The High Definition Leader – Review

High-Definition LeaderThe High-Definition Leader has been on my radar for some time. I held off because I misunderstood the title, By “High-Definition,” I assumed it was another leadership book making the reader guilty for not being more intense in their leadership. I couldn’t have been more mistaken.

By “High-Definition” Derwin Gray is making reference to high definition televisions by which you can see every shade of colour. In the same way, churches should reflect every colour of skin.

Some may argue that calling for multi-ethnic congregations is part of the latest politically correct trend. But Gray demonstrates that this is the original plan for the church. The first major struggle for the early church was to move from Jewish to Jewish and Gentile (which included many ethnic groups). Multi-ethnic congregations are part of our biblical DNA.

The High-Definition Leader appealed to me on two levels. Unlike many leadership books, this book includes extensive biblical research and goes beyond surface interpretation. Gray spends a lot of time in Ephesians, demonstrating that a diverse Christian community is not a fringe part of the faith but is core of the gospel.

The other reason that this book grabbed me was that I am a pastor of a multi-ethnic congregation and what Gray preaches is exactly what I’m passionate about. Although our church is doing well, I learned so much about how to be more intentional in celebrating and promoting diversity.

I realize that some pastors and churches are in communities that are not multicultural. They should not pass on The High-Definition Leader, as there are principles that are applicable for ministry in every context.

I can honestly say that The High-Definition Leader is one of the best books I have read that is aimed at Christian leaders. The vision of the church Gray offers is one that is solidly biblical and extremely relative. I kept wanting to shout “amen!”

Every pastor and church leader needs to read this book. Highly recommended!


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Weekend Leadership Roundup

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Weekend Leadership Roundup

Here are some leadership posts that I came across this week. Go and check them out.

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White Picket Fences – Review

White Picket FencesThe concept of privilege, especially white male privilege has been prominent in the media and elsewhere. I will confess that I have struggled with how to respond to the concept.

Many of the discussions have stated explicitly or implicitly that white males are bad people because our privilege has led to the lack of opportunities for others. When we are told to own our privilege, it is meant that we are to feel shame for having privilege.

My instinct is to push back. I have never sought to hold onto power based on my gender or ethnicity. I also notice that privilege as it manifests in the United States may look somewhat different in other countries, including my home in Canada.

And yet I still am the product of privilege. Things haven been easier for me by being a white male, even if I have not sought that advantage.

This brings me to Amy Julia Becker’s White Picket Fences. This is the book on privilege that I have been waiting for.

Becker doesn’t attempt to beat people over the head with the accusation of privilege. She identifies privilege and owns it as a part of her own experience. She shares story after story of how her own privilege has given her a different experience than others.

I appreciated the way that she shows the subtle ways in which privilege appears. It is about the books on our shelves and the “innocent” assumptions we make. Privilege is a reality, no matter how well-meaning or openminded we may be.

Another thing that I appreciated is that she includes disability in the discussion. Too often privilege is limited to categories of gender, ethnicity, economic status and sexual orientation. Somehow, disability is left out, even though it can easily shape the experience of the person. Becker, as a parent of a child with Down Syndrome, brings disabilities back into the conversation.

Most of all, Becker helped me to become more aware of privilege without making me ashamed of who I am. There are things I can do to be sensitive to concepts of privilege without hating myself for my gender or ethnicity.

Although White Picket Fences is about the things that divide us, it has the potential to help bring us back together. I’m thankful to Amy Julia Becker for talking about this in away that draws people in rather than driving them away.

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3 Major Reasons People Resist Change

ChangeDuring my time as a pastor, I have often encountered people who resist change. They are not the majority but they are a vocal minority.

Why do people resist change? While there are people in churches who are nasty and who want to sabotage the efforts of leadership, I have not really encountered that. Even if it may be frustrating at the time, the people who are against change mostly have innocent reasons.

These are the three most common reasons that I have seen for people resisting change.

Comfort

Some people do not want change because the way things are is comfortable and they don’t want to give it up. Pastors are often critical of this attitude, but I can actually identify.

I once attended a church which had services that included 45 minutes of worship and 45 minutes of preaching. For some people that would be a lot. The pastor had a conviction that this was not giving God our all. So he doubled both parts, moving to 1.5 hours of worship and 1.5 hours of preaching. That made me uncomfortable and I was not sorry to leave that church.

For many people, church is a place of comfort. Even the most contemporary churches have tradition and tradition creates comfort. Changing things, small or great, threatens that comfort. We need to be aware of this and how people feel.

Belief

For some people, the way things are is not just comfortable but is correct. The way we do worship or pastoral care or outreach ministry is the right way. It worked in the past and if we continue with the proven ways, we will see success again.

This isn’t just pure stubbornness. There is a conviction that keeping things the way they are is the best for the organization or church.

Fear

Perhaps the way things have been done are not as effective as they once were. But that doesn’t mean that changing things will make things better. The current way may be leading to a 10% decrease but a changed way may lead to a 50% decrease.

This fear should be taken seriously. While I believe that change is necessary for survival, not all change will benefit. There are changes that do make things worse. The potential ramifications need to be taken into account when change is being considered.

Change is important, essential and inevitable for the continued success of a church. However, we have to remember that there are real people having a real reaction to change. That doesn’t mean that we stop the change, but we need to try and understand their perspective.

A book that I recommend for bringing change in the church is:
Who Moved My Pulpit?: Leading Change in the Church

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Becoming a Welcoming Church – Review

Becoming a Welcoming ChurchI have spent the past year focusing on how to make our church more of a welcoming church. For that reason, I was happy to discover Thom Rainer had written Becoming a Welcoming Church.

This is an excellent book that is extremely practical and based on good research. I was not surprised by anything in the book, but only because I’m a regular listener to his podcast, Rainer on Leadership. But that doesn’t make this book a waste. It is so nice to have all of his research and conclusions compiled in one place.

There are some great nuggets of wisdom in Becoming a Welcoming Church. I will confess that I struggle with his criticism of the welcoming time in a service. Our church is not fake about this and does actively seek out visitors to welcome. But that doesn’t mean Rainer is wrong. He challenges us to look at what we do, not just from how the congregation sees it, but from the perspective of visitors.

One other action item from this book is creating a welcome centre. Rainer gives ideas that even the smallest church can act on. I intend to get something together for our church.

There are plenty of takeaways from this book but the most important things is that it gets congregations and leaders to take how they welcome (or don’t) new people. This is something that we can’t leave to chance. I intend to pass this little book on to my deacons as we seek to become a more welcoming church.

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The Five Dysfunctions of a Team – Review

Five Dysfunctions of a TeamI had a copy of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni. What delayed me in reading it was the subtitle, A Leadership Fable. I pictured talking animals discussing leadership but it was nothing like that.

While it is a fictional story featuring people who do not exist, it tells the story of a situation and people who could exist. If you were not told upfront that it was a fable, you would assume that the author was telling a true story.

I suppose it is a true story in the way that matters. It tells the story of a new CEO of an organization that has everything it needs to succeed but is sabotaged by a horribly dysfunctional team.

The book is not so much about elaborating the details of the five dysfunctions but is more about presenting a case study of confronting an unhealthy team culture. Even if you immediately forgot the specific five items, you would benefit by being reminded of the need of addressing a poor team environment.

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team was not written specifically for a church context. However, it is incredibly relevant. I have been part of some dysfunctional church leadership teams and will admit that I have contributed to the dysfunctions. This book will be a benefit to any pastor or church leader who is seeking to improve the effectiveness of their team.


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What Our Church Does For Disability Ministry

When people find out that I’m interested in disabilities, I often get asked what we do at our church for disability ministry. Like myself, people are always look for ideas. So when I get asked what we do for disability ministry, this is what I tell them.

Church.

Yeah, that’s it. It is not because we don’t value people with disabilities but because we do. Our goal is to integrate all people into our worship services and that includes people with disabilities.

There are times that I look at our congregation and notice that about ten percent of the people have either a developmental or physical disability. I think we might be doing something right.

This is not a jab at churches that have specific disability ministries as a part of their program. There is nothing wrong with that at all. Some great ministry takes place in those contexts.

But at this point, there has not been a need for us to do anything aimed just at people with disabilities. We don’t want to segregate people into (temporarily) abled and disabled. We have our church family, a family happens to have a lot of diversity.

This doesn’t mean that we do everything perfect. We still have a long way to go. There are some important areas of our church building that are not yet accessible. This is something that we are working on.

But I am thankful for where we are at a congregation and for every person God has brought to us.

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2 Models of Christian Ministry to Avoid (Or Not)

Over the last number of decades, there have been quite a few Christian leadership books that have drawn from business models. Some pastors even promote non-Christian business books as positive models for leadership.

