Concern for Pastors

design-44I’m concerned about pastors.

I’m concerned about pastors who isolate themselves. Young leaders with no mentor worry me. Middle aged pastors who’ve given up on their dreams are a huge heartache. Older pastors who are tired but can’t quit are a burden to my heart.

Those who “mail it in” on Sundays. Those who’ve quit praying. Those who only preach the sermons they’ve found online. Those who would quit, if they could afford to. Those who despise “successful” pastors. Those who lie about statistics in order to make themselves look and feel better.

I’m concerned about Pastors who are having affairs. Pastors addicted to porn. Pastors getting drunk. Pastors whose family knows they are a phony. Pastors who are racists. Pastors who are stealing from their church.

I’m concerned about Pastors who are under the control of a contributor. Those who compromise their morals. Those under heavy criticism. Those with no confidant. Those whose spouse is disengaged. Lonely pastors. Confused, discouraged, exhausted, depressed Pastors. Cynical, skeptical, sarcastic Pastors.

I’m concerned about Pastors, even the successful ones. The ones who get lots of votes. The ones who have it all together. The ones who preach the big meetings. The ones with a full compensation package. The big name Pastors.

I’m concerned about pastors.

My concern only leads to prayer and help where I can. But the Lord cares, and He cares deeply. His care and compassion is what keeps Pastors safe, strong and moving forward.

Pastor, you matter to God and to so many more. Stay faithful.

The Emotionally Balanced Leader

design-43I once had a boss that was an emotional mess. I had to read him first thing every morning. If he was happy, I was safe. We’d talk and laugh and work side by side. If he was angry, I hid in my office. I didn’t work for him long.

Peter Scazzero’s book entitled The Emotionally Healthy Leader is genius. He has a series of materials that accentuates the importance of developing a “deep, inner life with Christ, examining its profound implications for surviving stress, planning and decision making, building teams, creating healthy culture, influencing others, and much more.” I’ve read a few of his books and plan to read more as they are published. I highly recommend!

While Scazzero thoroughly covers the topic, I would like to briefly touch on just one aspect: emotional balance for leaders. As one who continues to mature emotionally (you’d think by now I would’ve gotten it), learning this balance is absolutely integral to my success as a leader. Too many times, I’ve victimized myself because my emotions were out of sync. The pressure got to me or a sad event controlled my feelings to the point that it hurt other people. Too many family members and friends could attest that my occasional instability has created more than one mess. I’m doing better.

Rather than focus on the “why” of emotional instability, I want to address the “how.” How does a leader, or anyone else arrive at and maintain emotional balance? Is it possible to walk the high stress tightrope of leadership without wobbling, or, even worse, falling (without a net!)?

Emotional balance for leaders is possible and necessary! Here’s how.

Assess the need.

Recognize when and where you struggle. If you tend to be morose, unhappy, discouraged or depressed, admit it. If you see a pattern of extreme happiness, followed by extreme sadness, there may be an issue. If you frequently have outbursts of uncontrollable anger, there is a problem for sure. Perhaps these are simply personality traits which we’ve learned. At other times, there can be physiological or chemical issues to consider. Never be afraid to seek the advice of a professional. Too many self-sufficient leader types struggle unnecessarily with perpetual doldrums, fear, rage or a combination of all of these. Know yourself, know your emotions, and be honest.

Seek input.

Unless you’re a hermit, someone in your life knows you well enough to be able to help you identify an emotional instabilities. The problem is, if your emotions are out of balance, these people may be afraid to talk to you about it. So, you approach them. Please DO NOT ask them for input, then blow up when they provide it! Be humble, be teachable, be grateful for the love and care they have for you.

Take responsibility.

If your emotions are out of whack, don’t blame others. Of course, we are all products of our environments. But blaming parents, nationality, painful experiences or stress is a sign of… an emotionally unstable person. “That’s just me, I speak my mind, that’s the way I was raised…” will result in chronic emotional imbalance. Accept the fact that only you can change you; the responsibility is yours and yours alone.

Adjust your approach.

