10 Ways to Remain “Favorite” Pastor

Celebrity

I’ve read that leadership expert Peter Drucker once said the hardest jobs in America (not necessarily in order) are President of the United States, university presidents, hospital administrators and pastors. I talk to struggling pastors weekly. Having been in the business and political worlds, and now as a pastor, I definitely know the hardest job I’ve ever done is being a pastor.

Yet every pastor I know wants to do a good job. They want to be successful in their Kingdom building efforts. At the same time, they also want to be liked. No one likes to be unpopular.

I was talking recently with another pastor how hard it is to pastor effectively and make everyone happy. (Actually, he admitted he was a people pleaser and I was telling him how impossible that will be long term.) To illustrate the point in a humorous way, we began to cite examples of ways to keep people happy that triggered this post.

So let me say this is written sarcastically. On purpose. Sometimes it’s easier to say the hard stuff if I say it in a humorous way. (Or at least what I think is funny) And there are some serious issues addressed here that many pastors face. But, after all, I want to be the favorite pastor too, so I’m keeping it lighthearted in my approach.

Here are 10 ways to remain favorite pastor:

Never turn down a social invitation - Sacrifice your family time. It’ll ruin your family dynamic but keep the church happy.

Don’t talk about money – Jesus never did, right? Don’t be meddling.

Never mention sex – Good Christians don’t. They just don’t. They don’t even think about it.

Stick to the sins everyone else is doing – Don’t mention things like gossip or gluttony. Those are too personal.

No challenges please – We don’t want our toes stepped on and definitely don’t want to leave with homework. Or at least give us some homework passes. Please.

Preach “feel good” messages – That hard stuff to hear…who needs it?

Wear the right clothes – Like Jesus did, right?

Don’t buck tradition – Especially the ones that were started by pastor so and so. You know the ones.

Play everyone’s favorite music – Every Sunday. (You miracle worker.)

Don’t lead…just preach - Give us your “best” message every Sunday, but don’t take us anywhere new.

Pastoring is a tough job, but remember, our calling is not to be popular. It’s to be obedient. And, not to a crowd, but to a King.

Ever tried to be a favorite pastor? Do you have any you’d add?

7 Ways to Make Decisions Fast

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There are those moments in leadership when you have to make quick decisions. Decisions which impact others. Decisions that will be hard to reverse. Decisions which you would usually spend days, weeks or months deciding…have to be made now. There is no choice. There are the decisions that you wish you had more time to make, but you don’t. Every leader I know has those moments.

What do you do?

First, my experience is that this is a rare occurrence in leadership. Many times you feel you have to move faster than you real do and my advice is to try not to make quick decisions any more than possible. Proverbs says, “haste makes mistakes” and that’s true. There are times, however, when, as a leader, you simply have to move forward. So, when you do, here are a few ways to make better quick decisions.

7 ways to make decisions fast:

Pray – Sentence prayers work. Ask God His opinion on the matter. He cares about the smallest details of your life. He may be doing something bigger than you can imagine, however, so He may allow you freedom to choose knowing that He will work things for an ultimate good. Ask for His input first though.

Check your boundaries – Hopefully you have certain lines you will not cross. Does this decision cross any of them? If so, wait. If not, you’re freer to move forward.

Take the emotion out of it – Emotional decisions are seldom rational decisions. Do I need to say that again? If you haven’t considered the black and white decision, if there is one, do that first. As much as possible, try to remove your personal agenda and your emotional response from the answering of the question at hand.

Phone a friend – Moments like these are why you need people in your corner who can quickly speak truth into your life. I have a few friends who always take my call. Before I “pull the trigger”, I’m pushing the speed dial.

Pull from past experiences – You may not have made this decision, but you’ve made other decisions in your life. Try to pull in as close a parallel as you can. Glean from your successes and your failures.

Don’t let fear dominate – Fear is always a part of decision making, especially if it involves a risk of any kind. Fear can sometimes be a protector, so don’t ignore it, but don’t let it be the dominate decider either. The hardest and scariest decisions are often the most needed.

Trust your gut – You’ve made good decisions before…haven’t you? Or even if you feel you haven’t, you probably knew the right decision to make, even though you didn’t make it. We have a sense of right and wrong that allows us to know when we are making blatant errors. So, go with the gut that says, “this is the right decision.” Many times you’ll be right.

Those are a few suggestions. Keep in mind, you will make mistakes this way. When you have to make quick decisions, you will get burnt at times. I’m not pretending you won’t. But, there are times where a quick decision is needed. That’s leadership. Don’t shy away from it simply because of the timing.

How do you make good decisions fast?

