Tag Archives: Inspireality

Inspi(re)ality: Rich Little on Mentoring (Video Interview)

 

All this month on Inspi(re)laity we’ve been talking about the importance of mentoring and discipling within our churches. Last week, I sat down with Rich Little, the preaching minister at the University Church of Christ in Malibu, California. Rich is a fantastic preacher and communicator, and he was also my Freshman Bible Teacher at Harding University.

Ever since I’ve known him he’s been passionate about mentoring the generations that are coming behind him, so I sat down to ask him for practical advice on what he’s learned.

In the Interview I asked Rich 5 questions:

1. When I was at Harding, one of the pivotal moments of my life was you sitting me down and calling me out to preach. What do you look for when you are going to mentor someone?

2. Why are you so passionate about mentoring younger ministers?

3. Most of the pushback I hear about mentoring is that our schedules are already full, how do you balance time with ministry/family/writing with mentoring?

4. What are some of the challenges you’ve faced with mentoring in the past?

5. What advice would you give to someone who is just thinking about doing this for the first time?

What I love about Rich is that he is really someone who is smoking what they’re selling. It’s easy for preachers to talk about the lack of discipleship in our churches, it’s another thing to actually seek out younger men and women to disciple.

You can hear follow Rich on Twitter here, and read his blog that he posts regularly at here.

Inspi(re)ality: A Ministry that Keeps on Building

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During the month of March, we’ve dedicated Thursdays to talking about mentoring, why it’s important and practical tips about how to go about doing it. Today’s post is by a man who’s worked hard to mentor younger ministers, as well as get mentoring. Jim is the preacher at the Crestview Church of Christ, and is one of the best ministers and encouragers I know. Jim consistently writes great content for leadership/ministry at his blog over at www.godhungry.org.  You can follow him on Twitter here. And I highly recommend checking out his blog here.

Meet Jim:

For much of my adult life I have desired to be mentored. As a young minister, it was very clear to me that I had much to learn. Consequently, I was very intentional about seeking out people from whom I could learn. Over the years I have gained from the following:

  • Several trusted ministers who were very patient as I came to them again and again with my questions and difficult situations. Some of these people have been a very important part of my life for many years.
  • Relationships that I had for a particular season of ministry. That is, for a season I learned from these people and stayed in contact.
  • Occasional coffees and lunches with particular people. These were more than conversations. I often came to these moments with numerous questions I needed to ask.
  • Individuals through their biographies and autobiographies. At other times, I saturated myself with the writings of Henri Nouwen, N.T. Wright, Gordon MacDonald, John R.W. Stott, C. S. Lewis, etc.For many years I wouldn’t have used the word “mentor” to describe what I needed from these people. I just knew that I had much to learn from others.As you read this note, I want to ask you:

Are you being mentored by anyone?

As you think about this question, know that I continue to be mentored by others. I am still intentional about learning from others. I look for people from whom I can learn.

Are you willing to be mentored?

The following are a few questions that might be helpful in reflecting on this:

  • Who am I learning from right now?
  • Am I serious about growing and changing?
  • Do I really listen to trusted people?
  • Is there anyone in my life with whom I talk and then actually follow through on something that person suggested?
  • Am I serious about moving from “What shall I do?” to “What kind of person wilI I be?”Look for someone from whom you can learn. Ask to spend some time with that person. Go prepared. Ask good questions. Listen. Write down what you wish to remember. Listen to this person’s words and watch this person’s manner. Be fully present when you are with this person.

Are you investing in anyone else’s life?

First, I am not talking about someone who might be presumptuous and think someone would be blessed just to spend time with him. Blessing someone through a mentoring relationship works best when that person is living out of the soul, not the ego.

Mentoring is more than dispensing information or trying to get someone to recognize one’s wisdom. It is the willingness to make oneself vulnerable
and available to another. It is the willingness to be fully present with another. It is a willingness to step into another’s life (if invited) to add value. It can occur one-to-one or in a small mentoring group.

