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.
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.
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.
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. http://charlesstone.com/are-you-a-sleep-deprived-pastor-take-this-quiz-and-find-out/
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.
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.
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!
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.”
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.
It is amazing the number of diseases for which there is early intervention. Medical science is discovering secrets of the human body that aid this process. Early intervention in such things as heart disease and cancer offer needed support to prevent a premature death. The only early intervention that does not work is that which is not sought. Effort must be made to receive this life saving help.
This is also true for those who serve the Lord. There are heart issues that will lead to an early exit from ministry. I have seen several surveys that indicate approximately 1500 ministers leave the ministry each month in America. That is disturbing. This article is not intended to throw stones at those who have left the ministry, for whatever cause. It is a wakeup call to those who serve in ministry.
Pastors/ministers can be a headstrong and arrogant group. The Bible says, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before stumbling.” (Prov. 16:18 NASV) Even God’s leaders are not immortal or infallible.
God’s leaders are mortal just like everyone else. My mind quickly remembers the names of W.A. Criswell, Adrian Rogers and Jerry Falwell who passed into glory in recent years. These were great men. However, they were not immortal, except in Christ.
Even so, as ministers we should study our hearts, personal lives, marriages, health and spiritual lives for signs of an early exit. This comes from one who has suffered burnout, depression, severe discouragement, anger, rejection and other killers. These killers will damage your physical, emotional, marital, and (last but certainly not least) spiritual life.
Before you get the impression that I am some washed out ministry has-been, let me share the rest of the story. In 2010, the church I was serving was foreclosed. From that experience I spent almost a year unemployed. During that period I started The Shepherd’s Connection. I also came to be Director of Associational Missions for Beauregard Baptist Association. I am more passionate about ministry and enjoy my work more than any time in 36 years of ministry.
“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth gives way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging…the Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.” Psalm 46:1-2&7
Disaster brings chaos.
It brings a lot of chaos.
The pinnacle of chaos strikes a notable chord in hearts when disaster strikes close to home, namely within our community.
Our streets are filled with chaos. Our neighbors are the ones with more questions than answers. Our families are searching for missing children. Our homes are lost. Our skyline is no longer recognizable.
Our eyes are not focused elsewhere in the world; the eyes of the world are focused squarely upon us.
As a pastor, how do you respond when the chaos hits close to home?
Understand the gravity of your response. Your community has suddenly felt itself brought to its knees. Your leadership is not only appreciated, it is fundamentally essential to moving your community forward through rescue, recovery and reconstruction.
Keep stillness inside of you.
This is what separates good leaders from exceptional leaders. Any leader can lead well when things are calm. Great leaders lead at all times in all circumstances. Take a brief moment to “be still and know that He is God.” Take a deep breath. Collect your thoughts. Refuse to make emotional decisions.
Locate the true need.
While many within your community are scared and dealing with the fallout from the disaster, find the areas where the need exhibited is great. Set your sights there and do something about it.
Set a course of action.
Find the need and fill it. Create order out of the chaos. Ask for forgiveness rather than permission. Just step up and start working to bringing help to those who need it most. If you don’t know where to start, start somewhere. Don’t be debilitated by inactivity. Here’s a thought to remember: Most everyone else doesn’t know what to do either. You are all in the “make it up as you go” mode. It’s chaos. That’s ok. Just get moving.
Leverage your influence.
Leveraging your network, as you find inroads to meet specific needs through the mobilization of people who are looking to you for marching orders, step up and rally the troops. Connect with other leaders who are still brushing the dust off their pants and call out greatness within them. Call out greatness within your community. In a time when people feel isolated and alone, one of the greatest things you as a leader can do is lean heavily into unifying the community behind a common cause, and that is to rise from the destructive chaos you have collectively found yourselves in.
As usual, I find myself giving advice that I’m not taking. I think the technical term for that is hypocrite.
On Facebook, a friend will say, “I couldn’t sleep last night. Woke up at 2 a.m. and tossed and turned for an hour.”
My usual reply, if I give one, is something like: “Try reciting scripture. The devil doesn’t like it when we do that and will put you right to sleep.”
