The Hidden Gems of Longevity

Almost 17 years ago I graduated from Bible College with the ambition and dreams that so many new graduates possess. I was ready to take on whatever came my way and change the world in the process. Now over a decade and a half into full-time vocational ministry, I’ve come to learn how unrealistic and ambitious my view of the future was back then. Ambitious not because I worked toward things that were impossible, but ambitious in how I viewed the times and seasons of ministry.

You see, one of the great misconceptions of young leaders, and specifically young pastors is the tendency to overestimate what can be done in the short-term and underestimate what can be done in the long-term. As Bill Gates famously stated: “Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.

As a result of this misunderstanding, along with the continuing blurring of the line between how church leadership and business leadership is viewed, moving from one church to the next is no different than transferring from one business or office to another. But there are hidden gems that a pastor will only discover when they have planted themselves in one place for an extended period of time. And so here are five ministry gems I’ve discovered after 10 years of consistent ministry in one place. I am hoping and fully anticipate that after more decades, my treasure box of gems will only multiply.

Quick results, a big splash or a few powerful sermons can create buzz, and maybe even a little momentum in ministry, but credibility is only earned over time. Why is credibility so important? Because credibility is the sum of time + progress + integrity. Credibility becomes most important through the trying times. When the storms of ministry come, the waves of resistance arise, which they will, credibility is ultimately what leads the ship forward.

I would argue that true, genuine transformation happens most effectively through the avenue of relationships. And the depth of the relationship affects the depth of the change. You can build a relationship in a short period of time, but deep, truly meaningful relationships happen over the span of extended time. Time where you weather the difficult moments and celebrate the good moments. History establishes depth, and depth is only found through longevity. And with that depth God is given the tools He needs to establish generational change that is difficult to see happen in a short window of time.

With years behind a pastor, their voice becomes louder. I don’t mean audibly, but organizationally. This is what makes it so difficult to follow a long-term pastor. You walk in with a voice that could never carry the same weight and clout of the pastor that precedes you, because you don’t have the years behind you. A magnified voice ironically allows you to lead change more effectively. It’s ironic because most pastors walk into a church wanting to change everything early on, but a pastor can lead change way more effectively when years have magnified their voice organizationally.

Sounds a little sci-fi, but it’s true. When a pastor is leading a church toward growth and effectiveness consistently over a period of time, they begin to develop this superhero skill of seeing through circumstances, obstacles and even disappointments. It’s because the years behind them provide a different perspective of momentary setbacks. They are able to still see a bigger picture, even in difficulty, because they’ve lead over a bigger stretch of time.

One of the joys of pastoring is seeing God do the impossible. Seeing God transform that person that everyone else has given up on. The culmination of that transformation is often found in baptism. There is nothing better than getting to celebrate with the person that has committed their life to Christ and now is taking the Biblical step of baptism. But that’s where longevity gives you the opportunity for layered celebrations. You see it is awesome to celebrate a meaningful moment of baptism, but it’s an even great level of fulfillment and celebration when a pastor gets to later perform that person’s wedding. And even later gets to dedicate that couple’s first child. Then one day, gets to baptize that same child. These are the layered celebrations that can never be experienced by a pastor simply ‘passing through’ but are experienced when someone has put roots down and been consistent over an extended period of time.

As I close, if you find yourself early into vocational ministry, maybe on staff at a church, leading a church revitalization or planting a new church, these are all gems I pray you one day get to discover for yourself. They won’t be found this year or next year, but gems you’ll see emerge over decades, not years. So when you are looking at greener pastures or more enticing ministry roles, remember that the gems of longevity are experienced when you bloom where you’re planted, not when you move where you’re wanted. Make the most of the places God puts you, and strive to pastor with a longview of ministry, where you’re committed to plant, water and see God bring the increase.

What Happens When Ministry Becomes Drudgery

I don’t know if you’ve ever been there before.  You’re doing something good…you’re serving on a ministry team…you’re making a difference in someone’s life…you’re leading a group of leaders, and through all the good you are doing, and the impact you are making, you find yourself losing the passion for what you’re doing.  The very thing you once loved has become the thing that you dread.  What happens when the very ministry God has placed within us becomes drudgery?

