The Key to Having a Lasting Impact on the People You Influence

Most of us have an influence on someone.key.jpg

  • Your spouse.
  • Your children.
  • Your grandchildren.
  • Your parents.
  • Your co-workers.
  • Your employees.
  • Your church.


But — will you have a lasting impact?

I once had a very sobering conversation with a minister who said to me, “We know what to do, we just need to do it!” He went on to suggest that all of the books, conferences, etc. were basically useless because it all came down to “doing it.” I knew this man. He seemed to be in a perpetual state of exhaustion. His marriage was strained. He was quick-tempered. In the midst of his good intentions, there was a hollowness that came through.

Later, I had a conversation with another man who was quieter and less active. He seemed to try very hard to communicate that he knew more than the people he was with. I felt as if I was always being critiqued and evaluated when I was with him. He saw himself as being one of the few who really “got it” and it was his mission to communicate to others what the “deeper life” was all about. Yet, to be in his presence did not seem either joyful or encouraging.

I mention both of these people because I think I understand these tendencies. How easy it is to be something other than Jesus. For many years, I saw myself as primarily a person who was doing things for God. Whether I would (or could) have articulated this or not, my faith was basically centered around doing the right things — an ever increasing number of right things. As a minister, my ministry was about doing the right activities. I lived with a constant sense of guilt and inadequacy. The goal seemed to be seeing how much I could get done. I eventually realized this was a dead-end street.


The key to having a lasting impact on others is to stay true to what is at the center of our being — who we are in God.


Ruth Haley Barton expresses this well:

A sobering truth about life in leadership is that we can be very busy and look very important, yet be out of touch with that place in the center of our being where we know who we are in God and what he has called us to do — that place where we are responsive to the voice of God above all others. When this happens we are at the mercy of all manner of external and internal forces, tossed and turned by other’s expectations and our own inner compulsions. This inner emptiness then becomes the source of frenetic activity that is un-tethered from any kind of grounded-ness in God. This is a scary place for a leader to be.

Christian leaders in particular can have a hard time distinguishing between the work we do for God and time to be with God, resting in him and enjoying his presence. Over time Scripture can be reduced to a textbook or a tool for ministry rather than an intimate personal communication from God to us. Prayer can become an exhausting round of different kinds of mental activity or a public display of our spiritual prowess.

(Ruth Haley Barton, “You Say You Don’t Have Time for Retreat? Think again!“)

7 Steps That Will Make a Real Difference in Your Future

The following are seven steps that will make a real difference in your future. Whatever happens to you and wherever God leads, these steps could be incredibly important. They have certainly made a difference in my own life.

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Grow up.

It is sad when a woman discovers that she has married a guy who refuses to grow up. This boy/man is immature and primarily interested in playing while his wife has to be the adult and responsible. He assumes that she will take care of the kids, prepare the meals, etc. so he can do what he wants. Meanwhile, real men seek to be mature. Maturing people still have fun but they refuse to do so at another’s expense. Maturing people take responsibility for their emotions and actions. They grow up.


Start now.

Stop waiting for the perfect circumstances. Stop waiting for everything to fall into place. If you know what you need to do, take a step now. Perhaps the next step seems small. But at least you’ve taken a step! Far too often, I have waited for just the right circumstances. “Some day, I’m going to. . . .” Instead of taking a small step, I waited and sometimes missed the opportunity to make a difference. I have learned that quite often the perfect moments never come. Again, rather than waiting on perfection, take even the smallest step.


No excuses.

Many people attempt to explain away their circumstances in life by making excuses. “I never got any breaks.” “I didn’t have much help from my parents.” “No one gave me a chance.” “I didn’t get to go to graduate school.” “I had to work during college.” The Bible is full of people who had many obstacles in their lives and yet learned to trust God and live a life of faith.   


Be authentic.

Authenticity means that you want to be the real deal. You are not simply concerned with what others might think about you. When I first began my ministry, I felt a tremendous pressure to somehow make people in my congregation “happy.” (Whatever that is.) At times, some even verbalized that a good minister tries to make people happy. This is ridiculous and a sure way to prematurely end what might have been a long ministry. Authenticity is about being the right kind of person and doing — not for the approval of others, but because it is right.


Work graciously.

