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Are you content? Not complacent, but content?

Contentment refers to the peace, acceptance, and joy you have in the ministry even if your church is small, even if your church has plateaued, even if your church is in decline. Contentment will be in direct proportion to the consistency and meaningfulness of your times of solitude with God.

It seems to me that contentment is a big issue for most pastors. And it’s no wonder, because there are so many reasons why contentment in the ministry is so elusive.

1. It’s hard to be content in the ministry because we’re trying to produce results that are hard to measure. We say we want to make disciples but how do we know when we’ve made one? What does a disciple look like? We typically only see our people one or maybe two days a week. We don’t know what they’re like at work, at home, or on vacation. So how do we really know if we are making disciples? We could follow them around snapping pictures like the paparazzi or install secret surveillance cameras at their main hangouts, but that’s cost prohibitive, creepy, and we’d probably end up getting punched or arrested. I’m not suggesting that there is no way for us to measure discipleship; I’m just saying it’s difficult.

2. It’s hard to be content in the ministry because there is always someone whose church seems to be doing better. The pastor of 50 people lives in the shadow of the pastor of 150, who lives next door to the pastor of 250, who drives past the church of 550 or 5000. Bottom line: contentment cannot be based on comparison because there will always be someone more successful than you.

3. It’s hard to be content in the ministry because there is a constant flow of new ideas, and “the latest thing.” Subscribe to any of the popular ministry magazines, such as Outreach Magazine, Leadership Journal, or Charisma, and you’ll find page after page of articles, products, and interviews with successful pastors telling you how they did it and what to try next, and promising church growth as if it were as easy as waving a magic wand. New ideas don’t always foster contentment, and if you lack the resources to try the latest thing, or if you have tried it and it didn’t work for you, then you are left feeling the opposite of contentedness.

Our contentment will be in direct proportion to the consistency and meaningfulness of our times alone with God.

Questions for reflection:

On a scale of one to ten (ten being high), how would I score my current contentment in my life and ministry?

What one thing could I do to raise my score by one point?

***

The above article is an excerpt from my book: Mile Wide, Inch Deep: Experiencing God Beyond the Shallows, Soul Care For Busy Pastors and the Rest of Us. Find your copy here.

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Jesus advised, “Go into your prayer closet. Close the door tight. Pray to your Father who is in secret” (Matt. 6:6).

Notice the verbs Jesus used: Go. Close. Pray.

Many pastors seldom go. Some pastors go, but they don’t close—leaving their door open to all kinds of distractions. Some pastors go and close, but their prayers always center on their ministry. Rather than a “me alone with God” time, it’s more a “me and God and my church” time.

Of course pastors need to pray for their church. However, ministry-related prayers will not result in the personal energy and equanimity needed to remain faithful to the hard work of pastoring. What is my advice?

Don’t let the church into your closet. The closet is for you and God. And by that I don’t mean you the pastor, but rather you the child of God. The Father wants to spend time with you and whisper words of love and guidance to you. Intercede for your church some other time, some other place, but not in your closet.

***

The above article is an excerpt from my book: Mile Wide, Inch Deep: Experiencing God Beyond the Shallows, Soul Care For Busy Pastors and the Rest of Us. Find your copy here.

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If you haven’t read part one you might want to before reading part two.

4. Pastors need to be detached from peer acknowledgment and approval.

It feels good to have a peer—whether it’s a fellow pastor or denominational supervisor—tell you you’re doing a great job. But this seldom happens unless, of course, your church is growing.

“So, Bob, how are things going at your church?”

“Well…our numbers have been about the same for the past three years.”

“Are you kidding me? Why, that’s fantastic! I can’t believe what a good and faithful pastor you are. How about you speak at our next regional conference?”

Never gonna happen.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to have peer acknowledgment and approval, but needing peer acknowledgment and approval in order to feel positive about yourself and your ministry is a recipe for frustration and disappointment.

5. Pastors need to be detached from personal ambition.

Personal ambition is an illness of soul where one only feels good about oneself, or worthy in the eyes of God or man, when one is constantly accomplishing and achieving.

I need to be brave enough to prayerfully ask God to show me if I need to be detached from ambition. Maybe I need an ambition to be detached from ambition?

6. Pastors need to be detached from feelings of insignificance.

A long time ago I remember a college professor telling me, “Dave, we must learn to embrace apparent insignificance.”

Of course, the key word in in my professor’s sentence was apparent. No one is insignificant in the eyes of God. No one’s church is insignificant in the eyes of God. You might feel insignificant, someone might even incite you to feel insignificant, and that church down the road that is bigger than yours might make your church seem insignificant in comparison—but those feelings are telling you a lie. It’s just apparent insignificance, not real insignificance. There are no insignificant people or ministries in the eyes of God.

