12 Words of Encourgement for Pastors (Or Other Leaders)

I love pastors. Each week, through this blog and my personal ministry, God allows me to partner with dozens of pastors, helping them think through life and ministry issues. I’ve learned that many pastors struggle to find people who will invest in them and help them grow as individuals, leaders and pastors.

Recently I had a pastor ask me for my “best advice” for other pastors. Wow! That’s hard to say. I’ve learned so much through the pastors who have invested in me and by experience. It’s hard to summarize all that I’ve learned. It could probably fill a book or two…but at least more than one blog post!

I put some thought into the question and decided to come up with a list of encouragement, one that I would give to all pastors, to answer his question. I’m sure there’s more (and you can help by adding yours), but this post is at least a start. Of course, wisdom is transferable to other fields, so change a few words around and I’d give this advice to any leader…some of them perhaps to any person.

Here are 12 words of encouragement for pastors:

Choose your friends wisely…but choose friends. Don’t attempt to lead alone. Too many pastors avoid close friendships because they’ve been hurt. They trusted someone with information who used it against them. Finding friends you can trust and be real with means you’ll sometimes get injured, but the reward is worth it.

The church can never love your family as much as you do. Your family needs you more than the church does. They can get another pastor. Your family doesn’t want another you. You’ll have to learn to say “no”, learn how to balance and prioritize your time, and be willing to delegate to others in the church. (You may want to read THIS POST from my friend Michael Hyatt on saying “no” with grace.”

If you protect your Sabbath day, your Sabbath day can better protect you. You’ll wear out quickly without a day a week to rejuvenate. God designed us this way. Take advantage of His provision. Take time to rest. You may not rest like everyone else…for me rest doesn’t mean doing nothing…but you need time away from the demands of ministry regularly. Lead your church to understand you can’t be everywhere every time. You owe it to yourself, your family, your church and your God.

You have influence…use it well. The pastorate comes with tremendous power and responsibility. It’s easy to abuse or take for granted. Don’t. Humility welcomes the hand of God on your ministry.

No amount of accountability or structure will keep you from temptation if you’re heart is impure. Above all else, guard your heart. (Proverbs 4:23) Avoid any hint of temptation. Look for the warning signs your heart is drifting. Keep your heart saturated with God’s Word and in prayer.

Let God lead. You can do some things well. God can do the impossible. Whom do you think should ultimately be leading the church? You’ll be surprised how much more effective your leadership will be when it’s according to His will and not yours.

If you can dream it, God can dream it bigger. Don’t dismiss the seemingly ridiculous things God calls you to do. They won’t always make sense to others or meet their immediate approval, but God’s ways will prove best every time.

Keep Jesus the center of focus in the church. You’ll never have a money problem, a people problem, or a growth problem if people are one with Jesus.

Your personal health affects the health of the church. Take care of yourself relationally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. This, too, requires discipline, balance and prioritizing, but if, to the best of your ability, you strive to be healthy in every area of your life, as a good shepherd, your people will be more likely to follow your example.

The people in your church deserve authenticity. Not only will be honest about who you are help keep you from trying to meet unreal expectations, but it will help the people in your church be transparent with you and others. Don’t be someone you’re not. Be someone worthy to follow, but make sure you’re living it…not just teaching it.

You’ll never make everyone happy. If you try, you’ll be very unhappy…and very unproductive.

Now, make this post better. As you can count, there are only 11 here. I’m counting on you to add your best number 12.

What word of encouragement do you have for pastors (or other leaders)?

Hug a Soldier!

Have you hugged a soldier today?

You may not be able to hug one, like I’ll be able to do at church today, but you can say a prayer for one (or many). You can thank God for those who gave the ultimate price for freedom. You can never forget that someone (many) died so that you can worship freely.

Happy Memorial Day Weekend!

Thank you God, for freedom, to worship, to live, to know you!

Who are the soldiers, present or past, you are thankful for today?

10 Thank You’s to My Pastor’s Wife

This is to my wife.

It could be to anyone married to a pastor. It’s hard work.

In fact, I’ve said this before, but it may be the most difficult job in the church at times.

But, this one is to my wife. (You’re welcome to read along.)

I’ve also said this before…I have the perfect pastor’s wife. Younger pastor’s wives, if you want to learn how to do it, I’d submit my wife as an example.

As we venture out again on a new journey (There have been many in our years together), I’m reflective on the reasons I’m thankful for my pastor’s wife.

Cheryl,

Thank you for following me where God leads me…without complaining. Usually you are ready to walk by faith before I am. I couldn’t and wouldn’t do this without you.

