Ministry Inside.96

The Dark NightGood preachers occasionally reflect on this question:

What happened the night before?

Shortly after we moved to Waco, I began serving as a police chaplain for the Waco Police Department.  Practically, this meant that I rode with an officer one night a week.

One night, the officer I was with was called to a home near the school where my wife taught.  There had been a fight between a young woman and her boyfriend.  The fight turned into an assault. When the officer arrived at the home, the paramedics were already there.  It was on a Thursday past midnight.  Blood was on the floor and on the bed where the guy had cut his girlfriend.  She was in the bedroom receiving the attention of the paramedics.  Another officer arrived and they began taking statements from witnesses.

In a nearby bedroom, I saw four children, all elementary school age.  Their schoolbooks were stacked on a chest of drawers. The television was blaring in the living room.  It was almost 1:00 a.m. Six hours or so later, a school bus would stop nearby to pick them up.  I wondered what they would be like in their classes the next day after staying up so late, having the police come to their home, and witnessing their mother’s assault.

On Sunday mornings, ministers need to occasionally think about what might have happened the night before (Saturday night) in the lives of the people to whom they are speaking.

  • The night before, a family was in turmoil, with children wondering what will become of their family.
  • The night before, a young single woman was planning to visit your assembly and felt anxiety wondering whom she would sit by and would she know anyone.
  • The night before, a guy spent much of the night by himself watching old movies.  Now on Sunday morning, he is anything but alert.
  • The night before, parents received a phone call informing them that their son had been arrested and put in jail for public drunkenness and resisting arrest.
  • The night before, a young high school girl had sex with a guy at a party.  Her parents thought she was elsewhere.
  • The night before, a discouraged, lonely widow thought about how difficult it was without her husband.

The point?

Sometimes we need to be reminded of the real life situations of the people hearing our message. We need to be reminded that life is often hard and complicated for people.  I think this just might impact the prayers and passion of the one preaching.

 

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When Ministry Becomes a Breath of Fresh Air (Part 1)

Prayer_Lookout2.jpgMany people read this blog.  People who serve in a variety of vocations read these words.  If you are a Christ-follower, there is a sense in which you are a minister (servant) no matter where you are and no matter what your vocation.  Such ministries are important — very important.

There are others who serve churches in very public roles.  Sometimes you may be referred to as preacher, pastor, minister, etc.  I was thinking today about what I want to remember in this particular role.  Much of what I will suggest is applicable regardless of your role or occupation.

God can use ministers to be a breath of fresh air in a church.  The enabling power for this kind of presence is the Spirit of God.  The challenge, however, is for us to make godly choices regarding our ministry. 

1.  Choose to be gracious.  I spoke with a couple visiting our church about a month ago.  They were from out of town.  They told me a little about their congregation and their minister.  They didn’t say they liked him or didn’t like him.  They simply said, "He’s a bit cocky, you know."  There was not much I could say. 

2.  Teach/preach from the overflow.  Do you preach each Sunday?  Do you deliver a message?  Do you teach a Bible class?  There is absolutely no substitute for reading and studying the Bible.  There is no substitute for being prepared.  This teaching/preaching is a sacred calling worthy of time, effort, and prayer.  Yes, I read widely.  However, in this role I must always be reading something that will help me think about what I will be preaching.  Some shortcuts may come with time and experience.  Other shortcuts (i.e., copying sermons from the Internet and preaching them as my own, etc.) will in fact shortchange the congregation and will be a detriment to the integrity of my ministry.

3.  Love the people in your congregation and community.  If you love these people, they will usually be forbearing and forgiving.  If they sense you don’t love them, then it really won’t matter what else you do.  For a couple of years, a young minister worked with a good church in a smaller community.  His last year there, he berated them publicly and talked down to them.  He made it known to the others on the staff with him that he was frustrated with this church and their backward thinking.  He then resigned and abruptly moved on to a larger church in a large city.  Many people in his former congregation feel like he used them.  Right or wrong, they believe that he came to that church so that he could posture himself to move to something bigger and better.  What struck me as especially sad is that these people felt used by him instead of loved by him.

