Awake

Have you ever had a hard time falling asleep or staying asleep? Have you ever lain in your bed with thoughts and worries swirling around in your head? I have.

I don’t sleep well, and although I don’t stay up at night worrying about the same things I did when I was a pastor I can still lay there staring up at the ceiling for what seems like hours until I finally somehow manage to drift off.

Now some pastors who are more spiritual than me…or maybe you, don’t seem to worry about anything, let alone worry about things in the night. But I think this is an exception to the rule. Here are some things and thoughts that keep pastors awake at night:

Why are our numbers shrinking?

What are we doing wrong?

What am I doing wrong?

If we continue to drop in our numbers I might be out of a job.

Why are our offerings down?

If offerings continue to drop I’m going to have take a cut in pay or get a job outside of the church.

Bill and Sandy said they wanted to meet with me tomorrow. I wonder what that’s about?

I hope they’re not leaving the church?

What if there are more who are thinking the same?

What’s that pain in my chest?

I guess I should go see a doctor but how will I pay for that?

I’m not sure I’m a good father/mother.

Am I giving my spouse the time and focus they need and deserve?

Why am I doing this?

If something doesn’t change I don’t know how much longer we can continue.

I wonder what’s going on with deacon Bob. Lately he’s seemed distant to me.

I hope the board meeting goes well tonight.

Why do our board meetings never seem to go well?

I could go on and on.

If you are not a pastor I wanted you to see into what might be keeping your pastor awake at night. If you are a pastor I want you to know that you are not alone. Most pastors worry about the same things you do. Maybe it’s just because ‘misery loves company’ but find a safe group of pastors or a mentor or a coach that you can keep company with, someone who will understand and encourage you and pray for you. And speaking of prayer, remember to bring to the Father what keeps you awake at night. In fact, one thing I try to practice is to turn the things that keep me awake at night into prayers in the night. Believe me, it helps.

***

‘Mile Wide, Inch Deep: Experiencing God Beyond the Shallows, Soul Care for Busy Pastors’ is available here.

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  1. Offer to pay their way to a conference on church growth.
  2. Give them a book on church growth for pastor appreciation month.
  3. Ask them, “Why isn’t our church growing?”
  4. Ask them, “Why is that other church growing?”
  5. Tell them on Sunday morning, “Looks like a small crowd today.”
  6. Ask them on Sunday morning, “Where is everybody?”
  7. When you sense that your pastor might be discouraged about the size of your church remind them that whenever two or more come together, Jesus is there.
  8. Assure your pastor that you love the fact that the church is small.
  9. Sit down with them and share some ideas you have as to why the church isn’t growing.

 If you are a denominational supervisor…

  1. Make sure they attend your national conference but have all the speakers be pastors of large churches.
  2. Give them great ideas and resources that won’t really work in a church their size.
  3. Ask them, “So…how are your numbers?”
  4. Require them to fill out reports on attendance, conversions, baptisms, etc.
  5. Schedule your pastor’s meetings during the week so that the bivocational pastors can’t attend.
  6. Ask the bivocational pastors, “So…when are you going to be able to go full time?”
  7. Invite them to your building and give them a tour.
  8. Instead of following up with them personally have your assistant do it.

 

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On Twitter this morning one of the guys I follow tweeted “60% of all churches in American have under 99 members.” Different people will respond to this differently.

For some this evokes pity, sympathy, and condolences: “Those poor small churches, isn’t it sad? I wish there was something we could do to help them. Maybe if we offered to pay for their pastor to go to our conference then could could learn how to really do church and how to effectively reach people for Jesus like we have. Those poor, struggling, dysfunctional churches…it make me so sad for them.”

For others this ‘60%’ thing stirs up an indictment against the organized church: “See, I told you. The church in America is failing, people are leaving in droves. Sure you’ve got those mega churches, but they’re run by celebrity pastors who are just after your money. We need to blow the whole thing up and start over.”

And then there are people like Karl Vaters, Terry Dorsett, Jeff & JonnyMarty Boller, and me…who think differently.

We see the 60% as the backbone of the church in America, the norm. We see the 60% as congregations that offer people things that it’s almost impossible for really large churches to offer. We see the 60% as an opportunity to have a personal pastor, get involved in meaningful ministries, belong to a faith-family where you are known. We see the 60% as a place where if you are hurting there is someone who will come and sit with you. We see the 60% as a family that will help you move, watch your kids, visit and pray with you in the hospital.

