- Sunday was simply an incredible day at Revolution.
- It’s hard to believe that we’ve been meeting in Vail now for a little over a year.
- Sunday we had our highest attendance outside of Easter since moving.
- Crazy that in a 15 month time span our church has almost doubled.
- I love the first week of a new series, but this series has hit my heart in a way other series has not.
- I feel like the this series and the one we just finished are more personal than most sermon series.
- If you missed Sunday, you can watch it here.
- Here are a few pictures from the day too.
- I’m often asked about books, especially related to prayer and there are so many and depending on what you want to read, that will determine what you pick, but here are some of my favorites: Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God by Tim Keller, Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference? by Philip Yancey, Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home by Richard Foster, Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God by Dallas Willard and Answering God: The Psalms as Tools for Prayer by Eugene Peterson.
- We tried having bounce houses and food trucks at our church for the first day of a new series and it was amazing.
- Loved the community time it created for our people.
- I got to meet so many new people to our church.
- The longer I lead a church, the more the advice of an older pastor to me makes sense: just continue doing right things and being faithful. Eventually it starts to gain traction.
- That is so true and we are seeing it play out now.
- On a different note, I can’t believe the Crossfit Open starts this week.
- My only prayer is that they pair muscle ups with something I can do and that they are ring muscle ups, not bar ones.
- I’m starting meeting with a new leadership coach today.
- Can’t wait.
- I’ve had one phone call, a get to know you call and I took pages of notes and have incorporated so much of what we talked about and seen a lot of improvement in our church and our team.
- Speaking of Revolution’s leadership team, I think we are hitting on cylinders we’ve never hit on before.
- The unity, drive, passion and excitement is so evident right now.
- Team’s aren’t always like this and they go in waves and you have to fight for every inch of passion, but we are in a good season right now.
- And I think our church feels that and experiences that.
- Anyway, time to get back at it…
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.
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 week, You can’t change people, God’s call on your life, Seeing life change, People under you are counting on you, God using you, What 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.
Every couple, every person has a story. Something they have carried their entire life. I call this the tone of your life, the tone of your marriage.
Often we have no idea this exists. This story is one that plays through every interaction of your life. It is the identity you take with you, the identity you play off of, often without even knowing.
Here are some examples:
- Money was tight in your family, so you saved and saved. Money was your security. The tone of life is hectic, stressful, always watching every penny. The tone of your relationships very easily becomes one of desperation.
- One parent is an alcoholic. The tone is one of walking around quietly, silently, not wanting to do anything to set that parent off. Excuses are made by the other parent. You eventually make excuses to others for that parent.
- Perfection is the name of the game. Everything must be perfect. If you aren’t perfect, at least appear perfect. Always look perfect, act perfect. If a relationship isn’t perfect, pretend it is. Eventually you have no idea what is real and what isn’t, but perfection matters.
- Grades. Grades are the key to getting ahead. If you excel in school, you win, you get attention and a good job. This carries into your career. The way to win and get attention is to be good at what you do. Weakness is for the people who lose. A fear of failure overwhelms you. If you feel, it shows you are inadequate.
- Never good enough. The tone of this family is that we can never win, we can never get ahead. The only people who make it are everyone else. This is almost like Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh in human form. Nothing good happens to this person or in this family.
How do you figure out your story and how it affects your marriage?
Here are a few questions I got from a counselor on this that I think are incredibly helpful:
- What was the emotional atmosphere of your home growing up?
- Were your mom and dad emotionally close or distant?
- Did either of your parents rely on you for emotional support?
- Were either of your parents detached or uninvolved in your family?
- Were you ever mistreated by verbal, physical, sexual or emotional abuse?
- Were either of your parents alcoholics?
- In your family, what were you allowed to do or not do? What were you allowed to be or not be?
- Lastly, what is the deepest wound you suffered in your family of origin?
This story often goes unnoticed.
It is all we know.
We only know the family that scrapes things together. We only know the family where the picture of perfection matters. We only know the father sleeping it off on the couch in hopes he doesn’t explode and hit us. We only know the family that says, “Nothing ever goes our way.”
Then when we move into our marriage, we take this story, this tone. This becomes the lens we look through as we look at our spouse, at our kids and the world around us.
