7 Suggestions for Pastors and Spouses to Find True Friends

By | Call to Ministry, Church, Church Planting, Leadership | 15 Comments

People talk. People gossip. People love to share what they hear.

That’s true about what they hear from a pastor too.

If the pastor talks about his personal life, shares a concern – heaven forbid shares a sin or weakness – people talk.

I’ve personally been burned several times by trusting the wrong people with information. It’s wonderful to think a pastor can be totally transparent with everyone, but honestly, especially in some churches, complete transparency will cause you to lose your ministry.

Every pastor knows this well. So, most pastors don’t talk. Sadly, in my experience, most pastors I know don’t have any really close friends. And, I have a lot of experience dealing with pastors.

Many pastors have very few true friends.

Frankly, it’s made many in the ministry among the most lonely of people I have ever known. I was in the business community for many years and I didn’t know business leaders as “closed” to people getting to know them as some pastors seem to be. I wish it weren’t true, but it is.

Of course, Jesus is a friend who sticks closer than a brother, but we would never tell our congregation they don’t need human friends. Most of our churches are built around a reality everyone needs community.

Hopefully our spouse is our best friend, and this should be our goal, but the truth is pastors need more.

We need other friends who can walk with us through life. I need men in my life that understand the unique struggles and temptations of being a man. Pastors need community of people who understand the pressures of being a pastor; just as we would encourage our church to live life together with others.

Throughout my 16 years as pastor I had some of those type friends in my life. I had some friends with whom I could share the hard stuff and they still loved me. I had friends with whom I could be myself. I’m thankful for friends who build into me as much as I built into them.

Every pastor needs them.

And, here’s the other side – so does the pastor’s spouse. They need friends just as much, but have the equal concerns and struggles to find them. Over the years, my wife has realized the hard way some people were only her friend because of her position as my wife. They wanted information and access – more than they wanted friendship.

And, some who are not in ministry will read this post and think I’m over-reacting. They’ll say everyone deals with this at some level. They may be right. (Not about the over-reacting, but about the fact everyone deals with it.) But, I know having been on both sides – in ministry and out of ministry – this issue was more prevalent as a pastor than it was in the business world.

So, the hope of this post is to encourage those pastors and spouses who don’t have any true friends and give you a few suggestions for finding some.

Here are 7 suggestions for a pastor and spouses to find true friends:

Be willing to look outside the church

The reality is there may not be someone you can truly trust, who is willing to keep confidences, and willing to always be in your corner, inside the church. I get that. Much of this may depend on the size or even the structure of your church.

I always had a few of these friends in the last two churches where I served as pastor, but both churches were larger churches. I found this harder when I was in a smaller church with a handful of strong families within the church. It created some unique dynamics if we tried to have really close friends. If we invited a couple to dinner others would wonder why we didn’t invite them – since they’re all family members or close friends.

Some of my truest and best friends, however, then and now, have attended other churches. This also meant if we were called to leave the church we still had a close group of friends. Some of my best friends have been friends through several church transitions.

Consider bonding with another pastor

I guarantee you not too far from you is a pastor just as lonely or in need of a friend as you are feeling. And, the pastor’s spouse feels the same way. (And, even if you’re not feeling it you need it.)

One of the great benefits of the online world, though it can equally be used for harm, is you can make connections with other pastors. I have found if I follow the Tweets, blog posts, Facebook updates, or check out the church website of another pastor, I can find out a lot about our similarities. I’m not talking about stalking. I’m talking about being intentional to build a relationship. Then I take a chance and reach out to another pastor. I actually have a few vital relationships, which began this way.

Regardless of how you meet, it has been valuable enough to Cheryl and me that we’ve been willing to invest in traveling to visit with friends who live in other cities. Chances are good, however, for most pastors they won’t have to travel far. I have had friends an hour away from me. That was a good half-day investment every couple months to stay in touch.

