A Few Cautions Against Spiritually Keeping Up with the Joneses

A natural part of being human is to compare ourselves to others around us. Sometimes we pick out a bad part of their character or how they live and then make ourselves feel better because we are better in that area. Often it is the other way around. We look at others, and feel bad that we can’t attain that level. This could be how much money we have, toys, or status. It could also be about character.

This attitude creeps into our Christian life as well. We have a tendency to notice people who are really gifted in a certain area and we feel bad that we can’t compete. For me, there has been a tendency to compare myself to other pastors, thinking I don’t lead as well or preach as well or grow a church like they can. Our comparison could be in how God has used someone to heal people, or somehow act with the power of the Spirit in a way that we have not experienced ourselves.

Here are a few cautions of why comparing is not helpful.

1. We don’t know the whole story. 

We have heard enough sad stories of people who had great public ministry only to find out later that their private life was a mess. They were sinners just like us. Sure, they had a large platform and a wide audience, but their personal life or their home life suffered greatly. Some of these were terrible to work for. They were mean and bullied their staff.

We don’t see the things that hold others back from being their best. We focus in on one or two key areas that we can see, and then we assume that their whole life is way better than ours. They may have a better position in a church or organization and we envy that, but we don’t know the struggles and the depression they fight as they work to be their best. We see their great family and don’t know the pain they are dealing with in the privacy of their own home.

2. God has gifted us all differently

John Maxwell writes in “No Limits”, about a man who devoted his life to being the second chair. He had realized early on that he was not a good leader. He was great at being the second in command but needed someone above him to be the leader. We need that kind of personal discernment about what we are capable of, how God has gifted us, and what we have learned through experience.

It is valuable for us to learn who we are, how God has gifted us, and how we can best serve God. There are a number of assessment tools out there that may help, but some of it comes with trial and error. Try something, see if you are good at it, and if not, try something else.

I was never going to be a pastor, but the president of the Bible College I attended encouraged me to do a summer intern position. I remember the specific day I was preaching to the small crowd gathered on that warm summer evening in that stuffy church. I was preaching from Philippians – when I suddenly had this feeling, this thought – I like this. I think I could really enjoy doing this. Sometimes it is as we try new things that we discover where we fit.

3. Compare yourself to yourself.

If you want to see how you are really doing, compare yourself to what you were like last year, or five years ago. Have you grown and developed personally in that time? Are you growing in your relationship with Jesus? Are you living in the fullness of the Spirit living in you? Have you figured out some of what you are good at? And are you working to do that and to continue to improve in how well you do?

4. Compare yourself to Scripture.

There are many places in scripture where we are told how to live. We are told what kind of actions and behaviors glorify God. How are you doing with that? As you read the Bible, and I hope you read it regularly, daily, keep asking yourself how well you are doing in regard to what you are reading. Look at how to improve daily. Look at how to develop habits that help you develop into a person who consistently glorifies God with their life.

5. Ask God what He thinks of you.

I have enjoyed having more conversations with God – not just praying to Him, but also hearing from Him. I believe that you can ask God what He thinks of you and He will tell you. Ask God where there are areas you need to grow in and what you can do to grow. Instead of trying to become like someone you admire, become someone God admires. Become who God wants you to be without worrying about how big your audience or your fame is.

The envy of others will never make you a better you. You need to learn to be the best you that you can be. Don’t compare yourself to others. Everyone has their own path. Maybe God will give you a large public voice, and maybe it will be a quiet encouragement to individuals. Like the story of the talents in the Bible, you are only responsible for what you have been given. God has made you with your unique abilities to be you in your own unique way. Your responsibility is to just be the best that you can be, without comparing to others. And then serve Him well.

Keep looking up,

Andy Wiebe

The Tortoise Change Leader

Many of us know the children’s story “The Tortoise and the Hare.” The two are having a race, and everyone knows the hare will win. After all, a hare is much faster than a turtle. The hare decides to take it easy and even rest for a while, but the tortoise keeps going, slow and steady. Who wins? The tortoise. The point is that sometimes the race goes to the slow and steady one.

If you are called to be a leader of change, you will need to learn the skill of slow and steady change. It is a rare situation in which a change leader can come in and make large scale changes to an organization quickly. Those who do attempt so often get their attempt cut short as they are removed from their leadership role.

Church leaders who attempt change also need to learn this concept of slow and steady change. I have realized my own shortcomings in this in a few situations I have been in. I tend to get impatient and want to change too much at once.

A good change leader understands how to lead slowly and steadily toward a desired goal. Here are ten actions to take to be a tortoise-like Change Leader. They may need to be worked on in a slightly different order than listed, depending on your situation. As you work through these actions, they will help you to feel you have some movement while keeping you to a slow and steady pace.

