One of my favorite things in football is a goal line play. Twenty two giants line up and try to push the ball across for a touchdown. It's pure will. Who will get the advantage? And it's even better when a running back keeps churning his legs to get every inch forward. It's also cool when the team runs something like Philly Special and takes everyone off guard.
The punch in the end zone is the finish, but certainly not the only part of the drive. Successful drives are often a mix of busted plays, dropped passes, long runs, and piles of dust. Yards are eaten up slowly, with perseverance, and can be maddeningly frustrating for not only players but those watching.
Leading in ministry looks like that too. You plow, you dig, you stretch, you push, and it doesn't feel like you're going anywhere. But over the course of a year, decade, and lifetime, you've accomplished something. Everyone loves fast turnaround stories in business or in sports (look at the body count Nick Saban and Urban Meyer have left behind them of coaches who couldn't win as quick as they did). But truthfully, it's a work of endurance.
Faithfully leading in the local church, especially in a revitalization effort, is often a series of incremental advances. It's 3 steps forward and 2 steps back. Or to use the football analogy, it's 3 yards and a cloud of dust. The key word is faithful. Our responsibility in leading God's people isn't to be the most clever, most creative, or make the biggest spectacle, it's to be faithful.
Preach the Word week in and week out. Don't focus on awkward response times. Your job is to proclaim what God has said and then trust Him with the results. He's working. You just can't see it.
Love your people. God has entrusted us as pastors with people who are dear to Him. So dear that Jesus died for them. We can't love them where we want them to be, we have to love them where they are. Even when they disagree with us or criticize us. Even when they're in adult diapers and can't remember us. Even when they make bad choices and shipwreck their families. Love them.
Serve well. Endurance means showing up every day and working hard, serving where God has placed you. It means loving your community, wearing out your knees in prayer, and putting in hours no one will ever see or give you credit for.
Hang in there pastor. The end zone is there.
Leaders have a responsibility to be change agents, especially in the local church. We cannot simply assume that things will be the same over the years, because it's an impossibility. The way churches operated 15, 20, 30 (even 5) years ago is a model that cannot carry on. The culture around us has changed. We've moved from a place of prominence to a place of general apathy in our communities. We're moving into a sea of a post-Christian worldview. We're moving towards commitment struggles among younger families and away from institutional loyalty. Even the way we communicate with one another has changed radically in the last several years.
Change typically falls into one of three areas, and it's important for a leader to recognize not only what kind of change they want to promote, but how it will need to be implemented and how it will be received. That's why the best rule for change is to navigate slowly. Leading change too fast makes it hard to get the onboard support.
1. Systemic Change - This is change to processes and operational issues. In churches this can include things like revising bylaws (which should be reviewed every couple years at a minimum), updating policy, developing an organizational pattern, building structures of accountability for finances, and other more impersonal changes. Leading through these can be difficult because there is often an emotional attachment to the processes people are familiar with. It's always key to lead through systemic changes with a team of people who can present a unified front to a church's leadership team and ultimately to the church body as a whole.
2. Surface Change - These are superficial changes like a fresh coat of paint, a new logo, a website redesign, decorating your children's ministry area, cleaning out junky closets (what's the weirdest thing you've ever found in a church closet?), and replacing worn out furniture. Surface changes can be costly because they're largely replacing material, but it can serve as a jump start towards systemic or cultural change. Many times churches keep things the way they are, even junky closets, because that's all they've known. It's not intentional, they just don't see what could happen if they made some minor adjustments. But surface changes aren't enough. You can't assume new parlor couches will spark revival. That's like hanging a chandelier in a condemned house. Sure it looks nice, but it doesn't fix anything. Surface change can be a "low hanging fruit" to generate short term wins (see Kotter's Leading Change, or Rainer's Who Moved My Pulpit? for more on leading with momentum).
