Why I Recommend Coaching

I launched H2 Ministry in March, 2016 with the goal of leading hundreds, if not thousands, of pastors through my Hope & Health Workshop. While that is still my goal, an interesting thing has happened in the meantime: I have gotten a lot of interest from pastors wanting me to coach them. Honestly, I'm not sure why. But, I wanted to use today's post to explain why I recommend every pastor hire a pastor coach.

You Can't Do Ministry Alone

The vast majority of pastors minister in isolation. They are the only pastor on staff and have no other person to share the burden of ministry. Hiring a coach will give you another person to share ministry with.

It Helps to Have a Sounding Board

For several months, I have met with pastors from the church I attend. We will meet for coffee or breakfast and will just talk about how things are going for them, as one pastor to another. A lot of times, I just let them talk and I listen. Sometimes, I will offer advice but even when I'm listening I do it actively, providing empathy to their situation in ministry.

Having a "sounding board" helps all of us. I know I do my best thinking out loud, as I talk through a situation I'm dealing with, and I know many pastors feel the same way. It helps to have another pastor listen to you who can understand what you are dealing with in ministry and then can offer advice, when needed.

It Helps to Have Accountability

When I coach a pastor, I recommend meeting twice a month. I can coach either by phone or Skype but either way it is important to have a consistent pattern so that you have accountability.  When I coach, I have it on the calendar so I know not to have anything scheduled during that time slot. And having a set schedule also provides accountability for the pastor I am coaching, so he can plan what to talk about when we meet over the phone.

It Helps to Have an Encourager

In Acts 4:36, it says that Barnabas means "son of encouragement." Every pastor needs encouragement, no matter how many people they minister to. The Apostle Paul had arguably the most prolific ministry in the New Testament church and even he needed encouragement. If he did, then all of us definitely need it today. 

I talked with a pastor recently who said, "I pour out to my people all the time, but I don't have anyone to pour into me." That is one thing a pastor coach can do. Every time I meet with a pastor, I listen to them talk about their church and then I offer some encouragement to them. It doesn't matter what their situation is, there is always something to be encouraged about.

Pastor, I've given you four reasons why you need a pastor coach. If you're interested in hiring me as a coach, please call or text me at 864-332-9098. Also, if you want more information on my coaching, please visit h2ministry.com/coaching.

Recommended Reads: What I'm Reading

A few years ago, I set a goal at the beginning of the year to read a book every month. How did I do? I don't remember but I think I ended up well short of my goal of twelve books. This year, I didn't set the same goal but so far I've almost completely read five books! (Go figure!) Today, I'd like to share what I've been reading and what I've taken away from those books.

Thou Shall Prosper, by Rabbi Daniel Lapin.

This book was recommended to me last fall by a friend and I started reading it earlier this year. The subtitle of the book is, "Ten Commandments for Making Money," and I found it enlightening about the business practices of Jewish entrepreneurs. My big takeaway from the book is the power of networking. He explains how Jewish businessmen build relationships in the community and that is a big reason for their success. A good book for everyone to read on great business practices.

Net Force: Hidden Agendas, by Tom Clancy

This was my first foray into the Net Force series and it was an interesting read. If you're familiar with Clancy's novels, this series is much different from his works that focus on Jack Ryan, and later Jack Jr. Still, I found the book prescient, especially with the hacking that went on during the presidential campaign last year. Though it was written in 1999, Clancy had a good understanding of the disruption that hackers could cause to national security and how vital it is to beat hackers at their own game. A fun read.

The Volunteer Revolution, by Bill Hybels

Hybels does an excellent job of explaining the power of volunteering and how everybody has a place in the Church. He shows not only the value of serving the local church but why it is so important that everyone uses his or her gifts. I plan on using this book as a reference as I help churches become healthy through consulting.

Choosing to Cheat, by Andy Stanley

By far, other than the Bible (read below), this book has had the greatest impact on my life this year. Like The Volunteer Revolution, I've had this book sitting on my bookshelf for several years, and I wish so much that I would have read it earlier. Stanley points out that you have to cheat somewhere: either work or home. He makes the compelling case that you are far wiser to cheat the office than home and talks about his own experience of limiting his time at church (he committed to work only forty-five hours a week in ministry!) I strongly encourage every pastor to read this book. It is definitely a must-read!

Leadership, by Rudolph (Rudy) W. Giuliani

Leadership is the fifth and final book that I have read this year, and I am almost finished with it. Rudy helps the reader understand the enormity of leading a large organization and the steps you must take to lead it with excellence. I discovered how he led the city of New York for eight years, turning around a dying city with high crime and a near-bankrupt economy into a thriving metropolis. He did this by implementing his plan for strong leadership, starting with surrounding himself with strong leaders and meeting with them every morning to both learn from them and give them direction. Every pastor can apply the lessons on leadership from this book to his or her ministry position. I have learned so much from it on how to lead well.

The Bible

Last, but definitely not least, I've been reading the Bible this year. Over the past several years, I have read the Bible from cover to cover several times but I have not always done it the preferred way. For example, I have only read the Bible in a calendar year once. Instead, it often takes me at least fourteen months to read the entire Bible and sometimes much longer than that. Also, last year, I skipped Psalms and Proverbs and read them at the end of my Bible reading, just for a change of pace. I think I'll do the same thing this year. However you read it, I think there is great value in reading the entire Bible on a regular basis. I know a lot of people read only parts of the Bible, like the New Testament only or the New Testament and Proverbs. But the Bible was written and compiled to be a seamless story--from Genesis to Revelation. It's a love story of God's love for us and it is best understood from beginning to end. So, right now, I am reading through the book of Job on my way to Revelation.

