Ministry Inside.62

Recently, I read Lance Witt’s Replenish: Leading From a Healthy Soul. The following are quotes from the book that I particularly liked:

(Regarding a conversation with a mentor.) I asked what I needed to do to help our church be effective at spiritual transformation, and this was his immediate response: ‘You must live with deep contentment, joy, and confidence in your experience of everyday life with God’ (p. 10).

But what doesn’t get talked about as much is the importance of healthy leaders. We will never grow healthy churches with unhealthy leaders (pp. 11-12)

.…in trying to fill the gap with leadership resources, inadvertently we have marginalized the soul side of leadership. The result is a crisis — one of spiritual healthy among pastors (p. 18).

We have neglected the fact that a pastor’s greatest leadership tool is a healthy soul (p. 19).

We’ve all witnessed the carnage of leaders who’ve had to leave ministry (at least for now) because of moral failure. The headlines are always about the scandalous and shocking behavior, but rarely mentioned is the back-story.

It is the story of a neglected soul and mismanaged character. Of a slow drift into relational isolation. Of being seduced by ambition. These leaders didn’t intend for it to happen, but somewhere along the journey they stopped paying attention to what was going on inside of them. The shift was incremental and at times imperceptible.

Having talked to some whose ministry has come crashing down around them, I can tell you the convergence of outward success, self-deception, soul neglect, and relational isolation creates the perfect storm for disaster (p. 19).

We may be better leaders than we used to be, but the evidence seems to say we are not better pastors or husbands or Christ followers (p. 20).

Godly leadership is always inside out (p. 20).

Ministry Inside.61

Much talk, ink, and thought have been focused on leadership. That is good. Christian people look at leadership through a primary lens — the life and teachings of Jesus and his person and character as revealed in the Bible.

1. Godly leaders ought to have a clear understanding that this mysterious God has been at work throughout history leading up to his/her life. What matters did not begin when I showed up on the scene. Rather, God has been at work all along through a variety of people.

2. Godly leaders understand that pragmatism, effectiveness, and efficiency do not trump the place of Jesus in a life. Simply because something works does not mean that it is appropriate for a leader who aspires to follow Jesus.

3. Godly leaders place becoming before doing. Far too many leaders have done “church work” to the neglect of their marriages, their children, and their own souls. In ministry, doing needs to flow out of what we are becoming.

4. Godly leaders are called to model the values they articulate. Yes, this adds credibility to one’s message. Even more importantly, however, this is an authentic way to live.

5. Godly leaders pay attention to their own souls. They understand that the longevity and health of their ministry is very much connected to the condition of their own souls.

6. Godly leaders inspire and stimulate the imagination. The source of this imaginative stimulation is the story of the kingdom of God as proclaimed by Jesus.

Ministry Inside.60

Most Thursdays, I post something with pastors, preachers, and church leaders in mind. Maybe one or more of the following will be helpful.

6 Things Your Writing Must Have to Wow Readers by L. L. Barkat. This is a very good post for writers and preachers. Also, don’t miss this interview with L. L. Barkat regarding her book Rumors of Water: Thoughts On Creativity and Writing.

I really like these words from Eugene Peterson regarding the essence of pastoral ministry:

Incrementally, without noticing what I was doing, I had been shifting from being a pastor dealing with God in people’s lives to treating them as persons dealing with problems in their lives. I was not being their pastor . . . But by reducing them to problems to be fixed, I omitted the biggest thing of all of in their lives, God and their souls, and the biggest thing in my life, my vocation as pastor . . . I knew I had turned a corner when a year or so later I visited Marilyn in the hospital. Marilyn was in her mid-twenties, married, and newly employed as a lawyer with an established firm in our country . . . She said she was in the hospital for tests — she hadn’t been feeling well, and the doctors were having difficulty diagnosing anything . . . Feeling cautiously safe, I ventured ‘Is there anything you want me to do?’ Marilyn hesitated. And then, shyly, ‘Yes, I’ve been thinking a lot about it. Would you teach me to pray’ (Eugene Peterson, The Pastor: A Memoir pp. 140-141)

Do you read Jeff Goins’posts regarding writing? I really find so many of his posts helpful. Not only do his words apply to writing but also could be helpful to anyone who uses words through speaking.

This might be useful to think about as many of us spend much of our time in one to one conversations: “7 Tips to Know if You’re Boring Someone.”

