One of my favorite stores locally is closing.  Eastern Mountain Sports is a great place to buy the articles I need every so often for hiking and other outdoor activities.  More and more I find myself going to online sources, but not due to choice.  I would rather walk in to a place like EMS and talk to the experts, keeping my money local as a bonus.  One of the great things about a place like EMS are the courses they offer.  Outdoor medicine, cooking, planning for hikes, even how to survive an avalanche.

Thinking about it, I wish that the church offered courses like this.  Recently I could have used a course in how to survive a spiritual avalanche!  In one two month period our new format at the church failed miserably, my father-in-law underwent colon surgery, my wife started working overtime (meaning many 2:30am alarms), our foster daughter who was with us for a year transitioned to a new home and my step-mother passed away.  Needless to say our lives seemed to be in free-fall mode.  We were caught in an avalanche of events.  So, how do you survive those kinds of times?

The key word here is ‘survive’.  No one prospers during these times.  I think sometimes we kid ourselves into thinking that if we are not energetic and growing that we are not successful.  Sometimes ‘success’ is defined by survival.  So the first thing is to get that expectation out of your sights.  How do you survive, then?

Lean on your friends, your congregation, your family.  They have all likely been there, too, and can empathize with you.  Moreover, 2 Cor 1:3-5 seems to say  not only are we being trained to help others through the trials we come through, but OTHERS in our lives have been there and are ready to minister to you!  Let them.  This is a hard lesson for those of us who have that John-Wayne-Western-Frontier-Self-Reliant-I-Don’t-Need-Help attitude.  Many pastors in particular have this sort of attitude.  It is ingrained in us, trained into us, by a tradition of ministry which says ‘I am the minister, I can’t show weakness to my flock’.  In reality this is self-defeating.  The example you are showing people is unlivable.  Instead, show your flock you are human, and you are going through the same things they are.

The other side of the coin is the scripture and admonition that ‘it is more blessed to give than to receive’ (Acts 20:35).  By refusing to allow someone to minister to you you will deprive them of a blessing.  As ministers are we not to bless our people?

Take time to retreat when possible.  Go off and pray, meditate on the Scriptures.   Seek God’s wisdom and perspective.  Jesus did this when He was under pressure.  If Jesus did it, what makes us think we should not?  Rest, recuperation and rejuvenation are important in these times.  One of the consequences of this may be, and probably should be, a paring of your own responsibilities down to the basics.  You should only be concerned with the important matters.  During times when we have nothing going on to stress us we tend to pick up an overload of ministry responsibilities.  We may function as head of Women’s/Men’s Ministries, teach Sunday School, preach on Sunday, head up the Nursing Home Ministry and do home and hospital visitation.  In times of stress it may prove necessary to remove some of those responsibilities from your schedule.  Letting someone else take over may prove to be an unexpected blessing for them!

Go do something fun.  Take your husband/wife and go bowling.  Go to the beach.  Go out to dinner or a movie.  Do something to be with the people you love and remind yourself that the world is not all caving in around your head.  You will be surprised how much energy this can bring back into your life.

And finally, keep a perspective on what is happening.  Realize that the rain falls on the good and the wicked.  It will all end in due course.  Where there is a valley there are  two mountains!  God will bring you through the valley and into the sun once again.  Trust in God and survive the avalanche.




Bivo pastors in a small church know how much a small change in attendance can help…or hurt…the health of the church.  Good statistics are definitely not the end goal of a pastor, but they do tell stories.  A few years ago my wife and I moved to Vermont to plant a new church.  We had a storefront where we worshipped.  The church did pretty well, and was consistently running in the black financially.  We had the largest teen youth group in town, despite the fact that many churches had been there much longer than we had.  But in the last two years we saw several crises hit the church.  We had to move to another facility which was not as suitable as our first.  A family that had been supporting us consistently moved out of state.  Another left because they decided a church plant was not for them and they ‘needed better music’.  What had been a thriving ministry became a struggling ministry.  The bottom fell out.  Eventually we closed the work and moved on after making sure everyone in the group had a place to go.  Our last Sunday we had four people besides my wife and I.

No doubt about it, when a small church loses even a small number of people the ministry can be devastated.  For a church of 200 people, losing 10 can be painful.  For a church of 20 or 30, 10 people leaving might completely wreck the boat.  So, what do you do when the bottom falls out?  How do you handle it?

Most bivo pastors would say that numbers are not what drives us to do what we do.  Yet when the numbers dwindle like this, or even lead to a closure, our egos take a hit.  It hurts.  We regard it not only as a ministry failure, but a personal failure.  There is going to be a time of grieving.  We grieve for what we have lost, and for what might have been.  We ponder and think about what we might have done to stem the tide.  We blame ourselves for the failure.  One of the first things you need to do is realise that this is normal.  we need to make time and space to let ourselves heal.  Find a group of encouraging people with whom you can share your struggles and hurts.  Do not be too quick to go back into a ministry position.  Sit back, take time to think and pray.

