Learning When to Hide Beyond a Mask at Church

CostumeI normally wouldn’t recommend any time to hide behind a mask at church.  Church is the one place we should be encouraging one another to take our masks off.  I have found one exception.

This special case is Halloween.  I realize the mere mention of this fall celebration may send tingling sensations down the middle of your spine.  Why would a Church even acknowledge this pagan holiday?  I mean, it celebrates evil spirits and promotes poor health among our youth.  There is no good reason, right?

Well, I will not try to convince you of the goodness of Halloween.  I won’t attempt an explanation of how Christian’s can reclaim it by understanding and celebrating “All Saint’s Day.”  I don’t want you to feel any pressure to wear a mask or dress up or participate in an event that might feel is sacrilegious.

I only want to share with you one reason I have found to deviate from the general rule that “you should take off your mask when you come to church.”  I lead our church’s (Highland Park Church) Saturday evening worship service.  It starts at 6pm.  We meet every weekend, including all holidays.  Worshipping together as a group is a core value of our faith community.  It is a major part of our identity.

This weekend is Halloween.  Saturday is officially Halloween.  It is October 31, which means Trick or Treat will be happening at the same time as Saturday Night Church.  Kids will don their costumes, walk the neighborhoods, and go door to door before, during, and after the time we start our worship service at 6pm.  It’s one of my kids’ favorite times of the year.

I expect many families will be missing from our seats tomorrow night.  What can I do as a pastor?  Should I make everyone feel guilty?  I can’t cancel church.  Should I let it bother me that people will choose Trick or Treat over church?  Maybe I should have embraced it and thrown a huge halloween party, but church style.  What do we call those?  Oh yeah, Fall festivals.

Here’s what I’ve decided.  I will have fun.  I will allow this moment to let people see the normal, human, and silly side of me.  After dancing on stage in hammer pants, I decided I wouldn’t embarrass myself again.  I’ve rethought it, and I am willing to look stupid at least one more time.  Why?  I want the people I lead to know I am just like you.  Most people only see the serious preacher side of me.  I want you to see more of me.  The part of me that likes to have fun and isn’t perfect.

So, I have decided to wear a mask to church tomorrow.  Wish I could tell you what it is, but that would spoil the surprise.

It is not a celebration of Halloween.  I am not corroborating with the spirit’s of a pagan holiday.  I am taking advantage of one Saturday Night that will only happen every so many years.  My goal is to share a laugh with you.  To pretend like a kid again for just a moment.  And, to embrace my common humanity with your own that needs more occasions to smile at ourselves.

My only prayer is that I don’t make as big a fool of myself as I did with my attempt to dance MC Hammer style.  If I do, I hope you will still love me.

Learning How Much a Pastor Depends On Servant Leaders

Sitting together with a group of seven friends who attend our church, I asked, “Where do you see God moving?”

As a pastor, one response struck me with the most force.  He said, “I feel God moving through the First Impressions Ministry in which I serve.”  I sat up straight.  He had my attention.  “Okay, tell me more, ” I say.  “What makes you feel this way?”  He answered, “I see the impact it has on all the different people who enter our services each weekend.”

Wondering what a First Impressions Ministry” is?  It’s a team of people whose primary purpose is to make everyone who attends a weekend worship service feel “undoubtedly welcome.”  It is the first people you see when you enter the doors of our church.  Their mission is to help you feel welcome, noticed, cared for, and supported.

Simple, huh?

Yes and no.  Little difficulty is required to welcome people with a genuine smile (for most of us, anyway).  It’s undemanding.  It isn’t something you expect to make a big impact.  So, yes, it may be simple.  But, how often do you encounter people who are authentically happy to see you?  Rarely, I imagine.

It isn’t a little, simple ministry that has no real impact.  My friend’s assessment speaks an often unspoken truth.  God is moving in our First Impression Ministry.  God moves in the actions of every person who is willing to serve a mission to lead others to experience God’s love.

As a pastor, my role as a leader depends on the passionate service of others.  What God wants to do through the ministry that I lead and the Church where I serve is bigger than me.  I can’t do it all.  It’s impossible.  There is no way.  I must depend on servant leaders who stand shoulder to shoulder with me.