Before we answer that question, though, I want to explore a number of reasons why leaders hit this “Brick Wall of Ministry.”:

  • They are in the wrong role.  There are times that the reason ministry has become more of an obligation is because a leader is trying to do what they’re not equipped to do, and they aren’t able to break out of the rut of their limited ability.  This can be frustrating and discouraging, but the good news is, identifying you are in the wrong role allows you to find that ‘right role’ made just for you.
  • They are overextended in their current role.  This happens often with very driven leaders that want to accomplish a lot with not a lot of time.  The motive is right, it’s the long-term expression that can become damaging.  For a leader that overextends, they will eventually lose the drive and ability to lead.  In other words, if you run too long on empty, your engine will eventually lock-up and could cause long-term damage.
  • They are leading alone.  Oftentimes, the source of a lack of passion is not found in what a leader is doing, but who they are doing ministry with.  We are created as relational beings by God, and when we try to go it alone, we can quickly lose passion and drive toward the ministry we’re leading.

So the question still is, What happens when the very ministry God has placed within us becomes drudgery?  Here are three questions to ask when overcoming the drudgery and recapturing the passion:

  • Step back from what you’re doing and evaluate, Is what I’m doing match what I’m gifted for?”  If not, initiate a discussion with  your pastor, supervisor, or those you’re doing ministry with.  When you find your ‘sweet spot in ministry’ you’ll discover your passion and drive return.
  • Look at all you’re doing, and ask yourself this question: “Is there something I’m currently doing that can be delegated to someone else?”  I know someone else will never do that one thing just like you do it, but even if they’re close that’s better than the alternative.  A healthy, passionate you will always be more valuable than an exhausted version of yourself that gets everything done perfectly.
  • Stop for a moment and look around you.  “Who are you doing ministry with?”  Are they simply cogs in your wheel of ministry?  Are they simply tools that you use to get something accomplished?  Or are they friends?  Are they people you enjoy doing ministry with?  If you can’t find any valuable relationships around you in ministry, you may be in the wrong place, or serving with the wrong focus.  Where you find relationships, you’ll find passion.  The places we find relational value, we’ll also find emotional value.

My prayer for you, and I believe God’s desire for you as well, isn’t that you just ‘do ministry’, but that you find the joy, excitement and fulfillment in being Christ’s hands and feet to this hurting world.  As you do that, you’ll find drudgery dissipate and passion return!

Let me here from you.  What have you found to be helpful in recapturing passion in ministry?

Becoming Community-Driven

This past Saturday, I did a breakout session at a local ministry training event called the Equip Conference on the topic of “Community-Driven Ministry”.  Below I shared the brief steps from my session to becoming Community-Driven:
(A few of the thoughts below are from a great training tool called ‘Compassion by Design‘)

1.  Identify Needs

  • Step out of the church walls and get into your community:
    • Pay attention to what you hear people saying – take time to listen.
    • The most important thing this does is not to just identify needs, but helps you build relationships.
    • This takes time.  Don’t rush this.  Identifying needs and building relationships will not happen in one evening of walking the streets of your community.
  • Most often, your distant assessment of a community’s needs, even if you’ve lived there a long time, will be very different then an unchurched resident’s assessment.
    • It’s difficult to see the needs in the marketplace when you’re sitting in the comfort of the church.
    • Engaging the community benefits you more than just identifying needs, but meeting the people you are trying to reach.
  • Before you can be community-driven, you have to know what you’re driving towards.
    • What are the pressing needs in your community?
  • How is this done?
    • Through informal community surveys.
    • Through conversations with community officials.
    • Through interactions and involvement in community projects.

2.  Involve Your Church

  • This should not be done by just one leader or pastor.  For Community-Driven ministry to take hold in your church, it must be a value held by the whole church.
  • It takes time for those in your church to come to value this – but the more they are out in the community, the more they will value ministry to the community.
  • We can run this risk of mentally ‘dehumanizing’ the “lost”.  Your goal is to help your people personalize the need of the community.  Put faces to it…it’s not just ‘their problem’ – it’s our problem.
  • Benefits for the church:
    • Helps build relationships in the community
    • Gives understanding to the potential need of adjusting ministry models
    • It drives home the vision of reaching a community to your people

3.  Impact Your Community

  • Once you’ve identified the needs in your community and built relationships.  You need to pray and decide where your organizations’ “sweet spot” is:
    • Where are the most critical needs in the community?
    • What need groups are already present the congregation or team as either overcomers (those walking faithfully while they struggle with life-controlling challenges) or potential leaders?
    • Among which need groups do you sense a readiness for assistance?
    • What resources has God provided?
    • What resources might be available in the community?
    • What are the unique gifts, talents and people that God has placed in the church or on your team?
    • What needs in the community fuel a God-authored sense of compassion?
    • What are the unique callings of the church/leadership team?
    • What is the history of compassionate service in your church?

