The job of a shepherd: Encouragement for Pastors and Teachers

You can’t change a person’s heart.

That’s the work of God’s Spirit.

Many pastors and teachers get frustrated when people fail to live up to their expectations, or when they come so far only to mess up again. I’ll join you in that frustration. Some take it personal. Even if they are doing all they know to do and are called to do, people wander. Many pastors and teachers I know blame themselves. They allow it to impact their self-esteem or use it as a measure of their effectiveness.

But…

The job of the shepherd is to lead sheep to the source of provision, not be the provision.

Shepherds point people to truth and grace, but you can (and should) trust God with people’s hearts.

The job of a shepherd is not to make grass or water. It’s to lead the sheep to quality grass and water.

You can’t change another person’s heart, so don’t be too frustrated when people don’t seem to change.

That’s God’s job.

Do the leading…let God do the changing.

Do you get frustrated when sheep run astray?

7 Ways I Protect My Sabbath

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

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

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

Here are 7 ways I protect my Sabbath:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor, are you protecting your Sabbath? Be honest.

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

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

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

Bro. Laida: My Interview with a 92 Year Old Pastor, Part 5

This is part five of my interview with Dr. John David Laida. If you missed any of these segments, you can find them here:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

In this final segment, Brother Laida addresses:

  • Word of advice to young pastors
  • Word of warning to young pastors
  • Future of the church
  • Advice on handling change and transition

Are you impressed, as I am, with the insight Brother Laida has shared? Share a word of encouragement to him in the comments. I’ll see that he gets them.

Bro. Laida: My Interview with a 92 Year Old Pastor, Part 3

This is part three of a five part interview with Dr. John David Laida. Brother Laida, as we called him, is a 92 year old pastor (about to turn 93), who, at the time of this filming, is still working full-time in ministry.

If you missed the first two segments, click HERE and HERE.

In this segment you’ll hear Bro. Laida address:

  • The way pastoring has changed
  • Protecting family in ministry
  • Being active in the community
  • Worship styles and adapting to culture

 

Are you enjoying this interview? What impresses you so far about Dr. Laida?

Two more segments of this interview…and they’re good! Stay tuned.

12 Words of Encourgement for Pastors (Or Other Leaders)

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 that many pastors struggle to find people who will invest in them and help them grow as individuals, leaders and pastors.

Recently I had a pastor ask me for my “best advice” for other pastors. Wow! That’s hard to say. I’ve learned so much through the pastors who have invested in me and by experience. It’s hard to summarize all that I’ve learned. It could probably fill a book or two…but at least more than one blog post!

I put some thought into the question and decided to come up with a list of encouragement, one that I would give to all pastors, to answer his question. I’m sure there’s more (and you can help by adding yours), but this post is at least a start. Of course, wisdom is transferable to other fields, so change a few words around and I’d give this advice to any leader…some of them perhaps to any person.

Here are 12 words of encouragement for pastors:

Choose your friends wisely…but 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.

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. (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. Humility welcomes the hand of God on your ministry.

No amount of accountability or structure will keep you from temptation if you’re 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. 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.

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.

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.

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. Not only will be honest about who you are help keep you from trying to meet unreal expectations, but it will help the people in your church be transparent with you and others. 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. If you try, you’ll be very unhappy…and very unproductive.

Now, make this post better. As you can count, there are only 11 here. I’m counting on you to add your best number 12.

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

10 Thank You’s to My Pastor’s Wife

This is to my wife.

It could be to anyone married to a pastor. It’s hard work.

In fact, I’ve said this before, but it may be the most difficult job in the church at times.

But, this one is to my wife. (You’re welcome to read along.)

I’ve also said this before…I have the perfect pastor’s wife. Younger pastor’s wives, if you want to learn how to do it, I’d submit my wife as an example.

As we venture out again on a new journey (There have been many in our years together), I’m reflective on the reasons I’m thankful for my pastor’s wife.

Cheryl,

Thank you for following me where God leads me…without complaining. Usually you are ready to walk by faith before I am. I couldn’t and wouldn’t do this without you.

Thank you keeping confidences. Thank you for biting your tongue when someone complains or criticizes unjustly. Thank you for knowing more “junk” than most people should, and never sharing it with anyone, yet being my closest confidant.

Thank you for being my biggest encourager and never making the church wonder where your support is. Even when the message stinks, you pretend it was wonderful!

Thank you being a safe place…even letting me blow off steam at times. Ministry is hard. I’m glad my wife has big shoulders upon which to cry at times and an incredible faith to point me back where I belong.

Thank you for believing in me when no one else does. You were with God and had me in ministry long before I could see what God was doing. You still believe I can do things of which I’m not so confident.

Thank you for knowing me best yet loving me most. Okay, contrary to public opinion :) , you know I’m not perfect. Far from it. Yet, your love is always undeniable.