How much does a pastor depend on servant leaders?  Completely.  A pastor without leaders serving beside her/him doesn’t have a ministry.

Realizing my dependence on servant leaders, I pray for more.  I pray we have so many passionate followers of Christ who are eager to serve that we need to create new opportunities.  I pray God awakens the hearts of hundreds and thousands at Highland Park Church to embrace their gifts and callings.  I pray I am the type of pastor who inspires others to serve this mission together.

I confess:  I cannot do this alone.

I plead:  Serve at your local church.

I imagine:  Beautiful transformations for individuals, children, families, communities, and cultures.


Learning What It’s Like to Feel Appreciated

Pastor AppreciationI’ve never been a huge fan of surprises.  Lame, I know.  There must be something in my subconscious that makes me feel this way.  That is what I will go with, anyway.

Well, I was surprised this week.  Twice.  Yep.  They got me.  The first one came on a Saturday night immediately following our 6pm worship service.  I was grabbed by the arm and pulled to the lobby.  To my surprise, about nine kids in our PreK and Kindergarten ministry were waiting for me with special cards made by their little hands.  Each child handed me their beautiful creation followed by “Thank you, Pastor Coy.”  

As much as dislike surprises, I couldn’t be mad at this one.  The kids were so sweet.  Plus, what a blessing to see the faces of these 4 and 5 year olds who are being influenced  to love God and love others.  Thank you, Linda McGregor for setting up this surprise!

The second surprise came 4 days later.  A sneaky crew, they were.  One of our technical team members shows up to my office.  He asks if he can shoot a quick video of me with his phone to play in the services this weekend.  We sit down.  He says, “Okay, look directly into the camera.”  In rushes a group of people shouting, “You’ve been appreciated.”  Confetti was flying everywhere.  Kazoos in their mouths made party noises.  Smiles and excitement invaded my office. It was pandemonium.

Thank you to Christina Kelly and her team of support staff!

Here, you can see part of it slow motion:

Why two surprises in one week?  Great question.  For someone like me, there better be an answer.  Right?

It’s officially Pastor Appreciation Month.  So, as they said, I had been appreciated.

At Highland Park Church, this is what it’s like to feel appreciated by colleagues and friends.  What has it taught me?  Surprises can be good from time to time.  Even for those of us who can be a Grinch about it.  I am grateful to be surrounded by others who take the energy and time to show they care.  It makes my heart smile to experience your loving recognition.  You are special souls!

One last word.  I may have appreciated being appreciated, but I am not as excited about the confetti mess on my desk and floor.  Anybody who didn’t appreciate me already interested in appreciating me by cleaning up the mess?  Just kidding.  Just kidding.

Thank you Highland Park Church for letting me serve with you here in Lakeland!

Learning to Believe the Best

Would you rather have a people in your life who constantly criticize?  Or would you prefer persons who believe the best in every situation?

I am learning to be a leader who believes the best about others.  I admit, it doesn’t come natural for me.  For those of you who know me really well, you are probably shaking your head in agreement.  Or maybe you quietly offered an “Amen” to this foible of mine.  I want to blame it on my small town, Southeast Ohio, Appalachian, Mid-western sarcastic influence.  Assigning responsibility to my nurture doesn’t change things, though.  I need to change things in order for things to change.

Pastor Andy Stanley delivers a leadership talk that captures this leadership concept with powerful simplicity.  He states his belief that “Developing a culture of trust is critical to health and success of your organization.”  He, then, uses a visual illustration to support his point.

On a table are three black signs with white words painted on them.  The placard on the left reads:  “Expectations.”  The one on the right says:  “Experience.”  The final one has words on both sides.  On one side it is written:  “Assume the worst.”  The other side it says:  “Believe the best.

Expectations are the actions or behaviors you expect someone else will achieve.  It is an ideal you place on another person.  Experience is your actual encounter or observation of how said person fulfills your expectation.  A gap exists between the two.  You will fill the gap with one of two perspectives.  Once you’ve set the bar, you will either Assume the worst or Believe the best.

