Six Reasons Our Marriage Has Worked

Cowrote by Samantha Stephens

This post was originally written for the LifeTravelers blog here.

This past December my wife and I celebrated ten years of marriage. I take that back. Our anniversary is on December 16th, and I’m pretty sure we hung out at home that night. We actually celebrated a couple months earlier with an all-inclusive trip to Cancun without the kids.

Now, I realize ten years isn’t really that long, but statistics show couples are more likely to get divorced within the first ten years of their marriage than at any other time.

Marriage statistics vary and are constantly changing, but from what I have found, it looks like around 35% of first marriages fail to make it at least ten years. I say first marriages because statistics get worse with each subsequent marriage.

So, what do I know that 35% of couples don’t?

Probably not much, that’s why I asked my wife to weigh in on the subject.

Here are the six things she believes has contributed to our success.

  1. Open Communication

Being able to tell your spouse exactly how you feel and why is vital to the success of your marriage. We weren’t great at this the first year or two of our marriage. We both had a tendency to hold things in until it created a much bigger problem. Over time we built up trust with one another and have become comfortable sharing exactly how we feel without becoming angry at each other.

  1. Realistic Expectations

As much as my wife would love for me to be more romantic and affectionate, she realizes it’s not how I’m wired. This doesn’t mean I should never try. It just means that she’s not holding me to a standard that I’ll never achieve. Putting unrealistic expectations on your spouse always sets you up for disappointment.

  1. Putting Your Spouse First

There’s a verse in the book of Philippians that my wife lives out. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourself. She’s incredible at this. A lot of couples that have kids make the mistake of putting the kids first instead of their spouse. This can seem to make sense in the moment, but it’s a terrible idea and can lead to a lot of problems in the marriage.

  1. Have Fun

This seems so simple, right? But most marriages fail because the couple stopped having fun together. I don’t like spending money, and fun often comes at a cost. I’ve learned the importance of putting fun in the budget. We enjoy going to the movies. We’ll see a couple of concerts this summer, and we try to take a mini vacation by ourselves every year. Those things add up, but it’s a lot cheaper than a divorce.

  1. Take Divorce Off the Table

From our initial engagement, my wife and I have been adamant that divorce would never be an option for us. I know most couples say that, we meant it. When you take divorce off the table, you have no choice but to work things out. So, we’ve never allowed ourselves to even bring up the word divorce in arguments. We’ve also tried to always sleep in the same bed even when we’re angry at one another. This hasn’t always worked, but we try.

  1. Umm…Lots of “Alone Time”

This is a bit awkward to bring up, but my wife insists. And she’s right, sex is really important in a marriage. We have confirmed it through every couples small group we’ve even been a part of. Husbands almost always want more sex than they are currently getting, and wives almost always want more romance than they are currently getting. When you don’t get this part of your relationship right, it can have devastating effects as people start looking for that intimacy somewhere else.

This is in no way a complete list of why our marriage has worked. There are a lot of other factors that go into it, most importantly our relationship with God. But, hopefully, this will give you a few ideas you can use to improve your marriage.

How have you managed to prioritize your marriage while working in ministry? I’d love to hear your suggestions so leave a comment below and don’t forget to subscribe to the blog to get tips on church growth, leadership, and more delivered to your inbox each week.

How I Should Be Organizing My Time

I have a confession to make. I’m not putting into practice everything I write about. That’s not to say I don’t believe in it, it’s just easier said than done sometimes. For instance, I think people who wake up before 5am get more accomplished. However, after trying it for about a year, I decided to go back to sleeping in. This is going to be one of those posts. I’m not currently doing this, but the plan is to put this in place very soon. In fact, this post is as much for me as it is for you.

Left to my own devices, I wouldn’t get much accomplished. I’m easily distracted. I can be lazy at times. And I like the dream a whole lot more than doing what it takes to accomplish the dream.

