Category Archives: Personal growth

Don’t be a snowplow parent

As parents, we often want to protect our children from hardship. We want to spare them from pain and difficulty. We don’t want them to go through what we did. However, instead of helping our children, we may be hindering their growth. That is the conclusion of an article in Sports Illustrated entitled, The Rise of the Snowplow Sports Parents.”

The author of the article explains the term, snowplow parenting.

The phenomenon also reflects what’s happening in the rest of society, says psychologist Madeline Levine, an expert on the topic. “It used to be helicopter parenting,” she says. “And now it is snowplow parenting, which is much more active: It means you are doing something to smooth the way for the child. It’s not just that you’re hypervigilant—it’s that you are actually getting rid of those bumps, which robs kids of the necessary experience of learning and failing.”

Towards the end of the article, hockey agent Allain Roy realized he was not doing his son any favors by being overly involved in trying to advance him in sports.

Two years ago, hockey agent Allain Roy was flying home with his teenage son after spending several thousand dollars to take him to a weekend baseball showcase to improve his chances of getting a college scholarship. He started wondering, Is this worth the investment? How much is too much involvement? He started typing out his thoughts into a post for his agency’s blog, writing, “As we rush to fix every little blemish in our kids’ lives and try to influence their way to success, we cause more irreparable damage than we know.”

In contrast to that, I remember a statement I heard some years ago when Carol and I were helping our youngest daughter, Caitlin, get settled into the dorms at Gordon College. During one of the sessions for parents, Dr. Judson & Mrs. Jan Carlberg shared some words of encouragement. Jan Carlberg used the phrase, “Struggle is a holy word.”

As parents, our desire is to smooth out the path for our children. We want to shield them from pain. When a child calls home to say they are not getting along with their college roommate, we want to storm the administration to demand a change. When that same child says they are unhappy after the first week of school and wonder if they made the right decision to go away to college, we want to jump in the car or on a plane and bring them home forthwith. Yet, when we do that, we often stunt our children’s growth because we don’t allow them to struggle.

Jan reminded us that God uses trials as a catalyst to help us grow. As James 1:2-4 says in The Message, “Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work, so that you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.”

Struggle is part of God’s strategy to help us and our children grow to maturity. Avoid the temptation to be a helicopter and/or and a snowplow parent. Struggle is a holy word.


Does a Pastor have to Fit a Certain Profile?

Some years ago, I came across a writer who insisted that all successful pastors matched a certain profile. Much of it related to personality and leadership style. It left me with the feeling that I didn’t measure up. I wondered why God called me to a task but did not equip me with the gifts, personality, and leadership style needed to be successful.

I greatly appreciated the statement made by Pastor Scott Patty in his essay, “My Church Has Outgrown My Gifts” in the book, Faithful Endurance: The Joy of Shepherding People for a Lifetime, edited by Collin Hansen & Jeff Robinson Sr.

We often assume that to be effective in ministry, we must have a certain personality type or work with a specific leadership style. But is that really true? Does God make all pastors alike in personality and leadership style? Jesus didn’t choose apostles who were all alike. Church history doesn’t show one ideal pastoral type that was most effective. We need wisdom to see that God calls and equips different kinds of pastors with various leadership styles because there are many types of people in the world and in the church. People respond differently to different pastors. Particular situations call for unique pastors. Knowing this reality will help us get our expectations under control and may lead us to see that we really don’t have a problem after all. We can lead our congregation as we are because we may be exactly what our congregation needs.

I find great encouragement in his words.

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Posted by on June 12, 2019 in Books, Ministry, Personal growth, Quotes


Finding joy and contentment in anonymity

Like any aspiring seminarian, I graduated 35 years ago with visions of greatness. I would be a pastor, a professor, write best selling books, be invited to speak in chapel and conferences, and train thousands. While God has certainly used me over the years, most of those dreams have gone unfulfilled.

I’ve had to learn that success is measured by faithfulness rather than numbers. Rather than comparing myself to the pastor/church down the street, I’ve needed to focus on using all my gifts for God’s glory. Instead of listening for the applause of the crowd, I’ve needed to turn my ear to listen to the audience of One.

In the book, Faithful Endurance: The Joy of Shepherding People for a Lifetime, Pastor Mark McCullough penned a chapter entitled, “Does Staying in a Small Rural Church Make Me a Failure?” He made a number of statements that I could identify with.

Your question, as I understand it, is, How can we be filled with joyful contentment in pastoral ministry even when our setting is one of anonymity and obscurity?

…few of us called to ministry will ever be famous. And many—if not most—of us will labor our whole lives in settings where no one outside our churches will ever know our names.

It has been my experience that we can overflow with joy and contentment in all circumstances if we simply abandon the futile effort to seek contentment through “being known by others” and focus instead on three superior joys.

The first—and most important—key to contentment is to focus on the irrepressible joy found in knowing God and being known by him… Wanting to be noticed by others and wanting others to make much of us and meet our needs are a prescription for pastoral frustration.

Another key for contentment in quiet, out-of-the-way ministry settings is the joy of making God known in the place where he has planted us.

The final key God has used to sustain contentment in my obscure ministry setting is the joy found in knowing others… really knowing, loving, and caring for others, especially the people we’re privilege to shepherd.

Lord, help me to be faithful and to seek to please you.