This kind of investment can be helpful in the following ways:

• Mentoring can help shape another’s life.
• Mentoring can help a person as he travels through life.
• Mentoring can put various problems and struggles in perspective. • Mentoring can encourage and help another see the future.

Most of all, you can bless another by simply paying attention to him. Before you conclude that you have very little to offer, let me remind you that there is only one you and you may be used uniquely by God to make a difference in another’s life.

Finally, three suggestions:

(These are simply places to begin.)

  1. Begin by praying that God would lead you to a person from whom you can learn.
  2. Attempt to schedule a time (perhaps coffee or lunch) to be with someone from whom you would like to learn. Simply tell that person you would like to ask questions about ministry and life. Come prepared with questions.
  3. Consider inviting a person to coffee or lunch who might have less experience in life and ministry than you. Be fully present and listen to that person’s words and heart. Affirm whatever you see that is good, right, and godly. In other words, don’t try to do anything or fix anything. Simply be present and see what might develop from that relationship.

Inspireality: Carving a Mountain

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For the month of March, I’d like to dedicate Thursdays to talk  about mentoring, how to find mentors, and how to disciple and mentor others.

Look forward to practical content from Jim Martin and Rich Little. But today I’d like to try and tell you why this matters so much.

Moving Mountains

Dashrath Manjhi was born into a poor labourer family in a village in India. He was living a happy and content life until his wife, Falguni, died because of a basic lack of medicine. She died because the closest doctor was over 40 miles away and Manjhi wasn’t able to get her to a clinic on time.

And so Dashrath Manji started working to help that never happen again.

For 22 years he worked night and day carving a hole in a mountain (like you do). He was working to create a shortcut between cities. And it worked. When he was finished he had reduced the distance between a hospital and his village from 75 Kilometers down to 1 Kilometer.

He carved a hole in a mountain for the people who were coming behind him.

Dashrath Manjhi and the route he carved in a mountain.
Dashrath Manjhi and the route he carved in a mountain.

I once heard Tom Long point out that the Gospel of Luke starts with the seniors. You’ve got Elizabeth and Zechariah and Simeon and Anna, people who are well into the AARP benefits. But then Long points out that these older people pass off the gospel to the younger people and then trust God enough to trust them with it.

So the rest of Luke and Acts, is young people taking the gospel all over the world. It looked different than the senior saints could have ever imagined, but it was exactly what they had always hoped for.

And these senior saints could do that, because they trusted that God was bigger than any one generation.

The Problems with Mentoring

I know I have hit the jackpot with having great mentors.  I’ve been extremely blessed to have some of the most talented people to be willing to invest time and wisdom in me. But I hear constantly from other young ministers and leaders who don’t have that. They are hungry for people who are willing to invest in them.

But I understand why we don’t want to mentor…

I get it, you don’t know what you would share with them. You know you’re not perfect and you know your weaknesses. For many, the idea of mentoring feels arrogant and condescending.

It’s not.

I’ve never met someone who thought they had a perfect mentor. In fact, your failures are probably one of the best gifts you can share. What does it look like to do balance ministry and family? Or preach a hard sermon? How do you make time for taking care of yourself? These are all questions that you probably don’t have fully figured out, but you probably have had several more years of experience in asking them.

I once heard Andy Stanley say that the biggest mistake we can make in mentoring is thinking we need to have all our junk in order before we have anything to share. We don’t have to give every answer to every question they might have. It’s not our job to fill up their cup, it’s just our job to pour ourselves out.

We don’t have to be faithful to sharing our lives and wisdom about stuff we don’t know. But chances are there’s somethings you do know, that someone younger than you could really benefit from.

I know that there are plenty of reasons/excuses that we have for not doing this. The urgent is always more pressing than the important, but if you want to outlive your life…if you want to be a part of something bigger than you, then you can’t get around this.

