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

How the word YES is changing Mesoamerica

By Emily Armstrong

I got a text from Alejandra a few days ago saying she wanted to talk to me for a few minutes.

And a Facebook message from Merit asking me for prayer.

And an email from Daniela, updating me on what has happened in her life in the past few months.

3 women that we have had the privilege of training in missions, all 3 of them having participated in the past in Genesis ministry as missionaries for 2 years.  

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Alejandra, who is from Guatemala, has been serving for the past 10 months with a compassionate ministry in the USA.  A little over a year ago, we asked her if she would be willing to take a step of faith and submerge herself into US culture for a year to learn from their compassionate ministry strategy and help us contextualize that for our region.  As I spoke with her a few days ago, she was a bit torn – leaders of the ministry had asked her to consider staying for 1 more year in ministry, and although she thought she would be stepping all over our “plans”, I couldn’t help but smile.  I felt like a proud parent when she told me that she really just wanted to do God’s will – whatever that was.  It made me feel good to know that she was chosen.  She was noticed. I told her that we wanted whatever God wanted – our missionary position has always been to connect called people to international needs and knowing that her attitude has been that of Christ, taking the very nature of a servant, could not make us feel more proud.  

Alejandra is still praying about where God wants her to LIVE, but she continues to say YES to his call on her life, sure that a lifestyle of mission is where she needs to be.

Merit wrote in her facebook message that God has been tugging on her heart again, to serve in another city.  She asked for prayer regarding an open door with her district leadership as well as her family responsibilities.  In Spanish we would say that she has become “inquieto” or unsettled.  She is back in her home country and her home district, however the pull to international mission and serving the big city is ringing in her head and heart VERY LOUDLY.  I again swelled up with parental pride, knowing that Merit was ready to plunge into the waters of faith once again, ready to fundraise thousands of dollars and leave her family in God’s hands – all because He called.

Merit is still praying about God’s timing, but she has said YES to his call.  She’s ready to go when He creates the opportunity.

Daniela wrote to me and told me that she is presenting her final exam to obtain her license to practice law.  When she said yes to Genesis missionary ministry, she put her legal career on hold – all because she knew that God was asking her to be obedient.  She served faithfully and wrote to tell me that God is still kindling the fires of service in her heart, sharing with me how the earthquakes that have recently taken place in Mexico have caused her difficult days, but how she knew that God’s call on her life was to serve the city.  The “holy pride” as I like to call it came up again, as I exhorted her to consider her profession as VOCATION.  Doing EVERYTHING for the Lord.  Helping her to see that God had given her the gifts of legal understanding – something that we NEED in the city.

Daniela has said YES to God’s call, allowing him to guide her path, asking him to use her gifts and talents to impact the city by being the church. 

Every YES is changing Mesoamerica.  We are becoming the missional church that God desires us to be.  We are so honored to be a part of HIS story. 

 

Comparison is Stealing Your Joy – Part 2 of 2

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

As ministry leaders, the perfection impulse already looms large—resisting the desire to look, preach, lead, and think like other successful people is vital, but also quite difficult. Here are five practical tips for combating comparison in your life and ministry:

  1. Raise your awareness.

Fighting comparison requires having a clear picture of its presence in your life. For many of us, comparing ourselves to others is so second nature as to be practically invisible. Pay attention to your inner dialogue as you go through your routine for a couple of days and keep a simple tally of how often you compare yourself to someone else, whether it’s in person or online. The challenge is even catching yourself doing it! In the season of “perfect” holiday parties, gifts, meals, and experiences, the siren call of comparison is everywhere: “I could never,” “I will never,” “If only I had,” “If I were more,” “If I could do.” Become conscious of your brain’s litany of comparisons and take note of it. You might be surprised by the number of these messages your brain is regularly entertaining!

  1. Take a break from social media.

Fasting from social media requires some honest self-evaluation. You know how much time you spend on social media, and only you know how it affects you. For some of us, a cold turkey fast might be unrealistic, which sets you up for quick failure. Instead, limit yourself to only checking social media at certain times of the day—preferably not first thing in the morning or last thing before going to bed. Replace your phone checking habit with something else if it proves too tempting—read a book or an interesting article, or listen to a song. For many of us, checking our phones has become muscle memory, so this is going to take serious effort. Don’t let that stop you!

  1. Ask for positive reinforcement.

Sit down with someone you are close to, and ask him or her to talk to you about your strengths. This might sound like an odd request, but most of us can very easily list off our weaknesses yet stumble when it comes to listing our strengths. Ask a friend, spouse, or family member to sit down and do this with you, and return the favor—chances are they need to hear it, too. Record their words, or take notes—seriously! This will be a great reminder during times when your focus may be on all the ways you believe you are coming up short. Come back to your list when you find yourself in a comparison rut.

  1. Rethink your perceived weaknesses.

Consider Paul’s reflections: “Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Cor. 12:8–9). The idea of perfection we keep in our minds might be causing us to perceive individual character traits as weaknesses, or fail to see where God can use our actual weaknesses.

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For example, I am a processing thinker, and frequently need time to think things through before I respond. During a meeting, I am usually not the most verbal person when discussing a topic, but will reliably have a very well-considered verdict an hour or two later. In the past, I have considered my “slow” brain to be a flaw, and envied the people in the room who could immediately respond. Over time, however, I came to see that a strong team has both kinds of thinkers, and dearly needs people who will think through things from all angles—not just give first impressions. After meetings, I now send emails beginning with, “After giving this some thought,” and I provide additional points the group may not have considered, which generate further productive conversation. God can use your “less than ideal” to make your teams stronger.

  1. Consider the whole body.

Regularly take some time to meditate on the body of Christ and your place in it. Print out a copy of 1 Corinthians 12. Read through it a couple of times, highlighting verses and phrases that speak to you. Write those verses on a notecard, placing it somewhere you will see it often. I have written verses 18 and 19 out—“God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be?”—and stuck it on the mirror in my room as a reminder.

Kringel tells of a time God spoke to her about not leaning on others in her life. “It’s called the body of Christ and the family of God for a reason. If I would have created you so you didn’t need the gifts that other people have, then I would have put them all in you. But I didn’t, I dispersed them. So in order for you to be all that I called you to be, you have to utilize the gifts of everybody else.” God made us to need each other. If we had all the gifts we wanted, we wouldn’t need anyone!

Ultimately, each of these tips should help us toward the biggest antidote to comparison, which is simply resting in Christ. After Peter asked, “Lord, what about him?” with a nod to John, Jesus replied, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me” (John 21:22). The temptations and opportunities to compare ourselves are everywhere and constant—and still Jesus says to us, “What is that to you? Follow me!”

This article was originally published at: Christianity Today

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.