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?

I Am a Pastor – And, I May Be Suffering From Burnout

What Now?

Desperate man holding his face in hands appears in a miserable state of unhappiness.

Pastor burnout is a common problem in the church today. I hear from pastors on a regular basis facing the stress of ministry. 

Here’s a common scenario, which can cause burnout to happen. These may be some of the more common ones I hear. Perhaps this is your story.

  • The church gets to a certain level.
  • Things start to slow down.
  • The church stops growing.
  • Maybe even slides backwards for a while.
  • Money becomes tighter.
  • People are complaining more.
  • Everyone is asking the pastor “What’s next?” “What do we do now?”
  • You’ve done everything you know how to do.
  • You feel stuck – trapped – afraid – paralyzed – confused – overwhelmed.

And, this is just one scenario. There are so many others. It could be the church is still growing – even rapidly, but the pastor is doing more now than previously. There never seems to be an end to the growth. People are demanding more and more from the pastor – there’s pressure to continue the increases – but, it feels like life is always going to be running out of control.

Pick your own scenario, but I know this – if not careful, the stress will quickly cause the pastor to:

  • Become more sensitive to criticism and stress.
  • Stop reading and learning techniques and strategies.
  • Quit taking risks – for fear of messing something up.
  • Become protective – maybe even isolated from others.
  • Develop excuses for every challenge.
  • Respond defensively to every challenge.
  • Begin to question your abilities.
  • Work harder, but not smarter.

No doubt, even if only a few of these are true, these are impacting every area of your life – including your family. 

If this is your story, I have a few words of encouragement:

  • Get help now. It might be professional help or not, but ask for help today!  You wouldn’t encourage the people you lead to do life alone – so why is it a good idea for you?
  • Surround yourself with people. Not the opposite, which can be a usual response to times like this – especially it seems by pastors.  Find people who love you – they are there if you look.
  • Find your center of gravity again. (Most likely this is Christ, right?)
  • Get back to the truth you already know.  You may start by reading 1 Kings 19 for another time one of God’s servants fell on difficult times. Read the Psalms. 
  • Renew the passion for your vision. God called you to something. He never said it would be easy. God-given dreams rarely are. Let whatever fuels you most fuel you again. This may mean you have to stop doing a lot of other things – even things people expect you to do – so you can better concentrate on what God called you to do. And, I assure you it wasn’t to please everyone. Plus, some of the stuff you are doing someone else probably needs to be – it’s could even be what God has gifted them to uniquely do. 
  • Start doing something towards a goal.  Inactivity never solved anything. you may need to rest – I’ll cover that too, but you may need to see progress towards something new to refuel your tank. Again, this doesn’t mean doing more. It means doing something better with your time – and trusting others with some of the things you’ve been doing. It means getting better as a leader – a Jethro counseled Moses type of leader. An Acts 6 type of leader. 
  • Look for some small wins.  It will help rebuild your confidence.
  • Stay faithful in the small things. Those disciplines you once had – such as reading your Bible everyday – but, you may have gotten distracted from them – they are even more important now. 
  • Discipline your Sabbath. This is huge! God didn’t give this command for seasons when everything was “caught up” and there were no more immediate demands. Those days never come! God knew what He was doing when He commanded a regular Sabbath – and, when He demonstrated it for us in His Creation. So, certainly a day a week, but if you need more it would be better to quit for a quarter than be out for the rest of the game.

Thanks for serving – even when the serving gets difficult. I am praying for you.

(You can make this post better if you share resources you know of to support pastors who may be facing burnout.)


7 Words of Encouragement to the Pastor Busted by Perry Noble

Portrait of businessman looking hopeless while working late at night on black background with copy space

I have a heart for hurting pastors. Several years ago I bought the domain name HurtingPastors.com, but have yet to do anything with it. My schedule hasn’t allowed the time, but my heart for pastors in trouble has continued to grow stronger. Over the years, and in a few different churches, we have been blessed to have some of the pastors in between ministries, or who have dropped out of ministry, attend our church while they recover.

