“I’m collateral damage…” 4 Thoughts for Pastor’s Schedules

These three words stopped me in my tracks yesterday and broke my heart.

While on my way to a highly packed and anticipated schedule, the most unexpected moment happened. When I’m in certain a part of our state, I try to frequent a very unique store. Every item sold has a story and a mission. For example, I’ll buy a bracelets hand-made by women who’ve been rescued from human trafficking and the money goes to help the outreach. I love giving them my business and gifting someone so that I can share the story of this organization.

Yesterday, I found a mug with the word, “rest.” Purchasing it was going to provide a weeks worth of water for someone in Ethiopia. I have no problem paying a premium price with a premium mission. On top of that, it’s a message my wife and I love to live out and speak into others. We’ve been casualties of workaholism. We have seen others struggle and break under a lack of margin built into their lives. And we have a passion to see others get control of their schedules before their schedules claim them, their marriage, and their family.

At the checkout, the woman boxing it up was so kind. She complemented me on the choice of mug and reiterated the mission it was going to fund. I shared that I was a pastor and I was planning on gifting it because of the message of “rest.” A bit of my testimony came out about my propensity to not rest. She began to tear up and open her heart.

“I understand what busyness and a lack of rest does. I was a pastor’s wife for twenty years. Please help pastors to know how to rest. Why? I’m collateral damage.

It was as if time froze and my world cease to turn on its axis.

I would have taken a deep breath if I could locate any oxygen in the room. Words in that moment were hard to come by. It wasn’t awkwardness but a mutual understanding of the pain that busyness can lead to.  What I’ve learned early in my marriage claimed hers.  I couldn’t fight my tears at the checkout. Even now, I sit in a coffeehouse with tears streaming down my face.

In the words of James in holy scripture,

“…Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right!”

I understand the context of this scripture is the instability of having our words containing both curse and blessing. But I wonder if it still fits THIS context. How do we as pastors preach a blessed life but facilitate schedules that curse our marriage and family? I’m not against being busy. The work ethic my parents instilled in me pushes me to be productive. I am not about laziness as I see that as poor stewardship of my time and resources. But the refusal to build healthy margin (rest, relationships, and recreation) is placing a weight upon our spouses and children that is breaking your family speaking a message contrary to what we are preaching.

On top of that, what example are we giving to our congregations to follow? I’m tired of hearing about a pastors getting burned out. If that’s not damaging enough, the next pastor who follows has an expectation built of a pastor schedule looks like. And if he/she isn’t keeping up what was previously modeled, then upheaval happens.

I get seasons of busyness. But there’s a massive difference between a “season” and a “lifestyle.” There are “occasions” and there are ingrained “behaviors.”

The collateral damage is so much deeper that we’ve anticipated. But there is always hope.

Psalms 139 your schedule. 
Read through and pray the entire Psalm through. It’s of my favs. Verse 24 that will stand out as you pray the words, “Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.”  Have your schedule in front of you and listen to the still small voice of the Holy Spirit. Schedule margin (rest, relationship, and recreation) into your schedule. You’ll be a better spouse, parent, and pastor if you do. 

Repent to (and with) your family. 
Vulnerability to your spouse and family helps you stay “human.” They not only want to hear that there’s going to be change but they want to be a part of it. Don’t think they’re expecting perfection; your family just wants to see change. It will take time, intentionality, and probably some failure at the attempts. It’s okay. You’re human. I’d rather deal with a pastor “failing” at trying instead of failing to try (you’re probably not “failing” at trying but I get what you’re feeling when things doing feel like their working).

Confront the “feelings of busyness” with healthy productivity. 
I find one of two things happening with busy pastors. First, there’s a propensity to not want to change how you lead as you pastor. We want others to change but don’t enjoy seeing it happen in our lives. Yesterday’s methods and styles may or may not fit today. But if you don’t evaluate effectiveness, then you don’t know if your being productive. Second, if you don’t evaluate “how” you’re spending your time, you can be wasting the “great” moments of your day doing “good” stuff. “Good” isn’t bad. But if there’s no evaluation, then you can fill your schedules doing “good” stuff and not necessarily the “great.”

Get some mentoring. 
There’s a reason I want to be in connection with other pastors from different size congregations and denominations. I want to learn. I want to grow. My introverted nature enjoys working out things on my own. But you and I were designed to work in community. Again, if we’re preaching it, why don’t we live that. Get yourself some good books. Sit with other pastors. Allow some accountability and personal growth goals.

I know there’s a question looming: Why haven’t I given you the name of the business I was at? Because it’s here in west Michigan and I’m more concerned for protecting the identity of this wonderful, yet hurting, individual I encountered. Message me if you want to know the name if you’re desire to give them your business. I’m just trying to be cautious.

I love you pastors. This systemic issue isn’t exclusive to our vocation. But if we can get a hold of this heart for health, work to practice it, perhaps it’ll give us a platform to perpetuate it in our congregations.

I love you all. Praying for you.

 

Thanks for letting me ramble…

 

Pastor to Pastor: 4 Ways to Develop Your Preaching Voice

My name is Dave, I am a natural introvert who absolutely loves to preach.

Sounds odd doesn’t it?

My craft and my demeanor don’t come natural; both have been (and still are) in a stage of development. Don’t get me wrong, I still have my reserved or withdrawn tendencies. But the nature of my vocation has drawn me out of the safety of my solitude to develop a side of me I never thought I could access.

