Christians & a Donald Trump Presidency

Donald Trump is the next president of the United States. While voter turnout was lower than it has been since 2000 election, it appears that white Evangelical voters were among the strongest constituencies to propel Trump to victory. In other words, my people, the group I associate with, helped place Trump in office. I woke up to the news that Trump was elected this morning and have been reflecting both on his victory and the path that placed him next in line for the White House, and what that means for us as Christians, now. I was not a Trump supporter, and was grieved because I thought both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton were troubling options for our country, and the data that is coming out reveals a populace that also does not find President-Elect Trump very appealing (his unfavorable rating is above 50%). This indicates that, likely, most who cast a vote for him did so in response to his opponent, Secretary Clinton, rather than because of a deep belief in his candidacy. In other words, they were more fearful of a Clinton Presidency, with her lack of trustworthiness, her radical opposition to the pro-life movement, her opposition to a biblical sexual ethic, and other issues than they were fearful of a Trump presidency. I share their concern about Mrs. Clinton, personally, and could not vote for her. However, the populace voting for a candidate out of concern for their opposition leaves followers of Christ in an important position this morning.

There is a chance that many who voted for Donald Trump out of concern over Hillary Clinton will now sit back and relax, to a degree, thinking that they have experienced victory. This would be a mistake, particularly for those of us who make up the church. Now that one great concern (Mrs. Clinton) is no longer a threat, the Christian’s new responsibility is to recognize that the candidate who has been elected is a man who has personally embodied a liberal sexual ethic, a grossly negligent and even dismissive attitude toward women, minorities, immigrants and others and who shows little awareness of a Christian commitment. As followers of Jesus, we need to pray for and honor him as president, but we need to hold President-Elect Trump accountable to not only defeat a concerning political foe, but also hold him accountable to embrace a Christian ethic on issues such as life, the dignity of every person regardless of race or gender, and so on.

The American people have spoken and Donald Trump will soon be president. We should pray for him and honor him as our President, as scripture calls us to. We should rest comfortably in the fact that God is in control, and his sovereignty is not in question (as he would have been should Mrs. Clinton have won). We must also, however, speak prophetically to him and his government, holding him accountable to govern in a way that is consistent with a Christian ethic. We cannot afford to relax, believing the work is done when there is much at stake. We also cannot pretend that a man who self-identifies as a Conservative will necessarily insure a preferred future. In other words, now that the election is over, the work of the church is not done, it is just beginning.

So let us speak out with kindness and with grace. Let us call our government to a pro-life, pro-family, pro-women, pro-minority, pro-immigrant, pro-Constitution governance. And let us not take hope in any earthly government, regardless of political persuasion, remembering that our ultimate hope is in King Jesus.

Micah is a husband to Tracy & a daddy to Grace, Kessed & (soon to be) Haddon. He’s Senior Pastor at Brainer Baptist Church in Chattanooga, TN. Most of all, he’s a debtor to grace.

Culture of Multiplication – Part One

Not long ago I wrote an article about the danger of the super-pastor, and how pastors often (subconsciously) perpetuate the problem. In the article I briefly touched on leadership & discipleship multiplication as a key to effectively eradicating the super-pastor syndrome. I didn’t have time in that piece to go into more detail about creating a culture of multiplication, but I thought it was worth a conversation so over the course of three articles I want to lay out for you the biblical case for multiplication, the barriers to multiplication and four models of multiplication. This is the first of the three articles.

The biblical plan is a culture of multiplication. There really doesn’t seem to be any question on this point. God never intended Lone Ranger pastors to tackle ministry on their own. Unfortunately we have developed a pattern, particularly in the US church, that perpetuates this myth. We’ve even nuanced our verbiage to reflect it. When a pastor does ministry we describe their behavior as “pastoral.” We say things like, “So and so is particularly pastoral.” What we mean by that is that they are good at serving the ministry needs of others. This is tragic, in my opinion, because scripture seems to indicate that church leaders are not called to do ministry as much as they are called to prepare and deploy the church to do ministry. Consider Ephesians 4:11-16.

