Ministry Inside.66

(The following post is written with church leaders, preachers, pastors, and other ministers in mind. However, many of these comments will be useful to others.)

1. Pay attention to the basics. Well-meaning church leaders will sometimes expend great energy and other resources in order to attract guests to their assemblies. Yet, churches sometimes ignore the basics. Recently a young couple visited a church located in a large city. They had never been to an assembly in this church before. The couple came in just as the service was beginning. They found a pew and sat down. Then they heard a loud voice: “Well, there goes the view!” Meanwhile, the person at the microphone in the front proceeded to welcome “all of our guests today. “The couple said, “We won’t be going back. This is probably not the church for us.”

2. I just received my order from Amazon. As I looked through the books that had arrived, I thought about how many of them were purchased after I first read reviews or read them on Scot McKnight’s blog, Jesus Creed. What a wonderful ministry to church leaders.

3. I really enjoy the Journal of Spiritual Formation and Soul Care. It is published by the Talbot School of Theology, Biola University. The articles not only deal with individual spiritual formation but the church collectively as well.

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4. “We want to get better.” This is exactly what my friend said the other day. I had driven to his home a few weeks ago. He preaches in a city a few hours from Waco. I was there to spend the morning with him. As we talked, he shared with me a conversation that he and his wife heard just a few weeks earlier. My friend and his wife are in their early 60s. He said, “We talked about the next ten years and how we want to get better.”

I like that. So I am beginning this year with the desire to get better in 2012. I do not want to be stuck in status quo. What about you? What would it take for you to get better this year?

5. Don’t miss Michael Hyatt’s post “Are You Operating in Your Strengths Zone? This is a fine post and would be helpful for ministers and any other Christian leader to consider. (By the way, as of January 1, I began working with a team of nine others as one of Michael Hyatt’s “Community Leaders” to help manage comments on his blog. I am enjoying the interaction with those who respond.)

When My New Year Was Changed By Christmas

I won’t forget that Christmas.

I was a junior in college and working nights at UPS. That Christmas my family was going to Arkansas to see my grandparents and other relatives. For some reason, which I do not remember, I decided to stay home and not go with them. They left several days before Christmas. I worked all night at UPS each night while they were gone until Christmas Eve. I was off both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. I was home alone both days. I soon realized what a big mistake I had made. I could not believe I had not gone with my family to Arkansas. I was aggravated that I had made such a decision. I also felt silly. This was another decision I had made without thinking through the consequences. In those years, I seemed to make such decisions far too often.

While I was home that Christmas, I thought about my life, my decisions, and my future. Those two days turned out to be a milestone for me. I wrote my thoughts in a notebook. Years later, I still have this notebook.

Some of the conclusions I reached:

1. No one was holding their breath waiting to see what I was going to do with my life. Most people had enough of their own problems to worry about.

2. I could continue to not put forth my best effort in some of my classes at the university but I was only hurting myself.

3. I could learn from some of the frustrations I had experienced or I could let these frustrations become excuses.

4. My future could be better but I would need to make better decisions.

5. Much of the work I needed to do in my life was relational. I needed to learn how to invest in people and get my focus off myself.

In many ways, those two days were decisive.

I came away from those two days more focused on the future than I had been. Consequently, I began to make better decisions in the present. What about you? Can you point to a time when you thought through the direction of your life and as a result found much clarity?   

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Each Thursday, the post is especially for ministers, preachers, pastors, and other church leaders. Whether you identify with any of these roles or not, perhaps you will find the following interesting.coffeeA.jpg

1. Appreciation. I can’t tell you how many ministers are starved to hear a “thank you” or just a genuine word of appreciation from their church or elder groups. In some churches, it has been a long, long time since they said “thanks” to any of their ministers. I really don’t think most ministers believe the church owes them a word of thanks. It’s not that at all. Some ministers even feel embarrassed that they want to hear this so badly.

Unfortunately, many ministers feel taken for granted. They preach sermon after sermon and serve in numerous ways, often in obscurity. Many ministers are very conscientious. Consequently, they work very hard to get a certain project just right. Unfortunately, what some of these hear is not a word of gratitude but a critique. “Why didn’t you do it this way instead of the way you did it?” They hear no gratitude but instead hear from a person whose only comment is, “I think you can do better.”

Far too many ministers feel as if the church takes them for granted. Unfortunately, far too many elder groups (both individually and as a group) fail to express to these people gratitude, affirmation and any recognition of a job well done to these people. When churches fail to do this, it is ultimately the people in the congregation who lose.

