You're there right now aren't you? You've awoken from your turkey coma and realized that your pants don't fit as nicely anymore. You've been binge-watching Friends expecting it to go off Netflix so you've comforted yourself with ice cream. You look outside and see snow & ice and decide tomorrow will be a better day to run. The scale shows numbers you've never seen before.
When anyone sets out on a diet, they're not aware of the fact that many times they're setting themselves up for failure. How? The goal is too ambitious. I'm not saying ambition is bad, but sometimes we set the bar so high that we can't get over it no matter how hard we try. So after a few weeks without the Biggest Loser results (friendly reminder they have professional nutritionists, personal trainers, and they're on a closed set instead of snacking at work), we get frustrated and give up.
Pastors, chances are you've done the same thing when you lay out goals. You want to change the world, you want to double attendance in six months, you want to see a million dollars given for a capital campaign or you want every single person in your community's door knocked on.
And after 3 months, you give up.
I'm all for dreaming up BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals), they keep a vision in front of us of what ministry could be like if we were able to reach it. But BHAGs do not a longitudinal ministry make. We should aim high, always. But like Jesus said, we also must count the cost.
You can keep up with your progress - Slow and steady progress is hard to see week to week, it's hard to see month to month even. But over time it becomes visible. That's why you keep up with your weight loss on a diet. A pound a week becomes 20 after a few months. That's pretty cool! So with your ministry, write down, record, take pictures of what you're trying to accomplish. I had no idea at our church what was happening with our children's ministry until a picture popped up on my social media. It was cool seeing what had happened in a year.
Celebrate milestones - One friend of mine when he goes on a diet celebrated every 10 pounds lost with a steak dinner. Sure it pushes the scale up a bit, but hey you hit a milestone! Pastors, celebrate your milestones. You launch a new small group, pray over the leader and make a big deal about it! An outreach event leads to a baptism, cheer it on! An old debt is paid off, burn that note and have a party, er, fellowship!
Get buy in from other leaders - It's really hard to go on a diet plan when your spouse isn't. The temptation to eat cookies instead of carrot sticks gets stronger. As ministry leaders, we have to get buy in from others in leadership positions. It'll never work without, as Kotter calls it, a guiding coalition. Those leaders become allies, supporters, encouragers, and champions for the goal. Without them, it's impossible to push through the tough times. How can you get buy in? Sell the vision. You're not trying to fleece them like a mattress salesman, you're getting them on board with what you're trying to do. One pastor I learned a lot from, when I asked how he led his church through a major transition, said "I ate a lot of pie." He took time to talk with key figures and dialogue about the goal.
Keep Going - The normal way we see diets is like a yo-yo, we lose the 20 pound goal we set and then we go right back to our bad behaviors and eating like a pig. Momentum carries when we not only reach our goal but we change our attitude & actions. That's culture. Culture is when people aren't satisfied to reach the first goal, they want to keep going. That's the difference between Clemson, Alabama, Georgia, Ohio State and the rest of college football--they're not satisfied easily, they're still chasing. As pastors, we cannot be complacent or rest on the laurels of past accomplishments. Keep going. Keep pushing. Keep making steps forward to reach your community.
How have you as a leader been able to keep the momentum going?
I get it, it's not fun to talk about money as a pastor. Sometimes it feels like all we do is have our hand out for one thing or another. We see the hucksters on TV talk about their private jet (because you can't stand and worship in coach) and their lavish lifestyle. You're scared to upgrade your beat up car because you don't want people making comments.
But pastors, we shouldn't be scared to talk about money. Jesus did. Of the 38 parables recorded in the Gospels, 16 of them deal with money/possessions. Almost 300 verses in the Gospels are connected with money. (HT to Preaching Today) Jesus covers the spectrum, calling for the rich young ruler to sell everything he has, commends the widow for her small offering, declares that camels can squeeze through needles more than money lovers can enter heaven, and reminded us that we are to render to Caesar what is his.
Why should we preach/teach/talk about money as pastors?
1. The way we handle money is a mirror to our worship - I've always said the ways to tell what someone's worship and devotion are to look at their calendar and checkbook. If we hang on to our money like a miser and fail to give sacrificially, we've proven what we really worship. We can sing and shout all we want, but the rubber meets the road in our worship when it comes to what we're willing to give as a sacrifice.
