Learning to Finish What You Start

Many people start. Fewer finish.finish.jpg

Consider what we begin:

  • A marriage begins with a wedding.
  • A student begins an academic program.
  • A homeowner begins a do-it-yourself project remodeling the family’s kitchen.
  • A person begins a blog.
  • A church member takes on and begins a project for the congregation.

Many people begin. Fewer finish.

This past weekend, our family and some friends gathered in the Lloyd Noble Arena at the University of Oklahoma to support our daughter Jamie, as she received her Master of Social Work degree after several hard years of study and work. As you might imagine, I was a very proud father.

I was especially proud that she had finished.

Years ago, I received a Doctor of Ministry degree from Harding Graduate School of Theology. Shortly after graduation, Ken Dye, a longtime friend, said to me:

“You finished! A lot of people start things, but you finished!”

I especially appreciated this because I once came very close to dropping out of college as an undergraduate at the University of North Texas.

I was a first semester junior and was very discouraged. I was struggling in several of my classes. One day, I decided to quit. I cut my classes that day and went to Dallas in search of another direction. I first went to an electronics school and talked with them. Then I went to a school that trained radio announcers. Finally, I went to the Dallas Police Department.

At the police department, I talked with a person about the application process. Then at the end of the conversation, another officer joined us. This officer was an African-American gentleman in his late 40s. He was dressed in plain clothes, a sportcoat and slacks. He sat across the table from me and smoked his pipe. At one point he said,

“Son, if you are interested in this, we will be glad to talk with you. My suggestion to you, however, would be to finish college. Don’t quit now.”

Monday Start (Resources for the Week)

Do you have a dream?

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This may be one of the best posts Jeff Goins has written: “When You’re Scared to Death, Do Something Anyway.” I really enjoy reading Jeff’s posts. You might enjoy this great interview with Jeff Goins.


Pictures of the day

You might enjoy these pictures from The Telegraph (UK). I especially like the first one.


Do you read fiction?

I confess. I read very little fiction. I am wondering if I should not be reading more. See this post from Scot McKnight.


What they are thinking

You might be interested in this chart from Scot McKnight’s blog entitled “What Young Adults Care About.”


What Do You Wish You Had Done that You Didn’t Do?

In Mentor Like Jesus, Regi Campbell writes about some people in their 90s who were surveyed a few years ago and asked this question:

“What are three things you wish you had done that you didn’t do?”

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These people responded with a number of answers. The three most prevalent responses were:

“Take more risk.”

“Reflect more.”

“Focus more on things that will live beyond me.”

I have thought about how I might answer this question. I probably would say, “Focus more on what I desire to do and not allow fear to hold me back.”

How would you answer this question?

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How to Kill Your Ministry

1. Live an insular life. Live as if you were on a remote island. You have probably seen ministers like this. Some live this way within their own congregations. Others exist like this within their fellowship or denomination. They live and function with their lives centered around concerns that are small and unrelated to kingdom issues. Toxic.jpg

As a result, my concerns become either the intramural concerns of a particular group/denomination or the local concerns of my congregation. As a result, I fail to see the larger issues and concerns that impact the world.

An insular ministry can be toxic! It will shrink your thinking and dwarf your faith. This is a slow death which is often painful for the congregation to endure. Unfortunately, its victims are often unaware of its presence until it has become a chronic condition.

Nothing has been more refreshing to me than to explore the issues and concerns of the world through reading, conversations, etc. If I don’t do this on purpose, my thinking will be reduced to the immediate. One way to begin is with drinking coffee and eating lunch with some people who think beyond your immediate context. Start with college students or if you are fairly young with an older, thoughtful person. As they speak about their concerns, listen intently – not to answer but to understand.

What You May Be Missing by Nursing Your Discontentment

I couldn’t believe it.  secret-of-contentment (1).png

The house was huge.  

It seemed like the house covered much of the block.  I was in college working for a company based in the Dallas area. On the instruction sheet were directions to this home located in an exclusive part of Dallas.  I was going to the home of the daughter of the president of this company.   I didn’t know what was in the envelope.  I just knew that I was supposed to have it signed and return it.

I pulled the car in front of the house and walked to the service entrance and rang the bell.  A woman answered the door.  She apparently was a part of the domestic staff.  She told me to follow her.  We walked through a very long room.  I looked through the plate glass window to the outside and couldn’t believe how big the yard was.  Swimming pool, gardens, etc.  It was huge!

A woman was sitting on a couch.  She looked very somber.  She looked as if she had been crying.  I handed the brown envelope to her.  

It was then that I realized I was delivering her divorce papers.  

I thought about how quiet this house was.  It was a big house.  It was a beautiful house.  It was a house like no other I had ever been in.  Yet, here was this woman who was in tears over what was happening.

3 Suggestions for Becoming Self-forgetful

We live in a culture in which many think it is perfectly normal to pursue whatever is in your self-interest — even if it means breaking your prior commitments. The thinking goes something like this:

You may be married.Self-Forgetfulness.jpg

You may have a good job.

You may be a part of a church.

However (the thinking goes), these should not come at your expense. As a result, many men and women make decisions they never dreamed they would make.

A man leaves his young wife and small child for another woman.

A middle-aged woman leaves her husband who has just learned he has cancer. She doesn’t want to have to take care of him.

