Monday, December 3, 2012

You must take responsibility for your ministry

The passing of Zig Ziglar last week has caused me to reflect on the numerous times I heard him speak. So many of his sayings are so memorable I couldn't help but quote him in numerous sermons and in several of my books.  He began every session I heard by asking two questions of his audience.
  1. How many of you believe that regardless of how bad your personal, family, and business lives are at this moment there are still some things you could do that would make them even worse?  (Nearly every hand would be raised.)
  2. How many of you believe that regardless of how good your personal, family, and business lives are, there are still some things you could do to improve them?  (Again nearly everyone would raise their hand.)
Zig would then tell the audience that what they just told him was that regardless of what their lives are like today there are things they can do to make them better or worse.  He was pointing out that each of us must take personal responsibility for our lives.  Our situations are not the result of what "they" have done to us regardless of who "they" are.  Our lives, our businesses, our family relationships, our ministries, our finances are our responsibility and the choices we make will determine whether each of those aspects of our lives improve or worsen.

I had been pastor of our church for a year or two when one Sunday morning one of my more plain-spoken deacons told me as he was going out, "You're starting to turn into a decent preacher."  I took his comment as a compliment because I knew he would not have said it if he didn't believe it.  I also knew that I had worked hard to become a better speaker.  Every one of those early sermons had been taped and most of them were not very good.  I looked for any resources I could find that would help me become a better speaker.  Another member in our congregation shared her concern that my poor grammar would be a hindrance to my ministry, so when I went to Bible school one of the first things I did was take two semesters of English grammar to improve.  During my twenty year pastorate at that church I completely changed my preaching style three times in an effort to improve until I finally found a style that fits my personality and my way of speaking.

In my judicatory role I encounter too many ministers who do little, if anything, to improve their ministries.  I hear experienced pastors who are very poor communicators.  One church I visited several years ago was pastored by an individual who was just a few months from retirement.  He had been in ministry his entire adult life, and the sermon he delivered that morning was the poorest attempt I had ever heard.  He preached for ten minutes and said absolutely nothing.  I meet others who have poor social skills.  They are obviously uncomfortable around people which makes others around them uncomfortable as well.  I've seen pastors bounce from one church to another due to poor leadership skills who have done nothing to improve those skills.  Some ministers seem to think that once they receive their seminary degree there is nothing else they need to learn.  I would argue that one's education is just beginning if the minister wants to enjoy a successful ministry.

The best preachers are those who frequently read books on preaching and speaking techniques.  They attend workshops on preaching.  They invite criticism and use it to improve.  I read of one large church with multiple services whose staff meet between the services to discuss how the message could be improved for the next service.  The speaker better have thick skin for that to work, but what a great idea for improving one's message and delivery.  Ministers who provide excellent pastoral care are continually learning as much as they can about human nature and the needs of their congregation.  They build relationships with members of the church which creates deeper levels of trust, and that in turn makes it possible for them to better minister to those individuals.

What I've just written about preaching and pastoral care could be said of any role the pastor might have in a church.  The key is taking personal responsibility to continue to grow in every aspect of pastoral ministry.  As one who is a strong believer in spending most of one's time in the areas of your strengths I recognize that in some areas of pastoral work the minister will never be extremely comfortable, but even in those areas each of us can grow.  We can also identify ways to use others who are more gifted in those areas to come alongside.  I am not a great counselor; I have no special training in pastoral counseling; and I believe that most pastors should not provide long-term counseling to people.  One of the things I worked on to improve in that area of my ministry was how to identify the times when I needed to refer someone to a Christian counselor and to identify the ones I would refer people to.

The bivocational minister will always struggle with time issues which makes it even more imperative that he or she seeks ways to grow in every area of ministry.  The better you get at something the easier it is to do it and the less time you will waste.  But, it is important to recognize that you will never arrive.  The best are always seeking to learn new ways of doing things that will better serve their people.  God has called us and given us the tools we need, but it is up to us to keep those tools sharp.  Each of us must take responsibility for the ministries He has given us.  You may find this book helpful in that effort.

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