When Preachers Suffer Self-Inflicted Wounds

Serving as a minister can be hard – very hard.  Yes, there are many situations where preachers and their families have been mistreated by their own congregation.  These are real situations and deserve our thought, attention, and prayer.

Yet, I don’t want to overlook another reality for many who preach.  This reality is the self-inflicted wound.  Some of us misbehave and do not model what it means to be a healthy or a Christ-like minister.  For example:

*One particular preacher would not respond to the elders of his congregation.  Their requests, regardless of how small, were generally met with pushback.  He said openly that he does not like dealing with elders or anyone who might have authority.  He has only been with the congregation for three years. (He was at his prior congregation two years.)  It appears that unless something changes, he will be asked to move on.

*Another preacher was known to have a volatile temper, particularly when he did not get his way.  He became incensed one night in an elders’ meeting and spoke sharply to two elders who had raised a few questions about an initiative that he proposed.

*In one congregation, a long-time minister attempted to manipulate several elders so that he might get what he wanted from the elder group.  Often, he would pay one or two elders a lot of attention outside their meetings, leading them to think they were “best friends” with this minister.  Whenever this minister had a complaint or a request, he would use these two to push his agenda in the elder group.  Eventually, these two elders differed with him on a particular matter and the “friendship” was over.  It took some of the elders years to see how they were being used.

*In still another congregation, a minister was known as being very difficult for the other ministers on staff to work with.  Volunteers at the church also found him difficult.  He was once asked about his stubbornness.  His response was “That’s just the way I am.”

These self-inflicted wounds damage marriages, friendships, and one’s ministry with the congregation.  They often reflect emotional immaturity instead of displaying emotional maturity.  Such wounds may cause a ministry at a congregation to end abruptly or prematurely.  The bottom line, however, is that this does not have to be this way.

Ministry is hard enough.  However, self-inflicted wounds sometimes defeat a ministry that would otherwise contribute to the spread of the kingdom in that city.

Monday Notes

(Various resources you might enjoy)

The following are some examples of what I read in the past week.  Perhaps some of these will be of interest to you.

Benny Hinn is my uncle but prosperity preaching isn’t for me,” Costi Hinn, Christianity Today, September 10, 2017.

Managers as Mentors,” Walter C. Wright, Comment, December 1, 2006.

Happiness Traps: How We Sabotage Ourselves At Work,” Annie McKee, Harvard Business Review, September-October 2017.

The Mainliner Who Made Me More Evangelical,” Russell Moore, Christianity Today, September 20, 2017.

Right now I am reading two books, That’s Not How We Do It Here! – John  Kotter and Teaching Fish to Walk – Peter L. Steinke.

Perhaps one of these will be helpful.  I listen to podcasts, read articles, and am usually reading a book or two.  Of course, I would love to hear about any resource that has been helpful, encouraging, or insightful.

How to Avoid Messing Up Your Future By Focusing on Today

You can’t have low standards for whom you date and high standards for whom you marry. Typically people do not date low and then marry high.  

This principle is true for so much of life.  Some of us like to envision a future for ourselves in which we live right, marry right, and raise up our children right.  We may envision a good life in which we enjoy life and God gains pleasure.

Someday.

In the meantime, we may live in a way in which such a future could be just an illusion.  In the present, we may think that we can pretty well do what we want and it will all work out later.  We may not flirt with others but we do flirt with the world.  The illusion is that we have everything under control.  It will all be different someday, we tell ourselves.

What some do not consider is what such a life (in the present) actually does to one’s heart. Jeremiah said that the heart was deceitful.  “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure” (Jeremiah 17:9).

What does my heart display when my aspiration about the future says one thing and my present behavior says another?

One day, I want to marry a godly man/woman.  (But today, I date men/women whose lives do not reflect a pursuit of godliness.)

One day, I want to give much money to help the poor.  (But today, I spend much money on random purchases and impulsive buying.)

One day, I want to grow and mature in Jesus.  (But today, my attention is focused on my physical appearance and showing others that I still have got it.)

One day, I want to be a person who is passionate about being a kingdom influence on other people.  (But today, my heart is preoccupied with wanting the things of this world.)

