Senin, 30 Januari 2017

Guarding Your Schedule (and Soul) In the New Year – Part 1

Guarding Your Schedule (and Soul) In the New Year – Part 1

Senior couple cooking togetherby Ted Cunningham
The transition from December to January catches me off guard every year. December prioritizes family gatherings, travel, downtime, and food. January prioritizes goal setting, planning, work and weight loss. In the first few days of January we hear people say, “It’s good to get back to some routine.” “I’m tired of sitting around and the kids are going stir crazy.” “I’m looking forward to getting this next year started.”
We focus at the beginning of the year on what we need to get started. As we plan for the organizational needs of the church, our tendency is to add more, plan more, and schedule more rather than make the most of what we have already committed. January is the perfect time of year to pause and ask, “What are we doing? What’s working? What’s not working?” Every ministry and program of the church requires an investment of time. Stewardship is more than financial responsibility. We must also steward our time and energy. Let’s consider our time and use it wisely.
  1. W. Tozer once wrote, “Time is a resource that is nonrenewable and nontransferable. You cannot store it, slow it up, hold it up, divide it up, or give it up. You can’t hoard it up or save it for a rainy day—when it’s lost it is unrecoverable. When you kill time, remember that it has no resurrection.”
God wants us to pursue ministry and enjoy a life in which time is not the enemy. We say things like “I wish I could have more time,” “Sorry, but we’re out of time,” “Where has the time gone?” and “Time sure flies.” We like to max out our lives and make the most of every minute and opportunity. In error, we squeeze out the margin to get the most out of life. We run too fast. We do too much. Hurry kills the soul and the family.
Time is an investment. Investing is all about saving rather than spending. How we use our time today affects how well tomorrow will go. Billy Graham, in a message on time, said, “More than seventy-five years ago Henry Luce wanted a name, in just one word, for a weekly newsmagazine that would describe the passing events of the day. He chose the word ‘time’. The Bible says, ‘The days of our lives are seventy years’ (Psalm 90:10, NKJV). Time is a mystery. We sense its passing in our consciousness. We measure its progress with delicately adjusted instruments. We mark its flight and read the record it leaves behind.” He went on to say, “To the Christian, time has a moral significance and a spiritual meaning. . . . What are we doing with it? Are we frittering it away, letting it slip through our fingers, squandering it in wanton waste? Or are we treasuring it, using it to maximum advantage, filling every minute with sixty seconds’ worth of service to God?”
The Bible never uses the term “time management.” Instead, it speaks of “redeeming” the time. Pacing ourselves, rather than controlling time. Paul writes, “See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15-16, NKJV).
The most important thing to know about time is that it is limited. Armed with that truth, the most important question you and I must begin asking is “What am I going to say no to?” Delayed gratification is saying no to something now in the hopes of something better later.
Many will start dieting this month in an attempt to get physically healthy. Pastors are prone to saying yes to everyone and every need. Your emotional and spiritual health begins by trimming your calendar, saying no to members who have excessive emotional reliance on you and saying yes to activities and disciplines that will keep you full of life. Leave room in your schedule for God to work in your soul. Warning: Once you start maintaining a healthy soul, those with unhealthy souls will begin to resent you and demand more from you. Be on guard from those who seek to drain you. Jesus is your source of life, not your congregation!
In Part 2 of Guarding Your Schedule (and Soul) in the New Year, we’ll look at some practical ways to maintain margin and rhythm and plan a calendar that leaves plenty of room for emotional and spiritual health. Your longevity in ministry depends on it!

