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Healthy Leadership

3 Reminders Every Church Leader Needs During the COVID-19 Crisis.

The reality has probably settled in by now… you’re not having church (in person) for a while. It took me about 10 days to work through the stages of grief. (Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance.) But now, we find ourselves at a place we’ve never been before, so what do we do?

Over the past 2 weeks, I’ve talked, texted with, and read articles from countless pastors all trying to figure out the same thing: what now? The truth is, no one knows for sure; how could they? With humility and the same uncertainty as everyone else, here are 3 things I’m reminding myself during the COVID-19 crisis.

1. Rest

Sometimes the hardest thing to do is nothing. As leaders, we feel a need to step up, lead the way, and rally the troops. Our mind is racing with potential ideas or acts of desperation. We’re wrestling feelings of fear. What if we have to shut down the church? What if no one returns once this is over? What if everyone just decides to join a megachurch online? (Am I the only one who’s thought that?) When those thoughts fill your mind, something instinctual kicks in, and you believe you have to do something… anything!

The truth is there’s not much you can do right now. Yes, check on your people. Yes, make sure the elderly have what they need. Yes, prepare to provide some type of spiritual leadership online this weekend if you feel you need to, but remind yourself, God is not expecting you to save the day. He doesn’t need you to. Go home. Spend time with your spouse, kids, and grandkids. Work on a puzzle, read a book, grill a burger, take a nap, have a tea party with your daughter, take another nap. You get the point. It’s harder than it should be, but find ways to rest. What a tragedy if when this season is over, you’re too tired to relaunch with fresh passion and energy.

2. Focus On What Is Absolutely Essential

Napoleon made a habit of not responding to his mail in a timely fashion. He instructed his secretary to wait three weeks before opening any correspondence. When he finally heard what was in a letter, Napoleon loved to note how many supposedly “important” issues had simply resolved themselves and no longer required a reply.

“A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.”

Herbert Simon

I thought of Napoleon’s story this week as I continued to scroll and scroll and scroll on my phone, reading more research, satire, and church updates. I convinced myself that it was important. I needed to stay up to date on what was happening, but in truth, it really just drained my optimism and peace.

Focus is essential when your options are limited, but you’re consuming what other churches are doing. I’m not saying don’t draw ideas from others, just be careful that in your attempt to collect ideas you don’t create a false sense of urgency that keeps you from resting. You don’t have to post a daily FB live devotion. You can, if you want to, but you don’t have to. You don’t have to buy thousands of dollars in new video equipment or create a new social network platform. Be careful that during this time, you don’t get caught in a rat race, thinking you have to keep up with other pastors and churches. You don’t. 

Do the minimum you can to get the message out. The gap between great (cool, novel, HD) and good enough is closer than you think, especially during a crisis. Ignore what the church with millions of dollars of equipment and large platforms is doing. The most effective ministry you can do during this time probably doesn’t involve a computer. Make phone calls, drop off groceries, go pray in the empty church building. When there are times you need to be online, be there, but it’s not as much as you think. Don’t focus on trying to reach the entire internet. Focus on your congregation and provide what they need. Then take a nap. Did I mention that already?

3. Be Honest With Your People

Let’s just address the elephant in the room: you’re worried about offerings, or lack thereof. You’ve probably already run the numbers a hundred times in your head. You’re worried. I get it. Here’s my advice; just be honest with your church. People aren’t stupid, they may not have thought about it yet, because they’re worried about their financial issues, but once you explain the situation, they will understand. Don’t over-spiritualize it, use guilt, or be passive-aggressive. Try something like this: 

“Hey church, it looks like we’re still going to be unable to meet together in person for a while. I wish I could say we have enough savings to defer offerings while we aren’t meeting in person. However, the reality is, we still need people to be obedient and generous during this time so we can stay open to meet the needs of the church and the church members who need help. I’ve provided the link below to give online. Thank you for your generosity.”

God owns all the money. Go back and read that last sentence again. Read it one more time.

We’re going to get through this. God is still building his church. Keep your head up and on straight. I’m praying for you. Thank you for everything you do to help build His church.

My child, don’t lose sight of common sense and discernment. Hang on to them, for they will refresh your soul.

Proverbs 3:21-22
Categories
Healthy Leadership

9 Things A Pastor Needs To Remember When Someone Leaves The Church

If it hasn’t happened yet it will; get ready. No matter how great of a pastor, leader, preacher, shepherd, or friend you are, someone you swore would never leave is going to leave your church.

I remember my first gut punch. Service had ended on a Sunday morning, and my worship pastor walked up to me and said, “Hey, can I meet with you in your office for a second?” I jokingly responded, “Sure, as long as you’re not meeting to tell me you’re leaving the church.” He gave me a nervous laugh, and I knew.

We went to the office, and he informed me he had taken a job at another church in town as a full-time worship pastor; he was volunteering for me at the time, so it was a no-brainer for him and his family. I smiled, encouraged him, told him how much we would miss him, and that I was happy for him, but when he walked out of the office, I sat in my chair feeling betrayed. ( I wrote a blog about how to tell your pastor you are leaving the church in this post.)

I had not been betrayed, he did nothing wrong. God was beautifully orchestrating his life, but in that moment, and for a few months afterward, I couldn’t catch my breath. That was my first experience with a friend and staff member choosing to leave, and I took it personally— too personally.

