Ministry Inside.29

Each Thursday I write a post (ok, most Thursdays) entitled “Ministry Inside.” This post is primarily written for those who are in various church ministry roles. Yet others might find these comments and resources helpful as well.coffeemagic1.jpg

You might enjoy reading my blog via your phone. You can do this directly through a browser ( or through the app “Godhungry” if you have an iPhone. To download this app onto your phone, go to the iTunes store and do a search for “Godhungry,” or you can get it through the App store on your phone.

Russell Davies has written a thoughtful post entitled “How to be interesting.” What caught my attention is a great list that he gives the reader. Many of his suggestions are good ways to be present and stay fully alive. Some of his suggestions will help us see, smell, and hear the world again. Far too many ministers and church leaders get into deep ruts and find it hard to do good thinking or to change worn-out practices.

Have you seen Andy Crouch’s list: “The Ten Most Significant Cultural Trends of the Last Decade? This list made me think!

Last night, Charlotte and I began a marriage conversation with seven couples. We have not done this before. We hope to reflect on our own marriage and our attempt to live as Christ-followers in the context of marriage. Part of the evening included telling part of the story of our marriage.

For a number of weeks, I have been reflecting on “game changers” in ministry. One game changer is:

Be a student of your church and your community. Be observant.

Ministry always takes place in the context of a community. That is, we served real people who live in real places. Ministers ought to be good students of the people and the places where they live. Far too often a minister will enter a church and make statements that the locals find odd or even insulting. With some people, to talk about the opening of deer season might seem very normal while among people, such a topic might sound very odd. To talk about this morning’s chai latte may seem very normal among other people, while such a comment might seem out of place to others. There is nothing wrong with being an individual, however, I don’t want to continually communicate to the people in our church, “I am not one of you.”

It might help to know the people in the context where we minister. A minister who makes no effort to get to know and to appreciate his community can quickly communicate to others that he doesn’t really value the place where he is living.

Read good blogs! Read Scot McKnight’s Jesus Creed. Read Michael Hyatt’s blog. Read my friend Allan Stanglin’s blog. Read Tim Spivey’s blog. (Just a sample of good blogs.)

I regularly skim through three print periodicals in which I am primarily looking at book reviews. The publications that I skim through regularly are The New York Times Review of Books, The New York Review of Books, and Books and Culture. I find this to be a very helpful practice that lets me keep up with themes that are being addressed again and again. In particular, Books and Culture has been a lifesaver in terms of being introduced to significant biblical and theological writers.

Ministry Inside.27

Each Thursday, I post something especially with ministers and other church leaders in mind. If you are not in the ministry but are simply a person who serves God and serves people, I hope you, too, will take something from this post each week.

Last week, I listed a number of “Game-changers” for ministers. Each week, I will elaborate on one of these.

Game-changer: The very best thing you have to offer a congregation is the presence of a godly person.


So many of us greatly underestimate the power of such a presence.

Far too many ministers put the emphasis elsewhere:

  • Some of us seem to think the best thing we have to offer is our formal education. Yes, there is something to be said for a person who has studied the Bible rigorously for a number of years. However, simply possessing a Bible degree does not necessarily mean that a person is being formed and shaped by the story contained in the Bible.
  • Some seem to think the best thing that we have to offer is our relevant, effective ministry skills and tools. It is important for a minister to retool and to stay fresh. However, simply possessing good tools and developing one’s skills does not necessarily mean that transformation is taking place. This is true for a person as well as a congregation.
  • Some may think that the best thing we have to offer is our experience, the accumulation of our years of “ministry success.” Unfortunately, such a perspective often leads to endless self-promotion that eventually overshadows Jesus and exalts the self.

The very best thing a minister has to offer a church is the presence of a godly person.

Yes, I know that ministers do a number of significant things in their work. Ministers preach, lead, offer care, and often share the Gospel in a variety of ways. However, there is no substitute for a minister’s godly presence in each of those roles.

For example, a minister may be a good preacher. He may handle the Scriptures responsibly. He may articulate the Gospel well as he proclaims the good news in a public setting. He may read an audience well and have a sense for appropriateness given the situation. However, there is something very powerful about preaching from a transformed life. There is something powerful about preaching when you know the Spirit of God has been at work in you. rearranging your heart/mind as he shapes you to fit the Gospel story found in the Bible.

Titus 2:11-14

11 For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.


If one’s own godliness (or one’s own spiritual formation) is of such importance in ministry, what might this suggest regarding a minister’s use of time?