Even while writing this, I’m thinking about how I wish I could be watching Netflix right now.

Discipline is difficult for me, and the more people I talk to, it seems that I’m not alone in that statement.

Yet, if you want to accomplish anything significant in your life, you have to be disciplined.

And since it doesn’t come naturally to me, I need to develop a checklist to live by. Otherwise, there are going to be things I’m going to miss or forget or ignore.

I’m going to encourage you to do the same. Here’s what the breakdown might look like for me.

Daily

Personal

  • Read the Bible/Devotional.
  • Pray
  • Spend 30 minutes playing with my kids.
  • Spend 30 minutes in conversation with my wife.
  • Spend 30 minutes reading a book.
  • Exercise (Ha, I said this was hypothetical, right?)

Professional

  • Post to social media.
  • Respond to email.
  • Send an encouraging text.
  • Various other job related duties

My day-to-day work duties change quite a bit, so it’s going to be necessary for me to create a different list for each day.

Weekly

Personal

  • Help around the house.
  • Mow the yard.
  • Go to the grocery store.

Professional

  • Send three thank you cards to volunteers.
  • Meet with my senior pastor.
  • Host a small group.

Monthly

Personal

  • Take my spouse on a date.
  • Have a family day.
  • Pay the bills.

Professional

  • Meet with the elders.
  • Have lunch with a staff member or key volunteer.
  • Evaluate my weekly and daily checklist.

Yearly

Personal

  • Take a family vacation.
  • Take a mini vacation with my wife.
  • Set goals for the new year.
  • Create my budget.

Professional

  • Set goals for the new year.
  • Celebrate last year’s wins.
  • Look for ways to improve.

It’s going to take some time to put all of this together. I’m sure I’ll need to make some adjustments along the way, but in the end I think it will be worth it.

Do you use any kind of checklist? How do you stay accountable to yourself? I’d love to know the secret so leave a comment below. Also don’t forget to subscribe to the blog to get tips on church growth, leadership, and more delivered to your inbox each week.

20/20 Vision

I believe I was in second grade when I got my first pair of glasses. In those early years, I moved back and forth between contacts and glasses, but I’ve probably worn glasses exclusively for the past 15 years or so. It can be annoying at times, but I have terrible vision without them.

I have what the experts call astigmatism, which I believe is a fancy word for saying I can’t see stuff.

Google tells me it’s a defect in the lens, which results in distorted images, as light rays are prevented from meeting at a common focus.

No matter what the definition is, the fact is I’m a danger to myself and others when I’m not wearing my glasses.

My vision stinks.

Perhaps you or the church you serve has the same issue.

Scripture tells us, Where there is no vision, the people perish. Proverbs 29:18a

And it’s true. We all know people wondering aimlessly through life, and we all know of churches that have to close their doors because they lost their vision.

Andy Stanley, in his book Visioneering, says vision brings four things into our daily lives. We can also say vision brings these four things into our churches.

  1. Passion

The better your vision, the stronger emotion it invokes. It’s almost impossible to have passion without a vision. And those without a vision live passive lives. A strong vision stirs something within you that can’t be contained.

  1. Motivation

Without a vision for the future, there’s no need for motivation. Motivation needs a destination, otherwise you’re life will always stay in park. Weight Watchers realizes this, that’s why they’re always showing before and after pictures of their customers. If you’re a pastor, a big part of your job is painting a clear picture of what the future could look like for your church.

  1. Direction

Without a vision for where you want to go, you never know where you’ll end up. Clear vision sets the direction of our lives and helps us prioritize what’s important. If it’s not getting us closer to our goal, then it’s not something we need to do.

  1. Purpose

People with a clear vision for their lives are more likely to live their lives on purpose. As Stanley says, “A vision gives you a reason to get up in the morning.” I believe God’s given each of us a purpose. If you haven’t figured out what exactly that is yet, you may want to check your vision.

