7 Recommendations for Those Studying to be a Pastor

senior pastor

I have the opportunity to talk with young pastors each week. I also interact regularly with those who are preparing for the pastorate. I love investing in the next generation of leaders and am thankful for those who invested in me.

One of those pastors in training recently asked me, “If you were my age (about 22) and were studying to be a pastor, what would you do?

Great question!

If I were studying to be a pastor today, based on my experience as a pastor now, which is still most important, there are some things I would make certain I accomplished prior to assuming the role.

7 suggestions as you prepare to be a pastor:

Take some business and/or leadership courses

You’ll find more available, especially in the area of leadership these days at seminaries and Bible colleges, but you may have to take some courses online or at another school. Every pastor needs to know some general business and leadership principles to manage the complexities of a church. That’s true in church planting or in an established church.

Build connections with pastors

Just as in the secular world, having the right connections makes the difference in church positions also. It may be to help secure a job or to learn from other churches, but pastors should build a healthy network of peers. It’ll also keep you from having to lead alone. You’ll always be able to “phone a friend” who has been there and done that.

Volunteer in the church

Just volunteer. Its amazing to me to see seminary students who attend church, but don’t find a place to serve. They are training to be a pastor — one who will need lots of people to volunteer in their church some day — yet they aren’t volunteering. Some day you’ll want to understand the sacrifice of those who serve the church without a vocational commitment.

Work a secular job

Even if only part-time, at some point in your studies, work among people in the secular world. You’ll learn valuable principles about life, work and people. You’ll also be better able to identify with the people to whom you are called to minister. (Plus, it will be harder for that person who always thinks “well pastor, in the real world…” to discount your teaching.)

Take a people-helping or counseling course

Let’s face it! Regardless of the size church, a pastor is going to encounter hurting people. Understanding some basic questioning, summary and counseling skills is critical to pastoring and will make your teaching even stronger.

Find a mentoring pastor

Early in ministry, or even before beginning, I would strongly encourage a young pastor to find a mentor. Ask a pastor who is older and with more experience to be available to help you through situations you find yourself in where you need wisdom you don’t have. You’ll be glad you’ve recruited this person in advance.

Embrace accountability

Develop a close relationship with a few other same-sex friends and invite them to hold you accountable to God, your family, your church and yourself. These do not have to be pastors, but should understand the pressures and demands of ministry.

Bonus Suggestion BE A PASTOR

If you are confident God has called you to be a pastor, then don’t wait to get all the training. Keep receiving training, follow these suggestions, but more importantly, get some on-the-job training by finding ways to be a pastor today! Maybe to your own family, or through nursing home or prison visits. You may have to be creative, but there are lots of opportunities to shepherd people if you look — even without a paycheck.

Of course, the most important thing to do is to prepare your heart and mind spiritually, but these are practical ways you can prepare.

What would you add to my list?

7 Life Giving Statements Everyone Needs to Hear

Two People Having A Conversation

Words are powerful.

As leaders, the words we use make a difference. A huge difference.

I recently posted statements Jesus made that are life-giving.

As we seek to be like Him, we have an opportunity within our influence to be people-builders. Speak life-giving words.

For good and bad, my life has been greatly shaped by words shared with me.

I once had a pastor say, “Ron, you’re a giant killer!” He encouraged me to kill giants for the Kingdom of God. It changed the trajectory of my life.

Words are huge. Especially from someone we trust.

I’ll be honest. I’m not the best at it, but I try to pass on encouragement to younger leaders. And, others as I see opportunity.

Everyone needs encouragement.

It takes an intentional effort. I try to make it a personal discipline.

Here are 7 life-giving statements everyone needs to hear:

I’m praying for you!

You can do it!

I love you!

It’s going to be okay!

I believe in you!

I’m proud of you!

I’ve got your back!

So there you go. Words. Powerful words of encouragement.

Who could you add some life to today?

