Like choosing a mate, sometimes churches seem to focus on the “outward appearance” when it comes to selecting a minister. Sometimes it seems that we are preoccupied with finding a minister who like King Saul of Israel will look the part.
Years ago, a church leader called me regarding a reference check of a prospective minister for their congregation. He explained that this person was not one of their “first tier” candidates. (I had not heard that language before in reference to selecting a minister.) He explained that they had hoped to get a minister who was widely known and already had a following. He mentioned several names of people who, at the time, were speaking in a number of workshops, lectureships, and other highly visible events across the country. What was interesting was their rationale for placing these people on their “first tier” list.
Yet, perhaps we would do well to consider what a focus on the heart (I Samuel 16:7) might look like as we consider a prospective minister for a congregation.
A few questions we might reflect on:
1. Does this minister seem to hunger for God? Is this minister’s moral and ethical life congruent with he claims to believe?
How do you know when a minister has great value? Or, if you serve as a minister of a congregation you may wonder how much value you really have. Perhaps there are times when you when you feel as if you have great value. What factors have led you to come to that conclusion? Perhaps there are other times when you feel alone, inadequate, and have little value as a minister.
Some believe that ministers have great value if one or more of the following factors are true:
1. People are asking this person to speak at their congregations or at particular lectureships, seminars, etc.
2. Congregations that are visible within our fellowship are asking this person to consider joining their ministry staff.
3. A particular minister has a much larger salary compared to other ministers who serve in the same role.
4. Many in social media quote this person and seem to rally around whatever this minister might say or do.
5. A minister may be well known throughout a region or even the nation and perhaps have a “following.” This may be evident either through conversations at particular gatherings or conversation through social media.
6. A minister who has served a smaller congregation begins preaching for a congregation that is highly visible. Suddenly that minister may be perceived to be “important.”
The following are a few basic but critical realities of ministry.
1. Good thinking and good practice matter. Those who work with churches are sometimes challenged on both fronts. What we do with the text matters. How we think theologically matters.
2. We serve out of our identity in Christ. What we know is important. Content is critical. However, my identity is rooted in Jesus. I am not foremost a leader, a vice president of a seminary, or a preacher. Before anything else, I am a follower of Jesus.
Last year, I began a new ministry at Harding School of Theology. When I took on this role, I didn’t suddenly become brilliant or more important than any other Christian servant. It is just a different form of ministry. What is at the core of any Christian ministry is how you are allowing your ministry to be used to shape you into someone more Christ-like.
I am writing this to you.
You may be a preacher or a minister in some role in a remote area. Or, you may be in an urban area but you feel alone and isolated. There are days when you ache with loneliness. To make matters worse, some of your minister friends talk about getting together regularly with others with a kindred spirit. You are certain they have no idea what this kind of isolation is like.
Perhaps you are an elder. You had hopes and dreams of making a impact. You thought you might have the opportunity to address matters that might make such a kingdom difference. However, the group continues to gravitate toward the trivial. You come home from meetings tired and worn out. You didn’t agree to endless discussions of things that are small and inconsequential.
I was two years old when this picture was taken. My parents had just moved to Dallas from Little Rock.
Of course, I don’t remember this moment. Nevertheless, this picture means a lot to me. At that moment my parents were a young couple who had moved to a big city with their two year old. Little did they know of the twists and turns their lives would take. Nor could they have imagined what life would be like for their toddler.
Years later, a variety of experiences would shape and form my life and forever impact me.
I would enter kindergarten. Mrs. Rich was my teacher. I would come away from that experience with good memories.
Just a few years later, I would have a brother and sister. I would live with my family of origin, go to college and then eventually leave and marry.
I would have moments of joy and also moments when I felt utterly defeated.
I would learn the story of God’s love. I would be baptized. I would continue to grow in my faith as a part of a church community.
Years later, I would marry Charlotte and we would have two children, Christine and Jamie. We would spend much of our lives in Alabama, Missouri, and Texas.
Now, here we are with two grandchildren, two sons-in-law, and many great memories of the places where we have lived.
I never would have dreamed, even a few years ago, that we would live in Memphis and that I would be working with Harding School of Theology.
Why mention this?
What I have learned about long-term ministry.
This month marks the 20th year I’ve served the Crestview Church of Christ in Waco. Yesterday, I saw a picture of our family 20 years ago when we moved here. Since then, I have learned a lot. This post will list some of the lessons learned about congregational ministry while serving this church in this city.
1. Ministry is much like marriage. Trust is everything. If you are trustworthy, you are continually making deposits. If not, you may lose the trust that it took you decades to build.
