Imagine you were born in America and the year is 1900.
When you’re age 14, World War I begins and ends by the time you’re age 18… there are 22 million dead.
Soon after a global pandemic, the Spanish Flu, appears, infecting 500 Million–(1/3 of the world’s population) and killing 50 million people. And you’re alive at the age of 20 years old.
When you’re age 29 you survive the global economic crisis that started with the collapse of the New York Stock Exchange, causing inflation, unemployment and famine. This era also gets nicknamed the Dirty Thirties.
When you’re age 33 years old the nazis come into power.
When you’re age 39, World War II begins and ends when you’re age 45 years old with a 60 million dead. 6 Million dead Jewish People from the Holocaust.
When you’re age 52, the Korean War begins. When you’re age 64, the Vietnam War begins and ends when you’re age 75.
If you were fortunate enough to live to 2001, at the age of 101, you witnessed 3000 people die when the twin towers were destroyed by a terrorist attack.
Most Children born in the late 1900’s naturally think their grandparents have no idea how difficult life is. They naturally think their current era, and their world is falling apart more than ever.
Well…is our world falling apart more than ever? I answer no. I think there is more good happening than bad. The problem might be, we all have our iPhone’s out and use social media to overly populate the bad news views. Life is hard. Choose to focus on the millions of good that happens everyday.
In America Today we have all the comforts of a new world, even amid a new pandemic. What are your current complaints? Pause and imagine all the things we have that allow us to be described as fortunate. WiFi, Running Water, Electricity, Netflix, Insta, Coffee Shops on every corner, Sports, Great Schools, Equal Opportunity for Every American, Laptops, Cool Cars, iPhones, Air Conditioning, and Freedom. … keep the list going.
A small change in our perspective can generate entirely different outlooks. This change in perspective could change your outlook in nearly miraculous ways. We could be thankful that we are alive and thriving today. We could do everything we need to do to protect and help each other. Life is hard. It will remain difficult for the rest of our lives…for everybody. I pray we don’t actually think we have it worse than ever before. We don’t. It’s all about our perspective.
I end with a Holy Bible Scripture Verse found in Philippians 4:4-8.
“Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! 5 Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon.
6 Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. 7 Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.
8 And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.”
Imagine the power that is essential to achieve the first rotation with a locomotive that is sitting idle. Intense, dramatic, clanking steel, tons of fuel, teams of people, one goal in focus, plumes of smoke, unseen energy, and sheer grit. Creates movement!
I haven’t updated my experience at Christ’s Church of Fountain Hills(CCFH) in about a year. I’ve recently been asked by many people to share an update. This post is a brief update. (My brief may not be your brief!) 🙂
In February, 2017 I was given the task to take the drive mechanisms of CCFH and move it forward. At that moment the Church was simply at a standstill. Not right or wrong, good or bad, just factually still.
Someday I will write a full detail post of the hard-to-believe experiences I’ve had over the past two years that were necessary to get the rotation and movement going in this complex body of people called the Church. Today is not the blog to post the blood, sweat and tears stories that got us to get our first rotation of movement. Today is a blog to simply say that it is happening! Forward movement. Momentum. Action. Success. Perseverance paid off!
Today is simply a day to encourage you to persevere to momentum. You are facing something that is good and yet it is stuck. Whatever it is, use your head, heart, and gut…surrounded by wise counselors, prayer, and sheer grit to get your thing moving. It’ll test you like nothing else. It’ll make you want to quit…sometimes…every day…every 10 minutes. Depending on what you are facing…you may need to quit. If you need to quit…never quit on a bad day! But in all likelihood, you do not need to quit, you need dig in with grit and persevere with wisdom.
If you are in something stuck…the greatest reasons for the interrupted forward movement, are summed up in 2 C’s. Circumstances, and Critics.
Circumstances. This is usually difficult to mention because it tends to get personal towards the team who led in the past or whoever you are currently in a stuck situation with. But it shouldn’t be personal for the simple fact that times change. What used to be right and worked, doesn’t make it wrong today, it was right, back when it was applied. It’s just the wrong time now and is no longer working and moving. The best way to think about it is this…Nothing fails like success. In other words, when a challenge in life is met by great leadership that is right in their pursuit of accomplishing their goals…they have success! But, as in all things, the challenge changes, it moves to a higher level that the previous methods no longer meet. The old, one successful response no longer works–it fails; thus, nothing fails likes success. Every single one of us would do well to humbly admit this, and welcome the new challenge and new methods to meet those challenges.