Build the relationship slowly

I’ve seen too many times where a person wants an intimate, accountable, life-giving relationship, which begins instantly. I’m sure this happens occasionally, but I don’t think it’s the normal way.

Take some time to invest in the friendship. My guess is you’re looking for a longer-term relationship, so be willing to build it over a long-term. And, I usually have multiple meetings with several different guys before I find one where we connect enough to move to a deeper friendship. Again, it’s worth the investment of time.

Find common ground

Do you enjoy fishing, dining, travel, golf, or Nascar? Who are some people, whether pastors or laypeople who have similar interests to you? Take an afternoon to play a round of golf with them. Ask them to lunch. Hang out with them. I have one of my closest friends I met this way. We simply started having lunch together. We’ve since traveled together as couples, but it started with a lunch invitation to a guy I saw who seemed to enjoy the subject of leadership as much as I did.

Look for someone healthy

This is critical. You won’t find someone perfect, but you need someone who is not looking for you to always be the minister. Those people do exist. There are people with healthy home lives and healthy personal lives who are striving to grow personally, professionally, and spiritually just like you are striving.

Most of the time as pastors our attention is focused more on the one who need our attention because of a crisis or immediate need in their life. And, this is what we do, but who are some people around you who don’t need much from you right now? You’ll need this healthy relationship to nourish you when you don’t feel as healthy.

Be intentional

You don’t often find a friend unless you go looking for one. First you have to recognize the value in true friends, make it a matter of prayer and a goal for your life, but then you must begin to look for one. I’ve found I’m more likely to hit a target I am specifically aiming to hit.

There is such a value in true friendship, even for pastors, that it is worth the investment.

Take a risk

You’ll eventually have to make yourself vulnerable and risk being hurt – perhaps again – to find true friends. I realize this is scary, especially if you’ve been hurt before, but finding true friendships is worth the risk. Be careful building these type friendships, but don’t allow fear to keep you from having them.

Pastor, you know what I’m advocating is true. So, take another risk.

Pastor, be honest, do you have someone in your life you could call when you’re at your lowest point in ministry? Do you have someone investing in you on a regular basis? Are you lonely? If you were drowning or facing burnout, have you allowed other people, besides your spouse, into your closest, most protected world so they can recognize where you are currently and speak into the dark places of your life?

More importantly, is it worth the risk and investment to have true friends?

For those who have these types of relationships, what tips do you have for other pastors?

Let me close with a personal note to the lonely pastor. I understand your pain. I’ve been there. I’m praying for you as I write this post. Don’t struggle alone too long without reaching out to someone.

4 Ways I Discern Saying No to Good Opportunites

By | Call to Ministry, Church, Church Planting, Encouragement, Faith, Fear, Missions, Vision | 16 Comments

Age and maturity has helped me get better at discerning what I can do and should do based on my strengths, weaknesses, passions and dreams. It’s freeing when we become more certain in who God has wired us to be and who He has not.

Still, I’ve learned (through many different seasons of life) that there are often more opportunities than time in life…even God-honoring, seemingly good opportunities. Recently, I have had to say no to some great opportunities. These were things that I would have clearly thought had to be “God appointed”, but as much as they line with my strengths, passions, and dreams I have for my life, I said “no” to them.

How do you know when to say no to what looks like a good thing…perhaps initially even like a “God thing”?

Here are four things I look for in examining my heart before responding. I say no when:

Read More

7 Reasons People Are Not Leading Who Could Be

By | Call to Ministry, Church, Leadership | 4 Comments

Every church I know needs leaders. Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few…”. I’m convinced, based on other Scripture, some of those workers should be leaders of other workers. Throughout the Scriptures God used men and women to lead others to accomplish great things — all to His glory.

And, I’m equally convinced, just as there are not enough people working who should be working – there are not enough leaders who should be leading.

The question all church leaders need to know is why are they not!

