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It’s Friday, But Monday’s Coming

In an article that goes back a few years, Jared Wilson writes:

Monday. What to do with these Mondays of ours?

If you’re a pastor or ministry leader, I know that Mondays for you can be a mixed bag. You may be still glowing from yesterday’s victories — high attendance, vibrant worship, the well-preached sermon and ensuing compliments. Or you might be still smarting from yesterday’s wounds — struggling ministry, sluggish praise, the feeling of not quite delivering that hoped-for homiletical fire. Maybe you’ve heard one complaint too many, too much grumbling. The loyal opposition continues to gossip and nitpick. Maybe your wife or kids are unhappy. Maybe you don’t know how to ask the church’s “powers that be” to help you afford to pay your bills. Or maybe you’re just in a funk, feeling like you’re spinning your wheels and not sure why what you’re doing matters.

Wilson goes on to offer words of encouragement, and I’d highly recommend that you read the article in its entirety. But I’d like to take a different approach to the question of what we do with Mondays.

Those of you who are grizzled veteran pastors probably already have a weekly routine that you’ve followed for years. So this is intended more for the younger guys who are starting out and trying to make some sense of their weekly routine.

In one of his books, author and pastor Gordon MacDonald wrote about a question he and his staff would ask each other on Mondays. They used to measure the impact of Sunday by “trucks” (as in being run over by them). “What kind of Sunday did you have?” “It was a four-truck Sunday!”

Sundays take their toll on pastors. Sundays are draining because they require a good deal of energy. Even if the physical output is minimal (which it is unless you do some kind of weird gymnastic thing when you preach or teach) the mental and emotional drain can be substantial.

We expend energy by being “up front.” Some pastors are perfectly comfortable in front of people. But many pastors I’ve talked with have at least a few twinges of nervousness. We expend energy by engaging with people. Saying “hello” isn’t going to require an afternoon nap, but navigating through a group of people can be demanding – especially if a critic or two is tossed into the mix. When churches go through difficulties, leading worship or preaching as if nothing is going on feels like trying to ignore the elephant in the room. It can be a huge drain.

Because of the impact of Sunday, many pastors take Monday as a day off. Maybe that’s your practice. But I’m finding that Friday seems to be the favorite day for many pastors I talk to, and I believe it is the better choice.

To some, Monday makes sense as the day to take off because we need to recharge our batteries. It would seem to make little sense to immerse yourself in work if you’re depleted from the day before. But I think there is a way to accomplish being refreshed while also accomplishing some important ministry tasks and use your day off more strategically.

I used to use Monday to set up and catch up. Monday is a great day for:

  • Reading the books you want to read but can’t seem to get to.
  • Going through email, regular mail or making phone calls that have been on hold.
  • Filing or tossing that stack of papers you have accumulated.
  • Browsing through articles that you’ve marked to “read later.”
  • Visiting someone in a nursing home or hospital.
  • Having lunch with a fellow pastor.
  • Printing out the passage you plan to preach so that you can start making notes on Tuesday. If you diagram sentences, you can do some of that.
  • Writing a thank-you note.

These are generally low-stress tasks but they often get buried once the sermon or lesson prep and other “musts” have your attention.

If you confine the bulk of your “must” tasks to Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, you can hit Friday with most things finished and still have Saturday to complete what is needed for Sunday. Saturdays are generally quiet days around the average church office, so even though you are working, it’s a different pace. This schedule also gives you the opportunity to take a fresh look at your sermon or lesson from a “rested” perspective. I can’t tell you how many times I made significant adjustments to my sermons on Saturday.

Friday, then, becomes a day to recharge at the end of the week. It prepares you to minister with a refreshed spirit on Sunday. You’re looking back on a week of work rather than spending the day anticipating all that you have to do in the coming week.

Monday in the office allows you to recharge a bit while still getting things done. We all need to find our own rhythm, but if you’re still in the discovery phase, maybe this is a good way for you to handle Mondays and those Sunday “trucks.”

A Counter-Culture Virtue for Pastors (Young and Older)

I’m sure it’s happened to you. You hold a door for someone and they walk through like you’re invisible. You pause during rush hour to let someone pull out of a parking lot and they move in without expressing any appreciation. You let someone else take a parking space and there’s no wave to say “thanks.” We live in an entitled society, and while there are exceptions to what I’ve described, more and more it seems like it is becoming the rule. 

