My Official COVID-19 Positon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ephesians 6 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.

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

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

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

Grace and peace!

Healing from Church Hurt

healing from church hurt picI believe that, in many cases, emotional healing is a matter of choice. Please allow me a moment to carefully explain. I do not want to be misunderstood as hard hearted or uninformed about emotional issues; I am neither.

When we are physically sick, we can’t always choose if we are healed. We pray and ask God for healing. Sometimes, it works out as we hoped but at other times, the sickness remains. These types of issues and experiences belong to God; I encourage you to trust Him to do what is best, every time. But, in specific cases, I believe the Holy Spirit offers emotional healing for everyone who is willing to receive it.

There is an ongoing conversation about “church hurt.” It seems that daily, I come across someone who has at some point in their life been hurt by a church, a pastor, a denomination, a church member… In fact, anyone who has ever attended a church can probably share a story or two about an offense that took place, someone who was rude, or a church leader who was mean. Perhaps we should be able to expect better. Of all the places that we can go and expect to be safe, church tops the list. But the problem is, other people also attend those churches. And where there are people, there will be hurt. And these hurts seem to emotionally paralyze many people.

What is unique about this type of emotional pain is it has a way of hanging on and controlling us. People have a hard time letting go. I know many people who frequently speak about emotional pain that was caused by someone in the church – literally 30 years ago. They recall the details. The date of the offense. The specific words or actions used to cause the damage. The emotional pain experienced determines their relationships, church involvement and the health of their faith. It is unlike any other experience in their life. And I believe it is diabolical.

The point of this article is this: if you want to be healed from the emotional pain inflicted on you by an experience at church, it can happen. And if you want it to happen, it probably will.

That is a bold statement! But it is based upon the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Our emotions, our feelings and thoughts are under the control of other elements. Experiences influence us. Life events shape us. While we can’t choose all our experiences, they most certainly impact us for a long time, and how we feel about those experiences dictates our future.

On a side note, the topic is not emotional or mental illness. I am not reducing mental health to a decision by an individual, although I do believe in the power of God to heal us mentally and emotionally.

If we surrender our emotions to the Holy Spirit, (all of our hurt and pain and bad experiences) He can heal them. And – here is the kicker – if we refuse to release our emotional pain to the Lord – we will carry them to our grave. Unfortunately, some wear their pain like a medal. They are proud of their offense and put it on display for all to see. Still others use their emotional hurt as a weapon or an excuse. Because they have been hurt, others will pay.

I really hope you don’t think that I am saying, “just get over it!” I am not. And I am most certainly not saying that the Church is innocent or that the perpetrators of church hurt should not be held accountable. I am saying, if you really want to be healed from the emotional pain caused by the Church, it is readily available. You’ll have to let go of the pain. You’ll need to stop allowing the hurt to control your decisions. No more, “I can’t because….” If this seems like too much, know that the Lord will help you. And He wants you free from the pain of your negative experience.

Regardless of your pain, or the source of it, God is offering you healing right now. Let him heal your broken emotions.

Leader: Who/What Validates You?

design-56To validate means to “recognize or affirm the validity or worth of a person.” (Dictionary.com). Before we get spiritual and argue that God is the only one who validates us, let’s be real.

Leaders are human and humans have weaknesses. Many of us struggle from low self esteem issues. We are insecure. Many leaders battle feelings of insufficiency and lack of qualifications. Being validated as a leader is not only helpful, it is necessary if we hope to survive the challenges that leaders regularly face.

Receiving recognition from those you lead is nice. Being honored on a special day or with a gift is affirming. When our leaders notice and comment on our work, it can be very motivating. Any time anyone says, “thank you”, we may feel validated.

But I believe we must be careful about who or what makes us feel good about ourselves as leaders.

Increasing productivity can validate us. Being named to a position of leadership, getting invited to speak at a special gathering or receiving an award can build our self esteem. But there is inherent danger herein.

Needing the public recognition or verbal affirmations of others in order to feel like a leader is dangerous. Those who must have a pat on the back may become vulnerable to people pleasing. Additionally, if we can be inflated by praise, we will become deflated by criticism.

I suggest our validity come from deep within ourselves. Leaders must know who they are in Christ. This does not mean that we don’t need the support and encouragement of others, on the contrary. But we can’t place our self concept in the hands of other people.

