Friday, December 19, 2008

Caoching candidates

The response to my earlier blog about wanting bivocational ministers to coach had a large response. I needed five candidates and received multiple times that number of volunteers. I want to thank everyone who applied, and I will be making a decision soon who I will choose. Although I do not believe it will be a problem, I am hoping to hear a definite answer regarding the acceptance of the DMin project that will focus on coaching bivocational ministers. The DMin director has sent me an e-mail saying he likes the idea, but I have not had my proposal officially approved yet. After Christmas I will make the final decision regarding which five candidates to choose whether or not I have received official approval. Thanks to everyone who volunteered!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The gift of thankfulness

Like many of you, this is a very busy time of the year for me. In addition to Christmas shopping and preparing for the festivities of the season I've been very busy with a lot of ministry activities. I sent in my DMin thesis proposal this week and hope to hear soon that I can proceed with that project. I have a class the first week of January with six textbooks that I'm trying to read. Campbellsville University asked me to join some other folks in reviewing nearly 100 applications for a leadership scholarship they offer incoming students. Just as I concluded that task I received the author's proofs for my next book with a request that I review them and make any changes by December 29. This will be the last chance to get everything right before the book goes to the printer. Tonight I'm meeting with the leadership of a conflicted church in an effort to help them through this difficult time.

This morning I wrote out checks for some bills and set them aside to take to the mail box later. As I turned to my next task I suddenly felt overwhelmed with gratitude. Like most average Americans 2008 has been financially challenging for us. Our retirement accounts have taken about a 30% loss this year. My wife and I have drastically cut our spending trying to pay down some debt. We look for bargains when we do shop, and we're trying to make things last just a little bit longer before replacing them.

But as I thought about the checks I had just written I also thought about the thousands of people who have lost their jobs this year. I thought about the thousands whose homes have been lost in foreclosure and the many who have filed bankruptcy. Our bills are paid, we have a warm house in which to live, and a full pantry of food. I placed those bills in front of me, laid my hands on them, and just thanked God for His blessings.

Yesterday I was loading the dishwasher and running some water in the sink to rinse off some dishes. As I looked at that water I thought about the people all over the world who spend part of each day trying to find clean water to drink and often cannot. I was using more water rinsing off those dishes than some people have to use all day. It nearly overwhelmed me, and I stopped and gave God thanks for allowing me the privilege of being born in a country with clean, fresh water, a country that permits me to worship as I choose, and a country that allows me to do just about anything with my life that I want to.

As you run around this last week before Christmas trying to find the right gift for someone, I encourage you to stop and think about all the ways in which your life has been blessed. Perhaps the most important gift we could give this year would be the gift of thankfulness to God. I know I don't pause often enough to just thank Him for the blessings I have come to take for granted. The gift of thankfulness won't cost you anything to give, but I do believe it would please God to receive it.

May you have a very blessed Christmas!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Online certificate program

For several months I have talked about an online program being developed by Campbellsville University especially suited for bivocational ministers. I am happy to announce today that the program is now available. It is a 27 hour course that leads to a Certificate in Christian Ministry. Each class will cost $500.00 for a total cost for the program of $4,500.00. This is an excellent bargain for an education today. The program is accredited and students who complete this program and then decide to pursue a degree can receive credits for these classes. The program offers a nice blend of theological study and practical ministry skills.

For more information and a listing of the courses required please contact either David Sandifer, Director of Heartland Bivocational Ministry Center at Campbellsville University at or John Hurtgen, Dean of the School of Theology, at If you have been looking for a program that would provide you with the training you've been wanting and would fit into your busy schedule, you really should check out this opportunity.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Free coaching

I am writing my DMin thesis on "Coaching Bivocational Ministers for Greater Ministry Effectiveness." Part of this paper will focus on a coaching relationship I have with five bivocational ministers, and I need some volunteers who want to be coached. There will be no charge for the coaching. Your only expense will be for the calls you make to me for each coaching session and a small fee you will need to pay to take a spiritual gifts and temperment analysis. I will not reveal your names or the cities in which you live in order to preserve confidentiality. I will include in my paper some of the issues that we discussed, and you will be asked to write a brief paper on how the coaching did or did not help you.

This is a wonderful opportunity for a person who wants a coach to help him or her work through some issues or to help set some goals for your life and/or ministry. Each person will receive six coaching sessions over a three month period starting in January.

If you are interested, please respond to this post and tell me a little about yourself and your ministry. I look forward to hearing from you.

Thursday, November 27, 2008


The meal is over and so are the football games. Our kids and grandchildren have been here and celebrated this day with us. Everyone is exhausted and gone to bed early except for me. I'm still thinking about all the things I have to be thankful for this year.

