Ministry Inside.52

Most Thursdays I write something for the series “Ministry Inside.” Typically, the post is a collection of ideas, suggestions, and resources having to do with ministering to a church. I write these posts with church leaders in mind. Yet, I know that many others will read and connect with some of these posts as well.runawayfromyourself.jpg

As I think about my life:


At times I have been starry-eyed, so full hope for the future that I failed to appreciate some of the obstacles and challenges facing us now.

At times I have been exhausted with a tiredness that has a way of draining the soul.

At times I have been disheartened, wondering why I can’t rise above my pettiness.

The temptation, I suppose, is to not reveal any of this. Stay in control. Don’t let anyone in. Control what people see and know. Yet, I’m not sure this is the answer.

About sixteen years ago, my physician discovered a tumor near the top of my spine. He discovered it after some chest x-rays were taken in our local emergency room regarding a totally unrelated matter.

Of course this scared me to death.

More tests. “The tumor is probably benign.” (Probably.) The surgeon said, “This needs to come out.” It would involve cutting into my chest. (I had never even been in the hospital before.)

On a Sunday morning, I told the congregation the situation and then the date of the surgery. I would probably be out for several weeks. Then I said the words that apparently made one man very nervous.

“I am cautiously optimistic and yet scared to death.”

I was then approached by an older man, a former preacher, who told me I should not have said this. “You admitted weakness and fear. You must not do this.”

To the contrary.

It is very dangerous NOT to admit weakness, fear, inadequacy, pain, confusion, etc. When any person refuses to deal with his pain (this certainly includes ministers) then that person will often self-medicate. We will attempt to keep this self-medication a secret. Consequently, a person is rocking along thinking that everything is all right and then discovers that a friend has been keeping a secret.

How do some people self-medicate? Shopping, drugs/alcohol, fits of rage, adultery, pornography, emotional affairs, gambling and the list goes on and on.

Ministers are certainly not immune to self-medicating their pain. Again and again, you hear stories of ministers revealing or getting caught in the middle of bizarre behavior. Ministers can blur the lines between the work of ministry and living as Christ-followers. As a result, when a minister is away from the church, he may not only desire a break from the work but a break from following Christ.


I would love to know what you think about this. What happens when we self-medicate instead of deal with our pain? What do we become when we spend a life time running away from ourselves?


Ministry Inside.51

1. Each year I go to the Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit. (I go to a simulcast site at Baylor University.) This is a two-day conference that is stimulating, thoughtful, and encouraging. This year I particularly enjoyed Seth Godin’s presentation. Of course, I also am a regular reader of his blog. He makes me think. There is great value in locating someone, whether in person or through their writing, who in some way stimulates your thinking.

2. “They will take their cues from you.” Many years ago, my father-in-law said this to me after I had preached a sermon in which I had shadowboxed my way through my material. I was tense, anxious, and somewhat agitated in this sermon. Why? I was speaking about the work of God’s Spirit and throughout the sermon felt irritated as I thought about a couple of people in our church who seemed to be diminishing his role.

The problem with the sermon was not the message and its content. The problem was me. From the moment I began that sermon, I felt uncomfortable and I communicated this in my body language. My father-in-law was extremely helpful to me that evening. He went on to say, “I agree with what you said. However, you might think about this: People will take their cues from you. If you appear agitated and tense, this immediately sets the listeners on edge. They become uncomfortable because you seem uncomfortable. However, if you will relax, smile, and then explain why a particular perspective or view is lacking, they are more likely to relax and really think about what you are saying.”

That advice was incredibly helpful! In fact, I’ve thought about it numerous times over the years as I prepared a particular class or message.

3. This looks very interesting! 25 Books Every Christian Should Read. Those on the editorial board for this book include Richard Foster, Dallas Willard, Phyllis Tickle, and a number of others.

4. For the last couple of days, I have spent time with a great friend and encourager to our family who primarily works with university students. The conversations have been great and stimulating. I mention this because it can be so stimulating to spend time with someone whose primary ministry is different from one’s own. Far too often ministers and others only spend time with people just like themselves, in exactly the same ministry role they are in.

5. One of my favorite blog writers is Jeff Goins. His blog, Jeff Goins Writer, consistently has good, interesting content. Two of my favorite posts are The Biggest Lie We Believe About Influence and Start Today, Not Tomorrow. Both of these posts were very motivating.

Seven Deadly Sins of Ministers

There is no exemption from temptation for anyone.Temptation (1).jpg

Certainly there is no exemption for a minister. There are all kinds of temptations for a minister.

These include:

Sloth  The minister who just gets by in his work. No real sense of working for the Lord. This can also describe the minister who is busy with the wrong things. Sloth has a way of deadening a person to any real sense of joy.

