How to Build a Healthy Elder Team

If there is one thing pastors know well, it is the pain that can stem from a poorly run elder team. Long meetings, arguments, back stabbing, meetings outside of the meeting, gossip, politicking. The list goes on and on.

On the other side, you hear about elder teams that care for each other, love and serve the church well, care for the pastors and their families and work together to fulfill what God has called the church to. This side of the equation is seen by many pastors as a unicorn. There are rumors, sightings and rumblings, but few actually realize it.

Those elder teams do exist, but they take specific steps to get there.

Here are seven things you must do as a pastor to build a healthy elder culture.

1. Make building a healthy elder team/culture a priority.

Too many lead pastors don’t make this a priority, and their elder team and the culture of that team shows how little effort this gets. In fact, in many churches the lead pastor has little to no say who is on the elder team, yet that team determines more about the health of the church than almost every other team.

If your by-laws have a nominating committee that doesn’t include the lead pastor, change your by-laws. If you have a nominating committee for your elder team, change your by-laws and take that out. (I’ll get to that in a minute.)

For too long at our church I saw leadership development as something that would just happen because I cared about leadership, but for leaders to be developed and a culture to be built, the lead pastor must carry the flag. Don’t mistake this, a culture will be built, whether you try or not, so make building a healthy culture a priority.

Why does this have to be a priority?

A healthy elder team brings security, health, care and development to the whole church. When the elder team knows what it is doing (and not doing), when they care for the staff and leaders well, when they are connecting to new people in the church, praying with and for the church, protecting the church, keeping them on track with the vision as well as financially and doctrinally, everyone wins.

When this doesn’t happen, you see carnage, hurt, pain and disillusionment all over the church.

2. Know what you are looking for in an elder.

If you ask most people in a church what an elder does, you will hear a few different answers. Those answers determine what you will get in an elder team.

They should be financially and business minded. In this case, the elders act more like a board of directors simply checking and balancing things.

You will hear someone pull out 1 Peter 5 and talk about shepherding and pastoring. This team is highly relational, caring and functions to make sure the church is warm, discipled and no one falls through the cracks.

Eventually someone will pull out 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 and talk about the qualifications of an elder.

Many pastors simply look for friends to put on their elder team because they know the carnage that can happen if they have enemies on that team.

You will find whatever you are looking for in an elder, so look wisely and know ahead of time what you are looking for.

Does an elder preach? Counsel? Make budgets? Decisions? Do they shepherd everyone? Are they there to protect the pastor? Protect the church from the pastor? (I had an elder say that once.)

Again, your answer will determine what you get because you will go looking for that.

An elder is a man with character, someone who fits the qualifications of 1 Timothy 3, Titus 1 and 1 Peter 5.

An elder is a man who will protect the church, who will keep the church on mission and on track financially and doctrinally. A man who can see the whole field of the church.

This last part, seeing the whole field of the church, is one of the most important things to ask when considering someone to be an elder. Someone can be a great community group leader but not a good elder. Someone can be a good businessman but not a good elder. Someone might be a great volunteer in an area, but that’s the lid of their leadership. None of those are bad things. In fact, they are good things. It just means someone is not an elder.

Too many times we put the wrong people on that bus. We think, “He’s a good shepherd, so he should be an elder.” But as a church grows, shepherding isn’t the only thing an elder does. They also oversee staff and budgets (that begin to have a lot of zeros after them). Other times we think, “He’s good with numbers, but he might be a jerk.” You need to know.

3. Always be on the lookout.

You as the lead pastor are always on the lookout for great leaders for every part of your church. The moment you stop, the moment you delegate this, is the moment your church begins to suffer.

You must also have your antennae up for the guns blazing awesome guy who comes into your church and can hurt your church.

4. Start training an elder three years before they become an elder.

If you take responsibility to always be on the lookout, you will begin training an elder well before they become an elder to see if they can handle it. Give them leadership and shepherding opportunities to see how they handle them. Give them decision making responsibilities to see how it goes.