Keys for success in community-driven ministry:

  • God-inspired Passion
  • Clear understanding of Needs
  • A workable plan of action
  • The right people to execute the plan

Ministry on the Public School Campus

This past week I spoke in the MCM Ministry School on the topic of ‘Getting a Presence on the Public School Campus’ as a youth pastor. In youth ministry, this is probably the one topic I enjoy teaching/talking about the most. Here’s my general notes

  • Laws
    • Ministry can be done freely as long as it is:
      • Student-Led
      • Does not infringe on the learning process
    • Equal Access Act of 1984
      • Activity cannot be restricted based on religious affiliation.
      • If activity/access is given to one group/club, it must be given to all groups/clubs.
  • Make your presence known on the campus by…

    • Serving
      • Volunteering at school activities
      • Providing services to teachers/administrators
    • Being on campus
      • Bible clubs
      • School Assemblies
    • Building key relationships
      • Administrators
      • Teachers
      • Coaches
    • Have school-geared activities
      • Sports
        • Fifth Quarters
        • Contests (Hamburger-Eating Contests)
      • School Plays
        • Providing meals or gifts to school play participants
      • Clubs/Organizations
        • Partnering with service organizations for projects

Have something quality to invite them to.

  • Your goal is not to simply be popular on the campus, but to connect students to Christ.
  • At some point in youth ministry you have to cross the line of just being ‘buddies’ with students to helping them experience Christ.

Anything you would add?

When You Call the Pastor, Dad (Part 3)

Since a young age, I have been playing various sports. It was something I enjoyed doing and over time developed into a descent athlete. As a PK, my parents (and especially my father) were very busy with ‘church stuff’. If you’re a PK, you’ll understand this: meetings, services, weddings, funerals. It really is a busy schedule, which can create conflicts for a busy sports schedule.

Maybe you’ve been there:
It’s gameday and you’re so excited for your dad to come and watch you play. You almost can’t contain the anticipation of seeing your father in the stands cheering you on. As the game begins you sneak a glance to the bleachers…as you look back and forth quickly you don’t see him. You think, “Oh well, I’m sure he’ll show up soon.” By the end of the game, you’re exhausted and pretty disappointed. It was a good game, but no dad. As you walk to the parking lot, you see a church board member pulling in and motioning for you to get into their car. You find out your dad had a meeting that he had forgotten about. Although you nod your head in understanding, deep inside you feel ignored and neglected.

As sad as that story might be, it is true for many PK’s. The ministry becomes the priority over a pastor’s family. I am very fortunate that this story is not my story. Throughout the numerous sports seasons, one constant I had (besides my good looks and sweet skills) was at least one of my parents being in the stands cheering me on. And not just cheering, but they were always there after the game to encourage me when I was down and celebrate with me when I did well.

I can’t tell you the impact this one, little thing has had on my life. The fact that I knew I could look up in the middle of a game, even away games, and know one of my parents would be there beaming with pride for their son meant so much. It gave me confidence but also affirmed the hard work I had put in to be good at that particular sport. Although my father was very busy, there was never a question whether my father’s ministry took a priority over myself, my sister, or my mother. Ministry was, and is, very important to our family…it’s our passion, but it was not our highest priority.

The Lesson I’ve Learned: Although we are called by God into ministry, we are first placed by God into a family…to be true to your call, you must put a priority on your family.

[By the way, my favorite sports moment growing up was winning a bet with my dad in a Rec. Soccer Game by scoring 3 goals in one game…he paid up and bought me my favorite meal, 3 tacos from Taco Bell!]

When You Call the Pastor, Dad (Part 2)

Ministry is often viewed through different lenses. Some view it as a burden, others as a calling, and still others as a frustration. My parents, and especially my mother, helped my sister and I view ministry as a joy. Although there were difficult moments, they really helped us both view the positive in every situation.

One example is when we had to move. There were a few occasions where our family transitioned from one church to another, and as a child (and especially a child that loves routine), it was incredibly difficult to leave my friends and what was familiar. I remember my mom on a couple of occasions reminding me that it would be an opportunity to make new friends and see new places. Rather then being a downer or pessimist, this helped me focus my attention on the positive.

My parents would always be trying to keep the joy of ministry forefront. Sure there were difficult moments, but there is something about choosing to focus on the positive of life and not dwell on the negative. Whether it was around the dinner table or on the way home from church, my parents strived to keep joy as the priority. Because of this joy, our family was happier and I saw my dad push through some difficult situations in our church without becoming overcome with bitterness or regret. This increased my father’s longevity at the church I grew up in, which also improved his effectiveness as a minister.

The lesson I’ve learned: My ability to find joy in ministry will determine the length and depth of my impact.

If you’re a PK, what lessons have you learned from your parents?