When I arrived here at CCFH, I had previously been leading a Church that had more than 3000 people regularly attending our weekend services. I want to humbly and with gratitude inject, in Church world, that is like leading an NFL football team in football world. I came to CCFH and took on the leadership of a Church that had about 300 people regularly attending worship services. The average size Church in America is less than 100, so in sports terms, this new Church I took the lead with, was like leading a High School Football team. An NFL coach, stepping into a local High School Football program…when it comes to football knowledge…is a pretty easy shift. I knew what new things needed to be done to get CCFH moving once again. I also had wise counsel around me, Christ leading me, and the energy to do it. I’m grateful for my track record and experience, however it did not make this momentum shift any easier. Knowledge and getting knowledge done are very different things.
Whatever your circumstances are, depending on your past experience, and the energy level you have today, determines how you move forward. I warn you, DO NOT, try this on your own. You need to humbly allow others to invest in you and your decisions to get your cemented circumstances, free and moving! I’m writing this blog from a 20/20 hindsight perspective. Trust me…there were hundreds of days where I wanted to quit every 10 minutes and so many days where I thought I was going to fail. This feeling of failure was instigated continually by antagonistic critics. This is the second of the two C’s.
Critics. The other C word that will work tirelessly to keep you stuck. I could add yet another C word here… Control. Control is what the critic wants. In Church world, the biggest critic who wants control will do another C word. Cite. They continually cite the past. The “good ol days.”
First of all…There is no such thing as the good ol days. The good ol days simply means that something was working and momentum was happening and everybody except the negative Circumstances and Critics of the time enjoyed it. The good ol days are in the past. Everybody in your life knows that there is no influence that happens with the past. It is a memory to be cherished and that is that. Wisdom can be derived from it, but the past tends to be dangerous to the future. The past used to be right, but rarely is effective for today. (I could share countless examples of this, but I said I’d be brief)
Critics make critical errors when they verbally vomit their desire to control and use the past to cite their opinion. They are more committed to their view, than a you. A critic is right as they cite their past’s success. A critic is not wrong, they are stuck in the past and are perpetuating the stuck-ness of the current circumstances. They are guilty of prioritizing their view more than a you. In Church world, the YOU, must be Jesus and His desire. We all know that Jesus’s greatest desire is to reach the unreached person, and to represent Jesus’s very lifestyle. That is the you that must take priority over every persons view. (By view, I do not mean Biblical integrity…we can never compromise Biblical integrity for a you.) Most critics do not cite Biblical truth as their backbone for being a critic, they tend to cite history and their personal preferences. I personally believe that most critics love their views more than the You named Jesus. They won’t admit that, but their actions prove their priority of who’s views they choose. What do you do with your critics? Listen. Love. Be patient, but do not be pushed around as you stand your ground. Be like Jesus.
If something is stuck, the leadership’s views overrule you’s. If something is stuck, somebody is allowing a view that used to work, stay in place. The reason the leadership allows this, are the influence of the C’s + 1. Circumstances and Critics + low Energy levels = fruitlessness. Critics and downward trending Consequences are giant energy extractors. The longer someone leads and is confronted by the never ending critic and circumstances, the more worn down they become. Add years of this, and an aging leadership’s energy levels are depleted to a point where recovery simply takes too long for the organization to keep moving. Momentum stopped. When momentum stops, the energy that is essential to get that locomotive rolling again is just too great. When the leadership is tired and their views naturally overtake the you’s, the commodity gets stuck. The best solution is to bring in new and freshly energized leadership. If your marriage is stuck, or something smaller than an organization, then the new leadership you bring in, must be in the form of counselors, mentors, and accountability partners or straight up intervention groups.
This critical decision of bringing in the new, takes guts, and I hold all who make it, in high regard. My heart aches for the new person who takes the new roll of leadership of an organization of any kind…especially a Church. The new leadership views that are administered into a momentum-less organization are going to take a beating from the C’s. However, if the new leadership will persevere to momentum, it will succeed. Painfully.
