Encourage Second-Career Ministry

I meet monthly with other Transition Pastors. We are all serving churches by helping them say goodbye to a previous pastor, move to good health, and welcome a new pastor. In the last couple of months our conversations have included discussions about how few resumes are submitted for Lead Pastor positions at the churches we are serving. There seems to be a shortage of pastors. There are not enough pastors stepping into the role to balance those exiting that role.

Last week I said we need to encourage our young people to consider being a pastor or a missionary. When I was a young boy, I dreamed of becoming a doctor. There is nothing wrong with being a doctor. I have been really appreciative of a doctor’s work for me and my family many times. I dreamed of becoming a doctor. Our children are dreaming of what they want to be when they grow up. We need to encourage our children to dream of becoming pastors and servants of God in foreign contexts. We need to find good examples of pastors and missionaries to highlight for them.

Young people are not the only ones who could consider these roles. There is another group of individuals who are choosing to become a pastor later in life. I know of some who were farmers most of their life, or truckers, or welders, and then shifted to becoming a pastor.

Pastors, we have a special opportunity to encourage those in our congregation that seem to display the necessary qualities and character to choose pastoral ministry as a second career – or third, or whatever. People of God, ask God to show you if He wants to redirect you to become a pastor or missionary.

There are many godly people in our churches who work at their job all week and then serve at the church evenings and weekends. Some of them are clearly not just volunteering because someone is needed to fill a certain slot. Some of them are gifted teachers or mentors of others. They have a heart for God which is evident in the way they serve in the church and in how they operate their business or work at their jobs. Some of them have already graduated from Bible College or Seminary but never pursued the role of a pastor.

There is a group of faithful and godly people who graduated from Bible College, and maybe even Seminary, who have often not been the first choice in pastoral roles, but that has changed a lot in the last few years. Women are being hired more often and for roles beyond just Children’s Pastor or Women’s Pastor. While I, personally, may be hesitant to encourage a woman to pursue a Lead Pastor position, many churches now are open to hiring a woman for any pastoral role in the church. They are hiring based on the gifts of the person rather than on gender. So, let’s encourage our women to consider pastoral ministry as well, listening to God as to where and how he wants them to serve. Pastors, some women have not felt a freedom to pursue pastoral ministry and God is asking you to encourage them in that direction.

Some people have never considered being a pastor because they were not “good enough.” They had a certain image in their mind of what a pastor was like, and they didn’t match up to their ideal. If you look around, you will find that pastors come in all shapes and sizes. They come in all varieties of personalities. Some are great for serving in small churches and others are perfect for large churches. You don’t have to match up to an ideal. You just need to say “yes” if God is asking you to step into that role.

Some faithful servants of God felt God hadn’t specifically called them to the role of pastor, so they headed in a different direction. Just a question: “Did God call you to head in that direction?” If God did not specifically call you to be a pastor, did you use those same criteria to decide to be a welder or business owner? Many people chose to pursue a career because they thought they would do well in it, make good money, and they would feel fulfilled in that role. But maybe God never called you to that role. You just chose it. Maybe its time to specifically ask God if you should step into a role as pastor. Take time to prayerfully consider this. Talk to your pastor and other godly people around you and ask them what they think. And if all signs point to becoming a pastor, then pursue it with your whole heart!

Some have decided not to be a pastor because it is too hard of a job. Sometimes the pay will be way lower than what you are making right now. People will not appreciate what you are doing, and complain. Your family may suffer. You will be frustrated at how slow things move in the church compared to the business you were running. It seems like too much of a sacrifice to say yes to this role. Not to be too direct, but remember the sacrifice Jesus made for your salvation? He gave His all, His life, faced ridicule from people, and even separation from His Father as He died on the cross. If God is asking you to become a pastor, then He will give you the strength to persevere. I can give witness to that. I have had some very difficult moments in a few different churches, but God has been faithful through it all!

