PASTORAL ADVICE

I’ve written several blogs of late on “advice,” varying from money, marriage, children, and a few other things.  One thing I know a little something about is pastoring, so today’s blog is advice for pastors about pastoring.  So that probably makes for a smaller audience, but hey, it’s what I know so here we go.

1.  Make certain your children live in as normal a home as possible.  A pastor has a special responsibility to safeguard his or her children and spouse from the crazy, erratic, and emotionally depleting world they have to work in every day.

2.  Take a sabbath day once a week.  Sunday and Saturday do not count because you work very hard on those days.  I always took Friday, most people take Monday.  Monday never worked for me because I always felt so drained on Monday that when I took that day off I didn’t feel like enjoying anything.  That is when I decided to go on into work on Monday.  If I was going to feel bad I might as well not do it on my own time.  On your sabbath refuse to answer the phone, and train your spouse not to answer her’s/his either because they will call her/him to get to you.  I wish I’d had the strength to hang up the phone immediately whenever I answered and they said, “I know it is your day off but . . . ”   It always ruined my day.

3.  Read books, but don’t read so many churchy books.  I regret spending so much of my time reading one ‘how to do church book’ right after the other.  Maybe pick about five of them that others recommend and then stop, perhaps then reading one more every other year.  Instead read literature (Dickens, Poe, Dostoevsky, Wilde, Shakespeare) and current best sellers.  I also wish I’d read more history and thrillers and less about church.

4.  Accept the fact that church is a broken institution and live in the midst of that brokenness.  People are messed up (including you) and that makes it impossible to have the perfect church system, so stop trying to make it perfect.  You are only wasting your time.

5.  Work hard at pastoring on two fronts.  The most important front is learning to pastor the system(s) of your church.  I know that is counter-intuitive, but trust me it is the most important aspect of what you do regardless of your church’s size.  You have to learn to think systemically and then fix, repair, change, grow and adapt the systems of the church you lead.  The second front is learn to pastor people in their crisis moments.  It is faddish today, especially among those untucked goateed Calvinist pastors to neglect classic pastoral ministry but it is vital for the long term health, credibility, and integrity of people of faith.  Learn how to do a funeral the right way.  Go to the hospital.  Visit the nursing home.  Show up unannounced at a home in crisis.  Dedicate babies.  Learn some liturgy.  Conduct marriage counseling.  Be a pastor, not just a CEO.

6.  Watch your back, at all times and really, I mean this, trust no one.  If you want an example, just read the Bible.  My small group right now is learning about Moses.  Yeah, you see how the people he led treated him.  They will do no better by you.  Love them, but don’t trust them.  Jesus didn’t trust the people around him either (John 2:24).

7.  Learn to say no.

8.  Don’t be afraid to say yes.

9.  You’re not the solution to every problem.

10.  Make decisions and stick with them.  One of the greatest defects I saw in pastors and in churches was their inability to make a decision about most anything.

11.  Never use shame, guilt, or manipulation to get people to do things.  That is not how the Kingdom of God works.

12.  One more–enjoy what you do, this divine calling that is also our daily work, or else it will become a bitter pill.  I decided a long time ago that I would have fun, always, because I couldn’t control other people’s enjoyment level anyway.  Therefore, I might as well have a good time.  Yeah, there will be hard times and difficult moments but there must be a level of satisfaction, deep in your soul, that the work you are doing matters.

ADVICE ON ADVICE

I’ve got a series of blogs worked up in my head that center around the theme of advice that I will be coming out with over the course of the next week or so, but before I did that I wanted to do some kind of overview on the nature of advice–that way you know where I’m coming from.

When I pastored a local church people would often come to talk to me, but I rarely gave them any advice.  I usually just listened and then prayed with them.  I stopped offering advice because whenever I offered it up, most people always had an excuse on why that wouldn’t work in their particular situation.  If people asked for advice or my opinion I most definitely gave it, but that was rare.  It was rare because of this simple truth:  Most people don’t really want wise advice–what they want is someone who will agree with what they already want to do and they will generally keep looking around until they find someone who will validate their bad idea.

When should you seek advice?  Anytime is a good time to learn from the wisdom of others, but here are some specific times in your life when you might want to consider getting someone’s input.

1.  When you are making a big decision that impacts your future and the future of others.

2.  When you feel like your life is out of control or when you feel like things are stuck and you’re going nowhere.

3.  There is a problem that will not go away.

4.  You are faced with a task of which you know little about.

Where can a person get good advice?  I have observed that where people get their advice often determines their outcome.  Fools tend to congregate and share their folly and commiserate their outcomes with even more poor decisions.  To make progress in this world, I suggest that you get advice from these kind of people.

