Know What You Cannot Do – Fence Post #4

By Ed Stetzer

This is the fifth and final blog post in a series regarding pastors developing healthy boundaries in their ministry. I’m sharing four key points in the process, thinking of them as four fence posts around a healthy ministry.

I have already shared the first three “posts:” recognize your role in the church, pursue personal health, and guard your flock even from other Christians.

In a church I planted a few years ago, I knew going into it that boundaries were going to be vital as I was going to continue to work full-time at LifeWay Research. So, from the very beginning, my leadership team and I created my job description around those boundaries.

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Know Your Boundaries

The fourth post supporting a healthy ministry is knowing what you can and cannot do.

At that church plant there were three things and ONLY three things that I did: I met with the staff/apprentices, I preached about 70% of the time, and I led a small group in my home.

One of the benefits this boundary had brought to the church is that we were very clearly not a pastor-centered church. I was very upfront with my role in that church. I explained I could not do funerals, visits, phone calls, or meetings. This left the door wide open for our congregation to see areas of leadership where they were needed, and to respond accordingly.

Choose Boundaries Based on Your Situation, Church, and Gifting.

The question arises: why are those the three things? Because they were the three things that only I could do. My boundary may not look like your boundary. But, God called me to teach and preach and that is part of what I do.

Leading the small group was a really important component of my job description. It was mission-driven and it included several of my neighbors.

My small group gave me a personal, front-line connection with the people that we needed to reach. It prevented me from developing tunnel vision from just preaching and talking with the staff each week, while reminding me that I could not lead what I did not live.

The other major component that my small group brought me was regular personal interaction. As your church grows, you need to sacrifice some personal interaction. That can be tough because a lot of people go into pastoral ministry because they are passionate and good at gifts like serving, providing personal care, etc.

A person can’t care for people like this for a group much over 100. It’s why the typical median church size in America is under 100 people. Growing a church past that size means being willing to allow some of those close relationships to change and shift along the way.

A small group is a perfect venue to meet that need for pastoral care when your church has grown beyond your ability to provide that for the entire congregation. It’s where real shepherding and friendships can happen.

Being a pastor is a lonely business. You see a lot of people, but you aren’t in community with a lot of people. A small group is an integral part to solving this problem.

Be Clear and Consistent on What You Can and Cannot Do

The key to establishing this boundary is knowing what you can and cannot do. Churches will want you to do everything. You should do something, but you should do the right thing.

Typically, your “right thing” will line up with your gifts. Other areas are where you should bring others alongside you, and build a team. This team is what will truly help you to accomplish what God has called you to do as a leader.

When you establish these four fence posts – recognizing your role in the church, pursuing personal health, guarding your flock, and knowing what you can and cannot do – you will enable and encourage growth in yourself and your church. Without these four, you will more than likely experience ministry burn out and hinder the development of those under your care and the church as a whole.

You must be intentional about the long term viability of you, your family, your ministry and your church. If you are not, your boundaries will be compromised and your schedule will be full, but your body and spirit will be exhausted.

As you seek to lead a multiplying church, we’ve created some Mission Group tools to help you grow as a leader, break through growth barriers, and build rhythms of outreach. We love to serve pastors and church leaders.

This series of articles was originally published at: EdStetzer.com

Guard Your Flock, Even From Other Christians – Fence Post #3

By Ed Stetzer

This is the fourth blog post in a series (intro, fence post 1, fence post 2) regarding pastors developing healthy boundaries in their ministry. I’m sharing four key points in the process, thinking of them as four fence posts around a healthy ministry.

I have already shared the first two “posts:” recognize your role in the church and pursue personal emotional health.

The next may be the hardest to implement in our culture. Also, I imagine it will generate the most disagreement. However, I think it demonstrates a biblical approach to shepherding of a congregation, rather than turning the church into a place where a group of customers demand that their area of interest is paramount.

