Some things I am wrestling with …

It is a fact that things are different in our culture today than they were 20, 10 or even 5 years ago. Many of these differences are simply progress and some of them could easily be classified as a regress of some sort. With all of the differences in our world, many methods of reaching people and making a difference in their lives are no longer as effective as they once were. This leads me to wrestle with things such as …

-How to communicate more effectively to the world I live in so that people are drawn to the life-changing message of Christ’s love? This is always something I have strived to do in my life and ministry. Recently, I feel that I am spinning my wheels without getting much traction with people.

-How to live in my community without being viewed as someone who really isn’t part of the community? It seems that many people no longer view me as a “true member” of the community when they discover that I am a pastor. I am working on it, such as coaching at the local middle school and have been invited to help at the high school next year and I am teaching a class at the prison.

-How to lead without dictating what should happen? This involves finding the balance of doing, teaching, encouraging, empowering, discipling and releasing. If there is a balance to be found in those things. Seeking to do much better at the team building aspect of ministry.

-How to confront sinful attitudes, and actions, in those who claim to be following Christ and seem to be blind to their own issues? I am referring to those who likely attend a church and make a claim of faith, but they do things that are in direct contradiction to the words of Jesus. Not just what they do, but their attitudes about what others do as well. The attitude issue seems much more difficult than the actions.

-How do know when I am no longer being effective? I do not want to be one of those “he should have sat down a while ago” pastors. I know how easy it is to fool oneself and not see our true effectiveness, or ineffectiveness.

-How to expand the ministries without losing the value of gathering together? I desire for us to “be” the church all over the community, not just “do” church in our building. However, I believe in the value of gathering as a body to encourage, unify and be accountable.

These are just a few of the things I am wrestling with currently. These are things that often dominate my thoughts and prayers recently. What are you wrestling with? What thoughts do you have for me these areas I have shared?

 

Dennis

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7 Tips to Breaking the Impact Barrier …

Impact versus Numbers, which is more important? Numbers matter, because each number represents a person who matters. Therefore, we should pay attention to numbers in ministry. However, I am more interested in the impact we are making in our community. I am more interested in the number of people whose lives are a little better because my church is in this community. I am praying that we pay attention to the number of people who think a little more about Jesus because they see His love in us and feel His compassion through us.

There has been a lot written about how to break through certain numerical barriers in the church. I believe these articles and books have an important place in the evaluation of a church’s effectiveness. However, I believe that if we only seek numbers then all we will be left with are those numbers. If we instead, seek to love, help, touch and impact people we will have a church that has people who are seeking and following Jesus, and that will make a huge impact anywhere.

To break through we must …

  1. Be a part of the community – It is nearly impossible to have a lasting impact in a community if we are not in that community. We need people, from our ministry, who live in, and near, that community. If we are not in the community, we may be viewed suspiciously by those in the community.
  2. Be participants in the community – If we are physically in the community but do not participate in the affairs of the community we will severely limit our opportunities to have people listen to us and trust us. Get involved in the community. Attend community events. Have a presence in community functions that allow groups to have a booth, a float, a banner, or whatever is appropriate.
  3. Partner with other community groups – Come alongside and support other groups. If you only participate when you can be in control you will not be viewed as a team player. If you are not viewed as a team player your community will stop paying attention. When they stop paying attention, your opportunity to make an impact disappears. When you support existing groups, and help them to do well, you will gain a hearing with those groups.
  4. Love your community – If you do not already have a love for your community then slow down and seek it. Spend time praying for the people in your community. Not nameless faces, but the real people in your community. Spend time out in the community and get to know people by name and story. This will begin to change, and charge, your heart.
  5. Appreciate your community – Frequently mention things about your community that you appreciate in your ministry gatherings, as well as things you are praying for in the community. (Thanks for that reminder Pastor Todd Keller.) In doing this you will raise the awareness of your people for the community and your community will take notice.
  6. Seek to know the real needs of your community – Don’t assume that you know the needs of the people in your community. Listen and ask questions as you move about in your community. You can even make an appointment to meet with some community leaders (such as the Mayor, School Superintendent, school personnel, Police, …) and ask questions. At this meeting, don’t tell them things, ask them about what is needed and how you might be able to help. Be sure to listen and take notes.
  7. Pray a lot for your community – Too often we plan and don’t pray. Too often we create strategies without taking the time in prayer to seek God’s guidance for these strategies. Too often we talk, and write, about praying for our community a lot more than we actually pray for our community.