We expect our spouse to fail us, lie to us, leave us, hit us, ignore us. We expect our spouse to be perfect, meet our needs, do what we want, take advantage of us. Whatever we saw.
All of this pain can be traced back to Genesis 3:15 – 16, where God tells our first parents the consequence for their sin. Ray Ortlund, in his book Marriage and the Mystery of the Gospel, says, “These sad words declare and predict our cycle of dysfunction whenever a wife steps in to fill the void created by her husband’s failure to care and provide, with the husband resenting his wife for the implied criticism of his own passivity and silently or aggressively punishing her for it. Each one aggravates the weakness of the other, as they spiral down into mutual incomprehension, bitterness, and alienation. Both defiant feminism and arrogant chauvinism fall short of the glory of God’s plan. We will never get there by pointing an accusing finger at the other. According to the Bible, all restoration begins with merciful redemption coming down from God above.”
Each Friday I share some posts that I’ve come across in the last week. They range in topics and sources but they are all things I’ve found interesting or helpful that I hope will be interesting and helpful to you. Here are 7 posts I came across this week that challenged my thinking or helped me as a leader, pastor, husband and father:
- 7 Things Christians Should Give Up To Reach Unchurched People by Carey Nieuwhof
- Six Ways to Encourage your Pastor by Charles Stone
- Leadership Is About Emotion by Meghan M. Biro
- 7 Good Things to Say to Your Pastor this Weekend by Chuck Lawless
- Richard Branson’s 5 A.M. Workout and 5 Other Morning Habits of Successful Billionaires by Jessica Stillman
- How to Stop Wasting Time in Meetings by Dan Rockwell
- Are You on Track if You Lead a Church of Less Than 100? by Ed Stetzer
What if I told you that one of the goals of marriage was to enjoy your spouse? Most of us would think, “Duh, Josh, that makes sense.” We want to be happy and enjoy our relationships.
I’ve read that statistically less than 20% of married couples actually say they are happy and enjoy their marriage. Sadly, of the people I’ve met and watched, that number doesn’t seem that crazy.
You and I know that stat is true. We’ve been married, we watched our parents marriage, we see our friends go in and out of relationships.
What if I told you the choices you make when dating, in engagement and through marriage will determine whether or not you enjoy your spouse? We know this. And yet most people, most couples, make decisions that lead them to a place of misery in marriage, or simply giving up on their marriage but staying together for the kids.
Proverbs 5 says this:
Drink water from your own cistern, flowing water from your own well.
Should your springs be scattered abroad, streams of water in the streets?
Let them be for yourself alone, and not for strangers with you.
Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth, a lovely deer, a graceful doe.
Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love. -Proverbs 5:15 – 19
So what do couples do to enjoy their marriage that you can do? Here are four things:
1. Decide you’ll enjoy your marriage. This might seem obvious, but couples who enjoy their marriage decide to enjoy their marriage. They decide to last. It isn’t just that they make a commitment to each other, but they really live with the reality that divorce is not an option.
When you decide to enjoy your marriage, you decide that no other relationship is an option. This leads into many other decisions. If divorce or not being happy is an option, that will also determine the actions you will take. If happiness in your marriage is a priority, that impacts your choices. If your needs and selfishness are your priority, that will impact your choices.
If you decide to enjoy your marriage, you will think of your spouse above yourself and look for ways to bless and encourage them. You won’t point out all their wrongs or imperfections. You know they aren’t perfect and neither are you.
This also means you will work hard at your marriage. You’ll read books on marriage, listen to podcasts and find a mentor who has a marriage you want to learn from. Katie and I are constantly talking to couples who are older and enjoy their marriages. What do they know? How do they make it to year 40, year 50, of marriage and still enjoy being together?
The reality is, your marriage will go through highs and lows. It will have incredible moments of joy and unbelievably dark lows. Every couple who enjoys their marriage has learned how to navigate these moments as a couple, and that’s crucial. You learn how to walk together no matter what life holds or throws at you.
This also means you find things to do together that you enjoy. You don’t have to enjoy everything your spouse does, but you enjoy being with them, and, as we’ll see in a minute, you enjoy making them happy.
