Things to Think About

You are currently browsing the archive for the Things to Think About category.

You’ve heard it before, “Set the bar high. People will rise to the level of your expectations.” Or, “Expect great things from God.” To be honest with you, and please don’t burn me at the stake for heresy, I’m not sure such statements always come true. Now hold on. Give me a second before you unfriend me on Facebook.

I think one reason why we experience frustration and disappointment in the ministry is due to unrealistic expectations. You can have unrealistic expectations of your people and you can have unrealistic expectations of God. Let’s start with God.

An unrealistic expectation of God is when we expect God to do something that He hasn’t clearly promised to do. Now, granted, Christians will differ on what God has promised in His word and what He hasn’t. Based on your theology, or hermeneutics, or denomination, you might think one thing is a promise to expect God to fulfill, while another pastor might think differently. But what I’m referring to here are the many voices (usually pastors of large churches) that tell us things like…

God wants your church to grow.
God wants to use you to reach your city for Jesus.
If you want to grow your church focus on _____ or _____ or_____.
God wants to do great things in your ministry and through your church.

I kind of believe those statements but the problem, as I see it, is that such statements revolve around formulas and numbers. There are more ways for a church to grow than merely by numbers. A church might grow in numbers but it be a very, very slow process. I haven’t heard of a church that has successfully “reached it’s city for Jesus.” Why is it that “great things” are seldom “small things?” If formulas work then why are there so many churches that have implemented the formulas and still are not experiencing numerical growth?

What are you believing God for? What are you expecting Him to do for you? What are you basing that on? If you are convinced that your expectations are based on the scriptures then fine. Hold on to those promises. But if not…rethink your expectations. And what about our expectations of our people?

If you expect your people to be as ‘into it’ as you are then you are setting yourself up for disappointment. If, by raising the bar of commitment, you have seen your people leap up and over that bar like Superwoman (or man) then good for you. Congratulations, you’ve accomplished something most pastors never experience. I’m not exactly suggesting that we lower our expectations…but maybe I am. Maybe it’s more about having realistic expectations than unrealistic ones. And to be honest with you, many of the pastor I interact with have, again, in my opinion, unrealistic expectations and that is why they are so discouraged, frustrated, and lack peace and joy in the ministry. In regards to goals, I have a saying, “Set the bar so low that you can’t help but step over it.”

Before you ‘unfollow’ me on Twitter…just think about it. Keep praying and planning to reach new people for Jesus. Ask God to do great things with your church…just be careful of your definition of ‘great.’ Be content without becoming complacent. If you want to have more peace, discover those unrealistic expectations you have with God and your people and adjust them accordingly.

 

 

As I sit quietly with God and my Bible each morning, not because I should, not because I have to, not to get ideas for a sermon or to prepare to speak someplace, not so that I will be a good and helpful coach…but instead, simply to keep company with Him; my slow meditation upon his word speaks to me about me. Such was the case a few weeks ago when my devotional reading took me to II Corinthian 1:12-24…but more specifically, verse 12.

“For our proud confidence is this: the testimony of our conscience, that in holiness and godly sincerity, not in fleshly wisdom but in the grace of God, we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially toward you.”

Paul had a clear conscious. He knew he wasn’t ministering with ulterior motives and manipulation as some of the other ‘teachers’ in the Corinthian church were.

I was forced to ask myself, “Do I have a clear conscience, especially in the way I conduct my ministry?” Occasionally I can get off the phone with a pastor and my conscience tells me, “You talked too much. You didn’t listen as well as you could. You allowed your mind to wander rather than focus.” You’d think that after coaching pastors for ten years and training coaches, that things like this would not be a problem. But they still can be.

Are you ministering with a clear conscience?

Do you try to act more holy than you really are?
Do you show favoritism?
Are you easily intimidated by some?
Do you have an inflated sense of your power and authority and position as pastor?
Are you angry?
Is your home life different than your public life?
Is there anyone in your church that you are withholding forgiveness?
Is there someone in your church that you secretly wish a meteorite would fall on?

