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

Advertisements

Hurting, but Joyful, Smiling with Tears …

I have been wrestling for some time with this truth about myself. My heart hurts, but the reason my heart hurts also brings me joy. How can that be? Am I just fooling myself? It doesn’t seem to make sense, but it is true. I am sure that you don’t understand, at least not yet.

I have shared many times that my son, daughter (in-law) and their 5 children (my grandchildren) are serving as missionaries. They are serving in Africa. The country in which they were serving, Central Africa Republic (CAR), has been through tumultuous times in the past and is currently going through them again.

My kids, and the team on which they were serving, had to be evacuated on the Saturday before Easter. A day before the celebration of Christ’s resurrection that provides the Good News. It was called an emergency evacuation. They could only take a small bag with them as they were rushed away. They didn’t have time to say any proper goodbyes to neighbors and other friends or the community in which they were serving.

As a parent and grandparent, I am grateful that they were removed safely. But my heart hurts for them and the people they were reaching. Much of the town in which they lived is destroyed. Nearly everyone living in that town, a few thousand people, have fled. The reports are that the only people remaining are those who were physically unable to flee.

The people have scattered and not all of them know where members of their families are located, or if they are even alive. Some crossed the border into Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), some made it to other towns in CAR and others may have gone even further.

It is heartbreaking for my son, daughter in law and grandkids. The people who fled, and are now refugees through no fault of their own, were friends and neighbors. Some had come to faith in Christ. Many of them helped them to adapt and adjust to the town, the country and the culture. Those people are not just numbers in a news report, they have names and faces that my kids can still see in their prayers.

My joy is in knowing that God is still God and he is Lord. My heart hurts for my kids and for those people who loved my kids. My joy comes from knowing that my kids and grandkids know Jesus as their personal Savior and that they are physically safe. My heart hurts for the people who had to flee from their homes, their families, their friends, their work and their land because some others wanted to exert power over them.

My joy is knowing that no matter what my kids and grandkids are facing God is with them and that he loves them ferociously. My heart hurts knowing that I so often take for granted the ease with which I can minister and live for Jesus when so many live in daily danger.

Frequently, during the past 4+ years I have been asked by people “How can you let your kids and grandkids go so far away into dangerous situations?” My answer has been, and still is, that God is leading them. I either trust God or I don’t trust him. I am convinced that he is leading them, and that he was leading them when went to CAR. Therefore, I trust. That doesn’t mean I don’t hurt. That doesn’t mean I don’t ever have any fear. That doesn’t mean I don’t shed tears. That doesn’t mean that I don’t pray for their safety. But it does mean, that I also pray for their relationship with Christ. It means that I pray for their ministry. It means that I pray that I can what they need me to be as a supporter and prayer warrior on their behalf.

So today, with tears often escaping my eyes and landing dangerously near my keyboard, I pray and I trust. Today, I am joyful and have some pain as well.

Isn’t how it should be every day?

 

Dennis

3 years is a long time …

You may be reading this and thinking to yourself, “Well, duh! Of course 3 years is a long time.” Or maybe you are taking a long view of things and thinking 3 years isn’t so long when compared to a lifetime or compared to eternity. 

Let me put my statement of fact that 3 years is a long time into perspective. In the last 3 years I have moved 2 states away to become pastor of a different church. I have since added another church and am currently pastoring 2 churches. Also I have had the joy of welcoming 2 new grandkids, 2 bright, beautiful, lively girls were born into our family in the past 3 years. My daughters and their families have both moved, one of them 2 states away and one of them across town, all in the past 3 years. A lot can change in 3 years because 3 years is a long time.