Ministry Inside.26

The following practices are important. In fact, these are game-changers for ministers.GameChanger_512x512.jpg

1. The very best thing you have to offer a congregation is the presence of a Godly person.

2. Manage yourself. Don’t live in reaction to an event in the past or to someone in the present.

3. Be a student of your church and your community. Be observant.

4. Teach/preach this week but prepare for the future.

5. Read. Read. Read. Good leaders read!

6. Take personal temptation seriously. Know that the evil one wishes to destroy you.

7. Seek maturity in your relationships.

8. Take a day off. Rest. Do something that brings you joy.

9. Be present in key pastoral moments, even with people you do not like.

10. Pay attention to your thoughts, emotions, and body.

Ministry Inside.25

1. “Manage yourself.” These are the words of my friend Charles Siburt, longtime ministry professor at ACU. If you as a minister approach ministry from a systems perspective, there is nothing more important than managing yourself. Yet, managing yourself is not simply a matter of working harder or trying more. It is examining how you are functioning in your various roles (leader, minister, preacher, married person, parent, etc.) Quite often, to address your relationships in one sphere can have real benefit in other spheres.coffee22.jpg

For example, one might be a minister working with a group of church elders. Perhaps this person needs to improve his functioning with this group. Where does a person begin? Years ago, I heard Edwin Friedman (Generation to Generation) say that one of the best things a minister can do is deal with his own family of origin issues. I knew that I had some of these issues from the past but had never processed or worked through them. I reconnected with several family members in order to gain clarity about some of the issues that I was grappling with. I began to see how the way I was functioning within a church was very much related to the way I had functioned in my family of origin. This was extremely helpful.

We are whole beings or systems. One of the best things we can do as we seek to grow and mature is to declare that nothing is off limits and that we are willing to do the hard work of looking at how we have been functioning through the years.

2. I am reading Tim Keller’s new book, Generous Justice. This is an outstanding book. Keller makes the case biblically for why matters of justice ought to be in the sphere of ministry for a Christian individually and for the church collectively.

3. Random

Drew Dyck has written a fine post entitled “Why Do You Write?”

Daniel Offer has written a very good piece (posted on Michael Hyatt’s blog) entitled “The Leader as LifeLong Learner.”

Ministry Inside.24

1. There is much to be said for listening. In the past month, I have been intentional about meeting with small groups of people in our community (outside our church family) in order to learn more about our city. I ask questions like:

  • What are people in your circles talking about? (Your family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, etc.)
  • How could a church be more helpful in this city?
  • What are people in this city anxious about?

I have gained so much by doing this. Again, I am listening to these groups and actually say little about our church etc. When I do speak in these gatherings, it is mostly to ask follow-up questions after someone has commented. I take extensive notes. One person said, “It is very nice for someone to genuinely want to know what I think.”

2. Are you aware that the newest edition of the NIV was released this week (online)? You can find it here. See Doug Moo’s introduction.

3. Far too many ministers underestimate the importance of pastoral care. I really don’t think one has to choose between being a good leader or being a person who cares for people pastorally. Ministry is about loving and serving people (in the best sense of those two words.) When one loves and serves a church over a period of years, credibility is built–usually. However, gaining credibility is not a given. If you live among a group of people as a minister for several years, they will learn that you can be trusted or they will learn that you are not trustworthy. If a minister proposes some initiative regarding ministry in the future, it is very difficult for a church to hear this if this minister has no credibility. However, if this minister does have credibility (which again typically comes through some years of genuine love and service), they will often give this person the benefit of the doubt.

This is not to say that a minister has to serve a congregation for years in order to lead or attempt an initiative. Rather, ministers should not overlook the importance of serving and loving the congregation.

Sometimes a minister does not have credibility, after being with a congregation, because of too many instances of poor judgement. A congregation wants to know that those who preach, those who lead various ministries, and those who in some way are a part of pastoral leadership consistently exercise good judgement in what they say, what they do, and the decisions they make.

Ministry Inside.23

1. You might want to read this piece by Tim Keller, “How to Pray Better in Public and in Private, Too.” One reason why I read Tim Keller is because he makes me think. Tim must be one of the most articulate spokesmen for the Gospel in this century. By the way, this recent announcement by Redeemer might interest you.

2. This list of literature on emerging adulthood might interest you. This is something that I have bookmarked.

3. I have recently begun using a moleskin to capture everything that I want to remember. For quite some time, I had been writing things down on a yellow, letter-size pad. However, I found that it was far too easy for me to lose a particular note somewhere within the pad. More often, I would end up taking notes on several different pads.