I’ve been on a couple of commercial airliners that were descending for a landing but, at the last moment, pulled back and ascended because they were coming in too fast (hot). Needless to say, this is an exhilarating but terrifying feeling for passengers! Learn to read your emotions before they become an issue. If you’re headed into a conversation or tense meeting, go in prepared, but not too “hot.” High stress brings out the worst in most of us. Being emotionally stoked may result in anxiety or fear based communication, which is seldom healthy. Especially sad environments can throw some of us into an emotional pit. Be aware, be prepared and adjust as needed. Be quick to adapt your emotions as necessary before entering into a potentially troubling situation.

Remain accountable.

If you have a pattern of really high highs or really low lows, you will need someone to help keep you on track. Don’t isolate yourself. Openly discuss the issue with those you trust. Ask them to point out when you fail. Confess your faults.

Retrain your brain.

Old habits die hard. If your default emotional response to pressure is explosive anger, it won’t go way without a long-term fight. If you’ve been pouting to get your way your entire life, it may take months, if not years to retrain your emotions. But diligence, accountability and a refusal to continue this behavior will allow you to overcome. Here is a simple list of Bible verses that deal with renewing our thinking: Renew Your Mind

Pray.

God does not want you to suffer under the control of unhealthy emotions. While He certainly can use people who ride the emotional roller coasters, He prefers stability, balance, and appropriate emotional expressions. Ask Him to help you. Confess when you fail. Ask the Holy Spirit to change your heart and mind.

Listen, there is a time to be furious. Sadness is a normal response in many situations. Joy and fear and frustration and grief are part of our God-given DNA. But we are supposed to control these emotions; if we don’t, they most certainly will control us!

For those who’ve learned how to manipulate others through their emotional imbalances, do us all a favor: stop. Power trips, dominant control, passive aggressiveness, and intimidation are horrible traits for a leader, a friend or a human being. Trust me, people are tired of walking on eggshells around you.

Finally, if you are emotionally out of balance and choose to remain that way, don’t be surprised if people learn to read your mood and respond accordingly. They may get out of your way, placate you, or even be sympathetic toward you, but eventually, they will dodge you altogether.

It’s hard to lead people if they are hiding in their offices, avoiding you.

Everybody Loves a Flashy Preacher!

design-39Or do they?

Sure, it’s fun to attend church when the minister is charming. If he/she dresses well and is in touch with culture and quotes current song lyrics, services are never boring. A good joke teller keeps you entertained. And it sure helps if the pastor is good looking!

If we want to attract a crowd (and who doesn’t?), we need a pastor who is articulate and confident. High energy presentations complete with multimedia elements, expensive stage sets and props, and impressive illustrations are required. Cool clothes, perfectly coiffed hair and an attractive spouse are non-negotiables.

I’ve seen some very good people be compelled to follow a pastor precisely because of these things. We have actually heard people say that they selected their current church because the pastor was so cool.

But wait a minute.

Pastors are spiritual shepherds. They guide and lead. They teach and train. They serve and sacrifice and work hard. They make disciples of Jesus. At least, that is the Biblical perspective of what a Pastor should be.

Flashy, exciting, showy, and edgy has nothing to do with sustainable, productive, stable and unrelenting. In order for ministry to succeed, we need more than a show.

While we shouldn’t criticize ministers who pay attention to style and current trends, we also shouldn’t confuse these things with being an effective preacher or pastor. One can look the part but not fit the part. In fact, it’s actually substantially easier to look cool than to be a strong pastor.

If your pastor loves you, knows and preaches the Bible, and can be counted upon to lead well, count yourself blessed. How he or she dresses shouldn’t be a deal breaker. While they may not be able to quote the script from the latest Hollywood movie, if they know you and lead you with integrity, you have a solid pastor.

Be aware than some who call themselves pastors, and may indeed hold that responsibility, never fulfill the responsibility. You may not realize that on a Sunday when the service is hopping. But let a crisis strike – you will then be able to distinguish between who is a Pastor and who is not.

A few necessary points:

  • An out of style preacher does not equate to an effective preacher.
  • Preachers and pastors should try their best to connect with their culture and community. This includes clothing style and awareness of modern entertainment.
  • Substance is to be valued more than appearance, but appearance cannot be ignored.
  • Pastors who think they have a “pass” on relevance because they are a pastor are mistaken.