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. Then we will no longer be little children, tossed by the waves and blown around by every wind of teaching, by human cunning with cleverness in the techniques of deceit. But speaking the truth in love, let us grow in every way into Him who is the head—Christ. From Him the whole body, fitted and knit together by every supporting ligament, promotes the growth of the body for building up itself in love by the proper working of each individual part.

This text pretty simply lays out four simple truths about church leaders and their responsibility to the church.

God gives the church leaders.

Leaders are not in their role simply because of giftedness, or desire, though both of those things are important. Leaders exist in their roles, first and foremost, because God has ordained that they be there. A church leader’s role is a commission; an assignment from the God of the universe. It cannot and should not be approached with lazy, half-hearted effort. The text says more than that leaders are simply given to the church though, it specifically says that leaders are given, as a personal gift from God. The idea here is that church leaders are intended by God to be a good, and gracious gift to the church. I wouldn’t recommend that you go to your church on Sunday and point out to them that, as a leader, you are God’s gift to them (that probably wouldn’t go well), but you ought to be encouraged by this fact. In God’s good providence, he intended for you to be his good gift to the church, and he intended the church to be a good gift to you.

Leaders equip the body.

God gives leaders to the church, yes, but notice that God doesn’t give us church leaders so that they can do ministry. He gives us leaders to equip the body to do ministry. This is a radically important distinction. As I previously said, we have even modified our vocabulary to indicate that when we assume certain aspects of pastoral leadership that are focused on serving the needs of others we are now known as “being pastoral.” This gives away a belief that what it means to be pastoral is to minister to the needs of others. While this is noble, and while the pastor should certainly be a servant, we do a disservice to the people we serve, the church as a whole, and the kingdom of God, if we personally do the ministry that God has called the whole church to do. Not only that, though, the bible is clear that the ministry won’t be done well, when we assume that posture, and the church will not grow, when we assume that posture.

Does this mean that church leaders shouldn’t be engaging the church in ministry? Absolutely not! It means, however, that they serve the church through ministry because their responsibility as a member of the body is to minister – just like every other member of the body – but their vocational responsibility is to equip the church for service.

The body is built up.

The ability of the church to be built into the image of Jesus is dependent upon the leadership training and handing off ministry. Notice the ways that the church grows when the leadership equips the body to do ministry, rather than simply doing the ministry for the body. They grow in unity, knowledge, doctrinal stability, gracious speech and the character of Jesus.

This pattern is a reversal of our typical behavior in the church. We have developed a pattern of expecting maturity before we give people ministry responsibilities. Paul, in Ephesians 4, turns this on its head. He wants us to understand that unless we turn people loose with ministry responsibility, they will never grow into maturity.

Jesus is glorified.

Finally, all this is done as Jesus enables it to be so, and it is done to bring him great glory. Notice the patter in the text.

  • Jesus brings the church together (unity in diversity)
  • Jesus makes the church grow
  • Jesus increases the church’s capacity to love
  • Jesus helps every believer to reach their potential

This is the dream for every church leader I know. They want the church to grow into, and be, every one of these things. Could it be that God gave us a plan to make it happen, and we’ve simply missed it all along?

This post was originally published at the LifeWay Leaders Blog

Micah is a husband to Tracy & a daddy to Grace, Kessed & (soon to be) Haddon. He’s Senior Pastor at Brainer Baptist Church in Chattanooga, TN. Most of all, he’s a debtor to grace.

An exciting change for the Fries family

Earlier tonight the Pastor Search Team from Brainerd Baptist Church in Chattanooga, TN shared with their church that they have invited me to preach in view of a call as their next Senior Pastor [presentation website]. If you are surprised by this transition in our life, you wouldn’t be alone. We have been surprised and amazed at how God has worked in our lives through this process of turning our hearts to Brainerd and Chattanooga. I’d love to share a little bit of that story with you.

