If I Have Faith, Why Haven’t I Been Healed?

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If I have faith, why haven’t I been healed? How do we answer this question when it’s asked by a loved one with cancer? When it’s asked by parents who’ve lost a child? How do we answer it for ourselves, when we find are wheeled in for surgery or otherwise suffering?

This question is one of about a dozen questions addressed in the new book, I Am Strong: Finding God’s Peace and Strength in Life’s Darkest Moments by my friend John S. Dickerson. Today’s blog is an excerpt from the book and is part 2 (part 1 available here).

Yesterday we examined how Paul the Apostle was never healed (in this life) from his “thorn in the flesh,” which included physical, emotional and spiritual chronic pain. Today we find encouragement in more Bible heroes who suffered severely, even while having the highest and strongest faith.

Paul wasn’t the only spiritual giant who found God’s strength and joy right in his suffering. Many of Heaven’s choice servants spent months or years in prisons, and not because they were being punished by God.

Joseph, who God used to save nations, spent 13 years as an Egyptian prisoner and slave—while God was delighted with him.

Zephaniah, God’s chosen prophet, spent a good chunk of his life in a Babylonian prison (present day Iraq). The same goes for Jeremiah, who suffered rejection, slander and loneliness as well as literal imprisonment while doing exactly what God had asked him to do. God even told him to expect the rejection.

Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist, was chosen by God to declare that Messiah had arrived. Jesus called John the Baptist the greatest person in the history of the world. What a privilege! And then John spent the rest of his life imprisoned by Herod Antipas, who eventually beheaded John as a party favor for a niece.

The apostle John spent lots of time in Roman prisons and jails.

Many of the first Christians got arrested and thrown in jail, simply for believing in Jesus. This practice continues today in parts of the Middle East, northern Africa, China and other areas, where the idea of “problem free Christianity” insults the most faithful believers of our era.

Peter was imprisoned again and again.
Paul’s singing friend Silas shared his jail cell.

In the early years after Christ rose from the dead, it became so common for believers to get thrown into prison that the early church made it part of its culture to visit jailed Christians who couldn’t make it to the Sunday gathering.

These imprisonments meant the loss of all earthly possessions. Believers “joyfully accepted the confiscation of [their] property, because [they] knew that [they] had better and lasting possessions.”

Jesus warned Christians in one church, “Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution…”

Like Napoleon Bonaparte, John the disciple was sentenced to live his final years on a secluded prison island. From there, John wrote the final book of Scripture, Revelation. (John the disciple is different from “John the Baptist,” above, and keep in mind, he was “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” so no need to doubt Christ’s love for you when anymore in your own suffering.)

From Introduction to Conclusion, God’s people in the Bible are persecuted and jailed. Imprisoned on earth, but anticipating their escape into a better land with God. Peppered between those bookends we read stories where God does miraculously heal or instantly deliver from pain. God invites us to ask for such miracles in prayer even today. And I have seen Him perform those dramatic miracles. But, many strong believers today, including Joni Eareckson Tada, and recently Dr. Wayne Grudem, have not yet had a miraculous healing from pain or difficulty.

And we must face the reality that even the believers who did get miraculous healings (such as Lazarus, raised from the dead as described in John 11), those folks still eventually died earthly deaths. They left this earth knowing that death is not an end for the believer, but a beginning to a better life that actually is problem-free.

Here’s where we must gently but insistently course-correct many of our American brothers and sisters in Christ: Scripture focuses on our certain rescue in the future, not on present pain-free living now. (This can be a difficult concept for folks like us, who live in an age of immediate gratification.) Sure, some of God’s people got miraculously freed from their prisons. But the majority more closely followed the pattern of Paul, who prayed for healing three times (2 Corinthians 12:8), and then lived the rest of his earthly life with a painful “thorn” impaling his flesh.