This is unacceptable. The church is not a business and has nothing to learn from the business world. When Jesus taught, he never drew from the business world, but always spoke about a purely spiritual form of Christian ministry.

“For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them;  to one he gave five talents (a form of currency), to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away.  The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents.  In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents.  But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.  After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them.  Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’  His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’  And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’  His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’  Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed;  so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’  But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter?  Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. (Matthew 24:14-27)

While I’m at it, there is another model of Christian ministry that has dangerously crept into the church. Some people try to find principles from the military world. What could the church have in common from the military? There is no way that the Bible would ever endorse looking to the military as a positive role model.

Share in suffering like a good soldier of Christ Jesus.  No one serving in the army gets entangled in everyday affairs; the soldier’s aim is to please the enlisting officer. (2 Timothy 2:3-4)

I hope I have made my point. Christian ministry should not draw from business or military models but should rely purely on spiritual principles.

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2 Things I Wished I Learned More in Seminary

My wife is just beginning her seminary studies and that is making me reflect on my own experience in seminary. I had a fantastic experience at McMaster Divinity College and I had a very good theological education. But looking back now after over twenty years in ministry, there are a couple of things that I wished I had learned more about.

Leadership

I started my theological education in the mid-90s, just as the focus on leadership was beginning. But at that time, it was not playing an important part in theological education. This was something that was really missing in my seminary studies.

Being in different roles, from associate to solo to senior pastor, there were plenty of leadership challenges. I needed to know both how to lead and how to be led. Thankfully seminaries are taking this more seriously now. If you are looking for more in-depth leadership development, I recommend the Arrow Leadership Program.

Mental Health

There was some discussion about mental health in my pastoral care and pastoral counselling courses. However, dealing with mental health issues has been probably one of the biggest challenges I have faced in ministry. And this is the one that I have found myself the least equipped to deal with.

I understand that I’m not a psychologist or professional counsellor, I need more knowledge than I have. This is a definite area that I’m looking for continuing education in. One of the things that I appreciated about being a military chaplain was the emphasis on mental health. The church needs to catch up.

What areas do you wish seminary had emphasized more?

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Apologetics and Preaching

While I consider myself an apologist, my primary role is that of a pastor of a local church. But I don’t find these roles to be contradictory. I try to include apologetics in my pastoral ministry.

There are many ways to do this but one way is through preaching. Often in the summer I offer a “You Asked For It!” series where I allow the people in the congregation to choose the topics/passages.

I find that people often choose apologetics-related topics. This is interesting as the “experts” tell us that this culture is not interested in apologetics.

Here are a couple of sermons that I have preached recently that have been related to apologetics:

They were well received and confirmed my belief that people are still interested in topics related to apologetics. If you want to find more of my messages, you can find them here.

If you are a pastor, I encourage you to not shy away from apologetics-related topics/passages.

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When Pastors Mess Up

MistakeThis is not about when pastors mess up by having an affair, developing an addiction or being financially dishonest. I’m talking about the regular mistakes that pastors make on a regular basis. They are common mistakes, but when not dealt with properly, they can cause major problems.

I messed up on Sunday at church. The details are not important. The point is that I said I would do something and I didn’t do it. That kind of mistake can quickly lead to diminished pastoral effectiveness.

I will tell you that I had two immediate temptations.

  1. Make Excuses. I had some excuses, some good ones. But excuses do not make things better, especially for the other person. I grew up with low self-esteem and found myself often making excuses for not doing a good job at something. It took time for me to recognize my temptation to offer excuses and those excuses still rise up in my mind. But I don’t express them unless there is a very good reason to.
  2. Beat Myself Up. Part of my low self-esteem is to beat myself up for my failings. It is good to have some short-term regret for failing to do something as that can be motivation to do better next time. But self-condemnation is never healthy and it ends up being a waste of energy.

So if those are the things not to do, what should we do?

  1. Apologize. It is appropriate to apologize for a mistake and to demonstrate some regret for having failed the person. No need to bring out the sackcloth and ashes but a sincere apology is appropriate.
  2. Fix It. While acknowledge the emotional reaction of the person, we should seek to find some way to fix the situation. In my case, I made a suggestion for something we could do that would accomplish what my mistake failed to do. That doesn’t instantly repair the loss of credibility but it is the beginning of healing. Regret is good but regret plus action is much better.

The fact is that as pastors, we are all going to make mistakes. We will mess up often and hopefully will not cause too much damage along the way. We can’t always prevent the mistakes, but we can choose how we will respond to them.

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How to Grow – Review

How to GrowWhat is the gospel? For many people, the gospel is the message by which one gets to heaven. But the Bible presents a much fuller concept of good news. It is a gospel that is supposed to affect our entire existence.

Darryl Dash, thankfully presents to us a vision of how the gospel can help us grow as both humans and as followers of Jesus in his book, How to Grow: Applying the Gospel to All of Your Life.

Dash presents the following as the essentials of the gospel:

  • God if holy.
  • Humanity is sinful.
  • God is rescuing His people and creation through the perfect work of Jesus Christ.

This goes far beyond just getting us tickets to heaven. It transforms our lifestyle, relationships and the way we do church.

Dash presents a clear picture of what discipleship is supposed to look like. It includes an intellectual aspect but is a much deeper work. It is more than just self-help tips, it is the work of God in our lives as we act on biblical principles.

I found How to Grow to be helpful, both as an individual follower of Jesus and as a pastor. The book is full of principles that are theologically grounded and also immensely practical. Dash is able to find a excellent balance. I really appreciated the illustrations from his own walk with Jesus.

If I had one criticism, it is the relationship between this book’s principles and traditional self-help books. Dash is quite critical of self-help books, and yet a non-Christian who followed his principles here, would also experience benefits aside from the supernatural work of God. I understand the difference that Dash holds, and I agree with him, but the lines can get somewhat fuzzy.

But that is a minor quibble and it in no way gets in the way of the value of How to Grow. This is a book that I expect to go back to again and again.


Check out this interview I did with Darryl Dash for my podcast.

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1 Bad Response to Bill Hybels (and 3 Good Ones)

As we sort through the mess with Billy Hybels and the situation at Willow Creek, there are any number of responses we could have. There are both good and bad responses that we could have.

Don’t Respond This Way

One bad response to Billy Hybels’ fall from the super-pastor hall of fame is to gloat. There have been many people who have been jealous of Hybels’ success. He started a church from nothing and turned it into one of the most successful churches in the world. Willow Creek has transformed lives within their own community and have been involved in leadership development globally.

Some leaders struggling along in our little churches might feel a bit of jealousy/envy/resentment toward his success. Even if the feelings are not aimed at Hybels in particular, it may be aimed at the kind of pastor and church he represents. Seeing him fall might make us feel like he is getting what he deserved for being too successful. Time has proved that we were the ones in the right.

But that is not the right way to respond. There is nothing to gloat over. Not only is it a tragedy from every angle, what happened with Hybels was not unique to him. The same thing could happen to any pastor and we are deceiving ourselves if we think otherwise.

Respond This Way

So if our response shouldn’t be gloating, how should we respond? Here are three responses that are appropriate to the situation at Willow Creek.

  1. Have Compassion Toward the Victims. The victims of the sexual abuse are the ones that need the most attention. They must be believed and appropriate action must be taken to demonstrate that their abuse is taken seriously.
  2. Prayer and Love Toward Bill Hybels and His Family. As bad as what Hybels did was, he still is a human being created in the image of God and someone who identifies as a follower of Jesus. I can’t imagine what he and his family are going through. No matter the depth of his guilt, we must have compassion toward Hybels.
  3. Make Changes to the Church. All church leaders, pastors and otherwise, must work toward developing a culture where this type of abuse will not happen. We must address issues of power and authority. We must address relationships between men and women in the church.
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My Experience With a Coach

You may have heard about life coaching. A life coach helps a person to ask the right questions in order to determine a direction for their life. Life coaching is for everybody. Did you know that there is also coaching for pastors?

A generic life coach could help a pastor, as the nature of coaching doesn’t require the coach to be an expert in every area. But pastoral ministry is so unique that it can be helpful to be coached by someone who knows what it is like to be a pastor and who regularly coaches other pastors.

I just completed a series of coach calls with Dave Jacobs. I was not in a crisis or on the verge of burnout but I wanted to make sure my pastoral ministry stayed on the healthy side and that I could take steps to become more effective. I had taken other steps toward this and the last one I wanted to experience was coaching.

Dave Jacobs is a fantastic coach. He is gifted at getting to the heart of the situation. There is always a danger when two pastors talk that it just be chit chat but Dave always kept us on track. Our talks included Homework assignments. Don’t let that scare you. I’m not talking about a research paper. Rather I would prepare for our talks by thinking through certain scenarios.

