Category Archives: By: Pat Bills

PRD

PRD

As a preacher I get a lot of email. Most of the notes are encouraging and uplifting. Some not so much. But today I got a note I want to share because it came from a fellow preacher. My friend and partner in the gospel explained how he wanted to claim a “PRD.”

My friend, like many of us, is on stage constantly.  It doesn’t matter if you are a preacher. If you are in any type of ministry there is unimaginable pressure to perform. As someone much older and wiser has said, “It can be lonely at the top.” Please don’t misunderstand- leadership is not about being at the top of a food chain or hierarchal ladder. But leadership is all about expectations at the “top.” There is a particular pressure when you lead. And it is at the top – in this pressure – where we often lose sight of who we are.
We fail and we want no one to see.
We sin and we cannot tell anyone.

We must be perfect in every way because the pressure and expectations are intense at the top.
Yet tragically we break the hearts of those we love into a million pieces.
And maybe the worst part is you think everyone has deserted you- even God.
But I believe this is the point where God can move in. God is able to do the unimaginable. God is able to speak creative order into chaos. The offer of new life is extended and it is ours for the taking.
Which is why resurrection is the most powerful story for any disciple – especially leaders.

When I first began preaching I was hungry to learn everything I could from more seasoned veterans. (That’s my gentle way of referring to “old” preachers!) So I was at a conference and I found another preacher who had been at his game for 30 years. I purposefully sat next to him so I could pick his brain about the “in’s and out’s” of preaching. This is the question I asked: “If you could go could back and talk to yourself as a 30 year old preacher, what would you say?” He paused. He looked straight into my eyes and simple said, “It’s all true.” Okay… what’s true? “The resurrection. It’s all true and without that it would all be worthless.”

Now that’s a great word. A word from someone who has been at the top, felt the weight of expectation, and known what’s it like to carry the weight of sin.

And it’s all true.

The early church believed it. Paul staked his life on it. And as restoration leaders we must embrace it. We are messy, screwed up, not-so-perfect leaders who face unbelievable pressure to flaunt our “perfection.”

And when we are consumed by these sinful expectations, we need to take a breath and claim a “PRD” for whatever is weighing us down.

Will you join my friend? Will you join me?

Let’s claim a “Personal Resurrection Day.”

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The Burning [Bagel] Bush of Spiritual Rhythm

bagel

By: Pat Bills

The oddest sensation came over me this morning while studying at Panera Bread. I was drinking my black hazelnut coffee (it was actually pretty good) and I had a rush of spiritual peace come over me. Like the kind of peace you get in the midst of a storm or the peace you feel when you inhale mountain air after being in Texas all summer. It was Jesus-calming-the-storm-peace. It was as if God exhaled and I inhaled the air my soul needed. And my bagel became a bush that was on fire. It was Holy ground and God was calling to me.

And here is what’s really weird. I now realize burning-bush-bagel had everything to do with the reality of the end of summer- and the start of school.

What?

I know… weird, huh?

Now let me explain why you should care about my Spiritual encounter at Panera Bread. It has everything to do with my need for spiritual rhythm.

Please don’t misunderstand. I love summer. I have four boys all under the age of 12. Summer at my house is a blaze of testosterone-filled days of water parks, bike rides, pool parties, and wrestling matches (insert prayer for my wife here).  But I have found the glorious chaos and activity of summer to be exhausting. Summer has no need for an alarm clock. It has very little rhythm. Frankly, I don’t want to admit the exhaustion of summer is destructive to my pursuit of Jesus. After all, the goal is to follow Jesus isn’t it? As John Ortberg so rightly says, “You simply cannot run faster than the one you are following.”

I am a Christ follower. He is the leader and I am the follower. Yet, I often find myself (like this summer) completely and totally outrunning Him. Summertime is for me to be the driver and Jesus to be co-pilot. I like to cram pack my schedule. I like to “go-go-go” until my body screams, “Stop!” and lose my voice while acquiring an unending headache. I fit Jesus into my schedule – my summer – my rhythm. And to add insult to injury I claim the title, in my faith community, Lead Minister.

You feelin’ me?

But I don’t think this is the rhythm Jesus had in mind. Jesus makes it abundantly clear to the disciples to come and follow him.  In fact, one of my mentors recently pointed out that whenever Jesus talks about leadership it is usually not favorable. It’s downright scathing. Maybe the “leaders” of His day were consumed with doing rather than being. Maybe the ones who were supposed to lead the nation of Israel had missed the whole point of Sabbath rest. Maybe what they needed was a reminder: to lead is to follow.  And we simply cannot run faster than the one we are following. Because when I follow Jesus I follow him to a solitary place. I follow him to a space where he teaches me to pray “your kingdom come and your will be done” I follow Jesus because at the end of the summer, it is His prayerful and hope-filled rhythm my soul was lacking.

So, there I was at Panera Bread and a rush of Spiritual peace flooded my soul. My burning bush was instructing me and reminding me of the goodness of spiritual rhythm. So, the craziness of summer is over and the routine of school has begun. Jesus was calling and I heard him say this morning very clearly, “Come and follow me and so I can give you back your rhythm.”

And though I love the wonderful busyness of summer and though I’ll cherish the memories of my “time off.” I need routine. My soul craves it. I need the reminder that I am not the driver of my so-called-spiritual life. I need the reminder that I am a follower of Jesus before I am a leader for Jesus. And if I chose to follow He can lead me towards a rhythm of non-anxious unhurried presence. That is what my heart desires. This is the creational rhythm Jesus came to restore. And I am so glad summer is over and school has started.

Rhythm.

Peace.

Ahhhhhhhh.