Your expectation could be that all colleagues will arrive at a meeting 10 minutes ahead of time.  A year goes by and you’re experience has taught you that a certain person normally shows up 10 minutes late.  How do you fill the gap the next time you set a meeting with this colleague?  Do you assume the worst or believe the best?

If you are hoping to build a healthy culture or relationship, Andy Stanley recommends the majority of the time that you should believe the best.  It’s how you build trust.

To support his argument, he explains a bit of research on couples who are and remain happily married.  The research found that happily married couples consistently found a way to believe the best regardless of how much their spouse messed up.  To drive it home some more, he asks a poignant question:  “Do you really want to be married to someone who truthfully points out your flaws every single day?”

As a leader, husband, father, and colleague, I need to flip the question on myself:  Do I really want to be someone who truthfully points out everyone else’s flaws every single day?

I don’t.  I want to build trust in all my relationships.  Whether it’s at work, at home, with friends, or at the gym, I want to blossom a firm belief in the ability of others.

I am learning to believe the best.

Learning I am Just a Messenger

It is tempting for people to elevate a pastor above a messenger.  It is tempting for a pastor to desire such status.  It happens more frequently in large churches, but small churches aren’t immune.

You know a church or pastor is upholding this phenomenon when the main attraction is a single human leader.  People become followers of a person and not Jesus Christ.  Some indicators are:  an unwillingness to support a guest speaker (in a former church where I worked, people would call in each week to ask if the senior pastor was preaching in order to determine whether they would attend), attendance without a commitment to serve, and leaving the church when the current pastor retires or resigns.

I am fortunate to be on staff at a church that doesn’t breed this culture.  Our lead pastor, Brett Rickey, is a humble servant who honors God with all of the praise.  He isn’t seeking to build an empire for himself.  His passion is to reach the lost with God’s love.

It is relevant for me to learn that I am just a messenger because of the role I serve as a communicator.  As one who delivers a message to one of our worship services each weekend, the temptation is real.  I want to communicate effectively.  I want to keep people awake.  I want the audience to laugh and respond positively.  I want people to moved by what I say.  I want people to return the next week.  I want to know that what I am saying is making a difference.

If I am not careful, I can confuse myself as well as other people.  I cannot become an idol to myself or anyone else.  However good or bad I deliver a talk, it isn’t about me.  It’s about the message.  What’s important isn’t that others believe in me as a preacher.  Most important is that people come to believe in and trust God.  It is up to me to be faithful to the message in such a way that people can clearly distinguish between it and me.

I am reminded of this lesson from the experience of Paul and Barnabas.

Paul and Barnabas fled to Lystra.  While in the city, they meet a man who is paralyzed from the waist down.  He’s never been able to walk.  The man listened carefully and with much interest as Paul was speaking.  Upon looking at the man, Paul felt a sense of deep faith emanating from the man’s heart.  In a loud voice, Paul instructs the man to stand to his feet and walk.

The man jumped to his feet and walked.  Amazed by what they witnessed, the bystanders immediately spread the word of the miracle.  But, they were confused.  They assigned the glory to Paul and Barnabas.  Based on their religious experience, the people of Lystra mistakenly perceived the miracle to be the work of the gods Zeus and Hermes.  They believed Paul and Barnabas to be the human form of these gods.

Within a short period of time, the priest of Zeus was preparing a sacrifice.  He ordered the oxen and garlands to be brought to the outer gate.  Crowds of people gathered there with him.

When Paul and Barnabas heard of it, they rushed into the middle of the crowd, shouting, “Friends, why are you doing this?  We are mortals just like you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them” (Acts 14:15 NRSV).

Paul and Barnabas could take advantage of this moment for their own glory.  I mean, who gets a chance to be named a god?  Seriously, they want to crown them Zeus and Hermes.  Zeus!  It doesn’t get much better than Zeus.  These two could setup an empire.  Their influence would flood into all the surrounding areas.

Instead, Paul and Barnabas declare:  I am just a messenger sent by God to bring you the good news of the one true message.  The result wasn’t simple.  It took much convincing to restrain the people from offering a sacrifice.  Later that day, the people were influenced by the Jews from Antioch to stone Paul.