3. Cultural Change - This is the most significant form of change, because it's not just changing appearances or processes, it's changing people. Cultural change happens slowly, over a long term process. Cultural change is becoming outwardly focused, creating a missions culture, repairing broken relationships, redeeming past church fights and splits, fostering a climate of unity, and developing a passion for sending. That doesn't happen overnight. And this is where many pastors throw up their hands in frustration and walk away, and never give cultural change a chance. If you're in a church and wanting to see cultural change take place, you're looking at a minimum of 5-7 years. And unlike a fresh coat of paint or new bylaws, you won't see immediate fruit of cultural change. That's where a leader has to be willing to take the long view, which means not getting bogged down by week-to-week or even year-to-year. You have to look at things from 3 years ago, 5 years ago, to truly see cultural change take place.
But pastor, don't lose hope. Your faithfulness in the pulpit, in the hallway, in counseling, and in your community are producing something wonderful. You're stewarding the Kingdom through a local church that Jesus loves. Hang in there. Don't lose hope. I say this as much to myself as to you: God's not finished with you or your church yet.
When I was a kid my dad took the training wheels off my bike, walked alongside me, and then gave me a push and let go. After a few falls and some asphalt scratches, I finally got it. Thirty years later, I can still ride a bike without thinking about it. I just push off and pedal. In fact, I'd bet that almost all of you reading this could get back on a bike and pick it up quickly, no matter how long it's been since you last hopped in the seat.
On the other hand, not everyone can pick up skis and go down a mountain. Shoutout to our Florida friends & family to you who haven't ever seen snow! It's a skill that takes practice, takes time, and most important takes access to snow!
Leadership is a lot like this as well - We operate in our areas of riding a bike, and other times it feels like we're sliding down a snowy mountain like a 200 pound missile. Some leaders naturally are more comfortable blocking their time, don't have any problem leading a meeting, can pick up any speaking opportunity and not blink. And others of you have to prep yourself before you open your daily calendar. It's harder to plan your time, you get nervous before meetings, you don't feel comfortable in large groups of people.
All of us as leaders have our Bike Riding areas, where we can function and thrive without thinking about it. Those are your leadership strengths. You don't need to do anything to grow in those areas, you're really strong already. Other people notice your giftedness in this area too. With your Bike Riding areas, this is what I'd say:
1. Don't let your strengths become an idol - It's so easy for us to find our identity in our strengths instead of the God who we serve and worship.
2. Look for improvement - No matter how strong you are in a certain area, there's always room for growth. Alabama won a football game by 30 points and the coach was preaching improvement.
3. Pass them on - Things you're good at may be areas others are weak at, so try to find ways to encourage others in growing in those areas. If you're a comfortable public speaker but someone on your team isn't, give them coaching from what you do to make it easier. Spend time with people who struggle leading meetings to offer your input.
Like with our Bikes, we all have our Skiing areas. These are our weaknesses, the areas where we know we aren't very good and can tell our leadership is weaker because of them. But just like how the only way to get better at skiing is to hit the slopes, the only way to grow in your weaknesses is to work on them. Here's what I'd say about that:
1. Find a mentor - Get help and wisdom from someone better than you in your weaknesses. One of my weaknesses was (and still is sometimes) hospital & nursing home visits. I didn't like them, they made me nervous, I never knew what to do. So I had an older and more gifted pastor take me along and I watched him. It helped tremendously. Find someone better than you, and pay them in coffee to make you a better leader.
2. Get constructive feedback - Constructive feedback is different than criticism, and in many ways constructive feedback will help you recognize weak areas and ways to improve. If your Skiing area is preaching or speaking, have some trusted people give you an evaluation and feedback on your messages. Ask them for genuine suggestions. One of the biggest things to learn as a leader is the people around you want to help you succeed. But that will only happen if you let them.
3. Swallow your pride - Admitting we can't do something is one of the hardest things to do as a leader. For some reason we've bought into a Superman mindset that says we have to do everything and be good at it if we're going to be good leaders. But swallowing our pride means we're putting away our perception of ourselves to deal with the reality. And the sooner we swallow our pride, the sooner we're moldable into the leaders God wants us to be.
How have you shored up and strengthened your Skiing areas in your leadership?
Earlier today I asked for people in the service industry to share their horror stories of "Christians behaving badly," who might have left a tract instead of a tip, or who showed a bad side to the watching world. The responses were quite surprising. One person shared watching a friend throw a Whopper at Burger King because it had onions, after leaving Bible Study. Another that everyone in their restaurant hated working Sunday lunch. One person was yelled at in a drive through. And the best/worst was someone being told to "make the snow disappear, and I hope someone is praying for you because I'm sure not!"
