7 Ways I Protect My Sabbath

This is a hard word for some pastors, but after a recent post I was asked about how I protect my Sabbath. That’s a great question, because many pastors struggle in this area. In fact, many pastors I know who would teach their church to observe the Sabbath, seldom do so personally. This fact alone is one of the leading causes of pastoral burnout, in my opinion.

Protecting my Sabbath has proven to be crucial in protecting my ministry.

I observe my Sabbath day on Saturday most weeks. It’s my day with Cheryl. It’s not a day where I do nothing. That’s not how I rest. It’s a day where I do what I want to do. On my Sabbath, I don’t work. I play. I rest. I recharge. I clear my head and prepare for the week ahead.

Here are 7 ways I protect my Sabbath:

Recognize the value – I have to realize there is a reason to observe a Sabbath. It’s almost like God knew what He was doing. :) If I value it enough, I’ll make it a priority. The value of a Sabbath is not only for myself, but it aligns me with God’s design for mankind. “On the 7th day He rested”. Have you read that somewhere? We were created with a need for the Sabbath. That makes it valuable.

Make it a priority – Not only do I value the importance, but I make it a priority in my week. As important as any other day, my Sabbath is a must do part of my week. A Sabbath is good for the pastor, the pastor’s family and the church. That’s worth prioritizing.

Place it on the calendar – The Sabbath needs to be planned in advance. If you think it’s going to happen when you “catch up”, you’ll never take a Sabbath. Depending on the size of your staff or the demands of your church, your day may not be the same as mine, but you choose a day that works best and calendar it regularly.

Trust others – One of the leading reasons I hear for pastors not taking a day off is that they don’t have anyone who can handle their responsibilities. This is especially true in churches where the pastor is the only staff member. Regardless of staff size, pastors need to surround themselves with some healthy people and take a risk on them. I delegate well so that when I’m gone I know things will continue to operate efficiently. Ultimately, however, when I honor my Sabbath I’m demonstrating that I trust God. After all, the plan was His idea.

Discipline myself – I just do it. I make myself take a day off. (You should consider this discipline!) Now, here’s the hard part of that. In addition to saying “Yes” to yourself, you have to discipline yourself to say “No” to others. Without a doubt, if you try to protect a day there will be multiple invitations, seemingly good opportunities, and non-emergency interruptions. It will happen. You’ll have to continually help others (and yourself) understand the value in this discipline. It’s part of being a healthy pastor. And, I assume, most churches want that. Frankly some will never understand the value in your Sabbath (even if they see the value for themselves), but they will also be the first one to complain if you aren’t performing at your best in other areas of your ministry.

Prepare for it – I have to work hard prior to a Sabbath so I can comfortably take it without reservation. That means I handle any details I can in advance. Whether a pastor works five or six days a week, (I personally work 6) it is important to work hard and smart enough where there is no guilt in taking your deserved and commanded sabbath. Not trying to be cruel here, but if you are not finding time to take a Sabbath, it could be a planning and organizational problem as much as it is a demand of your time problem.

Learn to enjoy -Some pastors, like me, are not wired for a Sabbath. I realize some people have no problem taking a day off, but I honestly would work seven days straight if no one stopped me. There’s always plenty to do. I’ve learned, however, that I function better the other 6 days if I have one day that I’m not working. It’s been a challenge to maintain it, but I now truly look forward to the rest. It’s proven to be as important for my wife as it is for me and when she’s happy, I’m happy.

Now, please understand, there are no perfect plans. This works most of the time for me, but not all of the time. There are, of course, exceptions, interruptions, and Kingdom opportunities, which cause me to not be able to protect every Sabbath day. (Jesus had those too.) As much as is possible, however, I stick with this plan, and when it is interrupted, especially if it happens several weeks in a row, I will make up the time with some extra time away. I try to get my downtime back at some point. It’s that important to me now.

Pastor, are you protecting your Sabbath? Be honest.

The strength and success of your ministry may depend on it.

Pastor, what tips do you have for helping some of my burned out pastor friends maintain a weekly Sabbath?

Bonus question: Pastor, do you have a plan for extended time a way…a Sabbatical of some form? Could you share what you do in this area to help the rest of us?

