Thursday, July 30, 2015

You have to ride the horses that want to run

At every workshop I lead someone will ask how he or she can lead change in their church when most of the people are content with the way things are. At the most, they confess, there are only a handful of people who want to see their church do more. I always respond that you have to ride the horses that want to run. Whipping a dead horse won't make it go any faster.

In many churches most people are very content with the status quo. They will say they want to see the church grow, but at the same time they will resist almost anything that might help it grow. However, there are usually a handful of people who are not content with the church's current situation. They want to see change happen. They want to see growth. Unfortunately, they are often in the minority and often not in positions of leadership.

This doesn't matter. These are the people you have to invest in. You want to pastor and love the others, but you must invest in the folks who want to see things happen in the church. Groom them for leadership so when their time does come they will be ready.

In yesterday's post I quoted Seth Godin from his book Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us. He writes something that speaks to today's post as well.

"If your goal is to make change, it's foolish to try to change the worldview of the majority if the majority is focused on maintaining the status quo. The opportunity is to carve out a new tribe, to find the rabble-rousers and change lovers who are seeking new leadership and run with them instead."

The mistake we often make is we try to force change upon people who are not ready for change. Sometimes we think that because we have a title (pastor) that people are going to get excited every time we present a new idea. That is not usually the case, especially in a smaller church. I've known too many good pastors get into trouble in their churches because they tried to force people to make changes who did not want to make changes. Such pastors often find themselves unemployed, and the church becomes even more resistant to future change.

It's far better to identify the people who share your vision and work with them. As you begin to build buy-in around a fresh vision for ministry you will bring more people on board. This new tribe will communicate to others and additional people will begin to come on board. Eventually, enough people will be supportive of the changes that they can be implemented in the church.

Yes, this will take time. It can also be unpleasant at times if the old guard feels you have abandoned them. That's why I earlier said that these folks need to be loved and given good pastoral ministry. As a pastor I want to honor the faithfulness and ministry the old guard has demonstrated in the past, but at the same time I cannot allow them to stop what God is wanting to do now in the church. It's often a tough balancing act, but it's one a wise pastor will do.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Maybe what smaller churches are doing is OK after all

Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us by Seth Godin is not a new book but is one I'm just now reading for the first time. Godin is considered a marketing guru and has written several bestselling books. I've heard him on various podcasts and found him interesting, but I've never been a big fan of his writing. I bought this book after reading a recommendation, and I'm glad I did. Last night I read a paragraph that really jumped off the page.

"So great leaders don't try to please everyone. Great leaders don't water down their message in order to make the tribe a bit bigger. Instead, they realize that a motivated, connected tribe in the midst of a movement is far more powerful than a larger group ever could be."

So often smaller churches are told they have to change this thing or that thing in order to appeal to more people. "You'll never reach young people if you keep singing from the hymnal." "If you don't offer this program your church will never attract certain people to your church." "You better not preach on that subject or you'll run people off." And the list of warnings goes on.

One of my favorite passage of Scripture is John 6. Jesus has done many miracles including the feeding of the 5,000. The masses want to be with him, but they also want him to continue to do miraculous things for them. Instead, Jesus begins to teach some hard truths which alienates the vast majority of the people. In verse 66 we read that many of them turned away and walked with Jesus no more.

What did Jesus do? He didn't run after them pleading with them to return. He didn't beg for their forgiveness. He didn't offer to water down his message to make it more acceptable to them. He didn't promise to be more politically correct in the future. No! What he did was turn to the twelve and ask if they also wanted to leave.

Jesus understood that he could not please everyone. He also knew that a small, committed, motivated few could accomplish a lot more than a large group of people who are just hanging around waiting for the next show or the next serving of fish sandwiches.

A consistent theme in books about reaching out to the unchurched is that churches need not, and must not, water down their message or lower their expectations of what it means to be a Christian and a church member if they want to reach today's unchurched population. This is a generation that is hungry for truth and wants to be involved in something that has high expectations of them.

