One of the Biggest Mistakes Pastors Make

I was told, early in ministry, some of the most terrible advice: “Don’t get too close to people. You can never trust them.” I now give leaders the exact opposite advice. Fall into the depth of meaningful friendships. Will you get hurt? Yes. Such is life, but it’s worth it. From personal experience I can say, it’s worth it.

I’m thankful for the words Shawn Lovejoy wrote about this on Ed Stetzer’s Exchange blog…

The #1 mistake I see pastors make is living in isolation. We don’t mean to, but we just get busy, overcommitted, overextended, exhausted, and sometimes even numb. After a long week of ministry, many of us just want to go home and binge on Netflix or self-medicate in some other way.

What’s missing in the lives of many megachurch pastors I know is genuine friendship, camaraderie, koinonia, and intimacy. We are missing relationships that are FOR us and WITH us, not just BEHIND us or UNDER us.

Jesus is our greatest example. Why did He pick the 12 apostles? Mark 3:14 tells us: “And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach…”

Even Jesus knew He needed people with Him and for Him. What do pastors really need? If there was one value I would list above all others it’s this: friends. Not acquaintances, but really great friends that we respect and admire and who understand us. We need friends who are dealing with what we’re dealing with and understand the pressure. We need friends who have walked where we will walk and have the scars to prove it, friends who will challenge us and hold us accountable. There is great pressure in the pastorate, but it doesn’t have to break us.

Ecclesiastes 4:12b says, “A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” Pastors, let us not break. Let us not give up. Let us finish well and finish together. Let us stick together and do life together. Let us run the race in such a way that we don’t disqualify ourselves and pray for revival together. Let us see God pour out His Spirit in our lives and in our churches.

Be a friend today. Send a text right now. Set up a coffee for next week. And feel free to invest time and emotional energy into friendships. 

Read the rest of the article.

Five Attitudes That Simplify Complicated Relationships

When someone is bold enough to change their Facebook relationship status to “It’s Complicated,” everyone else takes notice and starts speculating about what’s going on. The fact is, all of us among the human species know what it means to have complicated relationships. We’ve been in the business of making marriage, family, and friendship more complex for thousands of years, and at the root of it all is our sinful nature and selfish tendencies.

The Apostle Paul wrote about what it looks like for a follower of Jesus to change the game – to cut through the emotional clutter that keeps us from being close to people. He gave us five new attitudes to develop as believers.

Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.

– Colossians 3:12 NLT

1. Remember that hurt people, hurt people.

To develop the attitude of tenderhearted mercy means to actively and intentionally feel within us the pain and suffering of others. Relationships get complicated when we play defense only and receive everything as a personal attack against us, rather than someone lashing out from a place of pain.

2. Show kindness in an unkind world.

Quickly perusing today’s trending topics on social media reveals that we live in a rather uncivil culture where tempers flair and negative feelings are strong. That’s why basic kindness can be so powerful. It’s like a burst of light in a dark room. It changes the game.

3. Get lower.

It’s so hard to put others down when we’re on level ground. When conflict comes, we pass judgment that we’re more right, or somehow better than the other person. One key to changing the game when it comes to conflict is to get lower – to take another dose of humility and realize that we’re just as flawed and imperfect as anyone else.

4. Be gentle.

A softer voice pretty much always disarms and de-escalates situations more than a harsh tone. Gentleness, when we feel wronged, isn’t our default mode, but it’s powerful to cultivate.

5. Work on patience.

Patience is hard. We want what we want, now. Waiting on someone else to change, to grow, or to mature is difficult. Even more difficult is the patience we need in our own growth journey. Patience means making allowance for the imperfections to very slowly be chipped away in ourselves and in others. And patience creates a buffer in a tense relationship that allows people to come along a step at a time.

All five of these attitudes create a bit of shock and awe in our relationships. When our spouse, our friends, our kids or parents, or our co-workers are expecting retaliation and instead receive a soft answer, a listening ear, and a word of forgiveness, it changes things. It changes people. And if you’re a believer in Jesus, then the Holy Spirit has re-shaped you with the capacity to show these attitudes on a daily basis.

They just take practice.

