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Be Yourself

Over the last month, I have found myself dealing with other ministries and the discussion seems to come back to the same issue. How do we minister to the various needs of everyone that comes through the door? Many small church ministries are desperate for the numbers and they try to be all things to all people. When a new family shows up, they try to meet their needs. It is a noble gesture, but an unrealistic one. The problem is they do not have the tools to meet those needs. They end up starting programs that burn out the people who are faithfully attending.

Our church faced this a number of years ago when we considered starting an Awana Program. There was no question concerning the need. We had a number of kids who were attending. We did a time analysis of the commitment that would be required from our congregation and realized an Awana program would be a major drain on our people. Our ministry philosophy is geared to family orientated activities rather than age appropriate ministries. An Awana program would be a major change in our philosophy of ministry. We also realized we had two very successful Awana programs within 45 minutes of our church. Our solution was to encourage people to use those programs and even volunteer to help in those programs if those churches would allow them to participate. It was a risk because we realized that we may lose families, but we had to stay true to who we were as a church and what we were capable of as a church. Many of our people have participated over the years, including my wife and I. It was a wise decision that proved itself over time.

I think the answer to the question of how to meet the needs of everyone is found in knowing who you are. My senior year in High School our class sponsor focused on the importance of being yourself. As a Christian school teacher, he always reminded us to be true to how God made us. Over the years, I had the opportunity to candidate for various ministries. I often found myself trying to “fit in” and “adapt” to those ministries. I understand that each ministry is unique and that each of us has to make some personal changes. I found in many of those places, I became extremely frustrated and uncomfortable in my own skin. I have learned that is important for me to be the person who God designed me to be.

When I see my doctor and he figures out the problem, he often refers me to a specialist. I do not expect him to be a specialist in everything. As an M.D. he is generalist and knows his limits. I happen to know that my doctor does have some specific areas that he is very knowledgeable, but he also knows when to send me to someone else. As a small church pastor, I am often looked at the same way. People and the nature of my ministry require me to be a generalist. The wise doctor and the wise pastor know what their limits are and they do not try to be a specialist when they are not equipped or trained in those areas.

THOT – Is some of your current frustration the result of you trying to be a specialist in areas that are outside your training? Can you find a creative way to get people involved who have the training and expertise to deal with those issues? How true are you and your church being to who you really are?

Settlers of Catan

Recently my kids have introduced me to the board game “Settlers of Catan”. I think it should be required for anyone in ministry. For those of you who are not familiar with the game, I would describe it as a combination Risk, Monopoly, and Tetris. the games begins with you determining a strategy for winning the game. All of your decisions at the beginning of the game are based on that strategy. As the game progresses and other people interfere with your strategy, you must adapt and adjust accordingly. Your strategy has to constantly change throughout the game based on your actions and the actions of other players.

In the course of over 30 years of ministry spanning 4 states and 4 very different types of ministries, I see numerous parallels to this game. When I began in ministry, I had a number of plans, visions, and goals as to what I wanted to accomplish with my life. Through different life events, I have had to adapt and change. The desires of my heart remain the same, but they have been “fleshed” out in ways that I never imagined.

I think it is important that as leaders, we realize that we have to be willing to adapt and change as God leads. In “Settlers”, you are constantly evaluating and adjusting to reach your goal of winning the game. In ministry, you must be willing to do the same. I am not suggesting that we compromise our core foundational beliefs. But I am suggesting that we have to be willing to change our approach to how we do ministry.

In my current ministry we are in the middle of this process. We are currently evaluating our original plans for growth. We now find ourselves looking into other options and directions. We are in the process of adjusting our paths and procedures while maintaining a clear focus on our end goal which has never changed.

THOT – Have you gotten to the point in ministry where you are so focused on the plan or the path, that you have lost sight of your real goal? Are you willing to consider other ways or paths to accomplish your goals? Could you be missing a new direction and opportunity because you are unwilling to change your original plans? I have never won the game “Settlers of Catan” without changing and adapting my strategy to the players around me. Could your current ministry strategy be holding your ministry back?

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“Attractors”

Last week we came back from our annual “out of the box” Texas trip. While there were a number of adventures, my favorite was our fly fishing trip. Our host had set up an afternoon of fly fishing on the Guadeloupe River. Apparently this river is one of the top fly fishing rivers in the United States. Fly Fishing happened to be one of my bucket list items, so I really enjoyed the day. Unfortunately, we learned why it is called “fishing” and not “catching”. We had a great time anyway and ate at a catfish place on the way home.