God called you as a leader, you responded. That response will include days when no one sees or talks about what a great leader you are. We’ve got to be ok with that.

Don’t feel less significant because your numbers are down. Don’t live or die based upon the opinions of others. Don’t count on the affirmations of others in order for you to understand your value.

You have family and close friends. Go ahead and allow them close into your heart and head. But even they shouldn’t be your sole source of validation.

You are valuable, you are needed, you are loved. That’s not validation coming from me, that’s validation coming from God.

A Successful Church

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A church will most likely succeed when:

  1. There is a clear and united understanding of the Mission and vision of the church.
  2. Members care more about the lost than they do their own preferences.
  3. The lost are saved, disciples are made, and people engage in ministry – on a regular and consistent basis.
  4. There is an ethos of grace.
  5. Leaders are continually trained and deployed to serve.
  6. All generations are included equally.
  7. There is a strong priority on regional, national and international missions.
  8. The church reflects the cultural diversity of the community.
  9. The worship services and gatherings are training and preparation for ministry outside the building.
  10. Generosity and tithing are the norm.
  11. There is a systematic approach to prayer.
  12. The pastor shares leadership authority and responsibility with others.
  13. There is a culture of financial accountability, transparency and fiduciary responsibility.
  14. The buildings and grounds are well used but meticulously cleaned, and frequently updated.
  15. The Gospel Message remains the same but methods are adjusted as necessary.
  16. The people love God, love others, and love one another.

These are 16 chapters for a proposed book on successful church ministry.

That’s a lot; we have a lot of work to do.

Concern for Pastors

design-44I’m concerned about pastors.

I’m concerned about pastors who isolate themselves. Young leaders with no mentor worry me. Middle aged pastors who’ve given up on their dreams are a huge heartache. Older pastors who are tired but can’t quit are a burden to my heart.

Those who “mail it in” on Sundays. Those who’ve quit praying. Those who only preach the sermons they’ve found online. Those who would quit, if they could afford to. Those who despise “successful” pastors. Those who lie about statistics in order to make themselves look and feel better.

I’m concerned about Pastors who are having affairs. Pastors addicted to porn. Pastors getting drunk. Pastors whose family knows they are a phony. Pastors who are racists. Pastors who are stealing from their church.

I’m concerned about Pastors who are under the control of a contributor. Those who compromise their morals. Those under heavy criticism. Those with no confidant. Those whose spouse is disengaged. Lonely pastors. Confused, discouraged, exhausted, depressed Pastors. Cynical, skeptical, sarcastic Pastors.

I’m concerned about Pastors, even the successful ones. The ones who get lots of votes. The ones who have it all together. The ones who preach the big meetings. The ones with a full compensation package. The big name Pastors.

I’m concerned about pastors.

My concern only leads to prayer and help where I can. But the Lord cares, and He cares deeply. His care and compassion is what keeps Pastors safe, strong and moving forward.

Pastor, you matter to God and to so many more. Stay faithful.

Why Won’t They Come to Our Church?

design-38We visit lots of churches. Part of my ministry responsibility is to be on site at a different church every week, sometimes multiple churches. I have yet to visit one church that has enough people attending. In most churches, there is a desire to reach more people, invite new people to engage, and increase in the number of people being influenced and impacted.

Why won’t more people come to churches like these?

We are not in control of who attends church services. We can’t make, nor would we want to make someone come against their will. But we certainly try to make the place inviting. We prepare our buildings, we plan services and events with guests in mind. We pray and ask God to make our church compelling to others. But the truth is, it is a rare occurrence when a guest comes, stays, and engages in the life of the church.

Some will respond to this query by saying that we are not called by God to grow churches. This is absolutely true. However, God utilizes the church to help make disciples. Growing a church is a very important part of fulfilling the Great Commission to make disciples of all people (Matthew 28:19-20).

Think about this:

Many churches are simply ill equipped to handle new people. Parking is a problem. There is little room in the church for people to sit comfortably. Restroom space is inadequate. While these things may not bother regular attenders, they absolutely bother guests.

Other churches have no nursery facilities or their children’s areas are old and in poor condition. Teen rooms that share space with the furnace are, believe it or not, a bad idea. These types of building issues will repel new attenders.

Sometimes we have rituals, use language and behave in ways that make no sense to anyone but us. While there is nothing wrong with these practices, per se, an explanation to new comers may be helpful. We sometimes forget that what we have been doing our entire lives may be new to people who didn’t grow up like we did.