Greed The minister who is always wanting more. There is no sense of contentment or thankfulness for his present circumstances. He entertains a possible move to a church primarily because his salary would be increased significantly. He then says that the Lord “called” him there. Sometimes greed is seen in some very quiet ways such as taking on a large amount of credit card debt so the family can enjoy cars, vacations, furniture, forms of entertainment that are way beyond their means.

For many ministers, however, the greatest form of greed is that which is focused on their craving for approval, affirmation, and recognition. This form of greed can be absolutely intoxicating. There is never enough.   

Lust The minister who allows himself the luxury of looking at pornography on the Internet. After all the work and sacrifice, he decides that he deserves a break. Meanwhile, another minister might focus on his craving for power. This person seems to always be keeping score of who is getting their way in the church. These ministers may be on a path to self-destruction by their obsession with sex or power.

Gluttony  The minister who does not seem to have self-control. This person does nothing in moderation. Something is out of control. For many people, this may relate to eating and the care (or neglect) of their body. Unfortunately, in many church cultures, this is seen as a joke. Men and women may laugh at over-the-top eating and even make light of gluttony.

Anger The minister who has never dealt with his anger. Consequently, much of his emotional life is fueled by old anger issues. This may be the anger that he has with his father, with churches from the past, or even with God. He might deny that he has an anger problem. However, one does not have to be around him for very long before realizing that just below the surface, his anger is simmering. He preaches messages about the grace of God but is easily irritated by the faults of others. Far too often, his family and the congregation have felt the impact of his anger.

Envy The minister who envies other ministers. He resents other ministers who speak at more events and are better known. He can’t understand why he hasn’t had the opportunity to minister at churches that are visible and seemingly “important.” This person resents that others always seem to get the breaks.

Pride The minister who wants people to know just how important he really is. This may be the minister who is always reminding others of his extensive experience. Or, this may be the person who wants everyone to know about his vast knowledge. Or, this may be the minister who finds creative ways to let others know about his competence. As one guy told me some years ago. “Yea, I moved to this church and went to work. They had never seen anyone like me. They couldn’t believe how quickly the church grew.”

Sound familiar?

Those who have learned to walk with God humbly often approach life and temptation humbly as well. They know that without God’s provisions, they would easily become entangled in anyone of these sins. Meanwhile, others who are overly confident may assume they would never have any problem with any one of these.

Not wise.


What other temptation would you add to this list?

Ministry Inside.50

1. Be sure to listen to the talk by Chuck DeGroot on “Spiritual Life of a Church Planter.” I was very impressed with this talk. Very good and helpful to ministers and other church leaders.

2. I recently read “The Cape Town Commitment: A Confession of Faith and a Call to Action” which was produced by the Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization. This is an outstanding document which does a good job of articulating biblical truths about our faith and mission. You can download this at

3. Heard Rodney Plunkett preach on June 26 at White Station Church of Christ. Outstanding message! While in Memphis, I enjoyed visiting with Evertt Huffard, Carlus Gupton, Mark Powell, Rodney Plunkett, and Chris Altrock. Great people. I especially enjoyed visiting and co-teaching with my friend Allen Black, who has taught New Testament for many years at Harding School of Theology (formerly Harding Graduate School of Religion).

4. Pay attention to the people. Ministers quite often underestimate the importance of simply paying attention to the people in their churches. Not long ago, I was talking to a couple who had been visiting a congregation in their area. They said that when the preacher is before the church on Sunday morning, he is talkative, engaging, etc. Yet, when they pass by him in the hallway, he will not speak. They went on to say that on one occasion, he looked at them as he passed by and then turned his head without saying anything. Yet, a simple “hello” and a smile can go a long way with people.

I am not talking about anything that is contrived or phony. However, sometimes we may forget the importance of a single individual.

5. I was saddened to hear the news of John Stott’s death. I have admired and respected him for many years. I will never forget the first time I read his book, Between Two Worlds. I learned so much about preaching and ministry through this one book alone.

If you have never read Stott, you might even consider making him one of your mentors. Begin reading his books (particularly Between Two Worlds and The Cross of Christ). Get to know his mind and his ways.


5. Be sure to read Tony Campolo’s “Baby Smiles and Life’s Truisms.” These are very good.

6. Geoff Surratt has written a very good post entitled “The Secret Life of Pastors.” Note his four loves.

7. See Mark Galli’s “The Most Risky Profession: Why You Need to Desperately Pray for Your Pastor.”

8. Chris Altrock is my friend, a great guy, and the author of a new book on prayer. His blog is worth reading. Great reflections on Scripture.

5 Ways to Communicate Value During Significant Moments

Last week was a busy time that included a funeral at our church on Friday and then a shower for our daughter the following day. In 24 hours, we went from grieving with our friends to a time of thankfulness and joy for our daughter and her fiance’. (They are getting married in August.)

