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.

How to Make Christmas Special for Your Kids

The holidays are special. Things are busy. There are parties, gifts to buy, cards to send, food to make and eat, and memories to be made. Kids will be off from school, parents will be off from work, Christmas specials will be on TV. There is a lot that is different in the month of December.

christmas

And if you plan ahead as a parent, you can make December a special month. Here are some ideas:

Listen to Christmas music. I’m not a big fan of Christmas music. If you know me, this isn’t news. However, starting at Thanksgiving we listen to it almost non-stop until Christmas. Why? It is a good tradition. The songs are about Jesus, and my kids love music. I look for Christmas music we like and create a playlist that I load onto all our iPod’s and iPad’s so we can listen to it wherever we are. The kids listen to Christmas music as they go to sleep. This helps to change the mood of the month and communicates that this time of year is different. It has its own music.

Take your kids on a special daddy date. Go to a park, go to Starbucks to get a treat and play a game or whatever they decide (within reason). In December I like to do something special. Usually on that daddy date I’ll take them to the store to pick out a present for their siblings. My hope is they will learn generosity and thinking of others as we talk about why we give gifts to others. I’m taking my oldest boys to a football game, since what else says Christmas?

Record Christmas specials and watch them together. Kids love Christmas specials. At least my kids do. So, record them and watch them together.

The tree. Whether you go out and cut down your tree, buy one or have a fake one (like we do here in AZ), make putting up the tree special. Build it up, plan it, make your own ornaments, tell stories about the ornaments you are putting up, and listen to Christmas music while doing it.

Do a special outing as a family. Some families go caroling or sledding. Some shop on Black Friday together. One thing we love to do is go to Winterhaven to see the lights on Christmas night. After a long Christmas day, it is great to get out of the house to walk around and look at lights.

Eat special (and bad for you) food. I’m a health nut about what I eat. At the holidays I ease off the gas pedal on that. Eat an extra dessert. Have the same thing each year to create a tradition. At our house on Christmas Eve, we make cream of crab soup and have chocolate fondue for dessert. We don’t make it any other time, so it is extra special.

Read a special book together. This year we are working our way through Lord of the Rings. We are taking extra time this month to read through it, and it is sparking some great discussions about who God is, who Jesus is, what humans are like and why we need Jesus, and who we are like in the story. Communicating the gospel to our kids doesn’t have to be difficult, and we can use books and movies to do so.

Make hot chocolate. You don’t make hot chocolate a whole lot any other time of the year. This is when you do it, and it feels extra special because of that. Load it up with marshmallows and whipped cream.

Celebrate Advent. As a church, we are celebrating Advent every week in our services. This year our family is using a daily devotional Counting the Days, Lighting the Candles: A Christmas Advent Devotional. So far it is great.

Give your wife a break. Revolution Church closes its offices between Christmas and New Years so our staff slows down and has a break. During this time I am able to give Katie some downtime to get out without the kids, take an extra coffee date with a girlfriend, take a nap. This is a great time for you to serve your spouse. You might also pick a time in the month of December for her to sit at Starbucks alone, get her nails done, send her and some friends to dinner.

Slow down and be together. Years from now your kids will remember very little about life as a child, but they will remember if you were there. So will you. Don’t miss it. Work isn’t that important. That party isn’t that important. Shopping for one more thing isn’t that important if it keeps you from being with those you love. I’ve been reminded recently by the illnesses of close friends of the brevity of life. If your kids ask you to snuggle or lie down with them, do it. One day they won’t ask.

Are You Giving Your Kids the Right Life?

kids

If you ask any parent, “What do you want for your kids?”, eventually you will hear, “I want them to have the life I never had.” They may not sound like that, but parents want their kids to have everything. Yes, we want them to be smart, courteous, have character, show kindness and generosity, but we want them to have it all.

Does every parent want that?

Almost.

If that’s not you, thanks for reading and you can scroll to the next blog.

But let me ask this question: Are you giving your kids the right life?