Maybe one of the most significant gifts that we can give another this Christmas is the affirmation and encouragement that may be long overdue.

2. Healthy Self-Definition. Today, I read a portion of an excellent article that appeared in Clergy Journal in August 1994. The article is “Clergy Self-Care: Defining and Valuing the Self” by Myron and Jan Chartier.   

The Chartiers describe self-definition as being linked to one’s personal differentiation. That is, one has a strong sense of self. A person with a good sense of self-defintion takes responsibility for his own well being (instead of blaming others) and emotional health. This enables one to relate to a variety of people in a church.

For example, a person with a good sense of self-defintion is not focused on making others happy. Rather this person has learned to have a strong sense of self and relates to others who have different views without trying to say what makes them happy. On the other hand, this person does not feel the need to have everyone agree with him in order to have a sense of personal value in a church.


They list eight barriers that can get in the way of healthy self-definition:

  • Shaky self-worth that is easily threatened can undermine a sense of self.
  • Unresolved issues from one’s family of upbringing and previous life history can sabotage attempts at self-defintion.
  • Unreasonable drives to succeed can foil being self-defined as a minister.
  • Heightened perfectionism can turn the minister into a workaholic.
  • Over commitment, allowing little or no time for self-reflection, undermines in a corrosive manner any self-defintion work that a person may have done.
  • Overwhelming needs for inclusion, acceptance and love are a major barrier to self-defintion.
  • Health issues of various kinds can block the process of self-defintion.
  • Fragile spiritual life and faith can undermine one’s sense of self.

New Year: 4 Ways to Move Ahead Instead of Remaining Stuck

Some people move ahead. They get better. Meanwhile others remain the same or even digress. Many people end the year with regrets, excuses, disappointments, and “buts.”But.jpeg


“I should be more attentive to God in prayer and Scripture reading but . . . .”

“I need to deal with a particular sin that keeps reappearing in my life but . . . .”

“I need to spend more time with my wife. I know I haven’t invested much energy into our marriage but . . . .”

“I have a habit of making commitments, starting projects and not following through but . . . .”

“I can be pretty harsh and overbearing at home. I know this is wrong but . . . .”

“My job takes so much energy and time. I feel exhausted much of the time. I need

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to nourish my inner world but . . . .”

“I’m losing the emotional connection with my children. I know the answer is not to buy them more things to compensate for this but . . . .”

“I know the kind of friendship I have with this man really isn’t right but . . . .”

Think about these statements. Each one describes the reality of a person’s life. However, the description of this reality is then derailed by the word “but.” When you and I do this, we are sabotaging our own lives. Instead of thanking God for the insight and awareness into the reality of our lives, we discount the first statement with “but.”

Maybe some of us do not grow, develop, or mature because we rarely address the reality of our lives. Maybe we have allowed “but” to excuse our behavior. The following are 4 ways to move ahead into this New Year instead of remaining stuck.

1. Seek the truth regarding your life without punctuating this reality with an excuse. Look in the mirror and simply describe what you see as you reflect on your life. At this moment, the last month of the year, what does a truthful snapshot of your life look like?

2. Thank God for his love for you in spite of the areas of your life that really need attention. Keep his love and power before you. This will enable you to acknowledge the reality of your blemished life instead of sweeping it away.

3. Pray to God for wisdom to know how to address these areas in your life. Know that you probably did not get this way overnight and, by the grace of God, it will take time to press through some of these issues.

4. Look for a step to take immediately. The time to address the condition of your life is now. Know that your procrastination will only complicate matters, not solve them. You are making progress by taking a single step.

(I recently read a portion of the book Get Off Your “But”: How to End Self-Sabotage and Stand Up for Yourself by Sean Stephenson. This book was useful in helping me think through this post.)

What Will You Be Like in the Next 10 Years?

I want to become better. B-Autonorte.png

As I think about the next 10 years of my life, I want to look back at the end of it and be able to say that in some way I am better.

Now I’m not sure that a restaurant I have in mind right now will be able to say that. Maybe, but I’m not sure. I’ve been there numerous times. They do a number of things well. Their service is quick and friendly. The seating in the restaurant is arranged so that it is very conducive to conversation. The one problem with this place? The food is just — OK. That is about the best I can say. It’s not bad. It’s not great. It’s OK.

Occasionally, somebody will ask to meet me for lunch at this place. I have my expectations trained. The food will probably be “OK.”

Now I don’t want to be like this restaurant. I don’t want to spend the next 10 years of my life as if I were on a stationary bike. I don’t want to spend a lot of energy but still be in the same place.

