1. In many church buildings, there is a designated meeting room for key leaders in the congregation. In some churches, this will be the meeting room or conference room where the elders/ministers meet. In other churches this may be where the ministry team or the ministry staff meets. Early one morning, a minister was walking by himself through the church building. He happened to step into the meeting room where he had met with his elder group on many occasions through the years. As he entered that empty room and turned on the light, he was startled by what came out of his mouth.
“I hate this room.”
He thought about what he had just said. He knew why he had said this. This room was filled with so many unpleasant memories for him. As he thought about this room and his experiences, the feeling was depressing and sad. How sad! Yet, I have had enough conversations with ministers and elders to know that too many feel this way. The memories of many of those meetings are often not good.
Why are we not intentional about building better memories of time spent together as key leaders?
Why do we not build better memories of dreaming together and considering ways to participate in God’s kingdom?
Why are these gatherings not more about sharing stories of what God has done in our church and community?
Why not build memories of key leaders coming together to point out the good in one another and to encourage one another? I raise these questions because I really think ministers/elders could be much more intentional about building this kind of environment.
2. Periodically, I spend some time reflecting on my life and the state of my overall being. In particular, I am looking for gaps or perhaps a signal that something is being neglected. For example, I know ministers who are very disciplined readers but completely ignore their bodies. While they develop their minds, they get no exercise and have a poor diet. Some of these same people are very serious about what they read but then will laugh about neglecting their bodies.
I reflect on the various dimensions of my life and consider what I might be neglecting. Am I neglecting the development of my mind? Am I neglecting key relationships? Am I neglecting my emotions? This kind of self-reflection has been very important to me.
3. In ministry, trust is EVERYTHING. If you are with a congregation for any length of time, people will come to know you. They will know if you are trustworthy. They will know whether you tend to reveal what others have told you in confidence. They will know whether or not you are safe. They will know whether or not you really care. They will know.
4. Years ago, I learned that it was much easier to present a series of messages by preparing months in advance instead of living from week to week. Some people preach only “microwave” messages. On Monday or Tuesday they decide what they are going to preach the following Sunday. Then they scramble for a few days to prepare the message. There is not much time to let it “cook.” Now that is a difficult way to live from week to week. I have found it to be far easier and more satisfying to use the crock-pot as my primary image for preaching instead of the microwave. With “crock-pot preaching,” messages are begun far in advance. There is time to read, think, and simply let ideas and thoughts soak. Yes, this takes some discipline, but this allows one the time to really think through what is going to be presented. It is also a much less stressful way of living.
5. Do your church members express gratitude to one another? Far too often, men and women serve for years and never hear the words “thank you” for what they are doing. For example, here is a group of people who regularly prepare meals at church gatherings. They do this as volunteers, not receiving one dime of compensation for the hours they work to prepare this meal for several hundred people. Then at the meal, one person expresses his frustration with the group because they ran out of iced tea. Then another complains because he likes black-eyed peas rather than the green beans that they served. No thanks. No gratitude expressed. Just demands. This happens far too often in many church gatherings.
There is an incredible power in simply expressing heartfelt gratitude. Church leaders could inject something very powerful into the culture of their congregations by intentionally looking for people to thank.
6. Choose your battles. Choose where you expend your energy. Let some things go. Ministers can get caught up in ridiculous arguments. I am talking about the petty quarrels that take place in a congregation about things that are really insignificant. “Do we plant St. Augustine or Bermuda grass in front of the church building?” “Do we offer dessert with coffee at the next meeting or do we just offer coffee?” “Do we paint the hallways green or beige?” I might have an opinion regarding these things, but none of these concerns is worth very much of my energy and passion. In other words, when I go to “battle,” I want it to be for something that in the larger scheme of things that really do matter! Choose where you expend your energy. Some things you just need to let go.
7. For the last twenty years, when I preached for a congregation in Waco, Texas, I was away from the office during the month of July. For two weeks, I was on vacation. Then for two weeks I would study to prepare for the fall. Typically, this was one of the most valuable months of the year for me. It was not only a time to rest and relax but also a time to regroup. During the study portion of this month, I usually reflected on the previous year and the year to come. What have I been preaching? Where are the gaps? What do I really need to be saying to the church at this point? What does God seem to be doing in my life and in the life of this church? These questions were a call for much prayer and much thought.
8. A number of years ago, I noticed that when we visited another congregation and heard someone else preach, my thoughts tended to be critical. I would listen to a person focused on how I would say this or that differently or how this preacher had missed the meaning of a text. I think this critical spirit stemmed from my own sense of insecurity about my ministry.
More recently, when visiting another congregation, I listened with a completely different perspective than those early years. Instead of finding fault, I focused on what this person was doing right, doing well, and what a blessing he was to that church. I don’t ever want to revive that old critical spirit again.
9. All of us who are ministers need to remember that there are people in our churches who are shy, quiet, hesitant, and reserved. In fact, if we don’t really make an effort to speak to these people when the church assembles, we may never really have a conversation with them. This really was stressed to me a number of years ago immediately after a Sunday morning service. A candid (but truthful) schoolteacher approached meand said, “You are going to have to make more of an effort to speak to these people!” (Speaking of a particular family who was rather quiet and passive.) She went on to tell me that there are some people who, for whatever reason, just don’t have the confidence to initiate a conversation. I’ve never forgotten her words and am so grateful that she called my attention to this. Can you relate?
10. For many years I have practiced going into a library and surveying most of their current periodicals. For example, today I slowly walked up and down each periodical aisle looking at the cover of each journal or magazine. I glanced at the authors and titles of articles. Often this serves as an excellent snapshot of what is being discussed. As I am walking up and down these aisles, I will see an entire journal or one article that looks especially interesting. I will collect these journals (today there were about 10) and then sit in a carrel either thumbing through the entire journal or reading articles. I do this a few times a year and generally come away with ideas, articles, and some thoughts.