Can You Keep a Secret?

January 25, 2013

Can you keep a secret? When you’re in a conversation with someone in your church in your office, or chatting over coffee at Starbucks, or just passing by others after a church service, what’s your policy on confidentiality? Do you have one?

Having recently completed a counseling degree, I’ve become familiar with “Informed Consent“. You know, those papers that doctors and counselors have you sign that you barely look over. Part of the Informed Consent process is meant to explain to those with whom you work what you will and will not do when it comes to keeping secrets.

I recently came across a good blog by Tom Ascol, who pastors Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, Florida. He writes about why and how he has started using an actual written document for people in his church to sign before they start a counseling conversation. You can see it and read it here.

Do you use a written document? I currently do not, though as an almost Board Certified Pastoral Counselor, I am considering using one. I do let people know at the start of our first session together what I will and won’t do, what the counseling relationship looks like and what my stand on confidentiality is, but I don’t have a written document as of yet.

How do you handle this?

A Prayer For Leaders in light of MLK Day

January 22, 2013

In an email from Ruth Haley Barton‘s Transforming Center, this piece resonated deeply with me.

As yesterday’s US Presidential Inauguration fell on the observance of the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, I thought I would share it here:

This journey to the mountaintop is the ultimate antidote to our grandiosity, if we will let be. It helps us find our place in the scheme of things lest we become overly inflated in our view of ourselves and our role in kingdom work. It puts everything in perspective and it is a perspective we need. A prayer written in memory of Oscar Romero, archbishop of San Salvador who was martyred for his outspoken advocacy for the poor, articulates the power of this perspective:

“It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.
The kingdom [of God] is not only beyond our efforts,
it is even beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction
of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of
liberation in realizing this.
This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning,
a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace
to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the difference
between the master builder and the worker.

We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.”

For a leader, the promised land is something you see and know that can’t be beaten out of you even when other people don’t see it yet—even when they say it is impossible, unrealistic, idealistic. It is the phoenix that keeps rising out of the ashes of every failure. It can never fully die.

But paradoxically, by the time a leader gets to this promised land, it has usually been stripped down to its barest essence. By the time you get there, maybe you can still see it—as Moses did and as Martin Luther King, Jr. did—but it doesn’t matter nearly as much. What matters is the presence of God right there with you on the mountainside and being able to say yes to God in the deepest way because you are not clinging to or grasping at anything.

Read full article here…

What Pastors Should Know Before Their Sabbatical

September 13, 2011

Note from Paul: I’m pleased to introduce you to guest bloggers Martin Sanders and Warren Bird, who published this article elsewhere. They have graciously agreed to allow us to run it here as it so well pertains to “resourcing pastors for a lifetime of life-giving “.

by Warren Bird and Martin Sanders
Most don’t take it soon enough, so here’s how to know when you need one.

Editor’s note: This article is by Martin Sanders, Director of the Doctor of Ministry program at Alliance Theological Seminary, Nyack, NY. and founder of Global Leadership, Inc.  Warren Bird oversees the research division of Leadership Network, has co-authored 24 books, and is a frequent contributor to Outreach magazine.

The good news is that 35% of Protestant congregations say they provide their pastors with opportunity for a sabbatical leave. They affirm the value of a carefully planned period of time in which a pastor is granted space apart from normal ministerial responsibilities in order to spend an extended period of time in study, learning, and reflection.

 

The bad news is that not all pastors ask for or take a sabbatical, even when they qualify – most commonly, it’s available at the end of five or seven years of service. In Scripture, the Sabbath (from which the word sabbatical comes) was not a suggestion. Moses included it in his top 10, and Jesus challenged the ways it had become a chore instead of a blessing. Pastors need a rhythm of rest.

The worse news is that those pastors who do take a sabbatical too often come back reporting that they weren’t prepared and didn’t get the value out of it.

