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.
Recently, Leadership Journal interviewed me about social media, publishing it under the headline: “Not Tweeting? Repent!" So, in light of the fact that I basically called pastors sinners for not being on Twitter, I thought I should share some tips for getting started in social media.
Choose an Outlet
First, you’ll need to consider which social media outlet to use. My recommendation would be to engage in both Twitter and Facebook. The simple reason—you’re more likely to engage men on Twitter and women on Facebook.
“Does it work?” one of my children asked.
“Yes. It’s plugged into the phone jack. Of course it will work,” their grandmother responded.
“How do I use it?” They sat wide-eyed.
“Well, you put your finger in the hole of the first number you want to dial and pull it down until it stops, do that with every number until the call goes through,” she explained.
“Can I try it?” they wanted to know.
Some of you may find this surprising, but I’m an introvert. I first made the confession in this blog post back in 2012.
Now, just because I’m an introvert, that doesn’t mean I don’t like connecting with people. I absolutely love it. However, I have to train myself to balance the opportunity to connect with others with the discipline of taking time to recharge.
While serving in ministry through the years, I’ve had to train myself to overcome some of my tendencies and preferences as an introvert for the sake of making others feel comfortable and welcome. Sometimes it was draining, but I felt that it was essential for my ministry to succeed.
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.
John, a leader in a church I assisted as a consultant, admitted to me what I’d heard before from seminary students and church leaders alike: “Dr. Lawless, I don’t always pray like I should. I know better, but prayer isn’t easy.”
I’ve heard something similar so many times that I’ve begun asking for more details. These findings are anecdotal, but here are my general conclusions about why church leaders struggle with prayer.
Once in a while, a pastor has to make a tough call.
Do you speak out on a controversial issue or not?
Yes, you could come down hard on the latest political correctness issue dividing the country and enraging both halves.
You could address the racial matter driving the liberals crazy and inflaming the conservatives to near-incineration.
You could take a public stand on what your community is experiencing, knowing that many on both sides of the issue are upset with the others.
Some will insist you should take a stand.
Maybe fire isn’t the right word. But can you say no to someone in a way that suggests your church might not be the right church for them? How do you balance loving and caring for a person and not allowing him or her to leverage their personal wants and maybe even their own agenda?
I’ve been reading a great book titled The Orange Code: How ING Direct Succeeded by Being a Rebel With a Cause, by Arkadi Kuhlmann and Bruce Philp. I’ve been reading it slowly and thinking my way through it for a long time now. The chapter on staffing (“The Dirty Dozen”) is worth the book. There is another great chapter titled “You Say You Want a Revolution?” that speaks to the topic of this article.
As an up-and-coming emerging leader, don't do these:
1. Believe you are the answer.
2. Stop honoring those who’ve laid the groundwork before you.
3. Write off all the folks who finally helped you “arrive” and who might suddenly seem insignificant or unimportant.
4. Remove yourself from reality by surrounding yourself with “handlers” and those only interested in being “yes” men and women.
Society is being turned on its ear, and we are being given a front-row seat.
I could sit here for days and decry the many ways in which our culture is losing its soul. I could catalogue the multiple symptoms that are evidence of the demise of towns and cities all over America.
I mean, think about this ...
To steal an eagle’s egg in the U.S. carries a $10,000 fine, yet killing an unborn human is perfectly legal. Since the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, if the same fine was imposed for the nearly 55 million abortions that have taken place since then, the cumulative monetary fine would be more than $545,596,150,000.
One of the reasons why Saddleback Church has grown over the years is because we have maintained a harmonious atmosphere. When there is a church that loves, it attracts people like a magnet.
When a church really loves, really offers love to each other and those who are welcomed into it, you’d have to lock the doors to keep people out. Because Saddleback is a loving church, we continue to reach out and we continue to grow.
Growth is automatic. All living things grow, and if a church is alive and living, it will grow naturally. The question, if a church isn’t growing, is, “What is keeping it from growing?” If you remove the barriers to growth in your ministry or in the church as a whole, it will automatically grow.