There are some of you who considered being a pastor, and maybe even served as a pastor for a short while, but you were frustrated with the institution of the church. You feel that it is not accomplishing what it should. You are probably right. But you may be just the right person to step into this role. If God is showing you where the church is lacking, can you trust that God will show you some answers in how to improve that? Sometimes it is a person new to the role that will see what is wrong and how to change it for the better. Your voice in the conversation may be exactly what is needed to raise the level of discussion on improving the church.

“Second Career Pastors” can have incredible ministries accomplishing great things for God and the expansion of His kingdom! Will you accept the challenge and become a pastor?

Keep looking up,

Andy Wiebe

Develop an Active Imagination

I remember watching two preschoolers, a brother and sister, playing next to me as I was watching a floor hockey game in college. I was fascinated at their imagination. They had no toys, no digital devices, just the bleachers and their imagination. They played for a long time, together imagining all that was happening around them.

Too many of us have lost our ability to imagine. We are so caught up in the moment and in what is right in front of us that we no longer know how to use our imagination. There could be a number of reasons for that. Maybe our imagination was stifled as a child when a parent or teacher told us to quit daydreaming. Daydreaming is the fertile ground imagination grows in! Some of us had an active imagination until someone made fun of our ideas. For whatever reason, we have stopped imagining.

Have you ever wondered why some people are so good at coming up with ideas? It’s because they have an active imagination. They are not afraid to dream up something new. And they are not afraid to try out their ideas. We don’t know how many ideas these people imagined that went nowhere, before they found the ones that were great.

We can develop an active imagination. For instance, give yourself freedom to daydream. Find some time when you have no other distractions and no requirements of yourself and just imagine things. Find your time you can claim as your own. Dream. Make up a story in your mind. It could be that you have a problem at work. Whatever your work is, whether dealing with people or machines, if there is a problem, your imagination can help you solve it. So start imagining all kinds of possibilities.

In your daydreaming, don’t put up fences. Don’t start evaluating and discarding an idea too quickly. Sometimes good ideas need time to work their way to a solution. Some of us are quick to say: “That won’t work.” We even think that way in our daydreaming and discard ideas before they are fully developed. Remove that fence. Remove any fence that puts limitations on your imagining. Don’t discard an idea too soon because it takes more money than you have, or more volunteers than your organization has, or whatever it is that tempts you to short-circuit your dreaming.

Imagination is enhanced by other ideas. Sometimes as you read and watch and listen, ideas come to you through other people or situations around you.  A while back my one of my daughters gave me a book on trees. I would not have chosen to read a book like that, but it was amazing to read the insights of someone who had spent years working with trees and understanding them. There were points in the book that got me thinking about how to work with small groups and how people interact.

Another book I recently read outside of my normal reading selections was Atomic Habits, by James Clear. While the book was about habits, it sparked all kinds of ideas that made me want to apply the teaching to the process of discipleship. As we read and learn from others, we add fertilizer to the fertile ground of our imagination.

Someone once said that we should “beg, borrow, and steal” as we look for good ideas. There have been many times that my good ideas came out of ideas that others had worked on. I was able to build on and adapt those ideas to programs I was working on or ministries I was running.

I have been part of churches that planned wonderful Easter Celebrations complete with a breakfast, fun and games, a worship service, and an Easter Egg hunt. One of the aspects of the morning that went over really well was to bring in a professional photographer to take family photos. Many people dress up for Easter so it was a great time to offer people a free family photo. I don’t know where I got the idea, but I know it came from someone else’s ideas and I was able to adapt it to my setting.

One author who wrote about planning creative worship services suggested always having some children’s toys at hand. The idea was, if you have fun thing near you, in your environment and in your hand, your creativity will be enhanced. So, surround yourself with weird and wonderful objects, collect fun sayings and give yourself an environment that will be conducive to good imagining.