Came across this quote this week attributed to C. S. Lewis (quoted by Faith Barista):

“The next best thing to being wise oneself is to live in a circle of those who are.”

Ministers might ask themselves, “Do I surround myself with people who are wise? Are there men and women in my world who are wise and thoughtful?” This is very important to me. I purposefully seek out people who are wise.

What I Learned From Other Men

If you are confused about what it means to be a man today, you are certainly not alone.   

Notice some of these articles:

*Why men are in trouble.

*The End of Men.

*Where Have the Good Men Gone?

Many men today are very confused.

Quite often sitcoms portray them as goofy, less than bright, and typically immature. It is assumed they would rather play golf than do anything noble or heroic. Again and again, a dad is portrayed as one who doesn’t get it. Of course, some do not. Some men seem to remain in a perpetual state of immaturity. As William Bennett notes, one of the common complaints from young women about young men is their failure to grow up. Bennett goes on to say:

Movies are filled with stories of men who refuse to grow up and refuse to take responsibility in relationships. Men, some obsessed with sex, treat women as toys to be discarded when things get complicated. Through all these different and conflicting signals, our boys must decipher what it means to be a man, and for many of them it is harder to figure out.

So how does this change?

Men need other men to mentor, guide, and correct them. The church is a place where this can happen. This is especially important if younger guys did not have fathers in their lives as they were growing up. Other guys had fathers who were silent, passive, and disconnected.

Several men blessed me during my 20s and this has continued to make a real difference decades later. They taught me through their words, manner, and willingness to speak into my life. What I did learn from some of these men?

1. Loyalty. One husband and father talked with me in our conversations about his marriage. I heard him express loyalty to his wife and children. I watched him as he spoke to his wife and saw his tenderness toward her. He esteemed her both in her absence and in her presence. I wanted to have a family where I treated my wife and children similarly.

2. Courage. One evening when I was still a college student, a church elder, I greatly admired talked with me about the way I was handling myself with a young woman I had been dating. He witnessed my behavior as I quarreled with her one evening and talked with me about how to handle my behavior in such situations. I had acted immaturely (and knew it), and he was trying to help me. I admired his courage for being willing to step into my life to help me mature.

3. Emotional Connection. It is true. Men and women are not wired the same. When I was in my early 20s and single, I had no idea how to connect emotionally with a woman. No way was I ready for marriage. I certainly had no idea how I would connect emotionally with children if I had them. Later, I began to learn how to stay connected emotionally with my wife and children as I watched (and talked with) two men in particular. I still had much to learn, however, these two men helped me get started and gave me a picture of what an emotionally connected family might look like.


Is there a person (outside your immediate family) who has made a significant investment in your life through friendship or mentoring? How has this relationship impacted you?

Ministry Inside.57

Most Thursdays, I post thoughts that might be particularly applicable to ministers. Perhaps the thoughts below will be encouraging. If you are not working with a church in similar role, I want to invite you to use these words to reflect on your own ministry whatever that might be.

I have been a minister for over thirty years. This is thirty years of sermons, classes, conversations, funerals, weddings, and meetings. This is thirty years of work that is often complicated, painful, and even heartbreaking. Yet, much of it is joyful and energizing. There are many ways to spend a life serving God. I don’t know that one role honors God more than another. However, I am thankful for my role in the life of our congregation.

Perhaps there certain aspects of your ministry that energize you. I would love to hear about them. Please leave your thoughts in a comment below or e-mail me.

Much of my work really does energize me.

I love the sense of being on the edge. For me, preaching/teaching is not a casual moment where one yawns his way through some material to be presented. There is far too much at stake to be cavalier. Any preacher who no longer feels the edge in ministry, really ought to examine any sense of call that might be left.

I love the opportunity to participate in another’s faith journey. There is not a week that goes by that I am not given the privilege to step inside someone’s heart through teaching, preaching or conversation. It is a sacred moment when one allows another to mediate the Gospel into their lives and perhaps into areas that they have spent a lifetime avoiding, denying, or hiding. The gospel has a way addressing the impossible situations in our lives to heal, confront, forgive, and bring hope.

I love the sacredness of conversation. Whether it is conversation over coffee at Starbucks or in my office, these people trust that I will honor what they say, which is both humbling and sobering. Often, I will have a conversation in which that person will reveal an important thought, a painful memory, or a future dream. This is a sacred moment.