I can’t express enough how important vision is for your life and your church. It makes all the difference in the world. If your vision isn’t real clear right now, I encourage you to take some time this week to get focused.

Does your church have a crystal clear vision? What about your life? Let us know about it in the comments below, and don’t forget to subscribe to the blog to get updates on church growth, leadership, and more delivered to your inbox each week.

5 Signs that You’re the Growth Barrier

Why is your church not growing? Is it the stubborn deacon who refuses to change? The Sunday School teacher who is plotting against you? Or maybe the worship leader who insists on singing “Beulah Land” every Sunday? Chances are it’s not any of those things. More than likely the biggest growth barrier to your church…is you.

That can be hard to accept, however the quicker you accept it, the quicker you can make the changes that are necessary to take your church to the next level.

And don’t feel bad about it. Almost every pastor starts out making these same mistakes, and few of them ever change.

That’s why most churches will never break 200 in weekly attendance.

However, you’re not most pastors, so let’s take a minute and see if you’re making any of these five mistakes.

  1. You’re the Primary Care Giver.

To put it more plainly, you do all the visiting, counseling, and any other ing’s. And your church loves you because of it. It’s probably at the top of your job description, but it’s holding your church back.

  1. You’re Always Available.

Someone needs something, you’re the first person they call. Everyone in the church has your phone number. It may even be on the church sign. They can call any time of day or night. You attempt to be omnipresent and never miss a church event whether it be a prayer meeting or a birthday party. You’re unwillingness to say no to the small things is costing you the opportunity to do big things.

  1. You Don’t Delegate.

See above. You feel bad asking anyone else to do anything, or you don’t think they can do it as well as you. So, you lead every meeting, preach every sermon, mow the yard, take out the trash, and anything else that needs to be done. Even Jesus had a team of 12, and you’re no Jesus. Start giving others responsibility, or you’ll never grow.

  1. You’re a Terrible Planner.

If you don’t know what you’re preaching from week to week, you’re a terrible planner. And don’t give me this waiting on the Holy Spirit to show you. God is the ultimate planner. He planned how this world began, and He’s already planned the end. God had a vision for what He wanted to create and the outcome He wanted to see. Do you?

  1. You Ignore the Numbers.

What was your average attendance last year? How many guests have you had this year? How many salvations? How many baptisms? You don’t track it because you don’t want responsibility for it. If you tracked it, you might have to admit you need to change because what you’re currently doing isn’t working.

Do any of these sound like you? If so, you’ve found the problem, and that’s 90% of fixing it. Now, just be willing to do the other 10% and change.

Have any of these ever described you? How did you change? Let us know by leaving a comment and don’t forget to subscribe to the blog to get tips on church growth, leadership, and more delivered to your inbox each week.

 

4 Ways to Communicate for Connection

Do you know what the number one fear is for most people? Public speaking. Number two on the list, dying. Most people said speaking in front of an audience was scarier than dying. And I can sort of relate. As an executive pastor I don’t preach often, but when I do I certainly have a healthy dose of fear. Not so much as I’m preaching, but the anticipation of preaching. It’s kind of like riding a roller coaster for me; the wait is the worst part.

Now, my fear has gotten a lot better over the years as I’ve had more experience, and I’ve learned how to adequately prep to preach a sermon.

Which is a good thing because I don’t think they’d let me back on stage if I hadn’t.

And who could blame them?

A recent survey from Pew Research noted that quality of sermons was the number one factor for those looking for a church home, more important than feeling welcomed, style of service, and even location.

So, you better make sure your sermons are connecting with your audience.

With that in mind, here are four tips on how you can communicate better:

  1. Find Common Ground

My pastor is the absolute best at this. He has never met a stranger, and he knows connection starts in the community before it goes to the stage. This means simple stops at the bank, can turn into thirty-minute conversations. This means he’s often late for meetings because he’s busy connecting. This means more people connect with his teaching because he’s taken the time to care for them.