Here are 7 reasons people are not leading who could be:

They weren’t ever willing to face their fears. Fear of failure, fear of rejection, and the fear of the unknown are very real fears. But, fear is an emotion and not necessarily based on truth. Faith is a substance based on a certain, though unseen, reality.

Tip: We must encourage and challenge people to live by faith.

They never had the self-confidence to allow people to follow. I know so many people who sit on the sidelines – even though people believe in them, but they just don’t believe in themselves.

Tip: We must speak words of affirmation into people; helping them believe in themselves, because God believes in them.

They felt it was self-serving to step into the role of leadership. One of my favorite sayings is “Don’t trip over your own humility by refusing to do the right thing.” Yes, leaders can be in the center of attention, and some people are too “humble” to step into the role, but in the meantime we are missing their leadership.

Tip: Help people understand humility and the danger of pride. But, allow people to feel enabled to gain position when they willingly point to God for all the glory.

They waited for someone else to do it. They had a call, or at least they knew what needed to be done, and they could have taken the initiative and made it work. They simply never did — hoping, waiting for someone else to make the move.

Tip: Teach people understand the priesthood of the believer, the Church as a body with indispensable members.

They tried once, it didn’t work, and they gave up too soon. It’s been said failure is a critical step towards success. Failure helps us mature as a leader. If you give up after the first try you miss out on the best of leadership.

Tip: Have an environment where failure is accepted as a part of leadership. Be agents of grace and encouragement to continue in spite of setbacks.

They couldn’t find their place – and nobody made one for them. I would encourage people to find something to lead! The world is full of problems. Choose one you are passionate about and start leading. We need you! But churches need to create margins of opportunities. Expecting a high-level female leader in the corporate space to want to rock babies is often unrealistic. If they want to fine, but they may want to chair a committee.

Tip: Build opportunities around the people and their individual interests. The best leaders have to be recruited to lead!

They thought they didn’t know how to lead. I’ve been a student of leadership for over 20 years – and in leadership positions for 35 years – and I would answer this one with a question. Who does know how to lead? Sure, there are skills to be acquired, leadership is an art to be shaped, but leadership is new every morning, because there world is ever changing. Leadership involves people. When we can completely figure them out we can completely figure out leadership. Until then we watch, listen, read, learn, and ask questions. Everyone can learn some skills of leadership if they are teachable. The best leaders are still learning how to lead.

Tip: Build a leadership training pipeline. Encourage everyone in leadership to be recruiting and training another future leader.

Are any of these the reasons people in your church are not currently leading, but you know they should be?

7 Ways I Protected My Family Life as a Pastor

By | Call to Ministry, Church, Church Planting, Encouragement, Family, Leadership, Marriage | 49 Comments

If a pastor is not careful, the weight of everyone else’s problems will take precedence over the issues and concerns of his immediate family. I see it frequently among pastors I encounter. There have been seasons of my ministry where this is the case, especially on abnormally stressful days.

I decided years ago when I was a small business owner, serving in an elected office and on dozens of non-profit boards that my busyness would never detract from my family life.

Here are 7 ways I attempt to protect my family from the stress of ministry.

Read More

12 Words of Encouragement for Pastors (Or Other Leaders)

By | Call to Ministry, Church, Church Planting, Church Revitalization, Encouragement, Leadership | 53 Comments

I love pastors. Through this blog and my personal ministry, God has allowed me to partner with dozens of pastors, helping them think through life and ministry issues. I’ve learned many pastors struggle to find people who will invest in them and help them grow as individuals, leaders and pastors. In my current job with Leadership Lexington, I get to spend my days thinking of how to assist pastors and the Church.

I frequently have pastors – or other leaders – ask me for my “best advice” for those in leadership positions. I have to be candid that it’s a difficult request. I’ve learned so much through the pastors who have invested in me and by experience. It’s hard to summarize all I’ve learned over the years – especially by trial and error. It could probably fill a book or two, but certainly more than one blog post!