4.  Be God-conscious instead of self-conscious.  It is so easy to get consumed by ego.  If we are not careful, we will believe that what really counts is to be well-known, to be in much demand as a speaker, and to preach for a church that many people are paying attention to.  As a result of this focus, it is easy to compare, to become jealous, to "keep score," and to crave recognition.  It is tempting to want to become "Christian" celebrities, hoping that people will clamor for our attention.  Far better to remember our calling and aim to please God, trusting that he is enough.

5.  Focus on your own walk with God.  Far too many ministers treat congregations as if they were science experiments.  "Let’s do this to them and see what happens."   Others become far too focused on trying to will the church to do this or that.  Do you know that the very best thing I can do for the congregation I serve is to simply be who God has called me to be.  I do far more good by focusing on my own love for God and for others.  I do far more good by being a godly person who loves his wife and children.

(Again, I think these are useful for those who are not "ministers" as well.)

What else would you add to this list?

41 Things Ministers Ought to Know (Part 2 of 4)

coffee45.jpgThe following is the continuation of a list I have written regarding what ministers need to know.  (You can read part 1 here.)  I have found each one of these to be very important not only to one who might serve a church in some form of ministry but also to any Christian in his or her daily ministry.   

 

11.  Be very careful about how you use humor.  Yes, humor is a wonderful part of life.  I enjoy laughing.  Laughter can be a wonderful break from much of the heaviness of life.  Yet, a person needs to be careful about laughing at someone else’s expense.   Consider, instead, telling stories of your own blunders, your own silliness, and your own mistakes. 

12.  Avoid self-pity.  Some ministers speak of themselves and their work as if they are the only ones who work hard.  Yet, you are not the only one who has a challenging schedule.   Many in your congregation work very hard as well.   

13. Read!  Read for comfort.  Read to be challenged.  Read to exercise your brain.  Read for the purpose of staying fresh and current.  Read for the pure enjoyment of reading.  Yes, some of us will read more than others.  Yet, I really believe that reading can be a very helpful discipline. 

14. Know that you are not indispensable.  Be careful about taking
yourself too seriously.  Some ministers behave as if the church could not do without them.  Yet, the truth is that if you were to die tomorrow, the congregation would continue.  Life would continue.  Ministry would happen.  Our dependence is not to be on ourselves but on God who is the great power behind any authentic ministry. 

15. Guard your words.  Think about your words before you speak.  Do you protect what others tell you?  When someone tells
you something, it is critical that you keep that person’s trust.  Sometimes, I will ask myself before speaking in a conversation, "If the person about whom I am about to speak knew what I had said, would he/she be surprised or hurt?  Would that person feel betrayed by me?"

16. Cultivate and nurture your friendships.  Friends are so important.  Good friends have a way of replenishing a person’s soul.  Sometimes, my days are very, very stressful.  I have found that a brief phone call to a friend or lunch with a friend can be refreshing, like a mini-vacation in the middle of the day.   

17. Remember that there is no substitute for face-to-face communication.  Yes, e-mail, text messaging, and other forms of communication are all helpful.  Yet, they do not take the place of actual conversation with people who are right in front of us.  I once heard of a family who spent an evening together — sort of.  Throughout the evening, they e-mailed one another.  Hmmm.  I’m just not sure that is an adequate substitute for real conversation.   

 

18. Play to your strengths.  No one can do everything well.  Yes, there are people who have skills, knowledge, and expertise that you do not have.  Why not appreciate the gifts and abilities of others while you focus on your own strengths?  What do you do particularly well?  Where has God used you?  Is there an area of your life and ministry that others have repeatedly affirmed?

19. Know where the land mines are in your congregation.  These land mines are there!  Are there traditions, customs, or habits of the congregation that seem to be important to these people?  You may choose to affirm these, ignore these, or even attempt to change one or more of these.  It is a mistake, however, to not seek to know where these are.  You become aware of these land mines by listening to the people in your church.  This usually takes time. 

