Ministry Inside.101

top 10Top 10 Suggestions for Beginning the New Year           

The following are 10 suggestions for the upcoming new year.  While I am writing these with church leaders in mind, some of these may be applicable to most anyone.  (These are not listed in order of importance.) 

1.  Pay attention to the basics.  Walking with Jesus takes place during the ordinariness of life.  Loving God and loving others are huge.  Read Scripture.  Pray daily.  Be a godly person.

2.  Love the congregation.  If you don’t, it really won’t matter what else you do.

3.  Stop waiting to be appreciated.  Probably some people in your church really appreciate you but rarely, if ever, express it.  On the other hand, other people in your church may have little appreciation for you.  Yet, they too may rarely, if ever, express it.  Don’t let your sense of well-being come from others.

4.  If you feel isolated and alone, recognize that such feelings over a long period of time can make you vulnerable to temptations that seem to provide an escape.  There are tragic stories of people who have sought refuge through pornography, gambling, drugs/alcohol, and adultery.

5.  Be real.  Realness is not using a public platform to express every doubt, feeling, or anxiety. Rather, it is endeavoring to be an authentic person both publicly and privately.

6.  Guard your heart.  Remember that life’s train wrecks don’t begin with someone doing something stupid.  They usually begin long before that.  They begin with what is happening in that person’s heart.

7.  Pay attention to what you are feeling.  Many people pay no attention to their feelings.  (I didn’t for many years.)  Are you feeling angry?  Sad?  Depressed?  Discouraged?  Betrayed?  When these persistent feelings are not acknowledged and dealt with, they can surface and express themselves in ways that are negative and even destructive.

8.  Check your attitude.  Listen, attitude is everything!  You can be gifted, intelligent, and skillful. However, your attitude can sink you!  Years ago, I had a conversation with a minister regarding his frustration with his life and ministry.  He was frustrated because other congregations who were looking for a minister seemed to have no interest in talking with him.  Later on, after reflecting on the conversation, I am convinced that what probably hurt him the most with these possibilities was his negative attitude.  Perhaps his regular use of biting sarcasm was getting in the way.

9.  Evaluate the gap between what you are privately and what you are publicly.  This is huge.  Far too many people (including church leaders) worry more about their image than their character.  That is, they are more concerned about how they are perceived by others than what they are when no one is looking.  Address the gap and refuse to rationalize.

10. Claim God’s forgiving and sustaining grace.  2013 can be a fresh beginning.  Thank God for his gracious forgiveness.  Believe that his grace is sufficient for you as you begin a new year.

2012 Mentoring Group

2012 1This year’s mentoring group was outstanding.  Thanks to Shane, Benjamin, Shannon, Doug, Scott, Jason, and Ernie for blessing me with a great year in 2012.  Am I ever impressed with these guys!  All of them are ministers and are blessing churches.

This group met one full day per month for the last 12 months.  During these times together, we talked about life, Jesus, ministry, and the church.  Of course, as a part of any discussion regarding life, we talked about our relationships, including our spouses, children, and friends.  We remembered our calling and the meaning of our vocation.

Much of our time was spent focusing on building our interior lives.  We also talked about skills and good practices for doing our work and functioning better in our congregations.

A group such as this provides a safe environment, an atmosphere of encouragement and affirmation.  Last evening, hours after this group came to a close, I thought about the following:

1.  We are blessed when we are surrounded with encouragers.  One way this happens is to be a part of a group, like this one, of mutual encouragers.

2.  We are blessed when we are a part of a group of people who are committed to growing and learning.  Far too many people are content to lower the bar and just get by.  I loved being around a group of people for a year who were not afraid to raise the bar.

3.  We are blessed when we meet regularly with a group of people to talk honestly about our lives. Far too many people feel isolated and cut off, in part because they have no one with whom they can talk openly and candidly.

Question:

What do you believe contributes to the isolation and sense of aloneness that so many people feel?