Thank you for putting our marriage before any human relationship. At times, that’s meant you had to say no to others so you could say yes to me. Thank you for the sacrifice. Thanks for helping build a marriage and family life the church can easily follow.

Thank you for loving people and Jesus so passionately. The church knows it. Everyone knows it. You fully reflect that in all that you do!

Thank you for being a protection for me. You sense things in people and ministry that I can sense.

Thank you for respecting me unconditionally. You understand the frailty of a man’s ego and know it’s my greatest need and you fill it completely.

Thank you for being my pastor’s wife.

Give a shout out to your pastor or minister’s wife/spouse here! (Better yet, also send her/him a card!)

The Lure (And Danger) of Fame, by Shawn Lovejoy

This is a guest post by Shawn Lovejoy. Shawn is a friend and the Founding and Lead Pastor of Mountain Lake Church, the Directional Leader of churchplanters.com and the author of the newly released book, ‘The Measure of Our Success – An Impassioned Plea to Pastors”. God has used Mountain Lake Church and churchplanters.com to become one of the most influential church planting ministries in the world, and Shawn gives Jesus all the credit. Shawn loves his wife, his kids, the church, pastors, college football, and PlayStation3. In that order. He lives near Atlanta, Georgia.

The Lure (and Danger) of Fame

No pastor would ever admit to the desire to be famous. Our hearts are deceitful, though, aren’t they? Most of us care far too much about the number of Facebook friends, blog readers, and Twitter followers we have. We keep a secret eye on how many times our wisdom is retweeted, and we feel validated and important if we can write an article, speak at a conference, or gain a voice in a larger forum. If we’re honest, often times our desire for “growth” and “influence” is really just a desire to be noticed and affirmed, isn’t it?

Pastors, are we trying to get people to follow us or follow Jesus? The church has too many pastor-followers as it is. Every one of us looks more glamorous from a distance. We all look dirtier up close. I know many famous pastors, and they’re not nearly as perfect as they seem…. or talk. I’m not either. Before I decided to write this book, I had to ask myself, “Why do I want to write this? What do I really hope to achieve?” I must strive every day to keep my motivations in check, because “pride goes before destruction, and haughtiness before a fall” (Prov. 16:18). Fame simply cannot be the measure of our success.

All of us are tempted to measure success by the world’s standards. However, if we do, it ill cost us. It has cost us. It has cost me. I’ve allowed false measures of success to drive me to insecurity, isolation, loneliness, anxiety, and discouragement. Have you ever been there? I bet you have. When we succumb to the temptation, we must repent. We must tear down the idols in our hearts and lives. We must find a new standard of measurement. We must live for an audience of One. We must rediscover His measure of success.

Pastor, is this an area of struggle for you? How are you measuring your success?

I love Shawn’s heart for pastors. I’ve personally benefited from his encouragement and friendship. Shawn is a passionate Kingdom-builder.

Get this book now:

The Measure of Our Success: An Impassioned Plea To Pastors, available today on Amazon.

Introducing My New Ministry Assignment

It’s official. My new assignment is Immanuel Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky. The church voted to call me as their senior pastor yesterday. Cheryl and I are excited.

Immanuel launched as a church on February 1, 1909 with 33 people. Today the church sits on a 22-acre campus located in the heart of Lexington, Kentucky and in close proximity to the University of Kentucky campus. It’s building has 217,000 square feet of usable space. The recreation center houses two full-size basketball courts, an indoor-walking track, aerobics room, cardiovascular workout room and a full- service café known as the Solid Rock Café. They have soccer and baseball fields.

Immanuel has a strong staff who seem eager for leadership and are already functioning as a healthy team. More than that, Immanuel’s people have a heart for missions and service and they truly want to reach Lexington for Christ. Immanuel has a great mix of seniors and youth, and I look forward to learning how to bridge the multi-generational gap for more effective ministry.

Although Immanuel is considerably smaller than my current church, I have never seen a church with more potential!

You may be wondering, what about my current church…and…have I abandoned church planting?

A couple weeks ago, I shared with the church I planted, Grace Community Church, that I was resigning. (You can watch that video HERE.) Leaving Grace is one of the hardest decisions Cheryl and I have ever made and it will always hold a piece of my heart. Grace started with 11 core families and a staff of 3 in our living room about 7 years ago. We’ve seen God do extraordinary things, now averaging over 2,500 in our worship experiences each week.

Grace is in good shape for the future. I don’t believe I would sense God releasing me otherwise. In the providence of God, I recruited a partner in this, my second, church plant. Chad Rowland is fully equipped to lead without me. The staff, who are some of our best friends in ministry, is strong and the team dynamics are extremely healthy. The best days are ahead for Grace.

