by dave jacobs

The temptation in pastoral work is to react instead of reflect.

Suddenly there is a fire to put out, a problem to solve, a person who needs correction. The urgency of the situation fires like a starting pistol and we leap from the block rushing towards the finish line. 

Sometimes the situation is not so urgent as it is familiar. We’ve been there before and assume that our response in the past will work in the present. 

Francois Fenelon, in a letter to his nephew, had this wise word of advice for those who lead others.

“Do not be over-hasty, but learn from God, in peace and silence, what it is He wishes you to do and then, in all simplicity, do it. You will then see that things which appear to be of momentous importance will diminish in size and those of little or no importance will be recognizable as such and thus you will be, by God’s grace, enabled to achieve without hesitation a balanced outlook.”

Some things demand immediate action but most are not as urgent as we might think. The cautious seldom make mistakes while the over-hasty often do. Learn to reflect before you react. 

The other morning I was meditating on Matthew 16:1-12 and stopped after Jesus said, “…beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” It’s not unusual for my scripture reading to lead me into journaling. My entry for that day was:

“You have to be careful, or purposeful, as to who you listen to and allow to influence you. Pay attention to a person’s tone, their focus, their emphasis. Do you want to be like that? Maybe you do, maybe not. This does not mean we shelter ourselves from those we disagree with, everyone can teach us something. But if I listen too much to those who are angry, judgemental, legalistic, or prejudiced…there is a good chance that I will become that way. What type of person was Jesus? What type of person does my Jesus want me to be? Find people like that. Read people like that. Listen to people like that. Expose yourself to the rest, but only listen to, really listen to, only allow yourself to be influenced by those who you want to be like. And it is probably helpful to once in a while ask Jesus, “What kind of person do you want me to be?“

I have some Facebook friends, well to be honest, most of them are more acquaintances than actual friends. Ellen and I moderate a rather large Facebook group page made up of pastors, so we have many friends, semi-friends, and absolute strangers. Some are ‘stranger’ than others. There is one who stands out, I will call him…Pastor Bummer. I have called him other things but I don’t want to give you a heart-attack so let’s just leave it at Pastor Bummer.

Pastor Bummer is always correcting others, challenging others, irritated with those he disagrees with. Pastor Bummer, or so it seems, feels he alone knows what is orthodoxy and what is heresy. I know far more about what Pastor Bummer is against than I do what he is for. If someone in my group posts something that PB disagrees with it is impossible for him to ignore it and move on. Nope…PB has to try and set the person straight. PB has no respect for or patience with anyone who thinks differently than he does. Unfortunately, Pastor Bummer is not alone.

I don’t want to be that kind of Christian. Do you? I bet not. If so, then be careful about all the PBs out there because they can rub off on you.

What kind of person do you want to be? What kind of person do you think Jesus wants you to be? Hang out with those types, read those types, listen to those types, be influenced by those types.

Sometimes our leaders fail us and sometimes we fail our leaders. In Matt.10 and Lk.10 I discovered five common ways some pastors fail their leaders.

(Matt.10:1) Jesus gave his leaders authority. We fail our leaders when we don’t give them authority. It can be disheartening when a leader feels that their pastor is constantly looking over their shoulder and puts them on a really short leash rather than a long one. Sometimes it’s hard for pastors to let go, especially if they are delegating a responsibility they have been doing. Sure, when leaders start out they will make mistakes, they probably will not do as good a job as the pastor would. But think about it, none of us started out as good as we are now.

(Matt.10:5) Jesus instructed his leaders. We fail our leaders when we don’t instruct and train them. Recently on my group page a pastor was frustrated with some leaders who weren’t doing a good job. The first thing that popped into my mind was “What training and equipping did they receive before being released into leadership?” In my experience of working with pastors, leadership training and on-going leadership training is often absent.

(Matt. 10:5-6) Jesus prioritized their mission. We fail our leaders when we don’t help them prioritize. First, they were to go to “…the lost sheep of Israel.” The Gentiles would get their chance, but first things first. A common weakness I run into with pastors is a failure to prioritize, and when this is the case it is no wonder that they will not pass this skill on to their leaders. Knowing what is the most important task of their ministry, and then the second most important, and then the third, is not something that comes naturally for all leaders.