I am learning to realize that I also am just a messenger.  My desire is to be faithful to humbly admit this truth with courage.

Learning Calm is Contagious

Kirra and Mya laughingYou know that moment when you realize someone is about to blow their lid?

You can feel their emotional temperature rising.  Their blood pressure sky rockets, and you know, because you see it pulsating through the vein in their neck.  They get those crazy eyes.  Every inch of their body is tense.  Like a rubber band tightly wound, this person could snap at any moment.

Have you ever been there?  If you are a parent, then it’s a given.  Same is true if you are a child, which is all of us.  Of course, you’ve stood in that place before.  When the straw finally broke the camel’s back, what did you do?  What was your reaction?

I’ll admit, my tendency is to match the level of intensity.  I join the frenzy.  We need to shout to get things across? Okay, let’s do it then.  Problem is, rarely does this work according to my desire.  It lands me somewhere completely off base from where I was hoping to find myself.  The conflict isn’t resolved.  It escalates.

Navy SEAL Commander, Rorke Denver, is helping me learn:  Calm is contagious.  Based on his experience in situations of military conflict, he believes that “as leaders, people, at a minimum, are going to mimic your behavior.”  In not, then most likely they will amplify it.  This is especially true when the going gets tough.

I find this to be most true with my kids.  Sometimes, it doesn’t take much to set them off.  It might be as simple as asking them to carry their backpack into the house from the car.  Other times, you can expect it.  For example, the grocery store is kryptonite for our family.  I’m not sure if it’s something they put in the free cookie.  Or maybe it is some unwritten agreement among kids that parents don’t know about?  Conflict just seems to happen at the grocery store.

Whatever the situation, my kids become anything but calm.  I don’t need to describe it, right?  Even if you don’t have kids, I’m sure you’ve experienced a sibling, niece/nephew, or stranger’s kid go into this fit of rage.  There is kicking, screaming, slamming doors, throwing objects, hitting, crying, and all other forms of volatileness.

With each new level, my heart rate jumps 20 beats per minute.  Before I know it, I feel anything but calm.  Steam is rising from head.

It happened yesterday.  At the grocery store!  My kids were goofing around on the grocery cart.  I asked them to stop, politely.  After several requests, they continue to persist.  I turned my back to pick up an item, and turn around to see my youngest on the ground in tears.  She was climbing on her sister and fell off the seat.

“You are not going to your friends house when we get home,” I said.  Ensuing was negotiation talk turned threats turned shouting from my child.  I didn’t react immediately.  A few minutes in, every ounce of me wanted to match her intensity.  Then, I remembered the words “Calm is contagious.”  

I thought, I can do this.  I need to do this.  I can’t mimic her behavior.  Amplifying won’t help either.  So, I remained calm.  I didn’t raise my voice or get excited or make threats or act disappointed in her.  I spoke words of truth about the good I believe about her.

Not immediately, but in a matter of minutes, her level of anxiety came down.  Slowly together, we waded out of the troubled waters.  Before we knew it, all was calm.

I told her how proud I was.  She did it.  She didn’t let her emotions control her actions.  A huge smile came to her face.  What could have spiraled, turned into a beautiful moment as a father and daughter.

Calm is contagious.  

Learning 3 Ways Your Calling is Revealed to You

I realize “calling” is a term used more prevalently in the Christian worldview.  Even at that, not every church shares the affinity to the word.  It is not a concept familiar to everyone.  Still, I believe it is an experience most of us share, or at least desire.  You may call it something else.  You may not have a word for it at all.  Regardless, it is there.

It is this urging to pursue a particular direction in your life.  Most often, it means setting yourself on a specific career path.  But, it is not limited to your vocation.  It is much more than what you do for a paycheck.  It is who you are and what you exist to accomplish.  It is the contribution to our world that only you can give.  It is the thing worth living and dying for.  It is your stamp on history.  It is what gets you up in the morning and drives your ambition throughout the day.  A job is only one way of actualizing it in your life.