One day, I want to make a godly difference in another’s life and character.  (But today, I am more known by my efforts to gain attention for myself.)

One day, I want to speak words of encouragement and grace to others.  (But today, my speech seems to be mostly focused on myself.)

Today is the day in which I need to live with the values that I envision being a part of my life one day.

Today is the day in which I need to deal with my life through repentance and Spirit empowered transformation.

Today is the day to start becoming the kind of person I really want to be someday.

Today.

 

 

 

10 Game Changers for Christian Leaders

1.   The very best thing you have to offer a church is your own transforming self. (Credit to Ruth Haley Barton for this language.) That is, you are a person who is in the process of being shaped and transformed into the image of Christ.

2.   Manage yourself.  You can spend much of your life doing little more than emotionally reacting to your past.  As a result, much of life can be spent projecting or blaming others for your lot in life.  Or, you spend your life repeating old, negative patterns of behavior from the past.

3.  You have learned something but it is important to keep on learning.  There is no reason to think you have nothing to offer.  You have learned something.  At the same time, there is no reason to be smug and arrogant.  After all, there is much that we can still learn. We have learned and we are learning.

4.  Smile.  You may be brilliant.  You may be accomplished.  You may be successful.  Yet, you will not have the influence with some that you otherwise might have if you would simply smile and be more approachable.

5.  Never underestimate what others can teach you.  You can learn something from all kinds of people.  Beware of underestimating what another can teach you.

6.  Choose to have a great attitude.  You may be unhappy at work.  You may be unhappy with your job.  You may be unhappy with where you live.  However, when your unhappiness begins to impact your attitude, you are on a self-defeating journey.  By the grace of God, you and I can choose to have a good attitude.  When you have a good attitude, you may even bring energy into the room.  In fact, others will often want to be around you.

7.  Take personal temptation seriously.  Beware of doing something stupid which may bring about negative consequences for decades to come.  Humble people take personal temptation seriously.

8.  Pay attention to others.  Far too many of us are completely self-absorbed.  We talk on and on about ourselves and pay little if any attention to others.  Pay attention to the person checking you out at the grocery store or Starbucks.  Pay attention to the person right in front of you.  Paying attention to another is one way to get out of yourself and get into the life and concern of another.

9.  Read.  Read.  Read.  Perhaps you don’t like to read.  Then read for just ten minutes a day.  If you are reading for ten minutes a day, this will add up very quickly.  Over time you might be amazed at how much you have read just from this daily discipline.

10.  Rest.  Take a day off.  Sleep.  Go to the gym.  Take a walk.  Do something joyful.  Taking care of one’s self honors the creator.

“I Was Just Kidding”

(Refuse to let a critical spirit spoil your marriage)

A regular stream of critical words has a way of taking the joy out of a marriage.  A marriage in which a husband and wife regularly criticizes one another can feel like you are being nibbled to death by a duck.

Sometimes we will level a criticism toward our spouse followed by the words, “I was just kidding.”  Often this is a passive aggressive way of not taking responsibility for what was just said.  Slowly but surely, such criticisms have a way of poisoning the atmosphere of a marriage.

Consider:

A husband has been working very hard in the yard during much of a hot summer day.  Finally, he comes inside, pleased with the improvement in the yard.  Meanwhile, his spouse goes outside to look at the front yard.  The very first thing she says in response to his work is, “Well aren’t you going to clean up the flower bed on the side of the house?  It looks awful!  It’s embarrassing!”  Wow.  No affirmation or appreciation for what has been done.  Instead, the first word is a critical remark that basically says, “I see what you’ve done but it doesn’t measure up.”

Now of course there is a time in which this spouse could express her desire that he address the flower bed on the side of the house.  Yet, when we immediately choose criticism over appreciation and gratitude, this probably isn’t going to be received well.

That Saturday evening, this couple eats a nice meal at home. She has prepared a roast that has cooked much of the day.  She has also prepared several vegetable dishes and a nice salad.  At the conclusion of the dinner, he asks about desert.  After learning there is no desert, he makes a big deal about never having desert.  Instead of expressing appreciation and affirmation for what she has done, he immediately begins complaining.  No thank you.  No words of appreciation.  Just complaining.  This kind of response gets old, very quickly.

