10 Things I’ve Learned From Difficult People

By Steve Dunmire

When I first went into ministry, I was warned that, as a pastor, I would have to deal with difficult people. But I was not prepared for how venomous they could be at times.

I have been on the receiving end of vindictive anonymous letters, berating phone calls and accusing rants. I’ve watched too many difficult people literally storm out of the churches I have served (not to mention their passive aggressive behavior, sarcastic remarks, cutting jokes and backhanded compliments).

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But I’ve also learned a lot from difficult people. Here are a few of the lessons they have taught me:

1. Difficult People Have the Nerve to Say What Everyone Else is Thinking.

Sometimes (not always) difficult people are the people who say to your face what others will only mutter under their breath. They are sometimes the only ones who have the nerve to say what everyone else is thinking. Difficult people can be the pastoral equivalent of when a physician orders blood work for a patient: an efficient way to find out what is going on in the church’s bloodstream.

2. Difficult People Help Me Develop Thick Skin.

Dealing with difficult people is one of the most effective ways to develop the thick skin a pastor needs in order to be fit for ministry. There may be no other substitute. Dealing with difficult people is to our souls what weight training is to our bodies, so I have learned to love difficult people because they make me stronger.

3. Difficult People Reveal My Insecurities.

Difficult people force us to face up to our insecurities and our need to be liked. They force us to choose the need to be firm on some issues over our need for acceptance. Their criticism strikes at the lie that the Enemy has planted in our hearts: “This is who you really are, and all the nice things people say is just them being polite.”

Difficult people and critics in our lives can be like carnival mirrors who criticize an exaggerated and distorted version of ourselves. We recognize immediately that the distorted image is not who we are—and this can provide for us the opportunity to look at our lives and see ourselves as we really are.

4. Difficult People Make Me Clarify What I’m Doing.

Just as one out of tune string on a guitar can force us to retune all six strings, one difficult person in a church can prompt us to clarify everything we do. They force us to make things clearer and more precise because of their complaints and sometimes in anticipation of their complaints. In this way, difficult people make our ministry better because they force us to be clear and precise about what we want to do, and how we are going to do it.

5. Difficult People Show Me I Am Doing Something Right.

There is a common strand running through every major turning point of ministry, every breakthrough, every visible success, every time I could point to measurable results, or even every time I received some level of recognition. The common element in each of those things is the pestering presence of difficult people who opposed me every step along the way. I love people difficult people because they are one of the most reliable indicators I have been able to find to tell me that I am doing something right.

6. Difficult People Create Supporters.

A pastor needs meaningful friendships in order to endure. And in my case, some of my most meaningful partnerships and friendships in the ministry have been forged in response to the difficult people in a church. At times I have seen people become much more vocal supporters of me as a pastor because they have seen a critic’s harsh attack. I am grateful to have several significant friendships that were forged in direct response to difficult people.

7. Difficult People Make Me a Better Boss and a Better Subordinate.

Difficult people have helped me to see how important it is to recognize good work, applaud hard work and express appreciation. They also help me to see that not every opinion needs to be expressed. On the whole, I would like to believe that I am less critical of those who serve above me because of my experiences with difficult people.

8. Difficult People Drive Me To Prayer.

I wish this was not true, but it is. And if difficult people drive me to my knees in prayer, then I know they are a great gift. A.W. Tozer writes, “Whoever defends himself will have himself for his defense, and he will have no other. But let him come defenseless before the Lord and he will have for his defender no less than God Himself.” Difficult people drive me nuts, so they drive me to my knees in prayer, and that is one of the reasons I have learned to love them.

9. Difficult People Are Not an Obstacle to Conquer.

I once heard someone give a sermon about Eliab, David’s older brother, who burned with anger against David when he was asking the men about Goliath (1 Samuel 17:28). The pastor pointed out how David had to choose in that moment to press on to defeat Goliath, or stop to fight his critics.

