Ephesians 1:18

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints... Ephesians 1:18

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Cost Of Wearing The Pastoral Mask

photo from the-love-compass.com
Pastor Steve was on the brink of an emotional and physical breakdown. His health was not good and as he lay in a hospital bed after going through some tests, his mind traveled back to that first interview, fresh out of seminary, sitting nervously in a small church. Steve had heard that the church had been on a slow decline for the previous 5 years and had been searching for a pastor for over a year. He recalled how he sat wearing his best suit, displaying his super pastor image for a search committee of 7 elderly members, the remnant that held the church together. 

During the meeting, the committee had laid out their expectations: They wanted a man who could preach great sermons that would bring in lots of new converts. He was to lead the church in creating ministry opportunities, pastor the flock by visiting the sick and burying those who pass from this world. He was expected to bring in money to get the church out of debt. They counted on him to be a great teacher and administrator and of course, be above reproach and the example of what a true Christian should be and do. Steve convinced the church he was their man in that meeting and the church wanted to believe that this young man was God's choice and therefore would meet all of their expectations. 

For the past 7 years Steve had been wearing that same image. Looking back, he now wished he would never have put on the super pastor mask. He was worn out trying to live up to all of those expectations and felt foolish that he really believed he could do all of those things well.  He was ashamed and felt guilty of living a lie for the past 7 years as their pastor.  He felt like a failure in so many areas.

Steve was a good preacher and worked hard to please his members and to grow the church but it left him little time to handle the rest of his responsibilities.  Pastoring an elderly congregation, there always seemed to be a need to visit someone in the hospital or prepare for a funeral. He was a terrible administrator, he hated details but the church didn't have the budget to hire someone to handle the financial and business aspects of the church. 

Steve's family and marriage suffered because he just didn't have the time to give what they needed. He was working 6 days and 5 nights a week and there always seemed to be an emergency or meeting on his supposedly free nights. His spiritual life was running on fumes also. He knew things needed to change but what could he do? Admit that he was a failure, that he was a poser all this time as a pastor?
Coaching pastors, I find that Steve is not unique, unfortunately his situation is more of the norm. *This is the time most pastors begin to look for a way out, either leaving the pastorate all together or finding another church where they often begin the cycle all over again.  Steve was different. He broke down on a Sunday evening service and shared about his health and that he needed a break. He came clean about his feelings and guess what?  The congregation stepped up and agreed to take stuff off of his plate.  They seemed to understand and encouraged him to take a sabbatical in order to get healthy before returning.   
The problem is not all the fault of pastors. The American evangelical church has created the notion of super pastor that comes with unrealistic expectations and job descriptions. The truth is that most believers expect their pastor to have all five ministry giftings of the Holy Spirit; apostle, prophet, evangelist, shepherd, and teacher. But very rarely does any one person have three of the five much less all of them.   Most pastors excel in one and they try to manage the rest as best as they can. But before long you'll begin to hear the chatter among members, "Our pastor is a great evangelist but he is such a lousy pastor." Or, "our pastor is such a great shepherd but I wish he could preach!"

So how do we address the problem? What could Steve have one differently from the start?  Here are seven ways that may help a pastor avoid Steve's problem.  I'd love to hear any other suggestions also.  
  1. Squelch the perception that the pastor is a super Christian. Two issues here are pride and expectations.  If a pastor never puts on the super pastor mask, he won't have to live up to it. There may be pressure to impress a church to get hired, but if you have to be "Jesus" to get the job, you don't want that job.  Be yourself from the start by being authentic and showing vulnerability. Talk about your strengths and your weaknesses, your struggles and failures. Remind the members over and over that you are not a "super Christian" but a human who sins and fails from time to time. I can only grow and succeed by the power, mercy and grace of Jesus. Stay grounded and resist the urge to be put on a pedestal.  
  2. Take the ministry seriously but don't take yourself too seriously.  Joke about yourself and the boneheaded mistakes you make. Help others identify with you.  
  3. Lead by casting a vision of unity and teamwork. Constantly remind the members that the church (members) should engage the world as a team.  The pastor usually plays the role of quarterback but unless everyone functions in unity doing their part, the church's goals and expectations will not be met.  
  4. Set firm boundaries with your time for your own devotion, your family and free time. Communicate up front with your leadership the importance of those boundaries. Call on your leadership to hold you accountable to keeping those boundaries. Stand firm!
  5. Work together with your leadership team to define your church's specific values.  Post those in a lot of places, preach about them, recognize and reward those who live out your values.     
  6. Delegate, delegate and then delegate some more.  Give as much ministry away so that you as pastor can focus on leading, casting vision, and using whatever ministry gift that God has given you.
  7. Don't isolate yourself.  Find a group of pastors from other churches that you can meet regularly with to play, pray and discuss your common problems. Make friends outside of your church that will allow you to get away from the business of your church.
*Average tenure for pastors at any one church is 5-7 years. http://www.gbjournal.org/8-82/
Here are other blog posts concerning this issue:

