Clarify Your God-Given Dreams

I believe God has certain roles He wants each of us to fill in this world. If Jesus is our Lord, we have surrendered our life to Him. This means that all we do is out of a desire to honor him. God has certain things He wants each of us to do.

Many of us have read the directives from Jesus to all believers to: “love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind… and to love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22: 37 & 39). Every believer is also challenged: “Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you” (Matthew 28: 19-20). We might even look at verses like 1 Corinthians 10: 31, which tells us, “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”

These are some of the general duties of all who love Jesus and want to live for God.

There are also examples where God called individuals in the Bible to do certain things or go to certain places.

God told Abram, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12: 1-3).

God told Jeremiah the prophet,

I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb.
    Before you were born I set you apart
    and appointed you as my prophet to the nations.

On the other hand, there are times when God specifically told someone not to do a certain thing. God told Balaam in Numbers 22: 12, “Do not go with them. You are not to curse these people, for they have been blessed!” And God said to King David, “You must not build a Temple to honour my name, for you are a warrior and have shed much blood.” (1 Chronicles 28: 3).

I think that God is asking each of us to do certain things as well, beyond the general directives He has given to all believers. He gives us dreams for our lives, for our families, for our community and nation, for our church or our work.

What dreams has God given to you? Is it possible that God has a certain plan He has been revealing to you over time? It probably has to do with who you are as a person. God has given you certain gifts and talents and skills which you have learned over time. God has placed you in a certain community and among a specific group of people.

You live in a specific neighbourhood and country. Maybe you have recognized a need somewhere. An experience opened your eyes to the need in a personal way, and you just can’t shake the feeling that God wants you to do something about it. You love God and want to obey him, and you are trying to discern what God is actually asking you to do.

What dreams has God given to you? Is it possible that God has a certain plan He has been revealing to you over time? It probably has to do with who you are as a person. God has given you certain gifts and talents and skills which you have learned over time. God has placed you in a certain community and among a specific group of people. You live in a specific neighbourhood and country. Maybe you have recognized a need somewhere. An experience opened your eyes to the need in a personal way, and you just can’t shake the feeling that God wants you to do something about it. You love God and want to obey him, and you are trying to discern what God is actually asking you to do.

If you are struggling with what God is really wanting you to do, can I suggest a few options you might consider as you try to determine God’s dreams for you?

First, pray. As a Christian you are probably already praying. Don’t quit. Keep on asking God for clarity. Ask him to speak to you directly in some way. I believe that God still speaks, if we only listen. Pray as if you are in a real conversation with God. This means you present your requests and concerns, and expect him to reply. Listen to what He is saying. You might do well to invite a few close friends to pray with you.

Second, read scripture. One way God speaks is through His Word. Spend time reading and meditating on scripture. Use scripture in your prayers, and watch for what God may be saying directly to you through scripture.

Third, invite the wise counsel of trusted advisors. Proverbs 20:18: “Plans succeed through good counsel; don’t go to war without wise advice.” There is value in asking the advice of others. Hopefully you have some wise and godly older men or women you can call on.

Fourth, research. Find out all you can about what you believe God is calling you to. Are others doing similar things? See if you can pick their brain about it. Find out what the real needs are in the areas of concern you believe God is placing on your heart.

Fifth, trust God’s wisdom. God’s Word tells us in James 5:1, “If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you.” God says that if we ask for wisdom, we should just ask and we will get it. Begin to move ahead in the direction your God-given dreams are leading. It’s okay if you aren’t clear on exactly what it will look like, but begin to move and allow God to refine your direction as you trust in His wisdom. I have had to make small course corrections along the way as God continues to direct.

I believe that God puts certain dreams on each of our hearts. Some of us have them clearly articulated while others may not and are instead faithfully doing what they can to love God and love people.

Each of us can figure out exactly where we fit, where the person we are with our gifts and skills and even our unique idiosyncrasies, can serve the needs God has place on our hearts. I hope you can find a way to never feel like a square peg in a round hole again.

Keep looking up

Andy Wiebe

Rejuvenating the Crushed Spirit

The human spirit can endure a sick body,

    but who can bear a crushed spirit?

Proverbs 18:14

I came across this verse in my daily readings and immediately saw its application in today’s covid-ravaged world. Covid has hit many people, millions around the world. Many of us know someone who has been hospitalized, and even died. It’s amazing how positive some people can be in the middle of physical pain, even as they are facing death. Some people can keep their faith strong and their spirits up in the battle against physical odds. But the same people can be utterly crushed by loneliness, and despair, and frustration, and discouragement.

When we are sick, we know we have to fight the disease. Others join the battle with us – doctors and nurses who minister to us in the hospital, or friends and family that bring us food or look after our family while we are down and out with physical issues.