Three Important Behaviors for Any Church Leader

Have you ever looked at your to-do list and felt totally overwhelmed?

I certainly have.  Years ago, I thought the answer was to just work harder.  I soon learned that I was missing certain priorities.

If you are church leader (or businessperson), you may have had a similar experience.  Yet, in all of the things you might have on your list, there are three behaviors which are especially important.  These three originated (for me) with Dr. Edwin Friedman who wrote Generation to Generation and A Failure of Nerve.

Be a calm presence.  

There is often much anxiety in congregations.  Various people want this or that.  Some may threaten to leave.  Others make demands and ultimatums.  Often a group of elders will want a new minister to carry the anxiety that is already in their group.  “If we just had a great minister. . .” They may want this person to fix the congregation or make up for their own dysfunction. Sometimes, it is the minister who is very anxious and carries into the elder group the anxiousness he feels over what various church members are saying.  It might be nice if this person was a non-anxious presence.   Perhaps it might be good if this person could at least be a less-anxious presence in the congregation.

Far too often, church leaders contribute to the anxiety in the church.  Perhaps several families leave the congregation in one month with each family saying they are leaving because  of their small children.  In some congregations, there would immediately be hand-wringing in the next elders’ meeting with someone declaring that “we must do something immediately.”  A quick, rash decision is made and a hurried announcement is made on a Sunday morning about a change in the congregation.  Often, there will then be considerable push-back from the congregation.  Quick, rash decisions are not usually the way to deal with anxiety in a church.

Stay connected.

When a congregation (or any other group) experiences anxiety, church leaders might be tempted to disconnect emotionally from those with whom they are having the greatest conflict.  In other words, if I have conflict with a particular elder or minister, I may begin to look for ways to disconnect with him physically and emotionally.  The temptation to disconnect may occur when a church announces a new project or initiative and then receives push-back by the church members. The minister might even become embroiled in an anxious dispute with the elders in an us-versus-them conflict.  He may disconnect from them emotionally and then wonder why things are getting even worse.

It is so important to stay connected (emotionally) as much as possible with the people in your church, even those who don’t necessarily agree with you on very much.  This doesn’t mean you have to be “close” or great friends.  However, one can take the initiative to prevent cut-offs and complete disconnections.

Have a position.

Staying connected with others does not mean that you do not have a “self.”  Some ministers/elders try to ride the fence on most everything.  If cutting myself off from those with whom I disagree with is on one end of a continuum, the other end might be those church leaders who attempt to lead by trying to be whatever any group in the church wants me to be.  In other words, this particular leader loses his identity in whatever group he happens to be with.

Perhaps some attempt to do this in an effort to be a peacemaker.  However, peacemaking is usually not the end result of such efforts.  These efforts basically reflect that the church leader is willing to abandon any sense of leading in order to avoid conflict.  In other words, he is willing to sacrifice progress over peace.  Ironically, true peace is really not the result of such efforts.

It is far better to state where you are in your thinking while valuing everyone else in the congregation whether they hold your position or not.

Leadership is hard work.  It begins with learning to manage yourself.  These three behaviors are very important if a congregation is going to be able to make any progress.

 

When Sunday Morning is Just Too Silent

Many of us who have been a part of churches for years know all too well about the silence.

I was a young minister.  Actually, I was a young minister, husband, and father.  Not much experience in any phase of life.  The one thing I knew with certainty is that I had a lot to learn.

One afternoon, a guy called my office saying that he wanted to come by and talk.  He told me that a friend of his referred him to me.  He said that he had never visited our congregation and that he was the general manager of a local restaurant.  Hours later, that afternoon, I saw him wheel his new yellow corvette into our parking lot and get out. He was handsome and well dressed.  I knew immediately that I did not like him.

I didn’t like him because of anything he did, but because I was dissatisfied with my life.   We were barely getting by financially and had school loans to pay off.  I was preaching for a small congregation and quite frankly felt sorry for myself.  Now this guy, driving a new yellow Corvette, is well dressed, and in my mind must have it made.

