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The following are the results of the 2015 Pastor Survey conducted by ExPastors.com. I think you’ll find them very insightful. I also encourage you to participate in the 2016 Pastor Survey, which is currently going on and has new and improved questions to help us collect more data to better serve the ExPastors community. Please know these surveys are totally anonymous.

We wished to concern ourselves with getting accurate information on issues ranging from burnout and finances, to work hours and the demands on families With this objective in mind, we also chose to make our survey confidential and allow the option to answer basic demographic questions, the only exception being the initial question of whether the person filling out the survey was or was not currently serving in the role of pastor.

The 2015 Pastors Survey

Of the following, which is most accurate:
I am a pastor (170 / 62%)
I am an ex-pastor (89 / 32%)
I stepped away from the pastorate but am now serving as pastor again (16 / 6%)

At any time during your pastorate, have you doubted your call to ministry?
Yes (165 / 60%)
No (110 / 40%)

Would you consider yourself overworked?
Yes (166 / 60%)
No (109 / 40%)

At times, do you feel unable to meet the demands of the job?
Yes (222 / 81%)
No (53 / 19%)

Do you feel there are/were unrealistic demands or unwritten expectations of you and your family?
Yes (225 / 82%)
No (50 / 18%)

Have you ever considered leaving the ministry?
Yes (234 / 85%)
No (41 / 15%)

Do you constantly fight depression?
No (146 / 53%)
Yes (129 / 47%)

Do you consider yourself lonely?
Yes (174 / 63%)
No (101 / 37%)

Would you consider yourself having experienced burnout?
Yes (212 / 77%)
No (63 / 23%)

Do you have anyone you consider a close friend or someone you can share your struggles or burdens with?
Yes (207 / 75%)
No (68 / 25%)

Have you or a family member experienced a conflict with a church member within the last month?
No (158 / 57%)
Yes (117 / 43%)

What is the size of your church?
40-200 (147 / 55%)
200-450 (41 / 15%)
400-800 (28 /10%)
Below 40 (27 /10%)
800-2000 (21 /8%)
2000+ (4 /1%)

Next Step

Please fill out the 2016 Pastor Survey so that ExPastors.com may better serve you. Thanks.

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I recently turned 41 years old. The older I get, the more thankful I am for God’s grace, mercy, and patience with me. As we look back on Thanksgiving and forward to Christmas, I want to briefly touch on patience.

We just kicked off the season of Advent. Nothing represents waiting and patience like Advent. Just as the faithful of old waited for a Messiah and Savior, we now wait and watch for the return of Christ.

As a Christ-follower, I have had to learn to have patience and trust God even when I don’t see His whole plan.

For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts. – Isaiah 55:9

I have some big things currently happening in my life. After a year of waiting, wondering and wandering, I can finally start to see God’s hand at work behind-the-scenes. But it’s been nearly a year of waiting, praying, fasting, learning patience and trust.

Through it all, God is faithful.

Even when I’m not faithful, God is faithful. Even when I screw up, stumble and fall, God is patient with me. He never gives up on me and I am forever grateful.

Your love never fails, it never gives up. It never runs out on me

 

 

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Each year around this time, I take an inventory of my life and I give thanks. I also take the opportunity to teach my kids about living a life of generosity.

I’ve taught my kids about giving, but giving is so much more than money. We are to give of our gifts, talents, and our very lives.

We should seek to be generous with everything we have.

I pray that this Thanksgiving you would teach those you love about living a life of generosity and sharing our lives with others.

Generosity is a way of life.

Take time to give thanks! And HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

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I was watching football recently and was struck by something I’ve seen a thousand times, but it jumped out at me. I realized how far back the running back lines up behind the quarterback.

The running back is usually 5 to 7 yards deep from the line of scrimmage. It occurred to me that if he was directly behind the quarterback or the offensive line, he would have no momentum to run forward, but with his placement on the field, he has a chance to build up his speed and gain momentum.

Momentum is a priceless thing – in leadership, it’s essential.

Momentum is something that every leader longs for, but unfortunately, most don’t know how to create it or sustain it once it occurs. I was at Catalyst One Day awhile ago and got to hear Andy Stanley and Craig Groeschel speak on the power of momentum.

