The Worst Ministry Advice I Ever Received

“Son,” the pastor whispered to me as he put his hand on my shoulder, “You need to listen up to what I’m about to tell you, because it will be the key to your ministry success.” I leaned in, eager to hear this crucial insight. “Don’t become friends with anyone in your congregation.” This pastor was only a few years older than me, but he’d grown up in a pastor’s home. He was scarred from the abuse he’d seen his father suffer and from his own experiences in ministry. To be fair, his advice did contain some bits of wisdom. There is a danger for leaders in allowing friendship to cloud judgment or show favoritism. If we’re not careful, we’ll allow ministry to either damage relationships or to keep us from necessary confrontations. I think he was genuinely trying to warn me about these pitfalls. But is this detached view of leadership, espoused in many...

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The Essential Art of Forgiveness in Ministry

I’ll never forget where I was when I nearly quit the ministry: sitting in my office at church, weeping. My wife was out of town with our children, ministering to a friend whose husband had just died from cancer. It was very early in my first pastorate. Being a senior pastor was new, different, and somewhat frightening. I was experiencing the betrayal of a church leader close to me, someone who had discipled me, mentored me, and ordained me for ministry. What began, I thought, as constructive criticism, soon turned into private and public slander. This new opposition wasn’t the kind of friendly and constructive criticism I’d expected and sought from people I’d grown up idolizing. This wasn’t coaching from older, wiser, pastors. This was jealousy, bullying, and threats. And it was deeply personal. His disapproval of me had not stemmed from integrity issues, doctrinal issues, or even leadership failures. It was simply...

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7 Times Your ‘Righteous’ Anger Probably Isn’t

When pastors get angry, things can get complicated. On the one hand, we know that anger is not always an indication of sin. After all, we say to ourselves, Jesus got angry. Paul also counseled the Ephesians on anger, saying, “In your anger do not sin” (Eph. 4:26): implying that anger is inevitable in human relationships, and that there is a way to be angry and not sin. James further cautions his readers to be “slow to become angry,” encouraging a slow emotional response, but not forbidding one outright (James 1:19). All of this seems to suggest that it’s okay to be angry sometimes. What I have found in my own life, however, is that my attempts to justify anger—to point to Jesus whipping folks in the temple as a precedent for outbursts of righteous indignation—are typically ill-motivated, and they usually just end in me being an unbearable jerk. So how can...

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Here is the Church, but Where is the Steeple?

Several years ago, a church I pastored went through a massive remodeling effort, updating a tired, ‘90s-era look with more modern, chic, 21st-century décor. Peeling wallpaper was replaced with fresh paint. Hideous brown siding was covered over with a beautiful new stone treatment. A landscaper transformed some tired and unkempt bushes into a beautiful garden walkway. Our building, which many mistook for an abandoned union hall or a Masonic lodge, now looked, to passersby, like a place that might have signs of life. Interestingly, though, we capped off our remodeling effort by adding a steeple. Yes, you heard that right—as part of our revitalizing, modernizing, moving-our-church-forward renovation, we added an architectural element straight out of the Dark Ages. A fresh logo. A modern auditorium. A welcoming lobby. And a steeple. The history of church steeples is a bit mysterious. Nobody knows for sure when the first steeple was built, but the oldest one...

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