The 60% is not perfect, but neither are the larger churches. Small churches don’t need our pity, sympathy, condolences or indictment.

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Have you picked up a copy of my latest book: Mile Wide, Inch Deep: Experiencing God Beyond the Shallows, Soul Care for Busy Pastors and the Rest of Us? Here’s where to find it.

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Never underestimate your ability to take on the values of your culture that are in conflict with God’s.

I sometimes wonder if the church is moving forward or backward? Oh I know that every generation has complained about the secularization of Christianity. I became a Christian in 1973. It took about fortyfive minutes after having prayed to receive Christ I that learned about the liberals (both political and religious) who were leading America towards the judgment of God. But America is still here along with the church.

Vast segments of Christians in the west have become comfortable with things that used to be off-limits. Our opinions about slavery, drinking, smoking, dancing, going to the movies, the role of women in the home and in the church, divorce and remarriage, tattoos, and occasional swearing, (I still don’t get the swearing thing) have changed. Is this progress or regress, evolution or devolution? It’s not always clear to me.

The boiling frog story is a widespread anecdote for many things, and the condition of the church is no exception. They say that if you want to boil a frog (which is a dumb way to cook a frog. Everyone knows to use a frying pan.) don’t put it directly into boiling water because it will jump out. Instead, put it in cool water, slowly turn up the heat and eventually the frog will be cooked to death.

I worry sometimes that I’ve been cooked by my culture, and like that frog, I’m completely unaware of it.

I don’t want to underestimate my ability to take on the values of my culture that are in conflict with God’s values. Notice that I said, “that are in conflict with God’s values?”

Our secular, non-Christian culture is not all bad. Mankind has done some amazing things apart from the church and Christianity. There’s a lot of good non-Christians out there shaping our culture in positive ways. But most would agree that with the good has come a fair share of bad. By ‘bad’ I mean values that are in opposition to God’s values. We Christians don’t always agree on what specifically are God’s values. What are clear God-values to some believers are not clear God-values to other believers. However, we all agree that our society embraces things that displease God. And it is these things that I think about and worry about.

Am I being cooked and I don’t know it? Am I progressing or regressing? Am I evolving or devolving? And what about the church?

I bet it’s a mixture. I want to believe it’s more ‘two steps forward, one step back’ than the other way around.

Questions for reflection:

1. How have your beliefs and behavior changed over the years?

2. Are there things you once believed were sin but now don’t?

3. How might one know whether or not their culture has rubbed off on them in a negative way?

(Excerpt from ‘Never Underestimate’ by Dave Jacobs)

To pick up your copy of my book: Mile Wide, Inch Deep: Experiencing God Beyond the Shallows, Soul Care for Busy Pastor and the Rest of Usgo here.

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Never underestimate your ability to mistake what you want, for what God wants.

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

Well, not exactly. I think He will give you what you want (pray for) as long as He wants the same thing. I have discovered that sometimes God 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 (or a “word from God” as Charismatics like to say) that agrees with your real, deep down desire for what God actually said, or didn’t say.

This isn’t only a weakness 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.

Here are four suggestions for limiting the likelihood of mistaking what you want for what God wants.

1. Be self-aware. Are you able to recognize or admit that if it were up to you you’d choose this, or that?

2. Pray honest prayers, something like, “Father, you know that deep down I want to buy a new car but if this is not your will for me please help me to see it.”

3. Get a second opinion. Is there anyone in your life that you can be honest with and who can be honest with you? Your best friend may or may not be the best choice.

“Dude, cool. Let’s both go down to the Honda dealership.”

4. Wait before acting. A good rule to live by, especially when it comes to decision making is, if you can wait, wait. There have been more than one time that I have wanted to buy something or do something but while waiting I reluctantly decided that it was not the right thing to do.

Never underestimate your ability to mistake what you want, for what God wants.

(Excerpt from Never Underestimate, by Dave Jacobs)

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Never underestimate your ability to offend, and never forget that people are easily offended and sometimes we can be easily offensive. You put those two things together and you’ve got trouble.

In part one we answered these two questions:

How might I limit the times I offend others?

What should I do if I have discovered that I have offended someone?

