The Approval Trap …


Politicians seem to live and die by their approval ratings and in an election year we are inundated with reports of the various candidates and their approval ratings. It is easy to be critical of them for making decisions and adjustments based how they think others will react. But politicians are not the only ones caught in the approval trap, many pastors, and others are as well.

There is a great temptation as a pastor to judge things in our ministry by how much approval we receive for the things we do. This is not a fun thing to confess but it is huge temptation for pastors and many others.

Approval is a very enticing thing. Who doesn’t prefer approval over disapproval?  But this seeking approval can create problems such as …

  1. We may avoid difficult topics or conversations – If we are seeking approval we are looking for more “thanks, that was nice” than we are “I hadn’t thought about that” comments. As pastors we often seek the “nice sermon pastor” comments rather than “ouch, that one really hit me hard”. I told one of my congregations to not bother telling me “nice sermon” because I was more interested in my sermons making an impact than making them feel good. That was a bit of overkill on my part, but I knew that I could become addicted to “nice sermon” comments and preach in order to receive them. I am not proud of that truth, but it is the truth. I am confident that I am not alone in this area. Have you avoided some conversations recently because you were seeking approval?
  2. Seeking out those who give us approval rather than those we can help – We are here for a purpose and a major part of that purpose is to help others. We may be motivated to spend our time and energy doing things for the approval of those who will give it rather than seeking to help those who may not heap their gratitude upon us.
  3. We may become discouraged or depressed when approval is not received – When we seek approval we easily become discouraged when we do not perceive that we are receiving enough of it. When we continue to seek the approval of others and continue to believe that we are not getting it we can eventually become depressed. This is not an overnight event, but if we don’t recognize why we are discouraged we can spiral down this path.
  4. We can begin to make poor decisions while chasing the approval we crave – If we are chasing approval and not receiving it while doing what we believe to be right, we can start to make compromising choices hoping for approval. It starts out slowly and those first poor decisions can be easily rationalized in our minds. But unless this is recognized, confronted, confessed and changed we may begin to make some very harmful choices, all for this elusive approval.
  5. We are hesitate to confess that we have been snared by the approval trap – A powerful statement used in recovery ministries is that you are only as sick as your secrets. When it comes to recognizing that we are in the approval trap, we (especially pastors) can be very slow to confess this issue. The main reason is that we convince ourselves that it is not a real trap and that it is really not a big deal. The second reason for our hesitation is that we are usually ashamed to admit that we have been trapped by the desire for approval.

There are other problems with the chase for approval, but these 5 should be more than enough to make us stop and consider if we are being trapped. If the answer is yes, then admit it and talk with someone. I will try and address some steps to conquering the approval trap that I have had to take, and continue to take, next week.

Here’s hoping you can be honest with yourself as you determine if you are caught in this trap. Here’s hoping that you can talk with someone you trust about this possibility. I will be praying for all who read this post, and if you would like for me to pray for you specifically then leave me a comment and if you do not wish for others to see the comment just add that to your comment.



A Pastor’s Thoughts on Saturday Night …

Saturday nights are interesting for a Pastor. You have been preparing for Sunday morning all week so Saturday night becomes Sunday Eve. It is the night before. It is the night before the culmination of a least a week’s worth of studying, praying, fretting, practicing, worrying, anticipating, wondering and questioning. It is the night before the big test and there is another test just a big coming in a week. It is the night before an evaluation of how much your congregation likes you, at least that is how many pastors think. Saturday night thoughts are not all logical or helpful but for a pastor, at some time or another, they are all true.

There are many questions and thoughts rattling around in a pastor’s mind on Saturday night. Those questions or thoughts create a unique Saturday night prayer list for pastors. Such as …

…I studied, did I study enough?

…People were scheduled to get the building ready for tomorrow, I pray that they all did their part.

…Our teachers and small group leaders have been preparing all week, I pray the people in their classes or groups show up tomorrow.

…I am burdened for ______________ I pray that they are in church tomorrow so that they can be encouraged by the message and the people.