Over the years I’ve had lots of people leave for all kinds of different reasons. Most of the time it was God, sometimes it was because I mismanaged a situation, and a few times it was because they were certifiably crazy, but regardless of how it happened, I can honestly say I am a better pastor to the people I have because of the people who chose to leave.

Whenever a pastor friend of mine calls with a painful story of someone leaving, I tell them the same thing they tell me when the shoe is on the other foot. It’s the same thing all your friends told you in college after a bad breakup, “You’re better off without them.” When your college friends said it, they were usually suggesting you’re better off because your ex was a terrible person; that is not what I’m suggesting. I believe you’re better because every challenging and painful leadership moment makes you better in the long run.

It doesn’t make it easier at the moment, but I’ve been through enough “breakups” now to recognize God is always up to something. Sometimes, the big giver is leaving because God wants you to learn to trust in Him more than your benefactor. Sometimes, the close friend is leaving because God needs to elevate your leadership in the eyes of the people, and those who are too familiar can’t honor your leadership position. Sometimes, the talented leader is leaving because as long as they’re around, they will bottleneck the development of future leaders.

Whatever the reason, when families leave the church it can cause a pastor to get defensive or deflated. You wrestle with all kinds of emotions, and if you’re not careful you let your mind go to unhealthy places that hurt your leadership and influence.

It’s important we learn how to manage our emotions and focus on what is true so let me give you 9 things a pastor needs to remember when someone leaves the church.

1. The Person Leaving, Left Another Church to Attend Your Church

I know I know, you’re only reaching lost people and none of your growth is transfer growth, but the truth is most of the people sitting in your church attended another church before they attended your church. I can’t remember when exactly, but there was one night when a few families had left our church over the previous weeks, and I was throwing a pity party of epic proportions. My wife said to me, “I bet this is how Bro. Larry felt a few years ago when all those young families from his church started attending our church.” Bro. Larry had pastored his church for over 30 years and as his church aged several 2nd generation families left to attend my church. They showed up trained, talented, tithing, and ready to serve. It never crossed my mind that our gain was someone else’s loss. I assumed that God was sending us the help we needed to accomplish our mission, and he was, but I never stopped to feel empathy for Bro. Larry.

Flash forward several years later, and all of those families but one are still attending our church. The people who left aren’t bad people (more on that later), but it was one of my earliest lessons learned in pastoral leadership. Most people who come to you from someone else’s church eventually go to someone else’s church; you can’t have it both ways.

In the darkest parts of our hearts, we assume they’re better off at our church because the kid’s ministry is better, the preaching is better, or we’re more equipped to reach their friends. “If their former church did a better job, they wouldn’t have left,” we assume, which is why we come unraveled when someone leaves our church. We convinced ourselves new people showed up because our church was “better,” so when they leave, they must have found something better. It’s a sinkhole to emotional despair.

2. Losing A Member to Another Church Doesn’t Mean You’re Losing to Another Church

My oldest daughter Sadie loves soccer, but for the first few years of her soccer career she played in a league that didn’t keep score… at least officially. Everyone was still keeping score; the kids, parents, and coaches, knew who won and who lost. Over the years, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone say “ministry is not a competition.” No one argues, at least out loud, but I’ve wasted too much time keeping score. You probably have too.

Every week church leaders tabulate to see their ranking; and no matter how many times someone tries to tell you, you can’t let go of the belief that a church with more people is more successful. The more you compare yourself to other pastors and churches, the more you cripple your confidence in the calling God has placed on your life. The fear of losing haunts you. When two families leave your church to attend another church it feels like they’re winning 8-0, but they’re not; you’re keeping the wrong score.

I love the way John the Baptist responded when his disgruntled followers wanted him to confront Jesus because some disciples had left to follow Jesus, and now he was baptizing people which was what John the Baptist was known for. John the Baptist kept the right score…

John 3:26-30
“So John’s disciples came to him and said, “Rabbi, the man you met on the other side of the Jordan River, the one you identified as the Messiah, is also baptizing people. And everybody is going to him instead of coming to us. John replied… I am filled with joy at his success.”

I’m not suggesting you be thrilled when someone leaves for another church but I am suggesting you remind yourself every day that a bigger church isn’t winning and a smaller church isn’t losing.

[clickToTweet tweet=”PASTOR: Losing a member to another church doesn’t mean you’re losing to another church @jasonisaacs” quote=”PASTOR: Losing a member to another church doesn’t mean you’re losing to another church”]

3. They’re Not Leaving You, They’re Leaving Your Church.

I know it feels like someone leaving is an indictment against you, after all, you’re the pastor, you give your life to help them know Jesus, but when someone decides to leave your church to attend another church they’re not leaving you, they’re leaving the church.

When the worship pastor I mentioned earlier took the new job across town, I made it WAY too personal, I allowed it to affect other relationships within the church. I became paranoid, self-conscience and developed a mega-church complex. (I wrote more about my megachurch complex in this post.) Like a boxer who gets TKO’d for the first time or a batter who gets hit by a pitch, I lost my confidence, because I incorrectly assumed what most pastors assume— when someone leaves the church they are leaving me, but they’re not. They’re usually leaving for reasons way less important than the pastor or the preaching.

If you assume everyone who leaves is leaving because of you, then you will assume everyone who shows up, shows up because of you and neither of those things are true; you’re not that important. They have a reason, they may tell you, they probably won’t, but in the end, new people are going to come to your church, and current people are going to leave. It’s the life cycle of a church.

