Ministry Inside.145

leanFor many years, I preached almost every Sunday.

Much of my ministry was served in Florence, Alabama; Kansas City, Missouri; and Waco, Texas.  I was engaged in congregational ministry. Now I am at Harding School of Theology.

Working with a church is front line ministry.  There are numerous opportunities to serve, teach, and bless others. Some might imagine a life where once basically preaches on Sunday, spends hours in the church building, and attempts to always be “nice.”

My own experience during these decades was much difference thank this.  In many ways, it was an adventure in which I had to learn to depend on God.

What I experienced included:

1.  Preaching many funerals.  Believers.   Non-believers.  Older people.  Teens.  Babies.  Cancer.  Car crashes.  Suicide.  Long illness.  Sudden death.  Murder.

2.  Conversations with with many people.  Often these conversations were about how to apply the gospel.  At times, they were individuals who wanted to talk about problems with anger, adultery, depression, resentment, financial loss, marital issues, and children who had brought their parents heartbreak.  Some conversations were tender as some talked about very delicate concerns.

3.  Preaching/teaching.  Small groups.  Large groups.  Informal.  Formal.  Sunday mornings/Wednesday evenings.  In a church auditorium.  In a jail and prison.  All of this took much study, reading, thinking, praying.

4.  Spending time with people.  Coffee.  Fishing.  Golf.  Coffee.  Lunches.  Ball games.  So often these moments turned out to be much more than what it might have appeared at first.  So often in the boat, in the golf cart, at coffee or on the way home from a ball game, the person I was with would begin talking about what really mattered.  So often, I had the opportunity to in some way connect this person’s concern to Jesus.

5.  Learning to live the transformed life.  Congregational ministry is much more than doing the kind of work that calls for one to spend a lot of time in church buildings.  Rather, the transformed life is about a person taking seriously Jesus’s call to follow him and to imitate him. Men and women long to see someone who is taking seriously Jesus call upon their lives.

Ministry Inside.129

Life-from-the-Inside-pngWhat I have learned about long-term ministry.

This month marks the 20th year I’ve served the Crestview Church of Christ in Waco. Yesterday, I saw a picture of our family 20 years ago when we moved here.  Since then, I have learned a lot.  This post will list some of the lessons learned about congregational ministry while serving this church in this city.

1.  Ministry is much like marriage.  Trust is everything.  If you are trustworthy, you are continually making deposits.  If not, you may lose the trust that it took you decades to build.

2.  Preaching and pastoral work cannot be separated.  In fact, much of the conversation after church, in your office, and over a cup of coffee may be an extension of your preaching.

3.  The best ministers never stop growing.  Yet, they understand that their growth is not only cognitive but also includes emotional maturity as well.  It is sad when a minister just won’t grow up.

4.  If you are not committed to growing and developing, you can eventually become stuck in your thinking and functioning (not to mention the example you are setting).

5.  Ministry with a church over a long period of time enables you to learn whom you can really trust. Be careful about a person who consistently bad-mouths various people in your congregation (in their absence) only to speak in a very different tone when they are present.

6.   A church needs to know that you are with them.  Some ministers are adamant about how different they are from their congregation.  Congregations need to know that you see yourself as one of them.  Otherwise, they may be left with uncertainty about your motives.

7.  Know the DNA of the congregation.  It is important to recognize and appreciate the distinctive characteristics of the congregation in which you serve.  Its members are likely to be more open to fresh ideas for ministry if they know that you deeply respect the ways God worked through the church in the years before you came.

8.  Be a person worthy of their trust.  Public speaking ability, ministry skill, and new ideas are no substitute for integrity and character.


Ministry Inside.128

coffee-cupThis morning, I’m thinking about you — a church leader.  You may be a minister in some role in a congregation.  Maybe you preach each Sunday.

So much of what you do takes place away from public view.

I suspect you are busy.  You’ve glanced at this post to see if it looks helpful or relevant. If not, you may quickly move on to something else.