When we are sick in our spirit, it is harder to find the ones who will battle through it with us. We are less likely to open up about it to others. And when we do, people aren’t sure how to offer help. A friend told me a colleague had asked how he was doing. He answered, “Actually, I am having a pretty hard time right now.” The other answered, “Well we are all having a hard time right now”, and walked away. My friend had been hoping for some words of encouragement or at least an understanding that his spirit was crushed more than it had been in a long time.

Who is standing with you as you endure and try to “bear a crushed spirit”?

Some of us have a loving and caring spouse who can walk with us in our low times. We have agreed to be there for each other in “sickness and health… in good times and bad.” I have marveled at how many times God has arranged for me or my wife to be the one who supports the other. Often when my wife is feeling crushed, I am strong, and when I feel crushed in my spirit, she has been strong. But it is not always the case, and not everyone has a supportive spouse.

Some of us have the benefit of great friends. We have people in our lives that have gotten to know us and have stuck with us through the years. We can call on them and they will show up. A few years ago, we moved in with another couple for a few months. God arranged for us to support these friends even as they supported us. We were able to encourage and pray for each other. But not all of us have friends like that.

Some of us have great benefits or financial means to be able to go to a counsellor or therapist who can walk with us in our crushed spirits. Professionals like this can be a big help. They often have tools to use to encourage us, or even know how to refer us to others for further help. But not all of us have access to professional help.

I don’t know where you turn for help when yours spirit is crushed and you are barely hanging on. I hope you have someone.

I think one of the best places to find that supportive uplifting help we need is our church. Hopefully you have a church family that loves you and encourages you. If you don’t, I’m sure there is a church in your neighborhood that would love to welcome you in and support you and encourage you.

Church services are great because they point us to Christ. Jesus knows all about us. He lived the life of a human on our earth for 33 years. He understands our crushed spirit pain – and wants to help. When we sing songs of praise and worship we are encouraged. My wife and I were in a low point when we began attending a new church. It was amazing how God used the worship services and encouragement of the pastors and congregation to lift us up and to revive our spirit. If you do not have a church where you are being revived, then look for another one where you will be.

Some of you are pastors. You are the leaders of a church and you are not sure you are getting that reviving that I am talking about. You feel that no one is noticing how low you are, and no one seems to have time to care for you. That may be true. You know your situation. If this is you, then look for places where people specifically love to minister to pastors. My wife and I would highly recommend places like Focus on the Family’s Kerith Retreats. They exist specifically to encourage those in ministry.

If you are bearing a crushed spirit, Jesus wants to be your life. As you surrender your life to him, he truly wants to give you life, and life abundantly. Take time to talk with him. Pour out your heart. Maybe you want to write down your prayers and present them to God. Maybe you need to just cry out to him and ask him to move.

Do not give up. God wants to revive you. He wants to restore your crushed spirit to new life and new energy and joy. I pray that you will find that renewal in Him.

Keep looking up.

Andy Wiebe

http://www.elevatecoaching-consulting.com

Planning Ahead Raises Your Level of Excellence

My wife and I are planning for a short holiday. We are planning ahead. We are planning for the middle of January 2022, about three months from now. Planning ahead his beneficial for a few reasons: we can make sure we have time off, we can get a cheaper price, we can make sure that everything will be taken care of at home while we are away, we can set aside a little extra money in the next couple of months, we can try to prepare for any covid-related restrictions or obstacles, and we get to build excitement as we anticipate some time for just the two of us away from home and the daily routine. Planning ahead means that it will be a much better experience than if we had just decided to wait till a few days before and then quickly tried planning something.

I’m sure you do some planning for events in your home. You plan to be at your kids’ sports activities. You plan for Christmas. Your child is planning for graduation.

Why is it that we seem to avoid planning too far ahead in our churches?

Sermons and services are prepared each week from scratch to be ready for Sunday. Meetings come up and we rush to make sure there is an agenda and then run off to the meeting. We arrange for a visit with church members, but hardly give it a thought until we arrive at their door. What if we planned ahead?

Planning ahead is valuable, and can raise the level of excellence in your ministry. Planning ahead:

  1. Demonstrates that you care about what you are planning – you have put some thought into it rather than just hoping it will all work out.
  2. Means you have a clarified vision and purpose – and gives you time to develop and apply those.
  3. Results in well-prepared events. You have time to research each aspect and prepare any documents or tools you need to make the event a success.
  4. Allows others to be involved in the planning process. You can work as a team, and can collaborate with others who are part of that event.
  5. Avoids conflicts. You can make sure to avoid any conflicting appointments or events at that time.
  6. Helps you test your plans. You have time to work on issues you may face at the event.
  7. Gives you more time to spend in prayer ahead of time.

Let’s look at how planning ahead raises the level of excellence of the event.

Meetings

If you plan ahead, you can make sure all the people who should be at the meeting are notified in advance so they can either book that time for themselves or let you know of conflicts so you can reschedule. Planning ahead allows you to ensure you have an appropriate meeting room, necessary research and documents are prepared, and an agenda can be created with participant input. You can even arrange for someone to provide drinks and snacks. This also gives you time to ensure that you are comfortable with the technology you will be using (and test any videos, etc.) or that tech support will be available.