[clickToTweet tweet=”PASTOR: If you assume everyone who leaves is leaving because of you, then you will assume everyone who shows up, shows up because of you and neither of those things are true; you’re not that important. @jasonisaacs” quote=”PASTOR: If you assume everyone who leaves is leaving because of you, then you will assume everyone who shows up, shows up because of you and neither of those things are true; you’re not that important. “]

4. There Are Still A Lot of People Who Love You And Want You To Pastor Them

In the moments of sadness or anger, it’s easy to forget that more people are for you than are “against you.” Pastors are great at noticing who is not at church while they preach instead of who is. We’re great at obsessing over missing families on Sunday afternoon, but if we’re not careful, we overlook faithful people because they require little maintenance. The majority of the people in your church love you and want you to be their pastor. Go back and read that last sentence 2 or 3 times.

King David understood the frustration of feeling betrayed and abandoned, and he allowed those who left to mean more to him than those who remained. That’s when his executive pastor Joab walked into his office with words of wisdom…

2 Samuel 19:6-7
You seem to love those who hate you and hate those who love you. You have made it clear today that your commanders and troops mean nothing to you. It seems that if Absalom had lived and all of us had died, you would be pleased. Now go out there and congratulate your troops, for I swear by the Lord that if you don’t go out, not a single one of them will remain here tonight. Then you will be worse off than ever before.”

It’s easy to forget about who stayed and not be able to forget about who left, but it’s imperative as leaders that we celebrate the people who love our church more than we mourn the people who leave our church.

[clickToTweet tweet=”PASTOR: Celebrate the people who love your church more than you mourn the people who leave your church.@jasonisaacs” quote=”PASTOR: Celebrate the people who love your church more than you mourn the people who leave your church.”]

5. Jesus Knows What You’re Feeling

Don’t rush past this point. Jesus had a core leadership team of 12 and after 3 years of mentoring his clerk left for more money. Take comfort in the fact the most significant leader to ever live who performed miracles and literally laid down his life for his followers couldn’t keep 12 people together for 3 years. The next time you feel hurt or betrayed because someone leaves the church talk to God about it, he understands.

6. God Maybe Saving You A Lot Of Trouble Later

Someone leaving your church is not always a bad thing; everyone is not meant to make the journey with you. It doesn’t make them bad or wrong; it just means you need to do your best to pastor them during the season God entrusts them to you. Regardless of why they’re leaving, I’ve learned the hard way that I shouldn’t try to hold on to someone God is trying to move on. The only thing worse than someone leaving your church is someone staying at your church when they need to go.

In my experience, God might be doing you a favor transitioning someone out of your church or team for 2 reasons: #1 is because their responsibility grows beyond their capacity. It doesn’t mean they are a terrible person, or that they are not a talented person, it just means they can’t lead at the level necessary for where God is trying to take your church. If you work too hard to hold on to them when God begins to stir them to do something else you are setting yourself up for a painful, possibly controversial, decision down the road. If they leave on their terms, you can bless them and pastor them to their next season, if you convince them to stay because you don’t want to “lose” them, you will eventually have to fire or remove them, and that is WAY harder with more significant consequences.

The second reason God transitions people from your church is that they can’t view you as the growing spiritual leader that you are. Jesus said it himself, “A prophet is without honor in his hometown.” It’s difficult for people to view you differently than the first version they met; as you change their perception of you doesn’t. They’re too familiar, and it doesn’t make them bad people, but it does make it almost impossible for them to honor you in the way necessary for your church to grow. This exit can be the most painful because they are usually friends or people who started the journey with you, but if you try to hold on to them when God is moving them on you hold back your leadership potential. (I wrote about the painful realization that everyone doesn’t finish with you in this post.)

Some people come for seasons, some people come for reasons, and some people come for life. Don’t expect everyone to be with you for life; they won’t be, and you’re not a bad leader because you have turnover.

[clickToTweet tweet=”PASTOR: Don’t try to hold on to someone God is trying to move on. The only thing worse than someone leaving your church is someone staying at your church when they need to go.@jasonisaacs” quote=”PASTOR: Don’t try to hold on to someone God is trying to move on. The only thing worse than someone leaving your church is someone staying at your church when they need to go.”]

7. Every Person Who Leaves Isn’t A Bad Person

You know how it works. It’s like when you got dumped in middle school, and you tell all your friends “I didn’t really like them anyway!” When someone leaves your church, it’s so easy to revise history and retell every story with a tainted perspective. It’s easy to question their motives, to assume they had agenda, or to assume they’re a terrible person. I’m 99% sure none of those things are true. Yes, there are legitimately mean people who go out of their way to make the pastor’s life hell, but if that’s the kind of person we’re talking about, then it’s time to throw a party. Be careful that you don’t allow your hurt feelings to cause you to rewrite history or feel the need to create a narrative.

I love the way the disciples talked about Judas after his death. It would have been so easy for them to tell awful stories about him, after all, he betrayed Jesus, but that’s not what they did.

Acts 1:17
“Judas was one of us and shared in the ministry with us.”

When it comes to people who leave you, remember them for the good they did. When someone brings up their name, just do what the disciples did. “They were one of us.”

