How to Correctly Identify Constructive Criticism

Organizations, churches, and societies need this...

Man drawing a house blueprint in nature

Constructive:

Serving a useful purpose; tending to build up.

Criticism:

The act of passing judgment as to the merits of anything.

Constructive Criticism

You’ve heard the term. As a leader, I hear it all the time.

If you’re a leader then you’ve certainly had people offer criticism. Some even say they are just giving “constructive criticism”. Or, they believe so at the time.

Most of my pastor friends have heard, “Pastor, let me give you a little constructive criticism” — (Sometimes just as they are about to deliver the weekly message. 🙂 )

So, what does “constructive criticism” mean?

I’m thinking we often misuse the phrase.

And, it’s not just with leaders. It’s in every phase of life. I think it’s a societal issue. It’s even on social media. We think we are offering “constructive criticism” when we update our Facebook status or Tweet about our service with an airline or a restaurant or a school system – for example. Or anywhere else we feel a need to criticize for some reason. We may not label it that way, but I’m convinced it’s what we think we are doing – offering constructive criticism.

In reality, I’ve learned that phrase – constructive criticism – is sometimes just a nice way to say, “I have a personal complaint about a personal issue, but it will make me sound less self-serving and more justified if I label it (maybe just in my mind) as constructive criticism.”

I have been thinking about the term lately – even as I might use it personally.

First, let me be clear, I’m not down on constructive criticism. I think it’s good. And, often needed.

Using the definition (serving a useful purpose; tending to build up) constructive criticism serves a place within any organization – even the church. It can, by definition, help us all.

There is a place for constructive criticism.

But, how can we make sure the criticism we offer is actually constructive?

And, what is it actually? I think this is the bigger issue.

How do we know when it is “constructive criticism”?

And, how can we give constructive criticism to others?

By definition, here are 7 indicators of constructive criticism:

It builds up the body or organization for everyone,

It’s helpful for the good of the entire vision. Everyone can benefit from constructive criticism.

It is not self-serving.

This is a huge one. Constructive criticism doesn’t seek a merely personal gain. Scripture makes humility an ideal, encourages unity among believers and commands us to consider others better than ourselves – even to pray for our enemies.

It offers suggestions for improvement.

I’m not saying it does every time. Sometimes we just know something is wrong, but this would certainly be an indicator the criticism is actually constructive (again, simply by definition).

It creates useful dialogue.

And, here again, this may not happen every time, but if conversation can lead to the benefit of everyone, then it could be an indicator of being constructive – it helps build – construct.

It affirms others or the vision.

As I understand the terms, constructive criticism would never tear down the overarching goals and objectives of the body or organization. This would seem to contradict the definition. Criticism might, but not constructive criticism.

It can be realistically implemented or discussed.

I’m just working with the term and definition here, so if the criticism is an impossibility – would never work – then it seems to me it isn’t “serving a useful purpose”. (Extreme example: I once had someone criticize my allowance of phones in the worship center. They thought I should be like a school teacher and take them up at the door. Okay…)

It is not overly divisive.

Constructive criticism serves to build up – not tear down, so to meet the definition it must not divide people as much as it at least makes an attempt to bring people together around common values and vision. Of course, this is not always possible. It’s near impossible to get everyone to agree on anything, but constructive criticism doesn’t seem to be the type criticism which would splinter the groups opinions or divide people extensively.

This may simply be my personal rambling thoughts on the issue – maybe it’s not even constructive, but I’m all for offering better criticism. Constructive criticism seems like a better societal way to go.

There may be a need for non-constructive or destructive criticism sometime. Jesus cleared the temple this way. We may need to clear some things. If so, let’s deconstruct.

But, all I’m saying is – if we are going to attempt to constructively criticize constructive criticism should live up its name.

The Biggest Mistake of My Life

I hope you learn from my error...

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 meanings, 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 much deeper 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 – 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. 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 and starting over again financially.

