Saturday, October 20, 2018

Story Telling and Your Business

I recently was looking at a photo on Facebook posted by a friend attending a conference in Nevis dealing with the use of social media. I recognized the presenter as someone I knew and with whom I once worked. Wondering about their presentation I notice in the photo that they were using an overhead and the slide on the screen  had a quote that read: "Good content isn't about good story telling. It is about telling a true story well."

Though I do not have any context for the statement it did spark my thinking about the value of good content versus good storytelling. I believe that no matter how good your content if you do not communicate it well then what does the content matter.  It seems to me to be a bit like the chicken and the egg and which came first riddle. I rather suspect that in business the content is developed first and then incorporated in the story that will best communicate it to a particular office.

Truth is, we have been telling stories since the beginning of time. In fact we began to be enamored with stories and telling stories since the day we were born. Who doesn't remember the little jingle, "Tel me a story, tell be a story so I can go to sleep." I always wondered if that meant tell me a story to "put" me to sleep or a lament to the fact that without a story being told I cannot go to sleep.  I suppose both have been true at one time or another . . .  but I digress.

We have all sat through workshops, seminars, webinars, general sessions where we found ourselves counting the holes in the acoustical tiles on the ceiling or fighting off sleep.  It is a laborious thing to try and absorb even the best information if it is not communicated well. So good story telling just that telling your story, whatever it is, well. This applies to your 30 second elevator speech, to small group presentations and large gathered audiences.

Ever heard it said of someone, "He could sell a used car to a used car salesman?" That is just another way of saying they tell their story well.  Not everyone is a "Natural" when it comes to telling their story but anyone can learn to tell their story well.

So what does storytelling have to do with your business? Everything! If you can’t properly convey a story then your products are not going to appeal to your audience. Story telling is perhaps the most powerful elements in good communication. After all, even Jesus spoke to his disciples in parables (a kind of story telling). You must sell your vision or product and to do that it must be presented in a way that someone who has no idea what that vision or product is will come to embrace it.

So, the question is not whether to use storytelling as a sales tool but what kind of story are you going to use. I hope a good one. However, I have been around long enough to know that very few people know how to tell a good story . . . .  An effective story.

I have been digitizing sermons the I preached in the early years of my ministry. As I listened to these long forgotten sermons I thought, “Wow, did people actually listened to these or did they just endure or sleep through them. I told my wife, “You know I believe I am a much better preacher now than I was then.” She replied, "I know you are.”

I have been using storytelling for many years to communicate with my audiences and along the way I have learned through training and "trial and error" what makes for a good and effective story.  For every story told well there are a dozen upon which it stands that were not so well told.

So,  what makes a good story? What are the common elements of good storytelling? Here are a few things I believe you will find in every good presentation (story).

First and foremost . . . . keep it simple.  Good stories are easy to understand. Good stories are told in a style and language that matches the way the intended audience communicates. This keeps them from using their time interpreting what you say before they absorb your message, i.e., what you said.

Simplicity also aides in memorability. Your overall message needs to be easily grasped in summary not details. I suggest that in telling your story you utilize what have been called the “5 C’s.” These 5 C’s will go a long way to helping you create a fascinating story that will hold your audience’s interest.  They are: Circumstance (Set the scene for the story), Curiosity (create a hunger to hear more), Characters (Put people in your story), Conversation (have your characters speaking) and Conflict (No story is very compelling without conflict).

Second, appeal to the emotions of your audience.  If you did not cry when in the movie “The Notebook” Noah and Allie die holding hands, I have one question, what’s wrong with you? Every good story involves the whole brain not just the cognitive side of the brain. Good stories always include the emotive side of the brain as well as the cognitive.Good storytelling requires an emotional component. Most of the memorable ones have humor, pain or joy (sometimes all three). You can do this by using the senses. Help your listener feel, hear, and tastes the sights and sounds of your story. Use what I call the Big Four: Visual, Auditory, Kinesthetic, and Olfactory. With these four elements in your story, you’re likely to draw in and lock down your audience.

But don’t over use the emotional component. Be sure to include the facts Truth is, however, if every story were simply facts stated, one after another, most of us wouldn't listen or remember any of it.  None of the facts and figures matter until you have some sort of emotional connection with your audience. Always save the facts for after an emotional connection has been made.

Third, be authentic and real . . . . insofar as you believe in what you're saying and are honest with yourself and your audience. This doesn’t mean that every element of your story has to your own experience but it does mean that when you use a created story or someone else’s experience you introduce that fact to your audience.