We know Thomas best by his famous statement soon after Jesus’ resurrection:
“Unless I see the nail holes in his hands, put my finger in the nail holes, and stick my hand in his side, I won’t believe it.” (See John 20.)
We tend to think of Thomas’ lack of faith because of Jesus’ response a few days later when he showed Thomas his hands and side: “So, you believe because you’ve seen with your own eyes. Even better blessings are in store for those who believe without seeing.”
A closer look at Thomas might help us understand him better and learn from his approach.
The Apostle Paul said, “Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:26-27).
Christians are the most overweight people group in America. Have you wondered why this is true? I believe everything rises and falls on leadership, and I believe the main reason people are overweight in the pews is because so many pastors are overweight behind the pulpit.
Like most pastors, for years I chose to ignore the problem, shift blame elsewhere and not make my congregation aware of the importance of being healthy—but not anymore. Now that I’m doing something about my weight and my lifestyle, I no longer have a difficult time speaking to my congregation about this problem.
I recall a time as a pastor when my emotional skin got so thin that I took offense at just about anything anyone said. I knew it was not good, but it was like I could not stop myself.
I liken that period to having “emotional rug burn.” Rug burn is a painful condition where friction of some sort has rubbed your skin so thin that it becomes highly sensitive to heat or touch. You can get rug burn innocently enough, like when roughhousing with your children on the floor. But when one has rug burn, the hypersensitivity it creates makes things that normally would pass unnoticed become a painful focus of our attention.
Her name was Randy. She was working in a fast food restaurant in her mid-teens when I met her.
Apart from her nametag, she blended in with the rest of the people she worked with. Same uniform, average height, normal build. But when she turned to reach for the Choco Taco I had just ordered, my attention rested on her arms.
They were scarred.
And not just once, but each arm had dozens—probably 50 or more between the two.
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.
Empowering other people on the team to be leaders—delegation—is critical to a successful church or organization. Every leader talks about delegation, but few truly empower others to be leaders.
It’s a frustration I hear frequently from staff members of churches.
Frankly, as one with a strength (StrengthFinders) of command, I can easily take over if no one else takes the lead. It takes discipline as a leader, but I want to create an environment of healthy empowerment. I want to lead a church that produces leaders.
I’ve always hated the Its a Small World ride at Disneyland. I don’t know if it’s the incessant song, the Chucky-like dolls or just the bland predictability of it all.
I prefer Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, where every turn is a new adventure. Just when you think you have it figured out, you are spun around and sent off in an entirely new direction.
So I wonder why we feel compelled to sell the Christian life as more Small World than Wild Ride? We tell people if they’ll take these six steps to a better life in Jesus, their finances will improve, their spouse will love them more and their acne will clear up. While there might be bumps along the way, the more we follow Jesus, the better our world will be. Sing along: “It’s a Christ world after all, it’s a Christ world after all …”
Have you ever had one of those long daydreaming moments while you were should be praying? I certainly have. You know the scenario: You are supposed to be talking to the Lord, and you suddenly find yourself somewhere else mentally!
One recent morning was one of those times for me, when I caught myself daydreaming about eternity. My thoughts did not simply focus on what eternity would be like or when God would call me to heaven. Instead, I mused on how current-day believers seem to focus very little on eternity. Thinking over my 27 years as a Christian, I seem to remember much more emphasis on our eternal reward than I hear today. It seems like things have shifted to the point where many believe our best life is now.
As leaders, it’s equally important for us to know how to follow as it is how to lead. In fact, many believe to be a good leader, you must first be a great follower and continue to follow well as you continue to lead well.
I would suggest that great leaders are equally in tune with how to follow well as how to lead well. So here are a few thoughts on following:
1. Good followers are finishers. They get the job done, take projects across the finish line and make things happen on their own.
Church leadership is difficult (in case you hadn’t already figured that out).