I lead a leadership development group every week with up and coming leaders in our church. Every elder in our church goes through this group. I want to see them interact with a group, argue over a case study, discuss theology, see if they’ll be on time for a meeting, if they’ll come prepared, speak up in a discussion, watch how others interact with them and see if they have the respect of the group.

This is so important, has low risk for the church but brings so much fruit.

5. Have a long process to become an elder.

Why a long process? Honestly, protection.

Three years allow you to see a man’s character, his marriage (if married), his parenting (if he has kids), his generosity and desire to live on mission. You hear him pray. You watch him serve. Read #2 again. You can’t know if you someone meets the qualifications in a month.

Three years also bring perseverance. A wolf who will destroy your church and eat the sheep won’t wait around that long; they’ll move on.

This process also helps you know if someone has what it takes to be an elder.

Now, they aren’t in a process for three years (at least not officially), but you should make someone be at your church at least two years before they become an elder. What’s the rush?

Depending on what you determine you are looking for in an elder, what they will do (and this changes some as a church grows), your process must help you see if someone can do that job. Don’t be swayed by charisma, a desire to not be alone, filling a spot or keeping a big giver. Those do not end well.

6. Know how unique an elder is and what they do.

Elders do what no one else in the church does.

Yes, they serve, shepherd, pray, evangelize, give and disciple. That’s a role all Christians play.

But elders do something that is unique and builds into #7: they shepherd and care for the lead pastor and his family. This is unique.

Many people in the church care about the lead pastor and his family. Many people are fans of his and put him on a pedestal. Elders, though, see the man for who he is. They know him and his struggles. They know his hurts, pressures, frustrations and joys.

This doesn’t mean the lead pastor is special, only that his role is unique. Not everyone can shepherd and care for him. Most people are used to getting something from a pastor, so it is hard to think differently about the lead pastor. But it is a crucial, yet often overlooked role of elders.

When an elder team is working well and fulfills this, it brings great joy to a pastor and his family. This joy is felt throughout the church. This does not happen over night and takes training.

7. Always (almost) keep paid pastors off the elder team.

I expect some disagreement on this, but hear me out. Some churches make any paid pastor an elder. The qualifications for an elder and pastor are the same. I get it.

Here’s the dilemma.

The lead pastor leads the staff, is the boss of the staff. On an elder team, he’s one of the team. Yes, first among equals, but elders do not have power apart from the team.

It is very difficult for a student pastor or worship pastor to sit in a meeting with the lead pastor on Tuesday morning and be reviewed, be given an assignment, and then on Tuesday night sit in a meeting where they are equals in that meeting.

Are there exceptions? Yes, but less than you think. It is difficult for everyone to change the hats they wear. It is also difficult to discuss the salary and benefits of people sitting in the room.

The Weight & Joy of Being a Pastor: Loneliness

If you talk to any pastor or his wife and ask them about friends, more than likely you will get a sad, longing look. Many pastors and their wives are lonely. They have been betrayed, hurt, and left out.

As I’ve been sharing the weights and joys (Preaching God’s word every weekYou can’t change peopleGod’s call on your lifeSeeing life changePeople under you are counting on youGod using youWhat God thinks of you and Communicating God’s word) of being a pastor, the loneliness a pastor and his wife experience can be unique to this role.

Weight #5: Loneliness

Why is this true? Because you are a part of the community you are leading, and it is hard for you and for them to change hats. When you are the pastor, you are always the pastor. People always see you this way. You always see them as someone you lead, care for and shepherd.

This is kind of the culmination of the previous four. I think one of the biggest weights that many pastors carry is the weight of loneliness. What we do is not a job, it is a calling. I heard someone once say, “If you want a job, go get one; this one gets you.”

As pastors, not only do we carry the weight of a job (bills, staff, expectations, workload, church happening every week), but we also carry the confidentiality that comes with it; knowing the truth in many situations but not being able to share it.

Much of what a pastor does is in the context of being alone. While pastors are learning how to include other leaders in vision and preaching, which is important, and pastors are also releasing power and responsibility to other leaders so that others help to carry the load, which is also good, the reality is, the pastor still carries much of the weight of the church. The pastor and his family are often the ones attacked by those in the church, outside the church and Satan.

