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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How to Discover Your True North Values

Every leader should be clear on his or hear true north values. Such values aren’t the essential values every believer should embrace like keeping the ten commandments, obeying the golden rule, or living out Jesus’ great command and great commission. Rather they are more nuanced ones that deep down capture the essence of the real you. These values should so infuse our souls that nothing external can cause us to compromise them. Granted, they might be aspirational, ones not yet fully developed. Nevertheless, they would describe the authentic, Christ-honoring you to which you aspire. Here’s a way to discover them.

true versus false dilemma concept compass  isolated on white bac

3 initial steps to prepare:

  1. Seek input: Ask a few close friends, co-workers, and/or family members to write their response to this question. In your experience with me, what do you see are my core strengths, passions, gifts, and competencies?
  2. Plan a personal retreat: Block out a full half-day mini-retreat in your schedule to be alone. Better yet, schedule an overnight retreat for even more time to discern your values. Bring your Bible, pen, paper, and your computer. Also, bring any personality or leadership inventories you may have taken, as well as the above feedback from your friends and family.
  3. Pray: Recruit two or three prayer partners who will pray for you as you seek God’s will about your values.

Steps for your discernment retreat:

At your discernment retreat, you’ll notice eight parts to include. If you’ve scheduled a half-day, you can plan for about 30 minutes for each part. If you’ve scheduled an overnight retreat, you’ll probably want to take an hour or so for each part. The goal for each step is to create a list of ten or less themes, words, or concepts for each category. Then you’ll combine them into your final list.

  1. Delights: Ask yourself, “What truly delights me? What do I love doing? What do I do that I enjoy so much that I seem to lose track of time when I do it?” Write down less than ten thoughts and ideas on a piece of paper.
  2. Past: Think over your past. Write down answers to these questions.
    1. When you were a kid, what was fun? Where did you get your joy? What did you like doing more than anything else? What themes do see emerging?
    2. Move now to high school and then to college and ask the same questions.
    3. Combine your themes into a list of not more than ten.
  3. Peak Performance: Think now of when you are at your best. Write down your answers to these questions.
    1. Think of peak moments in your life or career, those moments when you feel that you did your very best work or made your greatest contribution or difference. Why were those peak moments? What was true about you? What was ignited in your soul? Do you see any themes emerging?
    2. Last week when were you at your best? Why?
    3. Last month when were you at your best? Why?
    4. Last year when were you at your best? Why?
    5. Approach this from the opposite direction. When are you not at your best?
    6. List words that describe you when you were at your best in your peak moments from your exercises above. List no more than 20. Now narrow that list to no more than 10. Play with those words a while until you get colorful, descriptive words that describe you when you are at your best.
  4. Heroes: Think of those in your past or present that you’d consider your heroes.
    1. What qualities about them prompted you to put them on your list?
    2. Narrow those qualities down to less than 10.
  5. Input from others: Look at the answers to the questions you posed to your co-workers, friends, and family. Make a list of themes, less than ten, that stand out from their comments.
  6. Scripture: Write down the key scriptures or Bible characters that have meant the most to you in your life. Create a list of less than ten themes from those verses and characters.
  7. Inventories:If you brought any personality inventories, make a list of less than ten themes you see from them.
  8. Values list: Finally, look at this list of words/phrases. Circle ten or less that resonate most with you. You may start with a longer list and then pare it down to less than 10.

Creativity   Accomplishment   Accuracy   Acknowledgment   Adventure 
 Aesthetics   Authenticity   Beauty   Balance   Challenge   Collaboration   Community   Compassion   Competition   Comradeship   Connectedness   Contribution   Directness   Diversity Diligence   Elegance   Empowerment   Excellence
   Fast pace   Focus
   Forward the action   Free spirit
   Freedom to choose   Full   Fun   Growth   Harmony   Health   Honesty   Humor
  Independence   Integrity   Joy
   Knowledge   Lack of pretense   Leadership   Lightness   Nurturing   Orderliness   Participation   Partnership   Peace   Performance   Personal power   Physical challenge   Precision   Productivity   Recognition   Reflective   Risk taking   Romance   Safety   Self-Expression   Service   Sensitive   Spirituality   Success   To be known   Tradition
   Trust   Variety   Vitality   Wisdom   Zest

Combine and reduce themes to 10 or less: So by now you have eight lists of ten or less themes/words per list. You’ve done a lot of great work. Now it’s time to prayerfully begin combining the lists into one final list of ten or so words and phrases. That final list will give you a great idea about your unique true north values. Wordsmith that final list into phrases or concepts that resonate with you.