That's what I've read so far. Pastor, what book are you reading? If you're not currently reading a book, I recommend picking up a copy of one of these on my list. I think it will be well worth your time.

Evaluating Your Ministries

James 1:5 (ESV) says,

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.

One area in the church where pastors need wisdom is in evaluating our ministries. It is far too easy to "go through the motions" when we're serving a church and to think that every ministry is doing fine. But, it is wise to evaluate your ministries on a regular basis (at least annually). Today, I'd like to share some ways you can do that effectively.

Be Objective

Pastor Rick Warren has said, "Sacred cows make great hamburger!" Many times, pastors are afraid to make changes in their church's ministries because they don't want to upset people involved in those ministries. But you have to make changes in your church if you want it to grow. And, as you evaluate your ministries, you need to be as objective as possible. You might have a variety of opinions about a particular ministry in your church but your evaluation needs to be objective. People tend to have strong emotions about a ministry they are involved in--such as a ministry they have started or been part of for awhile.

One way to be objective is to form a team of pastors and key volunteers to evaluate your ministries. My suggestion is to take a "no holds barred" approach to each ministry in your church to see if you need to make changes to it or end it entirely. Another way to be objective is to look at attendance. If attendance in a ministry is way down, it might mean that the ministry is no longer effective, you have the wrong person leading that ministry, or both. Being objective will help you evaluate what is going on and what changes you need to make.

Be Pragmatic

The biggest question to ask about a ministry is: "Does it still work?" People vote with their feet and a ministry in your church that worked several years ago might not work today. The fact is that people only have so much time and energy that it is wise to decide if a ministry is helping the overall vision of your church. I once heard of a church that had twenty-one different ministries going on--twenty-one! I'm sure people thought that every single ministry there was essential but you can't be effective if you're doing that much.

Be Diplomatic

If you decide to end a ministry in your church, above all else: be diplomatic. The person leading that ministry is probably passionate about it and will want to keep it going. The reason for their passion might even be personal. For example, at one church I was on staff at, we decided to shift from gender and age-based ministries (men's, women's, singles' ministries) to gender and age-based groups and place them under the umbrella of the groups ministry. I handled that transition so poorly that I almost lost a key volunteer at our church. Present the change as a win, not only for your church but also for the previous ministry leaders. Help them know that they will still be involved in ministry, just in a different capacity. Depending on the people involved, you might want to take these leaders out to coffee or lunch. But never share this type of information through an email because it is prone to be misunderstood. Whatever method you choose, being diplomatic will help you make improvements to your church while also keeping your leaders on board.

Making Great First Impressions

It's been said, "You only have one chance to make a good first impression," and I believe that's right. Often, the most lasting impression you have about anything is the first one. Think about the last time you visited a restaurant for the first time. As you entered the door, you noticed everything about it: the host or hostess, the lighting, the music playing in the background--even the location of the restrooms. You noticed everything because you were unfamiliar with it. At church, we must create a great environment because there is nothing more important than the Church. Every week, your church displays "the manifold wisdom of God" (Eph 3:10) as His plan to reach the world. In today's post, I'd like to share three ways we can make great first impressions at our churches.

Smile, Smile, Smile

I'm an avid people watcher. I enjoy watching people interact and how they go about their shopping or leisure activities. And one thing I notice is that I don't see a lot of people smiling. Do yourself a favor and watch people shopping the next time you're at Walmart of Target and you'll see what I mean. People go through life carrying the weight of so much stress that they often don't smile so we need to make sure they see lots of smiling faces when they come to church. We have the best reason to smile because of what Jesus has done in our lives. So, place LOTS of smiling people in the parking lot and at the entrances so people know you're glad they are there.

Display Clear Signs

As a pastor, you know where everything is in your church but your guests don't. They don't have a clue where the children's check-in is located, where the coffee is, or even the restrooms. Excellent signage is the key to putting people's mind at ease by showing them clearly where to go.

Several years ago, Walmart went through a rebranding of their logo and, during that process, they changed the signage in their stores. When that happened, I found my local store was much easier to navigate. After the changes, I could look down the length of an aisle and see what products were on the shelves and whether or not I needed those products. We need to have the same attention to detail at our churches. We need clear signs, not to sell people a product but to prepare them for the message of the Gospel, something far more important than a diet soda!

Prepare Background Music

Music sets the right tone in any environment and playing background music before and after the service sets the right tone in our churches. The music should be familiar and lively. Again, you want people to be at ease, but now you want them to feel free to talk in the atrium. Nothing prevents a conversation more than a quiet space. By having music play in the background, at a fairly high volume, you're encouraging people to talk with others.

So those are my suggestions on how to make great first impressions. Pastor, what would you add or change to my suggestions? I'd love to hear what you think! Feel free to make a comment below today's blog or email me at joel@h2ministry.com.

Accepting Criticism

Pastor, how do you respond to criticism? All too often, we reject criticism from people in our church, and sometimes that is understandable. At your church, you might have people complain that the music is too loud, that the auditorium is too hot, and that the lines in the parking lot are too long. But, the danger of rejecting criticism is that we can tune out legitimate input that is intended to help, not hurt. Today, I'm going to share three ways to accept criticism from the people in your church.

Listen Carefully

When people make comments about your church, be attentive. You might think you've heard this criticism before and so you don't really listen. But when people have a criticism about your church, actively listen to what they have to say. There might be some merit to it.

James 1:19 (ESV) says,

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.

