Archive for February, 2016

Obey your leaders and submit to their authority.  They keep watch over you as men who must give an account.  Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.  Hebrews 13:17

I don’t remember anyone in seminary saying anything about this.

And I don’t recall reading about this issue in any ministry books I read before I became a pastor.

And I don’t have a memory of any of the pastors I served under bringing this problem to my attention.

What am I talking about?

Just this: when you become a pastor … whether you’re a solo pastor of a smaller church or the senior/lead pastor of a larger church … you must create and enforce certain rules … both to obey Scripture and to protect your church as an institution.

I’ll never forget the first time I had to do this as a young pastor.

I was called to become the pastor of a church in Silicon Valley at age 27.  The deacons were the governing board, and all four were at least 60 years of age.  (Doesn’t seem all that old anymore!)

One Sunday several months after I was called as pastor, a deacon (I’ll call him Jay) came to church one morning without his wife.  It was obvious by the way Jay spoke that something was seriously wrong with his family.

When I got home, I called Jay’s wife, who told me that she was going to divorce her husband.

Ours was a small congregation, and the news that a prominent couple were splitting up traveled fast.

But more than that: the woman’s decision meant that I had to speak with Jay and ask him to step down from the deacons.

I didn’t want to meet with Jay alone.  He was gruff and possessed a volatile temper, but how could I let him stay on the board?  He was about to become biblically unqualified for his role.

I somehow convinced the other deacons that Jay needed to step down … and thought I had convinced Jay as well.

But my decision had consequences.

Three months later, the deacons told me, “Jay is our friend.  He’s suffered enough.  We want him back on the board.”  Even though I protested, Jay returned.

Over the ensuing years, Jay exploded with anger at me once or twice a year … and I was never sure why.

Several years later, Jay was involved in leading a group of people out of our church.  Was it payback for my decision from years before?

Here are seven things I’ve learned the hard way about the pastor’s role as ecclesiastical enforcer:

First, the role of enforcer is not in the pastor’s job description.

Written job descriptions will say that the pastor “is the leader of the church in all its activities” or that he is responsible for “managing the staff.”

Few job descriptions … if any … ever say, “The pastor is expected to enforce biblical standards and protect the church legally.”

But if the pastor fails at enforcement, he can jeopardize his congregation … or even lose his position … so he has to be an enforcer, even if it makes him cringe.

I never liked being an enforcer, but soon discovered that certain people … especially the governing board … expected it … because they were at work during the week, while I was on the church campus continually.

Second, sometimes enforcing rules falls to the pastor by default.

I once pastored a church where the campus was frequented by skateboarders.

They loved to go up and down a small flight of stairs on the edge of the property with their skateboards.

If I was the only person around, I’d go over and gently ask the guys to find another place to do their skateboarding.

The skateboarders became a chronic problem, never going away for long.  I finally had to bring the issue up to the staff … the only ones on campus in the afternoons … because I needed broader help with enforcement … but I received pushback from the youth staff, who didn’t want to offend the skateboarders.

I didn’t want to offend anybody, either.  I just didn’t want the church to get sued because we didn’t warn the skateboarders to leave.

Why did the others leave enforcement to me?

I will never know.

Third, sometimes the pastor has to enforce rules because certain people will only listen to him.

I once had a youth director who held regular youth meetings in the multipurpose room … but he always left the room a mess.

The following morning, when the next group came to use the room, it was trashed.

The office manager would tell me, “The multipurpose room was once again a disaster after last night.”

She tried talking to the youth guy, but he didn’t listen … and he wouldn’t change.

I finally had to get involved, but I didn’t want to, because it was just one more distraction from the ministry the church called me to do.

But sadly, certain people won’t listen to anybody but the pastor … and if he doesn’t get involved, nothing changes.

Fourth, sometimes the pastor is the only person who is willing to confront someone on a destructive pathway.

I once worked with a married staff member who was spending too much time with a single man.

Her “innocent” encounters with him were becoming more frequent and less indiscreet … negatively impacting both her job and her marriage.

Even though she had many friends … and they knew what she was doing … nobody had the courage to say anything to her.

Things were getting worse, so I lovingly spoke with her about the matter … and she became very upset … assuring me she wasn’t doing anything wrong.

