Ministry Inside.61

Much talk, ink, and thought have been focused on leadership. That is good. Christian people look at leadership through a primary lens — the life and teachings of Jesus and his person and character as revealed in the Bible.

1. Godly leaders ought to have a clear understanding that this mysterious God has been at work throughout history leading up to his/her life. What matters did not begin when I showed up on the scene. Rather, God has been at work all along through a variety of people.

2. Godly leaders understand that pragmatism, effectiveness, and efficiency do not trump the place of Jesus in a life. Simply because something works does not mean that it is appropriate for a leader who aspires to follow Jesus.

3. Godly leaders place becoming before doing. Far too many leaders have done “church work” to the neglect of their marriages, their children, and their own souls. In ministry, doing needs to flow out of what we are becoming.

4. Godly leaders are called to model the values they articulate. Yes, this adds credibility to one’s message. Even more importantly, however, this is an authentic way to live.

5. Godly leaders pay attention to their own souls. They understand that the longevity and health of their ministry is very much connected to the condition of their own souls.

6. Godly leaders inspire and stimulate the imagination. The source of this imaginative stimulation is the story of the kingdom of God as proclaimed by Jesus.

There is No Substitute for Paying Attention to the Soul

In the introduction to his book Building Below the Waterline, Gordon MacDonald tells the following story about the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge.

David McCullough’s book The Great Bridge tells a fascinating story about the building of the Brooklyn Bridge, which arches the East River and joins Manhattan to Brooklyn.


In June 1872, the chief engineer of the project wrote: “To such of the general public as might imagine that no work had been done on the New York tower, because they see no evidence of it above the water, I should simply remark that the amount of the masonry and concrete laid on that foundation, under water, is equal to the entire masonry of the Brooklyn tower visible today above the waterline.”

The Brooklyn Bridge remains a major transportation artery in New York City today because 135 years ago the chief engineer and his construction team did their most patient and daring work where no one could see it: on the foundations of the towers below the waterline. It is one more illustration of an ageless principle in leadership: the work done below the waterline (in a leader’s soul) that determines whether he or she will stand the test of time and challenge.

Far Too Many People Pay No Attention to What is Beneath

Far too many families come apart.

Far too many men and women become angry and cynical and live this way for the rest of their lives.

Far too many church leaders crash and burn due to some poor, sinful decision.

Far too many people are not prepared for some of the difficult challenges they eventually face.

Pay Attention to the Soul

I have learned just how much I must pay attention to what is “beneath” in my own life. Everything on the surface clamors for my attention. Appointments. Sermons. Meetings. Projects. Finances. Yet, the best thing I have to offer others, whether it be my wife, my children, my church, or my friends, is a man who pays attention to his soul.


What have you experienced in your life when you are taking care of your soul? What have you experienced when you neglect what is “beneath”?

Are You Weary?

A young man came into the conference just as it was beginning.

He made his way to an empty chair on the back row. A person seated to his left was a part of the institution hosting the event. My friend whispered “hello” and smiled at the man. The man did not return the smile. Instead, he mumbled something and then got up from his chair and sat in another chair in another part of the room.

My friend was baffled. This particular conference is held every year to encourage those who work with congregations. They invest a lot of money in this event. They work hard and diligently to make sure that everything is just right for those who are coming to their campus.

Yet, what one man came away remembering from his first evening at the event is that a man representing the institution left his chair and sat elsewhere.

We may forget at times just how weary many people are. A simple smile and hello goes a long way.

I am not sure what creates weariness. I do know what contributes to it. Life (and everyday ministry) often contributes to much of our weariness:

  • Weariness can come when you feel taken for granted and unappreciated at home or at work.
  • Weariness can come from being present during the long slow death of someone in your family or church.
  • Weariness can come when you regularly deal with a manipulator or immature person.
  • Weariness can come when you have been praying that a friend from work would visit your church and then no one speaks to her on the morning she comes.
  • Weariness can come from disappointment in your marriage, with your children, or perhaps with life in general.

Are you weary?

If you are weary, don’t wait for circumstances to change. Don’t simply wish that your life was different. Don’t spend your energy saying “If only.” Instead, decide to take action. Decide that you will do something to add strength and energy back into your life again.

One of the best antidotes to weariness is to begin by taking the first step toward replenishment. That has to be done on purpose. Yes, it is hard when you are weary. However, taking a first step toward replenishment sure beats passivity.

Don’t Let This Hold You Back

What holds you back?BabeRuth.jpeg

What keeps you from doing what you know you need or want to do?

Maybe you’ve said what I’ve said at times:

If only I had the money.
If only I had the time.
If only I had the right person/people to help me.
If only I had the right opportunity.
If only I could get the right break.
If only I didn’t have this other obstacle in my way.

What about you? Have these been your words?

Far too often, I put off taking action because I didn’t think I was prepared. These were often my words (at least in my mind):

I don’t know enough.

Now if you had asked me how my knowledge was lacking, I don’t know that I could have answered you. Far too often, my thinking was rooted in insecurity and fear rather than a serious assessment of the situation.

