I have this displayed on my office whiteboard: “Vision without implementation equals hallucination.” I believe in vision. If you don’t have a plan for implementing your vision, you are wasting your time. Success involves the management of ideas. Ideas can provide wonderful breakthroughs for your ministry. However, trying to implement too many ideas at once can crush or fragment your ministry. Here are five important keys to begin building a solid foundation for your small group ministry . . .
Each local church is meant to be a unified body, working together in a coordinated way toward a common purpose. This means that as you plan your small group ministry, you should start by thinking church-wide. The weekend services, the small groups, and the other church ministries all work together to achieve the outcome of a mature disciple — what Saddleback calls the Purpose Driven Life.
Whole-church coordination doesn’t happen by accident. It takes intentional planning. As Christians, it is possible to get caught in the passive “If God wants it to happen, it will happen” trap, and this can often lead to . . . absolutely nothing. While it’s true that the Lord can and does make things happen, he has also equipped us to be his hands and feet. Therefore, the best Kingdom outcomes require that we become intentional in our planning while depending continually on the Lord for wisdom.
The coordinated functioning of your local body requires understanding clearly what success means for your church. What is God’s end for your church, for a disciple, that you must keep in view? This is defined in your church’s and your small group ministry’s vision and mission statements. Then it’s carried out in your small group ministry.
Align Your Systems
Based on this definition of success, it is imperative to have a church-wide system that moves people along a comprehensive pathway toward the end destination of mature disciples. Without such a unified system, a new or existing ministry, like small groups, will follow its own independent path, which may not take people along the pathway to success for your church. You may end up with chaos resembling that of the Tower of Babel. Your church’s leadership must prayerfully communicate, align, and work together to create a roadmap for your church that will help both leaders and congregants fulfill the church’s vision and mission, guiding every ministry toward success.
Define Your Plan
Within the whole-church system, each ministry — including your small group ministry — must define and develop a comprehensive plan that fits within the system and helps achieve your church’s vision and mission. This is your ministry’s pathway to help achieve God’s end purpose for your church. Average small group pastors provide training. Good small group pastors have a plan encompassing only their ministry. Great small group pastors have a plan that is coordinated with the church’s vision and mission.
Before Saddleback moved to its present location, we bought a big chunk of land. While I thought at the time it was a dream come true, it turned out there were giants in the land.
The county began heaping on ridiculous requirements. First they wanted to allow us to build on only nine acres of the property.
Then they instructed us to build a berm – an eight foot ridge of dirt – along the front of the property to hide the building.
Then they decided we’d need to move 150 trees from the back of the property to the front of the property and plant them on that berm.
Next, they told us we couldn’t build a 7,000-seat worship center. Instead, we could build a 1,000- seat worship center and have seven services.
Then they demanded that we put in a charcoal filtration water system so that the water that ran off the parking lot would be nice and pure as it went into the gutter.
Then they told us we couldn’t build a parking lot. We’d have to build a parking garage.
Finally, they decided we couldn’t build a preschool because “that’s not a legitimate church ministry.” We said, “Since when did the government start deciding what is and what isn’t legitimate church ministry?”
We battled for four years. Some 25 articles appeared in The Los Angeles Times and The Orange County Register during that time with headlines like, “Church Project Delayed” and “Church Project Delayed Again.”
I asked our people to write to the county supervisors. Shortly after, this headline came out: “Pro Canyon Church Project Letters Flood the County Offices.” Letters were coming in at the rate of 400 a day. Finally the county supervisors called me and said, “Please stop. You’re clogging up our mail system.”
The Orange County Register published an editorial supporting Saddleback Church called “A Church Beset, A Church Under Siege.” It said, “The church’s congregation has grown in 91⁄2 years from nothing to 7,500 but still meets in a high school gym. What this really amounts to is county bureaucrats trying to force and control their use of property along a pre-determined path. What gives people the arrogance to presume they have the right to do such a thing?”
Finally I took our church directory to our county supervisor. I laid it in front of that supervisor and said, “There are 18,000 names in this directory. They all vote and they’re all in your district.”
