Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Today is auction day

This evening I'll have my last auction of 2015. Since starting this business a couple of years ago I've learned a lot about auctions that was never taught in auction school. For instance, most people have no idea how much work goes into setting up an auction. They show up for the auction and evidently just assume that everything somehow mysteriously appeared on tables and chairs had aligned themselves up in neat rows.

Believe me, there is a lot of work in setting up an auction. You begin by finding items to sell, either by selling an estate for someone or having several consignors bring items to you to sell for them. These have to be listed and contracts signed. I take pictures of many of the items I'll be selling and post them on auctionzip.com on a listing I create for the auction. (My auctionzip ID number is 36965 if you want to see what I'm selling in this auction.) Since I don't have an auction house I have to store these items in my garage or in a storage unit I rent. The day before the auction a helper and I set up the building I rent for the auction. We put out the tables and chairs and begin hauling everything that will sold to the building. Once we get everything inside it's time to start setting everything out on tables or around the walls. Everything has to be numbered with the consignors number so we'll know whose items we're selling. Set up usually takes most of the day and about half the day of the actual sale.

Then it's back home to clean up, eat a meal, and go back to open the building ninety minutes before the sale so people can check out the merchandise. At 5:30 we'll begin the sale and usually sell three to four hours until everything is sold. Then we tear everything back down and put it away, load up our items in the van, and take them back to the storage unit. Early the next morning I begin adding up the sales so I know how much is due each consignor and deposit the money in the bank. A few days later I make out the checks and mail them to the consignors, and then it's time to prepare for the next sale.

People just see what happens during that 3-4 hour window when the auction is occurring. They don't see all the behind-the-scenes work that is required. It sounds a little like ministry doesn't it?

We are often evaluated by what is seen during a couple of hours on Sunday morning, but few people know what occurred during the remaining 166 hours of our week. They never saw us in our studies preparing messages for the worship service. They couldn't know about the hours we might have spent visiting persons in the hospital or the amount of time we spent in pastoral care or counseling. Unless they were involved in the committee meeting we led they have no idea of the amount of time those meetings require much less the amount of time we spent preparing for those meetings.

There is a lot of unseen work that goes into ministry. It's not only unseen, it's also unappreciated by many people. Yet, we know it is vital if we are committed to serving people. Much of what we do behind the scenes cannot be shared in public so we keep quiet about it and remind ourselves how important that work is to the people we are serving.

Auctions involve a lot of work, but I also see it as a ministry. Some of the people I represent are elderly people who need to downsize. Their children are not interested in their items, and they don't want their estate to be a burden to others so they begin to slowly let go of things. Others need the money they will get from the sale of their items. Some of the people I've sold for have inherited estates and have no idea what to do with them. They turn to auctioneers to help them dispose of those estates. Often, when people find out I'm a minister they begin to share with me some of their pain and/or problems. More than once I've been able to pray for someone who has called me to sell some items for them, and I've been able to point them to good churches in their communities.

Yes, auctions are a lot of work, but they also give me a chance to provide a unique ministry to people. A lot of it reminds me of when I was a pastor, only now I talk a little faster!

Monday, November 30, 2015

The worst deception is self-deception

This past Thanksgiving week has been pretty exciting, especially around the dinner table. We enjoyed two different Thanksgiving meals as our son came in the week before Thanksgiving and we had another big meal the Sunday after Thanksgiving when our daughter and her family came. It's a good thing I had set the bathroom scales back ten pounds before the holiday or I would have really felt bad about the weight I gained!

OK, I didn't really set the scales back ten pounds, but it was tempting. Just like we're often tempted to try to deceive ourselves in other ways. Like when we excuse our sins by pointing to persons who commit worse sins (in our opinion) than we do thereby justifying our behavior as "not so bad." Or the times we convince ourselves that the problems in our church, or our family, or our business is the fault of everyone else.

I still remember the day I attended a John Maxwell conference when he was promoting his book The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You (10th Anniversary Edition). At the time I was frustrated with the way things were in our church and in our family-owned business. Neither was growing the way I wanted, and I was blaming our congregation and our business employees for that lack of growth. Then Maxwell starting talked about the Law of the Lid and how no organization could grow beyond the lid of its leadership. Suddenly, his words hit me. I was the leader of both organizations. Our problems were my responsibility and were a reflection of my poor leadership. It wasn't the fault of other people; I was the lid keeping our organizations down.