  1. Keep It Simple

I want to let you in on a little secret. No one in your audience cares how smart you are, what seminary you went to, or that you read the Bible in the original Greek. Big words and complex information aren’t helpful to them. They need clarity. What do you want them to know, what do you want them to do, and how will their life be better because of it? And it would help if you would say it in less than 40 minutes.

  1. Make it Fun

Think about the people you enjoy watching or listening to. How would you describe them? Funny? Entertaining? Inspirational? I bet you wouldn’t say boring. Yet, too many preachers bore their audiences to sleep. Make it your goal to capture their attention, use humor, use visuals, use stories. Say things in a way that people remember.

  1. Inspire People to Action

At our church we call it taking a next step, and we try to have a next step at the end of each sermon. Once you’ve told them the why, the what, the how, you need to give them a clear action step. Based on what you’ve just taught, what do they need to do? It’s the action that changes lives, not the teaching.

These four tips have helped me tremendously, and I’m continuously working to get better. You should too.

What would you add to this list? How do you make sure you’re connecting with your audience? Leave a comment and let us know, and make sure to subscribe to the blog to get tips on church growth, leadership, and more delivered to your inbox each week.

Don’t Get Too Comfortable

I like comfortable. You probably do too. You don’t have to stress when things are comfortable. You don’t have anxiety when things are comfortable. You don’t lose sleep when things are comfortable. But I don’t think God likes comfortable.

So, does God want us to be uncomfortable? And if so, why?

I know my wife wants me to be uncomfortable.

She wants me to throw out my comfortable shoes that have a hole in them.

She wants me to try new foods that are out of my comfort zone.

And she would love it if I would leave the comfort of my own house more than I currently do.

It’s not that she really wants me to be uncomfortable. She just wants me to change.

Which makes me uncomfortable.

I have the feeling that God wants the same.

He doesn’t necessarily want us to be uncomfortable, but He does want us to change.

Which means I may have to try some new things. And I may have to give up my old ways. And I may have to let go of some of my preferences. And I may have to get to know new people.

And I may have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

And you may have get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

And I may have to embrace change. And you may have to embrace change.

Because God wants to change us.

“This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” 2nd Corinthians 5:17

What’s the biggest change you’ve had to make personally in ministry? Why? Let us know by leaving a comment below and take a second to subscribe to the blog to get tips on church growth, leadership, and more delivered to your inbox each week

3 Things Passion is Not

I just finished reading Bill Hybels book, Courageous Leadership. If you’ve never read it, do yourself a favor and pick it up here. One of my favorite lines is Hybels’ definition of vision. He says, “Vision is a picture of the future that produces passion.” I don’t know about you, but for me as a pastor, one of the things that fuels me is seeing people live with passion.

One of my favorite scriptures is the promise Jesus gives recorded in John 10:10,

The thief comes only to steal, kill, and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

And yet I see so many Christ followers who seem to have lost their passion.

They are living a life that they would describe as far from abundant.

And here’s what I think we need to learn about passion.

  1. Passion is not a personality type.

It’s not something that some people have, and some people don’t. It’s not a spiritual gift. Sometimes passion is raising your hands during worship, but I think more often than not, passion is about the things you do when no one is looking. Passion is the single mom who drags her three kids to church every Sunday. Passion is the teenager who stays home and reads his Bible when everyone else is at the party. Passion is the couple who on the brink of divorce decide to stick it out.

  1. Passion is not a feeling.

Passion and excitement are too very different things. It’s easy to get them confused. If you want to tell them apart, you have to give it time. For example, one of our campuses recently moved into a permanent facility. We’re seeing a lot of new people come, a lot of people taking next steps, and our volunteers are excited to serve every week. I’ll know they’re passionate if they’re still ready to serve every week when we’re not seeing growth. The evidence of passion is perseverance.

