Ministry Poker Chips

One of the most memorable lessons in ministry I was ever taught came from a conference I attended where Leith Anderson spoke about poker chips. This wasn’t the illustration that I was expecting to hear at a meeting full of ministers, but it was brilliant and I have tried to minister by it since I learned the lesson from Dr. Anderson.

Leith said that whether a minister realizes it or not each minister has an account of “”chips” that determines whether or not the people in the church will trust and follow him/her. Those chips are given by the parishioner and earned by the minister’s actions.

Wear a nice suit during your introduction to the church, earn a chip. Preach a great message during your first weekend as a minister at the church, earn three chips. Preach a good message when a parishioner invites a friend to church and the friend brags about the message, earn five chips. Preach a bad message that goes long on top of being bad, lose seven chips. Forget to visit someone’s great Aunt Gerdie when her dog is sick, lose five chips. Visit Aunt Gerdi when you are sick and everyone thinks you should be in bed, earn ten chips. Visit her on your birthday and earn twenty chips.

An account of “chips” tell people they can trust you.

The point is that all these small events are adding or subtracting “chips” to the trust account of a minister. Over lots of time and lots of small events and trustworthy moments a minister build up a substantial account of chips and that equals a substantial amount of trust. You get to make big changes and survive big mistakes when you have built up a lot of trust.

Unfortunately, many ministers want to make the big change without ever spending the time building up the chips in their account to enable people to trust them with the change.  Then when things go wrong they often blame the church, rather than considering if they had built up enough chips to make such a big change. After all, Jesus told us to “count the costs” (Luke 14:28). You need to consider if you have the resources to finish the change that you are leading the church through. If you don’t have the resources of trust then spend time building them up before you start that big project. Sometimes parishioners think “You’ve never had a conversation with me longer than 30 seconds, why should I trust you when you say we are going to make big changes in the church?” Build up your chip account and that opinion very well may change.

One of the other things that Dr. Anderson said concerning these trust chips that really struck me is that the best ministers learn that they receive a greater number of chips if they learn to give away their initial chips. What does this mean? Here’s an example.

“Pastor, I really appreciated the Tenebrae service. It was very meaningful.”

“Thanks, I appreciate you saying that. You know George & Brenda really brought the whole thing together. They put a lot of work into the evening to make sure people connected with God. Could you tell them how much the night meant to them?”

There are some that you need to guard your chips from.
There are some that you need to guard your chips from.

See that is sharing the chips, also known as directing credit to other people.  When a minister makes sure and points to others, that is a chip multiplier. It shows parishioners that the minister isn’t just going to bogart all the attention and credit for him/herself. I’ve known a few people who you had to watch out for, because they were not only trying to selfishly make sure all the credit was directed toward themselves but they might also try to steal your trust chips for themselves if they could. I learned very quickly to guard my chips when I was around them.

Anyhow you can, and should, read Leith Anderson do a much better job of discussing this HERE.

Pastor or Preacher

As a pastor I typically have one of three interactions with people when they want to schedule a meeting with me to talk about something important.

  1. Someone without a church background typically just says “Hey can I talk with you  sometime?” Simple, and straight forward. I like this.
  2. Someone who has previously been a part of the church world and has consistently heard stories of how busy pastors are (often from the pastors themselves) will usually approach me by first saying “I know how terribly busy you are and I promise not to take too much time, but could we meet sometime?” I know these people are trying to be nice, but it crushes me that often their experience has been that pastors are too busy to be bothered. This isn’t the person’s fault. It is the fault of a misconception that has gotten into ministry. The idea that busyness, either real or perceived, is some how honoring to the God Who actually said that keeping the Sabbath is how He wants to be honored. ARGH! It drives me nuts.
  3. Someone who is involved in Tapestry and wants to talk just usually asks “What time are you going to be at Emy J’s tomorrow?” I think they know that I am there because I want to be available to them, and if for some reason I actually am too busy to talk at a certain moment I will be honest with them, tell them I can’t talk right at that moment, and then immediately schedule another time. I love this.

This is one of the things I love about chaplaining too. People assume that I am there for them and therefore they aren’t an interruption. If I ever reach the point that I am too busy to be involved in what God is doing in individuals’ lives then please don’t call me a pastor. I might be a preacher, teacher, or speaker but I won’t be a pastor and shouldn’t be called one. Pastoring implies shepherding and shepherding involves intimacy with people.

