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.

We All Need a Do-Over

(Both the Prodigal Son and the Elder Brother Need God's Grace)

prodigal-son-by-charlie-mackesyDo you ever wish you could have a do-over?

As a teenager, I used to play golf frequently at the Tenison Golf Course in Dallas.  One of the first times I played, I hit a terrible drive off the tee.   Someone said, “Take a mulligan.”  I learned that “mulligan” was just another word for “do-over.”

There is nothing like a do-over.  Grace through Jesus is the ultimate do-over.  

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.  (Ephesians 2:8-9)

A do-over is what so many of us want and desperately need from God.  

We would like to be forgiven. We would like to be washed clean of our sins and failures. Many of us look back at the last decade, the last year, or even yesterday and realize how we have strayed from the desires of God.  Maybe, you know all too well that you desperately need the grace of God.

The sins that are mentioned in I Corinthians 6 are all too familiar.  Consider some of them: Those who are dishonest, those who are sexually immoral, those who swindle others and the list goes on. Paul tells these people that this is what some them were (6:11).  “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and By the Spirit of our God.”  Today, as in Paul’s day, Jesus gives each one of us the opportunity to experience the ultimate redemptive d0-over.

It may seem obvious that some need a d0-over.  After all, they did something really bad. We know we have sins but theirs seem so much worse.  Yet, even the best people need Jesus. The truth is that we make a big mistake when we focus on those who have committed certain sins while minimizing our own.

Every single one of us desperately needs Jesus.  In the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15), both the rebellious younger brother and the self-righteous older brother need Jesus.

Consider two kinds of people:

The “Younger Brother or Sister”  This person lives a lifestyle of sin and may be in complete rebellion to God.  As a woman told me on one occasion, “Nobody is going to tell me what to do.” She was involved in a lifestyle that tore apart her family and seriously hurt her children.  Yet, she was determined to do what she wanted to do.  She didn’t care what anyone thought and more importantly, didn’t seem to care what God thought about the choices she was making.  Fortunately, she eventually returned to her senses.  She surrendered to the will and the desires of Jesus and her life was changed.

The “Older Brother or Sister”  This person wrestles with sin as well.  Yet, in her mind, her sins are not near as bad as the sins of the prodigal son or daughter.  She would quickly acknowledge that “we all sin” and yet, she treats others as if their sins are far worse than her own.  Like the older brother in Luke 15, she may resent that some who have changed their lives for God are getting so much attention and affirmation.  In fact, she may even resent that the prodigal son was forgiven.  In her mind, the prodigal son might be better off if God would occasionally remind him of his past sins.

The good news of the Gospel is that in the cross, God’s love is big enough to forgive the unrighteous and the self-righteous.  Now that is good news!

 

 

 

 

Marriage: Maybe It Was Meant to Kill You

Cross-and-marriageIf you’ve been married for any length of time, you may have occasionally thought, “This marriage is going to kill me yet!” After all, marriage certainly isn’t easy.  In fact, there may be seasons when the joy is scarce and the energy required is huge.

One thing is for certain.  Marriage is for grown-ups.  It can be both challenging and difficult.  It can also be immensely rewarding and satisfying.

Sometimes when our marriage is difficult, we tend to focus on the flaws of our spouse.  Yes, there are some marriages where one person begins to inflict emotional or physical abuse upon his spouse.  Or, a married person may practice continual infidelity. These behaviors are often a way of expressing contempt toward his or her spouse.  These behaviors can reduce a marriage to a crisis.

Even in healthy marriages, we can focus on the flaws and shortcomings of our spouse.  Of course anyone in a marriage gets a front row seat to the virtue and the flaws of one’s spouse.

Perhaps marriage is sometimes difficult because we begin to see our flaws and sins.  For the person who is serious about being shaped and formed into the image of Jesus, focusing totally on the flaws of one’s spouse can waste an opportunity to grow.

Maybe marriage was meant to kill you.  Maybe marriage was meant to reveal parts of you that are un-Christlike, immature, and self-absorbed so that by his grace these might be put to death.

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

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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)

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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.