8. God May Want To Do A New Thing With New People

Sometimes, people leaving is God pruning. In 2009 researchers at the University of York made a discovery about the science behind pruning. It was always believed you cut the tallest leaves of a plant precisely because they were the tallest, but scientists at the University of York determined that the height or length of the tallest shoot was insignificant. More important than size was tenure. In other words, when pruning, you cut the tallest shoots because they have been there the longest, not because they’re the tallest. There comes the point in the life of a plant that if a shoot is alive for long enough, it dominates the resources of the plant and hinders the newer and lower shoots from flourishing.

I’m not advocating term limits for church membership, but we have all seen churches where a few people dominate all the resources. Sometimes, the people who have been around the longest can become the ceiling. Every situation is different, but there are times when shaking things up, creating a new seat on the pastor’s counsel, or putting young people on the praise team is a good thing, because it helps identify individuals who view themselves as more important than the vision of the church. Sometimes, you have to subtract before you can add.

Before God could take Israel into the promised land he had to remove a generation.

Numbers 32:13
“The LORD was angry with Israel and made them wander in the wilderness for forty years until the entire generation that sinned in the LORD’s sight had died.

They could not move forward until certain people were gone. I’m not suggesting that every person who leaves the church is someone God is angry with. I’m also not suggesting that every person who leaves the church was holding you back, but I am suggesting that sometimes God brings new people because he wants to do new things, and sometimes God transitions current people because in some way they hinder the new thing. For what it’s worth, Moses didn’t get to go into the promised land either. Sometimes God has to transition the leader too.

9. The Chances Are Good You Will Leave Your Church Too.

I know that right now you’re intoxicated with vision, you’re focused on the future, and any hinderance feels like rebellion or betrayal, but before you are too quick to demonize someone who chooses to leave, keep in mind that you will probably leave your church too. Statistically, very few pastors finish their pastoral career where they start. When you decide to go you will probably believe God is transitioning you, so keep that in mind when a member says the same thing to you. Is it God? Maybe. Who really knows at the moment, but if God transitions pastors, he transitions members too.

We’re all trying to follow God and build the church. People who leave aren’t as selfish, deceitful, manipulative, and disloyal as you assume, you know how I know; because you’re not either and there will come a day when you will leave too. Show grace. Talk it out with a counselor or spouse if you have to. Call a pastor friend. But don’t allow someone leaving the church to derail what God is trying to do in you and through you.

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Healthy Leadership

4 Lies Pastors Tell Themselves When They’re Discouraged

In the front of one of my prayer journals is written nine words, “This is the year I get my mojo back.” I had spent the previous two and a half years drifting; actually sinking would be a better way to describe it. After pastoring a church for five years, my soul was stuck in the equivalent of emotional quicksand, and by the time I realized, it felt as if I was too far gone to ever find my way back.

It’s difficult to pinpoint when exactly I lost my way. It could have been when my mom passed away, or maybe when some staff members left the church unexpectedly, but one thing was for sure; I wasn’t pastoring… I was pouting. My soul was toxic. I had lost the awe of the calling of God. I was bitter towards other pastors and churches experiencing what I deemed success, and I was pouting that God wasn’t doing what I expected Him to do. Worst of all, I didn’t share what I was going through with anyone else— It was all playing out in my mind.

Other people who know me best knew something wasn’t right, but I never talked about it. I kept preaching, leading staff meeting, posting positive updates on Facebook about how much I loved my church, but I had lost all confidence in myself, and in God’s calling on my life.

Have you ever been a pouting pastor? That was a dumb question, of course you have. Nobody throws better pity parties than church leaders.

I love the words in 1 Peter 5:2-6, and believe they are more fitting for church leaders today than ever before. I also love them because they were written by the Apostle Peter, who of all the disciples had the biggest drive to be important and successful. There’s something about the words coming from him that give it more validity in my opinion.

1 Peter 5:2-6
“Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly—not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God.”

It’s interesting the words used by the Apostle Peter when he said: “Don’t do it begrudgingly.” It’s easy for pastors to hold a grudge. Sometimes, it’s a grudge against another pastor or church in town; other times, it’s a grudge against church members who have left your church. Or sometimes, without realizing it, many pastors hold a grudge against their flock.

If you’ve ever publicly pastored but privately pouted you’ve probably convinced yourself of things that aren’t true. Let me give you 4 lies pastors believe when they are discouraged.

1. If I pastored in a bigger city I would have a bigger church

Have you ever been guilty of thinking, “If I pastored in a bigger city I would have a bigger church.” I have. The danger comes when you believe the size of your assignment is dictated by the size of your city. The more you long for what you don’t have you begin to develop a complex; you feel like a minor league ball club doing minor work. Don’t let those thoughts take root. There’s nothing minor about your calling or the vision God has given your church. If you don’t believe it’s a privilege to serve at your church, why would anyone else?

If you really want to get technical about it, the opportunity you have to influence a city increases the smaller the city. What if you began to think of yourself not just as the pastor of your church but as the pastor of your city. Every time you walk into a restaurant, school, or place of business don’t resent the size of it relish the opportunity to make your mark.

Prayer
“God forgive me for resenting the city you’ve called me to. If this is where you want me then this is where I want to be; I will choose to believe I am in the right place at the right time.

2. I would be a better pastor if I had more resources

Have you ever been guilty of thinking, “I would be a better pastor if I had more resources.” I have. I love the question the disciples ask in the story of the feeding of 5,000. Jesus asks them to feed the people, and they respond, “With What?” I’ve asked that question before; I bet you have to. Every leader loves the rush of fresh, God-given, vision. However, when you lack the resources to accomplish what you feel God is inspiring you to do, you wonder why God would be such a tease and only give you the burden without the bankroll.