Mentoring is Discipling

So there is a time in the Gospels where Jesus has just finished back to back chapters of healing/serving and teaching people. He’s been innundated with people coming from all over to get help. He’s exhausted from the overwhelming demand of human need. And Jesus responds not by criticizing the people who are coming, but by saying “The Harvest is there, we need more workers.” He’s basically saying “I wish there were more people who were able to do what I do.”

Which is exactly what he was doing with his life.

He wasn’t just ministering and serving the world, he was intentionally doing it with other people. He didn’t write a single book, he never left the area of Palestine, he just mentored the disciples. And the only reason you know the Gospel, the only way it got out of the small Middle Eastern area of the world is because Jesus trusted these people to change the world.

And the most unlikely people did it, and still do.

The Church I grew up in was 10 people. Bro. Foy was just a math teacher who preached. But I’ll talk about him until the day I die.

Rick Atchley has been my mentor for 10 years, and when he retires from ministry in another 10 years, his ministry through the several people he’s mentored, will just keep going.

The people who meant the most to me in my life were the people who were carving holes in mountains for those who would come behind them.

I want to be one of those people, I think it’s at the heart of the Gospel.

The apostle Paul travelled all over the known world with Timothy and Silas or Barnabas. He shared with them, not just what he knew, but who he was. I’m sure that made ministry more difficult at times, but it also meant that when he died, in a very real sense, his ministry had just begun.

He had passed on the Gospel

He outlived his life.

May we all.

Inspi(re)ality: Josh Ross on a Restoration Vision (Video Interview)

All this month on Inspi(re)ality we’ve been talking about the importance of churches having vision, and practical ways to help get there. Last week, I sat down with Josh Ross, the preaching minister at the Sycamore View Church of Christ. They’ve just rolled out a new vision for their church,  and so I was asking him about what this process had looked like for them.

In the Interview I asked Josh 6 questions:

1. What led you and your church leadership to casting a vision at your church?

2. How did you and the church leadership go about forming and casting the vision?

3. How did you communicate to the church at large about the vision?

4. Your vision is called “Restore” Why that language?

5. Have you seen any differences in your church since launching a new vision?

6. What about the preacher of 100 member church? What suggestions do you have for them to help cast a vision in their context?

What I love about Josh and Sycamore View is the way that they love their city, and have communicated an externally focused vision. For examples on the testimonies Josh was talking about in the video, here are some links to the videos they’ve used to communicate their vision repeatedly. 

You can follow Josh on Twitter, and look for his upcoming book (that I highly recommend) called Scarred Faith.

Inspi(re)ality: Leading By Vision

“Where there is no vision, the people perish.” –Every Preacher who’s ever talked about vision. (also a Proverb)inspireality-navy

This Month, I’d like to dedicate Thursdays to talk about the importance of vision in churches, and how to go about discerning what your church vision could be. Over the next couple of weeks, look forward to Steve Cloer and Josh Ross talking about practical ways of doing this.

I know that vision and leadership are a bit of buzzwords these days, but don’t immediately write this off, because I think that vision is the only way churches can lead without over-emphasizing and abusing power. Let me explain:

The work in a church is one of the best and most frustrating jobs there is. It’s incredibly rewarding getting to speak and minister to people that you love and mobilize a group of people toward a common objective. It can also be very frustrating, because this group of people who you are ministering to might not think of church the same way you do.

If you have a church of a hundred different people, chances are you have at least 100 different expectations about what church should be about, what your services should look like, what kind of sermon you should preach..etc.

And there are two ways to going about how to minister through these differences. 1) is to turn internally, and help them see that they are a part of a community, and each time they gather they must submit their individual needs and preferences to the community. That’s a good response. But alone, I think it fails. 2) Cast a vision larger than your organization.

Externally Focused Churches

In his book A Righteous Mind, Jonathan Haidt, refers to the research done a few years ago. A group had surveyed 19th century communes, and they discovered that the ones that lasted had two common themes.

1)  They were religious.