The sacred trust and responsibility of an online platform, and 5 ways to honor it

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I’ve been online since 1996. Those were dial-up days. I’ve learned a lot, made plenty of mistakes.  If you want to find typos — you’ve come to the right place.

Along the way, through consistency and patience, I’ve developed a small platform. Weekly — almost daily — I hear from people wanting my opinion because they somehow think I have something to offer. It’s so easy to clean up your game and appear to actually know something online. :)

Seriously, I’m honored people would care what I think. I don’t consider myself an expert by any means. I’m still learning new things everyday. But, for whatever reason, people’s boredom probably, last year my blog realized just a few numbers shy of 3,000,000 page views. Amazing.

It’s not huge. I have friends with far more. But, it’s huge for me. And, it’s humbling. Thank you if you’re one of those.

But, reflecting on that fact reminded me of something sobering. It’s true for bloggers, and Tweeters, and those who popularize Facebook and Instagram. (And any other social medium.)

There is a sacred trust and responsibility with a platform.

Whether online or because of your position — you have a platform. People look to you for insight. (That’s true for my ministry friends — regardless of your church size.)

And, it’s a platform we must honor. And protect. And use wisely.

Here are 5 ways to honor your online platform:

Think before posting. You already know you should — otherwise you wouldn’t have the platform you do now — but sometimes it’s hard isn’t it? Like everyone else, you have an opinion. You have immediate thoughts. Things happen about which you don’t agree. I get it. It happens to all of us. And, you just happen to have a platform to share them. You can move people’s opinions faster.

But, that’s a dangerous combination if misused. People are listening to you. They respect you. Take time to reflect before you react. You can cause a lot of damage quickly. Beware!

Don’t post when angry. Record the thought — then wait — go back when your emotions have calmed and see if you still feel the same way. Also, consider how your core audience will feel when they read what you post.

Make sure you’re not just another negative influence in their world. There’s enough of that elsewhere.

Use your platform for the good of others. That’s what the world really needs. More positive influences. More platforms making the world a better place to live. Helpful.

Above everything, use the platform with which you’ve been entrusted to make a positive difference. That’s how you honor it and show appreciation to those who have given you the platform. And, remember, you wouldn’t have a platform if people hadn’t honored you with it.

You are a leader. With a platform. You have influence. Use it wisely.

Don’t support every cause. You may legitimately care about every issue, but if you do, you’ll water down the impact you can have on the issues you care about most.

Do you remember the story about the little boy who cried wolf? And, then no one took him serious. Yea, that. It’s not quite the same thing — but the reaction will be similar.

The more you can streamline your platform the stronger that platform will be.

Speak about what you know — and not as much what you don’t. Find your niche. And don’t say it’s everything.

People are looking to you — because you have a platform — for wisdom and advice. It’s unfair, therefore, for you to build a platform, lead people to trust you, and then address issues about which you know very little. That misuses the privilege of your platform. Leave the subjects about which you know little to the people with platforms who are knowledgeable about the areas you are not.

And, when you do feel led to speak about something of which you’re not an expert — tell people up front that you’re not an expert. And, better yet, point to some people who you consider experts.

Limit self-promotion. The surest way to (eventually) lose your platform is to abuse it. You abuse it when you are only online for your own personal benefit. It may work for a while. Really well, in fact, but eventually it comes back to burn you. (Pride goes before destruction – Proverbs 16:18.)

When you only promote yourself. When you pretend to be bigger than you really are — or when you’re posting just to get more page views — you are building a platform on shaky ground.

There is nothing wrong with profiting from a platform. Be strategic. And, that will include promotion. But, always consider the interest of others — first. Build your platform for the good of others — first. If rewards come from that — consider that grace.

Those are a few of my thoughts. And, in full transparency, it’s a good reminder for me as well. Thank you for being one more page view. I’m honored. Seriously.

What tips do you have for protecting a platform?

