Becoming a Better Leader

Being an effective leader means we must continue to grow and learn so we can better minister to those under our care. Leading isn’t just about being the face of a ministry or the main teacher, it is also about caring for those under your leadership.

Looking back at my ministry career I have seen areas that I have grown in and I want to share some of them with you. Now please hear me on this: I didn’t learn all of these things right away. Most of them were through difficult moments, some of which were my fault. But in all of these moments I hope that you can hear some advice and avoid the missteps I had.

None of these in and of themselves will make you a better leader, but put them together with a desire to be used by God and for God, and you will see Him use you in mighty ways.

Listen.

A big part of growing in leadership is growing in listening. Listen to your leaders, your team, your students, your superiors, and families. I am not saying that everything everyone says is going to be beneficial or helpful, but if people truly care about you and the ministry, they will seek to help you. So listen and be willing to let go of pride in order to grow and become who God is shaping you into.

Learn.

As a leader you should never stop learning. Our mission and foundation never changes: make disciples by communicating the Gospel. However, new ways of ministering, cultural shifts, advancements in technology, and many other areas are always adapting and evolving. We must be willing to learn and become better. If we ever stop learning as a leader, or believe we know it all, we will become ineffective and arrogant.

Shepherd.

If I am honest with you, this is a place where I have fallen short. At times I have allowed myself to focus on growth, establishing the program, and running everything, but I have forgotten to actually care for and guide my leaders. If we are not caring for our people, if we are not intentionally sharing life with them, we have missed the mark. Our ministry is to shepherd others as Christ shepherds. We need to love and care for our people in the valleys and the mountains. This has to be a priority in order to establish longevity in ministries and churches.

Grow.

This is similar to continual learning, but it takes it a step further. Be willing to challenge and push yourself. Try new things. Experiment. Step out in faith. Take risks. Part of growing is seeking to discern where God is calling you and the ministry you lead. How are you growing as a leader? Who is challenging you? How are you challenging yourself? Model growth and watch it replicate itself in your ministry.

Lead.

Be the leader God has called you to be. Sometimes it is easy to get in our own heads, to hear the attacks of the enemy, or to allow a critique to break us down. Do not stop leading. God didn’t empower you with His Spirit so you could sit on the sidelines. He established you as His child, called you into His service, and has put you where you are for such a time as this. Lead and lead well. Never out of pride or arrogance, but lead as Christ led. Lovingly disciple and guide the flock and empower others to lead with you. Remember that being a leader doesn’t mean doing everything. So be willing to grow and enable others to lead and shepherd them in those roles.

Retreat.

I have written about this before, but make sure that you are retreating and taking time away. Taking a break is healthy and necessary. Jesus retreated often to pray and reflect. God rested after creation. If God models this, shouldn’t we follow His example? Take advantage of your vacation time. Retreat and refresh. Shut off your laptop and phone. Spend time with Jesus. Be present with your family. Doing this not only will refresh you, but will also model an example to others of a healthy lifestyle, ministry, and relationship with Jesus.

Step back.

Assessing your ministry and your role is not a bad thing. In fact it is extremely healthy to do an assessment periodically. See what is working and what isn’t. Think creatively. Bring in new voices. Listen to people who are invested. Doing this allows you to have a fuller view of your ministry and to make the necessary changes.

Building a Meaningful Schedule

Scheduling events: you either love it or hate it. I have been on both sides during my time in ministry. Some ministries had schedules that were fluid and never held to, and others that held so strongly to them that everything was figured out to within a minute.

Regardless of whether you like schedules or not, they are important. Our lives outside of ministry are often run by schedules, and students and parents value schedules, consistency, and structure. I have learned over the years that having a schedule not only helps to provide structure and support to students and families, but it also helps your leaders to know your plans, have buy-in, and see that you are someone who keeps their word.

Building a schedule can seem overwhelming or difficult, so as we move into a new year, I would like to do two things to help with that: give you some steps to follow in making a schedule and also provide you with two that I use.

Shape it around the priorities.

In order to have a proper schedule, you must shape it around the priorities of your ministry. The reason schedules often fail is because the priorities aren’t driving it and therefore the priorities become muddied and devalued.

So step back, look at your ministry, identify the areas you are passionate about, focus your time-frame around them, and build outward. If you value games and community they should hold the majority of your ministry time. If you see small groups as being the most important, show that through the time you allot. Shape the ministry around the priorities.

Assign appropriate amounts of time.

One area I see churches as whole struggle with is assigning appropriate amounts of time to different aspects of their schedules. Whether it is giving offering too little time in Planning Center, or not allowing the time it takes to calm students down after an amazing game that “didn’t involve eating marshmallows,” you must allow for the appropriate time for each activity or portion of your schedule. In fact I would encourage you to overestimate on time, which will give you a little buffer. If you know you tend to run long in teaching, give your teaching time an extra five minutes, which will allow you to better shape the rest of your schedule.

Allow time for transition.

This is usually something that we miss in crafting schedules, and honestly one I didn’t see until a leader brought it to my attention. When you are managing a youth group, you know that in transitioning from games to teaching or teaching to small groups, there is always some time lost. When I stepped back and saw what my leader was sharing I began to adapt my schedule to reflect the transition times. That of course meant I lost time elsewhere, but it allowed for me to focus on the priorities and trim areas that could be trimmed without compromising the mission and vision of the program.

Know the space.

