My heart is for the pastor. Maybe it stems from the fact that I spent so many years as a layperson, a deacon and Sunday school teacher and, now, as a pastor.
I realize now how much I didn’t understand about the position. The role has a lot more expectations and pressures than I previously imagined. I always loved and supported the pastor, but looking back, I wish I had been an even better pastor’s friend.
One of the other realities, and it’s rather sobering to me, is how isolated many pastors feel from people in their congregation. Isolation almost always seems to lead to a misunderstanding of reality.
In essence—and here’s the problem and purpose of this post, if we aren’t careful—we can begin to believe lies about ourselves or our ministries. (That even seems to have biblical precedence—believing lies got us into trouble from the beginning.)
Here are seven lies we often believe as pastors:
1. “I’ve got this.” The enemy loves it when we begin to think we have completely figured out life or ministry. He loves us to place total confidence in ourselves. Self-confidence, if unchecked, can lead to arrogance, a sense of superiority and a lack of dependence on God.
2. “That didn’t hurt.” Sometimes we pretend what the person said or did to us doesn’t hurt. We can even spiritualize it because we wear the “armor of God.” In reality, most pastors I know (this one included) have tender feelings at times—some days more than others. We are human. Maturity helps us process things faster, but we never outgrow a certain vulnerability when working with people.
3. “I’m above that.” If a pastor ever thinks, “That’s too small for me to be concerned about,” watch for the fireworks to begin. The devil will see some points he can put on the board. Equally dangerous, when we as pastors believe we are above temptation of any kind, we have the devil’s full attention.
4. “I’m in control.” It would be easy to dismiss this one with a strong spiritual response. Of course, Jesus is in control. Hopefully every Bible-believing pastor reading this “Amens” that truth. But how many times do we believe we have more authority than we really do—or should? Danger.
5. “I’m growing this church.” We must be careful not to take credit for what only God can do. I can’t imagine God would let this lie continue long without equally letting us “believe” (and experience) that we are responsible for declining this church.
6. “If I don’t do this, no one will.” We stifle the spiritual growth of others when we fail to let them use their spiritual gifts. Additionally, we deny the hand and foot their individual roles within the body. And, sadly, we often burn out ourselves and our family.
7. “I’ve got to protect my people.” I once had a pastor say he couldn’t allow “his” people to believe God still speaks to people today, other than through His Word, because there are too many “strange voices” out there. There are, and I believe the Bible is the main source of His communication, but God still speaks. If He doesn’t, let’s quit suggesting people pray about how much God wants them to give to the building fund.
When we try to protect “our” people by keeping them from His provision, we make them our people and keep them from fully understanding they are really His children. Let us instead teach them how to know God more intimately and discern His direction. His sheep know His voice.
I’m sure there are many other lies we can fall prey to as pastors. Exposing them can help us from being distracted by them and allow us to call on His strength to overcome them. Trading prayers for pastors as I type this post.
What other lies have you seen pastors believe?
Ron Edmondson is a church planter and pastor with a heart for strategy, leadership and marketing, especially geared toward developing churches and growing and improving the kingdom of God.
What qualifies me to write this piece, if anything, is that I am a pastor who has been married most of my life. My wife, Margaret, and I did this entire ministry thing together, having married the same year I started pastoring, and that was 52 years back.
Every church I served as pastor, she was there and deeply involved. She has heard more of my sermons than anyone else and knows me in ways I do not know myself. Therefore, her assessment of me is probably more dead-on than anyone else’s, including my own.
And that’s what frightens me.
They asked Dwight L. Moody if a certain man were a Christian. “I don’t know,” he said. “I haven’t talked to his wife.”
If anyone knows, she does.
(Note: I write—as is obvious—from the standpoint of the pastor being a man. There are godly and faithful women leading churches across the world, and we thank God for them. I have no experience with their situation or knowledge on how their ministries are different from mine. It would be presumptuous for me to pontificate on what they need.)
The pastor’s wife can hurt or help him “better” than anyone else.
When two people go into a hug, they drop their guards and become vulnerable. Some individuals we meet in life refuse to allow themselves to love and be love, lest they be hurt by the one they were trusting. Most of us decide that’s too big a price to pay, that we are willing to run the risk in order to receive love and express our affection.
When a pastor and his wife divorce, the departing spouse can wound him for life.* If the split is her doing, the rejection can be devastating. No words cut as deeply, find his soft spots and leave him gasping for air the way hers do. While that is true of any divorce situation, it has special significance for one called by God into the ministry. After all, this man is doing the strangest work on the planet: He is representing the great invisible God with the message of Jesus Christ to a people who do not always appreciate either the God or the messenger. And now the departing spouse has just about made it impossible.
(*I’m not naive. I know that sometimes the husband is the one betraying his wife and that divorce can be a mutual decision and have a thousand causes. However, I have observed in far too many cases wives divorcing their preacher-husbands because, they say, “I do not want to live that life,” “I did not sign on for life in a glass bowl,” and, “He was not a preacher when we married, and I am not cut out for this.”)
