A Beautiful Thing About the Church

The Church is the Bride of Christ, the Body of Christ, the Flock of God. We, collectively, are a thing of beauty in the eyes of the Lord. But we are also to be beautiful to the participants of the church – to one another. 

Think about it:

We are different. No two church members or churches are the same. God likes variety; that’s beautiful.

We are multifaceted. We possess various abilities, gifts and talents. God makes sure that every gift the church needs is present; that’s beautiful.

We are diverse. The Church is comprised of all types of people. In fact, heaven is described as being made up of every tongue, tribe and nation; that’s beautiful.

And,

We differ. None of us agree on everything (or sometimes anything), yet we are united! That’s beautiful.

We respect and honor others above ourselves. So, when another member of the Body displays characteristics different from ours, we differ to them. That’s beautiful.

We embrace distinctions. Sisters and Brothers from different cultures are loved. Those who prefer various worship styles and methods are valued. We don’t have to have everything our way in order to love and fully engage in the Church. That’s beautiful.

A beautiful thing about the Church is, God has included us, all Bible believing followers of Christ, regardless of our earthly quirks and idiosyncrasies. This includes you and me.   

How beautiful is that!? 

Emotional Health and Ministry Success

A Case Study in Emotional Health in Ministry

A Pastor is leading a vibrant and growing congregation. Things are on track for good growth. As the excitement builds, tension arises in the congregation and conflict of some type is inevitable. The pastor feels unable to manage the tension and conflict. Discouragement sets in. He/she responds to the pressure over-defensively or with an emotional outburst or by withdrawing from relationships, or by resigning… These responses on the part of the pastor reveals a personal emotional issue. We hesitate to identify this issue as a weakness or dysfunction or compromise, but many times, it is. 

I am more convinced than ever that the success of a minister is immeasurably impacted by their emotional health. We’ve seen very gifted and hardworking women and men who should be experiencing significant ministry productivity but suffer from an inability to deal with the stress and pressure that such a ministry includes. We all know that pressure and stress cannot be eliminated from ministry; we must simply learn how to deal with it. 

How emotional health dictates ministry success:

The more individuals involved in a ministry, the more likely the stress. Contrary to the opinions of a few, the larger the church the more difficult it is to lead. People, even church people are messy. A leader must be adept at dealing with imperfect people, the larger the ministry, the bigger the messes become! Some Pastors enter the ministry expecting to deal with kind, sweet and well-functioning folks. Then they conduct their first church service – LOL!

Too many church leaders are not emotionally strong enough to handle disappointment. The inevitable letdowns get them down. When folks leave the church, the Pastor gets depressed. When the money is tight, anxiety takes over. When the pressure gets too great, the pastor transfers, resigns, retires or gives up on ministry. However, some stay in place but (knowingly or unknowingly) reduce the stress level of the ministry by reducing the number of people in the ministry. They literally run people off. (A few folks need to be run off, but that’s a different story). There are countless churches that are being held back numerically by leaders who, due to their emotional struggles, can only lead a limited number of people. Ouch! This is not necessarily an issue of sin or lack of talent or laziness; this is an issue of emotional health. 

So, what should we do?

  • Recognize reality, don’t live in denial. If your daily or weekly routine includes discouragement, anxiety and/or depression, please don’t negate the impact. You, your family and your church are all suffering. Remember, “strike the shepherd and the sheep will scatter.” (Zechariah 13:7). If your current ministry role is crushing you emotionally, get help before it’s too late.     
  • We must pray for emotional healing and strength. God can and will heal our weakness and build us up to increase our emotional capacities. 
  • Remove the stigma. While I don’t recommend you make your emotional issues public, realize that many good Christians in our day are also hurting. There is no shame in that.   
  • We can seek medical attention. God also works through doctors and medication. It is not wrong to receive medical treatment, while it may be wrong to limit the impact of a ministry because of our refusal to seek help. But don’t self-medicate! Whether chemicals or relationships or therapeutic binges – all can be destructive.   
  • Secure Christian counseling. The scriptures tell us to seek out godly counsel. Rather than being considered an act of weakness, getting help is a sign of strength. 
  • Understand that you may be hindering your future. How we deal with stress today is an indication of how prepared we are for the future. God loves us too much to promote us to the point of destruction. If we desire an increase and it never comes, perhaps God is protecting us from something that may destroy us. Let’s take charge of our emotional health! 
  • Know your limitations. This is very important! Many of us have a desire to impact more people but we have trouble managing the ones we currently lead! Don’t set yourself up for failure. If a church of 50 is an unbearable emotional and mental weight, a church of 100 may crush you. Rather than asking God to give us more of what we’re already struggling with, let’s stay where we are until we can get healthier emotionally. 

A word about prevention:

Take care of yourself emotionally! This includes the priority of family, a healthy diet, sufficient sleep, an exercise routine, time off (regular day off, vacations, sabbaticals), and significant spiritual disciplines. Learn to relax. Laugh and enjoy friendships inside and outside of the church. Get a healthy hobby. Learn to read your emotions and when you feel overloaded, take a breather. When you find you are weak in a particular area, recruit help. Those who refuse to take care of themselves emotionally are ticking time bombs, waiting for implosion.

Finally

Let’s grasp the connection between our emotional selves and our spiritual selves. While the two are not interchangeable, they are certainly related. One can be very close to God but suffer emotionally. But the healthier one is spiritually, the healthier they will be emotionally. Get as close to the Lord as you can. 

Pastor, take care of yourself. “Be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might!” (Ephesians 6:10). Your family needs you emotionally strong. Your church needs you healthy and vibrant. The Lord wants you to be whole.    