Five Factors God Used to Simplify My Complicated Marriage

The only way to avoid the complications of relationships is to have none. We human beings need each other, so God created us with the capacity to love, to have friends, to get married, and to live in community with each other. But, as Facebook would attest, many of us would simply say of our closest relationships in life, “It’s complicated.”

My own marriage illustrates this well. When Angie and I married back in 1997, we were 19 and assumed life together would be fairly smooth sailing. A decade in, we were discovering and doing battle with the monsters lurking within us (especially me). Things got… complicated.

What saved us? I attribute the turnaround to at least five factors.

  • Jesus died to redeem and heal us from sin and his Holy Spirit finds ways to actively draw our hearts back in line with his. It’s his power that heals.
  • My wife made repeated decisions to show grace and extend love to a sometimes unlovable, undeserving husband. She’s amazing!
  • We both decided not to walk out, not to give up, and to pray desperately and repeatedly that God would change each of us according to his will.
  • Our small group at Saddleback Church taught us about opening up, getting real, and struggling in community with others.
  • Our Grace Hills Church family taught us that nobody’s perfect, we’re all broken, and there is always hope when God’s amazing grace invades our hearts and our circumstances.

So… this coming weekend, we’re wrapping up our Margin series with a message on how to simplify complicated relationships, and Angie is joining me on stage to teach. Her years of counseling others, helping families and marriages, and putting up with me have made it pretty apparent that she has much more wisdom to share in this area that I do.

If you’re in Northwest Arkansas and aren’t part of a church family, we’d love to meet you Sunday at Grace Hills, which meets in a local movie theater! Or you can shoot me an email if we can help or serve you in any way. Here’s the messy, funny video we made together to give you a preview…

And if you really want to help us spread the word about this weekend and invite your friends in a non-threatening way, go to THIS Facebook post and click “like” and “share”!

Sermon Video: How Kingdom-First Thinking Simplifies Your Life

Ever feel pulled in every direction? Like everyone wants a piece of your time, money, and energy and there’s just not enough to go around? It might be because you’re “prioritizing,” a modern American idea in which we try to keep everyone around us happy. What if, instead of a list of priorities, you could live with just ONE priority? Just… seek the Kingdom in all of your life.

My teaching notes…

 

We are stressed. We live in chaos. Why? Because we’re trying to keep everybody happy, including ourselves.

HOW WE USUALLY PRIORITIZE:

  1. Worry about keeping God happy.
  2. Worry about keeping my spouse happy.
  3. Worry about keeping my kids happy.
  4. Worry about keeping my boss happy.
  5. Worry about keeping my bank happy.
  6. Worry about keeping my friends happy.
  7. Worry about keeping myself happy.

This leads to stress, anxiety, pressure, and eventually burnout.

Why?

Because it’s all about dividing myself up.

Jesus offered us a revolutionary of eliminating the worry, stress, and anxiety in our lives.

Matthew 6:31-34 NLT
So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

HOW JESUS WANTS US TO PRIORITIZE:

  1. The KINGDOM of God.

The kingdom of God is the realm in which God’s will is done perfectly and God’s glory is revealed to the world.

So…

How has God called and gifted me to use my time to grow and to sow?

How does God want me to spend, save, and invest my money?

What is God’s will for my family, friendships, and other relationships?

How can I bring glory to God every day with my whole heart, mind, and body?

How can I give my best for God in every area of my life – family, career, worship, finances, etc.?

And then Jesus spelled out God’s will for us.

Matthew 22:37-40 NLT
Jesus replied, You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important. Love your neighbor as yourself. The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.

            -> Love God.

            -> Love people.

Romans 12:1-2
Dear friends, God is good. So I beg you to offer your bodies to him as a living sacrifice, pure and pleasing. That’s the most sensible way to serve God. Don’t be like the people of this world, but let God change the way you think. Then you will know how to do everything that is good and pleasing to him.

            -> Love God.

1 Thessalonians 3:12-13 NLT
And may the Lord make your love for one another and for all people grow and overflow, just as our love for you overflows. May he, as a result, make your hearts strong, blameless, and holy as you stand before God our Father when our Lord Jesus comes again with all his holy people.

            -> Love people.

To find the margin you need in your life, stop worrying about keeping everyone happy. Live for the single priority of letting God’s kingdom come through you in every relationship in your life.

