Four Essential Practices for Any Church Leader


The following are four essential practices for any church leader.  In fact, these might be helpful to any Christ-follower.

1.  Take care of your mind.  Too many ministers do not read widely and consequently get stuck in a mental rut. Some read only the latest books from well-known preachers.  The mind, however, needs exercise.  For many years I have read widely. This started many years ago when I would spend one afternoon every two weeks in the local university library.  There I would survey national news magazines along with material that provided commentary from various perspectives.  I skimmed the New York Times (Sunday Edition) regularly along with the Wall Street Journal.  I also read book reviews and journal articles.

Of course, this is so much easier now!  Online access allows you and I to do this kind of reading in the privacy our homes.  Such practices have sharpened my thinking for years.

2.  Take care of your soul.  Ministry is a calling born out of one’s experience with Christ.  Yet one must be intentional about cultivating a heart that is available for what God wishes to do in that person’s life.

Most mornings, I begin the day reading my Bible, praying, and writing in my journal.  These disciplines and others have been important for cultivating my heart.  Prayer books, biographies, and classical devotional literature have all been helpful to me.

3.  Take care of your emotions.  So many ministers have neglected this one!  Perhaps a person has never dealt with the pain and hurt in his or her life.  Meanwhile, others are confused by this person’s intense anger and on-going depression. Often such unchecked emotions spill over into the church and other relationships.

Frankly, having a few healthy friendships can help a person with emotional care.  Yet, many ministers speak of the loneliness and lack of intimacy that characterizes their lives.  Unfortunately, when a person lacks appropriate intimate relationships, that person will often seek intimacy in inappropriate ways such as pornography, emotional affairs, or even sexual affairs.

How do such authentic relationships happen?  Generally speaking, one has to take initiative instead of passively waiting for a friendship to form.  Some of the most unlikely people may turn out to become wonderful friends.  In my experience, these friends have included people both inside and outside the congregation.

4.  Take care of your body.  Far too many ministers practice the spiritual disciplines and nurture their intellectual life but then completely neglect their physical health.  When I was a young minister, several older ministers warned me about this. One person told me that as a young man, he didn’t exercise, rested very little, and neglected his body.  As a result, he faced serious health issues some years later.  Sleep, nutrition, and physical exercise are very important particularly for a lifestyle that is often stressful.

Taking a day off is very important.  Play, relaxation, and living a balanced life are essential to living as a healthy, whole person.  Such self-care is not a luxury but a God-honoring investment in long-term ministry.

Don’t Ignore the Obvious

(I am away on a vacation/study break during the month of July. The posts that appear during the month are from the archives.)

I really don’t want to ignore the obvious, and yet I do at times.

I graduated from the University of North Texas with a degree in business. I recall taking a variety of classes including some in business management, accounting, business law, finance, statistics, etc. Yet, in spite of these courses, I ignored the obvious.

I actually paid very little attention toward thinking about the kind of work that I might do for the rest of my life. I am not suggesting that I should have known exactly what I was going to do. I am saying that I did not even give it very much thought. Oh I knew what I was going to do when I graduated. I had been working for UPS while in college and I knew that I would be driving and then going into management with them. Yet, beyond that, I gave my future little thought.

Maybe the following is obvious to you. Yet, I need to be reminded to not ignore the obvious.

Am I thinking ahead?

1. In five years, I will be somewhere doing something.  In five years, do I want to be able to say that I have invested in my growth and maturity over these past five years? What will that mean TODAY in terms of the practical decisions that I need to make?

2. At the end of this year, I will be somewhere financially.  If I continue to spend money the way I am currently spending money, what will be my financial condition in January 2010? Do I need to make a change TODAY in terms of the way I spend money?

3. As I begin my week, I am going to make choices about the way I invest my time. Who needs my attention and time this week? Are there significant people in my life who have not been receiving the time or attention the need? Do I need to make a decision TODAY regarding this?

4. In front of me is an unread book.  I can easily say, given what I already have scheduled, “I don’t have time to read a book this week.” Yet, could I carve out thirty minutes each day to read? Could I carve out fifteen minutes each day to read? Do I need to begin this TODAY?

Ten Ways to Enjoy Life and Be Effective (Part 3)

ten.pngLately, I have been reflecting on some habits or practices that have been important to me in learning to enjoy life and be effective.  (You can read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.)   Please feel free to add, in the comments, some of the practices that have been helpful to you but I have not yet mentioned.

