In Nehemiah 5, the Israelites faced conflict for one of the same reasons we do today: selfishness. So, what can we learn from Nehemiah about handling conflict?
1. Take the problem seriously. (v. 6)
Nehemiah didn’t ignore the problem; he took it seriously. When the unity of your church gets challenged, it’s your job to protect that unity. It’s serious business.
In times like this, a certain level of anger is completely appropriate and right. Leadership means knowing the difference between the right kind of anger and the wrong kind of anger.
2. Think before you speak. (v. 7)
If you only do step one and ignore step two, you’ll get in lots of trouble. Nehemiah 5:7 says, “I pondered them in my mind” (NIV). Nehemiah stopped, got alone with God, and thought about what he was going to do. He asked God, “What do you want me to do?”
You should get angry when disunity threatens your church, but you have to think before you act. You can’t just act on that anger. James 1:19-20 says, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires” (NIV).
I’ve seen a lot of leaders who were highly effective for the Lord blow their ministry in an impulsive moment. Don’t let that happen to you. Get angry, but then take some time to think and pray about what to do next.
3. Rebuke the person individually. (v. 7)
Go directly to the source. You don’t deal with somebody else about it. You don’t talk with five or six different people to get everybody on your side. You don’t say, “I’ve got a prayer request . . .” and then spout it out.
Instead, you go directly to the person causing the disunity. Nehemiah did that: “I pondered them in my mind and then accused the nobles and officials. I told them ‘You are exacting usury from your own countrymen!’” (Nehemiah 5:7 NIV).
Nehemiah wasn’t making a polite social visit. He was angry, and he didn’t gloss over the fact that these guys were ripping off other people. He wasn’t watering it down. He was confronting the troublemakers. You and I are called to do that, too, when disunity threatens our churches.
Titus 3:10-11 says, “Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him. You may be sure that such a man is warped and sinful; he is self‑condemned” (NIV).
Warning troublemakers is an important task of ministry.
4. Publicly deal with public divisions. (v. 7)
In Nehemiah’s situation, everyone knew that the rich people were ripping off the poor. He had to deal with it publicly. Nehemiah 5:7 says when going privately to the rich officials didn’t work, he called together a large meeting to deal with them. It must have been a tough conversation because it was probably the rich officials paying most of the expenses to rebuild the wall. It took guts to confront them publicly.
You, too, have to deal with problems to the degree that they are known. If the problem has spread to the whole church, then you have to deal with the problem publicly.
5. Set an example of unselfishness. (v. 10)
Nehemiah led the way in unselfishness. It was the foundation of his leadership. When he asked them to rebuild the wall, he was out on the wall rebuilding it. When he asked them to pray, he had already been praying. When he asked them to work night and day to get it built, he did the same. When he asked them to help the poor, we find out in verse 10 he’d already been doing it.
Nehemiah never asked anyone to do what he wasn’t already doing or wasn’t willing to do. Leaders only ask others to do what they are already doing or are willing to do. If you cannot challenge someone to follow your example, whatever you say to them is going to lose its impact. Churches have fewer conflicts when their leaders live unselfishly and model that to the congregation.
You’re going to have disagreements in your church. There’s no perfect church. But God wants us to minimize disunity in our churches for his glory. The testimony of a church should not be the beautiful buildings, great sermons, or lovely music, but how the people love one another.
As ministry leaders, we approach each day with passion because we’re working for God, and our mission is literally to see the world saved. But the fact is, there will always be more work to do in ministry, and that’s why we must deliberately take time away from work.
God did it, resting one day after working six, so why should we think the world will fall apart if we aren’t on the job 24/7?
Here are five steps you can take toward recovery from ministry workaholism.
R – Readjust Your Values
The costs of workaholism are enormous: divorce, alcohol abuse, heart attacks and other illnesses, fragmented and fractured relationships, unhappiness, and loneliness.
Ask yourself these questions:
Why am I working so hard? Do a motive check. What drives you to do this? Are you trying to prove something?
Is the payoff worth it? Why do you keep fighting to get to the next level? What can you realistically expect? Is it worth sacrificing your life for it?
Your life is too important to waste on second-class causes. Readjust your values.