Why am I bringing up the fact that 3 years is a long time? Yesterday I drove my son and 2 of my grandsons to the airport where they boarded a flight taking them to Kenya. Actually they are returning to Kenya. Just over 3 years ago my son, daughter in law and 5 of my grandkids headed to Kenya where they have been serving as missionaries. They have been back in the states for 5 weeks. All of them were with us for 10 days when they first arrived and my son and 2 of his boys were with us for 4 days again. My daughter in law will be taking my oldest grandson to college in a couple of days. Then next week my son flies back from Kenya and I will pick him up along with my daughter in law and their 2 youngest kids. They will be using our home as their base for 5 weeks while they speak at a few churches and see some friends and family. Then they will get on a plane and head back to Africa to begin serving in a brand new ministry in a different county. 

The greatest adjustments will be for my son, daughter in law and their kids. They will be scattered across 2 continents and 3 different countries. I have been praying for their adjustments to this new reality. In fact I began praying for their adjustments almost a year ago knowing it would be difficult for all of them.

Yesterday as my wife and I hugged our grandsons there were tears, at least there was in our eyes. As we walked back to our vehicle to begin the 3 hour drive home I said, “That was a lot harder than last time, because now we know how long 3 years is”. You see, I know that 3 years is a long time.

When we dedicated our son to the Lord we committed to raise him according to God’s Word and we agreed to embrace God’s will for his life. We still embrace that commitment. We didn’t know how long 3 years were back then, but we do now. I am thrilled that all of my kids are serving the Lord and I am excited that my son and his family are being obedient, even if it means that they (remember that includes grandkids) are more than 16 flying hours away. But there are moments that are not easy. Yesterday was one of those moments.

The key to all of this is to be obedient. To remember that a commitment to serve and follow Jesus sometimes means that many things change. But God is still God and He is still watching over my kids and grandkids. I comfort myself with the knowledge that God loves my kids and grandkids even more than I do. 

But for today the tears are spilling from my eyes even as I smile and I keep thinking, “3 years is a long time”. But I also remember how sweet the reunions are after 3 years.

Here’s hoping that you are following the one who loves you so much that He gave his life for you no matter where it takes you. God is still God and he is greater than 3 years, no matter where you are for those years.

Dennis

Burstrated? It is a word, trust me …

I am burstrated. That may not be a word that is familiar to you, but I know it well. As a pastor I am often burstrated. I find it hard to express how I feel, or how I am dealing with some situations so I create words to help me describe what I feel. Usually I just keep the words to myself, but I thought it was necessary to share one of my words with you as I attempt to give a word picture of the heart of a pastor. 

Burstrated is the combination of the words burdened and frustrated.

I often feel burstrated. It happens when I am overwhelmed with a burden for the situation someone is facing but I am also frustrated. The frustration might be because I can nothing to fix things. I like to fix things, not objects, my wife wishes I liked to fix objects, but I like to fix things in relationships and in personal situations. The problem is that I cannot always fix things and it makes me burstrated. Sometimes the frustration side of feeling burstrated comes from knowing that this is the umpteenth time that the person has something to contribute to the problem. When that is true I have a lot of other emotions as well and I want to scream but I usually just settle for muttering to myself. This does not diminish my burden for the person or the situation, in fact it likely increases my burden for them.

The heart of pastor is never neutral when someone in his sphere is in a bad situation a pastor’s heart breaks. When people are hurting, even if they have contributed to the pain a pastor’s heart breaks. Frustration is sometimes mixed in, but it doesn’t change the fact that the pastor’s heart hurts along with you and for you.

The heart of a pastor rejoices when those in their sphere of influence choose to follow Christ and when those people are blessed the pastor’s heart nearly bursts with joy.

The heart of a pastor is heavy with concern and fear when people around them are beginning down a path that will likely cause them pain. This is also when the feelings of being burstrated rise up. As the pastor is burdened for the person and choices being made and frustrated because it seems that there is nothing they can do at the moment.

As I pray for the services tomorrow, I am burstrated. My heart is breaking for some people in very difficult situations. My mind is battling frustration over some people who confess a desire to follow Christ but keep making excuses instead of changes. My heart is breaking over seeing so many people nod in agreement to the message of a song or the sermon and then walk from the building live in opposition to that with which they were just agreeing. I am frustrated at my failure to say the right words or to show them by my example that there is a better way.

