Category Archives: Personal Growth
By Joe McKeever
“Sow your seed in the morning, and do not be idle in the evening, for you do not know whether morning or evening sowing will succeed, or whether both of them alike will be good” (Ecclesiastes 11:6).
Was it worth it?
You do not know which will succeed. If both will. Or neither.
Disciples of Jesus Christ must never try to calculate the cost/benefit of some act of ministry.
Our assignment is to obey. To be faithful.
We have no idea how God will use something we do, whether He will, or to what extent He will. We do the act and leave the matter with Him as we move on to our next assignment.
Every pastor will identify with the following scenario….
Let’s say a family member of someone in your church is facing critical surgery in another city. You get up at 3 am and drive the distance, and meet with the family just before the patient is wheeled into surgery. You sit with the family and do whatever you can (prayer, conversation, witness, sharing Scripture–or none of these things, depending on the circumstances, on the prompting of the Spirit, etc). Then, you drive home. You have devoted most of the day to this one act of ministry.
Invariably, someone will ask the critical question.
“Was it worth it?”
Perhaps it was your spouse who asked. Or a staff member. Or just as likely, your own accusing heart raised the issue.
You answer, “God knows.” As indeed He does. And no one else, for the moment at least.
And He’s not telling.
What follows is my story. You’ll have your own variation of it….
For all my adult years, I’ve been a sketch artist. I draw people wherever I go. When I preach in churches, the host will usually encourage the people to come early and/or stay late so I can draw them. A typical drawing takes two minutes or less, and I can go three hours without a break. Once in a while, I will drive long distances to draw only and not to preach. Several times a year, I draw at wedding receptions. (The first weekend in January, I’ll be in East Texas sketching at the wedding reception of the daughter of a preacher friend.)
This weekend I’ll be at a local church here in the Jackson, MS area. After preaching in the two morning worship services, I’ll be sketching people and speaking at a luncheon banquet. Then, the following weekend, I will be sketching nonstop at a mega-church’s Christmas presentations (before and after each of the five events), from Friday night until late Sunday night. The following week, I will do three Christmas banquets for pastors and spouses in Louisiana. I’ll arrive early to sketch couples, draw right on through the dinner, get up and do my talk, and go right back to drawing. It’s an exhausting evening.
But I love it.
What am I accomplishing with all this drawing and sketching?
Honestly, I don’t know.
A family member used to observe me dragging home late at night after a full evening of driving, sketching, and speaking. Voiced or not, the question was always there: “So, why do you do this if it makes you so tired?”
I was too tired to answer. (smiley-face here)
But I can think of some reasons: I love doing drawing people, it seems to bless people, they pay me (often, not always), and when I stand to speak, the people I’ve sketched listen well. There’s something about the personal time we’ve had at the table while I drew them that seems to bond us enough for them to want to hear what I have to share.
I do high school programs on “lessons in self-esteem from drawing 100,000 people.” I’ll sketch the kids before and after the program (teenagers love this), then draw the principal and coach during the session and deliver my 12 minute presentation. Often, a few classes want me to come by and sketch them or give a talk to the art students on cartooning. Finally, after several hours, the host pastor has to take me by the hand and lead me out of the building and toward a restaurant for nourishment, I am so drained.
And what did we accomplish?
There is no way to know. And here’s the thing: I don’t need to know.
I do it because God has gifted me with this love for people, a talent for sketching them, and a delight in using the gift. I walk up to strangers sometimes. “May I draw you?” (A woman with a floppy hat and earrings down to her shoulders, or a man wearing a cowboy hat and a handlebar mustache are just begging to be drawn!)
Friends think I use the sketching for a ministry of evangelism, that I’m winning a lot of people to Christ by drawing them. I’m not doing much of that as they think or I’d like. It’s hard to talk and sketch at the same time. And, when we have a line of people waiting, there’s little time for meaningful conversation.
So, what is accomplished? I have no idea. Perhaps it’s nothing more than to add a smile to someone’s day. A little joy. Or, to build a memory into their lives, when they find the sketch years from now. And was that worth it? Again, I do not know.
