September 2014 Posts

The Lonely Work

Blog Posts 9-29

For an athlete, the hardest part of the year is the off-season. To most spectators this doesn’t make sense. A casual observer would assume that the hardest part of an athlete’s year is season competition, but any athlete will tell you that competition is the payoff. On the field performance is a direct reward and affirmation of the hard work done in the off-season. Tireless hours in the gym, on the field, and in meeting rooms prepare them for their time in the spotlight. This “lonely work,” as some have called it, serves as the foundation for every successful competitive endeavor.

Unrewarding as it is in the moment, these dark hours of lonely work prepare an athlete for critical moments when more is demanded of them. Those long hours of preparation in obscurity create the deep deposits which an athlete will draw from when the spotlight is on them. Show me someone who has success on the field and I’ll show you someone who has invested in the lonely work.

The spiritual life is no different. Our investment in the lonely work creates a foundation from which we can stand on when the demands of life increase. As stress rises and crisis invades, our lonely work is what gives us the strength to endure.

God meets us in the lonely work. As much as we see God moving when we are in the spotlight, the real strength is forged in obscurity. Our time invested in quiet moments with God, solitary moments in prayer, heartfelt moments of private worship, silent recognitions of God’s creative design, investigative moments of reading through the text – this is the lonely work of the spiritual life.

As you sit daily to read, pray, and reflect, recognize that you are not necessarily doing these things for the joy of the moment, but in preparation for a moment yet to come. Our daily time in the lonely work prepare us for crisis. This time gives us words to say in tragedy and the presence of mind to trust God when chaos looms. The real payoff will come when circumstances demand more than you think you are capable of enduring. When you endure the trails and tests of life, you are able to see the results of the lonely work.

So be encouraged, press on, sit quietly, and invest in the lonely work. You may not see the fruit today, but you are developing strength and perspective for tomorrow.

Are You Called?

5 books that have changed my life


Shortly after I came to faith in Christ, I was talking to a pastor and I said, “It must be awesome to do what you do.”

He said, “You have no idea what we do. In fact, if you can see yourself doing anything other than ministry, do it.”

He told me if you’re called to ministry, God will swallow you like Jonah and puke you on the shores of ministry.

I thought, a little dramatic, don’t you think?

He went on: You don’t try ministry. You’re called to ministry. Ministry is not a career; it’s an obligation. You don’t go into it for the money or the prestige, or the notoriety.  You go into because you have to, because you’re compelled, because there’s a fire in your soul that you cannot put out, and you are absolutely driven by God to do it.

Why is that important?

There will be multiple times throughout your career in ministry where you want to quit, and in those moments you have to lean back on your calling. I could quit. But I can’t quit – because I’m called.

There were many rude awakenings as I got into the reality of ministry that I would have never seen from the outside.



Everyone is going to be my friend.

Ministry is a very lonely road. I spend a lot of time in preparation and study and delivering the word of God. And sometimes those words are well received and sometimes they’re not. As I speak truth into those around me, as I have hard conversations, it makes friendships very difficult. I’m watching my daughter’s track meet and who shows up: a guy on church discipline that I’ve had words with, a parent whose affair I exposed, and his wife who is now a single mom, and next to her another woman who is living inappropriately with her boyfriend.

It’s an 8 to 5 job.

I walk into a grocery store and “Hey, Pastor, can I ask you something?” I can’t go anywhere where someone doesn’t know me. And what an honor that our church would have that kind of influence in our city. But there’s a weight with that. I realize I’m never off – unless I’m hiding in my backyard working on my garden.

I’m going to make a difference.

I start swinging away expecting massive exponential life change. But then I realize, boy, we’re a mess. Life change is subjective, it’s cyclical or seasonal, and it’s one step forward two steps back. I assumed there was a formula to spiritual growth. If I just pray well, preach well, boom – life change. But often, spiritual growth is hard and it’s a slow process and it’s extremely messy, and that can be very discouraging.

Church is not a business.

I thought my staff team was going to be together for 40 years. But as an organization grows, your leadership has to grow and the way your organization is led has to grow. The responsibility of the role outgrows really good people and you have let people go.

And while philosophically, we are not a business – meaning our end goal is not for profit but for life change, and the way we go about doing things is different – but the reality is, from a practical standpoint, church is run very similar to a business. And that, I was not prepared for.

If I had to do it over again: I would get my undergrad in history, I would get my MBA, and then I would go to seminary.

I’m going to just hang out with people.

I’m going to be in the lives of people. I was discipling people face to face over time. I was sitting at Starbucks – listening, meeting, talking about life. But as a senior pastor, it becomes more platform-driven. I become more of an influencer, not a discipler. And I end up leading through other people, not through personal contact.

Now I’m 10 minutes late to everything all day. I never imagined this many meetings. I’ve never been in more meetings in all my life. And people who wanted to meet with me used to call me; now they call my assistant. How do you think they feel about that?