Ministry Inside.138

Every Thursday, I write with church leaders in mind.  Yet, this particular post probably speaks to many of us, regardless of how we serve.

Let’s think for a moment about self-consciousness.  

Man-Looking-in-MirrorWhen I was in high school (yes, this was a long time ago) a photographer came to our campus to take picture of our football and basketball teams.

There was a guy who was a receiver on our team who really seemed concerned about how he might look in a picture.  The photographer was going to take action shots. At one point, just before he began taking pictures of the receivers catching footballs, this particular receiver wanted to practice.  The quarterback threw him a pass (which he caught) and he immediately yelled to one of his friends, “How did I look?”

Many of us spend much time and energy preoccupied with ourselves.  We want to look good and can become more preoccupied with our image than the reality of our lives.  This self-consciousness comes out in interesting ways:

1.  A young father may spend much time and energy wanting to appear to be cool.  Consequently, his appearance receives more attention than his character.

5 Marks of Mature Behavior

maturityEmotionally immature people can do great damage to others. This is compounded when these same people perceive themselves to be spiritually mature.

I’ve seen this far too often.  A few examples:

1.  Years ago, a “spiritually mature” person explained to me over lunch why he didn’t have to forgive a family member for the way this person had treated him.  (He had accused this family member of swindling him in a financial deal.) This “spiritually mature” person concluded that he did not have to forgive this person because Jesus did not address situations exactly like his.

2.  A person who saw himself as “spiritually mature” was not on speaking terms with a person who had been a longtime friend.  This “spiritually mature” person would not speak unless spoken too.  He would deliberately move to the other side of a room if it appeared he would be in close proximity of his former friend.  This became obvious to others.  On one occasion, he was confronted about the problem that existed between the two and denied there was any problem.

So how does a person seeking maturity behave?

A maturing person seeks to behave appropriately (instead of allowing raw emotion to dictate one’s response).

A maturing person seeks to grow and display the virtues of Christ (instead of yielding to one’s own fleshly appetites).

A maturing person desires to display love (instead of yielding to one’s moodiness or impulsivity).

A maturing person takes responsibility for her emotions (instead of justifying foolish, self-absorbed behavior).

A maturing person is known for integrity and truthfulness (instead of being known for manipulation and a self-seeking attitude.)

I like the following thoughts by Peter Scazzero:

It’s taking people beyond outward changes and moving into the depths of their interior life in order to be transformed.

We look at this process in two broad strokes. First, we say that every Christian should have a contemplative life. Simply put, that means that each follower of Christ needs to cultivate a deep relationship with Christ—without living off other people’s spiritual lives. That requires slowing down and structuring your whole life in such a way that Christ really becomes your Center.

Secondly, emotionally healthy spirituality means that emotional maturity and spiritual maturity go hand in hand. It’s simply not possible to become spiritually mature while you remain emotionally immature. And emotional maturity really boils down to one thing: love. So if you’re critical, defensive, touchy, unapproachable, insecure—telltale signs of emotional immaturity—you can’t be spiritually mature. It doesn’t matter how “anointed” you are or how much Bible knowledge you have. Love is that indispensable mark of maturity. Emotionally healthy spirituality unpacks what that looks like (“The Spiritual Importance of Becoming an Emotionally Healthy Preacher,”   


How would you describe the behavior who is serious about maturing?


Grow in Your Understanding of People (5 Realities)

Yesterday, my youngest daughter called to tell us that her street had just been in a severe hail

I didn’t know how severe this storm was until she sent pictures. Wow! Her car was in the driveway and was just about destroyed. The windshield was shattered as well as the back glass. Hail and broken glass were all over her back seat. There were lots of dents all over this car. Not good.

It doesn’t take the smartest person to realize that this hailstorm will be a major theme for the people in this area today as they deal with broken windows and destroyed vehicles.

If I were traveling to this area to do business today, I would want to get information about this storm and realize that this will be the talk of the city today. I would need to realize that these people may be dealing with some difficult problems regarding their damaged or destroyed property.

I once had a conversation with a Christian leader who I knew to be a very gifted person. He had great organizational skills and is a good people person. In the course of this conversation, he said to me regarding a mutual friend, “He doesn’t do people very well.” I asked him what he meant. “He said that this friend just didn’t read people very well. The person did not have a good sense of timing, appropriateness, or emotional connection with others.

I have learned how important it is to be a student of people.