…Our giving has been running behind the expenses recently, I pray the offering is good tomorrow.

…I am really burdened for tomorrow’s message, I pray that I am able to get the right words to come out of mouth as I preach. I pray that the words I have prepared are understood and reach people’s hearts and minds.

…I pray that everyone who is scheduled to minister tomorrow shows up.

…I pray that our technology works tomorrow.

…I pray that some of my people are praying for me tonight.

…We have a lot of things happening in the church, I pray that people pay attention to the announcements and the bulletin.

…Many people have been invited to attend tomorrow, I pray that some of them show up. I also pray that our people really welcome any visitors.

…So many people are hurting in many ways, I pray that our people embrace one another and show real compassion.

…There are several who regularly attend without their spouse, I pray that tomorrow some of those spouses show up.

…What have I forgotten? I pray that I haven’t forgotten anything.

…I pray that I am able to stay focused amidst all the chaos that can take place just before the worship service begins.

…I pray that I don’t fall down as I go up to preach.

…I pray that I don’t mispronounce anything tomorrow (again).

…I pray that I am able to rest well tonight.

Here’s hoping that those of you who are pastors can rest well this Saturday night and that all your prayers are answered tomorrow. Here’s hoping that those of you who are not pastors will spend a little time thinking of and praying for your pastor this Saturday night. If you do pray for your pastor be sure inform him/her on Sunday, you just might be an answer to their prayers.


3 Answered Prayers …

Yesterday was one of my son in laws birthday. As I was thinking of him (and how I didn’t get a card in the mail in time to get to him on his birthday, again) I was reminded of 3 long time prayers that have been answered. My wife and I to watch 3 children enter this world, 1 son and 2 daughters. Before they were born we prayed for them. Then not long after they were born we began praying for their future spouse, if they made the choice to marry.

We prayed that they would find and choose someone who loved Jesus as their personal Savior above all else. When our kids began to get serious with someone we always asked if they loved Jesus. In fact, when we met the son in law who just had the birthday for the very first time with several of our family together for a meal, we were about to call it a night and my wife said to him, “I just have one question for you, do you love Jesus?” He answered that he did. Each of the kids who joined our family by marrying into it answered the same.

Our biggest concern was not about what any of our soon to be in laws were going to do for a living. Instead our biggest concern was who they were living for. By the way, I just consider them one of our kids now, I really don’t think in terms of in-laws. I usually state that they are a son or daughter in law when I speak to others, but in my mind and heart they are one of our kids.

We have been blessed because all 3 of our prayers were answered so beautifully. All 3 of our children found and chose to marry wonderful people who love Jesus. All of our kids, all 6 of them, are serving Christ wherever they are living. We continue to pray for them daily for many things, but we are so grateful for these 3 answered prayers.

We are still praying these prayers for future spouses who love Jesus, only now we are praying it for our grandchildren. Since we have 9 grand kids and we will get to meet number 10 soon, we are spending a lot of time praying. I look forward to meeting these future spouses of my grandkids. I am sure that I will consider them one of my grandkids when they join the family. If they each get married that will mean a lot of grandkids. I think that is awesome.

But since I am praying for 6 kids, soon to be 10 grand kids and their future spouses. I better quit writing for now and go back to praying.

Here’s praying that you are witnessing some answers to prayer as well.


Monday Morning Musings …

God showed up in very visible and powerful ways yesterday. Yesterday was a very encouraging day with a

mix of challenge included. As for the musings …

-The spirit of the Lord was powerful in our worship time right from the opening welcome. It was awesome! People

seemed to come with great anticipation and expectation. Preaching is a lot easier when this takes place.

-Many people responded to the message to stop “trying” to do what they already know they should be doing, and

instead to actually do it. To stop using “I’m trying” as an excuse and to do what they know to do in all areas of

their life.

-We had people choosing to make changes and commitments in many areas and they signed a statement

saying what they were now starting to do.

