Thursday, January 08, 2009


"With" may be the most important preposition for a Christian leader. Will you do ministry "with"? Who will you do it "with"? Who will do it "with" you?

Many leaders feel alone. I have to admit, I had a serious bout with aloneness at the end of last year. For the most part, I have not dealt with aloneness in ministry, so I probably don't know how to deal with it very well. When it hit, it hit hard. As I have run to the Lord, I have received comfort, and I have also gained some insights:

1. If I choose to do ministry by myself, the Lord will let me. He, of course, promised to be with us to the end of the age. He knows better than we do that we cannot do ministry on our own. He said, "Apart from me you can do nothing." But on the other hand, God is a gentleman, and he does not go where he is not wanted or invited. So if you do not regularly invoke the Lord's presence in your life and take time to be with Him, He will leave you...alone.

There are some things I used to do to be with Him. I am coming back to these things. I used to take Monday's as a "personal work day." On that day I would not schedule meetings or try to "produce" stuff. I would simply take that day to do what I needed to do to be spiritually healthy. I would pray. I would meditate. I would read from the word. I would be "with" Him. During this past year I found it difficult to keep Mondays set aside for Him. This coming year I will find it difficult again, but this year I intend to overcome those difficulties. Being with Him is priority. I simply cannot do ministry without Him. In previous years I used to take one day a month as a day of prayer and fasting. I am going to do that again this year. I have already set aside the days in which I will get away from phones and email and be in solitude with God. I used to take some weekends off from teaching, not to teach somewhere else, but to not teach at all. Every quarter this year I'm going to do it again. Jesus modeled this behavior for us. As the crowds were coming, He was exiting stage left. He knew something that I've known before and am relearning all over again: It's pretty great when we are connected to the vine, and it's pretty lame when we're not.

2. If I choose to do ministry by myself, people will let me. I think I have done a great job of "releasing" people for ministry. But in an ironic twist, when I send them out as lone rangers, when they have a problem, they only have my number to call. All the strings come back to me. Who else could they come back to? I'm the only one they know. It gets lonely when you are dealing constantly with the problems coming back to you, and dealing with them all alone. I was resentful for a awhile, and then I realized that people were just doing the best they could with the scenario I created for them.

I believe that people actually want to do ministry "with" you. In fact, there are not a lot of rewards for serving, but one of the biggest is community - of being part of something important with others. For the most part, I've had a team around me as I've ministered, and that has been very rewarding. I'm coming back to the importance of doing ministry out of community, with others. Our mission statement actually gets this sequence correct: "an authentic Christian community that effectively reaches out."

To get this order better established in my own life I am taking action. I've decided to reinstitute a weekly staff meeting. I understand that time is precious, but there are some things that we cannot not do. Being together is one of them. I am also going to institute a monthly Ministry Pow Wow for anyone in the Burlington Worship Center to come together and talk about leadership and ministry. This is going to be a time of challenge and training. I believe we can find great strength from each other...with each other. I also am going to be having lunch once a month with a group of colleagues, an iron sharpens iron time with fellow pastors. God has clearly surrounded me with brothers who can help to hold my arms up in the battle. The question comes back to whether I will let them do that for me.

Jesus asked us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. It's not either/or, it's both/and. It is as we are loving ourselves that we are loving others. A friend in ministry recently asked me, "Why don't you feel the need to take care of yourself?" I think that's a good question. The answer is probably too complicated for me to figure out right now, so I'm just going to go back to caring for myself, like I should have been all along.


Healthy spiritual leadership is akin to parenting. You could say that the ministry is your "baby." As your baby, you'll want to play close attention to its care and feeding.

An example of someone taking care of "their baby" is Howard Schultz of Starbucks Coffee. The founder, he has recently returned to run the company when it floundered. He found that there was no one who cared for the organization and the people in it like he did. You have a different level of passion and attention to detail when it's "your baby." No one cares for a kid like their parent. David Lubars says of Schultz, "He wants to be involved in how that child is being taken care of."

