Programs Won’t Change a Life

This is a great article by Michael Warden on “Why Programs Don’t Produce Lasting Change.”

Warden writes:

“If I…do not have love, I gain nothing.” ~ 1 Corinthians 13:3

The leadership culture of the Church in the West is enamored with programs. We love to package the things we’ve learned ~ be they strategies, techniques, processes, or curricula ~ and scale them to multiply our impact and to help more people.

The motive is noble. And if we were merely in the knowledge-sharing business, then creating a program or curriculum to increase our impact would make perfect sense.

But we’re not in the knowledge business. At least, not primarily.

We’re in the transformation business.
We’re in the business of changing lives.

In this business of transforming lives, things like strategies, techniques, processes, curricula ~ they all have their place. For anyone experiencing authentic life transformation, there are definitely skills that need to be learned, new ways of being and doing that better serve the new person they have now become.

But programs don’t change people. They don’t produce that transformation. They can’t. They can’t because they lack the one and only thing in the universe that can authentically transform a person into who they were meant to be.

Love.

Yes. Love.

See, here is the secret to inspiring deep, authentic, personal transformation in another human soul:

It does not come through giving them knowledge or skill sets or even training them in disciplined practices (though these things are all very good). It comes through love and the courage born of love.

Love is the transforming agent of the universe. Love is the “Deeper Magic” that C.S. Lewis pointed to in The Chronicles of Narnia, the magic that changes not merely behavior, but the core identity of a man or woman (Romans 5: 6-10; 2 Corinthians 5:17-19). With enough love brought to bear, anything is possible.

But without love unleashed, without love applied, nothing really changes. Not really. Not in the deep places where our most honest thoughts lie.

The work of transformation, of changing lives, is life-on-life. Heart on heart. It always has been. There’s no getting around it. It’s slower than we’d like it to be. AND it’s the way God designed His Kingdom to advance.

So it all works out like this: A brilliant curriculum or a masterful strategy placed in the hands of a leader who does not know how to love will produce little change and may even do harm. But in the hands of a soul who is willing to love and loves well, even the [worst] curriculum can’t prevent true life change from spreading through them.

Many leaders I know (including me) have spent so much time developing programs and discussing strategies and so little time investing in hearts so they become great lovers of others…life, on life, on life.

How To Measure a Pastor

How do you measure the success of a pastor? Should a pastor be measured by buildings, budgets, or backsides? Should his pedigree or accomplishments be the yardstick for his worth? How do you determine if a pastor is successful?

You can find the answer to these questions in Paul Tripp’s post “The Recipe for a Successful Pastor.” Pastors may accomplish great measurable feats; however, if they do not proceed from a heart of brokenness, love, and the pursuit of holiness then they are nothing more than worldly accomplishments.

Tripp writes:

I am convinced that many of the problems in pastoral culture result from an unbiblical definition of the essential ingredients of ministry success. Sure, most candidate profiles expect a “vibrant walk with the Lord,” but these words are often weakened by a process that asks few questions in this area and makes grand assumptions. We’re really interested in knowledge (right theology), skill (good preacher), ministry philosophy (will build the church), and experience (isn’t cutting his pastoral teeth in this new place of ministry). I have heard church leaders, in moments of pastoral crisis, say many times, “We didn’t know the man we hired.”

What does knowing the man entail? It means knowing the true condition of his heart—as far as such is possible. What does he really love, and what does he despise? What are his hopes, dreams, and fears? What are the deep desires that fuel and shape the way he does ministry? What anxieties have the potential to derail or paralyze him? How accurate is his view of himself? How open is he to confrontation, critique, and encouragement? How committed is he to his own sanctification?

How open is he about his own temptations, weaknesses, and failures? How ready is he to listen to and defer to the wisdom of others? Is pastoral ministry a community project to him? Does he have a tender, nurturing heart? Is he warm and hospitable, a shepherd and champion to those who are suffering? What character qualities would his wife and children use to describe him? Does he sit under his own preaching? Is his heart broken and his conscience regularly grieved as he looks at himself in the mirror of the Word? How robust, consistent, joyful, and vibrant is his devotional life?

Does his ministry to others flow out of the vibrancy of his devotional communion with the Lord? Does he hold himself to high standards, or does he settle for mediocrity? Is he sensitive to the experience and needs of those who minister alongside him? Does he embody the love and grace of the Redeemer? Does he overlook minor offenses? Is he ready and willing to forgive? Is he critical and judgmental? How does the public pastor differ from the private husband and dad? Does he take care of his physical self? Does he numb himself with too much social media or television? How would he fill in this blank: “If only I had ________”? How successful has he been in pastoring the congregation that is his family?

True Condition of the Pastor’s Heart

A pastor’s ministry is never just shaped by his experience, knowledge, and skill. It is also always shaped by the true condition of his heart. In fact, if his heart is not in the right place, knowledge and skill can make him dangerous.