Community-Driven Ministry (Part 3)

One of the factors of successful Community-Driven Ministry (and really ministry in general) is that that ministry is best done in community.  What I mean is ministry should not be done in isolation. The Body of Christ was meant to be one that is interdependent.  That doesn’t just mean interdependence within one church but also between pastors.  Many pastors can preach the need for community amongst their congregation, but the truth is they also need community with other pastors.

That is why, as a minister, we should actively look to build three different types of relationships:

  • A mentoring relationship: An individual(s) that you strive to learn from and follow their example.  This is often someone that is in a similar field of ministry or one that you want to be in.  Find someone that has valuable experience and believes in your future.
  • Peer-to-peer relationships: These are relationships where you are just yourself.  You aren’t a pastor, you’re just you.  Don’t underestimate the importance of healthy peer-to-peer relationships.  These can provide accountability, relaxation and should provide a break from the stress of ministry.
  • An investing relationship: People that you are investing your life into.  These aren’t those in your church, but rather younger pastors or pastors that would benefit from something you have.  Always be looking to teach, invest, and support – what you learn from mentors share with others.

The Brick Wall

I’ve been reading through the late Randy Pausch’s book, The Last Lecture, which is both a written form and commentary on his now famous “Last Lecture“. This lecture was given at Carnegie Mellon University only months after he received a terminal diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. Although he wouldn’t consider himself a Christian, he shares some great life principles. Here’s one I especially appreciated:

Sometimes brick walls aren’t there to keep you out, but to show you how much you want it.

In the Christian world we often talk about closed doors. If there’s a closed door we might say, “Well, I guess it wasn’t God’s will.” I want to challenge that thought, not because it’s untrue but rather because it can be (at times) an easy copout to doing what God has already asked of us.

The Bible talks about a little concept called persistence. In a microwave culture we’ve really lost this skill, but that doesn’t change its necessity. You want to see people transformed by the gospel? You want to see your church grow like it never has before? You want to see God’s blessing on your ministry? That doesn’t happen by just walking through ‘open doors’. Change, growth, and whatever else you’re hoping for most often happens only through persistence.

It’s Monday morning and after yesterday you might be ready to throw in the towel. I want to challenge you with this thought: He who called you will empower you. Don’t give up, the task is far too great! Success does not usually come to the most skilled or talented, but to the most persistent. Remember, “sometimes brick walls aren’t there to keep you out, but to show you how much you want it”. Go out there today and break through some brick walls!

The Battle for a Servant’s Heart

Of all the traits necessary to be effective in ministry, I would put servanthood at the very top. Sure it’s important to be a good leader, hard worker, and skilled professional, but all that apart from a servant’s heart is in vein.  That’s what makes the following battle so difficult.

Everyone’s ministry journey is different and has varied destinations, but for those that find themselves in full-time vocational ministry there is a battle that occurs.  It is one of many battles and can greatly affect a minister’s effectiveness. What is that battle?  It is the battle for a servant’s heart. An interesting thing can happen when a person transitions from volunteering in ministry to receiving a salary for doing ministry.

As a volunteer, a person gives of their time and energy sacrificially.  They are working hard because they believe in the mission of the organization. However, once a person crosses that line and is now receiving a salary for their efforts, ironically enough, their passion and sacrifice can actually decrease.  If a minister is not careful, they will start working for ‘commission’ and not for ‘the mission’.  (sorry for the corny phrase – it fit!)  They do just what is asked of them, rather then looking for more opportunities to serve.

Well, if you’re in full-time ministry, let me challenge you with a few thoughts from one pastor to another:

  • The title ‘pastor’ and the fact that you receive a paycheck doesn’t give you an excuse to give up on the idea of being a servant.
  • If you want to see those you’re leading have a servant’s heart and invest sacrificially, model it for them.
  • Just because you are receiving a salary now doesn’t mean you will be receiving one tomorrow.  Let that drive you to ‘work like everything depends on you, and pray like everything depends on God’.
  • Constantly evaluate your heart and motives:  are you there to serve or to be served?

Flight Attendants

flight_attendantI’m in the middle of a busy travel season for me, and in my travel I have the opportunity to be on a number of different airlines. The one thing that always fascinates me on a flight is how the flight attendants set the tone for the whole flight. A flight attendant that is fun and energetic creates an atmosphere on the flight that reflects that attitude. Conversely a flight attendant that is uptight and difficult makes the passengers feel the same.

In observing this I have learned the power of environment. As pastors, we set the tone for our chuch. If we value worship and prayer, our church will reflect that. If we are energetic and full of life, our church will most likely be energetic and full of life. As we go, so will our church be. Take it not as a paralyzing fact, but as one of encouragement. You have the opportunity to set a tone and create an environment where people’s lives can be transformed.

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