Pastoral Envy

lucado

I had this published four years ago in Christianity Today – Leadership Journal. I think it’s been long enough they are good with me putting it on my blog.

DEAR GOD, GIVE ME A MEGA-MINISTRY WHEN I BURN OUT

It isn’t fair.

Bill Hybels burnt out. He wrote, “The rate at which I was doing the work of God, was destroying the work of God in myself.” (my paraphrase) Bill realized this was unhealthy, sought help, reorganized his life, sold a few million books, and achieved, what looked to me, like Pastoral Nirvana. LUCKEEE.

Rob Bell had around 10,000 people coming to his church when he hit bottom. He wrote,

“In the middle of all this growth and chaos was me, superpastor. . . . It’s one thing to be an intern with dreams about how the church should be. It’s another thing to be the thirty-year-old pastor of a massive church. . .  People were asking me to write articles and books on how to grow a progressive young church, and I wasn’t even sure I was a Christian anymore. . .  It was in that abyss that I broke and got help. (Velvet Elvis, PP. 103-105.)

There we go again – same song, second verse. Rob burnt-out, got help, reorganized his life, wrote a book about an Elvis painting, and his church rocked.

Joshua Harris was in demand as a speaker, writer, and pastor. He too wrote about hitting bottom, reorganizing his life, and attaining redemption. Kyle Idelman of Not a Fan fame shares how he had to re-examine ministry in the midst of exponential growth. In the winter issue of Leadership Journal Bob Merritt talks about adding staff, and being courted for speaking engagements outside the church, while at the same time leading the preaching department at Bethel Theological Seminary before his meltdown.

It sounded like a plan to me.

So, after an average first pastorate, we moved from Canada to a church plant of 120 people in New Mexico. I was ready to become a workaholic, see our church grow, have a melt-down, repent of my selfishness, lead a seminary department, and write a best-seller entitled Dogs Playing Poker. Actually, I’ve never wanted a mega-ministry, but a growing, healthy ministry would be awesome.

I worked like crazy and burned out six years later. So far, so good – except we were still running 120 people and I wasn’t retiring on book sales. When the economy crashed, so did our budget. At the same time a home Bible study got sideways with the church and sucked out both people and energy. Every family that chose to leave caused me personal anguish. Every breakdown, from a video projector to a coffee pot, was a budget breaker. I tried harder.

I read more about marketing, went to leadership conferences, and debated getting the cool glasses/tattoo combination to look hip. I silently wondered if we could keep the church open, if I could continue to pay my mortgage. Worse yet, Hybels asked Bono to speak at his Leadership conference for a second time, without asking me once. Not that I’m bitter.

I suppose it’s foolish to be jealous of these guys. Hybels is stuck in a time-warp of 1950 flip-charts, Rob needs to use a Topical Bible next time he publically updates his theology, and Harris is so insecure he covered his face with his hat on the cover of his first book.

But I was jealous, frustrated, and scared. Nothing seemed to be working. These guys had something to show for their burnout.  “Please God, let me crash in style. At least then I can write about it. Crashing without something to show for it is humiliating.”

Bad Timing

It should have been a grand time. My wife JoLynn and I were on an Alaskan cruise for our 30th anniversary. I learned a grand lesson, but I didn’t have a grand time learning it.

There were 1200 people on the cruise, 400+ who chose this cruise to hear mega-church pastor/author Max Lucado speak. He had sold over 80 million books. I’ve sold 10k. Why is it when I meet “big name” people I make an idiot out of myself?

Before the cruise I was hoping – praying for a chance to meet Max. I’d love to write more. So some counsel, a bit of help, an endorsement was in my dreams.  I got close.

After white water rafting in Juneau, we had some time left to blow money in town. I bought a hat. We then headed to a chocolate shop where I ordered a month’s worth of dark chocolate to last us through the afternoon. When I turned around, there was my wife, JoLynn, talking to Max and his wife as if they had known each other for decades. JoLynn is from Texas. Texans can do that. But there was a problem.

I’m not Texan.