7. Pastors need to be detached from the need to be liked.

One of the most common things I run into in my coaching practice is “pastoral intimidation.” By this I don’t mean the pastor intimidating his/her parishioners, although there’s plenty of that, but members of the congregation intimidating the pastor. It’s a subtle thing that is hard for the pastor to recognize, let alone admit.

Many pastors avoid confrontation for fear of the ramifications. I don’t blame them. In some churches a confrontation with the church board can result in the pastor getting fired. If Aunt Suzie is an influential member of the church you’d better not ruffle her feathers or there will be a price to pay. We want to grow our church, not shrink it, so we strive to keep people happy. If in our attempt to lead we step on people’s toes or offend people, they might leave the church and take their money and help with them. In a church that is struggling financially (and many are in this category) and for a pastor who is barely making enough to live on (and there are many in this category), losing people can lead to having your salary cut. Once again, these are legitimate concerns that I’ve experienced in the past so I certainly don’t fault a pastor for having them.

The problem with all of this is that the pastor is leading out of fear and intimidation, which is a nearly impossible way to lead. Pastors can become people-pleasers. They may avoid rocking the boat at any cost. They know what needs to be said or what needs to be done but, due to intimidation and their need to be liked, they may stop being able to act, and instead become paralyzed.

Detachment: the action or process of separating yourself from something in order to reduce anxiety or stress.

Once I detach from reputation, numbers, success, peer acknowledgement and approval, personal ambition, feelings of insignificance, and the need to be liked, I will be in a better position to attach to the life-giving, truth-based, healthy things I need to be attached to.

Questions for reflection:

Of the things listed above (peer acknowledgment and approval, personal ambition, feelings of insignificance, and the need to be liked), which one do I need to be detached from the most?

  1. How did I become attached to this in the first place?
  2. What steps do I need to take in order for me to detach myself from this
  3. What steps do I need to take in order for me to detach myself from this?

***

The above article is an excerpt from my book: Mile Wide, Inch Deep: Experiencing God Beyond the Shallows, Soul Care For Busy Pastors and the Rest of Us.

Find your copy here.

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If I were a psychologist who worked with people in the ministry, I think that nine times out of ten, the anxiety, stress, and lack of fulfillment pastors would bring to me could be traced back to a need for emotional (or spiritual) detachment.

Here are my top three of seven things pastors and church leaders need to be detached from. Each one of these are interrelated—they overlap and feed each other.

1. Pastors need to be detached from reputation.

I’m not talking about having a good reputation. We all want to be leaders with integrity and character.

There’s a difference between wanting to have a good reputation and needing to have a good reputation in order to feel good about yourself and your ministry. We need to be detached from the need to have a good reputation. I think we can care too much what other people think of us, especially our peers and supervisors, and that much of this need can be traced back to our insecurity and pride.

2. Pastors need to be detached from numbers.

There’s nothing wrong with counting. Have you noticed all the counting that took place in Bible times? In fact, there’s a book in the Bible called Numbers.

When I was pastoring I had to count dollars. I just couldn’t show up to the bank and hand them the offering and say, “Here…do something with this.”

There is also nothing inherently wrong with counting heads (attendance). There can be some advantages to keeping attendance records. However, if I find myself feeling “up” when the numbers are up and “down” when the numbers are down, I just might be too attached to numbers.

Remember, the only thing attendance numbers tell me for certain are how many people were sitting out there staring back at me. Counting heads tells me nothing about what is going on inside of my people, nor does it tell me what type of impact my people are having for Jesus in their neighborhoods, workplace, and in their other networks of relationships.

But there’s a difference between wanting to have a numerically growing church and needing to have a numerically growing church in order to feel good about yourself and your ministry. We need to be detached from the need to have a numerically growing church.

3. Pastors need to be detached from success.

Now, of course, all of this is dependent upon one’s definition of success. Unfortunately, the Western Church defines success almost exclusively by numbers (e.g., how many were in attendance, and how much was in the offering).

There were times when I didn’t look forward to hanging out with pastors because I knew that eventually someone was going to ask me, “So…how are things going at your church?” This question is usually the way one pastor finds out if he or she is more or less successful than another pastor.

If my church was growing (which was seldom), then I didn’t mind answering their question. If my church was not growing (which was often), I looked for a way to change the subject or leave the room.

