Hiding Behind Servanthood

IMG_5262About 20 years ago, my father in law was visiting our church. We had a meal event after the service. As the meal was finishing up, I grabbed a broom and started cleaning up. He called me aside and told me that I shouldn’t be doing that, I should allow others to do the clean up. I told him that it was important for me to exemplify servant leadership.

But here’s the thing: I wasn’t being a servant leader, I was hiding behind servant leadership.

I am an introvert, so my first preference is to do something other than engage with people. I called it servant leadership, but in reality, I was in my comfort zone.

Servant leadership is not necessarily doing what others don’t want to do; it is doing what you don’t want to do, but need to do.

My father in law was correct (as usual). It wasn’t that I was too good to sweep up, it was that I was more needed interacting with people.

How will you serve? My advice is, find something that really needs to be done but you don’t want to do. Then serve.

Why Some Churches Die

design-15I’m Palm Sunday sermon prepping. Of course, included in the Biblical texts of Passion Week is the little understood phenomenon of Jesus cursing the fig tree. If you are not a Bible scholar, this “cursing” has nothing to do with inappropriate language. Jesus cursed the tree, in essence, killed it with His words, because the tree was not producing fruit.

Here is the Biblical account as provided by Mark:

“The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. 13 Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. 14 Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it. (Mark 11:12-14) “In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. 21 Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!” (Mark 11:20-21)

There is an obvious application to the religious leaders of Jesus’ time. Though perhaps not as obvious, there is a possible connection with this obscure event and today’s church.

Jesus expected that this fig tree should produce fruit. The purpose of the tree was to produce fruit. While it may serve other purposes (shade, nice to look at), without figs hanging on its branches, the tree was a failure. It was good for firewood.

Fast forward 2000 years. Many churches produce no fruit. The fruit of churches is Christ followers; disciples. Churches are supposed to produce more churches. While a church may serve other purposes, bringing people into the Lord’s Kingdom is its primary purpose. Jesus expects us to produce!

Could it be that Jesus has cursed some churches as He cursed the fig tree? There is no indication in the Bible that the fig tree represents today’s church. But there are indicators that if we don’t produce, we will be cut down. See: Matthew 7:19.

Of dying churches, Thom Rainer says, “Between 6,000 and 10,000 churches in the U.S. are dying each year. That means around 100-200 churches will close this week. The pace will accelerate unless our congregations make some dramatic changes.”

I contend that churches that decide to stop producing new Christians are dead already, regardless if they are still having services. But maybe the final death knell is the Lord drying the church up until it withers away – closes its doors. Maybe it’s a “chicken or egg” proposition: do churches die first and then stop producing new fruit or do churches stop producing new fruit and then die?

We may never know. But let’s learn the lesson provided. Let’s remain productive and fruitful. Let’s be purposeful and intentional about bringing people to faith in Christ through our churches.

p.s. Let’s not avoid the little statement in Mark 11:13 “it was not the season for figs.” Adam Clarke says, “It has been asked, ‘How could our Lord expect to find ripe figs in the end of March?’ Answer, Because figs were ripe in Judea as early as the Passover. Besides, the fig tree puts forth its fruit first, and afterwards its leaves. Indeed, this tree, in the climate which is proper for it, has fruit on it all the year round, as I have often seen. (Adam Clarke’s Commentary).

So there you go.

 

Hope for Dying Churches

Where Are The Young Leaders?

IMG_4998-1Moses raised up his replacement, Joshua. But Joshua did not raise up his successor, and the people suffered as a result. Let’s not make the same mistake.

We have a problem brewing. For a variety of reasons, there seems to be a lack of leaders coming up through our churches. Of course, there are some young women and men who are preparing themselves for productive leadership in their churches. But considering the great need that we have for leaders, the number of new churches that must be planted, and the age of many of our current leaders, we need many more young leaders! We are experiencing a decline in the number of young people that are entering the ministry; this trend must be reversed.

There are a few legitimate reasons for the decline in young leaders, but some of the reasons must be addressed and turned around. Some young people feel that there is no place for them in the church. They feel unwelcomed and unneeded. They are not included in the life of the church. Their participation is not encouraged. They are told that they must wait their turn. They are ignored. Brothers and Sisters in Christ – these things should not be.

While most of us love the young people in our communities, we can inadvertently drive them away from the church. When we criticize a generation for being different than us, we drive them away from the church. When we refuse to allow them a voice in the direction of the church, we drive them away. When we refuse to change anything in the church, we drive them away. When we look to the past more than we look to the future, we drive them away. When we disrespect a generation, we drive them away from the church.

God help us to turn this tide!

We all agree that God loves the young generation and wants to include them in His church. We simply must do whatever it takes to engage these young people as leaders in training. Here are a few practical things you can do:

  • Pray for the young people in your church and community.
  • Purposefully engage young people in the life of the church.
  • Build personal relationships with young people in the church.
  • Strategically identify young people with the gift of leadership.
  • Develop a plan, formal or informal, to develop the young leaders in your church.
  • Share leadership responsibilities with young leaders.

If the current trend continues, we will not have enough leaders to lead our churches and churches will close. If the current trajectory of many of our churches continues, they will close within the next 10 years – simply because no one will be leading or attending. Of course, we plan to change this course.

When I was a teenager, some leaders in the church pursued me and encouraged me to engage in the church. They recognized leadership potential in me and affirmed me. This changed my life. Can you do the same for a young person in your church?

Let me state: we value all people, young and old. The church family is made up of multiple generations. We cannot focus on one generation to the detriment of another. So let’s change the current direction. Please, young lives are at stake and the future of the church hangs in the balance.

God, help us to raise up a generation of young leaders!

Leadership Empathy

design-10What do good leaders know about the emotions of those they lead?

Daniel Goleman and Paul Ekman write and talk about the emotions of everyday people, leaders included. Goleman’s book, On Emotional Intelligence is a highly recognized and invaluable resource for today’s leaders (I believe it should be required reading for every pastor).

In a recent article, Goleman and Ekman detail 3 ways that a leader can sense what another person is feeling. Leaders who have a developed social and emotional intelligence are far more effective at leading others than those who do not. This concept is especially important to those of us who work closely with people who struggle or experience crisis. I found the information helpful in the continual honing of my leadership skills.

The first trait listed is “cognitive empathy,” which is simply being aware of how the other person feels and perhaps what they could be thinking at that time. Most people are able to read the emotions of others. Verbal and physical cues provide most of the data needed in order to identify the emotional state of others. However, leaders must be aware that, in some situations, being aware is not enough. This skill is appropriate when negotiating a deal or brokering a transaction. But in especially sensitive circumstances, others can perceive cognitive empathy as cold hearted, detached or non-caring. Depending upon the nature of the issue being addressed, cognitive empathy may not be enough.

When dealing with people in crisis, leaders should also display “emotional empathy.” Emotional empathy is when a leader feels the emotions of those they lead. It provides the ability to sense AND feel what is happening in the people around us. This is a vitally important trait for those in ministry, in helps industries, and especially for parents. Any married person had better master this skill! Of course, there are times when emotional empathy can hinder the effectiveness of a leader. An example may be a pastor who must provide care to a grieving family. If the minister cannot compose herself long enough to conduct a funeral service, they won’t be able to help the family much. There is a time to cry and laugh along with people, but there is also a time to maintain composure.

