Month: February 2014
The Message (MSG)
6 God said to Moses, “Now you’ll see what I’ll do to Pharaoh: With a strong hand he’ll send them out free; with a strong hand he’ll drive them out of his land.”
2-6 God continued speaking to Moses, reassuring him, “I am God. I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as The Strong God, but by my name God (I-Am-Present) I was not known to them. I also established my covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan, the country in which they lived as sojourners. But now I’ve heard the groanings of the Israelites whom the Egyptians continue to enslave and I’ve remembered my covenant. Therefore tell the Israelites:
6-8 “I am God. I will bring you out from under the cruel hard labor of Egypt. I will rescue you from slavery. I will redeem you, intervening with great acts of judgment. I’ll take you as my own people and I’ll be God to you. You’ll know that I am God, your God who brings you out from under the cruel hard labor of Egypt. I’ll bring you into the land that I promised to give Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and give it to you as your own country. I AM God.”
9 But when Moses delivered this message to the Israelites, they didn’t even hear him—they were that beaten down in spirit by the harsh slave conditions.
10-11 Then God said to Moses, “Go and speak to Pharaoh king of Egypt so that he will release the Israelites from his land.”
12 Moses answered God, “Look—the Israelites won’t even listen to me. How do you expect Pharaoh to? And besides, I stutter.”
13 But God again laid out the facts to Moses and Aaron regarding the Israelites and Pharaoh king of Egypt, and he again commanded them to lead the Israelites out of the land of Egypt.
Sixteen Tons”, written by Merle Travis and recorded by Tennessee Ernie Ford, became one of America’s most popular songs in the mid-1950s. People seemed to identify with this coal miner’s lament about feeling trapped and unable to change his situation no matter how hard he worked. Coal miners often lived in company-owned houses and were paid in “scrip”-coupons valid only at the company-owned store. Even if summoned to heaven, the miner said, he couldn’t go because he owed his soul to the company store.
That sense of hopeless resignation may help us understand the feelings of the Hebrew people during their four hundred years of bondage in Egypt. When Moses told them of God’s promise to release them from slavery, they didn’t listen to him “because of anguish of spirit”. They were so far down they couldn’t look up.
But God did something for them that they could not do for themselves. And the Lord’s miraculous deliverance of His people foreshadowed His powerful intervention on our behalf through His Son, Jesus Christ. It was when “we were powerless to help ourselves that Christ died for sinful men” (Romans 5:6 Phillips). When life is at its lowest ebb, we are not without hope because of the wonderful grace of God.
When trouble seeks to rob your very breath,
When tragedy hits hard and steals your days,
Recall that Christ endured the sting of death;
He gives us hope, and merits all our praise.
No one is hopeless whose hope is in God…
The impatience that characterizes discussions of race and racism in our so-called color-blind society has its roots in the momentous legislative changes of the 1960s. The Civil Rights Acts of 1964, 1965, and 1968 reached into nearly every aspect of daily life—from segregated facilities to voting to housing—and represented a long overdue re-installation of the equality principle in our social compact. The question was what it would take—and from whom—to get to equality.
Was racial equality something that could be had without sacrifice? If not, then who would be forced to participate and who would be exempt? As implementation of the laws engendered a far-reaching bureaucracy of agencies, rules, and programs for everything from affirmative action hiring goals to federal contracting formula, the commitment was quickly tested. For a great many who already opposed the changes, patience was quickly exhausted. As welfare rolls rapidly increased, crime surged, and the real and perceived burdens of busing took their toll, many voters pointed to the apparent failure of a growing federal government to fix the problems it was essentially paid to cure. Among Democratic voters this made for unsteady alliances and vulnerable anxieties. People don’t live in policy and statistics as much as they do through anecdote and personal burdens. A riot here, a horrific crime there, a job loss or perhaps the fiery oratory of a public personality could tip a liberal-leaning person’s thinking toward more conservative conclusions—or at least fuel her impatience. Impatience would ossify into anger, turning everything into monetary costs, and making these costs the basis for political opposition to a liberal state. As it happened, this process moves the date of our supposed final triumph over racism from the mid-1960s to at least the mid-1980s. In the end, impatience won.
What I call impatience, others have characterized as a simmering voter ambivalence—even antagonism, in the case of working-class whites—to civil rights remedies, one that was susceptible to the peculiar backlash politics that elected both Ronald Reagan and George Herbert Walker Bush president. Language was central to this strategy, and the language that stuck was colorblindness. As Thomas Byrne Edsall and Mary Edsall wrote in “Chain Reaction: The Impact of Race, Rights, and Taxes on American Politics,” “In facing an electorate with sharply divided commitments on race—theoretically in favor of egalitarian principle but hostile to many forms of implementation—the use of a race-free political language proved crucial to building a broad-based, center-right coalition.” Ronald Reagan managed to communicate a message that embodied all the racial resentments around poverty programs, affirmative action, minority set-asides, busing, crime, and the Supreme Court without mentioning race, something his conservative forebears—Barry Goldwater, George Wallace, and Richard Nixon—could not quite do. The linchpin was “costs” and “values.” Whenever “racism” was raised, it became an issue of “reverse racism” against whites. The effect was the conversion of millions of once fiscally liberal, middle-class suburban Democrats to the Republican Party. Issues identified with race—the “costs of liberalism”—fractured the very base of the Democratic Party. In the 1980 presidential election, for example, 22 percent of Democrats voted Republican.
By 1984, when Ronald Reagan and George Bush beat Walter Mondale and Geraldine Ferraro in the presidential election, many white Democratic voters had come to read their own party’s messages through what Edsall calls a “racial filter.” In their minds, higher taxes were directly attributable to policies of a growing federal government; they were footing the bill for minority preference programs. If the public argument was cast as wasteful spending on people of weak values, the private discussions were explicitly racial. For instance, Edsall quotes polling studies of “Reagan Democrats” in Macomb County—the union friendly Detroit suburbs that won the battle to prevent cross-district school desegregation plans in 1973—that presents poignant evidence of voter anger: “These white Democratic defectors express a profound distaste for blacks, a sentiment that pervades almost everything they think about government and politics. . . . Blacks constitute the explanation for their [white defectors’] vulnerability and for almost everything that has gone wrong in their lives; not being black is what constitutes being middle class; not living with blacks is what makes a neighborhood a decent place to live. These sentiments have important implications for Democrats, as virtually all progressive symbols and themes have been redefined in racial and pejorative terms.”
By 1988, these same voters had endorsed tax revolts across the country and had become steadfast suburbanites, drawing clearer lines between a suburban good life and the crime and crack-infested city. Still they were angry, as magazine articles chronicled the rising political significance of what would be known as the “Angry White Male” voter. George Bush, down seventeen points in the presidential election polls during midsummer, overcame that deficit with TV ads about murderous black convicts raping white women while on furlough. That and a pledge never to raise taxes seemed to be enough to vanquish Bush’s liberal challenger, Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts. What’s important to recognize in this transition is how as recently as twenty years ago, Americans’ social lives were very much embroiled in racial controversy—despite the obfuscatory veneer of colorblind language to the contrary. Our politics followed. The election of Bill Clinton represented a distinct centrist turn among Democrats toward Republican language and themes and away from rights, the “liberal” label, and the federal safety net. The question we might ask about our current race relations is, only a couple of decades removed from this political history, what would compel us to assume that we are beyond the legacy of our racial conflicts?
The racial polarization that connected these political outcomes was deliberately fed by national Republican candidates in order to do more than roll back civil rights. It also served to install “supply-side economics,” a system of regressive tax-based reforms that contributed mightily to the costs of income inequality we currently face. That era—which arguably ended with the election of President Barack Obama—illustrates two points central to my examination of civic connectivity. The first is that the economic underside of racial polarization proved no more than the old okey doke. The second is that localism contains its own contradictions, which have come due in our time. Let me explain.
Only racism could achieve the ideological union of the Republican rich with the working man (and woman). Nothing else could fuse their naturally opposed interests. The essence of supply-side economics was its belief in the importance of liberating the affluent from tax and regulatory burdens, a faith not typically shared by lower-income households who might at best see benefits “trickle down” to them. In fact, they often paid more under tax-reform schemes of the 1980s. Edsall provides data on the combined federal tax rate that include all taxes—income, Social Security, and so forth. Between 1980 and 1990, families in the bottom fifth of all earners saw their rates increase by 16.1 percent; it increased by 6 percent for those in the second-lowest fifth (the lower middle class); and it increased by 1.2 percent for those in the middle fifth (the middle middle class). But those in the second-highest fifth of all income earners saw a cut in their tax rate by 2.2 percent during that decade; and those in the top fifth got a 5.5 percent decrease in their rate. Overall, the richest 10 percent of American earners received a 7.3 percent decrease in their combined federal tax rate. The top 1 percent? A 14.4 percent cut during the 1980s. Clearly this hurt the middle class, as the vaunted trickle down never arrived. But it was working-class whites who bought the message that this model of fiscal conservatism, married to social conservatism in the form of a rollback of redistributive programs they perceived to favor blacks, would benefit them. It did not. Yet it established a popular political rhetoric by which lower-income whites can be counted on to take up against “liberal” policies that may actually serve their interests as long as opposition can be wrapped in the trappings of “traditional values,” “law and order,” “special interests,” “reverse racism,” and “smaller government.” This was pure okey doke based on an erroneous notion of zero-sum mutuality—that is, that whatever “the blacks” get hurts me.