Before we got on the river, our outfitter spent some time on the shore teaching us the art of casting. I am a bass fisherman, so the whole idea of casting the line instead of the lure was more difficult than I anticipated. After about 45 minutes of lessons and practice, our guide started preparing the flies. He was explaining the process behind catching trout. He told us why he had selected the particular flies we were using. He talked about how the fish often wait for the fly to float downstream. Before he tied the final fly, he added a small hook with a colorful piece of rubber on a short leader. He then explained to us the purpose of the “attractor” as he called it.

It seems that we were near the end of the season for trout and that many of them were wiser and more sluggish. He explained that the “attractor” was used to get the attention of the fish. He said sometimes they will attack the “attractor”, so it has a small hook attached. Often, the “attractor” works to get the attention of the fish and then the fish notices the fly that is coming downstream.

This got me to thinking about the application to rural ministry. I realize that in rural ministry people are slow to trust and come to church. It is a long process for most people to make a commitment to a rural ministry and many are very hesitant. They remind me of that late season trout who is content to simply wait. I am starting to think about our ministry and how this principle relates to “fishing for men”. I am wondering what we are doing to “attract” people to the message of Christ? I am not talking about the old days of bigger and better Sunday gimmicks. I am thinking about the things that make people in our community curious to seek more information about who we are and what we are all about.

THOT – What are the “attractors” that you are developing and using to make people in your community curious about the gospel? Could a simple principle from fly fishing be something that would enhance our ministry to our community?

Madame_X_M

This week is one of the highlights of my year. A number of years ago a friend starting inviting my wife and I along with 2 other couples to southern Texas for a time of fellowship and encouragement. In the course of the last 5 years, this annual pilgrimage has had a tremendous impact on my ministry. I do not have any responsibilities for 5 days. My only job is to show up with a willing and teachable spirit to try new things. I have to be willing to step out of my comfortable box and routine. Each year we are exposed to unique opportunities that are outside of our comfort zones. We all participate together and no one is allowed to “opt out”. We even attend a Spanish / English-speaking church and sing familiar worship songs with words that are hard to pronounce. We eat different foods, and have plenty of unique and unusual experiences.

Over the years I have flown a plane, hunted wild hogs, run a quarter mile drag strip, sang Karaoke, judged a local car show, had a cooking lesson, fished in the gulf, and even gone to get a manicure and pedicure. While we each turned in our “man card” for the morning, everyone would sign up for the pedicure thing again in a heartbeat. Our host explained to us that we needed to experience the relaxation of a pedicure so that we would better be able to surprise our wives by giving them a certificate for a manicure or pedicure. We have made a number of new friends over the years and love the fellowship and excitement of being together. We spend hours in discussions and we have no special agenda. Our goal is to have some “real” conversation and I always come away refreshed, exhausted and challenged.

As I look back over the years, I see the benefit has been to get “uncomfortable”. I like my routine and I feel “safe” in my comfort zone. Often in ministry, we get too comfortable and start to get real nervous when we head into seasons of uncertainty. This annual event allows me to be more comfortable with being uncomfortable. I now see it as a necessary part of life. In order to really experience the joys, thrills, and fulfillment of life, you have to go through a process of being uncomfortable. I now embrace those times in ministry and realize they will produce a ministry that is full of unique and incredible experiences.

THOT – If you find yourself in a season of uncertainty, be careful of trying to escape that time as soon as possible. In the uncertainty, there are lessons to be learned and opportunities to stretch yourself. Are you “embracing” your season of uncertainty? Have you learned the art of being comfortable with being uncomfortable? I am reminded that our Lord set a great example of coming in flesh which Paul describes in Philippians 2 as the ultimate example of being uncomfortable.

Flight

Earn your chips

In the 1980 Winter edition of Leadership Journal there was an article comparing ministry to a poker game.   HOW TO WIN AT PARISH POKER (Pastoral credibility can be parlayed into great gains–or squandered.)  by Leith Anderson  You can try the link above (may or may not work)

The article basically talks about “earning your chips”.  This article helped me over the years by knowing when to make an “All in” call.  Too many Pastors believe their title gives them the opportunity to call “all in”  or a “my way or the Highway” decision.  In my current ministry, I have had to make a few of those calls.  I did not take them lightly and everyone knew that I did not make unnecessary threats.  The key to surviving those situations is twofold.  First you must know how many “chips” you have earned. Second, you must know which hills you are willing to die on. 

I think too many Pastors make major mistakes in these two areas.  “Earn” your chips.  Often you are considered a “hireling”   If you are in a ministry or a denomination that has a frequent turnover (3-4 years), then these people will outlast you.  They were in the ministry before you and will be there after you.  So any bad decision you make means that they will have to live with the consequences, because you will be long gone.  I have “earned my chips” in my current ministry.  The board knows that any idea I want to implement means I will also be around to deal with the success or failure of that idea.  I have incredible freedom as long as I do not think that I have incredible freedom. 

