For Pastors & Normal People

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by dave jacobs

The temptation in pastoral work is to react instead of reflect.

Suddenly there is a fire to put out, a problem to solve, a person who needs correction. The urgency of the situation fires like a starting pistol and we leap from the block rushing towards the finish line. 

Sometimes the situation is not so urgent as it is familiar. We’ve been there before and assume that our response in the past will work in the present. 

Francois Fenelon, in a letter to his nephew, had this wise word of advice for those who lead others.

“Do not be over-hasty, but learn from God, in peace and silence, what it is He wishes you to do and then, in all simplicity, do it. You will then see that things which appear to be of momentous importance will diminish in size and those of little or no importance will be recognizable as such and thus you will be, by God’s grace, enabled to achieve without hesitation a balanced outlook.”

Some things demand immediate action but most are not as urgent as we might think. The cautious seldom make mistakes while the over-hasty often do. Learn to reflect before you react. 

The other morning I was meditating on Matthew 16:1-12 and stopped after Jesus said, “…beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” It’s not unusual for my scripture reading to lead me into journaling. My entry for that day was:

“You have to be careful, or purposeful, as to who you listen to and allow to influence you. Pay attention to a person’s tone, their focus, their emphasis. Do you want to be like that? Maybe you do, maybe not. This does not mean we shelter ourselves from those we disagree with, everyone can teach us something. But if I listen too much to those who are angry, judgemental, legalistic, or prejudiced…there is a good chance that I will become that way. What type of person was Jesus? What type of person does my Jesus want me to be? Find people like that. Read people like that. Listen to people like that. Expose yourself to the rest, but only listen to, really listen to, only allow yourself to be influenced by those who you want to be like. And it is probably helpful to once in a while ask Jesus, “What kind of person do you want me to be?“

I have some Facebook friends, well to be honest, most of them are more acquaintances than actual friends. Ellen and I moderate a rather large Facebook group page made up of pastors, so we have many friends, semi-friends, and absolute strangers. Some are ‘stranger’ than others. There is one who stands out, I will call him…Pastor Bummer. I have called him other things but I don’t want to give you a heart-attack so let’s just leave it at Pastor Bummer.

Pastor Bummer is always correcting others, challenging others, irritated with those he disagrees with. Pastor Bummer, or so it seems, feels he alone knows what is orthodoxy and what is heresy. I know far more about what Pastor Bummer is against than I do what he is for. If someone in my group posts something that PB disagrees with it is impossible for him to ignore it and move on. Nope…PB has to try and set the person straight. PB has no respect for or patience with anyone who thinks differently than he does. Unfortunately, Pastor Bummer is not alone.

I don’t want to be that kind of Christian. Do you? I bet not. If so, then be careful about all the PBs out there because they can rub off on you.

What kind of person do you want to be? What kind of person do you think Jesus wants you to be? Hang out with those types, read those types, listen to those types, be influenced by those types.

Sometimes our leaders fail us and sometimes we fail our leaders. In Matt.10 and Lk.10 I discovered five common ways some pastors fail their leaders.

(Matt.10:1) Jesus gave his leaders authority. We fail our leaders when we don’t give them authority. It can be disheartening when a leader feels that their pastor is constantly looking over their shoulder and puts them on a really short leash rather than a long one. Sometimes it’s hard for pastors to let go, especially if they are delegating a responsibility they have been doing. Sure, when leaders start out they will make mistakes, they probably will not do as good a job as the pastor would. But think about it, none of us started out as good as we are now.

(Matt.10:5) Jesus instructed his leaders. We fail our leaders when we don’t instruct and train them. Recently on my group page a pastor was frustrated with some leaders who weren’t doing a good job. The first thing that popped into my mind was “What training and equipping did they receive before being released into leadership?” In my experience of working with pastors, leadership training and on-going leadership training is often absent.

(Matt. 10:5-6) Jesus prioritized their mission. We fail our leaders when we don’t help them prioritize. First, they were to go to “…the lost sheep of Israel.” The Gentiles would get their chance, but first things first. A common weakness I run into with pastors is a failure to prioritize, and when this is the case it is no wonder that they will not pass this skill on to their leaders. Knowing what is the most important task of their ministry, and then the second most important, and then the third, is not something that comes naturally for all leaders.

(Matt.10:16-23) Jesus prepared his leaders for hardship. We fail our leaders when we don’t prepare them for hardship and disappointment. It’s not unusual for new leaders to be all excited about their new assignment but it doesn’t take long for reality to beat that positive attitude down. The ministry would be great if it wasn’t for people, but being a leader means being with people and people mean disappointment.

