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funeralOn Thursdays, I generally write a post for church leaders.  Much of the time, however, this is applicable to Christians in general.

I have done many funerals.  These funerals have been for infants, older people, and all ages in between.   I done funerals for those who died after a slow, lingering illness. I have done funerals for those who died suddenly in an automobile crash.

Years ago, I taught an undergraduate class called Christian Ministry.  As a part of the class, students would tour a funeral home.  A funeral home director would explain everything that would happen with a family in the home.  Students would see the casket selection room, the preparation room, and the chapel.  In the chapel the director would give some suggestions regarding funerals.

The following are eight suggestions I want to make regarding funerals.

Maybe you will find one of these helpful.

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Every Thursday, I write with church leaders in mind.  Yet, this particular post probably speaks to many of us, regardless of how we serve.

Let’s think for a moment about self-consciousness.  

Man-Looking-in-MirrorWhen I was in high school (yes, this was a long time ago) a photographer came to our campus to take picture of our football and basketball teams.

There was a guy who was a receiver on our team who really seemed concerned about how he might look in a picture.  The photographer was going to take action shots. At one point, just before he began taking pictures of the receivers catching footballs, this particular receiver wanted to practice.  The quarterback threw him a pass (which he caught) and he immediately yelled to one of his friends, “How did I look?”

Many of us spend much time and energy preoccupied with ourselves.  We want to look good and can become more preoccupied with our image than the reality of our lives.  This self-consciousness comes out in interesting ways:

1.  A young father may spend much time and energy wanting to appear to be cool.  Consequently, his appearance receives more attention than his character.

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ENERGETIC1Most church leaders I know work hard.  You may serve as a preacher, elder, or some other kind of role as a Christian servant.  I suspect you want to be effective, you want to make a difference, and you are trying to carry out your ministry in the best way you know how.

Yet, you may have found that ministry can take a great amount of energy.

For example:

1.  One older woman met her new preacher.  She then boasted regarding their former preacher, “Oh we ran him off!”  She said much in that one statement.

2.  A well educated couple took notes during most every sermon.  Their notes?  These were actually critiques of their young  minister’s grammatical errors.  After each sermon they presented him with the list as they communicated their displeasure.

3.  In one congregation, an office assistant made life very difficult for a new minister at the church. This was allowed to continue for several years.  Why?  She was related to one of the elders.

4.  Two long-time ministers in a congregation conspired to make life very challenging for a new preacher, their co-worker.  He knew that if he stayed with that congregation, he would continue to feel very much alone in his relationships with the other ministers.

These kinds of situations take a lot of energy.  You may be in a difficult situation in your congregation.

It is critical that you create energy producing habits and practices. Energy has to come in and not just flow out or else we can pay a severe price.

For example, the following are some of the practices which give me energy.

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QuietA number of years ago, I spent three days and two nights at “The Quiet House.” This is a retreat cottage hidden away in the Texas Hill Country on the Laity Lodge property. This little cottage is secluded. It is surrounded by live oaks, cedar trees, and deer that come and go.

I went there thinking it would be great to spend time alone in a place that is undisturbed. After all, there are no neighbors or cars nearby. No television, radio, wifi, e-mail, or texting. My phone hardly got a signal.

I spent much of my time reading, hiking, and writing in my journal. While I was there I read a moving book about a father/son relationship.

Yet, it was difficult. The first two days were especially challenging. It was hard to be quiet. It was difficult to be surrounded by quiet.

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mansion-old-523x220 (1)In January of this year (2014), I began working as Vice President of Harding School of Theology in Memphis, Tn. This was quite a change after 36 years of congregational ministry. For most of those years I worked with churches in Florence, Ala., Kansas City, Mo., and most recently in Waco, Tx. The change in ministry has been both invigorating and exhausting.  Transition is difficult no matter how good the transition is.  However, it can also be a time of renewed energy. You might be interested in the following: After all these years, why did you transition from congregational ministry to serving in this school?  I received the invitation to serve in this role at Harding School of Theology.  What excited me most about this opportunity was the possibility of making a real difference in churches as well as cities/towns where graduates would serve.  Men and women who study at HST can really make a significant kingdom difference regardless of their vocation.  These people are not at HST for academic study alone but are also being shaped and formed as Christ-followers.

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PhoneI was two years old when this picture was taken. My parents had just moved to Dallas from Little Rock.

Of course, I don’t remember this moment. Nevertheless, this picture means a lot to me. At that moment my parents were a young couple who had moved to a big city with their two year old. Little did they know of the twists and turns their lives would take. Nor could they have imagined what life would be like for their toddler.

Years later, a variety of experiences would shape and form my life and forever impact me.

I would enter kindergarten. Mrs. Rich was my teacher. I would come away from that experience with good memories.

Just a few years later, I would have a brother and sister. I would live with my family of origin, go to college and then eventually leave and marry.