I do not need to know.
But I will keep on doing this as long as the invitations keep coming in, the fingers keep working, and the eyes and brain don’t give out. The occasional bout with arthritis is a problem, but thankfully it’s rare and light.
None of us know
We preachers could ask the same questions about the sermons we preach and the ministry we give. What was accomplished? Was it worth the many hours of study and prayer and work? The many miles driven? God knows.
And we’re good with that. Scripture commands: “Do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance.” (Colossians 3:23-24)
Whether we render a solo in church, serve a meal at the nursing home, preach a sermon in the jail, or sketch a few people in the mall, we do this “unto the Lord,” and leave the results with Him.
My friend Bertha bakes loaves of banana bread which she gives away throughout the year. Jim, a deacon and a friend of 25 years, gives away chewing gum, thousands of pieces a year (the sugarless kind, he is quick to point out). Stephanie takes her violin into nursing homes and hospital rooms and plays for people.
And when people ask, “Was it worth it?” or “Why did you do that?” we might just smile, but what we are thinking is something like “Ask the Lord who told me to do it. It was for Him.”
“When the Son of Man comes,” Jesus said, “will He find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8)
Those who serve Him in ways large and small without knowing what He will do with their efforts know the answer.
Used with permission by Joe McKeever. Joe is a Pastor, Preacher, Author, Professor, Cartoonist, Jesus Lover, Friend.
Note: All Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version
Let me begin by asking you a question: When you set out on a trip, do you just load up the car and start driving? Do you go to the airport and buy a ticket on the next available flight, no matter where it’s going? Probably not. There’s no telling where you might end up, and it could be someplace you really don’t want to be.
Your destination is your goal. If you’re feeling hungry for great barbeque, you want to go Kansas City. But if you want to enjoy the view from the top of the Empire State Building, you’d best head for The Big Apple.
Success in life, spiritual and otherwise, is every bit as much a destination as is a physical place. Now if you want to reach that destination, you need to know what that destination is, and then you need to have a plan for how to get there. That is what we mean when we talk about setting and achieving goals.
In this article we want to discover what the book of Proverbs has to say about how to achieve our goals. And while the word “goals” is never used in Proverbs, the concept most definitely is, as we shall see.
WHY SET GOALS AT ALL?
I have spoken to people who are opposed to the concept of goals – especially Christian people, who seem to think that it is somehow unspiritual. Yet the book of Proverbs gives us some very good reasons for doing this.
Commit your work to the LORD, and your plans will be established. – Proverbs 16:3
The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty. – Proverbs 21:5
It is quite obvious that God wants us to make plans for the future, and wants us to follow those plans until our goals are reached. But if our plans and goals do not include God and living for Him as our principle purpose, then those plans and goals should not be put into practice.
If you are a pastor or in some other area of church leadership, I think it is even more important to set and achieve goals than if you were not. Let me give you some reasons:
It’s a Matter of Stewardship
We are given one lifetime, and we need to make the most of it while we can. If I am going to be a good steward of the time that God has given me on earth I am going to use that time to accomplish as much as I can. When I set a goal, and then take the steps toward reaching it, I am making wise use of my time and accomplishing much more than I could have otherwise.
I’m not talking about just in the area of work, I’m talking about using time in the best possible way – this includes time for your family, relaxation, and other needs.
When we set goals that are financial, spiritual, and recreational, we will find that we will be able to enjoy more of those things than we ever have before.
Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise. Without having any chief, officer, or ruler, she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest. – Proverbs 6:6-8
If the ants know how to be good stewards of their time, surely we can too. I once had a staff member at church that was getting very little accomplished and his area of ministry was suffering greatly. When I spoke to him about planning, setting goals and the wise use of time he looked at me as if I were from another planet. Even after continued encouragement and instruction he refused to change anything and we eventually had to let him go. As leaders in the church, we are responsible for how we spend our time. Not only are we being paid for our work, but we are doing it as a ministry for our God and Savior.
