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Wednesday, February 08, 2017

I'm Bored!

Have you ever heard a child complaining "I'M BORED!"?  I know I have.  What is really interesting about the statement is not a true lack of possible activity for the child... but rather, the complete lack of interest in doing any of those activities.  They are mundane and just not exciting... so the child gets bored.

Guess what?  This happens to adults too!  Especially leaders!

In the ten years I've been serving the local church as a pastor I've seen many leaders express that they are bored.  Let's be honest for a moment, I've said this myself on many occasions - in fact, I'm in a bit of a season right now where I'm feeling bored.

If you're a leader, here's what I know about you.  There is something about the status quo that never sits right with you.  There's something that just shouts out in your bones that if your church or organization isn't growing and moving forward then it's running the risk of dying.  And you get frustrated with the people around you because they LOVE the status quo and are totally content leaving things well enough alone.

I get it!  I struggle with that feeling almost daily.

I've come to learn that, as leaders, we need very healthy ways of dealing with boredom when it sets in.  I've come up with four things that help me when the feeling of "I'm bored!" creeps in.  I have two things to "Don't Do" and two things "To Do".

DON'T DO

1. Don't Check Job Sites!

I've met many, many leaders, especially young pastors, who believe that boredom means God is calling them out of their current church or ministry.  Now, I'm not saying that is not the case... sometimes that does happen... but, in my experience, that is very rare.  I've not seen God use boredom to completely uproot your family and ministry.

Jobs sites, in my opinion, are basically temptations you don't need when you are feeling bored.  It's way too easy to fall into the belief that running off to a new church will take care of that feeling of boredom.  A new move and new ministry will eventually just become the new normal... and feelings of boredom will creep in there as well.  So I avoid at all cost the job sites.

Just recently a friend of mine who is a part of an awesome church posted on Facebook that they are search for new leaders to join there team.  I was thrilled for his ministry, and the growth they are experiencing... I prayed for him and his church.  And then I hide the post from my Facebook feed!  I believe when I feel bored God wants to teach me something new... and I avoid any false temptation... I want to hear from God himself... not Facebook or a job site.

2. Don't Blame People!

As you leader, you probably care way more about spiritual growth then most people in your church.  You care way more about reaching people for Christ then most people in your church.  You probably read more, study more, and implement spiritual disciplines more... because that's what leaders do!

In the moments of boredom in ministry it's far too easy to start pointing blame at other people.  I've heard many times from pastors "If only my church would...", "The people in my church won't...", or "My leadership team doesn't...".  That's the blame game.  We blame other people for the feeling of boredom we are experiencing.  And when we begin to blame we can easily start to becoming critical of those people... which drives us further into breaking rule #1 and check out job site.

It's so important to take those thoughts captive.  Pray.  Discern.  Question.  But don't blame.

DO TO

1. Talk to Someone

I'm incredibly grateful that I have amazing people in my life that I can be open and honest with.  Far too many leaders I know keep these types of feelings to themselves.  I don't know if it's fear of being judged, criticized, or rejected, but too many pastors keep these feelings to themselves, hoping to process them alone.

I believe it' the secret conversations that we have in our minds and hearts that can do us the most harm.  Not that feeling bored is a sin or a problem... but we may be way too close to the situation to be able to honestly discern why we are feeling this way.

I'm first and foremost very honest with my wife, Danielle.  We talk about these feelings that I deal with in pastoral ministry.  After all, we're ONE FLESH so whatever affects me is going to affect her.  I have great mentors in my network of pastors/leaders that I can talk with and pray with.  They care about me, my family and my church.  I trust their feedback and their guidance.  I'm also a part of a great LifeGroup who I can share with and talk with.  I so value their friendship and prayers.

With far too many pastors leaving the ministry after only a few years, I'm convinced the only reason I've managed to stay a pastor for over 10 years is because of the people God had brought into my life that I can talk to.

2. Seek God

I know, this sounds like an obvious Christian answer... but it's crucial!  When a leader feels bored it's easy to begin to focus on all the negative parts of our ministry.  The complaints, the sins, the repetitiveness of another Sunday sermon to prep, the hurts... Because you're a leader this stuff stands out like a giant, red flashing beacon!

