We sat holding our newborn baby, watching as the doctor drew a diagram. It was a heart. He drew what it should look like. Then he drew it with the four abnormalities of the congenital defect known as tetralogy, the condition with which our first son, Ryan, was born. At first, my untrained eyes didn’t even recognize the blueness around his little eyes and lips. We found ourselves in the midst of a journey for which we were so unprepared, a long walk of faith. But in those first few moments that day with the heart specialist, our world changed forever, and I was about to join the ranks of the “hospital moms!”
As home missionaries to a western Chicago suburb, we expected sacrifices and hardships, financial and personal. But we never expected anything like this. In fact, over the next six years, Ryan underwent four complex open-heart surgeries, at three months, eighteen months, four years, and five years of age. And, each time, the surgeon was working only millimeters from Ryan’s coronary artery. Thankfully, the Lord understands when we question our circumstances, knowing that we see “through a glass darkly.” These were undoubtedly the “desert of our days,” and our faith, like never before, would have to stand the test of fire. Like the three Hebrew children, we came to realize that faith is not merely knowing “God is able to deliver us.” We, too, prayed, “but if not,” as the operating room doors closed before us, only to find that same God standing with us in the midst of the fire.
Each was supposed to be the last, yet we came to the day we had to tell Ryan that he needed a fourth surgery. I will never forget the difficulty of explaining that to a five-year-old with vivid memories of his hospital experiences. For two years, he was the poster child for the Chicago Metropolitan Heart Association. At the news of the surgery, his blue eyes filled with tears. “What did I do wrong?” he asked. Quickly, we reassured him that he’d done nothing wrong. Nevertheless, the test of faith had come yet again. But, at age eight, when a previously inserted patch began to leak, and surgery was inevitable, the miracle came! My husband was preaching a camp on the east coast when, in the middle of the service, the Lord spoke to him that He had just healed Ryan! The doctor soon confirmed it. The leak had, indeed, sealed off—this time, God had chosen to deliver from the fire.
Our hospital journey, though, was not ended. We had now been blessed with two more sons, Jonathan, two, and six-month-old Nathan. The same week of Ryan’s miracle, Jonathan, began limping and could barely walk. The doctor, after blood work and scheduling orthopedics, reassured us – lightning rarely “strikes twice in the same place.” Still, we felt something was very wrong. His fever spiked, and he became lethargic. Then, suddenly, I had a sense of “knowing” exactly what was wrong. I shared it with my husband. With news now about the second of our sons, we received the call from our concerned family doctor, “I hate to have to tell you this, Reverend and Mrs. French.” Then, he said the very words I had spoken to my husband earlier, “Jonathan has leukemia!” We were to leave immediately for Chicago’s Children’s Memorial.
In the early morning hours, though dazed, the first miracle in this fiery trial became clear. As Jonathan was diagnosed with acute lymphatic leukemia, God had given me a word from Him. Then, the Lord said to me, “I spoke to you to assure you that I am here. I know all about it. My face is turned in your direction.” As battle-weary as we were, I desperately needed extra grace, so the Lord prepared the way, a peace beyond understanding. Nevertheless, the seemingly endless chemo, the needles, the non-sedated bone marrow aspirations, the spinals – were all incredibly difficult. But, early into treatment, I was blessed to hear Sis. Nona Freeman minister on the subject: “Praising the Lord in All Things!” God used it mightily. God was reminding me of the source of my strength amidst the trial – the power of praise!
Praise God for his mighty power! Twice God delivered Jon as he went into life-threatening septic shock, as doctors worked feverishly over him to save him. One day a newly purchased minivan suddenly appeared in our driveway, keys and all! Later, at a particularly low point, Jon could barely eat, yet the doctors allowed us to take him to his great grandfather’s funeral near St. Jude hospital. So we took him, as well, to a special service nearby for prayer. My husband’s unsaved step-father joined us and wanted to hold his grandson as they anointed him. The Lord’s touch was instantaneous, with Jon immediately asking his grandpa for something to eat! Powerfully moved, grandpa returned the next week and received the Holy Ghost!
The mountain of medical bills was miraculously wiped out, with one incredibly huge sum forgiven in total because they inexplicably lost the account! The trials left no hint of smoke, only the sweet aroma of the presence of the One Who stood with us in the midst of the fire. Both Ryan and Jon are well and active in the church we pastor in Atlanta, Ryan serving as Associate Pastor and Jon as a vital part of our youth and music ministry. To God be the glory.
The trials left no hint of smoke, only the sweet aroma of the presence of the One Who stood with us in the midst of the fire.
Ep. 16 | Talking with Mom (Rebecca French) About Pain, Sickness, Parenting, Faith, Ministry, Pastor's Wives, and People with Special Needs
Ryan talks to his mother (Rebecca French) about parenting children with major health issues, keeping the faith through the fire, parenting tips for raising godly kids, ministry, what saints need to know about their pastor’s wife, and growing up with a disabled brother. Be sure to check out Rebecca French’s article at www.ryanafrench.com called Praising the Lord in All Things.
Rebecca French, alongside her husband, Dr. Talmadge French, has faithfully served the members of Apostolic Tabernacle in Jonesboro, Georgia, for ten years. They have been married and leading in numerous ministry capacities for forty-three years. Rebecca’s greatest joy is that her three sons, their wives, and her six grandchildren serve the Lord.
Hurt comes to everyone’s life in one way or another. For some, it’s more severe than others. Of course, when we use a generic term like hurt, it can mean physical, emotional, or spiritual damage. It can even be a potent combination of the three. It usually becomes a blend of the three because when we are hurting in one area, it bleeds into the other two eventually. A friend once said, “Don’t let your pain go to waste.” That’s stuck with me for many years. Every hardship has a lesson (or multiple lessons) embedded within it. Indeed, this is the essence of Paul’s anointed thinking when he wrote of learning to be content in every situation. (Philippians 4:11) Below are nine things to remember when hurting humbly written from one hurt person to another.
Below are nine things to remember when hurting humbly written from one hurt person to another.
Pain has a way of causing us to turn inward and become unintentionally selfish. It’s easy to forget that others are hurting too. Understanding others have pain, too, doesn’t minimize or detract from what we’re going through. But it keeps our pain in perspective when we realize others have their own unique hurts and problems. There are extreme times of trauma when we need those closest to us to drop everything and be available. However, those moments can’t and won’t last forever. It’s intensely selfish to assume our hurt is the worst hurt. It’s also incredibly freeing to know that we are not alone in our pain. Finding someone who has experienced similar difficulties and recovered is often the most encouraging thing we can do.
Pain has a way of causing us to turn inward and become unintentionally selfish. It’s easy to forget that others are hurting too.
It’s intensely selfish to assume our hurt is the worst hurt. It’s also incredibly freeing to know that we are not alone in our pain. Finding someone who has experienced similar difficulties and recovered is often the most encouraging thing we can do.
I had to undergo four open-heart surgeries as a child. I was six when they operated on my heart the fourth time. Not too many years after my recovery, Jonathan, my younger brother, was diagnosed with leukemia and underwent years of treatment (you can read more about those testimonies here). My family spent lots of time in and around hospitals. Huge chunks of my childhood memories revolve around painful medical procedures. I have a vivid memory of being very young, lying in a hospital bed with tubes in and around my body, feeling like the most hurt kid on earth. Suddenly, the door flung open, and two nurses wheeled in a young boy missing both his legs. He was groaning with pain, and at that moment, the realization dawned on me that my pain was not the only pain in the world. To this day, if I start to feel like my pain is the only pain in the world, I walk into a children’s hospital and remember that hurt is a universal human condition.
2. Hurt doesn’t give anyone a license to be a jerk.
Years ago, I heard an old farmer tell the story of how one of his prized Tennessee walkers managed to escape his stable on a warm summer afternoon. After hours of searching, the old man found his treasured horse hopelessly tangled in rusty old barbed wire fencing. It broke the farmer’s heart watching that majestic beast trying in vain to break free, but with every effort, the shards of barbed wire embedded themselves deeper into the bloody wounds. With soothing words and a cautious step, the old farmer inched his way towards the grand animal with wire cutters in hand. But he wasn’t careful enough; from the corner of his eye, he saw the hoof coming, but it was too late. He felt an explosive sensation in his head, and everything went black. When he awoke, the horse was almost dead, and he was too.
The old axiom is true that hurting people hurt people. Sadly, this creates a cycle of pain in the hurting person’s life. Hurting people isolate themselves by constructing self-imposed barriers between themselves and those who care about them the most. It’s difficult not to be caustic, sarcastic, and just a little narcissistic when hurting deeply. Truly hurting people may lash out at random strangers or their closest friends and family members at any given moment, alienating them further and intensifying their pain. Like the horribly mangled Tennessee walker, hurting people don’t necessarily mean to lash out or act like a jerk; sometimes, it’s just a reflexive reaction. Regardless, pain doesn’t give us the right to attack the people around us. And it only makes the situation worse.
