Happy Easter!

A quick update before I join a friend for 10-15 miles of pedaling this morning:

- Life is awesome! Headaches are my only lasting side effect.
- I’m too busy. That’s amazing since 2 years ago I was about dead with only medical appointments on my calendar.
- A little church in my neighborhood asked me to be its pastor. We’ve tripled in 8 months from 35-40 to around 120. I love it.
- My weight remains steady at about 215 though I would like it to be 200. I’m working on it.
- In June I will officiate the wedding ceremony for my third son. That’s a big deal when I didn’t think I’d be alive to see it.

This weekend we celebrate Easter and new life. My Jesus conquered death so that I might live. I will be alive eternally long after this physical body gives out. Still, I am so thankful to have more days in this flesh suit to enjoy my friends and family.

- Scott

Posted in Liver disease | 2 Comments

How should I shepherd this flock? Where do I begin?

PSX_20140318_112305“I have something for you,” Jen said. Her face wore her father’s half-smirk-half-smile that always made me wonder what he was up to. She stood facing me close enough that I could see the same spark that I used to see in her dad’s eyes when he would drop by my office to chat.

We stood in the lobby of a church that had weathered more than 125 years of history, about to walk in and join 200 or so others who had gathered to celebrate its next phase of life.  I was about to be officially installed as its new shepherd.

Most of my friends who greeted me before our conversation spoke clichés about God working in mysterious ways or asked if I ever imagined myself in this situation – pastor of a traditional, historic church. With my cleanly shaved head, my jeans and cowboy boots or canvas Chucks, none would have pictured me here. Was it possible that this church that had seen three traditional pastors come and go in just ten years, was moving toward embracing a guy like me with no suits, no robes and little use for ritual, ceremony or barriers of tradition? Were they really open to me with my diamond earring and my penchant for thinking outside the box?

Jen knows the story behind the diamond earring. Her father had one just like it. She knows that I pierced my ear in his memory after he passed away. She knows it is my reminder of her dad and the way he loved Jesus in such a real and transparent way. She knows that I loved his humility and his refusal to sit in judgement over others.

Vern was the only “old guy” I ever met with an earring. He lived his life with his wife Barbara at his side, always concerned for the hungry, the naked and the oppressed. The underdog was his heart, his love and his mission.

When Vern and I had our talks he’d tell me about things like playing music and singing on the steps of an old, downtown church decades ago hoping to connect with the street people. His half-smirk-half-smile would make its appearance when he described other well-meaning church folk wanting them to stop lest they attract the wrong crowd. He would not give up.  Vern was sure that Jesus came to give life and hope to that “wrong crowd.” That was his Jesus.

Even into their 70′s, Vern and Barbara took others to places like Cambodia to open eyes to poverty and injustice. There was no stopping them. With little money, a junky car, a simple lifestyle, and no resources, their treasure was in heaven. Their focus always on the “least of these,” the broken and people who didn’t know the Hope of Jesus.

It was just two years before when Jen’s father and I were in the same hospital, on different floors, trying to convince the nurses to let us visit each other. Vern needed major heart surgery and I needed a liver transplant. Neither of us knew if we would go on much longer. We tried to connect using iPads and the phone but were too weak to share much of anything. I missed him.

Vern passed away on April 27. 2011. I could not attend his funeral on May 1 because I was too sick. I so wanted to be there to hug Barbara and let her know how much her humble husband had meant to me, how much he helped shape me. I remember praying a simple prayer, “Lord, if you choose to let me live, I will carry on like Vern.” Six days after Vern’s funeral, I received the liver transplant that saved my life.

“I talked with my mom and she agreed you should have it,” Jen said. “Dad always carried this bible with him.”

I looked down to see a small, black, pocket-sized bible in her hand. I felt tears fill my eyes and my throat clinch tight with emotion. I had to turn away. Jen’s eyes filled too. I tried my best to use humor to regain control but had to walk away to compose myself. The service was starting in just a few minutes. I needed to pull myself together.

