11 Ways to Get More Out of Church

More Out of Church 11 Ways to Get More Out of Church

Until June of last year, I spent my days (since graduation from college) in full-time ministry. I’ve served in a wide range of roles and capacities, from a Christian school teacher to a church worship leader. I’ll be sharing many insights and opinions in the future based on my 18 years of experience, and today I want to talk about getting the most out of your church experience.

I’m fully of the belief that life can only be experienced to the fullest if we surrender our selves to Jesus Christ. I’m also of the belief that it’s impossible for me to become the best I can be apart from being deeply involved in a local church, and by building real relationships with the people there.

Over the years I’ve met and talked to many people who have expressed a certain amount of disappointment with their church experiences. There are times when their disappointment is valid, but many times that disappointment stems from what I believe is a jaundiced perspective. In fact, I think there are some people in our modern culture who have their expectations regarding church turned completely backwards.

A Fully-Formed Spiritual Life

The core of the Christian life is every bit as incremental as the other aspects of life I discuss here at The Incremental Life. A spiritual life is one of progressive sanctification, allowing the Holy Spirit to work in us so that we become more and more like Jesus Christ each day.

With that in mind, let me quote the apostle Paul as he spoke to the elders of the church in Ephesus. Paul was the epitome of striving to live a Christ-like life, and he had this to say near the end of his life. “In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed mto give than to receive.’” (Acts 20:35 ESV)

Church is an area of life where we should focus more on giving than getting. We were never meant to just be attenders who show up for an hour on Sunday, sing some songs, listen to a sermon, and then head out to lunch. We were made for God’s good pleasure and made for a relationship with Him and others. We were meant to be filled with Christ so we can share all that He gives us with everyone we meet.

11 Ways to Get More Out of Church

  1. Be open to change. At the center of Christ’s work on the cross is the reality of radical change. If you’re a believer in Christ, somewhere along the way you were made to realize your deep need for Christ and the kind of life only He can offer. This life is one of change as we become less like who we were yesterday and more like Him. (Psalm 51:10)
  2. Be a servant. Walking into a church building should almost never be a selfish endeavor. Yes, we have needs and hurts of our own, but we should approach our time with fellow believers as an opportunity to serve Christ and others. How invested are you in your local church and in the community it reaches out to? How do you volunteer your time, talents, and skills? (Mark 10:45)
  3. Be gracious. When we’re more worried about getting something we want out of our church, we tend to be critical about how things at that church operate. This Sunday—(and every Sunday)—choose to not be critical about the music, or the way the pastor dresses, or the way someone lifts their hands, or whatever. Choose to be gracious, knowing that the church is filled with fallible people just like you. Better yet, see how you can get involved and serve! (John 13:35)
  4. Be a giver. There’s an old adage you may have heard before. “Show me someone’s bank account and I can tell you what they care about most.” Though we don’t like to admit it, there’s a great deal of truth to that sentiment. Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Are you investing in your church? Not just an hour or two each Sunday, and maybe some extra time volunteering, but are you giving sacrificially monetarily to the work of ministry? (Matthew 6:21)
  5. Be engaged and be teachable. When it comes time for the sermon or any other Bible study time, how engaged are you? How engaged can you be? Challenge yourself and take notes during the sermon. Bring your Bible and read along, even if the pastor projects verses up on screens. (Acts 17:11)
  6. Be an encourager. Who can you encourage when you interact with your church family. Let me tell you something you may not realize. When you are friendly and an encouragement to your church staff, it’s a BIG deal. (1 Thessalonians 5:11)
  7. Be a student. Take your notes from the sermon and Bible study time and spend some time studying them through the week. Become a theologian and learn how apply so that it changes how you think, act, and live. (2 Timothy 2:15)
  8. Be prepared. Read and pray regularly between Sundays, knowing that the sermon you hear on Sunday is not some spiritual vitamin meant to somehow get you through the week. Scripture was given to us by God to be woven into our lives and have an impact on every thought, act, and decision. Prepare yourself throughout the week for service on Sunday by applying the Word on the days in between. (2 Timothy 3:14-17)
  9. Be humble. Approach the day with humility, realizing that no matter how long you’ve been a Christian, no matter how much Christ has changed you, no matter how much you know, you’ve still got an infinitely long journey ahead before you are made like Christ. Also remember that everyone around you is on the same road, and they might just be looking for a helping hand from you. (Colossians 3:12)
  10. Be a friend and a burden bearer. Work on building real relationships with others at your church. Depending on the size of the congregation, you may never get to know everyone, but you should start building real friendships and strong bonds with at least some of your fellow members. These are the people who will not only help you bear your burdens, but will also need you to come alongside them and support them through the ups and downs of life. (Galatians 6:2)
  11. Be committed. Once you’ve joined a church, make a real commitment to that church. Please don’t allow yourself to just be an attender, but be someone deeply involved in the manner described above. And when the going gets tough, stick it out and stand by your church family. (Hebrews 10:25)

