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)


“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.


  • 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.


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.


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.)

Lean Into the Finish Line

Intend to finish.skate.jpg

Intend to finish strong.

No, that doesn’t mean that you live with tension, stress, and anxiety regarding your life. In fact, it actually means that you need to know what the race is about. You need to be prepared. If you are prepared, you can actually relax in the freedom of the Gospel, while you live a Christlike life in the world.

It is possible to relax and enjoy the passion and commitment of marriage.

It is possible to relax and yet press on with the difficult.

It is possible to relax and enjoy taking care of your body/soul.

It is possible to relax and enjoy mature and godly relationships.

It is possible to relax and enjoy your identity as God’s beloved.

It is possible to relax and enjoy the security that is found in God alone.

It is possible to relax and enjoy working hard as you live out your life as God’s steward.

You may want to ask, are you always relaxed? Of course not. But, I am much farther ahead than I used to be. I have found a way to live with far less tension, stress, and anxiety than I used to. For many years, I was a waiting recipient for someone else’s anxiety. I guess I thought that ministry was taking on another’s anxiety so that they would feel better. Yet, I really wasn’t helping anyone.

Real freedom and real joy can be found when my life is anchored in the grace of God.

To live this way takes preparation. The preparation is ultimately found in solitude as you spend time preparing for the race. Henri Nouwen says this well in his book The Way of the Heart (p. 13-14):

Solitude is the furnace of transformation. Without solitude we remain victims of our society and continue to be entangled in the illusions of the false self. Jesus himself entered this furnace, and there he was tempted with the three compulsions of the world: to be relevant (“turn stones into loaves”), to be spectacular (“throw yourself down”), and to be powerful (“I will give you all these kingdoms”). There he affirmed God as the only source of his identity (“You must worship the LORD your God and serve him alone”). Solitude is the place of the great struggle and the great encounter — the struggle against the compulsions of the false self, and the encounter with the loving God who offers himself as the substance of the new self.

Self-Care is a Gift to Another

I once saw a picture of my father-in-law when he was in his 20s. He was standing next to another minister. He looked overweight and uncomfortable. His skin seemed to be a pasty white. He did not look healthy or fit at all.self-care.jpg

Years later he reflected on those years and told me of his lifestyle. He got virtually no exercise. He hurried from one town to the next to preach weeklong revivals or “gospel meetings.” He said that if he preached on a Sunday morning he might stay busy all afternoon (as opposed to resting). Then feeling exhausted, he would drink a couple of cups of coffee before preaching that evening. He once said, “Looking back, I would have been much more effective if I had rested that afternoon. Maybe taken a walk or jogged.”

My father-in-law had health difficulties for many years. Early on he had problems with his colon. In later years he had heart problems as well as cancer and Parkinson’s. He believed that the earlier lifestyle contributed to some of his colon problems in particular. In later years, he wisely lived a more balanced and healthy lifestyle. In many ways (usually subtle encouragement), he encouraged me to do the same.

Self-care is incredibly important for men and women. Self-care is to recognize that the creator God has given me my physical, emotional, intellectual, and relational self and has called me to care for his creation. I do so as a part of my stewardship before him. Self-care is not selfishness. Rather, it is to recognize that caring for the self is actually a blessing to others.

  • Self-care is to recognize that I bless others in the body of Christ by nurturing and caring for my own walk with the Lord.
  • Self-care is to take care of my physical body. To care for what God has given me that I might serve him fully throughout the days of my life on this earth.
  • Self-care is to pay attention to my emotional self. How many people have ignored their emotional fatigue only to use some very poor judgment regarding an ethical or moral decision?
  • Self-care is to understand that I need relationships. I need friends. Something is wrong whenever I manage to burn bridges with most everyone I get close to. Something is wrong when I wall myself off from people.

I could go on and on. Think about the instructions given by flight attendants every time we fly. Suppose you are flying with children. The cabin pressure drops and the oxygen masks appear. What does the flight attendant say? Put yours on first. Then put a mask on your children. You are in a better position to help your children if you have first practiced self-care.


How are you doing with self-care? Is there one particular area of your life in which you are tempted to “let go”?


“But That’s Hard!”

Many of us say this and then give ourselves a pass to take an easier route.Avoid.jpg

We want to avoid what is hard, difficult, and risky.

So, some of us give ourselves a pass.

“I know what I should do, but I don’t want to risk. This is really hard.”

“I know I shouldn’t be seeing this guy, but my marriage is awful. I just need someone to talk to, but I know where this could lead. This is hard.”

“I know I shouldn’t be doing my child’s research paper, but she is behind. She will fail the class if she doesn’t get it turned in. This is hard.”

“I know I ought to take better care of myself, but I don’t like to go to the doctor. It is hard to be healthy.”

“I know I should turn off the television more and spend time with my children. But this is football season! This is hard.”

“I know I should have a conversation with the guy instead of talking with everyone else about him. But I don’t want to confront him. This is hard.”

“I know I should apologize for snapping at my friend. Now she shouldn’t have said what she did. But in my more honest moments, I know I shouldn’t have been so rude. It’s hard to do the right thing.”

Yet, in avoiding what is hard or difficult, we may miss a breakthrough.

This is what I’ve learned. I have also experienced moments when I realized that my fear was keeping me bogged down and stuck.Often, when I take a step toward doing what is hard, I have experienced breakthroughs. At times, I have realized there is great joy in persevering. At other times, I found that God gave me strength where I thought I had none.

Fear never results in freedom.

So here is what I am trying to do. I want to look fear in the eye. I want to look at the situation that I am avoiding (or rationalizing) and take one step in the right direction. Is this something that you need to do as well?

Look fear in the eye and then step into it. Trust that God will be with you (read chapter one in the book of Joshua). Thank God for that first step and then take another. At the end of the day, know that you’ve made real progress. Is the situation fixed? Is it better? Not necessarily. You, however, will not be the same. In fact, you are breaking free.


How much energy does it take to regularly avoid doing what is difficult? Do you find this avoidance actually uses up valuable energy?


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?