Thursday, August 06, 2009

Questions for the Pastor

Over the last ten days, I have received several emails and handwritten questions concerning a variety of topics. Some of them have been very encouraging with offers of prayer and support. Others have been genuine questions about ministry programs and the direction of the church. And, finally, some of have been focused on particular concerns or issues related to a variety of topics.

Several years ago in my ministry, I started a “Questions with the Pastor” forum where by folks could ask any question and I would do my best to answer it. I liked the format so much that I decided to do it here, maybe once per quarter.

The following are just a few of the questions I have received and my attempt to answer them in an honest, Godly fashion.

Of course, my goal for us at GBUMC is transparency, openness and honesty. I want you to know the general course of our church and to work together to create in us what God has so carefully and beautifully planned.

Again, these are real questions I have received.

What is the most important book you have read in the past year and why? The Prodigal God by Timothy Keller. It not only changed the way I read the Parable of the Lost Son, but it reminded me of the incredible, “reckless” love God has for us. Everyone should read this wonderful, little book.

What is your vision for GBUMC over the next year, five years and 10 years? Well, this is a huge question that cannot be answered in just a few sentences, but here is my summary. I want us to live faithfully, first, in the Great Commission, “Going into the world and making disciples of Jesus Christ.” Second, I want us to live passionately for the Greatest Commandment, “to Love the Lord Our God with all our hearts, souls and minds, and then to love our neighbors as ourselves.” If we do these two things, then the whole of our church and our future will be very bright.

Why are you getting rid of the organ in the sanctuary? Well, this one came as a surprise because there has been NO talk of getting rid of the organ. In fact, the organ will continue to be used faithfully at the 8am and 11am worship services. I am sorry for this VERY inaccurate rumor that has caused a great deal of unrest.

What are your current writing projects and how do you see them impacting your role as Senior Pastor at GBUMC? Let me answer the last, first. My writing is an outflow of my sermon preparation. Thus, I believe my role as a Teaching Pastor will inform my writing and vice versa by allowing me to stay focused on topics that will touch people’s hearts and lead them into relationships with Christ. Now, for current projects… I am finishing edits on “A Positive Life,” a memoir of my story to be published and released by Zondervan in February 2010. Second, I am completing the manuscript for “You Can’t Do Everything… So Do Something” to be released by Abingdon Press (Cokesbury) in May 2010. Third, I am beginning work on “Aching for Answers: God’s CURE for the Chronic Life,” co-written with my dear friend Deanna Favre, to be released late fall 2010 or winter 2011. Along with this I have several articles I am working on including one to be printed in Charles Stanley’s “InTouch Magazine” this fall.

Is it true that you refused to take the appointment of Senior Pastor to GBUMC unless the church hired your friends from Mississippi? This one would be funny if I had not heard it several times. The answer is ASBOLUTELY NOT TRUE. First, I am appointed by the Bishop of the Alabama West Florida Conference, so I have little room to negotiate. Secondly, there were NO positions available when I accepted the appointment whereby my associates from Mississippi might be hired. I, at no time, made any statement, hint or stipulation of any sort or kind related to my job being tied to positions for other associates. However, when the positions became available, I was asked if I knew of someone to fill the position; to which I answered an enthusiastic “Yes.” These rumors are simply…. Rumors. Now, that said, it is not unusual in churches of our size for the Senior Pastor designee to bring his/her staff with them when they make a transition. I did not do that. But, I am also very happy that the Lord has worked out the details so that I might work with my associates from previous ministries. Over the last years, we have become family, and they mean a great deal to me.

Are you still traveling and speaking a great deal? If so, how will that affect your role at GBUMC? And, how does hosting The United Methodist Hour fit into your role at GBUMC? I have seriously reduced my speaking schedule for the next year in order to focus on GBUMC. I have two speaking engagements for the next year, one at St. Paul School of Theology in Kansas City and one at Duke Divinity School in Durham, North Carolina. And, for those who have not heard, I have resigned as the host of The United Methodist Hour effective September 1, 2009 in order to focus more on GBUMC.