Critics are neither an indicator of success nor failure, so I have chosen in advance to battle giants, not critics. I have learned to love difficult people because loving them is an option. I do not want to be remembered as the man who triumphed over his critics; I want to be remembered as the man who triumphed over giants.

10. I Am Someone’s Difficult Person.

I know I have been a difficult person in someone’s life. Sometimes I appear difficult to another person because of a disagreement, sometimes it is just because of a personality conflict, and sometimes it comes with being a person in leadership. But I have learned to love difficult people because loving them is a way I can do unto others what I would have them to do me.

Learning from difficult people and learning to love them is still a work in progress, but I hope that someday I’ll be able to truly love difficult people as God loves difficult me.

This article was originally posted at SteveDunmire.com.  Read more at http://www.relevantmagazine.com/life/10-things-i%E2%80%99ve-learned-difficult-people#tUIcsOltP9IqbjMq.99

7 Steps to Start Becoming a Church People Want to Commit To – Part 1 of 2

By Karl Vaters

People who don’t go to church, don’t want to go to church. They’re not rolling out of bed late on Sunday morning wishing they had somewhere more churchy to be.

In fact, a growing number of people who do go to church don’t want to go, either. If we don’t give them something worth committing to, they’ll be gone soon.

It’s not that people are less capable of making commitments than they used to be. They just commit differently. But too many churches haven’t caught up to that reality.

So how do we get people to commit to the church / ministry we lead? Especially when our church is small and struggling?

I don’t have all the answers, not by a long shot. But I’ve learned a handful of principles over three decades of ministry that have helped our church become a place people are excited to be committed to.

These steps won’t cost you any extra money and very little extra time – the extra time because of the learning curve. It’s not about adding to your already limited schedule and overtaxed budget. It’s not about doing things bigger. It’s about focusing on doing church better. Working smarter, not harder.

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Where Our Focus Needs to Be

But first, despite the title of this post, the challenge before us isn’t about getting people to go to church.

It’s about inspiring people to commit to

•Worshiping Jesus

•Genuine relationships with God’s people

•Making disciples

•Doing ministry for those in need

If your focus is trying to get people to commit to your Sunday service schedule, your denominational preference, maintaining your church building or anything like that, you might as well stop reading right now. In fact, you might as well close your church right now.

The days of people going to church for anything less than a genuine relationship with Jesus are over. Yes, there’s still a residue of those people, but they’re dying out – literally. And they won’t be replaced by a new group. Nor should they be.

But if you want people in your church because you have a passion to help them connect with Jesus and God’s family, read on.

1. Clear Away Anything that Isn’t Jesus

If people continue to go to church, it won’t be because they feel a sense of loyalty to a tradition most of them have never had in their lives to begin with. And it won’t be because they want to be entertained. They have better entertainment on the phone in their pocket than we can ever compete with.

The only thing that will get them out of their house and into our churches is if we give them a cause worth living (and dying) for. Namely, an authentic presentation of the gospel of Jesus – through our words and our lives.

If your generational traditions or your hip, new staging helps people do that, great! Keep doing it. But if not, don’t let your church’s personal preferences keep people from seeing Jesus.

Whether he’s hidden behind stained glass windows or laser lights and fog machines, anything that obscures Jesus instead of revealing him needs to be ditched.

2. Emphasize Relationships Over Spectacle or Tradition

For small churches especially, being a church that people want to commit to starts and ends with relationships.

We need to help people make connections to Jesus and each other.

We need to help people make connections to Jesus and each other. Then work together to build bridges with those outside the church walls.

Long after our traditions have grown stale and the spectacle has been replaced by a bigger show somewhere else, genuine relationships with Jesus and people will last.

3. Be Genuine

People are far less naïve than they used to be. They can spot phoniness in people very quickly.

This is especially important for church leaders, because we have a culture in which respect for leadership is lower than it has been in a loooong time – and mostly for good reasons.

Respect doesn’t come with the position of pastor or leader any more. In fact, it’s more likely to be viewed with skepticism than honor. That skepticism will only be overcome by practicing what we preach.

