Encouragement 4 U

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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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In 2015 I will enter into my ninth year of coaching pastors and church leaders. At any given time I coach about fifty pastors and leaders a month. That’s a lot of coaching! Once in a while someone says to me,

“Dave, with all the pastors you talk to is there something you’ve seen that they all have in common?”

I always answer the same.

“For the most part, pastors, regardless of the size of their church or denominational affiliation, are over-worked, underpaid, and are not taking care of their souls.”

Over-worked

I was a pastor for twenty eight years before transitioning into full time coaching. I know the demands on the pastor of a smaller church. But the truth of the matter is that most pastor are putting in too many hours for their church and this means that other more important things are suffering. Whoa! What could possibly be more important than the church?

You and your personal relationship with Jesus is more important than the church.

You and your spouse are more important than the church.

You and your children are more important than the church.

Is the church important? Of course. But the church is not first, not second, not even third…the church is forth.

My experience in working with pastors has proven that when a pastor consistently works more than fifty hours a week other more important things begin to suffer. One thing I do is help pastors be better pastors in less time.

Underpaid

I think that with all the pressures on a pastor one of them should not be financial pressure. I think pastors should be paid well, at least as well as their congregation can pay them. I’m not talking about extravagant but well enough that they and their family are comfortable. Some church boards are very generous with their pastor’s salary, and many are not. Some churches simply do not have any more money to pay their pastors, but many do yet don’t.

Sometimes I’m brought in to help a church board determine what the spending priorities of their church should be. This is what I counsel them.

First, money must be set aside to pay the general operating expenses of the church, rent, mortgage, utilities, etc.

Second, money must be set aside to provide a comfortable living for your pastor and his/her family.

Third, whatever is left is open for prayerful debate.

Lack of soul care

Would you be surprised to hear me say that most pastors (that’s right, I said most) do not have a consistent and meaningful devotional life? Their lives are stretched a mile wide but their souls are only an inch deep. Hey…I wrote a book on that!

When your day is spent doing spiritual things (preparing sermons, counseling, planning church events) you can fool yourself into thinking that you are spiritual because of the spiritual things that you do. Some nutrients are derived from our ministry duties but not enough for us to maintain the vibrancy of intimacy with Jesus that we all want and that our people need from us.

Which of these three can you relate to the most? Over worked? Underpaid? Neglecting your soul? I can help. Contact me: dave@smallchurchpastor.com

hold on

In case you haven’t noticed it’s hard to be a pastor, it’s even harder to be the pastor of a smaller church, it’s even harder to be a bivocational pastor of a small church. The ‘It’s hard’ factor in pastoring has to be accepted and embraced or you’ll never make it. Accepting this, however, doesn’t necessarily make it any easier because…well, it’s hard.

The other day I was talking to a pastor who finds himself in a very difficult, not to mention unpleasant, situation in his church. Before we began to explore options for navigating the turbulent waters ahead I asked,

“Are you absolutely convinced that God has called you to this church and that, at least for now, God wants you to stay and face this challenge in your church?”

He answered, “Yes.”

“And what about your wife?”

“Yes.”

“Okay then, because that’s really, really important.”

Sometimes the only thing that keeps you going is the conviction you have that God has called you. Now I think it’s very important to realize that there can be a difference between being call to the ministry and the current church you are pastoring. I do believe that one can leave their church and it not be an abandonment to their calling. Some churches are toxic and dysfunctional and continuing to pastor there would be abusive to both the pastor and their family. But this will have to wait for another post.

If your sense of ‘call’ is all you have then hold on to that with all you have. It’s hard even with the sense of call. It’s almost guaranteed suicide to stay without the sense call.

Hold on. Hold on. Hold on.

 ***

Mile Wide, Inch Deep: experiencing God beyond the shallows, soul care for busy pastors can be purchased here.

 

 

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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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.

***

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 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)

 

 

 

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.

 

 

Unknown

Let me confess something to you, something that even Ellen might not be aware of. I’m in a bromance with Richard Rohr. I might have to read everything he’s ever written. To be really open and vulnerable to you, I’ve been in such a relationship two times before. The first was with Thomas Merton, and the second with Henri Nouwen. Merton, Nouwen, and now Rohr. All Catholics. Can anything good come from Rome…apparently so.