A little more sensitive, but just as prevalent are attitudes and mindsets that will hinder the addition of new people in our churches. Mono-cultural churches (churches made up of one people group, nationality or skin color) will have a difficult time reaching people from other cultures. Whether or not we are aware of it, we develop habits and style that are not inclusive. Music, clothing styles, even methods of worship are many times, culture specific. If we are unaware of, or unwilling to address the need for adaptation, we will reach very few people who are different from us. If we are not equipped to minister to people different from us, God probably won’t send them. But if we get ourselves ready, God will send them.

Many years ago, I had an older family member say to me, “we just don’t have many colored people attending our church.” She said this innocently. But the statement revealed the reason for their dilemma.

Some folks wonder why their church is not multicultural and/or multi-generational. If it’s: 1) “those people”, 2) “we want a few, not too many”, or, 3) “as long as we don’t have to change anything”, you can stop your wondering. God probably won’t send them. These attitudes reflect a philosophy that lets others know, they are not welcome in your church.

Why would God send people He loves to a church that doesn’t love them, or is ill prepared to minister to them, or won’t make adjustments in order to welcome them? He’ll more than likely send them to a church that will warmly and sincerely adopt them into the family.

One final consideration: getting people to attend church who do not like church is a real trick. Think about it. We are trying to talk them into doing things they have no interest in doing. We preach repentance. We teach contrition. Sacrifice, service, giving money, becoming accountable to others, being responsible for others… are not very compelling to people who are enjoying their sinful lifestyle. So let’s not beat ourselves up if “sinners” don’t line up at the door. There are lots of Christians that prefer to stay away for much the same reason – they prefer life independent from their faith family.

Let’s keep in mind that the Church belongs to Christ. He died for the church. While we love our church and are fiercely loyal to our church, we do not own the church. If we try to control who attends, whether in a positive or negative way, we will give an account to God.

While our church is not for everyone (meaning some fit in better in other atmospheres), everyone must be welcome.

If we really want new people to come, we may need to consider:

  • Adjusting methods without compromising the Message.
  • Sacrificing our preferences for something that may be more effective in reaching new people.
  • Making sure our facilities, programs, ministries and events scream, “we want you here!” to new attenders.
  • Being strategic and intentional in making our churches welcoming to people different from us.
  • Being personally engaged in inviting and accompanying new people to the church.
  • Engaging new people in helping to make your church more welcoming to more new people.
  • Celebrating big time when new people actually attend!

I hope we can be more purposeful and strategic in winning more people to our churches, but more importantly, to the Lord.

We Have Met the Enemy, and He is Us!

design-34Cartoonist, Walt Kelly said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” I am concerned that this has, in too many instances, become the case for some of us. 

Racially, economically, politically, generationally, and stylistically, we are fighting amongst ourselves. Friendly fire, weapon fire coming from one’s own side, is the worst. You expect to get shot at, but not by the folks wearing the same uniform as you.

It appears to me that, at times, the church has been influenced by the culture in this regard. Rather than being the peacemakers our world so desperately needs us to be (and we are called by Christ to be), a few have, I believe inadvertently, taken on the identity of brawlers, combatants, and pugilists. Without exaggeration, I don’t recall a time when Believers, church members, pastors and even ministerial colleagues have been so deeply engaged in battle with one another. I realize that only a minority of people is involved, but it sure feels major when so much of our wars are carried out in public view. Of course, there is so much more good than bad taking place, but the good doesn’t get the press like the bad.

I don’t like to argue or debate. Conflict is no fun for me. I have friends who enjoy these things. They sometimes want to argue with me about it (LOL). But this seems deeper.

 We all agree that there are times that conflict must be embraced. A few things are worth fighting over. But much of the result of the fighting I’m witnessing isn’t positive; it’s devastating. Families, friends, churches and, perhaps denominations are splitting. If we are detaching over non-negotiables, though painful, we understand. When serious Biblical or theological schisms happen, lines must be drawn. But I don’t see the redemptive value of the disagreements when the disagreements are over negotiable things, yet they end with relational ruptures. Sometimes, situations require that we divide, but more times than not, they don’t.

I hope that we can get a respite from the verbal and relational and social media jousting. It is wearying to continually navigate contention.  And until we stop, we are focused on the wrong enemy.

