The Bully

(Relationships, Marriages, Churches)

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Bullies seem to be everywhere.

Some are married.  Some are single.  They come in all ages and from various economic and ethnic groups.  You may work with a bully.  You may have one in your family.  Even assembling with your church may not be an escape from a bully. A bully can even be a church leader.

So what does a bully do?

  1. A bully relies on power and control, either physically, emotionally or both.
  2. A bully convinces another that the only option he or she has is to give in to his demands.
  3. A bully can be mean, especially if you do not yield to his power.
  4. A bully can be charming.  At any moment, he can turn on the charm or be especially cruel.
  5. A bully thinks he is more intelligent than you.  He thinks he has more to offer than you. He believes he is right.
  6. A bully is convinced that he is one of the few who really gets it.
  7. A bully wants to get his way and will use any number of weapons to do so.
  8. A bully is low on empathy. Yet, he can become teary eyed or enraged, whatever the situation seems to require. Often, this emotion is not due to empathy but rather is being used as a means to get what he wants.

The bully attempts to dominate by intimidation, power, and control. Yet, what confuses some is that the bully can turn on the charm. Yet that charm can quickly turn into emotional venom if another displeases the bully.

What a Minister Can Learn from a Congregation

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Many ministers learn a great deal from the people they serve.  Others seem to learn very little. Much of the time, this says more about the minister than the congregation.

Ministers typically have a front row seat to the congregation.  This is a wonderful opportunity for a minister to grow, mature, and learn. Unfortunately, some miss opportunities for growth and development.

The following are a few realities I have learned from congregations where I have served.

I learned from some of our business people the importance of process.  Far too often, ministers and elders completely ignore any sense of processing an issue with a congregation.   For example, perhaps the congregational leadership has spent 4 – 6 months talking and praying about a major mission project.  This would be a major undertaking for the congregation requiring a significant financial commitment.  Finally, they decide to bring this project before the congregation.  The preacher preaches a few sermons and then an elder makes an announcement about starting this new project. Then the leadership seems stunned when the congregation has reservations or resists this particular initiative. While the leadership has had plenty of time to process this mission possibility, there doesn’t seem to be any sense of a process for the congregation.  Yet, this will be a major undertaking for these people requiring a significant commitment.

I learned from several business leaders in congregations the importance of process as it relates to leadership.  At least some of the conflict that congregations experience could be managed better if leaders would simply pay more attention to process.

I learned from some in these congregations about the depth and complexity of the pain they deal with.  Oh my goodness! Did I ever underestimate this as a young minister!  Yet, walking with so many through various situations has given me the opportunity to learn and grow.

Some in the congregation will talk about what is taking place in their families. Some will confide in a few close friends or perhaps one of the church leaders.  Far too many simply sit in silence.

I learned from these congregations what makes preaching helpful and effective.   I have read many preaching books and other works which discuss particular aspects of preaching.  Many of these have been helpful.  Yet, there is much to be learned from the people themselves about what kind of preaching is helpful and what is not.  I am not suggesting that one allow a group of people to necessarily determine one’s entire approach to preaching.  Rather, I am suggesting that we strongly factor into the mix what we might be learning from these people.   As a preacher, I have to ask, “Is my preaching connecting with this particular group of people?”

I learned from so many people that God could use me even as an ordinary human being.  I have known a few ministers who seemed intent on proving to the church that they could be just as coarse and crude as anyone else.  Perhaps they thought they would be perceived by others in the congregation as more human.  Perhaps this was a reaction to the way ministers are sometimes perceived by others. The perception by some is that they are almost superhuman -above and immune to temptation.  As a result, some ministers become far too self-conscious as they try to create a particular image or persona before the congregation.

I think it is far more important that a minister simply live as a human being among a congregation. No need to prove that you are human with flaws, shortcomings, and sins.  Many people will become aware of this all too soon.

 

Monday Start: Resources for the Week

coffee_cup-1.jpg(Today is Martin Luther King Jr. day.  As our nation remembers the work of Dr. King, it is also a time for all of us who are believers to remember that the church is called to model relationships, regardless of race, where the Gospel shapes who we are and the way we treat one another.)

The following are resources you may find helpful.  I have read most of these in the last few weeks.

Writing

See “Top 10 Writing Quotes to get you started in 2016.”  I mention this because I regularly look for brief quotes that are inspirational and motivating.  Usually in a list like this, I will find at least one quote that I connect with.

