Tag Archives: pastor

Dangers for Pastors

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

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

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

Pastors, look out for…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Importance of a “Quality” Worship Experience

23316618_10155901198814214_4888853113538265950_nKid gloves: that’s what I’m using while addressing this issue. The risk is that readers will think I’m not very spiritual. Or perhaps they’ll think that I’m the self-appointed judge of worship. It may be said that I’m watering down the message of the Gospel. But please, hang with me.

I have the honor of visiting many churches. I’ve attended services in approximately 50 different churches over the last 15 months. So if you think I’m referring to your church in this post, odds are, you are incorrect. My unique position affords a great vantage point. I can observe the good and the bad and the in between in worship services in a variety of churches. I seek to make the most of the privilege that God has given me.

For the sake of clarification, I consider a “quality worship experience” as one in which God is glorified and worshippers are inspired to live their lives in a God-honoring way.

Let’s talk about the quality of our church music and the preaching and the flow of the service. What happens when the preacher loses track of his point? How about when the worship leader can’t carry a tune? Should the same lady who has been playing the piano for 39 years keep playing, even though she is a terrible piano player? Does it matter if the sound system feeds back or if the light bulbs are burned out or if the restroom smells? How about a dirty nursery or grass that needs to be cut or rude ushers?

When I visit a church and the person leading the service has put no forethought into it, it is apparent. A preacher that doesn’t prepare a logical flow in the sermon can’t hide behind enthusiasm. And singers that can’t sing are painful to endure!

Am I just being “carnal”?

How about this? God deserves our best! In worship, we perform for an audience of one – God! Unprepared preachers and musicians that can’t play do not qualify as our “best”. The Scriptures paint this portrait in Malachi 1:8, where worshippers were condemned for offering sick and weak sacrifices. The modern application involves us leading ministry with an “it doesn’t matter” attitude. Quality matters to God and it matters to other people. Therefore, it must matter to us.

Why should we expect people to support a worship service that is less than pleasing to God? I think that God may not be pleased by some of what we offer Him. If what we present at worship services causes people to want to plug their ears and run away, God may be doing the same thing.

Here are some practical ideas to improve our quality in worship:

  • Ask unbiased friends to offer suggestions on ways to improve. Don’t be overly sensitive. While people may be reticent to tell you what they think, they are thinking it for certain!
  • Watch yourself on video. If it’s painful for you, imagine how your weekly listeners must feel!
  • Allow plenty of preparation time. Procrastination is no excuse for poor preparation.
  • Discuss the service ahead of time with everyone who leads in the service. You aren’t programming the Holy Spirit out of the service; you are providing an atmosphere where He can move in an orderly fashion, as Scripture details.
  • Work on smooth translations. Jagged and awkward shifts between service elements are distracting. Basically this means, keep things moving without unnecessary dialogue and explanation.
  • If the music is lower quality than desired, utilize tracks or video worship. God can move through prerecorded music as well as through live music. In fact, removing the distractions of low quality music may free up the worshippers.
  • Train volunteers. Raise the standards. Don’t demand perfection but model excellence. People will follow your example.
  • Expect to improve. The longer you serve in ministry, the better you should be at it.
  • Most importantly, ask God to help you to get better at leading worship services.

You may assume that I am preferring large churches that have a lot of talent over small churches with fewer gifted people. I am not. But note, being small is no excuse for low quality. While smaller churches may require greater creativity, they can offer to the Lord something that brings Him honor – and edifies people.

Disclaimer: I am in no way referring to a performance-based approach. Church is not show business and we don’t need performers on the stage. We need women and men who are gifted, skilled and well-prepared to lead us in worship.

Think about it this way: Would you keep eating at a restaurant that serves bad tasting food? Would you let a stylist cut your hair if they don’t care enough to do their best? How about going to a doctor that didn’t prepare by studying medicine? Well, worship is more important than all of those things. Worship deserves our best!

Work to get better. Practice, prepare and pray!

It should go without saying, our best without God’s anointing results in nothing. But I believe that God desires to anoint our best, rather than our leftovers.

Church leaders: I challenge you – lead your next service through the eyes of a new worshipper or an unbeliever. Is there any reason for them to be inspired to return regularly?

Finally, the Bible focuses on leaders who were excellent. David was skilled. Ruth was recognized as a woman of excellence. Daniel possessed an excellent spirit. Paul was recognized as a great communicator. How dare we approach worship with a lackadaisical attitude?