Having completed this coaching, what are my thoughts? I am totally sold on the idea. I have seen the effectiveness and I believe that I am already a better pastor after only a few months of coaching.

While I’m going take a break to work on a few other areas of my life, I fully intend to return to Dave for some more coaching. I know that he can help me to stay in the healthy areas. I recommend that all pastors consider coaching and particular that you consider Dave Jacobs.

If you are interested in just being coached but actually doing coaching, Dave also provides coach training. It is something that I am strongly considering. You can find out more here.

You also might want to check out Dave’s recent book Naked Man Running: 100 IDEAS that work in a small church.

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Should We Still Read Books by Bill Hybels?

Bill Hybels
The situation at Willow Creek with former pastor Bill Hybels continues to deteriorate as reported in this recent article at Christianity Today.

Bill Hybels was for a long time one of the superstars of Christian ministry. He has probably been one of the most influential pastors in the last twenty-five years. Unfortunately, just as he was about to retire, accusations of sexual misconduct and harassment were made. A pastor whom we all hoped would finish well did not finish well.

I don’t want to get into the details of what Hybels did or didn’t do. Willow Creek is not my church and I don’t need to know any more of the details than are required to pray for the church and the victims and Hybels.

But what about pastors (such as myself) who have benefited from Hybels’s books? Should we stop reading all of Bill Hybels’s books since he has been accused of such terrible things?

The first question we should ask is, are his writings now untrue or unhelpful because of his misconduct? Are the leadership principles he taught still valid? Something is true because it is true and not because we like the source. The genetic fallacy is dismissing something because of where it came from. His books should be judged based on their own merits and not by what he did.

Having said that, we should read his books with some awareness of the mistakes he made. We can learn from his mistakes as much as we can learn from his wisdom.

But aren’t we rewarding Hybels by continuing to read his books? Reading his books has nothing to do with his misconduct. In fact our motivation should never have been to reward him but rather to learn to be better leaders and pastors. If you are uncomfortable giving him royalties for his books, buy his books at a second hand store. There might be more copies appearing there soon.

I don’t want to suggest that we pretend that Hybels didn’t do what he was accused of or that his victims’ suffering wasn’t serious. If we are going to continue to read books by Bill Hybels, let us also work hard to build a culture where these crimes won’t take place in our community. Make your community a safe place marked by mutual respect. Ensure that victims have the freedom to state what they experienced. Take charges seriously and investigate thoroughly.

These may be the most important lessons we learn from this situation with Bill Hybels. Read his books but also respond to the #metoo movement in appropriate ways,

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Important Tools for Pastors

CommentariesWhen it comes to pastoring, some of the most popular resources are in the area of leadership and other practical ministry tools. But I would suggest that pastors, especially those just beginning their ministry, work toward building their commentary library.

Preaching and leading Bible studies are key activities for pastors. While some pastors feel comfortable just with their Bible and their own interpretation, I believe it is good to let other voices into the conversation. Commentaries are also helpful for filling in the historical and cultural context.

Pastors should know that not all commentaries are the same. Some are aimed at devotional reading, others for pastors and others for academic research. It is probably good to have good variety, but spend less time with the devotional commentaries.

Collecting commentaries can be expensive and so pastors should be strategic in their collecting. Pick a few areas to focus on. Don’t feel the pressure to get multiple commentaries on every book of the Bible. Try some from different perspectives, to stretch your understanding.

Here are some suggestions of what to consider. If you are looking for an affordable set on the entire Bible, I recommend the Expositor’s Bible Commentary. This commentary does not go as deep as you might want but it is a good place to start and I still use mine.

A good solid commentary set that has been around for a long time but is regularly updated is the New International Commentary Old Testament and New International Commentary New Testament.

Another commentary set that I have come to appreciate is the NIV Application Commentary. In addition to giving an interpretation of the original text, the author wrestles with the application of the text. This gives the preacher plenty of material to work with.

What commentary sets have you found most helpful as a pastor?

 

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The Hope’s Reason Podcast

PodcastI have been podcasting for quite a few years and I do enjoy it. Although my original podcast has been taken down by me, I am still active in podcasting.

I offer a podcast that is partner to my blogging activity at this site. It is called Hope’s Reason: A Podcast of Discipleship. This podcast was on hiatus for a while but is now active again.

I have changed the format of it and it is now primarily interviews. However, I do have some plans for other types of episodes. I have been able to interview some amazing thinkers from a wide variety of backgrounds. I talk to professors, pastors, authors and others that have valuable wisdom to share. I think you will enjoy our conversations.

You can find the podcast here and subscribe to it on iTunes here.

If you get caught up on these episodes, you can also check out my other podcasts:

 

 

 

 

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Should Churches Participate in Short-Term Mission Trips?

There are many concerns about short-term missions trips. Some argue that they are more harm than good. Many of the concerns are quite valid. But I will argue that such experiences are good when done right.

I understand the concerns. They include sending rich westerners to build something that takes away much needed work from workers in that community. The economic ramifications need to be thought through.

Another concern is about importing more western culture than gospel truth. Churches must not come in with a pompous attitude, attempting to displace what they see as an inferior culture.

Having said that, participating in short-term missions have been instrumental in my spiritual and ministry development. I wouldn’t be who I am without them.

My first mission trip was to London, England with Operation Mobilization. The emphasis was very much on discipleship development for the missionaries and in that it was very successful. We didn’t come to show the churches the best way to do things but to make ourselves available to what they wanted us to do.

My second trip was a part of a youth group going to Trinidad. It was a different context from my first one but like my time in London, we were there to help the local church with what they were already doing and not to tell them what to do. It was a great leadership experience for me.

Before planning or participating in a short-term mission trip, make sure to ask the purpose for the trip. Developing disciples on the team is a perfectly valid goal and is much needed. Of course it is good to help the people you are travelling to, but find out what they want and need rather than imposing your own agenda.

I believe there is still an important place for short-term missions. It just need to be done carefully.

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Pastors and the B-Word

BusyAs a pastor, I try not to use the b-word. Which b-word? Busy. This is a change for me. Years ago, when people would ask how I was doing, I would always respond with “busy.” Then I heard some other pastors push back on the idea of talking about being busy.

Why have I stopped talking about being busy?

For one thing, I am no more busy than the other people in my congregation. They have careers and friends and families and hobbies, just like I do. We all have twenty-four hours to get it all done, no more and no less.

But the biggest reason is that I found it put up a barrier between myself and people in my congregation. People would apologize for just having a five minute conversation. There was a sense that I was too busy to talk to them, when my job is to talk to them.

Even now, not using the b-word myself, I still have people come up to me saying, “I know you are busy.” I make sure to drop any posture of busyness and make it clear that I am not busy and that I indeed have time for them.

The added benefit is that as I have stopped talking about being busy, I don’t feel as busy. I get more done now than then but I don’t feel the same anxiety because I don’t label my activity as busyness.

So my word to pastors is to at least limit your use of the b-word. It may help everyone.

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Should Pastors Work With Pastors of Other Denominations?

DenominationsSome pastors feel more comfortable working with pastors of their own tradition/denomination. There is nothing wrong with this as these relationships are very important. I’m thankful for my colleagues within my denomination.

At the same time, some of my most rewarding experiences have been collaborations with pastors of other denominations. It is not that I pretend that there are no differences. I disagree with my Pentecostal friends about the role of speaking in tongues and my Presbyterian friends about infant baptism. But we agree on what matters.

I have found that our common faith in Jesus, his death and resurrection, is enough for us to work together in meaningful ways. I also find that being around others with different interpretations helps me to grow spiritually.

Beyond that, working with people of other denominations is a powerful witness. I have heard many skeptics point out that the existence of the denominations as evidence that Christianity is not true. I disagree with that critique. There is room for different interpretations just as there is room for different interpretations within science. What matters is that we love and respect one another. When the world sees Christians working together, it is a demonstration that there is a real Jesus who is worth following.

I understand that there are some traditions that put limitations on what can be done with other denominations. But as far as is possible, I encourage pastors to work with other pastors of different denominations.

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5 Questions Pastors Need to Ask

Pastors want to have the answers. But even more important is to have the right questions. These are not the only questions to ask, but they are a good place to start.

  1. What are you doing to raise up other leaders in the congregation?
  2. What is more important, your own success or growth of the kingdom of God?
  3. What would your community miss (if anything) if your congregation closed its doors forever?
  4. What is the mission that you are seeking to accomplish?
  5. What are you doing to ensure that your ministry will finish well?

What other questions would you add to the list?