This article will continue in the next post.

Stop Just Going To Church

By Jeff Vanderstelt

It all began in a boat on a lake with a few fishing poles. It was there, surrounded by the lazy water, my dad and I would have a key conversation that would change the trajectory of my life. My dad was giving me a simple update on his life and shared that his church was hiring a discipleship pastor.

After I pushed past my internal dialog about how hiring a pastor for discipleship betrayed that the church didn’t see everything they did as discipleship, I heard my father say he was excited to learn how to make disciples—finally.

I was thankful for my father’s surge of energy toward Jesus’ commission but also a bit troubled. My dad didn’t seemed to realize he raised me in a home where daily life was engaged as intentional ministry. He owned several small businesses and believed his business was meant to be a blessing to people and the city we lived in. As a result, we joined our parents in countless acts of kindness, generosity, and hospitality.

It was not uncommon for one of us four boys to give up our room for a season to make room for a young man getting a fresh start, a broken husband whose marriage was on the rocks, or a runaway teen who needed some stability. My dad would love and mentor these men during the day at one of his businesses while my mom would nurture and care for them like one of her own.

I watched young and old come to know the love of Jesus and receive very informal but effective training in how to become responsible, hard-working, loving men. Because of my parents’ ministry at home and at work, many men still call our family “their own.”

However, the church never called this “ministry.” They didn’t see that my mother’s gracious hospitality and my father’s mentoring through work created both the environment and means for discipleship to happen.

I was not saddened simply because my parents’ ministry was never legitimized; Jesus was working through it all along, and God the Father was pleased to watch His children at work. What saddened me was that many churches (and many in the church) don’t view their homes as one of the best contexts for ministry, and their workplaces are some of the most overlooked places for mentoring and mission.

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Most people will spend one third of their lives at work and at least another third in or around their homes; that means that more than two-thirds of our lives are considered non-ministry space. In addition, most still believe church is a place you go for one-to-four hours a week where most of the discipleship happens. This means a very large majority of Christians see only a very small percentage of their lives dedicated to the mission of making disciples. It’s no wonder so few believers are fruitful in ministry.

What if we could help everyday people live with gospel intentionality in everyday life, both at work and at home, to make disciples? What if every workplace, school, neighborhood, and café were filled with Spirit-filled, Jesus-loving, disciple-makers every day? We might just see cities and towns saturated with the presence, power, and love of Jesus through everyday people like my mom and dad.

Pastors and church leaders were not called by God to do the ministry for the many. They are given to the church to equip the many for the ministry in the marketplace and the home. It’s time to equip and mobilize Jesus’ church out of the building and into life.

Let’s stop just going to church and start being the church every day and everywhere!

This article was originally posted at: Verge Network

 

3 Steps To Develop A Culture of Service – Part 1 of 2

By Ed Stetzer

Having a missional culture established through instilling it, repeating it, and celebrating it will provoke members to love and good deeds. 

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Why is it that churches often get stuck and turn inward, and what can be done to reverse this inwardly-focused approach?

Often times, as a church grows larger (or even just older) it tends to focus on maintaining and servicing what is already there. Internal ministries overwhelm outward mission. Any church can be overwhelmed with by this temptation.

Yet, many places in Scripture point to the church as a body of servants—being used by God to minister to one another and to a hurting world. For example, 1 Peter 4:10 says, “Based on the gift each one has received, use it to serve others, as good managers of the varied grace of God” (HCSB).

The key phrase here is “each one.” Each and every church member is to serve others. Most of the time we see verses like this it is to serve one another inside the body, but there are so many verses about the poor and hurting that we know many are called to serve beyond the body. (I like to say that we can serve “in, through, or beyond” our local church.)

But unfortunately, there is a huge chasm between this passage and our practice.

According to the research from the book I co-authored with Thom Rainer, Transformational Church, the majority of people in the majority of churches are unengaged in meaningful ministry and mission. They come for the show—and that might be a contemporary church, traditional, liturgical, etc. since the numbers did not show a difference—but they don’t stay for the service.