20. Stay away from anything that even remotely resembles
manipulation
.  Remember that love and manipulation are two very
different ways of treating people.  I remember the first time I heard the expression, "It is better to ask forgiveness than seek permission."  A minister was telling some others that he typically did what he wanted in the congregation and then later asked forgiveness if that seemed necessary.  Really?  Is this what we want to teach our own children?  What if everyone practices this?  Is this really the way of Jesus?

 

What else would you add to this list?

41 Things Ministers Ought to Know (Part 1 of 4)

keyWhat do Christian ministers need to know?  Specifically, I am speaking of people who might be on the staff of a church participating in some form of Christian ministry.  Regardless of your role, I believe these principles are important to know about ministry in general. 

 

A form of this list originally appeared here almost three years ago.  However, I have since updated, reworked, and expanded it.  The following list will be posted in four parts.  

 

1.  Learn
from other people
.  Look out for those who have continued to grow, develop and learn.  Be a lifelong learner.  Read.  Ask others questions.  When you are with other people, look for the opportunity to ask good questions.  Resist the temptation to spend the bulk of your conversations talking on and on about your church.  

 

2.  Resist the temptation to be a "big name."  Yes, there will be some people others will clamor to hear speak.  Some people will be visible and have national reputations.  Some will speak at seminars and various other gatherings throughout the country.  If that happens to you, then allow yourself to be used by God.  However, this will not be true of most of us.  Most of us will not be well known.  Why not pursue significance instead of self-importance.  When your life is in the will of God, your ministry will be significant.  What you do will matter, regardless of whether or not you are noticed and affirmed by others. 

 

3.  Ministry is all about relationships.  If you do not treat people right, it really does not matter what else you do.  It is amazing how some ministers will go to seminary, prepare themselves academically, and yet ignore some of the most basic realities about people.  Saying "hello" to people, showing an interest in their lives, and simply paying attention to others are all very important.

 

4.  Someone else can teach you something.  That "someone" may be a person you may or may not admire.  Be willing to learn from people with whom you disagree.  Be attentive to what God might teach you through others in your church.  An older woman?  A teenager?  A young father?  You never know.  Pay attention.  

 

5.  Be careful about what you say.  Some people are in the habit of ending conversations by saying, "I’ll call you" or "Let’s go to lunch."  I’m not sure that some of these people really intend to call or e-mail the other with a request for lunch next week.   Yet, this is confusing to others.  If you say, "I will call you," be sure to call.  If you say "Let’s go to lunch sometime," be sure to get back with that person to schedule lunch.  This is important if you want people to take your words seriously.

 

6.  Follow through.  Some people seem to always be starting something but then they lose interest and allow it to die.  Or, we say that we will complete a task and it never gets done.  It is important to follow through.  

 

7.  Be very careful about your ego.  Can it ever get in the way!  Pride can do so much harm in a church.  The truth?  You may experience times when others get the credit for your idea.  You may be in a situation in which a very lazy person is affirmed by others he manipulates while someone else who works much harder goes unnoticed.  If you are not careful, pride and resentment can slowly eat away at your heart. 

 

8.  Pay attention to the invisible people.  There are quiet, unassuming people in your church who say little and are not front and center.  Yet, these salt-of-the-earth people are so important.  These low maintenance, solid people often get ignored in churches while the high maintenance people may use up much of the oxygen in the room and get most of our attention.      

 

9.  Find someone on this planet in whom you can confide.  Life, ministry, and the day-to-day routine can be very lonely.  Having such a friend may help prevent a train wreck in your life.  Besides that, such a person can also serve to add some much needed perspective to your thinking and feelings.

 

10.  Get healthy!  One of the best things you can do in a church is model what a healthy (not perfect) human being looks like.  Go to a
counselor. Talk to a trusted friend.  Do whatever it takes to deal with
old wounds and inadequacies.  Consider your track record with relationships.  What needs to be addressed?

 

More later…

 

What else would you add to this list?