I’m seeing it happen before my eyes. Over the past two years I seriously considered that I had lost my ability to lead well. I seriously thought that I had lost my touch. But, that is just was the C’s were saying. I kept my ears and eyes on the You of all you’s. Jesus. I surrounded myself with teammates who had the energy and expertise and the grit to persevere to momentum. It is working.
I believe with everything in me, that CCFH will someday be a Church that creates such momentum, that more than a 1000 people will call CCFH their home Church every weekend. In this size of town, that would be remarkable. Just last weekend, we experienced 20 brand new people in our Church. We don’t market or advertise…on purpose. These new people were invited. The laughter, joy, new growth, and just sheer fun is making all the C’s worth it. Discipleship is reignited, evangelism is strong, growth is on. Momentum!
The momentum has begun. We are just now in the second and third wheel rotation of the locomotive regaining momentum at CCFH. The fuel reserves are stockpiled, the leadership team is in place, and the momentum is starting to take on its own power. Once a locomotive starts moving… don’t do anything stupid to stop the momentum. Let it keep moving and just guide it from the steering wheel! Here’s what is good news…once momentum starts moving and success is being repeated…the C’s begin to diminish. They never go away…they just lose a ton of power against a locomotive that is moving. Its easy to rob a train when its stopped!
You too can get momentum going in whatever you are facing that is stuck. Check your energy levels. Know you’re circumstances. Know your critics. Surround yourself with wise advisors. Use your grit! It’s worth it. If I can personally assist you with anything, please contact me. I’ll do my best to help you, and if I cannot, I’ll connect you with someone who can.
If you are interested in the CCFH story. Stay tuned. The momentum is just getting started! I can’t wait for the next update. You know the sound of the steam locomotive that is ch-k-ch-k-ch-k-ingalong at a fast pace? If you imagine it, you’ll “hear” it in your head right now. That’s our aim. That’s your aim in every area of life. It doesn’t come easy, but if it is worth doing, it will never ever be easy. Grit on, my friend. You can do it. We got this!
I read many things everyday. I recently came across the following true story. I forwarded it to myself to make sure to remind me to post this to my blog. I have no idea where I got it, who wrote it, and don’t know who to give the credit to. I really don’t care about all that. I only hope the following story will encourage us and teach us many things about this crazy life. Enjoy.
One spring morning many years ago, I had been prospecting for gold along Coho Creek on southeastern Alaska’s Kupreanof Island, and as I emerged from a forest of spruce and hemlock, I froze in my tracks. No more than 20 paces away in the bog was a huge Alaskan timber wolf—caught in one of Trapper George’s traps.
Old George had died the previous week of a heart attack, so the wolf was lucky I had happened along. Confused and frightened at my approach, the wolf backed away, straining at the trap chain. Then I noticed something else: It was a female, and her teats were full of milk. Somewhere there was a den of hungry pups waiting for their mother.
From her appearance, I guessed that she had been trapped only a few days. That meant her pups were probably still alive, surely no more than a few miles away. But I suspected that if I tried to release the wolf, she would turn aggressive and try to tear me to pieces.
So I decided to search for her pups instead and began to look for incoming tracks that might lead me to her den. Fortunately, there were still a few remaining patches of snow. After several moments, I spotted paw marks on a trail skirting the bog.
The tracks led a half mile through the forest, then up a rock-strewn slope. I finally spotted the den at the base of an enormous spruce. There wasn’t a sound inside. Wolf pups are shy and cautious, and I didn’t have much hope of luring them outside. But I had to try. So I began imitating the high-pitched squeak of a mother wolf calling her young. No response. A few moments later, after I tried another call, four tiny pups appeared.
They couldn’t have been more than a few weeks old. I extended my hands, and they tentatively suckled at my fingers. Perhaps hunger had helped overcome their natural fear. Then, one by one, I placed them in a burlap bag and headed back down the slope.
When the mother wolf spotted me, she stood erect. Possibly picking up the scent of her young, she let out a high-pitched, plaintive whine. I released the pups, and they raced to her. Within seconds, they were slurping at her belly.
What next? I wondered. The mother wolf was clearly suffering. Yet each time I moved in her direction, a menacing growl rumbled in her throat. With her young to protect, she was becoming belligerent. She needs nourishment, I thought. I have to find her something to eat.