The spouse who stays with the preacher through thick and thin, believing in him all the way, loving and praying for him, is a jewel in the heavenly Father’s crown. And, truth be known, she’s rare as one, too, I expect.
My wife was attending one of these women’s ministry events our denomination puts on from time to time. A number of pastors’ wives sat on a panel, discussing the preacher, his fragile self-esteem and how the wife keeps him tethered to reality. One said, “I tell him, ‘You may be Doctor So-and-So up there in that pulpit on Sunday. But remember, I saw you two hours earlier in your boxer shorts.’” Everyone laughed, but not everyone appreciated what that woman did.
I’d give a dime to know what her husband thought. (Turn the tables and ask how she would have felt had he announced to the world that he had seen her this morning in her undies.)
The pastor’s self-esteem is something like loose cargo on board a storm-tossed ship. It careens from side to side, sometimes high and sometimes low, always threatening to do damage. Unless someone helps him bolt it to reality, that unstable ego is going to get him in trouble.
That’s what a faithful wife can do: help him fasten down his self-esteem.
The pastor does not need his ego inflated.
Some women read these magazine articles saying men are vain creatures, that they need constant assuring that they are wonderful and sexy and attractive. The woman who lures a straying husband away from his faithful wife, those articles say, made him feel important, listened to his fears and bragged on his accomplishments.
A wife will read that and come away disgusted that men are so self-centered, so needy and so weak. And if she takes that as gospel, her way of helping her preacher-hubby will consist of telling him how wonderful he is, inflating his fragile ego, puffing him up. All the while, she’s feeling guilty for lying to him and ashamed for not being able to speak the truth.
That is not what he needs.
He’s not stupid.
He knows he’s no more wonderful than anyone else. He is not on an ego trip for Jesus. He does not need a constant reassurance of “You’re the best preacher,” “You’re great,” and “You’re the best-looking minister in the denomination.”
Any wife who does that and any preacher who feeds on it have more problems than we can address here.
What a pastor needs is encouragement.
Pure and simple. He needs someone who knows him well and loves him still to assure him that what he is doing is the most important work in the world, that God is using his sermons and pastoral care in ways that honor Christ and will eventually bless the recipients, and that he is serving well.
The pastoral ministry—that is, a man called of God to shepherd His flock made up of every kind of collection of “sheep”—can be a sinkhole for a pastor’s self-esteem. Most congregations have people who see their calling as cutting the preacher down to size, reminding him of his human frailties, and finding the flaws in his sermons and the omissions in his pastoring.
The pastor takes this as a given. He does his work, takes his lumps, goes home to his family, sleeps off the aches of yesterday and rises to face a new day and try this all again. He keeps reminding himself that “the mercies of the Lord are new every morning” (Lam. 3:23) and that he can “do all things through Christ” (Phil. 4:13).
But it’s hard. Anyone who says it isn’t either hasn’t been in the work very long or isn’t paying attention.
The pastor needs his wife to pray for him. She knows better than anyone the pressures he faces. Her prayers may be the most valuable ones ever raised for him.
The pastor needs to know his wife is on his team. He’s not real sure about certain deacons, and some old curmudgeon told him yesterday that he is a failure, but there is one person he can always count on. His wife believes in him.
The pastor needs his wife to listen with discernment when he is asking for input and to give her thoughts freely and confidently.
In the same way, the pastor needs his wife to know when to be quiet and keep her opinion to herself. It’s not an easy assignment, believe me.
He needs the occasional reminder from her that she is proud to be married to a man doing the most important work on the planet, spreading the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Honestly, I can understand a woman saying, “This is more than I can do. I’m not cut out for this.” Her life is as difficult as his, and in some ways, more.
Pray for the pastor’s wife. Pray for your pastor.
When you get to heaven—make a note of this and hold me accountable, please—you will find out how the Father treasures every time you lift these two people of His to Him in prayer.
One final word: Please do not approach the pastor or his wife to ask something like, “Tell me what pressures you are facing so I can pray more intelligently.” This is private information that they will not be able to share with you. Please take it by faith and pray with the assurance that the Father knows their needs and will apply the blessing of your prayer wherever it’s needed most.
Dr. Joe McKeever writes from the vantage point of more than 60 years as a disciple of Jesus, more than 50 years preaching His gospel and more than 40 years of cartooning for every imaginable Christian publication.
Connectivity. It is a precious commodity in the leadership world.
With it, you can move your organization through changes and challenges much easier and with greater facility than those who lack it. Those leaders who lack connectivity among their people move slowly and painfully without a system of reliable relationships to mobilize the larger community.
And while a lot of leaders claim to have a great team and structure in their organizations, they really don’t know the strength of their “network” until it’s tested and the depth of its traction produces real movement forward.
The key words are traction and forward.
All pastors want it. Most don’t have it. Either we are over-asking, which ultimately desensitizes our people to the point of learned apathy, or we under-ask and rely on fancy commercials or bulletin graphics to get it done for us. Not only are both methods highly ineffective in raising up the necessary muscles for our kingdom missions, but they are also weak substitutes for having a real relational network that doesn’t have to be “sold.”
