Friday, June 23, 2017

Transitioning from fully-funded ministry to bivocational ministry

I'm working on a new book. Part of it will address the challenges a pastor faces when transitioning from being a fully-funded pastor to a bivocational pastor. I believe we will see more pastors being asked to make that transition. As I've watched others make the change I've noticed many struggled and some were not very successful.

If you've made the change, what were the challenges you had to overcome? How did the change impact you emotionally? How did it affect your family? What jobs outside the church did you pursue? Anything you can tell me about the transition will be helpful, and I believe will be even more helpful to those who have to make that change in their own ministries.

I will use some of the stories I receive in the book, but your personal information will remain confidential. I look forward to hearing from you.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Should you preach your old sermons again in the same church?

A few years ago when I was serving as a Resource Minister in our Region I was asked to fill the pulpit in one of my churches for a couple of weeks. I used to joke that I really only needed five sermons as a Resource Minister since I was usually in a different church every week. Since I would be in a different place the people there would not have heard the sermon I did the previous week in a different church.

On the second Sunday I was scheduled to preach in that church I decided to preach one of my favorite sermons even though I had preached it in that church seven years earlier. Few people remember a sermon more than a few weeks at the most so I wasn't worried. After the second service in that church a teen came up and asked, "Didn't you preach that message here before?" Busted! All I could do was smile and admit that I had.

There's nothing wrong with preaching a sermon over again in the same church. After all, the church sings the same hymns and songs over again. If a sermon is worth preaching once it's probably worth preaching again. Sometimes.

When I began my current ministry as the Transitional Pastor in a church I was convinced that sermon preparation would be the least of my concerns. After all, I had been a pastor for twenty years and had a file drawer full of sermons I had preached in my previous church. However, as I've gone through them I've discovered some problems with most of those sermons.

One, many of them are outdated with illustrations that have no relevance to our culture today. Two, most of them no longer reflect my preaching style today. Three, the majority of them lack the scholarship I now want in my messages. Fourth, few of them are pertinent to the church I'm currently serving. They were addressed to another church for another time. Almost none of them are suitable to preach in my current church.

Occasionally, I'm able to use one for inspiration and can sometimes use bits and pieces from it as I prepare a new sermon on the same topic. That's what I would suggest you do with your old sermons. A sermon that is not culturally relevant is of little value and will lack the impact on the congregation that you want.

There's nothing wrong with preaching a sermon over, but before you do check it over and make sure it will still communicate the message you want today's audience to hear.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Is your church ready for a new pastor?

In yesterday's post I focused on one reason it may take longer than expected to find a new pastor. Today I want to address a new question: Is your church ready for a new pastor? I believe one reason it may take longer for a church to call a new pastor is that they are not really ready to have a new pastor.

Calling an interim pastor should be one of the first steps a church takes when beginning the search for a new pastor. Surprisingly, some churches do not want an interim pastor. They are content to have people fill in each Sunday while the search team quickly looks for someone to come as pastor. These churches often mistakenly believe that it will be a quick process. It isn't unless they are willing to call the first person who comes down the road wearing a cross around his neck.

A good interim pastor can take the pressure off the search team to hurry through the process. He or she will provide quality ministry during this interim time especially if he or she has been trained in the work of interim ministry.

There are certain tasks the church should address during this time of transition which an interim pastor can lead. Certainly, if there is unresolved conflict in a church that needs to be addressed before calling a new pastor. It is very unfair to ask someone new to come into a church that has such conflict.

Another task the interim pastor can address is any changes in church structure that should occur. Some churches have very outdated systems in place that need to be changed but are seen as sacred cows by some in the congregation. The interim can help lead changes in those systems. If people become upset, they will be upset at the interim rather than the new pastor if he or she tries to lead such changes.

Churches that have had long-term pastors and are now seeking a new pastor need to call an intentional interim pastor. I often encouraged such churches to not even begin looking for a pastor for at least a year. Since it often takes a year or more to find a pastor the interim will be serving there for 2-3 years. This gives the church time to transition away from the leadership of the previous long-term pastor and be better prepared for the new pastor. Failing to do this often results in the new pastor being an unintentional interim pastor who will leave within a couple of years because the church was not ready for new leadership.

I am a believer that God knows the person He has prepared to serve as the pastor of a church. The process of seeking that person provides the opportunity for the church to be prepared to receive that individual. It helps ensure the church is actually ready for new pastoral leadership. Only when the church is ready will God reveal the right person.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The challenge of seeking a pastor

I apologize for not posting more often in recent weeks. Since last September I've been serving as the Transitional Pastor of a church. That responsibility plus my auction business has kept me rather busy and has limited the amount of time I can devote to social media and writing.