Could you add to this list? I hope not, in fact I hope nothing on my list of example relate to you, but it’s wise to sometimes review things like this.

If you sit quietly with the Father and ask Him to show you possible areas where you should have a guilty conscience (usually we know these things without his help), if He doesn’t, He will reassure you. If He does, he will reassure you. By this I mean that He will gently show you any areas you to need work on.

Nobody is perfect, not even pastors. Everyone has blinds spots. Keeping company with God and his word is a great way for us to stay on top of our conscience. Wouldn’t it be great for Paul’s words to be ours, “For our proud confidence is this: the testimony of our conscience…”

Your friend,

Dave

 

images-1

 

Lately I’ve been using the questions Jesus asked to be the focus of my quiet times. This morning I came to Matt. 24:45 and thought of you.

“Who then is the faithful and and sensitive slave who his master put in charge of his household to give them their food at the proper time?”

  1. God only asks that you be faithful to your call. The world values success, God values faithfulness.
  2. God wants you to be sensitive, sensitive to his voice, sensitive to what he’s doing in your heart, and sensitive to the needs of your people.
  3. You are God’s slave, not the churches slave.
  4. God is the master. It is his church, not yours. We all believe this but our prayers and schedule often betray us. How you pray and what your calendar looks like says a lot about how much we believe this. You might need to think about this one.
  5. God has put you ‘in charge.’ You are the pastor, you are the one called to lead. Sure…we have other leaders, others who help us lead, but you have been placed in charge. Be confident in your calling and don’t let fear keep you from being the leader you’ve been called to be and the leader your church needs you to be.
  6. God wants you to make sure they are being fed. No doubt, what first comes to your mind is the pulpit. But there are other ways people are fed. We want to teach out people to feed one another. And most importantly, we want to train our people to feed themselves.

Which of these six speaks to you the most? Bring this to God in reflective prayer and see what he impresses on you.

 
fuse

 

In case you haven’t noticed, working with people can be disappointing, frustrating, irritating, and maddening. No? You have’t experienced that? Well congratulations, God called you to the one perfect church in America.

Sometimes pastors get pushed to their limit and then, in response, act out in ways harmful to themselves and others. Solitude lengthens ones limit. When silence and solitude are neglected the fuse is shortened.

There is a direct connection between how much patience, joy, and energy we have, and the consistency and meaningfulness of our times alone with God. (I actually wrote a chapter on this in my New York Times bestseller, ‘Mile Wide, In Deep.’

Did you notice those two word: consistency and meaningfulness? Most pastor (I’m not exaggerating) do not have a consistent and meaningful devotional life. Often I hear, “I’m in the Word all the time because of sermon prep.” That doesn’t count. I mean, you will draw some nutrients from the Bible this way but not enough to be the deeply spiritual person you want be and your congregation needs you to be.

“I pray with people all the time.” Good, pastors should pray with and for their people, but still…this does’t count. This is different than what I’m talking about.

In order to lead our people into the depths of relationship with Christ, we must be wading into those waters as well. You will either be up to your neck in Jesus or up to your neck in disappointment, frustration, irritation, and anger.

Having consistent and meaningful times alone with the Lord will not make all your church-people problems go away. Having consistent and meaningful times alone with God will not automatically take away your feelings of disappointment, frustration, irritation and anger…but it will help. It will help considerably. It will lengthen your fuse.

You don’t want to blow up. You don’t want to discover what ‘blowing up’ looks like for you. Maybe you already know. It’s not too late to add some inches, or maybe feet, to that fuse of yours.

Do you have a plan, a spiritual formation plan?

“Well Dave, all this solitude stuff…that’s not how I’m wired.” That maybe true, and maybe using that as an out is why you’re so wired. You don’t have to be an introvert to enjoy solitude. Remember, you’re not locked into your wiring. You can learn new habits.

You begin with a plan until the rhythm of time alone with God becomes so natural you no longer need a plan.

Are you feeling disappointed, frustrated, irritated or angry?
Is your fuse too short?
Do you have a plan to remedy that?