People don’t like being sold, but they do like and respond well to people they know and trust and who like helping them be a part of something significant. All smart pastors I know are open to saving themselves a ton of pain and frustration and don’t care where the solution comes from as long as it’s biblical and effective.
To this end, you need to see a pattern of leadership agility, mobility of community, and movement forward modeled biblically. Enter Joshua.
After God stabilizes Joshua’s emotional and spiritual spine (Josh. 1:1-9), the only reason he is able to take action is because his organization has serious traction. Top to bottom, his network runs deep, and it runs relationally from his inner core all the way to the outer communities of his people.
There are two features of Joshua’s network that we need to highlight. First, his network is made up of strong men who are strategically raised up and seeded intentionally into the fabric of the community of believers. Second, they are assigned specific groupings that they are responsible for messaging and mobilizing. They are called “officers of the people.”Take a look and learn.
“’Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.’
“So Joshua ordered the officers of the people: ‘Go through the camp and tell the people, “Get your provisions ready. Three days from now you will cross the Jordan here to go in and take possession of the land the Lord your God is giving you for your own”‘” (Josh. 1:9-11, NIV).
My guess is that without that embedded network of men behind him, Joshua would not be so strong and not so courageous in his mission. Without the officers of the people, there is no ability to form ranks around a single direction or vision, whether you are moving people across a river like Joshua or moving people through a giving and building campaign like David (1 Chr. 28-29).
When it is real, relationally solid and received well by the people, nothing can touch it. What Joshua possessed thousands of years ago would still outperform the best digital networks available to us today in terms of getting the emotional “buy in” of the people with their heart and the physical response with their feet. A good network of connected leaders emanating from the leader outward saves money, saves time and saves you from the negative emotions and pressures associated with trying to move a stubborn donkey forward (I mean your congregation!).
At least, that’s how you perceive the situation. You have awesome weekend attendance but awful initiative performance, and it’s confusing, depressing and infuriating, especially when the cause is Christ!
Traction is possible but only when, like Joshua, you intentionally layer into your structure these five keys to having an agile, mobile and responsive spiritual family:
A community of strong laymen who report to you on a personal level (“Joshua ordered the officers”)
A community of strong laymen with reach into the network you lead (“Go throughout the camp”)
A community of strong laymen who will effectively, in a timely way, repeat your words (“Tell the people”)
A community of strong laymen who get respect when they direct others (“Get ready”)
A community of strong laymen who relay your measure of faith (“You will go in and take possession”)
That first circle of leadership (Joshua and the officers of the people) led to second and third circles that had to perform as well as the first circle in order to gain quality traction and movement across the network. It was a must then. It is a must today. It will be in place in heaven as well.
The good news is that there are plenty of great men to draw from in your congregation and in your community to build an effective and explosive men’s leadership engine. All you have to do is have a simple, proven strategy in place that provides community for them, promotes growth among them, and produce leaders out of that process.
Most pastors are unaware that they have a sleeping giant under the floorboards of their congregation and actively incubating in their community right this second. In fact, take heart in knowing that the Holy Spirit is already calling the very men you will activate from your own congregation or catch in your nets in the community.
God brings their faces to your mind, runs you by them in the coffee shop, and gives you their hands to shake after services. Those are the men! Pray for them right now if you feel led. Pray for men you know. Pray for the men God brings to mind. Pray for the men yet unsaved and unconnected in your community. After that, pray for yourself, that God would open your eyes and energize your commitment to intentionally raising up your own personal corps of officers who will execute the mission and vision when God speaks to you.
Then, after you pray, act! Adopt a proven strategy, provide community to draw the net, promote growth, and begin producing your own officers of the people. If you need help, here’s how: everymanministries.com/how-it-works.
I work with a lot of young pastors, and I’m really passionate about helping them thrive in their first years of ministry.
If I could sit down with each of them and give 12 brief words of encouragement and direction, it would look like this:
1. You can try to do everything, but you will fail. The biggest and most prevalent mistake I see in young pastors is their tendency to overcommit, overwork and overestimate how long they can push themselves to physical and emotional limits. If this is you, I admire your passion and want to support the continued development of that passion by urging you to slow down, delegate tasks and not to stretch yourself too thin in the beginning.
I’ve watched too many young pastors crash and burn.
2. Your ministry starts at home. If you have a family, this means before you are a pastor, you are a husband and a father. If you are not leading your family well, there is no way you will be able to lead a congregation, a creative team or anyone outside of your immediate circle. It starts at home and grows from there.
If you’re still single, ministry “at home” involves preparing yourself spiritually to be a leader. Are you reading and studying and spending daily time in prayer?
3. Jesus doesn’t need you. I don’t mean for this to sound too harsh. I just mean it to say you are not the center of attention here. I say this for your good. If you see yourself as the center of attention, you will put way too much pressure on yourself to perform perfectly. You aren’t perfect, and you don’t need to be.
Instead, give yourself permission to fail and learn from your failures. Be humble.