Here are some of their thoughts from Andy Stanely‘s opening talk:

  • Businesses immediately respond when momentum decreases, but for some reason the church will ignore momentum declines for years as long as the bills are being paid.
  • Momentum is always disruptive, so it scares some churches.
  • Momentum is all about moving forward, which is why leaders like momentum.
  • If you lack momentum and you don’t understand these principles, you are one dumb decision away from losing it all.

Three components of sustained momentum:

New – Anything new, negative or positive, triggers momentum…

Organizational momentum is often triggered by one of these three things:

  • New leadership
  • New direction
  • New product

New doesn’t guarantee sustained momentum, but new is an essential trigger for momentum.

Improved – The new must be a noticeable improvement over the old.

Improving – Momentum is sustained through continuous improvement.  This improvement must be continually evaluated.

So pastor, what are you doing to start and sustain momentum? How much of momentum do you think comes about from the God-factor? How much does the leader help create? How much would you say are the work of us partnering with the Holy Spirit?

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It’s amazing what you can learn and observe watching sports. I’m a huge sports fan and I not only follow players, I follow coaches.

When the NBA basketball season opened, I watched the San Antonia Spurs (minus Tim Duncan) beat the Golden State Warriors (with Steph Curry and Kevin Durrant). I was surprised, but not shocked. You see, the Spurs are coached by Gregg Popovich.

Taking over as coach of the Spurs in 1996, Popovich is the longest tenured active coach in both the NBA and all US major sports leagues. He is often referred to as “Coach Pop” or simply “Pop”.

Popovich is considered one of the greatest coaches in NBA history. He is currently tied with Pat Riley (regular season only) with 19 consecutive winning seasons, behind Phil Jackson’s 20. He has won five NBA championships as a head coach (all with the Spurs), a feat achieved only by four others in NBA history (Phil Jackson, Red Auerbach, Pat Riley, and John Kundla). He is also one of nine coaches to have won 1,000 NBA games.

I wrote about the Spurs two years ago when they won the NBA Championship. I wrote about lessons we can learn from this amazing organization, coached by “Pop.” I don’t want to go through it again, I’ll simply say you can read my thoughts HERE. It will interesting to see how the Spurs do the rest of the season without the retired Tim Duncan.

The past week I, like many of you, have been watching major league baseball’s World Series. This year’s World Series is historic and fascinating to watch because it’s been decades and decades since either team (the Cleveland Indians and the Chicago Cubs) has won it all (1948 and 1908, respectfully).

What intrigues me are the managers of the two teams.

The Cleveland Indians are coached by Terry Francona, who was known as the manager of the Boston Red Sox, whom he led to two World Series titles, and ended the franchise’s 86-year-old championship drought. In 2013, Francona was hired to manage the Cleveland Indians and by his fourth season with the team, led them to an appearance in the 2016 World Series.

The Chicago Cubs are coached by Joe Maddon. He managed the Tampa Bay Rays from 2006 through 2014, winning the 2008 American League pennant. After opting out of his contract following the 2014 season, he joined the Cubs, led them to the 2015 National League Championship Series and was named the 2015 National League Manager of the Year. In 2016 Maddon managed the Cubs to their first World Series appearance since 1945.

So one of the teams in the World Series is managed by someone who has won two championships. The other team is managed by someone who has taken another team to the World Series. Both managers have been to the World Series with two different teams. Read that again. Coincidence? I think not.

John Maxwell has a simple leadership philosophy:

“Everything rises and falls on leadership.”

Just looking at these three examples of leadership in sports, not counting Phil Jackson, who led two different teams to NBA Championships. In total, Jackson has won 11 NBA titles as a coach, surpassing the previous record of nine set by Red Auerbach. He also won two championships as a player with the Knicks in 1970 and 1973 and holds the NBA record for the most combined championships (13) as a player and a head coach.

I don’t know about you, but it’s clear to me that leadership matters.

So what are you doing to improve your leadership? What are you doing to grow professionally? How are you leading your organization to reach their full potential?

For more ideas and leadership principles, get my book Church Leadership Essentials. God bless you and may you lead well.

contempating

Do you talk to yourself?

I don’t mean when you’re wrestling through your taxes or walking through your to-do list. But do you talk yourself, really? When you are fearful, do you command your soul to trust in the Lord?  When your affections are low, do you command your heart to bless the Lord? As Paul Tripp is fond of saying, “No one is more influential in your life than you are because no one talks to you more than you do.”

In the particularly difficult moments of the day, how do you talk to yourself? How do you specifically exhort yourself to hope in God?