And that’s how we swapped for the piece of property we now own. We paid $3.5 million for the first piece of land. During the four-year battle it went up in value to $6.5 million, and we traded it evenly for a piece worth $9 million. We walked onto our Lake Forest property with $6 million in equity. That is so God!
The new land had more visibility, more usable space, more accessibility, a six-lane road on one side, a six-lane road on another side, and a toll road that goes up and down the entire county, putting one third of Orange County – or a million people – within a 20-minute drive of this church. God knew what he was doing.
Were the risks and the battles and delay worth it? Absolutely. Because what God starts he finishes.
Some in our congregation have said, “I really regret missing some of those early exciting tests of faith that Saddleback was in on. I wasn’t here during that time.” But the most exciting part of any race is not the start of the race. It’s the end.
Good things are ahead not just for your congregation but for all of God’s people. We’re all in a battle, but we already know we’re going to win it because the Bible tells us. I don’t know a more exciting time to be alive.
As a pastor, there are many things you don’t have control over. You didn’t choose when or where you’d be born or what your natural talents would be. God, in his sovereignty, chose those things for you. But there is one thing you do have control over and that’s the most important thing: It’s how much you choose to believe God.
Philippians 1:6 says, “And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns” (NLT).
You can trust him. Whatever he starts, he finishes – and finishes well.
“Therefore comfort each other and edify one another.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:11 (NKJV)
The paradox of recovery is that both the wounds behind addiction and the healing of those wounds are relationally based. This is why healthy relationships are a protected and essential part of Celebrate Recovery. Unfortunately, many men are resistant to healthy relationships and, as a result, are not maturing in recovery.
One of the reasons men resist needs-based relationships is what I call masculine-masking. I believe one of the most spiritually crippling masculine-masking messages is the belief that “needing someone is weak.” This mask is especially dangerous because spiritual growth is relational. We grow spiritually and emotionally through healthy relationships with God and others. When we say we don’t need anyone, we are halting our own progress. In reality, this mask reveals emotional wounds rather than emotional health.
When I was a young teenager and both my parents were incarcerated, my response was to protect myself from close relationships in order to avoid getting hurt. In his book Hiding From Love, Dr. John Townsend explains this response: “When you experience emotional injury, fear, shame, or pride, your first impulse is to hide the hurting parts of yourself from God, others, even yourself. Often you’ve learned these hiding patterns during childhood to protect yourself in a threatening environment. The problem is that when you hide your injuries and frailties, you isolate yourself from the very things you need in order to heal and mature. What served as protection for a child becomes a prison to an adult.”
Wearing the mask of not needing anyone else keeps us from being authentic. It imprisons us by isolating us from the healthy relationships God has provided for our recovery and spiritual growth. The man who reaches out for help and maintains healthy relationships is someone who has taken off the mask to be his authentic self and is stronger because of it.
Do you want to grow spiritually and in your recovery? Then remove the mask of “needing someone is weak.” Invest in your healthy relationships and accountability support team.
A lot of ministries begin with a bang, then explode with new growth. But after the initial growth, they plateau. I have seen this repeated thousands of times from pastors I’ve talked with over the years.
God doesn’t want ministries to stagnate. Not only does he want them to succeed, but he also wants us to succeed as ministry leaders.
To help us achieve this goal, God has given us examples of errors to avoid — seven common traps of leadership that Satan is most likely to use to keep your ministry from becoming all that God wants it to be.
1. You stop growing personally
Whenever you find yourself resisting a new way of doing something, defending the status quo, or opposing a change that God has told you to make, watch out — you’re about to lose your place of leadership.
What’s the key to overcoming this leadership trap? You must continue developing your skills, your character, your perspective, your vision, your heart for God, and your dependence upon him.
Never stop learning. Read and reread the Bible. Listen to podcasts and sermons. Read books and blogs and magazines. Attend conferences and seminars. Keep feeding yourself!
2. You stop caring
The leader who stops having a passion for ministry won’t last long. This is one of the subtlest traps in ministry — you go through the motions of serving the Lord because you know it’s the right thing to do, but your heart is not in it. That’s no way to serve God.
