5 Words of Advice for Pastors

One of the members of my team asked the question, “If you could offer advice to a pastor and his family, what 5 things would you offer?” I quickly sent him the following list based on 36 years of ministry:

5 Pieces of Advice for Pastors

1.  Love God. Regardless of what or how much you do as a pastor, nothing will substitute for loving God. According to Jesus, this is the highest commandment on which all the other commandments stand (Matthew 22:37). Just like in marriage, loving God requires discipline and focus. Practicing spiritual disciplines like Bible intake and prayer help to fan the flame in our relationship with God. We will have ups and downs along the way, but we should work hard to keep our relationship with the Lord fresh and strong.

2.  Love your family. God created the family before He created the church. Pastors often neglect their family in order to serve the church, but that does not please the Lord. I’ve certainly been guilty of this. It’s challenging at times to have the proper balance in this area, but it’s vital that we do. In all honesty, our church assignments will change from time to time, but our family remains the same.

3.  Love your people. No, they’re not perfect. Yes, they will disappoint you. Yes, you will disappoint them! But, make your mind up to love the people that the Lord calls you to serve. Pray that you will love them like Jesus. Love those who agree with you and those who don’t. Love those you enjoy being around and those you do not like. God will bless a pastor who loves His church–the church He calls you to pastor.

4.  Love the Bible. Many of us say we have a “high view of Scripture,” but we do not give the Scriptures a high priority in our lives. We don’t read the Bible regularly and we don’t preach the Bible accurately. We should make this one of the marks of our ministry. When people look back on my ministry, I want them to say “he always preached God’s Word with passion and accuracy! He was committed to the Word of God!”

5.  Love yourself. I’m not suggesting that we become weak in the knees when we look at ourselves in the mirror. I’m simply suggesting that we take care of ourselves spiritually, emotionally, and physically. Not only should we practice spiritual disciplines, we should practice physical and emotional disciplines as well. We should eat right, exercise, sleep, rest, recharge, etc. It’s so easy to neglect this area of life, but we will not be fully effective in the other areas if we do. Truthfully, we may inadvertently shorten our life as a result which also shortens the years we have to serve the Lord here on this earth! That would be a tragedy because it would mean that we were bad stewards of the life God gave us.

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Influence and Impact

Leaders want to have influence and make an impact!

Almost everyone wants their life to count! It is Scriptural to want to have influence and make an impact for the Lord! The Apostle Peter understood that, so he wrote about it in his letter to the believers in northern Asia Minor.  Some of them were present in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost and heard Peter preach, but now they were suffering greatly from intense persecution.  In his letter, he encourages them to continue impacting others for the Lord during days of great difficulty.

3 Ways to Have Influence and Make An Impact

1.  Start serving.  To the elders among you, I [Peter] appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed:  Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be….” (1 Peter 5:1-2a).  Peter saw Jesus serve others through suffering.  When we take our eyes off our own struggles and focus on others, we imitate Jesus and we make an impact.

2.  Be humble.  “Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble'”  (1 Peter 5:5).  Surely Peter had the Upper Room towel and basin scene in mind as he wrote these words.  God uses those with a humble heart and He gives them grace.  I have noticed that all my “heroes” in the faith are men and women marked by humility.  Most Christians admire and respect those who have a humble spirit.

…all my “heroes” in the faith are men and women marked by humility.

3.  Trust God.  “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).  God is in control.  Even when we cannot see or sense Him, He is there.  Not only is He there, He CARES!  HE is the key!  Knowing He is in control during difficult moments should free us to focus on others and to continue to faithfully serve Him.

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Lessons from Mammoth Cave

A few years ago our family went to visit the Mammoth Cave National Park.  On our visit, we took a tour through the cave led by a young, female guide.  She made many observations throughout our descent and pointed out nuances the untrained eye would have surely missed.

She asked us to be seated on some wooden benches when we reached the lowest point of the cave.  She instructed us to secure our children and then suddenly, she flipped the switch on the lights.  At that point, she proceeded to describe to us what people experience when they are lost in a cave.

Here’s what I didn’t do next! I didn’t say, “now little missy!  You’ve obviously gotten us lost several hundred feet below the surface of the ground, so step aside and I’ll take over.”  I didn’t recite the Mighty Mouse cry of:  “Here I come to save the day!  I thumbed through a couple of books in the gift shop before the tour began, so I’m now an expert on the cave system!”

…now little missy!….step aside and I’ll take over!

Nothing could have been more ridiculous than this type of reaction on my part!  I have learned the hard way that the same is true in my Christian walk through this dark world.  I should not try to “find my way” on my own while my all-knowing God desires to skillfully guide me.  Our daily prayer should echo the words of the Dorothy A. Thrupp hymn:  “Savior, like a shepherd lead us.”

Prayer – Lord, you are the Great Shepherd and You know all things. I surrender fully to your will and your way even when I cannot see the path. You are trustworthy and You are to be praised! Help me to follow you without hesitation. Amen!

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Bring on the Rain

If you see me head out the door of my comfortable, dry house during a torrential downpour, you probably will think that I am BONKERS, CRAZY, CUCKOO, DERANGED, FRUITY, NUTS, SCREWY, UNGLUED…..or just plain WACKY.  But actually one of the things I look forward to most as a runner is running in the rain.