If your ministry still exists, but is failing, it is time to ask what went wrong and ask God to show you a way forward.  It may be that the ministry needs to have a  new leader.  Yes, you might need to step aside.  Or perhaps you need to refocus on the important things.  Rick Warren in his book “Purpose Driven Church” says that surfers go out to seek the perfect wave.  They don’t try to MAKE the wave, they find where it already is and then ride it.  As pastors we sometimes find we are spending more time trying to MAKE a wave of the Spirit than SEEKING where He is working.  How many times have you seen a church with no children trying to put a children’s ministry together?  What is your church doing right?  What is your church doing wrong or failing at?  What is there in your church that cannot be duplicated by any other in your area?  Start there and work outward.

Perhaps the next part of the process is to recognize the difference between our ministry and our calling.  The fact that a particular ministry did not go well does not mean that your calling has disappeared.  God called you into ministry, and He will walk with you through the dark parts as well as the light.  Hold on to the fact that God has a special mission and purpose for you.

Most importantly, get as near to God as you can.  Let Him show you His peace.  Let Him guide you.  Read the Bible and pray.  As you get closer to Him, things will become clearer.  Let His blessings wash over you.

“Even though I walk
    through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
    for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.”
Psalm 23:4 (NIV)

mindfulLately we have had some interesting happenings around my secular job.  Yesterday I walked in to work and found we had a mandatory meeting across the parking lot at the Middle School library.  Upon arriving there I learned that our ‘Wellness’ coordinators had booked a meeting for our department to have a lecture on ‘Mindfulness’.  If you have not followed this trend then be assured it is coming to a venue near you!  Our presenter told us that mindfulness is being presented around our School District to all the employees as a way of reducing stress and therefore contributing to our overall health and happiness.  According to one source, mindfulness is defined as a technique in which one focuses one’s full attention only on the present, experiencing thoughts, feelings, and sensations but not judging them’.  We went through three exercises in which we were encouraged to focus on certain thoughts.  Afterwards, in speaking with another participant who is also a Christian, we were both struck with the same thing; this was really prayer, but without God!

Now, that is kind of a strange thought, isn’t it?  How can you pray, without praying TO someone?  Frankly, twenty years ago this would have been immediately derided as a New Age indoctrination.  Parents and staff would have been complaining to the School Board.  Newspaper, TV and magazine articles would have been devoted to the subject.  Grated, this is Vermont, so even back then it might have been ignored or viewed as ‘progressive’. But now, we have a staff member who is paid to do this specific job.

So, what is to be our stance on this?  I will be the first to say that if we believe that this practice is dumbing down Christians into some Eastern religion technique, or even atheistic/agnostic psycho-babble, then we need to engage it directly.  But if we look at this as a way that NON-Christians are being given a first step into a relationship with God, and that God may use it to speak into their lives…then maybe we should think of this as an evangelistic tool.  Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still and know that I am God”.  If being STILL is a first step, then the second step of ‘knowing God’ may very well be the next thing to happen.  God’s prevenient grace can work in ways that we may find to be…unusual!

Just to be clear, there is a distinct difference between Eastern meditative techniques and those of historic Christianity.  The Eastern techniques, especially those from Buddhism, are essentially an ’emptying’ of the mind, in order to connect with the ‘universe’, whereas Christian mediation focuses on taking the mind off ‘self’ and filling it with God’s presence.

Many of the best of the old time hymns were framed around the bawdy songs sung in the bars.  The early Holiness preachers used the familiar tunes to catch hold of the sinners there and provide an in-road resulting in their salvation.  Could it be that we need to use the ‘frame’ of the ‘Mindfulness’ movement to catch the attention of the sinners around us, to see them saved?

Thoughts to challenge us…


“Be still and know that I am God”.    Psalms 46:10


stressed girlThere is an interesting quote from a fantasy author named Brandon Sanderson.  He says, “Once one becomes a man, he can and must make his own decisions. But I do offer warning. Even a good thing can become destructive if taken to excess.”

As a minister we make many decisions as to policy, mission, purpose and methods in the church.  One assumes that these are all decisions that are supposed to in one way or another benefit the local church and ministry.  But when do you have too much ministry?  Does that sound strange to your ears?  It should…we ministers are in the ‘helping’ professions.  We want to help people; it is usually not in our nature to say ‘No!’ to anyone.  The reality is that too much ministry CAN be harmful to ourselves, our family and our church.  Here are a few ways you can determine if this is happening in your context.