If you’ve found yourself in this trap, there’s hope. If you want to recover your heart for people, you must do the things you did in the beginning.
Start acting the way you used to act when you were passionate about ministry. Even if you don’t feel passionate, act passionately.
It’s easier to act your way into a feeling than it is to feel your way into an action. If you act loving, those feelings will come back. So, do the things that originally brought you joy in ministry.
3. You stop listening
Learn to listen and be sensitive to others. Encourage the people you serve in ministry to talk to you. Let them tell you about their problems, their troubles, their fears, their aspirations, their dreams, and their hurts. Be open to suggestions and constructive criticism, and look for other perspectives.
4. You get distracted
Many things can distract you from ministry. Personal or health problems can distract you. Competing interests can distract you. Finances can distract you. Things that you think are fun and good and wonderful can distract you. Satan doesn’t care if you aren’t sinning while distracted, because as long as you’re distracted, you aren’t doing what God wants you to do.
But God wants us to stay focused. Never forget your mission. The Bible says in Luke 9:62, “No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (KJV).
Stay focused. Don’t get distracted.
5. You get complacent
Complacency is the enemy of a good leader. If God says go for it, stick your neck out! Never stop depending on the Lord. Stop coasting. Take some risks in faith. Push the envelope. Attempt something that cannot be accomplished in the power of the flesh. Say to yourself, “What am I going to try in my ministry this next year that I know is bound to fail unless God bails me out?” Unless God is your only safety net, you’re not truly living by faith. Depend on the Lord.
6. You become arrogant
I’ve seen this again and again. When a leader becomes arrogant, it leads to ruin. When you think that everything depends on you, when you don’t think you need the Lord’s help in your ministry because you’ve got it all together, watch out.
If you sense that you’ve become prideful and arrogant about your leadership, humble yourself. Submit your heart to God for softening, and bow before his greatness.
7. You fail to delegate
When a ministry plateaus, God is telling you that you’ve reached the limit of what he’s empowered you to do by yourself. You need to move from doing to delegating.
Involve other people in your ministry. Move from being a minister to a manager of ministers. Managing is a ministry in itself. D. L. Moody said it like this: “I’d rather put 10 men to work than do the work of 10 men.”
If you avoid these seven traps, you’ll go a long way toward building a ministry that lasts.
I’m often asked specifics about my administrative style, but I think leadership style is secondary. It’s more important to understand basic, universal leadership concepts.
Here are 6 non-negotiable facts about leadership…
1. Nothing happens until someone provides leadership for it.
This is a law of life. For instance, the Civil Rights movement made little progress until a man came along named Martin Luther King Jr., who said, “I have a dream.” The NASA space program was quite limited until John Kennedy said, “We’re going to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade.”
Saddleback Church started because God said, “Rick, I want you to be a leader and get the thing off the ground.” When problems arise in your own family, nothing happens until somebody assumes leadership and says, “We’re going to do something about it.”
Everything rises or falls on leadership, and most problems can be traced to a lack of competent leadership.
I believe one of the greatest problems today is a leadership shortage within our churches.
2. Leadership is influence.
If I had to summarize leadership in one word, it would be influence — for good or for bad.
Have you ever watched a playground at school? Within about five minutes you can usually determine who the leaders are — and whether they’re good leaders or bad ones.
Every time you influence somebody, you’re assuming leadership. ()
In 1 Timothy 4:12, Paul told Timothy, “And don’t let anyone put you down because you’re young. Teach believers with your life: by word, by demeanor, by love, by faith, by integrity” (Message).
Age has nothing to do with leadership. You can be an influence at any age, and you’re a role model whether you like it or not.
3. The test of leadership is, is anybody following?
If you want to know whether you’re a leader or not, simply look over your shoulder.
My friend John Maxwell says, “He who thinketh he leadeth and hath no one following him is only taking a walk.”
If you have to remind people that you’re the leader, then you’re not. The Sunday I stand up at Saddleback and say, “Folks, we’re going to do it my way because I am the leader” — that’s the Sunday I’ve ceased to be the leader.
