When You Feel Insignificant

billboard_DiscouragedFeeling insignificant?

I am writing this to you.

You may be a preacher or a minister in some role in a remote area. Or, you may be in an urban area but you feel alone and isolated. There are days when you ache with loneliness. To make matters worse, some of your minister friends talk about getting together regularly with others with a kindred spirit. You are certain they have no idea what this kind of isolation is like.

Perhaps you are an elder. You had hopes and dreams of making a impact. You thought you might have the opportunity to address matters that might make such a kingdom difference. However, the group continues to gravitate toward the trivial. You come home from meetings tired and worn out. You didn’t agree to endless discussions of things that are small and inconsequential.

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PhoneI was two years old when this picture was taken. My parents had just moved to Dallas from Little Rock.

Of course, I don’t remember this moment. Nevertheless, this picture means a lot to me. At that moment my parents were a young couple who had moved to a big city with their two year old. Little did they know of the twists and turns their lives would take. Nor could they have imagined what life would be like for their toddler.

Years later, a variety of experiences would shape and form my life and forever impact me.

I would enter kindergarten. Mrs. Rich was my teacher. I would come away from that experience with good memories.

Just a few years later, I would have a brother and sister. I would live with my family of origin, go to college and then eventually leave and marry.

I would have moments of joy and also moments when I felt utterly defeated.

I would learn the story of God’s love. I would be baptized. I would continue to grow in my faith as a part of a church community.

Years later, I would marry Charlotte and we would have two children, Christine and Jamie. We would spend much of our lives in Alabama, Missouri, and Texas.

Now, here we are with two grandchildren, two sons-in-law, and many great memories of the places where we have lived.

I never would have dreamed, even a few years ago, that we would live in Memphis and that I would be working with Harding School of Theology.

Why mention this?

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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.

 

Monday Start (Resources for the Week)

StartPorn

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

Writing

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

Questions

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

Books

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!

Mentoring

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!

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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.

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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.

Questions:

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

 

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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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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.

 

Question:  

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

I Have Heard So Many Secrets

(I am away on a vacation/study break during the month of July. The posts that appear during the month are from the archives.)

Through the years, as a minister, I have sat with person after person and listened to sad, difficult stories.

I have heard so many secrets.

The alcoholic father who told me of his affair with his high school daughter’s friend.The foster children who told me of a cruel woman who isolated them in a basement each evening, while the rest of the family ate dinner together. Later, they were brought the family’s leftovers.The mother who grew up constantly hearing critical, demeaning words from her mother.

The man, who as a child, had lived with a brutal, bullying father. Yet at church, his father was perceived to be very godly.

The young woman who told me of the abortion she had while in college and how she had lived with this secret for several decades.

I am reading Joe Queenan’s memoir,

It is the story of a boy who grew up in a

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Philadelphia housing project. He and his three sisters are forced to make do. They live with their father and mother in an atmosphere that does not feel emotionally or physically safe. Their mother repeatedly said to her children that she wished she had never had children. Their mother seemed emotionally disconnected from the family. Meanwhile, their father was a violent man — especially when he drank:

My father got broke when he was young, and he never got fixed. He may have wanted to be a good father, a good husband, a good man, but he was not cut out for that job. He liked to drink, and unlike some men who like to drink, it was the only thing he liked to do. Among our relatives, he had a reputation as a happy-go-lucky fellow who, once he got a few beers in him, would turn into the life of the party. He was not the life of our party. Most of the time he was already dead drunk when he came home from work, spoiling for a fight with whoever crossed him first. (p. 7)

His father, when he was drunk, beat his children, quite often. The rest of the family, instead of condemning such behavior, seemed more interested in providing excuses for such behavior. Queenan says that, “Manufacturing excuses for my father’s behavior was a family industry.” (p. 9)

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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.