Howdy. I'm Matt Todd. My wife and I have four kids and a dog,. I'm passionate about orphan care. I'm a die-hard fan of the Evansville Aces, the Indiana Hoosiers, and Star Wars. I'm trying to live life by the Todd family motto: "It behooves us to live!"

What are you gonna do? Shock the world.

In my post about Todd Bussey’s influence on my life, I said that he will probably shock the world in Florida. That was intentional.

Here’s why…

Shock the WorldIn high school, my summers were pretty jam-packed. Thanks to Scouting, we had a trek at Philmont and Summer Camp to look forward to. Marching band consumed many days and nights as we tried to put together a top-notch show that would (hopefully) rival those of Castle and Reitz. And our family would always squeeze in a family vacation during the Summer, too.

It was wall-to-wall action with little downtime. And it was just the way I liked it.

“Here I raise my Ebenezer…”

One of the first events of Summer was our church youth group’s annual trek to Summer in the Son at Kentucky Christian College (now known as Kentucky Christian University). Friendships were forged. Faith was challenged. Bonds were strengthened. We “koinonia-ed” all over the place. Lives were changed at Summer in the Son. When I look back on my faith journey, I see several Ebenezers – key landmarks that remind me of where God intervened in my life.

One of these Ebenezer Monuments occurred during the main worship service. A speaker, whose name I cannot remember, shared a story that changed the direction of my life. I’m going to do my best to retell it. Please note that I have made up the names and dates of this story. It’s not because I’m trying to protect the innocent. It’s simply because I heard this story back in the early 1990s and details like names and dates in this story are honestly a bit of a fuzzy memory. But I promise. It’s a good story. And it changed my life. It went a little something like this… Continue reading What are you gonna do? Shock the world.

Ashes, birthdays, and legacies

By Oskar H. Solich (Rhingdrache) – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Eleven years ago, I celebrated a significant birthday milestone by participating in an Ash Wednesday service. You know: the service that’s all about reminding you that you came from dust/ashes and you will eventually return to dust/ashes. It was a memorable experience for several reasons.

The service was conducted by two seminary professors of mine. Considering how I come from a non-(some might even say anti-)liturgical church background, I had never experienced an Ash Wednesday service until I was a student at Emmanuel. My first Ash Wednesday service was eye-opening. And awkward. And memorable. It wasn’t a foreign experience for me this second time around, but it was still unique. And it didn’t hurt that two of my professors were imposing the ashes.

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return.”

Thank you. Thank you very much, Dr. Blowers. That’s exactly what you want to hear the day you turn thirty. “You’re gonna die soon.” I know, I know. Thirty is the new twenty. Or is it forty? I don’t know. And I don’t know if it really matters all that much. The point is that time keeps on ticking. There’s nothing you can do to stop it. Continue reading Ashes, birthdays, and legacies

Todd Bussey: More than an old youth group minister

Leigh was part of our high school youth group. I asked her to share some memories from her experience with Todd Bussey as our youth minister. I knew she would have some stories to tell. I’m glad I asked. Because she delivered!

Thanks for sharing, Leigh!

Todd Bussey!

I met Todd Bussey 30 years ago when I first went to youth group on a Sunday night in 1988.

Young, energetic, silly, larger than life in personality and stature…he drew us all in and, quite frankly, made us a family.

He often met us for chips and salsa at Hacienda after youth group and made the mistake of showing us where he lived.  Now, I personally never used a credit card to break into his apartment, but I was often sitting on his living room couch when he came home…along with anywhere from 5-20 other kids.

Todd arranged goofy skits and fun outings.  He encouraged us to get messy and let go of the typical high-school drama.  Along with Scott & Corri Brooks and Brian & Dawn Gower, he put up with constant attempts to get him off-topic, countless shenanigans, and some very reckless new drivers in the church parking lot.  He moved to a new apartment, and he didn’t even bother to lock the door.  

Todd Bussey, Dawn Gower, Brian Gower

He took us to Summer in the Son and led us to think maybe we’d go to Kentucky Christian College someday.  He forced us to stop at Cracker Barrel whenever we were traveling.  He kicked us out of the church van if we complained about his driving. He wore a skin-tight Batman costume and climbed down from the balcony in the sanctuary.  We were all super-proud that we were the ones who got to go back home with the hilarious guy who started each morning there with a grin.

