Thursday, November 22, 2007


It's early Thanksgiving Day. My wife has already left for work so she can come home early and get dinner together for the family. Our daughter and her family spent the night with us and are still asleep. The poor dog is whining in her cage because she wants to play with our grandkids. Our son and his family are with her folks this year for Thanksgiving. We'll talk later on the phone.

In many ways this has been one of the most difficult years in my life, and there are still challenges to be met. However, I got up this morning truly thankful for the blessings our family has known, not just for the past year but for all our years. God has been faithful to us in so many ways. I've spent some time this morning thinking about some of the things He has brought us through. It hardly seems like saying "Thank you" is enough, but God is probably satisfied with that. In fact, He would probably like to hear it more often from many of us.

I'm also thankful for the readers of this blog, the readers of my e-newsletter, and all those who serve in bivocational ministry. I respect the ministry you provide your churches, and I admire you and your families for the sacrifices you are willing to make to engage in bivocational ministry. At times it can get hard to keep going, but when you enter those times I encourage you to remember back to the calling God put on your life and remember the many times He has sustained you in difficult times. As He was with you then so will He be with you in your future struggles as well. My prayer for you this Thanksgiving Day is that you and your family will be richly blessed as we approach a new year.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Missional book for smaller churches

This past week I signed an agreement with Beacon Hill Press to publish my next book that has a working title of Transforming the Small Church: From Maintenance-Minded to Missional. Despite what many people believe, smaller churches can change. Although many seem locked in a survival mode and very resistent to change, some of them are willing to move out of that maintenance mindset and become more missional once they see the need to do so. It will probably not be a quick process in most smaller churches, so the leaders will have to take a long-term approach to the transformation process, but it can be done.

Beacon Hill Press is the publishing arm of the Church of the Nazarene, and they have been very gracious to publish two of my previous books that addressed bivocational ministry and small church health. They understand the need for resources for our smaller churches and bivocational ministries. The folks there have been great to work with, and I'm sure this project will be no exception. I have no details of expected release dates, but I will keep you posted on this blog of the process of this project. This can be an important book in helping our smaller churches begin to look at a new way of doing ministry, so I ask that you keep it in your prayers as it is being prepared for publication.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Passionate lay people

After preaching at a church yesterday I enjoyed lunch with a few lay people from the church. This congregation is currently seeking a new pastor. These lay people were passionate about wanting to see their church explore new ways of doing ministry in the community. They had numerous questions about how their church could become more missional in their efforts. It was exciting to see the passion of these folks because it suggests that their church is about to enter into a new period of growth and service to their community.

It seems that so much of church work drains the passion from people. Many pastors can remember the enthusiasm they felt when they first graduated from seminary or began a ministry at a new church, but some of them have not felt that passion for many years as the day-to-day demands of ministry slowly robbed them of their passion. Committed lay people can testify to that same loss of passion. After years of faithfully serving their church, the frustration of seeing little happen can begin to eat away at our passion. Our efforts can soon become mechanical producing few results which only takes away even more of the joy and passion of serving Christ.

From time to time it is important that each of us take a good survey of our various ministries regardless of whether we are clergy or lay leaders. We need to examine our motivation for serving and take a passion check to see if we still feel the excitement we once knew. If not, we need to stop and begin praying that God would restore that passion to us and try to determine what took it away from us in the first place. Maintaining the passion for our ministries is one of the keys to enjoying a long, fruitful ministry.

Friday, November 9, 2007


I spoke to two pastors yesterday who are feeling trapped in their current places of ministry. Declining attendance, reduced giving, strife, and apathy are taking their tolls. Both would like to find new places to serve, but nothing has opened up yet. One has been looking for several years, but for a variety of reasons no church has felt called to ask him to come as their minister. The frustration in their voices is easy to hear. Both love the Lord and love His people and just want to be able to serve Him with joy and gladness, but the joy is long gone, and now they feel trapped.