Finally, I love the opportunity to read, think, question, and explore. I find this incredibly stimulating. There is hardly a week that goes by when I do not learn something new. Often, I learn something that really matters.

I’m not going to tell you that everything about my work energizes me. There are aspects of my work that I could live without. There are days that are draining and demoralizing. Sometimes I wonder if I am accomplishing anything. Yet, the positives far outweigh the negatives.


Are there particular aspects of your work that are quite energizing? Or, maybe even unrelated to your work — what do you find particularly energizing in a given day?

Ministry Inside.56

I had lunch with a friend of mine who is a wonderful seminary professor. During lunch we talked about a number of concerns related to life, ministry, church, etc. At one point, I asked him what he thought about the number of seminary students who wanted no part of ministry in “traditional” churches.

no-church.jpg(I asked this question not suggesting that the desire of someone to participate in a church plant, inner city ministry, is a negative. Rather, I was interested in hearing from my friend who interacts with seminary students every day.)

He said that he suspected that there were a variety of reasons for this. We talked about some of those reasons. Then he said, “I can tell you what students said ten years ago in answer to the question of why students did not want to be in the role of pastor in a traditional church.”

The students who were asked this same question gave two reasons for not wanting to do this:

1. They did not want the 24/7 lifestyle that this ministry seemed to demand from pastors.

2. They did not know any pastors who were happy.

Later, I thought about what my friend said. “They did not know any pastors who were happy.”

Now that is a dose of reality!

Why is it that some ministers seem to get bitter and cynical?

Yes, I know that some ministers have been shamefully mistreated by some congregations. I know that some have been thoughtlessly disposed of by congregations. Some ministers receive very little if any encouragement from their elders.

It is also true that some ministers have behaved immaturely before congregations. It is true that some have used poor judgment with the members of their churches. Some ministers (like some elders) have pursued their own ego needs instead of modeling what it means to be loving and selfless.

Yet, I think about my friend’s statement. “They did not know any pastors who were happy.” Could it be that some of us who have preached for churches for many years are obscuring the vision of ministry for others? Could it be that they have never seen in some of us anything they wanted to emulate or duplicate?

Isn’t the gospel larger than our frustrations? Isn’t the joy of the Lord possible for a person even when that person is experiencing hardship and persecution?

Ministry Inside.55

1. I encourage you to read these notes from Ann Voskamp’s recent talk at the Story 2011, Chicago. (These are Tim Schraeder’s notes.) She speaks like a poet and uses words so well. If you preach, teach, write, or do some combination of the three, it is so useful to read people who use words well. (By the way, Tim’s notes have become a valuable resource for me. He not only blogged a number of sessions of the Story Conference but also the recent Willow Creek Global Leadership Conference.)

2. A number of years ago, I had coffee with a guy who was responsible for bringing a number of high profile Christian leaders to our part of the state for various conferences. I asked him, “What have you discovered in working with these people?” He paused for a moment and then said, “Well I’ve learned that some ministers are not exactly what I perceived them to be from their books, etc. For example, I helped arrange a conference for a person who specialized in family relations. His books are wonderful. However, he was difficult to work with and not very approachable.”

He then said, “The next year, another speaker was here who had also written several wonderful books. The experience was totally different. When he wasn’t making a presentation, he was warm and engaging with people at the conference. People found him to be approachable and unassuming. It was a completely different experience.”

I am thankful for this conversation. Our exchange that day helped make me more conscious of the impression ght be leaving with people when I speak at other churches.

3. For the last three years, I have watched at least a portion of “The Nines” online conference sponsored by Leadership Network. A speaker speaks for nine minutes regarding some aspect of ministry. He or she is followed by a sucession of speakers throughout the day. This year there are 99 speakers. The date is Tuesday, September 27.

4. I am reading Preventing Ministry Failure by Michael Todd Wilson and Brad Hoffmann. The section on intimacy is worth the price of the book. I am reading through this book slowly.

Ministry Inside.53

Most Thursdays, I write a post that is especially for church leaders, ministers, pastors, etc. Those of you who are not in a similar role may find this post helpful as well.

1. I like a post that I read recently by Rachel Gardener entitled “What’s On Your Sticky Note?” She says that beside her computer, she has a sticky note which reads:

One Thing at a Time

First Things First

Start Now

I like this! I suspect that for many of us who are very busy, such reminders might be very helpful. What do you think? Do you have something similar on your desk or by your computer?

