Article: 6 Phrases that will Kill a Church


Last week I shared an article on pastoral leadership styles that need to be avoided. Someone kindly asked me if there is a list for church members?  There is!

All of us know the old children’s rhyme, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” As you have heard me say, that is not true. Words can hurt and words can kill. Read the article below and see what I mean.

Six Statements That Can Kill a Church.  Words can kill.
By Thom S. Rainer

Words can kill churches because they often have deadly actions behind them. As we begin this new year, please allow me to share six statements that I have heard from church members whose churches have died.

Please hear that last statement again: These are statements from church members whose churches have already closed their doors. I am convinced these statements were major contributors to the churches’ demise.

  1. “We pay our pastor to do evangelism.” The common meaning behind this statement is that the members have no intentions of sharing their faith. A church with non-evangelistic members is a dying church.
  1. “Without our money, this church would be in trouble.” Ouch! The key word here is “our.” Members with this attitude do not give with an open hand; they perceive the money they give to the church is their money, not God’s money. This tight-fisted non-stewardship, if prevalent in the church, is a sure sign of sickness or death.
  1. “This church is not meeting my needs.” For certain, members’ needs should be met. But have you noticed that, often times, the most needy members are the first to complain and the first to leave? We should certainly care for the needs of the flock, but the attitude of the members should be that of serving instead of being served.
  1. “We pay the salary of the pastor and staff, so they should listen to us.” This deadly statement has two major inflictors of pain. First, the money is treated with a tight fist, as I noted above. Second, the money is used to control leaders. I served in a church where a member made that statement to me frequently. Years after I left, I learned he never gave a dollar to the church.
  1. “We will let the next generation deal with change.” When older generations make this statement, they are resolutely refusing to make necessary and immediate changes. Sadly, the next generations won’t stick around in such a church to make the changes.
  1. “I was here years before the pastor came; I’ll be here years after they’re gone.” This statement is one of power and control rather than service and giving. It’s about out-lasting each pastor to keep the church just the way the member wants it. It’s a statement that was commonly heard in churches that have closed their doors.

Interesting huh? I thought so too. Words to remember. I am thankful I have never heard these words at Bethel, yet this is a good list to remember so that we do not repeat the mistakes of others.

God bless,
Pr. Ben



Sermon: What to do with the Gargoyles

I read a story to our children titled, “God Bless the Gargoyles.” I incoporated part of that story in the sermon. Who are the gargoyles in this world and how do we treat them?


Article: A Top 10 List for Pastors

I know you may find this hard to believe, but I think a lot about my calling as pastor. As you know I am far from perfect but I constantly think about how effective I am and how that varies depending upon the situation and the people I am interacting with. I know it might seem that I am living life by the seat of my pants, I can assure you that I am not.

Every day I ponder how we can embody our own self defined core values of hospitality, Christ-Centered Community, Spiritual Growth, Generosity and Responding to Needs.

With that in mind I ran across an article by Scott Postma entitled 10 Pastors You Should Have MAJOR Concerns About. This is an article that caused me to stop and look at myself in the proverbial mirror.

Below are the 10 points he makes:

  1. I’m concerned about the pastor who is better at managing church programs than he is at making disciples of Jesus.
  1. I’m concerned about the pastor who attracts people with fancy self-help sermons instead of teaching people to be students of the Bible and theology.
  1. I’m concerned about the pastor who is a chief executive instead of a contemplative sage.
  1. I’m concerned about the pastor who uses the pulpit to milk members instead of minister to the saints.
  1. I’m concerned about the pastor who makes growing the church the goal instead of glorifying God the goal.
  1. I’m concerned about the pastor who builds his ministry with people instead of building people by his ministry.
  1. I’m concerned about the pastor who cultivates a culture of dependency on himself instead of cultivating a culture of community within the church.
  1. I’m concerned about the pastor who reads and teaches the Bible literally instead of literarily.
  1. I’m concerned about the pastor who contributes to the culture of consumerism instead of combating idolatry.
  1. I’m concerned about the pastor who sees the church as a stepping stone instead of seeing it as a custodian of Christ’s kingdom.