Over the years I have put some thought into the question and come up with a lists of random encouragement I would give to all pastors or leaders to answer the question. While addressing pastors, I know wisdom is transferable to other fields. Change a few words and I’d give this advice to any leader. Periodically, I update this post and bring it forward again.

12 words of encouragement for pastors:

Keep Jesus the center of focus in the church.

You’ll never have a money problem, a people problem, or a growth problem God can’t handle. You know that. You’d teach that to the people you’ve been called to shepherd, but life (and the enemy) has a way of stealing our devotion. You’ll have lots of doubts, lots of seasons of ups and downs, and lots of dry spells in your own walk with Christ, but when Jesus is the center of your ministry – when your greatest success is found in your obedience to Him, you’ll always be successful in ministry regardless of what the numbers say.

Choose your friends wisely, but make sure you choose friends.

Don’t attempt to lead alone. Too many pastors avoid close friendships because they’ve been hurt. They trusted someone with information who used it against them. Finding friends you can trust and be real with means you’ll sometimes get injured, but the reward is worth it. And, it’s cliche, but to find a friend – be a friend. Make sure you have a few friends who you can turn to on the darker days. They will come.

The church can never love your family as much as you do.

Your family needs you more than the church does. They can get another pastor. Your family doesn’t want another you. You’ll have to learn to say “no”, learn how to balance and prioritize your time, and be willing to delegate to others in the church. I’ve blogged several times on the power of saying no. It may be harder in the role of pastor than any other role I’ve held in business, government and the church, but it’s a necessary word to remain healthy and effective as a leader.

If you protect your Sabbath, your Sabbath can better protect you.

You’ll wear out quickly without a day a week to rejuvenate. God designed us this way. Take advantage of His provision. Take time to rest. You may not rest like everyone else. For me rest doesn’t always mean doing nothing. It usually means I’m doing what I want to do, but can’t because I’m working. Bottom line is you regularly need time away from the demands of ministry. Lead your church to understand you can’t be everywhere every time. You owe it to yourself, your family, your church and your God.

You have influence – use it well.

The pastorate comes with tremendous responsibility. Your words are powerful. It’s easy to abuse or take for granted. Don’t do it! Humility welcomes the hand of God on your ministry. Use your influence for Kingdom good more than for personal gain.

No amount of accountability or structure can stop failure if a heart is impure.

“Above all else, guard your heart.” (Proverbs 4:23) Avoid any hint of temptation. Look for the warning signs your heart is drifting. Allow others the freedom to speak into the dark places of your life, but, more than anything, keep your heart saturated with God’s Word and in prayer.

Let God lead.

If you can dream it, God can dream it bigger. Don’t dismiss the seemingly ridiculous things God calls you to do. They won’t always make sense to others or meet their immediate approval, but God’s ways will prove best every time. When you ever stop being encouraged towards the seemingly impossible you may need to question whether you’re still walking by faith.

So let God take the lead. You can do some things well. God can do the impossible. Whom do you think should ultimately be leading the church? You’ll be surprised how much more effective your leadership will be when it’s according to His will and not yours. This will take discipline, humility, and practice.

Your personal health affects the health of the church.

Take care of yourself relationally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. This, too, requires discipline, balance and prioritizing, but if, to the best of your ability, you strive to be healthy in every area of your life, as a good shepherd, your people will be more likely to follow your example.

The people in your church deserve authenticity.

As a leader, you set the bar of expectations, so your authentic actions encourage people to be transparent with you and others. When you’re authentic you help eliminate unrealistic expectations people may place upon you. Don’t be someone you’re not. Be someone worthy to follow, but make sure you’re living it – not just teaching it.

Learn to think before you speak.

