How Jesus Can Use a Family Just Like Yours

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My dad grew up in a modest home, a son in a family who just got by.  His family didn’t have much but neither did anyone else.

Their family went to the Church of Christ in Granite, Oklahoma.  W.D. Hockaday (1855 – 1944), one of the elders of their church, was very influential in his life.  His son, Don Hockaday Jr., preached at the church.  W.D. Hockaday owned a hardware store and he was also an encourager of good works.  He helped found Cordell Christian College in 1907, with its first President being, J.N. Armstrong.  Hockaday’s sister was Sally Hockaday Benson, the wife of George S. Benson (later President of Harding University).  My dad knew none of this as a boy.  What he knew is that Hockaday was known in their community as a good and generous man.

My dad enjoyed telling a story about Christmas in Granite during the Great Depression years.  Each year, Hockaday would pass out Christmas presents to all the children in town.  Children would line up in front of Hockaday’s store and wait their turn.  Inside the store, Hockaday sat by a potbellied stove as each child would pass by.  He would give them a paper sack with a few nuts, fruit, and a piece of candy.  For many of these children, including my dad, that would be the only Christmas present they would receive.

Fast forward many years later.  I remember leaving Bible class on a particular rainy Wednesday evening.  After Bible class at church, 0ur family drove to a house not far from the Pleasant Grove Church building in Dallas.  We knocked and stood on the front porch of the house.  A young family came to the door (the entire family!).  My parents had brought a sack of groceries.  My dad handed the father the key to what had been my mother’s car.  My parents were trying to help this family, giving them groceries and practically giving away this car.  As a young boy, I watched all of this closely.

On another occasion, when I was in elementary school, a little girl came to live with us.  I didn’t understand then but a mother at our church with a number of children could no longer care for them.  Now this little girl was staying with our family.  In fact, the whole congregation was involved in looking out for the children of this family.  Somehow, the willingness to serve and be helpful had caused them to take in this little child for a number of weeks.  My parents responded with graciousness and generosity toward this young girl.

I have thought about what my parents did on these occasions and how these moments impacted me.  I can’t help but wonder if these seeds of the good deeds were not first planted in my a in my dad’s heart through the generosity of W.D. Hockaday many, many years earlier.

Can God use a family like yours?  Absolutely.  Better yet, he may already be using your family to plant seeds of faith, love, and generosity into the hearts of your children.

Children pick up so much from their parents.

They hear how you talk about the church, both positively and negatively.

They hear how you talk to your own parents, the words as well as the tone of voice.

They hear and see how you respond to others, whether with grace or contempt.

One thing for sure, our children are being shaped into a certain kind of people.  The question is, “Are we intentional about shaping our children?”


Six Helpful Suggestions for Any Christian Leader

number6The following are six suggestions for leadership that I recently shared with a group of church leaders.  These six have helped me greatly.  If you are in any leadership role, these can be helpful.  (I am indebted to Edwin Friedman, Peter Scazzero, and Ruth Haley Barton for some of the seed thoughts in these statements.)

  1. The best thing you bring to a congregation’s leadership and life is your own transforming self. (Ruth Haley Barton)


  1. Mature leadership begins with the leader’s capacity and willingness to take seriously one’s own emotional behavior. How the leader deals with his emotional behavior is a reflection of his own spirituality.


  1. Differentiation in a leader means that this leader functions as a less anxious presence in the face of anxious people. He/she is able to take a stand in an intense emotional system.


  1. Generally speaking, followers will not rise above the emotional maturity level of their leaders. A leader may be highly intelligent and highly skilled. The congregation (as well as one’s own family) is impacted by the emotional behavior of that leader. This is a rich opportunity to live out one’s own spiritual transformation.


  1. Ministry which creates a constant state of frenzied activity for the congregation through the maintenance of our ministry systems and our programs can be a real detriment to our life with God, our marriages, and the health of the congregation.


  1. As an elder/minister I am not simply in a ministry to “do things for God.” Rather, as a human, I am worthy of rest, care, and good relationships.

4 Ways to Take Pressure Off Your Marriage


Marriage can be challenging.  Yet, sometimes we put additional pressure on ourselves by taking on responsibilities that are not ours.

For example:

You are not responsible for your spouse’s moods.

