Pastor: Smile!

IMG_5316The world is full of negativity. People are swamped with pessimism. Doubt, fear and pain paint the world in a pale shade of gray. People need some bright colors of Good News.

My wife and I recently visited a brief church meeting. The entire team of leaders was full of joy. They cheered one another on. They smiled and gave high fives. The atmosphere was electric with joy and expectation. What a wonderful ministry climate! Immediately, I found myself drawn into their joy. But I also realized how rarely I have been a part of an atmosphere such as that.

If we hope to reach our communities, churches must create a sense of hope and optimism. (Actually, God has already created that atmosphere; all we have to do is tap into it.) If we expect to attract unchurched people with a frown, we should think again.

It may sound elementary, but pastors must be positive. Let me give you a few easy ideas:

Smile when you see people. Make eye contact and be genuinely glad to say hello.

Smile when you talk, sing and worship. Looking as though you are in anguish is not necessarily godly, and it may send the wrong message to others.

Smile when you preach. Unless the topic of your sermon is sad or painful, a smiling face creates an atmosphere of well being and confidence.

If you raise your voice when you preach, be sure not to yell at people. You can be enthusiastic without appearing angry. Few emotionally healthy people are interested in being screamed at.

Ask your leaders to smile. Greeters, ushers, worship leaders, and children’s workers should be happy.

Consider a pre-service meeting to set the atmosphere of joy and happiness. You will find it is contagious – the atmosphere will be transformed.

Admittedly, leading a church is an arduous task. There are times that the burdens are heavy. It is easy and perhaps natural for us to become so serious in our efforts that we appear to be stressed and distressed. But a smile communicates inner peace and joy. Jesus brings us true joy and He wants us to share it with others. Marcus Aurelius said, “The mind reveals itself in the face.” What does your face say about what’s going on in your mind?

We may need to retrain ourselves and others. Old habits (frowning) are hard to break. But let’s encourage the people at our churches to take advantage of the nonverbal and body language signals we send to others.

So, here is a lovely Bible verse that communicates my hope for you: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:14

Let’s overflow with hope and joy, and observe the positive impact it has!

Counting Attendance Can Kill You

design-17It’s Resurrection Week and church leaders all over the world are headlong into a massive ministry week. Most dream of capacity crowds and are focused on either filling their buildings or a specific numerical goal. While this is reasonable and usually honorable, the focus on “counting” can become deadly.

Allow me to explain.

God cares about numbers, so much so that He wrote an entire Book in the Bible called “Numbers”! But there are serious considerations in the Bible when leaders focus on numbers – when they should be focusing on obedience.

King David counted his military troops in I Samuel 24. This wasn’t the first time the troops had been counted, but this time was different. God was angry with Israel and some versions of the Bible says He incited David to count the men. F. LaGard Smith says that the problem may have been with David’s motivation for counting. “Selfish ambition for aggressive expansionism” is a possibility. Regardless of the motivation, God was not pleased and Israel paid a heavy price.

Listen, God is not against us counting our influence and impact. We are expected to know how many people attend our services and it is an important part of fulfilling our Mission. But God is against us trying to make a name for ourselves, competing with other ministries, manipulating God’s work to advance our reputation, or simply trying to make ourselves look good.

Thankfully, we are now under grace and God rarely acts in such harsh ways (at least perceived as harsh) when He punishes us. But this makes us wonder if we are being punished nonetheless.

This Easter, let’s keep track of numbers for the right reasons. We want to make progress; we must bear fruit. But let’s not fall prey to trying to impress anyone – except God.

Blessed Easter!

What Does Your Pastor Really Want From You?

designPastors can be pretty demanding. They want us to come to church every time the doors are open, pay our tithes and then also give in offerings, volunteer to teach Sunday School and serve at work days, invite our neighbors to church and then pray for the church an hour per day! How unrealistic is that?!

Seriously, Pastors only want what God wants for their church members. Most Pastors I know love their congregation with a “shepherd’s love.” They pray diligently for their flock. They do their best to feed them and keep them spiritually healthy. But Pastors do have hopes for the people they lead.

  • Pastors want their church members to be disciples of Christ. We are all called to make disciples of other people (Matthew 28:19-20). Any pastor who is doing their job will teach and train, develop and challenge. Sometimes they come across as pushy, but it helps to understand their motives.
  • Pastors want their church members to grow spiritually. Preachers have the responsibility of feeding those to whom they preach. While personal growth is the responsibility of every individual, pastors want to see their members mature in their faith.
  • Pastors want their church members to spiritually reproduce. It has been said, “sheep beget sheep.” Good pastors train the members to do the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:11-13). You will make your pastor rejoice if you become a soul winner!
  • Pastors want their church members to discover and utilize their spiritual gifts. Good church members don’t just sit in the pew. They understand that they are called by God to fulfill a ministry. If you function in your gift, you will be a great blessing to your church and pastor.
  • Pastors want their church members to experience the joy and fulfillment of being a vital part of a vibrant and growing church. A few church members prefer a small church but most people know that healthy things grow. Let’s embrace church as a dynamic and progressing organism, made alive by the Holy Spirit!

Pastors don’t intentionally use people to get what they want. At times, it may feel like members are only a means to an end – the way that the pastor can build a successful ministry. But true Pastors want only what is best; they only want what God wants for the people they serve.

When your pastor encourages you to attend church, serve and give, he or she is doing so out of a heart of love for you and a desire for your spiritual well being. Pray for your pastor because they have a difficult task. But also pray for your pastors so that they can lead the church with integrity of heart and skillful hands (Psalms 78:72).

Now, make your Pastor’s day: Do the five things listed above and watch your pastor rejoice!

10 Things You Did Not Learn In Seminary

designThere are things about ministry that can only be learned through experience. There are things about ministry that will only be learned through formal education. We need both!

While we treasure our educational opportunities, it is not reasonable to expect a few years at an academic institution to prepare us for a lifetime of ministry. We must be lifelong learners.

Listed below, in no particular order, are a few observations regarding things that hands-on ministry will teach you. You are better to learn these things now before you learn them in the “school of hard knocks.”

  • Ministry is hard and it gets harder all the time.
  • The certainty of the “ministry crucible.”
  • That most people are a joy with whom to work.
  • That you need 10 encouragements for every one discouragement.
  • Preaching is vitally important, but it may not be the most important aspect of ministry.
  • That emotional intelligence is one of your greatest assets; in fact, you will fail without it.
  • That one of the most important things a minister can say is, “I was wrong, I am sorry.” Apologize quickly, sincerely, and often.
  • As a pastor, your heart is revealed more by your prayer than by your preaching.
  • The skill of leading change is a non negotiable.
  • Avoid the trap of dividing your church with politics.
  • The responsible use of social media.
  • The absolute necessity of cultural diversity in ministry.
  • How important it is to stay in good physical condition.
  • How important a retirement plan is.
  • If you don’t observe Sabbath, you are a sinner!

If you are counting, you realize I have 15 items on the list. Perhaps it is akin to the preacher who thinks he preached for 30 minutes when he actually preached for 1 hour. So, number 16 might be: Learn how to count and to tell time. Your word matters.

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!

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?