Why leave LifeWay?
Why would I choose to leave LifeWay? The very simple answer, and I’ll explain more in detail below, is that we believe God has called us to Chattanooga and directed our hearts to Brainerd Baptist Church. We had no desire to leave LifeWay. Working for Ed Stetzer over the past 3. 5 years has has helped shape me in so many ways. Our time at LifeWay and in Nashville has been so good for our family and our ministry. We love LifeWay and, more than ever, we are excited about the future of LifeWay. We believe she is well led, and has a nearly unparalleled selection of giftedness across the men and women who make up the LifeWay family. I can’t say more strongly how much we love and respect LifeWay, her leadership and the resources she provides, and how bright we believe her future is. Leaving LifeWay will be tough.

However, over the past 3.5 years that I’ve served at LifeWay, we have realized that God has uniquely designed me to serve the local church in the role of pastor. Serving on staff at our home church, Fairview Church, and providing interim leadership over much of the last year at First Baptist Church of Jackson, MS (two churches I deeply love) showed me clearly that pastoring in the local church was exactly where I was designed by God to be.

With that said, we had no plans to leave LifeWay. At the beginning of our ministry Tracy and I made a decision to never send out resumes unless we were first approached by a church/ministry. We trusted the Lord and told him that we would be faithful where he placed us, and we would trust him to move us when he was ready. We weren’t planning to leave. In fact, on 4 occasions over the past year we were approached by wonderful churches and asked to consider possibly serving as their Senior Pastor. While we were honored by each of these requests – and believed each church gave evidence of great potential – we clearly discerned that God did not want us there. We now know it is because he was keeping us for Brainerd.

Finally, we struggled with the idea of leaving because we love our church and we love the city we live in. We have developed deep relationships here. Our girls have strong friendships here. It’s hard to say good bye to those. For all those reasons, and more, we didn’t plan to leave but God seemed to make this decision very simple for us.

Why go to Brainerd?
As I said above, the decision ultimately came down to our ability to discern God’s will, and we believe God has called us to go. One story can serve as a startling example. A few months ago Tracy and I had been talking about the future. We were grappling with what would be next for our family. We didn’t know, at the time, that Ed Stetzer would soon be announcing his transition to Wheaton College, but we sensed that some change was coming our way. As we talked together about what that could look like, our conversation revolved almost exclusively around opportunities within LifeWay. However, one morning as I was getting ready to leave for work, Tracy shared with me a sense of confidence that God was preparing her to be a pastor’s wife again. This was no small moment. Tracy loved my job at LifeWay and the routine that our family enjoyed. As I said, the past 3.5 years has been so very good for our family. As she shared this with me she cautioned me that she didn’t want me to look for a position but, should a position fall in our laps, she was confident we needed to consider it and pray through it. I got in the car and drove to work. I sat down at my desk at work, started looking through emails and about 90 minutes after that earlier conversation, my phone rang. It was Richard Bethea, the Search Team Chairman, asking me to consider praying about Brainerd’s open Senior Pastor position. Although I wasn’t aware, they had known of me for 6 or more weeks, and had been studying my life, our family and our ministry in detail and felt like God had confirmed in their hearts that we need to talk. Needless to say, I was floored. The timing seemed unmistakable. Tracy and I spoke quickly after that phone call, and it didn’t take long after that, through meeting with the committee, for God to confirm in our heart that this was his desire for our family in a number of different ways.

So what’s next?
We are going to work hard for LifeWay for the next 6 weeks or so. About 4 weeks from now we are going to spend the weekend at Brainerd, in view of a call. Assuming that the church affirms me as their next Senior Pastor, we’ll look forward to beginning our ministry the first week of July. This means, of course, packing, selling our house and saying goodbye to folks who have become very good friends – some even like family – buying a new house and beginning to settle in Chattanooga. But we are excited, very excited, frankly. We believe the future is astonishingly bright at Brainerd Baptist Church. We have a lot of hopes and dreams for the future of the church and the future of Chattanooga. We believe God is putting us together with Brainerd, and we cannot wait to see how this all comes together.

Micah is a husband to Tracy & a daddy to Grace, Kessed & (soon to be) Haddon. He’s Senior Pastor at Brainer Baptist Church in Chattanooga, TN. Most of all, he’s a debtor to grace.