1. Evaluate Early: When you take on the role of change leader, evaluate early in your role. Evaluate the organization and team you are responsible for. Evaluate how they are doing in accomplishing stated purposes and goals, and whether those are even the appropriate goals and purposes to have. Leaders who wait to evaluate until they have been in the role for a while tend to become blind to things that need to be changed. It is amazing how quickly we get comfortable with how things are and then lose our ability to see critically. You will see things more clearly if you evaluate early, even though the change may be a while in coming.

Ask people to speak into your evaluation. As a pastor, you may want to do a congregational assessment so you can learn what the present reality is. In one church I got into trouble because I assumed too much. I was used to doing things a certain way and didn’t even consider that the church may have done things differently than I was used to. I ended up making more changes early without even knowing it, because of course, I was new to the church and had no idea how they did things in the past. Assessment may help prevent you from attempting to implement unnecessary and potentially harmful changes.

2. Pray First: Pray about the changes you believe need to be made. If you are trying to change things in a church, you want to make sure you are on track with what God has planned and that can only happen if you are listening carefully. Invite your leadership and other prayer warriors to join you in praying for wisdom and clear direction from God.

3. Love Deeply: Make your first priority to love the people experiencing the changes you will implement. Do anything and everything you can to show them you want to get to know them. Show them you want to get to know their history. Ask questions about who they are and what they care about. Celebrate together when things go well.

Loving people deeply can contribute to change being accepted because they have accepted you.  Show them that you want to put them first, but you want the best for them and that is why you are making changes.

4. Share Goals Carefully: Work with the leadership to get a sense of where changes should be made and even some of what the changes would look like. Have a goal in mind but don’t share it with too many people at first. If people hear about all you want to change at the beginning, they may be overwhelmed and not give you opportunity to change anything. This isn’t about deceiving people but about having time to build on small wins before sharing some of the bigger changes to come.

5. Build a Team: Work especially closely with those who want changes and will champion them for you. Help them introduce the changes so they don’t just come from the leader but from a larger team. Make sure you are all on the same page, having worked through the process of evaluating and planning for change together.

6. Begin Small: Start with a few small changes. Ask your team to help you figure out a few small things that could be changed. Invite them into the process of thinking through how that change would look. You might begin some of the changes by suggesting: “Let’s try this for a short period of time.” People are more willing to accept change if they know there is an end to it, or that it is not set in stone.

7. Evaluate Changes Honestly: Once you have changed something, evaluate it honestly. Evaluate how it went and decide if it should stay, and stay as is, or stay with some changes. Don’t assume it went well just because it was your idea. Invite the appropriate people into the evaluation so you can honestly determine if the change is good or not.

8. Communicate Clearly: Be very clear with all those affected. Inform them of what is being changed and why, as well as how the change will help improve things. If it is a change that will be noticed by all those in your organization then invite the whole organization into the evaluation. If it is only a certain department, then invite that department into the process. Once the evaluation process is complete, clearly communicate if it will stay, why, and what adjustments may be made.

9. Build on Wins: After a few smaller wins you will be able to make slightly larger changes. You can slowly build momentum on the changes that go well. If there is a change that is not adapted, don’t see it as a failure but as a means of developing credibility with your team as well as with those hesitant to make changes. If they realize you want the best and are not just forcing changes through, they may be quicker to accept the next “trial change”.

10. Develop Patience and Perseverance: Don’t give up if a few changes are not accepted. Be patient and persevere for the long term. The longer you are part of a church, the more likely you will be able to increase the rate of change. This will be because people get to know you and trust you. It will also be because over time there will be more people who started attending the church after you came, so they chose the church aware of who you are and how you lead and the changes you are making.

It is not easy to be a change leader. You will face opposition. Hopefully, if you move at a slow steady pace, you will face less of it and begin to build on your wins. Hang in there for the long haul. And trust God to give you wisdom and guide you as you look to Him.

Keep looking up,

Andy Wiebe

The Transition Pastor’s Process

More and more churches are choosing to hire a Transition Pastor to help them as they say goodbye to one pastor and look to hire the next. If you are curious about how this transition process works, then you are at the right place. (This post builds on a previous post: Do We Need a Transition Pastor?)

The process begins with the transition pastor getting to know the congregation and the way the church functions. They complete various assessments and evaluations to get a clear picture of what is really going on in the church. This is a helpful step whether the church is healthy or unhealthy, and whether the pastor left on good terms or not. These assessments are done with the whole congregation as well as the leadership and various ministry leaders. Often there are interviews of staff and members of the congregation to get a clear understanding of how things are going and what areas may need to be addressed. It is important to take some time to look back to make sure there are no issues that have just been “swept under the rug”, but adequately faced and dealt with. Unforgiveness for past mistakes will make it difficult to move ahead in a meaningful way.