Ekman identifies a third element: “compassionate empathy,” which Goleman calls “empathic concern.” This type of empathy takes a leader beyond awareness and sensitivity – to action. We are moved to get involved. Once again, in crisis situations, this trait can be invaluable. Unless and until leaders regularly experience and express compassionate empathy, they are lacking a Christ-like attitude about leadership.

While we are not the Messiah, the Lord calls Christian leaders to not only be aware of and experience the emotions of those we lead, but at times, we are compelled to engage in helping to heal the hurting. James 2:15-16 provides thought: “Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food.  If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?” (NIV) Not every situation requires a leader to have empathetic concern (we would be in a mess if they did), but leaders must never lose the ability to feel and take appropriate actions.

As the world becomes more complex, the responsibilities of leaders follow suit. It is necessary for us to be aware of emotions, feel along with those we lead and know what action to take and when.

It’s not as easy as some people think. So let’s work on it.

What are we going to do about Illinois?

IMG_4837Rest assured. My wife and I love Illinois. It is an honor to live here and a privilege to serve the great people here. This is precisely why I ask the question above.

Those who live here will admit, Illinois is experiencing some real challenges. Recently, there has been a lot of talk in the news about the reducing population here. At the bottom of this article are some links that discuss the problem and they are the resources for data I used.

A few details shared are:

Illinois’ population has fallen for the fifth straight year. The state lost an estimated 45,100 people in 2018. In 2017, around 33,700 people left. That means more than 11,000 more people left the state in 2018 than in 2017.

From July 2017 to July 2018, more than 114,000 Illinoisans left the state, a total population decline of more than 45,000 people.

The population loss is intensifying.

Illinois is the only state in the Midwest that saw a population loss. More than 43,000 people moved to Minnesota this year and more than 30,000 moved to Indiana.

The most important numbers in the new federal statistics involve domestic migration — the number of people leaving Illinois for other states, such as Texas, Indiana and Wisconsin.

Since Illinois’ population decline began in 2014, the state has shrunk by more than 157,000 people. That’s equivalent to losing the entire city of Joliet, Naperville or Rockford.

The primary driver of Illinois’ outmigration crisis is prime working-age residents (ages 25-54) seeking opportunity.

The most important factor in Illinois’ migration problem is the labor market, which has been crushed by the state’s unfriendly tax policy and business climate.

A Southern Illinois University at Carbondale poll from 2015 showed that half of the Illinois residents polled would leave the state if they could.

The result of all of this data and information is troubling for those of us who love the Land of Lincoln. We are concerned about the future. We’re not sure what the future holds. And we regularly encounter people who are somewhat hopeless about any chance to turn the state around.

I realize, this is all fairly negative. But we believe in transparency: it is what it is. But hang in there; we’re about to turn a corner.

We believe that we are right where God wants us, and that changes everything!

What do leaders do when times get tough? They fight for what is right. When we discuss our issues, we’re not whining, where strategizing. Max DePree says that, “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality.” Illinoisans are not stupid – we know full well what is happening.

But there are times that the answers may not be as easy to identify as are the problems.

Of course, we need tax reform. Businesses need a break in order to compete. We must clean up our corrupt politics. We have to change the narrative about Illinois. We’ve heard enough of the complaints. We’re committed to develop solutions!

We’re developing a strategy to rescue Illinois. Sounds grandiose, doesn’t it? Too ambitious? Naïve?

Here’s the thing: we are convinced that our presence here is God’s strategy. He has a solid record of positioning people where they are needed. The good folks in our faith family are not accidents. They aren’t here by chance. God placed them as missionaries to a culture that is in great need of their ministry. A good many of them love their state deeply and wouldn’t leave (regardless of what the SIUC survey reveals).

If God put us here, He has some expectations of us. His idea is not for us to work toward tax reform or to clean up politics. His idea is for us to be representatives of His Kingdom in a place that really needs it. God sends us where we are needed most. If our communities were perfect, we wouldn’t be needed. If Christians abandon the tough places, hope will be lost.

We consider Illinois to be our Mission Field.

As such, our plans center around a few key ideas:

  • Act redemptively. Rather than moan and groan, we will talk answers. We have identified the reality, now we plan to change the reality. We won’t run away from the problem, we will run toward it.
  • Create positivity. Life is more than luxuries and comfort. Our intention is to make life better for people. Where there is a need, God will enable us to meet it. The culture and atmosphere will change.
  • Invest in the future. This investment is not necessarily in the industries of the state; this investment is in our most valuable resource – young people.
  • Intentional inclusion. Our leaders will commit to purposefully and strategically include not-so-likely leaders in our leadership processes. Those who have been marginalized or put on a shelf for a later date will be encouraged, even compelled to lead.
  • Create an atmosphere of hope. Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard said, “Hope is a passion for the possible.” We will be authentically passionate about the good things that are possible for Illinois and its people.
  • We are recruiting difference makers. While some want to leave, others want to be problem solvers. While most people run out of a burning building, there are always heroes who run in. Illinois is not burning, but it’s in trouble. It will take some very courageous and passionate people to rush in. I’ve signed up and believe many more are prepared to do so.

I’m extending an invitation. If you are currently living in Illinois, let’s join forces to make this state as awesome as possible. If you used to live here but left, the door swings both ways. Consider coming home to help in the renovation. If you’ve never been here, if you drove through one time, if you know a lot or very little about this great state, we invite you to be a part of something remarkable.

Anybody can jump on a winning bandwagon. It’s easy to ride the coattails of others to easy street. It doesn’t take character to inherit the fruit of others’ labor. But only a chosen few experience the thrill of helping to redeem and rebuild a really struggling state that has endless potential.

We have a team of gifted and impassioned women and men, young and old that is committed to do whatever it takes to save and redeem our state. They know that this is their mission field. They don’t expect it to be easy and they know it won’t be quick. They realize that they are desperately needed. They have zero intensions of quitting. You can join us.

What are we going to do about Illinois? We’re going to turn it around! Who is with us?

https://wrex.com/category/2018/12/19/data-shows-more-people-are-leaving-illinois/

https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/editorials/ct-edit-illinois-population-loss-madigan-exodus-20181219-story.html

https://www.illinoispolicy.org/illinois-population-loss-worsens-for-5th-straight-year/

https://foxillinois.com/news/local/45000-people-left-the-state-of-illinois-in-2018-12-20-2018

https://www.ilnews.org/more-people-leaving-illinois/article_5fec216e-0ae3-11e9-a136-7bd1db46ea6f.html

Rise Up and Redeem!

design-3I do not believe that politics offers hope for our world. I believe the Church is the Hope for our world, as ordained by God. The Church preaches the Good News of Jesus which is God’s plan of salvation.

While we are instructed in scripture to honor our leaders (Romans 13) and pray for those in authority (I Timothy 2:1-4), the Bible never instructs us to place our faith in politicians. But these days, many Christ followers are staunch proponents of political ideology, one side or the other. Is it possible that God wants us to change the world rather than believing that politicians will change the world? Is it possible that the church has abdicated our responsibility as redeemers of the culture?

I believe that it is time for Christians to arise and redeem! Redeem means to “compensate for the faults or bad aspects of (something).” (dictionary.com) It means to turn something bad into something good. Throughout the ages, God has appointed His people to be redeemers in their contexts. Let’s look at Joseph as an example. (See Genesis 37f) He struggled mightily with his family. His brothers rejected him for being a dreamer. But, in the middle of his crisis, at just the right time, God called him into action. He was utilized to speak to those in political authority. Joseph redeemed a horrible situation. He gave solid godly advice to a leader who was desperate. And his advice saved an entire nation!

