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.
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.