That’s a tiny bit tongue in cheek - I’m not convinced at all that the devil has much to do with how much God’s children sleep - and a good deal of truth. There’s something about repetition, whether it’s of scripture or lists of anything, that sedates the human mind and lulls us back into the unconscious state.
What scripture, someone asks? Any of it. Clearly, it has to be verses or chapters one knows. In my case, the entire repertoire comes down to Psalms 1, 20, 23, and 103, and Romans 8. In most cases, by the time I get to Romans, I’m out.
It’s always good to have a novel handy by the bedside, but only if turning on the light does not wake up your spouse. Of course, you can get up and go into another room and read. Do that, and pretty soon, you’re remembering the cookies or ice cream and you start to make real trouble for yourself.
Been there, done that.
So, we do what we do, each to his own devices.
The television is no answer. In the wee hours of the morning, there are endless infomercials and mindless reruns of the silliest programs. And lacrosse, they have that on sports channels. That, and soccer. No thanks.
For me, this morning–it’s precisely 3:01 a.m. as I type this–it’s turn on the computer, check my Facebook messages (one was from a pastor friend asking, “So, what is the retiree doing up this time of the morning?”) and my e-mail.
I’m in a hotel in Asheville, North Carolina, and not in my own bed, so that makes the situation more involved. My son and I are picking up his daughters from camp later this morning, and then heading to New Orleans. So, I’m in the hotel lobby using their computer. The place is deserted, the television is blaring (to no one), and every light is burning, which gives this the look of a shopping mall.
What did people do in the old days, before television and computers? And, for that matter, before novels? (There was such a time, you know.)
Here is one person’s answer to our question of what to do when sleeplessness sets in…
“I have remembered thy name, O Lord, in the night…” (Ps. 119:55)
“At midnight I will rise to give thanks unto thee…” (Ps. 119:62)
King David meditated on the Lord and prayed to Him. Good thinking. Nothing settles the mind like prayer. And nothing fuels prayer like reflecting on the goodness of the Lord. While we’re not told in the Bible, I’m willing to bet David’s prayer was not, “Lord, help me go back to sleep” or anything like that.
Tim’s note: Bro. Joe’s thoughts are good advice for pastors. We seem to face a lot of sleepless nights.
This past week Judy and I kept our grandchildren. This has been a delightful responsibility since they live overseas. However, I forgot how much energy is packaged in children ages four and two. My grandchildren are (obviously) little angels, but this task reminded me of an important principle. I was forced to put myself in the shoes of my son and daughter-in-law. For instance, when you have children that age you have very little time for other things.
This principle is vitally important as you pastor a church. I remember when I started pastoring in the mid-70s I had high expectations of people and I was quick to remind them of my expectations. (I know none of you ever do this.) I remember hearing excuses on a regular basis. I will use young parents for illustrative purposes. Young parents, not that they are the only excuse makers, would often say things like:
• I would have a morning quiet time with God, but the children wake up too early.
• I would attend church more often, but the children might catch a bug from other children at church.
• I would teach, but I do not have time to prepare.
• I would attend training, but I have to get the children to bed on time.
You have experienced similar conversations.
Such excuses could be a covering for commitment issues. However, that is not always the case. As pastors we should compassionately "walk in their shoes." The Golden Rule says "Whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the law and the Prophets." (Matt. 7:12) My paraphrase of this verse is "Walk in their Shoes."
In discussing this principle I refer to your committed people. Many uncommitted people will not be moved by a bomb. Church planning should first and foremost take into account your committed people. With this in mind let me share several lessons I have observed in working with church people.
• Take into account their schedules. Many young mothers work full time jobs, take care of children, and keep up a household. This is the group who does most of the childcare and teaching of children at church. Churches often schedule too many activities. We think we have to plan every activity that comes down the information highway.
• Work around holidays. Most people are busy on holidays. Give your people a break on these special days. Remember you plan around the committed, not the uncommitted.
