Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Influence

Leadership gurus have long noted that leadership is influence, nothing more, nothing less. If you are influencing others, they are following you. If no one is following, you are not leading.

What we often fail to recognize is that influence goes beyond the persons with whom we have direct contact. I recently read a great example of this when the author wrote that when we do something that impacts our son we are also indirectly impacting our son's best friend's mother. Like tossing a rock into a lake, our influence has a ripple effect on the lives of other people whose lives also touch the person we influenced.

This is great news for the Christian who wants to impact his or her world for Jesus Christ. Our ministry to others not only has the potential to change their lives but also the lives of others around them. This literally means that we have no idea of how even the smallest service towards someone can have a major impact in the lives of other people.

In the late 1970s our daughter attended Vacation Bible School with one of our neighbors. We did not go to church in those days, at least not very often. This was probably the 3rd or 4th VBS she attended that summer. On the Friday evening of VBS at this church she told her mother and me that the pastor had given an invitation, and she had gone forward to ask Jesus Christ into her life. The pastor told her if she was serious about this decision she should come back to church next Sunday and make that decision before the entire congregation.

I was scheduled to work overtime in the factory that Sunday, but she insisted she wanted to go to church and make her decision public. There was no way I was going to allow her to do that and not be there to support her, so we went. Sure enough, when the invitation was given my little girl stepped out in front of all those strangers and made her way to the front of the church.

As a result of her decision, over the next few months my wife and I both came to faith ourselves. We became active in the church, and 2-3 years later I felt the call to the ministry. This year I am celebrating 35 years of ordained ministry as a pastor and as a denominational resource minister. I've been privileged to speak in many churches, publish books, lead conferences and workshops, and to assist countless churches as they have sought to live out God's vision for their ministries. All of this has happened because a little girl went to VBS.

You have the ability to influence other people's lives far more than you realize. You can be a world changer just through your faithful service to God and others. Ask God every day for the opportunity to touch someone for Christ and take advantage of those opportunities when they appear. You may find one day that you not only impacted one person's life but many others as well.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Transforming churches from maintenance-minded to missional

This past weekend I had the privilege of leading a conference for a Presbyterian district in northern Indiana on leading a church from a maintenance-mindset to a missional mindset. This is the second year in a row I've been invited to work with these pastors and lay leaders. We had about 35 people attend this event. They took a lot of notes and asked many good questions.

The majority of churches are stuck in a maintenance mode. Such churches have primarily an inward focus that is committed to caring for its members and less committed to serving those outside the church. When churches begin to go down the decline side of their life-cycle they also begin to move from an inward focus to a survival mentality. Now they become very risk averse and are very protective of whatever resources they do have. Although such churches can survive for years, this mindset will eventually lead to their death and eventual closure.

During this conference we covered a number of things churches can do to move to a more missional mentality, but it really begins with capturing a fresh vision from God for their future. The good news is that God does have a vision for each church; the bad news is many churches never understand what that vision is.

The mission of the church is found in the Great Commission and the Great Commandment. It is the same for all churches regardless of size. The vision is how a particular church will fulfill that mission today in the community they serve. For that reason, the vision will be different for each church. Because churches are made up of people with different spiritual gifts and different ministry passions, and because communities have different needs, the vision will be different for each church. It is not enough to try to copy what other churches are doing. Each church must discern God's vision for their church.

Without a fresh vision that is owned by the congregation a church will never move out of its maintenance mindset. Why should they? They have nothing to move towards. However, if a church captures a vision for ministering to those outside the church community it now has a reason to abandon its ruts and identify ways to better serve that community.

Our nation needs the church more than ever, but it needs a church that has a passion to fulfill the mission God has given the church and a vision for how to do that. I pray that your church will begin to make that move to a more missional mindset.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Let's raise children with a backbone

Yesterday I heard a story on the radio that still amazes me. A children's psychiatrist was explaining that he has recently seen several children who are afraid of Donald Trump. He told of one six year old boy who was brought to him because his intense fear of Trump.

I understand Trump makes some people nervous, and some are quite concerned of what might happen if he becomes president, but most of these people are not running to psychiatrists due to a crippling fear of the man. What is going on with today's children?

I read an article this week that urged parents to raise children with a backbone. The article was well written and certainly speaks to the issue of children needing professional help because of their fear of a presidential candidate.

Too many children today are being raised by helicopter parents who constantly hover over them every waking moment. These parents want to make every decision for them, protect them from skinning their knees, and demand that every child receives an award for showing up. When they sneeze they are rushed to the ER, and if they receive a poor grade the parents run to the school to find out what's wrong with the teacher.

My parents had a simple rule: If you get a spanking at school you'll get another one at home. If I got a bad grade I was grounded until the next grading period so I had plenty of time to study and bring that grade up. More times than I wanted to hear it my parents reminded me that society doesn't owe you anything. If you want something you work to earn it. Parents used to teach children responsibility and accountability; now many only teach them that the world revolves around them. Our granny government takes it even further as it assures people that they don't have to work or do anything except receive their government handout. No responsibility, no accountability, and no self-esteem.