This may seem like an obvious statement, but when you are building your schedule, knowing your space is key. If you are using an unfamiliar space for an outreach or special event, you have to acknowledge that there will be timing issues due to the unfamiliarity. So build in a buffer for those moments.

Be willing to be flexible.

I know after talking about scheduling and making sure the timing works, saying “be flexible” almost seems counter-intuitive. But we all know that rarely do schedules go perfectly. Be willing to allow for flexibility and to go with the flow to some extent. If your teaching time is delayed because you’re engaged with a student in a heart-to-heart conversation, allow the Spirit to work and be flexible. If a student gets injured during a game, acknowledge timing for the evening will be off and that is okay. If your teaching is shorter than planned, give more time to small groups. Flexibility within a schedule is key and will allow for a more relational component to what you are doing.

Allow for God to move.

Have you ever felt that your best laid plans fell through? Has your message ever gone too long or too short? Have you ever felt like people didn’t get the point? Me too! But so often that is where I see and hear of God moments. These are moments where in spite of our best planning and humanity God moves in ways we would have never seen coming. That doesn’t give us the freedom to not have a schedule or to constantly change it, but to understand there are moments when God steps in and that is good. It isn’t an excuse but an acknowledgement of God working in and through us.

Consider using scheduling software.

Our church uses Planning Center for scheduling and it is a lifesaver. It lets you schedule people to specific roles, allows them to confirm or decline their roles, allows you to create templates, and to build in pre- and post-service needs like setup and tear-down. Most planning software does cost money, but if your church uses it elsewhere, like for Sunday services for example, then they should be able to create a user account for you as well at no added cost.

Bring your leaders into the process.

Cast the vision for what you are doing and share your heart for the way you are shaping the schedule. Allow your leaders to offer insight and critique in order to build the best schedule for your group. This not only allows your leaders to have a voice but now they share your vision and passion. This creates a unified front, you will have multiple people who are helping to craft your programming, and they understand flexibility and the purpose behind what is happening.

So what does this look like practically? Below are our high school schedules for Sunday morning, which is more focused on Christian education, and Wednesday night, which is our main youth group evening.

Sunday Schedule, 10:30-11:40 a.m.:

10:30-10:40

  • Community

10:40-10:45

  • Announcements

10:45-10:55

  • Game

10:55-11:40

  • Teaching and small groups

11:40    Dismiss

Wednesday Schedule, 6:45-8:45 p.m.:

5:30-6:30

  • Setup

6:30-6:45

  • Leaders meeting

6:45-7:00

  • Community

7:00-7:20

  • Organized games

7:20-7:25

  • Transition

7:25-7:30

  • Announcements

7:30-8:00

  • Teaching

8:00-8:05

  • Transition to small groups

8:05-8:45

  • Small groups

8:45

  • Dismissal

Setting Healthy Boundaries: Home and Church Life

When you work for a church or ministry you may have office hours, but you are also aware that you are never fully “off the clock.” Whether it’s answering an urgent text from a student who is in crisis, dealing with a “when was the camp signup” question from a parent, or attempting to finish something at home, we all know the feeling of having too much to do and not enough time to do it.

However, it isn’t healthy to go at top speed at all points in our lives. If this is how we continue to go we will experience burnout, bitterness, and hurt from all that we continue to do. I say this not to make you feel badly over all you have been doing, but as someone who has been there and experienced this in my own life. We must have healthy boundaries in place to protect ourselves, our families, and the ministries we serve. I’d like to offer a few thoughts on how I’ve managed to set and protect certain boundaries in order to preserve myself, my family, and my ministry.

Make sure time off is time off.

So often we see our work as necessary and kingdom focused (which it is) but so is our ministry to our spouse and family, and to ourselves. Let me encourage you to allow your time off to be time off. Try to not do work during those moments, fully engage with your family, and rely on God when the doubts and fears creep in that tell you that you are failing because you aren’t going 100 miles per hour. Having healthy time off will allow for you to be a better minister because you will be filled and whole rather than tired and fractured.

Be on the same page with superiors.

When I started at my new job I told my superiors that date night was on Fridays and I wanted to honor that with Elise. I also asked about hours and weekend commitments because I’ve been in positions before that required more hours than what I was paid for. My superiors explained that days off were for just that and my work hours over forty were extra hours that could be applied to time off. There are special circumstances of course, but the church and I were on the same page, so when I share with people I am off the clock I know I have a team who has my back.

I am also aware that I am blessed with church leadership who care and honor the right priorities in the right order, but others of you may not have that same experience. I would encourage you to first talk to those in leadership over you and see if perhaps the priorities align but simply haven’t been stated. Regardless of how that conversation goes, you can begin to set the tone within your own ministry setting and lead out to your people and students. Use the options you have and look to protect your time as best you can. You may not always have the support you would like, but you can still lead out and set healthy boundaries and parameters within your context while still honoring your superiors.

Don’t let work take the place of family.

When was the last time you took a work call or text, or answered an email at home or during family time? When was the last time you did the reverse? We are prone to allow work to become the number one priority in our lives, but the order of our priorities should be our relationship with God, our relationship with our family, and then our ministry. God called you first to Himself, then to your spouse and family, and finally as a shepherd to His flock.

That means we must not allow work to displace our family time, and our families must be given the attention and love they deserve. This is hard to do and yes there are always extenuating circumstances, but our families should never be second tier to the church. And honestly, if your church doesn’t affirm this, I would consider going to your superiors and asking hard questions about this topic in a Christ-honoring way. You have to make sure you are caring for your health and the health of your family.

Be transparent about time off.

