Cleave This Christmas

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 “I don’t want a lot for Christmas, there is just one thing I need.

I don’t care about the presents, underneath the Christmas Tree.

I just want you for my own, more than you could ever know,

make my wish come true, oh all I want for Christmas is you.” -Mariah Carey

In Ephesians 5 the Bible says the relationship between a husband and a wife is a direct representation of the gospel relationship between Jesus and His bride, the church.  Recently my wife and I have asked, “what does Jesus desire for our marriage?”

In Genesis 2:24, Matthew 19:5, and Ephesians 5:31 the Bible uses the action word “cleave” as the verb for marriage.  What does it mean for couples to cleave?  The word cleave means to cling to, join closely or glue one thing to another, focusing on interfacing, reciprocal relations.  And how are they to cleave?  The Bible says in 1 Thessalonians 5:23 that we are made up of three parts, a spirit, a soul, and a body.  I believe in the marriage relationship we need to cleave spiritually (spirit), cleave relationally (soul), and cleave physically (body).

Cleaving to our spouse’s spirit may be the hardest hurdle.  We need to pray together daily and sit in church together regularly.  In a 1997 Gallup poll by the National Association of Marriage Enhancement, less than 1% of couples that pray together daily experience divorce.  Cleaving to your spouse may look like praying out loud together once a day. And if it is hard for you and your spouse, you’re not alone, I’ve read that 92% of couples that call themselves Christians don’t pray together (FamilyLife Survey, USA)! The old adage is true, a couple that prays together stays together.  Ed Stetzer suggests also that couples who attend church together only have a 10-15% divorce rate.  For those of us in church leadership positions, it’s especially important we’re praying together with our spouse at home and being intentional to sit together in church regularly.  How are we doing cleaving spiritually?

Cleaving to our spouse’s soul, their mind and emotions, may be the first one we notice needs attention.  Spending time enjoying one another is important, and we can alternate doing one another’s favorite things.  Healthy communication is essential.  Carve out time every day to connect together relationally.  This can be asking, “How are you doing today?  Schedule a date once a week to sit across a table from one another and reconnect.  One lost art of soul cleaving in Scripture is to “bless them” verbally, exhort, or give a benediction.  The Bible says to encourage one another daily.  If you would like ideas to encourage your spouse, see www.choosemercy.org and search “Encourage Daily.”  Jesus calls the Holy Spirit the Advocate, and Satan the accuser.  In order to cleave to one another’s soul’s our communication needs to include blessing, encouraging, and yielding.  We will have a hard time cleaving to accusing, resentment, and contention.  Finally if one of you always has to be right or in control, cleaving to one another relationally will be especially hard.  This is why the Bible asks all of us in Ephesians 5:12 to Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.  How are we doing cleaving relationally?

Cleaving to our spouse’s body only protects our marriage from Satan’s attacks.  1 Corinthians 7:5, says to married couples, “Do not deprive one another (physically), except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.”  That begs the question how long is a limited time?  In Exodus 19:15 Moses asked the people to obey God and consecrate themselves for three days with no marital relations.  In 1 Samuel 21:4-5 David asks the priest for bread for his men to eat and the priest says they can have the consecrated bread if they have kept themselves from women.  And David replies, “Of a truth women have been kept from us about these three days, since I came out, and the vessels of the young men are holy.”  While three days may be a biblical suggestion, whatever you and your spouse agree is a “limited time,” please be intentional about cleaving together physically, holding hands, hugging, kissing, and pursuing intimacy.  How are we doing cleaving physically?

Some years ago when my wife and I were in a difficult time of unemployment, a dear mentor couple gave us great advice.  They told us that in the dark seasons of life when you have no money and you don’t know what God’s plan is, you can still cleave to one another.  It’s free.  And it’s biblical.  May we be intentional about obeying God’s call for married couples to cleave together.  Let’s Cleave this Christmas!

The Success of Fruit, Feedback, and Fuel

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I was recently asked what defines ministry success for me?  Is success being liked by everyone?  Having everyone get along?  Everyone saved?  Everyone’s needs met?  Having a lot of money?  So I have spent time thinking about what the Bible says about success and I think there are three “F”s of success to consider… Fruit, Feedback, and Fuel.

Years ago I had the privilege of working on a farm.  Whether we were planting or harvesting, ultimately everything we did all year was to have a good crop.  The same is true in our organization.  The Bible says, “Every tree is recognized by it’s fruit.  People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers”  Luke 6:44.  People do not seek out prickly, upset, or hurtful people.  The Bible says we can grow in the fruit of the Spirit, becoming more loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, full of the goodness of God, faithful, gentle, and long suffering.  We will be successful if we communicate the FRUIT of the Spirit.