When we still ourselves before God by taking time throughout the day to be silent and still, God shows up.  Again and again when I take time to seek God he shows me exactly why I'm bored.  Maybe there's someone I need to develop or care for.  Maybe there's a ministry that needs more direction.  Maybe there's opportunities in my denomination or in my community that God wants to guide me to be more active in.

When we seek God we allow him to speak to our hearts.  He is the one who helps me come out of the feeling of boredom.  Because God's work is anything BUT boring!


This may sound weird, but I've come to welcome times of feeling bored.  They are times when God has stretched me as a leader and as a follower of Jesus.  They are great times of new learning and insight.

I'd love to hear how you have dealt with this feeling.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Reflections

Normally this time of year I become very reflective... I look back on the past year and I pray that God would show me things that He has taught me.  I find this very important so that I do not forget what I've learned and, more importantly, that I actually put it into practice.

I learned this from the Bible.  In Philippians 4:8-9 the Apostle Paul writes:
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.  Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
"Put it into practice".  It's not enough to just hear from God and learn great stuff... as Christians, and especially as Christian leaders, we need to put it into practice.  Over the next few days I'll be writing about what I believe God has taught me this past year and how I hope to put these learnings into practice in 2017.

LEADERS ARE READERS

In many different ways God reminded me this year that Leaders are Readers.  He did this through school courses, seminars, mentors and in personal reading.

For pretty much my entire life I have been a HUGE reader.  I was always reading.  In fact, at one point before going into Pastoral ministry I would read 2-3 books a week!

But something has happened over the past couple of years...  Somehow, and I really don't know when, I began to struggle with reading.  I couldn't stay focused on a page long enough to absorb anything from it.  I would rarely, if ever, finish a book.  And instead of 2-3 books a week, it would be 2-3 books every six months.

I've become distracted.  With so much on my mind, and so many sources of distraction in email, texts, phones, social media and whatever else, I have lost discipline in being able to focus and to be still.

Going through the Emotionally Healthy Spirituality Course with our church has greatly helped me realize the importance of getting this skill back!

In order to return to my love of reading I've put together a leadership reading plan which I learned from Nelson Searcy's book, The Renegade Pastor.  In order to be a well balanced leader I need to be reading different types of books from different types of authors.  This is what the plan will look like.

  • Every day includes Bible reading.  In order to track this, I'm using a One Year Bible reading plan provided by YouVersion.
  • Each month I will read one "Best Practice" book, focused on growing and improving either ministry or my personal devotional life.
  • Each quarter I will read another book.  These four books will be 2 Theology books, 1 Church History book, and 1 Philosophy book.
My hope and prayer is that God will use this new discipline to help me love and shepherd my family, my church and my community at even greater levels in 2017.

So if any of you have book suggestions for any of those categories, I'd LOVE to hear from you!

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

A Theology of Meat vs Fruit

I've been wanting to write on this topic for some time... I've been studying this topic more and more... and I figured now would be as good of a time as any to start looking at this.

As church leaders and as Christians we need a good Theology of Meat vs Fruit.

Why?  Because of what the Apostle Paul wrote to church leaders in his letter to his son in the faith, Timothy:
For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. (2 Tim. 4:3)
Now... most of the time we attribute this verse to people outside of the church who are looking for whatever spiritual leader will tickle their fancy.  But Paul is writing this to a church leader about people in the church.  The church will be a place where people will turn away from listening to truth and will find teachers to suit their own passions.

Theology, as a simple definition, is the study of God and his interactions with humanity.  That is what Paul is addressing in this passage... how we as followers of Jesus interact with the Word of God, the nature of God, and the works of God.  So I believe it's very important to look at how we study the idea of "meat" because it has a direct impact on how we live as Christians.

At some point in your leadership of a church, if it hasn't happened already, you will come face to face with the issue of meat.  In the ten years I've been in pastoral ministry this topic comes up multiple times a year!  Every year.  No exception.  It comes through comments like:

  • That church doesn’t preach meat.
  • That preacher only preaches watered down messages.  He doesn't give meat.
  • I’m not being fed.
  • I only get milk here.
  • I need more meat.