I love to talk about date night in front of students and our church when I preach. Why you may ask? Because I want everyone to know I love my wife and time with her, but also to set the precedent that we want and deserve time together just like everyone else. It has been refreshing to hear church members who we bump into on Fridays want to honor our date night time, but also I’ve had countless people say they have learned they need to be better about dating and protecting their spouse. When you are open about who you are and where your priorities are, people are welcomed in and more apt to respect them.

Make sure your actions and words match.

This should be true in the church and the home. If you say date night is a priority to the church, make sure you honor that at home. If you ever wonder if your words and deeds match, consider asking your spouse and kids. They will be honest with you and allow for you to grow and become even better by working as a team. We can’t say family time is a priority but postpone it for “work stuff.” What our church and our families see should match. Our spouse and children should hear what we say and see it acted upon at home and in our relationships with them.

And the same should be true for our work. If we tell people we want to prioritize our families but continue to come to work while sacrificing family time, it shows that our word and deeds don’t match. If that is how we are governing our lives, it points toward a heart issue: “who/what are you working for.” Too often a workaholic mentality tends to point toward a pride issue or a desire to please man over God, and we need to look at our heart to make sure our actions and words match as we seek to honor God in all aspects.

Utilize your “do not disturb” option.

I’ll be honest: I struggle with not using my phone for work when I’m at home with Elise. I’ve been practicing something new this week and have been putting my phone on do not disturb. I began to realize how I was worrying about texts, calls, or emails and with “do not disturb” turned on, it has helped me so much in not worrying and making Elise more of a priority. Try it out and see how it works. We preach freedom from technology now it’s time to put it into play in our lives.

Empower your team.

For each of us the word “team” may look different. It could be a student ministry staff team, your volunteer core, or just you and a couple of regular leaders. Whatever the context is for you, empower your team to lead in your place. We cannot allow ourselves to be the only person for our students and leaders. If that is what we do we will always be the on-call person. But if you encourage others to lead, direct students to small group leaders, and allow your team to fulfill their roles, you are then empowering others while allowing space for yourself to breathe and experience balance in your life.

6 Tips for Avoiding Burnout

Ministry has a tendency to make you feel like you are always “on.” Have you ever felt that way before? Maybe it was the call or text on your day off, the late night email you felt you needed to respond to because it was from a parent or elder, or when you got stopped in a supermarket because you “work” at a church.

The reality we are faced with is that without healthy boundaries, we will run into burn out. If you do not have appropriate boundaries in place you can guarantee that eventually you will become frustrated, bitter, and ready to walk away. Feelings of being overwhelmed, always on call, and like there is no one who is safe for you is a hard place to be, so I want to offer some ways to set healthy boundaries to safeguard you, your family, and your ministry.

1. Set clear expectations. This goes for both your supervisor and your ministry context. Whenever you step into a new ministry position ask for clear parameters like these:

  • How many hours am I required to work?
  • How many hours do you want me in the office?
  • Do you offer comp time for retreats and trips?
  • How do you handle holidays?
  • How are after-hours calls handled?

These are just a few questions that will allow you to better take care of yourself and know what is expected of you. But I would say that you shouldn’t just ask questions but also set the tone for how you handle your time off. I have shared this with my supervisor and those on my team so they know. Here are some of the expectations that I shared when I started and continue to advocate for:

  • Friday nights are date nights. That means I don’t work on Friday evenings unless my wife and I talk about it. We will go to football games in the fall and meet with people when necessary, but I’m those instances we always have date night on a different evening. My staff and volunteers, students, and my direct report know this and they all honor it because we continue to talk about it.
  • I always advocate for using your paid time off. It is part of your salary, so make sure you use it. Let your supervisor know well in advance, but use your time off and advocate for it.
  • I would also say it is important to advocate for time to go off site to study and refresh. This isn’t time to necessarily do “work” but instead to make sure you are getting filled and refreshed.

2. Seek friends who don’t require you to wear your “pastor’s hat.” One of my favorite things about where I work right now is I have begun to build some really good friendships. One in particular stands out because it is someone close to my age who has served in ministry before. We were grabbing breakfast one day and he looked at me and said, “Nick, you don’t need to wear your pastor’s hat around me. I am a safe person, and we can just be good friends. If you need to put it on, that’s okay but you don’t have to.”

Man, what an amazing moment! I was blown away because all the weight and expectations were gone. But here’s the thing: I would never have thought to ask someone to let me do that before that conversation. Looking back now I would encourage everyone to find a friend like this. Find someone you don’t have to worry about having all the right answers with, to be able to be yourself around, and someone who will be able to offer sound and practical advice.

Also, as a quick aside, let me say don’t make this your spouse. You should already be sharing life with your spouse, but I am advocating for another person, a friend, someone with whom you can build a solid relationship. This isn’t supplementing or replacing your spouse, but instead giving you another outlet and friendship to help you in life.

3. Keep your days off as days off. God doesn’t require everyone else to take a sabbath and ministry leaders and volunteers to not have a time of refreshment with Him. A sabbath is a command to all of us. And I don’t know about you, but I am pretty sure when God gives us a command we need to follow it… yes, even ministry leaders. So honor your days off. Try to stay off the phone and computer as it relates to work. Focus on your family, friends, yourself, and your relationship with God. Protect this fiercely and if they are getting overrun, speak up about it and ask your supervisor for advice and help.