Regardless of your political persuasion, you have to admit that the world is in a mess. Up to now, our government has failed at providing the kind of solutions for which we hope. Perhaps we Christians should start praying and positioning ourselves to be redeemers of our culture. If God speaks to us as He spoke to Joseph, we will be able to provide real answers, like Joseph did. But, we won’t be called upon unless we are prepared to say something of value. It would be a shame if, in the middle of a crisis, we are asked about solutions, and we have none to share.

Let’s not wait for our government to fix things. Of course, don’t stop praying for our leaders. And certainly we should vote and express our opinions. But more importantly, let’s hear from the Holy Spirit and share the solutions that our confused world needs.

Let’s rise up and redeem!

Let’s Own the Problem

design-1We frequently complain about the condition of the world. I often hear pastors and leaders grumble about the condition of the church they serve. Family members freely voice their disappointments with their family. Employees criticize their supervisors. It seems to be the way of the world.

But here is a thought: Let’s own the problem.

By “owning”, I am referring to the opportunity we have to accept responsibility, perhaps not for creating the problem (although at times we are guilty), but rather, for discovering the solution to the problem.

Sometimes, we like to remove ourselves from the work. We observe a big dilemma and the only answer is a lot of hard work – so we stand on the sidelines and shrug our shoulders. Or, we inherit a bad situation and it’s frustrating to see what a mess someone else has made. In these cases, it is easy to exonerate ourselves from responsibility.

I want to make 2 points very clear here:

  1. Leaders must be willing to clean up messes they did not make

and

  1. If you refuse to be the solution to problem, you are part of the problem.

Pastor, if you’ve been at your current church for more than 3 years, you own the problems, whether or not you created them. No more blaming your predecessor or the church members. If the church has a bad reputation in the community, repair it. If the leaders have no vision, train them. Politicians cannot continue to point fingers at the other party. We didn’t elect you to blame; we elected you to lead. If your neighborhood park is rundown, you can fuss about it on Facebook, or you can organize the community, raise some money, and go to work. Own the problem!

Keep in mind that God has a strategic plan for your life and if you are living in obedience to Him, He has you right where He wants you. Did He place you where you are only to be an observer? In His infinite wisdom, did He create you to be a complaining bystander? No, He put you in your current role so you can bring solutions to problems around you. You can no longer afford to be one who only points out problems – you must now be a solutions-oriented leader!

Moses didn’t enslave the people but God asked him to lead them out of slavery.

Joseph didn’t create the famine but God sent him ahead so he could rescue the entire nation.

Paul didn’t create the storm in Malta but God used him to save all 276 on board the boat.

Please notice that, in the cases above, owning the problem was painful. It cost the problem solvers a great deal. They suffered. But each of them accepted their role. And countless people were eternally indebted to them.

Let’s not minimize the cost of owning today’s problems. Let’s also not mistake this concept for becoming a “fixer.” You are not the Messiah; it is easy to get out of balance in your quest to bring answers. But within the proper parameters, one person can have an incredible positive impact on the dilemmas of this world.

One of the biggest responses we will hear from this proposition is: “the problem is too big for me. I don’t know what to do. It’s out of my scope of capabilities…” Keep this in mind: God can do anything. If you are on His side, if you are working on His team, He can bring the solution. But many times, YOU ARE THE SOLUTION! By this statement, I mean that God has placed the person with the perfect gift mix in the critical place to have the greatest impact in the process of removing of the obstacles that hold people back. You are that person. Let’s accept our role as problem solvers.

Problem solving is an art form. It requires great faith, vision and people skills. Not everyone possesses these gifts, so those that do must exploit them. Until we engage, develop and deploy these problem-solving skills, the problems will persist, and increase.

Keep this in mind: if you can’t or won’t engage the trouble, if you refuse to take ownership, perhaps God will appoint someone else who will.

Until we see ourselves as “owning” the issue, unless we take the reins to lead our way out of a problem, we will continue to make excuses – and the problems will plague us as well as the people we love. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Let’s own it.

A Bigger Leadership Plate

IMG_3641These days, leading ministry may be compared to the Thanksgiving meal we are all anticipating. We get a plate and start loading it up. When we run out of room, we get a bigger plate. If that plate proves to be inadequate, just grab the turkey platter!

Ministry leaders regularly fill their leadership plates with duties, responsibilities and expectations. When the plate gets overloaded, we generally try to increase the capacity of our leadership plate. This approach can become a dangerous trap! Too many ministry leaders have been victimized by the inability to say no to opportunities. A very frequent self description by ministry leaders is: overwhelmed!

Rather than grabbing an even more massive leadership platter, may I suggest we exercise some discretion? Learn to say “no” to some of the items being offered. Keep your favorites, but let some other things go. Find some responsibilities you can release – to someone who perhaps can do them even better than you. While these opportunities are important and you may love them, adding them to an already full plate can make you sick – literally.

Don’t let your ministry “eyes” be bigger than your ministry “stomach.” Be balanced, plan ahead, and be reasonable.

Unless you are a competitive eater, Thanksgiving will result in satisfaction and gratitude. If you have no restraint, you may find yourself enjoying a food coma.

Ministry leader, use restraint. Don’t get overwhelmed. Don’t allow the pressures of your calling and the expectations of others to overload your ministry plate. No one else can do this for you; you must take ownership of your ministry plate. Are you an overwhelmed leader? You’d better take control! Your discipline will result in healthy productivity!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Who Should Be A Pastor? (10 things a pastor must be able to do)

There are a few jokes about the perfect pastor that continue to make the rounds:

35 years old with 30 years experience.

Doesn’t dress too flashy or too trashy.

Has a lovely but modest wife, and 1.5 well-behaved children.

Can preach, teach, sing, play, administrate, cut grass, clean toilets, visit all the sick and elderly, attend all the church kids school plays and ball games and find time to pray for 3 hours every day.

These are jokes.

But it’s not funny when we see a person trying to serve as a pastor when they lack some basic necessary gifts and abilities.

From my 30 plus years in ministry, I have a few (10 for now) indispensable skills a successful pastor must possess. Please, let’s take some for granted. In other words, don’t scold me for omitting praying or whatever. These things are obvious. The points I want to cover may not be as obvious.

1. Must be able to personally lead someone to Christ. It is shocking to learn that some pastors have never led anyone to salvation outside of a church service. If the pastor doesn’t, the people won’t.

2. Must be able and willing, even eager, to work hard. Sometimes the work is manual, sometimes it is intellectual, but it is always strenuous. In my opinion, pastors cannot work less than 50 hours per week on average if they hope to build a growing, effective church. While we must prioritize our family and health, excessive television, golf, napping or any other “recreation” is a sign of slothfulness. Please don’t be guilty of adding to the “lazy preacher” perception. Of course the above numbers are considering full time pastors.

3. Must be humble. Arrogance, pride and an inflated ego by a pastor will destroy a ministry quickly. Get over yourself.

4. Must be a learner. Whether the education is formal or informal, there is no space for intellectual anemia. You never know it all so learn until you die. You speak on behalf of God; know what you’re talking about.

5. Must not be a racist. Now, this should be a given, but it is not. Pastors cannot discriminate against people of other races or nationalities. Mistreating anyone is not allowable. If you cannot love all people equally, and minister to anyone, you disqualify yourself from effective ministry, and perhaps Christianity altogether.