As long as I was content to blame others for our problems we were stuck. That's what makes self-deception so harmful. When we deceive ourselves we are unable to see new ways of doing things. How often do you hear someone (perhaps yourself) say, "I've tried everything there is. Nothing going to change this." The reality is that you haven't tried everything there is to try, but as long as you keep thinking that you'll never identify a new approach that might succeed. Actually, there are probably dozens of things you haven't tried. Winston Churchill once said, "Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm." How does one do that? By knowing there are many other things yet left to try that will result in eventual success.

Self-deception will also prevent a person from growing. I've met people, including some in ministry, who believed they already knew everything they needed to know. Now, most of them would not say that, but you can tell by their attitudes that this is their belief. You can also tell it by their lack of attendance at training events. If they do attend some conference or workshop they seldom stay for the entire event. They have too much to do that's more important. People who already know everything will not be committed to life-long learning.

That's a shame because much of the knowledge and skills we've learned in the past is no longer useful today. Medicine has changed so much that doctors must work very hard to stay current on new treatments, available medicines, and the latest technology if they want to serve the patients well. This is no less true for those of us in ministry. If we are not growing as ministers we will be unable to lead our churches through the challenges of the 21st century.

What this means is that if we deceive ourselves in thinking that the problems in our church are always the fault of others and that our seminary diploma means that we've learned everything there is to know about ministry we will quickly forfeit our right to serve in ministry. We will be unable to lead our churches forward, and our self-deception will make us unable to understand why.

As we approach 2016 it may be a good time to take a hard look at ourselves. In what areas did we grow in 2015? What knowledge or new skills do we need to focus on developing in 2016? How will we develop them? Are there ways our leadership is actually hindering our church's ministry and, if so, what can we do about that?

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Turn lemons into lemonade

Several years ago our small church invested in new sound equipment. We had it professionally installed, and it was working great. At least we were no longer picking up the trucker CB radios as they went down the highway about a mile away! A few weeks later someone broke into the church and stole the equipment.

We reported it to the police and to our insurance company. Someone from the local paper heard about the theft and contacted me for an interview.This was a great human interest story about a small, rural church that had its new sound system stolen just a few weeks before Christmas. It made the front page of our hometown newspaper.

A few days later I was contacted by a television station in Louisville, Kentucky who wanted to interview me for their news program. The reporter came to our church, interviewed me, and a day or so later our church was on their news broadcast.

One of the questions that was asked was how this theft would affect our Christmas. My response was that our sound system had been stolen, but no one could steal Christmas. We would proceed with our usual Christmas plans. I remained very positive throughout the interview

The insurance company quickly got us a check to replace the sound system and we were able to have it installed before our Christmas program. What was really amazing was what happened a few days later. I received a call from a security company who had seen the story on the news and offered to install a security system in our church at no cost. It turned out to be a great system!

In January the sheriff's office called to tell me they thought they had located our sound system. A local farmer had been walking along a hill on his farm and saw a bunch of equipment that had been thrown over the hill from the road. I took one of our church leaders to the sheriff's office and we were able to identify it as our equipment that had been stolen. Evidently, between the local paper and the Louisville news story the equipment was too hot to keep so the thieves tossed it.

Having our new sound system stolen was a real downer. My first reaction was disbelief which quickly turned to anger. However, remaining angry wasn't going to solve anything. Our congregation was understandably upset as well so it became important for me to lead us in getting our focus back in a positive direction. I was very proud of our church at how quickly we were able to do that. As a result, we not only got the system replaced in time for our Christmas program we got a new security system as well, but ever more importantly, we had the opportunity to grow deeper in our faith and have a positive witness to our community.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Making a re-commitment to church membership

Louisville megachurch, Southeast Christian, recently deleted everyone from their membership rolls at all four of their area campuses. Following five weeks of sermons that focused on core beliefs they asked people to recommit to being a member of the church and to the mission of "connecting people to Jesus and one another by loving where you are." Thousands of people signed colored tiles making a renewed commitment to church membership and to the mission. Hundreds of baptisms also occurred during this emphasis.