Hold Fast to Sound Doctrine

In a recent conversation with a church member, I was surprised to hear him say, “I don’t really have a doctrine.” I think he doesn’t understand what the word doctrine means. Simply stated, doctrine is a belief or set of beliefs held and taught by a Church. Due to abuses and misunderstanding, doctrine has gotten a bad rap. Some people equate doctrine with legalism, judgmentalism and dogmatism, so they avoid it altogether.

Technically, everyone has a doctrine, everybody holds beliefs.  Some doctrines are right and others are wrong. Those of us in the Christian faith, and more specifically in the Church of God, hold to Biblically based theology, tenets and precepts. 

Unfortunately, we currently find ourselves in a battle for Biblical doctrine. Increasingly, beliefs that have long been held by Christians are now under fire. Even the basics of Biblical teaching are being scrutinized and, too often, rejected.

This is a day when Believers must cling tightly to sound doctrine. With that is mind, consider the following: 

We must know what we believe and why we believe it. If we don’t know Scriptures, our belief structure is weak. If we believe everything we are told or if we hold to doctrine only because we inherited it from our families, our faith is vulnerable.  

Doctrine shouldn’t change with the times. Morality and ethics are constantly being redefined by a liberal culture. Some consider Biblical standards for living as irrelevant and outdated. But the Lord’s expectations for His people are irrevocable. Jesus said, “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.” (Matthew 24:35)

Our doctrine has survived. Generations of spiritual elders handed down a doctrine that has withstood the tests of time. While we must develop our own convictions and beliefs, it is arrogant to assume that we know more than those who went before us or that we somehow have superior knowledge about spiritual things.  

We are not saved by our doctrine. You can believe all the right things but keeping the “rules” does not equate to salvation.  Watchman Nee said, “Christians should not be content merely with knowing mentally the doctrine of the Holy Spirit as given in the Bible; they also need to know Him experientially.” We need a personal relationship with God or our doctrine is merely a set of rules. 

Compare everything with Scripture. If you encounter a new teaching or one that raises questions, study the Word. If a doctrine in any way contradicts the teaching of the Bible, it is a false doctrine and is to be avoided at all costs. 

Pray for and utilize discernment. The Holy Spirit leads us into all truth. The Spirit-filled Believer is provided a “filter” when encountering false doctrine. “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.“ (I John 4:1)

Be wary of “fresh revelation” or private interpretations of the Bible. Unscrupulous false teachers will create attractive and exciting “truths” that will fool naïve and gullible people. Don’t fall for it! The Spirit of antichrist is at work in the world, seeking to deceive and perpetuate a false gospel. Learn to spot the false prophets, lest we be fooled by then. 

Guard your doctrine. Be stubborn about Biblical truth. Refuse to compromise on your convictions. There is no need to be harsh or abrasive about what you know to be true, but never allow your doctrine to drift.    

Finally, “Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you.” I Timothy 4:16 Hold fast to sound doctrine, your salvation and the salvation of others depends on it. 

Concern for our Children 

We’ve never seen anything like it in our lifetimes. Evil is increasing at an exponential rate! Things considered taboo and depraved just a few years ago are now not only accepted but being forced upon our society. Places and experiences once considered safe are now a battleground of sexual confusion. Without doubt, our children are the target of many depraved ideologies intended to groom them for engagement and participation in all sorts of debauchery.  

It is natural to fear for our children in the midst of such increasing perversion. If evil continues to grow at this rate, how will they make it? These fears should force us to deep intercession for the future of our families. 

My wife and I frequently discuss this topic and we pray for our precious grandchildren. Recently, when I was expressing concern, my wife Letha reminded me: “The same grace that has seen us through the most difficult times in our lives will see them through. That grace wasn’t given before we needed it, it was measured out to us daily; He was and is so faithful to supply what we need. I know He will do the same for them.”

And that is the solution to the fears we have regarding the future of our families! God’s grace is and will always be sufficient!

When Paul was struggling with needing a touch from God, the Lord informed him that His “grace is sufficient…” (II Corinthians 12:9). Paul took from this that whatever he was experiencing, God’s grace would keep him, would see him through. He could survive through the challenge because he had everything he needed. We can apply this teaching to the future of our children.

I used to hear old timers preach about, “God’s Keeping Power.” God kept Daniel through the lion’s den. He kept Joshua through the battlefield. He kept Elijah through the famine. He kept the disciples through the storm. He got themthrough! Surely, the same keeping power that kept these heroes of the faith is still available to our children and future generations! He will get them through

Many times, I have faced impossible situations, immovable mountains, and untamable temptations. Yet God’s grace was sufficient; He kept me! God’s grace was more than enough. Grace was provided, in increasing measure, as needed. As the challenges increased, so did God’s great grace. 

In the early 1940’s, Annie J. Flint, a woman who lost both her parents when she was 6 years old and who now suffered rheumatoid arthritis to the point that she was wheelchair bound, wrote these song lyrics: 

“He giveth more grace as the burdens grow greater. He sendeth more strength when labors increase. To added afflictions, he addeth his mercy, to multiplied trials, his multiplied peace.

His love has no limits, his grace has no measure, His power no boundary known unto men
For out of his infinite riches in Jesus, He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again.”

God’s love and grace has kept us all these years and will keep His children until the end. If I did not believe this, I’d panic about the future of my grandchildren in this increasingly vile world.

Finally, recall God’s promise of protection – for us and for our children in the future.  

 “We are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” (I Peter 1:5)

A Changing Church

When discussing topics like this, I always state up front that there are some things about ministry and church that must never change. The sacred things such as our doctrine which is based upon the unchanging Word of God is untouchable. But the things which have been added to ministry which aren’t necessarily sacred are subject to change. 