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Developing Emotionally Mature Leaders – Review

Developing Emotionally Mature LeadersI am a firm believer in discipleship and I see it as being one of the most important parts of my ministry. But I must confess that my natural tendency is to focus on the intellectual side. I feel that if I can just pass on the right information, things will be okay.  However, much more is required.

One of the recent trends us been an emphasis on emotional intelligence. It is one thing for a person to have the knowledge, it is another thing for them to be emotionally mature enough to use that knowledge appropriately. That is where Developing Emotionally Mature Leaders comes in.

This book by Aubrey Malphurs should be required reading for church leaders. Pastors are aware of the importance of developing leaders but emotional intelligence is an area that has been too long neglected.

There is so much that I enjoyed about this book. I had been somewhat aware of emotional intelligence, but Malphurs provides a nice introduction to the development of this area, including the major thinkers. Much of the work in emotional intelligence has been in the secular business world but Malphurs rounds it out by providing a biblical theology of emotions. This provides the needed step for pastors to use emotional intelligence in the church context.

One of the most useful parts of the book is the lengthy appendices. There is everything a leader needs to put into practice the principles developed in he body of the book. I highly recommend Developing Emotionally Mature Leaders.

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Weekend Leadership Roundup

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Weekend Leadership Roundup

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Weekend Leadership Roundup

Here are some leadership posts I came across this week.

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My Top Five Leadership Blog Posts

One of the topics that I enjoy blogging about is that of leadership. These are the top five leadership posts on my blog since I began.

  1. What is the Difference Between a Speech and a Sermon?
  2. 5 Things to Know Before You Become a Pastor
  3. 4 Leadership Lessons From Hacksaw Ridge
  4. What Theological Degree Should You Get?
  5. 5 Things You Can Do While Your Pastor is Preaching

You can find all of my leadership posts here and you can find other leadership blogs here.

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Weekend Leadership Roundup

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Pastors Poking Fun at Themselves

I believe in including humour, both in the services and the sermons. If I’m going to poke fun at anyone, it would be at myself. Making fun of another person, whether a family member or someone in the congregation is not appropriate.

But there is a limit at how far to go. I know of a Christian leader that I respect very much. He has a lot of wisdom and insight to share. However he is also putting himself down, presumably in an attempt to be funny. In moderation it would be funny, but consistent self-deprecation can become distracting.

I will joke about how bad I sing or how much I love potlucks or my lack of hair. However, I don’t really make fun of myself or describe myself as stupid, even for a laugh. There is a fine line as to how much pastors should poke fun at themselves.

Do it enough to show that you are human and have a sense of humour but don’t try to destroy any sense of respect people might have for you.

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Pastors and Counselling

I have heard a number of pastors talk about how much time they spend doing counselling and it is significant. Do you want to know how much counselling I do? None.

The reason for this is that I am not a trained or certified counsellor. It would like me giving medical or legal advice. I am just not qualified. I took two counselling courses in seminary but that is not near enough and that was twenty years ago.

What I do is provide pastoral care. Pastoral care is much different from pastoral counselling. Pastoral care is about listening, asking a few clarification questions, mentioning some Scripture and praying for the person. And that is it.

If I meet with someone and they require counselling, I don’t attempt to provide it. I make sure they are safe and then I send them to a trained counsellor. I do this not because I lack care but because I care enough that I want them to receive what they need.

I urge pastors who are attempting to be counsellors to stop trying it. Stay within your training.


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The Sound of Coming into Worship

SilenceIn the church I grew up in, there were instructions in the bulletin about making noise in the sanctuary. It was expected that people would come to worship in silence, to prepare themselves and not disturb others. If you wanted to talk in the minutes leading up to the service, you were to go to the fellowship hall or outside. I assumed that was the only proper way to prepare for worship.

But my views have changed over time. As a pastor, I must confess that I enjoy watching people visit before the service. People walk over to others to find out how they are doing. When I hear the buzz before the service as people greet one another, it gets me excited.

Doesn’t talking before the service distract from worshiping God? The more I have studied worship in the Bible, the more convinced I am that we can’t divorce our relationship with God from our relationship with people. This is true in both Old and New Testaments. Developing real community with brothers and sisters in Christ is not a distraction from true worship, it is a part of worship, it is something pleasing to God.

Yes, I can see how some loud sounds before a service could be a distraction. Watching YouTube videos or talking to people on your phone is not the best. But demonstrating care and love through healthy conversations is how I like to see a worship service begin.

A little addendum to this post. As you may know, welcoming and including people with disabilities is very important to me. Demanding complete silence before a worship service may not be reasonable for some people with disabilities.

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Churches and Mother’s Day

Mother's DayHow should churches respond to Mother’s Day in terms of the worship service? Some churches have a specific Mother’s Day sermon each year. Some give gifts to all the moms and really design the entire service around it. I have a few thoughts on this.

First, I feel no pressure to preach a Mother’s Day sermon. If something in my already scheduled message somehow ties into Mother’s Day, I will make that connection. But I don’t feel the need to write a sermon specifically about mothers. To be honest, it is hard to come up with something fresh year after year. Plus, it is not like Easter Sunday, where there really is a need to preach on the resurrection every year.

Also, a huge focus on Mother’s Day doesn’t take into account the changing face of our congregation. There is still a lifting up of an ideal where every adult woman should be married and have children. The truth is that there are many single women (and not just young ones) in our churches. And those who are married, may or may not have children. Some choose to not have children and some are unable.

In addition, there is the fact that many people do not have positive relationships with their mothers. Not everyone has a “Leave to Beaver” style family life. Mother’s Day can be a painful reminder of a bad relationship and lost opportunities.

I’m not suggesting that we ignore Mother’s Day. As I said, I tend to not preach a Mother’s Day message. I wish people a Happy Mother’s Day, but acknowledge that it can also be a day of pain. I try hard to not make single women and those without children feel like they are second class.

How does your church deal with Mother’s Day?

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Evangelical Leaders, Abuse and Women

My heart breaks at recent events with regard to major leaders within the evangelical movement and attitudes toward women.

One of the most respected evangelical leaders in the past few decades has been Bill Hybels. He seemed to have the ideal ministry. He planted and successfully led his church and was about to retire after forty years in ministry. Then just before finishing well, everything fell apart. Some serious allegations arose concerning his relationship with women. It is not clear if Hybels actually had affairs, but things are bad if Hybels only did what he admits to have done.

More recently, reports have come to light by Paige Patterson, president of the Southern Baptist Convention. I don’t think Patterson was promoting abuse, but his comments demonstrate how out of touch some leaders are. I’m thankful that many high ranking members of the SBC have spoken against Patterson’s comments and have spoken up for the protection of women.

These are only two examples but the prominence of these leaders has had an impact beyond their numbers. Many people see evangelicals as being anti-women and these events only strengthen these stereotypes.

Abuse of women, whether sexual, physical or emotional, is wrong. All the time. Evangelicals, and especially male evangelicals, need to take a strong stand against abuse of all kinds against women. The #metoo movement cannot be dismissed as part of the “liberal agenda.”

I fear that there are some evangelicals that are so committed to the culture wars that they will miss the opportunity to take a strong stand for women, a stand consistent with biblical values.

Evangelicals, now is the time to do the right thing.

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Life Together

Life TogetherI have enjoyed the writing of Dietrich Bonhoeffer for some time. I have read his Cost of Discipleship and Ethics. Now I have finally had a chance to read his Life Together. It is a book that I have wanted to read for a long time.

I was not disappointed. I would put Life Together up with C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity as a book every Christian should read. This book emerged out of Bonhoeffer’s time teaching in an underground seminary as a time when the Nazis had taken over the German church.

The book is all about what true Christian community is about. I have been a part of a church for most of life (except for a few years as an atheist). I would have thought that I had a pretty good idea of what Christian community is all about. But this book challenged me as to how shallow my understanding truly was.

Here are some of the quotes that stood out for me:

The physical presence of other Christians is a source of incomparable joy and strength to the believer.

When God was merciful, when He revealed Jesus Christ to us as our Brother, when He won our hearts by His love, this was the beginning of our instruction in divine love.

Holy Scripture does not consist of individual passages; it is a unit and is intended to be used as such.

A Christian fellowship lives and exists by the intercession of its members for one another , or it collapses.

My thought on finishing this book is that I’m looking forward to rereading it. I think this may be a book that I need to read every year.


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Why I Still Use Greek and Hebrew as a Pastor

My wife is starting to take New Testament Greek at McMaster Divinity College, the seminary where I studied. But why do people who study for Christian ministry even need to study the original languages, such as Greek and Hebrew?

This morning I actually used my Greek New Testament as part of my sermon preparation. I do this ever week, translating my passage from the Greek or Hebrew. But why do I do this?