It’s a Matter of Measurement
I don’t know about you, but I like to be able to measure my progress. Let’s say that I set a goal to read through the New Testament portion of the Bible in the next year. I count up the chapters and discover that there are 260 of them. So I divide 260 by 52 weeks in a year and find out I only need to read five chapters per week to finish the New Testament in one year. So I could read just one chapter a day, Monday – Friday and I would accomplish my goal. But each day as I read, I’m going to check off that chapter and be able to see that I am making progress toward my ultimate goal. It is very motivating.
This same principle is true if I’m investing money, or wanting to spend quality time with my family, or working toward a college degree. Because I have a set plan, and ultimate destination, I am able to measure my progress and discover that my goal is definitely reachable.
If you are planning a building program, a new ministry emphasis, or stewardship drive, make sure and do it in measurable increments. That way you can see your progress as you move toward your goal. Not only is this helpful for you, but you can show the progress that is being made to the lay leaders and members of your church so they can share in the encouragement and motivation such planning brings.
It’s a Matter of Prosperity
This is true in all areas, but it is especially true if I’m setting financial or work-related goals.
Honor the LORD with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine. – Proverbs 3:9-10
If you want to get ahead in life, you are going to have to set goals, and then work hard to reach them. Notice that the Proverbs writer stipulates that we must “honor the Lord” with our wealth if we expect Him to bless us financially. If you want to have a better income than you have now, you have to plan and work for it – there is nothing wrong with that, as long as we keep it all in perspective and keep God at the heart of it all.
WHAT KIND OF GOALS SHOULD I SET?
As I said, you can set goals for work, for investing, for your family, for education, for weight loss, and just about any area of life that you need to plan for. And while I don’t think there is any limit as to what kind of goals you should set, I think that as a Christian leader, they should at least follow these three guidelines.
Goals that Honor God
Any goal that is unethical in any way, or keeps you from following God with integrity is a goal that you need to get rid of. Integrity is the one thing no one can take away from us, but we can give it away through dishonorable behavior.
Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but he who makes his ways crooked will be found out. – Proverbs 10:9
Our plans and goals should be made in the context of our commitment to God. So no matter what my goal is, it needs to pass the God Test before I begin implementing it into my life. I need to be able to ask and answer the following questions in the affirmative:
1) Can I honestly ask God’s help in striving to reach this goal?
Is there anything I’m planning that I would not be able to pray for God’s assistance with? Is there anything about it that would embarrass me before God?
2) Will I be a better person for accomplishing this goal?
In the process of reaching this goal, and in the accomplishment of it, will I be a better father or mother, a better student, a better businessman, a better son or daughter, a better minister of the Gospel? Is there something inherently good about what I am doing that will help me develop character, integrity, honesty, and those types of things?
1“Our greatest fear should not be of failure, but of succeeding at something that doesn’t really matter.”
GOALS THAT ARE S.M.A.R.T2
“The reason most people never reach their goals is that they don’t define them, or ever seriously consider them as believable or achievable. Winners can tell you where they are going, what they plan to do along the way, and who will be sharing the adventure with them.” – Denis Waitly
I think Denis Waitly is exactly right – and if our goals fit into the S.M.A.R.T. acrostic, they are ones that we will certainly be able to accomplish with God’s help.
Specific – a general goal would be, “I’m going to grow this church” – a specific goal would be, “I’m going to begin an outreach program that involves training our congregation how to be more welcoming to visitors.”
To set a specific goal you must answer the six “W” questions:
*Who: Who is involved?
*What: What do I want to accomplish?
*Where: Identify a location.
*When: Establish a time frame.
*Which: Identify requirements and constraints.
*Why: Specific reasons, purpose or benefits of accomplishing the goal.
Measurable – We’ve talked about this already, but we need to make sure that we have goals that allow us to determine whether we are making progress. You should be able to ask questions of your goal like, “How much” “How many” and “How will I know when it is going to be accomplished?” and the answers should be readily available. A good thing to remember is, “If I can’t measure it, I can’t manage it.”