2) They asked for great sacrifice. More specifically, they didn’t ask people to sacrifice for the sake of the group, but for the sake of something larger than the group.

Martin Luther describes sin, as curving in on oneself. And if that’s the case then churches have a tendency to be extremely sinful. Over time, every institution has this slow bend to focus on itself, to focus internally, but that’s not their fault…And It would be extremely hard for them to change it by themselves.

One of the things about being the preacher at a church is that, chances are, you are in more meetings with more people than anyone else. You are visiting with people in the city, and people hurting in your church. You know some civic leaders and have shepherds who are in every part of your community.

Any authority that you have, has to start here: Leadership comes from people who see the big picture.

You see what the community needs, and what the church needs. You see the potential of what could happen if the people of the congregation could point all of their resources in the same direction.

You see it. But they don’t.

They’re not in the meetings, they don’t know the mayor, they’re not thinking about the girl who was sexually abused in their congregation, because they don’t know her story. They don’t know that the recent change about nursery workers has to do with that, because they don’t see everything.

So don’t get frustrated, work on vision.

Helping Others See

I’ve heard preachers complain saying something like, “We’re supposed to go into all the world, and I can’t get people to even move up a few seats.”

And I get how frustrating it can be when people don’t respond the way you want, especially if you are pouring your heart out asking for help.

But before you blame the people, and assume that they just don’t love the LORD, ask this one question: “What am I seeing that they don’t?”

Could it be that the reason you want them to move up is to create room at the back for guests? Do you assume that every week people might come to church that others have prayed for years for them, do you assume that if they can’t find a seat open in the back they might just leave?

Is that why you want them to move up? Because I don’t want to move after I’ve already sat down, but I’d move up for that.

To work at a church is to lead a volunteer organization. Which means you only have as much authority as people give you. You can’t force or control people to do anything, but you can lead, with vision, but first a Couple of cautions.

How To Form a Vision

Mark Twain once said, “To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” This is so true here. It’s possible for a preacher to have a pre-set idea about what the church cares about, find a couple of people to support his theory with anencdotes, and then watch the vision fail, because it didn’t have buy in from a broad group.

When I first got to Highland, I started opening up my office for a few hours each week to anybody from the church who wanted to drop by. I just wanted to get to know Highland, who they were, and what they cared about.

I wanted to hear from everyone, not just the people who tended to know how to get meetings with the preacher, or were related to a shepherd or staff member. It was incredible! I got to know the church in the broadest and best sense of the word. I discovered people who were passionate about a broad range of things, and yet there was some overlap.

I tell my friends often that Highland cares about the right things.

I learned that here.

And then later when some shepherds and Ben Siburt and I sat down to pray and discuss the future of Highland and Highland’s role in Abilene and the world, these voices kept coming back to me. I had a good idea what they cared about because I had made time to listen to them.

The best description of vision that I’ve heard is that vision is where your churches resources and passions overlap with the needs of the world. I think that’s right.  I don’t think preachers cast vision, as much as they reflect it. They are helping the church get to where, in her better moments, she already wanted to go.

Next week, Steve Cloer is going to talk about ways to find out how to serve your community through vision, but for this week here’s the question:

What is frustrating you? What is not happening in your town/city that could happen if a church got together and decided to do something? What does your city need? What can your church do if they seriously decided to focus on this?

Now help them see it.

Inspi(re)ality: Being a Grown-Up in Ministry

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“When I was a child I thought as a I child, but when I became a man I put away childish things.” -Paul

When I first started working at a church, I was pretty set on wearing jeans to the office. And I didn’t want anyone to ever use the word “professional” to describe me. Turns out I had nothing to worry about.

And I understand the reasoning for not wanting to be a “professional” in ministry, but too often what we really mean is not being mature. So I’ve asked my friend Steven Hovater to talk about what it looks like to serve a church “professionally.”