4. Decompress. Find out how you best release and refresh. This has changed for me over the years. At some points when I was single it was going out with friends, or ordering a pizza and watching the newest war movie. As weird as it sounds now, my ways to decompress are cooking, reading an adventure novel, cleaning, or making candles. It helps me to focus, clear my thoughts, and accomplish something.

This will look different for each of us, but you should identify what it is in your life and then utilize it. Also, if you are married make sure to bring your spouse into this conversation. They need to know that you aren’t just retreating or disengaging but that this is how you find refreshment and restoration. Work together as a team to honor this.

5. Communicate. Let your supervisor and those close to you know where you are at. If you are struggling with various aspects of your job, if you are feeling overwhelmed, if you are feeling defeated, talk to someone. It is okay to share where you are at, and honestly it needs to be a consistent aspect of your life. Talk to people, tell them how you are doing, explain what is hard, share what has been really good. The more this becomes a part of our culture and lives, the more free and cared-for you will feel.

Now I know there are some in ministry who cannot go to their supervisor for fear of reprisal or being fired. I get it, I have been in those circumstances myself. If you cannot go to your supervisor, go to a mentor or close friend; even better if they are close because perhaps you can bring them with you to a meeting with your supervisor to share what has been going on.

When I first started out as a pastor, my mentor came along to my interviews and asked the hard questions and set the expectations the church should have for me. I will never forget how it felt to be advocated for and supported. That is what you need in your close friends and confidantes. Bring them in, share what is happening, bare your soul, and let them love and care for you.

6. Get a mentor. I have already mentioned a mentor here and previously, but this cannot be undervalued or ignored. We all need people who are pouring into us and pushing us to be better leaders and Christ followers. If you do not have a mentor, seek one out. If you have one make sure you are honestly connecting with and sharing your life with them. Seek advice, encouragement, direction, and the hard but necessary answers from them.

The Art of Rest

Recently I shared with our student ministry that rest is vital and necessary in our lives, and in fact is commanded by God throughout Scripture. Rest is something I have never been good at. I am a high capacity person: I wake up early, can run on little sleep, and just go. Rest has been something I have struggled with for so long, and after walking through the message I shared with my high school students, I knew I needed to share this with others and keep preaching this to myself.

Rest is holistic; it isn’t just sleeping or napping or tuning out, but a state of refreshment by pausing and being with God, allowing Him to take your burdens, and stopping to enjoy what He has given to you. I find that I can be with God but I don’t always give my burdens to Him or pause to enjoy life. Even on vacation I catch myself counting the days we have left, and thinking about what will happen when I return, rather than enjoying the time away.

As I was self-assessing, I came to this realization: there are others in ministry who function in the same manner. We understand our calling and mission and will sacrifice our own time, energy, bodies, and whatever else it calls for to see that mission fulfilled. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized how un-biblical that actually is. God doesn’t call us to kill ourselves, but instead to find our rest and strength in Him. He sustains and empowers us.

From this understanding and some evaluation of past ministries and ways of living, let me encourage you to think about implementing these tips into your life to help you in resting and staying in ministry longer.

Spend regular time with Jesus.

This is one of those that we teach and espouse often, but it is also true that in our lives this can be the first area to suffer when we don’t rest well. We may still read our Bibles and pray, but when was the last time you spent quality time with Jesus? When was the last time you truly worshiped and just rested in Him? This is a challenge for anyone, but we as ministers of the Gospel must make this a priority. Truly our rest only comes when we are with Christ and giving Him everything.

Spend time with your spouse and family.

We are called by God to first be in relationship with Him and then to be ministering to, loving, and sharing life with our families. Often the priorities get misplaced in ministry with family being the number three priority (or less in some cases) because ministry becomes an idol. In fact, in the Epistles you see Paul talk about having your marriage in order before serving in ministry, because a marriage reflects into the ministry regardless of health status. But in order to rest well, and to be refreshed, we must pour into and care for our families. If we aren’t sharing where we are at with them, the stress will continue to grow, and potentially we may view the family as a contributing factor. Bring them in, share life, love them well, and watch as family changes into a refuge for you.

Have regular date nights and honor them.

Man, I wish I had done this sooner in my marriage. When Elise and I were first married, our schedules did not work well together. Hers was fluid and changed each week, and included working weekends. Mine was Sunday through Thursday, and there were some weeks we saw each other only as we went to bed. Date nights weren’t a thing because nights together didn’t happen often. Because of that we ended up not growing as a couple, and we knew something had to change. We picked a day (Friday nights) and have become very protective of that. We tell everyone about it, and now even our students ask what we are doing on date night. In essence we are setting an example for the families we serve by leading out. Let me also encourage you that when, not if, you are out and a church member or student stops you to not cut off the conversation in a rude way, but be honest and let them know you are on date night. It may feel awkward, but you have to protect your time together.

Honor your days off.

Let me say this: you get days off, treat them as days off! Don’t do work on your days off, don’t just “pop into the office for a few minutes.” Don’t be checking your email, or responding to a work-based text. We, you, deserve days off and rest like anyone else. This may mean you have to set up or reestablish boundaries at your job and within the context of your ministry, but it is healthy to do so. Yes, in ministry you can feel like you have to always be “on” but don’t let that detract from your time away and with those you love.

Find a hobby and do it.

Often when it comes to rest, people still need to be doing something. Rest doesn’t mean idleness or laziness, but resting in God and who He designed you to be. For me I have gotten into various hobbies over the years: cooking (let me know if you want my truffle, oatmeal cookie, or burger recipe), candle making, reading, biking, and much more. It hasn’t always stayed the same, but it allows for me to decompress and commune with God. Often during these moments I find myself talking to God, humming worship songs, thinking about Scripture, and finding ways to just be silent and rest in Christ.

