5 Steps When the Changes are Overwhelming

I’ll be honest. I’ve been feeling overwhelmed lately. In my new position, there are more opportunities than time. I’m excited about the potential, but my calendar won’t hold anymore and my mind is exploding.

One day recently, I was driving on the road which leads back to Clarksville. I considered my schedule, the enormity of the challenge ahead, the dozens of emails awaiting a response and the people I was still having to say “no” to when they ask for my time, many who don’t understand why the pastor can’t see them right away, and I turned to Cheryl and said, “Right now I wish I could just keep driving and that this had been a nice little dream”. That wasn’t reality speaking or how I really feel. It was emotions talking. I knew that I was simply feeling overwhelmed.

What do you do when you find yourself in that situation? Here’s what I am doing.

Here are 5 steps when change seems overwhelming:

Step back – Take a day. Take a week. Pause everything. Stepping back gives you an opportunity to take a fresh look at the challenges ahead. It may seem like you don’t have time to pause right now, but it may be you don’t have time not to do so. The time away will give you a better perspective, a clearer head and the rest will give you energy you need.

Get fit – I used to tell our staff in a church plant that “you have to strive to be healthy to work here right now”. I’m in that season in ministry again. As much as it depends on me, I need to be healthy spiritually, relationally, emotionally and physically. I need to eat healthy, exercise, and maintain a healthy relationship with Cheryl. I also need extended time in God’s Word and prayer. This is even more than usual a time for intentionality in living a healthy lifestyle.

Renew the vision – When change is overwhelming you need to remind yourself why you are doing what you are doing. The why is the key. It’s what fueled you in the first place and what has the best potential to fuel you again. I was called here for a purpose. God doesn’t make mistakes. If you are overwhelmed at something God called you to do, ask God to renew that passion you had in the beginning, before you were overwhelmed, again.

Chart a course one step at a time – Baby steps. That’s how big change is accomplished. One foot in front of the other. The bigger the change the more methodical you must be. One day, one week, one month at a time. I’ve had to ask some people to be patient. I have to prioritize each day. I have to not feel bad about saying no. I have to get up every morning, create a list of things I can accomplish that day, and realize that tomorrow is a new day.

Invite people on the journey – Delegation becomes even more important during overwhelming times in leadership. If you’re world is like mine, that pretty much equates to every season of ministry. :) Read THIS POST for more of my thoughts on delegation. I’m learning again the value of a team. I’m learning who I can trust, but I’m taking risks on people. I can’t do it without them.

I’m making slow progress, but the process is working. I am expecting great things in the days to come. Stay tuned.

Are you overwhelmed at the changes occurring in your life right now? Try these 5 steps.

What suggestions would you offer?

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?

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.

A Story. A Shaping of My Ministry

“If it weren’t for those __________ churches…”

I will never forget that statement.

I was in my mid-twenties, serving on a board of the local non-profit. We were discussing how we could raise more support for the organization. I had participated most of my working career (which was obviously short at that point), financially contributing personally and helping them raise funds. Every year we had the same discussion. How could we raise more money to do more good?

In the middle of our discussion, a greatly respected and leading businessman in our community made that statement. “If it weren’t for those _______churches we would have plenty of money. All churches do is take from the community, serve their own interests, and rob the community of needed money for charity.” The room instantly echoed and agreed with his bold remark. I was young and intimidated, so I said nothing.

Honestly, however, those words stung. As an active member of one of the largest church in town, I didn’t believe anything he was saying. Our church, along with most churches in our community, were doing good things to help people. If all we did was change people’s lives and send better people back into the community, we would be doing good things, but there were many church-connected ministries helping people in our city. Not to mention, many of the top contributors to this organization were active members of some of those same churches. (I was one of them.)

I never forgot those words though. It shaped me and my view of ministry.

Years later, when God placed the dream on my heart to plant a church in my hometown, I knew some of what that church would look like. Not that I seek the approval of man, but I wanted to be a part of a church that reversed that paradigm some have from the outside looking into the church. I wanted to be part of a church that would truly make a difference in our community, so much so that if we were gone, people would miss us.

One of the first things we did as a church was to partner with our city to reach some low income, impoverished areas of the community. For the past several years, once a year, we have put together as many as 1,400 people to invest in people outside the walls of our church. We sent over 800 people into our schools to meet the requests of principals in teachers completing things their budgets couldn’t afford to do. We participated with local radio stations to gather thousands of pounds of food for the poor. We’ve helped to launch a ministry to homeless people and one to military wives. We’ve been consistently called upon by our community to help with local festivals and events, and even by our mayor to help in flood recovery efforts.

My wife, who works in a local credit union and is active in the community is frequently asked, “Are you part of that church that’s always helping people?” We love that question. We both get it often.

I think our intentional investment is one of the primary reasons our church has grown into one of the fastest growing churches in America in a little over 6 years.

Please understand, I’m not trying to brag about what we are doing. I believe other churches are making a huge difference in their community; certainly many more than ours. I simply want to encourage any church I lead to show our city the love of Jesus and maybe even encourage your church (and mine) to do more. I think we have a better chance of reaching our cities for Christ if they know we care. The more we get out of our buildings and meet real needs, the more we’ll have opportunities to share the hope we know is in Christ.

