When You Feel Insignificant

billboard_DiscouragedFeeling insignificant?

I am writing this to you.

You may be a preacher or a minister in some role in a remote area. Or, you may be in an urban area but you feel alone and isolated. There are days when you ache with loneliness. To make matters worse, some of your minister friends talk about getting together regularly with others with a kindred spirit. You are certain they have no idea what this kind of isolation is like.

Perhaps you are an elder. You had hopes and dreams of making a impact. You thought you might have the opportunity to address matters that might make such a kingdom difference. However, the group continues to gravitate toward the trivial. You come home from meetings tired and worn out. You didn’t agree to endless discussions of things that are small and inconsequential.

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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.

Do You Know a Happy Preacher?

Unhappy manThe following are ten characteristics of happy preachers. Do you know a happy preacher?  Are you this kind of preacher?

1.  Happy preachers manage themselves.  Too many people are preoccupied with what others might think, how others might act, and what others might do.  It is far better to learn to manage yourself.

2.  Happy preachers are intentional about who they choose to be with.  No matter what the vocation, you can find plenty of miserable people.  If you spend most of your time sharing stories of gloom with unhappy, miserable preachers, don’t be surprised if your own attitude becomes soured.

3.  Happy preachers understand that being human is more than what they accomplish or what they produce.  Being human also includes our relationships, our feelings, and matters of the soul.

4.  Happy preachers pay attention to time.  They schedule time to do the tasks of their ministry but also take time to laugh, enjoy life, rest, and experience friendships.

5.  Happy preachers find their happiness in the Lord and not the visible, tangible results of their ministry.  Ministry can be painful, hard, and at times excruciatingly difficult.  Yet, our happiness is in Jesus, not in finding the right circumstances for ministry.

6.  Happy preachers choose to be happy now instead of waiting for things to get better.  I once spent several years thinking that the next thing (whatever that might be) would make me happy.  Wrong.

7.  Happy preachers pay attention to the narrative they are living out.  For example, if I believe the biblical story, that the best is yet to come, this will impact how I feel and what I do.  On the other hand, if the narrative is “Ministry and the church are awful and will only get worse,” this will certainly impact how I live.

8.  Happy preachers get the focus off themselves.  Sometimes we are too focused on how we feel, how we look, how we compare, and how we are perceived.  This kind of self-preoccupation is a dead-end street.  Far better to focus on whom I am serving and how I might contribute.

9.  Happy preachers get out of the shame business.  I’m not talking about sin or guilt.  Rather, I am talking about the subtle ways some ministers shame other ministers.

“Wow, you still have one worship service?  We moved on from that a long time ago.”

“You are in a building program?  Oh, I thought your church cared about the poor.”

“You aren’t going to build an addition to your building?  Hey, I thought your church really wanted to reach out to the community.”

“You are playing golf today?  That must be nice.  I haven’t had a day off in weeks.”

10.  Happy preachers may complain but their complaint is not about their lot in life.  Rather their complaint is over the mistreatment or abuse of others whom the Lord has created.


What else would you add to this list?  Are there any other characteristics of happy preachers?


Competition in Ministry … Yes or No?

images (1)Summers used to be about baseball, swimming and riding bikes under the hot Texas sun. Those are my memories of growing up in Dallas.

In those days, the evenings were spent playing baseball on the field right behind our house.  What I remember was the competition each evening.  No matter how the teams were chosen, each side really wanted to win. Those are good memories and the competition was healthy.

Some church leaders, however, seem to thrive on an unhealthy competition.

What Has Pushed You to the Edge?

pushed over the edgeLots of people are discouraged.

Have you noticed?

Lots of church leaders are discouraged.

Regardless of the ministry in which you are engaged, there is a likelihood that sooner or later you will become discouraged.  The following are some reasons that may sound familiar.  I have experienced a few of these.  I have seen the others in church leaders I have known.

Some people experience discouragement and some even feel like they have been pushed to the edge.

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quitHave you been tempted to quit?

Many of us have considered quitting at one time or another.  After all, serving in a ministry role can be very, very difficult.  In fact, there may be times that are so grueling you may wonder what you got yourself into.

Why would a minister and his family consider leaving a “full-time” ministry role?

1.  Relentless criticism from members of the congregation.  Many people in ministry roles understand that criticism comes with this work.  However, some criticism can be deeply hurtful and debilitating.  A minister may experience great pain and frustration when some in a congregation criticize his children or his spouse.  The same is true when criticism is aimed toward one’s personality or even his integrity.