2. Giving is theologically rich and pragmatically necessary - First the necessary: you have to pay your bills. Utility companies are a blessing but they like to get paid to keep the lights on. Ministry costs money. The outreach drive? It costs. The church fellowship? It's not free. The staff to lead and equip? They have mortgages. But beyond the pragmatism is a rich theology of giving. God gives incredibly gracious and generous to us in how He provides, and the way we give back is a theological treatise far more than any systematic textbook.
3. Giving leads to a generous spirit - Teaching about giving is a spark towards cultivating a culture of generosity. Generosity is more than money. Generosity means giving our time, opening our homes, pouring into the lives of others, fostering hospitality, deepening fellowship, and more. Generosity comes when we realize what's ours isn't really ours to start with, and for many of us that begins with our finances.
4. A Giving Church is a Healthy Church - I know we've all heard the horror stories about churches that hold pastors and ministries hostage with giving (a handful of people withheld their giving until they get their way), but the overwhelming number of churches are fertile ground for health. There's no magic number for how much a church should have to be a healthy giving church, but if a church is marked by generosity, it'll permeate every layer of the church climate.
Christmas is a wonderful time of year for us in ministry. We get to celebrate the birth of Christ, our churches are decorated from wall to wall, people bring us yummy things all the time (shoutout to the person who brought Christmas tree cakes to my office today!), and we get to watch our kids be the cutest shepherds.
But Christmas is stressful as well. There are a number of commitments we have to satisfy, we're finishing preparing budgets, we're taking care of year-end business, there are additional services and emphases with the Christmas holiday coming, and on top of that we're trying to balance our family life. Sometimes it feels we're like Clark stressed out when Cousin Eddie tells him that he'll be staying for a month with the RV.
1. Don't say yes to everything - Chances are you'll be invited to more activities, more parties, more events than you can possibly fit on the calendar. No matter the size church you're in, it's very hard to say yes to everything asked of you during Christmas. At times you will have to say no, and that's ok. You are not Superman. Don't pretend to be what you're not.
2. Prioritize your family - Part of saying no to others is so you can say yes to your family. During Christmas, your priority list hasn't changed. Your commitments are first to Christ, second to your family, third to your church. It won't be "balanced" because balance is impossible. But it is possible to work in rhythms. With that comes the realization that every 6 years Christmas is going to be on Sunday. You don't get to cancel so you can open presents. Prioritizing your family includes teaching them the needs of ministry sometimes happen unexpectedly. So when a death or crisis occurs, even on Christmas morning, duty calls.
3. Communicate clearly - The reason why some people struggle in ministry during Christmas is they've not communicated things clearly. If you're on staff as a second chair, have honest conversations with your pastor or leadership team. If you're a lead pastor be clear with your leadership teams about what your family's plans for travel are and what your availability is. Communicating expectations for your staff are important too.
4. Celebrate well - The joy of the Christmas season is that it's not always about work, there's times to celebrate. The people you work alongside all year long are treasures God has given you, so take time to celebrate with them. I'm excited about our staff Christmas party, and the inflatable reindeer antlers we're busting out for a game with them. It's fun. It should be.
5. Buckle up - Ministry isn't for sissies. And if you can't take some holiday stress without flipping out like Clark Griswold, you might be in the wrong field. The Christmas season is busy. You're going to be tired. You're going to be drained emotionally. There'll be long days and short nights. Push through, everything is a season.
Pastors, how do you survive Christmas?
That's all I can say after the debacle that was the 2018 University of Louisville football season. We should have known it would go off the rails when the coaching staff was surprised Tua started for Alabama. Followed by struggle wins against mediocre opponents and then consistent blowouts in a down ACC... Man. It was brutal. And it was perfectly capped with an embarrassing home loss to Kentucky, in the process making them look like a Big 12 offense.
The blame for the disaster is widespread: recruiting woes, nepotism in coaching hires, a revolving door of cast off coordinators, scandal throughout the rest of te university, and a fan base that still doesn't know when kickoff starts. Ultimately though, it was an issue of leadership.
The mark of our effectiveness as a leader isn't what we do when we're there, it's what happens when we're not there. The reality is that all of us are serving as interims. We'll leave, we'll die, we'll get fired, and someone else will take our place. If we've done our job as leaders well, things will be better when we left than how we found them. This isn't something we do when we're on the way out, it happens from Day 1.