Ecclesiastes 5:15 says, “In spite of all our work there is nothing we can take with us” (GNT). God doesn’t expect you to save the world single-handedly, and believe me, your kids need you, too.
E – Enjoy Your Rewards
Ecclesiastes 3:13 says, “All of us should eat and drink and enjoy what we’ve worked for. It is God’s gift” (GNT).
Most of us never slow down long enough to enjoy what we’ve got, but it’s a mistake to postpone enjoyment. “One of these days I’m really going to start enjoying life. Just after I finish this next project . . . ”
Listen: It’s not true. If you don’t enjoy life right now, then when you do have free time on your hands, you’re not going to know how to enjoy it.
Learn to enjoy life right now, in the moment, because you’re not guaranteed tomorrow.
L – Limit Your Labor
Figure out, realistically, how many hours you should work and then hold yourself to that schedule. Don’t wear yourself out in your work.
Exodus 20:9-10 says, “You have six days in which to do your work, but the seventh day is to be a day of rest dedicated to me” (GNT). Every seventh day you take a day off. Pastor, this is not a suggestion; this is a commandment!
God didn’t create you so you could constantly work. Your best requires rest.
Limit your labor by scheduling three things in your life:
If you’re married, there’s a fourth one: romance.
These are part of God’s plan for your life. If you don’t schedule these, you’ll never find time for them.
A – Anticipate God’s Care
Matthew 6:31-32 says, “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them” (NIV).
A lot of our workaholism is rooted in worry. You have to put your security in something that can’t be taken from you. Trust that God knows your needs and can provide for you.
A Christian man, after struggling for years, finally said, “God, I’m going to give you my business. You’re the CEO now. You’re in charge of my career—the profits, payoffs, promotions. It’s your business now and you run it.”
The next day his business warehouse burned to the ground. He was seen standing outside the warehouse with a giant smile on his face. He said, “Last night I gave my business to God. If he wants to burn it down, it’s his business.”
He had a new perspective: God will handle it! As quickly as he burned the thing down, he can raise it up again. That’s called trust.
X – Exchange Your Pressure for God’s Peace
Jesus said in Matthew 11:28, 30, “Come to me, all of you who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest . . . the yoke I will give you is easy, and the load I will put on you is light” (GNT).
Jesus came to give you a lifestyle that is easy and light. If you’re carrying a load that is heavy and overbearing, then it’s not from God.
Perhaps you have been in this lifestyle so long, you don’t know any other way. You’re dead tired, but you can’t seem to stop. God has a word for you: “Trust me. I’ll take care of you. Exchange your pressure for my peace.”
What do you want written on your tombstone? What are you living for? If you’re living for your work, you’re selling yourself short. Work is an important part of God’s plan for your life. But your work will never satisfy the deepest needs in your life. It wasn’t meant to—only Jesus Christ can do that.
Everybody needs a dream. In fact, God wired you to dream dreams, and from Joseph to Daniel to Peter, the Bible is filled with stories of God giving his people great dreams.
Whenever you first got involved in ministry, you probably started with a big dream. Unfortunately, as you get into that ministry, your dreams can shrink to the size of the situation.
If you’re going to be involved in ministry, you’ve got to continue to be a dreamer. You’ve got to have faith in what God can do through your ministry. The Bible says, “Without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6 NIV). Faith begins with catching a dream, a vision.
When I started Saddleback, I started with a dream. In fact, at the very first Saddleback trial service, I shared that dream with the 60 people in the room. I shared a bold dream that day—a dream of a church of 20,000 people ministering in Orange County and around the world, a dream of a campus that would be a refuge for the hurting, depressed, frustrated, and confused in our community, and a dream of sharing the Good News with hundreds of thousands of people.
When I stood up and shared that with 60 people whom I’d never seen before in my life, there were people who said, “Fat chance! How in the world will 60 people grow to be a church of that size? How are we ever going to get land in the Saddleback Valley at the price that it costs?” Yet nearly 40 years later, we’ve reached those goals. In the years I’ve pastored this church, I never doubted that we would. Not once. I didn’t know when it would happen – but I knew it would. Why? That dream was from God.
