Tag Archives: pastors

Avoidance Coping by Leaders (or when leaders refuse to deal with problems)

design11There are some pretty heavy psychological observances that can be employed when studying leadership. At the risk of overanalyzing, we are considering what causes some leaders to refuse to deal with failure. I define failure in this instance as the lack of taking a group or organization where God wants it to go. While I certainly am not the ultimate judge of the leadership effectiveness of anyone, I do have the responsibility of helping some leaders be as efficacious as possible.

Diversion may be defined as something that takes attention away from what is happening. When leaders are diverted from their primary task, the organization under their care suffers. We have all witnessed this. It’s interesting to observe leaders who are serving organizations that are failing, but the leaders don’t focus on the solutions. A tendency of some leaders is to concentrate on something else and, thereby, deflect the attention that may reveal that they are neglecting their duty. The focus that is required in order to solve the issue is lost.

We leaders may be like the bird dog described by Aldo Leopold:

“I had a bird dog names Gus. When Gus couldn’t find pheasants, he worked up an enthusiasm for Sora rails and meadowlarks. This whipped-up zeal for unsatisfactory substitutes masked his failure to find the real thing. It assuaged his inner frustration.” (A Sand County Almanac, p. 200)

Another example may be (hypothetically, of course!) a pastor of a shrinking church that chooses to spend his or her time debating politics or bemoaning the decline of the culture or criticizing the church members. In the few precious hours of leadership influence they have available, they point out the faults of others. I do not think that these leaders are necessarily malicious. I believe that diversion is a tactic that some leaders employ because they simply don’t know what else to do. They are frustrated by their failed efforts to fix their organization and they are compelled to do something. So, blaming others, attacking others who are having success, minding the business of others and conflicting with team members becomes their default response.

To refer again to a psychological term, rumination “refers to the tendency to repetitively think about the causes, situational factors, and consequences of one’s negative emotional experience (Nolen-Hoeksema, 1991)” (psychologytoday.com). When people engage in rumination (overthinking) they are typically trying to think their way out of uncomfortable emotions. This is in the place of focusing on solutions to the problems. It can be easier for a leader to come up with reasons rather than answers. There have been times in my experience when I have spent more time blaming my predecessor, analyzing the dysfunctions of the organization and justifying my lethargy rather than working toward resolutions for the problems at hand.

Avoidance coping is a maladaptive coping mechanism characterized by the effort to avoid dealing with a stressor. (mentalhelp.net) A distraction or a non-essential issue can steal the attention of a leader, especially when she is under stress. It can be relieving to think about another topic rather than to continue to wrestle with one’s own problems.

Then there is the more diabolical diversion tactics. If a leader under duress can create a diversion that will focus the attention of followers on someone or something else, the pressure can be alleviated. We’ve seen this personified in blaming/projecting (pointing at others as the problem), distracting (changing the subject or avoiding confrontation) and procrastinating (putting off the inevitable).

Some unscrupulous leaders are masters at clouding the issue or offering a “red herring” – misleading or distracting from a relevant or important issue. Slight of hand or misdirection is useful in magic tricks and sports but it has no place in the leadership of an organization.

A railroad engineer is at the helm of the train, which is speeding out-of-control down the track. As it heads toward the train station where, short of preventive maneuvers, lives will be lost, the engineer discusses the poor condition of the tracks, the outdated equipment of the engine, the bad attitudes of the passengers and the lack of wisdom of those who chose to build the train station in that location. What he needs to do is hit the brakes; but instead, he focuses on things that are out of his control. The result is devastation.

Leaders, we are the engineers. The train is our organization. Let’s take ownership. People are desperate for leaders who can identify the solutions to problems and to lead the organization through the crises.

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Honest Church Names

design10Have you ever wondered what would happen if there was a rule that required churches to use names that actually and accurately described their ministry? Think about it. The churches that select an exaggerated name (ex: The Glorious Tabernacle of Blood-Bought Saints of God) or an ethereal name (Ex: Transfiguration Church) or an ambitious name (ex: World Transformation Church) may have some adjustments to make. While church names may be used to describe a location or a denominational affiliation, some are designed to give us some insight into the church before we ever walk through the doors. While simply in a jest-mode, I think it may be interesting to require some authenticity when naming a church. I can image that some people have been shocked when they see the name of a church (and see the great exploits on their website) and then visit the church. I get it – it is common for churches to be named in way that reflects the vision and aspiration of the church leaders. We want to be identified in the way that we wish we were. But this thought is worthy of consideration.