-Our sound issues were minimal yesterday. We also gave a down payment toward having our whole sound system

redone. I doubt that it will be finished before we get to our special Christmas programs, but the fact that it is

going to be done is very encouraging and exciting.

-Our attendance was down slightly.

-I had a first since I have been here, I put out a plea for a couple of people to help me with a project and no one

responded. That has never happened in the nearly 2 years that I have been here. I didn’t communicate the need

very well, but it still had never happened. The good news is that the project got done in good time and I was

reminded that I need to communicate needs much more clearly.

-I had a couple of very exciting conversations with people who are asking great questions about getting more

involved in the church and learning more about our mission and vision.

-Last night was an outstanding time of prayer in the community. It was the culmination of weeks of planning and

praying. We gathered at the local high school auditorium for prayer. We had a great guy come who writes, speaks

and leads prayer movements. We had done 3 community prayer events in churches of pastors who have been

participating in our pastors prayer network. Those 3 times of prayer were great and the number grew at each

event. We prayed and invited and 250 or more people showed up to pray for our city! We had at least 10 different

denominations represented and even more churches. We prayed together for 2 hours! The energy and spirit in

the place was tremendous. Even better was the conversations taking place after the event as people gathered and

talked about how they can continue to pray together.

-I spent 4 days at a Dynamic Church Planting International training event last week. It was exhausting and very

encouraging. I came back with a renewed vision and a plan for our next church plant. Part of our vision for the

next 5 years is to begin a new ministry in 2 other towns. Now I have a more defined plan as to how we can, and

will accomplish this vision. I shared just a little bit of it with the whole congregation yesterday.

Here’s a quote that I hope will encourage you this week. “Don’t let what is wrong with you keep you from

worshiping what’s right with God.” (Mark Batterson)


Monday Morning Musings …

Yes, yes, yes … it was a very good weekend and an outstanding Sunday. Our cry as we left worship yesterday was “Fill me up, light me up and use me Lord!” Here are some musings …

-Once again God showed up in a very powerful way. I know I have been saying that a lot recently, but it is really true. We have been experiencing a great season of God moving in our times of worship and in some of our small groups.

-We had some sound issues once again. I have been trying to get the company who supposedly wants to upgrade our system to get started. Evidently they are so busy that they can’t get back to me. Note to self: maybe they are too busy for us.

-I preached from Judges 6 and 7. This was sort of a conclusion to the series I have been preaching on prayer. This was about God’s call to action and that no matter what we are facing or how we feel God is with us and desires to work through us.

-I had a “take home” reminder of the message. It was something that those who were willing to answer the call had to come forward and respond to and then take home the illustration. I was humbled and pumped at how many people came forward in answer to the call.

-The rally cry of the message was focused on Judges 6:12 where the angel of the Lord told Gideon “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.” We all need to remember that no matter how we feel and no matter what we are facing God is still God and He is with us. The other part of the cry came from how God gave them the victory. He had them use pitchers and torches. Our finishing call was “Fill me up, light me up and use me.” (I know that they also blew trumpets, but I couldn’t get everyone a horn and a kazoo seemed a little off as an illustration.)

-We had good attendance and it was very good when you look at how many of our regular attenders were gone.

-We had a great number of children again and we had a few teens in attendance for worship. We are making progress in this area.

-My wife and I enjoyed having her brother and sister in law visiting with us this past weekend and worshiping with us yesterday.

-We have a growing number of people who are getting serious about prayer and are praying often.

-We had a first time visitor and another couple who returned for the 3rd week in a row.

-I was very encouraged by several encounters with people in the community as I attended a few community events this past weekend. It is nice to see the time I have been investing in people, in being a part of the community and of talking with people outside of my church are beginning to result in growing relationships.

-I am very burdened by several who are in the midst of very painful family relationship issues.

-I am very excited to share with another church this week about Natural Church Development and encouraging them to look at their church health and possibly work with them for the next several months as a coach.

Here’s hoping that you have a week of reminders that God is with you. Here’s hoping that you choose to answer the call.



