Buy a shirt, give a home!

Not long ago TOMS Shoes, behind the leadership of Blake Mycoskie, popularized the idea of charitable purchases. In other words, you bought a pair of shoes from TOMS, and they give a pair of shoes to someone in need. It’s obviously a great business model, but it also help us do good while also acquiring something we all need anyway – shoes.

We want to help do something similar, though on a different scale. We are working with the good folks at Bonfire Funds to provide a shirt for you to purchase. It’s a great looking, comfortable shirt and they’re offered at reasonable prices. However, instead of buying a shirt and having something like a shirt given to someone in need, when you buy this shirt you will be helping provide a home to an orphan in need. It’s really pretty simple and yet the impact can be pretty significant.

We are trying this one time to see how the response is. So far we’ve been pretty excited about the response. We were hoping to sell at least 50 shirts (at Bonfire’s recommendation) and, while we had 15 days to make that happen, we actually sold 50 shirts in the first 15 hours!

Now we need to sell as many as we can. If we can sell around 3,000 shirts, we can completely fund the adoption. That’s obviously a lot of shirts, but if you think about it, it’s not that bad. If a few of our friends and family can share it around and encourage their friends and family to buy a shirt, we could get it done. We’ve tried to come up with a good looking design that is fun to wear and not too specific to our adoption so that anyone would be comfortable wearing it.

So, would you do us a favor? Would you consider buying one (or two or three) shirts for you and your family, and would you share through your social media channels about this opportunity? It would be a great help to us! Click here to visit the page where you can find t-shirts, women’s cut shirts, hoodies, long sleeve t-shirts and youth shirts.

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Let’s help Syrian (and other) refugees.

The debate is swirling concerning the Syrian refugee status, and whether they should be welcomed into the US. While that’s an important conversation, and one that needs to be had, let’s set it aside for a moment. Regardless of conviction, everyone I know who claims Christ agrees that we should express love and compassion to those who are fleeing terror. The problem is that most of us don’t know what to do. How can we personally involve ourselves in serving these who are hurting? Let me briefly outline just a few ideas that will help us put feet to our compassion, no matter which side of the political debate you come down on.

1. Provide resources to assist the refugees.
You can provide monetary, or other resources, but find a way to serve those who are fleeing disaster. Our church has done this by collecting resources and sending them to northern Iraq where a number of refugees have settled, as well as sending financial support. You can also do this by giving, financially, to one of the fantastic relief agencies that are working diligently to serve these refugees. There are more agencies doing good work than I can list here, but I’ve personally worked with a few that I highly recommend. Baptist Global Response, World Relief and WorldVision are good starting places. If you know of another good organization, though, feel free to start with them. The important thing is that we do something.

2. Work with local refugees who are being resettled.
One of the most encouraging things my family has experienced recently has been working with local refugees who are being resettled due to conflict. Relief agencies who are helping resettle refugees are always looking for volunteers who will give a little bit of time to befriend and help refugee families. They need assistance with everything from resume preparation, navigating a confusing new city/area, learning customs/language and most of all, they need friends. The refugees that we have come to know have blessed our family in ways that were far greater than we have blessed them. In the Nashville area, we have worked with World Relief. Learn more about the work in your local area, and see how you can be involved.

3. Pray. Pray diligently.
Whatever your political position, refuges around the world need our love, compassion and most of all, they need our prayer. Spend some time today praying with your family for the displaced refugees. When you gather with your church, lead your church to pray for these displaced people. While there are refugees from many places, the Syrian refugees are forefront in our minds right now. Out of the 22 million Syrians, 12 million, over half, have been displaced by the crisis. They are being killed at a rate similar to the Paris death total every single day since March of 2011. 12.5 women and children are killed every day. These people desperately need our prayer.

4. Go and serve them.
I know that most of us can’t do this, but some of us can. Instead of a mission trip to an easier location, why not spend a week or two physically serving among them? I’ve spent time close to the Syrian border talking to refugees, and sharing the gospel with them. This crisis is easy to discuss in theoretical terms, but when you’ve spent time with someone who was beaten trying to cross a border, and preferred the beating because it was better than the danger back home, that theory becomes reality in significant ways. Whether it be a short-term opportunity, or a longer-term commitment through a relief agency, some of us can physically do something to care for refugees. Maybe you are one of those who can.

This is a quick list I threw together in 10 minutes from my experience. It’s not exhaustive, and it’s not meant to be. I’m just hopeful that it will make some of us think about ways we can serve those who are hurting; ways that we can show compassion to those who are in need.