The assessments can help the pastor know what to preach on. He can address current issues facing the church from scripture.

The first issue to acknowledge and address is often grief. The assessments and interviews will determine the level of grief, as the church is often mourning the loss of the pastor and his family. Often the preacher will focus sermons on the “one another” passages in scripture. These can help build on or restore much needed unity in the church.

After taking some time to look at the past and then getting a clear picture of the present situation, the pastor can move the church to start looking ahead to establish a clear vision for the church. This may include understanding the demographics of the church as well as the community it serves. It will include having vision meetings with both the elders and the church as a whole. My belief is that the vision a church develops usually does not vary much from where they have been in the past. The value of this practice is not so much in coming up with something unique for the next part or the journey, but in being able to clearly articulate their vision together.

This process is bathed in prayer, and builds on the assessments and understanding of the community the church feels called to reach. The vision guides the church moving ahead. Often, when a church goes through the process of hiring a new pastor, they do not have a clear vision and so the newly hired pastor moves the church in the direction of his own vision. This is not a bad thing, except each new pastor may go in a different direction. If the church can clearly identify a vision before they hire their next pastor, then they can hire a pastor that fits that vision.

For pastors looking for a position in a church, it helps to know what the church’s vision is so he can tell if he will fit there or not. I have taken a position in a church only to learn two years later that my vision and theirs were very different, opposite even. It is helpful to both the church and the pastor to be clear on this before being hired. It will prevent some pain in the future.

The completed assessments and articulated vision help the church know exactly what kind of pastor they are looking for. The transition pastor can help guide them up to this point and help them through the search process as well. One valuable tool the transition pastor can help the church with is developing their Pastoral Profile. All the other assessments and processes the transition pastor leads the church through really culminate in the clarifying their vision and determining what kind of pastor is needed to help them accomplish that vision. Without all the work leading up to this point, a church may not have a clear idea who will best fit their church. Too often there is just a pendulum swing where one teaching pastor with no shepherding skills is replaced with a shepherd with no teaching skills. A Pastoral Profile is built on all the work produced during the transition process so the church knows how to truly evaluate a candidate against their real needs.

The Transition pastor concludes their time with that church before the next pastor is hired.

If a church is between pastors, hiring a transition pastor will be of great benefit. Those months, up to two years, of a transition pastor leading a church through a transition process will be extremely beneficial in planning well for the next step of the journey for the church.

Keep looking up,

Andy Wiebe

The Natural Hamartiologist

The hunter reaches back with quiet well-practiced motion to locate an arrow in his quiver. He selects one and brings it forward as his other hand raises his bow. He nocks his arrow on the bow and pulls back the full reach of his arm. His eyes look down the arrow and focus in on the deer in the open field ahead of him. As soon as he feels his aim is true, he pauses his breath, and lets the arrow fly. If the hunter is well practiced, and maybe a bit lucky, the arrow will pierce his prey and provide him with his supper.

There is a word used in the New Testament that describes an arrow missing its mark. The word “hamartano,” is translated as “sin.” So the word for “sin” comes from a word “regularly used in ancient times of an archer missing the target.” (Strong’s Concordance) We all regularly “miss the mark”. We sin. I heard one person recently say, “we regularly hurt the ones we love.” Often we miss the mark with the people we care about the most.

Hamartiology is the study of how we miss the mark. Romans 3:23 says, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

I am adapting the word to suit my own purposes here: the Natural Hamartiologist is the one who naturally misses the mark. The one who regularly and often misses the mark is a Natural Hamartiologist. I would suggest that this is really a description of all humans.

Our Creator God created us to have someone to have a relationship with. He created us with free will, hoping we would choose to love and serve and honor Him. The book of Genesis is the first book of the Bible. Only 3 chapters in you will find the first people – Adam and Eve – choosing to disobey and miss God’s mark for them. From then on all humans have this tendency to miss the mark – not all the time – but regularly. Some of us have no interest in pleasing God, so missing the mark in measuring up to His standards is not relevant. For the rest of us, those who have surrendered our lives to God, we desire to hit the mark more often than not.

God chose to send His Son Jesus Christ to die on the cross in our place, taking our death penalty that missing the mark requires of us. When Jesus rose from the dead, He was victorious over death, over the devil, and over sin. He never missed the mark when it came to obeying God. He gives us his Spirit to remind us when we do miss the mark. And every time the Spirit reminds us, we can go back to Jesus, ask him to forgive us, and he does. God sees us as the forgiven ones, because he sees us through Jesus who never missed the mark.

