What Your Preacher May Not Tell You

shushRecently, I was with a number of ministers from across the country. Many of them were fairly young.  I would guess that most of these young ministers are conscientious people who want to do the right thing for their church.

I have preached for over three decades. I know many preachers. Most of them are good people.  The following are some realities of ministry that may not fit every single minister, but it is certainly characteristic of so many of us.

  1. Your preacher may not tell you about how difficult this task really is.  Of course it is true that there are some lazy ministers who do not honor their calling through their lack of a work ethic.  However, most ministers I know work very, very hard.  Most work long hours.  When I was a young minister, I remember hearing several times someone use the old line about preachers working one hour a week.  Those were awkward moments for me.  I knew how hard I was working.  I knew the stress I felt.  Somehow, this old line was supposed to be funny or relevant.  I never quite understood that.
  2. Your preacher may not tell you how hurtful and frustrating some remarks really are.  Some years ago, we were seconds away from beginning our morning service.  I was about to say, “Good morning!  I am glad you are here.”  I was standing at the front of our auditorium, on the floor, just about to speak, when a lady in the second or third pew said aloud to me “I am so angry with you!”  I was not expecting that at all.  I paused for a few minutes and then said “Good morning!”  However, her comment felt like someone had let all the air out of my spirit for the morning.  I talked with her later and things were made right.  It’s important to choose words that encourage rather than harm.
  3. Your preacher may not tell you how difficult it is to preach week after week. Someone asked me a few years ago, “Jim, how do you come up with new and fresh material week after week?”  I don’t remember my answer.  However, after thinking about his question for a few years, I realize that whatever he saw in my preaching each week reflected many hours of prayer, paying attention to the congregation and culture, reading, and intentional growth.  Know that most preachers don’t simply have the gift of gab.  Rather, they work hard.
  4. Your preacher may not tell you that he is right in the middle of life right along with you.  Marriage concerns.  Child concerns.  Dealing with aging parents.  Health issues. Problems with siblings.  Financial issues.  Problems with elders, etc.
  5. Your preacher may not tell you that he is a person who probably needs encouragement.  Yes, in most congregations, there are people who are generally very encouraging to their preacher.  However, I believe that elders often underestimate how much encouragement their preacher needs.  Quite often preachers (particularly in small to medium sized churches) deal with many troubled people, address family issues in the congregation, and minister to the sick and dying.  Encouraging words help greatly. Some congregations may have a couple of people who are constant critics.  Unfortunately, in far too many congregations, the people who love their preacher and appreciate his ministry are silent.  They don’t criticize.  They don’t praise.  They say absolutely nothing.   If you appreciate the person who is preaching to your church each week, it might mean so much if you were to express encouragement to them in person or through a note.

How to Murder Your Own Ministry

church144-300x300There are many ways a person can murder one’s own ministry.  Sometimes ministers self-destruct by unwise choices and decisions.  Ministers who serve on a staff at a church can kill a perfectly good ministry through foolish words and actions. Sometimes such choices result in a minister being “fired” or “let go” from a church.  Yet, in some situations one might self-destruct and yet continue to stay in the same role for years.

A minister can get intoxicated by his own sense of self-importance.

This person can begin to believe that since he is retweeted regularly on Twitter or invited to speak at out of state events, that he is important and unlike the ordinary people.  This is the person who might place in his own biography, “He is a highly sought after speaker.”  Really?

A minister can regularly function by asking for forgiveness from others rather than asking their permission.

Do what you want to do knowing that later if you appear to be contrite, you will be forgiven.  After all, this person reasons, it is far easier to get forgiveness than go through the process of getting permission.  Of course, this person might never use the word “manipulation” to describe such  may never be used.  Yet, this is manipulation.

A minister can become focused on money for his own gain.  

This minister may move to a different church primarily due to a larger salary.  Or, this minister might keep score as he learns about the salaries of other ministers.  The problem is not money per se.  There is certainly nothing wrong with trying to support your family.  However, one can become totally focused on financial gain.

A minister can give himself permission to do what is apparently wrong for everyone else to do.

Through rationalization and self-justification, this minister may give himself permission to think too much about a particular woman in the church or community.  Instead of protecting his marriage, he seems to be playing with fire.  He pridefully rationalizes, “I’ve done nothing wrong. I’m not even tempted.”

Yet, instead of dealing with the temptation, he seems to be getting as close as he dare.  Then one day he says, “I never thought this would happen to me.”

A minster can self-destruct in relationships with elders.