Quite recently I had a conversation with a Christian couple who were considering attending our church…  they came to me after the service and only had one question for me about our church.  My answer would allow them to decide whether to make this their home church or not.  "Only one question?" I replied.  "Our church is pretty dynamic and there a large number of reasons as to why someone would chose Greenbelt as their church."

Only one thing mattered to them… and this was the question: “WHAT KIND OF MEAT CAN WE EXPECT TO RECEIVE FROM YOUR SERMONS IF WE ATTEND HERE?”

This is why all of us, preachers, LifeGroup leaders, Youth leaders, Kid Ministry leaders, and every day Christians, we need a good theology on MEAT vs FRUIT.  Because people are looking for teachers who will suit their own passions...

It's important to look closely at what the New Testament says about "meat" or "solid food" as some translations of the Bible puts it.

In 1 Corinthians 3:1-4 we read this:
Dear brothers and sisters, when I was with you I couldn’t talk to you as I would to spiritual people.  I had to talk as though you belonged to this world or as though you were infants in Christ.  I had to feed you with milk, not with solid food, because you weren’t ready for anything stronger.  And you still aren’t ready, for you are still controlled by your sinful nature.  You are jealous of one another and quarrel with each other.  Doesn’t that prove you are controlled by your sinful nature?  Aren’t you living like people of the world?  When one of you says, “I am a follower of Paul,” and another says, “I follow Apollos,” aren’t you acting just like people of the world?

And in Hebrews 5:11-14 (NLT) we read:
There is much more we would like to say about this, but it is difficult to explain, especially since you are spiritually dull and don’t seem to listen.  You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others.  Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word.  You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food.  For someone who lives on milk is still an infant and doesn’t know how to do what is right.  Solid food is for those who are mature, who through training have the skill to recognize the difference between right and wrong.
Who are these writers talking to?  Are they talking to the church leaders, and preachers, and Youth workers, and Bible study leaders?  Are the writers criticizing the church for not providing the people meat?  The answer is pretty clear!  NO!  They are talking to the congregation.

Just look at the language... you are living like people of the world; you are controlled by your sinful nature; you ought to be teaching others; you don't know how to do what is right; you are jealous; you quarrel...

Lack of solid food or meat is NOT an ACCUSATION against the LEADER… it’s a correction to the CONGREGATION for not living out their FAITH!

Now, let me say this... if a church or a preacher is not using the Bible as their authority, if they are not preaching from the Word of God, if their sermons sound like something that you could have easily read in the latest issue of Oprah Magazine then, YES, this is a big issue that needs to be addressed... and leaders should be the first to want to address it.  But not because of the "meat" passages but what we read in James 3:1:
Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.
If the Bible is being preached, if small groups, youth ministry, sermons and everything we do is centered on the powerful, living Word of God, then we must, with confidence as leaders, address the meat accusations of church members through what Scripture teaches us... are they living out their faith?  Why are they not growing?  Is there sin in their lives?  Are they obedient to the Word of God?  Are they living a life of faith?

It's really interesting that Jesus didn't seem all that concerned with meat.  The ministry of Jesus was to see his followers bear much FRUIT!

Look at the words of Jesus in John 15:1-8:
“… If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.  This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”
In Matthew 12:33 we learn that a tree can be determined to be bad or good by evaluating the fruit.  And if the tree is producing bad fruit it will be cut down.  The texts we looked at above show us that those who should be eating meat are in fact living lives that are not bearing fruit.

Preaching and teaching the Word of God is all about bearing fruit in the lives of those who hear it.  Whether that's accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, repenting of sin in our life, growing in our love and understand of God, determining His call on our lives, loving our neighbours as ourselves, or developing our spiritual gifts for the blessing of others, we need to be focused on transformation!

Our ministries are not about simply providing INFORMATION but TRANSFORMATION!