Chances are we've all been there at one time or another. It may have been in a ministry position or in our other careers as bivocational ministers. There is nothing but drudgery as we go from day to day fulfilling our responsibilities. The work gets done, but we feel no sense of accomplishment, no joy, and we feel that no one appreciates the fact that it was done.

I tried to encourage both pastors yesterday, but I doubt that my words penetrated their feelings of frustration. I assured them that God would open doors in His time, but I also remembered the times when those words did little to encourage me when I was feeling trapped. They are true, and we in the ministry know they are true, but when we are feeling trapped they do not seem to bring much comfort.

A layperson recently told me that she is seeing a great attack on spiritual leaders that she believes is an indication that God is about to do something great in His church. She believes the enemy knows this and is attacking ministers and their families to try to stop the blessing God is about to pour out upon the church. Certainly, I have seen what appears to be an increased attack on Christian leaders during the past year, and these attacks have included me, and I pray that her belief that God is about to do something great is correct.

In the meantime, we need to pray for one another. Many of our colleagues are hurting. They feel trapped in their responsibilities and see no way out. Their families are hurting as they see the pain this is causing their loved ones. They also feel frightened and uncertain of what the future holds.

We also need to keep our eyes upon Christ. If we only focus on the negative circumstances we may be in we stand a much greater chance of being defeated. It is when we focus on Christ that we able to endure the attacks and frustrations that we will experience.

I encourage you this morning to pray for one another and keep your eyes on Jesus Christ. Encourage one another. Be the blessing you would want someone to be for you.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

New things to learn

I am about to finish re-reading a great book by Reggie McNeal titled The Present Future: Six Tough Questions for the Church published by Jossey-Bass. It had been a couple of years since I first read it and just felt it was time to read it again. The author challenges much of what we think about the church, what its mission should be, and the leadership that is required to effectively lead the church in the twenty-first century.

One of the challenges I continually give to bivocational ministers is to never stop learning. McNeal supports this in his book by writing:

Church leaders must go to "school" all the time. Their course of study will depend on the challenges they face. I have already identified some key areas. A beginning list includes post-modernism, generational cultures, visioning, communication, organizational behavior and development, leadership development, team building, apologetics, and futuring, just to get started.

These may not be what we normally think of when we think of training for ministers, but these are the skills that are needed in today's church and today's society. Notice that McNeal states that these are not exclusive, he writes that these will just get you started. They assume that the minister already has sound theological beliefs and some Bible knowledge. He also suggests that the strategies for learning will include more than just classroom or workshop training. He encourages ministers to
  1. Go where it's happening - Bookstores, movies, coffee shops, etc.
  2. Get outside the box - Don't limit your learning to what other churches are doing.
  3. Create a learning community versus trying to learn everything yourself.
  4. Develop a chief learning officer in your congregation to be on the lookout for learning opportunities.
  5. Get a learning coach who can help you keep on track.

This book is a great read for the minister who wants to help lead his or her church to become more missional. You probably won't agree with everything McNeal writes (I didn't), but he will force you to think, and he will give you some great insight into how churches can more effectively reach their communities for Christ.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Events vs relationships

In his book, Organic Churches, Neil Cole mentions that one of the questions he often asks groups when he is speaking is how many of them were brought to a relationship with Christ because of some event in a church. Usually, very few hands go up. His follow-up question is how many became a Christian because of a friend, family member, or someone else they knew led them to Christ. He reports that most hands in the audience goes up. He then asks why do we spend so much time planning events when most people are saved through relationships?

Studies consistently show that most people are brought to a personal relationship with Christ because of one or more of their friends ministering to them. It is through relationships that the most effective evangelism occurs. This is great news for all churches but especially for bivocational churches. Too often our bivocational churches feel they can do little to fulfill the Great Commission because they don't have the resources to develop and maintain exciting programs that will reach out to people. The fact is that we don't. But, we can effectively reach people with the Gospel simply by developing relationships with people we want to reach, allowing them to see our faith in action, and sharing the Gospel with them at the prompting of the Holy Spirit.