I told Nate (we call him Nathaniel) that selling one successful business and buying the other 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 remember saying something such as, “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. 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, these times will always line up with truth from God’s word. God will never contradict Himself.)

Anyway, 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 in your life and not mine.”

And, God was silent.

Point made. Point accepted. I had no more questions. And, God apparently had nothing else to say.

The truth is many had seen what God was doing in my life – including my wife, but I had ignored them – continually replying we are all “called to ministry”. 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 failures in my life 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.

9 Suggestions for Winning Back The Heart Of Your Wife

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In working with marriages in distress I’ve discovered most men have injured the women in their life emotionally, at least at some level. To understand how this can happen one needs to first understand one of the ways men and women are usually different. Most men are predominantly thinking beings – they receive and process experiences in life in a predominately rational and logical way. If someone says something which offends a man he will accept or dismiss it based on whether it is true.

Most women are different. Women are usually more in tune with their emotions. They are often more relationally aware. When life happens to them their dominant reaction is often to respond emotionally first. When someone hurts a woman’s feelings, for example, even though the information they receive may be false, it takes them longer to work through the feelings associated with the emotional injury. 

(Of course both of these two paragraphs are general statements, but they ring true for most men and women.) I would contend though – every woman’s heart is injured to a certain extent. (And, fairly, probably every man’s.) Sometimes this injury occurs gradually over time. Sometimes it comes suddenly through serious breaches in the marriage trust.

The heart, speaking in terms of the seat of our emotions, was created much like other parts of the body. When a finger is broken the body is designed to instantly start to heal and protect itself from further injury. When a person takes a swing at you your natural reaction is to put your hands up in defense.

The same is true of the heart. When a person’s heart is injured, it goes into a self-protective mode to keep it from further injury. Over time, after years of injury, the heart becomes almost calloused, refusing to allow anyone to injure the heart again. A woman who has had years of emotional injury doesn’t have much heart left to give to anyone, but especially to the one who has done the injury. She has closed off her heart to keep from being hurt anymore.

Most men enjoy trying to “fix” problems, but men cannot fix their wife’s emotions. Emotions are not repaired as easily as one could fix a leaking faucet or program a computer. So what is a man to do if he feels his wife’s heart is injured? How do you heal a broken heart? 

Of course, Jesus is the Wonderful Counselor. He can come in, erase all the pain, and make the heart brand new. Most of the time, however, at least in my experience, He lets us wrestle with life’s heartache while we learn to better love one another.

The following steps are designed for a man to help heal his wife’s heart. This post developed when a pastor came to me with a horrible story of his wife’s sexual abuse as a child. Even today she struggles to trust any man, including her husband. I gave him this advice.

Here are 9 suggestions for winning back the heart of your wife:

Seek God

Whatever draws you closer to God is a good thing — and will make you a better man, regardless of what happens with your marriage. When you are attempting to rekindle your wife’s love, use this time to develop and strengthen your relationship with God. It starts, as all relationships with God begin, through a recognition of who Christ is and your belief in Him. Start there and grow.

Practice patience.

The first thing men need to do is to recognize restoring a broken heart will not happen overnight. Emotions heal very slowly. Steps should begin to restore an injured heart or to rebuild the marriage, but men should not expect too much too soon.

Love your wife

This is by far their greatest need. Most wives have their love need unmet. The standard for our love is perfection, since a man is to love his wife as Christ loves the church. As imperfect men we will actually never love our wife enough. The wife knows, however, when the husband’s attention is somewhere else. Many men sacrifice their marriage for their careers or other interests. A wife’s love need is new every day. A wife needs to know that she is second only to God in her husband’s affections. 

I have found for my love for my Cheryl to grow I need Christ’s help. I pray for this often.

Romance her

Every woman has a certain need for romance. Many wives had a fairy tale idea of marriage when they were growing up. They realize early in marriage this isn’t reality, but their need for occasional romance remains. Most men rarely know how to do this. A man should be genuine, but should recognize and value the uniqueness of his wife and find ways to give her romance. 