I knew he loved everyone, but he found a way to make each of us feel special.  

I witnessed his true caring, and I know he spent long nights with a few people who needed him.  He sent me flowers to celebrate my birthday when he found out it had been overlooked one year by some of my peers. It was an endearing gesture I have not forgotten all this time later.

When we graduated from high school, he came to our open houses, let us know what we’d meant to the youth group, and prayed over us.  Because of the bond he’d fostered between us, we kids kept in touch with each other even though we all went our separate ways…and then when we came home from college on breaks, we now went to his house on Lincoln Avenue.  The door was always unlocked.

He sent me Audio Adrenaline’s new CD  when I graduated from college (a nod to our time at SITS when they used to be called A-180). I got my first teaching job, and I still came home on breaks to visit.  He counseled me through the break-up of a serious boyfriend…and then called my now husband by the old boyfriend’s name at our wedding rehearsal.  (He managed to use the correct name at the wedding, thankfully!)

Todd Bussey officiating Leigh's wedding

He was just “Todd – my old youth group minister…”

…until a family crisis made him “Todd – the person you call when everything is falling apart.” At a moment’s notice, he simply showed up and was the example of Christ we needed at a time of true despair.

It’s pretty powerful to realize that God placed this man in my 12-year-old life so that he could be a source of strength in my adult one.

And my story, of needing Todd as a grown-up, is not unique. That youth group family still keeps in touch, and I know he’s been there for others during times of confusion, pain, sorrow, and deep loss.

When Todd left Evansville this morning to move his dear family to Florida, he left behind a building that housed a ministry that touched my life — and that’s been weirdly hard for me to come to terms with. However, the friendship, admiration, and deep connection remain…no matter what state Todd lives in.

I’ll still celebrate his February 26th birthday that he shares with another important man in my life…my dad.  

I’ll still reminisce with my parents about the time the entire extended Bussey family stopped by our cottage in Michigan just to say hi.

I’ll still send him our Christmas card — how did that goofy girl end up a teacher, wife, and mom of 4 kids?

I’ll still text him selfies of me and random (or maybe not so random?) people that show up in my life who happen to know the legend that is Todd.

I’ll still seek his advice for big decisions and his support in times of trouble.

I’ll still fondly remember youth group on Sunday nights.

Love you, L. Todd!
Leigh Blackburn Stella

Perhaps as a testament to the positive effect that Todd had on the lives of those young kids in the late 80s, you might not be surprised to find that he moves to his new position in Florida at a church under the direction of Jason Cullum, a Cullen Avenue Christian Church High School Youth Group Class of ‘92 grad like myself.  I’m sure his new flock will enjoy these throwback photos of their new/our old partners in crime.

Todd Bussey and Jason Cullum

Todd Bussey and Jason Cullum

Thanks, Todd Bussey

I’ve shared this story on several occasions in several different ways. I don’t think I’ve ever shared it here. Todd Bussey might be tired of it. But I’m not. And I’ve decided that it is altogether fitting to share it today as we wish Todd countless blessings as he begins the next chapter of his ministry life.
Todd Bussey with me before my wedding, 1998

There I was –

some 40 feet in the air. A helmet was strapped to my head. A harness was firmly fastened around my body. I was safe. But I was stuck. I wasn’t going anywhere.
It was one of my first years as a Boy Scout and we were participating in the high ropes team building course the National Boy Scout Museum in Murray, Kentucky. The climax of the afternoon was climbing a giant tower and then walking across a high wire from one tower to another. I could choose to take one of thee routes to this second tower. I chose the path that was most difficult.
Of course I did. I had to look cool in front of my friends, didn’t I?

I chose the path called The Hourglass.

The Hourglass is made up of a single wire to walk on a wire to hold onto. As you’re walking across the wire that’s suspended among the treetops, the wire that you’re holding onto is gradually sloping downward. Once you’re in the middle of the path, the wire that you’re holding onto has descended enough that it is actually attached to the foot wire.
How high did I say this course was? Forty feet? Felt like 75.
So there I was, 125 feet in the air, squatting down on a wire, holding on to another wire for dear life. Behind me was another wire that was attached to the wire at my feet. That second wire slopes upward and leads to the second tower at the end of the course.
There was a trick. One I didn’t expect. There, in the middle of the course, 235 feet in the air, I had to let go of the wire in order to adequately turn my body and grab hold of the other wire and make my way toward safety.