The third post supporting a healthy ministry is guarding your flock, even if it is from other Christians.

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It may seem ironic, but some of the people from whom you have to most tenaciously guard your church are other believers. If you don’t, the focus of the ministry is to respond to the special interests of customer Christians. And, that means your ministry (and its boundaries) will be focused on keeping customers happy—and no boundaries will exist.

I wrote about this in another blog post entitled, “Why I Have No Problem Helping Issue-Christians to Move On.”

The inspiration for the post came from an incident after a service at Grace Church, the church I planted and pastored while I worked full-time at LifeWay Research (something, by the way, that I could only do with a lot of boundaries).

I basically encouraged a first-time visitor who was clearly well-versed in Revelation prophecies (and enjoyed sharing his interpretations with everyone he met) to move on from our church and find another that was going to best meet his passions and beliefs.

Now, let me clarify my thinking behind my actions. If someone in my congregation came up to me after the service saying, “I’ve been doing some reading and I have some questions about prophecy. Could we talk about it?” I would take some time right there for discussion. But that clearly wasn’t the case.

This guy was obviously a pro. He actually told me that his friends call him the “Prophecy Terrorist.” This was his introduction—The Prophecy Terrorist. He didn’t have questions. He wanted to get inside my church to find someone who would give him the attention he desired. He wanted me to meet with him so he could debate me—and convince me.

And, I have boundaries. I don’t do that. And, I shepherded a congregation at that time that also had boundaries. We did not need the “Prophecy Terrorist” distracting us from our mission.

You may not have met the “Prophecy Terrorist,” but I bet you’ve met other issue-driven Christians. There are “issue Calvinists,” “issue Charismatics,” “issue homeschoolers,” “issue political Christians,” and the list goes on and on.

Your church is not a public square for people to debate and opine. It’s a place that you are to guard and shepherd. You create boundaries—both personally and congregationally.

People won’t like that, but if you allow your church to be a gathering of special interest groups, then your ministry will be built around keeping them happy. Or, keeping them apart. And, promising them attention that you then spend your life trying to fulfill.

There is a better way, though not everyone will like it.

Creating a healthy boundary for your church means knowing who you are as a church, where you are, where you’re going, and what that means for people who are outside of that. Your church is not the place for issue Christians who want to dominate your time to be given the freedom to do so. Save that time for counseling the hurting, not arguing with the agenda-driven.

On the other hand, I will welcome and talk to “issue non-Christians” all day long. If someone came up to me and said, “I’ve been reading Deepak Chopra and thinking about some deep thoughts.” I would sit down and talk with them in a heartbeat about what Jesus has to say about Deepak.

There is a big difference between the two.

Issue Christians want to get inside so they’ll have someone to give them attention, and it destroys the boundary. Issue non-Christians need to be brought inside so that they can hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The most important reality is that “Prophecy Terrorists” and other issue Christians are not going to stop walking with Jesus because they’re not in my church. They will find a place—probably a church (and a pastor) without boundaries.

If it is in your church, however, I’m guessing there are a lot of people who are going to be driven out, including some who need Jesus.

Boundaries are set up by shepherds. That’s the term that the Bible uses several places in Scripture. You must be a shepherd. Your church is not a voluntary society of opinion givers and special interest groups. It’s a body that needs to be in community with one another—served and led by shepherds, pastors, and leaders, focused on a common mission.

So, this is a touchy ministry fencepost, but an essential one. You and your church must recognize that the mission is more important than special interest groups. Your church needs boundaries so that it is focused on its mission and won’t be distracted from that. You need boundaries so that you won’t spend your time trying to keep “issue Christians” happy and placated.

Those boundaries will cost you a few people, but they will focus your church in powerful ways and free you to do ministry about the hurting that otherwise will be overlooked.

In the conclusion of this series, I will explain the fourth and final ministry fence post: know what you can and cannot do.

