7 Suggestions for the First 7 Years of Marriage

By | Encouragement, Family, Marriage | 5 Comments

I’ve written previously about the first seven years of marriage. We don’t know why necessarily — I have some theories — but the years between 6 and 8 of marriage are often the most difficult. It seems so many marriages fail in the 7th year.

It makes sense then that protecting the marriage during those years is critical. And it doesn’t take 7 years. I have lost count of the couples who are struggling — and ready to call it quits — just a few years into the marriage.

The way a marriage starts helps to protect the long-term health of the marriage. I believe the attention we place on new marriages in our churches is critically important.

Based on my experience, I have some specific advice for new marriages. Our first 7 years of marriage are long past, but if we had it to do over, there are some things I’d make sure we did as a couple to get a good, solid start.

Here are 7 things we would do in our first 7 years of marriage:

Recruit a mentoring couple. We would find a couple further along in years of experience and who seem to have a marriage like we wanted and ask to spend time with them. We tend to become like the people we hang around most. All couples could use mentors who can talk them through the rough patches that all marriages face.

Invest financially in the marriage. Keep dating. It could be a sack lunch at the park or a 5-Star steak dinner or a weekend in Paris depending on your income level, but we would just do fun stuff. Stay active. Boredom is one of the leading causes of marriage failure.

Protect your budget. The last one is important, but so is this one. You’ll need to balance the two. Debt causes huge problems in a marriage. And it’s easier to avoid as you build than after you’ve accumulated it. You don’t have to have everything now. (Let me say that again.) You don’t have to have everything now. It’s not the key to a happy marriage. But eliminating the major distractions is a key to a strong marriage. Money problems are a leading cause of marriage trouble. We would get an agreed upon budget (and that’s key), and discipline ourself to live it.

Set a schedule. Life has a way of sucking time from us. It becomes very difficult for busy couples, especially once children come along, to find time to be together. Yet it’s critical. Don’t neglect your time together. We would set a routine of intentional weekly time for just the two of us.

Limit outside interruptions. In-laws. Friends. Work. They can all get in the way. Sure, they love you. They want their time with you. Let’s be honest, though, some of them also want to control your life. Don’t believe that other people will work to protect your marriage as much as you will. They won’t. The two of you are creating one unit. If we were starting over we would guard our marriage from any undue pressure.

Be active in church. Sounds selfish. I admit that. But it’s also being strategic. You need community and especially a healthy community that can be there for you when things go wrong. And things will go wrong. You’ll need a community of faith around you. And you won’t know how much you need them until you need them. We would — and we did — commit to a strong church community.

Talk. Lots. Many times couples become so comfortable with one another that they fail to communicate at deeper levels. This becomes very common in the first years of a marriage. Routines and familiarity set in and the couple assumes they already know all there is to know about each other. I have talked to so many couples who just don’t communicate anymore. Or one spouse thinks they do and the other spouse thinks they don’t. They don’t share the details of each other’s day and life — their deeper, unspoken thoughts. The better you learn to communicate — the stronger the marriage will be. The best way to improve communication is with practice. We would practice this one a lot.

Of course, I’m pretty sure it’s not too late on any of these — even if you’re past the first seven years.

Those are just a few suggestions. Do you have more?

A Principle That Changes Every Relationship

By | Children, Encouragement, Family, Marriage | 6 Comments

It’s a simple principle, but oh so important to remember.

It’s a principle true in leadership and life.

When you don’t remember it you fail to get the results you expect as a leader and people are frustrated with your leadership.

But the same is true in so many other relationships.

Here’s the principle. Write this one down.

People only know what they know.

It’s unfair to hold an employee accountable for something they never knew.

You can’t expect your spouse to remember things you never told him or her.

It’s hard to be disappointed no one comforted you in your pain if they didn’t know you were hurting.

Your child can’t live up to a standard you never set.

People only know what they know.

And the solution is simple. If you want them to know -‘don’t assume they do -‘tell them.

Who are you holding to an expectation you’ve never shared with them?

7 Ways to Protect Your PK – Pastor’s Kid – in Ministry

By | Children, Church, Family, Marriage | 16 Comments

I’ve written extensively about protecting the family in ministry. My wife has occasionally guest posted about the unique role of the pastor’s wife on this blog. Some of the comments I receive are well taken. I am basically asked “What about the PK’s? Who is looking out for them? Many disappear from the church as adults.”

PK = Pastor’s Kids.

I hear you. I have addressed the issue generally, as a family, but I haven’t written extensively about protecting children in ministry.

I am aware, however, the issue of the commenter’s concern. I’m blessed my PK’s survived ministry well. Both of my boys are very active in the church. One works for a private company, but mostly in the Christian sector, and the other is in full-time ministry. I understand, however, this is a problem for many pastors and their families.

