You can’t be too thankful.

Lack of gratitude is one of our biggest hindrances

 

Be careful!

This is the second most common two-word phrase that Mrs. Sweetie says to me.  It ranks just below, “Love you” and just above “Bring coffee.

Ok, I might be exaggerating about the coffee.  She doesn’t really say that.  It only requires a look!  (Every time I almost dig myself out of the hole, I just jump right back in …).

It is actually because she loves me that she tells me to be careful.  She wants me to get back home safely when I travel.

She wants me to keep all my fingers when I’m out working in the “shop” (this is a code word for a building full of stuff, including tools that I have no idea how to use).

She wants me to not fall through the ceiling (which I have done before) when I’m in the attic looking for the carcass of whatever is emitting the non-therapeutic aroma (which may or may not be described in detail in a future post).

She wants me to be able to continue bringing coffee in the morning. (Oops! I did it again …).

There are certain contexts (highways, workshops, and attics, to name a few) where you just can’t be too careful.

There are also contexts where you just can’t be too thankful.

And here’s the kicker, I really can’t think of a context where that is not the case.

In my forty years of “church work” I’ve discovered that one of the greatest hindrances to legitimate success and significance—in any context—is a lack of gratitude.

 

One of the greatest hindrances to legitimate success and significance is a lack of gratitude. Click To Tweet

 

During this season of the year, we will talk a good game.  We’ll talk about what we’re thankful for as we prepare to indulge in family, food, and football.  And we may even let it linger for a little while so we don’t get on Santa’s naughty list.

But, far too often, our default is to concentrate on what we are lacking … on the goals we didn’t reach … on the disappointments and sorrows … on how things didn’t go our way … on what we have lost.

I have often thought that some holidays are poor substitutes for what should truly be. What if we treasured and honored our moms and dads every day? We wouldn’t really need Mothers Day and Fathers Day.  What if we treasured and nurtured our marriages every day?  We wouldn’t need Valentines Day.

What if we lived truly thankful lives?  What if we saw our blessings even in the middle of our disappointments.  Would we really need Thanksgiving Day?

But, looking at it from another angle, maybe we need those days as an intentional reboot of our perspectives.  Maybe those days aren’t substitutes, but compasses that help us reorient toward life’s true north.

Maybe one day is a good reminder that the other 364 matter to God and that we can’t be too thankful in any of them.

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!  Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.  Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:4-7, emphasis mine).

 

With thanksgiving, I better get the coffee ready. (Oops …).

Just stop it!

No one else is going to maintain a healthy schedule for you.

 

I couldn’t tell you how many workshops or seminars I have kicked off with this hilarious Youtube classic: Stop it!

 

 

 

And just when I think I’m showing it for the last time because everyone has seen it, I get a room full of people who are seeing it for the first time.

Of course, in our highly sensitive culture, I have to offer a disclaimer.  No, I don’t think this is a proper method of therapy for people who truly have mental health issues.

But, wouldn’t it be great if it worked?

Would you like to know some of the people I’d like to try it on?  (I’m pausing here to let you decide if you want to keep reading). Still with me?  Ok!

I’d like to try it on busy and exhausted pastors and other leaders.  Forty years of “church work” has led me to this conclusion about leaders in any context:  No one is going to tell you to stop it unless what you are doing is inconveniencing them.

 

Words most pastors/leaders will rarely hear:

“You are working too hard and doing too much.  How can I help?”

“You need to be delegating more.” How can I help?”

“You are putting the church/organization/business before your family.  How can I help?”

In the context of what I’m writing about today, I’m going to completely skip the words of complaint and criticism that many of these leaders regularly hear from people who think it is the job of the leader to serve them.

There are, however, some positive words that are spoken:

“Our pastor works so hard.”

“He’s always there when there is a need.”

“I don’t know what we’d do with you.”

Do you know what those two sets of statements have in common?  Both of them acknowledge that there is someone who is pouring his or her life into a meaningful cause.  They are working long hours, taking on great responsibility, and choosing to serve a greater good.  Their work is noticed and appreciated.

