Gary's blog for couples and parents plus resources for individuals, leaders and churches.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Evaluating Your Church's Impact on Your Family

While driving through the Texas hill country the other day Jackie and I went by a very good-sized, stone, and attractive church building in a town of several thousand people.  The problem was that their sign out front had been painted over. It was obvious this church was closed.  It had apparently died. How sad when there simply aren't enough churches in our country and churches are shutting their doors at an alarming rate.

But perhaps just as tragic is the fact that many churches that think they are alive are also dying. Their leaders may argue with you but as Miracle Max said in The Princess Bride, they're really either dead or mostly dead. They may look alive on the outside but inside the life is gone or slowly leaving. 

What does this have to do with your marriage or family?  A lot.  Yes, the home is to be the central place for Christian growth, training and learning but God has provided the church to be a home away from home, a place to help parents train up their children in the way they should go, to provide reinforcements that give us community, places to serve, to worship with others and helpful accountability.  God uses the church, Christians together, to be a light to the rest of the world and a safe haven for the hurting and needy.

But if your church is dying, it may actually be a place that is harming your Christian growth or at best keeping it plateaued.  Let me suggest a few things to look for to determine whether your church might be dying or "mostly dead."  And let me remind us of something - the church is the people not the place.

First, the people have become far more inward than outward.  When you begin to sense that they put most of their resources into them and not others they're in trouble.  When this happens buildings become more important than building others up, "our way" of doing things matters more than hanging around people who are different from us and keeping everyone happy so they won't leave seems to dominate most decision-making.

Second, they don't have a practical, concise vision anymore or they at least aren't pursuing it.  Vision must guide every church and God has a special focus for every church if they'll seek it out.  Not all churches are the same or should be. But too many churches either try to do everything or are just happy with doing what everyone else does.  Who really can get very enthused about that?  You can usually tell when a church has a clear vision - the people are excited about it, most of them are eager to serve to carry it out and they tell others.

Third, they have settled.  They function more on inertia than innovation. They rarely take God-directed risks and there's little excitement about much of anything besides what they've always done. Their services are the same for the most part, creativity is discouraged and yet they defend their "stand" to anyone who might question or criticize.  You tend to hear flimsy, straw-man arguments about tradition, "we-just -preach-Jesus," or watering down the Gospel.

Fourth, the church isn't growing. And unless you live in an area where everyone attends church already, you should be growing numerically and in depth.  Numbers aren't everything but they tell something.  If you have a vibrant, impacting, Spirit-led ministry then some people will be attracted to it.  If you're not growing it's likely a lot of people have quit trying and your church is close to expiration.

What do you do if your church appears to be having a near-death experience?  First, pray for the leaders. Second, talk with some key leaders and kindly ask them what they believe God is leading the church to do that makes a difference. Third, offer to be part of the solution and a change agent.  Fourth, suggest some first steps. And finally, start acting the way you hope your church will be.  Model it for others and help people see the possibilities.

Will your efforts help?  Maybe.  There are no guarantees. But I think God asks us to try before we move on.

I pray your church not only makes it but thrives!
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

Gary is currently a consultant, teacher, speaker and chaplain providing resources for families, leaders and churches.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Using The Time We Have Well

We're currently monitoring the status of and praying for two friends from our past who may die way too soon. Recently, people at the church where I serve have passed away with seemingly many years left in a normal lifespan. We had special prayer for a woman in her 50's who has cancer. 

And while I don't want to be manipulatively morbid and know that most of us would rather not talk about something like the brevity of life and the reality of death, every day does matter. We may get thousands more sunrises or sunsets or just one.

I have officiated many funerals over the years and unlike weddings, I don't ever look forward to them. Yes, they can be times of celebration of a life well lived though short, but there is still heartache and pain for the families and friends involved who have lost someone well before their "time." We hurt from losing them but also when we think about how much more they might have done. There are no easy answers that take away their pain.

So it makes sense and certainly agrees with Biblical wisdom for us to number our days (Psalm 90), to remember that we all only get so many twenty - four hour periods and some of us will have less than others.
What will we do with them especially when it comes to our marriages and children? Let me suggest a couple of things.

First, keep taking inventory regarding how you're spending your resources: time, talent and finances. There's no one right set of priorities that everyone should follow but are you investing your resources in the things that really matter? Or are you missing out on the things that really last by spending all your time trying to get more resources?

There's a delicate balance there but it makes sense that as we number our days we would err on the side of the things that are most important. For example, how much time do you give to just getting to know your kids and/or spouse versus merely providing for them or seeing that they get somewhere?