Visits:

Most pastors will at some point visit with members, either at their home or over coffee at a local restaurant. You could just show up and hope the conversation goes well, or you could plan ahead. If you want to raise the level of excellence for a visit, do a few things to prepare. You could make sure you know who you are meeting, especially if you do not know them well. I once was asked by a funeral home to call and provide pastoral help, to a family who had lost a loved one. I called and asked for who I thought I was to speak to, only to realize I had gotten things confused and I was asking for the deceased father! Make sure you know who you are meeting with.

Even if you know them well, you may want to think of past conversations.  Have they asked for prayer recently? It might be good to check up on that. You might want to remind yourself of who is in their family, and the names of their children.

As the pastor, you might even think through where they are at spiritually and how you could use this meeting to help disciple them. Are there some issues that you want to challenge them with? Is there a volunteer position you would like them to consider?

And be ready to have a fun and enjoyable time with them.

Worship Services

The Sunday morning worship service is the main event in a local church. While there are numerous moving parts to the service, it is amazing how many churches don’t plan very far in advance. Too often staff and volunteers rush around each week to be ready for Sunday. This means there is little opportunity to consider anything creative, and instead, to keep up each week, churches keep doing the same old service each week with just a couple of different songs and a new sermon.

You, pastor (or preaching team), would do well to plan ahead. I have tried to usually plan a year ahead. This allows me to think through the needs of my congregation, and plan around and for special days and seasons throughout the year. Taking this approach has allowed me to prepare a balanced preaching schedule, so I’m not surprised when Easter or Christmas arrive.

I don’t have every sermon prepared a year in advance, but I have a general idea of the scriptures and themes I will be addressing throughout the year, so that they are in my mind as I come across good quotes or creative ideas that fit a certain upcoming theme.

Planning the sermon text and themes ahead of time means I can better work with others, too. Sharing the upcoming sermon themes with a music pastor or worship planning team means they can also plan ahead. They might want to prepare special music around holidays or special events, or add creative elements such as preparing a skit or reading. This enables others involved in the services to prepare in a way that complements the sermon.

You raise the level of excellence when everyone involved knows what is going on and can make sure their part fits well. You raise the level of excellence when people can practice and prepare ahead of time for some more unique additions to your service. You raise the level of excellence by having the time to do better.

I want to encourage you to plan ahead. Not just for meetings and visits and services, but in all your responsibilities.

Do you want to raise your level of excellence? Planning ahead is a great place to start!

Keep looking up

Andy

www.elevatecoaching-consulting.com

Prayer Journaling Helps Me Hear God Better

There is a longing deep within me to be in continued close communication with God. Yet I am never satisfied, there always feels like there should be more. I want to be able to talk with God, not just to God. I want to be able to have the wisdom God offers the praying individual in the book of James. I want to know when He says yes or no to a decision I am about to make. Too often I have seesawed back and forth between yes and no even when facing decisions that were not life changing.

A few years ago, I was able to take in a “Hearing God” seminar out of Southland Church in Steinback, Manitoba. After a couple of months of weekly teaching, I was feeling much more clarity in my conversations with God.

The Hearing God seminar focuses on teaching you how to prayer journal, how to write out a conversation with God. This has helped me make decisions, both small and large, with more confidence. Since practicing prayer journaling almost daily for the last couple of years, Lynnette and I have made moves with confidence that seemed strange to others. We have heard God speaking as we moved to new places, bought a house again after years of renting, began a new ministry, and even in our daily decisions.

The seminar teaches you to write down your question for God. You can even put your initial down (A for Andy), then ask your question. Then on the next line put “G” for God, and write what you believe God is saying. Check the example below.

A: God, what do you want to say to me this morning?

G: …

As you listen, you can expect God to speak. Sometimes it takes a little time to get clarity, but I believe what the seminar teaches: God wants to speak to his children. This format helps me have more of a dialog with God. I actually wait and expect him to speak. I don’t just keep rattling on with my desires and concerns, but actually stop to hear God speak. The next step is to write what you think God is saying and evaluate it later. Don’t take actions unless you have confirmed that you heard correctly.

There is no scripture that says you need to journal when talking with God. Some people may even call it a fad. Maybe, but it is a fad that I am benefiting from. I hear God speak to me more than I ever have before. The act of writing helps me to slow down and listen.

Some people like to go back over their journals from time to time to see what God has been saying and how he has worked in your life. This is a great way to spark your thanksgiving as you celebrate how you have seen God answer and work. I don’t often go back over my journals, but love how it helps me focus in the moment.

In the church where I was taught the Hearing God seminar, prayer journaling was commonplace. It was part of their church culture. The pastor often referred to his own journaling experience in his sermons, and encouraged church member to write in their journals as they heard God speak during the service.

