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Leaving Well

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Life can get so very messy.  Things happen we never imagined would.  We lose jobs, get sick, grieve significant losses, or struggle financially.  Sometimes the messy parts of our lives are of our own making.  We make unwise choices, we don’t do something that really needed done, or do something we really shouldn’t have.  Sin can creep up on us, bringing with it guilt and the need for forgiveness for which we frequently feel so unworthy.

Often, when life gets off track, and the hard things it can bring enter our lives, we don’t know what to do. Things seem overwhelming, beyond our ability to fix. And often they are just that, beyond our own ability  Then, where do we go?

Without being overly simplistic, the answer may be more simple than we might ever imagine.  Why don’t we run to Christ? Col. 115-23 is a beautiful passage that reminds us of just who he is, and the powerful transformation he can bring to our messy lives.

We should run to him because he is greater than our messes, than our hardships, or even our sin.  Col. 1 reminds us that he is the image of the invisible God, that even the greatest powers in the universe were created by him and for him. That means even we were!  He can handle what we cannot.  What can we do? We can run to Christ who is greater than anything we ever face, even those things we could never manage ourselves.

We should run to him because he can hold us together even when it seems as if we are falling apart.  Those times when we don’t know what to do can make us feel as if our whole lives are unraveling.  But Col. 1:17 says that in him, all things hold together.  If he can hold creation together, he can hold us together, too.

We should run to him because as we do, he will draw us close to himself. In Col. 1 we are reminded that we were once enemies of God, alienated from him.  When life is unraveling, whether by chance or by our own choices, we often feel that familiar separation from him, But verse 23 of Col. 1 reminds of the great truth of the gospel, and that is the work of Christ is to reconcile us to God.  Those whose messy lives make them feel far from God can be his friends.  That is amazing grace!

Yes, it seems simple. But when we don’t know what to do, our best move is to run to Christ.

When Pastors Don’t Pray

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Regardless of the nature of one’s ministry, there are significant distractions that can keep prayer on the back burner. Ministry demands time, interaction with multiple people, constant preparation, meetings, planning, the expectations of countless people who feel like those expectations are the minister’s to meet, and so much more. One of the common denominators of those things is that they all have the potential of creating an unintentional neglect of one’s personal prayer life.

There are countless reasons this neglect can happen. It becomes almost natural to say to one’s self that tomorrow there will be more time. We pray in meetings, we pray at meals, we pray with those who look to us for guidance, we pray in worship services. The temptation is to for those in ministry to feel that with all that prayer, one’s personal prayer life can be pushed aside another day. The problem with that thinking is that one day can become two, or three, or it can make personal prayer time so sporadic that our intimacy with God can gradually diminish before we realize it.

Here are seven things that can happen when pastors don’t pray.

  1. Ministry can become more of a job than a call. When the tasks of one’s call become more drudgery than satisfying, it may be a consequence of neglecting one’s prayer life.
  2. People become interruptions instead of opportunities to care, love, and serve. It is difficult, if not impossible, to adequately minister to another when a pastor feels irritated by the very people he or she is called to serve. Again, neglect of prayer can create these feelings.
  3. Vision suffers. An inadequate prayer life can move pastors away from visionary leadership into a maintenance mode, which can lead to much frustration and dissatisfaction.
  4. Important meetings can become difficult to endure. Instead of dreaming about future ministry, the temptation becomes to get the meeting over with.
  5. Intimacy with God suffers. Pastors deal with spiritual matters daily. This can cause the false idea that a close relationship with God must exist. However, some self-examination may well reveal a loss of intimacy with him that creates self-doubt and disillusionment.
  6. The pastor’s family often pays the price. Doing ministry without prayer can bring a weariness that makes one ineffective as a spouse or a parent. Irritability can insidiously sneak into those relationships that are most vital. Spouses and children can even begin to question the authenticity of one’s walk with Christ. The impact can be greatest on those we least want to hurt.
  7. God’s blessing on one’s ministry can be jeopardized. One simply cannot adequately lead a church when there is distance in a pastor’s relationship with Christ. While we my get by for a time on natural ability, the neglect of prayer over time will adversely affect leadership effectiveness, the pursuit of the church’s mission, and can make the minister vulnerable to failures that can have devastating results.