The following are five realities regarding people that I did not realize when I was fresh out of college and starting my work:

  1. I did not realize how difficult life really is for some people. Some people find it difficult to just get out of bed in the morning. Some people put out great effort just to function in their jobs. Still others find that being with people is difficult and exhausting.
  2. I did not realize the pain that some people live with. I know people who have adult children who are a constant source of stress to their parents. Others have a parent or sibling who is very difficult. Still others live with the memories of a painful childhood, perhaps memories connected with an abusive father or mother.
  3. I did not realize the great personal sacrifice that many parents are willing to make for their children. It is just amazing what parents will do for their children! Some have even put their careers on hold because they thought it was in the best interest of their children.
  4. I did not realize how complicated some problems really are. Not long ago I heard a person make this statement about a particular person: “Well what she needs to do is . . .” It seemed so obvious to this person what the other needed to do. Yet, he had no idea just how complex and difficult the situation had become at this point.
  5. I did not realize how many people are really lonely. Many, many people simply want a friend. A person who is safe. A person who they can experience life with. I have heard this one from both men and women. Yet, many find it difficult to find or be such a person.   

13 Ways to Really Mess Up Your Children

Now here is a recipe for disaster!   Children_Church.jpg

Of course the last thing that most of want to do is to mess up our children. Yet, we can neglect some basic realities while we rationalize other behaviors.

So here it is: “Thirteen Ways to Really Mess Up Your Children.”

1. Break your promises to them regularly.  After a while, they will learn that they cannot depend on you. In fact, such regular promise breaking may even say something about where they fall on your list of priorities.

2. Be unavailable emotionally.  Many, many children grow up in homes where they have no real emotional connection with one or both parents. This seems to happen far too often between boys and their fathers. Fathers can mistakenly believe that boys just need to know how to catch a ball or how to fish. Helpful? Yes, but not enough. Boys and girls need an emotional connection with both parents. Children who do not have that emotional connection often grow up alone (emotionally) which does not prepare them for marriage or parenting.

3. Give your children no moral or ethical guidance.  Some parents do little or no teaching at home in the course of life’s experiences. The failure to teach at home coupled with little or no teaching within a community of believers results in moral/ethical illiteracy. Without such guidance, a child has little or no sense of moral boundaries. One parent came home to find her daughter and her boyfriend in bed. Her concern? Is he wearing a condom? Then there were the parents who allowed their daughter’s boyfriend to spend the night with her every Saturday night in their home. About noon the couple would come out of the bedroom in time to join the family for Sunday lunch. One friend asked, “Isn’t that awkward?” “Oh no, my parents are ok with it.”

4. Always do what you can to keep your children from having to experience the consequences of their behavior.  Pay their traffic tickets. Pay for overdue books. Pay their parking fines. Run interference for them. If their paper is late, insist that a teacher is unfair for picking on your child.

5. Ignore disrespectful behavior toward you or your spouse by your children.  Laugh while a child talks back to his mother. Sit in silence while a child makes fun of her father. Allow them to talk down to him.

6. Confuse your child through your humor.  Laugh at dirty, lewd remarks on television or in a movie. At the ball game, make a suggestive comment to a friend about an attractive woman seated nearby. Then wonder why your daughter will not listen to you as you try to talk with her about how she might conduct herself with a boy she likes.

7. “Go to church” but have no love for God.  Show your children that you will pay any amount to get the tickets you want for the big game. Yet, when a missions opportunity comes along, explain to your children that money is tight right now so we won’t be able to give.

8. Let your children hear you talk about how important God is in your life. Then let them see that being able to purchase the things you want is really what is most important to you.

9. Walk out on your spouse for another man or woman.  Let your child experience emotional abandonment even as they hear you say that you haven’t been happy for quite some time and now you have found someone who makes you happy. Meanwhile, they are left to sort through the wreckage of their family.

10. Quit parenting before your children leave the house.  Let them do what they want.

11. Be more concerned about being a cool parent than being a godly, encouraging, mature parent.  Be more concerned about what they think about you than simply being the parent that you need to be.

12. Never teach them responsibility.  Continue to do for them what they could actually do for themselves. Baby them. They will forever be overly dependent on you and will remain immature far too long.

13. Buy them anything they want.  Why should they have to wait or work? If you’ve got the money and they want it, get it for them! Tell them about the importance of waiting for sex while you also teach them that they don’t have to wait for anything they want to buy.


What else would you add to this list?