This change comes very hard for some folks. Author and speaker Tod Bolsinger explains that change is difficult because people are afraid of loss. Change in church means a change in traditions, customs, and things about which we feel nostalgic. When music, décor, facilities, and furniture styles change, people grieve the loss. They remember how things were in the past, good times and fond memories. When people grow up in the church, it can be akin to grandma’s house –  the sight and sounds and smell create a sense of comfort and familiarity. Leaders of change must understand that resistance to change really isn’t a matter of people being obstinate, it is more a matter of grieving loss. 

Consider this. In the Old Testament book of Ezra, when the new temple was ready for use: “…many of the priests and Levites and chief of the fathers who were elderly men who had seen the first house, when the foundation of this house was laid before their eyes, wept with a loud voice; and many shouted aloud for joy.” While some rejoiced, others cried. These elders were crying, not because they didn’t like the new temple, but because they had lost the old temple. Change is hard for those who value the past. But change is embraced by those who value the future.   

I’ve recently been reminded that much of the way we “do church” is relatively new. By that I mean, very few of our worship methods and customs are ancient. Our style of music is relatively new, as compared to the ancientness of Scripture. Even most of the good old songs aren’t very old if compared to the Bible. In our tradition, most of our “old time” music is less than 100 years old. 

If you are a church member or leader and you find yourself grieving the loss of treasured things, it may help if you recall:

  • Change is inevitable. Years ago, people introduced new concepts and practices that we now consider as staples. At one time, someone introduced new songs (now honored hymns), new church buildings (now old and worn out), and new approaches to ministry (now old fashioned traditions). There has always been change, and that will never change. 
  • Change is necessary in order to reach new people. People who have not been in the church for years have no idea why we do some things the way we do them. To us, it is familiar. To them, it is foreign. There are only a few Christian folks who are brazen enough to say that they do not want to reach new people. Unfortunately, there are many who want to reach the lost, but only if it requires no change on their part.    
  • The changes and loss we are grieving aren’t eternal. Pews aren’t supernatural, they are just furniture. Painting over an old baptistery mural isn’t sacrilege. A Pastor preaching in a suit is a relatively new concept. Less than 100 years ago, this was unheard of in many circles. Keep this perspective in mind: the things that really matter last forever, everything else is temporary. 
  • Bolsinger reminds us that the root word for “familiar” and “family” are the same. We resist change of familiar things because we feel like we are losing family. But hear this: traditions are not family. People are family, furniture and schedules and decorations are not. Let’s not try to make temporary things eternal. 

If the experts know what they are talking about, we ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Traditional buildings are going away. Technology will play an even bigger role in ministry. Things that we accept as vital to today’s church may, “go the way of all the earth” (die). But the Church and ministry will continue on, perhaps in a different form, until the day of Jesus Christ.   

Once again, we should never entertain changing anything that is eternal. But if adjusting our approach to church increases our chance of reaching a lost world, who among us would say we are against it?

The Farther Away You Are, The Easier It Looks 

For the non-preachers among us. 

Unless you are a public speaker, you likely won’t realize how hard it is to be a public speaker. I have watched over a thousand preachers preach. And I’ve preached over a thousand messages. Preaching is not just public speaking, it is delivering a verbal message from God, a message with eternal consequences, and a message for which the preacher will give an account to God.  I hope I don’t have to convince you that preaching is a hard thing to do.

On many occasions, I have watched from a distance as a skilled preacher worked his or her craft, thinking how effortless it seemed for them. They were smooth, articulate and seemingly very comfortable in that role. But I’ve seen some of those very same speakers from up close. Close enough to see the stress on their face, to see the passion in their eyes and even frustration in their expressions at how the message was going.

Like watching a professional athlete from your recliner, it’s easy to think that anyone can do what these people are doing.

Leading is hard, but it looks easier from a distance. So, this article is not only about speaking, it is metaphorically addressing support for leaders. Get close enough to your leaders to know if you can truly support them, and if so, get close enough so that they are certain of your support.

Through the years, I have known a few church members that, I am convinced, wanted to be as far away from me as possible – so they sat on the back row. That’s a tough experience for a pastor. I want the best seats I can afford at a baseball game. I don’t want to sit in the back of a concert. Likewise, I want to be as close as possible to God’s messenger.  

I encourage people to enter the arena, get front row seats. Sit close enough to hear the gasp when a running back gets the air knocked out of him. Close enough to smell the perspiration of the athletes. Close enough to see the disappointment of losing in the eyes of a defeated player. “Close” is the only way to have the full experience. 

This is one reason I’ve always implored church members to sit up front in church services. From a distance, preaching is no big deal, anyone could do the Pastor’s job. But if you are close enough to them sense the weight and responsibility of the sacred moment, you’ll likely:

Be less critical.

Not take them for granted.

Pray more for them.

Take to heart more seriously what they’re saying.

Be warned, depending upon how passionately your pastor preaches, you may want to be prepared to dodge saliva. Lol 

But get up close for the ministry of the Word. Sit up as far as you can. Invest yourself in the sermon – you get out what you put it. *Be careful with your body language. Take notes. Let your pastor see the receptivity in your eyes. Let them know you’re in their corner. Limit the distractions of other people.  Most of all, be close enough to gain the full appreciation of how powerful and wonderful and challenging preaching the Word of God (and leading in general) really is.

*https://rickwhitter.com/2011/11/07/preaching-is-two-way-communication/

 7 Ways CoVid 19 is Improving the Church

Below are a few things I hope that we, the Church, can realize in the middle of this pandemic. This is not a critique of ministries, rather, it is simply some thoughts about the positive impact that crisis can, and I believe will, have on the church. Much like the stock market that “corrects” in certain seasons, ministries often need correction. In Scripture, God often used crisis to draw His people back to Him. I believe that God can utilize this difficult time to bring needed change to His Body. 

