The following are a few basic but critical realities of ministry.
1. Good thinking and good practice matter. Those who work with churches are sometimes challenged on both fronts. What we do with the text matters. How we think theologically matters.
2. We serve out of our identity in Christ. What we know is important. Content is critical. However, my identity is rooted in Jesus. I am not foremost a leader, a vice president of a seminary, or a preacher. Before anything else, I am a follower of Jesus.
Last year, I began a new ministry at Harding School of Theology. When I took on this role, I didn’t suddenly become brilliant or more important than any other Christian servant. It is just a different form of ministry. What is at the core of any Christian ministry is how you are allowing your ministry to be used to shape you into someone more Christ-like.
She sat outside our auditorium. She sat in a folding chair, practically doubled over as if she was in pain. She rocked and rocked. Little did I know that she had a gun in her purse.
She was deeply troubled. She had been an alcoholic for many years. That night her eyes were bloodshot. I presumed she had been drinking. I approached her just before our worship service began. She said that she wanted to remain outside the auditorium in the hallway.
“I am not worthy.”
In the last few weeks, I have been thinking about the New Year. This is a great time for review, reflection, and being intentional about one’s actions. One dimension that I want to consider as I begin the new year is my relationships with various people. When Jesus spoke about the two greatest commandments, he said that what was front and center was loving God and loving people.
As I reflect upon the previous year, I want to consider my relationships with various people:
- my spouse
- my children
- my mom and dad
- my friends
- my neighbors
- my co-workers
- my employer
- my fellow church members
- my extended family
It is very easy to get accustomed to behaving in certain ways toward another even though such behavior may be manipulative, self-serving, and destructive. At the very least, such behavior can violate the spirit of what it means to love. It can violate the teachings of Jesus. Yet, we may become numb and callous to what we are doing.
A number of years ago, I watched an exchange between two people that made me feel very uncomfortable. There was no argument. No heated words. None of that. In fact, during this exchange both men were smiling and the conversation was pleasant. What was disheartening was to see one of these men act one way in the other’s presence and then see how he spoke about the other man in his absence. He made derogatory and insulting remarks about the other man. He questioned the other man’s intelligence and belittled him in a variety of ways. This was always done in the other’s absence, never in his presence.
I thought about my own words and behavior. Do I live, speak, and behave with integrity toward others?
This is my point. I don’t want to live from one year to the next without thinking about my relationships. I don’t want to be on autopilot and never give serious thought to the way I behave toward others. This is not just a matter of eliminating negative behavior. Rather, I want to think about practical ways to express love toward some significant people in my life.
What do you think? What would you add to this as you think about your own life?
The following are eight of my favorite podcasts. (None of these are sermon podcasts. I do listen to sermon podcasts but do not listen to any one preacher regularly.)
1. Beyond the To Do List (Erik Fischer). Interview format. Practical and often provides me with a few ideas for improving the way I work.
2. The Exchange (Ed Stetzer). Conversation with various guests each week. Stetzer asks these guests very good questions related to faith, ministry, etc.
3. Pray-as-you-go. A daily podcast that is often very helpful to me as I begin my day.
4. Read to Lead Podcast (John Dumas). Interview format. Typically interviews authors of books related to leadership, productivity, etc.
5. Unbelievable? Typically this podcast is a discussion between two thinkers regarding some aspect of faith.
6. This is Your Life (Michael Hyatt). This helpful podcast is about leadership, productivity, and social media. Very helpful.
7. The Emotionally Healthy Leader (Peter Scazzero). A podcast that says much about systems as well as the spiritual disciplines.
8. The Portfolio Life (Jeff Goins). Good material regarding writing and productivity.
I have always enjoyed beginning the New Year.
This is a time in which I consider my life, my direction, and my future. The New Year is a time for reflecting on my walk with God, the condition of my heart, and my habits.
Without such a practice, it is far too easy to minimize bad habits and ignore the obvious faults in one’s own life.
You may be a mother or father. You may be married or single. You may be a schoolteacher, a medical technician, or a homemaker. Regardless, there is something very useful about reflecting on the previous year. Without reflection, one can easily continue patterns and habits that are ineffective at best and may even be destructive.
I find it useful to examine the center of my life. My intent is for the center of my life to be Jesus Christ, Son of God. I want to begin with the center and then examine some of various components of my life. I ask questions that invite reflection on some of my primary relationships. For example:
- Are there significant people with whom I am experiencing conflict?
- What is the condition of my relationship with my spouse? Is my spouse being built up and encouraged in our marriage?
- How will my children speak of my relationship with them when they are adults? How will they remember life with me as their dad or mom? Was I nurturing and encouraging? Or, will my children remember me as difficult?
At some point during this process, I want to think about 2015. What kind of person do I want to become this year? What does God desire for me to become?
If I wish to grow in a certain area or if I wish to address a neglected area of my life, what will need to happen?
Perhaps this series will be useful to you. Maybe in some way, it will spur you to act as you begin the New Year.