People in your church want to be heard when they feel they have something important to say, especially when they are trying to help. Being "quick to hear" will help us understand what is being said and know how to respond.

Be Humble

Proverbs 11:2 (ESV) says,

When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom.

If we don't listen to criticism, we will suffer for it. I remember one time there was a children's volunteer at a church I served at. She wrote a long email making suggestions about ways we could improve the children's ministry and offering to help make those improvements. As the pastor, I thought the ministry didn't need to make changes and rejected her suggestions. I handled it so poorly I not only didn't make changes to the ministry but I lost a volunteer and her family in the process. Looking back, I realize why I didn't want to listen to her: pride. I thought I had it all figured out and didn't need to listen to anybody.

Pride not only leads to "disgrace" (Proverbs 11:2) but it also keeps us from making changes that will help our church. When people offer constructive criticism, be humble. They might just have a better way of doing something than us!

Make Corrections

When you get criticism and know you need to make changes, do it immediately, but with diplomacy. It might be a staff member who needs to have a conversation with another person on staff. It could include a "tough conversation" between a staff member and a volunteer. But, whatever the changes are, don't delay. Dealing with criticism is never easy. And the temptation can be to put off making changes for an easier time. But there is never an easy time to make changes. When the criticism is justified, accept it humbly and then make the necessary corrections.

Pastor, you have been called to the greatest thing on the planet: the local church. Accept criticism from people who love your church and want to make it better.

How to Follow Up Exceptionally

Last week, Rick Warren wrote a great post on Pastors.com entitled, "Keep Following Up On Easter." If you're interested, you can read it here.

I believe follow up is one of the most important parts of ministry. Every person who walks through the doors of our churches is a life that God wants us to steward well (1 Corinthians 4:1). And an effective way to steward that relationship with our people is following up with them exceptionally. Today, I'd like to share three ways we can do that.

Be Clear

One of the things that prevents clarity is confusion. Have you ever noticed the traffic signs on the road? If you're like me, you don't think about them a lot because you're so busy paying attention to the traffic. Instead, we just follow the signs. Now imagine you're driving on a road and there isn't one sign at an intersection but several. You don't find a stop sign but a stop sign, yield sign, and merge sign there. How confusing that would be! One reason road signs are set up the way they are is to help drivers stay safe by keeping their minds on the road.

In your church, people need to know how to "read the signs" clearly. For example, if they are new to your church, you want them to know that they are loved and invited back. If someone makes a decision to follow Christ, you want to follow up with them on baptism, which the Bible says is their very next step. If they have been coming to church for awhile, you want to invite them to your membership class. Whatever your follow up process is, you want to make sure it is clear to your people.

Be Concise

Going back to my road sign analogy, we don't want to communicate too much to people because that causes frustration. I remember sitting in a church staff meeting when we were trying to figure out how to follow up with people having multiple "touch points" with the church. These people were 1) first time guests and 2) making a decision for Christ and 3) requesting information on groups or some other ministry. As we talked about it, we realized that we didn't want to overwhelm people by sending them three different letters or emails from three different staff members. So we decided to create a single letter that covered those multiple touch points.

Whatever you decide, make sure your follow up process is concise. You don't want to overwhelm the people you are trying to minister to. It is important to let them know you care about them but in a way that is helpful for them.

Be Consistent

Finally, your follow up needs to be consistent. Imagine again that you are driving on a road you travel on every day but, each day this week, the road signs have changed. That would be both confusing and frustrating! Change is important in any church and you want to feel free to make changes that will help you minister more effectively. But, after you decide on a follow up process, stick with it, at least for awhile. Both your staff and volunteers need to know what is expected of them when they follow up. I currently serve as a care team volunteer at church and I've been taught a consistent process. When I have a conversation with an individual making a spiritual decision, I talk with them, write them a card, and then follow up with them during the week. Because I know what is expected of me, it allows me to focus more on caring for people. In your church, the follow up process needs to be consistent.

Pastor, your church's follow up is so important. When it is clear, concise, and consistent, it will help your church steward its people well.

After Easter

Pastor, my guess is that you're walking around with a Holy Halo today. The day after Easter is one of my favorite days in ministry because it follows the best day of the year. Attendance is usually way up, people are smiling, and all your planning paid off as lots of people made decisions for Christ. But what now? What do you do as the Halo effect begins to wear off? I'd like to share four things all of us need to do after Easter.

Rejoice

As a pastor, I have so many great memories from Easter services I've been blessed to serve at. I've seen God move in incredible ways as the Gospel was presented and people made decisions for Christ. And when we see a move of God we need to take time to celebrate. All too often, we're tempted to move on to the next series or event on the calendar because there is a Sunday to get ready for every week. But I encourage you to pause for the next few days and celebrate everything Jesus did at your church this past weekend.

Reflect

As you rejoice in everything Jesus did Easter weekend, it's important also to reflect on what this past weekend means to you personally. The story of Easter is so powerful--that the Lord of creation gave His life for us and rose again for our freedom from sin--that we need to reflect on what He has done for us. Take some time this week to reflect on everything Jesus did for you and how much He really loves you.

Rest

In all my time in ministry, I don't remember being more prepared for any other weekend than Easter. Work is done months in advance to make it an extra special weekend as the Gospel is presented. Churches like to pull out all the stops to create an environment where people can meet Jesus. But, because we put so much effort into our Easter services, we need to find time to rest. Jesus did. He knew when to do ministry and He knew when to rest. If we're going to last in ministry, then we need to rest, too. In Matthew 11:28-29 (ESV), Jesus said,

"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Pastor, what plans do you have to rest this week? If you haven't made plans, I encourage you to take off some time from work in the next few weeks and rest. You are just too important to the work Jesus is doing at your church to move on to the next part of the calendar without rest. You need it.

