Ministry Inside.88

CoffeeBar_rephotography_011Each Thursday, I write a post that is designed with church leaders in mind. Many of these Thursday posts, however, are applicable to those who are not church leaders.  Church leaders and lay people both may find today’s post useful.

During July, I sat in a restaurant with a wonderful man in his 80s.  He is a former college professor, administrator, and minister.  He continues to think, grow, and make a difference.  I asked him to lunch because of particular questions I had about life as well as ministry.  I have always valued his wisdom from a distance.  This conversation, however, would be in person and last about an hour and a half.

My friend was generous with his time, his insight, and his wisdom.  After the conclusion of the lunch, I wrote several pages in my journal, carefully recording his answers to my questions.  I have read through these notes several times.  The conversation was one of the most valuable experiences I had in July.

One of the most important practices of my ministry has been creating the opportunities to learn from various people by simply asking questions.  I will ask someone to coffee or lunch and then ask questions about life, ministry, or leadership.  I have learned so much from these conversations.

I continue to seek out people whom I can learn from.  Let me encourage you to do the same.

How to Pay More Attention to Character than Image

woodenmirrormuseumThe Penn State scandal has underscored a fundamental issue that is present in far too many of us:

Some of us are more concerned about the image we project than the kind of person we really are.

I once heard the story of a couple that purchased a house in an exclusive neighborhood north of Dallas.  They moved into the house and immediately put up coverings over each window.  Months later this couple was arrested and indicted for their participation in some fraudulent scheme.  Authorities came to their home and discovered that the house was basically empty.  They had a cardboard table, a couple of folding chairs, a television, and a single mattress.

The story revealed that the couple had sold their previous home and belongings.  They moved into this exclusive neighborhood to create the impression that they were doing quite well financially.  This home was way beyond their means, and they were able to live there only after selling all their belongings.  Neighbors noticed they never opened their blinds or curtains.  That was because they didn’t want anyone to see that the house was practically empty.

Some people are willing to do most anything to create a particular kind of image.  Image, however, is not a substitute for character.

Image people want to appear cool wherever they are.  If they are on the road traveling with business associates, they want to appear totally with whatever is happening.  If they are at church, they want to appear to be the devoted family person.  Image wants others to know they are “in.”

Image people want others to think they are not lacking in any way.  They may make statements to their family members such as:

  • You don’t want people to think we can’t afford to buy nice things.
  • You don’t want people to think we buy cheap clothes.
  • You don’t want people to think we can’t go on great trips.
  • You don’t want people to think we don’t get invited to nice parties.
  • You don’t want people to think we live in an old neighborhood.
  • You don’t want people to think our kids are not as good as theirs.

Image people are far more concerned with the way they appear than the way they are.  Their Facebook status always communicates that they live one awesome, glorious life every moment of the day.  Really?

They are more concerned about the way others perceive them than the reality of their lives.  This is one reason why a person’s public and private persona can be so different.

Focusing on our image while we neglect our character is like having a manicured lawn around our home while we neglect the cracking foundation.  The house may look appealing at first glance but may be in serious trouble due to a neglected foundation.

Monday Start

You might be interested in one or more of the following links.  Most of these resources surfaced within the last four weeks.

If you feel overwhelmed

This is a great article, by Peter Bregman, that appeared in The Harvard Business Review: “Two Lists You Should Look at Every Morning.”

For an interesting read

You might consider looking at The Browser: Writing Worth Reading.  This is an interesting website that features “Today on FiveBooks Interviews” in which various people suggest the best reading on any subject.

On writing

You might enjoy these two interviews with Ian Morgan Cron on the life of a writer.  See part 1 here and part 2 here.  Be sure to see the notes on each page.  Cron is the author of Jesus, My Father, The CIA, and Me, which is an excellent book that explores in particular the relationship between a boy and his father.

Thinking about ministry

John Fry has written two good posts in which he offers some very insightful comments regarding pastoral ministry.  See “Are ‘Pastors’ The Problem?” and “Is ‘Pastor’ a Volatile Word?

Critical situations in the world

While I was away, I read Jeffrey Gettleman’s startling piece in The New York Times on the thousands of children who are fleeing Sudan.  Oh my goodness.

I also read this sobering piece about a 13-year-old Afghan girl who was forced to marry and then was tortured.  Fortunately, some sought justice.

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.

Ministry Inside.86

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.

Ministry Inside.86

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.

How to Grow in Marriage and Parenting

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

“I have no idea what I am supposed to do.”

That statement came from a very gifted and intelligent young man who was about to be married. I appreciated his honesty. He had never seen a marriage up close before. His parents divorced when he was very young. He deeply loved his mom and dad. Yet, he had never been close to a healthy marriage and so it was difficult for him to imagine what it would be like to be married.

Many other people have seen a marriage up close but it was a dysfunctional marriage with dynamics that were anything but healthy or even godly.

So what is a person supposed to do?

1. Plan to unlearn. So often, we are at a disadvantage because of our own faulty assumptions. “Surely this won’t last my entire life.” We also make assumptions about sex, parenting, and other roles. Our assumptions often come from a variety of sources and experiences. Yet, they sometimes set us up for failure.

For example, much unlearning often has to be done regarding sex and marriage. Some people enter marriage with assumptions borrowed from this culture. A person might think that sexual experiences with multiple people give one an advantage in marriage. Really? Where did that assumption come from? Did the creator ever tell human beings that this was a good thing or an advantage? Sometimes unlearning has to be done due to a long history with pornography. Such a history will often give a person some very unreal expectations regarding marriage.

2. Be intentional about learning. Maybe you have never seen a healthy marriage up close. Or, maybe you are realizing that marriage is more complex and more difficult than you imagined. Read good marriage books, particularly those that address marital concerns from a Christian perspective. Talk with people who have been married for many years and obviously love one another. Invite a couple who you admire over for coffee and desert and ask questions about marriage. Look for resources in your church. Bottom line: Be intentional about learning.

What Has Helped You Feel Less Self-Conscious?

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

I never intended to be a minister.

Never.

I grew up in a church. Over the years, there were probably a half-dozen ministers who preached at this church. As a child, I really didn’t know much about them. I only saw them from a distance. Yet, most of them seemed “different.” Not different in a Christian sort of way. Just different in terms of manner. I remember dark suits, pulpit voices, and distance. I don’t say this to be critical. I am just expressing what I sensed as a child.

So, I never intended to be a minister.

Yet, I am a minister. I have been in this role for 30 years. I mean the kind who preaches each Sunday and does various kinds of ministry “full-time.” (Whatever that means!)

How did I end up in this role? How did I come to believe that God wanted me to do this for a portion of my life? That is a long story. Yet, I can honestly tell you that during my younger years, I never gave a thought to wanting to be a minister.