When we were harvesting we would have to stop to unload when the combine was full. We were receiving feedback from the machine.  Some farms have a grain cart so they unload while moving.  The combine driver and the driver of the grain cart have to be able to communicate and listen to each other, and the cart has to be perfectly positioned under the combine spout or there will be grain all over the ground.  The cart driver can be confident he’s doing well, but if the combine stops for a rock and the cart driver doesn’t listen, grain will be spilled.  Often times in a position of leadership, we feel really sure we know which way to go which leaves no room to listen to others.  However God never meant for this to be a one man show.  He intended it to be a body with many parts.  The eye cannot say to the hand, “ I don’t need you!”  And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 1 Co 12:21We will be successful if we listen to FEEDBACK.

If the weather is good and we can unload on the go, the only thing that stops the harvest are the needs of the machinery.  While Air Force One can fuel on the go, our tractors and trucks have to stop for fuel.  Each morning we would spend an hour greasing and fueling the equipment.  Often late in the day we would have to take a break and refuel.  Sometimes we would have to stop to attend to a breakdown.  I’m so thankful the farmer doesn’t have to pick each piece of grain or carry it all to the elevator by himself. So he’s willing to stop and make sure the equipment has what it needs.  The Bible says God gave (church leaders) to prepare and equip God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith Eph 4:12  We will be successful if we take time to FUEL others, preparing, equipping, and supporting those who serve with us.

May we experience ministry success as we grow in Fruit, Feedback, and Fuel.

David Strengthened Himself In The Lord

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As a pastor I spend most of my time in one of two areas.  I serve people suffering weakness, like hospitalizations or financial needs, and I spend time responding to conflicts like  broken marriages and church disagreements.  I was recently encouraged by Dr. Zack Eswine (The Imperfect Pastor) when he shared the story of how David responded to these things in 1 Samuel 30.

In previous chapters David had been fleeing King Saul who was trying to kill him and then he was rejected by the Philistine leaders in 1 Samuel 29 who didn’t approve of him.  In the beginning of chapter 30 David and his men were raided and all their wives and children were taken.  David’s men were so upset they wept till they had no more strength to weep, and then they talked of stoning David.  And the Bible says, “David encouraged himself in the Lord.”  As we continue reading, some of David’s men were so overcome with grief they were too weak to go recapture their wives and children, so 200 of them stayed behind.  Upon reclaiming all the wives and children and plundering the Amalekites, the 400 who went resented the 200 who stayed back and refused to share the plunder with them.

And David, having strengthened himself in the Lord, was able to “manage well with all dignity” (1Ti3:4) and give grace to them all.  Those too weak to contribute were blessed alongside those who worked hard for it.  And those in conflict, who were filled with resentment, were blessed alongside those who had been overcome by love for their families.  May we strengthen ourselves in the Lord and bless those who are weak and those who are angry.

Be encouraged; God’s grace is for you.

Joggling Pastoral Transitions

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Recently I saw a commercial featuring marathon joggler Michal Kapral, who set a world record in running a full marathon while juggling, otherwise known as joggling.  While in a pastoral transition I could relate to the high pace of life while trying to keep multiple balls in the air.  See Michal talk about this … https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aDd07tyMwzA

Pastoral ministry is much like juggling while running a marathon.  There are certainly times of fatigue and endurance.  There is as much mental stamina required as physical, oh, and spiritual stamina too!  What most people may not realize is that every pastor I know, whether serving in a one pastor church, or those serving in a multiple staff churches, every pastor is running and juggling multiple things while trying not to let one of those balls drop.  And when a ball does drop, there’s the grief of people focusing on the one ball bouncing alongside rather than the successful juggling and running act being performed right in front of their eyes!  This criticizing the imperfect circus act can feel very isolating.

I find the same is true in my walk with Jesus.  Why is it that before becoming a Christian, I didn’t feel good enough for God apart from Jesus, but now that I’m in Christ, I don’t feel good enough for God with Jesus?  I’m also focused on the one ball bouncing alongside this miraculous event of the Holy Spirit functioning within me?  The Holy Spirit’s ministry in me makes me look like I’m running and juggling at the same time!

While in a pastoral transition we often find ourselves juggling a few new balls on top of the usual.  There’s the ball of insecurity that comes with a new position or the lack of one.  There’s the ball of new problems and/or new responsibilities to face.  And then there’s that big medicine ball of fear that comes with a transition.  Ever tried to juggle a medicine ball and two tennis balls?!  We have to learn to administrate new things to get this ship back to safe harbor!