This series of articles was originally published at: EdStetzer.com

Pursuing Emotionally Healthy Boundaries – Fence Post #2

By Ed Stetzer

In the introduction to this series, I talked about how your schedule is not the primary problem that leads to burn out, rather it was not setting healthy boundaries in your ministry. Last time, I said the first “post” in your ministry boundary fence is to recognize your role in the church.

For the second post, we have to understand that unhealthy pastors create unhealthy boundaries.

Look, it’s nice to be needed. When people in the church look to you for everything and you do it, they’ll think you’re awesome. Wanting others to think you are awesome isn’t necessarily bad. It can be perfectly normal. The enjoyment of deserved praise, however, can quickly snowball to an unhealthy dependency upon praise.

Your congregation is not naturally going to help you with this. In most church contexts, many look to the pastor as a “distributor of religious goods and services.”

The congregation feels that they have chosen you, and that they are regularly “paying” for you. As a result, they have certain expectations of what you should do. Those expectations can include things like personal visits to every sick person. If it is not done, people may get mad or claim their spiritual walk has been compromised.

The second post supporting a healthy ministry is to pursue emotionally healthy boundaries.

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In order to create proper boundaries, pastors must be healthy and confident enough to be able to say, “No,” when other people want you to say, “Yes,” even when they don’t understand why you have to say, “No.”

Once when I was serving as an interim pastor, a long-time family in the church asked if I could talk to little “Johnny” so that he could receive Christ. I very calmly and kindly answered, “No.” The parents were confused as to why I would not meet with them, but I explained that I did not want to take that opportunity from them.

They protested again, explaining that he had questions. Really, he was eight. Was he struggling with the ontological argument for the existence of God? I expressed that I was confident the questions would be basic, which they should be able to answer since they had been sitting in a great church for fifteen years.

If people need to go through you, as the pastor, to meet Jesus, their understanding of the Gospel is rather limited.

Unfortunately, Johnny’s parents didn’t see it that way. Actually, they saw it in a way that resulted in calling two small groups worth of people explaining that the interim was the, well, a yankee devil.

Within two weeks, however, they found me after church and thanked me for not robbing them of the opportunity of praying with their son. It doesn’t always work out that way, but in this case, the boundaries created a really special moment for this family– but they never called back the families they complained to two weeks before.

Creating boundaries is hard for everyone, but necessary for longevity in ministry.

At the end of the day, pastors must not allow the people in their congregation to bring cultural expectations to their boundaries. Instead, they must allow the Bible to inform their implementation of healthy boundaries. The Bible does command and describe what pastors should do, and most boundary making is unrelated to those biblical commands, but is rather driven by church-culture expectations.

The properly established boundaries create a much healthier pastor and church. Part of the health of the church comes from the third post, which we will examine next – guard your flock … even from other Christians.

This series of articles was originally published at: EdStetzer.com

Recognize Your Role in the Church – Fence Post #1

By Ed Stetzer

In the first post of this series, I began a discussion on the importance of pastors establishing healthy boundaries in ministry.

As it’s an area in which I have personally struggled, and one in which I continue to grow, I’m passionate about sharing what I have learned in order to help others not make the same mistakes that I did.

In the next four blog posts, I will share keys to establishing these boundaries. Think of them as four fence posts surrounding a healthy ministry.

The first “fence post” supporting a healthy ministry is to recognize your role in the church.

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You, as the pastor, are not ultimately responsible for the church. While you do have some, only King Jesus bears the final responsibility.

When this boundary is ignored, the church ends up being built around the pastor, who then actually becomes part of the problem rather than the solution.

At my second church plant, we had grown to a congregation of about 125 after 18 months. While this might seem like a positive development, it became a bit of an Achilles heel for me. The attendance numbers became my driving force from week to week.

I would actually take time every Saturday to personally call all of our regular and occasional attendees and encourage them to be at church the next day. I was convinced that if I didn’t call everyone, the church would fall apart the next day. Because my identity was so wrapped up in our weekly attendance, if the church numbers collapsed the next day, my life, in effect, would collapse with it.