Remember, church is not about us. It’s first and foremost about our relationship with Christ as we, like Paul, strive daily to become more like the Savior. It’s secondly about how we can love one another in many different capacities—from sharing the Gospel and building great relationships to feeding the poor and hungry and caring for widows and orphans.

As you head out to attend church this Sunday, my prayer is that you choose to do more than just attend. My hope is that you will become a fully-engaged member of a vibrant community of believers and contribute to make it even more vibrant.

What Should I Do if I’m Close to Burning Out?

burning out What Should I Do if Im Close to Burning Out?

My Story of Being Stretched Too Thin

Several years ago, I was essentially working two full-time jobs at the same time and was very close to going over the edge into complete burnout.

I was a school teacher in a private school, teaching a fairly wide range of subjects. In a typical week I taught computer classes to literally every single grade from 1st though 12th grade, as well as teaching a Jr/Sr level theology class, speaking in assemblies several times per month, and teaching drama as well as band and choir. If you know anything about school teaching, it starts early in the morning—long before the students actually show up for class—and doesn’t end when the students go home. A typical day saw a least a few extra hours of homework and tests to grade, reports to write, and much more before the work day was done.

On top of all this I was the music minister of the church to which the school was connected, a job which called for a minimum of 15 hours of work per week on top of my teaching responsibilities. Rarely did I spend just 15 hours on this aspect of my job, it was typically more like 20-30. The thing is that a lot of the time I was stealing moments of quiet during my classes—while students were getting independent work done—to focus on the ministry portion of my vocation. And as a minister Sunday was a workday, while Saturday was often taken up with more grading papers or other work-related stuff. Translation, I rarely took a full day off in any given week.

Add other stressors that were nipping at me and my family at the time and you get someone who was walking on the edge of burnout more days than not. I’m not telling you this to whine or complain, just to let you know what being overworked looks like, and to share with you some of the strategies I’ve learned over the years to help you back away from going over that edge into burnout.