Psalm 103 has been immensely helpful for me as a pattern for commanding my soul in seasons of low affection. The Psalm begins (Psalm 103:1–2) and ends (Psalm 103:20–22) with David’s exhortation to his own soul to bless the Lord. While there is much to draw out of this rich text, I’d like to highlight two observations:

  1. Remind yourself of what the Lord has done

Sin, pain, or sorrow can blind us to God’s present work and, occasionally, even the miraculous ways He’s worked in our lives in the past. And while we might argue with our journal or with our memory, God’s work in redemptive history is unassailable. David helps us by reminding himself (and us) of God’s irrevocable work for his people in history:

The Lord works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed. He made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel.

David takes us (and himself) back to the most pivotal event he can think of. And it’s not in the valley of Elah with three smooth stones in his hand and a sling by his side. In fact, it’s not even an event from his lifetime.

Instead, David brings us back to Sinai (see Exodus 6:6–9). He brings us back to the moment when the Lord worked powerfully and victoriously and decisively to redeem his people out of Egyptian bondage. He brings us back to the moments when God demonstrated his covenant-keeping love.

In the fight to command our souls to bless the Lord, we not only call to mind the things in general that are true about the Lord (see Psalm 103:3–5), we follow David’s example to get our arms around concrete, unassailable realities of his work in redemptive history. We lift our gaze above our own circumstances and fix it upon the Lord’s acts of provision and deliverance in the past. We tell ourselves what God has done — in history, for us.

  1. Hold fast to a specific truth about the Lord

David does something very instructive next. Having reminded himself of who God is and what God has done in redemptive history, he latches on to a particular text, specifically Psalm 103:8,

The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

David is quoting Exodus 34:6. At the heart of David’s self-exhortation (cf. also Psalm 145:8!), he has a particular text in mind — one frequently recalled by Old Testament authors in the midst of sin (Joel 2:12), sorrow (Lamentations 3:21–23), and pain (Psalm 86:15).

David, Moses, Jonah, Jeremiah, Joel, Nehemiah, and Hezekiah — they all went here for help (Jonah 4:2Nehemiah 9:162 Chronicles 30:9). And David, having to mind this text, begins to spin out all its implications — God’s anger does not last forever, sin has been cast as far as the east is from the west, God’s compassion will not fail because David is his (see 103:9–19).

David is moved. A heart that was faltering is now soaring. A deeply wrought gratitude now swells up to expression. He cannot keep it in: “Bless the Lord, O my soul” (see Psalm 103:20–22).

When you’re talking to yourself, are you reminding yourself of what God has done for you in Christ Jesus?

Do you have specific texts with which you exhort your soul? When the days are darkest, don’t let your soul take command. Summon your soul to bless the Lord.

Find specific texts by which you can fight the fight of faith — perhaps some short ones like these: Matthew 28:20Hebrews 13:5–6Isaiah 41:10) and long ones (Romans 8:26–39John 10:7–18; Psalm 103!.

“May the word of Christ dwell in you richly. . .” (Colossians 3:16).

  • The following was a post by Ryan Griffith that originally appeared on desiringGod.

Ryan Griffith serves as the Assistant Professor of Christian Worldview and Director of Undergraduate Studies at Bethlehem College and Seminary in Minneapolis, MN.

  • Check out THIS video of Paul Tripp talking about preaching the gospel to yourself.

A photo by dan carlson. unsplash.com/photos/oTQVwECws8o

Believe the unbelievable.

Expectation is the act or state of looking forward or anticipating; an expectant mental attitude. The mindset and posture in which we should approach God are one of expectation. We expect God to show up, move, lead, and guide. If He doesn’t then we are simply leading in the flesh and won’t make an eternal difference.

William Carey said, “Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.”

The innovative and strange leader expects great things from God. The innovative and strange leader leads by faith and is rooted in hope.

Christian artist, Steven Curtis Chapman, wrote a song entitled “Great Expectations.” Let’s look at his lyrics to the chorus:

Believe the unbelievable. Receive the inconceivable.

And see beyond my wildest imagination Lord, I come with great expectations.

Can we really “believe the unbelievable” and “receive the inconceivable?” Several years ago, I got to hear Joel Hunter preach at Buckhead Church in Atlanta. He taught on expectation and defined it as “a belief that is centered on the future.” Joel said, “We can expect God to be: available, wise, gentle and tough, patient, comforting, strong, and relentless.”

