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Category: Leadership (page 2 of 3)

On my Ordination Eve: Will I survive?

My ordination is this weekend. It’s Ordination Eve, you might say. Michelle (my wife) and I were talking about this momentous occasion recently. We’ve been dating, engaged and married for 14 years. I’ve been pursuing ordained pastoral ministry for some 13 years. It’s been, in effect, one of the long-term goals of our entire relationship. This call to ministry has determined how we’ve understood the Lord’s leading, our own growth and purpose, and a number of sacrifices along the way.

But on the eve of my ordination, this realization of 13 years of pursuit, I’m haunted by the question: Will I survive?

Several of the men who were a part of bringing me into ministry are now out of ministry. Some for good reasons, others, sadly, for disqualifications of one kind of another. I’ve watched men in my family of churches and outside fall to various kinds of moral failure. I’ve seen friends, well intentioned, go down heretical paths with gusto.

Having been in full-time ministry work for the last year and a half, I can hardly say I understand the full weight and temptations that lead men to disqualification (morally or doctrinally). But, I’ve been at this long enough to see the hints. Those hinting, quiet thoughts of reprieve from the isolating stress of vocational ministry. Those alluring doctrinal compromises that would seem to affirm more people, garner more influence, lay smoother tracks.

I’m haunted by the question of “Will I survive?” because all those alluring temptations need only the fertile soil of my own heart to grow. I know my own inclinations, I see the temptations. I see that, with John Bradford watching a man lead to execution, “There but for the grace of God go I.”

In light of this, I’ve made it a bit of my mission to interview older pastors about surviving and thriving in ministry. I may turn those questions and discussions into a series at some point, but I’ve garnered some categories to consider. These are six categories contrasted with a temptation that could lead to ministerial disqualification.

Sobriety over presumption

“Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.”

~1 Corinthians 10:12

Maybe this is the obvious one, but it’s foundational. I am no better than any man who’s disqualified from ministry. Yes, even the pastor who’s cheated on his wife and sent her out to the wolves. I’m no better. Maybe I have not done what he has, but if I believe “I’ll never do that” I’m an idiot.

Of the ten thousand things God is doing in the ministry failure of any pastor, he is certainly teaching us to be sober about our own propensity to the same failure. I am no better than any man. And given the same circumstances, I have no confidence in myself that I would not succumb in a similar way (1 Cor. 10:12-13).

So, dear soul, strive for humility. Cultivate it in active prayer. Strive to diligently keep the Law of the Lord – for he is your only preservation against the sin in your own heart (Ps. 119:4, 8).

No over Yes

This is largely catalogued and acknowledged in the sphere of ministry: Pastors do too much. They say Yes too often, and say No infrequently. I’m not going to belabor this point, but simply offer a thought: If the call of pastoral ministry is to “equip the saints for the work ministry” (Eph. 4:12), then maybe this is just me, but it seems that all the work of ministry must not be done by the pastors. I’m not a quantum physics major, and I wore punk suspenders in high school, but it seems to me that “equip” means pastors need to say No more often.

Along these lines, I simply offer Essentialism as a book for your consideration. It’s not a “Christian” book (can a physical book profess Christ?), nor to my knowledge written by a Christian. However, I’d say that this book has been the most helpful book on productivity and leadership that I read in 2015. At it’s core, it’s a book about the nature of being disciplined. What is your main purpose in life pastor? How do you cultivate that focus, and equip those around you to do those things which are not your main focus? I think this book serves pastors to do the very command of Ephesians 4:12. It equips the pastor, and thereby, equips the church to be productive for God.

Doctrinal Growth over Knowledge Maintenance

The demands of ministry are brutal. What’s the church mission statement? What are our core values? What is our ministry philosophy? What’s our budget? What is a budget? How do I set up a budget for an organization? How do we incorporate? What’s our policy manual going to cover? How do we relate to each other outside of worship? What are our worship services going to look like? What about our guest packets? How are we going to do fundraising? What’s the church’s name going to be? How do I keep up with all these people? Why did X leave the church? I need to visit X in the hospital. I need to prepare X sermon. I hate cats.

There are lots of things to be done in ministry. It’s easy to push simply reading a theological book on the back burner. It’s even more alluring to stop growing doctrinally if you’re a relatively well-read guy. (If you don’t read, I guess that’s a different temptation.)

I can already see in my own soul the inclination to stop growing doctrinally. I’ve got all these other things to handle – getting into the nuances of say, the Covenants, just seems overwhelming. But, my brother, if we do not strive to go “further up and higher in” to the glories of God in the teaching of Scripture, then we’re drifting away. You need to lead you people – which means leading them doctrinally. I wonder if the reason some pastors tenures at churches are so short – maybe 3-5 years – is because at the end of 150-250 sermons, they’ve said everything they know. May that never be brothers! Strive for doctrinal growth. Repent of doctrinal error or mishandling. You are called to feed the sheep of Christ. Get the food!

