Before We Throw Out That Tradition

IMG_2929I’ve never been a real traditional guy as tradition is considered in the church. In fact, I’ve spent the good portion of the last several years trying to enact change. It seemed as though many of the things that defined the church were actually a hindrance to what we were supposed to be accomplishing. Well, I must be getting older. I’m coming to the place where I am a little slower to eliminate older ideas. My young friends may call me a sell-out.

I came across a few Bible passages that have me thinking.

 

Paul said to the church at Thessalonica, “Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle.” (II Thessalonians 2:15) and “withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us.“ (II Thessalonians 3:6b). The Greek word for “tradition” means instructions in Christianity. It’s the same word Paul uses in I Corinthians 11:2 “I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the traditions just as I passed them on to you.” Some more modern versions replace the word “tradition” with teaching”; still many say “traditions.” For this article, I’m going to use the idea loosely to mean: “the way we’ve been taught to do church.”

Here is the point of this post: There are traditions in the church that should stick around. Simply because something is traditional doesn’t mean we should get rid of it!

Let’s be clear; if it is harmful, get rid of it. If it is damaging, stop it now. If it impedes the fulfillment of the mission, it is your responsibility to purge it.

However…

If a tradition is not harmful, it may be helpful to just hang on to it.

Here is the problem. Some things that, a few years ago, I thought were harmful turned out to be helpful. But they’re gone now. An example: in the 90’s, we minimized discipleship ministry (Sunday School, etc.) and focused more on worship. We’re living through the results of that now when Biblical illiteracy is at an all-time high. Another example may be eliminating evening and midweek services. While times have changed, we now find ourselves struggling to get people to attend services once or twice a month. There was a time in my ministry that I thought eliminating these things would help us. Turns out, we should have held onto the traditions and revitalized them.

But some of us are absolutely certain that we know what is best for the church, both now and in the future. Please allow me to challenge your thinking for a minute.

Dare we be so presumptuous as to assume that we presently have all the knowledge that we will ever need?

We have gotten rid of some things that, at the time, didn’t seem valuable. We now realize that they were. Surely we will keep growing in knowledge and wisdom. It is remotely possible that one day, we will realize that way back in 2016, we didn’t know as much as we thought we did.

We find ourselves in a culture where people are longing for the tried and true. Predictability and stability aren’t as old fashioned as they used to be. Liturgy, ritual and tradition are making a comeback.

A message for emerging leaders: please don’t discard the things your elders worked so hard to achieve. You may not see value in them now, but one day you might. Then, if they are worthless, drop them. And one day, when you are an elder, maybe you will reap what you’ve sown and the kids will not kick your ideas to the curb.

Before we throw out that church tradition, slow down. Give it some time. Consult with an elder. If, after thorough examination and prayer it needs to be eliminated, you can do it then. But once it’s gone, it’s sure difficult to get it back.

Pastor, You Can’t Fix Everybody

IMG_0268Let me begin by saying, pastors can’t “fix” anybody. Only God heals broken people.

A while back, I met an individual and, within 20 seconds, they unloaded a barrage of information about their spouse that stunned me. Their graphic language, their sharing of personal details and their willingness to discuss intimate information about their spouse with a total stranger was a bit shocking. I’ve been in ministry for close to 30 years so this experience is nothing new. But this conversation told me a lot about this individual. My concerns were later confirmed. Before the event was over, this person spoke to me 2 additional times, both times, sharing the same details. I talked to them a total of about 6 minutes but I heard information that only the closest intimate friend should know. I finally had to stop them mid conversation.

What’s my point?

I was not able to help this person. I prayed for them (and still do). I advised them to seek professional help. I encouraged them to connect with their local church pastor. Later, in a brief conversation with this person’s pastor, I learned that they were perpetually in need and that this situation was long-term. Apparently, this couple has shown themselves unwilling to make the adjustments necessary in order to solve their issues.

Pastors, let me share this with you:

No one is beyond God’s ability to help; some people are beyond your ability to help.

We all know people who are perpetually needy. I am not talking about those who are in chronic pain or with a life situation not of their doing that is creating continual suffering. I am speaking about those whose lifestyles prove that they do not want to recover. Some even get a thrill from the attention they receive from their issues.

Here is a little advice for pastors who are expected to help those who may be very difficult to help:

  • Humble down: You are not the Messiah. You do not have all of the answers. It is not a defeat to admit you don’t have the answers – in fact, it is sometimes a victory.
  • Know your limits: A renown scholar once said, “A good man’s gotta know his limitations.” (Detective Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood) in Magnum Force). If the issues are beyond your scope of authority or expertise, admit that. No one is an expert in every area.
  • Recognize the users: Some only want to monopolize your time. Others wish to play on your sympathies. While we must not become hard-hearted in regard to the needs of others, we must learn to spot those who are not looking for solutions.
  • Refer, refer, refer. Doctors do it all the time. When they see a patient that needs the care of a specialist, they refer to that specialist. Pastors may find it beneficial to follow suit.
  • Grieve for them but don’t take up their grief: A good pastor will hurt when his/her sheep are hurting. We must carry the spiritual burden of loving people that are in misery. However, it is a mistake to assume the load of their pain. We are strong but not superhuman. We must learn to be sensitive and compassionate without damaging our spiritual and emotional health. Don’t be afraid to draw the line of distinction.
  • Give them hope: God never gives up on people; we shouldn’t either. Let them know that you are not their solution but that God has their answer. While we are not to try to be a savior to needy people, we are to point them to their Savior.
  • Remember to whom they belong. You are the pastor and you are the under shepherd, but they belong to Jesus. He is the Good Shepherd. When and if people are pulling too much out of you, give them to Jesus.

Once again, no one is beyond God’s ability to help; some people are beyond your ability to help. If you try too hard, it may have a negative impact on the people you are trying to help, on yourself and upon your ministry. If you try too hard to fix others, it may break you. I don’t want to see that happen.

I’m praying for you pastor!

Why We Must Invest in Young Leaders

design[2].pngThere is a lot of talk these days about why it is so difficult for most people to connect with Millennials. They are complex, some of them have no interest in interacting with us and a few of them think they are entitled.

Of course they don’t have it all together. If they did, we would need them to teach us, because we certainly don’t have it all together.

Here are some reasons why we MUST invest in the next generation of leaders:

  • We won’t live forever; someone needs to be prepared to take over once we are no longer able to lead.
  • Some of us need to step aside before we are ready. One of the problems with growing older is our awareness of our effectiveness or ineffectiveness may be compromised. Let’s prepare younger people to lead before we reach the place of ineffectiveness.
  • Someone invested in us. We have a responsibility to pass on the valuable insight and wisdom that was generously given to us. To do otherwise is selfish. One of my favorite Bible passages is II Timothy 2:2 “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.” I see four or five generations involved in the teaching process. Let’s follow that pattern and pass on what we know.
  • We love them. Because we care about young leaders, we will invest in them.
  • Because the church and other organizations need young leaders in place now and in the future. The current lack of leadership in our world is evidence that we need strong leaders to emerge.
  • We have things to learn from young leaders. They have a handle on some concepts that we must learn in order to be effective.
  • Because we are better together. Mono-generational existence is boring, unhealthy and unproductive.