Fear Devotional, Part 1

Fear

In great fear and distress Jacob divided the people who were with him into two groups, and the flocks and herds and camels as well. Genesis 32:7 NIV

I have often wrestled with this question:

Could my greatest fears be God’s greatest opportunity to express His glory through me?

As I read the stories of the characters in the Bible, I see men and women who faced enormous fears…challenges far beyond their own natural abilities, and yet it was in those times, when they obediently followed God’s plan for their life, that God seemed to do some of His greatest work.

Jacob was surely afraid to meet his brother after their time of separation. He had tricked Esau out of his birthright. Esau could have killed him. Instead, because of Jacob’s obedience, God transforms a man who was to play a large part in the lineage of Christ.

What are you facing today that scares you to death?

Over the next few weeks, every Saturday, I want to explore the issue of fear. It is my prayer that these will challenge us to step out in faith to accept God’s call on our life, regardless of our fears.

Who would be bold enough to share their greatest fear?

Why Is My Church Not Growing?

Here is an example of a common question I receive:

My church is not growing. People come but they do not stay. We’ve analyzed all the majors and feel we are doing what we should but they do not stay. Any thoughts please?

I receive something similar almost weekly. I wish I had answers every time. I don’t. Most of the time I know many times they can’t afford a consultant (or don’t think they can, but should consider the investment), so I try to give them a few suggestions, in the limited time I have, to think through their issues.

Here is an expanded version of my typical answer:

It’s hard to diagnose here without more information. I do believe God wants the church to grow. We are to make disciples and part of discipleship is make more disciples. That in and of itself is growth.

A few quick comments first:

  • God is in charge of the numbers. People can disagree with me (and do) when I say I believe healthy churches are growing. Some grow in different ways. Some internally and some by raising up people who go outside the church to make disciples. Regardless of how growth occurs, all of us must agree God is ultimately in control.
  • The Holy Spirt grows people and therefore the church. We aren’t without responsibility in doing our part. We’ve been given an assignment to be a body with many parts, but we don’t ultimately grow people or churches.
  • Churches go through seasons, just as individual believers do. There are seasons we grow more than others and seasons we are simply maturing to grow later.
  • There are no cookie cutter answers. Just as God makes people unique, churches are unique because they are comprised of unique people.

With those clarifications, here are a few quick thoughts to help you discern your particular situation:

1. Do a survey of anyone who visited in the last year. Ask them why they stayed or didn’t stay. Ask them for ideas they have to improve a visitors experience. Ask them how they found the church. Be prepared for some hard answers, but you may discover things you aren’t seeing.

2. Do a church wide/or leadership wide half day brainstorming session, depending on the size of your church. You want enough people to have a wide range of ideas, but not so many that you never get anything accomplished. I’ve done this with 12 and I’ve done it with 100. That’s getting a little large, but you don’t want to exclude people who are genuinely concerned and want to help the church. I prefer people who have positive dispositions, but you need a range of thought. You might even bring someone in to facilitate this process. Many times there are answers in the room that come from collected thinking. Ask, why aren’t people staying and what can we do?

You may need to do a second half day, perhaps with a smaller group, to summarize and make conclusions from the feedback of the larger group. In my experience, you will produce some key thoughts from an exercise like this which will spur momentum, in addition to creating renewed energy among these key leaders. (But you’ll have to act on some of the suggestions.)

3. Pay a community member (or a professional consultant if you can afford it) to “secret shop” your church and give you honest feedback. You can often find someone to do this free of charge simply to help the church, but there are professionals who know what to look for in a church visit. Many times we can’t see what’s missing on our own.

The bottom line is that you’ll have to do something intentional to get the answers you don’t have. There are good church consultants out there if you want to take that step. Let me know if you want some names and contact information. But, keep asking the questions you’re asking. Our mission as a church hasn’t changed, but the culture around us is changing rapidly. We must continue to grow as church leaders in order to continue to make new disciples.

Praying for you.

How would you respond?

5 Tips for Amateur Prayers Like Me

prayer

Lord, teach us to pray…

(Luke 11:1)

I don’t know about you, but I feel like the disciples. I am still learning to pray. The fact is I have more knowledge of prayer than I have substance and practice of prayer.

Just being honest.

Here are 5 suggestions for amateur prayers…like me:

Be respectful – You’re talking to the Creator God. He is worthy of all our praise. He’s the Holy Father. He puts stars in the sky. At the same time, He paints the belly of a Lady Bug. Never take for granted the privilege of prayer.

