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Seasons of Ministry

I will finish the lessons from an Air Force Officer next time, but right now I wanted to remind you of an important ministry lesson. As the weather turns to fall in Iowa, I am reminded that we are about ready to embark on a new season. That brings with it a number of things. Different clothes, different schedules, and different requirements. In Iowa, I will start to put away the summer stuff and get ready for snow, ice, and cold. The garden gets tilled under and the outdoor flower pots get moved to the greenhouse.

Just as the year has different seasons, with different requirements, so does ministry. Last month was one of those “seasons”. I had a very full schedule and some high demands on my time and emotions. In a 5 day period, I buried a child that had lived 12 hours, rejoiced with another family who had a healthy baby born and ran a youth retreat for 70 teens. I then shifted to ministry on the weekend with my preaching and teaching responsibilities. Needless to say, by the end of the week, I had no more to give. I needed a “season” to recharge. I purposely put aside a number of things the following week, so I had time to recharge.

I know that many of us struggle with “down” time. When we do get it, we feel guilty if we are not producing or doing something. I am reminded that even Jesus fell asleep in the boat due to an exhausting season of ministry. God established the seasons so the physical earth could recharge. He established time with a rhythm and cycle of day and night. I believe that ministry is no different. I am afraid that many of us try to ignore the “seasons” of ministry and we fail to plan and guard that “down” time.

I know that many of you are in the process of gearing up for the Christmas season. As I Pastor, I know how exhausting December can be. I would challenge you to take some time now to recharge and make sure you are adequately prepared for the upcoming season. A car engine that runs to the red line on a daily basis will eventually overheat and shut down. How long do you think you can “red line” your daily schedule?

THOT: Do you believe that you are exempt from needing time to recharge and refresh yourself emotionally, mentally, and spiritually? If you continue to ignore the principles that God designed for the world and mankind, what will the cost be to you and the ministry God has called you to?

A second lesson came immediately upon entering the dorm. The officer candidates had arrived a day early to get things in order for the training to start. Since they were not “officially” checked in, they needed to head to dinner. The problem was finding out what time they were allowed to eat. They notice 3 or 4 different schedules. Each schedule had different times posted. This made a simple task like eating very difficult. They spent time trying to figure out where they were allowed to eat and at what time. The problem was they were faced with conflicting information. therein lies the great lesson. Often when making a decision we are given incomplete information or information that contradicts itself. It is a regular part of leadership. I cannot count the number of times I have started counseling a couple when I thought I had truthful information, only to find out that one party had given me information that was “less than accurate”.

Before an Air Force Officer starts their training, they are taught that often decisions must be made with inaccurate or conflicting information. I would like to remind you that ministry is no different. We are often called upon to make the best decision possible with the information we have. Sometimes those decisions need to be made quickly, other times we have the time to gather more information. At some point, the decision must be made. At that moment, we make the best decision we can make and we go forward. We made need to evaluate and even change our decision, but we always learn from the process.

THOT – How much time do you spend beating yourself up over a bad decision? How many times have you made a decision, only to find out later that the information you were given was “less than accurate”? Good leadership makes a decision based on the most accurate information at the moment, realizing necessity is forcing an immediate decision.

My youngest son recently received a commission to become an Air Force Officer. He started his training and has been sharing with me many of the things he is experiencing. As a Pastor I spend a large amount of time teaching and learning principles for effective leadership. As he has been telling me of his experiences, I have been focusing on the lessons to be learned from his experiences. For the next few blogs, I thought I would share some of those applications.

Upon entering his dorm area, there was a stack of books with each candidate’s name and room number on them. There was also a blank sheet of paper with a pen. The future officer’s had a decision to make. They wondered whether they should sign the paper or leave it blank. They were not given sufficient information to make a proper decision, but they had to make a decision. Some would sign it and then try to convince the rest of the group to sign it. Some refused to sign it. In the end everyone gets yelled at. The group who signed the paper was yelled at because they were not told to sign the paper. The group that did not sign the paper were yelled at because they could not use common sense and sign something that was clearly evident to be signed.

