Thursday, June 21, 2018

Searching for a new pastor

One of the most difficult times for churches is when they are seeking new pastoral leadership. Smaller churches have the most difficulty since many pastors will not even consider smaller churches. Even medium size churches often discover it is more difficult to find a new pastor than in the past.

There are a lot of reasons for this, but for our denomination the problem is very simple. We have more churches than ministers. Many of the pastors we do have are nearing retirement and not interested in a new church, and some ministers seeking placement simply do not have the qualifications many churches seek.

For 14 years I served as an Area Minister in our region, and one of my tasks was to assist churches seeking new pastors. It seemed like every year it became more difficult to find suitable candidates for these churches to interview. Some of this was because the churches had unreasonable expectations, but often the problem was that the candidate lacked the skills or experience the church needed. I've been retired for two years now, but I understand the problem has not improved.

It's important that churches seeking pastors not get discouraged or in a big hurry. I often told search committees that having no pastor was better than having the wrong pastor. It was not uncommon for many of our churches to spend 18-24 months seeking a pastor, and in some cases it took even longer.

Churches need to make sure their expectations for a new pastor are reasonable. I'm sorry, requiring a pastor to have a PhD to serve a church of 40 people is not a reasonable expectation. Even requiring an MDiv may not be a reasonable expectation for these churches. Churches might also think through the requirement that their pastor leads a Bible study every Wednesday night for six people. That time could probably be better spent doing something else.

Some churches cannot stand the idea of not having a pastor. I've seen some churches call the first person who came down the road with a cross around his neck and often lived to regret it. Spend time determining what your church needs in a pastor and begin seeking individuals who can provide that. Check every reference, even some that might not be listed on the resume. Today it makes sense to do a background check on your final candidate before presenting him or her to the church. If your church selects good people for the search committee, and they take their time, your chances of finding the right person for your church will be much higher.

This should be a time of intense prayer, not only by the search committee but by the entire church. Seeking a pastor is a spiritual adventure. You need to invite God to be part of this search because He already knows the person He's prepared to lead your church.

If your church is part of a denomination, it's also a good idea to invite a denominational leader to be part of your search. There may be some things he or she will know about candidates that you are considering that will not show up on a resume. They may also know people who are not actively seeking to move but might be open to such a move.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The pastor's library

I've written numerous times about how important a good library is for a minister. When I first began my ministry in 1981 my books would fit in a three foot section of one book shelf. As I sit here typing this I am looking at five seven foot tall bookshelves filled to overflowing plus two four foot bookshelves also filled. I realize some ministers have basements filled with bookshelves, but I feel pretty good about the books I've accumulated as a bivocational minister. Plus, I've given away and sold around 100 of my ministry-related books over the years.

Of course, at some point this becomes a problem. In a couple of months I will turn 70 years old. I am nearing the end of a term as the Transitional Pastor of a nearby church and have no idea if another similar ministry will be offered to me. I keep telling my wife I don't want her stuck with these books, and yet I struggle getting rid of most of them...just in case!

Recently I was talking to the wife of a pastor friend of mine. He has retired but is serving as an interim pastor. When they moved from their parsonage she gave away many of his books and boxed up the rest. He now has to tell her if he needs certain books so she can get them for him. As she explained, they moved into a much smaller house, and it wasn't possible for him to have shelves for his books. Maybe I just need to downsize to force myself to part with most of my library!

At some point I'll find a solution that makes sense and is one I can live with. Until then, I encourage you younger readers to invest in good books. I realize books are expensive today, but they still make a great investment for anyone involved in ministry. Don't be afraid to invest in quality books written by respected authors that speak to challenges you or your church are facing or that address issues important to you.

I also encourage you to not limit your reading to theology and ministry related books. To be effective in ministry it's important to understand people and the things that impact their lives. I have a number of books that focus on business issues, secular leadership, personal finance, and understanding the reasons people act and think as they do. I not only want to be able to exegete the Scriptures; I want to be able to exegete our culture as well so I can speak to it.

Earlier this year I boxed up some of my books, cut my name off the front page and sold the box at one of my auctions. About a month ago I stopped at a yard sale and found 2-3 of those books in the sale. I checked, and there was the place where I had cut out my name so I knew they were my books. I did a quick calculation and decided I had paid about $200.00 for the books in that box. It sold for about $5.00, and now the books are showing up in yard sales! There's a lot about that which could upset me, but it didn't. My prayer is that God will bring those books into the lives of people who need to read the material found in them. If reading those books transforms their lives that will be far better than them remaining on my shelves gathering dust until I decide to read them again.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Blessed are the peacemakers

In Matthew 5: 9 Jesus said, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God." As President Trump meets with the ruler of North Korea one cannot help but be reminded of this verse. This is a truly historic occasion as the leaders of the United States and North Korea sit down to talk face to face.