  1. Passion is not passive.

How many times have you asked someone to serve and they said, let me pray about it first? Translation, I want to sound spiritual, but I don’t actually want to do anything. If you have passion in your life, someone shouldn’t have to ask you to do something you know you already should be doing. You’re going to want to serve, you’re going to want to read your Bible, you’re going to want to give. Passionate people aren’t passive.

If you’ve lost your passion, you need to get it back. Jesus tells us how in Revelation 2:5

Remember from where you have fallen, repent, and do the things you did at first.

It’s not difficult, you just have to do the things you did when you were passionate. You just have to practice it, even when you don’t feel like it because passion isn’t a feeling. It should be a way of life.

We all lose our passion from time to time, what have you done to get it back? I’d love to hear about it so leave a comment below, and don’t forget to subscribe to the blog to get tips on church growth, leadership, and more delivered to your inbox each week.

3 Qualities Followers Look for in a Leader

Leadership doesn’t happen without relationship. Let’s say that again, leadership doesn’t happen without relationship. The foundation of leadership is relationships. The foundation of ministry is relationships. The foundation of the church is relationships.

And I’m not great at relationships. In fact, several years ago, I would’ve said I was pretty terrible at them.

It’s something I’ve had to work on throughout the years, and while I’ve definitely improved in that area, I’m still not where I’d like to be.

Relationships require you to connect with people’s hearts. Get to know them. Do life with them. Yet, my naturally tendency as an introvert is to isolate myself.

Relationships require you to appreciate people for who they are. Not just tolerate, but appreciate. Yet, my natural tendency is to try to fix people.

So, I’ve really had to be intentional about getting out of my comfort zone in order to build relationships.

Because I know no one is going to follow me unless they trust me, and trust comes from relationships.

Hopefully, that’s not the case for you. Hopefully, you’re great at building relationships, and you have a line of people already following you.

In order to keep them following, you need to have these three qualities.

  1. Encouragement

Everyone struggles with self-doubt. Discouragement is a reality of life. The thing that will keep your followers moving is encouragement. It provides hope. It builds their confidence. It makes them feel good. If you are an encourager, you won’t have to seek people out. They will gravitate to you. People are drawn to leaders who build them up.

  1. Inspiration

A good leader inspires people to follow the vision. They are able to navigate through change and are constantly on the lookout for new opportunities. A good leader understands the organization can’t stay where it is. It constantly has to change in order to reach new people. Your ability to communicate an inspiring vision to your followers will determine your success or failure.

  1. Consistency

Consistency is the glue that holds it all together. People won’t follow an unreliable leader. It doesn’t matter how talented or charismatic you are. They want a leader who is disciplined because there’s something about discipline that inspires people. It makes them want to be a better person.

If you have these three qualities in your life, you’ll be a leader people want to follow. If you don’t have them, work on getting them, otherwise you might not be leading for long.

What do you think about this list? What would you add? Let me know by leaving a comment, and don’t forget to subscribe to the blog in order to get tips on church growth, leadership, and more delivered to your inbox each week.

4 Important Vision Questions

Leadership and vision go hand in hand. You can’t be good at one without the other. If you don’t have a vision for where you want to go, you won’t really be leading anyone anywhere. Likewise, you can have a vision for where you want to go but not have the leadership skills to get you there.

When the church I serve was planted over a decade ago, it had very little vision.

It was an ever so slightly more contemporary copy of the other churches in the community.

Their pastors wore suits and ties; our pastor dropped the suit. Their churches played hymns; our church played a blend. If they were church version 1.0, we were version 1.1.

After the first year, our church attendance had grown by a negative one. No one was looking for church version 1.1. They were looking for version 2.0.

Luckily, our pastor discovered this and got a fresh vision from God for our church moving forward.

Moving from version 1.1 to 2.0 wasn’t without its difficulties. We’ve seen several people leave along the way, but it was still the best thing we’ve ever done.