How did I respond to the question I was asked from that couple?  This was my response.  "If you make this church your home every week I will work really hard to make sure my sermon is completely biblical and directly from the Word of God.  I will preach in such a way that you will recognize the sins in your life and give you the chance to repent of those sins.  I will challenge you with the Word of God so that you will bear much fruit in this world.  I will use the Word of God to equip you for ministry to reach lost people, to minister to hurting people, to love broken people, to be generous with your resources, and to make a impact in our city that will last for eternity!"

I never saw that couple again.

We need a good theology of meat vs fruit.  We can waste the best years of our ministry trying to cater and appease congregations who are only about their passions... and never see them bear MUCH fruit in their lives!  I believe THAT'S why James says we as teachers will be judged more strictly... did we call them to repentance of sins and build them up to become more like Jesus?

Or did we provide tons of great information and, in the end, see little transformation?

Would love your thoughts on this... I'm far from an expert... but this is where my studies bring me and why I'm more and more passionate about seeing the church filled with people being transformed by the power of God!

Monday, February 09, 2015

My Greatest Struggle in Ministry

Pastoral ministry is an amazing calling.  I'm still in awe that I'm get to do what I love so much every day.  It's a wonderful work... but far from easy.

Over the past eight years of pastoral work I have had to learn a lot about myself.... and others.  I try hard to learn and grow... to learn from my mistakes... and improve from them... all the while trusting in the power and guidance of God, growing in my love of Him and His church.

My greatest struggle in ministry still remains my greatest struggle.  It comes back regularly... and it's hard to explain in one short statement... but I'll try.

Because I live, eat, breathe, and sleep church life, I know everything going on here, far more than anyone else.  That gives me more insight in where we need to go as a church... and my struggle comes when others can't see what I see... and I can't seem to get them to see it...

My heart breaks for what people are struggling with.  The hurts, pain, loneliness, sins, illness, and everything else in between drives me to pray more and more for them.  My heart breaks for a younger generation who walk away from the church because they feel they can't openly talk about their struggles here... or find it completely irrelevant to their lives... or feel like they are not needed in the church.  My heart breaks for non-Christians who turn away from Jesus, not because of the message of Christ, but because of the hard hearts of Christian traditionalist and legalists.

Because I see all this on a regular basis I struggle when I just can't seem to get others to follow me to do something about it.

And this struggle can cause me to become frustrated on a good day... and quite angry on others.  It can come out in my preaching (I'm REALLY sorry when that happens!).  It can come out in my leadership style (again, REALLY sorry when that happens!)

And that's not good!  For my relationship with God... or the church.

Over the years I've learned a number of ways to keep me from letting this struggle get to me.  Here is the list that helps me... hopefully it can be a help to you as well.

1. Remember that they just don't see it.

It's too easy for me to assume that everyone in the church sees all the problems that I do... but that's just not reality.  In fact, most people don't see ANY problems.  They love their church and everything about it.  They simply don't notice.  That's not a knock against them... that's just their reality of the church.

It is so important to guard my heart.  Just because they don't notice the problems I know about is no reason to let me heart get hard against them.  My role is to love, to serve, to guide, to teach, to correct, and to lead... the greatest of these is to love!

2. Lead at a pace they can follow

Because I see the problems it's too easy for me to run full steam ahead to try to correct all the problems.  But because they don't see them, the congregation doesn't understand why I'm rushing so far ahead of them.

It's important for me to slow down, pray, have more coffee meetings with key leaders and key volunteers and help them to see what I see.  Again, my role is not the be the slave driver of the vision of the church... it's not about recruiting workers to make my vision a reality.  My role is to help others make the vision of the church their own!  Once they own the vision and see where we need to go as well, then we head that way as a church family.  And they will accomplish so much more than I ever could alone!

But I need to slow down so we can journey together.

3. Give people permission to speak to me

It's funny how this works... you may think that you're a completely approachable person... only to learn that people don't want to approach you.  I know that can be the case with me, especially if I'm getting frustrated in ministry... it's NEVER my intention... but somehow that message creeps in.

