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Ministers can be very fearful people and yet never acknowledge their fears.

Fear has a way of becoming the elephant in the room in ministry. A minister, out of fear and insecurity, finds ways of reminding others that he is an important person and is needed by the congregation. He may become fearful when he is not “in the know” about a particular family or issue.

Ministers can cripple their ministry and severely limit their influence by not addressing their fears.

Ministers can be imprisoned and bound by fear:

  • What if people see how inadequate I really am?
  • What if the people in the congregation stop liking me?
  • What if I fail in this congregation?
  • What if my ministry peers see that I am not as competent or skilled as they are?
  • What if I lead this initiative and it fails?
  • What if people find out that sometimes, as a church leader, I don’t know what to do?
  • What if I remain in obscurity for the rest of my life?
  • What if I am never seen as significant, important, or competent?
  • What if I never move beyond my fears and my insecurities?
  • What if I should be doing something else with my life besides “full-time” ministry?
  • What if I’m fired?
  • What if others see me as fearful instead of a person of faith?

Maybe you identify with at least one of these thoughts. I wish I could say that I’ve only had one of these fears.

If not met head on with the power of God’s Spirit, fear has a way of taking over one’s life.

The following has been helpful:

1. God can and will deliver us from our fears (Psalms 34:4).

2. Pray, trusting in the Holy Spirit, for God to give you the power and courage to take the next obedient step. This is critical. After all, fear can be paralyzing and cause you to

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be immobile and unresponsive to what God wants you to do.

3. Thank God for his powerful presence. Throughout Scripture, he reminds his people (and his leaders in particular): “I will be with you” (Genesis 31:3, Exodus 3:12, Joshua 1:5, Judges 6:16).

4. Voice your fear aloud to God. “Lord, I am afraid that ….” Sometimes we allow the restless rumblings in our hearts to dominate. Articulating your concerns to God in prayer instead of quietly brooding can sometimes help in claiming the promises and power of God’s presence.

Question:

What has been helpful to you in dealing with your fear?

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So much of one’s effectiveness in ministry has to do with the matters that may appear small but in fact are very important.

1.  Attitude.  This is huge!   A negative attitude, a cynical spirit, and a fault-finding disposition have a way of wearing out a congregation.  The content of a minister’s teaching may be correct, but the teaching may not be taken seriously because of the attitude of the minister.

2.  Humility.  Some ministers have a way of bringing every conversation back to themselves. Instead of asking others to elaborate after they have shared an experience, some people will immediately interject, “Yeah, you should have seen what happened to me, blah, blah, blah.” People see through this after a while.

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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.

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Some ministers are perceived to be important.servant-leader-570x311.jpg

When I first began preaching and serving as a “full-time minister,” I soon realized that some preachers were considered to be important people.

That struck me as interesting and even a bit odd.

After all, I was a business major in college. It wasn’t until after I had graduated from college that I began to think about the possibility of becoming better equipped to serve God. I wasn’t going back to school for a new career. In fact, to this day I have never referred to my work as a minister as a career. Instead, I tend to think of my work as a calling that I am doing as long as I think this is what God wants me to do.

I do remember, however, when it occurred to me that some ministers were perceived to be important people.

  • They were invited to speak at large gatherings of Christians.
  • They were described as having “preached in some of our most influential pulpits.
  • They were characterized as “highly sought after” ministers.

For a while, I thought that I should pursue importance. (Yes, this is embarrassing to admit. I know that is not a good thing. I know that idea reeks of pride. I’m just telling you what went through my head.) After thinking about this (way too long), I began to wonder if I was losing my mind. I do remember, after all, the times when Jesus was approached by people either perceiving their own greatness or wanting to be great.

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In some churches, a kind of uneasiness exists between ministers and elders. Or, sometimes the uneasiness exists among the ministry staff or within the elder group.

In far too many instances, the relationship between these leaders has been reduced to an awkward superficial coexistence.

I am not talking about situations where there is open conflict and quarreling. Rather, I am thinking about congregations where the relational investment by leaders into one another’s lives seems to be at a minimum.

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Many years ago, I was in a situation like this for a time. It was incredibly difficult. I felt alone and the need to be guarded. Something was missing that I couldn’t quite identify at the time. I just knew that I felt out of place.