Church prayer times were connected to the prayer journal too. Those attending prayer meetings were encouraged to bring their journals and there were times of personal journaling on certain topics and then sharing what people believed God had said.

One concern with prayer journaling is that some people may speak something as from God or with his authority, but they may have not heard clearly. What you believe God is saying to you must always line up with scripture. If it does not, then either you are not hearing God, or you just need to wait on him for more clarity. Be cautious about saying, “God said…” when referring to your prayer journal. I would preface what I believed God had said with something like: “I believe God is saying…”, or “It seems God is saying…” This gives opportunity for others, maybe leadership, to speak into or confirm or clarify what you believe God is saying. If you believe God is saying something to the congregation as a whole, then others will usually confirm that they are hearing God say something similar. Be willing to test your words from God with scripture, or the input of other believers.

You want to hear God speak. God wants to speak to you. Take time to slow down when you pray and expect Him to speak. Why not try journaling?

This is a tool that could help deepen your prayer life, so why not try it? If it is a meaningless exercise for you after trying it for a while, then go back to what works better for you. If you miss a day or two, just pick back up where you left off the next time you come back to the journal.

Keep looking up

Andy Wiebe

www.elevatecoaching-consulting.com

My Must-Read Books

I recently came across a book titled, 501 Must-Read Books. I have no idea how the author came up with their 501 books, but it made me think: what books would I include on a “must-read” list?

I was given a chance to consider this after moving into a new house recently. As I was setting up my office I was trying to down-size my library. There were some books that would obviously not make the list, as I had an easy time throwing them in my “donate-to-the-thrift-store” box. Others made me pause and think about whether it was a book that I might want to glance through again. Some easily made it onto my shelves because they had made an impact on my life and ministry and I did not want to part with them.

Here are twenty-eight books that have impacted me, in no specific order:

The Christian Atheist: Believing in God but Living as If He Doesn’t Exist, Craig Groeschel (2010)

The Red Sea Rules: 10 God-Given Strategies for Difficult Times, Robert J. Morgan (2014)

Sacred Pathways, by Gary Thomas (1996)

Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire, by Jim Cymbala (1997)

A Hunger for God: Desiring God Through Fasting and Prayer, by John Piper (1997)

Visioneering: God’s blueprint for developing and maintaining personal vision, by Andy Stanley (1999)

Fusion: Turning First-Time Guests into Fully-Engaged Members of Your Church, by Nelson Searcy with Jennifer Dykes Henson (2007)

Leading On Empty, by Wayne Cordeiro (2009)

And: The Gathered and Scattered Church, by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay (2010)

The Empowerment Pivot: How God is Redefining Our View of Normal, by Douglas A. Balzer (2020)

Divine Appointments, by Bob Jacks and Matthew R. Jacks, with Pam Mellskog (2002)

Who Moved My Pulpit? by Thom S. Rainer (2016)

Deep & Wide: Creating Churches Unchurched People Love to Attend, by Andy Stanley (2012)

No Little Places: The Untapped Potential of the Small-Town Church, by Ron Klassen and John Koessler (1996)

How to Thrive as a Small-Church Pastor, by Steve R. Bierly (1988)

The Monday Morning Church: Out of the Sanctuary and Into the Streets, by Jerry Cook (2006)

Communicating for Change, by Andy Stanley and Lane Jones (2006)

The Treasure Principle: Discovering the Secret of Joyful Giving, by Randy Alcorn (2001)

The Other Six Days: Vocation, Work, and Ministry in Biblical Perspective, by R, Paul Stevens (1999)

With: Reimagining the Way You Relate to God, by Skye Jethani (2011)

Red Moon Rising: How 24-7 Prayer is Awakening a Generation, by Pete Greig and Dave Roberts (2003)

Prayer Coach: For All Who Want to Get Off the Bench and Onto the Praying Field, by James L. Nicodem (2008)

Leadership Coaching: The Disciplines, Skills, and Heart of a Christian Coach, by Tony Stoltzfus (2005)

Transforming Church in Rural America: Breaking all the Rurals, by Shannon O’Dell (2010)

Don’t Invite Them to Church: Moving From a Come and See to a Go and Be Church, by Karen Wilk (2010)

Boondock Church: Small town – Massive Potential, Tony Warriner (2019)

Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, Chip & Dan Heath (2010)

Every Man’s Battle, Stephen Arterburn, Fred Stoeker, and Mike Yorkey (2000)

Those are 28 of my favorites, to name a few. Some of these have impacted me recently, others impacted me years ago, and I still remember being challenged as I read them.

If you were to create your own “must-read” books list, which books would you include?

Let me know in the comments – I’m always interested in recommencations!