Add key scriptures if you want. Prayerfully commit to the Lord to live out these values. Ask Him to help you hone them the rest of your life.

Finally, record these in a way that will remind you to often revisit them. Print them and put them in your bible, on the refrigerator, or store them in a computer file that you review regularly.

What has helped you discover your true north values?

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Taken with permission from People Pleasing Pastors: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Approval Motivated Leadership, IVP, 2014, Charles Stone.

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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When you Feel Beaten Up

Life and ministry can sometimes beat you up. And when that happens, we don’t need a kick, we need a lift. Read a part of this old children’s story first published in 1922 and be encouraged. They are wise words offered by the Skin Horse to the Velveteen Rabbit taken from the book, The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams.

small bunny soft toy withdaisy flowers, Author's work with prope

The Skin Horse had lived longer in the nursery than any of the others. He was so old that his brown coat was bald in patches and showed the seams underneath, and most of the hairs in his tail had been pulled out to string bead necklaces. He was wise, for he had seen a long succession of mechanical toys arrive to boast and swagger, and by-and-by break their mainsprings and pass away, and he knew that they were only toys, and would never turn into anything else.

For nursery magic is very strange and wonderful, and only those playthings that are old and wise and experienced like the Skin Horse understand all about it.

“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit. “Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse.

“You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

If you’re going through a tough time and feel shabby and it seems like your eyes are dropping out, remember the wise words of the Skin Horse. Once you are real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand. 

Remember, no matter how you feel, God sees you not as bruised and broken baggage, but as a beloved child of God, cherished and accepted beyond measure.

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  • 8 Ways to Bust Leadership Discouragement
  • How to Make a Pastor’s Job Joyful

Arresting Anxiety when Spiritual Practices Fail, part 2

In my last blog post, Arresting Anxiety when Spiritual Practices Fail, part 1, I shared an insight that helped me deal with anxious thoughts and emotions when spiritual practices like prayer and fasting didn’t seem to work. I realized that when I prayed for God to take away my anxiety, I was often asking God to do a miracle, to suspend his created laws of nature. I came to realize that often He wanted me to respect His natural created order (i.e., my anxiety may be due to me not taking care of my body). I had to be OK if He chose to work in ways other than a miracle. In today’s post, part 2, I share a simple A-B-C process that God has used to give me greater internal peace.

anxiety cartoon

In Philippians 4, the Apostle Paul intuitively understood how our internal world works long before we knew anything about hormones or neurotransmitters that profoundly affect our emotional life.

In verse 6 he commands us do not be anxious about anything, something easier said than done. In the verses that follow, he tells how we can turn down our anxious thoughts and emotions.

Here’s the simple outline that verses 6-9 suggest.

Don’t fret.  

Instead, re-direct your…

Attention

Brain/thoughts

Conduct

Redirect your attention.

He says in verse 6 that instead of fretting and worrying, we should redirect our attention…

from the problem (do not be anxious): whatever is the source of your anxiety

by prayer (by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving present yours requests to God): to the Lord, who is the problem solver.

“Prayer consists of attention,” and “the quality of the attention counts for much in the quality of the prayer.” [Laird, Martin (2011-06-29). A Sunlit Absence: Silence, Awareness, and Contemplation (Kindle Locations 232-233). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition]

for peace (and the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and mind)

We must do this because often we get caught in an infinite thought stream and these thoughts and feelings become our identity because we have reinforced them through rehearsing them and ruminating over them. It’s like a video constantly playing in our minds that we can’t seem to pause. These thoughts can actually become the themes in our mind… I’m ugly, fat, skinny, she hates me, life is hopeless, my church will never grow, I can’t do anything, they are talking about me, my preaching does not connect with others, etc.