So, how can we avoid having a church full of customers rather than a church full of co-laborers in the Gospel? We develop a culture and implement a structure.

Churches need a culture that encourages and a structure that enables people to move from passivity to activity, from being passive spectators to active participants in the mission of God.

Today, I want to focus on developing the culture. Here are three steps to develop a service mindset culture: instill it, repeat it, and celebrate it.

Instill it

A pastor I know put it in a way I thought was really helpful. He said they see four categories of people that come to their church—three categories that they want and one they do not.

  • Category one: The visitor or seeker
  • Category two: The growing disciple beginning to take steps
  • Category three: The mature disciple serving others
  • Category four: The person who thinks they’re mature but is unengaged and serving no one.

And here’s what he said to those in the last category: “We need your seat for some of the other three categories.”

With a few exceptions (someone in transition, some personal issues, etc.), I think that mentality is helpful. The sooner you place such an approach into the DNA of your church the better, because as you reach new individuals you want to bring them into a place where service is the norm. A person will become what the majority of your people already are.

You can help develop this within your church. As Mike Dodson and I found in our book Comeback Churches, the primary factor for the revitalization of a church is the leadership. The same is true of developing a serving culture. The leaders, including, but not limited to the pastor and staff, must work to intentionally engraft the right mindset in the body. How can they do that? By repeating the values of the culture you want to instill.

Preach them regularly. Explain why they matter. Call out the idea that you can be mature and not serve others. Teach service.

This article will continue in the next post.

Are We More Invested In Bringing People to Church? Or to Jesus?

By Karl Vaters

Church attendance should be a tool to help people draw closer to Jesus. Not the other way around.

I have a confession to make.

As a pastor, I have too much invested in getting people to attend church.

My salary depends on it.

My reputation depends on it.

My sense of self-worth depends on it.

All to a much larger degree than I’m comfortable with.

And I’m not alone.

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Come to Church? Or Come to Jesus?

The way most church systems are structured, many pastors have a greater stake in getting people to come to church than getting them to come to Jesus.

In fact, sometimes it’s detrimental to our bottom-line to have people draw too close to Jesus.

When people are more committed to the church than to Jesus, they will

  • Attend regularly and quietly
  • Spend all their volunteer hours at the church
  • Give all their charitable donations to the church
  • Be happy with the status quo

When people are more committed to Jesus than our churches, they might

  • Volunteer for some of their ministry outside the church walls
  • Find other places that are worthy of some of their charitable donations
  • Leave when God calls them into full-time ministry
  • Challenge the status quo
  • Make us feel threatened by reducing the clergy/laity dividing line

But we have to do it anyway.

We have to point people to Jesus more than to the church.

 Church Is a Tool, Not a Goal

Overcoming our tendency to emphasize church more than we emphasize Jesus won’t be easy. And I’m not in a position to point any fingers. I’m as much a part of the problem as anyone.

But I have a longing. For more. For better. For deeper.

I want to live, preach and disciple people in such a way that they’re committed to Jesus, not just their church.

Of course, church is valuable. It matters that we participate in a local body of believers through worship, fellowship, discipleship and ministry. If it didn’t matter, I’d leave the pastorate today.

We’re not commanded to bring people to church. We’re commanded to disciple them into a deeper relationship with Jesus.

But we’re not commanded to bring people to church. We’re commanded to disciple them into a deeper relationship with Jesus.

Church attendance is not the goal. It’s a tool to help us reach the goal.

As a pastor, I have to remind myself of that on a regular basis.

A Matter of Pastoral Integrity

I don’t want to pastor a group of nice, polite church attenders, or waste my time entertaining bored believers.

I want to participate in the gathering, training, and releasing of an army of Jesus-worshiping, people-loving, barrier-breaking world-changers.

Sometimes it feels like my salary depends on the former. My integrity depends on the latter.

