Realistic Optimism: A Much-Needed Trait for Pastors and Christians Alike

Churches go through challenges.  While that’s not a newsflash to most, traveling this journey is not a picnic (both pastor and parishioner alike).  Last year, our church was going through a season of cash flow issues, but we also feel led to move forward with a remodel of our preschool area.  This year, we felt led to renovate one of our houses so our youth pastor-turned-associate pastor and his sweet family would have a place to live.

People possess different personalities: some possess great faith and optimism, while others come across as rather pessimistic.  The former can be classified by the latter as Debbie Downers, while the latter may look at the former as those with their head in the clouds, not dealing with reality.  I believe that both are needed to provide a needed tension (the good kind).  There’s a reason God puts both in churches.

Christians in general and pastors especially need to possess a much-needed trait as both move forward in whatever venture:

A realistic optimism.

This means that Christians need recognize the reality around them, but not be ruled by the eye but by the ear.

The eye looks and says,

  • “I don’t see how this will happen.”
  • “The budget isn’t allowing it.”
  • “If you ask for this special offering, it will take away from the general offering.”
  • “It can’t be done.”

God gives us the eye to diagnose the issues surrounding us, so the eye has some value!  A decided, steady realism must mark the Christian in evaluating our respective situations, then taking the proper steps to help remedy that situation.

But if the eye predominates our evaluating processes, and the eye alone, what results is fear, doubt, and panic when challenges arise; and pride, arrogance, and placidity when few challenges exist.  Each of these, God calls sin.  They do not belong in Spirit-led people.  In seasons of challenge as well as calm, we do not and must not identify ourselves strictly by what we see, but by what we’ve heard and know.

We are people of the ear, listening to God’s Word about God’s nature, God’s will, and what needs to happen among God’s people.  If He accomplished the forgiveness of our sins via Christ on the bloody cross and raising Him from the dead, He can handle whatever other issues in which He’s leading.

Does this not mean that deal with reality?  Yes–by faith, not by fear.  The only fear that should mark a Christian is a fear (a reverence, an awe) before the living God in Christ.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

Dear pastor, deacon, and church member: we walk by faith (in what we’ve heard from the Word) and not by sight (in what we see in people and papers and policies and precedents).  Realistic optimism!  Prayerfully give it a try.

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The Good Grace of Battle-Hardened Pastors

Pastors, God will take you through seasons that will battle-harden you. This is not a sign of His abandoning you, but a special dose of grace to help you walk through the valleys with your people. No wonder the Spirit calls us ‘soldiers.’ Our allegiance is with Christ and His church, as He works to present His bride as spotless and blameless (Ephesians 5:25-33). Keep the faith and stay the course!

In 2 Timothy 2:4, we read, “ No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him.”  Timothy needed this reminder.  He was a young pastor, likely in his mid 30’s, who was called to lead men and women who were older than he–some were old enough to be his grandparents.  How difficult this is!

But our aim is to please someone much ‘older’ that us–Christ Jesus! Our focus, our determination, our urgency is fueled by remembering Christ Jesus (2:8).  Sermons may take away our focus.  Counseling may take away our focus.  Finances, outreach, networking–all can take away our focus.  How?

Should we give up preaching, counseling, financial matters, outreach, and networking?  No!  But if we’re doing this simply because it’s on our job description and it’s expected of us, and we do them so we won’t be terminated–that’s taking away our focus from Christ and putting it on men.

God battle-hardens pastors for the long, marathon fight.  The arrows will come, the miles will accumulate on your heart, mind, and soul.  But He readies us for the warfare.  God provides the good grace of battle-hardening for the good of ourselves, our people, and the Kingdom.  Without it, we would fall!  With it, even in failure God will use this for His glory to teach us lessons we wouldn’t learn otherwise.

Praise God for this good grace He provides.

Stephen Colbert Teaches Us About Debating with the Right Tone

I enjoy the majority of Stephen Colbert’s comedy (even as I disagree with much of his political leanings), and I will stay up and watch his opening monologue and opening comments regarding political issues. Both sides of the presidential race offer plenty of fodder for Colbert to use.