Do you see what is different about those two sets of statements?  The first set will help this pastor/leader maintain a healthy approach for the long haul.  The second set is a recipe for burnout.

 

What you need to know:

If you are the leader, here’s what you need to know: You are responsible for maintaining a healthy schedule.  No one is going to do it for you.  You will be congratulated and celebrated on your way to burnout.  Learn to say, “no” and “not now.”  Invest yourself in equipping and empowering people, rather than just doing things for them.  Don’t be ashamed to ask for help.

 

Dear Leaders: Don't be ashamed to ask for help. Click To Tweet

 

If you are not the leader, here are two suggestions: (1) Be sure you are saying those words of appreciation to the leader.  (2) Be willing to say, “How can I help?”

Our lives matter to God.  He intends for us to do this together.

Addictions will destroy you.

How compulsions can turn into Life Drifts

 

Anyone out there remember this tv commercial from the 1980’s?

 

Whether that commercial was effective or not, it was memorable.  And it made a valid point: drugs will destroy you.

Drugs are not the only addiction available, we have so many to choose from.  Some of them are even found among the best people you know – honest people with high standards and impeccable integrity; people who are doing all the right things and making their communities better places to live; people who would never even put themselves in a position to become addicted to drugs, alcohol, pornography, gambling, or any other substance or activity that they would be embarrassed about if it were to become public knowledge.

Yet, their addictions are slowly eroding their true calling, their sense of worth, and their effectiveness in living with purpose.

How do I know this?  In my 40 years of working with people in a church context, I’ve both seen it and experienced it.

I haven’t always had a name for it.  That came only in the last few months, but how I wish someone had introduced this to me early on in “ministry.” I am abundantly indebted to my friends Dave Rhodes and Will Mancini who, through a life planning journey called Younique, introduced me to the concept of “Life Drifts.”

I don’t have the space available here to completely unpack the three Life Drifts, so let me summarize how these compulsions (that’s a much more palatable word than addictions) work.

Life Drift One – Appetite.  When appetite becomes my compulsion, I am driven by my perceived needs.  I am afraid that I’ll never have enough.  Not just tangible and materials things.  I’ll never have enough friends.  I’ll never have enough love and acceptance.  So, I’ll do whatever it takes to obtain those things, even if I have to overspend to buy them.

Life Drift Two – Ambition. When ambition becomes my compulsion, I am driven by my perceived weaknesses.  I feel guilty about how little I’ve accomplished.  My guilt says I will never accomplish enough to be significant. So, I’ll do everything that is asked of me and then some.  I’ll feel guilty every time I say “no” because that choice will represent something I will fail to accomplish.

Life Drift Three – Approval. When approval becomes my compulsion, I am driven by my perceived rejections.  I feel ashamed of every one of them.  My shame says I will never be enough to truly merit acceptance.  So, I will endeavor to be the very best at everything.  I won’t even try it if I don’t think I can eventually perfect it. I will try to earn acceptance by public achievement. If they don’t accept me for who I am, at least they will approve of what I do.

My friends, I have lived those Life Drifts and, if I am not careful, I can easily go there again.

But, I have learned that my life matters to God and, in Christ, I am satisfied, strong, and accepted.  And I am free to be all that He has created me to be.

Are you addicted? Are you drifting? Your life matters, too.

Every “yes” requires a “no.”

What will you have to say "no" to if you say yes to this?

I spent a recent weekend with my grandkids. Their parents were there, too, but they are not as much fun to spoil.

The ages of our three grand blessings are 3 years, 17 months, and 2 months.  The three-year-old is, understandably, the most talkative.  She’s still working her way around precision in her speech.  “Grandpa” started out as bm-puh, then went to pa-pa, and now sounds like cow-pa.

There is one word, however, that has had laser precision from almost the beginning of speech.  That word is “No.”  And the more tired she gets, the more she uses it.  We’re trying to figure out how to ask questions so that becomes the right answer.

“Would you like to skip lunch?” “No!” “Ok, let’s eat.”

