Saturday, September 29, 2007

Connecting guests to your church

I'm currently reading a book that addresses the issue of how to make people who visit a church feel welcome. Gary McIntosh has written Beyond the First Visit which is the best book I have ever read on this subject. One of the reasons this book is so good is that the author clearly understands the differences between different size churches and how those differences will impact how they welcome their guests. He presents a simple approach for each size church to use so the bivocational pastor of a small church isn't trying to use a model that would be more appropriate for a mega-church.

As I visit different churches nearly every week I have found that many need to improve their hospitality towards their guests. From the church's perspective, they probably think they are doing a good job, but from the guest's perspective they really are not. There are some churches I visit that make me feel very uncomfortable and create a poor impression within the first few moments I'm there. If I was seeking a church to attend it is unlikely I would return, and that impression is formed long before the worship service ever starts. The old cliche is true, you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

This book will help these churches take a fresh look at how they interact with the people who visit so the first impression they have of the church is a positive one. It is easy to read with plenty of practical advice. It could be used to train your greeters, and even your entire congregation, how to welcome people and help them connect to the church. Check out the book and let me know if you found it helpful.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

A date with judgment

As part of my daily devotional time I am reading through the Bible this year. I usually read through the NT each year and the entire Bible every 3-4 years. As I am reading through the Minor Prophets I am again reminded of how their comments about Israel sound like they are being said against the United States. Like ancient Israel, we as a nation have largely turned our backs against God, found new gods to worship, and engage in sin that the Bible clearly condemns. We are on a collision course with God's judgment unless a true spiritual renewal occurs in this land.

That renewal will not come out of Washington DC. As important as it is to elect godly men and women to political office, I always reminded my congregation that God does not fly on Air Force One. Nor will revival come from Wall Street or from the media. If this nation is to experience true spiritual renewal it will have to come from our churches, and before renewal can occur in our churches it must first occur within the church leaders.

I believe it was Dwight L. Moody who once knelt on a floor, drew a circle around himself, and prayed, "Lord, send revival and let it begin with me." That was part of my prayer this morning. As leaders of churches we must first seek spiritual renewal in our own lives before we can expect it to occur in our churches, and unless it occurs in our churches it will certainly not occur in our nation.

Many bivocational ministers serve in smaller churches who do not believe they can really make much of an impact on all the needs that exist in our world, but every church, regardless of their size, can pray and seek God. Every church can seek a spiritual renewal that can sweep through their congregation and begin to flow out into their communities. Such renewal will impact those communities in ways that we may not imagine. Do not despair, my bivo friend, but seek God and His righteousness for your life and for the life of your congregation. Seek holiness and pray for renewal, and then let your life be a testimony to a world that desperately needs God.

Sunday, September 23, 2007


Today is a time to rant a little. Last week I had the opportunity to attend a pastor's conference in Kentucky. I had been asked to lead a workshop for bivocational ministers as part of this conference. Each participant had the opportunity to attend two workshops during the two day event. I had a total of one participant in the two workshops I offered. One bivocational minister attended this pastor's conference on preaching.

Unfortunately, I am no longer surprised at such a poor turnout. During my twenty year bivocational pastorate I was often frustrated at the lack of resources and training opportunities especially created for bivocational ministers. As a denominational leader I have tried to address this problem with judicatory leaders from many different denominations. The response I normally get is that when they do offer something for their bivocational people, they still don't attend. In a time of limited resources of time and money, these organizations are going to invest those resources in those activities that provide the greatest benefit. If we who are in bivocational ministry do not begin to take advantage of the opportunities that are presented to us we will soon find those opportunities no longer existing.

I know the responses I'm apt to get to this post. "It's hard enough to balance the many different demands on my time without having to attend another conference or workshop." "If they would have these events on the weekends I might be able to attend, but I can't go during the week because I have to work." Does anyone think fully-funded pastors have nothing to do except go to workshops? Most I know work 50-60 and more hours a week and also have families and other demands on their time. The weekend excuse also doesn't impress me as much as it used to because I've been to many weekend workshops that still had little or no bivocational minister participation. When I've asked bivocational ministers why they didn't attend those weekend events they offered other excuses why they didn't attend.

I've been doing bivocational ministry since 1981. I know how difficult it is to schedule everything and maintain some sense of balance in your life and ministry. I also know that if God has called us to this ministry He expects us to continue to grow as believers and as ministers. He expects us to find ways to improve our skills. As a bivocational pastor I would take one or two days of vacation time each year to attend a conference or workshop that I thought might help me improve as a minister. That seemed like a small investment to learn new tools that would help me be more effective as a minister.