Secondly, know what hill you will die on.  Anderson refers to this as your focus  for ministry.  I have found that in the course of ministry battles arrive on a constant basis.  As a leader, I have to fight the battles, but I don’t have to win every battle.  There are times it is wiser to allow someone else to fight the battle for  me or simply decide to let that battle go.  Which battle you choose often determines your destiny in a ministry.  When I have to take a strong stand as a leader, I am willing to die on that hill.  I have never made an ultimatum that I was willing to act on.  Those battles and issues are very few, but I know what they are and after 20 years, my board knows them as well.  I have watched too many Pastors leave ministries over issues that they should have simply not fought.

THOT - Are you earning your chips?  Have you foolishly squandered some of your chips in your response to issues that really don’t matter? If you are in a smaller church ministry, realize your chips will be earned over time and by developing relationships. 

Diversify

Last week my financial guy called for a meeting.  He wanted to go over my retirement stuff.  The church leadership wanted to help me get a retirement plan started a few years ago, so we did.  I am not a money guy and would live off the barter system if it was possible, but money seems to be a necessary part of life.  As my financial guy went over my stuff, he keep talking about the various markets and the percentages that he was shooting for in my portfolio.  He wanted to make sure my portfolio was diverse and not focused too heavily in one area.  It got me to thinking about how that lesson has applied to my ministry over the years.  I think one of the things that has helped me stay healthy was personal diversification.

Early in ministry my entire life and being was focused on ministry.  I had very few outside interests.  Anything I did was ministry related, even my hobbies.  While this was helpful when things were going good, it was devastating when the church was struggling.  I found my value and worth attached to the success or failure of the ministry at the time.  Over the years, I have learned to diversify my life.  I have worked hard to be a husband and distance that role from ministry.  I enjoy time with my 2 boys and my daughter in law.  I have gotten involved in community theater, judging high school speech, restoring old things, and even learning glass fusing.  I try to keep them balanced so those things do not take away from ministry, but rather enhance my personal well being.

When the church is struggling, those things allow me to be “successful” in other areas.  I find satisfaction in doing some of those things well.  My life and value is not “consumed” with ministry alone.   The ministry can go through its normal ebb and flow and I can maintain a more even focus.  I can be emotionally and spiritually healthy to help the ministry better weather that storm.

I guess my challenge is for you to make sure your are diversified or well balanced in your life.  If everything is centered around the ministry, you will find yourself more prone to discouragement when difficult times come.  I no longer have the approach that ministry is my life.  Ministry is what I do, it is not who I am.  I am so much more than the specific church that I am called to Pastor.  I love my church and the people God has called me to Pastor, but I have a life outside of ministry.  In fact, you should see some of the glass stuff my son and I create.

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THOT - How diversified is your life?    Have you allowed the “ministry” to become who you are instead of what you do?  You are so much more than the job you are called to perform. My prayer is that you become the balanced person God has called you to be.

“Re Upping”

Both of my sons serve in the Air National Guard.  One is a full time DOD employee and other serves as a traditional Guard member.  When you enter the military, you sign a commitment for a specified length of time.  The initial commitment for both of my sons was 6 years.  At the end of that time you decided whether you want to “reup” or to discontinue your service.  Next year my youngest will have to decide what he will do, so we are having discussions about what his long term military plans are.

Without realizing it, I have always had a similar approach to the ministry.  My initial commitment to my current ministry was only on a part time basis as a bi-vocational pastor.  Later, I committed to stay for 5 years and then allow God to move me at that time.  If other opportunities came along and they did, I just told them I would have to wait.  When things here got tough (and they did), I reminded myself of my commitment and tried to get things as healthy as I could until that 5 year period had come.  By the time it got here, I found myself ready to” re-up”.  I think this approach would be helpful for many pastors.

Over the 6 years I have listened to both my sons talk about good and bad leaders they have had.  If it was easy to get out, neither one of them would have stayed the entire 6 years.  There are certain situations in which they can leave, but it is difficult and not without great costs to them.  The military has spent too much time, money, and effort on their training.  If they leave before their commitment, it will cost them.

The same is true of ministry.  I think too many pastors do not really weigh the long term costs.  They allow the situation or the circumstances to become a major factor.  They allow key people to become the focus and lose sight of the  commitment.  One way that I protected myself was through my personal commitment to a predetermined set time.  I never signed anything or had any kid of formal agreement, but I had a personal commitment.  It protected me in so many ways.  I did not start looking a other ministry opportunities when things got tough.  I had a set time I would do that, but not in the middle of a crisis.  I counsel people to never make a major decision when you are in the middle of a difficult time, and that advice applies to pastors as well.

THOT - Have you set a “re-up” time for your current place of ministry?

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