When I worked for a large Seattle-based coffee chain, we were yelled at for not saying "Merry Christmas" and for our cups not featuring baby Jesus. One time I was told by a colleague "That's how you say Happy Birthday to Jesus, yell at people. Nice."
At a huge pastor's conference, the organizer got up on stage and told the crowd of thousands "We are so glad that you are here. But the servers and baristas in this town hate you because of how cheap you are. Fix that. Today."
Not all Christians are bad tippers or bad customers. But when we hear these stories, we cringe because of what we know Jesus had to say about his followers. In Matthew 5 we're called "salt of the earth" and "light of the world." We're uniquely placed in the world to bless it, to bring good, to shine light in the darkness. And all our good works, our kindness, our generosity, and our love is done so that "they will see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven." (Matthew 5:16)
Did you ever think about that for a minute? That the way you interact with other people can be a springboard to their faith, to their worship of Jesus? That's powerful.
To that end, let me challenge us as pastors: teach and model what it means to be the picture of kindness to others. That includes being on a support call when you've been on hold an hour. Or when your coffee order gets messed up (I had a pastor's wife once snap back at me for messing up her coffee, good times). Or when your steak is medium instead of medium rare.
Why pursue the picture of kindness? Because the way we act can point people to Jesus. You'd be surprised how far a little kindness goes. We've been fortunate over the years to have incredible conversations with servers and others we've encountered just by being kind to them. Whenever we go out to eat, our goal is to best reflect Jesus in the way we interact with others. Sure we ask for extra napkins or refills or have a ton of questions because we have picky kids. But our goal is to be kind in everything we do.
How can you as a pastor encourage your church to kindness as a springboard for Gospel witness? Let me propose 4 ways.
1. With a tract, leave a (bigger) tip - Servers will tell you how many times they've been stiffed for a tip so they could get a Gospel tract. I encourage you to leave them. Leave a contact card for your church and a note inviting the server to worship. But pair that with a generous tip. For us, 18% is the starting point (it's easy math, triple the tax minus a dollar).
2. Offer to pray - It's a non-confrontational question. When you leave your barber or your coffee place, ask if there's anything you can pray for. In almost every instance, you'll get something. Not only have you been kind, you've ministered. That also means follow up. Talk to them next time you come in, ask how <whatever it was you prayed about> is going.
3. Be patient - A lot of times after church it's second nature to want to grab lunch. Guess what, you and a lot of other people had the same idea! Patience is important so you don't compromise your witness. When the restaurant or salon or coffee shop is slammed, patience is what can open a Gospel door for you.
4. Pray for and Expect open doors - Whenever we pray for times to have Gospel conversations, we need to meet that with an expectation they will actually happen. This is where we have to be aware of what's going on around us--passing comments, body language, the wear of stress in someone's eyes. When we're seeking open doors for Gospel conversations, we should recognize them when they drop in our lap. That only happens when we actually expect them to!
What do you do to help bear witness to your faith in Christ with others, especially in the retail & customer service world?
This morning I got to spend some time with a British pastor with a burden to encourage pastors and recapture a true New Testament church, one healthy and strong that sees missional impact in its communities. Besides the fact I can listen to a Brit read the phone book, I was captivated by his passion for churches to more than simply exist. He told about a church he pastored that was dead in the water but started to see "those people" from the community come to faith and it transformed the way they did church. It all hit when, during a meeting with the deacons, one stood up and said "You're wrecking our church! We don't sing the way we used to, we don't do things like we did before, and the people here aren't like the ones who'd been here before."
Good. I'm glad that church was wrecked.
For one, they thought it was theirs. It's not. It's God's. And God's going to take what's His and do wonders with it. Whenever any of us think we have ownership over the church, or if someone thinks they can dictate what a church does because they have the loudest mouth or the biggest bank account, that's a church that deserves to be wrecked. All of us who serve in ministry do so as stewards and shepherds, not owners.
Second, I'm glad it was wrecked because the people joining had been truly transformed by the Gospel and weren't just going through the motions. How many times do we look out every week and see people casually go through the motions of worship without realizing they've been changed by the greatest news ever? When did we settle for this as normal for the Christian life?