What are some other ways that you, your church or someone you know is serving refugees and their communities?

Congrats to my dad, new President of the Minnesota-Wisconsin State Convention!

This afternoon my dad, Paul Fries, was nominated and elected as the new President of the Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptist Convention. I couldn’t be more excited and more proud. I have watched my dad for almost 37 years now, and can testify that he is a man of character, passion, integrity, faithfulness, love for his family, his church, his denomination and, most of all, love for King Jesus. My dad has spent his life showing me what it looks like to love and serve others. He is a man who deflects praise, who often serves in ways that no one knows about, and who has tremendous faith and is willing to step out and exercise that faith. My dad and mom, Cheryl, have modeled a strong, biblical marriage for 40 years and they raised 3 kids with sacrifice, love and commitment to show us Jesus.

My dad currently serves as the pastor of not one, but two churches in Richland County, Wisconsin; he is the pastor of Blue River Valley Church and the Interim Pastor of First Baptist Church in Richland Center, WI. The churches he serves are smaller; one is in a town of 5,000 and the other is a rural church located about 7 miles outside of a town of 1,000. As such he represents leaders from across the Southern Baptist Convention, but he also represents the average pastor across America who pastors smaller churches and who will never be known for their sacrifice and faithfulness.

I love the folks who make up the Minnesota-Wisconsin State Convention, and love the work they are doing for the Kingdom of God. Dr. Leo Endel, their Executive Director, is leading them well, and I am looking forward to watching my dad work together with Leo, their Executive Committee and the State Convention over the next year.

I think denominations and movements are led well when they are led by faithful leaders who model tremendous faith, character and sacrifice. My dad embodies these things, from where I’m sitting, and I hope he will serve as a model and encouragement to pastors and leaders all over.

Beyond all that, though, he’s my dad. In fact, even though I’m 37 and have kids myself, I still call him my daddy, and I’m not embarrassed about it. He is the first hero I’ve ever had, and I want to be like him more and more each day. I’m glad he’s elected because I think he’ll serve well, and is well honored to step into the role, but mostly I’m just proud because he’s my dad and I love him. Congrats Daddy, from your pretty proud son.

Friends, we are without excuse.

This article originally appeared at LifeWay.com/Pastors

I’ve seen hunger up close. In the dusty villages of West Africa, I have seen the extended bellies caused by malnutrition and the desperation in the eyes of a mother who doesn’t know how to feed her baby. These images are hard to forget. When I look at my own daughters today and think about not being able to feed them, I can’t imagine the helplessness felt by those who cannot feed their own children. I don’t want to imagine it, but for the sake of those who are hurting, I must imagine it.

There was a time when the images I witnessed in Burkina Faso would be limited to the pages of LIFE magazine for most Americans. Yet today, the information age has transformed our ability to know world realities. In a matter of seconds, we have access to the statistics, the stories and the faces of those who are affected by all manner of human needs–the most pressing of which is hunger.

  • One out of six people in the world today are undernourished.
  • 3.1 million children under the age of 5 die each year because of hunger-related causes.
  • One out of seven people in the United States access food banks to provide food for themselves and their families.

Unfortunately, because of the crush of data and statistics around us, it can be easy to run right past these numbers. I want you to stop, though, and think about them for a moment. Consider your own family, your friends and your church. What if those statistics were born out in the circle of people you know and love? I’m positive most, if not all, of us would be moved to do something.

Friends, we are without excuse. All over Scripture we are called to serve the physical needs we encounter, yet many of us spend our days focused on our own needs and wants. How is your church addressing this global crisis? How is your family serving those in need in your community? Have you prayed for those who don’t know where to go for their next meal?

On Oct. 11, churches across the country will participate in Global Hunger Sunday, calling attention to the hunger needs around the world and in their community, as well as taking steps to end this crisis. Global Hunger Relief exists for this purpose, supporting projects implemented to feed the hungry and transform communities. I am extremely grateful that 100% of every dollar given to GHR goes directly to hunger-related projects. There’s no administrative entanglement to limit the advance of your money to help eliminate this tragic problem.

Today, GHR dollars are being used to fund a formula program in West Africa–feeding up to 300 babies a week who would otherwise be severely stunted or die from lack of proper nutrition. This project and hundreds of others are taking place through the work of GHR partners like IMB, NAMB and BGR. I wish you would consider joining us on Oct. 11 to show these faces to your congregation, tell these stories, and help us save lives in Jesus’ name.