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Miracles Continue at Honduras Orphanage

Living Water Children's Ranch, Honduras
This is an update on my post on my blog, Miracles on the Mission Field, about the miracles God has provided as we tried to build an orphanage in Honduras. You can read the fascinating story of its beginning here.  Since I wrote that blog, God has continued to bless our efforts and bring the ministry in Honduras to fruition and it has been fascinating to watch and see the hand of God in the process. 
Teresa Devlin, the missionary who helped find and secure the property and get the building built passed away in the fall of 2012.  She had suffered from scleroderma for years and became very sick in June of that year and had to be flown back to San Antonio.  She never fully recovered and went to be with God in October of 2012.
Teresa had been concerned for years about who would succeed her and be the one to oversee the orphanage. Two weeks before Teresa became ill, a young woman from Arkanas, Jennifer Zilly who had been referred to Teresa by a friend, flew down to Honduras to spend some time with Teresa in order to get a feel of the ministry and to see if working along side of her was a possibility.  
Jennifer, Darwin and 5 of the children at the ranch
That plan quickly changed while she was there, as Teresa became sick. With the timing of her visit, and Teresa having to leave Honduras, Jennifer was suddenly faced with a decision. Do I return to the states and forget about this opportunity or do I stay? She felt as if her timing was God's and that she was left to further Teresa's ministry. So instead of flying back home like most would have done, Jennifer stayed in Honduras and began to adjust and learn the Honduran ways. This young American, right out of college, found a job coaching girls basketball in La Ceiba, Honduras and made herself part of the community (that there was even a coaching position open is a miracle and another story).  Fairly quickly Jennifer adapted and over the year she began to pick up Teresa's ministry.
Today Jennifer is married to a wonderful Honduran young man, Darwin who was Teresa's main instructor at her music conservatory. They now live at and oversee the Living Water Children's Ranch, the orphanage we had been working to establish for several years. 
It hasn't been easy but they have 7 children living at the home now. The process of securing children for the orphanage is difficult and sometimes drawn out because they have to work with and through the Honduran government. So they take the children that God provides and wait for the next one.
Doing their schoolwork
What has been incredible is all of the ministry that they have started for the children and the neighbors around them.  Not only are they raising the orphans, but they have also started a school on the property for children in the neighborhood.  Darwin continues to teach music to children and oversee the music conservatory. And they have recently started a weekly Bible study for the families in the neighborhood with a surprising number attending. 