Third, I'm glad it was wrecked because it's only when Jesus wrecks a church can they truly step out in faith and trust Him. Mark Twain once said that church is where "good people go to be told by good people that they're good people." Unfortunately, for most churches, that's all it becomes: a weekly pep talk so we can feel better about ourselves. But when Jesus wrecks a church, that's when we have no other choice but to trust Him. And that's a wonderful place to be.
Fourth, I'm glad it was wrecked because then the leadership and pastors aren't wasting their calling. Far too many pastors are called by God, equipped by God, and find themselves in churches that waste their calling. Instead of leadership, vision, preaching, and mission, the church wants a gardener who will keep things nice and pretty until everyone's dead.
Let's pray that the churches we lead get wrecked.
For the last few weeks, the Tampa Bay area has been awash in "Fitzmagic" as a career backup quarterback shone with an unprecedented start to the season. And honestly, who can blame them? Harvard graduate, 7 different teams, a lumberjack beard, and impeccable style at a press conference.
A lot of times in ministry we can fall victim to the same power of the moment. We can get so caught up in the latest trends, the short-term results, or the flashes and lose sight of the long range. Whenever I talk to our staff about our church, I always preach about the "long view." If we look week-to-week, we might find ourselves discouraged or wondering if anything is really working. For me it's on Monday, and I'll catch myself looking back and focusing too much on the week before.
Taking the long view is where you chart your perspective not in weeks or months but in years. It goes against what many of us have experienced, where the average tenure of a pastor is < 5 years, and our microwave society has an expectation of immediate results (ie., the book Have a New Kid by Friday). But the kitchen of spiritual growth and church health is a Crock Pot, which is fitting for a Baptist. It's slow. It's patient. It's deliberate. It may be generational.
And we can't get bogged down in the moment. I'd love to give 4 ways to help pastors see the long view.
1. View data as trends, not snapshots - Sure you had an awesome offering last week, or maybe your attendance tanked. Instead of looking at each week, look at trends. Look at the data monthly, quarterly, annually. That way your tank days aren't your focus, they're an outlier, along with your bumper days. When you look at trends, you're seeing the bigger picture, and not just the tree in front of you.
2. Talk to long-timers - You've got people in your church who've been there longer than you. They've been there during the "good days" or they've weathered difficult ones. Talk to them, get their feelings on how things are going. Listen to them as they share what changes, direction, attitudes, and chatter they're hearing.
3. Plan to stay - You can't truly say you're faithfully serving Jesus when you're spending your day surfing classifieds or hitting up friends for references. If God wants to move you, He will. But far too often we don't see the long term results because we never committed to the long term. When we plan to stay, we're opening ourselves up to the kind of generational change we read about.
4. Preach systematically through the Bible - Perhaps the best way to take the long view in ministry is to make a habit of expository preaching. We're not sustained by Cheesecake Factory and filet mignon, we're sustained daily by scrambled eggs and pot roast and the normal grocery store. Expository preaching is the steady diet of a healthy church, and is the food that grows a healthy Christian. It's not "Seven Steps to Greener Grass," but it is producing in people a biblical worldview, a knowledge of God, and a growing love for the Word.
What have you done as a pastor to encourage taking the long view in ministry?
And should I dress up as Fitzmagic for our church's Trunk or Treat?
One of the things I love about our Amazon subscription is that they have a very lenient and gracious return/refund policy. Several times we've even been told to keep the defective item and they'd send us a replacement at no cost. It's really good to have when we're trying to buy clothes for the boys and have to guess at sizes.
Earlier today an article ran on Facts & Trends that talked about an emerging practice in churches of offering a "90 Day Guarantee" on faithful giving. The premise is essentially if you aren't being blessed and seeing increases in your own personal life that you can get your tithe back, no questions asked. It's called "No Risk Tithing" and it sounds nice at first, but it's not just (I believe) an unwise practice but a practice that distorts the very purpose of sacrificial, generous giving.
