Tag Archives: pastor

If You Want to Make It Through This Next Year, Do This!

Sometimes the world works counterintuitively.  Sometimes you must go backwards to go forwards.  Sometimes you must steer right to go left.

For example, when you navigate a sailboat, you must turn the tiller in the opposite direction you want the vessel to go.  Or, when riding a motorcycle, if you’re going to make a hard right turn, you must turn the handlebar sharply to the left.  Sometimes things are counterintuitive.

This same principle is true for resilience and promoting physical and mental health during increased and prolonged stress.  What we want or are inclined to do is often the opposite of what we need.

As we persevere through this pandemic, the stress is prolonged and compounded.  It is both cumulative and exponential.  The way to survive this sustained stress is counterintuitive. 

This should not come as a surprise.  The way to health is often the opposite of what we are prone to.  For example, you expel energy (through exercise) if you want more energy.  Additionally, if you struggle with inclinations to withdraw from others in times of stress, the opposite is a better choice: embracing healthy relationships and community.  Health is often found in the opposite direction that we are prone to travel in times of stress.

When times are challenging, and we are experiencing extended seasons of stress, we all have a tendency and impulse to focus on ourselves.  However, counterintuitively, the healthiest thing we can do is care for others.  Research states that when we care for others, check in on them, practically care for them and pray for them, we feel better.  And it is not for the reasons you think. 

It is not because you will realize someone else has it worse than you.

It is not because you will get a warm fuzzy feeling for doing a good deed, although that may occur.

Instead, there is something intrinsically life-giving when we love and care for others.  When we care and show compassion for others, we begin to recalibrate our self-talk and become more compassionate with ourselves.  We rewire our brains towards compassion. 

“Research also shows that when we do focus on caring for others in times of stress, it changes our brain chemistry in such a way that produce feelings of both hope and courage.” (Why Has Nobody Told Me This Before by Julie Smith, pg. 253)

Thus, if you want to survive this season of prolonged stress as a church leader, family member, business owner, etc., one of the best things you can do is find others to care for, not just others to care for you.  Although it may be counter-intuitive, it is one proven strategy in building resiliency.

Now, I need to make an important distinction that this is not about removing healthy boundaries with people.  Or, if you are suffering from compassion fatigue, this is not calling you to feel guilty for not caring for others or having the ability to do so.  It is essential to draw healthy boundaries and keep them in those circumstances. Instead, I am referring to those just struggling to find hope and courage in this stressful pandemic season. 

Therefore, if you are wrestling with hope and courage, find resilience by counterintuitively giving them away!  As you encourage and bless others, you will be blessed as a result. 

Be of Good Courage

Dear Pastors and Church Leaders,

I have never seen so much discouragement in ministry!  Almost every ministry friend and colleague across denominations and traditions are feeling beat up by an onslaught of discouragement.

Like you, I have felt the dirge of discouragement that echoes in Covid’s wake.  Although I hesitate to assume what others are experiencing, I think it is fair to say that a long season of disconnection, isolation, disruptions of the feedback loops we relied upon to gauge effectiveness, constant pivots, and relational divisions have taken a compounded toll.  Maybe you can relate. 

If your hope has been pillaged in Covid’s wake, I want to infuse some courage into your leadership veins.  Like Joab to David in 2 Samuel 10:12, I want to call you to good courage.

 “Be of good courage, and let us be courageous for our people, and for the cities of our God, and may the LORD do what seems good to him.” 2 Samuel 10:12, ESV

As you look ahead with weary eyes and worn souls, may you embrace “good courage.”  Sometimes we can embrace a false or counterfeit courage that seems brave on the surface but only carries the veneer of valour. 

Counterfeit courage is easy to conjure.  It is often based on self-confidence and self-sufficiency.  Because it is based on us, it is fragile and brittle.  But that is not the courage Joab calls David too.  Joab calls David to good courage rooted in God’s goodness for what seems good to God.