Don’t just get by. Don’t just put in your time. Don’t just live for the weekend. Know the joy of working hard and doing what you were meant to do. Yet, working graciously is more than staying busy or keeping your nose to the grindstone. Working graciously is about doing what matters in a manner that blesses others and makes a difference. Working graciously is about valuing co-workers and treating others in a way that makes them glad to work with you.


Give care.

Give care to the people in your life. Be a good steward of these relationships. Honor and nurture the relationships that you have with your husband, wife, children, etc. I am married and have two grown daughters and sons-in-law. Charlotte and I both have jobs. We each have certain tasks and responsibilities at work. Meanwhile, our children live in other states. It takes intent, time, and effort to stay connected emotionally with them. This doesn’t just happen. However, there is great joy to be found in staying connected and giving care to the people who matter most to you.


Trust God.

Do more than give God a polite nod. Trust God by yielding the control of your life to him. Many people say they trust God, but they seem to be speaking philosophically rather than about a trust that impacts daily life in a meaningful way.


Question

Which one of these steps has been especially important in your life? What difference has this made?



Ministry Inside.55

1. I encourage you to read these notes from Ann Voskamp’s recent talk at the Story 2011, Chicago. (These are Tim Schraeder’s notes.) She speaks like a poet and uses words so well. If you preach, teach, write, or do some combination of the three, it is so useful to read people who use words well. (By the way, Tim’s notes have become a valuable resource for me. He not only blogged a number of sessions of the Story Conference but also the recent Willow Creek Global Leadership Conference.)


2. A number of years ago, I had coffee with a guy who was responsible for bringing a number of high profile Christian leaders to our part of the state for various conferences. I asked him, “What have you discovered in working with these people?” He paused for a moment and then said, “Well I’ve learned that some ministers are not exactly what I perceived them to be from their books, etc. For example, I helped arrange a conference for a person who specialized in family relations. His books are wonderful. However, he was difficult to work with and not very approachable.”

He then said, “The next year, another speaker was here who had also written several wonderful books. The experience was totally different. When he wasn’t making a presentation, he was warm and engaging with people at the conference. People found him to be approachable and unassuming. It was a completely different experience.”

I am thankful for this conversation. Our exchange that day helped make me more conscious of the impression ght be leaving with people when I speak at other churches.


3. For the last three years, I have watched at least a portion of “The Nines” online conference sponsored by Leadership Network. A speaker speaks for nine minutes regarding some aspect of ministry. He or she is followed by a sucession of speakers throughout the day. This year there are 99 speakers. The date is Tuesday, September 27.


4. I am reading Preventing Ministry Failure by Michael Todd Wilson and Brad Hoffmann. The section on intimacy is worth the price of the book. I am reading through this book slowly.

5 Ways to Kill Your Marriage

Some marriages die from neglect. marriagebroken.jpg

Below are 5 ways to kill a marriage. Perhaps you can think of more.


Don’t worry about being gracious.

One day you and your wife are running errands. She says that she would like a Coke. You reluctantly pull up to a convenience store. You turn off the engine and say something like, “You go get it yourself. It’s not me that wants a Coke.”   

You have been invited to join several other people for dinner at your friend’s home. As you enter this home, your friend says, “Watch where you step. There is no telling when my wife last vacuumed the floor.” (Yes, this really happened.)

A lack of graciousness communicates more than bad manners. Rather, it reveals a lack of grace in the relationship. Spouses who practice graciousness communicate, “I will not embarrass you or humiliate you in any way. You can count on me.”   


Say whatever happens to pass through your mind.

Excuse yourself by saying, “I’m just being honest.” Really? Do we really believe that it is loving and wise to say whatever happens to enter our minds with no filter whatsoever? Words can be deadly. In fact, one can crush a spouse with careless words.


Pay little attention to your friendship with your spouse.

It is amazing how many couples stop being attentive to one another’s friendship. I’ve seen this again and again. A couple begins pulling away from each another. Two years later their divorce is finalized. At some point, they often stop being friends. It is not that they are hurtful to one another. Many couples who divorce do not deliberately try to hurt their spouse. Instead, what often happens is they stop investing in their friendship with each other.

Charlotte and I have been married for 33 years. I can not overemphasize the importance of genuine friendship in marriage. Not only is she my wife but also my closest friend. This alone has great implications for marriage and commitment to one another.


Be a different kind of person when your spouse isn’t around.