No matter what the future officers did, they got yelled at. It reminded me of an important leadership principle – No decision will please everyone. No matter what you do in leadership, someone will question your actions. It is a fact of leadership that often decisions are made with incomplete information. You simply have to make the best choice based on your experience, abilities and available information. When you make that decision – someone will be upset.

In 30 plus years of ministry, I have made a number of unpopular decisions. Some were good decisions and others were bad. In every case, people got upset and I have heard my share of yelling over the years. The Air Force teaches future officers on day 1 that your decisions will be second guessed. They will be criticized and you will be yelled at. You simply have to make the best decision you can make.

THOT – How many times do you allow people to encourage you to second guess your decisions? Do you really believe you can make a decision that will keep everyone happy? Have you convinced yourself that you are a poor leader because people do not agree with your decisions? Leadership is difficult and not for the faint of heart.

I love to fish, but don’t get to do it as often as I like. One of my favorite spots is a small farm pond located about 5 miles from my home. I have fished it enough over the years, that I know where most of the fish are located. I know the right lures to use and usually come home having caught something, but many days, even with my knowledge and experience, I can be wrong.  I am currently teaching through a series on the Miracles of Christ. While studying the miracle of the fish in Luke 5:1-11, I was exposed to a concept I had previously missed. The commentator brought out the fact that Jesus knew where the fish were. He knew their exact location (omniscient) or He knew their various locations and called them into the net (omnipotence). He was never wrong!

That thought got me to thinking about my ministry in this rural area. For the most part, I minister in an obscure location. Neighbors are measured by miles, not feet. Farms are located in quarter sections of 160 acres, not city blocks or subdivisions. One of the hazards of rural ministry is that you start to wonder if you are forgotten in the kingdom. This week I will be attending a worldwide leadership seminar and the focus will be on the great things happening in the kingdom of God. The problem is that most of these things will be large and involve hundreds and even thousands of people. It is easy to start to fall into the trap of comparisons and that is never wise.

This passage reminded me of the fact that God knew where the fish where. He was aware of every fish and its location. He either put them together or called them into the one place. Either way, God knew. In a rural ministry, this should be a tremendous encouragement. What you are going through, where you are, matters to God . These things are of importance to God. He has placed us in these places to effectively minister and nothing we are experiencing is taking Him by surprise. If He knows the location of fish and tracks the birds, then the things that happen in our world is also vitally important to Him.

THOT – Have you fallen into the trap of comparing yourself with others? Have you forgotten that God is aware of your situation and has not forgotten you? If He knows where the fish are, then I can guarantee that He knows what you are going through in ministry as well.

We just finished our annual summer vacation with the family. We enjoy taking everyone to the Black Hills in South Dakota. We rent a cabin for the week and the set out to explore and enjoy the area. This year we decided to spend a day on Lake Pactola (about 30 minutes from Mount Rushmore). We reneted a pontoon boat for the day and planned a relaxing day.

The problem came as we were checking out the boat and I noticed tee shirts for sale that said “I survived Cliff jumping at Jenny Gulch”. By nature I am an adrenaline junkie, so I was very interested. After spending some time exploring the lake, we found Jenny Gulch. It was not marked, but with the help of You Tube videos we were able to safely identify the 30-40 foot cliff (depending on water levels).

Two of the twenty some year olds were the first explore the top of the cliff. Meanwhile my wife, myself and my future daughter in law stayed in the boat. After about 30 minutes of them trying to decide whether they should jump, my future daughter in law jumped out of the boat, went to the top and jumped. My wife and I stayed in the boat and took videos and photos. The other 2 jumped and everyone was excited and petrified at the same time.

The adrenaline junkie (me) stayed the in the boat.  My wife would never do something like this, so I was the only one who would even consider doing something that people half my age had just done. I jumped out of the boat, walked to the top and jumped off the cliff. I landed with a large splash since I entered the water in a more horizontal position rather than a vertical one.

As the day progressed, we realized the role that adrenaline plays in the body to mask pain. In the days that followed, bruises started to show on everyone and mine covered over 2 square feet of my body. As I look back, I think I should have stayed in the boat. My wife who stayed in the boat had a wonderful, exciting, pain free experience that day.