Let’s not be shallow enough to follow a person because of their persona. Stage presence is overemphasized in some churches. Character is far more important.  Holiness is immensely more valuable than coolness. Give me a pastor who will laugh with me in happy times and cry with me in sad times over one who can put on a great show on the stage.

We shouldn’t want a flashy preacher; we should want a preacher who loves God, loves people and leads us to follow Christ.

Why Won’t They Come to Our Church?

design-38We visit lots of churches. Part of my ministry responsibility is to be on site at a different church every week, sometimes multiple churches. I have yet to visit one church that has enough people attending. In most churches, there is a desire to reach more people, invite new people to engage, and increase in the number of people being influenced and impacted.

Why won’t more people come to churches like these?

We are not in control of who attends church services. We can’t make, nor would we want to make someone come against their will. But we certainly try to make the place inviting. We prepare our buildings, we plan services and events with guests in mind. We pray and ask God to make our church compelling to others. But the truth is, it is a rare occurrence when a guest comes, stays, and engages in the life of the church.

Some will respond to this query by saying that we are not called by God to grow churches. This is absolutely true. However, God utilizes the church to help make disciples. Growing a church is a very important part of fulfilling the Great Commission to make disciples of all people (Matthew 28:19-20).

Think about this:

Many churches are simply ill equipped to handle new people. Parking is a problem. There is little room in the church for people to sit comfortably. Restroom space is inadequate. While these things may not bother regular attenders, they absolutely bother guests.

Other churches have no nursery facilities or their children’s areas are old and in poor condition. Teen rooms that share space with the furnace are, believe it or not, a bad idea. These types of building issues will repel new attenders.

Sometimes we have rituals, use language and behave in ways that make no sense to anyone but us. While there is nothing wrong with these practices, per se, an explanation to new comers may be helpful. We sometimes forget that what we have been doing our entire lives may be new to people who didn’t grow up like we did.

A little more sensitive, but just as prevalent are attitudes and mindsets that will hinder the addition of new people in our churches. Mono-cultural churches (churches made up of one people group, nationality or skin color) will have a difficult time reaching people from other cultures. Whether or not we are aware of it, we develop habits and style that are not inclusive. Music, clothing styles, even methods of worship are many times, culture specific. If we are unaware of, or unwilling to address the need for adaptation, we will reach very few people who are different from us. If we are not equipped to minister to people different from us, God probably won’t send them. But if we get ourselves ready, God will send them.

Many years ago, I had an older family member say to me, “we just don’t have many colored people attending our church.” She said this innocently. But the statement revealed the reason for their dilemma.

Some folks wonder why their church is not multicultural and/or multi-generational. If it’s: 1) “those people”, 2) “we want a few, not too many”, or, 3) “as long as we don’t have to change anything”, you can stop your wondering. God probably won’t send them. These attitudes reflect a philosophy that lets others know, they are not welcome in your church.

Why would God send people He loves to a church that doesn’t love them, or is ill prepared to minister to them, or won’t make adjustments in order to welcome them? He’ll more than likely send them to a church that will warmly and sincerely adopt them into the family.

One final consideration: getting people to attend church who do not like church is a real trick. Think about it. We are trying to talk them into doing things they have no interest in doing. We preach repentance. We teach contrition. Sacrifice, service, giving money, becoming accountable to others, being responsible for others… are not very compelling to people who are enjoying their sinful lifestyle. So let’s not beat ourselves up if “sinners” don’t line up at the door. There are lots of Christians that prefer to stay away for much the same reason – they prefer life independent from their faith family.

Let’s keep in mind that the Church belongs to Christ. He died for the church. While we love our church and are fiercely loyal to our church, we do not own the church. If we try to control who attends, whether in a positive or negative way, we will give an account to God.

While our church is not for everyone (meaning some fit in better in other atmospheres), everyone must be welcome.