Some days it is easy to feel discouraged, to wonder why you work as hard as you do. Especially when you don’t receive the thanks you deserve. Especially when you don’t see the results you want. Especially when it’s been a long week or weekend—you’ve preached multiple services and tended to the needs of others, and even after all of that, you look around the room and wonder if it was enough.
Maybe you worry there are people you aren’t reaching, or maybe you see people hurting and don’t have the answers.
Remember the days when we just duplicated everything in the church bulletin on the church website? Church websites were just online brochures.
Then we started encouraging people to connect. We offered ways for people to sign up for a group, volunteer role or an event through the church website.
Then we started offering the experience online. Churches began to stream their services live to give people a chance to experience teaching and worship without being at a physical location.
I enjoy speaking and preaching in our church. Honestly, though, for years it was difficult to get ahead in thought and stay focused with a simple plan for each sermon.
Yeah, I know, I took homiletics too. However, I’m a very simple guy who needs a simple but effective thought process that allows me to pray and study through a subject and stay on point all the way through.
A couple of years ago I “discovered” (only by God’s mercy on a simple-minded leader) a process I have found to be very powerful.
Pastor, your people love a good story. Listeners who have gone on vacation during the first 10 minutes of your sermon will return home in a heartbeat the moment you begin, “A man went into a store….” or “I remember once when I was a child….”
“He never preached without telling stories.” (Mark 4:34)
Those who have died early in your message will suddenly spring to life when you say, “The other day, I saw something on the interstate …” or “Recently, when the governor and I were having lunch at the local café …” (smiley-face goes here)
After about a quarter of a century of church consultations, I have dealt with a plethora of church staff matters. I continue to hear many of the same themes since I left church consultation.
Today I present the top 10 issues from the senior pastor’s perspective. In an upcoming post, I will offer 10 issues from the church staff perspective. My desire in writing these two blog posts is to offer a positive framework and to allow church staff today, and pastors on Saturday, to have the best possible work relationships.
Last night I was reading in 1 Kings 12 as part of my daily reading plan. This pivotal moment in a new king’s reign is interesting to investigate.
I mean, we knew based upon a warning God gives to Solomon that the better part of the kingdom would be removed from the hands of his son. But how it happened is intriguing to me.
In the latter part of Solomon’s life, his great wisdom was not on display. In fact, I would argue that in the season his son, Rehoboam, was growing up, Solomon’s focus was on experiencing the pleasures of life.
Somewhere in the councils of the Trinity, a plan was devised for the restoration of the world. Among His other assignments, these fell on the bucket list of the Son of God:
1. Be conceived and born as a human.
2. Live a sinless life.
3. Gather a dedicated following.
4. Equip them.
Plenty of highly charismatic leaders have bombed out and failed because they lacked character, which trumps charisma every time. You don’t have to have charisma to be a leader. You do have to have character—credibility—because leadership is influence, and if you don’t have credibility nobody is going to follow you.
While your reputation is about what people say you are, character is who you really are. D.L. Moody said, “Character is what you are in the dark when nobody is looking.” In 1 Timothy 3:1-13, Paul lays out the necessary characteristics for church leadership. He never addresses having a robust résumé, having gone to the right seminary or having a magnetic public persona. He talks about character traits.
"A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare" (Prov. 15:1, NLT).
"A wise person is hungry for knowledge, while the fool feeds on trash" (Prov. 15:14).
"Plans go wrong for lack of advice; many advisers bring success" (Prov. 15:22).
"Greed brings grief to the whole family" (Prov. 15:27).
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.
Discipleship is cycling to the top as a priority for many pastors. Many churches are trying to change their culture to one of making disciples. But how would you actually implement a change of that magnitude—especially on a sustainable basis?
I’m a men’s discipleship specialist, but what we’ve learned working with 35,000 churches also applies to discipleship in general. What follows is a plan I shared with a pastor recently. Of course, you can adapt this in many ways:
Here’s what I would do if I were in your shoes. My thought is to keep the plan as focused on discipleship and as simple as possible. The following represents a plan to help each person understand and implement discipleship for themselves and others in three ways (salvation=call, growth=equip, service=send).
