It's been a really weird week and a half at our church.
But you already knew that.
For Jeff and I, 200churches in a labor of love. We started this website and Podcast (which, on this crazy week, will be out on Friday) because we have a heart for small churches and small church pastors, and for nearly two years we've produced a whole bunch of content to help the men and women doing important Kingdom work in small church contexts.
But we're really not professional bloggers or podcasters. We're pastors. And it's been a really weird week and a half at our church.
On Monday, Jeff wrote about how our lives will always speak louder than our preaching. As he's struggled through this period in his life, Jeff has made the decision to share his journey with our church and with our broader 200churches community. He's made the brave decision to open up the most difficult season of his life and share it with others, because he understands the value of his experience for us.
What do we do when life gets weird? Do we open up about our struggles? Our pain? The difficulties we're experiencing? How willing are we to tell our congregations about what's really going on in our lives?
When it comes to our church, Jeff can't really pretend everything is okay. But he's gone beyond his immediate community and opened up to this one, too. His is a great example to follow. How often is our first inclination to hide our pain away? To go full "plastic pastor" and pretend everything is okay even when it isn't.
Here's the truth: it's been a really weird week and a half at our church, and it's made it a weird week and a half for 200churches. We've never missed a Wednesday Podcast, but this week we are. And you know what? That's okay. Because real life is messy. Real life doesn't always arrive on time. Real life doesn't care about whether it's Wednesday or Friday.
I have been so blessed by Jeff's openness during this process, and I know so many of you have, too. This Friday, we hope you'll download our episode with Dave Jacobs because, as usual, Dave knocks it out of the park. We're not apologizing for a few days delay, we're just letting you know. Because part of being open is trusting you to love us through it. And yeah, we love you, too.
This post probably won’t make sense. So there. That’s my disclaimer.
My goal this week is to edit the episode we have recorded with Dave Jacobs where we talk about preaching. Can I have it edited and up for this week’s release? I don’t know, but that’s my goal.
As I was thinking about the topic, I connected it with something people have told me in the past ten days – the first ten days following my son Doug’s accident and traumatic brain injury. They say that they are learning something through watching me and our family.
I seriously don’t know how that is going, but somehow our lives speak a message our mouths could never articulate. As I reflect right now on the conversation that Jonny, Dave, and I had about preaching, I am now thinking that the message of our lives is as, or more, important than the message we prepare for a Sunday.
I think it’s like loving God by loving others. The Apostle John and Jesus both said that we love God by loving our neighbor. They basically taught, “don’t tell me about how much you love God if you can’t even love the person next to you!”
Yet it’s not just us loving them, but God loving others through us. We just get to participate. In the same way, our lives betray what we really believe. If my life is betraying something good, then I am very thankful – but also have to point to God – I am just participating with him in his kingdom.
Maybe we all preach through crises in our lives. Maybe what we believe really does come out, or is proven out, in the crucibles of life.
I know this: in the very toughest of times, it’s great to KNOW God, and know that he is walking with you through the storms, and will make beautiful things in your life even with the worst of ingredients.
I have two closing thoughts, disjointed as they might be:
One, don’t run from the crises. These are the places where God is most visible, and faith is most important. The crises, the tragedies, the struggles – they allow God to be so visible at our side. They show us that God, the body of Christ, the Holy Spirit, and our faith are very real and important things.
Two, consider life as preparation for message. We speak out of our experiences. Maybe the best preaching will come out of an alignment with what we believe and what we live.
As I sit here in Doug’s hospital room, he is getting a little ornery. This is a good thing. He’s back, from the coma. Impatient, wanting to get up, wondering why in the world he is in this bed. No words, just the look on his face. Gotta run – more life to live.
Thank you again for praying for Douglas. He is better today than yesterday – and moving toward recovery. Thank you for being the body of Jesus and for supporting me and my family in prayer and encouraging words.
I’m sitting with my son Douglas in his hospital room in Sioux City, IA. It’s evening and we are being quiet together. I try to sit by his bed and just hold his hand. Since his accident six days ago, life has been surreal. Right now other family members are resting, and I have this time with Doug.
I have been answering the question, “How is Doug doing?” by saying that he is holding his own, very well. The “very well” part is because I think Doug does everything very well. With a traumatic brain injury, the question is hard to answer. There is more going on in this room every hour than I can keep track of.
We have many reasons to be very hopeful for Doug. I believe that God is going to use Doug in wonderful ways, as I have always believed. I am praying for a full recovery and his family is going to give him every opportunity to make that happen.
Thank you to those who have prayed for Douglas. I would love to have you continue to pray for him as we move through this weekend. He is my wonderful son!
