pastor Posts

My Challenge to Our Church Staff

One of the concerns I have as a pastor and leader is that conversations can very quickly move toward borderline inappropriate. One minute you’re talking and having fun, and the next thing you know, the conversation turns and it’s no longer edifying to the Lord. It starts as a little off-color joke here or a little off-color comment there, and it can go there very quickly, because if we’re not careful, there’s a tendency for things to move toward the ungodly.

You may assume that a church staff is godly just by way of definition, and that may be true sometimes, but that assumption may also be just that: an assumption. It may not be substantiated by how we live, because we’re only as godly as we are moving ourselves toward Him. Your individual time with the Lord needs to cultivate a heart that’s submitted to God, and that will ultimately be reflected in your professional life.

If you’re on staff at a church, the standard is high. This isn’t a normal job. Godliness has to be part of who you are. In the name of spiritual trust, we need to honor the Lord in what we do and in what we say in same-gender and mixed-gender conversations, in what we talk about behind closed doors and in how we interact behind someone’s back. We need to be mindful of our tongue and not allow ungodliness to come out of our mouths.

My challenge to our church staff is we need to be part of the solution of moving our people toward godliness. We need to be the ones setting the pace in the church, personally reflecting Him, squashing conversations if they’re going sideways and speaking the truth if something isn’t right. It can become too easy to just go about our days and not have those iron-sharpening-iron conversations, but we need to always be mindful of who and what we are reflecting. The time we spend with one another, the conversations in our meetings and all our interactions need to be godly. We need to be champions for holiness, for prayer, for personal devotion with the Lord, for listening to the Holy Spirit stirring in our lives, for living in obedience to His Word.

If there were rumors on the street about our team, I would love for them to be that we handle information well, we treat one another with respect, we have appropriate interactions with the opposite sex and we live in a way that honors Jesus. I would love the reputation of our staff to be that we’re godly.

Princesses & Hard Workers

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One of the dilemmas I have as a father of two girls is recognizing the tension between “you are my little princess” and “you get your butt out there and pull some weeds.” As princess as I want them to be, I don’t want them to be afraid to break a nail.

From the text, we know Ruth gleaned in the fields.[1] We know the P31 woman worked with her hands and made her arms strong.[2] Most of these women were shepherdesses. They were out in the field carrying sticks, throwing rocks, fighting off bears, stepping in sheep dung. That’s what they did. And a callous or two can be a beautiful and a very attractive thing.

I want to feed my girls’ sense of value and of knowing their beauty is on the inside. I work doubly hard and am very intentional to affirm them not for their external beauty, even though my oldest is a knockout and my youngest is close behind.

I’ll say, “Hey, can I tell you what’s beautiful about you? When you’re obedient to Mama, when you speak kindly to people, when you’re humble.” I’m affirming the inside because I know they will pursue what I affirm. If I keep talking about how pretty they are, I’m feeding the monster and I’m not going to do that. Culture is already feeding that, so I try to balance it out.

They don’t need to buy into what the world says. They can be beautiful and that’s okay. God gifts beauty to some people. Great! But what they need to know is that beauty is not merely what’s on the outside. That’s why Peter says, Don’t let your beauty merely be these things, the external braiding of hair, wearing of gold jewelry, putting on dresses.[3] It’s okay to do those things, but that shouldn’t be the focus. I want my girls to know their beauty is and should be something deeper, part of who they are. And I want to make sure I affirm that in them.

 

[1] Ruth 2:3

[2] Proverbs 31:13,17

[3] 1 Peter 3:3

Are You Called?

5 books that have changed my life

RUDE AWAKENINGS

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.

 

THE 5 MISCONCEPTIONS OF A PASTOR

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?

5 Books That Have Changed My Life

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The Five Dysfunctions of a Team 

Patrick Lencioni

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This is a must-read for anyone in leadership.

 

In the Name of Jesus

Henri Nouwen

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This was a total ambush. I never saw it coming. Nouwen exposed me to a way of thinking I would have never given myself permission to pursue. He was a Catholic priest and an educator at Notre Dame. He forsook a prolific Catholic writing and teaching career to live in a home for the mentally disabled. He wrote this book as a reflection of that time; he wrote of his own personal irrelevance, and how liberating and enlightening it was to realize how insignificant we truly are.

 

The Bride

Chuck Swindoll

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This gave me hope at a time in my life when I was wrecked and wondering if I should quit ministry. I was poor and I couldn’t afford to buy a book, so the owner of Fresno Bible House said, “anything you want to read or use to study, read it, study it here and just put it back on the shelf.”

Swindoll gave me light in a dark time when I wanted to crawl under a rock and die; he gave me hope for what the church was supposed to be, and he reminded me of the beauty of God’s church when it’s functioning in health. A lot of our staff values – why we do what we do – came from this book.

I read one chapter at a time trying not to spill coffee on it, so I could put it back.

 

Ordering Your Private World

Gordan MacDonald

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I read this book 10 years ago, but I’m still talking about it. Fantastic book  – especially the chapter on being driven versus being called. MacDonald makes a great comparison between the leadership style of Saul and the leadership style of David. It’s a good caution for leaders to not rely merely on talent but to rely on the calling of God. I also loved his chapter called “The Sinkhole Syndrome,” where he talks about how we can create sinkholes in our lives when it’s all output and no intake.

