7 Tips to Navigate Emotions as a Pastor During COVID-19

By | Call to Ministry, Church, Church Planting, Church Revitalization, Leadership | One Comment

I’ve spoken with a number of pastors this week – and scheduled to talk to more this afternoon. While all my pastor friends are mostly remaining positive online and helping people remember to demonstrate faith over fear, some pastors are struggling too. When I left Leadership Network late last year I didn’t see entering into another pastorate this quickly or if ever. But here I am again. 

The personal problem

There’s a definite sense of loss for pastors. All the plans you worked so hard for Easter have suddenly been diminished. Buildings are mostly empty. We are preaching to near empty rooms. (Thankful for the worship and tech teams sticking around for us so far.) Our teams and volunteers are scattered. 

The church problem

All the while there is an incredible need to minister to people. Pastors know we have to continue to “be the church”. From my current perspective, the needs and burden to help people seem somewhat larger (and certainly harder) today than even a month ago. While people are stuck at home or stuck in care facilities, they still need care and concern expressed to them. Most of us had that figured out when we could gather people on Sundays and throughout the week. 

The future hope

I’m an optimist. In these days, I’ve been more of a cautious optimist, simply because none of us know what is going to happen. But there are tremendous opportunities being created and desperation is leading to innovation. I fully expect we will develop ministries and Gospel offerings to people that will advance the Gospel for years to come. That excites me. 

The cautious reality

Even those opportunities bring a certain amount of pressure on pastors. I only share this from my perspective, but frankly many of the voices saying how things will “never be the same” and how the church must completely change don’t seem to be currently pastoring at a local church. Of course, we should listen to and learn from them, but pastors have budgets and buildings we need to fill. Those are realities that aren’t ending immediately after this crisis. And context is king. We shouldn’t try to be another church.

So, bottom line, it’s tough. And because of that, some pastors are struggling. I said to our church recently, “it’s okay not to be okay sometimes.” That’s true for you too. My intent of this post is not to vent (although I need that too sometimes). I only hope to help a group of people I’ve grown to love and respect – pastors. 

If I were advising you as I would a member of our church going through crisis, my advice might be about the same. 

Here are 7 suggestions for navigating your emotions during this crisis: 

Recognize the sense of loss. Don’t ignore it. This hurts. Something is missing from your life right now, just as it is for the people God called you to shepherd. Don’t overlook your own feelings and emotions even as you minister to others. 

(On a completely personal note, I’m pastoring at my home church. They were in need of revitalization. I came into this so motivated and excited about helping the church. All those plans changed suddenly after only a few weeks on the job. That’s a loss.) 

Grieve.  We don’t grieve like the rest of the world, but we should grieve. Every loss deserves a grief period. Grieving has stages. And they are different for everyone. Some mornings you may wake up confused. Other days you may be angry. Still others you may have an incredible burst of energy and enthusiasm – and you’re not even sure why. All those can be natural. 

Exercise. I encourage maintaining health all the time for leaders. The busier and more stressed you are the more important it becomes. If you’re past few weeks are like mine then you’re in one of those seasons – and you need to be exercising. Regularly. Take time to get outside and walk. Find ways to do a workout indoors too. There are plenty of apps and resources online to keep you fit during this time.

Stay close to other pastors. I have found this especially helpful for me. This is not because misery deserves company, but another thing I say in leadership is “you can’t see what I see until you sit where I sit”. That’s so true in this scenario. That first day everyone was looking to me as to whether to take services online was one of the most stressful I’ve had in a while. Huge decision. Talking to other pastors through it helped. 

Protect your Sabbath. The Sabbath isn’t just a command for the church where you serve. It’s vital for you as well. Plus, if you have children at home you need to spend time with your children. And if you’re married with your spouse. They are likely struggling with isolation too. Pastor, you don’t have to work all the time. Your family needs you too. Protect what will definitely be there after this crisis. 

Find ways to laugh. I’ve had a few good belly laughs lately and thy have been so life-giving. Most of them were at my own expense making “bloopers” while trying to do a video. (I’m sure there’s a blooper video in the works by our creative team.) If needed, Google some clean comedy and take a mental break. A good Seinfeld episode often works for me too. 

