MarriageToday’s Jimmy and Karen Evans know firsthand that even the most seemingly hopeless marriages can be resurrected and restored
Twenty years ago in April 1993, a 39-year-old pastor woke up from a dream at 3 a.m., feeling like he’d heard from God.
“I saw my wife, Karen, and I sitting on a TV set talking to people about marriage,” says Jimmy Evans, founder and CEO of the international ministry MarriageToday. “I just had a strong impression in my heart that God wanted us to do a TV ministry that was very compassionate, excellent and about marriage.”
The next two mornings, he awoke from the same dream. But not unlike other leaders who receive a calling, Evans told God, “I’m not qualified. You need to find someone else.”
Still, he knew he’d heard from God and shared his dreams with Karen and the elders of Trinity Fellowship in Amarillo, Texas, where he has served as senior leader for 30 years to date. As he continued to pray about it, Jimmy says God gave him several promises and began to fulfill them. A little more than a year later, Jimmy and Karen had produced several pilot programs as a result.
How do you and your wife keep your marriage prioritized above ministry? What is your greatest challenge in keeping your marriage strong? What is and isn’t working in your church to reach couples and strengthen their marriages?
We asked a group of pastors these questions and more. What follows are their insightful responses, as these leaders give us an inside look at how they pursue marriage and deal with the inevitable struggles, as well as how they’re leading their churches to help build marriages. And we are richer for their experience.
I love to eat! When I was in high school, I would go for a day or two without eating and never even notice. We had plenty of food; I was just busy with other things. Now I barely go for an hour or two without being tempted by something with enough calories to add pounds just by looking at it.
I appreciate a nice restaurant with quality food and great service. I love Atlanta, but it did take some getting used to “all things fried” and sweet tea so sweet it can take the enamel off your teeth. So each time Patti and I find a really great restaurant, we are thrilled.
Large and small restaurants share a similar purpose. They want to serve good food, provide good service and make a profit. But they are different in nature. Small, one-of-a-kind restaurants have different concerns than the larger “mega” restaurants, chains and franchises do.
My wife Ann and I lead busy lives. Yet, despite the flurry of activity, God has protected us from the ravages of spiritual collapse. One of the reasons is that we’ve been able to keep up a daily personal devotional life. For us, it’s a key to sanity!
Many of us are task oriented. What we DO is the measure of our success. If you ask people why Jesus was successful most will point to the to the things he did. “He healed the sick…cast out demons…raised the dead…preached to the multitudes”…and the list goes on. And yet, there’s an aspect of the Messiah’s life that involved doing ‘nothing,’ but spending time alone with the Father. So significant were these times that all four Gospels mention them. In fact, Luke 5:16 says that “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”
Worship leaders are some of the first people to get to church and some of the last to leave. We plan all week for a practice, only to find the singer we’d hoped to feature on a song has called at the last minute and says she’ll be out of town. We work hard to lead a team toward excellence, yet we all know the feeling of finding out five minutes before rehearsal on Sunday morning that our drummer is sick and won’t be there.
God, did you really intend for me to go through this? I used to ask this often. Our church secretary can attest to the number of times I’ve said, “I just wanted to play my trumpet and my piano, and that’s it; God got me into the rest of this thing!”
As I was thinking about these all-too-common worship leader experiences and pondering a point from my pastor’s recent preaching, something clicked for me. God knows what tree I’ve climbed! Let me explain.
In Luke 19:2-8, we find Zacchaeus strategizing so he can encounter Jesus. The short man ran ahead of the crowd traveling with Jesus and found a sycamore tree to climb to boost his chances. I imagine him saying to himself, “Thisis the tree I’ll climb to see Jesus. He has to come through this road!”
The truth is, it wasn’t Zacchaeus who knew where Jesus would walk; it was Jesus who knew where Zacchaeus would be.
Today, God knows every single struggle and joy you go through as a worship leader. He knows the number of hours you put into arranging a song, learning the chords and figuring out different ways to play it so it will sound fresh and new. He knows when the arrangements you work so hard on at rehearsal come out exactly as planned—as well as when they flop! (And we all have some flops once in a while.)
He knows the happiness you feel when everything goes well on Sunday and the disillusionment you experience when it doesn’t. He even knows when you struggle to reveal to others those inner feelings, for fear they’ll either think you’re self-consumed or that your sole concern is how the music sounded rather than what God did in the service or whether He was truly worshipped.
