Posts Tagged With: lessons

Show me the Money, pt. 2

I ended my previous post with these words:

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not ignoring the need for money in either the personal life of the pastor or the corporate life of the church. That would be foolish. Nor am I suggesting that the calling to pastoral ministry carries with it an implied vow of poverty. That would be irresponsible. I am simply stating that we have to know that we can trust God to provide for our needs and not make money the dominant, focal and defining point of our life and ministry.

There are a couple of significant benefits I have learned from settling this money business with God up front.

First, you will not be afraid of people. If you think that keeping your ministry’s “paying customers” happy is the requirement for financial stability, you may find yourself being guilty of the sin of partiality. You may begin to look at people financially (What can they give?) rather than spiritually (What do they need?). James warned against this sin: “My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism. For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, “You sit here in a good place,” and you say to the poor man, “You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool” (vv. 1-3). But when you know that regardless of who writes the check, it is the Lord that pays your salary and your bills, it will reduce your reduce your temptation to compromise truth or cater to givers to keep them happy.

I once was at a meeting of pastors where one of the major topics of discussion was church finances. There was much lamenting about how many people gave far below their capacity to give. In the car on the way home, I asked a pastor why, if giving was such a problem in the church, it was not addressed by means of challenging people to pay tithes and offerings. The pastor told me that, quite frankly, he and most of his colleagues were afraid that if they preached about money they would anger people and thus risk losing what money those people were giving.

When you have come to a place of peace with God about the issue of money (and who controls it), people don’t scare you as much.

Second, you will not be afraid of not providing for your family. The responsibility of providing for a family can add significant stress to a pastor. Adding a wife to my faith journey added a new layer of challenge. In the early years, the challenge was for her. However, the longer we were married and then added children, I found that the challenge became for me. I took very seriously the mandate that I should protect and provide for my family. When I was flying solo, waiting on the Lord to provide, I did not have a hard time making sacrifices, but when those sacrifices were having to be made by my wife and kids, I began to struggle a bit more. I didn’t want them to go without (or with less) because I was in ministry. I wanted to be able to take care of them without the “stress” of earlier years of waiting on the Lord.

When I moved to Denver in 1999 to take a position with a new ministry and a fat new salary, I made the promise to my wife that I would never put her in that financially challenging situation again. I should have whispered, because God heard me and I don’t think He appreciated my misplaced self-confidence. Within months after our relocation, we were in the same position again as the ministry did not have the funds to pay my salary. The combination of the understandable frustration from this situation combined with my ill-advised promise was a toxic cocktail that threatened my ministry, (it made me want to find a regular job that would eliminate these financial swings) and my mind (I was discouraged, angry and despondent).

When we shared this situation with my pastor, he provided a concise evaluation that has forever changed my perspective. He said, “First, that is a promise that you should never have made because it is not one you can keep. You don’t know what God has in store for your life. Second, God is the provider for you and your family, not you.” That was just the reality check I needed to push (more like slap) me back in line. As I reflected over the years of God’s faithfulness, He reminded me that it was always Him and not me that had provided for my family. Nothing had changed.

Make your peace with God right now about the issue of money. Don’t let your concerns about it, your pursuit of it or your fear of the lack of it derail your ministry. Learn to trust God with this area of your life because you will pay a great price if you don’t, but have great peace if you do.

JP

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How’s Your Fire?

Once the initial excitement of ministry wears off, and the routineness of daily service sets in, what keeps you motivated for service? When the bruises from sheep bites start to mount and the pressures of other people’s problem’s begin to weigh heavy upon your heart, what gets you out of the bed in the morning? During these challenging times of the ministry, if we are not fueled by a passion for God, we will not survive; we will burn brightly at the start only to flame out at the end.

Several years ago, when I worked for Youth For Christ, I would often spend time mentoring new hires. I would always tell them that the most important thing they brought to the ministry was not their ability to get along with kids or their teaching skills, but their personal relationship with Christ. When you read about Jesus’ reinstatement interview of Peter in John 21, you see that there was only one question asked of him: “Do you love me?” Jesus said, if you love me, then feed my sheep. What qualified Peter for service to God was not his skills, education or resume, but his love for Christ.

I think we can learn something from Peter’s life.

Peter had a great and promising start!

  • He left his day job to pursue the call of the Lord (Matt. 4:19).
  • He was selected to be a part of Jesus’ initial ministry team (Matt. 10:2).
  • He displayed great spiritual insight (Matt. 16:13-20).
  • He demonstrated a willingness to step out on faith and trust God for great things (Matt. 14:22-34).
  • He vowed on his life that he would never turn away from Jesus (Matt. 26:31-35).

But Peter flamed out.

  • He denied knowing Jesus.
  • He experienced an emotional breakdown.
  • He returned to doing that which Jesus had called him from and influenced others to do the same.

How do we maintain long-term passion for the Lord?

  • Follow God, not the ministry (John 21:19). We can’t find our identity and purpose in what we do or where we do it, but only in who we do it for. If we focus too much on people or ministry, they will fail and disappoint us; bore and burn us; distract and disillusion us. God, however, never will because He stays the same yesterday, today and forever.
  • Follow closely, not from a distance (Matt. 26:58). In the whirlwind of preparing to feed others, we can’t forget to feed ourselves. We must nurture our personal (and not just our professional) relationship with Jesus through attendance His word and prayer.
  • Focus on your calling, not someone else’s (John 21:20-23). Our passion for God can grow cold when we begin to measure the “success” of our ministry by seeing how it stacks up against another’s. Comparative shopping is a sure way to douse our fire.
  • Focus on grace, not gifts (Luke 6:36-50). God does not call us because we are gifted; He gifts us because we are called. Our passion for God is fueled by our knowledge of how much grace God has to employ to use us as His instruments.