4. Relationships are everything. The best thing you can do for yourself—and for the kingdom—is to build positive relationship wherever you go. You may change ministry positions or locations, but learn what it looks like to build bridges rather than burn them.
Be likeable. Be kind. Be like Jesus. And always focus on people over projects.
5. A little respect goes a long way. If you learn to treat people like they matter, they will treat you like you matter. What you say becomes more important. You win the attention and affection of those around you. Leadership is earned when you learn to treat everyone—from the janitor to the senior pastor—with the utmost respect and dignity.
Isn’t that what Jesus would do?
6. If people aren’t following your leadership, ask yourself why. The answer probably isn’t “Because they’re all jerks.” So many young leaders want people to follow their leadership, but they don’t see the connection between their actions and the response of those following.
Notice how people respond to you, and use it as your real-life classroom. What can you do to motivate, inspire, encourage, lift up and influence?
7. Give yourself time and space to grow. You don’t have to have it all figured out right away. Truly. Be humble and teachable, and you will go a long way.
8. Seek mentorship. Speaking of being teachable, always seek to mentor and be mentored. If you don’t have a mentor, don’t wait for someone you respect or admire to offer. Instead, go seek them out. Ask, and you shall receive. Knock, and I bet the door will open.
In the same way, if you aren’t mentoring someone younger than you, be open to the idea. Look for opportunities. Invite someone to lunch or coffee. Pour out what you know.
9. Your Bible should be your lifeline. One surefire sign you’re coming up against burnout is that you’ve lost the joy of reading the Scriptures and spending time alone with God. Stay in the Word. This will be your lifeline in your most difficult and most exciting years of ministry.
10. Don’t get too caught up in numbers. It’s hard (and maybe impossible) to ignore them altogether, but Jesus warned His disciples not to rejoice in their accomplishments (Luke 10:20) in light of their salvation in Christ. The most important thing is that lives are being saved and the kingdom of heaven is brought to earth.
Everything else is secondary.
11. Stay young, but grow in wisdom. Don’t ever stop learning. Grow in wisdom. But keep your childlike sense of faith and wonder. Ask questions always. When we stop growing, we start dying.
12. Great character trumps great ability. I save this for last because I think it’s most important. I want you to know that it doesn’t matter where you’ve come from, what school you’ve been to, what you’ve read or haven’t read. Skill and ability are useful. But more powerful is a man or woman who follows after the character traits of Jesus. Focus on your character.
When it comes to greatness, character trumps ability every time.
With over a dozen years of local church ministry, Justin Lathrop has spent the last several years starting businesses and ministries that partner with pastors and churches to advance the kingdom. He is the founder of Helpstaff.me (now Vanderbloemen Search), Oaks School of Leadership and MinistryCoach.tv all while staying involved in the local church.
“So, you’re going to be a pastor.” Have you heard that before—perhaps from a co-worker, family member or long-time friend?
Even more, have you wondered what they mean? What is the underlying meaning of their question?
Before you get frustrated by everyone’s questions and concerns, take some time to understand why they are concerned. Pastoring is the greatest privilege to which a human could be called. The position is a humbling honor.
I think that’s why many people do a double-take when you announce your new role in life. People know that there is something special—even weighty—about the position of pastor. Naturally, they want to make sure you have considered the importance of the calling. Their reactions aren’t necessarily questioning your credentials as much as acknowledging the magnitude of the profession.
Either way—whether they are questioning your qualifications or acknowledging the gravity of the position—it begs the question: Have you considered the responsibility required of a pastor?
Here are a few questions to help you evaluate your readiness for the role. Before you say yes to the pastorate, consider the following:
1. Do you love people? I mean, really love people? Christ calls pastors to feed His sheep (John 21:15-17). The idea is to care for the spiritual development of the church with the same care that Christ exhibited while on earth. As an under-shepherd (1 Pet. 5:1-4), pastors are given the greatest stewardship in the kingdom: the stewardship of the sheep. The only way to care for them completely is by providing Christlike love.
Although the concept of loving people may seem like a given, don’t overlook the fact that pastors are often required deal with people in their least-lovable situations in life. Are you willing to put aside your own desires for the good of others? Are you willing to patiently listen to the pain in other peoples’ lives—and really care? Are you willing to fix a flat tire in the rain, answer a late-night phone call or sit with the grieving?
2. Is your desire to pastor more than just the desire for entrepreneurship? That may seem like a strange question, but many men get into pastoring simply because they like to build organizations and grow systems. While such skills may be useful in pastoring, they are certainly not the goal of pastoring. If you are looking for a place to tinker with entrepreneurial dreams, go start a business.
3. Are you wanting to prove a point by pastoring? Are you just looking to do it your way or show everyone a better way? Is your desire to lead a church in reaction to the way someone else leads a church? Grudges and personal agendas are terrible reasons to pastor. If you have a problem with a certain philosophy or style of ministry, have the guts to confront those with whom you disagree. Don’t drag an innocent congregation into your personal vendetta.
