Saturday, September 16, 2017

Real life bivocational ministry

For my entire ministry I have been bivocational. Even while serving as a judicatory minister in our region I owned and managed a small business. People often ask what kinds of jobs are suitable for a bivocational minister, and I respond that almost anything that is legal, moral, and offers the flexibility that allows you to minister is suitable. I have found bivocational ministers doing everything from teaching grade school to universities, serving as policemen, running a business, working in a factory, sales, etc.

In my own life while serving as a bivocational minister I have worked in a factory, owned and managed a small business, and now own and operate an auction business.

I suppose one of the things I've enjoyed about being a bivocational minister is that it has kept me in the public. There's no danger of a bivocational minister getting caught up in a church cocoon where everything he or she does is surrounded by people who share your faith. In those environments I have an opportunity to not only be a witness for Jesus Christ, but I often have the opportunity to minister to people where other ministers would not.

For instance, a couple of years ago I was asked to sell some things at auction for a lady. When I went to look at what she wanted to sell I mentioned that I was a minister. She then began to tell me about how difficult her life had been for the past couple of years. Her boyfriend had committed suicide. Her son was having serious personal issues. It sounded like a soap opera. I asked if I could pray for her, and she agreed. After praying I asked if she had a church, and when she said no I was able to direct her to a good church in her community that would love her and minister to her. The very next week a similar incident occurred with another individual.

I had never met either of these individuals before, but they were willing, almost eager, to tell me of their personal pain once they learned I was a minister. Neither had a church and may have had little interest in spiritual things, but in the midst of their pain they allowed me to pray for them and direct them to good churches in their areas. And because both needed to raise money I was able to help them do that by selling some things they no longer wanted at my auction.

Next Tuesday I have another auction. Several consignors have brought items for me to sell. Some need the money; others need to downsize and get rid of things they've had for years. It is an opportunity to minister to people. On Sunday I will preach at the church where I serve as their Transitional Pastor, and on Monday I will begin moving things to the site where I have my auctions. Tuesday night I'll sell the merchandise, and by the end of the week the people will have their money. This is what bivocational ministry looks like in the real world, and I love it.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Taking responsibility

By now you've probably heard that Hillary Clinton has published a book that explains why she lost the recent presidential campaign. In the book she evidently blames just about everyone for her loss: Bernie Sanders, Matt Lauer,  James Comey, the Russians, WikiLeaks, President Obama and VP Biden and even female voters. For some reason she seems unable to take any responsibility for her loss herself.

Since the election I've been amused at how the Democrats have been in a panic over the results. Even before the new President was sworn into office there were talks about impeachment. After all, they had rigged the primary so no one but Clinton could get the nomination, and when Trump became the Republican nominee I'm sure they thought they had the election won. Trump wasn't a politician. He said some really stupid things at times and was certainly not politically correct in most things he did. He had very low trust rating. The problem was, so did Clinton.

After the election I believed that if Democrats had ran anyone other than Clinton they would have probably won the election. People did not trust Clinton. There were too many unanswered questions about Clinton's handing of Benghazi and the blatant lie she told about what incited the attack. There were other questions about her truthfulness such as the time she claimed she landed in Bosnia under sniper fire when video clearly showed just the opposite was true. Many people rightfully questioned the vast wealth the Clintons amassed after leaving the White House, and of course there were the missing emails, some of which contained classified information. The Democratic party had many people who would have been a more viable candidate. People may not have liked Trump, but they had even more concerns about Clinton.

One of Clinton's problems is illustrated once again in this book. She simply cannot accept responsibility. Even when she says she is responsible that statement is always followed by a "But...," at which time she shifts the blame to someone else.

What does all this have to do with persons in ministry? None of us enjoys admitting when we've made a mistake. Taking responsibility for our mistakes isn't easy or fun, but it is the adult thing to do. Trying to shift the blame to someone else just compounds the problem. And, when we try to avoid responsibility we really aren't fooling anyone.

A key element of leadership is admitting when we're wrong, and we will be wrong many times. That's the nature of leadership. If you never make mistakes you're not leading, you're managing. Leading dares to venture into new territory, and not every venture works out the way we want.