Another technique I like is to start my story in the middle of the story. Far too often storytellers/marketers give way too much detail up-front by putting everything in chronological order.  They leave the exciting stuff to later only to find that their audience has gone to sleep and cannot be awakened.  Don’t put the “AH-HA” moment so deep into your story that your audience gets synced into their Twitter or Facebook feeds. Worse yet, some may already be in the dreamland of their REM sleep.

If you are anything like me your attention span is about as long as an inch-worm. So, snap out of it and get your audience into your story by starting in the middle, where things are exciting and the story is much more interesting.”

The best stories are first-hand experiences that the storyteller actually witnessed. Even if it's a story that's passed on generationally, an effective one still has an element of how that story relates directly to the teller, told in the teller's own words. But be careful not to go into braggadocio mode. It is alright to mention your many accomplishment and successes but honestly not many people in your audience will relate. So minimize the bragging and instead talk about what you tried that didn’t work. As John Bates says, “People don’t connect with your successes, they connect with your messes,. . . . .Your message is in your mess.” Remember, as humans we relate to failures because we are all flawed.

Finally, regardless of the audience size, a good story works for any audience.  I have preached the same sermon to a handful of people and to a large auditorium filled with people and in both cases watched them hang on every word.  One to one-million . . . the concern is not how many people can hear it but that someone, somewhere is listened to it and actually hard it.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Now That I Am A Man of Liesure

I was recently asked (about six months after stepping down as a CCRA Regional Director) if I missed anything about that job now that I was six months out from it. The short answer is of course I miss some things about that job. I have missed something about everything I have ever done as I transitioned from one career aspect to another.
Me preaching 1974

I have never considered myself to be anything other than a "preacher of the Gospel."  Everything else has been an avocation.

So, I want to start this conversation by giving you some background information.  To begin with you need to know how I came to be involved in the travel industry in the first place.  I never started out or even considered a career in travel. However, life, as it often does gets in the way of living. After preaching for more than more than 40 years and pastoring four Baptist Churches for most of those years (Same as the earthly ministry of Jesus) I was forced to make a major life change.

The principle reason for that change was a massive heart attack which the doctors said damaged more than a third of my heart muscle. Doctors were clear that I had to (1) take time to recover and (2) find something to do that is less stressful than being a Baptist pastor.  As things turned out they were wrong about the amount of heart damage but they were absolutely on target with the stress analysis.

As I reflected on this I wondered what I could do that I would enjoy and find some level of significance from doing that at the same time not be stressful in the same way as being a Baptist pastor.  I realized that much of my stress I experience came from within. I discovered that I was assimilating the weight of other people’s issues.  It became important to me to find I something I could do and at the same time have a sense of joy, fulfillment and significance without the stress level of being a pastor.

I have to be honest and say that there is nothing that I enjoyed more than preaching and teaching. People tell me I was gifted on both counts. I was also pretty good at growing churches. With the exception of the very first church I served every church I served grew and did so at a rate that required expanding the facilities to accommodate the need.

With all this in mind I started looking for something within my ministry years that I could cherry pick as a career outside of the normal structure of “the church.”  Truth is, religious ministry affords a number of career paths outside the ministry itself. In fact, some of the best Life Coaches, Leadership Trainers, Fund Raisers etc. are former ministers.

It occurred to me that I had been participating in and later leading a large segment of the Texas Baptist Partnership Mission with Australia.  Starting in 1985 and terminating in 2000 I had worked with Bill Grey and later Don Sewell of the BGCT as well as Terry Denton and Beverly Berens of Main Street Travel in Fort Worth to plan these trips.  It was through that process I had been able to get an inside view of what a travel agent does. I saw how they put together travel for hundreds of people on the same trip. 

But what I caught from Terry and Beverly was how they related to the clients (my team members) . . . . it was always personal. By personal I mean that while the “nuts and bolts” of the trip had to have a high priority it was the relationship they maintained with my team members that lasted. They seemed to see themselves not just as facilitators of our projects but as team members with us.  I thought . . . . . this is not unlike what I did was a minster . . . . . this I can do without completely retooling.