So recently when another mega church pastor hit the news for having been removed from the pastorate my heart went out to him. And, there have been so many others in recent years. It breaks my heart, because I believe it surely must break the heart of God. And, gives the enemy a (temporary) laugh. 

But, my heart, as much as it goes out to the ones we’ve known, goes out equally to the ones we don’t. Surely all pastors are under temptation. Some more than others on any given day. 

So, I have a question. It won’t be for all my readers today, but I hope it reaches the one who needs it most – whoever you are. 

Here is my question: 

While the Christian world was buzzing a few weeks ago about pastor Perry Noble – were you sweating profusely thinking – “Wow! It could have been me!”? 

Perry was busted. Bloggers and Christian news agencies were scrambling to get a post up about his dismissal from the church due to struggles with alcoholism. Thankfully, most of the posts I read were encouraging of grace. The responses I have seen from Perry have been remorseful and, honestly, helpful to Newspring and the Body of Christ in dealing with yet another fallen pastor story. He admitted his wrong, asked forgiveness, agreed with the decision of church elders and encouraged people to continue attending and supporting the leadership of the church.

By all appearances we didn’t shoot our wounded too badly this time. Good job, church. 

(Honestly, this is one of the reasons I usually choose not to post on these stories – and, why I waited on this one. I don’t want to appear to capitalize on the downfall of one of our own.)

But, my heart goes out to the other group I mentioned. I’m not ignoring Perry. I certainly pray the best for him. I have met him a couple times, and although we are not personal friends, I would certainly help him any way I could to seek restoration. 

I just got the feeling Perry’s story probably had a far reaching impact – well beyond Perry and the Newspring family.

Because Perry was such a public figure – because his sins were made widely known – because he was removed in such a public way – there were countless others who could have been – but weren’t. The story could have easily been about you. This time it wasn’t.

Perry was busted. And, for now, there are other pastors still able to hide their sins.

Those are the ones to whom I am writing. If reading of Perry’s downfall caused you to cringe a little – if conviction began to rise in you and you felt a sweltering of guilt in your gut – this post is for you! 

If you have hidden sins of alcoholism, drugs, pornography – maybe even an affair – I want to say a word to you. If you’re caught in depression – or emotionally you are about to crash – if the weight and the secrecy of your sin is overbearing – will you keep reading? 

Here are 7 words of encouragement to the pastor who got busted by Perry Noble:

Jesus loves you. Yea, He still does. You hopefully teach this to your church every Sunday. Please, know it applies to you also. Still. 

You need help. You know this. Again, you would tell anyone in the church this who was living in the sin in which you are living. What makes you think you can do this on your own. We aren’t designed by our Creater to do life alone. Yes, you’ve probably been crying out to Him, and you should continue to do so. You should be wise to whom you confess, but God designed community for times like these.

It will be hard to admit. No sugar-coating here. I’m not pretending otherwise. Saying the first words – admitting the sin – those will be some of the most difficult words you’ve ever spoken. The hardest step will be telling the people you love the most. 

Consequences will be what they will. Yea, I know, this is the one which scares you most. And, we don’t always get a reprieve from consequences. No guarantees the mercy of God will remove them from you. Sometimes, however, our mind is capable of a worst case scenario far greater than reality. The focus in your mind should be less on the consequences, however, and more on the recovery you want to eventually experience.

It’s better to come forward on your own. It is. There is less of a scandal this way. It won’t be as messy. Control is not what you should be seeking now, but it will help you feel less out of control. 

You probably have more supporters than you think you do. There are people who will love you even at your worst. These are the genuine people. They weren’t following or loving you because you held a position of authority. They were following and loving you because you are you. And, what a blessing these people will be when they are truly revealed. And, there are those people around you. I’m sure of it. 

The other side is brighter than today. Because this side is miserable, isn’t it? Hiding. The lies. The lies to cover up the lies. The lies you even tell yourself. Not feeling you are doing your best. The hidden guilt and shame. How much longer do you want to feel this way? 