Thank you keeping confidences. Thank you for biting your tongue when someone complains or criticizes unjustly. Thank you for knowing more “junk” than most people should, and never sharing it with anyone, yet being my closest confidant.

Thank you for being my biggest encourager and never making the church wonder where your support is. Even when the message stinks, you pretend it was wonderful!

Thank you being a safe place…even letting me blow off steam at times. Ministry is hard. I’m glad my wife has big shoulders upon which to cry at times and an incredible faith to point me back where I belong.

Thank you for believing in me when no one else does. You were with God and had me in ministry long before I could see what God was doing. You still believe I can do things of which I’m not so confident.

Thank you for knowing me best yet loving me most. Okay, contrary to public opinion :) , you know I’m not perfect. Far from it. Yet, your love is always undeniable.

Thank you for putting our marriage before any human relationship. At times, that’s meant you had to say no to others so you could say yes to me. Thank you for the sacrifice. Thanks for helping build a marriage and family life the church can easily follow.

Thank you for loving people and Jesus so passionately. The church knows it. Everyone knows it. You fully reflect that in all that you do!

Thank you for being a protection for me. You sense things in people and ministry that I can sense.

Thank you for respecting me unconditionally. You understand the frailty of a man’s ego and know it’s my greatest need and you fill it completely.

Thank you for being my pastor’s wife.

Give a shout out to your pastor or minister’s wife/spouse here! (Better yet, also send her/him a card!)

The Lure (And Danger) of Fame, by Shawn Lovejoy

This is a guest post by Shawn Lovejoy. Shawn is a friend and the Founding and Lead Pastor of Mountain Lake Church, the Directional Leader of churchplanters.com and the author of the newly released book, ‘The Measure of Our Success – An Impassioned Plea to Pastors”. God has used Mountain Lake Church and churchplanters.com to become one of the most influential church planting ministries in the world, and Shawn gives Jesus all the credit. Shawn loves his wife, his kids, the church, pastors, college football, and PlayStation3. In that order. He lives near Atlanta, Georgia.

The Lure (and Danger) of Fame

No pastor would ever admit to the desire to be famous. Our hearts are deceitful, though, aren’t they? Most of us care far too much about the number of Facebook friends, blog readers, and Twitter followers we have. We keep a secret eye on how many times our wisdom is retweeted, and we feel validated and important if we can write an article, speak at a conference, or gain a voice in a larger forum. If we’re honest, often times our desire for “growth” and “influence” is really just a desire to be noticed and affirmed, isn’t it?

Pastors, are we trying to get people to follow us or follow Jesus? The church has too many pastor-followers as it is. Every one of us looks more glamorous from a distance. We all look dirtier up close. I know many famous pastors, and they’re not nearly as perfect as they seem…. or talk. I’m not either. Before I decided to write this book, I had to ask myself, “Why do I want to write this? What do I really hope to achieve?” I must strive every day to keep my motivations in check, because “pride goes before destruction, and haughtiness before a fall” (Prov. 16:18). Fame simply cannot be the measure of our success.

All of us are tempted to measure success by the world’s standards. However, if we do, it ill cost us. It has cost us. It has cost me. I’ve allowed false measures of success to drive me to insecurity, isolation, loneliness, anxiety, and discouragement. Have you ever been there? I bet you have. When we succumb to the temptation, we must repent. We must tear down the idols in our hearts and lives. We must find a new standard of measurement. We must live for an audience of One. We must rediscover His measure of success.

Pastor, is this an area of struggle for you? How are you measuring your success?

I love Shawn’s heart for pastors. I’ve personally benefited from his encouragement and friendship. Shawn is a passionate Kingdom-builder.

Get this book now:

The Measure of Our Success: An Impassioned Plea To Pastors, available today on Amazon.

5 Suggestions to Make Family Time More Effective

Frankly, I wish it happened more often, but occasionally a young father will come to me wanting to know how to be a better husband or father. One thing they specifically ask is how to take advantage of the time they have with their family and to be more effective with that time. As it seems all our time is so valuable, with the many distractions busy families face, wise parents realize the need to make the best use of the time they have together.

Here are 5 suggestions to make family time more effective:

Begin with a plan for your home and each child – You seldom hit a target you aren’t aiming to hit. Just as adults may have a plan for their career or finances, parents need a plan for operating their home. It may help if it is written, but should definitely summarize the major goals you hope to accomplish in your home. Because each child is different, I also believe parents should have different plans for each child. Ask yourself:

  • What do we want our children to be like some day?
  • What kind of people do we want them to be?
  • What should their character be like?
  • How can we best encourage them to get there?