Ministry

If you are a Christian leader in any sense of these two words, I would encourage you to read The Emotionally Healthy Leader by Peter Scazzero.  I have read all of Scazzero’s books and each one has ministered to me in some way.  This particular book is his most recent and may be his best.

Productivity

See this excellent article from Inc magazine: “10 Habits Remarkable People Give Up Every Day.” Helpful.

J. I. Packer

I have admired J. I. Packer for many years.  See “J. I. Packer, 89, Losing Sight But Seeing Christ.” Many years ago, I was a young minister and was dealing with a few people who had a perspective on the Christian faith that was unfamiliar to me.  I discovered a discussion regarding this perspective in one of Packer’s earlier books.  I wrote Packer and asked for clarification regarding this discussion.  Within days, he faxed (remember the “fax” machine?) a very helpful letter to me.  I have always been grateful.

Fear

In October, I read a piece by David Brooks in which he asked the question, “Who would you be and what would you do if you weren’t afraid?”  What a wonderful sentence to reflect on at the beginning of a new year!

Reading

I am a regular reader of Comment journal.  Typically I read the print version but they have recently upgraded their website where you can access past issues of the journal.

I especially enjoy the regular series by James K. A. Smith in which he reflects on books, articles, and various topics.  (I find him interesting, helpful, and thoughtful).  See his most recent article, “World View: An Annotated Reading of Your World.”

 

 

Marriage and Ministry

Choosing Well or Choosing Poorly?

choose-well-logo_cropDo you know people who have a reputation for choosing poorly?

A woman chooses a spouse.  Her friends are shocked at her choice.  She always said that she would marry someone godly and mature.  Now she has begun to rationalize.  She is convinced that “he has a good heart” and the potential to change.  Besides “He’s cute!”

A minister chooses a new congregation.  His minister friends are stunned by his choice.  He always said that he wanted to serve a church that was more of a fit than his previous congregation. At this point, however, he has begun to rationalize.  He is convinced that the elders in the new congregation are more serious than ever about reaching people in the city.  He believes they have the potential to change from what they have been.  Perhaps.  It might do him well to pay attention to their history.

Some people choose poorly again and again.

When I was in graduate school, I took a number of marriage and family therapy classes.  I recall a lecture from one of my favorite professors as he talked about the importance of choosing well.

He said, “When it comes to marriage some people make bad choices again and again.”  I would argue that the same is true for some ministers.  Some ministers, repeatedly, make very bad choices regarding the churches they agree to serve.

Perhaps some self-reflection and self-awareness might be helpful in making these choices.

“What is there in me that causes me to continue to make very poor choices regarding my relationships?”

Or, as a minister, I might be more discretionary and steer away from choosing a church that is a poor fit and dysfunctional.  Yet there are people who almost seem to be most satisfied when there is some kind of drama going on.  Could it be that drama feeds something within me?  Or, perhaps I am just choosing poorly.

What can you do to choose well?

  • Listen to the wise and godly people in your life.  Refusing to listen to the wise and godly people in your life is like driving down the expressway at 60 mph with your eyes closed so you don’t have to see potential problems.
  • Don’t let desperation cause you to lower your standards and jump into something unwise.  Many people have made hasty decisions only to eventually experience even more pain and heartache.
  • Listen to the people who really love you.  What do the people who love you say about the relationship that you are about to step into?  If you are becoming defensive with these people, what is happening within you for you to react this way.
  • Let new relationships be based on history, not potential.  So many women marry men based on potential.  Sometimes, a woman marries a man and he then becomes her project to encourage and prod that he might reach his potential.  Likewise, some ministers do the same when they agree to serve a congregation because of  potential, while ignoring its history. A person’s history or a church’s history is a more accurate gauge of what they are apt to be like in the future.

Of course, one can choose well and it is still no guarantee that marriage or the ministry will be full of joy and peace.  One can choose well and others can later make choices which may end up being destructive and hurtful.  We can, however, seek to choose with wisdom and good discernment.  Even then, we bring these big decisions before the Father in prayer.

Don’t Murder Your Minister

crimesceneI have known ministers who were wonderful people, but some attempted to murder their ministry a long time ago.

Most people in the churches I’ve ministered with treated me quite well.  Some of the best people I have known are in the churches I’ve served with in Alabama, Missouri, and Texas.

However. . .

I have known far too many ministers whose lives were made difficult by a certain man or woman in their congregation who seemed to be doing their best to hurt and even cause their minister to leave the congregation.  I once visited a congregation where an older woman boasted of helping to “run off” the last preacher.