Yet, my respect level for Colbert increased exponentially during his interview with Ted Cruz. I’m well in bed by the time he gets to the guest interviews (10:45 pm MT is as far as I can go anymore), so I catch up with them on my lunch break on YouTube.

Below is an exchange regarding why Republicans often invoke Ronald Reagan (Republican president from 1981-1989) when Reagan raised taxes at one point, as well as advocated an amnesty program for illegal immigrants while president. Clearly, the audience was on Colbert’s side, or at least understood his points.

When the topic of gay marriage came up, Cruz began to explain his position constitutionally regarding the Supreme Court ruling of June 28, 2015. The audience began to boo him. Watch Colbert’s reaction to this at around the 3:59 mark:

Did you see how he responded? “This is my guest–please don’t boo him!” He emulated respect for the opposition, a tone that is necessary but often missing in the civil (or should I say, uncivil) discourse of our day. This even separates him from his mentor, Jon Stewart–but that’s another story for another day.

Leaders, you will have people who disagree with you, or will have people in your church that disagree with each other. It’s up to us to set a tone of respect and gentleness (see 1 Peter 3:15-17) when not only presenting our side, but listening to another side.

From what other late night show could you glean that lesson?

Cutting Out Distractions: It Could Save Your Life


What a lesson I learned Monday morning regarding distractions.

On Mondays, I drop my boys off at school early for band.  I live about a half-mile from the school, so I wasn’t away long. I return a few minutes later and seeing a text on my phone.  It’s from one of my members who put, “You almost ran me over when I crossed the street just now.”

My cool, calm response:  “What?  Seriously? Where?”

“In front of the school.”

So, I take a walk down to talk to them.  She meant it as a joke, for she was well clear.  But I was looking down.  At my phone.  And never saw her.

Fortunately, we had a good laugh out of this, but I had a cannonball in my gut thinking, “That stupid distraction of having to read two sentences in an article that could have waited–and at what cost?”  

All Christians in general, but Christian leaders in particular need to identify and eliminate the distractions.  Otherwise, these distractions will serve as the death of your leadership and possibly of your church in moving toward revitalization.  What’s needed is a laser focus on the majors.

Don’t multitask the Word and prayer.

Allen Huth of the Ezra Project was the first person I heard say this. Read God’s Word without any distractions. If you need music, listen to classical music. Most have trouble focusing on God’s Word when other words are coming in.

Or even listening to the Word while doing other things. Listening while walking or running may work. But outside of this, you will struggle to lock in on what God is saying.

Pastor, be devoted to the word and prayer (Acts 6:4). Without this, you have nothing. The well will run dry quickly.

Focus on one task at a time.

Having your phone active checking emails and texts, your laptop up with twenty tabs open, listening to a podcast, etc., all at once– how can you focus at all? “Well, I’m just ADD.” Well, S-T-O-P. Over and over in Scripture, we see the great leaders focused on “this one thing.”

I love Nehemiah telling those who wished to distract him from building the wall around Jerusalem, “I am doing a good work, and cannot come down” (Nehemiah 6:4).  He had no time for fleshly delay tactics, from outside or inside.

Focus on that which is most important. Lloyd-Jones focused his mornings on sermon preparation and Bible study. I am focused on Tuesdays with meeting with my staff in the morning, my associate in the afternoon. Wednesday morning is sermon prep for that evening. Thursdays are visiting days. If I focus on those buckets, I have time for the sacred interruptions.

Know where you’re going.

What is your calling? Have you sought God for an answer? Have you sought out friends who will give you honest feedback? You may be outside of where God would have you. So many pastors leave the ministry because, well, they were not called. They loved the adoration, they loved the study, they loved the attention from preaching. Yet, when many of those areas go (adoration only lasts as long as you’re following the playbook for your people; study won’t be as prevalent as a pastor, and people may tune out your preaching), they become desperate, despondent, and, sadly, done with ministry.

For me, once God drove home that the Great Commandment and the Great Commission were His vision for the church, then I realized that needed to be His vision for me personally.

What do you do, leaders, to avoid distractions and stay focused?

Greg Cook, a Life Shattered, and People Who Won’t Help Themselves

After being sick for three or so days, it’s good being back in the saddle.

