Proximity Matters

Some time ago, I attended a Century Leadership roundtable that featured Nancy Ortberg as the speaker. She said something profound that day that has resonated with me as I have thought about the state of the church.  Nancy said, “You can admire someone you have put on a pedestal, but you will never be changed by them.” I think what she was getting at is proximity matters when it comes to vital spiritual relationships.

The law of proximity in science states that objects that are close together tend to group together and  become more like each other.  Applied to the church world, we become that which we are close to.  We are changed not by how good the information the person offers, but by how close we are to the person we are learning from. Information without relationship is not enough to be changed or formed.

Which begs a very pertinent question in today’s church culture. A very large percentage of Christians today are attempting to be pastored by men and women they have never even met. The advent of the large church and technology has created this dynamic that has never existed in ecclesiastical history: we have virtual shepherds pastoring virtual sheep Judging by the overwhelming popularity of this model,  both parties seem to be just fine with the fact that they will never meet.

But what Nancy said begs this question. Can the direction of your spiritual formation come from a person you have no proximity to? We can admire what they say, but can we be transformed by them? Relationships without presence are not relationships at all. We may be inspired by someone (a celebrity, a successful entrepreneur, a famous author or a famous pastor) but will we ever changed by them? Is simply good information enough? Isn’t knowing the person we seek to be shaped by essential to our formation?

I don’t know Nancy Ortberg. What she said certainly made me think. I was inspired. But I would imagine, were I to spend time with her or work for her, she would not just inspire me. I would be changed simply by my proximity to her. I would have to think the same would be true in the local church. People can get information anywhere. Just turn on your TV. Just tune into one of thousands of live streaming churches every week.

The church is not a dispensary for good speeches. It is Jesus’ life giving body. Proximity to one another and to our spiritual leaders is not just something we do as an activity. it is the essence of the church itself. Karl Vaters once said mentoring IS discipleship. It is the most natural form of spiritual formation. The larger a church becomes, the more discipleship becomes a program instead of a relationship.  Its does so out of necessity. It seems like church has been reduced to a good concert and a half hour speech by a virtual stranger, surrounded by a bunch of strangers.

Since I don’t pastor one of those churches, I will ultimately never be able to truly be able to evaluate this model. I am simply an observer. It does however challenge me as a pastor of people I know to make sure those I wish to impact know me. It’s a challenge to be known. Without it, I am simply another voice with good information.

As an Average Pastor, you have the awesome opportunity to sit in proximity to your people. You have the opportunity to be known and to know those you are seeking to shape.  Take advantage of this proximity.  Pour into the lives of your people.  Don’t be just another person in their life with good information.  Because you are an average pastor, you have the opportunity to not only inspire, but to transform people.


What went well yesterday?

wellI think all average pastors struggle with the Monday morning blues.  I know I do.  I am my biggest critic. No matter how well my service went, I tend to focus on the what went wrong.  I am not sure I have figured out yet exactly what measure I use for determining whether or not a service was “good.”  Sometimes it is based on how I feel about my sermon.  Sometimes it is the comments I get.  Many times it is whether my expectations were met.  And frankly, many times I compare our service with how other churches did that morning.   If they had more baptisms or they had something special, then I tend not to feel as good about our service.  I know, pathetic, right?  But, it is the reality that most average pastors deal with.

Here are a few things I do for my Monday blues:

1.  Listen to my sermon –  My sermons never turn out how I think they turned out.  When I am speaking, I find myself criticizing and second guessing my sermon even as I am saying it.  And I carry those doubts with me throughout Sunday afternoon and evening. So on Monday morning the first thing I do is listen to my sermon.   I usually find out I said things better than I thought I did.   God’s Spirit did help me preach his word! (Imagine that!) Sure, there are still things I wished I had done better, but for the most part I feel much better about the service after I hear the sermon.  I also learn from it things to avoid in the future.

2.  Focus on what WE did –  In any service there were dozens of pieces that come together to make a service happen.  Even if the song I picked didn’t fit right, or the video had trouble playing or I didn’t get a response to my message, that does not mean it wasn’t a good service.  The thing I ask myself is, “Is church about about Me and how well I did?  Or is it about what we accomplished together?”  Instead of focusing on what you feel like didn’t go well, focus on how your nursery worker held babies or how your greeter showed up and hugged people.  Focus on the faithful member that came for pre-service prayer time. Ask yourself, “What went well?”  When I take an inventory of things our church did well, I have a more accurate picture of how “good” our service really was.