This was not clear to me before becoming a lead pastor. For me, spiritual warfare and attacks from people were there but not something that happened a lot. In my house, you can always tell when it is Saturday night as Satan seems to do whatever he can to throw off my rhythm, put a wedge in between Katie and me, and do what he can to keep our kids from sleeping. I grew up in a church environment that believed in spiritual warfare and demons but didn’t give a lot of credence to it. While the other end of the spectrum sees a demon behind every door, spiritual warfare for me growing up was left more to what Satan did to tempt you. When we lower spiritual warfare, we also lower the need for the power of God. It is possible, though, to fixate too much on spiritual warfare and attacks, to see a demon around every corner, and for that to become the focus of our lives. There is a balance that is needed.

The reality of this is that it is lonely. One person gets up in front of their church and opens God’s Word [add link]. It is weighty, there is a lot riding on it, God is working in people’s lives and eternity is literally at stake. That is weighty and often lonely.

When people attack the pastor, where do they turn? When the pastor is weighed down by things, where do they turn? What about the pastor’s spouse? This is often the most difficult position in the entire church. They see what is said about their spouse, they hear it, they feel the pain, they see the sleepless nights, the exhaustion, and are often unsure of what to do.

For Katie and me, we’ve developed some things that help.

  • Retreat day. Once a month I do a spiritual retreat day. This is a time for God to refresh me, speak and listen. I go with my Bible, a journal and some worship music, and that’s it.
  • Sabbath. I cannot say enough about how important it is to set aside one day a week to just stop. Even though it is all over the Bible, Christians everywhere, especially pastors, pretend that it is a suggestion.
  • Meet with a counselor or spiritual director. I can always tell when it is time. (Scratch that. Katie can always tell when it is time.) My pastoral counselor or spiritual director helps in discerning where God is moving, what He is saying and how to sort through the last month and the feelings that go with life. This is important because pastors are good at doing this for others but not for themselves.
  • Have people praying for you. Katie and I have people in our church and outside of our church praying for different things. This is huge and often overlooked.
  • Be low key on Saturday. Since church is on Sunday, we try to make Saturday night fun and low key. We don’t have any intense, serious conversations, we avoid stressful situations and do something fun and relaxing. And get some sleep!
  • Have friends. Get some men around you who understand. Too many pastors are walking it alone. Get some people who understand the weight of it, let them encourage you, lift you up in prayer and just generally be there.

6 Things to do When Someone Insults You

insults

You know the conversation. Someone in your church asks to meet with you, or you set up the meeting because you know they are angry at you, the church or a decision that was made.

The conversation is going well. You are making some headway and figuring out what the issues are (which is really important), and then the unexpected happens.

Not really unexpected.

You should have seen it coming.

The insults. The ‘several people’ comments. The, “I’ve asked around” comments.

What do you do? Do you defend your honor? Pushback? Take it like a man? Try to win?

If you as a pastor have not found yourself in this conversation, it is coming. When it happens, here are six things to keep in mind:

1. It will surprise you who it is. This is always the case. You will be blown away at who is angry at you and who hurls insults at you. Whenever I’ve made a change or decision at our church, the people who are mad and leave over it are never the ones I expected. In the same way, the ones who will criticize you unfairly, spread rumors about you, talk to a “bunch of other people about an issue” will surprise you. They will not be who you expect.

This is one reason it hurts so much when it happens.

2. Don’t stoop to their level. It is easy in this situation to defend your honor, try to win (this is my default mode), prove your point, point out their shortcomings and sin (because they are there), or try to explain yourself. More than likely, in this meeting (there might be a second one) they are simply wanting to vent and “get something off their chest.” For the person this meeting is often not about reconciliation, understanding your perspective or seeing that they might be wrong. That will hopefully come later, but the reality is, they have been angry for quite some time and they have some pent up anger.

3. Listen as best as you can and figure out what the actual issue is. Often, not always, but often when someone comes and says, “I’m leaving _____ church because…” Or, “I’m angry because ________”, those are rarely the issues. They think they are the issues, but they aren’t. People will give you a reason for leaving your church that you won’t be able to argue with. This is the reason why “I’m not getting fed enough” or “God told me to leave” are such popular reasons.