  1.  You have no one else to run the program or ministry.  There is no one with a passion for that activity in your church, so you do it yourself.  If you have a ministry like this you seriously need to consider letting it go.
  2. You are so over-involved in various programs and meetings that you have no time for your family.  Your family is your FIRST ministry.  You cannot put yourself in a position where you harm your marriage or your children for the sake of the church.
  3. You are getting so stressed it is causing health issues.  Your health is important.  Your ministry will be shortened if you end up making yourself chronically sick and that will benefit no one.  Many don’t realize John Wesley was not only a theologian and preacher but that he wrote a booklet called “Primitive Physick” which emphasized the importance of care for physical health as part of holistic ministry.
  4. You have people who would like to be involved in a ministry, but you are running it instead.  Sometimes we get caught up in doing things our own way and decide we should lead the ministry instead of someone else.  In most cases we are robbing someone of a blessing, and perhaps even setting them up to leave the church.  They do not feel like they are able to contribute.
  5. You have people who are wearing more than one ‘hat’.  In fact, they are wearing four or five.  That is too much.  Typically you should not have anyone who is filling more than two major positions in the church.  My rule of thumb is that you should be leading a ministry, assisting in a ministry and being fed in a ministry.  For instance, a person might be teaching a Sunday School class (leading), in the choir (assisting) and attending a home Bible Study (being fed).  If that same person was teaching a Sunday School class, leading the choir and leading a Bible Study group they are probably on the road to burnout.  This applies to you as well!  Don’t overload.

People will tell me I don’t know what it is like to be in a small church where you have to be this involved to minister effectively.  My church averages 25 people in Sunday worship.  When we first came to this present assignment we had a fair number of pew warmers, while our Church Treasurer played the piano, led worship, was the Missions President and cleaned and decorated the church.  We saw she was drowning, so the first order of business was to relieve her of some of those responsibilities.  We found out what she felt called to do.  we found out what she was doing just because she felt someone had to do it.  We approached a couple ‘pew warmers’ and asked them if they would like to help..and they enthusiastically said yes.  At least one ministry was side-lined.  Not only did the church survive, it grew.  More importantly it grew spiritually as people took ownership.

Rick Aster in his book ‘Fear of Nothing” says, “Most of us try to do too much because we are secretly afraid we will not be able to do anything at all.”   John says in 1 John 4:18…“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.”  Sometimes the punishment is implicit in the doing.  We do because we are afraid, but we harm ourselves in the doing.  On the other hand, Jesus says in Matthew 11:28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”  Perhaps we need to listen to and act on His words.


exerciseEver heard this riddle?  “What do you call a 300 pound preacher?”  “A Full Gospel Minister!”

I have known a lot of ministers in my time, and unfortunately many of them were not very fit, in a physical sense.  This is sad from a couple viewpoints.  First, lack of physical fitness means that your stamina is lessened and with that comes fatigue and stress.  Those are killers, folks.   Second, it can be a bad example to our people.  Now, don’t hate on me…I am not ‘fat shaming’.  I am simply saying that if we want to be everything God wants for us to be that we need to have some degree of physical fitness.  John Wesley in his various writings urged his followers to look to their own health so they could preach the Gospel with energy and  vitality. The biblical admonitions are strong as well.  Simply put, would you want to be a bright fire burning for a short time, or a fire built to shed light far and wide for years to come?

This is all well and good, but for the bivocational pastor it does have some extra dimensions that need to be considered.  It goes back to the ‘time’ issue we all face.  We are full-time pastors, but also have a job (or jobs) outside of the ministry.  How can we find the time to get ‘fit’?  My answer to that question is that we need to build it into whatever we are already doing.  Consider the following:

  • Watch your diet.  Eat in a healthful fashion.  Maybe even use an app like ‘LoseIt‘ to monitor yourself.
  • If you smoke or drink alcohol socially…stop.
  • Park your car far from your workplace.  Walk!
  • Take the stairs rather than the elevator.
  • Go for a short walk at lunch.
  • Keep up with your doctor and dentist appointments.  Seriously.
  • Decide on one physical activity you will make time for and make it fun.

Check out this link for some of Wesley’s thoughts from “Primitive Physick”.

A couple months ago I decided I was going to start hiking again.  Not long hikes, mind you, just a few hours each.  It has been a few years for me, and I committed myself to doing it by making a financial investment…I went out and bought some new equipment.  This summer I have committed to preparing for and doing several day hikes, including a capstone hike in New Hampshire with a friend.

If you can make one shift towards better health, what would it be?  Think of five tings you could do, and pick one that would be easy.  After having some success you will be encouraged to try other strategies.