In congregations where there is this uneasiness, withdrawals are often made, while the relational deposits are rare. As a result, these people no longer trust one another with their hearts.

  • A minister completes his tenth year at a congregation. Nothing is said either privately or publicly to acknowledge this He feels hurt and unappreciated but then is embarrassed that this seems to matter so much to him.
  • An elder wrestles with depression. He mentions this to his fellow elders and later regrets doing this. They don’t seem to take this seriously and now he wishes that he had said nothing.
  • A children’s minister feels a real loneliness within the leadership group. She doesn’t feel valued by the others.
  • An elder does not reveal his real opinions in the regular leadership meetings. He does not trust the intent of several of his fellow elders.

These kinds of relationships can be draining and life depleting.

Furthermore, such relationships may not be the model that the congregation’s leadership wants them to imitate.


It is very difficult for a church to rise above the character and functioning of its leaders.

Do we really want our other ministry groups to function like we do?

Do we want our families to function like we do?

Do we want the life groups in this church to function like we do?

It is incredibly important that church leaders be committed to create an encouraging environment. Often, there is not the kind of encouragement expressed that can sustain those serving as ministers or elders. Ministers and elders bless the entire congregation when they are committed to shepherding one another as leaders.


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Each Thursday, I write a post particularly for church leaders. The following is part of a list of habits for church leaders who want to grow and develop. You can find part 1 here  and part 2 here.

Habit #6. Adjust your expectations.

See-the-world-inside-a-toilet-paper-roll_2.jpgWhen I first began preaching, my expectations of people were way too high! I was constantly disappointed in others. My assumptions on the front end were skewed. For example, I thought that everyone who was connected in some way with our church was trying to live right. It wasn’t everyone’s personal weakness that was the surprise but that we were not even united in our intentions.

Meanwhile, my expectations of God were far too small. I didn’t really believe that he might do amazing things through prayer. I didn’t expect God to do anything in my life. Consequently, I lived with a strange set of expectations for both the church and for God.

I began to grapple with this and lowered my expectations of people so that anything that a person did that was good was an act of grace. Meanwhile, I began to raise my expectations of God, thanking him for the grace that I experienced in him whether I witnessed his power or not.


Habit #7. Pay attention to people.

This particular habit is so important. It is a gift we can give to one another that can add energy. Basically, you follow two practices:

  • You attempt to catch people doing what is right.
  • You ask about what is very important to another person.


Habit #8. Empty your mind regularly.

In David Allen’s book Getting Things Done, I have learned the importance of emptying one’s mind (or doing a “mind sweep”). Basically, one takes everything that is going on in the mind and lists it on paper.

In his workshop, one of the exercises involved writing everything we were thinking about. I thought, “This won’t take long, I am only thinking about a couple of things right now.” We took about ten minutes for this exercise. I began my list and could not believe all that I wrote down. I wrote everything from “Get the tire fixed” to “Got to call Steve on the way home.” Each time I wrote something down, I then seemed to recall one more thing that I had stored in my mind.

Allen believes if we do not regularly empty our minds, then stress is the result. You must have a system in place by which you can empty your mind and know that you will come back to the things you have written down and deal with them.

Question
What habits would you add to this list?

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Each Thursday, I write a post particularly for church leaders. The following is part of a list of habits for church leaders who want to grow and develop. You can find part 1 here.


Habit #3. Choose to contribute to healthy communication.

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James Bryan Smith, in a seminar on The Good and Beautiful Life, said that our technology is way ahead of our ethics and etiquette. Remember that there is no substitute for face-to-face communication. Yes, email, 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, though they were in the same house, they emailed one another.

Choose to be the bearer of good news. Look for what God is doing in your church. Make a list of what you’ve witnessed. Catch people doing what is good, right, and godly. Far too much time and energy is wasted talking about what people did wrong.


Habit #4. Speak about others in their absence in a way that would not surprise them if they were present.

Stay away from anything that even remotely resembles manipulation. 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. I heard an elder justify his practice of not communicating with his fellow elders with this practice.