Stepping into ministry, I had very little experience with preaching. My youth pastor granted me a couple of opportunities in youth group that stretched me beyond belief. In bible college, I preached a few times in homiletic class. Apparently I didn’t do so well as I had a couple of friends pull me aside and tell me that preaching wasn’t my “gift” and I would have “difficultly finding a position.”

In fact, after my very first Sunday morning sermon EVER, a lady approached me in the lobby right after and said, “Can you put in the church bulletin when the pastor is out of the pulpit so I can go somewhere else and actually get fed?” Awesome.

So, all in all, I was very “green” and in need of some shaping.

I remember in the first few months of ministry, my dad handed me a sermon series on cassette tapes from T.D. Jakes. I found myself listening to them while I’d set up for youth group. I cannot remember what the series was on, I only remember what it did in me. Regardless of what you think about Bishop Jakes, his style and presentation ignited my heart. I felt like the Holy Spirit spoke something to me that I’ll never forget:

My “preaching voice” was more than what I have been handed but a gift that needs be developed.

I’m working on a blog/message about pastoral evolution as, I believe, us pastors do not stop learning and growing. We should be able to look back and see patterns of growth and development. God has granted us positions and opportunities and with what God has given, we are called to be stewards. Stewards don’t bury the gift; they do something the gift. We do not sit on it, we manage and develop it. And, I believe, preaching is no exception.

You need develop your “preaching voice.” I’m not necessarily talking about having a certain tone or fluctuation (even though, that’s certainly part of it). I speak of growing and honing;  learning and shifting. I’m not the same preacher I was 20 years ago (thank the Lord). I’m also not the same preacher I was 10 years ago. God has used seasons and examples to help “evolve” the mentality, passion, and presentation of how I proclaim the good news of Jesus.

So today, I thought I’d share how God’s has (and is still) helping me grow my “preaching voice.” My hopes is that you’d allow the voice you have to grow and develop in the hands of the Holy Spirit.

Don’t be T.D.
News flash, I’m not T.D. Jakes. Though imitation (I hear) is the highest form of flattery, I’m not called to be someone else; I’m called to be David Barringer. There’s a difference between “gleaning” and “being.” My insecurities can get the best of me and think, “if that works for him, maybe it’ll work for me.” Don’t allow your insecurities to rob you of the joy of proclaiming hope in Jesus because you are not [insert favorite preacher]. Do not allow envy of how someone preaches diminish (1) what God has blessed you with and (2) what He wants to develop in you. But that brings me to…

Don’t ignore T.D.
As much as I need to be “me,” I can glean from others as to hone my “voice.” You cannot get the attitude that you can’t listen to others so you can be yourself. As preachers, I think one of the best ways to fine-tune your voice is to listen to a variety of preaching voices in a variety of preaching genres.

I listen to a variety of others who’ve helps show me ways to grow in a variety of ways that have honed my “preaching voice.”

For passion in preaching, I’ve gleaned from Steven Furtick.
For raw authenticity, I’ve gleaned from Perry Noble (but I can’t say the raw things he says…I’d get fired).
For connecting scripture to every-day life, Lysa TerKeurst.
For getting people to laugh, Jim Gaffigan (yes I know he’s not a “preacher”).
For developing words and phrases to help people remember the message, Andy Stanley is great.
For conversational preaching, Levi Lusko is tremendous.
For story telling, Judah Smith is a favorite.

I could make a longer list of preachers with the likes of Beth Moore, Rob Ketterling, Jud Wilhite, Chris Hodges, Craig Groeschel, Mark Batterson and so many more. I’ll learn from anyone. Exposure is important and in the age of podcasts and video casts, there is literally no excuse why we can expose ourselves to a variety of voices to challenge and grow our own. Which leads me to…

The conjoined twins: Presentation and Preparation
When I get hear a presentation, I think about preparation. Presenting the message and how it’s prepared work hand-in-hand. As your preaching voice develops, so will the way you prepare. Why does that change? When you position yourself to be stretched in the “what” it directly challenges the “how.” Some areas that will go through some “evolution” will be:

Locations you study and locations you write (may not be the same).
Times you study and times you write (I’m a morning person, afternoons are for meetings).
Places and times to seek the face of God for direction (I prefer walks in solitude).
How to collect information (tools, journals, files in the cloud, etc.)
Where you collect the information from (books, blogs, preachers, etc).
Forecasting future messages (learning to plan ahead).

If I’m not preparing well, I can’t present well. And as much as these things are all a part of my week, I’ve held them loosely in my hands as to allow the Holy Spirit to shift them and change them a bit as to grow me. Which, lastly, leads me to…

Be overly sensitive
I’m not talking about being overly sensitive emotionally, but to be extremely sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit.  My desire is not to chase “change” and, in the same breath, not to fight “change.” I want to be constantly open to that which the Spirit of God wants to do in and through me and nothing is off-limits to Him.  There was an old chorus I grew up on:

Change me Lord, into your image
Rearrange me Lord, cause me to grow
From glory to glory
Change me Lord I pray
Into your image more each day.

I cannot expect change in others I, myself, am not open to. And as I am open to the Holy Spirit, He helps guide the growth I need and the development of the message in my heart. I’ve watched Him use moments to fine-tune my life. I’ve seen the Holy Spirit open my eyes to life experiences to be used as sermon illustrations. The Holy Spirit is faithful and is always speaking. It’s just a matter of whether we will listen and obey.