(Matt.10:16-23) Jesus prepared his leaders for hardship. We fail our leaders when we don’t prepare them for hardship and disappointment. It’s not unusual for new leaders to be all excited about their new assignment but it doesn’t take long for reality to beat that positive attitude down. The ministry would be great if it wasn’t for people, but being a leader means being with people and people mean disappointment.

(Luke 10:17-24) Jesus took the time to debrief and celebrate. We fail our leaders when we don’t check-in, follow up, debrief…and rejoice together around the small and large victories they’ve experienced while carrying out their ministries. Leaders need to hear from us, “What worked well? What didn’t work well? How could I have been a better help to you? Is there anything you might do differently the next time?” And remember, there is always something to celebrate, when you find what it is…celebrate it!

The Misunderstood Pastor

“That’s not what I meant!”

Have you ever said that or thought that? I know you have, I certainly have. It’s frustrating to be misunderstood especially when it causes others to be hurt or offended. 

Pastors are always talking. We talk from the podium. We talk at meetings. We talk when giving advice. We talk one on one. We talk before groups. We’re always talking, it’s what we do. And this isn’t necessarily bad (although we all could probably benefit from talking less) it’s just that the more you talk the more likely is it that you will be misunderstood. 

There are a number of reasons why misunderstanding happens.

1. Sometimes we’re misunderstood because we haven’t taken the time to think through what we’re about to say. 

2. Sometimes we’re misunderstood because people hear through their own particular filters and these filters can distort our original intent. 

3. Sometimes we’re misunderstood because words can have a different meaning to different people.                                                                                             

4. Sometimes we’re misunderstood because our facial expression, body language, or tone, interfere with what we’re trying to say.

Here are four ways to reduce misunderstanding.

1. Think before you talk and ask yourself these two questions: 1) In what ways might what I’m about to say could be misunderstood? 2) Are there any ways in which what I’m about to say could be made more clear?

2. This will only work with the one-on-one communication, but ask the person to repeat back to you what they heard you say.                                                         

3. Pay attention to any facial expression, body language, or tone that might sabotage what it is that you are trying to say.

4. Don’t forget to ask the Father to help you become a better communicator.                                                       

Questions for Reflection:

1. Of all the different ways you communicate which one is most likely to be misunderstood?                                                                                                      

2. When was the last time you were misunderstood and what could you have done differently?

3. Once you realize you have been misunderstood, what is the best way to correct it?                                                                                                               

4. Is there anyone in your life currently that is misunderstanding you and what could you do about it? 

“Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.” Psalms 37:4

Well, not exactly, sorry David.

I think He will give you what you want (pray for) as long as He wants the same thing. I have discovered that God sometimes disguises what we want to make it look like something else. We think He said no to our request when in fact He said yes it just looks different than we expected. And have you noticed that He often doesn’t give us what we ask for when we ask for it? We can mistake wait for no.

All that to say, the more you want something the greater risk there is that you will fool yourself into thinking that what you want is what God wants.

I belong to what some would call the Charismatic stream of Christianity. My problem (it’s only a problem based on who you talk to) is that I don’t wade too deep into that stream. You see, I’m a poor excuse for a Charismatic. There are things I care more about than tongues, prophesy, casting out demons, physical healing, etc. I believe in all those things but I’m more interested in other things. I’m not going to tell you what those other things are because as soon as I do some of you will set me straight saying, “Hey…not fair. I believe in all those things and I’m a Charismatic.” I believe you, I really do. 

But I start with Charismatics because we believe God speaks directly to us, kind of like whispering in our ear. Not an audible voice, although many would claim this and I’m not going to challenge their experience, but an inner voice, a thought that pops into our mind. It’s pretty much the same as how other thoughts come to us but with these thoughts we have the conviction that they are from God. So we say, “God told me…” Or, “Jesus said to me…” I’m probably over concerned that my membership in the Charismatic-club might be revoked so I want to say again that I believe this way of communication can happen but with this belief comes a certain risk. The risk is that you can mistake what you want for what God wants, or confuse getting an answer to prayer that agrees with your real, deep down desire for what God actually said, or didn’t say. 