I stood by stupidly with water dripping off my new made-in-China “ALASKA!” cap listening to the conversation. My mind was a 1970s computer trying to run Windows 8. My screen was blue – my cursor frozen. JoLynn had this “Don’t-destroy-the-moment” look in her eyes. I did.

All I could think about was what I needed. What I wanted. I wanted him to like me, to ask about me, to be able to tell my story. So I broke into a story about our son.

“We have this boy Caleb,” I blurted out, “he is 16, our youngest. All of our kids, we have four of them you see, well all four and the husband of our oldest, that makes five, well we were all plus JoLynn and I, that makes seven I guess, well we were sitting around the table one night and .. . Ugh.” AWKWARD.

Not knowing what to say next I stammered around for a bit, smiled too big, tried to make small talk, felt like an idiot, saw the confused shocked look on JoLynn’s face, tried again, did worse, felt worse, smiled bigger, dug in deeper, and pretty much died in mid-sentence. I’d give more details, but pathetic reliving is painful.

JoLynn dove back in, elegantly asked about how they were doing on the cruise, and said we needed to go. I said nothing.

We walked for a long time. JoLynn broke the silence talking about something else. I said to myself, “Self,” I said, “maybe it didn’t go as bad as I’d imagined.” It was 24 hours before she told me it did.

“So, why do you think you get so intimidated by certain people?” JoLynn asked.

“What do you mean?”

“You know, like yesterday…”

I had really, really hoped she hadn’t noticed. More than that, I had prayed it wasn’t as bad as I’d imagined. She noticed. It was.

“It’s just me. I’m just that way. Sorry.” I thought she would get off my case, that it wasn’t something I could do anything about. I was wrong on both accounts.

She told me to “Lean into it.” And to “Figure out why you’re that way.” Ugh. It still amazes me how well I married, and yet how I still hate it when she is right.

Whispers

The next day I got up early to be alone and pray. I’m an extremely non-charismatic kind of guy. When people say “God told me…” it makes me nervous. I want to ask, “Was His voice high or low? Does He still speak in Hebrew?”

But at this point I knew I needed to hear something specific from God. I threw my narrow view of how God had to work overboard, and asked God to speak to me. Then I read and prayed and prayed and read and mostly listened. Silence. Thinking I couldn’t change, and that God wouldn’t speak, I wasn’t too concerned. I should have been.

Through a combination of His Word and my silence, I believe the Spirit spoke to me. One word kept coming back to me over and over again.

Others

I would have preferred a paragraph. Job got three chapters. But there I go again, Job Envy.

Others. I couldn’t let it go. It took about 24 hours before I was convinced God was speaking to me, and I understood what He was trying to say. The two great commandments – love God and love others. Loving God? I can do that. But Others? It’s hard to admit as a pastor, but I just don’t think about others much.

The reason JoLynn could talk to the Lucado’s and I couldn’t – was because she cared about them. She was asking them about their kids and grandkids, about their anniversary (they have the same 30th anniversary date as we do). I tried to talk about me. She asked about them. She understood the cruise wasn’t a vacation for them – it couldn’t be when you are speaking twice a day, signing books over lunch and having to listen to weird ALASKA-cap-wearing pastors in the chocolate shop.

I wondered about my motivation for ministry. Why was I envious of successful pastors? Why did I want our church to grow? Why did I want to see people come to Christ – for their freedom or so I could have a baptism service? Why did I want to write – to help others or to say I’d published? Why was the church not growing – because of a weak marketing strategy, or because I wasn’t doing my job of loving others and making disciples? Sometimes the truth you need to hear to deal with your depression is depressing.

A few days later the cruise was about over and Max was signing books. JoLynn wanted to go. I didn’t embarrass her this time, and Max was gracious enough to pretend the chocolate shop never happened. Sometimes being invisible is the best you can hope for. Max even did the obligatory picture with us, which we now have plastered on our church website with the subtitle, When Out of the Pulpit, Max Lucado Worships HERE. Marketing Genius.

The Change (or sidebar)

The core problem with our Church wasn’t marketing or tattoos or flip-charts. It was me. As a result I made some simple, maybe even corny changes – but for me they made a difference.