Verse 15 tells us in order to enjoy your marriage, you must focus on it, take care of it and pour time and energy into it. A great marriage won’t just happen. If you meet a couple with a great marriage, you will see a couple that has worked on their marriage. They have protected their marriage and they have put effort into their marriage.
2. Fight for purity in your marriage (before and after you get married). This one is important. Purity is one of the things that protects your marriage from adultery, yet it also helps move you to enjoyment.
When you are looking at porn, fantasizing about someone you aren’t married to, reading romance novels, getting emotionally attached to a co-worker or a neighbor, you aren’t protecting your marriage. When this happens, you start to think, “This person gets me. This person listens. This person meets a need my spouse doesn’t meet.” In that moment you have not only moved into dangerous territory, but now you don’t enjoy your marriage.
Let’s be honest, porn, whether you are a man or a woman, is easier. It takes less effort, there’s no possibility of rejection or hurt, it takes no work, and it is enjoyable for that moment. But you miss connection and intimacy; it leaves you longing for more because it doesn’t live up to its promises.
Verse 17 says, “Let your bodies be for yourself alone (this is referring to your marriage), not for strangers with you.”
In years past at Revolution, we’ve challenged married couples in our church to do a 30 day sex challenge. To pray together each day, read your Bible together each day and do something sexual together each day. Every time someone will ask me what it means to do something sexual with your spouse each day. My answer? Look at your spouse and say, “What does it mean for us to do something sexual together, with no one else (digital or not) each day for the next 30 days?” Then do that. Here’s what you’ll find: your affection goes up and your pursuit of each other goes up. If you know you’re connecting sexually today, that changes what you do that day. You might not eat that spicy food, you brush your teeth again or get a shower. That expectation goes a long way in a relationship.
3. Rejoice in your spouse. Verse 18 says, “Let your fountain be blessed and rejoice in the wife of your youth.”
Rejoice carries the idea of fun and enjoyment.
It is to feel joy, enjoyment and happiness from your spouse but also to bring joy, enjoyment and happiness to your spouse.
First, do you strive to bring joy, enjoyment and happiness to your spouse? Do you know what brings them joy and happiness?
Second, are you a cheerleader for your spouse, or do you fight against them? Bringing them joy means cheering them on, being excited about what excites them. If something goes well for them, you are excited for them. You don’t get jealous of them or irritated when things go well for them. You rejoice when they rejoice and you weep when they weep.
On the flip side of rejoicing is walking through pain with them. Katie always tells me, “Josh, you hold a crying girl.” This is great advice for dads of daughters and for husbands.
4. Strive to be great servant lovers. Verse 19 says, “Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated by her love.” We’ll talk more about this in two weeks, but let me say this now.
Couples who enjoy their marriage are great servant lovers. They are drunk with love. Yes, old age and gravity affect us all, and you don’t look like you used to, but that doesn’t mean your sexual relationship can’t be great.
If you meet a couple who has been married for more than a decade and are happy, here’s what I bet you’ll find: a couple who are great servant lovers. They have worked hard on their sexual relationship with their spouse. They know what turns their spouse on and what they don’t like. They are affectionate, they gross their kids out with all the kissing and dancing they do in the kitchen.
Let me give you a few ideas on this:
- Find out what your spouse finds attractive and try to do that. It might be to throw that shirt out. If you stay at home with kids, your husband might say, “Could you shower by the end of the day?” Whatever it is, talk it out instead of being frustrated by it.
- Clean out your underwear drawer every year. That alone will go a long way.
- Pursue each other and have a weekly date night (even if it is at home). I don’t care what you call it, but have a night each week that is set aside to build into your relationship. And empty nesters, unless you are intentional, don’t tell me every night is date night. Simply being in the same house doesn’t count.
- In the bedroom, find out what they like and don’t like. I know guys, you are awesome in the bedroom, in your mind. My guess is, if you asked your wife what turns her on, she will surprise you because it isn’t what you think.
The reality is, to enjoy your marriage it will take work. It will take making decisions other couples don’t make. Why? Not every couple enjoys their marriage, so to enjoy yours, you must make different choices. You must walk a different path.