2.  Disappointment that one experiences in a congregation.  Serving in a ministry role with a congregation often means that a person will become aware of some of the wonderful ways in which members quietly serve the Lord.  However, this can also mean that one is now exposed to some very nasty attitudes.  Perhaps this minister or elder even admired these people at one time.  Now, however, this church leader is witnessing another side of this church member.

3.  Financial stress.  Sometimes congregations do not provide adequate financial support to their ministers.  Consequently, some ministers and their families feel constant stress due to their financial situation.  Ministers may feel like they can not share this burden with their elder group or friends within the church lest their motives be misconstrued.  Consequently, these families bear this stress alone.  Yes, I know that some ministry families put themselves into debt due to unwise financial decisions and undisciplined spending.  However, some are simply trying to live on an income that is inadequate.

4.  Loneliness and isolation.  Some church leaders (ministers, elders, pastors, and many, many others) feel lonely and isolated.  They find that their friends really don’t understand the work they do or the pressures they are under.  Complicating this even more is the reality that some ministers often feel geographically isolated from their extended families due to their location.



What are some other reasons that might cause a church leader to consider leaving a particular ministry role?

Harding Seminar

HardingSince last Thursday, I have been teaching a Doctor of Ministry seminar at Harding School of Theology (Memphis).  The course is entitled “Connecting Preaching with the Congregation.”  I have been co-teaching this seminar with Chris Altrock, who preaches for the Highland Street Church of Christ in Memphis.  In this class are some wonderful students, all of whom serve in ministry roles in various congregations.

I have enjoyed being at Harding.  For many years, this school has offered excellent preparation for ministry.  This week, I have also gained a great appreciation for the encouraging atmosphere.  The faculty, staff, and students have been exceptionally helpful and accesible.

I have especially enjoyed teaching with and learning from, Chris Altrock. I encourage you to follow him on Twitter.  Also be sure to visit his website.  You may want to check out his book, Preaching to Pluralists or his book Prayers from the Pit.

Chris is a wonderful model for any preacher.  He is a person of high character who takes his own spiritual formation very seriously.  He is a good thinker and knows much about preaching and ministry.  He is also humble and unassuming.  Chris has a gracious manner that puts those around him at ease.  It has been a pleasure to teach this seminar with him.



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dangerAs a young man, he was a gifted and popular minister. I had seen pictures of this man when he was a younger minister. He looked handsome and confident in those early years.

He preached for a large congregation and became quite popular as a minister. Then there was an affair, followed by a second affair. He and his wife divorced. He moved away and began working in a business. For many years, subsequent chapters to this story only seemed to get worse. Eventually, however, this man’s life completely turned around and his walk with God was alive and fresh again.

Now, several decades later, I was having lunch with this man. I was a young minister and was eager to learn what I could. He told me that his mistakes and sins were rooted in his own ego.

“People were telling me how great I was. The church was growing and good things were happening. Yet, that also meant that I had to work even harder to keep up the pace. I began to feel entitled.”

Monday Start

start 1Check out these top suggestions

Some of the best book suggestions that I come across are often in the end of the year lists. Jonathan Storment (Abilene, Texas) has published his Top Reads from 2012.  Good list.

You might be interested in this list of Top 10 Work Life Balance Books that Every Professional Should Read.

Also, don’t miss Frank Bellizzi’s My 12 Best Books of 2012.


A wonderful story

Don’t miss this very moving story about NFL All Pro Scott Wells who plays center for the St. Louis Rams.  Scott is the son of Wayne and Cindy Wells, who I have known for many years.  Wayne is a Church of Christ minister in Gainesboro, Tennessee.  The video is the moving story of Scott and his wife’s decision to adopt children from Uganda.


Top blog posts

John Mark Hicks, a theologian who teaches at Lipscomb University, has listed his top five blog posts of 2012.  John Mark’s writing is always very thoughtful and grounded in the Christian story.


New Year

Joe Lalonde wrote a nice piece on negativity.  I like to read these kinds of reflections at the first of each year.

Recently Michael Hyatt recommended a book entitled 20,000 Days and Counting by Robert D. Smith. I read it this weekend and now will skim through it again.  I find benefit in reading these kinds of books at the first of the year.  Helps me examine my thinking, life, work habits, etc.


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I watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” every December. George Bailey had many dreams but they were put on hold for the sake of others. He lives in Bedford Falls with his family, trying to keep the Building and Loan afloat.

At one point, he realizes that he is in serious trouble.  He wishes he had never been born. He is given the opportunity to see what his community would have been like if he had never existed.

He is able to see how much his life has impacted some many people in his family, his town, and beyond.  He really has lived a wonderful life.

Many, many Christian leaders vastly underestimate how God is using them.  So often we think about what we are lacking.  We focus on the deficiencies in our churches and in our own lives.