Now lets continue with:

What should I do when I have been offended?

First of all, welcome to the club. Unless we as pastors learn how to deal constructively with being offended it will be impossible for us to stay the course and finish well. The word ‘offensive’ can be translated ‘stumbling block’ and all pastors have skinned knees and stubbed toes. Having said that…

  • Prayerfully ask the Father how you might have contributed to the relational breakdown between you and the person who has offended you.
  • If there is any way in which you have been wrong then humbly make restitution.
  • Can you think of anything the Father might want to teach you by allowing this offense?
  • Prayerfully ask the Father if you are overreacting or have misunderstood the person?
  • Bring your feelings of offense to the Father and wait upon him for peace and healing.

Some final thoughts about people who we’ve offended:

I was once told, “An offended person can never really be a loyal person.” I know that sound pretty pessimistic and seems to discount the ability of Jesus to change a person’s heart but apart from a ‘heart-change’ I think I would agree.

It takes a really mature Christian to truly walk away from offense and embrace trust and faith in the person that offended them. Plus, some people are offended and they don’t realize it. But eventually, like poking a sleeping dog, something is going to poke them and their going to wake up and bite you.

Almost all relational conflict can be traced back to an offense. Most church splits can be explained by somebody (usually the pastor, and usually unintended or unknown by the pastor) offending somebody, the person offended doesn’t deal with it in a mature way, so it builds and builds and builds until it erupts in division.

Be cautious about putting someone in a leadership position if you had a serious disagreement with them in the past and it was never really addressed and dealt with. If a person was offended once they probably will be again. Few people really deal with their offense and move on unaffected by it in the future.

A good friend and great pastor in southern California, Steve Mason of Oasis Church, emailed me with a fascinating tidbit:

“I didn’t want to put a long post on Facebook so I’m emailing you. I saw your post about offense.  The Greek word for offense is the word “scandalon”.  It’s where we get the English word scandal from.  Interestingly enough, the small metal piece on a mouse-trap where you put the cheese is called a scandalon.  The picture is obvious … offense is a trap.  If you take the bait and become offended, you are the one who ends up being trapped.”

I couldn’t help but turn this around by thinking about how many churches have been trapped in stunted growth, conflict, and disunity because of one or two offended people in the church who slowly spread their toxic attitude throughout the fellowship.

(Excerpt from Never Underestimate by Dave Jacobs)

 

 

 

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Never underestimate your ability to offend.

People are easily offended and sometimes we can be easily offensive. You put those two things together and you’ve got trouble.

The writer of Proverbs put it this way, “It would be easier for you to break into a fortified city than to regain the trust and loyalty of someone you have offended.” (Proverbs 18:19)

I know, I know, some of you might be thinking, “But speaking the truth will offend people. The gospel is offensive: I Corinthians 1:23 and Galatians 5:11. Besides Jesus offended people: Matthew 13:57 and Mark 6:3.”

That’s not the type of offense I’m talking about.

I’m referring to offense that is not necessary, offense that could be avoided. There is an offense that comes because we’ve said or done something stupid or insensitive. Why would I want to offend someone if I didn’t need to? If I need to I need to but If I don’t why would I want to? Four times I am told to avoid offending or placing a stumbling block before someone: I Corinthians 8:9 and 10:32, II Corinthians 6:3 and Romans 14:13.

I remember listening to a pastor at a conference say, “The only way not to offend people is to say nothing, do nothing, and be nothing.” The people around me burst into applause and cheers but I could not help but think that some had interpreted this as permission to offend.

Some pastors offend because they have been offended and this is their way of striking back. I wish Paul hadn’t said not to return evil for evil, but he did. (Romans 12:17)

Despite our greatest efforts, offense will still happen. However, how might I limit the times I offend others?

Ask yourself these four offense-limiting questions:

1. How might my words or actions offend this person?

2. Do I care if I offend them?

3. Should I care if I offend them?

4. Can I achieve my objective in a way that might be less likely to offend?

A good rule to live by: If you have to ask yourself if what you’re about to say or do will be offensive…it will probably be offensive.

What should I do if I have discovered that I have offended someone?

1. Resist the temptation to become defensive and justify your actions.

2. In prayer and quiet reflection ask the Father to show you how you contributed to the offense.

3. Apologize without any explanations or qualifiers. Examples of poor apologies:

“I’m sorry that you were offended but…”

“I apologize but…”

A good rule to live by in regards to apologizing: If you use the word ‘but’ you’ll come off as a ‘butt.’ What’s an example of a good apology?