Soul Care Rhythms over the Taut Bow Syndrome

I get this phrase from our good friend, Charles Spurgeon:

The bow cannot be always bent without fear of breaking. Repose is as needed to the mind as sleep to the body. Our days of worship (which were, in the Old Testament, sabbaths) are our days of toil, and if we do not rest upon some other day, we shall break down. Even the earth must lie fallow and have her sabbaths; and so must we; hence the wisdom and compassion of our Lord, when He said to His disciples that they should go “apart into a desert place, and rest a while.”

You need to know yourself. I can easily see how I could do 80+ hours of work “for the sake of the Gospel” every week. It’d kill my soul, and probably destroy my family, but I could do it. Even still, I can maintain a heavy work load for a while, but it would break me, and be unbelief tot he core.

Part of this is knowing yourself, and knowing your culture. In New England, the summers are slow and low. Church attendance drops to nearly half. Apparently, in the old days, pastors in New England used to swap preaching at each others churches to enable each other to get some time off. They understood their culture.

I once had a conversation with Warren Boettcher, where he recommended a personal retreat every 3-4 months. Depending on your own makeup, it could vary. But doing a regular, three day personal retreat was recommended. I’ve started setting this up for my own schedule.

At it’s core, this expresses faith in the Lord. I’m not the Lord of the Church, just a slave. The church will do just fine without me for a few days. In fact, it’s likely to improve! But the burdens of ministry are such that taking time away to care for your soul should be regular, and should be supported (relationally and financially) by the church.

Robust Polity over Independence

I wonder if part of ministry burnout – morally or emotionally – is due to not having a healthy church polity. If a pastor is taking all the hits of a church on his own chin without a plurality of local elders and a region of elders confessing the same doctrine and mission, I can understand how bitterness, lusts, etc. would have fertile soil.

At the same time, I don’t think it’s easy. I’m not going to lie, church planting with Sovereign Grace over the last year and a half has not been a walk in the park. I don’t imagine life together in the years to come is going to be sipping coffee. But I know that other men need my help, and more importantly, I need theirs. I need a regional leader to keep my eyes on the mission. I need other men in our region to pick up the slack of my own failures in ministry. I think our church and my own ministry longevity are healthy due to a robust partnership that means something. We’re not just friends, we’re brothers. And I think brothers help cary the load of ministry better when there are more shoulders to the task.

Faith over Fear

At the heart of this is the call to faith. Will I fail in ministry? I put my trust in the Lord, who cares for me. To fearfully wring my hands over disqualification will certainly lead to failure of one kind or another. When you’re driving, you don’t get to your goal by watching the guard-rails, you keep your eyes ahead. You get to the goal by watching for it – and in this spiritual case, trusting in Him.

Maybe that’s why Paul encourages the young pastor Timothy with a reminder about faith in contrast to fear from his own ordination:

For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.

~2 Timothy 1:6-7

What’s my ultimate hope against these haunting fears of disqualification? God himself, in the Gospel. The Gospel that has saved me – Christ’s death on my behalf, his righteousness counted as my own in Him – this is my hope. The inward evaluation will kill me. It’s the eye of faith, that looks to God, and knows that he has given me a spirit of power (that makes real change) and love (for who he is and his work) and self-control (to put to death the sin within), that he might be glorified in my life.

In the end, it is God himself that preserves a man for a life-time of faithful ministry. On my Ordination Eve, would you pray that I would know this more deeply? That I’d trust this God for the calling? And if you’re provoked by these categories, I guess you can pray for yourself. But pray for me first. I need it.

New Authors, New Schedule at Plant/Replant

Here’s the headline: We’re relaunching with two new authors and slower but better post schedule.

We’re excited about some future possibilities in this and think it’ll result in stronger content . Basically, we want to make the blog worth your time. If you’ve followed Plant/Replant you’ll noticed that we went strong for two months then took two months off. (Hey, we deserved a vacation ok?? This blogging stuff isn’t as easy as it looks. [Actually, it is.]) This new format should keep that from happening in the future.

Some Background

Plant/Replant exists because of some good news, and to spread this good news. A couple months into starting this new blog we realized two things: 1) we don’t have as much time as we thought we did, and 2) we didn’t want to give up on the idea for Plant/Replant. Jacob is planting a church in Manchester, NH and I’m leading a church in El Paso, TX. We love writing, we love mission and we love Sovereign Grace Churches and we loved having a place where all this intersected. So how could we make this work?