I don’t know if you have found this to be true, but some people think they imagine and think creatively better by being in a certain place, or a certain chair, or taking time to daydream at a certain time of day. If you want to be intentional about improving your creativity and your imagination, this might be an idea to try. Find a comfortable spot and see if the creativity ideas start flowing. It may take a bit of trial and error to find the right spot, but sometimes the habit of that certain spot or certain time can help unlock creative ideas.

Then, at a certain point, you have to look to putting your ideas into action. When you have ideas, start writing them down. Writing down ideas requires you to express the idea in a concrete way. The imagination has to become reality at some point. Writing it down helps you put that idea together.

If the written idea still seems like a good one, try it out. Share it with someone. You might want to make sure you share it with someone you trust, or someone who won’t shut you down too quickly. If you can verbalize it in a way that makes sense to the person listening, you are heading in the direction of your ideas becoming reality.

When you think you are ready, try out your idea. See if it solves the problem you were working on. If it does, great! Your imagination helped you. If it does not work, then keep looking for another idea.

Continue to cultivate an active imagination. Just think of how many good ideas you will have if you allow yourself to stop and daydream!

Keep looking up,

Andy Wiebe

Book Reviews: Andy’s 2022 Reading Experience

I will be sharing a brief review of every book I read this year. Hope you enjoy and hope it encourages you to keep reading.


THE CHURCH REVITALIZATION CHECKLISTby Sam Rainer

The Church Revitalization Checklist: A Hopeful and Practical Guide for Leading Your Congregation to a Brighter Tomorrow is for pastors and church leaders who recognize that their church needs some renewing. Sam writes from the position of pastor and coach to pastors who are attempting to lead their churches to a brighter tomorrow.

The first line of the book is: “If God can save any person, he can save any church.” I have a sad memory of the first church I served as a youth pastor. That church no longer exists. Fortunately the building is still being used for ministry, but that church died. Many other churches are on the verge of dying unless someone can bring them new life. Sam has written a very practical book that helps walk you through the revitalization process. Pastors, I believe many of you could benefit greatly from having this resource at your side as you lead your church to a better future.

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

Know Your Yes, Know Your No

You do not have to say “yes” to every opportunity to serve that comes your way.

When we are young, and just starting out in life, the opportunities are endless. You could go in almost any direction for a career. As you get older and get more experience you learn that there are certain things that you are good at and certain things you are not as good at. There are certain roles you take on that you love and others where you struggle to survive the day.

As we get older, and hopefully a little more experienced, we begin to narrow down the real and meaningful opportunities for us. We are not quick to jump in to jobs that will require us doing things we hate. We choose to do what we enjoy if at all possible. We prefer doing what we enjoy, and over time get a clear sense of what those things are.

Beyond that, I believe that God has certain roles for us to fulfill. He has given us gifts and abilities, and led us through circumstances that prepare us for what is next. We can ask him to clarify for us what he wants us to do with our life, and he will. I believe that God has a role for everyone, if we will only ask him to help us discover that.

Through a number of different circumstance God has brought me to the place where I believe he wants me to focus on helping churches and leaders achieve their God-given dreams. I have been a pastor for about 30 years, and generally loved the role. I had the opportunity, with a few others, to start up and establish the Rural Church Pastors Network. I loved the opportunity to equip and encourage fellow pastors. I enjoy writing and sharing my thoughts with others. And God, through these experiences and some clear signs from him, called me to this role of helping leaders and churches.

God has called me to help churches and leaders discover their God-given dreams. I was recently offered a position that looked interesting. I knew I could do what was required, I might even enjoy the role, but I couldn’t say yes. As I prayed about it, God reminded me that he had called me to this role of helping leaders and churches. This new opportunity was not part of that. Saying “no” to something that I might enjoy was not easy, but I knew what God called me to do.

Knowing your “yes” helps you know your “no”. When you have a clear understanding of what God has called you to do, you can clearly say no to that which is not part of the plan. I know it is hard to say no to people. We want people to like us and so we try to please them. Knowing our specific calling from God helps us have an easier time making decisions about what we choose to agree to and what opportunities we decline. Then we can say no with a clear conscience when we know what fits in God’s plan for us and what does not.