You don’t have to remind people. Leadership is influence and if you’re not influencing anybody, it doesn’t matter if you think you’re the leader — you’re not.
4. The foundation of leadership is character, not charisma.
You may have enough charisma to be a televangelist, but if you have no character, you bomb. The foundation of leadership is character, not charisma.
In fact, you don’t have to have charisma to be a leader, but you do have to have character. This kind of credibility is essential because without it, no one will follow you.
5. Leadership can be learned.
Everyone can be a great leader. Philippians 4:9 says, “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me — put into practice (NIV).”
Contrary to conventional wisdom, leaders are made, not born. There is no such thing as a born leader. Leaders are made by the way they respond to circumstances.
The priority of training leaders can be seen in the ministry of Jesus. Mark 3:14 says, “He appointed twelve — designating them apostles — that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach (NIV).”
Jesus had a public ministry and a private ministry. His public ministry involved preaching, teaching and healing. His private ministry involved training the disciples.
Even within the twelve, he had an inner circle — Peter, James, John — who got to go to the Garden of Gethsemane and the Mount of Transfiguration. They got extra attention.
In Galatians, Paul said Peter, James, and John were the pillars of the church. Jesus invested the maximum time with those who would bear the maximum responsibility. He fed the masses, but he spent most of his time training leadership, and that’s one reason why I believe leadership can be learned.
6. The moment you stop learning, you stop leading.
All leaders must be learners. The moment you stop learning is the moment you stop leading.
The moment I, as a pastor, stop growing, then I believe Saddleback Church will stop growing. You must always be developing and growing and becoming what God wants you to be.
One of the ways I believe you can assess whether or not your church is maturing spiritually is this: The standards for leadership keep getting tougher as time passes. You keep turning up the heat every year, requiring a deeper level of commitment to Christ and spiritual growth.
Every time you raise the standards for leadership, you bring everyone else in the church along a little bit. A rising tide raises all the boats in the harbor.
Focus on raising the commitment of your leadership, not those who are the least committed in the crowd or even the semi-committed in your congregation. Whenever you raise the standard of commitment for those who are in the most visible positions of leadership, it raises the expectations among everyone else.
You must ask people for commitment
If you don’t ask people for commitment, you won’t get it. You have not because you ask not.
It’s amazing to me that many community organizations require more from participants than local churches do. If you’ve ever been a Little League parent, you know that when your child signed up to play, you were required to make a major commitment in terms of providing refreshments, transportation, trophies, and victory parties in addition to attendance. There was nothing voluntary about it! It was required if you wanted to participate.
One of the most helpful things a church can do for people is to help them clarify what commitments they ought to make and what commitments they ought to decline. Many people are half-committed to two dozen causes rather than being totally committed to the things that really matter.
The barrier to spiritual growth is not lack of commitment, but overcommitment to the wrong things.
People must be taught to make wise commitments.
Ask confidently for a big commitment
Study how Jesus asked for commitment. He was always clear and confident when he asked for it. He was not at all reluctant to ask grown men and women to drop everything and follow him.
This is an interesting phenomena: The greater the commitment you request, the greater response you will get.
People want to be committed to something that gives significance to their lives. They respond to responsibilities that give life meaning. They are attracted to a challenging vision. They want to be a part of something worthwhile.
On the other hand, people are unmoved by weak appeals and pitiful requests for help. Jesus knew this when he said in Luke 14:33, “None of you can be my disciples unless you give up everything” (GW).
Some pastors are afraid to ask for a big commitment, fearing they will drive people away. But people do not resent being asked for a big commitment if there is a great purpose behind it.
People respond to passionate vision, not need
That’s why most stewardship campaigns don’t work: They focus on the needs of the church rather than the vision of the church. If people were really motivated by organizational needs, then every time a need was presented it would immediately be met.
Be specific in asking for commitment
Another key of developing commitment is being specific. Tell people exactly what is expected of them. At Saddleback we ask people to commit to Christ, then to baptism, then to membership, then to the habits for maturity, then to ministry, and finally to fulfilling their life mission.