Pastors, the following may offer some relief from the “performance” stress we’ve endured over the last many years. If you are weary of the demands to perform up to the standards of the few consumers who may come to your church, here is some good news.

During CoVid 19:

  • The standards of success are changing. It’s no longer the biggest or flashiest churches that are considered successful; faithfulness is increasingly being defined as success. 
  • Celebrity ministry personalities are being sifted out. What used to impress naive folks may be wearing thin. The times are demanding authenticity, people realize their need for a Pastor rather than a motivational speaker. The divide between persona and character is widening. People are seeing through the smoke and mirrors; spiritual discernment is being practiced on an increased level. Hirelings are being exposed. Those who are in ministry for the money or for the notoriety are giving up the ruse. Only the truly called will survive this crucible.  
  • There is an increased sense of urgency among many Christians. Petty differences are being laid aside and are being replaced by a renewed focus on sharing the Gospel with a needy generation.
  • Personal preferences in worship are increasingly being subjugated to what actually works to bring people to Jesus. Some of the changes that have been forced upon the church are resulting in more souls being impacted. Entertainment and showmanship are waning in the church. The “show” no longer gets the job done. People need real ministry and the pure work of the Holy Spirit is all that will suffice. 
  • There is a return to the simplicity of Scripture. We realize that the, “bells and whistles” of modern ministry are expendable, but the truth of Jesus is not. Things once considered as outdated and irrelevant ministry methods are increasingly being embraced as Biblical and effective. In times of crisis, many return to their godly roots.  
  • The Church is realizing her collective strength. What used to divide us is now serving to unite us. We are finding ourselves forgiving faster, overlooking weaknesses in others, honoring differences and embracing a heavenly Kingdom mindset. 
  • God seems to be purging His Church. Recall the Biblical example of the separation of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31-46). This may be the time of distinguishing between the two. 

Churches and Pastors, we were built for this. This may be our opus maximus, our greatest opportunity for eternally productive ministry. Let’s redeem this time of crisis. Let’s allow the Holy Spirit to equip us to stand strong, win the lost, make disciples and finish strong. This marathon of ministry may be winding down. Stay focused, remain vigilant, adhere to the Word and listen to the Holy Spirit. 

This pandemic may actually become something wonderful for the Church. 

Will 2022 be better than 2021?

02

If 2022 is to be better than 2021, I must own the responsibility. I’m not arrogant enough to think that I have the solutions to all the mess that is going on around the world. And I don’t pretend to have the influence to impact big change around me. 

But I am responsible for a better new year, nonetheless.

Let me tell you what I DON’T plan to do:

I don’t plan to spend all my time pointing out the failures of others.

I won’t try to fix other people.

I won’t target others as a way to make the future brighter. That would be ludicrous.

I hope not to sit and complain, fret and be hopeless. 

This is how I hope to make 2022 better than 2021:

I’m asking myself (more importantly, I’m asking my wife and a few trusted friends) what I need to change personally in 2022. How can I improve? What should I stop doing? What new habit or discipline will make me more effective? How can I be a better man, husband, father, grandfather, friend and leader? I am asking the Lord to help me in my weaknesses, to teach me a better way to live, to increase my wisdom and to change me by the power of the Word of God and the Holy Spirit. If I change, grow and improve, 2022 will be better than 2021. 

This may sound a little silly to you. How can one person make a year better? My approach is focused on my responsibility to do what I can do. The major issues of society are beyond the scope of my abilities; although I care deeply, there is little impact I can make on major problems. But I can change me – and I am the only one who can change me.  

If 2022 is to be better than 2021, I must own the responsibility.

The Older I Get, the More Diligent I Must Become

As we do every year this time of year, Letha and I have been talking about next year: how to improve, how to be more effective, how to make sure we are maximizing our opportunities. While prayerfully pondering this, a thought came to me.

The older we get, the harder we have to work if we hope to to improve. When we were younger, maturing and growth allowed us the presumption that we would improve with age, and most of the time we did. Simply living and learning about life allowed us to progress in our effectiveness. But now, improvement comes with a greater cost. Now that I am a more seasoned leader, I can’t just pass time and get better at things, I actually have to be intentional in my growth. What a revelation!

Allow me to explain. I have less energy now than I did when I was forty. So if I want to stay in good shape physically, I have to discipline myself to get off the couch and move (which I do!). Like many my age, my natural tendency may be to go with what is comfortable and familiar. But my comfort zones destroy my productivity! Now that I’m older, I enjoy my old friends. But as important as my old friends are, I need to stretch and grow in relationships, networks and connectivity. I can’t just recline in the “Lazy Boy” of life and expect to advance; I’ve got to be purposeful, intentional and action-oriented.

So if 2022 is going to be a better year than 2021, I have to work harder and think harder and behave harder than I have this year. Slothfulness and resting on my laurels (*info for this reference below) will defeat me. As a leader, the older I get, the more diligent I must become.

I want to improve until the day that I die. I want to be a better Christian, husband, father, Pop (grandfather), friend and leader. That won’t happen organically; I must work to improve.

So look out New Year, I’m coming for ya! I’m excited about 2022!

*https://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/rest-on-his-laurels.html

The Longer I Live, the More Thankful I Am

Maybe it’s natural to feel more thankful when you get older. Now that I’m in my early sixties, it seems that gratitude plays an increased role in my daily life. I find myself outwardly expressing my thanks to God throughout my average day, more than ever before.

In processing my reality during Thanksgiving season, I have just a few observations:

I’m more thankful now because I have a better grasp on grace: God does not give me what I deserve. When I was younger, I thought I deserved better than I got, now I know I am getting better than I deserve. I’m thankful.

I’m more thankful now because I know what could have been. Had God not delivered me, I would not be where I am today. My marriage, my family, my health, my ministry…none of it would be a reality had the Lord not come through for me. I am thankful.