I gave my wife a “romantic” trip to New York City for Christmas one year. We were going to dance, walk through Central Park, and just enjoy each other. It didn’t turn out exactly as I had planned it, but I earned huge points in the romance category with my wife.

Value words

When a man comes home and says “This house is a mess”, being a mostly factual being, that’s probably all he meant. He looked around, made a physical observation, and stated a factual conclusion. The wife, however, probably did not receive the information that way. The wife most likely heard lots of negative information, such as, “You have done nothing all day”, or maybe even, “I don’t like you.” This sounds impossible to most guy’s rational minds, but with emotions receiving information anything could be heard, whether it was the intended response or not. Men need to learn how to be gentle with their wives and the words they use.  

One question I ask men, “Would you let another man talk to your wife the way you talk to her?”

Communicate on her terms

Many women communicate best heart to heart – not head to head.  A man should allow his wife to see his heart. He should be willing to be vulnerable with her. Men may need to ask their wives to help them learn how to say things to her. Men cannot talk to their wives as they would their guy friends. Women require understanding, compassion, openness and honesty in communication.

Give constant assurance

Trust is an important need for a woman in relationships. The wife needs to know that her husband is going to be faithful. Men should not take offense, for example, when their wife asks details about their schedule or the activities of their day. The wife desires to be a partner in her husband’s life and these details help her provide trust and security in the relationship. A man should also tell his wife frequently he loves her and is committed to her. She needs this consistent assurance.

Learn to Live by Truth

Ultimately life cannot be lived strictly by emotions. We need truth. Emotions are often unreliable. A woman who feels unloved may be very much loved by her family, but she fails to feel that truth because of years of emotional abuse. Men should gently, but consistently speak truth in love, reminding his wife of her worth, her beauty, and her place in his life. Over time – truth, when given with love, can help heal damaged emotions.

Keep doing it!

The heart is damaged over years and years of injury. Sadly many women have deep and tragic heart wounds, but much of this injury will have been unintentionally delivered and small in terms of the magnitude of the incident. Years of emotional injury builds up in the heart until the heart becomes closed.  The erasing of the pain will happen just as it was developed – a little bit at a time. The husband cannot try this for a week and then stop. Protecting a woman’s heart must become a lifestyle.

Recently I was talking with a man whose wife is experience deep depression. As I talked with this man it became apparent that, though probably unknowingly, he had been damaging his wife’s heart for years. He cannot seem to understand why his wife is so emotional; “Everything seems to upset her”, he said. The man told me he had tried to help her through her problems and everything they had going against them he could “fix” if she would let him. I am not sure I could have ever convinced this man his attempts at “repair” were probably one of the chief causes of his wife’s broken heart.

Most men tell me they don’t know how to be who their wife needs them to be or wants them to be. I believe if we want to win back the heart of our wife we may need to learn how. It’s never too late to begin!

A Life Principle My Daddy Taught Me

You May Need This One Today

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My father was probably the most bottom line guy I know. One of his most quotable lines was “The main thing is don’t get excited.” If anyone was ever tempted to stress about an issue he would interject this often repeated line.

And, there have been many times I have needed to remember those words.

There’s another phrase he used often, however, which may be even more poignant for our day. Perhaps you need this one – for whatever you are facing – or fear you may face.

It is what it is.

And, you know, it really is what it is.

In other words, you can’t change it now. That’s a fact, Jack.

There is a Bible verse which always comes to mind. This may be one of my favorites.

If clouds are full of water, they pour rain on the earth. Whether a tree falls to the south or to the north, in the place where it falls, there it will lie. (Ecclesiastes 11:3)

It is what it is.

When the clouds are full – it rains.

When the tree falls – there it is.

Admitting “it is what it is” allows you to quit complaining and actually begin to figure out how you will live with the reality you are facing.

You didn’t get the job promotion. It is what it is.
The business failed. It is what it is. 

