Do What You Can and Not What You Can’t

Last Friday and Saturday, Charlotte and I heard author James Bryan Smith speak at the Apprentice Basic Conference. At one point on Saturday, as he discussed ministry, he said:

Do what you can and not what you can’t.

The statement was made encouraging all of us to not be preoccupied with what we are unable to do but to focus on what we are able to do. He went on to repeat the essence of the statement by saying, “Start with what you can do.”

The Failure of Self-limitation

For years I focused on what I was unprepared or unable to do. I often concluded that I was lacking in knowledge, skill, or expertise. Quite often I compared myself to others and perceived myself to be lacking.

As a result, I severely limited myself and, more importantly, gave myself a pass from some opportunities to make a difference. Finally, I realized that the problem was not my preparation but my thinking.

Start with What You Can Do.

A few years ago, I was speaking on the campus of Oklahoma Christian University. At one point, I saw my longtime friend, Dr. Evertt Huffard, sitting on the back row. Evertt is dean of Harding School of Theology and a person I greatly respect. As we were visiting later, Evertt asked me about my ministry and any plans I had to do something different. I responded by saying to him, “I wonder what I will be doing someday.” Evertt paused and then said, “Jim, think about our ages. I think someday is here.” Was that ever helpful!

Someday is here.

So here are a few suggestions for making the most of opportunities that may be before us.

1. Quit comparing yourself to others who seem more qualified and prepared.

2. Focus on how you are already prepared to serve right now.

3. Continue to learn, while you continue to serve.

4. Start now. Someday is here.


Have you ever found yourself waiting for someday? What would it take for you to begin right now?

Charles Siburt

Charles Siburt has been a friend and mentor to me for almost 25 years. I have learned so much from him. I am a much better man and minister for having known him.

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For many years he taught ministry at Abilene Christian University. His teaching went way beyond the classroom. Charles spent time and energy helping ministers and other church leaders all over the country.

He is very sick and is not expected to live on this earth much longer. He has recently been transported from a hospital in Dallas to a hospital in Abilene. Soon he will be with the Lord.

My friend, Dan Bouchelle, wrote the following:On behalf of all of us who love Charlie, I invite you to join several of us who love the Siburts by setting aside this Friday, February 3, as a special day of prayer with fasting if you choose. Please lift up Charlie’s body, his spirit, and his family to the Father of all compassion. Judy and his sons have sacrificed time with Charlie for the sake of the church for many years. Pray that their final days with him in this age will be enriching. Pray that God will give Charlie courage for his final days and a peaceful trip home. Pray that he will be able to leave the hospital for his final days. Most of all, give thanks for all that God has given us all through Charlie. Pray that God will raise up an Elisha or twelve to pick up Charlie’s mantle. What will we do without him?

Charles and Judy have blessed so many men and women. Charles served as a consultant and friend to the congregations I worked with in Florence, Alabama, Kansas City, Missouri, and Waco, Texas. Each time he helped our leaders become more effective and at times work through knotty problems. I have called him at all hours of the day and evening to talk through frustrations, disappointments and new possibilities. Again and again, Charles helped me become better.

The following are a few of the ways he helped me:

1. He was one of the first ministers to introduce me to serious, thoughtful ministry resources. At one of the very first Austin Graduate School Sermon Seminars, I heard him share resources with the group. (I was in graduate school at ACU.) I was furiously taking notes as he mentioned authors, commentaries, journals, and training opportunities – related to ministry. I went back to ACU and followed up on as many resources as I could.

2. He taught me about the importance of managing myself well. I have spent the last three decades learning about the implications of this. It was Charles Siburt who instilled in me the importance of self-care and being intentional about how I handle myself as a leader.

3. He helped me in each congregation I have served. Each time he came, he helped our church and blessed Charlotte and me.

4.   He told me again and again, in a variety of way is how much he believed in me. I can’t begin to tell you how much his confidence in me has meant. He recommended me to churches and universities and gave me other opportunities to serve. There were times when I called him when I felt discouraged and devalued. He always communicated value, encouragement, and hope.

5. He made himself available and accessible to me. He returned my calls from airports, his office, hotel rooms, and during breaks at out of town conferences. We shared lunches and met in his office on various occasions. The time and energy he invested in me made a difference. So often his words gave me fresh options and a new perspective. What I experienced with him, I now practice with younger ministers.