It’s often the same today. While all believers will eventually be set free from our prisons, pains or thorns, we do not always gain immediate freedom or healing. This is why it’s called faith, a persistent belief that Jesus will break us out and that He will sustain us until His return. A faith that continues to believe, no matter what.

Find comfort in this list of spiritual super heroes. Their sufferings declare:
​When you feel like you’re in a prison, you’re not alone.
​When you feel like you’re in a prison, you’re not unspiritual or lower-class in God’s eyes.
​When you feel like you’re in a prison, you’re not unloved by God.
​When you find yourself in prison, God has not forgotten you.
​When you find yourself in prison, and you choose to cling to faith in Chirst, you can count yourself in the company of Scripture’s spiritual heroes.

Like Paul, writing with his “thorn in the flesh,” you can declare in Christ:

“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed;
perplexed, but not in despair;
persecuted, but not abandoned;
struck down, but not destroyed.”
-2 Corinthians 4:8,9

This blog is an excerpt from John S. Dickerson’s new book, I Am Strong: Finding God’s Peace and Strength in Life’s Darkest Moments. It’s written for times of suffering in life–to encourage you and help those you love build a Biblical theology of pain and suffering. Get free sample chapters by sending an email to: Friend@IAmStrongBook.com or visit IAmStrongBook.com.

I’m trusting Jesus, so why am I suffering?

Here Are My Prayers

It’s one thing to discuss pain and suffering as theory. It’s another to share real-life struggles from a place of personal suffering. My friend John S. Dickerson has a painful health condition with stroke-like episodes. He is attempting to encourage Christians who are hurting for any reason, in his new book, I Am Strong: Finding God’s Peace and Strength in Life’s Darkest Moments. The following guest post is an excerpt from the book.

I have spent plenty of time in hospital beds. I’ve also spent plenty of time sitting next to hospital beds—as a pastor, as a dad, and as a husband. From hospitals and funeral homes to coffee shops and airplanes, I consistently hear one repeated question from Christians.

“If trusting in Jesus is supposed to make my life better, then why am I in so much pain? Isn’t my life supposed to be less painful after I trust Jesus?”

I hear so many hurting people ask this question, from sincere and broken hearts. And it’s no wonder. A bloating crowd of “spiritual” communicators today promise us that if only we trust Jesus, He will make our lives problem-free, right now. I call this message “The Myth of Problem-Free Christianity.”

The problem with “Problem-Free Christianity” is that it is not Christianity at all. It was not the faith of Paul the Apostle. He wrote most of the Christian Scriptures while living with the daily physical pain and torment of his “thorn in the flesh,” described in 2 Corinthians 12.

Problem-free Christianity was also not the Christianity of Christ. That’s not to say that Christ is insensitive to our hurts. Quite the opposite. In my own experience with a painful health condition, and in my experience as a pastor, guiding others over the slippery rocks of grief, I have discovered that Christ’s compassionate solutions are sturdier and longer lasting than the sugar-empty promise of anesthetized, pain-free living in the immediate.

And Jesus relates to our pain. After all, His life on earth did not culminate on a beach, sipping a mimosa. It ended with shrieks of agony, simultaneously bleeding and suffocating to death while impaled upon a Roman torture device. Jesus knows how it feels to hurt, because He carried our hurts in Himself.

Paul was one of God’s most beloved and chosen people. And yet, Paul agonized under severe pain in this world. Paul’s thorn encourages all who have trusted in Christ that our pain and difficulty do not necessary mean God is angry or unpleased with us. Scripture describes dozens of people with whom God was pleased who all endured unthinkable pain and suffering during their earthly lives. I will write about many of them in tomorrow’s post.

As the model “second Adam,” Jesus suffered unthinkable pain, and God the Father declared of him, “this is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

In a new book, I Am Strong: Finding God’s Peace and Strength in Life’s Darkest Moments, I aim to dismantle and disarm the destructive lie of “Problem-Free Christianity.”