Then, in April of 2005, at Saddleback’s 25th anniversary, I shared a new dream for Saddleback Church and the growing Purpose Driven network of churches. I told those gathered about the PEACE Plan, my dream for mobilizing a billion Christians to tackle the global giants of spiritual lostness, egocentric leadership, poverty, disease, and illiteracy. The first dream carried Saddleback for the first 25 years; this one will carry it for the next 25. I’m just as sure about this dream as I was the first one.
Every person, every ministry, and every church needs a dream. If you’re not dreaming, you’re dying. I don’t believe there’s any such thing as a great person. I believe there are only ordinary people committed to great dreams. When an ordinary person is committed to a great dream, it makes that person a great person. If you want to be healthy, you’ve got to have a dream to live for.
Maybe you’ve been in ministry for so long that you’ve forgotten how to dream. Or maybe you’re just stepping into ministry and you’ve never spent the time contemplating what God might want to do through your life. Or maybe you’re somewhere in between.
Regardless, here are eight steps to help you find God’s dream for your life. They are the same steps I went through in developing God’s dream for Saddleback.
1. Open your mind to God
If you’re going to do this, you’ve got to be quiet before the Lord. Schedule times of silence, of solitude. For many of you, God can’t give you a dream because you won’t sit down and be quiet before him. You start by getting God’s perspective on your life.
2. Do some research
You don’t make decisions out of ignorance. This is a step that many people ignore when they get a dream. They pray about it, but then don’t go out and get any facts. The Bible says that it’s foolish just to step out without doing any research (see Proverbs 18:13). Think before you act. Read books, go to conferences, visit other churches—but get the facts.
3. Start asking for advice
Remember, it’s better to admit your ignorance than to prove it by your experience. You’re going to appear foolish anyway if you don’t get the right advice. So go ahead and ask. Humble yourself. Be teachable. Leaders are learners.
4. Establish some priorities
You don’t have time to do everything, so you have to learn the difference between the important and the urgent, the helpful and the life-changing, and being efficient and being effective. Efficiency is doing things right; effectiveness is doing the right things. You need to focus on doing the right things. When you do this, you’re developing a plan to achieve your dreams—and that’s essential.
5. Evaluate the cost
This is what’s called a calculated risk. Proverbs 20:25 says, “It is a trap for a man to dedicate something rashly and only later to consider his vows” (NIV). You need to ask yourself three questions when you’re planning out a dream:
Is it necessary? (Can I reach my goal another way?)
What will it cost? (What’s the price tag—in terms of time, energy, money, and reputation?)
Is it worth it? (That’s the most important question.)
After I’d gotten a dream for Saddleback Church, I then had to ask myself the question, “Is this worth my life?” And I came to the conclusion, “Absolutely!” It’s worth every ounce of energy I can give it. We’re talking about eternal matters here.
6. Plan for problems
Your plan needs to account for problems. Things are going to go wrong. Are you ready when they do? Proverbs 27:12 says, “A sensible man watches for problems ahead and prepares to meet them. The simpleton never looks and suffers the consequences” (TLB). Ask yourself, “What can go wrong with this dream?” And, “What will happen if it does?” That’s not being pessimistic. It’s just being sensible.
7. Be willing to take risks
Most people won’t take ministry risks because they don’t want to face their fears. Proverbs 29:25 says, “Fear of man is a dangerous trap, but to trust in God means safety” (TLB). We hate to admit it when we’re afraid. God says to go ahead and admit it. Fear is not a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of humanity.
But here’s the secret to stepping beyond your fears—know who gave you the dream. Proverbs 14:26 says, “Reverence for the Lord gives confidence and security” (GNT). When you know your dream is from God, it gives you confidence. It gives you the security to keep on moving toward it. If you know where your dream comes from, you won’t care what the critics say. You won’t let people tell you why it can’t happen. Laws can be changed. Money can be raised. What matters is that God has said to do it.
8. Do it now
There comes a point of decision where you’ve got to stop talking and start acting. You’ve got to begin. Once you’ve decided it’s worth the risk, you need to go for it. There’s got to come a point in your life when you say, “God’s called me to do this. I’m going for it.”
It doesn’t cost anything to dream. Dream big dreams for your ministry. Everything that is possible now in our society was impossible at one point: cars, computers, planes, microwave ovens, the internet. Today’s impossibilities are tomorrow’s miracles.
High achievers usually have one obvious thing in common: personal discipline.
Successful people are willing to do things that most people are unwilling to do.
