You’ll Understand…Someday

No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. Hebrews 12:11 NIV

“This is the coolest hat I’ve ever had!”

That was the comment my son made years ago when he was in early high school. You would have to see the hat to clearly understand, but it had to be the ugliest hat I had ever seen. There was a new trend at the time with the teenagers to find the ugliest hat to wear. The most popular hats were the mesh back style (farmer’s hats) that were old, worn out, and would usually be found hanging on a back porch somewhere, having experienced many years of hard use. This particular hat had a blue bill and the mesh part was white. On the front of the cap was a “Tweetie Bird”. The hat just barely escaped being thrown away on several occasions due to its age and wear. My son, however, thought it was the “coolest hat” he’d ever had.

When he told me this the Lord gave me a great teaching moment. (When boys get 15 there are fewer and fewer of these times.) I asked him, “Jeremy, if I would have told you a year ago that this would be your favorite hat today, what would you have thought?”

“I would have thought you were crazy”, he said.

“So”, I continued, “in your wildest imagination, last year you could have never seen yourself liking this hat.”

“No,” he replied.

Then I went on to explain to him that this is the way it is sometimes when I had to discipline him or I gave him advice. At the time, it might not make sense. He may not always understand what I was doing…but one day…he would look back and see that my logic was well-founded.

It also served as a good teaching moment for me. God had something for me to learn too!

Sometimes, really many times, God has something for me to endure that I cannot understand. There seems to be no good benefit for the trial that I am enduring. Later on, however, the good God was seeking in my life will be more apparent. During the trial I will simply have to trust that God knows what He is doing.

Thank you, God, for teaching me through an ugly hat!

(Or through the coolest hat in the world…it’s a matter of opinion!)

10 Easy Steps to Spoil a Child

Angry child with crossed arm

Have you ever wanted a spoiled child?

It is easy.

Here’s a 10-step quick formula guaranteed to produce results:

  • Give children everything they want.
  • Never tell them no.
  • Fight with your spouse over discipline.
  • Put children first, even over your spouse.
  • Strive to make every moment “the greatest moment of their life”.
  • Teach them they are the center of the universe.
  • Take their side every time…even over the teacher.
  • Make excuses for them.
  • Ignore their “minor” discipline problems.
  • Let them talk to you however they want.

Try that for 30 days and I guarantee you a spoiled child or your money back.

Good parenting is hard. It means saying no when the easy thing to say is yes. It means molding character that will yield maturity for a lifetime. Don’t take the easy route. Go for best!

I’m praying for you!

Any more suggestions to spoil a child? 

5 of the Worst Leadership Traits I’ve Observed

Square guy-Thumbs down

Someone asked me a great question recently. It came from a young pastor. He appears to be doing a great job leading, but he wants to do better. I admire that. I hope he (and I) continue that attitude throughout his career (and mine).

His question was this:

Knowing what you know now about leadership, what would you say are the biggest traps to avoid? What are the worst leadership traits that you’ve seen limit a leader’s potential to lead well?

That’s a hard question, because depending on the circumstances I think there could be many different answers. I wrote the “most dangerous” traits previously, but this question seemed different to me. It wasn’t addressing the dangerous traits, as much as the ones that were just bad. You can have these and perhaps still see some success as a leader, but they are still bad leadership traits….the worst. And they keep one from leading well. Eventually, they may derail a leader if not addressed.

There are many I’ve observed. I’ve seen laziness, for example, cripple a leader. But, with the right team around him or her, even a lazy leader can experience success. I thought of incompetence, but I have seen some dumb leaders (like me at times) smart enough to surround themselves with wise people. But, what about the worst?

So, I’ve narrowed my list to the following 5 of the worst traits I’ve observed personally. Feel free to disagree or add to my list. I certainly don’t have all the answers.

Here are 5 of the worst leadership traits I’ve observed:

Poor character – Nothing can overcome a flawed character. Dishonesty in a leader, for example, will always overshadow even the most worthy vision. You can’t hide a corrupt heart. Immorality always shines brighter than competence or ability. And it can be argued whether it should be called success, but I’ve seen some bad characters leading what appears to be very successful organizations.