Gratitude. The Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary app on my iPad defines gratitude as “the state of being grateful.” That’s like saying that “hurting” is the state of being hurt. But then they define the word further as “thankfulness.”

Maybe you’ve experienced situations in which gratitude has been lacking. Maybe you can think of people who habitually fail to express appreciation when something is done for them. Maybe you’re tempted to preach a sermon on thankfulness as a Christian virtue, which it is. But before you do that, let’s look inside.

I believe this is an especially important quality for younger pastors to develop. It is one of those traits that affects relationships, and it also reflects our attitude toward others in our life. Let’s think a bit about thankfulness.  

For instance, unless you came upon a burning bush, somewhere along the way God put people in your life who guided you toward ministry. Maybe it was a youth leader. Perhaps it was the pastor of your church or a Bible College or seminary professor who took an interest in you. You may have even had someone mentor you, providing you with opportunities to experience ministry and develop your skills. 

Who paid for your education? Maybe you’re still paying for it month by month. And you may be doing that until you’re old and drooling. But many of us have had parents or other relatives who helped us. 

Who has been there to listen to you when you need to vent, when you’ve reached one of those “I have no idea what I’m supposed to do” moment?

How about your wife, who spends more than her fair share of nights either alone or dealing with the kids because of another meeting you have to attend? How about the elder who comes to your defense when someone gets their nose out of joint? What about the older couple who slips you a twenty on the way out of church so you can have a date night? How about the friend who is always there for you, no matter what? Is there someone in your life who was willing to have a hard conversation with you when, as a young man, you showed just a little too much ambition or you didn’t respond well when someone didn’t buy into your ideas?

I could go on, but this suffices to remind us all that we owe a lot to people God has brought into our lives. Have we been appropriately thankful? Are we modeling gratitude for our people, both publicly and privately? 

Colossians 3:12-17 contains a list of instructions about our behavior and attitudes toward one another. In the middle of what Paul writes, he says “and be thankful” (v. 15b). Later in the same paragraph he talks about being thankful toward God. But in this passage he’s addressing gratitude in our relationships with each other. Why does Paul tell us to act in a way that seems so basic? I mean, saying “thank you” is common etiquette, isn’t it?

In 2 Timothy 3:2, Paul tells his young protege that in the last days people will be ungrateful. It almost seems out of place when you see it in the context of the other sinful patterns he says will be more and more prevalent. But from where I sit, I can see it. Can you? Can you see how the spirit of entitlement affects how people act toward each other?

Pastor, let’s watch ourselves on this one. Maybe someone from your past is due a note, an email, or a phone call, telling them you appreciate how they helped you. Maybe you’ve already said it, but is there anything wrong with saying it again? Expressing gratitude and expressing it frequently trains our heart toward humility, because expressing sincere thankfulness reminds us we are not self-made, that we are not self-sufficient. Maybe your wife or a friend should hear again that you are grateful. Maybe your fellow staff members need the encouragement of being appreciated.

Maybe your whole church needs to hear it. What would it be like to close your worship service with this: “Before you go this morning, I want to say thank you and that I love you all. I hope you have a good day.”

Maybe you’ve got this one covered. But maybe if you’re honest, you can do a lot better. If not, take some steps away from the spirit of the age and make expressing thanks more of a habit than it is.

Oh, and before I close this, thanks so much for reading this blog! Have a good day today.

Tools of the Trade for February 17, 2020

A Weekly List of Links and Resources for Pastors

I hope you had a good weekend. Here’s a selection of articles that you may find helpful in your ministry.

Let’s start with one you may especially need today. Jeff Robinson shares “2 Texts to Bolster a Pastor on Monday.”

Winston Smith writes “In Ministry, Joy and Sorry Don’t Cancel Each Other Out.”

Here’s a really provocative question: Micah Hayes asks, “Does Your Youth Group Look Like the Muslim’s Next Door?”

David Murray warns against “The Danger of Culture-Shaped Gospel Service.”

Jason Helopoulos writes about “The Extraordinary Ordinary Preacher.”

Here’s a good article for your literature table. You do have one, right? Christopher Ash write a helpful article titled “How to Pray the Psalms.”

This is one to clip and file for future counseling. Jennifer Greenberg tackles a difficult subject in her article “6 Prayers for Marital Intimacy After Sexual Trauma.”