Does your belief in God to be wise and strong affect how you lead and make decisions? If God truly knows what is best, do we trust Him no matter where He leads and no matter what He asks and requires of us?

I wait expectantly trusting God to help for He’s promised —Psalm 130:5 (LB)

I pray to God—my life a prayer—and wait for what he’ll say and do. —Psalm 130:5 (MSG)

My friend, Steve Komanapalli, who used to be special assistant to Rick Warren and a pastor at Saddleback wrote a guest blog for me a while back. In it, he said, “A farmer doesn’t plant some seeds and go to Hawaii for a year! He spends the time anticipating, expecting a harvest.” He also encouraged my readers to check out James 5.

Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. —James 5:7

Steve went on to say, “If I’m going to wait, I need to wait confidently. Micah 7:7 says, “I wait confidently for God.” Rick Warren says, “When the outlook is bad, you look up. That is what hope is.” It’s confident expectation.

The God factor

To lead an innovative organization, you must lead from a place, posture, and mindset of faith mixed with hope in Christ. The difference between business innovation and ministry innovation is the supernatural factor. We seek to be led by the Holy Spirit and not just think up new ways of doing things.

Once you’ve done your part of prayerfully seeking God and reflecting on His word, you must believe God will answer, lead, and direct you and your team. As you know, “without faith it is impossible to please God.” (Heb 11:6)

In the morning, O Lord, You hear my voice; in the morning, I lay my requests before You and wait in expectation. —Psalm 5:3 (NIV)

Psalm 5 is my encouragement to you, friends. Lay your requests before God and “wait in expectation.” This does not mean to sit on your hands and do nothing until you hear the audible voice of God. Sometimes we act, move or lead in expectation and anticipation of something we believe God has said or promised He will do.

If God has spoken to you through His word, His Spirit, or given you a vision for something, you should confidently expect God to move mountains on your behalf. Be humble and trust in God for the victory. Check out Ps 62:

I wait quietly before God, for my victory comes from him. —Psalm 62:1 (NLT)

An innovative leader is strange, prayerful, bold, courageous, decisive, a risk-taker, organized, motivated, commissioned, visionary, and on mission— as well as full of faith, hope, and an expectation God is going to show up and come through.

It reminds me of the lyric from Delirious band’s song “My Glorious,” which says “God will save the day and all will say my glorious!”

Do you believe “God will save the day?” When you’re backed into a corner, confused, scared, nervous, or just plain don’t know what to do in a situation, where do you turn? Do you expect and anticipate God to answer your cry for help and lead you down a new trail of adventure?

I do. I believe God has a plan for me, my life, my mission, and my ministry. I believe He is listening to my prayers and stands ready to answer and come to my rescue when I sincerely seek Him. And He will do the same for you!

Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. —Ephesians 3:20–21 (NIV)

 

*Parts of this post were excerpts from my book Strange Leadership.

rsz_fall_photo_of_life_and_benchesI have lived with fear and anxiety for my entire life. It’s exhausting. I used to think that trouble was around every corner and lay in my bed paralyzed from a panic attack. You see, I had believed a lie from the enemy. I thought that because my dad died of a massive heart attack at the age of 60, that I too could expect to live 60 years or less. It was something I had accepted.

When I got diagnosed with General Anxiety Disorder in 2006 (I can’t believe it’s been a decade now), my psychiatrist at the time told me I was off the charts with anxiety and he had never seen anything like it.

This was after I had taken an anxiety test at one of the largest mental health and psychiatrists office in the United States (based in Dallas, TX) and the doctor that told me this was and is known all throughout the country and has been recognized by many mental health publications as having one of the top practices in the country.

My dad died when I was 21 and it was sudden. He had no prior heart issues. It so totally shocked and surprised me that I vowed that I would never be surprised again. Side note: It’s dangerous to make such vows. So, at the age of 21, I developed what they call “a sense of impending doom.” If my wife was late getting home, I thought she had been in a car accident; not only that, I had accepted it and started thinking about how my life would be without her.

If one of my kids was sick or going through a health crisis, I always thought the worst. When I had health issues, I always thought the worst and had accepted the lie that I would die young. This is how sick I was.

You see, I thought I could beat God “at His own game.” I thought I would beat Him to the punch-line and news that something horrible had happened. Remember, I vowed to never be surprised again.

My therapist (yes, I see a counselor and you should too) has helped me to see that anxiety is about control. I seek to control the outcome of everything and like I said, “It’s exhausting.”