This week I have learned some things about how we as small church pastors care for hospitalized people and the loved ones around them. We have been ministered to by a number of pastors and chaplains since we arrived here with Doug. Here are some things that I think are important
Do you care? I can easily tell who cares about a patient and/or family member and who does not. There is not a bullet list of clues, but it is communicated through eye contact, tone of voice, touch, posture, and attention. I will always want to take a moment, before entering a patient’s room, to pray, gather my thoughts, and think about how I can care for, comfort, and encourage the person I am visiting.
Are you dialed in to the patient, and do you treat him/her with love and respect? My son is unconscious. I love the people who come into the room, call him by name, and tell him what they are doing to help. I like when pastors/chaplains know Doug’s name, speak to him, and pray for him. There is a shepherding care that takes place when people speak to God for him, and to him for God. Doug is not just a patient, he is a person, and more importantly, he is my son.
Are you rushed in your visit? This is not a science, but an art. People know when you are in a hurry and trying to get out of their room. Wouldn’t it be great if they thought you had absolutely nothing else to do but love on them? Listen, make eye contact, be slow to speak, talk directly to people, and truly love them with the love of Jesus from within.
Know that sick, injured, or fearful people need encouragement, and that every word of hope, affirmation, and support will go a long way. When we are in the pit of despair, we will seize upon every possible morsel of optimism we can find. Provide many morsels of hope and encouragement.
Finally, know you are making a spiritual difference not only in their life, but in the lives of those in the room. Today Rev. Sharon came in, and she spoke with me and my son Joel. She asked us about Doug. Then, she turned her back on us and talked to, and prayed with, Douglas. She spoke to him, even though unconscious, as though he were looking right at her. Then, she lovingly prayed for him. When she was done I asked her to come into his room every day she was there to pray for him. I was in tears. It was truly a moment of spiritual ministry.
In this rotten, horrific week I am having, I am still looking for the things I can thank God for, and for which I can be grateful for in my heart. The care and concern of a church family, meals prepared in love, friends who come bearing our burdens and giving us hope, and a phenomenally loving family – for these I am humbled and grateful.
As you visit people in the hospital, take the time to prepare yourself. It is not “just another visit”. Hospital visitation should never be routine. It is the work of Jesus to those crushed in spirit; it is the work of the Spirit through you to provide hope; and it is the work of the small church Shepherd to care for the sheep.
Jeff has recorded a very personal podcast about his son, Douglas. You can listen to it here.
I (Jeff) recorded this episode completely off the cuff, in the hospital. I am here with my wonderful, precious son Douglas. I didn't want to record this, and truly want to delete it. But I share it with you because were are family, and have always wanted to be open with our 200churches listeners - you.
Thanks for praying for my son Doug.
There are times when it seems like Jeff and I share a brain. Like we're twins, only separated by 23 years. Like we're so completely on the same page and our thinking is totally in sync.
And then there's sports.
I love sports. Huge Cubs fan. Love the NBA finals. Can't get enough March Madness. But above all else, I love football.
Jeff? He couldn't care less.
"Monday Morning Quarterbacking" is an expression (for those who don't live in SEC country) that describes the act of critiquing and second guessing every mistake and misstep that a quarterback--or team as a whole--made the previous day during their game. The idea is that hindsight is 20/20, and everybody can see the right way to do things after something has been done the wrong way.
How often do we Monday Morning Pastor ourselves? Did you wake up today running back the part of your message that didn't work? Or worse, did you start your day with a critique of how your volunteers led their ministries yesterday? Your music director? Heck, maybe you even Monday Morning Pastor your spouse about the way they treated you before you walked out the door!
If I start to think about it, I can Monday Morning Pastor (lets just call it MMP) myself crazy. Did I give our guest missionary a proper introduction? Did I get a little too glib during my announcements? Did I offend someone with some random offhand comment? SHOULD I JUST PACK UP MY OFFICE NOW BECAUSE I KNOW THE ELDERS ARE CALLING THE MOVING TRUCK??!
Okay. Just breathe.
We're not perfect people. You're not a perfect pastor. I'm DEFINITELY not a perfect pastor. But that's the point.
When God called you to ministry, He didn't call you because you were perfect and polished and pressed. He didn't call you because you never flub your words or because you couldn't offend someone if you tried. He called you because you're real. Because you're a real live person who can interact and impact other real live people.
We're called to be authentic. We're called to be real. We're called to stand up and share the love of Christ with people. And we'll mess up sometimes. God knows I've offended too many people to count. But it's okay. Because it's only by the grace of God we're called, and it is only by the grace of God that we can have significant Kingdom impact.
