Leader Motives

Last week, while returning from State College, I listened to “Holy Discontent,” a message by Bill Hybels presented at the Willow Creek Association Global Leadership Summit a few years ago (I need to listen to it a few more times!). Hybels wrote a book by the same title, which I reviewed in 2008.

I love listening to Bill Hybels. As I tweeted afterward, “Hearing @billhybels always makes me wanna charge hell w/ a water pistol!”

In the message, Hybels talks about how witnessing the beating of an Israelite by an Egyptian soldier wrecked Moses (it changed his life forever). When God went looking for someone he could use to deliver the Israelites, he looked for someone whose heart was wrecked like his own. Hybels talks about the importance of knowing the one thing that wrecks your heart.

As I reflected on the message, I wondered how many of us are motivated by wrong, or at least, lesser, things. Perhaps we’re leaders because we want to be great leaders, or we want to lead growing churches, etc. We may couch it in spiritual language (we want to build God’s kingdom, etc.), but I wonder how much of it is personal ambition.

But, what would it look like, if we were driven to be (God-called) leaders because something had so wrecked our hearts that we couldn’t do anything else?

Hybels asks, Do you know what wrecks your heart?

4 Ways We Limit God

At the beginning of my sermon this past Sunday, I said that we limit God (that is, we, the hands and feet of Jesus, limit God’s work in the world).

That’s a sobering reality.

I’m sure there are many ways we limit God’s work in the world. I talked about four ways in my introduction on Sunday …

  • Lack of surrender
  • Lack of faith
  • Lack of obedience
  • Lack of growth

You can probably add other ways we limit God to the list.

When we’re not living fully surrendered to God or exercising our faith, when we’re not doing what we know to do or following the Spirit’s promptings, and when we’re not growing as disciples of Jesus Christ, we are limiting God’s work in us and the people and world around us.

What would it look like if we fully surrendered our lives to God, became full of faith, obeyed God’s Word and Spirit, and continually grew deeper in Christ?

Praying for Pastors 2.0

Three years ago, I wrote Praying for Pastors, a post that includes a 7-day prayer guide for pastors (I encourage you to print it and use it to pray for your pastor, including those of you who are part of Centre Grove or West Side).

I’ve been thinking about the prayer guide for a few reasons: Joleen and I appreciate those who pray for us, prayer is a focus of my ordination project, and I’ve been reading a lot lately about the struggles pastors face.

In fact, I encourage you to read Taking a Break From the Lord’s Work appeared on the New York Times’ website on August 1, 2010. Here’s the first paragraph …

The findings have surfaced with ominous regularity over the last few years, and with little notice: Members of the clergy now suffer from obesity, hypertension and depression at rates higher than most Americans. In the last decade, their use of antidepressants has risen, while their life expectancy has fallen. Many would change jobs if they could.

The article goes on to describe the current situation and what some churches are doing to encourage care of clergy and clergy self-care.

This past week, Eugene Cho wrote Death by Ministry?, a sobering look at the challenges of ministry with a ton of scary statistics.

Last April, Thom Rainer, author of Simple Church, which we’ve been working our way through with our covenant groups (see 1.0 and 2.0), wrote a pointed piece for church members called, Straight Talk to Church Members about Their Pastors.

Rainer offers a list of things to do and not do for pastors. I want to include them here (words in brackets added for inclusiveness) …

From Rainer’s article …

What Not to Do

  1. Don’t criticize or make critical suggestions to the pastor unless you have spent much time in prayer over the matter. Pastors have to deal with criticisms every week. It drains them. Also, don’t criticize the pastor’s family.
  2. Don’t ask the pastor to make announcements right before the worship service. He [She] needs to be focused on his [her] sermon. Similarly, don’t say other things to him [her] that may distract him [her] before he [she] preaches.
  3. Don’t tell your pastor how he [she] compares to other pastors.
  4. Don’t expect the pastor to be at all the church events and functions you think he [she] should attend. Most of the other church members want him [her] at “their” events as well.
  5. Don’t expect the pastor to be the primary pastoral care giver to all members, their relatives, their distant relatives, and the rest of the community within a 30-mile radius.

What to Do

  1. Do pray for your pastor. Send him [her] an email to let him [her] know you are praying for him [her].
  2. Do encourage your pastor. He [She] needs it because he’s [she’s] human, and he [she] needs it to balance the criticisms he [she] hears.
  3. Do work with the leadership of the church to make certain the pastor is getting sufficient rest, time off, and family time. Most pastors are on call 24/7.
  4. Do encourage the rest of the church to take on pastoral care responsibility, particularly through small groups and Sunday school classes. The pastor should be the primary care giver for the most urgent and serious of needs. The rest of the church should do the bulk of the ministry.
  5. Do be faithful to the ministry of the church. Few things encourage a pastor as much as committed church members.

These articles offer some good practical advice as well as sobering statistics on the need to pray for pastors.