Use your vacation time.

I will be honest: I am horrible at this. I always have extra time at the end of the year, and I am so bad at looking to use that time. In a way I feel guilty because I am taking time from where God has called me. But the reality we must face is threefold:

  1. Your vacation is part of your employment package so use it – letting it go to waste is like wasting your paycheck. One of my bosses made it clear to me that you were given this time because you deserve it and are worth it, so use it.
  2. By not taking your vacation time, you are essentially telling your family they aren’t worth your time, and the church is more important than they are. You must set an example for them that God has called you first to them, and then the church. And one of the ways you show this is by being with them, not just on days off, but on vacations and special moments.
  3. You aren’t the cornerstone of your ministry, Christ is. I think sometimes we worry about taking time off because we don’t have anyone to run the program. I get it, I have been there. But one of the worst feelings I have ever felt is when I had students and parents look me in the eye and say “this ministry will die because you are leaving.” If that is the way we run our ministries my friends, then we have failed. Our ministry should be rooted in Christ, and as such we should be building teams of people like He did who can do what we are doing. We should be training others to do what we do, which will allow for them to grow and bring freedom and peace into your own life.

Keep track of your hours, responsibilities, and other duties as an employee of the church.

Many times we just give of our time and it is easy to overextend yourself, especially if you are salaried. However, that isn’t healthy or needed. If you find you are always working, always doing, always on-call, start tracking what you are doing and bring others in. If needed, go to your supervisor and let them know what is happening and be honest with them. Let them know if you are struggling. Let them know if you need help or are drowning. I know this can be terrifying because the “what ifs” begin to abound. But if our leaders are truly following Jesus and being sensitive to His heart and leading, they should be good shepherds who care about their staff. This starts by being open and honest with them about where you are at.

Take time away from social media.

Social media can be defeating and debilitating. The sin of comparison can often make youth workers feel inadequate, envious, and lesser because of what they see others doing. If you are feeling exhausted or burned out, don’t just take time off, take time away from social media. It can be a fast for a day, a week, or month, or it can be by having regular unplugged days for you and your family. Elise and I have done this periodically in our marriage where we noticed we weren’t always communicating because we we using technology to fill that need. Eventually we took Monday nights and said no technology. It was awesome! We talked, played games, went on walks, and bonded as a couple. Let me encourage you to consider doing this as well.

Rest is hard, especially when you are in ministry. But we must rest. In order to be effective disciples of Jesus, spouses, parents, and ministers, we have to be resting in Christ. Let me encourage you to build healthy habits of rest and refreshment in your life, and to make sure your priorities are in order. Now go take a nap, spend time with those you love, and lean deep into Christ for sustainment.

Surviving the Tough Side of Ministry: 7 Thoughts on Self-Care

Let’s be real for a moment: Ministry is hard. It can be soul crushing, emotionally draining, depressing, and filled with anxiety. It has extreme highs, but also some of the darkest lows.

As a pastor or ministry leader, we feel the weight of what is happening in our ministries and churches. We bear the hurt and pain of our people, we feel deeper than most because we have been called to care for God’s sheep. The words people say, the loose tongue of a parent, the critique of a church member, a critical response from a staff member; they cut deep. We begin to question our skill set, our passion, our knowledge, and yes, even our calling. There are moments we feel so inadequate we feel like walking away. Moments after an amazing event or conversation that break us and make us feel worthless. Moments when we question, “why do I even do this anymore?”

Perhaps you are there now. Maybe it is has been that type of day, week, month, or year for you. Brothers and sisters let me encourage you: God has called you to this! You are being used in ways you could not imagine, and He is at work in and through you! Know you are not alone. I, we, have been there. And by His grace and the support of others you will make it through this season.

I have experienced deep hurt in ministry. I have been accused, personally and professionally attacked, and had my calling challenged. But as hard as those moments have been I have come out stronger, more affirmed, and more confirmed in my calling. The fire doesn’t stop you, it refines you. The pain you walk through, the burdens you bear, make you a better pastor and shepherd of your people. Know that the pain and hurt isn’t the defining moment of who you are, but a moment to better refine you to be who God has destined you to be. So as someone who has been in these moments and continues to walk through them, I want to offer you a few thoughts on self-care.

1. Make sure you are spending time with Jesus outside of “work time.” Don’t let prep for your Sunday or midweek service be your time with Jesus. Don’t just pray at church venues. Spend constant daily time with Jesus, and just like we tell our students, even if it is hard. Throughout the Psalms we see David struggle in his relationship with God but it doesn’t stop him from going to God. Be raw and real. Be honest with God about where you are.

2. Be honest with your spouse. I get it, we try to spare them and not burden them. Certain leadership moments and meetings have to stay there. But you need to be honest about where you are at and what you are feeling. If it has been a hard day, don’t mask it and don’t try to hide it. Be honest. This isn’t a free pass to be a complete tool to your spouse, but being honest and processing your feelings and responses is healthy and needed for your soul. Bring them in. Share what is happening so you have the one person God designed for you walking with you.

3. Go to a trusted mentor or leader outside the church and ask for their insight, feedback, and encouragement. I would highly encourage that you go to someone outside the church who is removed from whatever is happening. Often we will feel depleted and used up because of a certain moment, comment, person, or leader who is in our congregation. Having a removed third party will offer creative and critical insight into helping you move through it, grow, and respond. Find someone who has served in ministry longer than you and who understands the demands you are faced with.