Marriages begin to come unraveled when trust and trustworthiness end. After all, friendship is grounded in trust. Quite often men and women will begin to live divided lives. That is, a man will go to work and speak to other women in ways that would disappoint and even anger his spouse if she knew. Or, it could be that a spouse behaves in ways that are totally self-absorbed. I once heard of a woman who spent money with reckless abandon when her spouse was not around. Yet, when they were together, she projected a much different attitude toward their finances. Marriages are damaged when husbands and wives realize that they can no longer trust their spouses.


Keep part of your life secret.

Secret texts.

Secret calls.

Secret email accounts.

For some, this begins innocently when one’s spouse is on Facebook and gets a friend request from a former high school classmate. She accepts his friend request. They begin messaging. Often, there is nothing inappropriate said for awhile. Yet, the communication is frequent and regular. She/he may mention to their spouses that they heard from an old friend. Yet, they may not be sharing either the content or the frequency of these exchanges.

All I’m saying is that this kind of secrecy has a way of eroding a marriage over time. Intimacy is built on transparency not secrecy.


Question:

What other behaviors can contribute to the death of a marriage over time?

Who Else Wants a Better Future?

What you Future2.jpgdo in the next day, week, or month really can impact the future.


Yet, so many of us are waiting. We wait and think that one day life will be better. It will be better “as soon as.”


Maybe you have said it: Life will get better as soon as:

  • I get married.
  • the kids get older.
  • the kids are able to get themselves ready for school.
  • the kids can drive themselves to school.
  • our marriage becomes what it should be.
  • the kids graduate from college.
  • I get into graduate school.
  • we pay off the house.
  • we can afford to travel.


The list could go on and on. We think there are roadblocks or limitations that somehow are keeping us from really experiencing life. As soon as this or that happens, life will be good again. Right now, I have an obstacle in my way but this will change as soon as.


If you are like many, you may think that someday life will finally begin — really begin.

  • Someday, my marriage will be what it ought to be.
  • Someday, I will not work such long hours and will spend more time with my family.
  • Someday, I will be attentive to my relationship to God.
  • Someday, my daddy will give me his “well done.”
  • Someday, I will finally have the job I’ve always wanted.
  • Someday, I will be a part of a great church.
  • Someday, my health will be better.
  • Someday, everything will finally come together.


Many people sit by and wait and wait for life to be different. I did this for years! I waited for the perfect church with the perfect group of elders. I waited for just the right location. I waited for just the right kind of ministry. Now of course, if you had asked me then if I was doing this, I would have denied it. But this is exactly what I was doing.

The following are four suggestions that can give you a much better future.


1. Start now. “Someday” doesn’t exist. You have now! Life doesn’t begin “as soon as.” Life is happening now! This is your moment. Start now. Take a step. Make a move. Go first. What do you want to do? What does God want you to do?


2. Get your raft, a good guide, and start paddling. Lean into the difficult waters. Focus on riding through the rough current. Of course, we would all like for the rough waters to calm. For whatever reason, sometime they do not. Focus on enduring under the power of Jesus.

Far too many people sit on the bank, paralyzed by their fear. As you consider the future, get equipped and begin the ride. Focus on riding through the current. Do not allow your fear to rob you of the adventure of trusting God, even through the storms of life.


3. Look ahead. You are going somewhere. You are not treading water. Whether your life has turned out the way you envisioned it or not, God is at work. God is with you. You are not drifting aimlessly. Whether you realize it or not, your life matters.


4. Don’t spend much time staring in the mirror. Nothing bogs us down like totally focusing on ourselves and our problems. One of the better things we can do with this energy is to serve another person.


Make these decisions now. They will be important for your future.


Question:

Do you find yourself waiting for just the right circumstances? What if you were to take a practical step now?


Ministry Inside.54

1. I recently read portions of Preventing Ministry Failure by Michael Todd Wilson and Brad Hoffman. This is a very good book, which I am working through slowly. The following are quotes I thought were particularly good.

“Lack of intimacy is the biggest factor for ministry burnout and failure. When we isolate ourselves and withdraw from deep relationship with others for whatever reason – feeling misunderstood, fear of exposure, feelings of superiority, being too busy, not wanting to “air our dirty laundry” – the slope into ministry failure becomes very slippery.” (p. 11)

“If we don’t get our innermost needs met in our personal relationship with God and with our spouse and close friends, we’ll inevitably

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begin to crave praise from those we lead.” (p. 18)

“What matters most in our lives are those things related to our intimate relationships (God, friends and spouse) and to our calling.” (p. 28)

The authors suggest seven foundation stones that can help ground us in skills to ensure long-term effectiveness. These include:


Who you are – Intimacy, Calling.

