Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Now is the time to schedule your conference speakers for 2019

For the past two years I have served as a Transitional Pastor for a church as it searched for a new pastor. Next Sunday will be my last day at the church. Their new pastor will begin the following week. During this time I did not schedule any conferences or other speaking events so I could concentrate my attention on serving this church. Now that my time there is ending I am open to speaking at your conferences or leading seminars for your organization.

The primary focus of the eight books I've published has been on small church/bivocational ministry. Because of these books I've been privileged to speak to various groups in ten different denominations and on the campuses of four universities. At some of the events I've led workshops as part of large denominational conferences, and in others I've conducted day-long seminars training pastors and denominational leaders.

My best selling book has been The Healthy Small Church: Diagnosis and Treatment for the Big Issues. That book has also been the foundation for my most requested seminar "The Healthy Small Church." In that seminar we explore some of the problems found in many small churches that lead to poor health and how to address them to enable the church to become healthier.

The second most requested seminar has been "Transforming the Small Church from Maintenance-Minded to Missional." It is based on my book Intentional Ministry in a Not-So-Mega Church: Becoming a Missional Community This seminar examines the differences between a maintenance-minded church and a missional church and how to transition the church from one to the other.

A third seminar I'm asked to do is "Bivocational Ministry for the 21st Century." This one is based on my book The Bivocational Pastor: Two Jobs, One Ministry and other research I've done on this topic. With the rapid growth of bivocational ministry in many denominations this seminar is becoming increasingly important.

A fourth seminar I've done is based on my book The Healthy Pastor: Easing the Pressures of Ministry and goes by the same title. Ministers face tremendous pressures that seminary often does not prepare them for, In this seminar we explore how to reduce those pressures to help make ministry more enjoyable and effective.

In addition, I have also worked with various denominational leaders helping them to better understand the unique needs of their small church and bivocational ministers.

I served one small, rural church as their bivocational pastor for 20 years and spent the next 14 years serving in judicatory ministry. My doctoral thesis was "Coaching Bivocational Ministers for Greater Ministry Effectiveness." Much of my ministry focus has been on smaller churches and bivocational leadership. The various presentations come not only from my books but from my research on these subjects and over 35 years in ministry.

Any of these presentations are available in a one-hour workshop, a half-day presentation or a six-hour seminar. We can tailor any of them to fit your needs.

As you know, now is the time to think about the persons you want to invite to speak to your 2019 gatherings. Currently, my 2019 schedule is open so now is the time to talk about scheduling me for your next event. The fastest way to contact me is at dbickers@roadrunner.com. I look forward to hearing from you.

Friday, August 10, 2018

The joy of bivocational ministry

The working title for my first book was The Joy of Bivocational Ministry. The publisher wanted to change that title, and as a first time author I had little leverage in the matter, but the editor did agree to use my title as the sub-title. Soon after the book came out a pastor friend of mine said to me he could not see how anyone could find joy in working a full-time job and serving as a pastor. He was not being critical; this was just not possible in his mind.

I wrote the book as I neared the end of a 20 year pastorate in a small, rural church. I was bivocational the entire time. For most of those years I worked in a factory and pursued a bachelor's degree. After earning that degree and taking early retirement from the factory I continued managing a small business our family owned all while still serving the church. While there were challenges, the positives far outweighed the negatives. I experienced true joy serving that church as I did.

Prior to my going to that church it had experienced a revolving-door pastorate. The average pastor tenure before me was about one year. The church had been struggling for years and had considered closing its doors. Although it was difficult to first create any positive momentum in the church it was exciting to see what happened once we started moving forward. That small church accomplished some very significant things during my time with them, and as I explained to them my major contribution was just staying with them until they realized what all they could do. It was a joy watching people accomplish more than they thought possible.