A younger minister would do well to find out why ministers sometimes have difficulty in their relationships with elders. In fact, this person might become a student of such relationships.  What are ministers doing in churches where these relationships seem to work well?  Are they doing something intentional or do they just have a good group of elders?

A minister can be a taker instead of a giver.

You know the givers.  These are the generous people.  They consider how they might encourage and help others.  Then, there are the takers.  These are the ministers who seem to always concerned about who gets the credit.  They want to position themselves to be able to be seen by any large urban congregation that might be looking for a preacher.  As one guy said to me, “I’ve got to keep my resume up to date.  I’m ok with the church I’m with but I want to be ready in case one of the large churches has an open position.”  When ministers model “taking” as a legitimate form of ministry, they are modeling before the church anything but servant leadership.


When Ministers Lose Their Focus

woody-selfieMost ministers who I know are good people.  In fact, some of the best people I know serve as ministers in churches.  Many preach and some serve in other roles.

Ministers have the opportunity to influence other ministers as well as the elders of the congregation by what they model in their professional life as well as in their private life.

Some ministers are overly concerned with their visibility and their status among others instead of focusing on their character.

As a result, some ministers become preoccupied with things that just don’t matter that much. Some may keep score.  “They asked him to keynote a lecture at Pepperdine again!”  Or, maybe you see that your friend is preaching at a number of churches over the next few months and you can’t believe they asked this person instead of you.  Or, you find yourself checking to see how many Twitter followers that a certain preacher has or how many Facebook friends this person has. 

When the forming of our character is ignored, it may show up privately, publicly or both.  Privately, one may begin to harbor grudges, resentment, and hatred for others.  Or, you may begin to make poor personal choices and give yourself the license to follow your lusts.  Quite often this means opening the door to pornography.  Once that door is open, it is often quite difficult to ever get it closed again.

When we ignore the building of our character, it may show up publicly, perhaps in the way we do ministry.  We may lie about the attendance at our church.  We may exaggerate the good things that happen at our church.  Many ministers take short-cuts. Some plagiarize sermons while others practice manipulation and dishonesty with the elders or a congregation. 

Street Smarts for Church Leaders

6794440-free-street-wallpaper1.  In many church buildings, there is a designated meeting room for key leaders in the congregation. In some churches, this will be the meeting room or conference room where the elders/ministers meet. In other churches this may be where the ministry team or the ministry staff meets. Early one morning, a minister was walking by himself through the church building. He happened to step into the meeting room where he had met with his elder group on many occasions through the years. As he entered that empty room and turned on the light, he was startled by what came out of his mouth.

“I hate this room.”

He thought about what he had just said. He knew why he had said this. This room was filled with so many unpleasant memories for him. As he thought about this room and his experiences, the feeling was depressing and sad. How sad! Yet, I have had enough conversations with ministers and elders to know that too many feel this way. The memories of many of those meetings are often not good.

Why are we not intentional about building better memories of time spent together as key leaders?

Why do we not build better memories of dreaming together and considering ways to participate in God’s kingdom?

Why are these gatherings not more about sharing stories of what God has done in our church and community?

Why not build memories of key leaders coming together to point out the good in one another and to encourage one another? I raise these questions because I really think ministers/elders could be much more intentional about building this kind of environment.

2. Periodically, I spend some time reflecting on my life and the state of my overall being. In particular, I am looking for gaps or perhaps a signal that something is being neglected. For example, I know ministers who are very disciplined readers but completely ignore their bodies. While they develop their minds, they get no exercise and have a poor diet. Some of these same people are very serious about what they read but then will laugh about neglecting their bodies.

I reflect on the various dimensions of my life and consider what I might be neglecting. Am I neglecting the development of my mind? Am I neglecting key relationships? Am I neglecting my emotions? This kind of self-reflection has been very important to me.

3. In ministry, trust is EVERYTHING. If you are with a congregation for any length of time, people will come to know you. They will know if you are trustworthy. They will know whether you tend to reveal what others have told you in confidence. They will know whether or not you are safe. They will know whether or not you really care. They will know.

Four Essential Practices for Any Church Leader


The following are four essential practices for any church leader.  In fact, these might be helpful to any Christ-follower.

1.  Take care of your mind.  Too many ministers do not read widely and consequently get stuck in a mental rut. Some read only the latest books from well-known preachers.  The mind, however, needs exercise.  For many years I have read widely. This started many years ago when I would spend one afternoon every two weeks in the local university library.  There I would survey national news magazines along with material that provided commentary from various perspectives.  I skimmed the New York Times (Sunday Edition) regularly along with the Wall Street Journal.  I also read book reviews and journal articles.