These days I’m thinking differently.

These days I ask, “What is the first step that I need to take?”

So often, I have found that if I will take the first step, then I am already down the road. I then have a better idea of what to pray for. I know more about how to trust in God at that point. Trusting God becomes a reality instead of something I think about while I remain immobile.

What holds you back?

Do you simply need to take the first step?

This week, what is the first step that you need to take?

Ministry Inside.60

Most Thursdays, I post something with pastors, preachers, and church leaders in mind. Maybe one or more of the following will be helpful.

6 Things Your Writing Must Have to Wow Readers by L. L. Barkat. This is a very good post for writers and preachers. Also, don’t miss this interview with L. L. Barkat regarding her book Rumors of Water: Thoughts On Creativity and Writing.

I really like these words from Eugene Peterson regarding the essence of pastoral ministry:

Incrementally, without noticing what I was doing, I had been shifting from being a pastor dealing with God in people’s lives to treating them as persons dealing with problems in their lives. I was not being their pastor . . . But by reducing them to problems to be fixed, I omitted the biggest thing of all of in their lives, God and their souls, and the biggest thing in my life, my vocation as pastor . . . I knew I had turned a corner when a year or so later I visited Marilyn in the hospital. Marilyn was in her mid-twenties, married, and newly employed as a lawyer with an established firm in our country . . . She said she was in the hospital for tests — she hadn’t been feeling well, and the doctors were having difficulty diagnosing anything . . . Feeling cautiously safe, I ventured ‘Is there anything you want me to do?’ Marilyn hesitated. And then, shyly, ‘Yes, I’ve been thinking a lot about it. Would you teach me to pray’ (Eugene Peterson, The Pastor: A Memoir pp. 140-141)

Do you read Jeff Goins’posts regarding writing? I really find so many of his posts helpful. Not only do his words apply to writing but also could be helpful to anyone who uses words through speaking.

This might be useful to think about as many of us spend much of our time in one to one conversations: “7 Tips to Know if You’re Boring Someone.”

Came across this quote this week attributed to C. S. Lewis (quoted by Faith Barista):

“The next best thing to being wise oneself is to live in a circle of those who are.”

Ministers might ask themselves, “Do I surround myself with people who are wise? Are there men and women in my world who are wise and thoughtful?” This is very important to me. I purposefully seek out people who are wise.

3 Words That People Never Get Tired of Hearing

“I appreciate youcoffee cup (1).jpg .”

So many, many people rarely, if ever, hear these words, “I appreciate you.”

These are three words that people never get tired of hearing.

In the absence of these words, many people feel unappreciated, devalued, and taken for granted.

One of the best encouragers I know is Jerry Rushford, who for 30 years has been the director of the Pepperdine Lectures (thousands of people on campus for classes, worship, conversation, etc). Each year he publicly praises missionaries from faraway places throughout the world. Or, he might recognize people who have served in ministries for decades. This is so important and encouraging.

Recently, I was on a retreat where a friend/longtime minister prayed for me specifically. We were in a group of about 15 people and he prayed a prayer of blessing. He prayed in such detail that I was very moved by this moment. A part of what made this moment so moving for me was that he communicated value, worth, and genuine appreciation.

You can communicate value to someone in a variety of ways:

1. You can tell someone how valuable they are to you as a friend or as a co-worker.

2. You can “catch them” doing something right and bring it to their attention.

3. You can praise their work before others.

4. You can listen — genuinely listen — to their thoughts and ideas.

5. You can send a note, card, e-mail, text, or any other kind of communication to communicate value.


What else would you add to this list? How has someone communicated value to you?

What I Learned From Other Men

If you are confused about what it means to be a man today, you are certainly not alone.   

Notice some of these articles:

*Why men are in trouble.

*The End of Men.

*Where Have the Good Men Gone?

Many men today are very confused.

Quite often sitcoms portray them as goofy, less than bright, and typically immature. It is assumed they would rather play golf than do anything noble or heroic. Again and again, a dad is portrayed as one who doesn’t get it. Of course, some do not. Some men seem to remain in a perpetual state of immaturity. As William Bennett notes, one of the common complaints from young women about young men is their failure to grow up. Bennett goes on to say:

Movies are filled with stories of men who refuse to grow up and refuse to take responsibility in relationships. Men, some obsessed with sex, treat women as toys to be discarded when things get complicated. Through all these different and conflicting signals, our boys must decipher what it means to be a man, and for many of them it is harder to figure out.

So how does this change?

Men need other men to mentor, guide, and correct them. The church is a place where this can happen. This is especially important if younger guys did not have fathers in their lives as they were growing up. Other guys had fathers who were silent, passive, and disconnected.

Several men blessed me during my 20s and this has continued to make a real difference decades later. They taught me through their words, manner, and willingness to speak into my life. What I did learn from some of these men?