A Love for Preaching

By: Pat Bills

Love is a strong word. It’s a word that can be raw with emotion or empty of meaning. And it’s also a word that gets thrown around a lot. I use the word to describe how I feel about my wife’s homemade pie. I also use the word to tell my children how much they mean to me. So when I tell people that I love preaching, most wait for the punchline to this absurd (and obvious) joke. . Seriously? How many preachers have you talked to that honestly “love” their job? I’m not sure about you but when I have conversations with other preachers “love” is not the operative word. The words that usually surface carry WAY more baggage and deep hurt. When talking shop preachers typically use words like “tired,” “burned,” “frustrated,” and… well I can’t even repeat some of the words! So, what I’d like to offer to this conversation may be completely and totally naive. Even more, it’s worth noting that I don’t hold a grudge against my faith tradition or current context. In fact, I don’t even wake up each Monday wanting to quit my job. Are there difficult aspects of my job? Of course! Do

I get frustrated with unfair expectations placed upon me and my family? Sure. But I want to confess that I honestly and totally love my work as preacher. It is the most tiring, exhilarating, and wonderfully exhausting work I have ever done. (By the way- you should also know that I am married to a preacher’s daughter and she loves that I love to preach.) So am I just a young whipper-snapper who hasn’t experienced the real world of church work yet? Maybe. But what if I don’t have to hate preaching? I think love is the word I’d like to use. Let me give you a few reasons why.

First, I love preaching because I deeply love people. When I entered ministry some 18 years ago at a tiny little church in Bradford AR, I wasn’t on a journey to climb some corporate ladder from youth ministry to the “big show.” I entered into ministry because I loved people; students just happened to be the ones I picked to love intentionally at the beginning. And now that my calling has expanded to a church context including five generations, there are all kinds of people to love! And one thing I love most about people is they are absolutely and wonderfully weird. But I have come to appreciate weird. I love getting a bear hug from my friend Kerry who once took his Harley-Davidson embossed prosthetic leg and let me “hold it.” I love walking through our worship center and being embraced by Mrs. Gail who cannot wait to tell me what God has told her in a dream. I love how one of our children in a 4 year old class was asked to lead his favorite “church song”- and he chose Gangnam Style. I love to watch the twinkle in the eyes of Ms. Wanda when she asks me if I want to wear her scarf covering her bald chemo-ridden head. Weird huh? But as John Ortberg has so rightly said, “Everyone is normal until you get to know them.” And I consider getting to know my church as one of the greatest privileges I have ever received. Because I believe God created weird and it erupts within community – my community – and we get to be weird together. I once heard a preacher joke, “I’d love my job if not for the people.” I didn’t laugh at his joke. For me, people are not a joke- they are at the heart of my job; and I love them deeply.

Second, I love preaching because it allows a space where humility is not a choice; it is a requirement. What I mean is the preaching event, the space where I announce the good news on a weekly basis, is the place where I discover there is something WAY bigger going on than what I could ever plan or orchestrate. I realized this my very first Sunday to preach (full time). Before I spoke that morning I was given a very generous introduction (actually it was over the top ) and my mother and father were there to hear the wonderful promotion of the “new preacher.” I knew the pressure was on to perform but I felt my father’s hand on the back of my shoulder because he had something he wanted to say before I stepped into the pulpit to speak. I was glad he had something to say because I was about to wet my pants- I needed some serious affirmation and encouragement. But this is what he said: “I’ve been praying all morning that you recognize that this is not about you.” Boom. Not exactly what I wanted to hear but it was the very thing I needed to hear. And that word of encouragement sits with me every Sunday, every funeral, every wedding, every Easter, and at every hospital visit. And I love that space because it doesn’t have to be about me. It is the space that God does his best work in spite of my inadequacy, brokenness, and sin. I love to think that God is using me the same way he used Rahab, Moses, Jeremiah, Mary, and Saul (who became Paul). Because God does some pretty incredible stuff through people who are willing to admit and recognize “It’s not about me.” As the great Thomas Merton said, “Our lives should be about a simple and natural awareness of our dependence on God.” And that is why I love to space preaching affords- it gives me the opportunity to be dependent on something greater that is within me.

Finally, I love preaching because it allows me to tell a story that is true and filled with hope. Several years ago I was attending a conference and was able to pick a seat for a dinner conversation. I surveyed the room and found the wisest preacher I could. I was looking for some advice as I began my preaching career. The brother I sat next to had been preaching for well over 30 years and had been in one church for over 25. I think he had a knack for this preaching gig. So I asked, “If could go back and tell yourself something when you first started preaching what would you say?” He didn’t hesitate. I don’t even think he had to think much at all. He looked at me and his eyes began to moisten. And he said with deep wisdom: “It’s all true. The story of resurrection is true. And when I stand before my church each Sunday I get to tell them that the story is still true.” I was so shocked by the simplicity and profound wisdom of this statement I was undone. I couldn’t get my emotions together because I felt like the apostle Paul himself had spoken to me over a chicken dinner. But that conversation has forever changed me. The story is true and worth telling. And I get to be the one to tell that story in the most creative God-honoring way that I can. I love standing before a couple on their wedding day and lead them in repeating their vows- because the story is true. I love weeping with a man who has finally committed his wife of 71 years to Alzheimer’s care- because the story is true. I love the honor of standing before a broken family who has lost their father and “Papa”- because the story is true. And I love the challenge of walking with a man who struggles with his life-long attraction to other men- because the story is true. Thank God for Easter. And I thank God that I get to proclaim a story that is most certainly true.

As one of mentors likes to say, “As preachers we are to invite our listeners into a world imagined in scripture.” And the world for my church, as I imagine it, deserves every ounce of love that I can muster. May those who have ears to hear, hear the love from their preacher.