By the time some pastor’s children reach adulthood they are often done with church – actually they are more done with the busyness and politics of church – and they want little or nothing to do with it. So, they sit on the sidelines of ministry – if they attend church at all.

Honestly, as much as I have heard it talked about, at least within my circles of ministry, it is more rare than it is a norm for the pastor’s children to not be active in church. I probably know more pastors who have children active in church than I know those who have children who have disappeared. I don’t know the statistics – please share them in the comments if you do – but if we could avoid damaging any child growing up in the ministry world I think we should.

That’s the purpose of this post. And it’s addressed to the pastor and the church.

Here are 7 suggestions for protecting your PK:

Level the expectations – Hold your children to Biblical standards. Train them well. Discipline appropriately. You hopefully teach it and you should parent what you teach. But don’t be surprised when your children aren’t perfect. They aren’t anymore than you are – or anyone else’s children.

Let them be kids – Don’t expect them to care as much about ministry as you do when they are – SEVEN or even seventeen. They might. Mine did to a certain extent – on certain days. And then other days they just wanted to shoot basketballs in the church gym while I went on church visitation.

Live what you preach – If you want them to appreciate the ministry, let them see you, the pastor, as authentic. Authenticity means you are in private who you claim to be in public. And chances are good they are observing both. They’ll respect you when you are equally transparent and honest with how you live your life on Sundays and through the week. And the more they respect you – the more they can respect the ministry. Remember, their primary concept of ministry is you.

Protect your time at home – When you are home – be home. This is HUGE! Let voicemail and email inbox do their thing. Put down the computer. Say no to outside interruptions. There will always be exceptions in the role of a pastor, but they should be rare, not common place. The children need to know you value your time with your spouse and them even more than your time with others.

Be their parent more than their pastor – You may be their pastor, but first they need a parent. I actually found others on staff, or even pastor friends in other churches, were sometimes better at being their pastor anyway. No one could replace my role as parent.

Give them roles as they desire – My boys helped launch a youth group. They led at camps. They worked with children and preschoolers. But I never forced it. I let them serve where they wanted to serve. Interestingly, when the idea was their’s, they seemed more likely to want to be involved.

Let them do ministry with you – My boys went to committee meetings. Staff meetings. Visitations. I took my boys on mission trips. Unless it was a highly confidential meeting for the parties involved, I gave them access to my calendar. They got to appreciate what I do as a pastor – not resent it because I wasn’t home. Again, this was voluntary not mandatory.

Someone is wondering why I didn’t put anything about my personal walk with Christ as one of the points. Well, hopefully this is understood in the role of a pastor and a believer. But yes, of course. Consider it understood this is number one for every question of how to do ministry effectively. Your children will likely never grow stronger in their faith than you are modeling for them.

Pastors – or even better – PK’s – anything else you’d recommend?

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.

7 Ways We Tried To Parent with Grace

By | Children, Family, Parenting | 10 Comments

Cheryl and I had a model for our parenting.

Whenever I say that to people they hear “complicated”. It wasn’t. We aren’t complicated people.

Simply put, we attempted to implement grace into our home.

Our boys are now grown, and one has children of his own, and we have seen the fruit from our methods. We have two amazing sons. They love Jesus, they serve others, and they respect their parents. (And, they are self-supported. That’s a good thing.)

Our heart is now to help other parents learn from things we did wrong and things we did right.

Grace-based parenting is one thing I believe we did right.

For an easy definition: Grace-based parenting attempts to parent children the way God parents us — by grace.

It makes sense to me that if God leads us by grace we should lead our children by grace. I read in the Scriptures that grace teaches, graces protect, grace encourages, and grace redeems. Grace even disciplines and corrects.

Oh, the power of grace.
We are not under the law — but grace.

Grace-based parenting does not mean we let our children do whatever they want to do. It doesn’t mean there were no rules in my house. (My boys would say Amen to the last sentence.) It didn’t mean we released them to sin.

The apostle Paul dealt with these same concerns regarding grace-based living. (Romans 6:1-2)

To the contrary, I actually believe grace-parenting has led to a stronger walk with the Lord for each of the boys. They are now young men, honoring Christ (and their parents) with their lives.

Basically with grace-based parenting we had some basic principles with which we parented. We considered these often.

Here are 7 ways to parent with grace:

Set clear boundaries.

Children need to know what is expected of them and what the limits are in the home. They will test these — primarily because they intrinsically want to know how real they are. When they do, enforce the boundaries, but do it with grace.

For example, one of these boundaries for us was respect. My boys could speak openly and honestly about anything with us — anything — but I expected them to respect Cheryl and me in the way they responded and talked to us. Another solid boundary was honesty. Punishment was more severe if they did wrong and lied about it than if they confessed.