Over the years, I (Martin) have heard too many pastors say, upon returning from their sabbatical, “I didn’t take it soon enough” or “I was not prepared for the emotional roller coaster that I experienced.” I was getting phone calls from friends and former students in ministry asking, as they try to take a sabbatical, “Why am I so angry?” The most surprising piece was phone calls from spouses, “Will you call my husband or wife? We thought it would be a great time of relaxation and laughter, but we’re not enjoying each other. In fact, my spouse is no fun right now.”

In response, I started writing people I knew after their sabbatical and asking for their reflections on what happened. Here are some representative comments from 84 different reports:

– “I tried to accomplish too much; I stayed too much into the mode of doing.”

– “I didn’t spend enough time structuring it in advance.”

– “I regret that I didn’t spend more time just reading my Bible.”

– “I wish it had gone longer. I thought the available 3-4 months felt extravagant so I took less, but now wish I had done the full 3 or 4.”

– “I needed a good friend to process thoughts of the sabbatical, both during and after it.”

– “I wish I would have rested more and thought less, not working on projects or planning the future.”

– “I’m sorry I didn’t give more of myself to my family. It hurt to hear them say things like, ‘When you were home, you came home physically but your mind was somewhere else’ and ‘You didn’t look at me as we talked; your body was there, but not all of you.’”

– “I wasn’t prepared for the feelings that surfaced, such as frustration and anger.”

We believe it’s possible to sidestep or overcome each of those concerns. Here’s what to do:

1. Decide the Focus

Is this sabbatical for relaxation only? (That’s not a very popular option with most church boards.) However, do start with rest, sleeping a lot.

Is it an extended study leave? Many large-church pastors take short study sabbaticals in early January or summer.

Remember that the overall impact of a sabbatical, by definition, is to be a “sabbath” rest. If it’s more than a short vacation or study break, create a chart with a specific working plan while allowing flexibility. Without some level of structure, you’ll be frustrated as also will those sending you on the sabbatical. One model is to envision your time away in fourths: Rest, Read/study, Reflection, and Re-entry with assimilation.

2. Set the Length

The timing of your sabbatical often depends on where you are in life, from your mental health to the needs of your family. It’s better to have shorter sabbaticals at intervals than to wait too long to have a longer one.

3. Prepare Well

Preparation is as important as the sabbatical itself. Too many people spend the first few weeks of the sabbatical “working” to finish up outstanding tasks, using up a big slice of the sabbatical itself just getting ready for the sabbatical.

Instead, plan to slow down beforehand; start the wind-down process a few weeks before it starts. Then the day the sabbatical starts, walk away and start it, no matter what is still left undone.

4. Find a Buddy

Pre-arrange to check in with a key friend, counselor, or mentor who will help you process your feelings, issues, and experiences. The biggest surprise most sabbatical takers report are the deep emotions that come up when they push their “pause” button and begin their sabbatical.

5. Avoid Big Tasks

Guard against establishing big projects to accomplish while on sabbatical, such as writing a book, a leadership manual, or a reworked organizational chart. We know of one person who spent 4 months on his sabbatical building a study in which he could learn and grow. It was a definite change of pace, but the sabbatical ended before he experienced any rest or intellectual stimulation!

6. Make Space for Jesus

It’s important during the sabbatical to feed your emotional side just as much as your intellect. Avoid focusing exclusively on materials that will give you new ideas and stretch your mind. Recharge your spirit and heart as well.

Jesus found life in the Sabbath, and you too can find new life in Christ through your sabbatical. In fact, one of the best activities you can do on sabbatical is to renew your love for Jesus. So whatever you plan for your sabbatical, include a generous time to read the Gospels, perhaps looking especially at Jesus’ times away and especially how he handled interruptions. Most of Jesus’ miracles came as an interruption, as he responded to a need. If after a sabbatical you’re more able to turn interruptions into welcome ministry opportunities, then you too will have learned the secrets of a successful sabbatical.

