I believe the Lord has uniquely positioned boomer pastors at this critical moment in the history of the American church. In spite of the fact that so many of our colleagues have crashed and burned, jumped ship, raised the white flag, or reluctantly retired, we are still the largest group of leaders in the American church today. We still have an opportunity to lead our churches, which are desperately in need of renewal and relevance toward transitional and transformative spiritual action.

The prophet Jeremiah learned the hard lesson that the Lord wasn’t sympathetic to his whining. Elijah had given up and run away, but he learned that the Lord wasn’t through with him, and he wasn’t as alone as he thought he was. The Lord’s challenge to both of those understandably weary men was essentially, “Stop your whining and get back in the game!”

This is going to sound very boomer-like – incurably egotistical – but this is too critical a moment in history for boomer pastors to waste time and energy whining and complaining about how difficult things are for us and how frustrated we are with our churches. This is no time to recite to God how rotten our culture is and evil the opposition. This is no time to run away and hide in a cave. It’s time to get back in the game!

We have always had this inner desire to make a difference and leave our world a better place. We have always wanted to lead our churches to new heights of effectiveness and fruitfulness for the Kingdom. As discouraged as we might be at this stage of our lives and ministries, let’s take heart in the fact that it takes time, opportunity, and desire to achieve those high goals. We still have time, though it’s short; we still have enormous opportunities; and, hopefully, we still have the will and desire to press on in the work of the Kingdom, not for our sakes, but for the sake of His Name.

Loneliness in Leadership

August 15, 2011

The saying, “It’s lonely at the top” reflects the fact that part of the nature of leadership is a sense of being all alone – a kind of loneliness. Some leaders are better equipped emotionally to deal with the lonely feelings and challenges of leadership than others. Some leaders even seem to thrive in times of loneliness. Carl Sandburg wrote, “Shakespeare, Leonardo da Vinci, Benjamin Franklin, and Lincoln never saw a movie, heard a radio, or looked at TV. They had a ‘loneliness’ and knew what to do with it. They were not afraid of being lonely, because they knew that was when the creative mood in them would work.”

Other leaders, many pastors included, are not so inclined to accept this loneliness and use it to their advantage. We identify more with Albert Einstein who once said, “It is strange to be known so universally and yet be so lonely.” (It may be the only way we identify with Einstein!) While none of us are universally known like Einstein, we are widely known in the church and community simply because of the position we hold as pastor, yet we are lonely, in part, because we are known for our position more than we are known as a person.

The demands of leadership create and even require times of loneliness. On the other hand, the loneliness of leadership demands real, life-giving friendships and deep relationships with those who know and love us as people first and  leaders second.

(Adapted from The Pickled Priest and the Perishing Parish.)

Study Long; Study Wrong

August 12, 2011

While I was in seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, I worked for Sears. My first job there was as a porter, which is another term for janitor. One of my fellow janitors was an older Black gentleman named Buster Williams. Buster and I became good friends. Buster not only taught me how to be a porter, he taught me how to play dominoes. Now dominoes is big in Texas, like everything else! On our lunch break we’d go to the employee break room almost daily and play a game.

Buster was an expert dominoes player, having played all his life. I was a complete novice. When it was his turn to make a move and lay a domino down, there was no hesitation. However, when it was my turn to move, many times I’d have to think and study and try to figure out the best move available to me. During those long pauses, Buster would sit patiently across the table smiling. But if I took longer than necessary, he would often throw out a saying I’d never heard before. It was his gentle way of hurrying the game along given the short time we had to play. He’d say, “Study long; study wrong,” the suggestion being that if I overanalyzed the situation, I was going to make the wrong move. More times than not, it proved to be true.

In leadership, analysis paralysis can be costly. We make a lot of wrong decisions in haste, no doubt. But we also waste golden, God-given opportunities in our hesitation, or simply end up making the wrong move altogether.

Horizons

August 1, 2011

In case you’ve never been there, let me tell you that Texas really is a big state. When Elliott and I first drove out to Texas where I attended seminary, we were overwhelmed by the landscape. For many, many miles through East Texas, the scenery looked so familiar that we were wondering what was so different. Like most of the Southeast, pine trees dominated the landscape, but then near Fort Worth, the Gateway to the West, there was a dramatic change. Suddenly the horizon expanded in every direction. We could see forever. There were no trees except for some scruffy, drab mesquite trees along fence lines and shallow ravines. It was late in the day and the Sun was setting low in the sky, and Elliott and I knew we were definitely in Texas. One of the things that enthralled me about Texas was its big sky, a seemingly limitless horizon. Here in the Lowcountry, the tall pines of our thick forests limit our horizon. In life and in faith, we are often limited in our horizons by various things that obstruct our vision—the thick forests of our surroundings. They block the big picture, the beauty, and the boundless possibilities. So instead of living large, as they say, we live small, because our horizons are so obscured and our faith so fenced in. I love trees. Give me trees, tall pines, rather than those dumpy, unattractive mesquite trees, but let me see the distant horizon, the beauty, and the boundless possibilities of life that faith makes us able to see. I love what the Bible says in I Corinthians 2:9. “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.” We all need a Texas experience, especially if we have never seen the big picture of life in Christ. What’s obstructing your horizon?