In seminary I took one counseling class, and I got the best piece of advice in my entire seminary experience. A professor told me, “When someone’s life is out of control, they have sin in their life they can’t handle, they are angry at their spouse, parent, child, boss or feel letdown in life and don’t know what to do, they take their anger out on the closest authority figure they can find, and that tends to be a pastor and the church.”

I can’t tell you how many meetings I’ve had over the years with people who want to leave the church I lead or meet with me because they are angry at a decision we made, and more than half the meeting is about what frustrates them about their spouse, parent or child.

Once you are able to determine what you think is the real issue, start talking about that. Help them to see what the real issue is. This isn’t always possible. You might be told that isn’t the issue, but if your gut tells you that is the issue, it usually is.

4. If they want to leave your church, let them. As a pastor you want everyone possible to be a part of your church. Why? Because you love and care for them. You’ve walked with them, labored over sermons for them, prayed for them, listened to them, seen them grow, discipled them. You don’t want them to leave. It hurts every time it happens.

But it happens.

Don’t try to talk someone out of leaving your church.

Now, if they are leaving for a bad reason, tell them. If they are leaving for an immature reason, tell them.

But don’t stop them.

Why?

That might be God’s way of protecting you.

If they met with you and are angry at you, hurling insults at you (yes, people say horrible things to pastors), and they say they want to leave your church, don’t try to talk them out of it.

In fact, and this might be controversial so hear me out, you might need to encourage them to leave your church.

Their staying might not be healthy for them, their family, for you or the church.

5. Debrief with someone you trust, who loves you, to find the truth in what was said. The meeting is over and you feel like you have been punched in the gut (hopefully only figuratively).

The reality is, the person who talked with you might be right, they just did it in the worst way possible. So, you have to find the truth. Is what they said on target? Do you have any sin or shortcomings you need to confess or work on? Don’t waste what was said simply because it hurt or you don’t agree. They might be right, or at least partly right.

6. Reconcile to the best of your ability. It isn’t always possible or healthy to have a second meeting. It can easily become the two of you trying to remember what all was said. If you need to reconcile over an issue, try to. The other person may not want to, and you don’t always need to talk to them to reconcile it, but you need to make sure you don’t allow them to take up space in your heart over an issue.

The Weight & Joy of Being a Pastor: Communicating God’s Word

One of the best parts of being a pastor (or a Christian for that matter) is seeing God use you. There is nothing like using the gifts God has given to you.

Recently I’ve been sharing some of the weights and joys of being a pastor to help people who attend church understand what it is like to be a pastor and how they can support their pastor and his family, but also to encourage pastors to keep going and not give up, as so many do.

Being a pastor is unique. It isn’t harder than another job, just different.

If you’ve missed any of the weights or joys I’ve covered, you can see them here: Preaching God’s word every weekYou can’t change peopleGod’s call on your lifeSeeing life changePeople under you are counting on youGod using you and What God thinks of you.

Joy #4: Communicating God’s Word

While this is a weight that pastors carry, this is also a joy.

To have the ability to open God’s Word and share it with others is a huge joy. To have people come to hear what God is saying through his Word and you is unbelievable. It is humbling, holy and scary all at the same time. For me, because teaching is one of my top gifts, I love being able to preach every week.

I love to see the way God chooses to use the work that I have put in and the time I have labored on a talk. It is something that is difficult to describe. It goes back to God using us.

For me, a sermon starts about six to eight months before I preach it. I lay out where I feel God is taking our church over the coming year and begin meditating on those passages, researching, finding articles, books and commentaries to see what others have to say on those topics. By the time I get up to preach something, I have been sitting with that topic for quite some time. To see more of how I prep a sermon, you can read that process here.

I am always blown away at how, even though we plan in advance, our church seems to be in the place where what I’m preaching on is what they need. Countless times God has shown up where we are going through what I’m preaching on. I used to be surprised.

By far this is more work, but at the same time it is so worth it. To be a part of God’s work in the world in this way makes what I do worth it.

