4 Posts from November 2008

The Pastor’s Relationships—Recognizing Your Staff

My older son has taught me a lesson from his experience as a businessman: Our most important customers are our own team members. I have discovered that is also true in ministry.

Many of you serve in churches where at least one other staff member works alongside you. Listen to me: Some of the people easiest to overlook are fellow staff members. I work hard not to do that. Let me urge you to do the same.

Some of the most resourceful and insightful people I have known have been my staff people. One year we did a series of concerts at our church in California. Our music minister, Howie Stevenson, his wife, Marilyn, and their team of music makers put it together. People from around the community came to hear folk songs, pop songs, and fun songs. It was a smashing success! Every time we did it I had Howie stand up the following Sunday, and I told the congregation, “That’s the man who came up with this idea. That’s the man who gets the credit.” The place exploded with applause! Why did I do that? Because it was true.

We pastors often get the credit when we need to be passing it on to the one deserving it. We give enormous encouragement to our gifted staff when we publicly acknowledge them—and that affirmation motivates them to use their gifts in even greater ways.

Sometimes we’ll recognize or reward a church member more frequently or lavishly than we do a fellow staff member. A paycheck is not acknowledgment. It takes words of appreciation. Trust me, they mean most when they come from you, the pastor. 

In addition to recognizing them in public, do it also in private. Write them notes of encouragement. I mean handwritten notes. E-mail is quick and cheap; there’s little personalized in email . . . not even a signature! Write personal notes. Even if it’s as simple as saying,

Dear Frank,
This morning I felt that your presentation was spot on. Remarkable job!

I’m telling you, they’ll never forget it. They may even frame it! Once I was in the home of one of our church members. While walking up the stairs, I saw a simple note of thanks I had written framed on their wall. Framed! My first thought was to check, Did I spell everything right?   

Do you appreciate your staff? Tell them publicly. Tell them privately. Tell them often. Our most important customers are our own team members.

Let’s let them know that.


The Pastor’s Relationships—A Word to the Wives

At a recent pastors conference hosted by Insight for Living, one pastor’s wife asked me an insightful question. I’ll share her question with you, as well as my thoughts on it, so that you might pass it along to your wife, if appropriate. This woman asked, “What is the greatest contribution a wife can make to a man in ministry?”

Wonderful question. Let me respond directly . . . to your wife.

One of the greatest contributions you can make to your husband is that you be very secure in who you are. Pastors’ wives often feel they need to be something everyone else wants them to be. Some of that responsibility falls on us, as pastors, and I understand that. But it’s so important that you know who you are . . . and then be who you are.

From that place of security, it’s important that you be for your husband a person of objective support. Notice how I said that. Objective support. You’re neither a shadow nor a doormat. Furthermore, you’re not there to agree with everything. Some of the things you don’t agree with will be very helpful to him. But how you go about expressing your disagreement is very important. Remember, the goal is objective support. Both terms are essential.

Cynthia has learned how and when to question something I said in a sermon. But she has cultivated the ability to do it in a way that I feel supported by her. Younger wives tend to talk about it on the way home from church . . . not a good time! We pastors feel pretty fragile, even defensive, on Sunday afternoons. So it’s important that you learn how to say what you have to say. Remember the wives of leaders in the Bible? They had great influence . . . for good or evil. If you can remind your husband that you support him (even when you may disagree with him), he can face any challenge the ministry hurls his way. But if he doesn’t have your support—if he doubts that you believe in him—he may eventually quit the ministry in a pit of depression. I’ve seen it happen.

Finally, it’s important to keep his confidences. There are some issues I deal with that Cynthia does not know about—but they are very few. If I say to an individual, “No one will ever know this,” then I really mean no one will ever know it. But I’m careful when I say that. I usually add the caveat: “I may tell my wife about this, but she’ll make a burial of the information in her mind.” It is helpful for me to confide in my wife. Your husband needs that too. Assure him of your confidentiality.

Be very secure in who you are. Be a person of objective support. And be a trusted confidant.

He has so very few.


A Pastor’s Relationships—His Family, Part 2

I don’t want to intensify your guilt—not at all. But let me go ahead and say that it’s probably true that some of you are neglecting the home, and the ministry has become your mistress. Believe me; I understand how that can happen. I confess that there were periods in my own life when that occurred, which I have shared with you before. Having been there, I’m telling you: it isn’t worth it. My word to you is to learn the difference between being engaged in ministry and being controlled by it.