Be yourself – Along with being respectful, it is important to be who you are. Don’t attempt to make your words pretty as much as you attempt to make your heart pure. Just as you want your children to be respectful, yet still be themselves, I am convinced God wants that for His children. We are told to call Him “Daddy” (Abba). He wants us to fall in the comfy chair of home in His presence.

Be honest – God knows already, yet He loves to hear His children talk. Just like we do as parents. He wants to know what’s on our mind. We can tell Him if we are angry and still be respectful. Speak truthful when talking to God.

Be open to His voice – Spend intentional time listening, with your Bible open. God most often speaks through the already written Word. But He also speaks through the still small voice like the gentle breeze. Over time…and with lots of practice…you’ll begin to know and hear His voice.

Be consistent – Pray as much as you want and need God’s involvement in your life. How much is that? For me, that’s fairly constant. I pray far less than the need I have for Him. Have a daily routine. Start a prayer list. Do it daily. But mostly, do it as a part of lifestyle more than a part of routine. It’s a relationship. And He’s always with you, so take advantage of the closeness you can have through Christ. If you’re sitting at a stop light…pray. If you think of a friend…pray. If you begin to worry…pray. It can be a paragraph, sentence or a couple words. (I’ve prayed “Help me God!” many times.) Don’t overcomplicate it. Just pray. Talk to God. What a privilege that I can encourage you in this way. (Hebrews 4:16)

Of course, all this begins with a simple belief in Christ as your Savior. That is what makes you His child. If you’ve never believed in the One whom lived, died and rose again three days later…begin there.

What tips do you have for us amateur prayers?

7 Vital Components of Church Revitalization

Word cloud in puzzle shape with self development terms.

As you may know, I recently entered into a season of church revitalization. I’ve done something similar previously in ministry. My first church was similar.

Then I assisted in the planting of two churches (as a senior leader of both) and fell in love with the energy I saw in starting something new. At the same time, I continued to be concerned for churches like the one in which I was raised. The church that has seen better days. I became more convinced that we need new energy in both.

So here I am again. And, this experience is giving me the opportunity, fueled by this platform, to speak not only to church planters (who I still love by the way), but also those who are attempting church revitalization. In the process. I’m learning some things. There appear to be some vital elements for a healthy revitalization to occur.

Granted, the Holy Spirit must show up and God must be glorified. That can admittedly happen with a room of donkeys, but in general terms, working with normal church people (whatever that means :) ) there are components which need to be in place to see a church revitalize.

Here are 7 vital components in church revitalization:

Admitting you need to revitalize – That’s hard isn’t it? Recently a senior member of our church visited another church that has undergone revitalization. She saw the excitement and came back with a new understanding. Her comment to one of our staff members was, “We have to change some things, don’t we? We don’t have a choice!” The church as a whole must come to that level of understanding.

Letting go of right to control - This is what makes or breaks revitalization in many churches. If the “No Change Allowed” sign is hung…or even the “but not that change”…on issues that aren’t even Biblical, then revitalizing the church will be very difficult.

A vision of something better – What’s next for this church? Where are we going? How are we going to get there? There must be a compelling vision, such as loving a community for Christ and clear avenues for people to be involved in reaching that vision.

A history worth revitalizing – This will be the toughest part of this post. There are some toxic churches that seem to have never been healthy. They’ve run off every pastor they’ve called. Many of these churches wouldn’t follow Jesus well either. They are stuck in systems and personal agendas and aren’t going to budge. (I realize that’s a cruel statement, but it’s a sad reality.)

Leadership willing to lead change – This is more than the pastor. In many cases, the pastor is only the figure head of vision and change. Change is hard. It requires trusted leaders within the church willing to step up and lead along side the pastor. I wrote recently the difference in trust and popularity as a leader. Read that post HERE and understand the difference. It’s what makes collective leadership that much more important, especially in the early days of revitalization.

The tenacity to weather storms – It won’t be easy. It’s far easier to start something than to try to grow again after a period of decline. Some pastors, leaders and churches have the patience. Some don’t.

A few committed people – You need some people already established in the church who love the church more than their personal agenda. These might be leaders or might not. Many times newer people attracted during times of change don’t have the roots or credibility to do this. As great as they are…and even with them as a primary focus…the church needs longer term people to embrace a new future. These people have to support the pastor, speak up for the changes and create an atmosphere conducive for growth again.

Well, those are my candid observations. They aren’t based solely on opinion, but they certainly aren’t a product of extensive research either. They are derived from hundreds of conversations with other pastors and personal experience.

What do you think?

5 Steps to Discern a Change in Ministry Assignment

Time for Change - Ornate Clock

How do you know when God is closing one door in ministry and opening another?