Quite a list, isn’t it? These are pastoral potholes and as difficult they are to read, they serve as a good checklist for me in the new year. Are things that I am doing that I need to change? Yes. Are things I am not doing that I need to work towards? Absolutely.

I love what I do and I look forward to growing the church in 2017 as I grow myself.

God bless,
Pr. Ben



Sermon: A Chance to Live Differently

We begin the new year with a horrifying story from the Bible. It would be easier to ignore it and look at nicer stories. Although we can’t change the past, we can learn from it and affect our future. Listen in as I try to make sense of this sad moment in history.

Article: The Coming New Year

Apple and honey – a snack eaten by Jews in Rosh Hashana..Shofar – A horn used in the jewish holidays of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.

Here we are again. It is the end of the year and we will step into a new one Sunday morning. Although this is a secular holiday will many stop their routine and celebrate the incoming year- sometimes late into the evening. Some reflect on the year coming to an end and wonder what the new year will bring.

For many years, my family would welcome the new year with my parents in the north woods of Wisconsin surrounded by snow, trees and frozen lakes. It was very peaceful. This year, I will go to bed early so that I can wake up early and get ready for church (hint, hint). What a great way to welcome in the new year!

Our Jewish brothers and sisters celebrate the New Year as a religious event, maybe we should too. The Jewish New Year celebration is called Rosh Hashana. There is even mention of it in the book of Leviticus.

The Lord said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites: ‘On the first day of the seventh month you are to have a day of rest, a sacred assembly commemorated with trumpet blasts. Do no regular work, but present an offering made to the Lord by fire.’ ” Leviticus 23:23-25

However, their calendar is different than ours and they celebrated their new year back in October.

The day is commemorated with the blast of the ram’s horn which is known as the shofar and a day off to commune with God. There is no one reason for why the shofar is sounded like a trumpet. Many rabbis have speculated on this biblical ancient tradition. It serves as a call to gather the worshipping community; it is sounded as a spiritual warning and as an alarm clock for people to awake from their spiritual slumber.

Why?  Ten days after Rosh Hashanah, our Jewish brothers and sisters celebrate the one of the most important holy days on their calendar: Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. The day of forgiveness and repentance.

The Jewish New Year and the next ten days are used to get one’s spiritual affairs in order before the Day of Atonement.

This all sounds fairly serious and it is. However, there is also a tradition of serving apples dipped in honey which is a symbolic action of hoping a person’s new year is sweet.

As I think about the upcoming change of year, I think the Jewish people celebrate it right. It is a time of introspection and reflection. It is a perfect time to decide what kind of people we are going to be moving forward. It is time to let go of what needs to be forgotten and embrace the positive change that God calls us to be in 2017 and beyond.

So, eat an apple with a little honey on Sunday for me because hope your new year is sweeter than 2016.

God bless you,
Pr. Ben




Article: Let’s Go See…

It is Thursday before Christmas and all through the church… the Bethel staff have been working feverishly! They are getting ready for services on Christmas Eve. That is no exaggeration. Every staff person who came to church today has been tying up all the loose ends of all our Christmas planning to make sure everyone who worships with us on Saturday experiences the love God.

That may not be inspirational writing to you, but it is extremely inspirational to me! I see the care and dedication first hand and it warms my heart. I am blessed to work alongside these people every day.  If you are a member of Bethel Lutheran Church, I want you to know what a great team we have!

My hope and prayer is that you (where ever you are) go and worship this weekend. I can’t help but think about the shepherds in the Christmas story. After the angels come and scare the heck out of them, they say to themselves, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” Luke 2:15

 They most likely leave behind the only thing in their charge and their only asset: sheep. The leave the fields and head into town to find a baby who is the savior and the Lord (God). That is typical of God’s call. Leave everything behind and go.