This isn’t only a potential problem with Charismatic theology. One could be a Cessationist and fall into the same error. You might believe that God only speaks today through the Bible. You might want a new car and turn to your Bible for guidance. You flip through the pages and randomly let your eyes fall where they may.

“…and with one accord they came to him…” (Acts 12:20) 

There you have it! Off to the Honda dealership. 

Sorry.

The point is, which ever stream your standing in, never underestimate your ability to mistake what you want for what God wants. What you’re sensing might be wishful thinking, your imagination, poor hermeneutics, or…it could be God.

Sometimes I wish the Father would illumine my ‘next steps’ better than He does. His guidance can often be more flicker than flame. I feel most comfortable when I can see the big picture, the whole journey spelled out from beginning to end. Instead, at least for me, God often only grants enough light for the first step. I cautiously take that step and then have to wait for the next step to be revealed, and then the next, and the next. There is always a purpose to the delays in God’s guidance and a reason for His little light. But, if things only start with a little light…at least it is a start. Take that step, then wait.

PAUSE AND THINK:

1. Are you currently seeking clarity from God about something important?

2. Are some steps clear and others have yet to be revealed? 

3. What is preventing you from taking that first step?

4. What emotions do you experience when you have to wait?

5. What might the Father be trying to accomplish during your time of waiting?

by dave jacobs

Etymologists tell us that the word ‘minimize’ first appeared in literature in 1802 in the writings of British philosopher Jeremy Bentham. There’s a good chance you’ve never heard of Mr. Bentham before but he is regarded as the founder of ‘utilitarianism.’ Utilitarianism is the doctrine that says actions are right if they are useful or for the benefit of a majority. At first read this doesn’t sound too bad but I’m sure if you think about it more Utilitarianism seems like a scary foundation to build a society on. 

Not only does Utilitarianism scare me, my ability to minimize things that shouldn’t be minimized scares me. Often times our failures with plans and people can be traced back to something we minimized.

If something isn’t important to us we tend to minimize it. If something doesn’t directly affect us we tend to minimize it. If something doesn’t make sense to us we tend to minimize it. If we don’t agree with something we tend to minimize it. This is how we get into trouble. This is how we hurt people. When we make something small that is big to someone else we become small in their eyes. 

It’s not always our fault when we minimize. 

It’s hard, if not impossible, to read someone else’s mind. Something could be a big deal to a person and we’re completely unaware of it. This is especially true when a relationship is new and you are still getting to know each other. Think of it as unintentional minimization. The best response at a time like this is to simply apologize. 

Another reason why we can minimize and it not really be our fault is that it is impossible to predict the future. If you are a leader or a pastor you are constantly planning and preparing for something. When ideas fail, many times it’s because we minimized something or underestimated how important something was to the overall process but didn’t see this until it was too late. This is inevitable. We’d all make better decisions if we had better information and were able to discern correctly those aspects of the plan which were truly important and those that were not. 

***

So we’ve seen that sometimes it’s our fault when we minimize and sometimes it’s not. Regardless, when we minimize things that should not be minimized we get into trouble and hurt others. 

Here are some questions that might help minimize minimizing. 

In any planning process, whether it be just you or with a group, before you announce or implement your plan ask:

  1. If there were any components to this plan that we might be minimizing what would they be?
  2. Who will this be a ‘big deal’ to?
  3. Do we know anyone who might be more objective and able to help us see things we might be minimizing?
  4. In our personal relationships we might ask, assuming we are smart enough to think before we speak:
  5. In what ways might I be minimizing this?
  6. Can I recognize any self-serving reasons I might have for conscientiously or unconscientiously minimizing this?

Never underestimate you’re ability to minimize. 

by dave jacobs

If you wear sunglasses indoors everything is going to look darker than it really is. 

“Somebody needs to turn on the lights.” “No, idiot, take your sunglasses off.” “Oh, you’re right. Never mind.”