A short while later, with another couple present, I spoke with her again.

Her friends didn’t say a word, while I spoke with her twice.

She quit her position and watched her marriage crumble.  It was painful to watch.

But I had to do it, even though she never spoke to me again after our second meeting.

The pastor can’t be the only sheriff in a church.  He needs some deputies.

Fifth, sometimes the pastor needs to share enforcement duties with other leaders.

One of my mentors used to tell me that whenever I had a difficult decision to make, I should take it to the governing leaders and “hide behind the board.”

Sometimes I would do just that, especially if I was uncertain how much authority I had to address a certain issue.

But if I already had the authority … like with church staff … I usually didn’t tell the board anything.

Maybe this is just my experience, but over 36 years in church ministry, I discovered that most church leaders cannot be counted on to enforce rules and policies, either because they are afraid of losing friends, or because they don’t know how to use their authority.

One time, my wife and I went to a restaurant after church one Sunday, and the youth directors were having a planning meeting there with their adult volunteers.

While that was commendable, I had made it clear to the youth leaders that all adult volunteers were expected to attend the first service, and engage in youth ministry during the second service.  (You can’t have your adult volunteers … who are to be examples to the youth … not attending services.)

Well, the volunteers were skipping the first service and coming just for youth ministry … a definite no-no.

By this time, the youth directors were reporting to a different staff member, but he refused to enforce our policy.

So I had to speak with the staff member, as well as the youth directors … but as I learned later, nothing changed … and then matters became even worse.

This is the kind of stuff in a church that wears a pastor down.  I don’t know how many times I tried to get someone … a board member, a staff member, a lay leader … to help me enforce certain guidelines, only to watch them wilt in the end.

That’s why many pastors stop asking other leaders for help and just enforce matters on their own.

Sixth, the pastor needs to address issues that concern him sooner rather than later.

I once heard Pastor Bill Hybels say that it’s the job of a leader to “intercept entropy.”  That is, when a leader notices that things are going south, he has to go to the right person, describe what he’s seeing, and ask that changes be made.

When I was a young pastor, I would notice that certain things were wrong, but I’d sometimes let things slide.

But the older I got, the more quickly I addressed concerns, because things don’t get better when you fail to address them … they only get worse.

I tried to be gentle yet firm … but it wasn’t always easy for me to do.

Many years ago, I had a three-hour dinner with a nationally-known Christian leader.  He was asking me questions about how I managed the church staff.

He said to me, “Jim, are you a responsible person?”

I said, “Yes, I’m very responsible.”

He replied, “Do you only have to be told to do something once?”

I said, “Yes, if you tell me to do something once, I do it right away.”

He responded, “Well, everyone is not like you.”

That exchange might not seem all that profound, but it opened up my eyes to the fact that some of my attempts at staff enforcement simply weren’t working because I naively assumed that everyone was like me … but they weren’t.

So the one thing I could control was to address issues quickly … as they arose … rather than wait for a “perfect time” that never came.

Finally, every church needs an enforcer other than the pastor.

I have a friend who served many years on the staff of one of America’s largest and most impactful churches.

He told me that the senior pastor … a name people know worldwide … always wore the white hat around the church campus.

People came to view him as their father … their uncle … and their friend.  He was greatly beloved.

But the executive pastor was the one who wore the black hat.  My friend would tell me stories where the executive would tell people to leave the campus and never come back.

If the senior pastor had become involved in enforcement issues, it would have resulted in a lot of bad blood between him and others … so he had somebody else do it instead.

This arrangement works well in a megachurch, and maybe even in a large church … but the smaller the church, the more enforcement duties fall directly on the pastor.

And the more times the pastor engages in enforcement, the more certain people resent him … and want to pay him back for taking them on.

I don’t know what percentage of conflict in a church occurs because a pastor tries to enforce rules/policies, or what percentage occurs because some people resent his interference.

But I do know this: enforcement issues sometimes kept me up all night.

When you pray for your pastor, toss in a prayer every now and then that God will give Him the wisdom to know when to enforce the rules … and when to let somebody else do it.

And if your pastor ever needs to speak with you, please … listen to him and cooperate.

Because, as Hebrews 13:17 tells us, someday he will have to give an account to the Ultimate Enforcer.



