Hurting people don’t necessarily mean to lash out or act like a jerk; sometimes, it’s just a reflexive reaction. Regardless, pain doesn’t give us the right to attack the people around us. And it only makes the situation worse.
There might be scars that never quite disappear. The healing may not come when and how we want it to appear, but God will send healing if we remain righteous. One of the most encouraging passages in the Bible is Psalm 37:17-19:
“The righteous cry, and the Lord heareth, and delivereth them out of all their troubles. The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous: but the Lord delivereth him out of them all.”
The Bible never tries to sugarcoat the reality that the righteous will be afflicted, yet God will deliver the righteous from all their troubles. That little word all is so important because it encompasses physical, spiritual, and emotional hurt. There is no hurt that God cannot heal. There is no wound so deep that God cannot mend. And the righteous are never closer to God than when they are brokenhearted. Even while we are waiting for the healing, the Healer is with us.
There might be scars that never quite disappear. The healing may not come when and how we want it to appear, but God will send healing if we remain righteous (Psalm 37:17-19).
There is no hurt that God cannot heal. There is no wound so deep that God cannot mend. And the righteous are never closer to God than when they are brokenhearted. Even while we are waiting for the healing, the Healer is with us.
The greatest saints in the Bible often felt as if God was absent in their trouble. Isaiah lamented, “God, where are your dramatic, awe-inspiring works of in my day?” He had heard of “times past” when God would “rend the heavens and come down,” when people “quaked in God’s presence.” But where was that God now, Isaiah asked? He shouted in dismay, “You have hidden your face from us.” (Isaiah 64:1-7) The psalmist Asaph cried, “We are given no signs from God; no prophets are left, and none of us knows how long this will be” (Psalm 74:9). And Gideon, right before God used him to destroy an entire Midianite army with only three hundred men, said to an angelic messenger, “If the Lord is really with us… where are all His wonderful deeds like the ones our fathers told us about?” (Judges 6:13)
If you want to learn powerful lessons about finding purpose in pain, read The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom. It’s the true story of Corrie’s life during World War II and her family’s efforts to hide Jews from the Nazis. Eventually, the Nazis caught Corrie and her sister, Betsie, and threw them into a concentration camp. In Hitler’s death camp, they experienced unspeakable horrors. A little gem in the story is the recounting of Corrie and Betsie’s first night in Nazi barracks. The bunk beds were stacked three levels high and barely offered enough room for a person to squeeze into them. Usually, two or three ladies were forced to share single four-foot-wide rancid straw mattresses. While laying there fighting nausea because of the stench and claustrophobia, Corrie felt something bite her leg. “Fleas,” she cried! Looking closely, Corrie and Betsie realized the entire room was swarming with fleas.
“How can we live in such a place?” Corrie moaned. Betsie began to pray and ask the Lord to show them how they could endure this nightmare. Suddenly, a Scripture came to her mind that she had been reading:
“Comfort the frightened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus …” (1 Thessalonians 5:14-18)
Betsie was firm, “we must thank God for the fleas.” Understandably, Corrie was shocked and annoyed at the idea of thanking God for the fleas. Corrie couldn’t find it in her heart to thank God for something so awful.
As the weeks passed, Betsie’s health weakened to the point that, rather than needing to go out on work duty each day, she was permitted to remain in the barracks and knit socks together with other seriously-ill prisoners. She was a lightning-fast knitter and usually had her daily sock quota completed by noon. As a result, she had hours each day she could spend moving from platform to platform reading the Bible to fellow prisoners. She was able to do this undetected as the guards never seemed to venture far into the barracks.
One evening when Corrie arrived back at the barracks, Betsie’s eyes were twinkling. “You’re looking extraordinarily pleased with yourself,” Corrie told her.
“You know we’ve never understood why we had so much freedom in the big room,” Betsie said, referring to the part of the barracks where the sleeping platforms were. “Well—I’ve found out. This afternoon there was confusion in my knitting group about sock sizes, so we asked the supervisor to come and settle it. But she wouldn’t. She wouldn’t step through the door, and neither would the guards. And you know why?” Betsie could not keep the triumph from her voice as she exclaimed, “Because of the fleas! That’s what she said: ‘That place is crawling with fleas!’ ” God had a purpose for the fleas that Corrie could not see. She couldn’t see or feel God in that situation. But He was there all along!
5. Your response to hurt will determine whether you come out stronger or weaker.
Job lost everything: children, health, and wealth, but he refused to sin or charge God foolishly. (Job 1:12-22) Because of his righteous response, God gave Job more abundant blessings than he had previously. Joseph had visions and dreams from God, but his jealous brothers sold him into slavery. He was persecuted, falsely accused, tossed into prison, forgotten, ignored, but Joseph never stopped trusting the Lord. Not only was he restored, but God elevated Joseph to places he could not have imagined. (Genesis 41) Learning how to react correctly to hurt is possibly the most essential life skill we can learn.
Learning how to react correctly to hurt is possibly the most essential life skill we can learn.
Two thieves hung on crosses next to Jesus. It isn’t possible to adequately describe the agony of crucifixion. But crucifixion is one of the most excruciating and traumatic ways to die. Both thieves were suffering in precisely the same way. But one thief scoffed Jesus, and the other begged Jesus to remember him. (Luke 23:32-43) Beautifully, Jesus responded to the tormented thief begging for remembrance and promised him a place in paradise. (Luke 23:43) Our response to God while hurting can mean the difference between Heaven and Hell.
6. There are valuable lessons to be learned while hurting.
In his classic work The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis wrestled openly with the big questions of human suffering. He offers insights into revelations received during the most painful seasons of his life. Lewis wrote:
“I should very much like to live in a universe which was governed by such lines [where happiness and kindness abound and they always lead to good things]. But since it is abundantly clear that I don’t, and since I have reason to believe, nevertheless, that God is Love, I conclude that my conception of love needs correction… Love is something more stern and splendid than mere kindness. … Kindness, merely as such, cares not whether its object becomes good or bad, provided only that it escapes suffering.”
Only through suffering could Lewis gain such insight into the nature of God. In my own life, I have only traversed the deepest wellsprings of revelation through grief. Some insights can only be achieved through pain. Some depths can only be explored in the darkest places. Some epiphany’s flash like lightning in the middle of terrible storms. Learn to look for lessons strewn about in the tempests of suffering, and you will find priceless gems sparkling in the mud.
Some insights can only be achieved through pain. Some epiphany’s flash like lightning in the middle of terrible storms. Learn to look for lessons strewn about in the tempests of suffering, and you will find priceless gems sparkling in the mud.
“God loves us, so He makes us the gift of suffering. Through suffering, we release our hold on the toys of this world… We’re like blocks of stone, out of which the sculptor carves the forms of men. The blows of his chisel, which hurt us so much, are what make us perfect. The suffering in this world is not the failure of God’s love for us; it is that love in action.”
Be careful praying for God to give you anointing; He will do it, but it will be painful. God will place you in situations where you will be forced to stand when everyone else is bowing down, and He will ask you to bow when everyone else is standing. The anointing will take you to the furnaces and fires of decision and sacrifice. The process is difficult, but the refining is worth it.
The anointing will take you to the furnaces and fires of decision and sacrifice. The process is difficult, but the refining is worth it.
8. Hiding from helpers only makes hurting hurt worse.
When Jonathan, my brother, was battling leukemia, I met a little boy in the children’s hospital. His name was Jordan, and he was very young and as you can imagine he was very scared. The doctors and nurses seemed to him very large and imposing, so he would try to hide from them when possible. This, of course, was extremely disturbing to his parents, who wanted him to get good treatment. But it was impossible to make that little boy understand why doctors sometimes do things that hurt so we can heal. He turned hiding from his helpers into a game of cat and mouse.
We, humans, tend to be like Jordan when we’re hurting. Like Adam and Eve in the garden, we hide from the One and the ones who want to help us the most. However, this can cause serious damage and keep us from getting the help we so desperately need. Resist the urge to isolate and hide when pain is acute. Please don’t let fear, or pride, or shame, or anything else keep you from allowing helpers to help fix your hurt.
Resist the urge to isolate and hide when pain is acute. Please don’t let fear, or pride, or shame, or anything else keep you from allowing helpers to help fix your hurt.
According to Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, there is a time and a season for everything under the sun. There is a time for life and death, planting and reaping, killing and healing, destroying and building, mourning and laughter, there’s even a time for losing and winning. But there is one season the Bible never mentions, and that is a season for quitting. Because in the economy of God, there is no giving up. Quitting is not an option. Human reasoning says failure is not an option. But that isn’t so. God can handle our failures as long as we don’t quit.
The Bible never mentions a season for quitting. Because in the economy of God, there is no giving up. Quitting is not an option. Human reasoning says failure is not an option. But that isn’t so. God can handle our failures as long as we don’t quit.
