Thursday, 07 November 2013 11:11

I Did It Again!

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Do you ever catch yourself saying “I cannot believe I did it again?” That happened to me last week.  I have my weaknesses as a minister. In fact, over the years of serving in churches I developed a list of my weaknesses. This list was used as a watch list to remind me of my shortcomings. In doing this I held myself accountable when my shortcomings raised their ugly head. I will not give you my entire list; however, I use this concept to convey a growth point for all of us.

I share this, not to make you feel pity for me, but to make a point. I have been busy. Our association of churches recently conducted its annual meeting. This meeting requires a lot of extra work. My wife and I have been working to sell our home. Also, I am working to complete two books. In addition, we recently planned and conducted two events for pastors and their wives. I have learned that when I put too many irons in the fire, one of them does not get hot. 

This brings up the problem. When I am stressing because everything is not done to perfection, this attitude cannot be of God. If I beat myself up because “I did it again” there is something wrong with this picture. As a pastor and servant of Christ what should I do?

“Go to the ant, you slacker! Observe its ways and become wise. Without leader, administrator, or ruler, it prepares its provisions in summer; it gathers its food during harvest.” (Prov. 6:6-8) We learn several valuable lessons from the ant.

Thursday, 31 October 2013 09:40

A Good Experience!

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Last Thursday and Friday the Shepherds Connection conducted a “Survive and Thrive Retreat” in Shreveport, LA.  The purpose of such retreats, sponsored by the Shepherds Connection, is to offer encouragement and support for those serving in ministry.  We call these “Survive and Thrive Retreats” because it is our conviction that the Lord wants us to “survive” emotionally, physically and spiritually but also “thrive” in our place of service.  As we conducted this retreat there were several elements that created a “good” experience for us.  I want to share these observations so that we might (hopefully) enlist your participation in a future event but also to challenge you to a healthy ministry lifestyle.

A spirit of transparency was present.  All of those attending the retreat serve in ministry.  Thus, all recognize the importance of seeking safe places where they can share with others who serve in ministry.  After all, who understands a fellow minister better than a fellow minister?  All of us need safe places where we can, as the saying goes, “let our hair down.”

A spirit of affirmation and acceptance was present.  We need people who will affirm us, understand our ways and share our dreams.  Also, we need people who accept and affirm us for who we are, not our denomination, eschatological position or the size of our church. 

Humor was utilized.  We listened to several short humorous video clips.  In addition, we played the “newlywed game” for those who serve in ministry.  The Bible says “a merry heart doeth good like a medicine.”

Encouraging worship and Biblical teaching was utilized.  Oftentimes we pastors do all of the teaching and receive little take in.  We need to be fed and enriched by the teaching and worship skills of others.  A pastor who gives out without taking in will be like a bank account that runs out of money when no deposits are made.

A spirit of prayer was present.  During this short retreat there were no less than five opportunities to laugh, cry and lift in prayer the burdens of fellow pastors and their wives.

The Shepherds Connection was started because we see the loneliness, isolation and challenges of those who serve in ministry.  From this summary I challenge you with the following questions.

  • Do you, who serve others, take time to be nurtured by others?
  • Do you take time to go aside where both you and your wife can be nurtured by others?  Many times our wives are the loneliest people in the church.
  • Do you take time to encourage, affirm and support other pastors who serve in ministry?  We pastors tend to be separated by professional competition, jealousy, fears and isolation.

If you buy a $25,000 car you do not neglect its maintenance.  It is too valuable a possession.  As a pastor you are valuable in God’s service.  Regular maintenance goes a long way in keeping you on the road of ministry.