(Luke 10:17-24) Jesus took the time to debrief and celebrate. We fail our leaders when we don’t check-in, follow up, debrief…and rejoice together around the small and large victories they’ve experienced while carrying out their ministries. Leaders need to hear from us, “What worked well? What didn’t work well? How could I have been a better help to you? Is there anything you might do differently the next time?” And remember, there is always something to celebrate, when you find what it is…celebrate it!

“Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.” Psalms 37:4

Well, not exactly, sorry David.

I think He will give you what you want (pray for) as long as He wants the same thing. I have discovered that God sometimes disguises what we want to make it look like something else. We think He said no to our request when in fact He said yes it just looks different than we expected. And have you noticed that He often doesn’t give us what we ask for when we ask for it? We can mistake wait for no.

All that to say, the more you want something the greater risk there is that you will fool yourself into thinking that what you want is what God wants.

I belong to what some would call the Charismatic stream of Christianity. My problem (it’s only a problem based on who you talk to) is that I don’t wade too deep into that stream. You see, I’m a poor excuse for a Charismatic. There are things I care more about than tongues, prophesy, casting out demons, physical healing, etc. I believe in all those things but I’m more interested in other things. I’m not going to tell you what those other things are because as soon as I do some of you will set me straight saying, “Hey…not fair. I believe in all those things and I’m a Charismatic.” I believe you, I really do. 

But I start with Charismatics because we believe God speaks directly to us, kind of like whispering in our ear. Not an audible voice, although many would claim this and I’m not going to challenge their experience, but an inner voice, a thought that pops into our mind. It’s pretty much the same as how other thoughts come to us but with these thoughts we have the conviction that they are from God. So we say, “God told me…” Or, “Jesus said to me…” I’m probably over concerned that my membership in the Charismatic-club might be revoked so I want to say again that I believe this way of communication can happen but with this belief comes a certain risk. The risk is that you can mistake what you want for what God wants, or confuse getting an answer to prayer that agrees with your real, deep down desire for what God actually said, or didn’t say. 

This isn’t only a potential problem with Charismatic theology. One could be a Cessationist and fall into the same error. You might believe that God only speaks today through the Bible. You might want a new car and turn to your Bible for guidance. You flip through the pages and randomly let your eyes fall where they may.

“…and with one accord they came to him…” (Acts 12:20) 

There you have it! Off to the Honda dealership. 

Sorry.

The point is, which ever stream your standing in, never underestimate your ability to mistake what you want for what God wants. What you’re sensing might be wishful thinking, your imagination, poor hermeneutics, or…it could be God.

Sometimes I wish the Father would illumine my ‘next steps’ better than He does. His guidance can often be more flicker than flame. I feel most comfortable when I can see the big picture, the whole journey spelled out from beginning to end. Instead, at least for me, God often only grants enough light for the first step. I cautiously take that step and then have to wait for the next step to be revealed, and then the next, and the next. There is always a purpose to the delays in God’s guidance and a reason for His little light. But, if things only start with a little light…at least it is a start. Take that step, then wait.

PAUSE AND THINK:

1. Are you currently seeking clarity from God about something important?

2. Are some steps clear and others have yet to be revealed? 

3. What is preventing you from taking that first step?

4. What emotions do you experience when you have to wait?

5. What might the Father be trying to accomplish during your time of waiting?

by dave jacobs

Etymologists tell us that the word ‘minimize’ first appeared in literature in 1802 in the writings of British philosopher Jeremy Bentham. There’s a good chance you’ve never heard of Mr. Bentham before but he is regarded as the founder of ‘utilitarianism.’ Utilitarianism is the doctrine that says actions are right if they are useful or for the benefit of a majority. At first read this doesn’t sound too bad but I’m sure if you think about it more Utilitarianism seems like a scary foundation to build a society on. 

Not only does Utilitarianism scare me, my ability to minimize things that shouldn’t be minimized scares me. Often times our failures with plans and people can be traced back to something we minimized.

If something isn’t important to us we tend to minimize it. If something doesn’t directly affect us we tend to minimize it. If something doesn’t make sense to us we tend to minimize it. If we don’t agree with something we tend to minimize it. This is how we get into trouble. This is how we hurt people. When we make something small that is big to someone else we become small in their eyes. 

It’s not always our fault when we minimize. 

It’s hard, if not impossible, to read someone else’s mind. Something could be a big deal to a person and we’re completely unaware of it. This is especially true when a relationship is new and you are still getting to know each other. Think of it as unintentional minimization. The best response at a time like this is to simply apologize. 