We have one enemy – the devil. Together, let’s fight him. Until he is defeated, we shouldn’t have enough time to fight each other. Let’s not become our own worst enemies.

Middle-Aged, “Unsuccessful” Pastors

design-32Somewhere around the halfway point in many pastors’ careers, they come to the realization that the dreams and aspirations they envisioned for their ministry will, in all likelihood, not become a reality. Perhaps they aimed too high. Maybe they thought too highly of their gifts and talents. Ambition can be a good thing or a bad thing. But it can be painful to come to the awareness that the vision that you worked on for years won’t materialize.

It’s at this point in ministry that people must make a decision. There are a few options. One can keep dreaming, pressing and working toward the original dream. We can become discouraged and quit the ministry. We can act outwardly like the fire is still burning, but on the inside we are shriveling up and dying.

Depending upon how big the vision, sticking with it can be a good and admirable thing. We can’t be quitters if we hope to succeed. But if you thought you would pastor a megachurch, and at age 50, you pastor a church of 25, perhaps the dream is not realistic or attainable. Of course, with God, all things are possible, but I am writing in general terms.

Quitting altogether is not an option, unless one never belonged in the ministry in the first place. This is a possibility, but I would advise in-depth consultation and counseling before coming to such a conclusion. The more common response to this experience is, middle-aged pastors keep on going, and no one knows that they are struggling. But deep down inside, they’re miserable.

One of the saddest seasons of a minister’s life is when they have lost their ability to reach their goals but they refuse to acknowledge it. Many feel as though they must stuff their feelings and keep grinding. Some would gladly quit if they could, but they have no other viable employment options. Still others fear being perceived as a failure. There are many ministers who are caught in this painful trap. I am of the opinion that many middle age pastors are going through the motions, with no real expectation of fulfilling a God-given vision.

Enough of the problem; are there solutions?

I believe that we can survive the disappointment of unrealized goals if we will:

Adjust passions: refocus your attention on what God called you to do. He doesn’t want you to live in a constant state of frustration and discouragement. Graciously let go of the unrealistic plans you made, and pay attention to the plans that God has for you.

Emphasize quality over quantity. Too many of us still measure success by numbers: attendance and giving. We are not called to build big churches; we are called to make disciples. If you are leading unbelievers to become solid, mature Christ followers, you are succeeding!

Share your reality with your spouse, a trusted colleague or a counselor. Pent up frustration and disappointment will eat away at a leader until is destroys them.

Humble yourself before God. Don’t be humiliated; that is the result of pride and insecurity. But God knows us; He promises that He will gladly lift us up if we’re humble before Him. (James 4:10)

Know that, if you are faithful, God is pleased with you. Let’s drop the “performance = acceptance” lie. When we stand before Him, He won’t say, “well done, good and productive servant…” He measures success according to our faithfulness.

Pastor, hang in there. Even if you feel like a failure, God knows better. If you’re still in the game, you are succeeding.

And finally, let’s pray for our pastor-friends. None of them/us are perfect. We all need an extra measure of grace. And the work we do affects eternity.

Shepherds: the Sheep are Watching

design-26While it should be intuitive, I think it needs to be said: people follow their leaders. Leaders influence and impact. Those who lead others must understand their responsibility. Those we lead watch our behaviors. They listen to us talk. Whether intentional or not, followers pick up traits and characteristics from their leaders.

But some of the influence wielded by leaders morphs into, perhaps, unanticipated results. It may be assumed that a happy leader produces happy followers, but it’s not that simple.

At the risk of over simplification and generalizations, I think…

Angry shepherds lead wounded sheep.
Critical shepherds lead insecure sheep.
Disconnected shepherds lead wandering sheep.
Shallow shepherds lead vulnerable sheep.
Arrogant shepherds lead cynical sheep.
Manipulating shepherds lead confused sheep.
Selfish shepherds lead hungry sheep.
Doting shepherds lead entitled sheep.
Cowardly shepherds lead endangered sheep.                                                                                                                                            Rebel leaders lead rebellious sheep.

And

Compassionate shepherds lead recovering sheep.
Gracious shepherds lead transparent sheep.
Patient shepherds lead confident sheep.
Courageous shepherds lead secure sheep.
Consistent shepherds lead stable sheep.
Kind shepherds lead trusting sheep.
Nurturing shepherds lead healthy sheep.
Engaging shepherds lead connected sheep.
Serving shepherds lead committed sheep.                                                                                                                   Empowering shepherds lead growing sheep.