False courage is easy to pass off in times of abundance and excess.  But when times are difficult and good news is scarce, counterfeit courage wears thin.  In seasons of trial, our courage is sifted. 

Not only does Joab give David a call to courage, but he also defines it in such a way that we can evaluate and sift courage in our lives to see if it is good or not.  To sift the courage in your life, ask yourself who your courage is for?  Joab calls David to good courage for the people and the city, not for David and his self-preservation. 

Good courage is always for others. Thus, if you are looking for the courage to fan your reputation, puff up your pride, or advance your position, it ceases to be good.  It has become corrupted by selfishness and is no longer found in a good God.  However, if your courage is for others, your church, your family, etc., it proves to be genuine and good, able to weather the storms of leadership in self-sacrifice, discomfort, and suffering for a greater good and God’s Glory.

Pastors and church leaders, as you enter the season ahead, may you hear the invitation: “Be of good courage, and let us be courageous for our people, and for the cities of our God, and may the LORD do what seems good to him.” 

Jesus is where your living hope is found, your good courage is rooted, and where the rest for the weary is discovered.  Reject counterfeit courage rooted in prideful arrogance and embrace good courage focused on others and rooted in a good and gracious God for His Glory.  This is the courage that will carry you through!

Pastors and church leaders, be of good courage!

Five Things to Consider This Christmas

Dear Pastors and Church Leaders,

How are you doing…really?

If you are like most pastors and church leaders these days, the longevity of this season of change, division, lack of volunteers, decrease in giving, etc. has depleted your limited reserves and you are past empty.

Covid has taken its overpriced toll and you are not alone.  According to Barna Research, 38% of US pastors (it is probably the same in Canada) have seriously thought about quitting (an increase from earlier in 2021). https://www.barna.com/research/pastors-well-being

As we enter our second Covid Christmas, I want to offer five things to consider as encouragement and advice for both your soul and your ministry:


Take Time to Disentangle Your Life from Your Ministry

The pandemic has been an accelerator and amplifier.  It has accelerated change and amplified challenges.  One of the challenges for pastors that has been amplified is ministry entanglement.  It is understandably hard for pastors to separate their ministry from their marriage, friends, family, personal life, etc.  They are by nature interconnected and intertwined.  Thus, when there are stresses and challenges in ministry, it can suffocate the other areas of their lives.  In fact, the very challenges Covid has amplified (feeling disconnected, incompetent, and beat up from division and hurting people) may be strangling the life and joy out of you and making you feel increasingly isolated and alone.

When you are being suffocated by ministry entanglement, it is not a simple task to disentangle yourself and begin to breathe again.  It is a complicated web, formed over time and tied in knots by lies regarding your identity.  It is possible to untangle yourself, but it is not easy.  Like all knots, the first thing to do when you look to untangle them is to find the ends.  One way to do this is by creating an identity statement that states who you are separate from what you do and your role as a pastor.  Write a paragraph statement that you can read daily as a reminder of what your life is supposed to look like when untangled from what you do.  Second, create a relationship inventory to see gaps in your relationships and discover how many of them are personal over professional (ministry-related).  It is vital to have relationships that exist outside of what do you and feed into who you are apart from your ministry role.  Thirdly, you will need help.  These kinds of knots can’t be undone alone, and you need the help of a trusted friend and/or counsellor to guide you.  Finally, begin to rediscover joy in life by intentionally doing things you enjoy (or if it has been a while, things you once enjoyed) with people you enjoy, seeking to laugh each day (with the goal to laugh so much it hurts once a week) and embrace God’s gift of fun.

Embrace Neo-nostalgia this Christmas

As you lead your church this Christmas, embrace the new and creative but do it with a sense of traditional nostalgia this Christmas.  Embrace the traditions of your church, sing classic Christmas songs, light lots of candles, and embrace the familiar.  There is comfort in familiarity and this Christmas I sense people need the grilled-cheese-and-tomato-soap-on-a-rainy-day-Christmas over the hyper-creative-gourmet-meal that sees familiarity as the enemy.  Take a new spin on traditional (the neo of the neo-nostalgia) but embrace the familiar rather than shy away from it.