“Would you like to be grumpy now?” “No!” “Good, we were getting tired of it.”

The hope and prayers of her parents and grandparents are that she will learn how to use “no” appropriately as she grows up.

 

40 years and still learning

As I continue my series of life lessons learned over 40 years of “church” work, I’m reminded of how long it took me to learn how to use “no” appropriately.

Actually, that last sentence should be revised to how long it is taking me. Full disclosure requires that I admit that I haven’t mastered it yet.

When I began my “ministry” journey, I was taught that ministry was about meeting needs.  At least that’s how I interpreted it.

Here’s how the logic goes: Ministry is meeting needs through service.  Therefore, ministers serve and meet needs.  If a need is expressed in my presence, my job is to find a way to meet it through serving the person who expressed the need.  Since needs don’t take a break, ministers are on-call twenty-four/seven.  A good minister would never say “no” to someone in need.

I don’t have space in the context of this series of short posts to completely unpack all the problems with that line of thinking, so I’ll just focus on one life-giving truth that I wish I had learned 40 years earlier.

Every “yes” requires a “no.”

 

Every YES requires a NO. Click To Tweet

 

Every week of my life (and yours) contains 10,080 minutes.  There is absolutely nothing we can do to add any more.  Therefore, whatever time is required for me to fulfill a “yes” means I have to say “no” to anything else for that length of time.

So here’s the $64,000 question: What will I have to say “no” to if I say “yes” to this?

 

Great question: What will I have to say NO to if I say YES to this? Click To Tweet

 

This requires two steps.  First, I have to know myself, my abilities, and my values well.  Second, I have to pause long enough before answering that I can give the best answer for this moment in time.

Ecclesiastes 5:5 says, “It is better not to make a vow than to make one and not fulfill it.”

Jesus said, “All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’” (Matthew 5:37)

Both of those answers have their place at different moments in time.  Using them well is one way we celebrate and demonstrate that our lives matter to God.

To lead well, first learn to follow.

There are some things only followers understand.

 

“I’m the person in charge here!”

The scene was absolute chaos. One person was in medical crisis and was on the floor. Time was of the essence. The person in charge was having a meltdown and was paralyzed by lack of knowledge and experience. Others, who were not in charge, but who knew what needed to be done, stepped in and did it.  The whole time, the person in charge literally stepped over the person on the floor and yelled at everyone else, “I’m the person in charge here!”

Well, you may be in charge, but you’re not a leader!

 

The fact that you are in charge doesn't make you a leader. Click To Tweet

 

Yes, that incident really happened.  It is not my intent to embarrass anyone, so I’ve been intentionally vague about the details.  My point is to share another in my series of top lessons as I celebrate my 40th anniversary in “church” work.

Series recap:

  • Lesson One – Never stop learning. 
  • Lesson Two – Everyone is leading someone.

Lesson Three – The best leaders know how to follow.

No one is a born leader and no one is born into real leadership.  Leadership is learned.  Leadership skills are developed.  Positional leadership succeeds or fails based on learned and developed leadership skills.

And the best way to learn and develop leadership skills is by learning how to follow. 

 

The best way to learn and develop leadership skills is by learning how to follow. Click To Tweet

 

Here are three reasons why:

  1. Leaders who have learned to follow look at their followers differently. They are not threatened by them or suspicious of them. They know that followers want to be led well.  They know that followers want to be loyal.  They know that followers want to trust their leaders.  They know that followers want opportunities to grow. 
  2. Leaders who have learned to follow know how to put the right people in charge of the right tasks. Leaders who don’t know how to follow have to be in charge of everything.  That means that they will inevitably find themselves leading from a position of weakness at some point.  But leaders who know how to follow want to achieve the best outcomes in each situation.  Sometimes that means deferring to the strengths of another person.  The fact that I put someone in charge who is better suited to lead a specific initiative doesn’t threaten my position as the team leader.  In fact, it elevates it because it builds trust.
  3. Leaders who have learned to follow know that they are not ultimately in charge.  Lord Acton (1834-1902) said, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” The Apostle Paul said, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1). The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John record Jesus saying more than twenty times, “Follow me.”