Adding Authors

At the same time we often discussed “Is there anyone else who should be writing with us?” and two guys in particular came up:
  • My friend Rob Tombrella has a huge heart for mission and who, among other things, leads many missional initiatives as a pastor at Grace Church in Frisco, TX. Rob holds an M. Div from Southwestern University, and he’s led a church before coming to Grace Church. He also is chair of the church planting committee and the kind of guy that is up for anything as long as in the end people hear about Jesus.
  • Our friend Nick Swan  is a pastor at Crossway Church in the Charlotte area. There are many notable things about Nick including his current studies at Reformed Theological Seminary, his service on the Theological Committee for Sovereign Grace, his symphony level oboe skills, but we largely invited him to join us because he has the best beard in Sovereign Grace.

We’ve added these two authors to Plant/Replant and reserve the right to add more, especially if they have cool beards.

Here’s what I love about the idea of the four of us writing together: We are all profoundly different and minister in profoundly different places (town, urban, suburban) but we share the same values. We don’t even always agree on how those values should be applied but we hold them, treasure them, and seek to promote them. We all love our family of churches but don’t always agree on the best way forward either and we think our writing together will yield some good interaction and sharpening.

What to Expect

Topics: The driving idea behind Plant/Replant is that Jesus has called his church to join him in the work of making disciples in our neighborhoods and in the nations beyond. Because of our backgrounds Jacob and I will often bring a special emphasis on planting (Jacob) or replanting (me). But we’re grateful Rob & Nick will contribute to this conversation from their perspective in established churches because Jesus calls all churches to this mission whether they’re plants or not. We’re also hoping to write some more about polity and how it serves as a key support that enables mission to happen (really we’re hoping Nick will write about this since he’s significantly smarter than us, or appears so by virtue of his beard). Without strong polity the mission is hampered and undercut before it begins.

Frequency: Our goal is four substantive posts per month with a few extra posts thrown in. Each guy will post a 700-1,000 word article each month.

Interaction: With four of us we’ll also be looking for more opportunities for interaction between us. Maybe we’ll thrown in some things like taking a question in roundtable format or responding to one another’s posts in brief. We’re open to suggestions.

Thanks for reading

We know there are more than enough silly cat videos, Star Wars fan theories, and playoff projections to occupy your time online. Thanks for spending a few minutes with us–we’ll try to make it worth your time. At least, we’ll seek to point you to some good news about Jesus that’s always worth your time.

The Real Reason the Bible Bores You

About a year and a half ago I got my favorite Christmas present in a long time, and it taught me a lot about approaching the Bible.

It was a novel. Or rather, a fake novel. Or rather, it was a novel written in the margins of fake novel. The conceit was that this was a real “novel” that became something of a secret communication medium between two strangers trying to unravel a conspiracy. The best part was that as you turned the page you’d find a maps with markings for secret tunnels. Turn another page and find a drawing on napkins. Google something online and there would be a whole mysterious radio broadcast. The deeper you went, the deeper you were drawn. With handwritten notes and weathered photographs you fell into a world you weren’t completely sure was not real.

J.J. Abrams, the creator of the novel, wrote somewhere that he’s always been fascinated by the concept of a “mystery box” — that strange artifact waiting to be explored. There are mystery boxes in crime novels (the locked briefcase), in action adventure (the ancient artifact), in science fiction (the glowing orb). It’s like unwrapping a Christmas present only to find a smaller present, only to find another smaller present, as you delve deeper and deeper into the mystery.

Reading it is a jumble of flipping back and forth across the novel, notes, and artifacts, trying to piece a story together. And yet, the more maddening it became the more I was hooked.

What does any of this have to do with approaching the Bible?

Simply this: Too often we approach the Bible too much like a stodgy textbook and not enough like a “mystery box.”

Too often I wake up, groggy, approaching my Bible with all the excitement of reviewing my health insurance handbook. But in my hands is the ultimate mystery box, waiting to be unwrapped and discovered. It is thousands of pages written across centuries. There are books of history, lists, poetry, and letters. There is crazy apocalyptic imagery written by men in exile far from home. There’s a diary of a former member of a King’s court trying to rebuild an ancient city.

It gets better: You can read the rise and fall of a great king of Israel and then read his innermost thoughts through the poetry he wrote a few books over. You can travel with a doctor as the ancient world is turned upside down by a former persecutor turned evangelist, then read the letters the evangelist wrote as he waited for his execution. You can watch the creation of the world at the beginning of the book as stars explode across the darkness and mountains crash out of the ocean, and you can watch the world on fire at the end of the book as all is destroyed and renewed.

And through it all it tells a single story: Shadows and types at first. But then those shadows become clearer and clearer till light bursts onto the scene and reinterprets all that came before and all that will come after. The story is about love lost and pursued and renewed. The story is about war; about forces arrayed against a single man who singlehandedly pushes back the darkness. The story is the one true story of the history of the world full of conflict and relationship and hope and renewal.