Which also demonstrates the contradictions of localism. Remember my earlier argument that localism—or local control expressed formally through home rule grants, as it’s sometimes known—became the spatial successor to Jim Crow segregation. Through racially “neutral” land use and housing policy, it kept white communities white after the fall of legal segregation in the late 1950s and mid-1960s. Yet here’s the contradiction. While voters opposed to civil rights remedies and Great Society programs followed Republican leadership toward fiscal conservatism at the national level, they maintained their fiscal liberalism at the local level. The tax base they created for themselves through property taxes in suburbia could be contained and spent locally. Edsall describes the irony this way: “Suburbanization has permitted whites to satisfy liberal ideals revolving around activist government, while keeping to a minimum the number of blacks and the poor who share in government largess.” Of course, all of this worked best when “suburbs” meant middle-class white people and “cities” (or today’s “urban” areas) always signaled black and brown people. There was no mutuality of interests between the two kinds of places. It also worked when low property taxes—together with generous state aid—could reliably pay for great local public services like schools, libraries, and fire protection. It was a terrific deal. But that was then. Now, neither is true. The line between cities and suburbs has blurred into regions, and minorities and whites are busy crossing back and forth to work, live, and shop. Most of the fragmented municipalities that sprawled across suburbia are no longer able to sustain their own budgets, threatening the quality of their services, despite unimaginably high property taxes. The assumptions have not held.
Perhaps now we should consider the racially polarizing policies that became the norm under Reagan’s failed experiment. We tried them. Some believed fervently in them. But it is clear that they didn’t work and are not in our long-term national or local interest. There remains a legacy of racism, however, that continues to harm some of us disproportionately and all of us eventually. It’s to those three examples that I now turn. I will only write on two out of the three, the one I will not write on is Predatory Lending.
If I’m right that the kind of racism that still works to seriously limit minority lives is more structural than intentional, and that much of it works its harm by the dynamics of place, then the first example of racism has to be environmental racism. This is little more than the straight forward fear of being killed by your neighborhood. It can happen in a number of ways.
The third example of contemporary racism is about the near-perma- nent limitation on life chances for some that is caused by our country’s rules about criminal justice. These rules and practices—from police behavior and incentives to prosecutorial power and on through the policies behind our criminal laws—have also come a long way since the 1960s. But the clear direction has been toward mass incarceration of human beings who, upon release, re-enter a society that despises those who have been incarcerated. The vast majority of these people are young black and brown men. When I first discovered the patterns of our criminal justice system, I was reminded of the absurdist bureaucracy that condemns the character Josef K. in Franz Kafka’s book “The Trial.” Josef is a working man suddenly arrested and charged with an unknown crime and forced into the impossible dilemma of defending his life amid a system of justice with no known logic, rules, or fairness. Frustrated and broken, Josef eventually dies without ever knowing why the state wanted to discipline him.
That’s pretty awful stuff. But our system of justice—leading inexorably to confinement for so many people—differs from Kafka’s in one frightening sense. It appears to have a purpose. The point is to marginalize a certain proportion of the population. Why would a free society encourage marginalization through the power of its government? According to some scholars and advocacy institutions that follow crime policy, the system for fighting crime has become a politically profitable, financially lucrative, self-perpetuating business—the business of mass incarceration. The main proponent of this view is Michelle Alexander, who argues in her book “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” that the goal of our laws since about 1980 has been to substitute a new system of social control on black and Latino communities after the fall of the Jim Crow system. Whether she is right or whether the case can be made that the justice system is at least rigged against black and brown people demands a review of circumstantial evidence. Circumstantial evidence is often used in the absence of direct evidence—smoking guns, eyewitnesses, taped confessions of racial animus—and is accepted all the time in criminal cases. Circumstantial evidence raises inferences that something is true; the stronger the evidence, the more compelling the inference. Before we get to it, however, let’s look at the facts of the “crime” itself, the disproportionate targeting and incarceration of black and brown men, their families, and, once again, the places where they tend to live.
According to Alexander and others, the facts begin in 1980, the year Ronald Reagan was elected. Crime had been rising during the 1970s, but the epidemic of crack cocaine that transformed the public’s idea of criminal behavior did not actually occur until about 1984. (I happened to grow up in one of the earliest crack neighborhoods in Upper Manhattan and saw it engulf some of my best friends.) Nevertheless, as Alexander points out, President Ronald Reagan declared a “War on Drugs” in 1982, a full two years before we knew what crack was. The statistics begin from about there, when fighting crime went from being a local police activity to a coordinated approach involving the FBI, CIA, Pentagon, new laws about drug offenses, mandatory sentencing, constitutional guarantees, and a whole lot of media coverage.
Incarceration rates exploded in the early 1980s and have only recently begun to trail off. Between 1980 and 2000, the prison and jail inmate population increased three hundred thousand to over two million; by 2007, seven million people were either locked up, on probation, or on parole. For blacks, the drug-related incarceration rates quadrupled in just three years, then began a steady but precipitous increase. In 2000, black incarceration rates were twenty-six times what they were in 1983. Latino incarceration rates for drug-related offenses were twenty-two times their 1983 levels. Whites, too, experienced an increase of eight times the rate of drug-related incarceration during the same period. Put another way, in 2006, one out of every fourteen black men was locked up compared to one in 106 white men. No other country imprisons its people as frequently or for as long as does the United States. Nobody. It was not always this way. What changed was the conservative backlash on drugs, part of what Thomas Edsall referred to as the coded call by Barry Goldwater, George Wallace, and Richard Nixon for “law and order.” As Alexander writes:
Convictions for drug offenses are the single most important cause of the explosion in incarceration rates in the United States. Drug offenses alone account for two-thirds of the rise in the federal inmate population and more than half of the rise in state prisoners between 1985 and 2000. Approximately half a million are in prison or jail for a drug offense today, compared to an estimated 41,100 in 1980—an increase of 1,100 percent. Drug arrests have tripled since 1980. As a result, more than 31 million people have been arrested for drug offenses since the drug war began. . . . The vast majority of those arrested are not charged with serious offenses.
Circumstantial Evidence of a Racist System
What the larger national statistics on racial disparities in crime fighting mean is that, because of the correspondence between race and economic status, black and brown men in poor communities have an entirely different experience of constitutional freedom than do the rest of us. Thanks to racial and economic segregation, we already know that they are not hard for the police to find. In ghettos and barrios across the nation, much higher proportions of young men are routinely stopped and searched by police, arrested or detained, released or charged, and if charged, then usually pleading to something that stands as a conviction on their records. A great many are then incarcerated. The cycle then starts over as they become unemployable, uneducated, and part of an insidious interdependency on one of the best-financed arms of government—law enforcement and the courts. Once they have served time for a felony conviction, they are persona non grata in most job settings, denied housing benefits and student loans, disallowed on juries, and, in many states, even lose the right to vote. Many states have elaborate laws that make the ex-offender a debtor responsible for paying many of the costs of his legal assistance, jail book-in fees, court costs, and child-support enforcement—all on penalty of being returned to jail if he doesn’t pay. The pariah status of ex-offenders ripples out in permanent multiples as these are the sons, husbands, and fathers of whole communities. This draconian state of affairs ought to be justified. The first question we should ask is whether the focus on people from these areas and not others is supported by facts on the ground.
The answer seems to be not at all. Crack had not even appeared in U.S. cities when President Reagan declared war on drugs, but what followed was an unprecedented federal commitment to funding drug-related crime. Almost immediately crime budgets rose, creating incentives to use the money in order to keep getting it. For instance, Alexander reports that FBI antidrug funding jumped from $8 million to $95 million between 1980 and 1984, the Department of Defense anti-drug budget jumped from $33 million to $1.042 million between 1981 and 1991, and Drug Enforcement Administration spending rose from $86 million to $1.026 million during the same decade. Meanwhile, crack hysteria became ubiquitous in media accounts, the scourge of a generation that had to be stopped at all costs. However, it was not a scourge everywhere, only among ghetto communities. This can be seen in the disparate treatment for cocaine-related crimes that was legislated by Congress as part of the $2 billion crime bill in 1986. That law and the 1988 Anti-Drug Abuse Act authorized new mandatory minimums for first-time offenders, revoked benefits for people connected with drug busts, and added the death penalty for some federal drug offenses. Yet the focus was always on crack cocaine, not powder cocaine. Of course, crack was the cheap, rock-based ghetto alternative to the expensive powder snorted disproportionately by whites. The difference in mandatory penalties? You’d get the same prison time for one gram of crack as you would for one hundred grams of powder. The former essentially punished users and small-time dealers, while the latter only dealers.
Studies of police practices demonstrate a tendency to focus on not where the drugs are as much as where the drugs are easiest to find. For example, a Seattle University study published in 2001 found that racial stereotypes permeated Seattle policing and explained high rates of black drug arrests, not offending behavior. In fact, Seattle police followed their stereotypes even when actual tips directed them elsewhere. “Seattle residents were far more likely to report suspected narcotics activities in residences—not outdoors—but police devoted their resources to open-air drug markets and to the one precinct that was least likely to be identified as the site of suspected drug activity in citizen complaints,” according to Alexander. “In fact, although hundreds of outdoor drug transactions were recorded in predominantly white areas of Seattle, police concentrated their drug enforcement efforts in one downtown drug market where the frequency of drug transactions was much lower.”