Guarding Your Schedule (and Soul) In the New Year

Guarding Your Schedule (and Soul) In the New Year – Part 2

Couple in Parkby Ted Cunningham
In Part 1 of “Guarding Your Schedule (and Soul) in the New Year” we saw how God wants us to pursue ministry and enjoy a life in which time is not the enemy. Hurry kills the soul and the family so we want to pace ourselves and redeem the time. Your longevity in your marriage, family and ministry depends on it!
There is one thing every marriage and family needs. Without it, our children crash and burn emotionally and physically. We are less productive when we don’t get enough of it. Too much of it and some might consider us lazy. Know what it is? It is rest – and we all need it.
Margin is a term we started using more often in the church a few years ago. It means room to breathe. It’s a reserve. We have all been there when we are driving on fumes and can’t find a gas station. Panic and anxiety set in, and we feel helpless. Smart drivers keep a little fuel in the tank at all times. It’s called a reserve. Margin is a lot like a car fueled with reserves. It’s when we refuse to run on fumes.
Margin is the space between your load and your limit. As a dad and pastor, I have often allowed my load to exceed my limit, saying “yes” to every request for a meeting or counseling appointment, “yes” to every invitation to speak, “yes” to every party or meal invite. It wasn’t until a much older and wiser pastor asked me, “Who is holding a gun to your head?” that I woke up to how I was living. He taught me that if I don’t get a hold of my schedule, someone else will. I am a much happier pastor, husband, and dad because I learned the big word “No!”
Being marginless is when you allow your load to exceed your limit. The key word there is you, not load or limit. Admit it, when you first read that line, load and limit jumped out at you. You missed the “you.” We must take personal responsibility for the way we invest our time, the amount of margin we allow, and the rest we get. We are responsible for our load. Don’t allow your load to be dictated by anyone else. After all, only you know your limit. There’s not another person on the planet who understands your limit. You feel when you’ve had enough people time. You know when you better get alone and re-center before you go all “postal.” No one knows you better than you. Your limit is what determines your necessary margin. Good “time redeeming” leaves a little margin in your daily plan. We all need margin and rest.
Since when did I start thinking I was better than God? He rested after creating for six days. Jesus ministered, and then he rested.
God knew we would rebel against the whole idea of rest, so he had to command it: “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy” (Exodus 20:8). Holy means set apart. We are not to treat the Sabbath like every other day of the week. It needs a different rhythm. “Six days you shall labor and do all your work” (verse 9). For six days God says to work and provide for your family. He wants us to be productive. He has given us the Sabbath to make us more productive. “But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work” (verse 10). You need to slow down your pace and that of your spouse and your children, and you need to find rest and relax.
A Sabbath does not mean a day off. It means a day of rest. Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27, NLT). The Sabbath is a gift to us. This, my friend, is for your benefit.
Start by saying “No” to time robbers. The demands and expectations of others are the greatest of all time robbers. As a pastor I admit that the church can be quite guilty of this. Woodland Hills is a family church, and one of the things we have guarded more than anything else is family time. It would be crazy to say we support the family and then ask people to be at the church four or five times a week. But here’s the rub. Everything we ask our congregation to take part in involves great ministry opportunity. Feed the poor, attend a Bible study, serve the recovery program, teach kids on Sunday morning—all great opportunities, but not opportunities anyone needs to say “yes” to every time.
We say “no” to really great stuff. But we also say “no” to a bigger and better “yes.” No matter what your role, be careful of the time robbers. Time is the most precious commodity you have. Benjamin Franklin put it best when he said, “Do not squander time, for it is the stuff life is made of.”
How precious is your time? To realize the value of one year, ask a student who failed a grade. To realize the value of one month, ask a mother who gave birth to a premature baby. How valuable is an hour? Ask the man or woman whose flight was delayed by that much, causing him to miss an important business deal. How about one minute? Ask the man who had the heart attack in a restaurant and was saved by an EMT proficient in CPR who happened to be sitting at the next table. Does a second mean much to you? It does to the person who barely missed a head-on collision with an oncoming car. Surely a millisecond isn’t a big deal—unless you’re the Olympic swimmer who missed qualifying by six-tenths.
Time is precious. Let’s be careful with the number of times we say “Yes” in a week. Your family and church need a healthy pastor ministering from a healthy soul.

What’s Different About A Pastor’s Marriage?

What’s Different About A Pastor’s Marriage?