This sounds so simple, but it is a hard lesson for some pastors. We are asked so many questions and to weigh in on so many topics. It’s easy to always have the answer. The best answers usually come after we’ve taken time to analyze Scripture, listen for the voice of God, and seek the wise counsel of others. It’s much harder to take back words said in haste than to discipline ourselves to think through a response. Telling someone, “Wait, let me get back to you on that” is a good phrase to have in your vocabulary.

You’ll never make everyone happy.

Part of leadership is making decisions. With every decision comes different opinions of the decision you made. If your goal is to make people happy you’ll end up being very unhappy – and very unproductive. Everyone will suffer as you strive to be popular, but flounder in effectiveness. Don’t make it your goal to make people happy. Make it your goal to lead people to greater obedience. Find your satisfaction in God’s glory.

People only know what they know.

One of the biggest mistakes I’ve made (and make) in leadership is assuming everyone will be on the same page as me – or they understand what I’m trying to communicate. This is unfair to people who don’t have the vantage point I have or who don’t even view the world as I view it. The more I grow as a leader the more I realize one of my greatest needs is more and better communication.

What word of encouragement do you have for pastors (or other leaders)?

5 Shared Characteristics Needed to do Church Planting or Church Revitalization

By | Call to Ministry, Church, Church Planting, Church Revitalization, Leadership, Missions | 13 Comments

Recently I posted a funny video about what it takes to be a church planter. Want a laugh? Watch it HERE. I decided it might be a good idea to share what I really believe is necessary to be a church planter. Church planting is a difficult, but rewarding assignment in ministry. All pastors and planters should operate under a calling of God, but it does appear to me that there are some unique qualifications for church planters.

From experience, here are five characteristics I believe it takes to be an effective church planter:

Read More

4 Suggestions for Balancing the Highs and Lows of Ministry

By | Call to Ministry, Church | 3 Comments

In my new role with Leadership Network, encouraging pastors is one of the best parts of my job. In 16 years of pastoring I learned the job can be an emotional roller coaster at times.

You have a great Sunday and then the critics seem to come out on Monday morning. Or Sunday walking out of church. Or, and you have to be a pastor to understand this one, but it could happen just before you walk behind the podium to preach.

You have your week planned and numerous crises happen in the same week – and your “day off” is now going to be spent preparing for Sunday. (And, don’t Sundays seem to come around often.)

It seems you can never get ahead and you’re always playing catch-up with your “to do” list.

It’s life. It’s ministry. It’s normal. And, I understand it’s not just for pastors, but I’ve been in business, government and now non-profit and pastoring is unique in it’s demands.

Some days are always better than others, but learning how to deal with the highs and lows is a major key in sustaining yourself for ministry long-term.

How do you do that, pastor?

Here are four suggestions, which helped me:

Find your rhythm

And, the “your” is important. You’ll be healthier and happier when you find the balance to your life. When you know the right amount of sleep. When you get an exercise and healthy eating plan. When you learn how to say no to things you simply can’t do or someone else can do better than you. I also found checklists kept me on task. I tried to make my week as routine as possible. Mondays and Tuesdays were meeting days. Wednesday and Thursdays were study days. Friday was a catch up day to use as needed. Saturday I tried to do nothing – except what Cheryl and I wanted to do.

You have to figure out what works for you, but if you do you’ll be in a better rhythm when the harder seasons of life and ministry come. Jesus was continually slipping away to pray and He seemed very intentional with His time. Yet, He was always prepared for the sudden interruption. By the way, interruptions aren’t as big an interruption when you plan as if they are normal.

Lean into others

You are not alone. Let me say that again. You are not alone. You may feel that way sometimes, but you really aren’t.

Think of the story of Elijah (1 Kings 19) and remember others are praying for you, God has a plan, and He cares for you! I was intentional here also. I always had a personal prayer team. They were a rock for me. But, I also had a number of good, personal pastor friends. And, I had one guy from the community I met with once a month. Gold!