If we really want new people to come, we may need to consider:

  • Adjusting methods without compromising the Message.
  • Sacrificing our preferences for something that may be more effective in reaching new people.
  • Making sure our facilities, programs, ministries and events scream, “we want you here!” to new attenders.
  • Being strategic and intentional in making our churches welcoming to people different from us.
  • Being personally engaged in inviting and accompanying new people to the church.
  • Engaging new people in helping to make your church more welcoming to more new people.
  • Celebrating big time when new people actually attend!

I hope we can be more purposeful and strategic in winning more people to our churches, but more importantly, to the Lord.

We Have Met the Enemy, and He is Us!

design-34Cartoonist, Walt Kelly said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” I am concerned that this has, in too many instances, become the case for some of us. 

Racially, economically, politically, generationally, and stylistically, we are fighting amongst ourselves. Friendly fire, weapon fire coming from one’s own side, is the worst. You expect to get shot at, but not by the folks wearing the same uniform as you.

It appears to me that, at times, the church has been influenced by the culture in this regard. Rather than being the peacemakers our world so desperately needs us to be (and we are called by Christ to be), a few have, I believe inadvertently, taken on the identity of brawlers, combatants, and pugilists. Without exaggeration, I don’t recall a time when Believers, church members, pastors and even ministerial colleagues have been so deeply engaged in battle with one another. I realize that only a minority of people is involved, but it sure feels major when so much of our wars are carried out in public view. Of course, there is so much more good than bad taking place, but the good doesn’t get the press like the bad.

I don’t like to argue or debate. Conflict is no fun for me. I have friends who enjoy these things. They sometimes want to argue with me about it (LOL). But this seems deeper.

 We all agree that there are times that conflict must be embraced. A few things are worth fighting over. But much of the result of the fighting I’m witnessing isn’t positive; it’s devastating. Families, friends, churches and, perhaps denominations are splitting. If we are detaching over non-negotiables, though painful, we understand. When serious Biblical or theological schisms happen, lines must be drawn. But I don’t see the redemptive value of the disagreements when the disagreements are over negotiable things, yet they end with relational ruptures. Sometimes, situations require that we divide, but more times than not, they don’t.

I hope that we can get a respite from the verbal and relational and social media jousting. It is wearying to continually navigate contention.  And until we stop, we are focused on the wrong enemy.

We have one enemy – the devil. Together, let’s fight him. Until he is defeated, we shouldn’t have enough time to fight each other. Let’s not become our own worst enemies.

When Preachers Want to Quit Preaching

design-33The Gospel is like “A Fire Shut Up in My Bones!” Through the years, countless preachers, including me, excitedly made this proclamation! There are few preachers of any experience who have not quoted or referred to Jeremiah’s pronouncement in chapter 20 and the inability to keep the Word of God quiet. Jeremiah describes it as a “fire shut up in his bones.” Although he had considered trying, he simply could not keep it in; the Message had to come out! It’s an exciting passage to recite, and it usually elicits a warm response from listeners.

But I wonder how many preachers recall the setting of this “exciting” proclamation. Jeremiah had been prophesying (preaching) for years, with little or no positive response. The people didn’t like his prophecies and preferred the prophecies that declared favorable, positive things. He was rejected, ridiculed and denigrated. Years of preaching with no positive response! The people had enough. Finally, Jeremiah was arrested, was beaten and locked up in stocks in prison. He was paying a heavy price for preaching a non-compromised Truth.

Jeremiah was in pain; he was suffering physically, emotionally and spiritually. He was hurt, frightened and disappointed. He opens chapter 20, verse 7 by expressing his frustration with God about how he has been treated. He feels betrayed. Jeremiah 20:7-8 says, “You deceived me, Lord, and I was deceived; you overpowered me and prevailed. I am ridiculed all day long; everyone mocks me. Whenever I speak, I cry out proclaiming violence and destruction. So the word of the Lord has brought me insult and reproach all day long.” These are the words of a damaged individual. Before any of us accuse him of having a pity party, put yourself in his place.

Jeremiah is so hurt, he contemplates resigning as the local prophet. He’s thinking about quitting! Some reading this article are contemplating the same things. The details of your situation are different, but you can identify with Jeremiah’s raw feelings. While you might not dare say the things that Jeremiah said, you have thought them.