It didn’t matter how many good things were happening in my church, I didn’t really feel successful if my church was in decline or had plateaued for a long period of time. Someone could have been raised from the dead and I’d be thinking, “That’s nice, but that church down the street, the one that is bigger than us, they’re more successful than we are.”

I like to challenge pastors to sit down with their leaders and discover ways to define success in their church that have very little relation to size or numbers.

But there’s a difference between wanting to have success and needing to have success in order to feel good about yourself and your church. We need to detach from the need to be thought of as successful.

Questions for reflection:

  1. Of the three things listed above (reputation, numbers, success), which one do I need to be detached from the most?
  2. How did I become attached to this in the first place?
  3. What steps do I need to take in order for me to detach myself from this?

***

You’ve just read an excerpt from my book ‘Mile Wide, Inch Deep: Experiencing God Beyond the Shallows, Soul Care for Busy Pastors, and the rest of us.’ Your copy is waiting for you here.

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In his book Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work, Eugene Peterson writes, “In order for there to be conversation and prayer that do the pastoral work of meeting the intimacy needs among people, there must be a wide margin of quiet leisure that defies the functional, technological, dehumanizing definitions that are imposed upon people by others in the community.”

Remember that phrase: “a wide margin of quiet leisure.”

Having interacted with many pastors in North America and around the world, I have observed that most of those in the ministry are too busy. There is simply no time for the wide margin of quiet leisure that Peterson speaks of. Because of this, many pastors feel tired, stressed, and spiritually dry.

How can we lead others into deep waters if we ourselves live in the shallows created by constant activity? Few people are more constantly active than the average pastor.

The pastor’s week is filled with phone calls, follow-up meetings, mentoring, e-mails, sermonizing, problem solving, people placating, visitation, vision-casting, drop-ins, counseling, planning, dodging bullets, and putting out fires.

Richard Foster comments in Celebration of Discipline, “In contemporary society our Adversary majors in three things: noise, hurry, and crowds. If he can keep us engaged in ‘muchness’ and ‘manyness,’ he will rest satisfied. Psychiatrist Carl Jung once remarked, ‘Hurry is not of the Devil; it is the Devil.’”

Great pastors are organized, focused, and productive without the sense of being driven, hurried, or busy.

W. Tozer suggests, “Our religious activities should be ordered in such a way as to leave plenty of time [margin] for the cultivation of the fruits of solitude and silence.”

Henri Nouwen dares to ask, “Is there a space in your life [margin] where the Spirit of God has a chance to speak or act or show up? To be contemplative means to peel off the blindfolds that keep us from seeing his coming in us and around us. It means to learn to listen in the spaces of quiet [margin] we leave for God and thereby know how better to relate to the world around us.”

Can you think of any good things you could take off your plate in order to make margin for better things, such as spiritual formation, thinking and planning, and cultivating key relationships? Notice, I said good things.

For most of us the challenge is not to take bad things off our plate. Bad things are obvious; they prick our conscience. What push us over the edge are good things that crowd out better things. Our calendars are not filled with too much bad, but with too much good.

God will give me all the time I need to do the things He wants me to do. Too busy is an indication that there is something in my life that did not originate from God.

***

You’ve just read an excerpt from my book ‘Mile Wide, Inch Deep: Experiencing God Beyond the Shallows, Soul Care for Busy Pastors, and the rest of us.’ Your copy is waiting for you here.

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Mike was about eight months into his church plant when we began to meet. One of the opening questions I asked him was, “What took you by surprise?”

“I didn’t expect it to be this hard,” he replied. “Coming up with a sermon every week is more difficult than I imagined. I thought people would be more committed than they are. But you know what really surprised me?”

“Tell me,” I said eagerly.

“I didn’t anticipate the hit my devotional life would take. For some reason I thought it would be easier once I was in the ministry to be close to God. My quiet times were actually better before I started the church.”

“Mike,” I responded, glad we were having this discussion over the phone so he couldn’t see my grin, “can I tell you something you might be surprised to hear?”

“Sure,” he said.

“The ministry is ideally designed to sabotage your spiritual life. I might go as far as to say that the ministry can be an enemy to your devotional life.”

There was about a five-second pause and then Mike asked, “How do you mean?”

 

***

Mike is not alone. More than one pastor has told me they had a more consistent prayer life before they entered the ministry. The pastorate can undermine our spiritual formation. There are two reasons why this is so.

First of all, most pastors are too busy.