I will tell you first what isn’t my purpose. I don’t brag to my congregation or try to impress them with my Greek or Hebrew. I rarely mention anything about the Greek or Hebrew in my actual preaching. There would have to be a really good reason for me to say anything about it.

So why do I translate from the Greek or Hebrew? One reason is that I studied these languages in seminary and by translating short passages each week, I keep those skills active. But that is not a good enough reason for me to put this time in.

I find that translating a passage from either Greek or Hebrew helps me to get into the passage much better than just reading the English. I see things through my translating that I wouldn’t normally get. That doesn’t mean you can’t read or preach the Bible without Greek or Hebrew. But for myself, I find the act of translating to be very helpful for my sermon preparation.

If you are a pastor, do you still use your Greek or Hebrew?


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Weekend Leadership Roundup

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How Pastors Can Use YouTube

YouTubeOne of the most useful online tools for pastors is YouTube. Anyone can make a video, upload it and make it available to millions of viewers. With YouTube owned by Google, it is very easy for people to find your content. But how can pastors use YouTube?

They can be used for announcing events or introducing people to a new staff member. I include a link to a video (not by me) at the end of our weekly email newsletter. I noticed that quite a few people were clicking on the videos and so I decided to make my own.

I don’t have the time, skill or equipment to make flashy or long videos. But I do have an iPhone and I have the time to shoot a 2-3 minute video on a topic. I now put the link to these videos in our newsletter. This is something that I do on a weekly basis. It doesn’t take a lot of work and it gives me a new outlet for communication.

I call this The Pastor’s Desk, since I record it at my desk. You can find the videos that I have recorded so far here.


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How to Preach Without a Manuscript

PreachFor years I was convinced that I needed a full manuscript in front of me to preach. I don’t have a great memory and was not able to memorize the sermon no matter hard I tried. My wife tried to convince me to ditch the manuscript but I didn’t have the confidence.

The first time I preached without a manuscript was not a planned event. I was preaching at a funeral with a packed church. The person who did the eulogy ended up gathering my notes together by mistake. I walked up to my empty pulpit and had to make a decision. I could awkwardly ask the man to bring back my manuscript or I could just preach.

With a very sincere prayer, I preached.

People in my congregation commented that I preached better than I usually did on a Sunday. I was forced to do what I had always though I couldn’t do. I still write full manuscripts. They help me to organize my thoughts and I also post my sermons online. But I never bring the manuscript to the pulpit. I give my manuscript to the projectionist for the PowerPoint and then never see it again.

The key mind-shift for me was giving up on the pressure to memorize the written sermon. I want to preach the same content but I don’t feel the need to reproduce the exact same words. The next shift was gaining confidence that I could make up the sentences while preaching. I realized that I was making up the sentences in front of my computer and so I could do the same thing while preaching.

I have experimented a few times with using a manuscript in the pulpit and the results have always been disappointing. I truly believe that every pastor can preach without a manuscript. If you can write a sermon, you can preach that same sermon from just a few notes.

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Resurrecting Religion – Review

Resurrecting Religion“Christianity is not a religion, it is a relationship.” How many times have you seen this statement? You may have said it yourself. The problem is that when we look at traditional definitions of religions, such as belief in a God, rituals of worship and theological doctrines, Christianity seems to fit that definition. Christianity may be more than a religion but it is not less.

Greg Paul, founding pastor of the Sanctuary in Toronto, responds to this in Resurrecting ReligionPaul takes issue with the idea that the gospel is salvation from religion and demonstrates that Christianity should be religion at its best.

For those who dislike the idea of religion, there is the problem that James in the New Testament both defines and lifts up religion. Paul’s book is really a study of the epistle of James, a book that has so much wisdom for our current culture.

According to James, religion is not a dry and lifeless legalism, but is a vibrant faith that transforms how we look at God and other people. Paul, illustrates this by sharing stories from his pastoral experience at the Sanctuary. True religion may be messy, but is beautiful.

As a person who has been uncomfortable with attacks on religion, I’m thankful for Greg Paul’s book that instead of rejecting religion, resurrects religion as something worth embracing.

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31 Days to Become a Better Pastor: Spend Time With Older Pastors

PastorWhile it is good to spend time with younger pastors, it is equally good to spend time with older pastors. There are pastors who have already experienced what we have yet to experience. They are a wealth of knowledge that we dare not take advantage of.

There are pastors all around us who are retired or who are close to retirement. We need to find these pastors, from within and outside our denomination. We should spend time with them and soak up their knowledge.

Some potential questions to ask could include:

  • How did you first sense your call?
  • What has been the highlight of your ministry?
  • What has been the hardest experience?
  • What has been the most valuable lesson you have learned?
  • What would you do different if you could start your ministry over?
  • What advice would you give for not neglecting family?
  • How did you keep yourself spiritually fresh?
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31 Days to Become a Better Pastor: Remember the Cross

CrossThe day that I’m writing this is Good Friday, the day that we remember the crucifixion of Jesus. Jesus is the focus of our faith and the inspiration for our ministry. How did Jesus lead? He let by self-denial and humility.

What does a successful ministry look like? We may aspire to a ministry of popularity and comfort. There is nothing wrong with people supporting us and encouraging us in our ministry. But reality says that will not always be the case. What do we do when things turn difficult?

Focusing on the cross helps us to remember that God works the most powerfully in weakness. It was through Jesus dying on the cross that salvation was bought and eternal life provided. We cannot duplicate what Jesus did but we can see in the cross that God does not abandon us in our suffering but rather meets us there.

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31 Days to Become a Better Pastor: Pray For Your Colleagues

PrayNo one understands what it is like to be a pastor like another pastor. We know both the joys and pains of pastoral ministry. Who better to pray for other pastors than pastors?

We may be in a great chapter of our ministry or a challenging one, but we can all pray. Our experiences may help to inform our prayers. We can come along side our colleagues in their experience.

Spend time with other pastors within your community or your denomination. Find out what they are going through. Take time thank God for the good things and pray for the needs.

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Caring for Special Needs People in Your Small Church

One of the most practical podcasts that I listen to is the 200 Church podcast. I was quite happy when I heard they were doing an episode on special needs. Co-host Jonny Craig has a child with special needs, so it was nut surprising.

It was a helpful discussion with some people involved in special needs ministry at Willow Creek. You can listen to the episode here.

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31 Days to Become a Better Pastor: Invest in the Next Generation

MentorMoses had his Joshua. Elijah has his Elisha. Paul had his Timothy and Titus. Who do we have?

Every current pastor was once a young person who knew nothing about ministry. Ideally, someone came along side us and mentored us as we discovered our gifts and began to serve. There may have even been more than one. We either can remember that person or wish we had that person.

At some point, we should be that mentor to someone else. Even if we have only pastored for five years, there are people who know less than we do. We can put time and energy into these individuals and help them on their journey. The more we invest in the next generation, the more equipped that generation will be for ministry. Who will we mentor?

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31 Days to Become a Better Pastor: Plan to Finish Well

FinishWhen it comes to ministry, we can look at our past and our present. But what about our future? Specifically, how our ministry will end? Our pastoral ministry will end, the question is whether it will end well or not.

Too many pastors simply hope for the best. But we can do more than that. We can plan for a good finish for our ministry. What can we do? Here are some ideas:

  • Care for your self emotionally and physically.
  • Protect your relationship with your family.
  • Focus on the positive aspects of ministry.
  • Be aware of your temptations.
  • Continually set fresh goals.
  • Spend time with people who energize you.

 

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31 Days to Become a Better Pastor: Start Writing

WritingMost pastors are writers to begin with. Many of us write out a sermon manuscript, even if we may not preach from that manuscript. However, we can work on our writing skills.

Developing our writing ability helps us to improve in our communication. Writing requires us to take an idea and present it in a way that is both understandable and interesting to our readers. That is a valuable skill for a pastor.

There are a number of ways that pastors can develop their writing. The most obvious is write a book. There are two options when it comes to books. We can get an established publisher or self-publish. Both options are rewarding. One outlet for my writing that I enjoy is writing for magazines. I have written for both Christian and secular magazines. Then there are blogs. A blog could be connected to the church website or done as part of a personal blog. All of these options develop skills as well as expanding our platform and possibly opening up opportunities for ministry.

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31 Days to Become a Better Pastor: Read the Bible

BibleRead the Bible? Who reads the Bible more than pastors? That’s the problem. We read the Bible to plan out sermons and Bible studies. But how often do we read the Bible to feed ourselves spiritually?

I know from experience how hard it is to read the Bible as a pastor. I start reading the Bible and I’m looking for three points for a sermon. It can be really hard.