6. Must be compassionate. Some score higher on the mercy scale than others, but a hard-hearted pastor is an oxymoron. Shepherds must care.

7. Must value other generations. If you can only lead people who are close to your age, you have a very limited harvest field. If multigenerational ministry doesn’t come naturally to you, work on it. The long term effectiveness of your ministry is at stake.

8. Must not fall in love with methods, style or genres. If you simply must preach a certain way, or if you only allow a certain type of worship music, or if you insist that church ministry be conducted in your preferred method, perhaps there is an ownership problem. The ministry does not belong to you; the ministry belongs to the Lord. God never changes. But times change, people change, and what’s effective in ministry changes.

9. Must be accountable to and for others; must be responsible to and for others. Independent pastors (those who answer to no one) are operating outside of biblical guidelines. Followers should not follow this type of a leader.

10. Must be able to increase the impact of the church they serve. If a pastor cannot lead the church to grow, the church will die. A pastor that leads a church to die isn’t a good pastor.

Well, there is the list of 10. Of course, there are tons more, perhaps they will come in the future. In the meantime, pastor on!

Poison for Pastors

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Socrates’ hemlock.

The Borgia family’s arsenic.

Claudius’ “nightshade.”

These are some famous poisons and the victims done in by them.

Their effects were swift, and effective. The poison did its job; the people died.

Just as sure as these historical figures were contaminated to death, modern pastors are being poisoned. Hopefully the Deacon Board is not involved! Yet subtly and painfully, the toxins are working to destroy the hearts and lives of countless ministers of the Gospel.

We may assume a pastor’s poison to be sexual or involving money or some other type of moral corruption. But the venoms I am concerned with today are perhaps more subtle, yet more common. They do not destroy the organs like the chemical poisons do; rather, they destroy the spirits, hearts and souls of their victims.

Let’s discuss 3 very common enemies (poisons) of today’s ministers.

Cynicism

While not as newsworthy as an illicit affair, cynicism has destroyed more than it’s fair share of pastors.

Cynical is defined as: distrusting or disparaging the motives of others; showing contempt for accepted standards of honesty or morality by one’s actions, especially by actions that exploit the scruples of others. Bitterly or sneeringly distrustful, contemptuous, or pessimistic.

If you’ve met a few ministers, odds are you’ve seen this on display. A cynical attitude is impossible to hide. It usually shows up when others are optimistically discussing a concept, a new idea, or a vision for the future. Cynics have lost the ability to trust. So they reject optimism as impossible or unlikely.

The reason so many pastors become cynics is simple: they have endured too much disappointment.

Skepticism

Closely related to cynicism is skepticism. A skeptic is “a person who maintains a doubting attitude, as toward values, plans, statements, or the character of others.” They question the authenticity and validity of things that others believe to be accurate and trustworthy.

It is easy for a pastor to become a skeptic. They may still hold to the integrity of the Scriptures (although some do not) but the behaviors of the people around them have caused these Pastors to learn to doubt. Mistrust is a rallying cry for many in today’s culture. There is no benefit of the doubt; people are guilty until proven innocent.

It is sad to see good leaders project such a negative and poisonous attitude. But it is common.

Following closely behind cynicism and skepticism is:

Sarcasm – “a harsh or bitter derision or irony.” Sarcasm is made visible with a sneer, with a cutting remark or with a verbal taunt. Sarcastic leaders are dangerous in that they often openly share their sarcasm. I have heard more than one preacher reveal his sarcastic heart while preaching the Word of God. It is not a pretty sight.

Though these poisons are different, they share the same source – pain.

Leading is painful. Leaders get hurt. It is impossible to avoid the pain that is associated with leading. So the solution is not to hide from pain.

In my opinion, there are 2 approaches to protecting ourselves against the poison of pastors:

Prevention and antidote.

Pastor friends, please protect yourself, not from the pain of leading, but from the hardening of your heart that comes as a result of the pain. You already know Proverbs 4:23, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” Keep your heart safe. Keep it tender. Keep it vulnerable. But keep it free from poison. If you fail to keep the poison out of your heart, you ministry, life and future will be contaminated.

But the truth is, many of us are in need of the life-saving antidote. We’ve already been poisoned and we are feeling the effects. We’re now searching for remedies. We need an antitoxin to nullify the effects of skepticism, cynicism and sarcasm.

The antidote for these poisons is the Holy Spirit. He can make all things new. He can heal our brokenness. Only the Holy Spirit can reverse the effects of these soul toxins.

Leaders, if we do not address these issues, the outcome will not be good. Not only will we destroy ourselves but others will also suffer.

  • Cynical leaders lead bitter followers.
  • Skeptical leaders produce faithless followers.
  • Sarcastic leaders develop hopeless followers.

We can and must do better. If you need help, reach out. You’re not alone.

Prayer: Father, make our hearts tender before you. Heal our brokenness. Forgive us for becoming hardhearted. Remove the poison from our systems. Teach us to love and trust and serve once again. And protect us from future attacks of these dreaded poisons. In Christ’s name, Amen.

(all definitions from dictionary.com)

How Can We Get More People at Church?

32327067_10156408424934214_8372441171867205632_nWe beg, we plead, we guilt trip and we promote. Still, the vast majority of people in our communities will never set foot in our churches. Some statistics reveal an all-time low in church attendance. We can blame the people – their priorities are wrong and they don’t love God. Or we can consider offering a more “entertaining” worship experience. But does this actually solve the problem?

I talk with Pastors who get discouraged when they put on a community event on Saturday and no one from the event shows up at the church the next day. The reason they aren’t there on Sunday is because you invited them to an event on Saturday. If you can connect the event with an actual worship service, your numbers may increase. But we still may not see the long term result we desire.

In my opinion, the best way to get people to attend your church is to minister to them before they attend. By “minister”, I mean actually making a difference in their lives. I’ll talk about that more in a moment.

We must understand that “hyping” a worship service probably doesn’t help in the long run. Without coming across as critical, some churches appear to prefer a hard sell approach. Making all kinds of promises about having the most exciting service in town is counterproductive. It may result in a quick bump in attendance but eventually people will tire of the hype. Additionally, if you try to impress people into coming, you’ll then have to impress them to keep them coming. And I have visited the website of a church I planned to visit. The pictures portrayed an exciting atmosphere and the verbiage described an energetic and life-transforming ministry experience. Then I visited the church. Let’s just say that some churches may get sued for false advertisement.

Big promises had better be fulfilled or irreparable damage could be done. But big promises, even fulfilled, don’t necessarily result in more people showing up at church.

Here is a key to this entire topic: more people at church shouldn’t be the goal. More ministry is the goal. And more ministry results in more people in church services. So everybody wins.

Let’s understand that people simply coming to church may not be the solution. For the average person who is unfamiliar with church, the idea is frightening. They don’t know what’s going on, they are uncomfortable and the experience can feel awkward. And once the service concludes, they hightail it out of there. So, they’ve, “been there and tried that”, with no plans of coming back. All that work to get them there is wasted.

Now let’s get back to ministering to people before they arrive at church. This is almost always accomplished in relationships. Pastors must know people outside the church. They should be involved in the community. They should have friends that don’t attend their church. Church members and leaders should be fully engaged in community life. This means we can’t spend all of our time at the church.