Respond

After you've rejoiced, reflected, and rested, then it will be time to get back to work.  That could mean a number of things depending on your specific ministry role. It might mean sending thank you cards to volunteers who spent longer than normal time getting ready for Easter. It could mean making phone calls or sending emails to people who made decisions for Christ. It could even mean making changes to certain areas of your ministry. But, whatever it is, you will have extra work to do in the next several weeks. So, make the most of your time as you respond.

This week, pastor, I hope you have an extra special week as you take care of yourself and your ministry after Easter.

Easter & You

Pastor, right now you are probably knee deep in your preparation for Easter. You have already sent out invite cards and are fine tuning your message. Your staff is getting everything ready for a larger than normal crowd this weekend, including making sure you have enough coffee and donuts. You've even gotten ready for Easter at home by buying extra candy for your kids or grand kids. In short, you're doing everything to get ready for Easter. But what about you? What are you doing to prepare yourself for Easter? That is the focus of today's blog: how to prepare ourselves for Easter.

Remember Your Salvation

Easter is about changing eternities. It's about the change that Jesus can make in a person's heart. I remember the day I gave my life to Jesus even though it happened over thirty years ago. I was watching a local TV show in Atlanta and knelt down in my one bedroom efficiency and invited Jesus to be the Lord of my life. I remember the emptiness I felt before my salvation and the weight I had of my sin. I also remember the freedom I felt knowing my sins were forgiven eternally.

What about you, pastor? Do you remember what your life was like before coming to Christ? Before this Easter, remember how your life was before Jesus saved you and the changes He has made in your life since then.

Reflect on the Resurrection

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the most important event in human history. In fact, 1 Corinthians 15:16-17 says,

For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.

But Christ HAS been raised from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:20). He came back to life after three days and proved for all time that He is Lord of all and that our sins are forgiven in Him.

Before Easter, reflect on how the resurrection has changed your life personally. It's important to preach about how the resurrection changes other people's lives but I think we also have to think about how it has changed us as pastors. For me, the resurrection gives me hope. Because I know Jesus rose again, I have hope in a great future on earth and an even better future in heaven. I have hope today because Jesus rose again.

Realize Everyone Can Change

One of the greatest qualities we need as pastors is perseverance. When we see people make big mistakes in their lives it is easy to give up on them. But sometimes it takes people longer to change than others. You might have prayed for someone in your church or neighborhood for years and have begun to wonder if they will ever give their lives to Christ but God is not through with them yet. The story of Easter is the story of perseverance. The nation of Israel had to wait hundreds of years before the Messiah came to earth but their perseverance paid off and ours will, too. Galatians 6:9 says,

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.

Pastor, you are doing good things in your community. Every time you preach the Gospel you are giving people the opportunity to find life change in Jesus. Keep trusting that Jesus is at work in your church and that He can change the hardest heart and turn it to Him.

So, remember, reflect, and realize this Easter and let Jesus do a work in you before He does a work through you.

Happy Easter, Pastor!

The Forgiveness Factory

In my book What Every Pastor Needs, there is a chapter titled, "The Forgiveness Factory." (Note: would you like to read free samples of my book? You can sign up for free book excerpts here). In the chapter I quote Matthew 18:21-22 (ESV) which says:

"Then Peter came up and said to him, "Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?" Jesus said to him,"I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times."

I think the main point here is that we never stop forgiving and that is why I call our hearts a "forgiveness factory." I'd like to share how you can make your heart a forgiveness factory today.

Keep It Going

We start by keep forgiving others. We must never think that some people are not worth forgiving or that we are incapable of forgiving them. I cringe when I hear people say, "I could never forgive him for that." The day we stop forgiving others is the day our hearts begin to harden. Bitterness takes root in a heart that doesn't forgive. We have to keep forgiving not only because Jesus tells us to but also because of how it will effect us.

Keep it in Perspective

Later in Matthew 18 Jesus tells the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Matthew 18:23-35). In the story, a servant owed his master "ten thousand talents" or several million dollars in today's money. Imagine that you open your credit card statement this week and it says, "Minimum Payment: 5,000,000"! You couldn't pay it and that's the point. Jesus tells us that our debt to Him is insurmountable. We owe a debt of sin that only He could pay. When the servant begged for his debt to be forgiven it was but then he refused to forgive a servant who owed him several thousand dollars.

Pastor, people will hurt you. I know because I've been hurt by other people in ministry. But the hurt I've experienced cannot compare to the hurt I've caused Jesus because of my sin. We forgive others when we keep things in perspective, remembering how much Jesus has forgiven us.

Keep It Short

Finally, our heart is a forgiveness factory when we keep short accounts with others. My wife has taught me so much about forgiveness. I had always been bad at holding a grudge when people hurt me. When we got married, I would stew for days when my wife said an unkind word. Then one day she asked me, "Are you ready to forgive me?" I replied, "I'm not sure." Then I realized how petty I was being.  Yes, she had hurt me with her words but I had done the same thing to her at times. We all say things we don't mean when we're tired or stressed so we need to forgive now. Ephesians 4:26-27 says,

Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.

"The sun going down" refers to the end of the day. Before the day is over, we need to forgive.

Is your heart a forgiveness factory today? It can be. Keep your forgiveness going, in perspective, and short and you'll be amazed at what Jesus does in your heart.