Don't MMP yourself this morning. Instead, give yesterday to God and move forward with a new week, and new opportunities to impact people with God's love. God doesn't measure us according to some rigid quarterback efficiency metrics, so we shouldn't measure ourselves that way either. Live in grace this week and extend that grace to others.
I (Jeff) am not even going to look up the statistics. Partly because I don’t think I would trust them, and partly because I think I would find depressing stats.
Today I talked with a couple who have had the opportunity to visit in almost twenty churches this year. This couple had occasion to spend a fair amount of time with the pastors and wives in these churches. The churches they visited were mostly small churches.
They did not give me a good report.
What they told me was that most of the pastors are discouraged, a little fried, losing hope, and at their wit’s end trying to find enough time to accomplish what they believe God is calling them to do.
These pastors don’t have any additional time or energy to think about outreach in places far from home. They don’t want to hear about the needs of lost people in the 10/40 window, because they are still trying to figure out how to reach the lost people they can see in their neighborhood outside their own windows.
Most of the pastors this couple spent time with in 2014 are tired. Culture is changing in an unhelpful way, and they are losing hope that they will be able to create new ideas and the change their churches need.
Tired Pastor’s Wives
The report on the pastors’ wives is no better. Many of them feel trapped, lonely, and hopeless. Their husbands are married to the ministry, and when they do come home, they often have nothing left for the family or their spouse.
The wives know they must continue to support their husbands and church members, and they are also tired, sometimes resentful, and mostly losing hope.
After talking with this couple, I considered doing some research on the health of ministry couples – their psychological, emotional, spiritual, and physical health. But I don’t want to. I almost don’t want to know.
These 3 things might help us!
1. We need to change paradigms. A paradigm is simply a pattern or model for how things are or should be. We need to change the pattern of pastoral ministry. It needs to be less about pleasing people, and more about reaching people. It needs to be less about burning out leadership, and more about leading out of health and fullness, even overflow.
It needs to be less about strategizing and structuring for convenience – i.e. we always do it this way because it’s just much easier and less time consuming than trying to reinvent things, and more about strategizing and structuring for effectiveness and outcomes.
I know, it’s easier to do things the way we’ve always done them. Who has the time these days to get people together, brainstorm, listen to ideas and suggestions, try things, perhaps fail, tweak approaches, revamp, etc. etc. Let’s just try to adjust a little, and run with the tried and true. Except the tried and true just isn’t that anymore. We need new ways of doing things that reflect the reality we now exist in.
Somehow, pastors must work with their people, and not for their people. They must account for burnout and allow for rest and renewal. Pastors’ wives need room to be themselves, have fun, choose their own mold, and get the best part of their husbands, not just the dregs at the end of the day.
2. We need to live and minister through the power of God, Father, Son, and Spirit! The power to change lives is not our power, it’s Jesus’ power. Without him, we can do… well, you know. Can we surrender our alleged power to his power, and trust him to lead, grow, and change his church?
3. We need to release our church to Jesus. Let’s sign over the ownership of our sheep to the Good Shepherd. They’re his sheep anyway. We don’t need to control people. We need to love, serve, teach, and shepherd people, but not control them. Hey, we can’t anyway. They’re going to do what they want to do. If we model a surrendered life, dependent on Jesus, to them, then maybe they will also surrender to Jesus, and depend on him!
I have just a couple questions that you could ask your spouse and your board. These questions might just start the conversation (if you have the strength and faith to even have the conversations!)
Ask your spouse if he or she feels like they are getting enough of you at home – at least some of the best of you. Maybe something like, “How are you doing as a pastor’s wife? Is how I am pastoring our church helping you or hurting you? What could I do better?”
Ask your board – “Are the things that we are doing as a church helping us to fulfill our mission of making disciples? What could we do better?”
Let’s go back to when ministry was something we all longed for as pastors – when we got excited for the phone to ring, and when we were thankful if others needed us. Let’s get back to resting and renewal, so that the passion for the lost can again be kindled in our souls.
Episode 92 - To the Brink and Back: How Suffering Produces Lifechange - A Conversation with Dr. John Stumbo
"I miss what I once had: a strong body, a clear voice, clear thinking, open doors for ministry ... I miss myself." This is what John Stumbo said after a mysterious disease ravaged his body in 2008-2009.
John Stumbo didn't swallow on his own for a year and a half. He had a feeding tube and used a walker. Once the senior pastor of his growing church, he was out of commission for almost a year, and then reduced to a part time associate position.
Today, just five years later, he is the president of Jeff and Jonny's denomination, the Christian & Missionary Alliance.
In this episode, John talks with the guys and tells his story. He shares about his early years of ministry, the churches he's served in, and then the illness that almost took his life.