So Pastors, ministry leaders and church members: think about who you know outside of the church. Now, what needs do they have that you can address? Pastor, they probably don’t need you to write and deliver an excellent sermon and they won’t be impressed by your level of ministerial credentials. Your advanced degrees mean very little to anyone other than you. Church leaders and members: hurting people in the community are not looking for another commitment or something to do on Sunday morning. People need something more.

At the risk of putting off some, let me use some alliteration to make my point.

If you hope to minister to more people, embrace the “3 C’s.”

Connect: Get to know people. Don’t stay in your church building. Get out into the community. Know and be known.

Care: People can spot ulterior motives a mile away. If you are connecting with someone just so you can get them into your church, well – please don’t. Genuine care is impossible to fake and impossible to ignore.

Compassion: Connecting and caring is motivated by true compassion. Everyone needs it. As spiritual shepherds, Pastors must be moved by hurting sheep. Church members who practice grace and mercy are a church’s greatest advertisement. Compassion opens the door to effective life-changing ministry, and at times, is ministry itself.

I believe that, at this time in our culture, more people are being brought to Jesus outside of the church building than inside. This certainly is the New Testament model for evangelism. If we lead people to Christ before they even arrive at church, our desire to assimilate into the family them will be easier.

We all want a full church. But more than that, we want people to know and love the Lord. The best way to see this happen is to love people right where they are. Think about it; it’s what Jesus did for us. He didn’t wait for us to come to Him – He came to us!

Be blessed!

Not Everyone Wants You to Succeed

30705103_10156353004229214_3194911651212840577_nMost people in the church are good. The vast majority of the people whom I have served as a pastor or in ministry in general had pure motives and could be trusted. But there are a few, just a minority, that seek to destroy, or at least are happy when destruction comes.

A church member once told me that she has purposefully not spoken to me in 2 months. She wanted to see how long it would take me to approach her. She was testing me – and I failed. Apparently she couldn’t take it any longer and let me know that I messed up. I apologized for my oversight. I hadn’t neglected her on purpose. There were about 500 other people in the church with whom I was trying to interact. Clearly, she wanted me to fail – she set me up – and it worked.

As a college student, I worked part time as a church janitor. For the record, this was the best ministry training I ever received. One of the Deacons secretly placed a toothpick in the corner of the restroom floor as a way of checking to see if I was doing my job. Thankfully, I had been doing my job and the Deacon let me know. But I often wondered what other traps he had set for me.

Once again, most folks are good folks and want others to succeed. But there are a few snakes in the grass. They are the saboteurs; the underminers. They set traps and lurk in the corner, waiting for the next victim.

What is the motivation for this type of behavior?

Some want others to fail because it makes them feel better about their own failure.

Some want us to fail so they can swoop in like a vulture to steal away what we have worked for.

Some are wicked and seek to destroy anything good.

Clearly, these people are dysfunctional. And they can ruin the lives of others.

What are we supposed to do about this?

Guard yourself! Be aware that not everyone is on your side, even if they repeatedly say they are.

Be slow to trust people. Don’t place your reputation in the hands of unproven individuals.

Work hard so as to remove any opportunity for these people to try to make you look bad.

But more than any of these things…

Keep your heart soft and your spirit tender.

My motivation for writing this article is to try to help prevent colleagues from becoming bitter about the pain they endure. Too many leaders who have been in the game for a while get injured. They drop their guard and get blindsided. The result is, they become overly sensitive, defensive and suspicious. Over time, the heart becomes calloused. This is an attempt at self-preservation but the result is self-destruction.

When we begin to expect the worst out of people, this is what we will experience. Let’s understand the concept of self-fulfilling prophets. They are the people who state that a project or person will fail – and they do everything in their power to assure that they are correct. If we are not careful, we can adopt this as a leadership style. If we expect people to stab us in the back, we can create the opportunity for that to happen. Don’t allow your pain to provide ammo for those who are trying to hurt you more.

Don’t allow yourself to expect the worst. Don’t get bitter. Forgive those who hurt you, even if they don’t want or deserve it.

If you can survive the attempts to make you fail, your success rate will increase. But more importantly, you will maintain a pure heart, which is vitally important for success. In fact, these days, having a pure heart may be THE definition of success.

Add to all this, the knowledge that God wants you to succeed! So much so that He provides a surefire way to insure it:

Study this Book (the Scriptures) of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do.” Joshua 1:8 (NLT)

People Don’t Quit Churches; They Quit Pastors

27973493_10156191704034214_6689077253968786515_nA few years ago, I arrived at the church to prepare for the morning worship service that was scheduled to begin a few hours later. As I walked across the platform, I noticed a piece of paper on the piano. I picked it up and read a note from the piano player explaining that they would not be back at the church. This was the first I had heard of it. We went ahead with the service; the lady and her family left the church. (However, they did come back and leave several more times in following years!)

Having served as a local church pastor for over 25 years, I have had more than my share of people who left the church I was serving. I am ashamed of the number of people who quit the church under my leadership. It was never pleasant, it always hurt and, with the exception of a couple of very dysfunctional people, I was very sad as a result of their departure.

In the numerous conversations that took place around these departures, most of the talk centered around the concept of people “leaving the church.” Usually people just stopped showing up. A few times, they informed me personally why they were leaving. I have received emails, text messages and phone calls telling me they were quitting the church. Facebook messenger, grapevine and cryptic messages on the church answering service have also worked well. But I can’t recall anyone telling me that they were quitting me, the pastor. But in essence, that is what many of them did.

Complaints by those who leave a church vary. Some involve talk about the music; others cite the lack of programs for their kids. Conflict is a major cause of people leaving the church. Rarely does doctrine come into play. On most occasions, it’s an issue of style or preference or opinions about the operation of the church. The reason I say that people leave a pastor rather than the church is, all of these things are (or should be) under the influence of the primary leader – the pastor. While the pastor shouldn’t run everything in the church, as the primary leader, their philosophy is, in most cases, most predominant. Most people who leave, leave the Pastor.

As a Lead Pastor, if there is an issue in the Youth Ministry, it is my issue. If the music is bad, I own it. If the nursery is dirty, I am to blame. Of course, I am not a proponent of the Lead Pastor doing all of the work. In fact, a micromanaging pastor is a reason why some some leave a church. But the Pastor must provide a level of leadership that influences the entire church.

Regardless of how many people tell me, “don’t take it personally”, it is very personal when people leave. When you pour your life into a group of people, it is silly to think that it is not personal; of course it is. Today, as a church denominational leader, when someone leaves our group, it is personal. People don’t leave our movement; they leave the leader. It’s personal for everyone – if it’s not, your heart has already departed.

I’ll never get accustomed to the pain of losing people. If I do, I am in dereliction of my duty. I can’t fix everything. And sometimes people need to leave a church. But let’s not try to fool ourselves into believing that, in many cases, the pastor is not responsible.

For clarification, I am not writing this blog post to make pastors feel even worse than they already do. That is the farthest thing from my motivation. I am writing this to let people know, leaving a church is a very painful and personal issue for many people. It hurts. Please don’t leave assuming it doesn’t matter to anyone; It does. If a pastor is being honest, it hurts them deeply. I hope we can see a way to avoid this trend – and yes, it is a trend. My advice would be to engage in healthy communication with the pastor long before you make a decision to leave. Perhaps it won’t work, but just maybe it will.

And finally, Pastors, I love you, but we must own this concept. We simply can’t exonerate ourselves when numerous people leave the church. You may not be directly to blame but, as the shepherd, you are in most cases responsible if the flock scatters.

