7 Ways I Partner with My Wife in Ministry

Cheryl and me

The following question is an actual question I received from a blog reader, but it’s representative of one I frequently receive:

Could you share or possibly write a post about your relationship with your wife and how you incorporate or make her feel a part of your ministry and relationships?

Great question. I think it is one everyone in ministry should be asking.

My wife, Cheryl, is a partner in my ministry. No doubt about it. Everyone in our church knows it. They see her as an equal part of my role within the church. In every church we’ve been she’s been widely loved and popular.

Cheryl was my partner before I was in vocational ministry. We taught Sunday school together. She has certainly been as a pastor’s wife. She’s very visible and always ready to join with me in anything we do at the church. I have joked that when I’ve left one ministry for another, they’ve usually told me I’m free to go, but I need to leave Cheryl behind.

I thought about this question of how this works for us. Some of these might work for others.

Here are 7 ways I partner with Cheryl in ministry:

I tell my church she’s my partner. – That seems obvious, but I believe it is huge. I want the church to know her value to my ministry. She’s not a silent bystander. She’s a vital part of who I am to the church. Emotionally it also encourages her if she hears me saying how much I need her beside me. (And I do.) I’m very clear with her of ways she can assist me on Sundays and during the week.

I keep others from assigning her commitments. – I realize this won’t work for every church or couple, but I’ve always been clear with the leaders of the churches where I’ve pastored that Cheryl will not be assigned a specific task, unless she volunteers to do so. She often leads short-term Bible studies on times other than Sunday mornings, but I help her keep Sunday mornings free. Both of us want her available to assist me in ministry to people. Again, I realize the size of the church may make it necessary for the pastor’s spouse to be a key volunteer in some area. I’m not even recommending it necessarily, but Cheryl and I like being close to each other between services. She greets people. She shakes lots of hands and hugs lots of necks. We can tag-team with visitors, for example. She catches some and I catch others. We constantly introduce people to each other. It would be difficult to attend our church — as large as it is — and not meet one of us.

I let her work in her area of passion. – Cheryl loves to be busy. She loves greeting people, holding babies, and leading women’s Bible studies. She also loves to invest in women in our church, including some of the wives of other staff members. She does a lot of one-on-one mentoring. It fuels her. I try to assist her in our schedule to allow her the freedom to participate in the things close to her heart, realizing her ministry is equally important to mine.

I keep her informed. – I work long days, but sometime before we go to bed or in the morning, we unpack my day. It could be over dinner, on a long walk or before we turn out the lights at night. I try to make sure she’s as informed as anyone about what is going on or happening in the church. I don’t want her to have any surprises because I didn’t tell her something. At the same time, I don’t put Cheryl in the middle of a controversy. I never expect her to speak on my behalf. She’s good about saying, “You’ll have to talk with Ron” on issues which she may not have an answer or that we haven’t yet addressed together.

I seek her input. – Cheryl is my biggest sounding board of ideas in the church. I want to know her opinion. She protects me with an insight and intuition I don’t have. Especially when it comes to making people decisions, Cheryl is my most trusted adviser.

I don’t hide things from her. – I could try to protect her, but I’ve learned she will discover the truth eventually and be more hurt because I didn’t share it with her first. Even when I know it will weigh heavy on her — such as a current complaint — I know she would rather hear it from me than from someone else. (The only exception to this is that I don’t share intimate personal information about men I meet with in the church. I don’t want her to struggle when she sees some of them on Sundays. With women, this is the opposite. She may know things she doesn’t share with me. I always tell women I meet with that I have to include my wife in intimate details about her life. I have to protect my heart and marriage first.)

She shares my office — and my life. – The best way I keep Cheryl involved in my ministry is that we keep our relationship as healthy as possible. We genuinely do life together. Cheryl has access to my office, my calendar, my computer, and my wallet. She frequently comes to my office, puts things in my desk, and has freedom to everything in my “personal space”. I’ve always told my assistants and staff they can communicate anything to Cheryl they feel is pertinent. We have no secrets. She feels a part of my ministry mostly because she feels a part of my life.

Is your spouse a partner in your ministry? Tell me how that works for you.