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When a major conflict surfaces in a local church, the pastor usually becomes entangled in the mess … even if he didn’t start it … and even if the conflict doesn’t initially center upon him.

And in too many cases in our day, when the pastor becomes embroiled in a church conflict, those who don’t agree with the pastor’s position seek to force him from office.

Both in my book Church Coup, as well as in this blog, I write a lot about how pastors are negatively impacted by such conflicts.

But pastors aren’t the only casualties.

In fact, the primary casualty resulting from severe conflict may be our message: the Christian gospel.

Paul gives the most complete description of the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 when he says that:

*Christ died … and His burial proves He died.

*Christ arose … and His appearances prove He rose.

History tells us that Christ died and rose again.

Faith tells us that Christ died for our sins.

Over in 2 Corinthians 5:18-19, Paul tells us that God “reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them.  And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.”

Paul tells us twice within the space of two verses that God has given us [believers] the ministry/message of reconciliation.

Paul’s emphasis in these verses is that God took the initiative to turn enemies [unbelievers] into friends [believers] through the sacrifice of Christ on the cross … and God wants us to share this message of reconciliation with the world.

God wants to reconcile us to Him, but He doesn’t want to stop there.

God also wants those who have been reconciled to Him to reconcile with one another.  Jesus told His followers in John 13:34-35:

“A new command I give you: Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

In His High Priestly Prayer in John 17:21, Jesus made a similar statement to His Father:

“… that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.  May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”

Francis Schaeffer, the Christian theologian and philosopher, called Christian unity “the final apologetic.”  The world may be able to argue with our doctrine, but if we love each other authentically, they can’t argue with our community … which is a testimony to the truth of our message.

But the converse is also true: if we don’t love one another … if we backbite and fight and quarrel and separate … then people will not know that we are Christ’s disciples, and the world will not be inclined to believe our message: that the Father sent the Son.

Let me share four ways I have seen the gospel message negated by major church conflict:

First, the bad news of the conflict seems to overwhelm the good news of the gospel.

When a pastor is under attack … when a staff member is engaging in rebellion … when a group threatens to leave the church together … those actions result in negative emotions, and they tend to permeate the entire congregation.

You can feel it when you step onto the campus.

Many years ago, when my wife and I lived in Anaheim, we had the weekend off from our church, so we decided to visit the church behind our apartment complex.

When we entered the worship center, I could sense that something was wrong, even though no one said a word about it.  You could cut the tension with a knife.

The pastor spent the first twenty minutes of the service defensively explaining some changes he wanted to make to the church’s schedule.  Twenty minutes!

Soon afterwards, that pastor resigned … and I never visited that church again … in part because I didn’t want to experience those anxious feelings again.

My guess is that others felt the same way.

Second, people don’t feel like inviting unbelievers from their social network to church during a conflict.

Imagine that you’re ten years old and you’ve invited your best friend to your house one Sunday.

Since your friend lives a few houses down the street, you wait for him in your front yard … but as he approaches, you hear your mother and two siblings verbally fighting with each other in the house.

Do you want your friend to enter your home with all the tension going on?  Probably not … because it’s embarrassing.

In fact, as long as there is the possibility that there’s going to be fighting inside your house, you’re probably not going to invite any friends over at all.

When churches are filled with anxiety and tension, attendees don’t want to invite family, friends, or co-workers over because it’s poor marketing for the truth of the gospel.

Churches don’t grow during times of major conflict … and the gospel message, powerful as it is, falls on rocky ground.

Third, people aren’t attracted to our message during a major conflict.

There is a religious group in our neighborhood that goes door-to-door sharing their message.  My wife and I know some people in this group, and they have tried sharing their faith with us.

But their buildings are tiny … they don’t celebrate Christmas or birthdays … and I can’t point to one thing that I find attractive about their faith.

Why would I want to join their group?

Conversely, many Christian buildings are quite spacious … we do celebrate Christmas and most birthdays … and there are many things that are attractive about our faith.

And yet … who wants to believe our message if it seems to result in people despising each other?

If Christians are going to win people to Christ, we have to embody our message … not only that Christ died for everyone, but also that Jesus wants His people to love one another.

And when the opposite is occurring, people stay away from our churches.