Another reason why we can minimize and it not really be our fault is that it is impossible to predict the future. If you are a leader or a pastor you are constantly planning and preparing for something. When ideas fail, many times it’s because we minimized something or underestimated how important something was to the overall process but didn’t see this until it was too late. This is inevitable. We’d all make better decisions if we had better information and were able to discern correctly those aspects of the plan which were truly important and those that were not. 

***

So we’ve seen that sometimes it’s our fault when we minimize and sometimes it’s not. Regardless, when we minimize things that should not be minimized we get into trouble and hurt others. 

Here are some questions that might help minimize minimizing. 

In any planning process, whether it be just you or with a group, before you announce or implement your plan ask:

  1. If there were any components to this plan that we might be minimizing what would they be?
  2. Who will this be a ‘big deal’ to?
  3. Do we know anyone who might be more objective and able to help us see things we might be minimizing?
  4. In our personal relationships we might ask, assuming we are smart enough to think before we speak:
  5. In what ways might I be minimizing this?
  6. Can I recognize any self-serving reasons I might have for conscientiously or unconscientiously minimizing this?

Never underestimate you’re ability to minimize. 

The dictionary on my phone tells me that ‘fatigue’ is an “extreme tiredness resulting from mental or physical exertion or illness.  A lessoning of one’s response to or enthusiasm for something, typically as a result of over exposure to it.”

When I was journaling I identified three areas that I recognize fatigue in my life. Ready for some honesty?

I have Trump-Fatigue. It doesn’t keep me up at night but it does poke at me, especially when I watch or read the news. Sometimes it’s best not to watch the news.

I have Corona/Shelter at Home-Fatigue. It’s not too bad because I’ve always worked from home. I’m an introvert so I like staying home and being with Ellen all the time. I’m not sure Ellen likes being with me all the time. Kidding…kind of. But more so my fatigue is over the deaths, unemployment, suffering and the division this is causing in our country.

I have Aging-Fatigue. I turn 62 this year. I often am reminded that my road ahead is much shorter than the road behind me. Death is coming and there is nothing I can do about it. How’s that for a bright and positive attitude?

Is stress the same as fatigue? Maybe, but stress seems to me more temporary while fatigue lingers. Both can change you for the worse, or the better. One must be aware of, and on the lookout for them both because they can bully us into becoming who we don’t want to be and into thinking in ways we don’t want to think, and saying things we don’t want to say.

On my Small Church Pastor group page on Facebook I have seen the fatigue building among the pastors who make up this group.

For some pastors, preaching to a camera week after week is fatiguing. Preparing an online service week after week is fatiguing. Not being able to visit people in the hospital, or home visits is fatiguing. The church struggling with finances because of the virus is fatiguing. Staying on top of needed phone calls week after week is fatiguing.

If you are a pastor you probably could add to this list.

Here are some suggestions for reducing fatigue:

  • If this season of life has brought you stress or fatigue, admit it. Name it for what it is. Be able to say, “I’m fatigued.” There is something helpful in honestly calling it what it is. 
  • Identify exactly what fatigue looks like or feels like for you.
  • Bring these things to the Lord asking Him to reduce fatigue in your life.
  • Talk to a trusted friend about your feelings for support and prayer.
  • Identify fatigue-reducing practices that you have benefited from in the past. These might be things like going on a walk, scripture meditation, sitting out in the sun, talking to a trusted friend, taking a nap, or taking a nap. Did I mention taking a nap?

****

When I was journaling about fatigue in my life I felt the Lord remind me of these two verses: 

“Come to Me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” 

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Hang in there. This won’t last forever.

by dave jacobs

Has this ever happened to you? You come away from a meeting (either with a group or an individual) feeling that things went pretty well only to later find out that you were misunderstood? You think to yourself, “I don’t know how I could have been more clear.” 

Communication is risky. Every time we talk or write there is a chance that we will not be as clear as we think we’re being, and that point of vagueness can result in a false or incomplete impression that can frustrate our relationships and ministry. 

Every time we preach we run the risk of being vague and all the while thinking we’re being clear. Every time we lead people we run the risk of being vague and all the while thinking we’re being clear. Every time we write we run the risk of being vague and all the while thinking we’re being clear. Be careful when you preach, when you lead, and when you write.

The longer we have to mull something over the greater a chance there is that when it comes time to communicate we will leave something out. Have you ever proof-read something you wrote and discovered that you left a word out of a sentence? How does that happen? I think that in your brain you know what you’re going to say (it is clear to you) but your writing gets ahead of your brain and you leave something out.