Of course, these are not written in stone, but you get the concept.

Leaders carry the heavy load of being influencers. If you are a leader, lead well. The wellbeing of the people you lead is dependent upon you.

Shepherds: the Sheep are Watching.

Let’s Wear Out Our Church Buildings!

design-25Years ago, I wrote an article about how to keep the church spotless and looking brand-new: simply don’t use it! Never walk on the carpet. Don’t use the restrooms. Keep kids out of the nursery… you get the idea. It will stay brand new; but we would be missing the entire point of having church property.

I was talking to some pastors recently about the flack they’ve received from church members when they made changes to the church building or furniture. Horror stories abound among those of us who’ve been in ministry for a while. Churches have blown up (figuratively) because someone moved an altar or traded pews for chairs or painted a wall (or covered the lovely hand-painted mural in the baptistery!).

My thoughts today are headed this way: I would love to see all of us absolutely wear out the carpet in our sanctuaries! I hope that we see our pews or chairs fall apart. We should get great joy when we see little hand prints on the hall walls. I have no problem with glass doors with tons of fingerprints on them.

All of these things are telltale signs that the building is being used. People are coming together, fellowshipping together and experiencing life change. Isn’t that the point of our buildings in the first place?

Please understand, I am not condoning dirty buildings. In fact, dirty smelly church properties should be a bane for all of us. What I am referring to is: heavy usage! We should expect furniture to wear out. But once furniture or floors show wear, replace it or clean it. The purpose of carpet is not to make it last, the purpose of carpet is to make the building more conducive to worship and ministry.

Getting new carpet? Pray that so many people walk and worship on it that it must be replaced soon. Painting the walls in the Children’s Ministry Center? Work to bring in so many kids that it needs to be painted once a year. Let’s start wanting our buildings to show signs of wear – so we must maintain it often.

Note: I am not suggesting we allow people to destroy the property – that is ridiculous. I am suggesting that a church that is busy ministering to people will need to maintain more than a church that no one attends.

Let’s stop trying to make the furnishings last forever. Furnishings are not sacred; ministry is.

Let me conclude with a cool little proverb: “Without oxen a stable stays clean, but you need a strong ox for a large harvest.” (Proverbs 14:4 NLT) In essence, if you want a clean church, don’t use it. Empty churches stay new (but they sure smell stale!) But a well-used church will produce an even more used church!

Let’s wear out our church buildings!

What Story Do You Tell About Church?

design-21Anyone who has ever been a part of a church has a story to tell and the story we tell tells a lot about us.

Some tell stories of grace and support and growth.

Some tell stories of boredom and disconnect and departure.

Others tell stories of insult and offense and hurt.

The stories we tell are a narrative of our experiences. When we publicly share the events of our church history, we give a glimpse into our spirits. If our stories are sweet, it’s a clear indication that we had a good history in church and we are presently in a good spiritual place because of it. When our stories are bitter, our past has not been good, and our current spiritual condition is suffering as a result.

But anyone who has been part of a church has had both bad and good experiences in church. Upon which do we focus?

If your story features a crooked preacher, a lying leader, a gossiping deacon, or a corrupt Elder, you focus on the bad. In fact, through our stories, some of us reveal that we are deeply hurt, bitter and wounded. This is tragic. If your story features supportive leaders, honorable pastors, godly deacons and compassionate members, you focus on the good.

But interestingly, some who have been exposed to the same experiences tell different stories. Some who tell good stories have been brutally hurt in the church.

What’s the difference? While it is not good to compare ourselves to others, some choose to heal while others choose to remain hurt. And you can hear it in our stories.

You don’t necessarily choose your stories (some things happen to you) but you definitely choose the stories you tell.

If your stories reveal that you have been hurt – and we have all been hurt – find healing and the ability to forgive and move forward. Then your story will reveal a spirit that is whole.

What story do you tell about your church? It’s really more a story about your heart.