Some will disagree with where and when – and, I wouldn’t worry about this right now – but, I believe if God placed a call on your life it is still there today. Part of your recovery may be figuring out where God will use you next. He loves to restore people and use them as testimonies of His grace. The Bible we love and teach is full of these stories. Cling to them now and let them fuel you for the days ahead.

Please know my goal is to help, not produce further injury. If you’ve got coal to dump on fallen pastors – or others – keep trolling, please.  

Also, and I edited the post to include this comment, this advice applies to more people than pastors. They just seem to be the ones who make the news and our large part of my readership. 

7 Questions to Help Process the Emotion of Fear

surprised young man

I’ve watched fear keep many people from achieving all God would have them achieve. Fear will keep a guy from pursuing the girl of his dreams. Fear fan drive people to the safe side, rather than to assume the risk required to pursue their dreams. Pastors have even refused to address the needed changes in their church – not because it was challenging – but, because they were afraid. (Anyone identify with this one?)

Fear is the enemy of progress. It is the antagonist of pursuit. Fear can be the deadly foe of fulfillment in life. And, fear can be a leader’s worst enemy.

How can we overcome the dreaded fear all of us face frequently?

I don’t know if we can completely get rid of fear – or if we even want to completely – but, I do think we should and need to learn to manage the fear in our life. That’s the hope of this post. It won’t solve your fear problems, but it I’ll give you something to think about next time you’re afraid.

Let me provide some questions to process your fear the next time you are faced with a need.

Ask yourself these 7 questions:

Is it a God-given or a man-made fear?

This is a huge step. Fear is an emotion and God can use fear to keep you from harm. Is what you would be doing against God’s will for you or others? If it’s wrong to do, no wonder you are afraid. God may be trying to protect you. If you are continually making bad decisions in your life, you’ll likely live in fear. You may not even be able to understand the emotion, but in my experience, it’s one way God draws His children to Himself. Failure to walk by faith, which is a sin by the way, can also bring upon the emotion of fear. If you’re fear is from God – obey God! This is your answer – every time.

Is it a rational or an irrational fear?

Consider whether you are basing your fears on fact or fiction. Are you making up the scenario of what could go wrong or is the fear based on real information you have? Our minds can be our worst excuse – if we need one, we will find it. Be honest with yourself here. If you’ve been making up the excuses, it’s time to dismiss them and proceed.

Is it probable or improbable?

The truth is most of what we fear never comes true. Again, our mind is capable of all kinds of worst-case scenarios which keep us from moving forward. We shouldn’t allow fear in things which will probably never even happen stop what God may want to bring in our life. God may have a miracle for you – and, you’re allowing a made-up scenario hold you from it. The fact is you may fail, but remember, failure is a part of building life experience. Unless you know you’re going to fail (which is highly unlikely you would know this in advance), if it’s not sinful, and you feel you’re supposed to – I suggest you move forward.

Can anything be done to diminish the risk?

We should attempt to diminish fear through planning and preparation as much as possible. There is nothing wrong and everything right about being prepared. I’m not motivated by fear, but I have an alarm system at my house. (And, one of my father’s pistols he left me when he died!) If your fear is based on a lack of preparation, get busy developing the systems and strategies to help you succeed. Ask for help if you need it.

Is what I’m fearing necessary or unnecessary?

Is this something you must address? If it’s a conflict you’ve been avoiding, for example, the fear will only get stronger the longer you wait. The earlier you face the fear the more likely you’ll get positive results. Sooner or later, the fear must be faced. What better time than now? If it’s not really necessary, and there is no pressure upon you, you may not have to face this fear. I once jumped out of a perfectly good airplane. But, if you don’t have the desire – don’t do it.

Is the fear personal or impersonal?

Are you afraid of your abilities or the reaction of others? Do you wonder if you have what it takes? It’s only natural a challenge would create an amount of fear – even a captivation with fear. Every act of courage means you ignore an aspect of fear. Don’t let your insecurities keep you from achieving your dreams.

Are you satisfied with the status quo?

