Monthly Archives: November 2017

Dangers for Pastors (part 2)

23915882_10155955440214214_6127062570614102048_nThis is round 2 of Dangers for Pastors. Part 1 got some great feedback so let’s move forward with more thoughts on what pastors should guard against. Once again, I believe that threats of violence in our churches are the least of our worries. We have daily encounters with more subtle, but just as deadly threats.

Here are eleven additional dangers to go with the thirteen from last time. Since I got a lot of feedback on dangers, I will try to name the source of the thought.

People pleasing: Unless you have some type of social disorder, you want to be liked; everybody does. Problems arise for pastors when they spend an inordinate amount of time and effort trying to get people to like them. Even worse is when a pastor fails to do the right thing in an effort to gain the approval of others. A desire to please people is an indication of an insecurity issue. If a leader feels inferior or if one’s job is on the line, trying to please people is a real temptation. The problem is, we can’t please people. My friend, Bill Isaacs reminded me of this. So not only do we fail at trying to please others, we fail at leading. The solution? Perhaps focus on pleasing God and making an effort to be at peace with others. Don’t you love the meme going around that says, “If you want to make everybody happy, become an ice cream salesman.”

Isolation: Depending upon your personality, you may prefer to be alone. Introverts sometimes make great leaders (see the article related to this idea). Alone time is necessary but too much alone time is unhealthy. There is a huge difference between alone time and being a loner. When one has been hurt, it is normal to protect oneself. When betrayed by a friend, the tendency is to trust no one. The problem is, a one-strand cord is easily broken. (Ecclesiastes 4:12). Isolation is not a sign of strength; it is a sign of danger. Pastors need confidants. They need friends. Kevin Wells said, “The battles they face that they feel they have no one to talk to about. Maybe it’s that they don’t feel like they can tell anyone.” Pastors need people in front of them pulling them along and people behind them pushing them along. Don’t be an easy mark for the devil; don’t let him catch you alone in a dark alley.

Bitterness: Every person has plenty of experience being hurt. I think that Pastors are especially good targets for inflicting pain. In other words, some people think it is perfectly fine to take cheap shots at the preacher. Even when this is not the case, pastors are susceptible to become bitter and hardhearted. Disappointment, unresolved pain, and failure – all of these can lead one to becoming bitter. Pastor, be aware, your bitterness will lead you nowhere good and you will take those you lead with you.

Getting and staying stuck: It happens to most everyone. We find ourselves in a season of unproductivity, but we can’t seem to make the changes necessary to regain our productivity. For pastors, it may involve ministry practices. We have operated a certain way for a long time but that way doesn’t seem to have the impact that it used to. It takes real courage to risk changing a system. But if pastors refuse to adapt, they will get stuck for sure. Of special concern are the pastors who have a few years to retirement but they think they can do business as usual and survive until they quit. This can be a fatal error. God and His people deserve better than coasting. Get unstuck!

Conflict avoidance. My friend John Upchurch reminded me of this danger. Because we wish to be peacemakers, and most of us have never had any conflict resolution training, we are not good at conflict. Some even avoid conflict at all costs. While conflict must not become the culture of the ministry, pastors must not avoid conflict. We must be skilled at bringing calm into a troubled situation. We must be adept at managing conflict for the good of the church. It is literally impossible to avoid conflict altogether. If unresolved, it will eventually destroy ministries and lives. So pastor, get good at facing and resolving conflict!

Vision vs. Management: According to Jonathan Augustine, managing expectations rather than visionary leading can be hazardous to a pastor. There are times in every ministry where the passion of the vision gets watered down by the reality of what people expect out of the leader. Ministers have one foot in each camp: vision from God and the real life scenarios of those they lead. Where we get into trouble is when the vision grows distant because we are too busy managing what people say they want from us. If I always have my head in the clouds, being hyper-spiritual, I will lose contact with people. If I never have my head in the heavenlies, I will lose touch with God. It is vital that we stay focused on the vision that God has given us because it is by realizing the vision that we can minister to the needs of the people.