I know Vern would have been there that day if he were alive, wearing that smile I loved, earring sparkling and raising an eyebrow or two in the crowd. Vern always encouraged me to do the crazy faith things, to push past the doubters and trust God to do the work. I know what he would have said had I asked him if I should step up to this challenge and try to shepherd this struggling flock and reignite its fire. He would have grinned and said, “Why not you?” I would have asked him how to shepherd. I would have asked him for words of advice.

After the service and celebration, I reached into my back pocket for Vern’s bible and gently turned the brittle pages. It had that familiar old, black bible smell and feel. There were no bookmarks, no highlights and nothing that I could see standing out as his favorites. I was searching for any part of Vern I could find. And then I saw his name written on the first page with one, lone scripture reference: John 3:30. I quickly flipped to see what the one thing so important to Vern could be.

I read the words and knew they were Vern’s answer to me for how to shepherd this flock and where to put my focus. John 3:30 is a short, simple verse that sums up everything I could tell you about my friend’s life and attitude.

“He (Jesus) must increase, but I must decrease.”

I read the verse over a few times thinking about those words and their power, oblivious to the conversations around me. When I snapped back to my surroundings I noticed that I was twisting my earring, my tribute to Vern, between my thumb and index finger. I looked up and saw a few people watching me, clearly wondering what was going on. I smiled, closed my newest treasure, wiped a tear from my cheek and thanked God for his providential love in allowing Vern’s message to reach me on this day when He had restored me to ministry.

Vern is right. My goal must always be that Jesus become greater, while I become less. It’s not about me.

Thank you, Vern. I miss you, my friend.

Posted in Christianity, church planting, direction, Liver disease, ministry | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

You are invited. March 16 is going to be a big day.

You-Are-Invited(1)I’m writing to invite you to an event that I know most of you won’t be able to make. In fact, if all 5000+ of you show up we will be in major trouble and the city of Westbrook will be crippled! But, I do want you to know what’s happening and share the joy.

On March 16 we are having a Commissioning Celebration here at this little, in number, church that has taken a chance and asked me to be the lead pastor. Why is that a big deal, so big that I want to tell you about it?

Travel back in time with me for a moment. Let’s go back two years to March of 2012. During that month I was hospitalized for 25 out of 31 days. My lungs were 60% filled with ascites fluid and my abdomen was grossly swollen. I could not walk much further than 50 feet without rest. My skin was an od

FBCWestbrook-2013Sept-9

d yellow-orange shade. My sodium levels dropped drastically on several occasions putting me in danger of coma. In fact one doctor told me he had no idea how I was still conscious. On top of that I had a blood infection and an infection in my gut. At one point the alarm sounded as I went into a “code blue” crisis. I remember a plastic mask being held over my nose and mouth while medical staff barked out orders with urgency. The next thing I remember was waking to see about a dozen people around my bed looking at me anxiously. My first words? “You’re probably wondering why I called you all together.” No matter how bad things got, I always tried my best to make people laugh.

But those things, no matter how difficult and scary, were not the worst thing. The deflating thing about this hospital stay, one of 11 in the year, was that the doctors told me I was taken off the transplant list because I was “too sick.” They would not risk transplant unless the mystery of my multiple illnesses could be solved. Things did not look good at all.

Robin admits now that it was the only time her hope faltered. I had several times when I thought I was coming to the end and would never see transplant but she had always been the rock. We didn’t talk much about it. We didn’t want to. We both knew that a transplant was my only hope for survival.

Thanks to a kidney doc who wanted in on my case, I was put on a trial medication to manage sodium since the glands on my kidneys had shut down. My sodium level stabilized. Then, massive doses of antibiotic cocktails cleared the blood infection.

Jump ahead now to May 7, 2012 when my son laid down and saved my life by giving me 55% of his liver. Hope! Life. I had a chance again. Still, it was a cautious, optimistic chance. We knew recovery would be hard. We knew there were hurdles ahead and that I was still deep in the woods. In the back of my mind there was also a statistic I read that only 1 in 6 liver transplant recipients are able to return to work full-time.

Now, let’s zip ahead two years to March 16, 2014 when First Baptist Church in Westbrook will celebrate a fresh start and hope for new life with me as pastor, celebrating my own literal fresh start and new life. 1 in 6? Thankfully, I am that 1.