9 Actions to Take Before You Run Out of Fuel

  1. Ask for advice. I was only 30 years old when I went through my near-burnout, so I had a lot to learn about life. (I still do!) I went to the school principal who was not only my supervisor but also a good friend. He gave me some great advice and some strategies I could implement in my classes that he had learned over several years of experience in education. His door was also always open when I needed someone to talk things through, which is something you should always highly prize when someone’s willing to do the same for you.
  2. Ask for help. My wife became a huge help during those days, from just being an encourager to giving me space for peace and quiet from the kids when I needed it. One of the other things she did was help me get through my paperwork when I asked. Having the help of someone who loves you will bring your stress levels down exponentially.
  3. Get a kitten! Okay, maybe not a kitten specifically, but it’s no secret that having a pet helps lower stress. Not a pet person? Well, maybe you just haven’t found the right fit yet, so take a look at the options. You’d be surprised how relaxing a small aquarium with a few fish and the soft sounds of moving water can be. (Don’t believe how stress-relieving a kitten can be? Watch this awesome video I found yesterday.)
  4. Work toward long-term goals with incremental steps. One of the best pieces of advice my principal friend gave me was the concept of taking small steps toward the completion of major goals. One of the things stressing me out that year was a huge spring concert that I’d planned, but I was having trouble pulling all the pieces together and felt like the whole thing was going to flop. He calmly directed me to focus on what I needed to get done today/this week/this month in order to pull it off. In the end, that concert ended up being one of the best I directed in my time at that school.
  5. Take a day off. Your body, mind, and soul need rest on a regular basis. It doesn’t matter how well you work under pressure, even the strongest person will eventually break when that pressure is non-stop. One of the things I learned in my high-stress season of life was the real need to take a day off regularly and just be. Even if it meant taking on a little more work after my day off, I was refreshed and better able to tackle that work later on.
  6. Learn to say no. When I was in the ministry full time, I often struggled with telling people no when they asked for my help. Over time, I found my calendar filled with more and more activities that I’d volunteered to take on, or extra responsibilities I’d agreed to tackle in an effort to be a go-getter employee. One of the reasons I left the position where I experienced my near-burnout was that I just had too much going on, so I’d become mediocre at everything. Don’t feel guilty to tell someone no.
  7. Ask for relief. My principal friend was also able to take some of the pressure off when I asked. I have a friend now who recently realized that they’ve also taken too much recently, so they went and talked to their supervisor with openness and honesty and let them know what was going on. Just like in my case, their supervisor couldn’t take away everything that was weighing them down, but they could share and distribute the load.
  8. Burn some vacation days now. If you’ve got some vacation time and you can get approval from your boss, the best time to use those days might just be when you’re close to burnout. Unless you just can’t get away, consider using at least a few days to put everything down and walk away, even if you already had plans for those days. If you burn out and can’t function in your job any longer, you’re going to lose that job and the vacation days too. Better to use them now than save them up for when you might feel better.
  9. Take care of yourself. This is probably one of the areas where I struggle most. I’ve been better in recent years, but one of the things I realize as I look back on my near-burnout days is that it was a time of my life where I was doing the least to be healthy. I was borderline morbidly obese, drinking a 2-liter or more per day of soda, and the only exercise I got was climbing the stairs each day to sit in my classroom. The human body was made for motion—for work—and that body’s systems break down if they’re not taken care of properly.

For most of these tips you’ll see that the key to avoiding burning is to keep from spreading yourself too thin in critical areas of your work and personal life. I’ll be the first to admit that there are even more practices you should implement in your life long before you get close to burnout such as letting go of perfectionism, laugh more, spend intentional time with your family, staying socially active, having a hobby, and more.

If you feel like you’re close to burning out, you need to take action to begin relieving your stress TODAY. Don’t wait a moment longer. Go and talk to someone you trust who can help share your burdens and take an objective look at what’s going on in your life and what action steps you can take.

What are your tips to relieve stress and prevent burn out? Please share in the comments.

14 Key Components of Personal Development

14 Key Components of 14 Key Components of Personal Development

Do you want to unlock your full potential? No matter where you are on the path of personal upward mobility, there is always room for improvement.

Despite some of the latest silly beliefs that have crept up about the power of attraction—an absolutely silly idea that if you just believe something strong enough the universe will align everything your way—personal achievement is really about preparation, practice, perseverance, and perspiration.

In other words, work, hard work.

If you want to ensure that you’re not erecting your own roadblocks, there are several key components for personal growth that you need to work on with intentionality and focus. I’m sure you’ll find you need to work on some more than others, but if you commit yourself to these areas of life you’ll find consistent and unstoppable personal growth.