I’m excited about the young leaders I know. They are authentic, bright and well-informed. If we do our part to help them get ready, the future will be in good hands. If you know anything that can make the world a better place and can prepare people for what is ahead, do your best to share it with those younger leaders who will then share it with others.

The Best Thing About My Faith Family

I have a great job! But it’s so much more than a job. My work is my calling.

design[1]A friend recently asked me about my favorite part of our work. I didn’t have to think twice about my response.

My favorite part of the ministry in which I am involved is not the meetings. I love my colleagues and my leaders but I’m not a big fan of sitting around a table and working through an agenda. I’m not especially fond of traveling. Crowded planes and long car rides wear me down. Dealing with bankers and attorneys and real estate agents can be taxing (sorry friends who serve in those roles). And, honestly there are a few things about my faith family that are difficult. There are politics. There are egos. There is conflict. Of course, these things are evident in all organizations.

But the best part of our faith family is the people. My wife and I have the distinct privilege of serving in a leadership role for our denomination. As part of our responsibilities, we travel to a variety of places and meet a lot of great people. Every place we go, we are reminded about how precious the people in our movement are. We meet so many hard working, faithful and competent people. Pastors, church leaders, church members…every place we visit we find a consistent batch of great folks who love God and are working hard to build His kingdom. I refer to them as the backbone of the church. They are by far the best thing about our faith family.

I find it interesting that a few people choose to leave our group. I have a couple of friends who have decided that they can do better. That is between them and God and I hold no ill feelings toward them. But unfortunately, the reasons I hear from my friends who leave are, in my estimation, shallow. The aforementioned difficulties usually make the list: too many politics, too many egos, too much conflict. I see what they are saying and I agree that these are problems. But here is my point:

The quality of the people makes the challenges well worth it!

I’m not blind – I see the problems. And many people I know are working hard on and making progress toward engaging solutions. But rising far above these issues in my mind are the men and women who make up my tribe. I refuse to throw away relationships with so many awesome people because there are organizational challenges. The more I travel and the more people I get to meet and work with, the more I am convinced, I’m in the best family on earth.

I’m thankful for my faith family; it’s a privilege for me to serve in this capacity. By the way, I am a part of the Church of God.

Is it Time to Boycott the Boycotts?

boycott-1A powerful way to get what you want is to refuse to support. It works with companies, in friendships and in families. We are seeing an increase of people who are making strong statements about their values by cutting ties with those who disagree with them. We refuse to buy products, patronize businesses and support companies. In a manner of speaking, it works, but there are some results we should consider.

It’s getting more difficult to keep up with the list of banned companies. If we continue on current trends, we may run out of things to boycott.

Think about this- companies whose practices or policies are in opposition to our convictions can become the enemy. But here is the problem: they are not the enemy.

Coffee companies, theme parks and state governments are not the enemy. Our enemy is the devil. We are reminded in the Bible, “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12)

Another issue that will arise out of a boycotting mentality: communication breaks down. Once the conversations end, the possibility of agreement ends. Burned bridges are hard to rebuild. If we refuse to engage with others, we give up on the possibility of reaching people. Rather than coming to a place of understanding, even if the understanding is disagreement, we come to a place of hopelessness.

One more issue to bring up here: when we have a mentality of boycotting, we get used to being in control. Vendettas and revenge can make us feel powerful. If someone doesn’t do what we like, we can, through our withdrawal, control them. Well, we can’t actually control them but we can end the relationship. Is that the goal? I hope not.

Finally, what goes around comes around. Pastors who train church members to boycott in order to bring change shouldn’t be surprised if church members boycott the church in order to bring change. If we live by boycotting, we may die by boycotting. If we cut ties with others who disagree with us, we should expect those who disagree with us to cut ties with us. Soon, we will live a completely isolated life. It’s neither healthy nor logical to expect everyone to agree.

Let’s not get caught in the trap of boycotting. It may work for us to feel like we are in control, but we are not.

And if you don’t like my ideas, you can always boycott this blog site. Just kidding!

Minister’s Manual, 2016 Version. (This ain’t your grandma’s church!)

I was reading again Henri Nouwen’s classic, “The Wounded Healer.” His introduction mentions the need for a more relevant version of the old Minister’s Manual. The old ones were a sort of “how to” guide or “Ministry for Dummies” approach to local church functions. They were a very practical and helpful resource for younger pastors just getting started.

Traditional ministerial handbooks included sections on

Hospital visitation,

How to perform a wedding,

Conducting funeral services,

Administering the sacraments and so on.

Back in the day, a pastor could navigate his way through a variety of ministry situations with the aid of a good Ministers Manual. I have 2 or 3 on my shelf and they are collecting dust.

Today’s pastors certainly need to know the things expounded upon in these Manuals. But wow, has ministry ever changed!

I would suggest the need for an updated Minister’s Manual. But the chapter titles have to change to reflect real life situations that pastors face in a post/Christian culture. Some of the ideas below are an attempt at humor; some are more poignant. Some will only be grasped by pastors serving in a local church setting. But they all are a commentary on how the world and, therefore, ministry has changed.

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Modern ministry manual:

Chapter 1: When to call the cops, when to run for cover.

Ch. 2: Addictions: Everybody’s Got ‘Em.

Ch. 3: Breaking up a Fight at a Funeral.

Ch. 4: Kevlar, the Pastors Best Friend.

Ch. 5: Mental Illness: The New Normal.

Ch. 6: How to Tell the Difference Between Crack and Heroin.

Ch. 7: Is that Elder Packing Heat?

Ch. 8: The Tatooathon Youth Fundraiser

Ch. 9: The New and Improved Bullet Proof Pulpit.

Ch. 10: How to Preach a Sermon Without Offending Everyone.

Ch. 11: Xanax, a Pastor’s Best Friend.

Ch. 12: Yes, it’s a “Please Me” Culture; Now Get On With It

Ch. 13: When Your Board has Your Back, but they’re All Carrying Daggers.

Ch. 14: How much is too much therapy?

Ch. 15: Just Say “No” to Talking to the Opposite Sex (and to some of the same sex.)

Ch. 16: “Don’t take it personal but I hate your preaching!”

Ch. 17: Keep your hands out of the Offering Plate!

Ch. 18: Why You Keep an attorney on Retainer.

Ch. 19: Can I Write Off my Punching Bag?

Ch. 20: How to Baptize Cats Without Losing a Eye.

Ch. 21: 3 Points and a Tear-Jerking Illustration in 15 Minutes or Less.

Ch. 22: Think you can Make at least One Person Happy? Think Again.