Resources and videos for participating in Global Hunger Sunday are available at globalhungerrelief.com/resources.

You can download a free bulletin insert here.

God didn’t call you to be a Super-Pastor

This article originally appeared at Lifeway.com/ChurchLeaders

The “Super-Pastor” expectations that so often seem to go hand-in-hand with modern church leadership are a black mark on the church. The “Super-Pastor” is the pastor who is always on call, ready to serve; nights, weekends and vacations are no barrier, they never miss a hospital visit, they always preach with passion and with conviction, and so on. It’s exhausting, isn’t it? And like every other pastor, I’ve bad mouthed the whole concept, and bemoaned its existence, until I realized that its presence was, in large part, the fuel that kept my ministry (and even worse – my soul) going. Let me show you what I have learned.

I believe that we live in a culture that rests on the twin pillars of independence and consumerism; both of which strike at the heart of Christianity. Our cultural commitment to this end leads to a number of ramifications. For instance, we expect professionalism by those who serve us. I don’t mean that we expect professional behavior as much as I think we expect a certified professional to be the one doing the serving, or work. We don’t generally see shade-tree mechanics anymore, we would never visit an unlicensed doctor, and you can’t show up in court with a lawyer who doesn’t have a law degree. In fact, when I recently had a tree cut down in my yard, I made sure that the person doing the job was insured and bonded so that I wouldn’t be liable for any shoddy work. This desire for professionalism, when coupled with a consumer-driven view of the church makes for a bad combination.

I think most of us shop for churches the way I like to shop for blue jeans. When I look for blue jeans I look for the best store, offering the most comfortable product and asking the smallest price from me (mostly because I’m cheap). We do the same thing in the church. When we are looking for a church we even refer to it as, “church shopping.” Our means of determining a good church generally center on finding a great church “product” that fits us most comfortably, and asks the least of us. Once there, we expect a professional pastor to deliver to us goods and services, of the spiritual kind. We view church as a place, not as a people, and we go there on occasion to get our spiritual “fill-up” where the professional dispenses the goods and services while we sit in the chairs, watching (read: being entertained) and we put some money in the plate on occasion so that we’ve rightly paid for the goods and services we are receiving from the pastoral professional. We then go home, “filled up” and ready to make it though another week, as if church is a place where go to get our “spiritual pit-stop”. In this environment pastors, we aren’t creating disciples – we are crafting consumers, and we are very good at it.

In this context, we have developed a pattern for the pastor where they serve our spiritual needs in any and all ways we deem appropriate, and in doing so we have created the “Super-Pastor” complex. But, while many pastors decry this publicly, I’m convinced most of us never really want it to go away. See, it occurred to me, in my own life, that the churches I have served are full of people with emotional baggage. In fact, every person on the planet carries their own baggage. In the midst of this baggage, each of us tries to find ways to self-medicate, to help us handle the baggage. Some use food, some use alcohol, some use sex, but all of us use something. For the pastor, though, the emotional need is generally no different. We have our own various kinds of emotional baggage, and while we may occasionally self-medicate using the same means as everyone else, the truth is a fair number of us use ministry as a means of self-medicating. We suffer from identity issues, or morale issues, or affirmation issues, or even purpose, and each of these emotional needs are served every time a consumer-driven people calls on us to serve, and we do, and then they affirm us as the great pastor who does what no one else can do. Let’s be honest, when the sweet older lady grabs us by the arm and says to us at the end of the service, “Pastor, no one preaches to me like you do” it’s like nectar to our souls. It is sweet, indeed.

So what do we do about it? While there’s not enough room here to be comprehensive, I do think one of the solutions is found in Ephesians 4. Paul tells the church at Ephesus,

And He personally gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, for the training of the saints in the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ, until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, growing into a mature man with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness. – Ephesians 4:11-13 (HCSB)

God’s vocational design for church leaders is to equip the saints for works of ministry, not to do ministry for the saints. In other words, we enlist, equip and deploy the people in our churches so that, together, we serve the ministry needs of our church family. We kill the “Super-Pastor” when we hand off ministry, prepare others to do what we have historically done, and keep ourselves from always being front and center. In this paradigm pastors don’t stop doing ministry, no they do ministry but they do so along with the rest of the body, and not because they are the pastor, but because they are a member of the body, and every member of the body is equipped to serve together.

