Category Archives: ministry

How to Destress…and Stay that Way

I have always worked.

Once, as a nine-year old boy I went door to door with my dad’s old shoeshine kit, looking for neighbors who would pay me to shine their shoes a quarter per pair. 2012-01-09 14.58.22As I got older, I mowed lawns, worked in my parent’s restaurant, you name it, I did it! Needless to say, I have always worked. 

This didn’t change as I became an adult. For a long time, I made myself be “that guy” who was the first to come to work and the last to leave. I never took vacations. I never got sick. I worked, and I worked hard, and there was no that anyone was going to out work me!

But this pace caught up with me. Stress began to show. I began to develop symptoms like involuntary eyelid twitches and short bouts of depression. I would get pretty sick with colds because of a decreased immune system. And I gained weight. Oh boy, did I gain weight!

Thankfully, as I got older, I knew that I had to do something, and that to be able to serve Christ fully, I needed to watch my stress levels and take better care of myself. That said, here are some ways that I destressed- maybe this can help you as well:

  1. Be devoted. Spend dedicated, focused time with the Lord. Allow your prayer life to be a time to escape the worries of today as you trust the Lord of tomorrow.
  2. Be physical. Exercise with some intensity 3-5 days per week. I workout at an awesome place, but when I’m not there, I’m running or doing some other kind of exercise. Exercise will help you to destress, without a doubt.
  3. Be sleepy. Get enough sleep- go to sleep earlier and wake up a bit later. It’s that easy! If you have trouble falling asleep, find out if you had any caffeine intake during the day. Sometimes I have found that even having a Coke Zero at 2 pm will affect my sleep that night.
  4. Be fun-loving. For crying out loud, get out and do something once in a while! Take your spouse on a date, catch a ball game (Go Reds!), or do something different that you normally wouldn’t do. And yes, take vacations!
  5. Be smelly. In other words, smell the roses. Stop and thank God for what you have. Enjoy life and appreciate your family. Most of all, love them while they are close.

I have been practicing these things and have had lots of long-term success and have been more effective with less stress. Let me ask you to share- are there any other ways that you destress?

Pastor Fran

But I just want to be happy, right?!?

On a recent episode of a cooking competition show, one of the contestants spoke about how he has recently made a major life choice for his own happiness. He explained that in this quest to be happy, he left his wife, then brought his three children together with his partner’s three children, thus creating what he called the “gay Brady Bunch.” On the same show, another contestant had just lost his wife to cancer, but was urged on by his children to enter the cooking competition in her honor. There were plenty of moments during this episode where tears streamed down his face as he grieved and remembered his wife. Both men were excellent cooks, and both men seemed like genuinely nice guys. Yet I was amazed at the contrast: while one man willingly left his wife, maintaining that he just wanted to “be happy,” the other man, still obviously in grief, probably would have given anything to touch, hold, even speak to his wife one more time.

Our culture is full of people who are happy addicts. People say all the time that they simply they just want to be happy, that they deserve to be happy, and that they should be able to live any way that they want so that they can be happy.  It’s in our Declaration of Independence, it’s been in popular songs by Pharell, Bobby McFerrin, and others, and it’s used in popular commercial slogans- heck, even McDonald’s has a Happy Meal for kids, right? Well, sure. It’s pretty loud and clear that we should and can be happy. After all, just do the right thing or buy the right thing or act a certain way and you too, can be happy.

And so, we have a culture of people who are obsessed with “being happy.” With the attention span of the length of a Tweet, happy addicts are constantly trying to hook onto something new to find a way to get and stay happy. After all, happiness comes and goes, and these things don’t last, so when the feelings of happiness leave (and they always do), these addicts desperately seek another way to be happy. They do things like purchase something new, or find a new boyfriend or girlfriend, or coyly seek attention on Facebook, Twitter, or Tumbler. In other words, they are miserably happy, but never satisfied.

Beyond this, these happy addicts fail to see how harmful their happiness addiction can be. For example, in the case of the contestant who left his wife, I wonder if his wife was happy about his turning her world upside down in the name of “being happy.” Or what about the endless job seeker, working in one place for a short period of time until the honeymoon period disappears, then looks for another job so he or she can be happy- doesn’t this harm the family that they support? Of course, these examples aren’t something that matters to the happy addict, and for this reason, I would argue that the happy addict is often nothing more than a selfish, rebellious, and idolatrous narcissist.