10 Defining Words of a Stellar Leader

Stellar

Leadership is abuzz these days. Everyone is talking about it. I’m not the only blog — or certainly not the best blog — that addresses leadership frequently.

Yet, as much as it’s in our conversations and thought process, it appears most organizations and churches are consistently looking for new leaders. In my conversations with other churches, people want to know how to find, attract, and train leaders.

Apparently it is far easier to talk about it — even perhaps easier to call oneself a leader — than it is to actually be a leader.

Perhaps we need to do a better job distinguishing what leadership actually means. Defining leadership.

Even with an advanced degree in leadership, I can tell you experts who “schooled” me didn’t always agree on the definition of leadership. Perhaps, even more, we need to better understand what makes up great leadership — even more than add a definition in which we may not all agree.

Additionally, I almost wonder if one reason we have such a hard time defining leadership is because there are actually levels of leadership. There could be the kind anyone can do. Everyone is a leader at some level. If leadership is truly “influence”, then all of us are leaders in some area of life.

And, then, maybe there is something even more defined — simply for discussion I’ll use a term —

Stellar Leadership

The kind of leadership the truly great leaders provide.

Stellar means: Pertaining to a preeminent performer — or — outstanding or immense.

Isn’t this the kind of leadership we are all seeking?

Stellar leadership?

I am still a leader in training. Not sure when I’ll “get there”, but I know I’m not looking to be an average leader. I want to be a stellar leader someday. One who is outstanding or immense in my profession.

With that in mind, here are 10 definitions I think we find in stellar leadership:

(These words are mine, but I got the definition of each from dictionary.com)

Cognizanceawareness, realization, or knowledge; notice; perception:

Stellar leaders have a keen sense of what’s ahead. They study. They learn. They listen. They remain aware.

Optimisticreflecting a favorable view of events and conditions and the expectation of a positive outcome

Stellar leaders see the glass half-full. They aren’t negative-minded or hyper-critical. They are encouraging. They build momentum. They invest in others and build up the people around them.

Causala person or thing that acts, happens, or exists in such a way that some specific thing happens as a result

Stellar leaders are purpose-driven. Mission-minded. It guides their thoughts and keeps them on task.

Steadfastfirm in purpose, resolution, faith, attachment,etc.

Stellar leaders are consistent. Dependable. Buoyant. They aren’t quitters — even when things get difficult, boring, or even unpopular.

Respectableworthy of respect or esteem

Stellar leaders have been tested. They’ve earned a reputation worthy of following — mostly because they are servant leaders — willing to lay their life down for the people and cause they are trying to lead.

Truthfulness - telling the truth, especially habitually

Stellar leaders word is their bond. They could function — and be trusted — in a handshake world. You can trust them emphatically.

Valor - boldness or determination in facing great danger; courage

Stellar leaders are courageous. They lead into uncharted areas. They take us where we need to go, but haven’t, for whatever reason — many times because of fear.

Integrityadherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty.

Stellar leaders have a strong moral fiber. They base decisions on a sense of right and wrong. What you see at work you’ll see at play. They are the same with their family as with their co-workers.

Authentic - not false or copied; genuine; real

Stellar leaders have a unique style and confidence about them. While remaining teachable, they aren’t clones of another leader.

Humblenot proud or arrogant

Stellar leaders recognize they can’t — or won’t — do it alone. They are appreciative; thankful; knowing the value of team — and appreciative of the people they are trying to lead. Recognition for success is shared.

In my opinion, a stellar leader would possess ALL of these attributes.

(Of course, my greatest leader inspiration is Jesus — He didn’t “need” anything from His followers — that’s why He came — to provide what we needed — but He was all these in leadership. That, by the way, is an aspect of His grace — another great quality for a stellar leader.)

What words/definitions would you add to my list? And, do you know a stellar leader?