Keep looking up,

Andy

8 Ways to Make New People Feel Welcome

I attended a funeral for the father of a lady in our church. She was from a Portuguese background. Her Dad attended a Portuguese Catholic Church in the city. We arrived at the church, having never been there before. We didn’t understand the traditions, and definitely didn’t understand the language. Even though I had been attending church all my life, the things happening here were foreign to me. We had to work hard to try to know when to stand and sit.

I visited a friend’s home church with him. Just before the pastor entered the church, from the back, everyone stood up, and remained standing while he walked up to the front. I wouldn’t have known what to do except my friend whispered instructions to me.

In one church I served the tradition was to stand when singing. Whether the music leader directed the congregation to stand or not.

I attended one church where the children were sent to their classes part way through the service. The problem was, there was no announcement made, and no direction on the screens. The children, or their parents, just knew at what point they were to head to their classes.

If you have visited a church for a first time, you probably have some of your own stories of feeling out of place. We need to go out of our way to welcome new people and let them know what is happening. We assume that because we know what is happening, and what to do, everyone else does as well. That is just not true.

Here are some ways that we can do better at making new people feel welcome:

1. Informative Website. Make sure that people can learn about your church on your website. (Contact me for a website audit.) The most important information should be on the front home page: your address, service start time, and phone number and email address so they can contact the church with questions. The site should be easy to navigate so visitors can quickly find a description of how your service works and what to expect, as well as what kind of activities and programs your church offers and how they can join. Make sure your buttons or page headings are clearly marked so that visitors can easily find your statement of faith.

2. Parking Lot. Make sure people know where to park. At one church I served, the parking was behind the church building. To find the parking lot you had to drive up a driveway past the church, which was not clear to newcomers. You might even want to have reserved spaces for guests nearest to the front door.

3. Welcome Team. Every church, no matter its size, needs to have a welcome team. These may be formal greeters standing at the door, or simply people who have signed up to be on the watch for new people to greet. This team should be trained in how to say hi to people, how to direct them where to go, or even to assist them with their children. Smaller churches may not need to have formal greeters at the door, if the Welcome Team members are familiar enough with church members to notice when someone is new. In your endeavor to make new people as welcome as possible, you might even want to have one or two people helping people find a parking spot.

4. Handouts. More and more churches are doing away with the paper bulletin, especially as Covid restrictions have affected that practice. While this is a practical response to the restrictions, paper handouts are valuable in providing people with something they can look at while they wait for the service to start.

If your church has decided against paper handouts, then ensure the church website is visible, perhaps on announcement or welcome slides, so people can have access to a digital version of a bulletin while waiting. To support accessibility, make sure your wifi and password information are also advertised.

5.  Clear Directions from Leaders. Make sure the leaders up front on Sunday mornings know how to guide the service and inform the congregation on what is expected. If the music leader wants the congregation to stand, then invite them to do so; if the music leader would like them to remain seated, then ask them to remain seated. When taking up the offering, give clear directions on what is happening and what is expected of guests. Never assume that everyone understands the practices and traditions of your church. If children are dismissed during the service, be very clear about when and what is expected of them and their parents. You might want to give a “heads up” right at the beginning of the service so the parents are prepared ahead of time.

6. Clear Signage. There is a lot happening each Sunday morning and people need to know how to navigate around the building. Make sure you have signs directing people towards the washrooms, nursery, and children’s classrooms. If your children’s ministry uses a check-in system, make sure to post instructions where people will see them, or on the screen at the front of the auditorium. Do everything you can to communicate clearly.

7. Welcoming Atmosphere. Encourage and train your congregation to be on the lookout for new people, and make an effort to initiate a brief conversation with them. Train people on possible questions and conversation starters. Maybe you include brief training on this in the Membership Class or at the Annual Meeting, anywhere you are speaking to the church’s core group.

8. Avoid Insideritis. Jeff Henderson, author of – Know What You Are For: A Growth Strategy for Work, An even Better Strategy for Life – talks about “insideritis”, where the focus is on insiders rather than outsiders. This is evident in how a church assumes everyone knows “their” language, or knows who they are talking about when they refer to Susie or John or Peter. Remember that a key purpose of the church and its services is to invite and include those who are outsiders.

Working hard to welcome guests is of utmost importance if you want your church to grow. People who are not welcomed or who feel offended or left out at some point, will not want to return. Do everything in your power to make new people feel welcome.

Keep looking up,

Andy

*A helpful tool to assess your level of welcome is to do a Welcome Audit. (Contact me to complete one for your church)

Chasing Rabbits and Other Distractions

A pastor must know how to keep focused and avoid distractions. We probably all remember a teacher or professor who loved going down rabbit trails. If someone asked the right question, he would get distracted from the topic at hand and head in a completely different direction. Pastors face many distractions daily, and need to know how to keep focused on the right things.

Staying focused requires a sense of clarity in both one’s role and purpose. What is the vision of the church? What is your personal role in accomplishing that vision? What needs to be done this week or this day?