Far too many people conclude that if something appears to be a “better offer” it is only reasonable to abandon one’s commitments so that one doesn’t miss this new opportunity.

Monday Start (Resources for the Week)

You May Be Thinking About Technology and Relationships.
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This TED talk made me think. Professor Sherry Turkle speaks about why we seem to expect more from technology and less from each other.


You May Be Thinking About Ministry.

Gene Wilkes (a great guy!) has written an important post: “4 Things I Learned in 25 Years of Ministry.” Ministers really ought to read this post.

Rick McKinley interviews Eugene Peterson (video). “‘Pastor’ is not a job description; it really is a life that is shaped in a certain way.” Eugene Peterson really makes me think about ministry.


You May Be Thinking About Your Faith.

Lanny Davis (attorney and political commentator) has written a fine post. “What Chuck Colson taught me about using the word hate.‘”


Perhaps You Are Thinking About Your Life.

Kara Alexander has written a very thoughtful post about raising small children and the tendency to enroll them in numerous extracurricular activities.

Here are some very practical ideas for living a missional life. Josh Reeves has written: “25 Simple Ways to be Missional in Your Neighborhood.” Be sure to read his second post as well: “25 More Ways to Easily be Missional in Your Neighborhood.”

Are You Under Pressure?

Pressure.

How many times have you said “Right now I am under a lot of pressure.”

Many years ago, the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus was performing in Detroit’s Kobo Hall.  The key event was the high-wire act performed by the Walenda family. They were probably the greatest high-wire workers of all circus history. The act the Flying Walendas performed in those days was the four-level pyramid: four or five people on bottom, three or four next, then two, and then one little girl on top. Their act was unprecedented.

Night after night the four-level pyramid would make its way from one end of the wire to the other. They had performed this feat all over the world.

As the show came to an end, this particular evening, the Walendas, as usual, got ready for their feat. The lights were turned low, and the people were very quiet in expectation of the moment. This four-level pyramid began to make its way across the wire. About two-thirds of the way across, one man on the bottom, Deter Walenda, felt his knees begin to tremble and then shake.

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Each Thursday, I post something I think might be helpful or encouraging to church leaders. (You might also find it helpful to read an earlier post about some of the real mental and emotional challenges in ministry.)

Habits that will help you keep your sanity as a Christian leader:

1. Have a strong sense of call. Is this your vocation (calling) or is this just a career? Do you have a sense that God has been working in your life all along, preparing you for your ministry? Prayer and a sense of God’s providence are incredibly important.

2. Deal with the elephants in the room. Name them and write them down. What is sucking the life and energy out of our minister group or elder group? What are the elephants in the room? What is an obvious problem among our church leaders and yet we remain silent?

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3. Make a decision, no matter how small, and follow through. Indecision is a huge energy drainer. Even decisions that may seem relatively small, but are followed by taking one step forward, can give great encouragement and energy to a congregation.

4. Focus on your own functioning, instead of focusing on everyone else. Move away from “if only” thinking. Instead, focus on what you are going to say, what you are going to do, and how you will choose to spend your time this week. If you will focus on your emotional growth, your spiritual growth, and your growth as a leader, you will experience less stress.

5.  Be a lifelong learner. It may be tempting to rely on your giftedness. You may want to prove to people that you have what it takes. Others rely on their formal education. However, that too can go by the wayside quickly.

Lifelong learners intend to grow, develop, and mature. Much learning is “on purpose.” We are at an advantage when we desire and intend to learn. For example, I have learned much from reading. I can point to several biographies and a few other books as well that have been important in my growth and development. Yet, there are many other ways to be intentional about learning.

Lifelong learners have learned and are learning. There is nothing arrogant about acknowledging that I have learned something. I have lived, thought, and studied for a number of years. I can honestly say I have learned a few things about life and ministry. At the same time, I continue to learn and have much to learn.


6.   Create an encouraging environment. Commit to create an encouraging environment among the other church leaders in the congregation. It is awfully hard to develop an encouraging environment in the congregation when the leaders don’t have that commitment among themselves. This has implications for how ministers/elders talk about one another in one another’s absence. It also has implications for how we talk to one another.

Monday Start (Resources for the Week)

Each Monday, I post a number of links to articles, posts, etc. I recently read. The ones cited are those which I think may interest you.

Let me encourage you to subscribe to the e-mail updates of the posts on my blog (if you haven’t already. Or, let me encourage you to subscribe to the RSS feed to use in your Google Reader or other device.”


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Thinking About Ministry?

Here is a fine interview with Eugene Peterson on “The Reading and Writing Life of the Pastor.” Don’t miss this.

See this interview with Jimmy Dorrell of Mission Waco “How to Get Middle Class Congregations Involved with the Poor.”

Interview with Mike Cope – “Interview with Mike Cope and His Ministry at What Really Matters.”


Looking for a Good Blog Post?

Don’t miss Matthew Paul Turner’s post “25 Christian Blogs You Should Be Reading.” I discovered a number of blogs here that are new to me.

From Copyblogger note this post: “58 Ways to Create Persuasive Content Your Audience Will Love.”


Looking for Something Interesting?

See this post from Mental Floss: “11 Early Scathing Reviews of Words Now Considered Masterpieces.”

Have you seen Thinkers50?

Josh Graves has written an article which was posted at Fox News Online. “Let’s Make Sunday a Day of Rest, For God’s Sake.”