5 Things Ministry Leaders Should Expect From and Provide for One Another

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  1. Assume the best. Don’t assume that another leader is corrupt or disingenuous. Expect and assume the best for one another. Let’s not become cynical about our colleagues.
  2. Give the benefit of the doubt. Don’t be quick to believe everything that is said about someone else in leadership. If they are accused, wait before judging, and assume the accusation is false.
  3. Innocent until proven guilty. Be slow with your judgments and even slower with your condemnation of other leaders. If solid evidence of wrongdoing is presented, gently engage in Biblical discipline. But if not, absolve the accused.
  4. “I got your back.” Stick up for one another. Your turn for being attacked will come soon enough; you’ll be grateful for the support.
  5. Treat with honor. Respect other leaders, practice mutual deference. Don’t think, feel or act negatively about them. Never speak disparagingly of other leaders. Practice mutual honor.

In a day when leaders are highly mistrusted and eagerly destroyed by an antagonistic culture, we must stick together, fight for one another and watch out for the good of our co-laborers.

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!

Encouragement for the Dis-Couraged Leader

designI purposefully hyphenated the word discouraged.

The prefix “dis” is defined this way: “a Latin prefix meaning “apart,” “asunder,” “away,” “utterly,” or having a privative, negative, or reversing force.” (dictionary.com)

So, a person who is discouraged is the opposite of courageous. Perhaps not cowardly, but certainly far from brave.

Unfortunately, this describes many leaders I know. Confidence eludes them. Optimism is a million miles away. Is this because they are poor leaders? I don’t think so. I think the source of discouragement is much deeper than a performance consideration. But rather than dig into the cause of discouragement for leaders, I want to spend a moment exploring reasons to be encouraged.

Think about this:

You see only with your eyes. The true measure of your work is probably unseen physically but it is revealed spiritually. In other words, you don’t know the good you are accomplishing. Don’t get too down over a lack of measurable progress. I think you are having a greater impact that you realize.

You are not called to be successful in the eyes of the world; you are called to be faithful to your God. Our culture measures success by the amount of money and fame we possess. Like the weather, these things can change in a moment. God defines success by faithfulness. You’ll never be a celebrity, but you will be rewarded for obeying the Lord – whether or not you are famous.

You are not alone. Leading is the loneliest job in the world and sometimes the solitude can result in discouragement. Jesus has promised to be with you to the very end. And you have colleagues who care about you. Maybe they are too busy to let you know, but you are important to them. And by the way, don’t be too busy to check in on your leader-friends.

Your discouragement can actually become a tool to help others. Most of the people you lead are currently dealing with a similar issue. They are looking for a way through the puzzle. Who better to lead them than one who has recently escaped from the maze of discouragement? If you stay stuck in the trap of being downcast, they will stay stuck with you. Lead yourself and others out of the cloud of discouragement.

Your hard work and dedication will eventually pay off. One of the sources of discouragement is fatigue. We simply get tired of pushing the rock up the hill with no end in sight. Anybody can be happy when everything is going well. But true leaders have to forge ahead against the wind and in the face of lots of opposition. This can wear you down. But please be aware that the investments you are making now will have big results. It is a spiritual law that cannot be broken – you reap what you sow. If you will be faithful, even in the little things, God will multiply it.

One day, when the journey is finished, I believe that you will receive the ultimate affirmation. The Scriptures tell us that, if we remain faithful, we will stand before the Lord and will hear His words: “Well done good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in the small things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter in to the joy of the Lord!” How awesome is that? While you may not see the finish line, it’s close. Don’t give up!

Rather than offer a lot of spiritual-sounding clichés, here is something practical: It’s the leaders in the world who make things happen. It’s not easy (it if was, everyone would do it!). If you are compelled to be a leader, you must lead. The only other option is quitting and then you become part of the problem rather than part of the solution. Steel yourself; prepare your heart. Strengthen your backbone. Develop greater courage. And if you need help with this, reach out to another leader. They get what you’re going through.

Finally, glean from the truth of this passage: “Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again–my Savior and my God!” (Psalms 43:5)

Dis-Couraged Leader, encourage yourself! Lead on!

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 (part 2)

23915882_10155955440214214_6127062570614102048_nThis is round 2 of Dangers for Pastors. Part 1 got some great feedback so let’s move forward with more thoughts on what pastors should guard against. Once again, I believe that threats of violence in our churches are the least of our worries. We have daily encounters with more subtle, but just as deadly threats.

Here are eleven additional dangers to go with the thirteen from last time. Since I got a lot of feedback on dangers, I will try to name the source of the thought.