Too many pastors, while they enjoy preaching, get lazy at it. They don’t plan ahead, they are trying to figure out Saturday night what to say instead of getting a good night’s sleep. They simply download someone else’s ideas instead of doing the hard work of figuring out what God wants to say to the church they serve. Or, they get up and say too many things instead of doing the hard work of editing.

Preaching is a weight, and according to the New Testament something you will get judged twice for. So if you preach, it is a joy as well as a weight. If it is not a joy, do something else in your church, or ask God to make preaching a joy to you.

When you see this task as a joyful weight, you finally get it. In that moment, a lot changes as a communicator. You are humbled by the opportunity, how God works but also that God will move through your prayers, confession and study. Those are never wasted in this weighty joy.

The Weight & Joy of Being a Pastor: What God Thinks of You

When God thinks of you, what comes to mind?

This is a hard question for many of us to answer. We often think the answer is failure or disappointment or unloved.

Yet, none of those are true.

What you believe the answer is to that question shapes much of your life. This is especially true if you are a pastor.

There is a weight that pastors feel that I don’t know translates into other jobs. I think that people in churches can know about it, but not fully understand it. I know that as a youth pastor, I didn’t truly understand the weight of pastoring until becoming a lead pastor. For no particular reason, it just worked that way.

While there are many weights that a pastor carries, some of them are just human weights that others carry (including parenting), but I thought up five that I think pastors particularly carry on a daily basis because of what they do each and every week. There is an important distinction here. These are not pains; they are the weights of pastoring. There is a huge difference between pain and weight (so no one misses that).

I’ve been sharing these weights and joys recently so that those who attend a church know what it is like to be a pastor and how to best support their pastor. When those two (a pastor and the congregation) work together, some amazing things happen. When they work against each other, it is a disaster.

To see the other weights and joys, you can read them by clicking on the links: Preaching God’s word every weekYou can’t change peopleGod’s call on your lifeSeeing life changePeople under you are counting on you and God using you.

Weight #4: What God Thinks of You

Pastors do not answer to their churches, boards or anybody else. Ultimately, they answer to God. Even though it is incredibly biblical, most Christians don’t like to hear it.

While pastors do answer to boards in their job, we ultimately do not answer to people. I remember having a conversation once with a guy who was upset about something we decided to do, and he said, “I give here. You answer to me. I should get to say what happens because I give here.” It is a whole other post, all the inaccuracies in that statement. I looked at him and said, “I don’t answer to you. I answer to God, and that scares me a whole lot more than the idea of answering to you.”

While this is true and biblical, most Christians do not like this idea. (Side note: This isn’t a ticket for pastors to do whatever they want.)

And it should scare a pastor to death. It should keep him humble and on his knees.

The idea of God judging how I lead Revolution, how I preach, how I shepherd, scares me. But I think it is a holy fear and one that should drive all pastors. Will God approve of what I did? Will God be glorified with what I did?

Before many pastors can answer those questions, though, there are some things they feel but never deal with. Many pastors get into ministry to help others, but many carry around approval idols. Not dealing with this causes them to put the emphasis on what people think of them instead of what God thinks of them.

Don’t miss this: Whichever one you think is more important will have an enormous impact on your leadership and the kind of church you lead.

The Weight & Joy of Being a Pastor: God Using You

One of the best parts of being a pastor (or a Christian for that matter) is seeing God use you. There is nothing like using the gifts God has given to you.

Recently I’ve been sharing some of the weights and joys of being a pastor to help people who attend church understand what it is like to be a pastor and how they can support their pastor and his family, but also to encourage pastors to keep going and not give up, as so many do.

Being a pastor is unique. It isn’t harder than another job, just different.

If you’ve missed any of the weights or joys I’ve covered, you can see them here: Preaching God’s word every weekYou can’t change peopleGod’s call on your lifeSeeing life change and People under you are counting on you.

Joy #3: God Using You

This joy is much like joy #1. The fact that a holy God would use us is crazy.

For God to use us, we need to have a posture that allows him to use us. God does not force you to allow him to use you, but he does draw you to himself so that he can use you.

