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Blog Highlight

The Light Went Off

In January, I was consulting with a group of doctors who specialize in obesity education. As über intelligent people are prone to do, they were speaking in a high-level code language that reminded me of my systematic theology courses. To make it even more confusing they had just reviewed several recently released studies about obesity treatment. I will readily admit I was lost in the conversation and unsure how I could help them with their project.

I interrupted. “Can you please, in two or three sentences, explain to me why physicians have a hard time treating obesity in their practice? Can you translate all of this into plain English for me? I can’t help you until I wrap my arms around what the problem is.

The Light Bulb Moment

[Read the rest of my guest post at RunRevRun.net]

 

Categories
Church Leadership

5 things gardens teach us about healthy churches

Last year, Kristen and I made a commitment to grow organically or buy organically 25% of our families food. For us, that has meant starting and maintaing a garden.

As they say, inch by inch and row by row– we have watched our garden grow.

A native suburbanite, I’ve discovered many revelations about my perceptions of a healthy church shattered by the realities of staying in tune with more agrarian things in my backyard.

The title of pastor is agrarian by etymology. To manage a flock is different than managing a business. Jesus could have chose to describe church leaders as business owners or organizational leaders… but instead Jesus chose an agrarian term, pastor.

Here are 5 things that gardens teach us about healthy churches:

  1. Healthy organisms replicate. The hallmark of a good plant is its fruit. And the reason a plant creates fruit is simple: To replicate. Conversely, the mission of a church isn’t to grow infinitely, it’s to replicate and make impact on the community it serves. If it isn’t replicating (producing fruit) than it’s just wasting space. (Matthew 3:12)
  2. In order to grow strong you must water & feed regularly. I need to make sure my plants have sun, water, fertilizer, (organic, of course) and good soil. In order for the church to be healthy, you need to do the hard work of making sure you have healthy conditions for your church to grow. Are you teaching good stuff? Are you grounded in your mission? Is your staff team feeding from God’s Word? Are you leading people to be dependent on you… or are you teaching them to feed themselves?
  3. In order to produce good fruit you must weed & prune. Last year, I got enamored with a tomato plant which grew to more than 20 feet tall. It was exciting to see how big that plant would get. But the bad thing was that it choked out the growth of all the plants around it. That taught me a valuable lesson about pruning. The goal isn’t just to have one healthy plant in the garden, to have a healthy garden all of the plants need to be healthy. Which means I need to keep up with weeding and pruning. Likewise, a good pastor weeds & prunes his church regularly. He doesn’t wait for big problems to arise before acting. He nips things in the bud. (A pruning pun for you.)
  4. Everything tastes better when its home grown. We love our CSA. Every two weeks we pick up a great big box of locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables. But, in all honesty, that stuff is no where near as tasty as the stuff we grow in our backyard. And stuff we buy from the supermarket… that’s like ordering a salisbury steak when you can have prime rib. Too many churches go to the supermarket instead of looking at their garden for talent and ideas. There’s nothing wrong with going to the supermarket. But growing your own talent and implementing your own ideas is so much more sweet.
  5. Healthy gardens are a habitat to many species, not just the plants. At any given time I have 5-10 different types of things I’m growing in my garden. But at the same time my garden has a whole ecosystem of other plants, animals, bugs, and crawly things which survive and thrive off of our garden. There are bugs that hang out by our compost heap. There are different little plants supported by the back spillage of our drip watering system. There are good bugs who eat bad bugs. There are bees who pollenate. And there are birds who live in our yard who live off of the bugs. The same is true in a church. When you let go of control and instead chose to create a healthy environment, an entire ecosystem of impact unfolds.

Our title of pastor is describing something agrarian. For most of us, like myself, we grew up completely separated from all things farming. Perhaps more of us need to spend more time in the garden or in the fields tending to flocks to understand the simplicity and complexity of our roles?

What do you think? Should seminaries and conferences offer tracks which send you to the farm?

Categories
Christian Living Church Leadership

5 Steps to Finding Family in Your Community

Divorce. Single parenthood. Extended singlehood. Living away from home. Broken relationships. Loneliness.

None of these are surprises. None of these are ideal. All of them are our reality and bond.

