Six Key Questions To Answer Before Your Personal Climb

evan-dennis-75563-unsplash-1When people face a mountain, often unexpectedly, their response is to try to immediately head for the summit and fix things. They can panic and try to somehow return life to normal and that usually isn’t possible, at least not right away.

On our cancer journey, we learned six important questions to stop and ask before you go too far up the mountain, perhaps prior to even arriving at your trail head. It can also help to have another person or two there with you to be a listening ear and clarifying presence, someone less emotionally tied to your situation.

Six questions . . .

What exactly is my mountain?  Be specific. Don’t say things like, “Well, I have some sort of cancer or the counselor says I’m depressed, but it’s more like I’m just a little down lately.” No, name it, look it in the eye. It’s what it is.

How big is it?  Cancer is described by stages. Name it. Financial debt can be described in dollars. Total it. Relationships have various descriptors that need to be addressed honestly. Admit it. You won’t commit enough time or passion to your climb unless you know what you’re up against.

What are the potential implications?  Could someone die? Will there be a divorce and children involved? Is is possible to lose the house?

What was your role in it, if any? Lots of things happen to us and cause mountains that we didn’t cause. But if you lost your job because you were fired and made some very bad choices, you need to face that as part of getting past your mountain. Again, it’s what it is and can help make sure you deal with how to change as part of your successes.

What are the potential dangers?  Just like on a mountain of granite, there are risks and potential problems in personal challenges. Discuss those so you can be sure to look out for them during your trek: health reactions, returning to an addiction, spending money you don’t have, relationships that interfere . . . you hopefully get the idea.

What are your resources?  Whatever you do, don’t skip this one because your answers here will be part of your lifelines. What finances, friends, experts, confidantes and other fellow travelers will you have at your disposal?  Chances are you have more resources than you thought you did. Review them and be thankful.

So, slow down. Think carefully through your answers to each question. They’re important and will make you than much more ready to tackle the Mt. Everest facing you.

[There are other insights on this topic and more in my Never Quit Climbing book available at]


Why You Need A Mountain or Two In Your Life

mark-basarab-157610-unsplash-1I have been working with someone who is going through some pretty serious personal challenges. And while he is making significant progress, he said to me that he just wishes everything could be going well and there wouldn’t be any major problems in his life.

I know what he’s talking about. Do you ever feel that way? I’ll bet you do.

But problems, difficulties, barriers, mountains, if you like, also have important benefits and we need to keep them in mind when we’re complaining about how life is treating us. I have a whole chapter on this in Never Quit Climbing but let me share a couple of positives with you.

Mountains help us see with bigger, broader perspective. The analogy is obvious when we think of mountains of granite. I love being at high altitude, especially on a summit, and getting to now look scores of miles into the distance. The views are often breathtaking.

But when we climb a personal mountain, we can also gain much greater insight about people, life and what it means to go through pain ourselves. Our viewing point is now way above all the details of life down below. Which leads to a second benefit.

Mountains prepare and strengthen us for future situations. These might be challenges we face or ones we help others get through. But our climb can turn into experience, wisdom and expertise that we wouldn’t have had before our trek up that personal summit. Those new insights are now more powerfully shared or exercised because we’ve now been up a mountain.

Yes, every climb will have its uniquenesses, but experience is a huge teacher and mentor in some way on every trek after the first one. We become more ready to face even tougher challenges.

Mountains are usually hard, steep and relentless at times. But remember the benefits. They will probably come in handy and pay great dividends down the road.

(Get more on this topic with a copy of Never Quit Climbing in eBook or paperback form at


Sometimes “Fair” Is Only A Carnival With A Bunch of Rides

FairWho doesn’t like a local fair with rides, elephant ears, greasy foods, games you rarely win, smelly animals, and more elephant ears and puddles of snow cone juice every ten feet? Okay, lots of people detest fairs, but millions more love them and can’t wait for the next one to roll around in a year or less.

But no matter your view on these colorful annual weeks of town, city, county or statewide excitement, the word fair also conjures up not so good thoughts about how life treats us and the cards we seem to be dealt much of the time.

In other words, most of us have experienced circumstances, treatment of others and perceived acts of God that don’t seem fair. And in human terms, they’re not! If fairness means equal treatment, benefits, joys and successes in life, most of us can think of our own situations where we were not treated fairly.

Our best friend got a great job, but we were fired. A neighbor’s house burned to the ground, but ours didn’t. My wife’s brother Paul died of colon/rectal cancer at age sixty but my wife had the same illness and is doing well.

We’ve all said, even groaned, It’s not fair!  Like little children arguing over why they can’t stay up late but a sibling can, we too yell at God, family, our minister or whoever might be nearby when we experience what appear to be huge inequalities that didn’t go our way.

We can feel like Job in the Old Testament who said, “Your hands shaped me and made me. Will you now turn and destroy me? (Job 10:8) What appeared to be unfairness to Job caused him at one point to regret ever living.

So how do we respond when life seems overwhelmingly unfair, when others are thriving and we are not, when others get the breaks, but all we have just breaks?

First, remember that life on earth will never be fair. It started that way, but we humans tainted God’s plans and we must all live with our tendency to continue living our way, not God’s. And if we’re really honest, we wish most that life be fair to us. We don’t care that much how the rest of the world turns out. That’s their problem. But that’s also why our world is a mess. We helped make it that way.

Second, God will bring ultimate fairness to our world in His time, not ours. We may never see fairness fulfilled in this life, but God will even the score in due time. Psalm 9:8, “He will judge the world in righteousness; he will govern the peoples with justice.” Like the perfect parent that He is, He will ultimately be fair even if we can’t see how now.