Where do you need to admit it is what it is?

Perhaps your marriage is in trouble. Maybe you have a spending problem. You’ve let your weight get out of control. Perhaps you’ve been a lousy friend. It could be you are in over your head and don’t know what to do about it.

Insert yours here __________________. But, whatever it is…

It is what it is.

The first step in moving forward is often to admit the reality you’ve been denying or trying to ignore. Now that you’ve admitted what it is you can ask more important questions, such as – What are you going to do about it?

Because where you’re going is far more important than where you’ve been or even where you are currently.

7 Ways for a Husband to Encourage His Wife

Elderly couple

I’m not a perfect husband.

I’m not a perfect husband.

I’m not a perfect husband.

I would write that 100 times, but I think you get the message and I’d probably lose most of you at number 17. That’s the average number of times you’ll read the same thing. (Of course, I just made that up.)

But, I want it clear up front, I’m not a perfect husband.

I have learned a few things and I do want to be a better husband. I know, for example, part of my happiness is found in Cheryl being happy. I love my wife enough I want her to be happy. I think most husbands would agree with this statement. If not, its time to get outside help for the marriage.

Obviously, I can’t control all the things which happen in a day for her. I can’t stop people from being rude to her as she drives to work. I can’t keep the co-worker who is having a bad day from taking her bad day out on Cheryl. I can’t stop the pressures and stress Cheryl will encounter by being a pastor’s wife or by being a friend, mother, daughter or sister.

All I can control is the way I respond to Cheryl and the things I do to encourage her happiness. I do believe – as I read Scripture – just as I strategically think for my ministry, I should strategically think how to encourage my wife. It’s part of loving my wife as Christ loves the church.

Obviously a wife wants to know she’s loved, that you believe in her and respect her, and that we are committed long-term to the relationship. But, what are some practical ways to show this on a continual basis? Allow me to offer a few suggestions.

Here are a 7 ways I try to encourage Cheryl:

Send flowers – when they aren’t expected. 

This seems so trivial, but I honestly have to remind myself to do this. Flowers on a special occasion are nice, but I have found the ones she enjoys the most are sent on the days she’s not looking for flowers. This could be something besides flowers if your wife isn’t into flowers much, but I’ve also discovered many of the practical-minded women who say they don’t want flowers actually love receiving them occasionally.

Reserve a day – just for her.

I try to do this every Saturday. I let few things interrupt this day and none without consulting with Cheryl first. You may not be able to do this once a week and it may not be for a full day, but it should be consistent enough she can anticipate it. I think it’s great if these are placed on the calendar and trump other interruptions. (There are always emergencies, but as much as possible keep them. Plus, some things we claim as emergencies could actually be delegated to someone else.) During the times when life is most stressful and you are pulled in different directions, these reserved times give her something to look forward to and remind her you’ll be able to “catch up” soon.

Give a giftt which keeps on giving.

This idea is brilliant, I must admit. I love to give a gift which takes a while to receive. When the boys were at home and getting away was more difficult, I would give Cheryl a trip for Christmas every year. We would take the trip in May. I would usually pick a location, request brochures, and give them to her as her “big” gift at Christmas. We had months to plan for it, which built positive emotions leading up to the trip and then anticipating the next Christmas trip. (Plus, many of these expenses were paid outside the Christmas spending frenzy, which helped our budget.) We are more flexible with our schedule since the boys have moved out, but I still try to keep something planned ahead for Cheryl to look forward to in the future. These are huge boosts on otherwise cloudy days.

Be a responsive listener.

I realize whenever Cheryl says something there is usually a deeper meaning, so I try to listen for the deeper meaning. I try to understand her thought process.(Girls, guys really do talk in simpler facts, which makes it more difficult for us to understand subtleties sometimes.) Instead of dismissing what Cheryl said, because it wasn’t clear or assuming I know what she’s saying, I ask questions for clarification when needed.

Give her details.