Really? Is this what we want to teach our own children? What if everyone practices this? Is this really the way of Jesus with one another?


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Each Thursday, I write a post focused on the needs of church leaders. The following is the first in a series of habits for church leaders (in particular) who wish to grow and develop.

Habit #1 Practice self-awareness.

With whom am I spending time? I have to monitor just how much time I spend with negative, critical people. Too much time spent with others who are constantly griping and complaining will sure enough drain me of energy. I have a friend who described one preacher as so negative that his sermons on grace had a negative edge. Yet, I can’t listen to (what seems like) an endless stream of negative talk because it really does impact me.

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What am I putting into my mind? On a typical day, I talk (email, phone call, personal conversation) with people about matters that are very serious. Someone has learned that they have cancer. Someone else is deeply concerned about personal financial debt. Still another is wrestling with marriage issues. At the end of the day, it is easy to go home and immerse myself in the national news, which much of the time is going to be very negative. As a result, I have to be very intentional about what I put into my mind. I can’t think about sad and tragic situations all of the time.

Often I make sure I watch something funny on television. I might watch a good ball game. I might read a biography, especially one that is not filled with tragedy. What I put into my mind really does matter.

Whom am I resenting? Unresolved conflict and resentments can be such energy drainers! It is amazing how much energy I can spend thinking about a person I am frustrated or angry with. Occasionally I need to ask myself, “How much time do I spend thinking about old resentments or things that long ago should have been forgiven?”

When do I re-create my body? I generally work out at the gym four times a week. My motivation for doing this is not my weight nor is it because I am a health nut. My motivation is rooted in the way it makes me feel when I am regularly working out versus how I feel when I am not. If I am not getting some kind of exercise, it really does impact how I feel. Not only do I feel sluggish, but I also tend to have less energy and motivation, particularly in the afternoons.

Some ministers get their emotional strokes by talking about how hard they work. They go on and on about what everyone has asked them to do and how busy they are. There are ministers who do not even take a day off. Not taking time to rest, to get away, and to recharge will eventually catch up with a person.

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Four Critical Questions Church Leaders Need to Ask Themselves if they Expect to Last

With whom am I spending time? I have to monitor just how much time I spend with negative, critical people. Too much time spent with others who are constantly griping and complaining will sure enough drain me of energy. I have a friend who described one preacher as so negative that his sermons on grace had a negative edge. Others seem to be constantly critiquing everyone else and finding them lacking. I want to love these people but I do choose how much time to spend with them.

What about you? How much time are you spending with people who are negative and bitter people?

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What am I putting into my mind? On a typical day, I talk with people (email, phone call, personal conversation) about matters that are very serious. Someone has learned that they have cancer. Someone else is deeply concerned about personal financial debt. Still another is wrestling with marriage issues. At the end of the day, it is easy to go home and immerse myself in the national news, which much of the time is going to be very negative.

As a result, I have to be very intentional about what I put into my mind. I can’t think about sad and tragic situations all of the time. Often I make sure I watch something funny on television. I might watch a good ball game. I might read a biography, especially one that is not filled with tragedy. What I put into my mind really does matter.

What about you? What do you intentionally put into your mind? What adjustments do you need to make?

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How to Kill Your Ministry

1. Live an insular life. Live as if you were on a remote island. You have probably seen ministers like this. Some live this way within their own congregations. Others exist like this within their fellowship or denomination. They live and function with their lives centered around concerns that are small and unrelated to kingdom issues. Toxic.jpg

As a result, my concerns become either the intramural concerns of a particular group/denomination or the local concerns of my congregation. As a result, I fail to see the larger issues and concerns that impact the world.

An insular ministry can be toxic! It will shrink your thinking and dwarf your faith. This is a slow death which is often painful for the congregation to endure. Unfortunately, its victims are often unaware of its presence until it has become a chronic condition.

Nothing has been more refreshing to me than to explore the issues and concerns of the world through reading, conversations, etc. If I don’t do this on purpose, my thinking will be reduced to the immediate. One way to begin is with drinking coffee and eating lunch with some people who think beyond your immediate context. Start with college students or if you are fairly young with an older, thoughtful person. As they speak about their concerns, listen intently – not to answer but to understand.