A Day No Leader Wants to Face But Every Leader Must

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There is a day every leader has to face. But, no leader necessarily wants to.

I have walked through this with dozens of leaders over the year sand it’s never a fun process.

It’s the day when it’s time to no longer be the leader.

That hurts.

Just seeing it in print may sting a little if you know the time has come for you — but you haven’t yet said it aloud.

It could be for a variety of reasons. Still hurts.

Could be retirement. A season has ended. Or, you’re no longer the best fit to be the leader.

Either way — wrestling to this point is a difficult, sometimes grueling decision.

It’s one I’ve faced in my own career. In our last church plant, I knew God was releasing us to something new. That didn’t make it easy. I couldn’t even see what would happen next. I just knew my season there was ending.

Some handle this well. Some resist it and don’t. Some kick and scream and it has to be forced upon them. Never pretty.

A pastor friend of mine Shawn Lovejoy seems to be doing a brilliant job of leaving the church he planted. I loved the message where he shared it with his church.

My friend and co-worker Dan Russell, our senior adults pastor, got to a point at his church where he sensed they needed someone different to carry them to the next level as a church. It was in his season of wrestling God brought him to my attention. He was still young, with (hopefully) years ahead of him in his career, but he sensed it was time to step aside. And, God rewards obedience. As hard as it must have been for him to come to his realization, his addition to our team has been one of the best things to happen in my tenure. I can’t imagine the last few years without him here.

Recently I learned of two other mega churches where the senior pastor stepped aside — sensing it was time for a change. Both seem to be handling the transition well. I’m going to follow them to see how it goes.

Yet, we all know stories of when it didn’t go so well.

They stayed too long. They became ineffective. They made the transition more difficult than it had to be. And, I’m convinced it makes things hurt even more.

There’s a day every leader must face, but no leader really wants to face it.

The day when it’s time to no longer be the leader.

Listen, leader, here’s some advance caution for you — before that day approaches. That’s my only purpose of this post.

When you no longer have the passion.

When you just don’t care anymore.

When things are plateaued beyond your ability to move them forward.

And, when you simply can’t seem to get motivated again.

I’m not saying it’s time. I’m not saying there are not answer or solutions or help for you to stay in the position. I’m not even suggesting any of these are indicators you should leave now. That would totally be out of line and inappropriate for me.

I’m simply saying — there comes a day — for every leader. Discerning and determining the day before the day is determined for us protects everyone. The organization. The church. And, the leader.

(This is not a paid endorsement, but I recommend my friends William Vanderbloemen and Warren Bird have written a great book on pastoral succession called NEXT when the time comes.)

7 Suggestions When Interviewing for a Church Staff Position

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I serve on the board of a local youth leadership program. These students are the top of their class, so the entry is competitive. Part of qualifying process is an interview with board members — most who are seasoned business and community leaders. I am always reminded in the process how interviewing, as critical as it is to acquiring a position, is not something everyone knows how to do — regardless of their other accomplishments.

I’ve found that to be true in the church also. And, in business when I was in that world. I have hired dozens, maybe hundreds of people in my career — which means I’ve interviewed lots of people. Some people do better at interviewing than others.

I decided to offer some advice from the hiring side of the table. Since my blog is read mostly by church leaders, I am speaking primarily from that perspective.

Here are 7 suggestions for interviewing for a church staff position:

Know the church. Do as much research as you can about the church, it’s history and its culture. Obviously, read all you can online. Ask who will be in the interview and what role they have in the church. Google can be your friend in researching these people. Find out if you have any connections in the church. (LinkedIn can be a great source as it shows you connections to your connections.)

Be honest. This is critical. They need to know you and you need to know them — as openly as possible in a formal setting like this. The worst thing for you personally would be to land a job where you would be miserable — or make them miserable. Plus, in my experience, the more honest and transparent you are — even about your weaknesses or past failures — the more attractive you will be as a candidate — if you’re a fit for the role.

Be upbeat. I’ve learned this is especially difficult if you are nervous — or, like me — an introvert. The main concern in adding staff at most churches is that the person be a good fit for the church and current team. Show you’re easy to get along with, fun and likable. Have a firm handshake. Look people in the eye. But, balance this with also attempting to be yourself. It’s obvious if you’re trying too hard. Especially on a first interview, the key should be to connect with those in your interview.