Friday, 25 October 2013 13:25

The Sleepy Leader’s Brain

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Reprinted with permission: Written by Charles Stone of Charles Stone-- Stonewell Ministries

God created sleep not only to cure sleepiness, but to serve our bodies and brains in many beneficial ways. Unfortunately, many leaders, especially pastors, try to lead without getting adequate sleep and live with a sleepy leader's brain. When we don't get enough sleep, our brains don't work as well. Thus, we don't lead at our best.
So what happens when we don't get enough sleep, besides feeling sleepy? Here's what the experts tell us happens to our brains when we don't get adequate sleep.
• Our memory is impaired. Sleep helps turn short term memory into long-term memory (called consolidation) by strengthening memory traces. Lack of sleep hinders this process.
• We don't learn as well. Related to memory, when our memory is impaired, learning suffers.
• We can't control our emotions as well. Emotional control (called emotional regulation) best happens when we think most clearly. Lack of sleep keeps our executive thinking center (called the pre-frontal cortex) from operating most effectively.
• Creativity suffers. When we sleep our brain continues to work. One way it works is by making novel connections which doesn't happen as easily during wakefulness. If you rob yourself of sleep you may be robbing yourself of creative insights that otherwise could enhance your leadership.
• We don't recharge our brains and our bodies. The body needs to reset its physiological processes each day to keep in balance (called homeostasis). If you don't get enough sleep, you can keep your body from resetting its chemical balances. As a result, chronic lack of sleep can put your body in a stress state which keeps the stress hormone cortisol constantly in our system, which damages our bodies and brains.
How's your sleep pattern? Are you getting enough sleep? What can you do if you believe you are sleep deprived? I list several suggestions in this prior post where you can take a quiz and learn if you are sleep deprived.

Friday, 18 October 2013 19:51

Beware of Casual Mode!

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Exercise is a regular part of my personal discipline.  Most of my exercise involves jogging, riding an exercise bike, riding a mountain bike and occasionally hiking in the mountains.  Sometimes I find myself longing to slip into casual mode.  What is casual mode?  Instead of jogging I walk and enjoy the scenery and don’t push myself.  Instead of biking with a vengeance I casually peddle while I enjoy the ride.  
As a minister I find myself struggling between these two extremes, the casual approach versus the driven approach, as I fulfill my calling. Let me say up front, there is a place for both of these attitudes toward ministry and serving Jesus Christ.
The casual attitude is important when:
•God is refilling your soul after ministering to others.
•You are waiting on God’s direction.
•You are recovering from a ministry hurt.
•You need time to process your thoughts and feelings.
•You are taking a personal Sabbath to rest and worship.
•You need time to spend with your family and minister to them.
•You are seeking to put your life into perspective.
•You are driven and need to slow down to a more contemplative mode.
The casual mode is not good when:
•You are satisfied with your spiritual life.
•You are cruising toward retirement and not growing, investing in vision and seeking to make a difference.
•You have become cynical in your current place of service and are not learning, growing and giving your best.
•You have allowed a pain to drive you underground rather than continuing to fight the good fight.
The apostle Paul challenges me to move beyond the casual mode.  Several passages come to mind.  In Phil. 3:14 Paul says, “I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”  Paul’s pursuit of the Jesus life was a lifelong goal.  In II Timothy we find Paul nearing death.  Is he in casual mode?  No!  He wrote the book of II Timothy to share his closing thoughts.  He encouraged Timothy (2:1).  He continued to invest in others.  He continued to identify false teachers and combat their error (3:6-9). He asked for the parchments (4:13).  He continued to grow.  Need I say more?  Paul did not lapse into casual mode.
The Lord has placed us in this world to make a difference.  Sometimes we might not feel as if that is happening.  Do not be discouraged!  God has a place and a purpose for you!  Keep in the fight.  Don’t just coast to the next phase of your life.
Friday, 11 October 2013 15:38

The Preacher Came to Work Late Today

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I wonder if I’m the only one with this problem.

Thursday morning I was wide awake at 5:15, got dressed and studied several chapters of the Old Testament book of Esther. Then, I turned on the television, watched the weather forecast while doing 15 minutes of a stretching-and-weights routine I put together years ago. I bundled up, grabbed my water bottle and headed for the river levee where I walked three miles and talked to the Lord. It was 7 o’clock when I returned. I turned on the coffee, took my bath, and got dressed. My wife awakened, I brought her a cup of coffee and we chatted. I had breakfast and read the paper, and then a phone call occupied 15 or 20 minutes. I thought of a message to put on my website; a pleasant chore which I can never do in less than half an hour. The time was 9 A.M. and I was just leaving the house.