While I was ill, watching my beloved Cincinnati Bengals, someone mentioned former Bengal quarterback Greg Cook.  Sadly, many do not remember him–and in fact, I wouldn’t have heard about him if I hadn’t scoured NFL.com a few years ago looking for every Bengal piece I could find.

But Greg Cook was special.  So special that Bill Walsh, three-time Super Bowl winning coach with the San Francisco 49ers, who also coached Joe Montana and Steve Young (Hall of Famers, mind you) believe he was the most talented, most gifted athlete he’d ever seen.  In fact, so did Paul Brown, who coached the likes of Otto Graham.  (Watch this 13-minute clip of Greg Cook’s life–watcher, beware!)

As you watch the clip, you’ll see that Cook was tearing up the league until an injury against Kansas City in Game 12 of the 1969 season tore his rotater cuff, thus beginning the end of his promising career.

As you watch this video, you’ll notice:

  1. Just because someone has a smile on their face, does not mean there’s joy in their heart.  Church folks have mastered this art.  After all, can’t anyone fake it for 1-2 hours on a Sunday morning?  Sure they can. Take time to train your leaders and to model before your leaders how to work through the facade and get to the facts of the situation.
  2. Often, people are willing to help others, but not willing to let others help them.  Greg Cook lived in a pigment factory with raccoons.  Bob Trumpy was right: a thousand people in Cincinnati would have helped him in any way, but he wouldn’t help himself.  You’ve have people like that in your church–always there for others, arms length when it’s turned on them.  Trumpy modeled something that we all would do well to model.  He said, “Enough!” It’ll have to come to that with some of your people as well.  Enough!  Let us help you, as well!
  3. When a dream ends for someone, that often means that life and hope end for them as well.  For many in your church, their identity is in what they do, who their family is, or even in their church.  When that goes or when that changes, many will react in varying ways.  Our goal as leaders is to help them navigate in the waters that God has stirred, not in our own reservoirs.  Even if Greg Cook played for 15 years, he would have retired at some point–and he still would have struggled with that loss of identity as an NFL quarterback.  Our goal is to help them identify with Christ–and that any other identity is an idol which needs toppling over.

You could see the anguish in Bob Trumpy’s face as he talked about Greg Cook.  All the possibilities.  All the questions.  All the hopes.  Gone!

May we learn the needed lessons!

The Hopefulness of a Happy Pastor

I’ve been called a happy pastor.  It’s not something I’ve cultivated intentionally—I truly love being a pastor, not just in general but specifically of Arapahoe Road.

But I’ve also been around happy pastors as well—and are they ever a delight.  Those pastors do not have any less challenges than the dour pastors, but the attitude behind is filled with gratitude and hopefulness and opportunity.  Outside of rare instances, this happiness and hopefulness is contagious.

Unhappy pastors convey a hopelessness.   And it’s just as contagious.   Hopelessness breeds hopelessness.  Despair breeds despair.  Gratitude is replaced by grumbling.  Opportunity takes a hike, so the reality of the present is ever-present.

Happy pastors are not ones with their head in the sand, ignoring the situations around them.  The true test of leadership is defining reality.

Happy pastors must not be goofy pastors—thus conveying a lack of seriousness to their calling or their church.

But it’s here that pastors and leaders have a choice:  will you look at the sadness of the situation, or will you look at the gladness for an opportunity to watch God work?

How do you as pastors become happy?

  1. Pray.   Pray for Christ’s perspective for His church.  Pray for the condition of your own heart toward Christ and toward the people whom you are shepherding.   Pray for God to give you a heart to lead as a servant and serve as a leader.   Pray for God to give you a heart to not just pastor as a leader but to be pastoralto you people.  And pray for patience (2 Timothy 4:3-5).
  2. Define the reality of a situation.  For me, is the Great Commission the paradigm by which we gauge success and faithfulness in the church?  If that grips the heart of a pastor and a church, then that’s a win.
  3. Prioritize what is a first tier issue from a second or third tier issue.  If you as a pastor identify a number of issues to address, prioritize them or you will be overwhelmed.  Albert Mohler’s article ontheological triage is helpful.   What some deem first tier issues (things to address yesterday) from second and third tier.
  4. Surround yourself with both encouragers and identifiers—have the balance of the two.  If you’re around encouragers all the time, you will miss the issues.  If you’re around those always identifying what the issues are, you will become discouraged.
  5. Fall in love with the place and people where God called you.  What a privilege that God has given us to pour the gospel into others to help them grow-and-go.  What a privilege to open up God’s Word and to preach and teach and counsel and evangelize!  Some times we don’t see the forest (God’s sovereign call to His people) for the trees (the particular challenges that may arise).
  6. Identify leaders who will partner with you in the ministry–happily.  We cannot do this alone.  We weren’t meant to—so we find people who have bought into the direction and invest in them so they may invest in others.  You know, 2 Timothy 2:1-2 put into action.