What Peterson Would Say To Seminary Students

A friend of mine linked to this long quote from Eugene Peterson concerning what he would say to new seminary students desiring to be a pastor:

“I’d tell them that pastoring is not a very glamorous job. It’s a very taking-out-the-laundry and changing-the-diapers kind of job. And I think I would try to disabuse them of any romantic ideas of what it is. As a pastor, you’ve got to be willing to take people as they are. And live with them where they are. And not impose your will on them. Because God has different ways of being with people, and you don’t always know what they are.

“The one thing I think is at the root of a lot of pastors’ restlessness and dissatisfaction is impatience. They think if they get the right system, the right programs, the right place, the right location, the right demographics, it’ll be a snap. And for some people it is: if you’re a good actor, if you have a big smile, if you are an extrovert. In some ways, a religious crowd is the easiest crowd to gather in the world. Our country’s full of examples of that. But for most, pastoring is a very ordinary way to live. And it is difficult in many ways because your time is not your own, for the most part, and the whole culture is against you. This consumer culture, people grow up determining what they want to do by what they can consume. And the Christian gospel is just quite the opposite of that. And people don’t know that. And pastors don’t know that when they start out. We’ve got a whole culture that is programmed to please people, telling them what they want.  And if you do that, you might end up with a big church, but you won’t be a pastor.”

Oh how I love Eugene Peterson.

ht  Geroge Mason / lucidtheology / Jonathan Merritt

Big Little Acts

While listening to a “To the Best of Our Knowledge” podcast I heard the segment “Life Inc“, which is an interview with Douglas Rushkoff. In this segment Rushkoff talked about the history of corporatism and made some specific small recommendations for changing some of the negative effects of what he sees happening in our present economic situation – i.e. not paying off debt by creating value but paying off debt by convincing other people to go into debt. He focuses on specifically small acts.

I believe we tend to perceive important things as usually being big. Big acts are impressive. Big acts talk about being movements, and movements look good and make the people in them feel like they are doing something important. Big acts have cool graphics, logos, catch phrases, and good looking leaders. Big acts have their own insider vocabulary. Big acts spawn t-shirts and other merch. Big acts look good on resumes. Big acts lead to their leaders talking at conferences and getting book deals. The church loves big acts and the people who have a “vision” for them.

I’m tired of big acts because I feel like they usually don’t usually last, though they do create a large number of t-shirts and other swag. They last just as long as they are cool and then are quickly forgotten when the next big movement comes along. Don’t get me wrong, I believe there is a place for big acts. That place just doesn’t have the prominence that I believe we tend to give these “movements.”

I like small acts. I think Jesus does too. Many of His miracles were small (personal) acts. A wedding runs out of wine and Jesus provides more wine without anyone but the servants and His mom knowing about it. Many, if not most, of His healings were “small” acts. They weren’t spectacles. They were huge in their impact but small in scale and the fanfare around them. When you really get down to it few of Jesus acts were big.

Actually it might be cool to write a theology of little acts versus big acts. I think it would be come apparent quickly that Jesus was much more about little acts than He was big acts. His big acts seem to flow from lots of small acts. i thin that’s another post.

I realize there is a danger with small acts. Sometimes we can think that small acts mean there is little, if any sacrifice, involved. For those of us who claim to be followers of Christ we can pervert the idea of small acts into just being nice. I believe Jesus wants us to be nice to people, but that isn’t what following Him is all about. Jesus calls us to follow Him, and He sacrificed Himself for others. He did this in some big ways, and lots of small ways. Jesus’ little acts were big in sacrifice. They cost Him a ton. I believe He calls us to act in little acts that are big in sacrifice. Small acts toward our neighbors that are more costly than most people can imagine. Little tasks for those who hurt us, that are huge in their grace and impact. Little acts that leave your worn out at the end of the day because they took every bit of energy that you and I have.

Francis of Assisi had huge impact on the church, but that impact began with what I think was a relatively small act. He believed God was calling him to rebuild His church. Francis took that very literally. Not in some grand scale, but an actual, local run down church building. He gather stones to rebuild it. One stone at a time. One little act after another.

The prayer typically called The Prayer of Saint Francis (though he probably didn’t write it) is full of such little/big acts. Here it is:

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is discord, harmony;
Where there is error, truth;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Those are little/big acts.