I know it’s a hard question, but if fear is keeping you from moving forward, and you’ve answered the other questions, this may be the one. You need to strongly consider the repercussions of giving into your fear. It may mean you stand still. It may mean you go backwards. It may mean you never realize the dreams you have for your life or the calling God has placed upon you. Are you willing to live with this reality?

Have you allowed fear to keep you from realizing all God has for you?

7 Surprises Since Becoming a Pastor

Minority pastor set on a white background

I love pastors. I haven’t been a pastor throughout my career. In fact, I spent most of my career to this point in the business world. (I realize this makes me an odd duck in many pastor circles, but it’s actually served me well in my ministry roles.) But, even before I was in ministry – I loved pastors.

Coming into ministry later in life, after being a church member, deacon and Sunday school teacher, has given me a unique perspective. I’ve seen ways the church interacts with the pastor I simply had no idea of before I was a pastor. A few surprises have occurred, probably especially when interacting with other pastors who are now my peers.

Thankfully, I’ve been in churches that mostly support me as pastor, but I interact with pastors in caustic church environments everyday. Even so, they are some similarities it seems with all pastors. And some of these, or at least the degree to which they exist, has been surprising.

Here are 7 of the biggest surprises in being a pastor:

People don’t understand the role.

The old adage that the pastor only works on Sunday – I’m surprised how many think something similar. They may not think Sunday is the only day the pastor works – some can catch on the message actually has to be written – but they don’t realize the weight of other responsibilities the pastor deals with on a weekly basis. It really is simply an innocent misunderstanding of what’s involved in the position of pastor. (It may seem a contradiction and yet this next one is equally true.)

The various opinions of how a pastor should pastor.

Some think I should be the only speaker the church has. Some think I should make every hospital visit. Some want me to do more administration. Some believe I am the resident counselor. Some think I should know every detail of every ministry and every event on the church’s calendar. You get the idea. As diverse as the people of a church are exists the range of opinions here. Thom Rainer wrote an interesting post on this issue and how many hours a week accomplishing expectations would mean a pastor should work. Read it HERE.

People often lose their filter when talking to a pastor.

It amazes me what people feel comfortable telling a pastor. It is beyond the expected confidentiality issues one expects. It could be criticism of the pastor or gossip about someone else, but many don’t hold back their opinion no matter how harsh it may be. And they don’t often clean it up before they present it. I have had pastors tell me they have people in their congregation who blast themm every Sunday about something – always in a very hurtful way. And, crazy, some of these same people will claim to be one of pastor’s biggest supporters to their face. The pastor should be a “safe place” to be real – even with your emotions. Unfortunately however, I think some people believe the pastor has no feelings or is expected to be “tough enough” to handle the jabs and process the rumors.

The job is never finished.

I guess I knew this, but not to the degree I do now. And, there are many jobs like this. There is always one more thing I could’ve done when I go home at night. Lives keep falling apart. People keep sinning. Marriages are in trouble. It could be overwhelming, and I could refuse to rest and neglect my family if I wasn’t disciplined, and if I didn’t have a keen awareness that Jesus is ultimately in control. My heart goes out to (and it is part of the motivation of this blog) pastors who haven’t learned or aren’t practicing this discipline or this truth.

Everything isn’t always as it seems.

People are hurting. Many of those hurts are hidden. You can’t “judge a book by the cover” when it comes to people. There are always two sides to an issue. Everyone has a story and it isn’t always the story you are thinking. Being a pastor has taught me it is unfair to judge people by what you think you know until you know the whole story. I’ve better realized the importance of extending grace before I know, and even if I never know, the full story.

Sunday is coming.

Every. Single. Week. I never realized how fast the weekend comes around until I became a pastor. Don’t misunderstand – I’m glad it does – it’s my favorite day of the week, but I just never realized how fast it does so until now. My first thought when I walk away from church on Sunday morning is – Sunday’s coming!

Some people truly love their pastor.