Dodging Geese Poop in Life and Leadership

(This is the kind of post I only do when my wife is in another city. I’ll explain why in a minute.)

We were on vacation not long ago. I got to run in some incredible cities. I ran in Minneapolis, Fargo, ND, Sioux Falls, SD and Mason City, Iowa.

One word for everyday’s run. Glorious.

I worshipped. I talked to God. I dreamed. It was awesome. Loved it.

I came to this realization though:

The best places to run all have some common characteristics.

It was true on vacation last week in the cities I mentioned. It is true of my two favorite running cities of all time…Philadelphia and Chicago.

You see, the best cities in which to run, in my opinion, have these attributes in common:

A river (Insert lake or ocean where appropriate…as in the case of Chicago)

A path beside the river

The peace and tranquility of running on the path beside the river

The chance to connect with nature and God along the river

But, here’s the other thing I learned…and the point of this post.

The best places to run require dodging geese poop.

(There. I said it. That’s the part my wife wouldn’t have wanted me to say. She wouldn’t think a nice blog like this, written by a mostly nice pastor like me, about leadership and life, should use an analogy…or a word…like in this post.)

But, it is true. I and I think you need to know…if you want to run in the best cities…

You’ve got to dodge the geese poop. No one scoops and bags for geese.

And, right about now, you’re wondering why you’re even still reading this post. I understand.

Well, it’s because…as I was dodging the geese poop, it occurred to me.

The same principle is true in life and leadership.

You can settle for mediocre.

You can choose to go for second best.

You can compromise before the right decision is made.

But, if you want to experience the best life has to offer.

If you want to settle for nothing but the right decision.

You have to dodge the geese poop of life.

The path to the best places in life are often lined with difficulties along the way.

It’s messy, filled with setbacks, conflict and obstacles. There will be times we are tempted to give up, choose an easier route, or quit before the end is in sight.

It’s a choice. You can “run” where you want to run, stay on the boring and safe treadmill of life if you want, but, as for me, no doubt about it, whenever I get the chance, I’m choosing to run by the river.

I’ll just watch out for and endure the geese poop. I know it’s a part of the path.

Are you on one of those “river” paths of life right now?

Don’t give up…the Glorious part is coming!

The Initial Response may Determine the Future Recovery

Over the years, I’ve observed that many times the initial reaction to tragedy often dictates the final outcome of the situation.

I’m not talking about our split second response to disappointment, but the way a person responds in the days and weeks following the receipt of an unfortunate situation. Initially we react with emotions. That’s normal. The key is how we respond after the initial shock is gone. Ideally, as we mature, our response time should improve, shortening the reaction from the purely emotional release, which is natural, to the more confident and assured position, which is making rational decisions in spite of our emotional state.

Doing that takes discipline and practice.

Many people, it seems to me, never move beyond the emotional response and it cripples their potential for future recovery.

Let me give you an example.

Recently my oldest son Jeremy lost his job. His company downsized and, what he thought was a stable position, suddenly disappeared. He had been married less than a year and had weeks earlier purchased his first home. Jeremy is very mature for his age, so he handled the news better than some might have, but you can imagine the shock and disappointment was big for him.

For the first 24 hours he was numb, afraid, even a bit angry. I knew then that his reaction to this unexpected change of events would greatly determine his recovery period. I encouraged from the sidelines, but knew he ultimately had to own his response.

What happened? The next day he went to work. He weighed his options. He developed a plan. He took immediate action towards reaching his objective. The plans changed a few times in the coming weeks, but his resolve and confidence remained steadfast. Today he’s successfully working for himself. He’s only a couple months in, but already the signs of success are apparent. He’s recovering from disappointment into a better position, with more flexibility and job security, than he had previously. I’m so proud of him.

(BTW, if you need content development or online marketing/social media assistance, but can’t afford full-time staff, he may be able to help you.)

The initial response to disappointment or uncertainty often determines the quality of recovery.

This principle has Biblical implications. Recently I saw this principle reading about Nehemiah. Nehemiah had just learned the wall of his home city had been destroyed. His people were in jeopardy. The potential for devastation to the Jews was huge.

How did Nehemiah respond?

“As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days” Nehemiah 1:4

That was his emotional response. Perfectly normal.

What happened next?

“and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven.”

That was his rational response. A sign of maturity.