COMMON DISTRACTIONS

Unannounced Visitors  

Many pastors have methods of protecting their sermon preparation time. For example, they may have set “office hours” when they know they will be in the office and their door will be open to visitors. They may have a secretary who helps protect their schedule. The smaller the church, the freer people are to show up and wanting to talk with the pastor. Larger churches often have administrative staff or offices located in such a way that visitors can’t barge into the pastor’s office, but this is not always the case for small churches. The pastor may be the only staff, and the pastor’s office may be near the front door. There is no easy place to avoid the unannounced visitor. In these situations, the pastor could put a sign on his door asking not to be disturbed or choose to work in a coffee shop, or in their home office.

The Big Question             

When interacting with people, you may find yourself distracted by big questions. Some people love to ask their pastor specific doctrinal or theological questions. They may be wanting a real answer, or they may be hoping to just stump the pastor. You need to decide which questions need an in-depth study for you to respond, or which ones you need to redirect back to the questioner. You do not need to answer their every question.

We Should Do This          

Often a pastor will hear from one of their members, “We should have a program to do…” They suggest a program or ministry they heard another church was doing and think your church needs to do it too. You need to be clear on the vision and priorities of your church as you and your leadership have determined. When people bring suggestions, you can remind them of the priorities your church has set.

There are times, though, when someone comes with a question – or an idea and, may be speaking for God. They may actually suggest something that God would have you do. One man came to visit me at one church and asked if we had anything for single moms. His daughter and grandson had moved home and he thought they could really benefit from meeting other moms. This happened to be one conversation among a few others that made us realize God was asking us to do something. The end result was a Moms and Tots program which was very well received by both church and community moms.

Hobby Horses   

Years ago, I was in a church where one Adult Sunday School teacher would end up directing the attention of his class to “New Age” issues in every class, no matter what topic the class was supposedly studying. Recognize when members are getting hung up on hobby horses. Some pastors are like this, where everything comes back to one or two key issues. When they preach, they always have some reference to their pet topic. Beware of that, as it distracts from the message of the sermon.

Technology        

The covid pandemic, and its accompanying restrictions on meeting, has forced many churches to adopt technology they never tried before. I am amazed at how many churches were able to find a way to stream their church services to people at home! But not all technology is necessary or helpful. Sometimes we get caught up in the amazing new options out there, and spend time and money on things that make no difference to our ministry, and may even distract us from achieving our vision. Make sure that what you spend time and money on will enhance your ministry, not distract from it.

Know Your Focus

What distracts you? What trails do you tend to veer onto? It may be something mentioned here, or something else. No matter the distraction, the best way to prevent losing focus is to be clear on what you believe is important. Time spent on clarifying your vision, priorities, and strategies as a church is time well spent. This narrows your focus and keeps you from being distracted. It is a tool to help you determine if something is a distraction and how you should respond. Everything that comes up can be measured against this purpose. Know your focus and you will spend less time on distractions.

If you would like help clarifying your vision and priorities contact me.

Keep looking up!

Andy

Find Ways to Enjoy Every Season of Your Life

The yellow and red leaves on the trees are ushering in our Fall season. I love the different seasons we have in Canada. There is a clear winter, usually with lots of snow and cold weather. There is a clear summer where it can get quite warm. We had 40 degrees Celsius this summer in northern Alberta. In between we have Spring where nature around us is waking up from its long winter nap. And we have Fall, when we see the green of summer change to the red and yellow of fall, and then the white of winter. Each season has an official day of beginning and ending, but nature follows its own schedule.

Each season has certain activities associated with it. Winter means more time indoors, or outdoors if you are a fan of the cold and snow. Summer is the natural time for vacations as students get a break from school. Summer is sometimes also referred to as the “construction season”, as crews try to do road construction before the cold returns.

A TIME FOR EVERYTHING

Ecclesiastes 3 has a famous poem about seasons:

1There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:

    a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot,
    a time to kill and a time to heal,
    a time to tear down and a time to build,
    a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance,
    a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
    a time to search and a time to give up,
    a time to keep and a time to throw away,
    a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak,
    a time to love and a time to hate,
    a time for war and a time for peace.

Our lives have seasons, as does our work life. There are times when life slows down a little, and there are times when life is so full that we feel we can hardly think. I have been in a busy season as my wife and I recently bought a new house, I changed jobs, and began my first Transition Pastor position.

The house required a couple of inspections, a lot of work to get the mortgage and insurance completed, some additional maintenance on the house, and the actual move. We had to clean out our rental and get it ready for the final walk through. We cleaned out our storage unit and started going through boxes to see what we had and where to put it.

My job required all the usual paperwork of a new job and joining a denomination I had not been part of for almost five years. I had to have Elder meetings and develop a Transition Plan. I had to get used to how things were working at the church and how I would schedule my week with them as I am commuting 110 km to serve them.