Five Personal Reflection Questions to Evaluate Your Year and Start the New Year Right

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I’m a reflective person. This time of year — when we start to see all the “best of” reflections online and in the news, I like to do my own personal reflection. How was the year? What can we learn from it? How can I do better next year?

Perhaps you need a little help getting started. Take a couple hours over the next week or so — get alone — and reflect.

Here are five questions to get you started:

What was great?

List some of the highlights of your year. What gave you the most pleasure in life? Make sure they merit repeating — sin can have an immediate pleasure — but plan ways to rekindle those emotions in the new year. Most likely they involve relationships. The new year is a great time to plan some intentional efforts to strengthen relationships — spend more time with family and friends. Maybe you enjoyed the times you spent writing. Take some intentional steps to discipline yourself to do that more. Remember how good it felt that day you served people less fortunate than yourself? Well, now you know something you need to do more of in the new year.

What wasn’t great?

Think of some things that are draining to you personally. Again, it may be some relationship in your life. It could be a job or a physical ailment. It could also be that whatever it is that isn’t great has been around for more than a single year. But, chances are you’ve never taken the hard steps to do something about it. Sometimes recognizing those things is the first step to doing something about them. (Your answer may be that a relationship has ended — and there’s nothing you can do about it. Maybe this is your year to move forward again — even in spite of the pain.) Could this be the year?

What can be improved?

Sometimes it isn’t about quitting, but working to make something better that makes all the difference. Intentionality can sometimes take something you dread and make it something you enjoy. I’ve seen couples who appeared destined for divorce court turn into a thriving marriage when two willing spouses commit to working harder (and getting outside help if needed). I was out of shape in my mid-thirties. I’m healthier today in my 50’s than I was then. The change began in one year — one decision — one intentional effort. Conventional wisdom says a new habit begins in 21 days, but some now believe it may take as long as 66 days to really get a habit to stick. But, would it be worth it if you really began a daily Bible reading habit? Or the gym really was a part of your life more than just the first couple weeks in January? Maybe this is your year to get serious about improving some area of your life.

What do I need to stop?

Maybe you need to stop caring so much what other people think. Maybe you need to stop overeating. Maybe you need to stop worrying far more than you pray. Maybe you need to stop believing the lies the enemy tries to place in your mind. Maybe you need to stop living someone else’s life — and start living the life God has called you to. Maybe you need to stop delaying the risk — and go for it! Maybe you need to stop procrastinating. Do you get the idea? Sometimes one good stop can make all the difference. What do you need to stop doing this year, so you can reflect on this year as your best year ever? Start stopping today!

What do I need to start? 

Think of something you know you need to do, but so far you’ve only thought about it. Maybe you started before but never committed long enough to see it become reality. Often, in my experience, we quit just before the turn comes that would have seen us to victory. Is this the year you write the book? Is this the year you pursue the dream? Is this the year you mend the broken relationship? Is the year you finish the degree? Is this the year you get serious about your financial well-being — planning for the future? Is this the year you surrender your will to God’s will — and follow through on what you know He’s been asking you to do? Maybe getting active in church is your needed start this year. Start starting today!

Five questions. When I’m answering questions like this, I like to apply them to each area of my life — spiritual, physical, relational, personal, financial, etc. Reflect on your life with God, with others, and with yourself.

Try answering them — see how it helps you start your best year ever!

5 Steps to Be a Better Listener — And Improve Every Relationship in Your Life

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Do you want to improve the relationships of your life?

Tremendously improve them. Every. Single. One.

Whether in business, ministry, marriage or friendships – improve in this one area — and every relationship of your life will improve. Guaranteed.

How, you ask?

I’ll tell you how.

Become a better listener.

That’s it. And, it sounds simple, but if you’re honest. You know it is not.

Listening is a dying art. There are truly few good listeners in the world it seems these days. We hear lots, but we listen so poorly. And, in fairness to all of us, there is far too much noise to really listen.

The word listen is defined so much stronger than just to hear. There’s an attentiveness. An intentional effort. A designed purpose for hearing.