I continue to experience joy through the friendships we made in that church. Although I left the church in 2001 to accept a denominational role, some of my closest friends today were members of that church. I play golf with some of them. I was able to help one of our leaders serve an an interim pastor in several churches, and he later surprised me by accepting the call to be the pastor in one of them. He did a great job in that church which also brought me a lot of joy.

There was joy in seeing people come to Christ in that little church. A friend of my father came to my house one day wanting to talk about becoming a Christian. After we talked he prayed to receive Christ. He wanted to be baptized but wanted a private baptism. He told me he would probably never attend services at our church as he was a very private person. A few weeks later I met him and his family at a nearby creek where I baptized him. I don't think he missed a church service after that until he health prevented him from attending! What joy in seeing Christ come alive in this elderly man's life!

I could tell story after story, but let me close this post by saying there is tremendous joy found in bivocational ministry. That first book is out of print, but you can still purchase copies here for your Kindle device or from a used book seller.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

You are replaceable

Years ago I worked third shift on a factory assembly line. One night the foreman on our end of the line was telling me how difficult the job was on him. He was under a lot of stress, couldn't sleep and wasn't sure what to do.

I explained to him that if he went down some night someone would put him in a chair, shove the chair next to the wall and call the in-plant ambulance to take him to the hospital. The assembly line would not stop running, no one would stop working and if he wasn't able to return to work soon he would be replaced within a week.

The next night that was exactly what happened to him. Everything I said occurred. Fortunately, there was nothing seriously wrong with him and he returned to work the following evening.

Many pastors work like they are indispensable. They put in too many hours each week. They seldom, if ever, take vacations. They have no hobbies, no outside interests. They sacrifice their families and their health in a misguided belief that they are too important to the church, and to God, for them to do anything but their pastoral duties. If you go to the cemetery you will find many indispensable people buried there. Somehow the world seems to manage just fine without them.

I once told a pastor that I felt he was probably dealing with clinical depression. I encouraged him to see his doctor for a checkup and diagnosis. I asked him how often he went on vacation, and he just looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language. After talking to him for a few minutes and realizing I was getting nowhere I asked if I could tell his wife what I just said to him. He agreed, and I called her into the conversation. As I began to repeat myself tears streamed down her face confirming everything I suspected. That was a few years ago, and I do not believe he had done anything I suggested.

Why do we do this to ourselves? I served a church for 20 years, but they had many pastors prior to my going there, and if the Lord tarries, they will have many more after me. I'm not indispensable to that church. No pastor is called to sacrifice his or her family and health to serve in ministry. We are called to a place for a period of time to do the best job we can until the Lord moves us to another work. If we burn ourselves out we will be of no value to our ministries or the Lord.

Let me encourage you to do some things to help maintain balance in your life.

  1. Take your vacations. If you only get two weeks begin to advocate for four weeks. You and your family need that time away.
  2. Take your days off. Let the church know what those days are and protect them.
  3. Develop interests outside the ministry. Start a hobby. Join a civic organization. Take a course at a community college. Try different things until you find something you like.
  4. Build relationships with people outside the church. This might be in conjunction with your hobby or it might not. Get outside the holy huddle.
  5. If your church doesn't offer a sabbatical, begin to talk to them about doing so.
  6. Establish a date night with your spouse and do not let anything interfere.
I realize it might be difficult for you to advocate for these things yourself in your church. If you belong to a denomination ask your contact person in that denomination to speak to your leadership about some of these things. Just remember: The ministry is not a sprint; it's a long distance event. Take care of yourself and you'll be better able to go the distance.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Third greatest need of the church

I've previously posted the first and second greatest needs of the church, and today I'm going to address what I believe to be the third. First, I want to make something clear. The reader should not necessarily think these are being ranked in order of importance. All three of these need to have high priority in the church. Prayer, a recommitment to the Scriptures as the Word of God, and today's topic, teaching people how to defend the faith are all critical needs of the church if we are to fulfill the Great Commission.