1. Loyalty. One husband and father talked with me in our conversations about his marriage. I heard him express loyalty to his wife and children. I watched him as he spoke to his wife and saw his tenderness toward her. He esteemed her both in her absence and in her presence. I wanted to have a family where I treated my wife and children similarly.

2. Courage. One evening when I was still a college student, a church elder, I greatly admired talked with me about the way I was handling myself with a young woman I had been dating. He witnessed my behavior as I quarreled with her one evening and talked with me about how to handle my behavior in such situations. I had acted immaturely (and knew it), and he was trying to help me. I admired his courage for being willing to step into my life to help me mature.

3. Emotional Connection. It is true. Men and women are not wired the same. When I was in my early 20s and single, I had no idea how to connect emotionally with a woman. No way was I ready for marriage. I certainly had no idea how I would connect emotionally with children if I had them. Later, I began to learn how to stay connected emotionally with my wife and children as I watched (and talked with) two men in particular. I still had much to learn, however, these two men helped me get started and gave me a picture of what an emotionally connected family might look like.


Is there a person (outside your immediate family) who has made a significant investment in your life through friendship or mentoring? How has this relationship impacted you?

Ministry Inside.59

If you are a preacher, pastor, or minister in any role, what do you wish you had known when you first began your ministry?

(Please leave a comment today regarding this. I think your reply could be very helpful to some who are just beginning their work.)

Ministry Inside.58

Most Thursdays, I post “Ministry Inside” which is a collection of a few thoughts and resources especially for church leaders. Perhaps you will find one or more of these helpful.

1. Chuck Degroot writes some significant posts that address some important issues in the lives of church leaders. This week I read “On Self-Deception” in which he discusses self-deception and the importance of confession as a means of helping us see who we really are and what is really going on in our lives. I like this quote from the post:

Sometimes we find ourselves becoming more like Jesus not because we’re good, or because we’ve succeeded, or because we’re doing the right thing, but because we’ve seen the log in our own eye instead of the speck in another’s. We may feel powerful reciting the narrative we believe about some other screwed up person, but confessing our own deceit invites us into a holy powerlessness, a place where we need Jesus more than we know.

2. I have just finished reading Scot McKnight’s new book, The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited. I had difficulty putting this book down. After several years of reading N.T. Wright, this book helped connect some dots. There are two forewords in the book, one by N.T. Wright and the other by Dallas Willard.   

Also, Scot McKnight has been delivering the Parchman Lectures at Truett Seminary (Baylor University) this week. This series is entitled “American Evangelicalism and the Pastor.” Video and audio of this series will be available at the Truett website soon.

3. Jeff Goins has written a very good post entitled “Self-Leadership.” This good post addresses the tendency of many of us to blame others instead of taking responsibility. I pay attention to what Jeff writes. He consistently writes good, helpful posts.

4. This was a helpful post! “An 18 Minute Plan for Managing Your Day” by Peter Bregman from the Harvard Business Review Blog Network. These three suggestions sound simple but were very helpful to me. If you need help staying on task, you might find these helpful as well.

Your Work May be More Important Than You Think

I am sat at our kitchen table having finished a cup of coffee.  

It was early in the morning. I was thinking about my work and the day I anticipated. I wanted the day to matter and count in some way. Typically, the day seems to really count if I lived in the moment with a sense of my own identity and purpose in Jesus.

This is not as easy as it may sound. At least, I don’t find this easy! Yes it is true. Sometimes I get up in the morning and I sense the presence of God and I feel like I in rhythm, living the way I was meant to live. On many other occasions, I find life to be very hard.

Years ago, I was walking with a friend and his wife through the student center at Abilene Christian University. I think we were all there for a special event. What I do remember is that I was apparently discouraged with my work/ministry. The three of us were walking down the stairs to get a coke and visit. This couple was a few years older than me. They had served in a full-time ministry role much longer than me.

As we were walking down the steps to the lower level of the student center, my friend’s wife said to me,

”Jim, our work is far too important to allow it to be destroyed by another mortal.”

I have remembered this for many years. She saw that I was getting overly focused on a certain person’s destructive attitude and behavior. I was allowing this one person to discourage and distract me.

Such discouragements can happen to us all.

Discouragement can happen to you in your ministry or your family. Discouragement can take place at work. Discouragement can happen as you try to deal with life. Does this sound familiar? Or is this limited to just a few of us?

Sometimes, we allow discouraging situations to finally wear us out. Imagine being in a canoe with another person. You would like to go straight down the river. You use your oar in such a way as to cause the canoe to go straight. Your friend, however, seems to be interested in going from one side of the river to the other. You paddle and paddle and find yourself heading to the side of the river and finally hitting the bank. You get the canoe headed in the right direction again and a minute or two later, you are heading to the other side of the river toward the other bank. Eventually this kind of canoeing becomes very tiresome.

Life can be exhausting!

Perhaps I need to be reminded that the Lord is at my side and gives me strength. Perhaps I need to remember that the Lord does not leave his children to fend for themselves. Rather, he is with us.

At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them. But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

(II Timothy 4:16-18)

(Adapted from a previous post)