5 Things for Ministers to Consider During Transitions

CHANGES AHEAD

God never promises that life will be easy.  In fact, I would say that God promises the opposite.  James 1:2 says “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds” – and by various kinds, that could mean self inflicted, through no fault of your own, random, expected…the list goes on and on.

Job transitions are tough.  In my field of ministry, they have a unique challenge though.  You see, ministry is not a job.  Its a lifestyle.  Its a calling.  We don’t just “go to work” but rather our life is our work.

Recently my life was faced with this very transition.  Its tough.  Its challenging.  I have woken up every day thinking about people in my congregation who were hurting, struggling, dealing with various trials of their own – and its because while I may have left the ministry at that church, I have not left my ministry.  My church family isn’t just made up of the people I work for at a certain time, but rather its made up of ALL the people I’ve ever worked with.

But what do you do when you go through that inevitable transition?  I think it begins before it ever happens.

Make sure that in your ministry, you don’t isolate yourself.  Network, and network some more.  Connect with other ministers, churches, and schools.  Find people you can confide in, share your struggles with, and pray with on a regular basis who are outside of your church family.  That way, when the transition comes, you won’t find yourself alone.

But when that day comes for you to leave your work – what do you?  How do you handle it?  Here are 5 ways to handle your transition time in ministry, whether you’ve been let go, you’re leaving on your own, or you’re moving to another church.

Realize that your church will move on, and probably a lot quicker than you will.  As ministers, we should aim to leave a church just like our mothers told us to treat places we visited – better than we found it.  If we have done our jobs, we have prepared the church for the next step, whatever that may be.  Don’t be surprised or upset when they start posting a want ad for a new minister, announcing guest speakers, and move forward.

Remember that the church belongs to God, not to you.  This is God’s church.  God called you, led you, and put you there for a season.  But, it will be just fine without you.  God will lead a new person there to continue where you left off.

Remember your family is leaving the church as well.  Your spouse has been there for you, supported you, waited up late for you after meetings, gone to events with you, and more than likely dedicated a giant portion of time and energy to the church.  This hurts them just as much as it hurts you.  I count it a blessing that I have a spouse who supports me wholeheartedly, and is always there for me no matter what the situation.

If you have children, remember that they may not completely understand.  Its tough on them.  I know people say that kids are resilient, and I believe that to be true, but saying things such as “God has other plans” don’t always work with a 5 year old, or a 15 year old for that matter.  Be prepared to deal with lots of tears, questions, confusion, and for those of you with older children – resentment.

Don’t let Satan win.  The evil one wants you to feel defeated.  He wants you to feel like you’re not good enough, or that you’ve abandoned the best thing you’ve ever done, or that no one ever liked you.  He will play so many tricks on you to get you to give up on ministry completely.  Remember, he’s pretty good at this.  You’ll begin to question your motives, your calling, your ability, and all of this is natural to a certain extent.Remember when Satan tells you these things, he’s just trying to get you blame God, to doubt God, to question God, or to give up on God.  And the only way you can make sure these things don’t happen is to…

Immerse yourself in prayer.  Pray without ceasing.  Pray continually.  Pray, and then pray some more.  If you left on your own, for whatever reason, pray.  If you were relieved of your duties, pray.  If you were offered a job elsewhere, pray.  Pray alone.  Pray with others.  Pray with your family.  Pray for the church you just left.  Pray for the church where you will be going.  Pray for the church that has yet to be put in your path.  Pray about the bad times.  Pray about the good things God used you for.  Pray, pray, pray.

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What Are you Leaving Behind?

Potters-Clay-Pic

Tomorrow at the Granny White Pike Church of Christ, my lesson will be on what we are leaving behind for future generations.  I will be using this poem at the end of my lesson – entitled “The Sculptor” – author unknown.

I took a piece of plastic clay
And idly fashioned it one day
And as my fingers pressed it still, 
It moved and yielded to my will

I came again when days were passed
The bit of clay was hard at last
The form I gave it, it still bore, 
But I could change the form no more.

I took a piece of living clay
And gently formed it day by day,
And molded with my power and art
A young child’s soft and yielding heart

I came again when years were gone
It was a man I looked upon;
He still that early impress wore
And I could change him nevermore.

 

If You Want to be Somebody…(The one about being a popular preacher)

I remember years ago, sitting at “Youth In Action” in Birmingham, AL as a 10th grader.

YIA was a classic youth rally event, bringing people from all around to a the convention center in Birmingham.  It was right after Christmas, and I enjoyed every minute of it – from the drive down to the singing in the atrium to the walk across the street for the classes and keynotes.  I went many times, with Johnny Markham, Scott Freeman, Jason Bybee – and each time I learned great and wonderful things.

I remember very vividly one night, I was listening to Jeff Walling speak.  As he spoke, I was drawn into his masterful storytelling, his vivid descriptions, and powerful insight into the scriptures.  After he was done, I leaned over to my friend Jason, and told him “One day, I’m going to be a keynote speaker at Youth In Action just like that.  That’s my dream.  That’s my goal.  If I want to be somebody, I’ve got be a keynote speaker at one of these events.”