Dream about the new future. Yes, it will look different. Again, it will have to be contextualized for your church. But God has made promises for His church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. This includes the coronavirus. We will get back to doing church again. 

What might that look like? This is where there are tremendous Kingdom-building ministries who serve the church and are thinking “for us” right now. I’m grateful for them. (I may do a separate post with some of these resources I’m following.) I’m thankful that we can concentrate on ministering to our churches while they help us think “what’s next”, but we should spend some time doing this too. We know our context like no one else does. 

Pastor, I say this humbly to you, but none of the future talk matters if you don’t protect your soul. We will need you to be strong after this crisis as much as we need you through it. I’m praying for you. Please let me know if I can help. Lastly, get professional help if needed. There’s no shame in that.

10 Resolutions That Can Improve Ministry Leadership

By | Call to Ministry, Church, Leadership | 2 Comments

The best leadership, in my opinion, comes out of the resolve a leader has made in his or her heart.

The resolve of a leader is a pre-determined approach to way a leader will lead. These are personal convictions, values, and personally held beliefs, which shape the decisions a leader makes and the way he or she responds to others.

Ultimately a leader’s personal resolves – about anything – determine the way they respond and their actions towards it. (I once preached on how this principle impacts our spiritual life. You can listen to this message HERE.)

Most often these resolutions are made even prior to being in a leadership position.

The resolve of a leader is powerful. In fact, if  leader wants to improve his or her leadership, he or she must often improve first their personal resolve.

So, do you want to improve your leadership?

10 resolutions guaranteed to improve ministry leadership:

I resolve to:

Never compromise my character in search of progress.

Consistently walk by faith in some area of my life – personally or professionally.

Pray earnestly before I make major decisions and solicit others to join me in discerning God’s direction.

Extend grace generously, never hold a grudge, and realize mistakes are a part of healthy leadership (and discipleship).

Protect my family time – never compromising it in the name of ministry.

Make my personal health a priority. As much as it depends on me, discipline myself to stay as healthy mentally and physically.

Allow trials and challenges to draw me closer to Christ and shape my character.

Love others unconditionally – even those with whom I do not agree.

Empower and invest in others, giving them opportunities to grow as individuals.

Surround myself with wise and moral influencers, allowing at least a few people access to know and speak into the most private parts of my life.

Which of these resolves do you need to make at this point in your ministry leadership?

7 Ways to Attract First Chair Leaders to a Second Chair Position

By | Call to Ministry, Church, Leadership | 17 Comments

I always advise young leaders, if they can, to sit under a seasoned leader for a while, learning all they can, before they venture out on their own.

Of course, that’s not always the advice a young, ready-to-go leader type wants to hear. I get it, since I was one of those younger leaders. And we learn mostly by failure, so there is something to be said for jumping out on your own, “getting both feet wet”, and starting something new.

Once I was visiting with a group of leadership students talking about this issue. Most were studying for ministerial positions within the church. They had been studying the concept of first chair and second chair leadership, so this prompted a good, obvious question.

How do you attract (and keep) “first chair” type leaders into a “second chair” position?

(If needed for clarity, the first chair leader usually has a title such as C.E.O., President, Senior Pastor. Second chair leaders have a title such as C.O.O., Vice President, Associate Pastor.)

The group followed that question with another equally good question.

They asked if I felt I could ever again be a second chair leader. At this point, they knew my history. I’d been a first chair leader for well over 20 years.

My answer to the second question first. Yes. I could be a second chair leader. My answer to the second question is the point of this post.

Here are 7 ways to attract (and keep) first chair leaders in a second chair position:

Remove the lids

The real reason most people resist the second chair is they don’t want to be limited in how much they can achieve. Good first chair leaders are willing to get out of the way and let people around them lead. And that’s even if the second chair person’s success gains more notoriety than the first chair.