Sometimes we are overwhelmed with all that is on our plate. I wonder how often that is a result of us not clearly understanding what we are called to do so we do everything that comes our way. We say yes to every good thing when maybe God would like us to focus in on a specific opportunity. We tell ourselves that we can’t get out of these responsibilities when maybe we just need to say no. Sometimes we get frustrated with people and all they demand of us, but the problem may be us. We haven’t set clear boundaries on what we should or should not do, what fits into the scope of who we are and what does not.

Clarifying who we are and what God is calling us to may be harder to determine when we are young and have not had time to try new things or experience various roles and opportunities. As we get involved in different jobs and serve in a variety of places, we can narrow down who we are and what we are called to do.

This allows us to  figure out how God has gifted us and what talents we have. But clarifying who we are and what we become involved in does not just depend on age and experience. I believe we need to have time with God asking him to clarify what he wants us to do with our lives. God may speak to you through your reading of scripture. He may speak to you in your prayer time. He may speak to unique ways such as dreams or visions. What I do know is this: if we ask God, he will answer. Ask him to clarify his calling on your life and then you will be able.

I hope you can clarify your “yes” so you can also know your “no.” May God show you your unique place in this world.

Keep looking up

Andy

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

Who Do You Want to Become?

Who are you? I mean, if friends were to describe you, what words and phrases would they mention?

As we transition into a new year, we are often asked about our resolutions. I prefer setting goals rather than making resolutions.

Some of us might want to rethink goals just a bit. I tend to set goals to accomplish something. For example, I want to read the whole Bible this year, using the Chronological reading plan that puts things in the order they probably happened. I also want to finish writing a book. But should I be setting some different goals?

How about goals that affect who we are? Should we be setting some goals in areas that would impact who we are, what our personality is, or how we face life?

If you want to be seen as a generous person, you could make your goal to be more generous this year. However, vague goals like that are less effective than those with more specific or concrete descriptors. Maybe we could write a list of what a “generous person” is like or what they do and how they interact with others. Perhaps you view generosity as being freer with your resources and time, for example, such as lending your tools or giving food to the food bank. Or your focus could be on buying meaningful things for people you care about or inviting more people to your home for a meal. You could do some research and find a worthwhile cause to support, financially or by volunteering, being generous with money and generous with your time. You might choose to lend your books to a friend after you read them. It’s your goal, so make it yours. You could consider reading some books or taking a course on generosity.

If being generous doesn’t resonate with you, consider a few other character goals. Think about your own life and moments of personal frustration or struggle to identify where you might want to focus your personal growth.

1. Do you want to be more forgiving? You realize you are quick to judge, quick to get angry and offended, and slow to forgive. You want to forgive more freely. Then set a character goal of becoming more forgiving.

2. You might desire to be more patient. You struggle with having to wait for anything. You could set a goal to deliberately always take the longest line in the grocery store, or when buying gas. You could find ways of thinking about other things while waiting. You could memorize scripture…so every time you wait in line you bring up the verses you are learning and go over them. Now the slow line becomes productive for you, and you are being more patient.

3. Would you like to be more creative? You could read books and take courses. You could find ways of trying new things that require creativity. Maybe you schedule in some “day-dreaming” into your day so that you can focus on your creativity.

4. Maybe you want to be more at peace and worry less. You could memorize scripture verses on not worrying. You could pray, even ask others to pray with you, that God would help you have peace in your life.

5. Maybe you want to be more considerate of other people. This is one I have to work on. I have set a goal for me to connect with at least two people who are not in my immediate family or part of the church. Personally, I want to text or visit or connect in a meaningful way with others that are outside of my immediate thought process. These are people I care about, but they may not realize it because I rarely connect with them.

I’m sure that if you ask yourself: “What is one area in my life where I would like to improve?” you will quickly come up with an answer.

