Church Leaders are Called to Behave Better

(Avoiding behaviors that diminish the influence of church leaders)

Sometimes ministers go through difficult seasons.  Sometimes elders go through difficult seasons.  At times it seems that entire congregations go through difficult seasons.

Sometimes a difficult season occurs because of someone’s irresponsibility, incompetence, meanness, manipulation, or thoughtlessness.  Some ministers and some elders have been guilty of all five.

Ministers and elders will make mistakes.  Human beings make mistakes regardless of what role they might find themselves in.

Does a minister or an elder really have to be irresponsible?  When church leaders are irresponsible in what they say or in how they act, they are basically wasting the influence and the energy of the church.

Does a minister or an elder really have to be incompetent?  Church leaders do not have identical gifts or identical strengths.  Yet, if we pretend that we always know what to do, after awhile our incompetencies will become obvious to others.  When we are not learning, growing, or developing, we will never move beyond where we are right now.

Does a minister or an elder really have to be mean?  Of course not.  Yet, so often these people are not held accountable for their meanness.  For example, if an elder says something to a minister in an elder’s meeting that is rude and unkind, what do the other elders do?  In far too many churches, they simply remain silent.   (Yes, an elder close to that minister may call him later and grouse about what his fellow elder said.  However, that elder may never be confronted regarding his behavior.)

Does a minister or an elder really have to be manipulative?  No. Of course, a minister may have several friends who are also in the elder group.  However, this minister has crossed a line when he manipulates several elders behind the scenes to basically do his bidding for him in elders’ meetings.  Ministers who refuse to manipulate know how to relate and love without resorting to self-serving manipulation.

Finally, does a minister or an elder really have to be thoughtless?  No.  However, one will have to yield to the Spirit, submitting not to the flesh but to the Spirit’s desire for our lives, our relationships, and our leadership groups.  Otherwise, we will yield to the flesh, saying what is thoughtless and hurtful, and looking for a cheap laugh at someone else’s expense instead of building one another up.

When a Minister Helps to Kill a Ministry

(How to end your ministry prematurely)

Does your congregation have a good minister?  Hopefully so.  A congregation really ought to encourage and value such a person.

Unfortunately, many other ministers start out well but then make one of three fatal errors which often brings a ministry to an end.  In this case, the problem wasn’t a cantankerous elder or harassment from a segment of the congregation.  Rather, in this case, this minister made three mistakes which are often fatal to to a ministry.

Three fatal mistakes a minister can make:

When a minister fails to be trustworthy.  When a minister lies, plagiarizes sermons, or pushes a hidden agenda with the congregation, the elders, or both, this could be a short ministry.

After all, good ministers are trustworthy.  They tell the truth and live trustworthy lives.  You don’t have to wonder what they are up to.  They are authentic (no hidden agendas) and take seriously their own transformation into the image of Jesus.  This transformation includes their ethics (which impacts how they work with a congregation) and their morals (which impacts their decision making).

When a minister continually shows poor judgement.  When a minister continues to use poor judgement with his choice of words, sermons, relationships, behavior in the community, behavior in elders’ meeting, etc., this can cause a ministry to end prematurely.  Poor judgement can get a minister into trouble quickly.

Meanwhile, good ministers consistently demonstrate good judgement.  They don’t cause others to cringe when they preach.  They are not regularly pulling surprises on a church like a magician who might suddenly pull a surprise out of his hat.  You can depend on them to handle various situations in a way that is mature.  This congregation knows their minister will handle difficult situations with wisdom and grace.  Their manner reflects they are trying to work with the congregation.

When a minister is constantly looking out for himself instead of serving the congregation. Such a minister is always trying to figure out an advantage for himself.  Many years ago, I knew a minister who approached businesses in the small town where he lived and asked for a discount solely because he was a minister.  I cringed at the thought of going in a store and asking for some sort of favor simply because I preached.  While many of us would never think of of doing this, there are some who expect to be treated as extra special and not subject to the rules because this person is a minister.  When a minister takes certain liberties with the truth, with a church credit card, with an expense account, or with someone else’s wife, he is on dangerous ground.

Meanwhile, the really good ministers serve instead of looking for what they can get from someone. They choose to give to others instead of using others.

There are many good ministers working with congregations.  Many of these people are servants who use good judgment and are trustworthy.  Unfortunately, there are others who may see a ministry come to an end prematurely because they have violated trust, consistently used poor judgement, and were focused on themselves instead of serving.


When Ministry Becomes a Breath of Fresh Air (Part 1)

Prayer_Lookout2.jpgMany people read this blog.  People who serve in a variety of vocations read these words.  If you are a Christ-follower, there is a sense in which you are a minister (servant) no matter where you are and no matter what your vocation.  Such ministries are important — very important.