This should not be so. The selfish quest for “being happy” is no different from the lies told in the Garden of Eden: the temptation to be like God is in itself a grab for power, eternity, and self-seeking happiness. While of course, God wants us to be happy, we are first to be happy in Him, since He alone is the source of all joy, happiness, and peace. Being happy will not harm others with the consequences of selfishness. Being happy can and won’t ever conflict with being moral, or being godly, or being a follower of Jesus. It is also infinitely more satisfying than anything we have here on earth, because when we follow Him, we have a joy that is supernatural.  1 Peter 3:10–12 (NLT) says:

“If you want to enjoy life and see many happy days, keep your tongue from speaking evil and your lips from telling lies. Turn away from evil and do good. Search for peace, and work to maintain it. The eyes of the Lord watch over those who do right, and his ears are open to their prayers. But the Lord turns his face against those who do evil.”

In other words, “being happy” is going to go beyond the temporary. Being happy is not going to be good, moral, and show an unselfish love. It is an eternal happiness that is directed at God.

Are you a happy addict? You can change that! Turn from that and taste the real joy found in Jesus Christ- look to God and live happily for Him, as He is our joy and our strength!

Pastor Fran

What Pastors can learn from Brian Williams

The whole Brian Williams fib-telling fiasco is really, really sad to me. He seemed human, even a likeable guy, and it was tough to hear the whole story play out. Williams claimed that he misremembered traumatic events while on assignment, and the one most discussed is the one that got him suspended: his claim that he was on a helicopter that was shot at and forced down. Well, we all now know that he was not in the helicopter that was shot down, but instead was in another helicopter far 14236788114686_700behind- like 45 minutes behind. In other words, he was literally barely on the radar. No doubt, Brian Williams was caught and called out on a lie, and in the process, became an instant celebrity in some very funny internet memes.

Williams was at the top of his game: he had the coveted anchor chair, the role of managing editor, and nationwide fame as one of the most trusted in the country. Now, his endless retelling of a false story over a period of several years has caused him to sink to the 835th position, according to a recent poll by the NY Times. Actually, I am surprised that he didn’t fall even further down the list.

All in all, I hate this for Brian Williams and I hope that he is indeed repentant as some have reported. Even more, I’m not sure of his spiritual condition, but I hope that the gospel of Christ is eminent in his life.  Yet there is always something that we can learn from these sort of events. Specifically, what can pastors learn from this? Let me give a few thoughts:

  • Credibility matters. Communicators of a message must be credible. For pastors, the communication of the true Truth of God’s Word is horribly tainted when exaggerations and even lies spew from the pulpit. This means that the preaching of truth mixed with the telling of fake stories or personal exaggerations does a severe disservice to the advancement of the gospel. Preachers who use unverifiable illustrations found on the internet or in books need to stop. 
  • Humanity matters. I believe that personal stories that make you seem almost superhuman to your church hurts your message too. Please don’t read this wrong: absolutely be the example of how others should walk, yet have a healthy realization that you are not a “Super Christian.” Hopefully your church knows that, and appreciates even more the grace that is displayed when God uses an imperfect messenger such as yourself. In other words, be human.
  • Humility matters. This relates to the first two thoughts above. The issue with lying is that it is always about the self. A person usually lies to puff themselves up before others. Apparently, it was almost a joke in the NBC Newsroom that William’s continued his lie-telling to beef up his bio. This Hemmingwayesque attempt to look tough seemed ridiculous, but this is what an egotistical narrative does: it lifts up the self and pride runs rampant. Pastors especially have to watch for this issue, and pride unchecked is a disastrous thing.
  • Repentance matters. One of the worst parts of the Williams saga is his non-apology apology. He took out time to make an apology that to many didn’t seem to own up to that fact that he lied. Not misremembered, but lied. Okay, we have all lied, yet, nothing changes the course of things like repentance. True repentance from the heart to a God who forgives all sins begins the process of healing. Pastors who blow it (whether it’s a lie or anything else) need to quickly repent, apologize, and move on to restoration.
  • Christ matters. The truth of the gospel is not about you. The truth of the gospel is about Jesus. As John the Baptist famously said in John 3:30, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” When Christ is elevated and you are lowered, He is presented as who He should be: the Savior of the world, who is coming again to redeem His creation in glory. Remember that as you conduct yourself.

There’s some of my thoughts. Are there any other principles that you might add?

Ten Things a Pastor Should Do: #5- Exercise three times a week.