1. We raise up others to carry the leadership mantle - You can't do everything alone, and you need others to come through the pipeline of leadership. Recruiting, developing, equipping, and empowering others for leadership should be a priority for all of us. Think about it now, can you name 5 people who can step in if you got hit by a bus?
2. We deflect from ourselves - This isn't just a business concern, it affects churches all the time. When a church makes everything center around its pastor or its leadership, including its identity, it's built on a house of cards (see the Driscoll & Hybels fallouts) that may not survive. We deflect from ourselves by giving others credit, by setting others up for success, and by keeping everything we do mission focused.
3. We shoulder blame - Spreading blame is something that toxic cultures do, it stems from a lack of accountability and expectations. Just as leaders should be quick to deflect credit/praise, we should be quick to accept blame. When we throw others, our staff members, our lay leaders, our volunteers, under the bus, we're doing exactly what Adam & Eve did when they were confronted with their sin: they passed the buck and refused to accept consequences.
4. We focus on culture - Peter Drucker famously has said "culture eats strategy for breakfast." In other words, no matter how much we plan things or how much effort we put into vision, we will always default to who we are. Organizational culture is what's accepted, what's celebrated, and what's normal. If you're a football coach loose with the rules and looking the other way when players get in trouble with the cops, it should come as no surprise that you get penalty flags. If you're a leader who creates a culture of teamwork, optimism, and commitment, you're going to have a culture that will last through adversity.
5. We come in with humility, and we leave with grace - It's really easy for us as leaders, even in the church, to buy into a Hang The Moon Syndrome when we arrive in a new ministry. It's exciting, people are happy you're there, you score some easy wins, and before long you think you've hung the moon and you promise or expect something they're not ready for. When we come in with humility, we don't pretend we're the guy/gal with all the answers, but instead we approach as a learner and fellow journeyman with the church. Leaving with grace goes similarly, we speak well, we hug, we laugh, we cry, and we take the high road. Leaving with grace says you don't leave with bad feelings or untended wounds. It says you're not the key to hold everything together. And it says it really wasn't about you.
Pastors, how have you left a place better than you found it?
I'm still unpacking the goody bag from the Florida Baptist Convention (and looking for my toothbrush, but that's another story), and I'm filled with joy to be a part of an incredible state convention. This was my third time attending the FBC, and first I had some kind of responsibility. Thank you for the opportunity to serve on Credentials, I enjoyed getting to meet pastors, messengers, and guests from all over Florida.
My six takeaways from the convention:
1. Wayside Baptist were incredible hosts - Thank you so much Wayside for letting us invade your space, overwhelm your cafe, beg for your wi-fi password, and navigate your parking lot. Your volunteers and staff were incredibly kind, gracious, friendly, and helpful. We had nothing but smiling faces and willing help to get around campus.
2. We are led well - Not only have we had two years with Stephen Rummage at the helm as our convention president, but we have a trustworthy, diligent, visionary, and convictional leader in Jacksonville who has created an incredible culture among Florida Baptists. When Tommy says they are "Right beside you" in the churches, they mean it.
3. There are some great ministries in Florida - I get it, when you think of Florida you think about Mickey Mouse, Beaches, and the Golden Girls. That's true. But beyond that, we are blessed with some ministries that are doing great work. One More Child is leading the way in foster care, adoption, fighting child trafficking, and striving to connect churches to the incredible needs in our state. Lake Yale hosts life changing summer camps. Baptist College of Florida continues its educational mission and being faithful to the Word. We're baptizing people on the beach, connecting with other ministries through conferences and training, and Write Beside You is going to help Florida churches connect with schools in our communities.
4. Uneventful conventions are a sign of health - I've only ever attended one state convention meeting that got really awkward. When there's not a lot of drama, not a lot of floor debate, not a lot of emotional moments, it's not bad. Those are signs of great health for a convention. It's healthy when we see people recognized for their character and leadership and step into roles without opposition. It's reassuring when questions are asked in a charitable way.
5. Pastors Conferences are worth the time - If you have time, get to the Pastors Conference at your state convention meeting. You'll find your soul nourished, you'll be encouraged, and you'll get to step back for a couple days and be fed. The life of a pastor is one of constant giving and pouring out into the lives of others. After a while, you're going to run dry. You need to be refueled. You need to be fed. You need to be reminded of the strength of your call and the faithfulness of God to you and in your life.
