4 Suggestions for Managing the Highs and Lows of Ministry

balance

Pastoring can be an emotional roller coaster at times.

You have a great Sunday and then the critics seem to come out on Monday morning. (Or Sunday walking out of church.)

You have your week planned and numerous crises happen in the same week — and your “day off” is spent part of the day preparing for Sunday. (And, don’t they seem to come around often.)

It seems you can never get ahead and you’re always playing catch-up.

It’s life. It’s ministry. It’s normal. (And, it’s not just pastors.)

Some days are always better than others, but learning how to deal with the highs and lows is a major key in sustaining yourself for ministry long-term.

How do we do that?

Here are four suggestions that help me:

Find your rhythm – You’ll be healthier and happier when you find the balance to your life. When you know the right amount of sleep. When you get an exercise and healthy eating plan. When you learn how to say no to things you simply can’t do or someone else can do better than you. I also find checklists keep me on task. Figure out what works for you and you’ll be in a better rhythm when the harder seasons of life and ministry come. By the way, interruptions aren’t as big an interruption when you plan as if they are normal.

Lean into others – You are not alone. Let me say that again. You are not alone. Think of the story of Elijah (1 Kings 19) and remember — Others are praying for you, God has a plan, and He cares for you! Be willing to humble yourself, be vulnerable, and ask for help when needed. Even see a counselor periodically if it will help. There’s no shame in that. But, surround yourself with people who have access into the deepest parts of your life and the freedom to say the hard words you need to hear.

Become a better delegator – Drop the right to control everything. If I could I would say that to every pastor. The body is well-defined in Scripture. There’s a hand — a foot — a tongue — many parts. Don’t try to do them all. In fact, you can’t be and weren’t designed to be. Be intentional about allowing others to share the burden. That’s good advice not just for Moses — it’s good for you. And, it builds leadership in others that could be the discipleship encouragement they need.

Keep the vision ever before you – Our mission as a church is “Leading people to Jesus and nurturing them in their faith.” I inherited that when I arrived, but it meshes well with my passion for ministry. It’s what gets me out of bed in the morning. When I’m having a bad day, I go back to what I love doing. I intentionally lead. I nurture. I help build disciples. It always fires me up to see someone get more excited about Jesus!

It’s true for all of us, but maybe especially in ministry. We seldom know all the good we are doing. It keeps us dependent on God. My guess is you’re doing better than you think you are and I’m sure of this — your faithfulness will one day be rewarded.

Ministry is hard. It’s even harder when you aren’t prepared. Take some time now and consider how you are responding to the demands of ministry, how you can improve, and developing a plan to address any concerns you uncover.

5 Real Reasons Most Dreams Never Come True.

Aspirations

I talk to a lot of frustrated people in my work. I meet a lot of people chasing after something — yet never seeming to find what they are seeking. I think many times — and most of us are prone to doing this — we make excuses rather better than we make progress. And there are reasons that is the case.

Here are 5 of the real reasons most dreams never come true:

People quit trying. They give up. They may have tried before and it didn’t work, so now they don’t try at all. Seldom is a dream — a worthy dream — realized on the first attempt. The greatest discoveries are seldom found along the path of least resistance.

People aren’t willing to work hard enough. If you have a dream — it will be difficult to achieve. Might I say that it again. It will be difficult. Otherwise it’s not much of a dream. I think sometimes we expect it “just to happen”. But, dreams don’t happen by chance. Lucky isn’t a skill in achieving dreams. You might be “in the right place at the right time”, but those opportunities are rare.

People put too much hope in others and not enough confidence in themselves. Others don’t put as much energy or thought into your dream as you do. Many people never realize a dream because they expected something from others they never agreed to do.

People have unrealistic dreams. Seriously, if the dream is for a trouble-free, perfect life — that’s probably not going to become a reality. Learning to navigate an excellent dream in the midst of a world full of sorrow is a key to discovering the greatest — and most achievable — dreams in life.

People devalue the dreams already realized. This is a biggie. Sometimes we really are “living the dream”. If we always live thinking the “grass is greener” with the “next big thing” we never fully appreciate the dreams God has already given us.