These little/big acts don’t result in t-shirts, books, logos, or movements. They do result in God being glorified. Our culture loves big things. It loves movements. So when the church does them we are actually just doing what the culture already does. Little/big acts are counter-culturally. Little/big acts reflect living in the kingdom of God.

This week I will try to do little things that are big in sacrifice.

Busy Day, But A Good Day

Today was a busy day and it was a great day. One of the things I love about being a pastor is that I get to do a variety of things, from the mundane to the dramatic. From the administrative to the impactful.  Basically on any given day I get to do a lot of different things. Today was one such day.

Here is what my day looked like.

  • Continued studying for the Resurrection sermon series I am doing for Tapestry.
  • An hour of prep work for the jambalaya for tonight’s Place of Peace meal.
  • Drive 40 minutes to a funeral, attend the funeral, drive back home
  • Cook the jambalaya.
  • While I let the jambalaya simmer I deal with Tapestry administrative stuff, making contact with two couples for premarital counseling, getting all the initial stuff taken care of (I use the Prepare/Enrich survey with couples and ask them to read a few books), and scheduling our sessions together, and finally dealing with chaplaincy administrative stuff.
  • Answering a ton of texts concerning the Place of Peace meal (I love answering these texts because they are all about getting people involved in helping others).
  • Finishing the jambalaya.
  • The Place of Peace meal – serving food and eating with people who look a lot like Jesus. A pretty awesome night, as always.
  • Getting home and cleaning up.

Right not I smell like pig fat (from the ton of sausage in the jambalaya) and I’m tried.  I am also happy as I sit beside Pam watching Parenthood and blogging together. I have known some ministers who complained pretty frequently about how busy they were.  I have mentioned before that minister complaining/bragging about being busy drove me nuts and it still does. Why? Well for two reasons: 1) Because the variety of what I get to do is awesome and significant, and 2) my schedule is amazingly flexible.  I am blessed to be a minister and the ministerial schedule, both during busy times and slack times, is a part of that blessing.

I will take a sabbath sometime next week but tonight I am thankful for a busy day.

Psychopath? Well, At Least You Can Trust Me More Than My Dad

I listened to the Relevant podcast this morning while driving to Tapestry’s monthly Leadership Team breakfast. During the podcast they talked about a list of of jobs most likely & least likely to attract psychopaths. Here are the two lists.

Most likely:

  1. CEO
  2. Lawyer
  3. Media (Television/Radio)
  4. Salesperson
  5. Surgeon
  6. Journalist
  7. Police officer
  8. Clergy person
  9. Chef
  10. Civil servant

Least likely:

  1. Care aide
  2. Nurse
  3. Therapist
  4. Craftsperson
  5. Beautician/Stylist
  6. Charity worker
  7. Teacher
  8. Creative artist
  9. Doctor
  10. Accountant

The list comes from a book called The Wisdom of Psychopaths (which I haven’t read). This article on the list and book mentions that the “why” behind the attraction probably has something to do with the ability to connect and really empathize with people. That actually surprised me a little at first because I think one of the main attributes of a good minister is the ability to connect and empathize with people. I am sure that my Dad (a salesman at heart) would say the same thing about good salesmen. Of course, I also know clergy and sales people who are able to take an ability to connect with others and use it for their own power motives rather than empathizing with others.

I guess that is why some of the best people I know in the world (people who are giving, creative, sacrificial, passionate, etc) are ministers and some of the worse people I know in the world are also ministers. When those talents are focused on other people it is a wonder to behold and amazing things happen. When those same talents are focused on one’s own motives they are destructive and terrible. I think my dad would say the same thing about sales people.

The good news is that Pam is a therapist at heart and thus on the least likely list. So the boys have at least one good role model. :)

Conference Suggestions

I typically go to a conference each year to steal … I mean borrow … ideas from people who are doing cool things. Because of a busy year I didn’t go to one in 2013. Before that I had attended the Q conference for 4 years and I loved it.  I do however feel it is time for something new. I typically prefer to go to conferences that are outside of the popular, mainstream ministry practices. I feel like they usually push me a little more.

Any suggestions? I’m all ears.

Theology Group & I Stink @ Names

Thinking through new small/bible groups for 2014 while also designing a temporary ramp for the front door of the Terrell abode for “Hot Drink Night.” One of the members of the Leadership Team (who will remain nameless because while I am sure this person wouldn’t mind me mentioning their name, I don’t have their permission so therefore I won’t) suggested a theology 201 group – i.e. a more thorough discussion than just “here’s the basics of Christian faith.” I liked the idea and we’ve discussed starting it in January and meeting once a month.