6. He helped me see the importance of paying attention to the details of others’ lives. So often, I came away from conversations with him amazed at how well he remembered details – children’s names, where they went to college – where an elder worked, on and on. I saw how that practice communicated much to others.

7. He modeled for me a way of being a father. Year ago, I was in his office when he received a call from Judy. He asked about one of the boys and a situation at school (high school, I think). He asked about the situation and mentioned a variety of details related to it. He talked for a moment about how their son was handling it. I came away thinking about how I wanted to be involved and aware like that still when my daughters were that age.

Please especially pray for Charles and Judy on Friday, February 3. For more information, please see this fine post by Dan Bouchelle here. Read Jordan Hubbard’s tribute here. Also note this special Facebook page for Charles and Judy here.

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Does something need to be done? Write it down. Put it on paper, your iPhone, or your iPad. But write it down.


That may seem obvious, but many people don’t do this.

Most Thursdays I write this post for church leaders. I am amazed at how many church leaders do not write things down. Think about what happens on a typical Sunday. I learned a long time ago that I need to write this information down or I will not remember half of what was said to me.

  • You meet a new family.
  • Someone asks you to pray for their dad.
  • A person recommends a book.
  • Someone else asks if you can meet for coffee.
  • A woman introduces you to her co-worker.

This is a lot of information to attempt to remember without writing it down.

For years, I used a form of Franklin-Covey to help me keep track of tasks, etc. This particular system helped remind me that much of life involved a number of different roles (father, husband, minister, friend, community member, etc.). Not only did I need some sort of “to do” list for work but for the other roles in my life as well.

For the last few years, I have been using a form of David Allen’s Getting Things Done. I am not going to attempt to explain this system in a post. However, I do want to mention a few principles that have been helpful to me.

1. Write down whatever tasks need to be done. (See Michael Hyatt’s excellent post, “When You Feel Overwhelmed By Your Workload.” He has excellent thoughts concerning priorities.)

2. If a task actually has several steps, see it as a project. For example, if you are helping put together an event at your church or in your community, think of all the tasks involved in pulling off that event. (I have a list of each project I am working on and the key tasks involved in making that project a reality.)

3. Beside my list of projects is a list of broken down into specific categories (e-mails, notes, calls, errands, etc.). In other words, all of the phone calls I need to make are under the “Calls” heading. Right now, I have a list of about 15 e-mails that need to be sent. I will probably do most of these in one block of time. This may sound obvious, but it can keep you from bouncing from one task to another throughout the day.

4. While all of this is online (I use Google Calendar, Things, and Evernote primarily), I keep a paper copy of each day’s to do list, as well as my weekly priorities, on my desk in front of me.

5. At the end of the week, I review all of my projects and the list of tasks. What has been done this week? What have I missed? What needs to be done next week? Does this ever help! This helps prevent things from “slipping up” on me. It also prevents other things from slipping through the cracks.

(Those of you familiar with David Allen’s Getting Things Done know I have not done it justice. You can read more about this at David Allen’s website.)

Bottom line: Use what works for you. There is no perfect system. However, an imperfect system is usually better than no system at all.

You Can’t Make These Stories Up (Race, Jesus, and Our Identity)

They were an African-American family who visited our congregation one morning in the early 1980s. Race.jpg

Ordinary folks.

I remember them as being a pleasant family that included dad, mother, and four children.

Yet, this would not be an ordinary day for our congregation located in a small town an hour south of Nashville. For the most part, our congregation was made up of wonderful people including: Dennon, Joy, J.W., Jimmy, Charlie, Ted and Brenda, Byron and Brenda, and Mary. Yet, the day was overshadowed by one man who became angry that these people would visit our congregation. After our worship services concluded that morning, one man demanded that our men have a “business meeting” that afternoon.

This was a new situation for me. I was a young minister, newly married, and preaching at this small congregation. This middle Tennessee church situation seemed like a another world for me. Less than three years earlier, I had graduated from the University of North Texas and was working full time at United Parcel Service.

Here we were, a group of men sitting in a small room in our rented storefront. Less than two hours earlier, we were partaking of the Lord’s Supper. Now this man, flanked by his two teenage sons, was ranting about this family visiting that morning.