It is the wise pastor who remembers that he or she is first a Christ-follower, called to an intimate, vital, and growing relationship with God. Prayer is an essential part of that relationship. God genuinely desires time with us, and we are at our best when that time with him so important to us that distractions are seen for what they are. So, let’s pray!

You Are the Church!

Color-12Since its birth, the church has been among the most misunderstood organizations in existence. It has been maligned, persecuted, challenged, rejected, and ignored. And yet, there are millions of congregations around the world, and in many nations the church is growing faster than we can imagine.

It seems striking that while those outside the church are often the ones that misunderstand it, so many times the misunderstanding comes from within. When those within the church don’t quite understand it, there is often confusion, complacency, lack of vision and direction, decline, and even division.

Often, church members see the church as something you “go to.” We’ve all had those conversations in which we talk about going to church, or getting others to go to church. At times, this view causes us to think that if we “go to church,” we are in good standing spiritually, as if being “in church” makes one a Christian. However, as has often been said, “Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car.”

Sometimes, people see the church as something to be joined. It is as if we are somehow changed by affiliation or by finding our names on the church roll. Other times, church people have the illusion that the church is a social organization created to change things around us, or as a place where like-minded friends are.

While all those and many other views of the church contain some elements of truth in them, the fact is that the church is nothing less than every single person, wherever they may be, who live in a relationship with Jesus that has been secured by his death and resurrection. When any one accepts the forgiveness of God through the grace he has offered us through his son, Jesus, and then determines to follow Christ as a believer, that person is born into the church, not by human choice but by God’s action.

To state it very simply, then, if you know Jesus, you are the church. We are the church together. We have been entrusted with the most important task in the world, that of taking the good news of Jesus to a broken, lost, and dying world. So the church is not a social organization, a gathering of people who think alike, a roster to get one’s name on, or a gathering of religious people. It is the body of Christ, on mission. It is me. It is you. It is us together. We exist together so that Jesus can be made known, so that broken people can be made whole, so that empty people can be filled, so that people who are guilty can be forgiven, so that reconciliation can come to broken relationships.

When we came to know Christ, we became part of the church. It’s hard to imagine, but God believes in us enough to trust us with being his body in this world. Of all the things to be part of, the most exciting to me is to be part of the church. Imagine, Jesus touches broken people with our hands, encourages them with our words, helps them through our giving, loves them with our hearts, and draws them to himself with our witness.

And so, church rightly understand is not a burden, a chore, or a confining responsibility. It instead brings great freedom to our lives, freedom to love, serve, give, and belong. The next time church seems like just one more thing you have to do, take a look at your view of church. Remember that it is the greatest, most powerful force in the world.

Best of all, remember that YOU ARE THE CHURCH!

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I love baseball. It’s always been easy for me to see major leaguers as something more than normal, as a kind of sports superhero figure. We tend to make these players larger than life, as something special and somehow more valuable that the rest of us.

As a life long Cincinnati Reds fan, it was a treat for me when work took me to the Phoenix area during spring training. One evening I took the opportunity to take in a Reds-Royals exhibition game. I loved the laid back atmosphere and the feel of being back in a ball park after a long, cold winter back home in Indiana.

As the sixth inning began, Aroldis Chapman, the Reds flame-throwing closer, strolled to the mound. I walked to where I could stand behind home plate, anxious to get a first hand look at what his 100 mph fast ball looked like. Wow, the descriptions I had read were no exaggerations. How anyone could hit that fast ball was beyond my imagination.

Chapman struggled early in the sixth, but finally settled down and began throwing that trademark fastball for strikes. Then it happened. Royals catcher Salvador Perez lined a 99 mph fastball up the middle, right at Chapman. From my vantage point behind home plate, I could see the terror in his eyes for just an instant before hearing the ominous thud as the line drive struck Chapman just above the eye. Down he went as the stadium grew eerily silent. Medical personnel tended to him as players took a knee, some obviously praying.