The Apostle Paul also said, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Ephesians 5:21).  There is no better leader than one who follows Christ and empowers others to do the same.

Our lives matter to God.  How will you lead by following?

You are leading someone.

Someone's next step will be affected by watching your current step.

 

“I’m not a leader.”

If I had a nickel for every time someone told me that, I’d have a jar full of nickels. What people usually mean by that statement is that they don’t want to be in charge of something or they don’t want a leadership “position.”  Sometimes, it means that they don’t want to be responsible or accountable for seeing that something gets done.

But, here’s the truth: every person reading this is a leader.

I’m not suggesting that everyone should have, or even aspire to, a leadership “position.”  I am suggesting that everyone is leading someone. That is to say, someone is watching you and their next step will be affected by your current step.

 

Everyone is leading someone. Someone's next step will be affected by your current step. Click To Tweet

 

That’s this week’s lesson in my series of the most important lessons I’ve learned from 40 years of “church” work.  Let me remind you, in case you’ve missed the previous couple of posts, that I’m convinced that these lessons are true regardless of your particular context.  I’m just celebrating my 40 years in the church work context with this series of lessons. 

Someone is watching you.

You may be keenly aware of that if you don’t have positional leadership.  You know that your boss is watching you and that your opportunities for advancement, or even continued employment, may be affected by your behavior.

But have you considered that you may even be leading your boss? As one who has been the boss—though I really, really don’t like that designation—for more years than I have had a boss, I can tell you that some of the best steps I have ever taken were a result of watching those over whom I have had supervision.  Positive actions by staff members have led me to take positive actions.

So, whether you have positional leadership or not, know that someone is watching and learning.

Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16)

I have to admit that this saying from Jesus used to stress me a bit.  What if I mess up? What if I cause someone else to stumble?  What if my behavior has a negative impact?

Sure, all that is possible.

But, now I have reframed it with these realities:  My words, actions, and attitudes matter.  My life has purpose because I am pointing to a purpose that is greater and higher than me.  When I live most fully as who God intends me to be—the real me—I have the greatest potential for positive impact in the world. I don’t have to be “the leader” to lead.

 

I don't have to be THE LEADER to lead. Click To Tweet

 

So, here’s a recap of lessons so far. (1) Never stop learning. (2) You are leading someone.

Stay tuned for next time: The best leaders know how to follow.

Never, ever, stop learning!

That includes unlearning some things.

 

How much time do you have left on this planet?

Do you ever stop to think about that?  Well, if you do, stop it!  It accomplishes absolutely nothing for you to spend time wondering how much time you have left.  Instead, think about what you will do with the time you have left.

In my last post, I mentioned that this month marks 40 years for me in some kind of “church” related work.  Do you think I’ve seen some changes in the world and in the church (and in how the church relates to the world) over the past 4 decades? 

Ya think?

I’ve decided that, over the next few posts, I’m going to share some of the most important lessons I have learned over the past 40 years of working in a church context.

“Church work” is my context, but I’m convinced that these lessons are important and valuable in any context.  So, don’t check out on me here if your context is different.

I’d like to give you a preview of the lessons I’ll be sharing.  I’d like to, but I can’t. Yet.  Not because it’s a secret, but because I haven’t clearly identified them yet. Just this morning, I asked myself, “Self, what are the most important lessons you have learned in 40 years?”  My self answered, “That is a good question.  I’ll have to get back to you on that.”

Maybe lesson number one should be that it is ok to talk to yourself.  Or maybe not.

But, here’s the first thing that came to mind, so I’m starting with this one: Never, ever, stop learning.

The goal is not to know everything about everything.  The goal is not to know everything there is to know about anything.  The goal is to know something today that I didn’t know yesterday.

