Direction Instead of Destination

Finding Encouragement Along the Way

My new book, Believe Again: Finding Faith After Losing Religion, was released this week. It has been a long journey up until this point. There have been some incredible moments along the way, but also plenty of valleys as well.

How It Started

The first words of this book were journal entries. What I was experiencing after leaving my ministry job was so absurdly ridiculous that I thought I must write it down or no one would ever believe that it was true. While chronicling my crazy circumstances in a hallway closet in my mother-in-law’s house I also realized I was learning some things as well. So, I jotted those down too.

Almost two years would go by before I shared any of this publically. I made my first post on my birthday in 2014. I put the embarrassing realities of my life out there on the interwebs and then ingloriously went to Walmart. It was very anticlimactic. I did not check my phone until I returned home. When I did, I could see what I had said struck a nerve with many people.

A New Ministry

I began meeting with people who wanted to talk after reading my blogs. At first, I thought they wanted to meet to hear my advice. After the first few meetings, I was a little perturbed. No one asked for my input. They just wanted to share their story with someone they knew could relate. In these meetings, I had found a new ministry of listening instead of preaching.

I thought if I could get to 52 blog posts I would have enough content to make a book. If my posts helped this many people in my small circle of influence, then how many more people were out there that a book could help? I finished the first draft of the book in 2015. I sent it to an editor who helped me organize the story better. But my writing still needed to develop and I struggled with people possibly misunderstanding why I would want to write this book. More than once I grew discouraged that it would ever be finished.

It Is Finished?

Eventually, the book came to a place where I could say it was ready even though it was not perfect. I do not know that I have ever worked so hard on anything in my life as I have this book. That makes the results of its success personal to me.

Through the pre-launch promotion, the book has not rocketed to best-seller status. People are not near as excited about it as I am. I began to get dismayed that all of my hard work would not lead me to the destination I desired.

An Important Reminder

This weekend, I spoke at a church. Before the message, I saw a man in a Domino’s Pizza uniform. The combination of that outfit and being at church reminded me of the season I spent delivering pizza after first leaving my job in full-time ministry. I write about it in my book and some of the funniest stories are in those chapters.

After talking to that man, I felt God remind me how far I had come. Not too long ago, I was delivering pizza and full of shame over how drastically my life had changed in such a short period of time. I felt unwanted and like a failure. Now I was having the chance to speak at a church and publish a book about what I had learned from that season of life. What I was now experiencing was not about reaching a destination, but rather taking another step in the right direction.

I can suffer from destination disease and seek to find my fulfillment in reaching a certain place instead of the progress I am making along the way. This past Sunday reminded me that my direction is more important than only living for a destination.

Check out my book on Amazon.

My Book Broke the Internet

So, I chose to launch my book on the day that Facebook and Instagram went down making it impossible to promote said book. It’s fine. No big deal. Everything is ok.

Let’s put this in perspective. I finished writing the first draft of this book in 2015. I could have published it at any point between then and yesterday. 2,190 days to choose from, and I choose the one day that would not allow me to promote the years of hard work I put into the book. As I said, I aM fINe!

Throughout the day, Amy continued to say, “It will be ok, remember, ‘Believe Again!'” “How about you Believe Again, Amy!” That is what I thought, not what I actually said. I, at least, wanted to live until the end of the day. Amy’s cries for me to relax and that things would be ok fell on deaf ears. I had believed again enough. I wanted to see some results.

The major social media platforms laughing at my attempts to launch a book was not the only thing that was going wrong. Only 4 of my pre-order books arrived. This means I could not ship out the pre-orders before launch day as I promised. Why did Amazon send me 4 random books in a paper bag (I am not kidding about this) instead of all the books I ordered? I have no idea, other than the world must be against me in some way.

Then my website refused to load on my home wifi. The website worked for everyone else not on my wifi, it just did not want to work for me. Everyone else was FINE. I was not. An hour or so on the phone and the website was going. Now to ship out the four books I actually did receive. Nope. The shipping label application decided to stop working. I could not even ship those out.