Most ministers I know work very hard.  You have a sermon to finish preparing.  You have an appointment this afternoon.  You have to go by the hospital.  On and on it goes.

You are constantly preparing.  Preparing a sermon, a talk, or a presentation of some kind.  You are thinking about what you will say to that elder, to that person who wants to meet with you this afternoon, and to one of your co-workers.

Much of this takes place away from public view.

Meanwhile you are talking and praying with people who have cancer or who are going into surgery. You speak words at a funeral.  You have a conversation with a man or woman who is trying to muster enough courage to take a few steps forward in a very difficult life.

Much of this takes place away from public view.

In the midst of a very busy life, some ministers feel as if they are not valued by others within their congregation.  In fact, they may feel taken for granted.  Some of these ministers serve very large congregations.  Others serve small congregations.  The feeling may be very real regardless of the congregation or setting.

Two suggestions:

1.  Spend regular time in solitude and silence before God.  Regular times of silence (away from email, texts, blogs, etc.) are very important.  Spending this time with God can bring clarity and calmness into your life.

2.  Consider your calling.  Ministry is not about employment, career enhancement, or advancement. Rather, it is a calling from God to serve.  It may be a calling from God to serve in a particular role for a particular time.  Our calling is about obedience to the one who is using us for his purposes. His affirmation and pleasure are life-giving and more important than what any human being can offer.

Know that what you do matters.  What takes place away from public view matters, and what takes place before others matters.


Ministry Inside.97

Elders, pastors, preachers, church leaders, ministers, and deacons ought to consider some of the following realities of shepherding. Yes, I realize that elders in particular ought to pay attention; however, anyone who works with people in the context of a congregation might consider the following:

5 Realities of Shepherding

1. Shepherds should expect people to change. After all, the life-giving Spirit and his transforming power are really present in the congregation.

2. Shepherds move people toward Jesus when they practice being authentic believers. God’s grace frees shepherds to be fully present with the people of the congregation.

3. Shepherds need to remember that the goal of ministry is discipleship, not pacifying the least mature.

4. Shepherds who will compromise their integrity in order to keep people happy will find that in the eyes of the immature no compromise is ever enough.

5. Shepherds are called to help a congregation move toward maturity in

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Christ. The single most powerful witness that shepherds possess is the transformation of their own lives.

Monday Start (Resources for the Week)


“It eats you from the inside out.”  Excellent article from The Christian Century regarding ministers and porn.


“Every Writer is a Mentor” by Jeff Goins.  Good post!


Tim Keller’s five questions for the biblical text.  When I agree or disagree with Keller, he makes me think!


Top ten most read books in the world posted by Mark Wilson.

It’s Not About You

This is a very good article by David Brooks to recent college graduates.  A keeper!


Margaret Feinberg has written an excellent post “4 Keys to Finding the Perfect Mentor You’ve Always Wanted.”

What is your impact on others?

How Are People Left When You Leave Their Presence?” by Michael Hyatt.  Well worth reading!

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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Ministry Inside.95

talkWhat is the #1 way many ministers sabotage their ministry?

A loose and undisciplined mouth.

Years ago, I was teaching a Wednesday evening class at our church.  The class was about to begin.  A woman was still talking as I attempted to start this class.  I said something about her to the group, thinking it would be funny.  Everyone laughed.  Well, almost everyone.  She did not laugh.  In fact, the next day she called me and wanted to visit for a few minutes.  My words had hurt her.  They brought up memories of earlier humiliations in her life.  Now, in front of everyone, her minister had embarrassed and humiliated her.

I felt awful.  To get a quick laugh, I spoke without thinking.  I really wished for a do-over.

Trust is everything in ministry.  Ministers are people who have a great opportunity to help someone learn what it means to live as a Christ-follower.  Yet, that trust is diminished when people witness that our speech is undisciplined.  If we are not careful, we can speak in ways that are inappropriate, thoughtless, and even un-Christlike.