“I’m sorry that I…” PERIOD! Stop right there! Don’t say another word!

You might be saying to yourself, “Yeah, but it wasn’t all my fault. They needed to hear this.” You might be right. But you will probably have an opportunity to revisit whatever it is you think they need to hear. Do your best to clear the air and approach the matter another day in another way.

A good rule to remember: An offended person will not objectively listen to anything you have to say to them until after, and maybe not even then, the offense has been cleared up.

(Excerpt from Never Underestimate by Dave Jacobs)

 

bully

 

In Junior High I was one of those skinny kids (you’d never believe it if you saw me now) who wasn’t into sports, was self-conscious, and lived in fear of being beaten up by a bully. I was very aware of who the bullies were and where they hung out. My life-preserving strategy was simple, avoid the bullies and you won’t get beaten up. I made many hard-rights and hard-lefts to steer clear of these ruffians (which, by the way, is a word we seldom use any more and I’d like to see us bring it back). Apparently it worked because I made it through Junior High without ever getting pounded.

***

Pastor Jim (not his real name) had a problem on his hands and he wanted to process it with me during one of our coaching calls. Bubba (not his real name but I thought that was a good name for a bully) had been a church board member, had taken a year off according to the church by-laws, and now was letting everyone know that when his break was over he intended to return to his position on the board pending nomination and approval by the congregation.

“So what’s the problem?” I asked.

“None of my current board members want him back.”

“Why?”

“He’s really difficult to work with. Bubba is a big guy, boisterous, and he uses his size and words to intimidate others. People in the church are uncomfortable around him and some have even shared that they are afraid of him. But he’s been in the church for a long time and he has a lot of influence even if it’s bad.”

“Sounds like you have a bully on your hands.”

“I think you’re right.”

***

Small church bullies come in all shapes and sizes. They might not look exactly like Bubba but they are just as much a bully.

Small church bullies intimidate and threaten overtly or coverty, consciously or unconsciously. They might use their influence or money or ministry position to pressure you and others to do what they want. Some will actually threaten the pastor.

“We voted you in and we can vote you out. I was here before you came and I will be here after you’re gone.”

The only way to deal with a bully is to walk right up to them and smack them good and hard in the nose.

No…not really, I’m kidding…kind of.

Church bullies won’t stop until someone stops them. You get what you tolerate. Do you have a church bully who needs to hear, “STOP IT”?

Confronting a bully is scary and risky. It can be dangerous…but not as dangerous as letting the bully continue to bully. It’s not uncommon for me to find a pastor who is intimidated by one or two people in their church and those one or two make life miserable for the pastor and can actually put a damper on the over all ministry of the church.

Do you have bully on your hands? If so, might I suggest a few steps, none of which involves slugging them in the nose.

1. Devote some time in prayer to make sure that you really are dealing with a bully and not something else. If timing isn’t everything it’s close enough. Is the Father releasing you to confront the person now or later?

2. Find a couple wise, mature, trusted people in your church who have the same concerns about this person that you have who will accompany you to a meeting with this person.

3. Send a well-crafted letter to this person stating that you and a couple others would like to meet with them to discuss some concerns you have about their behavior. I like the ‘letter first’ approach because it gives the person some time to think about things and because nobody likes being surprised.

4. At the meeting get right to the point. Don’t bother buttering them up and then dropping the bomb. Give specific examples of the behavior that is unacceptable and why it’s unacceptable. Communicate to them that you are for them and would love to meet with them on a regular basis to help them grow in these areas. But be firm and clear that their behavior will no longer be tolerated.

This is scary. This is risky. They might blow out of the church taking their money and their friends with them. They might lead a campaign to get you fired. You might get fired. But there are many churches across this nation of ours that are being influenced by bullies rather than godly, humble leaders. Someone, sometime, has to stand up to them face to face and say, “STOP IT!”

 

 

 

 

 

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If, somehow in your ministry training you failed to take that class on Meaningful Leadership Team Meetings…you’re probably sunk. Why do I say such a thing? Because as pastors we are always calling meetings. We have board meetings, deacon meetings, leadership team meetings, Elders meeting, meetings to train, meetings to plan…meetings, meetings, meetings. In some churches they have meetings to plan future meetings.