Here’s what I mean by theology 201 – not just defining a theological belief but looking for its implications in our faith and life. One example of this is what I mentioned in yesterday’s post concerning Barth’s focus on the wholly other nature of God. That isn’t just a definition but a discussion of its implication in our life.

Other examples are:

  • What does the nature of the Trinity say about the church as the body of Christ?
  • What does the Incarnation mean for a follower of Christ’s role in the world?
  • What does the Transcendence and Immanence of God mean for our relationship with our neighbors?

There are more and more examples. Good theology should affect life, otherwise it probably isn’t good theology. I guess that would set this group up to be more practical theology, rather than systematic, biblical, or historical theology (though obviously all three of the latter will be a part of the former).

So here are my questions:

  • Anyone willing to say they would already be interested in something like this?
  • If so, any suggestions concerning what day/time would be best to meet once a month?
  • Anyone have a decent name for this thing? All I can think of is “Let’s Talk Theology” which is a dumb name that I promise we won’t use. Little help here people. I really stink at names, mainly because I don’t think they matter that much. I would probably just call the thing the “Wednesday (or whenever) Theology Group” but that wouldn’t tell people much about the group other than when it met. If I could combine “theology” (study of God) with “biology” (the study of life) without it completely confusing people I would do that. Please help me people.

Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling & Sermons

I just ran across this visualization of Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling and I thought I would post it because it somewhat fits in with something I have been thinking about sermons lately. During my D.Min project defense I was hit by something one of the professors said. He said he was glad that I had purposefully included application because he was amazed at how many sermons he heard and read from students recently that were just information, more like a history lesson than anything that matter to daily living. He said such sermons might have been interesting but they didn’t communicate truth to people that they could use in their daily faith. It surprised me a little because if anything I think I have a tendency to get a little fascinated with the history and the theology to the exclusion of the application.

It Takes 3 to communicate
My terrible drawing & summary of Aristotle’s model of communication

I believe the purpose of a sermon is to communicate the truth of the person of Jesus Christ into the life of His church. The fact that it involves communication means that several parties have to be considered during its development and delivery. If I have had a conversation with you sometime in the past few years there is a decent chance that I have pulled out a journal and started to draw something during the conversation to help illustrate a point of the conversation. One of the drawings that I often go to is a very basic drawing of the Aristotle’s model of communication (I say basic because Aristotle’s model involves 5 elements but my drawing summarizes them to 3). If you look through one of my journals you will find this drawing quite a few times. I use it for everything from premarital counseling to politics because communication is key to most things in life. The point I make with the drawing is that it isn’t effective communication unless essentially the same message makes it from the Sender through the medium of communication to the Receiver. If that doesn’t happen it doesn’t really matter how good your facts or illustrations are you haven’t communicated. You may say one thing but if the person doesn’t hear and understand it then you might as well have not said it or to have said it in a different language.

My friend Heather M posted a good example of effective communication on her Facebook wall today. Every flight you ever go on has the same safety regulations stated at the beginning of the flight. Most times everyone on the flights I am on simply ignore the safety speech.  To counteract this tendency Virgin America made the video below for their safety speech. I encourage you to watch it.

Now I am sure some would say, and probably have said, that the video does not have the right tone for a serious subject like airline safety regulations. After all people’s lives are at risk. Why would you make an entertaining video to convey such serious information? Well, maybe because someone might actually watch the above video rather than just keeping their nose in a book and ignoring it. I believe the above video does a much better job of effectively communicating the safety information than a bored flight attendant saying a rehearsed speech. I think churches can learn a lot from this video.

The kerygma (a fancy way of referring to the proclamation of the message of the gospel of the Kingdom) is the most important message in the world. Some people want a “pastoral tone” for such a message but what if that doesn’t communicate with the group? Why have the sermon then? The point of the sermon should be to effectively communicate the truth of Jesus into the lives of those present. Nothing else matters. Not style. Not tradition. Not anything else. Just communication of the good news of the kingdom that Jesus brings. I actually once had a father of a college student who attended a local campus ministry get mad at me because my sermon to the campus ministry the night before had been too funny. He thought that preaching had to be serious in its tone. I couldn’t seem to get him to understand how amazing it was that his student had not only remember what was said during the sermon but had also been moved by it to the point to desire to go and discuss it with him. He was just mad because “sermons aren’t meant to be funny.” Obviously he has never heard one of my jokes, otherwise he would have known that the sermon couldn’t have been that funny. Many of you can witness to this fact.