Avoidance – The leader who ignores problems invites trouble to the church or organization. Problems never go away on their own. They fester and eventually explode. It may take a long time for them to be exposed but they will eventually catch up with the leader. Yet I have seen some leaders survive a long time while avoiding the real problems.

Indecisiveness – Every decision a leader makes is subject to opinion and there are always at least two. Most of the time many more. But, leaders are called to make decisions when no one else can or will. Indecisiveness stalls progress and frustrates people. Yet I have talked with countless staff members of very large church who say their senior pastor can’t or won’t make decisions.

Control – Inflexibility on the part of a leader limits the church or organization to the level of performance solely of the leader. That’s always bad. Even if the person is a genius, there’s a lid placed upon the organization or church’s future. People feel squashed of their potential and under appreciated, producing half-heartedness and poor morale. Who needs that? But, there are still growing organizations with controlling leaders (I didn’t say healthy…growing).

Pride – Perhaps the worst trait I’ve personally observed is the arrogance of a leader. It turns people away in disgust when they hear a leader brag on all his or her accomplishments. The braggart feels good personally, but is never as popular as he or she perceives. I’ve found if a leader is really good at what they do, they won’t have to tell others about it. And, yet, know any arrogant leaders who apparently lead “successful” organizations…even churches?

That’s my list. Again, these are all bad leadership traits, in my opinion and observation. Some will argue you couldn’t have these and lead successfully. That would depend, I suppose, on your definition of success, but regardless they are still bad traits…I would even say…the worst.

What would you add?

One thing that separates the best leaders…

In my observation…

The best leaders learn from their mistakes.

They improve. They develop strengths and minimize weaknesses. They ask forgiveness, receive grace and move forward in spite of their past or their shortcomings. They attempt to do better the next try.

Poor leaders dwell in their mistakes.

They run from them. They attempt to control others reactions to them. They pretend they never happened. They try to hide their flaws and weaknesses. They let the future be determined by regret rather than by grace. 

Which scenario more closely resembles your story?

5 Legitimate Fears of a Church Planter

Scared Afraid Man Wrapped in Red Fear Tape

Having participated in two church plants as a planter, and now working with church planters on a regular basis in a coaching capacity, I know first hand the fears associated with planting a church. It’s a leap of faith and one God is calling many to these days.

My theory here is that recognizing the fear and realizing their legitimacy is part of guarding our hearts against them. The fact remains that for a church plant to be successful, at least in Kingdom terms, God must provide His grace.

Here are 5 legitimate fears of church planters:

No one will show up – If we do all this work and it doesn’t work…what will we do? You’ll be thankful you were obedient to what you believe God called you to do and wait patiently for Him to provide. We had to consistently remind our core team that God was in control of numbers. Our job was to be faithful. That doesn’t mean you stop inviting people or investing in the community around you, but you trust that God will stir hearts for His work.

We can’t afford it - You probably can’t. There will seldom be enough money…or so it may seem at times. God calls us to big tasks. Church planting is hard…and not cheap. But, the Lord will provide resources for His vision. Again, that doesn’t mean you don’t need to educate people on the needs or help them understand the command, value and blessing of giving, but it does mean you trust God even when the checkbook balance is low. It also doesn’t mean you won’t have to wait to make major purchases or there won’t be times you have to wait until “Sunday’s offering” to get paid. Our paycheck was delayed several times the first couple years so other bills…and other staff…could be paid…but we were never hungry.

I don’t know what I’m doing – Isn’t it wonderful? It means you’re insufficient without His sufficiency. What a great place to reside! The great news is that many have gone before you. Learn from others and stay on your knees before God.

People will leave – True. Most core teams are cut in half in the first few years. At first I thought we were to be the exception. We weren’t. Other people will come and never return…But, some will stick. And, they will have hearts for the vision. And, in them we rejoice at what God has done. We build our teams around those who God sends to us and who remain steadfast to the journey ahead. That team may change several times the first few years.

We don’t have a building – No, but you probably don’t have a mortgage either. And, you’re raising up an army of volunteers for set up and tear down. You are building service and sacrifice into your DNA as a church. Isn’t it wonderful! Don’t lose that atmosphere and culture of dependency, even when you have a building someday.

