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Posts Tagged ‘pastoral ministry’

According to the Urban Dictionary, this was a phrase that developed in the 90’s and was made famous by Larry the Cable Guy.  While it has many applications, the gist is the idea that we need to stop talking about it and do something.  The focus becomes accomplishing something.  The process is often secondary to the completion of a task.

I was raised in a world where professionalism was the focus.  I was taught that God requires nothing less than our best.  I spent hours focusing on a process and project to make sure that it was the best.  This was true of the worship service as well.  We wanted people to practice and be prepared.  We focused on the best singers singing for all the special Sundays (Easter, Christmas, Mother’s Day, etc).  We often had visitors on those days and  we wanted our best to be on display.

I remember my first few months in rural ministry.  I sat on the platform focused on all the things that I would start to change.  Believe me,  this church could use a good dose of structure and organization.  It needed someone to show them how worship should be done.  Fortunately, I promised myself and God that I would not make any changes for the first year.  I would seek to learn why they did things the way they did.  What I learned was that the “Git Er Done” mentality was often sourced in a tender, humble heart for God.  I watched as people were moved not by the performance, but by the attempt at performance.  I watched as God honored in a very unique way the “Get Er Done” world of rural ministry.

Next month starts my 25th year as Pastor of this church.  In 24 years, I am the one who has changed.  I still practice my message each week, but I don’t force my world view on the congregation.  I have come to realize that a 9 year old boy playing the piano for special music on Mother’s Day probably touched more hearts than any professional song.  I am not dismissing God using talented people and I am glad He does.  I think rural ministry allows us the opportunity to involve people who would not get a chance in larger ministries.  The focus seems to be less on the process and more on the outcome.  And when I can have a church where people feel safe to “try” and serve God, I watch as they develop the confidence to serve God in the real world as well.

THOT – What would happen if we really opened our services up to people who were willing to just try and be a part of the service?  Jesus took 12 guys with no ministry background.  He taught them, allowed them to fail, and used them to reach an entire world.  What would happen if we focused more on “Gittin Er Done” and less on the process?

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I realize it has been almost a year since my last post. In October my dear friend Doug, went home to be with the Lord. It was a difficult year of ER visits, hospital rooms, and Cancer center visits. His passing turned my world upside down. I am now learning to live in an upside down world. Things are now different and I am in the process of finding new ways to handle my personal life. Doug was a big part of my emotional health. He kept me “tethered” and grounded. I miss his input into my world, but life here continues.

Charles Spurgeon once said “By perseverance the snail reached the ark.” I think sometimes we forget how important it is to keep faithfully plugging away in the place that God has called us. Too many times we are always focusing on the “next big thing or program”. We all know those pastors that every time you ask them about their church, they explain the latest “program” they are promoting. You don’t hear many Pastors talk about the mundane but necessary aspects of ministry.

The Bible talks about the idea of “line upon line, and precept upon precept.” I think sometimes we as Pastors forget about the idea of simply plugging away and being faithful to the task we are called to do. Jeremiah is a great example of a servant who continued in spite of his lack of external success. Don’t get me wrong, I am not against success and growth. I just wonder sometimes if the tools that we use to measure success are not Biblically based. “It is required, that we be faithful”

THOT: Are you focused on faithfulness as a measure of successful ministry? Have you become “numbers” or “program” focused? God desires our faithfulness. Stay faithful this year!

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Don’t get me wrong, I genuinely love what I do. I have a great church, a wonderful group of people that I get to minister to every week. These people love us and are more like a family than congregation. When I make this statement I am talking about things that are happening in my personal life rather than ministry life.

Maybe some explanation will shed some light on my current status. About 25 years ago God brought a couple into our lives. These 2 people have become more than family. We meet each week, we vacation together and we have raised our kids together. For me it is a Jonathan/David kind of friendship. I realize that as a Pastor I am incredibly blessed to have a relationship like this. Our friends attend a different church and are involved in serving in that ministry. In fact, when they were looking for a new church home, I told them not to come to our church. I explained that I wanted to be their friend and not their “Pastor”.

And that brings me to my dilemma. My friend is a 4 time survivor of colon cancer. He was first diagnosed over 22 years ago and we have been with them through this whole journey. He had his colon removed 2 1/2 years ago and we thought the battle was over. Last month he was diagnosed for the 5th time. The situation is much more difficult this time, because it has reached other into the lymph nodes.
My wife and I are traveling this journey together with them, but we can only carry so much. As far as their spiritual care, I often find myself feeling the need to go into “pastor” mode as we talk. I don’t want to be a Pastor. I want to be a friend and that is what makes this tough. The beauty of our relationship is that I can be a friend. Don’t get me wrong, as friends we talk about spiritual things, but I do not want the responsibility of his spiritual care. I want their Pastor and I want their small group to come alongside of them. My friend and I have talked about this and are in agreement that we want our relationship to stay the same.

I don’t know if this is a common struggle, but it is definitely a struggle as we journey down this road. So I find myself in a conundrum, I love being a Pastor, but during times like this, I don’t want to be a Pastor.

THOT – As a Pastor, we are always “on call”. What practices have you developed to recharge your batteries from a job that is literally 24/7? Even Jesus pulled away from time to time to recharge, so how do you follow His example?

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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?

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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?

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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.

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“It is what it is”

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?

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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?

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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?

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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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