And, one secret to improving every relationship is to improve your own listening skills.

I’ll admit. I’m not one of those naturally skilled at listening. Ask my wife. (She’s an expert listener.)

I know how. I was supposedly trained in one of my master’s degrees. In being trained to be a counselor, we were taught how to listen. It’s important for the profession. Knowing how and actually doing it are not always equal functions. Again, ask my wife. (And, by the way, I was never a very good counselor — and that was probably one of the primary reasons. I was too eager to fix problems at times.)

But, enough about my poor listening skills, the question before we proceed is do you want to be a better listener?

Or — maybe a better question — do you want to improve all the relationships in your life?

I can tell you how. Or, at least some ways. If you’ll read with an intent to listen.

Here are 5 steps to being a better listener:

Genuinely want to hear. That’s where it all starts. The most important one. Usually this one alone makes all the difference.

Think of it this way — if someone was talking about a potential job you really wanted you’d listen — for every detail you could glean. If you were a single guy pursuing the girl of your dreams and overheard someone talking about her — you’d listen. Really listen. You’d want to hear every detail. You’d soak up every morsel you could possibly attain.

The process of getting better at listening begins when you value the relationship enough to truly want to listen. When you truly care enough about the subject or the person communicating that you’ll discipline yourself to listen.

Don’t try to respond until they are finished. This is so huge. It’s one I’m most guilty of doing wrong. Once again, just ask my wife.

But it is so damaging to good listening when we interrupt. (Now there are actually counseling techniques that help direct a person’s thoughts when they are rambling, but that’s not what I’m referring to here.) This means you don’t finish their sentences — even in your mind. You don’t assume you know what they are saying before they say it. The problem with doing so is we are often wrong. We have to stop completing and listen. It devalues the person and their message when we don’t give them time to deliver it — in their way of communicating. And, yes, it takes longer for some than others.

Slow down. Some people think they listen faster than they actually do. Yea, I’m one of those too.

For good listening, it’s important to remove any distractions. Put the phone down. Turn off the television. Close the laptop. This is not the time to show you’re good at multitasking. I find I have to step away from my desk and take notes as I attempt to listen.

Make sure the time and place is adequate also. You may need to schedule an appointment to make sure you are completely available to engage. You may not always be “available” to listen when someone is ready to share. Properly listening takes time. Be honest. I’ve also had to be honest with people when the timing just wouldn’t accommodate the time they deserve to adequately listen to their story — such as a few minutes before I preach on Sunday mornings. And, we reschedule.

Focus on the voice. I’m using the word “voice” as a descriptor of the one who is hoping you will listen. Give them your undivided attention.

Look into the person’s eyes. Watch for their body language. We are all unique in how we communicate. Strive to understand their unique style. Engage with them with appropriate responses. A nod of the head when appropriate communicates you are listening. I often tell people in advance, for example, that taking notes helps me listen better. Then I can refer back to something later in the conversation if I didn’t completely understand.

Ask questions. Here’s the foolproof way to make sure you actually heard what was intended — that you were actually listening. (This is where they trained us to be good counselors — and it works.)

Especially if you have any doubts of what the person means — ask. Get clarity. Asking questions is one of the best ways to communicate that you care and that you are truly listening. And, it helps eliminate misunderstandings.

Try questions such as, “So is what I hear you saying…?” “Is this what you mean…?” Additionally, look for more than is being said. Many times questions help pull out what the other person thought was clear, but wasn’t.

Here’s to better listening. I don’t know about you, but I could stand to improve in this area.

What tips do you have?

5 Step Process to Write a Simple, but Achievable Life Plan

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Here’s a simple, step-by-step process to writing a life plan. If you don’t know me, you wouldn’t know that I prefer simple. If it’s complicated or too involved, I’ll opt out quickly. That’s my goal here.

(I actually wrote these posts several years ago and I’ve not updated them — just this summary page. If you find any links that don’t work, let me know.)