I hiked toward Coho Creek and spotted the leg of a dead deer sticking out of a snowbank. I cut off a hindquarter, then returned the remains to nature’s icebox. Toting the venison haunch back to the wolf, I whispered in a soothing tone, “OK, Mother, your dinner is served. But only if you stop growling at me. C’mon, now. Easy.” I tossed chunks of venison in her direction. She sniffed them, then gobbled them up.
Cutting hemlock boughs, I fashioned a rough shelter for myself and was soon asleep nearby. At dawn, I was awakened by four fluffy bundles of fur sniffing at my face and hands. I glanced toward the agitated mother wolf. If I could only win her confidence, I thought. It was her only hope.
Over the next few days, I divided my time between prospecting and trying to win the wolf’s trust. I talked gently with her, threw her more venison, and played with the pups. Little by little, I kept edging closer—though I was careful to remain beyond the length of her chain. The big animal never took her dark eyes off me. “Come on, Mother,” I pleaded. “You want to go back to your friends on the mountain. Relax.”
At dusk on the fifth day, I delivered her daily fare of venison. “Here’s dinner,” I said softly as I approached. “C’mon, girl. Nothing to be afraid of.” Suddenly, the pups came bounding to me. At least I had their trust. But I was beginning to lose hope of ever winning over the mother. Then I thought I saw a slight wagging of her tail. I moved within the length of her chain. She remained motionless. My heart in my mouth, I sat down eight feet from her. One snap of her huge jaws and she could break my arm … or my neck. I wrapped my blanket around myself and slowly settled onto the cold ground. It was a long time before I fell asleep.
I awoke at dawn, stirred by the sound of the pups nursing. Gently, I leaned over and petted them. The mother wolf stiffened. “Good morning, friends,” I said tentatively. Then I slowly placed my hand on the wolf’s injured leg. She flinched but made no threatening move. This can’t be happening, I thought. Yet it was.
I could see that the trap’s steel jaws had imprisoned only two toes. They were swollen and lacerated, but she wouldn’t lose the paw—if I could free her.
“OK,” I said. “Just a little longer and we’ll have you out of there.” I applied pressure, the trap sprang open, and the wolf pulled free.
Whimpering, she loped about, favoring the injured paw. My experience in the wild suggested that the wolf would now gather her pups and vanish into the woods. But cautiously, she crept toward me. The pups nipped playfully at their mother as she stopped at my elbow. Slowly, she sniffed my hands and arms. Then the wolf began licking my fingers. I was astonished. This went against everything I’d ever heard about timber wolves. Yet, strangely, it all seemed so natural.
After a while, with her pups scurrying around her, the mother wolf was ready to leave and began to limp off toward the forest. Then she turned back to me.
“You want me to come with you, girl?” I asked. Curious, I packed my gear and set off.
Following Coho Creek for a few miles, we ascended Kupreanof Mountain until we reached an alpine meadow. There, lurking in the forested perimeter, was a wolf pack—I counted nine adults and, judging by their playful antics, four nearly full-grown pups. After a few minutes of greeting, the pack broke into howling. It was an eerie sound, ranging from low wails to high-pitched yodeling.
At dark, I set up camp. By the light of my fire and a glistening moon, I could see furtive wolf shapes dodging in and out of the shadows, eyes shining. I had no fear. They were merely curious. So was I.
I awoke at first light. It was time to leave the wolf to her pack. She watched as I assembled my gear and started walking across the meadow.
Reaching the far side, I looked back. The mother and her pups were sitting where I had left them, watching me. I don’t know why, but I waved. At the same time, the mother wolf sent a long, mournful howl into the crisp air.
Four years later, after serving in World War II, I returned to Coho Creek. It was the fall of 1945. After the horrors of the war, it was good to be back among the soaring spruce and breathing the familiar, bracing air of the Alaskan bush. Then I saw, hanging in the red cedar where I had placed it four years before, the now-rusted steel trap that had ensnared the mother wolf. The sight of it gave me a strange feeling, and something made me climb Kupreanof Mountain to the meadow where I had last seen her. There, standing on a lofty ledge, I gave out a long, low wolf call—something I had done many times before.
An echo came back across the distance. Again I called. And again the echo reverberated, this time followed by a wolf call from a ridge about a half mile away.