2. Preaching and pastoral work cannot be separated. In fact, much of the conversation after church, in your office, and over a cup of coffee may be an extension of your preaching.
3. The best ministers never stop growing. Yet, they understand that their growth is not only cognitive but also includes emotional maturity as well. It is sad when a minister just won’t grow up.
4. If you are not committed to growing and developing, you can eventually become stuck in your thinking and functioning (not to mention the example you are setting).
5. Ministry with a church over a long period of time enables you to learn whom you can really trust. Be careful about a person who consistently bad-mouths various people in your congregation (in their absence) only to speak in a very different tone when they are present.
6. A church needs to know that you are with them. Some ministers are adamant about how different they are from their congregation. Congregations need to know that you see yourself as one of them. Otherwise, they may be left with uncertainty about your motives.
7. Know the DNA of the congregation. It is important to recognize and appreciate the distinctive characteristics of the congregation in which you serve. Its members are likely to be more open to fresh ideas for ministry if they know that you deeply respect the ways God worked through the church in the years before you came.
8. Be a person worthy of their trust. Public speaking ability, ministry skill, and new ideas are no substitute for integrity and character.
“It eats you from the inside out.” Excellent article from The Christian Century regarding ministers and porn.
“Every Writer is a Mentor” by Jeff Goins. Good post!
Tim Keller’s five questions for the biblical text. When I agree or disagree with Keller, he makes me think!
Top ten most read books in the world posted by Mark Wilson.
It’s Not About You
This is a very good article by David Brooks to recent college graduates. A keeper!
Margaret Feinberg has written an excellent post “4 Keys to Finding the Perfect Mentor You’ve Always Wanted.”
What is your impact on others?
“How Are People Left When You Leave Their Presence?” by Michael Hyatt. Well worth reading!
What is the #1 way many ministers sabotage their ministry?
A loose and undisciplined mouth.
Years ago, I was teaching a Wednesday evening class at our church. The class was about to begin. A woman was still talking as I attempted to start this class. I said something about her to the group, thinking it would be funny. Everyone laughed. Well, almost everyone. She did not laugh. In fact, the next day she called me and wanted to visit for a few minutes. My words had hurt her. They brought up memories of earlier humiliations in her life. Now, in front of everyone, her minister had embarrassed and humiliated her.
I felt awful. To get a quick laugh, I spoke without thinking. I really wished for a do-over.
Trust is everything in ministry. Ministers are people who have a great opportunity to help someone learn what it means to live as a Christ-follower. Yet, that trust is diminished when people witness that our speech is undisciplined. If we are not careful, we can speak in ways that are inappropriate, thoughtless, and even un-Christlike.
I read a very good article in The Wall Street Journal entitled “The Peak Time for Everything.” Basically, the article explores the importance of matching the tasks you need to do with the energy level of your body. The author suggests times of the day that may be better suited for a particular task given where the energy level of the body normally is at that point. For example, the author suggests that when it comes to doing cognitive work most adults tend to perform better later in the morning.
I have found the following practices to be helpful as I attempt to manage my time:
1. My best study is done very early in the morning. I often awaken early and get much reading and preparation done before I ever go into the office.
2. One of the first things I do upon getting to the office is form my to-do list. I may add several new items to what was unfinished from the day before or the list may be totally new.
3. I write on a large white board in my office a few items that I refer to as “blocks.” That is, I intend to spend a block of time working on a particular project. For example, I may be thinking about a meeting or a talk I am to give in a month or two. I might choose to spend a 30-minute block of time working on this item. (Otherwise, what is pressing or seemingly immediate will usually consume my time.)
4. I typically write most e-mails and make most phone calls in the afternoon when my energy is lower. In fact, I save tasks that require less energy or creativity for the afternoon.
5. Each day, I want to do something that adds energy to my life. Typically I go to the gym four days a week in the late afternoon to work out. This practice makes a huge difference in my energy level. Also, I am energized by reading, visiting with friends on the phone, and enjoying conversation (normally by phone) with family members.
What are some of your daily practices that impact the flow of your day?
So much of one’s effectiveness in ministry has to do with the matters that may appear small but in fact are very important.
1. Attitude. This is huge! A negative attitude, a cynical spirit, and a fault-finding disposition have a way of wearing out a congregation. The content of a minister’s teaching may be correct, but the teaching may not be taken seriously because of the attitude of the minister.
2. Humility. Some ministers have a way of bringing every conversation back to themselves. Instead of asking others to elaborate after they have shared an experience, some people will immediately interject, “Yeah, you should have seen what happened to me, blah, blah, blah.” People see through this after a while.