Fast forward 20 years.

I still have not been a keynote speaker at YIA, or Winterfest, or anything for that matter.  I have had the opportunity to speak at the Faulkner Lectureships and the Lipscomb Lectureships, but my Alma Mater – FHU, has not yet considered me.

Yesterday, I spoke at the Faulkner lectures to a crowd of well over 18 people.  There were maybe 20.  And I was discouraged.

At that point, I felt like a nobody.  Down the hall, rooms were filled to the brim of people known wide and far.  Down the hall, there was standing room only for certain speakers.  But other rooms were just like mine.  Filled with empty seats instead of people listening.

Now, I get the opportunity to speak many times a week to many people.  My wonderful church family at GW is 300-350 strong every Sunday morning.  I get to teach classes multiple times a week.

But when I go somewhere that I’ve never been heard of, shockingly, no one comes.

I’ve been told that in order to get more gigs as a speaker, to have more people come hear you, to get invited to more lectures – you have to self promote.  But one of the things that I’ve learned since that day I leaned over to my friend in Birmingham that night after the message was spoken – I refuse to self promote.

Because the message isn’t about me, its about God.

Sure, I love to see my blog posts get read, and to get numbers on my stats, and to have so many “likes” on my Facebook posts.

But the message isn’t about me, its about God.

Its sad that when I think about my favorite preachers – its usually because of their style, their voice, their delivery, the ability to capture my attention – but rarely is it because they connect me to God in a deeply personal way with their message.  Its usually personal preference.

In the preaching world – there’s a lot of “politics”.  Who do you know, who do you hang out with, are you popular, how big is your church, how popular is your church, do you say the right things regardless of scripture….the list goes on and on.  But I often find that the best messages I hear are the ones from people I don’t know.

I realize that if I want to be somebody in the preaching world, I have to become a nobody, and let God rule my message, my delivery, my style.  I can’t worry about why people aren’t calling me left and right to be a guest speaker.  I can’t worry about why I don’t demand a crowd of thousands to listen to my words.

All I can do is be who I am – a servant of God with a message.

And what I’ve learned is this – it feels really awesome when people come up to me on Sunday morning and say things like “That one really spoke to me,” or “Wow, were you listening in on my struggles this week, because that really meant the world to me” – and I wouldn’t trade knowing the fact I’ve helped one person for multitudes of people in my audience.

The most moving stories in evangelism as you read through the New Testament are the ones that don’t involve the crowds, but the individuals.  Jesus and the Samaritan Woman.  Jesus and Zacchaeus.  Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch.    Interactions between Jesus and the twelve.  The stories move us because they are personal, they are relational.

And for that reason, I really don’t care if I speak to 10 people or 10,000 people – so long as I can develop relationships with those I meet along the way.

Our youth minister, Scott Tillman, spoke yesterday as well before the entire crowd at the Faulkner lectures in the morning Keynote. He did a stellar job, and said something that will stick with me for a while.  He reminded us that the only thing he believes we will take with us to Heaven is our relationships.  And I think that’s true.

Its not about your place at the table, its about your relationship with those you feast with.

Sure, I’d still love to keynote at one of those grand events, but for now, I’m perfectly content preaching the word to my GW family, and those I come in contact with daily. I will strive daily to please God – not man.  I will strive daily to reach as many as I can.  I will strive daily to grow the Kingdom.   May God bless us as we figure out the best way to be somebody for Him, instead of somebody to the world.

The Parable of the Weeds

parable of the weeds

The parable of the weeds has the potential to make us a bit uncomfortable.  That’s because it tells us two very important things that we sometimes have a hard time understanding.

First, it tells us that whether we like it or not, no matter how good we are, we’ll be growing up with weeds.

Second, it reminds us that in the end, there will be a harvest.  It goes like this (from Matthew 13:24-30):

The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away.  

When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared. The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’

‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.

The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’

‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’

The parable of the weeds does a good job of explaining why evil exists.  Have you ever wondered “Why does evil exist if God is a good God?”  I believe the answer to that is found in this parable.

In Matthew, Jesus really demonstrates how He has brought the Kingdom of Heaven to earth.  Once ruled by the evil one, the Kingdom is entering with Jesus, and Jesus has left that Kingdom with us.

But when Jesus brought the Kingdom, there were obstacles in the way, namely Satan and his weeds.  The weeds mentioned here are known as “darnel” or false wheat.  They look the same until the ears mature, and until harvest time you can’t tell them apart.

When the grain matures, you see the real wheat bend over from its weight.  The false wheat, when it matures, shoots straight up and is darker in color.

While the darnel has been growing alongside the wheat, it has wrapped its roots around the real wheat, so pulling up the weeds would pull up the wheat.  To add insult to this, the fruit of the false wheat is poisonous.  If it got mixed in with the real wheat while making flour, it could make the whole batch of flour toxic.