As the pastor of Saddleback Church, I’ve had the privilege of meeting some of Orange County’s most successful business leaders. I’ve observed that successful people express self-discipline in six key ways:
1. Successful people master their moods.
They live by their commitments, not their emotions. People who do the right thing even when they don’t feel like it accomplish most of what gets done in the world!
“A man without self-control is as defenseless as a city with broken-down walls” Proverbs 25:28 (TLB).
2. Successful people watch their words.
They put their minds in gear before opening their mouths.
“He who guards his lips guards his life” Proverbs 13:3 (NIV).
3. Successful people restrain their reactions.
How much can you take before you lose your cool? Unfortunately, a lot of potential influence can be cut short by a short temper.
“If you are sensible, you will control your temper. When someone wrongs you, it is a great virtue to ignore it” Proverbs 19:11 (GNT).
4. Successful people stick to their schedule.
If you don’t determine how you will spend your time, you can be sure that others will decide for you. When you lead a church that grows in size, you will inevitably be pulled in a multitude of directions. You’ll have to become a great steward of time to be successful in life.
“Live life, then, with a due sense of responsibility . . . Make the best use of your time” (Ephesians 5:15-16 Phillips).
5. Successful people manage their money.
They learn to live on less than what they make, and they invest the difference into savings and give to causes that matter. The value of a budget is that it tells your money where you want it to go rather than wondering where it went!
“The wise man saves for the future, but the foolish man spends whatever he gets” (Proverbs 21:20 TLB).
6. Successful people maintain their health.
They form habits in their eating and activities that keep their energy level up and help them last through stressful seasons in good health. That way they can accomplish more and enjoy their achievements.
“Every one of you should learn to control his own body, keeping it pure and treating it with respect”
(1 Thessalonians 4:4 Phillips).
Where do you need to develop self-control?
The disciplines you establish today will determine your success tomorrow.
But it takes more than just willpower to produce lasting self-control. It takes a power greater than yourself.
The more you accept God’s control over your life, the more self-control he gives you!
You may be overflowing with vision for your ministry, but there is a point where you have to stop thinking about it and talking about it, and instead, start doing something about it—moving your vision toward a tangible reality. I’ve met thousands of pastors with incredible vision for ministry in their community, but sadly they never got past the thinking stage.
What good is a vision when it stays stuck in your head? Or if it languishes in the “talk stage” and never launches into the sea of faithful action? The vision behind Saddleback Church would be nothing more than that—a vision—without the steps of faith taken to plant, and then grow, the church.
God rarely asks you to take leaps of faith; rather, he encourages you to take small steps that grow larger as your faith grows larger.
But you’ve got to take the first step to get to all the other steps!
In the opening chapters of Joshua, the Israelites faced a faith-step: They stood just across the Jordan River from the Promised Land, a vision of home burned into their hearts during 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. Their new leader, Joshua, instructed them to prepare to cross the river. It was time to take the plunge—literally.
The Jordan is not a very big river—it’s only about 100 feet wide and 20 feet deep—except in flood season. Can you guess when God wanted the Israelites to cross the river? It was just as the spring weather was melting snow off the mountains, turning the Jordan into a giant, rushing, torrential, dangerous river.
God put them there in a moment when the crossing seemed impossible!
The nation’s spiritual leaders began to walk into the water. And God did a miracle, damming the water about 17 miles upstream. The waters receded, and the Israelites crossed over the river.
God has given you a vision for ministry, but there’s a Jordan River in your path; what barrier stands in your way?
The first step is always the hardest. What should you do when you know something is God’s will but you’re scared to do it?
You do it anyway!
If you know it’s the right thing, you fight the fear. Courage isn’t the absence of fear; it’s moving ahead in spite of your fear.
Once you make that first step, more faith will come.
You can start small, but you must start. That’s the key—the first step. It’s been my experience that the first step toward fulfilling a vision is always the hardest, but it’s also the most important because it forces you to face your fears and move beyond them.
It doesn’t have to be a big step, but it does have to be taken. Ecclesiastes 11:4 says, “If you wait for perfect conditions, you will never get anything done” (NLT).