Over 18 months ago, my wife found a Groupon deal for this crazy sounding idea- we could go to a thing called “Boot Camp” and pay only $35 for twenty sessions. When she told me about it, my ears perked up- it was cheap, yes, but it sounded, well scary. Memories of my young adulthood and Army basic training immediately sprang up: frightening men in brown hats with deep yet shrill voices growling in my face as I “pushed the earth” countless times all day, every day. Reluctantly, I told her that I would do it and we bought the Groupon deal for the two of us.

Fran T3_
https://www.facebook.com/T3FitnessAndTraining

A short time later we did our first Boot Camp. I looked around and saw no big, ugly drill sergeants, no brown hats, no yelling, not even intimidation. Nope, none of that. I saw instead support, encouragement, and even (gulp!) smiles on the faces of the trainers. The one hour session was rough (real rough) but the supportive atmosphere helped me to want to come back. 18 months later, I am still going to Boot Camp. My Groupon deal has long since been used up, and I have gladly paid the regular price for exercising at T3 Fitness. While my wife also enjoyed her experience there, my son has grabbed on to it most of all, being greatly been changed in losing 62+ pounds and counting!

It is true that we should all stay in shape, but for pastors who often care about other areas of their lives but neglect the physical, exercise should be a priority. In 3 John 2, the Apostle John encouraged his readers when he wrote, “I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul.” Paul wrote to “glorify God in your body” (1 Cor 6:20). Many a pastor (this guy included) has spent hours of sitting, studying, visiting, and inactivity. Oftentimes, meals are quickly gulped down in the car while heading to another appointment. This lifestyle is obviously stressful, but add to this routine a lack of a dedicated time of exercise and disaster is bound to happen.

Ultimately, I was convicted to lose weight and get healthy as a testimony to others of discipline. It was my conviction that I was hypocritical in preaching discipline (of all sorts) when I wasn’t being disciplined myself. I could barely go up the steps to my office without being winded. I was out of shape, overweight, and had begun feeling a lack of energy. Once I began exercising regularly, my energy increased and I became more effective. I try to exercise at least three times a week, sometimes more, and I purposely schedule the time to do this along with my other appointments. It’s a physical life changer, as I have maintained a nearly 50 lb weight loss for over six months now and I can go up steps with no issues. Most of all, I feel as if I am being a good steward of the body that God has given me, and because of this care, I hope to enjoy a longer, healthier life of service to Him while here on His earth. 🙂

I’m not quite there yet, but I’m a work in progress. However, let me ask: How are you exercising on a regular basis? What has worked for you? 

Pastor Fran

Ten Things a Pastor Should Do: #4- Set healthy boundaries.

There it was, the survey I had dreaded to see. I clicked a link and went to an article on CNN called, 10 Signs you might be addicted to your smartphone. Ugh. I knew what I would see: “Blah, blah, blah, you’re checking your phone too much, blah, blah, blah, your too plugged in.” Yeah, I know it. What about it?

I even took the Smartphone Abuse Test, and, after trying to answer every question honestly, I scored 9/15. Not bad, right? Wrong. The makers of the survey let me know, in no uncertain terms, that answering having as low as a 5/15 means that you have a problem. Ouch!

Okay, there’s no reason to deny it, I look at my phone a lot. I mean, a lot. I get emails, texts, Facebook and Twitter messages, and once in a while, I even get a phone call. Needless to say, my phone runs out of its battery real fast, and life lived in the 5% battery range is both disturbing and thrilling at the same time.

Here’s what’s even scarier: I have gotten a whole lot better than in the past. There was once a time that whenever I saw a picture of me (and my wife takes a ton of pictures), the cell was attached to my ear. I have made adjustments, and though I do need to make even more, I know it’s progress, not perfection.

The greater point is this: Whether it’s electronic devices, long hours, or whatever you focus a whole lot on, a pastor with many, many demands and many duties must set healthy boundaries. This is for the sake of your marriage, your family, and your overall health in life and ministry. Cell phones should go off at a certain time. Email and texts can wait. Your kids and spouse should not see your face in front of an electronic device more than they see your face in front of them. In fact, they should see you period, like when they play in a game and you cheer them on from the stands or they have that bit part in the school play and yet still look for your face in the audience. After all, there are no small parts or meaningless games, especially if you are their biggest cheerleader.