In chapter two of Falling Upward A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, Rohr is tracing the pattern of heroes in classic literature, defines a hero according to classic literature, and then contrasts that definition to how we currently define a hero in our western culture. Interesting stuff. Rohr says,

“This classic tradition of a true “hero” is not our present understanding at all. The classic hero is one who “goes the distance,” whatever that takes, and then has plenty left over for others. To seek one’s own American Idol fame, power, salary, or talent might historically have made one famous, or even infamous, but not a hero or heroine.” p. 20

This made me think of you the pastor, or anyone else for that matter, but mostly you the pastor. You want to go the distance. You are going the distance. Whatever it takes. And it can take a lot.

The great Desmond Tutu once said, “We are just light bulbs and our only job is to stay plugged in.”

As you and I strive to make our personal intimacy with Jesus the main thing in our lives we will not only find ourselves filled, but also have plenty left over for others.

Be a classic hero.

frustrated

tolerate |ˈtäləˌrāt| verb [ with obj. ] to allow the existence, occurrence, or practice of (something that one does not necessarily like or agree with) without interference.

***

A basic rule in life and ministry is this: You get what you tolerate.

Sometimes to tolerate something or someone is a sign of wisdom. You have to choose your battles and choose the best time to go to battle. In situations like this to tolerate means to wait. Sometimes we can jump prematurely into the battle.

But sometimes we tolerate not out of wisdom but out of fear, blindness, or laziness.

Fear. As pastors we often tolerate behavior from individuals in our church because we’re afraid of what might happen if we stop tolerating said behavior. We’re afraid of confrontation. We’re afraid that the person might cause a stink in the church (as if the stink wasn’t already there). We’re afraid we might not be liked by the person we’re tolerating. We’re afraid we might lose our jobs if the person/people hold the power and the money in the church.

(Side note: I am more and more convinced that in some situations the pastor will never be able to lead the way God wants him/her to lead, or will not be able to have a good shot at turning his/her church around until the pastor is willing to be disliked and possibly lose his/her job.)

Blindness. Sometimes the pastor just can’t see how serious a situation is. One time a pastor was telling me about a man in his church that was causing disunity. At one point the pastor said, “But Bob is basically a good guy. He really loves the Lord.”

At that point I said, “Really? It doesn’t sound to me like Bob is a good guy. It sounds to me like Bob is rebellious, prideful, and a slanderer.” After a pause the pastor said, “I guess you’re right.” It was only after the pastor was able to see the situation for what it was that we were able to develop a plan to address Bob.

Laziness. Sometimes we just don’t have the energy or drive to address things that need addressing. Maybe it’s not fair to use the word lazy. I don’t personally know any lazy pastors. Perhaps it’s more procrastination. We tend to put off the things we don’t like to do. Is it laziness or procrastination? I’ll let you decide.

Let me ask you, is there something or someone you are tolerating? You get what you tolerate. Don’t let fear, or blindness, or laziness keep you from don’t what you need to do. Put your trust in the Lord. Seek Him out for a wise plan. Be brave. Don’t tolerate what shouldn’t be tolerated.

I can help.

resting

Someone once said, “I’ll have plenty of time to rest when I get to heaven.” That might be true and not resting just might get you there quicker.

When one pastor was challenged about his sixty-hour work week he said, “Well I’d rather burn out than rust out.”

Me? I’d rather do neither.

Let me ask you a few questions.

  • Do you have more than one day off a week?
  • Do you work more than forty hours a week?
  • Are you out of the house at ministry related things more than two nights a week?
  • How many hours of sleep do you get each night?
  • Do you observe a personal Sabbath?
  • How many weeks a year do you take off for vacation?
  • Do you have a consistent and meaningful devotional life?
  • How often do you get away along with your spouse?
  • On a scale of 1 to 10 (1 = lowest) how stressed do you feel?
  • On a scale of 1 to 10 how busy do you feel?
  • Does your spouse feel you are working too little, too much, just right?
  • On a scale of 1 to 10 how much margin is there in your week, your month, your life?

I hope you do get to rest once you get to heaven, but your loved ones don’t want you to get there prematurely. It’s better to neither burn out or rust out. What adjustments could you make in your life to move you towards greater rest? What small thing could you start with?

I can help you become a better pastor in less time.

 

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