There’s probably more to go into, but this is where I will stop. As I’ve said before, I’m not the same preacher I was 20 years ago or even 10 years ago and, I hope, to not be the same preacher after this next decade of ministry.

What are your influences? What has helped you grow your “preaching voice”?

Love you all. Praying over you as you to “proclaim the Message with intensity; keep on your watch. Challenge, warn, and urge your people. Don’t ever quit. Just keep it simple.

 

Thanks for letting me ramble…

BTW: My new book of my blogs came out. Click on the image to order yours!!

 

Pastoring in a Vacuum: 4 Ways to Invite Much Needed Connection

In my backpack, apart from my laptop, you’ll find 3 essentials. My iPad, my journal, and a book I’m reading (don’t judge me for not saying “bible” as it’s always accessible on my phone and/or tablet). The reasons for these three:

  • My iPad for my bible and my tunes
  • A book positions me to be stretched and deepened.
  • My journal position to process what I am learning and write down what God is speaking to me.

(Why I journal and why you should consider it.)

In my latest read, “Divine Direction” by Craig Groeschel, I’m working on some things to help mentor young adults. But chapter 6 has really hammered me hard on something that I find far too many pastors struggle with: Connection.

He says,

“…consider the three types of friends everyone needs to reach their God-given potential: (1) a friend to challenge you and bring out your best, (2) a friend to help you find strength in God and to grow in your faith, and (3) a friend to tell you the truth, especially when you don’t want to hear it.” (pg. 152)

This was a “selah” moment. Honestly, I found myself setting down my book and sending out intentional texts of encouragement to a few pastors that have been those 3 key relationships to me.

But please know…This was not how I started ministry.

Yes I had “friends.” But to allow or invite friends on all three of those levels is a whole other issue. I can say, in those first couple years, I only had a “version” of the #2 type of friends. They were the people I ran to in the challenging times. But that was it. It wasn’t that I didn’t possess any other type of friend. The reality was, I was guarded regarding others. My insecurities kept me from asking for too much help or, in some cases, allowing others to help. I found some semblance of satisfaction in “figuring it out myself” while longing for community and mentorship. Back then I called it “work ethic.” 20 years later, I call it for what it really was: pride.

Operating in a vacuum (isolation), unfortunately, is how a number of pastors operate in ministry. Don’t get me wrong, I can appreciate the situations that my fellow co-laborers experience. For some, geography is a challenge. You feel so far away from friendships and denominational connections that the locational disconnect translates into relational chasms. Maybe like me, you have, what I would call, a “genetic” challenge. I term myself as a “nurtured extrovert.” By nature, I’m shy and very quiet, and thus, became my excuse to not reach out. Now-a-days, my wife wonders why  I have to engage in conversation with random strangers in the mall.  For others, age is a huge relational issue. I can appreciate being the only minister in the room from one particular generation and you long for a peer to connect with.  Then there are “situational” challenges. I totally get wanting to find someone who is in a similar place in ministry who shares either a similar place of ministry or a specific season in the life of a church.  I know, personally, I love finding other pastors and churches who have walked similar paths and/or tracking along where I see and envision Kfirst.

But regardless of the challenge, we (ministers) have to power through and to intentionally engage in community. We were divinely designed to live in community. I get how busy you are. But there are times we are so busy doing “good” things that we, many times, can miss out on the “best” things. And, in my limited experiential opinion, operating in relationship as a minister is one of those “best” things we cannot ignore. As my mentor has said to me in so many occasions,

“The enemy works in isolation; God works in community.”

If we expect our congregations to work in community, we ought to practice it first. How dare we ask people to do something we refuse to live out. Relationships is what I have discovered is a phenomenal way to have both healthy ministry and longevity in ministry (positions and vocation). It’s time to lay down our pride. It is time to toss aside our insecurities with the local “competition” (other churches). You were not built for seclusion; you have been created to grow and live in community.

So how can we do this in 2017? How does this practically look? These are not “ground breaking” ideas but they will position you to get out of your vacuum.

  1. Practice the PBT model.
    • Find a Paul (find a mentor or two).
    • Find a Timothy (find someone to disciple).
    • Find a Barnabas (find peers to encourage and be encouraged).
  2. Join a network.
    • Kfirst is part of the River Valley Network. I love that I get to interact with churches from all over the nation and develop a camaraderie with pastors from a variety of size churches and generations.
    • I am involved in some online FB groups. Though they are not a “network” per se, they have become a network of ministers to have ongoing discussions and constant feedback. I love hearing from people who are very much not like me but possess a similar Kingdom heart.
    • I’m always on the hunt for other “networks” and “groups” for me and my staff to help us learn as well as possibly use us to pour into someone else. We can’t just be consumers; we need to be contributors.
  3. Leverage social media.
    • My disclaimer: social media doesn’t equate to deep relationships. BUT it can be an avenue to develop relational connections.
    • I have used all facets of social media to follow churches and ministers to create connections. Peering into the world of other churches helps elevate my vision and gets me out of my little box that I have put ministry in.
  4. Look outside of your denomination. 
    • I love the Assemblies of God. But the Kingdom of God is bigger than our denomination…er…fellowship (#AGJokes). My move to a smaller town in mid-Michigan in the summer of 2002 really opened my eyes and my heart to embrace other ministers who were not A/G but were engaging the Jesus’ Kingdom. I love engaging with pastors in my Kalamazoo area. I love knowing their heart. I also love to be able to recommend other churches when someone comes to Kfirst and doesn’t feel a “fit” in our church community.  And that can’t happen if you (1) are insecure and (2) don’t know the pastors in your city.

