Things to Think About

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We have dogs. To be precise, we have six Pembroke Welsh Corgis. Yes, you read that right…pray for us. I often feel like a rancher and my livestock have short legs and really cute butts. If you are unfamiliar with the breed…look them up.

Usually in the morning when I get up to have my ‘quiet time’ they are still crated, usually asleep, and, therefore…quiet. However, once in a while if I get up later, they have already been released outside and let back in, with me, in the living room, in my special red chair, trying to have a ‘quiet time.’

Now Corgis have a lot of energy to begin with, but first thing in the morning, after having been in their crates all night…oh mama, let me tell you, you have no idea the noise they can make. You try having a ‘quiet time’ with twentyfour Corgi feet racing around you on wood floors. I swear the house shakes.

A couple weeks ago I’m having my ‘quiet time’ along with my six obnoxious friends. I’m starting to get really irritated. They were having a good time, but not me. I was trying to be spiritual! I was trying to find God’s presence! I couldn’t take it any more and I yelled at them “STOP IT!” They simultaneously, like synchronized swimmers, stopped dead in their tracks, stared at me, laughed in my face (yes I heard them) and started back up. I shook my head in defeat, and then it came to me.

It’s easy for me to find God in quiet and solitude but what about experiencing Him in the noise, distractions, and interruptions of life? I took a deep breath, relaxed and refocused even with all the crazy happening around me. And you know what? It worked! Not perfectly, but I was able to have a meaningful quiet time in a noisy place.

Pastor’s lives are filled with distractions and interruptions. You start out thinking you’re going to have a productive day and then things go south because of a hundred unplanned intrusions. This is true for normal people as well. Maybe it’s chaotic and stressful where you work. Maybe you’re at home with a bunch of kids that behave like…well… like a bunch of Corgis.

Our goal should be to learn how to experience God’s peace and presence regardless of our surroundings. Silence and solitude are probably best for accomplishing this but that’s not the real world we live in.

Take or create every opportunity you have for silence and solitude, but the next time you are bombarded with noise or distraction or interruptions, take a deep breath and try to recognize where God might be in it all.

The older I get the more I’ve noticed my list of ‘things I’m opinionated about’ has gotten shorter. That’s not to say I don’t have some strong opinions about certain important things, only that I have fewer of those things than I once had. And then of course, once I retired from pastoring back in 2006 I experienced greater freedom to say “I don’t know.” or “I don’t really have an opinion about that.”

When you’re a pastor you’re expected to have an opinion about everything and not just an opinion, but a strong opinion. To admit that you don’t know, or say you’re not sure about some controversial subject can get you into as much trouble as landing firmly down on either side of the debate.

A few years ago I had a client who ended our relationship. He wanted help in navigating the touchy subject of same-sex marriages. Some in his church and leadership team believed one thing and others something else. He was not in favor of same-sex people getting married.  I shared with him that as I tried to objectively listen to both sides I discovered that both camps had some good points and that I was not sure where I stood on this. The silence on the other end of the phone told me that this was not what he wanted or expected to hear from me. About five minutes after ending our call I received an email from the pastor telling me that he would no longer be using me as a coach, that he was greatly disappointed in me, and that he did not think it was wise for him to let me influence him. Ouch!

Keep in mind, I did not say that I was in favor or not in favor of same-sex marriages. The fact that I tried to be open-minded in listening to the two sides of the debate resulting in me not having a strong opinion about the subject was enough to end our relationship. 

If you’re a normal person (not a pastor), you can get away with not having an opinion about certain controversial subjects like Trump, global warming, the role of women in marriage and the church, the mode of baptism and who gets to be baptized, Bernie, KJV vs NIV, immigration, to wall or not to wall…the list could go on and on.

But pastors, and I know because I was one for thirty years, have been trained and conditioned to have an opinion about everything. We are constantly evaluating, judging, drawing a line in the sand so that we and our people know clearly who is on our side and who is not, who is for us and who is against us, who is our friend and who is our enemy.

Life is a long struggle to let go of all evaluations and opinions, to be free from the burden of making judgments.

I want to live free. How about you?

Stop what you’re doing and read Luke 10:30-37, I’ll wait…

Did you do it? Probably not but that’s okay because you’re familiar with the story.

One day an “expert” in the law came to Jesus and asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

That’s a good question but Luke tells us that it wasn’t a sincere question, he was saying this to try and trap Jesus. Now Jesus could have pulled out his KJV and started quoting Bible verses at him but instead, he asks his own question, “What do you understand the Law says about this?”

 

Side Note:

 Jesus was a master question-asker.

Great leaders ask great questions

and help people think.

 

This tricky fellow says, “Love God and love your neighbor.” Jesus tells him that this was a good answer. I bet this guy was thinking, “Dang, this isn’t going as I planned. He’s not taking the bait. I know, I know…so Jesus, who exactly is my neighbor?”