4. Find someone to talk to. What I mean by this is that in many cases it is healthy to speak to a counselor about what is happening because of how it is affecting you. There are so many preconceived notions about counselors and counseling, but let me dispel them for you. I actually believe that it is healthy for all ministers (and their families) to periodically see a counselor to process what is happening in their lives. This isn’t a sign of weakness or defeat, but of strength and victory. Often a knowledgeable source and listening ear can offer effective, meaningful, and corrective insight into how to grow, adapt, and become stronger in who God made you to be.

5. Be honest with your superiors. I know as I type this that many will chuckle and say “yeah right!” I totally get it, I really do. I have been burned my superiors more than once. I have been hung out to dry. But here is the thing: that isn’t always the case. I am still trying to move past my timidity in bringing leadership in, but what I can tell you is that in my current context my superiors are for me! It is such a welcomed change, but if I had not brought them in I would still be on an island. Being honest with those over you before things blow up allows you to build trust and rapport, and to have people who have your back.

6. Step back and self-assess. Often times when we are hurt it may be due to our own pride and insecurities, but we don’t always see it. It is easy when many sing our praises, but if one negative comment crushes you and makes you question what you are doing, consider stepping back. Take some time to assess what you value: is it the praise and affirmation, or seeing the kingdom of God advanced? Either way there is still hurt and difficult moments, but the result is much different depending on where our heart is. So take a couple of days to remove distractions and spend time with God. Have others speak into your life. Bring in trusted mentors and confidantes. And use this as a time to heal and refresh.

7. Make sure your priorities are in order. I think what happens to the best of us is we make our ministry the focus of who we are and what we do. We are all about it because God has called us to it. But we cannot forget our first calling is to be a child of God. If we forget that our first calling is to love God, and instead believe the lie that serving our ministry is the same thing, then perhaps we need to step back from ministry. The same can be said of your family life. If you find you are sacrificing time with family, your spouse, your kids to be at your ministry, I would argue it is time for you to reassess your priorities. We are called first as children of God, second as husbands, wives, fathers, and mothers, and third as ministry leaders. We are to make sure our relationship is right with God, right with the family that is to mirror our relationship with Jesus, and then right with our ministry we serve in.

The reality is this: ministry is hard. But the reward is this: people will know Jesus and experience eternity with Him. The calling you carry is a heavy one my friends, but know you don’t do it alone. You have many who have gone before, many surrounding you now, and a Father who cares more than you can know. He will sustain and use you through the darkest of moments.

You have been called for a purpose, you are a kingdom worker, you are a chosen child of God, and you are chosen for such a time as this. Know that I am praying for you and am always willing to talk.

5 Thoughts for New Ministry Leaders

I have been in ministry for over a decade and since then I have learned a lot about stepping into new roles and what to do and not do. If I were being completely honest, I failed in more ways than I care to admit when it came to stepping into a new role. I was often rash, too direct, quick to assert my ideas over another person’s, and way too aggressive.

Looking back I could make the argument that all of those characteristics were done with good intentions, but how I went about sharing ideas, vision, and implementation could have been handled in much better ways. What I want to share with you in this post are 5 key tips to remember as you step into a new ministry. These are not exhaustive, but I think if we remember them they will help anyone stepping into a new ministry position or role within a church.

1. Take change slowly. I remember my first paid ministry gig. I was a 24 year old senior pastor where the median age at the church was 55+. I was hired in to fill the pulpit, but very quickly asserted myself and began to take over other ministry roles held by leaders in the church because I saw how to “do it better.” My intention wasn’t to alienate anyone or to push people aside. In fact, in my heart I truly was doing it all for the kingdom of heaven, but in running so hard after the success and mission, I missed the people.

So many people had gone before me. They had put blood, sweat, and many tears into the ministry. They had great ideas. But when I started I thought I knew better. I had the experience, the ministry degree, the calling. But I missed the people and the reasons they had done things.

So here is my challenge to you: when you start fresh somewhere make sure to slow down, to listen, to bring people in, to build a team, and take your time making changes. A good rule of thumb is to wait 6 months to make big changes and to bring people in as you make small and large changes.

2. Make sure to build relationships and cast vision well. Often times it is easy to come and make changes because you believe and know it is the right thing to do. But if you don’t bring people in and share that with them, then more often than not, that change will fail. Before you even begin to make changes, build relationships.

Our ministry philosophy should never be program over people, but instead should be rooted in relational ministry as we mirror the philosophy of Christ. When you build relationships you are intentionally growing your team and helping them to see and believe in the vision. Change then becomes natural and part of the ministry DNA. Instead of making changes and trying to catch people up, build into people and let the vision flow through the relationship, then see people move the vision with you.

3. Always be willing to adapt. I am a Jersey Boy born and raised, but I went to school in the Midwest and did ministry there for over 5 years. What I learned very quickly is the Midwest is very different from the East Coast. The way of life, the pace at which things are done, the interactions between people, and even the way religion and faith are viewed were all very different.

What this meant for me when I stepped into a new ministry role is that I had to be willing to adapt my methodology, philosophy, and strategies toward my ministry setting. I wasn’t compromising my beliefs, values, or plans but instead was assessing my new ministry setting and working within the culture and respecting the people I was serving. Doing this will allow for more intentional interactions, rapid building of rapport and trust, and demonstrate to your people that you are there to minister to them not to be the center of the ministry (people over programs).