Make no mistake, as pastors we have a responsibility to encourage and teach our churches to be generous. That generosity is more than with money, but it certainly isn't less. Paul even tells the Corinthian church that God loves a "cheerful giver" which is probably better translated as a "hilarious" giver or an "overjoyed" giver. It's not a giver who gives out of duty, but it's one who laughs with joy knowing they are being generous.
With that, I want to encourage pastors to pursue a few steps in teaching about giving:
1. Know Your Church's Giving - I do not believe you as a pastor should know who gives what, but you should know what giving units are giving and how much they are giving. Knowing what someone gives can have a negative impact, especially if it's leadership. But we do need to know giving amounts, giving trends, giving units, and data like median giving, average giving, etc. One pastor friend of mine encourages others to look not just at amounts but the age of givers.
2. Don't Turn God into an ATM - What happens far too often when we come to passages like Malachi 3:10 and we're trying to think of how to connect giving to blessing is that we make God into an ATM who gives back money. Many of us can testify of times God provided for us in ways that defy expectations, even if it's through unusual means (we got rear-ended by a drunk driver and were able to pay our out-of-pocket birth costs for one of our kids). But it doesn't mean that God works like compound interest. Sometimes you can be sacrificial and generous and still default on your car loan. Or you can be denied that raise or promotion.
3. Teach Giving as Investment - I love how Jesus talks about treasures in the Sermon on the Mount. We can either store up earthly treasures or heavenly treasures. Earthly treasures get rusted, they fall apart, they wear down, they go obsolete, they have diminishing returns. But heavenly treasures are forever, they last, they never go away. When we give, we're making eternal investments. We're keeping the lights on so our local church can be a missions outpost. We're forwarding some on to global missions. We're supporting local ministries like pregnancy centers and food pantries. We're giving so the Gospel can go into dense urban settings. It's investing. And the return isn't a dividend, it's in people being added to the Kingdom.
4. Attitude > Amount - One of the indictments of the prophets in the Old Testament was that the offerings were weak and without faith. They were given out of duty and obligation rather than joy and delight. In the New Testament, there's not a mention of the amount we're to give, but there is a lot on the attitude we should have. God calls us to be cheerful, to be joyous, to be generous, to give sacrificially. Our amount should be sacrificial, but not at the expense of our attitude turning sour.
5. Set the Pace - I don't think you as a pastor should disclose your giving amounts, that's not anything we'd force a church member to do, and I don't think yours should be open record. But you should know that you are giving sacrificially and faithfully. You should be able to, with a clean conscience, say you're doing your part to lead by giving. You should expect leadership in the church to do the same as well. Because if you're not willing to lead the way, don't be surprised when no one is following.
What do you do as a pastor to teach and encourage faithful giving?
It's no secret for many of us leading in the local church that we're dealing with taking our folks into uncharted waters. We've waded deep into a world that is almost exclusively digital. The way we get our news, pay our bills, watch movies, book our Disney trips, and more has passed from a person to a smartphone. A lot of us are serving in churches that have been slower to adapt to the changes and the influx of new tech. For every cutting-edge church with a digital campus and an app, there are hundreds who still own an overhead projector or a book of clip art.
The reality is two-fold: 1) We've been here before, and 2) We'll be here again. Slate has an article talking about the attitude shift that happens every time a major advancement happens. Radio was seen as mind-numbing, television was seen as a threat, even newspapers were feared because news would come from them rather than the pulpit. And all of this is before iPhones, Facebook, and cable television.
This is especially for those of us who are younger serving in a church. We fight an internal struggle between being frustrated with the slow pace and a desire to catch our churches up. I'll hear younger ministry leaders expressing frustration at older church members who refuse to adapt or who are slow to embrace a digital newsletter rather than a mailing.
Relax. Here's a few things you can do to lead wisely and lead well.
Don't Throw Too Much At Once - Whenever we want to introduce new tech or adapt emerging platforms in our worship or administration in the church, we can't expect everyone to jump on board immediately to everything. I've learned the hard way that things that happen slower and more intentional are more likely to succeed than things shoved down people's throats. One thing that's been helpful for me has been to list out the number of Presidents, the world history, the new things that have come that some of our senior saints have seen in their lifetime. They watched a man land on the moon. They saw JFK assassinated. They lived through the Cold War.