At a time when many question the value of church membership this church has emphasized its importance to its congregation and to those they are seeking to reach. But, it's not just signing on to be a member of a church. It's also asking for a commitment to being involved in their mission of reaching people for Jesus Christ.

Too often we are content to "dip 'em and drop 'em" as one writer put it. There is often little discipleship done with these new members nor are they challenged to be involved in the mission of their new church. If they prove to be somewhat faithful in attending services they may eventually be asked to serve on a committee or teach a class.

Growing churches, and Southeast Christian is certainly growing, are not afraid to challenge people to engage in ministry. In fact, I would say that there is a culture of expectation in growing churches that its members will engage in ministry.

There is one element here that does not exist in every church. Southeast Christian has a clear mission to which they can challenge people to engage. If a church has no sense of purpose, no vision for ministry, and is not actively involved in doing intentional ministry, what can they challenge people to do? Mostly, serve on a committee, and that's not very appealing to people who want their lives to make a difference.

What would happen in your church if you removed every member from the church roll? How many would recommit to membership in your church? More importantly, how many would commit to being engaged in the mission of your church? Final question...exactly what is the mission of your church?

Friday, November 20, 2015

Where there is no vision....

A few days ago I was talking with a friend about the church he attends. His church is in a different denomination than the one in which I serve, but the problems he mentioned sounded very familiar. Their church has struggled for the past few years meeting its budget. They find it difficult to bring in new members or to attract younger people.

When I questioned him about his church's vision he admitted the church had never, to his knowledge, pursued a vision for ministry. In fact, he said he had been waiting for the pastor to present a vision for ministry. We began to talk about vision and how vision discernment isn't just the work of the pastor but should involve others within the church.

Earlier in the same week I was talking to an associate minister in another church about some of the challenges that church is facing. This church does have a vision statement, but it is a very generic statement. It certainly is not one that would be specific to that church. I pointed out that such a generic statement really doesn't give much guidance to ministry in the church, and it's impossible to ever know if and when that vision is achieved.

Both of these churches, one smaller and the other much larger, are both struggling because they have no clear vision that actually influences what the church is doing. When I talk about vision I am referring to a statement that lends itself to easily identifiable goals and steps that will lead to reaching those goals which in turn achieves the vision.

Here's an example I often use in workshops I lead. Let's assume a church has discerned a God-given vision of reaching one percent of its unchurched community over the next five years. Further, let's assume the population of that community is 20,000 and we've determined that half of those people, 10,000, is unchurched. That means our vision is to reach 100 new people for Christ over the next five years.

From that we can begin to set certain goals that we need to achieve that will enable us to fulfill that vision. Some of those goals may include developing small groups to reach out into the community, starting new Sunday school classes, identifying and training people to lead these small groups and classes, developing better ways to greet first-time guests and creating an effective follow-up system to ensure that those guests do not fall through the cracks. A church might need to check as to whether it has sufficient space to handle a hundred new people and sufficient parking, and some goals might have to be set to address these space issues. As these various goals are established, Key Result Areas (KRAs) can be identified that will break each of these goals down into manageable actions. As the church intentionally works through these KRAs it is working towards the achievement of each goal and eventually to the fulfillment of the vision.

The key word here is intentional. No longer is the church drifting from week to week hoping that someday something good will happen. It is now actively pursuing a God-given dream, and such intentional ministry will always beat drifting if a church wants to impact its community.

As I prepare to retire from my current ministry one of my prayers is that I will be able to help churches ready to become more intentional in its ministry to those outside the church. If I can of service to you, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

A missionary mindset

In yesterday's post I addressed the entitlement mindset that runs rampant in today's society. We also looked at how that same mindset impacts our churches in a negative way and prevents us from fulfilling our mission in the world. Today, I want to look at the mindset that should be seen in our churches.

We spend a lot of time focusing on church membership. Churches are concerned that people are not willing to join their churches as members. This is really the wrong thing to worry about.

Church membership is all about rights and privileges. If I am a member of the country club I can go there and play golf or use their pool or tennis courts. I can attend dinners and parties there because I am a member, and with membership comes privileges.

