A word to pastors…during pastor appreciation month

I came into ministry later in life, after over 20 years in the business world. Maybe that explains some of why I was surprised, when I entered the ministry, at how hard churches can be on a pastor. I never knew.

My church leadership blog has given me access into the lives of hundreds of young pastors, many of them in smaller churches where they are one of a few, if not the only, staff members. I don’t see this as much in larger churches where there are more staff members to spread the workload, but in some smaller churches, many times the pastor is drowning. His spouse is drowning. His family suffers. They can’t keep up with the demands of the church. I never knew.

Some churches expect the pastor to be at every hospital bed. They expect them to know and call when they are sick. They expect them to attend every Sunday school social and every picnic on the grounds. He is to officiate their wedding and then be the counselor when their marriage is suffering. He is to preach their funeral and visit their neighbor who isn’t going to church. He is supposed to recruit Sunday school teachers, manage a budget and be actively engaging the community through a healthy Tuesday night evangelism program. Then, they expect a well researched, well presented Sunday message, one in the morning and one at night, along with a passionate leading of the Wednesday night prayer meeting. One pastor told me recently he is allowed one Sunday off per year. I hesitated to do the math on the number of messages he is doing in a given year. Wow! I never knew.

Now some of that is exaggeration, but in some churches it is exactly the expectation. And, in principle, the activities may be different, but the level of activity is normal for many pastors, again, especially in smaller churches.

To be honest, I’m burdened for those pastors.

I learned when my boys were young and I was running a business, serving on the city council and on dozens of committees, that if I wanted to be successful as a husband, father, and business owner, I had to get better personally and privately, so I could achieve more publicly. It was then that running switched from being a fun pastime to a necessary part of my week. I needed and craved the downtime and the exercise. It was then that I had to get up early to make sure I had that days quiet time to fuel my soul. It was then that I became diligent in scheduling my week, so I didn’t miss family activities.

If I could give one piece of advice to pastors, ALL PASTORS, especially during Pastor Appreciation month, it would be that they take care of themselves personally, take care of their family, so they can meet the demands of their church. They may need to share this blog with some key leaders they trust in the church. They may want to have a hard conversation and establish some healthier boundaries with the church. Take some time and read Jethro’s advice to Moses. Read Acts 6.

I love you pastors. I want you around for a while. Take care of yourself. If needed, reach out to someone before you crash and burn. God called you to do His work, but the work He called you to do specifically, won’t be done (at least by you) if you aren’t here to do it.

Join the MinistryMatters.com “Why Ministers Matter” blog tour to read today’s leading pastors and authors share their stories of ministers who made a difference in their lives. Visit MinistryMatters.com/blogtour for a complete list of virtual tour stops and to link up your own post about a minister who mattered to you!

MinistryMatters.com “Why Ministers Matter” blog tour 10/1/2012 – 10/12/2012.

One Way to Discern a Change

Lately I’ve been going through a season of helping people discern change. It’s been change of churches, change in jobs, and change in ministry assignment. It could be because I’ve wrestled through changes in my own life recently. I’ve learned God uses experience to help others going through similar experiences, so I’ve been more able to help people with change.

Anyway, recently I was listening to National Public Radio and heard an interview with a Canadian born, European artist Chilly Gonzales. Chilly is a piano player. I don’t know a lot about him, but I’m excited to check out his music. I’m impressed with what I’ve seen so far.

The interviewer asked him a question that spoke volumes to me. I thought his answer was a great test to discern a change.

The interviewer said (and I paraphrase), “Chilly, you write lots of songs. How do you know which ones to record?

Chilly’s classic answer:

“I wait for the one that won’t leave me alone.”

Wow! Classic. Genius. Helpful.

I instantly realized that was my experience with my recent change. I resisted coming to Immanuel, thinking I wasn’t a good fit for them, nor them for me. Yet, God wouldn’t leave me alone. The position wouldn’t leave my thoughts. I couldn’t get over the idea of being here.

What’s the thing that won’t leave you alone?

Could God be using the repetition of thought to draw you to His will?

How do you discern a pending change in your life?

Be sure to read the “related posts” on discerning change.

You can follow your heart

I talk to so many people who are waiting on a burning bush experience before they move forward with an idea or dream. With the best intentions, they want to make sure what they are doing is God’s “will” for their life. They keep waiting for some sign…maybe a writing in the sky…a letter from God…or certainly some definite “sign” that this is God’s plan for them.

I also know pastors who are afraid to let people “follow their heart”. Anytime I post about following a dream some well-meaning person challenges me that following the heart is dangerous.

Can you trust your heart apart from Christ? You better not. Could we misunderstand God’s will? Absolutely. Could we move in a wrong direction? Of course. But, telling people not to follow their heart?

I’m not sure that’s the right approach.

God didn’t make us a robot.

If your heart is closely following Christ…

If your desire is to please Him…

If you aren’t being convicted otherwise…

You don’t have to sit on the sidelines and let the world pass you by.

God is creative, and He’s made you creative as a part of His image.

I’d rather tell people to get their heart close enough to hear Christ…then go!

  • Check your heart
  • Continue to check your heart
  • Check your motivation
  • Continue to check your motivation

If it’s not sinful…if the Bible doesn’t specifically address your issue…if you don’t have any sense God is telling you otherwise…if what you are doing is good and honorable…if it is helpful to others, or…if it is in line with the direction and experience you’ve had in life…

Give God all the glory…

But quit sitting on the sidelines and follow your heart.

Have you been waiting for a “sign”?

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.