They do. There are some of the best pastor-supporters in the church. Most churches have someone who truly loves the pastor and wants the best for them. (These are Kingdom-building people!) And, I’m so thankful. It’s amazing how supportive and encouraging some people can be. I honestly believe they would do anything for Cheryl and me. I know, especially from some of my pastor friends in especially difficult situations, that these type people keep a pastor going some days. If you’re one of those pastor supporting types – on behalf of all pastors – THANK YOU!

Those are a few things I didn’t know, at least as well as I do now, before entering the pastorate.

Pastors, any you would share?

12 Words of Encouragement for Pastors (Or Other Leaders)

caucasian business executive praising subordinate by giving a pat on the shoulder.

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

I frequently have pastors – or other leaders – ask me for my “best advice” for those in leadership positions. I have to be candid – it’s a difficult request. I’ve learned so much through the pastors who have invested in me and by experience. It’s hard to summarize all I’ve learned over the years – especially by trial and error. It could probably fill a book or two – but certainly more than one blog post!

I put some thought into the question and decided to come up with a list of encouragement, one I would give to all pastors or leaders, to answer the question. I will address pastors, but wisdom is transferable to other fields, so change a few words and I’d give this advice to any leaders. I decided my best advice deals with the soul of a leader – hence the title.

Here are 12 words of encouragement to protect the soul of pastors:

Choose your friends wisely – but make sure you choose friends.

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

The church can never love your family as much as you do.

Your family needs you more than the church does. They can get another pastor. Your family doesn’t want another you. You’ll have to learn to say “no”, learn how to balance and prioritize your time, and be willing to delegate to others in the church. (I’ve blogged several times on saying no, but you may want to read THIS POST from my friend Michael Hyatt on saying “no” with grace.”)

If you protect your Sabbath day, your Sabbath day can better protect you.

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

You have influence – use it well.

The pastorate comes with tremendous power and responsibility. It’s easy to abuse or take for granted. Don’t do it! Humility welcomes the hand of God on your ministry. Use your influence for Kingdom good more than for personal gain.

No amount of accountability or structure can stop failure if a heart is impure.

Above all else, guard your heart. (Proverbs 4:23) Avoid any hint of temptation. Look for the warning signs your heart is drifting. Allow others the freedom to speak into the dark places of your life, but, more than anything, keep your heart saturated with God’s Word and in prayer.

Let God lead.

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

If you can dream it, God can dream it bigger.

Don’t dismiss the seemingly ridiculous things God calls you to do. They won’t always make sense to others or meet their immediate approval, but God’s ways will prove best every time. When you ever stop being encouraged towards the seemingly impossible you may need to question whether you’re still walking by faith.

Keep Jesus the center of focus in the church.

You’ll never have a money problem, a people problem, or a growth problem if people are one with Jesus. Jesus always leads people following Him towards truth. So, lead people towards Jesus.

Your personal health affects the health of the church.

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

The people in your church deserve authenticity.

As a leader, you set the bar of expectations, so your authentic actions encourage people to be transparent with you and others. When you’re authentic you help eliminate unrealistic expectations people may place upon you. Don’t be someone you’re not. Be someone worthy to follow, but make sure you’re living it – not just teaching it.

You’ll never make everyone happy.

Part of leadership is making decisions. With every decision comes different opinions of the decision you made. If your goal is to make people happy you’ll end up being very unhappy – and very unproductive. Everyone will suffer as you strive to be popular, but flounder in effectiveness.

People only know what they know.

One of the biggest mistakes I’ve made (and make) in leadership is assuming everyone will be on the same page as me – or they understand what I’m trying to communicate. This is unfair to people who don’t have the vantage point I have or who don’t even view the world as I view it. The more I grow as a leader the more I realize one of my greatest needs is more and better communication.

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

7 Common Excuses for Not Doing What We Know God has Called Us To Do

Excuses File Contains Reasons And Scapegoats

There’s always an excuse if we’re looking for one.

I’ve made so many excuses in my life. For years I may have sensed God was calling me into vocational ministry, but I had to provide for my family. I would be leading with the limps of previous failures – how and why would God use me? I didn’t have the most pastoral qualities either. For example, I’m far more of an organizational developer than I am a caregiver for the sick. There were a dozen others. If anyone had an encouragement for me to be in ministry – and I received lots – I had an excuse why it wasn’t a good idea.