Some men and women are very emotionally immature.  Some are moody and emotionally manipulative.  These people may even blame their emotional moods on their spouse.  “I was in a great mood until you spoiled it!”  Yet, no one is responsible for another’s mood or attitude.  You cannot “fix” another’s moods.

You are not responsible for keeping your spouse from getting upset.

Some people attempt to punish their spouses when they become upset.  A spouse may learn that she has to be very careful or her husband will become upset and explode with rage.  As one woman said, “I have to be very careful about what I say to my husband.  He becomes angry and I know I am in trouble.”  As a result, the family tiptoes around this man’s feelings and immaturity.

You are not responsible for keeping your spouse from withdrawing emotionally.

One of the regrets I have in my own marriage (especially in the early years) are the times when I withdrew emotionally from my wife.  I would become angry or frustrated and instead of dealing with it in a mature, godly manner, at times I would withdraw.  Of course that behavior was frustrating to my wife.  My behavior was not mature nor was it right. Nevertheless, she could not be responsible for keeping me from this kind of behavior.

You are not responsible for making your spouse look good.

Some people are far more concerned about projecting a particular image than they are in becoming a person of maturity and high character.  Instead of behaving in a way that would please God, they focus more on looking good in front of particular people.  How they appear to others on Facebook may matter more than how they are really living before the Lord God when they are at home.

Marriage can be challenging.  As men and women, we do have responsibilities when we marry. However, we cannot bear responsibilities that belong to our wives or husbands.  Doing so only adds unnecessary pressure to a marriage.

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.

How to Avoid Destroying Your Marriage

MarriageMany men and women sabotage their own marriages.

At its best, marriage can be challenging.  Yet some people harm their marriages through their own behavior.   The following are some ways in which you can do damage to your own marriage:

1.  Whisper words of criticism and put downs in your spouse’s ear.  Doing this will eventually destroy his or her confidence.  You might think that if you whisper these words, you can save face with your friends.  After all, you know if they were to hear what you whispered they might think you were rude, immature, and perhaps even a jerk.  This way, you can quietly tear down your spouse while pretending to be supportive and loving before friends and family.  If she objects, then you can say, “I was just joking.”  The idea seems to be that if one claims to be joking, responsibility for any hurt can be denied.

2.  Focus your attention on other women/men instead of your spouse.  If you are caught flirting with another, be sure to blame your spouse.  “Well, what am I supposed to do?  It’s nice to get some attention!   Maybe if you would be a better husband (or wife), I wouldn’t find this person so attractive.”

Some focus on others by using pornography.  This will allow you to live in a fantasy world where you can stare at a computer screen or lose yourself in an erotic novel instead of having to grow up and commit to tender loving marital intimacy with your spouse.

3.  Ignore your spouse.  You can destroy your marriage over time by just doing nothing.  Basically, you can live in the same house and totally ignore one another.  You can ignore his/her desires, needs, and longings.  There are homes where night after night married people do nothing but stare at their phones or the television.  A marriage can be destroyed over time by doing absolutely nothing.

The Bully

(Relationships, Marriages, Churches)


Bullies seem to be everywhere.

Some are married.  Some are single.  They come in all ages and from various economic and ethnic groups.  You may work with a bully.  You may have one in your family.  Even assembling with your church may not be an escape from a bully. A bully can even be a church leader.

So what does a bully do?

  1. A bully relies on power and control, either physically, emotionally or both.
  2. A bully convinces another that the only option he or she has is to give in to his demands.
  3. A bully can be mean, especially if you do not yield to his power.
  4. A bully can be charming.  At any moment, he can turn on the charm or be especially cruel.
  5. A bully thinks he is more intelligent than you.  He thinks he has more to offer than you. He believes he is right.
  6. A bully is convinced that he is one of the few who really gets it.
  7. A bully wants to get his way and will use any number of weapons to do so.
  8. A bully is low on empathy. Yet, he can become teary eyed or enraged, whatever the situation seems to require. Often, this emotion is not due to empathy but rather is being used as a means to get what he wants.

The bully attempts to dominate by intimidation, power, and control. Yet, what confuses some is that the bully can turn on the charm. Yet that charm can quickly turn into emotional venom if another displeases the bully.

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.


Monday Start: Resources for the Week

coffee_cup-1.jpg(Today is Martin Luther King Jr. day.  As our nation remembers the work of Dr. King, it is also a time for all of us who are believers to remember that the church is called to model relationships, regardless of race, where the Gospel shapes who we are and the way we treat one another.)