Obviously, it is too early to know the outcome of this discussion. Even if an agreement is reached, North Korea has been known to violate previous agreements. Still...having both sides sitting down to discuss a new possible agreement is better than the threats both sides were making just a few months ago.

Regardless of one's political bent, I struggle to understand the continued attacks against our president, especially during this important time in history. From Democrat leaders to professional athletes to actors and actresses it seems that each of them try to outdo one another with their profane attacks against President Trump. It's fine to disagree with his political views but to continue to attack him personally is outrageous and damaging to our nation. At this time North Korea and the world needs to see this nation supporting the president as he negotiates with North Korea.

Regardless of whether one is Democrat or Republican, this is the time Christians need to pray for our president and the discussions occurring in Singapore. These discussions could impact the world in which our grandchildren will live. That makes them vitally important in my opinion. If you want to criticize President Trump's political views later, that's fine, but for now let's pray for him and all those representing the United States and the free world in these discussions.

Monday, June 11, 2018

The future of denominations

For years we've been hearing that denominations will soon cease to exist. It's true that there is far less loyalty to denominations today than existed in the past. When I was growing up we moved several times, and each time we found a Baptist church nearby to attend. The denominational label is not what people initially look for today.

Many denominations report declining memberships. Some have reduced staff and mission work due to declining budgets. I've talked with several pastors who tell me their denominations do not offer the support they once did.

While these are realities I do not believe they predict the end of denominations. Perhaps some will merge with other denominations, but in the end we will continue to see denominational life continue.

Last week I had the opportunity to hear Dr. Lee Spitzer, General Secretary of the American Baptist Churches USA. Lee was called to this position about a year ago. He wanted to meet with pastors and church leaders to hear their stories and to share some of what the ABCUSA is doing today. His first stop was in our region of Indiana.

I've known Lee for several years. Although we've only had limited contact I know him to be a man who has a strong commitment to the Great Commission and to local churches. For that alone I expressed to him how pleased I was he was called to lead our denomination.

As he shared stories of wonderful things happening in many of our churches and across the mission field I was reminded this is why we are part of a denomination. Even the strongest megachurches cannot do everything a denomination of churches can do in as many places. It is our coming together to combine our talents and our treasures that enable us to send missionaries around the world and enter into partnership agreements with other denominations to do ministry together. The 90 minutes we were together went by too quickly as I enjoyed hearing the stories of how God is moving in and through our denomination.

Some pastors and churches question why they remain a part of their denomination. Not knowing every situation I cannot answer their questions, but I can say that I am glad to be a part of a denomination that is actively seeking to fulfill the Great Commission and have a positive impact for the Kingdom of God throughout the world.

Our denomination is not perfect. No human organization is, but I see God working through our various ministries to transform the lives of people around the world. That is something I want to be a part of for as long as I live.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Those who have gone before us

Yesterday was Memorial Day, a time when we remember those service men and women who gave their lives in defense of this country. As a Navy vet who served during Vietnam I've spent quite a bit of time this weekend thinking about our nation's veterans and those who lost their lives while serving. Over 58,000 Americans gave their lives during the Vietnam war. More than one million service men and women have given their lives in the various wars we've fought since we first fought for our independence.

Every freedom we enjoy as a nation is due to the sacrifice of these brave men and women and the countless millions of others who have served our nation. We also owe our freedoms to the families of those who served, and in too many cases, gave their lives. I have great respect for Gold Star Families and the pain they've endured since learning their loved one would not return home.

As I thought about the meaning of Memorial Day and my own service I realized that, knowing everything I know today, I would still have entered the service. I was proud to serve our country, and I remain proud to have served. I learned a lot about who I was during my four years in the Navy, and those years helped shape me into the man I am today.

I've also spent time this weekend thinking about those who have gone before us in the church. Our churches are here today because faithful men and women were willing to sacrifice to establish churches across this nation. They proclaimed the Gospel, served in many capacities, and worked hard to ensure that we would have a church in which to worship God. We stand on the shoulders of those great Christian men and women who came before us.

All this means we are stewards of what has been given us. Whether or not our nation continues to enjoy our numerous freedoms depends on us to maintain them. We cannot afford to give back our freedoms to any government, including our own. Our children and grandchildren are counting on us.