Ministry can be tough on family life. Tim Counts suggests “Three Ways a Pastor and His Wife Can Stay in Love.”

Reagan Rose lists the “Best Books on Productivity for Christians.”

How do we make decisions about what’s important and what’s less important when it comes to doctrinal discussion? Jonathan Woodyard tells us how Calvin thought in “Not Everything is as Important as the Next Thing.”

Stephen Kneale discusses “The Advance of the New Legalism.” It’s not about going to the movies, playing cards, or dancing.

This is another very helpful article for your literature table. I think we often forget what Greg Morse writes in “Some Wounds Never Heal.”

Here’s an article directed at Church Planters, but it’s worth reading for all pastors. Mark Hallock shares “4 Primary Tasks for the Shepherd-Planter.”

This has nothing to do with ministry, at least in the direct sense. But if you use technology, and most pastors do, this is a helpful article on how you can help protect yourself against hacking.

Jim Elliff writes to people looking for a church, but this might be a helpful yardstick against which to measure your own church.

See you Wednesday! Thanks so much for stopping by!

How A Younger Pastor Can Measure His Progress

We start out in ministry with expectations and a generally raw skill set. Those expectations need to be refined, and our skills need to be developed. 

We are under construction. This is true of all pastors, but especially true of younger men in ministry.

How can a young man tell if he is making progress in ministry? How can he tell if he is becoming a better pastor? Here are five points of measurement. They are hardly exhaustive, but they allow us the opportunity for self-examination.

You have quickly learned that seminary or Bible college did not prepare you fully for ministry.

If you graduated from school, found a ministry position, and hit the ground running, you may have felt prepared for the work God has called you to do. But while your training provided you with tools, it could not prepare you for the variety of situations you will encounter. A favorite mantra of many pastors is “They didn’t teach us this in seminary/Bible College.” In no way has your training been a waste of time. But you should be learning more about ministry from doing it than you did in a classroom. Can you identify ways in which you have learned from your experience?

You have a deeper commitment to God’s Word as the only lasting agent of change.

Pastors are surrounded by seminars, books, videos, and articles that make claims to change people. I used to get calls from salespersons telling of the latest and greatest and promising that their program would revolutionize my church. There are helpful tools that we can take advantage of, but if you think a special video series will take your church to the next level, you will be very disappointed. The regular preaching and teaching of God’s Word is the only thing God promises to bring change. Are you satisfied with that, or are you constantly looking for the next big thing?

You are attempting to know and love the whole church, not just the segment you minister to.

I’m directing this primarily at those of you who serve in associate positions where your focus is on a particular age group or type of ministry. If you are a pastor in a church, you are a pastor to the church. You may not share the same shepherding responsibilities as other men on staff, but if you only care about the people in your focus area, the rest of the church will conclude that you don’t really care about them. What are you doing to get to know the church at large?

Your are finding your own place as a preacher or teacher.

Let me explain. Some guys start out having been heavily influenced by the way someone else preaches and they try to emulate that person. Others have spent or are still spending time in the seminary classroom and their preaching leans toward the academic. All of us have to find our comfort zone with how we use notes: full manuscript, outline, no notes (not recommended). When you first began preaching or teaching, you may have sounded stiff and ill-at-ease. As you look back, do you feel that your preaching and teaching is more natural, more down to earth? Have you come to feel comfortable in your own skin? 

You are increasing in your dependence upon God.

Paul wrote this in 2 Corinthians: “Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God,” (2 Cor. 3:4-5, ESV). 

Preaching and teaching, leading, dealing with people and their problems, facing opposition, and the host of other experiences that make up ministry can be overwhelming. And sometimes we will get discouraged. But if we are growing as pastors, we will have a growing dependence on God to be both our help and the one who brings about the change in our people. How have you seen your dependence on God grow?

How do you measure up? Young pastor, can you see progress? Veteran pastor, are you continuing to grow in these areas too?

God gifts us differently. Some men will be people of great influence. Most of us will be perfectly ordinary. But God has equipped all of us to do the work he has called us to. So from the first day we set foot in the first church God calls us to, until the last day we are involved in ministry, we are under construction. If we recognize that, and with God’s help work to be the best we can be, I believe that God will prosper our ministry.

To Pastor Is To Suffer

If you are going to be in pastoral ministry, you are going to suffer.