Okay, I know, this one can hurt – and, I’m not the best at it. Again, I’m not the perfect husband here. (Do I need to write that again?) I try allowing Cheryl to ask me questions and I try to tell her when I’ve told her everything I know. I realize details are more important to her than to me. (This may be opposite for you and your spouse.) Cheryl is very accommodating here – knowing I don’t like details. We plan times together where she knows I’m more likely to talk – such as our morning or evening walks. I have to remember though – just because details aren’t important to me doesn’t mean they aren’t to her.

Listen without fixing.

This is my toughest, but just in the last couple week I did this. I hope she caught it. She had a list of things on her mind she was struggling with and I didn’t say a word until she got through all of them. And, it was hard. I am a fixer. I fix problems everyday. Give me a problem and I’ll be quick to race to a solution. I realize many times, however, Cheryl simply wants my ear and not my expert insight.

Brag to others about her.

Let your wife hear you bragging about her to other people. She’s wonderful, right? Let her know you recognize it. Of course, this should be genuine, but I know Cheryl appreciates hearing me affirm her to others. And Cheryl is wonderful. You heard it here first. It’s funny sometimes, because people who haven’t picked Cheryl out in the crowd on Sunday or met her yet, will ask – “Are you ‘the Cheryl’?” They’ve heard me talk about her enough they want to know who she is.

Guys, your list will be different from mine, because your wife is different. Some of them will be the same. The point of this post is to encourage you to think strategically about how you can encourage your wife.

Ladies, feel free to help us men. Most of us really do want you to feel encouraged. So, anything you would add to my list which would encourage you?

7 Thoughts for Parenting a Young Family During the Presidential Election Season

And other scary times of life.

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Can we just admit this has not been our favorite presedential election season? I’ll admit. I’m one who tends to see the more positive in every scenario and it’s honestly difficult to do this time.

A man with a young children asked me recently how should he and his wife parent their family during this season. Great question. Regardless of whether or not your choice for president is clear, tensions have never seemed higher. This is true even among believers. Children surely have sensed the tension in us. 

I don’t have all the answers – and, my children are grown – but, I have a few. 

Please understand. This is not a political post. This is a dealing with life around you as a parent post. And, I would suggest these for other times when their world is scarier than normal. 

Here are 7 suggestions for parenting children during this presedential election:

Help them see hope.

There is always hope, right? If you’re following after a Savior named Jesus who has overcome the world – there is always hope! Children will seldom be more hopeful about their future than you are hopeful about yours.

Don’t shelter them.

Everything should be age appropriate, but pretty much every newsstand and every television has something about this election. They hear it at school and in the restaurants and stores. They see you react to Facebook posts. There really isn’t much of a way to escape it completely if they are old enough to carry on a conversation.

Don’t overexpose them.

I certainly don’t think I would sit an elementary child in front of the television every night – and, really, this is regardless of what’s on television. Again, the child’s age is important as well as their interest level. When I was in elementary school I actually cared about current events. I wanted to watch the news. I do think as parents we should monitor not only how much they watch, but also how it seems to be affecting them.

Allow them to ask questions.

It’s probably best to see if they have questions and let them guide the discussion with how much or how little they want to know. No question should be off limits and I don’t think there should be many “we’re not going to talk about it anymore” rules. If children are curious enough they will find information somewhere and where better than from you?

Read Scripture together and pray for and with them.

The ultimate answer for our day is the truth which never changes. I find great comfort in the Psalms. Children love to read. Find a good Bible for children and read truth together. And, I have often heard and said, “Prayer doesn’t always change the circumstances, but prayer always changes me.” The same is true for children. There is a comfort in prayer – when you “take all your burdens to the Lord and leave them there.” Children learn faith from you. Share your faith with them. (The Scripture and prayer time will help you also.)

Teach them Biblical principles of how to respond to the world.