Final thought. These fears are legitimate…real fears. Don’t be ashamed that you have them. The key is not to live in them, but to live and walk in the faith that God will complete His plans and enable those He calls.

What other fears have you experienced in church planting?

7 Ways to Protect Your PK…Pastor’s Kid in Ministry

happy family

I’ve written extensively about protecting the family in ministry. Recently my wife has guest posted about the unique role of the pastor’s wife. One comment I received was well taken. She basically said…”What about the PK’s? Who is looking out for them? Many disappear from the church as adults.”

PK = Pastor’s Kids.

I heard that. I have addressed the issue generally, as a family, but I haven’t posted specifically about protecting the children in ministry.

I have noticed the issue of the commenter’s concern. I’m blessed that my PK’s survived ministry well. Both of my boys are very active in the church. One is self-employed, but works mostly in the Christian sector, and one is in full-time ministry. I understand, however, that it is a problem for many pastors and their families.

By the time some pastor’s children reach adulthood they are often done with church…actually they are more done with the busyness and politics of church…and they want little or nothing to do with it. So, they sit on the sidelines of ministry…if they attend church at all.

Honestly, as much as I have heard it talked about, at least within my circles of ministry, it is more rare than it is a norm. I probably know more pastors who have children active in church than I know those who have children that have disappeared. I don’t know the statistics…please share them in the comments if you do…but, if we could avoid damaging a child growing up in the ministry world altogether I think we should.

Here are 7 suggestions for protecting your PK:

Level the expectations – Hold your children to Biblical standards. Train them well. Discipline appropriately. You hopefully teach it and you should parent what you teach. But, don’t be surprised when your children aren’t perfect. They aren’t anymore than you are…or anyone else’s children.

Let them be kids – Don’t expect them to care as much about ministry as you do when they are…SEVEN or even seventeen. They might. Mine did to a certain extent…on certain days. And, then other days they just wanted to shoot basketballs in the church gym while I went on church visitation.

Live what you preach – If you want them to appreciate the ministry, let them see you as authentic. Authenticity means you are in private who you claim to be in public. And chances are good they are observing both. They’ll respect you when you are equally transparent and honest with how you live your life on Sundays and through the week.And, the more they respect you…the more they can respect the ministry. Remember, their primary concept of ministry is you.

Protect your time at home – When you are home…be home. Let voicemail do its thing. Put down the computer. Say no to outside interruptions. There will always be exceptions in the role of a pastor, but they should be rare, not common place. The children need to know you value your time with your spouse and them even more than your time with others.

Be their parent more than their pastor – You may be their pastor, but first they need a parent. I actually found others on staff, or even pastor friends in other churches, were sometimes better at being their pastor anyway. No one could replace my role as parent.

Give them roles as they desire – My boys helped launch a youth group. They led at camps. They worked with children and preschoolers. But, I never forced it. I let them serve where they wanted to serve. Interestingly, when the idea was their’s, they seemed more likely to want to be involved.

Let them do ministry with you – My boys went to committee meetings. Staff meetings. Visitations. I took my boys on mission trips. Unless it was a highly confidential meeting for the parties involved, I gave them access to my calendar. They got to appreciate what I do as a pastor…not resent it because I wasn’t home. Again, this was voluntary not mandatory.

Someone is wondering why I didn’t put anything about my personal walk with Christ as one of the points. Well, hopefully that’s understood in the role of a pastor and a believer. But yes, of course that. Consider it understood that this is number one for every question of how to do ministry effectively.

Pastors…or even better…PK’s…anything else you’d recommend?

7 False Thoughts of a Pastor or Church Planter

no

Here are 7 false thoughts of a pastor and church planter:

If we build it, they will come – They might. They might not. Actually when God builds it they will come.

We need to pay someone to do this – You could, but chances are there are people with margin in their schedule, looking for a place to serve, who don’t necessarily need your money right now, as much as they desire the opportunity.

Some people will always stay – They won’t. Period. Some will leave even if you do everything the way they wanted you to do them. And if you change anything you may be helping some make the decision they may have been talking about but just haven’t done.

I need to know everything that’s happening in my church – You could try, but the church would be very small and the potential will be very limited. And, I like to ask myself…is it my need to know or my need to control?