Fortunately, Chapman’s injuries were not as serious as originally thought, and he should make a full recovery. But in those moments as he lay on the ground, surrounded by those tending to him, his father ran onto the field to be with him. It was then it hit me. He was no super hero, no larger than life individual with special powers. He was a 26 year old young man, scared to death, in pain, trying to figure out what had just happened to him.

Sometimes church members put pastors in a similar position. They are viewed as spiritual super heroes, as larger than life, filled with wisdom reserved for clergy only.  They, so it seems, need no sleep, can be at multiple places at the same time, and can answer every Bible trivia question ever asked.  They are in the church world what pro athletes are in the world of sports.

Having been a pastor for a number of years, and knowing many other pastors as close friends and colleagues, I need to affirm that, like Aroldis Chapman, pastors can be scared to death, feel pain, and need someone who loves them to come alongside them when they don’t understand everything that is going on around them.

While being a pastor assumes there is a divine call on one’s life, that fact sometimes leads to assumptions and expectations that no one except a superhero could live up to.  Some of those  false assumptions and unrealistic expectations are:

1. Pastors are not regular people.  We all know that is not true, and yet, I can’t tell how often pastors here things like, “and you call yourself a pastor,” or, “you can’t take a day off from your call,” or even, “you should make less money than the rest of us so you will depend on God more.”  Pastors are human, they hurt when they are attacked, they long to be understood, and need people who love them to stand by their sides both in good times and bad.

2. Pastors have perfect marriages.  Many spouses of pastors are often told, “It must be wonderful being married to a pastor. You must get treated so perfectly living with someone so holy.”  Most pastors’ spouses cringe at words like those.  Like any one else, pastors have to learn to be good spouses, they are not automatically great at it because they are ordained.  Ministry places a unique and heavy stress on clergy marriages.  Pastors, like everyone else, may well come home after a long day tired and cranky, and not all that inspiring to be around.

3. Pastors should have perfect kids.  The fact is that many pastors’ kids feel like the church has unreasonable expectations of them and put too much pressure on them to do everything right from having the correct answers in Sunday School to never struggling to find themselves and their place in life.  If you have known very many pastor’s kids, you know their struggles.

4. Pastors have it altogether in their personal spiritual journey.  In a perfect world, this might be true.  But in a world where pastors work 60 hours a week, try to meet expectations that are often beyond their abilities, work hard at being a spouse and parent that is effective and godly, and a thousand other things on their plate, it is just as challenging for pastors, if not more so, to find the time for intimacy with God as it is for anyone else.

So, church members, your pastors need you. Give them the freedom to be regular people who need space to be with family, to play golf, and to just live a normal life  They need time to invest in their marriages, just like anyone else who wants to have a healthy relationship with their spouse.  Let their kids have the space in their lives to make mistakes, and give them grace lavishly when they do. Love them and treat them like you would want it done with your own children.  Insist they have adequate time off to rest and to find spiritual renewal.

Here’s the best part – if churches would drop the superhuman view of pastors, recognize that they hurt and bleed and get lonely, and come alongside them in love and understanding, pastors would become healthier, ministry families would become healthier, churches would then become healthier and the kingdom would expand!

When you see your pastor’s human side, will you be the one to come running to “the pitcher’s mound,” just like Aroldis Chapman’s father?

Appreciation or Obligation?

Color-12What crosses your mind when you hear the phrase “Pastor Appreciation Month?” While it really is a noble idea, it is striking that it stirs up so many mixed emotions in congregations and clergy alike. There is seldom a church that doesn’t want to express appreciation to their pastor, and it would be difficult to find a pastor who didn’t want to be appreciated. Yet the unsettledness remains.

I took the opportunity to communicate with a number of pastors about Pastor Appreciation Month, and there were several issues that surfaced. In fact, I was surprised by how often the same issues came up. Some of those issues are things that churches ought to hear, and some are things pastors ought to hear. It is my hope that both pastors and congregations could have a better understanding of Pastor Appreciation Month so that the experience could be the positive and loving thing it was intended to be.