 Let go.

My head knew what I needed to do. I think my heart even knew. But my body? Not so much.
Let go?
That was crazy talk. I was hanging 376 feet in the air. That cord at my feet was my only lifeline. And I was supposed to let go? There was no way I was letting go of that wire.
So I squeezed harder. My knees started to shake. The wire I was standing on started to sway. Sweat ran down my brow and started to sting my eyes. I was in bad shape. Things were looking bleak.
I was certain I was going to die up there. I just wasn’t sure how. Maybe I would shrivel up and die from dehydration. Or maybe I would just shake myself into oblivion. Or maybe my safety harness would wear out and I would tumble 563 feet to my doom.

So I stayed there and waited for my certain death. At least I had my safety helmet on, so when I finally fell to oblivion, the staff could sweep up all of the pieces into my helmet, wrap it up, slap a sticker on it and send me home on my way.

Friends down below were shouting encouragement. “Just let go with one hand! Everything will be OK!”

Of course, every time I tried that, the tightrope would shake. I’d panic. And then I’d find myself gripping the wire even tighter.

After an eternity, which was probably no more than five or six minutes in realtime, something unexpected happened. I heard a familiar voice from the tower.

“Matt,” the voice said. “I’m coming to you. We’re going to finish this together.”

It was Todd Bussey, my youth minister. He had come with our Troop on this camping trip, and had already taken his turn on the high ropes course. He had strapped on the safety equipment and was already making his way towards me on a nearby obstacle.

It only took a few seconds after he came out to me. He calmed me down. He coached me through the next steps and encouraged me as I let go of the wire and grabbed the other one. The rest was a piece of cake.

I survived the Hourglass. And I owe it all to Todd Bussey.

Todd is wrapping up a ministry at my home church that began back in the 1980s. He’s moving his family to Florida to write a new chapter of ministry with some new church work.

I know.

Florida.

Tough life, huh?

But he’s going to help turn the region upside down. Perhaps he’ll even shock the world. Because that’s what Todd does. It’s what he’s always done.

Todd Bussey at the Welcome Back sign at Philmont Scout Ranch, 1990

Todd baptized me. He co-officiated my wedding. He ordained me. And if something unfortunate were to happen in the near future, I hope he’ll bury me, too.  We went on our first Philmont trek together. And he coached me through some important merit badges in Scouting, including Communication and Citizenship in the Nation. Of course, he was also a spiritual mentor of mine. We have some pretty great memories from five Summers in the Son together. Oh, and we were the Summer in the Son volleyball champions of 1990, even though we were the clear underdogs. And he even introduced me to A-180/Audio Adrenaline.

His story has been wrapped into my story for the past 30 years.

And I share this story about the high ropes course because it’s a nice little illustration of what he has done for me over and over and over again.

As a ministry coach, a spiritual advisor, a pastor, and a friend, Todd has always been there for me. He was there when my dad had a heart attack. He was there when I needed a listening ear after I left my first professional ministry. And he helped guide me through preparing for my first funeral as a preacher.

Just like when he was there for me 722 feet in the air, I have always been able to count on Todd Bussey to be there for me. And I know there are many other people who feel the same way.

This leaves a large hole in my home church’s leadership. Shoot, it leaves a large hole in the entire Tri-State area. But Evansville’s loss is going to be Jacksonville’s gain.

This most definitely is not goodbye, it’s “see you later.” In Florida. I can’t wait to see how God uses Him in this new chapter!