Consider the testimony of Karen, a Saddleback member:
Several years ago God planted the seeds of a dream in my heart. I imagined our church family having a ministry to match the professionals of our church with those who needed help but couldn’t afford to pay for it. I figured our church was filled with mechanics and dentists and tax preparers and electricians and others who could use their abilities to serve God by serving others in our church family.
It was a great dream, but my mind was filled with doubt. I thought, Who am I to organize this ministry? I’m no Bible scholar. I’ve never taught Sunday school. Who would trust me with this enormous responsibility?
Fortunately, I had the encouragement of a great small group. Through their prayers and mine, I became convinced that God wanted me to turn this dream into a reality. I decided to take the plunge. I decided that even though I had lots of imperfections—and I sure didn’t have all the problems worked out—I couldn’t keep waiting until I was perfect to start serving God through this vision. So I took the next two months to refine and finalize my ministry idea.
As I look back at what God has done, I’m amazed that so many lives have been blessed simply because I acted on an idea that God gave me rather than sitting on it and making excuses. I’m also amazed at how quickly God expanded my idea beyond what I originally imagined. In less than one year, I went from being a passive weekend attender to leading a Saddleback ministry that uses the skills of hundreds of members. God evidently knew I had the ability to lead even when I didn’t know it.
My dream never would have happened unless I launched out in faith. Perhaps God has given you an idea. I encourage you: Let him stretch you. Step out in faith now. You will be so blessed.
Imagine what God will do in your ministry as you take your next step of faith.
As Ephesians 3:20 says, “God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us” (The Message).
If you give him your time, he multiplies it. If you give him your money, he multiplies it. If you give him your talent, he multiplies it. If you give him your energy, guess what? He multiplies it.
It’s the same principle as planting seeds. Second Corinthians 9:10 says, “God gives seed to the farmer . . . God will also give you seed and multiply it. In your lives he will increase the things you do that have his approval” (GW).
Think about that: God will increase the things you do that have his approval.
Farmers know that seed must be given away for it to increase. If you keep seed in a sack, it doesn’t do any good. But when you plant it, it multiplies. When you plant one corn seed, do you just get one corn seed back? No, you get a stalk with hundreds of corn kernels. When you plant one watermelon seed, do you only get one seed back? No, you get a bunch of watermelons with hundreds of seeds in them. God multiplies whatever little bit you give him.
“Remember that the person who plants few seeds will have a small crop. But the one who plants many seeds will have a large crop. God loves the person who gives cheerfully” (2 Corinthians 9:6-7 AP) That’s because God gives cheerfully and he wants us to be like him.
The story of Saddleback Church cannot be told without telling of the thousands of people who sacrificed financially to make the church possible. Our campus with all of its buildings didn’t just happen. Somebody sacrificed for them. People chose to give their money instead of buying things for themselves—just to make it happen.
One of the great lessons that Kay and I have learned over our years of ministry is that you cannot outgive God.
Whatever you give him, he takes and multiplies. This was a lesson we learned on a personal level. Three different times in our marriage God told us to give away our entire savings. Each time we obeyed, God would replenish it in greater ways than ever before.
In December 1987, we had to close the deal on the land for Saddleback Church. Our people had given over a million dollars, but we were still short on that last day. I thought, “God, we’re so close and our people have sacrificed beyond measure. This is the last day before we lose the property. You’re not going to let us get this close and let us fall. What are you going to do?”
Before that day was out we received a letter from a man who’d only visited Saddleback one time. He didn’t even live in Orange County. His note said, “I believe in the vision of Saddleback Church.” And in that letter was a check for a quarter-million dollars. We were able to close the deal and get the land.
God’s timing is perfect. That was the last business day of 1987. The first business day of 1988 that man—who was a banker—went to the bank and his trustees called a special meeting. They didn’t know he’d just given us a quarter-million dollars. They called him in and said, “We’ve had a record year with banner profits. We’re going to give you a one-time bonus.” And 10 days after he’d given this church a quarter-million dollars, they gave him a one-time bonus of $750,000.
He called me on the phone. “Rick, you cannot outgive God! I keep trying, but it doesn’t work.”
When I told this story to the Saddleback congregation, I said, “Don’t you wish you’d given a quarter-million dollars?”
The Bible promises, “You won’t regret it. No one who has sacrificed his home, spouse, brothers and sisters, parents, children – whatever – will lose out. It will all come back multiplied many times over in your lifetime. And then the bonus of eternal life!” (Luke 18:29-30 The Message).