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

Several times in my ministry, first as a layperson and since then in vocational ministry, God has called me to leave one ministry and begin another. It can be a scary place to face the unknown, yet know that God is up to something new in your life. As with most posts I wrote, I share out of my own life experience. That’s the best framework of understanding I have.

I think it is important, however, to realize that God uses unequaled experiences in each of our lives. Your experience will likely be different from mine. There was only one burning bush experience we know about in Scripture. At the same time, there are some common patterns I think each of us may experience, while the details remain unique.

This has been the process that I have experienced as God has led me to something new.

Here are 5 steps in discerning a change in ministry assignment:

Wonderful sweet success – Each time the door of a new opportunity opened it began opening (looking back) when things were going well in my current ministry. In fact, people who don’t understand the nature of a call (and some who do) have usually wondered why I would be open to something new.

Inner struggle – I usually have not been able to understand what God is up to, but there is something in me (and usually in my wife at the same time) where I know God is doing something new. While I do not know what it is, and not even if it involves a change in my place of ministry, I know God is doing a new work in my heart about something. Almost like the king in Daniel 4 who needed an interpretation, I know there’s something out there but at the time I can’t discern it. (I’m glad I have the Holy Spirit though to help me.)

Closeness to Christ – Brennan Manning calls it a Dangerous love of Christ. During the times leading up to a change of ministry assignment I will be growing in my relationship with Christ, usually in new depths of trust and abandonment. Again, looking back and I can see this clearly, but at the time I usually am just enjoying the ride and the closeness to Christ. Many times God is giving wisdom to share with others and (looking back) I can see that some of it was actually meant for me.

Opportunity presents itself – The opportunity often seems to come from nowhere, but with multiple experiences now I can see the pattern that has occurred each time. It is only after these first three experiences that God brings a new opportunity my way. That is probably because my spirit must be totally aligned with His Spirit in order for me to trust the new work He calls me to, because, again, it usually comes as a surprise. I have yet to be completely “ready” for the next step in my journey with Christ, because it always involves a leap of faith on my part, but this process prepares me to be ready to say “Yes Lord…Here am I…send me.”

I surrendered to God’s call – After I receive confirmation in my spirit, review the journey God has had us on, and Cheryl and I agree on where God is leading, I have yet to refuse the next assignment. I have certainly delayedy response, wrestled through the difficulty and comsulted many advisors, but never refused. That does not mean it is easy to leave my current ministry, but it has always been most rewarding to know we are in the center of God’s will for our life.

A special word to the spouse:

Cheryl has never been “ready” to leave friends in our current ministry, but she has always lined with me in knowing God was calling us to a new work in our life. I wrote about that tension from the spouse’s perspective HERE.

Have you shared these experiences? What other experiences have you had that have led you to step out by faith into a new adventure with Christ?

10 Tensions of Every Leader

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Being a leader isn’t easy. There are tensions with every decision a leader makes. I was thinking recently about some of those tensions.

Here are 10 tensions of every leader:

Displaying confidence without being arrogant.

Being inclusive without simply accommodating.

Making bold decisions while building collaboration.

Showing strength while displaying compassion.

Controlling energy towards a vision but allowing individuals to chart their path.

Funding dreams and curtailing needless expenses.

Celebrating victory while not resting on current success.

Honoring history while pushing towards the future.

Creating structure but allowing the freedom to create.

Learning from other leaders but being who you were uniquely wired to be.

Do you have some to add?

The Elasticity of the Heart

Be aware of the elasticity of your heart.

I’ve learned through hard lessons that a stretched heart never returns exactly the same.

The Bible says, “Above all else, guard your heart.” I think part of the reason is that once the heart stretches, it’s changed. Forever.

Let’s say you had a dream. You pursued it with passion. It didn’t work out. You failed. But, in the process you stretched your heart for something new. You’ll have to find yet another dream to fill the void you created by stretching.

You thought you had the job. You were beginning to get excited about it. You even looked at houses in the area. You didn’t get the job. Your heart stretched. You will have to refuel your passion where you are now or you’ll be miserable. Your heart was stretched.

You felt a call to ministry at some point in your life, but you ignored it. Or something happened. You’re not serving right now and your heart is empty. Your stretched heart has never been the same.

And, it works in other ways too. You looked at things online you shouldn’t have seen. Now you want more. And more. You can’t seem to find satisfaction. You stretched your heart.

Be aware of the elasticity of your heart.

My advice is to find something to fill the new space you have created. You can’t just “get over it”.

You have to fill the void left behind because of the stretching. That may require prayer, discipline, accountability, practice or even counseling. Maybe all of them.

But your stretched heart is too important to ignore.

Above all else…guard your heart“. (Proverbs 4:23)