Anyway, I am now taking notes in my moleskin notebook. It is with me constantly. This is where I note book recommendations, the location of articles, names of people, to do lists, etc. I try to keep this kind of information in my notebook instead of my mind. A great stress reliever.

4. I conducted a funeral recently for a man in our church. One thing I noted in the funeral remarks was his intentionality about both remembering and using names. In fact, when I first met him, he used my name several times. For some reason, I remember this.

Most of us, I believe, really like to hear our name. Ministers would do well to make a real effort to remember names. Perhaps the congregation where you are is quite large. Ok, one can still be intentional about learning names even if this means learning just a few names a week. People really do notice and many will appreciate your effort.

Ministry Inside.22

1. Our little grandson entered Vanderbilt Hospital a few days ago with a high fever. I watched from a distance as Christians from my daughter and son-in-law’s congregation, the 4th Avenue Church in Franklin, Tennessee. quickly responded to them. It was a reminder to me of the significance of such a time for a family.

Sometimes we really do underestimate the good that can be done through a simple phone call, text message, or e-mail. Dropping by a hospital and leaving a bag of fresh bagels for a family that has been there through the night can be very meaningful. I realize that in larger churches it is difficult if not impossible, for a minister to be present for every family that has a loved one in a hospital or at every funeral. Very often others within the church have a much stronger tie to that family than the ministers or other church leaders.

Why mention this? I know of some ministers who say that they don’t visit hospitals and don’t go to funerals. Ok, it is true that the most effective ministry at such a time might come from those who are already deeply connected with that family. However, I wonder about the wisdom of a minister declaring that “this is not a part of my ministry.”

2. Years ago, I realized that one of the challenges of ministry is appropriateness. This is especially true when a minister speaks either through preaching/teaching or conversation. Consider for a moment a conversation in which a person talks to me about a particular problem. What is my response to be? So often the issue is not how much one says or doesn’t say in response but the appropriateness and the wisdom of what one says.

There is nothing particularly virtuous about saying whatever thought happens to be in your brain at the moment. Some people will say whatever occurs to them with little or no filter. “I’m just being honest!” Yes, but is this wise, helpful, and appropriate?

3. There is an outstanding essay in the November issue (Nov. 2110, Number 207, pp. 49) of First Things (should be online eventually) by Stanley Hauerwas, entitled Go With God. The essay is a letter to young Christians who are on their way to college. In the essay, Hauerwas speaks of the importance of being the kind of student who makes himself available to be mentored by books, professors, and others. His words are appropriate to anyone who might serve in any kind of ministry role. Note the following lines:

But there is a wider sense of being a theologian, one that simply means thinking about what you are learning in light of Christ. This does not happen by making everything fit into Church doctrine or biblical preaching-that’s theology in the strict, official sense. Instead, to become a Christian scholar is more a matter of intention and desire, of bearing witness to Christ in the contemporary world of science, literature, and so forth.

You can’t do this on your own. You’ll need friends who major in physics and biology as well as in economics, psychology, philosophy, literature, and every other discipline. These friends can be teachers and fellow students, of course, but, for the most part, our intellectual friendships are channeled through books. C.S. Lewis has remained popular with Christian students for many good reasons, not the least of which is that he makes himself available to his readers as a trusted friend in Christ. That’s true for many other authors too. Get to know them.

Ministry Inside.21

1. coffee.jpeg For a long time, it has been very important to me to live a transparent life. I first realized the importance of this years ago when I experienced disappointment in some people whom I had admired. I was very young and began to hear disturbing stories about some sports figures, politicians, and Hollywood figures. These were people I had admired only to learn that they were not who I thought they were.

Later I would learn the same truth about some ministers. Yes, that was disappointing. Yet, again and again, I have been so encouraged by seeing the integrity and transparency of many ministers.

One question that many people have about their minister is “Are you for real?” I don’t think most people are asking if the minister is perfect or not. Yes, I am disturbed by the way we often place ministers on a pedestal that is far above where most human beings live. At the same time, those of us who are ministers talk about God and urge people to take the ways of God seriously. I think it is fair and realistic for one to wonder:

  • Is this minister sincere?
  • Does this minister really want to be Christlike?
  • Can one trust this minister?
  • How large is the gap between his public self and his private life?
  • Is this person the real deal or should one look somewhere else?