I know there are probably other ways, but I wanted to challenge you and keep it simple. Craig Groeschel hit me hard and has made me sit back and reevaluate my connections and I think you should to.

Do you have “community”? Maybe a better question: Will you allow “community” to help you grow and, in turn, will help them grow?

Love you all. Praying for you as you step into connections and allow God to work through community.

 

Thanks for letting me ramble…

BTW: If you’re looking for a marriage resource, check out my book by clicking on the image:

20 Years of Ministry, 20 Lessons I’ve Learned, and So Much More to Grasp

This week marks a monumental week for Anne and myself. 20 years ago, we began this ministry journey together. May 4, 1997 marks our first official day of ministry as pastors (insert Star Wars Day jokes and puns).

I remember pacing the hallway in the office area prior to the service that day. College graduation was just a few days prior and here I was, occupying the office of one of my mentors and stepping out on the platform as the interim youth pastor. The position was in my home church. The congregation knew me as Pastor Hal’s son and now I’m transitioning to “Pastor Dave.” The word “nervous” can’t describe the state I was in; “Terrified” is probably a better word. It wasn’t like I was starting a summer job. I was starting my life and career and, yes, I did throw up before the service.

At this point, Anne and I were about 4 weeks from being engaged and a year from being married. She was 19 and I was 21. When we look back, we laugh and say, “seriously, who thought it was a good idea to put us in charge?” Interestingly enough, we said something similar 2 1/2 years later when Cammi was born, “who in the world trusted us to leave the hospital with a baby?”

20 years have gone by. So I thought I’d share a lesson for each year we’ve traveled this amazingly terrifying and joyful journey

  1. Obedience > Position
    • The “call of God” is not about the position you attain but the obedience you follow. Everybody wants to be king but nobody wants to be a shepherd first.
  2. I need to be “me.” There’s two sides to this coin:
    • I can’t be someone else; I have to be who God made me.
    • I need to continually submit who I am to God for Him to shape me.
  3. Check your zipper before every speaking opportunity.
    • It’s about paying attention to the details in life. The last thing Anne says to me before EVERY ministry opportunity. BTW: The last time she wasn’t there for a speaking engagement, well, I didn’t check and, well…
  4. Rest and recreation are not overrated.
    • As someone who has experienced two major emotional crashes in 20 years, you cannot underestimate or downplay rest AND recreation.
  5. Don’t skip “tent time.” 
    • I liken this to Moses going to the Tabernacle to hear from God. Nothing can replace a lifestyle of prayer. I believe having “prayer times,” but if you regulate prayer to just moments instead of a lifestyle, you’ll miss out on amazing opportunities.
  6. Learning is not a “season” but a “lifestyle.”
    • Every lesson I learn is like following the “white rabbit”; there’s a deeper experience waiting for it if I am willing to open my eyes and follow.
  7. Ministry is shallow if my marriage and family isn’t the priority.
    • If I’m healthy at home, I can be healthy in my role. The congregation needs me to prioritize my marriage and family to position me for ministerial health.
  8. My children have permission to interrupt. 
    • For their entire lives, my two kids (17 and 14) have had to share their parents with hundreds of people.  Yet, Anne and I have made it our goal to make sure that they know that they are the most important people in our lives. What they have to say is important because THEY are important.
  9. Never say, “I’ve heard it all.” 
    • You’ll set yourself up for a rude awaking. I can write a book just on the most unexpected, off the wall, moments from weddings, funerals, services, etc.
  10. Covering your hurts and short-comings never helped anyone (including you). 
    • My struggles and failures have been some of the greatest bridges into people’s lives to convey the Gospel.
  11. Misery love company.
    • I’ve discovered that it is easy to find pastors to complain to but few to celebrate with. Start “belly aching” and you can draw enough people around you to make you feel justified in your fracture. I have to decide, daily, to fix my face like flint in gratitude and joy.
  12. Look at life and lighten up. 
    • My wife says that my daughter and I find the “funny” in life. I think that’s because we look for it. Selah (stop, pause, and think on that).
  13. Finding friends to celebrate with is worth more than gold.
    • Finding people who will celebrate WITH you without jealousy or pessimism, well, that’s not as easy to find. I have a few minister friends who I can call just to celebrate the goodness of God. That has been a life-line to me.
  14. Knock before entering hospital rooms. 
    • When you walk in on someone on a portable toilet, well, it’ll change the course of that hospital visit.
  15. Treat people in a manner you would want to be treated if you were on the other side of things.
    • I would rather be known for showing “too much” grace than not enough.
  16. Other people are not like me.
    • Different doesn’t mean wrong. It’s not easy to navigate differences, but if Jesus only worked with people like him, we’d all be sunk.
  17. Disappointment cannot be avoided, but I can prepare my heart for how I will navigate through them.
    • It’s not being pessimistic about what you are going to face, but it’s knowing that you can face everything with Christ.
  18. The change I need may not be the change I want.
    • Sometimes, well most of the time, when you want to see change in your congregation, God wants to start with you. And usually God wants to bring change that exists outside of your comfort zone.
  19. Paul, Timothy, Barnabas is a model to live by.
    • Have a Paul (mentor), find a Timothy (someone to disciple), and be a Barnabas (peer encourager).
  20. Don’t spend so much time building your empire that you miss out on the Kingdom.
    • Don’t be a diva where your church community revolves around your personality and preferences. Center it around Christ. Disciple people to hear from the Holy Spirit and equip them to do ministry. A successful tenure at a church centered around the Kingdom being build and not your brand.

