10 Dangerous Distractions for a Pastor

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I encounter so many struggling pastors. And unfortunately, I know so many who used to be pastors but no longer hold the position.

It may be through a blatant sin or a casual drifting from doing what they knew to be right, but it landed them in disaster. A pastor friend of mine said recently, “We need healthy churches and we need healthy pastors.”

Amen. Agreed. We must stand guard.

What are we guarding against?

No single post would be perfect. Obviously sin, but I can’t address everything that gets in the way of a healthy pastor. I can only list some that are more common in my experience.

Here are 10 dangerous distractions for a pastor:

Neglecting your soul. One of my mentors reminded me recently. “Ron, don’t forget to feed your own soul.” It was subtle. Almost given as a sidebar to our discussion. But it was gold. One of the biggest dangers for a pastor is when we begin to operate out of stored up knowledge of and experience with God. We need fresh encounters with truth and His glory.

Sacrificing family. Families learn to resent the ministry when it always trumps the family. Ministry families get accustomed to interruptions. They are part of the job as they are part of many vocations. But the family will hopefully be there when no one else is around. Ministry locations change but the family does not — so we must not neglect them. I’ve sat with men who lost the respect of their family. I know countless pastors who’s adult children no longer want anything to do with the church. Apparently, there’s not much that hurts anymore than that.

Playing the numbers game. Whenever we put the emphasis on numbers we are always disappointed. They will never be high enough. God is in charge of the numbers. We are in charge of what He has put us in charge of — but it’s not the numbers. We must be careful to concentrate on making disciples and the numbers will take care of themselves.

Comparing ministries. There will always be a “bigger” ministry. Someone will always write a better tweet — or a better book — or a better blog post — preach a better sermon. When we begin to compare it distracts us from the ministry we’ve been God-appointed to lead.

Finding affirmation among the rebels. This is the one that gets me in trouble among the rebels when I point it out to pastors. But we must be careful not to get distracted by people who would complain regardless of the decision we make. Yes, it stings the way some people talk to a pastor. And, it’s certainly not always godly how some people express themselves in the church. But, what if Joshua had listened to the naysayers? What if Nehemiah had? What if Moses had given up every time the complainers were louder than the people who are willing to follow? Okay, he probably was willing to give up a couple of times but he held the course. If you are leading there will always be someone that is not happy with the decisions you made. People bent on pleasing others — more even than pleasing God — have a very hard time finding peace and joy in ministry.

Sacrificing truth for popularity. It’s easy to preach the easy stuff. Grace messages are pleasant to share and popular to receive. And, we need them. Where sin increases — grace should increase all the more. But, we need truth. Even when it is unpopular. Making disciples becomes impossible when we sacrifice either one — truth or grace.

Stealing glory. My mama used to say “that boy got too big for his britches”. Sadly that can happen in ministry also. Many pastors struggle with ego problems. God is never honored in that. Pastors are in a God glorifying position. Actually, everyone yes, but it is written into our job description.

Poor boundaries. In an effort to “minister” to people, I know too many pastors who fell into a trap because they didn’t have proper boundaries in place. The enemy enjoys a door of opportunity.

Neglecting friendships. Most pastors struggle knowing who to trust, but because of that they have few people really get to know them. Therefore they often have no one who can speak into the dark places of their life. And, pastors have them too. So, they put on a good front — but inside, they struggle alone. It’s dangerous.

Abusing power. The pastor holds a certain amount of power just because of position. It has been said, “Unlimited power is apt to corrupt the minds of those who possess it.” One of the more dangerous things I see churches doing these days is giving a pastor too much power, without enough built in personal accountability. (That’s coming from a church planter’s heart — and one who is prone to lead strong.) BTW, I’m not for controlling the pastor or forced relational accountability — and I haven’t discovered the perfect system here — but there needs to be one that balances truth and grace equally. Again, I don’t know how to systematize that, but it is a dangerous distraction. My challenge would be to the pastor or ministry leader to build this system into his or her own life absent a system within the ministry.

Those are some that I have seen. These distractions are displayed in a number of ways — and all of them are not fatal thankfully — but all of them are real. And all of them are dangerous.

 

 

5 Real Reasons Most Dreams Never Come True.

Aspirations

I talk to a lot of frustrated people in my work. I meet a lot of people chasing after something — yet never seeming to find what they are seeking. I think many times — and most of us are prone to doing this — we make excuses rather better than we make progress. And there are reasons that is the case.

Here are 5 of the real reasons most dreams never come true:

People quit trying. They give up. They may have tried before and it didn’t work, so now they don’t try at all. Seldom is a dream — a worthy dream — realized on the first attempt. The greatest discoveries are seldom found along the path of least resistance.