In my time at Grace, we’ve tried to be intentional about letting our community know we love them…and so far…it is working. I’ve got a new assignment in ministry ahead and in my discussions so far, I’m encouraging this church also to greatly invest in it’s community.

Share with me. What is your church doing to display the love of Christ to your community in a practical way?

3 Principles of Starting New Things

This is a guest post by Darrell Vesterfelt. Darrell is a the president of Prodigal Magazine and church planter in West Palm Beach, Florida who believes in the power of stories to change the world. His life’s passion is to help people to tell their story so they can see and understand the truth of God at work in their lives. You can follow him on twitter: @dvest

3 Principles of Starting New Things

I am a dreamer, through and through. Just ask my wife. She has heard me pitch about 100 new ideas to her in our first few months of our marriage. Some of those dreams have become a reality, but dozens of them haven’t.

That’s okay. Dreaming is what makes me suited as an entrepreneur and a church planter. It’s how I’m doing what God has called me to do with my life.

The thing I’m learning about dreaming is that dreaming, by itself, isn’t good enough. Starting something from nothing takes more than just a dream or a desire to make it happen. It takes a lot of time and sacrifice. Turning dreams into reality takes more time than I might want, sometimes. More sacrifice than is comfortable, but if none of my dreams ever turn into reality — then what was the point of dreaming in the first place?

Here are 3 principles I am learning as I am in a season of starting new things.

You have to do whatever it takes.

Not every dream is worth pursuing. I have lots of dreams in a day and I don’t run with all of them. I couldn’t. If I did, I wouldn’t be successful with any of them. If I want to be successful at all I have to pick a dream, and invest in it.

This selection process is important for me because it forces me to commit. When you’re forced to choose only one dream, you’re more likely to make the sacrifices needed to make that dream a reality. You are — all in. The dream that you choose is worth any and every sacrifice that you will have to make.

If your dream is going to become a reality, it is going to take every single resource you have, and then some. It will take all of your time, money, and energy. It might mean that you have to work two full-time jobs for awhile, or that you have to get creative about raising capitol. But get ready. If you want to start something new you’re going to have to do what it takes. And it takes a lot.

Don’t despise small beginnings.

If you’re anything like me, you don’t like small beginnings. Actually, you don’t like small anything. The bigger the better. As an entrepreneur (or church planter) it’s easy to get discouraged. But one of the things I’m learning is not to despise small beginnings.

It’s important to build a strong foundation now, while your dream is small, so that your business or organization can operate with integrity later, as it grows. Good things take time to build. Don’t despise the beginning.

Think of it like a building. If the structure is not sturdy when it’s small, it isn’t going to be sturdy when it’s big. In fact, if you build on a shaky foundation, your building will never survive. What you really need, in the beginning, is a strong foundation, good walls. A sturdy frame. Those things come from integrity and hard-work and patience.

Building a team of people around me isn’t just important, it’s vital.

As much as I’d like to think that I can do everything on my own, I can’t. In fact, if I try, I will for sure fail. I need people who can support me and encourage me when things get difficult. People who know me well enough that, when things get tough, or when my insecurity gets in the way, they can point me back toward reality, toward Truth.

I also need people who are good at things I’m not. I need people who are different than me, who have different skills and strengths to bring to the table. I am only part of the picture, and if I try to “chase my dream” alone it is only possible to accomplish part of the objective. I need people.

Just having people around me isn’t good enough, though. They have to be the right kind of people. If I try to fit the wrong person into the wrong role, I’m not doing anyone any favors. I’m actually denying and ignoring the truth of who God called that person to be, and using them for my own selfish ambition. That will only lead to resentment and frustration.

It won’t ever accomplish my objective.

One of the most important things I can do as I start something new is notice people for the unique set of skills and strengths they bring to my team, to celebrate those strengths, and to equip them to do what God has made them to do. That’s what it looks like to really love people; and loving people should always be my primary objective.

In the same way, I don’t allow just anyone to speak into my life and hold me accountable. Everyone has an opinion about everything and if I bent to what every person in the world thought was “right” for me I wouldn’t ever accomplish anything. There are only a few people who have the right to call me out when they think I’m wrong; and ultimately I answer to the Lord, not to them.

I go where He calls me, not where they do.

What principles have you learned about starting new things?

Results, Part 2: Pastor / Minister Health Survey

I’m releasing results of a survey I conducted through my blog last month on the health of pastors or ministers. The survey is now closed, but there were 466 unique responses. You can read the initial survey post HERE.

I am breaking these down into several posts to cut down on the length of each post. Be sure to check back over the next few days. If you want to know the demographics of who took the survey, see Results, Part 1 HERE.

Here are more results: (On the actual blog post each picture can be clicked on and enlarged if needed.)

What do you think? Any observations?