The great thing is that, when we embrace this model of leadership, Jesus is much more likely to get the credit. When we do everything, serving as the “Super-Pastor,” we too easily get the credit as the one spinning all the plates. In the midst of it we can even get more credit by appearing humble and overworked (all the while, actually loving the attention and affirmation it affords to us). Instead, what might the church look like if we pushed back, in a truly counter-cultural way, against the rampant independence and consumerism and killed the “Super-Pastor” by equipping the saints, doing ministry together, and the pastor fading into the background? I’m convinced that Jesus would be honored and pastor, you might just keep your ministry from killing you while you try to use it to feed your soul.

That our children might love Jesus

Our oldest daughter, Sarah Grace, was born almost 12 years ago. Shortly after her birth, which was a bit hectic because of some slight complications during delivery, we gathered together around her, and I held her and prayed for her that her heart would be turned to Jesus at a young age. From that time until now, Tracy and I have prayed diligently that our daughters would know and love Jesus. Not long ago Kessed, our youngest daughter, approached me to tell me that she had trusted Christ. After some probing questions, we felt confident that her commitment to Christ was genuine and that her comprehension of the gospel was more than sufficient. During this dialogue, our oldest expressed to us that she had also recently decided to trust Christ, but she had neglected to tell her mom & me because of nervousness. Once again we quizzed her, and once again we felt confident in the genuineness of her faith, as far as we could be confident.

Thankfully our church offers a wonderful “New Christians Class” for children who have come to faith to help them be clear on the fundamentals of their faith, as well as the discipline of walking with Christ. After they completed that class, they were baptized. Even more special to me, however, was that I was able to baptize both of them, on the same day. Our church, like many other churches, asks each baptismal candidate to share their testimony of faith via video prior to each baptism. Below I have posted both of their videos because I think they can encourage you, and because I can’t stop watching them. 😉

However, before you see the videos, I thought I would mention four things that Tracy and I have tried to be diligent about with our children, in an effort to pastor them well and lead them to their own faith. I am occasionally asked by parents what it looks like to pastor your children, so maybe this can be a helpful anecdote to encourage you. I am convinced that these four helps were influential in our girls’ appropriation of faith.

1. We prayed for our children’s salvation, in private and in front of them.
Tracy and I have prayed individually and together for the salvation of our children. This is not groundbreaking, I am sure. Hopefully most Christian parents are doing the same. However, one thing we began doing early on, and have continued throughout their life, was praying with them for their salvation. Daily, almost without fail, we would gather with our girls and pray that they would come to a day where they would understand their need for Jesus, his gift of salvation and their need to trust him. We were explicit and unashamed about this desire. In addition to this, Tracy in particular has diligently prayed scripture for them, asking God to confirm the truth of his word in their lives.

2. We imperfectly modeled a commitment to the gospel.
We have tried to model for our girls dependence on Jesus and repentance when we have failed as individuals and parents. I am convinced that among the worst thinga a parent can do is model some sort of false perfection. I think our tendency is to avoid admission of failure to our children, in an effort to appear in control. This too often can backfire, however, making genuine faith appear out of reach to our children and failing to teach our children how necessary grace is in our lives.

3. We shared the gospel with them.
We placed our children in situations where they would hear the gospel, but we very intentionally and persistently shared the gospel in clear and certain terms with them. I would imagine we shared the gospel with each of our daughters individually, and both daughters corporately, hundreds of times in their young lives. It seems to me that, as parents, we often assume much about our children and their comprehension of the gospel. However, the danger is to push our children prematurely or to coerce them into a commitment. That both of our girls made commitments to Christ individually, and came to us to share their decision was a great encouragement to our hearts.

4. We embedded our lives in a local church.
Finally, we center our lives around our local church community. This was obvious and expected when I was a Senior Pastor. However, when we stepped out of that role and looked for a church to join, we quickly found one upon moving to Tennessee and embedded our lives in that church community. In fact, we recently moved closer to our church community, even though it doubled my morning commute, because we believe that God’s design is for our faith to be developed in Christian community. Sarah Grace, in particular, shares in her testimony that an essential element to her faith was hearing our pastor encourage people who were not yet believers to take Christ, instead of the supper, as our church took communion. Do not overlook the spiritual importance of Christian community.

“Imprint these words of mine on your hearts and minds, bind them as a sign on your hands, and let them be a symbol on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, so that as long as the heavens are above the earth, your days and those of your children may be many in the land the Lord swore to give your fathers. – Deuteronomy 11:18-21