A Pastor’s Primary Preoccupation

“When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with the word, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus” (Acts 18:5).

Pastor have no shortage of issues with which we are occupied.  Sermon preparation, hospital visits, counseling, leadership, strategizing, vision casting, meetings, encouragement, etc.  And, no, I’m not sending out invitations to a pity party–far from it. But I’m continually amazed as I’ve read through Acts over the past week how laser focused Paul was in Macedonia.

Focused on what?  He was “occupied with the word.”  He was occupied with telling others about Jesus.  When the Jews refused to hear, being occupied with other matters of less significance, he shook out his robe and proclaimed that he would go to the Gentiles. He was occupied with the word–and if those to whom he continued to preach refused to share that occupation as listeners, he moved on.

The aforementioned occupations listed can all be accomplished without this preoccupation with the Word.  I can visit, counsel, oversee staff, cast vision, meet, and encourage–all without the Word even being in the neighborhood. But that’s not my calling ultimately.  My ultimate calling is to be, in reading further in Acts, “competent (KJV: mighty) in the Scriptures” (Acts 18:24). From the Scriptures flow the issues of the life and the church.

Pastors (and Christians, mind you) easily find themselves preoccupied with other things.  But a pastor’s primary preoccupation is with the Word, which emboldens for the truth, and softens the heart toward those away from truth.  God is more than capable in accomplishing what He desires (Isaiah 55:11-12).

What’s your primary preoccupation? What steps will you take to be occupied with the Word?  What’s keeping you from doing so?

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Six Ways to Use Vacations to Help Preaching, Passion, and Productivity

20140920_160118_AndroidIt’s interesting how the subject of vacation for ministers has been approached over the years.  In Charles Bridges’ classic work on ministry matters, he rejects the notion that ministers should ever have any sort of recreation, even taking a day off during the week.  Spurgeon was another workaholic, having started and headed up over 60 organizations during his ministry at the Metropolitan Tabernacle.

Now, we look at how important vacation, recreation, and even days off are for the minister.  Ministers are casualties in the landscape of evangelicalism—1500 ministers are leaving the ministry every month!  The reasons are myriad: burn out, hurt from parishioners, moral failure, etc., ad infinitum, ad nauseum.  Wayne Cordeiro and others have written books on how ministers are prone to divorces, depression, anger, fear, and numerous other maladies that affect their psyche and their close relationships.  Cordeiro’s book Leading on Empty tracks his personal trek through these severe valleys and the systems he put in place for accountability and recreation so he’s running on full potential and energy as needed.

I’ve posted before that ministers living in a perpetual state of guilt—at least every minister goes through that season.  He spends time in ministry with sermon preparation, visitation to the sick and homebound and those in the hospital—but that means time away from your family than most ‘normal’ families have (whatever ‘normal’ means).  But then he spends time with your family (day at the park, weekend in the mountains, week with grandparents), he finds himself having a hard time pulling away from church matters.  He emails, calls periodically, texts a parishioner or a member of your staff to stay on top of things.  He’s had one major event happen while he were gone on vacation or a missions trip—he just can’t handle another.

So can a minister of a church, where a love for his members accompanied with the anxieties that compile daily (2 Corinthians 11:28) truly have a vacation?  That’s something I am going to pray about and explore without Internet or e-mail, both of which help but also significantly hinder productivity and, yes, even critical thinking.

We’ll see what God shows us during this time.  I’m looking forward to it immensely.  So this is what I’m going to do next time I vacation:

  1. Trust my associate pastor, ministry staff, and deacons to handle the ministry very capably when I’m away–which I know they will do.
  2. (HT: Mark Combs) I will uninstall all my social media apps from my phone (Facebook, Hootsuite, and E-mail) in an effort to break the habit of checking my phone all too frequently when I should be with family, friends, and my Heavenly Father.
  3. I will watch what I eat–even as I know I’ll go to White Castle, Cracker Barrel, and a myriad of family functions and BBQs.
  4. I will continue to exercise. I’ve redeveloped a love for running, thanks to the C25K app.  I’m on vacation from my work, not from my health.
  5. I will attend a worship service with my family while away. I need to hear the Word, even as I preach the Word hundreds of times per year.
  6. I will bring books that may or may not have to do with my vocation as pastor.  Will I bring my Bible?  Absolutely–and I’ll read through the Psalms (yes, I’m preaching on those when I return), but I’ll do this devotionally for sure. A leadership book?  Sure!  Harper Lee’s new book?  Still debating.  A soccer book?  Inverting the Pyramid: The History of Soccer Tactics by Jonathan Wilson sounds excellent. Os Guinness’ Fool’s Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion?  Well, maybe just one preaching book! (OK, OK, I may not bring all of those, but when leaders are readers, you’ll see why reading is a great way to relax and sharpen!