You are probably already receiving promotions for conferences and workshops for 2008. I encourage you to commit to attending at least one next year. Find one among the myriad of choices that you believe will help you become more effective as a minister and plan now to attend. Invest in yourself and in your calling.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Virtual assistant

I recently discovered a possible solution for one of the problems faced by many bivocational ministers. When I served as a bivocational pastor I often regretted the fact that our church did not have an assistant who could handle many of the office tasks such as printing newsletters, bulletins, handling mailings, and answering the telephone. Those tasks took up a great deal of my time which lessened the time I had available to be with people.

Earlier this week I met a woman who has started a ministry called Deirdre's Virtual Office. She will do all the things mentioned above and more which will take much of the administrative load off the bivocational minister enabling him or her to have more time for ministry. Her fees seem very reasonable, and the church saves money by not having to purchase office equipment and pay taxes or vacation time for an employee. She is married to a minister and has worked as a church secretary in several churches.

You can find out more about this service on her website at

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Boyd's Bear collectors

My wife has a large collection of over 400 pieces of Boyd's Bearstones, Waterglobes, and Picture Frames that she would like to sell. Many of these are 1st edition pieces. The original boxes are available for all but one piece. These items have been displayed in glass cases since their purchase and are in top condition. This would be an excellent opportunity for someone to start their collection or add to their existing collection. If you are interested, please respond to this posting with your e-mail address, and we will contact you.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Doing ministry together

Yesterday I spoke at a gathering of associational churches. My message to them was that we need to find ways for our churches to work together to do ministry. The needs of the world are too great for any church to be able to meet them alone. I recently read that no county in the US has more than 50% of its people actively involved in a church. That means that half of every country is a mission field. If that mission field is to be effectively reached it will require our churches working together. We are not in competition with one another, or at least we shouldn't be. If we are more interested in advancing the Kingdom of God than in adding bodies to our churches we must find ways to work together to impact our communities. I believe that if we do that God will take care of bringing people into our churches.

Many bivocational churches believe they are too small to have any kind of significant impact, and many of them believe that they have nothing to contribute when working with other churches. I disagree. I believe that God has people in every size church with gifts, abilities, and passions that are needed in all our churches and that can contribute much to the work of the church in the world today.

I encourage you to find other churches with whom you can work together and explore ways you can do so in your community. Are there some needs that may be too big for one church to tackle but could be served by several churches working together? Would such unity send a powerful message to our world? I think so.

If your church is already involved in ministering with other churches, please respond to this posting and let others know what you are doing. It might encourage others to explore similar ministries.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Challenge for our churches

Last night we had a mixed bag at the National Quartet Convention. There were some excellent groups and songs along with a lot of average groups with songs to match. But, the Talleys really touched me with their set. One song in particular summed up the challenge our churches face today if they are serious about having an effective ministry. The title is "The Broken Ones," and the message in the song is that we believers in Jesus Christ need to be seeking and loving the broken ones as Christ does. We need to find ways to help them experience the healing they need and to introduce them to Christ who is often the only one who can bring healing to their broken lives. Lauren Talley is a great talent with a powerful voice that really brought out the message of that song. It touched me so much that when their set was finished I went to their booth and bought the new CD that had that song on it.

So much of our time, our energy, and our finances are spent on ministering to the people who are already in the church. We offer one Bible study after another and challenge people to sit on numerous committees that accomplish very little. We wrap ourselves up in our Christian bubbles to help ensure that we won't be contaminated by the evil that exists in the world. Yet, when we read the stories of Jesus in the Gospels we find him walking among the hurting sinners of his time and ministering to their brokenness. Should this not be the example his church should now follow? Don't misunderstand me here, I believe that attending church for corporate worship and the opportunity to learn more about God is important, but did Jesus ever once invite people to attend a church? Did the Great Commission say anything about "Go out into the world and invite people to your church?" I don't think so. Yes, church is important, even vital for one's spiritual growth, but the challenge was that as we are going throughout our activities we need to be inviting people to trust in Jesus Christ and become a disciple of his. And the way that Christ himself demonstrated how to do this was to develop relationships with the people we encounter.

How many non-Christian friends do you have? If you have been a Christian for more than a few years the answer is that you probably have very few, maybe none. How can we be salt and light to a world if we never enter that world? How can we fulfill the Great Commission if we never go into the world that Christ died for?