And start with getting to know Jesus.

Become a Radical: 3 Rules You Should Break Today

Funny SignRebellion is bad, right? In the sense that we are all born bent away from God toward sin, yes. But when God gets hold of us, changes us from the inside out, and sets an entirely new agenda for our lives, it is then time to become a radical and rebel against everything our old nature would have driven us to do and everything the culture pressures us to do.

This is especially true when we are tempted to live out the new life in the pattern and power of our old nature. In other words, when we reduce life to a list of rules and rituals rather than seeing it as an ongoing, life-giving relationship with our Creator, it’s time to rebel. Here are some rules you and I ought to start breaking today…

1. The Prayer Rule.

Wake up. Pray. Check it off the list.

If that’s your pattern, throw the list away! Tim Keller put it this way, “To fail to pray, then, is not to merely break some religious rule – it is a failure to meet God as God. It is a sin against His glory.”

Instead, pray because God is worthy of seeking, powerful to respond, and a delight to have as a close friend. Prayer isn’t a rule to keep, it’s a relationship waiting to blossom. Break the prayer rule. Start a praying relationship.

2. The Church Rule.

Dress up. Get to church. Smile no matter what transpired on the way. Check it off the list.

I don’t need another thing to do every week just because people expect me to do it. What I do need is community. I need fellowship. I need practical, biblical teaching. I need people to do life with and with whom to join in God’s mission together.

It’s entirely possible to enjoy gathering with God’s people. It can be rejuvenating and encouraging, especially when I decide to go with the ministry of encouraging others on the forefront of my mind. It’s also possible that the assembly of God’s people can be a place where we get real about our struggles together rather than mutually upholding a mere facade of outward, performance-based holiness.

Break the church rule. Start leaning into your forever family, wherever they gather each weekend.

[bcoxlike]

3. The Bible Rule.

Read 3.5 chapters. Check it off the list.

It’s always sad when I take the most exciting story ever written and treat it as a mere classroom textbook.

Got through Leviticus again! I don’t remember any of it, but it’s DONE!

The Bible is the written record of God’s redemption of lost mankind from utter desolation to life and heaven through the blood of His sacrificed Son. It’s filled with adventure, with wild men and women doing crazy things for God, with people who blew it and recovered, with wisdom for every situation we’ll ever face. It’s a story of up’s and down’s and all around’s. We’re disheartened over defeat in the lives of its godly characters, then delighted in the victories that inevitably occur, culminating in a mysterious picture of the final, eternal destination of all who trust the Redeemer of the story.

It’s a living book. A life-giving book. A holy book. A God-breathed book. And it’s useful to make us everything God knows we can be in our new relationship with him.

Break the Bible rule. Don’t just read it. Lie asoak in it. Be drenched in the drama of redemption. Be changed by its challenges and shaped by its truth.

If you aren’t praying yet, start. If you don’t have a church to gather with that feeds your faith and causes you to flourish, find one. If you aren’t spending time daily in the Word, start afresh. But resist the temptation for these things, and dozens of others like them, to become the end, rather than the means to the end, which is more of God and more of his blessing.

7 Tips For Better Social Media Connections

Big Cup o' JoeIn the world of social media, there’s a common scenario that goes a little something like this:

FOLLOWEE TO NEW FOLLOWER: Hi! Thanks for following. Check out my services and my blog, and like me on Facebook!

In other words, I don’t know you or care who you are. I just want you to know me and buy my stuff.

When you first connect with someone new over a social media platform, it’s far better and wiser to establish a genuine connection. Here are seven tips for a better way to connect.

  1. Pay attention. Read the bio, click the link, read a tweet or an update or two.
  2. Reach out. Say hello, the way normal people do offline, without selling anything.
  3. Take a real interest. Comment on something personal about the person.
  4. Make another connection. Suggest someone they should connect with in their field.
  5. Add some value. Offer a tip, or to help in some way, but not by selling a service.
  6. Respond. Keep the conversation going.
  7. Be the trusted friend to whom they might turn for help (including paid services) later.

