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

Enjoy a Fresh Start Everyday

I am usually the first person up in the morning at my house. I am often one of the first people up in my neighborhood. There is something special about the beginning of a new day. The “early bird gets the worm” they say. Many successful leaders are up by 5 or 6 am, to start their morning routine. More important than rising early, is the fresh start that each new day brings.

Every sunrise you an opportunity to start your day over. This is not reliving the same day like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. We get to start over by starting at the beginning of another day. It is a fresh slate. There is something really freeing about a not-yet-lived day. You haven’t made any mistakes yet.

A Sin-free Day

Some of us may need the following prayer: “Dear Lord, so far today, I am doing alright. I have not gossiped, lost my temper, been greedy, grumpy, nasty, selfish, or self-indulgent. I have not whined and complained. But I am getting out of bed soon, and I will really need your help.”

Each new day is a day when we have not yet sinned. You know the things that happened yesterday, but today you get to start over. You know where you failed, and you know what you need to improve. If you want to, you can make a renewed effort to avoid the sins of yesterday. If you have repented and confessed the sins of yesterday, God has forgiven you. You have the privilege of relying on the power of the Holy Spirit to make it a day that honours God.

If there is a “sin that so easily entangles” you, you can make a concerted effort to avoid it. “Throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Hebrews 12:1). Begin your day with prayer, maybe one with a little more sincerity than the one above. Talk with your heavenly Father about your desire to be holy as he is holy. Take deliberate steps to remove anything, or stay away from anything or anyone that tempts you to sin.

A Discouragement-free Day

Some days are much harder than others. Sometimes we have more of those difficult days than we would like. There are days we wish we could forget. The benefit of a new day is no one has said anything bad to you yet. Nothing has happened to discourage you. So far, nothing has gone wrong. Oh, some of us are quick to come up with potential problems, but they have not yet happened. So don’t bring on trouble that is not yours.

I like how Jesus teaches about worry in Matthew 6:34: “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” Or we could say, don’t worry about today, since you haven’t lived it yet. Leave yesterday’s troubles to yesterday. Don’t worry about tomorrow. And focus on the moment and the start of a fresh, worry-free day.

So far you have nothing to feel guilty about. You haven’t brought on discouragement by falling short of a goal you had or a standard you wanted to meet. At the start of the day, you are free to enjoy a clean slate.

Maybe yesterday was not a good day. You gave in to temptations. You had things go wrong. Someone was mad at you. We could think of all kinds of things that made yesterday bad. Okay. Get up again, try again. It’s a new day. Yes, you messed up terribly yesterday. Yes, life threw everything at you that it could yesterday. Get up with a renewed spirit, a renewed energy. I like that God has given us seven restarts each week.

Daily Rituals

Start your day with good, daily rituals. Do the things you know will help you start on the right foot. This is one of the reasons I get up earlier than everyone else. I do not like missing my rituals because if I don’t do them first thing, I will not do them later in the day. I actually have some evening rituals that set up my morning rituals.

I lay out my clothes for the next day so that I will not wake up my wife by turning on the light or digging through drawers looking for matching socks.

As soon as I’m showered and dressed, I sit down in my big chair in the living room. I reach for my Bible and journal. I start with prayer journaling a conversation with God, which then leads to my daily Bible reading, and a prayerful response to what God is saying to me. Next, I open my daily planner to review how I did with yesterday’s goals and set the goals for today. Mondays I set goals for the week.

These rituals help me to start the day with the things I believe are important to me. You can develop your own rituals that work for you. Getting up early helps ensure I will do what I think is important.

Fresh Orders

One of my morning rituals is to plan the day. I do not approach this lightly. After spending time with God in prayer and Bible reading first, I want to make sure these are not my goals, but fresh orders from God for the day. Sometimes there are things that come up in my time with God that it seems God is telling me what he wants me to do this day.

Getting up early to pray is following the example of Jesus. “Before daybreak the next morning, Jesus got up and went to an isolated place to pray” (Mark 1:35). If Jesus needed to check in with the Father first thing in the morning, then that is probably not a bad idea for me.

Not only does each new day mean nothing bad has happened yet, it also means nothing good has happened yet. So I want to plan I will avoid sin and discouragement, and I also want to plan to do good and right. As I check in with my Father I get some idea of what I need to do this day.

You may not like to get up early. You don’t have to. But I want to encourage you to cherish each new day as a fresh start and an opportunity to check in with the Master for fresh orders for the day.

It’s a new day. Treasure the opportunity to start with a clean slate. May God help you fill in the day with wonderful moments where you see God at work in and through you.

Enjoy a fresh start every day.

Keep looking up

Andy

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

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

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.

The Incredible Value of Checklists!

During one of our breaks from pastoral ministry, I learned to drive a school bus. It was definitely an interesting experience. When I was about to complete the season, another driver commented that I had lasted very well on the worst run in the city. I picked up inner city kids and took them to school. Most of them came from difficult situations, but I tried to find ways of connecting with them and encouraging them.

As I was taking my training for my Class 2 license, which you need to drive a bus, the instructor walked me through a detailed list of what to check each morning to ensure the bus was safe to drive. This is not unique to driving busses; truckers have a similar pre-trip check to do. Usually this is done with a memorized checklist, but when I was later driving bus for a different company, they had a specific checklist I had to go through and sign each morning.

Checklists help you to make sure you remember to check all the important things. This applies to many places in life.

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

I go through a mental checklist most evenings before I head to bed:

  • Is my lunch prepared?
  • Have I laid out my clothes for the next work day?
  • Did I brush my teeth?
  • Did I remember to take my medications?
  • Did I set my alarm?
  • Did I plug in my phone?

The list helps me to remember what I want to remember.

Checklists can help you to train new volunteers at church. Checklists are doubly useful in training, both for the trainer and the new volunteer.  A checklist ensures the trainer knows exactly what training needs to take place. The checklist will remind them of what paperwork needs to be filled out, or what activities need to be practiced. The new volunteer can also be provided with a checklist to remind them what needs to be done.

Let’s pretend you are training a new worship leader. You can have them work alongside a current worship leader like an apprentice for a few weeks. The leader can make sure they are following the current checklist, a copy of which is then provided to the new volunteer. The checklist could look something like this:

  • Get the theme and scripture from the speaker for that Sunday.
  • Choose 5 songs that fit into that theme.
  • Sort/find the music for all musicians that will be leading worship with you.
  • Send the music titles (and music sheets) to all the worship staff and volunteers on your team.
  • Practice the music yourself.
  • Arrange practice time and practice with team during the week.
  • Arrange for all the team to come early on Sunday to do Sound checks
  • Etc.

Create lists according to the tasks that need to be done in each role, and encourage new volunteers to add to the list as they notice things that may have been missed.

I use a checklist like this in creating my sermons. I have a fairly long list that has certain comments and questions that help me think through my sermon from every aspect I think is important. Here are just a few things on my sermon checklist:

  • Who is the original audience?
  • How will this appeal to the 12-year-old boy in the pew?
  • What practical application steps can I suggest?
  • What are questions this scripture answers?

This list reminds me of what I have found to be important in the creating of a sermon. Some of them remind me of certain steps in my research. Other items remind me how to develop a good application at the end of the sermon. This is a list I have slowly compiled over the years, adding or adapting items as I discovered more steps I wanted to remember to use.

Checklists need to be open to adjustment. Sometimes a good book will encourage you to add another step. Over time some steps may be eliminated if they become irrelevant.

Checklists are a great tool to become better at what you do, to develop consistency, and to train new volunteers.

I’d love to hear about how checklists have helped you.

Keep looking up!

Andy