Empower individual dreams

If a second chair person feels the freedom to dream big dreams – even individual dreams – they’ll be fueled to continue in the role. They may have to be empowered to work on dreams which are even outside the vision of their current organization. Of course, they still need to meet all the requirements of a good second chair leader, so there should be loyalty to the place where they are currently serving in the second chair.

Let the leader build a team

Second chair leaders, who are qualified to be first chair leaders, need to have the freedom to build their own teams. They should be able to recruit and lead their own people.

Of course, an overall vision must be maintained and ultimately the vision holder is the first chair leader. But if the second chair leader is on board with the vision – give them room to build and lead their team.

Invite their input into larger decisions

This is huge. Second chair leaders who could be first chair leaders want to play a part in the overall strategy and implementation of the organization. They have ideas, energy and want to make a difference. If you want to keep them you have to give them a seat at the lead table.

Give them a voice

This goes with the last one, but not only should they have a seat at the table,  their input should matter. Their opinion must make a difference in the overall direction of the organization. The weight of their suggestions must be valuable in making final decisions. Hyper-controlling leaders will have a very hard time with this one, but it’s critical to retaining the best “first chair minded” – second chair leaders.

Don’t Micromanage

This one probably goes without saying, but many senior leaders I know need to hear it again. The best first chair leaders don’t micromanage anyone. This is especially true if you want to attract the first chair leader types into the second chair. Again, they should be working for the same overall vision of the entire organization, but if you want to keep them, get out of their way and let them do their work.

Extend recognition

Don’t hog the credit for all the wins. Celebrate and let them be celebrated by others.

Closing thought: 

Let me be clear, as I tried to be with the leadership students, there are exceptional second chair leaders who never desire to be first chair leaders.  I’ll be transparent enough to say without some of them I am very ineffective as a first chair leader. You don’t want me in the first chair unless I have some good second chair people around me.

If you want to attract and keep first chair leaders in a second chair position – I hope this post helps.

10 Realities I Would Share with Every Young Leader

By | Call to Ministry, Church, Church Planting, Encouragement, Leadership, Life Plan | 5 Comments

I love working with young leaders. I have to say it’s one of my favorite parts of leading. I have two incredible young leaders as sons. (The picture with this post is with them years ago – taken the day we moved from Tennessee to Kentucky.)

Occasionally, when I am talking to a younger leader something becomes apparent. They often think what they are experiencing is unique. And perhaps more surprising, they think their struggle is no longer mine – like somehow I’ve “outgrown” their struggles as a leader.

After experiencing this numerous times, I was prompted to write a post. These are simply some things you need to understand to be a leader long-term.

Here are 10 realities every young leader needs to know:

At times you will feel overwhelmed.

You know the feeling, right? Like you can’t get it all done and you’re not sure you know where to start. Those feelings don’t ever leave you completely as a leader. There will be seasons where they are stronger than others, but if you’re doing anything of value you will occasionally feel overwhelmed. These times are a part of life – and work. Something you’ll never completely outgrow.

You’ll not always know what to do.

You don’t ever get to a point in life where you’ve learned everything. You get better at some things. Okay, lots of things. Obviously, wisdom and experience has its benefits. But, regardless of your age, if you’re doing anything productive you’ll learn something knew everyday.

Seldom will you be 100% certain.

Whenever you’re making decisions – like the really big decisions of life – you’ll seldom be absolutely, without any reservations, fully convinced it is the absolute best decision. You’ll always have an element of risk in your life. You will be forced to move forward by faith – based on the best information you know at the time (from your own experience and the collective wisdom of others) – then trusting God with what you don’t know.

And this is a good thing. It keeps you grounded and on your knees before God.

Sometimes it’s just for the learning experience.

And this is huge to understand. Perhaps it’s a job you don’t particularly like. Maybe you put all your effort into a project and it doesn’t work – or its not as good as you thought it would be. You might try a new business and the business fails. It’s easy to get frustrated – even to lose hope. But the process will teach you something if you allow it to. And the value of the learning experience may prove to be life-changing for you in years to come. Never miss the life principles intended for you.

You’ll many times feel under-appreciated.