Steven lives in Tullahoma Tennessee with his wife Kelly and three rowdy daughters. He values community, discipleship, and the creative work of God, so these things tend to show up in his preaching at the Church of Christ at Cedar Lane

Here’s Steven:

I get it. You didn’t go into ministry for the regular hours, tidy dress code, and opportunities to be an amateur accountant. You don’t see your primary work as being done at a desk, and you hate going to meetings.

Further, I get that there are good reasons for not wanting to let the secular world dictate what ministry looks like. There are good reasons that ministry should look differently than jobs molded by the pragmatic production cultures of twentieth century America. Those cultures don’t have a place for wasting time by lavishing care on widows and orphans. Nor do they honor prophets who speak truth, even when it brings the house down, nor time for stewing over a text, or listening to a problem that will remain unsolved. We cannot allow ministry to become about acquiring respect on the terms of the world. We’re not simply “employees”, and the church is never simply our “employer”. Ministers should always come to work dressed in a little camel hair, with a packed lunch of locusts. We should always be at least weird enough to remind the church that the normal world is broken. I get that, and so I want you to know that I’m with you in your struggle against The Man. Fight on, Brother/Sister. Fight on.

But…

We still need to have a little talk about what it means to be a professional in ministry. We don’t talk about it enough. Maybe it’s because of our desire to avoid being too secular for reasons like those outlined above. Or maybe we have bought into a set of old assumptions. For instance, in some corners of the church, ministers still try to maintain the impenetrable holy facades and suicidal workloads from a set of unquestioned professional expectations inherited from the last century.

For whatever reason, we often fail to engage in balanced discussions of our professional expectations. And yet, failing to describe our professional expectations and ethics never prevents those expectations from existing. Instead, it leaves those expectations to grow wild in all their conflict-generating splendor. Or, having successfully hidden ourselves in unquestionable priestly garments, we fail to meet reasonable, baseline obligations. When we do that, we foster frustrations that can eventually undo our partnerships with God’s people. Worse, we may abuse the church’s willingness to support us, thus wasting decades of holy time and thousands of consecrated dollars doing bad work in the name of God. A healthy professionalism honors our calling from God and our partnership with the church by translating the concept of being good stewards into concrete expectations and behaviors.

And so, the big question is: “What marks a healthy professionalism among ministers?” This deserves a much broader discussion, but let me suggest four commitments that can begin to form the core:

1. The commitment to doing your job with excellence, and improving over time. God has gifted you with raw talents and skills that can be used in your ministry. You are absolutely ethically responsible for making use of those gifts as well as you can. Beyond that, it is important to continually refine your capacities so that you’re not only giving God your best right now, but making sure that your entire body of work will demonstrate intentional growth. Part of ministry is encouraging people to be intentional about growing. Model that. Don’t just be a steward of the gift you already have, but what that gift could turn into.

2. A commitment to impartial service, regardless of what people can or cannot do for you, how much power they have, or how much you like them. I’m not saying you have to be the one that addresses every pastoral crises—the work has to be spread around and shouldn’t all depend on you. But, if you want to be a professional in ministry, your pastoral ministry has to be broader than your social group, influential leaders, and people who make it easy for you. This is an incredibly important professional ethic because it places a check on why you do the things you do, making your work more intentional and less dependent on your whims.

3. A commitment to a healthy work ethic that takes seriously your obligation to be a good steward of your ministry, as well as of your own health and family. By now we all know the dangers of burnout, even though some continue to recklessly ignore them. However, what I see among many peers in my generation is far, far on the other side of the spectrum, and a mix of bad work habits and laziness keeps them from doing consistent hard work. Don’t ignore your own need for rest: keep Sabbath. Don’t rob your family by taking what they need from you and giving it to the Church. But don’t rob the Church either, wasting time and calling it work. Work hard, and learn to work well.