This brings light to the topic of “why are bad things still happening if the Kingdom of God is here.”  The answer to that is the only way evil can be completely wiped off the face of the earth is through the judgement and end of the world.

God delays in bringing judgement on this world though because he knows that the evil ones have wrapped their roots around all of us.  Also, God’s delay in judgement is completely gracious on His part.  He is giving more people time to repent and to come to Him.  We’re reminded of that in 2 Peter 3:8,9

“But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”

While the sin that has been brought into the world can be blamed on Satan, we need to remember that Scripture tells us that Satan’s activity never jeopardizes God’s sovereignty, and it also never removes the accountability that we have on our own.  We only sin if WE choose to sin.  I Corinthians 10:13 tells us

“No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”

I’ve never really liked doing the old fashioned “hell fire and brimstone” type sermons – but you just can’t really avoid it in this parable.  The truth of the matter is this:  Heaven and Hell are both very real – and Jesus describes the two places here.

Hell – Jesus says – is reserved for everything that causes sin and all who do evil.  What will happen to them?  They will be thrown into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Oh, but the righteous – he promises – get this – radiant glory.  Those who do God’s will by becoming disciples of Christ.

The harvest is coming.  I can’t stop that, nor do I want to stop that.  One day, Jesus will come and bring together all the good wheat, those who have dedicated to living their lives for Him, and take us all home to be with Him – for eternity – and Jesus promises us radiant glory.  I know I can’t be alone in saying that sounds so much better than what is reserved for the weeds –

The Best Thing You Can Do


If you read this, regardless of whether you are a full time preaching minister or not, I hope you realize the importance of the message and apply it immediately.

In September of 2011, I began a new job as the full time preaching minister for the Granny White Church of Christ. I was honored and thrilled to be offered this position. Truthfully, I never really wanted to be a “preaching” minister. I never thought I would be very good at it.

I’ve actually been preaching since I was 14, starting in high school when the Friendship Christian School high school chorus did its annual “Church Tour”. I probably would preach 4 or 5 times each year. I did devotionals during college, but never really had a preaching job. When I did campus ministry at Westbury Christian, I was in charge of chapel and spoke often. While a youth minister, I filled in when necessary.

Finally when I was an Associate Minister in Houston, I was asked to speak 12 Sundays a year. I immediately knew this was more than just filling in – and I got a bit nervous. It had been a long time since my “Prep and Del” class at FHU. I immediately began reading books on preaching, listening to podcasts of preachers, reading sermons and sermon outlines, and began paying closer attention each Sunday when I was not preaching to our senior minister.
When asked to be the full time preacher at Granny White, I was honored. I knew it was a great opportunity for me to serve God and a great congregation. Since I’ve been here, I’ve taken advantage of going to 2 lectureships, and a few seminars.

During the seminars, I learned that a minister should try and memorize his sermons, that a minister never preaches a sermon twice, a minister never borrows or uses someone else’s material, a minister should spend X amount of hours preparing a lesson…the list goes on and on and on.

This got in my head and really shook me up. I was not memorizing my lessons. I was preaching a few things I had already done. I was preaching a couple of sermons that I had re-written and modified. I wasn’t spending “X” amount of hours preparing.

And I started to get nervous, and confused.

But then, I realized something – there is no prescribed way in the NT telling a preacher how to preach. Jesus never says “He who memorizes his sermons will be blessed abundantly.” Paul never says “A good preacher will only preach 17.4 minutes.” Peter never talks about how many hours he spent preparing for his great gospel in Acts. In fact, I’m pretty sure Jesus said the same thing in different ways many times.

And that’s when it hit me – the best thing I can do – is to be me.

So what if I don’t memorize my sermons. I don’t think anyone is going to give their life to Christ because they are impressed with my memorization skills.

I don’t think anyone is going to be disappointed with me if I only spend 10 hours one week preparing a sermon instead of 25.

No one at Granny White heard that sermon I preached back in 2001. It wasn’t recorded on tape and I don’t believe anyone was at the same summer camp I was at back then.

I am me. That’s who I was hired to be. And that is who God made me to be. I will do by absolute best to be me.

If I memorize a sermon in the future, great! But if I don’t – it doesn’t make me less of a preacher. If I decide not to wear a tie one Sunday, I think it will be okay. If I only preach for 15 minutes one Sunday, I’ll probably have a whole lot more who are happy about it than upset at me!

The only real requirement I see in preaching is that I preach the truth.

And I will continue to do that to the best of my abilities till God no longer sees fit for me to be doing it anymore.

So for you preachers out there – be you. Don’t try to be the next big thing in preaching. Don’t try to impress your members by doing something that doesn’t come naturally to you. Don’t be fake by doing something you wouldn’t normally do.

Just be you. Do it to the best of your ability. Pray that God will use you and guide you. Don’t feel like you’re not doing a good job just because you don’t preach or teach like the other guys. Just be you – and let God do the rest.