Is it more godly to sing or preach poorly than to offer excellence to God? Then let’s give God nothing less than our best!

If I have inadvertently offended you, please accept my apology. In my attempt to increase our effectiveness I would prefer not to anger folks. But if I can inspire one person to raise the bar on their worship service experience, I will have succeeded.


Why Does My Pastor Want Me to Attend Every Church Service?

20799375_10155681399684214_8063187496515257957_n.jpgChurch attendance is on the decline in America. Most statistics point to a reduction of commitment to local congregations. Some feel that church attendance is overrated and others believe that attendance is not a reflection of one’s faith. Regardless of your opinion about or practice of church attendance, we must admit that things are changing.

According to an article by Kelly Shattuck on Churchleaders.com, less than 20 percent of Americans regularly attend church. David Murrow writes about how church attendance is declining even among “committed” church members. A church surveyed “their young families and discovered they attended church an average of 1.6 times per month (out of a possible 4.3 weekends/month). In addition, only 20% of their members attend at least 3 times a month. And just 4 percent are “full attenders”, attending at least 48 Sunday out of the year. You can read the full article here.

I am processing this phenomenon from the perspective of a local church pastor. Having pastored full time for over 25 years, and now working in a leadership role among pastors, it is my hope that the average church attender will look at things from a pastor’s point of view.

Your pastor wants you to attend every service! Here are 7 of the reasons why:

Your Pastor cares about your soul. Spiritual transformation is a process; the more you engage in spiritually uplifting activities, the more consistent your progress will be. When you attend church services, you engage in worship with others. You sing with the church family. You give with your peers. You learn more about the Bible and God. Obviously, when you do not attend church services, these things do not happen, at least not in the church setting. It would be a negligent pastor who doesn’t care enough about your soul to want you in church services.

Your Pastor knows that the church is stronger with you there. Other people are inspired by your participation in church services. Your possess gifts and talents that the other church members need. If you are not there to exercise these gifts, perhaps no one will – and the church will do without.

Your Pastor knows that others need you. If we believe what the Scripture says about the value of each member of the body of Christ (I Cor. 12:12), we know that we are of value. We are important and our presence matters to others. Perhaps it is as simple as a handshake or hug, or maybe it is as complex as a mentoring relationship or a spiritual parenting need that is filled. Other people need you and if you are at the church service – you can be available to them.

Your Pastor believes that you need what is being presented. The music, the message, the fellowship, the tithing and giving – are all necessary parts of your faith development. As a Pastor, I prepared messages with particular church members on my heart. I could envision how a particular attender would respond to a certain part of the sermon. I would pray and prepare keeping the needs of the people at the forefront of my mind. Imagine the disappointment when those who were on my heart did not attend the service. Perhaps the essence of the message was exactly what they needed at that time in their life, but they were not there to receive.

Your Pastor sees that you are an example that others will follow. Never underestimate the influence you have among your church family. Someone is looking up to you. Whether or not we like it, someone will follow in our footsteps. If we attend, they are more likely to attend.

Your Pastor knows the Scriptures indicate that you should worship in a corporate setting. “Don’t stop meeting together with other believers, which some people have gotten into the habit of doing. Instead, encourage each other, especially as you see the day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:25 CEB) You will be blessed if you attend faithfully.

When you don’t attend worship services, your Pastor is concerned about your perspective. I am of the opinion that church attendance is a direct indicator of how one feels about God’s family, and therefore God. While you may not care what your pastor thinks, your pastor cares about what you think.

I could go on. But you get the point. I hope you can consider your pastor the next time you contemplate missing a service. One statement I hear a lot from Pastors: “If I could get everybody here at the same time…” Imagine it. I wonder what would happen if we would all show up at the same time, for several services in a row.

On second thought, your Pastor may have a heart attack!


You are Needed on the Mission Field

designWouldn’t it be great to pastor or attend the perfect church? Imagine a church where everyone loves the Lord, loves each other and loves the pastor! Everyone is a tithe-paying member. Everyone attends every worship service and everyone always volunteers for every ministry opening. Too many nursery workers, not enough work to go around on church workdays and everyone agrees on the kind of music we sing.

This may sound like the perfect church, but this side of heaven, it will never happen.

The truth is, we are not called to the perfect church; we are called to the mission field. Our communities are full of hurting people. The people attending our churches have been hurt by life. They are far from perfect. God did not ask us to find people who have it all together, He told us to find the sick and minister to them. Jesus Himself had to clarify his mission: Luke 19:10, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Mark 2:17, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” The church is not a gathering of perfect people – it is a place of hope for the hurting.