What is this talk about Gulf Breeze Global? Some folks think you are trying to turn us into “Saddleback: The Gulf Breeze Campus?” This email would also be funny if I had not received it in a couple of different forms. Gulf Breeze Global is simply a name given to our efforts to share the worship, programming and congregational care/guidance with folks who are “not present” with us in this community. We are trying to create a “Global Community” where friends around the country and world can worship via the web and be included in the life of the congregation whether they live here or in California. We already have folks living in various places like Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania who consider GBUMC their home. As Thomas Friedman said, “The world is flat and we can be many places at one time.” But, don’t worry the focus for great pastoral care and love will only grow deeper for those of us in this community. As Jesus said, “As we learn to give ourselves away, we find Him.” Oh… and thanks for the compliment about trying to be like Saddleback. I have dear friends who work and go to church there. They are great folks who mobilize thousands of people every year to be the “hands and feet of Jesus.” We should be so blessed as to live out their model.

Many of our older members are afraid they are being pushed out for a “younger approach--- I believe Senior Adults are an integral part of our church--- do you!?” ABSOLUTELY. In fact, I want a vibrant, active senior adult ministry that is not just another “retirement experience” but a place where our fastest growing population can utilize the life skills and wisdom they have learned in service to Christ and to Christ’s people. I love Senior Adult ministry and have enjoyed the Sharing and Caring Program and the different Sunday school classes I have attended. Not only do Senior Adults represent a large number of our congregation, but they represent a vital heartbeat in the life of our church. I have found that age is more of a “mindset” than a “number.” What God wants from us is that we learn to serve and love and share until he has deemed it time to move on.

Now, I realize that change brings a lot of fear and uncertainty. But, as I shared with one of our older members the other day when I asked her to name what we had ACTUALLY changed in the last weeks and months that worried her so, she could not think of but a couple of adjustments. In fact, most of our changes have been to secure our traditional heritage in worship and to make sure that people feel comfortable. Most of the concerns folks are dealing with are either from rumors or perceptions, or both.

My prayer is that we will not hesitate to ask questions and talk to one another. God has great things in store for this congregation, but it certainly will not be in the same place or season as before. God is now moving into other areas for the people of GBUMC to shine.

Just know that I love you all and that we move forward in much prayer and deliberation, knowing that not everyone will like what we do, but confident that God goes before us.

And, friends, the joy of all of this is not that we accomplish new tasks or directions, but that we accomplish them together. I am very excited to be on the journey with you!

1. Worship Matters
This week at GBUMC, all three campuses continue our VACATION Series and will talk about the importance of not only finding rest in Christ but living in such a way as to have others “want the kind of relationship with God” that we have.

George Barna, the preeminent Christian statistician, recently shared that the greatest impediment Christianity has to its own growth, is what non-Christians perceive as a lack of enthusiasm and authenticity in our faith.

The Vacation Series addresses the need for each of us to find that central place in our faith journey that brings such joy, rest, purpose and peace that others want to be a part of it as well.

Making Life Matter Learning Series--- Fall 2009

I am very excited to be leading several Bible Study/Small Group Offerings this Fall Semester in our LiFE Journey program. The following are some of the classes I will be leading/teaching:

“When God Disappears: Finding Hope When Your Circumstances Seem Impossible.” Three-Week Series. Begins September 9th. 6:30-7:30pm. Study Curriculum: Book of same name. Available in The Bookplace.

"A Quck Guide to Learning How to Study Your Bible.” September 27th. 5:00-6:30pm. A study guide is available.

“A Quick Guide to Learning How to Pray.” September 30th. 6:00-7:00pm. A study guide is available. Free.

“Learning and Developing Your Spiritual Gift.” October 21st. 6:00-7:00pm. A study guide is available. Free.

“The Eight Blessings: Redisovering the Beattitudes.” Four-Week Series. Begins October 28th. 6:30-7:30pm. Study Curriculum: Book of same name. Available in The Bookplace.

“The Real Story of Christmas: The NOEL You Never Knew… or at least had forgotten.” Two-Week Series. Begins December 2nd. 6:30-7:30pm. A Study Guide is Available. Free.

For more information or to register, please contact Kathy Norberg, Asst. Exec. Director for Connections, at 850-932-3594 or email

We love you all.

Be Salt and Light... You matter!


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