The Dumbest Mistake I Ever Made as a Pastor

On the whole, I believe pastors are a pretty smart bunch. We earn advanced degrees, study biblical languages, go to conferences to learn, and constantly challenge our brains when we prepare messages and talks. I’ve earned two theology degrees and consider myself a relatively smart guy. But, brain smarts won’t guarantee ministry fruitfulness. Our walk with Christ fundamentally matters. And how we manage relationships probably ranks second in influence. As I look back over my 34 years in ministry, I realize I repeatedly made this one really dumb mistake in the relationship area.

Smart Vs Dumb - Choose Intelligence Over Ignorance

I hid out.

I don’t mean that I intentionally hid from people. But I isolated myself too much from staff and people in the church. I didn’t make myself visible enough.

  • In one church my office was the furtherest away from everybody else. And I stayed in it way too long during work hours. I seldom came out of the office.
  • In that same church I didn’t emerge from my office until three minutes before the Sunday service.
  • In another church as a low level associate, I would never meet with anyone unless they made an appointment several days in advance. This practice certainly may be necessary for the lead pastor of a large church, but not for my role at the time, my first full time position.

Since those early years, I think I’ve grown up and become much wiser. Most church people (and staff) recognize that lead pastors are busy. Yet, they want to feel they have some connection to him or her. They don’t want to feel we are always in a rush to be somewhere else.

I now recognize that my visible presence matters greatly. And I don’t mean that we should make ourselves 24/7 accessible. We, too, must keep healthy margins. But, church people and staff need relational touches. Even small ones matter.

Here are changes I’ve made to help me be less of a ‘hider.’

  1. When I’m not preaching on a Sunday, I visit the kid’s areas, poke my head in each classroom, and thank the leaders. I don’t just sit in my office and read (which I enjoy doing).
  2. Before each Sunday service I intentionally finish my prayer time with an elder 10-15 minutes prior to the service start time so I can shake people’s hands and chat.
  3. I ask an elder to close out each service in prayer and just prior to that as I share some final comments, I explain that I will be at the welcome center after the service and would like to meet new people.
  4. I more often manage staff using the MBWA technique, Management By Walking Around. Although I still keep my door closed to minimize interruptions, I intentionally break throughout the day and wander around to touch base with staff.
  5. When I talk to a staff person during the week or a church person on Sundays, I try to give them my full presence through eye contact and genuine listening. Even a minute or two ‘fully present’ interaction can make a positive deposit into the souls of others.

I’m much wiser now and hope that going forward I won’t make as many dumb mistakes as I did when I was younger.

What’s the dumbest mistake you’ve every made as a pastor?

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11 Traits of a Foolish Pastor

When you think of a ‘fool’ often a humorous movie character comes to mind like the Three Stooges, Don Knotts, or Jerry Lewis. But Proverbs gives a different slant on a fool. We are to avoid them, not argue with them, or refuse to employ them. Proverbs describes fools as unwise, unteachable, proud, and blinded to their foolishness. But can pastors sometimes act like fools? I think so. Consider these 11 traits of a foolish pastor.

Making faces
  1. Foolish pastors live in a black or white world.
    Very little is gray for them.
  2. Foolish pastors think they have all the answers. Because of their education, experience, or “God’s anointing,” they believe God made them the repository of all correct answers and good ideas.
  3. Foolish pastors are blind to their own weaknesses. When someone tries to help them see their blind spots they often respond with, “Yea, but….” They seldom receive correction well. They give an excuse for everything.
  4. Foolish pastors shift blame and minimize responsibility instead of owning up to their mistakes and errors of judgment. They often defensively react.
  5. Foolish pastors take credit instead of giving credit to others. 
  6. Foolish pastors see themselves as victims… of misunderstanding from others (they just don’t know what it’s like being a pastor), a bad church situation, or a resistant board they inherited when they came to their church.
  7. Foolish pastors think they deserve special treatment like discounts at stores or deference from others because of their position.
  8. Foolish pastors resist accountability. They like to make their own loosey-goosey schedule. Since they are “always on” they justify not keeping a reasonable office schedule.
  9. On the other hand, some foolish pastors think they are at the beckoned call of everyone in the church. They take pride in being available to others 24/7. Unfortunately, their family and personal life suffers.
  10. Foolish pastors don’t see how they suck the life from others with their demands, passive aggressiveness, or whiney attitudes.
  11. Foolish pastors ultimately flame out, burn out, or compromise their morals and integrity. They simply will not last in ministry.