Explain the benefits of commitment
Another key to developing commitment in people is to identify the benefits of it. God does this. So many of the commands in Scripture have promises attached to them. I once did a study of the promises attached to God’s commands to be generous. We always end up being blessed whenever we’re obedient.
Explain the personal benefits, the family benefits, the benefits to the body of Christ and society in general, and the eternal benefits of committing to spiritual growth. People really do have an innate desire to learn, to grow, and to improve.
Build on commitment rather than toward commitment
Even though you tell people where you are taking them (by challenging them with a big commitment), you start with whatever commitment they are able to give. Begin with an initial commitment regardless of how weak it may seem.
We challenge people to make a commitment and then grow into it. It’s like choosing to become a parent.
Very few couples feel competent to parent before they have their first child. But somehow — after the decision is made and a baby is born — the couple grows into their parenting role.
You must find ways for people to take baby steps while also elevating your expectations of them over time. Your church will be healthier as a result.
The New Testament says a lot about the health of the church. Consider just a few verses:
“As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing” (Ephesians 4:16 NLT).
“The focus of my letter wasn’t on punishing the offender but on getting you to take responsibility for the health of the church” (2 Corinthians 2:9 The Message).
“You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other” (James 3:18 The Message).
Church Health is the Key to Church Growth
All living things grow if they’re healthy. You don’t have to make them grow — it’s just natural for living organisms. As a parent, I didn’t have to force my three children to grow. They naturally grew up. As long as I removed the hindrances, such as poor nutrition or an unsafe environment, their growth was automatic.
If my children had not grown up, something would have been terribly wrong. I would have done whatever it took to discover the disease and correct it. I wouldn’t have remained passive, spouting clichés about faithfulness, or wanting “quality not quantity” in my children.
The same principle is true for the church. Since the church is a living organism, it’s natural for it to grow if it’s healthy. The church is a body, not a business — an organism, not an organization. It’s alive. If a church is not growing, it is dying.
What then is the secret of church health?
In a word, it’s balance!
Your body has nine different systems (including circulatory, respiratory, digestive, and skeletal). When these systems are all in balance, it produces health. But when your body gets out of balance, we call that “disease.” Likewise, when the body of Christ becomes unbalanced, disease occurs. Health and growth can only occur when everything is brought into balance.
The Importance of Balance
Our entire world is based on this principle of balance. Our planet was perfectly balanced by God, at just the right angle on its axis to support life. It rotates at a speed that minimizes vibration. If this planet were just a little closer to the sun, we’d burn up and, if it were just a few miles farther away from the sun, we’d freeze to death.
Nature is a collection of ecosystems that live in balance with each other. We now know that even the tiniest variation in the ecosystem creates a chain reaction. God has set up a food chain with plants and animals in balance.
In architecture, structures must be balanced. If the stress isn’t balanced, a building will collapse or a bridge will fall through. There must be equilibrium. If your life is not balanced, you might collapse, and if your congregation is not balanced, it might collapse. As pastors and counselors we must realize that healing is the recovery of balance to the body, soul, and congregation.
Healthy, lasting church growth is multidimensional. I’ve written extensively on the fact that church health has five facets: Every church needs to grow…
warmer through fellowship
deeper through discipleship
stronger through worship
broader through ministry
larger through evangelism
These five purposes of the church are commanded by Jesus in the Great Commandment and the Great Commission, explained by Paul in Ephesians 4, described in Jesus’ prayer for the church in John 17, and modeled by the first church in Jerusalem.
In Acts 2:42-47 these five facets of health are mentioned: They fellowshipped, edified each other, worshiped, ministered, and evangelized. As a result, verse 47 says, “The Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (NIV).
Church growth is the natural result of church health. But church health can only occur when our message is biblical and our mission is balanced. Each of the five New Testament purposes of the church must be in equilibrium with the others for health to occur.
Now this is important: Because we are imperfect beings, balance in a church does not occur naturally. In fact, we must continually correct imbalance! It’s human nature to overemphasize the aspect or purpose of the church we feel most passionate about.