  1. I started wearing a wristband to remind me to continually ask about what is going on in the lives of others. It became a bit of a game (is that bad?) to see if I could get through an entire Starbucks conversation without ever talking about my life. I now know, care, and pray for others more consistently.
  2. Every Monday I email or call people about requests that came in on Sunday – then if appropriate we pray over them at Staff on Tuesday. Now we are all thinking about others more.
  3. On the top of my sermon notes I put little clues of what people are going through; to remind me to connect with them if possible before the day is over. This has helped me keep others needs on my front burner every time I read my sermon notes.
  4. We’ve added an extra monthly elder, staff, and spouse training, with rotating leadership. This extra meeting has all of us learning, praying, and having fun together.
  5. I asked a few younger guys if they would be willing to meet with me weekly for discipleship. All were thrilled to have been asked, and two have now been baptized. Now their lives are impacting mine.
  6. The elders and staff are now following my lead. They are expected to be discipling at least one person – a decision that has encouraged and changed the lives of the elders and staff as much as those they are meeting with – and encouraging me even more.
  7. Listening made me realize we need to offer a way to help people get into their Bibles on their own. Our first Bible Study Methods class had over twenty meeting weekly, ages 16 to over 60, with seminary style homework. They had been waiting for something like this for years, without my picking up on it.
  8. I got convicted about my own lack of evangelism, and started an 8-week “for non-Christians only” seekers and doubters study after Easter. That was the highlight of my year. For me, pagans can be easier to talk to then mega-pastors. We cared for each other and became friends, regardless of our views.
  9. Most importantly, I realized there are just two things I need to do. Make disciples and pay the mortgage. If you can pull off the tattoos and cool glasses, that’s grace.

The Mortgage

The church is now growing, but still small. I took a pay cut to keep the church healthy that was restored a couple years later. Hybels hasn’t called, Josh Harris hasn’t asked me for hat selection advice, and no one really cares what I think about Love Wins. But I’ve met with God, reorganized my life, and felt redemption.

I don’t envy those with mega-ministries anymore. I’ve not the business-savvy gifts of administration, leadership, and thick skin to pull off a mega-ministry. That doesn’t leave me bummed-out. Instead I’ve found that working in the area of my giftedness has me given me new energy. We’ve grown enough to pay the bills – but more importantly our leaders are growing, baptisms are up, and we have a plan of discipleship. This is so energizing.

I can now thank God for those who do show up on Sunday rather than stressing about who don’t. I’m not reading about church marketing (I’ll wait for God to send us someone with that vision) or freaked out when a projector breaks. I’m trusting if I love God and others by making disciples; He will take care of His church and the mortgage. We’re growing. We’re healthy. Awesome.

In the picture above: Am I wrong, or is Max grimacing?

Dan is pastor of Cottonwood Church (Rio Rancho New Mexico) and author of BIZARRE Bible Stories, and BIZARRE Bible Stories 2, coming out April, 2014.  You can reach him at DanielCooley.com.

 

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Help Me Walk the Walk

smyrna-church-persecuted-2-8-11“If you remain faithful when facing death, I will give you the crown of life.” Jesus, Rev 2:10

“Help me walk the walk.” Steve

I’ve missed the application of Rev 2:10 – it’s not just faith in persecution – something bigger is going on here.

In context the church in Smyrna is facing persecution, and in the future people will be thrown into prison. Some may die. So God is telling them to  get ready now, to be faithful even to death, if that is what is coming for them.

But I believe it also applies to Macen, and Steve, and my parents – people who were faithful to God when facing death. Not persecution death, but cancer or Alzheimer’s or yet-another-stroke death. When Steve was diagnosed I asked him how I could pray for him. He asked me to “pray that I would walk the walk God has for me.” He was concerned he would get mad at God, and be a poor example for his boys still living at home. He didn’t want to die a poser, a man who could follow God in the good times, but dumped God in the hard times.