Jennifer is a prolific writer and she chronicles in a real and personal way their struggles with these very difficult children in this third world country.  She doesn't gloss over the ministry and you'll get a great up close and personal view of life as a missionary by reading her blog.
The interesting thing about the transition from Teresa Devlin to Jennifer Zilly was that I along with a mission team from San Antonio, met Jennifer that spring in Honduras during Jennifer's initial visit to meet Teresa. We didn't know how serious Jennifer was about moving to Honduras and working with Teresa, but most all of the team members did not think that Jennifer would be the permanent replacement for Teresa.  
However we were not in a position to make that decision, thank God, and a few weeks later we suddenly needed a person to fill in for Teresa and Jennifer was there.  We realized that she was God's choice!  
Darwin directing his choir
Jennifer is completely different from Teresa, in age, personality, life experience, etc., but what each have in common is a heart for God. Jennifer has turned out to be an incredible self starter, who has stayed as close to the word of God in her words and actions as most anyone I have ever met. She needs our prayers every day to continue the incredibly difficult and demanding work in Honduras. She has fought illness, difficult living conditions, an apathetic, uneducated and Godless people in which to minister.  In spite of all of this, Jennifer and Darwin are committed to reaching this community for Christ, and raising children with the knowledge of Christ so that they may choose an eternal home in His kingdom and may live productive, fulfilling and Godly lives as an adult.  
It is beyond my comprehension how God has provided every time we hit a wall with this project.  And not only did He provide, but God gave us more than we even imagined every single time.  So yes, I'm learning to accept God's will, wait on His timing and not try to control the process. He is infinitely wiser than his children.  Go here to read about the first children at the orphanage.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

How Katrina dramatically changed a Texas church

10 years ago, Austin Christian Fellowship, a large congregation in an affluent area of west Austin, had big plans.  Their big vision was to raise enough money to build a 4,000 seat worship auditorium on a hill, the highest point in west Austin.  It would face Austin and the congregation would have a beautiful view of the hill country and the skyline of Austin, making it the premiere church of Austin, Texas. 

But a hurricane changed all of that. Hurricane Katrina came nowhere near Austin, but Austin felt the impact as hundreds of the New Orleans residents that were displaced from their homes by Katrina were bused into Austin. Most of those sent to Austin were housed in the Austin convention center, and churches all over Austin began to offer aid. AFC Pastor Will Davis, during a sermon this summer, told about how Austin Christian Fellowship responded and how it radically changed him and the church. 

ACF was one of several churches that worked with the city and state officials in a coordinated effort to provide basic essentials for those displaced by Katrina. But Will explained that he felt God telling him to become personally involved.  So he went to the convention center and found a displaced family from New Orleans and took them to dinner. The encounter moved Will to such an extent that ACF not only helped the family find housing but assisted 20 other families also.  The whole experience radically changed the pastor, the leadership and the congregation's mindset for missions and passion to serve. 

At the time of Katrina, Pastor Will explained, ACF was giving about 1% of its budget to missions, local or global. This encounter so changed the mindset of the staff, leadership and congregation that the "big vision" of building a giant auditorium now seemed very small. That goal of building a massive worship center was replaced by a vision of serving their community and planting churches. Instead of growing vertically, ACF would make its impact through missions and growing God's kingdom horizontally. Since the encounter with the refugees of hurricane Katrina, the church has increased its giving every year to where they now give over 50% of their annual budget to local and global missions. They are planting churches throughout the city and sending mission teams all over the world. 
Isn't it amazing how God uses many things, events, people, and even a hurricane, to change hearts, minds and attitudes? Whether you are a pastor, deacon or member, perhaps the greatest way to change yourself and your world is to take a step of faith and join God in what he is doing.  When you "go" incredible things happen.  Go here to watch Will's entire sermon as he shares the story of how Katrina changed him and the church.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

How Do I Smell To Others?

I happened upon a new reality TV show the other night while channel surfing. I admit I gravitate to the competition reality shows the most and this was a competition to see who would be the next weather personality. Don't laugh, this one episode actually was pretty entertaining for me because one of the contestants was a young pastor.  I was curious to see how he performed and how others perceived him. 
It turned out that the young pastor was the central figure of the show as his over-the-top personality irritated all of the other contestants. The contestants were divided into two teams for a competition and this young pastor just took over the team acting as self appointed leader. It was as if he had taken an intense course in leadership the day before and he was going to use every leadership quote, inspirational charge and team building concept he learned all in one setting. But his manner was way too contrived and he ended up looking like some sort of a cartoon character.

I could understand his motive but the way he went about it was akin to what the apostle Paul described in 1 Corinthians 13:1if I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or clanging cymbal.  This is a great description of how the pastor sounded to his team members and sure enough when they lost the team competition, the pastor was chosen as one of two competing to see who was going to be sent home.