“My boys may have to go to school with them, but we don’t have to go to church with them!”

I was stunned. I felt as if I had stepped back in time. Some looked at the guy in amazement. Some of the other guys starred at the floor. Finally, I said:

“I don’t know if these people will ever return to our church after this morning’s visit. However, we need to decide whether we intend to obey Scripture or not.”

The man and his sons abruptly left a few minutes later. Several of the guys shook their heads in disbelief.

It was a disappointing day and a disheartening meeting. It was also a reality check. While most people in that small congregation were not like this man, I learned that I would have to be clear about my own identity as a Christian and as a Christian minister. There was going to be some form of pressure in every church in which I would minister. Typically, this would be a subtle pressure to choose comfort over truth and being “liked” over discipleship.


Can you recall a situation in which you felt pressure to ignore the words of Jesus? Do you remember a time when one person attempted to sway a group toward a behavior that did not represent Jesus?


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What I read each day: Each day I skim the front pages of The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, The Financial Times, USA Today, The Economist, and The Globe and Mail. Again, I mainly skim the front pages of these publications. Each day, I read Scot McKnight’s Jesus Creed and Michael Hyatt’s blog. When I see something that interests me, I typically put it in Evernote to read later.

What I read each week: Several times each week I skim through my Google Reader in order to keep up with several hundred blogs. These blogs are categorized under headings such as: ministry, biblical/theology, culture, leadership, writing, preaching, technology, etc.

Each Thursday, I write a post especially for ministers, pastors, and other church leaders. Some of you may be interested in this information.

What I read regularly: Leadership; Christianity Today; Books and Culture; Christian Century; Conversations, The New York Times Book Review, etc.

Where I go for encouragement: I usually go to the Pepperdine Lectures and to ACU’s Summit. At other times I go to events hosted by Regent College (Vancouver B.C.). I regularly attend the Sermon Seminar hosted buy the Austin Graduate School of Theology. I also attend numerous events (preaching workshops and lectures) hosted by Truett Theological Seminary (Baylor University).

What I do for my learning: I initiate lunches with interesting people in order to learn. (I buy the lunch and then ask these people questions.) I listen to podcasts. Sometimes I listen to a few classes from a university that has posted them on iTunes University. I read widely, both theological books and those not theological. Most of the time, I purchase from Amazon. If I anticipate only reading the book once, I will probably order it for my Kindle. If I anticipate using the book repeatedly, or if it is written by one of my favorite authors, I usually order it in book form.

Bottom line: I often focus on a few authors who I find thoughtful, resourceful, or inspiring. I like authors such as N.T. Wright, David Allen, James Bryan Smith, Peter Scazzero, Eugene Peterson, Scot McKnight, Tim Keller, Ruth Haley Barton, etc. I read authors for different purposes. One author may help me understand the Bible while another might help me with personal organization. One author might help me with understanding the essence of ministry while another might help me learn to communicate better.

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(The following post is written with church leaders, preachers, pastors, and other ministers in mind. However, many of these comments will be useful to others.)

1. Pay attention to the basics. Well-meaning church leaders will sometimes expend great energy and other resources in order to attract guests to their assemblies. Yet, churches sometimes ignore the basics. Recently a young couple visited a church located in a large city. They had never been to an assembly in this church before. The couple came in just as the service was beginning. They found a pew and sat down. Then they heard a loud voice: “Well, there goes the view!” Meanwhile, the person at the microphone in the front proceeded to welcome “all of our guests today. “The couple said, “We won’t be going back. This is probably not the church for us.”

2. I just received my order from Amazon. As I looked through the books that had arrived, I thought about how many of them were purchased after I first read reviews or read them on Scot McKnight’s blog, Jesus Creed. What a wonderful ministry to church leaders.

3. I really enjoy the Journal of Spiritual Formation and Soul Care. It is published by the Talbot School of Theology, Biola University. The articles not only deal with individual spiritual formation but the church collectively as well.


4. “We want to get better.” This is exactly what my friend said the other day. I had driven to his home a few weeks ago. He preaches in a city a few hours from Waco. I was there to spend the morning with him. As we talked, he shared with me a conversation that he and his wife heard just a few weeks earlier. My friend and his wife are in their early 60s. He said, “We talked about the next ten years and how we want to get better.”