I always joke that I become fully aware of this illusion of control when I fly. When the plane lifts off the ground, I feel helpless and I pray, “Okay God. My life is now in YOUR hands. Please guide this flight safely to my destination.” As if, I’m in total control of the events of life when I’m on the ground, but I allow God to control my life when I’m flying.

This sickness of impending doom and my lie about accepting “the fact” that I would die young started to crash around me at my church in Missouri. At this church, some of the biggest servants, partners in the gospel, healthy, strong, vibrant people in our church were over the age of 60. And not only that, they would ask me to pray for their parents! Say what? You still have parents alive when you’re in your 60’s?

These great men and women of God (in their 60s and 70s) not only served the church faithfully and ministered and prayed for me, but I went on mission trips with them to Haiti and they could do and lift things that I couldn’t do. They were stronger and healthier than me in my 30s.

Recently, I was at a retreat for consultants. I was by far the youngest man in the room. Every other pastor there was in their 60s and had been in ministry for 40 years or more. The man leading the retreat had been a consultant for 40 years. I was shocked. I came home and told my wife about these men that were still serving God in their 60’s and had not retired. Again, I had believed the lie that I was going to die at or before 60 because my dad had.

I was watching the second Presidential Debate on television along with tens of millions of other people and all I kept thinking was how sharp the minds of both candidates (who are about 70 years old) are. Say what you want about either politician, but they both were very quick-witted and knew every single talking point that they wanted to get across to the audience and the viewers from around the world.

I thought to myself, “Will I be alive when I’m 70?” and “Will my mind be as sharp as theirs?” I don’t know, but I’m going to live my life in such a way that I seek to be healthy physically, spiritually, emotionally, and mentally. I started exercising and eating right in the past year. I’m losing weight, seeing a therapist weekly and trying my best to be healthy in every way.

So, how have I made a complete 180 turnaround in my life and mindset? Well, it started by asking friends, family, mentors and godly men in my life to pray for me. It started when I opened up about my struggles. It started when I became vulnerable and asked for help.

I was at a men’s prayer gathering recently in Charlotte. (I go every Monday night) – I had a man come up to me and ask if he could pray for my anxiety and against the “spirit of death” hanging over me. I hadn’t told him anything and had never met the man before.

He prayed for me and I could feel God doing a work in my own spirit. The spirit of oppression started to lift as I settled things once and for all and stopped believing the lie that danger is around every corner, and that I’m about to die.

This man (who I had never met before) told me to read Psalm 118:17. Let me share it with you:

I will not die; instead, I will live
to tell what the Lord has done.
– Psalm 118:17 (NLT)

This is now the passion and cry of my heart. This is my mantra! This is my life verse. And guess what? I have never seen the man since. This took place half a year ago. I had never seen him before and I have never seen him since. God placed that man in my path and brought him into my life at just the right time – God’s timing. And I’ve never been the same.

Now, I look at life differently. Now, I plan for a long life with my wife and I take seriously saving up for retirement. I plan to see my kids get married and have kids of their own (which I never thought was possible before).

Why do I share such a personal story and open myself up to you like this? Because I think some of you, my friends, have believed a lie and may have a spirit of heaviness surrounding you. Maybe you’ve believed another lie from the enemy. Maybe you think because of your past, no one (especially God) could love you.

Hear me: Listen for the voice of truth and stop believing lies that don’t line up with the Word of God. I’m praying for you. I welcome your comments. I welcome your emails. I’m here for you. Your family and friends are here for you. And God is for you. He loves you. He’s close to the brokenhearted and ready to rescue you from the pit (Psalm 103).

So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come close to God, and God will come close to you. – James 4:7-8

I just wrote a devotional entitled “Take Courage: Winning the War on Fear.” You can read it daily on YouVersion and The Bible App. I share stories and Scriptures that have ministered to me on my personal journey over the last two decades.

You see, I was 21 when my dad died. I just turned 41. I wasted two decades plagued by fear and anxiety and frankly, I’ve had enough. I’m walking in freedom and newness of life now and I pray you will, too. May you live life to the fullest!

Please check out my devotional and may God rescue you from your pit.

imagineRecently, I was attending my home church and listening to the guest speaker’s message. He started out by asking everyone to close their eyes. He said, “Picture a used car salesman. Picture a librarian. Picture a sumo wrestler.” Then, he said, “Picture a spiritual person.”