Greener Grass Mentality: My good friend, Pastor Chad Dunford speaks about “refusing to be where you are (current ministry assignment), love where you are (community and congregation) and serve where you are (equipping for works of service through example). It can be tempting to always look for the “next” place, people or opportunity. Some of the best advice I was given was from my mentor in the following statement – “Unless you have knowingly disobeyed the will of God for your life, you are where you are because He put you there.” I agree, Chad!! The danger of this kind of thinking is, we are never satisfied. There remains a deep unrest, we are disgruntled and always feel as though we are missing something. This is a trap and will lead to misery for us and for those we lead. Thanks, Chad for the reminder!

Fearing questions: Many pastors are afraid of questions. They equate people asking questions to doubting and skepticism. Some like to appear that they know all the answers – and questions complicate this ruse. Pastor, just because someone asks questions doesn’t mean they are attacking you or trying to overthrow your leadership. Of course, some are trying to do this but the vast majority of people just appreciate information. Today’s culture requires that leaders be engaged and willing to share important information. The “on a need to know basis” doesn’t work anymore. By the way, one of the things you can do to bolster your leadership strength is to admit when you don’t know something. Whether or not you admit it, everybody knows it. Pastor, genuinely invite questions.

Lack of transparency: Information is power. When a leader possesses information and doesn’t share it with followers, people think they are shady. We cannot expect people to trust us if we give them reason to doubt. Leaders – try something: offer up more info than your team requests. Share details that show you have nothing to hide. Then watch the level of trust increase on your team. And then watch how others begin to share openly with others. Transparency is a powerful friend.

Sex and money: When I asked colleagues for input on dangers for pastors, several mentioned some rather obvious ones. Bucky Ray Sitsler said, “It seems to me that sex and money are the two greatest dangers. Thus, the two most important areas of life to ensure accountability processes are in place.” Eric Rogers said it in a humorous way: “Sex and silver. Dollars and dames. Monies and honeys.” M.E. Woody commented, “Pride, Petticoats and Pennies.” And my friend, Dr. Hong Yang quipped, “girls, gold ‘n glory.” I think we get the idea. Few dangers have brought down as many ministers as sex and money. They are the oldest tricks in the book. So why do we not protect ourselves better?

Leading but not following: This smacks of arrogance, don’t you think? But in reality, there are a lot of leaders who unwittingly find themselves in this situation. Leading is a demanding task. Most of us are pretty busy. And busyness can result in a lack of connectivity. We don’t have much choice but to connect with those we lead. But connecting with those who lead us is another matter. Sometimes we have to pursue those over us, and to be honest, our pride can become a hindrance here. Pastor, you are too strong to not have a leader. Too many pastors spend all of their time showing others the way when they have no one showing them the way. Leaders, don’t be so busy leading that you forget to follow.

Well, that’s the next eleven on the list. I plan to add more in a week or two. In the meantime, if you have any feedback or ideas for our consideration, I’d love to hear it!

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Dangers for Pastors

designRecent violent tragedies in churches around our country remind us of our vulnerability. This can be a frightening time to lead a church. I know a lot of pastors who have their head on a swivel right now.

In my opinion, it’s not an armed gunman that poses the greatest threat to churches and pastors. The odds of an attack by a terrorist at your church are miniscule. But on a daily basis, you are exposed to grave danger. Churches are scrambling to put security in place and they should. But be aware that there are 1,000 ways the devil seeks to destroy you and your church and none of them involve guns. While we should have a security plan in place, it is absolutely crucial that every pastor protect themselves against less obvious, but just as deadly attacks.

My original plan for this article was to create a list of potential hazards and write a paragraph about each. I came up with 13. As I dialogued with some friends, it became apparent that the topic deserves a little more. So, I’ll launch with the original plan and then proceed with more in-depth ideas.

