Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Pop-up ads are almost as annoying as telemarketers.

Although our phone has been on the Do-Not-Call list in Indiana for several years, we still get several of them each week. I usually report them to the state Attorney General's office, and occasionally I get feedback that one has been fined for ignoring the law. Two weeks ago one gentleman called three times in two days wanting to verify information for my yellow page advertisement (which I do not have). I hung up on him the first two times. The third time he called I spoke very nicely to him and explained that I was an information center and would need his credit card number so I could properly bill him for the information he was requesting. At first he was confused, then he got angry, but I haven't heard back from him.

Almost as annoying as telemarketers are the pop-up ads that many bloggers insert into their blogs. I read several blogs each day, and many of them have these pop-up ads. Not only must I delete them before I can read the article, most of them are advertising something that is already being advertised in the side bar or elsewhere in the blog.

I don't mind people advertising their products in their blogs. You'll find ads for the books I've written in the side bar of this blog as well as other paid advertising. However, you do not find, nor will you ever find, me insulting my readers by using pop-up ads that prevent you from reading the post until you delete the ad.

Some of the blogs I follow are marketing, business, and leadership blogs, and I can understand (to a degree) them using every marketing tool at their disposal. However, most of my pop-ups are found in the ministry blogs I read. Seriously? Someone is interested enough in your ministry to follow your blog so why would you feel it necessary to insult him or her by popping an ad up on the screen as they try to read your post?

There are many ways to monetize a blog without frustrating your readers with pop-up ads. I'm sure these ads generate revenue for bloggers who have a large following, but for most of us they are just an annoyance that we have to address before we can get to the information we are seeking. I've removed more than one blog from my reading list due to the overuse of pop-up ads and more are about to be eliminated. Bloggers really should look at whether the revenue they generate is worth the loss of readers.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Evangelism preaching conference

Yesterday I was privileged to attend an evangelism preaching conference hosted by Campbellsville University. The primary speaker was Dr. Robert Smith, professor of Christian Preaching at Beeson Divinity School. Dr. Smith is a sought after speaker and has authored Doctrine That Dances: Bringing Doctrinal Preaching and Teaching to Life. Although it was a two-day conference I was only able to attend the first day due to other commitments, but the one day was well worth the small investment required to attend.

Although I took several notes, in today's post I just want to share three ideas I highlighted from Dr. Smith's messages. The first is that we should expect plots against our ministry as Paul described in Acts 20: 19. Any ministry that is lifting up Jesus will come under attack. In fact, if we never experience problems in our ministries it may be a sign that the Devil doesn't believe we are worth attacking. As unpleasant as they may be, we should view problems as indicators that we are doing something worthwhile for the Kingdom of God.

The second idea is that the Gospel is inclusive in that it is for all people, but it is exclusive in that it points only to Christ as the means of having a relationship with God. We have an obligation to share the Gospel to all people. Every person you meet is an individual for whom Jesus Christ gave His life, and we must find ways in which we can share that Gospel with them in a way they can accept.

But this does not mean that we weaken or compromise that message in order to make it more acceptable. Jesus said that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life and that no one could come to the Father except through Him. He didn't say that He was a way to God but that He was the Way. There is no other means of salvation except through Jesus Christ. That is not a popular message today. It is not politically correct to say that. It is exclusive, but it is what Christ said and our duty is to share that message with others.

The third idea is that we as pastors and church leaders have to grow spiritually faster than those we are leading. Spiritual growth is not an option for a Christian leader. We cannot lead our people further than we ourselves have traveled. We cannot neglect our own spiritual growth with the excuse that we do not have the time as we are too engaged in doing the Lord's work.

I would encourage anyone who finds that Dr. Robert Smith is speaking in their area to attend. He is an excellent preacher, communicator, and teacher. You will feel like you've been drinking from a fire hydrant when you leave, but you will be blessed and your ministry will be impacted by his teaching. I want to thank Campbellsville University for making this conference possible.

Friday, May 15, 2015

WII-FM

According to Wikipedia there are approximately 1,600 Christian radio stations in the United States. Some of these stations are fairly large while others are smaller, local stations. Many Christians leave their radios tuned to the favorite station to listen to the speakers and musicians they enjoy the most. However, I have found that there is one station that many Christians prefer over all others: WII-FM (What's in it for me?).

This is the station that people listen to just before they tell the pastor they are leaving for another church because "They aren't being fed here." People who decide to leave their church because they were not selected for a certain position often listen to this station before leaving. As people are presented with ideas for new ministries or possible changes in the way things are being done they often replay their favorite selections from WII-FM. Then they are ready to oppose whatever is being presented.