Does this mean that smaller churches should refuse to make changes that are needed? NO! Anything that hinders our mission must be addressed. Any walls we've created that keep people from God must be identified and torn down. We have to find ways to build bridges into the communities we are called to serve.

This does mean that much of what we're doing is OK. We will never be able to appeal to everyone, and that's OK too. We will advance our part of the Kingdom of God by continuing to be the people God has called us to be, and that's all any church is asked to do.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The power of intentionality in ministry

In some of my workshops I tell the story of fishing one day when my boat motor became stuck on an underwater rock. I had been drifting down the river fishing the banks when my boat went over this rock and became stuck. The boat did not have tilt-and-trim so I had to find a way to get off the rock. To make a long story much shorter, before I got the boat unstuck I broke about eight fishing rods and had three treble hooks stuck in my arms. If you attend one of my seminars one day you may hear the longer, more entertaining version of this story!

So, how did I end up in this predicament? Remember, I said I was drifting down the river. The key word here is drifting. In fact, as I look back, every time I got into trouble in a boat it was when I was drifting. As long as the engine or the trolling motor was running I was going somewhere on purpose, and I never had problems as long as the motors were running.

The same is true in life and in church work. The times we get into the most trouble is when we are content to drift. When we are living a purposeful life we are much less likely to get into trouble, and we are much more likely to be more successful. When a church is ministering with intentionality the same thing is true. The problem is that it's much easier to drift along and hope something good will happen.

After working in and with churches for the past three plus decades I have to say that many of them are just drifting along. They open their doors each week hoping something good will happen and wondering why things aren't better than they are. They lack a clear sense of having a God-given vision. They seem to have little purpose for much of what they do except it's what they've always done in the past.

These churches need to fire up their motors and begin to go somewhere on purpose. They need to invest the time to discern a fresh vision from God for what he wants to do in and through their church today and then identify the steps they need to take to make that happen. We must become much more intentional about what we're doing than many of our churches have been in the past.

If I may use another analogy, let's stop taking a shotgun approach to ministry and begin to take a rifle approach. A rifle approach requires you to be much more focused on your target and more deliberate in what you're doing. As churches, let's begin to focus in on the one or two things we can do with excellence that will make a difference in the communities in which we serve. With that kind of focus and intentionality we will begin to see more fruits from our labor.

If I can help you become more focused on knowing and doing God's vision for your church, please contact me. You may also find my book Intentional Ministry in a Not-So-Mega Church: Becoming a Missional Community to be a help as you get started.

Monday, July 27, 2015

What is the future of the smaller church?

One question I am often asked when I lead a conference is "What do you think is the future of the small church?" My response has consistently been that I think we will see the number of smaller churches increase in the coming years. The ones that will struggle most will be the medium size churches. Many of them will be forced to offer many of the same programs large churches offer or they will see their people leaving for those larger churches. This will create financial challenges for these churches, especially those carrying debt. Some of the financial problems will be the result of people leaving, but some of it will be due to increased staffing and programming costs as they attempted to compete with the larger churches. I sense it is going to be a difficult time to be a medium size church in America in the next couple of decades.

I also believe some large megachurches will find themselves in trouble in the future. What will happen to them if the government ever decides to eliminate tax deductions for contributions made to churches? Will their membership continue to support them at the same level as they currently do? What will happen if church property is no longer exempt from property taxes? These churches have properties worth millions of dollars, and as government finds less and less to tax eliminating the property tax exemption churches now enjoy is going to look very promising to many politicians. Many of these churches continue to be led by their founders. Some megachurches have seen the leadership baton passed on to new leaders. While some made that transition very smoothly, others did not. As more of these founding leaders transition out of their roles it will be very interesting to see how these churches do.

Smaller churches are able to avoid many of these problems. While many of them complain about a lack of finances, the reality is that most are in good financial condition. Many of them have no debt. Increasing numbers of them are calling bivocational leadership reducing the amount of money they must pay for salary and benefits. While most small churches dream of seeing their finances improve the reality is that they are less susceptible to financial setbacks than many of the larger churches would be.