What does this have to do with Pixar’s rules? Well look through them. They pretty much all relate to the question of whether or not the artist is effectively communicating the story to the audience. If the artist doesn’t effectively communicate the story then why do it? Not all of Pixar’s points specifically cross over to sermon preparation and delivery but I think enough do that they are good reading. We should prepare our sermons with a mindset similar to Pixar’s storytelling. Therefore I believe I should constantly ask myself questions like …

  • What do I believe God is trying to communicate to His church through the passage of scripture?
  • What will help the congregation to best understand this message?
  • Am I really focused on the point or chasing lots of rabbits that don’t really communicate?
  • What’s the end of this message about? How does it shape the middle and intro?

There are lots of other questions to add but I feel like I have written enough for now. I just want to make sure that the messages I preach communicate effectively with God’s people. I don’t really care how.

Want to be a Pastor? Then don’t go to Bible College

One of the things that I am very thankful for in my education is that I did not attend a Bible college for my undergraduate degree. Obviously I am not opposed to formal religious education because I have earned my masters degree from a Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and hopefully I will soon earn my doctorate from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. So here is why I think young ministers if at all possible should not go to religious colleges for their undergraduate degrees. I say this with an understanding that most protestant churches are now looking for a minimum of a masters degree from their ministers. If you are going to just get a bachelor’s degree and your denomination/church affiliation will accept that, then what I am writing doesn’t really pertain to you. But if you need at least a masters degree to work in a church/ministry then here is why I think your undergraduate degree shouldn’t be a degree in ministry and in my opinion should not come from a religious college.

1. You are going to cover everything that you would cover in an undergraduate ministry degree in greater depth during a Masters of Divinity. 

The Masters of Divinity was designed for people who have degrees outside of theology and ministry. It is one long stinking masters degree. It was 94 credits when I got mine and some programs go as high as 106 credits. The M.Div covers a ton of material so that it isn’t necessary for students to have a specific prerequisite degree. All that matters is that you have a degree from an accredited school, not which degree you have. So why not take advantage of this fact and get a different degree that might help you in something else? Getting a Bible/ministry degree will at best give you a two week advantage on most of your introductory M.Div courses.

2. Knowing something other than the Bible will help you relate to others better and that leads to better ministry.

When I first believed God was calling me into ministry I asked several ministers whom I respected what they would recommend I study initially. Almost unanimously  they told me business and/or psychology. That’s why I studied both. I have always been thankful for what I learned in both subjects. The knowledge has not only been put to practical use in the ministries that I have been a part of, but it has also enabled me to have some idea on how to talk with people in a variety of subjects. I love studying scripture and theology and will gladly talk with anyone about both but being able to talk about other subjects with people is what usually opens doors for me.

3. Bible colleges are private schools and therefore usually more expensive than state schools.

You really want to be able to follow God anywhere? Then don’t go into debt. Owing lots of student loans makes it much more difficult to hear God call you into situations that won’t pay a great deal. Bible colleges are private schools and therefore generally more expensive. This isn’t always true because private schools often have more scholarships available. In such situations it might actually be cheaper to go to a private school. This was the case for Adam, my oldest son, last year. Still private schools are a great way to rack up debt and in my opinion debt is the enemy of being able to ditch all and go anywhere God asks. Pam and I have almost finished 6 degrees (I’ll finish my doctorate in December) and we’ve never had a student loan. That would have been much more difficult to do if we had built up huge debt working on our undergraduate degrees. I am very thankful that we didn’t have to borrow any money for our schooling.

4. You need to spend time with people outside of the church culture and state schools are better for that.

Finally, I think the Christian bubble can be far too seductive for ministers. It becomes very easy to hang out with other people who basically think like you and value your role as a minister. It becomes tempting for ministers to not spend much time outside of the church culture. So my opinion is that young ministers should start spending time outside of the bubble early. What do you think is the better way to avoid the Christian bubble? Bible college or secular college? I vote secular.

Please don’t hear me criticizing anyone for going to Bible college. If you are or did then great for you. I’m not saying there is anything bad about getting an undergraduate degree in ministry or theology. I’m just saying that in my opinion it is best for young ministers to go to a secular school.

It is purely my opinion and since this is my blog I get to express it here.