Pastors, look out for…

Ministry becoming a business. Like any other job, ministry can be stressful. After years of dealing with highly important issues of eternal nature, we can devolve things into a bottom line – and that bottom line isn’t souls saved. We must pay the bills. Especially in larger churches, legal matters, real estate, tax laws and human resources concerns can blind us to the spiritual nature of our work. When this happens, we will soon find ourselves disheartened. God did not call us to run a business. Although the church must be viewed as a business that runs above reproach, ministry is spiritual at its core and must function that way.

Becoming hard-hearted. I am not aware of any ministry veterans that don’t struggle with this issue. Part of our work is dealing with trauma: deaths, crises, family turmoil, etc. can wear one down. If we do not intentionally focus on keeping our spirits tender before God, we will become cynical, jaded, and skeptical. I find that few things do more damage to a minister than a hard heart. It is necessary to stay tender before the Lord.

Accepting status quo. Keeping the ministry machine running smoothly and keeping church members happy can be a full time job. When most of our time and energy is expended simply to survive, growth can unintentionally become a back burner issue. God did not call us to maintain – He called us to make disciples. He appointed you where you are to advance the ministry. Maintaining is not good enough.

No strategic plan. Let’s be honest for a moment with this query: what is your plan to build your ministry? If your answer is, “have church services”, you may want to dig deeper. A strategic plan is a wonderful gift that God provides for us so that we can prepare for what He is about to do. I agree that the Holy Spirit must direct us but He does reveal His plans to us if we will pursue Him. Being Spirit-led doesn’t mean that we fly by the seat of our pants. Seek God today for what He wants to do tomorrow.

Selling out to money. It is a very deadly thing for a church and pastor to become money-focused. For many pastors, the members who tithe the most have the most influence. Ministry decisions are made, not based upon what the Spirit is directing but upon what can be afforded. I believe in budgets but I do not believe that budgets should dictate ministry. I wrote another article on the problem of churches amassing bank accounts with no plan to invest them into ministry. You can read that here.

Stop learning. Bible College and seminary are wonderful tools. Pastors should be well educated in matters of Scripture and ministry and leadership. However, there should be no such thing as a pastor who has completed his/her training. Pastor, if you haven’t read a book outside of the Bible for the last few months – I suggest you start.

Displacing family. Much has been said on this topic. Don’t neglect your family for ministry. Your family will fail as well as your ministry. Your family is your first ministry!

No plan to rest. It is a very dangerous thing for a pastor to have no day off – no Sabbath day of rest. Perhaps you think you can work week after week with no vacation, but the end is coming – sooner than you think. Those who refuse to retire because they are too insecure to do so are only hurting themselves and their flock. You are not superhuman – the church survived without you for generations and, if necessary, can do so again.

Doing all of the ministry. This is a real trap for small church pastors. No one volunteers to lead a much–needed ministry so the pastor does it. Rinse and repeat. I understand the dilemma. But if this becomes a pattern, the church is doomed to stay small and the pastor is destined to burn out. If you find yourself here – slowly wean your folks off of their expectations that you must do everything.

No personal, only professional spirituality. Time for some quick self-evaluation: do you pray and study outside of your ministry responsibility? If not, your personal relationship with God is suffering. Fix that and you may fix many of your ministry issues. Don’t fix it and you are in grave danger!

Comparing yourself to others. If you are remotely competitive, it is natural for you to measure your success as compared to others. My advice – just stop. God called you to be you and to do your work. You won’t be like anyone else.

No original ministry ideas. Why do you do ministry like you do? Odds are, you saw someone else do ministry that way. I would suggest you examine every ministry activity through this lens: God called you to do what only you can do. Perhaps God uses other people to give you good ideas but don’t get stuck there. God is quintessentially creative and He never runs out of fresh ideas. Just ask Him, dream big and take a risk.

Assuming a call is enough. If a stranger were to ask you about your qualifications for ministry, what would you say? Being called by God to do ministry is a foundational necessity but it is not enough. I believe that every Believer is called into some type of ministry but the vast majority of people never take the necessary steps to fully engage in ministry.