7.  Give yourself away to others.  Generosity can be very enjoyable.  Maybe generosity is enjoyable because it is Godlike.  Most of us have so much to give.  Yet, many people go through their day ignoring many people.  Some people are dismissive of others.  They treat some people as if they do not exist.

I have found that people are often shocked and amazed at someone who just wants to give and who expects nothing in return.   Let me invite you to give yourself to other people. 

What can you give? 

Your smile!  Give a smile to a clerk who appears to be bored.  Smile at a grumpy looking person.  Smile at someone who seems to appear invisible to other people (the clerk, the cashier at the grocery store, the custodian at your office).  A simple smile can brighten someone’s day.

Your thoughtfulness. At a church dinner or at the office, ask another if she/he would like a refill on the iced tea.  Open the door for another.  Let another have their preference.  Let another choose the restaurant.  Be thoughtful.  Be considerate.  Be gracious.  Remember the little things!  They will be big in someone else’s mind.

Your attention.  We love to have the attention of people who matter to us.  We may love the attention of someone who seems important or admirable to us.  

Yet, there is something to be said for noticing people who often get very little attention.  Pay attention to children and older people.  Listen, really listen, to others as they talk.  Listen as if there is no one else present in the entire room.  I am still working on this, but I have seen just how uplifting listening can be to others. 

8.  Take care of what God has given you.  When I was in high school, I worked at a Jack-in-the-Box restaurant (fast food).  I learned much and had some interesting experiences while there.  This particular restaurant had a drive-through for customers.  One night a beautiful royal blue Chevrolet Camaro waited in line.  Finally the last car ahead of the Camaro moved forward and the Camaro moved up to the cashier’s window.  The driver paid and then received his food.  The driver was also drunk — very drunk.  Instead of exiting the drive-through, the driver began spinning his tires.  The car remained by the cashier’s window while this driver revved his engine and spun his tires.  A cloud of black smoke poured out of the back of the car where the hot tires were burning.  Still he continued to spin his tires.  Piles of rubber began to build up behind the car until finally there was a loud bang!  One of the tires blew.  Later a wrecker came and towed the car away.

At the time, I thought about how wasteful this person had been.  This was a nice car, almost new, and yet the driver chose not to take care of it.  I would have loved to have had a car like that one at sixteen.  Yet, this driver, drunk as he was, did not take care of this car.  In the same way, far too many of us just do not take care of what God has given us.

Are you married?  Nurture your marriage.  Treat your wife/husband well!  Treat her/him with dignity, respect, and appreciation.

Do you have children?  Give them the very best that God has to offer.  That is, give them Jesus.  Teach them how to pray.  Show them through your example how a child of God lives who is committed to holy living.

What about your mind?  Nurture your thought world.  Read.  Grow.  Learn something!  Don’t settle for the status quo.

What about your body?  Take care of yourself because you have been given a body as a gift from God.  Treat your body in a way that reflects your awareness that it is a gift from God.  Sleep.  Eat food that fuels your body.  Exercise.  Why?  You are simply trying to take care of what God has given you. 

What else would you add to this list?

Become a Life-Long Learner

opensign.jpgI love to be around people who have energy for life. Specifically, I love to be around people who have never stopped learning.

  • The college professor who continues to explore and learn in her field.
  • The minister who reads the Bible and other books believing that he has much to learn.
  • The parent who understands that he has much to learn about his children, regardless of their age.
  • The woman or man who wakes up every day with a healthy curiosity about life.
  • The church leader who continues to read, think, and explore.

Unfortunately, there are people who do not stay fully alive.  They shut down at some point in their lives.  They stop reading, thinking, and growing. 

This morning, I came across a wonderful paragraph written by Tom Peters (a business consultant, thinker, author).  The quote speaks of the importance of being a life-long learner:

Gerson Barbosa posted a comment yesterday that included the following: "The mission statement of Johns Hopkins
includes ‘cultivate their capacity for life-long learning, to foster
independent and original research, and to bring the benefits of
discovery to the world.’"

It got me thinking. In our rapidly gyrating world (see the two posts
immediately above), learning-for-life is no longer an option. This is
true of you at 6 or 26 or 46, and of me at 66 and my great pal Warren
in his 80s. Moreover, explicit focus on "life-long learning" for
everyone on board may be the most sustainable advantage an organization
of any flavor can have….