• Listen to your people. Get feedback from your committed people. Let them advise you about scheduling concerns. Be careful about letting older members dictate church schedules. Lead older members to understand the challenges younger adults face. Older adults do not have the time pressure that young families face. Also, do not let Pharisees dictate church schedules. They are legalistic about everything, even when you call off a service on a holiday.
• Be cautious about judging others. The thing you call apathy may, in fact, be impossibility. For instance, the mothers mentioned in bullet point one have very little time or energy left to invest in three or four children's activities at church. We are not living in the 60s any longer. People's schedules are different and times are different. I remember when revivals and VBS were two weeks long. That schedule makes me tired just thinking about it. Failure to acknowledge and adapt to change will leave us and our churches dying in the past.
Do you ever find yourself leading from behind? What a repulsive idea for a leader, leading from behind. When you serve in a church this is often a reality, but also a necessity. We do not live in a perfect world.
So what do we mean, leading from behind? I remember, years ago, hearing John Maxwell speak on the subject of leadership. He defined leadership with one word "influence." Maxwell shared a story from his first pastorate. He said there was a deacon in that church who was the unofficial leader of the church. His name was Claude. Claude was a good man but he carried excessive weight in the church. Whatever Claude said carried the church. Maxwell explained how he led that church by working with Claude. He planted seeds and asked questions to determine Claude's opinions. Maxwell said he adjusted his leadership as he worked with Claude. Maxwell was leading from behind.
You can call this concept compromise, politics, or church tradition. Regardless of how you label it, it is the truth. In churches there are times when we must lead from behind. Consider the following examples:
• When there is a strong individual who carries excessive weight in the church
• When the church is hung up on seeking consensus
• When the church is strongly influenced by tradition
• When the church is led by a strong group such as deacons
• When you must work through engrained church polity
As I wrote this article I racked my brain in seeking Biblical guidance on the subject. I was led to the passage in John 13 when Jesus washed the disciple's feet. Jesus was their leader. Jesus was their Lord. However, he took the form of a servant and washed the disciple's feet. This was not a job for a leader. The very idea of a leader washing feet. Jesus was leading from behind. He realized no one was going to step up and fulfill the task. He was willing to lead from behind.
Leading from behind is a frustrating task. When you go into a church you will face a plethora of leadership issues. Working with a power group is not fun. Working through endless committees is not fun. Working with engrained tradition is not fun.
When forced to lead from behind, what should you do?
1. Pray a lot and ask God to change what needs to be changed.
2. Focus on your spiritual growth.
3. Acknowledge that you did not create the issues. Be gracious with yourself.
4. Serve the people. When Jesus washed feet He was serving and setting an example.
5. Remember, when leading from behind you are still a leader. The wise leader knows to adjust his leadership approach when circumstances are not ideal.
6. Talk to other leaders about influencing from behind.
7. Lead people from where they are instead of where you want them to be.
8. Lead the people and work with them instead of pushing, trying to force them or trying to change them too quickly.
You were called to serve where you serve. The important thing is that you remain faithful. Be a leader, even if it means leading from behind.
Do you ever find yourself zoned out? You know, you are encapsulated in your own little world. The zone could be compared to day dreaming, but it tends to last longer and reflect a more intense mood. We pastors visit there often. It is not like we are doing anything wrong. This is not some dark unethical behavior. However, it may reflect other situations that are happening in our lives.
When I zone out I tend to shut out everything else in my life. My wife may speak to me, but I behave as if she is not there. During these times I am not intentionally ignoring her or anyone else for that matter. The zone tells a story to which I should listen.
A good example of the zoned out pastor is found in Matthew 16:21-23. Jesus was headed to the cross. He had shared many truths and much teaching with His disciples. He emphasized His approaching crucifixion and suffering. For some reason the disciples had trouble comprehending Jesus' words. In fact, Peter goes so far as to rebuke Jesus for such talk. It was as if Peter and the disciples were in their own little world.
Why did the disciples miss the point of Jesus' teaching about His suffering? It could have been any number of reasons.
• They could not comprehend the Messiah dying.
• They had preconceived ideas that were wrong.