There are others who serve churches in very public roles.  Sometimes you may be referred to as preacher, pastor, minister, etc.  I was thinking today about what I want to remember in this particular role.  Much of what I will suggest is applicable regardless of your role or occupation.

God can use ministers to be a breath of fresh air in a church.  The enabling power for this kind of presence is the Spirit of God.  The challenge, however, is for us to make godly choices regarding our ministry. 

1.  Choose to be gracious.  I spoke with a couple visiting our church about a month ago.  They were from out of town.  They told me a little about their congregation and their minister.  They didn’t say they liked him or didn’t like him.  They simply said, "He’s a bit cocky, you know."  There was not much I could say. 

2.  Teach/preach from the overflow.  Do you preach each Sunday?  Do you deliver a message?  Do you teach a Bible class?  There is absolutely no substitute for reading and studying the Bible.  There is no substitute for being prepared.  This teaching/preaching is a sacred calling worthy of time, effort, and prayer.  Yes, I read widely.  However, in this role I must always be reading something that will help me think about what I will be preaching.  Some shortcuts may come with time and experience.  Other shortcuts (i.e., copying sermons from the Internet and preaching them as my own, etc.) will in fact shortchange the congregation and will be a detriment to the integrity of my ministry.

3.  Love the people in your congregation and community.  If you love these people, they will usually be forbearing and forgiving.  If they sense you don’t love them, then it really won’t matter what else you do.  For a couple of years, a young minister worked with a good church in a smaller community.  His last year there, he berated them publicly and talked down to them.  He made it known to the others on the staff with him that he was frustrated with this church and their backward thinking.  He then resigned and abruptly moved on to a larger church in a large city.  Many people in his former congregation feel like he used them.  Right or wrong, they believe that he came to that church so that he could posture himself to move to something bigger and better.  What struck me as especially sad is that these people felt used by him instead of loved by him.

4.  Be God-conscious instead of self-conscious.  It is so easy to get consumed by ego.  If we are not careful, we will believe that what really counts is to be well-known, to be in much demand as a speaker, and to preach for a church that many people are paying attention to.  As a result of this focus, it is easy to compare, to become jealous, to "keep score," and to crave recognition.  It is tempting to want to become "Christian" celebrities, hoping that people will clamor for our attention.  Far better to remember our calling and aim to please God, trusting that he is enough.

5.  Focus on your own walk with God.  Far too many ministers treat congregations as if they were science experiments.  "Let’s do this to them and see what happens."   Others become far too focused on trying to will the church to do this or that.  Do you know that the very best thing I can do for the congregation I serve is to simply be who God has called me to be.  I do far more good by focusing on my own love for God and for others.  I do far more good by being a godly person who loves his wife and children.

(Again, I think these are useful for those who are not "ministers" as well.)

What else would you add to this list?

41 Things Ministers Ought to Know (Part 2 of 4)

coffee45.jpgThe following is the continuation of a list I have written regarding what ministers need to know.  (You can read part 1 here.)  I have found each one of these to be very important not only to one who might serve a church in some form of ministry but also to any Christian in his or her daily ministry.   


11.  Be very careful about how you use humor.  Yes, humor is a wonderful part of life.  I enjoy laughing.  Laughter can be a wonderful break from much of the heaviness of life.  Yet, a person needs to be careful about laughing at someone else’s expense.   Consider, instead, telling stories of your own blunders, your own silliness, and your own mistakes. 

12.  Avoid self-pity.  Some ministers speak of themselves and their work as if they are the only ones who work hard.  Yet, you are not the only one who has a challenging schedule.   Many in your congregation work very hard as well.   

13. Read!  Read for comfort.  Read to be challenged.  Read to exercise your brain.  Read for the purpose of staying fresh and current.  Read for the pure enjoyment of reading.  Yes, some of us will read more than others.  Yet, I really believe that reading can be a very helpful discipline. 

14. Know that you are not indispensable.  Be careful about taking
yourself too seriously.  Some ministers behave as if the church could not do without them.  Yet, the truth is that if you were to die tomorrow, the congregation would continue.  Life would continue.  Ministry would happen.  Our dependence is not to be on ourselves but on God who is the great power behind any authentic ministry. 

15. Guard your words.  Think about your words before you speak.  Do you protect what others tell you?  When someone tells
you something, it is critical that you keep that person’s trust.  Sometimes, I will ask myself before speaking in a conversation, "If the person about whom I am about to speak knew what I had said, would he/she be surprised or hurt?  Would that person feel betrayed by me?"

16. Cultivate and nurture your friendships.  Friends are so important.  Good friends have a way of replenishing a person’s soul.  Sometimes, my days are very, very stressful.  I have found that a brief phone call to a friend or lunch with a friend can be refreshing, like a mini-vacation in the middle of the day.   