In my last church, my wife always talked about “spreading good rumors.”  For years, the news that come out of our church was positive, inspiring, and uplifting.

But when a major conflict broke out, it was reported to us that someone in city government … speaking about our church … told a friend, “They’re having problems.  You don’t want to go there.”

The power of our message to attract unchurched people was negated by our inability to get along.

Finally, people leave our churches in droves during times of major conflict … and don’t feel like sharing the gospel.

I vividly remember a Sunday during the conflict in my last church when our leaders held two public meetings to discuss some issues that were affecting our spiritual family.

The meeting was hijacked by one person.  He shared a litany of charges against me … most of them untrue … and from that time on, the congregation morphed into something unrecognizable.

After the second meeting, a kind and gentle man came up to me and expressed his sorrow for what I had experienced.

I never saw him again … and he never came back to the church, even though he had attended for many years.

That meeting ended his association with our fellowship forever.

Some tried to stay at the church they called home, but over time, many good people gradually left … some finding a new church home … some not going to church anywhere.

God’s people expect that their church will be a place of love and peace and joy … and when it’s like that, they are open to sharing their faith.

But when their church becomes a place of hatred and war and sadness … people resist sharing their faith because their fellow Christians fail to embody the message of reconciliation.

Yes, I know that disagreements between Christians are normal and can even be healthy in the long run.

But when conflicts spill over boundaries … when people conspire to “take out” their pastor … when God’s people are obsessed with winning at all costs … the greatest casualty may not be the pastor’s job … or the well-being of the staff and official board … or a slide in church donations and attendance.

The greatest casualty of all may be the negative impact on the gospel: that God in Christ came to reconcile sinners to Himself … and that when God’s people love each other, we provide a powerful message to a fractured world.

The question that we should ask when we’re engaged in a major church conflict … but rarely do … is this one:

How will the gospel be impacted by this conflict?



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While watching television this morning, I saw a commercial I’ve seen scores of time before.

It was an ad for Wounded Warriors Project, including photos of American military veterans who have been severely injured during combat and are struggling to lead normal lives.

With the concerned face and deep voice of country singer Trace Adkins inviting viewers to support WWP financially, I’m sure these commercials are providing tens of thousands of dollars in revenue to help our vets in need … which is really wonderful.

But did you know there are thousands of former and current pastors who might also be termed Wounded Warriors?

Many of you do know … some of you may not.

I mention this because last week, I posted an article called “19 Things I’d Rather Do Than Attend a Church Board Meeting.”  Although several Christian leaders told me they resonated with what I’d written … including a seminary professor and well-known author … one person … whom I do not know … left this comment:

Articles on congregational and pastoral leadership written in bitterness following a painful dismissal are not particularly insightful or productive.  This one is no exception.”

(My policy is to let comments stand, even when they’re negative.  I don’t edit them, and only a handful of times have I chosen not to approve comments because I felt they made the writer look bad.)

Let me make several observations about this comment – which is atypical of the ones I normally receive – which will give me the opportunity to make some clarifications about my writing ministry:

*I tried to write an article that contrasted my previous calling as a pastor with my current job, which is serving with my wife caring for children in our home … and I made the point that at this point in my life, I prefer what I’m doing right now.

*As those who know me or my previous church situation knows, I wasn’t dismissed as pastor.  I chose to resign because my wife was attacked as a way of forcing me to quit … an entirely different dynamic than usually occurs.  That may be a “forced resignation,” but it wasn’t a “painful dismissal.”

*Even though I wrote a book about that 50-day conflict … and even though I refer to it on occasion in my blog … I usually write as if people are coming to my blog for the first time.  This means that I sometimes will repeat myself … and risk boring my faithful readers … but I want my readers – especially pastors and their wives who have gone through a forced termination – to know that I understand what they are going through and that I feel their pain.

*I’m not bitter about what happened.  I accepted my destiny long ago.  I have no desire to hurt any of my detractors for what they did … I forgave them years before … nor to harm my former church in any way.  But I am wounded, and always will be.  How could I not be?  My career in church ministry ended after 36 years!  But I’m just one of thousands of God’s servants who have suffered similar mistreatment – like David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Paul, and Jesus – and were changed by the experience.