The following are resources you may find helpful.  I have read most of these in the last few weeks.


See “Top 10 Writing Quotes to get you started in 2016.”  I mention this because I regularly look for brief quotes that are inspirational and motivating.  Usually in a list like this, I will find at least one quote that I connect with.


If you are a Christian leader in any sense of these two words, I would encourage you to read The Emotionally Healthy Leader by Peter Scazzero.  I have read all of Scazzero’s books and each one has ministered to me in some way.  This particular book is his most recent and may be his best.


See this excellent article from Inc magazine: “10 Habits Remarkable People Give Up Every Day.” Helpful.

J. I. Packer

I have admired J. I. Packer for many years.  See “J. I. Packer, 89, Losing Sight But Seeing Christ.” Many years ago, I was a young minister and was dealing with a few people who had a perspective on the Christian faith that was unfamiliar to me.  I discovered a discussion regarding this perspective in one of Packer’s earlier books.  I wrote Packer and asked for clarification regarding this discussion.  Within days, he faxed (remember the “fax” machine?) a very helpful letter to me.  I have always been grateful.


In October, I read a piece by David Brooks in which he asked the question, “Who would you be and what would you do if you weren’t afraid?”  What a wonderful sentence to reflect on at the beginning of a new year!


I am a regular reader of Comment journal.  Typically I read the print version but they have recently upgraded their website where you can access past issues of the journal.

I especially enjoy the regular series by James K. A. Smith in which he reflects on books, articles, and various topics.  (I find him interesting, helpful, and thoughtful).  See his most recent article, “World View: An Annotated Reading of Your World.”



Marriage and Ministry

Choosing Well or Choosing Poorly?

choose-well-logo_cropDo you know people who have a reputation for choosing poorly?

A woman chooses a spouse.  Her friends are shocked at her choice.  She always said that she would marry someone godly and mature.  Now she has begun to rationalize.  She is convinced that “he has a good heart” and the potential to change.  Besides “He’s cute!”

A minister chooses a new congregation.  His minister friends are stunned by his choice.  He always said that he wanted to serve a church that was more of a fit than his previous congregation. At this point, however, he has begun to rationalize.  He is convinced that the elders in the new congregation are more serious than ever about reaching people in the city.  He believes they have the potential to change from what they have been.  Perhaps.  It might do him well to pay attention to their history.

Some people choose poorly again and again.

When I was in graduate school, I took a number of marriage and family therapy classes.  I recall a lecture from one of my favorite professors as he talked about the importance of choosing well.

He said, “When it comes to marriage some people make bad choices again and again.”  I would argue that the same is true for some ministers.  Some ministers, repeatedly, make very bad choices regarding the churches they agree to serve.

Perhaps some self-reflection and self-awareness might be helpful in making these choices.

“What is there in me that causes me to continue to make very poor choices regarding my relationships?”

Or, as a minister, I might be more discretionary and steer away from choosing a church that is a poor fit and dysfunctional.  Yet there are people who almost seem to be most satisfied when there is some kind of drama going on.  Could it be that drama feeds something within me?  Or, perhaps I am just choosing poorly.

What can you do to choose well?

  • Listen to the wise and godly people in your life.  Refusing to listen to the wise and godly people in your life is like driving down the expressway at 60 mph with your eyes closed so you don’t have to see potential problems.
  • Don’t let desperation cause you to lower your standards and jump into something unwise.  Many people have made hasty decisions only to eventually experience even more pain and heartache.
  • Listen to the people who really love you.  What do the people who love you say about the relationship that you are about to step into?  If you are becoming defensive with these people, what is happening within you for you to react this way.
  • Let new relationships be based on history, not potential.  So many women marry men based on potential.  Sometimes, a woman marries a man and he then becomes her project to encourage and prod that he might reach his potential.  Likewise, some ministers do the same when they agree to serve a congregation because of  potential, while ignoring its history. A person’s history or a church’s history is a more accurate gauge of what they are apt to be like in the future.

Of course, one can choose well and it is still no guarantee that marriage or the ministry will be full of joy and peace.  One can choose well and others can later make choices which may end up being destructive and hurtful.  We can, however, seek to choose with wisdom and good discernment.  Even then, we bring these big decisions before the Father in prayer.

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.