Dear Senior Pastor,
Yours is a tough job. The responsibility buck stops with you, and I get that totally.
The list you’re about to read is said with love and familiarity with both “pairs of shoes,” and it’s nothing new, really. I’m just slipping it across your virtual desk as a reminder.
1. Give loving feedback early on. Don’t wait until staff review time or a board meeting six months later to let your youth worker know you weren’t happy with something. How can they improve if the expectations are unknown? Make sure there aren’t any unspoken/invisible rules.
It’s amazing how many Christians are suffering from depression. There are precious people who love the Lord dearly yet find themselves struggling in a day-to-day battle to simply enjoy their lives.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that one in 10 Americans take an antidepressant (it’s even higher in women), yet at the same time so many leaders in the church find themselves ill-equipped when trying to understand and minister to those who suffer from this often-confusing condition.
One of the best ways to grow is by hearing critiques about yourself from peers and mentors in relationships you trust. But not all criticism is constructive, and even when it is, it can still be hard to receive.
How you do you know which criticism should be taken to heart and which should be dismissed? And how do you respond to each in a way that promotes growth?
I think there are three things to remember when it comes to dealing with criticism in your life.
We preachers sometimes torture the faithful with our complaints about the unfaithful.
We don’t mean to do that. It’s just something that happens, usually as a result of our frustration.
Listen to the typical pastor or staffer addressing the congregation:
“A little rain never hurt anybody! And where is half our congregation? But oh, no, they couldn’t make it today. They had no trouble sitting through the ball game yesterday in freezing temperatures! Or playing a round of golf in the rain. But let a little sprinkle drop out of the heavens, and they can’t make it to church today!”
Or this one:
Partnerships are crucial in today’s culture. Great organizations seem to always have a strong ability to partner well. If you want to grow your organization or project or initiative, finding, building and sustaining great partnerships has to be part of your plan.
Partnerships are not always easy, though. Teaming up with one another can result in true synergy—or, many times, can result in ultimate failure.
Here are a few thoughts on why creating great partnerships is a must for you and your organization:
Pastor Jason was frustrated about the level of commitment in general within his congregation. He called me to get some advice, and I think just to vent a little.
I told him he was asking for too much from his people and needed to ask for less. And if he did, he would get a far greater response.
Jason responded saying, “What do you mean? Are you saying I’ll get more if I ask for less? That flies in the face of all that we know about the ‘big ask’ and challenging people to big dreams!” I talked with Jason about the difference between challenging people to a big vision and draining the life out of a congregation by asking them for something every time they come to church.
Discipleship has become quite the buzzword. Books, conferences and writings abound on the topic. Most churches understand the need for discipleship but many are struggling to create effective discipleship strategies. Here are 5 reasons why your discipleship strategy may be stuck:
1. You Don’t Actually Have a Strategy. Most churches claim to have a discipleship strategy. Midweek meetings, Sunday school classes, small groups and other gatherings are frequently mentioned when asked to describe the strategy. Meetings don’t entail a strategy. Churches need a discipleship plan that encompasses everything they do based on their congregation’s specific biblical needs. Leadership teams should ask, “What will it take for our people to take the next steps toward maturity in Christ?” A specific plan should be created based on the answer to this question.
When Christian leaders become ambitious, things get tough. Often other people will mistake our ambition for pride or presumption.
But Jesus was ambitious about building His church. Paul was ambitious about pressing toward the prize. Joshua was ambitious about taking the Promised Land. The fact is, God responds to bold, audacious vision and ambition in a leader.
So what could be holding your ambition back?
I’m not a pastor who is constantly looking for Satan behind everything that goes wrong. I concentrate my attention on Jesus and encouraging others to follow Jesus and not to focus on the defeated one.