I would have moments of joy and also moments when I felt utterly defeated.

I would learn the story of God’s love. I would be baptized. I would continue to grow in my faith as a part of a church community.

Years later, I would marry Charlotte and we would have two children, Christine and Jamie. We would spend much of our lives in Alabama, Missouri, and Texas.

Now, here we are with two grandchildren, two sons-in-law, and many great memories of the places where we have lived.

I never would have dreamed, even a few years ago, that we would live in Memphis and that I would be working with Harding School of Theology.

Why mention this?

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conversation and coffeeI want to suggest a way of learning that I have practiced for many years.

For the last 35 years, I have learned from a variety of people by simply asking questions. These are questions that I have thought about in advance. My goal is to glean something helpful from these individuals. What I wish to learn shapes the questions that are asked.

Typically, I will ask a person to coffee, lunch, or simply spend some time at that person’s office.  We meet for an hour or less.

Some examples:

1. I interviewed the mayors of several of the communities where we lived in order to learn about the area. I simply asked these leaders for the opportunity to learn from them.

2. I have interviewed many, many preachers. I asked questions about ministry and preaching, as well as for guidance in experiencing a long term ministry. These conversations also included questions about spiritual formation, dealing with conflict, and overcoming discouragement.

3. I have interviewed business people. From these individuals I have learned much about personal organization, time management, and developing a process for getting things done.

4. I have interviewed husbands to learn about marriage. I have interviewed fathers to learn how to be a better father.

5. Finally, I have interviewed coaches, teachers, professors, and others to gain understanding about various aspects of work and life with the goal of personal growth.

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no counterfeit logo [Converted]Beware of counterfeit ministry!

1. A church leader can become more concerned about image than reality. This church leader will spend much time and energy projecting a particular persona while the reality of this person’s life is elsewhere. In every generation, there is a temptation to want to appear cool, relevant, successful, sought after, important, etc. (Some words will resonate better than others. Nevertheless, the same principle is at work.) Unfortunately, that same person may be settling for a superficial spirituality instead of rigorous discipleship.

2. A church leader can speak one way in public settings while speaking very differently in private. Years ago, a woman shared with me her disappointment in a preacher who spoke warm words about a former elder at a church banquet. That same evening, he privately mocked and made fun of the same man he had honored in the public setting.

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inside_logoSome church leaders really connect with the people who make up the congregations they serve. Others have great difficulty.  The following are a few suggestions that might help you connect. Perhaps one or more of these will be helpful.

1.  Listen to people.  Listen to a wide variety of people in your congregation.  Too many church leaders seem to listen primarily to their critics while others seem to only listen to kindred spirits. Again, listen to people across the spectrum in your congregation.

2.  Ask good questions.  Give some thought as to the questions you might ask people in your congregation.  Having specific questions in mind can help prevent an awkward silence when you don’t know what to say.  It can also keep you focused on having an exchange with someone instead of dominating the conversation.

3.  Reflect on what it might be like to experience another’s circumstance.   For example, consider what it might be like to experience situations such as these:

*What’s it like to be divorced?
*What’s it like to be depressed?
*What’s it like to lose your job?
“What’s it like to have cancer?
*What’s it like to have lost a child?
*What’s it like to learn of your spouse’s affair?
*What’s it like to be secretively in debt due to gambling?
*What’s it like to be gripped by pornography?

Pondering such situations might flavor your remarks in sermons and classes.  Such reflection might also help a church leader reconsider telling a particular joke or making flippant comment.

4.  Don’t tell inside jokes.  A speaker will make a remark in a presentation. Then he says, “That’s an inside joke.”  A few people laugh while everyone else is baffled by the remark.  This practice can leave other people feeling as if they are on the outside looking in.

5.  Pay attention to the edges.  Years ago, a woman gave me some very good advice regarding connecting with people who were on the edges of our congregational life. After a Sunday morning assembly, she asked me if I had met a couple who had been visiting our church.  I had not.  She said, “You are going to have to try harder.  These are not people who are going to come to you.”  She was right.  I needed to be more intentional in connecting with people who were on the edges.

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exhaustion1My friend told me many years ago, “If you are going to last, you can’t keep working like this.”

I was a young preacher.  I had just told my new friend some details about my typical work week.  I had no sense of boundaries or priorities.  Consequently, my days were typically spent with far too much activity and too little reflection on the value of these activities.

My friend had served congregations for many years.  He was ten years older than me and had given much thought about his use of time in his own ministry.

Consequently, I made some changes in the way I used my time in my work.  I also learned much about the way I had been using my time.

Perhaps you will find these helpful.

1.  Every “yes” is a “no” to something else.  Some people say “yes” to almost every request they receive.   Yet time is a limited resource.  Consequently, I can be busy fulfilling the requests of a few people, while I ignore the message preparation that will impact hundreds of people on Sunday morning.  I learned to think through the implications of saying “yes” to far too many requests.