Then, far off, I saw a dark shape moving slowly in my direction. As it crossed the meadow, I could see it was a timber wolf. A chill spread through my whole body. I knew at once that familiar shape, even after four years. “Hello, old girl,” I called gently. The wolf edged closer, ears erect, body tense, and stopped a few yards off, her bushy tail wagging slightly.
Moments later, the wolf was gone. I left Kupreanof Island a short time after that, and I never saw the animal again. But the memory she left with me—vivid, haunting, a little eerie—will always be there, a reminder that there are things in nature that exist outside the laws and understanding of man.
During that brief instant in time, this injured animal and I had somehow penetrated each other’s worlds, bridging barriers that were never meant to be bridged. There is no explaining experiences like this. We can only accept them and—because they’re tinged with an air of mystery and strangeness—perhaps treasure them all the more. — End of story.
If a man can conquer his “racism” towards a wolf, we as mankind can practice many of the same principles to conquer our “racism” of each other, all the while realizing it’s not nearly as dangerous. –Trent
Have you ever been to someone’s yard and right there in the middle is a sickly tree? Or been in a beautiful town and discover business’s dying? Or in a beautiful town full of Churches that are on death’s edge because they are not seeking and saving the lost? Something needs cut, pruned, compeltely worked over!
My experience is in Church-world. Pruning during stagnation is the most needed Christ-like practice for a church that is stuck in a rut. (A rut and a grave are the same thing…just 6 feet apart.)
Think about it…when is the last time you saw a Church going through 40 days of pruning? We have 40 days of prayer, fasting, evangelism, worship, Bible reading…but I’m not sure I’ve seen a Church have 40 days of pruning, when needed. Jesus is a pruner!
All through Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John…(the 4 most critical chapters of the bible)…when Jesus saw the crowd, around Him, begin to lose His focus…He pruned the crowd. He went so far, one time, to say to the huge crowd that had misunderstood His Mission,…“If you don’t eat my flesh and drink my blood, you can’t be my disciple.” (John 6:53) The whole crowd, of what had to be more than a thousand people, left Him. There were only the 12 disciples left. That’s pruning!
Jesus pruned the pharisees and religious leaders that only wanted to control the people and keep things the way they had always done it…Jesus called them, “White-Washed Tombs (Matthew 23:17), Blind Guides (Matthew 23:16) Hypocrites (Matthew 23:15), Children of Hell (Matthew 23:15), fools (Matthew 23:17), generation of serpents (Matthew 23:34), and murderers (Matthew 23:34).
So Jesus pruned regularly. To be clear…when pruning, we can never react in anger out of control, or be evil in anyway. We cannot ever justify unholy behavior by saying Jesus did it. He was perfect in His pruning. However we can prune with holiness just like Jesus did. It won’t make you popular, but it will make you like Jesus.
Why don’t more leaders prune when it is desperately obvious it is needed? I can only resort to a Bible verse to explain…
“Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.” Galatians 1:10
Pruning results in a vigorous burst of new growth in the future, and pruning is to be used to achieve the full growth that is necessary…especially in the Church. More money thrown at the problem, or stored in the savings account won’t cause the Church to be healthy again. Just letting it continue as is, will not cause the Church to be fruitful again. I can’t think of anything more tragic than a Church that is stuck and dying. Pruning is what is needed. Its not fun. Its not easy, but it’s essential. Pruning, in Church world, will remove the unfruitful and the spiritually dead. The death that is about to overtake the whole “tree,” could be something as simple as the comfortable…but it’s especially the fakers, the slackers, hypocrites, the control mongers, or the powers that exist that actually have been lulled into the sleepy deception of thinking their tree is beautiful. They are the blockers and death dealers.
The “tree” may “bleed” when the removal begins. It may look like…after the pruning…that the tree won’t survive…that is has been ruined. But it’s exactly what it needed…it’ll survive because Jesus will know the motives of the pruning and bless it. It only seems harmful at the cutting, and until it grows again..it’ll be a bit scary. Those being pruned will not be cut quietly. They will gossip and spread false rumors and only verify the reality of the necessity of the pruning in the first place. Prune anyway! And it will leaf out when its God’s time! It will grow into a full grown, strong, thriving life once again. Beautiful! Jesus and any leadership that has the guts and perseverance to do the pruning will reap the rewards and once again see the Church be healthy and productive in the most important fruit production area…seeking and saving the lost.