Ch. 23; How to preach like Andy, Joel and T.D. and still be True to Yourself.

Ch. 24: How to Compete with Youth Sports, nice weather, bad weather, the beach, the boat, sickness, health and a thousand other things that keep people out of church.

Ch. 25; Leading People who Never Go Anywhere.

Ch. 26: When to empty your hate mail email folder.

Ch. 27: How to include every possible music genre in every worship service without anyone complaining.

Ch. 28 Yes, chronic insomnia is perfectly normal for Pastors.

Ch. 29: “Meat of the Word” Smoothies.

Ch. 30: Why people don’t believe it when you say, “your best days are ahead!”

Ch. 31 Preach the Gospel even if they kill you for it. And they might.

You get the idea. Ministry is different today than it’s ever been before. That’s because the world is different than it’s ever been before. I don’t think it’s necessarily harder than before. Recall, there have been Christian martyrs for 2,000 years. But for sure, these are unique times. Some of us are waiting for everything thing to get back to normal. My advice? Don’t hold your breath; it’s not going back.

Stay strong.

Don’t quit.

You are called to this moment.

God is faithful and He will come through. We don’t know for sure what that means but we know He will come through.

Hang tough modern pastor!

What do you think? Do I have a new Ministers Manual in the works?

Leadership Discretion Advised

Leadership Discretion AdvisedA few years ago, I posted a light-hearted social media comment about my favorite sports team that was headed to the World Series (go Cardinals!) I jokingly inferred that I might pray about getting tickets to one of the games. I thought very little of it (first mistake) and assumed it was humorous (second mistake.) Shortly thereafter I receive a private message from a colleague who is a few years my elder. He wisely advised me to consider the people I lead as regarding my recent post. His comments went something like this: “Recall that there are men under your leadership who are having a difficult time taking adequate care of their families because of financial limitations. Some are working two or three jobs to pay the bills. Also consider that these families sacrifice some of their income to send contributions to our denomination to support our leaders, like you. Considering the extreme cost of attending a World Series game, some of your team members may be offended that you are willing to spend so much money on a ball game when they can’t buy their kids new shoes. I would encourage you to use great discretion. You have influence, you don’t want to waste it.”

Wow! This man was a true friend that cared enough to share valuable wisdom with me. I received it and thanked him. That has been a couple of years ago but I still recall the conversation, often. I realize that some will come to my defense, will think that this guy should mind his own business and that I have the right to spend my money the way that I want. But, as a leader, I disagree. I must be conscientious. I must be aware of others. I must be willing to sacrifice some of my liberties if I am to be an effective leader. I must use discretion. If you feel as though what you do is no one’s business, you need to take a look at Biblical leadership and Christianity in general. We are responsible for and accountable to one another.

Just last night, I was making some observations on Facebook about a very popular football game. I was trying to make some life and leadership analogies by pointing out the failures of a particular player. You guessed it; some people were upset and offended. I now had three choices: defend myself and blast those who were offended, ignore those who were offended, or apologize. I chose the latter and removed my post. Like it or not, my role as a leader is more important than nonsense talk on social media.

As leaders, everything we do is examined under a microscope, as well it should be. The Scriptures tell us in James 3:1 that leaders (teachers) are held to a higher standard. Of course there can be excesses with this idea and some only want to place impossible expectations on those in authority. But the principle remains true: anyone who wants to lead must be willing to use a different filter for decision-making. Don’t misunderstand – there are issues of morality that we must defend regardless of who agrees. However, the nonessential issues that sometimes separate people are just not worth it.

Leaders are entitled to opinions about everything but it is immature and arrogant to share every opinion one has. As the leadership level increases, so the level of filter needs to increase. Think about this: you only get so much input into the lives of others before they lose interest or they tune you out. What kind of information is worthy of your influence?

I can be right. I can be informed. I can even out-argue some people. However, there is a bigger concern. As a leader, how am I influencing my constituents?

My advice to you? Use great discretion. By the way, you are entitled to disagree with my idea, just use discretion when expressing your ideas. I’ll keep working on it from my end.

Can I Talk You Out of Ministry?

design[32]When I meet with young folks who think they feel a call by God to do ministry, I’m sometimes not very successful at hiding my skepticism. I’ve had a hundred of these conversations. In my experience, many who think that they are being asked to enter full-time ministry, aren’t. Please understand, all Christians are called to ministry. Regardless of your role in life, God expects you to do great things for Him. But only a few are asked to be vocational ministers. We have seen those who mistake feelings of guilt or regret as a call. Others are experiencing a religious awakening and their fervor can feel like a pull into ministry. Still others think the ministry sounds glamorous and they relish the idea of leading a great church (and preaching to thousands!). The problem is, I’ve seen many of these guys who have gotten into ministry and it did not turn out the way that they had anticipated. A few weeks or months later, they experienced a change of heart and were no longer in ministry.

Here is a harsh reality: If I can talk you out of ministry, either you aren’t called or something else would have talked you out of it later. Either way, you wouldn’t have lasted. So I’m going to try to talk you out of ministry before you get started. Is that cruel? If it comes across that way, I apologize. And not being called into ministry doesn’t make you less of a Christian. It’s about knowing who you are in Christ.

When you are genuinely called by God to do ministry, no one should be able to dissuade you. When I was young wannabe preacher, I approached my then Overseer several times requesting that he place me in a church to pastor. I recall the passion in my voice as I nearly begged this man for a place to minister. I located an abandoned church that our denomination owned. It was boarded up and padlocked and had been for years. I felt like this was my chance. The good Bishop promptly disagreed and said, “if you want to pastor a church, start one.” For years, I was frustrated at this man because he didn’t see anything in me that was redeemable. Now I understand more about his approach and response. He was trying to talk me out of going into ministry – but he couldn’t. He only strengthened my resolve. I did start a church and I have been in ministry ever since. His words discouraged me but they eventually helped to reaffirm my calling.

If you think God is calling you into vocational ministry, you won’t be able to ignore it and you won’t get over it. “For God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.” (Romans 11:29)
You won’t be able to find fulfillment in anything else. You will be miserable until you are doing what God asked you to do. If you think you are called, here is what I want to say to you: start doing the things that reveal your ministry heart. Start serving others. Start being an example for others to follow. Work behind the scenes. Clean the church restrooms. Visit a widow. Cut the neighbor’s grass. Tithe 10% and give an additional 10% of your earnings. Pray through the night. Never miss a church service. Forgive someone who hurt you. Teach a children’s Sunday School class. These activities aren’t proof that you are called, they simple will be an opportunity for you to explore what real ministry is. If, in time, you are called by God to preach – you and everyone else will know it. Don’t expect others to pave the way for you.

If you can do anything other than preach and maintain your submissive relationship with God, I suggest you do it. I don’t say this because ministry is hard work – it is an honor and a joy. I say this because if you can walk with Christ without being a preacher, you’re not called to be a preacher!

