Pastor, There is Value in working in the Community You Serve

The burden of pastoring a church is often heavy. It is a big calling that we feel on our lives. Doing this while also working a job outside the church adds another level of complexity and difficulty that cannot be denied. Speaking from my own, personal experience I can say that sometimes it can be difficult to stay motivated. I hope that this story will encourage and inspire any pastor that still works a job outside the church.

You may or may not know this, but in addition to being a pastor, I am also a registered nurse. After nearly two decades working in the emergency room, I know work with cancer patients. That’s where this story begins.

Many of my patients spend multiple hours in our clinic getting infusions. The particular patient in this story spent 3-4 hours once a week for 6-8 weeks. His wife spent pretty much all of those hours sitting in the recliner next to him. This allowed me plenty of opportunities to talk with them both and to get to know them a little. I remember one time I looked at the wife and could see the fear in her eyes. Her husband was doing quite well, but cancer is scary. I sat down next to them both, held her hand for a moment as she shed just a few tears. A few tears are all she would allow herself. She wanted to be brave and strong for her husband.

In the course of our conversations it came out that I pastored a local church. They told me about their church and I mentioned some folks that I know that also attend that church. She then said that she would like to attend our church sometime, as a show of support. I gave her information about where we met and our service times and didn’t think much more about it.

Her husband completed his treatment and is doing well. A couple of weeks after his last treatment she suddenly walks up to my desk and tells me that her ladies Bible study group was coming to our church that Sunday. I gave her my business card and pointed her to our Facebook page and website for full details. Honestly, I didn’t think any more about it. I’ve had a number of people tell me they were coming, who still haven’t. I’m certain that some of them will, but I trust God with the timing.

Well, the following Sunday four ladies walk into our little church. One of them was the wife I mentioned above. This was her ladies Bible study group. They were actually there! I hugged her and introduced myself and my wife and kids to all of these ladies. We had a great service and I really enjoyed having them there. We chatted a little after the service and they left. Honestly, I didn’t think much more about it at that time.

Over the next couple weeks I had some interactions with a woman on our church Facebook page. She talked about coming to a service soon and even apologized for missing the previous Sunday. I was confused cause her Facebook page said she lived up north. I continued to interact with her, but didn’t think too much about it.

The next Sunday a woman walks into our service. I couldn’t remember her name, but I recognized her as one of the ladies from that group. I asked her to remind me her name and we caught up a little. As we talked she told me that she had only recently moved to this area, from someplace up north, and since had been looking for a church family. She told me what she liked about our church and we talked a little about worship music, etc. I later found that she had also put a check in the offering bucket.

I can’t say for certain how long she will be part of our church family. But, what I can say that she is part of our church now and it happened because of the time I spent working in the community God has called me to serve.

If you are working a job outside the church, especially if it’s in the community God has called you to serve, be on a constant look out for the opportunities to serve people. Try not to worry too much about getting them to come to church. Serve them. Be open. God will take care of the results.

Matt Norman

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From Playdoh to the Pulpit

I spent close to 10 years in children’s ministry and I LOVED it. I loved the kids. I loved playing games, planning events, and more. I loved teaching kids. I loved seeing kids understand Biblical principles and values, often for the first time. I loved seeing kids learn to love Jesus, to receive the gift of Grace from Jesus, and to start living for Him. I LOVED children’s ministry. But, somewhere along the line God decided it would be a good idea to point me in a different direction.

I still love Kidmin.

Yeah, that’s what us insiders call children’s ministry. See what we did there. Kidmin. Get it? Children’s ministry… kid’s ministry… Kidmin. Yeah, we kidmin types are pretty cool. Whatever you want to call it, I still LOVE ministry to children. I still love all the things listed above and more. Truth is I was completely content to spend the rest of my life in children’s ministry. In fact I was pretty sure that I was going to. So, what do I do when God decides that now it’s time to step out of children’s ministry and into something new. Well, if your smart, you do what God tells you to do.

From playdoh to the pulpit.

Throughout all my ministry I had never really considered that I might be a senior pastor some day. Sadly some people see children’s ministry or youth ministry as simply as step towards the role of senior pastor. It’s a “foot in the door” position for many. It was never that for me. I loved it. It was where I wanted to be. Sure, I enjoyed the few opportunities I had to speak in “big church”, but I was not working my way up to a “real pastor” job. I knew that, for the kids and families I ministered to, I WAS a pastor. Somehow I now find myself spending much less time playing with playdoh and much more time preparing for the pulpit.