14 Key Components of Personal Development

  1. Always be accountable. Anyone who begins to believe that the rules no longer apply to them is on unsteady ground. Surround yourself with people who can and will call you out when your life begins drifting off course.
  2. Have a healthy balance of contentment and discontent. Be content with what you have so that you’re not tempted to take foolish or unethical shortcuts. Likewise don’t ever settle with how much you’ve grown, but rather have an unquenchable desire to be better tomorrow than you are today.
  3. Remain teachable. If you stop learning, you stop growing. Dr. Howard Hendricks said, “I would rather my students drink from a running stream than a stagnant pool.” If you want to be constantly and consistently inspired, and have the ability to inspire others, you must be taking in far more than you give out.
  4. Leaders are readers. Zig Ziglar once said, “All leaders are readers.” Akin to remaining teachable, if you want to experience growth you need to be constantly and consistently challenged mentally, and one of the best ways to do that is through reading. The more you read, the more information you give your mind to process, which leads to new ideas of your own.
  5. Learn to balance risk and caution. You become increasingly wise and know when you should and shouldn’t take risks. Necessary risks are when you are willing push forward with without fear of failure. That’s different from risky behavior with places yourself, your business, or those who depend on you in danger in some way.
  6. Challenge yourself. Don’t let yourself take the easy path. Look at every difficulty and obstacle as an opportunity for growth.
  7. Build discipline. A Bible verse that’s become my personal reminder in recent years is Hebrew2 12:11. “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it yields a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” The pain of discipline now prevents the sting of regret later on.
  8. Be curious. Never stop wondering how the world around you works, or how people innovate and create. When you lose your sense of wonder, you lose your own potential to think creatively and push the boundaries of what’s possible.
  9. Always be open to change. Growth requires change, so if you truly desire personal growth you will experience change. Change will push you out of your comfort zone and will force you to change your habits.
  10. Insist upon the truth, especially from yourself. Decide now to always be honest with everyone around you. Having complete transparency about how and why you do what you do builds trust in the people you lead. You should also learn to be honest with yourself, otherwise you’ll make yourself a fool.
  11. Give yourself permission to fail. Remember how many attempts it took Thomas Edison to perfect the design for the lightbulb—over 1,000. Understand that failure is really nothing more than a stepping stone on the path to success.
  12. Let go of perfectionism and concentrate on progress. Excellence is not equivalent to perfection. Be more concerned about doing your best each day and making forward motion toward your goals and dreams.
  13. Refuse to give up. Perseverance is necessary for personal growth. Failure isn’t fatal unless you give up.
  14. Stay humble. Don’t start believing you’ve got everything figured out or that you’re incapable of failure. The moment you let those thoughts creep in you’ve stunted any possibility for further personal growth.

Always remember that personal development is a life-long process, so don’t get down on yourself if you don’t excel in all these area every day. Focus more on progressive and incremental growth by knowing who you want to become and making plans to get there.

What do you think? What key components of personal development are most important? Is there anything you think I’ve left out? Please let us know in the comments.

How Valuable Are You as an Employee? Determining if You Deserve a Raise

valuable employee How Valuable Are You as an Employee? Determining if You Deserve a Raise

Want to know if you should ask for a raise soon? Before you make the walk and talk to your boss or supervisor, ask yourself a few questions to determine how much value you bring to the company. There are two sets of questions you should ask yourself:

Question Set A:

  1. Do you cost your organization time and money because you’re a slacker?
  2. Do you avoid going the extra mile?
  3. Do you refuse to learn how to do your job better unless you’re paid more to do so?
  4. Do you always ask for help instead of attempting to figure things out on your own first?
  5. Do you give up if a task seems too hard?
  6. Do you often walk in late or leave early?
  7. Does your boss/supervisor have to remind you to get your work done on time?

Question Set B:

  1. If you left your job, would they have to hire two or more people to replace you?
  2. Do you bring the value of more than one employee to the table?
  3. Do other people on the team regularly ask you for help?
  4. Are you a self-starter and a go-getter?
  5. Are you willing to work extra time to get a job done right?
  6. Do you look for ways to challenge yourself to grow?
  7. Are you a timely employee, both in your attendance and in getting stuff done?

If you answered “yes” to one or more of the questions in Set A, you should probably sit tight and start working harder.

If you answered “yes” to one or more the questions in Set B, you’re probably in a good position to make the walk and negotiate for a raise.

What do you think? What are some questions you would ask yourself to discover your value as an employee? Please share in the comments.