There will be lots of things you do that no one will notice. You may be doing great things – trophy-deserving things. It may appear at times like no one noticed or even cares. And this may not be true. They may simply be living a full life like you are – overwhelmed like you are – and they simply didn’t take the time to let you know how much you are appreciated.

Plus, the more you do something well, the more it becomes expected and the less recognition you receive for it. But all this can leave you feeling under-appreciated if you dwell on it too long. Like all leaders who last, eventually we have to find our reward in the knowledge and personal satisfaction of our work well done as much, if not more, than the public recognition of our work.

People are watching.

If you position yourself to lead in any way, you become a target of spectators. What you do, what you say, and what you post on social media – people are watching. Some will agree. Some will not. Some will agree just to get on your good side, but disappoint them and they will leave. Some will not agree because they are jealous of a leader with an opportunity.

All this said, don’t shy away from people. This never the right response. Just be aware. Be gentle as a dove and wise as a serpent. And, while you have people watching, lead them somewhere noble – better than their current reality. This is what great leaders do!

Learn the words of successful leadership early.

The words of a leader carry great weight. Don’t make it “my” team or your leadership won’t be very successful and no one will buy-in to the team except you. A leader’s words should always be inclusive rather than exclusive. Become a fan of words like “we”, “us” and “ours”. The more you include people, the more they’ll feel included (see how simple this is) and they’ll be more likely to suffer with you for the win. Great teams are shaped by leaders who value the input of everyone on the team.

Sometimes, if we believe in something strong enough, we have to be willing to stand alone.

This a hard reality in a world which tries to force sameness and is critical of anyone who doesn’t follow whatever is “in” at the time. But if you do anything of value – or believe anything strongly enough – sometimes you have to stand single until others catch on or until you find supporters. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t listen to advisers. You should. You should have mentors and be open to constructive criticism. I never make major decisions without the input from others. But don’t give up what you know to be right – especially those things you sense God is calling you to do – because it isn’t popular. Always be willing to admit when you are wrong. Be very humble – never arrogant or self-serving – but stand with courage when you know in your gut you’re right.

Great things start with humble beginnings.

“Do not despise these small beginnings…” (Zechariah 4:10) Don’t be afraid of starting at the bottom and working your way to the top. This is still a viable option – and the reward feels greater when you build something the hard way. The greatest reward often comes when there has been plenty of sweat, tears, and times of waiting.

And never underestimate the power of a moment. One moment can easily change a life.

You have to discipline yourself to decompress.

It’s not usually built-in to the system. During the busy seasons of life – when there’s plenty of work to do and time is of the essence – which is most of our life if we set out to be leaders, you’ll have to discipline yourself – to rest, to re-calibrate, to refocus and to rediscover the passion which once fueled you.

Perhaps to re-connect, if needed, to a deep intimacy with God. You have to discipline for these things. You’ll seldom have a leader above you or a system in place which forces this upon you. And it’s life-essential. Don’t neglect your soul. Never neglect your soul.

These are obviously random, but in my life they’ve become realities. For some of these, if you don’t understand them, you may think something is abnormal about you. Although, I guess another reality I have learned, is there something abnormal about all of us. Enjoy the abnormal part of you also. God makes no mistakes.

7 Steps When You Are Frustrated Enough To Quit, But Can’t

By | Call to Ministry, Church, Leadership | 23 Comments

I was once talking to a staff member of a large church who was so frustrated he was ready to quit. But he couldn’t. For a multiple of reasons, most important the fact he didn’t feel God had released him yet, he knew he was going to be in this position for a season.

He was frustrated because he had given everything he knew how to give, but nothing seemed to matter. He felt under appreciated, under utilized, and unfulfilled. He felt his supervisor never acknowledged his accomplishments and controlled all his efforts. He had tried confronting gently, firmly and directly, but nothing seemed to make things better. He was going home every night wishing he didn’t have to return the next day. He was ready to quit, but, again, he had sensed no release from God in this position and believed he was supposed to stay at the time.