Wow. I can’t begin to explain how this makes me feel. I mean, I don’t think I could have sunk any lower than I was in March 2012. And now, I am being restored to a new ministry and charging ahead with health and energy.

So, I am inviting you to celebrate with us whether you are able to make it to Westbrook on March 16 or not. I’m excited to have my friend Travis Bush speak. Travis is a young pastor I have been blessed to mentor. My friend, Doug Elder, will be leading music. Both of these guys have been a tremendous encouragement to me throughout this journey. On October 5, 2011 I wrote a blog post about one of Doug’s visits to encourage me when my health was rapidly declining. He sang a song that still plays in my mind today, encouraging me to hang on, to look to the hills. (listen here) He is going to share it again on Sunday the 16th and I am sure I will be an emotional mess. But, a good mess this time!

Sunday, March 16 at 10:15 am at First Baptist Church in Westbrook, 733 Main Street. A luncheon will follow. If you can make it, I’d love to have you celebrate with us. If you can’t, I hope you are celebrating with us in spirit.

For those of you waiting for your gift of life, I pray my story encourages you to hang on and keep fighting even when things look hopeless. If you’re a transplant survivor, I know you know just how much this means to me because you celebrate every milestone too.

Wow. Some days I have to pinch myself to make sure I’m not dreaming. I’m living a full and purposeful life once again because of the selfless gift of an organ donor and the faithful, healing touch of my God. I am blessed to know dozens of others who can say the same.

Are you a registered organ donor? Please register at www.organdonor.gov

Sunday, March 16, 10:15 AM
First Baptist Church
733 Main St
Westbrook, ME 04092

Every day is a bonus day!

Hugs,
Scott

Posted in Liver disease | 5 Comments

Is life after liver transplant “normal?” Not exactly.

encephalopathy

“So, ah, are you, um, like, normal now?”

The question came from a friend I hadn’t seen since before my liver transplant. It’s a fair, yet somewhat awkward, question.

Am I normal now that I am approaching the 21st month since my diseased liver was cut out and tossed in the trash so just over half of my son’s healthy liver could be stitched into place?

Normal. My close friends and family will grin a “you were never normal” smile. They’re right. I’ve always been slightly off-center. My friend was more looking for answers about my physical condition and asking, “all set now?”

Am I all set now? In many ways I am. I can pedal a bike 50 miles. I can mingle with people. I can work hard and support my family. I’m no longer “bubble boy” confined to a sterile environment.

But, there are other things that are bothersome:

  • Sometimes I get the same pain I had before transplant. It’s most likely phantom pain because my blood labs are near perfect in every category. Still, it’s pretty unnerving.
  • I live on a 12 hour schedule and respond to an alarm on my smartphone reminding me to take what I call my “keep-me-alive pills.”  I have extra doses stashed in my car, in my office and even on my keychain.
  • I have hand sanitizer everywhere and use it probably 8-10 times a day. I carry a surgical face mask in my pocket just in case I find myself in a small space with someone who is hacking up a lung.
  • Medicine side-effects like headache, hand tremors and tummy aches are part of life now.

But I AM ALIVE! Those things are minor inconveniences. Other than the ever-constant possibility of rejection that lives just below the surface of everything, there is only one lasting effect that really bothers me. It’s a pride issue more than anything and should be minor but it isn’t.

When I was in the throws of End Stage Liver Disease, like so many others, I suffered with Hepatic Encephalopathy. In laymen’s terms, as a result of toxins in my blood that healthy livers filter out, my brain swelled in my skull. The pressure altered my personality, robbed me of reasoning skills, took my short-term memory and made me dim-witted and unable to retain what I read or tried to study. I didn’t know my phone number. I couldn’t add. A mentally-challenged teenager beat me at Scrabble. I said things I didn’t mean and hurt people’sfeelings.

On one occassion Robin came home and found me with the bathroom faucet running and the sink near overflowing. When she asked what I was doing, I angrily snapped at her, “I’m getting a drink!” I thought it was morning even though it was late afternoon. I became combative when she wanted to take me to the emergency room and only gave in when she threatened to call an ambulance to let them deal with me.