When pastors misunderstand their role like I did, they tend to put all their focus on some predetermined view of success rather than those things they are biblically called to, such as shepherding and equipping.

Thankfully, a combination of my wife and a pastor friend in another town lovingly pointed out to me that I needed to make some changes. It resulted in my resignation. Well, sort of.

I actually got up one Sunday and “resigned.” (Yep, I used air quotes.) I told my congregation that I was going to resign as the sole shepherd and caregiver of the church.

I apologized for not creating proper boundaries and explained that I was restructuring. Using some very 90’s language (which wasn’t too terrible because it was the 90’s), I explained that I was going to move into a “rancher” role, while appointing “shepherds” who worked there. It was a big step of growth, both for the church and myself.

Although moving to a decentralized ministry model was a good step, it was a hard step. The next boundary “post” we will examine speaks to the difficulty of creating healthy boundaries: the pastor has to be healthy enough to create the boundary.

This series of articles was originally published at: EdStetzer.com

Don’t Blame Your Schedule for Your Burnout

By Ed Stetzer

We live in a world that is defined by boundaries. Our roads are painted with them, our sports games are designed around them, and our psychologists tell us that we need to expand them around that codependent crazy aunt of ours.

While it may be true that the term “boundaries” has been “Oprahfied” in the last few years, I think it’s an area that is vital in the lives of church planters and pastors.

People often point to too much activity as the inherent culprit of fatigue and early departure from ministry. The problem, however, transcends a busy schedule.

Pastors and ministry leaders who experience burnout tend to exhibit lifestyles that neglect the discipline to handle their activities. Without properly set and upheld boundaries, individuals will more likely experience exhaustion of both body and spirit.

When I planted my first church in the inner city of Buffalo along with all of those duties, I was husband to Donna, blowing insulation to support myself, and a seminary student in Pittsburgh, driving myself four hours, in the snow, uphill both ways. I may have made that last part up, but it was Buffalo after all.

Surprisingly, I was actually able to maintain all of those roles until I failed to create strong boundaries. That was what finally got to me. If a car hits a dog, the dog isn’t injured because he was running at it too quickly. He’s hurt because he didn’t abide by the boundaries that were set for him.

Similarly, it wasn’t the rapidity of my activity that hurt me, but rather my lack of solid boundaries around my schedule, particularly at church. I became the focal point for the entire ministry that took place. I was the one everybody needed to talk to if they wanted to follow Christ, receive counseling, or have visit them after their toenail surgery.

I had a congregation full of people who would lean on me from all directions for their spiritual growth. It was these lack of boundaries that disabled any effective ministry and led to burnout.

The fact that I’m still in ministry today should tell you that I have learned some lessons along the way. I’m passionate about sharing the four guidelines I gleaned from my own experience with other pastors and leaders.

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Think of them as four fence posts that set up a defined boundary around a healthy ministry. Four posts coming in the days ahead.

As you seek to lead a multiplying church, we’ve created some Mission Group tools to help you grow as a leader, break through growth barriers, and build rhythms of outreach. We love to serve pastors and church leaders.

This series of articles was originally published at: EdStetzer.com

The Point of Pilot Point

By David A. Busic

It has often been said that the union of three different groups to form the Church of the Nazarene at Pilot Point, Texas, USA, was to promote the biblical doctrine of holiness as expressed in the teaching of John Wesley and the American Holiness Movement. While that is certainly true, what is less well-known is that at the very same time, nearly 30 other prominent groups in the U.S. held this same conviction. So why did these three groups merge to form our denomination, but not the many others?
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The three groups that merged at Pilot Point held several common ideas that were essential to their unity:

  • The strong affirmation for the ordination of women
  • A baptismal theology that included infant and believer’s baptism and was not bound by a specific mode for baptism
  • The willingness to allow for freedom of conscience regarding eschatology. The early Church of the Nazarene included post-millennialists, pre-millennialists, and a-millennialists
  • A view of divine healing that did not exclude modern medicine
  • A shared believers’ church ecclesiology

While many other holiness denominations held exclusive and narrow viewpoints on these issues, the Church of the Nazarene chose to unite holiness people around middle-way (via media) practices. We have never been at our best as a church when we live in the extremes.
 