Nehemiah knew that ultimately the protection of his people was God’s business, not his. He called upon God, because he knew that ultimately God was in control. In spite of the circumstances around him, God could be trusted.

There’s another example. Nehemiah was the cupbearer for the king. On one of his visits to serve the king, the king notices Nehemiah is not his bubbly personality as usual. The king asked Nehemiah what was wrong.

Look at Nehemiah’s response:

Then the king said to me, “What are you requesting?” Nehemiah 2:4

Imagine you’re standing before the most powerful man in the world and he asks you to state a request on your behalf. As we later learn, Nehemiah’s request would take him out of the king’s service. It was a huge request. How Nehemaih responded would greatly determine the outcome.

What did Nehemiah do in that moment? Verse 4 continues:

“So I prayed to the God of Heaven. And I said to the king…” (verses 4-5)

This time Nehemiah had less time to react. His initial reaction would greatly impact the quality of the response he received from the king. What happened next was greatly determined by his initial reaction.

Are you in the midst of a crisis? Have you received bad news? Are you disappointed with where your life is headed?

Your initial response may determine your future recovery.

Have you seen this principle at work?

7 Things I’ll Miss About Clarksville, Tennessee

I’ve lived in Clarksville, Tennessee all my life. So has Cheryl. I know that’s unusual at our age. Most people we know, especially in a military town have moved multiple times by now. It’s surprising to me too, because I never thought I’d stay past college. In fact, I went away when I started college, only to return and finish at our hometown Austin Peay State University.

Well, as much as I love my city, I’m moving.

If you haven’t heard, I’m in a ministry transition. I’ll be sharing more about that in the days to come, but we said goodbye this week. We have a few weeks of transition time, but for all practical purposes, our time here is done. We leave today for vacation and then we are basically just in and out for moving purposes.

There are some things I’m going to especially miss. (Every time I say that people remind me what Lexington has to offer. I understand that and we are excited about the new. You can be excited about new and still sad about the what you’re leaving.)

Here are 7 things I’ll miss about Clarksville:

Family – Being from here means we have lots of extended family here. Our family trees are both wide in this area. Our son and daughter-in-law are close by. Both our mothers are still here and we each have brothers and sisters in the area. We love them. We’ll miss seeing them whenever we want.

Friends – Our best friends live in Clarksville. Having been active in the community, serving in elected office, and pastoring a large church, I know lots of people. We will miss seeing so many friendly faces we already know and love.

Grace – Grace has been a miracle the last 7 years. God has brought so many wonderful people into our lives through this church. The staff are some of our best friends. We will miss worshipping, fellowshipping and serving with them.

Fort Campbell – Growing up in a military town is one of the greatest blessings in life. I’m patriotic, because I’ve lived among modern-day heroes. The soldiers and families here are dedicated, hard-working, and sacrificial. We will miss seeing all the uniforms and bumping into soldiers in restaurants and in the stores. Hooah!

First Baptist Church – My home church is where I was saved, discipled, and sent out for vocational ministry. My family still attends there. I’ll miss driving or running by and the good people I’ve known all my life. Many of my closest mentors are still in that church.

Downtown living – We’ve only done so for a year and a half, but we’ve loved every minute of it. Thankfully, we are planning to move to a fun walking area in Lexington, but we’ll miss the river walk, the downtown festivals and the art walks of Clarksville.

Austin Peay – We are both graduates and have supported the university and been friends with administrators, professors and students. Cheryl and I eat frequently on campus, I work out at the school’s fitness center, and I run through the campus almost everyday. We’ll miss the university that’s educated us and many in our family.

That’s just a start. I know it’s a short list but it represents so much more…so many faces…so many memories. Good times. (Mostly). We’ve invested much of our heart and lives here. We are going to miss you.

Goodbye Clarksville. We love you.

Just curious, what’s the longest you’ve lived in one city? Also how many different cities have some of you lived in?

Identity Always Precedes Activity

This is a guest post from Jeff Goins. Jeff is a writer, speaker, and blogger. Jeff has also become a friend and I’ve enjoyed the times to hang out with him. He’s a sharp young mind you should get to know. Check out his new eBook, You Are a Writer (So Start Acting Like One).