This is certainly not an exhaustive list. This is just a “let’s get started in the right direction” list. Making an impact is too important to be left to our assumptions and clichés. We need to recognize the need and then do all we can to make an impact in the communities in which God has placed. Otherwise, we are not being the church that we are called to be. When that happens, we suffer, the church suffers, and our communities suffer.

Tell me your thoughts and what you are doing to make an impact in your community.

 

Dennis

I Need You to See …

God is speaking. I am doing my best to listen and hear everything He is saying to me. I have sensed Him moving in me in some very uncomfortable ways in recent weeks. Honesty compels me to admit He has been trying to get my attention for longer than a few weeks.

I still don’t know if I am seeing everything He is urging me to show me or not. It is not all clear, but it is beginning to have some focus. Right now, I feel a lot like the blind man in Mark 8. Jesus spit on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him. Then Jesus asked, “Do you see anything?” The man responded, “I see people; they look like trees walking around.” The man who had been blind could see, but he could not see clearly.

I sense that I am beginning to see. I believe that I am beginning to see what God wants me to see. However, it is not clear. There are shapes, and I am guessing what the shapes are, but it is not obvious, at least not yet.

God is telling me that he needs me to see what he sees. He wants me to see what he sees for what is coming next. I have been praying for God to move in me, in our church and in our community. For several months, I have told people that we are at a tipping point. A place where something, needs to push us over and then we will experience a flow of God that we may have never seen before.

I have been frustrated with how long it is taking for us get past this tipping point. This evening I know God is speaking to me. It is possible that I have been the problem.

I have been praying for God to move and for us/me to see him clearly and to clearly see what he desires.

Tonight, I think I am beginning to see. Tonight, I believe I am beginning to understand somethings I must do. Tonight, I am a strange mix of excited, overwhelmed and fearful. Tonight, I am praying for the faith to take the next right step. I am praying to see what he sees. I am praying to have the courage to act on what he is showing me. I am praying for the courage to share what I see with some other people.

That phrase, “I need you to see” keeps echoing in my heart and my mind. I believe it is beginning to reach a place in me that I find indescribable.

That phrase, “I need you to see”. I believe I am going to need to say that phrase to several people in the coming days and weeks if I am going to be obedient. I want to be obedient. I want to see what he wants me to see. I want to be able to share it with others. I want to share it with the people I need to share it with.

I would ask you to pray with me that I will see it, that I would be obedient and that I would share it.

Last Sunday I preached on trusting God. I challenged my people to write some specific things on paper. I asked them to write them down twice. Then I asked them to keep one copy and lay the other copy on the altar if they were committing to trust God with those things. 50 people responded. It was awesome. I wrote down 4 things and placed it on the altar and I placed the other copy in my Bible. What I believe God is speaking to me about and what I believe he is trying to get me to see, fits some of what I wrote down on Sunday.

Wow God!

So here I am, trusting. Here I am listening. Here I am trying to see. Here I am on the tipping point.

In Mark 8, Jesus placed his hands on the man’s eyes a second time. After the second touch, the man’s eyes were opened, and his sight was restored.

Do it again Lord.

 

Dennis

What are you expecting?

(This post was first run 2 and a half years ago. I edited it slightly and added a few thoughts. I thought it was appropriate for this time.)

Expectations are wonderful and dangerous things. They are wonderful because they point us in a certain direction and can give us sharp focus. If you are not expecting anything you are likely going to be unenthusiastic about whatever you are doing. Without expectations, others don’t know where you are going and will not follow. Without expectations, it is hard to know if you accomplished your goal, after all isn’t a goal something you are expecting?

So, what are you expecting? What are you expecting from this day?