People aren’t willing to work hard enough. If you have a dream — it will be difficult to achieve. Might I say that it again. It will be difficult. Otherwise it’s not much of a dream. I think sometimes we expect it “just to happen”. But, dreams don’t happen by chance. Lucky isn’t a skill in achieving dreams. You might be “in the right place at the right time”, but those opportunities are rare.

People put too much hope in others and not enough confidence in themselves. Others don’t put as much energy or thought into your dream as you do. Many people never realize a dream because they expected something from others they never agreed to do.

People have unrealistic dreams. Seriously, if the dream is for a trouble-free, perfect life — that’s probably not going to become a reality. Learning to navigate an excellent dream in the midst of a world full of sorrow is a key to discovering the greatest — and most achievable — dreams in life.

People devalue the dreams already realized. This is a biggie. Sometimes we really are “living the dream”. If we always live thinking the “grass is greener” with the “next big thing” we never fully appreciate the dreams God has already given us.

Are you in a funk, because you think your dreams are passing you by? Could there be a reason for that?

Be a Great Leader. A Great – Servant – Leader

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Jesus defined what it means to be great in His Kingdom.

The greatest among you must be a servant. Matthew 23:11

What He didn’t say in that passage is important too. He didn’t say that one who is great because they are a servant couldn’t also be a leader.

I think we give leadership a bad connotation sometimes. In fact, I’ve known people who wouldn’t take the role of leader because they felt it was the more “pious” thing to do.  And, because of that I think we rob the church of some great servant leaders.

And I get why we don’t always think of leaders as servants.

We see politicians who abuse power.

We see pastors who misuse trust.

We see corporate giants who seem only concerned with the “bottom line”.

It’s easy to see where we would begin to paint a negative view of leadership.

But, there are also leaders who are great because they serve.

They serve others by leading them places they wouldn’t or couldn’t go on their own.

They serve others by giving of themselves for the benefit of others — even above their own good.

They serve others without believing they deserve some special recognition or award — but just because they feel the call to be servant leaders.

There are some great servant leaders.

And, you can no doubt name some great servant leaders who have advanced good for other people. Abraham Lincoln. Martin Luther King, Jr.. Mother Theresa. 

That Sunday School teacher who had a significant impact on your life. 

None of those people are perfect, but they served in leadership for the good of others.

One of my favorite examples in Scripture is a man commended by Jesus. You may recall the story. A centurion had a soldier under him who was sick. He wanted Jesus to heal him.

A centurion was a leader — usually of 100 men — and he had likely started as a soldier working his way up through the ranks to this leadership position.

Notice what the crowds said about this centurion leader.

And when they came to Jesus, they pleaded with him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue.” (Luke 7:4-5)

They thought he was worthy. A worthy leader. A servant leader. He had used his position of leadership for the good of others.  

Look what the centurion thought about himself.

And Jesus went with them. When he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. Therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed. (Luke 7:6-7)

He was humble. He didn’t take a high view of himself. He took a high view of those he was leading — whom he was also serving.

That’s a great leader. That’s a great servant leader. That was someone who could be great in the Kingdom of God.

Don’t shy away from being a leader — if you’re called — lead.

Check your heart. Check your motive. Guard your heart. Guard your motive.

Serve. Serve. Serve.

And, be a great servant leader in the Kingdom of God. 

A Critical Leadership Error and 4 Ways to Approach It

Car driving

There is one critical error most leaders make at some point. I make it frequently. If you’re leading – you probably do also.

We forget that people are trying to follow.

We get so caught up in our own world that we forget people we are trying to lead are trying to follow. We “think” we know where we are going — and we assume they do also — almost at times like they can read our minds.

Have you ever tried to follow someone in a car?

Some are good at that kind of leading and some aren’t. Some take quick turns — even without using a blinker. Some dodge in and out of traffic — forgetting that the person behind can’t react as quickly.

It’s that way with a team or organization also.

Some leaders get so passionate about what they are thinking and doing that they forget others are trying to keep up with them. The leader sets the pace for the organization. – almost every time.

Good leaders frequently evaluate to make sure the current pace doesn’t leave someone behind — unless that’s intentional — which would be the subject of another post.

What can a leader do to keep from losing those who are trying to follow along the way?

Here are 4 suggestions:

Ask questions. Granted, most people are not going to call out the leader. That’s true regardless of how “open” the leaders door might be. So, good leaders ask questions. They are continually evaluating and exploring to discover what they wouldn’t know otherwise. They check in with people often to make sure they understand where they are going, have what they need and are able to continue the pace healthfully.

