How does a pastor deal with awkward silence with visiting folks?

This is a question that came to me by a young and introverted pastor who is struggling to know how to make conversation with elderly folks when he goes to visit them.  I wish more and more young pastors knew their weaknesses and desired to grow like this young brother.  Because I think this is a growing struggle among young pastors especially, here was my response to this brother for your consideration:

I am grateful for your question and that you desire to grow in this area.  I know being an introvert makes this harder.  First of all, learn to be comfortable with silence.  Whether trying to talk to an elderly person in their home or standing up in front of your church after you have asked a challenging question to them while leading a discussion, silence can be good.  If you can learn to be not so uncomfortable with silence, it will help you think through what to say next and speak with more clarity.  Secondly, all it takes when going to visit the elderly is a greater effort to learn the things they like and enjoy.  Talk to their closest friends in the church or their family and find out what they are interested in and ask them about those interests.  I have an elderly widower, WW II vet, in his 80′s with failing health who still has an amazing mind and loves history and politics.  I love history and tolerate politics, but always go with questions in both those areas to ask him as he is an extreme introvert, which makes it hard sometimes to get him to talk.  Yet, I always love my visits with him.  It is amazing how people will come out of their shell when they talk about what they know, love, and most importantly they think you are interested in hearing.  I hope that helps.  Remember, when you visit the elderly for no specific reason, other than to spend time with them, that already makes a huge statement of love and care for them.  Don’t forget that.  You may be worried about the moments of awkward silence when they may simply be loving that you are sitting in their living room.

Pastors, take your cue from this young, teachable brother.  The awkward silence and uncomfortable feelings you have when trying to visit your folks in your church is not a justifiable reason to stop and neglect them.  Stretch yourself.  Keep at it.  When we stand before God to give an account of the souls entrusted to our care (Heb. 13:17) awkwardness and uncomfortable silence will be an unwise excuse to use before our Chief Shepherd.
Posted in Caring for Widows, Hospital Visitation, Oversight of Souls

How do you respond to encouraging words about your sermon?

“Great job…good sermon…that really spoke to me.”  The list of phrases a pastor may hear as church members exit the church goes on.  Inevitably, whether the sermon was good or not, these quick comments will be spoken to us with varying levels of sincerity and it is important that we know how to respond in a God-honoring way.  Here are 4 suggestions:

1)  Say “Thank You”

It is sad when a pastor tries to wear a false humility to hide either his insecurities or inability to know how to receive a kind word.  It usually shows up in a pastor’s response after a kind, encouraging comment in this way, “Uh…no it wasn’t a good sermon.  I missed it here, stumbled over my words here…”  Just stop it and say “thank you for your kind words.”

2)  Be grateful for the encouragement

Regardless the comment, if it was meant to encourage you, thank them for their encouraging words.  Be grateful that however small, simple, or even shallow the comment, someone took the time to share their thoughts with you.  Be grateful and receive it that way.

3)  Be humble that the Lord would dare use you

What should humble us more than a hearer taking time to encourage us about our sermon, is the fact that God would choose to use broken vessels like us week after week, Sunday after Sunday to feed God’s people with God’s word.  That should amaze us with every kind word extended to us.  When it ceases to amaze us, then we should start worrying.

4)  Give God all the glory

The great temptation when complimented about a sermon is to think the fruit of our labors ultimately is about us and because of us.  When a kind word is extended to us about our sermon, make sure God is credited and praised.  Not superficially, but sincerely.  We can give God glory with our lips in response, but inside be ate up with pride.

Suggested Responses:

In light of these suggestions, here are a few ways I think it is appropriate to respond to a kind word extended to us after a sermon:

“Thank you for your kind words, isn’t God good the way he speaks to each of us through his word.”

“Thank you for your encouragement, I am grateful to God he used his word in that way.”

“I am grateful you took the time to share the way God’s word has affected you.  This passage effected me in similar ways.  God is so gracious.”

Pastors, receive the kind words offered to you. Be encouraged by it.  It will help you through the discouragement that often comes on Monday.  And stay humble, for in 6 days you get to do it all over again.

Posted in Preaching

Why did I take the whole month of July off from all ministry?

As many of you know, I wear three ministry hats.  I am the Senior Pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church, the founder and ministry director of Practical Shepherding, and now run the Mathena Center for Church Revitalization at SBTS.  The rigors of this juggling act had left me deeply weary with a fatigue that I realized would not be remedied by a few days off.

I needed to step away completely for the purpose of rest and a needed “gut check” in several areas of my life. I took the entire month of July off.  Unplugged from all ministry, including all social media.  This was not a sabbatical, but pure vacation for a whole month. We just stayed home.  Here are 10 areas I felt I needed to address during this time off:

1) Extended rest: As I have learned to rest better and more efficiently, I need extended time to do so.  I also found that leaving the church for a week just allowed the other 2 hats to eat up my time.  I needed an extended time of rest from all 3 areas of my ministry.  When I realized the month of July was the best time in each area for me to step away, I took it.