When we constantly rehearse these anxious thought and emotions, our brain actually rewires itself. It’s called neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to rezone itself. Those themes become rivers of neuronal networks in our brain and form much like how a river forms. A river starts as a small stream but the more water that flows into it, the deeper the channel the water creates and the wider its banks grow until it becomes a river.

The only way to divert the river’s flow is by starting another small channel that comes off the river. Over time the new stream digs a deep channel and widens its banks until it becomes the main river and the former river becomes a stream.

Our brains work in a similar manner. When we re-direct our attention, our brain creates new networks that reflect more healthy thinking. And as we continue to redirect our attention from the problem to the Problem Solver, we create new networks that diminish the power of those anxious ones (make that river smaller). As we do that, God sets His peace like a sentry over our minds and hearts.

The key is to keep redirecting, even when the anxiety comes back. Repeatedly redirecting our attention is crucial. The re-zoning process takes time.

Redirect our brain/thoughts.

Next Paul speaks directly about our thinking.

Phil. 4.8   Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.

When he writes, think about such things, he means a deliberate, prolonged contemplation. Intention is crucial… to deliberately choose to think a different way. And to do that we must be aware of what we are thinking about. This is easy to do, but hard to remember to do. Often our inner mental chatter goes on and on without our conscious awareness. Our minds are often stuck on autopilot.

Yet, as we repeatedly redirect our thoughts/brain to such things, God will create a new river of truth and joy and peace in our minds. He will transform our minds (Romans 12.2).

Martin Laird gives one of the most helpful metaphors about our anxious thoughts and emotions, weather around a mountain.

Those who trust in the LORD are like Mount Zion, which cannot be shaken but endures forever. (Ps 125.1)

Mt Zion symbolizes God’s power, blessing, and protection. So, when we trust in the Lord and redirect our thinking and our attention, we are like a mountain and how it responds to weather.

A mountain has weather around it all the time. The mountain does not become the weather. It simple observes it. In Christ we are like that mountain with all kinds of external and internal weather around us. Now we may prefer certain kinds of weather, but we are not the weather.

Your anxious thoughts and emotions are not you. They are simply the weather.

The marvelous world of thoughts, sensation, emotions, and inspiration, the spectacular world of creation around us, are all patterns of stunning weather on the holy mountain of God. But we are not the weather. We are the mountain. Weather is happening—delightful sunshine, dull sky, or destructive storm—this is undeniable. But if we think we are the weather happening on Mount Zion (and most of us do precisely this with our attention riveted to the video), then the fundamental truth of our union with God remains obscured … When the mind is brought to stillness (what Paul calls thinking on these things) we see that we are the mountain and not the changing patterns of weather appearing on the mountain. [Laird, Martin (2006-06-07). Into the Silent Land: A Guide to the Christian Practice of Contemplation (Kindle Locations 287-293). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition]

So, paying attention to our thoughts is essential to spiritual and emotional well being.

Without paying attention to our thinking, we become captive to the changing weather patterns of our lives, our emotions, moods, thoughts, experiences, anything, everything that we have little awareness of, this constant chatter. These thoughts can blind us and victimize us. We can let them become us, or convince ourselves that they are us when in reality they are just the weather in our minds.

We must see our thoughts and emotions like weather and remind ourselves that we are hidden in Christ in God… our rock, our fortress, our sure foundation. We are like Mt Zion.

As Mark Twain once said, “I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.”

 Re-direct our conduct.

The Apostle Paul then writes in verse 9, Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me put it into practice.

Ultimately, as we pay attention to and redirect our thinking from anxious thinking to that which is good and wholesome, we will develop Godly character and virtues which will show up in conduct.

So, the next time anxiety strikes, heed the counsel of the Apostle Paul.

Don’t fret. Instead, re-direct your…

Attention

Brain/thoughts

Conduct

What has helped you deal with anxious thoughts and emotions?

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