Encouragement 4 U

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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.

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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.

 

Good3

Garris Elkins’ fourth book: A Good Place: Walking with Hope through the Transitions of Life and Ministry’ reminds me less of a book on leadership and more of a spiritual and devotional tool one would thoughtfully go through if they were facing significant change or transition in life. Or better yet, think if you had an opportunity to sit down in a coffee shop with the writer and pull out of him all the things he’s learned so far as he now approaches the completion of his own ministry transition. If you can imagine this, then you’ve got a feel for what you’ll experience reading ‘A Good Place.’

In his dedication, Garris says: “I dedicate this book to those of you who are in the midst of a life transition. This will be a journey of the heart. Everyone eventually arrives at the end of a transition, but not everyone finishes well. The purpose of these pages is to help you end your transition with your heart still tender toward God and toward those with whom you have traveled.”

I found this to be a perfect description of what I had read. This short book covers 60 subjects, each one followed by a prayer. I have to admit that I enjoyed the prayers as much as I did the comments that preceded them.

The one problem with the book, as I see it, is that it is designed to be chewed on slowly like you would a chocolate truffle. You could easily take one chapter a day. This would probably be the best way to use this book except for the fact that the book is so good I can’t imagine anyone being that patient. Still…if you are facing transition try hard to limit your reading to two or three chapters at a time and don’t neglect the prayers at the end. The prayers really are powerful.

Here are some of the quotes that meant a lot to me:

‘Life is a collection of journeys, not just a single trip.’

What follows is Garris’ thoughts on how to make important decisions when you have many options. He speaks about the test of peace. “Over the years, this test of peace has never failed me. The test lines up all the available options and asks a simple question: which of these opportunities carries the peace of God?”

“The longer we do life and ministry, the easier it becomes for us to operate in our own strength. The longer we do life and ministry, the easier it becomes we develop new skill sets. We get good at what we do. Subtly, we can begin to exchange the power of God for human ability. This becomes especially dangerous when we are transitioning into a new season and crossing into unexplored territory.”

Your life has made a deposit and left an impact. In this life, you will not be able to fully define your influence. Eternity will reveal the significance of what you left behind.

“Some answers only come in times of separation.”

“Look again at your schedule. Make room for time away with God so he can make those subtle adjustments with you when he has your undivided attention.”

I’ve had the privilege of playing a small part in Garris’ own transition from senior leader of a church he’s had a long and fruitful ministry at. For Garris, the finish line is in sight except that as he gets closer he will see it doesn’t say “Finish Line”, it says, “Beginning Line.” If you need help and hope as you transition from from one stage of life or ministry, if you want to journey into your own ‘beginning’, get A Good Place today.

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I was recently asked by 200churches.com to come up with a list of the top challenges pastors face. What you’re reading is the fifth in this series.

Pastors are constantly facing the challenge of rejecting a culturally imposed definition of success.

(The following is an excerpt from my soon to be released book, ‘Mile Wide, Inch Deep: soul care for busy pastors…and the rest of us.’)

“The western church defines success almost exclusively by numbers, i.e. 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 they are 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 asked to be excused, said something about the stomach flu, and ran out the door.

Seriously, 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 to do with size or numbers.

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.”

Rather than asking questions like, “How large is my church?”, try answering questions such as:

Am I being faithful to my family?

Am I being faithful to my call?

Is my church healthy?

How will I determine if my church is healthy? (This is a topic I will be dealing with in a later post.)

What percentage of my church is involved in some sort of ministry?

Do my people seem to be growing in their relationship with Jesus?

Is there joy when my people gather?

Are my people inviting new people to church or other related events?

What are we doing to reach new people?

Are my people generous with their time, money, and gifts?

Can you think of any other questions?

I know you’ve been told, “All healthy things grow and reproduce.”, but this isn’t always true. I work with many healthy churches that are small, that are not growing, that have plateaued. My experience has been that you can have a healthy church that isn’t growing and you can have a unhealthy church that is growing.

When you talk to pastors in countries that have not been affected by our western brand of Christianity you soon discover that they are not very concerned with numbers like we are.

It’s important that we are able to recognize what are culturally imposed expectations for us as pastors and for our churches, and what are Biblically imposed expectations. These can be, and often are, different.

 

 

worry

I was recently asked by Jeff and Jonny over at 200churches.com (You need to visit their site and sign up for their newsletter.) to come up with a list of the top challenges pastors face. What you’re reading is the third in this series.

Pastors are constantly facing the challenge of living under financial pressure either personally, corporately, or both.

Typically if the church is doing well financially the pastor is doing well financially. By “well” I mean the pastor is receiving an appropriate salary that his/her family can live on comfortably.) However, if the church is doing poorly, financially, then it will eventually effect the pastor in the form of a reduced salary, benefits, or both.

One pastor recently said, “Dave, I always feel like I’m one bad offering away from not getting a paycheck.” I’ve been there. I know how that feels. Constantly living under this pressure is no fun, it wears you out. Another pastor said something similar, “If we don’t have a good offering this week we won’t be able to pay our church bills.” Again…been there.