• They were caught up in the emotion of the moment.
• They were close minded.
• They were human and were struggling against the flesh.
Regardless of the reason, their comprehension and the resulting behavior were wrong.
What happens when we zone out? We close out other people. This could be our wives, children, friends or fellow ministers. We are not cruel to them, nor do we misbehave toward them. We simply ignore them or treat them as if they are not present.
When we zone out we become preoccupied with our thoughts. Preoccupation with thoughts is a natural, God given act. Some of our greatest ideas and most productive thinking occur in these times of retreat. God gave us a wonderful gift called the subconscious. The subconscious works even when we are not consciously working.
When we zone out we miss out. We miss important truths. My wife often accuses me of not listening. When this happens I prefer to respond that I was caught up in productive thinking. Most of the time that is not the case; I am zoned out!
When a person zones out, there are certain questions that should be asked.
• Am I shutting out someone who is special to me?
• Closely related to the first question, am I allowing my feelings to cause insensitivity with other people?
• Am I not managing myself properly (proper rest, conflict with others, excessive demands)?
• Am I bringing my work home with me?
• Am I overlooking someone I need to be serving (listening, helping, supporting, etc. etc.?)
When highway workers construct a highway they erect signs to indicate a work zone. Those zones protect the workers and warn drivers of potential dangers. A zoned out pastor may be flashing some warning signs. Those signs tell a story. May we heed these God given friends.
The best time to get run over in interstate traffic, I have decided, is the morning rush hour. People are dying to get where they are going. I’ve come to a conclusion as to the root cause. It’s anxiety.
Some drivers are late to work or class, some are afraid of being late, and the others are early and trying to stay that way. So they rush. They tailgate the motorist in front of them, they cut in front of the fellow to one side or the other who dares to leave a gap between him and the next car, and they dart in and out incessantly.
A couple of miles up the road you notice they’re stuck in traffic in the lane to your right or left, all their frantic lane-jumping having done them absolutely no good. The problem is not their car’s motor; it’s their own inner motor. Something inside them is racing, dying to get to their destination, and they do not know how to control it or turn it off or, or they do not know that it’s even there. They rush out of habit.
Yesterday morning the car that was bullying everyone on the freeway pulled onto a side street in the direction I happened to be going, and one block later turned off into a driveway. They were just going home. I felt like stopping and asking, “What was all the rush about?”
I think I know the answer. Their answer to my question would be, “Huh? What rush?” They are not even aware what they’re doing. It’s a pattern, a really bad habit, they’ve fallen into. They get in their car and the anxiety kicks in and they have to beat everyone else on the highway. It’s destructive, self-defeating, harmful to one’s health, even suicidal. It’s murder on their car, terrible on their tires, and a burden on their billfold. It endangers their families and the people in the other cars. Let the city or parish install cameras at intersections to catch red light-runners and they holler to high heaven, as though a sacred right of theirs has been taken away. They foolishly blame the rear end collisions on the officials who installed the cameras. Blame-placing, denial, anger—highway sports in America today.
Anxiety is a problem we all deal with and a killer in a hundred ways. The highway is just one of the locales. Everyone deals with anxiety in its various manifestations. You start a new job and can’t sleep the night before. You have to leave town early tomorrow and afraid of oversleeping, you toss and turn tonight. You have an important painful confrontation tomorrow, so tonight’s rest is a total loss. Some would call it worry. It’s likewise a form of fear. One thing it is not is faith. Anxiety is worry and fear on steroids. And whatsoever is not of faith is sin. (Romans 14:23)
Meeting with a group of pastors, I threw this out to them: “Give me your best counsel. What do you do to fight anxiety?” Here are some of their answers.
1) Write it down. What is bothering you? What do you anticipate happening? You’ll be amazed at how puny your fears appear on paper.
2) Tell the Lord. Pray to Him. “Be anxious for nothing,” Paul told the Philippians. “But in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God, and the peace of God…shall keep your hearts...” (Phil.4:6)
3) Give yourself a good talking-to.
