Five Reasons Every Pastor Should Be A Writer

If you’re a pastor, then you should be writing. Ok, wait! Before you start with a list of excuses just hear me out (besides, I know all the excuses because I regularly used them to avoid my responsibility as a writer).

Truthfully, I have had an on-again, off-again relationship with writing since 2003. It’s something that I know I must do, even though maintaining the discipline to continue writing every week is challenging. Writing is first and foremost an act of sheer will. It’s not easy. But if you are a pastor I am fully convinced that it’s a necessary part of your ministry. Here’s why:

Expanding Your Audience

At first, this sounds self-serving. However, remember the Apostle Paul’s desire to go to great lengths to reach people for Christ. He said, “I have become all things to all people, that by all means, I might save some.” (1 Cor 9:22)

As a pastor, each week your audience is limited to the number of people that will attend your church on Sunday. That’s a problem because even if you could pack the building every single week there’s still a limit to how many chairs you can set up. And there’s even a limit to how many services you can hold.

These physical limitations are difficult to overcome, but by writing and publishing there is virtually no limit to how many people you can reach. Sure, it takes a while to build a good-sized audience, but it’s worth it.

Building a legacy

Here’s one of my frustrations as a pastor: I usually spend 10-15 hours praying about, thinking about, preparing, and writing a message to teach on Sunday morning. Then, when I’m done…it’s gone. Almost forever. No one may hear it again!

That’s a problem because I believe these messages to be God-ordained and important to the cause of Christianity. Not just to my parishioners but to Christians everywhere. I don’t want them to fade away forever.

A church and its leaders can have a great impact on the community both in terms of outreach and aid. But this is also true when it comes to the philosophy, doctrine, and teaching too.

As a pastor, your teaching is part of your “spiritual fingerprint” in the world. Allow those ideas to make an impression in the world through your writing.

As a pastor, your teaching is part of your 'spiritual fingerprint' in the world. Allow those ideas to make an impression in the world through your writing.Click To Tweet

Content Availability

As a pastor, you are in the business of creating fresh content every week. Literally, it’s your job to look into the scriptures and find innovative ways of communicating those important truths to your congregation. Like me, you take those ideas, format them to be captivating and interesting, and verbally deliver them in the form of a sermon.

While the sermon is meant to be spoken, those ideas can also become source material for your writing. Whether they become a book or a weekly blog, you have ready-to-go content on a regular basis. So, there’s no need to try to figure out what to write – just write what you are teaching.

There’s considerable evidence to suggest that much of the scripture we read each week on Sunday morning are parts of sermons, regularly given by the Apostle Paul. The book of Hebrews is one long sermon!

Note: you’ll notice that Sermon Series become great books, each sermon becoming a subsequent chapter of the book. This is one of the secrets of many ministry writers, from Timothy Keller to Chuck Swindoll.

It’s Inexpensive

Previously, getting published was difficult and expensive. It’s not that way anymore. A writer can publish a blog for a few dollars per month, if not for free. Platforms like Medium are also a great way to publish your thoughts.

Even if you desire to publish a printed book, self-publishing is so simple that there’s no reason not to do it.

Increased Opportunities

Without question, published authors have greater chances to impact their community through speaking engagements, teaching opportunities, and additional writing prospects. This can lead to a larger audience but also to financial blessings as well. Some may shun the financial rewards that may accompany a writing career, but for many in ministry, this can be a realistic way to supplement ministry in a small church.

So where are you in the process of becoming a writer? Have you tried and failed? If so, keep trying! Develop a regular routine and stick with it.

“so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:11)

3 Good Reasons To Leave Your Church

Leaving Church

They say, “all good things must come to an end.” Often, that is true when it comes to the relationship you have with your church family. Leaving is never easy but in some cases it is necessary.

In a previous post, I suggested that there were some very terrible reasons for leaving a church. But, are there any good reasons to leave a church? Yes, there are plenty, and here are three:

Spiritual Abuse

If the leaders of your church use biblical pressure tactics to coerce or manipulate you in any way, it’s time for you to move on. I have heard of pastors that twist the Bible in order to guilt people into serving or giving money. I have seen pastors and leaders who reduce Christianity to a list of rules that must be followed by their congregation at all costs. When their followers fall short of these regulations they are shamed, disgraced, and penalized — often publicly.

This is nothing new and Jesus opposed these types of leaders. In Matthew 23:4 he said, “They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.” He criticized the Jewish leaders for holding their followers to a higher standard than even they were able to follow.

Spiritual abuse is a dangerous trend and is often disguised as the pursuit of holiness. Of course, being holy is something that all believers should aspire to (1 Peter 1:14–16), but our desire to live a Christ-like life should flow from our desire to please God, not the pastor.

