If you love to learn, improve and grow, think back on who helped to ignite that fire within you.
A mentor in my late teen years, Ray Crowell, was the first person to inspire me to grow as a person. He taught me to think, and he challenged my thinking. From philosophy to human nature—oh yeah, and girls—we talked about everything. My world became larger because of Ray.
John Maxwell is my longtime friend and mentor in life and leadership. I graduated from Asbury Theological Seminary thinking I was ready to pastor and lead. Little did I know—and it’s a good thing John was there. From attitude to relationships, he poured into me as a young leader. My life would never be the same.
Through the ministry of Heal Your Servant, we have four scheduled weekly conference calls. Every call is unique, and most are filled with surprises. Sometimes we will have one person on a call, and other times we have several callers.
On a recent phone conversation, I had one individual call in. I introduced myself. He then gave me his name. As is customary, I began a short prayer, asking God for His wisdom.
I concluded, and instead of hearing the words, “Amen,” I heard, “Why do you do this?”
It was as if the Lord had been preparing me for this question.
The youth ministry I grew up in was amazing. I was offered so much activity and was infused with so much passion that I was always serving somewhere.
Each week started with Sunday school, followed by Sunday service and a meal out with fellow youth groupies. Sundays ended with the evening service. On Monday nights, we went street witnessing, on Wednesdays we had youth group (all of the “mature” students served in multiple capacities), and on Friday nights we did ministry at the nursing homes.
My spiritual life was packed with social activities and service opportunities, and I owned my kingdom responsibility. I wanted to make a difference, and I wanted to win the world.
We live in a world that is defined by boundaries. Our roads are painted with them, our sports games are designed around them, and our psychologists tell us we need to expand them around that codependent crazy aunt of ours.
While it may be true that the term boundaries has been “Oprahfied” in the last few years, I think it’s an area that is vital in the lives of church-planters and pastors.
People often point to too much activity as the inherent culprit of fatigue and early departure from ministry. The problem, however, transcends a busy schedule.
Recently, a friend told me of a major shift in his home life—one of the life-altering kind. The thing that bothered me most (and the whole thing is an issue for prayer) is that I didn’t sense that anything was wrong.
Sometimes people who care the deepest for others are the best at hiding their own pain.
How can you tell if your staff is in a place of pain?
1.Pacing. Sometimes when our personal lives begin to fall apart, we run to what feels safe. Our work feeds us with constant accomplishments (despite the pain), and when home is too stressful it is easy to hide in work. Think about ways to help your staff take time for their families—not just to fix problems, but to build good memories.
My wife Tammy and I first met while she and her family were missionaries in Germany. I later proposed to her in a little café just outside of Hamburg. Now 27 years later, we’ve been in full-time ministry together the entire time and have five kids. We’ve lived life—and ministry—together.
Just like any other married couple, we’ve had our ups and downs. But I can honestly say that other than my relationship with Jesus, my relationship with my wife continues to be the best part of my life. When others ask for our “secret sauce,” I give the credit to God, to Tammy and to the principles our parents taught and modeled in front of us. Amidst the many demands of ministry and family life, over the years five principles have become especially important in sustaining our relationship. On the next few pages, I share them, prayerfully hoping that these insights can help you make your marriage ministry-proof.
There are few vocations that can engender burnout like the pastorate. The demands on a pastor’s time, emotions and energy can be overwhelming. When I was a pastor, I often felt at least the symptoms of burnout.
I recently spoke with 17 pastors who had experienced burnout or who felt they came precariously close to burnout. The good news about these pastors is that they moved out of burnout, and now they are re-engaging in exciting and visionary ministries.
So I asked them the obvious question: What did you do to reverse the dark spiral of burnout? The question was open-ended, so they could respond with as many answers as they desired. When it was all said and done, I tabulated 12 different responses from the 17 pastors. Obviously, many of them gave similar answers.
I have a heart for leaders. Especially church leaders. I’d love to help others learn from my mistakes. In fact, that’s a huge motivation for this article.
With that in mind, here are seven simple leadership tips:
1. Fight fewer battles where the win doesn’t matter as much. Okay, honestly, this is hard, because usually people are bringing the battle to you. The petty complaints. The constant grumbling. But it’s nothing new. Read the Old Testament. The key is to remember the overall vision. What’s the end goal? Go for that, and don’t be distracted by the things that won’t matter in eternity.