couple-smiling-at-each-otherby John McGee
You have seen the stats and heard the stories about how difficult marriages can be for those in the pastorate. Have you ever wondered what makes a pastor’s marriage different than the rest of the population? I was asked this question by a group of people preparing for ministry and here’s some of what I shared with them.
There are no unique rules for a great marriage. Great marriages are always comprised of things like good communication, fun, intimacy, quality time, humility, and conflict resolution. Pastors know those things because they teach them to others. What I’ve learned is that once you can teach something you can begin to think you are an exception to the rule. Those in ministry are not exempt because they are eloquent or smart, and God hasn’t changed the laws of relationships for them just because they serve Him. When thinking about what makes a pastor’s marriage different, perhaps the most important thing to remember is that the same rules of marriage apply to everyone. If pastors want a great marriage they will need to apply the same advice they give their congregants.
Although I started with the fact that a pastor’s marriage in many ways is not different, there are a few unique aspects I felt they should know as they were preparing for ministry.
Pastors do carry unique pressures. An occupational hazard of ministry can be the emotional weight pastors carry because there is always someone who needs them. Other occupations have pressures of deadlines or the volume of work, but there is something different and emotionally taxing about carrying the pain of others. Pastors encounter unique pressures that can impact their marriage, and they must learn how to deal with them. The answer for everyone will be different, but personally I’ve found that rituals can be helpful. As I drive home I pray through the difficult issues and people I am dealing with. I affirm that God is in control, and that He cares more about the people and situations than I do. I then imagine myself entrusting these people and situations to Him. I also trust that He will help me be present and engaged with my family and pray for energy and focus for my time with them. I told this group preparing for ministry that in every occupation, they would have to learn to balance work and family, but, as a pastor, they would also have to learn to deal with the emotional weight, or it would impact their marriage. I also encouraged them to continually ask their spouse if they were emotionally present at home.
Spouses also have unique challenges. Much has been written to men about how to protect their wives from the demands of the church and how to keep the congregation from feeling like the pastor’s wife is free labor. There is no doubt that a wife who feels she is there simply to support the pastor or be at the beck and call of the congregation will eventually become embittered toward the church and her husband. A wise husband will clearly communicate to the congregation that he is a team with his wife but that he is the only employee. I’ve also noticed that often the wife supports the husband’s ministry but there isn’t always reciprocation. This year one of my goals is to support my wife’s personal ministry. She has always done a great job helping me with my more public ministry but she really loves to encourage others one-on-one. One of my goals this year is to celebrate and support her ministry, which is more private, just as much as she supports my ministry, which is more public. Not realizing the unique pressures on your spouse can negatively impact your marriage but lovingly addressing them can actually be a big win for your marriage.
Your marriage presents a unique opportunity. Personally I love being a pastor and being married. Most days my wife would say the same about being married to a pastor. I love the way we get to pray for and see life change. I love that together we are doing something that will matter in eternity, and I love that our marriage actually impacts others. When my wife and I speak, I am amazed how often people will say something like, “I really appreciated what you said, but my biggest takeaway was watching the way you both related to each other. God convicted me that I need to be kinder and more respectful to my wife (or husband).” While there are many unique challenges of being married and in the ministry, I also think there are many unique opportunities and blessings if you are willing to look for them.
If you haven’t had the conversation with your spouse lately, a good question to discuss would be “What do you like about being married and in ministry, and what is difficult?” Their answers will give you some things to celebrate as well as some tangible ways you can help them, serve them, and build oneness in your marriage.