Attainable – When you identify goals that are most important to you, you begin to figure out ways you can make them come true. You develop the attitudes, abilities, skills, and when necessary, the financial capacity to reach them. You begin seeing previously overlooked opportunities to bring yourself closer to the achievement of your goals. You can attain most any goal you set when you plan your steps wisely and establish a time frame that allows you to carry out those steps. Goals that may have seemed far away and out of reach eventually move closer and become attainable, not because your goals shrink, but because you grow and expand to match them. When you list your goals you begin to develop the traits and personality that allows you to possess them.
Realistic – To be realistic, a goal must represent an objective toward which you are both willing and able to work. A goal can be both high and realistic; you are the only one who can decide just how high your goal should be. But be sure that every goal represents substantial progress. A high goal is frequently easier to reach than a low one because a low goal exerts low motivational force. Some of the hardest jobs you ever accomplished actually seem easy simply because they were a labor of love. Your goal is probably realistic if you truly believe that it can be accomplished. But if you say that your goal is to read through the Bible every single day of your life, you are not being realistic at all. And when you set unrealistic goals, you’re just setting yourself up for a letdown.
Timely – Set a timeframe for the goal: for next week, in three months, by fifth grade – whatever your goal is, it needs to have a beginning and an ending point. Putting an end point on your goal gives you a clear target to work towards. If you don’t set a time, the commitment is too vague. It tends not to happen because you feel you can start at any time. Without a time limit, there’s no urgency to start taking action now.
GOALS I’M WILLING TO PAY THE PRICE FOR
When your goals fit into the criteria we’ve mentioned so far, you will be blessed, God will be blessed, and the people around you will be blessed. But we need to understand that there is a price to be paid for these goals. If the goal is a good one, the price paid will be well worth it. If I’m going to climb up the corporate ladder, I am going to have to work very hard, improve myself in any number of areas, and consistently gain new skills and abilities. If my goal is further education, I am going to have to study hard, pay for my tuition, and be willing to devote a large portion of my life to school.
Those are good goals that cost a lot, but the benefits are usually worth it if we keep God as the director of all that we say and do. But then there are those all-important spiritual goals that we should be setting. The Apostle Paul set some goals for his life that were of a spiritual nature:
That I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. – Philippians 3:10-11
Now the first part of Paul’s goal is something many people could align themselves with – to “know him (Christ) and the power of his resurrection.” But another part of his goal was to “share his (Jesus’) sufferings, becoming like him in his death.” Paul felt that to fully identify with Christ, he needed not only to share in His power and glory, but also share in His suffering. And that is exactly what he did throughout his ministry – share in the sufferings of Christ. That was the price he was willing to pay.
Some of life’s goals lead us to share in that same type of price, and for others, it is a cost not quite so great – but there is always a cost. If we are going to be achievers in any area of life, we must be willing to do, say, and experience whatever is necessary to reach our goals. Sometimes the experience of paying the price shapes us more than the reaching of the goal.
I hope that you’ve decided to set some goals today. Perhaps you’ve decided to learn how to be a better preacher, and you’re going to take the steps necessary to reach that goal. Or maybe you’re going to make a decision to go back to school and finish your degree, or start on another one. Or perhaps you’ve decided that your prayer life isn’t what it should be, and you’re going to begin spending at least 15 minutes in prayer every day beginning today. Whatever your goal, make sure to allow God to be the main motivation for whatever you decide to do, and you can’t go wrong.
1New Tribes Missionary (author unknown), Eternal Perspectives Newsletter (Fall 2003), p. 15
2Adapted From Paul J. Meyer, Paul. J. “Attitude Is Everything” and other sources.
Barry L. Davis spent two decades as a Senior Pastor and started the ministry of The Pastor’s Helper in 1996. The Pastor’s Helper strives to provide tools and resources to help pastors succeed in their ministry calling. His latest book is God-Driven Leadership: A Call to Seeing, Believing, and Living in Accordance with Scriptural Principles, from which this article is derived.
If you want to read the tale of a pastor who really did some dumb things, keep reading.
I served as pastor of four churches. It was only by the grace of God and the graciousness of the congregations that I was called and allowed to stay at those churches. I absolutely love the members of those four congregations, and I will forever be grateful to them and for them.
