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Monday, March 20, 2017

YOU HAVE TO DECIDE






Never before have I ever felt the need to trust God then I do right now. I have a tendency to take matters into my own hands when I think it’s not going the way I want it to go. Needless to say, it didn’t get any better by doing such a thing…it got worse and boy, did it get worse!


Back in 2012, I made a commitment to God to trust Him with everything. However, this has not been an easy road to travel because every fiber in me wants (and wanted) to make it happen on my own. History has proven more failures than successes when I take things into my own hands. Anything worth happening to me and for me has to be God’s doing and not mine this time.


Trusting God doesn’t mean sitting idle doing nothing and it also doesn’t mean working yourself to death either. As a former burnout patient, I’ve learned that there’s nothing spiritual about burnout. Secondly, just because you work hard doesn’t mean you’re a hard worker. Chewing gum is work but there is no progress just motion and tired jaws. Thirdly, the hardest work is trying to figure out what God is doing. This can be very frustrating at times.


Most of us have a desperate desire to understand, but in so many areas we must acknowledge that we cannot understand. We must approve of God’s ways, even when we can’t comprehend them. Isaiah 55:8-9 tells us why we often don't understand what God is doing: "'For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,' declares the Lord. 'For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.'" God sees the whole picture, while we only see our tiny corner of it. To trust in the Lord with all our heart means we can't place our own right to understand above His right to direct our lives the way He sees fit. When we insist on God always making sense to our finite minds, we are setting ourselves up for spiritual trouble. We only see part of the picture God is painting. If we are to truly trust Him, we have to let go of our pride, our programs, and our plans. Even the best-laid human plans cannot begin to approach the magnificent sagacity (meaning wisdom, knowledge, intelligence) of God’s plan. “For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom” (1 Corinthians 1:25).


Every person must make a decision whether to live his or her life according to personal preference or according to the unchanging Word of God. We often will not understand how God is causing "all things to work together for good" (Romans 8:28), but when we trust Him with all our hearts, we know that He is and that He will never fail us (Psalm 119:142; Philippians 2:13).


YOU HAVE TO DECIDE IN THE END!

Monday, March 13, 2017


DON’T LET IT GET THAT FAR!

 

One of the leading causes for Christian service declining in the church is burnout. Anyone who has experienced burnout knows it is not something he ever wants to experience again. Burnout is commonly described as an exhausted state in which a person loses interest in a particular activity and even in life in general. Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, social, and spiritual exhaustion. It can lead to diminished health, social withdrawal, depression, and a spiritual malaise (sickness, illness, disorder, malady). Many times, burnout is the result of an extended period of exertion at a particular task (generally with no obvious payoff or end in sight) or the carrying of too many burdens (such as borne by those in the helping professions or those in positions of authority, among others). Unfortunately, burnout can also be common among those in vocational Christian ministry and those highly involved in their churches. In these cases people sometimes feel compelled to serve the god of productivity and works. Burnout can happen anywhere. It is the result of overwhelming demands or responsibilities, either placed on us by others or on ourselves, that we simply cannot bear.

 

Allow me state my convictions about burnout upfront:

 

  • There is nothing spiritual about burnout.
     

Burnout doesn’t make a person any more spiritual than having athlete’s feet making a person an athlete.

 

Burnout is often the result of self-reliance. The self-reliant take upon themselves the role of savior rather than trusting God to accomplish His own will. They begin to see every need as their call, rather than asking for God's wisdom and direction. This can play out in a ministry setting when a pastor attempts to do the work of the entire Body of Christ. I was guilty of attempting to do everything in my first pastorate. Why? Because, at the time, I didn’t trust anyone to get it done like me. BIG FAT MISTAKE! Moses would have burned out, but for the wise counsel of his father-in-law, Jethro. The story is found in Exodus 18:14-23. Moses thought he was doing the will of God by sitting as judge and hearing the people's cases. However, Jethro rightly recognized that this was not a job for one man to handle alone. To avoid burnout, Moses had to accept that not every need was meant to be filled by him. God charged Moses with leadership, not with performing every duty. Jethro advised Moses to delegate the task of judging the nation to other trustworthy men. That way, the people were provided justice, others had an opportunity to participate in God's plan, and Moses' need for personal care was met.

 

Another cause of burnout is a lack of self-care. Those who do not take care of themselves fail to understand how much God values them. They fail to accept His rest and His love for them, instead martyring themselves on the altar of pleasing others. They may sacrifice sleep, nourish their bodies poorly, over-extend their schedules, or neglect their needs in other ways. Whether it's a lack of self-care or an insistence on self-reliance, burnout stems from a lack of understanding of the character of God and His expectations for our lives.