What he was experiencing was not depression, in my opinion. It could have turned into that at some point, if he was not careful, but at the moment it was simply frustration. Severe frustration.

And though the problems were more external than internal – they were work related. they were impacting every other aspect of his life. They always do.

So what should someone do in this situation?

(By the way, I don’t think God always leaves us in situations like this. These times always serve a purpose in our life, but many times God releases us to pursue a healthier environment. Don’t confuse loyalty to a bad leader with obedience to God. They aren’t always the same. That requires walking close enough to God to discern His will.)

There will be times when, apart from any God-calling, the economics, timing or other personal or family situations dictate you stay for now. What do you do then?

Here’s the reality I had to share with him: The truth is we can’t control our environment. We can’t control other people and their reactions to us. We can only control how we respond to life.

Here are a 7 things I encouraged him to do:

Pray – That’s an obvious answer, but it’s the most powerful answer. The question I had for him is have you really prayed? Have you prayed for God to change the circumstances or for Him to change you? There’s a huge difference in those two prayers.

Remember the good times – I keep a file of memories. Notes I’ve received of encouragement. Emails that came at “just the right time”. I store them in a special file and, on especially difficult days, I pull out this file and review better days. My life has been filled with seasons. Some good and some bad. I want to remember the good times when I’m experiencing the bad. And I’m always encouraged looking back that life is seasonal. There will be better days ahead again.

Share your burdens – Now is not the time to be proud. You need some people with whom you can share your burdens. Be honest. Don’t believe the lie that pastors have to live life alone. You don’t. Find someone in another church. Find a trusted leader in the church. Don’t share with a motive to stir trouble and don’t gossip, but be honest. Share your side, not anyone else’s. The goal is to get the support of a listening ear you need. (Don’t be afraid to get professional help if needed.)

Rest – Many times, in my experience, these days come most when we are tired. Our emotions get the best of us. Would it be better to disappear for a short time or disappear altogether? You can’t sustain your best work long-term when you are experiences this level of stress and that will only make your life more miserable. Get away and rest. NOW.

Renew your heart – Remind yourself of the vision to which you were called. You weren’t called to an environment, or the pastor of a church, or even to a church. You were called to a person – Jesus. He loves you. He wants to invest in you. He has a plan for your life. Lean into Him again and allow Him to restore your passion for Him that is bigger than the place where He has you now.

Do the best you can – Do the best work you can within the ministry context you are called to do them. You may not be able to impact the entire church, but you can impact your individual ministry, even if it’s only by impacting the people within your ministry. You’ll need to find your fulfillment in smaller wins right now, but allow those moments in ministry to fuel you and keep you going.

Learn all you can – We learn most in the hardest days. Those aren’t necessarily helpful words to hear in times like this, but they are so incredibly true. Keep a journal of your experiences – what happens and how you feel about them. You will use these insights in the days to come and look back on this as a significant growth experience personally and professionally. If you learn things that make you better later this won’t be a wasted period of your life and ministry, but may even prove to be a valuable period.

That was my advice. (Update – his supervisor has sense moved on to another church and things have greatly improved for him.)

Have you ever been in that kind of situation?

What would you add?

After a great day of teaching…A Lesson for Every Pastor and Leader

By | Call to Ministry, Church, Church Planting, Encouragement, Leadership | 8 Comments

After a great day of teaching, Jesus faced the critics.

And when Jesus had finished these parables, he went away from there, and coming to his hometown he taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works? Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.” And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief. (Matthew 13:53-58 ESV)

It’s interesting to me when this story occurred in the life of Jesus. If you read just prior to this passage, the disciples had finally understood something Jesus taught them. It seems that didn’t happen much in their journey with Jesus. On this occasion, Jesus had just taught them a huge principle. They got it. It was a great day. The best of days. The men He was building into, who would launch the church we know today, understood what was being taught.

That’s a great day for any teacher.

Then suddenly the critics came out of the closet.

(They weren’t really “in the closet”. They never are. They are always watching. Critics are usually the ones waiting in the wings to say, “That won’t work” or “I told you it wouldn’t”. They just appear to sit on the sidelines when things are working, because that fuels nothing they have to say.)