Zig Ziglar used to say "Failure is an event, not a person." Failing at some task does not make a person a failure. It simply means the individual did not succeed at that particular effort. The wise thing to do is to admit the failure and begin to look for a better way that will succeed.

People know when we've messed up. The good news is that many of those people are willing to forgive when they see us take responsibility for our mistakes. Few people expect us to be perfect, so they are often willing to forgive us if we are willing to admit those mistakes and take ownership of them. Admitting responsibility for our mistakes will actually cause people to trust us even more which is essential to a successful ministry.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Do you love your church?

When I served as a judicatory minister one of the things that bothered me most was when I would talk to a pastor who had nothing good to say about his or her church. I sometimes felt the pastor literally hated the church he was serving. In some cases the pastor was nearing retirement and staying until retirement came. Other pastors were asking my help in finding them another church to serve.

Certainly, some churches can be difficult, and some of the people in our churches can be hard to love, but I never understood a pastor who seemed to resent or despise the church he or she was serving. If they truly believed God had called them to that place, then there must be a purpose for them being there.

Several years ago H. B. London, Jr. wrote The Heart of a Great Pastor, a book I would recommend to any pastor. In that book he said that if you are serving in a great place it is because someone stayed there to make it a great place. If you are serving in a difficult place, then perhaps God has called you to stay there and make it a great place. In my 35 years of ministry I think those may be some of the most important words a pastor can hear. We need to stop looking for that perfect place and determine to thrive where God has planted us.

In order to do that, we must first love the place we are serving. People can tell how you feel about them. You can smile all through the morning worship service, but you won't fool your congregation. They can tell your true feelings about them.

Someone once wrote that the first question many people, especially in a smaller church, has for their pastor is "Pastor, do you love us?" If they believe the answer is in the affirmative, they will gladly follow you. But, if they feel the pastor is just using them as a stepping stone to the church they really want to serve, or if they feel that the pastor really doesn't care for them, they will resist everything the pastor suggests.

Also in the smaller church, it takes time for them to decide if their pastor loves them or not. Many of these churches have been abandoned by their pastors so often that they are gun shy. Your love for them will have to be demonstrated not just with words but by your actions as well. If the church has been deeply wounded in the past by their pastors it can take years for them to trust another pastor. Here is where London's words take on even more importance.

Pastor, do you love your church? I hope you do. The Son of God loved your church so much He gave His life for it.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Your life can influence others

Last week I met for breakfast with some men I worked with at Cummins Engine Company. All of us took early retirement back in the 1990s, but we get together every other month at a local Cracker Barrel to check on each other. The numbers vary each time, but our enjoyment of being with one another isn't influenced by how many people show up.

What makes these men so special in my life is how they influenced my decision to become a Christian. When I first met them on the assembly line I was not a Christian. These men were, and they were not ashamed of their faith. They never tried to push their beliefs on anyone, but they lived out those beliefs in all they did.

There came a time in my life when things began to get a little intense. Somehow, I knew that I needed God in my life although I wasn't sure how to verbalize that. One morning before our shift started I asked one of these men if he had anything on faith. He reached in his tool box and gave me several tracts and pamphlets. I read them all that evening, and the next day I asked for more. I began to ask questions. I did not have a Bible so one of the men gave me an old Bible he had in his tool box. Within a few short weeks I asked Jesus Christ into my life. I seldom see these men except at our bi-monthly breakfast, but I think of them often and the impact they had on my life.

After my wife and I were saved we began to attend a church where we became pretty active. After going there for about a year the pastor asked if I would teach a new adult class the church was going to start. A few months into teaching the class we traveled together for a training event. On the way he asked if I had ever felt God might be calling me into the ministry. I admitted I had but had not shared that with anyone. He encouraged me to pray about it, and a few weeks later visited my wife and I to answer any questions we might have. It was a year or so later, after he had left our church, that I finally yielded to that call of God on my life.

For the past 40 years I have been a Christian because people modeled for me what a Christian was and were willing to gently answer my questions and love me into the Kingdom. For the past 35 years I have served in the ministry because a pastor spoke into my life and encouraged me to pray about what God wanted to do in my life.