I’m not upset. Your upset.

This was a massive collapse. Literally, every component I needed to launch my book had failed. The thought crossed my mind throughout the day, that this is just what it felt like when I first stepped away from full-time ministry. Nothing I tried work. It seemed everything around me was going wrong. I felt alone and like there was no one I could count on, even God. I was having a chance to apply what I learned during that season of life and shared in my book. But I was failing miserably.

Eventually, I was able to figure out the technical difficulties and create the shipping labels. And despite not being able to promote the book’s launch it had reached #520 on Amazon’s Christian book list out of tens of thousands.

So here I am saying I am still growing and re-learning the things I talk about in my book. Tomorrow became today and I am still here hanging in there like a hair in a biscuit. Sometimes winning is not winning. It’s staying in the game when you want to give up. Today I am “winning.” #winning

You can pick up my book on Amazon and Kindle.

Believe Again Launch Day

How You Can Help Spread the Word About My New Book

Believe Again: Finding Faith After Losing Religion is now available on Amazon and Kindle.

Click to purchase on Amazon and Kindle.

I am asking you to help me launch this book so it can reach more people. Here are some things you can do.

Buy the book!

I know you will love it. You can get it here on Amazon and Kindle. Click this link to check it out on Amazon

Gift the book to someone you know it will encourage.

This is a raw, refreshing, and funny story about life outside of the church bubble. It is written so that people who need to reconnect to church would enjoy it while also encouraging believers. Did you know you can ship to other people from your Amazon account? Click here to send the book as a gift to a friend or family member. 

Leave a review on Amazon.

This is crucial. New authors cannot survive without reviews. A review on Amazon is like oxygen to this book’s success. You can leave a five-star review right now, even before reading the book. If you know me and would give me five stars, then you can put that review under my book. If you order the book and then leave a review as a verified purchaser, even better! Click here to leave a review.

Post about the book on social media and tag me @joshroberie.

Post and please use a picture of yourself holding the book if you are up for it. I’d love to see you with the book. Sharing my posts will also work. Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn… It’s all helpful! Make sure you use a link to Amazon, so it is easy for your followers to get to the book. Here is that link: https://amzn.to/3A9Q2kO

Here are some sample pictures and text to help promote the book: 

“My friend Josh’s new book launches today! I know it will encourage you in your faith and inspire anyone going through a tough time. Get your copy of Believe Again: Finding Faith. You can find it on Amazon here: https://amzn.to/3A9Q2kO.” 

“Make sure to get your copy of Believe Again: Finding Faith After Losing Religion. In the book, Josh tells his personal fish out of water story to show how a season working outside of full-time ministry made him a better pastor and taught him to relate to God, church, and others in a new grace-filled way. You can find it on Amazon here: https://amzn.to/3A9Q2kO.” 

“My friend Josh wrote a book that will help anyone who finds themselves feeling discouraged, discarded, or doubting. It is a refreshing and honest take on overcoming obstacles in life and faith. Check out Believe Again: Finding Faith After Losing Religion on Amazon and Kindle here: https://amzn.to/3A9Q2kO.”

When Ministry Becomes Your Identity

Saying Goodbye to Full-Time Ministry

Saying Goodbye

What is the hardest thing you have ever had to do? For me, it was stepping away from my position in full-time ministry over 9 years ago. I was the youth and young adults pastor at my church, but there was so much more wrapped up in my church role than just a job title. My entire world revolved around the connection I had with my church, and for a long time, I did not think there was anything for me outside of this comfortable church ecosystem.

But how did this come to be?

As a child, my home life was unstable, but my time at church was filled with encouragement and smiles. I survived four divorces growing up. The constant family crises left me feeling insecure and disappointed. On the other hand, going to church gave me the chance to make a difference in the world. It was where I could be told how incredible I was. One place became an increasing source of pain. The other was a wellspring of security, confidence, and recognition.