In triage I didn’t know my birthdate. I told them Ronald Reagan was president and responded, “January, February, March …” when the doctor asked me to recite the days of the week. It was frightening because I knew I was wrong.

Thankfully, after transplant, the swelling in my brain subsided when my new liver kicked in and started cleaning my blood. My mind quickly regained its ability to process and reason and my sense of humor returned.

But am I normal? I am afraid I, like other transplant survivors I talk with, have some lasting effects of H.E. Most people, especially older people, will say, “that happens to me a lot” but this is new to me and not age-appropriate.

Last night, leading a group study, I looked at the word “analogous” and could not pronounce it no matter how hard I tried. It was in my notes. I put it there and fully understood its meaning but just could not process it in my brain. It was embarassing. As far as I was concerned, I sounded like an idiot.

I have times when I cannot find the simplest of words and will reword my entire sentence to avoid it. I know, I know. It happens to everybody but I really think this is different. Have you ever looked at a stapler and forgotten what it is called? Or, have you held a stapler and asked, “where are the ‘little fastener things’” to refill it?

Here’s where the pride comes in. When it happens to me I am mortified. I feel so embarassed and foolish. Right or wrong, I’ve always thought of myself as a fairly intelligent person. IQ tests have put me at the higher side of the scale and my academic work has shown me to be quite capable. When the phrase or word I need is nowhere to be found, I am afraid of losing my status as someone worth listening to. With some people, I have felt like I immediately fell a few notches in their eyes when they gave me an, “are you kidding me” look.

It’s the only thing the remains from H.E. . I’ve read some accounts that indicate that lasting damage is possible after transplant and others that brush off the short-circuits as normal aging. I doubt the aging arguments though because it happens to me at 50 and I have transplant friends who have similar stories despite being younger.

I know what I should do when it happens. I should just stop trying to hide my weakness and explain it but I am resisting that idea. Why do we all work so hard to hide our weaknesses?

I am interested in hearing your stories if you suffered from H.E. before your transplant. Have you found any lasting effects? How do you deal with them? What are your experiences?

When people ask if I am back to normal now, I want to say yes. We all want to be normal. But the truth is that I will never be “normal” again.

And that really is okay.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Cor. 12:9-11

Posted in chronic illness, End Stage Liver Disease, handicapped, Liver disease, Organ transplant | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

It’s official. As of 11:45 AM today, I’m a fulltime pastor again.

Today, the membership of a church right here in the middle of little Westbrook, Maine voted to call me as its new shepherd. The vote came directly after I delivered my 20th message there. That’s odd.

The usual process for churches searching for pastors is to have a search committee of members go through numerous inventories to determine what the church wants. Then, the committee will solicit resumes by working with a denominational office or hired consultants, Christian headhunters of sorts, to help with the search.

Next, after culling through a pile of resumes from a wide variety of people, the committee chair will make some calls to set up an initial conversation that might be followed by more paperwork. If all goes well, the committee will either take a trip to hear the candidate deliver a message or it will arrange to hear him to preach at a church somewhere nearby.  Next will be conference calls, references and then, if all goes well, a tryout when the committee invites him to its own church. Sometimes the vote takes place at that same visit. Other times he meets with a variety of members and boards to assess compatibility and then heads home to await a call.

Again, as always seems to be the case in my life, I’m not normal. I’ve never sent out a resume or applied for any of the ministry positions I’ve held. Instead, God just drops me into things. I’m not joking.

It goes all the way back to when Robin and I were first married and finishing college. We prayed naively that God would simply give Robin a job wherever He wanted us to be. She got a job in Biddeford, Maine. We headed to California after graduation for our summer job having no idea why God wanted us in Biddeford. Shortly into our summer someone gave us a contact in Biddeford who was starting a new church. Two weeks before our return I called the number. We spent the next 7 and a half years there working with a vibrant youth ministry of more than 100 students.

When I left that position a group of doctors came to me and said, “Would you stay in Maine to help churches build youth programs?” I spent the next 6 years working full time consulting, training, speaking and coaching youth leaders with this board’s financial support.