As for church planting…yes…I love it and always will, but what about church revitalization? To me it’s the same heart. My heart is to see people come to know, love and be like Jesus. I love how that is happening in church plants around the world. As long as I’m breathing I’ll be encouraging church planters and assisting new church plants.

But, what about the older, established church? Who is going to help them thrive again? My heart breaks for church histories, church buildings, and bodies of believers who are mostly being underutilized in their Kingdom potential. I want to play a part in helping an older church see new life. I will begin knowing it will be harder work at times, but confident God is able to work His will in Immanuel through my leadership.

God has been at work at Immanuel for over 100 years. I feel unworthy, humbled and honored to join them in their history, look forward to their future, and celebrate with them what I believe could be their best years still to come.

Prayers appreciated. We will start officially at Immanuel in mid June, but first we want to finish well at Grace, sell a condo quickly and buy a place to live in Lexington. Will you say a prayer (or two) for us in this transition?

Do you have any examples to share of older, established churches that have been revitalized?

What’s It Going to Take To Solve the “Men Problem?”

This is a guest post by Patrick Morley and his team at Man in the Mirror Ministry. I fully support the work they have done and are doing to reach men for Christ. The book by Patrick Morley had a profound impact on my life and I encourage you to consider this new opportunity.

Here are some thoughts from Patrick Morley from Man in the Mirror:

See if you agree with this…

• Can you see any way of ever getting society right unless we get the church right?
• If that’s true, can you see any way of ever getting the church right unless we get families right?
• If you’re still with me, can you see any way of ever getting families right unless we get marriages right?
• And, can you see any way of ever getting marriages right unless we get men right?

Sure, every now and then you hear about a woman who rips her family apart, but even then it’s usually after years of emotional neglect. It really is about the men.

How can we help get men right? To become a disciple of Jesus is the highest honor to which a man can aspire. To be born again and not become a disciple is like joining the Army and getting a rifle that you never learn how to clean and shoot.

The good news is that thousands of leaders and churches are learning how to disciple men so they can walk with God in our kooky culture. How do they do it?

For my PhD dissertation I studied the question, “Why do some churches succeed at men’s discipleship while others languish or fail?” I wanted to know from a management perspective, “What are the factors that lead to success or failure when implementing a men’s discipleship program?” And I wanted to discover, “What are successful pastors doing differently than the pastors of ineffective or failed ministries to men?”

To get at the answers, I employed multiple-case-study research to compare and contrast churches with effective men’s discipleship programs to churches with ineffective or failed programs.

The factors that differentiated the highly effective churches were….
1. A senior pastor with the vision to disciple every man in the church,
2. The determination to succeed no matter what, and
3. A sustainable strategy to make disciples.

I’m so tired of watching men go to events, get all amped up, charge out determined to do better, soar briefly, then glide (or crash) back to earth. In my experience these men are deeply frustrated that they can’t sustain the change. It doesn’t have to be that way. Thousands of churches have figured it out. But how do we get the word to those churches that are still in the dark?

At Man in the Mirror, the ministry I founded 25+ years ago, we’ve launched an initiative to hire 330 full-time Area Directors located throughout the United States to help churches more effectively disciple their men. Each Area Director will have a territory of 1,000 churches, which will put “boots on the ground” close to churches and men. We have a lot of early momentum, and the first 30 Area Directors have been appointed.

Now we need to surface scores of new candidates. We’re praying for men who are passionate about Christ, men’s discipleship, and who love the church. You can find out everything you need to know HERE. Join us in our fight to save our society and build the Kingdom.

Go HERE now to join this effort.

Editor’s Note: For 25 years Pat and his organization, Man in the Mirror, have focused on men’s discipleship. They’ve trained thousands of church leaders. In 2009 they reached the milestone of impacting 10,000,000 men for Christ. Their new goal is to see “10,000,000 new men leading powerful transformed lives in Christ by 2020.” Their new Area Director strategy is putting “boots on the ground” close to churches and men.

The Pressure of Easter Preaching

Pastor do you feel a pressure on Easter unlike other Sundays?

It seems there is an internal pressure to:

  • Find an obscure verse.
  • Address the story from a new angle
  • Reveal new insight in applying the story
  • Develop a character like no one else has
  • Tell the story in a fresh way

I feel the pressure. Am I alone?

What if we simply preach that Christ was crucified, buried and rose again?

What if we let the Gospel be the Gospel? What if we let truth prevail and the Holy Spirit be the teacher?

What if we drop the pressure and share the truth that God still loves sinners, that the Cross is still enough and that He is calling people to repentance and restoration?

What if we share the glory of the resurrection, not in a way that brings attention to our creativity in preparing a message, but in His humility and grace on the cross?

What if we decrease so the light of the world might increase?

That’s my aim this Easter. Who’s with me?