That’s a promise of Jesus Christ directly from his lips. “Always give yourself fully to the work of the Lord because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58 NIV).
It’s been said many times by many different people that everything rises or falls on leadership. I don’t think that’s ever truer than in ministry. Charles McKay, a former professor at California Baptist College, used to say, “If you want to know the temperature of your church, put the thermometer in your mouth.”
You can’t ever take people farther than you are yourself, spiritually or any other way.
I remember when I was interviewed on the Acts television network by Jimmy Allen, and he asked me about starting new churches. He said, “How important is location?” I told him that location is the second most important thing. But the most important thing is not location, but leadership in a church.
You don’t have to be a charismatic leader (in the emotional sense) to be a great leader. Personality has almost nothing to do with dynamic leadership.
It’s not the charisma of the leader that matters; but the vision of the leader. Whatever your assignment may be in your church, no matter what your ministry concentration may be, your number one responsibility of leadership in that area is to continually clarify and communicate the vision of that particular ministry.
You must constantly answer the question: Why are we here? If you don’t know the answer, you can’t lead.
As a senior pastor, my job is to keep us focused on the five purposes Jesus gave the church in the New Testament. That gets much more difficult as the church grows larger.
When we were very small, the only people who wanted to come were non-Christians. We didn’t have a lot of programs. We didn’t have a children’s ministry or a music ministry or a youth ministry. The people who wanted all those things went to churches that had them. Now that we’re big enough to not only have these programs but to excel at them, we have people transferring their membership to Saddleback.
Every week I meet people coming from other churches. This dynamic presents an acute problem. Often, people coming from another church carry cultural baggage and the expectation that Saddleback will be like the church they left. But the vision of the church someone just left isn’t the key issue. What matters is the vision you have as the spiritual leader of your congregation.
You must continually clarify and communicate your church’s vision to everyone who walks through the doors. You must make clear what you are doing and why you are doing it. No one can be left in the dark to the question of vision.
At Saddleback, we constantly communicate our vision through Class 101, through our website and social media, and in any other way we possibly can. Our purpose for being is always out front where everyone can see it. Everyone needs to know why we are here and catch our vision.
Vision is the Difference Between Management and Leadership
Management consists primarily of three things: analysis, problem solving, and planning. If you go to any management course, it will be composed of those three things. But leadership consists of vision and values and the communication of those things. If you don’t clarify God’s purposes as the leader, who is going to do so?
Most churches are over-managed and under-led. Your church needs to be managed, but it also needs to be led. You have to have both.
When you only have management in the church, you get the problem of paralysis of analysis. Management without leadership results in constantly analyzing and looking, but never actually doing anything. You need managers within the church as well. Without them you end up with a church that makes decisions without direction.
Vision is Powerful
Some people have dreams, but not vision. There is a difference. A vision is a pragmatic dream. Lots of people have great dreams. They have grand ideas of all they would like to accomplish, but they can never get their dreams in a concrete form where they can do something about it.
A vision is a dream that can be implemented. It’s specific. Nothing becomes dynamic until it becomes specific.
When you look out on a congregation filled with people who have been reached with the good news of Jesus, whose lives have been eternally changed by God’s power, you get to witness the power of the vision God has placed in the heart of every church leader.
If you’re not sure where God wants you to be taking your congregation, get alone and spend time with him until he makes it clear.
Procrastination has a high cost. When we cram for tests, we get lower grades. When we wait until the deadline to file taxes, we miss things and make costly mistakes. When we put off difficult conversations, we hurt people and relationships.
And the cost of procrastination in ministry can be significantly higher. For us, procrastination isn’t measured in dollars; it is measured in ministries never started, people with needs going unmet, and those who are spiritually lost never hearing the Gospel.
The Bible says in James 4:17, “Remember, it is a sin to know what you ought to do and then not to do it” (NLT). When God calls you to do something, but you don’t do it, it’s not just a bad strategy or a missed blessing. It is sin.
If God has called you to do something in your ministry and you are not doing it, do it now! Not next month, next week, or even tomorrow—do it right now.