A few Septembers to remember

septembers-to-remember

September is a strange month for me. I’ve already talked about how September 11 is a mixture of laughter and sorrow in our house, thanks to our new family traditions. And, of course, there’s the anniversary of bringing Mihret home from Ethiopia. But there’s also a series of days in September that lead me to some self-reflection, contemplation, prayer, and even a little bit of dreaming. These anniversaries aren’t necessarily things I celebrate. They turned my world and my family’s world upside down. But I think they’re worth discussing,

September 1999

I did not attend Milligan with the intent of going into Youth Ministry. I don’t know what I really thought I was going to do with my Ministry degree, but youth ministry really wasn’t in my plan. Thanks to the recommendation of one of my professors, a church search committee approached me. Would I consider moving to Kentucky to take over the ministry programming from preschool thru college-aged students?

i’d recently graduated. I was a newlywed. And this position kind of fell into my lap. OK, it didn’t exactly fall into my lap. It wasn’t handed to me. I had to go through the interviews. We had to go through the process. But it was clear that doors were opening. So, although it was never part of my grand plan, I became a Youth Minister and moved our tiny little family of two to central Kentucky in early 1999.

It was clear from the beginning that I didn’t know what I was doing. Really. I can say that with almost two decades of analysis. I was ill-equipped. I can’t blame my alma mater for that. I just didn’t pay much attention to anything anyone said about youth ministry during my ministry-related classes because I was convinced I wasn’t going into youth ministry after college.

I was wrong. And it showed.

Christy tried to help me as much as she could. The staff tried to help me as much as they could. But in the end, there were too many unsaid, unmet, and unrealistic expectations. I had them. So did the Board. And so in early September, 1999, the Elders and I agreed that we should part ways.

This hurt in a lot of ways. This might be one of my biggest regrets. In retrospect, I believe things could have changed. Everything could have improved. And if I could go back and change things, I probably would. I was already emotionally exhausted just a few months into this ministry. So I left. And it hurt.

But I learned a lot from it. I was more confident than ever in my calling into some type of full time pastoral work. So I started addressing some organizational and administrative issues. I also talked to other youth ministers, attended some conferences, and had a better vision of what I thought a dynamic, impacting youth ministry would look like. And so I approached my next ministry position with a fresh outlook and renewed vigor.

September 2002

After everyone survived the Y2K non-disaster, I joined the ministry staff of a church in the Indianapolis area. With a great group of adult volunteers, some strong student leaders, and a passion to impact Indy, we made a difference. We went on a mission trip to serve a ministry reaching the Navajo nation. We began a student-led Sunday night worship service that was pretty fabulous. We hosted Christian concerts. We attended CIY’s summer conferences and Believe conferences. We had a written purpose and Vision. An abandoned firehouse was transformed into a student outreach center. Teens were getting baptized. Lives were being changed. I was turning down job opportunities at other churches. Things were clicking on all cylinders.

Then the wheels fell off.

Administrative issues kept rearing their ugly heads. Instead of addressing them head-on, I just pretended they didn’t exist. I wasn’t spending enough time with some of our students. Some parents were upset. That got other people upset. Including my immediate supervisor.

Bada-bing, Bada-boom…

I left the Student Ministry position in September, 2002. I felt betrayed, alone, and uncertain what to do next.

The Interim

I found myself questioning God quite a bit during this time. While I told my youth ministry kids, “Don’t give up on the church,” I have to admit that I was close to doing that myself. We tried attending churches nearby. We were always met by former members from my former employer. “What are you doing here?” they would ask, oblivious of the events that had recently transpired. It was a completely innocent question, but it cut like a knife.

Every. single. Sunday.

We eventually found a church in Fishers. It was a small church plant with big dreams. It was a place where we could get plugged in, but we could also start the healing process. It was like a soothing balm for our hurting souls.

Christy and I had two very young kids by this point. I did whatever I could to provide for them. I worked in warehouses. I managed a pizza joint. I was a substitute teacher. We moved in with my father in law for what was supposed to be just a month or two. Maybe three. It eventually turned into two years. I still attended conferences. I got some counseling. I learned some organizational tools that still help me today.

We knew this was just a season. But I’m not going to lie. It was hard. I had interview after interview. Christy and I wound up visiting all kinds of churches all over the place: from Iowa to Florida.

Nothing.

To make a long story short, we returned to Upper East Tennessee. I enrolled in seminary to solidify whatever cracks may have surfaced in my ministry foundation.