This also gets at our stories. Too many Christians are embarrassed by their stories and what they were like before God saved them. God does not waste stories. While we should not glory in our sins, we also need to see them as things that God wants to use right now. Our stories are not mistakes. God did not save us too late; he saved us at the right time.

We also need to have a level of humility that will allow God to work through us. I think too often, especially as pastors, we want to control everything. We cannot control the way God is moving and how he is working. We need to go along for the ride. Whether that is in a service, a sermon or a conversation, we need to be open to how God is moving and whom he is moving. This is scary because we give up control, but that is when the greatest things happen.

There is nothing like being in the middle of God working and being a part of it. There is nothing like seeing someone get it, seeing someone cross the line of faith, get baptized, come out of addiction. There is nothing like it.

Pastor, If you Burnout…

burnout

Pastor, if you burnout, you have no one to blame.

I know, that sounds absolutely depressing and accusatory.

But for pastors it’s true.

Why?

Before I answer that, let’s back up.

Why do leaders burnout?

They burnout because they don’t get enough sleep, they say yes to too many things, they don’t eat properly, they preach too many times a year, they have too many meetings, they don’t recharge themselves well, they don’t do anything relaxing or fun, they don’t take a Sunday off, they work too many hours and they don’t deal with the emotional side of ministry well.

So, whose fault is this?

Well, if you suffer from these, your first response will be to say that your church puts a lot of pressure on you (which they might), your elders have high expectations for you (which they do), so it must be them.

Your kids want to be in every sport, and you and your wife want to make sure your kids get all the things you didn’t have.

So if you burnout, whose fault is it? If you are tired, whose fault is it?

Stop for a minute and imagine you and you alone are standing in front of a mirror.

That’s whose fault it is.

That’s who’s responsible.

Re-read this paragraph: Pastors burnout because they don’t get enough sleep, they say yes to too many things, they don’t eat properly, they preach too many times a year, they have too many meetings, they don’t recharge themselves well, they don’t do anything relaxing or fun, they don’t take a Sunday off, they work too many hours and they don’t deal with the emotional side of ministry well.

All of those things are on you.

Does anyone make you get up at a certain hour or stay up until a certain hour? Does anyone make you say yes? Who puts food in your mouth? Who decides the preaching calendar? Who makes your meeting schedule? Who prevents you from doing something fun? Who keeps you from taking a Sunday off? Who decided not to have a friend outside of their church they could vent to about the emotional side of ministry?

The answer to those questions?

You.

Let me give you an example if you are still skeptical.

Right now you’re reading this blog (thanks for that). Does your church know what you are doing? Does your church know if you are reading a blog to better yourself, working on a sermon, counseling someone, taking a nap or researching for fantasy football?

They have no idea.

Your church doesn’t know what you eat, when you sleep and how you recharge. And for the most part, they don’t care, because they expect you to be responsible and care for yourself.

You are responsible for your health, your relationship with God, your emotional and physical energy, for making sure you relax, take your days off, take a vacation. You are responsible for that.

So if you burnout, that’s on you.

Maybe another example will help.

This happened to me recently. I had over-scheduled my preaching calendar (so I preached too many weeks in a row), I had too many trips on top of each other, our kids were in a lot of activities, I was angry and hurt at a few people that I didn’t deal with as quickly as I should have, and I had put too many meetings on my calendar.

I was tired and I got upset, blamed some other people and talked about the high expectations that people have for me. Then my wife reminded me that I’m in charge of all that stuff.

So are you.

Take responsibility and control of it.

Remember: too many pastors give control of their lives and calendars to others.

The Weight & Joy of Being a Pastor: People Under You are Counting on You

Recently I’ve been sharing some joys and weights of being a pastor. While being a pastor isn’t necessarily harder than other jobs, it is different. In fact, I cringe when a pastor says that they have the hardest job in the world, but that’s another topic.

I’ve been sharing these so that those who attend church can have a better understanding of what their pastor walks through and how to best support their pastor, but to also help pastors process what they live with and how to handle it.