It never seems to fail. I’ve seen it in ministry and marketplace leadership. The best days of life are often followed by some of the darkest days. Monday always follows the weekend. Pastor, deliver your best message and you’ll shortly afterwards find some of your harshest critics. “You should have said it this way.” Deliver the best quarterly sales report and there will be someone who says the business can’t compete in today’s market. Hit an out-of-the-park home run and you’ll find some people ready to stop the ballgame.

Don’t be surprised on those days. Don’t be dismayed. Don’t get distracted from what you are called to do.

Those days can even have value, if you allow them to:

  • They keep us humble.
  • They keep us learning.
  • They keep us on our knees.
  • They keep the glory shining in the rightful place.
  • They keep us appreciative of the good days.

Are you facing the critics – even during the best of days?

Of course you are – you’re trying to be like Jesus, right?

7 Ways to Get a Boss to Notice You

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

I once was asked a genuine question by a young man entering a new job as an entry-level leader. He was ambitious and ready to lead, but his boss didn’t seem to really notice him or his abilities.

His question:

How do I get my boss’s attention?

(First, please know I am not a fan of the word boss. I never enjoy being called that on a team.)

But I thought the question was premature. This young man had been on the job less than a month. I felt his question could come in time, but not one month into a new role. He had so much to learn first. He obviously had attention to get hired. He was referred to me by a friend for advice, though so I wanted to help, but also felt the freedom to be candid with him. I mostly wanted to help him as he began his career.

Not only did I think his question was premature, but I felt he was probably also asking the wrong question. He wanted to do well in his career, wanted to hit the ground running right out of college, but he didn’t feel he had been able yet to get the boss’s full attention. (I use the word boss because that was his word.) I’m not sure at that point in a new job “getting attention” should have been his greatest concern.

Maybe there were other questions of greater value to him long-term that he could have been asking me. Things like, “What are some of the best ways for me to learn this organization?” “What should I try to accomplish in the first 90 days?” “How can I add genuine value as the new person on a team?”

Those seem like better questions.

I did, however, value the fact he was asking a question of any kind. It showed intentionality on his part, which I always appreciate.

I also realize what some of my peers who are my age may be thinking at this point about a young man who comes into a new job and immediately wants attention. They might read what I’ve written so far and think words like arrogance, impatience, or the audacity. And I get that too. But, in candor, I didn’t sense those were this young man’s motivations for the question. I think he really did want to do his best work and prove he was worthy of the hire.

It is true some from younger generations expect to move ahead faster than my generation did. They don’t necessarily understand the term or want to “pay their dues”. They want a seat at the table of leadership today. It is a cultural shift in the workplace. I get that too. I’m not even opposed to it. One of my favorite things to do is to invest in younger leaders and part of that is by giving them a seat at the table. That is how they will best learn.

Plus, in fairness to this guy’s “boss”, it would be hard to judge the system of advancement in such a short time. He may have paid attention to this young leader in time if he did nothing I advised him to do. None of us knew that for sure.

But, again, I appreciated the fact that this young leader wanted to make a difference enough to be noticed, so here was my advice.

If you want your boss to notice you:

Be respectful  – The leader needs to know you recognize and appreciate the position he or she holds. That’s important whether or not you agree with the leader. If he or she doesn’t feel respected you are unlikely to gain any attention.

Be consistent – Do your best work consistency over time. That almost always leads to respect.

Be resourceful – Especially today and in this economy, leaders are having to find ways to do more with less. Help that happen and you are practically guaranteed a seat at the table.

(I love 1 Kings 11:28. “Now the man Jeroboam was capable, and Solomon noticed the young man because he was getting things done.” Of course, there is so much more to that story, but the point is what gained Solomon’s attention – getting things done.)

Be responsive – Responsiveness is rare these days. Answer emails promptly. Be on time. Follow through on commitments.

Be attentive – Things change fast. If you are aware of the times and can help the organization move forward quicker you become a valuable commodity on the team.