Why the change?

Well, I certainly can’t even begin to say why God would chose me for this. All I can say is that He did. As is often the case I can look back and clearly see the path that God lead me down that got me here. It was a gradual change. I wasn’t looking for a change. It was just that the things I felt God saying to me in my study, prayer, and quite times began to change. No longer where they really kidmin focused. They became broader, bigger. Over time it became clear that God was leading me to pastor a church. I still had no aspiration for planting a church, but I came to believe that He was calling me to pastor a church.

Over time He brought me around to the idea of planting a church. I still wasn’t convinced, but I was willing to do what He told me to. You see I remember a story about a guy name Jonah who was given instructions from God and chose not to do them. That whole three days in the belly of a big fish thing didn’t sound like a good fit for me.

So, here I am.

It’s kinda crazy. It’s one thing to think about possibly pastoring a church someday. It’s something completely different to look back and realize that almost four months have passed since God started a new church in your town. What’s even crazier is that He made you the pastor of that new church. God has gone a put a church where there didn’t used to be one and I get to be part of that. Man, it has been a lot of work ,but it has been so much fun. It’s so amazing to see what God has already done and I can’t wait to see what He does next.

What it’s like to make this switch?

I’d love to say that I have all this church planting stuff figured out. Truth is I’m kinda taking it one day at a time. I’m just trying to listen to the guiding of the Holy Spirit and do what I’m told. I’ve been writing on this blog now for several years now. Most of that has been about ministry to children and families. Now that God has changed my direction, I think I need to change the direction of my blog too. So, moving forward I’ll be writing more about my transition from children’s pastor to senior pastor/church planter.

What now?

Kidmin was my first love in ministry. I still have a big heart for ministry to children. I also feel that children’s ministry if a key component in building a healthy church. So, I’ll still be writing about ministry to children and families. My blog has always been an outlet for whatever God has placed on my heart and it still will be. Stay tuned as I share stuff about church planting, kidmin, family ministry, family, and basically whatever is on my heart.

Matt Norman

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Do You Love The Neighbors That Aren’t Like You?

 “The Church should be on the frontline for racial reconciliation in our nation.” 

Reggie Joiner spoke these words last night and struck me to my core. I very nearly broke down in tears as I thought back on my own failure in this area. I am by no means racist. I think that the many people of color that I have worked with, worshiped with, ministered with, or just been friends with would agree with that. Still, I think back to a very specific time in my life and ministry that I was guilty of not doing all I could to unite the people in my city of different races.

I sought out people like me.

Almost two years ago now my family moved from Alabama back to our home town in Florida. This was after just a year of living and serving in Alabama. During this season I didn’t know where my ministry was going or what I was supposed to do. I knew I had much experience in children’s ministry and that I had something to offer other churches in my area because of that experience. So, I reached out to other churches in my area and offered my help. As I look back on it now I realize that I only sought out churches filled with people that looked like me.

What am I doing now? 

Sadly, it is only in looking back that I see the ways that I failed in that season. However, at that time, I did feel a strong need to connect with my community, to serve my city, and to connect with people that were different from. So, I prayed for such opportunities and ended up being part of a great organization in my town called Haines City Unity in the Community

This group started as a group of African-American pastors in our city, hoping to unite to better serve their communities. They soon realized that Unity was about much more than just them. So, they began to connect with business leaders and even local government officials. Eventually, I heard of the group and started attending their meetings. After a time, they invited me to join their board of directors as the secretary.

I felt so honored to be included in their group. I was so awesome to actually be doing ministry along side people that looked different than me. It was awesome to be serving people that looked different than me. Heck, it was even awesome to attend meetings in the churches of these other pastors. Churches that, sadly, most white people would never enter. Truth be told most white people have probably never even received an invitation into a predominately black church. Please hear me, this is not a condemnation of my African-American brothers and sisters. This is something that we are all guilty off.

It’s only natural… at least on some level.