Faithful readers of this blog know the value I place in apologetics. Many Christians struggle to explain what they believe; even more struggle to explain why they believe what they claim to believe. As a result, many of us are afraid to attempt to share our faith with others. We fear someone will ask us a question about our faith that we cannot answer.

The inability to explain why we believe certain things about God also reflects on our lack of growth as believers. We came to Christ as little children and remained little children in our understanding. This also makes us more susceptible to our abandoning the faith. More than a few young people went to college and decided they could no longer believe in God when that belief was challenged and they were unable to meet that challenge.

If we are to grow disciples churches must do more than teach simple Bible facts. Yes, Jonah was swallowed by a large fish. Yes, David killed Goliath with a slingshot. But, at some point, we need to begin teaching people why the fine-tuning of the universe points to a Divine Creator, how evil and suffering are not proofs that a loving and powerful God could not exist, that we can trust the Scriptures as we have them today and a host of other evidences that explain why reasonable and intelligent people can believe in God.

We are constantly bombarded today with a steady diet of attacks against Christianity. The movies we watch, the music we listen to, the media all seem to challenge the Christian faith. Millions of books have been sold in recent years insisting that science has proven God does not exist. The fact that many leading scientists are strong Christians alone proves that statement is not true, but many do not know that. Unfortunately, many people believe that if an academic publishes something it must be true.

Churches need to provide deeper theological teaching to their members, and that teaching must include apologetics. In Sunday school classes, small groups, and from the pulpit people must be given the tools to defend their faith and to be able to discern truth from untruth. Instead of watering down our sermons, we need to go deeper. Let's teach not only what we believe but why we believe it. Our goal should be that every person sitting under the ministry of our church will "always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you (1 Peter 3: 15)."

Monday, July 30, 2018

Second greatest need of the church

Last week I posted an article that stated the greatest need of the church is prayer. Many churches no longer have prayer meetings during the week nor is prayer an integral component in many churches. We have substituted programming, technology, and education above prayer. and at the same time seen reduced baptisms,less growth, and less impact on our communities. We need to return to an emphasis on prayer.

Today I want to focus on the second greatest need in many churches: a return to the Scriptures. Last week news outlets reported on a message a congresswoman gave during a church service. It was nothing more than a political rallying cry. There may have been an occasional reference to God, but there was nothing in the article that indicated anything in the message that was biblically based. In countless churches across the country the same thing happens each week.

The message may not always be political. It may be a message that promises health and wealth, popularity, and countless self-help messages. Regardless of the focus of the message, it won't come from Scripture.

Some pastors today believe that preaching the Scriptures might offend an attender. One popular mega-pastor now promotes the need for the church to abandon the Old Testament because people struggle to relate to it and many find it offensive.

While many churches are turning away from preaching the Word of God numerous books and publications tell us that is exactly what people seeking a church want to hear. They are tired of easy, greasy preaching that cannot change lives. They're tired of hearing "I'm OK, You're OK" when they know they're not OK. If unchurched people begin attending a church they want one that believes something and isn't afraid to proclaim what it believes.

No minister should ever apologize for preaching the infallible Word of God. It points the way to Jesus Christ and eternal life. It teaches us how to conduct ourselves in this life. The Bible is not a book about God. It is God's Word given to us to teach us how to live. Where the Scriptures are proclaimed from the pulpit there is life, and when they are ignored in the pulpit spiritual death is inevitable.

As the apostle Paul wrote to young Timothy, "Preach the word! be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching." Our churches need pastors who will preach the word without compromise and without apology. I urge you to be that kind of pastor.