Well, given the huge disparity between the arrest, charging, and incarceration rates by race, were black and brown drug offenders and dealers more numerous than whites? Again the answer seems to be not at all. A 2000 study showed that white youth were a third more likely to sell drugs than were blacks. Government data show that “blacks were no more likely to be guilty of drug crimes than whites and that white youth were actually the most likely of any racial or ethnic group to be guilty of illegal drug possession or sales,” Alexander writes. White youths are also more often in emergency rooms than are blacks as a result of their drug use. And it’s not like drug sales present a clandestine opportunity for racial mixing. As Alexander reminds us, “Whites tend to sell to whites; blacks to blacks. University students tend to sell to each other. Rural whites, for their part, don’t make a special trip to the ’hood to purchase marijuana. They buy it from somebody down the road.”
The last question is the thorniest: why did we build a system that seems hell-bent on funding the complete marginalization of so many black and brown people, many of them non-dangerous drug users doing what even more whites were doing? This is difficult to answer, but any attempt has to take at least two paths, the administrative and the political. By administrative, I’m referring to the policies followed by law enforcement agencies and districts attorney together with the direction they were given by courts. After all, crime fighting may be a business, but it’s a business subject to constitutional constraints. By political, I’m referring to what might have been behind all those policies—that is, what interests were served by our obsession with locking up men (and increasingly women) of color.
As for the administrative side of the criminal justice system, it seems clear that by the mid-1980s a great many financial incentives aligned to make fighting drugs in minority neighborhoods a top priority for police departments, which wanted larger budgets, and prosecutors’ offices, which wanted to bolster their tough-on-crime bona fides. In this way, the momentum toward a system of mass incarceration became self-executing. Specifically, the creation of two government funding streams—the Edward Byrne Memorial State and Local Enforcement Assistance Program as well as federal forfeiture laws—launched continuous incentives to police forces to make arrest numbers regardless of the impact on crime reduction. Since 1988, according to Alexander, Byrne grants increased the funding and weaponry to localities willing (who wouldn’t?) to establish specialized narcotics task forces. This is why your local police precinct now has such military hardware as M16 rifles, grenade launchers, and Black Hawk helicopters. This is also why every American now knows what a SWAT team is, even though they were originally designed to be a specialized few used for hostage situations and bank heists. Alexander writes that in the entire United States, “[b]y the early 1980s, there were three thousand annual SWAT deployments, by 1996 there were thirty thousand, and by 2001 there were forty thousand.” Beyond the incentives to beef up, however, were incentives to eat what you killed under forfeiture laws that allow police to keep the cash and assets seized during drug raids. These raids might be based on mere suspicion, yet the fruits of the raid could be kept unless challenged. Thanks to arcane rules that, until very recently, made it difficult and costly to get one’s property back, 80–90 percent of forfeitures went unchallenged. As Eric Blumenson and Eva Nilsen demonstrated in their research, forfeitures gave police a pecuniary interest in the drug trade. The more you bust, the more you keep.
Prosecutorial power has also increased dramatically since the 1980s while budgets for free legal representation for indigent defendants have shrunk. The power comes largely from the threat of harsh mandatory sentences that became vogue during the crack epidemic. Prosecutors have unreviewable discretion to charge and overcharge as they see fit, a formidable plea bargaining chip even in the absence of strong evidence of guilt. “[S]imply by charging someone with an offense carrying a mandatory sentence of ten to fifteen years or life,” Alexander writes, “prosecutors are able to force people to plead guilty rather than risk a decade or more in prison. Prosecutors admit that they routinely charge people with crimes for which they technically have probable cause but which they seriously doubt they could ever win in court.” Given the financial costs of a capable defense, prosecutors rarely ever face that risk. Almost nobody goes to trial.
Meanwhile, the interpretation of a criminal defendant’s liberty interests changed dramatically, as a much more conservative Supreme Court continues to overhaul the constitutional overhaul that occurred briefly during the 1960s and 1970s. The Court has blessed a free range of police behaviors that might surprise many Americans if they (or their sons) were affected by them. Even without probable cause to suspect that someone’s doing wrong, police may now stop and detain people on the street or in their cars, frisk them, and even conduct full-fledged searches as long as they receive “consent.” Yet as you may assume, people rarely tell cops no, and cops are under no legal obligation to tell them they have a right to refuse. These limitations on the Fourth Amendment have led to raids, street sweeps, and other tactics that can only be called fishing expeditions. The DEA’s Operation Pipeline, for example, trained officers to do just that. According to Alexander, “It has been estimated that 95 percent of Pipeline stops yield no illegal drugs. One study found that up to 99 percent of traffic stops made by federally funded narcotics task forces result in no citation and that 98 percent of task-force searches during traffic stops are discretionary searches in which the officer searches the car with the driver’s verbal ‘consent’ but has no other legal authority to do so.” These are the tools that encouraged so much racial profiling across the nation during the last decade and a half. In New York City, following the deaths of unarmed black immigrants by police, racial profiling of black and brown men under the strident leadership of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani drew national attention. However, little changed under his more moderate successor, Michael Bloomberg. “The NYPD stopped five times more people in 2005 than in 2002—the overwhelming majority of whom were African American or Latino,” Alexander notes.
According to a study by the New York Civil Liberties Union, the New York Police Department stopped and frisked about 533,000 men in 2012, 87 percent of whom were black or Latino and 90 percent were innocent of wrongdoing. Though the program is justified as a way to find illegal guns, most of the arrests were for marijuana possession (5,000), not guns (729). As a result of Supreme Court decisions since 1987, claims of racist police or prosecutorial practices are nearly impossible to prove.
Why would our politics allow us to continue spending so lavishly to lock up so much human capital when the results are so racially skewed and offer so little evidence of crime-fighting success? Alexander’s answer is that mass incarceration is the new Jim Crow, a deliberate form of social control over racial minorities. It may be. Certainly, the policies that gave rise to these funding priorities, exercises of discretion, and constitutional interpretations followed a clear “law and order” path that began after the 1960s urban riots, but reached full steam under Presidents Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and Bill Clinton. For politicians everywhere, presenting oneself as tough on crime has been a cherished virtue among voters for decades now, a sure way to prevent us from slipping into lawlessness. What is odd, however, is the concentration of crime. Here again, segregation plays a hand. Since crime is concentrated in areas of concentrated poverty, the broader public’s willingness to fund tough and expensive policing seems irrational. That same public expresses no such desire to fund schools in areas of concentrated poverty at higher levels, for instance. Maybe Alexander asserts too much intention on the part of the myriad forces of social control, a coordination of efforts that seems too perfect for the government we know. Yet something is clearly wrong with a criminal justice system that produces so much injustice. And now that crack has at least subsided as an epidemic and prison costs are crushing state and local budgets, people are rethinking our incarceration policies. But are they doing so for the right reasons?
In my quest to stay rooted in my God today I am searching the scriptures to find my way back to sanity. I am looking at my mental state of mind and feelings of mediocrity I came across this:
As a thinker, Nietzsche attacked the conventional opinions of his day because these opinions served as so many barriers to a fuller and richer human experience. He had no faith in social reform, he hated parliamentary government and universal suffrage. He hated liberals, conservatives, communists and socialists. He did not share in the vision of progress so characteristic of the western intellectual tradition for the past two hundred years. He condemned Christian morality. He mocked the liberal notion that man was inherently good. He hated Socrates!
I am running away from the voice that whispers become your own man again and be superior to those that disqualify you as worthy. I once acted as a “Superman” and wasted 13 years of my life. But here’s more of what this Philosopher thought about God and mediocrity.
With the PARABLE OF THE MADMAN, Nietzsche has established that Christian morality is dead and we ourselves are responsible. There are no higher worlds, no morality derived from God or Nature because “God is dead.” There are no natural rights and the idea of progress is a sham. All the old values and truths have lost their vitality and validity. Such an opinion is called nihilism. There are no moral values. Nietzsche said man could rise above nihilism. How could this be done? Well, first, one had to recognize the nihilism produced by everyday life. One had to become a nihilist. One could then rise above and go beyond nihilism by creating new values: man could then become his own master and be true to himself rather than to another. “Du sollst werden, der du bist.” Man can overcome uniformity and mediocrity, he can overcome socialism, democracy, trade unionism, progress, enlightenment and all the other ills so consistent with western civilization.
According to Nietzsche, man could be saved by a new type of man, the “ï¿½bermensch,” the Superman. These are the men who will not be held back by the hogwash of modern-mediocre-industrial-scientific-bourgeois-Christian civilization. The superman creates his own morality based on human instincts, drive and will. He affirms his existence not by saying, with the Christian, “thou shalt not.” No. Against the Mosaic law, the new man shouts, “I will.” The new man dares to be himself and as himself, traditional, Christian ideals of good and evil have no meaning and he recognizes them as such. His “will to power” means, for Nietzsche, that he has gone “beyond good and evil.” The enhancement of the will to power brings supreme enjoyment. The Superman casts off all established values and because he is now free of all restraints, rules and codes of behavior imposed by civilization, he creates his own values. He lives his own life as one who takes, wants, strives, creates, struggles, seeks and dominates. He knows life as it is given to him is without meaning — but he lives it laughingly, instinctively, fully, dangerously.