Some suggested honest names for churches, along with some tag lines:

Tired Church (we’re too exhausted to care)

One Generation from Extinction Church (no young people allowed)

Desperate church (we’ll tell you anything you want to hear)

Anything Goes Church (we have no standards)

Crabby Church (there’s no smiling allowed in church!)

Clique Church (no, you won’t fit in here)

Money Church (that’s all we talk about)

Latte Church (caffeinated for Christ)

Rules and Regulations Church (you’ll never measure up)

Holier Than Thou Church (you’ll still never measure up!)

Wannabe TBN Church (Lots of gold on the stage and hairspray on the hair)

To Be Like Joel Church (Smiles all around)

Wannabe Hipster Church (skinny jeans and beards required)

Stuck in Our Ways Church (we don’t care what reaches people for Christ)

It’s All About Me Church (have it your way)

1970’s Church (no explanation needed)

While we shouldn’t intentionally mislead people with church names that cause people to doubt our integrity, addressing this issue is not my goal. The serious point of this post is not that we should change the names of our churches to accurately reflect our challenges. Nor am I trying to make fun of ministries. Rather, I would hope that we would all aspire to make our churches as healthy and productive as possible.

What if the name of our churches revealed what really is going on at the church? While not so glamorous, wouldn’t it be great to see names such as:

Healing Church

Restoration Church

Hope Church

Forgiveness Church

Jesus’ Church


Our Church Has a Bad Reputation

design9“Our Church Has a Bad Reputation.” We’ve all heard the stories. A lying preacher. A stealing deacon. An immoral elder.

In the last few months, no fewer than a dozen pastors and church members have used the above phrase to describe their church to me. Like people, the church has a name among the citizens of the surrounding area. Our conduct has an impact on how people perceive us. Church leaders and members should remember that we represent the church. Unfortunately, many churches are paying the price of the misbehavior of the people involved.

So what do we do when our church has a bad reputation in the community? I have a few ideas:

  1. Don’t give up! Reputations can be repaired. In John 4, Jesus spoke with a woman who had a jaded reputation. She was living in sin and everyone knew it. But Christ forgave her, restored her character and actually used her brokenness to heal many others. Read the story in John 4:1-42.
  2. Do the right thing. Pay bills on time. Don’t gossip. Tip well at restaurants. Manicure the church lawn. All of these things help others to determine their attitude about your church.
  3. Sometimes you have to start over. New churches are planted every day because so many old churches won’t or can’t recover from a bad rep in the community. But let me encourage you – while God begins new things, He also specializes in reclamation projects! God’s Spirit made a valley of dry bones into a powerful army! (Ezekiel 37). Church revitalization is as important as church planting.
  4. Recognize excuses. While there is little doubt that some churches have been guilty of causing irreparable damage, this “excuse” can be manipulated. If you are a church leader or a member of a church, please don’t allow a checkered past to serve as your reason for not accomplishing something great for God. Job speaks of the potential of a tree stump. Even though it has been cut down, “at the scent of water it will bud and sprout again like a new seedling.” There is a time to get over a bad past and create a good future.
  5. Recognize blaming. Not every critic of the church is authentic or right. Some simply want to find fault with the church. When this happens, there is no need to try to defend the church – Jesus can handle that. But let’s not assume guilt for something that we haven’t done.
  6. Pray for, work toward and lead a renewal process. Assume responsibility for turning around the reputation of the church. Take ownership of the ministry (under Christ, of course). Throughout history, God has utilized men and women to influence the culture on behalf of the church. He can do that through you!

As a closing note, if you are a victim of a transgressing church; if you have been hurt or mistreated or injured by a church, a ministry leader, church members or a denomination, I sincerely apologize to you and pray for your healing and restoration. Hopefully you can find renovation for your brokenness. Please don’t allow bitterness to control your life. Jesus has healing for you.