The most effective evangelistic outreach today isn't found in large crusades or church revivals. It doesn't usually happen when churches pass out tracts door-to-door. It happens through relationships. It happens when people see God's people living lives that are different from theirs and they begin to ask why. It has become a modern day cliche, but it's true: Your life may be the only Gospel some people ever read. Your life can influence others to invite Jesus Christ into their lives.

Virtually every minister I know entered the ministry because someone challenged them to consider that God might be calling them to do that. Perhaps one reason some churches now struggle to find pastors is because we've quit challenging people to pray about the possibility that God is calling them into the ministry.

Your life can influence others. In fact, I will take it a step further. Your life WILL influence others. Now for the question: What kind of influence is your life having on others?

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

You notice the things you're looking for

A few weeks ago I read The Noticer: Sometimes, all a person needs is a little perspective by Andy Andrews. It tells the story of a drifter who sees things that others miss. As he talks with people going through various problems he reminds them that sometimes all that is needed is a "little perspective."

The first person the drifter talked to was a young man named Andy who was struggling with his life. In one of their early encounters he brought Andy a meal which they ate on the beach where Andy was living. The meal consisted of sardines and Vienna sausages. During their conversation he asked Andy what he was eating and where. Andy replied he was eating sardines and Vienna sausages in the sand. When they finished their conversation the drifter told Andy that maybe that was what Andy was eating, but he had dined on surf and turf with an ocean view! It's all about perspective. He then reminded Andy that "Whatever you focus upon, increases."

What a powerful reminder! It's so easy to grow critical about our churches, our families, our businesses, and our lives in general. I've certainly had times when everything I focused on was negative, and the more I focused on the negative the more negative I became.

As a judicatory minister working with numerous pastors I met many who seemed to hate the churches they served. Some of these pastors never had a positive thing to say about their church or their ministries. I wondered why they stayed in the ministry if it made them that miserable. Such ministers seemed to change churches fairly often, I assume thinking they would eventually find one they liked, but it seldom happened. They would not be long in their new church before they found things to complain about in that church.

There were times during my pastoral ministry when I became frustrated with our church. We all do. But, each of us have the option of focusing on the negative things happening in our churches or focusing on the positive things. I once coached a bivocational pastor who was very frustrated that things were not moving forward faster in his church than they were. He was ready to leave until I reminded him of all the positive things he had told me about the church. Even though he had told me about the positive things, he had forgotten them as his focus had drifted to some negative things that had occurred recently.

If you look for negative things, you'll find them regardless of what you do for a living. However, the same thing is true of positive things. You will find what you are looking for, and those things will increase.

The next time you become frustrated with some aspect of your life step back and begin to look for the positive things about that aspect. I bet if you look for them you'll find them, and when you do it will begin to change the way you look at it. Sometimes all you need is a little perspective. This book can help you get that perspective.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Relationships in the church are critical

One of the serious problems we see in the 21st century church is that we are disconnected from one another. There is little interaction among members of many churches other than for an hour on Sunday morning. We drive into church for the worship service, perhaps attend a Sunday school class, and then return to our homes. For many of us, there is little thought about or contact with the church until the next Sunday.

We've compartmentalized our lives into various cells with little overlap. We have our work cell, our family cell, our hobby cell, and our church cell. In addition, there are numerous other segments of many of these cells such as baseball practice and games for the children or volunteering at a charity event.

There is little wonder that growing as disciples of Jesus Christ is so difficult for many believers. We've isolated our Christian life from every other area of our lives, and that particular cell is given very little time.

For several years I've had youth and children's ministers complain about the declining numbers of young people involved in their ministries. There are several reasons for this.