 

Today's goal is to know something I didn't know yesterday. Click To Tweet

 

But, it is not learning simply for learning’s sake.  It is learning for living’s sake.  Here are some questions: 

  • What did I learn today that helps me to live, work, and even play more purposefully? 
  • What did I learn today that helps me lift other people up?
  • What did I learn today that helps me meaningfully contribute to my community? 
  • What did I learn today that helps me love God and people more than I do? 
  • What did I learn today that helps me unlearn the things I’ve been wrong about?

Wait a minute!  Let’s see that one more time.  What did I learn today that helps me unlearn the things I’ve been wrong about?

 

What did I learn today that helps me unlearn the things I’ve been wrong about? Click To Tweet

 

Yes, I have been wrong before.  And sometimes, at the time, I was absolutely convinced I was right.  Sometimes I had bad intel.  Sometimes I let my prejudices cloud my vision. Sometimes I just did the best I had with the knowledge I had, but further learning showed me that I was wrong.

Ignorance is not anything to be ashamed of unless we refuse to learn.  Our lives matter to God.  There is so much more of that to learn than what any of us know right now.

 

Ignorance is not anything to be ashamed of unless we refuse to learn. Click To Tweet

 

Let’s make sure we don’t stop.

Take a chance on me.

Great leaders look beyond right now.

 

It was August 1977.  Swedish pop group ABBA recorded what would become one of their biggest charting hits of the 1970’s – Take a Chance on Me.

It was October 1977. Immanuel Baptist Church in Monahans, Texas really went out on a limb and took a chance on a 15-year-old high school sophomore.

The church’s volunteer music director, Billie Sue Lewis (no relation to yours truly), had recently suffered a minor stroke. It was not life-threatening or seriously debilitating, but she decided it was time to step down as Immanuel’s music director. 

I don’t remember who actually called and asked me if I would consider being the church’s music director, but I’m certain that neither that person nor I had any idea that it would begin an incredible journey of “church” work that would still be going 40 years later.

I think what they actually thought was, “Here’s a kid who sings pretty well, who doesn’t have a driver’s license, and whose mother is the church organist. We should at least get a year out of him.”

I got my driver’s license just a few months later, but it didn’t really change very much. My parents were not of the opinion that the gasoline required for multiple vehicles was a good investment when one vehicle was going that way anyway.

Especially with gas prices approaching 70 cents per gallon!

So as long as the church could keep my mother as the organist, I would be there on Sundays. Therefore, my license had no bearing on my status as music director. It just allowed me to become the organist’s Sunday chauffeur.

I don’t think the church benefitted very much from my filling that position, other than knowing who would be standing up waving his hands during the singing every Sunday. My mother even had to teach me what to do with my hands.

But the encouragement I got from that little church affected me in ways I could not possibly have understood at the time, but now I see as a priceless gift. 

I got paid absolutely nothing for the 2 1/2 years I spent as the music director of Immanuel Baptist Church, but I am absolutely positive that I would not be where I am today, doing the things I’m doing and still working with churches if they had not taken a chance on me.

Churches, organizations, and even for-profit businesses could learn a good lesson from that little west Texas church.  You won’t always have the luxury of hiring the best, brightest, and most qualified to fill every position right now.

Great leaders look beyond right now.  They know how to look for potential.  They know that taking a chance on the right person is an investment in the future – not just for their own benefit, but for the benefit of the world. They know that experience and talent matter, but willingness to consistently learn and grow – with the right kind of supervision and mentoring – can create the kind of experience that allows raw talent to flourish into effectiveness.

 

Taking a chance on the right person is an investment in the future Click To Tweet

 

Life matters.  Who can you take a chance on today?

Be careful what you write in the white space.

And don't let anyone else write there!

 

Do a little three-part exercise with me for a few minutes.  You are likely reading these words either on a computer screen or on your handheld device.

Here’s the first part of the exercise: stop reading any of the content on the page and look at the layout itself.  I’ll wait …

You’re back now.  Great!

Since I can’t really be interactive with you here, I won’t ask the open-ended question I would like to ask: “What did you see?”  I’ll have to ask this one: Did you notice white space?  By that, I mean margins – empty space not filled with words or graphics.