Most evangelical churches already do the five purposes of the church — sort of.
But they don’t do them all equally well. One church may be strong in fellowship, yet weak in evangelism. Another may be strong in worship, yet weak in discipleship. Still another may be strong in evangelism, yet weak in ministry.
Why is this? It’s the natural tendency of leaders to emphasize what they feel strongly about and neglect whatever they feel less passionate about. Around the world you can find churches that have become the extension of pastoral giftedness. They focus only on what the pastor cares about most.
Unless you set up a system and structure to intentionally balance the five purposes, your church will tend to overemphasize the purpose that best expresses the gifts and passion of its pastor.
Healthy churches are built on purpose! By focusing equally on all five of the New Testament purposes of the church, your church will develop the healthy balance that makes lasting growth possible.
Discouragement is unique to human beings, and it’s universal.
Eventually everyone feels it, including those in ministry. I have no doubt you’ve experienced discouragement at times. You might even be discouraged as you read this article.
Do you know how often I have wanted to quit being pastor of Saddleback Church? Every Monday morning!
So here’s what I’ve learned about battling discouragement:
4 Causes of Discouragement
#1 Cause – Fatigue
When you’re physically or emotionally exhausted, you’re a prime candidate to be infected with discouragement. Your defenses are lowered and things can seem bleaker than they really are. This often occurs when you’re halfway through a major project and you get tired.
#2 Cause – Frustration
When unfinished tasks pile up, it’s natural to feel overwhelmed. And when trivial matters or the unexpected interrupt you and prevent you from accomplishing what you really need to do, your frustration can easily produce discouragement.
#3 Cause – Failure
Sometimes your best laid plans fall apart, the project collapses, the deal falls through, no one shows up to the event. How do you react? Do you give in to self-pity? Do you blame others? As one man said, “Just when I think I can make ends meet, somebody moves the ends!” That’s discouraging!
#4 Cause – Fear
Fear is behind more discouragement than we’d like to admit. The fear of criticism (What will they think?), the fear of responsibility (What if I can’t handle this?), and the fear of failure (What if I blow it?) can cause a major onset of the blues.
4 Cures for Discouragement
There’s a fascinating story in the Bible about how a guy named Nehemiah mobilized the residents of Jerusalem to build a wall around the entire city. Halfway through the project, the citizens became discouraged and wanted to give up because of the four causes I’ve given.
Here’s what Nehemiah taught about defeating discouragement:
Then I said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, “The work is extensive and spread out, and we are widely separated from each other along the wall. Wherever you hear the sound of the trumpet, join us there. Our God will fight for us!” So we continued the work with half the men holding spears, from the first light of dawn till the stars came out. Nehemiah 4:19-21 (NIV)
1. Rest your body.
If you need a break, take one! You’ll be more effective when you return to work. If you’re burning the candle at both ends, you’re not as bright as you think!
2. Reorganize your life.
Discouragement doesn’t necessarily mean you are doing the wrong thing. It may just be that you are doing the right thing in the wrong way. Try a new approach. Shake things up a little.
3. Remember that God will help you.
Just ask him. He can give you new energy. There’s incredible, motivating power in faith.
4. Resist the discouragement.
Fight back! Discouragement is a choice. If you feel discouraged, it’s because you’ve allowed yourself to feel that way. No one is forcing you to feel bad. Hang on! Do what’s right in spite of your feelings. No feeling lasts forever.
God never causes us to become discouraged. He may allow circumstances that are difficult, but his goal is always for our good and for his glory.
And while God isn’t responsible for the things that cause discouragement, he is the provider of all that cures discouragement. So stay close to him and keep going forward!
Psychology Today once asked 52,000 Americans, “What does it take to make you happy?” Their answers varied, but the interesting thing is that most of them dealt with external situations instead of internal issues. The popular idea of happiness involves having the right circumstances. It’s what I call “when and then” thinking.
When I get out of school, then I’ll be happy.
When I get a job, then I’ll be happy.
When I get married, then I’ll be happy.