We make a mistake when we expect our place of service to be easy. When we get frustrated with the sinful nature of the people we serve, we misunderstand the call into ministry. Your town is your mission field. The county where your church is located is your harvest. If everyone in the city limits already knows the Lord, you can feel free to move on. However, God never calls a missionary where everyone already knows Him. Working for God in today’s culture is hard work and sometimes frustrating. But “the one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.” (I Thessalonians 5:24)

You are needed right where you are. Those within walking distance of your church need Jesus. Broken families and rebellious teenagers and strung out street people need the Lord. Successful businessmen and lonely homemakers and hopeless senior citizens need Jesus. THEY are our mission field!

Please don’t undervalue the people you serve. God loves your community. He has placed you where you are and He expects you to love them as well.

You are called for a purpose. Jesus asks you to join Him in His Mission. You are needed in the mission field – in the mission field where you are right now.


When You’re Mad at Your Pastor

designIt is part of human nature and relationship dynamics that, from time to time, we get angry with the people around us. When we spend lots of time with others, we will get irritated, aggravated and sometimes mad at them. Spouses, kids, neighbors – they all have a way of getting on our last nerve. It is no different with our church leaders. Without a doubt, someone reading this post is particularly ticked at their local preacher right now. Take a deep breath and read on!

In my line of work, I deal with what, at times, seems like an inordinate amount of anger at pastors. Disappointment with preaching, frustration with decision-making and annoyance with quirks are a regular part of my conversations with church members. Don’t be mistaken, the vast majority of people are perfectly happy with their pastor; at least that is my takeaway. But occasionally, I hear some pretty fiery vocabulary centered around the ineptitude of the shepherd.

Let me quickly share one positive aspect of people getting mad at their pastor: they care enough to be passionate. I have met too many church members who are so disconnected with their church that they just don’t care what happens. So thanks for caring enough to get angry. But be very careful not to allow your passion to cause you to do something that is hurtful.

What do you do when you are mad at your pastor?

Don’t talk negatively about your pastor. When you express your displeasure with the pastor with anyone besides the pastor, it more than likely will be damaging. Fight hard to keep your discussion appropriate. My experience is, more damage is done by inappropriate conversation than by the pastor’s infraction. The Bible has a lot to say about this. Ephesians 4:29 is a great example.

Save communication until your emotions are in check. We are told in Communications 101 to guard our mouths when we are emotional. It’s best to put off decisions until one’s excitement is under control. This is true whether we are happy or sad, angry or glad. Hold off on discussions about your anger until you can clearly and concisely articulate your concerns without saying detrimental things. Adopt the “24-hour rule”: Wait at least 24 hours before firing off an angry email. This allows you time to pray, consider more details and communicate more effectively.

Understand how challenging the role of a pastor is. There are a lot of armchair quarterbacks who think they could be a great pastor with one hand tied behind their back. The “you only work one day a week” joke isn’t funny. Pastors (like many other professionals) are faced with the pressure and stress of organizational finances, legal issues, volunteer personnel management, social tensions and personality differences. Add to that the extreme strain of the spiritual health of church members and the load gets heavy. While I am quick to defend pastors, I am also quick to admit that we mess up – a lot. But never assume that the pastor has an easy job. That simply is not the case. Being reminded of this will help you to better process your frustrations.

Express yourself face to face, not in writing. Issues like the church are too important to be handled impersonally. Emails, texts and letters don’t allow for the reader to see facial expressions, to hear the intonations and inflections of the voice or to see a tear running down a face. Reading between the lines is a very imperfect science. Don’t risk being misunderstood. If you are angry with your pastor, respect yourself and him enough to talk in person.

Never express your anger at your pastor on social media. Ever. In fact, social media is not the place to deal with anger at anyone. It is unfair, rude and childish.

Respect the office of the pastor. While you may be angry with your pastor, please honor the office and calling of the pastor. They are no better than you and they do not deserve special treatment. However, it is the mistake of some to disregard the significance of a person who is appointed by God to serve as a spiritual leader over a church. In your anger, maintain respect and dignity, if for no other reason, because God is watching.

If it’s bad enough, and you’re mad enough, what do you do?

1st. Recall that God appointed them and, if necessary, God can unappoint them. Trust God with the church – She belongs to Him.