Of course, this is so much easier now!  Online access allows you and I to do this kind of reading in the privacy our homes.  Such practices have sharpened my thinking for years.

2.  Take care of your soul.  Ministry is a calling born out of one’s experience with Christ.  Yet one must be intentional about cultivating a heart that is available for what God wishes to do in that person’s life.

Most mornings, I begin the day reading my Bible, praying, and writing in my journal.  These disciplines and others have been important for cultivating my heart.  Prayer books, biographies, and classical devotional literature have all been helpful to me.

3.  Take care of your emotions.  So many ministers have neglected this one!  Perhaps a person has never dealt with the pain and hurt in his or her life.  Meanwhile, others are confused by this person’s intense anger and on-going depression. Often such unchecked emotions spill over into the church and other relationships.

Frankly, having a few healthy friendships can help a person with emotional care.  Yet, many ministers speak of the loneliness and lack of intimacy that characterizes their lives.  Unfortunately, when a person lacks appropriate intimate relationships, that person will often seek intimacy in inappropriate ways such as pornography, emotional affairs, or even sexual affairs.

How do such authentic relationships happen?  Generally speaking, one has to take initiative instead of passively waiting for a friendship to form.  Some of the most unlikely people may turn out to become wonderful friends.  In my experience, these friends have included people both inside and outside the congregation.

4.  Take care of your body.  Far too many ministers practice the spiritual disciplines and nurture their intellectual life but then completely neglect their physical health.  When I was a young minister, several older ministers warned me about this. One person told me that as a young man, he didn’t exercise, rested very little, and neglected his body.  As a result, he faced serious health issues some years later.  Sleep, nutrition, and physical exercise are very important particularly for a lifestyle that is often stressful.

Taking a day off is very important.  Play, relaxation, and living a balanced life are essential to living as a healthy, whole person.  Such self-care is not a luxury but a God-honoring investment in long-term ministry.

Focus on the Heart (Part 2 of 2)

Choosing Spouses, Ministers, etc.

Mid-Level_Challenges_Poor_Selection_Process2Like choosing a mate, sometimes churches seem to focus on the “outward appearance” when it comes to selecting a minister.  Sometimes it seems that we are preoccupied with finding a minister who like King Saul of Israel will look the part.

Years ago, a church leader called me regarding a reference check of a prospective minister for their congregation. He explained that this person was not one of their “first tier” candidates.  (I had not heard that language before in reference to selecting a minister.)  He explained that they had hoped to get a minister who was widely known and already had a following.  He mentioned several names of people who, at the time, were speaking in a number of workshops, lectureships, and other highly visible events across the country.  What was interesting was their rationale for placing these people on their “first tier” list.

Yet, perhaps we would do well to consider what a focus on the heart (I Samuel 16:7) might look like as we consider a prospective minister for a congregation.

A few questions we might reflect on:

1.  Does this minister seem to hunger for God?  Is this minister’s moral and ethical life congruent with he claims to believe?

Review: Bringing Heaven to Earth

RossStormentI just read Bringing Heaven to Earth by Josh Ross and Jonathan Storment.  This sentence caught my attention, “What is a Christian’s responsibility to bring to bear God’s will in this corner of the world, so that people throughout Memphis might come to experience a hint of what life is like in heaven?”

Maybe this sentence caught my attention because I live in Memphis.  Or maybe it caught my attention because I have seen the power of a believer’s behavior, witness, and ministry in places that would otherwise be dark.  Unfortunately, I have also seen the power of a believer’s behavior when one has been inattentive and even apathetic toward the world.  Josh Ross and Jonathan Storment have written a book in which they explore the possibilities of the renewing and restoring work of God.  This is so important in a world that is broken and dark.  The book is a challenge for Christians to be serious about allowing themselves to be used by God.

Unfortunately, the answer to a dark world for some is to attempt to insulate oneself and one’s family.  I once had a conversation with a person who said she was trying to figure out a way to surround her family with Christians and only Christians.  The family moved to a street where several young couples from church already lived.  They had a Christian doctor, lawyer, and dentist, all from their congregation.  Their children went to a Christian school.  Her husband worked in a firm which consisted, primarily, of Christian people.

There is no problem, of course, with any one of these.  It is fine to go to a Christian school.  No problem with having a doctor, lawyer, or dentist who is a believer. The problem is that they were trying to insulate themselves from the world instead of penetrating the darkness.