The same can be said of our churches. There will come a day when we will need to hand over our churches to future generations, and it's up to us to determine how healthy those churches will be. If the idea of turning over our churches to those generations who will come after us it might help to remember that they are not our churches. They belong to God. We are merely stewards.

Let us be found faithful stewards of both our nation and our churches.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Baptisms: The Best Way to Begin a Worship Service

This past Sunday we baptized three teens during our early worship service. The two young men and one young lady placed their faith in Jesus Christ and have been working with our Youth Minister for the past few weeks preparing for their baptism. Additionally, some younger youth are currently meeting with our Children's Minister preparing for their baptism in a few weeks. These are exciting times in our church!

A few years ago I was coaching a young bivocational pastor. He was serving in his first church. He had no ministerial training, but he had a heart for ministry and a sense of call on his life. During our coaching relationship it was exciting to see him grow in confidence.

In one of our coaching sessions he said that he wanted to talk about baptisms. He would be doing his first baptism as the pastor of his church in a few weeks, and he had some concerns. Their older church building did not have a baptistery so they were going down to a river that flowed through the town. His questions were two-fold. One, he was concerned because the river wasn't very deep so he was going to be fairly far from the bank. He didn't want the ones being baptized to fall wading out to him. His second concern was he was fearful he would drop his Bible in the river, and it was one that had been given to him by someone very special to him.

After we addressed his concerns he expressed how stressed he felt because he wanted this baptism to be special. When I asked why, he said it was the church's first baptism in 50 years!

As I think back on that conversation I am amazed all over again. It doesn't seem possible that a church could go five decades without seeing anyone come to faith in Jesus Christ and following that with baptism. While most don't go 50 years between baptisms, many churches have not baptized anyone in years.

Most denominations report a decrease in baptisms in recent years. Although various reasons are given it certainly isn't because the fields are no longer white unto harvest. Every church in America today sits in the middle of a huge mission field. The problem is that many of those churches are doing nothing to harvest that field.

The Great Commission is the primary task of the church. If we fail to reach people for Christ, it doesn't matter what else we do, we have failed our mission. It's time many churches made evangelistic outreach a priority again. It's time many churches begin once again to proclaim a clear message inviting people to faith in Christ. It's time we begin again praying for the lost in our communities, in our families, and in our churches.

It was exciting to see those young people last week follow the Lord in baptism. But, I want to see our worship services begin every week with a baptism! Just think how exciting that would be!

Monday, May 21, 2018

Stepping up the game

Last night we said goodbye to our Youth Minister/Associate Pastor. He's leaving for a three month sabbatical and will return as the new Senior Pastor of the church. This sabbatical had been approved and planned several months before being called as pastor, and it was important for him to enjoy it. I've agreed to remain as Transitional Pastor until he returns in late August.

Part of that agreement is that I will be covering some of his responsibilities. That will be big. He's been at this church 26 years so he's been counted on to do a lot of things! An individual in the church will be the lead person working with the youth, and a group of parents will be assisting. Most of my added work will be in the area of pastoral care and administration. Some of this I had already been doing, but this area of responsibility will be greater while he's gone.

When serving as a Region Minister I was often frustrated by the attitudes of some pastoral candidates when they would tell our churches seeking pastors that they did not do certain things. One common complaint I often heard from the search teams was about the number of younger candidates who told them they did not visit people in their homes, in the hospital or anywhere else. While I agree with some of that, I find it appalling to hear ministers say they refuse to do some particular ministerial task.

Let me explain. I do believe that many churches, especially smaller ones, expect the pastor to do too much visiting of the members. I've long advocated that churches need to move to a congregational care model of ministry instead of a pastoral care. However, there are times when the pastor needs to make such visits. To say pointblank that they don't do that ministry tells me they have a very poor concept of pastoral ministry.

I was once part of a conversation where a congregational member asked the pastor to cover for him one Sunday when he would be away. The pastor  became obviously upset and told the member he had told the church when he came that he would not do that, and refused. The member reminded him it would only be this one time, but the pastor still refused. Later, the church member told me this was the attitude the pastor took when anyone asked him to do something he did not want to do. The pastor did not remain at the church very long after that episode. BTW - In my opinion what the pastor was being asked to do was not out of line.

It's important for a pastor to have a job description, but at the same time ministry requires a lot of flexibility on the part of the one called. There are aspects of ministry I would rather not do, but it comes with the territory. Long ago I adopted the philosophy most bivocational ministers have: "Whatever it takes."

Every leader is sometimes asked to step up their game a little bit and do extra to make their organization function better. Pastors are no different. When you need to step up your game a little look at it as an opportunity to grow yourself and your church.