Are you in a funk, because you think your dreams are passing you by? Could there be a reason for that?

If I Were God — Would I Hire Me?

Application for employment

I’m not trying to be cute or clever with the title or with this post. The thought occurred to me recently.

If I were God — would I hire me?

Now granted, I’m not God. You can say a loud amen to that. And, God is not like me. Bigger amen expected.

Everyone God calls is unqualified apart from His grace. And, God calls unlikely people to do extraordinary work.

But, just for my own thought and evaluation process, my thoughts pondered this question recently.

If I were God — like if for a minute I got to make a choice concerning my employment for God — what would I choose?

Would I choose me?

Do I often complain more than I try to find solutions?

Do I fail to see the long-term gain favoring instead the momentary personal pleasure?

Do I misuse my talents or do I invest them wisely for a greater good?

Do I consistently walk by faith or am I consumed with fear?

Do I learn from my failures or am I too full of pride to be teachable?

Do I obey quickly or find a million excuses why I can’t do what I’ve been asked to do?

Do I put others’ interests ahead of my own or am I selfish towards others?

If I were God — would I hire me?

The good news is — God did hire me — and yet I answer all those questions the wrong way at times. I’m so glad God is not like me — and that I’m not God.

But, the application of my thought process — understanding the grace extended to me — I want to be a good employee. A good servant. One who hears “Well done…”

What about you?

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

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. That doesn’t mean you stop inviting people or investing in the community around you, but you trust that God will stir hearts for His work.

We can’t afford it - You probably can’t. There will seldom 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. Again, that 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. That 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 that you have them. The key is not to live in them, but to live and walk in the faith that God will complete His plans and enable those He calls.

What other fears have you experienced in church planting?

7 Surprises Since Becoming a Pastor

senior pastor

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 that makes me an odd duck in many pastor circles, but it’s actually served me well in my ministry roles.)

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 that 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.)

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 recently 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 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 clean it up before they present it. I had a pastor tell me recently that one man in his congregation blasts him every Sunday about something in a very hurtful way, yet this man claims to be one of his biggest supporters. The pastorate appears to be a “safe” place to unload raw, gut honesty. 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. Job security is in the fact that the job is never completed. 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 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.

Some people love their pastor – 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. Most pastors have people like this in their church. (These are Kingdom-building people!) 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, as well as I do now, before entering the pastorate.

Pastors, any you would share?

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 that, but recently I have received it more frequently so I decided to update this post. (I always note that this post is written about my experiences for people who may currently need it.)

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. That’s the best framework of understanding I have.

I think it is important, however, to realize that 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 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 that God brings a new opportunity my way. That 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?

7 Ways a Pastor has a Great Weekend (Sabbath)

Chaise lounge and umbrella on sand beach.

I recently wrote 7 Ways a Leader Has a Better Weekend. Read that post before you read this one. The most repeated response I received to that post, however, was “Where is the one for pastors?” or “Can you write one for pastors?”

Actually, I thought I was writing for pastors too, but obviously I need to add a little clarity. So, here goes. (By the way, I previously wrote 7 Ways I Protect My Sabbath.)

How does a pastor have a great weekend?

Here are 7 ways:

Plan ahead – Sunday is coming. It comes about the same time every week. And, so should be your Sabbath. It should come every week. I know too many pastors who wait to the last minute to get prepared. They may let everything else distract them during the week, and at the end of the week they have no choice but to cram for a message. I plan my week knowing I’m going to take a day off at the end of the week.

Delegate – Equip people. Lead leaders. This is so critical if you want to disciple others and be effective in your own pastorate. When you believe you are the one who has to do things, or has to know everything, you’ll be married to a ministry more than your spouse. Your schedule will be dictated by ministry needs, which are endless, more than by ministry objectives, which builds disciples.

Entrust people – This may appear the same but some need to hear it again. The fact is, many who think they know how to delegate actually don’t. They assign tasks, but they never delegate responsibility or ownership. In the end, they end up being just as involved in a project as if they’d never delegated. If you think you can do it all or you’re even supposed to you’re going to eventually hit a brick wall. I realize your church sometimes puts undue pressure on you to be everywhere and know everything, but you may have to learn better how to lead the church to a healthier (and more Biblical) reality. You may certainly need to learn to protect your family and your Sabbath.