Life for too many leaders is a blur of activity and planning, with sparse occasions for reflection, replenishing, rejoicing, and responding to the relationship the Lord is inviting them to experience and enjoy with Him. The urgent crowds out the essential. Doing ignores being. Developing skills becomes more important than shaping character.1

My friend, Steve Summerell, was a Vineyard pastor for twenty-five years and is now a spiritual director. His doctoral dissertation was titled “Overcoming Obstacles to Spiritual Formation in the Lives of Vineyard Pastors.” Steve’s research concluded that the number one obstacle for pastors was busyness.2 My experience tells me that Steve’s findings hold true regardless of denominational affiliation or church size.

Our fifty and sixty-hour workweeks leave us tired and drained. Too much activity leads to too little time for sitting alone with God. Listen to what that great pastor to pastors, Eugene Peterson, has to say:

The word busy is the symptom not of commitment but of betrayal. It is not devotion but defection. The adjective busy set as a modifier to pastor should sound to our ears like adulterous to characterize a wife or embezzling to describe a banker. It is an outrageous scandal, a blasphemous affront.…How can I lead people into the quiet place beside the still waters if I am in perpetual motion?

…The trick, of course, is to get to the calendar before anyone else does. I mark out the times for prayer, for reading, for leisure, for the silence and solitude out of which creative work—prayer, preaching, and listening—can issue.3

Second, it’s not just that we’re too busy—we’re too busy doing good, spiritual things, and those spiritual things can fool us. We study the Bible for the sermons we preach. We do pastoral counseling. We visit people in the hospital. We pray for people. We plan and participate in outreach events for our community. This is what we do. It’s all good and fine, but we must remember that doing spiritual things is different than being spiritual. We can draw just enough spiritual nutrients from the things we do to keep us alive, but not enough for the depth of intimacy with Jesus that is necessary for us to be the leaders and pastors our people so desperately need us to be. You can be drowning but think you are swimming. And oftentimes it is those spiritual things that occupy our week, which fool us into thinking we are swimming.

  1. Is my spiritual life better or worse since I entered the ministry?
  2. Is my spiritual life better or worse since this time last year?
  3. Are there ways in which my ministry responsibilities are sabotaging my spiritual formation?
  4. Have I been confusing spiritual tasks (ministry stuff) with spiritual depth?
  5. What adjustments could I make to my calendar that would insure an adequate amount of time to be alone with God?
  6. How will I evaluate the state of my spiritual life?

***

You’ve just read an excerpt from my book ‘Mile Wide, Inch Deep: Experiencing God Beyond the Shallows, Soul Care for Busy Pastors, and the rest of us.’ Your copy is waiting for you here.

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Mark 7:31-37

There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk…(32)

Just because someone can’t hear does not mean they can’t talk. Most who can’t hear can talk but their speech is impaired, it’s a little more difficult to understand them.

Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue. He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!” (33,34)

Ephphatha = be opened.

In order for me to have something helpful to say I must be able to hear, to listen. My ears and heart must be open. If I speak before I hear (really hear, not “In one ear and out the other”) my words will be impaired, distorted. “Let us be quick to hear and slow to speak…”

There are two types of hearing, one with the ear and the other with a humble heart. If my heart is humble then (motivated by love, respect, and a desire to show honor) I will want to understand (hear) the other person thoroughly rather than make sure they hear me. Silence will birth my words.

There are so many opportunities to be misunderstood when using words. There are also many opportunities to misunderstand when using our ears.

Most of us in the ministry have been trained to talk rather than listen. I need Jesus to stick his fingers into my ears. I need Jesus to put his spit on my tongue. I need Ephphatha.

Jesus, help me to hear. Open both my ears and my heart. I want to listen more than talk. I want to understand others more than wanting them to understand me. I need your supernatural help to do so. Help me Jesus. 

 ***

Have you picked up a copy of my book Mile Wide, Inch Deep: experiencing God beyond the shallows, soul care for busy pastors and and rest of us? You can find it here.

 

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Since I follow Marty’s blog I was aware that he had been writing on the sayings, teachings, and philosophy of ministry of John Wimber, the founder of the Association of Vineyard Churches. Because of this, I was excited when I heard that he intended to put all of this down in one easy to read book. The Wisdom of Wimber is finally out.

There are three things that Boller has done that make The Wisdom of Wimber both helpful and enjoyable. First of all, he has identified what Wimber had to say about almost every aspect of church life. I don’t know how someone sets out to do something like that but Marty did. Second, each topic, or chapter, is short. This will encourage the reader to take things in little bites as time allows rather than looking for a large chunk of time to sit down and read one or two chapters. Third, at the end of each chapter Marty has provided a model prayer and questions for reflection. I could not help but think how easy it would be to put this book in the hands of your leadership team and then have them discuss some of the questions.

