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 …
Blessed are the flexible! There may not be a greater secret to success in serving another person’s ministry.
In the first chapter of my book The Blessing of Serving Another Man’s Ministry, I shared the dramatic encounter I had with God as a young student at Oral Roberts University—and how He revealed His calling to serve another man’s ministry as I crossed the walking bridge from the student parking lot to the ORU campus. God spoke a few weeks later in our chapel service as Dr. Morris Cerullo ministered—that this was the man He had called me to stand by and serve. (You can read more about this here.
When I left the ORU chapel that spring morning, I was certain that after my experience with God, when I called the Morris Cerullo World Evangelism (MCWE) offices, I would immediately be asked to travel and minister with Dr. Cerullo.
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.
I’m finishing my fourth year as an itinerant preacher and have been the beneficiary of some great (i.e., generous, encouraging) love offerings and the victim of no poor offerings. (That was a good place to have said I’ve been victimized by some unscrupulous pastors or lay leaders, but thankfully, I haven’t. Every check given to me has been more than I deserved and well appreciated.)
On the other hand, I’ve seen the other side of it. I regret to say that a time or two, when I was pastoring, my church was struggling financially and we gave the guest preacher far, far less than he deserved.
Every minister understands this. If a church does all it can, that’s all anyone can ask. On the other hand, some have some funny ways of doing the Lord’s business.
And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.— Philippians 4:8
The human brain is an amazing component of our bodies. With it, we are able to sense, to recognize, to understand, and to remember countless things. Our brains keep track of countless important details (like heartbeats) that keep us alive. All without conscious decisions on our part. Even with the most advanced products of scientific research, we have not been able to rival what has been given to us by God with the gift of life.
One thing we must be careful about is the type of material we give our brains access to. Since the brain is like a sponge, it retains all the information it receives. A few years ago, Denny Gunderson, former president of Youth With A Mission, asked an interesting question: Would you feel comfortable if your thoughts were to be shown on a movie screen for all to see?
What we think about can have a very strong impact on the way we handle a situation or view a series of events. Thoughts lead to actions. And, if left unchecked, these can turn into negative character traits rather quickly.
The Lord wants our minds to be pure and useful for the tasks he has planned for us. It is difficult to serve effectively when a person is considering thoughts of revenge, envy, or other wickedness. Paul understood this and challenged the Philippian church to think about things that were honorable, true, lovely, admirable, and worthy of praise. This way, their actions would match their thoughts.
Would you feel comfortable if your thoughts were shown on a movie screen for all to see? It's not too late to allow God to perform some "editing" so our thinking is in line with his. The question is whether you are willing to let him do it. Can you take the list from Philippians 4 and note three or four items for each of those traits?
At the risk of not showing honor to peers in ministry, I want to tackle the topic of honor today. I’m concerned. I see a trend in churches that I think is unhealthy. Honestly, I believe it’s also unbiblical.
There are a number of churches today that are trying to teach a culture of honor. The concept of honor is biblical. In fact, Romans 12:10 tells us to:
“Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.” (ESV)
We should show honor to our leaders, but God designed it to go both directions. If it’s one-way, it’s unhealthy and unbiblical.
Have you ever heard the phrase “odd man out?” It means you didn’t fit. You don’t measure up for some reason. You were excluded. It hurts.
I’ve been that person numerous times. I get it because I’m pastor sometimes. People assume I can’t also be fun. So they don’t invite me to the party. I experienced it some in business circles. There are haves and have nots in many business circles. I was mostly in the have nots. I’ve even been excluded though for having too much. People assume because I’m not struggling like they are that I probably never have.
We’ve all been excluded at some point in life.
Have you ever opened your refrigerator and said with passion, “Whoa, what IS that smell? I have and it’s no fun. I quickly launch a breath-holding expedition to find the source of the foul smell that is making everything stink too.
We don’t just leave it there do we? We get rid of it. We agree that it’s unacceptable and do something about it.
There are things that can make your leadership team or staff “smell bad” too.
I call them the foul four. I recently checked my thinking by doing quick interviews with a half dozen “bosses” of church staff asking the question: “What are the characteristics of staff you like the least? The four held steady.
The Petersen House in Washington D.C. is the house across the street from Ford’s Theatre, where a mortally wounded Abraham Lincoln was taken after being shot by John Wilkes Booth. A few hours later, Lincoln succumbed to his wounds and, as then Secretary of War Edwin Stanton observed, passed into the ages.
For years, his blood-stained pillow remained on display—a testimony to the horrific events of April 14, 1865, and the violent death of one of our greatest presidents.
A while back, some friends of mine visited the Petersen House only to discover that the pillow had been removed, and placed into storage. The only item that contained the blood of the "Great Emancipator" had been taken out of public sight and put into a place where it could, potentially, be forgotten.
I believe the most overlooked key to growing a church is this: We must love unbelievers the way Jesus did. Without His passion for the lost, we will be unwilling to make the sacrifices necessary to reach them.
Jesus loved lost people. He loved spending time with them. He went to their parties. From the Gospels, it is obvious that Jesus enjoyed being with seekers far more than being with religious leaders. He was called the “friend of sinners” (see Luke 7:34). How many people would call your church that?