I really do want to become better.

I want to be a better man by continuing to mature, develop, and grow.

I want to be better at being fully present and aware of the creation that is all around me.

I want to be better at building up and encouraging the people I am with.

I want to be better at loving God and loving people with a generous spirit.

I want to be better at taking action in a timely way instead of waiting and procrastinating.

I want to be better at loving my wife in ways that connect with her instead of missing key opportunities.

I want to be better at being a channel through whom God blesses the people I am with.

I want to be a better student of Jesus. I would like to know his life and teachings better and more faithfully be a Jesus-follower.


Question:

How about you? What kind of person would you like to be in 10 years?

  

Top 10 Questions that Church Members Would Like to See Addressed

What are these top 10 questions?top-10.jpg

It would be interesting to see a list created by church leaders as to what they perceive their members would like to see addressed in their congregation. It might be even more interesting to see this listed next to another list that has been created by everyday church members.


What are questions that church members wish their minister/preacher/pastor/elders etc. would address?

What do you think? I would love to hear your thoughts.

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1. What is your point of view? Very often ministers/preachers/pastors see their church from only their perspective without making the effort to see another’s point of view. I have found it very helpful to listen to others so that I can learn what people in these situations really are experiencing.

For example, I might seek to answer these questions.

  • What is it like to be single in this congregation?
  • What is it like to be married but to have no children?
  • What is it like to be a widow or widower here?
  • What is it like to be new in this congregation? How does one get in? (Yes, there is a formal way of entering a congregation but how does one break into friendship circles?)
  • What is it like to have a son or father in jail and live as a part of this church family?
  • What is it like to have questions and even doubts and still be a part of this congregation?
  • What is it like to be struggling financially in our church family?   

I first learned of this practice from John Killinger from an early book on preaching. I still think the practice can be very helpful.

2. The best thing that I can bring to my congregation is a healthy self. That is, I can be a man who is godly, who loves people (beginning with my spouse and children), and who leads an ethical/moral life. Don’t underestimate the importance of these three. Yes, I know there are other important factors; however, my intellect, my creativity, and my leadership will never trump my own life before God. As a minister, I really need to start with the basics.

  • How is my relationship with God?
  • What is the state of my marriage? If my wife were to describe our marriage to people whom I admire, how would I feel?
  • Are there “demons” in my closet that I am not dealing with (perhaps a tendency toward rage, a battle with pornography, or some other addictive behavior)?

3. Did you see this post about Fred Craddock on CNN online this week? Don’t miss this fine article.

How to Build Trust With the People in Your Life

Trust is incredibly important in any relationship.trust1.jpg

In fact, it would be difficult to overemphasize its importance. If trust is high in a marriage, friendship, church, or business, the atmosphere that permeates those relationships is often one of peace, harmony, and mutual respect. Have you given thought about just how important it is to be intentional about building trust?

Trust is critical in a ministry and congregation. Yet, many ministers/elders underestimate the importance and value of trust building.

Of course, building trust is not just a work for ministers and elders but all Christian men and women. (Taking questions such as these seriously would have a profound impact on our children and grandchildren, not to mention our friends and co-workers.)

Trust is built in a number of ways in a marriage, friendship, church, or between co-workers:

  • Do you do what you say you are going to do?
  • Do you speak truth and can people depend on your word?
  • Do you behave in ways that are consistent with your commitment to Jesus? Or, are godly people surprised when they get up close to your life?
  • Do you desire to close the gap between others’ public perception of you and the private reality of your life?
  • Do you behave in a way that is honorable and right with the opposite sex?
  • Do you handle yourself with integrity in the “little” things? Do you tell the truth when you are purchasing amusement park tickets at Six Flags regarding the ages of your children? Do you tell the truth about the product you sell? Do you return what you have borrowed from your neighbors? Do you refuse to take advantage of the cashier at Wal-Mart when she gives you too much change back?
  • Do others have confidence in your judgment?

Let me suggest to you that there are a number of ways that, over time, you can increase the level of trust that others have

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in you.

1. Pay attention to your character. Trust from others increases as they see that you are the “real deal.” Over time, these people see that your life reflects the virtues of Christ. They can see your genuine intent to live a godly, virtuous, authentic life.

2. Pay attention to your relationships. Nothing destroys a relationship more quickly than self-centeredness and dishonesty. One way this occurs in some relationships is through manipulation. A manipulator cannot be trusted because she speaks words and uses people in order to get what she wants. You don’t have to go far to see the fallout of someone who has been burned by a manipulator.