When we lack the resources we feel we need, it causes us to have a limited point of view. The more time we spend looking at our limits, the more tempted we are just to survive. We embrace a survival mindset, hoping to pay all the bills and keep the doors open. But God didn’t call you to just keep the doors open; He called you to fill His house. As long as you believe you can’t be effective because you don’t have what you need you’re allowing your circumstances to define your calling. But if you’re willing to embrace a new mindset, and think beyond the status quo, you will often find your limits lead to your biggest opportunities.

Prayer
“God forgive me for resenting the resources you’ve entrusted to me. I will choose to believe that I have the resources you want me to have to accomplish what you want me to accomplish in this season.”

[clickToTweet tweet=”CHURCH LEADER: Don’t assume you can’t be effective because you don’t have what you need. Don’t allow your circumstances to define your calling. Your limits lead to your biggest opportunities.” quote=”CHURCH LEADER: Don’t assume you can’t be effective because you don’t have what you need. Don’t allow your circumstances to define your calling. Your limits lead to your biggest opportunities.”]

3. I’m not the problem, the congregation is the problem

Have you ever been guilty of thinking, “I would be a better pastor if I had a better congregation.” I have. Our resentment disguises itself cleverly behind passion, vision, and evangelism, but we hold a grudge against the flock we currently have because they aren’t what we want them to be. They don’t give like we wish they would give. They don’t serve like we wish they would serve. They’re not as large as we wish they were. They don’t bring enough friends to church with them. They don’t appreciate your family enough. They don’t worship enough, or “amen” your preaching enough.

If someone recorded all your conversations about your church for the next 30 days would it be obvious you love the people of your church? Would it be obvious you love your staff or your church deacons? I’m not judging you; I know ministry is hard and sometimes you vent to your spouse or another friend. I would hate to hear what some of my conversations sound like. But the Apostle Peter challenged us to love and serve the flock we have right now, not with a grudge, and not for what we can get out of it for ourselves, but because we are eager to serve God.

Prayer
“God forgive me for resenting the people you’ve entrusted me to lead. I will choose to believe you have given me the right people to accomplish what you want me to accomplish for right now.”

[clickToTweet tweet=”CHURCH LEADER: If someone recorded all your conversations about your church for the next 30 days would it be obvious you love the people of your church?” quote=”CHURCH LEADER: If someone recorded all your conversations about your church for the next 30 days would it be obvious you love the people of your church?”]

4. Growing churches must be compromising

Have you ever been guilty of thinking “A church that big must be doing something shady!” I have. I’ve never heard a pastor say out loud, “If Chris Hodges or Steven Furtick open another successful campus, I’m going to scream. Why them and not me?” but we think it.

Social Media is an incredible tool for ministry, but when you feel like you’re on the losing side, social media can be salt in a wound. As you scroll through your feed, you notice everything you feel you’re not. “Oh look, that church opened another campus. That church baptized another 300 people, and I haven’t baptized three people this year. That church broke another attendance record, and my church is in decline.” It feels like everyone else is winning and you’re the only one losing.

When resentment sets in we begin to believe that God has given us a “lesser” assignment than another pastor in another city. We think a lesser assignment means God thinks less of us, but He doesn’t.

Prayer
“God forgive me for resenting other pastors and churches who are experiencing the results I desire. Help me to celebrate their success, believe the best in their motives, and give the benefit of the doubt when I disagree.”

I wrote a book called “Toxic Soul: A Pastor’s Guide To Leading Without Losing Heart” to help church leaders stay encouraged and recover their passion for ministry. If you find yourself in a season of frustration or discouragement, or maybe you know someone who is, I believe this book will help.

Categories
Healthy Leadership

10 Reasons Why Pastors Lose Their Passion For Ministry

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Pastoring is hard. You might assume the people chosen by God to carry out his message and purpose would be the most emotionally stable and healthy, but that has never been the case. All you have to do is search the Bible to find countless men and women being used by God in amazing ways, while at the same time struggling to keep a pure heart and emotional strength.

  • Noah saved civilization but drank himself to sleep after the flood.
  • Jacob battled insecurity and fear, expecting to reap the deceit he had sown in his family.
  • Moses had a temper and allowed past failure to traumatize him so badly that when God personally invited him to be the deliverer of Egypt, he repeatedly turned Him down.
  • Elijah and David battled extreme mood swings and depression.
  • Many of the disciples were egomaniacs with a thirst for power, and the Apostle Paul was tormented by something so significant he refused to talk about it.

Fortunately, for you and me, having all of our issues resolved has never been a prerequisite for being called by God.

I was not prepared for the emotional challenge of church leadership. Experienced pastors tried to warn me, some even tried to talk me out of vocational ministry, but like a young, naïve, idealistic leader, I plowed ahead oblivious to the emotional roller coaster that I was about to take a ride on.

With 13+ years’ experience behind me, I have learned that while all discouragement and frustration is not avoidable, many of the things that have caused me the most heartache come from an unhealthy place in me. My biggest problems are not my church people, facility, or location, without a doubt, my biggest problem is me. I have been amazed over the years at how many things seem to get better around me when my soul is healthy.

[clickToTweet tweet=”‘My biggest problems are not my church people, facility, or location, without a doubt, my biggest problem is me’ @jasonisaacs” quote=”My biggest problems are not my church people, facility, or location, without a doubt, my biggest problem is me”]

That being said, let me give you 10 challenges that discourage church leaders and slowly steal our passion for ministry.