When I have kids, then I’ll be happy.
When the kids leave home, then I’ll be happy.
Perhaps happiness isn’t the goal. At least not the way most people think about the word happiness.
Joy is a much better word because it describes a state we can choose regardless of our circumstances.
Joy is a choice. You choose to be joyful — often in spite of your circumstances. Right now, regardless of what you are facing in your ministry, you’re as joyful as you choose to be.
Life is difficult. Parenting is difficult. Ministry is difficult! There are a lot of things that don’t go right and don’t go your way in life. If your joy in ministry depends on everything going your way, you’ll be miserable for much of your ministry.
My wife, Kay, wrote in her book Choose Joy, “Joy is the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of my life, the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be all right, and the determined choice to praise God in all things.”
She’s right. Real joy can be chosen, by faith, in any circumstance.
Of course, the greatest instructions on how to be joyful can be found in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus began his most famous message with eight ways to find joy and I believe the first one is the most important. Matthew 5:3 says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (NIV). What does he mean by “the poor in spirit”? Jesus was talking about humility.
What does it mean to be poor in spirit? It simply means to be totally dependent on God. That is true humility: admitting that I don’t have it all together, that I haven’t arrived, that I haven’t learned it all, that I’m a long way from perfection, and that I’m not God!
Joy and humility go together! They’re twins, soul mates. If you want to have lasting joy — in life and ministry — then you need to learn true humility.
How can humility increase my happiness?
Humility reduces stress.
When I’m humble I don’t have to have all the answers; I realize that the world, or even the church I pastor, does not depend on me for its existence. Humility allows me to resign as general manager of the universe. I let God be God.
When I choose to humble myself, I am able to live with the tension between the real and the ideal — my ideal for my marriage, my kids, and my ministry, as opposed to the way things really are right now. You will always have that tension. Humility is accepting life with gratitude even though things aren’t perfect.
Did you know that the words human, humanity, humor, and humility all come from the same root word? Humility is, in essence, being in touch with your humanity. It is having a realistic view of both your strengths and weaknesses.
Humility is also not taking yourself too seriously. Humble people can laugh at themselves. Prideful people often are humorless people. They are too impressed with themselves or too insecure to let down and laugh at themselves.
I’ve noticed that pastors can be particularly susceptible to over-inflating our importance. We can take ourselves way too seriously, and we don’t take God seriously enough. That is the source of so much stress in ministry. You spend so much emotional energy trying to impress people with your importance, your spirituality, or your knowledge that you feel drained all the time.
On the other hand, when you walk in humble dependence upon the Lord, your stress goes down, and your joy goes up.
Humility improves relationships.
No one enjoys being around arrogant people. Selfish, self-absorbed people are an irritation. They wreck relationships and destroy fellowship. Because self-centered people are unhappy, they make everybody else unhappy, too.
On the other hand, all of us love being around genuinely humble individuals. When you are humble, you get along better with other people. Humility doesn’t mean you think less of yourself; you just think more about others! And when you become interested in others, you become interesting to others!
When you’re poor in spirit, it reduces your stress and improves your relationships because you are more likely to ask forgiveness when you are wrong. You don’t have to be right all the time. It’s easier for you to say the two hardest words, “Forgive me” or the three hardest words, “I was wrong” or the four hardest words, “I need your help.”
St. Francis of Assisi had an unusual method of maintaining humility. In his memoirs, he said anytime someone praised him, in order to stay humble, he would have a fellow monk sit down and tell him all his faults. Of course, the reason he had to ask a fellow monk was because he never married!
Actually, it is not your wife’s job to keep you humble. That’s your job! Humility is a choice.
Ruth Graham said about her husband, Billy Graham: “My job is to love Billy; God’s job is to keep him humble.” But God only steps in to humble us when we have failed to humble ourselves. Over and over again in the Scriptures we are told to “humble ourselves.” Again, humility is a choice — to think of others instead of yourself.
I’ve discovered when I’m walking humbly before the Lord, just being who God made me to be and depending upon God, I’m almost immune to insults. They don’t bother me but pass through me because my focus is on pleasing the Lord, not gaining the approval of others. Whenever I become extra sensitive to criticism, it’s a sign that I’ve stopped walking in humility.