A few decades down and with the help of the Holy Spirit and some good coffee, there will be 3 or 4 more to go.

Love you all. Praying for you.

Encourage Effort.
Celebrate Progress.
Feed Hope.

Thanks for letting me ramble for 20 years…

BTW, I wrote a book of my marriage blogs. If you’d like to buy a copy, click on the image.

“Peace out” 4 Thoughts on Leaving a Church Community

Of all of the topics pastors have asked me to write on, this one has come up a lot lately. Now let me say: I write this blog from a very full heart and a very good place.

This month, Anne and I celebrated completing 8 years at Kfirst. We are in a great season in our church community. I’m a pastor who LOVES my job. So, in essence, this blog is not the ranting of a wounded leader but the ramblings of a pastor who loves the Church (not just Kfirst). My heart is for the Kingdom of God. I serve Christ and desire for people to find and follow Him.

But I often find myself fielding calls from a pastors about those who have left the church community they lead. A vast majority of the time, it’s a humble voice on the other end. He/she isn’t spewing hate or rage. The pastor is simple looking for introspective answers to what may have caused the disconnect and/or what personal changes may need to take place. Honestly, I love that type of heart. As the scriptures say,

“God opposes the proud but favors the humble.” – James 4:6

As I say so often to them and to those who have left a church: Sometimes there isn’t a “fit” and I’m okay with that.

It’s not a generational thing nor it is always that a bad event occurred to drive someone away. Sometimes it happens when there is a change in the church community (leadership, vision, atmosphere/style, etc).  I’m okay with all of that. It happens. We’ve experienced that here at Kfirst. I was warned by countless pastors that my transition into leadership, over the course of a few years, would solidify people in the community as well as help people feel a release. I was forewarned that it’s a part of church life as the church, as well as myself, continues to grow and gel together.

Again, leaving doesn’t have to be a terrible event. There are a number of those whom have left that I remain friends with and have even hung out with. I interact on social media with quite a few people who see that there is more the “Church” than your “church.” If your version of the body of Christ only includes those you attend a weekly gathering with, you’ve got a shallow and incorrect understanding of the Church.

Don’t get me wrong, challenging things happen. From misunderstandings and offenses to personality conflicts and burnout.  And unfortunately, sinful decisions by either leadership or attendees (or both) can drive people to deciding to leave their present church. If you expected the Church to be perfect and to act perfect, you are always going to find someone or something to be disappointed in.  But every time you leave, you can take steps of healing or perpetuate the hurt. I’m not trying to justify any hurtful action. I just want to see the Church get healthier. And I think that we ALL can do better with church transitions.

A few months back, I dealt with this from the pastoral perspective as I challenged pastors on how to respond to those leaving the church in the blog, “How Do You Deal With People Leaving the Church?” So I thought I’d approach it from the other perspective: How to leave a church and find another.

Depart in a Christ-glorifying way. 
Leaving a church doesn’t have to be dramatic and malicious.  You don’t need a “mic drop” moment to make a splash on your way out. Don’t rally people together through texts, phone calls, or small group meetings. There’s no need to blast people, pastors, or churches on social media. Every time I see this happen, my heart breaks. A thread of hate on social media feeds our own self-righteousness and prevents anyone toward moving forward in healing.

If you see the need to leave where you are at, I can understand that, but make sure you leave in the most Christ-glorifying way. You may “feel” justified in some of the above actions, but no glory goes to God from purposely leaving emotional shrapnel stuck in the hearts of those you used to worship with. I love the words of Christ, in regards to those who may have hurt or mistreated you: Love, do good, bless, and pray for them.

Don’t look for or demand “exit interviews.” Stepping away is fine. Maybe if you have “membership” at a church then I think it’s very appropriate to give the pastor a “heads up” on the new direction you are taking. Over the past 8 years, I’ve appreciated simple connections where hugs and prayers were exchanged instead of opinions and preferences; blessing and goodness was given over frustration and offense.

You bring forward what you took away.
While writing this blog, my mind went to how Israel left Egypt. It says in Exodus 12:36, that they “stripped Egypt of their wealth.” 20 chapters later, when they were tired of waiting on their leader, they took what they left Egypt with and made gods to serve.  These slaves were set free with a wealth they had never lived with. And they needed to choose how to harness it.

What you left with from the last church, you WILL bring it with you (both good and bad). It’s not a mind-blowing concept but an extremely underestimated fact. In college, the church I attended starting going into a direction that didn’t sit well with me. My dread of going to church far outweighed my passion for church. I tried getting involved, but the more the church shifted, the more I discovered that it wasn’t a “fit.” When I settled at a new church, it shocked me what I carried with me.  I realized that, when I left, I brought more with me than I realized. And I could use that to grow, or I can respond like Israel, use what I took to form an idea to follow.

When you leave a church, you leave with the good and the bad. And your decision is simple: Will you grow forward with and properly utilize experiences you received or will you serve the hurt that you walked away with? Nobody else can make that decision but you.

