when we scatter. -Joel HunterClick To Tweet

Jesus said that we should “go into all the world” and share all that he had taught us (Matthew 29:19-20). Certainly, a weekly meeting of souls is part of that directive, but it’s not the sum total.

For many, a cool weekly gathering, filled with powerful music and an uplifting message is the first experience they may have with Jesus. But it can’t be only place they experience Christ. Many people will never venture into a church building…ever. By calling our buildings “the church” we unwittingly place the task of reaching the lost on the staff of our churches and on Sunday morning.

The Organization Vs. The Organism

The church is people, plain and simple. It’s a living and breathing organism. Every time someone new joins the congregation the body changes a little. It absorbs and takes on the new personality of those who are a part of it. We’ll miss that if we place too much emphasis on the organization and not the organism.

Pastors are often guilty of missing this point. I’ve said it myself, “I have a church to run.” You don’t run a church, you run an organization, a business, or an enterprise. If the church is full of people it should operate more like a family, not an organization.

So let’s remember that we are part of this great thing called “the church.” It’s a group of people who belong to something amazing, something ancient, something living.

“For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” Romans 12:4-5

Dealing With Doubt

When my kids were young they liked to ask a lot of questions. This was especially true of my daughter. After asking a question and receiving an answer she would say “why?” I would further explain and answer her question only to hear her say “why?” again. And again. And again!

We encourage children to ask questions. It’s a part of the learning process. When it comes to God, however, we are often afraid to ask questions. It’s as if by some reason to ask a question of God is to lack faith.

Doubt and disbelief are very different. The word doubt comes from the latin word dubium, which means “to hesitate.” Disbelief is a wholesale rejection of an idea or principle. Plenty of men and women in the Bible hesitated in their belief. This includes Abraham (Genesis 16), David (Psalm 13), and John the baptist (Matthew 14).

Thomas, one of the disciples of Jesus, was unwilling to believe in the risen Christ without physical proof. Jesus didn’t reject Thomas or even scold him. Instead, he allowed Thomas to have doubts, and then invited him to feel the nail scars on his hands and to touch the spear wound on his side (John 20:24–29).

Doubt is not a spiritual crime — it’s the effect of being human. Author Philip Yancey states that the “invisibility of God guarantees doubt.” As long as we are breathing we will be subject to doubts. It’s natural and normal. But it doesn’t have to be faith shattering.

If you’re struggling with doubt here are some suggestions:

1) Don’t doubt alone. Share your struggles with a trusted friend. Don’t keep them hidden. You might feel shame because you have doubts but finding out that other people might have the same doubts is empowering. You’re not alone!

2) Notice what God is doing around you. If you watch the news too much it seems like God is not working. However, look for stories of hope and redemption. They are everywhere! When John the baptist doubted Christ, Jesus sent word to him: “The blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news proclaimed to them.” He quoted a passage in Isaiah to affirm that God is at work. That was true then and it is true now.

3) Lastly, ask for help. Don’t be afraid to pray and honest prayer to God and ask for help. Ask God to reveal himself to you more clearly and to help you with your doubt. In Mark 9 Jesus meets a man who has a son that is demon-possessed. The man is lacking in faith but soon realizes his error and and says plainly, “help me in my unbelief!” He was granted that wish very quickly by Jesus.

4 Ways To Improve Your Pastor’s Teaching

Bible Pulpit

Each week I spend between 5 and 10 hours preparing my sermon. On Sunday I deliver that sermon two times, once at 9am and once at 11. After each service a handful of people come up to me afterwards and tell me how much they appreciate my words. Most of the time they say, “good sermon” or “good word.” It makes me feel good to hear them say that. I’m not complaining about that.

A lot of times I will respond by asking, “what did you like about it?” or “what stood out to you?” Almost always they have no response. Sometimes they stammer and try to come up with something. They might say “well, it was funny” or “it was just good.” Rarely do they have compelling or helpful feedback. This usually leaves me feeling one of two ways. Either my sermons are just ear candy for people or, they don’t know what makes a sermon good.

If your pastor is like me, he/she need the encouragement. But if you want to give meaningful feedback I suggest you give better reasons for liking the sermon. Here are four principles to guide you.

The Sermon Was Biblical

Many young preachers today rarely crack a Bible when they preach. Or, if they do, they bounce around the text and backup their points. They may use a verse from the gospels, one from the Psalms, and finish up with something from the Epistles. If your pastor preaches from a text and allows the text to shape his/her sermon then you should explain why that is a good thing and how much it means to you. 2 Timothy 4:2 says, “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.”

The Sermon Was Relatable

Expository preaching is good. But it’s also good to help a congregation find application points along the way. I call this “putting handles” on a sermon. A great sermon will help a person walk out the door and feel hope. This happens when pastor takes the time to find ways to challenge and encourage the listener. So if your pastor was able to build a bridge between the text and your life, make sure to tell them that you appreciate it. This is exactly what the apostle Paul wrote about in Ephesians 3:8-9 when he said, “this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things.”