People pleasing: Unless you have some type of social disorder, you want to be liked; everybody does. Problems arise for pastors when they spend an inordinate amount of time and effort trying to get people to like them. Even worse is when a pastor fails to do the right thing in an effort to gain the approval of others. A desire to please people is an indication of an insecurity issue. If a leader feels inferior or if one’s job is on the line, trying to please people is a real temptation. The problem is, we can’t please people. My friend, Bill Isaacs reminded me of this. So not only do we fail at trying to please others, we fail at leading. The solution? Perhaps focus on pleasing God and making an effort to be at peace with others. Don’t you love the meme going around that says, “If you want to make everybody happy, become an ice cream salesman.”

Isolation: Depending upon your personality, you may prefer to be alone. Introverts sometimes make great leaders (see the article related to this idea). Alone time is necessary but too much alone time is unhealthy. There is a huge difference between alone time and being a loner. When one has been hurt, it is normal to protect oneself. When betrayed by a friend, the tendency is to trust no one. The problem is, a one-strand cord is easily broken. (Ecclesiastes 4:12). Isolation is not a sign of strength; it is a sign of danger. Pastors need confidants. They need friends. Kevin Wells said, “The battles they face that they feel they have no one to talk to about. Maybe it’s that they don’t feel like they can tell anyone.” Pastors need people in front of them pulling them along and people behind them pushing them along. Don’t be an easy mark for the devil; don’t let him catch you alone in a dark alley.

Bitterness: Every person has plenty of experience being hurt. I think that Pastors are especially good targets for inflicting pain. In other words, some people think it is perfectly fine to take cheap shots at the preacher. Even when this is not the case, pastors are susceptible to become bitter and hardhearted. Disappointment, unresolved pain, and failure – all of these can lead one to becoming bitter. Pastor, be aware, your bitterness will lead you nowhere good and you will take those you lead with you.

Getting and staying stuck: It happens to most everyone. We find ourselves in a season of unproductivity, but we can’t seem to make the changes necessary to regain our productivity. For pastors, it may involve ministry practices. We have operated a certain way for a long time but that way doesn’t seem to have the impact that it used to. It takes real courage to risk changing a system. But if pastors refuse to adapt, they will get stuck for sure. Of special concern are the pastors who have a few years to retirement but they think they can do business as usual and survive until they quit. This can be a fatal error. God and His people deserve better than coasting. Get unstuck!

Conflict avoidance. My friend John Upchurch reminded me of this danger. Because we wish to be peacemakers, and most of us have never had any conflict resolution training, we are not good at conflict. Some even avoid conflict at all costs. While conflict must not become the culture of the ministry, pastors must not avoid conflict. We must be skilled at bringing calm into a troubled situation. We must be adept at managing conflict for the good of the church. It is literally impossible to avoid conflict altogether. If unresolved, it will eventually destroy ministries and lives. So pastor, get good at facing and resolving conflict!

Vision vs. Management: According to Jonathan Augustine, managing expectations rather than visionary leading can be hazardous to a pastor. There are times in every ministry where the passion of the vision gets watered down by the reality of what people expect out of the leader. Ministers have one foot in each camp: vision from God and the real life scenarios of those they lead. Where we get into trouble is when the vision grows distant because we are too busy managing what people say they want from us. If I always have my head in the clouds, being hyper-spiritual, I will lose contact with people. If I never have my head in the heavenlies, I will lose touch with God. It is vital that we stay focused on the vision that God has given us because it is by realizing the vision that we can minister to the needs of the people.

Greener Grass Mentality: My good friend, Pastor Chad Dunford speaks about “refusing to be where you are (current ministry assignment), love where you are (community and congregation) and serve where you are (equipping for works of service through example). It can be tempting to always look for the “next” place, people or opportunity. Some of the best advice I was given was from my mentor in the following statement – “Unless you have knowingly disobeyed the will of God for your life, you are where you are because He put you there.” I agree, Chad!! The danger of this kind of thinking is, we are never satisfied. There remains a deep unrest, we are disgruntled and always feel as though we are missing something. This is a trap and will lead to misery for us and for those we lead. Thanks, Chad for the reminder!