Four Reasons You Need Weekly Sermon Evaluation

Any preacher who has been through bible college or seminary knows that one of the most painful experiences of a theological education is preaching class. Preaching in front of a professor and your peers, opening yourself up to their critique, is humbling and often extraordinarily painful. My experience was no different. However, as painful as it may be, a good professor and a good preaching class can help improve your preaching in significant ways. I know that mine served to do just that. I have an undergrad in theology and an M.Div. so I took preaching in college and seminary. Both experiences helped me but studying preaching under Dr. Ben Awbrey at Midwestern Seminary was one of the most helpful experiences of my academic career.

As you take a preaching course, there aren’t many things most of us dread more than the preaching evaluation forms that your professor and classmates fill out to provide objective critique of your messages. It’s an incredible relief when you get to say goodbye to those things upon the successful completion of your preaching class. In light of that, you might think I’m crazy, but one of the helpful things I did as a pastor was to create a condensed, digital version of the sermon review form and ask a handful of trustworthy people in the congregation to anonymously fill it out each week after my sermon. I was careful to choose people that were representative of the demographic makeup of the church, and who would take seriously the responsibility of responding each week. Additionally, I was careful to make sure that the form was anonymous so that they could have freedom to reply as truthfully as possible.

The benefits here are probably obvious, but let me clarify a few of them.

1. It required me to constantly remain in the posture of a student.
The pastor is almost always in a position of authority at the church. I am a big believer that the pastor needs to regularly place themselves in the position of a student. If not, pride has the potential to grow unchecked in the pastor’s life.

2. The Lord regularly used it to keep me humble.
Related to the previous point, even when I preached what I thought was a great sermon, this little form reminded me how fallible I was/am. It was a good and regular reminder of how deeply I need the work of the Holy Spirit and the work of the Word if I am to ever be a good and faithful preacher.

3. It sharpened my preaching skills.
A few years of seminary or college is not ever enough to fully develop a preacher. This weekly exercise forced me to evaluate my preaching on a regular basis and helped provide for me tools to grow in my skill as a preacher.

4. It clarified for me missing elements in my sermon preaching preparation.
No one is able to see all of their weaknesses. We all need people we trust to lovingly call them out for us. As preachers, if we are not careful we insulate ourselves from helpful critique and then find ourselves only receiving critique that is harmful and not given from a spirit of love and affirmation. This helped remedy those problems.

You may not think this is a good idea, but in the off case that you do, I’d love to give you a free resource to help you kick this sort of reflective exercise in your own congregation. I’ve created a generic template that you can use in your own church as a Sermon Response Form. Be careful not to simply give out this link to those you want to critique you. If you do, I’m going to get their responses. 😉 But feel free to use this template to create your own free Sermon Response Form. I think you’ll find it a worthwhile and helpful exercise.

Click here to see the FREE template.

I’d love to hear from you. Do you think this is a good idea? Have you tried it before and, if you have, what advice can you give to others? Share in the comments below!

Micah is a husband to Tracy & a daddy to Grace, Kessed & (soon to be) Haddon. He’s Senior Pastor at Brainer Baptist Church in Chattanooga, TN. Most of all, he’s a debtor to grace.

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.

Micah is a husband to Tracy & a daddy to Grace, Kessed & (soon to be) Haddon. He’s Senior Pastor at Brainer Baptist Church in Chattanooga, TN. Most of all, he’s a debtor to grace.

In praise of ritual & tradition

Can I take a minute or two to defend ritual and tradition? It’s true that this might seem a bit odd for me. I have spent my life in an Evangelical stream that is anything but high church. In my world I have heard, more often than not, Matthew 6:7 used as a prooftext for avoiding any sort of ritualistic traditions in the church. Further, for those who know me, you may know I’ve generally been glad to adopt new behaviors, and have been very comfortable in pretty modern expressions of worship. Some of you may even be chuckling under your breath as you read this. 😉 I am increasingly convinced, though, that those of us who may have been guilty of badmouthing ritual and tradition are missing the rich value of both, and are truthfully a bit hypocritical without realizing it. It may be that our resistance to ritual and tradition is wrapped up in the rather common refrain from many church leaders that religion is a bad thing which is rather unfortunate opinion when you consider that religion is a biblical word. If God thought it important, maybe we ought to do the same? But I digress.