Be humble. If you’ve had past success, don’t take all the credit. Share the victories with others, knowing that most likely you couldn’t have succeeded without them. It’s a much more appealing approach. Use the word “we” more than “me” or “I”. While you need to demonstrate your ability to perform, keep in mind arrogance is never an attractive quality in a team member. 

Appear competent without appearing controlling. There is a huge difference between being able to lead with confidence and being a bullying leader. Churches are places where people need to be empowered. Your goal should be to demonstrate a care and love for people (which should be genuine), while assuring you have the tenacity and courage to lead boldly. That’s a delicate balance every church needs.

Be forward thinking but celebratory of history – Most churches, even after a difficult period, continue to remain proud of their heritage. (This is where researching the church as much as you can helps.) The worst thing you can do is to bash the church or it’s culture. They may welcome your input to change, but you won’t endear them to you if you make them defensive about their history. Let them know you are willing to build on their past, but also willing to help them go wherever God leads in the future.

Pray – It should go without saying, but pray before and after the interview and ask others to pray with you. (Although as I’ve seen people do, I wouldn’t necessarily post this on Facebook.) In the end, you want this to be a God-thing — not a man-made thing. You don’t want to take the position if it’s not of God. I believe God often gives tremendous latitude and freedom in choosing our place of service, and we should represent Him with our best appearance, but in the end, we want to be in the center of His will.

What tips would you offer to those interviewing at another church or ministry?

Reaching Millennials — Is There One Way?

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This is a guest post by my son Nate:

My name is Nate, and I’m a millennial.
That means I must love liturgy, hate big production in church, want to ask really hard questions about faith all the time, go do organized “social justice” every Saturday, am nowhere near shallow enough (or I’m just far too clever) to attend a church with a hashtag campaign, want a pastor who preaches messages that are “on point” and filled with “authentic, hard truth”, think that the majority of Christians I grew up with were hypocritical bigots who suppressed all of my doubts, love Jesus but question institutionalized Christianity, yet simultaneously desperately desire a church that will help me get back in touch with the “historic roots” of the Christian faith.

So, church leaders… if you want to reach me and all my millennial friends, decipher how all of that fits together, then get busy changing to become exactly like me so that I can have a church that’s perfect for me. But make sure you stay “authentic” along the way, otherwise we will see straight through you and discount you completely.
Heew. What a difficult task you have. Unless, of course, that’s not true for all (I might even argue, most) millennials.

The last couple weeks, there have been several articles posted about how the church can reach millennials. Below are just two examples.

Want millennials back in the pews? Stop trying to make church ‘cool.’

Dear church: An open letter from one of those millennials you can’t figure out

These kinds of posts have been rolling out for a few years now. The reason I’ve decided to write this post is because several older believers and pastors I deeply respect have been sharing the articles, almost as if their ministries are completely irrelevant and headed toward extinction.

I simply don’t believe that’s true.

You can read the rest of the post by clicking

HERE

Ten Things to Know Before Pursuing a New Life Calling

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This is a guest post by Bill Blankschaen:

It’s time. Or at least you think it might be. You’ve been sensing a struggle within for awhile, but you’ve kept it to yourself.  You’ve felt a restlessness, a sense that you should be pursuing a new life calling, something more in line with your God-given gifts — but you’re scared to step out without knowing how it will all turn out.

You may be sensing a new calling to get into the pastoral ministry, to get out of the pastoral ministry, to start a church, to start a business, to switch careers, or to revisit a calling left dormant for far too long.

That was my story. Not many years ago, I found myself deep in ministry as the leader of a thriving Christian school. And yet I sensed a restlessness within, an awareness that I had quietly begun to drift into simply existing. I’d allowed God-given writing gifts to lie dormant. And I knew a drifting leader was not what the school needed.

In what was one of the most challenging decisions of my life, I let go of the school and stepped out to pursue a new life calling as a writer, a Kingdom catalyst determined to live a story worth telling where it matters most. My journey, the journeys of others I encountered with similar stories, and the practical faith-stretching lessons learned from it form the framework for my new book A Story Worth Telling: Your Field Guide to Living an Authentic Life.

