4 Posts from May 2010

Counteracting the Perils of Ministry Success

I want God’s best for you, my friend. But I’ll be honest, I fear for you.

Why? You are gifted. You have the ears of your congregation. They hang on your words. They love and trust you. So what’s the problem? One of the most vulnerable times in your ministry is a season of success.

In a recent chapel service at Dallas Theological Seminary, I spoke on how to counteract the perils of achievement in ministry.

My request of you? Give me the next half hour and allow me to share with you through this video how you can truly succeed in ministry.


The Church: A Place of Mentoring, Part 2

A church as God intends it is not a gathering of people who sit back and listen to one person preach. Instead, one life touches the life of another, who then touches the lives of people in his or her sphere of influence—those whom the originator would never have known. To make it even more exciting, those recipients, in turn, touch the lives of others also. That is a contagious ministry. 

The medical profession models the idea of multiplication very well. They don’t just educate and graduate medical students and then cut them loose, saying, “Okay, folks, lots of luck. Carve away!” How would you like to be a patient lying on the bed, about to go in for surgery, and the doctor blurts, “You know, I’ve never really actually done surgery, but hey, we’ll give it the ol’ college try. Turn on the anesthesia doc . . . and let’s get ‘er done!” You’d explode, “WAIT, STOP!” Why? Because you want somebody who’s been trained. Really trained. You want a professional who has learned specific, tried-and-true techniques of doing medical work correctly—one who has spent years being shaped, observed, confronted, reproved, rebuked, and corrected. In a word, you need someone who has been mentored

Any education is most effective when the teachers are more than mere dispensers of information. Students need a school where the professors care about the lives of their students, where a student is not just number 314 in the class. That’s why I don’t believe a theological education can take place online. (No one learns surgery online, by the way.) Information can go on the Web . . . but an education requires more than data. It involves the touch of a mentor—one seasoned life poured into another inexperienced life. 

Why do I say this with such conviction? I am the product of mentoring. There have been men in my life, some of whom you would not know if I wrote their names, who have made a major difference in my life. They saw potential where I did not. They encouraged me to become something more than I was. They reproved me and corrected my mistakes. They modeled what I longed to become. They warned me . . . challenged me . . . guided me. One of the first of these men saw the most potential in me where I saw the least. 

One of my mentors, Dr. Howard Hendricks, says that every Christian needs at least three individuals in his or her life. We need someone who has come before us who mentors us. We need another beside us who shares our burden. And we need someone beyond us whom we’re mentoring. 

Otherwise, we grow stagnant. The church then becomes a place where Christians sit, soak, and sour. They walk in, take notes, walk out, and come back next week . . . to sit, take notes, walk out, and return again next week . . . to sit, take more notes, and walk out . . . until (ho-hum) Jesus comes back. What’s wrong with that picture? VIRTUALLY EVERYTHING! There’s no passion . . . no contagion. No personal application and change. No passing of the baton. No multiplication. There is passivity and stagnation!  

Make no mistake, we all need mentors. Furthermore, we all need those we are mentoring. The church is the ideal place to connect both.

When it does, I repeat, it becomes a contagious place. 


See also The Church: A Place of Mentoring, Part 1

The Church: A Place of Mentoring, Part 1

Jesus gave the church its marching orders in practical terms. You’re familiar with His words:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19–20)

Here, in Jesus’s Great Commission to His followers, we find no greater challenge . . . and no more comforting promise. This is what Jesus meant when He told them, “As the Father has sent Me, I also send you” (John 20:21).

But you probably have never considered the Great Commission as part of what makes a church contagious. The command to “make disciples” has two parts. The first, “baptizing them,” assumes that we’ll share our faith with the lost. The second, “teaching them to observe,” directs us to share our lives of faith with those who have believed in Jesus. Looking at the second chapter of Paul’s final letter to Timothy, we see the practical outworking of how the Lord intends this “teaching” to occur:

The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. (2 Timothy 2:2)

This verse offers us a practical principle: Churches that are contagious faithfully mentor those who are coming along in the Christian life. The verb that gives us this direction is “entrust.” The term literally means, “to deposit as a trust.” I like that image. We invest the truth like a trust in the lives of others. It is a valuable message that we pass along to others.

Paul’s words to Timothy outline a process of multiplication that can be visualized in a simple chart:

Paul    -->    Timothy    -->    faithful men and women    -->    others also

Duane Litfin, president of Wheaton College, calls this “the endless chain of Christian discipleship.” The Navigators call this the “ministry of multiplication.” Both are correct. There is no question; this is an essential part of a contagious church.

But there is a question I must ask: Is this process occurring in your ministry as a pastor?


The Cure for Worry, Part 2

If prayer is the cure for worry, you might be tempted to think that your prayer was ineffective. Maybe you feel that you somehow failed because your anxiety returned—perhaps as soon as you said, “Amen.”

Happens to me from time to time. I take my persistent anxiety as a signal that I need more time before the Father, reviewing all the details of my situation, telling Him how much it plagues me, and sometimes even admitting that I’m afraid He won’t handle it soon enough. Having a deep, persistent concern for a problem is not the same as worry. Not at all! Worry is choosing to fret and churn instead of turning it completely over to God. Worry is wrestling with anxiety on your own rather than releasing it to the Father. Big difference.

Most people whom I consider to be men and women of prayer go before God because their hearts are heavy. They tell me that nothing but continual conversation with Him brings them relief. So, if you tend to worry a lot, here’s a solution: pray a lot.

For such relief to become a reality you will have to exercise the discipline of surrender as you rely on Him to solve the problem . . . in His way and in His time. Effective, results-getting prayer includes the thought, Lord, this is Your problem to handle. You take control. Let me know what You want me to do if I’m to be involved in the solution. By leaving it with You, I will consider it solved.

It’s at that point you discipline your mind not to worry. Refuse to continue seeking answers or trying to find resolution. You solved the problem by giving it to God. Your major responsibility now is to wait for His leading. When He wants you to act, He will make it clear. He has dozens of ways to do that, so there’s no need for you to force that door open on your own. As you wait before Him, He will direct your thoughts to the next step you should take. If there is nothing He leads you to do, do nothing more. He will take it from there.

Because we are weak creatures of habit, our anxiety will quite likely return and we will have to return to prayer and release it all again. That’s normal. In fact, if we could rid ourselves of all anxiety with a thirty-second prayer, 1 Thessalonians 5:17, “pray without ceasing,” wouldn’t make much sense.

Start your day with prayer and continue praying off and on throughout the day. Pray as you drive. Pray at work. Pray before your lunch break. Pray as you study. Pray before you preach. Pray as you preach. Pray when you get that difficult phone call. Pray when you are disappointed by something or someone. Pray when surprises come. Pray when you triumph. Pray in the midst of painful news. Pray without ceasing . . . literally.

Your heavenly Father, being touched deeply over your struggles, loves it when you come to Him, asking for help. He is right there, ready to step in. Invite Him to do just that!

Trust me . . . He will.


See also The Cure for Worry, Part 1