All of them are (by design) normative in the body of Christ. (James Dobson’s ideals are great. But they aren’t our reality.) We are a people tied together primarily by our brokenness. The church is the only institution on the planet where everyone is on the same playing field. We are all sinners. We all admit that left to our own devices we’d screw it up so we have a desperate need for a community that can help us screw it up less. That’s our bond as believers. We need each other because we are busted.

And yet– sadly, working in a church is one of the loneliest jobs in America.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

Without sounding like a 5-step program too much– here are 5 hard steps you can take to find community (and, ultimately contentment) while working on staff at any church.

Step One

Admit you aren’t perfect, can’t be perfect, and are lonely. No really. It starts with a healthy understanding of who you are and your lot in life. One of my frustrations with making pastors look like celebrities is that too many pastors start to believe that their poop doesn’t stink. (Conversely, to aspire to be a “great pastor” you have to pretend that you fell from heaven onto a community and you have no needs and you somehow embody a perfection that you really aren’t.)

You aren’t bulletproof. You need friends. You need accountability. You need people your own age in your life. Admit it.

Step two

Find people your own age. This one makes people’s head tilt 10 degrees to the side when I say it. “My youth group is like my family.” No, they aren’t. They are adolescents and you are an adult. Not only is it really unhealthy for your long-term health for you to consider the youth group your family because they graduate and go to college– it’s creepy for an adult to depend on a bunch of students to be his family. Creepy with a capital C.

Find people within 10 years of yourself. (On average) Honestly, common interests are cool but not really primary.

Note that I’m being careful to say that you don’t need to find this in your church. It’s great if it can happen there. But I’ve worked at smallish churches my whole life and I know that there might actually not be a group of adults in your age range. But every community has people your age. You might just have to do something outside of your church. Join a softball team or a golf league or something going on with people your own age and go there. (Just don’t go dancing, that leads to sex.)

Step three

It’s better when you aren’t in charge. I don’t know why… but for us the magic mojo of our finding family/community in San Diego has been that I’m not in charge. The joke has been, “we’re just the hosts.

I think the truth is that we, as pastors, like to be in charge a little too much. We want to set the agenda. We want to be the center of attention. We want to be the expert. We love it when everyone looks to us. In short, we have a validation problem. We hide behind the persona and expectation because we like it and feed off of it.

But you will never feel like part of a community if you are walking around thinking that you are the man on the white horse who has come to save the town from itself. All you are really doing is walking around with a false view of yourself and leaving yourself on a very lonely island. (And I know too many pastors readily fired who have made themselves entirely expendable at their church by living on a very long island.)

Step four

Develop inter-dependency. A false presentation of who we really are (see above) leads us to think we don’t really need to depend on our community of friends. (And elevating our need to develop dependencies on our work. Raise your hand if you’re a work-aholic.)

It’s OK to be a pastor and have needs that you have to depend on others for. It’s OK to admit that in the safety of your community. In fact, what you will discover is that once you level the playing field and admit that you need to depend on people– you’ll actually be a seen as a much stronger leader. This goes beyond just depending on people to do stuff for you. This means that you’ll need to join and participate in being part of a family as an equal. You know, be a servant to your friends and allow them to reciprocate. Just as you need to lean on other they need to be able to lean on you.

The question being answered by every single person over and over again about you (and behind your back) as a pastor is, “Is that person for real?” When you become part of a community of people (aka– a family) that really knows you, where you can just be Adam and not Pastor Adam, then those people will help answer that question in a way you’d like it answered. “Yeah, Adam is a legit guy. He and Kristen have their struggles, but they are just like anyone else.” That’s a whole lot better than, “All I really know about him is what he’s preached. He keeps to himself.

Step five

Relax, you’re with family. The goal is simple. You know you’ve arrived when you’re just a dude (or dudette) with a job. (And people aren’t saying, “I’m in the pastors group.“)  It will hit you when you get there.

And you won’t be healthy in a community until you find a group of people who look at you as such. My goal every time our community group (our real family in San Diego) gets together is to shut up and listen. Literally, that’s what I’m telling myself over and over again as I prepare for Monday night. “Shut up Adam, no one cares.” But these people really do care about Kristen and Adam– the family that hosts us on Monday nights. That’s how I know we’ve arrived.