The dangerous part of expectations is they set you up for disappointment. Disappointment, by definition, at least my definition, is failed expectations. So, if what I am expecting does not happen then I will be disappointed. Understanding the connection between expectations and disappointment is critical for establishing productive expectations. Knowing that a failed expectation leads to disappointment can lead some to the conclusion that they should not set any expectations. Their logic is that if they don’t set any expectations then they won’t fall short on any expectations and therefore they won’t have any disappointments. There are major problems with that logic. First, without expectations you will just wander with no clear goal or motivation. Second, you may end up following the wrong plan as you get swept along by someone else’s expectations. Third, you will miss the joy of seeing fulfilled expectations.

         

Don’t avoid expectations, instead set expectations that will motivate you without being too unrealistic. Be willing to adjust expectations without compromising your vision or goals. Don’t get so caught up in “realistic” expectations that you leave no room for the power of the Holy Spirit and the moves of God.

What are you expecting from this day? What are you expecting from the next time of worship at your church? What are you expecting from this next week, month or year?

Let’s expect great things. Let’s expect God to do amazing things. Let’s encourage each other in our expectations.

Dennis

I can’t do it anymore …

A truer statement has never been given, “I can’t do it anymore.” I never could do it. It should be a very obvious statement as well. I have at times fooled myself into thinking that maybe I could do it. Or at least maybe I could be a major factor. I was wrong. I was dead wrong. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I can’t do it. 

I can’t build a church into what God desires. I can’t bring revival. I can’t move people’s hearts to real life change. I can’t do it. I am a complete and utter failure. 

Finally I am at the place where God can do it. Because either God breaks through in the power of His Holy Spirit or we are doomed.

In Luke 11:1 the disciples were with Jesus while he was praying. When he finished praying the disciples said, “Lord teach us to pray …” They didn’t ask him to teach them to preach, or to write, or to lead and they didn’t ask him to teach them how to strategize. Preaching, writing, leading and planning are all good and important things, but they had been with Jesus. They had heard and seen him pray. They had learned that prayer was the foundation and the most important thing to learn and to do. 

I can’t do it, but God can.

I am praying for a breakthrough. A breakthrough in my spirit, in my mind and in my heart. A breakthrough that can only be explained as “God showed up”.

I am praying for a breakthrough in my churches. A breakthrough in our sin, in our pride, in our traditions and in our plans. A breakthrough that can only be explained as “a God thing”. 

I can’t do it, but God can and He will.

There is a real sense of relief at the realization that I can’t do it but God can and will. There is also a real sense of fear as I wonder what God will do and what will change when He does it. There is also an incredible sense of excitement as I pray and anticipate what God is going to do. In the meantime I am going to pray and then pray some more. Samuel Chadwick is credited for saying that the greatest answer to prayer is more prayer.

I can’t do it, but God can and He will as I pray and then act on what He leads me into.

Have you realized you can’t? Will you join with me in praying for God to breakthrough?

Dennis

Why not?

Have you ever had a unique thought that just seemed to make sense but then you realized that as far as you know no one is doing it that way? What has been your next thought? Was it, “It must not be possible because no one else is doing it”? Was it, “It must not work because no one else is doing it that way”?

What if you turned those thoughts around and instead asked, “Why not?”

Isn’t it possible that no one has tried it the way you are thinking? Isn’t it possible that no one with your unique skills has tried it before?

Many years ago I sat in Lyle Schaller’s living room with a few others. We were there to interview him and ask his impressions of some discipleship ideas we were considering. I was part of a group in my denomination who were attempting to create a new approach to disciple making that would excite and inspire our people, and the churches they were attending, to do discipleship in whatever way would work for them.

While sitting and talking with Lyle Schaller that afternoon we listened as he shared from his years of research and experience. In the midst of our discussions Lyle made a statement that deeply impacted me and my ministry. He said the church is not really afraid of failure. He went on and said that the church’s hesitation to try new things was not from a fear of failure. That statement went against the traditional thinking of trying to bring change to a church. I asked why he thought the church wasn’t afraid of failure. His response was that the church was used to failure. That if a church tried something new and it failed then everything was likely to go back to the way it was before the new thing was attempted.