You’ll find your family time more effective when you have a plan, because it will consciously and unconsciously help focus your attention and energies on the things that matter most when you are together.

Major on the majors, not on the minors – Children don’t need to be burdened with a lot of rules. It weighs them down trying to stay within the lines. Some things matter and some things don’t. Figure out the non-negotiables and primarily concentrate on them. I tend to lean towards character issues as majors and individual preferences as minors. You’ll choose what these are for your home, but everything shouldn’t be major…unless, at the extreme, you want to produce a stressed-out, perfectionist child, who always seem to struggle to meet other people’s expectations of them.

Make the guidelines in your home easy to figure out – There does need to be rules. Children need guidelines to follow, especially those that focus on the major things you want to accomplish in them, but also simple rules that make the home work effectively. Talk about the rules you have for your home and be sure to tell the children the why behind those rules, as much as they can understand. Be consistent in carrying out the rules in the home, in a firm, but loving way. Children shouldn’t have to guess how you’ll respond to an issue. As children learn your heart and ways, they can better trust you, which will help them enjoy themselves around you and rely on you for your wisdom and input as they get older.

Be purposeful – I’ve never seen effective parenting accomplished much in front of the television. (Ouch!) If you want more effective family time, take advantage of the time you do have and be intentional, implementing the plan you have for your family. Children won’t always be available to you, especially as they get older. As much as you can, to be an effective parent, always strive to be available to them. Look for teaching moments as they are presented and keep your desired outcomes in mind as you parent.

Surround everything with grace and love – Give multiple chances and forgive easily. I tried to remember that I’m modeling Christ for my children. Much of their understanding of Christ comes from their relationship to their earthly father (and mother). I’ve been given so much grace…shouldn’t my children reap the benefit?

Obviously these are just suggestions. Implementing them in your home will be different than it was in my home, because you are different and your children are different. Thinking through your parenting in a more systematic, intentional way will make you a better parent and help your time as a family be more effective.

What are some suggestions you have for making family time more effective?

3 “Weights” God Uses to Develop Spiritual Muscles

I’m a runner, but in recent years, following the advice of “experts”, I’ve disciplined myself to include weight-training in my exercise program. I’ll admit, most days I don’t like it. I’d prefer running outside to lifting weights in a hot gym any day, but I can feel the positive results it brings when I discipline myself to do it. Developing and maintaining muscles, especially at my age, doesn’t happen simply by running. (And, BTW, that’s not my arm in the picture. Mine is much bigger :) )

God has ways of developing our spiritual muscles. As with any muscle-building, it’s often a difficult journey to get the desired results. Sure, God builds us through prayer, Bible study and His presence in our life, but my faith building has not always been that pleasant of an experience.

As I’ve observed, God seems to use:

Tests – “After these things God tested Abraham” (Genesis 22:1). In the past couple years, I’ve received numerous job opportunities. I believe God often gives us tremendous latitude in our career choices, preferring to concentrate His will more on who we are rather than what we do, but I think some of these opportunities may have been tests to see if I would follow my will or God’s will. Each of them caught my attention, but later, after wrestling through them with God, my discernment was they were not where God would best use me at the time.

I’ve often been guilty of doing things my way, only to regret them later. I’ve been tested many times and, when I surrender what I want to His will, I’ve eventually passed the test. It hasn’t always come immediately. I’m slow to obey sometimes, but when I’ve eventually yielded to Him, things turn out best. In those times, I always learn something about myself and my character as it relates to God.

Temptations – The Bible is clear that God does not tempt us (James 1:13), but God uses temptation to teach us about ourselves, about God, and that our dependence is to be on Him. “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind.” (1 Corinthians 10:13). Even Jesus was tempted. “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” (Matthew 4:1) How much more you and me?

Temptations are all around us everyday. God strengthens our trust and obedience in Him as we learn to handle them in a God-honoring way. Thankfully, He always provides the strength in Christ to overcome temptations. “and God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13)

Trials – I’ve said many times, we are either in a trial, just coming out of a trial, or will soon be in a trial. I’m sure I heard someone else say that years ago, but I don’t remember who said it first. It certainly has proven true in my life. If it’s not our personal trial, it will be someone close to us. Some trials are bigger than others, but all are used of God for some divine purpose. “These have come so that your faith–of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire–may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (1 Peter 1:7)

Learning to allow suffering to draw us closer to Christ, rather than further away takes faith and discipline. We learn to rest in His care, even when the circumstances around us scream at us to turn to worry and fear. During trials we remind ourselves of who we are in Christ and the future He has planned for us. We allow trials to produce in us the hope found only in knowing Christ personally. “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” (Romans 5:3-4)

Do you want your faith to grow? Do you want to trust God more? Are you ready to have a hope that surpasses the darkness the world can bring? It may not always be a pleasant experience, there is some “weight-training” involved at times, but it will always be worth it.

