Author Archives: rickwhitter

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.

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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.


5 Steps to Getting What You Want

22894146_10155869087324214_375210395447557660_nIf you find yourself thinking about meeting a goal or completing a project, read on.

While deciding what is a worthwhile goal in life can be difficult, it is oftentimes even more difficult to actually make that thing happen. This post is not intended to be a cure-all for people who are stuck in life. But if you need a boost to reach a goal, give the following a try.

  1. Identify: what is it you really want? Not something you think will make you happy, but what you want. This must be something that has meaning and value to you. (clue: What did God design for your life?) If you are wanting something that is damaging to yourself or someone else, your wishes are misguided. Try again.

Set a goal.

(Robert Rubin developed the idea of SMART Goals. Specific (simple, sensible, significant). Measurable (meaningful, motivating). Achievable (agreeable, attainable). Relevant (reasonable, realistic and resourced, results-based). Time bound (time-based, time limited, time/cost limited, timely, time-sensitive). You may read more here.

An example of a smart goal: “I want to complete a college degree within 5 years.”

  1. Pieces: what pieces must be put in place in order to make the above happen? These must be specific, action-oriented steps.

Example:

Enroll in college

Explore potential colleges and degree programs

Explore finances required

Graduate

Pay tuition

Discuss with family members who will be impacted

Talk to a college admissions department

Make application to the college(s) of choice

Start taking classes

List the necessary pieces, as best you can, that will move you toward your goal.

  1. Prioritize: decide which pieces are most important.

Example:

  1. Explore potential colleges and degree programs
  2. Discuss with family members who will be impacted.
  3. Talk to a college admissions department.

Etc.

You’ll never reach your goal if you can’t do the most important things first.

  1. Decide to act: when will you take the step? Until you commit to do it and follow through, everything is on hold.

Example:

I will explore colleges online today.

I will talk with my family tomorrow.

Talk to a college admissions department on Tuesday

Etc.

Until you take action, your goal is just a dream

  1. Now, repeat #’s 2-4 until you arrive at your destination.

Example:

Determine which pieces you must put into place

Prioritize the pieces

Act – put a piece in place and move forward

Continue this cycle until the goal is met and the degree is earned

We realize this is an over-simplification to reaching goals. However, it is a useful tool to get you moving forward. Give it a try with weight loss or spiritual development or a better marriage. I’d be interested to hear if it works for you.

 


Should a Church Have a “Nest Egg”?

designSome churches have money in the bank. A few have a lot of money in the bank. There is nothing, in my opinion, inherently wrong with that. An emergency fund is a great idea, and none of us know the future so a few months of operational funds is probably a great idea.

But I have great concern about churches that hold on to a fund and refuse to invest it in ministry. I know of several churches and organizations that hold a large amount of money in the bank while the needs of the ministry go unmet. I do think it is wrong for a church to have a large account while people need help.

What can happen:

A fund can become our hope. Some churches no longer practice stewardship because they have money in the bank.

A fund can become our trust. We no longer rely on God to bless the church – we have money to take care of that.

A fund can become a god that we worship. I have personally witnessed churches fight and divide over what to do with money in the bank.

A fund can earn interest that can prevent us from sharing it, because we don’t want to lose the interest.

I even know of groups that loan these moneys out to brothers or sisters – at a significant percentage rate.

Something is wrong with this picture.

No, I am not a proponent of giving away all of the church’s funds. We shouldn’t enable the entitled. Jesus said that there will always be needy people so we can’t fix everyone’s problems. Since these funds belong to God, we are required to handle them with great caution. But that leads me to my basic point:

God does not provide money to the church so we can keep it safe in the bank. He provides money so we can do ministry.

The Parable of the Talents is all the evidence we need. When God puts money in your hands, He expects you to multiply it by investing it into ministry. See Matthew 25:14-30; Luke 19:12-28.

I do not want to give money to a church that hoards it. When people are in need, the church must find a way to utilize the money to help people.

Consider these Bible verses on the topic:

Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?” James 2:16-17

If you have two shirts, give one to the poor. If you have food, share it with those who are hungry.” Luke 3:11

And perhaps the most direct: “If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion how can God’s love be in that person?” 1 John 3:17

With all of the scrutiny being placed on churches, we must be fiducially responsible.  More importantly, the money belongs to God, not to us.  He states unequivocally how He feels about selfishness.

So if a church has an account for the building fund, or for missions or for a special purpose – that is a great thing. But churches that are holding a sum of money that is not earmarked for ministry should be challenged to invest it into effective ministry. If you need help with some ideas on where to invest your money, contact me – I have a few ideas.

 


It’s Time for Christians to Lead

designThis is the time for Christians to lead.

Our culture is suffering the effects of deficient leadership. The bar of expected decorum and etiquette has been lowered to the ground. Integrity and common decency are passé. There is deep division racially, politically and economically. Ideological rhetoric is drowning out reason. Few are naïve enough to trust authority, and skepticism about religion is at an all time high. Many are too jaded to even hope for hope. The world needs help, now.

This is the time for Christians to lead. We say we have the solution; His name is Jesus.

Step up.


Why Mentoring Matters

designMentoring matters because we need help! As individuals, we need help in finding a meaningful place where we can invest our lives. Potential mentors need help because they can’t accomplish everything on their own. The culture needs help to make this world a better place in which to live.

Mentors serve others as coaches, advisors or trainers. We provide ideas and encouragement. We help other people develop their strengths and improve on their weaknesses. Families, organizations and communities benefit from the work of mentors. Many of the greatest leaders on earth enjoyed the advantage of having someone personally train them.

John Maxwell said, “One of the greatest values of mentors is the ability to see ahead what others cannot see and to help them navigate a course to their destination.”

Not compelling enough?

Consider:

If no one serves as a mentor, everybody starts at ground zero and has to learn everything by him or herself.

If no one serves as a mentor, organizations are left to start from scratch when there is a leadership transition.

If no one serves as a mentor, vision and wisdom dies when the leader dies.

If no one serves as a mentor, emerging leaders miss valuable training and struggle unnecessarily.

If no one serves as a mentor, organizational progress is stymied – we all pay the price.

The world is a better place because of mentors. Among some well-known mentor/mentee relationships are General Colin Powell: mentored by his father, Luther Powell; Dr. Martin Luther King: mentored by Benjamin E. Mays; Henry David Thoreau: mentored by Ralph Waldo Emerson and Quincy Jones: mentored by Ray Charles.

I want to encourage you to be a mentor. Regardless of your age, skill level or experience, you know more than someone else. Regardless of your field of service or expertise, you have something of value to share. You have the responsibility to share your knowledge with others.

Here are few ideas on becoming a mentor:

Identify: How do we find the right person to mentor? If they are open and teachable – there’s your person. Talk with them about your idea and see if they have interest.

Idealism: forget about finding the perfect person to mentor. You’re better served to find someone who is already close to you and who trusts you.

Improvement: those who enjoy the tutoring of a mentor increase their performance. Training pays off!

Investment: like a great stock, infusing others with valuable resources such as knowledge results in great dividends for everyone involved.

Intentionality: You must make a commitment to make mentoring happen. It will not just occur automatically.

Innovate: don’t feel like you must follow a curriculum or be bound to a program developed by others. Be yourself and go with the flow.

Inspire: be sure that your goal is to make the life of the other person better. Motivate them, challenge them and help them to grow. Of course, you will also grow through the process.

Influence: when a friend knows you care enough about them that you are willing to mentor them, you will influence them to be the best they can possibly be. Who knows, perhaps you can alter the direction of someone’s life.

Mentoring matters. It’s worth your effort. Someone is waiting for you.