What do you think?   Let’s hear from you who are happy pastors, want to be happy pastors, those who aren’t happy pastors and wish they were, and from those of you who wish for happy pastors—or even have one?

And while you’re at it, consider what part you play in that joyfulness of a pastor by reading Hebrews 13:17.

Go!

J.I. Packer on How Joy Cures Cynicism

J.I. Packer changed my life in 1993, when the second edition of Knowing God came out. It was one of the first solidly theological books I had read as a Church Music major in college.

In this article from Christianity Today, Packer talks on how the book of Ecclesiastes helped move him from cynic to joy based on that book’s theology.  Here are the last two paragraphs of the article.  I do hope you’ll read the rest.

How then should we finally formulate the theology of joy that runs through and undergirds the entire book? Christian rejoicing in Christ and in salvation, as the New Testament depicts, goes further. But in celebrating joy as God’s kindly gift, and in recognizing the potential for joy of everyday activities and relationships, Ecclesiastes lays the right foundation.

Being too proud to enjoy the enjoyable is a very ugly shortcoming, and one that calls for immediate correction. Let it be acknowledged that, as I had to learn long ago, discovering how under God ordinary things can bring joy is the cure for cynicism.

via J.I. Packer: How I Learned to Live Joyfully | Christianity Today.

Back to Basics, Church Leader

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Regardless of what type of church you lead, whether it’s a house church or church plant or an established church, the basics are there.  In a burst of an epiphany, I posted this toward the end of our time in Hungary:

Meeting this week with the Hungarian house church drive home the fact that the fundamental nature of the church is to grow the gathered in prayer and the Word, so the gathered may go to show others the Word through prayer. Let’s take Christ to our communities.

Indeed! Yes, by-laws are necessary, but if we spend our time debating the fine points of these documents, we’re stuck on peripheral issues.

Yes, building upkeep is important–having a building that’s falling apart provides numerous obstacles to people coming to hear the Word and connect with God’s people.  But if that becomes front and center, we’ve removed that which should be front and center.

When looking at the Great Commission and the Great Commandment, we see that the church must gather to grow and equip our people through glorifying, growing, and giving of what God has given to us!  The church then gathers to go and help others come to Christ, connect with His people, and commit to Kingdom work.

Our aim, dear church leader, is to take biblically someone who is an inquirer and guide them to be a multiplier through Kingdom advancement.  Inquirer to member to leader to multiplier!  Basics!  Gathering to grow, growing to go!

What are some things keeping us as leaders from pursuing the basics of the ‘Greats?’  Is our focus to train our people and disciple our people to move forward for the Kingdom?  What obstacles are in their way?  Will we pray that God would instill an urgency in our leaders and our people to approach the Throne of Grace and beg God to give us His heart for His work and will?

Yep, back to basics!  Back to the Book!

Eye-Opening and Reaffirming: Rounding off My Missions Trip to Hungary

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Our trip is now ending. I’m so grateful for this opportunity God provided by allowing me to come to this beautiful country of Hungary. It’s been eye-opening and reaffirming all at once.

It’s been eye-opening in regards to the secular and political climate in this country. Many have a religious upbringing, yet believe God either doesn’t exist or is unknowable. This climate is very similar to Denver, either a philosophical or a practical atheism pervades many residents of the city I love. May God break my heart over this.

As for reaffirming, here’s what I posted on Facebook this morning:

Meeting this week with the Hungarian house church drive home the fact that the fundamental nature of the church is to grow the gathered in prayer and the Word, so the gathered may go to show others the Word through prayer. Let’s take Christ to our communities.

More later.