10 Things I have Learned about being a Pastor …

Even after 30+ years in ministry I am still learning about being a pastor. If I ever stop learning it is time to stop pastoring. Here are a few things I have learned. I am not claiming to have mastered these, but I have learned. I am narrowing down the dozens of things I have learned to this list of 10. (In no particular order.)

  1. It is about People – Being a pastor is about the people and relationships with them. Sometimes we are tempted to think it starts with policy, but I have learned that people trumps policy every time.
  2. It is very rewarding – Being deeply involved in the lives of the people in your community and church is very rewarding. Seeing lives changed. Baptizing people and seeing the joy on their face as they come out of the water. Baby dedications are a favorite of mine. Watching people come to Christ and then mature in their faith as disciples of Christ. These are just a few of the many rewards.
  3. It is difficult to pastor well – As a pastor I deal with life and death issues regularly. I walk with people through crisis and loss. I deal with seeing people get upset and leave the church. Even harder is when they are upset with me as they leave. I deal with the weight of knowing that I am dealing with eternal issues each Sunday as I stand in front of my people to preach.
  4. My personal relationship with Christ must be priority number one – It is easy to get busy doing good things and being swayed by the urgent that I neglect my own relationship with Christ. If that happens my church suffers, my family suffers and obviously my spiritual health suffers.
  5. It is not really “my church” – The church belongs to God, it is his church. When I attempt to assume ownership, things get messed up in a hurry.
  6. My family is more important to me than the church I pastor – If I don’t get the family thing right my influence as pastor is diminished. It is not a matter of having a family with no problems, it is putting them ahead of the church and realizing that they are my most important ministry.
  7. Taking time off is critical to be a pastor of value – I am still learning this one and I struggle with it often. I didn’t do this well at all early in my ministry. I am getting better but it is still something I wrestle with often. The critical nature of what I do and the life and death, eternal issues give a sense that things must be done now. This is especially true of solo pastors with no other ministry staff. Without time off I become stale in my thinking and I can become weary and I may begin to resent the things I must do.
  8. The church is much bigger than me and will function long after I am gone – One reason a pastor may be hesitant to take time off is that they are fearful that people will realize they can survive without them. That is actually a good thing, but it can mess with the ego.
  9. Not to take myself too seriously, have fun while ministering – While I deal with life and death issues regularly, there are still many moments to enjoy life and to laugh at myself. I do a lot of things that are just plain funny. I get words mixed up at times. I forget some stuff. I also tend to see things differently at times and I laugh at some of those thoughts. I believe that people relax and listen better when they realize that you freely admit you are not perfect and that sometimes you are downright goofy. Not sure where that fits theologically, but I find it makes a difference for many people.
  10. Encouragement is a big deal – I want to encourage the people I pastor and I need encouragement as well. A word of encouragement can keep a person going when they may be considering giving up. Encouragement sparks more encouragement and that matters to people. We would all rather be around someone who encourages as opposed to someone who discourages. I want to be known as an encourager. I don’t have this one conquered, but I am always seeking to do this better.

This is just a sampling of things I have learned in my time as a pastor. The list is a lot longer than ten. I typed this quickly as I am sitting here thinking on a Thursday night. What do you think should be on this list?

 

Dennis

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Is this your spot?

Where is your spot? You know that place you where you always end up. As a pastor I can tell you where the “spot” is on Sunday mornings for most regular attenders in my church. There are a few who end up in other spots from week to week. But most of them have the same spot each time they attend. The good news is that I know if they are in attendance or not just by looking at their spot. The bad news is that sometimes someone new arrives before them and lands in their spot. Watching the reaction of those who are displaced from their “spot” is an interesting study in the art of adjustment.

My favorite memory of the need for adjustment was in the first church in which I was the lead pastor. We outgrew our building and the small lot on which it stood. We had to relocate and build a new facility. In the new  building, we used movable seating in our worship space. Nearly every week this couple sat in the second row, on the left side of the center section. If they were in attendance, which was 98% of the time, you would find in their “spot”. One Sunday we rearranged the seating. There had been a Saturday evening wedding and the seating had been changed to have a center aisle and therefore only two sections of seats. Rather than make everyone do the extra work of rearranging I said to just leave it that way for Sunday morning. This meant that there was no center section. When this couple entered the worship space they walked to the second row and then stood in the center aisle looking rather perplexed. He then turned to her and said “Well now where do we sit?” 