Similarly, if your motivation is to experiment and try new ideas just to see if they work (without any concern for the souls of the congregation), don’t even bother. Remember, congregations are sheep—not guinea pigs.
I’m not saying there isn’t place for trying new things. In fact, I love innovation in ministry. But it has to have the proper motive: loving God and loving people. Your focus must be on pursing Christ’s desire for the church over your own desire for the church.
4. Do you just want a platform to sell your products (and yourself)? The recent emphasis on pastoring and church planting are wonderful, so long as we guard ourselves from thinking these roles have an end in themselves. You do not pastor in order to become an expert with speaking engagements, books and websites. You do not plant a church in order to create a new model for others to follow. While those things may be great byproducts of the pastorate, the focus must be on exalting Christ by serving His sheep.
Whether you are contemplating the pastorate or have been pastoring for decades, these are questions that must be considered. Answer the questions—be brutally honest, and don’t be offended the next time someone asks, “So, you’re going to be a pastor?”
After seven years of pastoring, Scott Attebery was selected as the executive director of DiscipleGuide Church Resources, a department of the Baptist Missionary Association of America. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in Bible from Central Baptist College, a Master of Divinity from the BMA Theological Seminary and is a candidate for a Doctorate of Ministry from Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary. You can read his blog at ScottAttebery.com.
Let me preface what I’m about to write by saying that basic and foundational things like prayer, discipleship and evangelism (having an externally-focused church as I’ve stated before) are all a given. Each church should take the Great Commission seriously and have an emphasis on the “Go” and on the “make disciples.”
I start everything with prayer, and so please know that what I’m about to discuss is with the above stated things as must-haves and what I consider foundational to a healthy church.
With that being said, let me share with you the “big four” that I look for when I visit a church, secret shop a church, or consult with a church. As the Scriptures encourage us—we should “compel them” to come in.
The big four that I look for when I do a secret shopper are first impressions, children’s ministry, security and worship. Yes, worship is last and I have listed them in the order that I weigh them.
As many studies have shown us, people make up their mind whether or not they will return, long before the worship service and especially the sermon. Most visitors will know in the first 10 minutes if they will return to your church.
Let’s start with what I consider to be the most crucial of all ministries at a church. Whether you call it first impressions, hospitality or guest relations—it matters and is paramount to breaking down walls and making guests feel welcome at your church.
“You’ve got 10 minutes. Somewhere between the parking lot and the children’s center, the ten minutes pass. They should know they matter to us before they hear how much they matter to God.”—Mark Waltz, Granger
Something I tell all the churches I work with is: “You must be strategic and intentional about breaking down any barriers of intimidation. You must be strategic and intentional about creating warm, welcoming environments.”
Now, I could spend an entire series on just first impressions. This is everything from your online presence (social media like Twitter, Facebook—as well as your website). For example, when I do a secret shopper visit, I create 10-15 pages in my report on just online presence before I ever leave to attend their physical campus.
Once one comes to your physical campus, the real fun begins. First impressions then include the parking lot, greeters, ushers, and people who greet you at your church’s Welcome or Information Booth. First impressions also include things like smell (your church may stink), signage (your church may be intimidating and confusing for new people), and how your facility is kept up and maintained. All these things play subtle parts in a guest’s first impression of your church and their subconscious.
Maybe I’m biased because I have three young kids, but I believe in having a strong and attractive children’s ministry. A lot of churches target parents in their mid-20s to mid-40s and the best way to compel them is to offer a children’s ministry so dynamic that kids drag their parents to church.
Let me suggest that you make children’s ministry a priority. I’ve seen churches that spent millions on their worship center and have dumpy children’s facilities. I’d never return with my family to churches like that. Show me and your community that kids are important and that you care about partnering with parents to be a help in their spiritual growth. We all know the statistics on the likelihood of people accepting Christ after age 18. Student ministries (children’s through youth) are vital to fulfilling the Great Commission.
This is probably the most overlooked part of most churches I visit. Most church leaders have never sat down and intentionally and strategically thought through how and why they do security. I wish this wasn’t important and that you didn’t have to have some kind of security presence, but unfortunately, that’s not the case. If there had only been one church shooting, that would be enough. I’m sad to say that several churches have experienced the tragedy of shootings—not to mention molestation and kidnapping.
Bottom-line: If I’m worried about my kids’ safety, I’m not going to enjoy the worship service and I will miss what God wants to do in my heart through the experience of corporate worship.
Security includes everything from people’s cars in the parking lot, to the safety of infants in the nursery, to children’s facilities, check-in and check-out procedures, mentally ill people acting out in the middle of a service, and protecting the senior pastor. Every great church with a well-known senior pastor that I’ve worked with had a bodyguard standing next to the pastor for his protection. This is not for show or something for rock stars—this is something real and needed to protect that man of God from people that mean to do him harm. When you stand for truth and speak against sin, you become a target for many that live in darkness. If you haven’t done so already, think through every aspect of security in your organization. I just returned from a church in California that had security people covering every single entrance and exit to their children’s ministry. It was a beautiful thing to see and made me feel safe as a parent.