Creating a False-Self

In my teenage years, I became a leader in the youth group and got a job at the church café. I would continue working there in college and then full-time after graduating until I was 30 years old. People identified me with my church as much as you would pair Starbucks with coffee or Michael Jordan with the Chicago Bulls. Except I am not as trendy as coffee or as good at sticking out my tongue and dunking a basketball as Jordan. Everything of significance to me, including my identity, was inside that church bubble. 

It’s a flattering thing to be wanted, but it’s also hypnotic. Serving and working at a church did this for me. I quickly got to a place where I did not want to say no. “What else can I do,” was my attitude. Then one day, I looked up, and I couldn’t say “no” even if I wanted to. 

As I grew in what I thought local church ministry should look like, I was also limited in how I could apply those changes to my current role. I thought being faithful and honoring would open up the opportunity to do things differently down the road. Instead, as I received more responsibility, I was expected to keep doing what I had always done the way I had always done it. And why wouldn’t that be the case? It makes sense that this is the way things would be, but it also helps explain why I had to step away from my job if I genuinely wanted to be the leader God wanted me to be. 

The Harsh Reality of Changing

I needed the space to change, and I could not continue to be faithful to what I was being asked to do as an employee if I knew, ultimately, I would never do things that way if I had a say in it. But this also meant leaving behind the only viable source of income for my family. Without help finding my next place, I would have to work outside of ministry in a position far below my training if I no longer wanted to work at my church.

What started as a process of just wanting to learn a new way of doing ministry became something much more significant for me. I did not realize how wounded and weary I was or how much I gained my identity from my role in full-time ministry. I did not just need to learn some new tips to build on an already strong foundation. How I viewed myself, God, and those around me required a complete overhaul. I needed to believe again. 

In the months after leaving my church job. I began to sell things I could no longer afford. We put a “for sale” sign in our yard. We also sold our luxury car. I am ashamed to say I cried when I parted with my golf clubs. I am not exactly sure what made me tear up after that Craigslist exchange. It could have been I was saying goodbye to the memories I had shared with so many friends while playing golf. It’s possible I was happy for the young guy who was getting a nice Father’s Day present. Maybe it was just my pride. 

The Shiny Tin

Long before I began working on a church staff, I started a process of relating to God, church, and others in an unhealthy way. There were patterns of hurt and shame that went unaddressed. Ultimately though, my desire to succeed and my ability to use accomplishments to cover my weaknesses fueled my cycle of religious performance. I do not blame anyone else for the negative things that took place in my life during this time. I know God was the one in control. Also, if at any point I was willing to let go of my position to more fully pursue healing, my wrong perspectives would not have infected so much of my life. If I did not change then, I would be destined to repeat the same mistakes in the future.

In the book, Where the Red Fern Grows, there is an example that illustrates my situation. The central figure in the story is a young boy who wants to train his dogs for hunting. To teach his pets, he needed to catch a raccoon on his own. Knowing raccoons are curious creatures, he places a piece of shiny tin inside a hole in a log. Then he hammers nails inside the hole with enough room for the raccoon to put its hand into the hole, but not enough to remove it with the piece of tin in his hand. 

The boy continues to check the trap every day until eventually, he finds a raccoon stuck. All the little creature had to do to escape was let go of the tin and pull his hand out. But because he wanted to both escape and keep his prize, he remained trapped until the boy killed him. The next day the boy joyfully explains to his grandfather how he caught his first raccoon. Much to his surprise, the grandfather responds by telling him to never set a trap like that again. It simply wasn’t fair. It was un-sportsman. 

I was a lot like the stuck raccoon. In His goodness, God was allowing me to choose to either hold on to the things I thought I wanted or let go to find the things in Him I really needed. I didn’t need my position, popularity, or special treatment. What I needed most was time away from working in ministry to become a better minister and, honestly, person. I did not like how judgmental and proud I had become. I was frustrated by the fact my fears kept me from being myself. I wanted to be free to pursue the change I knew I needed. 

To let go of that old world would not only mean leaving behind my home, friends, status, identity, church family, and financial security. Making this shift caused me to worry I had brought my family out into a desert with no way out. What I found next was a world much bigger and more welcoming than I could have ever imagined.