The great thing about understanding that life operates in seasons is the accompanying knowledge that painful seasons will pass. Seasons are, by definition, temporary. Winter seems eternal, but it’s not. All the death gives way to life, and Spring bursts forth. So, never give up. Take courage and keep your faith because good things are coming your way.
The great thing about understanding that life operates in seasons is the accompanying knowledge that painful seasons will pass. Seasons are, by definition, temporary.
Ep. 15 | 9 Things to Remember When You're Hurting & Ryan's Top 10 All-Time-Favorite Carman Songs
Carman, a Christian music legend, is dead. Ryan lists his Top 10 All-Time-Favorite Carman songs. In this episode, from the http://www.ryanafrench.com article, Ryan gives nine vitally important things for people to remember when they are hurting. Today’s topic will absolutely help you if you’re hurting, and it will help you help someone who is hurting.
Insecure leaders are dangerous to any organization. They are especially hazardous in church settings. Quick clarification, every leader has areas of insecurity. And, leaders have seasons of insecurity that aren’t permanent. Usually, because of extremely traumatic circumstances, exhaustion, or feelings of displacement in a new position, role, or environment. This article is addressing chronic toxic insecurities in leaders. Toxically insecure leaders destroy lives, organizations, and almost everything they touch if they don’t recognize their internal condition and correct it.
Insecure leaders are dangerous to any organization. They are especially hazardous in church settings. Quick clarification, every leader has areas of insecurity. And, leaders have seasons of insecurity that aren’t permanent.
If you’re a leader, check yourself for these symptoms. Better yet, ask your spouse or someone you respect if you are showing any of these symptoms. If you are, it doesn’t have to be terminal. You can adjust, grow, change, and become a truly dynamic leader. Facing our flaws is always challenging, but it pays big dividends later on.
Maybe you’re concerned someone close to you is a toxic leader. If so, please understand a toxically insecure leader will display at least three or more of these symptoms. Be careful not to misdiagnose a leader because they exhibit one or two of these symptoms from time to time. However, if you find that you are working with or for a toxically insecure leader, you would be wise to distance yourself if and when possible. Otherwise, you will be pulled into their injuriousness as either a collaborator or a victim.
King Saul is a prime biblical example of a genuinely toxic insecure leader. He was anointed, impressive, loved, and gifted, but his unbridled jealous insecurities prompted him to hate David. King Saul’s insecurities sent him down a twisted path of self-destructive behavior. Tragically, when a leader like Saul falls prey to their insecurities, they can unleash a whirlwind of hurt. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Below are ten common symptoms found in toxically insecure leaders. However, along with each symptom, there is a helpful prescription listed.
1. Insecure Leaders are Easily Offended
Not only are they offended easily by genuine affronts, but insecure leaders are angered by a seemingly endless list of perceived slights. Insecure leaders continuously feel as if they are being disrespected, attacked, taunted, or rejected. The insecure leader’s posture of offense reveals selfishness as their deeper character flaw. Because they view everything through the lens of self, they filter everyone’s actions as being about or directed at them. Insecure leaders speak and act against their real or perceived offenders often. They go on long crusades demanding respect or diminishing those who seemingly refuse to admire them.
Insecure leaders continuously feel as if they are being disrespected, attacked, taunted, or rejected. This reveals selfishness as their deeper character flaw. Because they view everything through the lens of self…
We overcome offenses by looking up to God. It really is that simple. The apostle Peter reminds us that it is an honor to suffer offense – even unjust offenses – if we are mindful of God (1 Peter 2:19). To be sure, Peter’s readers were dealing with offenses more severe than the kind Westerners typically face: physical abuse (1 Peter 2:20), ridicule (1 Peter 4:4), fiery trials (1 Peter 4:12). But learning to overlook the most significant offenses usually begins with learning to forgive the smallest. Enduring slander begins with enduring a sarcastic remark. Enduring a beating begins with enduring a cold shoulder. Being mindful of God in everyday offenses trains us to be mindful of Him when the worst comes.
Offended leaders must rest in the knowledge that God sees all offenses (Hebrews 4:13), God will settle all offenses (Romans 12:19), and God can satisfy us amid offense (Isaiah 58:11). When offense comes, it’s always tempting to allow bitterness, revenge, fantasy, distraction, pleasure, or self-justification to bring temporary satisfaction to our grievance. But only God can fill us with joy unspeakable and full of glory (1 Peter 1:8). Only God can call us back from darkness (1 Peter 2:9). We can always rise above offense by lifting our eyes to God.
Learning to overlook the most significant offenses usually begins with learning to forgive the smallest. Enduring slander begins with enduring a sarcastic remark. Enduring a beating begins with enduring a cold shoulder.
Confident leaders are comfortable accepting responsibility for their mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes, drops the ball, and gets it wrong from time to time. But insecure leaders find creative ways to blame others for their failures. They pass the buck to anyone or anything they can find. Because insecure leaders refuse to acknowledge their own mistakes, they never learn to correct them.
Furthermore, individuals forced to take blame unfairly on an insecure leader’s behalf are deeply wounded. Understandably, this creates constant turnover and turmoil in the leaders serving underneath an insecure leader. At the root of the blame game are an insecure leader’s ego and pride. Passing the buck begins by uprooting pride. Once pride is gone, humility can confidently take its place.
Insecure leaders find creative ways to blame others for their failures. They pass the buck to anyone or anything they can find. Because insecure leaders refuse to acknowledge their own mistakes, they never learn to correct them.
God resists prideful leaders who lack humility (James 4:6). On the other hand, God gives grace to the humble (James 4:6). Thankfully the passage of Scripture doesn’t stop there. It goes on to provide us with the exact prescription for curing pride:
Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
James 4:8-10 ESV
3. Insecure Leaders Tear Other People Down
Insecure leaders can’t help themselves from tearing other people down verbally, not necessarily to their face, but behind their backs. They are careful to couch their criticism as concern or something innocuous, but they intend to tear down their perceived competition. Insecure leaders feel threatened by talented, gifted, or well-liked people, and they make it their mission to belittle those people cleverly.
Insecure leaders feel threatened by talented, gifted, or well-liked people, and they make it their mission to belittle those people cleverly.
There are two self-serving reasons to stop tearing other people down, whether it be overtly or subtly. First, people just don’t like or trust people who manipulatively bash other people. People bashers tend to think they’re super slick in how they do it, but people quickly catch on to it. Secondly, the absolute fear of God should be a strong motivator to stop tearing others down. Especially if they are godly people. In the book of Ephesians, the Apostle Paul wrote: Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up… (Ephesians 4:29 ESV)”. But Paul doesn’t stop there. He continues with an ominous warning: …do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God… (Ephesians 4:30 ESV). To grieve the Holy Spirit is to invite the judgment of God. If nothing else, selfishly avoid God’s wrath by lifting others up rather than tearing them down.
Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
4.Insecure Leaders Avoid Necessary Risk
An aversion to necessary risks often paralyzes insecure leaders. This one is tricky to spot in a leader because sometimes, risk aversion is wisdom. However, good leaders know risk is unavoidable, healthy, and necessary from time to time. We might call it a leap of faith, or stepping out by faith, or moving forward. Insecure leaders avoid these steps of faith to the detriment of the people depending on them for guidance.
A Cowardly Confederate General
Bright red blood contrasted sharply with the brilliant white snow on a bone-chilling February morning in 1862. Confederate troops under the command of General Gideon Pillow were trapped in Fort Donelson near Dover, Tennessee. General Ulysses S. Grant’s federal troops had them nearly surrounded, and union reinforcements were arriving regularly. General Pillow and his officers knew if they didn’t fight their way out, they would be starved out or frozen out by General Grant.
Federal ironclad boats steamed up the Cumberland River to shell the confederate fort into submission. But southern cannons barraged the ironclads so mercilessly they were forced to retreat. This long-range victory heartened the southern soldiers and emboldened them for battle. The plan was to break through enemy lines and regroup with reinforcements in Nashville. General Pillow realized it would be a bitter fight, but he was shocked to see more union soldiers than expected just over the hill’s crest directly between them and their escape route.
Deafening rebel yells pierced the frosty air as Pillow’s men fiercely charged union lines. After only an hour of fighting, it was almost impossible to see snow because of the crystalizing crimson stains. Miraculously, Pillow’s men busted through federal lines opening up a clear path to Nashville. The breach was only temporary and needed to be exploited by rebel troops quickly. General Pillow needed to give fearless and decisive leadership. But the confederate leader was frozen by more than just the icy winter temperatures. Fear paralyzed General Pillow, causing him to retreat to the fort’s temporary safety rather than continue fighting to ultimate victory.
Pillow’s cowardly decision caused 14,000 confederate troops to be captured and imprisoned by General Grant. Many historians consider this a turning point in the Civil War in favor of the union army. Ironically, General Pillow was able to escape during the night and avoid capture. He left subordinate officers behind to face the wrath of General Grant. This story is a classic example of a fearful, toxically, insecure leader.