September 2011

After Christy earned her M.Ed degree at ETSU and I had completed three years of seminary, we started to sense that our season in Tennessee’s fair eastern mountains was coming to a close. In the Summer before what was going to be my final year in seminary, we loaded up a moving van, hugged some dear friends, and waved goodbye to Johnson City. I had accepted a preaching position in a small church south of Muncie, Indiana. It was a homecoming, of sorts. And because of a series of events that included some wide open doors and some doors that had been slammed shut, I was confident we were where God had led us. I think it’s safe to say, though, that I never really felt at home there.

Some great things happened during that ministry. There were some pretty high highlights. I baptized Aiden and Alyson there. But I’m not going to lie. It was a rocky time. Whenever I’d get together with other pastors from the area, someone would always wind up saying, “I can’t believe you’ve stuck around with them this long.” And this was without telling them anything that had been going on.

I’m not gong to lie. I questioned God. A lot. Why would God lead me somewhere like this? There were days when it felt like I couldn’t do anything to ever satisfy some people in the congregation. I felt like a punching bag sometimes.

But when you look at people like Jeremiah, Elijah, and even Moses, it’s important to remember that “calling” does not always equal “fun times.” Sometimes God asks us to do things we don’t really want to do. And since I was still sure that God had led us to East Central Indiana, I needed to stop complaining and keep doing my best to reach our community. But I quietly looked around for other opportunities.

I stuck around with them for four years before they decided they’d had enough of me. It was pretty apparent early on that I wasn’t going to retire there. I was never going to be seen as a “local.” I saw first hand how the stereotypes about small churches might be more true than we want to admit. And there was plenty of talk about people and their problems instead of talking to them. And very little was actually decided upon by those in leadership. People just kind of did what they wanted to do and claimed the leadership had agreed to it. And that worked because nobody really knew what they really did or didn’t agree to do.

It is no secret that I was not surprised when they fired me. But it still hurt. A lot. The sense of betrayal cut deep. I could go into details, but I won’t. Let’s just say that it took a long time for those wounds to heal. It honestly took a good teeth-kicking.

Moving on

Things have certainly changed over the years since we were pushed out of Eacst Central Indiana. Our family has grown. I’ve picked up marketing/PR skills and experience. I know who I am. And I know Whose I am. That’s where I find my satisfaction and worth. I don’t need a title or position to have meaning.  Although I do preach in some area churches on occasion, I’ve moved on.

I’ve moved on.

Do I question my calling? Nope. I believe God used me in each of those ministry situations. I also firmly believe that He is using me right here where I am now. And that isn’t in the pulpit.

Every once in a while, someone will ask me if I plan on returning to the pulpit full-time. I say that I’m not against it. But it will require a giant neon sign floating in the sky that refers to me by name with a very specific set of instructions.

And I’m only half joking.

After seeing the dark underbelly of, for lack of a better word, church “politics,” you might wonder what I think about church in general. I think it could be argued that I’m even more dedicated tot he ministry of the church throughout the world, I’m spite of my not-so-positive experiences. In reality, all of us are messed up. And when messed up people get together, they’re likely to make messed up decisions and mess up some things along the way. That’s the beauty of the mission of God. He uses messed up people with messed up lives to accomplish His plan.

Don’t believe me?

There are countless examples in the Bible. If you need for me to, I can spell them out for you. If I was still preaching regularly, it would make a great sermon series. Maybe I’ll just write a book instead.

Hey, that’s not a bad idea. I don’t think I need a neon sign for that one.

G is for Getting Organized

G is for Getting Organized - A to Z Challenge

All my life, keeping things organized has been an issue for me. It started in elementary school and got worse throughout my academic career. Let’s not talk about my pitiful excuse of a science fair experiment that I tried to throw together over night in middle school. Or the semester-long research paper that I scrambled to research and write the weekend before it was due my Junior year of high school. And that poetry project I pulled an all-nighter to create during my Freshman year of college? Although the final product was pretty good, I’m convinced it could’ve been better. It certainly wasn’t my best effort. I’d run out of time. Because I wasn’t organized.

“Get organized.” That’s something I was told quite a bit during high school and college. I was even told that by my immediate supervisor in my first experience in full-time ministry – the one that only lasted for 9 months. Part of the reason I didn’t last that long was because of my poor organizational skills. People just kept telling me to “get organized,” though. And I was never really given any tools to discover how to get organized.