The drive to my office across New Orleans’ morning traffic takes 45 minutes. All the way, I kept thinking, “I’m late to the office. What will people think?”

Wonder if I’m the only one with this problem.

In a real sense, I had been on duty since 5:15. Reading the Bible, praying, reading the paper, and then counseling by phone are my responsibilities.  “Be on guard for yourself,” the Apostle Paul instructed the pastors of Ephesus in Acts 20:28, and then “for all the flock among whom the Holy Spirit has made you overseers.” First, take care of yourself. Fail to do that and you’ll not be caring for anyone. Then and only then, take care of the flock.

Pastors generally do not have a taskmaster breathing down their necks, timing their arrival and departure from the office, checking off their chores, making sure they get their work done. In my work with the hundred or so Southern Baptist churches of metro New Orleans, I most certainly do not have a taskmaster, for which I am grateful. However, I’m my own taskmaster, and not a very merciful one at that. At any given time, I could produce a long list of tasks I left undone.  Also, I can list instances of self-indulgence when my time could have been better invested, and enough evidence of laziness and sloth to convince a panel of judges of my unworthiness for any position of trust in the Kingdom. My conscience reminds me that I watched a 1942 Bette Davis movie on television last night, and enjoyed every moment of it. My good sense says it was relaxing and beneficial; my guilty conscience points the accusing finger.

Wonder if I’m the only one with this problem.

Decades ago I read where an old preacher started his day when the factory workers walked by his front door at five o’clock each morning. “It’s important,” he said, “that they not think their pastor is in bed while they are working.” Therefore, he set his alarm clock and rose at the same hour and made certain he was at work in his study as soon as his people began in the factory. He did not say if he went back to bed later–okay, I admit I’m a cynic.

Thursday, 03 October 2013 13:03

Ministry Tension: Pastor or Equipper?

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Hey pastor, do you struggle with the tension of being “the” pastor or an equipper?  As a young pastor I did not feel this tension.  In fact, I was not aware such tension existed.  As my knowledge of scripture, ministry experience and responsibilities expanded I became aware of this tension.  Let me explain what I mean.  As a young pastor I naively saw it as my responsibility to serve as a resident chaplain.  I visited every home, performed every wedding, conducted every funeral, attended every meeting, sat through every surgery and preached two or three times a week. 

There is nothing wrong with this style of ministry.  Congregations will applaud you for ministering in this manner.  However, there are three difficulties with approaching ministry in this fashion. 

First, it will wear you out as you try to wear so many hats.  A sure recipe for burnout is to wear too many hats and burn the candle at both ends. 

Second, this ministry overload will hinder you from doing things with excellence.  You cannot do one or two things with excellence when you are stretched in doing many things. 

The third difficulty with the pastor doing everything is that it violates our calling to equip people for ministry.  The Bible tells us, “He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints.” (Eph. 4:11-12) We are called to equip all of God’s people to minister. 

In considering our call to equip others there are several thoughts we should entertain. 

First, do I attempt to do all of the things listed in paragraph one because of my ego.  As a young pastor I found it flattering to hear people brag on me and the “hard working pastor.”   Pride is a sin!  I will leave this discussion for another article.  However, we will call it for what it is.  A root of pride grows in many directions.

Second, do I trust people?  Am I willing to back up and delegate responsibility to fellow believers and trust them to do the job?  This requires that I invest in them by equipping with ministry skills to perform the task.

Third, am I willing to confront cultural barriers in order to equip others?  For example, most religious traditions refer to “the pastor.”  Some of these comments are used generically in referring to a position in the church.  However, others see the pastor as “the minister.”  Those with such views see the pastor through a different lens than they view other believers.  The correct view is that he is a minister/equipper working among fellow ministers.  Dismantling this view will require teaching, patience and a new vision.  We must establish the vision of a multitude of people ministering and witnessing.  We must help our people see the church’s potential when a multitude is active and serving.  This new vision will require special effort in areas, such as rural areas, where the demands of ministry (for the paid staff) are less demanding.  Some people might criticize you for delegating ministry to others.