I’m more thankful now because I realize that time is short and my time is limited. Perhaps I have another 20-25 years of good living ahead – we will see, but I am learning to treasure the moments and be thankful for what I have and what lies in the future.

I’m more thankful now because time is flying, faster than when I was younger. Our daughter has developed into an amazingly productive and successful Christ follower and leader; all these years of praying are paying off. I’m watching our grandchildren grow up quickly and it’s so exciting to see who they are becoming. Their future is amazingly bright and I am more thankful than I can express! 

I’m more thankful now because I’ve seen years and years of hurt, dysfunction and pain in the lives of people around me. I’m comprehending how good I have it in comparison to many others. I’m grateful.

I’m more thankful now because I have lost several friends to CoVid and other sicknesses over the last 2 years. I and my family members have been spared. While I hurt for their families, I’m humbly thankful.

I’m more thankful now because my finish line is closer now than it’s ever been. While I have no plans to die any time soon, death obviously is one year closer than it was last Thanksgiving.  The return of Christ is one year closer. I am grateful. 

How about you? Are you becoming a more thankful person as you age?  

Beware of Leaders Who…

The world is desperate for competent leaders. Sometimes we are shocked at how few quality people are willing to lead. In our desperation, it’s important that we not follow those who are unscrupulous, who have ulterior motives, who will lead us astray. 

My advice is, keep you guard up and beware of leaders who…  

Know all the answers.

Are quick to correct others.

Like to point out flaws.

Think they are the guardian of all truth.

Disrespect or dishonor others.

Are condescending to others.

Like to be in the spotlight.

Talk more than they listen.

Are cynical, sarcastic or cruel.

Are above correction, suggestions, input and collaboration.

Are politically motivated.

Are hot tempered, out of control emotionally.

Use people to get what they want.

Need to be in control.

Take the credit when things go well and blame others when things go poorly.

Treat “important” people better than the “unimportant” ones. 

Never say, “I was wrong”, “I’m sorry, and “thank you.”  

Matthew 20:26-28 “Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Leader, Not Too Much Emotion

Depending upon which therapist you consult, there are 7 or 8 basic human emotions. The lists may include anger, fear, pain, joy, passion, love, shame, and guilt. Connected to each of these is a myriad of other feelings/emotions. We know that God created us as emotional beings and that God Himself exhibits emotion. But I contend that emotions, uncontrolled or in excess, can be the downfall of a leader, especially a spiritual leader. 

Think about it. Most leaders are passionate people. They live and feel deeply. The reason they lead is that they care very much about people, causes, and projects; they care enough to invest themselves. Add to this, leaders are placed under intense pressure and as a result may experience high levels of a variety of emotions. In times of victory, we may be over the top with joy. Dealing with an especially frustrating issue may push us to be angry. But leaders can’t be under the control of these emotions; on the contrary, leaders must keep a firm grip on their emotions.  

We know that we should avoid making decisions when overly emotional. Emotions have a way of dominating sound reasoning. It’s not wise to choose a path based upon our feelings, because our feelings change. 

Even when (especially when) we are doing the work of the Lord, let’s not allow our emotions to go unbridled. When it comes to matters of morality, spirituality and eternity, the stakes are extremely high, and our emotions can run just as high. However, overly emotional leaders can be a danger to themselves and to others. When appropriate, be sad, but deep discouragement is not an option. When faced with injustice, be righteously indignant but not wildly enraged. It’s ok to be passionate but not to the extreme of losing control. 

Leader, if your emotions are hurting your marriage or family, it’s time to adjust. If your outbursts cause people to avoid you, look out. If you can’t sleep at night because of your emotions, God has something better. 

Paul exhorts us in 2 Corinthians 10:5. “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

Go ahead and be the passionate leader God called you to be. But it’s time to take our emotions captive, and make them submit to Jesus. Harness them, control them, utilize them to make you a better leader and person. 

Perpetual Pain for Pastors

Without a doubt, serving as a Pastor at a local church is one of the greatest privileges a person can be given on this earth: 

  • God trusts us with His people. 
  • People look to us for spiritual direction. 
  • We only work one day a week.  (you gotta’ at least smile!)

But too many Pastors are in pain. For some, the pain never eases up. This could be due to the depth of the hurt experienced or the perpetrator of the pain being a once-trusted friend. Sometimes it’s the culmination of many years of ministry pressure. Listen, God does not want us living and leading this way! There are, however, some of us who have refused to let go of the pain. We wear it like a medal of honor; it’s a war-wound and we are glad to put it on display. 

Without judging anyone, I have some observations to share. 

Pastor, you may have unresolved hurt/offense if:

You are cynical. If you roll your eyes at enthusiasm, if you scoff at hope, if you are skeptical of solutions – you are most likely hurting deeply. Cynicism isn’t a good look on spiritual leaders.

Your first inclination is to doubt. If you can’t see the light for the darkness, you may be in emotional turmoil. If you’ve been wounded long-term, it’s natural to begin to expect the worse. But faith leaders can’t lead people into hope if they have none themselves.   

You keep talking about past hurts. The church member who lied about you. The Deacon who falsely accused you. The Bishop who mistreated you. No doubt, these events can be devastating. But reliving them over and again does not bring healing. If you struggle with past hurts, take it to the Lord in prayer, and perhaps consider seeing a counselor. If you don’t, the bitterness can become corrosive and it can destroy you.

You enjoy conflict. None of us can avoid conflict, and I am not a proponent of running away. But if you revel in the fight, if you take great pride in strife, you may need some healing. 

You don’t trust your leader. We’ve all been misled by someone. Anyone with a few months experience has been letdown by someone over them. But mistrusting your current leader based upon what a former leader has done is unfair. Think about it: do you want your church members to assume that you are the same as their former pastor(s)? 