I don’t want to be a Debbie Downer, but take a look at your own ministry. Mixed in with what I hope are moments of delight, of exhilaration, of deep satisfaction, there are moments (or periods) of suffering. If this is foreign to you, it won’t be for long. That’s true for you younger guys as well as veterans.

Pastors suffer with their people.

Didn’t Paul say, “Weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12:15b, ESV)? And didn’t he tell us in 1 Corinthians 12:26, “If one member suffers, all suffer together” (ESV)?

Years ago I used a personality inventory that made an interesting observation. The scoring guide said that those who worked in people-related fields: nurses, law enforcement, health and safety, and pastors often scored low on the part of the test that measured sympathy. Thankfully they went on to explain the reason. It seems that dealing with crises on a regular basis can result in being emotionally detached. In some cases that’s absolutely necessary. But as pastors, we have to do our best to avoid being clinical or appear aloof.

Suffering with our people means that we bear their burdens. You may find yourself unable to sleep because you know what’s likely going on in the homes of some of your people, or because of your concern for the woman who received the unexpected bad news from her doctor. It also means that we don’t become so immersed in our tasks that we fail to take time to make a phone call or make ourselves available to talk.

Pastors suffer through church troubles.

Some pastors seem to ride an easy path with minimal upset and grief. Others seem to deal with crisis after crisis. Whether troubles come infrequently or seem to be the norm for your ministry, trouble causes suffering. It may be that we suffer physically, with the particular crisis taking a toll on our bodies, robbing us of sleep. Perhaps we suffer emotionally as we deal with anxiety, discouragement, frustration, and a feeling of helplessness as we put out one fire only to have two others burst into flame. Maybe our work suffers, as we give time to the needs of our people and to problems in our churches, making it hard for us to find the time to prepare our sermons or do the other work that we’re supposed to do.

Pastoral’s suffer personally,

Pastors have their own issues that the struggle with. But I am thinking of those times when pastors are the targets of very angry and disgruntled people. When I cleaned out my office after retiring I shredded a pile of papers, some of them letters that were real scorchers. I glanced over a few of them, somewhat surprised they weren’t still hot to the touch. These had come from Christian people.

Consider the passage where Paul talks about the pressure of the anxiety he experiences for the churches in his care (2 Corinthians 11:28). We know some of the problems Paul encountered in his ministry, but I doubt that we know all of them. And the point here is not “Paul had to deal with so much more than any one of us will ever had, so buck up.” No! The point is that in that verse – and in many others Paul acknowledges that his was a ministry of suffering.

Peter has encouragement for those who suffer, and while his word are directed at all believers, they certainly apply to those in ministry:

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen (1 Peter 5:6-10, ESV).

Note that this paragraph follows one in which Peter gives instructions to Elders/Pastors on how they are to go about their ministry, so I don’t think it’s a stretch to apply it to those in ministry.

Pastoral suffering makes us vulnerable. We need to exercise great caution during times of trouble. We need to care for ourselves physically, emotionally, and spiritually. But when we suffer we can be confident that God has not abandoned us. But also notice this sentence in verse 9: “…the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.”

I’ve written often about the need for a fraternal relationship between those of us in ministry. You can’t get up on Sunday mornings and tell your church that you feel crushed by the various problems that you’re dealing with. You can’t tell them that last week you thought a situation was resolved but this week it’s twice as bad. But you can tell friends in ministry. I sincerely hope you are cultivating those kinds of relationships with a few other men so that you can bear their burdens and share your burdens.

Pastoral ministry means suffering. Sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. If you are going through the fires of trouble right now, may God give you wisdom while you deal with them, and may he soon deliver you from them. And if you know a brother pastor who is going through those fires, why not make a phone call or extend an invitation to have lunch and pray together?

Tools of the Trade for February 10, 2020

A Weekly List of Links and Resources for Pastors

It’s a glorious week as baseball’s spring training begins. While you follow your favorite team, here are some articles to read, file, or share.

Ajith Fernando speaks to the subject “Is the Church Facing A Discipleship Crisis?”

Brad Larson tells us “How to Fire Someone Like Jesus Would.” If you’ve had to make staff changes you know how painful it can be. This is also one to share with businesspersons in your congregation.

This one is worth holding onto for counseling couples or doing premarital counseling. Tim Challies gives us “A Few Practical Pointers on Sexual Intimacy.”

Tim also wrote “On Living in a Post-Christian Context.”