Set a healthy boundary. Place being a husband, parent, and citizen of Heaven first. Keep the nonurgent question in the nonurgent category and wait to respond until you are back in the office. That text or email you got can wait (it really can), only to be efficiently answered by you the next day. Limit your ministry nights to no more than four nights, and let everyone know this rule should apply to others in the church too.

Can’t wait to take this test again in a few months. Will keep you posted.

Until He comes again,

Pastor Fran

Devotion: Overcoming the Elijah Moments

Elijah was afraid and fled for his life. – 1Kings 19:3

Risky question, but ever have one of those “Elijah moments?”

Been discouraged, irritated, upset, even feel like quitting? Of course, as we read the text, Elijah’s solution was not the answer, yet many of us can sympathize with Elijah’s feeling of anguish. Unable to see God beyond the threats of a wicked woman and enduring great battle stress, this prophet wanted to find a way out, any way out, and desperately pleaded with God to take him then and there. 1 Kings 19:4 says, “I have had enough, LORD,” he said. “Take my life, for I am no better than my ancestors who have already died.”

What was God’s response? There, as Elijah fell asleep in his anguish and self-pity, while he slept soundly as he was emotionally, physically, and spiritually drained, he felt the touch of God. The touch from an angel would cause him to rise, to eat, and have enough divine strength to travel for forty days to Mt. Sinai to seek the Lord further.

It was eventually in a cave that the person of God met with the man of God. Speaking to him in a whisper, Elijah complained earnestly and passionately about his zealousness, his faithfulness, and also his problems. He essentially said to God, “I have served you and I’m the only one left among a godless group, and I feel so alone here!”

My friend, God never leaves His people alone. He will never leave you. He who has called you will perfect you until the day of Christ Jesus (Phil 1:6). When you feel alone and discouraged, maybe it’s time not for an Elijah moment, but for some God moments. Let the touch of the Father strengthen you- seek His face in prayer and scriptural meditation. Stop looking around and look to the Lord who has called you. Stop wasting your time loathing about your circumstances and allow God to work out all things for His glory. Stop trying to work out the minute details and let God get you back on track.

The life of a Christian is never an easy one, but with the comfort, strength, and beauty of the love of God, this too shall pass. Be encouraged.

Pastor Fran

Ten Things a Pastor Should Do: #3 Take one or two days off a week, and be sure to take vacations.

When I was younger and new in ministry, I used to brag to myself (and others) that I would work constantly without vacations, days off, or breaks. My goal then was that no one would outwork me in ministry- now I can see that this was such a fleshly, prideful mindset!

Truth is, ministry is hard work. The demands of ministry do not end at 5 pm and then begin again at 9 am. Often, the burdens of ministry are with you all of the time, hanging on your shoulders day and night, weekdays and weekends, during and outside of shadow walkingyour family “time.” There are late night phone calls, as well as emails, Facebook messages, text messages, and visits. The clock never stops for sermon and bible study preparations, and the constant dripping of the C.A.V.E. Dwellers can get on your nerves as well. There’s no surprise that statistics show the average tenure of a pastor to be three to four years. It’s true that there’s a high burn out rate in the ministry.

All that said, let me now be Captain Obvious for a minute: you can’t work all the time and not have time for rest. Rest is very important, even vital for the long term work of ministry. Rest is built into God’s creation, when He rested on the 7th day. Jesus often took time away from the crowds to rest and pray in quiet places (see Mark 6:30-31). We are likewise called to the Sabbath principle, a time of rest from life itself and to time with the Lord (Lev 23:3). Basically put, rest is important to God and it should be important to you.

So take that day off (or sometimes even two). Take that vacation with your family, even being willing to miss two Sundays in a row. Date your wife regularly. Break away from the cell phone, your witty Twitter posts, your snarky Facebook comments. Disconnect from the current routine and reconnect with God and your family. Remember that your relationships with God, your spouse, and your family are your prime importance and calling. After all, once you refresh yourself, you will be much more healthy and ready for the demands of your call to ministry. Now go rest!

Pastor Fran

Ten Things a Pastor Should Do: #2- Read God’s Word devotionally

When I was in seminary, I often heard the mantra, “Don’t just read the Bible for the purpose of studying, but instead, read it devotionally.” These words, which were seemingly repeated class after class, stuck into my heart and brain. Can’t say I followed this advice every day, because there have been times when I would inadvertently turn my devotion time into a study time- only to later realize what I had done!