You can read what happens next in Believe Again: Finding Faith After Losing Religion. It releases on October 4 on Amazon and Kindle. You can pre-order here

Right Ladder, Wrong Building

My Path to Spiritual Burnout

Energizer Bunny for Jesus

I wasn’t your typical teenager or even the average church kid. I was pretty radical about my faith. To avoid distractions, I asked my parents to disconnect the cable in my room. I got rid of my TV completely. Instead of a gaming system for Christmas, I wanted a leather bond NIV Life Application Study Bible. At one point, I took apart my bed and started sleeping on the floor. I didn’t want to be tempted to sleep in and miss praying in the morning before school. I also thought this would be an excellent way to prepare myself in case one day I had to sleep on the ground on the mission field. All of this was done, not out of religious duty, but out of genuine love for God. 

In my senior year of high school, I started a Christian club at my Christian School. Which I know sounds silly. Especially since we already had chapels, daily devotionals, and classes that began with prayer. Our unofficial slogan was, “We put the C in B.C.S. (Bethany Christian School).” That kind of lets you know what our perspective was if you weren’t in our club.

 I also got special permission to miss school during lunchtime to speak at Christian clubs at other high schools in the area. Even sports were just another opportunity for me to share my faith. After pickup basketball games in my neighborhood, I would hold the ball and make everyone wait to play the next game until after I shared my testimony and gave an altar call. This full itinerary doesn’t include the small groups, prayer meetings, retreats, and leadership gatherings I also attended at church. You are probably starting to see that I was a little Energizer Bunny for Jesus. But how long could I keep this up?

University Missionary

I continued this same zealous routine in college. On my first day on campus, the front page of the school newspaper read, “LSU Ranked #1 Party School.” One of my friends posted this in his room like it was a badge of honor. I saw things differently. University wasn’t a place for me to prepare for a career or make memories. It was a mission field that needed to be conquered (The Seashell Message got me). 

Even when my grades suffered, I still made sure I was at church every time the doors were open. I volunteered for our church more than most people work while in college and I still worked full-time. I never stopped to ask myself if something was out of balance. At this point, my family tried to intervene. They asked me to slow down with the church involvement. I just thought they were outsiders who couldn’t understand my passion. 

Was Something Wrong?

I missed out on many typical aspects of the college experience because of the time and energy I devoted to my spiritual pursuits. For example, one weekend, a friend of mine and I decided not to eat until we had read the entire New Testament. Another time I had a ticket to LSU’s first football National Championship game in over 40 years but gave it up to go on yet another retreat.

There were benefits to some of this, but it was also very much out of balance. I limited my class load to the bare minimum to be more involved with church activities. I went to youth services and stayed out late in revival meetings many times the night before an exam. This limited class schedule caused me to go into debt even though I was on scholarship because I had to attend an extra year of school to complete my requirements to graduate. These were all sacrifices I was happy to make at the time. “Onward Christian Soldier!”

When a Good Thing Becomes a Bad Thing

After graduating from LSU, I joined the church staff. Working at the church kept my ministry plans moving forward even though I was becoming increasingly exhausted from years of a demanding religious routine. My weekly schedule had enough church meetings to fill most senior pastor’s month. I was doing good things but had the nagging feeling I wasn’t being true to myself. The busyness could only cover up the restlessness in my soul for so long. 

I had to learn that a good thing could become a bad thing when it is taken to an extreme. Healing needs to take place when we are producing out of insecurity or a need to be recognized. I did not know it at the time, but I was manifesting all of the symptoms of codependency (see the 5 attributes in this blog). I was a religious addict who was using spiritual activities to mask insecurity and wounds that needed emotional healing. Without being properly addressed, people like me end up hurting themselves and others. I experienced these consequences first-hand in multiple ways. At the time, my identity was more connected to what I did for God instead of who I was in Christ. It was hard to see that I was speeding towards a cliff of religious disappointment.