How much does your family give away versus get for yourselves? What life lessons are you intentionally teaching them? What spiritual input are you helping them get about God, salvation, and purpose in life?

Second, live as many moments as you can right here, right now. Too many people live in the someday, you know, "someday when _______________________ then I'll spend time with the kids, take a vacation, play with my son or daughter or serve God." Listen, someday will likely never come. Sure you may complete one task but another will be waiting for you or an even bigger obstacle will stand in your way.

Every day, do the little things that make you feel more alive. Hug your spouse, talk to your kids, serve someone else, give something away, ask God to use you to make a difference in someone that day. Sit on the porch with your coffee and just look at what God has made all around you. Marvel at his blessings toward you even if times are challenging right now. Find out something new about someone close to you.

This will probably mean you may have to give up something you tend to do a lot out of habit. You may need to turn off the TV, say no to a request, do your hobby one less time that week or skip checking your emails for a couple of hours, but it will be worth it! Instead of listening to the radio all the way to work, just be quiet or pray or think about a dream or two you've wanted to live out someday.

Third, be more thankful. It's thankful people who handle life's struggles the best. It's thankful people who cherish every day and don't despair as much when tragedy comes their way. It's thankful people who energize others and make a difference in them when they meet at church, in a store, at school or at work.

No, I'm not suggesting that we must be smiling, perky, and perhaps irritatingly joyful all the time.
Rather, thankful people have a deep sense of calm, assurance and maturity that builds up others. Thankful people don't get so uptight when life is hard.

So make the most of today and the next day and the next. Make every day a "bucket list" kind of day. Go to bed each night not saying, "I got the most out of today." Instead, find yourself saying, "I gave the most today and it was worth it." And should that day arrive when you discover it's time for you to leave this earth, you'll hopefully know that you didn't waste even one day on the unimportant things but lived life to the fullest!

Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

Gary is currently a consultant, teacher, speaker and chaplain providing resources for families, leaders and churches.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Don't Even Come Close To An Affair

This week I've run into two more marriages and families that are on the ropes because of affairs. And I'm sad every time as I see the tears and feel the despair the wounded spouse faces when they learn of the betrayal and accompanying deception. I pray for the children who are often involved, many of them old enough to understand and feel the sting of their parent's mistakes.

I wish I could take away their anger, confusion and bitterness over what has happened between the two people they loved the most. I wish I could shorten the road ahead of them. But I can't. Even when a couple is willing to do the hard work of restoration, forgiveness and repair, the journey must be a fairly long one. The scars do not heal quickly and trust is not easily returned.

The patterns that the affair brought to light are usually difficult to change. The underlying issues must be probed and the couple must face that there were significant weaknesses in their marriage as well. That's pretty hard, especially for the wounded spouse whose insides have just been torn out.

But this post is about prevention not the cure. I only mention the steep road that follows an affair to perhaps give us all pause so that we won't go there.

What does it take to keep an affair from injuring and perhaps destroying your marriage? Unfortunately there are no 1-2-3 step plans with guarantees but there are some basic attitudes and actions that marriages who stay strong enlist on a regular basis.

First of all, avoid one-on-one opposite sex relationships - period. I'm convinced that non-married men and women cannot have exclusive friendship, work or ministry relationships. I know I'll get heat on this one, but I'm pretty convinced it's true. The reason is that intimacy involves body, soul and spirit. And in a friendship the soul and spirit typically get very close. There is sharing, praying together, building up of one another and the like.

Those are all good things in and of themselves but they become dangerous when the friends are of the opposite sex. Sharing of soul and spirit invite more physical closeness. It's only natural. God wired us that way. So if at all possible (and it usually is) don't be working, eating, friending or ministering alone with someone of the opposite sex. Have others involved and that will help keep inappropriate attractions from happening.

Second, stay accountable to someone who you trust and who will ask you the hard questions. We're all human and can be attracted to someone else even in the best of circumstances. But if you have someone regularly asking you, "Are you attracted to anyone these days?" or "Are you going anywhere or looking at anything you shouldn't? you will not want to have to answer "yes" very often.

Third, build healthy intimacy at home. Don't let activities and kid demands crowd out your intimate time with your spouse. Put time together on the calendar if you have to. Leave some margin in every day to talk, deal with problems and enjoy each other physically. Spend special, uninterrupted time together. Make intimacy at home so attractive other forms of intimacy pale in comparison.

Finally, pray. Pray for yourself, your spouse and for those you will encounter that day. Jesus was of course wise in the Lord's Prayer when he told us to pray about temptation and being delivered of evil. If He could pray it, then we should as well.