The influence of Nietzsche’s philosophy today is difficult to assess. I can say that much of what he had to say has had some relevance for myself. While I would not call myself a Nietzschean, there is little doubt that his style of philosophy — “philosophizing with a hammer” — has had a direct impact on my own way of thinking. Even when he is downright wrong or incoherent, Nietzsche never fails to incite the mind to new levels of thought.
As an intellectual historian of the European mind, however, I think Nietzsche grasped one of the fundamental problems which faced the twentieth century. In the last quarter of the 19th century, Nietzsche saw only decay and decline. Such a statement, coming as it did in an era of progress, is enough to draw our attention to Nietzsche. With the death of God, a death quickened by the Scientific Revolution, middle class individualism, Marxism, Darwinism, positivism and materialism, traditional moral values have lost their value and meaning. In a world where nothing is true, anything goes. Nietzsche was a critic. Better yet, Nietzsche was a physician and his patient was western civilization. He had no concrete solution. His diagnosis was perhaps more astute than his proposed treatment. But what Nietzsche served to do was to further erode the rational foundations of western civilization. In this respect, he can be both blamed and congratulated.
John 10:41 (The Message)
41 A lot of people followed him over. They were saying, “John did no miracles, but everything he said about this man has come true.”
Today I am wrestling with the emotions of being very dissatisfied with myself. I am not a genius, I have no distinctive gifts, and I feel very inadequate when it comes to having any special abilities. Mediocrity seems to be the measure of my existence. I am really struggling with the emotion that none of my days are noteworthy, except for their sameness and lack of zest. Yet in-spite of this I feel my life is a blessed one.
John the Baptist never performed a miracle, but Jesus said of him, “Among those born of women there is no one greater” (Luke 7:28). His mission was to be “a witness to the light” and that may be my mission and yours. John was content to be only a voice crying out in the wilderness, as long as it caused people to think of Christ.
The Lord knows that I am thirsty to be an instrument for His work, but daily I fight the covetousness of needing to be excepted and heard for the wrong reasons. Can I be transparent with the world today and not get shredded to pieces or even more denounced? I think God wants us to be willing to be a voice that is heard but not seen, or a mirror whose glass the eye cannot see because it is reflecting the brilliant glory of the Son. Be willing to be a breeze that arises just before the daylight, saying, “The dawn! The dawn!” and then fades away.
Do the most insignificant tasks everyday knowing that God can see. If you live with difficult people, win them over through love. If you once made a great mistake in life, do not allow it to cloud the rest of your life, but by locking it secretly in your heart, make it yield strength and character.
We are doing more good than we know. The things we do today-sowing seeds or sharing simple truths of Christ–people will someday refer to as the first things that prompted them to think of Him. For my part, I will be satisfied not to have some great tombstone over my grave but just to know that common people will gather there once I am gone and say, “He was a good man. He never performed any miracle, but he told me about Christ, which led me to know Him for myself.”
Do you want your church to be a New Testament church? Most people would unequivocally say yes. If so, then after which New Testament church would you like to model your church? The one in Ephesus? Corinth? Galatia? What about the church of the Thessalonians?
Let’s face it, the early church had its challenges. In fact, believers in the first century could have invented the term dysfunctional. The early churches experienced racial and ethnic strife, sensuality and immorality among members, doctrinal divisions, and heresy taught by charismatic personalities.
The early churches also had difficulty assimilating new members into the body of Christ. Conflict among church leaders occurred on a regular basis. In many ways, things haven’t changed in two thousand years. People and churches still experience the same problems the early church encountered.
When we say we want to be a New Testament church, I believe we mean this: we desire for our church to be characterized by a vibrant, evangelistic spirit that witnesses the power of God transforming lives. What would your church look like if it patterned its ministry after churches in the New Testament? Should we not expect God to transform those who are enslaved to immorality, addicted to drugs, or enmeshed in difficult relationships? Or does God only work in the lives of good people who just need a little “tweaking”? If ours is to be a healthy church, a New Testament church then it will include dysfunctional people who are being transformed through God’s grace.
Unfortunately, many of our churches are not reaching the unchurched. The reason? They do not have a church culture that encourages intentional efforts to bring the lost to Christ.
How Can We Create a Climate for Reaching the Unchurched?
Several positive steps can be taken. Once taken, they also may reveal information that can lead toward other strategic actions.
Pray for the unchurched.
Prayer should permeate all of our evangelism efforts. Jesus wept over the spiritual condition of the city of Jerusalem (Luke 19:41). Scripture assures us that God is at work redeeming the world. He wants us to be sensitive to His activity around us.
In Sunday School/Sabbath School classes and departments, pray for neighbors, family members, coworkers, and acquaintances in the marketplace. Pray for the lost by name. Pray for your class to be sensitive for opportunities to share the gospel. Prayer time should not be a one-minute brief acknowledgement, but instead should provide opportunities for members to pray earnestly for the evangelism efforts of the church.
Establish prayer groups that meet for the sole purpose of praying for the lost of the community and for such evangelism efforts as FAITH ministry. Make the midweek prayer service truly a time for the church to pray for God’s activity, not just to read a list of those who are sick.
Commit to develop relationships with the unchurched.
Before inviting the unchurched to church, it is important to develop a relationship with them. While it may sound like a cliche, a good rule of thumb to keep in mind is this: Don’t invite persons to your Sunday School/Sabbath School class until you have invited them to your home. In other words, get to know your unchurched friends and neighbors over a meal or dessert. Find interests you share and can enjoy together.
Spend time getting acquainted. Find out where they come from and what their spiritual background has been. Pray for these new friends daily. Look for ways to minister, such as mowing their yard while they are on vacation or working on house projects. Invite these friends to attend sporting or cultural events with you.
Winning the lost and assimilating them into the body of Christ is not a quick-strike operation; it requires a long-term commitment to relationships.
Become a hospital for the spiritually wounded.
Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. . . . I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matt. 9:12-13). Churches that reach their communities embody the doctrine of grace. People’s lives have been changed and they share that good news with others who are seeking hope, help, and healing.
Examine your Sunday School/Sabbath School and church records. Are you only baptizing your own, or is your church reaching unchurched families and adults for Christ?
Recognize That Ministry Can Be Messy
Reaching the unchurched is messy. The unchurched are not familiar with the language or acceptable behaviors of Christians. Unfortunately, many churches follow this formula: Behave, Believe, and then Belong. With this thinking we are implicitly saying, “First, you must behave the way we behave. You must talk and dress like us. Then, once you behave like us, you must believe what we believe. Then, if you believe what we believe, you can belong to our church.”
To reach the unchurched we must reverse that formula. Postmoderns are looking for a community in which to belong. Once they feel accepted for who they are, they begin to change their values and beliefs. After they understand what God is calling them to be and do, they will change their behavior. Focus your Sunday School/Sabbath School on developing an open-group strategy in which everyone feels that they belong.
Teach for spiritual transformation.
Whether it was the woman at the well or the leper by the pool of Siloam, Jesus always spoke to the needs of the individual. He met people where they were and gave them hope for the future.
The unchurched may or may not be concerned about the doctrinal stands of your church. Many don’t care what version of the Bible you read or how your church is governed. While they are open to spiritual things, experiencing faith in a church setting has been a stumbling block.
Their concerns are more pragmatic. One out of three will struggle with finances. The issues in their lives are to find a well-paying job, meet the mortgage payment, put food on the table, get out of debt, and maintain job security. Unchurched adults often are concerned about personal health issues.
Family matters occupy their attention. They want help with child-rearing: discipline, school events, dating, and allowances. Single parents worry about how to carry the parenting load alone. Unchurched adults want close personal friendships and a clear purpose for living. Median adults are concerned with the challenges of meeting the needs of aging parents. Most of the unchurched are drowning in the whirlpool of life’s realities and don’t believe the church has anything that can help them.
Bible study must go beyond what happened thousands of years ago among a group of nomads wandering in the desert. Bible study must be directed toward life application so that God’s transforming work can take place in people’s lives. Do your teachers apply Scripture to everyday life? Are lives being changed by applying the truth from God’s Word?
Sometimes your culture is consumed by a secret of deception of Sectarianism and Schisms. Partiality towards a bigger tither or individuals who have influence within the social sector who portray being supportive of church visions can destroy or split a church.
Tell the Unchurched How Jesus Makes a Difference
The unchurched want to know, “Does following Jesus make any difference in your life?” “Does the Bible have anything to say about my problems?” Address the hot buttons of the unchurched. Provide learning opportunities outside the walls of the church to address these issues.
Consider starting community family groups that meet in apartment buildings or in homes. Use these groups to address life issues from a biblical perspective. Provide parenting tools and seminars in community clubhouses or conference centers. The unchurched are more open to meeting at a neutral site until they get to know members of your church.
Be willing to change.
In the movie Sister Act, Whoopi Goldberg plays the part of a nightclub singer. She finds herself incognito as Sister Mary Clarence, a nun in a faltering Catholic church in an urban decaying neighborhood. The church on Sunday morning is comprised of the “few but faithful” older members. The streets are filled with bustling activity while the church quietly goes about its traditions.