Before you install a fresh vision into your church, you need to clarify these four questions.

  1. What is God calling us to?

What is God’s unique calling for your church? Who does He want you to reach? The popular answer is young families, but that may not be the case for your church. Look at the churches in your community. Is there a segment of the population that is being overlooked? Look at the gifts of the people in your church. Is there something you can offer that no other church in your community is offering? Clarify your calling.

  1. How are we going to accomplish it?

God didn’t just tell Joshua to take the city of Jericho. He showed him how it was to be done. It didn’t make sense at the time, but it worked out pretty well. Spend some time writing down exactly what you believe it’s going to take to accomplish this calling. You may have to remodel your church. You may have to make a hire that you don’t have the money for. You may need to remove some people from leadership. These are tough decisions that many pastors aren’t willing to make.

  1. Who needs to be involved?

One thing I’ve learned for certain is that it’s impossible to accomplish your calling without involving others. Gather a team around you to start talking about this new vision, get their ideas and support, and then you get their influence. Then work your way through the leadership of the church, to the volunteers, and eventually to the congregation.

  1. When should you begin?

You can have a great idea derailed by terrible timing. You may be looking to move to two services. Don’t try to start it during the summer. Be strategic about your timing. Make sure your church is experiencing momentum and capitalize on it. And whatever you do, don’t begin until you’ve answered the first three questions.

Implementing God’s vision for your church is going to be scary. It takes risk, it takes faith, and it takes perseverance. But if you’ll take the time to think through these four questions, I believe you’ll be much better prepared going forward. Good luck.

Name one big vision you’ve implemented at your church in the comments below. I’d love to hear about it. And while you’re here don’t forget to subscribe to the blog to get tips on church growth, leadership, and more delivered to your inbox each week.

The Ideal Team Player

According to Patrick Lencioni

I discovered Patrick Lencioni a couple of years ago when I picked up his book The Advantage. It was the best book I read that year and still remains one of the best books I’ve ever read on organizational health and leadership. Every pastor should read it. I recently came across his newest book The Ideal Team Player and wanted to share the main premise with you.

People are the most important part of your church. That goes without saying, but you have to remember they can either make your church or break your church.

Every successful church is successful because of the people in it.

Every church that has failed has failed because of the people in it.

I’m not trying to take God out of the equation. God is constant. The people are the variable.

So, you have to get the people part of this thing right, especially the people on your team.

Patrick Lencioni says there are three virtues that make up the ideal team player.

  1. They are humble.

People with big egos don’t perform well in a team setting. If they’re more concerned with their success than the team’s, you have a problem. A person who is humble will always look for ways to compliment someone else on their performance and will be slow to seek attention for their own. An arrogant person who makes everything about him will destroy a team by creating resentment and division. Humility is the single greatest and most indispensable attribute of a team player.

  1. They are hungry.

Hungry people just want more. More to do, more to learn, and more responsibility. They are self-motivated. They are constantly thinking about what’s next. Hunger misdirected or taken too far can be a negative. Healthy hunger is a commitment to doing a job well and a willingness to go above and beyond when necessary. Lots of people will project a sense of hunger to try to get a job or position. That’s why it’s always best to look at their past patterns to discern if it’s real.

  1. They are smart.

They may not be the most intelligent person, but they possess a common sense about people that makes them invaluable. They are relationally smart. They know how you talk to one person may not be the best way to talk to another. They learn the team. They ask good questions and spend time listening to what others say. They understand the impact of their words and actions, so they don’t say or do things without thinking about the likely responses of their teammates.

If just one of these virtues is missing in a person, they become significantly more difficult to have on the team. It requires all three. So, when you find a person who possesses all of these qualities, you would be wise to get them on your team as quick as possible.

What do you think about these virtues? What would you add? Leave a comment and let us know, and while you’re here don’t forget to subscribe to the blog to get tips on church growth, leadership, and more delivered to your inbox each week.