In an interesting twist, the pastor chose not to compete, actually volunteering to go home and sacrificing his opportunity so that the person he was competing against could keep his dream of becoming a weather personality alive. It was an admirable decision but left everyone scratching their heads. Because the pastor seemed to try so hard, it came across as contrived and insincere and he lost whatever he was trying to accomplish.

The Bible tells us in 2 Corinthians 2:15 that we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.  Verse 17 says, Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, as those sent from God.  

I've always thought that the most important self check is to take a sniff of our own aroma from time to time. Unfortunately, too often Christians' odor is more of a stench than the fragrance of Christ. How do you smell to other non-believers? Am I giving off a sweet aroma of sincerity and love or do I come across as a self-serving jerk, sounding like a loud gong or a clanging cymbal to others?  It's hard to know unless you ask your friends or fellow believers to give you a true assessment. You probably will never get a chance to see yourself on television and make that assessment yourself like this pastor.  
We may all be taken more seriously if we lived our lives with sincerity and love. 

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Big Kingdom vs little kingdom vision

Joe is a young adult pastor of a large church overseeing small groups and discipleship of adults. He has been on staff for five years and seen steady growth in his ministry in numbers of new members and numbers of small groups. He has felt God's calling to pastor a church since he gave his life to Christ and the desire to plant has been percolating for a couple of years. 
He decides he needs to share his feelings about planting with his senior pastor. Joe is exited and nervous about the meeting. He believes the pastor will be glad to hear that he will be starting a new congregation and believes the pastor will support his decision because he has often preached on the great commission.
However, when told, the pastor is very disappointed that Joe is considering leaving the church to plant another church. The pastor begins to distance himself from Joe and then tells Joe he must be gone by the end of the week saying the elders had come to this decision. He gives Joe no support to start another church, either money or emotional.  Joe now is heartbroken, angry and feels guilty about leaving and taking any close ministry friends with him.  So he starts one of the most difficult tasks there is, planting a church, somewhat disillusioned with the church and having little to no support.  

As a coach for church planters I have had numerous pastors share experiences much like this.  What is behind this attitude of pastors?  Why would a pastor or elder board not support someone on their staff that feels God calling them to grow the kingdom outside their own church?  It boils down to a little kingdom vision instead of having a vision to grow God's Kingdom.  When a pastor has a limited vision it leads to several negative traits.
  • Possessiveness  (My church is all that matters, so we must not let anything distract us from growing our church)
  • Control (We don't want our members going outside of our church for information or inspiration because we have all the answers)
  • Limits spiritual growth of the pastor, staff, leadership and members of the church.  
  • Limits numeric growth of the church (It's God's economy, the more you give the greater you will grow)
  • Limits mission involvement outside of the mother church (The cost is too great to send people and do missions overseas)
  • Limits opportunity to multiply 
When everything in your world is only about your church, losing a staff member hurts, especially one that is popular and does a good job. It is natural to want to keep good talent, just like any business would hate to lose a good employee. But if we have an interest in the individual and a big kingdom mindset, we will encourage our staff to grow and expand wherever they feel God calling them to serve.  

Even some businesses have a less possessive attitude about their employees than many churches. The San Antonio Spurs are a great example of an organization that is not possessive and only concerned about their team. They consistently encourage their best and most talented coaches to step up to better coaching positions on other teams. I blogged about the Spurs management style here. It should not be all about my church. It's about God's Kingdom and helping people become all they can be in Christ. If that means you have to search for a new staff member, so be it. Our purpose is to grow people and thus grow God's Kingdom to glorify Him.  

All it takes is a change in one's perspective from small kingdom to large Kingdom. When your purpose is enlarged, you can start to intentionally train church planters and start churches. You can train missionaries and celebrate when church members move away to serve on the mission field, start a new church or serve another church.  You'll be able to unburden yourself with "closing the back door", and not be so disappointed and hurt over families that leave your church.  Yes, when you start giving your members away instead of controlling and holding on to them, you will be surprised at how your church will grow people, your church and the Kingdom of God.

Monday, August 3, 2015

The life cycle of a church: Is your church a movement, monument, museum, or morgue?