We in church leadership need to challenge our churches to engage their communities, developing relationships with people outside our walls, and begin to make a difference in people's lives. We will also have to model that so they can see what that should like like. I'll admit that it may be a little risky, but I believe that it is a risk we must be willing to take if we are going to be serious about impacting the 21st century for Christ.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

NQC midweek update

We've attended the first three nights of the National Quartet Convention, and it has been a mixed bag. Monday night was one of the stronger programs I have seen there for 5-6 years, but on Tuesday and Wednesday nights the programs were very average. The crowds seem smaller as the trend has been for the past few years, and many of the people seemed rather bored. There has not been a lot of energy from many of the music groups either. There are exceptions. The Dove Brothers, the Booth Brothers, the Hoppers, the Kingdom Heirs, and the Florida Boys have all had good sets. Brian Free and Assurance had an exceptional program Wednesday night. The McKamey's have been solid as well. Gold City has sounded better this year than they have since Tim Riley retired, and it would be great to see them get back on top again. Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver provided good sets their two nights. I have to say that most of the other groups have provided people with a good opportunity to get something to eat and drink, and a few simply should not be allowed on center stage period.

It has been sad to see this great venue for Southern Gospel music go downhill as it has the past few years. Some of the older groups that provided us with such great music have retired. Many of the greats have passed away. The on-going dispute between the NQC and Bill Gaither is not only sad but keeps some of the groups who have signed with Gaither from the NQC.

We're going to take tonight off. The first 2 1/2 hours of Thursday night's program is an awards presentation, so the music doesn't even begin until 8:30 if the awards program ends on time, and that's a mighty big IF. I attended a couple of the awards presentations and decided I would be much better off coming in later for the music. The problem is that we live close enough to Louisville that we drive back and forth each night, and on Thursday night it is just too late to come home and hope to feel like doing anything on Friday. We'll get some good sleep and be ready for the Friday and Saturday programs.

I love Southern Gospel music, and the NQC has been on our calendars every year for several years. For at least the past 7-8 years we've had permanent seats for the NQC. Normally, we have bought them for the next year on the first night of the current year's program, but we did not do that this year. We're just not sure we will continue to have permanent seats for all six nights because we're not sure that the quality is there for us to come back every night again. I do believe the NQC board has made some improvements in this year's program, but it is still not the quality it was a few years ago. We have until February to renew our tickets, so we'll wait and see what reports are made about the future of the NQC. We may save our money and go to a couple of Gaither concerts next year.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Coaching bivocational ministers for greater ministry effectiveness

One of the things I have enjoyed doing for the past year and a half is the opportunity to coach bivocational ministers. Each of the bivocational ministers I've worked with during this time have expressed how helpful coaching has been to their ministries. They had the opportunity to talk with someone who had been where they are and had experienced many of the challenges they were facing. They were able to share their ideas with me for their ministries and know that I would discuss possible ways to introduce those ideas to their churches. Most also wanted some help in better managing their time so they could spend more time with their families. We covered a wide range of topics that are common to most bivocational ministers, and the persons being coached felt that our time together was helpful to their ministry success.

If it is approved my DMin dissertation will focus on how coaching can improve the ministry effectiveness of bivocational ministers. I am still waiting for that approval by the DMin director.

If you would like to have a coach to help you address ministry and life issues I would enjoy working with you. If you feel stuck in some aspect of your ministry, coaching is a great way to help you get unstuck. If you feel frustrated with the difficulty in balancing your family life with your church life and other career while trying to find ways to have time for yourself, a coach can help you overcome that frustration. If you feel that now is the time for your church to go to the next level of ministry to your community but you are not sure how to lead that, having a coach to walk you through that might be very helpful.

I have coached bivocational ministers from across the nation. Coaching sessions occur over the telephone at pre-arranged times. We work from your agenda so we are always focusing on the issues that you want to address. My coaching fees are very low and are discounted even more for bivocational ministers. Because of all my other responsbilities I can only accept five persons being coached at one time, but I do have some openings right now. Contact me today if you believe having a coach would benefit you, your family, and your church.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

National Quartet Convention

Next week the National Quartet Convention will be in Louisville, KY. It is a week of great Southern Gospel music that my wife and I really enjoy. For the past few years we have been permanent seat holders for all six nights. Because we live an hour away from Louisville and the program runs from 6:00 pm to around midnight each night we don't always attend all six nights, but we know we have excellent seats for any night we do want to attend.