How is God developing your spiritual muscles these days?

I’m not saying my list is exclusive. How else does God develop us spiritually?

A Story. A Shaping of My Ministry

“If it weren’t for those __________ churches…”

I will never forget that statement.

I was in my mid-twenties, serving on a board of the local non-profit. We were discussing how we could raise more support for the organization. I had participated most of my working career (which was obviously short at that point), financially contributing personally and helping them raise funds. Every year we had the same discussion. How could we raise more money to do more good?

In the middle of our discussion, a greatly respected and leading businessman in our community made that statement. “If it weren’t for those _______churches we would have plenty of money. All churches do is take from the community, serve their own interests, and rob the community of needed money for charity.” The room instantly echoed and agreed with his bold remark. I was young and intimidated, so I said nothing.

Honestly, however, those words stung. As an active member of one of the largest church in town, I didn’t believe anything he was saying. Our church, along with most churches in our community, were doing good things to help people. If all we did was change people’s lives and send better people back into the community, we would be doing good things, but there were many church-connected ministries helping people in our city. Not to mention, many of the top contributors to this organization were active members of some of those same churches. (I was one of them.)

I never forgot those words though. It shaped me and my view of ministry.

Years later, when God placed the dream on my heart to plant a church in my hometown, I knew some of what that church would look like. Not that I seek the approval of man, but I wanted to be a part of a church that reversed that paradigm some have from the outside looking into the church. I wanted to be part of a church that would truly make a difference in our community, so much so that if we were gone, people would miss us.

One of the first things we did as a church was to partner with our city to reach some low income, impoverished areas of the community. For the past several years, once a year, we have put together as many as 1,400 people to invest in people outside the walls of our church. We sent over 800 people into our schools to meet the requests of principals in teachers completing things their budgets couldn’t afford to do. We participated with local radio stations to gather thousands of pounds of food for the poor. We’ve helped to launch a ministry to homeless people and one to military wives. We’ve been consistently called upon by our community to help with local festivals and events, and even by our mayor to help in flood recovery efforts.

My wife, who works in a local credit union and is active in the community is frequently asked, “Are you part of that church that’s always helping people?” We love that question. We both get it often.

I think our intentional investment is one of the primary reasons our church has grown into one of the fastest growing churches in America in a little over 6 years.

Please understand, I’m not trying to brag about what we are doing. I believe other churches are making a huge difference in their community; certainly many more than ours. I simply want to encourage any church I lead to show our city the love of Jesus and maybe even encourage your church (and mine) to do more. I think we have a better chance of reaching our cities for Christ if they know we care. The more we get out of our buildings and meet real needs, the more we’ll have opportunities to share the hope we know is in Christ.

In my time at Grace, we’ve tried to be intentional about letting our community know we love them…and so far…it is working. I’ve got a new assignment in ministry ahead and in my discussions so far, I’m encouraging this church also to greatly invest in it’s community.

Share with me. What is your church doing to display the love of Christ to your community in a practical way?

The 5 Shadows of Leadership

This is a guest post by Tyler Braun. Tyler is a 27-year-old INTJ living in Portland, Oregon with his wife Rose. He works full time as a worship leader, while also finding time to study at Multnomah Biblical Seminary in pursuit of a masters degree. Tyler’s first book releases in August of this year through Moody Publishers and is available for pre-order now. You can find Tyler on Twitter, Facebook, or his blog.

Here is the post:

The 5 Shadows of Leadership

Life is often the summation of darkness and light. One job of a leader is to bring more light into the world of those around them. This can obviously be done in a variety of ways, but it isn’t as easy as it sounds. Leaders must learn how to deal with their own internal shadows in order to bring light out of their own lives.

In his book, Let Your Life Speak, Parker Palmer evaluates 5 shadows (chapter 5 of the book) that must be explored in order for internal transformation to take place. In life and in leadership, the shadows can often overtake us to the point where we get lost in the darkness of our own lives and begin to reflect the darkness onto those around us. This is our opportunity to dive into the depths of our own inner lives in order for God to more greatly work in us, and in turn, those we have influence with.