Our desire to live a Christ-like life should flow from our desire to please God, not the pastor.Click To Tweet

Teaching That Is Unbiblical

When someone in the congregation says, “I’m not being fed,” it usually means they don’t like the preaching in their church. Sometimes their reasons for not liking the preaching are superficial. For example, they don’t think the pastor is funny enough, or his/her sermons are too long, or they don’t appreciate their style.

But there are occasions when a pastor falls short of their call to teach the Word accurately and consistently. Defective teaching is harder to judge, considering the wide variety of teaching styles and methods. But, if you notice that your teaching pastor consistently avoids using the Bible during his/her messages, turns every single message into a political statement, or adds their own ideas to the gospel, you should be on high alert.

The Apostle Paul faced this exact situation on a number of occasions. He wrote to the church in Galatia to warn them about perverting the gospel through false teaching. He said, “but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ” (Gal 1:7) A few verses later he says they should be cursed!

If your church leaders are preaching any gospel other than the simple truth of Jesus Christ, Son of God, crucified and raised for your sins to the eternal glory of God — it’s time to go.

Your Gifts are Needed Elsewhere

On a more positive note, there are times when there is no controversy and no abuse, however, the gifts and talents that you have been given are needed more in a different congregation.

About 7 years ago a good friend and member of our worship band came to me and told me he was leaving our church. He loved our church family and everything about the congregation. However, he felt called to be a part of the worship team at a smaller church across town. Since our music team was well-stocked with talented musicians and theirs was not, he knew his talents would make a bigger impact for the gospel in their church. We blessed him and his family as he left, knowing that he was leaving for the right reasons.

If you are a follower of Christ then you have been given a gift (1 Peter 4:10). Are you are using that gift to its fullest potential at your church? If not, find out how to get involved so that you can strengthen your church family and be a part of the gospel’s forward movement. However, if your gift is needed in a different church, then pray and ask God if it’s time to go. While it may be difficult to leave your church family, it’s always the right idea to follow God’s call, even if that means saying goodbye to a church you love.

What do you think? Do you agree or disagree? Have you been a part of a church that abused its congregation? If you have let me know in the comments section. I would love to hear from you.

Behind Your Pastor’s Smile

This is a guest post by fellow Tribe Writer, Alicia T. Rust. Alicia is a writer and an educator and she writes to shine light on the day-to-day struggles of mental health battles. You can read her work at lifesodaily.com. Be sure to sign up for her email list for updates.


Wedding day…baptism…hospitalization…death in the family…emotional or spiritual crisis.  Whom do you contact?  Most likely, your pastor.  A pastor’s life includes emotional events of other people’s lives. They are invariably expected to be on call.

In addition, they attend meetings, write sermons, lead services, support and oversee the running of the church, and show leadership in all they do through their expected higher standard of behavior. The perpetual work of helping others can be emotionally and physically depleting.  Due to such a schedule, ministers generally neglect regular exercise, personal devotions, and relaxation; taking time for oneself is tethered to guilt.

Numerous people feel burn-out within their careers, and pastors are no different.  Inevitably, depression can set in.  Today, an increased number of pastors are on antidepressants. Thom Rainer mentions that most are “reticent to say anything about their depression lest they be viewed as … unable to help others.” They are not protected from the stigma of mental illness. Part of this stigma includes believing that those with mental illness have little value. Yet, having a mental illness doesn’t automatically mean one cannot be high-functioning.

In order to turn coping into healing, begin with seeking help. Not only can counseling and medication be beneficial, but self-care is of utmost importance. Taking a day of rest makes sense, yet most pastors don’t allow themselves to do so.  Their ministry swallows them up. They choose to serve others 24/7 to their own detriment, and their congregants are unaware of the effect they may be having on their pastor’s health.  They take their spiritual guides for granted…calling upon them only when needed.

Furthermore, pastors often feel isolated even when surrounded by people because these relationships are generally not reciprocal. A sense of social isolation can lead to depression, anxiety, and emotional exhaustion. A study by researchers from Duke University, Azusa Pacific University and the University of New Mexico found that clergy who are supported in their times of need and are shown appreciation are more likely to be satisfied in their ministry and have a higher quality of life. I find it astonishing that we needed a research study for us to realize this. Is it not common sense? Showing appreciation allows a person to feel significant and loved.

Have you ever had a friend in direct sales who is constantly pushing products on you? It’s a turn off. We start feeling as though we’re no longer being valued as a friend but for what we can provide for their sales.  So, quit endlessly taking from your pastor, and begin to give back.