Monday Morning Musings …

Yesterday was a very emotional and moving day, which was preceded by a very emotional and moving 3 or 4 days. I experienced the power of the presence of the Lord in mighty ways during that time and I experienced the agony of hurting for others who are hurt. I witnessed friendship at its best and observed some leadership at its worst. My musings may seem a little scattered this morning as a result of some events last week added to the fact that I am subbing as Chaplain at our local hospital today for a friend. Here we go …

-God showed up in a powerful way yesterday during our worship service. It was one of those times that no one could deny the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. I needed that and I know that I was not alone in need. We have been focusing on prayer and many more people than normal have been praying extra so God showing up in a powerful way should come as no surprise. Wow! Thank you Jesus!

-Our time of singing was so good. People participated and our worship team led us, they didn’t perform, they led in worship. That certainly set the tone for the service.

-Our prayer times are becoming powerful in our worship services. This is because people are praying before they arrive and they are praying along with me and not just listening to me pray. That makes a huge difference.

-My son in law, and family, were visiting with us and he graciously agreed to sing during worship. (After much “persuasion” from my wife.) He sang with such an open spirit and with such feeling that the whole room was changed. Someone came to the altar while he was singing and was immediately surrounded by prayer supporters. It was a wonderful thing to see. He is such a wonderful worship leader that even though he was “just singing a song” for us, he led us all into the presence of the Lord.

-He sang just before I was to preach, but I called an audible and we had another time of prayer. God really showed up.

-My message was the 3rd in a series on prayer. This one was from the Old Testament, I Samuel 12:19-25.

-One of the points of this passage that really hit me was when Samuel told the people in verse 23 “… far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you…” Wow! I can sin by failing to pray for someone. Notice that these people had ignored Samuel’s leadership many times and yet he was still praying for them. Just like Jesus, when on the cross he cried out “Father, forgive them”.

-This really hit me as I was preparing the sermon and I spent some time in prayer and confession as a result. Who have you failed to pray for recently?

-I spent Thursday, Friday and Saturday morning with 4 friends from college. The 5 of us have remained friends ever since we met as freshmen at Olivet Nazarene University. 7 or 8 years ago we began spending a weekend together every year. It is great to catch up with each other. It is great to laugh a lot. It is great to be reminded of God’s faithfulness in all of our lives. It was great to see and sense their support for a loved one of mine who is going through a very difficult situation.

-There have been many tears and prayers for loved ones this past week. The prayers are a regular daily thing for me, the tears, though not unusual, are not a daily event. I was reminded of how important it is to lean on God and to support those we love.

-Our attendance was good and we had a new family visit with us yesterday and the family who visited last Sunday returned yesterday.

Here’s hoping that you see, and sense, God’s presence and power in your life this week. Here’s hoping that you find someone to encourage this week. Here’s hoping that you will not fail to pray for someone this week.


Monday Morning Musings …

What a difference a week makes. The temperature was 20 degrees cooler yesterday than it was the Sunday before. The good news is that God is not limited by anything and He showed up again this weekend. As for my musings …

-I have to start by talking about the Saturday evening Community Concert of Prayer that we hosted. I am a part of a Pastor’s Prayer Network that meets to pray every other Thursday morning. There were 6 of us, representing 5 churches of different denominations, who have been praying for each other, our churches and revival in our city and county. We decided to have a focused period of prayer among our churches and inviting other churches to join culminating in a large prayer rally with an outside speaker. The first event was Saturday evening. The purpose of the night was to pray. Nothing more, nothing less. There were over 60 in attendance and there were 6 churches represented. The presence of the Lord was powerful. The sight of seeing people all over our sanctuary praying together was powerful. The sound of dozens of people crying out to God for revival was moving. (We have recently added 4 more pastors praying with us!)

-No wonder it was easy to preach yesterday after what took place Saturday evening.