I have become aware of ministers who were wounded by some in their own congregation instead of the congregation working together to encourage their ministers and give them life.

This is not an invitation for ministers to become overly self-conscious.  The best ministers I know are not self-absorbed, nor are they full of self-pity.

Yet, do you know that a few people can do great damage to a minister and even participate in murdering something very important in this person’s life?  I am convinced that the evil one has fostered great damage in churches through what a few members have done to its spiritual leaders.

Some have participated in murdering a minister’s confidence.  I knew a young minister and his family.  He was a fine person, gifted, and a hard worker.  He graduated from a school where he studied Bible, ministry, and related subjects.  He worked with a good church while he was in school.  After graduation, he left for his first full-time ministry job with a small church close to the area where he grew up.  Yet, his ministry with that church lasted less than two years.

Eight Ways to End the Year Well

(New Year's Eve)

NewYearAhead300*Take a fierce inventory of your habits.  What are some defeating or even ungodly habits that need to change?  What are a few positive, life giving habits that could be put in place?

*Get brutally honest with yourself about your role as a husband or wife, father or mother.  Are you taking the initiative to do the right thing as a husband or wife?  Or, are you passively waiting for your spouse?   Are you sarcastic, angry, passive aggressive, or manipulative with your spouse? Would your spouse say that you are overly critical or negative?  Do you tend to be selfish and stubborn?  Are you a moody person and emotionally unpredictable?

Men, by the grace of God, consider stepping up and being a heroic husband or father.  The heroes are not those guys you see with numbers on the back of their jerseys on Sunday afternoons.

The heroes are husbands and fathers who dare to do what they’ve been called to do by God!    

*Take care of unfinished business from 2015.  Have you made certain promises that you’ve not kept?  Do you tend to say you are going to do something but often do not follow through?  Have you intended to apologize to someone but for some reason have not?  Does your spouse feel like you haven’t followed through on some commitments you made to him or her? Do your children remember unfulfilled promises?

*Check your spiritual GPS.  Are you headed in the right direction in your life?  Do you take responsibility for your life?  Or do you tend to blame your spouse, your parents, your boss, etc. for the condition of your life?

*Refuse to live one more day engaging in passive aggressive behavior!  This kind of behavior is neither mature or Christ-like.  Some examples:

  • One husband made a joke about the messiness of their home deliberately embarrassing his wife in front of their friends.
  • A wife made a big deal, in front of her adult siblings, about something her husband needed to repair but had not.  Of course, he was very embarrassed.
  • A family was talking about which restaurant to go to for dinner.  Mom and two daughters wanted to go to a particular place.  The father did not want to go there.  They went anyway. After dinner they returned home.  He sat in his recliner for much of the evening, refusing to speak to his family and pouting about the evening.

*Get honest about the sin in your life.  Consider where the evil one might have a “foot in the door.”  Look for behaviors that you might be justifying in reaction to what someone else has done.  For example, I once knew someone who justified taking supplies from work because “they don’t pay us what they should.”  Consider your thoughts during the past few weeks.  Bring before God any ungodly fantasy that you might be harboring.

*Believe that God is able and willing to move mightily in your life during 2016.  What was 2015 like for you?  Perhaps it was one of your best years ever!  Or, 2015 may have been a year of failure, frustration, and defeat.  Regardless, God is able and willing to move through you in 2016.  Refuse to get stuck in 2016.  The last chapter in your life has not yet been written!

 

 

Don’t Let Shame & Regret Ruin Your Hope

(End the Year With Hope instead of Defeat)

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For a long time, I thought that one day, I would be exposed, humiliated, and shamed before everyone.

I imagined that on Judgement day, God would turn on a projector and would show my mother, dad, grandparents,  and the people in our church a picture of all my sins.  Every sordid, humiliating detail would be right there for all to see, exposing me as a complete fraud.  This is what I thought for many years as a child.

I had not understood God.  I had not understood his forgiveness.

Yet, the evil one wants to constantly remind us of our guilt and shame.  At the close of a year, it is easy to become focused on the failure of the previous year (or even the previous decade).  If we are not careful, we can become more focused on defeat than on Jesus who died for our sin.

Priscilla Shirer in her fine book, Fervent, writes

If I were your enemy, I’d constantly remind you of your past mistakes and poor choices.  I’d want to keep you burdened by shame and guilt, in hopes you’ll feel incapacitated by your many failings and see no point in even trying again.  I’d work to convince you that you’ve had your chance and blown it–that your God may be able to forgive some people for some things, but not you . . . not for this (p. 93).