How about if we stick together and work toward making the church as good and effective as it can possibly be?

Can Kickers, or the Hezekiah Syndrome: Selling out Future Generations

27459680_10156150146009214_7268989353369031812_nIt’s commonly referred to as “kicking the can down the road.” This is when a leader refuses to deal with an issue that will have negative ramifications – later. The idea is, as long as I am gone when everything hits the fan, I’m good with that.

One of the most notorious cases of “can kicking” happened a few thousand years ago. The Bible tells the story of King Hezekiah who foolishly showed off all of the national treasures to visitors from a distant land. Isaiah (who was a prophet) addressed the trouble that would come as a result of Hezekiah’s mistake:

Then Isaiah spoke to Hezekiah, “Listen to what God has to say about this: The day is coming when everything you own and everything your ancestors have passed down to you, right down to the last cup and saucer, will be cleaned out of here—plundered and packed off to Babylon. God’s word! Worse yet, your sons, the progeny of sons you’ve begotten, will end up as eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.”19 Hezekiah said to Isaiah, “If God says it, it must be good.” But he was thinking to himself, “It won’t happen during my lifetime—I’ll enjoy peace and security as long as I live.” (II Kings 20:16-19 MSG)

This is a little shocking. How, in good conscience can a king show such disregard for his family and descendants?

Take another look: Hezekiah said to Isaiah, “If God says it, it must be good.” But he was thinking to himself, “It won’t happen during my lifetime—I’ll enjoy peace and security as long as I live.” In other words, I really don’t care about what happens to people in the future – I’m OK.

Prototypical “kicking the can down the road!”

In a nutshell, here is the root of the Hezekiah syndrome:

Selfishness: when leaders care more about their wellbeing than that of those they lead, the phenomenon occurs.

Shortsightedness: when leaders can’t anticipate the long-term results of their decisions, those in the future may suffer.

When leaders don’t care about those who will come behind them, careless and even cruel decisions can be made.

When leaders are too weak to make decisions that are good for their progeny, the Hezekiah syndrome will reveal itself.

And this last “root” is worth focusing upon.

It is possible that leaders in 2018 may make decisions (or refuse to make decisions) that will hurt their children, grandchildren and many generations to come. If I am hurting the future by ignoring an issue today, shame on me.

If you are a leader and you observe a problem that may hurt others down the road, and if you have the capacity to address that problem, it would be a dereliction of duty to let it go. True, the results may not come about on your watch but it is immoral to be able to prevent future pain and not do so.

Leaders, our children need us to be strong. Our grandkids are counting on us having a backbone. If we see a problem that is fixable, fix it!

Now, apply the principles of the Hezekiah syndrome to your family, your business, your church, your community, your country… Your descendants will thank you!

What if My Church isn’t Spiritual Enough?

designIf you’ve been attending a church for any significant length of time, you’ve experienced it: the service where nothing seems to flow. It feels tight. The music isn’t engaging, the sermon is dry, the crowd is down, and it feels like you’re just going through the motions rather than entering into the presence of God. I think this type of experience is inevitable although we should never accept it as OK. But what if this type of service has become the norm? What should one do if the spiritual climate of the local church is tepid at best. Long stretches of dead services are a sign of real trouble for a church. What if my church isn’t spiritual enough for me?

How long has it been since someone came to Christ in your church? How long since there has been a significant move of the Holy Spirit? I am not talking about a “feel good” service where everybody was happy. I mean a time when God was so evidently present that everyone knew it, and responded, and lives were changed. I think a key question that church leaders should ask, without fail, while evaluating the effectiveness of a worship experience is: did the people encounter God? If they did not, it’s time for something to change!

The truth is, too many churches are stuck is a rut of mundaneness. Week after week nothing remarkable occurs. The people have stopped expecting anything to happen. There is no sense of urgency, passion has faded and everything is predictable. We might describe the church as “not anointed”, boring, cold, or, as a former pastor used to say, “dry as cracker juice!”

What if my church isn’t spiritual enough for me? What should we do when this happens?

I would like to approach this topic from the perspective of a church member. Perhaps later I will address church leaders and pastors on the subject.

In my opinion, a key mistake many of us make is to perceive the church as an organization. It can easily appear as another institution. While it may be reasonable to do so, we must see the church as something so much more.

God strategically established the church as an organism; the living breathing Body of Christ. The Apostle Paul goes to great lengths to explain the deep spiritual nature of the church and he utilizes the body metaphor to do so. When we gather on Sundays for corporate worship, it is so much more than another institutional meeting. God has summoned the Body of Christ to gather for the purpose of worshiping Him!

There are many reasons why this body metaphor is important, especially when considering the dry times that we inevitably experience. Among the greatest reason is – we each play a key role in the health of the Body of Christ.

Regarding church services, there is a huge difference between spectators and participants. Worship was never intended to be a “spectator sport.” Of course, ministers play a key role in leading worship services but the Bible identifies little if any distinction between clergy and laity. Everyone in the church should play a key role in church services.

Think of it this way: your spiritual development is not primarily your pastor’s responsibility. While they are to shepherd you, you must assume the responsibility for your own discipleship. This is also true when it comes to worship services. Sure, the pastor leads but if folks don’t follow, it will be a disconnected experience. Everyone has the responsibility to make the church gathering better.

I think some church members require a higher level of spirituality from their church services than they require for themselves. Keep in mind, the “church” is made up of individuals and the church is only as spiritually developed as the individual people are. We are simply a sum of the parts. Of course, Christ is the Head of the Church but we are the various parts of the Body. If each of us will pursue spiritual maturity, our churches will also move closer to God. If we come to church with an attitude of expectation and surrender to the Lord, great things are bound to happen. On the other hand, if we come to services disinterested and apathetic, nothing will happen.

So, rather than feeling as though the church is lagging (and sometimes complaining about it), perhaps we should focus on ourselves. No more, “I’m not being fed” or “I wish we had a more exciting church”. Rather, accept the responsibility to be a positive influencer; make the church better. Do whatever it takes to bring life to the Body of Christ.

We are the Church! Let’s enjoy it.

We Live in a Name-Calling Culture!

26815563_10156093646594214_7222317202598643064_nLike a nightmare revisit to Junior High, we are now bombarded in the media with people calling other people by ugly names. It is not only tolerable, but in some circles, quite fashionable to refer to others by using derogatory titles. Those who complain about the politically correct emphasis under which we live must be delighted. Apparently, you can call someone whatever you want as long as you think it is true (and it drives home your ideological point).

Think about it, words like, snowflake, extremist, troll, radical, elitist, and misogynist, show up in the news many days. Deplorable, fascist, teabagger, Trumpkin left-wing, nut job, Libtard, SJW (Social Justice Warrior), and so on are widely acceptable names that we hear frequently in public. Hashtag any one of these names and run it through Twitter – you may be surprised how often they show up.

There is a whole slew of names I wouldn’t dare put in print because they are so distasteful and offensive. Yet, they frequent our headlines and lunchroom discussions.

This is not a new phenomenon. But something about this type of language is relatively new: we’re not in Junior High anymore.

When the leaders of our country blow up social media most days by referring to their political counterparts in disrespectful ways, we can readily expect the citizens to follow. As I have found myself repeating a lot recently, people follow leaders. Think about that for a minute.

For the Believer in Christ (a name I prefer), there is a better way.