4. A commitment to doing the little things that come with your job which are unimportant to you but not to others. I want to be careful here—all work is not created equal, and you can spend so much energy doing busy-work tasks that you leave important things undone. You can’t let people pull your priorities out of alignment. But understand: doing little things communicates big values. Showing up on time tells people that you respect them. Responding to people shows that you’re listening to them. Keeping your receipts and meeting your budget tells the accountants you respect their work and take stewardship seriously. Blowing those things off sends the opposite messages.

I’m reasonably confident that at least half of what I’ve written is completely misguided, that there are a dozen commitments that might be more important than the ones I’ve listed, and that the whole premise of this article is theologically dangerous. But Storment asked me to write to rookies, and I’m reasonably confident of one last thing: If I could have heard (and I mean really heard) something like this fifteen years ago, my work in the church would have been healthier. I hope it’s helpful to you.

Inspi(re)ality: Before You Go

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One of the conversations I have at least once a week, is with a minister thinking about leaving their church to go to a new church. I always refer them to Wade Hodges ebooks. Wade is the preaching minster at the Preston Road Church of Christ and for this blog series he adapted the following from his ebook: Before You Go: A Few Sneaky-Good Questions Every Minister Should Answer Before Moving to a New Church.

Last week he talked about when the right time to leave a church is, adapted from his book When to Leave. If you’re interested in purchasing both. You can  download both When To Leave and Before You Go as one ebook here.

Here’s Wade:

How Do You Know When You’ve Found The Right One?

“Every time I fall in love I feel a little sick to my stomach.  I’m going to marry the one who makes me the sickest.”-Someone Funny

“You’ll know when you know.”-A Four-Time Divorcee

In Before You Go, I spend quite a bit of time coaching readers on to how to tell if a church isn’t a good fit, rather than helping them figure out which one is the right fit. My goal in writing it was to help ministers avoid making unwise decisions, due either to lack of information about the church or lack of personal insight.

Still, the question remains: How do you know when you’ve found the right church and can celebrate saying “yes” to a great new opportunity?

It depends on what we mean by the “right” church. “Right” doesn’t mean perfect. It doesn’t mean trouble-free. It doesn’t mean you won’t be in for a few unpleasant surprises a couple of weeks after you’ve unpacked the moving van.

However . . .

If they have a vision based on an honest assessment of their strengths, weaknesses, and history and you can’t help but feel attracted to their vision because of your strengths, weaknesses, and history, then it may be the right church for you.

If it’s obvious they’re not looking for you to be the solution to their problems, but rather are looking for someone like you to come strengthen their team with your specific gifts, then it may be the right church for you.

If after hearing about their past mistakes, current problems, and potential difficulties, you still feel drawn to them, and maybe even worried that you would forever regret passing on the opportunity to join them on their journey, then it may be the right church for you.

If you sense that you will be loved and accepted as a broken human being who is still trying to figure out how to follow Jesus even though it’s your job to stand up and tell others about him, then it may be the right church for you.

If they are diligent in listening to and addressing the concerns of your spouse during the interview process, and if your spouse feels like they “get it,” then it may be the right church for you.

If you sense that the members of the leadership team are the kind of people you would want to be friends with even if you weren’t their pastor, then it may be the right church for you.

If you would attend the church even if you didn’t work there, then it may be the right church for you. (This one is huge. I’m amazed at how many ministers wouldn’t attend their church if they weren’t paid to be there.)

None of this guarantees you won’t end up scratching your head a few years later at the mess you’ve chosen to join. But if you ask enough of the right questions throughout the interview process, you can take comfort in knowing you’ve reduced the chances of being blindsided by something you should have seen coming.

Inspi(re)ality #13: When To Leave Your Church

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One of the questions I get asked often is by young ministers who are thinking of leaving their current church for greener pastures. I always refer them to Wade Hodges ebooks. Wade is the preaching minster at the Preston Road Church of Christ and for this blog series he adapted the following from his ebook When To Leave: How To Know It’s Time To Move On (Before You Stay Way Too Long) 

Meet Wade:

How I Stayed Way Too Long (Twice)

Once upon a time there was a pastor who moved to a small church when he was 25 years old and stayed there for 40 years until he retired.