When life is moving too fast and there’s too many balls to juggle, I’m reminded of the story of Mary and Martha.  Jesus says Martha is worried and upset about many things, including her project partner.  But Mary is at peace and enjoying what is most important, a forever friend.

So in joggling pastoral transitions, may we overcome the tendency to be discouraged, worried, or upset about things like our project partners, and may we enjoy the forever friends that He provides along the way.

Oh, and way to go, you juggle and run really well!

Creating a Culture of Ministry Health

Dear Church Board and Chairperson,

Management Consultant Peter Drucker called church leadership “the most difficult and taxing role he knew.”1  LifeWay Research Vice President Scott McConnell said of pastors, “This is a brutal job, churches ought to be concerned.”2  100% of pastors surveyed by the Francis A. Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership Development had a close associate or seminary friend who had left the ministry due to church conflict, stress related burnout, or a moral failure.3 

Until your church is large enough to hire an executive pastor, you as a board are the human resources department.  It is a huge responsibility to steward your employees, and stewarding the pastoral position has unique challenges.

If you want to create a culture of ministry health and growth, you need to intentionally identify and address the risks that could sabotage your goal. Below are 10 questions that reflect the challenges that you and your pastor face, as researched by Dr. Charles A. Wickman in Pastors at Risk (note chapter references in parentheses).

  1. How do we become unified with our pastor to clarify, communicate, and contend for God’s vision for our church? (Ch#4) “The primary stressor experienced by pastors, leading the most often to forced resignation, is vision conflict.” -Wickman/Spencer4
  2. How do we help our pastor by setting appropriate and manageable expectations of our pastor and clearly communicating them to him and our church? (Ch#7) “In a survey asking how exited pastors experienced stress in their ministry, role conflict was a top ranked producer of stress second only to conflict over how ministry was to be done in the church.” –Wickman5
  3. How are we helping our pastor train volunteers and delegate (administrate) responsibilities? (Ch#6)George Barna has discovered that while 69% of the pastors of effective churches have preaching/teaching as their primary gift emphasis, administration and leadership are found in only 15% of these pastors.” – John Hawco6
  4. How are we facilitating healthy communication in our church? (Ch#9) “Most church conflict results from poor communication.” -Rick Warren7
  5. How do we help our pastor manage the grief and loss he experiences regularly and create a culture of joy? (Ch#11) “Ministry is fraught with grief because of difficulty in relationships between sheep and shepherd, people and pastor.” -John A. MacArthur8
  6. How do we help our pastor manage stress related burnout and encourage him to have enough rest? (Ch#1-2) “75% of pastors experience a significant crisis that they faced due to stress in the ministry” -Fuller Institute9
  7. How do we help our pastor say no and handle the criticism that comes with it? (Ch#8) “All of the top at risk pastors said it was difficult for them to say no.” -Wickman10
  8. How do we help our pastor manage discouragement and encourage him to invest in self care? (Ch#3) “70% of pastors constantly fight depression.” -Fuller Institute11
  9. How do we support our pastor to pursue a healthy relationship with his wife? (Ch#10) “77% of pastors felt they did not have a good marriage.” -FASICLD 12
  10. How do we help our pastor manage isolation and encourage him to meet with pastors of other churches and denominations? (Ch#5) “Only a fellow minister can point out the width and depth of the rut in which a colleague may be running.” – Winton H. Beaven13

Thank you for investing in the health of your church by addressing the 10 Risks every church and its pastor face.  If you would like further resources or there’s any way we can support and strengthen your ministry, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Serving Jesus together,

jason@pirministries.org

1 Grudem, Elliot. “Pour It Out,” Leadership Journal, Winter 2016.

2 Green, Lisa Cannon. “The One Percent;” Christianity Today, September 1, 2015.

3,8,9,11,12 Krejcir, Dr. Richard J. “Statistics On Pastors,” http://www.intothyword.org/apps/articles/?articleid=36562, 2007.

4,5,10, Wickman, Dr. Charles A. Pastors at Risk, 2014.

6 Hawco, John. “The Senior Pastor/Executive Pastor Team: A Contemporary Paradigm For The Larger Church Staff,” Dissertation, https://www.xpastor.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/hawco_john.pdf, 2005.

7 Warren, Rick. “Develop These 7 Skills When You Want People to Listen,” http://pastors.com/develop-these-7-skills-when-you-want-people-to-listen/, October 2, 2015.