What you value – Stress Management, Boundaries, Re-creation.

How you relate – People Skills, Leadership Skills.


Consider, for example, the importance of “What You Value.” These foundation stones are stress management, boundaries, and re-creation. A failure to manage stress can result in a person turning to a variety of unhealthy substances and behaviors in order to cope. A failure to set boundaries will result in a lesser calling taking priority over a truly more important calling. A failure to practice recreation can result in a much shorter life in ministry.   


2. Our church is reading Peter Scazzero’s Daily Office: Remembering God’s Presence Throughout the Day. This is an outstanding little book that has really connected with people in our congregation (including me).


3. Don’t miss this interchange between two N.T. scholars, Scot McKnight and Ben Witherington. This is an interview based on Scot McKnight’s most recent book, The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited. The first post is here.


4. “He wants everybody to think he is important.” I cringed when I heard this church member say this about one of their ministers. Whether this is true or not, he nevertheless has left this impression. Ministers leave this impression when we seem eager to drop names. When we repeat again and again who has called us on the telephone or who has asked us to speak. Sometimes we do this as we communicate just how important our congregations are.

Is this really what we want to model? We might want to reflect on the ego need that is being met through such crass self-promotion. Meanwhile some in our congregations who live in the corporate world where everybody is jockeying for position will see through this for what it is.   

Replenish: Leading From a Healthy Soul

Last week, I read a very good book entitled Replenish: Leading From a Healthy Soul by Lance Witt. The Foreword was written by John Ortberg. The book is a great discussion of what it means for a leader to be attentive to his/her own soul. The following quotes come from the book and hopefully will give you a taste for this important discussion.


“We will never grow healthy churches with unhealthy leaders.” (p. 12)


“We have neglected the fact that a pastor’s greatest leadership tool is a healthy soul. Our concentration on skill and technique and strategy has resulted in deemphasizing the interior life. . . . 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.” (p. 19)

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“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)


“A good place to start is acknowledging that many of us in leadership feel like we have a hole in our soul. Ministry drains us, sucks the life out of us, and the result is we are running on empty.” (p. 24)


“But there certainly have been seasons through the years when I lost that clarity. My ministry became my identity. My ministry became my first love. My ministry consumed all my spiritual passion. My ministry (not Jesus) was my life. The unintended byproduct during those seasons was a slow disconnect from Jesus.”

“When this happens, you begin to do ministry in the flesh. You begin to think serving God is all about working hard, being strategic, developing leaders and executing vision. You fundamentally begin to believe that it’s up to you.”

“When you have become disconnected from the Vine (Jesus), ministry will become joyless striving and stressful pushing.” (p. 29)


“It’s about making Jesus your life and then letting the ministry flow out of that relationship.” (p. 32)


“Image management is what we begin to do when our inner world becomes separated from our outer world.” (p. 35)


“In ministry, the perfect storm for a personal disaster is also the convergence of three elements: ambition, isolation, and self-deception.” (p. 46)


“Whether you use the word approval or applause, here’s the bottom line. I was living for people and finding my worth, value, significance, and identity in what others thought of me. . . . You run decisions through the filter of ‘What will people think?’ rather than ‘What’s the right thing to do?’” (p. 50)


“For some reason, in our culture we have swallowed hook, line, and sinker the lie that busyness equals importance.” (p. 61)


“Your busyness will damage your soul. Over time you will develop a hurried spirit. And even when your body is still, your soul will be racing. Your busy spirit will constantly remind you of everything you need to be doing.” (p. 62)


“One of the spiritual health questions every ministry leader must answer is, ‘Am I willing to serve in obscurity?’” (p. 88)


“In the earlier days I didn’t realize it, but I had a belief system behind my performance mentality: Work hard, be responsible, perform well, and people will love you. Work hard, be responsible, perform well, and God will love you.” (p. 110)


“The disciples find him and say, ‘Everyone is looking for you.’ Music to the ears of codependent ministry leaders. The feeling of being in demand can be intoxicating.” (p. 133)

What Should Be Preached On 9/11?

This world trade.jpgSunday marks ten years since that awful day, September 11, 2001. On that day, terrorists hijacked four different passenger jets in an attack against the United States. Nearly 3,000 people were killed. It was an event that shook much of the world and certainly the United States.