Right Ladder, Wrong Building

What started as a passionate love relationship with God had become a high-performance machine of religious production. It provided a way for me to be elevated and achieve my goals, but at what cost? I had become proud, critical, and generally spiritually unhealthy. Eventually, I would reach the top of my ladder only to realize I had leaned it against the wrong building. 

This experience was like a spiritual carbon monoxide poisoning. I wasn’t aware the air I was breathing was becoming toxic. Perhaps I was too busy to notice my first love had been exchanged for the trap of religious performance. I was naturally driven, which made it even easier for me to fall into this pit. Even though the signs were already warning me as I started my adventure in full-time ministry, it would be another seven years before I changed course.

Time to Believe Again

Eventually, I decided to make a U-turn before running into a brick wall that could have ended in disaster. For me, that looked like stepping away from full-time ministry when it appeared everything was going great. The result was over two years of working in the secular world and attending church as a member instead of a staff member or leader. You may wonder why I would make that kind of change like, but that decision forever changed how I view God, church, and people. It is from those experiences that I wrote the book Believe Again: Finding Faith After Losing Religion. 

The book is written much like this blog post. Each chapter is a short essay where I share a story from this incredibly uncomfortable but transformative season of life. Believe Again will be a great help for those who have experienced church hurt or spiritual burnout. If you know someone who has gone through something like this then please order a copy of this book and give it to them. They will laugh, identify with the story, and hopefully find inspiration to begin again in their faith.

Use this link to order Believe Again: Finding Faith After Losing Religion in paperback or Kindle edition.

Overcoming the Fear of Writing

Why it Took Me So Long to Write Believe Again

The Story Within the Story

It took eight years to write Believe Again: Finding Faith After Losing Religion. You see, I type very slowly. I’m just kidding. It’s because I am not a very good writer. Also, kidding. At least, I hope that’s not true. I have been writing and sharing stories since high school. So, why did it take so long to get this into your hands?

This book shares intimate and often embarrassing moments in my life. Just the process of revealing these details is enough to cause almost anyone to pause and reflect before pressing send. The struggle to believe enough in myself to write this book is the story within the story. 

Am I Crazy?

Multiple times, I have had to Believe Again that I could finish this project and that it matters. First, I had to convince myself I was not crazy to write these experiences down. Then, I had to overcome the insecurity of feeling I was not good enough to write publicly. This involved dealing with thoughts like, Who am I to think people would want to read what I write? Is my story even interesting to begin with? After that came the fear of people misunderstanding me and my intentions. 

Once I cleared those hurdles, something else began to happen. I grew spiritually, emotionally, and as a writer. Through this, I would review each current draft and think, “I have to change this. I don’t even write or think like this anymore.” During this time, God transformed my perspective on the situations I share in this book. What I thought was important was not. Other parts needed more emphasis than I realized at first. This story is so personal to me. I knew time would have to pass for my perspective to mature. This all led to more rewrites. Many times, I wondered out loud, “Will this ever get to a place where I could say it is finished?”

The Shadows of Fear

My circumstances have told me that I am not a writer every day since I began, well, writing. There has continuously been something else I was always supposed to be or do. But when I closed my eyes at night and opened them again in the morning, I knew something different. I am a writer. The question was, would I pass the test, believe again, and take another step? Or would I hide from what was in my heart? If anything, that is the lesson of this book. Believing again is not a grand gesture. It is a commitment to take one step at a time towards what God has put in your heart. To do this, you also have to have the courage to move away from the shadows where fear allows you to hide.

I hope Believe Again will help you let go of every substitute and find authentic faith. By the time you are finished reading it, I want you to realize that who you are in Christ is more important than where you are in life. This is crucial in our journey to living out an enjoyable, meaningful Christianity.

Believe Again: Finding Faith After Losing Religion will be released on October 4 on Amazon. In the meantime, you can pre-order it at joshroberie.com/shop at a 20% discount. You can find out more about the book and get Believe Again merch at BelieveAgain.net.

What Is Believe Again About?