Regardless of the times, we are to love our neighbors, care for others, and strive to live in unity. We even have to respect authority – unless it differs from the commands of God. Those are timeless Biblical truths. You can certainly teach them principles of government you adhere to also, but mostly we should be shaping the character of our children – of course, ultimately into the character of Christ. And, wow, wouldn’t it be great if the character of Christ impacted our politics today?

Have some fun with them.

You need it and so do they. The fact is when we’ve been living under the cloud of our times like this election has done for many of us our own energy level might be drained. You may be missing some enthusiasm you usually have. But, children need to laugh and play. They need to have fun within the safety of their parent’s strength. Maybe turn off the television, play a game, or do watch something which causes everyone to have a big belly laugh. Coudln’t we all use one of those about now?

Those are just a few thoughts to get you thinking. I have written similar thoughts before on helping children respond to fear from tragedy. You can read another post HERE. What would you add to my list?

(And, I’m really not looking for political commentary here – just trying to help some young families parent.)

7 Tips for Healthier Marriage Communication

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Healthy marriages are built on communication. Almost without exception – if you improve communication you improve the marriage. A couple with poor communication will have a difficult time building a successful marriage.

By the way, every marriage could stand to improve in this area.

Here are 7 tips for better communication in marriage:

Be a good listener

You can never expect to grow in your communication until you learn to truly hear one another. Ask yourself – have you been listening lately – really listening? Good listening takes time and effort – and usually a muted television.

Timing is important

Don’t try to address major issues when the other party is distracted. Set aside time to address important topics. Know when to speak and when to listen. A good question here – do you need to be silent more often? Maybe you need to not try to solve the problem today and schedule a time next week to really talk about things which matter.

Never criticize the person

You can address actions, but when you attack the person, defenses rise and communication fails. Every time. Again, ask yourself, are you being critical of the one you are supposed to be building up? Does your spouse feel valued by you?

Be willing to give each other credit for differences

And, there are so many.

Men, you can’t talk to your wives as you talk to your guy friends. She is more tender hearted – understand there is almost always a deeper meaning attached to what they are saying.

Women, if you want your husband to understand something you must say it in a language he understands – which is usually simple – straight-forward. Men don’t as easily read subtleties or between the lines.

Keep emotions under control when trying to communicate

When the female starts shedding tears or the males anger rises, even though both can be natural responses for either person, communication is hindered. Wait until the intense emotions calm, then address the issue. But, definitely address the issue.

Work for prompt resolutions

Don’t let issues linger too long. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger. The longer an issue lingers, the harder it is to address. Do you have some issues you need to address now which you’ve been building in your heart as angst against your spouse? The enemy loves to use these as a wedge between couples.

Be willing to humble yourself and forgive

Marriage is hard – people make mistakes. Marriage must be free flowing with continual grace and truth. Are you holding a grudge you need to release? This is not an excuse for bad behavior and we should always strive to do better, but at some point for the marriage to move forward there may need to be forgiveness.

What tips can you share? What has improved the communication in your marriage?

For more help for your marriage, click HERE.

5 Steps to Discern a Change in Ministry Assignment

Time for Change - Ornate Clock

How do you know when God is closing one door in ministry and opening another?

I get this question a lot and have previously addressed it, but recently I have received it more frequently so I decided to update this post.

Several times in my ministry, first as a layperson and since then in vocational ministry, God has called me to leave one ministry and begin another. It can be a scary place to face the unknown, yet know that God is up to something new in your life. As with most posts I wrote, I share out of my own life experience. It’s the best framework of understanding I have.

I think it is important, however, to realize God uses unequaled experiences in each of our lives. Your experience will likely be different from mine. There was only one burning bush experience we know about in Scripture. At the same time, there are some common patterns I think each of us may experience, while the details remain unique.

This has been the process that I have experienced as God has led me to something new.

Here are 5 steps in discerning a change in ministry assignment:

Wonderful sweet success

Each time the door of a new opportunity opened it began opening (looking back) when things were going well in my current ministry. In fact, people who don’t understand the nature of a call (and some who do) have usually wondered why I would be open to something new.