Truth is it’s natural for people to be drawn to other people like them. This is true of all races. Men tend to hand out with other men. Women tend to hang out with other women. Musicians tend to hand out with other musicians. Artists tend to hang out with other artists. I think you get the point.

Heck, we even see this in nature. Dogs tend to be drawn to other dogs. Cat’s tend to hang out in groups. You can have a pasture of many acres and most of cows will tend to all be in one area. It’s just natural. But, that’s not an excuse. Rather, it means that we have to work even harder to move beyond this natural tendency.

It’s note a one sided thing.

The rhetoric in mains stream media and even much of what is posted on social media would lead one to think that this is a one sided thing. I have even heard some go as far as to say that this is a WHITE issue. I would push back against that. The truth is that the only way that this sort of thing gets fixed is for ALL of us to step out of our comfort zone and reach out to people that are different than us. We ALL need to invite open and honest conversation about the things that bother us. The things that we feel. Our pains and our joys.

After all, the Bible only talks of ONE Kingdom of God. In THAT Kingdom we are all ONE PEOPLE. We are all children of the SAME Father. If unity is the goal, then none of us can sit back in our own churches, or neighborhoods and point fingers at others s

What am I going to different moving forward?

Truth is I don’t know all the opportunities God is going to give me to connect with and minister to people that are different from me. However, I know that I am going to seek out ways to connect with and serve people that are different than me.

Just like I reached out to churches that ARE like me, I’m going to reach out to churches that look different from me and see if there is some way I can help them minister to kids. AND, I want to minister to the kids in their church and in their neighborhoods.

I want to attend their churches. It’s not comfortable. That’s why so few people do it. But, God has allowed me to connect with many pastors of African-American churches. I will be visiting their churches on Sunday mornings. I don’t know what that’s going to look like. I don’t know what that’s going to feel like. I don’t know if it will make any difference, but I know that it will effect ME.

More than just the way we talk.

I hear many people talk about racism in relation to the things we say. They talk as if the key to fixing racism is to change the way we talk. Certainly we need to be sensitive, but improving race relations is so much more than about how we talk. If we change the way we talk, but we are still only talking to people that look like us then what difference does it make? If we change the way we talk, but never LISTEN to people that look different than us, who difference does it make? YES, be sensitive when you speak, but if it ends there, then what difference does it make?

What are you DOING about it?

If talking is not enough, then what needs to happen? I can’t answer that for you. YOU have to pray through it. YOU have to look around you for the opportunities. YOU have to step outside your comfort zone to connect with other people. YOU have to make a commitment to connect with, to reach, to get to know, and to serve people that look, think, and even worship differently than you do.

When you do this, I’d love to hear the stories. If you’re already doing this, please share your stories below.

Matt Norman

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Do You REALLY See Your Neighbors?

Tonight Danielle Strickland shared an amazing message encouraging us to “Learn how to really see our neighbors.” MAN, what a message. Consider this:

Think to the last time you were at the grocery store. What was your cashier’s name? What about at the deli counter? Do you remember the name of the waiter or waitress from the last time you ate out?

Do you REALLY see your neighbors?

How about this. What color was his or her hair? What about his or her eyes? Ok, it might be strange to look so deeply at a cashier or waitress that you can remember their eye color. But, there is value in looking into their eyes.

When you look at people, what do you see?

In John chapter 9 we read where Jesus healed a man who had been blind from birth. When the disciples saw this man they saw a blind man. They didn’t se a man. All they could see was the label, the disability. In fact, when they looked at this man they saw sin. They assumed that his blindness was the result of sin, even asking Jesus if it was the man’s sin or that of his parents.

Jesus sees something different.

Jesus didn’t see a handicap. Jesus didn’t see an affliction caused by sin. No, Jesus saw a PERSON. Jesus saw a chance to bring glory to God. Jesus said this about the man’s blindness, “This came about so that God’s works might be displayed in him.”

The disciples  saw disability, affliction and sin; Jesus saw a chance to glorify God.

When you see people do you see the labels that you put on them?

When you see people do you see the labels that society puts on them?

When you see people do you see the labels that they put on themselves?

Jesus sees something different.

“Jesus sees past every single barrier, even the ones you put up, and sees who you truly are and He’s struck with your beauty.” Danielle Strickland.