These are just a few simple ideas. We’ll be digging deeper on the topic in coming days. Please stay tuned. I’d love to hear your idea on other dangers for pastors.


Fight for Your Thanksgiving!

23316716_10155903720379214_4923807824414387164_nThanksgiving is a season when we can feel either very grateful or very guilty (we can feel guilty because we don’t feel grateful). We all know that we are supposed to be thankful for everything we have – all of God’s blessings – and the good things we enjoy in life. But what if we just don’t feel thankful? What if life is just too painful right now to express feelings of gratitude? If this is the case, I wouldn’t suggest that you share it with many people – they may not understand!

No one would argue that the Lord has been good. Even in difficult times, He cares for us, provides what we need and gets us through. When life is at its worst, God is at His best! So how can it be that anyone would not experience overwhelming feelings of gratitude for all that He has done and continues to do?

Let’s recognize the spiritual nature of gratitude and the impact that it can have. Thankfulness is more than warm, fuzzy feelings. Thankfulness is a gift from God that enables us to recognize blessings. He has provided this gift to every person who has reasoning skills – even unbelievers. But thankfulness is also a great spiritual weapon. For the Christian, an attitude of thankfulness serves the purpose of glorifying God. A truly grateful person is a spokesperson for the Lord. They freely share their feelings about all that the Lord has done for them. Others see and hear this praise and they are inspired to follow suit. So imagine the damage that can be done when a Christian loses their gratitude. Their voice of praise is silenced and countless other people are negatively influenced.

Thanksgiving is under attack. Clearly, the enemy of our souls has very effectively created an atmosphere of entitlement in our culture. He has convinced millions of unsuspecting souls that they deserve the good things that they enjoy. A partner to entitlement is greed. In our nation, it is common for people to, rather than being grateful for what they have, want more and more! If it were a mathematic equation, it may read something like this: Entitlement + greed = selfishness. It is nearly impossible for a selfish person to be grateful.

I want you to know the importance of your thankfulness. Gratitude is such a valuable weapon that the devil will do nearly anything to steal it from you. He has succeeded in many people. He wants to blind us to God’s goodness. He is trying to make us feel insecure. He attempts to make us hard-hearted. His goal is for us to become jealous, covetous, envious, and ungrateful. He knows this: Lack of gratitude means a lack of future blessings. The story of the 10 lepers in Luke 19:11-19 proves this fact. If Satan can make you ungrateful, he can prevent you from receiving many future blessings.

Thanksgiving doesn’t ignore the fact that we go through hard times. Certainly, we all suffer times of grief and mourning. Yet, these experiences do not negate God’s goodness. When a person expresses their sincere gratitude to the Lord, they are not in denial. They simply realize that the Lord has been good, and, in spite of their circumstances, He is worthy of our praise.

Allow me to encourage you – fight for your thanksgiving! Even if you don’t feel like it, express your gratitude. This is not hypocrisy nor is it simply positive thinking. It is your commitment to show appreciation to God beyond your emotions. Use the gift God has given you to thank Him! By doing this, you will: 1) Give praise to our worthy God, 2) defeat the enemy in your life, 3) influence others to be grateful and 4) develop the habit of thankfulness, opening the door to future blessings!

Happy Thanksgiving!


The Importance of a “Quality” Worship Experience

23316618_10155901198814214_4888853113538265950_nKid gloves: that’s what I’m using while addressing this issue. The risk is that readers will think I’m not very spiritual. Or perhaps they’ll think that I’m the self-appointed judge of worship. It may be said that I’m watering down the message of the Gospel. But please, hang with me.

I have the honor of visiting many churches. I’ve attended services in approximately 50 different churches over the last 15 months. So if you think I’m referring to your church in this post, odds are, you are incorrect. My unique position affords a great vantage point. I can observe the good and the bad and the in between in worship services in a variety of churches. I seek to make the most of the privilege that God has given me.