Leading with Contrast

leading with contrastSome things to look for:

  • Being counter-cultural.
  • What if no one follows?
  • How should we to measure success?

Read: Matthew 5:13-16 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. 14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

My initial reaction when reading this passage from a leadership framework is to be reminded of the call to be an agent of contrast to the world in which we live. It is tempting to fall into a pattern of fitting in with our surroundings rather than being counter-cultural. Going with the flow comes naturally to most of us. As Christian leaders, we should not expect to be accepted or honored for our faith and we surely shouldn’t be surprised if our faith costs us. We have to be different and we have to be ready to deal with the fallout when we are different. The world doesn’t need us to be like everyone else – the world needs us to be like Jesus.

Jesus’ words are pertinent for leaders today because we struggle with the need for people to follow our leadership. We are called by God to lead others; when we do not have constituents, it is difficult (ok – impossible) to lead. The temptation when followers are few is to lower the bar of what it means to be a follower. Many leaders have come to the conclusion that if the rules eliminate people, we can just eliminate the rules. The problem with this approach is leaders become liable for misleading followers. We must never compromise our Biblical approach to leadership in order to gain followers. Remember, your success as a leader is not a matter of the numbers of people you lead but rather the life-change that is being experienced by those you lead. While this may not be a new revelation to you, I hope it is a refreshing reminder of our priorities and expectations as we move forward into an uncertain future.

What do we do with this info? My plan of action is to try to measure my leadership effectiveness, not in consideration of quantity but rather quality. Let’s avoid the trap of thinking that bigger is always better. A good analogy may be your choice of restaurants. You can chose a cheap buffet where you can eat all the bad food you want or you can chose a gourmet restaurant with world class food. If it’s one or the other (and if someone else is paying!), I’ll take the gourmet food every time. Hopefully, in life and ministry, it is not one or the other. I believe that if we are diligent to lead with contrast, God will take care of the increase of our influence.

Lead with Contrast. Be the difference the world needs.

Be encouraged and lead on!

4 Essential Elements of Leadership

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I am delivering this lesson tomorrow to a group of ministry leaders. Rather than limit it to one presentation, I thought it may be helpful to readers of this blog.

Leadership is a trust. I Corinthians 4:2 “Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.”

Like other spiritual gifts, leadership is a gift from the Holy Spirit. Romans 12:8 “if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.”

The spiritual gift of leadership is closely related to the gift of administration and, interestingly, the spiritual gift of pastor/shepherd.  The Greek word for the spiritual gift of leadership is proistemi.  This word means to lead, to assist, to protect and to care for others. http://www.spiritualgiftstest.com/spiritual-gift-of-leadership

The gift of Leadership is the God given ability to lead people to accomplish God’s vision and goals. The biblical image used when describing leadership is “shepherd”. A Shepherd does not force his will upon the sheep, rather he tends and cares for them. The sheep instinctively follow a good shepherd. Jesus describes himself as the “Good Shepherd”, and calls Church leaders his “Under Shepherds”. The “Under Shepherds” must faithfully follow the example of the “Good Shepherd” and lay their lives down for the welfare of the sheep (John 10:14-18). The person gifted by God with Leadership abilities, will display the same servant leadership principles evidenced by Jesus and the Apostles. (http://www.assessme.org/about/spiritual-gifts/leadership.aspx)

Like with others gifts, God expects us to nurture, explore and utilize the gift of leadership for His glory.

We have become stewards of the gift of leadership. We must make the most of it, as ones who will give an account to God. See the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30. (If you don’t use what you’ve been given you may lose what you’ve been given.)

Are leaders born or made? “Leaders are neither born nor made. Leaders are summoned. They are called into existence by circumstances, and those who rise to the occasion are leaders.” (Leonard Sweet – Summoned to Lead)

Let’s be the best leaders we can possibly be for God’s glory!

 4 Essential -(imperative, indispensable, necessary_- Elements of Leadership:

Note that the title is 4 Essential Elements – not THE 4 Essential Elements. There are many more! In his book, Spiritual Leadership: Principle of Excellence for Every Believer, J. Oswald Sanders lists: discipline, wisdom, decision, courage humility, integrity and sincerity, humor, anger, patience, friendship, tact and diplomacy, inspirational power, executive ability, etc.

  1. Authentic

(adjective: not false or copied; genuine; real.)

Synonyms: credible, real, genuine, legitimate, pure, reliable, trustworthy.

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Paul’s declaration of authenticity: “Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you.” Philippians 4:9

“Followers trust leaders to lead. When leaders don’t lead, followers stop trusting their leaders.”

There is no leadership issue more important than trust. Without trust, we are not leaders.

Trust is fragile: it takes a lifetime to build trust and only a moment to lose it.

For discussion: Name some things that can compromise our authenticity:

  1. Visionary

The ability to look forward to God’s plan.

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Leaders must be solutions oriented; anyone can point out problems, it takes a leader to fix them.

“The term vision is a key buzzword in today’s ministry world.  I believe that vision is vital to your people seeing what “could be” – what our great God can accomplish through them (Eph. 3:20) in your ministry community.”  (Aubrey Malphurs –Advanced Strategic Planning)

Leaders must 1) accurately assess the current situation of the group they are leading, 2) discern where God wants to take the group and 3) implement the best plan in order to get the group there.

Vision is not just a pipe dream. Vision isn’t fantasy. Vision is not wishful thinking. Vision is hard work, directed by the Spirit, demands great sacrifice, requires faith and embraces risk.

Three of the most renowned Biblical visionaries: Moses, Nehemiah, Paul.  Study their leadership!

Visionary leaders must have foresight. “A mark of leaders, an attribute that puts them in a position to show the way for others, is that they are better than most at pointing the direction to go. Foresight is the “lead” that the leader has. Once leaders lose this lead and events start to force their hand, they are leaders in name only.” Robert K. Greenleaf

Leaders, ask of the group you lead…

  • What is?
  • What could and should be?
  • What will it take to make it happen?

For discussion: What are some of the things that may prevent leaders from being visionary?

What are some Biblical responses to these things?

  1. Industrious

 design[29](Paul) II Thessalonians 3:7-8 “For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you.”

“A dream doesn’t become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work.” (Colin Powell)

It is reasonable to expect full time ministers to work 50 or more hours per week.

Make the distinction between selfish ambition and godly ambition.

“Pastors of 50 or fewer people – if you work and pray as though you have 100 people, you may soon have.”

We must guard against time wasters: (social media, non-essentially long meetings, extended lunch or coffee breaks).

It is necessary to not only work hard, but to also work smart. Learn to utilize tools and innovations such as the Internet, teams within the church, and resources from other pastors/leaders.

Be diligent in your work for the Lord. We cannot hide laziness!

 For discussion: What things might contribute to the reputation that pastors are not hard workers?

  1. Spiritually Deep

 design[27]

I Corinthians 11:1 “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” (NIV)

“And you should imitate me, just as I imitate Christ.” (NLT)

 

One of the most sobering identities of a leader: Example. People actually follow!