An Honest and Hopeful Journey to Rediscover Faith

I hope you are not expecting Believe Again: Finding Faith After Losing Religion to be a typical “preacher book.” These pages are not filled with outlines and sermons. Instead, you will find a story overflowing with surprising friendships, unconventional mentors, and lessons I never knew I needed to learn. It is one I hope you can even find yourself in as well. If you have ever grown weary in your faith, wanted to give up on going to church, or have been discouraged by the circumstances of life, then I want to encourage you to read on. 

After years on staff at the large church I grew up in, I found myself suddenly working outside of full-time ministry. This transition into the real world was startling for someone who grew up in church and never intended to do anything but work as a pastor. It was the lowest point of my life. The exact rock bottom of this unexpected change was somewhere between asking the guy I used to pay to cut my grass if I could work for him and taking orders from a convict with a knife so I could support my family. But let’s not get nitpicky with the details.

One of the best things that came from this season was the relationships I gained as a result of this unique path. Much of this book focuses on these amazing people. They are the characters in the goofy spiritual journey I was on. Many of these friends came from the new way I was living my life and where I started working. Others came along as I developed the courage to share my story publicly. The things I was experiencing were so outrageous, and such a contrast to the life I lived before, that I started writing them down. Eventually, I decided it would be a good idea to share some of these embarrassing details with a blog.

True to how I was feeling at the time I named the blog, “Fish Out of Church.” I had blogged for a long time before this, but not in a personal and vulnerable way. The more I wrote, the more people would reach out to talk about their own experiences. Connecting over our shared disappointments in life and church as well as our hopes for the future seemed to bring some healing. 

Could maybe others use some encouragement to step out of their religious comfort zone as I had done?  Is it possible you fall into this category as well? I wrote this book to help anyone who was in the same situation I was in and needs to discover a fresh perspective on faith, find hope in trying times, or could use a little help learning to trust God one day at a time.

The circumstances I share in this book made it appear my time in ministry, along with many of my hopes and dreams, were over. I was surprised to find an uncomfortable season working outside of the church would strengthen my faith and teach me to lead more like Jesus. I believe this collection of outlandish stories will help you do the same. Here is how I lost my religion, found authentic faith, and began to believe again.

Believe Again will be available on Amazon on October 4.

Find out more about the book here: https://believeagain.net

Pre-order the book at a discount and check out the Believe Again merch here: https://joshroberie.com/shop/

The Search for Contentment

Our boat gently glides with the breeze across a pristine pond in South Carolina. I am fishing with a friend. The conversation is meaningful and natural- refreshing even. Ancient Oaks with curtains of moss hang from swirling branches and frame up our view. If you could sum up the word “peace” with an early morning scene, this would be it. The only problem is restlessness lingers in my chest like the morning fog that has yet to leave the water around me. Why is this?

This is our second day of fishing. On the first day, I caught two largemouth bass. They are probably the two biggest bass I have ever caught. This got me excited about how many fish I could catch before the end of the trip. I set the mark at ten. As a bonus, I decided I must catch the biggest fish out of everyone.

Am I an experienced bass fisherman? No, not really. I have been fly-fishing for a few years at this point and only got a crash course on bass fishing from a friend right before this trip. That does not change my perspective, though. I caught two nice fish on the first day. That cemented the possibility that I would easily catch ten or more before the end of the trip.

As the morning continues, the sun begins to press harder on our necks and backs. I am growing more frustrated as well. My friend is catching more and more fish, and I have yet to get a bite. We adjust my lure, I get a bite, and then the fish wiggles off of the line before I can reel him in. Now I am just angry. Why do things always end up this way for me? The familiar feeling of not being good enough and even discouragement begins to muddy the waters of an otherwise perfect day.

Then it dawns on me. Why am I so upset? I have already caught two of the largest fish I have ever caught (and have the photos to prove it!). I love being in nature and quality time with good people. Every physical sense I have, my eyes, ears, skin, nose, and tongue, tells me I am sitting in perfection, yet I am discontent. It is the sixth sense of self-induced pressure that is ruining my day. Is it possible that it is only this made-up goal of catching a certain number of fish that is causing me to feel discouraged? Because, other than that, everything is great!