Now, before we leave this, I want to suggest that some of these self-improvement goals may need some outside help. Maybe you connect with a coach, or book a few sessions with a counselor. Maybe you meet with your pastor, or a good friend. And you ask for others to speak into your life and help you think of how to improve in your area you want to grow in.

I’m thinking that a number of us probably have people in our life who are really good at the area we want to improve. At least for me, my lack shows up when I see others who are doing so well in this area. My wife is one who is great at noticing others and connecting and loving – and that is why I recognize I have some improving to do. Take time to talk with those in your life who exemplify the area you want to work on. Maybe you are doing well in an area they want to work on and you can help each other.

I encourage you to set some risk-taking goals for the year: tasks to complete as well as areas of personal character growth. Put a plan into place, to learn and grow in these areas.

I wish you all the best for 2022. May it be a life-changing year for you!!

Keep looking up!

Andy

Lower Your Expectations For Christmas

Lynnette and I were married in October 1990. I have done many weddings as a pastor, and attended many as a friend or family member. And yet, I haven’t heard of a wedding that met all the expectations that the bride had for the special day. At our wedding, we had a miscommunication with some family members and my little sister wasn’t able to perform a specific role we had planned for her. We even started the wedding before Lynnette got to the church. I thought meant she was there and ready to go. She did get there in time to walk in at the right time. With all the months of planning things still go wrong.

Christmas is a magical time in many of our minds. We have expectations of how we think it should go. We hope our kids will be home for Christmas, or that Grandma and Grandpa will come join us. We have a certain gift we have been hinting toward for six months, and we don’t get it. We want a perfect dinner and somehow the turkey isn’t quite done in time.

Everyone needs to have goals and plans and dreams. They give us hope. But we have to realize that they don’t always work out. When it comes to Christmas, we might do well to lower our expectations a little this year.

Family Expectations

Some of us have expectations that others do not even know about. I remember a seminar years ago that clearly taught that we cannot set goals for other people. This really impacted me. Some of our frustrations and even anger at people is that we have set certain expectations and never told them. We just expect them to know that “we will be opening presents on Christmas Eve, no matter who of the family is there or not.” Lower your expectations – especially the ones no one even knows you have.

We might do well to lower our expectations of what gifts we will receive. Even if you hinted to your mom for six months, she may not have understood. Or maybe the person wanted to get you that gift, but they couldn’t find it or they thought they found a much better one instead. Enjoy the gifts you do receive, and enjoy the time you have with those who gave it.

Lower your expectations about how your family Christmas will go. Again, I’m not suggesting you plan on it being a wreck, but plan on being okay if things don’t happen exactly as you wish. Be prepared that not everything will go as you hope. If one of your children and their family can’t show up till Boxing Day, don’t be mad at them but just enjoy the time you have when they do arrive.

Expectations Around Grief

Many of us forget that there are families who are grieving at Christmas time. This may be the first Christmas without that one special person. Roles in family traditions will need to change and there may be an empty place at the dinner table.

If you are suffering loss and facing this Christmas in grief, I hope you have a really good and encouraging Christmas. The reality is that you may have expectations that will not be met. There will be people, even friends, who are so consumed with their own families they forget about you and your pain. You may wish that you had some people around to share their comfort, and the realities are that unless you reach out, that comfort may not be there. What could you do? Why not reach out? Friends and family are so focused on their own activities that it may feel as though they are ignoring your experience this year. Reach out. Invite someone for tea on Christmas Eve, or take them some cookies on Christmas afternoon. Do something to connect with people, and you might be amazed at how a simple act like this reminds them of your grief and motivates them to pour out some love on you.

If you are having family events and are missing that one person, take time to grieve as a family. Share some stories and memories of this family member. Don’t ignore the loss. And don’t expect that everything will go so well you won’t remember the pain.

When the pain comes, acknowledge it, share it with someone near you, and then move on.