*The list of “19 Things” was tongue-in-cheek and presented in an ironic manner.  My sermon prep teacher warned our class years ago not to use irony when we preach because many people don’t get it.  It’s still true … but I still enjoy using it … even though I risk being misunderstood.  Maybe I could have written that article better.

*My main takeaway from this comment was, “I don’t want to hear anything about the dismissal of a pastor from a congregation or the way he feels afterward.  If I hear anything … regardless of the person’s experiences or motives … I will label it sour grapes.”

It’s this last observation that I’d like to address for a few moments.

When I started my blog in December 2010, and when my book Church Coup was published in March 2013, I made a conscious decision: to be willing to share in detail an attempt by a few people from my former congregation to force me out of my pastoral position.  I also chose to share how I felt about it at the time … and to try and make a dent in the epidemic of forced terminations in Christian churches today.  (I’d like to think that I’ve succeeded somewhat based on the thousands of views I’ve received for my article “If You Must Terminate a Pastor” as well as the number of pastors, board members, staff members, and laymen I’ve counseled over the past few years.)

I didn’t share everything that happened … it would have made the book much longer … and I intentionally left out parts that might make some individuals look bad.  In fact, I spent six hours with an attorney reviewing the book’s contents so that I was telling my story accurately rather than wreaking revenge.

I knew that the book would never be a Christian bestseller, although I’ve sold more copies than I thought I would.

I assumed that some Christian leaders would severely criticize me for revealing information that normally stays hidden inside a congregation, although I masked the church’s name … the city where it’s located … and the real names of those who wished me harm.  However, while I’m ignorant of what has been said about my book in private, few leaders have criticized me to my face, and many have thanked me for writing and getting the issue out into the open.

I shared how I felt about the conflict because I’m not a programmed robot; I’m a real person with real feelings.  A Christian counselor told me, “If you want to help others, don’t ever forget how you felt when you were going through your conflict.”  Some Christians are uncomfortable reading about how a pastor feels after a forced exit … and someday I’ll speculate on why that is … but I will continue to inject emotion into my writing because it takes too much effort to suppress it.

Some Christian leaders view forced terminations both cynically and politically.  Their attitude is, “You were pressured to resign.  You lost, your opponents won.  That’s just the way it goes.  Shut up about it now.”  I am troubled by that attitude because it guarantees that forced terminations – along with all the damage they cause – will continue unabated in Christian churches … although I certainly don’t want to bleed all over the place whenever I write!

The Christian community as a whole does not want to hear about pastoral termination or to hear from its victims.  We’d rather banish such pastors … call them “losers” … and tape their mouths shut.

Many years ago, a prominent Christian psychiatrist – who had counseled hundreds of pastors who had experienced a forced exit, along with their wives – wanted to write a book about the subject.  He pitched it to a major Christian publisher … and they turned him down.  The assumption was, “Who wants to read about pastors who have been terminated?”

The Christian community wants to keep this issue buried because (a) it’s poor marketing for the Christian faith; (b) it exposes glaring weaknesses in congregational life; (c) it reveals hatred and bitterness among church leaders; and (d) it negates the power of the gospel to reconcile relationships.

But don’t Christians believe in redemption … even for ex-pastors?

Can’t we learn something significant from the stories of those who have been forced out unjustly?

Why would we want to silence such pastors?

What are we as Christians afraid of?

Wouldn’t the wider Christian community benefit from an honest discussion of this issue?

Because when a forced termination is handled poorly … and they usually are … forces are unleashed in a church that people can’t control … and those forces damage lots of people … as well as their church’s future.

This is the 491st blog post I’ve written.  On occasion, I’ve written about baseball … music … travel … even cemeteries! … and I’ll do more of that in the future.

But I know why people come to my blog in the first place: because I deal with the topic of pastoral termination … in all its many ramifications … and in an authentic and thorough fashion.

When I was in the Doctor of Ministry program at Fuller Seminary, my focus was on church conflict.  My editor couldn’t believe the examples I used in my dissertation because she wasn’t aware of what goes on in Christian churches behind closed doors.

But God has called me to this ministry, and I will continue to speak up … and speak out … as long as He gives me breath.

Thank you for reading!