This change of circumstances were more than he could handle that morning. The good news is they found a seat and were not upset. They didn’t leave the church and they didn’t complain to me. I loved that couple, but that was a humorous moment. Most of us have our “spots”, don’t we?

First row, second seat in from the center aisle of the west center section. This has become my spot. Where is your spot? This is where you will find me nearly every Monday and Friday morning from 5:30 am to 6:30(ish) am. This has become my spot. 

This isn’t always my spot. Sometimes my spot moves as I walk through the rows of chairs. Sometimes my spot is kneeling at the altar. Sometimes my spot is on the floor in front of that seat on the first row. At home it is nearly always the brown recliner in our front room. Sometimes sitting and sometimes kneeling. That has become my spot. Every other week my spot is at a table with 4 to 8 other pastors sharing and praying. Do you have a spot?

The spot isn’t sacred. I won’t even be upset if you are in my spot, as long as you are participating.

There is nothing special about my spot(s) but special things have been happening in my spot(s).

The special things are because this is where I often pray. I am also a walking pray-er. I especially love to walk around and through the sanctuary and the rows of seats praying.

What I have discovered is that more important than the location of my spot is what I am doing in that spot. There is something to having a spot, or two, but what takes place there matters more. The more consistent I have become in my times of prayer the more I am changing, growing and seeing God move. Interesting how that works. The more often I pray. The more consistently I pray. The more I read the Bible and the more consistently I read my Bible. Then the more God seems to work in and through me.

I love getting to my spot(s) no matter what day it is, no matter which spot I happen to find myself. I look forward to getting to my spot(s). I approach them with anticipation. 

The big revelation is that my spot is wherever I meet with Jesus. Whether in prayer, reading the Bible or in worship. What matters most is that I meet with Him. The place isn’t what matters most. What matters most is that when I am in my “spot” I meet with Jesus, listen to Him, talk with Him and then go and live for Him.

So, where is your spot?

Here’s hoping that you find some “spots” to meet with Jesus. My prayer is that when you are in your “spot” that you hear how much you are loved and that you are never alone.

Dennis

My Monday Morning Wreck …

My wreck happened early Monday morning. It took place in the sanctuary of one of my churches. I am still reeling from the impact and have both physical and emotional evidence of the wreck. The impact occurred when I began praying around 5:30 am. 

The Lord came and wrecked my thoughts. He got a hold of me in a powerful way. He got my attention and it rocked me. I am still reeling and trying to wrap my mind and heart around all that He impressed upon me.

I am wrecked. And though I know it is a good thing it is still a painful thing. Maybe this is one of those “no pain, no gain” moments for me. God is working in me like never before. Shouldn’t I have this all figured out by now?

But what about you? The events of the past few months, and especially the past two weeks, have rocked our country. But what about you? Are you shook up? This is not about sides it is about life and a burden for hurting people.

I have had a growing burden for prayer the past few years. The heat was turned up several notches the last 2 and a half years. But the past few days have simply broken me. What about you? 

I have a sense that this is exactly where God has been trying to get me for a long time. Broken over my own lacking. Broken over the brokenness of our world. Broken over those who are hurting, including those who are angry. Anger is sometimes an expression of brokenness. I am broken over the passivity of so many of us who claim to be followers of Christ. I am broken over pastors who are having to leave the ministry. I am broken over the lack of impact that I am making in my community, compared to what God desires to do in me and through me. I am broken over my inadequacies in communicating the love of Christ to my hurting community. I am broken. What about you? 

In my prayer time Monday morning God really got a hold of me. He got a hold of me in way that I have never experienced before. It is humbling, exciting, frightening and even a little frustrating. I don’t know what is coming next. If I act on all that I am sensing/hearing from God what will happen? Did I mention that I am broken?

Very likely I will share much of how God wrecked me on Sunday July 24 in both of the churches that I pastor. When I do I will also be sharing what I am being guided toward and what I am convinced God is calling my churches into.

I realize that this post is a little scattered and seems to be moving in a few different directions, but it is how I am processing the impact that I experienced on Monday.

In the meantime, how are you doing? Are you hurting? Are you broken? What will you do now?