2. Several weeks ago I read Keith Meyer’s Whole Life Transformation: Becoming the Change Your Church Needs. This is an outstanding book about how to live as an authentic minister who is being transformed into a Jesus-like person. He describes a time in which his own ministry when he was not really experiencing spiritual transformation. Meanwhile, he was busy and accomplishing tasks. He then describes his journey to a different kind of ministry that focuses on a minister becoming the change that a church needs. This book is just what I needed to read this summer!

Note this endorsement by Don Cousins:

Keith Meyer encourages and challenges us to reach far beyond the quantity of disciples to where the impact lies — quality of disciples. . . . I was challenged on a personal level and inspired on a leadership level as I read. For anyone interested in measuring quality, this is a must-read book.

3. Be sure to check out the site Ministry Matters. Lots of good material by William Willimon. I have read many of Willimon’s articles and books. I find him helpful and thoughtful. He helps me think.

4. It would really help churches if those of us who are ministers would model what someone has called, “mirroring the emotion.” That is, when we speak to people in our congregation, whether in a Bible class room, at Target, or on the parking lot, we practice intentional listening. We listen to their words and the emotion behind these words. This practice can really help you respond to someone in a way that is helpful, appropriate, and meaningful. This can be a real challenge because you may find yourself in a conversation about the Dallas Cowboys one moment and then a few minutes later, you are talking with another person who tells you their cancer has spread.

Pay attention to the body language, the emotion that is expressed, and the words that are spoken. This can be an enormous help in knowing what to say and what not to say. I remember having some conversations with people that I later wished I had handled differently. In most of these situations, I would have responded better if I had been more attentive to the emotion that was being expressed and then respond appropriately. In some instances, I would have changed the content of what I said. Most of the time, however, I would responded in a more appropriate manner and tone based on the emotion that I was seeing.

5. If you haven’t heard about this new book by Scot McKnight, don’t miss this post regarding his new book The King Jesus Gospel. (Forward by N.T. Wright and Dallas Willard.)

Ministry Inside.52

Most Thursdays I write something for the series “Ministry Inside.” Typically, the post is a collection of ideas, suggestions, and resources having to do with ministering to a church. I write these posts with church leaders in mind. Yet, I know that many others will read and connect with some of these posts as well.runawayfromyourself.jpg

As I think about my life:


At times I have been starry-eyed, so full hope for the future that I failed to appreciate some of the obstacles and challenges facing us now.

At times I have been exhausted with a tiredness that has a way of draining the soul.

At times I have been disheartened, wondering why I can’t rise above my pettiness.

The temptation, I suppose, is to not reveal any of this. Stay in control. Don’t let anyone in. Control what people see and know. Yet, I’m not sure this is the answer.

About sixteen years ago, my physician discovered a tumor near the top of my spine. He discovered it after some chest x-rays were taken in our local emergency room regarding a totally unrelated matter.

Of course this scared me to death.

More tests. “The tumor is probably benign.” (Probably.) The surgeon said, “This needs to come out.” It would involve cutting into my chest. (I had never even been in the hospital before.)

On a Sunday morning, I told the congregation the situation and then the date of the surgery. I would probably be out for several weeks. Then I said the words that apparently made one man very nervous.

“I am cautiously optimistic and yet scared to death.”

I was then approached by an older man, a former preacher, who told me I should not have said this. “You admitted weakness and fear. You must not do this.”

To the contrary.

It is very dangerous NOT to admit weakness, fear, inadequacy, pain, confusion, etc. When any person refuses to deal with his pain (this certainly includes ministers) then that person will often self-medicate. We will attempt to keep this self-medication a secret. Consequently, a person is rocking along thinking that everything is all right and then discovers that a friend has been keeping a secret.

How do some people self-medicate? Shopping, drugs/alcohol, fits of rage, adultery, pornography, emotional affairs, gambling and the list goes on and on.

Ministers are certainly not immune to self-medicating their pain. Again and again, you hear stories of ministers revealing or getting caught in the middle of bizarre behavior. Ministers can blur the lines between the work of ministry and living as Christ-followers. As a result, when a minister is away from the church, he may not only desire a break from the work but a break from following Christ.


I would love to know what you think about this. What happens when we self-medicate instead of deal with our pain? What do we become when we spend a life time running away from ourselves?