I like that. So I am beginning this year with the desire to get better in 2012. I do not want to be stuck in status quo. What about you? What would it take for you to get better this year?

5. Don’t miss Michael Hyatt’s post “Are You Operating in Your Strengths Zone? This is a fine post and would be helpful for ministers and any other Christian leader to consider. (By the way, as of January 1, I began working with a team of nine others as one of Michael Hyatt’s “Community Leaders” to help manage comments on his blog. I am enjoying the interaction with those who respond.)

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Each Thursday, the post is especially for ministers, preachers, pastors, and other church leaders. Whether you identify with any of these roles or not, perhaps you will find the following interesting.coffeeA.jpg

1. Appreciation. I can’t tell you how many ministers are starved to hear a “thank you” or just a genuine word of appreciation from their church or elder groups. In some churches, it has been a long, long time since they said “thanks” to any of their ministers. I really don’t think most ministers believe the church owes them a word of thanks. It’s not that at all. Some ministers even feel embarrassed that they want to hear this so badly.

Unfortunately, many ministers feel taken for granted. They preach sermon after sermon and serve in numerous ways, often in obscurity. Many ministers are very conscientious. Consequently, they work very hard to get a certain project just right. Unfortunately, what some of these hear is not a word of gratitude but a critique. “Why didn’t you do it this way instead of the way you did it?” They hear no gratitude but instead hear from a person whose only comment is, “I think you can do better.”

Far too many ministers feel as if the church takes them for granted. Unfortunately, far too many elder groups (both individually and as a group) fail to express to these people gratitude, affirmation and any recognition of a job well done to these people. When churches fail to do this, it is ultimately the people in the congregation who lose.

Maybe one of the most significant gifts that we can give another this Christmas is the affirmation and encouragement that may be long overdue.

2. Healthy Self-Definition. Today, I read a portion of an excellent article that appeared in Clergy Journal in August 1994. The article is “Clergy Self-Care: Defining and Valuing the Self” by Myron and Jan Chartier.   

The Chartiers describe self-definition as being linked to one’s personal differentiation. That is, one has a strong sense of self. A person with a good sense of self-defintion takes responsibility for his own well being (instead of blaming others) and emotional health. This enables one to relate to a variety of people in a church.

For example, a person with a good sense of self-defintion is not focused on making others happy. Rather this person has learned to have a strong sense of self and relates to others who have different views without trying to say what makes them happy. On the other hand, this person does not feel the need to have everyone agree with him in order to have a sense of personal value in a church.

They list eight barriers that can get in the way of healthy self-definition:

  • Shaky self-worth that is easily threatened can undermine a sense of self.
  • Unresolved issues from one’s family of upbringing and previous life history can sabotage attempts at self-defintion.
  • Unreasonable drives to succeed can foil being self-defined as a minister.
  • Heightened perfectionism can turn the minister into a workaholic.
  • Over commitment, allowing little or no time for self-reflection, undermines in a corrosive manner any self-defintion work that a person may have done.
  • Overwhelming needs for inclusion, acceptance and love are a major barrier to self-defintion.
  • Health issues of various kinds can block the process of self-defintion.
  • Fragile spiritual life and faith can undermine one’s sense of self.

New Year: 4 Ways to Move Ahead Instead of Remaining Stuck

Some people move ahead. They get better. Meanwhile others remain the same or even digress. Many people end the year with regrets, excuses, disappointments, and “buts.”But.jpeg

“I should be more attentive to God in prayer and Scripture reading but . . . .”

“I need to deal with a particular sin that keeps reappearing in my life but . . . .”

“I need to spend more time with my wife. I know I haven’t invested much energy into our marriage but . . . .”

“I have a habit of making commitments, starting projects and not following through but . . . .”

“I can be pretty harsh and overbearing at home. I know this is wrong but . . . .”

“My job takes so much energy and time. I feel exhausted much of the time. I need to nourish my inner world but . . . .”

“I’m losing the emotional connection with my children. I know the answer is not to buy them more things to compensate for this but . . . .”

“I know the kind of friendship I have with this man really isn’t right but . . . .”

