Race

Ministry is a marathon: it’s not how you start in ministry; it’s how you finish.

If you look at 2 Corinthians 4:1-18, Paul gives seven suggestions for finishing the race:

Remember God’s mercy (v. 1): God has given us our ministries. We don’t have to prove our worth through our ministry, and we don’t have to wallow in our mistakes. You don’t have to earn your place as a pastor or leader in the church.

Be truthful and honest in all you do (v. 2): Maintain your integrity because integrity produces power in your life, while guilt zaps your energy. You need to finish with your character intact. Your integrity includes how you handle the Word of God. Don’t distort it or make it confusing.

Be motivated to work for Jesus’ sake, not out of selfish desires (v. 5): We need a right motivation. A lot of guys start off as servants and end up celebrities. You need to learn to live your life for an audience of one, and that one is Jesus Christ.

Realize that Christians are only human (v. 7): We must accept our limitations, and the quickest way to burn out is…

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Desperation

Desperation can be a powerful tool for change. Nobody knows this better than Bartimaeus, who received a miraculous healing from Jesus because of his willingness to break social norms, reject passivity, and cry out in shameless desperation.

As Jesus passed through the crowds of Jericho, a blind beggar named Bartimaeus was hanging around, just hanging on to hope. When he heard the commotion of those following Jesus, something inside him began to cry out. The Bible says, “he began to shout, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’” (Mark 10:47 NLT).

I’m an introvert. I don’t want attention (in spite of the fact that I’m a public speaker). I’d rather just blend in and go unnoticed, hanging out in the corner with a close friend or two. But there are times when keeping a low profile isn’t an option if you want all that God has in store for you.

When I was 18, God was calling me to a life of preaching and vocational ministry. While everything in my flesh resisted the thought of standing in front of a crowd of people and attempting to teach the Bible, I was also desperate…

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Sad

Christians get depressed too — even pastors. I know because it’s part of my story.

Years ago, my family and I went through a series of difficult events. I was hurt. I was bitter. It led me down a dark road.

The first feeling I remember was like being tired. I didn’t know I was depressed. But getting out of bed every day took all the strength I could muster.

I had been working in the trenches of ministry for years. Was I just burned out? I’ve heard so much about burnout. Maybe this was it.

So I got a lot of rest, but it didn’t go away.

If you saw me at church or around town, I would have smiled and told you I was good. On the outside, I wore the mask that so many Christians do. Inside, I was dying.

My wife will tell you that it was the darkest year of our life. I was tired and sad every day. I was present with my wife and kids physically, but mentally I had checked out.

Six months in, I finally admitted that I wasn’t just burnt out. I was depressed.

But I’m a pastor! I’m…

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Old

Burnout is a very real problem for many ministry leaders. I know because I’ve been there. If you aren’t careful, burnout can be a devastating experience that could lead to quitting ministry altogether. God has brought me through more than one season where I needed to do some housework in my own ministry. As leaders, it is so easy for us to become discouraged, and even worse, dislocated. Here are some tools to help you strengthen and sustain your role as a leader:

Never stop learning and growing.

Read and study. Never stop growing. We live in a world of information. There is no shortage of books, small group materials, conferences, seminars, and leadership materials available today. Make time to focus on your own personal growth. Above all, spend time in prayer and God’s Word. Never stop learning and allow God to grow you into the leader he has called you to be.

“And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52 ESV).

Don’t try to do it alone.

No one can do everything well. If you share responsibilities with your apprentice and group members, you will be more apt…

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It is not easy to suggest to people in our congregation that we learn how to practice God’s presence together. After all, for many, the idea of spending a moment-by-moment life with God doesn’t sound exciting.

It can help that different voices out there describe their experience with God’s presence as pleasurable. Slowly, we and those we serve can apprentice with these kinds of voices in order to take small steps of grace toward what they point us to.

One of these mentoring voices says of God: “In your presence there is fullness of joy; At your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11). For this person, it was like God’s face peeked through into the dark world. The experience was like seeing one’s covenant love or dearest friend after a long absence. We run to meet them.

“Being with God feels good. He ravishes every bit of my soul. He satisfies me like nothing or nobody else can. When I’m with God I see the wholesome enjoyment I long for. With God I learn to believe again that original and delicious goods still exist and will not quit on me. His presence tantalizes and relaxes me all at the same time.”

I’m…

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Ebb Flow

There is an ebb and flow to ministry life. We can quickly go from weeks that are jam-packed with meetings and multiple events, to the regular rhythm of planning and preparing for weekend services. And while the pace of ministry can sometimes be unpredictable, the presence of people is not. Our team, our volunteers, our family, our friends – they are with us through thick and thin. How we react and respond to the people around us during the extraordinary seasons of ministry says a lot about our leadership. One thing is sure:

We are in constant need of God’s grace.

There is so much joy that comes with leading others. But sometimes the leadership seat can be challenging and lonely. Remaining mindful of who we are in the light of God’s grace gives so much courage and direction when it comes to leading those around us. Here are five quick reminders of how God gently guides us with his kindness and grace:

When you don’t have the strength, God fills in the gaps.

“My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

When you make a mistake, God…

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God wants you to grow up.

“God wants us to grow up, to know the whole truth and tell it in love – like Christ in everything” (Ephesians 4:15 The Message).