OSSN Directors on Solstice
I had already formed a DBA (2002) called Texas Cruise and Travel to work on these and other mission projects for which I managed the “nuts and bolts” myself. It just seemed travel was the next natural step in my life.  Being something of an academic at heart I realized that a lot of my theological training could be applied to the travel industry but I felt I needed more.  So, I bought Kelly Monaghan’s course and consumed its content.  I also knew I needed a seller of travel enumeration number. At the time there was IATA and CLIA and I selected CLIA because I did not intend to sell air apart from packaged travel. Still something was missing.

Then it occurred to me. I need to associate with people who are doing what I an trying to do. As a pastor I had a monthly pastor’s meeting and other collegiality meetings that help keep me centered.  As I looked around for something similar in travel I began hitting a brick wall. So I began participating in travel bulletin boards (remember those) and other online avenues. I checked out some organizations (joined one which turned out to be a scam) but didn’t find anything that seemed to meet my needs.

OSSN Banner
Then I came across a reference to an outfit called OSSN (Outside Sales Support Network) and thought, “This is it.” So I joined for a nominal fee only knowing that they had a chapter in Houston and that was near enough for me to attend if I could locate it.  Apparently Kelly Chiasano sent Jeff Grieder my information and he sent me and email and gave me a call.

The next month I attended my very first OSSN Chapter meeting where I found the members engaging and Jeff warm and approachable. I was a happy camper just being a member of that Chapter. Jeff and others in the Chapter became not only colleagues but friends. Each month we had an interesting supplier presenter but the main attraction for me was developing relationships with colleagues and supplier BDM’s. These people, unbeknown to them, taught me a lot about being a good Travel Agent.

It was while a member of the Houston OSSN Chapter that I had my heart attack aboard a Carnival Cruise Ship.  Jeff and I were meeting with Carnival sales people that day. I thought if I die today at least my last meal was terrific ---- Tiger Shrimp and Prime Rib.  Shortly after that I am getting serious about the travel business I had originally created as a vehicle for Christian mission projects.

In 2005 I moved to Dripping Springs, Texas located just SW of Austin. I wanted to connect with the Austin OSSN Chapter but had no luck. So I emailed Jeff and in a few days I received a call from Gary Fee offering me the Director position for the Chapter in Austin. I accepted and thus began my journey with OSSN. In less than a year we grew from “0”attending to an average of about 18. This immersed me deeply into OSSN until I relocated to Port Neches, Texas. Moving meant I had to give up the Austin Chapter. 

Being in Port Neches put me back in the Houston Chapter as a member but the two hour drive made a meeting attendance on a regular basis difficult.  However, the chapter meeting were important enough to me that I tried to make as many as possible. Wasn’t long and Jeff stepped down as the Houston Chapter Director and OSSN Midwest Regional Manager. Apparently he recommended me as Chapter Director but Gary and I both agreed that the distance would be a major handicap and so I passed it up. Later Gary called and asked me to consider the Midwest Regional Director position. I did and served as such until 2017 right on through the purchase of OSSN by CCRA. In November 2017 I stepped down as the Midwest Regional Director for CCRA.

Now, fast forward six months . . . . It was sometime in May that I was asked if I missed anything
about that job now that I was six months out from it.  I suppose I would have said, "No" had it not just seen a photo of a group of Chapter Directors meeting up at an event. It reminded me that there was something I missed about being an OSSN/CCRA Chapter Director and Regional. I really wish I could either say, "I miss everything about it" or "I don't miss a thing," but that just wouldn't be truth. There are some things I do miss and there are some things I happy to not miss.

The truth is, there is very little that can be done to make someone successful in this business (Travel Agent) by offering products and training. I remember Jack MacGorman telling me back in the late 1960's that I would learn more Greek by just doing a little translation each day than I would in three years of classroom studies. He was right. That is also true of being a successful Travel Agent. 

Products are but tools designed to make certain tasks easier. Like any profession there are some basic tools that everyone must use and like other professions there are a variety of brands for those tools. Whatever brand chosen the tool still must be used to be beneficial. I'd also suggest that when it comes to tools you adopt the mantra, "Be not the first by who the new is tried nor the last to lay the old aside." I might add, "Don't buy tools you really don't need."

As an OSSN/CCRA Director I could put members in touch with valuable and tested tools designed to make them more efficient and profitable. I could do the same for Directors. When they accepted them, used them and prospered with them I felt a sense of satisfaction and validation. But I never came to the place where I thought we had the only tools or even the best tools.

I could also, in some cases cut through the gate keepers and put them in touch with supplier reps and others who would help them. I also often had a voice in industry issues. Being a Chapter Director and then a Regional Director opened doors for me in the industry that might otherwise remained closed.