 

  • Burnout is preventable
     
    Here is the best advice I’ve ever received from a friend of mine when I was experiencing burnout from trying to do everything to keep the church running….STOP IT! What great advice this was to and for me…. Just STOP IT! Here are a few suggestions for a person to follow if you’d like and this is what I have done and continue to do to keep from burning out.
     

  • Learn to say “NO” or “I can’t do that right now”: We can’t do everything and everything is not meant for us to do. We can’t be everywhere and everywhere is not everywhere we need to be. If you are ministry leader in the church in any capacity ask for help to get it done. I will admit I’m getting better at asking for help. You don’t know who will help if you don’t ask them to help.

 

  • Relax: A good start to recover from burnout or prevent burnout is really a simple one: Get Somewhere And Sit Down! Have you ever had a good day of worship and the day was exhausting? So, you get home to calm down from the day but right before you lay your head on your pillow you get a stupid text, phone call, email, inbox, or post that throws you into frenzy. Here’s what I do after a good day of worship and when I’m feeling exhausted… I put my phone on silent in the other room so I can’t see nor hear it go off. The point is to relax. Unless Jesus has showed up, that issue can be handled tomorrow. Take long bath, shower, read a book, have a relaxing conversation with your spouse, listening to music (for me it’s Jazz), play a crossword puzzle, play Atari (Old School game box) with your kids, play dominoes, cook a decent meal. Notice, I left out TV on purpose. Do something that relaxes you.
     
  • Seek godly counsel: I left out prayer, fasting, and reading the Bible out of the above suggestion on purpose to place here in seeking godly counsel. There are times when you need to speak to someone that can help walk you through this important issue. The Bible has much to say about perseverance in Christian ministry service and the Holy Spirit knows how to interpret Scripture for you to understand what needs to be done to prevent giving up too soon. Look back over your sermon and bible study notes, trust there is help there. Speak with your pastor, mentor, or spouse. I thank God that some of my counsel has come from my boss over the years that told me to go home and rest for the day. You look tired. And here’s the testimony, they were not saved. Take it how you want but it was good advice for me when I needed to rest.  

 

Thirdly and finally,

 

  • You can rest for the next task(s) when your focus is right.

 

 Jesus said, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light" (Matthew 11:28–30). The ultimate solution for those currently experiencing burnout is to find refreshment in Christ.

 

We recover from burnout by entering God's rest. We avoid burnout the next time by staying in tune with God's specific direction for our lives. That means we consult Him about our schedules, we take time to care for ourselves, and we learn to depend on His strength to carry out our duties. Our identity is not drawn from the tasks we accomplish but from our relationship with Jesus. We do the work He calls us to, and we do it with all our hearts, but we do not go beyond the limits He has set. We accept help from others because God has called us to community. We accept His rest because it is the gracious gift of a loving and wise Father. God is more interested in our relationship with Him than He is in our work (Hosea 6:6).

 

There is nothing spiritual about "burning out for Jesus”.

 

Thursday, March 2, 2017

You Gotta Be Kidding Me - How Bi-vocational Ministry can surprise you and others when done well


            I’ve had many ministry opportunities in my life. I’ve served as a youth pastor, Sunday School Director, Assistant Pastor, Pastor of Christian Education, Senior Pastor, and Executive Pastor. Each opportunity had its own challenges but I shared one common challenge in all each time … here it is … I had (have) a job. Some reading may say here goes the excuses …. NOPE! Wrong …. AGAIN! Here goes an exhortation…..

Let me be extremely honest, nothing in life is without challenges. It’s how you navigate during the challenges that can bring out the best or worst in you. I admit I’ve experienced both, the best and worst of me over the years in dual duty of the secular and sacred of my life. In the beginning stages of my ministry, I had no idea what I was in for serving the church and working a job. Because of that, some good relationships were ruined with pastors, preachers, family, and friends due to my misguided understanding of dual duty. I would hear others say to me; “If it were me blah, blah, blah….” Some of those; “if it were me” worked but most failed. Unfortunately, there is no blueprint, GPS, or step by step guide for a person to handling dual duty ministry. No one writes about it to offer assistance. I have one book by Dennis Bickers entitled “The Tentmaking Pastor – The Joy of Bi-vocational Ministry” that I keep next to my bible on my desk. There is no convention, conference, or class to assist someone in this vital position that seems to be growing every day. The only training is on the job training which births many trials and errors.