3 Principles For Handling Money

Rabu, 21 Desember 2016

It Is Not Well With My Soul

It Is Not Well With My Soul

Man looking outsideby Lance Witt
“What’s missing in the church today?” That question was posed to a well-known megachurch pastor. His one-word answer was “vision.” I couldn’t disagree more!
We are intoxicated with vision and obsessed with leadership. There’s more big talk, more big ideas, more big dreams than ever before. “Bigger and more” has been the rallying cry of the church in the last generation.
Over the last twenty-five years, vision and leadership and growth have become the topics of choice for pastors. In some ministry circles, CEOs and business entrepreneurs are quoted as frequently as the writers of Scripture. Enormous energy and resources have been thrown at helping us become more effective leaders … and for good reason.
A generation ago, pastors were equipped to exegete scripture, understand church history, and craft sermons, but were ill-equipped to provide organizational leadership to the churches they were called to pastor. As churches grew and the culture changed, pastors had to learn about the world of creating budgets, managing staff, casting vision, constructing buildings, raising money, worship programming, and managing change.
So the inundation of leadership and church growth resources met a definite need. The focus on leadership and vision filled a massive void, and we have all been the beneficiaries.
But not all of the impact has been positive. We have pushed the priority of a pastor’s interior life to the fringes. As we have sought to fill the gap with leadership resources we have inadvertently marginalized the soul-side of leadership. The result is a crisis, a crisis of spiritual health among pastors. The statistics these days on pastors are troubling and paint a bleak picture.
Pastors are leaving the ministry in record numbers. Discouragement and disillusionment are epidemic among those who lead in ministry. And many are choosing to fire themselves rather than fight any longer.
New York Times article presented a dismal report card on the state of pastors:
“Members of the clergy now suffer from obesity, hypertension, and depression at rates higher than most Americans. In the last decade, their use of antidepressants has risen, while their life expectancy has fallen. Many would change jobs if they could.”
It doesn’t sound like we are doing a very good job of modeling how to live well. We may sing “it is well with our soul”, but there isn’t much evidence to confirm it.
Burnout, scandal, depression, immorality, loneliness – they are all words commonly associated with people in ministry.
Many of my pastor friends and your pastor friends stand up Sunday after Sunday and faithfully preach the truth. They unselfishly minister to others and do the very best they can to lead their church. They feel incredible pressure to inspire their congregation, grow their churches, and impact their communities.
I have pastor friends who are constantly looking for the “secret sauce” of church growth. They are better-than-average leaders and communicators, but their churches haven’t experienced much growth. They struggle with feelings of inadequacy and live with this nagging doubt that they are failures as leaders.
They are secretly dying a slow death and many want to give up.
After decades in ministry I do understand how people get to this point.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. There is a better way forward.
We don’t need to abandon our discussion of leadership in the kingdom, but we do need to include a question that doesn’t get enough airtime. What does “spiritual” leadership look like? What does healthy leadership look like? What does a healthy team look like?
We have neglected the fact that a pastor’s greatest leadership tool is a healthy soul. Our concentration on skill and technique and strategy has not served us well. The outcome is an increasing number of men and women leading our churches who are emotionally empty and spiritually dry.
Parker Palmer said, “A leader is a person who must take special responsibility for what’s going on inside of himself or herself … lest the act of leadership create more harm than good.”
Let those words soak in. They are especially profound when you realize they were written a generation ago. We have ample evidence of Palmer’s insight. When leaders neglect their interior life they run the risk of prostituting the sacred gift of leadership. And they run the risk of being destructive instead of productive.
As pastors we regularly preach that the Christian life is “inside out”. It starts with the heart. The root determines the fruit. Life flows from the vine (internal) to the branches (external). The same is true for our ministries. True, lasting, Christ-honoring fruit starts by paying attention to our interior life. What ballast is to a boat, a healthy soul is to a leader.

The One Group You Might Forget This Christmas

The One Group You Might Forget This Christmas

by John McGee
The holiday season is upon us. As a pastor you have planned Christmas Eve services, prepared end-of-year reports, and been to more Christmas parties than you care to remember. With all of the activity involved in getting your church ready for Christmas, it can be easy to forget one group – your family.
During this season you tend to get busier just as the other members of your family are winding down at work and school. While you see endless tasks to accomplish, they see a window of opportunity to slow down, make memories, and enjoy each other. This season is an opportunity to serve your church, but don’t lose sight of the unique chance to serve and connect with your family.
Here are some things you can do to serve your family and connect with them this Christmas season.
Help get your home ready for Christmas. You have spent time and energy to get your church ready for Christmas, but have you helped get your own home ready? Make sure you have served your spouse by helping him or her set up the decorations and doing anything else you can to make your home special for the holidays.
Check local guides. Most cities will have an online collection point, usually through the local newspaper, for all types of activities you can do with your family that you might not otherwise know about.
Look at lights. Grab some hot chocolate, queue the Christmas music, and take in the sights and sounds of Christmas. We have made an annual pilgrimage to the same spot for the past ten years. At this point it’s only a little bit about the lights and a lot about the memories we have made.
Get creative. With a little planning and thought you can come up with some really fun activities. One of our family favorites is to go to the mall and split into guys and girls. Each group buys a gift, hides it in the mall, and texts the other group with clues. A few years ago the girls found a key pinned to the back of an ornament on the huge tree in the center of the mall. The key led them to a locker by the ice skating rink where they found necklaces inside.
Date your spouse. Your spouse has served you and accomplished a lot this year. This is a great time to look back over the year, celebrate your relationship, recognize the ways God has used you together, and say “thanks” for everything your spouse has done to help you.
Date your kids. Every kid has a different idea of what a fun date would be, but all of them long to connect with their parents and have their undivided attention. Think about how to connect with each one of them uniquely and get it on the calendar before it fills up.
Game or movie nights. Turn off all of the cell phones and put them in a drawer. Make an intentional effort to be present as you play games or snuggle up and simply be together as you watch movies. Have everyone write down the name of a movie they want to watch and then when you have a couple of hours pull out one and watch it together.
Help or serve someone else. Lead your family in praying for a way to serve and bless others. Opportunities abound with local city missions, but some of the best may be with people your family already knows.
Bring Advent home. As you lead your congregation through this season of anticipation of Christ’s coming, don’t forget to lead your family. There are several family guides that can be read after dinner at the table and will help focus everyone’s thoughts on why this season matters.
Shop early for gifts. Having worked retail during the holidays, I have seen that the closer to Christmas gifts are purchased the more expensive and less thoughtful they become. If it’s already too late this year, see if you can get a jump on next year. One easy way is by capturing ideas as you have them throughout the year and keeping a list for each member of the family.
Crowd source your ideas. Don’t put pressure on yourself to be a superhuman creative and relational genius. Ask others what they are doing this Christmas season to have fun, make memories, and connect with God and each other.
Leverage the last week of the year. Many pastors are very busy leading up to Christmas and may not be able to spend multiple nights a week drinking cider and making cookies with the kids. However things tend to slow down December 26th. Maybe some of your best activities and creative planning could go into the week after Christmas.
God’s church deserves a pastor’s creative leadership during the Christmas season. Your family desires and deserves the same.