Frankly, I’m not sure I would give myself a passing grade as a pastor. I messed up quite a bit. I would do several things differently today. And as a point of full disclosure, my list of nine is not close to being exhaustive.
1. I neglected my prayer life and time in the Word too often. It sounds absolutely insane as I write it, but I got too busy for God. As a consequence, I operated out of my own insufficient power too many times.
2. I neglected my family too often. Paul wrote these words to Pastor Timothy: “If anyone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of God’s church?” (1 Timothy 3:5, HCSB). Ouch. So many times I communicated through my actions to my family that they were not as important as other church members.
3. I let the crisis of the moment overwhelm me. In doing so I did not trust in God to see me through the situation. And I did not have a longer-term perspective to understand that difficulties are only for a season.
4. I perceived most of my critics as my adversaries. Some of my critics actually had constructive input. Others were going through their own struggles, and I was a convenient target. I took criticisms personally instead of responding pastorally.
5. I competed with other churches. Shame on me. Too often I wanted my church to have a greater attendance than other churches in the area. I should have been praying for and working with those other church leaders more.
6. I neglected praying with my staff. My prayer time with my church staff was haphazard at best. The one thing we needed to do the most, we were doing the least. I was a terrible leader on that front.
7. I often worried about what others thought about me. My sole concern should have been how Christ-like I was. Too often I sought the approval of others rather than the blessings of God.
8. I often yielded to unreasonable requests and demands. Instead of spending my time doing those things that really mattered, I gave in too often to the “squeaky wheel.” I sacrificed the great in order to do the good.
9. I gave up too often. Due to frustration, exhaustion or, more often, lack of faith, I gave up on challenges too quickly. I am convinced I missed out on many victories when they were just around the corner.
Those are but a few of the stupid things I did as a pastor. Most of you can breathe a sigh of relief that I never served as your pastor.
So why I am writing these self-critical comments at this stage of my life? I pray that some of you may see something in your own lives and leadership that you can correct before it’s too late. God is able. God is willing.
I look forward to your comments.
This article was originally published at ThomRainer.com on May 4, 2015. Thom S. Rainer serves as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam, Art, and Jess; and seven grandchildren. Dr. Rainer can be found on Twitter @ThomRainer and at facebook.com/Thom.S.Rainer.
By Thom Rainer
They are in every church. They are critics. They are naysayers. If your church has regular business meetings, they will be the negatively outspoken people.
They often begin sentences with “I love you pastor, but . . .” And the moment you hear “but,” you cringe. You wait for the verbal assault.
Critics and naysayers are in every church. They are CAVE (Consistently Against Virtually Everything) Dwellers (This phrase originated with Curt Coffman in his work on disen-
gaged employees.). They can make your life miserable . . . unless you learn to deal with them.
I am not the best role model for dealing with CAVE dwellers. When I was a pastor, I struggled with critics and naysayers. I still do. So I asked some church leaders who, in my opinion, have a very healthy approach to these people. Here are seven things I learned from them.
- Accept the reality that every church and organization will have CAVE dwellers. You will deal with them in a more healthy fashion if you are not blindsided by them. And you will realize than the green grass of other churches may be a bit brown.
- Pray for your own attitude. I am glad Jesus did not hold my sins against me through his death on the cross. My attitude should be like His, and I should seek prayerfully to have the right attitude toward CAVE dwellers.
- Pray for the CAVE dwellers. Even if you consider them your enemy, we are supposed to pray for our enemies. Sometimes I have to ask God to give me the grace to pray for these people because they have hurt me so much.
- Stay above reproach. Don’t stoop to the negative, gossiping, bickering, and deceitful level of CAVE dwellers. Pray that God will give you the strength, wisdom, and grace to live above such attitudes and actions.
- Spend more time with positive church members. CAVE dwellers can be the squeaky wheels that demand constant oiling. If you spend too much time with these members, you will become emotionally and spiritually drained. Be intentional about spending time with church members who energize and encourage you.