Imagine yourself sitting in your living or family room telling your kids that you were unfaithful. That scene alone should scare us enough but it probably won't unless we're proactive in protecting ourselves and our marriage. Don't even come close, OK?
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

Gary is currently a consultant, teacher, speaker and chaplain providing resources for families, leaders and churches.

Friday, May 14, 2010

More Thoughts On Technology and Your Home

I love technology. I'm no geek or expert but for someone my age I at least hold my own and use technical advances as much as I'm capable of. I even write on Facebook and use the IM feature! Technology has added much to our learning, leisure and connection abilities that our forefathers couldn't even dream about.

However, too much technology can be harmful. First of all, technology can water down our relationships. On the one hand it's wonderful to connect with a friend from forty years ago who I would likely not see or hear from any other way. But if I become obsessed with those connections and ignores my family then my tech-i-ness becomes a problem. I'm saddened by parents who let their kids text non-stop to their friends while in the car, a restaurant or at the beach.

What's wrong with giving our kids a time for texting and requiring some other times when they must interact with others? A parent told me the other day that they were having trouble with their son texting until late into the night. I suggested that their child turn over the phone to them at a certain time or as they went into their room for bed. They had never thought of that.

Second, technology can steal away memorable moments. As I think back about family moments that I still remember, I realize that most of them came during spontaneous, un-scripted events. But I shudder to think what would have happened in those days (we didn't have cell phones then) if some technological advance like texting or an in-car video had gotten in the way.

Third, technology can become a hiding place. Instead of dealing with hard issues and facing life as it is, our computer or cell phone can turn into a bunker to shield us from getting closer to each other through meaningful, helpful and candid exposure. We adults and our children must learn how to maturely and openly handle the difficult times without anesthetizing them with our electronic gadgets.

Some practical tips? Put a time limit on how long you stay at the computer or online and do not let your children use their technology unceasingly. Show them how to control themselves and give them experiences early on that will teach them the value of relationships.

Periodically fast from technology. Go a whole day, week or month without your tech gadgets except for when it's essential for work.

Tie the use of technology to behaviors, meeting responsibilities and rewards. Whatever you do, make sure you control technology and that the technology in your home doesn't control you.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

Gary is currently a consultant, teacher, speaker and chaplain providing resources for families, leaders and churches.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

How Moms Make A Difference

Moms come in all shapes, sizes, personalities and backgrounds. Some work outside the home, some do not. Some have lots of kids, others just one or two. Moms don't get an owner's manual the day that first child is born but some women have great moms who mentored and modeled for them well.

Most moms learn a lot by trial and error while making tons of mistakes they wish they could have avoided. Many moms have a loving and loyal husband to parent alongside them but too many moms have to raise kids alone. Many of them sacrifice so much and yet their kids often turn out amazingly well.

So with the myriad types of moms, families, and histories that are brought to motherhood, are there any constants that all great moms seem to have? Of course, I'm not a mom, so maybe I'm not the most qualified to answer that. However, I happen to live with a great mom to our kids, have a mom who did a lot of things right and have counseled scores of mothers over the years.

So let me take a shot at it and see if I can't encourage all moms just a little bit.

First of all, great moms try to just be themselves. There's nothing worse than a phony parent who's trying to be someone they're not. You've seen the 40 - year-old trying to act twenty-five or the non-athletic mom hoping to become a jock.

The best moms are the ones who know their strengths and maximize those qualities in their parenting. If you're a wonderfully domestic mom, then pass on those skills to your kids. If you have a heart for others show your kids how to care for those around them. If you like to laugh, have fun with your family but if you're the more serious type you can help your kids dive deeper into life.

Second, great moms are honest. They don't pretend to have it all together, they don't try to be supermom and they admit when they're struggling. Of course, they share their weaknesses with their families at appropriate times and at reasonable ages but by modeling authenticity they are one of the best examples to teach their kids to do the same.

Third, great moms are lovingly firm and consistent when it comes to discipline. Great moms aren't trying to be their child's friend more than their parent. Great moms make the hard calls and say "no" when they mean no and when a yes would not be in their little cherub's best interests.

Fourth, great moms who are still married work as a team with their spouse. She doesn't undermine discipline in the home by not confiding in or trusting her husband. She doesn't take an end run around discipline issues but rather forms a common code of conduct with her husband that they both carry out. Her kids know that mom and dad are playing out of the same playbook.

Finally, great moms are growing in their Christian faith. They are feeding themselves with the Scriptures, spending time praying for their kids and helping to see that the children also have spiritual training and other opportunities for growth. She makes sure that the family schedule does not crowd out time and activities that will help them all to know God better.