I often think of Terry Teykl’s book, which encourages people to pray for pastors, Preyed On or Prayed For. We’d much rather be prayed for than preyed on, so we’re asking for your help (again, check out this 7-day prayer guide)!

Thank you for your prayers!

Our Best Financial Practices

In the years Joleen and I have been married, we can highlight several financial practices that have proven valuable. While we can always be better stewards, and we definitely have room to grow, we believe the following practices are an important part of being good stewards of what God entrusts us with …

1. Honor God with tithes and offerings!
Tithing wasn’t a new practice for either of us when we married, but we did develop a new system for the way we’d do it. Even though we were seminary students and money was tight (money was still tight after graduation), we set a percentage (10%, at the time) for the tithe (which means “tenth”). Within a year or so, we set another percentage for offerings, that is, special offerings beyond our basic giving (2%, if I remember correctly). Our plan was to periodically increase these amounts over the course of our lives.

Everyone has to develop their own system. Currently, we calculate our tithes/offerings on gross income, monetary gifts, credit card cashback, interest, other income such as Virgin Pulse PulseCash (fitness/activity rewards through our conference health insurance), as well as the fair rental value of the parsonage in which we live. The bottom line is, determine what it means for you to honor God with your finances, and do it.

This, by far, has been our best stewardship practice. We believe it also ranks as one of the most important commitments we’ve made in our lives. It’s not so much something we “have to” do; rather, it’s something we “get to” do!

2. Track expenses!
During the first couple years of our marriage, I kept a handwritten copy of our monthly expenses by category. The idea was to know where our money was going, in case we needed to make adjustments. Now, I keep spreadsheet files on my computer, which also automatically calculates our tithe and offering amounts.

Interestingly, because we’ve tracked expenses, we know that our grocery expenses (which were very low when it was just the two of us) increased 32% in 2008 from 2007 (Ethan joined us in February 2008) and another 24% in 2009 (Sarah joined us in October 2009). In 2010, our first full year with two kids, we’re on track for another 14% increase from 2009. Stated another way, our grocery expenses in 2010 may be 87% higher than they were in 2007 (our last year without children). Yikes!

3. Develop a budget!
Most financial advisors would probably tell you to start here. But for us, our budget really flowed out of our expense tracking. That is, after a couple years, we pretty much knew how we spent money, so we developed a budget based on what we were already doing.

One area where the budget helps us is clothing expenses. Joleen and I have separate budgeted amounts for clothes. This helps because we know how much we can spend and don’t have to have a financial conversation every time one of us needs or wants something.

A funny thing happened a few years ago at a Macy’s department store. Joleen handed a pair of pants to the cashier who she thought she’d try to get a reaction out of me by telling us the total was $90. The cashier was surprised when I didn’t react. I told Joleen later that it doesn’t matter to me how much she spends. The faster she spends her budgeted amount, the less time I have to spend in the store!

Another area where we budget is with our “offerings,” the percentage of our income beyond our tithe. Our offering total is equally divided between us and we each support ministries and special offerings of our own choosing (we support some things together, as well).

Budgeting is a good idea. You’ve probably heard (or perhaps know by experience) that finances are one of the leading causes of conflict in marriages. Budgeting can minimize conflict by dealing with it ahead of time!

4. Build your savings!
This may be tough to do, depending on your current situation, but make every effort to set aside some money for savings, regularly. Even a little bit adds up over time.

5. Prepare for the future!
Preparing for the future may mean saving for future purchases, children’s college expenses, and/or retirement. Again, it may be hard to do, but start as early as possible, so it can add up, or multiply, over time.

6. Guard against impulsive decisions!
As I’ve thought about our spending habits, it struck me that we generally do not make impulsive purchases, especially major purchases. In fact, just the opposite, we sometimes take too long to make financial decisions. Do your research. Shop around. Sleep on it. Make the best God-honoring decision you can (which could also mean not buying the item at all). I once heard Bill Hybels teach a great statement to say about things you want, but don’t necessarily need …

I can admire you without having to acquire you!

Good advice!

7. Use credit cards wisely!
We have always used credit cards as a form of cash, not as a form of credit (i.e., we pay balances in full each month). We also have always used cards that earn cash back rewards. Using them any other way is just too dangerous!

These are some of our best practices. What are yours?

Ethanisms 3.0

Following up on previous posts (1.0 and 2.0), here are some of the latest Ethanisms we’ve recorded.

Several weeks ago while pulling into the church parking lot at Centre Grove, Ethan said, “That was bumpy. It made me wiggle.”

You have to watch the use of idioms, which don’t always make sense when taken literally, the way kids understand them. Once, while finishing up dinner, I said to Ethan, “Wrap it up!” He said, “What, wrap me up?”

Ethan has picked up on the current phrase, “How cool is that?” (sometimes inserting other words like “pretty” or something).

When Ethan needs help, he will often say, “A little help, please!”