Even if you’re not literally wearing sunglasses you’re wearing sunglasses. There is a tint through which we view and respond to life. Everything we read, write, think, say, and theologize about is filtered through who we are, how we were raised, the context in which we lived and are living.

To give you an idea of what I mean, let me share with you my personal lenses. It’s like I have multiple sunglasses each with a different colored lens. 

Maybe you’ll recognize some of these in your own life. 

1. I view life through a male lens 2. I view my world through a white male lens. 3. So I am white, a male, and I’m part of what they call the “middle class.” 4. In addition to the above, I have a western lens, or filter, through which I see things. But even my ‘westernness’ has a subgroup. I am a westerner from North America. 5. I got my start in conservative churches, therefore I have been shaped by this lens. 6. Not only do I have an conservative filter, I have always been part of Charismatic churches, another lens. 7. I see life through my lens of being married. 8. Finally, I look at life through the lens of a Pastor. Well to be honest I was a pastor. For thirty years, in five different churches, I was a pastor until 2006 when I retired and began Small Church Pastor. Now I coach and resource pastors. My days are pretty much filled with talking to pastors, so that, coupled with those thirty years means I still see things through the lens of a pastor. 

Someone once said that if you are a hammer everything looks like a nail. If you are a pastor every person looks like a sheep, or at least a potential sheep. If you are a pastor every church member looks like a volunteer or a tithe or a discipleship-project or a potential leader or an obstacle. I know, I know, we’re suppose to see them as beloved children of God…and we do that as well, but it is easy for us to forget. 

Pastors eat, drink, and sleep, church. And because of that many eat too much, drink too much, and sleep too little. (I can’t prove the ‘drink too much’ thing but you get what I’m getting at.)

So…I am a married white male who is middle class and raised in a western country, i.e. North America. I’m a Charismatic. To top it all off, I was a pastor. All of this has shaped me into the person I am today. These eight pairs of sunglasses affect the way I interpret my Bible. These eight lenses affect my politics and values and perceptions of people. These eight explain why I think the way I do. I must never underestimate these lenses. 

What sunglasses do you wear and how do they influence you? Think about it.

Some time ago, after meeting with some friends, Ellen and I were driving home and about thirty seconds into the drive she said, 

“You’re so funny.” “What?” “The older you get the more your stories change.” “No way.” “Yes way.” “How?” “Well first of all, you’ll take two different stories and turn them into one.” “No way. What else?” “Well, the older you get…” “Would you stop saying that?” “The older you get the more you embellish your stories.” “Embellish? What do you mean?” “You exaggerate.” “No way.” “Way.”

I know that when she proofreads this chapter she’s going to tell me that this story was exaggerated. 

I have a saying, “Pastors don’t lie, they just exaggerate.”

-If a pastor says they have a church of about one hundred it might mean eighty-five. -If the turn out for the all-church prayer meeting was “pretty good” that could mean the pastor, his wife, and the church prayer-warrior, sister Agnes. -A “Men’s Ministry” can mean two guys who meet for coffee at Denny’s every Thursday morning.  -The “church staff” can fit in the front seat of a car.

Usually we exaggerate up rather than down.

But pastors aren’t the only ones that exaggerate. We all have a tendency to exaggerate. 

***

So what’s the big deal? What’s so wrong about exaggerating?

First of all, exaggeration is a form of lying. It might be a ‘little lie’ but it’s still a lie. Exaggeration has just enough truth to it for us to feel comfortable doing it. But still…it’s a lie. 

Exaggerating affects your credibility. Have you ever known someone who is always exaggerating? Doesn’t knowing this make it hard for you to take them seriously? It’s easy to dismiss someone who has a reputation for exaggeration. If you don’t want to be dismissed then be careful about exaggerating. 

Hyperbole is a figure of speech used by writers but exaggeration (the Greek word ‘hyperbole’ means ‘exaggeration’) is purposefully used to drive home a point. The writer doesn’t intend to be taken literally. 

If I say, “She’s as skinny as a toothpick.”, you know I’m using hyperbole, unless I’m describing Twiggy. If you remember Twiggy you’re as old as the hills. There, I did it twice. 