Fortunately, I’ve only met a few foolish pastors. One foolish pastor I knew destroyed two churches, his marriage, and sullied the reputations of the good pastors in his community (guilt by association).

Most pastors are men and women of integrity who sacrifice greatly for a call greater than themselves.

I applaud you.

I love you and hope my blogs and books encourage you.

But…if you are a foolish pastor, please turn from your foolish ways and find someone who will help you before it’s too late.

What are some other traits you’ve seen in foolish pastors?

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Healthy Leaders Look like an Avocado

I love avocados. They add a nice touch to a ham sandwich. And without them we wouldn’t enjoy guacamole with our chips. But avocados also provide a good metaphor for a healthy leader. Every leader needs a strong inner spiritual and emotional core, what I call a healthy spiritual immune system that helps us ward off leadership viruses like unhealthy people pleasing, margin-less leadership, and inflexibility. Here’s how an avocado pictures a healthy leader.

Avocado

If you peel away an avocado’s skin, two parts remain: the mushy green stuff and the pit. It doesn’t take much effort to remove the fleshy part of the avocado. You can easily cut it off or scrape it off. However, you can’t do the same with the seed. You can’t easily cut it or change its shape. Why? Because it’s solid.

A strong spiritual and emotional core (strong immune system) is like that large, solid seed in an avocado. We certainly must have a soft side, but at his core, a good leader is solid, in the good sense of the word.

However, with a weak spiritual immune system, a people pleaser, a margin-less leader, or an inflexible leader has a much smaller inner core and a much larger ‘squishy’ part. We easily morph and adapt to the pressures around us and lose parts of ourselves when we try to please others in an unhealthy way. And of course we could swing in the other direction as well when we become too ‘solid;’ that is, unyielding and inflexible.

One writer on this subject, Murray Bowen contrasted these two parts by calling one a ‘solid self’ and the other a ‘pseudo-self’ when he wrote these words.

The solid self says: “This is who I am, what I believe, what I stand for, and what I will or will not do in any given situation. The solid self is made up of clearly defined beliefs, opinions, convictions, and life principles….The pseudo-self is composed of a vast assortment of principles, beliefs, philosophies, and knowledge acquired because it is required or considered right by the group.” [Murray Bowen, Family Therapy in Clinical Practice (New York: Aronson, 1978), p. 365]

Evaluate yourself to see how solid or squishy you are as a leader.

SOLID VS SQUISHY leadership

Stands on principles vs changes to avoid other’s displeasure
Does what is right vs keeps the peace to keep others happy
Authentic vs pretend
Clings to God when pressured vs acquiesces to others when pressured
Listens to disagreement vs giving in to it or becoming defensive
Carefully considers differing viewpoints vs quickly embracing them to avoid someone’s displeasure
Thoughtfully responds vs automatically reacts

What other qualities do ‘solid’ leaders show in their leadership?

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Adapted by permission from People Pleasing Pastors: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Approval Motivated Leadership, IVP, 2014.

Monday Morning Blues and the Pastor: 6 Proactive Steps

A pastor’s life is filled with both ups and downs. Sundays can be either. Good attendance, a message well-received, and positive people can make it an up day. Low attendance, poor offerings, and critical people can make it a down day. However, in my thirty plus years of ministry whether Sunday is up or down, I’ve found that most of us pastors often face the Monday morning blues. What can we do about them? Here are six suggestions I’ve learned through through the crucible of church life.