Fearing questions: Many pastors are afraid of questions. They equate people asking questions to doubting and skepticism. Some like to appear that they know all the answers – and questions complicate this ruse. Pastor, just because someone asks questions doesn’t mean they are attacking you or trying to overthrow your leadership. Of course, some are trying to do this but the vast majority of people just appreciate information. Today’s culture requires that leaders be engaged and willing to share important information. The “on a need to know basis” doesn’t work anymore. By the way, one of the things you can do to bolster your leadership strength is to admit when you don’t know something. Whether or not you admit it, everybody knows it. Pastor, genuinely invite questions.

Lack of transparency: Information is power. When a leader possesses information and doesn’t share it with followers, people think they are shady. We cannot expect people to trust us if we give them reason to doubt. Leaders – try something: offer up more info than your team requests. Share details that show you have nothing to hide. Then watch the level of trust increase on your team. And then watch how others begin to share openly with others. Transparency is a powerful friend.

Sex and money: When I asked colleagues for input on dangers for pastors, several mentioned some rather obvious ones. Bucky Ray Sitsler said, “It seems to me that sex and money are the two greatest dangers. Thus, the two most important areas of life to ensure accountability processes are in place.” Eric Rogers said it in a humorous way: “Sex and silver. Dollars and dames. Monies and honeys.” M.E. Woody commented, “Pride, Petticoats and Pennies.” And my friend, Dr. Hong Yang quipped, “girls, gold ‘n glory.” I think we get the idea. Few dangers have brought down as many ministers as sex and money. They are the oldest tricks in the book. So why do we not protect ourselves better?

Leading but not following: This smacks of arrogance, don’t you think? But in reality, there are a lot of leaders who unwittingly find themselves in this situation. Leading is a demanding task. Most of us are pretty busy. And busyness can result in a lack of connectivity. We don’t have much choice but to connect with those we lead. But connecting with those who lead us is another matter. Sometimes we have to pursue those over us, and to be honest, our pride can become a hindrance here. Pastor, you are too strong to not have a leader. Too many pastors spend all of their time showing others the way when they have no one showing them the way. Leaders, don’t be so busy leading that you forget to follow.

Well, that’s the next eleven on the list. I plan to add more in a week or two. In the meantime, if you have any feedback or ideas for our consideration, I’d love to hear it!

Should a Church Have a “Nest Egg”?

designSome churches have money in the bank. A few have a lot of money in the bank. There is nothing, in my opinion, inherently wrong with that. An emergency fund is a great idea, and none of us know the future so a few months of operational funds is probably a great idea.

But I have great concern about churches that hold on to a fund and refuse to invest it in ministry. I know of several churches and organizations that hold a large amount of money in the bank while the needs of the ministry go unmet. I do think it is wrong for a church to have a large account while people need help.

What can happen:

A fund can become our hope. Some churches no longer practice stewardship because they have money in the bank.

A fund can become our trust. We no longer rely on God to bless the church – we have money to take care of that.

A fund can become a god that we worship. I have personally witnessed churches fight and divide over what to do with money in the bank.

A fund can earn interest that can prevent us from sharing it, because we don’t want to lose the interest.

I even know of groups that loan these moneys out to brothers or sisters – at a significant percentage rate.

Something is wrong with this picture.

No, I am not a proponent of giving away all of the church’s funds. We shouldn’t enable the entitled. Jesus said that there will always be needy people so we can’t fix everyone’s problems. Since these funds belong to God, we are required to handle them with great caution. But that leads me to my basic point:

God does not provide money to the church so we can keep it safe in the bank. He provides money so we can do ministry.

The Parable of the Talents is all the evidence we need. When God puts money in your hands, He expects you to multiply it by investing it into ministry. See Matthew 25:14-30; Luke 19:12-28.

I do not want to give money to a church that hoards it. When people are in need, the church must find a way to utilize the money to help people.

Consider these Bible verses on the topic:

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?” James 2:16-17

If you have two shirts, give one to the poor. If you have food, share it with those who are hungry.” Luke 3:11

And perhaps the most direct: “If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion how can God’s love be in that person?” 1 John 3:17

With all of the scrutiny being placed on churches, we must be fiducially responsible.  More importantly, the money belongs to God, not to us.  He states unequivocally how He feels about selfishness.

So if a church has an account for the building fund, or for missions or for a special purpose – that is a great thing. But churches that are holding a sum of money that is not earmarked for ministry should be challenged to invest it into effective ministry. If you need help with some ideas on where to invest your money, contact me – I have a few ideas.