I have found that in many ways, biological age is almost irrelevant if you are a life-long learner.  My friend Bill Kirk (Dr. Willis E. Kirk) was selected, in 1963, to serve as the first president of what was then Christian College of the Southwest, in Dallas.  Now, some 46 years later, Bill lives in Waco, Texas.  He continues to think, read, and is fully alive in his mid-to-late 80s.  He leads an Alzheimer’s support group for caregivers.  Bill, also a former psychologist, is more alive in his 80s than some people who are many, many years younger.

What has been helpful to me in my effort to stay fully alive:

1.  Spending time with fully alive people.  I seek out fully alive people.  I greatly enjoy these conversations.

2.  Staying aware of technology.  No, I don’t fully understand the computer I am using at this moment.  However, I am fascinated by technology, online social networking, possibilities for creativity, etc. 

3.  Listening to people of all ages who are curious about life and who cultivate their curiosity.

4.  Continuing to learn.  I have served as a minister for a number of years now.  I read and then read more.  I go to seminars, workshops, special lectures, and other learning events because I want to learn.  I learn from other ministers — younger and older.  Some ministers learn for awhile and then spend the rest of their lives resting on that body of knowledge.  They stop thinking, growing, and developing.  This kind of ministry is deadly to the minister and the church.  

5.  Staying aware of what is happening in the world.  You may notice that on the side of this blog are links to various news sites, book reviews, etc.  These are on my blog because I really do use these links.  This started years ago when we were living in Alabama.  About every other week, I visited the library at the University of North Alabama.  I would spend several hours skimming through newspapers such as the Sunday edition of The New York Times, The London Times, The Wall Street Journal, and a few regional newspapers.  Then I would look through magazines, various journals, etc.  I was not looking for anything in particular.  I was just trying to stay aware of discussions, arts/music, and world events.  (The Internet was not available then.  Thankfully, staying abreast is much easier now.  From within the comfort of my home or office, I can access most any newspaper, journal, etc. in the world.  Amazing!)  This practice has been helpful to me.

What about you?  What do you do intentionally in order to stay fully alive?

Five Suggestions for Staying Fully Alive

RaftingHe stood before our church and preached.  Each week, this figure in a dark suit opened the Bible and talked.  I was in my later years of elementary school, so I don’t remember a lot about this man.  But I do remember that when he preached, it seemed dull.  I don’t think it was the suit or even the poor lighting.  I don’t even think the dullness was because he was not particularly entertaining.  


As I became older, I heard that this man had stopped studying a long time ago.  In fact, according to this source, he basically preached through old sermon outlines that he had used many years earlier.  Nothing new.  Nothing fresh.  It was in his voice.  He sounded like a man whose clock had stopped a long time ago.


You’ve known a person like this, haven’t you?  At some point in his or her life, this person basically shut down:


  • The minister or professor who no longer studies.  This person seems to have lost any sense of wonder.
  • The empty-nest couple who park their minds and bodies in front of their television each evening.
  • The young father or mother who seems to have forgotten the dreams they had of being used by God.
  • The man in his early forties who regularly talks about being "old."


I don’t think that God ever meant for us to be this way.  He created us with body, mind, emotions, the capacity to love and be loved.  Yet, some of us shut down far too early.


A few suggestions:


1.  Cultivate your sense of curiosity.  One man in our church is in his late 80s and is more alive than others half his age.  He leads a support group and regularly asks me for book recommendations.  One doesn’t have to talk with him very long before realizing that he is fully alive!


2.  Learn something new every day.  This has become very important to me.  I have found that one of the best ways to do this is by asking questions.  


3.  Listen.  Perhaps you are with a group of people and several begin to talk about a subject about which you know nothing.  Instead of trying to change the subject or getting frustrated, why not use this as an opportunity to learn something new?  It is amazing how many people let opportunities to learn slip by instead of listening and learning.  I have known some ministers and a few college professors who seem to have no interest in listening to other people and learning.  (Some of these people are ready to preach or make a presentation but listening and learning may be another matter.)


4.  Make small but deliberate changes in your routine.  Read a different newspaper.  Watch the news on a different station.  Listen to music that you don’t normally listen to.  Sit in a different coffee shop.  Take a different route to work or to the university.  Read from a different translation of the Bible.


5.  Develop an interest outside your area of expertise.  Look for an area in which you already have an interest and develop that.  For instance, if you have always been fascinated by watercolor painting, bee-keeping, jazz, or fly fishing, why not develop this interest?


Bottom line:  It is unnecessary to shut down prematurely.  Yet, some of us will need to be very intentional about staying fully alive.


What has helped you stay fully alive, either physically, mentally, emotionally, or relationally?