-That being said, I blew it at the end of the sermon. I had a call to action concerning prayer, but I didn’t have people do anything with the call to action. It was just a challenge that I left hanging. Yesterday during lunch I told my wife that I blew it. She didn’t disagree. She thought the sermon was good and was clear, but she also thought I could have had a better conclusion.

-We had some minor technical issues, but that has become the norm. My fear is that it has become so normal that we are losing steam on fixing the problems. I am going to work on that this week.

-We did have a new couple in attendance yesterday. What we didn’t do was get any information from them. I hate when that happens.

-Our greeter issues from the week before were much better yesterday. I love the willing spirit that permeates my congregation.

-Our time of singing was very powerful and moving. I love hearing, and participating with people when they are really worshiping as they sing.

-I was encouraged as I heard some of the people who attended the Community Concert of Prayer telling others what they missed and urging them to participate in the next event.

-Our attendance was actually less than last Sunday which was a holiday weekend. The good news is that we had very good attendance last Sunday.

-We had a good number of children present. It is very encouraging to see the number of children increasing. That will translate into teens very soon.

-I am noticing that as I focus on praying more, and praying more purposely, that I am getting a lot more requests to pray about some really big stuff. The good news is that God is greater than whatever we are facing.

Here’s hoping you have a week of seeing God move in your life and the life of your church.


P.S. – My fantasy football team won. I knew you would be happy for me.

Monday Musings …

I did not set my alarm on this holiday Monday, then I took my wife out for breakfast, then we went to a local park that has a few lakes. We sat by a lake and fished and read. The fishing was not so good, the reading was relaxing and the company was outstanding. As a result of the activities of the morning my musings are coming out a little later today. These are some great musings …

-Our time of worship yesterday was outstanding! It was one of the best days of worship we have enjoyed in our 16 months here at this church.

-The spirit in the service was tremendous. You could sense that God was moving even before the service began.

-There was great energy in the whole building and people seemed to arrive with great expectations. Your expectations as you arrive to worship will greatly determine your experience in worship.

-People were very engaged in worship and really sang out during the music portion. The time of greeting one another was great. I loved observing that people were sincerely embracing and fellowshipping with each other.

-A new family that attended last Sunday for the first came back and brought someone else with them. We had another new family in attendance.

-We had a moving time of paying tribute to those who gave their lives in service to our country so that we could gather and worship freely.

-Our time of prayer was moving.

-During one of the songs a couple of people came to the altar, then another one came, and then a couple more people came and then we had another time of spontaneous prayer.

-I had struggled all week in preparation for the sermon for Sunday. I knew a couple of weeks ago the direction for the message but I just felt blocked every time I attempted to put it together. As a result I did not feel confident heading in to my time of preaching. Emotionally I felt overwhelmed all week and even as our worship service was about to begin. As the service kept going and the Spirit was moving I began to feel a release from the overwhelming feeling I had struggled with all week. Then when the people spontaneously came forward during a song to pray I sensed God whispering to me “Dennis, just relax. This isn’t all on you, I am working, see what is happening.” God is so good.

-People did seem engaged during the sermon and some conversations following the service confirmed that people were listening and that good things are happening.

-Our attendance was outstanding, and that was on a holiday weekend.

-A fun thing during the sermon was a story I shared about an event in my life back in high school. No surprise that the story involved basketball. As I shared the story and came to the point of conclusion I just left it hanging and went on to the next point. After the service I had people come straight at me and ask “So what happened next in your story?” There were a few who asked and I even got a text during lunch asking what happened. I told them all that I would finish the story next Sunday.

-Our small group did not meet last evening but one of our groups that is doing a study on prayer met at the church and walked around the church and some of the property praying. No wonder good things are happening in our church.

Here’s hoping that you have something you are looking forward to this week. Here’s hoping that see God working in your life this week.


Scared to Pray …

The more I pray the more I wrestle with being scared to pray. Can you relate to that at all? I am not referring to being so scared that I feel like I can’t pray, I mean that the more I pray for real stuff in my life and others that I face many more fears. It is as if I am scared to pray for fear of the fears I will encounter. Does that make any sense?