Here are some thoughts from Jeff:

I’ve spent too much time trying to prove something to myself instead of living into the reality of my identity.

I’ve labored and toiled, desperately trying to affirm in myself what I hope is true about me. That I’m good enough. That the world needs to hear my message. That what I have to say counts.

I’ve wasted years on this pursue and not spent nearly enough time grasping my identity as a child of God. A son. An heir.

And frankly, I’m tired of it. It’s exhausting and pointless. I’ve given up on proving things (to me or you) and started surrendering to who I am. In the process, I’ve learned two lessons:

Lesson #1: You are not what you do.

Your identity comes from some place deeper than your resume or list of accomplishments.

This is important, because in a culture of competition, it’s easy to get lost in the rat race. To chase the horizon and never catch it.

So many people live out of their false selves, constantly performing for an invisible audience and never feeling satisfied.

This will leave you dissatisfied and disillusioned. The way out is to trust what God says about you is true:

  • You are accepted.
  • You are righteous.
  • You are forgiven.
  • You are loved.

Lesson #2: What you do comes from who you are.

This is related to the first, but still worth stating, because so many people aren’t doing this. They’re living out of some fake place of pretense — a facade, a front. And everyone can see it, but them.

The way out of this is to stop lying to yourself. To admit you are who you already know you are:

  • A writer.
  • A dreamer.
  • A plumber.
  • A dancer.

Whatever it is that you were made to do, it’s time to stop hiding and start believing. And then, once you believe, it’s time to do it.

So many people are waiting for God to tell them what to do with their lives, but I believe God is waiting for those people to be who he’s made them to be.

Are you still living life with a performance mentality? Or have you finally given yourself to be who you are? If so, what are you?

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?

God is not afraid to make you wait…

One verse I’ve learned by experience:

Therefore the LORD waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the LORD is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him. Isaiah 30:18

Are you waiting for God to answer? Don’t be surprised if He makes you wait. He’s not being silent without reason. He’s not withholding an answer without purpose. God is working His plan. He’s never late and never early.

Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD! Psalm 27:14

But those who trust in the LORD will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint. Isaiah 40:31

Are you currently waiting for God to move? Can I (and my readers) pray with you in that situation?

4 Things I Need from a Mentor

I am a fan of the term mentoring. I have been and had a mentor for over 25 years and can honestly say mentors have helped make my life better.

I’ve written several posts on mentoring previously:

The Mentor Recruiter

5 Types of Mentors

How do I find a mentor?

Why I (You) Need a Mentor

5 Questions to Help You Know What to do with a Mentor

One question about mentoring I am consistently asked is, “What should a mentor do?” That’s an obvious question. What do you do when you have been asked to be a mentor or you decide to intentionally recruit someone to mentor you? What role should the mentor play in the mentee’s life?

Well, I don’t believe the point of a mentor is to script another person’s life. That’s not what I’ve ever wanted from my mentors or what I’ve attempted to do with those I mentor. I can’t share everything you may need in a mentor, but I can share what I have sought in one.

Here are 4 things I want in a mentor:

Help shape my path – Mentors have been used to help me make life altering decisions. Whether it was with career choices, marriage issues or character development, I need a mentor to help me make the major decisions in my life.

Allow me to learn from their experiences – Mentors have shared the good and bad elements of their life which has helped protect me from needless pain and guide me to better results. This is why I generally prefer mentors a generation ahead of me.

Help me me meet my goals – In business and in ministry, mentors have taught me valuable insights, discover paradigms, built principles into my life, which have helped me to be more successful in the things I hope to achieve.

Challenge me – Mentors have been there to encourage me to improve my life in areas of struggle, moments of fear, or in a resistance towards needed change. Mentors give an objective, but caring outside perspective that often gives me the nudge to do what I need to do.

My life wouldn’t be the same without the mentors in my life. Who have been some of the mentors in your life?

What else would you want from a mentor?

I like history, but…

I like history and think we can and should learn from it…

But…

I want my best energy focused on where I’m going, not where I’ve been…

On things I can change, not on things I can’t…

Towards issues of faith, more than issues that have been forgiven…

On the tree I’m planting more than the one that fell…

Building new dreams more than dwelling on regrets…

What about you?

Are you spending more time dwelling on the past or working towards a brighter future?

Be honest.