The myth of “problem free Christianity” is so prevalent in America today that some will read this and say: “Oh no, that’s not right at all. Have enough faith, and you will be immediately freed from your prison.”

I recently interviewed a mother whose spine is broken from a car accident. Sadly, two pastors have visited her house, prayed with her, and told her that the only reason she is not up and walking is her own lack of faith. What a false, heartbreaking, and demeaning message.

It’s true that God can and still does perform miraculous healings, when He chooses, and to bring glory to Himself. I have seen more than one supernatural healing. Here’s what is also true. All the New Testament believers who experienced supernatural healings did eventually die physically and depart into eternity. Additionally, strong faith always healing was not the case for Paul the Apostle. As for problem-free living, most of the apostles who had faith to perform miracles lived or died in literal stone prisons, and their physical bodies all breathed final breaths on this earth.

As for pain-free living, Paul the Apostle wrote most of the New Testament while afflicted with his “thorn in the flesh,” an affliction he describes as daily torment including physical, emotional and spiritual agony.

Few people in Paul’s day were chained in so many jails across such a wide swath of the Ancient Near East. Paul’s exceptional faith in Christ did not typically break open the doors for him to walk out of his prison in beams of light, like a spiritual action hero.

From one of these prisons, Paul describes a joy, peace and contentment unlike anything he had tasted back when he was a free, healthy, wealthy man who did not know Jesus (Philippians 3:7-11 & 4:11-13).

Tomorrow we will explore the supernatural strength and peace available within our suffering.

This blog is an excerpt from my friend John S. Dickerson’s new book, I Am Strong: Finding God’s Peace and Strength in Life’s Darkest Moments. It’s written for times of suffering in life–to encourage you and help those you love build a Biblical theology of pain and suffering. Get free sample chapters by sending an email to: Friend@IAmStrongBook.com or visit IAmStrongBook.com.

7 Vital Steps Prior to Implementing Major Change

businessman stand on road which separate 2 way of change or same.

As a pastor and leader, I am continually dealing with change. Everyday. Change is a part of life – for all of us.

Some change occurs without us doing anything. In my context, we adjust our Easter calendar every year – without much thought of whether we will or not. Sometimes it’s in March – sometimes April. And, there is nothing we do to influence this change. There are lots of other examples of this.

Some change is so routine it requires little thought or preparation by the leader. For example, leaders will move and new leaders will replace them – almost naturally over time. If you’ve been in leadership for very long at all you’ve probably seen dozens of leaders in the organization change.

But, when making major change – change which impacts everyone – change which may be controversial – there are some steps to take before you begin to implement the change. Failing to understand this or do most or all of these, in my experience, could derail the effectiveness of the change.

I am going to share steps I take. You may have a better system in place. If so, please help me learn from you. But, certainly steps must be taken in advance of major change. It’s naive to think otherwise.

Here are 7 steps before implementing major change:

Establish trust authority.

I wrote about this principle HERE. Leaders shouldn’t attempt to implement major change until they have enough trust of the people to solicit the support necessary for the change. You will need people to follow your leadership and this requires an established relationship of trust. Leaders need to be careful not to move until ample trust is in place for the size of the change – and knowing when this is in place takes years of practice and lots of people speaking into the process. This doesn’t mean people will trust, or even like, the change, but it does mean they have trust in the leader.

Personal confidence and conviction.

Check your heart. Have you prayed about it? Do you sense any reason you shouldn’t do it? In my experience, God gives tremendous freedom to us in how we carry out the mission. This is why there are hundreds of styles and structures of churches all carrying out the same Great Commission. But, before you do anything else, make sure you are in this enough to see it through. Would you be willing to fight the naysayers on this one? Are you willing to lose people over it? I’m not saying it will come to this, but it is the level of commitment you need to have before you introduce major change.

Leadership in place.

Make sure you get buy in from those who will most likely end up implementing the change. Personally, I’m seldom willing to move forward if the staff or key volunteers I’ve surrounded myself with don’t believe in the change. There may be times I need to vision cast better and help them see the need, but their support is critical if major change is going to be successful.