The Kingdom of Jesus cannot and will not stop at anything that tries to prevent it’s growth. It cannot and should not ever be stunted. Jesus did say about the Church…“I will build my Church and the gates of hades will not prevail!” (MT16:18) So…if the Church is dying…something is seriously wrong. Right!? So, Jesus said it best…with crystal clarity…
“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vineyard keeper. Every branch in Me that does not produce fruit He removes, and He prunes every branch that produces fruit so that it will produce more fruit. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in Me, and I in you. Just as a branch is unable to produce fruit by itself unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in Me. “I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in Me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without Me. If anyone does not remain in Me, he is thrown aside like a branch and he withers. They gather them, throw them into the fire, and they are burned. If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ask whatever you want and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this: that you produce much fruit and prove to be My disciples.”
So, courageous people of God…prune away. In Church world, the only thing that is preventing the pruning from happening is leadership. Courageous leadership. I love the local Church so much that I will prune anytime, anywhere, any way. It is what Jesus demands of holy leadership. If I don’t prune…I will stand in front of Jesus someday and be pruned for eternity. I don’t want to go to hell. You don’t either. Prune or Be Pruned!
We are mandated to produce fruit. It is a salvation issue and eternity is in the balance.
Don’t screw with Jesus’s mission. There is no mercy in pruning…Just judgement. The only way to avoid eternal judgement and pruning is to make sure you are producing fruit. The most important fruit in the Kingdom of Jesus Christ is seeking and saving the lost. Every single member in the Church must be producing fruit. It is Jesus’s mandate.
When is the last time you personally led somebody into Jesus’s forgiveness?
It is why you were born, and it is your life’s purpose… to be productive in the Kingdom of Jesus.
Last thing…what is the best strategy to begin pruning in a Church that has been in status quo mode…aka…death mode? Cast a vision that leads the Church to get back into the mandates of Jesus. Cast a vision to risk for Jesus in evangelism. The pruning will happen naturally.
Strong Spiritual Leadership rarely has to strategically prune, because a fruitful-risk-taking-vision, cast with holy leadership strength, will naturally and steadily get rid of the wrong people. Yes…I said it…get rid of the wrong people. Hold on…You didn’t think pruning in the Church was about gardening did you? Its about people.
Every kid gets asked sooner or later, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I remember wanting to be an archeologist, a sports doctor, the President of the USA, but I don’t ever recall wanting to be a pastor…but I am and God continually blows my mind in how He works.
So, I never had my sights on the Pastorate. My wife and I met when I was 20, and God used her to tap on my shoulder and give me a nudge towards what has been the most incredibly thrilling, fun, challenging, and heart breaking calling, for what has been 27 years now. As I write this, I’m 48. So its overwhelming to think that I’ve been doing ministry work literally more than 1/2 of my entire life.
In 1991, I began ministry work at a whopping 21 years old. Was I ready? If you’d asked me then, I’d reply the same I would today…”I was born ready.”…but my heart would be experiencing fear and intimidation as I said it. My personality has always allowed me to look confident in the face of anything…but if I could ever show you a video of what is going on inside of me when I say, “I’m born ready,” you’d be surprised. But, I have a gift of pushing through the fear with ease. Even if I don’t know what I’m doing or terrified, I just know things work out. They do for you too. Even the tragic stuff. Even when it all fails. Don’t get me wrong, things can be killer-heart-wrenching. But, as I look back…things are okay. You are too. As I look back to when I was 21 and headed to where God has me now…there is only one guarantee through it all…God is good, no matter what. He really has your best in mind, through anything and everything.
Fast forward 27 years, and I’ve learned countless lessons I’m happy to share with anyone who is in ministry or considering Lead Pastorate Ministry as a full time profession and calling. I won’t share insights from a strategy or operations perspective here. We’d need to meet for some coffee or Dr. Pepper so I can understand your unique circumstances before I’d ever offer some strategy and/or organizational advice.
Instead, I’ll just offer some observations from my insomnia chair this morning, induced from a 10 hour time change from Israel to AZ, as I’ve just returned from leading a group through the Holy Lands.