Sister Mary Clarence pushes to assume leadership for the choir and changes the special music to a more contemporary style, drawing the wrath of her superior. However, the teenagers and young adults begin to walk in off the street because they hear (described by the priest) this “heavenly music” calling them.
The Mother Superior is angry that such raucous music is being sung. It is blasphemy. She loves the traditions of the church.
What traditions in your church are keeping you from reaching the lost? What true changes (not superficial ones for the sake of change) do you need to make to reach the unchurched?
The pastor and key Sunday School/Sabbath School leaders must be committed to change.
A crucial factor in changing the church’s culture is the leadership of the pastor and Sunday School director. Unless the pastor and key church leaders are committed to changing the culture and are involved in reaching the lost, the church will not reach the unchurched.
Do you need to teach a class on friendship evangelism, start a new class, or develop a prayer ministry for evangelistic efforts in the church? What Sunday School issues need attention? Are you involved in FAITH; if so, how can you better support that evangelism strategy?
Make specific and strategic plans to be a New Testament church that reaches the unchurched for Christ’s glory.
“Life is a series of experiences, each one of which makes us bigger, even though it is hard to realize this. For the world was built to develop character, and we must learn that the setbacks and griefs which we endure help us in our marching onward.”
— Henry Ford
“When someone we love dies, it seems as if time stands still. And silence… a quiet sadness… often can be felt, not just heard, a longing for one more day… one more word… one more touch… And we may not understand why God chose to have him leave this earth so soon, or why he had to leave before we were ready to say goodbye, but little by little, we will begin to remember not just that he died, but that he lived. And that his life gave us memories too beautiful to forget. We will see him again someday, in a heavenly place where there is no parting. A place where there are no words that mean goodbye.”
This man of God trod the Earth
Great men and eminent men have monuments in bronze and marble set up for them, but this man of divine fire managed in his life-time to become enmeshed in many of hearts so that all of us became somewhat of the stuff that he was made of, though to an infinitely lesser degree. He spread out over many lives, or in select places, or in assemblies, but in every hamlet and hurt of the lowly and those who suffer. He lives in the hearts of all of us and he will live for immortal ages.
…He has gone, and a whole church and community there is a feeling of having been left desolate and forlorn. All of us sense that feeling, and I do not know when we shall be able to get rid of it, and yet together with that feeling there is also a feeling of proud thanksgiving that it has been given to us of this generation to be associated with this mighty person. In ages to come, centuries and many millenniums after us, people will think of this generation when this man of God trod the earth and will think of the impact and faithfulness to God’s work however small, could also follow his path and probably tread on that holy ground where his feet had been. Let us be worthy of him. Let us always be so.
The adoption of May & I will always linger within the recesses of my spirit, Paul you touched every fiber of our being with your tenacious and warm spirit. We have been left with another model of love and compassion. I pondered many things today when I received the news of your untimely passing away, things like who will lead us in our MOKA meetings in the favorite song “Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus”? I pondered who will represent Christ while wreaking in pain without a complaint? Who is going to feed the hungry on Thanksgiving and Christmas all the while suffering from a debilitating sickness with joy and smiles? Who will visit the sick and shut in of the church and leave them with the joy of the Lord by way of a pleasant spirit? Who will visit the incarcerated and disenfranchised of society and feed them “The Word Of God” like you did? Paul you shared your whole family with May and I and I am determined to never let your memory die. I will serve God with my whole heart as you demonstrated all the while we walked the trials of my life and yours.
A devoted son and husband and father you were. A mentor that represented the whole Kansas Avenue Seven Day Adventist Church. No matter what faults this community may have your work and devotion to God covered them all. Your example of all these attributes are fueling my being Paul. I am forever thankful for the hospitality you gave me in welcoming me into your home and life. You shared your mom and kids equally with me as if I was born into your blood line. El’Rio and “You” will always be the conscious I reflect on when my mind drifts to complaining or hideous thoughts.
My dear friend,
close your eyes…
hold my hand,
and hear me whisper…
For the times I was lost,
you were there to look for me.
Will you believe me when I say I love you more than you’ll ever know.
Will you trust me when I say …this time you have to let me go.
My dear friend, I must leave.
The world no longer needs me.
It’s my time to be gone, until we meet again someday.
Don’t you cry now, I know I’ll be okay.
Trust that I’ll never forget you.
Don’t be sad now, just close your eyes until it’s through.
Hold my hand, don’t open your eyes yet…
wait when I no longer whisper..
My dear friend, you’ll be fine.
I’ll be up there watching over you.
For the times I’ll be gone, don’t ever forget
the words I whispered to you.
God calls on my name… and I have to let go of your hand now…
Please don’t cry… and smile for me..
because I’m with the one who made us friends.
Remember, I’ll always love you.
so come, wave me goodbye…
It’ll be painful but we have to…
Hug me, hug me tight, feel the words I can no longer say.
My dear friend, I’m going to miss you.
just pray because I’ll always listen.
and one day, when it’s your time,
I’ll be there for you…
Just like the way I used to.
…I love you…
Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands; 13and in the middle of the lampstands I saw one like a son of man, clothed in a robe reaching to the feet, and girded across His chest with a golden sash. 14His head and His hair were white like white wool, like snow; and His eyes were like a flame of fire.…
“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands, says this: 2I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false;…
In looking at my fleshly church today I am concerned about the maturity and growth taking place within. Quantifiable numbers always signifies success or failure, but it’s not about numbers, It’s about faithfulness in the journey. God adds the increase and gives the visions needed to acquire lost souls for the hospital of faith. I sought this out this week due to my getting dealt with by God about the condition of my heart and yielding myself as a living sacrifice that will permit His spirit to give me innovative approaches to ministry and those that are essential associated with the practical applications of the Gospel.
Rule No. 1 in church expansion: Think in terms of getting ‘unstuck,’ rather than just getting bigger.
The statistics are clear: 80 percent of all churches in the United States average fewer than 200 attendees each weekend. Without major change in leadership style, congregational dynamics, ministry vision or some other significant aspect of church-life, churches that have existed for more than five years will most likely stay the size they are now, with only moderate growth over time.
One of the shame-inducing truisms floating around the body of Christ goes something like, “All healthy organisms grow.” Pastors of smaller or plateaued churches feel the implied jab: Lack of growth is symptomatic of underlying sickness. That’s not very helpful in the real church-world. To begin with, there are limits to the size any organism can reach (Trophy trout are rare–especially in small streams), and if you keep growing after the legal age, it’s called getting fat.
Most of us have been stuck somewhere, somehow–in the desert sand off the main road, up a tree we climbed in our pre-adolescence or on a tricky algebra problem. But somehow, someway, we got unstuck. When our tires spun uselessly in the sand, we tried different approaches; when the algebra equation withstood one thought, we assaulted it with another.
Getting stuck forces us to adapt our approach to life. In fact, one theory of learning says the brain is wired to solve predicaments, and true learning only happens when the mind tries to figure something out. God designed us to keep at it–knocking, seeking and asking–but to do so in close counsel with Him.
We may find more solutions to what hinders our churches from growing larger if we think in terms of getting unstuck, rather than just getting bigger. The point is not, I hope, just to grow bigger congregations. Our true aim ought to be to grow more spiritually significant people.
Rather than trying the latest surefire program emphases just to attract more people, we can actually focus our church-growth strategies on the very things that make for bigger people. If we remember the goal has never been to put on church per se, but to develop people with the tool called church, we can still find several ways to get our people unleashed and our churches unstuck.
While we must reject too clinical an approach to church growth–making it devoid of God’s sovereign working–so too must we refuse to attribute all the growth of some churches to the arbitrary whims of God-sent revival. Thus, a healthy perspective on church growth leaves to God the things only He can do (the stuff we pray about), but willingly assumes responsibility for the things we can do something about. God gave me the teeth He gave me, but I brush them.
Just as 95 percent of all the fish in a lake inhabit a mere 5 percent of the space, and most computer problems can be traced to a limited number of common issues, so, too, do growth stick-points tend to cluster around a few factors.
Of the many such elements, there are three that seem most critical to me: staff composition, fellowship grouping and people mobilizing.
1. Who comprises the staff? This includes both paid and volunteer. A church will rarely grow beyond the capacity of its staff. One of the easiest, surest ways to foster church growth is to add people with staff responsibilities (not necessarily salary). The benefit to each of those new “staff members” and to the whole church cannot be overstated.
2. What fellowship groups exist in the church? And how easy is it for individuals to attach themselves to those clusters of people? Small churches stay stuck by trying to keep everybody doing all the same things as one big, happy family. Multiple services, small groups, choirs and other groupings within the church will gear congregations for expansion–and open more opportunities for individuals to lead meaningfully.
3. How is responsibility delegated? Have significant levels and types of responsibility been delegated to people in the church? If God entrusts His church with increasing levels of responsibility based on proven faithfulness, He will bless churches that do likewise. Besides, the more leaders are freed from doing “the same old same old,” the more they initiate new enterprises. Growing churches keep generating new ministries that inspire and challenge the congregation.
Churches get stuck at some sizes more than others, and while the plateau numbers may not be exact figurings, they do present pastors with slightly different challenges for trying new strategies in staffing, grouping and delegating. Let’s take a look at some of the most common plateau points–and how to break free from them.