Finding Rest

Recently, I heard a message from Pastor Dan Lian of NewSpring Church where he said, "God blesses a good rest ethic." (Note: if you want to see the entire message, you can view it here). Pastor Dan was referring to Genesis 2 where God rested after creating the heavens and the earth. As he said, we tend to have a strong work ethic in America but not necessarily a strong rest ethic.

Rest Needed

Pastor if you're going to last in ministry then you must rest. You are not going to sustain the pace of ministry if you are not regularly resting. Jesus had the most effective ministry in history and He had the habit of rest (Mark 6:31). Jesus knew that He could not minister without it.

The question is: how? How can we rest when the demands of ministry are constantly pressing on us. I'd like to suggest three ways to rest.

Calendar It

Very little happens in my life unless I put it on the calendar. Anytime I schedule a coffee or lunch meeting the first thing I do is enter the date and time on the calendar. By doing that I am assuring that not only will I not forget it but that I will do it. To rest, you can simply put the word "rest" in a time slot that will work for you. Regularly schedule time in your calendar when you are doing nothing but resting. I'm not necessarily talking about taking a nap (although there is nothing wrong with that). Instead I mean finding time to get your mind off ministry and relax. Also, you need to plan days and weeks off where you are doing nothing but resting.

Protect It

This time must be guarded at all costs. Let your spouse and assistant know where and when you will be resting and then turn off your phone. You have to protect your time if you are going to rest. You must have time to get your mind off ministry throughout the year if you are going to last in ministry. The pace of ministry is not sustainable without rest.

I remember a season in my ministry when I almost burned out. I was an associate pastor at a church and we were moving into a new building. I was regularly putting in 60-80 hour work weeks for several weeks and I kept telling myself that I would rest when we got moved in. But as soon as we moved in, the church grew in attendance and there was no time to rest because there was too much ministry to do. Pastor you will always find a reason not to rest because the ministry never ends. That is why you need to protect it.

Keep It

Finally, you have to fight for rest. Soon after Jesus encouraged His disciples to rest in Mark 6:31, the feeding of the five thousand occurred. My point? Ministry will always be there so you have to fight for rest. In addition the devil knows that you need rest and he will find ways to distract you when you are at your weakest. Don't let him win. Keep your times of rest no matter what.

Pastor, you matter. Your ministry matters but you matter more. You have to take care of you and one of the best ways to do that is rest. Pull out your calendar right now and schedule some time for rest this week.

Real People

Fake news is everywhere. You can't watch the news or go onto social media without hearing about it. People now have to decide what "real" news is because they're having a hard time differentiating between facts and opinion. It seems like there is more and more fake news every day.

In our relationships, there is a lot of fake talk happening, too. People will ask how we are doing and we will make a fake reply of "fine." We will avoid talking about what is really going on inside us and will keep our distance from others. In this last post on pastor health, I'd like to talk about relational health. There are three steps we need to take if we are going to be healthy relationally.

Find People

Everybody needs somebody they can talk to. It could be somebody in your church or in your social network but you need somebody you can have a close, intimate relationship with. Jesus did; He ministered to thousands but had three close friends: Peter, James, and John. Proverbs 17:17 (ESV) says, "A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity." We need people in our lives who love us for us and not for what we do. We must have people that we can be honest with.

The most important part of this relationship is that it needs to be a safe place. Many pastors will turn to their spouse as their safe place but your wife has plenty on her plate already. We need to have other people in our lives that we can have a safe conversation with.

Meet Regularly

After you find the right people--I would recommend 2-3 people--you need to meet regularly with them. You can be flexible but you should try to meet at least once a month. For example, there are two people in my life that I have honest conversations with regularly. One lives out of town so we don't meet in person often but we usually talk on the phone every week. The second person lives in town so we try to get together for coffee once a month. These are people I can be totally transparent with who love me and care about me as a person. Whatever you decide on your schedule, it needs to be consistent. If you only meet a couple of times a year, it won't have as much value to you. You need to meet regularly with them.

Open Up

In these conversations, the most important thing is transparency. You have to be totally transparent with these close friends knowing that they won't judge or condemn you. You can't say everything to everyone but you can say everything to someone and it is healthy to open up to other people. The focus should not be on complaining about your problems but sharing your heart and about how things are affecting you. You want to share your thoughts and feelings with the sympathetic ear of a person who loves you.

Proverbs 18:24 says, "A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother." Jesus is that friend to us. He says to us, "I will never leave you nor forsake you" (Hebrews 13:5b). But in this life we also need people to stand with us.

Question: Who is in your life today that you can be totally transparent with? Ask God for people you can be real with and open up to them.

Thinking Well

The fourth step in pastor health is mental health. The phrase "mental health" has a bad connotation because we immediately think of mental illnesses like depression or bipolar disorder. But I want to use that phrase in another way and talk about how to have healthy thoughts.

Throughout a normal day, your mind will be bombarded with thoughts and images ranging from pop-up ads on your smartphone to commercials during a ballgame. You can't control everything that enters your mind but you can determine what your mind focuses on. I'd like to share three ways you can have a healthy mind today.

Reject Negative Self-Speak

Everybody thinks to himself or herself. In our minds, we might think things about ourselves that are what psychologists call "negative self-speak." If you grew up in a verbally abusive home, you could have been told over and over that you are a failure, loser, or hopeless and so you have accepted those words to define yourself ("I am a loser"). As a result, you have a negative self-image and repeat critical words about yourself but nothing could be further from the truth!! As we talked about in week one, you are a marvelous creation of Almighty God (Psalm 139) and His child forever. There is no reason for you to think negative about yourself. When those thoughts enter your mind, reject them instantly.