There are different ways to live with radical faith. Some can look pretty normal on the outside. Most don’t involve relocating your entire family, or even changing careers. But when your God-given dreams do require you to step out in a significant, life-changing way, here are some lessons I learned from having gone through the process of stepping out before I knew how it would all turn out.

What You Need to Know Before You Go

1. You do not have as much help as you think you do. If you’re expecting people to respond as if in a scene from It’s a Wonderful Life, think again. Sure, family and friends will help as they are able. But most people have lives and pressing issues of their own.

2. You have more help than you think you do. Instead of expecting other people to come through, expect God to show up as you learn to trust Him in ways you never imagined possible. Only when we had no other choice but to trust God did we realize we should have been trusting Him more fully in the first place.

3. You do not have the faith you think you do. But don’t let that stop you. You will grow it along the way. When we place great faith in our great God, we pull back the curtains to reveal more of his majesty. And that just makes us want to trust Him more — so we can take one more step. The test of your faith is what it takes to stop you.

4. Not everyone will understand what you are doing. In fact, a lot of people aren’t going to get it. And that’s OK. The truth is that when you step out to live an authentic life, one that is true to what you believe about your God-given gifts, you will scare some people. I saw it in their eyes when they congratulated me for making the move and stepping out into the unknown while praying it never happened to them. To minimize discouragement, only go public when you know you’re going to follow through.

5. Someone understands and supports what you are doing. You’ll want to find that person early in the process. I enlisted a life coach as I began the transition. As your life situation shifts, you may not have ready access to advisors you regularly lean on. It is critical that you find someone you can trust who shares your faith and who will speak the truth in love to you along the way.

6. You’ll need encouraging success stories. You’ll find plenty of negative thinking out there, in addition to the thoughts you’ll have on your own. One of the most encouraging things for my wife was to learn of other FaithWalkers who had already emerged on the other side of significant life transitions. She found great comfort in Biblical stories, as well, such as those of Abraham and Sarah — ordinary people who lived memorable stories by walking with extraordinary faith.

7. You must make a habit of praying — hard. Don’t wait until a crisis arrives before cultivating a deeper prayer life. Henri Nouwen said, “Prayer is a great adventure because the God with whom we enter into a new relationship is greater than we are and defies all our calculations and predictions.” Share your concerns with God before sharing them with others.

8. You’ll need to repeat the previous step. Often. If you think you don’t have time to pray, that’s exactly when you know you should. It’s when we have no communion with God that we hear no calling from God.

9. You can expect to fail. You should also expect to get back up. We focus a lot on Peter’s failure to keep walking on the water in the midst of great uncertainty. But seldom do we consider how he got back into the boat. Matthew doesn’t tell us Jesus carried the soaking-wet disciple or magically transported him. The most likely answer? Peter walked. On water. Again.

10. Get a lot of counsel, but listen most closely to those who’ve actually done what you are thinking of doing. Seek out those who’ve been there, done that. These days, you can buy the t-shirt online. But scars only come from experience.

Bill Blankschaen is the author of A Story Worth Telling: Your Field Guide to Living an Authentic Life, just released from Abingdon Press. A writer, speaker, and content strategist, he blogs at Patheos on church and culture and at FaithWalkers.com where he helps Christians live an authentic life with abundant faith. Follow on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn.

7 Ways to Tell it May Be a God Thing — Helping Discern if God is In This

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And without faith it is impossible to please God… Hebrews 11:6

We live by faith, not by sight. 2 Corinthians 5:7

For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you. 2 Chronicles 20:12

But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 1 Corinthians 1:27

God calls people to seemingly impossible tasks. It gives Him glory when I can’t do something, but He can. I can do “all things through Christ who strengthen me“, but often what He calls me to do can seem foolish to attempt (at least to others — and sometimes me) at the time. Imagine what the friends of Abraham, Moses, and Noah must have thought when God called them to what appeared to be impossible assignments. God calls people to walk by faith into the unknown.

If you know God has called you to something don’t be dismayed if others can’t quickly identify with your calling. In my experience, God is often raising up others with the same heartbeat, but you can’t always see them at the time, so there may be periods when you have to stand alone on God’s calling. That may be for a season, but at times it could be for years. (Consider the case of Noah.)