That said, it is vital that a Christian take in the Word of God to speak to his or her heart. Pastors even more so. Reading the Word of God cuts through all the white noise that is around in the world today- the noise of pop culture, the noise of sinful pride, the noise of busyness, even the noise of ministry. When you read the Word devotionally, it is just God, His Word, and you. Devotional ReadingGod is speaking to you through words that flowed from His Spirit, living and active (Heb 4:12), cutting into your heart (Acts 2:37), piercing through your hard shell of your ego (Ps 11:4-5), and refining you as silver is refined in fire (Ps 66:10).

Time with God in the Word is time well spent. While schedules, appointments, meetings, and blocked off time for studying will always be on the calendar, setting aside time each day (even multiple times each day) will help a Christian go through the demands of life and ministry.

There are many examples of great preachers who were devoted to the Word of God. One example is John Wesley, the great preacher and theologian of the 18th century and founder of Methodism, who was certainly no stranger to busyness. In his Preface to Standard Sermons, Wesley wrote this wonderful statement concerning his dedication to the Word of God:

I have thought, I am a creature of a day, passing through life as an arrow through the air. I am a spirit come from God, and returning to God: just hovering over the great gulf; till, a few moments hence, I am no more seen; I drop into an unchangeable eternity! I want to know one thing,—the way to heaven; how to land safe on that happy shore. God himself has condescended to teach me the way. For this very end He came from heaven. He hath written it down in a book. O give me that book! At any price, give me the book of God! I have it: here is knowledge enough for me. Let me be homo unius libri (a man of one book). Here then I am, far from the busy ways of men. I sit down alone; only God is here. In His presence I open, I read His book; for this end, to find the way to heaven. Is there a doubt concerning the meaning of what I read? Does anything appear dark or intricate? I lift up my heart to the Father of Lights:—“Lord, is it not Thy word, ‘if any man lack wisdom, let him ask of God?’ Thou givest liberally, and upbraidest not. Thou hast said, ‘if any be willing to do Thy will, he shall know.’ I am willing to do, let me know Thy will.

May it be an example to us all as we read God’s Word with hearts ready to be in tune with God and His Spirit. Set aside time to read, take it in, and let God speak to your heart as you seek to do His will.

Pastor Fran

Ten Things a Pastor Should Do to Stay Healthy and Effective

fran and teresaI have been in ministry for twenty plus years (yikes!), either serving on staff or as a senior pastor, and I will admit that through this journey, I have blown it many times. However, I am thrilled that God has given me grace over the years. One of my main struggles has been to manage myself and to avoid burnout. Boy, have I learned! That said, I thought that I would put together a top ten list of things a pastor should and could do to stay healthy and effective, listed in no particular order. I hope it helps:

  1. Pray fervently– never underestimate the need to pray and the power of prayer.
  2. Read God’s Word devotionally– don’t just read for studying purposes, read to take in the Word of God to speak to your heart.
  3. Take one or two days off a week, and be sure to take vacations. And don’t apologize for it, you need time away.
  4. Set healthy boundaries. Cell phones should go off at a certain time. Email and texts can wait. Your kids and spouse should not see your face in front of an electronic device more than they see your face in front of them.
  5. Exercise three times a week, at least. It keeps you in shape and lowers stress.
  6. Eat healthy. Fast food meals catch up to you fast.
  7. Get in a Bible study in which you are not the teacher. You need to learn and grow from a small group, too. I go to a community men’s study and go out of my way to be “one of the guys.”
  8. Date. I mean your spouse. Do it monthly.
  9. Go to special events. If you have kids or grandkids, go to their games, plays, etc. And don’t go as a pastor and talk to others- focus on them as a parent or grandparent.
  10. Have an accountability partner. Find another pastor, preferably outside of your denomination. I have had men in my past who I had as confidants, and it was so rich- and by the way, we never spoke about the nonessentials of theology.

I will be commenting over the next few weeks on each point, but in the meantime, I’d love to hear your comments on all of this, and if you think that there are other things I didn’t write about…

Thoughts?

Fran

The Love Chapter

1 Corinthians 13 is known by many as the “love chapter.” Often, when I perform weddings, I get requests for someone to read this passage in the service. It’s a wonderful passage, and it can be applied to marriage, parenting, anything in life, but the original intent was within the context of the church. Watch this awesome video:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8F9_A7XIU6k

Life as the church is a life of love- we are better together! God has preordained His church of His people to good works, ministry that we do once we are His.

We begin with love, we share with truth, and we live with joy.

How are you loving others this week?

Pastor Fran