The Practice of “Slowing”

One of the great books on spiritual disciplines is John Ortberg’s book, The Life You’ve Always Wanted:  Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People.  You can read my review of the book by clicking here.

One of the spiritual disciplines he talks about in the book is the practice of “slowing.”  Have you ever thought about “slowing” as a spiritual practice?  One of his mentors told him that if he wanted to grow spiritually that he must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from his life.  Listen to a great quote from his book:

Hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life in our day.  Hurry can destroy our souls.  Hurry can keep us from living well….Again and again, as we pursue spiritual life, we must do battle with hurry.  For many of us the great danger is not that we renounce our faith.  It is that we will become so distracted and rushed and preoccupied that we will settle for a mediocre version of it.  We will just skim our lives instead of actually living them.

Most of us battle the hurry sickness, but how can we treat it–how can we cure it?  There are two main practices that can help us swim against our culture’s current of hurry.

1.  Slowing.  Slowing involves cultivating patience by deliberately choosing to place ourselves in positions where we simply have to wait.  Slowing will seem like such a “waste of time,” but it is invaluable.  Here are some examples.  Deliberately drive in the slow lane.  Chew your food slowly.  Get in the longest check-out line at the grocery store.  Go through an entire week without wearing a watch.  Read each sentence slowly–then read it again even more slowly.

2.  Solitude.  Solitude is a more traditional spiritual practice.  I’m not saying that we should take it to the extreme and join a monastery.  I’m just saying that solitude is the one place where we can gain freedom from the forces of society that will otherwise relentlessly mold us.  When we’re “alone” with God–He molds us!

We need some small measures of solitude every day.  A walk, a short drive, working in the yard, sitting in the car before going into the office, a quiet time–all these serve as moments of solitude.  On occasion, we need longer periods of solitude.  Take an afternoon to yourself or even an entire day.  Go to a place where you will be uninterrupted and alone.  Spend the day relaxing, reading, walking, napping, etc.

Both of these practices have been vital to my spiritual growth and to my ability to hear from God.  By the way, if you haven’t read John Ortberg’s book on spiritual disciplines, you must do so.  Here’s a link to Amazon where you can purchase the book and get started.  I wish I had read this book as a new Christian and learned about the practice of “slowing” and many of the other spiritual disciplines that have helped me to grow in recent years.

3 Keys to Following God

One of my favorite books of the Bible is the Gospel of Mark. I like his “just the facts” approach to the Gospel story. I had a little laugh recently while reading the following passage:

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!” Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else–to the nearby villages–so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.”  Mark 1:35-38 (NIV)

Doesn’t it seem odd to you that Jesus left as soon as the crowds began to gather? Typically, most leaders are hoping to draw a big crowd, but Jesus did something quite unusual at that point. When His ratings spiked–He took a hike! When the numbers were high–he said goodbye. When the crowds grew–he bid them adieu.

Doesn’t that strike you as being unusual? Why did Jesus do that? What can we learn from this story? Here are three keys to following God as a true believer.

3 Keys to Following God

1. God’s plan is rarely like our plan. He knows best, so we should trust Him and follow Him. He often leads us to do the unexpected…..the unpredictable…..the unthinkable!

2. We should never allow others to shape us by their expectations. I am a people-pleaser and the opinions of others matter greatly to me. But, I know that I should seek to live for an audience of one. Although we want to be good examples to those around us, ultimately, we should simply try to please God.

3. We should never exchange good for God. Some things are good to do, but they are not the things God has led us to do–they are good, but they are not God. The challenge is to live in such a way that we can discern the difference.

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5 Promises to My Church

I love to please people!  All my life, I have wanted people to like me, affirm me, and generally think that I’m wonderful.  As I have matured as a leader and as a pastor, I’ve discovered that I have to sometimes set those desires aside and do the right thing regardless of what other’s think.  My goal MUST NOT be to simply “please people” — my goal must be to help people and please God.  Sometimes I have to set boundaries and tell people “no” in order to help them.  Other times I have to model a new approach and lead people to walk in a more effective, efficient manner.

Sometimes I have to set boundaries and tell people “no” in order to help them.

Everyone seems to have their idea of what their pastor should do and how he should use his time.  Hardly a week goes by, that someone does not pull them aside and share with them their opinion of what their life’s assignment should be.  Most of the time, the assignment is fair and reasonable, but it almost always matches their own personal preferences and desires instead of the desires of the Lord or their pastor.  As the senior pastor, he MUST consider the big picture and keep the entire church body in mind as he leads.  If he simply jumps from personal assignment to personal assignment, he will not lead with vision and God-given direction.

Here are the 5 promises I made to a church during my first sermon as their senior pastor:

  1. I promise to love God.  In order to fulfill this promise, I must be disciplined in my private time with the Lord.  The man who never spends time with God in private is no good in public.
  2. I promise to love my family.  I love to work hard and I love being a pastor (most the time).  Because of this, I have to guard against neglecting my family.  I have asked other staff members to tell me if they see this in my life and I have pledged to tell them if I see it in their lives.
  3. I promise to love you.  I love our church and all our people.  I look forward to serving our Lord together for many years to come.  Keep in mind that all of our pastors love God and love our people as well.
  4. I promise to love the unchurched.  I want to see people come to Christ.  I need to spend more time around lost people.  I need to get out of the office more and into the community.
  5. I promise to preach the Bible.  I have tried my best to focus on God’s Word in my sermons and in my teaching.  It takes time to prepare true, Biblical sermons, but it is worth all the hard work and extra effort.  Currently, I set aside Tuesday and Wednesday as my main study days.  Occasionally, I will schedule an appointment or meeting on those days, but I try to devote those days to preparation for preaching and teaching the Bible.