With that in mind, what are some indicators what you are experiencing might just be of God.

Here are 7 ways to tell it may be a God thing:

  • Everyone says it can’t be done. There’s no way. It’s never been done before.
  • You feel you aren’t qualified. You don’t have what it takes. You’re scared. Overwhelmed. Under-prepared.
  • There aren’t enough resources available. Not enough money. Not enough people. (or so it seems) You don’t have the building, or the location or the perfectly mapped-out strategy.
  • It makes no rational sense. Seriously, who in their right mind would do this?
  • People are questioning your intelligence. Or asking if you are “sure you know what you are doing”.
  • Accomplishing it would give God all the glory. There would be no other explanation.
  • It honors God and is true to His Word.

I’m not saying this post confirms what you are attempting is from God. It might. It might not.

What I am saying is that you should not dismiss the call you believe God has placed on your life because it doesn’t make sense to others around you — or to yourself at times. God things seldom do. Read a few Bible stories if you need some inspiration — or confirmation of what I’m saying.

Are you in the midst of a God-calling?

Has God called you to things which made no sense at the time?

What would you add to my list?

5 Thoughts on Leadership from the Life of David

A businessman at the entrance to a maze

The best book from which to find leadership principles is the Bible. I love, for example, learning from leaders like Abraham, Moses, Joseph, Jacob, Nehemiah — and I could keep going. Of course, the greatest leader of the Bible — and life — is Jesus.

And, I love reading about King David. From his time in the wilderness and serving as king, good and bad, we learn a great deal about leadership and what is required to successfully lead by observing David.

Take for example this story. It’s one of my favorites. I’ve used this dozens of times to encourage leaders.

When David was told, “Look, the Philistines are fighting against Keilah and are looting the threshing floors,” he inquired of the LORD, saying, “Shall I go and attack these Philistines?”The LORD answered him, “Go, attack the Philistines and save Keilah. But David’s men said to him, “Here in Judah we are afraid. How much more, then, if we go to Keilah against the Philistine forces!” 1 Samuel 23:1-3

Notice David had a vision — a word from God. This was a bigger request than David and his men probably felt capable of doing. They were still a young army. This was prior to David reigning as king. He had been anointed king by God, but did not yet have the position. He was hiding from Saul. He didn’t have a king’s palace. He spent much of his time in a cave. This new assignment was scary, his army was questioning him, and the future was unknown.

Have you experienced a situation like that as a leader?

Thankfully David’s story had a happy ending: (Imagine that since God put him up to it.)

But, even with a happy ending ahead — like most of our stories — that didn’t mean victory would come without challenges.

Read some more of the story.

Once again David inquired of the LORD, and the LORD answered him, “Go down to Keilah, for I am going to give the Philistines into your hand.” So David and his men went to Keilah, fought the Philistines and carried off their livestock. He inflicted heavy losses on the Philistines and saved the people of Keilah. 1 Samuel 23:4-5

This story prompts 5 thoughts on leadership I think are appropriate for all of us:

We seldom get to rest for long – In church planting and in church revitalization — and in my years leading in the business world — I never knew seasons of rest for very long. They could be good seasons or not so good seasons, but there was always something demanding our attention. Something new was happening. There were challenges around us.

It reminds me that we must rest along the way. Don’t expect things to “slow down” so you can catch up. They won’t. You’ll have to be disciplined to decompress regularly. God even commanded it into the system. It’s called the Sabbath. And, we need it. Our souls need it.

Next steps are scary – If they weren’t people wouldn’t need a leader. Next steps involve risk, require faith, and the future is an unknown. If David had not been obedient his “team” would have easily sat this one out — ignoring the command of God.

Leaders lead – That’s what leaders do. They take people where they need to go, maybe even where they want to go, and sometimes where they are hesitant, afraid or may not yet be prepared to go. People don’t need a leader to stay where they are currently. We could manage that.

As a leader I have to be obedient, even when the demands are bigger than I think our team can handle — bigger than I as a leader know how to lead. That’s what leaders do. We chart the way — even when the way isn’t neat, tidy, and clearly defined.