 Remember: As goes the leader, so go the followers.

“If the preacher always preaches shallow messages, the church members will never learn how to swim in the deep waters.“

It has been said, “Whatever you see exemplified in church members can be traced back to the pastor.” While there are exceptions to this statement, there are elements of truth to it.

A few indicators of spiritual maturity:

  • Stability – we will not be wishy-washy in our spirituality.
  • Humility – we think of ourselves less and others more.
  • Practicing sound doctrine – Not prone to flaky theology or bandwagon gimmicks.
  • Thick skinned (Not easily offended) – it is hard to hurt our feelings.
  • Faith – God has proven Himself over and over, we do not doubt Him!
  • Persistence – we refuse to quit.

For discussion: What must we do in order to assure our spiritual stability?

Conclusion:

Are you as effective as a leader as you would like to be?

In what areas is God speaking to you about your personal leadership development?

What is your plan of action?

Relational Leadership: Growing Beyond our Organizational Bureaucracy

IMG_021450 years ago, people were perfectly happy being treated like a number. Employees were expendable and assembly line workers were interchangeable. If you expected to be affirmed by your employee, well, that’s what a paycheck was for.

Today’s team members want to be valued beyond their monetary compensation; they rightfully expect to be treated with respect. Leaders can no longer be perceived as dictators. The days of the intimidating boss are fading and employees will no longer tolerate a company that undervalues their workers. In fact, most people no longer want to be seen merely as a worker or a cog in a corporate machine; they prefer to think of themselves as team members, vital partners, an important piece of the larger mosaic. Leonard Sweet says that, “people possess a desire for a higher purpose – a mission that will change the world.” By connecting with your organization, they can participate as a key component in a bigger mission.

If you are a leader, you must connect in a relational way with your team members. If your organization is too large for you to offer hands-on care for everyone, you must structure so that someone is doing hands-on care for everyone. Individuals matter!

Allow me to clarify a few things that are often mistaken for relational leadership:

  • Telling you what you want to hear. We must care enough to challenge one another to grow. Stretching is uncomfortable but a necessary part of personal and organizational development.
  • Always agreeing. Just because I disagree with you does not mean that I am a “hater”. Sometimes my love for you compels me to disagree with you. Relational leaders care enough to lovingly confront when necessary.
  • Presuming your leader to be all things to all people. We must have reasonable expectations. If your leader has 10 or more direct reports, she may not be accessible every time you need her. An extremely high capacity leader may be able to effectively connect personally with 50 or more people but you must not place them under extreme performance expectations as they relate to accessibility.
  • One-sided relateability. Relational leadership is a two-sided coin. If you expect your leader or team member to initiate every conversation, you need to further study communication. Two-way care is required. (Part 2 of this post will address relational followership.)
  • Organizational acquiescence. While modern thinkers need to know they have influence, they cannot expect everyone to instantly comply and conform to their ideologies. Regardless of how impatient we may become, deep influence and trust takes a lifetime to earn.

However, any leader that plans to remain effective must assume responsibility for building authentic relationships with their associates. People must know that they matter more than the organization. Regarding connectivity: as goes the leader, so goes the team.

We must grow beyond our organizational bureaucracy. In order for institutions to continue to survive they must embrace a systemic relational ethos. If you find yourself in a leadership conundrum where morale is low but angst is high, try making more relational investments in the lives of team members. Strategically and intentionally provide emotional equity; let them know you care!

You are important far beyond what assets you bring to your organization. Your value as an individual and friend far exceeds the contributions you make to the institution as a colleague, associate or employee. Relational leadership will affirm this over time.

On a more personal note, the organization that I serve (the church) is experiencing great transformation in the area relational leadership. Much of our structure is being evaluated and adjusted. We have as our model, the Lord Jesus Christ. He always put people ahead of the institution. In fact, the purpose of His structure was to serve individuals. The church must lead the way in growing beyond our organizational bureaucracy and embracing relational leadership.

(Len Sweet, Summoned To Lead)

Before You Decide to Skip Church (or 7 Great Reasons to Go to Church)

IMG_0184 copy(This article was originally posted on June 4, 2012 under the title, “I Go to Church.”)

I make a living in the church, actually through the church. Worship services usually happen in the church but they are only a part of what we do. I went to church before I was paid to go and should I lose my job in ministry, I would keep going to church.

I usually emphasize a missional expression of ministry, or carrying out in our culture what Christ tells us in the church. But today I want to discuss what I get out of worship services. In addition to the usual (worship, prayer, learning more about God, etc.), I find many personal benefits to regularly attending worship gatherings.  These things have nothing to do with my being a pastor. They have everything to do with me going to church services.

Here are some of the benefits I get out of church:

I encourage others at church. Many people don’t believe it, but their very appearance in a church service is an encouragement to other people. Obviously if you are not there, they will not get that encouragement. So I go.

I get to experience “the moment”. God’s Spirit works in unique ways while His people are gathered in a group. That moment cannot be recaptured or transferred. If I miss it, I just miss it. There is power in spontaneity. God might tell me to say something or do something for someone “right now”. If I’m not there, I will miss the spontaneous.

I get to use my gifts that are intended for worship gatherings. The Bible is clear that some of the talents given to people are given for the purpose of building up others while at worship. If I don’t go to church, I cannot use those gifts anywhere else.

I am made aware of the right-now needs of my church family. A simple look in the eye can inform you of someone who is hurting or frightened or angry. I can respond, on the spot, to that need. If I am not at church, I won’t even know of the need. So I go.

My fellow leaders speak into my life. Messages or sermons or teachings are the best counsel and advice that a pastor can offer. Watching on the Internet or on television or listening online is great, but it is not the same as in person. D. L. Moody said, “The difference between listening to a radio sermon and going to church…is almost like the difference between calling your girl on the phone and spending an evening with her.”

I am “in the know” with the immediate direction of our church. I don’t want to hear through the grapevine about something special that God is doing or a change that is taking place. I want to see and hear it first-hand.

I am able fulfill my responsibility as a member of my church. Among our responsibilities are: prayer for others when they need it, responding to crisis at the moment, providing support when it is needed, and participating in the forward movement of the church. If I am somewhere else, none of this can happen…until maybe later. Sometimes, later is too late.

These things cannot happen outside of the church, so I go. Often. I love going to church and my life would be incomplete without it. So I go. Whether or not I am a pastor, I go to church.

So before you decide to skip church, or before you allow something else to push your church service to the back burner, please know that your attendance and involvement is important.

Don’t miss something important. Go to church.

It’s Getting More Difficult (Ministry in the Modern World)

design[12]Experience should make your job easier. I am not finding that to be the case. The older I get and the more time I spend in Christian ministry, the more challenging it seems to become.