Consider what these passages indicate:

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. Ephesians 4:29

Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. 1 Peter 3:9

Words from the mouth of the wise are gracious, but fools are consumed by their own lips. Ecclesiastes 10:12

The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit. Proverbs 18:21

These verses indicate that we are not to use our words to hurt others. Our tongues can be a blessing or a curse, but they cannot be both. If you are a Christian (another term of endearment), sanctify your mouth. In others words, say only the things that build up other people. I am not indicating that we pretend that bad people are good. But there is no good accomplished when we call one another names.

There are several obvious problems with name-calling:

  • It is an effort to make others look bad. This is a well-known defense mechanism – we try to make ourselves look good by making others look bad. By the way, this doesn’t work.
  • It is an attempt to control a situation. I think name-calling is a bully tactic.
  • It hurts individuals. Many of us still live with the ugly results of monikers that were placed on us as children.
  • It makes us sound unintelligent. Educated people have improved vocabularies, and not so we can more effectively offend one another.
  • It reduces the chance for healing in relationships. It is nearly impossible to reason with a person whom you have destroyed with your words.
  • It sometimes ends intelligent dialogue. Once some names are applied, the conversation ends.
  • It is disrespectful.

In my opinion, when we spend our time identifying others by degrading or demeaning terms, we are revealing a weakness in our own hearts. Recall what Jesus said, “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” Luke 6:45

For the Believer, there us a higher calling.

If an individual does not know Christ, our calling is to reconcile them to Him. Can we possibly accomplish this by insulting them with a profane label?

We can do better. Please don’t follow our politicians. Let’s allow our spirits to mature. Of course there are those with whom we disagree. But let’s focus on how we may minister grace to them rather than humiliate and degrade them.

Love you all!

Things Christians should stop saying about the President

26220008_10156078309834214_8874137867936784925_n1. He is better than the alternative

2. God placed him in office

3. He’s not perfect, no one is.

4. Don’t judge him, that is for God alone.

5. He’s the President, not a Pastor.

  1. This statement may be true, but how pitiful is it that we have accepted that no decent and moral person can lead us? We cannot allow our leaders to be less than morally good and decent people.
  2. Absolutely, without doubt, God placed our current President in office. He has placed all leaders of all times in office. This is by no means an indication that God approves of the behaviors and attitudes of the President.
  3. Our President is not perfect. But He is the leader of the free world. It is acceptable to expect a leader to behave in ways that we can follow. Leaders – followers, think about it.
  4. We cannot judge anyone, only God knows the heart. But the Bible is very clear that a tree shall be known by its fruit (Luke 6:43-45). Only God looks at the heart. But we utilize our common sense and judgment in every other relationship. Why cannot we do the same with the President?
  5. We do not expect our President to be a pastor but we would hope that he/she could lead us into a healthy and productive life. Is it too much to ask that our leader be a person of kindness, integrity and composure? It is not too much to expect that we can expose our children to our national leader without embarrassment.

Saying the things listed above makes Christians sound uninformed. It is much more helpful to enter into intelligent dialogue. Politics and religion are not the same thing. We must stop equating one with the other. It is entirely possible that God doesn’t have a preference of political parties because neither reflects perfectly the Kingdom of God. That is why our hope is not in the systems of this world.

“My kingdom is not of this world.” (Jesus in John 18:36)

The Christmas Gift That Everyone Needs

24293970_10155971182684214_1901089510484304777_nRegardless of how hard we try, the gift-giving season can create pressure. Whether it is trying to figure out what to buy that person “who has everything” or how to answer the question, “what would you like for Christmas?”, Christmas gifts can cause stress. This is so sad, considering the simplicity that is intended by the idea of gift exchange.

If we did not know better, we would ask for and try to purchase gifts that have real meaning. Peace in the world, an end to starvation and sickness, universal love and joy… none of us are naïve enough to even dream of such gifts. So in their place, we spend lots of money on gadgets and trinkets and ugly Christmas sweaters!

At the risk of appearing idealistic, I want to offer an idea for a gift that everyone needs. This gift is the purpose behind the concept of Christmas. This is the reason that God sent His Son, born of a virgin, into this world.

We all need the gift of a saved soul.

The baby Jesus came as a sacrifice. He didn’t come to earth at that time to start another religion or to set up His earthly Kingdom or to overthrow the government. Jesus came to die, to resurrect, to ascend to heaven and to eventually come back. The purpose of the incarnation was to redeem humankind and to reconcile us back to God. This process of the coming of the Savior is what provides the possibility of our salvation.

We all need the gift of a saved soul.

If we will be honest, it’s not the boxes of candy or Chia Pets or cheap cologne that we want and need. We need to see souls saved. If I could have anything I want for Christmas this year, it would be for friends and loved ones to come to know Christ. The problem is, asking my family for such a gift would be unfair. You see, they do not have the ability to wrap up this gift and put it under our tree. We can’t give the gift of salvation for Christmas. Or can we?

Salvation cannot be purchased online or in a crowded department store. There is only one source where forgiveness of sins and new life can be found – in a relationship with Jesus. So, is it possible for us to give the gift of a saved soul? Perhaps, if we learn how to focus on this most important gift throughout the holiday season.

Rather than scouring the store shelves for the perfect gift, let’s give the gift of a redeemed life. Instead of stressing out over the holidays, let’s model how a true Christian behaves. We can show and share the love of Christ with those we meet. We can focus on the salvation of lost souls in every event, church service, social gathering and family get-together.

You can participate in giving the gift of a lost soul for Christmas. If you don’t currently live for Christ, make the decision to do so today. If you do live for Christ, let that relationship show in every possible way this Christmas season.

Christmas 2017 has the potential to be the best ever, but not by spending a boatload of money for things we don’t need. Let’s invest ourselves in seeing people come to Christ this Christmas season.

We all need the gift of a saved soul!

 

 

Dangers for Pastors (part 3)

24301207_10155971895294214_2209181443603559335_nWe will wrap up the theme of dangers for pastors with today’s post. I don’t for a minute think that we have covered every possible topic available. I simply need to move on to some new ideas.

The basic thesis is, the most dangerous thing in a pastor’s life and ministry probably has nothing to do with physical threats or the concern of someone coming into the church to hurt people physically. There are more subtle, sneaky ways that our enemy can destroy us.

In addition to the 24 things listed in the previous two posts, let’s consider these dangers:

Not evaluating. Whether out of neglect or intimidation, many pastors never stop what they are doing long enough to evaluate what is working and what is not. We may be left to assume that everything is going well and everyone is happy. We can even adopt the mentality that, “if it ain’t broke(n), don’t fix it.” I have real concern about this approach to ministry. First of all, pastors may not know if everything is going well. Simply because people tolerate something doesn’t mean it is working. Secondly, pastors are sometimes the last to find out when something is broken. I think it is very important for a pastor to lead the way in evaluating the effectiveness of every aspect of the ministry. Measure it. Get input from others. Create open dialogue about how to make things better. Do yourself a favor – don’t make others be the ones to ask for an evaluation.