Try just reading the Bible for the sake of reading the Bible. Read it from cover to cover as we would read any book. Consider reading a Reader’s Bible, a Bible without chapters or verses. Make Bible reading a priority and not just as a tool for ministry.

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31 Days to Become a Better Pastor: Start a Reading Plan

ReadingMany of the pastors I know love to read. They have large libraries and collect resources to help with sermon preparations. But we can do better than just reading commentaries and other biblical resources.

The way we can get better is to develop a reading plan. This can include reading books related to ministry, including theology, biblical studies, homiletics and counselling. Choose one of these and read four or five books to develop more knowledge in that area.

But it is a good idea to read outside Christian ministry. For example, I read books on philosophy, religions (outside of Christianity), military history and more. I often include books on writing and disabilities as well.

The point is to set goals for what we want to learn and to organize our reading plan accordingly.

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31 Days to Become a Better a Pastor: Pray For Your Congregation

PrayThere are many activities that a pastor can be involved in but prayer is one of the most important. There are many things that we can pray for but one of the most important is to pray for our congregation.

Pastors can have congregations ranging from 20 people to 20,000 people but no size should be an excuse not to pray. Many churches have directories of their members and adherents. These can be good tools for prayer. We don’t have to pray a long time for each person.

Praying for our congregation can seem like an interruption from “real” ministry but it is important and deserves the time. We may not understand all the details of how God uses our prayers but it is a part of our responsibility.

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31 Days to Become a Better Pastor: Plan Out Your Year

PlanOne way to do ministry is to do it Sunday by Sunday. Each week, pick a passage to preach on. Start or stop ministries as situations come up. Hope for the best and pray it all works out. That is one way but not necessarily the best.

Another way is to plan out our year. We can set a goal (or two) and work toward achieving that goal. Plan out your preaching schedule with a specific purpose in mind. Work on ministries with a specific aim. Pull things together to go in a predetermined direction.

This is not about excluding the Holy Spirit or doing everything with human effort. Planning out a year should be bathed in prayer. Even once a year is planned, we should be prepared for God to interrupt us. Plans can be changed.  But it is easier to redirect a moving ship than getting one moved from a stationary position.

 

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31 Days to Become a Better Pastor: Retreat!

RetreatI was involved in a youth group at a particular church. The youth group traditionally went on retreats. One year, the youth pastor announced that Christians don’t retreat and so the time away was renamed an “advance.” I have since seen a number of churches call these events advances.

With all respect to that youth pastor, Christians do and should retreat. This is not a sign of defeat but of health. Jesus often took time apart from others to recharge. These were retreats.

As pastors, we can always see more to do and find excuses not to take time away. The truth is that we will be more effective in the time we are ministering, if we take some time be with God and rest.

There are many ways to experience retreat. It can be just a day retreat by ourselves. I used to take one morning per month, just to pray and read the Bible in a place alone. One of the best retreats that I ever went on was Kerith, run by Focus on the Family Canada.

The details are not important. What is important is that you plan some sort of retreat into your ministry schedule.

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31 Days to Become a Better Pastor: Get Some Exercise

ExerciseIn my first four months as a paid pastor, I gained about thirty pounds. This was the result of two things. One that I was spending much of my time getting together with youth at McDonald’s and Tim Horton’s. The other was that I was not getting much exercise.

I was eventually forced to include exercise because of some health concerns. If I don’t keep myself moving, there will be a price to pay. I can’t do very strenuous exercise but I walk (with my dog) and swim (with my family).

One of the things that I appreciated about my time in the army reserves was the emphasis on physical training. Chaplains, along with the rest of the military, are expected to maintain a certain level of physical fitness.

It is tempting for us to let our health go. Sitting in front of a computer, reading books in a chair, visiting families over coffee and goodies doesn’t help us keep in shape.

The benefits of exercising are more than just staying physically fit. It also affects our mental and emotional health. I really notice a difference when I stop exercising in how I think and how I feel. We can’t afford to let our health slip and so we need to find some way to stay active. Find something that works for your schedule and your health but do something.

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31 Days to Become a Better Pastor: Mental Health

Mental HealthOne of the biggest challenges that I face as a pastor is responding to mental illness. While I had a couple of counselling courses in seminary, I feel that I lack background in mental health.

I spent some time as chaplain in the Canadian Armed Forces. They put a tremendous amount of emphasis on mental health awareness. But the need for this goes far beyond those involved in the military. I find the church is far behind the military when it comes to mental health.

We need to be intentional in being more prepared to respond to mental illness. We can do this be reading books on mental health and attending training events. Mental Health First Aid might be a resource that could be helpful. One of the things I did was to organize a mental health and addictions workshop. It was an opportunity to bring in people with the knowledge and experience that could help my church and myself to grow.


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31 Days to Become a Better Pastor: Focus on Vision

VisionMost churches have some sort of vision/mission statement. They may have both. But more is needed than just having a vision statement. Even having the vision posted on the wall is not enough.

It is the pastor’s job to put the vision in front of the church as often as possible. It is more than just reading the statement or putting it in the bulletin.

One of the things that I do is to plan sermons connected to our mission. I also organize our bulletin under the four headings that comprise our mission statement. I have also planned out to take a year to focus on each of those four components of our mission. This gives me time to invest in each aspect and make sure our church is living out our mission.

One resource that I would recommend is Making Vision Stick by Andy Stanley.

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31 Days to Become a Better Pastor: Include Laypeople in Congregational Care

CareThere are those who argue that for churches to grow it is necessary for pastors to give up pastoral care. I reject that. I think that being involved in some pastoral care is by definition part of being a pastor.

Having said that, they are correct that pastors cannot provide all of the care. Not only are there other responsibilities for the pastor, pastors are meant to equip the saints for ministry. Training laypeople to care for others in the congregation is part of pastoral care.

In our church, we have what we call Care Teams. We have divided the congregation into groups under a Care Team Leader. The Care Team Leader keeps tabs on the people on their list, not providing counselling, but being a support and letting me know when I need to step in.

It can be a lot of work to get such a structure in place but it will pay off. It will be a blessing for the people both providing and receiving the care.

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31 Days to Become a Better Pastor: Build Your Team

TeamWhether you are the solo pastor of a small church or one of the pastors in multi-staff situation, we are all part of a team. Out team might be other pastors, deacons/elders or a group of volunteers.

A healthy team environment doesn’t come about by accident. It requires work. While it is not all up to us, we can only control what we will do. We must be intentional in building healthy teams.

Invest in the relationships with the people you are working with. Figure out what motivates them and develop that relationship. Make sure to work on communication. If something bothers us, we need to talk to the person directly instead of complaining to others. Direct, clear and respectful communication can do wonders.

Who is on our team and what one thing can we do to build that team?

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31 Days to Become a Better Pastor: Embrace Those With Disabilities

DisabilitiesMany churches have embraced the concept of disabilities. Churches want diversity of gender, ethnicities, age, economic status and others. But what about disabilities?

I need to confess that I’m biased in this area. In addition to being a pastor, I’m also a father of two children with disabilities. We also have a number of people with disabilities at our church. I’m convinced of the importance of reaching out to people with disabilities.

As a pastor, I will also admit that embracing people of all abilities is challenging. It is so much more than just wheelchair ramps, elevators and accessible washrooms. It requires a radical change in church culture.

You can find my 10 Commandments to Become a Disability-Friendly Church here. But the most important thing is for us as pastors to completely buy in to the importance of welcoming and loving people with disabilities. It is the first step before even considering a disability ministry.

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31 Days to Become a Better Pastor: Continue Your Education

EducationCan you remember your time in Bible college or seminary? Were you counting the days until your graduation? Were you eager to finish your education?

It is interesting to note that many other careers expect that education should continue. Some are required to earn a certain number of continuing education credits. Others are expected to get new certifications. Why should pastors be any different?

Continuing our education can help energize ourselves and our ministry. The great thing is that it can look many different ways. I knew a pastor who used to take a couple of courses per year at a local university, not to earn a degree but just to keep his mind active.

I happen to be motivated by being enrolled in degree programs. It gives me a goal to work toward. After earning my Master of Divinity, I did a Master of Theology in New Testament, a Master of Arts in Biblical Studies and I’m currently finishing up a Doctor of Ministry.

Continuing education doesn’t have to be in theology or other religious topics. Consider taking courses in history, psychology, astronomy, or some other subject that interests you.

If your schedule doesn’t give you time to take courses on campus, take some courses online. There are many online programs that are quite affordable.

We need to grow in our knowledge and expand our minds. We need to be intentional in how we will continue our education.

If you are interested in a Doctor of Ministry, I’m studying at Acadia Divinity College. I can highly recommend it.