Be willing to humble yourself, be vulnerable, and ask for help when needed. Even see a counselor periodically if it will help. There’s no shame in that. But, you must surround yourself with people who have access into the deepest parts of your life and the freedom to say the hard words you need to hear.

Become a better delegator

Drop the right to control everything. If I could I would say that to every pastor. AND, I WOULD SAY IT IN ALL CAPS!

The body is well-defined in Scripture. There’s a hand, a foot, a tongue – many parts. Don’t try to do them all. In fact, you can’t be and weren’t designed to be. It’s not Biblical. And, you want to be Biblical, right?

Be intentional about allowing others to share the burden. That’s good advice not just for Moses from his father-in-law – it’s good for you. And, it builds leadership in others, which could be the discipleship encouragement they need.

Keep the vision ever before you

Our mission as my most recent church was “Leading people to Jesus and equipping disciples in their faith.” We tweaked the words just a bit, but I inherited it when I arrived. It meshed well with my passion for ministry. It’s what got me out of bed in the morning.

If ever I was having a bad day, I could go back to what I love doing. I intentionally lead. I nurture, love, equip and help build disciples. It always fired me up to see someone get more excited about Jesus!

It’s true for all of us, but maybe especially in ministry. We seldom know all the good we are doing. It keeps us dependent on God. My guess is you’re doing better than you think you are and I’m sure of this – your faithfulness will one day be rewarded.

(One bonus tip – I also keep an encouragement file. It includes encouraging letters, notes, and emails I have received from people over the years. On bad days, go back and read through them.)

Ministry is hard. It’s even harder when you aren’t prepared. Take some time now and consider how you are responding to the demands of ministry, how you can improve, and developing a plan to address any concerns you uncover.

10 Expectations for Supporting the Senior Pastor

By | Call to Ministry, Church, Church Planting, Church Revitalization, Encouragement, Leadership, Organizational Leadership | 32 Comments

Recently I had the privilege of speaking to some executive pastors about a senior pastor’s expectations for their role. Part of a healthy organization is recognizing the individual roles and responsibilities of the others on the team. I felt it was important that I first help them understand the pastor better, so I shared 10 Things You May Not Know about the Senior Pastor. You may want to read that post first.

I continued my talk by sharing how other staff members within the church can support the position of senior pastor. I realize our church would have never been successful without the creativity, diligence and leadership of the staff at Grace Community Church. Part of our success has been the way our staff has assisted my co-pastor and me in our work, but the role of a senior pastor is unique also.

Here are 10 expectations I believe are important for those who serve on a church staff in supporting the leadership of a senior pastor:

Read More

5 Leadership Reflections from the Life of David

By | Business, Call to Ministry, Church, Church Planting, Church Revitalization, Encouragement, Leadership | 5 Comments

I read an interesting story from the life of the Biblical character of David again recently. The story says a great deal about leadership and what is required to successfully lead.

Here’s what I read:

When David was told, “Look, the Philistines are fighting against Keilah and are looting the threshing floors,” he inquired of the LORD, saying, “Shall I go and attack these Philistines?”The LORD answered him, “Go, attack the Philistines and save Keilah. But David’s men said to him, “Here in Judah we are afraid. How much more, then, if we go to Keilah against the Philistine forces!” 1 Samuel 23:1-3

Notice David had a vision…a word from God. This was prior to David being the reigning king. He had been anointed king by God, but did not yet have the position. He was hiding from Saul. He had no kingdom of his own. This new assignment was scary, his army was questioning him, and the future was unknown.

Have you experienced a situation like this as a leader?

Thankfully David’s story had a happy ending: (Imagine that…God put him up to it.)

Once again David inquired of the LORD, and the LORD answered him, “Go down to Keilah, for I am going to give the Philistines into your hand.” 5 So David and his men went to Keilah, fought the Philistines and carried off their livestock. He inflicted heavy losses on the Philistines and saved the people of Keilah. 1 Samuel 23:4-5

This story prompts some thoughts on leadership:

Read More