With all this in mind, why ought ritual and tradition matter to us?

1. Every church practices ritual and tradition.
It’s interesting to me how quick we are to diminish ritual and tradition without acknowledging our own rituals and traditions. There is no religious experience, across the globe, that has existed for any length of time that is void of ritual and tradition. Whether it’s something as simple as the time the church gathers, or something more significant like an element of the service or the order of the service, every church has its rituals and traditions. Even the most modern of churches, working hard to reflect contemporary trends and consistently embracing creative new ways to communicate the gospels are full of behaviors that are consistent week-in and week-out. Let’s begin any discourse about this topic with a little honesty to acknowledge that we all have our rituals and traditions.

2. Ritual and tradition are the foundations of some of life’s richest experiences.
Every night I come home and we gather together as a family to pray. We pray for some very specific items each night, including the use of a prayer guide that my wife put together for us featuring every Christmas card anyone sends us. Every day we pray for the family or person reflected on the next Christmas card. Finally, after we do all of that, my girls each come to me and give me a hug, and then kiss me, and then they head off to bed. It’s a ritual that we have been engaging in for years now. It’s also one of the richest moments of my day. What’s more, that little ritual makes my time with my daughters full of meaning in ways that I couldn’t experience apart from it. Our worship experiences are no different. We each have rituals and traditions. Sadly, in many cases, our rituals and traditions have lost their meaning, and in those cases the experiences are not rich and meaningful, but I think that’s a leadership issue, not a ritual issue. More on that in a moment. Let’s not dismiss all ritual and tradition simply because some of us have failed to pass down the meaning behind them, leading them to lose meaning and influence.

So how do we acknowledge the importance and value of ritual and tradition, while not allowing it to lose meaning and value?

1. Be aware of our own ritual and tradition.
This is incredibly simple, but so important. Look through your own worship experience. Spend some time in examination, and then own up to your traditions. Acknowledge them. Communicate their existence to your faith community. Don’t practice unintentional hypocrisy by derisively dismissing tradition, while you practice unacknowledged tradition of your own.

2. Use ritual and tradition to convey meaning.
Once you have recognized your tradition, carefully explain why you practice it, the theology behind it, and how it intersects and influences your worship experiences. Help the people you lead to recognize the value of repeated experiences. It seems odd that we would ever want to argue for less of a good thing, instead of more. If your church practices something that’s an important part of worship, celebrate it, don’t dismiss it.

Remember, ritual and tradition generally aren’t the problem, meaningless ritual and traditions are. Further, meaningless ritual and tradition are almost never a ritual and tradition problem. Meaningless ritual and tradition are almost always a leadership problem. Ritual and tradition almost always begins as a meaningful element in our worship gatherings. They become meaningless because we let them become so. Leaders are responsible for teaching why we do what we do. If you have ritual or tradition in your gatherings that are meaningless, it’s quite possibly your own fault (or the fault of your church’s leadership as a whole). Fix it by leading well.

3. Eliminate ritual and tradition that are void of meaning.
The final element is pretty simple, really. If you have meaningless ritual and tradition, and you cannot lead the church to understand why it is you practice that element, than get rid of it. Meaningless ritual and tradition works against genuine worship by stripping the worship experience of rich theological truth. Do not allow that to happen under your watch as a leader. Either breath new life into old ritual and tradition by teaching and leading well, or eliminate it. There really is not another good option.

*Photo courtesy of FreeImages.com and was taken by Anita Berghoef.

Micah is a husband to Tracy & a daddy to Grace, Kessed & (soon to be) Haddon. He’s Senior Pastor at Brainer Baptist Church in Chattanooga, TN. Most of all, he’s a debtor to grace.