I also went on to say the following to them:

As we move forward, I pledge to always be open to suggestions and ideas.  My default of wanting to please people will always be there, I’m sure.  But, I promise when I’m faced with the choice of “simply pleasing someone” or “providing Godly leadership,” I will strive to choose providing Godly leadership every time.

If you are a pastor, hang in there! God is good and worthy of our service. If you are a church member, pray for your pastor. Encourage him. Be a blessing and serve God faithfully!

8 Things I Loved Doing as a Pastor

In three posts I wrote about 6 Things I LOVED Hearing as a Pastor7 Things I HATED Hearing as a Pastor, and 5 Things I Hated DOING as a Pastor. In today’s post I want to explore 8 Things I Loved DOING as a Pastor.

8 Things I Loved Doing as a Pastor

1. Visiting the hospital. I know that some pastors dread making hospital visits, but I always viewed it as a highlight of my day. In addition to giving me a reason to get out of the office for a few hours, a hospital visit provided a unique opportunity to get to know church members and their families. It created lasting bonds and heightened sensitivity to pastoral ministry and presentations of the Gospel.

It created lasting bonds…”

2. Meetings. Although I didn’t love EVERY meeting, in general, I looked forward to getting together with deacons, committees, staff, and teams to talk about the work of the church. In these meetings I got to know church members better and I got to hear their heart. It gave me a chance to cast vision and shape the thoughts of key church leaders.

3. The Lord’s Supper. Administering and serving the Lord’s Supper was one of the most sacred duties I experienced as a pastor. The graphic symbolism of the bread (body of Christ) and the cup (blood of Christ) always moved me to gratitude and humility.

…one of the most sacred duties I experienced as a pastor.”

4. Baptism. Similar to the Lord’s Supper, baptizing a new believer was a time of great joy! I never got tired of explaining the purpose and symbolism of baptism to new Christians of all ages. To be a part of such an important moment in a person’s spiritual life was a pastoral privilege beyond words.

5. Funerals. It may seem strange to list “funerals” here, but don’t misunderstand. I hated to see church members lose loved-ones and face grief, but I treasured the opportunity to minister to them during this time.

6. Preparing to teach/preach. The process of preparing to teach and preach each week helped me to be disciplined in my Bible study and to grow in Christ. I learned far more each week than I could ever include in the sermon on Sunday.

7. Pastoring children. I never served as a Children’s Pastor, but I loved being the Senior Pastor of a church full of children. I loved watching them sing occasionally in the service, grow up, and come to faith in Christ. I especially enjoyed talking with children when their parents would bring them by to see “their” pastor.

8. Making Disciples. I always had a private list of several men that I was trying to help grow towards spiritual maturity. They rarely knew they were on my list, but one of my greatest joys as a pastor was walking through life with them and helping them become more like Jesus.

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KEYs to Revitalization

Key

Dr. Gary L. McIntosh published an excellent book aimed at Church Revitalization called There’s Hope for Your Church. In the book, he examines the irreplaceable role that pastoral leadership plays when it comes to church revitalization. I agree with Dr. McIntosh when he says….

“In order for a church to be revitalized, the pastor is the key!”

2 Keys to revitalization

1. Leadership. In chapter two, McIntosh discusses consultant Ken Priddy’s belief that two types of pastors exist: a revitalization pastor and a revitalization leader. A revitalization pastor sees the church as his client while the revitalization leader sees God as his client. A revitalization pastor views himself as an employee of the church while a revitalization leader sees himself as being called by God to lead the church where God wants it to go. Revitalization leaders expect to encounter resistance and are willing to lead without affirmation and often with pain.

“For churches to transition into a new era of ministry, courageous, godly leadership is paramount.”  Terry Walling

2. Longevity. One of the main reasons most pastors are not successful in bringing about revitalization is that they simply don’t stay long enough. The average tenure of a senior or solo pastor in the United States is 3.8 years. McIntosh says that it takes 5-7 years to revitalize a church in the city and 10-12 years to revitalize a rural church. The bottom line is that revitalization leaders stay!

The average tenure of a senior or solo pastor in the United States is 3.8 years . . . The bottom line is that revitalization leaders stay!

McIntosh warns that it is possible for a pastor to stay too long. In his experience, if the church has not experienced revitalization within 10-12 years of the pastor’s tenure, it is not going to happen. Although there are exceptions, the average pastor’s ministry tends to lose momentum after 10 years. After 10 years, the original vision the pastor had for the church has most likely been accomplished, and then the church flounders, searching for a new direction. Some pastors are able to re-envision their life and ministry for another 10 years in the same church, but some cannot and find it best to move to another ministry.