Pre-arrange to check in with a key friend, counselor, or mentor who will help you process your feelings, issues, and experiences. The biggest surprise most sabbatical takers report are the deep emotions that come up when they push their “pause” button and begin their sabbatical.

Rx for Churches Creating a Sabbatical Policy

– Qualifications: Specify what roles this covers (lead pastor only?), when it can happen (after X years of service at that church), and for how long (X months).

– Budget: Be clear about who pays for travel, education or other expenses, when, and what documentation is necessary.

– Goals: Set measurable written objectives or expectations for the sabbatical period.

– Communication: How will the sabbatical be announced to the congregation, and what report is expected after the sabbatical concludes, and to whom?

– Ethics: Have an honest quiet conversation about the pastor’s future and fit in the church. Some pastors take a sabbatical in order to secretly look for another church position, resigning as soon as they return.


Martin Sanders oversees the Doctor of Ministry program at Alliance Theological Seminary, Nyack, NY. A published author, he is also founder of Global Leadership, Inc.
Warren Bird oversees the research division of Leadership Network, has co-authored 24 books, and is a frequent contributor to Outreach magazine.

Transition Plan

October 2, 2010

You don’t have to look too far into the Pastor For Life blog archive to find that a piece of what we are interested in highlighting, documenting, or noting for Pastors has to do with pastoral transitions. While we don’t catch them all, we try to highlight some of the notable transitions and let you know about them. That way, you can track them too in order to learn from them.

One of the ways that ministry life tends to happen haphazardly is in leadership transitions. I know I’ve seen my fair share of them over 25 years or so of ministry. I wouldn’t be surprised if your observation is similar to mine. MOST of them happen in an ugly and unhealthy manner. Rarely do we see a church transition from one Pastor to another in a gracious and well-led way. For that matter, there are a few transitions I’ve handled in staff leadership positions where I could’ve done a much better job.

Along comes Bob Russell to help us out with his new book, Transition Plan: 7 Secrets Every Leader Needs To Know. I was recently asked by Bob to review the book, and they graciously sent me a complimentary copy to read.

For those who may not have heard of Bob Russell, he led Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky for 40 years. In that time, the church grew to 26,000 in attendance! After transitioning leadership to Dave Stone four years ago, the church is still growing (another rarity in church transitions!).

The thing I liked most about Transition Plan is that Bob comes across so real. This easy to read book (took me just short of 2 hours to get all the way through in one sitting) is filled with personal stories of not just the successes of the transition, but the failures too. Russell not only extrapolates on his thinking for many years before transitioning the church, and how healthy that was, but he goes into some details about where his thinking WASN’T so healthy and things DIDN’T go so well.

The subtitle is a little is a little misleading , 7 Secrets Every Leader Needs To Know. You have to watch for the “list” because he doesn’t break it into 7 chapters (Hint: they are all in one of the chapters). But, be prepared. The list is NOT a “do this, then do that, then do this,…” sort of list. It’s really a list of reflections.

One of the highlights of the book, in my opinion, is that Russell focuses on encouraging leaders to form a transition plan more than he focuses on giving you a specific plan. He acknowledges that every leader (outgoing AND incoming) is different and each church family culture is going to be different, so you have to form the plan taking those factors into account.

I highly recommend this book for anyone in church leadership, or even in business leadership for that matter. Practical, real, honest, and all those things make for good leadership.

Have you read it? What do you think?

Francis Chan Next Steps

September 3, 2010

Over on the Mars Hill Church blog, an interview with Francis Chan by Mark Driscoll and Joshua Harris was posted. It’s one of the most candid interviews I think I’ve seen.

Many people have wondered, “What’s Francis doing now that he’s not at Cornerstone?”

This video interview answers some of that and more of “Why did he leave there anyway?”

Watch it and leave your thoughts here when you get a chance.

Looking For Your Next Place Of Ministry?

April 20, 2010

DJ Chuang has an awesome list of ministries that re helping pastors match churches they can serve and churches find their right pastor as well. While I copy the entire post here for convenience, I encourage you to check out DJ’s blog for other awesome material!