I knew I needed to get organized. I just didn’t know where to start. So I’d write “Get Organized” as an item on my to-do list. Like that was going to help. Are you surprised that I never checked the box on that line of my lists?  I didn’t really know any better. I have the feeling that a lot of people feel that way. They know they need to improve the way they have things organized, but they just can’t figure out how. They don’t even know where to begin.

I’m not the most organized person in the world. Just ask Christy. But I’m better than I used to be. I’ve read books. I’ve checked out articles on the Internet. I’ve watched news segments about organization. None of that really helped. The best thing I did was about ten years ago. I got help. I was able to talk to someone and she helped me figure out how to take tasks that were overwhelming and break them down into manageable things. She helped me realize that I need to create patterns in my own life so I can maintain some level of control when things get all crazy and seemingly unmanageable.

At the time, I was also learning about management at a pizza place. The best thing I’ve taken away from that experience was this little nugget: Don’t wait until later. If you think of something that needs to be done, go ahead and do it. Don’t wait until later because you’re assuming you’ll have time later in the day. You don’t know what is going to happen later in the day. So don’t put off until later what you can do right now. This is true in most things, not just the pizza making business. If something needs to be done, get it done. Don’t procrastinate.

Both of these mentors in my life helped me realize this key thing when it comes to getting organized:

Getting organized is a process, not an event.

You can’t just wake up one day and say “I’m organized.” It’s not an item you can just check off your list and everything is magically organized for the rest of your life. It’s an ongoing process. At least, it’s an ongoing process for people like me. I have a feeling it’s an ongoing process for you, too.

Here are some things that have helped me get a handle on the organization process. Now I don’t have to just write “Get organized” on my to-do list and hope things magically get better:

  • I use alarms like crazy. If I want to remember to do something, I have to set an alarm. That makes my phone buzz a lot (I usually use silent alarms), but it’s totally worth it.
  • I hinted at it a week or so ago, but I’m a big fan of Evernote. I used to use it all the time when preparing for sermons. Now I use it to help keep me on task. I know I’m only scratching the surface of its functionality the way I use it. Michael Hyatt has taught me quite a bit about great ways to use Evernote. I’m still learning.
  • I’ve used Trello for projects. It’s a nice visual taskmaster.
  • Even with all of the bells and whistles on my phone, I still use a physical calendar to chart out my “editorial calendar” for my blog. Have I followed it to a ‘T’ this year? Nope. I think I was a bit too ambitious. But it’s definitely helped to keep me on track.
  • I try not to procrastinate because I know it gets me into trouble. Still working on that one. A lot. And I’m trying to encourage my kids to avoid getting into that habit because it’s a hard habit to break.

I’m no organization expert. Like I said, just ask Christy. But I’ve gotten better. Seminary kind of helped force me to get a handle on things. But I’m still not great. But that’s OK. It’s a process, not just an event. This leads me to ask:

What do you do to stay organized? What lessons have you learned? What tips can you share?

I want to keep learning. I need to keep learning and keep getting better. And the only way I can do that is by learning from other people. So…what tips do you have?

**I’m participating in the April A to Z Challenge. This post is part of that endeavor. You can see my other entries to this year’s challenge here. A lot of people are doing the same thing. You should check out some of their posts!**

A former pastor’s plea: Encourage your pastor.

Recently, I found myself looking through some archived emails of mine. I was searching for an old piece of information. I don’t remember what I needed, exactly. But I remember that I needed the information for some type of job application.

Mr Popular

During my quest, I stumbled upon some conversations that happened during the years I was pastoring that small church in East Central Indiana. While I believe I have completely moved on from that experience, having let go of whatever bitterness I had harbored (remember when God kicked me in the teeth?), I’m not gonna lie. Reading some of those emails hurt my heart.

Not one of the emails I had read was positive. My inbox was full of messages that pointed out what I wasn’t doing right. They focused on the negative. Not one of the 8-10 emails that I skimmed had a positive comment. That still hurts my heart.