Let’s pray for our churches and do all we can to represent Christ and His Church well!


Healthy Pastor Healthy Church

13557721_10154376814459214_6871678460088746686_nIn order for churches and ministries to be healthy and productive, their leaders (pastors) must be healthy. When we think of health, we usually think only in terms of physical health; but a more holistic approach is needed. Too many of us limit our definition of health, and possibly limit our effectiveness in the ministry.

Let’s focus on our wellbeing in regard to a spiritual, relational, emotional, mental and physical point of view. Balance is needed in order for us to remain productive for the long term. The demands placed upon an individual by modern ministry are significant. We’ve all seen friends who did not survive the rigors of church leadership. It takes a strong person to remain active in ministry for many years. While we all agree that we must be spiritually healthy, let’s not ignore things like our physical condition. In today’s world of authenticity and transparency, we can appear hypocritical if we preach a Gospel that doesn’t include every aspect of our lives. If we are perceived as inauthentic or disingenuous, our ministries will suffer. If we are not growing intellectually, if our relationships are unhealthy, if we are unstable emotionally, our message will be hindered. Let’s fast and pray but let’s also gain education and work out.

Here is an idea to consider: these things are all connected. When we are healthy spiritually, our emotions, our health, our relationships and our mental capacities are impacted. We can’t truly say that we are healthy spiritually if we are ignoring vital aspects of our being. We can’t segregate the elements of our health. If the pastor is out of balance, the church will be out of balance. That’s what we call leadership.

Pastors, let’s take care of ourselves so that we can lead healthy and productive ministries but let’s also take care of ourselves so we can enjoy the benefits that God provides for healthy people.


Pastor, You Can’t Fix Everybody

IMG_0268Let me begin by saying, pastors can’t “fix” anybody. Only God heals broken people.

A while back, I met an individual and, within 20 seconds, they unloaded a barrage of information about their spouse that stunned me. Their graphic language, their sharing of personal details and their willingness to discuss intimate information about their spouse with a total stranger was a bit shocking. I’ve been in ministry for close to 30 years so this experience is nothing new. But this conversation told me a lot about this individual. My concerns were later confirmed. Before the event was over, this person spoke to me 2 additional times, both times, sharing the same details. I talked to them a total of about 6 minutes but I heard information that only the closest intimate friend should know. I finally had to stop them mid conversation.

What’s my point?

I was not able to help this person. I prayed for them (and still do). I advised them to seek professional help. I encouraged them to connect with their local church pastor. Later, in a brief conversation with this person’s pastor, I learned that they were perpetually in need and that this situation was long-term. Apparently, this couple has shown themselves unwilling to make the adjustments necessary in order to solve their issues.

Pastors, let me share this with you:

No one is beyond God’s ability to help; some people are beyond your ability to help.

We all know people who are perpetually needy. I am not talking about those who are in chronic pain or with a life situation not of their doing that is creating continual suffering. I am speaking about those whose lifestyles prove that they do not want to recover. Some even get a thrill from the attention they receive from their issues.

Here is a little advice for pastors who are expected to help those who may be very difficult to help:

  • Humble down: You are not the Messiah. You do not have all of the answers. It is not a defeat to admit you don’t have the answers – in fact, it is sometimes a victory.
  • Know your limits: A renown scholar once said, “A good man’s gotta know his limitations.” (Detective Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood) in Magnum Force). If the issues are beyond your scope of authority or expertise, admit that. No one is an expert in every area.
  • Recognize the users: Some only want to monopolize your time. Others wish to play on your sympathies. While we must not become hard-hearted in regard to the needs of others, we must learn to spot those who are not looking for solutions.
  • Refer, refer, refer. Doctors do it all the time. When they see a patient that needs the care of a specialist, they refer to that specialist. Pastors may find it beneficial to follow suit.
  • Grieve for them but don’t take up their grief: A good pastor will hurt when his/her sheep are hurting. We must carry the spiritual burden of loving people that are in misery. However, it is a mistake to assume the load of their pain. We are strong but not superhuman. We must learn to be sensitive and compassionate without damaging our spiritual and emotional health. Don’t be afraid to draw the line of distinction.
  • Give them hope: God never gives up on people; we shouldn’t either. Let them know that you are not their solution but that God has their answer. While we are not to try to be a savior to needy people, we are to point them to their Savior.
  • Remember to whom they belong. You are the pastor and you are the under shepherd, but they belong to Jesus. He is the Good Shepherd. When and if people are pulling too much out of you, give them to Jesus.