Be vulnerable. While the leader ultimately sets the pace, good leaders allow others on the team help set the pace for the team. They share leadership across the team. It’s more difficult to argue against the pace when the team helped to set it. It takes humility, but they allow the decision making process of the organization to be spread throughout the team. They are open to correction — giving people permission to speak into their life and are not easily offended when someone challenges them — or even sometimes corrects them.

Be systematic. One way to control pace is to operate under well-planned and executed written goals and objectives. These are agreed upon in advance. Of course, things still change quickly — that’s part of life — and we must be flexible to adapt, but having even a short term written plan gives people a direction that keeps them making progress without chasing the whims of a leader.

Keep looking in the mirror. Ultimately, it’s up to the leader to self-evaluate frequently. Clueless leaders push and pull people with no regards to the impact it is having on organizational health or the people trying to follow. (And we are all clueless at times – we only know what we know.) Good leaders are self-aware. They know their tendencies to push too hard or their struggle with contentment — or they’re lack of clarity in details — whatever it is that makes them difficult to follow at times.

Here’s a hard question every leader should consider:

Are you allowing those attempting to follow you a fair opportunity to follow?

7 Ways Leading Is Like Driving a Car

Driving Car

Leading an organization is like driving a car.

Okay, it’s not exactly like that, but it is similar.

Leading an organization is hard work and that’s regardless of the size of the organization — or even the strength of a team. It’s true of leading it the church also.

It is often difficult to think through all the issues that the leader should be considering. I have found it helpful at times to compare organizational health and success to other things I may understand even more; things I do everyday. For example, I can consider the health of the team in an organization by comparing it to the dynamics of family relationships. This type exercise helps me clarify principles of organizations I might not otherwise think about and create a paradigm of leadership that hopefully makes leading easier. It’s simply a tool to help you brainstorm.

Recently, when I was facing a difficult leadership season, and was also driving somewhere for a meeting, I thought about how organizations have a great deal in common with the road system most of us use everyday. I began thinking how leading an organization can at times be like driving a car and it helped me process some issues relative to our organizational health.

Here are 7 ways leading is like driving a car:

Freeways - Sometimes the organization can proceed quickly, with limited interruption. (We like those times.) they don’t come very often.

Potholes - Small things often slow the organization down, but progress still continues. (Good leaders take time to address potholes before they become major road damage.)

Detours - Often the organization is still heading for the same end goal, but may be forced to go at it from a different direction. (Too many times, instead of detouring we change our destination. We give up too quickly.)

Speed bumps - There are times we need to slow down, reflect on where we are, adjust our speed, and continue forward. (We can’t always keep the pace of the freeway, so we consider when a speed bump is in order. I’m guilty of this one. If I’m not careful we are constantly in the freeway mode. It can be dangerous for the health of the team.)

Exits - These provide a safe way off the freeway to refuel, relax, and readjust the direction. (We shouldn’t wait too long to find the needed exit, even if it’s for a short bathroom break! I learned that one from my wife :) seriously, it’s important that we pause long enough to reflect on where we are and where we are going. Reviewing progress and organizational health is an important part of healthy leadership.)

Accidents - Accidents can be our fault or the fault of another, but they often set us back for a period of time. (when mistakes happen, see what needs repairing, what needs replacing, and when to call it a “total loss”.)

Flat tires – At times, team members can be injured by simply wearing out, a serious puncture wound, or damage caused by another. (Leaders should always be watching the health of the tires. One flat tire on the team can derail the entire trip.)

Road signs - In every organization, there are signs which the leader needs to learn to recognize — when momentum slows, when people are stressed, or when the vision needs refueling. (First, good leaders learn to recognize these signs directional or the warning signs, but then they don’t ignore them. Signs are for an intentional purpose.)

The list of these imageries could continue much longer. You could attach ideas to things such as stop lights, reverse, neutral, intersections, road rage, etc…anything that helps you think, but by now you should have the idea I’m working with in this post.

What other road illustrations could you make as they relate to organizational success?

You can carry these thoughts even further than I have, with how to address each issue, how addressing them with your travel would relate to how you address them in the organization, and how each one impacts you safely reaching your destination. Again, this is just a framework by which to help you think through more complex organizational issues about which you may not otherwise think. It might even be a helpful brainstorming tool to use as a team.

For example, ask your team what “speed” they think you’re currently moving as an organization. See how many differing responses you receive.

Can you see how an exercise like this can be helpful in thinking through organizational health and success?

8 Ways to Deal With the Emotions of Change

Grumpy, pissed off, unhappy old man

In previous posts I shared about the way people respond to change. One post share the “Absolute Most Common Objection to Change“. Another post shared “7 Common Emotions to Change“. And, there were actually 8 emotions. :) No one seemed to catch that.