However, that satisfaction and validation was very short lived. No, I don't miss any of that. In fact, there are some aspects of it I am glad I don't have to deal with any longer and those now involved don't need me to elaborate on those. . . . they probably already know.

What I miss is the comradery and collegiality with other Directors and members of our many
Austin OSSN Chapter 2007
Chapters both large and small. It was the comradery and collegiality with other Directors that kept me in the game for so many years and that is precisely what I miss. — I miss the interaction with leaders in the home based travel industry such as Keith Powell, Patricia Bannister, Anita Pagliasso, Hema Khan,  Melody Fee and Gary Fee.

I owe Gary and Melody for my time on the stage in the travel industry. They got the ball rolling for me when others were not quiet so sure. I also missed the direct relationship with our allied suppliers and the travel agents from across the country. Truth is I also miss most of the folks at CCRA Corporate.

I need to add that I really do miss being on the cutting edge of making things happen in what next to the Gospel Ministry was one of the most rewarding things in which I have been privileged to be involved. There is a kind of adrenalin rush that comes with building something or taking something to the next level. I have been blessed to be a part of that in two arenas and for that I am thankful

Much of the above has appeared elsewhere in public print. However, recently a “Like” on a Facebook posting helped bring this whole OSSN/CCRA thing into sharp focus.  That posting coupled with the fact that at the time I was sorting and filing emails and notes helped me understand why it just wasn’t fun for me anymore. As I reviewed these emails and notes I was struck by something I might characterize as promises made, promises kept, and promises broken. I know, that sounds like a sermon outline. Well it could be.

Don’t misunderstand what I am about to say. Although I am not a Director at any level any longer with CCRA I am still a member.  But honesty demands that we acknowledge that the bringing together two corporate families is never without its challenges. The question is not are there challenges but how are those challenges met. I saw a lot of good people come and go for a wide variety of reasons. I have already explained how I became a part of all this and now I’ll tell you why, from my perspective, I left.

My CCRA Badge
I remember sitting with Dic Marxen in his suite at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas as we awaited the arrival of the other Regional Managers (later called Directors) and him asking me, among other things, how long I planned on staying with CCRA as a Regional Manager. My reply was, “I’ll stay as long as it continues to be fun and you’ll have me.  When it stops being fun I’ll stop doing it and you’ll be the first one I tell.” Well, little by little for me it ceased to be fun.  That is, was and always will be my answer. The day to day joy and excitement was gone. I was sitting in my suite aboard the MSC Divina on a post Trade Show cruise when I told my wife that when we get home I'm going to step down from my Director position. Ironically she said to me, "Good, I could tell you weren't enjoying it like you used to do."

So I guess since I am no longer there the question becomes, “When did it stop being fun?”  The answer is not really that complex.  It did not stop being fun because of structural changes even though I sensed early that core values and heartbeat of OSSN were slowly being eroded.  It was not even the added stress brought on by the clumsy beginning we had bringing the two cultures together and finding leadership. It had nothing to do with the ever changing efforts to monetizing the associational aspect over the development of the collegiality and networking aspects and to incentivize Chapter Directors. Truth is others will have to judge the positive and negative effects these things had. Oh, I have my views but they shall remain just that MY views.  It was simply a relationship issue and the frustration of not being able to function properly because of the micromanagement and that things were left hanging for long periods of time without resolution. Let's just leave it at: "Me and my immediate Director just did not make a good combination. "

Personally, I don’t think the associational aspect of OSSN was very high on the priority list in the beginning. I believe that the associational aspect was and has been kept largely to support and leverage the TRUE seller of travel coding system owned by OSSN at the time of the CCRA purchase. That coding system was the key to the purchase. No other Travel Agent group can offer that.

For me, and keep in mind that all Regional Directors had their own reasons for staying around after the merger, the reasons for staying was to support friends Gary & Melody Fee during the transition period; to help shape the future of the associational element of OSSN inside the CCRA structure; to maintain a personal industry standing and visibility; but mostly I stayed around because I enjoyed it - it was personally satisfying. There was never any “real” money in it for me and so money played no part in my decision to stay on after the buyout or to eventually leave. 