More recently I watched 17-year-old Macen walk the walk. I watched my parents do the same. It’s not just faith in the face of persecution that is going on here. It’s faith in God when God seems unfaithful. It’s knowing God is good all the time when the circumstances, which God could change, are not good. It’s walking the walk when the walk sucks, in faith that God’s walk is better than the walk we would rather be on.

Lord, help me to walk the walk You have for me.

Late Christmas Letter

img_1517COOLEYS 2016

So Micah and Dad had grand plans to get the Christmas letter out for Christmas this year. Micah started it, gave it to Dad, and next thing you know it was Christmas. So, in the grand Cooley tradition of late New Year’s letters, here we go.

Mama and Papa Cooley: After seven years of being portable, the church finally has a building! This is exciting for many reasons, not the least of which is that neither JO or Dan have to yell at their children to get up early to set up or stay late to tear down–which might be more exciting for Micah and Caleb than it is for anyone else. We merged with another church, oddly like what I’d assume a blended marriage to be like. So far, so good. JO is still working for Presbyterian Hospital as a Patient / Family Advocate. After 30+ years living with Dan, she knows how to keep stressed mental people content.

Megan and Joimg_1623n: They had a baby, and we know it’s theirs because it likes to stay home, shuns people, and loves sleep. They are getting along very well, and it’s pretty much everything they could have hoped for. His name is Memphis, but everyone just calls him Muffins. Megan is working at Presbyterian Hospital when not with Memphis. Jon graduated with a degree in Communications from UNM in May, and continues to work in the sound industry. We thought there might be an opening taking over the DNC emails or Trump twitter accounts, but they are still waiting for the call. Whose loss?

Amanda and Jake: After a year of figuring out life with epilepsy, Amfullsizerenderanda can drive again! This is yet another great thing for Caleb and Micah, as it means that they’re not chaperoning Amanda and her toddlers around. Emerson is now 2, Oliver 3, and they are a ton of fun when not breaking things. Also, Amanda is about to have another baby (July 2017), because you know, why not, it’s a new year. They also bought a house close to the new church with a great view for Balloon Fiesta.

img_1564Micah: graduated from UNM with a degree in English, then spent a summer at Camp Peniel, and then a couple months teaching English in Haiti. He decided not to retire in Port-au-Prince, and instead is on orders with the Air Guard for the next six months. After that, God knows. The saddest part of 2016 for Micah was when Dad borrowed his limited-edition Miata, only to be rear-ended by a drunk driver just a half-mile away and have the beautiful car totaled. We kept the gear-shift knob. Not much else was left.

 

FullSizeRender(1).jpgand Caleb: finished at the community college, and is about to go to Moody Bible College in Chicago. His Christmas wish list was a coat, and mitts, and boots, and long underwear, and a hat, and…. Dan bribed his way to a Masters there in 2000, and Caleb’s grandma Cooley graduated from Moody in 1945, which was, I believe, a very good year.

Hoping and praying 2017 is a great year for you as well.

2017 thought: “Look for Christ and you will find him. And with him, everything else.” – CS Lewis

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Car Wreck

JayLenoIT WAS NOT MY FAULT THIS TIME!

Saturday around 6:30 PM Micah came over and parked behind my car. I hate it when people park behind me. So, I said to myself, “self,” I said, “I’ll just take his car. The Miata is more fun anyway.”

Amanda and I were needing to leave early Sunday morning to get to Phoenix for her week at Barrows Neurological Clinic, so Jo and I thought we would slip away Saturday night for some dessert. JoLynn slid into the passenger’s seat, and I took a few minutes -maybe 20 or so – to fold myself into the driver’s side of the Miata. We went East on Cabazon, then North on Unser and into the left hand turn lane to get some after-supper ice cream at that place by Discount Tire. I was looking ahead in traffic to find a break to turn left when suddenly there was this huge crash and we took off like a rocket.

The next thing I knew there were two tires on the median, two on the road, with the bottom of the Miata scraping the curb at about 70mph. My first thought?

I didn’t just hit the curb again like I did in Shawna’s car, did I? When we finally stopped, Jo was shaking, her neck, back and foot hurting. But, do I check to see how she is doing? Do I stop and check to see how I am doing? No.