To see the weights and joys I’ve already talked about, go here: Preaching God’s word every weekYou can’t change people and God’s call on your life and Seeing life change.

pastor

Weight #3: People Under You Are Counting on You

While everyone has people in their lives that are counting on them, I’ve noticed a different feeling among pastors. While you have those who work for you, you have to worry about their livelihood, paying salaries and the bills of a church. You also have your board that you are a part of who oversees you.

There is also the unwritten expectations that people have in your church. These are always the most dangerous and toughest to handle.

Whether it is from their last church, what they think the Bible says about a pastor or what they saw someone on TV say or do when it comes to preaching, all of these things converge in people’s minds, and they want you to be all of these things and more. The reality is if you had your church list five things a pastor is supposed to do, you are only gifted at one or two of them. While team ministry is the biblical approach and the one that works, it doesn’t make it any easier.

Everyday a pastor ends his day with this knowledge: there is someone else I can call, someone else I can counsel, another meeting I can go to, I can write/research more of my message. There is always one more thing.

Whether this pressure actually comes from people, our own thinking, or both, it is real.

One area this bleeds into and can cause a great deal of pain is in the pastor’s family. Expectations that people have for the wife and kids of a pastor are often so overblown it is crazy. The pastor’s wife is not an employee. If she is, then she can do her job, but if she isn’t paid, she is just like everyone else in the church. I’m often asked what a pastor’s wife should do in a church. The answer: what everyone else does. She’s a follower of Jesus like everyone else is. Yes, her role is unique and different from others, but she is a follower of Jesus before she is anything else, so that shapes what she does.

One thing I’ve learned is to be very honest about expectations (as honest as I can be). I once ran into a situation where a group of leaders had an expectation for me that actually went against what the Bible calls pastors to do. This happens a lot and is very difficult to bring up.

Here are some things you can do:

1. Know who you actually answer to. What does your immediate supervisor ask of you? As long as they are on your side and feel like you are hitting the agreed upon expectations, that can save a lot of pain.

2. You need to have some clear boundaries. Too many pastors have absolutely no boundaries when it comes to their schedules, meetings, e-mails and phone calls. On my day off, on family day, the computer stays off, the phone is off and I don’t have meetings. This can bleed over into being lazy, but for me, when it is time to work, I come with my game face on and throw down. But when it is sabbath time and family time, I enjoy every moment of it.

3. Teach your church. You will also have to teach your church what a pastor does, what they are supposed to do and what the church is supposed to do. Many of the things people think a pastor should do, in reality, the church is supposed to do those things. If just the pastor did those things, we would actually rob the church of being able to use their gifts.

4. Talk with others who understand. No matter what job you have, it is helpful to spend time with others who have the same role and responsibility. Only a lawyer can really understand what it is like to be a lawyer. The same is true for pastors. Get some friends who are pastors so that you can have someone who understands what you are walking through and can give wisdom from that perspective.

5. It’s not your church anyway. At the end of the day, while this weight is real, we as pastors often make it heavier than it is supposed to be. It is not your church. Those are not your people. Yes, you are responsible and accountable, but it isn’t yours. You aren’t building it, you didn’t die for it, you didn’t rise from the dead for it. Stop acting like you did.

How to Create Your Ideal Year

Do you know where you’re going next year? Do you know what you hope to accomplish?

It’s that time of year when people sit and make New Year’s Resolutions, dream up possibilities for the coming year, or pick a word or a verse for the year that will guide their way.

Sadly, most of the resolutions and dreams made right now will be over and done with by February. It doesn’t have to be that way. It is possible to think through the coming year and accomplish them.

next year

Before jumping into the next year, though, it is important to look back. In his book The Catalyst Leader, Brad Lomenick has some helpful questions to review your year:

  1. What are the 2-3 themes that personally define me?
  2. What people, books, accomplishments, or special moments created highlights for me recently?
  3. Give yourself a grade from 1-10 in the following areas of focus: vocationally, spiritually, family, relationally, emotionally, financially, physically, recreationally.
  4. What am I working on that is BIG for the next year and beyond?
  5. As I move into this next season or year, is a majority of my energy being spent on things that drain me or things that energize me?
  6. How am I preparing for 10 years from now? 20 years from now?
  7. What 2-3 things have I been putting off that I need to execute on before the end of the year?
  8. Is my family closer than a year ago? Am I a better friend than a year ago? If not, what needs to change immediately?