I was in my next church less than two years when the leadership approached me with a new job description that would take me from shaping teenagers to running a ministry for children. Of course, having no training, ability nor calling for children’s ministry, I resigned. Thirty days later I started at one of Maine’s largest evangelical churches after a conversation with a salesman who attended there. We spent the next 11 years there.

I left there to plant a new church. But liver disease brought my plans to a screeching halt 4 days after attending a conference with 3500 church planters. I spent the next year literally dying. Then, after my son gave me half of his liver in a life-saving transplant, I spent the next year coming back to life. But, my ministry dreams were, from my perspective, dead and gone. The team of people who had gathered to plant with us scattered to churches all over Greater Portland. There was nothing left even though I was feeling strong enough to return to work.

FBCWestbrook-2013Sept-9   And then, this past July, God dropped us into a little, 125-year-old church right smack in the middle of the town He moved us to in January 2012. We had to give up the big Portland house we built to move into a little, two-bedroom condo within our much smaller budget. The morning’s scheduled speaker had to back out and asked me to fill in and share my transplant story.

I remember the day well. I walked into the large worship space with its vaulted ceiling, and wooden, straight-backed pews. I saw the large darkly-stained, wooden pulpit sitting high up on the front platform and thought, “no, I won’t be standing way up there today.” The church was clean and bright with beautiful stained-glass windows. It had the feeling and smell of old New England churches.

inside    I remember waiting for people to arrive while the time to start drew closer. There was a handful of people sitting 12-15 rows back near the doors, a young family with a baby in a stroller in the very front row and another small cluster in the middle section on the right. I got the sense that it was going to be a quiet, sparsely-attended morning.

The man at the little sound desk gave me a lapel mic. I smiled and wondered why I needed a microphone. If we had moveable chairs I probably would have just had us move into a large circle but we were in pews. By the time the clock signaled the start I estimated maybe 40 people scattered in a room for 250. I remember asking people to move forward and no one budged. I didn’t feel much of a warm vibe overall despite several very welcoming people.

The music leader was a vibrant, Jamaican with whom I immediately clicked. I remember wanting to ask, “what are you doing here?” I also remember thinking, “if I was planting a church, I’d love to have that guy with me.” We sang songs that were at least two decades old but he made it work. I loved his authentic energy.

I shared my transplant story just as I had done maybe a dozen times before. I spent most of my time halfway down the aisle to be closer to my audience. We laughed some, we cried some and we exchanged hugs at the back door. They were nice people but I remember leaving with a sad feeling in my heart. I imagine it was the same feeling my friends had when they left after visiting me when I was so weak. They were glad to visit but sad about the reality of my condition. Like me during those days, this church was dying.

Several weeks later they asked if I might come speak again. I was glad to return. This time a few more people were in their spots but I had the same sad feeling. This big, beautiful facility was nearly empty in the middle of a town full of people who need Hope. Declining churches make me sad. But they were good people; kind, welcoming, friendly people. I remember praying that the Lord would rekindle a work there.

When September came I got a phone call I did not expect at all. “Would you come be our interim pastor until our new pastor arrives?”

Honestly, I almost choked. No one who knows me would use the word “traditional” to describe me. Before my transplant we were moving toward beginning a church in a storefront, warehouse or garage. It was going to be a church for people who don’t like church. Our philosophy stood firmly against owning property and getting “churchy.” The institutional, organized church with its endless committees, votes and squabbles held zero appeal. We had no interest in beginning a new work with the same old formula of sing-sermon-sing. Even the supposedly innovative church plant models didn’t really cut it for us. From what we could see most were simply adding cool music and flashy graphics to the same failing model. It was, excuse me, lipstick on the same pig. We were praying for something new and different.

I didn’t say no. Everything within me wanted to ask, “are you crazy? I think you’re looking for a suit and tie, bang-the-pulpit, drone-on-for-an-hour guy. I don’t fit. This won’t work.” But, Robin and I have learned to pray before giving an answer. When we prayed, we felt that the Lord’s answer was yes.

That was 20 messages ago. The new pastor that was coming to replace me pulled out a few weeks after I began.