Disgruntled church-goers often use hyperbole’s close cousin ‘Exaggeration’ to drive home their point. They may or may not realize they are exaggerating but you can bet your left arm (I did it again) they want whoever is listening to them to take them seriously. When I was pastoring it used to drive me crazy when people exaggerated.

-“Pastor, a lot of people in the church feel this way.”, which usually means the person talking to you, their spouse, and maybe one other person. -“Pastor, our church is filled with cliques.” “Really? Filled? Wall to wall cliques? Packed like sardines filled? I agree, something smells and it’s not sardines.” I never said that, but I wanted to.  -“Why is everybody leaving?” “Everybody? I’m not leaving. I suspect you’re gonna leave, but everybody else? I don’t think so.”  I never said that, but I wanted to. 

If it drives me crazy when people exaggerate then it probably drives people crazy when I exaggerate, unless they never find out. 

***

I asked Ellen why she thinks people exaggerate. We concluded it can be traced back to pride, insecurity, and the need for acceptance. It’s hard to separate these three. 

My pride makes me want to appear better than I really am therefore I’ll exaggerate. If I feel insecure around someone I will exaggerate in order to bring myself up to their level. If exaggeration will win me the acceptance of others then so be it. 

Well I’ve said what I wanted to say. This is a good place to end. Besides, I’ve got about a hundred calls to make today. 

Questions for reflection: 1. Why do I exaggerate? 2. Under what circumstances do I tend to exaggerate? 3. What might I look out for that would warn me in advance that I’m about to exaggerate? 4. Who do I know that has a tendency to exaggerate and why is it helpful to know this?

The dictionary on my phone tells me that ‘fatigue’ is an “extreme tiredness resulting from mental or physical exertion or illness.  A lessoning of one’s response to or enthusiasm for something, typically as a result of over exposure to it.”

When I was journaling I identified three areas that I recognize fatigue in my life. Ready for some honesty?

I have Trump-Fatigue. It doesn’t keep me up at night but it does poke at me, especially when I watch or read the news. Sometimes it’s best not to watch the news.

I have Corona/Shelter at Home-Fatigue. It’s not too bad because I’ve always worked from home. I’m an introvert so I like staying home and being with Ellen all the time. I’m not sure Ellen likes being with me all the time. Kidding…kind of. But more so my fatigue is over the deaths, unemployment, suffering and the division this is causing in our country.

I have Aging-Fatigue. I turn 62 this year. I often am reminded that my road ahead is much shorter than the road behind me. Death is coming and there is nothing I can do about it. How’s that for a bright and positive attitude?

Is stress the same as fatigue? Maybe, but stress seems to me more temporary while fatigue lingers. Both can change you for the worse, or the better. One must be aware of, and on the lookout for them both because they can bully us into becoming who we don’t want to be and into thinking in ways we don’t want to think, and saying things we don’t want to say.

On my Small Church Pastor group page on Facebook I have seen the fatigue building among the pastors who make up this group.

For some pastors, preaching to a camera week after week is fatiguing. Preparing an online service week after week is fatiguing. Not being able to visit people in the hospital, or home visits is fatiguing. The church struggling with finances because of the virus is fatiguing. Staying on top of needed phone calls week after week is fatiguing.

If you are a pastor you probably could add to this list.

Here are some suggestions for reducing fatigue:

  • If this season of life has brought you stress or fatigue, admit it. Name it for what it is. Be able to say, “I’m fatigued.” There is something helpful in honestly calling it what it is. 
  • Identify exactly what fatigue looks like or feels like for you.
  • Bring these things to the Lord asking Him to reduce fatigue in your life.
  • Talk to a trusted friend about your feelings for support and prayer.
  • Identify fatigue-reducing practices that you have benefited from in the past. These might be things like going on a walk, scripture meditation, sitting out in the sun, talking to a trusted friend, taking a nap, or taking a nap. Did I mention taking a nap?

****

When I was journaling about fatigue in my life I felt the Lord remind me of these two verses: 

“Come to Me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” 

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Hang in there. This won’t last forever.

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