Archive for February, 2014

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. 


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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.


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.

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