The Prescription for Fearful Leaders
The psalmist said: I sought the Lord, and He heard me and delivered me from all my fears (Psalm 34:4 KJV). The prescription for fearful leadership is God-centered leadership. Leaders who pursue God and strive to follow His direction are delivered from fear and filled with confidence. It sounds overly simplistic, but it’s not. It’s common sense once you understand that God knows the future, and if we know God intimately, He guides us into the future. Great leaders aren’t without worries, but their faith in God overwhelms their fear.
Don’t let fear overwhelm your faith; let faith overwhelm your fear (Psalm 34:4).
Confident leaders encourage and invite questions because they relish the opportunity to cast their vision. Conversely, insecure leaders view most questions as insults to their intelligence and authority. Often, insecure leaders will berate, avoid, or ignore questioners even from those closest to them.
Confident leaders encourage and invite questions because they relish the opportunity to cast their vision. Conversely, insecure leaders view most questions as insults to their intelligence and authority.
The Prescription for Leaders Who Attack Questioners
James 1:19 tells us that we should be quick to listen and slow to speak. Even good leaders lose this ability over time if they don’t carefully guard against the mentality of using their authority to silence questions and input from others. But the solution to this problem is simple and self-serving. Leaders who shut down questioners and run over input are robbing themselves of knowledge, and knowledge is power. Allowing others to speak doesn’t mean you have to accept what they say or agree with their advice. If a questioner has a legitimate need for clarification, give it. If a questioner has a real concern, hear it. You can learn a lot from the things people ask and say out loud. Listening gives leaders a distinct advantage in moving forward. Listeners understand trends, anticipate problems, realize needs, inspire loyal followings, and find unusual opportunities.
Leaders who listen understand trends, anticipate problems, realize needs, inspire loyal followings, and find unusual opportunities.
6.Insecure Leaders Rarely Offer Thanks or Congratulations
To the insecure leader, saying thanks is acknowledging they needed help. Giving a compliment distracts from their achievements and spotlights someone else in their way of thinking. They’re uncomfortable with both scenarios, so they rarely say thanks or give genuine compliments. This leaves their team feeling totally unappreciated and disrespected.
The Prescription for Leaders Who Rarely Offer Thanks or Congratulations
Learning to express thanks and compliment others when deserved is a sign of strength, not weakness. Rewiring your brain to think this way might be difficult, but it’s necessary. A further benefit of a verbally thankful and complimentary leader is the positive impact on the people around them. Morale is boosted; productivity increases, loyalty skyrockets, and the leader’s visions are carried out faster. Try it, and you’ll see immediate positive results.
Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.
Romans 13:7 ESV
Learning to express thanks and compliment others when deserved is a sign of strength, not weakness.
7. Insecure Leaders Take Credit for Other People’s Work or Ideas
Insecure leaders are more than willing to steal somebody else’s great idea or take credit for others’ accomplishments. Leaders ready to steal credit have allowed their insecurities to turn them into liars and frauds. Any leader that sinks to this level is beyond toxic. They are intentionally venomous and should not be trusted under any circumstances. Run!
The Prescription for Leaders Who Take Credit for Other People’s Work or Ideas
A leader willing to lie and steal another person’s credit has no other recourse but to repent before God. And the offending leader must make it right with those they have harmed (Matthew 5:23-24). The Apostle James doesn’t mince words when calling out selfishly ambitious people who play games with the truth. You’ll notice in the text below he calls them unspiritual and demonic. Nothing short of spiritual reconciliation with God and those offended will help a fraudulent leader.
But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
James 3:14-18 ESV
8. Insecure Leaders Shoot Down Good Ideas
When insecure leaders are presented with good or even terrific ideas, they often shoot them down (or steal them, as we covered in the above point). They just can’t stand the thought of someone else having a better idea or solution. This ultra-selfish leadership style harms everyone because it stifles creativity, productivity, ingenuity, and originality. If a leader always shoots down fantastic ideas without a reasonable explanation, they’re leading from insecurity; however, if they have plausible reasons, they probably do not lead from insecurity.
The Prescription for Leaders Who Shoot Down Good Ideas
The Bible often speaks of obtaining lots of good advice from wise counselors (Proverbs 11:14, Proverbs 12:15, Proverbs 15:22, Proverbs 20:18) before making a decision. Insecure leaders must break the habit of desiring to be the smartest person in the room. Instead, great leaders understand that any organization is built on the successes and intelligence of everyone involved. Understand that an organization that consistently shoots down really good or even terrific ideas without reason will be mediocre at best.
Insecure leaders must break the habit of desiring to be the smartest person in the room. Instead, great leaders understand that any organization is built on the successes and intelligence of everyone involved.
Most people don’t enjoy confrontation or uncomfortable moments where they look like the bad guy. They want the glory, not the gloom. But insecure leaders take that mentality to a whole new level. They often delegate confrontational moments to their subordinates because they lack the confidence to face a conflict head-on themselves. Or they simply leave problems unsolved, unconfronted, and unresolved rather than face needed conflict. Confrontation avoidance can significantly harm an organization over time.
The Prescription for Confrontation Avoiding Leaders
The goal of all healthy necessary confrontation is to be assertive, not aggressive. At the root of chronic conflict avoidance is the fear of rejection. For many leaders, this is a deeply ingrained fear that’s hard to overcome. But the fear of rejection must be overcome, or it will destroy the leader and the leader’s team. Addressing the fear of confrontation and rejection begins with baby steps. Start by reevaluating self-worth and reimagining outcomes of conflict (many positive things come from necessary conflict).
10. Insecure Leaders are Easily Flattered
A man that flattereth his neighbour spreadeth a net for his feet.
Flattery is a lie, masquerading as encouragement, from a selfish motive to manipulate the hearer to achieve the flatterer’s covert purpose. Whether or not flattering words have truth in them, their goal is deception. A leader easily seduced by flattery is foolish and will make unwise decisions. Insecure leaders enjoy the temporary buzz flattery produces because it artificially inflates their wounded egos.
Flattery is a lie, masquerading as encouragement, from a selfish motive to manipulate the hearer to achieve the flatterer’s covert purpose. Whether or not flattering words have truth in them, their goal is deception.
Flattery is the enemy we all love. It feels good going down, but the poison of it doesn’t take long to kick in. That’s why people say flattery is like gum; chew it but don’t swallow it. We shouldn’t believe every good thing we hear about ourselves, nor should we believe every negative thing we hear about ourselves. Learning to overcome flattery’s deceitfulness involves a few paradigm changes: One, learn to value truth over desired truth through prayer. Two, be wary of people who praise excessively. Three, discount those who tear down others to build you up. Four, confront the love of flattery in your own heart and learn to recognize that weakness. When leaders understand their propensity to be manipulated by flattery, they begin to build an immunity to it.
Flattery is the enemy we all love. It feels good going down, but the poison of it doesn’t take long to kick in. That’s why people say flattery is like gum; chew it but don’t swallow it.
It would be prudent, to begin with, this statement of belief: I believe in solid connection with students while being connected to each student in a unique and individually specific way. I believe and am an advocate for personal, one on one connection. Yet, I think we (student pastors, youth pastors, youth workers) are in danger of blurring the lines of connection and crossing into carnality. Let’s talk about it.
The Field and the Pressure
If we look at student ministry, we will find one of the most significant evangelism fields in the world. In the United States alone, there are 74 million people under the age of 18, which accounts for nearly 25% of the population. It’s not a stretch to say students make up a substantial part and are the driving force of our culture. As adults, we look to teenagers to see what is new, trendy, or popular. While pre-teens look to the 15 to 18-year-old group to see what aspirations they should be entertaining. This reality places a powerful burden of influence in the hands of teenagers.
I have no problem with the fact teenagers can help define and shape culture. In fact, as youth pastors, we should capitalize on this fact and use it to our advantage. If we gather teens and connect with them, if we can help them connect with a spiritual walk with God, then we will, in turn, affect both younger and older generations. However, there is a disturbing trend of blurred lines on how to connect with the current generation. In prayer recently, the Lord put this thought in my mind: “The danger of student ministry is justifying carnality and calling it connection.”
If we gather teens and connect with them, if we can help them connect with a spiritual walk with God, then we will, in turn, affect both younger and older generations.
One of the dangers of blurring the line between connection and carnality is social media mirroring. Allow me to explain. I served as an assistant and full-time youth pastor for eight years. During this incredible season of life, my wife, Jessica, and I were privileged to be youth pastor to some of the most amazing students. As we transitioned to Youth Pastor, we felt excitement but also horror in our position. We were committed to reaching our students but also totally “out of touch” with our role as their youth pastor. Our predecessor, Rev. Chadwick Craft, was a phenomenal leader and spiritual guide. We knew we couldn’t fill his shoes, nor were we supposed to fill them. We would need to walk “OUR” path with our giftings and abilities. So, despite Paul warning us about comparison (2 Corinthians 10:1-11), I looked at other student ministry social media accounts and felt instantly demoralized.