 

Spiritual Leadership

J. Oswald Sanders

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If there was a 67th Book of the Bible, it would be this one. Phenomenal book on what leadership needs to be from a spiritual standpoint. The thrust of a leader is not merely his competence or his skill, but what’s going on underneath.

 

*plus one bonus

Unbroken

Laura Hillenbrand

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I did get totally sucked in to one book unrelated to leadership. It’s about a World War II pilot who ends up on a blow-up raft in the Pacific with a buddy. The raft has a hole in it, and they are taking shifts overnight, blowing into the raft to keep it from sinking, while using an oar in one hand to hit the sharks on the head. We think we’re tough – these guys were studs. Ultimately, it’s a story about how this guy forgives his captor and tormentor.

What are some books that have changed your life?

The Hardest Thing I’ve Had To Do as a Leader: Part I

hardest leader

Without hesitation, fire my worship director.

I was in Little Rock, Arkansas at a Song of Solomon conference, and he was our worship leader. It was five years in at The Well, and I remember thinking, this guy is fantastic, and wondered while I was teaching, is there any chance I can get him to move to Fresno? So after the event was over, I awkwardly hung around like a groupie waiting to ask him out.

“Hey, you want to go out for pizza?”

He said, “Yes.”

So we were eating pizza at a place called Damn Good Pie (and it really was), I knew immediately he was the guy.

He was our first full-time worship guy. Up until that point we had a crew of volunteers that carried the worship load. He was amazing. He was one of my best friends. We hung out. We BBQ’d together. We laughed. Our wives hung out. Ministry-wise he was phenomenal and together, we had great chemistry.

But he started spending time with his assistant. A lot of time. And it became a little bit concerning. I would walk in and see them sitting together on the couch laughing and talking. I said, hey, are you okay? Is this relationship on the up and up? He said, yeah, yeah we’re good. We’re good. She and my wife are friends. It’s cool. Then one day they were singing Phil Wickham’s “Divine Romance,” and I remember watching the chemistry on stage, and thinking, oh no, something is not right. I don’t know what it is but something is not right.

It was early morning. 7 a.m. He busts in and says, “I’ve go to talk to you.”

“What’s going on?”

“I blew it. We crossed boundaries we shouldn’t have.”

He goes on to tell me what happened and I bring her in with another gal on staff and said, “Tell me what happened?”

“What did he tell you?” she asked.

“I don’t care what he told me, I want to know what you have to say.”

“I want to know what he said.”

“He said enough.”

She tells me what went down and it starts the chain reaction, which begins with him asking, “What do I do now?”

“You go tell your wife.”

“She’s going to kill me.”

“Then take it like a man. You have got to go tell your wife.”

He had crossed moral boundaries that any of us can cross if we’re not careful. My hope was to be able to restore him. I’ve never seen anyone restored after moral failure. So I really wanted to see if there was a way that we could work through this, but I was too close to think objectively. I was too emotionally connected. All I wanted to do was find a way to keep him – keep him in my life, in my church, on my team. But once I began to distance myself emotionally, I knew as a leader I had to think objectively, not as a friend.

I remember sitting and listening to his wife, with him by her side, tell me the rest of the story. You know – the real darkness lurking beneath the water that comes out over time  – and the more I listened, the more I realized this was a disqualifier. I have to fire him now. There’s no restoration here. Not into the same position of ministry. It wasn’t just his job, it was his position as a spiritual influence in our congregation. He was a leader, a pastor, and a huge platform presence in our church. He was on stage as an example to the multitudes. He represented Christ and his position on the team eliminated the margin of error.

We were sitting on my back patio—the same patio that had been witness to ministry carnage, job transitions, marital confessions, and everything in between. I told him, I’ve got to let you go. But I want to walk with you, I love you, I care for you. This is still your church and when you decide you want to worship with us, I want to know so I can greet you at the door.

It was extremely difficult for me to let him go. He was my friend and I was deeply grieved by the weight of the decision. We shared a great conversation through tears. He was not surprised. In fact, I think he knew the inevitable outcome from the start. But we walked down that dark road together.

A week later, he and his wife came. And I greeted him, literally at the parking lot, and proudly walked him in. Crying together, I walked my friend into church. He sat down in the back left, right by the pillar and I sat with him hugging until it was time to walk on stage.

This church is a home for the broken. We want to restore the broken. Not back to their job – that’s not what it’s about – but back to health in their marriage, in their spiritual life, and in their community. And we tried.

It’s been years since I’ve seen my friend.

They came for a short while and I think the wounds were too deep for his wife. She wanted to get a fresh start, so they moved. For many years, he was driving a delivery truck.

He would stash black crows around as a reminder of his sin—as a reminder of the temptations of sin that surrounded us as men. They served as symbols of the sin that could so easily entangle if we are not vigilant. He would put them in places to remind himself: Be careful. They were everywhere. He put one in the chandelier at the North Campus and I keep it I keep it as a reminder of my friend and of the carnage that immorality can bring to us all.

The irony is I get accused of not caring about people, and that’s not true. As a leader, I care deeply about our staff. All of them. Here’s a guy who was close to me, a friend, a guy with incredible musical talent and pastoral chops, who fell and I saw it coming.

I’ll never let it go again. I gave him the benefit of the doubt. Never again. There’s too much at stake. In some ways, I felt like I could have stopped it…  if I would have pressed more, but sin is deceptive, and I’m not sure that’s a healthy thought. But I saw it coming. I saw it coming from a mile away.