Humility releases God’s power.
Humility releases God’s power in your life. James 4:6 says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (NLT). Would you like to have God’s grace poured out in your life and ministry? The secret of spiritual power is to walk humbly before the Lord, focusing on others and depending on God.
I often pray a particular prayer on my way to church. I offer my resignation to God: “God, you have used me in the past, but I never presume upon your graciousness. Whatever will bring you the most glory is exactly what I want.” Then I recommit my life to the Lord and ask him to empower me. I have a memorized list of affirmations and confessions that I pray, but the bottom line is that I humble myself before the Lord in solitude.
If you have to prepare and preach fresh messages on a regular basis, you already know how essential it is to express total dependence upon God. Nobody can possibly meet all the different needs in a typical congregation. But God can.
God’s power is seen in your life not because of who you are but because of who God is! The secret of strength is admitting your weakness. The secret of power is admitting helplessness. The secret of joy is humility. And the secret of victory is total surrender to God.
I urge you to get alone with God right now, choose to humble yourself, and say, “God, as your humble servant I surrender my will completely to yours. Please help me!”
There’s nothing God won’t do for that kind of person! The kingdom of heaven will be yours.
Ministry is full of stressful moments. Sometimes it’s conflict between members or staff. Sometimes it’s just the week after a high-attendance Sunday, like Easter, and we’re concerned about following up.
We all face a variety of issues in ministry that raise our blood pressure. Fortunately, we’ve got a great model for ministry in Jesus.
His life was under constant demands. Crowds were always pressing up against him, asking him to take care of their needs. He was misunderstood and criticized by religious people. Sound familiar?
But through it all, Jesus never got depressed or discouraged. He never gave up.
How did he manage to be at peace under pressure? And how can you experience that kind of peace, too?
1. Know who you are.
“When Jesus spoke again to the people he said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life’” (John 8:12 NIV).
More than 18 times in the Bible Jesus says, “I am . . .” and then gives a descriptor. He was always defining himself. He was saying, “I know who I am.” There was no doubt about it. As a result, he wasn’t under pressure.
Often, we get stressed when we try to be someone we’re not. We put on masks and hide from others. When you do that, you’re always afraid you won’t be able keep up the facade. Then comes stress. If you’ve never come to terms with who you are, it’s like trying to live a double life.
Counterbalance this stress with an internal sense of satisfaction about who you are and who God made you to be. You discover who you are by discovering whose you are.
2. Know whom you’re trying to please.
“By myself I can do nothing: I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me” (John 5:30 NIV).
Jesus dedicated his whole life to pleasing God — not himself or others. He realized that pleasing God would always be the right move. You can’t please everyone, so Jesus focused on pleasing his Heavenly Father instead.
And he did. At the Transfiguration, God said of Jesus: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17 KJV).
If Jesus couldn’t please everyone, you can’t either.
You can please Crowd A, and Crowd B will be upset at you. Sometimes I’m asked how I handle criticism. It’s simple. I know who I am, and I know whom I’m trying to please.
I’m trying to please God. I’m really only responsible to him. When somebody criticizes me unfairly, I say, “I’m God’s man with God’s message for this situation.”
3.Know what you’re trying to accomplish.
“Jesus answered, ‘Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid, for I know where I came from and know where I am going’” (John 8:14 NIV).
Jesus knew exactly what he wanted to accomplish. You should, too. Get your life organized around some basic goals. Plan your priorities.
Those most stressed are those who have no purpose. Everyone operates under one of two principles: priorities or pressures. If you don’t decide what’s important in your life and what you want to accomplish, other people will decide for you.
Having a plan keeps you from being a victim of the tyranny of the urgent — just going around and putting out fires. No one likes to get to the end of the day and wonder if they accomplished anything meaningful. Busyness doesn’t always mean we’re achieving something significant. It can just mean we’re walking around in a circle.
Clear goals will simplify your ministry and your family life — and reduce stress in the process.