They couldn’t do this without me – Yea…that sounds impressive. Not true. At all. The more we think it the less it’s probably true.

People will give when they are ready – They won’t. Period. You’ll have to encourage them. Give them a reason to give. Provide them opportunity. Teach them.

I’m responsible for everyone’s spiritual maturity – You’re not. Period. You teach. God’s spirit grows as they yield to Him.

Any you would add?

Cast Your Net…A devotional

20130921-194955.jpg

“Cast the net on the right side of the boat,” He told them, “and you’ll find some.” So they did, and they were unable to haul it in because of the large number of fish. (John 21:6)

Cast your net on the right side!

The disciples had struggled all night and caught nothing.

Suddenly a voice cried out to them, “throw the nets on the right side”. When they did…they were unable to haul in the catch.

The disciples were given a visual reminder.

They should never forget that on the right side of the boat is where the fish are….

And…where is the “right side” in life?

The right side is where Jesus is!

The right side is where the Creator and Sustainer of all is located. The right side is where you and I find the hope of the world. The right side is the place of grace.

Are you casting the net of your life on the right side of the boat?

If you’re having a though time right now with life…could it be your casting your net on the wrong side of the boat?

Throw your net on the right side today!

Choose Jesus! Choose His way. Choose to obey.

The Biggest Mistake of My Life

hiding mistakes

One of our boys has always been such a deep thinker. When he was 3 years old, watching a movie with him was a chore, because he would analyze every aspect of the plot. We would try to explain to him it was only a cartoon, without a ton of hidden meaning, but it was never enough. Even today he’s the analyzer of life. He asks the deep questions.

Personally, he takes after me (although he’s more fluent at it than I am). I’m a questioner too…and believe it’s been a help to me in life, ministry and leadership. The best questions get the best answers.

So it was not surprising when one day, when he was an early teenager, seemingly out of nowhere, Nate asked, Daddy, what’s the biggest mistake you’ve ever made in your life?”

I didn’t have to think long. We had owned a very successful, fast-growing business. We stood to make lots of money in the years ahead, and we sold that business to buy another. It was devastating. If it could go wrong it did. Although it’s a very long story and we felt we were doing the right thing at the time, it proved to be a very painful five year experience until we sold the business, basically walking away with nothing.

I told Nate (we call him Nathaniel) that selling one successful business and buying that business was obviously the biggest mistake of my life.

Nate countered quickly, “Yea, but you’ve said you probably would have never surrendered to ministry had that experience not occurred.

You’re right,” I replied. “I was too busy chasing a dream. God worked it for good. But, that was definitely my biggest mistake in life.”

As I said, I’m an analyzer too, so several days later, while I was in a time of prayer, Nate’s question came to my mind. I decided to ask God about it. In my prayer, I said, “God, why did you allow me to make the biggest decision of my life? I would have followed you if you had made it clear. Why couldn’t you let me do it another way? That was such a difficult time in our life.” (It was one of those rare pity parties I had with God. Don’t be afraid to have them. He understands.)

God seemed to interrupt me before I could continue. Now please understand, I have never heard God audibly. And, I’d love to say He speaks to me everyday. But, there have been a few times where I am certain I heard the impression of God on my heart…where I know God “spoke” clearly to me. This was one of those times. (As a side note, they always line up with truth from God’s word.)

I sensed God say, “Ron (I’m so glad He knows my name), your biggest mistake was not buying that business.”

I was surprised. I figured it must not be God to hear such a reply. So, I snapped back, almost as if I was sarcastically speaking to my own false thoughts, “Oh really, well then what was the biggest mistake of my life? Because I can’t think of one bigger.”

God interrupted again…

“Ron, your biggest mistake was following your will for your life and not mine.”

And, God was silent. Point made. Point accepted. I had no more questions.

The truth is many had seen what God was doing in my life; including my wife, but I had ignored them…continually replying that we are all “called to ministry”…and I resisted the surrender to vocational ministry for many years.

God’s counsel that morning has proven true so many times, as I reflect back over my life and the decisions I have made. The greatest failure in my life has always seem to be a result of when I do what I want to do rather than what God wants me to do.