I know there’s a lot of discussion and debate about whether a church should be attractional or missional. I’ve talked extensively about it all over the country. I’m a both/ and person and like for a church to seek to be both, but when it comes to the corporate worship service—I look for an attractional model. Again: COMPEL them to come in. Blow your people and your community away with excellence and an environment that allows the Holy Spirit of God to move.
I never got over Sally Morgenthaler’s book, Worship Evangelism. I think lost people can be moved by genuine and authentic worship. I also know God moves through the preaching of His Word. Please know I’m not talking to just large churches. I work with several small churches. They do things with excellence and, for a small church, blow me away.
Regardless of what size church you have, you should think through worship flow, song selection, authenticity, communication/ preaching and every aspect of what you want people to experience each week when you gather. Are sound, video and lights important? I think so, but you don’t have to have the best of the best to see God move. One of the most special and memorable services we did at Bent Tree when I was there was have a stripped down music set with no technology.
Whether you’re in a school, movie theater, gym, or worship center—you can seek to create an environment where people encounter the Living God.
Please know these are not biblical laws or scriptural requirements. These are just four keys that I look for when I visit a church, and I’ve found over the years that the churches that do these four things well will see God bless their church in amazing ways. Think through each as a team and prayerfully consider how you can do each to the best of your ability.
Note: The preceding is an excerpt from Greg Atkinson’s latest book, Church Leadership Essentials, available on Amazon through Rainer Publishing.
Written by Greg Atkinson
Greg Atkinson is an author, speaker, consultant and the editor of Christian Media Magazine. Greg has started businesses including the worship resource website WorshipHouse Media, a social media marketing company, and his own consulting firm.
It sounds like such fun, being an encourager of ministers of the gospel. And it is.
Except for when it’s not.
What does an encourager of preachers do when he finds those who need not so much encouragement as basic instruction? They have fundamental problems in their preaching and need to make some serious changes but you’re in no position to tell them.
Compounding the problem, what if those preachers are being outwardly successful in their Kingdom work (as far as you can tell) in spite of their preaching flaws?
Many would say, “Leave it alone then. Clearly, the Lord is blessing, so maybe you are not the judge of their preaching.”
I happily admit I’m not the judge of anyone’s preaching.
What about when a preacher saturates the sermon with references to himself and his family, his goals and his activities, and hardly brings up the name of Jesus at all? You walk out knowing far more about him than you do about the Lord.
Should you say something to him?
You have no way of knowing whether this is his usual way of preaching or if today was an aberration. And if it was out of the ordinary for him, that raises a question: Does a pastor have a right not to preach the Word sometimes, but to preach himself, his views, his stories, and his convictions?
Paul said, “We do not preach ourselves but Jesus as Lord…” (2 Corinthians 4:5).
What about when the pastor reads the scripture, then uses it as a platform from which he dives into his pet theories and ideas and convictions, with hardly a reference to the text thereafter? You leave with an ache inside, knowing there was so much in that text that could have meant so much to his congregation.
The pastor’s self-confidence is sometimes just that: confidence in himself.
What about when the minister reads a great passage and then preaches in and around it, analyzing it–sort of–from a remote distance but never makes it come alive for the listeners, never seems to appreciate what is happening in the text, and never asks what the Spirit is saying?
Was he tired today? Had he been too overworked that week to prepare adequately? Should we pray that he gets this right the next time? Or should we leave it alone?
What do you think about the preacher sabotaging his sermon at the crucial invitation time (the last 5 minutes of his message) in order to do something entirely different and unrelated to almost everything that has gone before? The invitation time was then tacked on, but as out of place as a lean-to on a mansion.
Does the fact that as his members exit the building they say “I enjoyed the sermon” make it all right? Does the fact that the preacher has drawn a huge crowd justify his shoddy preaching and prove he’s being effective even if his technique is lacking?
The encourager of preachers is something like an itinerant medicine man. When you find a sickness, you want to address it. But often you cannot.
a) You don’t know the ministers, but are visiting in their congregations, so you have no basis for speaking to them about your observations. Keeping one’s opinion to himself is part of the self-discipline the Lord requires of any of us.
b) Since such preachers seem to be thrilled with the success they are enjoying, numbers-wise, they would probably be surprised to learn anyone thinks their preaching is woefully lacking. You have no right to tell them, Mr. Encourager.
c) And, because these preachers are young and, in some cases, you are older than their parents, even if you had the opportunity to make suggestions, they would probably write you off as out-of-touch with how the Holy Spirit is doing things in this new generation. And they may be right, a fact you must always consider.
And so, you have one avenue to address this issue and one only.
You happen to own a blog. (smiley face goes here.)
Arriving home, you open your laptop and go to your website and type the story of your frustrations in the hope of making a point, not so much to these ministers (you feel confident they would never seek out a brother’s blog to learn how to improve their techniques) but for others coming after them.