When Ellen was proof reading my first book (Mile Wide, Inch Deep), more than once we had a conversation that went something like this:

“This doesn’t make sense.” “What doesn’t make sense?” “Chapter seven, paragraph five. It doesn’t make sense. I know what you’re trying to say but I’m not sure your readers will.”

(Me hastily reading chapter seven, paragraph five with slight irritation)

“How is that unclear?” “It is. You need to rewrite that.” “Well, it’s clear to me.” “Well…if you’re going to be the only person that reads the book then leave it alone.”

(At which point I return to my office, look more objectively at chapter seven, paragraph five, admit that Ellen was correct, and rewrite the paragraph.)

Finally, be careful when you’re leading a meeting, especially if in that meeting you will be explaining or promoting new direction for your church. In my coaching practice I help pastors to identifying goals and strategies that help them fulfill the mission God has given their church. It’s not unusual for us to work for a whole month, sometimes longer, on certain plans and the means by which they will communicate the plan and generate ‘buy in’ or ‘get everyone on board.’ Some call this ‘vision casting.’ I call it a great opportunity to be vague and all the while think you are being clear. 

Vision casting is risky because the one doing the casting has usually spent a long, long time developing the vision. This goes back to what I said earlier; the longer you have to mull something over, the longer you have to think about something, the greater chance there is that when it comes time to explain the idea to others you will leave something out. It’s all clear to you but something breaks down when it travels those few inches from your brain to your mouth. 

Speaking, writing, and leading…these are the most common times when we can be vague. To minimize vagueness ask yourself questions such as these:

– What point(s) of mine really needs to be clear? – If there is anything in what I’m about to communicate that could be vague, what is it? – Would it be helpful if I used notes? – Am I prepared to ask those I’m communicating with for feedback on areas where I may have been vague? – How helpful would it be if I rehearsed my talk or presentation? – Have I prayed for God to help me be clear rather than vague? – Does my audience contain some who have misunderstood me or found me to be vague in the past? Should that affect my approach? – What can I learn from past vagueness that will help reduce future vagueness?

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Dave’s Latest Book:

Author George Santayana (1863-1952) said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” In 1948 Winston Churchill stole Santayana’s words and made a slight change, “Those who cannot remember history are condemned to repeat it.” And I say, those who ignore their past will fail to understand who they are and why they behave and think the way they do. 

Never underestimate the effect your past has on your present and your future. 

Last year I turned sixty-one. The road of my past is now far longer than the road leading into my future. Now I’m not saying that I’ve been ignoring my past but it is certainly true that the last year or two I have been looking more seriously at the effect my past, and more specifically the negative parts of my past, has had on shaping me into the person I am today. 

I had some traumatic experiences as a child that, I believe, planted seeds of fear in me that I am still dealing with today. A friend of mine in Elementary school had a brother who accidentally fell off a cliff while hiking, and died. For some reason this really freaked me out. I can still remember sitting in the back of our car while my mom was driving and all of a sudden sobbing uncontrollably. My mom pulled to the side of the road and asked me what was wrong. I told her about my friend’s brother and that I was afraid that I was going to die. She tried her best to reassure me. 

On another occasion I was traveling with my Dad and Mom in the car and the traffic came to a crawl. Up ahead was an accident. As we slowly passed the crash, a group of bystanders were flipping the overturned car back on it’s wheels only to reveal the mangled, bloody body of a person. I’d never seen a dead person before, especially in that condition. 

And then there was that time with my brother. I only have one sibling, Gary, or at least he was called Gary back then. He would change his name shortly after leaving home at the age of eighteen and would forever be known as Jacob Mills…it’s a long story. We wanted to go into the entertainment business, which he did, and I guess that Jacob Mills sounded way more cool than Gary Jacobs…which it does. Anyway, Gary is five years older than me, and at that time he was becoming a bit of a hippie. His bedroom was way cool. He had posters and blacklights and beads hanging from the ceiling. There were shelves with knickknacks and a few bottles filled with colored water. I never understood what those bottles actually contained. One day while Gary was gone, I unscrewed one of the bottles and took a sip. Just as I did, Gary walked into the room:

“What are you doing?” “Nothing.” “Get out of my room.” “Okay.” “You didn’t drink that, did you?” “No.” “Good, because it’s poison and it will kill you.”

I ran out of his room and into the living room where my parents were watching television.

“I’m gonna die, I’m gonna die, I’m gonna die.” My Dad said, “What in the hell are you talking about?” “I drank poison. I’m gonna die.” “Where’d you get poison?” “In Gary’s room.” “GARY, GARY, GET OUT HERE!”

I think that’s about the time when Gary left home.