Big visions require faith – God doesn’t call us to that which is easy. He would receive no glory in us doing things we can naturally do — and seriously — what kind of a dream is it if it’s easily accomplished? Surely the God who can do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine would want us to dream bigger than that which is easily attained.

Victory won’t come unless we move forward – You can’t realize the rewards of a God-given vision until you take the required actions. Standing still is safer, but it doesn’t bring the satisfaction of a well-executed, bold move of faith. And, leaders must be willing to take the first step.

What are you being called to these days that is bigger than you?

4 Realities to Help Discern a Vocational Call to Ministry

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Discerning a call to vocational ministry can be a tiring and trying experience.

I’ve had the privilege of speaking with numerous young people and couples who are possibly experiencing a call to full-time, vocational missions or ministry. They don’t always know what they are supposed to do — usually not — but they know their vocation is to be a part of the mission of Christ.

Talking with people at this stage of life is one of my favorite things to do. It fuels me in ministry to help others process their call.

Having also wrestled through this issue years ago with two teenage sons makes this something very personal to me. Obviously I have my own experience in this area of wrestling through a call to vocational ministry. My wrestling was a 10 year process.

The counsel I gave my boys came to me suddenly one day. I’m not pretending it was inspired, but it certainly is a product of my personal experience and time spent with God struggling through this issue. I’ve used this teaching many times since then.

Basically I like to help people understand that the “call”, in my understanding, is not a call to a group of people or a geographic location as much as it is to a person; the person of Jesus Christ.

That’s important, because a lot of times someone begins to sense a calling after a mission trip to a certain area and feel as if that is the place they must go to serve God. That may be the place God wants to use them, but it could be that God just wants their availability, right where they are or elsewhere and God used the specific place to stir their heart towards serving vocationally.

I’m not saying He doesn’t send people to specific places or groups of people, but I do believe He reserves the right to change that at any time, because ultimately a person is called into a relationship with God first and a location second. In fact, I’ve several times in my call sensed God was even giving me freedom to choose where I served

After establishing that the ultimate call is to the person of Christ, I share a few principles. These are actually realities — based on my experience — of the vocational call. These won’t make the decision for the person. I can’t do that. They are intended to help someone think through their calling. The person who is sensing a call can often begin to discern that this IS the call based on the way they respond to these four words.

Four realities of call of God on a person’s life is:

Irresistible

You can’t refuse this kind of call and still live at peace with God. He will still love you. You may even be successful in what you are doing, but something will always eat at you until you surrender to this type of call. (Think of Jonah on the boat, attempting to run from God — even before the storm came.) That was the case in my situation. As much as I wanted success in business — and I had some — none of that brought me peace until I surrendered to God’s will for my life.

Irreplaceable

Nothing else will satisfy a person like this call. Nothing will fill that void — that emptiness. If God’s greatest desire for a person’s life on whom He places the “call”. I found no real joy in my work, until I was serving in the career choice God wanted me to serve.

Irrevocable

God doesn’t take this call away from a person once He has placed it on their life. At times, especially when things are stressful in ministry, I have glanced at other opportunities, but I know I cannot go backwards from this call God has placed on my life. I may serve Him in a number of capacities and places over the years — I believe that could even be in business if He chose that. It doesn’t necessarily have to be as a pastor or in a local church — but I know one decision in my vocational career is solved — I work for Him. My end “product” of my life is advancing His mission — not mine.

Immediate

The call of God on a person’s life begins at the moment of the call. Often people want to get the right degree or start drawing a paycheck before they live out the call God has placed on their life. I don’t believe that’s the call. The call is to “Go” and the time is NOW. (Jesus taught this reality in Matthew 8.) That doesn’t mean the person shouldn’t gain education, experience, or even a paycheck, but if a person has received a call from God on their life the time to get started doing something towards that call is now! When I realized a vocational call to ministry was being placed on my life, I started immediately; with no promise of income or position. I simply started serving people. Opportunities and specific assignments quickly followed.

Are you feeling those four words heavy on your heart? Perhaps God is trying to get your attention.

For a Biblical example of this type calling which includes each of these four points, read Jonah’s story again.

Have you wrestled or are you wrestling through a vocational call to ministry? What was your experience?