3.  Don’t obsess  – When coaches watch game film, they see the missed blocking assignments, the blown routes and the miss reads by the QB.  Even if they scored on the play, the coaches are not happy with how the play went.  But all the fans saw was the play that resulted in a score. They are happy; the coaches are frustrated.  Same goes for church.  What I see and what my congregation sees is not the same thing.  They don’t notice the minutia of what didn’t work right. And for the most part, they wouldn’t care if they did.  Bad announcements, the wrong choice of song, wrong times in the bulletin, and other things that drive us crazy, people in general don’t notice or don’t care.  If it happens often, it is a problem that needs to be fixed. But don’t obsess over the little things.  There are many more things you did right yesterday.  Focus on those.

As I look back on our service yesterday, I know it was a success. A lot of things went well yesterday. And a lot of people made it happen. If you can focus on what you did right, you will see what an amazing thing the body of Christ is in the local church.  Kick those Monday Blues by focusing on those things before you decided if you had a “good service.”

It’s Sunday…but Sunday is Coming

sunday-is-comingWe had a great Sunday.  Once a month, we have what we call Family Worship Sunday.  Instead of dismissing kids to kids church, we keep all the kids in with their families. Because our vision is to be multi-generational, we intentionally do a service where kids and adults can worship and be discipled together.  But on those days I have to be a little more creative in my sermon to make sure kids feel like they are truly included.  So this Sunday we had a skit, a game show and two sermonettes rather than just one 40min sermon from me.  It turned out great.

When the service was over everyone was standing around and talking as usual.  They were discussing how fun the service was.  But not me.  I wasn’t laughing with people at all the fun moments or how wonderful the worship was. Sure, it was a great Sunday, but Sunday is coming!  Next Sunday, that is.  I didn’t take 5 minutes to enjoy it.  I was starting already to think about next Sunday.  I had to talk to my worship leader about the songs. I talked to a guy who would help me do the set for the next series.  All of this took place no less than 10 minutes after I said “amen.”

Sunday is relentless. The responsibility of planning a meaningful service week after week after week is a huge challenge.  You put your heart and soul into planning the worship, the message, and the response. Then, in less than 24 hours, you have to start the process all over again.  It is exhausting.   Many times larger churches have teams of people that can share the load of the creative elements of the services. But for the average pastor, much of the planning falls on your shoulders and you have to do all that alone.

Here are a few thoughts on how I fight this relentless drive toward next Sunday.

1.  Month long sermon planning – Sure, I know everyone does that now.  But here is WHY I do it. When I have a plan for the month, I generally know what topics and main point I will make each week.   This takes the pressure off me to start from scratch every Sunday.    That way I have several weeks to collect ideas or illustrations as I think of them weeks in advance.

2.  Month long worship planning –   Who ever said you have to have 4-5 different songs every week?  Sunday planning is hard on you.  Its also hard on your volunteer staff, especially your worship leader.   My worship leader is a student in college and has to fit it in her schedule somewhere between Monday and Wednesday.  Its hard on her too!  That is why we try to have a month long plan for our worship as well.  Rather than 20 different songs, we plan to do 10 or so songs and repeat one or two each week.  It helps the congregation because they are more familiar with them and it makes worship planning easier. Plus, choosing songs that fit the theme connects the worship with the sermon.

3.  One Creative Sunday:  I know I cannot be creative every Sunday.  I don’t have the emotional energy. But I know I can once a month with some time to think about it.  That is another reason we do Family Worship Sunday.  We do it for the kids, but more than that, we do it for the joy of our people.  This past Sunday people dressed up like nerds because our theme was “following Jesus makes you different.”  Kids loved it.  Adults loved it.  Its not always that drastic, but on FWS we add something extra to make it memorable. But there is no way I can do something like that every week.  But I can be creative once a month.  And because I have a month long plan, me and my volunteer staff have time to think on how to pull that off.


For me as an average pastor, I am always looking for ways to help slow the week down and take the pressure off for the next service.  When I know what is coming, I can take time to enjoy what God did that week before stressing about the next week.

What are some ways you handle that pressure? I’d love to hear your ideas too!