Many parents, in an effort to make sure their kids have every opportunity, get the best schooling, play on sports teams and have opportunities for future advancement, go to extreme measures. Parents work long hours or multiple jobs so that they can have the money to pay for all those activities. They run kids from one team, one program, one practice to the next. They push and push so that kids are getting less sleep and growing up faster.

Then you throw this in with what the parents think their kids want for the rest of their lives.

Let me give you an example.

I overheard someone recently talking about their kids and how much both parents were working. This parent said, “My kids are starting to complain that my wife and I aren’t around enough for them because we work too much.” Someone in the group asked, “What did you say?” The parent looked at the group and said, “I told them, ‘You want nice things, don’t you? You want to go on nice vacations and live in the house we have and do the things we do, don’t you?'”

If you can picture the scene, you can imagine the awkward silence that followed.

The answer to that question, if this child answered honestly, would probably be, “Not really.”

I walked away sad for this family but also convicted by this question: Am I giving my kids the life they want, the life they need or the life I think they should have?

It’s a convicting question.

Often I give my kids the life I want them to have. The life that reflects well on me. The life that feels easier or less stressful as a parent.

Not always, but it is easy to fall into.

This is one reason that Katie and I created a family mission statement a few years ago. I detailed the process we went through and what ours is in my book Breathing Room: Stressing Less and Living More.

The problem for parents is, in the hustle and bustle of life, we don’t know the kind of kids we are raising. We have never asked ourselves, “What is the goal of parenting? What will our kids be like when they leave our house?”

Without clarifying that, we end up giving our kids the life everyone else is going for.

But what if that isn’t the life you want for your kids or the life they need?

How to Have Energy for Your Spouse When Your Kids Exhaust You

spouse

All parents run into this. They want to spend time with their kids. They want to spend time with their spouse. They want to have friends, hobbies and a life. Yet when you have kids, you find yourself exhausted at the end of the day.

Katie and I often get asked how to have energy for your spouse at the end of the day when your kids exhaust you. Here are some of our thoughts:

1. Evaluate your schedule. Why are you tired? Why do you feel like you and your spouse don’t have enough time with each other? How many activities are you running your kids to? Often the reason that you are too tired for your spouse is because of the season you are in; other times it is simply your fault. Many times we don’t put our spouse in our schedule. I realize how unromantic that sounds, but I say this all the time: You have all the time to do everything you want to do. And that includes time with your spouse. If you want to have time to be with them, put it in your calendar. Date nights don’t just happen. Conversations don’t just happen.

2. Decide ahead of time what the night will look like. At some point in the day, Katie and I will have a conversation in person, on the phone or over text that goes like this: “What do you want tonight to look like?”

This helps to set clear expectations for the night. Do you need time to talk, time alone, to watch TV, be quiet, take a walk? Is your spouse in the mood for sex? Having those conversations ahead of time helps to keep feelings from getting hurt.

The other side of this is that it helps you both to prepare. If you are tired but your spouse wants to talk or have sex, knowing that ahead of time helps you gear up for the evening.

3. Communicate to your kids your expectations for them. In the same way that you and your spouse need to be on the same page, you and your kids need to be on the same page. Your kids need to know that time as a couple is the most important thing in your family. Remember, one day your kids will move out, so your marriage matters more than your relationship with your kids. Make sure they know what the expectations are for the evening. This will take time, but it is crucial. One of the ways you create security for your kids is by communicating the security of your marriage.

4. Remove barriers. There are a lot of barriers to deepening your marriage relationship; some of them are ones you create, and others are ones that just happen. Many of the barriers that keep a couple from connecting has to do with electronics. I know some families put their phones in a basket at night or have a no electronics policy at dinner. Get rid of the things that are keeping you from connecting as a couple.

Summer Vacation

Summer break

My elders have been kind enough to give me a longer summer break than normal this year. Because of that I won’t be posting anything new on my blog until July 18th (at which time I’ll be back with some great new stuff for you), so that we can rest, recharge and enjoy some time as a family. I’ll also be posting less on social media, but I’ll be posting fun pictures of our adventures on Instagram.