For me, the fun going out was the result of a personality issue that was not going to improve with time. As an organization, I can, without reservation, recommend CCRA to independent travel agents. I have always and still do believe that CCRA membership is well worth the membership fees. Additionally most of the staff has evolved in their understanding of the leisure side of the travel industry. I am grateful to Dic Marxen and Peter Pincus for allowing me to be a part of the transition. It didn’t evolve as I may have hoped but right now it is the best thing out there for the independent travel agent.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

The Seminary Class I Must Have Missed

I called my blog “It’s On My Mind” because the content about which I ride is whatever happens to be on my mind at any given moment. About today I have been thinking about my seminary education and where I am today in life.

When I first committed by life to ministry I think there was an unspoken assumption that if God called you to preach and if you were faithful to that calling that God will supply all of your needs out of his riches in glory through Christ Jesus. Now that is not just a high sounding phrase, it’s the truth. I believe that when we are faithful to serve the Lord in accomplishing the things where unto he has called us he will supply our needs. I know that not only because the Bible teaches it but because it is been my experience throughout my life. God has always supplied my needs. This does not mean however that I do not have a responsibility to reduce the need for God to intervene and supply my needs in some special extraordinary kind of way. And that is where I hope to go in this discussion.

The corollary to this is that I also believe that God is the defender of those who faithfully serve him. I have never felt the need widow oppressed or the betrayed to do a great deal in my own defense. Again, from my experience God has always vindicated me when unjustly or wrongly accused. You see as a called out minister of the gospel by life is the Lord’s. I am his to command and I am his to reprimand. It is not the responsibility of any earthly being to either give me instructions on what to do in serving the Lord or to punish me for not doing what God has called me to do. Whether I live or whether I die I am the Lord’s. I might add at this point when it comes to the called out of God he has not surrendered his prerogative to bless or to judge to any man. We answer to our master and to our master alone.

However, having said that I need to add that I was not oblivious to the fact that I had a great deal to learn when it came to being a pastor/preacher. In fact, because I was keenly aware of this, I had begun studying Greek with my pastor.

So I want to begin by saying that I suppose I had as good a seminary education as anyone could have. As I said, I took a language degree from Southwestern Baptist theological seminary where I  studied under some of the finest teachers of the day. During that three year course of study I took courses in theology, pastoral education, Christian ethics, interpretation of particular books of the Bible, psychology of religion, church music, Christian education and even a couple years of Greek and Hebrew. Every single one of these courses of training were beneficial to my ministry in the years that followed seminary. I actually got a pretty good education.

However that doesn’t mean that everything I needed to know about being a successful Baptist minister was offered or taught at the seminary. And really that’s what I’ve been thinking about. I’ve been thinking about what did I not get at seminary that I wish I had gotten. In recent days a number of things of cross my mind that I suspect would’ve been very helpful at my seminary education included at least an introduction to the financial world.

Now don’t get me wrong Southwestern Baptist theological seminary address this in an almost perfunctory manner. At least once a year they would allow a representative from the Southern Baptist annuity board to have a presence on campus where students could stop and visit during breaks in class. I remember stopping there. I remember having a delightful conversation with a wonderful retired Baptist minister who was offering his time as a representative of the products annuity board offered to Baptist ministers. He told me about the two plans that the seminary had and suggested that I sign up one of them. And that was the extent of my education regarding the financial affairs of Baptist minister.

I think that I should add at this point that most of us who feel the call of God to preach the gospel are not of the mind set where we focus on material possessions. My observation over the years is that the principal focus of most of us who are pastors/preachers has been all the spiritual well-being of the people we serve and to whom we minister. We are also focused on developing and building programs to reach the unchurched.

With that mind set and the understanding that God is going to take care of his servants we just sort of muddle our way through financially. Somehow someway everything’s going to work out in the end. After all this world is not our final home so we are not focused on building a nest it. We’re too busy in our effort to lay up treasure in heaven that we fail to take care of our retirement and/or our widows in the event of our premature death.

It seems to me that somewhere in the process there needs to be an emphasis that focuses on an appropriate response to our basic human needs in the here and now as well as our hopes and expectations for the event and then there. Because the truth of the matter is no matter how wonderful the pie-in-the-sky is it will not pay the rent, buy the groceries, any other financial need in this life.

So I suspect what I’m looking for is a mechanism that will help young theologians dedicate themselves completely to the task to which God has called them without sacrificing their well-being in retirement and old age.

After I graduated from seminary and became the pastor of the Highland Park Baptist Church in Kilgore Texas the church treasurer asked me if I was in the annuity program of the Southern Baptist convention. I told him no and he then assisted me in enrolling in that program. In my mind that settled the issue of my retirement. I felt really good as a young theologian/pastor that I’d taken care of my retirement at such a young age and didn’t have to think about it anymore.