You still have a family! They still long to have lunch with you. They still love to get a phone call. They want to know wisdom from you outside the pulpit. They still yearn to have an arm around their shoulders. They still want you to make time to sit on the back porch and kick back and listen. They want you to attend their ball games and go to their performance and see you relax . . . really relax! They still want to know that you can do more in your spare time than study. And they really want to hear you laugh! They are the ones you will leave in your legacy—the only ones who have your blood and your name. They need you. They want you. After all, they’re the ones who could write the unauthorized biography. Oh, what a thought! I won’t go there.

Let me end this entry by quoting from a book you should get if you don’t have it. Ken Gire, in his little volume A Father’s Gift: The Legacy of Memories, closes with these reflective words.

What pictures will my son remember
when he comes to the plain granite marker
over his father’s grave?
What will my daughters remember?
Or my wife? . . .

. . . I’ve resolved to give fewer lectures,
to send fewer platitudes rolling their way,
to give less criticism,
to offer fewer opinions. . . .

. . . From now on, I will give them pictures they can live by,
pictures that can comfort them,
encourage them,
and keep them warm
in my absence.

Because when I’m gone, there will only be silence.
And memories. . . .

. . . Of all
I could give
to make their lives a little fuller,
a little richer,
a little more prepared
for the journey ahead of them,
nothing compares to the gift of remembrance—
pictures that show they are special
and that they are loved.

Pictures that will be there
when I am not.

Pictures that have within them
a redemption all their own.1

See also A Pastor’s Relationships—His Family, Part 1

1 Ken Gire, A Father’s Gift: The Legacy of Memories (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992), 51, 53, 57.

Character—It's Been Buried Long Enough

Consider the words of Solomon:

“He who walks in integrity walks securely,
But he who perverts his ways will be found out” (Proverbs 10:9).

Before reading on, go back and read that again.

By the time Job had reared his family, established himself in the business world, and gotten up in years, he had become “the greatest of all the men of the east” (Job 1:3).

Joseph became Potiphar’s personal servant and later was put in charge over all Potiphar owned (Genesis 39:5). Whether before the workers or handling large sums of money or serving a large group of guests or all alone in the home with Mrs. Potiphar, Joseph could be trusted.

Daniel also comes to mind. He came up for promotion to prime minister, and those who envied him “began trying to find a ground of accusation against Daniel” (Daniel 6:4). No dirt. They struck out. After every attempt to dig up some questionable issue, “they could find no ground of accusation or evidence of corruption” anywhere (6:4). Like Job and Joseph, Daniel walked securely in his integrity. He never feared being “found out.”

What is it that these men had in common? Perfection? No, each person I have named was far from perfect. Easy times? Hardly. A closer look will reveal heartaches and hardships that would make your head swim. Well, how about an impressive presence, carefully choreographed by a public-image department? Don’t make me laugh. So, how about slick rhetoric? Wrong again. We can dream up a half dozen other possibilities that some might suggest, but they would be as far off target as the four I’ve mentioned.

What they had in common was character. Each man I have selected from the Scriptures had high moral character. It is easy to overlook that essential ingredient among leaders in our times . . . especially during an election year.

Unfortunately, we have grown accustomed to shrugging off secretive and deceptive lifestyles. We have heard so often that finding people who value honesty and model responsibility, who promote fairness, accountability, loyalty, and respect for others, and who hold to strong, upright convictions is not realistic. As one air-headed soul said recently, “We’re voting for president, not pope.” To such an analogy I reply, “Hogwash.”

Call me old-fashioned or idealistic if you wish, but my passionate plea is that we unearth and restore the concept of character. It’s been buried long enough. It belongs first on our list when searching for employees in the workplace. It must be a nonnegotiable among those we place into leadership positions in our schools, our cities, our state . . . and, absolutely, in our churches and in our nation. Character is what wholesome parents strive to cultivate in their children. It is what great moms and dads look for and long for among those their teenagers date. It is the foundational quality that all of us expect from the circle of professionals and laborers who serve us. We may not say it every time, but deep down in our souls, we long for and expect character. When it is lacking, we feel it; we resent it. Character is the “given” in greatness.

Then why, may I ask, is it so seldom mentioned? Could it be because most have come to believe we have no right to expect it? After all, “nobody’s perfect.”

It is character we require, I repeat, not perfection. From our nation’s beginnings, back when great men and women, albeit imperfect, occupied places of leadership, public officials exhibited true virtue . . . dignity, self-mastery, resoluteness, determination, strength of will, moral purity, personal integrity, and sacrificial patriotism. They were selected and elected because they were examples in public leadership and in private life. Because some have failed to live up to the minimal standard has not changed the ideal.

Solomon was right. Those with integrity walk securely . . . with no fear of being “found out.” If men such as Job and Joseph and Daniel could demonstrate character in the worst of times, you and I can do so now—today.

And because we can, we must.