Dennis

Ouch! That’s Gonna Leave a Mark …

This week I said “ouch” more than once. The thing that might surprise you is that my “ouches” came while I was studying and doing my sermon prep.

This happened because as I study and prepare I run my own actions/thoughts through the message first. Adding to the pain is that I live with the sermon all week, or even longer when the sermon has been outlined early as a part of a sermon series.

This week has been an extremely painful week of preparation. The sermon this week is the 6th in a 7 part series entitled “7 Building Blocks of Great Relationships”. Each week we have taken one word and looked at what God’s Word says about how we must apply it to our relationships. The word this week is “forgiveness”. The word itself explains my pain this week doesn’t it?

You may not have thought a lot about how your pastor lives with the sermon for much longer that the 25 to 30 minutes during which he/she presents it to the congregation.

Forgiveness is critical for any and all relationships and as a pastor I am not immune to the need to forgive people with whom I have a relationship. Multiply that the number of people in the congregation and add it to the normal relationships that build through a lifetime. It is not something that I have had deep seated issues with, but it is not always automatic that I forgive others either. Also, it is not always automatic that I embrace my own forgiveness. Can you relate?

So this week I have done a lot of personal work in my own heart, mind and soul making sure that I am clear on forgiveness personally. I have said “ouch” aloud more than a few times this week in my study and preparation. The subject is so critical that it has also had me shedding tears as I have typed, as I have prayed and even while I have been reading this week. Because I am aware that it will be a painful issue for most people who will be in my churches as I share this sermon. This is not really one that you preach, it is one that you share as a fellow learner in my walk with Christ.

The good news is that God is the great healer, especially in the healing of wounds in relationships. My prayer is that I will be able to share clearly, compassionately and convincingly. Because I desperately want to see people have victory in this area of their relationships. In fact I have become convinced as I have wrestled in my studying and preparing this week that this issue of forgiveness, and the bigger issue of unforgiveness, is a major issue in whether the churches I pastor will see God do all that He desires to do among us.

So I will endure a few more “ouches” as I continue to pray and prepare until I share this message.

Dennis

From the Heart of Your Pastor …

Here I sit at the desk in my study/office late on a Saturday afternoon and my heart is breaking as I picture our time of worship tomorrow. As I go over my sermon again and add a few words here and there I am having trouble seeing my computer screen. Turns out there is no problem with my computer. The problem is that it is difficult to bring words on a screen into focus when my eyes are full of tears. My eyes are full of tears as I picture each of you and wonder how these words will impact you.

I desperately long for the words I have prayed over and prepared to make a difference. I am praying that you will hear much more than my words. I am crying out to God for you to hear from him as we worship tomorrow. My prayer is not for me to preach a great sermon, don’t get me wrong I hope that it is great but my greater desire is for God’s voice to be louder than mine.

This is just a reminder that you are being thought of as I prepare for tomorrow. If you are not a part of either of my congregations I am confident that your pastor is praying for and thinking of you tonight as he/she finishes preparations.

So tonight, rest assured that you have been prayed for and will be prayed for again before we gather tomorrow and worship together.

I am getting back to going over this sermon and picturing you in worship.

Here’s hoping you connect with the sermon tomorrow, but more importantly that you allow God to speak to you in worship tomorrow.

Dennis

If I could, I would …

This unfinished statement has recently been rolling around in my mind. Granted there is a lot of open space in there, but I keep coming back to it. Then it turns into a question, “If I could what would I do?” That leaves a lot of space for fill in the blanks.

I am in the process of trying to fill in the blanks got myself. It is an exciting and scary process. I am confident that this is going to find its way into a sermon very soon.

How would you finish the statement “If I could, I would ____________________________________________”?

I would love to hear your story on filling in the blank of that statement. You can leave me a comment if you would like, but in some way I would love to hear from you.

I will write more on this very soon.

In the meantime, have some fun and ask people how they would finish that statement. It just might provide some very interesting conversation.

Dennis

Guaranteed Impact through Leadership (continued) #4 …

What does this definition describe? “The attitude of someone who works very hard to do or support something”. If you guessed commitment you were correct. Commitment is the difference between surviving and succeeding in your leadership. It is also the difference between surviving or succeeding for your organization. It is a really big deal.