James Shupp has recently published an interesting and informative novel, Who Killed My Church, about a dying church and its pastor's last efforts to turn it around. This is a fictional story yet you'll recognize the problems as the plight of hundreds of churches across the country.  And Shupp writes from his own experience as a pastor of a once mega church trying to reclaim its glory and significance in the community. 

With humor and great storytelling, Shupp takes the reader through the fictional Green Street Baptist's struggle to reclaim its purpose and mission.  If you have been involved in a church for any time at all, you'll probably swear Shupp used members of your church as his characters and just changed their names. 

In the story, the church hires a consultant to help the leadership come up with a plan to revive their church.  Shupp lays out the seasons of a church, starting as a movement, slipping into a monument, then becoming a museum and finally dying at the morgue stage. As the consultant cleverly explains this to the leadership of Green Street Baptist,
"All churches that began as a movement have a way of getting stuck in a moment.  When this occurs, they transform into monuments that do little more than honor the past.  Nostalgia can roll through a house of worship like a heat wave on a summer day.  A church that collects too many of these monuments ultimately becomes a museum.  There are pastors and staff all across America who feel more like curators of a museum than men and women of God with a fire in their bones.  If this trend isn’t reversed, these churches will ultimately become morgues.  The frozen chosen are always the last ones to turn out the lights.  Don’t let this happen to you.”

I've experienced the slow transition from movement to monument while on staff of churches and have coached churches that were in the museum stage. So I can attest that although the book is fictional, the the story is relevant, compelling and inspirational.

Check out the chart from the book, Who Killed My Church? See if you can identify which season your church is in.  If your church is a monument or museum can you return to being a movement?  If so, how?  See how it's done in this wonderful book, Who Killed My Church?

Saturday, July 25, 2015

The "Out Of This World" Spurs Way

There is a lot of buzz about how the San Antonio Spurs can get their players to sign contracts that are well below market value.  Danny Green, the Spurs sharp shooting 3 point and defensive specialist, was asked why he made the decision to sign such a reduced contract with the Spurs. He replied calmly that he didn't think he took less, that he believed he signed for what he was worth. One analyst commented that he thought the Spurs brainwashed their players. 
Although he said it tongue in cheek, the commentator is right that the Spurs' way is totally contrary to most NBA teams. Obviously the Spurs are a first class organization and many players relish the opportunity to play for coach Pop. And having the opportunity to get a championship ring is also a real sugar stick. But I think the Spurs culture is the real driving force for those who have chosen to play for the Spurs at a reduced salary. It takes an athlete with certain principles and values to sacrifice millions of dollars. And the Spurs don't have to brainwash players because they find players who have the character and values that are compatible with the Spurs ways. So you won't find prima donnas and chest-thumping, trash-talking Spurs. And yet maybe the best test of whether a player would fit the Spurs is if they are willing to sacrifice millions to play for them.  

Walking away from millions of dollars like Tim Duncan, Danny Green and David West is almost unheard of in most any profession today. Granted, these guys have still made their millions but it takes a very special person to basically say that making millions more is not the driving force in their lives, that there is something greater and more valuable than money.  That's difficult for most athletes because the media, fans and peers measure them by the amount of money they make. Most get their significance by comparing their salaries with other players, and demanding compensatory salary. 

I'm reminded of someone in the Bible who sacrificed untold riches also.  Hebrews 11:24-26 describes how Moses refused the world's riches and chose to be a Jewish slave instead of Egyptian royalty. Moses refused the world's value system, the same value system that we now have.
1.Power and prestige
Instead of all of these, Moses chose his Hebrew heritage and slavery.

Now I'm not comparing any of the Spurs players to Moses. But it is refreshing to hear anyone putting the team, others, or family ahead of the almighty dollar. It seldom happens but when it does, you know that the player has a very different set of values. Moses was able to say no to royalty because as verse 26 says, he was looking ahead to his reward. Moses' goal, purpose, and vision were "counter to this world". David Robinson and Avery Johnson set the "out of this world" Spurs culture.  Then Duncan and Popovich cultivated and refined that culture to what now is the Spurs way.  It is different and so refreshing. I'm proud to be a Spurs fan!