Make every day Pastor Appreciation Day. Here are a few suggestions…

  • Take your pastor to lunch!
  • Write a letter explaining how God has used him/her in your life.
  • Offer your services (bring a meal, mow the lawn, assist with odd jobs)
  • Support your church financially
  • Remember your pastor on his/her birthday, Christmas, and other holidays
  • Offer event tickets or gift cards
  • Add to his/her personal library
  • Serve in the church
  • Sit up front during a service! (I’m sure a seat is available!)
  • After a service, comment on something specific from the sermon; don’t just say it was “great.”
  • Honor your pastor with an appreciation party!
  • Encourage a day of rest, a sabbatical, or a vacation.

Religiously showing appreciation (ᵔᴥᵔ) (rather than solely during our own poignant life circumstances) lets your pastor feel valued and strengthens relationships. Become fluent in appreciation by practicing it often.

1 Timothy 5:17 (NIV)

“The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.”

How To Be A Better Listener: 3 Simple Tips

Every ministry leader needs to be a good listener. Unfortunately, listening is a lost art. This is especially true in an era where opinion and individualism are valued over practically everything else. Everyone wants to be heard, but it seems that few want to listen.
 
The challenge for ministry leaders and pastors is that we should be the listeners for our followers and flock. It’s taken me a while to figure out how to be a better listener, and while I still struggle from time to time I have learned a few simple methods to help be a better listener.

Stop Talking

I remember when I was about 20 I was having a conversation with an older gentleman about music outside after church. After 10 minutes of my non-stop talking, he finally said, “Will you please shut up? It’s not much of a conversation if you don’t let me talk too!”
 
That was a wake-up call for me. Suddenly I understood, it’s frustrating for the other person if you don’t let them speak.

So, when you’re listening to someone, stop talking. Completely. And if you do decide to speak, ask follow up questions that allow the other person to elaborate on what they are saying. Even better, paraphrase what the other person is saying back to them. This lets them know that you are listening and understanding their point of view.
 
Perhaps the Apostle James said it best, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak…” (James 1:19)

Body Language

The posture of a listener is also important. If you’re seated while listening, lean forward. This tells the other person that you are interested. Eye contact is critical too. Look at the person that is speaking to you, not past them. Also, be wary of body language that signals boredom or loss of interest. Don’t fidget with your hands, don’t look at your watch, and please, please do not look at your phone.
Good listening is about putting the needs of other people first. It’s really about humility. Allowing another person to take center stage in a conversation is challenging. The Apostle Paul writes about the model of humility in Philippians 2:3-4, “…in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” He says this is how Jesus acted toward others and we should too. Imagine what a good listener Jesus must’ve been!

Be Patient

This might be the hardest part of listening. Good listening takes time. The challenge for ministry leaders and pastors is that we feel like we don’t have a lot of time and so we aren’t always the best listeners.
 
Plenty of times I have sat with people who are sharing challenges and problems in their lives with me. Often, they don’t get to the point right away. In my head, I think, “get to the point so I can solve your problem quickly!” But helping them “solve” their problems is not why they’ve come to see me. Isn’t it God’s responsibility to solve problems anyway? They just want to be heard.
 
Eugene Peterson says, “Pastoral listening requires unhurried leisure, even if it’s for only five minutes. Leisure is a quality of spirit, not a quantity of time. Only in that ambiance of leisure do persons know they are listened to with absolute seriousness, treated with dignity and importance.” (Read Eugene Peterson’s article at Christianity Today)
 
The brother of Jesus wrote, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed” (James 5:16). Notice that he is not saying you’ll be forgiven (that comes from God), but healed. There is something very powerful that happens when we talk to each other about our problems, challenges, and sins.

4 Simple Ways To Beat Stress & Avoid Burnout

Slowing down is a matter of survival. I learned this the hard way on a Saturday afternoon in 2013.

I was doing what I always did on Saturday–running around like a crazy person, dropping kids off at sports, texting church members about upcoming events, and fielding calls about an upcoming baptism at my house.

While I was driving that day I felt my chest constrict and I was having trouble breathing. “This can’t be happening,” I thought. “I don’t have time for a heart attack!” Reluctantly, I headed to the hospital. In the E.R. they ran all the usual tests, echocardiogram, chest x-ray, and so on. They found nothing.

“Everything looks good” the doctor said. “It’s probably an anxiety attack. Are you under a lot of stress?” When I told him I was a pastor and a police chaplain he flashed me a concerned smile and suggested that I see my doctor to talk about stress reduction.

Since then I’ve changed a lot about the way I work. Besides hiring an assistant, seeing a therapist about once a month, and taking a small dose of anti-anxiety medication, here’s the most important thing I do now.

I slow down.

 

If you have been feeling stressed here’s four simple steps you can take, along with the acronym “SLOW” to help you remember.

