LEXINGTON, Ky. (BP)–After living in Dallas for eight years, Charles Lowery’s prescription for keeping cowboys out of your yard is to erect a set of goal posts. But when you’re out traveling, avoid the half-star hotels. Those are the kind where you have to put a quarter in the bed to keep it from vibrating, he jokes.
Lowery’s wit and pastoral insights keep his name in front of thousands of people nationwide. Besides speaking several times a month at conferences, seminars and church banquets, he writes three columns.
Two appear monthly in the Southern Baptist publications, HomeLife and SBC LIFE. The other is for Rev., a bi-monthly pastors’ magazine. He hopes to collect his favorites soon into a book, tentatively titled, “Comic Belief: Life’s Lessons With Laughter.”
Lowery also pastors one of the fastest-growing churches in the nation. Hoffmantown Church (SBC) in Albuquerque, N.M., averages 4,300 in weekly attendance. Another 800 attend services at a satellite location begun a year ago.
So what are his secrets to keeping his sense of humor after a decade in the pulpit and in the midst of a pressure cooker of deadlines and responsibilities?
“I had to decide I’m going to be Charles and do it well and have fun doing that,” he said. “I decided not to get sidetracked. That’s a difficult thing to do. You have to have a support system and you have to know God loves you.
“A lot of people believe they’re saved but not that they’re loved,” he added. “They’re prisoners of works. If you believe God loves you, you don’t have to impress people so much with what you do.”
One of the best role models for living at a relaxed pace is Jesus, Lowery said. Jesus didn’t have to worry how many people attended Bible study or how many baptisms he registered during the week. That’s why he could take time to look at his disciples’ dirty feet, Lowery said.
Of course, there are some practical helps. He credits his church’s executive pastor, Mike Bodine, with making sure Hoffmantown runs smoothly. And his wife, Penny, with keeping him on track.
He believes all pastors must respond to the pressures of modern church life by deciding what’s really important — and not allow anyone else to make that decision.
He compares it to going to the grocery store. Without a list of what’s important, it’s easy to wind up with a basket full of Ding Dongs, Twinkies and Snickers, he said.
“You’ll spend a lot of time and money and not have anything important,” Lowery said. “If Penny is with me, I have a lot better chance of sticking to the list. Have somebody else help you stick to your priorities.
“My spouse is best. She knows my limits and mood better than anybody. But a friend or accountability group will be helpful.
“Conferences like this will be, too,” Lowery said during his visit to Kentucky Baptists’ recent “Shepherding the Shepherd” conference in Lexington, Ky.
The popular author and speaker came to the pulpit via a different route than many pastors. He was a professional psychologist before hearing God’s call to ministry.
Each occupation has its own unique problems. As a psychologist, not many patients made appointments in order to share their joys and triumphs, he said. But because of office hours and schedules, it was easier setting boundaries over his personal life.
“With a pastor, he can’t schedule appointments like a psychologist,” Lowery said. “So pastors get more criticisms and they have to be able to deal with that.”
They also must deal with a faster-paced society and increasing numbers of personal problems among members of their congregation, he said.
He outlined three primary pressures that many pastors grapple with:
— Self-esteem. More need to understand that God loves them for who they are, not what they do; the knowledge of God’s love will sustain them through the challenges of their calling, he said.
— Family issues. Lowery said the pressures of being a high-profile leader in a church affects the spouse and children as well.
— Time management. Too many get overly involved in activities and fail to set priorities that will help them effectively use their time, he said.
“Pastors have a hard time letting go and delegating,” Lowery said. “Until they grow enough to be secure and let people do things, the church isn’t going to grow. Pastors have to decide they’re going to let go. If they control everything, it’s going to be a pretty small pie.”
Despite the challenges of leading a megachurch, publication deadlines and public speaking, Lowery still finds joy in the ministry.
Preaching is one of his primary rewards, especially the results that surface along the way.
A few years ago a wealthy member of his church crashed his airplane en route to a Promise Keepers conference. When the victim’s wife showed Lowery his Bible, throughout the margins the pastor saw sermon notes and comments about lessons the man gleaned each Sunday.
“Pastors face that every weekend,” Lowery said. “A word from them could give people hope. That’s a pretty neat thing.”
His family is his other greatest joy. The father of three daughters, he now has four grandchildren. Because of the way professional duties and personal ones cross lines in the ministry, it’s easy to forget what is important, he said.
During one of his talks, he advised pastors and their wives to start with their funeral and work backwards to remember what matters in life.
“The only people who show up at a funerals are faith, family and friends,” he said. “So that’s what I’m going to invest most of my life in.”