Monumental shifts in our cultural contexts leave the church in unfamiliar territory. While we once enjoyed the favor and respect of the community, we now find ourselves on the receiving end of rejection and even disdain. Worse than being rejected is being ignored. Because the Western culture has, for all practical purposes, abandoned a Christian worldview, churches that adhere to traditional Biblical tenets are dismissed as ignorant or hate-filled. Times are rapidly changing for those in ministry.

Because of these dynamics, ministry is not getting easier in America; on the contrary, we are facing greater challenges and resistance than we have in the past. Some Christian leaders are not responding well. Some of us are behaving more like Peter on the night of Jesus’ arrest in the Garden. We pull out our swords and lop off ears (in Jesus’ name, of course)! There are too many Malchus’ in the world. These are people who are suffering from the mis-reaction of Christians to social pressures. There is a time for us to leave our swords in their scabbards. (see John 18:10-11)

I have a few suggestions that may enable us to more effectively navigate these tumultuous waters.

1. Recall that we are not the first to be rejected for the cause of Christ. Matthew 5:11-12: “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

2. Maintain proper perspective. While we are experiencing new opposition to our faith, there are countless brothers and sisters around the world who are giving their lives for the sake of the Gospel.

3. Pray for those who persecute you. Some of the most difficult passages in the Bible have to do with loving our enemies. (Matthew 5:43-48, Luke 6:27-36)

4. Embrace the opportunity to minister to the world. When in the middle of pushback regarding your faith, pray for the chance to share the Gospel. “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” (I Peter 3:15b)

5. Remember, it’s not our fight. Jesus said, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.” (John 15:18) God is well able to take care of His business, don’t make cultural resistance your personal battle.

6. Be tough to the very end. Those who do so will be saved. “Blessed are those who persevere under trial, because when they have stood the test, they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.” (James 1:12)

I wish I could tell you that the pressure that ministries face will ease in the near future. I don’t believe that it will; in fact, I believe that it will only get more difficult. I can tell you that our current situation doesn’t catch God by surprise. He remains in control. He has promised to be with us. And He will be victorious in the end.

Hang in there, Child of God. Great will be your reward.

Healthy Church Staff Relationships (Or How to Keep Your Staff from Imploding)

IMG_0138Working well with other leaders and staff members is essential for ministry success. Having worked with paid church staff for over 20 years, I believe that this is more challenging than working with church members or volunteers. In fact, I think it’s generally easier to pastor 100 people alone than 200 people with a team. Because of this, some churches avoid hiring staff. I have friends who purposely keep their ministry small and manageable. I disagree with this approach and believe the benefits of working with staff far outweigh the challenges. On the contrary, I know a few smaller church leaders who can’t wait for the day when they have staff – so their jobs won’t be so hard. You, my friend, are mistaken.

Church staff relationships are tricky, to say the least. We must figure this out because if the staff is broken, the church is broken.

Here are some of the greatest threats to healthy church staff relationships:

  • Jealousy of the success of others (this reveals spiritual immaturity and insecurities).
  • Sharing limited resources (there is only so much money and volunteers to go around). Staff members sometimes fight over support.
  • Undermining others in an effort to look better. We must realize that, as a team, when one of us wins, we all win and when one of us loses, we all lose.
  • Ministry silos. Tony Morgan writes about how some church staff members divide and are only concerned about their specific ministry. http://tonymorganlive.com/2014/04/23/ministry-silos-leadership/
  • Lack of loyalty to the mission and vision of the church/senior leader. Some staff members have secret ambitions to take their boss’ job.

So, how do we prevent these threats from doing irreparable damage to our church staff?

  • Hire spiritually mature people. Regardless of one’s ability, if there is a weakness in one’s spirituality, it will reveal itself in a church staff setting.
  • Create open and honest communication among the staff. Freedom to address perceived issues will allow a staff to address problems as they arise, rather than allowing them to build up over time.
  • The primary leader must stay personally engaged with the staff. While another staff member may be the first point of contact on a larger staff, the leader must be accessible and in relationship with team members.
  • Personal as well as professional relationships must be intentionally developed. A staff that dislikes one another outside of church will dislike one another inside of the church.
  • Staff prayer is vitally important. This prayer should be scheduled, frequent and treated as a priority.
  • Required reading. The staff should read and discuss current leadership development materials.The church staff should celebrate individual victories as a team and mourn individual losses as a team.

These are just a few ideas on how we may prevent threats to the church staff from destroying the staff (and church). I’d be interested to hear your ideas. Healthy church staffs result in healthy churches. And God wants a healthy Church!

It’s Time to Simplify Church Planting

designMy church planting friends may think that I’ve regressed about 30 years. I have not. Possibly, I am looking ahead a few years into the future of effective church planting.

I am increasingly concerned with how complicated church planting has become. I’m afraid that, in our efforts to systematize the starting of new churches, we have eliminated a lot of would-be planters and new churches.

Think about it:

Sign up for two years of training, travel to conferences, meet regularly with your coach/mentor. Submit to multiple personality assessments. Raise $30,000 – $50,000 (cash). Build and train a launch team. Engage in the latest social media marketing campaign. Do a direct mail blitz. Rent a local school or theater. Have preview services. Start a church.

There are only a few people who can realistically comply with all of these requirements. Do we really believe that they are the only ones who should start new churches? I think not. I personally know guys who want to start a church but they are waiting for everything to line up. If we wait for everything to be just right, we’ll never start.

I am a proponent of building a solid infrastructure before launching a church. I have no beef with the very successful church planting organizations around the country. My concern is that some would-be planters are stuck because they think they can’t plant unless they are immersed in the process with one of these organizations. I think we have inadvertently overcomplicated the process of starting churches.

Eventually, the current church planting pot of gold will run out. All of the school auditoriums in town will be rented. Facebook ads will no longer be effective. I think it’s time to reconsider our approach. While stats prove that a strategic system increases the odds of success, I am not convinced that everyone fits into the mold.

I want to encourage any aspiring church planters who read this. Don’t allow the status quo to hold you back. “Best practices” are awesome but God is not limited to what is considered conventional thinking.

If you want to plant a church, try this:

Pray like crazy. Make sure God is calling you. Start meeting with people. In coffee shops, in your home, just come together for prayer or Bible study. You don’t need permission to get together with friends. If the group grows and the need becomes evident, you can start a church. Successful church planting is simply evangelism and discipleship that results in the need for a new church. Rather than starting a church so you can reach people, reach people so you can start a church.

Don’t worry if you don’t have a 6 digit budget. You don’t need a fog machine. No one has ever come to salvation in Christ because of the amazing countdown video your creative team produced.

Simplify.

I believe that in the future, the big production churches will suffer. People are looking for authenticity and relationships. That can’t be manufactured.

Just love people. If you can love enough people, you can start a church.

It’s time to simplify church planting.

Why Some Churches Don’t Grow

why some churches don't grow 2

It’s not a perfect science. Increasing the impact and influence of a church can be very difficult. We all agree that numerical growth does not necessarily mean spiritual growth. But it is vital that churches around the world reach more people for Jesus. The church is God’s “Plan A” to reach the lost – and we are surrounded by lost people.