What a necessity there is in being intentional about your vacations!

What ways do you use your vacations to help relax and sharpen?

Productivity at Your Desk: Exercises, Pomodoro, and Getting Things Done

I’m not at my desk very often, so when I am, I need to be productive.  And because I’m not at my desk very often, when I am, I need to make sure I stay in decent shape.

We have been seeing more studies on the dangers of too much sitting during the day.

For exercise, I came across this article called The Desk Jockey Workout: 8 Ways to Stay in Shape at the Office by Brett & Kate McCay from the Art of Manliness blog.  They make their case in these opening paragraphs:

For most of human history, work has been a physically demanding activity.  Our cavemen ancestors chased down mastodons and hurled spears into their tough, but tasty flesh, American homesteaders tamed the wilderness into productive farms with nothing but grit and sweat, and just 60 years ago, the majority of men in America flexed their muscles on factory floors or construction sites.

Fast-forward to today.

Instead of feeding ourselves by the sweat of our brows, most of us just slouch in a chair all day in a climate-controlled building while we push buttons and send documents through the ether. And the sitting doesn’t end after work. When we get home, we plop down in front of the TV to watch reality shows of men performing the kind of virile, physical, and often dirty work we fantasize about doing while answering emails in our cubicle.

Man’s transition from callused-handed, blue-collared laborer to soft-handed, white-collared desk jockey has done a number on us physically and mentally. Not only have our desk jobs made us weak, flabby, and stiff, sedentary work is sapping the very hormone that makes a man a man: testosterone.

What’s more, all this sitting is slowly eating away at our life meters. One study showed that men who sit for more than six hours of their leisure time each day had a 20% higher death rate than those who sat for three hours or less. For the desk jockey, death comes wrapped in a Successories Poster and waving a USB drive.

“Ah-ha!” you say. “I work out out like a beast in the gym every day and have a physique that rivals Eugen Sandow’s. My hour-long, herculean effort counteracts all the sitting and slouching I do at work!”

Sorry to break it to you Mac, but your visits to the gym aren’t doing much to mitigate the damage that accumulates from all that desk jockeying.

Studies have shown that consistent, vigorous workouts don’t do much to offset the damage we do to our bodies by sitting down all day at our cushy Dilbert-esque jobs.

So what’s a modern man to do?

It makes a difference.  Take time to read on!

In the midst of this article, they referred to the Pomodoro Technique.  I’ve used it for the past week, and it has really helped me be more focused and productive while I’m at my desk.   Created in 1992 by Francesco Cirillo, who based everything around a simple kitchen timer.

Why?

  • A ‘pomodoro’ is indivisible—lasting at the very least 25 minutes.  So for 25 minutes you focus on a task.
  • After one ‘pomodoro,’ you take a short 4-5 minute break.  But make that productive.  Do some situps, crunches, something to keep you active and alert.
  • After that is done and nothing else is pressing, you put on another pomodoro, then take another short break.
  • After four pomodoros, you take a 15 minute break.  Walk around your building, climb some stairs, more pushups/situps, etc.
  • If you have an interruption that takes you away, you’ve lost your pomodoro (remember, they are indivisible).
  • If something else comes across your mind that is urgent, write it down on another sheet of paper, and deal with that (maybe during your break).

You can download the PDF of the Pomodoro Technique, along with PDF’s of other sheets to help you along with a Cheat Sheet, To Do Today Worksheet, and Activity Worksheets.

You can also download free apps from the iTunes Store.  Just search for Pomodoro and you will get a number of options.  Some do cost, but try the free ones out to see if you like it.

What are some other ways you have found to exercise during the day in an office job, and other ways that have improved your time management and productivity?

Leaders Are Readers–And Not Just of Books

That old adage floats around leadership circles a lot: “leaders are readers.” A Forbes article from 2012 reminds us of the importance of leaders reading various types of literature to stay sharp and focused:

If you’re one of those people who claim you don’t have time to read, then first, I question why you’re reading my measly little article. Second, I encourage you tomake time. Time never “appears” for anything; you have to make it. If nothing else, learn how to multitask. Listen to content while driving or walking to work (I suggest “This American Life” and “Intelligence Squared” on NPR – I’m obsessed with both). If you don’t have time to read an entire book, read short articles online. If you’re dying to read a book but honestly can’t find the time, then pair up with a friend and take turns reading and sharing the ideas through short descriptions, or find excerpts of the book online.