He went back and addressed each one. He asked the congregation, “What did you see when you pictured a used car salesman… a librarian… a sumo wrestler…?” And with each one he described the stereotypes and asked people to raise their hands if they pictured the same thing.

Then he asked, “What does a spiritual person look like? How many of you pictured Billy Graham? How many of you pictured Mother Teresa?” Then, like a brilliant communicator, he asked, “How many of you pictured yourself when I asked you to picture a spiritual person?” 

He went on from there, but I was so proud of the preacher and here’s why: Over the past 12 years when I have spoken at pastors and leadership conferences, I have urged pastors to, “Paint a picture with your words. Don’t underestimate the power of imagination.” 

“Imagination is more important that knowledge.” —Albert Einstein

This reality really hit home for me several years ago. I was doing some consulting with Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, TX. I had done a seminar and training for their entire creative, worship, and tech leadership team. Their worship pastor at the time, Todd Bell, invited me back to speak to their entire teaching team (they had several teaching pastors plus interns), including Pastor Jack Graham, who at that time was the President of the Southern Baptist Convention.

I had prepared a class based on using visual aids, video clips, and illustrations to enhance your message and was ready to go when God interrupted me the night before. God, in His gentle whisper, reminded me Jack Graham is heard on the radio all over the world and all of what I was prepared to teach on wouldn’t apply to those simply listening on the radio and not able to see a video clip.

God laid it on my heart I should include the part on imagination I had taught at previous conferences. I added it in last second and thanked God for redirecting my good intentions. Something I said to them and I say at every conference I speak at, is to not be afraid of having your video screens go to black and then say something like, “Close your eyes and listen as I read this story.” or “Close your eyes and listen as I read this passage of Scripture.”

The honest truth is too many communicators rely too much on tech; they’re lazy in their preparation and it shows. If you were to preach on a Sunday when the power went out and you couldn’t use any visuals, PowerPoint or videos, and your sermon fell apart, you’re basically admitting you had nothing to say. Videos and graphics are supplemental enhancements—they can’t be the meat of what you communicate. Read those last two sentences again.

Please know I’m all for using media and have taught on it widely, but I always caution my audience to not let the “tail wag the dog.” You should never say, “Hey, I found this cool video clip. Let’s build a message around it.” This way is backwards. Plan to preach what God has laid on your heart, rooted in Scripture, and if there happens to be a video clip which supports or illustrates one of your points, great! But it must be in a supporting role.

However, you may just find that asking people to close their eyes and imagine what you’re describing is more powerful than any picture or video you could show.

Not only is Jesus the perfect model for leadership, He is the perfect model for communication. Jesus was the greatest preacher who ever lived. You only have to read the gospels once to see how Jesus captured the imaginations of all who came to hear Him. Jesus understood if you can capture one’s imagination, it will take them on a glorious adventure and have far greater impact than a picture or video we try to show them. Jesus, through parables, led people on a journey of discovery and insight by using words and illustrations which got across the message He was trying to teach.

Often, I’ve used the example of Moses parting the Red Sea. I’ve asked classrooms full of people to close their eyes and picture the giant walls of water on each side of them, with fishes, whales, and sea creatures swimming about, but not breaking through the walls of water. Then, I would show them a drawing of Moses parting the Red Sea which some artist came up with and I’d ask: “Which was better? What you saw in your mind or this picture of a drawing?” It was always what they had pictured in their mind.

“We can apply this understanding to our own creative efforts at many levels. On the most superficial level, we learn from the prophets that the tools best suited for communicating to the imagination are image, parables and sometimes even bizarre activity! At a deeper level, we learn that if we are to effect permanent change in people’s hearts, we must do more than simply teach them facts or reduce them to some emotional experience. Like the prophets, we must learn to reach out to the heart as well as the mind by speaking to the imagination. We must allow our audience the freedom to make realizations on their own, as with the parables of the prophets, particularly the prophet Jesus!” —Michael Card, (Scribbling in the Sand)

David Enyart said, “Frequently, creativity and imaginativeness are casualties of ministerial education. Ministers start to mistrust or ignore their own creative impulses; they come to view imagination as a child’s play toy rather than an essential tool for vibrant communication.” What a shame.