4. Take time to invest in the community. Depending on where you live and the size of the church you serve in, it can become easy to only be focused on the church family. Meaning, sometimes it is hard to see outside the walls you serve and work in.

My first paid ministry position was with a church that had 10 people including me. We met in the back room of an American Legion Hall and no one knew where or who we were. I began branding the church, looking for a new space, and developing our leaders. All great things in the big process, but I missed caring for and stepping into the community we served. Only when I physically moved into the community did I begin to see the needs and understand how to holistically serve our church and the community together. Then we saw not only growth in the church, but healing and hope come into a very broken area.

When you invest in the community more options are presented for the Gospel to go forth, people begin to see the church as the Bride of Christ, change begins to happen, and healing comes in amazing ways. So go to school games, check out community events, go to PTO meetings, bring donuts to various organizations or community groups, shop local, and look to give back. When you look outside the walls and understand your community, you are able to better invest in your ministry as a whole and this will naturally bring people in.

5. Finally, find a mentor. This is something I would highly recommend to anyone regardless of age, ministry experience, length of time at a ministry location, or level of education. Mentors help in so many ways from bouncing ideas and implementation strategies off of them, to having an empathetic and sympathetic person to lean into, and in many ways having someone to tell you when you have done a great job and when you need to shape up. A mentor is an advocate and a friend, and if I were honest with you sometimes both of those are hard to come by in a ministry setting.

I would encourage you to find someone outside of your church, someone who has been in ministry or served in a church in some capacity, is more seasoned than you are, and is willing to pour into you and speak truth into your life. This will allow for you to be open and honest without fear of reprisal and also help you to grow as a ministry leader. Be willing to listen to encouragement and criticism, process through difficult moments, to be grown and stretched, and to invest relationally. This will be one of the best decisions you could ever make to enhance your own spiritual walk and the ministry you serve in.

These 5 thoughts cannot guarantee a rapidly growing ministry or a church of thousands. But it can create a place where people are loved and valued, where the Gospel goes forth in powerful ways, and growth and development happen in your own life. These thoughts will help you to generate a ministry that puts people before the program, and allows for lives to be impacted and changed. Be an ambassador for the kingdom, and let God work through you, as you model the life of a selfless servant and see what can happen!

8 Ways to Handle Frustration in Work and Ministry

Disclaimer: The following piece has nothing to do with my current employment or my current feelings toward it. This is simply a piece designed to help those who are struggling in their work and ministry contexts as I know there are times we all question why we are doing what we are doing. With that said, I have been there, I have had feelings of inadequacy, wanting to walk away, and feeling like I needed a change of scenery. I am hoping that offering some advice, encouragement, and personal insight may help those around me.

Your boss walks into your office Tuesday morning, sits down and tells you that your department met your quota and beat out every other department, but he is downsizing yours due to budgetary reasons. Oh and by the way he expects you to maintain your quota in the same time frame you just met.

Your senior pastor meets you as you are setting up for programming and seemingly off the cuff states “You and I don’t appear to be on the same mission together…we need to fix that. Oh and how did last night go?”

You just successfully ran your organization’s biggest fundraiser and netted them the largest amount of donations they have ever had. Some of your fellow employees walk over after the evening has ended and all they can do is complain about the service, food, pleading for money, and how you should have chosen a different career path.

You work in a male-dominated office where you are never taken seriously. Jokes are constantly made about how you should handle all the office parties because you’re a woman and know about cooking and decorating. Every time you suggest something that could improve your work environment, or the entire company, you are given the proverbial pat on the head and told to let the men handle the real work.

The elder board calls you in for an emergency meeting. You show up thinking you are ready for anything, but then they look at you and say, “Well, you have done a good job here. But your ministry costs a lot of money, money we don’t have…so we are going to have to let you go.” What are you going to tell your wife and kids?

Many of us have had experiences just like these or very similar. Some of you reading this may be walking through these circumstances right now, and perhaps you found yourself yelling in affirmation, “That’s me!” Work or ministry is hard at times and it drains you. I totally get it.

My ministry is my career. I love what I do. I am passionate about it. And to be frank: I have been hurt a lot in ministry. I have also been hurt in careers outside of ministry. I have been let go, I have been criticized for how I ran my team, I have had to fire people because I was told to, I have been told maybe ministry isn’t my calling, I have been told I work for Satan. I don’t offer these as a way of saying, “Look, I have weathered the storm why can’t you?” I offer this to say, “I understand.” I have walked through garbage in my jobs and career as well. I simply want to offer you some reflective reasons for why this happens, and some means to cope. Neither will be exhaustive, but my hope is to encourage you, any of you, who are reading this and feeling spent, hurt, forgotten, or marginalized.

So why does this happen? Before we get into this I would ask that we lay aside all default defenses. Yes, your boss could be the reason. They could just be a horrible person who hates life, teddy bears, and small children. Yes, your work environment could be dismal. The roof leaks, the trash is never emptied, and your co-worker smells. And yes, your job may just be a job. You don’t want to be there, they don’t want you there, and to be honest you are looking elsewhere. There are a lot of circumstances, but I want to look inward, at ourselves. Often times we tend to focus on the problem and refuse to examine ourselves. I am not looking to place blame, I am simply saying let’s take a look at our own hearts and motivations before we do.