Jeremy Todd affirms “Yes, Pastors Should Have Friends in the Church”

Here is an article for church planters, but it applies to anyone thinking through ministry strategy.

Andrew Menkis shares insights in this article that would work well on your your literature table: “What You Need to Know About God’s Plan for Your Life.”

Stephen Wellum writes “10 Doctrines You Need Today (And Every Day).” Aside from good reading, maybe this can be the skeleton for a preaching or teaching series in your church.

Nicholas Davis tells us “How to Build Community in a Consumer Church Culture.”

Greg Morse answers a difficult question: “Will Hell Really Last Forever? Answering Objections to Eternal Punishment.”

Peter Mead talks about common, ordinary preachers and encourages us that “Your Church Does Not Need a Superstar.”

Brianna Lambert writes a thoughtful article on a very unusual subject. “Worship God: Start a Hobby.”

Amanda Criss writes an article to share with the moms in your church: “The Inefficient Ministry of Motherhood.”

John Bloom encourages people going through trouble in his article “Waiting for God Alone: How Desperation Teaches Us to Trust.”

John Lee with 9Marks shares a really helpful piece called “Defining the Stuff We Do On Sunday Mornings: A Congregational Worship Glossary.”

The folks at Crossway share links and information about the key creeds and confessions of the Christian Church. It would be worth sharing and is must reading for you as a pastor.

I have a few others that I had saved for this week, but this should keep you reading. I find reading these kinds of articles to be both helpful and educational. I hope you find something like that here.

Have a good week!

Apparently I’m Not Alone

Last Friday I posted a piece on When You Lose People to Bigger Churches. Tim Challies linked to the article earlier in the week and since then over 3000 people have visited this blog and read the article. Apparently it resonated with a good number of pastors and church leaders, which means that there are a lot of you whose experience is at least somewhat similar to what I wrote about.

Because of the response, the subject of people coming and going has been on my mind over the last several days. May I share a few more thoughts with you?

First, Whenever new people come to your church from another congregation, it is appropriate to contact the pastor of the church they left.

When you do this, you are practicing good pastoral ethics. In our area there were pastors who would extend this courtesy. I appreciated that. There were others who didn’t. I didn’t appreciate that. None of us gets it right all the time, but it’s something that should be a priority.

When you contact another pastor, you might be heading off trouble. On occasion you’ll find that people who were poison in their last church come to you with big smiles and lots of warmth. But give them a year or two. You may end up having the same difficulties their former pastor had.

It is good to talk with the new people and make sure that they have not left their church for the wrong reasons.

People change churches for all kinds of reasons, and some of those reasons may not be valid. But some certainly are. People may be look for a new church because the preaching in their former church lacks substance. Perhaps they are leaving a liberal church because they’ve come to trust in Christ and want a church that preaches the Gospel.

Perhaps decisions were made that they do not feel they can support biblically. Perhaps the leadership has failed in a substantial way. As a result people may decide that leaving is the best option. (A good read on this is the 9Marks article from last year titled, “Some Counsel for Christians Leaving Toxic Church Environments.” )

As I said, there are multitude of reasons people look for a new church. I’m not advocating pastoral paranoia. Just be sure to do due diligence as you welcome them.

If you are a smaller church, make it all that it can be. While larger churches can offer more programs, smaller churches can often offer more intimacy and pastoral care. Smaller churches can create an environment where the whole church can gather together for a meal, for prayer, or just to spend time together.

If you know other smaller-church pastors, schedule a lunch or meet at a coffee shop to talk over ways in which they are building community and caring for their people. You may find that you can join together on occasion with another congregation or two. One of my close friend’s church had not had a Good Friday service but wanted to start one. So we began meeting together on Good Friday, alternating meeting between their church and ours. Each year dozens of people stayed afterwards to talk.

I don’t know what the prognosis is for smaller or medium-sized churches. On one hand, our people have been trained by our culture to be consumers, and it’s not surprising that people go to churches that offer what looks to be “bigger and better.” But while that seems to be the current trend, I wonder if the pendulum will swing the other way, and people will get tired of “Walmart church” and desire something more “Mom and Pop.”

Finally, be careful that a consumerist spirit doesn’t exist in your heart. If you find yourself in a smaller or medium church, unable to do all that bigger churches can do, don’t give in to what might be a lust for more than God wants you to have. Your people need to be fed, and they need a caring shepherd. Be that person to them, and you’ll be doing what God wants you to do.