As a church member I am entitled to certain privileges. I may get free weddings for my children or a free funeral when I die. I can pick out the styles of music we'll have in our services and when those services will begin. I get to vote on things that happen in the church because I'm a member, and with membership comes privileges.

Is it not time to stop seeing ourselves a merely church members and begin to see ourselves as missionaries? Scripture teaches that the Holy Spirit has given gifts to every believer to be used in ministry, but many church members are not involved in any ministry that uses their gifts.

No matter how gifted your pastor is, he or she can only be in one place at one time doing one thing. What if your church had 50 people who saw themselves as ministers? Now, you would have 50 people in 50 places doing 50 things. Would you rather grow your church by addition (1+1) or by multiplication (50X1)? I am full agreement with the individual who said that our baptism was our ordination into ministry. It's time that every Christian develop a missionary mindset and abandon the entitlement mindset.

Along with that, we need to stop seeing our churches as merely churches and begin seeing them as mission stations that have been placed in the midst of a rapidly emerging pagan culture. Our society is rapidly growing worse as it abandons the biblical foundations upon which it was founded. The church has been called to be salt and light in the midst of darkness, and we now live in a very dark time that is only going to get darker. If we are going to ever have an impact on the 21st century we are going to have to become missional in our thinking, and that is going to be a much different mindset that many of our churches now have.

I believe God is now raising up an body of believers and churches that will have this missionary mindset. Those who want to continue in their entitlement thinking will fade away into insignificance until finally "Ichabod" is written above their door. Each of us can choose which mindset we will have.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The entitlement mindset

Recently, while on vacation, I witnessed a young boy of about eight years old screaming and crying because he had not been the winner of a costume contest. This kid had lost it! He was out of control. To make things worse, his mother just sat there letting him act out in public. I mumbled to my wife, "There's a kid who's going to know a lot of disappointment in life," while she was trying to get me to be quiet.

Children are now being raised by helicopter parents who hover over their kid ensuring that he or she never falls down, always wears a helmet, never hears the word no, and gets everything his or her little heart desires. On the sports field everyone gets a participation award, and schools put smiley faces on homework instead of grades. We wouldn't want to hurt their self-esteem. They may not be able to read their graduation diploma, but at least they'll feel good.

Now that we've taught little Johnny and Mary that they are entitled to anything they want we should not be surprised at any demands they make. You've probably read about the recent million student march that demanded free college tuition and student loan forgiveness. In their mind, an education is a right and making people pay for their education denies them that right.

 It's a shame they weren't raised by my parents who told me more than once, "Society doesn't owe you anything. If you want something you have to work and earn it." When I got my driver's license and wanted a car all I had to do was get a job and buy it. I wasn't entitled to a car, and nobody was going to buy one for me unless I bought it myself. So, I worked all through high school so I could afford to buy a car. There is a certain dignity to earning the things you want in life rather than waiting for someone else to provide everything for you.

There is a very simple way to avoid student loan debt. We need to be teaching our children is that student loans should be avoided at all costs, and the best way to do that is to work and pay your way through school. Don't lay around all summer playing video games and spend your spring break laying out on some beach. Get a job. Have some dignity about yourself. Go to school part time and pay for your education as you go. That will help you grow up and keep you out of student loan debt. And by the way, you are not entitled to a college education. If you want a college education, then you pay for it.

To help you understand where I'm coming from, I didn't decide to go to college until I was in my mid-thirties. I was married with two children, working in a factory and pastoring a church. Working full-time I could only go to school part time, but that allowed me to cash-flow my education. By the time I eventually finished my education I had three degrees and never borrowed a dime for any of them.

Now that I'm off that soapbox let me say that unfortunately that same entitlement mindset exists in our churches as well. People leave the church because "they are not being fed." They leave because their feelings get hurt. A lady called me once and said she just didn't think she and her husband could attend their church any longer because she didn't like the way their pastor dressed. After 15 years in a judicatory role I should not be surprised at anything I see in churches, but I continue to be surprised at the pettiness and childishness I see in supposedly mature Christian adults.

Until we recognize that it's not all about us our churches are never going to function as God intended. People are going to hell while we argue over the color of carpet we're going to install in the sanctuary and whether or not the daycare should use the crayons in the Sunday school rooms.

In tomorrow's post I'll share the mindset we need to have rather than an entitlement mindset.