Perhaps much of this is due to fear.  I found Chapter 13 to be particularly helpful as the authors address the problem of fear as we live as believers in the world.

The book reminds us that the world is broken and dark and that the work of God’s Kingdom involves restoring and renewing.

What Validates a Minister’s Value?

value-propositionHow do you know when a minister has great value?  Or, if you serve as a minister of a congregation you may wonder how much value you really have.  Perhaps there are times when you when you feel as if you have great value.  What factors have led you to come to that conclusion?  Perhaps there are other times when you feel alone, inadequate, and have little value as a minister.

Some believe that ministers have great value if one or more of the following factors are true:

1.  People are asking this person to speak at their congregations or at particular lectureships, seminars, etc.

2.  Congregations that are visible within our fellowship are asking this person to consider joining their ministry staff.

3.  A particular minister has a much larger salary compared to other ministers who serve in the same role.

4.  Many in social media quote this person and seem to rally around whatever this minister might say or do.

5.  A minister may be well known throughout a region or even the nation and perhaps have a “following.”  This may be evident either through conversations at particular gatherings or conversation through social media.

6.  A minister who has served a smaller congregation begins preaching for a congregation that is highly visible.  Suddenly that minister may be perceived to be “important.”

Don’t Bother Me With the Truth

no-truthI’ve seen it happen again and again in churches.  So often, we are only willing to hear what we are willing to hear. Consequently men and women go through life repeating the same mistakes again and again.

1.  A college student erupts in anger toward his parents and various other family members.  At the same time, he wonders why his dating relationships seem to to have disappointing endings.  His fiancee saw how he treated his mom and dad and wisely became very cautions about continuing their relationship.  Yet, in his eyes, he had no problem with his temper.

2.  A young mother is inconsistent with her young children.  One moment she is angry over a child’s misbehavior. Thirty minutes later she is ignoring the same behavior.  On one occasion, she and her husband laughed the very behavior that put their daughter in “time-out” the evening before .

When People are Impulsive

making-your-own-decisionsIt is true.

Some people are slow to decide and slow to act.

Some groups are so afraid of making a mistake, they miss opportunity after opportunity to make a difference.

Some churches are so bogged down in committees they rarely take action.

There are some people, however, who seem to act impulsively with little thought.

Some people are impulsive with their words.  They say what they think and appear to have no filter.  Feelings are hurt and damage is done.

Some people are impulsive with money.  They spend first and think about their purchases later.

Some people are impulsive in their ministries.  In a sermon, a preacher suddenly makes a few unplanned, ill-timed remarks.  Is the Spirit prompting this?  Perhaps.  Yet, sometimes these remarks may be the product of impulsiveness.

Some churches are impulsive.  They have no real process for anything.  Consequently, the leaders frustrate the members of their congregations.

1.  A team of ministers and a group of elders discussed making a change that would impact the church.  They decided to sell their present building and move to another location.  They discussed this among themselves  for months.  Then one Sunday, they made an announcement regarding their decision to make this change.  There was tremendous push back which actually baffled the leadership group.  They could not figure out why people in the congregation seem agitated.  Yet, there was absolutely no process.

2.  One Sunday, a minister preaches a particularly difficult sermon.  He has been thinking about a particular passage and subject for the last two years.  He has reached a few conclusions about the interpretation of one particular Scripture that is quite different from what many in his congregation have heard before.  He preaches this sermon and later seems surprised at the questions being raised by a number of people who are deeply involved in the life of the church.  The reaction was not what he expected.  His response?  “I thought people here would be more open to God’s Word.”  Yet, he has been thinking about this subject for two years.  Those who heard the sermon had 25 minutes to process his thoughts.

3.  A group of church leaders decide to make some major changes to the congregation’s Sunday school.  This decision was made after the leadership team talked about the matter in a few elders’ meetings.  Yet, there was no real process involved.  The decision will impact teachers, Sunday school supervisors, children, visitors, and others.  Yet no one bothered to talk with other these people before it was announced.

Some people and some churches are anything but impulsive.  They can be paralyzed with indecision, frustrating their families and their congregations.  Yet, some individuals and some leadership groups are much too quick to send someone to a microphone to make an announcement before doing the necessary hard work to process a possible decision.

Impulsive individuals and impulsive churches can move quickly.  Yet, long after the action is taken, they must now spend an enormous amount of time and energy cleaning up.

Neither indecision or impulsivity get an individual, group, or church very far down the road.  There are no shortcuts.  Determining the best process for a decision and then following through may actually get one down the road more quickly.