Instead I rip open my door and look at the back of the car. The trunk was shoved all the way to behind JoLynn’s seat. That was the best thing I saw all day. It wasn’t my fault!

We later found out a drunk driver came around a corner, flew up Unser, nailed us in the rear – then went across all lanes and took down a light pole – then made it up to Southern and took out another three cars.

All I know is we are all safe, Amanda and I were still able to go to Arizona the next morning, and Micah will never park behind me again.

Wreck or no wreck, healing or none, merger or not, God is good – all the time.

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Stealing the Pope

We only borrowed him, really.

It’s Saturday, and we have been in the hospital since Monday waiting for seizures. Amanda is constantly hooked up to an EEG, with 28 electrode things glued to her head, limited by a 15 foot umbilical cord. Life is dull.

So, on my way back from purchasing a junior bacon cheeseburger and fries, the very last thing she remembers smelling when she had her first major seizure, i noticed the Pope in the lobby. And, i said to myself, “Self,” i said, “He looks lonely, and Amanda needs a pastoral visit, and there is no one here on the weekend to stop us.”

After the failed attempt to resurrect a seizure with a cheeseburger and fries, I zipped down six flights of stairs, and checked out the lobby. There were a few nurses wondering through, and a someone cleaning up the place. Once things looked clear, the Pope and i made our way back upstairs. People normally use the elevators here, so i figured that was safest. I was wrong.

There must have been half a dozen people staring at me on their way down, watching the Pope and i go up. I tried to look important and like i was too busy to stop. Besides, who would steal a Pope and go UPstairs? We made it unscathed.

John Paul is back down in his normal spot now – glad, i believe, to have been able to get out of the lobby for a change. Thankfully i only got a couple odd looks bringing him back home.

Still no seizures. Maybe if i brought up the baptismal font…

3 Lessons from the Storm

This week Howard Hendricks gave three terrific observations about the storm in Mark 4:35-41. It’s when Jesus told the disciples to cross the lake at night, and the storm came up, and they were afraid they would all drown, but Jesus calmed the storm. OK, here we go…

  1. We don’t develop faith by listening to lectures (they had been listening to Christ all day). We develop faith in the laboratory of life.
  2. Fear and faith are like oil and water. They do not mix.
  3. When Jesus Christ — is in my boat — it will not sink. Or, another way he put it was, “When Jesus says, ‘Lets go to the other side of the lake,’ He is not saying, ‘Lets go half way across and drown.'”

Another thought from the end of the lesson: Jesus wants what is best, He knows what is best, and He will do what is best.

Good stuff.

AllBks

 

3 Loves, 1 Huge Disappointment

Watching the first week’s course was a mixed bag. First my 3 loves.

3 Favorite Quotes:

  1. The Bible wasn’t written to make you a smarter sinner. It was written to make you more like the Son.
  2. There is no growth apart from the word of God.
  3. This book will keep you from sin – or sin will keep you from this book.

That was good stuff. But now for the disappointment.

I was disappointed these lectures were not recorded directly from the classes. They were SO GOOD! The change is a bit like my memory of watching the first, original Star Wars movie (is it #1 or #4 now? way too complicated). Everyone gasped in wonder when the light-saber came out, gasped in horror when Obi Wan died, and cheered at the end. It’s not the same now watching it with my grand-kids after hooking up the old VHS. It has the same great content, but somehow loses it’s soul in the presentation.

This course is still worth it for the content, but i miss its soul. Still, I’ll keep watching one a week this month.

I need the content in my soul.

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Take My Favorite Seminary Class With Me

I went to Dallas Theological Seminary, Western Seminary, and Moody Seminary. After taking a zillion hours due to moving and switching schools, my favorite class was…

My first class. And my first class was…

Bible Study Methods – but DTS called it Hermeneutics. That’s because they are a seminary, and the class cost $900 back in 1985. No one in there right mind would pay close to a grand for Bible Study Methods. But for Hermeneutics it was a steal. And you can get an even better deal.

FREE!!

And, there may be no more important class than Bible Study Methods. So Take a Class a Week for the Month of May with Me – sign up here!