Every leader faces overwheming moments. Elijah had one of those moments after he faced and killed the entire squadron of Baal prophets while simultaneously calling the people of Israel back into right relationship with God.
Elijah did everything right, but he was completely worn out. There are times in ministry when you just have too many critical issues at once. These times can wear you out.
So, how do you recharge and maintain stability in the maelstrom of ministry?
God loves to turn around the things that you think are absolutely hopeless. How does God take a minus and turn it into a plus? How does He take the negative things in our lives that are bad and use them for good? He makes a cross out of them.
Just because God has called you and decided to use you in ministry does not mean that you aren’t ever going to fail. You are going to fail in your ministry sometimes and you’re going to make mistakes. And when you fail, you are still God’s person. You’re still called and you’re gifted and you’re anointed and filled with His Spirit.
What really matters is how you respond to your failures. Coming soon, I want to share with you some right ways to respond to your failures, but for now, I’d like to share with you three ways NOT to respond to your failures …
Criticism hurts. It hurts to have our motives unfairly called into question. It hurts to diligently prepare and deliver heartfelt sermons, only to be met with skeptical people who nitpick our interpretations of a particular Scripture. And it hurts when we do our best to love and serve our people, only to be misunderstood, unappreciated and questioned in our integrity.
Now granted, this doesn't happen very often; but it doesn't need to happen often—just one or two criticisms can wipe us out and take us from the peak of Mount Hermon to the valley of the Jordan.
So how do we deal with it—at least how do we deal with the unjust criticism? We know how to deal with legitimate criticisms: We humble ourselves, we repair any damage we may have caused, we ask forgiveness, we repent, and then we pick ourselves up and move on. That's not too difficult to deal with. It's the other kind, the unfair, unnecessary kind that takes the wind out of our sails and causes us to question why we ever signed up to serve as pastors. Fortunately for us, Jesus, the Pattern Son, modeled five ways of handling criticism.
“Pastor, we’ve decided to move on.” These are some of the most difficult words that you, as a ministry leader, will ever hear—especially when they come from people you have lived, laughed and dreamed with.
It’s painful when we hear that people no longer want to be a part of our ministries. It’s additionally painful when they leave and don’t take the time to tell us why they’re leaving, where they’re going, or what we could possibly do to repair any damage in the relationship.
I wish that no one had ever left my congregation. I wish that everyone who has visited our church had fallen in love with us, gotten pumped up about our vision, found their niche in relationships and service, grown spiritually and stayed with us throughout their entire lifetime. That hasn’t been the case.
We recently had the “Bennett Boys” over while their parents David and Heather went out for a birthday dinner. We love those boys! Austin is 12, Hudson is 8 and Jackson is 7.
They are great kids. They’re smart, love Jesus, and are lots of fun! One thing they all have in common is energy. Lots of energy!
Our little dog Nacho is a play machine. He never tires of playing with anyone who will give him attention. Well, he met his match that evening. The boys wore that pup out! Nacho slept great that night!
I’m a high-energy and long-endurance guy, but when I see kids play I think, “Wow I’d love some of that energy!” Like the Energizer Bunny! (My favorite one… with Darth Vader!)
“Encourage one another daily … so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” (Hebrews 3:13, NIV)
A church family will help keep you from backsliding.
None of us are immune to temptation. Given the right situation, you and I are capable of any sin. God knows this, so he has assigned us as individuals the responsibility of keeping each other on track.
The Bible says, “Encourage one another daily … so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness” (Hebrews 3:13, NIV).
We are called and commanded to be involved in each other’s lives. If you know someone who is wavering spiritually right now, it is your responsibility to go after that person and bring him or her back into the fellowship.
The recent chaos in Egypt has the raised eyebrows of most of us. President Mohammed Mursi’s decision to grant himself sweeping powers and place himself above the courts has triggered sweeping negative reactions.
Mursi’s grab for power has left Egypt destabilized; some have been killed and many wounded. His new nickname is “The Pharaoh President,” after the manner in which the Pharaohs claimed they were the incarnation of the ancient Egyptian gods.