Here are a few of mine:

  • 25% of pastors or ministers not having friends in their church they can “trust with anything” is sad. Those must be the ones I hear from often through my blog.
  • 30% do not feel or aren’t sure if they are emotionally healthy right now. What are we doing to address this?
  • The spiritually healthy answer almost mirrors statistically the emotionally healthy answers. Interesting.
  • 42% answered “Sometimes” they have a “daily time alone with God. I’m not surprised, just surprised to see it in print.
  • I’m especially not surprised by the high number who are not or not sure if they are physically healthy. I know from experience, however, that this number affects all the others.
  • Not enough of us are exercising “daily” or “often”.

I’d love your thoughts of what you see in these numbers.

You can continue to Part 3 HERE.

7 Pieces of Advice I Give to Young Pastors

I love the opportunities I have to invest in young pastors. I’m encouraged by what I see in this generation of pastors entering church work. They want to learn and grow from older leaders.

I consistently try to convince them I’m not the guy to listen to, but they keep asking for advice, so I keep sharing. :)

Here are 7 pieces of advice I give to young pastors:

Become a wisdom seeker – You’ll be looked to for lots of wisdom and answers. Make sure you are surrounding yourself with wise people. Obviously, you ultimately want to hear from God, but He encouraged us throughout His Word to seek wise counsel. Also, make it a point to always have mentors in your life. (If you need help, read THIS POST.)

Prioritize your life – You’ll be pulled in many directions. Make sure you have a plan for your time and center it around what you want to accomplish and where you want to be in the years to come. Don’t neglect your family for the ministry or destroy your ministry for temporary pleasures of the world. (You might read THIS POST about protecting your family in ministry or THIS POST on balance.)

Learn the secret of contentment – You’ll need it. There’s a draw in ministry towards bigger and better. You’ll be encouraged to count numbers (and I think numbers matter, but not they are not most important.). Most likely, unless your name is Stanley, or Furtick, you won’t have one of the largest or one of the fastest growing churches. Learn to be content with who God has made you to be and what He has called you to do.

Intentionally invest in others – You can’t call yourself a disciple-maker unless you are personally making disciples. I understand the fact that your teaching on Sunday will be building disciples, but the Jesus model involves intentionally investing in a few people at a time. Jesus concentrated most of His energy on 12 guys and even more on three in His inner circle. Shouldn’t we do likewise? Always be intentionally and personally mentoring a few. It will keep you close to people in the trenches of life and help you build more solid leadership in the church.

Keep moving forward through the disappointments of life – You will have plenty of setbacks. Life and people will disappoint you. At times you may fail to understand what God is allowing to happen at the time. Keep the vision of your overall calling to God in mind and push forward, regardless of the obstacles that come your way.

Ground your theology in Jesus – There are plenty of theological methodologies around. Someone will be happy to shape your theology for you. I’m not suggesting you can’t script it if it makes it easier for you to understand, nor am I saying not to grow in knowledge. You should always be growing. I am suggesting you never get beyond the simple child-like, overwhelming awe of who Jesus is and how He loves you. Center your beliefs firmly and completely around the person of Christ. Set Christ as your end goal, desire to be like Him, discipline yourself, then push forward. Invite others to follow likewise. Let the grace, glory and goodness of Jesus shape your life and ministry.

God knows best – As a pastor, there will be plenty of voices in your life. You’ll have plenty of advice from deacons, elders, Sunday school teachers and flower committee members. Appreciate the suggestions of everyone, but on matters of utmost importance, hold out for a word from God.

Of course, this is good advice for all ages (and not just pastors), but the majority of questions I receive are from younger pastors. I’m not sure what that says about us older pastors, but it is been true in my ministry that the younger a pastor is the more willing to heed advice. (Have you seen that to be true?)

What advice do you have for young pastors?

Being Still Doesn’t Mean Doing Nothing

I hear people use this verse for the wrong application:

Exodus 14:14 “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”

I’ve heard well meaning people use it as an indicator that, because we are on the winning team, we will never face another battle. Not true.

Here’s something you need to understand about this verse, before you try to live it.

The verse doesn’t mean you don’t have an assignment. It doesn’t mean the assignment you have won’t be difficult. It doesn’t mean doing nothing.

Consider the next verse:

Exodus 15:15 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on.”

In other words…get going! Do what you’re supposed to do! Don’t stand there in fear…MOVE ON!

The Israelites were going to cross the sea. It would be something they had never done before. Have you ever walked through a wall of water, on ground that used to be the bottom of the sea?

Seriously, have you?

The Israelites were going to have to trust God that God would part the waters and dry up the land. Keep in mind, this command was given before the sea had even started to separate. They had to believe that the water would divide. They then had to believe the wall of water wouldn’t drop and fish wouldn’t fall on their head as they drown. They had to believe that crossing the sea was a better option than surrendering to the Egyptians. It wasn’t doing nothing. It was walking by faith.

The verse, then, means that if you are moving at the direction of God…if you are following His plan for your life…if you are being obedient…you don’t have to fear the outcome. You don’t have to worry about the provision of God for your journey. You don’t have to wonder if God will do as God said He will do. He’s got your back! He’s got the ultimate victory. You can rest in Him. You can be still!

Being still doesn’t mean doing nothing!

Have you been “standing still” when you need to be moving?

Quit making excuses and act on what you know God has called you to do!