Personalize Care this Christmas

If it has been a while since you have checked in with your congregation, now is the time to personalize care again.  Make phone calls, do creative deliveries, mail personalized notes, etc.  Every church context is different, but regardless of your context or church size find a way to personally care this Christmas.  In a season of disconnection, these connection points (although taxing for you, your staff, and your congregational care team) are the lifeline for your church family. 

Be Flexible and Have Backup Plans

This should be second nature by now, but whatever you do, don’t put all your eggs in one regather basket.  Every jurisdiction is different, but it is key to have backup plans for your backup plans.  Covid can change in an instant and having a way to move online or that allows for more people to gather in person is key to adjusting in this season.  Having alternative plans is a little more work upfront but it can reduce stress and anxiety for you and your team, allowing for quick and effective pivots if needed.

Keep Going!

In every pastoral coaching call I do, every pastoral ministry class I teach, and pastor group I speak to, I end with an encouragement to “Keep going!”  Covid has been a leadership marathon, and, like all marathons, the runners don’t need cheers at the beginning of the race.  Rather, the runners need it most as they approach the “runner’s wall” when the impulse to quit and give up is at its peak.  It is exactly at this point that they need to be reminded that a breakthrough is coming and that things are better than they appear.  I sense we are approaching the wall and as we do, we are also at our most vulnerable to despair and hopelessness.

Maybe this Christmas is the pastoral ministry wall for you.  If so, I want you to hear me, and many others who are cheering you on.

You can do it!

Don’t give up!

Keep going!

It is worth it!

Jesus is worth it!

The Fog of Fall

The church has historically used a boat metaphor to help understand itself and its purpose (I use this image extensively in my book, Expedition: Following Jesus on a Mast-Raising, Sail-Setting, and Treasure-Seeking Journey to the Ends of the Earth).  As the church charts its way into the fall, it is heading into a fog.  There are so many unknowns and all the landmarks that we trusted to navigate have been obscured by the fog of the unknown.  This is disorientating but it can also be frightening.

Navigating a naval vessel in the fog is not for the faint of heart.  It demands unique skills and nautical practices.  One must use foghorns to announce one’s presence to other vessels and, conversely, carefully listen for others to sound off on their location.  One would also dispatch lookouts with sharp wits, focused eyes, and keen ears. 

This is what the fall will feel like for ministry leaders.  The fourth wave of Covid has created a fog and blinded us to many of the things we have relied on to navigate safely in ministry’s waters.  We once relied on casual foyer conversation to help us gauge how people were doing.  We once relied on in-person attendance to measure how the church was doing corporately and how people were doing individually.  These trusted symbols of success (as problematic as they were) have been overshadowed and made obsolete by the settling of Covid’s fog, obscuring our finely tuned leadership senses and making us feel vulnerable and confused.

As you lead into the fog, I want to encourage you to not lose heart.  Because you can’t see people, it doesn’t mean they are not tracking with you.  Because the church can’t gather in person, it doesn’t mean people aren’t gathering with you online in some way.  Because you don’t hear constant feedback or engage in casual in-person conversations, doesn’t mean you are not being effective.  Because you don’t feel like you are being effective, it doesn’t mean you are failing and, more importantly, faithfulness always trumps effectiveness anyway!

As you lead into the fog, I also want to encourage you to deploy the crew and loudly blow the foghorn for your congregation.  This is a season to be calling and connecting with your people by checking in.  People are afraid, frustrated, and feeling disconnected.  Blow the foghorn frequently and often.  Also, blow your foghorn in your community.  Embrace this season as an opportunity to serve and care for the community/neighbourhood/region God has placed your church in.  If you struggled with ways of letting your community know you are there for them, this is the time to find new and creative ways of caring (care for long term care home residents, health care workers, teachers, single mothers trying to navigate a global pandemic alone, etc.) and serving your community.