Don’t develop atrophy.
Sitting may feel profitable, but it’s an easy place to get stuck. Even for those who are “burnt out” on volunteering, I recommend rest, but serving is some the best therapy for a burnt out soul.

Before you react, here me out. I’m not asking for a massive commitment to leading or launching a new program. I am speaking out of positioning yourself in a place where you rest can turn to a place of atrophy.

When I went through rotator cuff surgery, I didn’t go back into massive commitments to activities. I went to physical therapy. The trauma I incurred prevented me from doing ANYTHING I did before the injury. But in PT, I did small, subtle movements.  And because of my amazing PT and the appropriate amount of time, my shoulder was restored and stronger than ever.

If anyone has faced some hurt and/or burn out, step into a simple place of serving. For example, here at Kfirst we have “First Impressions” ministry. It’s as simple as greeting at a door once a month (or ever two months). Not a huge commitment but vital ministry. And that level of serving mixed with the appropriate amount of time, can restored and strengthen a wounded soul to be stronger than ever.

Root where you land.
Fruit doesn’t come from a plant that doesn’t take root (I’m sure I’ll get a note from a botanist on that one). When you find a church community, go all in and make connections. It may take a few tries and attempts, but take the responsibility to put your roots down.

Far too often we place our “rooting” on the pastor or the congregation. While I’m not relinquishing responsibilities from the leadership and the people, the “reaching” and “connecting” must go both ways. And while the “rooting” is happening, you’ll discover ministry and relational sweet spots. For me, my volunteering and involvement didn’t come without bumps or bruises. I remember wanting to get involved in a few ministries that I loved but were overcrowded with volunteers. But you bloom where you are planted. So I planted myself with some areas of need in that church and, through serving, I found greater connection. Don’t make leaders or people chase you. Go after them and begin developing roots in your new church community.

Leaving a church is more than deciding to attend a different gathering during the week. There is a transition of heart, background, and a positioning for future Kingdom growth. And my challenge to anyone reading this would be to consider the full gambit of what this type of change brings so that you, and those around you, can see the Church become a healthier entity.

If you’re a pastor reading this, I highly recommend “How Do You Deal With People Leaving the Church?” as there proper way for YOU to deal with this.

None of this is easy. But I believe that, together, we can create a stronger Church.

Love you all.

Encourage Effort.
Celebrate Progress.
Feed Hope.

 

Thanks for letting me ramble…

 

 

“This is my pastor”: 2 Simple Pastor Lessons from 4 Powerful Words

I. Am. Wrecked.

I’m literally beginning this blog in the parking lot of a coffeehouse trying to reign in my emotions. When something hits you to the soul, you can’t just pass it by without processing it first. Something just took place 15 minutes ago that has left me undone. There are four spoken words that have crushed me under their weight while lifting me up beyond the clouds.

“This is my pastor.”

I had rushed out of the office to an ER visit and noticed a newly built coffeehouse at a stoplight. It wasn’t my addiction to that “liquid blessing” that turned my gaze but the reputation that proceeded the name on the building. “Walnut and Park” is a little bit more than the average coffee shop. They connect and train the residents of KPEP (an innovative community corrections provider based here in Kalamazoo). And every time you visit, you support job training and experience in culinary arts for those in the KPEP program.

How awesome is that?

(Before I go further, please hear my heart, this isn’t a brag session of any ONE church. But this memoir was too much for me to leave in a journal as I will only boast about the Lord.)

So after my hospital visit, I stopped by and immediately greeted by a young woman who has been attending our church. The smile on her face would light up any room as she screamed “Pastor Dave!!!” She immediately went to grab her manager and tell her, “This is my pastor.” While I was meeting the manager, she went to find the other manager. And while that intro was happening, she grabbed her co-worker and said, “This is my pastor. You need to meet him.” So in the midst of this barrage of introductions, she begins to tell every person around her of how she found a church that introduced her to Jesus and loved her unconditionally. She told the entire staff how she was baptized. And that brought a statement from her coworker:

“If you get to go there, I want to go too.”

This product of the grace of God was so unrefined and fearless in her excitement that I felt convicted in my own heart about how calloused I can get to the ordinary moments in life. You don’t know the path of brokenness of her life and it’s not your business to know it. You don’t know what landed her in KPEP nor does it need to be listed. What matters is this girl has seen that the healing and renewal that Jesus offers is greater than that which evil can fracture and destroy. And she now stands there, serving coffee, smiling as a trophy of the goodness and grace of God.

“This is my pastor.”

I can’t remember feeling so unworthy of a title yet so privileged to be addressed as such. So as I reflect now, these four words have brought up two simple reminders:

You can’t pastor alone.
The day and age of the “one-man-show” is done (it shouldn’t have ever been here).  If you build a ministry around you, it’s not the Kingdom you are building up but an empire. We are to make much of Jesus and His Kingdom. To do everything by yourself, you will not only break you under its pressure but stifle your growth and effectiveness.  Every Friday, there is ministry that happens KPEP. The beginning of it had nothing to do with me nor my involvement. It was people hearing the voice of the Holy Spirit and giving them room to respond in obedience.  There are so many pastors doing all the ministry that we forget that effective pastoring is enabling people to do the work of the ministry. We need to give opportunities for people to hear from the Lord and to help them find their fit. Which leads me to…

Release People. 
The longer I’m in ministry, the more that I’ve come to realize that effective ministry isn’t about launching programs but releasing people into ministry. That comes with a bit of risk as people are human (so are you) and working through different personalities and styles can be challenging.