Be resilient – Do you wear your feelings on your sleeves? Are you always questioning another person’s motives? Would you be considered paranoid? Are you afraid of taking a risk? Those are not welcoming attitudes that invite you a position to the table.

Be exceptional – Normal is – well – normal. Exceptional is rare. If you want to truly set yourself apart – if you want to be noticed and advance in leadership – you have to rise above normal. The key is to give your best to a day’s work everyday. Have a good attitude about your work and the team with whom you serve. Serve and love others and the organization with everything you have to give.

Do you catch the “subtleties” in this post?

My best advice to gaining the attention of your boss:

Do great work

And when you do that consistently over time you’ll get lots of attention.

Anything you would add?

How I Made the Transition from the Corporate World To Ministry World

By | Call to Ministry, Church Planting, Church Revitalization, Leadership | 3 Comments

It’s probably the question I get asked most often. I got it last week from a man who is a practicing CPA and a successful entrepreneur, but feels something is missing in his life. He’s highly skilled in the corporate world, but has always felt this certain calling to full-time vocational ministry. The problems is he doesn’t quite know how to make the transition from one world to the other.

How does he enter vocational ministry, such as get a job on a church staff, and, ultimately, continue to support his family financially?

I get the question all the time. I wish I had a formula and a good answer. I don’t.

My story has a simple answer. 

I jumped.

I jumped with two feet into the vocational ministry world. One day my resume had me in the corporate world where I had gone up the ranks in a large corporation, been a small business owner (twice) and served in an elected office – the next day my vocation was in the ministry world. I took a Joshua 3 leap of faith. (You can look up the reference, but basically God told priests carrying the ark of God to cross a body of water, but God made the priests get in the water before He parted the water.)

I didn’t have a position or title. I had no guarantee of a paycheck – and we didn’t have a large “nest egg” in the bank. My wife and I didn’t even know what I would be doing or how we would support our two young sons or pay our mortgage. We simply knew God was responsible for my employment for that next (and current) season of my life. It didn’t make sense at the time, but God did.

It was actually very freeing. I had been wrestling for 8 months after the sale of a business. The “jump” allowed me to focus on what I could do and I got out of the way of God doing what only He could do. That first week I began “working for God” someone I knew called me about a church looking for a pastor to help them revitalize. It was almost an hour from my house and, at the time, I didn’t see myself as a pastor, so I committed a year to help them. They paid me half our estimated budget and we raised the rest. (Actually God mysteriously raised the rest from people we never asked for money.)

We left that church not knowing where we would go next, but another group of people, a little further from our house, called and asked me to help them start/plant a church. We didn’t feel led to move our boys so I committed 2 years to help them. After that we planted another church and helped revitalize another – and there are long stories attached to each one, but that’s our story.

It hasn’t ever been “easy”, but God has been so incredibly faithful. Each time we have sensed God doing something new He has provided. In this new season at Leadership Network (which was another jump of faith) we get to be involved with thousands of churches and we feel the hand of God moving ahead of us again. And He remains faithful.

Again, I’m asked how I made the transition so many times. Now you know a part of our story. I always feel, however, there is more I need to share if you are in a similar wrestling time with God.

A few considerations I would share from my story to yours:

Your story won’t be mine. Don’t try to judge your situation by anyone else’s. I have only found one story of a burning bush in my Bible. Or a Damascus Road transformation. Or a prostitute who protected the men that were spying the land.

Don’t discount the voices of others. I had countless people trying to speak into my life when I was “wrestling” after the sale of a business. Many people, including my wife, saw what I couldn’t see – or didn’t try to see. One man had the nerve and boldness to push me in the right places just when I need him to do so and challenged me to make the jump. I’m thankful for each gentle nudge and the not so subtle shoves.

You may need connections to land a “church job”. For me, the first call came from nowhere. Literally. I didn’t see it coming. But, it was someone who knew me (although he didn’t know my current situation), thought I’d be a good fit to help the first church, and called me to see if I would be interested. In my experience, God usually works through other people in whom He has also been working in their life.