No, this isn’t the beginning of a pastoral fairy tale. I can think of several pastors, like Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, and Bob Russell, who have served only one church throughout their distinguished careers. Warren and Hybels started the churches they currently serve. Russell moved to his church as a young preacher and during his forty year tenure helped it grow from 120 members into one of the largest churches in America.

I admire those guys.

For the longest time, I aspired to be one of them.

When I signed on to work with my first church at the tender age of 23, I had Bob Russell in mind as I dreamed of helping a struggling church of 75 people become one of the largest churches in the world during my 40 year  career.

Six years later I still had Russell in mind when I accepted a call to work with a church of 750 in need of a “turnaround.” Her glory days were well in the rear-view mirror, but there were reasons to believe in a hopeful future. I moved there at the still naive age of 30 and figured I had the next 35 years to make a name for myself.

Six years later, at the seasoned age of 36, I had Warren and Hybels in mind when I embarked on an adventure to plant a church I could pastor for the next thirty years.

At age 38, I was writing books and counseling pastors on how to have a more realistic appraisal of their gifts and vision for ministry, while also trying to figure out what to do with the rest of my life. (Six months ago, I was graciously given an opportunity to return to a full-time preaching ministry with a great church. I hope I took my own advice about ministry transitions!)

I stayed at my first two churches longer than I should have. Maybe a couple of years too long in both cases.

As I was staying too long at both churches, I would have told you that I was trying to be faithful. Faithful to God, to the church, to my conviction that one shouldn’t run away from a difficult ministry assignment, and faithful to good ole conventional wisdom.

One of my guiding principles was a proverb I picked up from one of my favorite college professors: A lot of hard work is wasted for lack of a little more.

I couldn’t stomach the possibility of quitting only a couple of months before a major breakthrough. It would be like bailing out of a marathon at the 25 mile marker. One reason I stayed way too long was because I didn’t want to waste a lot of hard work for lack of a little more.

I was also fearful that whoever followed me would step in, take advantage of all the hard work I had done, and be wildly successful. This was a terrible, immature attitude, and it got me forever barred from the John-the-Baptist-Prepare-the-Way-for-Someone-Else-Club, but I didn’t want another minister enjoying the fruit of my labor because I quit too soon.

Faithfulness can be a great disguise for darker motives. Continue reading Inspi(re)ality #13: When To Leave Your Church

Inspi(re)ality #12: Last Words

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This is another post in a series for people who serve/volunteer/work in any kind of ministry setting. Inspi(re)ality is a year long series about the practical things we face in ministry, as well as why doing these things matter.  This is the final post in this series for this year, but look for more beginning in January.

The following is a guest blog by Eddie Sharp on how he goes about writing a funeral and caring for a family in the middle of grieving. For those of you who are not familiar with Eddie, he is a legend in West Texas. He is one of the best ministers I know of at doing funerals, and I’m so glad he’s willing to share some of the wisdom from his experience. Here’s Eddie:

Last Words

Writing about funerals calls for a bit of restraint and focus for me. I have buried a small town over the years. I think I did 500 funerals or so during my ministry with the University Church of Christ in Abilene, TX between 1980 and 2008. The funeral is a time for service in the name of Jesus. It is a time when the church can honor its beloved members, a time when faith finds a its feet to stand in the presence of loss, and a time when one can minister into the lives of those without faith caught up by the grinding surprise of mortality.

Some presuppositions ought to be laid out:

  • Every funeral you do is played out against the backdrop of your own mortality and how you have resolved your feelings about your own death in the presence of the cross and the resurrection. We have the right to do funerals as men and women who believe the tomb is empty. Hope and joy sing harmony behind all we do.
  • Doing a funeral costs you in your body and soul. You have no place to hide from the loss experienced by someone else. You have no right to hide behind your own denial or behind some structured funeral liturgy that offers to insulate you from the ugliness of death and loss.
  • The minister standing in the circle of death and mourning makes a promise to God and the family that he or she will not run from the sorrow of the loss, the dysfunction of the family or anything else about the situation created by the death. We will not run.