With each post I was asked for some feedback on how to address those reactions. Emotions are unpredictable and unique so there’s probably not one answer here — or an easy answer. But, there are some things you can do — much as you would when dealing with emotional issues in any relationships for any reason.

Here are 8 ways to react to the emotions of change:

Fear. Give information. People usually fear what they don’t know more than what they do. During seasons of change it’s important to increase the level of communication.

Grief. Allow time to adjust — even to heal. There’s been a loss. You don’t get over that immediately. Obviously, if a person can never get over it you may have to move forward without them. But, make sure you don’t move without them because you stepped on their season of grief.

Enthusiasm. Temper celebration when change is still hurting some people. Don’t slap those opposed in the face immediately. Of course, never say “I told you so”. That screams arrogance. Celebrate yes, but do it with taste when feelings are involved.

Anger. Give it time to see if it calms. Extend forgiveness where necessary. Allow people to express their anger without retribution. Anger is usually the result of unmet expectations. Don’t agitate even further by not following through on commitments made. Some people can’t move forward once they’ve gotten angry. They don’t know to move forward. But allow time to see if it’s just an initial, reactionary outburst.

Confusion. During times of change attempt to be the king of clarity. Use various methods of communication. People hear things in different ways. Make sure everyone hears you or has an opportunity to it they are listening. (And some won’t)

Loneliness. To address this one you have to somehow replace the loneliness people feel with something they can enjoy even more. It will take time. Again, some won’t get there, but if the change is worthwhile, most people will eventual see some value in the change — especially as it relates to their personal values. Bottom line here: Make good changes.

Sadness. Recognize and acknowledge that some people will have a genuine lack of happiness about the change. That’s okay. Don’t force it. Don’t expect it. Give it time. Sometimes giving them new roles within the change gives them relief from the sadness. But the best response here is to be patient with people. Sadness doesn’t heal under pressure.

Numbness. Energize them with the vision. Let the vision drive their enthusiasm. That means you have to repeat the vision often. Sometimes daily. And you celebrate vision accomplishment more than anything else you celebrate.

Any ideas you would care to share?

7 Ways I Have Learned to Focus

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I’m fairly productive as a person, but the truth is, I get distracted easily and have a hard time staying focused at times. If I didn’t have notes when I was preaching, I would totally get off track. My mind wanders too much.

Thankfully, there are a few things that help me focus. Or, at least, they help prepare the conditions to keep me focused. It’s still a discipline on my part, but these things help.

7 things that help me focus:

Rest – It could be a 10 minute walk or a nap, but taking a break from what I’m doing helps me better focus when I return to the work. And, being well rested when I start my day helps me face the day with a clearer mind so I can begin to focus. The more tired I am the more restless my thoughts become.

Deadlines – I work better under pressure. I know — that sounds strange, but it’s true. And, many people do. I sometimes set my own deadlines. If I put a task on my calendar or if I schedule the steps to completion, I’m more likely to discipline myself enough to meet the deadline. Checklists are my friend.

Passion – If I’m passionate about a project — I mean really passionate — I’ll invest the energy and stayed focused to complete the task. That’s true about most things that grab our passion. Without passion I give up quickly. If it’s something I know I have to do I even ask God to give me passion and enthusiasm. I return to the roots of where my passion began. I review the purpose of my calling.

Encouragement – It may seem petty, but sometimes one well-worded email can break a period of distraction and push me to focus on the task. It reminds me why I need to discipline myself to move forward. That’s why I keep an “encouragement file”. Basically, anytime someone emails me an encouraging email I set it aside. When I need to focus better, especially when doing things I don’t enjoy as much, nothing redirects my energy any quicker than reviewing this file.

Success – Following a big “win” I’m motivated to work for another. Honestly, it’s usually a short-lived window of opportunity, but if I strike “while the iron is hot” I can better “seize the day”. This is one reason celebrating success is so important. It motivates you to focus on another moment like this one.

Exercise – I’m less disciplined, less motivated, and less content when I’m out of my exercise routine. Actually, I’m less happy overall. I recently had some health issues keeping me from running. I could feel the drain of focus. I had to figure out some new exercises to do. Exercise gives me the stamina to do the things I need to do.

Systems – I’m not a rule follower. I don’t like a lot of structure. However, if there is a system in place, I’m more likely to stay focused to completion. The old saying goes “if you want something repeated — systematize it.” The same is true for completion. You’ll be more focused for progress if you develop a system to get you from start to finish. If fact, if someone tells me focus is a problem for them, I almost always encourage them to first look at their system of doing work first.