Here are my suggestions to those who know they are called into full time ministry. It’ll have to be another blog, another time about whether or not you know you are called into ministry. Full time ministry as a calling is something that you Have to do. Its more a haunting than a calling. So, once again…here are my suggestions.
1. Be willing to develop “Elephant Skin.”
Get ready for the two greatest C’s of your life. Critics and Consequences. Its judgement on earth. In the ministry, you think you should be the giver; but in reality you are the receiver. Think of an NFL receiver who has both hands over his head as he received a pass and is now about to receive a hit from the Outside Linebacker as he comes down with the ball. Internal pressure and public hits come with the work—both sometimes appropriate and sometimes completely unfounded. Either way, count on being second guessed all the time. Keep in in mind the two C’s work in unison. They get really abusive when you are down and struggling, too. The two C’s cheat by kicking you when you are down. Just like Jesus, you are a receiver now, and your skin will thicken so you can take it.
This reality makes you no different than Moses, or David, or Nehemiah, and many others of the Bible. You are in good company. The people you have been called to lead, will be Monday morning quarterbacks and couch coaches, and rarely will they come to you directly to offer their wisdom and insight. You’ll hear it from the 3rd or 4th, or 10th person down the telephone game line sharing it in a form that doesn’t even sound like the language you speak. Straight up, in full-time lead pastor ministry work, you are going to receive a pounding. Do it anyway! Its your calling. You were made for it.
The best way to develop Elephant Skin is to continually practice. So, every time you face the two C’s, respond by first using your head, then trusting your gut, and lastly filtering it all through your heart. The order of those body parts is critical. Don’t deviate and you will find yourself someday with amazingly tough hide.
2. They’re out of your league, but you answer to them.
Everybody in full time ministry that is not a lead pastor, thinks your job is pretty easy. They are wrong. I can give you a long list of names to call, of people who came out swinging in the Lead Pastor ring, only to discover in round two they were awakened from a KO wondering what happened as they stare cross-eyed at the stars encircling their head.
So, for one, you’re in a league of your own. It really is outstanding. As you face this reality, you better work hard to make sure your character is at the same level or higher than your ego. As Lead Pastor, it is vital that you realize you’re a member of a team. You ultimately lead that team in strategy and health. You own it. You lead the team. You get the blame. Staff member’s look to you for the direction they will go. You carry the pressure. It’s way heavier than anybody can even guess.
The biggest mistake the KO’d pastors made is that they were fooled, thinking the Lead Pastor is his or her own boss, and operates in a form of monarchism. The fact is, I have more bosses today than ever. A staff person of a Church has one boss. As a Lead Pastor, the Elders ultimately can fire you, and they serve as your boss, so you may have five, seven, or more on the board to report to — and there is also your Lord and God, who often will tell you differently than your board of Elders would like to go. In addition to that, you must answer to your weekly offering realities. The financial pressure alone, is enough to make you want to throw in the white towel. And lastly, you will face the people of your church who act as your master. You will hear things like, “We don’t pay you to do that.” Or, you will hear many “shoulds” that these wanna-be masters will tell you.
It’s a difficult and awesome reality. You are in a league of your own, but you have many masters. I pray you will have the guts to follow the one and only Master…Jesus…At all costs. His final opinion is the only one that truly matters. Love and serve all your masters, but obey only The Master…Jesus.
3. Yep, “Good to Great” by Jim Collins is right.
Get the wrong people off the bus, get the right people on the bus. Get the right people on the bus in the right seats…and hang on! I’ve learned over the past 27 years, that the same results happen whether I pull the band-aid off fast, or slowly peal it back. Fast or slow, is not right or wrong. Each decision you face will need to be made with wisdom as to whether or not is should be fast or slow. Remember, the results ultimately will be the same. Prayerfully choose your speed and be prepared for your skin to become more elephant-like.
There’s a narrow line between showing love and doing what’s right for your team and Church. Straight up, if your gut is telling you something isn’t working, trust it. Don’t waste time—make the change and do it quickly. If I have any regrets, its that I hired too fast and fired too slow, and I allowed my competitive nature to make me think my idea would work with just a little more time, when in reality, it just isn’t working. Make quick decisions, but make sure they are bathed in prayer.