2) Family: The month of July was the best opportunity to see my wife and kids and spend extended time with them that I would not get if I took it during the school year.  It has been a lot of fun hanging out with them this month, being around to help my wife juggle family life, and having some quality time with her.

3) Personal soul work: When a pastor’s soul is weary, he is not as effective in his ministry.  He also lives in a dangerous place in this weariness to fall into destructive patterns  and decisions in his life.  I felt this fatigue and vulnerably and experienced an urgency to step away.  I needed to do whatever necessary to embrace my identity in Christ, just sit in his grace, and be reminded that he is enough for me.  I have done some very focused, intentional soul work this month that has proven very helpful to prepare me to come back and walk with Jesus more closely as I seek to serve Jesus in my ministry.

4) Food: Busyness and stress is a brutal combination to cause me to slide into bad eating habits.  I realized I needed a gut check in this area to regroup how I was eating, why I was eating what I was, and how it was causing me to be stuck in my efforts to reach a more ideal weight I have been working towards for quite some time.

5) Exercise: I am committed to exercise and getting to the gym, but what I was doing in the gym and why needed to be evaluated.  This month allowed me to ramp up my consistency and evaluate how I continue in it once I step back into my labors.

6) Social Media: Just because social media is a part of your ministry, doesn’t mean we are exempt from developing bad, unhealthy habits and patterns with social media.  I unplugged from Twitter, Facebook, and all other social media venues for the month.  I learned of some bad habits.  It was an important gut check that has left me with a greater awareness of limits I need to place in my life as I enter into this realm upon my return.

7) Reading for enjoyment: So much of what I do now is studying, reading, writing, and reading other books to give endorsements and feedback.  I enjoy this part of my ministry, but it leaves me with little time and mental energy to read for fun and enjoyment at night.  I was able to read quite a bit this month, all for fun and enjoyment.  It sharpened my mind and stirred my soul.  I was reminded how much I missed it and how I need to figure out how to work this into my daily routine.  It had been lost in my busyness.

8) Fun:  I need to have fun.  I need to laugh and enjoy others outside a ministry context.  I did.  I played golf and tennis.  Enjoyed sitting in the sun at the pool with my wife.  Hung out with some friends who have nothing to do with my ministry.  I watched all 3 Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies with my middle daughter because…because I could, she wanted to, and I had the time to do so.  Enjoyed times with my wife eating out and hanging out with my kids.  We went to a couple of movies on $5 day.  I was reminded how doing fun things in life and having them present in my life is very life-giving and a source of joy for me.

9) Ministry evaluation: The best way to evaluate our ministries is not to consider them while intensely laboring in the middle of them, but to do so when we can step away from them, emotionally and mentally detach a bit, to see what is truly going on.  I enter back into my ministry world with a better perspective on where I am in each of them, how I need to grow, how I need to better lead, and how I need to move forward in faithfulness.

10) Silence:  Silence used to torment me over previous pain in my life.  After some important soul work and healing these last few years, silence is now life-giving.  I need it daily.  A pastor’s life is full of people and problems to solve and silence gets easily squeezed out.  I made sure I had times of silence in nature all alone.  Silence sitting on my back deck with a cup of coffee listening to all the different birds talking.  Silence to pray. Silence to listen.  Silence to read God’s word, and experience God’s grace.

Pastors, I share all this first for my own personal benefit as I evaluate my time off. But I also write with the hope to move you to see your own need as a pastor for this kind of extended time where you can step away from all the consuming pressures of ministry.  Remember, you must be proactive and assertive to take this time to care well for yourself.  Others will not fight for this time for you.  You will need to fight for it.  I did.  I needed it.  I can tell you as I leave this last month behind me, it was worth fighting for.

Posted in Home and Family, The Pastor's Soul

Biblical Church Revitalization…Now Available

BCR book coverExcited to announce my new book, Biblical Church Revitalization: Solution for dying and divided churches (Foreword by Harry Reeder) is now available on Paperback and Kindle.  This book defines how I have approached revitalization in my own congregation for the last 13 years and captures exactly how I try to train young men looking to engage in this noble work.

This most recent article, Church Revitalization: A Biblical Approach, describes the balance between a pragmatist and purist and captures well the purpose of the book and why I am advocating for this particular philosophy and vision of revitalization.  It is not flashy and quick, but I am convinced is how a church can truly find new life and sustain it in the generations to come.


… outlines a simple, biblical guide for church revitalization that can benefit pastors in churches of any size, and lessons from his personal journey augment a thoroughly biblical approach to the task of church revitalization. ~ Thom S. Rainer (President of LifeWay Christian Resources and author of Autopsy of a Deceased Church)

… an inspirational, instructive and insightful volume on how to minister effectively to churches that are dying, stagnant or declining. ~ Harry L. Reeder (Pastor of Preaching & Leadership, Briarwood Presbyterian Church, Birmingham, Alabama)

If you only read one book on reclaiming dying churches, read this one. This is certain to become the definitive resource for rescuing dying churches in our generation. ~ Mark Clifton (Senior Director, Replant, North American Mission Board)


Posted in Book Recommendation

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