Jesus answers his question with ‘The Good Samaritan.’ You know the story.

 

Side Note:

Jesus doesn’t always answer your

questions as you’re expecting.

 

At the end of the story, Jesus says, “Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers’ hands?” And he said, “The one who showed mercy toward him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do the same.”

Did you notice that? Jesus didn’t answer his question (Who is my neighbor?) but turns it around to “Who could you be neighborly to? Who could you show kindness and mercy to?”

Here’s my twist on ‘neighbor’:

A neighbor is anyone who gives me an opportunity to show them love, mercy, and kindness.

Whether you be a pastor or a normal person, most of us, if we’re really, really honest, have contempt and disgust towards individuals or people groups who are different than us.

I hate Pelosi and her Democratic idiots. She represents all that is evil in our country.

Nope, that’s not love, mercy, or kindness.

Trump makes me want to puke. He’s an egotistical, racist, immoral pig.

Nope, that’s not love, mercy, or kindness.

 

Side Note:

 Contempt is easy to see in others and

hard to recognize in ourselves.

 

Does your stomach turn and your blood pressure rise when you think about that hard-headed board member who opposes you at every turn, the church gossip who has slandered you and spread falsehoods about you, churches that allow women pastors or those that don’t, Planned Parenthood or those that picket and protest Planned Parenthood, Evangelicals or Liberal Christians, #MeToo, #BlackLivesMatter or #AllLivesMatter, those churches that welcome LGBTQ+ people with no strings attached and those that have strings attached, Fox News or CNN. Need I go on?

Those people who bug the heck out of me are my neighbors. A neighbor is anyone who gives me an opportunity to show them love, mercy, and kindness. Jesus told me to love my neighbor.

 

Side Note:

Loving your neighbor is hard.

But try anyway.

 

You’ve heard it before. Maybe you’ve said it yourself, “The problem with Christians today is that they’ve developed a ‘consumer-mentality.’ Church is all about them, what’s in it for them, does the church meet their needs? If they don’t like the ‘menu’ at one church they simply go down the street to the next church that will cater to them.”

There is a great deal of truth to that. On the other hand…I sometimes think that we use ‘consumer-mentality’ as a cop-out, a diversionary tactic to shift taking responsibility for our failures as a church and on to those Christians who leave us.

Not everyone who visits our church and decides not to come back is a Consumer Christian. Not all who have been with us but then leave are Consumer Christians. Many are, maybe most are…but not all of them. If we dismiss those who leave and those who don’t come back as Consumer Christians we will lose an opportunity to sincerely and objectively evaluate our ministry and make the adjustments necessary to reach and retain new people.

Ellen and I have only been ‘church-shoppers’ three times in our entire lives. Having pastored for twenty-eight years (that’s five churches, three of which we planted) we’ve always been the ones being shopped. But when we moved from San Jose California to southern Oregon eleven years ago we became church shoppers. We shopped and landed at a church in Medford. Then, seven years later, wishing to find a church closer to where we lived, we shopped and landed in a church about three minutes away from us in the little town of Rogue River. Now, three years later, having moved to Medford, we are shopping again. Here’s how we do it.

We begin by looking at websites. You can size a church up pretty quick if you know what to look for on a website. You see, we have about four or five things that are important to us in a church. We’ve come to realize that if you can find three out of five you are doing pretty good. I bet you’re wondering what those five essentials are. Sorry, but I’m not going to tell you.

Some churches we checked off really quick. They were not the type of church we would want to commit to. It’s not that they were bad churches, just that they wouldn’t a good fit for us. Keep in mind, we are not Consumer Christians. Next, we start visiting churches that are of interest to us. After a visit, some we check off our list. Again, they are not the type of church we would want to be part of. I’m sure they are good churches, obviously many people who go there think so, but they are not a good fit for us. And again, remember, we are not Consumer Christians. Currently, we have our eyes on a couple of churches. We will probably visit them again before making a decision. Oh, and I hate to feel I have to reassure you of this, but yes, we have been praying about this. We are looking for a good fit. Not a perfect fit, but a good one. Does this sound like Consumer Christianity? I hope not.

There will be people that will visit your church and not come back, not because they are Consumer Christians but because your church would not be a good fit for them. There will be people who have been with you for a long time and then will leave for someplace else, not because they are Consumer Christians but because something has changed and what was once a good fit is no longer a good fit. If we label them and dismiss them we are missing an opportunity to evaluate why some people stay and others don’t.

If we want to reach and retain new people, and, if those people are young families, we’d better learn what type of a church would be a good fit for them and make the necessary adjustments. You see, your church is ideally designed to reach the people you currently have. If you want to see something different you will probably need to do something different. Many Christians have become Consumer Christians…but not all. Don’t hide behind ‘Consumer Christian’ and fail to honestly and objectively evaluate who your church is reaching and retaining and why…and who your church needs to reach and retain and how.

 

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 its 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 pastors 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

 

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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.

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