Paul talks about the secret of contentment in Phillippians 4:11-13:

11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

Phillippians 4:11-13 NIV

A couple of things stand out to me about this passage. The first is verse 13. So often used to encourage ourselves in difficult situations and athletes in a moment of competition, I see it differently in light of the previous verses. When Paul says, “I can do all things through [Christ],” he is actually saying, “I can [find contentment in any situation] through him who gives me strength.” Wow! This passage has more to do with contentment than it does with accomplishing the impossible.

The second thing I noticed is that he calls contentment a “secret.” To Paul, it is something to be “learned.” This means that finding contentment may not be obvious at first. It is something that has to be searched for to be found. To begin a search for treasure, there are certain things you have to leave behind because they would only hold you back on your journey. You cannot bring everything with you in your boat. That day on the bass pond, I needed to leave something behind if I wanted to embrace a journey of joy and contentment on the path ahead.

I like that I set goals for myself and am not satisfied with how things are. It is not always a good thing, though. Too often, I put pressure on myself that is not from God or anyone else. It is a striving in me that reveals a lack of patience and trust. It is a fleshly focus on self that needs to be brought to the Cross so that my soul truly flourishes in contentment.

That morning, I decided to remove my numerical goal for catching fish and just enjoy the process of fishing. I don’t mean for this to be a metaphor for pastoring and growing a church, but it feels like that without even trying. Since that day, this principle of leaving behind unnecessary pressure has been something I have been applying more to my life in every area. Contentment is part of the crucified life. It requires saying no to ourselves so that we can say yes to the peace of God that leads to the secret of contentment.

How We Train Our Kids to Be Leaders

A neighbor recently commented that my oldest daughter, Sophie, is such a leader. She went on to say Sophie does an excellent job of getting other kids together and organizing activities without being bossy or demanding. I thanked her for the compliment. Then went on to tell her, “My goal is for Sophie to be a leader, but I actually never tell her to be a leader.”

Why I Never Call My Kids Leaders

Being a leader is not enough. How we lead determines the lasting impact of our influence. To help our kids become the leaders God designed them to be, we must be careful not to add unnecessary pressure, emphasize leaders are not just the people in charge, and help them become the best version of themselves.

Unnecessary Pressure

When you tell someone to be a leader, you may mean, “don’t follow the crowd when they do something wrong,” but the thought of “being a leader” can take own a life of its own in the mind of a child. If we do a good job affirming a child at home, then what we really want in those situations is for them to be who we know they are instead of trying to do what they think a leader would do. To me, that means, affirming their identity is more important than telling them to live up to a certain standard.

Not the Person in Charge

A leader is not just the person in charge. It is the person with influence. When kids hear “leader,” they may think they have to boss others around. If my kids become bossy and try to correct other kids, they lose influence and friends. That is why it is crucial to emphasize identity in young kids instead of leadership.

What We Do Instead

Affirming your child’s identity can help them be the leader they are meant to be among their friends because they will be leading out of their authentic selves instead of trying to enforce and live up to a certain standard. Being secure in their identity will prepare them to lead well as young adults when they can more understand the complexity of what it truly means to be a leader.

Benefits of Affirming

  1. When the child falls short, they land on who their parents (and God) say they are instead of the guilt and condemnation of not being the leader they are supposed to be.
  2. Affirming creates authentic confidence inside a child to lead out of who they are, in their own way, instead of striving to be what they think a leader should look like.
  3. When you affirm a child, you give them security instead of unintentionally inserting the idea that they have to live up to a certain standard as a leader to be good enough for your approval.
  4. When kids know who they are, they will not be afraid to be different. They are not gaining their identity from their friend group, being a part of what others are doing, or being the person in charge.

How We Affirm

Starting at about one-year-old, I created sayings that would build up each of my girls’ confidence and identity. As they grew, I would change what I said over them based on how each girl blossomed. I will share what I would tell Sophie each night as I rocked her to bed. 