You must correct everyone. Does it drive you crazy to see wrong theories posted online? Do you correct grammar? Do you feel it is your job to point out flaws? If this is the case, there is a chance that you are dealing with unresolved pain. 

You can’t wait to quit. If you daydream about the day you can leave your church or the ministry, you are sidetracked. With this escape mindset, you can’t lead effectively. We all hope to retire someday, or at least slow down, but longing to quit reveals a damaged spirit.  

I could go on. But Pastor, hear my heart. I am not attacking you or criticizing you. I only wish to help you heal.

If you are in perpetual pain, reach out. There are trained, professional Christian counselors available to you, some at no charge. There are people who care. If you have absolutely no one to walk you through these types of issues, perhaps your approach needs to be adjusted. We were never meant to lead in isolation. 

Read through the passages below. Pray. Talk to a friend. You are too important to live with this level of pain. 

Matthew 11:28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

2 Corinthians 4:8-10 “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed, perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.”

Psalm 46:1-2 “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea.”

Psalm 71:20 “Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up.”

Psalm 147:3 “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”

John 14:27 “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give it to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

Isaiah 41:10 “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will help you; I will uphold you with my righteous hand.”

Psalm 34:18 “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

Psalm 55:22 “Cast your burden on the Lord, and He will sustain you; He will never allow the righteous to be shaken.”

Guardrails

Lots of people are deconstructing their faith right now, questioning their beliefs and convictions. While this can be a beneficial exercise, it can also be very dangerous. Because our faith impacts eternity, we can’t just shift what we believe based upon what is popular. There are many “pop theologians” that are full of opinions but devoid of Biblical wisdom.

It’s true, some of us were taught in error. But most of us who were taught correctly find our faith under attack. There is a major push to influence us to change. Some are now accepting new ideas that are contrary to what they’ve always believed.

To help us navigate this experience, I’m offering 12 guardrails to help keep us safe spiritually. When wondering about or questioning aspects of your beliefs and the resulting behaviors:

1. If your spiritual “parents” would disapprove, I suggest you hold on to what they taught you. God placed them in your life for a reason – to help guide you.

2. If it goes against what you’ve been taught in Scripture, think and pray long and hard before you even consider it.

3. If it’s new theology (unproven, untested and revolutionary), be very slow to accept.

4. If it creates spiritual “liberty” from well-accepted guidelines and convictions, stay away. What may appear to be freedom can actually be bondage.

5. If you must dig deep to find one Bible verse to “proof text” support for it, stay away.

6. If it goes against what you’ve learned from long-term trusted sources, don’t believe it.

7. If it goes against your conscience, don’t accept it.

8. If you must spend a lot of time justifying it, it’s best avoided.

9. If it could cause a less mature Christian to stumble, don’t do it.

10. It is causes you to withdraw from your proven spiritual support system, I suggest leaving it alone.

11. If your praying grandmother would scold you for doing it, don’t.

12. If you don’t want to be doing it when the Lord returns, don’t do it at all.And so on.

Of course, some things that some of us have been taught may be eventually proven wrong. But too many are abandoning the true Gospel for a new Gospel. And Scripture clearly warns us against this tendency. What you believe determines what you do. Believe the right things, do the right things.

How Blackberry Picking is Like Ministry

This Summer, wild blackberries are everywhere! We see lots of friends across the Midwest who have been picking berries and enjoying the resulting cobblers. Well, I have done my share of picking, too. I find it relaxing and fulfilling to bring home these delectable treats. I blame my underprivileged upbringing (I can’t pass up free food), but in actuality, I find the blackberry jam that Letha makes to be the best I’ve ever eaten.  

As is usually the case with preachers, we find a lesson in everything. I will use blackberry picking as a metaphor for ministry. Here goes:

The berries represent the fruit of our labors – people, growth, progress, goals, etc. 

The bushes equal the world and communities in which we live, where we find the fruit of ministry.

The thorns, mosquitoes, heat, and poison ivy are metaphors for the obstacles and discouraging distractions we find in ministry.The jelly, cobbler, blackberry dumplins’ and berry crumbles are an analogy for the goal of ministry: souls for the Kingdom of Christ!

Here are some observations:

  • You can’t pick berries without getting stuck by thorns. I have scratches all over my hands and arms and I have to pick out the splinters. The only way to avoid getting stuck is to not pick berries. The analogy is pretty obvious: if you do ministry, you will get scars. 
  • The more berries I pick, the better I get at it. I’ve learned where the best blackberry bushes are. I now recognize ripe, sweet berries. I’ve become much more efficient. I’ve improved my skills. Experience is an excellent teacher. The longer we do ministry the better at it we are supposed to become. 
  • Some berries look good but are not. Some are past ripe or infested by bugs. Once you take hold of a bad berry, you know it – it squishes in your fingers. The ministry application is, some folks look good on the outside– but they are rotten on the inside. 
  • Some of the best berries are the most elusive. You spot a big juicy one, as large as a walnut, but it’s deep in a thorny bush or in the middle of chigger weeds. Is it worth going after? You bet it is! That’s the way it is with some ministry goals, isn’t it?
  • I’ve dropped a lot of nice berries. Once they fall among the bushes, they are gone. In church work, we can’t possibly keep all the fruit we harvest; we feel terrible about it but, unfortunately, we lose some. 
  • Sometimes berries grow in groups and come ripe at the same time. I have harvested as many as 7 berries in one grab. Family groups or entire neighborhoods are available to be won by our churches, if we have the wisdom to recognize how. Let’s observe and take advantage of those opened doors.  
  • Picking the berries is only the beginning. If we don’t do something with those berries, they will waste – we can’t possibly eat that many fresh berries. Cleaning, picking out sticks and bugs, freezing or canning, baking or cooking… much of the work is accomplished after the harvest. The comparison is obvious: win people to the Lord and His church – and then the real work begins!
  • Berry picking takes time. I have a demanding job so I have to make time to go out picking. It would be easier just to sit on the couch and then buy berries from the store, but, in my opinion, there is no comparison between packaged berries and wild, organic berries. In ministry, we must prioritize the spiritual harvest. The demands of life make it easy to justify our inactivity and ignore the harvest. But there is no greater reward than winning folks to Jesus and making disciples.
  • Berry picking season is soon coming to a close. As the summer days get shorter, the production will slow down. I have to pick while I can; if I wait, I will miss the season. You don’t need me to make the correlation, do you? 
  • Finally, we are freezing most of the berries I pick. This is because Letha is doing most of the work of making jam and baked goodies, and she also lives a busy life. (Lesson – we can’t enjoy the fruit of the harvest without the contributions of the good people around us). But we will enjoy these berries all year. I can’t wait for a hot blackberry crisp once the weather turns cold. Ministry lesson: work now, reap the benefits for eternity!