One of the advantages the bivo-pastors have is that they usually don’t have to worry about their personal finances as much as the fully-funded pastors. But still, even if you are bivocational your church can be struggling financially and it effects you.

Last week I was recording a podcast for 200churches.com on the topic of ‘Working with a dysfunctional church board.’ The question came up, “What, in your opinion, is the purpose of a church board?” Good question.

I believe the first job of the church board is to take care of the pastor. This means many things, one of which is to make sure the pastor receives a salary enabling their family to live comfortably without the worry of finances. A pastor has enough to worry about. They shouldn’t also have to worry about how they will pay their bills and buy food for their children.

Many church boards try to give their pastor as generous a salary as they can but they only have so much to work with. You can’t give what you don’t have. However, my experience in working with pastors has proven that many times church boards could give the pastor more but choose not to. There are many explanations for this but time will not allow me to comment here.

So if you are among those pastors who are experiencing financial pressure what can you do?

First, and forgive me for shameless self-promotion, you could bring me in (via conference call) to talk to your board and do some training with them. I have 6 training modules for church boards one of which is titled: Spending priorities and the pastor’s pay package. To learn more go here.

Second, you and your spouse need to go into your prayer closet where there is only enough room for you and Jesus. In that crowed place, as the three of you bump into each other, the peace of Christ will rub off on you. It might take a few visits before you’ll begin to feel better. The closet might result in a change in your circumstances (more money available to you) but even if it doesn’t, one thing is certain, the burden, the worry, will begin to weaken it’s grip on your emotions.

Finally, hang in there. You are not alone. Pastors all over this country are experiencing and feeling the same things you are. God has promised to meet your needs. Try to trust Him for that.

images-2“Consider what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.” –Paul to Timothy

That was quite a promise for Paul to make. “If you consider what I’m telling, Timothy, then the Lord will give you understanding.”

I wonder if I can claim this promise for me personally or was it intended only for Timothy? I want to believe it’s for me to but sometimes it doesn’t feel that gaining ‘understanding’ is as simple as Paul makes it sound. You see, there have been times when I was pastoring, and times since then, that I have sought out understanding concerning my circumstances only to be left in the dark.

“Why is this happening in my church?”

“Why is this happening to me?”

“Why, why, why?”

Nothing. Silence.

There is a connection between ‘consider’ and ‘understanding.’ Jesus said, “Consider the lilies of the field…” It takes time to consider. We miss things when we fail to consider, things pass us by.

“Did you notice that rainbow?”

“No, I guess I missed that.”

Are you confused about anything happening in your church? Are you confused about anything happening in your personal life? Have you take adequate time to consider? ‘Considering’ should be a spiritual act. ‘Considering’ can be a form of prayer or meditation…often times both. But just as there is a connection between ‘consider’ and ‘understanding’ there is also a connection between confusion and closeness.

God doesn’t always give me understanding simply because I’ve taken the time through prayer and meditation to consider my circumstances. However, if my struggle to gain clarity/understanding happens on my knees then there is a fellowship-factor that happens between me and God. Confusion can bring closeness.

On the other hand, if my attempts at achieving understanding is done apart from prayer, if all I am doing is ‘considering’ as a mental exercise apart from fellowship with God, I might gain understanding but miss God. I’d rather miss clarity than miss God. To be honest with you, I’d rather have both, but I have no guarantee of both. I think I can only be guaranteed half of both.

The Father intends every act of ‘considering’ to be a connecting-point between me and Him. God uses confusion to achieve closeness between us. So…sometimes ‘considering’ results in ‘understanding’ and sometimes all we get from seeking clarity from God is God.

Is there anything in your church or in your personal life that is confusing to you? Let that confusion be used (through considering) as a point of connecting to the Father. Who knows, maybe He’ll give you understanding along with giving you Him.

conference

Here’s a frustration I hear all the time from pastors returning from a church conference.

“It was good but the main speakers all had big churches and most of what they said didn’t relate to our size church.”

I bet you’ve experienced that. I know I did many times when I was pastoring. And it’s not just the main-session speakers. It’s not unusual for those leading workshops to have churches much, much larger than the majority of those attending.

This isn’t a problem if the speaker is talking about soul-care, sermon-crafting, dealing with conflict, etc. subjects like these. But if the speaker is advising on how to run your church or grow your church, there’s a good chance his/her advice is not going to fit in your situation.

So where then does the pastor of a smaller church go for ideas that work? Well of course there’s me. ;-)

But seriously, here’s an idea that will work Let’s say you have a church of 50. Let’s say you’re trying to figure out how to have a quality children’s ministry with few volunteers and resources. Do this. Find the pastor of a church twice your size. You have 50 so you’re looking for a pastor with 100.

Take them out to lunch or buy them a cup of coffee and ask them, “When you were our size how did you provide a meaningful children’s ministry with few volunteers and resources?” I can almost guarantee that this pastor will have far more ideas that might work for you than the pastor of 1000.

It would be interesting for denominational planners of church conferences to try this. If 70% of the pastors attending your conference have 100 or less people in their church then have 70% of your speakers be pastors of churches with 100 or less. Wouldn’t that be refreshing?

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