God knew where Zacchaeus was. He knew his status in society, his fears, his problems, even his thieving. He knew the emotion Zacchaeus would experience when Jesus called out his name in front of so many people, most of whom he knew despised him.
Let me remind you today that just as Jesus knew about Zacchaeus, He knows and cares about your emotions, triumphs and failures. You’re not just "Worship Leader No. 1087"!
Jesus also knows your name, and in the same way He called Zacchaeus by name down from that tree, He calls your name today. He knows what tree you’ve climbed into, and He wants to hear all about what’s going on with you. He cares for you!
Your tree may be the ministry or church that you’re helping to lead. It may even be the team you’re on. God knows why you’re on that tree and not on another, and He knew this is where He was going to find you and change your life.
I encourage you, as the Word says in Galatians 6:9, “Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary” (NASB). Have a heart open to what God wants to teach you while you’re on this tree. Often He’ll even show you why you’re there and give you a deeper purpose.
Worship leader, you are not alone. Jesus knows what tree you’re on!
Denis Camposserves as the director of Christ for the Nations’ Advanced School of Worship and Technical Arts.
As youth pastors, we don’t like to talk about numbers. If we do, it’s with wailing and gnashing of teeth, as we imagine the elders shaking their heads in frustration at the job we’re doing to reach the students in the community.
Or we laugh at the image of the same elders shaking their heads with concern because the numbers are up but the students you’re reaching are causing problems—serious problems—like an occasional swear word and wearing earbuds on church property.
Here’s the truth: Numbers matter.
Try as we might to help leadership see the student ministry discipleship process as more than a head count, it remains one of the universally accepted currencies of “health” in youth ministry. Here are a few numbers to keep an eye on:
Pastor, you set the tone and atmosphere in your congregation. If you want to know the warmth of your church, put the thermometer in your own mouth.
I’ve visited some churches where the pastor’s lack of love is the main reason the church isn’t growing. Some pastors, by their cold demeanor and lack of personal warmth, virtually guarantee that visitors won’t come back. And in some larger churches, I’ve gotten the impression that the pastor loves an audience but doesn’t like people.
Great preaching without love is just noise in God’s view. Every time I speak to at Saddleback, I repeat a simple reminder to myself. I never preach or teach without thinking this:
I had a chance to get away with some of our youth ministry leadership team recently to process some of the common pitfalls that youth pastors face as they navigate ministry. My mind has hovered around three particular ones that I’ve personally witnessed in my recent experience in youth ministry:
Recently I had the privilege of speaking to over 400 Filipino kids' ministry pastors, coordinators and volunteers at our annual Victory National Kids Ministry Summit. The delegates came to Island Cove from 50 Philippine cities, plus Singapore, Cambodia and Dubai.
My topic was the “why” of kids' ministry. I told some stories, read some Bible verses and asked four questions. Here are the Bible verses and questions.
Question 1: Are we bringing kids to church or to Jesus? Getting kids to church is a good start, but it is only a start. The goal is to get them to Jesus. Let’s not be like the disciples in Mark 10:13 who completely missed the point: “People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them” (NIV).
Even though school has not let out here in Maryland, we are already in summer mode. That doesn’t mean we shut things down or fill our days up with summer camps and events; we simply alter our schedule.
We tone down programming, keep things simple and maintain our pace. The goal in summer is to prepare for the fall while staying in touch with the teens.
Your summers are so important. How you approach them will determine your readiness for the fall. There is a tendency by many youth ministers to either overload their schedule or completely check out. If you are going to do youth ministry for the long haul, you need to treat the summer with the same focus and attention that you do every other season. If you take advantage of this, you’ll find yourself:
In 1990 my wife, Karen, and I began an endeavor that would forever change our lives. What began as a church plant became a radical reordering of our personal priorities and approach to ministry. We became painfully aware during our early days as church-planting pastors that we were far off course from God’s heart toward people of different ethnicity than us.
We slowly realized our ignorance of the daily issues that affected people of color. We also became aware that our day-to-day lives were void of any genuine friendships with non-whites. We, of course, “loved everybody.” The problem was you couldn’t tell it by our lifestyle or relationships.