He went on to say that what the church (meaning those of us in the church) was afraid of in trying something new was success! Because if we tried something new and it worked, then that church would never be the same again. That, he said, is what frightens us and gives us pause about trying something new!

Wow!

I have found that Lyle Schaller was correct all those years ago and unfortunately that same thinking is still prevalent in most of our churches today.

In fact as I was reading, thinking and praying today I have come to the realization that I have been getting squeezed into that thinking in my own life and somewhat in my ministry. I have been struggling to pull the trigger on trying some things that I believe God is prodding me to do personally and I have been dragging my feet in leading my churches toward some change that is absolutely necessary.

I believe it is time to start stepping out in some fresh ways in my life and in my leadership. This afternoon as I have been processing all of the thoughts racing through my mind and all of the possibilities I keep coming back to this thought, “Why not?”

If I go for it and I bomb it will have been quite an experience and I am confident I will get many sermon illustrations from it. However, if I go for it and it works … I have a big smile on my face and tears in my eyes as I consider the possibilities. The same is true for my churches.

So, why not?

What is your why not? What is it that you have been sensing the thumb of God in your back to do? Why not give it a shot?

Should you pray about it, absolutely! But I am guessing that you have already done that and still not started. Why not? Should you consider the good, the bad and the possible ugly of going for it, certainly! Then consider this, why not?

Here’s hoping and praying that my courage holds and I go for it. Actually it is several “its”. Here’s hoping that you really ask “Why not?” and then consider going for whatever you are sensing from God.

If my going for it crashes and burns at least it will provide some warmth for a while and will likely attract some others to investigate what happened when they see the flames.

So, why not?

Dennis

Preach What You Practice …

What if … you preached what you practiced? Wait, what? Isn’t the saying “Practice what you preach?” That is the common saying and it is supposed to prod us to live out what we say. It is supposed to encourage us to put our stated beliefs into living action. But what if … 

What if … you were required to state your beliefs based solely on how you are living? As a friend of mine said in response to me when I posed the question on Facebook, “hmmm!”

What if … we preachers could only preach sermons that were in sync with how we had lived the previous week? Not how we desired to live but how we had actually lived. Would our sermon change in any way? How different would the sermon need to be if it had to match how we had lived the previous week? Hmmmm!

What if … those closest to us preachers were allowed to interrupt our sermon so that we had to correct what we wanted to say and instead had to say what matched how we had lived at home the previous week? That would certainly provide some tension and drama to the worship service. How different would our study be if we could only preach what we had practiced throughout the week? Hmmmmm! 

What if … all of us who claimed to be followers of Christ could only state opinions that matched how we were really treating others? Would your opinions sound different? Hmmmmmm!

What if … we really gave thought to our actions before we took the actions to make sure that our actions matched what we claim? I know that last question is a grammatical mess, but if you can follow my thought think about it. Would you have to pause before doing things, or would your life just flow in smooth alignment with your words? Hmmmmmmm!

I have been wrestling with these thoughts for the past 24 hours. This wrestling has really given me pause. In fact, during my study for my upcoming sermon I stopped studying and have just been running my recent actions through the filter of what I plan to say. The sermon this Sunday will be on applying forgiveness in our relationships and accepting forgiveness in our own relationship with Christ. What could you say about forgiveness if you could only say things that you had actually done in recent days?

What if … hmmmmmmmm!

This might be a very interesting sermon if the Lord keeps prompting me in the direction He is so far in my study. Maybe this would be a good Sunday to take some vacation, hmmmmmmmmm!

Dennis

My Bad …

“My bad.” I have found myself thinking this a lot lately and saying it out loud some. This is a period of some brutal self-evaluation for me. Not sure exactly what triggered it but it has nearly consumed me for the past 10 days or so. It is not a fun process, but it is a necessary one. I truly desire to lead well. To lead myself, the ministry leaders in my churches and the churches where I am serving.

The trigger point for this evaluation period is likely the result of a few things that have not gone well, or at least did not go as I had envisioned. After every event, or ministry moment, I attempt to evaluate what went well and what fell below expectations. I am convinced that these evaluations are necessary, but I also acknowledge that often they are not fun experiences.