For the sake of clarification, I consider a “quality worship experience” as one in which God is glorified and worshippers are inspired to live their lives in a God-honoring way.

Let’s talk about the quality of our church music and the preaching and the flow of the service. What happens when the preacher loses track of his point? How about when the worship leader can’t carry a tune? Should the same lady who has been playing the piano for 39 years keep playing, even though she is a terrible piano player? Does it matter if the sound system feeds back or if the light bulbs are burned out or if the restroom smells? How about a dirty nursery or grass that needs to be cut or rude ushers?

When I visit a church and the person leading the service has put no forethought into it, it is apparent. A preacher that doesn’t prepare a logical flow in the sermon can’t hide behind enthusiasm. And singers that can’t sing are painful to endure!

Am I just being “carnal”?

How about this? God deserves our best! In worship, we perform for an audience of one – God! Unprepared preachers and musicians that can’t play do not qualify as our “best”. The Scriptures paint this portrait in Malachi 1:8, where worshippers were condemned for offering sick and weak sacrifices. The modern application involves us leading ministry with an “it doesn’t matter” attitude. Quality matters to God and it matters to other people. Therefore, it must matter to us.

Why should we expect people to support a worship service that is less than pleasing to God? I think that God may not be pleased by some of what we offer Him. If what we present at worship services causes people to want to plug their ears and run away, God may be doing the same thing.

Here are some practical ideas to improve our quality in worship:

  • Ask unbiased friends to offer suggestions on ways to improve. Don’t be overly sensitive. While people may be reticent to tell you what they think, they are thinking it for certain!
  • Watch yourself on video. If it’s painful for you, imagine how your weekly listeners must feel!
  • Allow plenty of preparation time. Procrastination is no excuse for poor preparation.
  • Discuss the service ahead of time with everyone who leads in the service. You aren’t programming the Holy Spirit out of the service; you are providing an atmosphere where He can move in an orderly fashion, as Scripture details.
  • Work on smooth translations. Jagged and awkward shifts between service elements are distracting. Basically this means, keep things moving without unnecessary dialogue and explanation.
  • If the music is lower quality than desired, utilize tracks or video worship. God can move through prerecorded music as well as through live music. In fact, removing the distractions of low quality music may free up the worshippers.
  • Train volunteers. Raise the standards. Don’t demand perfection but model excellence. People will follow your example.
  • Expect to improve. The longer you serve in ministry, the better you should be at it.
  • Most importantly, ask God to help you to get better at leading worship services.

You may assume that I am preferring large churches that have a lot of talent over small churches with fewer gifted people. I am not. But note, being small is no excuse for low quality. While smaller churches may require greater creativity, they can offer to the Lord something that brings Him honor – and edifies people.

Disclaimer: I am in no way referring to a performance-based approach. Church is not show business and we don’t need performers on the stage. We need women and men who are gifted, skilled and well-prepared to lead us in worship.

Think about it this way: Would you keep eating at a restaurant that serves bad tasting food? Would you let a stylist cut your hair if they don’t care enough to do their best? How about going to a doctor that didn’t prepare by studying medicine? Well, worship is more important than all of those things. Worship deserves our best!

Work to get better. Practice, prepare and pray!

It should go without saying, our best without God’s anointing results in nothing. But I believe that God desires to anoint our best, rather than our leftovers.

Church leaders: I challenge you – lead your next service through the eyes of a new worshipper or an unbeliever. Is there any reason for them to be inspired to return regularly?

Finally, the Bible focuses on leaders who were excellent. David was skilled. Ruth was recognized as a woman of excellence. Daniel possessed an excellent spirit. Paul was recognized as a great communicator. How dare we approach worship with a lackadaisical attitude?

Is it more godly to sing or preach poorly than to offer excellence to God? Then let’s give God nothing less than our best!

If I have inadvertently offended you, please accept my apology. In my attempt to increase our effectiveness I would prefer not to anger folks. But if I can inspire one person to raise the bar on their worship service experience, I will have succeeded.