First—to congregations—let’s explore a few issues. It probably won’t surprise you that most pastors would rather be appreciated year-round because it is already a part of the culture of the church rather than to have one day or month set aside for that purpose. Otherwise, it feels less like appreciation and more like an obligation the church is fulfilling. Let’s face it, Pastor Appreciation Month, in a congregation where little mutual appreciation exists, seems forced and even out of place. Appreciation that matters is authentic!

Did you know that many pastors find Pastor Appreciation Month one that is filled with anxiety and awkwardness? Most often, materials about Pastor Appreciation are mailed directly to them. Most feel it is inappropriate to pass those materials on to their congregation. Consequently, many miss out totally. Be sure, then, that your congregation is alert to the fact that each year, Pastor Appreciation Month is observed in October, and designate someone to be watchful for those clearly marked promotional materials. Intercept them before your pastor even sees them.

Another of those things pastors would like congregations to know is that a poorly planned observance, or one that is just “thrown together,” seems more like an afterthought than appreciation. One pastor put it, “Plan, plan, plan.” Even in times when relationships might be strained, remember, the purpose is to honor not only the pastor and family but also the position or office of the pastor.

Make your appreciation specific. For example, instead of saying, “I appreciate you,” tell your pastor why. Let them know that a particular message helped you or that his or her presence during a difficult time made a difference. Make your expressions of appreciation personal.

Make your appreciation practical. Pastors’ salaries often are unable to keep up with rising costs as giving to the church reflects our current economic struggles. Gift cards to restaurants or grocery stores, home improvements (pastors’ spouses especially love these), or even movie theater tickets, provide things that just don’t always fit into the pastor’s family budget. And, don’t forget the babysitting! Many pastors are called to serve far away from family and close friends and need the church to become their family. Very significantly, pastors often say they would like their congregations to realize how important pastor appreciation is to their families. Why not make it about the whole family? It was incredibly meaningful to our children when they received their own cards, often with a personal gift inside.

There are also some things pastors need to consider when it comes to Pastor Appreciation Month. The very first of those is that pastors have to learn how to appreciate their congregations, and their efforts at pastor appreciation. It is way too often that pastors compare what other churches do for their pastors and come away frustrated, hurt, and even angry about the whole process. But churches think differently, their leadership have different backgrounds, and they have varying resources. Pastors, let’s quit our comparisons and be thankful for the people God has called us to serve.

For some churches, written personal expressions of gratitude are a far better and more personal way to say thank you than a monetary gift or a weekend away. Other churches think differently, and their expressions are going to reflect that difference. And, let’s be honest, the relationship we have with the church will without a doubt speak into this process.

Pastors, be practical in your expectations. You know all too well what your church can afford, so understand that during Pastor Appreciation Month. We sometimes are disappointed because our expectations are not practical or realistic.

To pastors, I would add this: Every October you have the built-in opportunity to teach your family that the church is a very good place with a lot of very good people in it. They are people who really do care about you and your family. Don’t miss this chance to allow your family to experience the love of good but imperfect people. Even if the whole idea makes you uncomfortable, your family needs to know that all of you are appreciated.

To both pastors and congregations, let’s remove the anxiety and awkwardness from what ought to be a month of celebration and love. Churches, do your best to appropriately express your appreciation to your pastor. Pastors, do your best to appreciate the congregation and their efforts. After all, appreciation modeled can become appreciation expressed!

Dr. Carl Addison EVM, Inc.

Dr. Carl Addison
EVM, Inc.