UNDER 60 PEOPLE
Generally speaking, the leader feels his job involves knowing everything about each and every person in the congregation, and “being there” personally for everybody. Church is a big family at the dinner table; that’s why potluck meals work so well within this size church. The pastor cares and does so much, he lulls the congregation away from its own responsibility to bear one another’s burdens. For the most part, he responds to problems and reacts to situations that arise in the normal course of people’s lives.
Acting more as a chaplain or a concerned parent, the pastor of the typical small church delegates almost nothing. And if he does ask someone to oversee an aspect of church life, he will keep checking on it so often and so intrusively, the individual feels about as empowered as a youngster with a learner’s permit on her first driving lesson with mom.
1. Identify three ministry jobs (for example, creating the bulletin, selecting the worship songs or running the sound system), turn them over to volunteers, and after explaining the job for an hour, do nothing and say nothing related to those jobs for three months.
2. Do not attend the next church fellowship function, and for the next three months always invite someone different to open any gatherings (with a prayer or a greeting) and to close them. Have neither the first nor the last word.
3. Redirect one hour of your weekly schedule– something you normally do–and go sit somewhere, such as in a coffee shop, with pen and paper. Write down any new ideas for your church (not reminders).
90 TO 120 PEOPLE
Having broken free from the previous stick-point, churches of this size are developing into a comfortable community, not just a family. Usually, there are not (yet) many structural or logistical problems. The first faint glimpses of a leadership structure are emerging, but delegation is probably friendship-based and related almost exclusively to small or easily controlled aspects of church life. No one is really being freed to do things the way they think is best. Rather, the pastor has thought it through and merely tells someone what to do and how to do it.
There will always be exceptions, but generally speaking, a church of 90 will stay stuck without a full-time pastor and a half-time assistant who keeps regular office hours.
1. Legitimize your operations by making the “office staff” more substantial–setting prescribed hours when you’re (always) open, filling those hours with workers (paid and unpaid), getting a “real” piece of office equipment, having a “staff lunch” for volunteers, and so on.
2. Begin to establish multiple gatherings of the same kind. Some examples: dividing into two weekend services even if your building is not full, starting three breakfast groups for emerging leaders, for five months discontinuing regular meetings with your elders so they can each meet during that time slot with their own group of the same size/gender composition as the former elders’ group.
3. Identify three main areas of ministry (for example, children’s ministry, worship or men’s meetings), and invite at least five people in each area to two brainstorming sessions to dream big. Delegate specific jobs and responsibilities to each participant. Help them to do it if they need the help, but expect them to do it. Leave it in their hands.
The vast majority of all U.S. churches stay stuck here because it marks the limit to the number of people with whom the pastor has the time, energy or personal reserves to stay close. People drift in and out of the church because the pastor has unknowingly set up the expectation that he, personally, is going to attend to them. Sooner or later, the pastor will unintentionally violate that agreement, and they will feel as though things “just aren’t the same anymore” since all the new people came.
The pastoral strategy must be to remove himself slightly from the whole congregation in order to concentrate on a few present or prospective leaders. Forced to become more strategic and long term in thinking, the pastor must back away from the people and get ahead of them.
1. Consider hiring more staff. Staffing plays an especially critical role in pushing past the 200 barrier. Even if it seems as though the money is not there, seriously consider “hiring” two full-time, pastoral-level staff with two full-time support personnel. Begin by paying salaries to the two support personnel, and add pastors to the payroll as you can. (They’re much more expensive to hire and far more likely to be excited about the role–even as a volunteer.)
2. Identify a fairly major work project and bond people to one another by getting them to work together on it. If people scrape paint side by side, they will feel as though they are a part of the body, and the church will begin to grow. It builds esprit de corps, a vital replacement to the “big, happy family” feeling.
3. Write down the names of the seven most active-in-leadership individuals or couples in your church and the “hats” they wear; ask each individual or couple to help you think of other people to whom you can delegate all but two of your leaders’ jobs.
The pastor is absolutely convinced he or she cannot and should not pastor all the people in the church, so significant administrative and discipleship measures to utilize “the few” to pastor the many have already been adopted. Pastoral care, along with virtually every other ministry segment of the church, must be delegated the way Jethro instructed Moses. Church is administratively and relationally complex. Individuals and groups shift the focus of attention, and some “widows” are not going to be serviced properly.
The church becomes its own mission field, needing sub-congregations almost like new churches pioneered within it. Leaders are beginning to have an ambition for the people they directly oversee, and sometimes that internal ambition will cross grains with the whole program. Internal expansion and program needs should win out over the larger church program at least some of the time.
It’s time for the youth pastor to be his or her own person. The senior pastor should welcome times when various ministry leaders “buck the system” (developing kingdoms within a kingdom), not in the spirit of Absalom, but in the spirit of true servants who, like you, are in the business of ministry because they see the sheep needing more shepherds. Commission and appoint people, full of the Holy Spirit and power, to oversee areas of ministry responsibility.
1. Staff for sanity and for growth. If you keep an appropriate ratio of staff to people, sanity calls for the equivalent of six full-time staff, and growth will likely require a couple more than that. Make a list of everyone you would hire (and what they would do) if you were given $500,000 to be used only for salaries. Don’t wait for the money. Ask the people on the list to start doing what you’d like them to oversee.
2. Appraise and repair the church-program offerings to increase the number of strands–fellowship situations or opportunities–in the net you’re using to fish for people. The two main types of groups are getting (people come for care and nurture without having to do anything) and giving (people come in order to provide service for others). With an apprentice leader at your side, start two new groups, one of each variety, with very specific focuses–for example, one targeting fathers in blended families and the other developing prayer teams.
3. Provide opportunities for sharing. One of the most substantial ways to build team spirit and cooperation is to encourage members of the team to share their stories, successes and struggles with the whole group–especially with the primary leader present and attentive. Pastors who do all the talking at leadership gatherings miss a great opportunity to promote others into greater involvement and service.
At your next churchwide leaders’ meeting, ask at least eight people to give a five- to seven-minute presentation (complete with handouts) on the current condition of and the future vision for the “department” they oversee. And you take notes while they are speaking!
Bottom line: If we’re going to burn the hell out of our world, it certainly doesn’t hurt to have a few bigger bonfires. But there’s a lot to be said for firing the flames of even the smallest campfire, so that it will jump outside whatever presently rings it in. The kingdom principle has always been multiplication. We find our spiritual significance not through collecting people, but in gathering them for the purpose of sending them out to replicate their experience with us.
Remember what we’re supposed to be growing: congregants not congregations. For some amazing reason, Jesus did not choose to bequeath to His church a special potion to be poured on pews to attract people like bees come to honey. He didn’t give us a franchise-church-in-a-box or limitless sources of money to erect impressive buildings.
Instead, He gave the church people-gifts (prophets, mercy-showers, exhorters, and so on) and a prayer focus (more laborers). Hmmm…
So, whether a church has big or small numbers, God’s interest is the same. And even more to the point, that interest is a sobering reality check for us pastors, regardless of how big or small our congregations may be. The true question is not, “How can I get a bigger church?” but, “How can I empower more of my church in ministry that really matters?”
Take Your Church’s PULSE
How do you diagnose a church’s health? Here are some distinguishing characteristics.
If size alone is not a legitimate indicator of spiritual health–since political conventions, Mormon Temples and stock car races all attract crowds–are there other more telling signs of well-being in church? Here are some of the pulse points I keep my finger on in my congregation:
Leaders’ lives. As in the lives of the Old Testament prophets, the true leaders in my church are experiencing the strange and marvelous reality of “living out” stuff God is doing in the whole church. For instance, recently–over the course of one week–four different men told me of their desires to volunteer one afternoon a week at the church. Coincidence or Godincidence?
What is happening in leaders is especially diagnostic of seasons God may be bringing our way. Look for changes in the prevailing winds.
Post-service conversations. Do people want to stick around after “church” is over? What are the subjects of their conversations with one another?
If the same groups of friends are just chitchatting or tacking down details, I’m not nearly as excited as if I notice the normal groups are split up among newer people, and they’re talking about what God has done in them recently.
Expectant worship. Regardless of the piano player or song selection, I’m curious about the atmosphere in times of corporate celebration of the Lord. Are people leaning in or back? I am thrilled when many individuals seem to form their own little pockets of personal intimacy with the Lord in the midst of the whole congregation–not doing their own thing apart from the rest of us, but “lost” in communion in the midst of us.
Stories. The more I hear testimonies about what God is doing or saying in people’s lives (as opposed to just the normal goings-on), the happier I am. And when the talk around church moves a bit further toward friends’ and neighbors’ encounters with God through evangelism, the more certain I am that we’re healthy.
Affection levels. Godliness (the whole hope for churchgoers) shows up more in qualities such as kindness, patience and tenderness than in thunderous pronouncements and self-righteous judgments. People on whom God has been working tend to manifest soft hearts, and Jesus’ trade secret says, “Who has been forgiven much, loves much.” Beyond what is normal for friends in a Rotary Club, what signs of affection do I pick up in my church?
Cheerful, heartened buzz. Forgive the pagan allusion, but the best way I know to describe this attribute in church is to call it pixie dust. When that stuff gets sprinkled on a congregation, it creates an excited joy, a sense of expectation about the future, coupled with such enjoyment of the present that no one is in a hurry to move on. It’s like enjoying a fabulous meal and spying–at the same time–the dessert tray with its exquisite possibilities. Such timelessness and inability to contain the entire blessing is a touch of heaven to come.