In the meantime, here are some of the top posts on my blog to keep you company until I get back:

Healthy Marriage

Productivity

Healthy Leadership

Personal Health & Fitness

Healthy Preaching

And if you’re looking for something to read this summer, first start with my book Breathing Room: Stressing Less and Living More, and then after that pick something from my summer reading pile:

Have a great summer!

8 Thoughts on on Being a Dad on Father’s Day

father's day

As today is Father’s Day, and now being a dad for over 10 years and a son for a lot longer than that, I thought I’d share some things about being a dad.

1. In our culture, being a man is difficult. I know that being a woman is incredibly difficult, and I’m not wading into a historical debate or sexism in our culture (which sadly still exists). The reason I say it is hard is because of a lack of clarity, which is also one reason why being a woman is hard (but that’s a different blog post).

Most people have no idea what a man actually is. Now with people choosing their gender identity, the lines are becoming even more blurry than they already are. This makes success as a father, husband, friend, brother and son that more difficult. Are men supposed to be tough or tender and cry a lot? Should they be hard workers and entrepreneurs or play video games until 4am? All of them at once? Which is it?

2. Purity is really hard. I’m not just talking about sex here, but that’s part of it. Having a pure mind, a pure heart, pure motives as you pursue your dreams, those are all incredibly difficult. Sometimes this is because we are sinning, but other times it is because what we are pursuing is right, but it just doesn’t line up with what people around us think we should do.

3. Parenting is really hard. I know, parenting has always been hard. Throw in now raising kids with social media, exposure to porn at an early age, the gender conversation, and it is really hard. It is hard to keep kids focused on who they are, who God is while everything gets pulled in a different direction. On top of that, everyone has an opinion on every parenting topic: discipline, vaccines, schooling, sports, dating, and you often feel like a failure. I figure my kids will end up in a counselor’s office when they’re adults (I did). I just hope it isn’t that bad. Just writing that makes me feel like a failure of a dad, but you can judge.

4. Being a picture of God as a Father to my kids is scary. Going along with #3, I’m reminded on a daily basis that my kids are forming a picture of not only relationships with others but with God as they interact with me. Here’s a question every dad needs to keep in the front of his mind: What is it like on the other side of me? What emotions and feelings do people (my kids and spouse) have as they interact with me? As your kids grow up, that is what they will often feel from God.

5. Dealing with your wounds is hard work. Depending on your upbringing, your wounds will be different than mine. But you have them, and they make an impact on your life today. I’ve talked before about mine, but if you don’t deal with yours, they will haunt your future. You have wounds, and they are impacting every relationship you have. They are impacting every interaction, everything you hear. But it is hard work. I want to leave what happened when I was 11 back in 1990 with Vanilla Ice. But I can’t, and neither can you.

6. Having friends is hard work. Let’s be honest, friends for most people are difficult. For men they seem to be a lot harder than I expected. In college hanging out was easy. In your 20’s, really easy. Now with jobs, mortgages, kids, marriage, moving across the country, being friends with people is hard. We expect people to keep up with our lives on social media but never really connect with them. I keep hearing from men in their 50’s and 60’s about how they have no close friends, and that is really scary to me. I asked a room full of young church planters recently how many of them had close friends, and in a room of a 100 just a few hands went up.

7. I’m astounded by my wife. Regularly when people hear we have five kids, the looks are often comical. Sometimes they say what is running through their heads, sometimes not. I always fill in the blanks if they don’t say it out loud, but they always stop in their tracks. They wonder how we ever sleep, have time for ourselves, not lose our minds, and it takes being intentional for all of that to happen. That’s why I’m simply blown away by Katie. Without her I wouldn’t be the father, husband, leader or man that I am. When church planters ask how Revolution got off the ground, my response is, “Besides God, my wife.” The way she rounds me out, holds our house together, pushes me, believes in me, deals with me, deals with our kids, it astounds me.

8. I’m hopeful about it all. We’re about to enter the teenage years in our house, and I’m hopeful. I love the relational beings my kids are becoming, the questions they are asking (even though we’re having the sex talks a lot earlier than I thought we would when I was a young parent), I love playing games with them and experiencing life. I also love that I have the privilege of raising five people who will make an impact on the world one day. That thought shapes my parenting every day. I get to be a part of the legacy they will leave.