Even when we are certain God has called us to something, we will stall because an excuse is always near. 

And, most excuses seem reasonable at first glance. Common sense even. Think about the excuses Moses made for following God. I have to be honest – when I hear them, they make sense to me. I mean, if you’re not a good communicator – why send you as the chief spokesman for God?

But, God’s ways are not my ways – or Moses – or yours.

The reality is following a God-inspired, God-sized dream, always requires stepping into the unknown and always demands we overcome our excuses.

Are you stalling? Maybe you’re even running out of another good excuse. If an opportunity is still staring you in the face, let me encourage you from some of the best excuses I’ve used or heard – which have more times than not been proven wrong. 

Here are 7 of the most common excuses I’ve used or heard:

I can’t!

Your excuse is you don’t have what it takes. And, the sad part of this excuse – this also means you aren’t trusting God to provide what you lack. Saying I can’t to a God thing is an indicator of faith. If God calls you to it – you can do it because whatever you lack He will supply . (Gideon would love to weigh in on this excuse. Judges 6)

I don’t know how!

The task seems overwhelming and you may be too proud to ask for help. So, I don’t know how will just have to do for now. If you trace its roots – this excuse is often fueled by either laziness, apathy or fear. (Do you think Noah knew how to build a boat the size of an ark? See Genesis 6)

I don’t have time!

God calls for obedience now, but you’re preoccupied. And, chances are – with this as an excuse – you never will have time. This one has worked for me before too – for a season. What it really means is I have my time and God’s time. And, more specifically, I have my agenda and God’s agenda – and there is no time left in my agenda. (See how Jesus liked this excuse in Luke 9:57-62)

I’m all alone!

Leading out by faith feels this way sometimes, doesn’t it? Sometimes we can’t see the forest for the trees when it comes to being obedient to God’s call. I once thought I was the only one with a burden to plant a church. It seemed to be a lonely burden until we stepped forward in faith. Little did Cheryl and I know God had an army of core members prepared just waiting to be asked. (Remember, Elijah thought He was alone – and he found out otherwise. 1 Kings 19)

I’m afraid!

And, the reality of this excuse is you can choose to let fear control you. I have. Many times. Fear is simply an emotion and it’s a powerful, often motivating excuse. Much could go wrong with your dream. You could mess it up! You could have misunderstood what you sense God calling you to do. Plus, our mind is capable and skilled at quickly creating worst-case-scenarios. But, know this. Trusting God, even when you’re afraid to do so, always produces God-appointed and God-sized victories. In fact, you can’t possibly get to the victory until you face the fear. (Could we learn anything here from Esther? Esther 3)

I can’t afford it!

You’re afraid the dream will be more expensive than the provision of God. You wouldn’t verbalize this one, but it’s real, isn’t it? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the money fear raised by potential church planters. I often say the money is in the harvest. (Tell this excuse to the widow in 1 Kings 17 or the disciples who picked up 12 baskets of leftover bread in Matthew 14)

I won’t!

This may be the boldest excuse. With this excuse you simply refuse. You may disguise it lots of ways, but the fact is you’re doing things your way – instead of God’s way. You can combine all the other excuses here, because you won’t even give it a try. In fact, if the truth is known, you’d rather run some more. I did this one for years. (How did this excuse work for Jonah?)

There will always be an excuse not to follow the dreams God lays on your heart. Obstacles in life are plentiful. You can keep making excuses, or you can address them one excuse at a time. The one who achieves most is often the one most willing to overcome excuses.

What excuse are you using to stall on God’s plan?

5 Legitimate Fears of a Church Planter

Scared Afraid Man Wrapped in Red Fear Tape

Having participated in two church plants as a planter, and now working with church planters on a regular basis in a coaching capacity, I know first hand the fears associated with planting a church. It’s a leap of faith and one God is calling many to these days.

My theory here is recognizing the fear and realizing their legitimacy is part of guarding our hearts against them. The fact remains – for a church plant to be successful, at least in Kingdom terms, God must provide His grace.