It hurts my heart because I know I’m not the only pastor to have received emails like this. It hurt my heart because I know that many pastors have received emails like that this week. Maybe even today. And at the same time, they haven’t received any words of encouragement. I know it’s easier to point out areas improvement instead of talking about what was done well, but a constant barrage of negativity, continually hearing things like…

“You didn’t do _________.”
or
“You forgot to pray for _________.”
or
“Why haven’t you brought more young families to our church?”
or
“We’re not growing. What are you going to do about it?”
or
“Why haven’t you visited _________ yet? She’s had a hangnail on her pinky for a week!”  – OK. I’m only half joking about this last one. You’d be amazed at how some people get worked up about the silliest of things, though.

A constant barrage of negative attitudes, criticisms, and complaints with no reprieve can wear you out. Pastoring can be a lonely profession. Being a recipient of such discouraging messages over and over again only makes things even more isolating.

It’s no wonder so many people walk away from the pastorate.

I know this isn’t the goal of most people who complain and gripe and criticize. But it happens. And this isn’t healthy. There’s already a spiritual battle taking place around our church leaders. Let’s try to minimize casualties due to friendly fire, shall we? So let’s do something about it. Let’s all work on being an encouragement to our pastors and anyone else in church leadership positions.

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up - 1 Thessalonians 5:11

This month is Pastor Appreciation Month. It’s a good time to start fixing this heartbreaking trend. But please don’t stop when the calendar switches to November.

Here are some ways you can encourage your pastor all year long:

1.) Send a note.

You have no idea how much impact a simple note or card can have. It doesn’t have to be anything elaborate. All it really needs to say is “You’re doing a good job,” or something like “I appreciate you because _______” or even a simple “Thank you.” These simple gestures don’t take very much time but they are powerful.

I used to keep a “Feel Good” folder tucked away in my files. Whenever I was having a really tough day, I would pull that out and look through a couple of the notes and cards I’d received over the years. These items are always a beacon of light whenever times are tough and it feels like the darkness is creeping in.

2.) Watch what you say.

There are times you have to be critical. I get that. I understand that. Criticism isn’t a bad thing. It’s important. It helps people grow and improve. We have to help each other get better. It’s part of how iron sharpens iron.

BUT…

Don’t let the only things that come out of your mouth be negative. Consider following this rule: for every criticism/complaint/negative comment you make, say three positive things. It might sound silly, but it’s a simple reminder to keep our eyes on the positive.

And even when you need to say something critical, make sure you’re still speaking life. We are called to be life-givers. Not soul-suckers.

Speak life. In all you do and say, speak life.

3.) Help protect your pastor’s family.

Pastoring is tough. It can be even tougher on a pastor’s family. Family Life has some pretty good suggestions about how you can encourage your pastor by helping to protect your pastor’s family.

4.) Bring a guest.

You want to make your pastor’s day? Maybe even your pastor’s month? Invite a guest to participate in a worship service with you. You don’t have to make a big deal about it. You don’t even have to introduce your guest to the pastor. If you’re part of the majority of churches in America, your pastor is probably begging you to bring a friend some Sunday. Imagine what an encouragement it would be if your pastor found out that you did what you were asked to do!

Avoiding friendly fire.

When I was ordained 15 years ago, I remember being told by a few people during the service that I was now a “marked man.” In other words, we are in the midst of a spiritual war and choosing to step into a role as a church leader means that you’ve decided to allow a giant target to be placed upon you. Satan wants to see the Church destroyed. A great way to do that is by destroying her leaders.

I firmly believe that a spiritual war is waging all around us. As we are fighting in this war, however, let’s make sure that the target that’s on our leaders doesn’t get moved to their backs. Let’s avoid wounding our pastors with friendly fire.

I’m open to suggestions!

What are you going to do to encourage your pastor this week? These four ideas are just the tip of the iceberg. I’d love to hear your suggestions. We’re all on the same side. Let’s work together to encourage and lift up our church leaders in ways they’ve never experienced before! When we do that, we’ll have a tiny part in changing the world.

I admit that I haven’t been as good at being an encouragement to my church leaders and pastors as I should be. So while I’m waiting for your awesome suggestions, I’m going to go sit down and write some notes to some members of our church staff.

I hope you’ll join me.

A month’s worth of #TwitterTuesday awesomeness

So….I never promised I’d publish a #TwitterTuesday post every week. That’s a good thing. Because it’s been a while. A long while.

We’ve got a lot of ground to cover, so buckle up…


Hooray! Someone reads my other blog!