Many young people on college campuses demand "safe spaces" where they won't hear anything that upsets them. Invited speakers, usually conservative speakers, are uninvited when students demand these speakers not be allowed to speak on campus. Their poor little ears couldn't take hearing a viewpoint different than one they've already formed which kind of makes attending a university a waste of time and money. We can only wonder what some of today's children will be like when they reach college age.

As parents and grandparents we need to raise children with a spine. They need to be allowed to make mistakes, allowing for age-appropriateness, and learn from those mistakes. They need to be allowed to play in the mud, work to earn money, and disciplined when they make poor choices. They also need to be taught that no means no and that temper tantrums are not allowed. They also need to be taught unconditional love so they know that no matter what, we will always love them.

Churches have a role to play in this as well. We need to teach them biblical truths so they will know how to make better choices. We need to prepare them for the challenges to their faith they will encounter in school and life. We need to teach them how to stand for what is right, and that Jesus is a friend that sticks closer than a brother.

We need to raise our children to be prepared to be the leaders our nation, our communities, and our churches will need. We need to help them develop a strong moral and ethical foundation for their lives, and we need to help them develop a spine.


Monday, August 22, 2016

A good reminder from a blues festival

Each year our small Indiana community hosts a two-day Blues Festival that brings thousands of people to listen to some great blues music and enjoy some wonderful barbecue. Nine acts play over the two-day event. Local acts open up each day, and some of them are very talented. Each following act typically is better known leading up to the headliner who closes the show each night. We've been blessed to have some of the biggest names in blues music play in this event.

I attend both days each year. If you buy your wristband early it only costs $20.00 and comes with $10.00 worth of food coupons. To hear nine acts of the quality who come to this event for $10.00 is an incredible value.

This year one of the earlier acts made several references to their inability to crack the big time. They never came right out and complained, but they made a few comments that showed their frustration. While they were good I could tell them some of the reasons why I thought they had not enjoyed the success they desired.

One of the biggest reasons, IMHO, is that they are trying to be something they aren't. They sang several songs they had written and covered some others from other groups. Almost every group does that, but I think the better ones stay away from covering songs that are strongly identified with major performers. This group covered a song that is a classic by a well-known singer now deceased. Their attempt paled in comparison to the original which, I felt, detracted from the talent they do have. They would have been much better off to have stayed with their own compositions.

Ministers can fall into the same trap. I've heard pastors who tried very hard to sound like well-known ministers. They even sounded out some of their words like their hero. When Rick Warren became so well-known I heard a ministry leader in Kentucky say he had never seen so many preachers in that state wearing Hawaiian shirts and going without socks. He made the point that what might work in Southern California doesn't necessarily fit in other parts of the country.

God has not called us to copy other ministers. He's called us to be us. God does not want me to be Billy Graham, John Piper or Rick Warren. He wants me to be me. He created me, and if he wanted me different he would have created me to be different. The same is true for you. Yes, we are to be continually growing and developing new skills, but at the core he wants to use us as we were created.

When I resigned my church in 2001 I told the congregation that their new pastor would not preach like I did nor would he or she pastor or do anything else exactly like I did. If God wanted another me there, he would not have led me to resign. A new pastor with new gifts and skill sets was needed to come in, and my gifts and skill sets were needed elsewhere. If we try to be something we aren't we will only frustrate God's purpose for our ministry.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Bivocational ministers get to minister in two jobs

One of the exciting things about bivocational ministry is the opportunities such ministry provides to minister in both worlds. Of course, a bivocational pastor has the opportunity to minister to people in his or her congregation, but we are also often allowed to minister to people in our other work setting. Some of these are people who would never consider entering a church building, but because we have built relationships with them we are allowed to minister to them at unexpected times.

Since getting my auctioneer's license people have asked why I decided to do something like this at my age. I enjoy it for several reasons, but being an auctioneer also allows me to minister to people outside the church setting. I've had people ask me about doing an auction for them, and when I've gone to look at what they want to sell they would begin to open up about some pain in their lives. At that point, if they do not already know, I mention that I am a retired minister. If it seems appropriate I ask if it would be OK to pray for them, and I've never been turned down. I then ask if they have a church home, and if not I will recommend a church in the area to them.

This doesn't happen every time I view items people want me to sell for them, but it does happen often enough to give me a sense that I am touching people for Christ who never darken the door of a church. I firmly believe that God opens up these doors of opportunity.

There are other ways I'm able to minister to people as an auctioneer.