Thanks for indulging me this little folksy parallel. I hope you find it beneficial.    

A Lesson in Succession

I’m reading I Chronicles 28 and 28 where David is sharing the plans for the Temple which his son Solomon is to build. The lavish detail is remarkable. David is not able to build the Temple but his son is selected by God to do so. David goes to great lengths to assure the success of the project. David is extremely invested in this project. While God will not allow him to lead the construction, he is totally committed to making sure his son succeeds.

Along with procuring all the necessary building materials, David makes an incredible statement: “And now, because of my devotion to the construction of the Tempe of God, I am giving all of my own private treasures of gold and silver to help in the construction.” (I Chronicles 29:3)

Along with many other more obvious points, I see the following:

• Because David is not allowed to construct the Temple, he could have removed himself from the process (and kept all his valuables). 

• David did everything in his power to make sure the Temple was built according to the standards that God required; his money was needed to make that happen.

• David set his son up for success.Note: David is not coddling Solomon. He is not trying to cover for Solomon’s weaknesses. He is not creating entitlement on the part of his son. David believed in the project and in his son, therefore, he is willing to invest, heavily. 

My generation must invest in the next generation. There are things that we will not accomplish for the Lord that will be accomplished by those coming behind us. This is no time to hoard our resources. The wisdom, expertise and resources we have accumulated must be shared if the job is to be accomplished. 

Younger folks are not snowflakes. They’re not buttercups. They are the generation that is chosen by God to fulfill a great work; we elders have a vital part to play in that!

Detecting Shifts in Ministry

While serving as a pastor of a local church, I learned to read the behaviors of some folks that indicated a change was coming. Being able to discern when someone was distancing themselves from the church helped me to head off some problems, and more than few times, it helped prevent me from being blindsided. I now use some of these same methods on a State level by reading the habits of ministers.

When a committed member starts to miss worship services, look out. When tithing and giving reduces, pay attention. When folks who used to hang around to fellowship after church now leave immediately, be alert. When people “need a break” from serving, it may be a warning sign.In many cases, I’ve noticed people who used to sit toward the front of the church begin moving toward the back. Too many times, they were headed toward the back door. Of course, this is not true in every case, but it seems that they are (intentionally or not) indicating that they are inching themselves out of the church.

Why is this important? Too many times, pastors are shocked that a stable family is leaving. We feel out of the loop and don’t know how to process their decisions. Long-time members or solid core people just up and quit! This always hurts. And it seems to hurt more if we had no warning. My point is – if we can learn to detect subtle changes, we may be able to head off a painful decision.

Know your flock. Pay attention to details. Look folks in the eyes. Become more emotionally intelligent. Read body language. Watch for sliding habits. And pray for discernment from the Holy Spirit. In my opinion, discernment is one of the most crucial Spiritual Gifts for Pastors.

You may or may not be able to stop someone from making the decision to leave your church. And you for sure will continue to be surprised by the behavior and decisions of people. But detecting shifts in your congregation will make you a more aware, and therefore, more effective Pastor.

I’m Concerned

I’m concerned about people not going back to church because of CoVid-19. Certainly, some elderly and infirmed rightfully remain at home during this crisis. But way too many people who can and should be in church services aren’t.

Here is why this concerns me:

  • You can’t easily make up lost ground. Our spiritual health is inextricably connected to our involvement in the local church. When one steps aside from church for a period of time, we should expect spiritual health to be hindered and perhaps halted. And when they come back to church, the gaps may remain. While the church continues to move forward, these individuals atrophy; and then they feel disconnected.  
  • Our lack of participation harms others. Our unique gifts and talents are necessary parts of our local church body. Using the physical body analogy, if one of our organs stops functioning, more than just that organ is impacted; the entire body suffers! So it is with our part in the Church. 
  • We are creatures of habit. If we stay out of church long enough, staying out will become the norm. For some Christians, church attendance is no longer even a consideration. 
  • Children may suffer the most. Consider this: for a five year-old, CoVid-19 has impacted 20% of their life. And because of their youth, they may not be able to remember life before CoVid! If the family of this child chooses to stop attending church, this child may have no recollection of actually attending church. The child is robbed of the rich experience of church involvement. 
  • People are increasingly defensive. I hardly see a mention by pastors encouraging people to attend church without pushback. I’ve seen good, compassionate pastors be accused of guilt-tripping and condemning those who choose to stay home. In many cases, overly defensive people know they are guilty and don’t like to be reminded. 
  • Churches are suffering. Because some stay home, don’t give, have stopped serving and have disconnected from their church family, many churches are having a hard time surviving. Some experts predict a 20% loss of churches in America. Some who would like to return to church may have no church available to them in the future. 