If you are a leader, you should be striving to develop knowledge to improve yourself, your company, and the people who work for you. To do anything less is to shortchange your ability to lead.

I couldn’t agree more. Leaders should read a mix of biblical, theological, spiritual, missional, and leadership books that deal with the mind, the heart, and the Great Commission work God’s called us to do.

But leading is more than just the reading of books. Seminary students find this out quickly the moment they set foot on their first ministry setting.  You’ve got to learn to read people!

  • Personality types:  Try to understand different personality types such as sanguine, choleric, phlegmatic, and melancholy. At first, you could encourage them to take a personality test, but soon you’ll be able to spot what type of personality they have by their words, mannerisms, and the like.
  • Introvert or extrovert:  The difference? Some charge their inner batteries by being with people, while others recharge by alone time.  Both have great value in the Kingdom.  Both most certainly can be people persons. But understanding how God has wired both camps will go a long way.
  • Spiritual gifts:  1 Corinthians 12 and 1 Peter 4 and Romans 12 lay out the types of spiritual gifts. While a plethora of spiritual gifts tests exist, the best way is to help your people try different ministries and see what ‘sticks’ with them, where they flourish best. This takes time, love, patience, and discipling–but the time is well worth it.

There’s more, but I’ll close with this.  Nothing matters unless you love your people in the first place. More than one seasoned pastor has told me to spend the first year in ministry loving your people and ‘reading’ them. That way, you’ve gained their trust so they know you’re not trying to lord over them, but to walk with them.  That’s what shepherds do!

So, church leaders, read those books.  Keep your mind sharp, focused, and filled with good things.  But also take time to read your people, rather than expecting them to spend their time reading and heeding you.  Read your people well!

Urgent About Urgency

John Kotter’s book Leading Change outlines eight steps in breeding and accomplishing change in an organization.

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The first step?  Increase urgency!  An organization that stays content in the present or connected to the past will struggle to find urgency to face the future. “Now wait, Lead With Joy Guy, are you saying it’s wrong to stay content?  Are you saying we shouldn’t stay connected with the past as a body of believers?”

All excellent questions!  Let’s look at these quickly:

  1. Do not confuse contentment in Christ with contentment with status quo.  Christ gives so many imperatives:  Love, go, preach, teach, share, tell, equip, send, bear one another’s burdens (along with 60+ one anothers in the NT).  We stay content with Christ and Christ alone for our justification, sanctification, and glorification.  He is enough!  But when churches refuse to move forward toward obedience and Christlikeness, leaders must present an urgency that the reality entails.  Patient urgency is needed, depending on the age of the church or organization.
  2. Don’t confuse connection with the Bible (written in the past) with connection to a preferred era gone by.  We spend our time connecting with the past every time we preach–because we preach from the Bible, a book written 2000-4000 years ago.  We have an urgency to connect people to what God has said. What we do not want is, as mentioned in a previous post, elevating a preferred era or any personal preference to a test of faith. We all see the time of our youth as an idyllic time, which is why many senior adults hearken back to the days of the 1960s, why many boomers look back to the church growth era of the 1980s, why I tend to move back to what I experienced in college in the early 1990s, and so on.

    The problem? Many millennials are coming into the church with our churches with the same tendencies that we all do. And we must recognize that, but that’s a blog post (or video cast) for another day.

Contentment with Christ, and connection to the Word is what we help others come and connect to in regards to Christ. Let’s make sure we find our contentment in and our connection to the right things, rather than our preferred things.

A Joyful Sound That’s Doctrinally Sound Where Skills Abound and Praise Resounds

“I like the hymns!  I grew up with them!  They are part of the heritage and the heritage of the Church—and they alone should be sing in worship.”

“I like the choruses and the modern worship songs.  We are called to sing to the Lord a ‘new song’—and these new songs with the modern sounds are what should be sung to reach this generation.”

Conversations like this abound in the American evangelical church over this issue.  Writers have spilled much ink over this topic—usually under the umbrella of the topic of ‘worship wars.’  The hymns vs. choruses debate raged in the 1980’s and 1990’s—and seems to have died down a bit, thankfully.  (When I brought up the topic of hymns and choruses, one man in our church confessed that he had no idea what I was talking about—he made no distinction!  How happy I was!)

I grew up in the church heavily involved in traditional music ministry (choir, orchestra, piano/organ-backed congregational hymn singing, etc.).  I even earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree in church music (B.S., Palm Beach Atlantic University; Master of Church Music, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) and was a music minister for 10 years before God called me into the pastorate.