“You are so sweet and so smart. So sensitive and so strong. You are my sweet, sweet, Sophie, that is so, so, sweet, and I love you so much. You are my very only special Sophie girl. There is no one else like you, and I think you are so pretty.”

There are some principles built into that saying that are important. 

Character

We celebrate character. Accomplishments are just the product of good character. So even when we point out accomplishments, we always highlight the character that got them there.

Special to Me

Kids need to know they are precious just because they exist and are part of their family, not because they live up to a certain standard. When I say the words, “I am proud of you,” it is connected to a godly decision or character they display 90% of the time. Kids want their parents to celebrate their victories, so of course, we do that. We just don’t make that the focus.

Superficial but Necessary

You’ll also notice I tell Sophie she is pretty, but not until after building up her identity in other ways first. Little girls need to hear they are lovely, just like little boys need to hear they are handsome and strong. Again, I want my daughter to know that true beauty abides in how they treat others. I want Cinderellas in my house and not Little Mermaids. 

I finished the conversation with my neighbor by telling her that a parent who emphasizes being a leader to their young children is a good thing. If you are doing that, you are already thinking ahead of the challenges kids will face and preparing them to stand firm. 

We have just chosen a different path based on our experience and how we have seen emphasizing and even pressuring people to be a leader can cause them to lead, but not from an authentic place. I figure I would spend my kids’ childhood building up their confidence and identity. I hope that as they get older, they will lead, not because they are supposed to or have to, but because their emotional bank account is full. This way, they can help others out of the overflow of who they are, and not because they need anything from those around them. These are the types of leaders I always enjoyed following the most, anyway.

DEVELOPING LEADERS FOR CHURCH PLANTING AND BEYOND

You have heard the saying, ABC: Always be closing. In ministry the phrase should be ABD: Always be developing leaders (including recruiting leaders). When recruiting people for your church plant, consider reaching those far from Christ, finding people who need a church to grow in their faith, and gathering leaders who can help you support the mission of the church.

“If I were running a company today I would have one priority above all others: to acquire as many of the best people as I could [because] the single biggest constraint on the success of my organization is the ability to get and to hang on to enough of the right people.”

Jim Collins, author of Good to Great

Such a good thought for church planters in the recruiting phase. I believe this also applies to all seasons of any organization. Leaders are the skeleton that supports church growth. You can swell without good leaders. You can gather by taking advantage of seasons and great planning for an event. But sustainable growth requires great leaders and teams of leaders to hold the pieces together. Leaders are the ones who transmit the values and culture into others.

“Leaders are the skeleton that supports church growth.”

Understanding the following three phases of pastoring helps you develop leaders while taking care of everyone else in the church.

Reaching new people. If your church plant is not reaching out to those far from God, then you are missing the point. A new church should not merely add a new worship service to a community. It should be an outpost of help and rescue, actively displaying the love of Christ by helping people meet their spiritual and physical needs.

Caring for members. Members easily can be overlooked in the mix of starting a new church or growing an existing church. Alternately, they can become the total focus of a church that then unintentionally ignores other groups. Being a wise pastor means continuously providing love, encouragement, and correction to members. We must cry with them and celebrate them. Our goal with this group is to help them take one step at a time in their faith, patiently caring for them along the way.

Developing leaders. Leaders require a different type of attention and plan of action. We don’t love any group more than another, but to love everyone equally, we must love each person differently. As a church planter, keep your eyes open for gatherers. These are people who carry their own influence and have a desire to share that influence with you to grow the local church. The goal is to let them know they are appreciated, while encouraging them to carry the culture. They may get more access to you, and this investment is significant. When the time is right, you will multiply your efforts by delegating responsibility to your leaders.

To summarize, we must focus on recruiting three types of people: New people, through service and outreach; new members, through gatherings and pastoral care; and new leaders, through access and individualized plans. This is not only an important strategy for church planting; it is an effective approach to get and hang on to the right people and help your ministry achieve its mission of reaching the community and growing Christ-followers.

This article first appeared at arc churches.com