Commitment starts on a personal level. What, and to whom, are you committed? If you cannot answer this question then you are not ready to lead. You must get your personal level commitments settled before you can lead others. For me my commitments start with my commitment to Jesus Christ, then to my wife and family, then to my role as a pastor. I am also committed to being a productive, impactful citizen in my community and the world. There are many sub-categories connected to each of these commitments, but I will leave that for my book. (By the way, leaving things for my book is a common refrain for me. But, who knows maybe I really will write one someday soon.)

Commitment must be tangible. Your commitment cannot be “in name only”. If those around you sense that you are only committed in word, but not in your actions, they will only follow from a distance. They will not follow closely, or with any impact if there is no evidence of your commitment. Understand that living your commitment may not please everyone in your organization, but your commitment must be able to be seen to be followed. If you just try to rally the troops but not lead the troops the troops will accomplish very little. You must be able to put your commitment into words, but if that is where you stop then those around you will stop at your words as well. Live out your commitments.

Commitment must move beyond self-serving. If you are only committed to the betterment of yourself then don’t expect anyone around to follow unless is serves them well. Leadership that makes an impact must not be selfish. Take a look at my post Guranteed Impact through Leadership (continued) #3 and particularly the point about courage showing when the leader makes decisions based on what is best for the organization and the people of the organization not just what makes him/her look best.

Commitment involves believing in your people. No one will accept your statement of commitment to them unless they first know that you believe in them. It is critical to communicate to the people around you that you believe in them, as persons, as important contributors to the organization and that you believe in them for the future. This belief in your people will give them courage to follow, to commit to the organization and to commit to you as their leader.

Commitment is a really big word, but it is an even bigger part of making an impact. So, figure out what you are committed to personally before you make another move in your organization. Then begin to communicate your commitment. Then be sure to live these commitments. At that point you will begin to see some real impact.

Dennis

7 Things my Dad taught me by his Example …

Examples are powerful teachers. On this Father’s Day I am reflecting on the powerful example my father gave me, and still gives me. Much of what I am today is a result of me following the example of my Dad. Some life changing things he has taught me are …

Love Jesus passionately and depend on him and his Word with each breath you take. My Dad is a great example of loving Jesus.

Laugh a lot. There was always laughter around our house and there still is whenever you are around my Dad. He loved pranks, he loves a good joke and a funny story.

Be committed. My Dad is a picture of commitment. He is committed to Christ. He was committed to my Mom, they were married for 41 years before she died and he has been married to my stepmom for nearly 26 years. He was committed as a pastor for 44 years. He taught me that if you are going to get involved in something be committed to it.

Preach the Word. My Dad was my pastor for all my growing up years but I didn’t have a choice he was a great pastor. He was my pastor for a few years when I was an adult (before I became a pastor) and that was by choice. In fact we drove 30 minutes each way just to have him as our pastor. In all of the years of his ministry he always was faithful to preach God’s Word. He showed me, and told me, that as long as I preached the Word I would be okay, and when I would get in trouble was if I tried to preach my own stuff.

Love people. My Dad loved, and still loves people. He endeared himself to the people he pastored because they knew he loved them. He showed them that love during good times and not so good times. They always knew they were loved.

God is still God. This phrase is my Dad’s ministry in a nutshell. He repeated the phrase often to everyone and he lived it in all areas of his life. It was proven especially during my Mom’s battle with cancer and her early death at age 59. I vividly remember talking with my Dad shortly after my Mom died when he said, “I guess now I will find out for sure if all that I have preached through the years is really true.” Three months after this conversation I reminded Dad of his statement and I asked him if it was really true. His answer was a firm “Yes. Yes it is!” I use that phrase a lot in my ministry because I have seen it to be true, God is still God no matter what.

Be generous. My parents were always generous with their time, with their possessions, with their home, with their stuff and with their money. We never had a lot, but we always shared. What a powerful lesson of being truly generous and trusting God for all things.

There is much more I could share about the things my Dad has taught me by his example and maybe I will share more of them in another post sometime. For today let me just say thanks Dad and happy Father’s Day. I love you.

Dennis

Guaranteed Impact through Leadership (continued) #3 …

Courage is not the absence of fear but doing what is needed in spite of the fear or consequences. Courage is needed in leadership, without it there will be little impact. If those around you do not see your courage as you attempt to lead they will fall back instead of follow closely. We all want to know that our leaders are leading with courage, if not we assume they will disappear when things become difficult.