Recognize the individuality of the child.

You can’t parent all children the same and expect the same results. Some children require more structure than others do. Make sure the boundaries set are appropriate for the needs of the child.

One of our boys needed more structure than the other boy. His boundaries had to be more defined. He also needed illustrations to help explain to him the boundaries. The other boy just needed a clear destination — a path for him. He would get there in his own way.

Have certain goals.

I am not sure our boys ever knew, but we had goals for them every year for improvement.

For example, we concentrated on building their patience. We tried to encourage more honesty in them. Basically, we talked about where we saw our boys — what we saw they needed — and together we planned an intentional effort. That was grace to them — as we intentionally imparted truth into them by stories, Scripture and by example — even when they just thought we were throwing a ball together.

Major on the majors, not the minors.

This is huge. There should be some things, which everyone understands are non-negotiable items. We tended to let these be moral or Biblical issues, such as lying, cheating, disrespect, etc. If the issue affects the child’s character then it is a major issue. These major issues are handled sternly and thoroughly.

Of course, they are still handled with love, but we made sure the boys knew we were very serious about them. The minor issues — those which do not affect the child’s character, are not to be ignored, but can be handled less severely. Leaving clothes on the floor or forgetting to take out the trash may feel “major” at the time, but it isn’t likely going to help determine who they are as a person years from now. This will eliminate much of the “nagging” children often feel parents do.

Consider the heart.

We always tried to determine the reasons behind our boy’s actions before deciding on discipline. A pure heart was always treated differently from a rebellious heart. Remember you are trying to mold a character for life. Scripture says that we should monitor and protect the heart above everything else. (Proverbs 4:23)

If your child’s heart is pure and wants to do the right thing, instructing them in the way they should go may be better than harsh discipline. If their heart is bent on rebellion that should be handled much stricter.

Give multiple chances and forgive easily.

God has given Cheryl and me so many chances. Shouldn’t we do the same for our children — especially if we want to model the heart of God for our children? After punishment is decided upon, make sure the child understands why they are being punished. You may not be able to fully explain at the time, but go back to the child afterwards to make sure you have not broken their spirit or closed their heart to you.

Children should always know that you love them, that you would never forsake them, even when they have done something wrong. They should never question your commitment to them even in your anger. Give love liberally, just as God gives it to us.

Be a “fun” parent.

Children should enjoy having a good time with you. That’s true even when they aren’t fully living up to your standards. You want your children giving you access to their lives later in life.

We wanted our boys to honestly be able to say they lived in a fun house. At the same time, we wanted to witness their character being molded into the image of Christ. We laughed so much in our house and under this model. There were rarely days where life was no fun in our home, even during some of the most stressful times in our lives as parents.

There will be some days that are no fun, but if children are living within the boundaries of your home, don’t take the stress of your world out on them. When you’re home — be home — and have a good time being there.

Our boys quickly learned the concept of grace as they grew in our home. They understood that we were holding them to high standards, but that we would extend to them lots of grace.

One of My Most Repeated Principles of Leadership – and Life – Which Can Make Your Life Better

By | Change, Church, Family, Innovation, Leadership, Organizational Leadership | 15 Comments

How’s this for a title? One principal for a better life? Really?

Yea! Really.

And, it is a very simple principle – one every leader knows, but one we often forget. But understanding this principle can dramatically improve every relationship in your life – and, if you’re a leader, it will improve your leadership – every time. Guaranteed!

Wow! Another emphatic statement! But, it’s true.

Learn this principle and place it into practice and see what I mean. Our staff hears this consistently because it’s so true.

Here’s the principle:

Are you ready?

Write this down:

People only know what they know.

I know what you’re thinking. That’s big.

It’s not just big – it’s

HUGE

Of course, it takes practice to learn and let a principle this important work in your life, but the reward is worth it.

Let me give some examples:

If an employee isn’t meeting your expectations – tell them. Do it with love. Do it gracefully. Share it in a way which attempts to build them up rather than tear them down, but they may think you’re completely pleased if you’ve not said anything.

People only know what they know.

If your spouse is continually hurting your feelings – be kind, be loving, be graceful, forgiving, and helpful, but let it be known. Communicate your feelings. Chances are they are not doing whatever “it” is on purpose, but out of ignorance. They don’t know.

People only know what they know.

If a child says the wrong thing at the wrong time – Be affirming. Make sure they know you love them first. Assure them you’re in their corner and “for them” either way, but teach them from the experience you have had in life. Likely, someone had to teach you.

People only know what they know.

If a boss seems completely out of touch with reality – guess what? He or she may be. They probably need others to speak into their life. Be respectful. Be kind. Be genuine. Don’t share with others until you’ve shared with them, but share what’s on your heart with love.

People only know what they know.