It’s a funny story now, but it wasn’t funny then. 

There have been times in my past when I have been honest with some friends about having changed my theology on certain controversial things, only to have them turn on me and put an end to our friendship. Because of this, I am cautious about being totally honest with people.

There were times when I was pastoring that were so hurtful to me and Ellen, that now, when asked if I ever think I will return to the pastorate, I throw my head back, let out a loud and prolonged laugh, followed by a firm, “No way!”

But enough about me. What about you?

There have been good experiences from your past that have had a good and lasting effect on you. And, there have been bad experiences from your past that have had a bad and lasting effect on you. 

  • If you’ve been betrayed then you might have a hard time trusting people.
  • If you have been lied to, then you might have a hard time believing people.
  • If you have been abused, then you might have a hard time feeling safe with people.
  • If God has disappointed you, then you might be consciously or unconsciously, keeping Him at a distance. 

Some people seem to be less effected by the bad things from their past than others are. But just remember, just because it doesn’t seem to you that you’ve been effected by your past does not mean that you haven’t been effected by your past.

I can’t imagine anyone reading this chapter and disagreeing that our past can effect who we are, how we think, and why we behave the way we do. The real point is this; never underestimate the effect your past can have on your present and your future. 

Often times a trusted friend or a professional counselor can help you make these connections. Be willing to do the hard work of asking the hard questions about your past in order to move more freely in your present and into your future. 

People are easily offended and sometimes we can be easily offensive. You put those two things together and you’ve got trouble.  

The writer of Proverbs put it this way, “It would be easier for you to break into a fortified city than to regain the trust and loyalty of someone you have offended.” (Proverbs 18:19)

I know, I know, some of you might be thinking, “But speaking the truth will offend people. The gospel is offensive: I Corinthians 1:23 and Galatians 5:11. Besides Jesus offended people: Matthew 13:57 and Mark 6:3.” 

That’s not the type of offense I’m talking about. I’m referring to offense that is not necessary, offense that could be avoided. 

There is an offense that comes because we’ve said or done something stupid or insensitive. 

I remember listening to a pastor at a conference say, “The only way not to offend people is to say nothing, do nothing, and be nothing.” The people around me burst into applause and cheers but I could not help but think that some had interpreted this as permission to offend.

Think about it, why would I want to offend someone if I didn’t need to? Four times the Bible tells me to avoid offending or placing a stumbling block before someone: I Corinthians 8:9, 10:32, II Corinthians 6:3 and Romans 14:13.

***

Despite my greatest efforts not to, I will still occasionally offend people. In order to keep being offensive to a minimal I need to ask myself these four questions:

  • How might my words or actions offend this person?
  • Do I care if I offend them?
  • Should I care if I offend them?
  • Can I achieve my objective in a way that might be less likely to offend?

A good rule to live by: If you have to ask yourself if what you’re about to say or do will be offensive…it will probably be offensive.

What should I do if I have discovered that I have offended someone?

  • Resist the temptation to become defensive and justify my actions.
  • In prayer and quiet reflection ask the Father to show me how I contributed to the offense.
  • Apologize without any explanations or qualifiers. Here are some examples of poor apologies:

“I’m sorry that you were offended but…”

“I apologize but…”

A good rule to live by in regards to apologizing: If you use the word ‘but’ you’ll come off as a ‘butt.’ What’s an example of a good apology?

“I’m sorry that I… PERIOD!” No butts

You might be saying to yourself, “Yeah, but it wasn’t all my fault. They needed to hear this.” You might be right. However, you will probably have an opportunity to revisit whatever it is you think they need to hear. Do your best to clear the air and approach the matter another day in another way. 

A good rule to remember: An offended person will not objectively listen to anything you have to say to them. 

***

A good friend emailed me with a fascinating tidbit: 

“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 one or two offended people in the church slowly spread their toxic attitude throughout the fellowship.

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My Latest Book Just Came Out!

Second Thoughts: 100 things small church pastors need to reconsider.

From the back cover:

I was a pastor for thirty years before I retired and began coaching pastors. I’m now into my twelfth year of working with ministers and church leaders. The older I get, and the longer I do what I do, the more I find myself having second thoughts about how we do church. And not just church, but how pastors think. It’s not that I am worried that we’ve got it all wrong, but maybe there is another way to look at things. Maybe it would be helpful for us to reconsider things. Maybe the way we run our churches made sense at one time, but now there might be a more effective way to do it. Maybe there are things that fill our minds as pastors of smaller churches that aren’t doing us any good. We need to rethink, reconsider, challenge our approach to ministry and our role as a pastor.

You can find your copy

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