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Posted by on June 7, 2019 in Books, Ministry, Personal growth, Quotes


Of titles and degrees

During my recent trip to Russia, John Musgrave paid me a compliment I value highly. He said that one thing he always appreciated about working with me was that I didn’t make a big deal about the fact I have more education than he does. I have two graduate degrees while he has an undergrad degree. He explained that some men he worked with made a big deal about who went to seminary and who didn’t.

I thanked him for the compliment and said that while I have titles, I am not overly impressed by them. I leave it up to the individual as to what they call me. The only place I am known as Dr. Wheeler is at Regent University where I am an adjunct professor teaching online courses. Everywhere else I am known as Mark or Pastor Mark.

One element of my approach relates to the concept of mutual submission. When I am in Russia, I submit to John’s leadership because he is in charge and I am there to serve. The level of education is immaterial.

I also recognize that my graduate degrees say more about my level of persistence than about my intelligence and qualifications. Having several degrees don’t mean I am any smarter, it just means I kept plodding forward until I reached the finish line.

In addition, I believe that true education often begins when school ends. John is a lifelong learner with a boatload of life experience.

Add all of this up and it leads to the conclusion that I view John as a peer and teammate.

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Posted by on May 20, 2019 in Personal growth, Russia


Of root canals, pressure washers, and soul care

What do root canals and pressure washers have in common? On the surface, not much. But both were reminders this past week of my need to care for the health of my soul.

One month ago, I was fighting a cough and cold. When I woke up one morning with my teeth hurting, I assumed it was because I was grinding my teeth while struggling not to cough. Later that morning, I almost went through the roof trying to drink a cup of coffee. One side of my lower jaw was extremely sensitive to hot and cold. Realizing I had a bigger problem than I earlier suspected, I called and made an appointment to see my dentist.

Sitting in the dentist chair, he confirmed I needed a root canal. The root was dying and had become infected. He put me on a course of antibiotics and made an appointment to see me in a month. (I left town the next week for 10 days and then he was gone for a week after I returned.) We met this past week to have the offending tooth drilled out and filled in.

My failing tooth reminded me of the need to make sure the roots of my faith are firmly planted. Matthew 13:1-6 contains that parable of the sower. Some seed fell on poor soil and withered under the summer heat because they had no root (6). I don’t want a weak, rootless faith.

My root canal also reminded me of the need to fix and heal broken relationships. Hebrews 12:14-15 explains that a broken relationship or a wrong priority can lead to a “root of bitterness” which can lead to trouble and defilement. The infection of sin can easily spread if it is not rooted out.

Root canals remind me that on the one hand, my faith needs to have a healthy growing root in good soil. On the other hand, I need to guard against the infections that can come in to cause my soul to become diseased.

On Saturday, I rented an electric pressure washer to try to clean the deck on the back of my house. The last time it was done was prior to when we moved in seven years ago. Seven years’ worth of dirt, grime, and grease takes more than a bucket of soapy water and a brush to get rid of. You need extra pressure and force to strip away the layers.

In Psalm 51:2, David wrote, “Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin!” 2 Corinthians 7:1 explains that we are to “cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.” Rather than allowing sin to build up on my soul, I need to keep short accounts and confess my sins and seek God’s cleansing on a regular basis.

If I ignore the health of my soul, I may need to undergo a spiritual root canal to heal a diseased root or a spiritual pressure washing to cleanse my soul deeply. How much wiser it is to maintain a healthy soul.

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Posted by on May 1, 2019 in Personal growth, Scripture


A desire to finish well

I started rereading Replenish: Leading from a Healthy Soul, by Lance Witt. It was one of the books recommended at the SonScape Retreat. I agree with the author’s statement at the end of the first chapter.

I want to get to the finish line still in love with Jesus, still in love with the church, still in love with being a pastor. With my head held high, with my dignity and honor still intact, I want to look back over my shoulder and say it was worth it.

To that, I say, “Amen!” I want to finish well. But it means I need to guard my heart and feed my soul.

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Posted by on April 22, 2019 in Personal growth, Quotes


Pursue intimacy with God

SonScape devotional Day 7

You are headed home with new commitments to do life differently. The most normal reaction would be to go home and add your new list to the already overloaded existing list waiting for you. Don’t do it.

God is calling you to something deeper than a bigger “to do” list. He is calling you to deep change.

”Deep change differs from incremental change in that it requires new ways of thinking and behaving. It is change that is major in scope, discontinuous with the past and generally irreversible. The deep change effort distorts existing patterns of action and involves taking risks. Deep change means surrendering control.

Most of us build our identity around our knowledge and competence in employing certain known techniques or abilities. Making a deep change involves abandoning both and “walking naked into the land of uncertainty.” (Robert Quinn, Deep Change)

”Walking naked into the land of uncertainty!” Totally exposed to God. Totally exposed to yourself. Willing to face whatever obstacles may be to this new journey in the “real” world.

Let us remind you one last time: intimacy with God is the top priority. This being with God must come before everything else, and thus give expression to what you do. It is not your job to fix your world or even yourself when you go home—it is your job to find your “rest in the shadow of the Almighty.”

”Those who live in the shelter of the Most High will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty. This I declare about the Lord: He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; he is my God, and I trust him.” (Psalm 91:1-2, NLT)


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Posted by on April 10, 2019 in Personal growth, Psalms, Quotes, SonScape