Mark Batterson wrote an article titled “Postmodern Wells.” In it, he said, “Don’t get me wrong: the message is sacred. But methods are not. And the moment we anoint our methods as sacred, we stop creating the future and start repeating the past. We stop doing ministry out of imagination and start doing ministry out of memory.” Are you doing ministry out of imagination or out of memory?

“Our imaginations are involved in every area of our lives, in everything we do or say or are. It is no wonder that God is so intent upon recapturing them. Therefore, we must seek to understand the imagination biblically, that is, Christ-centeredly.

The imagination is the bridge between the heart and the mind, integrating both, allowing us to think/understand with our hearts and feel/emote with our minds. It is a vehicle for truth. Through the use of images, metaphors, stories and paradoxes that demand our attention, it calls for our interaction. The imagination is a powerful means for communicating truths about God, and so God shows an awesome regard for the imagination in His word.

Because we are called to creativity, a working, gut-level understanding of the imagination is vital. It can be our greatest strength or our greatest weakness. To harness the imagination, or better yet, to bring it under submission to Christ is something about which we don’t talk or pray or do enough.” – Michael Card (Scribbling in the Sand)

Michael Card, whom I respect, believes having a “working, gut-level understanding of the imagination is vital.” Not only this, he thinks it can be “our greatest strength or our greatest weakness.” Wow! What if you or someone on your team has this glaring weakness which has never been pointed out? What if you’re not tapping into the power of the imagination and your leadership, team, service, and ministry are suffering because of it? What if…?

“Creativity is part of God’s divine nature, and He has given it to us as a gift. Like so many of God’s gifts, creativity is often neglected or wrongfully used…Imagination is the first storytelling tool. To properly tell a story, you must see it in your mind.” —John Walsh, author of The Art of Storytelling

My prayer for pastors everywhere is that they become better and more effective communicators of the gospel. How have you used your words to paint a picture for your people? Is God speaking to you in this area and will you allow Him to tap into the power of the imagination of your congregation?

 

*** Some parts of this were excerpts from my book Strange Leadership.

graceGRACE. It’s my favorite word. As a matter of fact, I named my first-born child Grace. I often tell her how special her name is. I know she gets tired of hearing it (or maybe she secretly loves it), but I point out every song, sermon, or movie that mentions the word “grace.”

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I recently became the Executive Director of ExPastors.com. We have a mission statement that reads as follows: We seek to be a place of help, healing, and hope for ex-pastors, pastors, and church leaders. We do this by hearing their stories, connecting them with people and resources, and focusing on spiritual, physical, mental and emotional health.

When Tullian Tchividjian reached out to us and I talked with him on the phone, I heard a man that had committed a sin (a serious sin before God and that is a hot-button for many people). I heard a man that had experienced brokenness, shame, loneliness, deep and dark sadness, and regret over what he had done to his family, and how he let his church and followers down.

As a matter of fact, Tullian was in such a dark place of sadness, regret, loneliness, anger, and frustration that he set out to take his life. He even wrote a suicide note that he shared in the piece we published. You can read it here.

Why did we share his piece? I shared today on ExPastors.com, we didn’t share it because he had “arrived,” or we thought he was “fully restored,” or that we believed he was “ready to re-enter ministry.” We don’t know any of that – that’s between him and God. He did, however, address those questions and accusations with RNS in this piece. A while back, when writing about Tullian, Charisma News wrote the following:

“Weak areas such as drugs, alcohol, pain meds, sex, anger, marriage issues, and so on are ‘opportune times’ for the enemy to strike. We must expose these areas through repentance, and install safeguards and accountability.”

I agree. Friends, I’ve been in ministry for over two decades and I know and have experienced the attacks, traps, temptations, and lies of the enemy. I urge you to pray for pastors around the world. And I challenge you to sincerely pray for pastors who have fallen (like Tullian), been fired for addiction (like Perry Noble), and burned out (like Pete Wilson).

We, as a ministry, and myself personally, took a ton of heat, bullets, and accusations by many upset and angry people. Did they have a right to be upset and angry? I don’t know. I just know that when it comes to truth and grace, I always lean towards grace. A therapist, professor and author that I respect said the same thing. Only Jesus perfectly embodies truth and grace equally. He is 100% truth and 100% grace. We all lean one way or the other.

On Wednesday night, after we and I took a beating on our website and on social media, I looked my daughter Grace in the eyes, with tears in my eyes and said, “You know how special your name is to me, right?” She said, “Yes.” I told her about the personal attacks I had received for showing Tullian grace. And I reminded her:

“Grace is unmerited favor. You can’t earn grace (thank God). We don’t receive grace because we’re perfect, deserve it, or have it all together. Grace is freely offered by God to us and we should freely offer it to others.”