The Sermon Was Short

I’ll just say it: we pastors love the sound of our own voices. It’s true. When I was a young preacher starting out I had a tendency to allow my sermons to reach 45 minutes or more. In my opinion this is longer than any sermon needs to be. There are no Biblical rules for how long a sermon should be. Paul preached a sermon that was so long a young man fell asleep–then out of a window! Modern audience get their information in small bites. Most people have trouble paying attention for more than 30 minutes. The reason why a lot of sermons are too long has nothing to do with good content. Sermons are too long due to a lack of preparation. A seasoned preacher will trim unnecessary parts from the sermon in order to deliver a well-crafted message that gets to the point quickly. Moses asked God to “teach us to number our days” (Psalm 90:12). If that is true of our days it is imperative of our minutes. If you appreciate a well-timed Biblical sermon tell your pastor, “thank you.”

The Sermon Was Convicting

People need to be challenged by a sermon – they like to be “beaten up” a little by the text. This is exactly what James had in mind when he described the Bible being like a mirror (James 1:23). A good teacher will hold the mirror of the scriptures up to the congregation. Many times that means he/she might have to bruise some egos and step on a few toes. If you feel convicted during a sermon let the Pastor know. It means that their teaching was a vehicle for the Holy Spirit to do His work.

Your pastor appreciates the feedback – both good and bad. Make sure your feedback is specific. That way your pastor will be able to get a sense of how to stay on track from week to week.

The Sheep Have Teeth

 

“I am in the midst of lions; I am forced to dwell among man-eating beasts, whose teeth are spears and arrows, whose tongues are sharp swords.”

Psalm 57:4

Before he was the leader of Israel, David penned a lot of lyrics like this one. Reading the whole psalm you would think he was being hunted by an opposing army, but interestingly enough he was being hotly pursued by his own king, a man named Saul.

Both men are military leaders, both are Israelites, and both worship the same God – can’t we just get along?

Sheep

Photo by Ariana Prestes, http://arianaprestes.blogspot.com.br/

It always surprises me how quickly Christians can turn on one another. If something doesn’t go our way or if someone says something that offends us we become angry and  vitriolic towards those that Christ has commanded us to love. Though we are sheep of the same fold, we certainly have teeth and we don’t hesitate to use them to get our point across in a disagreement. Though no longer utilizing “spears and arrows” we prefer a more subtle approach to our man-eating; Emails, Facebook, and Twitter for example. Verbal violence is never a good solution to a disagreement or quarrel. In the beginning of the chapter David models the perfect response for someone who feels attacked. “I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings…” (Psalm 57:1)

David never returned insult for insult (1 Peter 3:9) but instead petitioned God for healing. Even when he was attacked on every side by his countrymen enemies he was able to praise God. May we follow his lead and turn to God whenever we feel attacked.

Three Steps To Giving Great Announcements

You might think this is silly but it’s not. People are getting up in front of congregations across America every week and boring the you-know-what-out of people with announcements. There they stand, droning on about some event or meeting at the church, while the average attender wonders when the madness will end. So, here are my suggestions for giving great announcements:

Direct the Announcement at Specific Group of People

Chances are that whatever you are saying is only for a sub-section of the people that you are addressing. So, before you start the announcement, get the attention of the people that matter. For example, if the announcement is just for teens then say, “hey students, I want to tell you about….” or if it is for new people you can say, “if you are new then I have some exciting information for you..” The reality is that people are bombarded with information almost all the time and this gives the rest of your audience (the ones to whom the announcement is not pertinent) permission to “turn-off” their brains for a second and absorb useless information. They won’t have to filter the information to find out if it’s necessary for them.

Give Details (but only what is absolutely essential)

Date, location, time, cost (if applicable) and possible an explanation of what will happen during the event (but only if it’s not obvious) are all that are important. For example, if you have a bowling event coming up you would say, “This Saturday we’ll meet at the Star Lanes at 6:30pm. Cost is just $5 per person.” Everyone knows what you’ll do at a bowling alley so there’s really no reason to tell people that you’ll be bowling. Additionally you may want to direct people to an optional source of information that contains expanded information regarding the event – such as a flyer, newsletter, bulletin, website, etc. But, if there is something about the event that would make it stand out then you can include that type of information in your announcement as well to generate some interest among your audience. For example, if you have an announcement about a picnic, most (if not all) people know about picnics – what happens, type of food, outdoors, etc., however, include details that set the event apart from others. You might say, “join us this Saturday for a picnic at Douglas Park around noon. We plan to have Beefy’s BBQ providing great ribs and we’ve also rented 3 jumphouses. It’s going to be a blast!”

Tell Them Why It’s Important

Most people have their schedules jammed packed with stuff already, therefore, it’s a good idea to tell them why they are interested instead of forcing people to come up with ideas on their own. For example, if you have a gathering for new people you would say, “this will be a great way for you to meet new people.” Or if you have a prayer group planned you could say, “you’ll definitely have a chance to connect with God on a deeper level.” Effectively, this is the REASON that people want to go to something or participate.