How to Regain Your Energy and Endurance

Tuesday, I met with some of the finest ministers I know.puzzled1.jpg

Each month, our mentoring group meets. Typically, we meet in my home for most of a day. We have contracted with one another to meet together one day, each month for one year. These ministers set aside their work and their responsibilities one day in order to be together and grow. I love to meet with these guys! What great encouragement I receive.

Each month we do the following:

  • We tell our stories.
  • We share what is happening in our ministries (I mean the personal part.)
  • We talk about what we need to learn to be more effective.
  • We encourage one another toward godliness.

Two days ago, at this month’s meeting, we reflected on Margaret Marcuson’s fine book: Leaders Who Last: Sustaining Yourself and Your Ministry . This is an outstanding book that could help many ministers learn to manage themselves better. In our gathering, each person lead a discussion through a chapter. We took a chapter and then the person responsible for leading us through that chapter pointed out significant quotes and made application to ministry. We discussed about half of the book. For some, it was their first exposure to looking at ministry from a systems perspective. Others had read Edwin Friedman and Peter Steinke. All of these books contribute toward helping one understand how to manage himself or herself in whatever role that person might be in.

We talked about the ministry situations of several members of the group as these situations related to the principles discussed in Marcuson’s book. For example, we talked about one person who managed himself as a “non-anxious presence” in an environment that could have been anxiety producing. We talked about how one person in our group handled himself in a situation involving an attempt to get him tangled in a some relationships that were less than healthy. We especially talked about how it was possible to manage oneself in a way that might bring energy and and clarity instead of more anxiety.

That afternoon, we watched, then discussed a portion of the Peter Steinke video “The Balancing Act: The Congregation as an Emotional System.

Consider this:

  • There is something to be said for being a part of a safe group in which each member of the group is committed to growth and maturing.
  • In a safe group, where members are committed to the group, there will be confession and significant conversation.
  • Commitment to the group is critical. Some people are interested in such a group but not committed to being a part of such a group. Interest without commitment doesn’t foster trust.
  • There is only so much that a person can learn in seminary (or any other school). There is something to be said for regularly being with a group of people who can help you process your work and life.
  • Much growth of life and ministry only takes place when a person is street level, right in the middle of these difficult situations, but not alone. I can tell a seminary class about the pressure and stress that takes place in congregational ministry. There is great value in thinking through that issue in class when you are not in the middle of conflict. However, there is a level of learning and maturing that can only take place when one is right in the middle of it all.

(Does this sound like something that might be helpful to you? Now maybe someone has asked you to become a part of such a group. Maybe not. Could it be that you could be the person to help make such a group a reality?)


How could such a group (whether ministers, Christian men, mothers, etc.) be helpful to you?


13 Ways To Destroy a Marriage

No one gets married and then sets out to destroy that marriage. denial1.jpg

However, many marriages are in trouble because the following behaviors persist. These are behaviors I have witnessed after having hundreds of conversations with married people:

1. Be set in your ways. “I was this way when you married me and I’m this way now!” (Now that is mature!) This is the person who insists on his way. He goes to great lengths (and expense) to get tickets to see his favorite basketball team play. Yet, when his wife wants to go to a play or see her favorite team play, he goes on and on about how they are unable to afford this.

2. Take your spouse for granted. You spend time and energy talking about dinner and what was wrong with the taste or the appearance. Don’t thank her/him. “After all,” you rationalize, “no one thanks me!”

3. Put your work, hunting, sports, church, or most anything else before your marriage. As a result, your spouse only gets whatever time, energy, or attention that you have left.   

4. Hurt your spouse where he or she is vulnerable. Is your old boyfriend making lots of money? Bring this up about the time that your husband is struggling just to keep his job. Is your wife struggling with her weight? Point out how nice an attractive woman looks now that she has lost all of that weight. Make jokes about how heavy your spouse is getting.

5. Stop taking care of yourself. Give little or no attention to your appearance, weight, hygiene, or dress. Let yourself go.

6. Take your sex life for granted. Assume that those who REALLY have a great sex life are those who are single and promiscuous. Assume that those who are married, faithful, and committed are all experiencing a sex life that is lacking and boring. Start thinking that the porn star who is being paid to have sex with another is the one who is REALLY experiencing an exciting sex life.

7. Instead of focusing your energy on nurturing your relationship, focus your energy on entertaining your lust. This can range from watching shows on television that appeal to your lust to sitting in front of the computer gazing at pornography. The focus shifts away from deepening the intimacy in marriage through trust, commitment, and tenderness. Instead, lust becomes the focus and self-gratification the goal. No longer are the man and woman making love. Instead, they are focused on their own stimulation and their own gratification.

