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.
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 command to “wait” is one of the most difficult words in the English language. I think this word is especially difficult for those who serve in ministry. Why? It is difficult because ministers are leaders. We are action oriented. We want to see results. However, one of our greatest trials occurs when we have to wait. Are you waiting on a particular result to find its fulfillment? Are you waiting on God to place you in a more desirable place of service? Are you waiting on your church to start growing? Are you waiting on a specific prayer to be answered?
One of the last things Jesus instructed His apostles was “to wait for the Promise of the Father.” (Acts 1:4) You would think that simple command would be easy to follow. After all, those guys had been through a number of trials in the previous days. They had been through the loyalty test and received an “F.” They had seen their friend and Savior die a cruel death on a cross. I could go on and on.
Jesus knew His disciples, like us, needed a little fine tuning when He issued the command to wait. My question: What did they need that we also need? What did He want to teach them? First, Jesus wants us to trust God’s timing. God’s timing was not right for the gift of the Holy Spirit. God chose the time when Jesus would ascend to Heaven. Many times God has a plan, just around the corner, when we are ready to give up. It is not easy to trust God’s timing. God’s timing is always superior to our own. It may be that His providence has not finished the lesson He wants us to learn.
Today, I attended a church building dedication that took eighteen years to find its fulfillment. They had to wait. When Abraham and Sarah received the heir of God’s promise, Isaac, there was a timing issue. The fulfillment of that promise was a long time coming. Noah’s construction of the ark and the fulfillment of God’s prophecy was a long time coming. Noah had a long wait. Timing is everything!
After timing, God might be teaching us to “abide” in Him. The word “abide” refers to trust, dependency and reliance. In John 15:5 Jesus instructed us that the secret to bearing fruit is abiding in Him. It takes patience to wait for the ripening of fruit. We are painfully reminded of this truth if we have eaten a piece of green fruit. Green fruit will sour your stomach and draw your mouth.
For me personally, the most important aspect of waiting is to avoid impulsive behavior and decisions. If we get impatient we may run ahead of God and do things that are poorly timed and outside of His favor.
The result of waiting is success. Isaiah advised the Israelite people to wait on God. “But those who wait on the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” (Is. 40:31) The Israelites had endured years of failure, if judged by man’s standards. They had lived as slaves in captivity. Yet Isaiah encouraged them to remain to wait on God (timing) and to remain faithful (abiding).
Success is not measured by man’s standards. Success is determined by trust, dependence and reliance on God. Some of you, who are reading this piece, feel as if your life is a failure. However, you have been faithful. You have turned to the Lord and sought His face. By God’s standard, that makes you a huge success. Please, do not get discouraged and give up. Wait on the Lord!
Are you a part of the technologically challenged? We generally use this term in reference to the older generations. However, there may be some younger adults who struggle with this issue as well. Regardless of your age, keeping up with technology is a challenge. In fact, I saw in the news that former President Bill Clinton had been reluctant to get involved in Twitter.
I am concerned with two areas when this subject involves ministers. The first area has to do with courtesy and respect. We are living in a world of information overload. We are bombarded with social media such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and the like. In addition we face information overload in receiving text messages, media messages, telemarketers, mass mailings and the like. This information overload can cause us to become desensitized to the important messages, along with the junk messages. So, what does this have to do with us?
The Bible has much to say about common courtesies such as kindness, goodness, love and encouragement. If we become desensitized to messages we may very well overlook a common courtesy or act of goodness that we either need to give or that we need to receive. I am not referring to the frustrating messages. I am referring to the common everyday phone calls, text messages and emails that people send our way.
People become desensitized to voice stimuli. We should remember the Golden Rule. “Whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them.” (Matt. 7:12) People can become desensitized to our voice as they hear us teach and preach. They must approach the teaching/preaching event with an open heart. Even so, we should be careful to keep an open heart to listen when people communicate with us.
The second area that concerns me is the closed mind. It is a fact; we will never be able to keep up with changes in technology. There is a difference between being an expert and being familiar. Studies show that an overwhelming percentage of Americans use Facebook, email, text messages and the like. This is where people live each day. Paul spoke about being all things to all people. He tried to connect with people. When we familiarize ourselves with technology we give ourselves a tool for connecting with all ages in our congregation. And if we occasionally mention a text message, email or internet search we attract people’s attention, both young and old.