I discovered incredible graphics, mind-blowing stage designs, relevant lesson plans, and youth pastors who looked incredibly; yes, I’m old enough to use the word “cool”. My goal was to immediately mirror these ministries by being in schools at lunchtime and being at their events and recitals. I wanted to post pictures of myself with students to prove my connection, my impact on their lives. It was a rush to mirror the “social media success” stories posted daily.
Obviously, there is nothing wrong with wanting connection, but here is where the danger came into play. In the rush to mirror student ministry, we became very uncomfortable with the “connection” moments we were seeing and felt pressured to perform. Lunch was a great time to connect with new students, so this continued for us. However, other events began to weigh heavily on us spiritually. As pressure to post and “connect” increased, we joined in, trying to conform to other groups’ pressure, even though they were in other cities with different church cultures. In doing so, we realized our purpose, worship, and witness would quickly become compromised and carnal if we followed these trends.
The Crossroads of Connection and Carnality
The purpose of spending time with a student to witness was quickly becoming time spent at school functions with no spiritual depth. Connection meant being pressured to attend ballgames, chaperone dances, and have student movie nights in place of youth services. The pressure was unreal. I was told, “This is how you do student ministry,” “This is the way to connect with students,” “Meet them where they are… be in the environment they are in, encourage them in the endeavors of school athletics and programs.” “Dress casual.” “Don’t yell so much” (this was in reference to preaching). That pressure to be like other student pastors left me feeling drained spiritually. It felt wrong. It felt carnal.
Daily I was doing my best to have the right haircut, to wear trendy clothes, listen to the right music, and play the right games on my phone. Yet what was happening was wholesale accepting a culture of carnality. My pressured changes were disingenuous and created a false narrative of who I was and what an apostolic youth group should become. It was time to take a step back and review where we were as a group, where we were spiritually, and where God wanted us to go. We began to search diligently for authentic connection, and in doing so, realized several truths:
Students do not care about trendy clothes, as long as someone cares about them.
Students do not care if I play the games they play, as long as I spend time with them.
Students didn’t care if I was at a sporting event if we were there to weep with them while in an altar.
The only person who cared if I was “cool” was other youth workers.
Carnal connection was not what God intended; Spiritual connection is what was going to be the difference-maker in their lives.
Students do not care about trendy clothes, as long as someone cares about them.
Genuine connection comes from sitting down and connecting over shared interests. If the interest is carnal, then the connection by proxy will also be carnal. How, then, could real connection happen in carnal environments?
The Case for Genuinly Apostolic Connection
Please receive this in the spirit in which it’s written. We need apostolic student pastors to be apostolic. The wholesale acceptance of involvement in sports, proms, accepting worldly artists who are suddenly “Christian” is not only dangerous but flies in the face of the Scriptures command: Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you (2 Corinthians 6:17).
Do you see the danger? It starts so simply, “I am trying to connect with them. I am trying to connect them to Jesus. If I host a movie night, we have common ground. If we listen to traditionally ungodly artists who suddenly find salvation, we show them how to accept new converts. We must dress casually so they will be comfortable. We must like their posts, so they know we approve.”
While all of these arguments seem valid, each of them draws a very fine line between connection and simply being carnal. We should connect with students. We should lead them to Jesus. We should teach them to accept new converts. But, to do these things without maintaining a clear apostolic voice is simply justifying carnal behavior under the guise of connection.
It is time. We must shift our focus and become more focused on SPIRITUAL connection, not carnal connection. Should we be present when we can? Should we have P7 clubs and CMI chapters? Should we visit students at school during lunches or breaks? Absolutely, YES! Should we be at their ballgames, dances, and carnal events? Decidedly, the answer would be no. Because in doing so, we are giving permission for their involvement in these carnal events. Our presence equals permission in the minds of teens.
We must shift our focus and become more focused on SPIRITUAL connection, not carnal connection.
Student ministers are pressured on so many fronts: Host movie nights, institute casual approaches to dress codes in service, accept secular artists’ new Christian albums, like posts on Facebook of students going to prom while dressed ungodly and involved in unacceptable activities. Liking carnal posts (pics of ungodly dress or worldly music in an IG story) is like giving a high five to a drowning person. It says I see you drowning, but I don’t love you enough to make you uncomfortable by pulling you out.
Liking carnal posts (pics of ungodly dress or worldly music in an IG story) is like giving a high five to a drowning person. It says I see you drowning, but I don’t love you enough to make you uncomfortable by pulling you out.
Youth group movie night should never happen in an apostolic youth group. It is shocking to see movie nights’ acceptance as not just a fringe idea but being accepted and lauded by many student pastors. In an effort to connect with students by watching movies, we are teaching them to look towards the world for their spiritual lessons and morality. This thinking is a significant error because the Bible is the only guidebook we should use to find our moral compass.
Connecting with students by watching movies, teaches them to look towards the world for their spiritual lessons and morality. This is a significant error because the Bible is the only guidebook we should use to find our moral compass.
Snoop and Kanye suddenly becoming “Christian” does not mean we should immediately play their music in youth service. I’m thankful they are moving in the right direction; their private lives reflect their true nature. Smoking weed, calling themselves yeezus, and the other filthy and frankly barbaric lifestyles they entertain should be reason enough to keep them blacklisted from Apostolic environments.
Apostolic Precedence Over Pressure
Paul connected not by taking new converts to the coliseum or the Olympic games, but by prayer, fasting, and house to house studying the Word of God together. He got them involved in the field! As student pastors, we only get 45-50 hours of connection with them each year in youth service. If you are lucky and have a small group on Sundays, then maybe another 45-50 hours. Above all else, our connections must be viewed as the single most important hour of their lives. That connection must be apostolic.
Paul connected not by taking new converts to the coliseum or the Olympic games, but by prayer, fasting, and house to house studying the Word of God together.
So, what does true apostolic connection look like? It starts with daily prayer and study personally. Daily prayer and Bible study sets the mind and spirit on a path of biblical connection personally and focuses your vision through a spiritual lens. As a gentle reminder, you get what you preach, but who you are is what you produce. This personal devotion aligns you with God as you move through the day. Once you have prayed through, next, you must be honest. Honest with yourself. Is there anything slipping in which promotes carnality and not Christ? If so, be honest with yourself… and change it.
Daily prayer and Bible study sets the mind and spirit on a path of biblical connection personally and focuses your vision through a spiritual lens.
We cut out all of the fluff. We stopped trying to be the “textbook” student pastor. Instead, we began to focus on prayer. Our group was running 79 students when we decided to do an event we called The Hunger Event. It was a simple call to fasting and prayer. We would fast together as a group from Friday at 7 am until Saturday at 7 am. We would meet at the church and pray from 7 pm until 7 am and break our fast together.
We announced this: If you want to play basketball, that will happen next week. If you want to play video games, please don’t be offended, but we won’t be playing games. If you aren’t serious about growth, no worries, we love you… but this event isn’t for you.
The night of the event, we had a sign-in sheet. Ninety-three students signed in by 7 pm. (remember, we were averaging 79 in service). I cannot adequately describe the move of God we experienced. From this meeting, we began a very intentional plan to connect. We promoted prayer as the premier event on our calendar. It was our way of common connection. We preached about prayer. We preached about being apostolic. We promoted prayer and apostolic lifestyle as we would a giveaway. It became the fundamental pressure applied by our team.
We would meet one on one with students and be honest with them about music, lifestyle changes needed but also the importance of being a disciple. We didn’t run an errand alone. If we had to go out of our way to pick up a student to pick up dry cleaning, we did. We became rabid in our connection. We were staying in their texts, calling them, showing up at school or work. Always, every meeting was an encouragement for them to stay connected to God and us.
It was during this season we began to tell them how God wanted to use them. We shifted all connection, all narrative, to being a worshipper and a witness. Every action had to fit those criteria in some way. It was tough. It was different. But in eight months, we grew from 79 in youth service to 135. We taught a dozen bible studies a month because our connection was based on their spiritual growth. True connection focuses on their spiritual growth and accepting the responsibility to be the Apostolic Voice in their lives.
True student ministry connection focuses on their spiritual growth and accepting the responsibility to be the Apostolic Voice in their lives.
Titus 1:16 is, frankly, very heavy. But it’s a Scripture that stands out. It defines or should define our interactions and connection. It warns about blurring the line between carnality and connection. Paul says (and I’m paraphrasing), they say its connection in relationship, but actually what they are doing is in opposition to His nature; it is unthinkable and unlawful. It makes their work worthless.
They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate.
It is in us to fall into the trap of carnal connections. It is an easy snare to fall into, yet it is my desire for someone to read this and realize our connection to students can be deeper and more impactful. I beg you, evaluate how you connect. Filter it through the fact; you have a biblical mandate to be unapologetically apostolic. If you connect them to the Spirit first, God will honor this and bring multiplication to the ministry you serve.
Darrell Bates is married to his incredible and sweet wife, Jessica. They have been married twelve years. Currently, they serve as Youth President of the UPCI Mississippi District and evangelize full-time. They served in Youth Ministry for nearly fifteen years at First Pentecostal Church in Jackson, MS, and eight years in the MS District Youth department. They both love coffee, reading, and being with students. You can connect with them on Facebook here.