Use a focus group.

On major changes, I like to bring in a group of people who are generally supportive of my leadership, but represent all the major groups within the church. I cast the vision for the change, get their feedback and answer questions. Again, they may or may not immediately agree with the change, but I know they will be a respectful audience. I always tell them as a leader, I will have to follow the direction I feel God is leading me, but I value their input in the process of discernment. (And, I genuinely do. Make sure you are open to this as a leader.) This step always makes the change better by their input and helps build a base of support for the change.

Do a stakeholder analysis

I wrote about this concept HERE. I try to know the most interested and influential people in the particular change. We attempt to reach out to them first. Again, this step builds support among influencers and usually further enhances the change with their input and hopefully their support. Many times this group become supporters of the change, or at least they don’t work against it, because they feel included in the process. (Again, leader, make sure you are open to this input. You need people to make any change effective. The more buy-in you get early the more effective you will be.)

Major questions are answered.

(Or a plan to get them answered.) One of my goals is getting as many answers to questions as possible on the table before the change is implemented. We can never anticipate all the questions or scenarios which will arise, but the more we can address them in advance the better prepared we will be to handle them when they do. In each of the groups listed here, I always ask what questions are in the room and what questions they may sense others will have.

Plan a timetable for implementation.

It is impossible to do this perfectly, but having a planned approach to implementing the change makes the change more successful. This needs to be planned, as much as possible, before the change implementation begins. People WILL ask this question. Be realistic with your timetable, but don’t be afraid to let it stretch you either. The best change requires an element of faith.

Those are some of the steps I think through before making major change. As a pastor, I know God has called me to lead a church – with an unchanging mission and message – which will always need to be changing methods as the people we try to reach our changing. Refusing to change simply diminishes our effectiveness and shortens our lifespan as a local church. The more I can do to prepare people for change, the more effective that change can be.

Any steps you would add?

5 Times Change is Hardest to Lead

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Change is hard – almost always. Sometimes change is harder than other times. And, it’s then where leadership is tested most, tensions mount and people are more likely to object.

In my experience, if a leader knows these times it helps prepare to approach the change.

Change is necessary. While change may produce conflict, without change there will also be conflict. When people sit still – when growth stalls – people complain. Therefore, since change is necessary and inevitable, understanding these scenarios before we attempt change may help us lead change better.

Here are 5 times I’ve discovered that change is hardest to accept and implement:

When there hasn’t been change in a very long time.

Change becomes more comfortable when it occurs regularly. When nothing has changed for a period of time, people feel even more uncomfortable and are likely to resist more. Leaders in this scenario should make smaller changes to get small wins to hopefully spur hunger for more change – or at least stretch the comfort level for change again. Ease into it.

When there isn’t a culture of change.

Sometimes people are conditioned against change. Imagine a work environment where everyone wears the same colored pants and shirt every day. Black pants and white shirt uniforms. Remember IBM? I was raised to believe they had “uniforms” of black suits and white shirts. Apparently, they never had a policy of a strict dress code. It just sprang up as culture. Changing the IBM culture took years. When the culture is sameness, leaders often have to address culture before they address change.

When the vision for change isn’t abundantly clear.

This doesn’t mean people will always agree with the change even if it is clear. Some people never agree with change – any change. But, when there doesn’t appear to be a compelling reason for the change, opposition is more likely to occur. Good leaders help people understand the why behind the change as much as possible. It would be better to over communicate than under communicate.

When there isn’t an obvious or capable person to cast the vision and lead the change.

People follow leaders they trust. It is vital when implementing change that a leader be in place who can carry the charge for the change. In cases where there is not a clear person to own the vision of change, I usually back away from the change until the leader is in place.

When the risk seems bigger than the return.