As Christians with our faith in Jesus and his death and resurrection for us, we can be forgiven. We can have a relationship with God, as He desired in the first place, as people who are not seen as Hamartiologists but as “dikaios” – Righteous Ones.

We fall short of God’s ideal very often, but we also have One who by his death and resurrection has paid for our sin and made us righteous before God.

Are you a practicing Hamartiologist or are you an aspiring Dikaios? What we think of ourselves as influences how we live our life. If we think we are ones who regularly miss the mark, then we are not surprised when we do. If we view ourselves as ones who are righteous, then we focus more on living out that righteousness. It may seem like a small thing, but I believe how you view yourself affects how you live. Paul regularly addressed his New Testament letters “to God’s holy people” in Ephesus, or Philippi. We are righteous ones pursuing The Righteous One. We want to pursue the God-given ideal and can rejoice that God has provided a way for us to become righteous when we miss the mark again.

Keep coming back to Jesus,

Andy Wiebe

5 Benefits of Evaluation

This past Christmas our church again served its annual Christmas Dinner, primarily for those who regularly access the local Food Bank. Some aspects of the dinner had to be adjusted in response to current Covid restrictions, and we were able to serve a drive-through take-home dinner. At the following leadership meeting we evaluated the event. It was a great experience as the Elders were not often doing evaluation, and they recognized the benefits. We recorded details that we wanted to make sure next year’s team would benefit from. We realized we needed to prepare more food. We discussed including some evangelism materials in their take-home bag. As we reflected on the event and went through our evaluation form, we identified what needed to improve and came up with some solutions.

Evaluation scares many of us. We are afraid that someone will say something bad about us or what we have worked on. No one likes hearing something negative about themselves, but what if we could realize the benefits and actually look forward to evaluation?

Throughout my experience both leading evaluations and being evaluated, I’ve identified five benefits of the practice of evaluation.

1. Evaluation helps you see what you did well.

Celebrate what went well, what worked, and what accomplished what it was supposed to accomplish. Evaluation should always find a way to point out what went well. Sometimes we need others to help us see the good others see. We are often our worst critics. We often measure ourselves against unreal expectations and can benefit from others showing us that we did well.

2. Evaluation helps you see what you did not do well.

Sometimes we need others to make us aware of what did not go as well as we thought. They may see areas of our life or our endeavors that need improving. So listen to the hard words. The perception of evaluators may be more accurate than our prideful self-evaluation. Evaluation can help remove “blinders” we have to what is truly going on.

Evaluation can point out, or even just remind us, of the areas that need work. And who doesn’t want to get better? You can only get better if you remove or improve that which was standing in the way.

3. Evaluation gives you a picture of true reality.

This is the “you are here” point of evaluation. I was on holidays recently in a city that I did not know. At one point, my wife and I were looking for the local museum because we wanted to see the Lego display they advertised. We were not far away so we decided to walk. We had the address, so we headed in the direction we thought we were supposed to go. After walking further than we thought was right, we checked the address again, and then tried our Google Maps. Again, we walked for awhile and realized we were not finding our way. It was only when we realized we had not started at the point we thought we were at and we were heading in the wrong direction that we finally found our way to the advertised Lego display.

Evaluation can help you figure out where you are at, and then in what direction to go. This can apply to us personally, as we realize we are not coming across as we thought we were. This can help as we evaluate a program we are running and realize we are not accomplishing our stated purpose. We need to know where we are at before we can figure out what direction to go to get to where we want.

4. Evaluation opens up new ideas.

After identifying where you are and where you want to go, evaluation can open up ideas of how to get there. Evaluation should not be just a process of highlighting everything that is wrong, but become a bridge to new ideas. Evaluators may have suggestions on how to change a negative to a positive, or a not so good aspect to a great one. Learn from the evaluation and then build on it with new and better ideas.

5. Evaluation helps you improve.

Evaluation moves you from where you are to where you want to go, at least it can if you are willing to learn from the experience. All of us want to be our best. Our best can only be achieved through ongoing evaluation that helps us know what needs improving. We can then focus on the areas that need work, while maintaining what already worked well.

As a pastor, I have benefited from evaluation of my sermons. I have realized that at times I was not connecting with the audience like I thought. My sermons improved as I included more stories and illustrations to get my points across clearly.

I have benefited from evaluation of programs and ministries we have run. We all make assumptions about how things work. Evaluation has shown me times where my assumptions kept me from seeing how areas of a program or ministry were experienced by those involved.

Evaluation is something many of us rarely do. We may criticize something, or complain about what went wrong. We may offer some critiques. But we rarely take time for evaluation. Think about ways to include this in your work and personal life, and make it important by adding it to your calendar and following through. You will be better for it.

Keep looking up

Andy