The evil one is the father of lies.  At first he attempts to seduce us to do what we know is wrong. However, once we yield, he turns on us like a rabid dog and attacks us with accusation and shame.

The Daddy I Don’t Want to Be

9407_0009_webCharlotte and I have two children.  Actually, they are now two women. They each have children and families of their own. This is hard for me to grasp as it seems like yesterday they were small and I was trying to figure out what it means to be a dad.

Now many years later, I have learned much about being a father.  I have also become more aware that I still have much to learn.  I am grateful for having some very good role models. In each congregation we served (over three and a half decades), I watched some fathers who took this role very seriously.  I also learned from some who unfortunately squandered many of their opportunities for influencing their child for God.

One of the most powerful ways that a father impacts his children is through the way he treats his wife, their mother.  Little boys and girls learn much from watching and listening to their daddy. These impressionable children can have a front row seat to witness how a Christian father values and cherishes their mother.

Instead, some boys and girls grow up seeing their daddy do the following:

  • They hear their daddy talk to their mother in a way that is condescending and dismissive.
  • They hear their daddy speak to their mother as if she lacked intelligence.
  • They witness their daddy use the children to manipulate their mother.
  • They hear their daddy call their mother demeaning names.
  • They see their daddy laugh as he makes fun of their mother.  He excuses his humor as “just having a little fun.”
  • They witness their daddy treat their mother as if she were of little worth.

What I Wish I Had Known When Our Children Were Born

 

SullyCharlotte and I have two daughters and a son-in-law.  We now have three grandchildren! Little Sully was born to Jamie and Cal just the other day.  As I drove home from Oklahoma City yesterday, I thought about what I wish I had known when our children were born.  Like others, Charlotte and I were trying to figure out what we needed to do as parents.  In spite of the way it may appear at times, no parent has this figured out.  Good parents are constantly learning.

What I wish I had known when our children were born:

The best gift two parents can give their child is for them to love each other.  If a husband and wife love, care for, and cherish one another, they have given their children a precious gift.  Children watch their parents closely.  Often parents think their kids do not overhear unkind words or see the menacing looks. Typically, children don’t miss very much.  They see the way their daddy treats their mother and the way their mother treats their daddy.  You cannot talk your way out of problems that you have created.  You can’t explain away the contempt you have for one another.

On the other hand, when children see that their mom and dad are tender toward one another and that they cherish each other, they experience a special kind of security.  When they see that their daddy adores and treasures their mother (and vice versa), they are witnessing something that can positively impact them for a long time.

Some of the very best parents I’ve known were single parents.  Some became single because of the death of their spouse. Others experienced divorce.  At almost every church we have served, there were single parents who gave their all for their children.  It is tough to be a single parent and yet so many raise their children in homes of joy and contentment.

How to Damage a Perfectly Good Relationship

anger2Have you ever known someone who unnecessarily damaged what was otherwise a good relationship?

Far too often men and women will unleash their anger on the people closest to them.  Perhaps it is someone in the family, a friend, or someone at church.  What transpires is often hurtful, damaging, and sinful.

Examples:

  1. The young couple who unleash their fury on one another cussing at one another and calling one another vile, degrading names.  Yes, this couple is typically in church on Sunday.
  1. The teenage boy who torments his insecure sister making fun of her weight and appearance. Yet, this same young man is often known as a very sweet and kind boy by some of his teachers at school.
  1. A group of people went into an elders’ meeting one evening angrily demanding that the preacher be fired. At one point, one of them cussed and demanded the elder group do what he requested.  Yet this same group will later tell you that they “love” every one of these elders.
  1. The married adult daughter of an older woman in the church regularly talks harshly to her mother.  Her mother is in poor health.  Yet, this daughter is often rude, abrupt, and hurtful.  Among many of her friends, however, she is known as sensitive and kind.
  1. A man in the congregation verbally attacks a friend whom he has known for years.  His friend was stunned at the man’s accusations.  A week later, the same man acted as if nothing had ever happened.

It is almost like we give ourselves special permission to talk to particular people in a manner that we would never speak to most people in our lives.  We will say things like “I know I shouldn’t say this, but . . . .”  What comes after the “but” is often deadly to a relationship.

Some seem to think that the words or behavior of another gives them the right to say what they want in return.

Not exactly the way of Jesus.