Think about it for a minute.  When you were young, your parents rarely allowed you to venture outside during a storm and even more rarely allowed you to splash through deep puddles in your good tennis shoes.  But now that I’m an adult (I realize that’s still being debated in some circles), I can do whatever I want.  My two or three top running memories all involve the rain, so BRING ON THE RAIN!

One of my favorite Christian recording groups, Casting Crowns, has a song called Praise You in the Storm.  I couldn’t help but think of the following powerful lyrics as I was having an awesome, soggy moment on a recent morning run:

I’ll praise you in this storm and I will lift my hands.  For You are who You are no matter where I am.  And every tear I’ve cried, You hold in your hand.  You never left my side and though my heart is torn, I will praise You in this storm!

BE ENCOURAGED my friend.  The God of the sunshine is also God during the storms of life.  Praise Him in all things for He alone is worthy!

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3 Reasons to Smile More

My wife works for two of the finest dentists in Kentucky, so we often talk about teeth at our house. Lots of customers come to their office wanting to improve their smile. I think that they’re wise in doing so, because there are good reasons to improve your smile and even more good reasons to smile more often.

3 Reasons to Smile More

1. We will make more money. According to a recent study, the way we look has a direct bearing on our paycheck. According to the study, those who rated lower in appearance earned less than those who rated average or above.

…the biggest factor is the smile on our face.”

Appearance includes the style and neatness of our clothing, the shine on our shoes, the crease in our shirt, our choice of colors, the way we fix our hair, our makeup, and all the elements of our personal grooming. However, the biggest factor is the smile on our face, followed closely by our attitude and sense of humor. A good sense of humor and a positive attitude are particularly important as we move into the upper echelons of business.

2. We will make more friends. People do not want to be around an ol’ stiff, stick-in-the-mud! They are attracted to a person who is positive and friendly. A genuine smile is a good indicator of the type of person we are which causes others to want to get to know us.

…we can draw people to us in order to point them to to Christ!

3. We will make more converts.  In case all of this talk sounds less than spiritual, remember that we are ambassadors for Christ. As wise, conscientious ambassadors we want to improve our “abilities.” Let’s improve our respectability, approachability, and likeability. In this way we can draw people to us in order to point them to Christ!

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True Success

A few years back my family and I watched most episodes of American Idol. Being a musical family, we enjoyed the time together listening to some excellent young musicians.

Ultimately, the American viewers determine who will be the “American Idol” by their votes. “Success” is defined as winning the show or at least releasing a hit song as a result of being on the show.

In America, there are many symbols of success. In golf, success is winning one of the major tournaments: The Masters, The U.S. Open, The British Open, or The P.G.A. In baseball, success is winning the World Series. In basketball, success is winning the NBA Championship. Our culture sometimes defines a successful person as the one with the corner office, the one with the good-looking spouse, the one with the expensive sports car, or the one with the huge house.

Have you ever thought about what success looks like in the Bible? In the 13th chapter of John, just hours before His crucifixion, Jesus gave the answer. Wanting to make a lasting impression on His disciples, Jesus provided them with a symbol of success–the TOWEL.

Success is symbolized by a TOWEL!

“….so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.”  John 13:5-5

The towel represented service and service represented success. Although He was the leader and was in fact God, Jesus washed the feet of His followers. He performed the act of a household servant. Think about it, if HE served, we should serve. In explaining his actions, he told them:

“I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” John 13:15-17 (NIV) 

Late in life, Albert Einstein removed portraits of Newton and Maxwell from his wall and replaced them with portraits of Ghandi and Schweitzer. For Einstein, it was time to replace the image of success with the image of service. But Jesus went further by demonstrating that SUCCESS IS SERVICE! Reacting to the disciple’s obvious misconceptions about success, Jesus clearly told them:

“….whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave–just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:26-28 (NIV)

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What Is A Mentor?

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

I use to dream of running in the historic Patriot’s Day Boston Marathon because it is the world’s oldest annual marathon. The most infamous portion of the 26-mile, 385-yard course is called “Heartbreak Hill.” The “hill” only rises 80 vertical feet over a half-mile portion of the race, but the hill comes between miles 20-21 when the runners are often near exhaustion. Every year, on the third Monday of April, thousands of spectators gather there to cheer on the runners.

During one race, a young man was near total exhaustion as he approached Heartbreak Hill. Halfway up the slope, an older man, in better shape, came alongside the younger man. He put his arm around him and quietly encouraged him. Together, step by step, they painstakingly made their way to the top. What an awesome picture of affirmation and comfort! The Bible reminds us that God comforts us so we will pass comfort to others. When God encourages us, He wants us to encourage others. When God forgives us, we should forgive others.  When God shows us patience, we should extend patience to those who need it.

What a perfect picture of what we often do as MENTORS!

There are times when mentoring is nothing more than putting our arm around someone and helping them take the next step. Mentoring is also a picture of the overflow of Christ in our lives. As we grow toward spiritual maturity, we respond more and more as Christ would respond in the same situation. His reaction becomes our reaction.

Find someone today who needs to be encouraged. Speak words that strengthen and comfort. Show kindness and extreme patience. Put your arm around someone and run with them during a difficult hill of life. Forgive, care, cry, laugh, be there, be real! Be, to them, what God has been to you! Amen!

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