Being approachable means not simply trying to convince everyone to your opinion... but truly listening and hearing their hearts and thoughts.  As the leader, it may be necessary to correct and guide... but that should be out of a heart of love and service, not drive or frustration or control.

4. Give a few mentors permission to call me out

Every pastor needs a pastor.  We need someone who has gone ahead of us... and who will call us out when we are off base or letting the struggle of leading and ministry get to us.

I'm SOOOO thankful for the couple of men in my life who do this.  They understand what I see and what I deal with... but they don't let me have a pity party or let frustrations take me over.  They speak truth in love... and they correct and guide me in a way that models how I'm to do that to others.

5. Rejoice.  I say it again REJOICE!

I truly believe that serving in the church is the most important work in the world.  Church leaders have been given the wonderful task of equipping Christians in their faith so that they would be the salt and light of Jesus everywhere that they go.

Pastors don't change the world.  They pour their lives into men, women, boys and girls who go out and change the world!  That is an amazingly humble calling.  And we should rejoice it in!

I have a practice that has served me well in this... when frustrations begin to creep into my heart I blast worship music in my office and I dance around!  Now, I try to do that on days when no one else is in the church :)  But this is such a great reminder for me that my identity is not in my title of pastor, but rather in my position as a son of the living God, through my relationship with Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit!  That's something to rejoice in!



So, that's my greatest struggle.  I keep learning in it... it's been a great eight year journey learning how to deal with this better... and I hope my struggle and my learning can help you in your struggle as well.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Take Small Steps to your BIG Vision!

I consider myself a big picture, vision type of person.  I can see the clear destination on where we need to go as a organization.  I can see the problems that are preventing the results we are hoping to accomplish.

But when it comes time to put the steps in place to get to the vision... I struggle, get easily distracted, and get lost in the details.

I've had to learn how to take small steps today to continue to move towards where we want to be tomorrow.  And this is challenging for me as well, since, probably like you, I wish I was already at the vision I see so clearly in my head!  It's not my default to naturally work this way.

Here's a real life example of this that I'm working through.  Our church is growing.  We are seeing an increase in families, in young singles, and in older couples coming.  We are seeing people from no or little church background come.  We are seeing people coming to faith in Jesus as Lord and Saviour.  We are seeing people get engaged in the life of the church.  This is all very exciting!

But as our church has moved from a small congregation to a mid-sized congregation the demands on the pastor have had to change.  We've made the change from everything going through the pastor to seeing more leaders lead.  But we're not there yet... and the vision we have as the leadership team is to see vibrant, passionate, engaged leaders raised up to lead new areas of ministry such as Digital Missions, English Language Drop-In Center, Church Planting, and other exciting things God has put on our hearts to do.

But we don't have those leaders yet.

So it's easy for me to get frustrated... or we can sit around and hope one day, maybe, a leader will suddenly appear...

Better idea is to change what I do today to be where we need to be tomorrow.  So what do I do today to develop these leaders who will lead?  What small steps do I need to put in place in order to reach our big vision?

This requires me to be very disciplined and focused on how I use my time.  In order to intentionally raise up leaders means I need to allocate time to doing that.  That means I have to free up time... which means I have to stop doing some things... which means I need to hand those off to the right staff/volunteers around me.  I need to make small changes to each day in order to free up the hours necessary to raise up these leaders.... to cast vision... to hear their hearts... to hear what God is doing in their lives... to guide, mentor, encourage and equip.

These small steps seem slow... but they pay off BIG TIME in the long run.

So what small steps do you need to take today?  What small changes to your daily routine, whether in your organization or in your family, do you need to make in order to move towards the vision God has given you?

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

What Breaks Your Heart?

I was watching this video by Pastor Andy Stanley from the 2014 Catalyst conference.


In his opening statements he challenges leaders to know who they are... and asks them what breaks their hearts.

As a pastor in the local church I know exactly what breaks my heart.  It's what keeps me up late at night.  It's what drives me crazy when I'm not able to articulate it in such a way as to get others on board.  It's become my reason for all that I do in the church.

What breaks my heart is Christians who live like non-Christians and give non-Christians a bad image of Christ.