Oh, before you go, I didn’t lie about writing a chapter on this. I did lie about the New York Times bestseller thing. Whew! My conscience feels so much better now.

 

Unknown

 

Badger is our outside cat, or what some call a barn cat, or a mouser. A mouser is suppose to kill mice. I’ve never known Badger to kill a mouse, at least not kill one and leave it for me as a present. Badger has left me some birds, and twice she has left me a mole.

Moles are one weird looking animal. In fact, to be totally honest with you, they creep me out. But I also don’t appreciate what they do to my lawn. Currently there is one out there wreaking havoc. Every morning I find two or three beautiful little mole hills. Thank you very much.

You know that old saying, “Don’t make a mountain out of a mole hill?” There’s a lot of wisdom there that applies to leading a church. But just as important as it is not to make a mountain out of a mole hill, it is equally important not to make a mole hill out of a mountain.

Mountain Out Of A Mole Hill

We do this when we make something a bigger problem than it really is. Pastoring eventually leads to paranoia. We can be constantly worrying about the ‘other shoe dropping’ or something blowing up in our face resulting in division or an exodus or some other unpleasant thing happening in our church. We can overreact and jump in to put out the fire when all there really is is smoke. Is there anything you might be overreacting to?

Mole Hill Out Of A Mountain

We do this whenever we minimise something that really should be taken more seriously. Some worry too much and others worry too little. For example, and I can’t believe how often this happens, a pastor tells me about some belligerent church member or board member who is constantly talking behind their back and purposefully sabotaging every attempt of the pastor to lead the church. And then, they qualify, “Now don’t get me wrong, Bill is really a good guy, it’s just that…” I typically respond, “Bill doesn’t sound like a good guy to me. He sounds to me like a slanderer who has a problem with submitting to spiritual authority. As long as you try to convince yourself that Bill is a good guy you won’t deal with him like he needs to be dealt with.” Mole hill out of a mountain. This is only one example. I could come up with more. Is there anything that you might be minimizing?

Sometimes it just takes experience to know whether something is a mole hill or a mountain. Hopefully you have some wise leaders in your church or you know someone whose wisdom you value, who you could ask, “Is this a mountain or a mole hill?”

Never underestimate your ability to fail to distinguish a mountain from a mole hill.

 

images-1

 

When I was pastoring I had my fair share of frustrations with certain leaders. Something tells me you know what I’m talking about.

Maybe they are consistently late to meetings.
Maybe they skip, what you think to be, too many Sunday mornings.
Maybe they don’t do what they said they’d do.
Maybe they are called leaders but they aren’t leading anything.
Maybe they are always negative.
Maybe they think the church is going to hell in a hand basket.
Maybe they challenge every good idea you come up with.
Maybe they talk about you behind your back.
Maybe they are the first to leave on Sundays.
Maybe they aren’t very friendly to guests.

I’m sure you could easily add to this list.

One of the most common things I discuss with pastors is…frustration with someone in their leadership. If you are frustrated with a leader the problem is either with them, with you, or a combination of the two. Discovering which it is will be very helpful in developing your next step.

Before you do anything, ask yourself questions such as:

Is there any way in which I might have contributed to this problem?
Are there any expectations I have that the leader might be unaware of?
When was the last time I met with this leader and the conversation did not revolve around the       church or their ministry?
Have I spoken to them or have I been holding in my frustration?
Has my frustration crossed the line and is now anger?
What response could I give that would bring the most pleasure to Jesus?

Never underestimate your ability to be a contributor to the problem but convince yourself blame rests solely on the other person.

 

images-1

Many pastors are really focused on church attendance, more specifically, ‘regular’ church attendance. ‘Flaky’ Christians (at least in regards to being in church every week) frustrate, confuse, and sometimes make pastors mad. Pastors commiserate with other pastors about this, preach sermons (Five Reasons Why You Need To Be In Church) on it, and guilt their people by pointing out to them how messed up their priorities are. But what some pastors have failed to recognize is that something has changed and I’m not sure there’s anything we can do about it.