Later, when this baby grows up, he says this to someone- “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Matthew 6:33 Repeatedly, Jesus tells people to leave what they have or what they are doing and follow him. From my own experience, I know that when I seek Jesus first, everything else falls into place. That is not to say that my life is perfect but I do know that things are better when I follow Jesus.

For me it began by being a shepherd just like in the Christmas story. What do I mean by that? Someone told the shepherds to go and they went. My life has been a lot like that… Someone told me to go to church and so I did. Someone told me to go to church camp and so I did. Someone told I should think about going to seminary and so I did. Someone asked me to come to Las Vegas to be a pastor and so I did. I could go on, but you catch my drift.

Often the voice of God sounds a lot like other Christians you know. People like: moms, dads, siblings, friends and spouses.

So be a shepherd on Saturday and go find the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying a manger. Where you ask? The closest church…Bethel or otherwise.

I wish you a blessed and peaceful Christmas from the bottom of my heart.

With love,
Pr. Ben

Sermon: A Different Kind of Christmas Story

We’ve heard from all the usual suspects this Advent season. Are we done? Not yet. The Gospel of John has a story to tell us about Jesus.

Article: Peace on Earth for Who?


Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to all on whom his favor rests.” Luke 2:13-14

Most of you know where these two verses come from: The Christmas story. This is what the angels said to the unsuspecting shepherds in the fields around Bethlehem. I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that the angel encounter might have scared them half to death! They were terrified and I can’t blame them. You know how I feel about angels. A little cherub would send me running for the hills.

After the announcement of the Savior’s birth and instructions on how to find the baby Jesus, the angel grabs the microphone and begins to praise God singing, “Glory to God in the highest….” I think it is safe to say the angel burst into song and his backup singers arrived just in time to… well, you know, back him up.

I find this to be an interesting song to sing. Maybe it is a classic in heaven? I could think of better songs to announce the birth of Jesus. This one just doesn’t roll off the tongue. Maybe it rhymed in Aramaic when the shepherds heard it sung the first time?

The song begins, “Glory to God in the highest…” Glory is an interesting word. It has multiple meanings. Glory is something bestowed on someone who is deserving of an honor. Yet when we talk of God’s glory, we are talking about God’s perfection.

In this case the angels are saying- because God sent himself to us—God deserves the highest praise possible. As if to say, “Our God is an awesome God!” I completely agree. It is the next verse that throws me.

“…and on earth peace to all on whom his favor rests.” The angel wishes peace upon all who follow God. The less accurate translations say, “Peace on earth, goodwill to all.” Most of us know that version because it is still sung in the Christmas hymn “Hark the Herald, Angels Sing.” I like it better too because it is a blessing for everyone. Unfortunately, the Bible doesn’t say that.

The angel’s proclamation states (wishes) that all who have garnered God’s favor should be peaceful. I guess it kind of makes sense since the baby Jesus is known as the Prince of Peace.

Here is the interesting thing about peace, it is not the absence of war. That is called a truce. Jesus is not the “Prince of Truces” and the angels didn’t sing, “a truce on earth for all whom God likes a lot.” Peace is something that takes more work than a truce.  Peace, like war must be waged. It is an active pursuit. Seriously! How did Jesus wage peace? He died for the sins of the world. That is active! He was all in.

Peace means getting along with others, not just co-existing. I would like to think that Jesus the Prince of Peace not only loved the world but He liked us too.

Above all, we need more peace in this world. We can’t wait for Jesus to return. Let’s wage some peace this season and in the coming year by being kind and compassionate to all.

Jesus is anything but neutral. He is not the “Prince of Truces.” Let’s show the world this Christmas what peace looks like.

God bless,
Pr. Ben







Sermon: A Fresh Look at Mary

This well known story of Mary gives us insight into the heart of Jesus mother. It might surprise you to hear that Mary may be different than what you have been taught.