Recently, I recorded an interview with Pastor Shannon Thornhill, a church planter in Hernando, MS (www.desotolifeupc.org), for the Apostolic Voice podcast. We had a great conversation spanning all kinds of topics: The importance of Divine calling, how to stay encouraged in discouraging times, evangelism, outreach, ethics, the importance of starting new churches in unchurched cities, and how to bless a church planter. It’s worth your time to listen to the entire episode. Here I’ve listed several meaningful takeaways from our conversation. At the bottom of this article, you’ll find links to listen to our whole exchange.
Note: These are my thoughts after reflecting on our conversation. They are not direct quotes.
TAKEAWAY: Don’t Look Down on New Churches
New churches often operate underneath the stigma of their smallness. Sometimes this smallness is misperceived as insignificance. But new churches are the backbone of revival and church growth. Pastors and members of established larger churches might be tempted to look down their nose at newer churches. Not only is this attitude foolish, but it undermines and discourages the work of the Lord. The biblical admonishment to avoid despising small beginnings (Zechariah 4:10) applies in this situation. God rejoices to see the work begin (Zechariah 4:10), and we should rejoice too.
TAKEAWAY: Unchurched People Want to Be Loved More Than Anything Else
Love is free to share, and unchurched people care more about being seen and loved than big buildings and programs. As a church grows, it becomes more challenging to connect with guests in meaningful ways. Guests can easily feel unseen or overlooked in larger church settings. Of course, loving churches work hard to overcome this dilemma, but new churches have a built-in advantage in this area. Growing new churches serve as a beautiful reminder to older churches that loving people doesn’t require big budgets or trendy programs. If we want to win people, we must love them.
Love is free to share, and unchurched people care more about being seen and loved than big buildings and programs.
Perhaps the most challenging thing in life is finding the will of God. But even more daunting is accomplishing the will of God. When a person fully embraces God’s plan for their lives, the plan is bold, terrifying, and beautiful. Like David facing Goliath or Noah facing an empty field where an ark needs to be, we don’t have the necessary tools to accomplish the mission (at least it sure feels that way). But if we’re in God’s will, He will make a way. God might use ravens with food, a fish full of money, or drop manna from heaven with His own hands. Regardless, if we’re going where God wants us to go, the seas will part.
TAKEAWAY: The Best Blessings Aren’t Financial
I asked Shannon: What’s the most encouraging thing anyone has ever done for you as a church planter. I expected the answer to involve a financial miracle of some kind. It didn’t. Church planters need prayer and encouragement more than anything else. Knowing people are emotionally and spiritually invested in the success of their church means more than financial investment.
Church planters need prayer and encouragement more than anything else.
Parents are often afraid to make sacrifices for the Lord because of their children. It feels scary involving our children in the sacrifices the call of God requires. Shannon dismantled this fear describing the love and joy his children have for ministry and church planting. It seems counterintuitive, but our children will find tremendous joy, blessing, and fulfillment, joining us in our walk of faith. They, in turn, learn how to walk by faith by watching us.
Our children will find tremendous joy, blessing, and fulfillment, joining us in our walk of faith. They, in turn, learn how to walk by faith by watching us.
Make no mistake; whatever God calls you to do will require sacrifice. With church planting, this is especially true. There will be challenges, discouraging seasons, and lots of blind faith required. But if you can push through those seasons of drought into the blessing, you will find a satisfaction that only obedience to God can bring.
TAKEAWAY: If God Isn’t Supplying, You Aren’t Complying
Shannon shared a powerful nugget of truth a wise pastor gave to him years ago. I’m paraphrasing it, but essentially, he said if God calls you to do something hard, He will provide what is needed. On the flip side of that coin, if God does not supply, you probably aren’t complying with His plan. This truism fits nicely into a lengthier look at understanding the will of God in the article: How to Seek God’s Will (For Any Situation).
If God calls you to do something hard, He will provide what is needed. On the flip side of that coin, if God does not supply, you probably aren’t complying with His plan.
TAKEAWAY: Let Your Past and Future Encourage Your Present
I asked Shannon the question every God-follower asks at some point: How can we stay encouraged in the tough moments. Shannon had lots of tremendous things to say (you should listen to them all), but one thing really stood out to me. He said, and again I’m paraphrasing, let God’s past blessings encourage you and trust that God has future blessings in store. This is easier said than done. His advice reminds me of the Israelites facing challenges after God parted the Red Sea. They had doubts and fears when faced with new obstacles. Even after seeing the Promised Land with their own eyes, they struggled to trust God with their future. God put those real-life stories in the Bible as a reminder that we should avoid the pitfalls of forgetting past miracles and shunning God’s future blessings.
Let the past blessings of God encourage you and trust that God has future blessings in store.
At the end of every year, I enjoy reviewing the most read posts of the past twelve months. I’ve included links to all ten of them below. Just click the pictures and it’ll take you to the articles. Interestingly, the top three haven’t changed in several years. I haven’t written much new content in 2019 (I plan to change that in 2020). Oddly, this has still been an exciting year for Apostolic Voice; we leaped over the million click mark, gained a tremendous number of new readers, and made progress on relaunching the podcast. I deeply appreciate your confidence and support. Thank you for allowing my writings into your life. God bless you all, and may 2020 be your best year yet. If you’re new to the Apostolic Voice family, welcome and I hope you find something helpful, inspiring, or at least mildly interesting.
Arguably, pastor’s wives are the most under-appreciated, stereotyped, overworked, unpaid people within any church paradigm. Pastor’s wives are especially vulnerable to criticism, attack, disrespect, and general impoliteness. And we aren’t even talking about the stresses her husband faces that bleed over into their marriage.
Far too often, Pastor’s wives live under the umbrella of insinuated and sometimes overtly stated congregational demands. Unrealistic expectations abound along with contradictory requests that defy logic. Dress to perfection, raise impeccable children, always smile, be the church secretary, have unlimited time for everyone, lead every ladies ministry, attend every nuanced church function, host lavishly, entertain pleasantly, sing, play an instrument, teach Sunday School, be the ideal wife to the pastor, remember every detail, work, clean, organize, decorate the church, keep a model home, babysit, teach, and in some cases they are expected (or forced by necessity) to work a secular job as well.
Pastor’s wives dwell in a glass house and live with the constant realization that their every move is scrutinized. Beyond that, they are criticized by people with opposing judgments. For example, if they dress too fancy they are unapproachable, but if they dress too plain they are embarrassing. Those same conflated standards are usually applied to their house, their car, and their children’s clothing. Furthermore, if they lead too many programs they are accused of not making room for other leaders, but if they don’t lead enough programs they aren’t pulling their weight according to the critics. This is especially true if they are musical. Most of this negative information is filtered back to pastor’s wives via the “well-meaning” grapevine.
To be clear, there are blessings and benefits that come along with being a pastor’s wife. In ideal situations, they are treated with extra courtesy, respect, kindness, generosity, grace, understanding, and consideration.
Usually, there is a mixed bag of goodness from some and ugliness from others towards the pastor’s wife. Hopefully, kindness outweighs the critical or tremendous emotional pain is inflicted on her heart. It goes without saying, this will also adversely impact her husband’s ability to minister effectively.
The spoken and unspoken pressures take a toll. Usually with very little external evidence. I’ve spent my whole life in and around ministry so I know this to be true instinctively, however, surveyscorroborate my anecdotal experiences.
Most of this tension comes from a general lack of biblical understanding regarding pastor’s wives. Furthermore, I believe this stems from the startling reality that the Bible has almost nothing to say directly about the role of a pastor’s wife. Leaving many to simply insert their own version of what they believe a pastor’s wife should be into their churches culture, structure, and tradition. This creates a rigid performance template that many pastor’s wives find soul-crushing because it doesn’t take their individual giftings into consideration.
Although the Bible doesn’t provide explicit teaching directed to the role of pastor’s wife, it does not deny a pastor’s wife a ministry role within the church. Certainly, there are other important ministry roles in local churches that the Bible doesn’t spell out instructions for, like Outreach Director, Youth Pastor, Sunday School Director, or Children’s Ministry Director just to name a few.
The Biblical role of being a pastor’s wife is best understood from what Scripture teaches about being a woman, a wife and mother, and a Christ-follower with God-given gifts.
Biblically speaking, a pastor’s wife’s main role is to be the wife of the pastor. I know, that sounds a little too simplistic, but that is her first role in God’s eyes.
“And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him. (Genesis 2:18)”
“Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh. (Genesis 2:24)”
In Hebrew, the word for “helper” used in Genesis 2:18 is ezer (pronounced “ay-zer”), and it is always used in the Old Testament in the context of vitally important and powerful acts of rescue and support. The majority of its twenty-one occurrences in the Old Testament depict God helping human beings. Since God Himself can be a “helper” it is clear that neither the word ezer nor the role of “helper” implies any sort of inherent inferiority (Exodus 18:4, Deuteronomy 33:7, Psalm 33:20, Hosea 13:9). What it does imply is that the “helper” plays a supporting role, rather than bearing primary responsibility for a task.