“Return to your rest, O my soul, for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.” (Psalm 116:7) “Bless the Lord, O my soul.” (Psalm 103:1) Sometimes I will simply quote the words to the wonderful hymn, “It is well with my soul.” That could be just the reminder we need at that moment.
4) Laugh at it. “The very idea of me being anxious! Ha! God has everything under control and I’m in His care. This is the enemy’s way of trying to neutralize me, and I’ll not let it happen.” So, laugh. Laugh out loud. You’ll be delighted to find what a tension-reliever laughter is.
5) Focus on the big picture. One of our pastors said, “When I get worried, I think of our Lord on the cross. My hurts and pains are nothing compared to His.” The 53rd chapter of Isaiah was the chapter he frequently focuses on at these times.
The Reader’s Digest told of a 93-year-old widow who was burdening her family with her worries about the future. She especially worried whether she had enough money to live on. Finally, her son pulled together all her financial records, did some calculating, and drove over to her retirement home. “Mom,” he said, “you have enough money to last you for the next 16 years.” The elderly woman did not bat an eye, but said, “Oh my, what will we do then?”
Are you still passionate for ministry and hungry for God? Heaven forbid that any of us should lose passion for serving in ministry and walking with God. However, the loss of passion occurs. In considering this subject there are several questions that should be examined.
First, what does it look like when we lose our passion? Some of the symptoms are:
• We lose our passion for God's word and fellowship with Him. Prayer, praise, and Bible study become chores rather than privileges.
• We become cynical of people and ministry is a job rather than a joy. In this scenario people become a problem rather than the object of joyful ministry.
• We lose enthusiasm for learning, growing and discovery. We stop reading good books and pursuing fresh ideas.
• We procrastinate and drag our feet while fulfilling simple tasks.
• Other activities get more attention than God's activities.
• There is a loss of physical energy.
• We become irritable and driven by negative emotions.
• We yearn for alternatives: another place of service, another job, and new challenges.
• We withdraw from others.
Second, what causes us to lose passion?
• We lose passion when our lives are self- driven rather than God-driven. It is easy to neglect our personal walk with God. When this occurs we are more focused on preparing to teach and preach than on feeding our own souls.
• We lose passion when we do not allow time for recovery. The daily rigors of ministry and the weekly demands of shepherding lower our physical/spiritual reserves. It would be nice if we could pull up to a pump and refill those reserves instantly. However, God's replenishment is similar to that which occurs when a cell phone recharges. It takes time and down time. Things such as vacations, a weekly Sabbath, taking time to laugh with others, and taking time to attend a conference or read a good book.
• We lose passion when the demands of ministry overwhelm us. If you visit the beach there are times when officials will raise warning flags due to dangerous waves and undertow. When this occurs, the relentless waves or undertow will defeat you. You might survive for a few minutes but, without assistance, the vicious attack of those enemies will pull you under. In ministry there are enemies of the soul: difficult people, traditions, time pressures, disillusionment, and physical demands.
In II Timothy 4 Paul discusses his approaching death and the trials he has endured (loneliness- 10-12, 14, 16; persecution- 6; desertion- 10, 14-16; lions-17). In the midst of the trials Paul rejoices that he has been able to finish well (7). He hungers for the sweet fellowship of fellow ministers and the truth of God's word. In short, Paul remains passionate about ministry and the things of God.
My prayer is that each of us would finish well. In addition, I pray that we would be filled with passion until the very end. Some people die when the heart stops beating while others die a slow death when passion ebbs from the spirit.
My wife Judy wrote an excellent two-part article for pastors. This article was posted the past two weeks in The Shepherds Connection. I would encourage you and your wife to go back and review that article. The article covered a subject men struggle to grasp, feelings.
Husbands/pastors have one of several options when it comes to our wives feelings:
I must admit, I have struggled with each of these responses.
As I examine this subject I am reminded of a conversation Judy and I had years ago. We were discussing female submission. Paul teaches mutual submission (Ephesians 5:21), but we seem to enjoy talking about female submission. Judy said “Tim, when a husband loves his wife as Christ loved the church it is not hard for a wife to submit.” I have never forgotten that sentence.