The pastor is a pastor/minister!  We should add to this the title of pastor/equipper.  This will enhance the effectiveness of our work and expand our reach.  It will not hinder our work unless we hinder it in our minds.

Friday, 27 September 2013 10:40

I Stand Corrected

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Last Sunday I preached in a local church. In my sermon I made the comment that all of Jesus' disciples turned their backs on Him before He went to the cross. After the service an elderly man walked up to me and humbly asked a question. He said, "Preacher, was not John standing at the cross when Jesus was crucified?" I stood corrected. Ever feel as if you did not think through a statement?

As I listened to that man I was reminded of several principles that came out of that encounter.
• It reminded me that no one is above making mistakes or saying things that need to be corrected. As pastors we must be open to correction and awkward questions, such as my friend asked. It is possible for our ego to hinder relationships and close our ears to important feedback. If I responded to this gentleman with arrogance I would have pushed him away.
• All of us need each other. God uses other people to guide, correct and show us alternative views. It may be that God sends people to assist us in seeing a broader view. I know, I know, there are some people (critics) who think it is their God given responsibility to keep the pastor on his toes.
• Most of the time we are a better person - stronger, wiser and humbler because of our friend's feedback. Every pastor needs a few trusted friends who are not afraid to tell him the truth or to ask those pointed questions.

For example, in recent years there has been much debate about deacon ministry. Some churches do not recognize the office of deacon. These churches, in a general way, feel there is more harm than good in deacon ministry. This is true in the case of controlling deacons or deacons who do not live up to the spiritual aspect of their calling. However, deacons can be a valuable sounding board for our ideas. Deacons can be a pastor's best friend when they are discerning listeners and spiritual men of God. Controlling deacons or deacons who are not spiritual leaders are a whole different story.

My general point is that pastors need advisers and must be humble enough to accept their input. The writer of Proverbs said "in the multitude of counselors there is safety." (11:14)

For me, pride was one of my greatest barriers as a leader.
1. Pride kept me from laughing at my foolish blunders. I do not enjoy humble pie.
2. Pride kept me from laughing with others at my foolish blunders. When you laugh at yourself and join with other people in laughing at your blunders it creates a spirit of transparency. We desperately need a happy spirit in our churches.
3. Pride, at times, raised a barrier that hindered me from seeking people's input.
4. Pride hindered communication that prevented me from leading people to the next level in our spiritual journey.

Our success in ministry is dependent on healthy relationships with other people. There is much that goes into this dynamic: transparency, integrity, communication, humility and leadership. If we do not seek to build healthy relationship we could be in for a long future. This requires growth, maturity and a vision for God's better plan. He does not want us to spend a ministry career running away because some elderly man asked us an awkward question!


Thursday, 19 September 2013 14:01

Come on God

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Today I rode horses with my son and grandchildren.  My son rode a twenty-year-old family horse, one that is gentle with children.  Another lady led the horse on which my grandson (who is four) rode.  I rode the high stepper among the group.  This horse was energetic and fast paced.  He has been ridden in parades and walks with a prance and head held high.  Due to this matchup and the aforementioned conditions I found myself holding back my horse and waiting on the others.  Though it was not wise to speed up the pace I found myself wanting to say, “Come on guys.”   

The previous paragraph describes a situation none of us appreciate.  Most people enjoy progress.  Waiting on circumstances, people, or GOD is not fun.  However, that is a condition ministers are often forced to endure.  I use the word “endure” with understanding.  I am speaking to myself.

The Psalmist instructed us to, “Be still, and know that I am God.” (Ps. 46:10)  Any conscientious worker faces a challenge when trying to be still.  Action is in the DNA of every working person.  Progress and accomplishment fuel a sense of fulfillment.  This week I saw this verse in a new light. 