Somewhere these people have never been taught that it really isn't all about them, or at least it's not supposed to be. It is supposed to be about advancing the Kingdom of God. It is supposed to be about finding ways to reach people for whom Jesus died. Church was never meant to be a luxury hotel for saints; it is supposed to be a hospital for sinners. A congregation is not to call a pastor to serve them but to lead them as they use the gifts God has given them to serve others.

Maintenance-minded churches spend a lot of time listening to WII-FM. Its programs are soothing to those who are waiting for someone else to feed them and meet their every need.

Missional churches really don't spend much time listening to that station. They don't have time. These churches are too busy in the community touching people's lives where they live. Besides, they really don't buy into the programming presented on WII-FM. Something doesn't sound right. In fact, it sounds almost heretical.

By the way, it's not only individuals in churches who enjoy WII-FM. Entire churches will sometimes listen and get caught up in its philosophy. These are the churches who begin to ask themselves what their denomination is doing for them. They wonder if it's not about time to leave their denomination and join another or become independent.

I heard of one such church earlier this week. The caller thought that church had voted to withdraw from its denomination because the denomination doesn't do anything for them. I asked the caller if the church had ever requested help from the denomination to which it belonged, and he did not believe it had.

As a judicatory leader for the past 14 years this is one of my greatest frustrations. I can't speak for every leader of every denomination, but every one I've met is willing to do anything that will benefit one of their churches. The problem is that many of these churches never ask, and none of us are mind readers.

I have no way of knowing a church is involved in a conflict and needs someone to help mediate it unless someone tells me. Unless a church lets me know it is struggling trying to understand God's vision for its future, I can't help them through a process of discerning that vision. We have several good stewardship programs that can help a church's giving, but unless we know a church is interested in such a program we can't help them.

Which churches do we help? The ones who ask for such help. Which ones do we help the least? The ones who never bother to ask, and these are the ones who wonder why they remain in their denomination.

WII-FM is dangerous to both individual believers and to congregations. Buying into its philosophy will hinder the individual's spiritual growth and the growth of the church. We are not here to be served but to serve, and that is not a message you'll hear on WII-FM. Instead of asking "What's in it for me?" we should be asking "How can I help?".

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Should Christians be wealthy? Part 2

In yesterday's post I shared three views on wealth. I referred the reader to Rabbi Daniel Lapin's book Thou Shall Prosper: Ten Commandments for Making Money. In it Rabbi Lapin explores the teachings of the Old Testament and the Torah towards wealth and shows how following those teachings have enabled many Jewish people to be successful in life and in business. We should note that these principles are not just for Jewish people but are for anyone who will practice them.

Today we want to explore the issue further by looking at more teachings from the Bible as they are taught by financial guru Dave Ramsey. To recap one point of yesterday's post, I do not accept the teachings of the various Prosperity Gospel preachers but I do believe the Bible gives us very practical principles that, if followed, will allow one to build financial security. These principles are taught by Ramsey in his best seller, The The Total Money Makeover: Classic Edition: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness.

Ramsey begins with the basic principle of avoiding debt. Americans have billions of dollars in consumer debt plus student loans and mortgages that represent a drain on the nation's economy and adds huge stress to countless lives. The Bible teaches that "The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender. (Pr. 22:7)" Those who call into Ramsey's radio program each day would attest to feeling like slaves to their debt.

If you had no debt imagine how much freedom you could enjoy in life. Imagine also how much good you could do if you could increase your giving to your church and to other organizations you would like to support. Think also of how much you could save and invest towards your future retirement. Just avoiding or getting out of debt can lead you to becoming wealthy, and all you've done is follow a Biblical principle.

This also involves another principle: living on less than you make. This requires discipline and maturity, two attributes in short supply today. We want what we want when we want it, and if we have to go into debt to get it we will do so.

I read a blog post yesterday where the writer was addressing the statement that we often hear in the church: We wish we could give more to the church but we just don't have the money. Well...one of the reasons we don't have the money is that we are so deep in debt. Live on less than you make, pay off your debt, and you'll find that you have much more to give. Rather than offering excuses start making different choices.

After paying off debt and doing the other things Ramsey teaches, the next step is to set aside money to invest towards retirement. Few Americans are financially prepared for retirement, and many face that time in their lives with great fear. Pr. 6: 6-11 teaches that we should consider the ant who sets aside supplies in the summer so that it has food in the harvest. In order to have the financial ability to enjoy our retirement years we must set aside the money during our working lives and invest it wisely. This is not a get-rich-quick scheme nor is it Prosperity Gospel. It is being disciplined enough during our working lives to prepare ourselves for retirement. Otherwise, we become a burden on others and cannot retire with dignity.

