Emotional Health and Ministry Success

A Case Study in Emotional Health in Ministry

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

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

How emotional health dictates ministry success:

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

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

So, what should we do?

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

A word about prevention:

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

Finally

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

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

A Changing Church

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Farther Away You Are, The Easier It Looks 

For the non-preachers among us. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be less critical.

Not take them for granted.

Pray more for them.

Take to heart more seriously what they’re saying.

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

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

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

 7 Ways CoVid 19 is Improving the Church

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

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

During CoVid 19:

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

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

This pandemic may actually become something wonderful for the Church. 

The Older I Get, the More Diligent I Must Become

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beware of Leaders Who…

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

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

Know all the answers.

Are quick to correct others.

Like to point out flaws.

Think they are the guardian of all truth.

Disrespect or dishonor others.

Are condescending to others.

Like to be in the spotlight.

Talk more than they listen.

Are cynical, sarcastic or cruel.

Are above correction, suggestions, input and collaboration.

Are politically motivated.

Are hot tempered, out of control emotionally.

Use people to get what they want.

Need to be in control.

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

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

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

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

Leader, Not Too Much Emotion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perpetual Pain for Pastors

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

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

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

Without judging anyone, I have some observations to share. 

Pastor, you may have unresolved hurt/offense if:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guardrails

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Blackberry Picking is Like Ministry

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some observations:

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

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

A Lesson in Succession

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Detecting Shifts in Ministry

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

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

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

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

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

I’m Concerned

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

Here is why this concerns me:

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

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

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

6 Ways to Provide Pastoral Care During CoVid-19

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Church: It’s Not About Me

In a culture that is driven by consumerism and self-gratification, it is wonderfully and deeply fulfilling to be a part of an holy organism that is focused on others. While involvement in church makes an eternal difference in our lives, we may be better served to consider our involvement in church a matter of benefitting others.

It’s not about me…

It’s about those who went before us – the trailblazers. They paid the price back then so we could have church now. They sacrificed and served, not knowing what the future would hold. And here we are, enjoying the fruit of their labors. My involvement in church is not about me, it’s about our foremothers and forefathers in the faith. We honor them when we go to church.

It’s about those who will come behind us. We are planting seeds in the ministry now that will one day be reaped by future generations. If I don’t sow seeds now, there will be nothing for them to reap. That is a heavy responsibility. My involvement in church is not about me, it’s about those who are not yet there. I owe it to them to pass the faith down. 

It’s about the people at the church. There are many good people, very good people that are the backbone of the church. They attend faithfully, serve and give, many of them year after year. They pray and work hard to see their church succeed. When we participate in the church, we help to answer their prayers. Believe it or not, your very presence at a church services is a major source of encouragement for other people in the church. 

It’s about our pastors and leaders. They work hard. They sacrifice. They give so we can receive. They pray and prepare ministry with us in mind. If I am not involved in church, I am missing the opportunity to encourage their work and serve them. Your Pastor and leaders are blessed by your commitment to the church. 

It’s about the surrounding community. Our churches are beacons of hope. When we engage in ministry with the church, we serve our community for Christ. If we are not engaged, our community will miss the hope that is offered. 

It’s about the lost. There are many people who don’t know Christ who may only come to know Him through the ministry of your church. Your faithful involvement in the church will help make the church more effective at reaching the lost in your community and around the world. 

It’s about the Lord. Without doubt, Jesus wants you involved in his church. He knows the church is not perfect. But He also knows that your contribution will help it to improve. Jesus is honored when we commit to His Church.  

Church is not about me.  Oh sure, I receive tons of benefits from my commitment to the church. But countless others are deeply impacted when I make church a priority. 

Let’s go to church!

What Do I get out of Going to Church?

This is an excellent question and one that is easily answered. The greatest thing you “get” out of going to church is that you get to give. Of course, you receive lots of encouragement and spiritual nourishment and fellowship when you faithfully attend church, but those who are really plugged in realize the amazing value of giving, investing, contributing and serving the local church. 