It must have been a challenge for Paul to adapt his ways to meet those he sought to reach. He said, “For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more.” (I Cor. 9:19) Translation, Paul was willing to adapt in order to reach his constituency.
I sometimes say, or hear other ministers say, “I will not do that.” In essence, what we are saying is, “I have stopped growing.” If we familiarize ourselves with modern technology we slow down the onset of Alzheimer’s (Ha! Ha!), plus, we give ourselves a whole new medium for ministry. All of us want to be faithful in using every medium at our disposal. God can use everything we offer Him!
How do you respond to unreasonable people? It might help if I describe unreasonable. Unreasonable people have an evil spirit, cannot be reasoned with, are impulsive and do things to hurt others. Every church has some of those people. A good example of an unreasonable person was Saul. Saul displayed all four of the aforementioned characteristics (see I Sam. 19:9-10). After God anointed David, to be King of Israel and before he took the throne, David had to deal with an unreasonable person, Saul. As you watch this story unfold it drags on over a period of time. This is much like the story we often see unfolding in our churches.
In I Sam. 23-24 you see how a man of God responded to an unreasonable person. I will list these responses in outline (sermonic) fashion. Who knows, you might want to use these at some point.
1. When dealing with unreasonable people seek God before acting. David did this on more than one occasion (I Sam. 23:1-2, 4, 10-12). David prayed much and waited on God. At one point he takes up the “Ephod.” The “Ephod” was a garment worn when a person was seriously seeking God. It seemed to represent the presence of God.
2. When dealing with unreasonable people set a good example for other people (I Sam. 23:3; 24:6). In verse 3 David’s men admit to being afraid. In 24:6 David’s men want David to take vengeance on Saul. In both instances David displayed a Godly example in his behavior. When I feel the impulse to be vindictive or to use my tongue to rip another person I am reminded of the suffering servant passage in Is. 53. In verse 7 of that chapter it said, “He did not open his mouth.” What an example!
3. When dealing with unreasonable people do not respond in kind (I Sam. 23:15; 25:1-6). Saul acted in an ungodly manner but David did not return the favor. If people act one way it does not necessitate that we follow suit. If we display a Godly example, other people will eventually show their colors.
4. When dealing with unreasonable people let God decide who is right (I Sam. 23:7-9, 26; 24:12, 21). It is amazing, when Christian people disagree everybody thinks God is on their side.
Not long ago I read an account of the Civil War. This particular writer pointed out that everyone claimed God was on their side. Only God has the right to decide who is right and who is wrong. When everybody claims to be right everybody proves to be wrong. President Lincoln in his Second Inaugural Address said, “Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other... The prayers of both could not be answered; that of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. "
5. When dealing with unreasonable people do not become bitter or cynical (I Sam. 24:5-7). David did not allow Saul’s irrational behavior to force him to be bitter, angry or cynical.
The preceding qualities are hard to emulate. They are Christ like qualities. I have come to believe, if I cannot display Christ like character in the midst of a trial that may be why I am going through the trial. Ouch! Ouch! Yes, I said it twice. Our world and our churches need to see Christ like men standing in the pulpit. I pray that God would help me to be one of those men.
Has God ever vetoed one of your ideas? He has vetoed more of my ideas than I care to admit. I wish my walk with Christ was such that I always have his stamp of approval before moving forward. That is not always the case for me. I have a hunch that you readers can identify with my failure.
A veto, from God, could have several meanings. It could mean He caused something to fail. It could mean the timing was not right. It could mean He has something better in mind. What kind of ideas does God veto?
These are just the tip of the iceberg.
I once resigned from one church, in order to accept a call from another, and realized I had made the wrong decision. Sometimes God speaks through a still small voice. On that occasion I felt like I had been hit with a baseball bat. Thank goodness God and His people are gracious in such humiliating times.
God showed me an encouraging word on this subject. When Jesus led Peter, James and John up the mountain for the transfiguration, Peter had what he probably considered, a brilliant idea. Peter said, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, let us make here three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” (Matt 17:4) God vetoed that idea! WOW! Consider these truths.
I am so grateful that God is gracious. He coaches us through bad ideas. He grows us from our failures. He raises us from our low points to greater service. The world penalizes failure. God uses it to prepare us!