- Spend more time with church leaders in other churches. You will develop invaluable friendships and camaraderie. And you will soon discover you are not alone with these issues.
- Ask other members to help you deal with CAVE dwellers. I recently heard from a pastor who did just that. He was shocked to find more than one encouraging church leader willing and ready to help him deal with these people. The comment from one of these positive members hit home: “Pastor, we did not know you were having to deal with these issues. We wish you had told us sooner.”
Yes, you will always have people in your church who seem to be consistently against virtually everything. They are emotionally draining. They are discouraging. And they never really go away.
Our challenge, in God’s power, is to deal with CAVE dwellers in the most positive and God-honoring way we can. So, how do you deal with CAVE dwellers? What would you add to the seven ways I noted above? Let me hear from you.
This article was originally published at ThomRainer.com on November 17, 2014. Thom S. Rainer serves as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam, Art, and Jess; and seven grandchildren. Dr. Rainer can be found on Twitter @ThomRainer and at facebook.com/Thom.S.Rainer.
By Thom Rainer
The meaning of “slump” is more evident in sports. When a baseball player, for example, is in a slump, we surmise that he is not hitting as well as he was earlier in the season.
For churches, however, there is no clear definition. Indeed, some leaders wonder if it is even right to say that a church can get in a slump. Still, some pastors say they church is in a slump if they are not connecting as well with members as they once were. Others declare a slump if attendance or offering numbers are down. Still others have a more subjective sense of a slump that defies a clean or clear explanation.
But many pastors will tell you about times when their churches were in a slump. Some will admit that the slump is present tense. So I asked a number of pastors how they react when this reality hits them. What do they do to lead their churches out of this perceived slump?
The pastors shared with me eight consistent responses. I list them in the order of frequency that I have heard them.
- They sought the advice of a leader outside their specific church. Sometimes that person was the pastor of another church. On other occasions it was a denominational leader or a church consultant.
- They refocused on the vision of the church. A number of pastors indicated that the church had “lost its way.” So they spent time reminding the congregation of the vision of the church. Of course, this approach presumes the church has a clearly articulated vision.
- They led the church to more outwardly focused ministries. Some church slumps were the result of the congregation becoming too inwardly focused. One pastor led his church to “adopt” an elementary school in the area. The members became motivated and enthused as they did whatever the principal and other leaders of the school told them the school needed.
- They sought a trusted confidant to evaluate their leadership. This reaction is similar to number one. In this case, however, the problem was specifically perceived to be the leadership of the pastor.
- They spent more time in prayer. I suspect this and the next response were actually more frequent. Many pastors sought the face of God more intensely and more frequently for guidance out of the slump.
- They became more consistent in their time reading the Bible. Many pastors get into the trap of reading the Bible only to prepare sermons or lessons. I know. I’ve been there as a pastor. But pastors need the consistent nourishment of the Word of God beyond the time they spend studying it for sermons or lessons.
- They became more intentional about connecting with their members. One pastor made a commitment to hand write one letter a day to a church member, write two emails a day to a member, and make one phone call a day to a member. The purpose of each piece of communication was brief encouragement and gratitude. It took him less than 30 minutes to do all of them, and he was consistent in it four days a week. In one year’s time, he connected with 800 members.
- They set aside time on the calendar during the week to dream. Pastors are on call 24/7. Life can become hectic and frustrating. One pastor sets aside two hours a month to go to a private room to dream about the future of the church. The time is a fixture on his calendar. Sometimes he prays. Sometimes he reads about God’s work at other churches. And sometimes he writes ideas and thoughts. The process invigorates him, and he can thus lead the church with greater enthusiasm and clarity himself.
These responses to a slump could really apply to any Christian leader. In this case, I listened to pastors.
So . . . can you sense when your church is in a slump? What is it like? How do you respond?
This article was originally published at ThomRainer.com on September 15, 2014. Thom S. Rainer serves as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam, Art, and Jess; and seven grandchildren. Dr. Rainer can be found on Twitter @ThomRainer and at facebook.com/Thom.S.Rainer.