I read a few books “Evangelism and Church Growth by Elmer L. Towns, and Church For The Unchurched by George G. Hunter III and Grace God’s Unmerited Favor by C. H. Spurgeon and Concentric Circles of Concern by W. Oscar Thompson, Jr. With Carolyn Thompson. Self improvement develops the presence of the holy spirit when you search the scriptures and other divine writings.
“I can safely say, on the authority of all that is revealed in the Word of God, that any man or woman on this earth who is bored and turned off by worship is not ready for heaven.”
― A.W. Tozer
“Rules for Self Discovery:
1. What we want most;
2. What we think about most;
3. How we use our money;
4. What we do with our leisure time;
5. The company we enjoy;
6. Who and what we admire;
7. What we laugh at.”
― A.W. Tozer
“O God, I have tasted Thy goodness, and it has both satisfied me and made me thirsty for more. I am painfully conscious of my need for further grace. I am ashamed of my lack of desire. O God, the Triune God, I want to want Thee; I long to be filled with longing; I thirst to be made more thirsty still. Show me Thy glory, I pray Thee, so that I may know Thee indeed. Begin in mercy a new work of love within me. Say to my soul, ‘Rise up my love, my fair one, and come away.’ Then give me grace to rise and follow Thee up from this misty lowland where I have wandered so long.”
― A.W. Tozer
“God never hurries. There are no deadlines against which he must work. Only to know this is to quiet our spirits and relax our nerves.”
― A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God
How does a person know if they are called to be a pastor? How does a person know what God is calling them to do? Below are some questions to consider for those who may be in the feeling stage of considering their call. Why is it important to consider carefully and prayerfully one’s call, especially a call to be a pastor? I am convinced that to enter pastoral ministry without God’s call is one of the greatest deceptions of the devil. This is so because the one who is deceived and drawn into pastoral ministry apart from God’s call, will suffer great personal loss if not shipwreck their lives and the lives of their loved ones. But worse, the one who ventures into ministry for the wrong reasons will be powerless to prevent the desecration of God’s holy name. The non-called pastor , the non-called person in any position, is one of Satan’s most effective weapons. (See 1 Timothy 4; 2 Timothy 3-4; 2 Peter 2; Jude; and Revelation 2-3).
Furthermore, there is another enemy in discerning the call to be a pastor, it is called self. There is something attractive to people about standing in front of a group and speaking. This is often at the root of a person’s interest in pastoral ministry. Because of this the person considering whether or not they are called to be a pastor needs to really reflect and prayerfully consider their motives. Is pride involved? Is this “calling” self-serving or self-crucifying? Really pray about your motives. Is this “call” from inside you or heavenly in origin? Satan will seek to sneak into a person’s life through their self and oftentimes snares them on the hooks of pride. He should know, he’s hooked himself (Isaiah 14:12-17; Ezekiel 28:11-19).
Therefore, how does one cut through the fog of impression and feeling to discern in the Spirit whether or not they are called by God into pastoral ministry? Below are a few areas that are particularly important for discerning the one called to pastoral ministry. While I’m sure these questions are not exhaustive or all-inclusive of every individual situation, they are the product of prayer, Bible study, and experience and should be considered seriously and prayerfully. (This tool is focused on discerning the pastoral call, but many of the questions can be applied to various other aspects of ministry to which someone might feel God is calling them to.)
Discerning God’s Will –
What evidence is there that you are called to be a pastor? Do you have a plan to discern God’s will? Do you have a history of feeling called to do something only to leave the work unfinished? If so, what makes this “feeling” or sense of a call different? Have you truly put yourself on God’s altar and opened yourself to His will no matter what that might mean in regards to your own personal desires? (See Romans 12:1-2 as well as Joshua 1:8; Psalm 37:5; 119:168; 143:8; Proverbs 3:6; Hebrews 4:16).
Evidence of Pastoral Call –
Origin of Call – How was this “call” initiated, by you or someone else? Genuine calls are usually brought to light by others who see it in you before you “feel” it in you. If you had not felt the call and initiated it, would anyone else have seen it in you or brought it to your or someone else’s attention? If someone other than yourself has initiated recognition of your call, what is the basis of their observation? Are they simply confirming something that you have sent a message about in some way and therefore trying to affirm you and please you more than they are observing a work of God in you and through you? Jesus initiated the call in the lives of the disciples; they did not come to Him to initiate it. The call by Jesus is more of a follow Me than it is a let me follow You. (Matthew 4:18-22; 10:1-4)
Small Groups – Do you take an active role in small group activity? (e.g. Sunday School class; Home Bible Study) It is here where the fruit of a pastoral call is usually seen first. What fruit or evidence of a pastoral call is present in the small groups ministry? Do small group Bible studies “take off” or grow and bear lasting fruit as a result of God working through you? Or, do you find teaching in and leading a small group difficult, uncomfortable, and unfruitful?
Interpersonal Evidence – What evidence is there of being able to relate to people in a pastoral way? Do you tend to be frustrated with people or patient with people? Are you able to communicate with people by both listening and speaking to them? Is communication one way, your way? Are you gracious with people? Do you love people? (Galatians 6:1-5; 2 Timothy 2:24-26; 1 Peter 5:1-4).
Teaching – Has the Lord opened a door of opportunity for you to teach? If not, why not? Lack of opportunity may indicate this spiritual gift is not present. If the opportunity has presented itself, what fruit of a spiritual gift of teaching was apparent? Pastors need to be able to teach (Ephesians 4:11-12; 1 and 2 Timothy). What evidence is there in your life of an ability to teach? Is there evidence that you can effectively communicate God’s word in an edifying manner? If a person cannot excel in Biblical studies, if God’s anointing is not present in this area, are they called to pastoral ministry? (E.g. Calvary Chapel Bible College/ Extension courses or similar studies – Do you revel and thrive in the work and preparation? Or was the work a burden?)
Godly Counsel – What do others (Christians and Christian leaders) think about you being called to pastoral ministry? Do they see it in your life? Can they clearly see evidence of such a call? If so, why? If not, why not? Are you open to their godly opinion or is your mind made up? The counsel of others is important to decision making (Proverbs 11:14; 15:22; 20:18; 24:6)
Service – Do you have a servant’s heart? Are you willing to serve in obscurity? Have you ever done so? Are you willing to do whatever God wants whenever He wants it done? Even if that means you are not called to pastoral ministry? (Mark 10:45; Luke 9:23-26; John 13; Philippians 2:5-11).
Anointing – Last and most importantly, is there evidence of God’s anointing on you as a pastor? Is it clear or questionable? Can you go through the questions in this Are You Called To Be A Pastor? Study and confidently answer “yes” to these questions? If not, why not? What is the Lord saying to you? Are you rationalizing your responses to bend them in the way you would have them to go? Be honest.
Existing Ministry –
What area of ministry has God gifted you in? Would God have a person begin ministries only to leave them prematurely? Would God open doors to ministry and not have a person walk through them? If God has given you a gift to do a certain ministry, then that is probably where He is calling you to minister. As an unprofitable servant it would be inappropriate to rebel against and wiggle out of the way God wants to use you (Luke 17:10).
It would be best to test the waters in ministry locally to see where God’s gifting is in your life, rather than embark in life altering plans based on insufficient evidence or feeling. If God blesses and his call is sure, then proceed in that call, but if He does not bless, you will save yourself a lot of heartache and frustration by moving on and discovering where God really does want to use you. (See 1 Corinthians 7:17,24)
Some have mistakenly used Paul’s inspired words in 1 Corinthians 1-2 and 2 Corinthians 3:5-6 as justifying the use of anybody, regardless of God’s gifting, to enter ministry. The foolish things God uses are foolish from the world’s perspective, not God’s perspective. The ones God chooses to minister are gifted by the Spirit to do the work He calls them to do (1 Corinthians 12:1-11; Ephesians 4:11-12). Therefore, if God is calling a person to be a pastor-teacher, they will show evidence of spiritual gifting for such a calling. If God is calling a person to be a pastor then His power working in and through that called person will be evident in such an area. The gifting evidence accompanies the call. A “call” without evidence is suspect. Would God give a person gifts (e.g. Pastor-teaching, evangelism, musically for worship, etc.) that are blessed and spiritually powerful in ministry and then not call that person to that ministry? The calling usually is accompanied by gifts related to the ministry the Lord is calling a person to fulfill. Why would God gift and bless in an area of ministry, seemingly lead a person into an area of ministry, only to have the person “sense” a calling to another area of ministry? Does God give contrary evidence? If you look at the beginnings of the Calvary Chapel movement and the pastors God raised up, (E.g. Greg Laurie, Raul Ries, Mike McIntosh, Jon Courson, et.al) they were not initially learned or schooled in seminaries or Bible schools, but they had been discipled under the teaching of Pastor Chuck Smith and when they took over situations such as small group Bible Studies, the fruit that followed made it very clear of the calling of God in their lives.