By definition, faith moves us into the unknown. When we can’t discern the return on the risk we are more likely to object. While this needs to be understood, it should also be understood that anything of value requires risk. Obedience to God requires faith. Every time. So the greatest things we can achieve in life will almost always appear to have bigger risk than the return we can see in the beginning. Good leaders challenge people beyond their level of comfort. Leadership is the tension between the comfort of where we are and the potential of where we could be.

Again, none of these are reasons not to change, but understanding these can certainly help us better navigate through change.

What other reasons have you noticed that make change especially difficult?

7 Criteria to be a Good Change Agent Leader

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In my observation, many leaders want change and know they need to lead for change, but they haven’t been able to actually produce change.

I think there are reasons for this.

The process of change isn’t easy. And, it doesn’t happen overnight. Some leaders move too fast. Others move too slow. Plus, not every church, business or non-profit will tolerate change – or at least to the level prescribed by a leader. The leader needs to know when to push and when to leave things alone for a while.

It’s a delicate process leading change. And, the simple fact is, some leaders simply don’t know how to introduce healthy change. (This is not intended as a slam. It’s a reality statement.)

I believe change is necessary for growth. I don’t think everything has to change. Some things never should. But, change, even the hardest kind of change, has to occur if progress towards worthy visions is going to continue to occur.

This post is sort of a gut check for those who want to lead change – attempting to reconcile some of the criteria to be a good change agent leader.

Please understand, I’m not an expert, nor am I claiming to be. I have led lots of change – some successfully and some not so much – but, I’ve worked with dozens of leaders in leading change. And, I’ve there are some characteristics which work better than others.

7 criteria to be a good change agent leader:

A willingness to fail.

Not all change will work. You can strategize and plan, but change at some level involves the risk it may not work. Good change agent leaders know this in advance and are willing to accept the challenge – and not defeated if it doesn’t. They try again in another way.

Able to withstand strong criticism.

Change invites pushback. Change changes things. (That’s deep, isn’t it?) Change is uncomfortable and people will tell you the degree of discomfort they are feeling. Sometimes in passionate – even mean ways. If they don’t tell you they will – with passive aggression – tell others who will eventually tell you. You’ll feel unpopular at times. Rumors may spread about you. Good change agent leaders keep the vision ever before them and are motivated more towards the accomplishment of it than making sure everyone is pleased with them personally.

Constantly evaluate and are willing to adjust their plans accordingly.

You can’t be a good change agent and equally be a control freak. You are leading people through sometimes muddy waters. You’ll need to solicit buy-in from others. You will need to collaborate. You’ll need to process the success rate of the change and recalibrate as needed. You’ll have to delegate – and this means release the right to determine the exact way something is done. Progress towards the goal must be more important than the exact actions taken towards achievement of them.

Must outlast the opponents of change.

When the naysayers show up good change agents are willing to stand strong for that which they believe is worth fighting. It will likely take longer than you hoped it would. At times you’ll feel like quitting, but good change agent leaders stand the test of time.

Think bigger than today.

Change is always going somewhere new. Always. So change agent leaders have to be able to think about the options which aren’t currently on the table. You’ve got to think beyond now and even beyond the most immediate future. You have to look for what others can’t see, choose not to or are afraid to see (or admit).

Must challenge status quo.

This the kicker, isn’t it? Change agent leaders have to go against the way things are being done and the way things have always been done. We are talking about change. Get it? Change. This means something is changing. (Oh, such a deep post.) You have to move people from the center on which they’ve grounded themselves. This is never comfortable. But, good change agent leaders are willing the challenge what has become standard or traditional in people’s minds.

Need to work within a DNA conducive to change.

Here’s another kicker – and this one has more to do with the organization or people receiving the change than the leader implementing change. Every church and every organization in which you are called to bring change isn’t wired for change. The fact is some of those said churches and organizations are going to die – they’ll stall – perhaps for long periods, but they’ll eventually just fade away. And, nothing you can say or do will encourage otherwise. In the end, you can’t lead people where they don’t want to go. The sooner you can learn this fact the quicker you can try to be a good change agent where change may actually occur.