A great rule of thumb I once heard was that we should learn to live on 80 percent of our income. Tithe 10 percent and save 10 percent. (Ramsey teaches that one should put 15 percent into a retirement account.) But, most people would be much better prepared for retirement if they did the 10 percent rather than what they are doing now (very little). Yes, this may mean that you live in a smaller house than you want or that you have to drive an older car rather than leasing a new one every three years. But, it also means that it's not a crisis the next time your washing machine needs to be replaced.

Readers may point out that there are many biblical passages that warn against wealth, but I would argue that these passages warn against the misuse of wealth. If your security is in the wealth you accumulate, that is wrong. If you become wealthy by unethical or immoral means, that is wrong. If you abuse others because of your wealth, that is wrong. But, if you become wealthy through ethical means and by living a disciplined life so that you can serve others through your giving, then there is nothing wrong with a Christian becoming wealthy.

If you need help in knowing what to do, both of these are excellent books. If you have debt I would strongly suggest you begin with Ramsey's book and follow his steps exactly as he lists them. Once you understand and are following the practices he teaches you will be ready to read Rabbi Lapin's book.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Should a Christian be wealthy?

While reading some of the blogs I follow I came across a post entitled "Should Christians Be Wealthy?" I did not read the article. There are two points of view on this question that many hold, and I disagree with both so I moved on to the next post.

One view takes the approach of the Prosperity Gospel that claims if you have enough faith you can create great riches. Pray in certain ways, use the right words, and God is obligated to open up the windows of heaven and pour out riches upon you. I stopped listening to those teaching that when I questioned why they never took that message to Bangladesh or some other third-world country. Surely those folks would like to know the magic formula to become wealthy. It seems those teaching this philosophy preferred to remain in the states where people could afford to buy their books and tapes.

The other view sees wealth as something evil. In this view one can only become wealthy if someone else is becoming poorer. People holding this view believe that wealthy people must be punished with increased taxes in order to spread the wealth. As a bivocational minister I am not wealthy, but I strongly disagree with this view.

People who take risks have the right to benefit when those risks produce results. An entrepreneur who starts a small business that becomes successful should not be punished for that success. The government is ready to increase his or her taxes if the business succeeds, but does nothing if it fails. Besides, what is gained by punishing success? No poor person ever gave me a job so I'm thankful that people have succeeded and businesses have grown so that they needed to employ more people.

There is a third view on Christians and wealth that I find more balanced. I believe the Bible does teach principles that will lead to a Christian (and non-Christian for that matter) to enjoy financial success. One of the best resources I've found that addresses this is Rabbi Daniel Lapin's book Thou Shall Prosper: Ten Commandments for Making Money. Rabbi Lapin explains that one of the reasons the Jewish people have often been so successful is that they follow Biblical principles that promote wealth. Referring to the Old Testament and the Torah, he presents ten fundamental "commandments" that relate to both money and business.

One of these commandments is that people should believe in the dignity and morality of business assuming they are conducting their business in a moral and ethical manner. No one should apologize for making a profit if they are offering a product or service that benefits others. No one should apologize for doing a good job and being rewarded financially for doing so, nor should they be attacked by others for being successful.

Another commandment addresses tithing. Rabbi Lapin says that for thousands of years Jewish people have seen the connection between giving and increased wealth. We do not give in order to receive, but it seems that givers do receive far more than they give which enables them to give even more. Some of the most generous people I know are wealthy Christians who understand they are merely stewards of all they possess.

Rabbi Lapin goes into great detail explaining the principles and reasoning behind each commandment. I found the book helpful as both a minister and an entrepreneur and learned things I had never seen taught elsewhere.

I think you will find this a very interesting and inspiring book. I enjoyed the insights the Rabbi shared regarding some of the teachings out of the Torah as well as the Jewish understanding of some Old Testament stories. You don't have to preach a prosperity gospel in order to teach your congregation sound Biblical principles about wealth and money.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Learn to say no

Like most people who go into the ministry, I felt part of that calling was to minister to people's needs. I believe strongly in servant leadership, and I wanted to be available to people so I could serve them well. I did not find it easy to tell someone I could not do something they wanted me to do. I'm wired to say yes, but I had to learn to say no.

As a bivocational minister, time is one of the most valuable commodities we have. I've never talked with a bivocational minister who complained he or she had too much free time. The problem is usually exactly the opposite. We typically do not know how we will accomplish everything that is expected of us. Some of that is the nature of bivocational ministry, but some of it is the direct result of we have not learned how to say no.

Time management is life management. Being able to manage our time well comes from understanding what our life priorities are. If we schedule our time around the various requests we receive from others we will quickly find that their priorities for our lives may be quite different than our own priorities. To ignore your family's needs for the third night in a row while you attend another unnecessary meeting means you have your priorities messed up. To ignore your own personal self-care while you tend to the needs of everyone else often means you won't be in the ministry long. It may also mean that you won't be alive for long.