6. Miami, you were fun - I'm not gonna lie, I loved me some Cuban food and Cuban coffee. I may or may not have had half a dozen Cubanos at the convention. Miami is a reminder that the nations are in our backyard. And in the Florida convention, we get to see the incredible diversity in our state. Our program was in English, Spanish, and Creole. I loved meeting Haitian pastors and first generation Americans whose parents fled Cuba or immigrated to serve the Lord in Florida. It's a reminder that the Kingdom is bigger than our little bubble. But Miami, your traffic is nuts.
It's not exactly a crowning career achievement, but the last guy selected in the NFL Draft is commonly referred to as "Mr. Irrelevant." It dates back to 1976 when Kelvin Kirk was selected 487th in the 17th round. The "winner" gets a special prize, the Lowsman Trophy, a dinner reception, a parade, and a trip for him and his family to Newport Beach, California for "Irrelevant Week."
What we should never forget pastors is that we are Mr. Irrelevant. It doesn't mean that we're not useful or that God can't use us. But what it does mean is that we're not the golden goose who keeps the Kingdom of God afloat. Tonight we were challenged by a message from 1 Kings 19 where Elijah the prophet is told to pass his cloak on to his successor, Elisha. Think about that one: Elijah had fought the prophets of Baal, had stood up to wicked queen Jezebel, had boldly proclaimed God's word for years. And like that, his turn was up.
One lesson that has always stuck with me is that all of us are placeholders for the next person. None of us are permanent in our positions. We'll leave, and people will forget about us and move on. When we left our last ministry assignment, the goodbyes were hard and we had a touching sendoff in that last bulletin. But then the next week, life went on. I was Mr. Irrelevant.
The thing to never forget is this: God is not dependent on us to finish His work of redemption. Sure we're called to a place for a time to be faithful. But when we're gone, the mission of God continues. We live out what Count Zinzendorf wanted for his life: we preach, we die, we're forgotten.
And we have to be ok with that. We have to be ok with being Mr. Irrelevant. We have to be ok with not being the answer to God's problems. We have to be ok with passing on our cloak to an Elisha. We have to be ok with people moving on. We have to be ok with our successor changing things we put in place.
Why? Because when we're Mr. Irrelevant, we're putting our full confidence and trust that God is going to finish the work that he started. And best of all, He doesn't need us to do it.
So pastor, be obedient. Be faithful. Be bold. Preach your heart out. Work your tail off. Give yourself to your church and your city. Be Mr. Irrelevant. In the end, it really isn't about you or me, it's about Jesus. And He's more than Relevant, He's our King.
Through our leadership in the local church, we as pastors have the opportunity beyond belief to impact people with our words. Every week we preach and in our exposition of the text we have the chance to encourage, plead, edify, and call people to respond.
But our words can also be deadly like poison. If you want to sink your leadership, say these seven things:
1. Complain - It's one thing to be frustrated and have a safe outlet. I think every leader needs a pressure valve who can listen and allow a leader to vent frustrations or air grievances (a la Festivus). But our pressure valve should never be publicly, and should never be something we use as a club against people. Complaining, especially about our job, is a surefire way to poison your ministry.
2. Slam your predecessor - You ride in on the white horse and people love you when you arrive at a new ministry assignment. But your predecessor was loved too, even if he didn't do everything the way you think it should have been done. Our predecessors labored, loved, and served people. His leaving left an emotional wound in many people. Don't exacerbate that by slamming him. And if he was a lazy bum, keep it to yourself.
3. Talk about your "dream job" - One of the things a lot of (especially younger) ministry leaders are accused of is using a church as a stepping stone. The reason why that happens is way too many have, and talk about their dream job. You cannot control how long you'll stay in one place, and you may very well have a desire to one day serve in a particular city or church. But when you focus on that, rather than the place God has you now, you're doing a disservice not only to your church but to your obedience to God.