1.  People you admire and whom you want to be like.

2.  People older than you, usually a generation or two older.

3.  Someone who has no interest in your decision or outcome other than wanting the best for you.

4.  A person who is spiritually mature. 

By the same token, these are the types of people you should never get serious advice from.

1.  Business partners.

2.  People who have failed and messed their lives up completely. 

3.  Spiritually weak people. 

4.  Anyone who could possibly benefit financially, strategically, or relationally from your decision or situation.

In today’s atomized world, a lot of folks might not have a vibrant community where wisdom flows freely, so people might ask, “What if I don’t know anyone who might give good advice?”  Well, here are some suggestions.

1.  Make friends.

2.  Call a professional in the field (business adviser) or pastor or get a referral.  Don’t be afraid to pay for good advice (doctor, lawyer, etc…)

3.  Sometimes the best advice comes from dead people so read a book.

4.  Pray. 

Sometimes the best advice ever is not specific like, “do this, then do that, and finally make sure and put this over it and wrap it up with a rubber band,” but instead it is general–general principles that help guide us through the choices we have to make.  To that end, here are the three best pieces of advice I have ever found.

“This above all, to thine own self be true” Polonius’ last bit of advice to his son Laetes, from Hamlet by William Shakespeare. 

“You’ve got know when to hold’em, know when to fold’em, know when to walk away, and know when to run.”  The Gambler by Kenny Rogers

“He has told you, O Man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”  Micah 6:8

REPUBLICAN DEBATE ADVICE–NOT THAT ANYONE ASKED FOR IT

Back in the days, the dark ages, when I was active on MySpace—that’s been a long time now, I commented on my MySpace blog frequently during the election cycle of 2008.  I had great fun analyzing the debates, the elections, and the media coverage.  I haven’t done that yet on this blog because the election cycle hasn’t really gotten under way much.  But tonight I tuned in for a few moments (not the whole thing, but a few moments) to the Republican Debate.  I thought I would offer some advice to the candidates.

(DISCLAIMER—PASTOR GREENBEAN IN NO WAYENDORSES ANY CANDIDATE OR POLITICAL PARTY.  HE IS FAR TOO CYNICAL ABOUT POLITICS.  FOR HIM WATCHING POLITICS IS LIKE WATCHING A SPORTING EVENT.  PASTOR GREENBEAN BELIEVES ONLY JESUS CAN CHANGE THE WORLD.)  notice I talk about myself in the third person…that’s called escapism because I wish I was big-time enough to have an editor to write those disclaimers for me.

Now, before I get to the advice, a note on coverage.  CNN did not do a very good job with this one.  So, now for the advice.

  • 1.  Diversity would be a good thing in the candidates.  The field is dominated by graying white guys.  Herman Cain has an outside shot, Bachmann looked like a dear in headlights (not to mention she received very few questions . . . hum?) but we need some real diversity here.  How about someone speaking a little Spanish or maybe two or three other ladies?  It looked like a group of Baptist preachers.
  • 2.  The mainstream-type candidates had better watch out because Ron Paul is fired up.  He got huge applause.  Of the group he is probably the only one I would like to go have lunch with.  True, he is running, I think, for the election cycle of 1912, not 2012 but at least he is exciting.
  • 3.  The ones in the race ought to gang up on Newt Gingrich and get him out.  As long as he is around, he will suck up all the usable oxygen.  I don’t mean to sound divisive, but he really can’t win but he will deflect time away from someone who might be able to (like Pawlenty or a Romney, or maybe Cain).
  • 4.  The GOP needs to stop talking about “Obamacare” in completely reactionary tones.  It is okay not to like it, but it sounds denigrating to use that type of language.  By using the GOP candidates do not separate themselves at all from the talk-show talking head crowd.  Be elegant in your argument—hire some wordsmiths and speechwriters for crying-out-loud.
  • 5.  We voters like to vote for something, not against something.  The overall feeling that we saw tonight was negative and not positive.  It was the positive “change” motif that got President Obama elected and the GOP candidate that wins the nomination and perhaps have a shot at being president (a slim shot, I add) will have to find something positive too.
  • 6.  Someone (apologies to Bachmann) should grow a beard.  I guarantee the candidate that grows a full beard will have a gigantic bump in the polls.  Many of us bearded men would become single-issue voters in favor of the fellowship of the facial follicle.

Okay, that’s enough advice for now.  I wish there were also a Democrat race like last time.  Democrats are far more fun.  Watching Hillary Clinton, John Edwards and Barack Obama was always fun for me.  Tonight’s debate was so boring I turned it off to go get some work done.  Work!  I chose work instead of listening to them, and I like debates.

 

************Update************It appears I misjudged the performance of Bachmann.  The post-debate media critique seems to think she did very well.  I didn’t see that part of the debate; but maybe she’ll make it interesting.  I hope so.