Encouragement 4 U

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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.

 

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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