SLOW SEASONS

Some of you may be in a season that allows you to slow down a bit. You have some time to catch up with your jobs around the house that you have been putting aside. Maybe you are able to catch up with your spouse and with friends. Enjoy this season, and do the things you have been neglecting in your busy seasons. Be purposeful during this time to pursue the relationships that matter. Even though you still read your Bible and spend time with God, and connect with your spouse and family, use this time to dig in. Take more concentrated time to just be with Jesus, reading and mulling over what the scriptures say. Take time to go on that needed vacation with your family, or that date with your spouse. Enjoy sleeping in a bit. Bears hibernate so they are ready for spring. Use this time to be ready for the busy season that is most likely coming.

BUSY SEASONS

Maybe you are in a busy season right now. You feel overwhelmed with all that is demanded of you. You recognize that your emotions are at a limit, you get angry much quicker than usual. And you wonder how you will be able to hold it all together.

If you are in a busy season, here are a few things you might want to consider, not necessarily in any order:

1. Is this a capacity issue, or are you really this busy? Some of us can handle more than others, which of course means that some of us can handle less than others. We need to know how to work at our capacity, and find ways to expand that capacity. Be diligent about scheduling and arranging your days and weeks in the way that will give you the best time and energy to tackle all you need to do.

2. Determine what is yours and what you can hand off to someone else. Sometimes we are carrying a load that we do not need to carry. It may be that you are doing things that someone else can do. At work, do you have someone else on staff, or a volunteer, who can take some of the things you are doing? Have you taken on something that isn’t even yours? Hand that off, or even just put it aside. If you are doing things that are not your responsibility at work, why? If you are carrying things in your personal life that are not yours, let them go. Some of us are such caring “people persons” that we carry loads that are not ours to worry about. Give good advice, pray for people, and encourage them to work on solving their own issues.

3. Pray. Did you ever notice how Jesus took time to pray in his busy days? In Mark 1: 35-39 we read:

35 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. 36 Simon and his companions went to look for him, 37 and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!”

38 Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” 39 So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.

Jesus had just had some very busy day of people and ministry. Very early the next day, the first thing he did was find a quiet place away from everyone, and pray. He needed to spend time with the Father before going about the work of ministry. And…the time of prayer helped him to renew his commitment to what God’s plan was. He didn’t work to appease the crowds, but continued on with what he knew his purpose was.

So, pray. Reset yourself to see and know God as the one who is truly in charge of your day, who will remind you what your main priorities of this season should be.

We all have seasons we go through in life. Some are very busy, but make sure you continue to remind yourself of what is truly your responsibility and what is not.

May God guide you and give you joy in all seasons of your life.

Keep looking up!

Andy

13 Ways to Make Prayer a Priority

I hope I don’t have to convince you that prayer needs to be a priority in your church. If I do, just take some time to skim through the gospels and notice how many times and circumstances you see Jesus praying. He gives thanks for a lunch, teaches the disciples the “Lord’s Prayer”, prays for future believers, and on and on. If the Son of God felt the need to talk with his Father that much, then we should follow that example. If that is not enough, then search “prayer” on your Bible app and you will see the many times Paul taught about it. We know prayer is important, so, I am going to focus on the many ways you can make prayer a priority in your church, teaching it and practicing it.

1. Pray During Church Services

I visited a church, where the sermon was teaching on prayer and I could not recall them praying even once in the service. Open in prayer, pray for missions, offer a Pastoral Prayer, give a prayer of thanksgiving for the offering, and close with a benediction prayer.

2. Offer Prayer Following the service

Many churches give opportunity for people to come to the front or to a side room for prayer following the service. They may have heard God speak and need to spend some time in prayer or have a leader pray with them.

3. Preservice Prayer

I like the idea of people praying before the service, sometimes with all who are involved in the service. I have a caution though; I think it is very valuable for the pastor to be greeting members and newcomers before the service, so do your preservice prayer early enough that you are done in time to be available to greet people as they arrive.

4. Prayer Night

It might be good to have an occasional or regular night of prayer. You could teach a little on prayer, and then focus the rest of the time on actually praying.

5. Prayer Trios

Ask people to commit to pray with two others weekly for a certain extended period of time. They could meet at any time that is good for them for fifteen minutes or more, praying for a specific concern.

6. Small Group Prayer

If your church has small groups, encourage them to regularly have a time of prayer for and with each other.

7. Elders/ Leadership Team Prayer

Make prayer a regular part of each meeting you have with the leadership team, elders, deacons or board. Pray about your agenda, pray for specific programs and people each time you meet. Or have a monthly meeting dedicated to praying for the church.

8. Plan a Prayer Emphasis

There have been a few times where I led our church in a three-week prayer emphasis with preaching on prayer on the Sundays around it. I prepared special prayer guides for each person prepared to give direction as they prayed.