8. Play with “harmless” temptations. Have a secret friend who your spouse knows little or nothing about. This may be someone at work who sends you personal and intimate text messages. This may be a special Facebook friend with whom you are enjoying a deep and intimate emotional bond. Perhaps this is someone from the past. This may be someone who pays you lots of attention and you find yourself excited to see this person whenever possible. Perhaps this is a person at church who has a way of flirting with you when your husband is not around.

9. Attack one another with hurtful words. Your arguments have turned brutal. You are not sure when this started but at some point your language toward each other became crude and demeaning. At first, you couldn’t believe what you called her. Now you both are using very degrading language toward one another.

10. Be more concerned with your image than the reality of your marriage. Be more concerned with what her parents or your own parents think of you than with the reality of your marriage. Be more concerned about what your friends might think than in dealing with problems in your marriage. In other words, act like everything is wonderful when others are around. This kind of thinking prevents a person from seeking counseling and prayer. After all, what might others think?

11. Do nothing. Don’t initiate. Don’t forgive. Don’t take her out. Don’t arrange for the baby sitter. Just sit there — mentally, emotionally, and physically. Your marriage will die a slow death.

12. Pay little attention to Jesus. After all, if you get serious about obedience to him and your own discipleship, you may have to seriously think about the next loving move you need to make in the relationship.

13. Refuse to forgive. Harbor grudges. Stay angry. Let your resentment fester.


What else would you add to this list? What have you seen or even experienced which contributes to the demise of a marriage?

Learn to Dodge the Anxiety Traps

Anxiety traps are everywhere. One of the challenges of being a parent, a friend, a church member, or a leader is learning to recognize the anxiety traps and avoid taking on such anxiety.

One day I was driving through the area where we live and turned onto a road that I had not traveled in some time. As soon as I turned, I quickly realized that it was quite bumpy. Then I saw a big hole on the right side of the road. The last thing I wanted to do was to hit a hole like that. I steered around the hole and was so glad that I saw it in time. anxiety.jpgAnxiety is everywhere. You hear it in the news. You hear it in the voices of friends. You may experience it in your co-workers. You may see or experience it in your church. For example:

  • Someone in your church is upset. “Isn’t it awful about what they are doing in that ministry! Oh it is terrible! What are we going to do? (Then here comes the kicker.) You need to do something. You must do something. If you don’t fix this, things will be even more awful than they are now.”
  • A parent from your children’s school approaches you. “Can you believe what they are doing? That administration doesn’t know anything.  Some of us are really upset. You need to help us deal with them.”
  • A family member wants you to share her anxiety. “I can’t believe that my sister wants to cancel our July 4 trip. What is wrong with everyone? We have just got to take this trip. Mother and Daddy will be so disappointed if we don’t do what we planned to do. You are the only one who can fix this. You have got to do something!”

The challenge is to recognize others’ anxiety without getting sucked into that anxiety. Others may be anxious. In fact, they may be very anxious and their fears may spill over into your conversations. That does not mean, however, that you and I have to take on their anxiety. I can recognize their anxiety and even acknowledge it. However, I don’t have to make what belongs to them, a part of my life.

What has been helpful to me:

1.  Keeping on top of my daily devotional time in the mornings. Such a time each day helps me maintain clarity about who I am and what my purpose in life really is. Sometimes I read through the Psalms. At other times, I have worked through a fine prayer-book such as Phyllis Tickle’s The Divine Hours . Right now, I am working through Mindy Caliguire’s, Discovering Soul Care . I am working through a chapter a day, journaling through the questions that are raised in each chapter.

2. Being aware of where I am emotionally. Some days I feel really great! There are other days, however, when I just don’t feel on top of things. I may even feel a little down. I want to be aware of what I am feeling and some of the factors that may contribute to such feelings.

3. Attempting to stay aware of my environment. Are there certain people who are bringing lots of anxiety into our conversations? Do I sense these people want me to take on their anxiety? As I talk with them, I want to create enough emotional space that I can see what is happening (emotionally) instead of just falling into a black hole of emotional anxiety that really belongs to someone else.

4. Trying to manage myself in relationships so that I stay connected with people without losing a sense of what I am thinking and feeling. The challenge here is that there are others that might really want me to be anxious like they are. “I can’t believe that you don’t feel any stronger than this over the way these people are acting.”


What has been helpful to you so that you avoid taking on someone else’s anxiety?