If a new believer doesn’t measure up to the standard you’ve set for a believer. Don’t bash them or judge them or make them feel more guilty than they possibly do. Love them. Disciple them. Help them understand the way Christ would act. It may be they don’t hold or even know the standard Christ set.

People only know what they know.

Insert your own scenario, but before you get upset with someone – before you lose your patience – before you hold it against them – before you give up on a relationship – remember:

People only know what they know.

When people don’t know – and we assume they do – it leads to frustration, anger and disappointment. Communication is key to healthy relationships.

How could implementing this principle change some relationships in your life?

7 New Year Resolutions Which Could Change Your World

By | Christians, Culture, Encouragement, Family, Life Plan | 16 Comments

Whether or not you do New Year resolutions, we could all stand to improve some things in our life. And, if we do, I’m confident we could also improve the life of others.

In fact, with a whole lot of improving – it might become contagious – and we might just change the world.

Here are 7 new year resolutions which could change the world:

Let’s resolve to begin everyday with a prayer, a smile, and a humility check.

A 3 part checklist. What if we woke up every morning and began by talking to God – recognizing His power and asking Him to direct our steps, make sure our smile is our attitude, and humbly enter the world not expecting anything other than to be a blessing? It will require discipline – but how we begin a day almost always determines how we end one.

Let’s resolve to return evil with good.

It won’t be easy. In fact, it will be hard. A grudge or sarcastic remark seems so much more fulfilling – in the moment. But, over time, it causes more harm than good – mostly to us – often even more than “them”. Imagine your world when you influence others by how you don’t respond when they “push your buttons” the wrong way.

Let’s resolve to never let the sun go down on anger.

Anger emotions grow overnight. They blossom into more intense anger emotions. We may not be able to resolve all disagreements, but we can drop the right to get even and resolve to be at peace as much as it depends on us. We will awake with level ground to build better, healthier relationships with others. Oh, what a world it would be if we had less anger.

Let’s resolve not use social media as a forum to bash others.

Or even as a forum period. It divides people rather than bringing them together. Let’s resolve for a kinder, gentler Facebook – rant-free even – where we simply stalk – I mean check in on old friends. Let’s act like people – real people -may actually see what we write. And care. And, let’s post in a way which encourages and builds each other up – almost like that’s in the Bible somewhere. (It might even be somewhere around 1 Thessalonians 5:11 – check me on this one.)

Let’s resolve to develop our patience muscle.

Wow! I put this one in the middle so maybe you (or my wife) would skip over it quickly. Just kidding. This is one I need – we all need. I’m not sure we can completely master it this year, but, with intentionality – and Christ’s strength – we can keep getting better. What if we thought about the most common things which test our patience – such as the traffic on the drive home at night – and we asked God to help us deal with it before we experience it – each time? Just a thought.

Let’s resolve to remember it’s not about us.

This one alone would surely change the world. What if we placed into our schema – into our immediate thought process – a simple understanding – OTHER PEOPLE MATTER – just as much as we do? Does it make a difference when you think someone values you? Of course it does. What if we valued others and demonstrated to them by how we treat them, what we say to them, our facial expressions, or even our thoughts toward them? Think it might change a few of our relational encounters this year? I think it might. Certainly seems worth trying.

Let’s resolve to listen more than we speak.

Ouch – if needed! It’s hard to value others when we are doing all the talking. (It’s also hard to hear from God.) It requires an act of humility when we remain silent at times we want to speak. Many times disagreements, arguments, even serious issues like prejudism or racism, have more to do with misunderstanding or miscommunication than anything. When we listen we demonstrate value – but, it also guards the tongue, protects relationships, and we might actually learn something.

Of course, ultimately the change the world needs is the Gospel, but who knows? Maybe if we change the way we treat others – including other believers – others might actually want to hear our Gospel.

I realize I’m simple-minded – but I do, henceforth, resolve.

Who’s with me?

Writing a Simple Life Plan, Part 5

By | Change, Culture, Encouragement, Family, Leadership, Life Plan, Vision | 23 Comments

It’s day 5 of our life planning series. This week we’ve attempted to take it step-by-step, in a simple format, to write a plan that will help us achieve some specific goals for the new year. If you missed any of these posts, be sure to catch up by reading:

Step 1

Step 2

Step 3

Step 4

Today we have our final step…and it’s a good one…in fact…it’s my favorite….

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Writing a Simple Life Plan, Part 4

By | Encouragement, Family, Leadership, Life Plan, Vision | 9 Comments

We’ve been writing a life plan this week. I hope you are following along and writing your own plan. I’m looking forward to hearing the goals you have and the success you see in attaining them. I have tried to keep it simple, hoping that will improve your chances of following through to completion. If you’ve missed any of them, be sure and read

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Today we add another step in the process

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