So, mom, way to go. You have an awesome job and an admirable challenge before you everyday. But thanks for being there, for your sacrifices and your wisdom. And when the trail seems especially steep . . . never quit climbing.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

Gary is currently a consultant, teacher, speaker and chaplain providing resources for families, leaders and churches.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Energizing Relationships With Your Bucket List

Many have now seen the movie starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman where two older men decide to write lists of things they've always wanted to do before they kick the bucket.  Unfortunately too many people wait to write, much less actually start fulfilling, their bucket list until they're too old or ill.

However, a list of important goals and dreams has the potential to keep both a marriage and family energized, exciting and meaningful as long as we actually do something with the list.

For example, I had always wanted to climb 14,000 foot challenging mountain Longs Peak in Colorado. I had actually done part of it once when I was 11 but my dad and I got altitude sickness and had to go back down. I vowed that someday I would conquer it. When my son was 13 we decided that we would climb at least three 14'ers before he got out of high school. An item on our bucket list.

We ended up starting with (and completing I might add!) Longs and actually did four total with another coming after he was married. Those are memories we will never forget and added a love for the mountains to the lives of our children.

Speaking of mountains I had also dreamed of going to Switzerland and seeing the Matterhorn. On our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary we did just that and had an incredible anniversary trip including five days in Zermatt, the home of that historic mountain.

Bucket list items may be personal, vocational, spiritual or service-oriented. Bucket list items can teach us about faith, determination, thinking of others and risk-taking. They can challenge us to trust God to do things much bigger than we are. Bucket list challenges can cost us something but the investment is usually worth it. We may have to give up something else but why not if the goal is worthwhile?

Our lists can also get us talking about the things that really matter in our lives. They can cause us to focus on how we use our time and spend our money. And planning is half or more of the fun! It's something you and/or your family can do together with great enthusiasm and anticipation.

I just took my fourteenth trip to Russia in September and from those visits I have a goal of spending a year or more someday in Russia, perhaps helping a church, pastor or ministry free of charge. We'll see if that happens but at least I'm thinking about it. It's caused me to try to learn Russian which I love doing.

Somehow, I'd be much less of a person, husband and dad without my list. How about you?
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

Gary is currently a consultant, teacher, speaker and chaplain providing resources for families, leaders and churches.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Four Marriage Communication "No-no's"

You see the guidelines all the time . . . things you should never or almost never do . . . to your car, with your clothes, involving electricity and the like. Usually we're smart to heed the warnings of the manufacturers or other experts who give us these cautions.

Psychologist, John Gottman, has suggested four such warnings for married couples when it comes to communicating. I regularly share these with married or pre-married couples. And they're worth using to take some inventory in your own relationship whether you're still newlyweds or been married for over thirty years as we have.

If you want to have impacting and intimate communication in your marriage you need to avoid:

Criticism. No, he's not suggesting that we never mention things we don't like or that we'll agree most of the time. Instead we're to avoid always being critics. Have you ever been around someone who you can never please? You feel like you can't ever win. Do one thing and it's not enough. Do the opposite and it's too much. Are you always the critic? Do you rarely share words of encouragement, thanks and affirmation?

Defensiveness. Many people don't know how to accept being wrong. Suggest that they could do something better or even catch them in the act of a mistake and they always have an excuse: I was tired, I didn't mean it, you just don't understand, or they flat out lie. Defensiveness becomes a roadblock to truly intimate and caring relating which must include some times when we simply say we messed up.

Stonewalling. This is the silent treatment. The offended or wrong party never gets overtly mad. Instead they just won't talk. And that's unfair. But it's a form of control, isn't it? If one person won't communicate, the other person really can't do anything. Unfortunately, nothing gets resolved. I'm sad to say that early in our marriage I did this too much. It never accomplished anything but keep me from dealing with the issue which was I found out later the stronger thing to do. Thankfully over the years I've thankfully improved.

Contempt. If there is a worst one of the four this is it. Contempt is when we specifically attack the other person's character through name-calling, put-downs, cruel comparisons and even looks of disdain. Contempt is the hardest of the four to forgive or take back. Contemptuous words go deep, hurt tremendously and injure the most.

Contempt is often the final nail in the coffin of a marriage. Don't go there.

If any or all of these are a part of your marriage vocabulary get rid of them. Start over, substitute some new words, find healthier alternatives. Talk about your language and hold each other accountable. There are many better choices. Don't risk personal and emotional injuries that could hurt for a long time to come. In fact, if you'd like some more helpful hints go back to some of my first post entries. There are several there about the power of our words.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

Gary is currently a consultant, teacher, speaker and chaplain providing resources for families, leaders and churches.