1. Lack of Progress

I’ve been told ministry is a marathon, not a sprint, but honestly most of the time it feels like running on a treadmill. I call it “Dream Expectancy Disorder.” It’s when you expect God to move as fast as you want to, but you constantly feel you’re hitting a wall because progress is moving slower than your ambition. Feeling frustrated because of a lack of progress really tests our trust and belief in God’s timing and sovereignty. Why would he not want more people saved? Why would he not want bigger churches? I am learning that God wants to grow me more than he wants to grow my church and He usually teaches his best lessons by making me wait.

[clickToTweet tweet=”‘God wants to grow me more than he wants to grow my church and He usually teaches his best lessons by making me wait.’ @jasonisaacs” quote=” ‘God wants to grow me more than he wants to grow my church and He usually teaches his best lessons by making me wait.’ “]

2. No Numerical Growth

Similar to “lack of progress” a lack of numerical growth or even worse numerical decline is incredibly discouraging for a church leader. We know numbers don’t tell the whole story. We know not all big churches are healthy and not all small churches are unhealthy, but metrics are not always easy to measure in church leadership so “more people” makes us feel like we’re doing something that’s working. The challenge for church leaders is when we put too much of our self-worth in the numbers. The other day a friend of mine said, “If you don’t have any wins in your life outside the church, you will draw too much of your self-worth from church numbers” Wow! Drop the mic! We never want to stop growing, we want to fulfill the great commission, but we can’t let numbers or the lack of numbers determine whether we’re successful or not.

[clickToTweet tweet=”‘If you don’t have any wins in your life outside the church, you will draw too much of your self-worth from church numbers’ @jasonisaacs” quote=”If you don’t have any wins in your life outside the church, you will draw too much of your self-worth from church numbers”]

3. Comparison

Social media can be an incredible tool for ministry— sharing resources and ideas, drawing inspirations from other pastors and preachers— but when you are discouraged by your lack of results scrolling though social media can be salt in a wound. I’ve never heard a pastor say out loud, “I don’t want to resent Chris Hodges and Steven Furtick, but if they open another successful campus, I’m going to scream. Why them and not me?” But we all think it. We wonder why one church is baptizing more people in one day than we have in total attendance. We know God gives everyone a different calling and responsibility, but why couldn’t we have gotten one a little more glamorous? The devil loves to use comparison to get you to take your eyes off the difference you ARE making. If you look around your ministry context with fresh eyes, you will find some “wins.” And don’t forget, God will not judge you on someone else’s calling, he will only ask if you’ve been faithful to what he has called YOU to do.

4. No Help

Have you ever felt as if you’re carrying the burden of ministry all by yourself? If you have, you’re not alone. The day Elijah retreated to the cave ready to die, he told God, “There is no one left who is committed like me.” Moses’ father in law had to warn him he was headed for burnout if he didn’t set up teams of thousands, hundreds, and tens, to manage the people. Even Jesus returned from praying in the garden to find his disciples asleep, and He wanted to know, “Could you not keep watch with me for even an hour?” When your soul is most toxic, and your energy is depleted, it’s natural to look around and wonder why no one works and cares as much as you. You show up early and leave late, you make sacrifices, because you love it, but it feels like everyone else could take it or leave it. You probably have some leaders in need of training around you, but even if you don’t, Jesus told us what to do, “Pray that the Lord will send harvest workers.” It’s hard when you feel like you have to do it all yourself, but start today by training just one person. They may not be the right person forever, but they can be the right person for right now.

5. Secret Sin

As a spiritual leader, you’ve heard more spouses confess adultery than you care to admit. You’ve handed tissues to wives being abused physically, emotionally, or verbally. Your heart has broken for children trying to comprehend the divorce of their parents. You’ve paid out of your pocket to help an addict try to get back on his feet.  The common denominator in every story is sin costs more and does more damage than anyone ever imagines. Unfortunately, pastors aren’t exempt from the downfalls I’ve listed. You would assume after witnessing the compound interest and collateral damage of bad decisions over the years we would avoid sin and temptation at all costs, but it doesn’t work that way. For pastors and leaders, though, the stakes are higher. When we fall, more lives are affected than we realize. If you find yourself on the brink of giving into temptation, and on the verge of making a terrible decision, let me give you the advice you would give me: confess! When we’re kids, we can’t keep a secret; when we’re adults, we live with them. The question is not “Will my secret get out?” The question is “Do I want to let the right people know right now?” Confession is scary because of unknown consequences, but the consequences will always be worse the longer you wait. Don’t be afraid of the consequences of confession; be afraid of learning how to successfully live a double life. Getting away with it is worse than getting found out.

[clickToTweet tweet=”‘Don’t be afraid of the consequences of confession; be afraid of learning how to successfully live a double life. Getting away with it is worse than getting found out.’ @jasonisaacs” quote=”‘Don’t be afraid of the consequences of confession; be afraid of learning how to successfully live a double life. Getting away with it is worse than getting found out.'”]