He sat down in my office and began to cry.  I was stunned.  Again, I was so focused on my own self-pity that I wasn’t fully present with him.  He then explained.  HIs wife and young children were leaving him with plans to divorce him.  He had been involved in affairs and made other mistakes.  He said, “I would give up everything if I could just have them back.”

Over the next few years, I learned that churches are full of people who are having a difficult time with life.  For many people, life is just hard.  Now perhaps you have never gone through a chapter of life that is hard.  I can assure you that many whom you are with every day find life to be hard.

Yet, on Sunday mornings, there is often silence regarding life being challenging as it is to so many. In fact, those who find life to be hard may look around on a Sunday morning or take a glance at Facebook and wonder if they are the only ones.

Five Lies You Shouldn’t Ever Believe

Many of us listen to lies that we really shouldn’t ever believe.  The following are five examples.

1.  You are not worth very much.  This message may have had its beginning with a harsh father or an overpowering uncle.  Years ago in Kansas City, I heard a father next door scream at his five-year-old.  He then began to tell her how sorry and worthless she was, using vile, degrading language.  Years later, I wonder about the memories that this young adult harbors.  Perhaps it is the bully who communicates to you just how stupid you are and treats you with hostility and contempt.  These are all lies.  The truth is that you are precious in the eyes of God, created in his image.  You are deeply loved by God.

2.  Your past mistakes disqualify you from God ever choosing to work through you.  The evil one would like for you to believe that no one is like you.  No one has made the mistakes you have.  No good person is ever tempted the way you are.  You may think, “What is wrong with me?  Surely no other person is like me.”  Yet, God’s grace is greater than the week you spent in jail, greater than the drug issues you had in the past, greater than the affair you had five years ago.  God’s forgiveness is larger than any failure in your past.  Your past does not have to define you for the rest of your life.  Your past may be littered with rebellion and sin.  Yet, through his powerful forgiveness and grace as he sees your brokenness, God can use you in the future.

“We Are Certainly Not Lacking Any Confidence Are We”

Some years ago, a friend of mine said to me after a certain young minister preached, “Well, we are certainly not lacking any confidence are we?”

I understand what my friend meant.  This young minister certainly did not appear uneasy.  In fact, his manner, his body language, and his words indicated that if anything, he was quite self-assured.  He had a certain cockiness that some thought was funny.  He spoke way beyond his experiences and his years.  It was awkward and almost embarrassing.  There was a certainty and self-assuredness that communicated that he really had not experienced much of life.

Fortunately, I can point to a number of young ministers with a very different spirit.  I know young ministers who love Scripture, are passionate for the Lord, and who exude humility as they talk about the human condition.  These young ministers are likely to ask others for their counsel and input regarding situations and chapters in life they have never experienced.

They do not have an unhealthy self-consciousness which seems to be preoccupied with appearance, image, style, etc.  Rather, these ministers seem to have a very healthy God-consciousness that goes way beyond referring to Jesus, talking about spiritual formation, etc.

When they preach, they call attention to Jesus instead of themselves.

May their tribe increase.

On Refusing to Live a Hurried Life

I was a young minister.  I had a few appointments and a few calls to return.  I had a lunch meeting scheduled that day.  For some reason, in those years, I thought that the busier I was, the more I was accomplishing.  Decades later, as I think about my motives for this pace of ministry, this was partially a desire to be effective.  I suspect there were also some dark motives related to my ego.

In his fine book, An Unhurried Life (p. 8), Alan Fadling writes:

As I’ve traveled this journey, a few words of counsel have guided me.  I remember reading what John Ortberg was told during a season of ministry transition in his life: “You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.”  (John Ortberg, The Life You’ve Always Wanted, p. 81).  Connecting ruthlessness and unhurry has always been a fruitful piece of spiritual direction for me.  In the Life You’ve Always Wanted (p. 84), Ortberg suggests that “hurry is not just a disordered schedule.  Hurry is a disordered heart.”  And I agree.  When I’m talking about hurried and unhurried, I’m not just talking about miles per hour, I’m talking about the anxious, driven frantic heart.