But coming back to these “Questions for you to ponder” as Marty puts it, this book was not written to be read through but to be meditated through. Don’t just read The Wisdom of Wimber but let the wisdom of Wimber read you!

Whether you are part of the Vineyard movement or not, whether you consider yourself part of the Charismatic stream of Christianity or not, there is plenty in The Wisdom of Wimber to inspire, instruct, and challenge your ministry and personal life.

Order your copy today!

 

 

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So here it is, the first day of December. Some of you pastors ill focus on the Christmas story each Sunday this month. Some of you will wait to focus on Christmas until the 21st. But all of you might be struggling to come up with something new to say about Christmas.

The same thing happens with Easter and Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. What to say, what to say? What to say that hasn’t already been said?

Maybe I’m just sentimental but I never get tired of the same old simple Christmas message. I like the baby in the manger, the angels in the sky, the shepherds checking things out, wise men from the East traveling far just to get a glimpse of this special child. I like it all. Over and over and over again…I like it. I never grow weary of it. Jesus taking the form of a helpless little child. The baby will grow up, tell us what the Father is like, and die on a cross to open the way to God. l like it. I don’t need a new twist on the Christmas message. I want the same old thing…again and again and again and again. And I’m betting that your people are the same.

Might I suggest that this year you don’t rack your brain trying to figure out a new was to present the old story. Just tell the old story. Tell them that God is with us. With all that is happening in the world we need to stare into the face of the Christ-child. With all the change occurring all around us we need to come back to that same old story that never changes. For unto us a child has been born.

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Your church is perfectly designed to get the results it’s currently getting. If you want something different you’ll probably need to do something different. Albert Einstein is reported to have said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

I’m sorry to say this but there are a lot of insane small churches out there…and, to be fair, there are a lot of insane larger churches out there. There are a lot of insane small church pastors and insane large church pastors. There are a lot of insane small church pastor boards/leaders and there are a lot of insane church boards/leaders of larger churches. There’s a lot of insanity happening out there in our churches.

There are three type of churches: those that are growing, those that have plateaued, and those in decline. Regardless of what we’ve been told, there are no simple answers for why one church grows over another. There are no simple answers for why a church has plateaued. There are no simple answers for why a church is experiencing decline. Anyone who offers simplistic answers to these dynamics is being…well, simplistic, maybe even naive.

Just because a church is growing is no guarantee that the church is healthy. Just because a church has plateaued is no guarantee that the church is unhealthy. Sometimes (not very often but sometimes) a church can be in decline and be healthy.

Again, your church is perfectly designed to get the results it’s currently getting. If you want something different you’ll probably need to do something different.

If your church is growing you might be pleased with your results but if your church has plateaued or is in decline you might not be pleased. If you want something different you’ll probably need to do something different and the change needed to turn things around might be significant. And herein lies the greatest challenge we face when trying to move our congregations in a new or different direction…people don’t want to change. People want to keep doing what they’ve always done. People might be interested in change as long as you’re not asking them to change something that is important to them.

This morning I was reflecting upon Luke chapter 5 when verse 39 stood out to me.

“And no one after drinking the old wine wants the new for he says, ‘The old is better.’”

It is so common for pastors, or congregants, or church boards to want their church to grow but are reluctant to embrace the significant change that is often required to bring about said change. Doing the same things but expecting different outcomes is insanity.

If you pastor a church that has been plateued for the past three years (and this bothers you, it might not bother you and that might be ok) or has been in decline for the past three years I suggest the following steps:

1. Form a team of ‘prayers’ who see what you see and feel what you feel and begin to pray for guidance from God as to what you should or could do.

2. Begin the process of reeducating your church in regards to the dynamics of change. Don’t begin by listing all the areas that need to change, this will probably scare many of your people away. Start with your board or key leaders. Teach on the topic of change. Once you feel that your most influential people are on board then, begin to reeducate your congregation about the importance of embracing change.

3. Be patient. Selling ‘change’ takes time. Never underestimate how much ‘change’ freaks people out. Take things slowly.

4. Form a team of spiritually mature good thinkers who will partner with you to prayerfully identify the significant areas that will need to change in order for your church to turn and go in a new direction.

5. Prayerfully prioritize your list, begin at the top and work your way down.

If you’d like a free, no obligation one hour phone consult to learn how I might be able to help you with this process email me and we can set something up.

 ***

My new book: ‘Mile Wide, Inch Deep: Experiencing God Beyond the Shallows, Soul Care For Busy Pators, and the Rest of Us’ can be ordered here.

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