Jesus sees past the barriers. He sees past the labels. He’s sees past our pain. He sees past our afflictions. He sees inside and He loves us.

Jesus sees something different.

How would your life change if you saw all people as beautiful, as Jesus sees them?

How would your ministry change if you saw all people this way?

How would your church change?

How would your community change?

Today as you see people, TRULY see them. Look at them and consider the labels that might be preventing you from seeing them as Jesus’ sees them. Think about the emotions, thoughts, history, and maybe even prejudice that prevents you from seeing the beauty and value that Jesus sees when He looks at them. Strip away these barriers so that you can SEE them. Try even to look through the barriers that they, themselves, might put up to prevent you from seeing them.

See people the way that Jesus sees them. Then treat them accordingly.

Matt Norman

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“Out of the abundance of the heart, the thumbs tweet.”

“Out of the abundance of the heart the thumbs tweet.” Steven Furtick

I’d love to take credit for this quote, but I got it from pastor Steven Furtick. I remember when I heard it how it struck me as so true. Pastor Steven can’t take full credit for this quote. The truth is he’s referring to something that Jesus said. In Luke chapter 6 Jesus says, “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” In other words if your heart is filled with evil, then evil is what will come out and if it is filled with good, then good is what will come out.

This is true of how we handle social media. When we post on social media it reflects what is in our heart, or does it?

What do your posts say about your heart? Jesus said that what comes out of our math will represent what is in our heart. In this day and age this is also true of what we post on social media. When someone that does not know us reads something we post, they have no choice but to assume that that post represents who we are. This is not unreasonable. After all, if it did not represent us, then why would we post it?

As we post stuff on social media we need to keep this in mind. What do our most recent posts say about what’s in our heart? Take a look back at your most recent posts. What do they say about you? What do they say about your heart? I’m not talking about what they say about your head. I’m not talking about what they say about what you THINK. I’m talking about what they say about how you FEEL. Go ahead. Do it. Read your most recent posts and evaluate them as if you were reading a stranger’s posts. What do they say.

Do they really represent you, or just a moment of frustration or anger? One of the problems with the Internet and social media is that it is too easy to respond without thinking. All to often we read something and instantly type a response. Usually this happens without thinking about how it might affect the person it is addressed to or other people reading it. In a moment of frustration or anger we reply or post something that might not truly represent our heart. Then it’s too late. For the people that might read this reply or post, it is our heart. For the reader it is not something said in a moment of anger or frustration, it is a reflection of who we are.

The truth is our replies and posts may be, as Jesus said, an overflow of what is in our heart. But, that’s not always true. Take another moment and consider your most recent posts or replies. Where they done in a moment of anger or frustration, but don’t really reflect your heart? I think we are all guilty of this at times.

What do your posts say to the heart of the reader? Sadly when it comes to written communication how it is received says much more about the heart, or feelings of the reader than that of the writer. Many times I’ve written an email, message or social media post that I intended one way, but was received differently by the person or people reading it. When we read things, we almost always do so with the filter of our feelings.

It’s extremely difficult to separate our feelings from what we are reading. For this reason, things that we write, that we might intend to be harmless or even funny or uplifting, can become negative. I’m certainly not suggesting that you filter every post in hopes of never offering anyone. That’s never been possible, but even less so these days. The truth is that some people go around looking for reasons to be offended. They look for ways to twist everything into something offensive. You can’t make those people happy. Still I think it’s worth taking the time to consider how what you post or how you reply might be viewed by the people reading it.

Be quick to listen and slow to reply. “Everyone should be read to listen and slow to reply and slow to become angry.” This quote I can take credit for… sort of. Actually, like Pastor Steven, this is an adaptation of a passage from the Bible. James 1:19 says, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” Clearly James is referring to actual speech, but this can also be applied to social media, the Internet and all other forms of communication. We are way to quick to click into reply box and tell people just how stupid they are, or to show them just how smart we are. We are quick to tell people how wrong they are and how right we are. How could the conversations on the Internet change if each person applied the words of James to our online communications?

So, I leave you with these questions:

1.) What do your recent posts say about what’s in your heart?

2.) Do your posts reflect how you REALLY feel or think?

3.) What do your posts say to the people reading them?

4.) Are you quick to listen and slow to speak, or quick to speak and slow to listen?

Matt Norman

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