6. Criticism

You can always spot a gun-shy leader who has been beaten down by criticism. They don’t mean to be reluctant or defensive, but who can blame them? Year after year they’ve been misquoted, taken out of context, had their motives questioned, and never been given the benefit of the doubt. What started out as a passion for building the kingdom of God has mutated into a life trying to avoid land mines, and they have the scars to display their missteps. Even Jesus was criticized. Take a moment and process that statement. God’s son, who we know was blameless, was criticized and lied about. If God’s son wasn’t exempt from criticism, what hope do we have? Whoever created the saying, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” obviously wasn’t in leadership, because words hurt, especially from those you give your life to serve. When faced with criticism you can hide, hate or take the high road, but only the high road will help you move on in a healthy way. It’s up to you.

[clickToTweet tweet=”‘When faced with criticism you can hide, hate or take the high road, but only the high road will help you move on in a healthy way.’ @jasonisaacs” quote=”When faced with criticism you can hide, hate or take the high road, but only the high road will help you move on in a healthy way.”]

7. Lack of Resources

In all my years working with and being around pastors, I’ve never met anyone who said, “We have more money than we need right now.” You probably haven’t either. Interestingly though, statements about the lack of resources come from the mouths of leaders of all different church sizes. The need for more resources is not just a small church problem. If your vision is bigger than your budget, be encouraged, you’re in good company. The Bible is filled with men and women called by God to accomplish something beyond their means. Moses didn’t have the speaking skills required to approach Pharaoh. Gideon didn’t have enough soldiers after God dwindled his army from 10,000 to 300, and the disciples didn’t have enough food to feed 5,000 people. If your vision doesn’t exceed your resources and ability, you’re not dreaming big enough. The next time you pray, instead of asking God for more resources, try this instead, “God I believe I have exactly what you want me to have for this season. Help me to steward it well.”

8. Work/Life Balance

So much of pastoring is about serving and caring for the needs of others. When someone has a need, they expect a pastor to be available whether it’s convenient to your schedule or not. How many horror stories have you heard from preacher’s kids about having to leave family vacation early to return home so dad could perform a funeral for the sister’s next door neighbor’s boss of the lady that played the piano at church? Maybe you have a few horror stories of your own. How many wives secretly long for their husband to be home instead of missing dinner to counsel another person in need? Pastor, you are not called to be on call. You’re called “to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.” I’m not suggesting everything that needs to be done can be accomplished between 8:00 am and 5:00 pm, but I am suggesting you can work smarter at church and work harder to be with your family. Remember that every time you say “yes” to someone in your church after hours, you are saying “no” to your family. Will there be exceptions, of course, but don’t let the exception become the rule.

[clickToTweet tweet=”‘Remember that every time you say “yes” to someone in your church after hours, you are saying “no” to your family.’ @jeremyisaacs” quote=”‘Remember that every time you say “yes” to someone in your church after hours, you are saying “no” to your family.'”]

9. People Leaving The Church

When you’ve been burned by a leader or a giver leaving the church, it’s easy to become cynical and expect the worst from people instead of the best. Fear of people leaving can keep you from leading courageously; you start apologizing for vision, avoiding hard conversations, and trying to appease everyone instead of lead them. No doubt, every time someone leaves it hurts, especially if they leave in an unhealthy way, but people leaving is not always a bad thing. Don’t be afraid of fewer people, be afraid of becoming a manager instead of a leader. On my computer is an Excel spreadsheet titled, “Doomsday.” I created the file a few years ago when a significant change was happening in our church. A few key leaders had decided to leave, and I was convinced every person who tithed was going to leave with them. I created a doomsday scenario where I figured out how much money it would take to operate the church without most of the givers. How many staff would need to be let go? Would I be able to make a salary or would I need to find a part-time job? Could we keep the lights on? I laugh about it now, because in spite of my fears, God had the right people stay and the right people leave. As a matter of fact, eight of our top ten tithers have left since then, and our annual giving is higher now than ever before. I keep that file on my computer to remind me that most of the time my fears are more fake than fact, but they are still powerful.

[clickToTweet tweet=”‘Pastor, a fear of people leaving your church will keep you from leading courageously; you start apologizing for vision, avoiding hard conversations, and trying to appease everyone instead lead them.’ @jasonisaacs” quote=”Pastor, a fear of people leaving your church will keep you from leading courageously; you start apologizing for vision, avoiding hard conversations, and trying to appease everyone instead lead them.”]

10. Loneliness

Leaders are often loners. I don’t know why, but it seems we naturally keep our distance from people when we don’t have to be in “public mode.” It’s not a new thing; Moses seemed to be a loner— all that time on the mountain and in the tent. Elijah was definitely a loner. David spent a lot of time alone writing and practicing music. John the Baptist had disciples, but you usually found him in the desert. Jesus got away by himself often. John spent the end of his life alone on an island. It’s an interesting phenomenon really that someone can preach to hundreds or even thousands but not have a handful of people to call “friend.” A lack of friendships in ministry is incredibly dangerous; it can lead to burnout, a lack of accountability, and irrational perspectives, just to name a few. I read one time that Warren Buffet makes 90% of his money off only 10 investments. I think the same is true of friendship. You don’t have to have a lot of friends, but you better have a few that really matter. Your health, ministry, and soul depend on it.

When the leader gets better everybody gets better. My brother and I wrote a book called “Toxic Soul: A Pastor’s Guide To Leading Without Losing Heart” that talks about these 10 reasons at greater length plus provides solutions to help church leaders stay encouraged and recover their passion for ministry. If you find yourself in a season of frustration or discouragement, or maybe you know someone who is, I believe this book will help.

Categories
Healthy Leadership

Why Our Small Church Gave A Megachurch $1000

Every pastor, no matter the size of your church, has experienced the frustration of someone leaving your church for something “bigger and better.”