I also want my bills paid. But making pastoral decisions that have more to do with holding on to our salary packages than making disciples has made much of the western church anemic.

The church I pastor is no exception to that. At least not as much of an exception as it should be. That’s not their fault as much as it is mine.

Jesus promised that if we serve his kingdom first, “all these things” will be taken care of.

Let’s trust him to do that and turn the church loose.

This article was originally posted at: http://www.christianitytoday.com/karl-vaters/2016/january/invested-in-bringing-people-to-church-or-jesus.html?start=2

 

Why Jesus Never Commanded us to Plant Churches – Part 2 of 2

This is part two of the article published in the previous post.

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Do our actions match our words?

We say we want to see churches planted from out of the harvest, but our actions and our leadership practices do not often match our words. And the sad thing is that even when faced with such inconsistencies, we are likely to continue repeating our past behaviors–expecting different future results (Maybe the Ridley Assessment has something to say to those of us who oversee church planters?).

Whenever a biblical model for church planting is viewed as unusual, the path to change will come with pain.

In order for healthy change to occur, we have to change our ecclesiologies, missiologies, and what we celebrate, reward, and expect.

Poor definitions = poor practices

We have a poor understanding of our Commission.  We act as if Jesus has commanded us to plant churches.  We are commanded to make disciples.  It is out of disciple making that churches are to be birthed.  The weight of the biblical model rests here.  Not transfer growth. Not acrimonious splits. It is evangelism that results in disciples, who covenant together to be and function as the local expression of the Body of Christ.

We have a poor understanding of the local church.  If our definition is poor, then everything we say and do related to church planting will be poor.  We often expect newly planted churches to manifest structures and organizations like what is observed in churches of 20, 40, 50 years of age. Our definition of a local church is oftentimes so encased with our cultural desires that we do not know the difference between biblical prescriptions and American preferences.

We operate from a poor definition of church planter.  If we do not recognize the missionary nature (and thus apostolic functions) of church planters, then we end up equating them with pastors.  And take it from a pastor who has been involved in church-planting: missionaries and pastors have different callings, gift-mixes, passions, and functions to play in the Kingdom.  We end up sending pastors to do apostolic-type work, or sending missionaries and expect them to be pastors.  Such is a perfect storm for problems, frustrations, burn-out, and disasters.

Are there other ways to plant churches than what we read about in the ministry of Paul?

The problems with our current models

Yes, and I am in favor of some of those models. Are there times when a church should hive-off members to begin work in another area? Yes.  Is it okay for a congregation to send out a pastor with several church members to plant an “instant” church in a community? Yes, under certain circumstances.

However, such models tend to be difficult to reproduce (in view of four billion unbelievers), pose contextualization challenges, are costly, and often do not result in a great amount of disciples made.  The weight of the biblical definition for church planting is not found here.  Such models should be the exception when it comes to church planting.  Today, they are often the expectation.

I expect my “surprising” conversations will continue in the future.  Such is necessary as we move in a direction where a biblical model is not looked upon as the exception.  But until our church planting expectations change, we must ask ourselves a question and recognize the troubling answer:

What do we have whenever a biblical model is viewed as unusual?

We have a major problem.

This article was originally posted at: http://www.vergenetwork.org/2013/09/09/why-jesus-never-commanded-us-to-plant-churches/3/

Smoke Went Up

By Rev. Rob Prince

Smoke went up when I said “Yes” to God’s call into full time ministry. It wasn’t a “white-smoke-out-of-the-chimney-like-when-they-elect-a-pope” kind of smoke; it was more like a “too-much-wet-wood-on-the-fire” kind of smoke.

I was sitting beside a campfire on the Church of the Nazarene’s Eastern Michigan District Campgrounds at a teenage “afterglow” following a campmeeting service when I first thought that God was calling me into some kind of Christian service.

I was in the seventh grade. 

I didn’t see any writing on the walls. (We were outside—no walls).