Keep in mind, Jesus said not to be afraid. Fear is usually a substitute for trust. But, unless you are perfect – which I suspect you’re not, you’re subject to normal human emotions. The kind church planting produces.

Here are 5 legitimate fears of church planters:

No one will show up.

If we do all this work and it doesn’t work – what will we do? You’ll be thankful you were obedient to what you believe God called you to do and wait patiently for Him to provide. We had to consistently remind our core team that God was in control of numbers. Our job was to be faithful. This doesn’t mean you stop inviting people or investing in the community around you, but you trust God will stir hearts for His work.

We can’t afford it.

You probably can’t. Seriously – not with what you can see. And, seldom there be “enough money” – or so it may seem at times. God calls us to big tasks. Church planting is hard – and not cheap. But, the Lord will provide resources for His vision. This doesn’t mean you don’t need to educate people on the needs or help them understand the command, value and blessing of giving, but it does mean you trust God even when the checkbook balance is low. It also doesn’t mean you won’t have to wait to make major purchases or there won’t be times you have to wait until “Sunday’s offering” to get paid. Our paycheck was delayed several times the first couple years so other bills – and other staff – could be paid, but we were never hungry.

I don’t know what I’m doing.

Isn’t it wonderful? It means you’re insufficient without His sufficiency. What a great place to reside! The great news is that many have gone before you. Learn from others and stay on your knees before God.

People will leave

True. Most core teams are cut in half in the first few years. At first I thought we were to be the exception. We weren’t. Other people will come and never return. But, some will stick. And, they will have hearts for the vision. And, in them we rejoice at what God has done. We build our teams around those who God sends to us and who remain steadfast to the journey ahead. The team may change several times the first few years.

We don’t have a building

No, but you probably don’t have a mortgage either. And, you’re raising up an army of volunteers for set up and tear down. You are building service and sacrifice into your DNA as a church. Isn’t it wonderful! Don’t lose that atmosphere and culture of dependency, even when you have a building someday.

Final thought. These fears are legitimate – real fears. Don’t be ashamed you have them. The key is not to live in them, but to live and walk in the faith God will complete His plans and enable those He calls.

What other fears have you experienced in church planting?

Some Thoughts on Addressing the Loneliness of a Pastor

Man alone

Pastoring can be lonely.

As a pastor, I’m supposed to find my strength in Christ, (and you have to know how helpful it is to be reminded as if those who are not pastors are not commanded to do likewise 🙂 ) and I do seek Christ as my ultimate strength. I teach the Bible regularly, however, the Bible says we are to “bear with one another“. God didn’t design us to do life alone. This goes for pastors also.

From my experience, those in ministry leadership are some of the loneliest people. I hear from them everyday.

I was talking with a young pastor recently. He said, “Who is going to invest in me?”

I understand the sentiment. He is struggling for answers he can’t seem to find — practical answers. People are looking to him for leadership and seminary didn’t teach him all he needs to know. I think every good leader asks that at same question — hopefully often.

Later in the week, I talked to an older pastor. He said, “I go home most days and haven’t heard a single positive word. Things are going great. We are growing faster than ever, but it seems I get far more of the negatives than I get to hear of the good we are doing.”

All I could do was agree. I’ve felt that way before many times.

When the weight of ministry responsibility appears to rest on your shoulder – when everyone looks to you for the answer – when some days you don’t know which direction to turn – when you are balancing the demands of ministry and family – when you are seen as a key in helping everyone with a problem hold their life together – yet you feel no one is concerned about your personal struggles – and you don’t know who to trust —

What do you do during those seasons of ministry?

You remember God’s words of encouragement.

Cast your cares upon the Lord because He cares for you.

Yes, this is the first answer.

Next, find a mentor. You find someone who is walking further down the road from you, but going in the direction you want to go. I’ve written extensively about this, but you can start HERE.

And then regularly:

Surround yourself with a few pastors at the same level you are organizationally. (If it’s a pastor, youth minister, etc.) It seems to work best if the churches are similar in size and structure. They’ll best understand.