4. Gripe about your salary - Hear me. I am not saying a pastor is not allowed to ask for a raise or for a church to consider factors like education, years of tenure, growth, expanded budget, etc. as factors for a salary increase. You may in fact be underpaid and struggling to make ends meet. But asking is different than griping. Too many pastors are scared to ask for a raise because they've heard horror stories of pastors griping about a raise. If you feel your salary package is out of alignment with your family's needs, your church's capacity to support, or your "market value" (I hate using that term), consider bringing in outside eyes through your denomination to help navigate.
5. Losing your temper - Several years ago I did something really stupid, I lost my cool during a sermon. Pockets of people in our church had beaten down our pastor for decades, and my anger towards them came out. Even though I apologized, repented, and asked forgiveness, there were people who would walk out of service when it was my turn to preach, some who wanted me fired, and others who made it their job to make my life miserable. And you know what? I deserved it. Righteous anger directed towards sin is different than you channeling old school Driscoll and yelling.
6. Talking down your wife - Guys, this one is easy. Don't be a jerk about your wife, in public or in private. Don't use her for negative illustrations. Don't pick on her in conversations. She is your treasure, your jewel, and your love.
7. Trashing your previous church - We all get it, you left. If it was sunshine and roses you probably wouldn't have moved on. But the way you talk about your past ministry assignments is an indicator about how you will talk about your current assignment when it becomes your past assignment. It's one thing to tell funny stories, or even crazy stories of things that happened, but don't let it turn into trashing. You gave good years there. Take the high road.
How else can leaders poison their ministry with their words?
I love when I get to read a book written by someone I know. Their words mean more because I know the one behind the words who wrote them. A lot has been written about the importance of parents taking the lead in the faith formation of their kids, and you can check out a number of them.
My friend Michael Kennedy, who pastors a church near us, wrote a great primer on understanding what it means for parents to take the discipleship lead with their children. If you're in next generation ministry, a pastor, or a parent, you need to grab a copy of this book and work through it. You'll be confronted with not only the biblical witness of how important this task is, but the practical outworking from not only a pastor but a husband and dad.
My major takeaways from the book were:
1. Change the Win - All of us want our kids to get good grades, play sports, be in school clubs, get a scholarship, and help us retire in Aruba. Those are all good things, but they're not the primary thing God has called us to. As parents, our primary responsibility is for the spiritual development and faith formation of our kids.
2. Think about Legacy - Our kids will outlast us, and they will pass what they learned to their kids, who will pass on to theirs, and so on. When we think about it, we don't get a long time (216 months) to make an eternal impact on not only our children but a multigenerational legacy to those who come after them. That's why it's so critical for us to invest in our children, to pray for them, to share the Gospel with them, to connect them in the church, and to foster in them a love for God and for others.
3. Do it Together - You can't do this alone parents, no matter how good you are. You need each other. You need the church. God has given us a community of older parents, grandparents, singles, and pastors who can love and build and encourage. You can't do it alone. But you also can't outsource.
4. It's Doable - Parent-driven discipleship isn't a magic pill or a formal ritual. It starts by spending time together as a family, by taking advantage of the moments God gives us (think about how many questions your kid can ask in a day), by worship together on Sunday, and by seeing your family dinner as more than a time to stuff your face and talk about your day.
Thanks Michael for writing this. And beyond that, thank you for living out what you write with Janie and your girls.
Last Christmas I took my kids to one of those churches hosting a Living Bethlehem. I'd gone to one as a kid in a church gym with some fairly cheap costumes. Not this church. They had whole stables, a blacksmith shop, Roman guards, camels, character actors throughout. Then we go inside for cookies and hot cocoa and their kids area has slides and indoor playgrounds.
I texted my wife and went "Their kids area has slides. We'll never leave. Also, do you think we can swing that in our kids space?"
Here's the reality: not many of us are serving in churches with the facilities, space, or finances to do something like that. Most of us are in churches with secondhand supplies, donations to keep VBS afloat, a sound system held together with duct tape and prayer, and too few bodies to fill a volunteer list. It's easy to despair. It's easy to look at our situations, compare them with a church with slides, and throw up our hands and say "Well we might as well close up, we can't compete with them!"
That's where God wants us to be scrappy. I'm incredibly indebted to Thom Rainer and his team for putting together and releasing the book Scrappy Church. The premise is simple: you don't need what they have to reach your community. You have everything you need, you just need to be scrappy.