3. Pay attention to your thinking. After all, one reason people trust another is because again and again he demonstrates good judgment. A person who lacks poor judgment will often make a snap, uninformed decision or will let his emotions take over in the heat of the moment.

I hope you find this helpful. These are three areas of my life that I pay close attention to.

Question:

Which one of these areas do you often find most challenging? What else would you add to this list of three?

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Recently, I read Lance Witt’s Replenish: Leading From a Healthy Soul. The following are quotes from the book that I particularly liked:


(Regarding a conversation with a mentor.) I asked what I needed to do to help our church be effective at spiritual transformation, and this was his immediate response: ‘You must live with deep contentment, joy, and confidence in your experience of everyday life with God’ (p. 10).


But what doesn’t

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get talked about as much is the importance of healthy leaders. We will never grow healthy churches with unhealthy leaders (pp. 11-12)



.…in trying to fill the gap with leadership resources, inadvertently we have marginalized the soul side of leadership. The result is a crisis — one of spiritual healthy among pastors (p. 18).


We have neglected the fact that a pastor’s greatest leadership tool is a healthy soul (p. 19).


We’ve all witnessed the carnage of leaders who’ve had to leave ministry (at least for now) because of moral failure. The headlines are always about the scandalous and shocking behavior, but rarely mentioned is the back-story.

It is the story of a neglected soul and mismanaged character. Of a slow drift into relational isolation. Of being seduced by ambition. These leaders didn’t intend for it to happen, but somewhere along the journey they stopped paying attention to what was going on inside of them. The shift was incremental and at times imperceptible.

Having talked to some whose ministry has come crashing down around them, I can tell you the convergence of outward success, self-deception, soul neglect, and relational isolation creates the perfect storm for disaster (p. 19).


We may be better leaders than we used to be, but the evidence seems to say we are not better pastors or husbands or Christ followers (p. 20).


Godly leadership is always inside out (p. 20).

Take the Opportunity to Laugh at Yourself


I need to laugh! Do you?


I grew up watching re-runs of “I Love Lucy”. Some of my earliest memories include evenings when I sat in front of our television watching this show. I laughed and laughed. I could turn this post into a list of the comedians and actors who I have enjoyed because they were funny.

I have a friend named, Mike, who is an exceptional storyteller. I can think of numerous lunches and dinners when I laughed and laughed at one of Mike’s stories. Mike not only is a great storyteller but he seems to genuinely enjoy telling these stories.

Some people seem to think that it is more spiritual to be grim faced, stoic, and deadly serious at all times. Yet, Jesus spoke about some people who would strain a gnat out of their soup while a camel had its hoof in their soup (Mt. 23:24). I can see Jesus grin as he used that image. He spoke of attempting to get a speck out of someone’s eye while having a beam rammed into your own eye socket (Mt. 7:3-5). This is a funny image.

Yes, I know that much of life is anything but humorous. There is so much pain and heartache in the world. Quite often, we have a front row seat as we watch our loved ones experience the pain of some kind of brokenness. With such people, we weep and mourn expressing our love to them.

On the other hand, I want to relish moments that invite laughter and joy. There is nothing spiritual about being dour, highly sensitive and easily offended.


So here is a suggestions: Learn to laugh at yourself.


We all make funny mistakes. We do things that are silly. Sometimes, we may be absentminded and do something ridiculous. Again, and again I do these things. Why not laugh at yourself? Genuine self-depricating humor will only endear others to you.

I love this story that my friend tells about a moment in a funeral home that he would probably like to do again. An older man in his congregation had recently died. He was a farmer, who had been married for many years. He was a simple man. He never wore a suit to church or a coat and tie of any kind. He simply wore his overalls.

On the night of the visitation at the funeral home, my friend went to express his support and care to the widow. My friend and this couple had been good friends for many years. At the funeral home, people were coming and going as they hugged the man’s wife and expressed their love.

My friend stepped into the visitation room and together with the widow, walked over to the casket. My friend looked at the old gentleman, dressed in a suit and tie. He then remarked to the widow, “You know, he wouldn’t have been caught dead in a suit.” My friend said that moments after those words left his mouth, it dawned on him what he had just said. For a moment, he froze, cringing with embarrassment. Finally, he looked up only to catch the eyes of this woman. She laughed and laughed! (Much to his relief!) He then laughed with her. Whew!

My friend told this story on himself. We laughed as he told it.


Question:

What does laughter do for you as a person? What happens to you when you are only rarely laughing?