Spend Less, Give More

Spend Less, Give More

family-christmas-dinnerby Ted Cunningham
Every December, we encourage our church to spend less and give more. The idea is simple. Instead of overspending and overindulging, cut back a little and focus on acts of extreme generosity.
A few years ago, I had the privilege of enjoying a lunch with Chris Hodges, the senior pastor of Church of the Highlands in Birmingham, Alabama. I had no idea that lunch would change everything about the way our church served the community.
Pastor Chris encouraged our leadership to budget less, rather than more. He said, “The Church of the Highlands budgets at 90% of the previous year’s giving.” Budget less, rather than more. So simple, yet it was a game changer for Woodland Hills.
I shared this budgeting strategy with our elders and they immediately implemented it. We had no idea how this “spend less, give more” budgeting would simplify our year-end budgeting process but more than that it increased our outreach into the community.
A few years later, and our monthly elder meetings are a blast as we seek ways to steward the excess. Should we send all of our missionaries a bonus? What if we buy gift cards for single parents? How much should we give to meet the physical needs of children in Stone and Taney counties?
Our outreach into the community and around the world increased exponentially because we decided not to be a financially “strapped” church. By giving our budget room to breathe, we freed ourselves to serve others better. Even though we budget for missions within our 90% budget, having a cushion frees us up to do even more. Here are just a few ways we minister to our congregation, community and world.
Mercy Offering – The first Sunday of every month is highly anticipated at Woodland Hills. After we take the Lord’s Supper, we take a mercy offering. This goes to meet the physical needs of our church family. Our giving goes to help families pay for rent, utility bills, gas, groceries, clothes, prescriptions and medical bills. We encourage our church members to bring us their needs (Acts 4:32).
Care for Kids – A few years ago, our church teamed up with the Silver Dollar City Foundation’s Care for Kids program to meet the physical needs of children in our community by funding benevolence in the 14 school districts in our surrounding counties. The Care for Kids program distributes funds to the counselors at area schools to immediately meet needs of children. These funds buy coats, eyeglasses, meals, shoes, and any item that a child needs to stay warm, nourished, and healthy. The first year our church committed $14,000 to Care for Kids, but because of our 90% budgeting we tripled that amount to $42,000 right before we cut the check. Every month we hear stories of children blessed by the little extra help.
Christmas Giving Tree – Every November we set up a huge tree in our church foyer. The ornaments are envelopes with the names of families in need. Inside the envelope is a list of names, ages and interests of each family member. Members of our church adopt a family off of the tree, shop with that list in hand and deliver the presents along with food right before Christmas.
Missionary Christmas Bonuses – Missionaries are often overlooked this time of year. Christmas is the perfect time to reach into your church and community, but it also a great time to reach into the world. We send all of our missionaries a financial Christmas gift each November. We encourage them to use the money to get away and enjoy a little rest and relaxation with their family. We seek to honor and prioritize the missionary’s marriage and family, so they can enjoy life and each other.
When I consider the simple ways in which we encourage generosity, I am reminded of the Apostle Paul’s words to the believers in Corinth: “And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. 2 In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. 3 For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, 4 they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people. 5 And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us” 2 Corinthians 8:1-5.
Pastor, let’s encourage our congregations to spend less and give more. Let’s all participate in willing and joyful generosity to the church, community, and world.