Proverbs 27:1 says, “Don’t brag about tomorrow, since you don’t know what the day will bring” (NLT). None of us is guaranteed a tomorrow. You may not have the opportunity tomorrow to do what God has called you to do. You could be saying you’ll do it someday. That someday is today! One of these days is none of these days. Do it today. Start right now!
I talk to people who say they’re planning to do something in ministry. And I always want to ask, “When are you going to pull the trigger?” They’ve been taking aim for years, yet they never seem to get around to pulling the trigger.
Don’t be like that. You need to pull the trigger. These three words could change your ministry forever: Do it now!
Spend a few minutes right now and write down one thing you know God wants you to do in your ministry. Whatever it is, write it down and then put that note in a place where you can’t miss it — like on your bathroom mirror or on the refrigerator.
But don’t just write it down. Don’t just read it on your refrigerator. Do it — now! Every time you catch yourself saying you’ll do it later, it should be a warning light that says you’re procrastinating. There’s no better time than now. This is the moment of truth. There’s got to be a time in your life when you stop intending and start acting. Stop making excuses.
NASA says that getting the rocket off the launch pad requires the most amount of energy. Once the rocket is in orbit, it takes a lot less energy to keep moving forward. That’s why you need to get started now. The initial thrust will start you moving forward.
Being a pastor isn’t easy. It’s hard work. It’s emotionally taxing. We’re just as subject to the pressure to hustle and grind as anyone in a professional role, and sometimes, the grind gets to us. You can only hustle so long until you’re out of energy.
I’ve found that when discouragement attacks, it usually attacks on Mondays, even after a great weekend of worship services and seeing lives changed.
James Draper once described the Southern Baptist Convention as “a denomination of discouraged leaders.” I think that’s true of most denominations and churches. I’ve heard from tens of thousands of leaders who have attended our Purpose Driven conferences and training events, and I’ve concluded that a majority of pastors struggle with chronic discouragement.
Thankfully, there is an antidote. The fourth chapter of Nehemiah gives us a four-point plan for bouncing back when we’re feeling down.
1. Rest Your Body
Nehemiah rested. The psalmist wrote about rest in Psalm 127:2, “It’s useless to rise early and go to bed late, and work your worried fingers to the bone. Don’t you know he enjoys giving rest to those he loves?” (The Message)
Sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do in a moment of exhaustion and discouragement is to go to sleep!
2. Reorganize Your Work
When the people of Israel became tired and discouraged under Nehemiah’s leadership, he reorganized them by families and gave them specific assignments. Some carried a sword and others carried a trowel.
Sometimes, when you’re discouraged, it’s not that you’re doing the wrong thing; you may be doing the right thing in the wrong way. You don’t need to quit the ministry. You just need to reorganize how you’re going about it and learn some new skills.
Try a fresh approach. Attack it from a different angle. Learn. Grow. Reorganize.
3. Remember the Lord
Discouragement is actually an attitude. Depression is sometimes the result of chemical issues in the brain, but discouragement is different because we can choose to be courageous in the face of life’s difficulties. We get discouraged when we choose to think discouraging thoughts.
The good news is, no one is forcing us to think those thoughts. You can choose to focus on something positive. And the best thing to put your mind to is your relationship with Jesus. When you focus on God’s character and nature, all of the things that might discourage you shrink in size.
4. Resist the Enemy
The great pastor R. G. Lee once said, “If you don’t get up in the morning and meet the Devil, you’re just headed the wrong way.”
We are in a spiritual battle, and the Devil doesn’t want the Kingdom of God to advance. As a pastor, you’re on the front line, so you’re going to get hit. The Devil will attack you with every kind of thing he can think of to discourage you. He is the accuser of the brethren, and he would love to neutralize you with discouragement.
James 4:7 says, “Resist the devil” (NIV).
Don’t give in without a fight! You can’t control the cantankerous or carnal people in your church. But you can choose how you respond to them. And you can choose whether you’re going to let it discourage you or not.
There’s an old phrase: “Tough times never last, but tough people do.” It’s true. So don’t give up!
God is not finished with you! Rest your body. Reorganize your work. Remember the Lord. And resist the enemy. God bless!
As a pastor, you need to be able to put together projects efficiently and effectively. Whether you are starting a new church, planning a new ministry, opening a new building, or just preparing for next weekend’s services, you need to mobilize people around a common task. That’s leadership in a nutshell.
When Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem to help rebuild the city’s wall, he had a monster project on his hands. How he tackled that project provides us with seven key principles for getting things done.
1. The Principle of Simplification
Nehemiah kept his plan simple. He didn’t randomly assign jobs, he didn’t create a whole new organization, and he didn’t force any complex charts.
He organized around groups already associating together, such as the priests, the men of Jericho, and the sons of Hassenaah. The point is: Don’t create an organization if you don’t need it. If an organization already naturally exists, try to work through it and with it.
Sometimes a new leader comes into a situation, and the first thing he does is start changing the whole organization. Think: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Strong organizations are often the simplest ones.
2. The Principle of Participation
It’s a pretty simple rule: Work with those who want to work. Amazingly, a lot of leaders never learn this principle. They spend all their time trying to corral the lazy and the apathetic, instead of working with those who want to work. I call that corralling goats.
Nehemiah got almost everybody involved in the building of the wall. He had the clerics, the goldsmiths, the perfume makers—men and women, city and country folk. Everybody was moving bricks and making mortar.
But there was one exception. “Next were the people from Tekoa, though their leaders refused to help” (Nehemiah 3:5 NLT). Nehemiah’s response was to ignore the shirkers.
In every situation you’re going to have workers and shirkers. Nehemiah just ignored the latter and focused on those who were willing to work. He didn’t lose sleep, get bitter, or waste time trying to corral them. If you’re a leader, don’t worry about people who don’t want to get involved. Focus on those people who do want to get involved.
3. The Principle of Delegation
When you’re organizing, you should make specific assignments. Think about what would have happened if, once Nehemiah got everyone excited, he said, “Just go start working wherever you want to work.”
Instead, Nehemiah divided the wall into sections when he did his midnight ride. He kept it simple, and then he delegated specific assignments.
When you delegate:
Break down major goals into smaller tasks. When we started Saddleback, I made everybody a committee of one. Each of us had assignments. One person managed the printing of the bulletins while another set up the nursery.
Develop clear job descriptions. Your workers deserve to know what is expected.
Match the right person with the right task. The wrong person in the wrong task creates chaos. It causes all kinds of motivational problems. Delegating is more than just passing off work. You need to understand what the task is all about and what the person is good at, and that will help you get the right person with the right task.
Everybody’s responsibility is nobody’s responsibility. Every task needs a specific person assigned to it; otherwise, things will fall through the cracks because everyone will think someone else is doing certain tasks.
4. The Principle of Motivation
When you organize any project, help people “own” it. In Nehemiah, you see again and again men making repairs near their houses. If you lived in Jerusalem, where would you be most interested in building the wall? Probably by your house!
Allowing for ownership in a project helps increase motivation. I think Nehemiah is also saying, “Make the work as convenient as possible.” Nehemiah allowed people to work in their area of interest. That’s a key principle of organization: Good organizations allow workers to develop their own areas.
5. The Principle of Cooperation
Cooperation is a key principle to good organization. When we cooperate together, when there is teamwork, there is great growth. Cooperation is a greater motivator than competition, and it lasts because you feel like you’re together on a winning team.
Good organizations provide a supportive climate of trust and teamwork. In the Bible, when referring to Christians in the church, the phrase “one another” is used 58 times. It’s as if God is saying, “Get the message! Help each other!” We are together in this. We’re a team. There is tremendous power in cooperation.
6. The Principle of Administration
Even after you delegate, you must supervise the work. Nehemiah walked the line, inspecting the work. Tom Peters, in his book Passion for Excellence, calls it MBWA: Management By Walking Around.
Nehemiah knew which part each man built because he went out, checking up on people. This also allowed him to find out what was going on. Good organizations establish clear lines of authority. People do what you inspect, not what you expect.
7. The Principle of Appreciation
Good leaders give recognition. For instance, Nehemiah knew the names of those working on the wall, and I think that’s a mark of a good leader. He even listed them in his book, so here we are thousands of years later, and pastors around the world are mispronouncing the names of Nehemiah’s helpers. He cared enough to recognize these men and women for their work.
Do you know who’s doing a good job among your staff? How about among your small group leaders and volunteers?
Find out who they are and start telling them they’re doing a good job.