“We are not meant to remain as children ….” (Ephesians 4:14 Phillips).

Your heavenly Father’s goal is for you to mature and develop the characteristics of Jesus Christ, living a life of love and humble service.  Sadly, millions of Christians grow older but never grow up.  They are stuck in perpetual spiritual infancy, remaining in diapers and booties. The reason is because they never intended to grow.

Spiritual growth is not automatic. It takes an intentional commitment. You must want to grow, decide to grow, make an effort to grow, and persist in growing.

Discipleship – the process of becoming like Christ – always begins with a decision.

“As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he rose and followed him” (Matthew 9:9 ESV).

When the first disciples chose to follow Jesus, they didn’t understand all the implications of their decision. They simply responded to Jesus’ invitation. That’s all you need…

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Volunteers

If you have just enough volunteers to get by today, what will happen when your church experiences a growth spurt? Now is the time to start laying the groundwork for a strong volunteer team.

You might be thinking,

“We don’t have enough people staying committed to serve now. How are we supposed to plan for the future?”

Fair question.

First off, you’ve got to stop the bleeding.

That means learning why volunteers keep drifting in and out of serving.

Here’s how:

  • Conduct an anonymous survey (you can quickly build one for free at SurveyMonkey.com and email it to current and previous volunteers) using a free set of Volunteer Survey Questions.
  • Talk with people who used to volunteer and, without judgment or accusations, ask why they stopped.
  • Talk with your staff and see if they know why people have stopped serving.

You’ve got to identify the problems before you can fix them.

Start addressing those issues right away.

Issue: Volunteers received multiple requests from different staff members to serve in various roles at the same event and got frustrated by the lack of coordination.

Solution: Use your church management system (ChMS), or a spreadsheet…

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One great way to connect your church into small groups is to focus on life transitions. More than at any other time in our lives, we need people when we’re going through periods of great change. Helping people join small groups during these times provides immediate comfort as well as the potential for years of ongoing support.

What transitions should your church use to connect people?

Significant events: Take a look at significant events in people’s lives. When you baptize several people at the same time, try to get them together in a small group.

After you hold a baby dedication, start a parenting small group. In your premarital counseling process, recommend that young couples join a small group. These events happen all the time in churches. Use them to help people build meaningful relationships.

Struggles: Pain motivates people to get connected with other people. No doubt about it. For example, many people are struggling with finances right now. Help them connect with others who are struggling in that area. You can find all sorts of great small group curriculums that deal with finances. Whenever we do a stewardship message at Saddleback, we give people…

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Steps

When I think about the commitments I’ve made that led to spiritual growth, often a very small step took me to a place where I could make the next commitment. Here are some baby steps that will help your members make the next commitment toward spiritual maturity.

1. Put a place to commit on your welcome cards. If you have a card for guests to use to give you information about themselves, that’s also a great place to offer an opportunity to commit to a class. Your guests will see from the beginning that these classes are a priority at the church. It also gives them an opportunity to sign up without leaving their chair during worship services.

2. Personalize the weekend announcements. When you’re announcing the classes from the pulpit, think about the person who needs to make a commitment to the next step. Ask yourself, what will help him or her to do that? Focus on who needs to take the commitment step. Don’t simply tell people when and where the class will be. Remember, you’re inviting people, not numbers, to the class.

3. Make the commitment to the next class a…

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Friction

Eliminate friction!

That’s the goal most of us have when it comes to leading a team, or a church, or a company.

But what if friction is actually the key to getting things moving in the right direction.

I’m not into friction. Or conflict. Or awkwardness. Or even the remotest sense of being uncomfortable in a group setting whatsoever.

But I’m also learning the hard way that where there is no friction, there is usually no action.

We all coast on autopilot, doing what needs to be done to get through the week. But if we’re going to grow . . . if we’re going to go further or higher than we are today, we have to do things in a way they haven’t been done just yet.

And that requires us to think creatively, to challenge the status quo, to troubleshoot and pick apart not only our failures, but our successes as well.

In my experience, that kind of deep self-evaluation and intentionality only comes when some kind of friction is in place.

Todd’s ultimate conclusion about friction is this…

The moment you create an outcome with accountability, you’ve just created friction.

As a church leader, that sometimes means tough conversations. Here’s an example…

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Socrates

It’s truly a privilege to see others connect with God. As worship leaders, we get a front row seat to life change. There is no greater joy.

While leading worship is certainly life-giving and rewarding, it also demands that we pour ourselves out spiritually, emotionally, and physically. There’s no doubt that a day will come when you just don’t feel like doing it. You might feel tired or worn out; you might feel stressed or overwhelmed; or you might feel discouraged by events in the world that are tough to process.

David didn’t hold back when it came to being honest with God about how he felt. Throughout the Psalms, it is clear there were moments when David just wasn’t feeling it, so to speak. In Psalm 73, he was troubled and confused when he observed people doing wrong and getting away with it. Psalm 42 figuratively describes David in a deep ditch with mud weighing him down. In Psalm 42:3, David openly admits to a deep sadness: “I’m on a diet of tears – tears for breakfast, tears for supper” (Psalm 42:3 The Message). All of this as he recalls joyfully leading a great procession…

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