In the Hebrew text, “helper” is modified by the “suitable for him” (kenegdo), which seems to express the notion of complementarity rather than identity. The help looked for is not just assistance in his daily work or in the procreation of children, though these aspects may be included, but the mutual support companionship provides. The word denotes function: Designed as the perfect counterpart for the man, the woman was neither inferior nor superior, but she was alike and equal to the man in her personhood while different and unique in her function. The function of Eve is not less valuable to the maintenance of the Garden or to the furthering of humankind, but the shared responsibilities involve each accomplishing complimentary tasks.
The usage of the Hebrew term ezer denotes far more than the English term helper can offer. The term indicates an “indispensable companion”. Defining the specific divinely inspired purpose for a woman is vital for understanding her role as a wife because the two are unmistakably intertwined.
In light of Genesis 2:18, a pastor’s wife is called to be an indispensable companion and helper to her husband. Meaning, the role of a pastor’s wife will gradate based on the particular strengths, needs, and personalities of the couple (read more about pastoral personalities and styles here).
Of course, a pastor’s wife must adhere to the same biblical standards as all other Christian women. She serves God and family while leading in various influential roles (Proverbs 31:10-31). Her virtue is praiseworthy (Proverbs 31:28-31). Most importantly, she is one who “fears the Lord” (Proverbs 31:30). Because she reverences the Lord she will walk in the “beauty of holiness” (Psalm 96:9). Godly women must be “given to hospitality” (1 Peter 4:9). She must “walk in the Spirit” and not the flesh (Romans 8:1).
Now that we have a basic biblical understanding of womanhood we can discuss nine ways to support your local pastor’s wife.
1. Graciously allow her to prioritize her family. Although she loves you and cares for your soul the needs of her family are and should be her primary concern. Don’t resent her for concentrating on the needs of her family above yours.
2. Appreciate her for who she is in Christ. Avoid the painful trap of comparison. God has given her gifts and abilities that are specific to her and her alone. Don’t constantly hold her up against someone else or against some elusive idea of the perfect pastor’s wife.
3. Celebrate her strengths and be understanding of her weaknesses. She strives for perfection and excellence, but like everyone else, she will not always obtain it. Rather than exploit or criticize her weaknesses do your best to lift burdens off her shoulders that do not fall within her areas of expertise.
4. Give her the benefit of the doubt just as you would have others do for you (Luke 6:31).
6. Do not belittle or speak critically about her husband to her or anyone else. If you have a problem with the pastor speak with the pastor.
7. Refuse to speak critically about her behind her back. If someone else tries to engage in negativity kindly remove yourself from the conversation. Idle words almost always filter back to the offended party. If you have a legitimate grievance, constructive suggestion, or concern broach it with her privately.
8. Advocate on her behalf and speak positively into her life at every possible opportunity. I promise you, she doesn’t receive nearly as much positive affirmation as you might assume. Choose to be an encourager, not a discourager.
9. Pray for her on a regular basis and intercede with God to give her strength. Your prayer cover will have a tremendous spiritual impact on her heart (Ephesians 6:18).
By supporting your pastor’s wife you are creating an atmosphere of peace and unity. It encourages your pastor and gives him a sense of stability. All of this contributes to a climate of revival and goodwill. God will bless you because you are a blessing (Proverbs 11:25).
American preachers don’t receive much up-front, in-your-face rejection. Sure, the occasional person might get up and walk out during a sermon. People walk in and out so much during preaching these days it’s hard to know if they are upset or just running to the water fountain.
People who study these things are finding that if someone walks through the doors of your church they have already researched your beliefs online pretty thoroughly. Meaning, if they were really likely to be overtly offended they probably just wouldn’t attend in the first place.
While people may not be throwing rotten eggs at us, preachers do experience rejection in more indirect ways. The visitor who never returns. The saints who skip across town because we refuse to reinterpret the Bible for their favorite sin. The subtle crossed arms and slanted eyebrows that glare back at us while preaching a particularly convicting passage of Scripture. The tragic altar call where the sinner leans back rather than running to repent. Passive aggressive anonymous letters of disapproval.
Experienced preachers develop the ability to glance around a congregation and discern immediately who is rejecting and who is receiving the message God has given them for that service. That ability can become either a motivation, a distraction, or a discouragement. In worst case scenarios, one person rejecting the Word can mentally overshadow a room full of people who are receiving the Word with gladness.
Frankly, there are times after preaching that I leave incredibly discouraged because I couldn’t reach that one person. That preoccupation sometimes keeps me from rejoicing over other lives that were deeply touched by God.
I was discussing this weakness in my personality with a friend recently and he promptly dropped a little conviction grenade right into my psychological bunker. He said, “Ryan, don’t you hear the arrogance in your statement?” I was a little stunned and self-righteous until he repeated my words back verbatim, “…I leave incredibly discouraged because I couldn’t reach…” Then he paused and let the grenade explode, “Ryan you’re saying a lot of me’s and I’s, don’t you know that you just plant the seed and God gives the increase?”
How quickly preachers can forget that we are just the messengers. We aren’t the attraction. Sometimes we are a distraction, but we certainly are not the attraction. The Word is the seed and all we can do is cast the seed and pray that it takes root on good ground (Matthew 13:1-23). Often my discouragement is rooted in my own hubris rather than anything truly sincere. Don’t get me wrong, I want to preach as compellingly as possible. I want to be persuasive like the apostle Paul and passionate like the apostle Peter. But in the end, my abilities can’t save a single soul.
The apostle Paul taught that we are simply ambassadors of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20). We represent reconciliation between God and man (2 Corinthians 5:19). We speak on behalf of God. The message is not ours. The Gospel was not our idea. It’s not a commodity with a sales quota attached. When the Word is rejected they aren’t rejecting us they are rejecting Jesus.
Jesus knew that His ambassadors would be tempted to judge the success or failure of ministry by the metric of popularity. He knew that rejection would feel like a personal failure. He knew that we would struggle with our own unique blends of pride and insecurity. He knew that we would be prone to despiritualizing the Gospel and relegating it down to humanistic abilities. So, Jesus gathered the twelve disciples together and sat them down to tell them, and by extension us, when they reject you they are really rejecting Me. Look at this uncomfortable reminder from Jesus:
“Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you (Matthew 5:10-12).”
You can’t be truly Christlike unless you are willing to suffer rejection for His sake. In fact, if you haven’t been rejected or reviled in a while you’re probably not a true ambassador.
Please don’t take me out of context, I’m not advocating running around trying to prove how spiritual we are based on how many people reject the Gospel. But it is freeing to know that as ambassadors we can only proclaim what we have been given by our King to proclaim. If we are rejected it is for His sake, and we must shake the dust from our feet (Matthew 10:5-15) and keep preaching the Good News.
“How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things (Romans 10:14-15)!”
I recently published the 100th article here on Apostolic Voice. Considering AV launched in the summer of 2014 that number should be substantially higher. But I’m usually busier than Santa on Christmas Eve. In spite of my woefully slow output of material, we’ve covered quite a few topics over the years. It would take a newcomer several cups of coffee and multiple uninterrupted hours to read every AV article.
Leadership, including but not limited to pastoral leadership, is a topic that surfaces a good bit around here. In fact, it’s not unusual to receive requests for an old leadership article that someone wants to revisit but they can’t remember the exact title. In the interest of full disclosure and total transparency, I typically can’t remember my titles either. I can’t even remember what I ate for breakfast let alone something I wrote about two years ago. So, after rummaging around in the dark cavernous recesses of the AV vault I’ve rediscovered thirteen of the most requested leadership articles and niftily compiled them here for your reading convenience.
Much thanks to my friends and guest contributors whose articles made this list. Their written offerings are far superior to my own. Their contributions are appreciated, which is good because that’s their only remuneration. God bless and thanks for reading.
Preachers need our prayers and support more than ever before. I’m a fierce advocate of preachers and preaching. I’ve written in defense of preachers on numerous occasions here, here, and here. That doesn’t mean I view preachers as superhuman or little deities; however, God ordained the foolishness of preaching as the mechanism for reaching the world with the Gospel (1 Corinthians 1:18-21, Acts 17:18, Mark 16:15). Preaching is Divinely designed to preserve, encourage, strengthen, equip, and correct the Church (1 Corinthians 15:2, 1 Peter 1:25, 1 Timothy 4:13, 2 Timothy 3:16). Bottom line, preaching is really, really, really vital for the overall health of the Church and the advancement of the Gospel. It only makes sense that Satan would set traps for preachers faster than a poacher on a wildlife preservation.
Preaching is Divinely designed to preserve, encourage, strengthen, equip, and correct the Church (1 Corinthians 15:2, 1 Peter 1:25, 1 Timothy 4:13, 2 Timothy 3:16).