If you are one experiencing loss this Christmas, please don’t expect things from others and be disappointed. Look for ways to connect. On the other hand, if you know of someone experiencing loss, reach out to them and encourage them.

Pastors

I have heard of pastors who do not like Christmas: “I don’t have anything new to say after 15 years of preaching the Christmas story,” “I am not creative enough to make it exciting for people.” Yes, the Christmas story is the same story it has been for two thousand years. Yes, people know the story. I’m wondering if pastors may do well to lower their expectations a little.

Do not expect that you will be able to preach something new to your congregation. Instead, walk through the story again. Maybe you can think of the new believers in your congregation who have only recently come to know the story. Maybe you can think of the eight and nine-ear-olds who have only experienced a few Christmases they remember. Think of the incredible story again, and just faithfully walk through the story in your service. For some it will be the thirtieth or fortieth time, but for some in the congregation it may actually be the first time they hear it.

Instead of comparing your sermons and services to other churches that have live animals, choirs, and symphonies, do the best with what you have. Prepare people ahead of time, and practice whatever you do have for your Christmas service. Allow the traditions and the story to speak. And do the best you can.

Lower Your Expectations

Last year was, of course, a COVID Christmas. With all the concerns and the regulations imposed on us, our family was unable to have Christmas in our home with both our daughters present. While that is what we would have usually expected, I had to let go of those expectations, and we tried something else. We were able to meet up as a family, and exchange gifts and spend a little time together, even though it was at a different venue. Lowering expectations may allow for some creative options instead.

I hope you have a great and wonderful Christmas. We all have expectations, but unfortunately they will not all be achieved. Lower your expectations and make them more realistic. Don’t let the hype and the commercialism make you think it has to be the most wonderful time of the year when it may not be.

Have your hopes. Make your plans, but be willing to be okay if they are not completely fulfilled. You will be happier in the end.

Keep looking up

Andy

Embrace the New Year With Purpose

The New Year always brings questions about resolutions. “What are your New Year’s Resolutions? Do you have New Year’s Resolutions?” In a New York Post article, Shireen Khalil (Dec. 21, 2018) wrote, “Research conducted by Strava, the social network for athletes, has discovered that Saturday, Jan. 12, is the fateful day of New Year’s resolutions.” This was based on analyzing 31 million global online activities.

I still like the idea of marking January 1st as a new start. Make it a day where you both, look back and look ahead. Celebrate your past year, then look ahead to what is next. Instead of resolutions that often don’t make it to the end of the month, make January 1, or shortly thereafter, a day when you set goals. Resolutions can be broken quickly, and then your resolve disappears with it. Goals, instead, give you something to strive for. Instead of saying you won’t eat any apple fritters from Tim Hortons for the next year, set a goal of losing weight. If you happen to have a fritter, you would have broken your resolution, but you haven’t ruined your goal. Just consider it an infrequent event that has not destroyed your whole goal. You still have the rest of the year to keep working on it.

Goals help you to live with purpose. So what do you want to do on purpose this year?

I want to continue to grow in my relationship with God. If I make a resolution to read my Bible every day, as soon as I miss one day, I have broken that resolution and broken resolutions usually makes us quit pursuing what we were going to do. A goal to read the Bible in a year encourages me to just pick up my Bible again the next day, even if I happen to miss one.

SET A FEW GOALS

What goals would help you live your life with purpose? What are some things that will enhance your life and the lives of others around you? People often suggest setting goals in areas of personal health, or social connections, or something regarding your career or further education. If you want to accomplish a certain project – building your own canoe, or writing a book – then set that as a goal. You might want to set goals in your spiritual life. If there is something you have been struggling with and you want to overcome, design a goal around that. Don’t be afraid to set a goal that may seem out of reach, Identify sub-goals that help you get there, like planning to meet with a counselor at least three times this year to work on that habit I want to break. Choose goals that help you become who you want to be, who you believe God wants you to be.