A few years ago I really became convicted of my lack of praying. I began to be more intentional about praying. I started to pray much more specifically. I began to pray more often and sometimes for much longer periods of time. It changed me and continues to change my life and my ministry. But I also face more scary things.

A few of the fears that are finding me are …

… the fear of what else I need to work on in my own life. The more I pray the more God is revealing to me about me. This is a good thing except when it isn’t. I have had moments where I have said to God “enough about me, let’s deal with the stuff in some other people’s lives.” I pray for others and about the very real things in their lives. But God also keeps showing me stuff about me. Some of it is scary. Even the stuff that gets changed can lead me to fear the next prayer time wondering what I will discover. Has that ever happened to you?

… there is the fear that I am not sure I can handle praying for any more big stuff. The more I pray for others and the real stuff in their lives I am experiencing more and more people asking me to pray for them and their stuff. Sometimes I am almost overwhelmed with the stuff. That can be scary? But, I am going to keep praying.

… there is also the fear that I am not praying correctly. Do you know that feeling? I am well aware that there is no “correct” way to pray. I preach and teach that prayer is conversing with God and that as long you are in the conversation it is a good thing. But sometimes I think that if I could pray better more people would be helped and more things changed. That scares me a bit.

I am not going to quit praying and I am not going to pray less. In fact I am determined to pray more. I am grateful that I have Christ to guide me, strengthen me and that he has given me assurance in the Bible that I don’t need to fear. I will have fears, but I don’t need to be fearful.

Here’s hoping that this encourages you.


Monday Morning Musings …

We enjoyed a very good day in our church yesterday. I will do my best to limit my musings to a short list, it may be difficult because so many good things took place yesterday. As for my musings …

-We began our Revival/Renewal services yesterday morning. We have been anticipating this for many months and have been praying for it in earnest for several weeks.

-There was a great spirit in both services yesterday.

-We had a very good beginning to our Revival services. Our attendance was good in the morning and it was well above my expectations for the evening service. That is especially encouraging because we do not have regular Sunday evening services.

-Most of my pastor’s prayer group (from 5 different denominations) gathered an hour before our evening service and prayed over the sanctuary and with our special speaker. It was a powerful and encouraging time of prayer. I love this group of pastors and their heart for our community. It is always encouraging when pastors from different groups not only play well together but pray together and more importantly pray for each other and the different congregations.

-We appear to finally be past our winter weather. The 10 day forecast has the high above 50 each day. We were in the high 40’s on Sunday and the sun was shining. I am confident that helped people’s attitudes.

-We have several people who have rearranged their schedules, including some work schedules, so that they could attend and serve during our revival services. With that type of commitment and desire good things are bound to take place.

-Our prayer for revival is not just for our church, but we are praying that revival sweeps through our church and flows through our city and region. God is still God and he can certainly do it if we will respond in obedience to his leading.

-We had a few technical glitches, but it wouldn’t be a Sunday for us if we didn’t have a few of those. The glitches did nothing to dampen the spirit.

-Last night our altars were lined with people praying for a compassionate spirit and passion to share Christ in our community. They were praying for family, friends, neighbors and co-workers who do not know Jesus as their personal Savior. There were many tears as people were crying out for others and that they would have the courage to witness.

-I was encouraged in my spirit with our services and my prayer has been that revival would begin in me. I am not lobbing prayers at others without praying for my own attitudes.

-My wife did an outstanding job of putting together the music and leading us in worship yesterday. Her spirit is wonderful as she worships and leads us to worship. She has invested many hours in praying and planning for these special services. I am a blessed man.

-We have services scheduled for tonight, Tuesday and Wednesday evenings. I can’t wait to see what God is going to do in us and through us.

-I am more convinced than ever that God is up to something good in Canton.

Here’s hoping that you are encouraged today and that you will find someone to encourage. If you are near Canton, Illinois join us for the remaining revival services. I know that you will challenged and encouraged.