Write your sermon all week – Get the main idea. Just one. Put it in your schema. All week build on that idea. I use Evernote and I’m consistently adding thoughts to the file for messages. I may have messages I’m building upon that won’t be preached for six months. It makes writing a sermon much easier when I have notes already in place that were spurred from my heart and mind through daily living.

Be willing to say no – It’s amazing how many pastors resist my encouragement on this one. They think they have to be everywhere, even on the weekend. Every social. Every invitation. Everything the church does. I’ve even had church members say “that’s what I’m paid to do”. They want me available when they want me available. I know pastors who agree. The problem is this isn’t practical for my personal health or the health of my family, especially longterm. Which ultimately is not health for the church. Pastor, if you would teach your church to honor the sabbath then shouldn’t you lead the way?

Listen to your spouse and family – If you are not sure if you are protecting your family or personal time…ask them. Give them the opportunity to speak into your life. Ask them if they think ministry gets in the way of your time with them. Ask them to be honest, but to tell you which they think you love more…them or your ministry. (Wow…will you really ask that?…even I’m not sure you should. Actually, I think you already know the answer…whichever it is.) Before I get the emails, let me be clear I’m not talking about your love for Christ. That always comes first. But, love (or devotion) for ministry doesn’t always originate out of love for Christ. Many times it originates simply out of a sense of obligation that’s man made not God inspired. Make sure you’re following Christ more than traditions of men. And make sure your honoring your family over any other human relationship.

Have a true Sabbath – Your weekend may not look like everyone else’s, but you can have one. You can do a Monday and Saturday combination or a Friday and Saturday, whatever works best in your setting. Again, don’t be ruled by what society says is a weekend. Just be ruled by the truth that you need rest. I work six days most weeks. I don’t recommend it unless you’re wired that way. But on my day off…I’m off. It is rare for anything to interrupt that day, except for unavoidable occurrences, (which obviously occur in ministry or outside of ministry). This sounds so harsh to some people, but I don’t mean it to be. I didn’t make up the idea of a Sabbath. I’m just trying to actually live it.

Those are my suggestions. I’m not trying to add more pressure to already stressed out pastors. I love you guys. I’m one of you. I just know you need your Sabbath. You need your rest. God seems to think so too. If you want to last for the long run…honor the Sabbath and keep it holy.

Pastors, who enjoy great weekends (great Sabbaths), what would you add?

The 7 Best Excuses We Make

Excuses File Contains Reasons And Scapegoats

There’s always an excuse if we’re looking for one. I’ve made so many. Even when we are certain God has called us to something, we will stall because an excuse is always near. Most excuses seem reasonable at first glance. Common sense even.

But, following a dream, especially a God-inspired, God-sized dream, always requires a certain level of risk. Walking by faith. Stepping into the unknown. Overcoming 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 help.

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

I can’t – You don’t have what it takes…and so far…aren’t trusting God to provide what you lack. (Gideon would agree. Judges 6)

I won’t – Or at least you won’t 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 that work for Jonah?)

I don’t know how – It seems overwhelming…and you are either too proud to admit it or aren’t willing to learn. (Think Noah knew how to build a boat that large? Genesis 6)

I don’t have time – God calls for obedience now…and you’re preoccupied. And, chances are…with this as an excuse…you never will have time. This has worked for me before too…for a season. (See Luke 9:59)

I’m all alone – It feels that way sometimes, doesn’t it? It’s true. Sometimes we can’t see the forest for the trees. I once thought I was the only one with a burden to plant a church. Little did I know. God had an army prepared. (Elijah thought He was alone…and found out otherwise. 1 Kings 19)

I’m afraid – And you can choose to let fear control you. I have. Many times. It’s a powerful, motivating excuse. Much could go wrong. And, our mind is capable of quickly creating worst-case-scenarios. (Could we learn 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 verbalized this one, but it’s real, isn’t it? (Tell that to the widow in 1 Kings 17…or the disciples who picked up 12 baskets of leftover bread. Matthew 14)

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.

Are you?

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