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.
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.
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 week, You can’t change people, God’s call on your life, Seeing life change, People under you are counting on you, God 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.
I know that loving people is hard. It can be exhilarating and bring us so much joy, but it can also bring us heartache.
Last week Katie and I were with one of our mentors, and he said, “The people God has placed in our lives are there to activate what God wants to transform.” That is hard because everyone in my life isn’t always easy to live with. They can be messy, difficult, get in the way and get on my nerves. I can do the same to them as well. That is what relationships are like.
I want to encourage you to continue thinking through how you can bring love to your relationships, especially the most important and closest ones to you.
If you aren’t familiar with 1 Corinthians 13 on love (a very popular wedding passage), let’s remind ourselves:
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.
Love is patient. We are impatient people. We want food fast, internet fast and we get annoyed when Netflix buffers. We are also impatient relationally. This plays out by being demanding, bulldozing people and pushing too hard. It’s the worst with those closest to us, pushing them, expecting them to be what we want, to do what we want. Yet love says, “However long it takes for you to get your act together, I’ll be here.” Our culture says, “If they don’t change fast enough, if they hold you back, move on.”
Can you imagine Jesus saying, “You aren’t changing fast enough, so I’m done with you”, or, “You aren’t responding to me fast enough, so we’re done”? This is difficult, especially if you are a control freak in your life.
Love is kind. Kindness is actions, words, emotions and so much more.
In your relationships, do you use your presence and words to show kindness, or do you tear the other down? Kindness often is keeping your mouth shut when you’d love to open it. Not in a way to cover sin, but in a way to say, “That isn’t a big deal; I’ll let that go.”
Love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. Envy is a longing for something that isn’t currently ours. Boasting is puffing ourselves up, focusing on ourself and our needs over the needs of others. Arrogance is thinking we’re better than we are. Rude is controlling the agenda and everyone around us.
When we envy others, boast, are arrogant or rude, we push people away.
Often we do these things to be right, but also to protect ourselves from getting hurt. If I envy you, then I can blame you for my problems. If I boast, I can put you down to make me feel better. The same is true of being rude. If I’m arrogant, I protect myself from getting hurt. If I’m not proud, I’m willing to open up my heart to hurt, yes, but I also open up my heart to love.
All these emotions and actions do is isolate us. In this passage Paul is inviting us to let go of these desires.
Love does not insist on its own way. Many times love is self-seeking and about what we want.
Why do we insist on our way? For protection, fear, pride, anxiety, control, just to name a few. Love gives in relationships; it doesn’t take.
Love doesn’t insist on perfection. In our photoshopped, air brushed culture, we insist on perfection. We take and re-take selfies. We only post our highlights or our low lights in a way to get love. Think the next time you post something, are you posting it for affirmation? Most of us do.
But love says, “I’ll accept you. I’ll walk with you.” Love says, “I won’t have an independent spirit.” This doesn’t mean you are co-dependent, because that’s unhealthy, but do you bring an independent, “I’m going to do what I want when I want” spirit to your relationships?
At the end of the day, this is empathy and a willingness to see from the other person’s perspective in a relationship.
Love is not irritable or resentful. We all know people who are resentful and always irritated. They keep a list of wrongs in relationships, reminding people of past hurts. They also always expect the worst in relationships.
Do you know where this comes from? It comes from their family of origin, but often it comes from the picture they have of the relationship.
For me, I am often my biggest critic. Every situation I am in with anyone, I have a picture in my mind of what that interaction and time will be like. What this does is prevent me from enjoying the moment. I have to constantly battle this. Multiple times a day I have to remind myself, “This is good enough. The world won’t end.” When we let go and enjoy, we more easily let go of hurt, we more easily let go of things that didn’t go the way we wanted them to go.
Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. This goes with the last one.
Do you rejoice over the mistakes of those closest to you? Being able to say, “I told you it would go that way”, which puffs us up to show that we are right. We look at people who make mistakes in our lives and think, “How did you not know that would go that way?”
This also gets into the area of being historical in relationships. Do you find yourself saying, “Remember when…”, “You always…”, or “You never…”? Don’t miss this: No strong relationship is filled with the words always and never.