I remember casting vision to the KPEP leader about marriage ministry as well as some other opportunities. As excited as I was about them, none of them were a fit. Like Saul putting his armor on David, we were willing to dream and, sometimes, even try some things on, but had to admit when it something didn’t fit right. Sometimes “releasing people” is engaging them in ministry that isn’t a fit. But where some may see the failure of an attempt, I see that a “closed-door” is actually fine-tuning of a vision. In scripture, God closed a door to Paul in a ministry he wanted to be released into. That “no” launched Paul into a new trajectory that impacted Macedonia. A “no” turned into God’s “yes.”

But note: Paul wasn’t sitting at home waiting to hear from God. He was engaged in ministry. And while doing ministry, Paul heard from the Lord. The more we release people to engage in ministry, the more we will position the people we lead to hear from God. We need to be willing to release them in a manner that will impact the Kingdom without any notoriety or nod toward your church or denomination. If we only minister for what we get back, it’s not Jesus we are exalting but our own egos.

Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.

To the pastor reading this: You are loved. You are appreciated. The work you are doing is not going unnoticed by the Lord. And as you lead, one of the greatest ways you can pastor is not doing the work of ministry FOR people but releasing them INTO ministry.

But remember: you and I are not models of perfection but the reflection of a perfect Savior. So reflect Jesus and love people and release them into ministry.

To anyone reading this: some of the best discipleship is to get involved.  Don’t fret about the area per se but get active in ministry to the hurting around you. It’s amazing how clear we can hear the direction of the Lord when we are engaged in activities that reflect Him. As I had a conversation yesterday with a few high school students, discovering a lack of a fit, you discover a more fine-tuned focus on what really is a “fit.”

Love you all. Engage in Jesus liberally and reach out to people generously.

Go pastor your people and don’t settle for crappy coffee 🙂

 

Thanks for letting me ramble…

Pastor to Pastor: 9 Thoughts to Navigate Ministerial Generational Differences

In 2005, I took a team of young people to England to minister to the community of Peterborough. It was an amazing week of ministry. And on our “free day,” we spent 24 hours in London. Honestly, 1 day, is in no way, enough time for such a historic city.

In the subway, there is an announcement that has become quite famous. The warning is to “Please Mind the Gap.” At the time, my students were wondering if  there was an issue with “falling into the gap” (as if someone could fit in between the train and the1200px-mindthegapvictoria platform). Obviously, London was concerned about watching your step getting on and off the metro. The warning was less about a fall as it was about a stumble. Because to stumble, in a place like that, can lead to personal injury and a crowd-flow catastrophe.

My heart of this blog to ministers is that of the warning of the London metro: Please mind the gap, or more specifically, please careful attention to the generational differences. This should be a place of sharpening instead of a chasm of division.

At 41, I recognize that I’m at a “different” age. I am neither old nor young. I used to refer to 40 as the “Purgatory of Ages” as I felt it was the holding cell right before launch into my next season of life and ministry. But honestly, I never realized how much I would enjoy being in my 40’s. And over the past couple years, I find my self in a peculiar generational gap that afforded me some perspective I didn’t expect.

To younger ministers, I’m a 20-year veteran. To older pastors, I’ve just barely started (or so I’m constantly reminded SMH). So the view of my ministry vintage is all about perception. For example, two months ago, I met a 70-year-old retired minister (whom I thoroughly enjoyed talking to) who changed his tone halfway through the night. I wasn’t sure why his demeanor shifted till one of his family members informed me that he just realized that I’m not currently IN bible college but graduated back in 1997. No offense; I kind of enjoy those moments.

Being in this “bridge age” has made me a bit of a lightning rod for fellow ministers. Younger pastors contact me to ask about older generations and older pastors ask me to “explain” the actions of younger pastors. Honestly, I don’t have all the answers (I wish I did…thank the Lord for the pastors I can call). But not being in either category, and being at the tail-end of Gen X, affords me (I think) a very cool opportunity. It has given me an amazing chance to watch and observe, to learn and to grow, and to be stretched as well as to reinforce.

What troubles me is when we (ministers) lose sight of the Kingdom over the issue of age. I am all about studying the generations. There is immense value in learning about each other and from each other. But I tire of the blogs and articles that look to place blame on one generation or another instead of working to build bridges between them.  I watch pastors taking sides with peers above embracing the Kingdom. We make much of generations instead of making much of Jesus.  Age, or the lack thereof, doesn’t disqualify you from being an effective ministry leader; but pride can and does.

Friends, fellow pastors and ministers, Millennials/Xers/Boomers are not the problem with the church today. Oh, I’ve read your Facebook statuses and Twitter rants. I’ve perused your generational finger-pointing-blog. As powerful and authoritative as you may sound, but your pastoral attack on ministers of a different generation make you sound foolish and angry. You are painting a picture to the world that the Church has no hope for unity because, those that lead it, are fighting amongst themselves because they refuse to make the efforts needed to understand each other.

In the immortal words of James, “My brothers and sisters, this should not be.”