During those seasons it’s easy to feel like your leadership and church is “less than,” and the rich are getting richer. Before you know it bitterness and jealousy creep into your heart and we start making excuses why other churches are growing and ours is not. We assume that anyone who is experiencing results—results that we secretly wish we were experiencing— has cut a corner or sold their soul; We take cheap shots at the megachurch in our town; or make broad generalizations about growing churches and their lack of biblical commitment. When we’re angry, bitter, jealous, and discouraged, we’ll say or do anything to make ourselves feel better about our insecurity. I wrote about the lies we tell ourselves when we’re discouraged in this blog.

One of the ten largest churches in the country resides in my city. A few years ago they planted a new campus less than 5 minutes from our church, and since that time has hired a few full-time staff members from our congregation. As you might expect I’ve spent a lot of time battling feelings of insecurity and anger. When my victim mentality had reached its peak I knew I had to do something; things had to change. I could feel myself turning into a bitter leader, and what started as harmless jokes, became hurtful comments, and a rally cry for anyone around me who harbored bitter feelings of their own against the megachurch.

That’s the thing about victims; they know where to find each other. If you decide to play the victim, you will have no shortage of friends who will agree with you; it takes courageous leadership to believe the best in each other and give the benefit of the doubt to other leaders and churches. As is the case with a toxic soul, my bitterness had spread to some of my staff, so I knew I had to lead all of us as a group to a place of healing. What we did next wasn’t easy, but it was what we had to do if we wanted freedom from the bondage of comparison and a victim mentality.

[clickToTweet tweet=”It takes courageous leadership to give the benefit of the doubt to other leaders and churches” quote=”It takes courageous leadership to give the benefit of the doubt to other leaders and churches”]

Since I drove by the new campus almost every day, I was able to keep up with the progress of the project, and as the construction was starting to come to a close I told the staff we were going to take a field trip for staff meeting. I didn’t say where we were going because the truth is if I had they probably wouldn’t have gone.

We loaded up together in a van, drove down to the new campus, and I instructed them to spend the next 15 minutes praying in the building. When we finished praying, they assumed we were done, but I had one more thing I knew we had to do if we wanted freedom from comparison and a losing mindset. I pulled a check out of my back pocket for $1000. I told the staff we were making a donation to the megachurch’s building campaign, along with this letter:

To (megachurch),
We are the pastoral staff at Hope City Church on the south side of Louisville. We are located less than 5 minutes from the new campus you are currently building. While it’s common for churches to feel a sense of competition with each other for natural reasons, and we have even wrestled with some of those emotions since we heard you were building a campus near us, we want you to know that we believe in you and what you are doing to reach this city for Jesus.

Thank you for all the sacrifices you have made in the last 30 years leading the way in preaching the gospel to this city. Churches don’t grow by accident, and we celebrate the way God is continuing to bless you. We’re praying for you as you launch your campus, and believing Psalms 20:4-5 for your church:

May he grant your heart’s desires and make all your plans succeed. May we shout for joy when we hear of your victory and raise a victory banner in the name of our God. May the LORD answer all your prayers.
(Psalms 20:4-5 NLT)

Whatever day you officially launch please know our church will corporately have prayer together to celebrate this incredible endeavor.

We’ve included $1000 for your building fund. It’s easy to assume large churches don’t need money, but we understand every little bit helps. This is a sacrificial gift for our church to let you know how much we believe in what you are doing, and to remind us that we are a family serving this city together. If your treasure is where your heart is, then we want our heart to be for your success.

Good luck. We are praying and believing with you.

I knew our $1000 check wouldn’t make a dent in their budget, but I wasn’t giving the money because they needed it, I was giving the money because we needed it. If it’s true your heart is where your treasure is, I wanted my heart to cheer for and celebrate my brothers and sisters down the road. It’s hard to be angry at a church you’re praying for and giving to. We each signed the letter and drove to the post office together to drop it off.

[clickToTweet tweet=”It’s hard to be angry at a church you’re praying for and giving to” quote=”It’s hard to be angry at a church you’re praying for and giving to”]

I don’t tell you that story to brag about my team or myself. The truth is, it’s something we had to do for healing. I refuse to spend the next 30 years of my life repeating the same tragic story over and over again about how that church took our people or hired our staff.

I’ve met those pastors, the person who talks about what could have been if life, or a church member, or another church hadn’t done them wrong. Are there still times when I catch myself thinking of a witty insult? Yes. When I do, it’s just a reminder there is still poison in my soul I need to lay at the cross. I want to choose optimism over cynicism. I want to choose hope over hurt. The truth is the megachurch didn’t take anybody, people chose to go— they’re better for it and we are too. God is growing them just like he is growing me through every transition.

[clickToTweet tweet=”Even when your church is shrinking your leadership can be growing if you choose to learn” quote=”Even when your church is shrinking your leadership can be growing if you choose to learn”]

Nobody wants to follow a bitter leader. When you hear the voices providing you with excuses and blame to assign to someone else, don’t play the victim. Even when your church is shrinking your leadership can be growing if you will choose to lean in to the hard times with a soft heart. It’s not easy but it’s worth it.

I wrote a book called about the challenges that cause pastors to become discouraged. “Toxic Soul: A Pastor’s Guide To Leading Without Losing Heart,” is honest book for frustrated pastors. You can purchase the book or audiobook on Amazon.