Ministers, Finances, and the Danger of Ignoring This Subject

Man Sitting In ValleyThe interview with the prospective minister was over.  The elders felt very good about this young man and his family.  He was a good preacher and also seemed to have some good social skills.  Several of his former professors and an older minister gave high recommendations.  The elders were ready to make this young man an offer.

Upon agreeing to begin his ministry with this congregation, this new minister agreed to the financial considerations that were offered for his role there.

Unfortunately, this might be the last time this subject would ever be brought up with this minister in this congregation.

In fact, such financial matters may not be talked about again by the congregation’s leaders until this minister eventually leaves and they discuss how to financially compensate the next minister.

Some ministers receive a very adequate salary (as well as health care and retirement), but many do not.

Far too many ministers and their families are barely getting by financially.  They moved their family to serve a congregation and a community.  Now, however, they are drowning in debt.  Yes, ministry is service but at the same time, these families must pay bills, feed children, and keep up with a mortgage.

5 Essentials for Ministers Who Wish to Stay Ahead

w-Giant-Coffee-Cup75917Serving a church in a ministry role can be very challenging.  Yet, there are some things you can do to get out in front of some of the challenges.  For example:

Y0u are far ahead if you are committed to maturing in Christ.  Pay attention to your own spiritual formation. Whatever spiritual disciplines you practice should in some way help you to mature and become more Christ-like.   Christian ministers are not perfect.  However, church members ought to be able to see their ministers taking the call to Christ-likeness seriously.  Include spiritual disciplines in your daily and weekly schedule. Growing and maturing in Christ is a never-ending process.

You are far ahead if you are dealing with the pain from your past.  The problem for many of us is that we have pain and emotional baggage that we bring into a church but fail to acknowledge this burden even to ourselves.  We stuff it or bury it deep within. However, this only contributes to the aching loneliness that we feel as individuals.  Such aching loneliness can prompt us to seek relief through pornography, alcohol, an affair, etc.  In moments of anger or fear, the pain may be expressed negatively, damaging relationships and our reputation.  Seek healing for any unresolved issues of hurt or pain so that you can be available to serve and minister to others.

You are far ahead if you are maturing emotionally.  Many ministers experience a limited influence because they often behave immaturely.  Perhaps the elders witness this behavior.  The other ministers at this church may be all too aware of this person’s immaturity.  Perhaps other church members have even witnessed this minister’s immature conduct.  Immature ministers have a way of wearing a congregation out.  They are often high maintenance and unpredictable. Self-examine your behavior and strive to react maturely in your interactions with others.

You are far ahead if you nurture your friendships.  Many ministers have hundreds of acquaintances and very few friends.   Often, ministers feel alone and isolated in their leadership role.  They may find that it is challenging to have friends within their congregation. Godly friendships can add much value and support to your role as a minister.

You are far ahead if you have a passionate commitment to Christ, the gospel, and the church.  A minister can read the right books, have a social media presence, and be in demand as a speaker. However, when a minister has lost any sense of a passionate commitment to Christ, the gospel, and the church, the minister and the congregation have lost something very valuable.  Sermons cannot be tweaked enough to compensate for such a loss. Commit to an intentional, passionate daily walk with the Lord and you will reap spiritual renewal that will no doubt bless your church community as well.

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.

 

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.

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

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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?