You can’t know everyone, and you can’t always fully flesh out this approach with every connection, but when you want to connect with someone beyond the first follow, there is a better way. Imagine the above scenario, aligned with these tips. It might look more like this…

FOLLOWEE TO NEW FOLLOWER: Hi, thanks for following. You’re from Denver? Been there a few times and love the views!

NEW FOLLOWER TO FOLLOWEE: Thanks! Yes, I work for a marketing firm in the mile-high city.

FOLLOWEE TO NEW FOLLOWER: Cool. Loved the work you did on the Widgets-R-Us logo. Have you connected with Jacob Cass (@justcreative)?

NEW FOLLOWER TO FOLLOWEE: No, haven’t seen his work, but I’ll follow him for sure. Thanks!

FOLLOWEE TO NEW FOLLOWER: No problem. I’m in the SEO business if you ever need any help in that arena. Keep up the good work!

This isn’t necessarily blossoming into a have-you-over-for-dinner-on-Friday kind of friendship, and that’s okay. You can’t do that with hundreds or thousands of people. But you can be personal, authentic, and genuinely helpful. It’s a better way to do things, and good social mojo demands it.

Six Traits of the Best Small Group Hosts

Some churches raise the bar when it comes to recruiting small group leaders. You need to be a member for X amount of time, well versed in the church’s doctrinal statement, agree to a lifestyle covenant, etc. The more qualified the leader, the stronger the group will be… or so goes conventional wisdom. But is that really true?

My friend Ron Wilbur, one of Saddleback’s Small Groups Pastors, once told me I’d probably make a terrible small group leader. It wasn’t that he was trying to discourage me. Ron taught me something valuable when he said, “your tendency will be to teach and answer all the questions, and you’ll kill the discussion and short-circuit the relationship-building process.” Now that I lead a small group in my home, I have to agree with Ron. If I’m not careful and intentional, I’ll be the bottleneck that holds my group back from being a healthy micro-community.

So if we’re not looking for long term members and Bible scholars, who makes the best group hosts? Most commonly, new believers in Christ, but I would expand that criteria to include anyone with these key characteristics.

ProfessorThe Best Hosts Are Facilitators, Not Lecturers

I’m all for one-to-many communication, and I think preaching is getting sidelined a bit too much in our modern obsession with one-on-one discipleship. But a small group isn’t the arena for a lecture, it’s a conversation in a circle of chairs where everyone asks questions and everyone speaks up. Good hosts understand the power of leaving good questions unanswered and throwing them back into the ring.

The Best Hosts Include People Far From God

Rather than seeing a small group as a holy huddle or a gathering of the frozen chosen, great hosts remind themselves and their group that we have a common mission to accomplish – including everyone in God’s family so they can encounter Christ in an atmosphere where they are accepted by friends.

The Best Hosts Are Fellow Students, Not Experts

Small group leaders who facilitate growth in their groups don’t have all the answers, and don’t try to appear to have all the answers. Instead, they are fellow discoverers who participate in the group’s journey into greater knowledge and spiritual depth. How then are we to protect groups from doctrinal errors spread by well-meaning new believers? We trust the pastors, to whom the assignment of guarding the flock was given, to mentor leaders to a more thorough knowledge of biblical truth.

The Best Hosts SPEAK Human

Instead of speaking Christianese, they speak human. My Pastor gave me an acronym to remember a basic approach to human conversation…

S – What’s your story?

P – What’s your passion?

E – How can I encourage you?

AAsk, what can I do to help you?

K – Who do you know that I should know?

The Best Hosts Don’t Have It All Together

Not only do they not have it all together, but they’re willing to be open and honest about not having it all together. Life change only happens as masks are removed.

The Best Hosts Dream of Multiplying

Great small group hosts realize that group time is not just a social hour or a Bible class. It’s a time when God’s people get together to do life together, and to live missionally together. So the host is always looking around the group and asking, “who can I pour into next so that we can send out a leader to launch another group?”

The world around us is not impressed when we’ve amassed knowledge without living differently as a result. But as long as Christians are impressed with the same, we’ll never create a small group culture conducive to involving the surrounding world in the conversation. The best small group hosts love Jesus and love people, but are also real enough to relate to people and build genuine friendships.

I’m not the best small group host. But perhaps you’ve got what it takes? There’s only one way to know. Go start a group.

Photo by katiew