Here’s the second part of the exercise:  use your imagination to visualize the page without white space.  Every square inch or pixel filled with words, symbols, or pictures.  No space between.  Words bumping up against pictures.

How long would you keep reading?  How hard would it be to focus?  How easy on the eyes would it be?

Here’s something that layout experts understand: white space is not simply empty space that couldn’t be filled for lack of content.  White space actually makes the existing content more readable.  White space is necessary.

I have a tendency to read books with pen in hand.  I underline or highlight meaningful phrases.  In the margins, I sometimes write ideas that are sparked by the content of the book.  It is sometimes helpful to me to write in the white space.

But here’s something I never do with a book: I never feel compelled to fill up the white space simply because it is available.  I never write something in the margin that has nothing to do with the content on the page.  I never write full paragraphs in the margin.

And I never, ever, hand my book to someone else and let them write in the margins!

How I wish that I would take the same approach to life that I take to books!

Here’s the third part of the exercise.  Imagine your life as a story that is being written.  Your activities – work, home, recreation, church, community involvement, hobbies – are the content of the pages.

The white space represents the time between activities – rest, transitions, days off, early mornings and late evenings, paragraph breaks in the story.

How important is the white space?  When you look at your life, how much white space do you see?  When you look at your calendar or day planner, how many white spaces exist? 

And here’s a key question: Are you allowing other people to write in your margins?

 

Are you allowing other people to write in your margins? Click To Tweet

 

We need space for other people because people matter, but if we do not intentionally build in space for other people in our stories, they will always be in the margins. And when the margins get full, we can’t focus and we begin to resent the margin overload.

Our lives matter to God.  Don’t overcomplicate and over-schedule your story. And be careful what you write in the white space.

What does this make possible?

Sometimes letting go opens new doors.

Letting go is hard.

It really doesn’t matter what you’re releasing—a project, a dream, an aspiration, an opportunity—letting go always involves a loss of some kind, and every loss results in a certain measure of grief.

Recently – within just a few minutes’ time – I decided to let go of two things that are special to me.  One of them has been a significant part of my life for almost three years.  I launched a podcast, Your Church Matters,” in January 2015. The most recent episode was Season 3 Episode 110.  I have poured into this project my heart and soul, my best encouragement, and my best practical wisdom gained over the course of almost 30 years of full-time ministry (and 40 total ministry years).  Much of that practical wisdom has been gained through making mistakes that I hope to help others avoid.

But it has become clear to me over the past few weeks that this season of my life requires that I devote to other endeavors the energy and time needed to create and produce a weekly podcast.  So, those 110 episodes will be available at drgerrylewis.com/yourchurchmatters but no more will be added.  I still think podcasting is in my future, but not for the rest of 2017 and not in the same format.

I think I have actually known for a while, but I’ve been resisting it.  It feels like failure.  It feels like losing part of me.  It feels like abandoning one of my children.  And I’m grieving the loss.

The second thing I released was an opportunity to do something that I really wanted to do, that I knew I would enjoy doing, and that I knew would be a blessing to other people. Fortunately, I had not yet agreed to do it.  If that had been the case, releasing would not have been an option.  If people can’t depend on me to keep my word, then my word means nothing.

So, in this case, the grief was different.  But it’s still hard.

Have you ever been there, friends? You feel overwhelmed, depleted, too many spinning plates and balls in the air, too many requests and opportunities, too much pride to admit that you can’t do everything, too many people depending on you.  And through it all, you are measuring your worth by how much you can get done, trying to prove yourself through achievement, addicted to adrenaline, driven by the need for approval or acquisition, running like a hamster on a wheel and getting nowhere.

Or is it just me?

Here’s the question I’m focusing on today: What does this make possible? I’ve already focused on the loss.  But, what might I gain?  Who, besides me, may benefit from my shift in focus? How may God use this to teach me more of what it is like to walk with Jesus? What’s truly important right now?

 

What's truly important right now? Click To Tweet

 

“Then Jesus said, ‘Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.’” (Matthew 11:28-30)

Your one and only life matters to God.  What does that make possible?