I'm certainly not complaining as I've enjoyed the work of Transitional Pastor. The church I'm serving has a lot of exciting ministries, a fantastic staff, and some amazing lay leaders. This has been a great opportunity to help prepare this church for their next pastor.

A few weeks ago the Pastor Search Team was ready to recommend an individual to the church to serve as Senior Pastor, but he decided he felt called to remain in his present ministry. This means the search will continue, and while the Team was disappointed, they accepted the decision as God's will and are moving forward.

This highlights the challenge many churches have today finding their next pastor. It is not unusual for a church to spend 18-24 months searching for a pastor. When I served as a Resource Minister in our Region I often cautioned search teams to not get in a hurry and to expect the process to take longer than many expect. It's far more important to get the right individual than it is to take the first person who expresses an interest in the position.

Why does it take so long for a good pastor search process? For one thing, at least in our denomination, there are not a large number of candidates seeking to move. Once a search team identifies several potential candidates that number is reduced even more as they compare the gifts and skills of the candidate to the needs of the church. It's possible that out of 15-20 possible candidates there may only be 2-3 who appear to be a good match for the church. Further interviews and reference checks may even reduce the number further.

For smaller churches the number of possible candidates may be even smaller. Studies have found that many pastors are unwilling to serve smaller congregations so the pool of available pastors is even smaller for these churches. Many of these churches are now seeking bivocational pastor, because these pastors are often found in or near the church's community those churches may find an even smaller number of candidates. People are not apt to be willing to move across country to serve in a bivocational church.

Every Sunday we ask the church I'm serving to be in constant prayer for our Pastor Search Team. Prayer is absolutely vital if the church is to identify the person God has prepared to serve a church.

So is patience. Some churches cannot stand to not have a pastor and will rush their search team to quickly find someone they can call to be their pastor. This often proves to be a mistake. Calling a pastor will impact the life of the church for years, and even decades to come, and is not something that should be rushed or entered into lightly.

If your church is currently seeking a pastor, pray for your search team. Encourage them. Respect their need to maintain confidentially. Prepare yourself for the next pastor. Oh, yea, pray and then pray some more.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The growth of bivocational ministry

When I wrote my doctoral dissertation in 2010 I assumed my adviser and the ones with whom I would present my oral defense would be the only ones who would ever read it. This week I received notice that it has been downloaded nearly 2,500 times. To say I am surprised is putting it mildly. But, I am also very pleased that it is being used to help people better understand bivocational ministry and the way coaching can assist those involved in that ministry.

Every year I receive one or two calls from someone writing their doctoral paper on some aspect of bivocational ministry. That alone is very encouraging to me because in the past there have been few resources available to bivocational ministers. This is changing, but there's not been anywhere close to 2,500 doctoral papers on bivocational ministry written in the past seven years. That tells me that others are reading my paper for other reasons, and it shows the growing impact bivocational ministry is having on ministry.

More and more churches are calling bivocational ministers as pastors and in other staff positions. While part of this is due to finances, part of it is also due to a shortage of pastors willing to serve in smaller churches. As I've written elsewhere, a growing number of pastors are unwilling to serve smaller churches. Some of these churches are forced to look for bivocational leadership. The good news is that they often find the ministry these bivocational pastors provide is second to none.

Because bivocational ministry has become more accepted it is drawing greater attention from denominational leaders and seminaries. Many of the leaders in these organizations are seeking to better understand bivocational ministry and how they can better support these ministers and the churches they serve. This has led to doctoral students studying aspects of this ministry and has led to more books written on the subject.

When my first book on bivocational ministry was published I was only aware of three other books that had been written on the topic. Today, there are several, but still not nearly enough. Many denominations now schedule seminars and conferences that focus on bivocational ministry. I've been privileged to lead several of these. Some denominations are also calling staff people at the regional and national level to relate specifically to bivocational ministers and the churches they serve.

Since much of my ministry focus has been on this form of ministry I rejoice at what I see happening with bivocational ministry today. Those who serve in such ministries continue to be my heroes.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Playing the victim

Ever since the Garden of Eden mankind has tried to shift the blame for their problems onto others. Adam blamed Eve, Eve blamed the serpent, and the serpent didn't have a leg to stand on. (OK, it's a bad joke but you get the point!) And the blame game has continued throughout history to today.

Hillary Clinton has started another round of the blame game as she appears on one program after another blaming everyone for her loss in the recent election. She continues to blame Comey and the Russians and has even now started  blaming the Democrat National Convention for their lack of revenue and poor statistical information. Evidently, she forgot that the DNC rigged the primary so she could defeat Bernie Sanders and the former DNC chair sent her some of the questions she would be asked in the debates.