Our numbers have grown. We are approaching 100 on Sunday mornings. People have moved toward the front. We had 175 on Christmas Eve. That can change in an instant. But more importantly, the remnant appears to be ready to do whatever it takes to reach the culture outside the front doors. “Creativity” and “risk” are not dirty words.

Our God works in mysterious ways, so says the cliche. Soon I will be “installed” as pastor in this church that was founded more than 125 years ago. From its lighted bell tower with hymns sounding daily at noon and 6:00 PM, to the lighted scripture sign at the front, to the polished pews inside the beautiful stained glass adorned sanctuary, I can’t imagine a more “churchy” facility.

My prayer is that with my bald, Jamaican worship-leading friend and this remnant of people who desire to be used by God, we will build a team of sold-out believers ready to follow Jesus wherever He wants to take us. No, it’s not the storefront I imagined with cheap, folding chairs, no equipment and no resources. I guess I’ll just have to settle for much, much more.

Like life, it’s what’s on the inside that matters most. I pray that when people walk inside this churchy looking church, they are surprised by the warmth, love and belonging they find. I pray that we dare invite our friends and neighbors to come and see how God is making this old, historic place brand new again. I pray we will be a grace-saturated, missional community.

If you had told me three years ago I would be where I am today, I would have told you there was a better chance of Zimbabwe competing in the winter Olympics! But here I am am.

By the way, alpine skier Luke Steyn is set to represent Zimbabwe in Sochi next month in that country’s winter Olympics debut. Luke and I will both be pressing on for the prize set before us.

Life is unpredictable but my God is always faithful.

Posted in change, Christianity, church planting, coaching, Liver disease | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Chatting with my God at 3:30 in the morning

Shhh. Be still.

Um God, it doesn’t get much more still than this. It’s 3:30 AM, dark and quiet. The only noise is the sound of the small fans in the doorways moving heat from one room to another.

Be still. Your mind is filled with noise.

Every time I’ve woken tonight I have been thinking of something I want to do. There’s so much to do.

Shhh. Be still.

I want to be still but my thoughts are racing and there’s a weight on my chest.

Shhh. Be still. It’s not my weight. My burden is light.

But it’s God stuff, stuff you want, good stuff, things you want to do.

Oh, really? This weight is not yours? It’s mine? No. No, it’s not.

But God, I want to be successful. I want to do it right. I want to do it all.

Be still.

But I have chapters to read. I have to finish that project to get it ordered in time. I want to outline the Spring.

You sure do use that word “I” a lot. I AM is my name. Your name is “I AM NOT.” Be still.

But don’t you want all this God stuff as bad as I want it?

Who are you trying to make look good?

I want my church to look good. I want my people to look good. I want my programs to be successful.

Scott, you have no church, you have no people and you own no programs. You have only what I have loaned you.

But I want to do a good job building.

And I want to build my peace into you. I want to saturate you in my Grace. I want to be your rest and your peace. I want you. Be still and know…

That’s easier said than done, God. I want to be successful.

I want you to be holy. I want you to trust me with everything.

But God, I want to get this done and ready to launch February 1.

Time is meaningless to me. Be still and know…

My mind is racing.

Be still.

My heart is racing.

Be still.

I feel pressure.

Be still.

How am I going to get everything done?

Shhh. Be still and know that I AM God. I accomplish my goals and invite you to be involved for your good.

But, I am -

No, you are not. I AM.

But …

Shhh. Go back to sleep. You have everything you need. I’ve called you and will equip you. I’ve brought you back from the cliff and held you in my hand  I’ve restored you and placed you. You are not alone. I never let go. Be still and know, I am God.

Zzzzzzz.

 

Posted in Liver disease | 4 Comments

Coaching for young pastors: Stop, drop and roll.

SDR    Now that I am 20 months past transplant, life is 95% back to normal. If not for the monthly trips to the blood lab, the handful of anti-rejection medicines twice a day, the hand sanitizers and side effects of a splotchy complexion and headaches, I wouldn’t know I had a liver transplant. I’m having a hard time thinking of liver-related posts for my blog. THAT’S GREAT NEWS! It means it is time for my blog to return to what it was before liver disease. It’s time for me to return to journaling things that are on my heart and mind, sometimes liver related and sometimes not.