Churches are searching for pastors. Pastors are looking for churches. Making the connection can be quite challenging for many on both sides of the equation. Sure there’s a spiritual dimension to all of this– being a pastor is a “calling,” (whatever that might mean in a particular faith tradition) layered with much prayer for discernment and provision. Yet in the real-world concrete and tangible reality, there is that job component, when a church pastor is a paid religious professional.

There are a bunch of search engines / directories/ listings working to make this connection, for pastors looking for a ministry opportunity, and for churches looking for a pastor to fill a staff position, along with other church staff jobs. I’ll update this list as I find ‘em — (note: listing does not connote endorsement) ::

And, there are professional services that help make the connection for churches and staff. HelpStaff.me is run by Justin Lathrop (one of my pastor friends), who can put together a professional nationwide search for church staff positions. Another one is MinisterSearch.com, a full-service consulting firm for church staffing.

Aside: this ehow.com article, How to Work for a MegaChurch, gives sobering advice about working in a church setting. Set your idealism aside — “If you think working for a church will be peaceful and idyllic, you’re deluding yourself. Pastors and church staff members are as inherently flawed as the rest of the world. If your desire to work for a MegaChurch stems from the belief that you’ll be in a conflict free office environment, think again.

John Piper Taking Leave

April 5, 2010

John PiperYou may or may not have heard that John Piper, Pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, is taking an extended 7 month long leave of absence, starting on May 1.

You can read his statement here.

You can read the Bethlehem Elder’s response here.

I commend John for taking this step to care for himself, his marriage, his family, his church family, and the wider Body of Christ.

If you’re a regular here at Pastor For Life, you know that I strongly believe in the Biblical pattern of sabbaticals and the entire concept of self-care. You can’t help others if you can’t help yourself.

Thoughts?

Stewarding The Easter “Anointing”

April 1, 2010

Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me what I can do for you before I am taken away.” And Elisha replied, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit and become your successor.” “You have asked a difficult thing,” Elijah replied. “If you see me when I am taken from you, then you will get your request. But if not, then you won’t.”

2 Kings 2:9-10

The heart cry of every Pastor, that God would give us at least as much, if not more, anointing than those who have gone before us.

Interesting that Elijah tells the young prophet that what he is asking for is hard. I think most of us ignore that part. I did! I still do!!

Anointing_of_fresh_oil
The “anointing” seems to be on others around me, and amazing things are happening through them. It doesn’t look that hard from the outside.

Better yet, I think it not really ours to get the anointing. We ask and Jesus gives.

Some hard lessons of pastoral and public ministry have honed in me the belief that what is ours is to steward the anointing.

Some seem good at seeking and getting, but not so good at stewarding it once received. Think of any outwardly successful pastor who eventually flames out in one way, shape or form.

Earlier in Elijah’s life, he learned the hard way too that what Elisha was asking for was not easy!

Now Ahab told Jezebel everything Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them.”

Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, while he himself went a day’s journey into the desert. He came to a broom tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, LORD,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” Then he lay down under the tree and fell asleep.

All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” He looked around, and there by his head was a cake of bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again.

The angel of the LORD came back a second time and touched him and said, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.” So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God. There he went into a cave and spent the night.

1 Kings 19:1-9

The lessons Elijah learned about stewarding the anointing were far more simple than we imagine, mostly. Check your own anointing stewardship against them in this way-too-busy-Easter season:

  • What’s your internal thought life like right now?
  • How much sleep have you given yourself this week?
  • How much time have you invested away from the church or your office?
  • Do your spouse, kids, family, friends, know where you are and when and what you’re doing other than “working” or “at the church”?
  • What has your diet been like this week?

All just part of stewarding the anointing friends! What would you add?

REWORK … I Gotta Read It! You Do Too!

March 12, 2010

I haven’t read this book yet, but after reading this post at TimSchraeder.com, I will be soon! Thanks for concisely boiling this down for us Tim!