Work to develop a close enough relationship with them, over time, where you can trust them. You may have to spend some of your free time and even travel to do this. Learn from each other, seek wisdom from more seasoned people together, and grow together in the ministry.

Consistently share burdens, concerns, and encouragements with each other. You can do this occasionally in person, but more frequently over the phone or online. Chances are they need this as much as you do, so be the one to take the initiative.

I hear what some pastors are thinking, because it has been said to me so many times. You often think those groups aren’t there for you. You’ve tried before and couldn’t find them.

To this I would say:

  • Keep trying. It’s worth it.
  • Treat this like any other friendship. It takes commitment and has to be a balance of give and take.
  • Be willing to be vulnerable.
  • Risk the rejection to extend an offer for friendship.
  • Use social media, denominational leadership, recommendations from others to find these pastors — whatever if necessary. (This has been one of the greatest benefits of social media for me, by the way.)

Some of these relationships I have had to develop outside my own city. I’ve found they are valuable enough to justify the time and financial investment required.

Please know I’m praying for you pastors. 

Pastor, help other pastors by commenting with how you handle the loneliness of leadership. 

5 Shared Characteristics Needed to do Church Planting or Church Revitalization

Typical Rural Icelandic Church under a blue summer sky

Church planting is a difficult, but rewarding assignment in ministry. So is church revitalization. I’ve been trying to make the case we need both — planting and revitalization. All pastors and planters should operate under a calling of God, but it does appear to me that there are some unique qualifications for those who want to start a church or transition it to grow again.

I’ve been blessed with both experiences. In fact, having only been in ministry about 15 years, my only experience is in one of the two. I’ve been in two churches needing to revitalize and two church plants.

And, from this experience, here are five characteristics I believe it takes to be an effective in both worlds:

An entrepreneurial spirit

There is an element of enjoying risk — certainly of being willing to assume risk — in most church planters and church revitalization pastors I have met. You have to love things which are new and growing. There needs to be an entrepreneurial spirit about them, embrace change readily and becoming bored with status-quo. This characteristic can bring it’s own problems, which leads to number two.

Willingness to be patient

Effective planters or revitalization pastors are willing to be patient for God to do His work. The balance between these first two is a constant challenge, because church planters and revitalization pastors are wired to want continual growth, but to be effective they must develop a good plan, surround themselves with the right people, and then wait as God does His work among them.

Have people who believe in you

Church planting or church revitalization is not to be a lone ranger activity. Without the structure of an established church, church planters must depend on people to help develop ministries and systems. Effective church planters learn to rely on volunteers for success and are willing to share leadership and responsibility with others to plant the church. Revitalization pastors are changing an establishment. This can be brutal. There must be some key leaders in the church who will back them in their work – and be there through the hard decisions where it will sometimes seem they have more enemies than friends.

Healthy family life

Church planting and revitalization is a family activity. In both worlds, to be effective, he or she must have a healthy family life. Ministry is tough — this is true for all ministries, but church planting and revitalization, because of the unique uncertainties and risks involved, places additional stress on a marriage and family. Effective church planters and revitalization pastors must begin with and maintain a healthy families.

Close, intimate walk with God

Church planting and revitalization will test a person’s faith many times. Church planting is not always popular in some church communities and can make a planter feel like an outcast in the church community. Revitalization brings challenge to leadership from within. The risks involved and the waiting process challenge both. Like all ministries, these are acts of faith and require constant communication with God. Effective church planters and revitalization pastors must continue to build and draw upon a strong relationship with Christ throughout the process. When I speak to pastors these days, I close with one word of encouragement: YOU MUST PROTECT YOUR SOUL. No one will do this for you. There will always be more demands on your time than you have time. You’ll have to discipline yourself to regularly sit with the Creator of your soul.

Again, many of these are not unique to church planters or revitalization pastors and are shared by others in ministry — even in many secular settings — but my experience as a planter and revitalization pastor leads me to believe these are critical needs for these ministries.