In reading Judy’s article I chose two areas to discuss. First, I have been guilty of using her as an illustration on many occasions. Most of the illustrations were harmless acts of fun or real life stories that happened to our family. If such stories cause my wife to feel showcased then I should avoid using them. If I feel that I must use a given story then I should at least ask her permission before I use a given story. I have tended to ask her permission more as I grow older.
The second area of guilt involves expectations. Over the years, especially in our younger years, I tended to stereotype Judy and expected certain behavior from her that placed extra pressure on her. I did not believe those stereotypes, but was pushed into acting upon them because of tradition.
In considering this male/female tension what should we do?
This marriage discussion brings up a point of irony. We who speak for Christ can be guilty of neglecting His words.
Pastors, as leaders, can be a bundle of pride. As such we struggle to release our hidden failures.
The disturbing part is that divorce is a common occurrence in the lives of those who serve in ministry. The pressure to build a church often drives pastors to neglect their marriages and families.
This sobering truth should drive us to our knees. My prayer is that all of us would raise the standard of marriage. I pray that we would be an example in both word and deed.
The feelings expressed in this two part series may not reside in every pastor’s wife. However, they are real feelings expressed by pastor’s wives. Pastors, please listen to your wives. They need you!
Thoughts from a Minister’s Wife:
I feel a sense of belonging when you include me as your ministry partner. I’m talking about a relationship not a possession that belongs to the church. However, I also feel a sense of belonging when church members include me in their activities in and outside the church (BBQ’s, fish fries, holidays, etc.).
I feel lonely when night after night I sit at home all alone watching TV, reading, sewing, playing computer games, or anything to keep my mind occupied while you are away. Where are you? I also feel lonely sitting by myself in church. Why won’t someone invite me to sit with them?
I feel respected when you and the church seek my counsel. I also feel respected when you and the church give me freedom to “just be me.”
I feel imprisoned and trapped when I’m confined to a stereotype. Yes, your comments such as, “no one else will take this job in the church, please, will you. . . “, or “You need to. . . “, (and I could mention other remarks) make me feel trapped. Church members also use similar tactics to lure me into their prison of expectations.
I feel a sense of worth as a minister’s wife. It’s nice to know that I’m part of the bigger picture in God’s Kingdom. My sense of worth comes from my relationship with Jesus Christ. What an honor to know that, “. . . our God would count [me] worthy of this calling . . .” (2 Thess. 1:11 NIV)
I feel a loss of Identity when you and the church fail to recognize my giftedness. Please allow me to do things in the church that enhance my Spiritual Gifts. Do not expect me to do things in the church that do not align with the Spiritual Gifts that God has given me.
I feel a sense of pride when you stand before God’s people and proclaim His Word. I feel a sense of pride when church members say kind words to me about you. This blesses my life!
I feel helpless when you are going through endless struggles in the church. When this happens you repeatedly talk about issues until I come to my rope’s end. Yes, it’s true, I feel respected when you seek my counsel; but when my counsel doesn’t seem to help then I feel helpless. Maybe an accountability partner, like a fellow minister, would be a better choice for venting. This would also relieve undo stress upon me. Weighting me down with negative issues regarding the church causes me to build resentment over being a minister’s wife. I also feel helpless when church members make unfair comments about you or the children. I want to lash out at them; but I dare not!
I feel special when you listen to me. I like it when you make me feel special. Thanks! I feel special when church members say kind words to me. It’s so nice to feel appreciated!
I feel hurt when you say ugly things to me. Sometimes, you let out on me your frustrations toward the church. I feel like a target on a target range where you go to vent—bull’s eye, you got me! Church members also hurt with their cunning remarks. Don’t they know I have feelings too?!
Honey, I love you and want you in my life. I am trying to balance my feelings. Please understand I just want you to know how I feel.
Editor’s Note: If you are a pastor’s wife and would like to connect with Judy or another member of The Shepherd’s Connection ministry, please visit our Contact Page http://theshepherdsconnection.org/prayer-requests