Do not set ridiculous goals. If you weigh 350 pounds, and are struggling doing stairs, it may not be a good idea to set a goal of climbing Everest this year. But you could set that as a goal in a few years! Set a realistic goal for this year that will help you to move toward the bigger goal. Set a goal of working out regularly at a gym, and another of losing a certain amount of weight. Maybe a third goal would be to start putting aside the necessary money that trip might cost. Set a goal of getting as informed about Everest and mountain climbing as you can – maybe read a book along that theme every month.

Set goals that are realistic, but also a little risky. Maybe you can’t climb Everest this year, but you can plan on doing a 10 K run. It will give you a goal to work towards that will help you tackle Everest later.

If what you want to achieve is too big for one year, then set the timeline 2-3 years from now. Then set short-term goals for this year that will move you toward that goal.

WRITE THEM DOWN

Thinking about goals is one thing. Writing them down is a completely different thing. Writing them down means you have thought about it enough to actually verbalize it, on paper at least. Feel free to do some rough drafts. Write down things you would like to do or experience or accomplish. You may have to weed them out a bit to get down to about five goals to work on for the year. One tool that has been a great help to me is the Full Focus Planner. Look it up at FullFocusPlanner.com. It helps you plan goals for the year, and then breaks them down into quarters, three months at a time. Each quarter you write down goals that will move you toward the larger goal. And then it even helps you break it down more to work on the goals weekly. It has been a huge help to me.

Writing them down gives you something to refer back to. Post them somewhere that you will see them every day. Put them in you journal, or day planner, on your phone or the fridge, or all of these. When you see what you wrote down, you remind yourself regularly what you are working towards. You are now beginning to live your life with purpose.

SHARE THEM

Often, we need others to help us in life. The same is true when it comes to setting goals and working towards them. Share them with someone you think will encourage you in them. If you have a goal of working out at the gym regularly, you would do better to share that with a friend who is doing the same thing, rather than a friend who thinks a workout is carrying in the groceries from the car. If your goal is to write a book, share this goal with someone who thinks you can do it, and who will encourage you to do it. Sharing a goal, speaking it out loud, helps reinforce your determination to do it. Sharing it with someone who will hold you accountable to it, reinforces your goals again.

With some goals, you may even ask someone to check in with you regularly to see how you are doing. Maybe you have a friend who you can encourage toward their goal as they encourage you towards yours.

You might consider getting a coach who can help you toward certain goals. Maybe a trainer at the gym, or a life coach who can help you think through what is holding you back. Maybe you are hoping to improve your leadership or pastoral abilities as you pastor a church. Let me make a shameless plug here for Elevate Coaching & Consulting, and invite you to reach out to me for some coaching to help you live your life with purpose.

REMOVE DISTRACTIONS

Writing down your goals and sharing your goals with a friend are powerful steps to help you reach your goals. Yet sometimes there are too many other things that distract us from living with purpose as we planned.

Remove distractions. If you have goals regarding health, you may do well to remove the unhealthy items from your cupboard. If you have a goal of reading your Bible every day, you may want to get up thirty minutes earlier than everyone in your house so you can focus without others demanding your attention. You may need to remove certain events or activities from your schedule to make time for the purposeful steps you are taking. For example, you might quit your bowling league to make time to work out at the gym. You know what might distract you. You will figure out how to remove those things.

I encourage you to take some time to set some goals in the next week so you can live your life with purpose.

Keep looking up,

Andy

The Space In Between

We spend a lot of time waiting. We wait at traffic lights. We wait at the doctor’s office. There is waiting from when you first ooh and aah over the ultrasound pictures until the baby arrives. I love ordering books on line, but then have to wait two weeks or more to receive them.

Some waiting is so accepted by us that we pretty much ignore it. Waiting at a traffic light raises my stress way more than waiting for a book to arrive. Some waiting consumes our every thought; think of a soon-to-be mom who spends the nine months preparing for the new arrival.