Are you struggling with questions about success? Come on don’t be so pious! All ministers struggle with this question from time to time. The classic example is Joshua. After Moses died God chose Joshua to lead the people of Israel. Talk about big shoes to fill. Talk about an inferiority complex. Joshua struggled with this task. He needed words of encouragement from the Lord.
The struggle with success plays itself out in many ways. Sometimes we struggle with the “poor little old me syndrome.” We compare ourselves to the superstar preachers and that makes us feel small; or we struggle with the church-down-the- street syndrome (“The church down the street has welcomed more new members than our church”); or it may be a struggle with “location syndrome” (“why did God place me in this location?”); or we struggle with the last pastor syndrome. (“I am not as popular as the last pastor.”)
I had an interesting experience in my first church out of seminary. I served in a small rural church in Mississippi. The church I served was located about ten miles from town in a rural area. We defined the phrase “rural church.” There was a church in town that was “blowing and going” as we say. They had a nice building and were gaining many new members on a regular basis. I remember feeling somewhat envious of that church’s pastor. I thought to myself, “I will be happy when I don’t have to live under his shadow.” Guess what happened? Sometime later, I moved to another church about two hours away. The pastor from the previous town moved down the street from my new place of service. The same scenario repeated itself. His church appeared to do better than mine. In each of those situations the church I served prospered; however, the prosperity was not equal to the church down the street. I struggled with questions of success.
In studying Joshua’s experience, several lessons come to mind. First, take time to listen to the Lord. The Lord always has a word for our situation. Sometimes we are so busy that we miss a relevant word from the Lord. We need to spend time praying, meditating and bringing our struggles before the Lord.
Secondly, as God spoke to Joshua, He reminded him of his calling. God chose Joshua to be Moses’ successor. God’s call gives value and purpose. God’s call, in and of itself, is reason to celebrate. We tend to rate success on man’s standards and on man’s opinions. If we are following God’s call, that call, in and of itself, makes us successful. We are doing what God called us to do.
Closely related to the previous thought is that of faithfulness. God reminded Joshua to be himself. Every pastor cannot pastor a mega-church. Every pastor cannot write a bestselling book. Every pastor cannot speak on the seminar/conference circuit. The pastor who is faithful in the small rural church is successful. The pastor who is faithful in the traditional rural church is successful. The pastor who is faithfully working with difficult people is successful.
God told Joshua, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (1:9)
We will face many trials as we serve in ministry. Trials such as sickness and death of friends, divorce of fellow believers, personal sickness, family issues, and people issues, just to name a few. It is hard to say which trials will affect us the most. There is one trial that may very well be the most debilitating and most difficult to overcome. What is it? The trials created by our own personality quirks.
Let’s look at the topic. All of us have personality quirks. I love watching the detective show “Monk.” Monk reminds me of us. He is his own worst enemy. I know! Monk has deep seated personality issues that require professional help. I have always told congregations I served, “we are all one step away from insanity.” We may not be as quirky as Monk, but all of us have them. Consider these examples: OCD, the tendency to be a control freak, obsessed with work; paranoia, by insecurity and anxiety; and chronic worriers.
In the Bible the classic example of a man with a personality quirk was Jacob. Jacob had to be in control. He always manipulated circumstances so that he would come out on top. Have we not seen that in ministry? This is seen most clearly in Genesis 30-32 as Jacob played a game of situational chess with Laban.
The beautiful thing about God’s sovereign work in our lives is that he changes our spiritual dimension but also our personal/emotional lives. Over time God changed Jacob from being a control freak to being a man of faith. That required time and surrender. In Jacob’s life the masterpiece of God’s work occurred at Bethel (Genesis 35:16-26) when Jacob wrestled with an angel. This encounter moved Jacob to a new dimension in his service to God.
The tricky part is that we do not shoot ourselves in the foot while God fulfills His work in us. So what can we do to confront our quirky nature?
It is inevitable that we will face trials as we serve in ministry. My prayer is that my personality quirks not contribute to my trials. Occasionally pastors walk into my office and begin talking about church issues they are facing. The sad part is that sometimes the man is as much, if not more, a part of the problem. Even sadder is the pastor who cannot see his weaknesses. His pride blinds him.
Only by the grace of God do any of us contribute to God’s sovereign work in our world. Our sin, our sinful world and our personality quirks are formidable foes. My prayer is that God sovereignly change us, as He did Jacob. He wants to change our world through His imperfect servants.