Here are 10 simple reasons why churches don’t grow. The list is not complete and these reasons are not written in stone. This is not an attack on pastors who lead plateaued churches. I simply wish to provide some discussion for churches and church leaders who hope to grow.

No passion for growth. Some churches stay the same because there is no desire to reach more people. Possibly there is a lack of awareness or maybe there is a disconnect with the surrounding culture. Many churches seem to be okay with the status quo. It’s business as usual. The tendency is to rely on our abilities more than we rely on God’s miracles. Spiritual lethargy sets in and corrodes a church. Churches that do not want to grow won’t. A lack of intensity will ensure that we stay stuck. We must pray until we receive the fervor; it takes passion to get “unstuck.”

No strategy for growth. It is rare to hear a pastor say that he doesn’t want the church to grow. But without intentionality, a church is not likely to grow. Even when specific strategies are followed, there is no guarantee of increase. But no plan will quickly lead to stagnation. Rather than thriving, our goal becomes to maintain and survive. Have you outlined your blueprint to grow your church?

Unwillingness to change. Some churches know what to do in order to reach more people but they are unwilling to make the necessary adjustments in order to do so. We do the same things the same way – because of tradition. The past is more important than the future; our rearview mirror is bigger than our windshield. This kind of ministry atrophy is especially difficult to overcome. Lack of change will result in lack of growth. Lack of growth will result in extinction.

Lack of “know how.” Don’t believe the “experts” who tell you that church growth is a matter of taking “these 3 easy steps.” You can do certain things that will gather a crowd but true church growth is much more complex and spiritual than simply amassing warm bodies. Many pastors and leaders would gladly do whatever it takes to grow. Many times, church is a matter of doing the right thing the right way long enough that the results finally come. If you don’t know what to do, keep trying. And find out what to do! Leaders must approach the acquisition of this kind of expertise as a life-long ambition.

Intimidation about culture. The world is becoming a scary place for Bible-believing churches. There is now a level of resistance and animosity that many of us have never experienced. It can be easy to see the church as a fortress that serves as a safe place from the evil world. Jesus did not establish His church to be a hiding place. The church is to be a force in our culture. Only the ministries that are confident enough to engage our culture will impact it. Be bold! God has given you the courage you need to overcome.

Fear of increased responsibility. Some leaders dread the responsibility that comes with more people. Let’s face it – fewer people = fewer problems. However, God did not call us to an easy task. While a larger church equates to more pressure and stress, the rewards are that more people find Christ and experience the joy of being His disciples.

Desire to control. There are a few (or many) control freaks who must hold the reigns on everything that happens in their organization. Growth means shared responsibility and authority. Unless a leader is confident and competent enough to share control, new people will be a very limited commodity. A pastor who is in charge of everything won’t be in charge of much. Please don’t limit the size of your ministry to only a few.

Misidentifying relevance as compromise. This one is touchy. Some churches do not grow because they mistakenly think that if they connect with culture, they are somehow being less than true to the Gospel. This simply is not true. Jesus is always pertinent. The Gospel cannot be irrelevant. The church can, however, make the Bible irrelevant. Our job is to stay true to the Scriptures but to preach them in a way that makes sense to the people who hear it. That is not compromise, it is effectiveness. It’s what Jesus did and that seemed to work pretty well.

Ministry schizophrenia. This is where a church gets its identity from other churches. Whatever the next big ministry bandwagon is, they are jumping on! I am all for successful ministry models and I believe that there are principles that apply across the board. But God does not wish to duplicate in every church what works in well-known churches. Be true to yourself and to your calling. Know what will work in your neighborhood, and do it. Know who God called you to be and whom He called you to reach.

A lack of missionality. Churches that exist for their own good are doomed to fail. Inwardly focused ministry is a major turnoff for people who do not go to church. Jesus came, not to be served but to serve (Matthew 20:28); the church must give itself to God and to the needs of the people He loves. We are on a mission from God; if we fulfill it, our churches will grow.

Here is the truth about church growth: churches that don’t grow will shrink and eventually die. In our post-Christian culture, church growth is getting more and more complicated. We need to pray and work like never before. It is possible that you can pray and work hard and your church may still not grow. But we do NOT want to be the reason our church doesn’t grow!

Let’s get on with the responsibility of reaching the world for Jesus Christ. (Matthew 28:19-20).

Reconnecting the Church with Millennials

Reconnecting the Church with Millennials

We’re hearing more bad news about how young America feels about organized church. Thom Rainer published this article about young church leaders; it also reveals the brokenness that exists between churches/denominations and a major portion of our adult population. While it’s sort of good news for church planters, it’s bad news for everyone for several reasons: The church is God’s plan to reach our culture. If the plan isn’t working, we’re in trouble. It reveals a lack of grace on the part of younger people. My friend Travis Johnson recently preached, “Flaws and all, the Church must be a central priority of our existence as Christians.” We can’t expect the church to be even close to perfect. The church has a lot of good to offer young adults but if we aren’t on speaking terms, nothing will be shared. We shouldn’t have to learn everything by personal experience. Elders have practical wisdom that is needed. Millennials have a lot to offer the church but if we’re not on speaking terms… And one of the biggest reasons this is bad news is – too much of what Millennials believe about the church is accurate. The church can be irrelevant. The church can care more about maintenance than mission. The church can be myopic. As a denominational leader, I can unfortunately respond: guilty as charged!

So, how do we repair the disconnect? I think that, if these breaches are going to be healed, the church has to do a few things; here are just a few:

We have to go to them. I am bothered by people who say/think, “Here we are, if they need us, let them come.” The title of this article reflects a strategy. The church must take the initiative to reach out. In case we haven’t noticed, no one is beating our church doors down to get in.

We have to be willing to talk. This can be intimidating because many 20 and 30 somethings are accustomed to critical thinking. They aren’t afraid to ask the tough questions. Sometimes their attitudes can be perceived as arrogant (and sometimes they are). But these open and honest conversations must take place. These talks are not lectures. They don’t happen during the preaching – they are over coffee. And they may not conclude with a neat little box with a ribbon on top. These talks can be messy, but they are necessary.

We have to be willing to change. Robert Quinn says, “People must surrender some of their previous attitudes, behaviors, positions, and comforts for their organization to advance.” An attitude we’ve heard in the church is, “This is our church, if they don’t like how we do things, they can just stay away.” I’ve heard this or similar attitudes from people who claim to know the exact way that church should be done and are unwilling to consider any adjustments. Without doubt, this is wrong. While the Spirit of Christ will never compromise on the Word of God, there is great flexibility on the part of God when it comes to reaching people. I do not believe that we should ever change the meaning of the Bible, but our methods of doing ministry must change. A church that refuses to change methods in order to connect with the next generation will soon be a former church.