Time and space won’t allow for full disclosure of the different kind of Churches that exist to lead and how that relates to you as a Lead Pastor. Each one is different for a Lead Pastor. There are Church Planting, Church Transitioning into a new Lead Pastor, Church Mergers and Acquisitions, Churches with multiple campuses, and Churches that are dying and need revitalized.
I suppose it really doesn’t matter which one, from the list above, that you are currently leading, because the critical factor in all of them, is your core ministry team and who is on it. In all the different kinds of Churches, Leadership is ultimately what matters. In the Church, the ministry team is the most important team, and the double edged sword of Church world, is that the elders will think they are the most important team. They are not. Your full time pastoral team is the most important team in the Church. They are on the ground every minute of everyday. Your elder team attends Sundays and has a meeting once a month. Getting the elders to recognize this biblical truth is enough to make you want to quit ministry in itself. Seriously.
It’s critical to determine who is effective on any team you have in the Church, and who may not have the appropriate skill set, experience, and personality to take the Church forward with you. Nothing is more important than putting the right people in the right place, at the right time—for them and the Church. Trust me, this is very difficult thing. You and others will be hurt. Do your best to make decisions, trying not to burn bridges. I promise you, your good intentions for what is best for the Church, will be misunderstood, and you will face much pain because of the misunderstandings. Make decisions anyway. Fast or slow. Never forget, Heaven and Hell are in the balance and eternity is at stake with every decision you make.
4. You are who you attract.
“Birds of a feather, flock together.” If you are Church transition-er, taking over for a previous Lead Pastor…then you will face this tough reality like no other Lead Pastor does. Church Planters start with their own hand picked group to start the new Church, or they start with zero people and attract and build with people who have the same DNA. I’ve planted two Churches. I’m now transitioning two existing Churches. Church planting, as challenging as it is, is not near as difficult than Church transitioning from a previous Lead Pastor. I don’t say that to pick a fight. Its just a truth that affects how your day to day life will go as a Lead Pastor. A Church transition-er will have to face two or more years of extreme criticism and people leaving the Church before they can ever start reaching new people who are unsaved. The smaller the town that this happens in, the faster gossip and false information spreads and it is just brutal and a special kind of evil that will work you over.
My point in all this is simply…Your DNA matters and affects who will leave your church and who will stay. You really can’t do anything about it. Just persevere and remember this…every problem your church faces is solved by reaching the lost. (Try me…give me any problem you face in your church in the comments section, and I’ll give you the solution through the filter of reaching the lost.)
A final thought for this point 4. Never forget: Everything you say, every tone in your voice and your body language ,is being observed. Make sure you’re projecting what you mean—all the time, every time. Your DNA matters. You attract who you are. The people in your church who are staying and getting fully committed are just like you. The moral of the story…you need to be real and authentic. God knows anyway. He is the one you are really trying to please. Just be you, and God will bring you people as He builds His Church.
6. Try to have some fun as you face a serious dynamic.
Being a Lead Pastor is exciting; you’ve worked hard, so enjoy it. Get rest. Honor your vacation time. Plan for the future. Lead the Church like you are going to retire tomorrow. Lead your Church by making decisions that will make your successor, successful. Never ever fail to admit when you’re wrong. “I’m sorry, please forgive me,” are the 5 most powerful words in the world. Tell your congregation every Sunday, that you love them, even when you don’t feel it. I remind you, you really do love them. Remember that you cannot know it all, but you can assemble a team that does!
The most challenging dynamic of being a Lead Pastor is being willing to challenge people now with loving truth, so they are not mad at you when Jesus returns and they didn’t make it into Heaven. Live your life, and lead the church, in such a way that nobody can blame you on the day of judgment for their failure to enter the narrow gate. This is a serious dynamic that is tough to balance. High Challenge and High Love. Again, lead in such a way, that nobody will be able to point their finger at you, if they don’t get through that narrow gate.
Have fun, set high expectations and be deliberate. Most of all, remember it’s all about people, and the most important one is Jesus.
I’d love to hear your comments, additions, or disagreements. I have elephant skin, I can handle it. The best part of it, is that we will continue to learn together. That is what a disciple is…A learner.
I love you and want what is best for you. I pray this post challenged you to be your best.
Finally…if you are a Lead Pastor or sensing you want to be one, and you’d like to discuss this further with me. Send me an email. I’d love to start some correspondence with you. email@example.com.