One essential skill for the small church pastor is to know how to have meaningful, productive, “This was really worth my time” meetings. I think the pastor who has a meaningless, unproductive, boring meeting should have to spend the night in the county jail. Here are my 12 ways to insure meaningful and productive meetings.

 

1. Have an agenda. Don’t trust your memory, don’t wing it.

2. Have a limited agenda. Too many things to cover in one night will reduce the meaningfulness and productivity of the meeting.

3. Have a prioritized agenda. Some things on your agenda are probably not as important as other things. First things first, second things second.

4. Always distribute your agenda ahead of time. Team members need to know what the focus will be and have time to think about the agenda before the meeting.

5. Stick to the agenda.

6. Agree upon a time limit for each person to share. Often the reason why our meetings are not as meaningful and productive as they could be is because someone talked too long. I have found a thee minute egg timer works best for this. I’m serious.

7. Only have a meeting when you really need to have a meeting. One leader I recently spoke to was used to having a once a month leadership team meeting until he discovered that they didn’t really need to meet that often. He cut back to every other month and guess what? Nobody complained.

8. Never allow a meeting to run on late into the night, especially on a week night when people have to get up early for work. The later you go the more tired they are and the more tired they are the less meaningful and productive the meeting is.

9. Individuals who sabotage meetings must be spoken to. Don’t allow someone to dominate or take the group off the agenda.

10. Facilitate don’t dominate. This one is for you pastor. Pastors talk too much at meetings. Being a good facilitator is a whole other skill but one that accompanies the skill of leading meaningful and productive meetings.

11. There should be at least two fun leadership meetings per year. All work and no play make Tom a dull boy. Sorry pastor Tom. All work and no play make for a dulled leadership team. Do something fun together.

12. Teach ‘meeting etiquette’.

In order to have a productive and meaningful leadership team meeting you might need to train your leaders how to have a productive and meaningful leadership team meeting. By meeting etiquette I mean:

I will not dominate.

I will treat others with honor and respect.

I will not interrupt.

I will participate.

I will not lead the group on a rabbit-trail.

Now don’t make me come out there and transport you to the county jail.

I know Paul said that our God is not a God of confusion but just because God is never confused doesn’t mean that I won’t be confused.

Some of you reading this are confused, and if you’re not you have been or will be.

confused |kənˈfyo͞ozd|

adjective (of a person)

– unable to think clearly; bewildered

– showing bewilderment

– not in possession of all one’s mental faculties, esp. because of old age

– lacking order and thus difficult to understand

– lacking clear distinction of elements; jumbled

Pastoring is hard and sometimes the ‘hard’ comes at us from all directions and we’re not quite sure what to do. Because we work with people and because people are complex beings, sorting through ‘people-problems’ can be confusing. Overseeing an organization (the church…and please don’t feel a need to remind me that the church is an organism not an organization) can be challenging at best and often darn right confusing.

How do I handle that influential congregant who is gossiping? What do I do with that board member who seems to constantly resist my ideas? How do I keep things running with too little money and too few volunteers? I’ve tried everything I know. I’m out of ideas. What do I do?

First of all, remember this: just because you don’t know what to do does not mean you don’t know what you’re doing. Even the most gifted of leaders face situations where they don’t know what to do. God is the only one who does not suffer from confusion. You will be confused but your confusion is not evidence that you are a poor leader.

How can we use confusion to our advantage?

1. Let confusion keep you humble before God and man. Admitting that you don’t know what to do might be humiliating but being humiliated is the only way to become humble. God gives grace to the humble.

2. Let confusion draw you to your knees. Sometimes God allows confusion to push us to Him for fellowship and revelation.

3. Let confusion take you back to the drawing board. I know you might think you are out of ideas but there is usually one out there that you have missed. (Usually, not always) One of the things I do as a coach is help pastors get unstuck, help them think more even though they think they’ve run out of thinking.

Did you know that the great Apostle Paul once mentioned being confused?

“…we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed (confused), but not despairing…” (2 Cor. 4:8)

Don’t despair. Confusion comes with the territory of ministry. Learn to use confusion to your advantage. And remember, just because you don’t know what to do does not mean you don’t know what you’re doing.

 

 

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