Recently there have been a series of experiences that though they may have looked okay from a distance, they left much to be desired. These evaluations have led me to think, mutter, say out loud and now write that I did not lead well in these situations.

My first reaction to these realizations was to look for someone to blame. My next realization was that the key person responsible for these less than stellar results was me.  Now that was the moment when I should have stood tall, accepted and even embraced the blame and began working to see that the outcomes would be different the next time around. The brutal truth is that instead of standing tall, I shrunk and slipped into some wonderfully miserable self-loathing and pouting.

Not my best moments for sure. I would love to tell you that this is the first time for this type of reaction and behavior on my part. Unfortunately it is not.

In the midst of this wallowing in self-pity God began speaking into my selfishness and to pile on, a book that I had ordered entitled “Extreme Ownership” by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin arrived. This book’s premise is explained clearly in the simple title. It is written by 2 former Navy Seals and they share some real battlefield experiences and the leadership lessons learned that apply in any leadership position. The bottom line is summed up in these quotes from the book: “there can be no leadership where there is no team.” “The only meaningful measure for a leader is whether the team succeeds or fails.” And “Leaders must own everything in their world. There is no one else to blame.” Did I mention that I began reading this book while God was digging into my self-pity and excuses? Did I mention that I had been wallowing in the muck of attempting to figure out who messed up in these recent mediocre happenings? Ouch!

I am still reading the book. I am still trying to listen carefully to God’s guiding for me. I am still trying to figure out what to do different next time. But I am taking the first step of recognizing, and confessing that it is “my bad.” I am not seeking pity and I don’t need anyone telling me it wasn’t “my bad”, but I need to come clean and confess that “My name is Dennis and it is my fault.”

Now, it is time to starting climbing out of the muck and get back to leading as God directs and to take ownership of what is happening. It is time to really show loving leadership and figure out how to better communicate and how to be a better example for those around me.

Dennis

If I Could, I Would … 4 Steps to Get Started

If I Could, I Would … 4 Ways to Get Started

“If ifs and buts were candies and nuts we’d all have a merry Christmas.” Have you ever heard this phrase? I had a relative that tried to use this phrase often, but they sometimes got the words out of order which made the phrase lose it’s real meaning. The point of the phrase, as I understand it, is to remind us that things are rarely perfect and we should therefore just do what we need to do. That is a great thought but not always easy to do.

When we seek to attempt something new, or something we know we should do, there are often mental obstacles that interfere. Then we don’t even get started. Some of these mental objections might be …

Everyone would think I’m crazy.

I don’t have the funds.

I am afraid.

What if it didn’t work?

I am too old, or too young, or don’t have any experience, or …

Do any of these look familiar? What is your “go to” excuse whenever you hesitate to do what you know you should do or when you think of attempting something new?

4 ways to get started:

  1. Quit worrying about the timing and take the first step – Often we hesitate by worrying about the perfect time to try something. We convince ourselves that a better time will come soon. This is a favorite of many people. They then let themselves off the hook of getting started because it is just not the right time. Let me ask you, how long have you been using that one?
  2. Be intentional in getting started – Make a decision and get started. Do it intentionally. Give yourself a deadline and go for it. (I am preaching this to myself at this moment.) If you want to get very serious about this tell it to someone else and ask them to hold you to the deadline.
  3. Don’t go alone – You have all kinds of resources at your disposal. Resources of people, of experiences and with the internet you can search for help in an instant. You don’t have to invent everything. I struggle with this one often. I love creating. But this interferes with getting something done at times when there are helpful resources all around me.
  4. Just do the next right thing – Don’t get hung up on everything that might be needed. Just do the next right thing. Take the next step and the one that is to follow will likely become obvious. You can’t get to the end of a project until you take the next step. So take the next step.

Just get started and see what happens. I can’t guarantee that you will be successful. I can however guarantee that you will be unsuccessful if you don’t get started.

So what will do today to get started? What is your next right step? Take it and watch what happens.

I would love to hear what you are working one and what is happening. I would love to encourage you and pray for you.

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