I began to ask, “Why don’t our churches look like heaven?” Out of that question rose a powerful new quest in our lives.
I’ve got to admit—Mother’s Day is one of the most fear eliciting, stress inducing weekends of the year for me. It’s not so much about my ineptness in selecting a gift or honoring the mother of my house—Debbie—although, I’ve messed that up more than once.
No, the trepidation comes from the annual exercise of trying to prepare and deliver a message that navigates the veritable minefield of emotions that women are feeling on that day. You’ve got women who are: moms; want to be moms but haven’t been able to yet; mothers who’ve lost a child; women who’ve lost a mother recently; moms with wayward children; women who have lost their husbands; women who would LIKE to lose their husband; women who would like to find a husband; career moms; stay at home moms, etc. The list goes on.
I have told my son, who is a young pastor, “There are just two things you need to do: Love God and love people.” If you do these two things, you will not go too far astray.
Many younger pastors immediately try to assert their authority because they feel insecure. They try to change things overnight, do not respect the DNA of the church, and run over people. I did some of that as a younger pastor.
On one occasion an issue came up, and I was out of sorts. Fortunately, there was an older person on the board who would listen to me vent. He sat in my office about 45 minutes before one Sunday evening service while I vented. If the board did not go along with me, I was going directly to the membership. After all, more people had come to the church under my leadership than under the previous pastor. It was going to be the board or me. He did two things: He listened to me without rebuking me, and he kept confidence.
When I was 16 years old, I had my first opportunity to preach in a church service. I was nervous as could be. I could feel my heart pounding in my chest.
For some strange reason, my youth pastor felt it was worthwhile to put me in front of an auditorium full of people and be the main speaker for Youth Sunday. The rest, as they say, is history.
Equipping our students to become preachers of the Word not only impacts their future in ministry, but also can be a great encouragement to their peers, the youth group and the church as a whole. Most of Jesus’ disciples were teenagers. He believed they could do the work of ministry, and so should we.
How do we go about equipping our students to do this facet of the work of ministry?
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to lead a breakout session at Lifeway’s Kids Ministry Conference 2012 titled "The Non-Confrontationalist’s Guide to Confrontation."
I thoroughly enjoyed this conversation, primarily because no matter the context, no matter the size, no matter the organizational structure … leading through conflict is one of the most important things we do.
In this session, I unpacked three reasons why you should choose to lean into conflict rather than step back from it. And I shared four steps I use to lead through conflict. I believe everyone can be a better leader by applying these simple steps.
Our ministry once hosted a “Battle of the Bands” fundraiser that required a lot of work. Our team had to audition bands, price out food, order speakers and recruit volunteers. We put so much work into this event; however, we forgot one key component: to invite people.
We had sent out an email and made a few flyers; however, that was it. What was the response? Embarrassing. While a few people showed up, they were mostly friends and families of the bands. It was a disaster.
Developing a communication strategy is a must in youth ministry, and while it doesn’t seem like the most attractive responsibility, without it you can’t expect your ministry to grow. Developing a strategy for how you communicate means being intentional about what you say, how you say it and to whom. That means you should do the following:
Yes, someone needs to eventually make a decision. But if you want to fully engage the people on your team, you have to routinely ask the magic question: “What do you think?”
People want to contribute to the conversation. They want to be part of the big decisions. Don’t worry if you don’t take their advice every time. That’s not their expectation either. They just want to know their voice has been heard.
People Are Different
There are certainly some folks who appreciate a more directive style of leadership, who say, “Just tell me what to do, and I’ll go get it done.” Those people will value your decisiveness.
During my first six months at Newport-Mesa as pastor, the church emptied out. You could have fired a shotgun in the sanctuary on Sunday morning and not hit anybody. Even the church finances began drying up. I had been faithful to build on the strengths God had given me, but I was a total failure.
That’s when I came face to face with another principle of godly leadership. It’s not enough to build on your own strengths, because they’re not enough to build God’s kingdom.
As a pastor, I’ve always found it difficult to talk about money, but I decided to bring the problem to the board. I asked the seven deacons to begin meeting me every Saturday at 6 a.m. for breakfast at a restaurant where we could have a private table. We would do three things: eat breakfast, pray and decide what bills to pay during the upcoming week.