Do you have a problem with focus? What helps you stay focused?

21 Reasons God May Allow More Than You Can Bear

Man alone

I’ve written some of my most read posts about a myth. A lie. A misquoted and misapplied Bible verse.

As with most lies the enemy uses, it originates from a misapplied truth in 1 Corinthians 10:13 that talks about temptation and how when we are tempted, God always allows us a way to resist that temptation. We can’t be tempted beyond what He’s equipped us to bear. (But, even that is misapplied if it’s done on our own strength.)

So using that truth, people often stretch it to say to hurting people, “God will not put more on you than you can bear.”

Yea — right!

Tell that to me. Or my friends. Or yourself.

Ever feel defeated? Like you can’t handle what you’ve been asked to “bear”?

Imagine telling a mother of two young children after she suddenly loses her husband and fears being able to raise the children, provide for them, and keep the home in which they live, “Remember, God will not put more on you than you can bear.”

Doesn’t sound very comforting to me — or probably to her. At the time she feels very much like she has more on her than she can bear.

And, she does.

And I’m not suggesting God “put” that on her, but He certainly allowed her to have more on her than SHE can bear.

If you’re like the rest of us you have felt that way also. It’s part of being in the fallen world in which we live.

And yet, for the believer we have an answer.

When we feel out of control — in over our head — afraid of the circumstances of our life — worried — our answer is Jesus.

It’s all grace, and it’s a sufficient grace to help us in our time of need. We are more than conquers — with Jesus

Ironically, however, I believe that truth, combined with the misapplication of the verse above, is where the lie in that familiar saying originates.

We have an answer to the stress of this world — a strength to bear any burden. But, that can make us think we should be able to handle anything.

And, we can — with Jesus.

But…

When the administration of that strength rests on us — on our abilities – IF YOU CAN BEAR IT — it leaves out our need for grace.

And, Jesus made it clear when He said, “Apart from Me you can do nothing.”

This may seem like semantics, and I’m not usually a semantics kind of guy, but when the semantics are wrong here it can produce a terrible theology. One that says you have to make it on your own. That because you are a believer, you suddenly have the power to defeat anything that comes your way. And, you do have power — but it is NOT you — the power is Jesus in you.

The key here is you won’t have more on you than you can bear — IN JESUS. Paul said, “My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20)

But without an understanding of “Christ in me” that phrase “God will not put more on you than you can bear” isn’t freeing. It’s burdensome. And — with any misunderstanding of where our true strength resides — that saying becomes a lie.

And, probably no one who uses that statement intends it to harm — they intend it to be helpful. But the enemy would love you to live in that lie, believing that somehow YOU have to get it together — you have to conquer all the ails you — in your strength, because, you know, “God will not put more on you than you can bear”. It’s a dangerous, defeating statement without proper understanding. It’s not helpful in a person’s time of struggle.

It might be easier to say, “You know, God will never allow anything upon you that HE can’t handle.” And, then we can encourage people to “cast their cares upon Him, because He cares.”

And, as strange as it may seem, those times of disparity — when we are overwhelmed with our personal abilities — unable to stand up to the pressures we are facing — have more on us than we can bear — actually have great value within the sovreignty of God. He uses them for our good.

Here are 21 reasons God may allow more than you can bear:

So you will rely on Him. 1 Peter 5:7

So you will call on Him. Acts 17:26-27

So you have no choice but Him. John 15:5

So He can tell us things we wouldn’t know otherwise. Jeremiah 33:3

So He can be gracious to you. Isaiah 30:18

So He can show His kindness and compassion. Lamentations 3:21-24

So He can restore your soul. Psalm 23:3

So He can demonstrate His strength. 2 Corinthians 12:9

So you will trust in Jesus — and the Father. John 14:1.

So you can produce character and hope. Romans 5:3-5

So He can keep us from being self-reliant 2 Corinthians 12:7

So He can discipline His children. Hebrews 12:6-7

So God’s power is revealed. 2 Corinthians 4:7

So He can show our need for salvation. Psalm 119:67

So He can comfort us. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

So we can learn to comfort others. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

So He can reveal His unseen workings. Psalm 77:19

So He can demonstrate how all things work for an eventual good. Romans 8:28

So the Gospel might be proclaimed. Philippians 1:12-13

So He can draw prodigals home. Luke 15:17

So He can build character and hope. Romans 5:3-4

Don’t believe the lie. God WILL allow more on you than you can bear — alone. You and I need a Him for our every breath.

If you feel overwhelmed today — defeated — like there is more on you than you can bear – turn to the burden bearer. “Then Jesus said, ‘Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.'” (Matthew 11:28)