Sometimes we wait for God to work. A few years ago I went through a time of waiting on God. Both my wife and I were convinced that God had told us to wait. I was in between ministry positions and had no way of rushing the process of what was next for us. I sent many resumes to a number of different ministry opportunities. No ministry positions came my way, but then again, God had said wait.

King Saul Didn’t Wait

That “time in between” one thing or another, that time of waiting on God is important. We can’t rush when God wants us to wait. I am reminded of King Saul in the Bible. In 1 Samuel 13: 8-9 we read:

            Saul waited there seven days for Samuel, as Samuel had instructed him earlier, but Samuel still didn’t come. Saul realized that his troops were rapidly slipping away. So he demanded, “Bring me the burnt offering and the peace offerings!” And Saul sacrificed the burnt offering himself.

Samuel was the priest. Saul was the king. The king was not to offer sacrifices, but he felt he had waited long enough, and he was worried because all of his men were leaving. He had to do something, didn’t he?

Then Samuel arrives just as King Saul is finishing the sacrifice. He chastises the king, “what have you done?”

And this is what happens to Saul as a result of not waiting: 13 “How foolish!” Samuel exclaimed. “You have not kept the command the Lord your God gave you. Had you kept it, the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. 14 But now your kingdom must end, for the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart. The Lord has already appointed him to be the leader of his people, because you have not kept the Lord’s command.”

Saul was tired of waiting. The in between time was making him nervous. He decided to act, and God punished him for it.

The Disciples Waited

There are times that God wants us to wait, so wait we should.

In Acts 1: 4-5 we read what Jesus told the disciples just before he left this earth after his resurrection: “Do not leave Jerusalem until the Father sends you the gift he promised, as I told you before. John baptized with water, but in just a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

So, the disciples waited. For ten days. Waiting, and praying. And then something incredible happened as the promised Holy Spirit showed up. Acts 2 describes tongues of fire and a roaring sound like a mighty wind, as well as those present speaking in languages they had not known before.

There was great benefit in waiting as they received the Holy Spirit that Jesus promised would be his replacement for them.

Faithful Waiting

There are other examples in scripture, and in our own lives, where we have been in the in between time. Sometimes we know there is something else, something better, coming. Other times we are just hoping for something better. In the meantime, we wait. In the waiting, our number one purpose is to remain faithful to God.

Maybe you are waiting for a new job or a new ministry position. You are convinced that you need to move on from where you are. Maybe you have even resigned. As you look for the next position, you are getting impatient. It seems like God is too slow. I want to encourage you to be patient, and wait faithfully for God to work.

Maybe you are waiting for something you think you deserve and it is just not happening. Maybe you are wishing you were married. You long for someone to live the rest of your life with. Remain faithful to God in the waiting. Do not look for a shortcut that will ruin your future. Continue to honor him and trust him to provide for you.

Maybe you are a parent who is longing for the return of a prodigal. You have a child who decided they wanted to live their own life, and to deliberately live it opposite to what you taught him or her. And now you wait, and pray, and try to trust God to bring that wayward child back.

Continue to faithfully wait. Trust God. Pray for your child regularly. If you have an opportunity to connect with a visit or even an email or card, do what you can, and trust God to continue to work as you love this child and long for them to return to you and to God.

Waiting is often really hard. Like Saul, we look for shortcuts. But remember how drastically that one mistake affected Saul and his family forever. God had wanted to make a kingly line through him, now that was done and God moved on to another, to David.

Be faithful to God in the waiting. Trust that he truly has the best in mind for you. That waiting time God had us go through a few years ago were not the easiest. We relied on God in a way we hadn’t for quite a while. He provided encouragement along the way. And then he began showing us that he was shifting us into a new type of ministry. The waiting was necessary to readjust my heart, to show me that I needed to go in a different direction than I had ever considered. He has blessed in numerous ways as we have come out of these years of waiting.

Remain faithful during the in between time.

Keep looking up

Andy