10 Things That Drive Me Crazy About Working for a Church

I’m nearing the 10-year mark of being a church employee. That practically makes me a veteran. Ten years, four churches and millions of cups of Starbucks later [I’m convinced that’s the drug of choice for church workers] I’ve had a first hand-look at how the church works [by work I mean how it functions day-to-day in the church office] and after reading REWORK I’m convinced we’ve got some things that drive me crazy that need to change.

Before I continue, let me say this: I love what I do. Every single day [except meeting days] I’m excited to be a part of the life of the Church. It’s an immense privilege to be able to do what I do and I wouldn’t trade it for anything…  well, most of the time.

With that… here’s 10 Things That Drive Me Crazy About Working for a Church

1. We are really good at burning people out.

For some reason we feel like working long hours against ridiculous timelines and neglecting our personal lives, health, or families is a good idea… as long as it’s for God.

Not so much.

The average church employee stays at a church for about 2 years before they peace out.

“It doesn’t pay to be a workaholic. Instead of getting more done and being on top of your game, you actually start a chain reaction that results in decreased productivity, poor morale, and lazy decisions. And don’t forget the inevitable crash that’ll hit you soon enough.”

We all need to learn one simple word: NO. Even though something may be for a great cause, it’s not worth losing your soul to make it happen.

2. We focus way too much on what we don’t have.

One of the most common complaints I hear from church staff members has something to do with what they don’t have.

In the Gospel account of the feeding of the 5,000 all they had to start with was 5 loves and 2 fish, but in the end, there was more than enough.

“Constraints are advantages in disguise. Limited resources force you to make do with what you’ve got. There’s no room for waste. And that forces you to be creative.”

Celebrate simplicity. Remember God can take nothing and make it into something.

3. We are afraid of change.

I guarantee we’ve all been a meeting where the phrase, “well we heard people say _____________ about _____________….”

Fill in the blanks… the music was too loud, they didn’t like that message, they don’t like this, they don’t like that…

These conversations usually center on a sensitive topic in the church: change.

And how do we respond? We quickly turn down the volume, change our minds, or reverse a decision.

“Sometimes you need to go ahead with a decision you believe in, even if it’s unpopular… remember negative reactions are almost always louder and more passionate than positive ones… so when people complain… let them know you’re listening. Show them you’re aware of what they’re saying. But explain that you’re going to let it go for awhile and see what happens.”

Give change time and be more concerned with what the voice of God is saying to you and let that influence you more than the voices of other people.

4. We use “let me pray about it” as an excuse to get out of making decisions.

I absolutely believe it’s important to pray about major decisions that impact the life of the Church – we shouldn’t move unless we feel God leading us. But all too often we use the “let me pray about that” card to delay simple decisions.

“Whenever you can, swap “Let’s [pray] about it” for “Let’s decide on it.” Commit to making decisions. You’re as likely to make a great call today as you are tomorrow. Don’t make things worse by overanalyzing and delaying before you even get going.”

Pray about what’s important but don’t sweat the small stuff… just make the call and ask for forgiveness later if need be.

5. We LOVE meetings.

For some reason we love meetings. Planning meetings, prayer meetings, planning meetings for prayer meetings. I feel like we have entirely too many and lose valuable time we could be devoting to things that matter. 

“Meetings are toxic. If it only takes seven minutes to meet a meeting’s goal, then that’s all the time you should spend. Don’t stretch seven into thirty. Think about the time you’re actually losing and ask yourself if it’s really worth it.”

What’s one meeting you could condense or remove from your schedule? DO IT!

6. We try to do way too much.

Most churches are hyperactive and never sleep. We thrive on activity. The whole “less is more” thing hasn’t sunk in yet.

What if we focused on doing a few things REALLY well l instead of doing a million things half-aced? << that’s my PG version

“Cut your ambition in half. Lots of things get better as they get shorter. Getting to great starts by cutting out stuff that’s merely good.”