This week reminded me once again about how much we contribute to one another during these significant moments of life. We have the opportunity to communicate to our friends how much they mean to us. During these moments, our behavior can speak volumes to other people about how important they really are to us.


The following are five ways we communicate value during significant moments.

Be emotionally engaged. In many, many ways we communicate value by showing interest and concern about another’s life. I have watched my mother-in-law for years communicate this through her interest in the details of her grandchildren’s lives. Other people communicate this by regular phone calls, e-mails, and texts with loved ones.

Show up. Go to funerals. Stop by a funeral home for a visitation. Go to a wedding or baby shower. Visit someone in the hospital. These moments really do matter. Quite often we don’t realize how much they do matter until we lose a father or mother. We may not realize the importance of a baby shower until it is our child who is having a baby.

For example, when a friend loses a family member, it means a great deal for them to see you at the funeral. Attend events that are important to a family member or friend. Going to funerals, weddings, graduations, baby showers, etc. are just a few examples of times when being present communicates value. So many people underestimate how important these moments are to the people involved.

Do something practical to communicate value. One of our daughters was in the hospital for a week during her high school years. I remember one friend who called me several times each day to check on her. The first day she was hospitalized, he knocked on her door. I stepped out into the hall and he said, “I want to pray with you.” He put his arm around my shoulders, bowed his head and prayed briefly in the hall. By what he did, he communicated value toward her and our family.

When the significant moment is difficult, acknowledge that person’s experience. Far too many people ignore or even minimize another’s significant moment. “You are having surgery? No big deal! Why I have a friend who had that same surgery and she was back at work two days later.” Far better to listen intently and ask questions to seek understanding.

Make an effort to stay in touch. If I don’t make the effort to stay in touch with someone, we will probably lose touch. Some complain because friends and family do not call. Meanwhile, they do not take the initiative to make contact either. Yes, it is frustrating to feel as if you are the one who must always take the initiative to stay in touch. Yet, I’ve learned that if we are going to stay in touch I often (sometimes usually) will need to be the one who takes the initiative.


What significant moments have you experienced, that caused you to notice and appreciate the presence of others?

The Bridge that Will Help You Connect

Golden Gate Bridge 001

On Sunday, May 29, NPR host Liane Hansen interviewed Dr. David Loxtercamp, the author of A Measure of My Days: The Journal of a Country Doctor. (Find a preview of the book purchased three I, coats save and home advertised comb and to.

Belfast, Maine, physician about a list of medical aphorisms he had been working on.  

As I heard him read these 14, I thought about how relevant to ministry that most of these are. The following is a portion of the transcript in which he reads these. He speaks about these ideas being what he has learned over the years as he has practiced medicine.

Health is not a commodity. Risk factors are not disease. Aging is not an illness. To fix a problem is easy, to sit with another suffering is hard. Doing all we can is not the same as doing what we should. Quality is more than metrics. Patients cannot see outside their pain, we cannot see in, relationship is the only bridge between. Time is precious; we spend it on what we value. The most common condition we treat is unhappiness. And the greatest obstacle to treating a patient’s unhappiness is our own. Nothing is more patient-centered than the process of change. Doctors expect too much from data and not enough from conversation. Community is a locus of healing, not the hospital or the clinic. The foundation of medicine is friendship, conversation and hope.

Patients cannot see outside their pain, we cannot see in, relationship is the only bridge between.

Implications for Everyday Ministry

1. It is very difficult for anyone to see outside their pain. Talk with anyone who is going through a divorce, undergoing cancer treatments, or has just experienced the death of a spouse. Very often this person is unable to see anything else but this pain. What that person does see is filtered and shaped by his own intense pain. This person is not to be criticized for this. This is the reality of pain.

2. Meanwhile, it is very difficult for the rest of us to see in. Sometimes a well-meaning person will say to someone in pain, “I know how you are feeling.” A person may say this because he has experienced a situation very similar. Or, if you are a minister, you may say this because you have been involved with other people in similar circumstances. Even so, one might want to think again about making this particular statement. Such a statement may suggest you can see inside their pain. Far better to be a listening presence than one who tries to convince another that he understands.

3. Relationship is the only bridge between. Perhaps this is where the greatest ministry can take place. When a person is in pain, what is most powerful is the relationship you already have. Your ministry is not a matter of you understanding what your friend is going through. Nor, is ministry dependent on your friend “opening up” to you or anyone else. You have a powerful ministry in simply being a friend and honoring your relationship. This is the bridge that exists between a person in pain and one who is on the outside looking in. The relationship you have with that person is the bridge. Consequently, being a faithful presence may mean much more than we may realize.


If relationship is the key bridge between a person in pain and a friend (family member, co-worker, minister, etc.) on the outside, what does a person do to honor that relationship?