Yet, I’m fully aware that Satan loves to destroy—or attempt to destroy—a church. Obviously, Satan is a limited being, and God’s church is secure. The gates of hell shall never overcome what God started, but Satan certainly loves to disrupt what God’s church is doing: “Be serious! Be alert! Your adversary the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for anyone he can devour” (1 Pet. 5:8).
Here are 7 way Satan tries to destroy a church:
A simple assimilation process is absolutely vital for any church to see sustained growth. Here’s the one I’ve seen work so well, and you can customize it for your church quite easily. It covers the three things we’re called to do as the church, but it lets you fill in the blanks according to your culture, community and context.
It has three steps ...
Juggling is an art. And it’s fascinating to watch.
My role in ministry is a constant juggle. There are always projects, special events, team building, volunteer recruiting, personnel conversations, refining conversations, encouraging conversations and “I’m frustrated!” conversations. The plate is always full.
Should it always be this way? Great question. This is all I’ve ever known, so I’m going to say yes. The trick to navigating all of it is in the juggling.
Here are 3 things I do to juggle well:
Consider this quote by Thomas Edison:
“Being busy does not always mean real work. The object of all work is production or accomplishment, and to either of these ends there must be forethought, system, planning, intelligence, and honest purpose, as well as perspiration. Seeming to do is not doing.”
That is so true. It seems that we latch on to every get-rich-quick scheme and promise of a quick buck yet don’t want to put in the time, the thought or the perspiration to make our busyness really count.
The same can be said of the church.
For all of our programs …
It is one of the most unpredictable jobs one could have. There will be weeks when there won’t be much taking place out of the ordinary, and the pastor will work a “mere” 40 to 45 hours. There will be other weeks filled with meetings, emergency hospital calls, a wedding, two funerals, and line of members waiting to see the pastor. That workweek could total 80 hours.
So we surveyed pastors on Twitter and asked them a simple question: How many average hours do you work a week, including sermon preparation? Though we asked for an average, most responded with a range. We thus took the midpoint of the range they submitted. We also asked this question only of fulltime vocational pastors.
Years ago, I realized that I was different than the rest of my staff. When they took vacation, they looked for a big church to celebrate at (and learn from).
I love learning from other churches. Every conference is a great opportunity for me to learn how other people communicate with their members, follow up with visitors, structure their services, etc.
But when I’m on vacation, I want to get alone with God and not hear another human being.
Whenever two type-A personalities combine in a marriage, as well as in a ministry, the results can often be catastrophic. Most ministry couples will tell you it’s far too easy for a couple serving together in ministry to allow their passion and drive to blur the lines between building a church and raising a family.
As pastors of Celebration Church, a church we planted together nearly 13 years ago in Austin, Texas, there’s one thing my wife, Lori, and I know for sure: You cannot fake a great marriage!
We affirm people when we treat them with dignity, knowing that they matter to God. If you want to stand out in your leadership, one secret puts you head and shoulders above everybody else—be an encourager.
Encouragement is very difficult to find today. The Bible says, “Encourage each other and build each other up.”
In America, we live in a very negative culture. Most people get far more jeers than cheers, far more pokes than strokes. We live in a society where the No. 1 form of humor is put-downs. People are put down, criticized, maligned.
For some time now, the ministry of Heal Your Servant has worked with ministers, their wives, elders, congregants and participants in a myriad of infidelity situations.
We have seen and heard multiple stories. Finding your way through spiritual landmines is seldom easy. We all desire to see God glorified in the midst of life’s most challenging situations.
I am continually asked, “What is the ideal way to navigate these situations in order to minimize casualties and bring about true healing and restoration?"
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.
Many years ago I prayed a prayer that has changed me more than any other. It changed my vocation, location, orientation and just about every other “ation” in my life. What was the prayer?
“God, I don’t ask you for much today. I just ask that You give me Your heart for lost people.”
Twenty words. Twenty-one syllables. Seventy letters. One request.
Or view our complete list of FREE newsletters and downloadable resources.