17. Remember that there is no substitute for face-to-face communication.  Yes, e-mail, text messaging, and other forms of communication are all helpful.  Yet, they do not take the place of actual conversation with people who are right in front of us.  I once heard of a family who spent an evening together — sort of.  Throughout the evening, they e-mailed one another.  Hmmm.  I’m just not sure that is an adequate substitute for real conversation.   


18. Play to your strengths.  No one can do everything well.  Yes, there are people who have skills, knowledge, and expertise that you do not have.  Why not appreciate the gifts and abilities of others while you focus on your own strengths?  What do you do particularly well?  Where has God used you?  Is there an area of your life and ministry that others have repeatedly affirmed?

19. Know where the land mines are in your congregation.  These land mines are there!  Are there traditions, customs, or habits of the congregation that seem to be important to these people?  You may choose to affirm these, ignore these, or even attempt to change one or more of these.  It is a mistake, however, to not seek to know where these are.  You become aware of these land mines by listening to the people in your church.  This usually takes time. 

20. Stay away from anything that even remotely resembles
.  Remember that love and manipulation are two very
different ways of treating people.  I remember the first time I heard the expression, "It is better to ask forgiveness than seek permission."  A minister was telling some others that he typically did what he wanted in the congregation and then later asked forgiveness if that seemed necessary.  Really?  Is this what we want to teach our own children?  What if everyone practices this?  Is this really the way of Jesus?


What else would you add to this list?

41 Things Ministers Ought to Know (Part 1 of 4)

keyWhat do Christian ministers need to know?  Specifically, I am speaking of people who might be on the staff of a church participating in some form of Christian ministry.  Regardless of your role, I believe these principles are important to know about ministry in general. 


A form of this list originally appeared here almost three years ago.  However, I have since updated, reworked, and expanded it.  The following list will be posted in four parts.  


1.  Learn
from other people
.  Look out for those who have continued to grow, develop and learn.  Be a lifelong learner.  Read.  Ask others questions.  When you are with other people, look for the opportunity to ask good questions.  Resist the temptation to spend the bulk of your conversations talking on and on about your church.  


2.  Resist the temptation to be a "big name."  Yes, there will be some people others will clamor to hear speak.  Some people will be visible and have national reputations.  Some will speak at seminars and various other gatherings throughout the country.  If that happens to you, then allow yourself to be used by God.  However, this will not be true of most of us.  Most of us will not be well known.  Why not pursue significance instead of self-importance.  When your life is in the will of God, your ministry will be significant.  What you do will matter, regardless of whether or not you are noticed and affirmed by others. 


3.  Ministry is all about relationships.  If you do not treat people right, it really does not matter what else you do.  It is amazing how some ministers will go to seminary, prepare themselves academically, and yet ignore some of the most basic realities about people.  Saying "hello" to people, showing an interest in their lives, and simply paying attention to others are all very important.


4.  Someone else can teach you something.  That "someone" may be a person you may or may not admire.  Be willing to learn from people with whom you disagree.  Be attentive to what God might teach you through others in your church.  An older woman?  A teenager?  A young father?  You never know.  Pay attention.  


5.  Be careful about what you say.  Some people are in the habit of ending conversations by saying, "I’ll call you" or "Let’s go to lunch."  I’m not sure that some of these people really intend to call or e-mail the other with a request for lunch next week.   Yet, this is confusing to others.  If you say, "I will call you," be sure to call.  If you say "Let’s go to lunch sometime," be sure to get back with that person to schedule lunch.  This is important if you want people to take your words seriously.


6.  Follow through.  Some people seem to always be starting something but then they lose interest and allow it to die.  Or, we say that we will complete a task and it never gets done.  It is important to follow through.  


7.  Be very careful about your ego.  Can it ever get in the way!  Pride can do so much harm in a church.  The truth?  You may experience times when others get the credit for your idea.  You may be in a situation in which a very lazy person is affirmed by others he manipulates while someone else who works much harder goes unnoticed.  If you are not careful, pride and resentment can slowly eat away at your heart. 


8.  Pay attention to the invisible people.  There are quiet, unassuming people in your church who say little and are not front and center.  Yet, these salt-of-the-earth people are so important.  These low maintenance, solid people often get ignored in churches while the high maintenance people may use up much of the oxygen in the room and get most of our attention.      


9.  Find someone on this planet in whom you can confide.  Life, ministry, and the day-to-day routine can be very lonely.  Having such a friend may help prevent a train wreck in your life.  Besides that, such a person can also serve to add some much needed perspective to your thinking and feelings.


10.  Get healthy!  One of the best things you can do in a church is model what a healthy (not perfect) human being looks like.  Go to a
counselor. Talk to a trusted friend.  Do whatever it takes to deal with
old wounds and inadequacies.  Consider your track record with relationships.  What needs to be addressed?


More later…


What else would you add to this list?