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I didn’t hear an audible voice. (Except for the guy leading at the campfire and trying to get a bunch of musically challenged Jr. Highers to sing, “Do Lord,” no one was talking or singing.)

But I knew deep into my bones that God was calling me.

Why would God call me to ministry?

I had never spoken publicly.

I was a pretty squirrely, 75 pound, weak-hitting little league second baseman.

I really was not skilled at much of anything except collecting baseball cards and annoying my siblings.

I had no clue as to what a pastor really did. (Maybe I was thinking they only worked Sundays and Wednesday nights. I was pretty lazy at the time.)

Still I knew that God was calling me. 

I didn’t know that the calling would lead me to Olivet Nazarene College (University now) and Nazarene Theological Seminary. I would have never guessed I would serve on the pastoral staff of a Presbyterian church while in seminary and Nazarene churches in Alanson, Bad Axe, Roseville, and Otisville, Michigan and now in Lenexa, Kansas. I didn’t know that I would be able to preach not only in the wonderful churches that allowed me to stand behind their pulpits each week—but I have had the privilege of also preaching in Dominica, Russia, El Salvador, Swaziland, Israel, Jordan, and now Cuba. I cannot adequately describe for you how blessed I have been in my life since saying “Yes” to God around that campfire.

There was no smoke that went up in my office at the Metropolitan Church of the Nazarene when God called me to write. Again, I didn’t see any writing on the walls (there were walls there—but no writing on them). I didn’t hear an audible voice.  But once again, I knew deep in my bones that God was calling me.

Why would God call me to write? 

I was not an English major. (I was a psychology major—which kind of explains a few things, doesn’t it?) 

I’m a bad spellar. (Do you see what I did there?)

My grammar ain’t no good. (I did it again, Ha!)

My typing stinks. (If you scratch and sniff your computer screen, you would smell some foul typing techniques.)

Still I knew that God was calling me.

I’ve written a few articles here and there in publications that just about no one reads. In fact, one magazine that published an article of mine is now defunct; and another one, after publishing several of my articles, has gone to an on-line only version. I don’t think I’ve been kind to the publishing world. Mr. Pulitzer has not been recommending me for any writing assignments.

In spite of that history (possibly with fear and trembling), the Nazarene Publishing House has agreed to publish my book, Following Jesus with a Migraine. I will be signing the contract today. I am not sure when the book will be released. I am not sure if anyone will actually read it. Here’s what I know: God called me to write− and this book in many ways is a fulfillment of that call.

I didn’t know that I would experience a brain hemorrhage to give me a topic on which to write.

I didn’t know that it would be fifteen years after sensing that call that an actual book would be written.

I didn’t know a lot of things.

I just knew that God called, and for me to be obedient meant I had to write. 

Maybe God is calling you to something that you are not technically qualified to do.

Maybe it’s something you think there is no way you could do.

Maybe you think you are too young, too old, too uneducated, too busy, too overworked already to accomplish God’s calling.

Maybe it will take some time before the calling comes to fruition. (It was 15 years for me− remember).

Maybe someone will be less than encouraging. (For the efforts of my very first book submitted for publication, I received a “Thanks, but no thanks” form letter.)

Maybe other factors out of your control will happen. (I had a few chapters lost when my computer crashed a while ago).

But if you are called by God to some task and you know it deep in your bones—don’t worry about the reasons why you can’t accomplish God’s plan. Just do it. Follow that calling!

I love what Jeremiah said when he knew God was calling him to speak. He wrote:  But if I say, “I will not mention his word or speak anymore in his name,” his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot (Jeremiah 20:9).

If God is calling you—and you can’t hold it in, you can’t let it go, you can’t do anything but follow the calling— then follow it! Will there be challenges ahead?  Probably. Will you be tempted to quit? Maybe. Will it be easy? Nothing great usually is. Still, God has great things in store. When He calls—He enables and empowers you to realize that calling. If God is calling, He will make a way for you to achieve what He is calling you to do. 

There might not be smoke rising when you say “yes”—but then again maybe there will be.