I started to think about how in ministry, we often do the same thing. A new program looks exciting and adventurous, so we jump into it. The thrill of the new project is exciting and yet terrifying at the same time. We rush in with the same energy and excitement that adrenaline often produces. It is only after we have “jumped” that we realize the damage that has occurred. In my situation, I think I was more motivated by the “youth” aspect of the jump, than the actual challenge. I have noticed they recovered much quicker than I did and I think the same is true in ministry.

The bruises and pain will heal over time, but I have learned my lesson, I will stay in the boat next time.

THOT – I wonder how many times “seasoned” pastors are lured by the excitement that we see in what younger people are doing in ministry? How much pain have we brought to ministry because we jumped when we should have stayed in the boat? Have we really counted the cost before we embark on the new adventure that looks so appealing? Jump or stay in the boat?

Juenny Glutch

Iowa just set a record rainfall amount for the month of June. In fact we beat the previous record by almost 6 inches. The airport reported 16.65 inches for June swamping the May 1903 record of 11.78 inches. In my home that is an important statistic. In a matter of 48 hours, I received over 8 inches of rain at my home. My 7 foot retaining wall decided it could not hold that much water and it collapsed.

The wall was a problem when we started landscaping, but over the last 7 years, it has held up well . . . . that is until last month. I immediately started the work to rebuild the wall. I gained a new appreciation for Nehemiah and his 42 day project. I was able to accomplish mine in a matter of a few weeks, but I noticed a small problem. Apparently when I set the bottom row of blocks, I was off about a quarter of an inch. This small number was insignificant for the bottom 4 rows. As I started to get taller, the 1/4 of an inch became magnified with each additional row. By the time I got two rows from the top, my wall was off about 2 1/2 inches. It bowed noticeable outward and I had resolved that it would need to be redone.

I was planning on rebuilding it later this summer or early fall. Those plans changed when we got a 2 inch rain in 20 minutes over the weekend. I looked out my office window to notice the wall in a pile of block and mud. It was a lesson learned the hard way. In a hurry to finish the wall, I neglected to pay attention to the small details (1/4 of an inch to be exact).

It reminded me of an important ministry principle. Neglect the small things and they tend to grow and magnify over time. I can give you all the reasons that I didn’t pay attention to that small 1/4 of an inch, but in the end, it will cost me more time and money than doing it right the first time. If you want to talk to me this summer, I will be out rebuilding my wall, but I will take my time and do it right this time.

THOT – What small things are you neglecting for the sake of time? Will those things multiply and cost you more in the future? What would happen if we stopped and took care of those things now?

wooden_ruler

Informational Silos

I was reading a recent article in Time magazine talking about the problem at General Motors (GM). In the final report on the breakdown of communication, they identified a problem of “informational silos”. The report talked about the idea that the engineers who designed the air bags did not talk to the engineers who designed the ignition system. If both had communicated, they would have known that once the ignition switch went to the “off” position, the air bags were ineffective.

Silos are a common site in my neck of the woods. As with many things in the country, they have changed. Most farms now put all the silos or grain bins in the same area. This allows a more effective way to monitor your storage and prevent spoilage. Each bin or silo contains one type of crop. In our area, they either hold corn or soybeans. Farmers also have to be careful of the moisture content they place in each bin. If they are going to “dry” the corn, they add wet corn into the bin. If the bin is composed of dry corn, they do not want to add too much wet corn. The idea is to keep everything regulated and separate.

I started to wonder about our ministries. For GM, this mentality produced a number of problems, even leading to death in some cases. I started to wonder if our church had “informational silos” within it. I know that many times, the pastor can be the last one to know, so it is very possible. What is the impact when the adults don’t know what the kids are learning in their classes? What is the impact when I do not share my preaching theme with the worship people? Could my silo be hurting our effectiveness?

I struggle, because I have been able to see the hand of God when I don’t share and I actually build informational silos. It is amazing to see what the worship leaders choose to sing and how that theme fit perfectly with the message. It is encouraging to see how the Holy Spirit brings the whole thing together. In those situations, the “silos” allow me to see the hand of God at work.