Ministry Inside.94

I read a very good article in The Wall Street Journal entitled “The Peak Time for Everything.” Basically, the article explores the importance of matching the tasks you need to do with the energy level of your body.  The author suggests times of the day that may be better suited for a particular task given where the energy level of the body normally is at that point.  For example, the author suggests that when it comes to doing cognitive work most adults tend to perform better later in the morning.

I have found the following practices to be helpful as I attempt to manage my time:

1.  My best study is done very early in the morning.  I often awaken early and get much reading and preparation done before I ever go into the office.

2.  One of the first things I do upon getting to the office is form my to-do list.  I may add several new items to what was unfinished from the day before or the list may be totally new.

3.  I write on a large white board in my office a few items that I refer to as “blocks.”   That is, I intend to spend a block of time working on a particular project.  For example, I may be thinking about a meeting or a talk I am to give in a month or two.  I might choose to spend a 30-minute block of time working on this item.  (Otherwise, what is pressing or seemingly immediate will usually consume my time.)

4.  I typically write most e-mails and make most phone calls in the afternoon when my energy is lower.  In fact, I save tasks that require less energy or creativity for the afternoon.

5.  Each day, I want to do something that adds energy to my life.  Typically I go to the gym four days a week in the late afternoon to work out.  This practice makes a huge difference in my energy level.  Also, I am energized by reading, visiting with friends on the phone, and enjoying conversation (normally by phone) with family members.


What are some of your daily practices that impact the flow of your day?


Ministry Inside.92

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.

Ministry Inside.91

appreciate“Do you feel appreciated in the congregation you serve?”

It took this minister only seconds to answer his friend’s question.

“No, I don’t feel appreciated.  I feel taken for granted by my elders, my co-workers, and many people in our church.”

He went on to say, “Now of course that is not true of everyone in our congregation.  Some people regularly communicate their appreciation.”

Sometimes those of us who are church leaders do a poor job of communicating our appreciation.  I am not referring to public recognition or statements, etc.  Rather, I am talking about simply communicating to another person your appreciation and how much you value that person’s ministry.

Why doesn’t this happen more?

  • Some of the very same people (pastors, elders, ministers, youth ministers, etc.) who do not show their appreciation are not expressing appreciation to their own spouses or children either.
  • Sometimes we get used to a certain person being in our lives and we fail to notice him/her anymore.
  • Some of us have no idea how important appreciation can be to the human spirit.
  • Unfortunately, there are some who don’t show appreciation because, quite frankly, they really don’t appreciate that person’s ministry.  In fact, some may say, “That’s what he’s supposed to do.  That’s why we support him financially.”
  • Still others (and this really does reflect a level of immaturity) will say, “No one shows me any appreciation.  Why should I be expected to appreciate that minister?”

I remember a time in life when I was deeply bothered because I felt taken for granted by the leaders of the congregation in which I served.  It felt like most of the affirmation I received was coming from outside our congregation.  Meanwhile, after a significant conversation with a counselor, I began to realize that I was far too dependent on receiving the affirmation and appreciation of others.  This was something I had to work through.  (I have to continue paying attention to this.)

A few suggestions:

1.  Lower your expectations.  Some people, some groups of elders, some co-workers are just not going to express their appreciation.  

2.  Know that your obedience as a Christ-follower gives the Father pleasure.  Remember the words of the Father as he affirmed the pleasure that his son brought him: “This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.”  Know by faith that your life before God is noticed by him and brings him pleasure.

3.  Show your appreciation to others.  Do what you would like others to do toward you.  I don’t mean this as a manipulative ploy.  Rather, it is important to live out what you want others to practice.

4.  Receive the appreciation that is shown to you as a moment of grace.  Refuse to believe that you are entitled to appreciation.

5.  Find your identity not in the appreciation of others but in your calling.  Some ministers may receive much appreciation and affirmation in their congregations.  Meanwhile, others may receive very little.  That has nothing to do with one’s value or identity as a minister.  Rather, it may say more about those particular congregations.



What has been particularly helpful to you in dealing with the issue of feeling taken for granted or unappreciated?