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31 Days to Become a Better Pastor: Invest in Your Preaching

In smaller churches, pastors are equated with preachers. But even in larger churches, many pastors have preaching as one of their responsibilities, although perhaps not every week. After preaching for a number of years, it is is easy to get complacent when it comes to sermon preparation and delivery.

It would be a good idea for pastors to invest in our preaching. This can happen in a number of ways. Here are some suggestions to help take your preaching to the next level.

  • Listen to audio or video of your preaching to get a better idea of how you preach.
  • Attend preaching conferences.
  • Listen to other preachers. This could be listening online or in person on our Sundays off.
  • Invite a friend to come and listen and to offer their honest thoughts.
  • Experiment with different styles of preaching.
  • Take a course on communication.
  • Read some books on preaching.

Two books that I would recommend are:

Preaching with Cultural Intelligence: Understanding the People Who Hear Our Sermons by Matthew D. Kim

Communicating for a Change: Seven Keys to Irresistible Communication by Andy Stanley and Lane Jones

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31 Days to Become a Better Pastor: Observe a Sabbath

SabbathOne of the best decisions I have made is to observe a Sabbath. A Sabbath is not just a day off. A day off can easily be filled up with other stuff. A day off is not necessarily a day of rest.

A Sabbath is a 24-hour period of rest and focus on God. Obviously Sunday is a challenge to have as a day of rest. I have Monday as my day off and so I take Sunday noon to Monday noon as my Sabbath. I’m not legalistic about it. But I take the time to rest, avoid social media and spend quality time with my family. There are times I have to do things during this period but it is a good goal for me to aim to.

I find it interesting that no pastor would advocate breaking any of the other Ten Commandments but many pastors wouldn’t hesitate to break the Sabbath commandment. God created us with a need to rest and if we want to be effective as pastors, we need to take that need seriously.

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31 Days to Become a Better Pastor: Subscribe to Some Podcasts

One of the best ways to become a better pastor to be intentional in lifelong learning. The worst thing is to see graduation from Bible college or seminary as the end of learning. There are many ways to learn but one of the most convenient is to listen to podcasts. You can listen to them while driving, walking the dog or anything else.

Here are some of the podcasts that I listen to that I would recommend for you:

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Weekend Leadership Roundup

Here are some leadership posts that you should go and check out.

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31 Days to Become a Better Pastor: Focus on the Family

FamilyThere is much respect given to pastors who work long hours and who are always available to their congregation. But that doesn’t mean they are good pastors. What about their family?

At one time there was talk of needing to balance church and family. Balance ideas have begun to fall away as a 50/50 split is not necessarily fair to either the church or the family.

Leaders are speaking more now of a healthy rhythm in how we are with church and family. What that rhythm looks like might be different week to week, month to month or year to year. However, pastors will known when the rhythm has been broken. The break will disrupt both the family and the ministry.

I remember a time when I felt guilty spending time with my family. That was time that could be used for ministry. Then I realized that I had been preaching the importance of caring for family. Spending quality time with my family didn’t make me less of a pastor, it made me better, as I was modelling what I was preaching.

I can’t give precise steps of how this looks like. It depends on your stage of life and your ministry context. But I can say it is important to make your family a priority.

A book that I highly recommend on this topic is When Work and Family Collide: Keeping Your Job from Cheating Your Family by Andy Stanley.

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31 Days to Become a Better Pastor: Embrace Thankfulness

ThankfulnessOne of the best ways to build a long lasting and effective ministry is to cultivate an attitude of thankfulness. It is easy to focus on the things that are wrong or frustrating. Being thankful takes work and it doesn’t come about by accident.

One of the things that I do is to blog weekly about some good thing that has happened in my life. It sometimes is in the context of ministry and sometimes not.

It would be a productive time to write down everything that you are thankful about for your congregation. Put aside the problems and troubles and just focus on the positives.

Another thing that is a good idea is to keep a copy of every encouraging note, card or email that you receive and put them in a file. Go back to them and remember the good times when you are having bad day.

Find something that works in your situation to build an attitude of thankfulness.

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31 Days to Become a Better Pastor: Get a Coach

This post in the series is by guest blogger Dave Jacobs. Dave coaches pastors and you can find out more about him in the bio at the end of this post.


Why you need a coach

I’m a coach. I don’t coach athletes, I coach pastors. In fact, I’m into my eleventh year as a full-time pastoral coach. Not only that, but I specialize in smaller churches. I love my job but whenever I begin a new coaching relationship with a pastor I feel a need to clarify what exactly a coach is, or isn’t. You see, coaching means different things to different people.

Coaching is different than pastoring. Coaching is different than mentoring. Coaching is different than counseling. Coaching is different than consulting. There are similarities between coaching and the above, but coaching is different, significantly different.

A pastoral coach, typically, has past (or present) experience being a pastor. For example, prior to becoming a coach I was a pastor for twenty-eight years. A coach is someone who is great at asking thought-provoking questions that draws out of the pastor ideas and solutions that reside in the pastor. You see, I am an optimist when it comes to pastors. I believe that God has already put good options, ideas, and solutions into the pastor for them to use in dealing with the challenges they are facing in their personal life or the congregation in which they serve. A good coach knows how to draw these things out.

A coach provides objective, honest, practical, and safe feedback while walking with you through your personal challenges.

Here are some reasons why you might want to partner with a coach.

  • If you feel stuck in a certain area of your life or ministry
  • If you need help in a certain ministry-skill, i.e. counseling, preaching, administrating, goal-setting, etc.
  • If you are considering transitioning out of ministry or to another church.
  • If you are a new pastor or first time church planter.
  • If you are faced with a crisis, either personal or professional.
  • If you are preparing to select your first board.
  • If you want to better your preaching skills.

The rule of thumb is…when you feel stuck in any area of life or ministry it’s good to partner with a coach.


Dave JacobsDave Jacobs was a pastor for twenty-eight years before retiring in 2006 and founding Small Church Pastor, an organization that provides encouragement, coaching, consulting, and resources for pastors and leaders of churches of all sizes, but with a focus on smaller churches.  Dave is the author of ‘NAKED MAN RUNNING: 100 ideas that work in a small church,’ ‘Mile Wide, Inch Deep: Experiencing God Beyond the Shallows, Soul Care for Busy Pastors and the Rest of Us,’ and ‘Belligerent Believers.’ Along with coaching pastors, Dave moderates the Small Church Pastor group page on Facebook that provides more than 2200 senior pastors a safe place to exchange ideas, laughs, and encouragement.

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31 Days to Becoming a Better Pastor: Connect With Other Pastors

CoffeeOne of the frequent descriptions of pastoral ministry concerns the loneliness of being a pastor. It doesn’t have to be that way. While I think it is good to have friends within the congregation, it is also helpful to connect with other pastors who know the pressures of ministry.

This can look a number of different ways. One can be participation with a ministerial, whether denominational or geographical. These can be good or they can be shallow. Every ministerial is different.

I would suggest that getting to know other pastors in a one-on-one relationship is also important. This could be a mentoring relationship, either mentoring someone younger or being mentored by someone older.

It doesn’t have to be mentoring. It could simply be two peers who are at similar stages of ministry who get together regularly to encourage and pray for one another. It could even be just about getting together for fun, without any shop talk.

Pastoral ministry is only a lonely as we let it be. Find another pastor and develop a relationship that will benefit you both.

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Pastors and Social Media

Should pastors on social media. I know of pastors who take it as an item of pride that they have avoided the pressure to be one social media. While that is fine, I also think it is a missed opportunity. So many people are on social media and we have the ability to communicate our message to them.

For those pastor who are on social media, there are some things to consider. I thought I would share a few principles for pastors to keep in mind as they post on social media.

  • People in your church are on social media. Don’t embarrass them.
  • A church that may hire you in the future will likely check your social media. Don’t embarrass yourself.
  • Try to post positive messages instead of a steady stream of negative comments.
  • Remember that both Christians and non-Christians are likely reading your posts.
  • Make sure your posts reflect Gospel truth but don’t be preachy.
  • Be careful with how you criticize political leaders.
  • When in doubt, ask a spouse or another trusted person if you should post something that may divide.
  • Leverage your social media to maximize the message of your congregation.

What other principles should pastors consider?


Interested in a Blogging Coach?



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31 Days to Become a Better Pastor: No Major Decisions on Mondays

MondayI’m told that Christian job sites have biggest spikes of pastor resumes on Mondays. That is, it is most likely on the day after a Sunday service that a pastor is looking for a new position.

The reason for this is that pastors put too much emphasis on what takes place Sunday mornings. Of course Sunday morning worship services are important and we should care about them. But pastors can experience either an unrealistic high or low depending on how those couple of hours went on that one morning.