Well, those are some hard realizations. I’ve studied and observed them by working with dozens of churches, businesses and non-profits and in the organizations and churches in which I have led. And, most of all, I’ve seen them true in my personal journey as a leader.

I should note, I believe we can grow in leaders in these characteristics. Of course, the last one we can’t do a lot about – but, even there, I’ve learned some places where others have said change couldn’t or wouldn’t occur haven’t always proven to be true. Sometimes the answer to making better changes is simply we must become better leaders. 

What have you seen as necessary criteria to be a good change agent?

Happy Easter! He Is Risen! Take Off The Grave Clothes!

empty garden tomb

When He had said this Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.” John 11:43-44

The event in these verses triggered the Pharisees to crucify Jesus. Lazarus had been dead four days. Jewish tradition prompted the family to bury soon after death, but the Jews also believed the spirit hovered over the dead body for up to three days. This time too had passed. Lazarus was a fully dead man! It was a real miracle to bring him back to life, and this was too much for the Pharisees. 

What the Pharisees underestimated was this power would continue to be exhibited in the life of Christians for thousands of years to come. If you are a child of God, you have been brought from death unto life.

Jesus had raised Lazarus from the grave. We should love the story because it shows the power of the Savior. We can know if He can raise the dead to life, we can trust Him to help us make our house payment or whatever struggles our life may hold. We need to remember this in the day in which we live. Since Jesus has power over death is there anything in your life He can’t handle?

Jesus came to give us life! Jesus told Lazarus to take off His grave clothes, to quit “living” like he was dead. Shouldn’t we do the same thing?

Have you received Christ as your Savior? Is your name recorded in Heaven as a child of God?

Well, stop “living” among the dead. Look alive! Don’t let this world define your peace, contentment, or joy.

Jesus saved you by grace, through faith, not unto death, but unto life! Shouldn’t this make a noticeable difference in your life today?

Take off your grave clothes and LIVE!

Happy Easter!

7 Excuses I’ve Heard for Not Leading Well

exhausted man

In working with other churches and ministries, and in my experience in the business world, it seems we are desperate for good leadership. Organizations and teams thrive on good leadership.

As much as we need good leaders, it seems whenever I meet a leader struggling in their role, rather than admit it could be them, often I only hear excuses. It must be easier to pass blame than to own the problem as our own.

And, in full disclosure, I’ve probably been as guilty as anyone at times in my leadership career.

The excuses, however, are fairly common.

Here are 7 excuses I’ve heard – or used – for not leading well:

I don’t know how.

With each new season in leadership there will be a learning curve. If you’re leading, then your introducing change – you’re taking people somewhere they haven’t been before. This means there will be lots of unknowns in your world for a while. But, don’t use this as an excuse. Learn. Take a course. Get a mentor. Read some books. Ask better questions. Grow as a leader.

I can’t get people to follow my lead.

Well, we may have to check our leadership definition, but don’t give up. If God has called you to this – discover how to motivate people. Most people will follow someone if you’re taking them somewhere they need to go, but aren’t sure how to get there. Make sure you have a vision worth following, learn to communicate well and do all you can to help people attain it. In terms of communicating well – I often tell pastors – you’re best “sermon” may be the one you give to motivate people towards the change or vision. Early in my leadership career I participated in an organization called Toastmasters to help train as a communicator. 

I can’t keep up!

This can be a legitimate excuse at times – leadership can be overwhelming with the amount of change in our world, but we shouldn’t let it remain this way. Leaders have to learn to pace themselves. You have to surround yourself with others who can help carry the load. You can’t try to do everything or control every outcome. Learn delegation. And, don’t try to change everything at once. My rule of thumb is to be working on no more than 3 major changes at a time. This requires patience, because I may see 100 things which need to change. The only thing which works well though when I try to do too much at one time is I get to add to my excuses for not leading well. 