Making the Most of Your Family Rhythm & 8 other Ideas to Help you Grow as Leader, Spouse & Parent

leader

Here are 9 posts I came across this week that challenged my thinking or helped me as a leader, preacher, husband and father. I hope they help you too:

  1. Six Questions Leaders Should Routinely Ask Themselves by Eric Geiger
  2. 15 Things No One Ever Sees Which Largely Determine A Pastor’s Success by Brian Dodd
  3. Making the Most of Your Family Rhythm by Parent Cue
  4. 9 Of The Best Communication Tips For Churches by Steve Fogg
  5. How Our Sex Life Manifests Our Soul Health by John Piper
  6. Why Referring to “Screen Time” May Not Be Helpful to You or Your Kids by John Charles Dickey Dyer
  7. The Remedy for Our Helicopter Parenting by Gloria Furman
  8. 10 Ways to Be An Exceptional Parent by Doug Fields
  9. 4 Ways a Church Benefits from Having a Healthy Pastor by Dan Carson

9 Things I Learned From Preaching About Homosexuality

homosexuality

Recently I preached on the topic of sexuality, specifically homosexuality, and what the Bible says about it. I’ll be honest, for me this sermon felt like a dark cloud waiting for me as I thought about our series through Romans. While I love preaching and don’t mind when people disagree with me, this topic feels different in our culture.

Let me be vulnerable for a minute. This topic is one reason it took me so long to preach through Romans. Sadly, one reason is because of fear of what people would think of me and our church. The other is because I didn’t know if I could talk about it in a way that didn’t make me sound like a jerk. I’m convinced if I had preached this sermon two years ago, the tone would have been radically different, and that grieves my heart to think about what I used to sound like, but also grateful for the work of God in my heart.

Now that I’m done with that confession, I hope you’re still reading.

If you are a pastor, you should preach on this topic. If you will, here are nine things I learned that you should keep in mind:

1. Your people are curious. If you’re a pastor, you get the question, “What do you believe about homosexuality or gay marriage?” on a weekly basis. I know I do. People are curious. Most people think they know what Christians think, but most Christians aren’t even sure what they think. Why is there so much hate around this topic? Why do Christians treat this sin differently than others? Is that right? Did God make someone that way? Do I attend a gay wedding? How do I respond to a friend or child who says, “I’m gay”? All of these are questions they have.

2. Your tone matters as much as, if not more than, your content. Your content matters, so before you email me about that, it matters. A lot. You need to be clear and say, “This is what I think the Bible says.” In fact, as one friend told me, “Your church will remember your tone more than your content after this sermon”, and I believe that is true.

3. Your language and tone tells your church how to communicate it. Not only are you training your church what to believe about homosexuality, but you are also training them how to talk about it, what they will sound like. You are teaching them how to treat people in our culture that they disagree with. Christians are notoriously terrible at this. We post stuff on social media on a whole host of topics without ever asking, “How will a friend of mine who disagrees with me take this?” If you don’t have a friend who disagrees with you on homosexuality or some other closely held belief, that is a problem.

4. Your language and tone tell people who struggle with same sex attraction what kind of reaction they can expect from your church. This to me is one of the most important things about this entire topic and how to preach on it. Sitting in your church every week are people who love your church and are trying to love, or trying to figure out who God is, and they are wondering, “What do I do with these feelings? Do I talk about them in my small group? Can I ask my pastor about it?” You are telling them, “If you bring this up, here’s the reaction you can expect.” My hope is that my church will be a safe place to bring up this or any other struggle. It helped me to talk with friends who are gay and ask them about their story. How did people react? I also asked, “If you walked into a church and this topic was being talked about, what would you want to hear or not hear? How can I communicate what I think and not sound like a jerk?” These were incredibly helpful conversations.