The pastor may be discouraged by the low attendance or sleeping congregants. Perhaps the music was of poor quality or we blew the sermon, stumbling over our words. It could have been a thoughtless comment by someone in the congregation.

While Sunday mornings are important, they are only part of our pastoral ministry. It can be tempting to make a decision on Monday that is based almost completely on what took place the previous day. That decision may or may not be reflective how we really feel.

If you had a bad Sunday, don’t make any major decisions on the Monday. Take some more time to think and pray. Don’t make a decision that you may come to regret.

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31 Days to Become a Better Pastor: Take Time to Worship

WorshipI have already talked about the importance for pastors to grow in their relationship with God in a previous post. Related to that but still distinct is the importance of worship.

How are they different? When we seek to grow in our relationship with God, we are looking to receive something in terms of a better spiritual life. While worship can play a role in that, worship is primarily about what we give rather than what we get.

It can be a challenge for pastors to regularly offer worship. We are busy during the service, preparing for the next thing we do. Our mind can easily be about the tasks and not on God.

One option is to attend another church on our Sundays off. I do this and I enjoy it. But even then, I must admit that I’m looking for ideas to borrow. Worship needs to be an intentional decision.

We can also consider other ways to worship. It may be listening to worship songs in our car. It could be reading the Psalms (and not to look for sermon ideas). It could be by offering prayers of thanksgiving.

The most important thing to remember is that just because we are in the church building more than others doesn’t mean that we are worshiping. We need to make worship opportunities a priority.

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Weekend Leadership Roundup

Here are some leadership posts that you should go and check out.

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31 Days to Become a Better Pastor: Love Your Congregation

LoveThe two most important things a pastor needs to do is to love God and love people. Often the loving of God comes easier than the love for people. Some people are easier to love than others.

What does it mean for us to love our congregations? It doesn’t necessarily mean that we are filled with emotion or that every person in our congregation is our best friend. But that doesn’t get us off the hook for loving our people.

When many people think of love, they think of 1 Corinthians, the love chapter. These words are so powerful: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

We likely read this during weddings more than any other setting. But the relationship between husband and wife was not the original context. Paul was writing this to remind a church of how they are to treat one another. This should be the attitude of each member of the church but the pastor has the responsibility to model this kind of love.

The love chapter presupposes that there are some people who are hard to love. There is no situation that we might find in our congregation that is not covered by Paul’s teaching. Paul doesn’t expect us to pretend that everyone is easy to love, but he does expect us to act in love, no matter what we may feel.

A successful pastoral ministry is not possible if we do not love our people.

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31 Days to Become a Better Pastor: Seek After God

AirlineYou have likely noticed that during safety demonstrations by airlines that the stewardess always tells the passengers that in case of emergency they need to put the oxygen on themselves before helping another. The reason for this is that if you pass out from lack of oxygen, you are of no help to others.

There is an important lesson for pastors here. Many pastors have a heart of others and easily put the needs of others before their own. This is noble but there is one area in which we need to be selfish and that is our relationship with God.

Working on our relationship with God cannot be something we do only if an unexpected break opens up in our ministry schedule. Time with God must be a priority and it should not be seen as a distraction from our real work. How are we ever going to feed people spiritually if we are starving ourselves?

We probably are aware of this even if it is not happening. Spiritual growth, even for a pastor, doesn’t happen by accident. We need to be intentional and build practices that will help us to grow. Don’t just copy what you see another pastor is doing. Find out what works for you. I recommend Sacred Pathways: Discover Your Soul’s Path to God by Gary Thomas a good resource on this topic.

If we want to be better pastors, we need to begin by working on our relationship with God.

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31 Days to Become a Better Pastor: Remember Your Call

31 DaysI am not the best pastor in the world nor do I have all the answers. But I have been pastoring for over twenty years and have been able to serve in a variety of contexts. More than that, I’m still learning and know that I have a lot of room to grow.

For the next thirty-one days, I’m going to post some ideas not just to make you a better pastor but to make myself a better pastor. I hope you will join me on this journey. If you are not a pastor, please share this with your pastor.

For the first day, I want you to remember your call to ministry. What was it like? Where were you? How long did it take for you to get it?

I was in my mid-twenties. There were two ways in which God called me. I was involved in a Bible study. After about a year, I was asked to lead the Bible study. I discovered the joy of digging into the Bible and making the connections to today’s life.

The second part was a month in Europe with Operation Mobilization. Spending an entire month doing ministry full-time opened my eyes to a new world. Numerous people during that short-term mission affirmed my gifts for ministry.

Those two events plus a number of other experiences were the means by which God spoke to me about going in the ministry. Like most pastors, I have had doubts about my call. I wondered I was doing what I was doing. Going back to my call was a helpful way of reminding myself that being a pastor was more than just a job.

I encourage you to take some time to reflect on your calling. You may even want to write out, including all the events involved.

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The Most Uncomfortable Leadership Lesson

LeadershipIt is good to have the opportunity to serve under good and healthy leaders. We should be observant and teachable as we follow them. I served with one pastor and I would meet weekly with him just to ask ministry questions. But there is another leadership lesson that is not as much fun but just as helpful.

Sometimes we serve under leaders who are not as healthy and who make some poor decisions. The temptation could be just to criticize and talk behind their backs. But serving under bad leaders can be just as influential as serving under good leaders.

I can think of a couple of leaders that looking back were not the healthiest in their leadership. I don’t badmouth them but I often find myself going back to those experiences and drawing lessons from them. One of the best ways to learn is by learning from other people’s mistakes.

Patting ourselves on the back that at least we are not as bad as them is not good enough. We need to reflect on what about their leadership was unhealthy. We should ask if we are making those same mistakes. We should then challenge ourselves on how we can avoid making those mistakes.

Every leader, whether good, bad or mediocre, has something for us to learn from. Learning from bad leaders can be uncomfortable but it can also be one of the most profitable experiences of our career.

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Weekend Leadership Roundup

Here are some leadership posts that are worth checking out.

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The Trust Protocol – Review

Trust ProtocolIn over twenty years of pastoral ministry, I have discovered that the most important currency in leadership is trust. If you don’t have the people’s trust, you can not do anything. To make things more challenging, trust doesn’t come free.

Mac Richard works through this dynamic in his book, The Trust Protocol. The subtitle highlights the importance: the key to building stronger families, teams and businesses.

What is the Trust Protocol? Richard defines it in this way: “forging credibility through integrity and action.” He continues, “The Trust Protocol calls us to a higher plane of relational responsibility.”

The rest of the books works through how trust is earned and how it is lost. Richard illustrates this principle through many personal stories. Unfortunately, the importance of trust is often learned best after it has been broken.

You will not find an amazing new principle that you had never considered before. But The Trust Protocol will remind you of what you already know about trust and will challenge you to become more intentional when it comes to building trust.

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5 Things We Can Take Away From the Legacy of Billy Graham

The Christian world is still grieving the death of Billy Graham. Even though he lived to be 99 years old, there is still a sense of loss. We should pray for his family in these days.

In addition, we should look at the legacy of Billy Graham and try to learn from it. There are so many lessons for Christian leaders from the life of Billy Graham. Here are five things we can take away from his legacy.

1. Plan to Finish Well

Much of the pressure that Christian leaders feel is to perform well right now. Sometimes that pressure is so great that they end up falling after only a short while. One of the most impressive things about Billy Graham was that he finished well. That was not just a matter of chance. Billy Graham planned in such a way that he could finish well. Do more than just hope for the best.

2. It’s Not About the Individual

Billy Graham personally achieved much but that’s not all he did. He built up the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. Billy had been retired for some time but his work has continued through the association. When a leader makes it all about them, their work dies when they die. Build and empower a team.

3. Be Innovative

We may think of crusade evangelism today as old fashioned but much of what Billy did in his day was cutting edge. Everything from filling stadiums, televising crusades and making movies was well outside the church’s comfort zone. Our job is not to do exactly the same things he did, but to have that same spirit of innovation.

4. Be a Bridge Builder

The beginning of Billy Graham’s career saw much support from the conservative fundamentalist wing of Christianity. That soon changed. Many abandoned Billy Graham because he reached out to all parts of the Christian church. Billy was a bridge builder when what they wanted was for him to be a wall builder. Billy paid a price for this decision but it worked for the best in the long run. Being a bridge builder doesn’t mean giving up core beliefs, but it does mean working together in the areas that we can and with those who hold the same basic faith.

5. Don’t Sacrifice Family

Billy Graham was not a perfect person. From what I have read, his biggest regret was the lack of attention he gave to his children. The ministry was always calling and he responded to that call. However, serving God does not require neglecting our families. True Christian ministry includes taking care of our families and demonstrating love to them.

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Weekend Leadership Roundup

Here are some leadership posts that are worth checking out.

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