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My wife and I currently run a preschool in our home.  She deals directly with the kids, while I manage the finances and keep the place clean, among other duties.

Whenever I have to sweep the kitchen floor again, or vacuum the carpets, or do umpteen loads of laundry, I tell my wife, “I’d rather be doing this than attending another board meeting.”

And we both nod our heads and laugh.

When you’re a pastor, it’s usually required that you attend regular meetings of the church’s governing board … whatever they’re called.

But since board meetings are more about institutional maintenance than personal ministry, and since they can involve difficult and even painful decisions, and since such meetings can lead to arguments and politicking, the longer a pastor’s tenure in a particular church, the less interesting … or essential … board meetings can seem.

And if several board members begin to attack the pastor in those meetings … especially if those attacks are undeserved … attending those meetings can become unbearable.

As I recounted in my book Church Coup, the last board meeting I attended as a veteran pastor happened more than six years ago.

That final meeting was so traumatic that I relived it on a daily basis for many months … and began my book Church Coup by recounting it in detail.

There are many things that I’d rather do than attend another church board meeting.  Here’s a sample:

*I would rather listen to Oprah babble on about her weight loss for a couple of hours.

*I would rather read the latest edition of Tax Instructions from the IRS.

*I would rather endure a root canal … even though the last one I had done required four hours of work over two days.

*I would rather attend a Celine Dion concert.  (I was once offered two free tickets to one of her shows, and I instinctively declined.)

*I would rather watch 50 commercials starring Flo from a certain nameless insurance company … one after the other.

*I would rather listen to Joel Osteen preach for more than a minute … and that’s stretching it.

*I would rather reassemble a document that I had run through the shredder.

*I would rather watch 7 reruns of the old Full House TV show … a show my kids used to watch … even though I never laughed even once.

*I would rather root for the Seattle Seahawks for an entire game … and for me, that would be pure torture.

*I would rather wait in a two hour security line at the airport.

*I would rather spend a day trading insults with the Dowager Countess of Grantham from Downton Abbey.

*I would rather spend an hour chasing our two chickens around the back yard.

*I would rather drive to Los Angeles (a distance of 100 miles) during rush hour.

*I would rather wear a suit and tie … something I last did when my son got married four-and-a-half years ago.

*I would rather endure two straight weeks of 100-degree+ temperatures.  (But please, God, don’t take that statement too seriously.)

*I would rather go camping … and I haven’t been since I was a youth pastor.

*I would rather stay in a Motel 6 with its paper-thin walls.

*I would rather drive through Oklahoma … easily the most boring of all the states on a cross-country road trip.

*I would rather use a Blackberry again.

Why do I feel this way?

Several weeks before my final board meeting years ago, my wife and I took a mission trip to Moldova, in Eastern Europe.  I led seminars two straight days for pastors on church conflict.  After that, we spent time in Wales, the Lake District, and Scotland.

We took a lot of great photos on our trip, but they’re hard to look at sometimes, because while we were overseas, the church board was plotting against me.

So not only was my last two-hour meeting with the board excruciating, but that meeting tainted all that came before it and afterward.

I once heard a prominent pastor describe the meetings of his elders.  They met in a home … they ate dinner together … they shared their lives … they prayed for each other … the pastor shared a report … and then he was permitted to go home while the rest of the board conducted business.

That pastor’s board was so loyal to him and so competent that he could trust them to make good decisions even when he wasn’t present.

I once heard a megachurch pastor tell about a time when he met with the church board.  After a brief time, he got up to leave.  One of the board members asked him, “Where are you going?”  The pastor replied, “I am going to take my daughter roller skating.”  The pastor was asked, “Isn’t this more important?”  The pastor replied, “Nothing is more important than taking my daughter roller skating.”  And he left.

For some reason, I could never do that.  I felt that I had to attend every board meeting … from beginning to end … not just because I felt the board needed my input, but because I wanted them to see me working and making decisions about the ministry.

And when I finally missed some meetings … because I was overseas … what did they do?

I’ve got to go.  I have to put down mats for the kids so they can take naps.  I also put sheets on their mats and oversee the kids for an hour while my wife takes a break.

I’d still rather do that than attend a board meeting anytime in the future.

Thank you, Lord, for knowing when and how to deliver your servants.











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