Think about these statements. Each one describes the reality of a person’s life. However, the description of this reality is then derailed by the word “but.” When you and I do this, we are sabotaging our own lives. Instead of thanking God for the insight and awareness into the reality of our lives, we discount the first statement with “but.”

Maybe some of us do not grow, develop, or mature because we rarely address the reality of our lives. Maybe we have allowed “but” to excuse our behavior. The following are 4 ways to move ahead into this New Year instead of remaining stuck.

1. Seek the truth regarding your life without punctuating this reality with an excuse. Look in the mirror and simply describe what you see as you reflect on your life. At this moment, the last month of the year, what does a truthful snapshot of your life look like?

2. Thank God for his love for you in spite of the areas of your life that really need attention. Keep his love and power before you. This will enable you to acknowledge the reality of your blemished life instead of sweeping it away.

3. Pray to God for wisdom to know how to address these areas in your life. Know that you probably did not get this way overnight and, by the grace of God, it will take time to press through some of these issues.

4. Look for a step to take immediately. The time to address the condition of your life is now. Know that your procrastination will only complicate matters, not solve them. You are making progress by taking a single step.

(I recently read a portion of the book Get Off Your “But”: How to End Self-Sabotage and Stand Up for Yourself by Sean Stephenson. This book was useful in helping me think through this post.)

What Will You Be Like in the Next 10 Years?

I want to become better. B-Autonorte.png

As I think about the next 10 years of my life, I want to look back at the end of it and be able to say that in some way I am better.

Now I’m not sure that a restaurant I have in mind right now will be able to say that. Maybe, but I’m not sure. I’ve been there numerous times. They do a number of things well. Their service is quick and friendly. The seating in the restaurant is arranged so that it is very conducive to conversation. The one problem with this place? The food is just — OK. That is about the best I can say. It’s not bad. It’s not great. It’s OK.

Occasionally, somebody will ask to meet me for lunch at this place. I have my expectations trained. The food will probably be “OK.”

Now I don’t want to be like this restaurant. I don’t want to spend the next 10 years of my life as if I were on a stationary bike. I don’t want to spend a lot of energy but still be in the same place.

I really do want to become better.

I want to be a better man by continuing to mature, develop, and grow.

I want to be better at being fully present and aware of the creation that is all around me.

I want to be better at building up and encouraging the people I am with.

I want to be better at loving God and loving people with a generous spirit.

I want to be better at taking action in a timely way instead of waiting and procrastinating.

I want to be better at loving my wife in ways that connect with her instead of missing key opportunities.

I want to be better at being a channel through whom God blesses the people I am with.

I want to be a better student of Jesus. I would like to know his life and teachings better and more faithfully be a Jesus-follower.


How about you? What kind of person would you like to be in 10 years?


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1. What is your point of view? Very often ministers/preachers/pastors see their church from only their perspective without making the effort to see another’s point of view. I have found it very helpful to listen to others so that I can learn what people in these situations really are experiencing.

For example, I might seek to answer these questions.

  • What is it like to be single in this congregation?
  • What is it like to be married but to have no children?
  • What is it like to be a widow or widower here?
  • What is it like to be new in this congregation? How does one get in? (Yes, there is a formal way of entering a congregation but how does one break into friendship circles?)
  • What is it like to have a son or father in jail and live as a part of this church family?
  • What is it like to have questions and even doubts and still be a part of this congregation?
  • What is it like to be struggling financially in our church family?   

I first learned of this practice from John Killinger from an early book on preaching. I still think the practice can be very helpful.

2. The best thing that I can bring to my congregation is a healthy self. That is, I can be a man who is godly, who loves people (beginning with my spouse and children), and who leads an ethical/moral life. Don’t underestimate the importance of these three. Yes, I know there are other important factors; however, my intellect, my creativity, and my leadership will never trump my own life before God. As a minister, I really need to start with the basics.

  • How is my relationship with God?
  • What is the state of my marriage? If my wife were to describe our marriage to people whom I admire, how would I feel?
  • Are there “demons” in my closet that I am not dealing with (perhaps a tendency toward rage, a battle with pornography, or some other addictive behavior)?

3. Did you see this post about Fred Craddock on CNN online this week? Don’t miss this fine article.