Looking inward is more often than not a frustrating and discouraging activity as we see faults, inconsistencies, and sin. It is when we do this that too often we beat ourselves up because we see glaring areas that must be fixed, but my hope is that as we work through these areas we do not become self-deprecating but instead look at this with hope, resiliency, and a desire for change. Again, there are many areas in which we could struggle, but I believe these three are the key areas for many of us.

Selfishness

Often times we place value on our job, our desk, our way of doing things, our methodology, our teaching, our skill set, our ministry…our, our, our! Now here is the thing: what gives you the right to have ownership over anything you do? Your desk was probably there before you started working. That ministry can and will continue without you. Your skills are yours but other people have skills and knowledge as well. The problem is we are told that we deserve something–actually everything–that we want and so we pursue everything as if it is already ours. But the crazy thing is, nothing is yours. The Bible says in Psalm 24 that the entire earth is the Lord’s. Not ours. When we continue with the notion that the items of this world are ours we become selfish, resentful, and indigent with change and new ideas or systems. That is our problem. That is our heart, our sinful nature, grasping and pulling at us telling us that we deserve everything when the truth is we deserve nothing but are given everything.

Pride

Pride is a natural progression from selfishness, but I believe that it is more dangerous. Pride is coupled with arrogance, a critical attitude, and a judgmental spirit that can be disastrous to the workplace, co-workers, relationships, families, and yourself. Now some may jump up and champion that they take pride in their work because they were raised to work hard and this is America! We are proud of our work ethic. And to that I would say good, be proud of it. But where is that pride truly rooted? Is it in yourself, your accomplishments, your work ethic, your neat desk area, your ministry, the growth you brought to your program, the way you lead and teach? Or is it rooted in Christ? When you are proud of your work do you say, “I am proud because God has given me this work ethic, this job, this paycheck, this team, this ministry”? Do you call everything yours or do you thank God that He and He alone has allowed you to step into this career and work for Him, to give Him glory? These are hard questions and I would encourage you to ask them of yourself.

Lack of direction and communication

I am not talking about direction given from a superior. I am talking about how we sometimes show up to just get our job done and do not offer to do anything more, we are content to just meander along without any desire to grow, we simply maintain. This is not okay. Doing this does a disservice to others because it shows a lack of accountability. We are saying that we do not have the capability to think for ourselves and instead pass the blame to someone else. He/she never told me to do this. I never knew I couldn’t put staples in the coffee maker. How was I supposed to know metal in the microwave would cause it to blow up? This can be our mentality because we are rooted in sin. We started doing this at the beginning of time! We pass the blame and hope for the best because we are too stubborn and selfish to ask for direction! If we simply communicated and asked for help so many problems would cease to exist and we could potentially thrive in our careers and ministries.


Finally, I would love to offer some ways to help you cope with your work environment if it is truly a struggle to be there. Because let’s be honest, sometimes the workplace won’t get better. You may be doing everything you can to please God and your boss (no they aren’t the same regardless of what they tell you) and it still is a horrible place to work. So let me offer these thoughts:


1. Pray

Do this a lot! Sometimes in hard times and dismal work environments we forget to simply pray. If you have a nasty boss pray for them. Pray for that “lazy” co-worker. Pray for the janitor who never empties your trash. Pray. You do not know what is going on in that person’s life that could influence the way they behave. So ask God to help you see them as He does: His child that He lovingly created and hopes to have a relationship with.

2. Talk to someone

Go and find someone who is older and wiser than you and seek direction. One of the greatest benefits in my life is having mentors speak into it. These people have helped me grow, called me on my inconsistencies and shortcomings, and have challenge me to be a better man, employee, and servant of God. They also listen and will have your back. If you need help finding someone, ask and I will give some clarifying ways to do so.

3. Communicate with your boss

If work sucks, have you talked to your boss? Have you expressed your dissatisfaction? Have you done so respectfully, without having your frustrations come through, your blood boil, or going with preconceived notions? All of those will contribute to poor communication and lack of results. Go honestly and with a clear head. Share what is going on, ask for change, and be willing to meet halfway or even two-thirds.

4. Take a break

Sometimes you need a vacation. Time to recharge your batteries. Take it! If you are frustrated and upset, now is the time.

5. Ask yourself some questions

Is this the right job for you? What makes this place difficult for you? Why do you stay? Are you contributing to your own frustrations? What would your ideal job look like? Does that job exist? Being honest with yourself and asking hard questions will hopefully bring about some resolve to the situation.

6. Do not take your anger and frustration home

If you are married, have a family, have roommates, trust me they know when you have had a bad day. They know when work is bad, your boss yelled at you, etc. But you do not have to treat them like they are part of the problem. They care about you and only want the best. We need to learn to share our hurts, problems, and issues without getting on them for what happened at work.

7. Look to how Jesus handled conflict

Jesus spoke into the situations calmly, with authority, and with respect. If things got heated (like when they tried to kill Him), He moved on. When people were obnoxious (disciples and Pharisees), He spoke to them in a way to teach them and make them better. Maybe Jesus knew a thing or two about leadership?

8. Write a verbatim

A verbatim is a paper that you write about a conflict you are in. You write down everything that happened word-for-word in a script form (Nick said: blah blah, Tom said: blab blab, etc.). Then you ask probing questions afterward and answer them. What could I have done differently, how did this make me feel, what did I do to contribute to the situation, how did I help the other person, what were all potential outcomes of the situation, how did I respond, how did the other people respond, what could I have done better, how can I fix the situation?


I am no workplace specialist. I do not claim to have all the answers. My desire is that this offers you some hope and encouragement.