Inner personal struggle

I usually have not been able to understand what God is up to, but there is something in me (and usually in my wife at the same time) where I know God is doing something new. While I do not know what it is, and not even if it involves a change in my place of ministry, I know God is doing a new work in my heart about something. Almost like the king in Daniel 4 who needed an interpretation, I know there’s something out there but at the time I can’t discern it. (I’m glad I have the Holy Spirit though to help me.)

Closeness to Christ

Brennan Manning calls it a Dangerous love of Christ. During the times leading up to a change of ministry assignment I will be growing in my relationship with Christ, usually in new depths of trust and abandonment. Again, looking back and I can see this clearly, but at the time I usually am just enjoying the ride and the closeness to Christ. Many times God is giving wisdom to share with others and (looking back) I can see that some of it was actually meant for me.

Opportunity presents itself

The opportunity often seems to come from nowhere, but with multiple experiences now I can see the pattern that has occurred each time. It is only after these first three experiences where God brings a new opportunity my way. This is probably because my spirit must be totally aligned with His Spirit in order for me to trust the new work He calls me to, because, again, it usually comes as a surprise. I have yet to be completely “ready” for the next step in my journey with Christ, because it always involves a leap of faith on my part, but this process prepares me to be ready to say “Yes Lord – Here am I – send me.”

I surrendered to God’s call

After I receive confirmation in my spirit, review the journey God has had us on, and Cheryl and I agree on where God is leading, I have yet to refuse the next assignment. I have certainly delayedy response, wrestled through the difficulty and comsulted many advisors, but never refused. That does not mean it is easy to leave my current ministry, but it has always been most rewarding to know we are in the center of God’s will for our life.

A special word to the spouse:

Cheryl has never been “ready” to leave friends in our current ministry, but she has always lined with me in knowing God was calling us to a new work in our life. I wrote about that tension from the spouse’s perspective HERE.

Have you shared these experiences?

What other experiences have you had that have led you to step out by faith into a new adventure with Christ?

When our boys were at home

Reflections for parents of young children.

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It seems like only yesterday our boys were living in the home at 9 Canterbury. The house was full.

The house was loud. (What does “inside voices” even mean to an 8 year old boy?)

Balls were constantly flying through the air. (A lamp or two may have lost its life during these days.)

The floor was used as a wrestling ring. (And, I usually got to hear one boy squeal and Cheryl say, “Someone’s going to get hurt!”)

Every night seemed like it was filled with a practice or ballgame. (We ran a taxi service it seemed at times.)

We had little “free time” for ourselves. (And, thankfully we stole every moment we could.)

Clothes were left lying on the floor. (No matter how many times you warned them not to be.)

The toilets weren’t always flushed. (And, that’s all I’ve got to say about that.)

The boys usually didn’t help around the house unless forced to do so. (It was like they didn’t even notice everything which needed to be done.)

They left the top off the toothpaste. (One of my pet peeves – and they often squeezed the tube in the middle – another pet peeeve.)

They didn’t want to go to bed on time. (And, they had a million excuses why they needed to stay up later.)

They didn’t want to get up in the morning. (Does “We’re going to be late” even motivate a child?)

I hated science projects. (And, they had lots of science projects – all announced to us days before they were due – sometimes even the night before they were due.)

There were endless hours of them performing “shows” for us. They would pick out one of their favorite songs – “Dancing with the Dinosaurs” by Steven Curtis Chapman first comes to my mind – and “perform” a dance routine for us. And, of course, we were expected to be their biggest fans. (They may hate I shared this one.)

We sacrificed a lot for them. They really did take a lot of our time. Just being honest, in some ways, they ‘cramped our style’. They consistently altered our plans, so we could help them with their plans. And, they never seemed to realize it either. 

And, you know what?

I miss those days. A lot. 

Some days more than ever. Those days were some of the best days of my life.

Do you still have kids at home?