When it comes to caring, just as there are discernible differences among parents, there are also differences when it comes to pastors and Christian leaders. Jesus spoke of the difference between the shepherd/owner and the hireling. The hireling really doesn't care about the sheep, he just cares about his job.

I sometimes wonder how many people in ministry are hirelings. I think it's good for us to look at our own hearts in this regard. Are we marking time, or making a difference? Are we operating from a place of gifting and passion, or just going through the motions. If you are going through the motions, everything about your ministry will begin to sag: the prayers you pray, the teaching you give, the meetings you lead.

Of course, if you become parental in your ministry (read: emotionally involved) you also run the same risk as any parent, of getting hurt. Someone has said that "to be a mom is to forever wear your heart outside your body." Paul said some things that were very similar to that about his ministry. It's a great blessing and a great pain to be a parent. As a pastor you just have to multiply that by hundreds.

Along this line, read this excerpt from Captain Michael Abrashoff's book, It's Your Ship.

MY FIRST INKLING OF THE SIZE OF THE JOB CAME AT 1:21 in the afternoon of June 20, 1997, after I formally assumed command of USS Benfold.

When a Navy ship changes hands, all routine work stops two weeks prior to the event. The crew paints the ship from top to bottom, sets up a big tent on the flight deck, arranges chairs for dignitaries, and unrolls a red carpet for the obligatory admiral, who delivers a speech on the outstanding performance of the ship's departing skipper. A reception follows. Waves of good feeling saturate the event as the former commanding officer is piped ashore.
My predecessor was accompanied by his family as he left the ship. And when the public-address system announced his final departure, much of the crew was not disappointed to see him go. I can still feel my face flushing with embarrassment when I remember how some didn't give him a respectful send-off.
Truthfully, my first thought as I watched this spectacle was about myself. How could I ensure that my eventual departure wouldn't be met with relief when I left the ship in two years? I was taking over a very tough crew who didn't exactly adore their captain.
The crew would probably dislike me, I thought, if for no other reason than that I represented old-fashioned and perhaps obsolete authority. That was okay; being likable is not high among a ship captain's job requirements. What is essential is to be respected, trusted, and effective. Listening to those raucous jeers, I realized that I had a long way to go before I really took command ofBenfold.
I knew that I would have to come up with a new leadership model, geared to a new era. And this awkward reception underlined for me just how much the workplace had changed in military as well as in civilian life.
Never before had employees felt so free to tell their bosses what they thought of them. In the long economic boom, people were not afraid of losing their jobs. Other jobs awaited them; even modestly qualified people moved from one company to another in a quest for the perfect position they believed they richly deserved.
However the economy is doing, a challenge for leaders in the twenty-first century is attracting and retaining not just employees, but the best employees—and more important, how to motivate them so that they work with passion, energy, and enthusiasm. But very few people with brains, skills, and initiative appear. The timeless challenge in the real world is to help less-talented people transcend their limitations.
Pondering all this in the context of my post as the new captain ofBenfold, I read some exit surveys, interviews conducted by the military to find out why people are leaving. I assumed that low pay would be the first reason, but in fact it was fifth. The top reason was not being treated with respect or dignity; second was being prevented from making an impact on the organization; third, not being listened to; and fourth, not being rewarded with more responsibility. Talk about an eye-opener.
Further research disclosed an unexpected parallel with civilian life. According to a recent survey, low pay is also number five on the list of reasons why private employees jump from one company to another. And the top four reasons are virtually the same as in the military. The inescapable conclusion is that, as leaders, we are all doing the same wrong things.
Since a ship's captain can't hand out pay raises, much less stock options, I decided that during my two years commanding Benfold, I would concentrate on dealing with the unhappy sailors' top four gripes. My organizing principle was simple: The key to being a successful skipper is to see the ship through the eyes of the crew. Only then can you find out what's really wrong and, in so doing, help the sailors empower themselves to fix it.