Let me try to explain why this breaks my heart.

I didn't grow up in church.  I know most people would assume that since I'm a Pastor that I come from this very religious home.  My family is great but church life wasn't really a part of my upbringing.  In fact, by grade 8 I didn't believe that God was real and I thought that the church was a scam to get people's money.

It wasn't until many years later that I would give God even a tiny thought.  I was reading a Bible during my commute to work in order to DISPROVE something I heard about God on the internet... Reading that Bible changed my life.  One day on my commute I asked God to forgive me for my sins... for trying to be the god of my own life... and I asked Jesus to do with me whatever, whenever and wherever He wanted.

I got plugged into a great church in the west end of the island of Montreal.  I experience the love and welcoming spirit that I read about in the Bible from so many amazing men and women who attended that church.  They taught us, loved us, included us, guided us and completely accepted us though we had NO CLUE as to their Christian rules, traditions or customs.

As a new Christian my experience with church was great.  And it built in me a foundation that I still depend on today 15 years later!

But sadly in these past 15 years I've learned that this is not everybody's experience.  Some people come to the church looking for this love and acceptance and find judgment, condemnation and rejection because these outside people don't look, act or believe like the people already in the inside of the building... and instead of finding the love that Jesus Christ has for them... they conclude that they want nothing to do with Christ because of the image that these Christians give them.

Like Andy Stanley says in the video, THIS HAS TO CHANGE!

We need to stop trying to get outsiders to act like insiders while insiders are acting like outsiders!  We need churches to be filled with men and women, boys and girls, married people, single people, old people, young people, people from every ethnic background, hurt people, struggling people, lost and confused people... we need all those people to be sold out on the greatest commandment in the entire Bible - Love God with your whole being, and love the people around you as yourself.  We need more and more Christians who look like Christ!  And who are sold out on being Christ everywhere that they go.
When the church is full of people like that it will be an explosion of love and caring and support and encouragement and seeing the Good News shared all over the place.

It breaks my heart that everyone's experience with the church hasn't been like mine.  And I'll do whatever it takes to see that changed in my lifetime.  At least in the church that I serve in :)

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Working on Church Systems

"Your system is perfectly designed to get the results that you're getting."

Over the past several years, probably more than I care to admit, I've been reading on the importance of healthy, functional systems in the church.  A system is a set of interacting components which form an integrated whole.  That may sound like a weird definition and may seem even weirder to think that the church would need anything like this... but so much of how the church works depends on healthy systems.  Here are a few examples:

  • Integration System:  how do first time guests at the church become fully integrated into the church family?
  • Volunteer System: how do people begin serving in the church's different ministries and how are they equipped to do so?
  • Leadership System: how are new leaders recognized and setup to lead in the church?
  • Care System: how are the spiritual and physical needs of those inside and outside the church met?
The more I read and study these different types of systems the more I'm convinced of their incredibly importance in the church.  Because every church, whether they realize it or not, have all these types of systems... they are either aware of them and working them to their advantage... or they are not aware of the system and it is produce the results that the unknown system is creating...


As my church has been in transition for the past number of years.  We've been in the transition of going from a smaller church model to a mid-sized church model.  And the key in this transition has been systems... which systems do we actually have and are working on... and which systems just seem to be happening (and rather poorly) because they don't get the time and energy they need...

However, the more I read about these incredibly important systems the more I'm realizing just how hard it is to make these transitions!  Every book, seminar, blog, tweet, and conference on the subject always has left me with the idea that it's easy to get these systems into your church.  IT'S NOT!  It's hard!  Why?  Maybe it just has to do with organizational change... maybe it's a part of the transition from small to mid-sized ministry... not sure why... I just know that in the 3 years I've been trying to implement some of these needed changes we always seem to default back to the model of "the pastor will do it" :)

Over the course of the next few months I'm putting more and more of my time and energy into getting a number of these systems together.  My hope is to be blogging more about this process so that I can get feedback and suggestions from others who have gone through similar transistions.  Please feel free to comment or drop me a line on your experience with church systems and how you've moved your church forward in this area of ministry.