Here’s hoping someone learns from my mistakes.

There is No Such Thing as Ordinary

This is a guest post by my friend Michael Kelley. Michael is Director of Discipleship, Lifeway Church Resources Division and an awesome author, husband, father and friend. I’ve shared his stuff before, because I believe in him and his work. As he releases his next book, I invited him to share some thoughts with my readers.

There is No Such Thing as Ordinary

I’ve never met a president. Or saved a child from a burning building. Or climbed Everest. I don’t run in powerful circles or tweet nuggets of wisdom adored by millions. My office walls don’t have pictures with me and the Queen of England or medals from my wins at the Olympic Games. Perhaps if I were an international man of mystery, I’d look over and see a picture of me standing next to a world leader at that ceremony when I was awarded some token for my bravery. Then I could turn and see another wall full of mementos and trinkets collected from my adventures. Instead I’m looking at four family pictures, a calendar, and a particularly fierce-looking rendering of a black and yellow fire- breathing dragon laying waste to a castle.

Ah, parenthood.

A regular life isn’t bad, necessarily. In fact, a certain kind of bliss accompanies the “normal” life. There aren’t a lot of surprises, and for a guy who has a to-do list for every day (with the last item on that list being “Make tomorrow’s list”), a lack of surprises can be very comforting. What is more, an ordinary life actually affords an opportunity to love things like pictures from an eight-year-old of dragons and castles. In an ordinary life, your existence becomes papered with moments like these.

And yet . . .

And yet there are those days that just feel boring. The routine becomes monotony, and you find yourself refreshing your e-mail over and over again, waiting for something—anything—to break up the ticking of the clock. You feel something inside of you, something that appreciates the life you have, but at the same time wonders if there’s something more. Something that you’re missing. I feel that way sometimes.
The truth is that we will all spend 90 percent of our time here on earth just doing life. Just being ordinary. If I were writing a self-help book, I might follow that realistic, slightly demotivating statement up with something like: “Break out of the ordinary. Pursue your bliss. Go skydiving. Do something important. Carpe diem.” The same motivation, in Christian terms, might read: “God’s will is that you have a life of adventure. Get out there and make an eternal difference. Do something big for God.”

All of those statements are true in a sense; all of them can be appropriate. What those statements communicate is that we should be focused on Jesus and expanding His kingdom. That should be our priority. Those statements challenge us to recognize that we only have a limited time here on earth, so we need to make sure we spend our time doing things that matter. However, implicit in an exhortation like “do something big for God” is the notion that we are currently not doing stuff that matters, and we have to abandon that insignificant stuff to break out of the rut—chase the dream . . . be the man . . . overcome obscurity . . . all that stuff.

Chasing dreams isn’t the problem. Neither is maximizing what you have to make a difference in the world for the sake of Christ. The problem is in our definition of significance.

People tend to believe that the pathway to significance is paved with the big, the showy, and the grand. The people who are most often lauded as influential are the ones doing the big, impressive things with their lives. Consequently, those same people cannot involve themselves in these mundane details of life. Indeed, the mundane details are like anchors that weigh a person down from the bigger and the better. So moving toward a life that matters involves moving past the details that don’t.

But what if we’re wrong? What if “bigness” is not an accurate measure of significance? What if the whole idea of “ordinary” is a myth? And what if a life of great importance isn’t found by escaping the details but embracing them? What if God actually doesn’t want you to escape from the ordinary, but to find significance and meaning inside of it?

That’s what this book is about. This book is for the stay-at-home mom and the office job dad. It’s for the regular church member and the ordinary citizen. It’s for the person who has ever looked at the seemingly mundane details of life and wondered if they are really doing anything that’s worthwhile. It’s for all of us ordinary people who are following an extraordinary God. My hope, as you read the first half of this book, is that you would be awakened to the myth of the ordinary as you see and extraordinary God who is constantly moving and working. Then, as you move into the second half of this book, I pray that you might see the greater purposes in a few specific, but often ordinary, areas of life that we tend to push to the margin. And maybe, when we get to the end, we will have begun to see God, and life, in a whole new way. Perhaps we will have begun to see that there really is no such thing as ordinary when you are following an extraordinary God.