It is vital that bivocational ministers (and everyone else for that matter) have a clear understanding of their life priorities and how they are going to achieve them. I would begin by having a conversation with your family, your church, and your employer to understand what they expect from you. You may have to negotiate with each of them to address unrealistic expectations. You also have to understand what you personally need as far as your own spiritual, physical, and emotional well-being.

Once these are understood you can begin to set some priorities built around your current lifestyle. For instance, when my son was playing baseball in the various youth leagues it was important to me and our family that we be involved in that. In fact, I coached his teams for several years. Those games and practices went on my calendar first and other things were scheduled around them. When he grew older and played on the high school team it was still important that we support him, but I was no longer coaching his team. I now had more open dates when other things could be added to my schedule.

When I was working on my doctorate I knew there was a lot of reading required. I blocked off sections of each week for reading knowing that if I didn't other things would creep onto the schedule. After earning that degree other things became priorities on my schedule.

But, in order to make this work you have to be willing and able to say no. Sometimes we have to say no to some good things in order to ensure we have sufficient time for the best things. Perhaps later we can say yes to those things when our lives change, but for now we have to be willing to say no.

Will everyone understand? No. There will always be people who are convinced you exist for their benefit. You will be accused of being selfish and uncaring. So be it. I learned a long time ago I'm not going to please everyone. I just want to be sure I please those most important to me.

Learning to say no to some things will make you a more productive leader. It will make you stronger emotionally, physically, and spiritually. It will strengthen your family relationships. It will also model to others what a balanced life looks like. Learn to say no to those things that are not a priority in your life.


Thursday, May 7, 2015

How to build a ministry library

When I began as a pastor in 1981 I had one-and-a-half shelves of books in my little home office. I had not been to seminary so I didn't have the collection of books that a seminary grad would have accumulated. Most of the books I did have were popular Christian books, nothing that allowed me any in-depth study that would be helpful in ministry.

I began to go to a nearby college library to find books that would be helpful in sermon preparation. To my surprise, I found other ministers there as well. However, as a bivocational pastor it wasn't always convenient to depend on the library being open nor did they always have the resource material I might need for a particular sermon or study. I needed to build up my own private library, and I did. Today, my study is lined with bookshelves around three walls all filled with books.

About a year after beginning my pastoral ministry I enrolled in a Bible school. The required books for my classes were helpful additions to my library. Some of them were found at an off-campus used Christian bookstore at very reasonable prices. I find that some seminary students are not interested in keeping their textbooks which become for sale at similar bookstores. If you live near a seminary or Bible college you should always check out to see if a used Christian bookstore is nearby. You can get some really good deals there.

Our local library has a Friends of the Library book sale each fall. For ten dollars you can become a member of this organization which allows you to purchase books at this sale a day before it opens to the general public. I found some great buys at this annual sale. My favorite story out of this sale is that I bought the two volume Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament for $2.00 one year. It retails for around $100.00.

While I have bought hundreds of new books from Christian and secular bookstores, I have also found some great buys at Goodwill, yard sales, and auctions. Most of my recent purchases have been used books through amazon.com. Sometimes you have no choice but to purchase a new book, but when you can buy some used ones as well it helps the average!

I have also volunteered to review new releases for one publisher. I got that book free plus the publisher sent me another new book for my trouble. I got to select the free book from a list the publisher sent me. I didn't do this very often, and I'm not sure the publisher still does it, but it was a way to add more resources at no cost.

One last thing I did was to ask my bivocational church to give me a book allowance. Part of my salary package was a $400.00 a year allowance to buy books and other resources. That's less than $8.00 a week, but it does allow the pastor to add to his or her library with no out-of-pocket expense, and because it's an allowance it's not taxable. BTW - I always spent more than my $400.00!

Of course, there are now computer libraries that can be purchased for far less than one would spend for books. While they do include some excellent resources, some of their material is dated and not as helpful. Still, it can be a very good way for ministers to build up their resources. I've owned a couple of these, but I have to admit that I prefer holding a book in my hands.

I'm the same way about e-books. I have a number of books on my Kindle and NOOK devices, but I prefer to use these for general reading and not research and study. I also question the pricing of these e-books. As an author I'm glad that the cost of these e-books is not much less than the price of the book, but as a consumer it seems to me they should be much less expensive.

Building a library can be very expensive, but it's something that every minister must do if he or she wants to be effective. As I talk with bivocational ministers many of them say they just don't have the funds to build a good library. However, as you can see, there are many ways to do so without spending a lot of money. What you do spend must be seen as an investment and not an expense. You are investing in God's call on your life and on the people you have been called to serve.