Without descending into a pit of needless negativity, I can safely assume everyone reading this post has witnessed at least one sincere preacher turn, shall we say… less than sincere. With very few exceptions, preachers do not begin ministering with nefarious intentions. For the most part, preachers make tremendous sacrifices to enter the ministry. Preacher problems develop over time as they fall into traps either because of carelessness or unresolved character flaws the enemy cleverly exploits.
Preacher problems develop over time as they fall into traps either because of carelessness or unresolved character flaws the enemy cleverly exploits.
My motivation for writing isn’t to criticize the fallen; there’s plenty of preacher bashing going on without me jumping unceremoniously into the ring. Instead, I’m writing with the earnest hearted preacher in mind. Additionally, I’m writing for those who may have stepped a toe across a line yet still have the capacity to feel a surge of conscience. One thing is for sure if you labor in ministry long enough, you will be forced to navigate around or fight your way out of a preacher trap. I’ve identified eight common traps in the hopes of building awareness, fortifications, and wisdom.
One thing is for sure if you labor in ministry long enough, you will be forced to navigate around or fight your way out of a preacher trap.
Most preachers have tons of incredibly humbling moments in their early days of ministry. My brother has a “blackmail tape” containing one of the first sermons I ever preached to this day. I sounded like a scared parrot that only knew four words. After those four words, everything else was just squawking, and weird chirping sounds. It was horrible. God bless that precious congregation and Pastor James Fielder for loving me enough to be encouraging despite that pathetic, although sincere attempt to preach.
Yep. Early days of ministry are filled with epic fails, empty blusters, false starts, zealous stumbles, learning curves, knowledge gaps, unrestrained enthusiasm, and embarrassing awkwardness. Some endure that maturation process longer than others, but over time the resilient step into a season of ministerial success. Now, measuring ministerial success can be tricky because it really has nothing to do with money, fame, large congregations, or popularity. God defines success differently than most people define success, but that’s another post for another day. Regardless, even achieving a godly standard of success can suck the humility right out of a sincere heart. Once that humility is gone, all kinds of nasty things compete to fill the void.
Measuring ministerial success can be tricky because it really has nothing to do with money, fame, large congregations, or popularity. God defines success differently than most people define success.
Success is not the problem. Success is a good thing. Responding correctly to success is the key. Most people spend a lot of time figuring out how to deal with failure but very little time preparing their hearts to handle success and popularity.
Most people spend a lot of time figuring out how to deal with failure but very little time preparing their hearts to handle success and popularity.
When a preacher realizes he is talented enough to move a crowd without relying on the anointing, his foot is poised above a preacher killing landmine. Lawyers, politicians, comedians, actors, false prophets, and motivational speakers move crowds emotionally every day without the anointing’s help. Having talent is great, terrific even, but it is the anointing that breaks the yoke (Isaiah 10:27).
When a preacher realizes he is talented enough to move a crowd without relying on the anointing, his foot is poised above a preacher killing landmine.
Lawyers, politicians, comedians, actors, false prophets, and motivational speakers move crowds emotionally every day without the anointing’s help. Having talent is great, but it is the anointing that breaks the yoke (Isaiah 10:27).
I firmly believe that preachers should work to develop strong communication skills. I think preachers should work as hard as possible to communicate biblical truths effectively and with as much excellence as possible. This is partially what the Apostle Paul was alluding to when he admonished Timothy, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15).” But all the talent, work, study, and charisma in the world is no substitute for prayer, fasting, and humble reliance upon the Lord.
All the talent, work, study, and charisma in the world is no substitute for prayer, fasting, and humble reliance upon the Lord.
Every talented preacher should remember the warning of the ever-somber prophet Jeremiah: Cursed is that man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength (Jeremiah 17:5-9). Learning how to move a crowd emotionally is a cheap substitute for the genuine power and demonstration of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:4-5).
Learning how to move a crowd emotionally is a cheap substitute for the genuine power and demonstration of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:4-5).
This is one of the most common traps to ensnare preachers. It shames me to admit that I’ve had to fight my way out of this trap a time or two. This one takes a lot of self-introspection to detect.
Upon reflection, I’ve pinpointed a few things about my preaching while wriggling out of that devious little trap. One, I preached way longer than needed to communicate what God laid on my heart. Two, I chased many rabbit trails that interested me but were of little help or value to the hearers. Three, I resisted the Spirit when it prompted me to deviate from my prepared notes. Four, I rebuked out of personal anger rather than real righteous indignation. Five, I spent less time weeping over the lost and broken than concocting just the right wording for each sermon point. Six, in the preparation process, I resisted the Spirit’s directing, opting instead to build my favorite soapbox or pursue topics that were intellectually stimulating to me personally. Seven, I was more passionate about winning arguments than winning hearts. Eight, I preached condescendingly, smugly, and arrogantly.
Preaching cannot and should not be solely directed towards the “felt” needs of a congregation. Neither should preaching be spineless, compromising, or afraid of necessary confrontation. Nothing mentioned here should leave the impression that preachers should be push-overs, milquetoasts, or overly obsessive about offending the hearers. But the fact remains a preacher’s motives matter. Preachers should always stand behind the sacred desk driven by love for God, God’s Word, God’s Church, and lost people.
Preaching cannot and should not be solely directed towards the “felt” needs of a congregation. Neither should preaching be spineless, compromising, or afraid of necessary confrontation.
As I mentioned earlier, preaching has many noble purposes, but none more vital than the propagation of the Gospel (Matthew 28:19-20, 2 Timothy 4:17, 2 Corinthians 10:14, Acts 8:12-17). Preaching can quickly devolve into mere motivational jargon if it isn’t Christocentric. During the endless quest to remain relevant, creative, engaging, inspiring, and fresh, some preachers lose sight of the Great Commission and ultimately fail their mission.
Preaching can devolve into mere motivational jargon if it isn’t Christocentric. During the endless quest to remain relevant, creative, engaging, inspiring, and fresh, some preachers lose sight of the Great Commission and fail their mission.
5. Valuing Crowd Size Above the Spiritual Growth of the Congregation
I’ve written a fair bit on church growth here, here, and here. No preacher in their right mind wants seats to be empty while the Word is being preached. Every empty seat represents a soul that needs God. Regardless, God never called preachers to build large congregations. Instead, we are called to plant the seed; God alone gives the Harvest (Matthew 9:38). Every preacher reading this knows that is the case, but it doesn’t stop us from feeling like failures when church attendance dips or doesn’t grow at the pace we had envisioned. All of that is normal and acceptable to a certain degree, yet very dangerous if we begin to value large crowds above the people’s actual spiritual health.
Just gathering large groups of people together every Sunday isn’t the ultimate spiritual objective. Otherwise, the NFL would be one of the most spiritual organizations in America. When preachers become inordinately focused on crowd size instead of spiritual maturation, they will suffer depression, discouragement, insecurity, jealousy, and struggle with the temptation to become people pleasers rather than God pleasers, which leads nicely to the next trap.
Just gathering large groups of people together every Sunday isn’t the ultimate spiritual objective. Otherwise, the NFL would be one of the most spiritual organizations in America.
When preachers become inordinately focused on crowd size instead of spiritual maturation, they suffer depression, discouragement, insecurity, jealousy, and struggle with the temptation to become people pleasers rather than God pleasers.
There are many reasons a preacher might be tempted to compromise biblical truths. Some compromise due to the illusion of assured numerical growth, desired popularity, personal carnality, outside pressure, peer pressure, spiritual battle fatigue, greed, or any number of other factors. Regardless, failing to preach the whole Truth and nothing but the Truth is a gross betrayal of God’s calling and the trust placed in us by others.
Failing to preach the whole Truth and nothing but the Truth is a gross betrayal of God’s calling and the trust placed in us by others.
Unresolved physical, emotional, and spiritual exhaustion can result in burnout, and burnout produces bitterness. For every preacher with a golf course “ministry” reputation, there are ten others burning the candle at both ends. As I’ve written before, the ministry is incredibly demanding. Burnout usually manifests itself as depression or anxiety, or both. The tragedy of the burnout trap is that it takes advantage of a preacher’s good intentions. We want to be all things, to all people, all the time. It’s just not humanly possible.
Unresolved physical, emotional, and spiritual exhaustion can result in burnout, and burnout produces bitterness.
Burnout usually manifests itself as depression or anxiety. The tragedy of the burnout trap is that it takes advantage of a preacher’s good intentions. We want to be all things, to all people, all the time. It’s just not humanly possible.
I understand that a preacher’s family must be willing to make sacrifices for the sake of ministry. I get that. Been there. Done that. Still doing that. But a preacher’s first ministerial obligation is to his family (Genesis 18:19, 1 Samuel 3:13, 1 Timothy 3:1-12, Titus 1:6). Many dynamic ministries have been rendered powerless because their family fell apart. They were so busy ministering to others; they lost sight of their primary responsibility.