This is an evangelism strategy that a church of any size can use, and it is a biblical model. Every person in our churches have unsaved family members and friends. They work around people who have not yet turned their lives over to Christ. They attend schools and shop in markets with unsaved people. In the rare event that a person doesn't know someone who doesn't know Christ, that person needs to begin developing relationships with some new people.

I encourage you to write out a list of persons you would like to see become a Christian. Commit yourself to pray for those persons each day. Be aware that they are watching you and act accordingly. Allow your life to reflect the light of Jesus Christ to others so they will be drawn to Him. The time will come when you will feel an inner prompting to share with them the reason for "the hope that is within you." As you share Christ with them ask if they would like to receive Him into their lives. We can do no more than faithfully share our testimony and invite them to accept Christ as their Lord and Savior. The choice is theirs to make. We cannot make it for them, and God will not force Himself upon them. The Holy Spirit will convict them of their sin and their need for Christ, but the final decision is theirs to make.

Once you begin doing this, encourage your congregation to begin doing the same thing. Reaching out to persons with whom we already have a relationsip doesn't cost the church anything. If we have faithfully lived our faith so others could see it, we will have great credibility with family members and friends and should gain a quicker audience. We might be surprised to see our churches begin to grow through this approach to outreach.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Willow Creek repents for producing shallow Christians

Few churches have had the impact on American church life than Willow Creek. Thousands of church leaders flock to their conferences each year to learn how to do church like Willow Creek. Their pastor, Bill Hybels, has written a number of books on church ministry and Christian living that have been popular. I have a number of them on my shelves and enjoyed reading them and learned from each of them. It certainly came as a surprise to many on the Willow Creek staff when a survey they took showed that their efforts have not been effective in producing mature believers.

Their approach was to develop numerous programs for people to attend believing that their participation in these programs would lead to spiritual maturity. Hybels now admits they should have encouraged their members to take more personal responsibility for their spiritual development by reading the Scriptures and practicing spiritual disciplines at home.

A number of web sites and blogs seem to enjoy this admission by Hybels. I've never understood the oppostion to Willow Creek that has existed by many groups. Personally, it sounds like jealousy to me. Willow Creek has successfully reached out to thousands of people to bring them into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Multitudes of people will spend eternity in heaven because of the ministry of Willow Creek.

I'm thankful that Hybels and the church are willing to admit what their studies discovered. Some church leaders would have tried to cover that up, but the leaders at Willow Creek reported honestly what their studies learned, admitted they had make mistakes in the area of discipleship, and are looking at the changes they need to make to improve this area of their ministry.

One of my questions in this is how are they different than many of our churches? We only have to take a look at the condition of our nation, the decline in many areas of church life, the wide-spread ignorance of the Bible, the controversies that plague many of our denominations, the moral failures of many of our ministry leaders, the decline in baptisms, and the little impact that the church is having on our society to recognize that this is not a problem limited to Willow Creek. Many of our churches are failing to develop disciples. What makes Willow Creek different is that they now admit their failures and are looking to correct them. Many of our other churches won't even admit they are not effectively producing disciples, and they certainly are not interested in finding new ways of doing ministry that might be more effective.

This may well be the most important challenge facing our churches as we approach a new year. Pastors and other church leaders need to step back and evaluate the effectiveness of their discipling programs. The Great Commission calls us to not only reach out and lead people to a relationship with Jesus Christ but to also help them develop as His disciples.

I would encourage the readers of this blog to call together the leaders of your church and begin evaluating the ministry of the church in the area of disciple-making. What is the level of spiritual maturity of the members of your church? Is this growing? What church programs have been effective in helping your congregation grow more mature spiritually? Which ones are not effective? What does your church need to do in 2008 to help the spiritual development of your congregation? These seem to be good starting questions to address a wide-spread problem in many of our churches.