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.
A few months ago a dear couple in our church took us out for dinner and coffee to talk about something that God had put on their hearts in previous churches - a team of people focused on praying for me as their pastor. I was floored, humbled, and appreciative of it on more levels than I can write about. Since then, I get notes of encouragement, time spent in prayer on Sunday mornings, and a number of people in our church are getting weekly updates about what they can pray for.
To say the least, it's been powerful.
It's why when I saw this video I was so grateful and glad for people like Jim & Jean who love their church and love their pastor.
If you're reading this and you're a pastor, chances are you're tired. Chances are you're stressed. Chances are you're frustrated. Chances are you're running on empty and entering into a weekly survival mode. Very few of us will make it to retirement in ministry. We'll burn out, we'll dry out, we'll be chased out, or most of the time we just give up and walk away.
That's why you need people praying for you. Too often church prayer lists and church prayer ministries end up being sick lists. There's a time and a place for sick lists and physical needs. But you as a pastor need people committed to praying for you, with you, and beside you. The weights of ministry are too much if you're trying to do it alone.
You need prayer for physical needs. Satan so often attacks us through our health, because if we're laid up sick or dealing with health issues, we're not able to lead God's people. Have people praying for you from a physical standpoint, your church needs you healthy and strong and refreshed.
You need prayer for your family. Ministry can be a heavy burden for a family, especially for a spouse. Get people praying for your home, your marriage, and your kids. You might have kids who haven't made a profession of faith, or who've wandered far from God. Your ability to minister is directly correlated to the health of your home and your family.
You need prayer for your soul. Pastors are constantly in "Give" mode, and by the end of the day many times our tanks are empty. We've spent hours or days or weeks pouring into people and our souls are dried up. People who are praying for your soul to be refreshed, for your own walk with the Lord to be strong, for your encouragement are invaluable.
You need pray for your leadership. You carry the burden of vision in your church. You stand and preach. You lead the youth ministry. You get up and lead music and worship. It's a lot, whether you're the lead pastor or a second chair. And you need people praying for your leadership, that it's faithful, that you're focused on Christ, and that you're walking in wisdom.
If you're interested in learning about a Pastor Prayer Team, shoot me a note. I'll be glad to get you in touch with the couple leading ours. It's been revolutionary.
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?
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.