Tullian’s grandfather, Billy Graham, wrote about grace and the unmerited favor of God here. I encourage you to read it. You can read more about what we, at ExPastors, believe and are about here.

So, Thursday after being emotionally drained and exhausted from the constant attacks on our website, social media, and people that targetted me personally and questioned my integrity, I went to see my therapist for our weekly appointment. Yes, I see a counselor. Yes, I believe strongly in therapy. And I’ve writen and spoke out about it frequently. I think every pastor should see a therapist. One of the lies and traps of the enemy is isolation. If you feel alone and have no one to talk to, you will fall (or take your life), and be another statistic.

So, last week I met with my therapist. He said, “What would you like to talk about today?” I said, “I have a lot to talk about, express, get off my chest, and get some counsel on.” So, I told him about my week and the reason we published Tullian’s piece. I told him that many pastors commit suicide each year. In an article by Charisma News, they wrote: “It’s this thought process that could have caused both Seth Oiler and Isaac Hunter to take their own lives after being caught in affairs.” God help us!

My therapist told me of another local therapist that used to be a Lutheran minister. He said this former minister is now a practicing counselor, who’s whole practice is dedicated to helping former pastors. Believe me, I will be reaching out to this counselor and getting to know him.

I told my therapist (and this is the God’s honest truth) that when I woke up Wednesday morning (after we posted Tullian’s piece on Tuesday), the first thought in mind before I even sat up and put my feet on the ground was:

JUST ONE. Yes, we took a lot of heat and bullets for posting the article, but if just one pastor read Tullian’s story of deep, dark depression that led him to consider taking his own life. If just one pastor decided to not take his life and seek help so they can keep on living – it was worth it all. 

My therapist encouraged me by reminding me of the “Starfish story.” You’ve probably heard it. Ever heard of the man walking along the beach and picking up starfish and throwing them back into the water so they wouldn’t die? Someone mocked him because there was no way he could make a difference and save every starfish. The man picked up a starfish, threw it in the water and said something like, “It made a difference to that one.”

Read my article on ExPastors.com entitled, “It’s Okay to Not Be Okay. This is a Safe Place.” In the article I write, “We reach all kinds of pastors and ex-pastors: broken, hurt, wounded, mad, angry at God, angry at the Church, confused, on the verge of suicide (like Tullian Tchividjian shared), in transition, now in lay leadership, pastors who have burned out and are ready to quit, pastors who have resigned and now work a job outside the local church, pastors who were fired, pastors who were laid off due to finances or circumstances out of their control – all kinds of pastors and church leaders.

As my friend Pete Wilson once said, “It’s okay not to be okay.” And I would add, “This is a safe place. All are welcome here. Whether you like us or not, trust us or not, love us or hate us, agree with us or not, or are just checking us out – we welcome you.

And like it or not, Tullian is the very definition of an ex-pastor. For every mega-church pastor, author and/or conference speaker that finds themselves in a similar situation, there are hundreds or thousands of ex-pastors and struggling pastors that are hurting and/or burned out – they just pastor smaller churches and don’t have the platform that Tullian has. And to you, my friend, I also say, “This is a safe place.””

So, if you stumbled across this blog post and God has stirred something in your soul. If you’re a current or ex-pastor, we’d love to hear from you. Submit your story to us. It doesn’t matter if you pastor a church of 10 people, 100, or a 1000. We’re in this together and we hope to create a community where people can help one another get through tough seasons of ministry and life. If you’re at the end of your rope and need of help, contact us. We want to connect you with resources and other pastors.

Browse the site. Read through our articles. Maybe you’ll find something helpful and timely. Check out our Resources page and if you have a recommended resource, email us. Check the site often. Subscribe to our newsletter to get weekly email updates and subscribe to our YouTube channel to keep up with video content, including our new podcast (coming soon). FYI – When you subscribe to the ExPastors.com newsletter, you’ll receive a free copy of our Founder, Bo Lane’s best-selling book Why Pastors Quit.

Let’s be people known for and characterized by GRACE. That’s my story and my personal mission. I’m a grace dealer and I’m going to keep on dishing it out. God bless you pastors as you serve the Church. Keep pressing on. Don’t give up! You’re not alone.