I’m praying God allows many of us to realize dreams and goals we never thought possible.

Here are 5 posts to walk you step-by-step through writing a simple life plan:

Step 1

Step 2

Step 3

Step 4

Step 5

Of course, all of this should be done by committing your plans to God first. For help and an example of that, you might read this post: 7 Ways to Make Your Prayers More Effective

Let me know how your plans develop.

An Often Necessary Meeting No Leader Wants to Have, But Should Consider

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A very successful business mentor of mine once gave me a vital tip about a necessary meeting all leaders should consider. Unfortunately, I have had to use his advice several times.

You don’t ever want to have this meeting. You certainly don’t want to have it very often.

But, having this meeting could avoid you having other even harder meetings than this one. And, it could turn out to be a blessing for everyone.

It’s called “The Meeting Before the Last Meeting”.

It’s a meeting you have when —

Someone who is not performing well on the team.

You’ve warned them numerous times.

They have exhausted their chances with you.

You’re at the point where you believe it would be better for them to leave the organization.

Before you release them (which is one of the hardest things a leader has to do)…

Have one more meeting.

The meeting before the last meeting.

It’s a meeting where you give grace, a final chance, and clear guidance as far as what needs to improve and by what date you expect to see results.

But you make it clear that this is the meeting before the last meeting.

The meeting after this meeting will not be fun for anyone.

It will be the last meeting.

According to my friend, the meeting before the last meeting usually produces one of two results rather quickly.

A tremendous turnaround. And, you’ve secured a valuable team member.

Or a confirmation that the last meeting is the right decision. Then it’s time to move.

It should be noted that this will not work every time. There are times it is very clear what needs to be done. The person isn’t a good fit, they have lost all energy for the mission, or they have gone so far they can’t recover in their current position. The “meeting before the last meeting” is for those people you believe have capability within the organization if they would pull themselves together and perform to their full potential. With the right person, and handled carefully, this can actually be a very affirming meeting that produces tremendous results.

One Sign of Great Leadership: Admitting You Aren’t the One

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Leadership is not about having all the answers.

One sign of a great leader — in my opinion — is to be bold enough to say, “I don’t have all the answers”.

Perhaps even harder, “I’m not the one to carry this task forward.”

That takes humility.

I observed the pressure some pastors and leaders place on themselves to have all the answers and to be good at everything they do. And, churches and organizations sometimes hold leaders to this level of excellence and expectation.

The fact is, however, that most of us only do a few things really well. Understanding that and being willing to admit it is an indication one is becoming a mature leader — and will actually help them be better leaders.

I love the story of King David in 1 Chronicles 28. The preceding chapters outline how David had diligently organized the kingdom, but then David humbly handed over reins to his son.

Of course, he did this at the command of God, but his speech to the people is not filled with bitterness and anger, but with encouragement and challenge to keep the vision moving forward. There are several Biblical examples of this type leadership.

I love some of the succession talk that is taking place in the church world today. I’m watching as some more mature pastors help the church figure out what’s next for the church — after their leadership. My friends William Vanderbloemen and Warren Bird have actually written a book on the subject.

But, I think this is a daily issue. Few of us are good at admitting we need help or releasing areas from our control. Again, that takes humility. I see that especially true in church leadership. (And, for those who will say the church expects it — I get that — but that’s where leadership is needed even more.)

Great leaders are willing to admit when they don’t know the answer, when they don’t have a plan for the current situation, when they need help figuring out a solution, when they are in over their head, or even — when they are no longer the right one for the job.

Even greater leaders are willing to allow and even promote and encourage others who are skilled in areas they are not and more capable of leading at the time.

Two questions:

Pastor or leader, in what area of your life do you need to humbly step aside and let another lead? It might be in the best interest of everyone if you did.

And, do you have any personal examples of where you’ve seen or are seeing a senior leader extend power to others? Share a story with us.