Think for a moment about preaching. A preacher is allowed to take the story of God in Christ and enter someone’s heart. That person is trusting that that preacher. In fact, the person is trusting that the message will bless and help. When a preacher is allowed to enter someone’s heart, it is a great privilege. After all, the heart is a deeply personal place that contains my own story, including my fears,hurts, and vulnerabilities. This is one reason why it is so damaging when it is revealed that a minister is living a double life or is involved in immorality. This is about trust. It is about being able to trust the person who is speaking the word of God into my heart. Can this person be trusted with my pain and my story?

2. My mentoring group met with Grady King on Tuesday. Grady (now in Mansfield, Texas, just outside of Fort Worth) is a good friend, encourager, and preacher. One of his discussion points involved the subject of being a minister and building trust. He said: “You can’t preach your way to trust. Trust comes through day-to-day ministry.” He then emphasized that building trust takes time. He stressed the importance of being available for coffee or lunch with people for conversation. In short, a minister has to be available to people.  

Ministry Inside.20

1. Read Jonathan Storment’s “Why I Preach.” Outstanding! Encouraging and inspiring.

2. Scot McKnight has been posting a very good series based on James Bryan Smith’s book, The Good and Beautiful Community. For example, see Scot’s post entitled “Spiritual Disciplines…for a Church 5.” (This really is a very good book. I am reading it right now-slowly.)

3. On a daily basis, I skim through a number of news sources (online). Typically, I look through the front pages for any article that seems interesting or intriguing for some reason. Usually, I will read, at that moment, one or two articles. The rest I will put in my instapaper. Some of the sources that I regularly check include the following: The New York Times, The Financial Times, The Washington Post, Google News, Globe and Mail, Dallas News, and World News.

4. Tim Spivey has a nice video on sermon preparation–outside. Also see Tim’s fine post on “Preaching Intentionally.” Tim has a very good blog and is a good thinker.

5. Just got back from Salado (Texas) where I was a part of a small group of ministers representing a variety of churches. A very good retreat and an opportunity to get to know some great guys. It was a part sponsored by Baylor University’s Center for Ministry Effectiveness. A wonderful opportunity to learn from some area pastors.

6. I mentioned recently that I am taking a hard look at how I spend my time each day. This week I had three significant conversations with ministers (two of them are in their early 30s and the other is in his late 40s). The conversations were very helpful. There is something valuable about being able to look over another’s shoulder and listen to how that person works. If you have ideas or suggestions, I would be delighted to hear from you.

Ministry Inside.19

1. Ministers need to be lifelong learners. Remember that it is not necessarily how confidence-coaching-pic.jpg much you read, but what you read. This is not a matter of either being bookish or not being bookish. Churches deserve a minister who is willing to do hard thinking and who is willing to mine the important books so that the church has access to these thoughts. In a paper entitled, Creation, Evolution, and Christian Laypeople, Tim Keller writes that the pastor must stand between the scholar and the person in the pew, reading and interpreting what the person in the pew might never read. He says that pastors are a bridge between the world of scholarship and the world of the street.

2. I heard James Bryan Smith twice this week at the ACU Summit. He was outstanding as a teacher and communicator. His books The Good and Beautiful God , The Good and Beautiful Life, and The Good and Beautiful Community are well worth reading. Also see Scot McKnight’s fine series on The Good and Beautiful Community.

3. Do you read Michael Hyatt’s blog? I get many practical ideas from him in a number of areas. For example, several of his suggestions have been helpful to me in my personal organization. You may find his blog to be very helpful also. For example, read today’s very fine post (guest written) entitled: “Why Great Teams Tell Great Stories.”

4. Be sure to read J.R. Briggs’ “(45) Practical Pieces of Advice for Young Pastors .” This is an excellent list! It is also an excellent list for those who have been ministers for a long time. Following this list could make a significant difference in a ministry.

5. Have you ever spent any time scrolling around Powell’s Bookstore? I find this to be an interesting website. By the way, this is an updated list of what I am reading.

6. Today, I had lunch alone at a cafe that I never go to, in a part of town that I rarely drive through. I deliberately went by myself to this place so that I could take in the sights and sounds of people around me in the cafe. I tried to really watch and listen to what was around me. I listened as the waitress expressed her frustration to another customer. I watched as the cook walked through the cafe with a sense of pride about his job. I looked at the cars parked in front of this cafe. I looked at the businesses across the street. As I drove back to the office, I tried to pay attention to the homes, the people walking, and the various businesses.

I did this because I needed to really see this part of our city again. I simply wanted to be present and to stay aware. You might consider doing something like this where you are. I find this helpful.