Insecurity About Identity and Worth

Few things are more powerful than what gives us our identities. Our online persona, our pastoral influence behind the pulpit, the number of people who want to spend time with us—all this can slowly create an identity bound up with what we do, not who we are. Before we are leaders with a position and a title, we are first children of God. We are loved and valued as beings created by God. When this fact roots us, what happens at home, at work, at school—all of it is put in its rightful place in life.

Seeing Life as a Battleground

I’m an extremely competitive person. The games I play that have a clear winner and loser, I play to the death. Subsequently I can tend to view life and ministry similarly. What can often keep me motivated is a fear of losing. The problem with an internal belief of life as a battleground is that it builds walls between us the and the people we should be extending bridges to.

In leadership there are times when hard decisions need to be made and stark lines must be drawn in the sand, but often getting over our need to win will allow us to bring harmony to our relationships.

Functional Atheism

Craig Groeschel did a wonderful job of describing all the ways we believe in God but live as if He didn’t exist. Functional atheism within leadership is a deep-seated understanding that all of life is dependent on us and our abilities. We often convince ourselves that if things must happen, we will be the ones to do it. And the result of this mindset is burnout, depression, and poor relationships. Overcoming this shadow allows us to rely on others, which empowers them and liberates us from our own atheistic world.

Fear of Chaos

I know many leaders, including myself, who speak of messiness as a reality of the spiritual life, but operate in their leadership as if messy was the cardinal sin. The lesson often learned in exploring this shadow is that chaos is the beginning of creativity and, in turn, creation.

Palmer says that the “when a leader fears chaos so deeply as to try to eliminate it, the shadow of death will fall across everything that leader approaches.”

Denial of Death

We all know them: the pastors who won’t let a ministry die. More than likely we’ve each held onto our hopes for a failing ministry longer than we should have. Our intentions are correct, but by denying death we put unnecessary demands on others to continue breathing life for the sake of accommodating our own insecurity. Here’s the truth we often miss in covering up our insecurity: Death always creates conditions in which new life can be birthed.

In our heads we know death does not have the final victory, but in our hearts we remain concerned that death reflects poorly on our leadership. And this connects back to the beginning: Where is our identity and value found?

What shadows of leadership have you explored?

Leadership and Life Advice from My Mom

I previously posted this story under another title, but since it’s been 4 years, I thought I was expand it and share again.

Recently I received some great life and leadership advice from my mom.

Please understand, my mom is retired from over 40 years of work in the business world, but she is usually not the first person I would think of for business advice. I mean, she is smart, no doubt about that, but she is my mom.

I would read Truett Cathy or Warren Buffett for business advice. I look to John Maxwell (and others) for leadership advice. I have a plethora of people I go to for life mentoring. I go to my mom when I cannot find my recipe for cornbread. (She makes some killer cornbread by the way.)

Before you write me…I know, my mom is a great place to get life advice. I’m trying to be funny and make a point. (I wish I didn’t have to give so many disclaimers :) )

Anyway, a friend is a salesperson for a manufacturing company. He has been concerned he might lose his job because his sales aren’t meeting expectations of management. My mom shared with me what she has been telling him. He claims that he could sell more product, if the production people could produce his orders faster. He says sales are not the problem, a lack of production is keeping the company from moving forward, and other orders seem to be produced before his orders, which is hindering his ability to meet his quota.

My mom told him he may need to leave his comfortable desk and chair, shut his laptop for a while, show an interest in the production people, and, if necessary, learn to help make the product. Her quote, “You need to make yourself indispensable to the company right now, because desperate times call for desperate measures.”

Make yourself indispensable.

You know, my mom is right. Too many times when our organization is suffering we cast blame rather than rally the team. We throw in the towel rather than work for a solution. We give up rather than create energy around us.

It is easier to quit sometimes than to weather through the rough periods, but the greatest and sweetest victories come to those who stick it out through the hard times and make it to the other side.

My mom was basically saying:

Sometimes you just have to do what you have to do so you can get done what has to be done.

I know…that’s deep right? And, I’m not as eloquent of speech as my mom. But it’s true. Sometimes it’s necessary to do the uncomfortable, the thing you don’t really want to do, maybe even the thing you don’t feel qualified to do…if you want to be successful. I frequently talk with people who are struggling in their personal life…either vocationally, in their relationships, or even physically. They want things to improve, but they aren’t willing to do the hard things to get them where they ultimately want to be.

Are you discovering tough times? Are you struggling to get where you want to be? Learn a lesson from my mom.

Desperate times call for desperate measures.

What is some life advice you got from your mom?