 

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So much of one’s effectiveness in ministry has to do with the matters that may appear small but in fact are very important.

1.  Attitude.  This is huge!   A negative attitude, a cynical spirit, and a fault-finding disposition have a way of wearing out a congregation.  The content of a minister’s teaching may be correct, but the teaching may not be taken seriously because of the attitude of the minister.

2.  Humility.  Some ministers have a way of bringing every conversation back to themselves. Instead of asking others to elaborate after they have shared an experience, some people will immediately interject, “Yeah, you should have seen what happened to me, blah, blah, blah.” People see through this after a while.

Ministry Inside.89

button Learn(The following post is written with church leaders in mind.  However, others might find this useful as well.)

Have you noticed that some people love to learn?

Last night, a wonderful young guy in our church shared a part of his life/faith story. Part of his talk included his work life as a firefighter and the many classes and special training he has undertaken.  Throughout his career, he has been devoted to learning and growing.  Not surprisingly, he has continued to advance in the fire department in which he serves.  He is now a fire marshall.  I suspect he will be intentional about learning and growing for the rest of his life.

Have you noticed that some people continue to grow and develop as ministers, pastors, elders, etc. while others put very little energy into learning?

Madeleine L’Engle, in her book Two-Part Invention, speaks of her early years in the 1920s when she was single and working in the theater.  She writes:

One of our roommates came because of the piano.  She was a budding musician and filled the apartment with Beethoven, Brahms, and Bach, though after she came I played only when she was around.  She grew as she played, not only in technique but in maturity.  The great masters pushed her as she tried faithfully to go where they led.   We do learn and develop when we are exposed to those who are greater than we are.  Perhaps this is the chief way we mature.

I love these lines.

We do learn and develop when we are exposed to those who are greater than we are.

Ministry Inside.87

puzzled“One of the biggest problems with pastors is their lack of self-awareness and inadequate relational abilities.”

This quote caught my attention.

I was reading a transcript of a presentation given by Dr. Rod Wilson, president of Regent College. The presentation was entitled “Why Emotional Intelligence Is Missing in So Many Churches and Christian Institutions.” In the message Wilson quotes a pastor who is on his denomination’s ordination board. Wilson says that if a person is intellectually bright, we often conclude that such intelligence will lead to a certain kind of behavior.

Of course, “We all know that intelligence, in the traditional sense of the word, is no guarantee of emotional strength and appropriate behavior.” Churches and ministers have seen this again and again. A person may be highly intelligent but particularly inept in relating to people.

Good leaders need what Daniel Goleman refers to as “emotional intelligence.” Consider the two categories often used to describe emotional intelligence.

Personal competence – This involves self-awareness and self-managment. Do I have a sense of who I am? Do I have an awareness of my wounds or vulnerabilities? Am I aware when I am lonely or angry? Do I have a sense for my patterns of behavior when I am tempted to make poor, unethical or immoral decisions?

Social competence – This involves an awareness of what is happening in relationships. It is social awareness. Do I have a sense for how I am coming across to people in a one-on-one setting or in a group meeting? Do I tend to say what is appropriate? Am I often surprised by how others perceive me in conversations?

Far too many ministers pay little attention to their emotional intelligence.

4 Critical Areas that Need Your Investment

attentionOne of the greatest resources that you and I have at our disposal is our attention.  There are many demands for our attention.  Yet, every day far too many of us squander this valuable resource due to our own distraction.

We have difficulty giving our full attention to what really matters and being fully present in the moment.  Many of us skim along the surface of most any experience, like a bass boat speeding down a river.  We are in perpetual motion but our lives never get beyond the surface of the moment.

Consider what clamors for our attention:

  • A text appears on your phone.
  • You have a new e-mail message.
  • The phone rings.
  • Someone wants to Skype.
  • You are invited to be a member of a committee.
  • Your child is invited to be on a team.
  • You see a new Tweet from someone who interests you.
  • Your friend updates her Facebook status and you want to respond.
  • You watch television and are bombarded with advertisements.