Most importantly, John Stumbo tell of the life change he experienced through the journey of pain and suffering. Once and ultra-marathoner, he feared he would become a quadriplegic. Through the suffering, and the process of recovery, his life and ministry changed, and perhaps more significantly, his marriage changed.
Will it take a near death crisis for us to get real about our ministries and our marriages? Thankfully, we don't all have to experience that, but unfortunately, many of us will also never get to the depths of our growth because we will be too healthy.
Maybe this conversation will encourage you to move toward your spouse, your real bride or groom, and reclaim the intimacy, respect, and commitment you owe her or him. This is not just for male pastors, but women pastors can also be guilty of being married to ministry. Whatever your situation, learn from one who has walked through the valley of the shadow of death - so you can grow without going there!
We did not talk about this on the podcast, but John and his wife Joanna have written a book together called An Honest Look At A Mysterious Journey. John also has written a book titled, In The Midst: Treasures From The Dark. Both of these books are available in Kindle format for only $4.99 each.
Jeff & Jonny want to give a special welcome to C&MA pastors who are just finding 200churches.com and the 200churches Podcast!
Go ahead and browse through more than 90 episodes of our podcast on the podcast tab at the top of this page, or on our SUPER-SECRET archive page. :-) A new episode, designed to bring ministry encouragement to pastors of small churches, gets released every Wednesday.
This week Wednesday, on October 15, our president, Dr. John Stumbo, will be our guest on the podcast. It's a great conversation that will really encourage you!
If you would like to subscribe to the 200churches Podcast, simply open up iTunes, or your favorite podcast app, search for "200churches" and get subscribed!
Here is our iTunes podcast page online, or open up the 200churches Podcast in iTunes by clicking here.
200churches is all about pastors of small churches. A "200church" is any church of around 200, give or take a hundred or two!
One practice could be the most effective way to accomplish almost anything. Pastors who do this have a much greater chance of finishing their work and completing their tasks.
What is this one practice? Well, we could spend the entire blog post building up to the grand announcement, but since you might only read the first two paragraphs, we’ll tell you right up front. The practice is this: writing it down!
How many times has a great idea entered your mind, but before you wrote it down, it was gone, vanished? You didn’t write it down, now you are resigned to hoping it re-enters your mind at some future point in time.
Putting things in writing has a wonderful way of validating their importance. We write down important things. We attach our signatures to important documents. Documents are just fancy papers on which we’ve written things down, whether in our own hand, or on a keyboard.
Want to remember the four passages you want to cover in your sermon in two weeks? Write them down.
Want to know that lady’s name the next time you run into her? Write it down.
Want to visit these three people next week? Write it down.
Want to get those three ministry projects started this month? Write them down.
Want to sort out your thoughts on a complex ministry dilemma? Write them down.
This is such a simple practice, yet so many pastors would have to admit they don’t do this on a regular basis. “Oh, I’ll remember that” we say. Yet we don’t remember, because we haven’t written it down.
This post is coming out on a Friday. If you are reading this on Friday, what are the three most important things you need to accomplish next week? Have you written them out – all the things you need to accomplish next week – so that you can determine which three are most important?
If you have, good job! If you haven’t, will you? If you won’t, is it because what you do in your life and ministry just isn’t that important? Whether or not you get them done doesn’t really matter?
Are your responsibilities just no big deal? Are your people just not that important to you to visit, that you wouldn’t write down their names and which days you want to visit them on?
You know, we can have all kinds of software and hardware, high tech gadgets like cell phones and tablets – but are we missing what could be the single greatest tool for getting things done – a simple piece of paper we keep on our desk or in our pocket, to which we refer two dozen times a day?
When people talk to me (Jeff) in the lobby on a Sunday morning, and they want me to remember something, or do something, I tell them all the same thing: “Send me an email”. What am I asking them to do? Two things: Help me to remember what we’ve talked about. Write it down and send it to me.
My Inbox is my task list for the things I need to do for others. I use it to remind myself that something needs to be done. As I get things done, I delete emails. I will even, at times, send myself an email, my digital way of writing something down.
What if we simply wrote things down? Things that were important. Things that were both urgent and non-urgent. Things that mattered so much that if we missed getting them done, caring for people would hang in the balance.
Write things down. Tasks, goals, projects, names, phone numbers, ideas, deadlines, sermon topics and outlines, illustrations, and priorities. Write things down. If you write something down, you have a much greater chance of getting it done.
Write down your stuff for Sunday, then wake up Sunday morning, look at your paper, and step confidently into your day, knowing you are going to get things done.
Have wonderful weekend!