9. Teach on Prayer

Teach your congregation how to pray. You could even preach through the Lord’s Prayer which Jesus used to teach his disciples to pray!

10. Prayer Chain

The Prayer Chain was a staple in some of the churches I pastored. One person received the prayer request and then passed it on down the line, phoning the next person who phoned the next person. Today we can just email or phone everyone at once, but find a way to quickly inform your congregation of prayer needs. Use this often and regularly.

11. Pray with People

When you visit with Christian friends, take time to pray together. When someone asks you to pray for them, do it. Do it right then with them, and then commit to praying for them.

12. Pray Prayers of Dedication and Commission

There are many occasions of celebration, dedication, and commission in a church and each of these events are great opportunities to pray and ask God’s blessing, direction, and presence be involved.

  • Every September I invited all who were going to serve in the church in the next year to stand, or even come to the front, and we prayed a prayer of commissioning for them for the role they were taking on for the next year.
  • When we had missionaries come speak at the church, who were heading overseas shortly, we would pray for them as well.
  • I love Child Dedications and enjoy praying a blessing on the child incorporating the meanings of the child’s name.
  • It’s important to pray for those who have just been baptized to protect them from Satan’s attacks, like the ones Jesus faced after his baptism.

13. Pray for Healing

This is sometimes a scary thing to do, but pray for those who are sick. They may be healed, and they may not be healed. But scripture makes it clear, Jesus healed people in the Bible. James teaches that prayer should be part of the church, specifically calling on the elders of the church to pray. Go to those who call you to pray for them, or have times where you specifically invite people to come forward for prayer for healing after a service. Sometimes we would connect this to a Communion Service.

There are many creative ways to pray, teach prayer, and lead in prayer.. Make prayer a priority by doing it.

Keep looking up!

Andy

Ask People to Give

Reaching people for Jesus costs money. Running a church with all its ministries costs money.

The truth is, your church needs money. Bills come in regularly for the electricity, gas, insurance, and on and on. Salaries must be paid. And vision needs to be funded.

Conversations about money make some people squirm. Especially if it is about their money.

As a pastor, you can talk about money in a number of different ways, some better than others. For example, you can hammer them with Old Testament scriptures and tell them they have to give, or you can tell them they need to pay for their ability to enjoy the services, like a user-fee.

MONEY AND DISCIPLESHIP

Or, instead, you can invite them to listen to God, and give as He directs. I like the idea of talking with the congregation about their discipleship and how being a follower of Jesus means allowing him access to all areas of my life, including my money. If we don’t give him control, money can become the root of all kinds of evil. Like anything else we don’t hand over to Jesus, it can become our god.

There are many great studies and programs that churches can use to help teach their congregation how to handle money as God would want them to, and help the congregation see how budgeting can help them handle their money with purpose. Tithing is an act of budgeting, even for those who do not have an actual budget. The effort of deliberately figuring out 10% is the beginning of budgeting.

You can teach them how even a little savings each month can add up over time for when they need to make a bigger purchase without borrowing. Borrowing money, using debt of any kind, always means the costs is actually higher. Saving ahead of time means you may not have to borrow, or not as much, when that big need comes along. My wife has been slowly putting money into a separate account over the last number of years. Her money, along with a tax refund I had, enabled us to recently have enough money for a down payment on a house. We can finally own a home again because of the savings she did!

MONEY AND VISION

I like tying any conversation about money, with vision. Clearly, to do this, you need to have a vision to point to. If you have a vision for your church that you and your leadership have prayerfully worked through, then you believe this is what God wants your church to pursue. Explain to your congregation how their funding of that vision will help make the vision a reality.

If your church’s vision includes winning youth to Christ, you might point to how their giving helps pay the Youth Pastor. If your church’s vision includes providing space for local 12-step programs, show how their giving helps provide a space for the community to meet. And just maybe, when those who attend the community programming are looking for a church, they will check out yours. You could even highlight a certain aspect of the church budget once a month and show how it enables your church’s vision to be accomplished.

And you could point to how sacrifice is an important part of the Christian life. Maybe your congregation needs a challenge, and maybe a bit of sacrifice, in order to accomplish great things for God in your community!

MONEY CONVERSATIONS

Be creative in how you talk to your congregation about money and their giving.

  • I have used some video clips that were very well done and got the point across without me needing to say anything.
  • Include a verse about money and giving with other onscreen announcements.
  • Say a few pertinent words just before the offering is taken.
  • Ask some people who are willing to share a short testimony about how God has guided them in their giving.
  • And of course, don’t hesitate to preach a sermon, or even a series, on finances.
  • And feel free to share about how you handle your own money.

It is important to highlight money and giving as part of discipling your congregation. You could schedule different creative methods to be used on a yearly calendar. Make talking about money a priority. Don’t be afraid to do it.

And keep looking up,

Andy

*If you are wondering how well your church is doing in light of its giving, and would like an outside voice, I can work through a Financial Audit with your church.