Third, remember that God sees what we don’t. He has a bigger perspective. I love it when my little grand boys grab my hand when we’re in a big crowd of people. They can’t see where we’re going, they don’t know the way out or the way home, they may even fear that the crowd will in some way hurt them. All they have at this point is their connection with me. In the same way, we must trust God to see the bigger picture for us and then hold on to him.

Finally, it’s important to recall that Jesus was rarely treated fairly. The injustice was most evident at his crucifixion. He didn’t deserve one hit with the whip, much less dozens. We were the ones who should have died, but instead he took our place and died a gruesome death. The good news is that He overcome that unfairness and won out over death.

When life seems unfair, remember that God’s enough, He understands and He sees outcomes we could never see.

And He knows the way home.

Five Things Your Pastor/Leader Needs And Doesn’t Need


I’ve been in church ministry for over thirty years. I’ve also served non-church Christian organizations for another ten years or so. I’m well aware of both the possibilities for greatness and the tendencies to fail inherent in people who pursue goals in both arenas. I also have no illusions that people who serve God are without their own wrinkles, warts and even deep dark places. I have mine.

But I also know that many in ministry, most of them actually, are trying to do their best to teach truth practically, help people compassionately and train others  effectively to be like Jesus in everyday life.

Unfortunately, many church attenders and leaders often have a warped, distorted set of expectations, that somehow instead of hiring a person to lead their fellowship, congregation or parish, they got Jesus Himself. And even Jesus might not meet their standards!

So in a day and age when church leaders are under the microscope more than ever (and some need to be) and when many church attenders are perhaps more interested in their own benefit rather than the health of those who lead them, I want to suggest several ideas of things to do for and say to those who lead you while adding a few to simply quit doing.

Your spiritual leader always needs:

1. To be told thank you now and then. Trust me, they probably don’t hear this as much as you might think.

2. A gift card or two to go out to dinner or see a movie with their spouse. Even if they can afford it, buy it for them anyway. That says a lot.

3. A weekend off at least every two months where someone else handles everything. The pressure to prepare, perform and be there weekend after weekend is more draining than the average person will ever know.

4. A vacation longer than a week and at least 3 weeks total per year. A one week vacation looks like this to most pastors: 1 day to prepare to leave, 2 days to come down from the busy schedule, 2 days off, 1 day to start thinking about what needs to be done when they return, 1 day to return.

5. A conference or growth opportunity that he or she chooses. Often these kinds of things are boring, same old, required denominational or other expected events. Let your pastor go to something refreshing and new.

Your spiritual leader never needs:

A. Drop-in visits to criticize the message, church style or direction. Healthy evaluation should be welcomed but not as a drive by shooting.

B. Unsigned notes or letters. I never read them. They are lazy, cheap and never helpful.

C. To be at every event,  service, hospital call or funeral. Your church isn’t growing if others aren’t taught and expected to provide care and some of the other services a pastor brings to the table.

D. To do the best without adequate equipment, staff or other resources. This doesn’t usually require large investment but we should be doing our best to help our staff do their job well with modern up-to-date resources.

E.  To serve without a trusted friend, mentor or coach with whom brutal honesty is accepted and respected. Pastors will not be totally honest or accountable with someone who has power over them so provide someone else. Check out who offers this for free.

A church will ward off many problems if its leaders and attenders will treat the pastor and their spouse with kindness, wisdom and encouragement. Think about what you can do in the next couple of days.

One of Life’s Toughest Climbs: How You Can Help Your Minister


Another pastor took his life this past week. He’d had a history of mental illness, but spoke quite openly about it and was getting help. There were people around him who cared about him very much and yet many said they didn’t know he was hurting as badly as he was.

I wish this were just some random, isolated, tragic event but it’s not. Of course, suicide is more rare than other problems. However, those in ministry are often hurting and it’s not necessarily all their fault.

Having been a pastor myself for over 30 years, I know that we can cause our own angst and challenges. We work too much, avoid our families and take too few vacations all in the name of the God we serve. We forget that even Jesus rested and took time to relax and pray and He was only doing ministry for three years.

However, there is much that your pastor can’t control. The expectations are myriad, many of them impossible to fulfill. People’s problems don’t avoid their days off, vacations or personal times. In smaller churches they have to be the CEO, treasurer, grounds keeper and counselor, at least that’s what most people think.

In bigger churches, they are often required to become a high level executive, managing more people than is possible while having to cater to the hundreds of executives in their fellowship judging their work. At the same time, they must prepare a cogent, interesting and theologically acceptable message that will no doubt be dissected later in the day or evening.

So, what can you do, an attender, leader, parishioner or fellow staff member?

First, tell your leaders that you appreciate them. You don’t need to buy them fancy presents or send them to Hawaii. Just say thank you now and then, take them to a meal or coffee and let them know that what they do matters to you. This isn’t the time to bait and switch them with, “Oh, by the way, I have some concerns, too.”

Second, support church leadership’s efforts to give the pastor resources for breaks and special help as needed. Every pastor needs a mentor, coach or confidante. Sometimes they need confidential counseling and there should be some funds around to help with that. Require that your leader take a sabbatical at least every seven years and help pay for that, too. Vacation time should not be optional. If they get three weeks (and they should get at least that), then they must use it.

Third, pray for them. Pray specifically for their family, their heart, their relationships, their spiritual and emotional health and leadership. Prayer matters. Ask them now and then if there is anything specific but don’t be nosy if they don’t give you all the details.

Fourth, accept that they are human. Spiritual leaders get tired, need to rest, like to have fun, need to have time to build family traditions, like to do things that don’t involve the church. They’re not heathens because they engage in those things. They have goals and dreams just like everyone else.

Honor them, thank them, let them know you care. That will be a gift that a trip to Hawaii can’t match. Although they would probably take that, too.