Pastors often struggle to find living, humble, needy, celebratory, worshipful, meditative communion with Christ. It is as if Jesus has left the building. There is all kinds of ministry knowledge and skill, but it seems divorced from a living communion with a living and ever-present Christ. All this activity, knowledge, and skill seems to be fueled by something else. Ministry becomes shockingly impersonal. Then it’s about theological content, exegetical rightness, ecclesiastical commitments, and institutional advancement. It’s about preparing for the next sermon, getting the next meeting agenda straight, and filling the requisite leadership openings. It’s about budgets, strategic plans, and ministry partnerships.

None of these things is wrong in itself. Many of them are essential. But they must never be ends in themselves. They must never be the engine that propels the vehicle. They must all express something deeper in the pastor’s heart.

The pastor must be enthralled by, in awe of, and in love with his Redeemer so that everything he thinks, desires, chooses, decides, says, and does is propelled by love for Christ and the security of rest in the love of Christ. He must be regularly exposed by, humbled by, assured by, and given rest by the grace of his Redeemer. His heart needs to be tenderized day after day by his communion with Christ so that he becomes a loving, patient, forgiving, encouraging, and giving servant-leader. His meditation on Christ, his presence, his promises, and his provisions must not be overwhelmed by his meditation on how to make his ministry work.

Protection Against All Other Loves

Only love for Christ can defend the heart of the pastor against all other loves that have the potential to kidnap his ministry. Only worship of Christ has the power to protect him from all the seductive idols of ministry that will whisper in his ear. Only the glory of the risen Christ will guard him against the self-glory that tempts all and destroys the ministry of so many.

Only Christ can turn an arrogant, “bring on the world” seminary graduate into a patient, humble giver of grace. Only deep gratitude for a suffering Savior can make a man willing to suffer in ministry. Only in brokenness before your own sin can you give grace to fellow rebels among whom God has called you to minister. Only when your identity is firmly rooted in Christ will you find freedom from seeking to get your identity out of your ministry.

We must be careful how we define ministry readiness and spiritual maturity. There is a danger in thinking that the well-educated and well-trained seminary graduate is ministry ready or to mistake ministry knowledge, busyness, and skill with personal spiritual maturity. Maturity is a vertical thing that will have a wide variety of horizontal expressions. Maturity is about relationship to God that results in wise and humble living. Maturity of love for Christ expresses itself in love for other.

Thankfulness for the grace of Christ expresses itself in grace to others. Gratitude for the patience and forgiveness of Christ enables you to be patient and forgiving of others. Your daily experience of the rescue of the gospel gives you a passion for people experiencing the same rescue. This is the soil in which true ministry success grows.

The Hope of Parents for Their Children

As a parent my greatest desire is to see my son grow up loving, honoring, and serving the Lord. We read the Bible and pray together almost every night. We take him to church a couple of times a week. We try to explain to him that the way we treat others is a direct reflection of our relationship with God. We want him to understand the difference between cultural morality and living out the Christian life. We want to teach him that his life is to be lived as a demonstration of his love for God.

We are prayerfully seeking God’s wisdom to raise our son up in the ways of the Lord; however, there is no guarantee he will obey or continue in these teachings. As a pastor I have seen too many parents broken because of the choices of their children. They were godly parents and yet somewhere along the way their children departed from the godly path.

Because of this, parents often ask me about Proverbs 22:6 “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” They feel like they held up their end by raising the child the right way,  but now that same son or daughter wants nothing to do with God, Jesus, or the church. These parents just want to know what they did wrong or if there is anything they can do to fix the situation.

This morning I found a few insightful thoughts on D.A. Carson’s blog in regard to this verse. Dr. Carson writes: “The proverb ‘Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it’ (Prov. 22:6) is so well known that it cries out for comment. Recall that a proverb is neither case law nor unqualified promise (review meditation for March 23). When children go wrong, very often the careful observer can spot familial reasons that have contributed to the rebellion. But this is not always the case. Sometimes young people from evidently wonderful families kick the traces. Some return years later; some never do. Good families may produce prodigal sons. This proverb must not be treated as if it were a promise that fails periodically. Rather, it is a proverb: it tells how God has structured reality, and what we should do to conform to it. This is the principle of how families work; it includes no footnotes and mentions no exceptions.”

As parents we are going to make mistakes in raising our children. However, if we strive to honor God in the raising of our kids, if we set the Word, the commands, and ways of God before them, and if we try to be a living example of all we teach then we can rest knowing that we did our best. There comes a time when our kids must choose which path they will take. Yes it is heartbreaking when they make terrible choices, but as their parents we will still have opportunities to use our authority to influence them in the right direction. But in the end they must choose which path of life to follow.