Property taxes would be minimal on most small churches. If the taxes were more than the church could handle, the congregations could walk away from the property and begin to meet in houses. Anything a church of 50 people can do in a church building they can do by meeting in one or two homes. If they have no debt on the property there is no reason they can't just walk away from it. Emotionally, it would be hard, but it could be done.

Smaller churches don't have to depend on putting on a great show every week to attract people. I am not against having a meaningful worship service that incorporates different elements. However, in some larger churches the focus is on the program. The problem with having a spectacle program is that you run into the danger of having to make the next one just a little bigger until eventually it's all about the show. Smaller churches can be more focused on the Scriptures and building relationships with people.

Smaller churches are often criticized for being unwilling to change, but if change is presented correctly they will change and can often do so quicker than a larger church. It's much easier to turn around a bass boat than an aircraft carrier. The larger the bureaucracy the longer it takes to implement change. As things continue to change faster and faster in the 21st century it will become more important for churches to be able to make needed changes quicker as well.

For these reasons, and more, I think the future of smaller churches is very good. Yes, some will close their doors, but that's because they have lost their vision for ministry, their purpose for existence. But, for those who continually seek how God would have them serve their communities I believe the future looks bright. If you are blessed to lead one of these churches, rejoice and see what great things God wants to do in and through you and your church.


Friday, July 24, 2015

TV show about bivocational ministers

Earlier this week I had a very interesting call from an individual doing research for a possible television program about bivocational ministers who are also in law enforcement. Part of the reason for the call was to get background information on bivocational ministry in general and to ask if I knew of any bivocational ministers who were in law enforcement. (I did not.) The caller then asked if the following could be posted on my blog.


Are you a bivocational preacher and in law enforcement? Are you on the pulpit one moment and in a dangerous line of work in another? We’re an award-winning top television production company that’s looking to make a program about preachers across the states juggling it all – church, family and the law. If interested, please send us an email describing why you would be the best person to host this show, along with a recent photo and contact info. Please send to preachersinbluetvshow@gmail.com.


Obviously, I agreed to the posting! Let me be very clear: I am not representing this television production company nor do I have any ties with the company. This should not be viewed as an endorsement of what they are doing. I agreed to post this on my blog as a courtesy to them, and to give those who might meet their criteria an opportunity to respond.

There was one other reason I agreed. When I did a survey of bivocational ministers in 2004 one or two respondents reported that their other career was in law enforcement. I am very curious about how many bivocational ministers there are who are serving in law enforcement. Whether you respond to the request of the television production company or not, I would like to know if any of my readers are bivocational ministers who also serve in law enforcement.

As I've thought about this over the past couple of days, I would think that would be a tough role. How does one switch from being pastoral in ministry to being rather authoritarian in the other career? Is there actually much of a switch, or am I wrong in thinking there is? 

If you are serving both as a pastor and in law enforcement, I invite you to contact me and share some of the challenges and rewards you face in these two roles. If you are a bivocational pastor serving in some other career that, on the surface at least seems opposed to one another, I would like to hear from you as well.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Why bivocational?

I began my ministry in 1981 when Hebron Baptist Church called me to be their pastor. The church was small and had been served for many years by students at a nearby seminary. I was not a seminary student; I worked in a factory about an hour from our community. Even though I had never heard the term, I was now a bivocational pastor. I remained as the pastor of that church for the next twenty years until our region called me to be an Area Minister covering the southeast section of Indiana.

Three years ago I obtained by auctioneer's license. For years I've enjoyed going to auctions and buying and selling antiques and collectibles. I finally decided I would enjoy becoming an auctioneer. I completed the educational requirements, passed the exam, and received my license. A question people often ask me is why at this stage of my life did I want to take on another role.

Being an auctioneer offers me an opportunity to expand my ministry to people who might not attend a church anywhere. There are three primary classes of people who use an auctioneer's services.