Receive the Truth

Philippians 4:8 (emphasis mine) says,

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Paul lists a number of things we should all think about and then he says "think about these things." In order to be healthy mentally, we need to receive the truth about God and who we are in Christ. As Paul says, let your mind "think about" the positive things God says about you. It's not enough for us to reject the lies (negative self-speak). We also have to receive the truth ("think about these things").

Pastor, you have so much power within you. You have the power to change the trajectory of your life by what you think. And the Bible is filled with so much truth about who you are as a creation and in Christ. You can be positive about you because God is!

Make Daily Declarations

I recently listened to a Catalyst Podcast with Craig Groeschel (Episode 407). In the podcast, he shares about some of the disciplines he has developed over the past decade including a new discipline he calls, "daily declarations." Craig says that he starts each day with about forty declarations regarding his life. Here are just a few:

  • Jesus is first in my life.
  • I exist to serve and glorify Him.
  • I love my wife and will lay down my life to serve her.
  • I love people and believe the best about others.
  • Christ in me is stronger than the wrong desires in me.

He says that this "renews his mind" and I think it is a great habit for all of us to start. If we declare the truths from God's Word about ourselves then we will live them out. Thinking always precedes doing. We can't live a healthy life if we aren't thinking healthy first.

What truth or truths do you need to fill your mind with today? Your Father wants you to think well. You do that when you reject the lies, receive the truth, and make daily declarations.

Living Free

This is the third in a five-part series as we look at the five areas of pastor health. Last week, we looked at spiritual health and today we'll talk about emotional health.

This is often a difficult area for a lot of people but our Father wants us to overcome any emotional unhealth in our lives so we can live in freedom. Galatians 5:1 says

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

Jesus came to "set us free." We are free from sin if we know Him as our Savior but we can still be free from our sins and not be totally free.

Free From the Past

I'm going to be totally transparent with you. When I was eight years old I was sexually abused by a man in my neighborhood. That's right: I'm a victim of sex abuse and for most of my adult life I wasn't free. Every time I thought about the abuse I forced myself to forget about it. I kept pushing my hurt deeper and deeper inside. Then one day I realized I needed to deal with it. I went to see a Christian counselor who helped me process through what happened to me.

You might not have been through something as traumatic as me but let me ask you: is there anything from your past that you have not fully dealt with? It could be a broken relationship or an issue with your parents. You might have been through a divorce and never worked through the pain from it. Whatever your issue is, almost everybody has somebody who hurt them and you will never live in freedom if your have not fully dealt with it.

Free Through Forgiveness

This past week I went on vacation with my family to one of my favorite vacation spots: Myrtle Beach. One day, while we were walking on the beach, I asked my wife, "How have we made it together for twenty-four years?" She answered with one word: forgiveness. She's right. In every healthy marriage there is a heavy dose of forgiveness. We all say things we don't mean to say when we are tired or stressed. I know I have said some really hurtful things to my wife and she has to me but we learned early on to be good at forgiving each other. The same is true in every relationship: we have to forgive others often. You might have people in your life who you need to forgive or you might find that the person who needs your forgiveness the most is you. We are often the hardest on ourselves because we think of all the things we should have said or done differently. Whether you need to forgive yourself or someone else, forgiveness is a key that will unlock the chains holding you back from freedom.

Jesus wants to set you free in every area of your life, including emotionally. So, let me ask you once more:

Is there anything from your past that you have not fully dealt with?

Our enemy wants us to hide our hurts out of fear or shame. Our Father wants us to reveal our hurts to a loving friend or counselor so we can be free.

Emotional health happens when we overcome the past and live free.

Being in Love

Last week, we talked about how to have individual health but today I'd like to share about the second area of health we discuss in the Hope & Health Workshop: spiritual health.

Just a few weeks ago, we celebrated Valentine's Day and I blogged about what love is. Today, I'd like to focus again on a more permanent love than even love in marriage: our love for Jesus. As a Christian, I have often believed that God wants me to spend time in His Word and in prayer so that I can grow as a Christian and I am definitely an advocate of reading the Bible and praying. But I think our Father wants something more from us. I believe He wants not only our obedience but, more importantly, our love.

Falling in Love

I still remember falling in love with my wife, even though it has been almost twenty-five years ago. We met at a mutual friend's birthday party and soon began to date. It wasn't long before we decided to get married.

When you fall in love, you have all sorts of emotions running through your body. You feel the exhilaration of finding someone to spend time with and the joy of getting to know this wonderful person. You will spend hours on the phone talking with each other because you are in love.

The moment we begin our faith in Christ, we have all sorts of emotions, too. We have the relief of knowing that all of our sins have been forgiven forever. We have the joy of entering a love relationship with the God of the universe. But, as in marriage, we will have a shallow relationship if it only involves emotion. We have to spend time together to get to know each other and grow in a love relationship.

Growing in Love

After we got married, my wife and I began to spend even more time together. We went away on the weekends and visited out-of-town friends. We would talk to each other about the day and about what we had planned for the week. In short, we started to grow deeper in love the more time we spent together. The same is true in our relationship with God. He doesn't want us to have our Quiet Time so we can check a box off of our to-do list. He wants us to spend time with Him in an intimate relationship where we grow closer together. As in marriage, our Father desires to grow in a love relationship with each of us. 1 John 4:19 says, "We love because he first loved us." As God loved us sacrificially by sending His Son, so we love Him by sacrificing ourselves to grow closer to Him.