What douses your passion for the Lord and ministry?
How do you maintain your enthusiasm for the Lord?
Do you still approach God with a sense of expectancy or has it become routine for you?

Add your voice to the conversation. Someone may need to hear it.

Categories: Passion for God | Tags: , , , , , ,

Words of Wisdom from a Man of God

A couple of weeks ago I attended the funeral of friend of mine – Robert Crockett, Jr.. He was an 86 year old pastor whom I had known all of my life. I knew him as a phenomenal preacher who would quote whole bible chapters at a time in the context and flow of his messages. A few years ago I sat down with him and a couple of his contemporaries for a  conversation about leadership development in the local church. I asked him the question, “After over 40 years in the ministry, is there anything you would do differently?” Without hesitation, he responded, “I would teach more and preach less.”

In the funeral program the family included these words of his wisdom –

Five of the most important  lessons you learned in life.

  • Be on time for your appointments.
  • Never make a promise to your children and not keep it.
  • Serve the Lord with all your heart.
  • Be faithful to your spouse by God’s grace.
  • Study to show yourself approved unto God (2 Timothy 2:15)

Share some of your insights for working well with others.

  • Pray for them
  • Seek to understand them. Solomon asked for an understanding heart (2 Kings 3:1-6).
  • Be able to take it from people.
  • Be willing to forgive – “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God, for Christ’s sake has forgiven you” (Eph. 4:32).

We all need mentors like Pastor Crockett in our lives.

Do you have a mentor who speaks into your life?

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Welcome to Musings!

Why Musings?
A few years ago I was struggling in my leadership role as the founding pastor of Living Oaks Fellowship (Aurora, CO). As I prayed, the Lord told me to go back to my journal and look at the lessons He had taught me over the past few years. I identified 17 lessons on a variety of topics, but that was not the most significant discovery.  What I found most significant is that only one of these lessons had been mentioned during my 3 and 1/2 years of seminary education. About this same time, I heard a couple of statistics about pastors that I found disturbing. The first one was that 50% of pastors leave the ministry in their first 5 years. The second one was that 85% of seminary graduates are out ministry in 10 years or less. (Note: As I was writing this I came across this blog with more such statistics  – http://preachersandteachers.wordpress.com/2008/03/26/71/ ).

Why is this important and what is the connection between the statistics and my experience?

I believe that the reason so many pastors are leaving the ministry is what I call the negative variance between what they expect and what they experience once they enter ministry. The reality of ministry is far different (and more difficult) than what people either see from the outside looking in or are prepared for in seminary education. The stark contrast is, for some, too much to handle and they quit. Our role as pastors is to lead people from Egypt to Canaan; from spiritual slavery to spiritual freedom. The dirty little secret that we are rarely told is that we never make it to Canaan in this life. There is no place of ministry where the elders don’t fight and the sheep don’t bite. We will never “arrive” in ministry, coming to a place where we can relax with no issues. However, if we are on this journey with a constant refrain of “are we there yet?”, we will be in for a rude awakening.  Entering into ministry without a realistic understanding of what you will face can set you up for disappointment, discouragement and disillusionment.

Adding to this dissonance is the truth that many pastors have no one with whom they can honestly talk and share their hearts:

  • Boards are looking to protect the church. A pastor who regularly admits weakness or shares struggles may lose his/her job.
  • Congregations are looking for a hero.  Parishioners often have unrealistic expectations for their spiritual leaders and don’t want to face the truth that their pastor is as human as they are.
  • Other pastors are often viewed as competitors. As unhealthy as this may seem and as unpopular as it may be to admit or share, many pastors often do not feel the freedom to confide in their counterparts their struggles and concerns. Our self worth is often tied to tangible measures of growth – bodies, budgets and buildings.
  • People outside of the church don’t understand the challenges of pastoral leadership. It is very difficult for someone outside of the church to relate to the spiritual, emotional, financial and relational battles inherent in this position.

Now, don’t misunderstand me. I am not writing this from a position of bitterness or disillusionment. I love the Lord, His work and His people. I am still actively engaged in the life of the church in pastoral ministry. Have I been hurt by the ministry and the people whom I’ve ministered? Of course!  But that goes with the territory. I am not seeking to dissuade anyone from going into ministry by painting some horrid picture of pain and suffering. In fact, I want to do just the opposite. I want to assist in properly preparing people to go into ministry so they can be more effective in their service.

My hope for this blog…
It is my desire for this blog to become more than a platform for me to share my opinions, knowledge or expressions. My hope and prayer for it is to:
… Give pastors and ministry leaders a safe place to connect, discuss issues and to be “real”.
… Create a learning environment where those who are young in the ministry can learn from those with more experience.
… Connect pastors and ministry leaders with others who are like-hearted and to encourage them to create their own small groups.

Many of the thoughts in Musings will come from what I learned during my own journey towards leadership and personal healthiness that are being shared about in an upcoming book: Living the Journey – Lessons from the Front Lines that Might Save your Ministry, your Mind and maybe even your Marriage.

Who is invited to share these conversations? Anyone who is engaged in the anointed and challenging task of serving God’s people. Regardless of your age or tenure, you are welcome and we want to hear from you. I look forward to sharing conversations with you about the Journey.

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