I understand that we can worship at home. Church attendance is not a requirement to be a Christian. But if we become accustomed to staying at home to the point that we lose interest in the house of God, we are in serious danger.

I am concerned. Please, unless your health is jeopardized, return to church!    

6 Ways to Provide Pastoral Care During CoVid-19

“Pastoral care” is the clinical term for the emotional, social and spiritual support that pastors and ministry leaders provide for those they lead and serve. Think of hospital visits, bereavement calls, crisis counseling and visitation. For centuries, good pastors have expressed their love and concern for their flock by being there for them when they needed comfort, direction and care. They’ve laughed and cried with us, married us and buried our loved ones and been a great source of comfort. 

The perfect model of Pastoral Care is, of course, the Lord. He is the Good Shepherd. He provides the care and comfort we need when we are in crisis. Following this model, it is the Lord’s desire for pastors to love and care for the God’s people when they are scared, hurting and vulnerable. 

But CoVid-19 has decimated Pastoral Care as we know it. 

Very limited hospital visitations have devastated some individuals and families. Nursing homes can’t allow visitors. Families who’ve lost loved ones during this crisis have been hurt by the lack of hugs from a pastor. In many places, there is no more meeting for coffee, no more visiting members at work. These things have systematically dismantled many pastors’ ability to show love and care for their church members and attenders. The result is a serious void in the lives of some church members and some unfulfilled and frustrated pastors. I’ve even spoken with a few pastors who feel guilty for not being there for their flock.  

Add to these considerations that the pandemic has been extremely divisive in many churches. Pastors have unprecedented dilemmas. If a minister is blessed enough to visit in a home or public place, some folks are horrified when the minister doesn’t wear a mask; others are horrified when they do. Some people still insist on hugging, as though there is no danger involved. Others get offended when the pastor refuses to hug. Something as simple as a handshake has created serious problems for some pastors. I am sure that I have inadvertently offended some people because I choose to socially distance. 

Then, we may factor in that many people are angry at leaders – any and all leaders – because of the pain they are enduring. We just expect those who lead us to be able to fix things (even when it’s not logical to expect this). 

And, of course, the Pastor may be endangering himself and his family by exposure to sick people. 

CoVid-19 has seriously hindered Pastoral Care. But Pastoral Care must continue, so, Pastors must be strategic and intentional.

Here are 6 ideas on how Pastors may provide effective Pastoral Care.

1. Invest in relationships. Since effective Pastoral Care is based on trusting relationships, wise pastors will invest more time in relationships than ever before. This requires proactivity and availability. In the pre-CoVid days, a phone call wasn’t nearly as effective as an in-person meeting. An email dealing with a sensitive topic could do more damage than good. But now we must rely on these forms of communication. 

2. A Care List. More time must be invested in communication before a crisis happens. I suggest you create a list of people that need to hear from you.  Establish a schedule and stick with it. While we may think that an organic expression of care is more “spiritual”, this is a great way for people to fall through the cracks.

3. Increase contacts. If you used to check on individual church members once a month, understand that, because you can’t do so in person, you may need to check on them twice a month or more. Remember, you don’t get as much “bang for the buck” with electronic communication. 

4. Group texts. One text that is sent to large groups can be an effective method of care. Now, we must be careful not to try to mislead people – some Pastors unsuccessfully try to make their group texts appear personal. Most people know better. But addressing the entire flock at once is better than no contact at all. 

5. Enlist and empower others to make contacts on your behalf. While contact from a Deacon or Elder or volunteer isn’t the same as the Pastor doing so, multiple contacts show true concern by the church.

6. Pray! This may seem like a given, but pray specifically for discernment about what is happening in the lives of the people. The Holy Spirit is well able to make us effective care givers even when we can’t be there physically. “The Lord laid you on my heart” is an excellent statement to open up a conversation with a church member. 

Pastor, your flock needs you like they’ve never needed you before. Your job is harder than it’s ever been. But God has placed you as the spiritual shepherd of that congregation. He will equip you and help you as you equip and help them.  

Finally, be sure to provide good Pastoral Care for yourself and your family.  

One day, we will overcome CoVid-19. But until then, let’s fulfill Acts 20:28; “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.”

You’re Never Alone

I’ve said for years that the enemy of our soul has as a goal: the isolation of Christians. He wants to get us alone, by ourselves, away from the strength of our numbers and the comfort of our fellowship. In this instance, during this pandemic, he has enjoyed a measure of success.

We are socially distanced. For the last several months, many of us have only physically connected with close family members. Some have had no physical contact whatsoever! Even when we are together with others, it’s a distant wave or an awkward elbow bump. Much sadder is the fact that thousands have suffered and died in hospitals without the comfort of their family at their bedside; and their families are left to grieve without the customary closure.

In all of this aloneness, I want to remind you of something: Jesus will never allow you to be alone. He has promised to be with us until the very end.

Understand the tricks of the devil: he knows he can’t really force you to be alone – he doesn’t have that power – so he wants you to FEEL like you’re alone. He works in your fears and emotions, creating loneliness and emptiness. So even with Christ by our side, we sometimes feel abandoned.

Hear this truth: Satan can only succeed in this effort if we cooperate with him!

Allow me to encourage you: renew your thinking. Be strong in the knowledge of God’s promises. Remind yourself over and over that Jesus is right there by your side, He will never leave you, you are never alone!

Read and meditate on the Scriptural passages below. Then, think of a friend who might benefit from these thoughts – and share with them.

Isaiah 41:10 “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

Deuteronomy 31:6 “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.”

Zephaniah 3:17 “The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.”

Matthew 28:20 “Teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Hebrews 13:5 “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.'”

Romans 8:38-39 “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”