Living in Love

Everyday, I get the joy of waking up and seeing my beautiful wife. We don't have a perfect life but I'm glad that we have each other to share life together.

Everyday, your heavenly Father wants you to enjoy spending time with Him. We don't have to limit our time with Him to a few minutes in the morning but we can talk to Him in prayer throughout the day. Your Father wants you to live in love with Him by thinking of Him, reminding yourself of what He has taught you in His Word, and by talking with Him in prayer. He wants you to have that type of intimate relationship with Him.

1 Peter 1:8 says,

Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory.

In Christ, you have the opportunity to not only know God your Father but to have a loving Father-child relationship with Him. Don't settle for just knowing about Him. Get to know the Father who loves you so much.

You Are

In our Hope & Health Workshop, H2 Ministry helps pastors discover how to reach their potential by being healthy in five key areas. The first area is individual health and that is what I'm excited to talk about today.

Psalm 139:13-15 says,

For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb. 14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. 15 My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.

There are a number of things this passage says about each of us as individuals but I want to focus on three of them.

You Are Valuable

Your value doesn't come from your net worth. Your value doesn't come from the model of car sitting in your garage. In comes from the fact that God made you. He "knitted [you] together" within your mother and that is why you are valuable. The value of something comes from the person who made it. A Rembrandt is far more valuable than the water color pictures my children made when they were younger (although the latter are definitely treasures to me!). You are valuable because Creator God made you and everything about you. You are valuable just the way you are.

You Are Wonderful

Next, you are wonderful. Verse fourteen says, "Wonderful are your works" and that includes you and me. You are wonderful because God made every part of your body but He didn't stop there. Your personality and temperament, whether you are a people-person or introverted: all of these things and more were designed specifically by God to make you the unique person you are. Human creation is a beautiful mosaic, with all types of people and personalities within in. You are wonderful because of who He made you to be.

You Are Special

Do you think you are special? God does. Verse fifteen says you were "intricately woven in the depths of the earth." The detail of your creation shouts of how special you are. There has never been and never will be another person just like you. Your fingerprints alone point to the fact that you are a special creation of God.

But God didn't stop with your physical creation. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says,

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

You are also special because Jesus has made you brand-new in Him. You aren't the same person you used to be. You are now a new creation through Jesus.

So, who are you? You are valuable, wonderful, and special. When you start to focus on your accomplishments or failures, focus instead on everything God has already accomplished by making and then remaking you in Christ. That is who you are.

Love Is

In honor of Valentine's Day, I'd like to talk about love. Not romantic love, though. Instead, I'd like to point to the love that forms the basis of all love: the Love of Christ.

The Marriage Passage

As a pastor, you've probably preached Ephesians 5:22-33 before, maybe several times. You've explained how "wives should submit" and "husbands should love." Today, Ephesians 5:22-33 is just as important to live by as when it was penned almost two thousand years ago. Both husbands and wives must know their roles in the home in order to have a solid marriage. But, I'd like to suggest that Ephesians 5:22-33 only makes sense in the context of Christ's love for us described earlier in Ephesians 5.

Imitating Christ's Love

Ephesians 5:1-2 says,

1Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

In these two verses, we're given two commands: "be imitators of God" and "walk in love." In other words, we must imitate God regarding love. Then, in verse two, we discover how to do that: imitate Christ's love for us. Verse two says, "As Christ loved us and gave himself up for us." It's only in that light--through a love that is sacrificial--that we can understand how to live a great marriage. We have to follow the model of Christ and give sacrificially to our spouse.

Love is Giving

Love is a lot of things but at the top of the list love is giving. John 3:16 tells us that Jesus gave Himself for our sins as an expression of God's love for us. Ephesians 5 reminds us again that Jesus demonstrated what true love is by giving Himself as a sacrifice for others.

The best marriage happens when both husband and wife show their love for each other by giving sacrificially to each other. Sacrifice is not sexy but it's the best way to love in marriage.

Jesus showed us what true love is: it is giving. On this Valentine's Day, my encouragement to married couples is to give yourselves to each other. In this way, you will truly show what love is.

Resolving Conflict

Have you ever been in the middle of an argument and wanted desperately to get out of it? A friend of mine had that happen to him recently and it involved an incident between his daughter and another student about things she supposedly posted on Instagram and Snapchat. The accusation wasn't true but things escalated when the accusing child's father got involved. The argument became heated and my friend ended up walking away from it.

I think about this incident and wonder what I can take away from it. Here are some thoughts I'd like to share with you.

Stay Calm

Emotions often run high when we're in a conflict, especially when it involves other people we love. It is far easier for me to not take offense when someone lies about me or says something unkind to me but when my wife or children are the target I am much less likely to ignore it. When I feel anger welling up inside me, I need to step away from the situation emotionally and take a deep breath. Proverbs 29:11 says,

A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back.

Holding back your emotions and staying calm is wise in a conflict. It will help you focus on the problem and not the person so you can resolve the issue.

Admit Your Fault

There is almost no argument that is completely one-sided. Even when we are not intending to hurt someone's feelings, we can often say things to another person that could be misunderstood and create conflict. I know I have often said things the wrong way, hurting people close to me unintentionally. So it is important to admit your fault, even if you don't think you did anything wrong.

Move On

Romans 12:18 says,

If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

The key phrase is "so far as it depends on you." Everything in life does not depend on you. Some things depend on God--such as His love, grace, and mercy--but other things depend on other people and how they act. In other words, if someone does not want to live at peace with you then you can't force them to. At that point, it is time to move on. You'll want to keep the door open to working things out with them but you are only responsible for you. Sometimes you just have to move on.