My first funeral was for an 80 year old granddad in Trent, TX. who took his 20 year old granddaughter on her first dove hunt. She followed the birds across until she took the shot into her granddad’s head. They called to see if the new preacher at the Church of Christ in Trent could do the funeral. They are were not members, but they needed a preacher. I was 20 and finishing my last semester as an undergrad Bible major at ACU. My mentor and father in ministry, Jimmy Jividen, had given me a template for working though a funeral process. It was what I had; it served me well enough. I can’t remember a thing I said that day, but I’ll never forget the glazed eyes of that granddaughter. I can’t remember what I said; I remember I answered the call and didn’t run away. Many of you reading this piece know exactly how it feels to be so alone in the moment and yet feel the presence of God empowering you. You know.

I have helped so many say goodbye to their loved and no-so-loved ones. I did the funeral for my best friend after 20 years of our daily conversations. I have said impossible words over the tiny caskets of babies. I have heard Taps echo over the scene of flag-draped casket and honor guard at attention out of respect for an old soldier surrounded by family and friends. And for wives. And for grandmas. And for elders. And for alcoholic plumbers. Continue reading Inspi(re)ality #12: Last Words

Inspi(re)ality #11: Entering A Crisis Moment

Inspi(re)ality is a series for people who serve/volunteer/work in any kind of ministry setting. It is a year long series about the practical things we face in ministry, as well as why doing these things matter. Today’s blog is a guest post from Jordan Hubbard. Jordan serves as Senior Minister at the Belton Church of Christ in Belton, TX., he spent over a decade in student ministry before stepping into preaching ministry. Here’s Jordan:

“OK. That’s it. He’s gone. Time of death is 8:20.”

The hospice nurse said these words and at this moment, every eye in the room turned to the young minister in the room. What Louis’ family didn’t know was that the young minister was just as confused and stunned as they were.

“What am I supposed to do with THIS?” I asked myself.

I received my ministry training with some pastoral care training. I started ministry as a youth minister. The typical pastoral concerns for youth ministry involved counseling with parents and students about relationships, decisions, planning the future, processing hurts, and dealing with developmental issues. When I stepped into pulpit ministry, I moved to a small town with an older population. Now I dealt with a different set of pastoral concerns. Nothing in my youth ministry training and experience prepared me for one of the most pastoral ministries I would be called upon to perform: Helping people die.

Pastors and ministers stand in the gap representing Christ in some of the most difficult and crucial times of life. Dying is a time when individuals and families reach out for the presence of God, and often that means they will be reaching out to you. Here are some thoughts about how we can help people and families in the last days, hours and moments before death. I do not consider myself an expert in any way and so I am including alongside mine the thoughts of one of my friends and mentors, Joe Baisden, a veteran of over 50 years of ministry.

  1. Pray often– When entering a situation where people are close to death, there is no “right way” to do things. The best preparation for this is to rely upon the Holy Spirit to guide and lead. Silently pray and ask, “What is most beneficial to the person and to the family?”
  2. Put aside your agenda– This is difficult for ministers to do. Instead of coming in with a playbook, the minister must come in as a servant to the person and family. Do what is best for them, not what makes you feel better about yourself. It might be that the individual or family does not want you around. Do not stay if you are not wanted. In other cases, the family will want you to sit with them through the entire process. Respect their wishes and not your agenda.
  3. Listen– A conversation with the dying should be driven by them and not you. If they are ready to talk about death, you can ask the question, “How do you feel about going on?” It might be that they are not ready to talk about death. It is okay to listen to them talk about their family or about their life. Don’t be afraid to be silent. Continue reading Inspi(re)ality #11: Entering A Crisis Moment