Depressed man sitting on his bed
  1. Remind yourself that one down Sunday does not determine destiny. Sometimes my sermon is barely a bunt. Sometimes it seems the harder I preach, the more people’s eyes glaze over. Sometimes everybody decides to take their kids to Six Flags on the same Sunday and attendance tanks. Stuff happens. But I’ve discovered that when I take the long view of ministry, those down Sundays don’t loom as large.
  2. Refuse to second guess. Sometimes I’m tempted to dwell on how I could have organized my sermon to make it better. Or, I wish I had not preached so long. Or, I wish I had responded more tactfully to a critic. Potentially I could rehash the entire day and beat myself up for what might have been. But I’ve learned that second guessing in that way seldom solves anything. Yet, there is value in a healthy review which leads to my next suggestion.
  3. Develop a learning mindset. I’ve tried to create a learning environment at our church. I encourage staff and volunteers to learn at every turn. If something doesn’t go well or fails I ask the person involved, “What did you learn?” It’s just as helpful for us to ask ourselves that same question. Objectively review a Sunday service will yield good learnings. But the purpose is key. Review not to focus on what went wrong to then ruminate and regret. Rather, state what went wrong and ask yourself what you can learn from it to make things better next time.
  4. Realize it’s normal to feel a bit out of sorts. Sundays are usually stress-filled days and our body turns up the stress hormone, cortisol, and the neurotransmitter, dopamine, which is involved in reward and motivation. Usually Mondays don’t offer as much stimulation so your body is adjusting back to normal levels of these chemicals. As a result, you may feel a bit blue and unmotivated. There’s probably nothing wrong with you. Give yourself a day and you’ll feel back to normal.
  5. Never forget that feelings and thoughts don’t really mirror reality. When we feel down and discouraged, it’s easier to believe our feelings and the commentary we add to them. I’m a …. I just can’t …. I’ll never …. Our church will never …. Stepping outside our thought stream and reminding ourselves that our feelings are not reality is easy to do, but heard to remember to do. Yet, so very necessary to keep a healthy emotional life. The next suggestion has helped me do this.
  6. Think about what you are thinking about. The term for this skill is called metacognition. In other words, pay attention to your inner chatter that goes on when you daydream and think about what happened on Sunday. Neuroscientists tell us that we have five times more negative networks in our brains than positive ones so we naturally dwell on the negative. Because of this they’ve discovered that a wandering mind tends to make us unhappy. So during the day when you feel blue, periodically listen in to your silent, mental commentary and change it when it turns negative.

As I’m well into my second half of life, I’m realizing that managing the Monday morning blues actually gets easier. Perhaps it’s because after so many years of mishandling them, I’ve finally learning how to deal with them. Perhaps it’s because I’m more able to keep a big picture perspective. Perhaps it’s simply a result of growing wiser. Whatever the reason, I imaging the same will hold true for you, no matter what stage of ministry you’re in.

Remember these words from the writer of Hebrews, Let us fix our eyes on Jesus.’

What has helped you deal with the Monday morning blues?

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What One of the World’s Smartest Leaders Taught Me

Recently I heard Malcolm Webber speak about leadership. With a PhD in organizational leadership and author of over 30 books, he understands the current leadership culture like few others I’ve heard. He leads an organization called LeaderSource and speaks to and trains leaders all around the world on the subject. As one of the brightest and most innovative leaders/leadership consultants today I had difficulty taking notes fast enough because most everything he said was worth remembering. Here are some highlights.

Leadership concept
  • Great leaders must say yes to the right things.
  • Leaders must not confuse activity with results or size with success.
  • Leadership development is not discipleship. A discipled leader is assumed.
  • The three parts of the leadership process are:
    • Identification (what John Maxwell calls Discovery)
    • Development
    • Deployment
  • The biggest problem in leadership today is working with the wrong people (a paraphrase from the great missiologist, Ralph Winter)
  • Jesus’ men did not sign up. They were chosen.
  • Damaged leaders damage others.
  • There are two fundamental, foundational issues that must be in place for prospective leaders:
    • They can think. They…
      1. explore
      2. think ahead and outside normal patterns
      3. learn from mistakes
      4. remain teachable and adaptable
      5. think conceptually and holistically
      6. embrace ambiguity.
    • They act. They…
      1. don’t wait for someone else to act
      2. are probably already leading somewhere
      3. take responsibility and initiative
      4. challenge the status quo
      5. energize others.
  • When choosing leaders, keep these four ideas in mind.
    1. Look for people who think.
    2. Look for people who act.
    3. Look for people about whom you can observe their lives.
    4. Look for people who deeply depend on God.
  • Potential is not performance.

What insights about leadership have helped you lead well?

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