No one taught me how to lead.

And, that’s probably true. I have found many leaders are terrible at reproducing leaders. We don’t apprentice well. So, what are you going to do about it? Leaders find solutions to problems. They don’t let problems become the excuse. Learn from experience. It’s the best teacher anyway. Learn from trying. Learn from watching others. Just learn. It’s never too late to learn something new.

Times have changed.

This is true also. Times have changed. Cultures have changed. The workforce has changed. And, they will keep changing – fast! Good leaders adapt accordingly. They discover new approaches. They don’t make excuses.

It’s my team – I don’t have the right team.

Well, instead of using it as an excuse, you have a few options. Make them a better leader. Get a new team. Or, keep making excuses.

I’m burnout!

This excuse can be real also. It happens to all of us at times. But, don’t settle for this one. Get help. Heal. Rest. Renew. Regroup. Get healthier so you can lead again. Sometimes stopping for a while is your best answer – even amidst the busiest times. 

Honestly, I’m not trying to be sarcastic, arrogant, or unsympathetic. I realize each of these deserve their own post. I really do believe, however, good leadership is mostly finding a worthy vision, recruiting the right people and discovering ways to help people get there. And, we get better the more we practice.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t bring a spiritual aspect into this – I am a pastor. My best leadership book is the Bible. My best leader example is Jesus. And, I have learned when I am being obedient to Him I lead better naturally. It doesn’t mean everything falls into place beautifully – it does mean I have all I need to lead – even when everything around me is a mess. 

Seriously, look over the list again. Are there any of them that can’t be overcome with a little determination?

Let’s stop the excuses and make better leaders!

12 Words of Encouragement for Pastors (Or Other Leaders)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You have influence – use it well.

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

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

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

Let God lead.

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

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

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

Keep Jesus the center of focus in the church.

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

Your personal health affects the health of the church.

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

The people in your church deserve authenticity.

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

You’ll never make everyone happy.

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

People only know what they know.

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

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

7 Thoughts on Creating Unity in a Church for a New Pastor

Unity

I once consulted with a church struggling to move forward. The pastor had been there a couple years, had a great vision and was supported by most everyone, there were adequate resources, the community needed a healthy church (as all do), but they never could get any traction.

In working with the church, I quickly assessed they had a unity problem. The church had two dominant factions – mostly split over a denominational issue. I felt like a genius consultant when I uncovered the root problem, but the truth is I only discovered what they already knew – yet never admitted.

The challenge wasn’t discovering the problem, however, it was in finding solutions. The church needed to come together if there was any hope to move forward and realize all the opportunities God was sending their way.

It should be noted – this church was united around the Gospel. They wanted to see people come to know Christ. They were divided by lesser issues. If a church can’t rally around making disciples of Jesus Christ – our core purpose – it will be near impossible to unite on anything else. 

So how do you create unity in a church?

Here are 7 thoughts on creating unity in a church:

Avoid the core DNA when making changes

There are some things which are not worth changing – especially until unity returns. It makes no sense to create further disunity in an area where the church is already unified. For example, if the church is overwhelmingly supportive of Sunday school, but you are a proponent of small groups, don’t try to make the change now (if ever) until unity is achieved. (If the core DNA is divisiveness harder decisions regarding the vitality and future of the church should be made.)

Find common ground

What do people agree upon? As noted previously, this should be the Gospel, but what about its methodology is commonly embraced? Again, maybe its Sunday school, but perhaps it’s reaching the community’s lower income families. It could be a ministry of adoption or homelessness. There are probably numerous ministries or interests within the church about which everyone is passionate. Find some and pour energy into them. The more of these you can identify and rally people around, the more unified the church will become. The key is you must work towards a common mission if there is any hope of bringing unity. 