To be still is to relax, rest and release.  As I look around at ministry friends I see us in a constant state of movement.  Preparing to teach, enabling programs, counseling people and visiting the sick drive us every day.  These are enjoyable but demanding activities.  When God commands us to “be still” He knows we need stillness to refuel and refresh our spiritual energies. God set an example when He rested after creating the world.  Do we allow for down time in our lives?

Sometimes I feel as if I am obsessive compulsive.  When I sit down to relax and rest I have a hard time fulfilling the task.  I find myself thinking of all the things I could be doing.  Even when relaxing I often find myself fumbling with my smart phone and all of its gadgets.

The second part of Ps. 46:10 is “know that I am God.”  When we are still it allows God to be God.  In the Bible when God commands “stillness” it is often so that His children experience His deliverance.  I am reminded of the occasion when King Jehoshaphat was surrounded by a group of his enemies (II Chron. 20).  The Bible indicates Jehoshaphat was filled with fear and led the people of Judah to fast and pray. 

The Lord spoke a word of encouragement to Jahaziel which he shared.  He told Jehoshaphat to “stand still and see the salvation of the Lord” (vs. 17).  God was waiting on Jehoshaphat and the people of Judah to allow Him to be God.

God desires that we be still and wait on Him.  Those of us who have raised children know the joy of a child asking our assistance.  There is something about the weakness of a child that makes a father or grandfather have warm feelings.  The dependency of the father child relationship is natural.

This dependency speaks to our relationship with God.  He knows about the difficulties we face.  He knows that people can be stubborn.  He knows that strained relationships can cause sleepless nights.  Ps. 46:10 begins with two conditions “be still and know.” It closes with an affirmation, “I will be exalted among the nations.”  As we urge God to “come on” maybe He is urging us to “wait on HIM.”

Thursday, 12 September 2013 13:34

Avoid The Size Trap!

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Have you seen the lists of biggest and fastest growing churches? How do those lists affect you? They affect me in several contradictory ways. On the one hand I am captivated and inspired by the accomplishments of those churches. I thank God for them. On the other hand I feel intimidated by their accomplishments and feel unworthy because my accomplishments dwarf in comparison. There is a sense in which I feel like a second class minister. Those large ministries are not to blame. It is not their fault that I struggle with such improper feelings. I am caught in the size trap. It is up to me to confront such feelings.

I am not alone! There was an occasion when Andrew was caught in a size trap. He was deceived by size comparisons. On the day Jesus fed the multitude Andrew struggled with this issue. As Jesus questioned His disciples about resources (for feeding the hungry crowd), Andrew said “"Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?" (John 6:9, NIV) The size factor became a trap for Andrew. Jesus was not concerned with size. He was far more concerned with meeting needs and bringing glory to His Father.

You may be struggling in a place of insignificance. The small church you serve seems so little in the great scheme of God’s work. The ministry you perform seems so insignificant. You may be struggling because you do not see the results you thought you would see. The numbers are not what you imagined. More of us fall into this category than those listed among the largest and fastest growing. That leaves us struggling for affirmation. That leaves us questioning our value. Does God notice our accomplishments? Am I on any list?

Several significant truths are found in the story of the feeding of the five thousand. First, we should share our talents, gifts, possessions, and abilities with Jesus. He is the one who determines success. A pastor who is faithfully serving a church of twenty-five is as successful as the pastor of a church running twenty-five thousand. The worship leader in a church of one hundred is as successful as the worship leader of a church running ten thousand. If this is true, then the real measure of success is faithfulness and not numbers. The lad who shared his lunch was to be commended because he was faithful. The lad was to be applauded because he shared what he had with Jesus.

Another closely related truth is that we should leave the outcome to Jesus. The lad shared his meal and left the results to Jesus. It is not our job to determine the outcome. That is Jesus’ task. It may be that we sometimes manipulate results in order to get the numbers we desire. I pray that we would follow the lad’s example and let Jesus determine the outcome.

Are you struggling today? Are you feeling as if your life does not count? Are you caught in the size trap? Give yourself a break! You deserve more credit and more affirmation than you are giving yourself. 

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