As you lead into the fog, rely on your maps and instruments.  Get back to the basics in ministry.  If there was ever an opportunity to reset our churches on the fundamentals of what we are called to do, now is the time.  Whatever the method, the mission and ministry of the church have always included the markers of sacraments, proclamation, service, worship, and community.  Whether in-person or online, and however one approaches their programs and church structure, these are the historic markers of the church.  Get back to the basics and rest in God’s boundless goodness and exuberant grace.

When the fog sets in, so does fear.  We fear the unknown.  We fear not being able to see.  We fear vulnerability.  However, in the obscurity of the fog, we also begin to rely on our other senses; our other senses heighten in the shadow of the fog.  Thus, when you can’t see, listen.  When we can’t see the future with predictability, listen for Jesus, the Good Shepherd, who is leading us (John 10:27).  Maybe one of the unforeseen gifts of this season is the tuning of our lives to the melodious voice of Jesus who, like all shepherds, leads with His voice.  Maybe we have become so accustomed to relying on our eyes in ministry that we have forgotten the call to listen and know the Shepherd’s voice and follow Him.

Although the fog has set in, it won’t last forever.  Press in, press on, and have hope.  Although the future may be obscured by the fog, our captain (King Jesus) knows the way and He will lead us through it. 

Keep going, keep leading, and, above all, be faithful.

As 1 Thessalonians 5:24 says, “The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.”

Keep Calm and Lead On

Dear Church Leader,

As we enter the final weeks of summer and prepare for the unknown of fall, there is an often-ignored leadership competency that is vital in this season.  It is the unappreciated ability to keep calm and lead on.”

We are about to approach the most volatile of ministry seasons.  Last year was difficult with lockdowns and restrictions but this year will be uniquely challenging with variants, increased restrictions, amplified polarization, unknown post-pandemic engagement/attendance patterns, and an overall fatigue in everyone, everywhere.

This bitter cocktail of uncertainly and weariness has created a reflux of anxiety and a tendency towards either willful ignorance or fear-filled reaction.  In seasons like this, a crucial leadership competency is the ability to lead humbly, calmly, and steadily with thoughtful deliberate action.

In every nautical adventure movie, there is a climactic scene where the ship is on a catastrophic trajectory (causing great anxiety and fear in the crew) and an abrupt maneuver is needed to avoid calamity (a torpedo is inbound, or a collision is imminent).  In these scenes, the crew is frantic and wanting to impulsively act but the captain knows it is not the right time.  Decisive action is needed but if the action happens too early or if the wrong action is taken, the ship will be in great peril. 

Calm, steady, and humble leadership is needed in times like this.  If you lead with anxiety and fear, you will react rather than respond.  If you lead with prideful arrogance, you will miss important information and make poor impulsive decisions.  Instead, keep calm and lead on.

As you desire to calmly lead in this season, here are three ways to do so from 1 Peter 5:1-11.

First, be humble and honest.  It is healthy to be appropriately transparent with your team about the uncertainty ahead.  Lead your team not from your uncertainty but from your humility, casting ALL your cares on God.  Lead with faith over fear.  Faith doesn’t blind us to the obstacles or challenges; rather, it changes the focal point.  Faith acknowledges the uncertainty while simultaneously focusing our attention on Jesus and His sovereignty.

Second, be alert and of sober mind.  As a church leader, you will be tempted to act based on how you feel and sense things to be.  Beware the danger of uncalibrated perceptions. In this season, all the feedback signals and effectiveness gauges that we grew accustomed to using and trusting have been disrupted.  As a result, you can’t fully trust your gauges.  How you sense things are may not be an accurate representation of reality.

Finally, be reminded that Jesus is on His eternal glorious throne.  Jesus is building His Church (even if we can’t see it, feel it, or quantify it), and He (the Chief Shepherd) will lead us through. The fall season ahead will be uniquely difficult, but we can have hope because Jesus is with us and leading us forward!

Keep calm and lead on.