So, Did I have some failures? Absolutely! Did I have some successes? Absolutely! Success and failure is like salt and pepper, use both to bring great taste to a bland meal. Here’s how I’ve learned(-ing) to navigate in my calling…

  • Prayer: I have to lay face down before God each day because there is a new challenge to test every fiber of my being. The only way for me to maintain is through prayer. Before, I was a hot-head and would just go off in church meetings and on my job. Not good, and it didn’t work out well for me either. I missed some good opportunities due to my hot-headness. However, my hot-headness was the direct result of me not spending time in prayer. I’ve learned that consistent constant prayer helps keep me stay mentally fit in the secular and sacred which is weaved into my life that cannot be separated. When I don’t pray I fall into defense mode and unleash the dragon on everyone. This is not a good testimony as a leader in church nor is it a good testimony as a Christian on my job. Don’t allow that to happen, stay before the Lord and He will keep you focused.
     
  • Process: James 1:19 says; “Know this, my beloved brothers; let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger”. It’s not by accident that the first step to preventing anger is “be quick to hear”. In other words, process what’s being said before you react to what has been said. I intentionally keep quite regarding many things, whether I understand it or not, because I want to respond to what’s being said and not react. It may seem I’m slow, don’t care, impersonal, or stupid. It’s not either one of those, it’s being strategic. I can’t fight every battle because time doesn’t allow me to fight every battle. I have to provide strategic leadership towards a positive outcome and it requires listening and processing. Unfortunately, there are times when you can’t place a timetable on a strategic direction. I have to work it out in my head and with wise counsel before moving forward.  That takes time!
     
  • Practicality: I live by the saying: “K.I.S.S. = “Keep It Simple Stupid” which I’ve changed to “Keep It Simple Smith”. Less is best! Simple is success! Jesus’ commission to the disciples in Matthew 28:19-2 is powerfully simple in making disciples for Christ. Here are the instructions for making disciples…”Go” … “Baptize” …. “Teach”. If Jesus can keep it simple for the disciples, I can keep it simple for the saints. One of the biggest challenges to dual duty is time constraints. Think about this: 8-10hrs a day is spent at work + 2hrs travel time (national average) + 7hrs sleep (national average and/or if you’re lucky) = 17hrs of our day is accounted for as a necessity to maintain a living to live. 8-10hrs of our day is controlled by our employer. I have to process practicality for survival in life and service in the church. Stewardship principle in Ephesians says chapter 6:5-8 says; Slaves (employees), obey your earthly masters (employers) with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free”. My work ethic at work is directly tied to my work ethic to Christ. Good stewardship requires a good work ethic with my employer as well as a good testimony to my co-workers for Christ. I’ve been very blessed to have employers with a team of co-workers that allows me to do what I need to do for the church. Being a good steward says I can’t take advantage of that. Keeping it simple helps to stay employed and serve the church at the same time.
     
  • Personnel:  Can you say TEAMWORK? In Bible Study recently, I taught a lesson entitled “Let’s Work Together” tied to 1 Corinthians 15:58 as a spring board text. I have many quotes relating to teamwork building that I use with my team at work past. I have 9 in total but one is posted on my work station as a daily reminder: “Good teams become great ones, when the members trust each other enough and humble enough to surrender the “ME” for “WE”!” Being successful in Bi-vocational ministry requires trust on both parts but trust building starts with the leader. Building trust requires being open, honest, and understanding. In my first pastorate, it took me at least 1-2years before the members really started trusting me and we started working as a team. I had to teach the members on the life of a Bi-vocational pastor so they would understand my challenges and what I needed to be at my best every week. Remember this, rather in full-time or part-time ministry people come to church to hear a Word from God. This requires the pastor to spend time in Word and Prayer. It is impossible for a Bi-vocational pastor to micro-manage everything. Therefore, leadership personnel must be strong and processes simple and TRUST is a must!
     
  • Personal: I have one piece of advice here: “DON’T TAKE IT PERSONAL!” We did not choose this life, God choose this life for us and you just need to accept the fact full-time ministry may not be God’s will for your ministry. It would be nice to get there but only God can determine that for you not you. Also, you need to have thick skin for the attack of the enemy on your ministry. Satan will use people to attack you to discourage you with seeds of inadequacy, inferiority, and insecurity. He (Satan) will do whatever he can to stop the church of Jesus Christ any way he can. Before you go on attack with people especially those in your members for whom serve as a senior pastor or staff pastor remember this… “12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” – Ephesians 6:12. Know who you’re fighting before you fight.

The success of Bi-vocational ministry depends on the leader. Not by trying to do everything but through building a winning team for which you are the captain. There’s joy in ministry when everyone is working together towards a common goal.

Next time on My life, my learning, my laughter, my legacy….  “My time is your and your time is my time – How to manage your study life with the time you have”.