Whether you use the language of “calling” or not, the idea resonates with your experience.  You want to make a difference with your life.  If you don’t know what that means already, you would love to get a grip on it.

I am learning 3 ways your calling is revealed.  It will make much more since to you if you believe in God.  This isn’t to say that Christians don’t struggle to realize it.  We do.  If that’s you, here’s some help.

Your calling is revealed to you through three complementary means:

  • Your personal relationship to God.  God will speak to you personally.  It may not be an audible voice.  It simply means you will have a personal experience that awakens your heart and mind to God’s special purpose for your life.  It can be a special talent you have and the realization of how you can use it for good.  It can be an encounter in our world that births in you a passion to affect specific change.  It can come to you through another person, a message, a book, a conversation, a failure, a song, or several avenues.  The point is, it is personal.
  • The discernment of a community of faith.  God will speak to the Church about you, who will then confirm what you’ve already experienced or will experience personally.  The Church will recognize in you the potential that God has given you.  They will name it.  They will call it out and be able to describe it.  Then, they will encourage you to pursue this direction in you life.  Not only that, the Church will support you on the journey.  Having said that, I need to admit and confess one shortcoming in some churches.  God, please forgive us and change our ways.  Certain churches may overlook God’s calling on women and people in the minority.  If this is true in your experience, then I would recommend finding a community of believers who embrace the calling of God for all people.  Surround yourself with other Christians whose prejudice won’t blind them from seeing God’s power in you.  This may mean attending another church, or connecting with a small group of likeminded Christ-followers.
  • Outward events that lead you in one direction or the other.  God will speak to you through events that require a response.  God’s mission works against any wrongs that exist in our world.  God is moving history toward the renewal of all things.  Jesus initiated that movement by coming to earth and defeating the power of sin on the cross.  You will face events that invoke you to go one way or the other.  God uses these events to lead you toward the way that leads to transformation.

Every person is created with a reason for being.  You are uniquely fashioned to take a meaningful space in history.  A story has been written for you that makes you a hero.  God wants to reveal it to you.


Learning How You Can Feed 13 Students Who Need It

PrintOn Friday night, we hosted a concert to benefit a local organization whose main purpose is to impact the lives of children by ensuring each child spends every day free of hunger.  Why?  Nearly 2,000 students in our county struggle to secure food for the weekend.

The concert was held in our church gymnasium.  To enter the building, you would first pass through one of two sets of double doors.  Waiting for you was our ticket sales and will call.  With tickets in hand, you were directed to walk through another set of double doors either on your left or right.

Whether you you entered from the right or left, you walked into the same entryway space.  Located there was a table with information about kidsPACK.  Behind the table sat a kind, caring volunteer who could answer any questions.  On the table, you would find a booklet of packing sites and the number of schools and children they support.  One of such sites is Highland Park Church.

It shows a total of eight schools on the list for Highland Park Church.  To the right of each school is listed the number of students who receive a kidsPACK every Friday.  At the bottom of that column, a total number of students being supported is provided.  Seventy-three.  73.  Highland Park Church currently supplies seventy-three packs of food.  Awesome, right?  So, proud of our people for taking action toward caring for the needs of others in our community.

There is one more number, though.  13.  Thirteen.  This is the number of students still waiting for their weekend food pack.  The reason:  there aren’t enough funds to cover the cost.  Each of the thirteen students need someone to commit to give $25 a month.  Twenty-five dollars is enough to supply 7 meals per student per weekend.

Maybe you’re wondering if this need is real?  If so, I would recommend you introduce yourself to a local school’s guidance counselor.  Ask them for stories.  I am guessing you will hear about students who can’t wait for free breakfast on Monday, who eat everything on their plate at lunch and ask their classmates for their leftovers, who can’t focus at the end of the day because they can’t stop thinking about where their next meal will come from before the next school day begins.

Matthew 25:40 (NRSV) Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.

Maybe you live in Lakeland and attend Highland Park Church, or maybe you don’t.  Either way, you can impact the life of a student by ensuring they spend every day free of hunger.

If God compels you to support a student with weekend meals, you can contact me for more info:  coylindsey@gmail.com