  1. People who make their living buying and selling. Some of these people depend on auctioneers for their livelihood. Others may not make their living doing this, but they need money for an emergency and an auction is often the quickest way to get that money.
  2. People who need to downsize. Last week I received a call that is becoming increasingly more common. A lady said she is moving from a 2,400 square foot house to an 800 square foot apartment, and she has a lot of items she needs to sell. Another common call I receive is from elderly people who have found out their children are not interested in their antiques, collectibles, and other items. They want to begin to sell off these items so the family doesn't have to deal with them.
  3. People who have inherited an estate and need to sell it so the estate can be closed. Often, these people don't even know what is included in the estate. These folks may not even live in the same state as the estate, and would find it very difficult to sell the estate except at an auction. 
Each of these are ministry opportunities. Although I've only been doing this for three years, there have been many opportunities to minister to people who felt overwhelmed or desperate. Many of these people had no church home, and in some cases I've been able to point them to a good church in their area. I've been able to pray with some of these folks. It's been rewarding to know that I've been able to help solve a problem they had.

That is what I've always enjoyed about bivocational ministry. It keeps the minister out in the community opening up ministry opportunities that go beyond what we can do within our churches. Bivocational ministry helps break the false perceptions some unchurched people have about ministers. I'm not someone who sits in a church office all week dispensing advice about matters I've never experienced. I worked 40+ hours a week in a factory for 30 years. I've managed a small business. I've loaded and unloaded furniture out of an old beater van I use for the auction business. As people see me living and working just like they do, sometimes it causes them to be more willing to share with me things that are going on in their lives and gives me ministry opportunities I might not otherwise have.

Please do not think I am saying anything negative about those serving in fully-funded ministry. We each have our calling and neither fully-funded nor bivocational is superior to the other. What I am saying is that being bivocational has worked well for me, and it has for many of you as well. Rejoice in the calling God has given you! Bivocational ministry is a wonderful way to serve God and mankind.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

E-book that will help you avoid foolish mistakes

Most people who know me are aware that I've written several books primarily related to bivocational and small church ministry. Most people don't know I've also written an e-book on business. It's titled Mistakes: Avoiding the Wrong Decisions That Will Close Your Small Business.  It's currently only available for NOOK devices.

Over twenty years ago our family took ownership of a successful small business that we operated for fifteen years. The business was very successful for the first few years, but for a number of reasons we were forced to close that business a few years ago. Most of those reasons were due to mistakes I made managing the business. When the economy was strong my mistakes didn't matter as much, but when the economy tanked those mistakes were costly. I learned a lot about leadership and business management from the mistakes I made, and I wrote the book to help others avoid the same mistakes.

There are many similarities in leading a small business and leading a small church. While there are obvious differences, there are transferable principles that apply to both. Some of the mistakes I made leading our business can also cause great damage to a church.

Owning a small business can be a very good situation for a bivocational pastor. When I was a bivocational pastor and worked in a factory I was expected to be at work 40 hours a week on the shift I was assigned to. After retiring from the factory and taking ownership of the business my hours were much more flexible. This made it much easier for me to do funerals and meet other ministry needs.

Our business also gave me opportunities to minister to people who did not attend church. People soon learned I was a minister and it was interesting what people were willing to share with a stranger, especially if they were hurting. This continues to happen for me when people call me needing an auctioneer.

Recently, a woman called saying she needed to sell some items at auction. I went to look at what she had, and in our conversation I explained that I was a minister. It turned out she was going through a lot of personal issues that was causing her emotional and physical problems. There were spiritual issues as well. I was able to minister to her and to recommend a good church in that community that she should visit.

Not long ago I had a discussion with a Christian realtor who told me he has had numerous opportunities to minister to people who contacted him to either sell or buy a house. Like me, he feels this is part of what it means for a Christian to be in business.

Owning your own business is a dream for many people, but it can also be a nightmare. A large percentage of small businesses fold within the first five years of their existence. Most of those failures can be traced back to poor leadership and mistakes that can be avoided. If you currently own a small business or are thinking of starting one, you may want to invest in this e-book. Right now it's for sale for only $4.99. Since many of these principles are transferable into church leadership, you may want to read this book even if you're not involved in your own business.