You may be doing the “ministry” you’re supposed to be doing. This may be the biggest word you need to hear. Don’t discount what you are doing today. I wish someone had told me when I was in the business world that what I was doing was just as important as a Kingdom-role to what I would ever do in vocational ministry. I wish someone in professional vocational ministry had given me “permission” to be on mission in the places where I was already working.

If you need someone to give you that permission let me be that voice in your life today. God’s plan for you may still be in the corporate world. Oh, how we need marketplace missionaries – who see their work as Kingdom work. We need men and women who see themselves in ministry, yet remain in the corporate world.

Or, like me, God may have an assignment for you in the local church – or in a non-profit like the one where I serve now. If so – if that is His plan – He will provide the path in His time. In the meantime, keep serving Him wherever you are. That’s the most important point of this post.

If you’re wrestling – keep wrestling. Finding out what God has for you is always worth it. 

And, if God makes it clear to you, don’t be afraid to jump.

The Absolute Biggest Mistake I’ve Made in Life

By | Call to Ministry, Children, Church, Encouragement, God, Life Plan | 18 Comments

One of our boys has always been a deep thinker. When he was 3 years old watching a movie with him was a chore, because he would analyze every aspect of the plot. We would try to explain to him it was only a cartoon without a ton of hidden meanings, but it was never enough. Even today, he’s the analyzer of life – often the over-analyzer. He asks the deep questions.

Personally, he takes after me. I’m a questioner too and believe it’s been a help to me in life, ministry and leadership. But he’s much deeper than I am.

The best questions get the best answers.

So it was not surprising one day when he was an early teenager – seemingly out of nowhere Nate asked, Daddy, what’s the biggest mistake you’ve ever made in your life?”

I didn’t have to think long.

We had owned a very successful, fast-growing business. We stood to make lots of money in the years ahead. We sold that business to buy another. It was devastating. If it could go wrong it did.

Although it’s a very long story and we felt we were doing the right thing at the time, it proved to be a very painful five year experience until we sold the business, basically walking away with nothing and starting over again financially.

I told Nate (I call him Nathaniel) that selling one successful business and buying the other business was obviously the biggest mistake of my life.

Nate countered quickly, “Yea, but you’ve said you probably would have never surrendered to ministry had that experience not occurred.

You’re right,” I replied. “I was too busy chasing a dream. God worked it for good. But, that was definitely my biggest mistake in life.”

As I said, I’m an analyzer too, so several days later, while I was in a time of prayer, Nate’s question came to my mind. I decided to ask God about it. In my prayer, I remember saying something such as, “God, why did you allow me to make the biggest decision of my life? I would have followed you if you had made it clear. Why couldn’t you let me do it another way? That was such a difficult time in our life.

(It was one of those rare pity parties I had with God. Don’t be afraid to have them. He understands.)

God seemed to interrupt me before I could continue. Now please understand, I have never heard God audibly. I’d love to say He speaks to me everyday, but there have been a few times where I am certain I heard the impression of God on my heart – where I know God “spoke” clearly to me. This was one of those times.

(As a side note, these times will always line up with truth from God’s word. God will never contradict Himself.)

Anyway, I sensed God say, “Ron (I’m so glad He knows my name), your biggest mistake was not buying that business.”

I was surprised. I figured it must not be God to hear such a reply. So, I snapped back, almost as if I was sarcastically speaking to my own false thoughts, “Oh really, well then what was the biggest mistake of my life? Because I can’t think of one bigger.”

God interrupted again.

“Ron, your biggest mistake was following your will in your life and not mine.”

And then God was silent.

Point made. Point accepted. I had no more questions. And God apparently had nothing else to say at the moment.

The truth is many had seen what God was doing in my life – including my wife, but I had ignored them continually replying we are all “called to ministry” – which I still believe is true. But I resisted the surrender to vocational ministry for many years.

God’s counsel that morning has proven true so many times, as I reflect back over my life and the decisions I have made. The greatest failures in my life always seem to be a result of when I do what I want to do rather than what God wants me to do.

Here’s hoping someone learns from my mistakes.