This has been a very difficult year for a number of reasons. Emotionally, financially, and spiritually it has been about as difficult year as I've had, but God was faithful to bring me through it. There are some scars, but I feel that God has given me a great victory over the enemy's attempt to destroy me and my family.

I continue to be amazed and thankful that God called me into the ministry nearly 30 years ago. I sometimes wonder why He did so since I have failed Him many times, but He keeps reminding me that He is omniscient and knew all my failures long before they occurred, and He still chose to call me to serve Him first as a pastor and now as a judicatory leader. My ministry has given me opportunities I could never have imagined, and I am thankful to God that He has given me these opportunities.

It is easy to simply eat too much turkey and watch too much football and never really think much about how your life has been blessed. I'm afraid that many of us seldom take even a few minutes to think about the things for which we are thankful. If that describes you, please take a few minutes this week to think about those things, and offer to God a prayer of thanksgiving for the many ways He has enriched your life.

Monday, November 17, 2008


Yesterday I attended the dedication of a new fellowship building in one of my Area churches. The people were so excited, and they had a right to be. This building had been discussed for years and frequently voted down. Obviously, when God's timing was right the church decided to move forward with the new facility. Another reason they had a right to be excited was that the new building is debt-free. A layman in the church told me a story of how God provided the final money they needed to complete the building. It was a true miracle how God worked to enable them to build their facility without borrowing any money.

As I left the service I wondered how excited they will be a year from now. They spoke much during the service how this building will be used to the glory of God and to better reach their community, and I pray that happens. However, I've been around long enough now to know that sometimes the completion of a new building can also be the beginning of a major let-down in ministry in many churches.

During the planning and building phases there is so much excitement. People pour their financial, physical, and emotional resources behind the building project. Most people are working with a common vision to see the new facility completed. However, when the building is finished so is that vision, and too often a new vision does not rise up to challenge the people. Everything in the church stops. Suddenly, the people become very protective of the new building. A facility that is dedicated to minister to people outside the family of God suddenly has to be protected from those people. After all, we can't let our new building get dirty. Those people wouldn't know how to act in a church building, their children would probably damage it, and we don't want to get any stains on the carpet. I've seen this happen too many times in too many churches.

These churches forget that their new building is just a tool. If it is used to reach out to people and provide for better ministry, then praise the Lord! If not, it might as well be used to store hay. Such churches need to ask themselves if God would be more concerned about dirty carpet or lost souls. What happened to the vision of reaching new people with improved facilities? Too often, we say the right words but we fail to follow them up with right actions.

Are you in a building program? That's great, but just remember that when the building is completed that is when real ministry should begin to happen. In a smaller church it is often hard to be involved in both a building program and ministry because there are just so many resources available. But even before the building is completed the leadership of the church needs to be praying about the future ministry of the church. The vision of building a new facility will end with the building is completed, and it's essential that the church have a new vision for ministry to take its place. Otherwise, you will likely find you have a very expensive facility that you really didn't need.

Saturday, November 15, 2008


Many of our churches find themselves in ruts from time to time. Some prefer living in their ruts because it is comfortable and all they have ever known. Unfortunately, little ministry occurs in ruts. I often define a rut as a grave with both ends kicked out. We don't find much life around a grave, and we don't find much life around ruts either. However, the pastor who tries to lift his or her church out of the rut can find a great deal of opposition and may find it necessary to look for a new place of service. How can the pastor help a church out of its ruts and find new ways of doing ministry?

This morning I read an interesting thought by Thom Rainer. He wrote, "The way out of the rut is not the attack of the rut itself. It is a new outward focus that helps people look beyond themselves." That is great advice! We will seldom help a church out of its ruts by attacking the ruts. BTW - those ruts can be found in almost any aspect of church life: a Sunday School class that is resistant to new members; a worship format; an outreach program that isn't working; a legalistic dependence upon the church constitution that prevents almost any new idea from being considered, etc.

It is always tempting to attack the rut by attacking the problem. The church constitution may well need to be studied and re-written to reflect the current times. A different outreach program may need to be started. But, it is usually a mistake to start there. The right place to start is by helping people develop a new focus. They need to begin looking beyond themselves and their comfort level and begin to look at their mission field. I would start by challenging the people to ask themselves, "Who are we here for?" Until a congregation understands it exists not for their own comfort but to reach new people for the Kingdom of God there is really no reason to leave their ruts and it is unlikely they will do so.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


The current issue of Rev! magazine has an article I wrote about bivocational ministry entitled "Bivocational Ministry: Meeting the Leadership Needs of the Smaller Church." It is a five page article that examines some of the challenges and advantages associated with bivocational ministry. Alan Nelson, Executive Editor, contacted me earlier this year asking if I would write an article on bivocational ministry, and it was exciting to see it published in the Nov/Dec issue. It is even more exciting to me that a major ministry magazine wants to discuss bivocational ministry. I think it shows again how much of an impact bivocational ministry is having on the 21st century church and its continued importance to the Kingdom of God.