I’m am in not way claiming perfection in this!! But it seems to me that the generational underlying issues are less about the resume of your expereinces but more the weight of your preferences. And I find that preferences skew perspectives. We point fingers instead of reaching out our hands. We criticize because it’s easier than sitting with coffee to have a discussion. We make much about what we are comfortable with instead of being open to what the Holy Spirit may (or may not) want to change.

To repeat my friend James, “My brothers and sisters, this should not be.”

“Where there is unity, God commands his blessing.” Psalm 133 (paraphrased)

It’s time to “mind the gap.” So today, as I sit here drinking my Costa Rican coffee, I thought I’d share some thoughts from my “bridge-age” perspective.

Filled vessels, fill others. As much as I believe being “hangry” is a real thing (angry because you are hungry), I believe there are ministers who are constantly critical, and seemingly angry, of other generations.  You will not have the capacity to learn or give value if you are not spending personal time in the presence of God being filled by Him. I’ve seen too many pastors who respond out of the emptiness of their own spirit than out of compassion, strength, and identity drawn from the Holy Spirit.

I’ve been there; I’ve been “that guy.” And because I’m human with a sin-nature, I have the capacity to be “that” guy that facilitates infection instead of being a part of the healing. Fill yourself and be a resource of refreshing.

Listen before you comment. Listening is not waiting for your turn to talk. Show value to others by listening to what they have to say.  I have inadvertently devalued another minister’s experiences by “topping” theirs or by feeling I need to say something. “That’s what you dealing with? I dealt with something…” There are times others just need to talk stuff through and don’t need you to share anything. In the immortal words of Anne Barringer, “Why can’t people just shut up and be listeners” (advice I head every time I want to interrupt someone).

Refuse generational stereotypes. I find it humorous that, when it comes to your own generation, you don’t see everyone as the same. But another generation, we lump them together. Don’t paint every age-group the same. Connect with others in order to know the individual rather than make the judgement call on their “generational stereotype.” Toss out all-encompassing statements like “You younger/older pastors all act like…say…do…think.” Toss out the label and engage with one another in authentic relationship.

A $3 investment will create a priceless opportunity. Take another minister of a different generation out and pay for their coffee. Instead of questions about the “success” of their ministry, have a more personal approach. Ask questions about their calling into ministry. Encourage them. Ask him/her about their family. Pray over them.

When you leave, journal some thoughts. Bring it all to your prayer closet. Ask God to bless them and change you. And when the Holy Spirit brings them to mind, send them a message to let them know about it.

NOTE: Take it to another level, take out someone of a different DENOMINATION to learn from them. This has been a huge learning experience for me over the past 10 years and it has enriched me. Last week, I had a few hours with a Greek Orthodox Priest and walked away with so much more understand than I expected.

Apologize. Keep your heart in check. And as you discover where you’ve faulted, be willing to admit it. Be the first to ask others for forgiveness and be just as quick to grant it. My guess is, unless you’re a robot, being human means seeking forgiveness from mistakes will probably happen a few times in your life. Repenting to God for a misunderstanding is easy when you are alone, but meeting with someone to confess bitterness and misunderstanding takes humility. And if you’re looking for maturity, humility is the place where growth begins.

Growth isn’t optional. In bible college, it seemed that “destinations” were celebrated and sought after. To get to a position, to write a book, to accomplish credentials, or to grow church to a certain size was “success.” But the longer I’m in ministry, the more I am reminded of how much MORE growth I need. And to be focused upon a “destination” means I can “arrive” as opposed to seeing the journey I’m on, recognizing how much I need the Lord with me, and that I need to grow into continue on it. If I refuse to allow God to stretch me and grow me, then how can I expect that of the people I lead?

Look at the motives before you judge the actions. Assumption is cancerous to a mind and us ministers are good at it. But I know what you’re thinking, “How am I supposes to know someone’s motives?” It easier than you think. This is where you need to go back a few thoughts and take someone out for that coffee (make sure it’s good coffee).  The enemy works in isolation and God works in community. And a few moments with coffee can clarify so many assumptive thoughts. Why? When we discover the motives of someone’s heart, it will disarm the manipulation of the imagination.

Find a mentor and a reverse-mentor. Mentoring is valuable from 2 perspectives. First, purposely connect and build relationships with a mentor (someone with more experience and different insight). You need that Paul speaking into Timothy experience. I’d recommend a couple of them that you can lean on who’ve been on the journey before.  I love being a sponge just sitting and soaking in the rich experience and wisdom of my mentors.

Secondly, deliberately make the initiative to get reverse-mentors (someone with less experience but different insight). I literally love to talk with college students and pastors fresh into ministry. Their passion and perspective is both refreshing and challenging. It reminds me of that drive that propelled me into my passion for ministry as well as hear of the innovative approaches and takes on issues and ministry.

Be a mentor and a reverse-mentor. IF you are approached, be open to the Holy Spirit leading you to pour into someone. And I would invite you to do it without expectation of compensation. Let the Kingdom be the primary beneficiary.  I’m not saying you need to stop them from blessing you (as I enjoy blessing mentors), but don’t let what you get dictate what you give. Freely you received, freely give.

We are better together. We are part of a greater Kingdom. And if we’ll work together, be humble about what God has entrusted to us, we can learn from each other.

I love you all. I’m praying for you. And I believe the best has yet to come for you and the ministry God has you in.

 

Thanks for letting me ramble…

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BTW: If you want to purchase my new book, “Mosaic Marriage”, click on the link below. mm-center-screen-3