Conflict is inevitable. We are fallen people living in a world with other fallen people. But how we deal with conflict depends on us. God wants us to resolve it whenever possible, always putting the person above the problem.

Taking Inventory

The first month of every year is a good time for churches to take inventory on what God did in the past year. Many churches even look at the Year Over Year (YOY) numbers to see growth in certain areas, like attendance, salvations, baptisms, and offerings. But what do you do with the numbers? After you've taken stock, what should your church do next?

What Went Right

The first thing to do after you take inventory is to celebrate what Jesus did last year. All too often, we want to move ahead to the next task, to get ready for the next series, or move on to everything we have planned this year. But, before we do that, all pastors need to celebrate what Jesus has already done. Maybe your numbers did not turn out the way you planned but that does not mean you don't have something to celebrate. If even one life was changed through your ministry in 2016, take some time to celebrate and thank Jesus for what He has done.

What Went Wrong

The second thing to do is make an honest assessment of what happened last year. Coach Dan Quinn of the Atlanta Falcons often talks about "Tell The Truth Monday." That's the time every week when the team looks at film of the previous game and talks openly and honestly about what went right and what went wrong. This is not the time to worry about players getting their feelings hurt. It's a time to see all the good plays but also the mistakes that happened that need to be corrected. Every winning team--and church--has to assess what needs to be improved. No successful organization is ever satisfied with where things stand today but instead want to constantly improve themselves. Pastor, you're not leading a team or company but the greatest thing going on the planet: the local church. Assessing what went wrong and needs to be improved will take you a long way toward reaching your community for Jesus.

Making Changes

Finally, after you've celebrated and made an assessment, you need to make changes. This is the toughest part of taking inventory. Nobody likes change. Change makes us uncomfortable because it will often lead us to make difficult decisions. But you will never have the local church Jesus has called you to lead if you don't make changes.

Think of the pruning process described in John 15:1-17. When Jesus takes away the dead branches in our lives, it isn't easy and can even be painful. But, we will never reach our potential unless we allow Him to prune the pride and selfishness in our lives. The same is true for our churches.

Pastor, Jesus has big plans for your church (Jeremiah 29:11). He wants to equip you to reach your community for Him. But, in order for that to happen, you'll have to make changes. When you do, you will unleash the potential of what He can do through you and your ministry.

Question: What change or changes is Jesus leading you to make? Step out in faith and have the courage to lead your church through the change He is leading you to do.

How to Prepare for Christmas: Part Four

Tomorrow we will all celebrate another Christmas. And as we conclude this four-part series on How to Prepare for Christmas, I hope you will have a wonderful day with family and friends!

As we prepare for tomorrow, I would like to take one last look at the Christmas story in Luke 2. Luke 2:10 says,

And the angel said to them, "Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people."

As we've talked about before, this event happened between an angel and shepherds. As far as we know, there were no people involved in the story other than the shepherds. Now, imagine you were them.  You had just been visited by a host of angels and told an incredible story. Put yourself in their shoes: what would you have done? You would have left everything to investigate the story, and that's exactly what they did.

Go And See

In Luke 2:15, the Bible says,

When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, 'Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.'

The shepherds could not wait to see the Savior in the stable. Luke 2:16 says "they went with haste" to see this Heavenly Child. They just HAD to see Him.

Today God invites all of us to "go and see." Everyone can see for themselves the story of the Child who became a Man and Savior of the world. All they have to do is read the Christmas story and ask Jesus to show Himself to them. Jeremiah 29:13 says,

You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.

If we come and see, we will seek and find.

Go And Tell

Do you know the story behind the song, "Go Tell it On the Mountain"? According to Soundprint, it was an African-American spiritual song written about the birth of Christ. Just as a reminder, the chorus goes like this:

Go, tell it on the mountain
Over the hills and everywhere
Go, tell it on the mountain
That Jesus Christ is born

I'm not sure what the shepherds did with the news they received. Luke 2:20 only says they were "glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen." It doesn't say that they told anyone. But I imagine that they couldn't keep this news to themselves. They HAD to tell someone else.

And that is the challenge to all of us. Those of us who know Jesus have to go and tell. This news is just too good to keep to ourselves. In the coming year, I pray that Jesus will give you and me lots of opportunities to go and tell.

I wish you and your family a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

How to Prepare for Christmas: Part Three

The last few weeks, we've been looking at the Christmas story in Luke 2. Today, I'd like to take another look at Luke 2:10 as we continue to prepare for Christmas. Here it is (emphasis mine):

And the angel said to them, "Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people."

Everyone Is Included

A third way to prepare for Christmas is to remember: everyone is included. There has never been a person born who is excluded from the Gospel announcement in Luke 2. The "good news of great joy" was intended for everyone to hear. It was not given for a private audience or a select few. Every single person--no matter their background, age, or ethnicity--is in need of "a Savior, who is Christ the Lord" (Luke 2:11).

Everyone Needs Hope

Last Saturday, my family and I went to see the new Stars Wars movie: Rogue One. I won't give away the details of the movie but it perfectly explains the first movie: A New Hope.

As followers of Jesus, we know that eternal hope is found only in Him. But, how many people, especially at Christmas, have lost hope? They experienced a down year in 2016 and are wondering if there is hope for them in the future. The answer for them is a resounding Yes! Our hope of a bright future comes from knowing the Savior who overcame the grave and has given us the hope of eternal life in Him!

Question: Who do you know that needs the hope of eternal life today? Invite that person to your Christmas services this weekend. Because Jesus came for "all the people."