Today? Not.

One of my greatest joys in life, after 25 years of working in Christendom, is that I get to invest in younger ministers. Some are in para-church ministry, some are serving churches and some are looking to begin their ministries. My conversations with my “mentees” are always a highlight of my week. They are not always a highlight of their weeks. Sometimes I have to say some tough things, things that are hard to hear.

I have experienced a few who sought out a coaching relationship with no desire to be mentored. “Coaching” is the in thing, it’s fashionable. I had one young man a few years back look me in the eye and sincerely tell me, “I’ve been in church all my life. I already know everything I need.” Ah, youth.

  I will not forget the time I handed Steven Covey’s book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” to a student who was completing a college internship with me. He handed it back and said, “Thanks but I think I am already pretty effective.”

I’ve had two young men pursuing pastoral ministry tell me that the Holy Spirit would teach them all they needed. They had no need for formal education or mentoring.  Afterall, “the disciples never went to college.”

The unteachable guys always make me a bit sad. Experience has shown me that they have a rough road ahead. Except for my “effective” intern who adjusted his outlook, I’ve not seen the unteachable ever be effective in ministry. They either get chewed up and spit out or they operate from insecurity in their ministries.

Thankfully, most are truly open to learning and are hungry for someone to pour into them and help them wrestle, manage, learn and grow. They are looking for someone who will look them in the eye and ask the difficult questions.

Regardless of the particular ministry, I find a much too common theme. Most are working way too hard and stretched very thin at the expense of their families. They are having a difficult time finding others to share the ministry load and are carrying too many things on their shoulders. A few have people resources but are reluctant to release control for fear that quality will suffer.

My advice? Stop, drop and roll.

First, STOP being everyone’s answer. Two truths to remember?

  1. There is a God
  2. You are not Him

It feels good to be needed. It feels good when people ask your advice. It feels good to return after a week away to hear people tell you how much you were missed. But the problem with all those things is that YOU are the focus. Effective ministry helps people mature to stand on their own two feet relying on God. We are called to “equip the Saints for ministry,” not make them dependent on us.

Second, DROP. It’s time to drop things you are carrying alone and stop launching new programs until the Lord provides the workers. The more you carry everything alone, the less people have the opportunity to grow in ministry. Will a soccer program really attract more families? Doubtful. When someone comes to you with a great new ministry idea, recognize the opportunity for them to learn through starting it, building it and running it with your guidance and input. If there are no workers, drop it and pray to the Lord of the harvest. Providing workers is His responsibility. Your responsibility is to equip them and release them for ministry.

Third, ROLL. Good boxers learn to “roll with the punches.” They take what comes at them and make adjustments to deal with whatever comes so that they are still standing at the final bell. Panicked boxers let their opponents determine the pace of the contest. (Not that your flock is the opponent!)

I’ve always found young pastors in a big hurry. The problem is that fruit requires time and consistency to grow. Fruit that will last requires tending, fertilizing, gentle pruning and watering. Soil must be tilled, seeds must be planted. I often repeat the reminder, “God has time” in my conversations with those I mentor.

Few things truly require your immediate attention – especially on your day off or during family time. Instead of living life in a reactive mode, commit to becoming proactive. The proactive pastor builds a team to handle crisis and has no problem setting his voicemail recording to “We’re having some family time. If you have an emergency, give _______  a call at 555-1234.” In fact, that’s a good example of valuing family and setting healthy boundaries.

Years ago one of my mentors taught me that solving every problem and rushing to the rescue can actually rob people of the opportunity to discover the depth of prayer that comes in crisis. Providing the solution can rob people from developing the ability to overcome obstacles on their own. I remember him frequently telling me, “Scott, you are not the answer. Jesus is the answer. Point people to Him.”

Discipleship takes time. God has time. I remember hearing a young pastor tell me, “I’d rather burnout than rust out.”

I shrugged, “Really? It seems to me that you’re out either way.”

Stop. Drop. Roll.

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