Did you know I had another blog? Well I do. And I’m glad I was able to encourage someone.


My mind was sufficiently blown with Dustin’s reply.


I’ve seen this time and time again. Not sure if the answers are as easy as Dr. Stetzer suggests. Unfortunately.


Manatees rock. Speaking of manatees…


mmmmm….Twix….


So happy for Sharmin and her growing family!


This was some pretty solid Gen Con advice. More about my Gen Con experience later this week.


Never thought I’d say this, but Greenwood has certainly grown on me.


YES!!!


And I yelled at the semi who cut me off today. This humbles me beyond words.


Did you know ‘convocation’ is from Latin? If not, you should ask one of my Milligan classmates about it.


She’s right. No comment needed.

And that’s probably the best tweet to use as the end of this post. Now go. Live out your words.

After all, it behooves us to live!

 

I didn’t know you like I should have

I knew you. But I didn’t. I knew the kids. Tried to make a difference in their lives. I tried to be there for their mom. I don’t think I did a very good job.

But you?

I didn’t bother getting to know you. And maybe I should have. I mean, that’s what Jesus said we should do – right? Love my neighbor? What would have happened if I had tried harder to show the love of Jesus in your life? Would it have made a difference? Would it have mattered?

What if I had figured out a way to get members of our church to be involved in your life? What if we had decided to actually be the church instead of just playing church? What if we had spent more time talking with people instead of about them? Would it have made a difference? Would it have mattered? Would it have stopped you from destroying so much?

I know I can’t dwell on “what-ifs.” And I certainly can’t ask you now.

I do know this, though: I could have been a better neighbor. I should have been a better neighbor. Would it have mattered in the end? I don’t know.

I know I can’t change what has happened. But I can change what I do today. I can choose to be love the people around me – even those who are different from me. I can choose to push back the darkness in the lives of people around me. I can choose to be a neighbor the way Jesus defines a neighbor.

I don’t want to miss any opportunities that God has placed before me. I don’t want to have a life full of asking “what if?” And if that means having a life that’s a little bit messy?

So be it.

The measure of a life, after all, is not its duration, but its donation.
Corrie Ten Boom

J is for “Just Pizza”

A to Z Challenge letter J

Ten years ago, I was a Shift Leader at a local pizza franchise. There were times when it was an especially stressful job. There’s nothing like having an unexpected rush of delivery orders on a Friday or Saturday night after you’ve already sent the majority of your cooks and drivers home. When tensions would be high and people were at each other’s throats, the store manager, Chad, would look at us and say, “You guys! It’s just pizza!”  It wasn’t rocket science. And in spite of what some people might have tried to make us think, it wasn’t the end of the world if things didn’t go well one night. Just keep your head up and get the job done. It’s just pizza, after all. This wasn’t an excuse to do things poorly. It wasn’t an excuse to slack off. We still needed to work hard and do our best. But in the end, it was just pizza that we were producing. He did a pretty good job of helping all of us keep things in perspective.

“It’s just pizza!”

I’ve found myself using this phrase a lot over the years. It’s helped me remember what’s important in life. It’s helped me keep things in perspective.

It’s also helped me learn that I am not defined by what my job is. When I was working in the pizza industry, I learned very quickly that pizza, although fabulously tasty, is not my passion. While I worked with pizza, I wasn’t a pizza guy. I was me.

I think I forgot about this when I started serving as a pastor in rural Indiana. All of a sudden, I was The Preacher. I had allowed that to define me more than allowing my God-given personality to define my me-ness. Much like Brandon, I even allowed my position as a professional Christian to define my faith for me. I get the impression that I haven’t been alone in this misidentification of  self. Instead of finding my identity in Christ, I had allowed my church profession to define who I saw myself as. And those are two completely different things.

It’s hard pretending to be someone you aren’t. It’s hard trying to live up to others’ expectations because they have this preconceived notion of what a person should act like, look like, like-like, and probably even smell like. And it’s even harder when that spills over into what your family is “supposed” to be like.

So when I remind myself that it’s just pizza, I am reminding myself that I refuse to be defined by the work I do. I refuse to major in the minors and worry about things that really aren’t that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things. I refuse to lose focus on what’s important.

I refuse.

After all, it’s just pizza.