Encouragement 4 U

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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.

 

 

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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.

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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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I recently finished, The President’s Devotional: The Daily Readings That Inspired President Obama by Joshua DuBois.

DuBois was the spiritual advisor to Senator Obama and continued in this capacity until the beginning of this year. In his book he tells the story of one small church that changed his life forever. I thought this would be an encouragement to many of you. Pastor Warren’s church produced an advisor to the President! I wonder who your church is going to, or has already produced?

Listen to DuBois’ brief story:

“I called Eugene and asked him to pick me up for church the next morning. When he arrived in his black SUV, I thought that our next stop would be a gleaming white building with a steeple on top. Instead, he pulled over in front of a middle school where Calvary Praise and Worship Center was at the time renting space for its service.

“Where on earth is this guy taking me?” I must have muttered. We enter a small auditorium and I saw a smattering of people greeting each other. A few embraced me warmly, and I thought that maybe these kind folks were part of the choir, preparing for service. But then the pastor, Warren Collins, kicked things off, and I realized that this wasn’t just the choir—it was the entire congregation.

No more than twenty people. No organ, no piano. Belting out worship songs to words displayed on a dim slide projector. A scripture reading, and then right into the message. This was a bare-bones service if I had ever seen one, and I looked down my holy nose at it. And then Pastor Collins started preaching. Just a few written notes, no “three-part structure” that I had grown used to in my years in church, no sing-songy voice. He just talked, in a deeply personal way, about Jesus. Jesus of Nazareth. Who he was. How he was raised. Why God sent him to earth. How precisely he loved the people around him. Why he died, and what that death and resurrection meant for me, personally: Joshua DuBois, from Nashville, Tennessee, a kid with some brokenness and in need of redemption.

There was no pulpit, no grandeur, no church-fan to wave or even a choir to echo his words. But stripped bare of all of these sanctified accessories, I was finally able to catch a glimpse of Christ. And I liked—loved—what I saw. It took a few more trips with Eugene but one Sunday morning, I just knew. I finally summoned the courage to admit that even with my supposedly righteous past, with all of that church under my belt, I was not a Christian. My pastor welcomed me into his arms, and walked me through a simple prayer, a confession of faith in Jesus, an admittance of my own frailty, and an acceptance of his love.

 

What matters is knowing Christ personally, spending time in conversation with my God, reading his word, and serving those whom he loves. I didn’t learn that in a cathedral or through an elaborate message filled with the finer points of theology. I picked it up in rickety theater chair, sitting in a dimly-lit middle school auditorium. And it has proven to be the most important lesson of my life.

The President’s Devotional: The Daily Readings That Inspired President Obama by Joshua DuBois.

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If you’re expecting a title like this to have something to do with sports you’re in for a disappointment. I have a confession to make. This confession is likely to confuse many of you. Are you ready? I’m not into sports.

I’ve never been into sports. I know very little about sports. I’m one of five men in all of southern Oregon who are not into sports. The five of us are part of a secret fraternity called, ‘The Fellowship of Poor Excuses For Men.’ Three times a year we meet in an undisclosed location to encourage one another and to remind ourselves that it’s ok to be a man and not be into sports.

I do know that words like ‘defense’ and ‘offense’ are often used in the context of sports. Why, I do not know.

What I want to share with you will be helpful whether you are a pastor or not. The question is, “How do we defend our hearts when someone has offended us?” Life and ministry are filled with offenses. People hurt us, step on our toes, betray us, slander us, gossip about us, and disappoint us. Or…someone’s church or ministry might be doing better than yours. You are doing the same things ‘so-and-so’ is doing but your church is shrinking and their church is growing. Offense. Here’s what I’ve been trying to do the past couple of years. Here’s something that helps me reduce the sting of offense.

I pray a blessing over the one who hurt/offended me. I fight the temptation to ask God to convict them, set them straight, bring justice to me. I simply ask the Father to bless their ministry, prosper them financially, give them health. Bless their family. Bless their church. I pray nothing negative, only positive requests. Praying this way once is hard enough. Praying this way multiple time is even harder. I suggest multiple times.

I have experienced that repeated ‘prayers of blessing’ over the one who has offended me helps guard my heart. Sometimes you need a good defense against a bad offense.

If you’d be interested in starting a chapter of ‘The Fellowship of Poor Excuses For Men’ in your state I can help you set that up.

hopping

“…others have labored and you have entered into their labor.” (John 4:38)

It is always sad, confusing, and frustrating when someone you have poured your life into leaves your church to join another’s. I know that many have sat under my leadership and then moved on to another church. Their new pastor is reaping where he did not sow. Their new pastor is entering into my labor. It’s hard to find solace in that but we need to try. And remember, it goes both ways. People have come from another’s church to join mine. A while here, a while there, a while someplace else.

How much of this is God placing the chess pieces where he wants them?

True…many, if not most, leave their church for poor reasons. Often times those that leave do damage to us personally and to the church as a whole. A few leave for good reasons.

One church sows and another church reaps. Then that church will sow and some other church will probably benefit sometime down the road.

The church is often weak and dysfunctional. The migration of Christians from church to church doesn’t help this.

Remember the next time someone leaves your church and begins attending another church that your investment in them was not in vain. Someone will benefit from the good you deposited in them. And maybe, just maybe, at some point they will stop going from church to church, stay put, and do their part to end the migration of Christians.

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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 parishoners (although there’s plenty of this) but the people 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 someone’s toes or offend someone they might leave taking 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) loosing people can lead to having your salary cut. Once again, these are legitimate concerns that I do not fault the pastor for having.

The problem with all of this is that the pastor is leading out of fear and intimidation, which is a very difficult way (if not impossible way) to lead. They become ‘people-pleasers’. They avoid at all costs ‘rocking the boat’. They know what needs to be said or what needs to be done but due to intimidation they avoid and back down. I understand this. I’ve done this.

Unless we detach from the need to be liked we will never lead like the Father wants us to lead. Until we stop needing the approval of our people, our board, aunt Suzie, we will remain frustrated as pastors and the Father’s will for our church will be frustrated.

Sometimes it takes courage to pastor. True, we must pick our battles wisely, but to think that we will get out of this without a battle, a fight, without taking a hit, is unrealistic.

Does fear affect your leadership?

Are there people in your church that intimidate you?

What would have to happen for you to rise above this?

How might you pray about this?

You can’t really lead your people if you need your people.

 

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I must unearth the meaning buried in meaninglessness.

In the ministry it’s easy to feel that much of what we do is meaningless, especially if we, or our church, and when will we ever be able to separate the two, are experiencing a dry time.

If the church isn’t growing, or worse, is declining, if people seem indifferent, uncommitted, or resisting our attempts to bring about change…much of what we do can feel meaningless.

Or lets say that you are fortunate and your church is doing well. This is no guarantee that your week is not filled up with some things that appear meaningless.

Typically we feel something is meaningless because it’s not giving us the return we had hoped for. Have you noticed how rare it is to always get what you’re looking for?

Meaninglessness is part of the ministry, therefore, I must unearth the meaning buried in meaninglessness. There is always something helpful below the surface of those things I do that look like a waste of time, always.

Sometimes meaninglessness is an indication that we are doing something the Father never asked us to do.

Sometimes meaninglessness is an indication that we have not given the ‘meaning’ enough time to surface on its own.

Sometimes meaninglessness is an indication of the Father’s activity in our souls as he watches to see how we will handle meaninglessness.

If you sit with the Father and bring to him your meaninglessness, if you sit, and wait, and listen, I know he will begin to show you the meaning buried in your meaninglessness. Let God unearth it.

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