After a moment of exploring giving up his ministry, Jeremiah comes back to his senses. There, still in pain and in jail, still suffering and confused, he recalls the power of the Word of God which is within him. He’s still being laughed at, his enemies are still threatening him. He has no reason to believe that he will live through the night. But he simply has no choice but to keep preaching, regardless of his situation or his feelings. If he stops preaching, the fire of the Truth will burn him up from the inside out!

This is the setting of this famous affirmation of the call to preach. It’s not an exciting worship service, it’s not a Campmeeting or revival service. It was the lowest of low pits. At the worst possible moment for Jeremiah, his call to prophecy is confirmed. The call to preach is not about comfort, not about a favorable setting, or even about reception by others. The call to preach is an irrevocable commission to speak the Word of God, regardless of the consequences.

I wonder if any of us, in a similar situation, would end up in such a beautiful and poetic place. If God had allowed me to suffer in such extreme ways, would I be capable of confessing my inability to stop preaching?

I think the next time I am tempted to throw out Jeremiah’s proclamation (maybe looking for an emotional response from the church), perhaps I will weigh out the full context and intent of the statement. It is too powerful and meaningful to be used in a trite way.

And the next time I am contemplating giving up, I will recall what my Brother Jeremiah experienced and how he came to his resolution.

I encourage you to do the same.

Middle-Aged, “Unsuccessful” Pastors

design-32Somewhere around the halfway point in many pastors’ careers, they come to the realization that the dreams and aspirations they envisioned for their ministry will, in all likelihood, not become a reality. Perhaps they aimed too high. Maybe they thought too highly of their gifts and talents. Ambition can be a good thing or a bad thing. But it can be painful to come to the awareness that the vision that you worked on for years won’t materialize.

It’s at this point in ministry that people must make a decision. There are a few options. One can keep dreaming, pressing and working toward the original dream. We can become discouraged and quit the ministry. We can act outwardly like the fire is still burning, but on the inside we are shriveling up and dying.

Depending upon how big the vision, sticking with it can be a good and admirable thing. We can’t be quitters if we hope to succeed. But if you thought you would pastor a megachurch, and at age 50, you pastor a church of 25, perhaps the dream is not realistic or attainable. Of course, with God, all things are possible, but I am writing in general terms.

Quitting altogether is not an option, unless one never belonged in the ministry in the first place. This is a possibility, but I would advise in-depth consultation and counseling before coming to such a conclusion. The more common response to this experience is, middle-aged pastors keep on going, and no one knows that they are struggling. But deep down inside, they’re miserable.

One of the saddest seasons of a minister’s life is when they have lost their ability to reach their goals but they refuse to acknowledge it. Many feel as though they must stuff their feelings and keep grinding. Some would gladly quit if they could, but they have no other viable employment options. Still others fear being perceived as a failure. There are many ministers who are caught in this painful trap. I am of the opinion that many middle age pastors are going through the motions, with no real expectation of fulfilling a God-given vision.

Enough of the problem; are there solutions?

I believe that we can survive the disappointment of unrealized goals if we will:

Adjust passions: refocus your attention on what God called you to do. He doesn’t want you to live in a constant state of frustration and discouragement. Graciously let go of the unrealistic plans you made, and pay attention to the plans that God has for you.

Emphasize quality over quantity. Too many of us still measure success by numbers: attendance and giving. We are not called to build big churches; we are called to make disciples. If you are leading unbelievers to become solid, mature Christ followers, you are succeeding!

Share your reality with your spouse, a trusted colleague or a counselor. Pent up frustration and disappointment will eat away at a leader until is destroys them.

Humble yourself before God. Don’t be humiliated; that is the result of pride and insecurity. But God knows us; He promises that He will gladly lift us up if we’re humble before Him. (James 4:10)

Know that, if you are faithful, God is pleased with you. Let’s drop the “performance = acceptance” lie. When we stand before Him, He won’t say, “well done, good and productive servant…” He measures success according to our faithfulness.

Pastor, hang in there. Even if you feel like a failure, God knows better. If you’re still in the game, you are succeeding.

And finally, let’s pray for our pastor-friends. None of them/us are perfect. We all need an extra measure of grace. And the work we do affects eternity.