But perhaps the most extraordinary thing about Pilot Point was that the Church of the Nazarene was able to do what few other evangelical churches could in the divisive years that followed the American Civil War — overcome issues of regional politics, prejudice, and the lingering hatred that follows horrific conflict.
 
Names like Bresee, Jernigan, and Reynolds came together from north, south, and east U.S. to embrace a transformational idea: Christian holiness can break down any walls of separation. It was a movement of God unprecedented in U.S. church history.
 
Nazarene Historian Stan Ingersol powerfully summarizes the miracle of Pilot Point:

The union of churches at Pilot Point was a shining example of the social reality of Christian holiness. At the heart of the Christian message is a word of reconciliation: first between sinners and Divine Love; and second, among the members of the human family who are estranged from one another. Pilot Point signifies the reality that holiness heals hearts and unites people otherwise driven apart by sin, politics, and conflict. (Stan Ingersol, “Born In Hope, Borne Onward In Love.” A paper delivered 26 June 2017 for the Fraternal Delegates Luncheon in Indianapolis, Indiana, USA)

In such a time as this, in a world filled with great political strife and extreme polarities, can the Church of the Nazarene return to the spirit of our founders at Pilot Point? It was unlikely to happen then, but by the will and power of God, a union was formed. Our founders were not able to do everything, but they have given us hope that we can also deal with the issues that divide us today.
 
We serve the same God and have the same purpose. This is our holiness legacy. Let’s get back to the point of Pilot Point. 

*I am indebted to Nazarene Historian Stan Ingersol for these insights.

Looking to the Cross

By Raphael Rosado

As human beings we spend most of our lives preparing ourselves for the future. For example, something as simple as traveling from one place to another requires us to plan certain things beforehand.  We need to give maintenance to the vehicle, fill it with gas, program the GPS, pack suitcases and make reservations in a hotel.

Planning is important, and the end result is what gives value and meaning to our achievements. A person that wins the lottery may be lucky, but he doesn’t exactly deserve what he won. He can’t say that his prize is a result of planning or effort. Luck and merit are incompatible concepts.

What’s more, preparation is evidence that we care about something, or even that we really love it. It’s a cultural cliché that in relationships women complain that men do not remember key dates of anniversaries or special occasions. More than once, I’ve heard heroines of famous TV programs say, “It’s not the gift that makes me happy, but the thought and planning that it signifies.” The joy that the gift produces comes from the preparation and the effort invested.

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God is a planner par excellence and He is always ready. God doesn’t leave anything to chance. Everything that He does is the result of His eternal purpose. To illustrate this, we need to look no further than the cross.

God started preparing the ultimate solution for sin on the same day that man sinned. When God called Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, He was looking to the cross. When He gave the law to the people of Israel, He was thinking of the cross. When He showed His glory to Isaiah, God already had in mind the suffering servant. Each detail of the Old Testament looks towards Jesus and the cross. Every temptation, every question, every problem that Jesus had to face during His life on earth prepared Him for the cross. Calvary was not an accident. The merit of Jesus’ sacrifice demonstrates God’s meticulous planning to save us and show us His love.

That’s what Lent is all about: preparing ourselves to remember what Jesus did for us. Everything we give up and every fast that we undergo in this season should be part of a greater plan: preparing ourselves to meet Jesus at the cross. Without this purpose, no matter how good our works are, they are meaningless.

I invite you to use these last few days of Lent as a preparation to meet Jesus at Calvary.