Forgetting motives. Religion is known for ritual. While there is nothing wrong with ritual and, in fact, ritual can be very healthy for people, we should continually be asking why we do the things we do and why we do them the way that we do them. It is common to do things in the church without ever considering the “why.” We set our schedules based on history. We have particular ministry events because we have always had those events. We sing music, teach classes and provide training – sometimes because it’s the only way we know how to do ministry. But WHY do we do ministry that way? Why is Prayer Meeting on Tuesday night? Why do we pass the offering plate rather than ask people to come up to the front to give? Why does the Youth Group meet in the basement? Why do we sell fried chicken to pay the bills? Rather than becoming paralyzed by asking the “why” question, we may find ourselves liberated. Many traditions in our churches have no meaning. If they are significant, by all means do them. If there is purpose, be intentional about it. But if much of our ministry is being done only because that’s the way it’s always been done, well – there is a whole new world of exciting and effective ministry awaiting us! Remember the WHY!

Copying ministry. It’s only natural; we learn how to do things by observing others. In ministry, we can be exposed to a particular ministry practice that really seems to be working. It is tempting to try to duplicate that at our church. While I don’t believe there is anything morally wrong with doing this, we may be doing our church a disservice. Pastor, don’t try to preach like the well-know television preacher. Don’t steal sermons from other pastors. Don’t have a goal to be like the church across town. You are an original. Your church is unique. The people that God has entrusted to your care need and deserve something specifically designed by God for them. My friend Dwayne Harris said that we are in danger of, “losing the individuality of our calling. If not careful, we can find ourselves trying to mimic and duplicate the success of others, as opposed to discovering God’s individual and unique design for our personal ministry.” A pastor whom I respect greatly said, “I think one danger in every Pastor’s life is loosing His identity. Becoming someone else rather than what God would want him to be. There is a danger of one patterning their life after someone whom they deem to be much more qualified than themself.” (Harold Miller) While this may sound like intense pressure (who has time to come up with all original stuff?), if all you offer folks is what you got somewhere else, they don’t need you, do they? Seriously, this is not only about job security but don’t be a spiritual middleman (or woman). Hear from God directly for the people you serve. Know them and the issues they are dealing with. Find something fresh from God’s Word that applies to their lives.

Being Emotionally Needy: I must exercise care on this one. While Pastors are people too, and they have needs that must be addressed, it is a dangerous thing to lead a church so one can receive the affirmation they need. If we are not in a good place emotionally, we can find ourselves rising and falling, based upon the interactions we receive at church. Darrin Brown tells us, ”be careful of the pride of success and the discouragement of failure. Do not define success or failure by man’s expectations, but in obedience to God and His word.” We can sometimes feel successful because someone said we did a good job. And we can be defeated and feel like a failure when criticism comes. Pastors must be emotionally stable enough that they don’t require others to build them up, or allow others to tear them down. Get your affirmation from your family and from the Lord. Don’t allow your self-worth to be determined by those whom you serve.

Worshipping Success: My friend, Jason Daughdrill discusses this in an eloquent way. “Success… it’s a dangerous blessing. Passionate obedience, which usually is the catalyst for success, can quickly be traded for maintenance/performance pressure to keep up the successful image others around you are celebrating. Your production begins to overtake your person.” How true is that! We can be guilty of continually raising the bar of what others expect of us. The show must get flashier. People won’t respond unless you keep all the plates spinning. We create an atmosphere of performance, competition and showmanship. This will lead to a crash! Pastor, please recall, only God defines success. He’s our audience of One.

Thinking that People “owe” you something: The spiritual climate has changed in our culture. Like it or not, most people feel no obligation to attend church, support the church financially or be responsible for its operation. These things used to be a given in many churches; not any longer. And as a result, some pastors feel as though the people in their community should attend the church, regardless of what is offered. We’ve all dealt with the consumer mentality that has invaded our churches. While this is certainly a bad thing, gone are the days when we can offer up a subpar worship experience and expect people to support it. People have choices. There are many churches they can attend and some of them believe that church attendance isn’t even important. So, if and when people don’t come to church, don’t blame them. Don’t criticize them as “carnal.” Don’t get offended – just find a way to get them there. In my opinion, this is not by entertaining them; it is by providing an encounter with God.

Cultural ignorance: Pastors are priests. By this I don’t mean that pastors wear a clerical collar, take a vow of celibacy and give their life to the Catholic Church. I mean that we are to be in touch with the people. We are supposed to understand their lives, have similar experiences, and be able to identify with their struggles. When a pastor is unaware of the world around them, when they lose touch with current lifestyles and cultural trends, they create a distance between them and those they lead. Too many people think their pastor doesn’t live in the real world. Even things as simple as popular music, movies and world events are opportunities for pastor to show that they are aware of what’s going around them. My next point will deal with Pastors who go too far the other way, but please be aware that, if you want to minister to people where they are, you have to know where they are. You can’t live in an isolated cave and expect people to identify with you.

Cultural saturation: On the flip side of cultural ignorance is cultural permeation. This happens when a pastor spends too much time participating in things outside of the ministry. When a pastor knows all of the lyrics of the top 10 songs, when they can quote limitless movie lines, when they are absorbed with social media…their follows may have need for concern. Most of us have heard a pastor talk about seeing a movie that everyone knows is inappropriate. As previously stated, pastors must know the world in which their followers live. But too much exposure to secular culture can cause church members to lose confidence in their pastor’s spirituality. I think the goal here is balance. Don’t live in a cave but don’t live in the gutter.

Refusal to utilize social media: There are only a handful of pastors who still refuse to participate in Facebook, Twitter and/or Instagram. While this may seem innocuous, don’t assume so fast. Social media is the communication method of choice for millions of church members as well as those we hope to reach. Pastors who refuse to engage in social media may be like the missionary who refuses to learn the language of the people group they are trying to reach. Of course, we all know full well the nonsense that happens on the Internet and we have heard a lot of stories of how social media has gotten people into trouble. But, in my estimation, social media is like relationships: some are good and some are bad. We must know with whom we should connect, we should exercise wisdom and we must practice restraint and discretion. Pastor, don’t eliminate a bunch of people because you don’t speak their language. Take time to learn.

Neglecting Self Care: For number 10 (my final point), I must discuss a huge danger for pastors. It has to do with neglecting one’s spiritual health while caring for others. So many pastors have burned out because they were so busy ministering to others that they forgot to take care of themselves. When helping hurting people, we sometimes pick up their hurt. Some expect us to be impervious to discouragement. Many times we don’t feel free to express when we are in trouble. All of this can lead to a very dangerous spiritual condition. We pray for others. We read our Bibles to prepare for ministry. We go to church often. None of these things guarantee our spiritual vitality. When discussing this danger, Mike Thompson said, “Doesn’t matter if we “transform” an entire city and remain personally unchanged. It leads to spiritual bankruptcy.” In my opinion, this is the most diabolical and subtle danger for pastors. I think it happens to everyone who serves in ministry for any length of time. I’m not sure it can be avoided altogether. So we must build safety nets into our lives. We must have relationships that hold us accountable. We need a safe place to confess weakness and sin. Avoid sliding backwards at all costs, but once it has happened, arrest it!

I trust you have heard my heart in this little series, Dangers to Pastors. 34 things made the list! And there are thousands more! Perhaps one day someone will develop this into a book – I think there is a great need. And a special “thank you” to all my friends and colleagues who pitched in on this effort. You folks have a lot of wisdom, I appreciate you sharing!

To any pastor out there: please don’t go this alone. If you need someone to talk to, let me know. If I can’t help you, I know someone who can. I pray that something that we said makes your life and ministry easier, more productive – and safer.

Hear the Word of the Lord:Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)

 

Dangers for Pastors

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

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

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

Pastors, look out for…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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