2nd. Pray for your pastor. It is difficult to be very angry at someone for whom you are praying. When something happens to frustrate you, spend a moment in sincere prayer for your pastor. I assure you, they need it and welcome it.

3rd. Watch your influence. Be aware that others are watching you and your behavior will impact them. You never want to be guilty of leading others into an offense.

4th. Guard your heart. Too many times, anger against a pastor morphs into anger at God. Pastors fail, God never does. Keep your spirit pure.

5th. Forgive! Whether or not your pastor deserves it, forgive them. The Gospel is full of instruction on how we must forgive others as God has forgiven us.

6th. If you must go (leave the church), go the right way. It is unfortunately inevitable that some people need to leave some churches. There is a proper way to do this but we see very little demonstration in today’s culture. While much can be said about this topic (and others have), at the end of the day, we must be right with God and with others. If leaving a church does not coincide with that, you’d better not leave.

If you’re angry with your pastor, welcome to the church! It’s normal. But let’s not allow our emotions to damage the church, our pastor or ourselves.


A Culture of Conflict

img_0290Not unlike the culture of the iconic Wild West, America is currently enthralled with fighting. From political elections to reality TV to road rage, we love our conflict. It is not uncommon to witness a verbal altercation on the subway or in the boardroom. Metaphorical “shootouts at the OK Corral” happen every day in the classrooms, courtrooms and bedrooms of the U.S.

This is a culture of violence. It is a culture of disrespect. It is a culture of conflict.

Even something as simple as sports teams rivalries are steeped in conflict. Good-natured trash-talk goes, in my opinion, way too far to the point of dividing friends and family.

Let’s not confuse debate, confrontation and conflict.

We need to be able to discuss matters of difference and do so in a civil manner. When we are wrong, those who care about us must possess the responsibility to lovingly confront us. Conflict, however, is a collision, a war, a clash. The Latin conflictus means “a striking together, to contend, to fight; combat.” According to Erik Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development, a conflict is a turning point during which an individual struggles to attain some psychological quality. (https://www.verywell.com/what-is-conflict-2794976) One researcher defines conflict as “a disagreement through which the parties involved perceive a threat to their needs, interests or concerns.” (ohrd.wisc.edu) I would add that conflict often includes a response to those perceptions; and many times the response is ugly.

It is one thing to fight for one’s family or freedom. But many in today’s culture thrive on conflict. Some people just love a good argument. I literally had a women tell me last week that she was a Hatfield of Hatfield and McCoy fame; and she proceeded to explain that this was the reason for her position of quarreling in her church.

We have become so accustomed to conflict, it feels normal. But it should not be normative for Bible believing Christians. Church fights have been known to be bloody, vicious and eternally destructive.

Ephesians 4:29 Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.

Lucado says: when those who are called to fish don’t fish, they fight.

Why?

I am of the opinion that the foundational issue behind our propensity to conflict with one another is spiritual. There is a deep-seeded discomfort or irritation that, when fueled, becomes a source of contention. Many times, those who fight with others are also fighting with themselves as well as with God. The enemy of our souls wants to make us miserable. An effective way to accomplish this goal is to cause us to turn on one another.

It is a matter focus. When we don’t focus on what we are called by God to do (the mission), we focus on one another. When we focus on one another, we fight. I love the writings of Max Lucado when he said:

   When those who are called to fish don’t fish, they fight.

   When energy intended to be used outside is used inside, the result is explosive.

   Instead of casting nets, we cast stones.

   Instead of extending helping hands, we point accusing fingers.

   Instead of being fishers of the lost, we become critics of the saved.

   Rather than helping the hurting, we hurt the helpers. 

http://pastorhow.com/tanseowhow/when-fishermen-dont-fish-by-max-lucado/

We can concentrate on minutia or we can concentrate on mission, but we can’t do both.

When we are not fulfilling what God called us to do.

We are frustrated. We know there is more to life.

We have a divine purpose and we are not fulfilling it.

They are focused, on the wrong things. Other people.

And when this happens, we are failing.

So, the question really isn’t, “why do we have so much conflict?” but “how can we get back on mission?”

We must get good at conflict resolution. However, we must get even better at conflict prevention. Let’s embrace the responsibility we have to do what God told us to do so we won’t fight with each other. More importantly, let’s do what God wants so we can honor Him.


Leading with Contrast

leading with contrastSome things to look for:

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

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

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

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

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

Lead with Contrast. Be the difference the world needs.

Be encouraged and lead on!