About five years ago I began to notice (mostly from talking to pastors…remember, that’s what I do) that a higher percentage of people who are happy with their church, are coming out less frequently. No too long ago we were upset if someone missed one, maybe two Sundays a month. Now, more and more people are regularly missing two, maybe three Sundays a month. Remember, they like their church. They think their pastor is great. It’s just that they are really, really busy and the weekend is often the only time they have to rest and catch up. I’m not saying this is right, just that it is. And yes, we can complain that they have messed up priorities, or shallow commitment…this might be true, but busyness and overcommitment is the world they now live in. Most of the people in our churches are two income families which explains why they can feel so far behind and so exhausted on the weekends. For many of the people in our churches, the church is on their list of important things (which is better than not even making the list) but it’s not at the top…like it is for pastors.

The good news is that this cultural change needs to be taken into consideration if we are trying to figure out why Sunday morning attendance seems to indicate a drop or a plateau. The number of people in your church is probably higher than Sunday morning reflects. Your Sunday morning numbers might suggest that you are shrinking when really, it’s just that your people are coming out less often. You might actually be attracting new people but your numbers on Sunday have leveled off, why, people are coming out less frequent.

The bad news is that I’m not sure there is anything we can do about this cultural change. I’m not saying to give up (well maybe I am) talking about why church is important or why commitment to your church is important, but when we do so it often reflects an attempt to bring about change by using guilt and shame…and that seldom works.

There might have been a time when we could answer someone asking, “How large is your church?” by telling them our Sunday morning attendance, but those days are gone.

Back in the old days (I can’t believe that I am old enough to say something like that) we were told that if we had a good enough Sunday morning experience that people would be there. If people were irregular in their attendance, the problem was with the preaching, or music, or children’s ministry. It made sense at the time. It doesn’t make sense today.

A higher percentage of people who are happy with their church, are coming out less frequently. You can choose whether or not to let this drive you nuts.

 

images

In the absence of information, people will come to their own conclusions, and often times the  conclusions they come to are not the ones we want them to come to. Never underestimate the importance of regular, clear, and sometimes if needed, honest communication.

Regular

How do you communicate what is going on in your church? Announcements? Bulletin? Newsletter? Facebook? Emails? Texting? Or better yet, all of the above? You see…I don’t think we can over- communicate. In my last church, each year I gave a ‘state of the church’ address, much like the President’s state of the union address. I shared what we accomplished the previous year, what goals we didn’t achieve, and what we’d be aiming at in the coming year.

Clear

Just because you think you’re being clear does not mean you are being clear. Never underestimate your ability to be vague and all the while think you’re being clear. Sometimes when we’re passing on information we accidentally leave out details, it’s all clear in our heads but something can happen when we communicate that results in gaps. It’s those gaps that can make communication of information less effective than we would like.

Honest

As a rule (and there are always exceptions to the rule…and I’ll probably hear some of them) our policy should be full disclosure…or at least close to it. If the church is struggling financially, our people should know. If our numbers have been shrinking, our people should know. If someone gets mad and leaves the church (and this is especially true if they are a leader or a person of influence in the church) the people should know, and they should know why they left. If you know why attendance is down, the people should know. If you don’t know why attendance is down, the people should know. If the pastor is struggling financially, the people should know. If the pastor and leadership are considering the need for the pastor to take a part time job…or full time job outside of the church, the people should know.

The smaller the church the more people expect to be kept in-the-loop. And this ‘loop’ can be positive things as well as negative things. If the church is doing well financially, the people should know. If you have added some people to the church, the people should know. If some ministry is really successful, the people should know. Communicate and celebrate victories.

Remember, in the absence of information, people will come to their own conclusions, and often times the conclusions they come to are not the ones we want them to come to.

images

I think it was John Maxwell that said, “Everything rises or falls on leadership.” The tribe I was a part of (The Vineyard) drilled into us the need to ‘raise up leaders.’ Some experts have even told pastors that your church will only grow as large as your base of leaders. That sounds a little like those ‘golden-keys’ we read about (Grow leaders and your church will grow…I promise.) so I’m not sure I agree entirely with it, but the first two statements I do…most of the time, agree wth.