We must do more than just include. My friend Mel Stackhouse recently tweeted, “There’s a big difference between being embraced, and being included; being welcomed vs belonging.” Millennials aren’t stupid; they know when they are being placated. We must care more about people than we do the compliance of the people. They must be valued and respected. We must embrace them; they must know that they belong. And young leaders want to lead! While wisdom and discretion is required for leaders, let’s not wait until someone is too old and tied to lead before we empower them to lead.

Most of all, we must be real. By real, I mean authentic. There is little tolerance for hypocrisy in today’s culture. Churches that preach what they live and live what they preach will find a following. Don’t be afraid to tackle tough topics and offer real-life hope.

I understand the fears of the boomers/leaders of the church. We fear losing something we love very much. If we do nothing about how Millennials feel about the church, that loss is certain.

The 5 Hardest Things I’ve Done as a Pastor

The 5 Hardest Things I've Done as a Pastor

When you are a pastor, you have a lot of really great days. But you also have your share of bad ones. These are the times when your responsibilities force you into spots that you’d rather not be in. In thinking back over the last 25 plus years, I have mostly good memories, but some difficult times stand out.

Warning: the list below may not be what you’re expecting and it may be difficult to read.

The 5 Hardest Things I’ve Done as a Pastor:

Watch a child die. While we’ve had that unfortunate experience a few times, the day a little boy hemorrhaged to death while his mother held him in her arms is burned into my memory.
Inform two children their father had died. This is a conversation that no one wants to have. I still recall their response.
Identify the bodies of a father and his four-year-old daughter who died in a fire. The sight and smell created lasting trauma for me.
Watch a young leader and friend die a slow and excruciating death. I still argue with God about that one.
Preach the funeral of a 17 year-old suicide victim. There is no adequate way to prepare for that.

No, these events were not about me. But I was there. This is not an effort to garner sympathy. Of course, I did not hurt as much as the family members of these people hurt, but I did hurt.

Notice something about all of the above events – they all involved death. They did not involve a church fight or an argument over money or even a moral failure. Here is the purpose of this article: Sometimes the things that we think are serious are not. The things that really matter involve life and death and eternity.

I hope that the Church can begin to focus more on issues of eternity.

5 Ways Pastors Frustrate Church Members

5 Ways Pastors Frustrate Church Members

My last post, “5 Ways to Discourage Your Pastor” generated a good amount of interest. In keeping with that theme and in an effort to look at the other side of the issue, we are publishing this quick look at things pastors do that church members dislike. This is not a comprehensive list. It is not an attack on pastors. In fact, this list comes from my personal experience. The goal is to encourage both pastors and church members in ways that they can be more supportive of one another. The goal is unity in the church.

Here we go:

Don’t prepare for message. Pastors who “wing it” aren’t fooling anyone. Modern worshipers are savvy. They know when we have not given 100% in preparing for the message. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been preaching for 25 years; the church, and more importantly, the Lord deserves your very best. Pray, study, get ready! Preaching is a huge responsibility and it should be approached with utmost sincerity and preparation.

Preaching to those not in attendance. It is tempting to pour out frustration while preaching and many times it can be directed toward people who are not in the worship service. Here’s the thing: if the topic you are addressing only addresses the people who are not there, those who ARE there may regret their decision! Don’t preach your frustrations and do preach to those who are there.

Doing everything themselves. Some pastors are control freaks, some are insecure and some simply have not learned how to delegate. But many church members get frustrated when they see their pastor be the “jack-of-all-trades” at church. God has gifted every member of the body to contribute something of significance. Let’s let them.

Being unapproachable.
While it is not practical or even safe for all pastors to be available to members before and after worship services, no one likes to see a pastor whisked away after service like a celebrity. Pastors, make yourself available on some level. Remember that we are shepherds and we should know the sheep.

Make big changes, then leave. Name changes, vision/direction changes, building projects, incurring debt, hiring or firing staff…all of these big issues should be followed with an increased tenure on the part of the pastor. Don’t make someone else pay the price for your decisions. If possible, stick around and see the thing through.

To our former church members: I am sorry for the times I failed, and thank you for your patience.
To pastors: Do yourself and your church members a favor and assess this list. If no adjustments are needed, that’s awesome! If you need to tweak a few things, let me encourage you to do so.

By the way, this is round one. Another list of 5 is coming soon!

God bless you!

Photo by Jenny Kaczorowski

5 Ways to Discourage Your Pastor

5 Ways to Discourage Your Pastor

As a pastor of a local church for over twenty-five years, I had my share of buildups and letdowns. Sometimes I recall the discouraging times more. I know that I was not supposed to get down because of people and circumstances, but it happens. I also know that the people who discouraged me did not always mean to do so. But it happened.

The purpose of this post is to let you in on a few things to avoid (unless you want to discourage your pastor). If you are bent on discouraging him or her, here are 5 surefire ways of doing so:

1. Be a no show at Sunday service. Vacation, kid’s sports, sleeping in … pretty much any excuse for not going to church serves as a way to frustrate a pastor. Of course, there are legitimate reasons for missing church. But the general lack of commitment to the church by members is a major source of discouragement for most pastors. Here is why: non attendance is a statement that whatever we chose over church is simply more important to us at that time; that is discouraging to a pastor, and understandably so.

2. Don’t support the church financially. Statistics show that an overwhelming majority of church attenders give little (or nothing) to the church. Although they are limited in what they can say on this topic, pastors get upset about this for a few reasons. There are spiritual implications and consequences. Lack of generosity indicates a lack of gratitude to God. Lack of giving limits the blessings that God will provide for individuals and churches. It’s no wonder why Pastors get discouraged about this issue.

3. Don’t grow as a disciple of Christ. Good pastors will want to measure the progress of the church members. We preach, teach, pray and counsel with the goal of spiritual maturity for the people. While we see with physical eyes and spiritual growth is difficult to measure, it is frustrating to perceive people as stagnant and stuck in their relationship with Christ. It’s sometimes enough to make a pastor want to quit.

4. Fight progress and growth; refuse to accept change in the church; don’t welcome new people into the church. I once had a church member say to me of our church, “the smaller, the better.” Spiritual leaders take people on a journey. They are assigned by God to move people toward God. They discover where the church is and where God wants to take it. There is no such thing as a leader who remains motionless. When God places a vision for growth in the heart of a leader, it can be devastating if people refuse to go. Certainly, there are many conditions that are required which pastors must observe. They must earn the trust of the people and be able to discern the direction of the Spirit. But once this is realized, the refusal of participation by church members is one of the greatest sources of frustration that a pastor can experience.

5. Leave the church. Although many people approach church as consumers and change every time something happens that they don’t like, pastors hope for more dedication. When someone leaves the church, it hurts personally. It is rejection. Pastors suffer when people leave.

The list could go on…

Most people don’t want to hurt their pastor; I hope you don’t. But please don’t overlook the possibility that you may be doing so inadvertently.

Grace and peace to you!