Once again, no one is beyond God’s ability to help; some people are beyond your ability to help. If you try too hard, it may have a negative impact on the people you are trying to help, on yourself and upon your ministry. If you try too hard to fix others, it may break you. I don’t want to see that happen.

I’m praying for you pastor!


Why We Must Invest in Young Leaders

design[2].pngThere is a lot of talk these days about why it is so difficult for most people to connect with Millennials. They are complex, some of them have no interest in interacting with us and a few of them think they are entitled.

Of course they don’t have it all together. If they did, we would need them to teach us, because we certainly don’t have it all together.

Here are some reasons why we MUST invest in the next generation of leaders:

  • We won’t live forever; someone needs to be prepared to take over once we are no longer able to lead.
  • Some of us need to step aside before we are ready. One of the problems with growing older is our awareness of our effectiveness or ineffectiveness may be compromised. Let’s prepare younger people to lead before we reach the place of ineffectiveness.
  • Someone invested in us. We have a responsibility to pass on the valuable insight and wisdom that was generously given to us. To do otherwise is selfish. One of my favorite Bible passages is II Timothy 2:2 “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.” I see four or five generations involved in the teaching process. Let’s follow that pattern and pass on what we know.
  • We love them. Because we care about young leaders, we will invest in them.
  • Because the church and other organizations need young leaders in place now and in the future. The current lack of leadership in our world is evidence that we need strong leaders to emerge.
  • We have things to learn from young leaders. They have a handle on some concepts that we must learn in order to be effective.
  • Because we are better together. Mono-generational existence is boring, unhealthy and unproductive.

I’m excited about the young leaders I know. They are authentic, bright and well-informed. If we do our part to help them get ready, the future will be in good hands. If you know anything that can make the world a better place and can prepare people for what is ahead, do your best to share it with those younger leaders who will then share it with others.


The Best Thing About My Faith Family

I have a great job! But it’s so much more than a job. My work is my calling.

design[1]A friend recently asked me about my favorite part of our work. I didn’t have to think twice about my response.

My favorite part of the ministry in which I am involved is not the meetings. I love my colleagues and my leaders but I’m not a big fan of sitting around a table and working through an agenda. I’m not especially fond of traveling. Crowded planes and long car rides wear me down. Dealing with bankers and attorneys and real estate agents can be taxing (sorry friends who serve in those roles). And, honestly there are a few things about my faith family that are difficult. There are politics. There are egos. There is conflict. Of course, these things are evident in all organizations.

But the best part of our faith family is the people. My wife and I have the distinct privilege of serving in a leadership role for our denomination. As part of our responsibilities, we travel to a variety of places and meet a lot of great people. Every place we go, we are reminded about how precious the people in our movement are. We meet so many hard working, faithful and competent people. Pastors, church leaders, church members…every place we visit we find a consistent batch of great folks who love God and are working hard to build His kingdom. I refer to them as the backbone of the church. They are by far the best thing about our faith family.

I find it interesting that a few people choose to leave our group. I have a couple of friends who have decided that they can do better. That is between them and God and I hold no ill feelings toward them. But unfortunately, the reasons I hear from my friends who leave are, in my estimation, shallow. The aforementioned difficulties usually make the list: too many politics, too many egos, too much conflict. I see what they are saying and I agree that these are problems. But here is my point:

The quality of the people makes the challenges well worth it!

I’m not blind – I see the problems. And many people I know are working hard on and making progress toward engaging solutions. But rising far above these issues in my mind are the men and women who make up my tribe. I refuse to throw away relationships with so many awesome people because there are organizational challenges. The more I travel and the more people I get to meet and work with, the more I am convinced, I’m in the best family on earth.

I’m thankful for my faith family; it’s a privilege for me to serve in this capacity. By the way, I am a part of the Church of God.