Regardless of the age of our kids, there are few ways we can continue to train them up in the ways of the Lord. First, pray for them. Pray for their wisdom, holiness, and even conviction of sin. We can also lovingly and gently offer advice. If they are receptive, sit down with them and share your concerns. And finally, love them. My past is littered with mistakes the I believe greatly disappointed my parents; however, I always knew they loved me. It was their reflecting the unconditional love of God that helped lead me to repentance and a godly Christ-like life.

So parents do your part in putting children on the right course. Then entrust them into the hands of God knowing that He will never give up on drawing them to Himself.

Worship With Thankful Hearts

I hope everyone reading this is making plans to attend church with your fellow Christians to worship the God and Father of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. When we gather together it should be a time of celebrating the resurrection of Jesus.  It is through His death, burial, and resurrection that we are able to be forgiven, justified, and sanctified.  Therefore, I pray this Lord’s Day finds you with a thankful heart.

Here are a few verses from the Psalms that reveal the heart of true worshippers when they gather together mindful of all the Lord’s heavenly gifts.  Happy Lord’s Day!

Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, [And] into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him,[and] bless His name. (Ps. 100:4) 

I will praise the name of God with a song, And will magnify Him with thanksgiving. (Ps. 69:30) 

Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving; Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms. (Ps. 95:2) 

Make a joyful shout to the LORD, all you lands! … [4] Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, [And] into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, [and] bless His name. (Ps. 100:1, 4) 

Let them sacrifice the sacrifices of thanksgiving, And declare His works with rejoicing. (Ps. 107:22) 

I will offer to You the sacrifice of thanksgiving, And will call upon the name of the LORD. (Ps. 116:17) 

Therefore I will give thanks to You, O LORD, among the Gentiles, And sing praises to Your name.(Ps. 18:49) 

Sing praise to the LORD, you saints of His, And give thanks at the remembrance of His holy name…To the end that [my] glory may sing praise to You and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give thanks to You forever. (Ps. 30:4, 12) 

I will give You thanks in the great assembly; I will praise You among many people.    (Ps. 35:18) 

We give thanks to You, O God, we give thanks! For Your wondrous works declare [that] Your name is near. (Ps. 75:1) 

So we, Your people and sheep of Your pasture, Will give You thanks forever; We will show forth Your praise to all generations. (Ps. 79:13) 

[It is] good to give thanks to the LORD, And to sing praises to Your name, O Most High…(Ps. 92:1) 

Rejoice in the LORD, you righteous, And give thanks at the remembrance of His holy name. (Ps. 97:12) 

Praise the LORD! Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for [He is] good! For His mercy [endures] forever. (Ps. 106:1) 

Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for [He is] good! For His mercy [endures] forever.       (Ps. 107:1) 

Father, we worship and glorify You this morning with hearts thankful for all the ways You demonstrate Your love toward us.  Thank You, Father!

All Bible quotes are taken from the New King James Version.

Thirty-Eight Years!

I can’t believe it has been thirty-eight years! So many things have happened since January 17, 1974. Life has not always been the easiest, but the decision I made that day has influenced the rest of my life.

January 17, 1974—I was nine years old and attending a church service at Parkland Baptist Church in Tulsa.  Brother J. Harold Bryant was the pastor.  I really can’t remember what he said that morning; however, at the end of his message I told my dad, “I need to be saved.” He took me by the hand, walked me down to the front of the church, and we talked with Pastor Bryant about what I needed to do to become a Christian.  He simply led me in a prayer admitting I was a sinner, believing that Jesus died for my sins, that He rose from the dead, and that I was committing the rest of my life to Him.

When we got home that afternoon I wrote the following:

“From this day on I will be a Christian and have everlasting life.  For God has been knocking on my heart’s door.  He has been wanting me to be saved. But I was to [sic] scared and wouldn’t let him in and I knew I should let him. So I let him in.  Bobby Pittenger January 17, 1974”

Now I realize the grammar is not that great, but I was only nine! Never-the-less, notice what I understood:

1) God was pursuing me

2) Becoming a Christian means everlasting life

3) We must choose to accept His offer of forgiveness and eternal life

Sometimes I think adults make it way too difficult. Jesus told us to come with a child-like faith. We want to know all the details and have everything figured out before we make a decision.  The only way to become a Christian is to admit our spiritual poverty, cry out to Jesus, and then live out the decision we have made.

Over the last thirty-eight years I have made a lot of mistakes, and for several years, most people could not tell that I was a Christian by the way I was living. However, God’s grace has been sufficient for me. At the age of twenty-six I realized I had spent several years out of the church, and I was no longer sure if the decision I made in 1974 was genuine. So, once again I made the long journey down to the front of the church and recommitted my life to Jesus. That was twenty-two years ago, and my life has been filled with incredible peace and joy.  Regardless of what happens in this short life, I know that one day I will stand before the King of kings and Lord of lords and will worship Him forever!

How about you? Has God been knocking at your heart’s door? He wants you to be saved.  If you are not sure, please contact me at Living Oaks Baptist Church and I will tell you how to become a Christian.