This. This is the Bible.

I think that many times we don’t read the Bible because it bores us (though we’d never admit it out loud). And the Bible bores us because we skim some pages, it seems old and disconnected from our lives. Frankly, a google search is more rewarding. But that is because we forget what the Bible actually is. We’re content to blow the dust off the mystery box, maybe peak inside, and say, “Well it looks like a bunch of old stuff I can’t use.”

The Apostle Peter says of these Scriptures, these “prophetic words” preserved in the Bible: “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21).

That sentence is literary dynamite. The creator of atoms and mountains wrote poems. The creator of towering glaciers and desert sunsets wrote histories of kings and nations. The creator of fiery volcanos and intricate reefs, wrote a book. The Holy Spirit that animates creation and animates hearts also breathed out this book.

Your Bible is not a stack of meaningless data. It is a mystery box.

Open it.

Friday Variety: 3 Tools to Help You Create, Remember, and Declutter

I am easily attracted to new tools, new promises of productivity, and shiny new apps. But there are a few things that stick around, become part of my life, and general make things easier. The three things below are three things that have lasted and made my life better. You can use these in your work life, in your personal life, or some combination of the two. I’m using them regularly to create more, remember more, and declutter my life.

Todoist: A dead simple, gorgeous app that keeps you doing stuff

todoist

Recently relaunched with refreshed apps and interfaces, Todoist has been my go-to To-Do app for over a year. There’s a free version and there’s an app just about everywhere you could use one, plus a premium version for $29/yr.

todoist2

Here’s what I love about it:

  • I don’t think about it a lot. It has tons of features–you can prioritize and categorize and tag to your heart’s content. But when I just need to capture a to-do for a certain date (even at a certain time or place) it makes it dead simple.
  • It integrates with Gmail so that you can add emails as tasks. This has been a lifesaver for me so that I don’t lose track of an important email I need to reply to on a certain day, or after I get certain information.
  • You can add an extension to Chrome and add a website as a to-do. This is useful for saying things like “send this to Bob” later in your workday.
  • It gets out of the way. The design is intentionally minimalist and it lets you focus on what needs to get done.
  • I think that I have a great memory but I have a terrible memory. When I need to do something, I put it in and I really do remember.
  • When you finish your to-do list for the day it gives you nice suggestions like “Play some music” or “Adopt a kitten.”  I like to be encouraged, okay?

Evernote: An app that allows you to outsource your memory (which is good news for me)

evernote

Much has been written about Evernote. It’s a monster and chances are you’ve heard of it if you’ve spent any time in the productivity world. But I have a confession: I tried it a few years ago, didn’t get it and stopped. But about two years ago I went back and now I can’t live without it. If you’ve tried and failed, here are a few reasons to reconsider:

  • The web-based writer is just gorgeous. If you need to write a letter, or paper, or sermon, or something else, and you don’t want any distractions, try this. It doesn’t have all the features of a word processor but I often use it to sketch out ideas or write things down without worrying about formatting.
  • If you save articles or bits of information I just haven’t found a better way to save it than Evernote. I’ve gotten addicted to using it for saving potential sermon illustrations. When I read something illustration-worthy I put it in a big stack in Evernote and will scan through while I’m prepping for sermons.
  • I have a “meetings” stack of notes for people I meet regularly with. I modify these notes before each meeting, reviewing what we covered last time and what we will cover this time.
  • Again, I have delusions of grandeur when it comes to what I can remember. In reality I only remember the names of Star Wars starships, a detailed layout of Disneyland, the names of my children. Everything else goes in Evernote.
  • Jacob and I use Evernote to collaborate. We have an ongoing chat conversation about the blog and can easily share articles back and forth.

ESSENTIALISMA book about not doing a lot of things so you can do a few things really well

essentialism

Jacob recommended this book to me a few months ago and I’ve been working my way through it. We’ll probably have a blog conversation about this at some point, but I love it enough that I wanted to pass it along now. It’s not a book from a Christian perspective, but it aligns well with a Christian worldview. The book is built around the idea that we often spend too much time on what really does not matter and only a small portion of time on what matters most. How do we fix that? The book is winsome, has bite-sized chapters, and is beautifully designed.

 

 

essentialism2

I’m finding that the book is most useful not as a one-time sit-down read but an ongoing read. I read a bit each week and seek to apply it. It pushes me each week to spend time on what matters most and helps me fight the drift to the tyranny of the urgent.

What about you? 

What are your favorite productivity tools? Apps? Books? Leave a comment. We’d love to check them out and keep our recommendations going.