It wasn’t until my first year of ministry in it came time to file my federal income tax that I realized the taxes for ministers weren’t exactly the same as that of a working man. So confusing! There were the issues of housing allowances and Social Security payments and fire rental values of parsonages and the business of self-employed versus employee…… Can you be both at the same time. And so the local CPA took me under weighing them explain much of that to me.

I also learned in that first church that my annual salary (total package) as a Baptist minister in Highland Park Baptist Church was nearly what I made as a retail clerk at Safeway grocery stores. How to make ends me was a major issue. Someone along the way said you know you need to increase what you’re putting into your retirement and I thought how do you do that and present yourself as a minister.

This is especially difficult when you discover you are expected to have a nice car, nice clothes, and all the other things that go with entertaining in your home, attending public functions, and all the other duties attended with your office. $9800 didn’t go very far when it came to paying for insurance, groceries, clothes, car, and 1000 other things. Keep in mind that $980.00 of that was going back to the church in the form of a tithe not to mention about a half dozen other special offerings that take place in Baptist churches.

I don’t point out all of this not to evoke any sympathy for those early years of struggle but rather to stress the fact that one needs to be very creative and knowledgeable of finance to make this kind of situation were. Unfortunately in many cases a part of the creative dealing with this difficult situation is that your retirement gets pushed further and further down the road. Until you while you got one day and you discover that your 70 years old and you can no longer function of the level of full-time salary. Or, God forbid, you die in a premature age and leave your widow with no income. It is that in this matter of which I’m speaking becomes really important if not a crisis.

As an aside I would venture the guess that most of the stress in a pastor's home is occasion ed by financial limitations. There used to be an old saying among Baptist when speaking of pastors and it went something like this, "Lord you keep him humble and we'll keep him poor."  It is said of Wouldrow Wilson's father, a Presbyterian Minister, that on one occasion as he tied his horse to a hitch one of church members commented to him, "Reverend Wilson, you're horse fairs better than you." Rev. Wilson replied, "Indeed he does, but you must remember I take care of my horse and you take care of me."

It’s true that you can learn about retirement, budgeting and other financial matters on your own you can swallow your pride and visitor friendly local CPA and let him help you work out a plan for your finances and retirement. You might even find worth a few dollars to invest a financial advisor to help you do the same. Your local investment banker can help you with investments. But after years of ministry I have learned that the finances of a Baptist pastor and his retirement are often not within the expertise of these people.

So today I’m wondering why my alma mater, Southwestern Baptist theological seminary, did not offer in its Pastoral Ministry Department for our professional development some sort of mandatory class or series of seminar seminars that address these areas. Truth is I vaguely remember when I was in Dr. Siegler’s pastoral ministries class he in passing mentioned that the local Baptist pastor all to cultivate a relationship with other professionals in the community. He ought to have a doctor, a lawyer, accountant, and other professionals in a circle of friends. Now the reason that I “vaguely” remember that is because it was sandwiched between things such as personal integrity, moral and ethical behavior and personal and professional development.

I honestly believe that every seminary should offer a one semester course the content of which is the pastor and his personal finances. This class should cover the pastor’s responsibility for his own personal finances but more importantly should also give him the tools to build a secure financial future. I don’t know what the financial circumstances of most seminary graduates today is but I know what it was in my day – – – it was minimal. Most seminarians are living day-to-day. I know it was an exciting day with we went to the mailbox and someone from our home church and sent us a card and we opened it we found there in the check along with a note that they were praying for us.

This course of which I’m speaking should go a long way in helping young pastors manage their personal finances which will be limited in the early years of ministry and establishing a retirement program that includes not only a retirement income but insurance as well. It needs to includes information on how to do this as well as how to finance doing this. In my view this course should be light on principles and heavy on practical’s. It might even include toward the end of the semester it’s taught a practicum in which each student prepares a written financial guide for their future.

I suppose the reason I think this is so important is because I myself failed to learn how to provide for financial security even though I knew the necessity of providing for financial security. Ministers do not like worrying about financial matters. We like to think that God takes care of his own and he will meet our financial needs and he does. But how he does that hinges a great deal on what we have done to provide for our own financial need. The truth is, if taught how to properly establish a retirement plan would probably do so. Once establish these plans become virtually automatic. But the sad truth is if you don’t know how and you don’t know anyone who does know how you’re not going to do it.