Clinton is unable to accept the fact that the American people did not trust her, and as fearful as they were of Trump, they were more fearful of her. Benghazi, the Clinton Foundation, the incredible wealth the Clintons have amassed since leaving office, and the lost emails were more than most Americans could stomach. She can complain about Wikileaks all she wants, but they couldn't have leaked anything if there wasn't anything to leak.

Then we have the disgusting image Kathy Griffin posted recently which has already cost her a number of jobs. No doubt you've seen the image so there's no need to describe it here. Democrats and Republicans alike have condemned it as inappropriate and possibly a violation of law. Although she gave what she considered to be an appropriate apology, like Clinton she is pointing the fingers at others for the consequences of her actions. Reportedly, all of her upcoming shows have been canceled by the various groups that were sponsoring them.

She blames President Trump for sending an army of people to ruin her life. The only person who is ruining her life is herself. She is the one who chose to publish the image that most Americans found to be in very poor taste at a minimum. She can try to hide behind free speech all she wants and claim artistic license, but that image went far beyond the line of decency.

Both Clinton and Griffin wants to be seen as victims, but they are only victims of their own personal choices. Both need to accept responsibility for their actions and stop blaming others for the choices they made.

But, then again, don't we all do that? We are all guilty of making personal choices that are wrong and outside of God's will. It's called sin, and the Bible is very clear that "We have all sinned and come short of the glory of God." Sin is not a very popular word today because our postmodern society has given us so many other options. It's much easier to blame forces outside of us than it is to accept responsibility for the sin that lives within each of us. God has not provided a remedy for blame, but He has provided a remedy for those willing to admit they have sinned. It's called forgiveness, and it's only available when we come to the cross of Jesus Christ and receive Him into our lives as our Lord and Savior.

Have you ever confessed to God that you are a sinner in need of His forgiveness? Have you ever asked Him to come into your life to be your Lord and Savior? If not, can you give me one good reason why you would not want to do that? I would love to talk to you about it.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

It's time to learn to work together

Is anyone else getting as sick and tired of the petty partisan fighting that has existed since Donald Trump was elected President of the United States? There was a time when elections were held, a winner was declared, and our elected representatives returned to conducting the business of the United States. No longer. What we have in Washington DC today are a bunch of sore losers, masters of innuendo and spin, and individuals who could care less about making America a better place to live. Their focus and priorities lie in their base and in the lobbyists who line their pockets with enough money to continue to be reelected. Since the election some have focused on nothing else but finding a way to try to impeach the president.

Many Republicans do not come across any better. Because Donald Trump doesn't toe the party line he has made more than a few enemies on that side of the aisle as well. People who would have supported almost anyone representing their party have been among the first to criticize, question, and accuse.

Reading the headlines and listening to the newscasts one would think Trump is the first president to have a few rough days at the start of his presidency. According to some "reporters" Trump's presidency is already a failure. Has he made mistakes? Absolutely. You try to govern the most powerful nation in the world and see how well you do during your first 100 days. Is he perfect? Not by a long shot. I doubt he would have been elected if the Democrats had ran anyone the American people found even slightly trustworthy. But, he did win, and it's now time for those who have been elected to be leaders in our government to begin acting like responsible adults and actually lead.

Unfortunately, it's not difficult to make comparisons to the way many churches operate. Pastors are not perfect people either, and we make our share of mistakes. We say things we should not have said, we fail to make wise decisions sometimes, and occasionally even the best of us will not follow though on something we promised we would do. Sometimes our sermons are boring, sometimes they are too long, and occasionally they are too short (although you are unlikely to get many complaints about the latter).

Sometimes we get sideways with the leaders in our churches. They may not like our recommendations, our theology, our leadership style, or the way we comb our hair. It doesn't matter what their complaint is, they just don't like us. As a result, many pastors find some of the leaders in the church will refuse to work with them and often will work against them. Gossip, innuendo and outright lies happen in churches, too. Rather than acting like adults and working together in those areas in which we can agree, we sometimes find church "leaders" acting like spoiled kids and working only for their own best interests.By the way, the same can be said for presidents and pastors.

President Trump would probably be smart to stop tweeting so much and keeping quiet. I would tell some pastors the same thing. True leaders do not feel they have to respond to every critic. There is a time to respond to unfair criticism, and a time to ignore it. It's too easy to go on social media and give your critics even more to criticize. Pastors and presidents would be wise to find areas of agreement with their critics and try to work in those areas.

This nation has a lot of work to do to make life better for everyone. Our churches have a lot of work to do to take the Kingdom of God to everyone. It's past time our leaders in government and in the church begin to act like adults and work together to accomplish worthy goals.