This is more important than any job you are doing

Everything you do as a pastor depends on your health emotionally and spiritually. If you don’t have this, stop everything! Your ministry will not succeed until it flows out of a healthy life.

The simple reality is that you need a place to just be instead of being the pastor. And I think I’ve shocked people when we sit across the table for coffee and I tell them this has to become their #1 priority.

Yes, I’ve even told people they need to stop being a pastor if they can’t make this happen.

It’s that important.

Categories
hmm... thoughts

“Who are you anyway?”

Recently, God has been all up in my video about who I am. It’s crazy how easy I get my identity wrapped up in what other people think of me. I suppose being in a public position will do that to you.

One of the things that Bill Clinton was always accused of as President was that he based a lot of decisions on public opinion. As much as I disdained that style of leadership I recognize it as a legitimate way to handle yourself when all eyes are on you. “Just do what the majority wants and everything will be OK.”

But I don’t think that’s leadership.

Adam’s definition of what a leader is: A leader takes you where you don’t want to go on your own.

Not only do I want to be a leader that takes people where they don’t want to go on their own… I want to be the type of person who is lead by God in ways that I wouldn’t do on my own.

Confession #1: I’ve gotten wrapped up in being called a leader. I fall into the mistake of thinking people want to know what I think. Instead, a true leader defers to the ultimate source of wisdom, thinking, and counsel. The most appropriate thing I can do as a leader is point someone to ultimate truth found in the Bible. And I recognize that sometimes I do that and sometimes I depend on my own talent, experiences, and personal preferences. I used to be so good at saying, “This is what the Bible says: _______. And this is what I would do if I were in your position: ______________.” It seems that the more people want to recognize me as a “leader” the more I want to emphasize the latter instead of the former. The result is that I’m not always the best leader I can be. Ironic, eh?

Confession #2: I get wrapped up in being called a pastor. I’ve never been comfortable with that title. But as the year’s have gone by I’ve gotten much less diligent in blushing it off when people call me “Pastor Adam.” I don’t know if it’s that I’ve gotten comfortable with what God has done and others recognize that in me or if I just like being called a pastor? Now, it’s true. That is what/who I am. And I am not ashamed of the title. I am not ashamed of my position. And I am not ashamed of my church. It’s not about shame. I recognize that its a sign of respect for my position yet I’ve always been uncomfortable with being labeled any title. Since I entered full-time ministry I’ve always self-reflected and laughed at God’s slapping me… ME… with the title of pastor. Sure… since I was little… even before I was a Christian… I always knew I’d be in ministry. But I also know who I am. I am biblically qualified to be a pastor and yet I know who I am.

  • Above reproach? As far as I know
  • A one woman man? Heck yes!
  • Temperate? I do my very best to not lose it
  • Self-controlled? To the best of my knowledge
  • Respectable? You tell me
  • Hospitable? Check
  • Able to teach? Check
  • Not given to drunkenness? Been good on that one since early teens
  • Not violent but gentle? By the grace of God
  • Not quarrelsome? Not my thing
  • Not a lover of money? How could I be?
  • Manage his family well? Could always do better
  • Not a recent convert? Check
  • Good reputation? Let me know, OK?

Confession #3: I want to get more wrapped up in my identity as a daddy and husband than as “Pastor Adam.” Closing in on 6 years of working in churches full time and I know well why some denominations don’t let their pastors marry. The demands on the position are over-the-top hard to balance with a family. People think nothing of about calling me late at night or early in the morning to talk to me or ask me to do something. And I’m always tempted to work every day and most nights for youth group, small groups, meetings, and other stuff that lands on my schedule. I really don’t think this is biblical and I should be more disciplined about saying “Can we talk or do this tomorrow?” In the past 6 years we’ve had countless family meals interrupted, countless dates disrupted, dozens of movies put on pause, play time put on pause for other people so many times my kids hate it when I take a call, times with daddy missed for this and that. Spending quality time with other people’s kids while missing the same with my own. Honestly, I hardly ever noticed. But my wife and kids did. It’s tough being married with kids and being married with kids to a church. Only recently have I been doing some studying in the New Testament and I realized… “Wait a minute! These guys weren’t nearly as available as I am and God still thought they rocked as pastors and leaders.”

How about you? Who are you anyway?