  • Some people make their living picking, buying and selling. Often, they resell through an auctioneer. I am helping them provide for themselves and meet the needs of their families.
  • As people move into assisted living facilities or decide to downsize they find they cannot take everything with them. Oftentimes, they also find out that family members are not interested in their possessions. The only thing they can do is to sell those items they can no longer keep, and the easiest way to do that is through an auction. Many of my auctions come from this scenario.
  • When a loved one dies family members may find out they have inherited a lot of things they don't want. In many cases, the individual owned far more than anyone in the family realized. It's not uncommon for the heirs to feel overwhelmed. If they live some distance from the estate they may feel even more stressed as they consider what to do with everything. For these people an auction often makes sense. As an auctioneer I can relieve some of the stress they are feeling.
Each of these are legitimate ministry opportunities. In retirement I find that I preach somewhere nearly every Sunday, but being an auctioneer allows me to connect with people outside the church, and those connections often allows me to introduce them to Christ if they are not already Christian.

If you are a bivocational minister, how are you able to extend your ministry to your other work?

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Church Invitations

A few weeks ago I preached in a nearby church. As people were leaving several made the usual comments about how much they enjoyed the sermon. I'm often amused by this when some who mentioned how much they enjoyed the message wasn't awake long enough to hear most of it! However, one person's comment caught my attention. She added, "And thank you for giving an invitation. We haven't heard that much lately."

Their former pastor was a student at a nearby seminary so I was surprised that she indicated he did not normally end the service with an invitation. However, I was not surprised at the statement because it's one I hear too frequently when I'm asked to preach somewhere.

Some pastors have stopped giving an invitation at the close of the message. I've sat in a few of those services when visiting churches and always felt like something was missing when the service ended. I'm not sure why there has been a movement away from giving an invitation. Perhaps it's felt like doing so isn't "seeker friendly." Some may feel that it is putting pressure on people to respond. Certainly, no one wants to sit through 27 versus of "Just As I Am" while the minister begs people to come forward, but that's no reason to stop giving invitations.

While I appreciate some of the changes we see in many churches, this is one change that I think is a mistake. Every sermon should challenge people to make some type of decision in their lives, and they should have the opportunity to make that decision public while it's fresh.

I challenge people to make several decisions.

  • The decision to invite Jesus Christ into their lives for the first time.
  • The decision to rededicate their lives to Christ.
  • The decision to move their membership to this church.
  • A life decision in response to a specific challenge in the message.
  • In addition, I offer to pray for anyone about any issue going in their lives. I also invite people to come to the altar to pray to God without talking to me.
I believe in keeping the invitation brief. I announce to the congregation that we will sing just the first two versus of the invitational hymn, and if no one responds we will close the service. I feel that if someone is going to come forward it will happen quickly if they know we are not going to prolong the invitation.

If you've stopped issuing an invitation at the close of the worship service, I invite you to reconsider. Give people the opportunity to respond publicly to whatever God may be doing in their lives.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

What do younger pastors need?

At a denominational gathering one day we were discussing the problems younger pastors face when they begin their ministries. I don't think there is little argument that many pastors were not prepared for pastoral ministry by their seminaries. While a seminary education is a good thing, in most cases, many of them do not adequately prepare someone for the challenges of pastoral ministry. While they may have a basic knowledge of biblical languages and understand the history of their denomination, few pastors leave seminary trained in how to lead a meeting or how to deal with church bullies. Few have a good understanding of how to manage their time or how to set priorities and goals.

So many new pastors find themselves in trouble soon after beginning their pastorate, and we were trying to determine how we could best help them. One suggestion was to help them find mentors.

We wanted to match our new pastors with one of our more seasoned ones. Finding a good mentor can be a rewarding experience  regardless of what one is doing at the time. A mentor is one who has walked where you are going and is willing to share his or her life's lessons learned along the way.

On the surface, it sounds easy to match a mentor to a young leader, but in practice, it's not that easy. We found some new pastors were not interested. They either did not feel they had the time or they did not believe having a mentor would be a positive thing for them.

This is a very short-sighted approach. No, you won't have the time. You make the time. This is an investment in your future as a ministry leader, and like nearly all investments, there is an initial cost involved.

To believe you will not benefit from having a mentor is not just short-sighted; it is arrogance magnified many times over. These senior pastors have experienced many things throughout their ministries. Some good and some not so good. Why not learn from their experiences rather that have to go through them yourself?

When I began my pastoral ministry in the early 1980s I soon found myself in the church office of one of the senior pastors in our association. As we talked about pastoral ministry he related how he had ignored his family while serving the church. I won't go into details, but that failure on his part was now coming back to haunt him.

I left that meeting with this pastor determined to not make the same mistake. My family would be a priority even if it cost me my ministry. The church I was serving had many pastors in its long history, and if the Lord tarried, would have many more after I left. I was the only husband my wife had, and I was the only father my children knew. I would not neglect them in an effort to climb the "ministerial ladder of success." Today, thirty-five years later, I'm convinced that I made the right decision, and that decision was prompted in part because of that meeting with a more experienced pastor.

Find someone to mentor you. Take them out to lunch and pick their brain for an hour or so. Take plenty of notes. If they suggest something, make every effort to do it. A mentor is giving up part of his or her life to invest in you, and they want to see you taking this relationship seriously. If you'll do this, you will learn some things about ministry you'll never hear in seminary. You will be exceedingly glad you did.