Those days pass so quickly. One day you have clothes lying on the floor and it seems like only the next day you have an eerily empty bedroom.

Don’t neglect the good days.

One day you’ll miss them too!

7 Tips for Building Strong Relationships with Children

Which will last a lifetime

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Most parents want to develop a close, lasting bond with their children which goes beyond the years a child lives in the home. Having a relationship with children which transcends time begins early in a child’s life as the heart of the child bonds with the heart of the parent.

I’m happy to say my boys are grown, but they are two of my best friends. And, they call or text frequently to discuss life and seek my input. I couldn’t ask for more. I realize now there were some things we did along the way which built the bond we have even today. Some of it may have been “accident” on our part. They don’t have to be for younger parents.

Here are a 7 tips to help build strong, lifetime relationships with children:

Choose activities to do together that they enjoy.

It’s a great plus if they enjoy your hobbies, but you will have better success in connecting if you do the things with them they enjoy most. Don’t try to create a clone of you. When they begin making choices for themselves, learn to love their activities and play times.

Don’t force yourself on your children.

As children get older and begin developing outside interests, do not be the parent who always has to tag along. Be there if you are invited, but allow your children some freedom to explore. As they get older, welcome other adults you trust to invest in them. This is one of the great values of being active in a local church. Men I admire made huge impacts on my boys.

Remain accessible to your children always, but especially during busy or stressful times.

Children cannot handle or understand stress the way adults can. They just know when they want or need their parents. Make sure you are available as much as possible when the desire strikes them. We made sure our boys knew they were never an interruption and we were always there when needed. This meant building our schedule around time planned with them. The busier I was and more stressful life became, the more I protected our family time. We wanted our boys to know we would always be there for them – even when they made mistakes. Never cause your child to question your accessibility.

Communicate on their level and with their interests.

Understand the language of their age and learn about the things they have interest in doing. I never knew much about soccer or wrestling, but one of our boys did, so now I do. Wanna wrestle?

Learn to love their friends.

This is huge and will show you value their choices in friends and relationships. We sometimes had to gently guide them and we even distracted them from some friends, but we wanted them to love everyone. Be patient with them. They should not be expected to have the maturity of an adult yet. They will make mistakes and will not always make the decisions you want them to make. Help them form good values then honor their ability to make choices while you are still there to help them recover when they make bad ones. They’ll need good decision making skills for a lifetime.

Slow down.

Life races by and before you know it the kids are gone. Believe me when I say this – it passes fast. Too fast. In your race to provide them all the right opportunities, all the stuff, make sure you give them what they need most. – YOUR TIME.

Be intentional.

When our boys were young I didn’t have a smart phone. It was probably a good thing they weren’t around yet. But, I was busy, as all parents are. I worked hard running a business we owned, was active in dozens of professional and spiritual activities, including holding public office, but I rarely missed a ballgame or practice. Their time went on my calendar first. FIRST. (Even as adults, my boys still have the opportunity to interrupt just about any meeting with a phone call.) And, I had no problem saying no to other opportunities. There are always unexpected interruptions, but those should be the exception not the every week occurrence. (And, I still contend pastors can make this commitment. There are others in the church who can help with ministerial responsibilities.) 

To be clear, none of these are excuses to give children everything they want or to allow them to set the standards for your home. I believe parents should parent. For more on my parenting philosophy here read other posts under the category of PARENTING.

Connecting with children in a way which lasts beyond the years they must connect with you, however, begins early in the child’s life and takes a consistent effort on the part of the parents. 

I would be remiss if I didn’t point out the fact I have known parents who seemingly did everything right and things didn’t turn out as they had hoped. Their children went astray, they are no longer close – I even talked to some godly parents recently who said they haven’t talked to a child of theirs in four years – even though they’ve tried. Children are unique individuals – all of them – and, just as Proverbs are principles, not promises, this is what I’ve attempted to share here. When you’ve done all you know to do – pray like crazy!