Don't Ridicule - This is an appeal more to our basic decency than anything else. Just because someone in your church, whether they're old or young, is unwilling to embrace some new tech or adapt a new platform is not reflective of their intelligence or walk with Jesus. Part of pastoring well is shepherding well, and we can't in one breath say we love our people and in the other make fun of them.
Coach and Guide - I'm 36 and I need to be coached often on new things from my 22 year old worship leader or from the teenagers in our church. Things that come naturally to them are different to this Xennial. If your church is building an app, walk people through it. If you're subscribing to something like RightNow Media, host an orientation. Take extra time to train your AV crew so they know how to work the new system. It's worth it. And you never know, you might get emoji texts from people you never expected.
Demonstrate Efficiency - Think about it, if your church has a monthly newsletter and you're sending it by mail to 150 homes, that's an annual cost of $882. What if that could be turned into $0 by doing a digital newsletter produced on Publisher or MailChimp or Constant Contact? That's nearly $1000 that can be reinvested in ministry. How much are you paying each year in checks? Would direct deposit be cheaper? If anything is consistent across churches, denominations, age brackets, and theology: we all like to save money and time. Point that out. Sell the advantage. Key in on the savings of both time and money for a ministry. Our church has started doing a lot of purchases on Amazon instead of tracking down stores. With Prime shipping, we're saving money over the course of the year getting needed supplies for our office.
Walk Slowly - Nothing will be transformed overnight. As a leader, you have to walk slowly on introducing new changes, new technology, and you have to be willing to eat a lot of pie. The people resistant to changes and adapting new tech aren't anti-technology, they've gotten through their entire life without this and they may not see the need for it now. I've seen this when churches talk about online bill payments. It's cheaper and easier to do electronic payments, but for some they lived with written checks and licking stamps. It's not bad, it's what they know.
How have you led to embracing new technology or adapting new platforms?
Last week a phenomenal research project was released by Pew, which laid out American views of religion on a typological spectrum. At one end are the die hard "Sunday Stalwarts," and at the other the "Solidly Secular." Most of the findings were unsurprising: Sunday Stalwarts were the ones who most frequently attended services and read Scripture, Solidly Secular tended to be more affluent and higher educated, a growing number of God and Country tended to skew more towards conservative and isolationist ideology as a religious identity, and that most people who identified as religious or Christian did not regularly attend worship.
Most of these categories have been around in one form or another for quite some time. And it's these categories that have helped us understand our communities and the places we minister. As church leaders, understanding religious spectrum, especially in a post-Christian world, are critical for us to faithfully shepherd people in their daily lives.
But one finding was surprising, and prompted several spinoff articles highlighting the unique finding. The Sunday Stalwarts, who exhibited the most traditional religious views in the spectrum, who are most faithful in attending services and reading Scripture, had some really divergent views on New Age belief. Of the Stalwarts, 29% believed in "energy in physical objects" (like crystals), 32% believed in the power of psychics, 19% believe in reincarnation, and 16% believe in astrology.
The implication is that many of the Sunday Stalwarts who sing classic hymns, attend Sunday School, and believe that their neighbors need to hear about Jesus are also willing to call a psychic, buy crystals, and hope they don't come back as a cockroach. For Pew, this was surprising because it went against the current of everything they had expected traditional religious belief to contain.
And for those of us who lead in churches, it should be surprising because it shows that we have a long way to go in helping shape a biblical worldview in our churches. We cannot simply assume that all the people who gather on Sunday morning have a consistent and biblically informed worldview. Or that those who actively pledge membership to our churches are aligned with what we believe.
As I read that, I was drawn to a phrase written on the mantle of my seminary alma mater's main building. It's a Greek inscription of 2 Timothy 1:15, "rightly divide the word of truth." It's a reminder that as Christian leaders, and certainly as pastors or teachers in the church, that we are in the business of truth. And that work requires that we not only highly view truth, but we rightly handle it. So how can we do that?
1. Faithfully Preach & Teach the Bible - Whenever we have an opportunity to teach or speak, teach or speak from the Word. When our pulpits become a place for us to wax on the good ol' days or where we cry against the ills of society, we're taking our people's eyes off what the preaching task is for: the proclaiming of what God has said in His Word. So whether you're an expository, book-by-book, verse-by-verse or a thematic or topical speaker, make sure you are faithfully in the Word.