THOT: I am not sure how I feel about this one. I can see the importance of breaking down “informational silos” for an effective organization. But I also see the value of allowing the Holy Spirit to be the one who communicates effectively between the “silos”. Going to be pondering this one for some time.

farm-silo

On the way home from a service at the local cemetery on Memorial Day, my wife and I were admiring the new sign that had been erected in town. My home is located 6 miles from the church and passes through “our town” of Climbing Hill. Climbing Hill has less than 100 people and 1 stop sign. The town has spent the last year raising money to erect a new town sign. The built a nice brick wall and had someone make metal letters that were attached to the brick. Below, they added a slogan. We didn’t know the town even had a slogan. The new slogan – “It is what it is.”

My wife and I could hardly believe what we saw. We started laughing and could not stop until we got home. We could not believe someone actually put that on a sign. They actually took great pride in the fact that they were VERY comfortable with who they were. They were not trying to be the big city with a gas station, grocery store, etc. They were a small town and they were happy about it. They were not trying to be anything other than who they were.

I have mixed emotions as I think about our little town. I wonder if they see the possibilities of anything more. Can they envision a small town cafe? They had one years ago. Had they given up on being anything more than just who they are? On the other hand, it takes so real courage to realize your limitations. They are an unincorporated town, so they get no monies from government or outside sources. Maybe they are just being realistic in acknowledging who they are as a town.

Regarding ministry, I face the same tension. I want to have a vision for larger future, but I also have to be realistic about limitations of people, time, location, and money. It is a delicate balance, but a healthy balance is essential to our future. If my vision for the future is too big, it becomes overwhelming and discouraging to the people. If my vision is nonexistent or too small, it can breed apathy. My “little town” that has a slogan of “It is what it is” has got me thinking about my “little” church.

THOT
– Are you maintaining a healthy balance between vision and reality?

I can do that!

In a rural area, certain mindsets are built into the DNA of the culture. The idea that you can “do it yourself” is one of those mindsets. Some of that thinking is necessary. When the tractor breaks down in the middle of a 40 acre field and the crops need to be planted, you figure out a way to fix it. When the part you need is a special order part that will take 1 week to get to you, you figure out a way to keep things going. “Doing it yourself” is really a way of thinking that ensures your survival in the country.

I have always had this mindset, long before I moved into the country. Doing it myself was a way to learn, grow, and stretch. It expanded my experiences and allowed me to be more knowledgeable about many things. When we built a new church 14 years ago, we did all the work ourselves. The only thing we hired done was digging the well and the installing insulation. Everything else we did at a great cost of time, blood, sweat, and tears. As a church we are faced with another building project in our future. As we contemplate our approach, we find ourselves deciding to “hire” some of the projects.

I faced the same decision this week at my home. Wind had recently damaged my roof. I have roofed this house on 2 occasions. It is extremely high (almost 30 feet off the ground at one point) and extremely steep (about a 10/12 pitch). My wife and I decided it would be best to hire someone else to do the roof at this time. Last week a crew of 9 people will show up and finish the job of installing 1700 square feet of shingles. All I did was watch and take care of the crew making sure they have lunch and plenty of water available.

I have noticed a dramatic change in my attitude concerning my roof. In the last few weeks, I was trying to figure out how I could work this project into my summer schedule. I found myself thinking constantly about the challenge. Since I signed the contract with the roofer, my attitude I felt incredibly free. My biggest decision now was do I serve them barbeque or hamburgers for lunch? This project was now enjoyable and took a large burden off my shoulders. I think you can see the parallels to ministry.

I am starting to realize over the course of ministry, I have developed an “I can do that” mentality. I know how I want it done and I have taken that job on my plate. I spend plenty of time and focus on things other people can do. No, the roofers will not roof the way I would do it and yes, there are some things I could do differently. But I now experience a freedom to focus and spend my summer on other projects. When we allow others to do ministry, we will find the same freedom.

THOT – What items in your ministry do you need to let go of? Are there projects on your plate that could be done by someone else, even if they do it differently? If ministry is really about “equipping people to do the work of ministry”, how can we equip people if we are doing the work?

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?