I don’t know Mursi’s motives for desiring absolute authority. He may be but a pawn in a larger plot, having been coerced by his advisors so that the Egypt would shift its alignment from being a U.S. ally to a U.S. enemy. He may have even caught the Pharaoh spirit of believing his own press to the point of dictatorship.
Have you ever wondered what is happening to churches today? Many have lost their sense of purpose, floundering for identity, in a sea of hundreds of other churches competing for the same people. Approximately 80 percent of “church growth” numbers can be attributed to people transferring from one church to another rather than new converts. As many as 3,000-4,000 churches close their doors every year—unable to stay open due to financial burdens, infrastructural turmoil and apathy.
In this discouraging environment, day in and day out, pastors and church leaders toil for the kingdom of God. Often overworked, underpaid and unappreciated, they deny themselves the luxury of time for rest and spiritual renewal. Is it any wonder that more than 1,500 pastors leave their churches every month due to spiritual burn-out, moral failure or contention within their congregation?
God created and gave us times of respite for a specific purpose that’s worth taking seriously
Scripture tells us that work is one of the things God created man to do. Effort and productivity are expected in every area of our lives. Parents strain to bring children into the world, and then for the next 20-plus years must midwife their proper acclimation into society. Businesspeople must produce materials and services that serve the public while making a profit. Pastors ... well, they seem to have no end to their job description! Whatever the responsibility, work seems to incessantly demand our attention. Yet, if regular moments of respite are not prioritized, both quality and quantity of life can diminish.
Craig Sawchuk, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Washington School of Medicine, debunks the idea that more work necessarily means a more productive life. After thousands of hours of research, He concluded that, “If you establish a more balanced lifestyle, enjoying your leisure can in fact improve the quality and quantity of your work.”
Sawchuk rediscovered the value of a balanced work/rest lifestyle. Though his discovery is noteworthy, he certainly is not the first to present it. God invented the idea of a balanced life. Genesis 2:2-3 says, “By the seventh day God completed His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made” (NASB).
Note that one of God’s distinguishing attributes is that He doesn’t need to rest. Still, He thought enough of the concept He created and mandated to exemplify it by taking an entire day off so that man might understand its importance to his own well-being.
God’s emphasis on rest cannot be overstated. He created us as creatures of rhythm. Our workdays generally start and end at predictable times. After a good day’s labor, our circadian rhythms (the 24-hour cycle found in the biochemical, physiological or behavioral processes of living entities) mandate that we regularly get between five to eight hours of sleep. And we are wired to eat at semi-regular intervals.
Most of us accept and enjoy the fact that daily life is constructed so that balance can be maintained. Yet in our busy lifestyles and efforts to accomplish our to-do lists, the rhythmic priority of biblical rest too often gets overlooked.
Instead, our capableness, competency and strength often deceive us, making us believe we can routinely ignore cyclic respites. And while we may experience no immediate consequences, it’s unwise to assume that the absence of immediate discomfort means we have escaped discomfort altogether.
Even though the unfortunate effects of continually violating God’s prescription for rejuvenation and recuperation may not be quickly noticed, those results can (and will) slowly affect us. Unfortunately, most of us don’t realize this until an army of considerable strength—led by stress, heart disease, depression, high blood pressure and the like—wages war against our body, mind and soul.
The success of the assault is determined by how much time we’ll need to recover and rest. The sad thing is that in many instances, we could have avoided this assault. Even more sad is that the rest we should have regularly practiced in prior years would have been much more enjoyable than the forced recuperation required by mental and physical breakdowns.
God knew we would need routine life intermissions. He knew that each period of pause was pregnant with the well-being we would need in later years. Rest is a blessing He intended us to enjoy. We rob ourselves, and those we love, when we don’t take regular intervals to refresh and recharge.
Since most of us have the work-ethic thing down pretty good, let’s figure out how to live the rest of our lives. Live right, live well.
As senior pastor of Grace Covenant Church in Chantilly, Va., Brett Fuller also oversees another church planted from his congregation in downtown Washington, D.C. He currently serves as chaplain of the Washington Redskins, chaplain of the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) and chairman of the Board for Every Nation Churches in America.