But what if the other person in my life is hard to love? What if my spouse is difficult? What if my child is hard to get along with? What if my parents or in-laws are always getting into our relationship?
Paul ends with what I think are the hardest parts of this passage, because they cost us the most.
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things. This is the hardest part of love. This last verse shows us not only what God’s love towards us cost Him, but it shows us what love will cost us. It also shows us how strong love is.
Love can bear all things when we love the way God loves us. Love does not give up hope. Love is not naïve, but love is powerful. The love that Paul has been talking about in these verses is love that can bear all things, believe all things and hope all things.
But what if the other person doesn’t love like that?
Love endures all things. That’s why Paul ends with love endures all things.
You have the choice to endure all things, in love, even when things are the hardest and the darkest. Even when facing your hurt is painful, even when that person hurts you emotionally, you have the choice to love.
Will they return that love? Maybe not.
We love those around us the way we believe God loves us (1 John 4:19), whether we believe in God or not.
For example, if we believe God is indifferent towards us, this is how we approach most relationships. If we believe God is holding out on us, we will hold out on those closest to us in relationships. If we believe God has a short fuse, we will tend to have a short fuse. If we believe God doesn’t care what we do, this is how we will treat those closest to us.
How do I know this?
1 Corinthians 13 is a picture of God’s love toward us. All of these remind us of what God’s love is like.
God is not impatient or unkind with us. He is not pushy. God does not say to us, “Do you remember when you…”, or, “You always…” Instead, we are told that when we take the step of following Jesus and confessing our sins and need for Jesus, God remembers our sin no more. It is hard when we are hurt, carry around shame and regret and guilt from past relationships to see the truth. We are so used to seeing that relationship and all relationships through the lens of pain. Yet Jesus sets us free from our shame, regret and guilt. He is the power to overcome those experiences.
But why is love so hard?
Because, “The people God has placed in our lives are there to activate what God wants to transform.” So, as you read through the list in 1 Corinthians 13, you begin to see what God wants to transform in your life through what is difficult for you to live out.
Think of one thing, one relationship, and work on that. Change and growth take time, so don’t feel like you need to fix every relationship you have. That’s not possible. Give yourself permission to take your time. God isn’t in a rush.
I was sitting with Katie in a room with 50 other people. All of us were in ministry of some kind, and the speaker (who also is the counselor that Katie and I meet with) asked the question that stopped me in my tracks.
“How many of you are comfortable in your body?”
Now before I go on, there is something you need to know.
I’m 37 as I write this and I weigh 190 pounds. I do Crossfit four days a week, and I’ve never been in better shape or as strong as I am right now. That wasn’t always the case, though. In fact, when I was 28 I weighed 300 pounds, wore a 2 XL shirt and had a 42 inch waist.
As I sat there and thought about this question, the answer was, “No, I don’t feel comfortable in my body.”
Not a day goes by that I don’t look in the mirror and see a 300 pound 28 year old who hurts when he wakes up, sweats at the most inopportune moments and gets out of breath from walking up a flight of steps. I struggled to get on the floor to play with my kids.
And I still see that guy. I stare at myself in the mirror and think about it.
When I see body builders talk about having a cheat day, I cringe. Why? A cheat day is simply a step back to 300 pounds, is how my mind thinks. This often takes away the ability to enjoy food and simply relax. My wife is so kind, but I’m sure I drive her nuts when I miss a workout or feel off my game with food.
Is it possible to be comfortable in your body? Notice, the question is different than comfortable with your body.
I think it is.
Part of it has to do with accepting who you are, accepting the parts of your body that you would change (everyone has those). It also means celebrating the parts of your body that you do like. Yes, it also means enjoying food. Probably in moderation, though.
This past year, after eight years of counting calories (to teach myself how to eat), weighing myself almost daily, being insane about what I eat, I stopped. I still eat really healthy, but I’m working on stopping when I’m full. I’m enjoying life and what goes in my body. Yes, I punish myself at the gym, but that’s more out of a desire for strength and enjoyment of that punishment than trying to reach a certain body.
Am I comfortable in my body?
I’m closer than I was when I heard this question six months ago.