What are some good things you’re doing that could be sacrificed for great things that will make a greater impact?

7. We try to be something we’re not.

If I see one more 40somethings pastor dressed in Abercrombie so help me…

Ok, but for real… not just pastors but churches in general tend to have a problem of trying to be something they’re not.

“Don’t be afraid to show your flaws. Imperfections are real and people respond to real. There’s a beauty to imperfection. So talk like you really talk. Reveal things that others are unwilling to discuss. Be upfront about your shortcomings. It’s OK if it’s not perfect. You might not seem professional, but you will seem a lot more genuine.”

BE YOU!

8. We spend too much time looking at other churches.

We spend way too much time looking at what other churches are doing, be it a church across the country or the church across town. It’s great to watch and learn from others’ successes, but if you look at other churches as you competition your focus is waaaay off.

“Focus on competitors too much and you will wind up diluting your own vision. Your chances of coming up with something fresh go way down when you keep feeding your brain other people’s ideas. You become reactionary instead of visionary.”

Your church has a unique and specific role it’s meant to play in the life of your community. If your church ceased to exist, what would people miss? Whatever that is should be where you focus your time and energy.

9. We worry about people leaving.

We’re quick to cater to the needs [or demands] of people who have been around for a while instead of focusing the needs of people who are new.

We should spend more time figuring out how to create a wider front door instead of focusing on how we can “close the back door”… even if that means losing people who give us a lot of money [there, I said it].

“Scaring away new [people] is worse than losing old [ones]. Make sure you make it easy for [new] people to get on board. That’s where your continued growth potential lies. People and situations change. You can’t be everything to everyone. [Churches] need to be true to a type of [person] than a specific [person] with changing needs.”

10. We don’t feel trusted.

For whatever reason churches tend thrive in a weird culture of mistrust. It’s not or conducive to a positive working environment. Some churches have crazy rules, policies and procedures that create layers of red tape that, while probably well-intentioned, communicate a lack of trust.

“When you treat people like children, you get children’s work. Yet that’s exactly how a lot of companies treat their employees. When everything constantly needs approval, you create a culture of nonthinkers. You create a boss-versus-worker relationship that screams, ‘I don’t trust you.’”

This is one I don’t have a quick answer to but know it’s something I’ve experienced and something I hear about consistently from others who are in the trenches. BUT, I will say working in a church that has a trusting environment, I’ve never felt so empowered to do my job and that has fueled my productivity exponentially.

Final Thoughts…

Church work is tricky but I will say the blessings have far outweighed the frustrations.

The challenge of being on staff at a church lies in the fact that we don’t have the option to leave our work at the end of the day.  Our work is deeply connected to what we believe and to our faith community. It’s easy to get passionate about what we do because we do is attached to something that’s incredibly personal to us.  We’ve got to learn the discipline of drawing boundaries.

While the Church has endured throughout the ages, each generation has had its unique challenges and opportunities. I believe the challenge and opportunity facing next generation leaders lies in how we manage and steward the resources we’ve been blessed with.

We’ve never been more resourced than we are today… which is why things like REWORK are important for us to latch on to. We don’t need to change what we do [connecting people to Christ], we need to change how we work.

My prayer is that we can REWORK and do the work God has called us to do, not simply by applying business ideas, but by seeking God, being led by His Spirit and serving the Church with excellence and humility.

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart…” – Colossians 3:23

This post was inspired by reading REWORK by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson of 37signals. It’s an important book that I think should be required reading for any next generation church leader.

Pastors Packing Whose Power?

October 1, 2009

Here’s one interesting take on whose power we’re preaching and how …. click here!

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Help When You Hurt

Who ministers to the Minister when you're hurting? Many do, and they can be found on this listing. Please find a friend in your area and seek the help you need today.
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A Place For You

Many Pastors are not aware that all over the country are a number of places you can retreat to for a number of given reasons or purposes. Find some of them here, get there, and find your pace!
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