Leader, Not Too Much Emotion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perpetual Pain for Pastors

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

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

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

Without judging anyone, I have some observations to share. 

Pastor, you may have unresolved hurt/offense if:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Blackberry Picking is Like Ministry

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some observations:

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

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

I’m Concerned

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

Here is why this concerns me:

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

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

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

8 Things I Learned about the Church in 2020

None of us are sad to see 2020 become history. For the rest of our lives we will recall with great emotion the experiences of this year. As painful as it has been, we’ve learned some things. In fact, there are things that we’ve learned that could only be learned in a pandemic.  

As a Church leader, I’ve observed some changes, adjustments and new information as they regard ministry and church work. I’ve taken the time to create a list of 8 things about the Church that I am taking away from 2020: 


1. The church doesn’t need as many trinkets as we thought.
Things once thought indispensable apparently are optional. Things like nice lighting and sophisticated sound equipment and lovely facilities aren’t as important at the end of the year as they were in the beginning. We’ve spent a lot of resources obtaining various ministry tools that are fairly useless right now. This doesn’t mean that these things have no value now or won’t have in the future; but how our priorities change when crisis breaks out! While it’s painful, I believe the refocusing in ministry priorities that has taken place is a good thing. Only the truly necessary ministry elements will survive 2020. 

2. Some who refuse to change, change under pressure. As a group, we are not known for our flexibility and innovation. Tradition and even a refusal to adjust has been a hallmark for many of our churches. But this pandemic has forced some to adapt. Pastors are preaching on the internet now who wouldn’t have been caught dead doing so just a year ago. Worship styles have, of necessity, been adjusted. “The way we’ve always done it” doesn’t fly any more. The pandemic has hurt us deeply but we have grown, evolved and, therefore, maintained our effectiveness through a willingness to flex and adjust. I think we are better because of it. 

3. Some who appeared to be dedicated, weren’t.
CoVid-19 has shaken the Church – at least many of the church members. The number of people in our buildings has been drastically reduced. Some have legitimate reasons for not participating. But some have simply dropped out of church. As is usually the case, pressure squeezes out what is inside of people. Some have dug in deep to commitment and others have quit. 2020 has proven to be a shifting for the church.

4. While a shutdown can happen overnight, a comeback might take a long time. In fact, our comeback is a very long process. We should be prepared to spend most of 2021 rebuilding, refocusing, and restructuring. Those without the maturity to navigate the rebuilding process will fail. Only those who are patient and cautious will succeed in the complete recovery. 2020 has taught us patience.   

5. Pastors are stronger than we thought.
While we know of too many leaders who have been destroyed during this pandemic (one is too many), the vast majority of ministry leaders are carrying on. They keep battling, keep growing, keep leading. Even when weary under the heavy criticism some have faced, they persevere. I think this says a lot about the character of these women and men. 2020 didn’t defeat us!  

6. Some people are more committed to their ideologies than they are their friends (and their church).
Unfortunately, some unnecessary battle lines have been drawn and people have been divided. It’s one thing if doctrinal conflict separates colleagues, but it’s a sad day when people are more loyal to their unproven theories than they are their relationships. 2020 taught us that some relationships won’t last. 


7. We’re more vulnerable than we thought.
While it’s good to have confidence, church leaders must never be presumptuous. Things we thought were secure turned out to be fluid. It’s a humbling thing to realize our need for God’s grace; and we need that kind of humility. If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that we can do nothing without the Lord.   

8. We’re more resilient than we thought.
Unless we quit, we will not be defeated! We will come back and, regardless of what it looks like, the Church will be stronger than ever. While we may measure success differently, God has promised us that we will overcome.

The lessons of 2020 will remain with us. Though it’s been painful – and life-altering, we will be better off, stronger and more effective if we will embrace the lessons.  

God help us in 2021, Blessed New Year!

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)