Each day, somebody somewhere wants your attention.  If you are not intentional about where you direct your attention, others will likely get your attention simply because you are living passively instead of proactively.

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YouTube Preview Image

Recently, I was at Regent College and had the opportunity to hear Dr. Rod Wilson one evening.  Rod Wilson serves as the President of Regent and is also Professor of Counseling and Psychology.  His talk was helpful, informative, and encouraging.

The video is from another talk in which he discusses humility and leadership.  His words are helpful in thinking about what it means to have a healthy sense of self in a Christian context.

Five Suggestions for Cultivating Freshness

5Some of you may find this post particularly helpful.

I am going to share five practices that have been helpful to me in cultivating freshness. Hopefully, at least one of these might be helpful to you as you prepare your mind and heart for a new school year.

Each July, for the past nineteen years, I have stepped away from my daily ministry/work duties for the month.  Two weeks are vacation and two weeks are devoted to study.  I do no public preaching or teaching during this month.  The congregation that I serve has graciously supported this rhythm.

This month not only allows me the opportunity to rest and enjoy vacation, but has enabled me to spend focused time reading, praying, and thinking.

I want to share with you several practices that you might find valuable as well.

If You Could Change One Thing About Your Church

(I am away on a vacation/study break during the month of July. The posts that appear during the month are from the archives.)

What is it that would help your church be more effective in its ministry?

I suspect that the answers to such a question might be varied. For example, some might say they wish that someone would give more attention to what actually happens during a Sunday morning worship service. Others might say that they wish their church offered more for children or teenagers. Still others might suggest that the preaching could be more engaging, challenging, or relevant.

What about your congregation? What would help your congregation in its practices?

Maybe you see room for improvement in a certain area. In seeing such a need and acknowledging it, you are not discounting your church. Nor are you suggesting that the leaders of your church are not making an effort and working hard. (You may be one of those leaders!) No, you are simply paying attention to the effectiveness of your church and acknowledging what you see.

I Have Heard So Many Secrets

(I am away on a vacation/study break during the month of July. The posts that appear during the month are from the archives.)

Through the years, as a minister, I have sat with person after person and listened to sad, difficult stories.

I have heard so many secrets.

The alcoholic father who told me of his affair with his high school daughter’s friend.The foster children who told me of a cruel woman who isolated them in a basement each evening, while the rest of the family ate dinner together. Later, they were brought the family’s leftovers.The mother who grew up constantly hearing critical, demeaning words from her mother.

The man, who as a child, had lived with a brutal, bullying father. Yet at church, his father was perceived to be very godly.

The young woman who told me of the abortion she had while in college and how she had lived with this secret for several decades.

I am reading Joe Queenan’s memoir,

It is the story of a boy who grew up in a

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Philadelphia housing project. He and his three sisters are forced to make do. They live with their father and mother in an atmosphere that does not feel emotionally or physically safe. Their mother repeatedly said to her children that she wished she had never had children. Their mother seemed emotionally disconnected from the family. Meanwhile, their father was a violent man — especially when he drank:

My father got broke when he was young, and he never got fixed. He may have wanted to be a good father, a good husband, a good man, but he was not cut out for that job. He liked to drink, and unlike some men who like to drink, it was the only thing he liked to do. Among our relatives, he had a reputation as a happy-go-lucky fellow who, once he got a few beers in him, would turn into the life of the party. He was not the life of our party. Most of the time he was already dead drunk when he came home from work, spoiling for a fight with whoever crossed him first. (p. 7)

His father, when he was drunk, beat his children, quite often. The rest of the family, instead of condemning such behavior, seemed more interested in providing excuses for such behavior. Queenan says that, “Manufacturing excuses for my father’s behavior was a family industry.” (p. 9)