Jesus loved being with people and they felt it. Even little children wanted to be around Jesus, which speaks volumes about what kind of person he was and what kind of pastor he’d be. Children instinctively seem to gravitate toward loving, accepting people.
I knew a man very well who went to work for a major ministry. He quickly worked his way into a position of leadership. Whenever he was in the presence of the president of the ministry, he was the picture of honor.
From serving the man water, juice, etc., to buckling him in his car, to displaying the most incredible outward show of honor and respect once could imagine. But when he was not in the presence of the mentor, he would second-guess his boss and make ever increasing disparaging remarks.
This man had a hidden agenda. He was operating under the deception that he would one day take this man’s ministry, which, sadly, he eventually attempted to do through a five-year series of frivolous and totally unsuccessful lawsuits against his mentor.
Why do you want to make disciples? Have you ever asked yourself that question?
As followers of Christ, we should be focused on making disciples. But if we don’t do it with the right motives, we are simply wasting our time. Worse yet, we could be doing more harm than good. If God cared only about outward appearances and our participation in religious activities, then any effort toward ministry would please Him. The Pharisees would have been heroes of the faith.
After all, they were continuously engaged in ministry: They vigorously pursued outward demonstrations of godliness; they made sure the people around them kept themselves holy; and they diligently taught the law of God. And yet Jesus’ harshest words in Scripture were always reserved for these religious overachievers.
But despite Jesus' instructions, the report of his power spread even faster, and vast crowds came to hear him preach and to be healed of their diseases. But Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer.— Luke 5:15-16
Our society wants us to spend every waking second of our lives doing something. As a result, the pace of life can become quite daunting. There are clients to meet, deadlines to make, calls to return. We run at 10,000 RPM for the entire day, then make our way home and have to deal with cooking dinner, washing laundry, and getting the kids to bed.
We must learn to slow down in life. Racecars cannot be repaired while on the track, so why do we think we can "be still, and know" God (Psa. 46:10) when we cannot find the time to take a lunch break?
But there is a way to slow down when we're running full throttle all day and night. It's called margin. Put another way, it could be considered a reserve or simply breathing room. Jesus thought it was important enough that he made it a routine part of his life on earth--he recognized his earthly limits and took time to get recharged.
Consider this: When you don't have any margin in your life, you cannot fully accomplish the things God reveals for you to do.
There are numerous ways we can introduce breathing room into our lives. We can learn to say no when we're already overloaded with tasks. We can anticipate the unexpected and add some time to the front end of meetings. We can take opportunities to laugh, cry, and rest. We can also take time to help others in ways that allow them to experience breathing room in their lives.
Don't move so fast that God's voice is lost in the everyday. Take time to slow down and breathe so you can grow and get to know the Savior as a friend.
Are you choosing to be an empowered leader or an empowering one? The results for each one couldn’t be more opposite—or impacting. A leader whose focus is holding on to power will ultimately cause a ministry team to fall apart. A leader who centers on others will grow that team and ultimately develop more leaders who empower others to build the kingdom.
Teams don’t need empowered leaders but leaders who are truly empower-ing, who know that serving a church and ministry team is an honor and a privilege. They make their mark not by controlling the team but by challenging, facilitating and empowering the individuals on the team to realize their collective potential for God’s kingdom purposes.
“I was the student minister in a fine church many years ago,” Will told me. “We had a wonderful ministry. The single negative about the entire experience was the pastor. You never knew what he would do next.”
“Case in point, one night in a church business meeting, the pastor announced that the property the church owned, including the former pastorium, was being offered for sale. At the time, my wife and I were living in that house! And now we learn they’re selling it. This was the first we had heard of it.
“That night, my wife was angry because she thought I had known about it and not told her. But that was the way this pastor worked. Staff members were nothing to him. Just pawns to be manipulated.”
Pastor Chris Morgan, my friend and colleague on the 12Stone Church staff team, and one of the best worship leaders in the country, sent me a personal journal entry on leadership from his readings in I Thessalonians. It’s so good, I’m sharing it with you.
“Our visit to you was not without results . . .”
The apostle Paul, having validated the Thessalonians (and his experiences with them) in Chapter 1, now begins to authenticate his motives in Chapter 2. He is calling them to remember how he served among them. This is not so that he can get personally recognized, but so that the message he preached could get re-validated among them.
I find here in Thessalonians, from John Maxwell’s book, The 5 Levels of Leadership.
If a person claims to have received a word from the Lord to give to you, the first important point is to “recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you” (see 1 Thess. 5:12).
Is the person respected in the church and in the body of Christ, or is he or she a rebel on the loose and a self-appointed prophet who left a church in a negative manner because the “pastor wasn’t spiritual enough”?
At times, pastors detect arrogance and pride and a wrong spirit, and this is why this lone ranger prophet or prophetess was removed from the assembly of the saints! So the first point is not to accept a word just because a person claims, “The Lord told me thus and so . . . ” Know something about the person’s reputation and character.
“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.