What you wish for these and all other ministers is something like the following …
a) That preachers would occasionally listen to two sermons (DVD or CD or 8-track tape): their own from the previous Sunday and one by a master preacher. It’s just possible they would be amazed at the contrast, and that would be a positive beginning.
b) That from time to time, pastors would invite an outstanding gospel preacher to sit in their congregation for a couple of sermons and then give the pastor a confidential, no-holds-barred personal assessment (not written, but face to face) of what he is doing well and where he needs improvement. The minister could do with it what he chose, but just the discussion alone would be worth whatever it costs.
c) That all pastors would study preaching and work at improving their techniques, and not just copy a favorite motivational speaker. (For a motivational speaker, everything is fair game. But the minister of the gospel must rule out much material that would be entertaining or even uplifting, but detrimental to his purposes and distracting to his message.)
d) That all pastors would seek out two or three friends to critique their preaching from time to time. These could be members of the congregation gifted in communication and wise in their methodology. Have an English teacher who belongs to your church give her suggestions from time to time. Again, what he does with their analyses is his decision and his alone. But he will have heard from his audience, and that is something.
It takes a strong person to welcome criticism and a mature one to want to continue to improve.
For this encourager of preachers, I will pray for those ministers. Believing them to be sincere followers of Jesus Christ, I am confident He is their biggest Encourager and, therefore, their most trusted Critic and best Helper. And that’s good enough for anyone.
Written by Joe McKeever
Dr. Joe McKeever writes from the vantage point of more than 60 years as a disciple of Jesus, more than 50 years preaching His gospel and more than 40 years of cartooning for every imaginable Christian publication.
1. Let influence be the theme of your leadership. I often hear pastors complaining (especially young pastors) about their frustration when they don’t have control over a particular situation. My advice would be this: When you don’t have control, don’t worry. You still have influence.
Influence is built when you have great character, follow-through on what you say you’re going to do, and genuinely love people. Allow influence to be the theme of your leadership.
2. Don’t bend to critics. The critics can be so loud at times; it feels overwhelming. No matter the season of the year, there are disappointed expectations, and therefore people from all over the map who want you to do things their way.
This year, don’t bend to the critics. Listen to the spirit. Don’t allow the critics to define you, or what you do. Let Jesus do that.
3. Be transparent. Being transparent doesn’t mean you push your problems or your emotions onto other people. It simply means being honest and inviting others into your space in an appropriate way.
This year, be transparent with your staff, with your congregation, with those you lead, and with your family. When we are humbly transparent we invite the Holy Spirit in to do his transforming work.
4. Speak with your actions. You’ve heard it said that actions speak louder than words. Nowhere is that more true than in church leadership. If you say one thing, and do another, people will lose respect for you. Worse than that, they’ll actually start doing as you do, rather than as you say.
Don’t forget. Actions speak louder than words. Let your actions speak loud in 2014.
5. Choose people over performance. As a pastor, it’s easy to get caught up in the frenzy of performance. There’s so much to do, and the work feels important. You want to do as much as possible in as little time as possible. The pressure continues to grow and grow.
But this year, and always, choose people over performance. Those who have been entrusted to your care need love far more than they need a perfect Easter service.
6. Don’t neglect vision. Proverbs 29:18 says, “Where there is no vision, the people perish” and I’ve seen this to be true in my many years ministry. When you take the time to create a vision that is both simple and meaningful, it is truly life-giving to your staff and congregation.
Don’t neglect creating a vision in pursuit of “getting started” with this next year. A little planning goes a long way.
7. Take care of yourself. This is one of the hardest things for pastors to do. Often we work ourselves to the point of exhaustion, telling ourselves it’s “for the Kingdom,” and justifying our sin. God doesn’t need you to kill yourself. He already died. It is already finished.
If you find yourself losing your temper, losing touch with your family, suffering in your marriage, or growing an addiction to certain foods or coffee—chances are you aren’t resting enough. Take these as a warning sign.
8. Seek balance. God doesn’t need you to kill yourself, but He does want you to bring your whole self to the table. I don’t believe God is pleased when we play games on our smartphones, or check our Facebook status a million times, when we could be working.
It’s important to seek balance in all areas of your life—work, family, friendships, social life, health, etc. Finding this balance is a lifelong journey, but it’s more than worth it.
What I’m about to tell you could put me on some ministry hit lists. I could get beaten with hymnals, immersed in the baptismal (for a little too long) or Bible-whipped across my jaw.
I’m about to share with you a few of the subtle “tricks” some pastors use in the foyer on their church members. These highly guarded ministry secrets could get me taken out by some rogue pastoral network. So if this is the last blog you see me post, you’ll know what happened.
How do I know some pastors use these tricks? Because, having gone to church for the last 40 years or so, I have personally been on the receiving end of some of them. And, sadly, having been a preaching pastor for a decade, I used some of them to ward off close-talking congregants or church members with the “best” idea yet.
So, without further adieu, here they are …
1. “Let me pray about that.”
2. The shoulder pause/play button. Okay, I’m super-guilty of this one. When I was a pastor I could work the foyer like nobody’s business. I would talk to anyone and everyone I could. I figured this was the one time a week I could literally rub shoulders with everyone at our church.