The following are a few suggestions that you might find helpful. Ending and starting a new year is something that I typically give a lot of thought to.
1. I need to let some things go. No one ever became more Christ-like through resentment.
2. I need to be honest about my sin. I need to be honest both with God and with others about my sin. My failure to deal with my sin is a failure to deal with the reality of my life.
3. I need to think about what others see in me and compare that with what others might not see but nevertheless exists in my heart.
4. I need to deal with the habits I have accumulated over the past year. Have I taken on habits that are not good or wholesome? If I continue to practice these habits, what kind of person will I be one year from now.
5. I need to take into account how I have changed or haven’t changed over the past year. Are my friends concerned about my marriage or relationship with my children? Has a friend approached me with concern about my behavior or my attitude?
6. I need to acknowledge my plans. What is in my heart regarding the future? Do I fantasize about a future with someone else besides my spouse? Am I planning something ungodly?
7. I need to evaluate my health. What about my sleep habits, my eating, and my exercise? Do my habits and behaviors in these areas reflect the heart of one who wishes to honor God with his/her body?
8. I need to pray about my year that it might be clear to me what areas of my life might be out of God’s will or in someway might displease him.
9. I need to reflect on my relationships. Is there a family member with whom I need to reconcile with? Could a word from me restore my relationship with that person? Could it be that an apology is long overdue?
10. I need to ponder on the areas of my life that have not been surrendered to Jesus. Are there clearly areas of my life where I have refused to allow Jesus to rule as Lord?
I’m not sure where I ever heard this question. However, I like it. I like it a lot!
How can I exceed your expectations?
I grew up in Southeast Dallas in the old Pleasant Grove area. This was middle-class America. A lot of good people lived in that community. They worked hard and drove home to a white farm house or a small brick home. My mother shopped each Thursday afternoon at the Safeway on Buckner Blvd. On Sundays, most people who I knew went to church and then rooted for the Cowboys. Life seemed fairly simple.
I went to work early. I had a paper route with the Dallas Morning News for a number of years. Then I worked at a fast food restaurant. Most of my friends had jobs like that. We worked. We played sports. We rooted for our team.
The expectations that I had as a kid were not particularly high. I don’t know that I gave much thought about preparing for the future. In many respects, we were just getting by.
Years later, I live in Memphis, Tennessee. I am a husband, father, and grandfather to two wonderful little boys. I work with a seminary as well as preach and teach. I think more about expectations than I did at one time. Yet, I am not focused on the expectations I have of others or life in general. Rather, I think about the expectations others might have of me and how I would like to exceed some of those expectations.
For several years I used Trello, which is a very fine organizational tool. However, I have recently began using Nozbe. The switch wasn’t because of any dissatisfaction with Trello. Rather, Nozbe is a tool which complements what I have gained from David Allen’s Getting Things Done. It also integrates nicely with Evernote.
Justin Zoradi has written an excellent post “9 Important Tips for Sometimes Writers.” (Guest written for Donald Miller’s blog.) This piece has a number of great practical suggestions. Also see “8 Great Writing Hacks Every Creative Writer and Blogger Should Know” by Ivan Dimitrijevic.
Deception and Brokenness
A sad story of broken humanity and sin. See this piece which recently appeared in the Dallas News: “The Rise and Fall of a North Texas Con Man.”
“When a Little Girl with Down’s Syndrome Showed What’s ‘Possible‘” by Amy Julia Becker.
I just finished reading The Truth Shall Make You Odd by Frank G. Honeycutt. (A book of reflections on ministry and integrity.) Presently, I am reading Rookie Smarts by Liz Wildman and Chuck DeGroat’s “toughest people to love.”
Trust is everything!
If you are a church leader, trust really is everything. It doesn’t matter whether you are a preacher, an elder, or a volunteer with the youth group, trust is everything. A congregation’s present and future are greatly impacted by whether or not the leaders within the church can be trusted.
If people trust you, that is huge. If they don’t trust you, well, I’m not sure what you can do. As a church leader, you may preach sermons, make important announcements, or initiate special projects. However, if the members do not trust you it is awfully hard to move forward.
Hopefully, you had a great Thanksgiving. We were able to be with family in Dallas on Thanksgiving day. We also visited with two of our grandchildren and our daughter and son-in-law. I really enjoyed holding little Lincoln and wrestling with Brody.
1. This past week I have been reading The Truth Shall Make You Odd by Frank G. Honeycutt. I read several chapters from this book a few years ago and am now reading the entire book. Very insightful and helpful for reflecting on one’s ministry.
2. See “How to Make To-Do Lists Better, Faster, and More Fun” by Stephanie Vozza. Helpful.
3. Whether you like poetry or not, don’t miss L. L. Barkat’s piece from the Huffington Post “10 Great Titles for the Poet’s Wish List.” I have gained a real appreciation for poetry because of L. L. Barkat and her writing.
4. You might find valuable the article “How to Give a Stellar Presentation” which appeared recently in the Harvard Review.
5. See the piece by Maria Popova “C. S. Lewis on Why We Read.”