This class was taught by Howard Hendricks, and I took it on Thursday nights. I was bummed, because The Cosby Show had just started, and it was really funny, and we didn’t know that we shouldn’t like him back then.

But a strange thing happened – I liked Heremeneutics even better than The Cosby Show. Thankfully, it’s still OK to like this.

The truth is – you won’t get the whole class for free – but you will get the four key lessons that all Bible Study Methods are based on. And did I mention this was my favorite class from three seminaries? And – these are the four best lessons of my favorite class.

DON’T MISS THIS!

Sign up today and let me know on Facebook Message or email dan@danielcooley.com. I’ll do the first class tomorrow and we can start posting our comments.

AllBks

Unreal Reunion

If you ever feel like your life is worthless, have a Reunion. A Youth Group Reunion. It’s great therapy, even if it is unreal.

Back in the 90s I was Youth Pastor for Del Norte (now New Life) Church. I was paid to organize trips to Mexico, Disneyland, Mark Matlock and Magic Mountain; to go camping and rappelling in the White Mountains and Colorado; to raft down the Salt River and study my Bible. It was a tough life.

When the kids (now all around 40!) showed up, it’s amazing what you remember. There is no telling what brings a kid back to Christ. You remember the difficult conversations, the crazy stupid things the kids got into in High School, and the crazy stupid things I did to try to help out. But now, decades later, to see young families of believers, I’m reminded, God’s Word really does work. There is a reason to be in this job – a reason besides Disneyland.

But – Disneyland was cool.

But – Disneyland was temporary cool. The reunion was a little piece of Heaven. Eternally cool. Totally unreal.

Thanks New Life / Del Norte youth for putting it all together.

Cottonwood – will see you on Sunday!

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An Easter Confession

unnamedFor pastors like me, Easter can be too busy to worship. Well, we go to worship, lead it even, but the sit-down-get -your -personal-life-in-order-contemplative worship isn’t happening. It’s ironic, stupid even, but true. There’s extra services, extra set-up and tear-down for us portable folks, eggs to color and a special service to plan. Who has time for worship?

I stole the blog below from the department chair of Media Arts and Worship at Dallas Seminary. It was convicting for me, was hoping it could be helpful for you too.

Face-Time Worship

Jesus entered the temple area and began to drive out those who were selling and buying in the temple courts. . . . and he would not permit anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. (Mark 11:15–16, NET)

It’s the Monday before the cross. But Jesus isn’t frazzled, rushing about, desperate to get His house in order. Instead, He is calmly getting His Father’s house in order. For us. The Gentiles.

Jesus first encountered Gentiles in His home when wise men from the east arrived after a long journey by starlight to worship Him as a child. Now, in His Father’s house, those living on God’s doorstep had co-opted true worship by streamlining and commercializing the process.

Here, in the court of the Gentiles, worshipers purchased sacrificial animals without missing a beat. Facebook worship. Casual. Easy-breezy. Limp. “Friending” God doesn’t work. He requires face time.

But, then as now, time was in short supply—so those in charge of the facility (as I’m sure the spiritual bean-counters had come to regard it) created a shortcut through the court of the Gentiles lest marketplace shoppers be inconvenienced by having to walk around the temple. “Good for business,” we can hear them rationalize. “A way to consolidate commerce and communion. Besides, some of the shoppers may be seekers. A shortcut would at least get them close to the spiritual action.” But Jesus blows the whistle, stopping the hurly-burly traffic through the plaza dedicated to Gentile worship.

I feel Him tugging at my sleeve too. Because I sometimes regard worship as an interruption. Which is precisely what it is intended to be. An interruption of my soul-scorching pace. Real worship forces me to pause—to acknowledge that no amount of hurry will improve the odds that I will “win.” Speed doesn’t alter the fact that we are hurtling toward a spiritual dead end. It just gets us there faster. The velocity of authentic worship is as slow as starlight.

This Easter, let’s slow down. Let’s savor slow and contemplative worship.

—Dr. Reg Grant, Department Chair and Senior Professor of Media Arts and Worship