What Your Preacher May Not Tell You

shushRecently, I was with a number of ministers from across the country. Many of them were fairly young.  I would guess that most of these young ministers are conscientious people who want to do the right thing for their church.

I have preached for over three decades. I know many preachers. Most of them are good people.  The following are some realities of ministry that may not fit every single minister, but it is certainly characteristic of so many of us.

  1. Your preacher may not tell you about how difficult this task really is.  Of course it is true that there are some lazy ministers who do not honor their calling through their lack of a work ethic.  However, most ministers I know work very, very hard.  Most work long hours.  When I was a young minister, I remember hearing several times someone use the old line about preachers working one hour a week.  Those were awkward moments for me.  I knew how hard I was working.  I knew the stress I felt.  Somehow, this old line was supposed to be funny or relevant.  I never quite understood that.
  2. Your preacher may not tell you how hurtful and frustrating some remarks really are.  Some years ago, we were seconds away from beginning our morning service.  I was about to say, “Good morning!  I am glad you are here.”  I was standing at the front of our auditorium, on the floor, just about to speak, when a lady in the second or third pew said aloud to me “I am so angry with you!”  I was not expecting that at all.  I paused for a few minutes and then said “Good morning!”  However, her comment felt like someone had let all the air out of my spirit for the morning.  I talked with her later and things were made right.  It’s important to choose words that encourage rather than harm.
  3. Your preacher may not tell you how difficult it is to preach week after week. Someone asked me a few years ago, “Jim, how do you come up with new and fresh material week after week?”  I don’t remember my answer.  However, after thinking about his question for a few years, I realize that whatever he saw in my preaching each week reflected many hours of prayer, paying attention to the congregation and culture, reading, and intentional growth.  Know that most preachers don’t simply have the gift of gab.  Rather, they work hard.
  4. Your preacher may not tell you that he is right in the middle of life right along with you.  Marriage concerns.  Child concerns.  Dealing with aging parents.  Health issues. Problems with siblings.  Financial issues.  Problems with elders, etc.
  5. Your preacher may not tell you that he is a person who probably needs encouragement.  Yes, in most congregations, there are people who are generally very encouraging to their preacher.  However, I believe that elders often underestimate how much encouragement their preacher needs.  Quite often preachers (particularly in small to medium sized churches) deal with many troubled people, address family issues in the congregation, and minister to the sick and dying.  Encouraging words help greatly. Some congregations may have a couple of people who are constant critics.  Unfortunately, in far too many congregations, the people who love their preacher and appreciate his ministry are silent.  They don’t criticize.  They don’t praise.  They say absolutely nothing.   If you appreciate the person who is preaching to your church each week, it might mean so much if you were to express encouragement to them in person or through a note.

How to Murder Your Own Ministry

church144-300x300There are many ways a person can murder one’s own ministry.  Sometimes ministers self-destruct by unwise choices and decisions.  Ministers who serve on a staff at a church can kill a perfectly good ministry through foolish words and actions. Sometimes such choices result in a minister being “fired” or “let go” from a church.  Yet, in some situations one might self-destruct and yet continue to stay in the same role for years.

A minister can get intoxicated by his own sense of self-importance.

This person can begin to believe that since he is retweeted regularly on Twitter or invited to speak at out of state events, that he is important and unlike the ordinary people.  This is the person who might place in his own biography, “He is a highly sought after speaker.”  Really?

A minister can regularly function by asking for forgiveness from others rather than asking their permission.

Do what you want to do knowing that later if you appear to be contrite, you will be forgiven.  After all, this person reasons, it is far easier to get forgiveness than go through the process of getting permission.  Of course, this person might never use the word “manipulation” to describe such  may never be used.  Yet, this is manipulation.

A minister can become focused on money for his own gain.  

This minister may move to a different church primarily due to a larger salary.  Or, this minister might keep score as he learns about the salaries of other ministers.  The problem is not money per se.  There is certainly nothing wrong with trying to support your family.  However, one can become totally focused on financial gain.

A minister can give himself permission to do what is apparently wrong for everyone else to do.

Through rationalization and self-justification, this minister may give himself permission to think too much about a particular woman in the church or community.  Instead of protecting his marriage, he seems to be playing with fire.  He pridefully rationalizes, “I’ve done nothing wrong. I’m not even tempted.”

Yet, instead of dealing with the temptation, he seems to be getting as close as he dare.  Then one day he says, “I never thought this would happen to me.”

A minster can self-destruct in relationships with elders.

A younger minister would do well to find out why ministers sometimes have difficulty in their relationships with elders. In fact, this person might become a student of such relationships.  What are ministers doing in churches where these relationships seem to work well?  Are they doing something intentional or do they just have a good group of elders?

A minister can be a taker instead of a giver.

You know the givers.  These are the generous people.  They consider how they might encourage and help others.  Then, there are the takers.  These are the ministers who seem to always concerned about who gets the credit.  They want to position themselves to be able to be seen by any large urban congregation that might be looking for a preacher.  As one guy said to me, “I’ve got to keep my resume up to date.  I’m ok with the church I’m with but I want to be ready in case one of the large churches has an open position.”  When ministers model “taking” as a legitimate form of ministry, they are modeling before the church anything but servant leadership.


Focus on the Heart (Part 2 of 2)

Choosing Spouses, Ministers, etc.

Mid-Level_Challenges_Poor_Selection_Process2Like 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?

What Validates a Minister’s Value?

value-propositionHow 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.”

Want to Make a Difference? (9 truths about ministry)

nineThe 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.

When You Feel Insignificant

billboard_DiscouragedFeeling insignificant?

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.

Ministry Inside.135

PhoneI 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?

Ministry Inside.129

Life-from-the-Inside-pngWhat 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.


Monday Start (Resources for the Week)


“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!

Ministry Inside.95

talkWhat 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.