Often pastors want to talk about leadership development. And if they don’t bring up the subject, eventually I will ask them, “What are you doing to raise up new leaders?” But first I want to know how many active adults (adults, not adults and children) they have in their church, why? Because…

The smaller the church, the less the pastor needs leaders and the more the pastor needs helpers.

Now let there be no mistake about it, leaders will come from your team of helpers. Of those who are helping you, someone will stand out and catch your attention. Chances are, this could be a future leader.

The smaller your church the more likely it will be that you have more, sometimes way more, helpers than you have leaders. You see, if you are searching for leaders you are probably looking for a certain level of maturity and commitment to Jesus and the church. You may, or may not have such a person. But if you are looking for helpers the bar is a little lower and you will have more to choose from. Besides, it’s better to wait until you have the right kind of person you are going to call, or think of as a leader, than to put someone ‘in leadership’ prematurely and later regret it.

Once you call someone a ‘leader’ everything changes. Calling someone a leader changes their relationship with you and your relationship with them. Calling someone a leader changes your churches perception of the person. And…sorry to say this, sometimes people change, and not always for the better, once you are calling them a leader. For example, they might think this means more than you intended for it to mean. I suggest that you hold off on calling anyone a leader until you’ve had enough time to know if they are ‘leading’ in the way you want a ‘leader’ to lead.

Do you need ‘leaders’ or do you only need ‘helpers?’

Here are some steps you might find helpful:

  1. If you think you need a leader, what is it specifically that they need to lead?
  2. What concrete reasons do you have for thinking they would be a good leader of (fill in the blank)?
  3. Do you need to call them a leader or could you call them something else?
  4. Who are your helpers?
  5. Who among your helpers stands out the most?
  6. Who among your helpers comes in at second place?
  7. Pray over this/these people asking the Father to show you if he regards them as potential leaders.
  8. Begin to pour your time into them.
  9. At some point, but only if you think you have a future leader on your hands, let them know that you think they have potential. Don’t be thrown off if they immediately tell you that they think you are crazy. This can actually be a good sign.

Almost all leaders started out as helpers. Know who your helpers are and you will eventually know who your leaders are.

Unknown

I had a friend who for years was plagued by poor health. She experienced fatigue, constipation, muscle weakness, muscle aches and pain, depressed mood…and could never find out why. She tried this and she tried that. One doctor told her one thing and a different doctor told her another, but still, no change. Finally she gave one more doctor a try. They ran a test to check her thyroid and (drum roll please) THAT WAS IT! The technical term is ‘low functioning thyroid’ or ‘hypothyroid.’

Does your church have a low functioning thyroid? And for the purpose of this article I’m thinking of a person or small group of people who are causing unhealthy symptoms?

If you are like so many other small church pastors there is a good chance you have someone in your church that is causing trouble for you. Examples:

a. A church bully

b. A church gossip/slanderer

c. A church member who purposely opposes change

d. A church critic

e. A church pastor critic

Never underestimate how one or two individuals can be holding your church back. The smaller the church, the fewer it takes to sabotage your mission and your joy.

Usually doctors treat hypothyroid holistically or with drugs. Occasionally they conclude that the best treatment is a thyroidectomy, the complete removal of the thyroid gland.

I talk to many pastors who have some low functioning thyroid person in their church. They avoid them. They try to talk to them. They pray for them to change. They hope that something will change. But often times…they tolerate them. Well…you get what you tolerate. If you want something different you’ll need to do something different. You might try to address it holistically, but chances are you’ll need to remove the gland.

These types must be told, “STOP IT, or leave. Those are your choices!”

It takes a brave pastor to tell someone this. It’s risky. It’s dangerous. You’re gonna make them mad. They might leave. They might take some people with them. You might get fired. They might cause a stink…but they’re already causing a stink.

Do you want a smelly church or a healthy church? Do you want a sick church or a healthy church. Do you need to treat a low functioning thyroid? If so, you probably need to say…

STOP IT, or leave. Those are your choices!

« Older entries