Jesus said, ‘it is better to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35) Casual attenders or those who have no use for the church will not understand the spiritual truths contained in this verse. Some treat the church like a free store – they take what they want with no regard for what it costs to provide those goods and services. Our human inclination is to take and not give; this selfish approach results in frustration and emptiness, and a desire for more. Those who discover the joy of adding value to the church experience an unparalleled fulfillment. 

When you think of going to church to get something, the Lord understands. He is patient with us when we need to mature in our faith. But His desire is that we will grow to the point that we participate in our local church family, not to receive but to give. We give our worship, our talents, our energy, our time, our financial resources. And God turns all of those investments around and makes our lives rich in every way. 

What do I get out of church? I get what I give. I reap what I sow, and so much more. 

Don’t miss this awesome aspect of commitment to your local church!

Do You Know Your Pastor?

How would you feel about a stranger speaking over you at your funeral service? Are you comfortable being married by someone you just met? When you have a serious prayer request, would you call a stranger? If you are looking for godly wisdom and advice, would you trust someone you only know from a distance? Is it a good idea to be discipled by a stranger?

We all need a relationship with a local church pastor. We should know them and they should know us. The work of a pastor cannot be adequately carried out by someone who doesn’t really know us.

If you’re out of church, get in. If you’ve grown distant from your pastor, get closer. If you think you have no need for church involvement, you will in all likelihood change your mind at some point. Make that point now, before you really need it.

Compassion is a Christian Virtue

design-62Throughout the Bible and throughout church history, the people of God, when encountering hurting people, are filled with compassion. When people are victimized or suffer the pain of a tragedy, Believers are touched with feelings of “sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others”: (dictionary.com) We feel empathy, mercy, sorrow, sympathy and tenderness. What we are not supposed to feel is: animosity, cruelty, mercilessness, harshness, hatred, indifference (a few antonyms of compassion.)

The Holy Spirit residing in us compels us to be sensitive to the needs of others. We are enabled to love and care about the conditions of the world and the people we meet. The unconditional love of God that has changed us, now operates within and through us. We love, not only in words, we love in deeds. This love produces compassion when we encounter suffering and pain in humankind.

Compassion doesn’t gloat in justice served. While we understand the laws of reaping and sowing, we don’t rejoice when punishment is served; we are sad that people have made the choices that lead to their punishment. Neither can compassion turn a blind eye when innocent people suffer. Regardless of the circumstances, when people are hurting, compassionate Christians are moved.

When people express pain, compassionate Christians don’t try to minimize the pain or change the focus of attention to another matter. Christians are supposed to listen, care, pray and act. If we do not, how will the hurting find hope?

Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:35-36)

Or course, there are Gospel stories where Jesus appeared to be harsh to people. He openly rebuked some, even calling them names. The folks He rebuked were not the hurting, the victims of the suffering. Those Jesus rebuked were religious leaders who thought they were better than others, they considered themselves to be superior. They were the ones who twisted the Scriptures to support their uncompassionate way of life. But Jesus was compassionate to innocent hurting people – and even to the sinners who had made bad choices.

Whether it is a person of a different political persuasion, a different religion or a different ideology, compassion is a Christian virtue and it is vitally necessary that we express it. “Black Lives Matter!” – compassion. “Covid-19 is a conspiracy!” – compassion. CNN, Fox News, Democrat, Republican, black, white, rich, poor…the world needs Christian compassion. Without compassion the world is hopeless; the lost will remain lost.

Prayer: God, by the name of Jesus Christ and through the power of the Holy Spirit, makes our hearts tender, create in us a new compassion for hurting people. Let the sensitivity and love of Christ be at work in the world through your Church and through me, a Believer. May we represent you well in these trying times. May the world see hope in us, in You.

My Official COVID-19 Positon

design-61I am a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That is my calling, that is my passion. With that calling comes a definite responsibility to fulfill the calling. I preach the Gospel. I teach the Bible. I help others spiritually. I serve the Church as a pastor and a leader. While this calling and role affords me a variety of opportunities, my primary role is as a minister.

As the Corona virus continues to wreak havoc on our world, I think we all examine our responsibility of response. Most of us are on “stay at home” orders or have recently been released. The emotional, financial and relational pressure that has resulted in this unprecedented time is gaining momentum. In my world, the Church is deeply impacted. I must position myself strategically to respond appropriately in order to fulfill my calling.