Plan group activities

This can be an ice cream social or a ministry opportunity to one of the common issues, but it should be something which will involve people from both sides of the divide. It would be best if you could get someone from each faction to the planning table for these events. Most likely there are some who, though they have chosen a “side” to support, are mature enough they can work with someone of a different opinion to plan a function.

Celebrate success

There is something about celebrating which brings people together. Find small wins and celebrate them. Celebrate the things people can agree upon. Often this will be the history of the church or the heart the church has for missions or ministry.

Challenge the few objectors

There are usually a few people who are naturally divisive. This number is usually smaller than it appears, but these people are critical of everything and usually bring down the morale of others and the church. You may have to pull them aside, ask them to cooperate, and, if they will not, work to remove them from power. (This could obviously be the subject of another blog post, but a necessary part of creating unity.) The unity and vision of the church is more important than appeasing those whose only mission is to disrupt.

Embrace the influencers

Just as there are a few who are negative, there are usually a few who are positive about unity and who have influence over others. I believe in the “each one reach one” practice. Spend time with these influencers, help them understand the importance of unity, then encourage and release them to help shape an atmosphere and culture of unity, one person at a time. Keep these natural influencers and encouragers close and informed and empower them to help create unity.

Communicate effectively

Communication is always important, but especially during times of disunity. Information must flow freely and often. When people don’t have information, they assume you are keeping it from them intentionally. Keep people informed and they feel more like they are part of the team and the vision.

Obviously every situation is unique. Don’t be ashamed to seek outside help. Creating unity takes time, prayer and hard work. It often involves repentance for things said and done which caused the disunity. Keep in mind the process involves relationships, so it can be messy. Unity will likely involve people granting forgiveness and releasing the right to have things their way. Depending on the severity of the division in the church, these issues should certainly be shaping your teaching during this time. It may be subtle or more direct, but certainly deliberate.

Finally, for an illustration purpose, you might treat the process as you would if you were counseling a couple, only on a larger scale, of course. Identifying the underlying problems and offering small, steady steps to improving the relationships before you address the issues of division will help create unity.

20 Leadership Tips in Tweet Length

Colour pencils isolated on white background close up

A friend emailed me and asked for my “top 20 leadership tips”. They were doing a presentation on leadership and were asked to share 20 aspects of great leadership. The added catch – they wanted something short they could expand upon, so they suggested I share them in “Twitter length.”

It was like he didn’t know I’m the guy who only has “7” points in most posts?

I’m always up for a challenge though, so I wrote down the question and pondered it for a couple weeks. I added a few at a time. Then I sat down to compile the list.

Here are 20 leadership tips in Twitter length:

Build people – people are your greatest asset as a leader.

Believe in others – it’s the right thing to do and you can’t lead effectively otherwise.

Your life direction matters – you’ll likely end up where you point yourself and the team you lead.

Hold your methodology loosely – care more about accomplishing a worthy vision than how you do it.

Empower people – delegation is giving people real responsibility and real authority.

Keep learning – when you stop learning – you stop.

Renew your passion often – keep reminding yourself why you do what you do.

Learn to rest – so you can always do your best.

Value the word “No” – you can only do what you can do. Trying to do more lowers efficiency.

Prioritize each day – make every moment count – Because it does.

Let failure build you – not define you – it’s the best way to gain experience.

Be honest with yourself and others – what you hide will often trip you fastest.

Know your weaknesses – everyone else already does.

Listen more than you speak – you’ll learn more and others will feel valued.

Serving others always brings joy – giving back is the greatest vehicle to fulfillment in life.

Humility is attractive – people want to be around people who are. Applaud others louder than you “toot your own horn”.

Be intentional – nothing really great happens without intentionality.

Reject apathy – you’ll be tempted to settle for mediocrity. Don’t do it.

Communication is vital – people only know what they know. Same for you. Learn to ask good questions. 

Protect your character – even more than you try to protect your reputation. Do this and you’ll gain the other.

Feel free to Tweet one or two of them – they’re Twitter length.

Do you have one to share?