The heart of a pastor is never neutral and it is very likely that your pastor is wrestling with the burstration today.

Just some food for thought on this Saturday.

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

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.

Dennis

Unconditional … After all these years

As my wife and I are approaching the 40th anniversary of our wedding day I have been thinking a lot about how to describe our relationship and love. The best word I have been able to come up with is “unconditional”. To support, or love, without concern of any qualifications or prerequisites. That is my working definition of unconditional. What would your definition be? Do you have any unconditional relationships in your life?

After going through 40 years of marriage, living in 8 different states, 3 children, 9 (1 more arriving in January) grandkids, the death of 3 parents and 1 sibling, enduring me finishing college and then going from school teacher/coach to pastor (still coaching some), we are still together.

We are more than still together. I told my wife recently that I like where we are in our relationship today much more than I did 40 years ago! Do you feel that way?

We had youth, anticipation, dreams and the unknown on our side 40 years ago. Today we have experience, and the scars to prove it, we have so many memories (but sadly not a lot of pictures), we have 17 (with one on the way) in our family as opposed to the 2 of us and we have so many more friends than we could have imagined.

There have been difficult times, some very difficult times, and I wish that we hadn’t gone through some of them, but I wouldn’t trade what we learned and where we are for anything.  We have also had more wonderful times than I could possibly recall. 40 years ago when we came home to our tilted, 10X50 foot mobile home where we watched the winter winds blow the curtains covering our closed windows and where I could reach out of a window and exchange a newspaper with my neighbor, I could not imagine where we would be today.

I have learned that unconditional is not just a word, or a concept, in wedding vows. I have experienced unconditional love and life with the love of my life and I couldn’t be more content.

Funny thing is, we still have dreams about the future, we still believe that some of our greatest days are still ahead of us, we still believe in each other and in our savior Jesus Christ who has always loved us (and you) unconditionally. We still believe you can work out your disagreements and disappointments. We still believe that “I do” is a continuing statement.

I love her so much more today than I did on that Saturday afternoon in Flint, Michigan 40 years ago that I don’t know how to adequately describe it. I am very excited for the next ____ years. I won’t be a limit on our time together. Because no matter how much longer it is I know it will be awesome and that it will continue to be marked by “unconditional” love

Here’s to my wife, you are the best. I love you!

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

Budgeting Your Relationships …

Our church has started a “Budgeter’s Anonymous” class. We are learning to set up a budget. Teaching how to stay within your budget. We are learning how to track our budgets. We are encouraging each other. We are learning some of the pitfalls of budgets. In other words, we are learning how to handle our money instead of wondering where it went.

As my wife and I are working on our finances I have been struck by how many of the principles we are trying to apply with our budget/finances work with relationships.

In our budgeting we have to identify what we have and where it is going. In your relationships you must identify what relationships you have and how they are doing. If you don’t determine how your relationships are doing and where they are heading you will be highly frustrated and often confused in your relationships.

In our budgeting we evaluate if we are ahead or behind in ongoing expenses. In your relationships you need to see if any of them are in need. Are you behind in any relationship? Do you need to give some extra time and effort in any of your relationships at this time?

In our budgeting we are seeking ways to create some margin in our money so we can save more. In your relationships you must seek to improve your margins. To make sure you have something left and are not being drained to the point of having nothing in reserve for your relationships. Willard Harley writes about the “love bank”. It is a concept that you are either depositing positively in your relationships or you are withdrawing from them. If there are too many withdrawals without deposits the relationship is in the red. That is a bad thing financially and relationally.

In our budgeting we are seeking to identify, and eliminate, things that negatively drain our finances. The same is true in your relationships. You need to identify things that drain, or harm, your relationships and work to eliminate these behaviors.

This is just a quick look at some similarities between budgets and relationships. But I am intrigued by the things that crossover between the two. I may need to look a little deeper at this concept. Who knows, maybe there is a sermon series in this somewhere?

Here’s hoping that both your budget and your relationships are balanced and positive.

Dennis