I am not an attorney. I could have been. One of my best friends who owns his own law firm once suggested I attend law school – he offered me a job. I am not a politician – and never dreamed of being one. I am not a scientist. I just squeaked through Physical Science in college. I am a minister.

We believe in the operation of Spiritual Gifts. According to the Bible, we are all called to serve the Body of Christ as a part of the Body. To me, knowing my part in the Body is vitally important.

During this COVID-19 crisis, I don’t plan to become a doctor. I won’t start law school and I certainly have no plans to enter politics. I am staying in my lane.

I have no doubt that the battle that we are fighting is spiritual, demonic in nature.  The death, suffering, mourning and pain are the work of Satan. The fear, division, anxiety and depression are the results of the work of the devil. Politics, law or science are helpless against the devil. The Holy Spirit is not.

The damage that Covid-19 is doing to the Church is serious. While our numbers are revealing interesting data (some churches are experiencing numerical increase), the emotional and spiritual results are not good. Women and men who are called by God to do the work of ministry are limited by restrictions. Pastors cannot fulfill their role. Parishioners are suffering from a lack of spiritual guidance. Believers are missing the joy of fellowship, the encouragement of corporate worship and the strength of the family gathering.

While I am actively consulting with attorneys, politicians and doctors (in order to form my opinions and actions), I am not bringing a knife to a gun fight. Why would I fight a spiritual battle using weapons with which I am not familiar? Why would I abandon the tried and true for the unproven and unfamiliar?

If I spend my time jumping into politics, who will do my job of spiritual leadership? If I start practicing medicine, I have abandoned my post. If I spend my time in court, who will fulfill my God given responsibilities?

Since this is a spiritual battle, let’s fight it the right way.

II Corinthians 10 For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 

Ephesians 6 12 For 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. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.

If you are an attorney, fight in the courts for the church! If you are a doctor or scientist, help the cause of Christianity in the lab, in the hospitals and in the operating room. If you are a politician, do what is right according to Scripture. I honor all of you, I pray for you and I support you.

But I must do my God-given job as a Minister of the Gospel. I’d have it no other way.

This is my official COVID1-19 positon. I’m not asking for you to agree, adopt my position or respond. I’m simply stating my position.

Grace and peace!

Church, What’s Next?

design-60Many Pastors, while still working hard on their online ministry are beginning to think ahead. What is next? How will this pandemic play out? Once we get back into our church buildings, how will the Church function over the next several weeks and months?

The “unknown” is the worst part. How do we prepare for a future that is uncertain? I think we can prepare by doing the painful work of considering worst case scenarios. Not expecting it or believing for that, but considering it. What will be the role of the Church if this crisis continues for 6 weeks or 6 months? 6 months on this trajectory would mean communities of hungry people, families in crisis, social breakdown and vast emotional trauma. Ask ourselves: If this happens, what would we, the church do?

We don’t like thinking like this. You might even think that I am having a crisis of my faith. But ignoring possibilities is not a lack of faith. Be reminded that many tried to, in the name of faith, ignore the possibility of the Corona virus in the first place. It is a spiritual leader’s responsibility to prepare for the future as much as possible.

Many are saying that our focus only on online ministry is shortsighted. We’ve got to be prepared to resource people beyond online services, and beyond getting back into our buildings.

I am finding that the churches that were more inwardly focused before Corona are having a harder time making the adjustments needed now. It’s difficult but not impossible. But my concern is, some churches have as their only goal, getting back into their building. While we cannot wait for that!, there is so much more we need to consider.

I think that it is reasonable to consider that we will never return to the old normal.

Let’s pray and seek guidance in what an effective ministry will look like in the future. I highly doubt that it will look like what it has in the past.

Don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. I’m so thankful for online ministry. And I’m very excited for the future physical gathering of God’s people. We need it so badly. But we also need to engage a hurting world with the hope we gain by coming together.

Without question, now is the time for the Church to lead the way in prayer, repenting, fasting and focusing on the Lord. I believe this is the primary starting point to discerning the best path forward. We must hear from Him! Come what may, God’s Church will be strategically positioned by Him to redeem this crisis.

Let’s be the Church!