As much as we enjoy it, I do have to admit that we feel the past few years we have seen a decline in the convention. Singers move around from one group to another which impacts their sound. Older groups are retiring. The ongoing conflict between Bill Gaither and the NQC board continues to have a negative impact on the convention. More groups are saving money by replacing their bands with recorded music causing many of them to sound very much alike. We see a decline in both attendance and quality each year, and we wonder how long the NQC will continue if it doesn't start changing some things.

Still, it's a great week of worship. If you are in the area stop in one evening. I think you'll like it.

Monday, September 3, 2007

The new apostolic age

George Hunter III wrote a great book in 1992 that I am currently re-reading. The title is How to Reach Secular People. I didn't fully understand the book when I first read it because I wasn't as aware of postmodernism and its impact on the church as I am now. Fifteen years ago Hunter was explaining to those who could understand that the church had entered a time that closely resembled the first century, and if the church was going to successfully proclaim the gospel to our generation we needed to go back to the techniques the first century church used. Read these insightful words from Hunter:

For the christian movement's first three centuries, the communicators of Christianity had to achieve four objectives: (1) Facing a population with no knowledge of the gospel, the christian movement had to inform people of the story of Jesus, the good news, its claims, and its offer. (2) Facing hostile populations and the persecution of the state, the Church had to "win friends and influence people" to a positive attitude toward the movement. (3) Facing an Empire with several entrenched religions, the Christians had to convince people of Christianity's truth, or at least its plausibility. (4) Since entry into the faith is by an act of the will, Christians had to invite people to adopt this faith and join the messianic community and follow Jesus as Lord...

The early Church was intentional about achieving each of these four objectives. They informed people by creatively communicating and interpreting their gospel in conversations, synagogue presentations, and open-air speaking. They influenced people's attitudes by their changed lives, their ministries of service, their love for one another, and by their love for nonchristians and even their enemies, even in martyrdom. They convinced people by reasoning from the Scriptures and by their common-sense apologetics. They invited responsive people to confess faith and be baptized unto the messianic community. (pp. 35-36)

We often get so caught up in programs and looking for the latest and greatest techniques that I believe we overlook a simple truth. If we are ministering in a time that closely resembles the first century then perhaps we need to simply minister as the early church did. We need to focus on the basics of informing, influencing, convincing, and inviting. We need to model changed lives if we truly want others to believe that a relationship with Jesus Christ changes lives. We need to love others and find ways to minister to them even when they are sometimes hostile to our efforts.

The good news about this for bivocational churches is that such ministry doesn't require a lot of resources or special programs. It only requires that God's people be committed to serving the communities in which God has placed them. It requires that we become missional churches, i.e. churches that are on mission with God reaching out to a world that does not know Him. When we do that we will begin to impact our world in ways we could never have imagined.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Ministry passion

I visited a church yesterday that recently started a food ministry to its community. People can order food at a much reduced price and two weeks later pick up their food at the church. This ministry has only existed at the church for five months, and they are already serving approximately 150 families. It was rather quiet when I was there to watch people place their orders, but the organizer told me I should come back in two weeks when the food is delivered. That's when it gets exciting around there!

What a great ministry this church had started, and it really began as a passion of a few folks in the church who felt the church needed to be more involved in ministry in its community. This church is currently seeking a pastor, so this ministry is not pastor-driven. Lay people in the church saw a need and felt passionate about meeting that need. They found a company that makes this ministry possible, and they brought it to their church as an outreach opportunity to the community.

Great ministry occurs when people who have gifts and a passion meet a need. It does not usually happen when a denomination decides to create a new program that it thinks its churches need, nor does it often happen when a pastor comes back from a conference on the latest and greatest ministry techniques. It happens as needs are identified and met.

Isn't that what Jesus did? In the gospels we find Him moving about the countryside and meeting various needs of people He encountered. In the process He offered them not only a ministry to their physical needs, but he also introduced them to the Kingdom of God and offered them a personal relationship with Him. His church needs to do no less today.

I was impressed with the passion of the people I spoke with yesterday who were taking food orders. Each of us needs to have the same passion about the ministries God has given us, and when enough of God's people feel passionate about using their God-given gifts to serve one another we will see amazing things begin to happen in people's lives.

What gifts has God given you? What do you feel most passionate about? What needs exist in your community that you most want to see addressed? It is there you will find your greatest ministry.