Now ten years later, this Sunday morning, men and women will be in churches throughout the country. No doubt, people will be talking, praying, etc. regarding this ten year marker.

I would love to know what you think about the following questions. The first question is addressed to anyone who plans to be in a church service this Sunday morning.

The second question is specifically addressed to preachers.


Questions:

  • What should be preached this Sunday regarding 9/11? What do you hope is not said? (Or, should anything be said?)

  • If you are preaching this Sunday, what do you intend to say regarding 9/11? (Or, if you have chosen to say nothing, how did you arrive at this decision?)

6 Important Qualities that Children Possess

Just the other day, Kathryn gave me the picture that you see on the right.

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I was impressed. Kathryn drew this in watercolor. She gave it to me and it has been in my office ever since. This picture is a keeper. What a thoughtful gift!


Children often give the most valuable gifts.


One Sunday morning, two children (a brother and sister) came into our church building on their way to Bible class. When I saw them, I greeted them:

“What’s going on?”

The sister, about age 8, said “hello” and her brother, about a year younger, just smiled without saying anything. As I passed them, I heard the brother say to his sister “What did he ask you?”

She replied “I don’t know. He says that every week.”

Isn’t childlike honesty great?


Think for a moment about the childlike qualities which may have been a part of your life at one time. As a child, you may have possessed qualities such as:

  • Playfulness.
  • A lack of self-consciousness.
  • An open expression of affection.
  • Delight that is expressed without reservation.
  • Transparency about your feelings and thinking.
  • An open sense of dependency on the care of the adults in your life.

As I read this list, I realize that these wonderful qualities are often dismissed by adults who live in the “real” world. Yes, the world is complicated, unsafe, and at times, unpredictable. At the same time, maybe we have lost something valuable that we first learned at children.


Question:

Is there a particular quality that had as a child, that you would like to recapture?


Ministry Inside.53

Most Thursdays, I write a post that is especially for church leaders, ministers, pastors, etc. Those of you who are not in a similar role may find this post helpful as well.


1. I like a post that I read recently by Rachel Gardener entitled “What’s On Your Sticky Note?” She says that beside her computer, she has a sticky note which reads:

One Thing at a Time

First Things First

Start Now

I like this! I suspect that for many of us who are very busy, such reminders might be very helpful. What do you think? Do you have something similar on your desk or by your computer?


2. Several weeks ago I read Keith Meyer’s Whole Life Transformation: Becoming the Change Your Church Needs. This is an outstanding book about how to live as an authentic minister who is being transformed into a Jesus-like person. He describes a time in which his own ministry when he was not really experiencing spiritual transformation. Meanwhile, he was busy and accomplishing tasks. He then describes his journey to a different kind of ministry that focuses on a minister becoming the change that a church needs. This book is just what I needed to read this summer!

Note this endorsement by Don Cousins:

Keith Meyer encourages and challenges us to reach far beyond the quantity of disciples to where the impact lies — quality of disciples. . . . I was challenged on a personal level and inspired on a leadership level as I read. For anyone interested in measuring quality, this is a must-read book.


3. Be sure to check out the site Ministry Matters. Lots of good material by William Willimon. I have read many of Willimon’s articles and books. I find him helpful and thoughtful. He helps me think.


4. It would really help churches if those of us who are ministers would model what someone has called, “mirroring the emotion.” That is, when we speak to people in our congregation, whether in a Bible class room, at Target, or on the parking lot, we practice intentional listening. We listen to their words and the emotion behind these words. This practice can really help you respond to someone in a way that is helpful, appropriate, and meaningful. This can be a real challenge because you may find yourself in a conversation about the Dallas Cowboys one moment and then a few minutes later, you are talking with another person who tells you their cancer has spread.

Pay attention to the body language, the emotion that is expressed, and the words that are spoken. This can be an enormous help in knowing what to say and what not to say. I remember having some conversations with people that I later wished I had handled differently. In most of these situations, I would have responded better if I had been more attentive to the emotion that was being expressed and then respond appropriately. In some instances, I would have changed the content of what I said. Most of the time, however, I would responded in a more appropriate manner and tone based on the emotion that I was seeing.


5. If you haven’t heard about this new book by Scot McKnight, don’t miss this post regarding his new book The King Jesus Gospel. (Forward by N.T. Wright and Dallas Willard.)