2. Don't Avoid The Hard Parts - I firmly believe one of the issues behind the syncretism in the Pew research and in the rise of the "Nones" is that instead of dealing with the difficult parts of the Bible or the hard questions of our faith and ethics, we gloss over with pad answers or ignore it and move on. Whether it's sexual orientation, age of the earth, the role of faith in science, we've often reduced the Christian response to "You just have to have faith."
3. Call Spades - The other day I had a doctors appointment where I learned I had incredibly high blood numbers. My doctor wasn't a jerk about it, but he was very blunt and honest that I would need to make serious lifestyle, diet, and exercise changes in addition to medication to get those numbers under control. In Christian circles, we often set the goal at being nice, so we fail to say things are harmful because we don't want to not be nice. I'm not arguing for complete separation, but there are certain things Christians are to be set apart from, and as leaders we have a duty to set the boundary lines as a protection for people.
4. Graciously Take Questions - One thing I'm so thankful for over the years has been that mentors and leaders were willing to hear questions and thoughtfully answer them. Whether I was skeptical about something they taught on or was having trouble making connections between my faith and daily life, I was so glad they took time to answer them. We cannot blow off questions, those who ask them are seeking to know God and know Him better.
5. Pursue Humble Orthodoxy - I cannot encourage you enough as a church leader to read the book Humble Orthodoxy by Josh Harris. In it, we're reminded that our love for truth, our love for doctrine, should never outpace our love for God & Neighbor. So when we're dealing with people who have a crystal on their rear view mirror or who have gotten sucked into the latest Deepak Chopra book, we should never let our orthodoxy compromise our love and concern for them. If we do, we've missed the point of what truth means.
Do you have a story about this happening in your church? How did you handle difficult issues? Were you surprised by the Pew findings?
For the last few weeks our church has been going through an interesting crisis, Thermostatgate. We've had a rogue thermostat that keeps changing from cool air to heat at random times, without any explanation. The theories behind it are a short in the circuitry, a saboteur who adjusts it when no one is around, or maybe even Bigfoot. We've put tape on it and a note asking people to contact our office (apparently me, because I regulate the temperature?). There's also been talk about setting up a game camera. No word yet on night patrol, but we are drafting our 2019 Budget so nothing is beyond possible.
One of the things that comes up often in leading the local church is that you'll have moments that your seminary training couldn't prepare you for. I'm a huge fan of continuing education and getting prepared in seminary. It's the best years to prepare and learn exegesis, theology, history, hermeneutics, and to develop not only a strong mind but a pastoral heart. But even with all that, you'll find things you could never prepare for.
Be Mentored - I love seasoned pastors. There's nothing they haven't seen. They've been through battles and led significant changes and come out on the other side. Even though the way ministry is done has changed significantly over the generations, one thing that remains is that people are people. Whatever you're going through in ministry, someone has seen it before.
Don't Be Surprised - You will see, hear, smell, and experience things that you won't believe. I've watched the cops be called at a funeral, been shown surgical scars in the middle of a store, been scammed by a guy who forgot he gave me the same sob story a few months before, and walked in on a catheter being changed out. At no point could I ever think about a lecture or a book that prepared me for that.
Roll With It - One thing that I think happens to a lot of us when we finish seminary and we have a freshly printed Masters or Doctorate on the wall is that we're in some sense above things. But you very well as a pastor may be asked to clean a toilet, or to help with a workday (trimming palm trees has been my favorite so far), or find yourself in one day working as a crisis counselor, writer, and plumber. You have to roll with it. One of my previous stops had a staff motto of "Whatever it takes!"
Write It Down - I have a pastor friend who will occasionally text me pictures of the unusual things they find in long forgotten corridors of their church. You have to write these things down, if for nothing else than proof it really happened. Laugh with it, because you're in the front seat to some pretty eye opening things. And you never know when something that was never on your job description will be the moment where someone makes a life-altering decision to follow Jesus. And you were there, holding the plunger.
What has been your best "I wasn't taught this in seminary" moment?
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.