While riding in the stroller a while back and walking toward the setting sun, Ethan said, “The sun is being mean to my eyes!”

And a couple days ago, Ethan closed the gate at the bottom of the stairs and said, “I’ll close this gate so no Sarahs can come up.”

Fun to listen to. It should be even more fun once we start adding Sarahisms!

Randy’s Ordination Project

One of the requirements in the the final year of our ordination process is to complete an ordination project.

The ordination project is the newest part of our conference’s ordination process, added (actually it replaced another requirement) earlier this year (as a result of the formation of the new Susquehanna Conference). In the future, ordination candidates will have a full two years to plan and execute projects, but due to the mid-year change, our class of candidates will only have a few months.

According to the written instructions, it’s pretty wide-open, although (according to the unwritten instructions) it’s expected to be something fairly innovative and in line with the the UMC’s latest emphasis, Rethink Church.

Basically, it needs to be something we’d be doing anyway and we’ll just need to add some layers — writing a spiritual reflection paper and preparing and giving a 15-minute multimedia presentation to the Board of Ordained Ministry (due January 2011 and presented in March).

After submitting my proposal and receiving approval, I’m posting it here. One of the things that’s important to me is that it be a project that naturally flows out of where we’ve been and is the next faithful step at Centre Grove.

In that light, here’s the background I wrote for this project …

I arrived at Centre Grove in July 2008 with the initial goals of (1) getting acquainted/acclimated and (2) building a shared vision. To build a shared vision, I began leading Council on a 2-year journey through Bishop Schnase’s Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations in January 2009 (I began 2010 with a sermon series on the practices). As we finish up our engagement of the Five Practices, the next step is to rethink prayer in the life of a disciple-making/transformational church!

Here’s the purpose of this project …

The best way to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world is to be a prayer-saturated church. A prayer-saturated church is mission-driven and outward-focused. My goal, as a transformational leader, is to cultivate a place where prayer informs, guides, and empowers mission and ministry!

By the way, I’ve wrestled with a number of terms — praying congregation, prayer-centered church, prayer-based church. Prayer-saturated, which comes from a book title (below), is my favorite. More than being a “praying church” (prayer can be self-focused) I want to communicate the idea of prayer as foundation for mission and ministry (therefore, prayer-based is currently second on my list).

With all of that in mind, here’s the plan for executing this project …

  1. Deepen my own personal prayer life through greater focus on spiritual disciplines (especially prayer, Scripture reading, journaling, and fasting).
  2. Recruit prayer partners to pray for me and the mission/ministry of the church.
  3. Develop a missional prayer guide based on the Lord’s Prayer.
  4. Equip leaders to lead groups/committees in missional prayer.
  5. Engage in missional prayer in Council meetings, particularly as we discuss Risk-Taking Mission and Service and create new ways to engage our community with the good news of Jesus Christ (fall 2010).
  6. Equip people for missional prayer through preaching (fall 2010 series on the Lord’s Prayer, “What Would Jesus Pray?”) and teaching (emphasize missional prayer in new First Steps class, which grew out of our Five Practices discussion; open to all, required for membership).
  7. Provide opportunities to model and/or engage in missional prayer (e.g., make prayer during worship more missional by praying intentionally for mission and ministry, in addition to personal needs) and prayer-walking/driving in our neighborhoods.

The project involves identifying the fruit/results of the project. While shaping the culture of a church is a long term effort, there are some short-term goals I’d like to accomplish in the next few months:

  • Equip people to pray missionally (i.e., to saturate the church’s ministry in prayer).
  • Be more intentional about praying missionally in worship gatherings, ministries, and meetings.
  • Experience greater fruit from our mission/ministry.
  • See more people get involved in the mission and ministry of the church (this one may take longer to see fruit, but it’s an important, if not long term, goal).

There are a number resources I’m planning to use, including resources by Bishop Rueben Job (Becoming a Praying Congregation), Terry Teykl, Jim Cymbala, Bill Hybels (Too Busy Not to Pray), and Cheryl Sacks (The Prayer-Saturated Church; see BridgeBuilders; as a parent, I’m interested in Sacks’ Prayer-Saturated Kids).

While my time is limited, I am hoping to connect with and learn from other prayer-saturated churches (churches that saturate their mission and ministry in prayer).

So, as we jump more deeply into this project at Centre Grove, I am excited about its impact on our mission and ministry. And I’m excited about the project itself — reflecting on what God will do during the next several months and presenting it to the Board of Ordained Ministry.

But with the excitement is a little trepidation. I could have chosen an easier project — something a bit more easily defined, something easier to measure, something I might have a little more control of. But, alas, I’ve never been one to take the easy way! 🙂

If you have any resources to recommend that would help this project or if you know any churches that saturate their mission and ministry in prayer, please leave a comment and let me know. And if this is something that interests you, watch for a report later.

Finally, I would appreciate your prayers for this effort (not just the “ordination project,” but more importantly, the initiative at Centre Grove!).