If I was talking to someone and saw somebody that I desperately needed to talk to I would put my hand on the shoulder of the person I was talking to and say, “excuse me for a moment.” I’d then tell the other person what I needed to tell them as quickly as possible and then take my hand off the shoulder of the person I was talking to and finish the conversation.
I forget where I heard it but someone once said that shoulder is like a pause/play button on a TV remote control. Put your hand on the shoulder and you’re pressing pause on the conversation. Take it off and and you’re pressing play.
Maybe this is bad but I still find myself using the pause/play button even though I’m no longer a pastor.
3. “How long have you been attending here?” When I was a pastor and saw someone I didn’t recognize walking up to the church building I would ask, “Is this your first time here at Grace?” It only took one, “No I’ve been going here for four years now” for me to stop asking that question.
“How long have you been attending here?” is a far less dangerous question because, whether it’s their first or 50th time attending, you’re pretty safe in not offending them.
BTW, if you ask them this question every week sooner or later they’ll be on to you.
4. “Well let’s pray right now!” Sometimes after preaching two or three times on a Sunday morning a preacher gets exhausted. Inevitably it’s that one person at the church who, if he/she got paid by the word would be filthy rich, approaches the pastor and begins a 30 minute diatribe about their situation.
“Well let’s pray right now” is a way some pastors bring a period to a comma in the conversation. It’s a pastors way of saying, “Dude, I’m tired. Let’s land the plane and quit circling the airport!” And, as long as the pastor genuinely prays, it’s an effective way to wrap up a potentially endless conversation.
5. Protect the quarterback. Okay I have a problem with prolonged huggers and close talkers. With these people I play the role of the offensive lineman. I put my hand on their non-pause/play shoulder and I protect the quarterback (aka “my personal space.”)
When someone gets past my guard and goes in for a hug I turn my body to the side, and my hand on their back then, after a second or two, I pat four times which is pastor-speak for “Let my people go.”
6. “Walk with me to my car.” It’s interesting how much can be accomplished in 60 seconds.
7. The handoff. Like I said these secrets could get me taken out. Pastors could conspire against me for spilling their ministerial secrets.
By the way if you took this tongue-in-cheek blogpost too seriously and want to give me a suggestion I guarantee you one thing … I’ll pray about it.
Written by Greg Stier
Greg Stier is a husband, a father, a preacher, an author, a twitchy revolutionary and a fanatic for Jesus. He’s the President of Dare 2 Share Ministries which has led thousands of students to Jesus and equipped thousands more to reach their world with the gospel. He blogs at GregStier.org.
I have in front of me the names of 20 pastors I know well. It did not take me long to assemble the names by the specific trait I was seeking. Simply said, I wanted to find out what names I would write if I were looking for pastors who are joyful. The list was simple, easy and fun. Just noting each of their names brought a smile to my face.
Yes, I understand that such an exercise is highly subjective. I would not put my evidence before the rigors of scientific research. But I still think the results are worthy of note.
Having gathered the names, I then asked these questions: Why do I think each of these pastors is joyful? More specifically, what traits do I see in them that illustrate the joy that they have? I noted seven such traits.
1. They read their Bible daily. Their time in the Word is above and beyond sermon preparation time or teaching preparation time. They make certain they read and study the Bible for their own edification and spiritual growth.
2. They have a daily prayer time. All of them have quiet times alone with God. Many of them include their spouses in additional prayer times. They feel they cannot be the servants that God has called them to be unless they are in regular conversations with the God they serve.
3. They put their family time on their calendars. I mean that literally. They make certain that their children and spouses have time with them. Most of them have regular dates with their spouses and specific plans for their children each week.
4. They have a long-term perspective. These pastors understand that the criticism of today will be a non-issue tomorrow. They don’t feel the need to make disruptive changes because they have the luxury of an incremental pace. And they tend to develop rich relationships with members in the church because they plan to be around a while.
5. They love to work with and help other churches. They have no sense of competition with other churches in the community. Indeed, they willingly and gladly work alongside them. They have great relationships with fellow pastors who serve in the same ministry area.
6. They have a great sense of humor. I have spoken to each of the twenty pastors on my list on numerous occasions. It is rare for our conversations to end without some healthy laughter. These pastors take their ministries seriously, but they don’t take themselves too seriously. They are willing and eager to laugh at themselves.
7. They rarely blame others or their circumstances. These pastors never have a victim mentality. They take responsibility for their ministries and others. It is rare to hear them complain or engage in conversations about the inadequacies of others or the rotten situation they encountered.
The Apostle Paul wrote from a prison to the Philippian church: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: rejoice!” (Phil. 4:4, HCSB). His joy was not dependent on his circumstances. His joy was not measured by successes of human metrics. His joy was simply but profoundly in the Lord. So it is with these pastors.
They represent churches in 15 states. They serve in churches as small as 75 in attendance and as large as multiple thousands. Some have been in very difficult situations, while others have not. Regardless of their lot, they have all found joy in the Lord. The seven traits above are both the result of their joy and the cause of it.
These pastors are my heroes. I need to learn so much more from them.