Scrappy churches look at opportunities over obstacles - Your church may not have a sprawling multi-acre facility, but you might have a parking lot. And you might have a neighborhood around you. Those are opportunities. You have meeting space? Use it. Invite neighborhood groups, host picnics, reach out to your community.
Scrappy churches get creative - I remember one time seeing a megachurch budget and their landscaping costs were more than our entire operating costs. Guess we won't get slides. But what we don't have in the bank isn't stopping us from ministry. Get creative. I'm pumped about an opportunity we had presented to us, for small groups to use water bottles, cookies, flashlights, and other hands-on opportunities to serve businesses and families in our area. Best part? It costs us nothing. Small groups take ownership. That's creative!
Scrappy churches stop making excuses - If you talk to declining or plateaued churches and ask why they're not growing, odds are you'll hear a lot of excuses. "Well the megachurch planted a campus next to us," "Young families don't care about church like they used to," "Our music isn't cutting edge enough (or it's not old fashioned enough)," and the list goes on and on. Scrappy churches don't make excuses for why people don't come or why they're not growing. Instead, they get to work. They do what Rainer calls the Outreach Deluge. They do something.
Scrappy churches invest in relationships & groups - Our denomination had a landmark moment this past summer when hard data was presented that showed we had a problem: our front door was huge (we had baptized thousands) but our back door was bigger (we'd not grown in average attendance). When people visit, join, or connect with our churches, we have to do the work of investing in relationships and groups. If you don't have groups, you won't have a net to catch people. That's why every person who joins our church is put in contact with a Sunday School teacher. Groups are free. You just throw some chairs in a room (our class uses a corner in the fellowship hall), invest in some teaching materials you already had, and train a leader.
Scrappy churches don't give up - It's easy to throw in the towel when it feels hard. I get it. The other day I had a long sit-down with someone who was an encourager to keep pressing on. I needed it. Scrappy churches don't quit. They keep pushing on. They're not scared of failure. Know what you do when something you try doesn't work? You punt and move on. Too many churches and pastors are so scared of failure they never try anything. Not everything will work. And not everything will work always. But you don't give up.
If you've read Scrappy Church, what has it done to bolster your ministry?
Yesterday we got to host Tommy Green, who is the Executive Director of the Florida Baptist Convention. He brought a strong, timely, and convicting message. And for one of the few times since 2016, I got to sit next to my wife.
As pastors, we find our primary identity and responsibility in preaching. It's what the Bible tells us to be our primary focus (Acts 6:4) and the ability to preach well is listed as the only skill qualification for pastoral ministry. So it's kinda a big deal for us. Because of that, we usually don't step out of the pulpit except for vacation time. But we need to bring in the occasional guest speaker.
1. It gives you a break - The weekly grind of ministry often finds its most toil in the preparation of your Sunday message. Some pastors spend as much as 20-25 hours a week just on the Sunday morning message. Others spend less time than that, but consume more mental/emotional/spiritual energy than can be recorded on a time sheet. Bringing in a guest speaker lets you step out of the grind a little bit. On top of that, it lets you have a Sunday where you're not giving your everything in the delivery of your message. So you can engage in worship without the pressure of preaching.
2. It lets you work ahead - When you're not under the gun to finish for Sunday, you can work ahead on your sermon preparation. Not everyone is like this, but I try to stay a few weeks ahead on the process. It works for me. It might not for you. So if it doesn't work for you, use the extra time to develop your next series, your next outline, or to think ahead of future sermon planning.
3. You can focus in other areas - When you don't have the pressing need for a Sunday preparation you can devote a little extra time to pastoral care, to administration, to visiting, to staff development, and other areas you find yourself "not having the time for."
4. Your people get a break - They love you. But they need a break from you. I mean that in the most gracious way. You have a particular style, flow, cadence, and emphasis. Hearing from someone else is good for them. It lets them hear from a different voice. It shows them (and you) that you don't have to be the only spiritual influence in their lives. It's a good thing to get a break. Ask anyone on a diet who's had a strong Cheat Day.
5. You can get fed - Since I became a senior pastor, I've maybe been out of the pulpit 10 times. You may be reading this and not even remembering the last time you were out. Your soul needs to be nourished. And you can have guests come in without you being out on vacation. You can have other godly men called to ministry in your church fill the pulpit for you. You need to be fed. You need to be preached to more than at a conference or podcast.
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.