Too many ministers and their wives reach the end of their ministry only to live on a minimum of financial resources. If you want some evidence of that all you need to do is contact the offices of Guidestone’s Mission:Dignity office and get the number of people who are being assisted through their ministry. I think you’ll be surprised how many people are dependent upon Mission Dignity.

I think sometimes people feel that because there are so many high profile ministers that they see week in and week out on television and traveling around the country speaking in large venues that all pastors have adequate incomes and retirement plans. The truth of the matter is these large churches are a very small percentage of the churches being served by ministers. Most churches are small and have limited financial resources from which to pay their pastors an adequate salary.

The Southern Baptist Convention has a ministry to assist Baptist staff members whose retirement income does not even allow them to live at the national poverty level. This ministry is provided through the Guidestone Financial Services and is called Mission Dignity.  The goal of Mission Dignity is to enable these people who have faithfully served all of their lives to live out the end of their lives with a modicum of financial dignity. However, my experience in dealing with these retirees is that they are reticent to ask and/or accept this help. You see they have spent their entire life giving so that they have never learned how to receive humbly and gracefully. These people are not takers they are givers by nature and that is to a large measure why they find themselves where they are financially.

Quickly let me say a word about Mission Dignity. Mission Dignity is my charity of choice. When asked where to make a contribution that would do the greatest amount of good for the neediest of people I always recommend Mission Dignity. One of the reasons, besides who it helps, that I promote this particular charity is that it’s overhead is fully funded from resources from Guidestone Financial Services’ revenues. This means that all personnel expense and office expense is paid by Guidestone Financial Services. Every penny that you donate goes to the people serviced by Mission Dignity. Mission Dignity provides a small stipend to retirees and/or their widows on a monthly basis. It also provides from time to time funds to cover unusual but necessary needs of the same people. Recipients of funds from Mission:Dignity must have an annual income below the federal poverty level.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Why Pastor's Need The Hide Of A Rhinoceros.

 A headline in a recent edition of the Baptist Standard caught my eye and got my attention. It read, Denominational leader, pastor Phil Lineberger dead at 69.  The reason it caught my eye was that I had met with Phil Lineberger over the years. Oh, we were not friends . . . . but we were colleagues and we are about the same age. 

At any rate it got me to thinking about pastor's and the "fish bowl" lives they live. The high expectations to which congregations and they themselves hold them. I remember many years ago reading the following description of the ideal pastor. It read:

The "Perfect Pastor the mind of a scholar, the heart of a child, and the hide of a rhinoceros. He preaches exactly 10 minutes. He condemns sin roundly but never hurts anyone’s feelings. He works from 8am until midnight and is also the church janitor. The perfect pastor makes $40 a week, wears good clothes, drives a good car, buys good books, and donates $30 a week to the church. He is 29 years old and has 40 years’ experience.  Above all, he is handsome. The perfect pastor has a burning desire to work with teenagers, and he spends most of his time with the senior citizens. He smiles all the time with a straight face because he has a sense of humor that keeps him seriously dedicated to his church. He makes 15 home visits a day and is always in his office to be handy when needed. The perfect pastor always has time for church council and all of its committees.  He never misses the meeting of any church organization and is always busy evangelizing the unchurched. The perfect pastor is always in the church down the street!

I think what this humorous piece describes is a part of what drives a pastor, even a successful one like Phil Lineberger, into depression. Most of the time these amount to little more than mood swings. It has been said that every pastor resigns on Monday but come Tuesday he's is back in the saddle. 

However, what Phil suffered from was not just a case of pastoral blues it was trying to function in a very public forum at a high level of performance while personally living in a very dark place from which he could see no light or hope. A friend of mine spoke of it as being in this darkness that "you just feel that's it's swallowing you ! And this intense feeling of unbearable sadness. A pain of the soul! No wonder the early Fathers of the Church thought of it as demonic."

There is a sense in which it is better to have sinned than to become enveloped in such a darkness. At least with sin there is the hope of forgiveness and restoration but with this darkness of the soul one can see neither.

Perhaps some of this darkness is the result of the rate at which pastors are reducing the number of close friends that they have. There was a time when we ministers (Preachers/Pastors) had a handful of close friends with whom they regularly spoke or met and with whom they prayed. I know I have had a few along the way but unfortunately they have gone home to their eternal reward and they are not easily replaced at this late date in life's journey.