5. It helps to preach through a book of the Bible. I don’t know if I would choose to preach on this topic if it wasn’t in a book of the Bible I was preaching through. In fact, I wouldn’t choose to preach on most topics, because like all pastors I have the topics I like to talk about, and those are usually ones that aren’t uncomfortable or things I’ve conquered in my life. That’s why preaching through a book of the Bible is so important. It makes you unable to skip things. I couldn’t just breeze over these verses. Also, it helps in prep. I knew for over a year that this topic was coming, so I was able to get articles, books and other resources to work through in preparation.

6. This is a gospel and worship issue. This topic is incredibly divisive for a number of reasons. It is a political battlefield as it relates to rights. (I think that’s a different topic, so when I preached on homosexuality, I stayed away from that.) It is also incredibly personal because most people are related to someone or are friends with someone who is gay. This is all about the gospel and worship. Here’s why: Is Jesus Lord and King? If so, then it matters what he says about this. If not, then we are back to exploring the gospel and what Jesus said. (And yes, Jesus talked about homosexuality, so don’t let someone tell you, “Jesus never mentioned homosexuality.”) Additionally, marriage is connected with the gospel throughout the Bible. Whenever we talk about it, we are talking about the gospel.

7. As passionate as you are about homosexuality being a sin, be that passionate about greed, gossip and adultery being a sin. Yes, I believe that the Bible calls a homosexual relationship a sin. I don’t think struggling with same sex attraction is a sin, just like being tempted isn’t a sin. Acting on that temptation is a sin. Getting drunk, ruling your life, trying to control your world, gossip, letting the opinion of others drive your life, being a workaholic, finding your identity in anything other than Jesus, the Bible calls all of those sins that Jesus died for. Yet Christians don’t put up a sign about that when they protest. If you are going to talk about this and be passionate, as so many are, be just as passionate about those committing adultery and being greedy as well. The Bible puts them all together. In fact, when Paul lists homosexuality in Romans 1, he also lists more than 10 other sins with it.

8. Think through redemption for someone in light of this topic. I’d love to say I have a clean answer on this, but I don’t yet as I’m still thinking and praying through it. Now that gay marriage is legal and happening more and more, what does redemption look like? What happens for the lesbian couple who has kids and they are rescued by Jesus? But if you are a pastor, you need to start wrestling through that and thinking about what gospel redemption looks like for those in gay marriages. In the same way that this conversation in our culture is becoming more and more complex (as letters continue to be added to LGBTQIA), this idea of redemption will become more complex.

9. Get over your fear. Maybe you aren’t afraid. If you aren’t afraid when you step into the pulpit to preach on homosexuality, you are probably going to sound like a jerk. Maybe not, but probably. If you are afraid, get over it. Pray through it, talk with friends, your elders, study up and get on stage and preach.

How to Figure out God’s Will

God's Will

Every time you say yes to something, you say no to something else.

This truth has had an enormous impact on how I live my life, how I make decisions, how we do our calendar as a family and how I lead Revolution Church.

But how do you know what to say yes and no to? That’s the most common question I get from someone who has read my book or has heard me say this in a talk. Honestly, it’s different for each person.

Too often we focus on what we want to do in the next day, week or month and then make a decision based on that. Let me frame it a different way for you: What kind of person do you want to become in the next month? In the next half year? One year from now, who do you want to be?

Will this involve doing something? Yes, but it changes the context.

For example, if a year from now you want to be closer to Jesus than you are today, a stronger disciple, then you will make the choice to say yes to community, yes to serving in your church, yes to reading your Bible, and yes to inviting people to church. That will then determine what you say no to.

Often we hope that something will happen. We will simply become kinder, more generous, thinner or smarter without putting in the work or even be willing to make a choice towards something. If you want to become a person who is known for ________, then you will have to make decisions for that to happen. A wish and a hope are not enough.

Take your marriage or another relationship. What if six months from now that relationship was stronger? It would mean that what you are doing right now would have to change. You would need to make more of an effort, you would have to say yes to giving time and energy to that relationship and saying no to something else (ie. golfing, sleeping in, working too late).

We often think we have no power over where our life goes, what our marriage becomes, the relationship we have with God or how kind we are. Yet we do. Every day we make decisions that get our life somewhere.

Here’s the problem: we never sit down to ask, Where do I want to end up?