8 MacArthur, John A. “Restoring the Grieving Pastor’s Joy,” https://www.gty.org/resources/sermons/47-48/restoring-the-grieving-pastors-joy-part-1, September 24, 1995.

13 Beaven, Winton H. “Ministerial Burnout-Cause and Prevention,” https://www.ministrymagazine.org/archive/1986/03/ministerial-burnout-cause-and-prevention, March 1986.

Pastor, Are You At Risk?

In 2012 my 10 year plan was completely derailed as I found myself exiting a pastoral position I loved.  In the wake of this painful transition I was introduced to the Pastor In Residence ministry to pastor’s and their wives.  Their at risk survey would have been a huge benefit to me on the front end had I known about it.

If you or those around you are feeling that something isn’t right about your present pastoral situation, please take this free survey created through years of research by Dr. Charles A. Wickman regarding the risks pastors face.

At-Risk Pastor Survey

May God richly bless you and your family.  Thank you for serving His church.

 

My Favorite Katastrophe

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In Tom Hanks’ 1989 film Turner and Hooch, Scott Turner, an obsessive compulsive neat freak detective becomes the guardian of Hooch, a dirty, slobbering, furniture chewing, gas passing, house destroying French Mastiff.  The first time we see Hooch in the movie, he tackles Turner and takes hold of him in the jugular (pictured above).  This dog is a pain in the neck!  Bringing Hooch home is a catastrophe.  He barks and howls all night.  He chews off the headrest in Scott’s car.  He breaks through a door, empties the kitchen cabinets and refrigerator, rips apart the couch, destroys the speakers, slobbers all over Scott’s clean clothes, tears down the blinds and leaves a mess all over the house!

A catastrophe is a downturn to destruction.  Every day we wrestle in our minds regarding our circumstances and quarrel with the relationships around us.  If animals with no sinful nature can drive us nuts, why are we surprised when people do?! Our minds battle with ongoing thoughts of catastrophe.  2 Timothy 2:14 says that “quarreling leads to the ruin (Katastrophe) of those who listen.”  So how do we overcome the ongoing catastrophe in our minds?

Romans 5:10 says that “while were enemies to God,” in the midst of our catastrophe, while he had every right to be angry with us, “God reconciled us to Himself.”  That is, He ceased being offended with us and received us into favor anew.  While I was in my catastrophe of anger towards God, He changed FIRST and called me His favorite?! And when we receive His reconciliation, He gives us the charge to extend reconciliation to others.  So how can we stop being angry at someone first, when we feel we have every right to be?

The turning point in Hooch’s story is when Scott tries to give him a bath.   Somewhere in the process Scott stops being angry at Hooch and starts treating him with care.  At first, Scott winds up in the tub as Hooch fights every step of the way.  However, Scott ultimately succeeds in cleaning Hooch in the backyard with a hose and car brush.  Scott ends up winning Hooch over with steak, an ear rub, and some playful wrestling.

James 3:13 says, “Who is wise and understanding among you?  Let him show it by his good life (anastrophe), by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.”  This anastrophe is the opposite of catastrophe.  While catastrophe is the downturn to destruction, anastrophe is the upturn toward life. It’s the change of our thinking and behavior by the upturn of our inner beliefs.   It’s feeling hopeful, thankful, and joyful even when Hooch has destroyed our house!  In Romans 8 we are reminded that when our minds are led by our flesh we’re focused on catastrophes, but when our minds are led by the anastrophe of the Holy Spirit, we are filled with vigor and vitality.

In a recent “Mingling of Souls” Marriage Conference by Pastor Matt and Lauren Chandler, Matt shared how he and Lauren would have a major fight every couple months before they were married.  Matt became concerned and asked a mentor if he should consider breaking off the relationship?  This mentor responded, “Matt, you’re going to fight with someone for the rest of your life.  The question is, do you want that person to be Lauren?”

By the time he takes a bullet for Detective Turner, Hooch has become Scott’s favorite dog.  When Hooch dies Scott cries and mourns the loss of his best friend.  What previously had seemed to be a catastrophe had now become a favorite part of his life.

So keep your chin up friends.  We will run into a lot of catastrophes in this life.  In fact, you may be married to one at times.  And don’t forget you are a catastrophe yourself much of the time!  But with the Holy Spirit’s help, we can all live with this anastrophe and reconciliation the Bible talks about.  We can be the first to change.  We can have a continual upswing of hope and thankfulness and joy.  And we can stop being frustrated and angry FIRST and receive our catastrophes with favor.  So who is your favorite katastrophe?!