Here are six ways to set goals, keep them and accomplish them.

1. Be realistic. If your goal is to lose weight, losing 20 pounds in two weeks isn’t likely or realistic. It’s possible if you just stop eating, but that sounds miserable. The excitement of what could be is easy to get caught up in, but the reality that you will all of a sudden get up at 5am four days a week when you have been struggling to get up by 7am isn’t realistic.

2. Set goals you want to keep. I have had friends set a goal, and they are miserable. Now, sometimes our goals will have some pain. When I lost 130 pounds, it wasn’t fun to change my eating habits, but the short term pain was worth it. The same goes for debt. It will require some pain to get out of debt. You have to walk a fine line here. If it is too painful, you will not want to keep it. This is why our goals are often more of a process than a quick fix.

3. Make them measurable. Don’t make a goal to lose weight, get out of debt or read your Bible more. Those aren’t measurable. How much weight? How much debt? How much more will you read your Bible? Make them measurable so you can see how you are doing.

4. Have a plan. Once you have your goal, you need a plan. If it’s weight loss, what will you do? If it’s debt, how will you get there? What are the steps? If it’s Bible reading, what plan are you using? No goal is reached without a plan.

5. Get some accountability. Equally important is accountability. One of the things I did when I weighed 285 pounds and started mountain biking was I bought some bike shorts that were too small and embarrassing to wear. This gave me accountability to keep riding. Your accountability might be a spouse or a friend, but it needs to be someone that can actually push you. Maybe you need to go public with your goal and invite people to help you stay on track.

6. Remove barriers to your goals. Your goals have barriers. That’s why you have to set goals in the first place. It might be waking up, food, credit cards, working too late or wasting time on Facebook. Whatever it is that is going to keep you from accomplishing it, remove it. Get rid of the ice cream and credit cards, and move your alarm clock so you have to get out of bed. Whatever it is, do it. Life is too short to be miserable and not accomplish your goals.

The Weight & Joy of Being a Pastor: Seeing Life Change

As with any job, there are highs and lows. Being a pastor is no different. There are joys and weights, as I call them.

Recently I’ve been sharing some of those to help people who attend church understand what it is like to be a pastor and how they can support their pastor and his family, but also to encourage pastors to keep going and not give up, as so many do.

You can see the weights and joys I’ve shared already here: Preaching God’s word every weekYou can’t change people and God’s call on your life.

pastor

Joy #2: Seeing Life Change

All the critics, things not going as you planned them, sermons flopping, services falling apart, electronics or videos not going as planned. All of these things happen and are inevitable.

Seeing lives changed, marriages saved, singles choosing integrity, people getting out of debt, Christians being baptized, people finding God, addicts getting out of addiction.

Makes it all worth it.

I think too many pastors stay focused on the negative and never get to see lives changed. Another reason pastors and churches don’t see lives changed is because they don’t expect it, they don’t pray for it and they don’t sacrifice for it. Seeing life change is messy. It is not clean. There are no defined categories. You will have people in your church who swear (at church), who smoke (at church), who will talk about getting drunk, sleeping around and getting high (like everyone is doing it, which in their world, everyone is doing it).

To see life change you must expect it, pray for it, put up with the critics and then see God work. I love getting phone calls from people at Revolution who tell me with a huge smile, “I didn’t get drunk last night,” “I haven’t gotten high in three days,” “I haven’t looked at porn in a week.”

It never gets old.

While those might seem like small steps, and many would think, “They shouldn’t anyway” (which is true), those are big steps for the person.

I think too many times as Christians we spend so much time focusing on brokenness and sin and not enough time focusing on life change and grace. This isn’t a way of being soft on sin, but think for a minute how much time you spend focusing on God’s grace versus God’s judgment.

That focus comes through in your preaching, your counseling and your outlook on people. Do you expect God to work in someone’s life? Do you expect change to happen? Do you believe it is possible for yourself and for those you lead?

If you don’t, then you are missing out on one of the joys God has for you as a pastor.