How does courage show up in leaders? It shows when …

-Courage is shown when … the leader is willing to take responsibility for the movement or lack thereof in the organization.

-Courage is shown when … the leader passes out praise generously and enthusiastically to people at all levels of the organization. This needs to be both privately and publically. Done publically it lifts those people in eyes of the whole organization. Done privately it shows the leader is aware of and cares about others and who they are as persons, not just as a part of the organization.

-Courage is shown when … the leader is willing to say “my bad” or “I am sorry” when they have made a poor decision or acted poorly. Apologies that are sincere go a long way in building strong connections with those to whom you have apologized. You have shown that you are know you are not perfect and are not pretending to be. You have given everyone permission to make honest mistakes. This will give great energy to the people around you in the organization.

-Courage is shown when … the leader is quick to say thank you. Thank you for your input, for your efforts, for your ideas, for your support, for your sacrifice and many more things. A thank you is one of the most cost effective things a leader can do in the organization. Everyone loves to be appreciated and to be acknowledged as having contributed. The cost is virtually nothing, but the benefit is tremendous.

-Courage is shown when … the leader makes decisions based on what is best for the organization and the people of the organization not just what makes him/her look best. In my first ministry position I was an Assistant Pastor to great mentor, Pastor Dave Engrecht, who consistently modeled this courage and urged me to make my decisions based on “What’s best for the body?” In other words, he was saying that we needed to always move forward with was best for the whole church/organization and with what matched our mission. People will work hard for a leader who consistently makes decisions in this manner.

Courage is needed to make an impact. This is not an exhaustive list, and many things on this list might seem trivial to some people, but they take courage and they reveal courage in those who will do them.

What would happen in your organization, your church, your family, or your friendships if you began to exercise these courageous actions? You can do them. Start with one. Then add another one a couple a of weeks later and so on. Then watch what happens. I know that you will begin to see great things taking place.

Here’s hoping you will take a next step in being courageous. Watch for more posts on making an impact through leadership coming soon.

Dennis

Guaranteed Impact through your Leadership (continued) …

Compassion is defined in Webster’s dictionary as “sympathetic consciousness of other’s distress together with a desire to alleviate it”. What does compassion have to do with leadership? Leadership without compassion is nothing but a formula that might work in an organizational chart but will fail to create a desire to follow nor the desire to give the effort needed to make an impact.

It seems that we often neglect this part of leadership. If those you are attempting to lead do not sense compassion in you there will be little loyalty. Ask yourself if you have ever felt great loyalty to a person who seemed to be lacking compassion? This is especially true in churches and it is also true in any organization no matter their stated mission.

Some questions to ask in the area of Compassion …

-Does the language we use communicate about our organization indicate that we care for those we are trying to reach? Language is a powerful thing and the words or phrases you use in describing what your organization is about matters a great deal. If you are not communicating that you care about the people, or their perceived needs, you will fade away. Ask some people outside of your organization what they sense when they read, or hear, key words or phrases you use to promote your organization. Listen to what they tell you and take note of some words that may need to be changed. Then seek to change the word, or words to better reflect that you care.

-Ask internally if you are really seeking results that will make a difference in people’s lives? The flip side of that is, are we just seeking to build our organization? If you answer yes to the first and no to the second great! But if an honest evaluation indicates no to the first and yes to the second, you are in a crisis and you need to make some changes quickly.

-Ask if your intended desires, to help others, are truly being communicated? Then ask if your actions, and those of your organization, are reflecting your stated desires? Our actions tell the truth about what we intend.

-How well do you know the people you are seeking to lead? To show compassion you must know the people in your organization. How well do you know the people you are seeking to reach through your organization? You must know the people in order to create ministries, or products, that will truly have an impact on them. I am often in awe (in a bad way) when I hear people in leadership who do not know, or know very little, of those they are seeking to lead or influence. Get to know the people and their needs.

It is true that you can have great compassion and not make a real impact. Especially if your leadership lacks clarity, courage or commitment. However, it is a fact, that without compassion you will have little lasting impact.

Here’s hoping that you are saying and showing compassion for those around you. Those in, and those out, of your organization need to know that you care. Here’s hoping that you are known as a compassionate leader. Here’s hoping that your leadership and your organization makes an impact that is felt.

Next week I will write a couple more follow-ups to this idea of Leadership Impact.

Dennis