Pastoral Perspective –
Do you have a realistic view of pastoral ministry? Ministry is not only teaching, or being in view of a group of people, it is above all serving. It is administrating, shepherding, discipling. It is running to the hospital to be at the beside of the sick and doing so at any time of night or day. It’s uncomfortable situations galore when you are called upon by God to rebuke, exhort, correct and encourage. It’s disciplining those who do not see that ministry is service and not a bully pulpit for their own agenda. It is taking a stand against carnal folly and superficiality when those who indulge in such things often rally the unwitting crowd against you. It is speaking the truth in love, no matter what.
Pastoral ministry is serving the Lord and sacrificing time with your family. Your wife and children will miss you every time you step out to minister and you will constantly be reminded of the cost of such a venture. You will be convicted and torn, but you will continue on because God’s call is on your life and you trust the Lord and His grace to compensate for your failings.
Pastoral ministry is always subordinating your will to the will of God. It is never self-serving and always self-crucifying. It is a life of continual sacrifice. It is living in a fishbowl and being the brunt of accusations, insinuations and outright falsehoods made by people who are really not informed of the entire truth of the pastoral situation. Its receiving comments and criticisms offered in a good-natured way about your ministry and wondering if there is something more substantially meant beneath the surface. Pastoral ministry will drive you to paranoia if you are not called by God. Pastoral ministry is depending upon God to defend you in such situations rather than defending yourself (1 Peter 5:6). It is having people pick at your family, judge you, assess not only your pluses and minuses, but all your families’ as well. It’s not reacting to such “attacks” fueled by the enemy who seeks to get to the pastor through those closest to him.
Pastoral ministry is constantly relying on God and patiently working with people who are often transient, or sitting back, uncommitted, or simply infants in Christ. It is waiting on God in service. In it’s beginnings it is often working a full time job, heading up a family, and being used by God to serve in a work of His that may require you to remain in such a situation for years, with no guarantee that it will ever end, (a pastor may be bi-vocational for their entire ministry). The pastoral ministry is not a means of “great gain” (1 Timothy 6:3-10).
Pastoral ministry is serving in obscurity. It is living in a part of the world that only the pastor and God can fully comprehend, no one else, not a wife, not a friend, not even another pastor at times. It is often a humanly lonely calling solely between the pastor and God.
Even so, pastoral ministry is a joy to the called. It is the only option for the called pastor. If you can find happiness and satisfaction in anything else, you are not called to be a pastor. Pastoral ministry is not an alternative and last resort for someone who has failed in every other area of their life and figures, “Hmm, everything else has failed, why not give pastoring a try?” Beware; pastoral ministry is a frustrating hurricane that will blow down the presumptuous who are not called. Those who enter in with presumptuous perceptions of grandeur, of being golden-tongued orators in front of thousands, will soon learn that the weight of ministry will squash those who enter in by their own strength rather than the grace that comes with the call of God. Pastoral ministry is serving God with no other reward but to know that by relying totally on God, He will one day say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
We often casually read the description by Paul of his ministry, but as the pastor matures in their ministry they learn and see the truth of this description more and more. Read what Paul said about his ministry and what it means to have a pastor’s heart – 2 Corinthians 3:5-6; 4:2,8-11; 5:14-15; 11:16-23; 12:11-21. Truly a pastor’s call is expressed by the following words of Paul who wrote:
“For I am already being poured out as a drink offering,” – 2 Timothy 4:6a
If you are called to be a pastor, nothing else will satisfy or do for you, and though the road may be hard, God’s call and grace will sustain you. If you are not called, and you venture out haphazardly in your own strength, you are doomed to a life of frustration and folly and will have missed the work God would have blessed.
The words shared above are not to discourage the one who is called by God. In fact, the one called by God will find assurance of their call if they prayerfully apply these questions to their lives. The purpose of such a study is to spare people the frustration and failure that might come by entering into a holy calling presumptively apart from God’s actual call. It is also meant to spare the church any more scorn and poor witness that has come via those who are self-servingly involved in pastoral ministry. When Peter had denied the Lord, Jesus didn’t throw him on the scrap heap, He restored him. But Jesus restored Peter in a way that confirmed his calling and assured him of God’s will in his life. Jesus did this by asking him a few questions:
John 21:15-17 – “So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Feed My lambs.”16 He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Tend My sheep.”17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Feed My sheep.” 1
Now I do not quote this passage to get a rise of emotion out of the reader; I quote this to hopefully strike to the heart of the situation. Peter was asked repeatedly by Jesus, “Do you love me?” Love of Jesus is the center of our relationship with Him. All decisions should be based on that motivation, our love for Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:14-15). Now the point here is not that those who are actually called by God to be a pastor are more loving of Jesus; not at all. The point here is do you love Jesus enough to do whatever He wants you to do? Even if that means you are not to serve him as a pastor? That’s the point. If you love Jesus, you can serve Him joyfully from the heart whether He calls you to do so as a pastor or not. The answer to that question gets to the heart of the truth and the truth at heart, about your “call” to be a pastor; about your call to be anything God wants you to be. May God guide you and call you according to His will.
New International Version (NIV)
9 And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.
Paul’s Chains Advance the Gospel
12 Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters,[a] that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. 13 As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard[b] and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. 14 And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.
15 It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. 16 The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. 18 But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.
Yes, and I will continue to rejoice,
In Singapore, the Chinese New Year season’s social and business dinners often begin with a dish consisting of salads, dressings, pickles, and raw fish. The name of the dish, Yu Sheng, is a pun that sounds like “year of prosperity.” It is traditional for those present to toss the salad together. As they do, certain phrases are repeated to bring about good fortune.
Our words may express our hopes for others for the year ahead, but they can’t bring about good fortune. The important issue is–what does God want to see in us in the coming year? In his letter to the Philippians, Paul expressed his desire and prayer that their love “may abound still more in knowledge and all discernment”. The church had been a great tower of support for him, yet he urged them to continue to grow to love others.
Paul wasn’t talking about intellectual knowledge but knowledge of God. Love for others starts with a closer relationship with Him. With a fuller knowledge of God, we can then discern between right and wrong. Giving our best wishes to others for the coming year is fine. But our heartfelt prayer should be that we abound in love, so that we may be “filled with the fruits of righteousness…to the glory and praise of God.”
Teach us Thy patience! still with Thee
In closer, dearer company,
In work that keeps faith sweet and strong,
In trust that triumphs over wrong.–Gladden
people with a heart for God have a heart for people…
1 Kings 12
The Message (MSG)
22-24 At this time the word of God came to Shemaiah, a man of God: “Tell this to Rehoboam son of Solomon king of Judah, along with everyone in Judah and Benjamin and anyone else who is around: This is God’s word: Don’t march out; don’t fight against your brothers the Israelites; go back home, every last one of you; I’m in charge here.” And they did it; they did what God said and went home.
Knowing that everything has to go by my “father” in heaven, I’ve purposed my thoughts to believe that disappointments of my life are simply the hidden appointments of love from my God. My family, I have a message for you tonight. Let me whisper it in your ear so any storm clouds that may arise will shine with glory, and the rough places you may have to walk will be made smooth. It is only four words, but let them sink into your inner being, and use them as a pillow to rest your weary head.”This is my doing.”
Have you ever realized that whatever concerns you concerns Me too?”For whoever touches the apple of [My] eye”( Zech. 2:8). “You are precious and honored in my sight”(Isa. 43:4). Therefore it is My special delight to teach you. I want you to learn when temptation attacks you, and the enemy comes in like a pent-up flood, that “this is my doing” and that your weakness needs My strength, and your safety lies in letting Me fight for you.
Are you in difficult circumstances, surrounded by people who do not understand you, never ask your opinion, always push you aside? “This is my doing.” I am the God of circumstances, “I am in charge.” You did not come to this place by accident–you are exactly where I meant for you to be.
Have you not asked Me to make you humble? Then see that I have placed you in the perfect school where this lesson is taught. Your circumstances and the people around you are only being used to accomplish My will.
Are you having problems with money, finding it hard to make ends meet? “This is my doing,” for I am the One who keeps your finances, and I want you to learn to depend upon Me. My supply is limitless and I will meet all your needs. I want you to prove My promises so no one may say, “You did not trust in the Lord your God”.
Are you experiencing a time of sorrow? “This is my doing.” I am ” a man of sorrows, familiar with suffering. I have allowed your earthly comforters to fail you, so that by turning to Me you may receive “eternal encouragement and good hope.” Have you longed to do some great work for Me but instead have been set aside on a bed of sickness and pain? “This is my doing” I am in charge. You were so busy I could not get your attention, and I wanted to teach you some of my deepest truths.
“They also serve who only stand and wait.” In fact, some of My greatest workers are those physically unable to serve, but who have learned to wield the powerful weapon of prayer. Tonight I place a cup of holy oil in your hands. Use it freely, My children. Anoint with it every new circumstance, every word that hurts you, every interruption that makes you impatient, and every weakness you have. The pain will leave as you learn to see Me in all things.
“This is from me,” the Savior said,
As bending low He kissed my brow,
For One who loves you thus has led.
Just rest in Me, be patient now,
Your Father knows you have need of this,
Though, why perhaps you cannot see–
Grieve not for things you’ve seemed to miss.
The thing I send is best for thee.”
Then, looking through my tears, I plead,
“Dear Lord, forgive, I did not know,
It will not be hard since You do tread,
Each path before me here below.”
And for my good this thing must be,
His grace sufficient for each test.
So still I’ll sing, “Whatever be God’s way for me is always best.”