Most ministry couples would agree that those times when marriage and family life intersect with ministry can be extremely stressful,  Nearly every one of those times requires a choice, frequently a choice that leaves no one feeling like there was a clear cut, win-win choice.  For example, it’s almost time to head out to one of the kid’s soccer games and the phone rings.  A parishioner is on the line with a pressing need for you, the pastor, to make a hospital call, or to see a couple in crisis, or to meet with an elder who has received a complaint from a church member.  It seems that every time the phone rings, there is yet another choice to be made: dinner with my spouse or an unplanned meeting with someone who has a legitimate need; date night or answering that phone call; a much needed and long overdue quiet evening at home or a small group meeting that needs your time and energy.

The tension in ministry that we so frequently feel often comes from feeling torn between responsibilities to and  love for our families and our deep desire to be effective in loving and leading the church.  It would be difficult to understate the intensity of this tension.  It, among many other things, contributes to the feeling that many pastors and spouses have that ministry is an outright hazard to the health of their families. And so for many pastors, the pressing question is how to manage the stress that comes when marriage meets ministry.

One key ingredient in managing this stress is for the couple to avoid blame.  The blame that often surfaces can take two paths. One is for the couple to blame each other.  It goes something like this:  “This is the third straight of our kids’ soccer games you have missed.  You know, the kids are starting to feel like the church is more important to you than they are.”  And the pastor’s response is often typical and predictable.  “You know the ministry is not an 8-5 job. I am on call 24 hours a day and I have to do these things. How can you not understand that?”

And then there is the scenario where the pastor blames the spouse. “If you would just be more understanding and supportive, we wouldn’t have this discussion every time I have something I have to do. I get enough criticism from church people. I sure don’t need it from you.”

In addition to blaming our spouses, ministry couples often fall into a second destructive pattern. This time, instead of blaming each other, they blame the church when stress enters their homes.  This can take on almost countless forms, from, “they expect too much from us” to “they don’t understand what it’s like to be in ministry” to “they put too much pressure on the kids” to “they don’t pay us nearly enough to put up with this.”

While it is certainly true that ministry demands will invade our marriages as well as the lives of our families, blame is not the healthiest way to manage the resulting stress.  A better way would be for the clergy couple to take responsibility for the quality of their lives and to develop skill in managing these intrusions in a way that is not only healthy for the family but recognizes that the very nature of ministry includes such intrusions.

But how do we do that?  Admittedly, the following suggestions may well sound simplistic, but it may be true that in this case simple is better.

First, we can learn to withhold permission from church members to move beyond being people we serve to becoming those who invade every dinner, date night, or band concert.  We often grant such permission, unintentionally and with the most altruistic motives.  We invite them to call anytime, we want to be available to our congregations.  And so they call, drop by, or text us when it best suits them.  But often those times do not suit us.

Consequently, we have to be more precise in our language.  We don’t really mean call anytime (of course, there are the legitimate exceptions here).  What we really mean is that we want to be connected, involved and available in ways that are reasonable and healthy.  So our communication to the church should say so.  But it should in no way give permission for members to insert themselves into our lives in ways that are harmful to our families, or quite frankly, to them.

Ministry couples have to overcome that unhealthy need to answer the phone every time it rings.  It is our phone, we don’t have to answer it unless we choose to.  Use the caller id.  Use the voice mail.  People are accustomed to leaving messages.  If it is urgent, they will leave one.

Do not establish the pattern of answering email during time set aside for your spouse or your family.  Once such a pattern is established, it is difficult to change.  Also, try this: avoid telling church members to call you.  Instead, tell them you will call them.  Then you control when the call is made, not the church member.  One caution should be mentioned here.  Use whatever technology you prefer that reminds you to make that call, or trust will be eroded!

Ministry couples who value their families’ health must be willing to face some criticism.  While it will be worse in some churches than in others, there will always be those who feel that if you are really a pastor, you must answer every time the phone rings, be present whenever asked, and to in the midst of it all have a perfect marriage and perfect children.

Here’s the bottom line: ministry couples are responsible for the health of their marriages and their families.  No one else will make sure that those relationships are prioritized, nurtured, and deepened.  But when we make sure that happens, we can much more effectively lead the church.  So instead of blaming our spouses or congregations, let’s purse healthy marriages and healthy families, so we can be healthy leaders who lead healthy churches.

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