1 – SILENCE

Don’t be afraid of silence. It’s hard to be quiet in our culture. If I had time driving or waiting in line I would make a phone call or text. Now, I just allow myself to be quiet. Call it prayer or meditation, if you wish, but I’ve learned that my mind comes alive in the silence.

2 – LISTEN

Like silence this is difficult. Listening is an art form. I don’t mean listening to music or a podcast. I’m talking about slowing down enough to hear what people around you are really saying. This is not listening for problem solving, but listening for understanding and empathy. Also, in the quiet moments of silence you can listen for what God is saying to you too.

3 – OBSERVE

I had lost the ability to see and notice the beauty of the world around me. Taking time to notice things helps you remain in the present. Yes, life can be ugly, but there’s a lot that is appealing too. Make a decision to observe what’s good for your head and heart. That means avoiding the news for a while and going to an art gallery or taking a walk on the beach at sunset.

4 – WAIT

Learn to wait. We are so impatient! Next time you’re in line for something at the post office or tax collector’s office don’t whip out your phone, don’t text, don’t put in your earbuds. Try waiting patiently…quietly. This is a trick that I have to make time slow down. It’s a ninja-like skill to wait without distracting yourself with an electronic device. Waiting forces you to slow down and when you do it’s easier to observe and listen.

Since 2013 I’ve relapsed a couple of times. I’ve allowed myself to become over-involved, over-extended and generally worn out. Whenever that happens I come back to this acronym and put it in place again. It always helps.

So tell me, how do you deal with stress, busyness, and potential burnout? Consider leaving a comment and let me know!

4 Ways To Improve Your Pastor’s Teaching

Bible Pulpit

Each week I spend between 5 and 10 hours preparing my sermon. On Sunday I deliver that sermon two times, once at 9am and once at 11. After each service a handful of people come up to me afterwards and tell me how much they appreciate my words. Most of the time they say, “good sermon” or “good word.” It makes me feel good to hear them say that. I’m not complaining about that.

A lot of times I will respond by asking, “what did you like about it?” or “what stood out to you?” Almost always they have no response. Sometimes they stammer and try to come up with something. They might say “well, it was funny” or “it was just good.” Rarely do they have compelling or helpful feedback. This usually leaves me feeling one of two ways. Either my sermons are just ear candy for people or, they don’t know what makes a sermon good.

If your pastor is like me, he/she need the encouragement. But if you want to give meaningful feedback I suggest you give better reasons for liking the sermon. Here are four principles to guide you.

The Sermon Was Biblical

Many young preachers today rarely crack a Bible when they preach. Or, if they do, they bounce around the text and backup their points. They may use a verse from the gospels, one from the Psalms, and finish up with something from the Epistles. If your pastor preaches from a text and allows the text to shape his/her sermon then you should explain why that is a good thing and how much it means to you. 2 Timothy 4:2 says, “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.”

The Sermon Was Relatable

Expository preaching is good. But it’s also good to help a congregation find application points along the way. I call this “putting handles” on a sermon. A great sermon will help a person walk out the door and feel hope. This happens when pastor takes the time to find ways to challenge and encourage the listener. So if your pastor was able to build a bridge between the text and your life, make sure to tell them that you appreciate it. This is exactly what the apostle Paul wrote about in Ephesians 3:8-9 when he said, “this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things.”

The Sermon Was Short

I’ll just say it: we pastors love the sound of our own voices. It’s true. When I was a young preacher starting out I had a tendency to allow my sermons to reach 45 minutes or more. In my opinion this is longer than any sermon needs to be. There are no Biblical rules for how long a sermon should be. Paul preached a sermon that was so long a young man fell asleep–then out of a window! Modern audience get their information in small bites. Most people have trouble paying attention for more than 30 minutes. The reason why a lot of sermons are too long has nothing to do with good content. Sermons are too long due to a lack of preparation. A seasoned preacher will trim unnecessary parts from the sermon in order to deliver a well-crafted message that gets to the point quickly. Moses asked God to “teach us to number our days” (Psalm 90:12). If that is true of our days it is imperative of our minutes. If you appreciate a well-timed Biblical sermon tell your pastor, “thank you.”

The Sermon Was Convicting

People need to be challenged by a sermon – they like to be “beaten up” a little by the text. This is exactly what James had in mind when he described the Bible being like a mirror (James 1:23). A good teacher will hold the mirror of the scriptures up to the congregation. Many times that means he/she might have to bruise some egos and step on a few toes. If you feel convicted during a sermon let the Pastor know. It means that their teaching was a vehicle for the Holy Spirit to do His work.

Your pastor appreciates the feedback – both good and bad. Make sure your feedback is specific. That way your pastor will be able to get a sense of how to stay on track from week to week.