Friday, July 27, 2018

The greatest need of the church

If you asked a number of churches what they needed most you would likely get a myriad of responses. As a regional leader in our denomination for 14 years I had the opportunity to pose that question to numerous churches. I was told they needed

  • More young families
  • More children and youth
  • More volunteers
  • More money
  • More effective strategies for ministry and evangelism
  • More commitment from their members
  • A greater willingness to change
  • Lay leaders with spiritual depth
  • Better trained pastors
  • More denominational support
  • And the list goes on...
While any of these might be helpful, I'm not sure these are really what the church needs most. Ask most church leaders what the worst attended event is in their church, and many of them would say the mid-week prayer meeting (that is if their church still has one).

I've reached the age where people begin rolling their eyes when I begin a statement with "I can remember when...." I get that, and sometimes I roll my eyes as well when others say those words. But, I can remember when many of the churches in our area had a mid-week prayer meeting. I have to wonder if there is a correlation between the decline of such meetings and the reduced impact our churches have on today's society.

Back in 2001 Leonard Sweet wrote Carpe MaƱana in which he asked an important question. He wrote, "The church has tried everything except the one thing that is needed. It has tried to be an inclusive church. It has tried to be a confessional church. It has tried to be a program-driven church. It has tried to be a purpose-driven church. It has tried to be a seeker-sensitive church. What if it tried to be a spiritual church?"

The early church met daily for prayer, worship, instruction, and fellowship. They overcame seemingly impossible challenges to turn the world upside down. Study church history and see if you can find a genuine revival that did not begin with prayer.

2 Chronicles 7: 14 still says, "If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves and PRAY and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land." (Emphasis added)

 It has been said that the army of God is the one army that marches on its knees, but we haven't spent much time on our knees lately. I contend the greatest need of the church is for it to fall on its knees and begin to pray that God would begin to heal our land. We need to pray for the lost in our communities. We need to pray for those who are hurting and those who suffer from injustice.  Finally, we need to pray and ask God how we can reach out in love and allow those for whom we've prayed to experience Him in a way that will transform their lives.


Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Suicide

A leader in our community took his life last week. Although we are in a small community, our local newspaper recently reported that we average about one suicide each week. Various groups, including the ministerial association, have been addressing the problem, but so far that figure seems to be holding steady.

I did not know this leader so I know nothing of his life, his faith, or the reasons he decided to end his life. I would assume he was carrying some pain that he no longer felt he could live with. The problem is that suicide does not end the pain. It merely transfers it to other people: family, friends, other loved ones. I've heard several who knew him question whether there was anything they could have done to have prevented this. There is little anyone can do if a person is determined to end his or her life.

After a major stroke my mother attempted to end her life several times. She could never give a reason why except to say that she was tired of living with the limitations she had as a result of the stroke. Once, her counselor called to tell me that she felt Mom was suicidal again. We had her admitted to a hospital until the doctors felt that had passed.

Many pastors serve churches in which family members have lost loved ones to suicide. Occasionally, I hear ministers announce suicide is the unforgivable sin as the one who ends his or her life cannot ask God's forgiveness. This not only reflects very poor theology; it also brings tremendous pain to those whose loved ones ended their lives.

How should pastors address suicide? The first thing is to learn as much as they can about the causes of suicide. As they talk to members of their churches they need to be watching for signs that the person may be considering this step. Such warning signs are not always apparent, but many times they are. Mom's counselor could not tell me that Mom was going to attempt suicide, but she could tell me that she detected signs that she was considering it again. Learn those signs.

The second thing is to develop a good understanding of the grace of God. Is our salvation based upon our asking forgiveness for every sin or is it based on what Christ did for us on the cross? If it is based on our being forgiven for every sin, we are all in trouble because I doubt that anyone asks forgiveness every time they sin.

The third thing is to talk about suicide. We need to let people know there are alternative ways of dealing with the pain in their lives, and that suicide is not the answer. Don't be afraid to address it in sermons and Bible studies. Have it as a topic in a small group. Ask someone qualified to do so to host a recovery group for persons who have lost loved ones to suicide.  Work with other area churches and mental health leaders to host a community-wide workshop on preventing suicide in your community. There are many things you can do. Decide what will work best in your community.