A joyful sound.  Yes, I am starting with attitude.  Musical skills are important (and I will address them soon), and doctrine is crucial, but if you want people to listen to what you sing, sing what you sing with joy!  The axiom “they won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” applies to this area as well.  Do we care about what we sing—or do we act as if we could care less?  Is it any wonder that the Psalms are filled with admonitions and encouragements to sing for joy (Psalm 95-100)?

that’s doctrinally sound … Here we examine the actual content of a song.  Is the song doctrinally sound and Scripturally bound?  Sadly, fewer and fewer look at the words they are singing but simply to the singability and rhythm exclusively—and whether they can get them into an emotional ‘state’ worship.  Paul instructed Titus to “teach what accords with sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1).  One of the main functions of worship music is to teach about the glory of God and the gospel of our Lord Jesus.  Having certain emotions is not the main desire, but truth should be the fuel to those emotions.  The joy comes from knowing that what we are singing about (and, more importantly, Who we are singing about) is true!

where skills abound … Skills?  Am I saying that all worship leaders need to sing like Michael Buble? Play guitar like Christopher Parkening?  Play drums like Buddy Rich?  Piano like Horowitz?  No, not at all.  What I am saying is that the Psalmist implores those leading God’s people in worship to “Sing to him a new song; play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts” (Psalm 33:3).  When David was organizing the musicians for leading worship in the Temple, he gathered “all who were skillful” (1 Chronicles 25:7) in various instruments to lead.  Granted, this is relative.  Not everyone has equal skills, but everyone can offer the skills they have as an offering of praise to God.

and praise resounds.  What a witness it is to lead people to praise the living God who sent His Son for our justification!  To think how Christ bore the wrath of God toward our sin upon His shoulders to satisfy as a propitiation so we would not have to face the penalty that was due us.  What mercy and grace!  To this, we offer that sacrifice of praise.  We have come full circle.

Why You Shouldn’t Preach This Sunday

In many churches, the preaching pastor stands as the primary leader of the church as well.  While some are moving away from that model (which I hope to address soon), this stands as the primary model in many churches.  But even if you’re not the main preaching pastor, you may still have a responsibility to bring the Word regularly in your local church.

And maybe you shouldn’t.  Maybe you shouldn’t be preaching to your people or to any other people.  You may exegete the Word correctly, have the proper application, phenomenal delivery, and are loved by your people. Still–you may need to sit.  Here’s why:

  1. You don’t believe the Bible is fully inspired (breathed out) by God.  Paul urged Paul to preach the Word because this Word was the only reliable word of and from God (2 Timothy 3:16-4:5).  The Word is enough to make the man of God mature and complete, lacking nothing.  If you stand before God’s people questioning the plenary verbal inspiration of the Scriptures, you should not preach.
  2. You’re preaching because it’s a job, not a calling.  Paul wrote:  “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom that we present everyone mature in Christ.  For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that powerfully works in me” (Colossians 1:28-29).  God provides the energy for the struggle due to His calling and galvanizing of our hearts.  If you’re preaching outside of the call, but only due to this being a job, you should not preach! 
  3. You don’t love the people to whom you preach.  Read Acts 20:17-38 and tell me honestly that Paul did not love the Ephesians church and the elders with whom he served.  If you fail to love your people do to a haughtiness and arrogance due to whatever reason, then you should not preach.
  4. You refuse to adapt to the context in which God has you.  God places us where He places us.  He is sovereign Lord of all, and therefore He knows where He has His people to serve.  I remember times when I allowed my personal preferences to be elevated to tests of faith when it came to programs, music, the works. God had to work some hard things in my life for me to realize that He knew where He wanted me, and that brought joy.  If there’s a refusal over a long period of time to adapt to the context in which God has you, then you shouldn’t preach.
  5. You’re looking to the next venture rather than the venture God has you now.  Do you see the place where you serve as the proverbial stepping stone?  Are you using the church in which you lead to simply gain experience for the next sweet spot of service?  If you are using your people for your own personal gain and not their pastoral well-being, you should not preach.
  6. If you harbor unforgiveness to a member without going and setting things straight.  Matthew 5:21-26 is clear about unforgiveness and anger toward a brother.  We should even leave our time of worship to set it straight. Even when people say or do things that slander you with false or misguided information and intentions, God still calls you to forgive.  If you refuse to do this, don’t preach on Sunday.
  7. Your marriage/children need you–and you need to step away for a season.  Your family comes first outside of God.  If your marriage is falling apart and your children are on the verge of stepping off a cliff, then you should step away to care for them as the only husband to your wife and the only father to your children.  Hopefully, your church will understand, but even if they don’t, step away.  Don’t preach.  Be there as Christ for your family.

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