Unfortunately for younger ministers today's corporate model for doing church has robbed them of much of that kind of friendship in the ministry. Now we relate "professionally."  No pastor would in today's church environment bear his soul to a colleague  and especially if he were suffering from depression least it come back and hurt him as he climbs what one preacher referred to as "destiny's ladder. 

Another thing that has changed about church is the daily demands being placed on most pastor's in today's church. I have worked as a hourly laborer and as an executive in the corporate world and I I also spent 40 years as a Baptist pastor. From that experience I can honestly say I know of no other profession that places more demand on your time, requires constant functioning at the highest levels of one's cognitive skills, demands the highest of relationship skills and the constant public exposure of both public and private life. 

This is not to imply that pastors have never had these kinds of pressures or even that other don't have similar pressures. It is to suggest that these demands have cut into what I refer to has the pastor's "closet" time and personal spiritual development time.

I used to teach a workshop about how Satan is able to gain entrance into our lives and cause us to stumble. In that workshop I simply stated that one of the Devil's most powerful weapons was to do nothing at all. He just leaves us alone to our own devices. It is not long before we began to believe we are invincible and our prayer life and our personal spiritual development take a back seat to all the other things that we are doing to grow the kingdom. It is then, when we are spiritual anemic, that Satan attacks us at our most vulnerable spot.  I believe this is a major cause of so many (and there are far more than you may imagine) pastors struggle with depression. 

Pastors need to be made aware through their training that personal prayer and spiritual development are more important than theological education. We must first and foremost understand that we must as a pastor have a clear sense of calling from God.  If one does not have that assurance in his heart and mind he is set up to spiral into the darkness in a pit of depression. Having that call will not prevent depression  but it will help minimize the chances of depression.  It is imperative that every church explore this calling with any candidate for pastor in their church regardless of their age or years in the ministry. A specific calling from God is the essential foundation for one being a pastor.

As a pastor you need a friend. I realize and acknowledge that, "There is not a friend like the lowly Jesus, no not one" and that as pastor you need to "Take your burden to the Lord and leave it there." But, you also need a human friend with whom you can "Bear one another's burdens."  I was blessed that in most of the churches I pastored there was one layman in the church who was "my" friend. In a couple of cases they were deacons in in others laymen. They loved me, counseled me, knew my struggles and sustained me with the care, concern and compassion. Sometimes it was there quiet assurances of, "Pastor I am praying for you today."

You also need to keep your calling in the forefront of your thinking. You are called of God in a way that others are not;You are anointed of God in a way others are not; and you are given a grand assignment that others cannot fulfill. Focus on your own spiritual development; give careful attention to your family; and stay focused in ministry. All of this will help you maintain your spiritual balance. I would only add, take care of your health. Remember, God has everything under control.  

The pastor and the church need to understand that while all the programs, activities and services of the church in which the pastor is involved (that will just about everything for most churches and pastors) come after the pastor has blocks of time to devote to his own personal spiritual vitality.  This need was recognized from the earliest days of the church as evidenced by the Apostles instruction to the early church in Jerusalem, “So the twelve summoned the community of disciples and said, 'It is not desirable that we neglect the word of God to serve tables. So, brothers, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and wisdom, whom we will put in charge of this need. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.'" And the statement pleased the whole group, . . .  ." (Acts 6:2-5).

The church needs to provide adequate financial support for the pastor and his family so that he does not have to be constantly trying to find sources of income to meet the cost of living for his family. Churches are doing better at this in our time than has been historically true.

One of the reasons I suggest this is of course to remind us that our pastor's need to be adequately paid. I also want to suggest to you that because most pastor's do not pastor in a mega-church they end their active ministry with very little retirement. I want to suggest you consider supporting Mission Dignity. This is a part of GuideStone Financial Services that provides stipends to retired pastors  the widows of pastors who have very minimal incomes. 

I cannot promise that doing any or all of these will prevent depression from developing in your life. But I can promise you that even when you find yourself in the wilderness that God has go you by the hand and is leading you to the promised land. And if you just can't see the light at the end of the darkness by all means ask for help. 

I have tried to share some of my thinking on depression among pastors. I do not mean to imply others do not suffer from depression as well. They do. All the things I suggested may also be helpful to anyone suffering with depression. Please, if you are struggling with depression or think you might be on the verge of drifting into that dark abyss we call depress call someone and get help.