  1. According to Tom Rainer's research only about 15 percent of Millennials are Christians. Since many of the parents are in this generation it stands to reason that if few of them are Christians we will see fewer young people and children involved in our churches.
  2. We have a growing number of children and young people growing up in single-parent and blended families. Often, they spend every other weekend with the non-custodial parent so they may only be able to attend their home church half-time at best.
  3. Many of the parents, even Christian parents, do not see the need to make youth and children's ministries a priority in their families. Several years ago when I was pastor of a church we had an excellent youth minister who tried everything possible to develop a strong youth ministry in our small church. He and the youth would plan an activity, and on the day of the activity no one would show up. When asked, they would say that their parents decided to do something else that day. They considered their "family time" to be more important than providing their children an opportunity to be with other Christian young people. When this youth minister resigned the question was asked when we would hire another youth minister. I responded we would hire another youth minister when we had different parents who cared about their children's spiritual development. We never hired another youth minister.
  4. Although there are no doubt other reasons, the last one we'll mention here is refers back to to the first comment. In many churches we are not socially connected with one another. We do what we need to do to meet our individual spiritual needs and move on to the next thing
Ed Young, in his excellent book, The Creative Leader: Unleashing the Power of Your Creative Potential clearly states the problem. He writes, "Drive-through people fill our churches today. They pull up every weekend and expect an inspiring McMessage, fun-filled McChildcare, heart-warming McMusic, sensational McProgramming, and then they're off."

This was not the experience of the first century church. In Acts 2 we read that the people were together, sharing meals together, sharing their resources with one another, sharing their lives together. The result of those strong relationships with one another was two-fold. They had favor with the people, and the Lord added to their numbers daily.

We need to take a look at the relationships that exist within our churches. Individually, we need to look at the relationships we have with others within our church. Do we see church as something we do together, or do we see church as something that will meet our individual needs? Is our church involvement something we minimally do each week so we can check it off our to-do list for the week, or is this a relationship we make a priority for ourselves and our families?

There is an old Proverb that says it takes a village to raise a child. We could also say it takes a community to raise a disciple of Jesus Christ. Are you part of such a community? If not, what needs to change?

Monday, August 28, 2017

Purple cow ministries

In 2002 Seth Godin published his best selling book, Purple Cow, New Edition: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable. This marketing book emphasized that to be successful it was important to stand out. When all the cows are brown it becomes pretty boring, and people stop noticing. However, if you have a purple cow in the field, people are going to stop and pay attention. In this classic book Godin linked success to doing things worth noticing.

Cal Newport has written a book titled So Good They Can't Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love that I'm currently reading. In one chapter he writes about how one computer programmer took Godin's words to heart and looked for ways to stand out. As he sought to develop a program that would truly be remarkable he finally achieved it when he created an open-source artificial intelligence program that writes and plays its own dance music.

How does this thinking apply to ministries? Much of what churches do today often receives little notice. We tend to approach ministry much the same way we did in the past. We offer the same programs at the same times and in the same ways we did two, three, even five decades ago.

In one of my seminars I like to ask the attendees why would anyone want to attend your church? I then explain that where I live there is a Baptist church on every gravel road in the county. If every one of them sings three songs, has a couple of prayers, takes up an offering, has a sermon and an hour later sends everyone home inspired to eat lunch, what difference does it make which church you attend. These churches are like a herd of brown cows out in the field. People stopped paying attention to them a long time ago.

But, what if you drove past the field and saw a purple cow? You would probably stop, take a picture, and call your friends to come and look at this purple cow.

Churches become purple cows by offering purple cow ministries. They don't try to copy what every other church in the area is doing, and they don't try to do so many things that they cannot do with excellence. Note this well: Ministries done with excellence are purple cow ministries. These are the ones that will change people's lives and cause people to take notice of your church and what it's trying to do.

Maybe it's time to look at everything we're doing in the church and ask if it's a brown cow or a purple cow. When we begin to think of new ministries to launch or new approaches to old ministries let's stop and ask ourselves how we can make this a purple cow. Maybe it won't be a purple cow when we first launch it, but we should never stop tweaking it until it becomes one.

When Jesus was here on earth people could follow Him or reject Him, but they could not ignore Him. Among all the religious leaders living at the time He stood out as someone unique. When He finished the Sermon on the Mount we read that the people were astonished at His teaching because He taught as one having authority. The people were further amazed at the miracles He performed and the changed lives that resulted.

If you're tired of people ignoring your church, if you're tired of the ministries your church offers having such little impact, it's time to begin thinking  how to turn those ministries into purple cows. If you want people to be amazed at how people's lives are being changed as a result of your ministry then transform what you are doing into purple cow ministries. It's only when people are amazed at what you are doing will they begin to want to hear what you have to say, and when they hear the Gospel they will have the opportunity to respond to it and have their own lives changed.