We continue to see smaller churches looking at bivocational ministry as a viable option for their leadership needs. One reason for that is the excellent work that many of you are doing in your churches. Other churches see that and realize that they can also benefit from having a bivocational minister. Denominations that once were reluctant to use bivocational ministers also see the value we bring to the church, and many of them are now anticipating that the numbers of bivocational ministers will increase in their denomination.

If you don't subscribe to Rev! I encourage you to look for a copy. If your bookstore doesn't carry it I'm sure they can order a copy for you. I think you'll find other articles in the magazine will also be helpful to your ministry.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election 2008

From all appearances this will be an election like we've not seen in the United States in many years. Millions of people have already voted in states that permit early voting. The news media are showing pictures of long lines at many voting locations. We are likely to see a record number of ballots cast in this election, and I doubt that any of us will know the winner when we go to bed tonight. As soon as I finish this blog I will go to my voting place and pray that there are no long lines at that site. Regardless, I will vote today.

I have not missed voting in a single election since I became eligible to do so. That includes every primary and local vote as well as in the national elections. It is my belief that as Christians we have an obligation to vote and work to make our nation a better place for each of us to live in. Sometimes my candidate is elected, and sometimes he or she is defeated, but at least I know that I voiced my opinion.

Regardless of who wins an election the Bible teaches that we believers have an obligation to pray for those individuals. We may not like their policies, and we may not even like them personally, but that does not negate our responsibility to pray for them. And when we believe they are wrong we have an obligation to speak up and let our opinions be known.

Please remember this: God doesn't fly on Air Force One. Whether or not your candidate wins today, God is still in ultimate control of this universe. The policies of an elected official or a political party may have a great impact on our nation and the world, but they do not have the power to bring about the spiritual change that our nation most needs. Only God can do that. Only He can send a revival that would restore this nation to Him. As we pray for our elected officials let's not forget to also ask God to have mercy on our nation and send the spiritual revival that we so greatly need.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Light vs darkness

As part of my current devotional time I am reading through The NIV Commentary: John written by Gary Burge. In today's reading he is looking at Judas' betrayal of Jesus, and he writes:

This story is more than a description of one man's demise. Throughout the Gospel we have been warned about the struggle between the light and darkness. In 1:5 we noted the absolute hostility between the two. As the Gospel unfolds, we hear again and again about those who choose the darkness despite their exposure to the light...In spite of his proximity to the light, [Judas] chooses the darkness. John invites us to reflect on the horror of this.

I immediately thought of those ministers whose frustrations with ministry have caused many to decide to leave the ministry. Some grew angry with God because their ministry wasn't what they thought it would be. Some thought they should have had more prestigious places to serve while others were hurt by the constant complaining and nit-picking of their members. Some simply couldn't see their families hurt any more by a congregation who seemed to not care.

Some who have stayed in the ministry have grown bitter and remain in the ministry only because they know nothing else or they are getting close to retirement. They have no passion for ministry and little interest in the people they serve. They do the minimum necessary to keep their job, but they have distanced themselves from their work, their people, and, often, even from God.

Our call to the ministry is a special gift God has given each of us. We were never promised it would always be easy or enjoyable. None of us can afford to turn away from the light of our calling to the darkness of denying that calling or our God. Yet, it isn't hard to do if we take our eyes off God and begin to focus entirely on the circumstances around us.

I want to encourage each of you today to rejoice in your calling. There will be rough spots, but God will show Himself faithful if we keep our focus on Him. As I look backwards over a 20 year pastorate I can remember a few rough times, but I can also see numerous people who found faith in Jesus Christ and are faithfully serving Him today. Those rough times do not seem nearly as difficult now as they did when I was going through them, and the victories more than make up for them. Stay in the light, and resist every temptation to slip into the darkness that would take you away from the calling God has on your life. When you begin to review your life and ministry you'll be glad you did.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Constitution changes

One of the roadblocks pastors often encounter when they try a new ministry or suggest a new way of doing something is that the church's constitution doesn't provide for the change. Many pastors have learned the hard way the risk associated with ignoring the church constitution or the greater risk of suggesting the constitution be changed!

A number of pastors have found it is easier to ask the church to modify the constitution for a specific period of time (2-3 years) in order to try some new things in the church. Oftentimes a church is more willing to go through a trial period than to just completely change the constitution. If the new methods do not work within that time frame the church automatically reverts to the old constitution. However, if the changes do produce positive results the church will be more apt to make those changes permanent.

If you have tried without success to encourage your church to take a new look at the constitution and begin to revise it, maybe you could suggest that the changes you want to make be tried for a limited period of time and then evaluated. It might just help your church make some changes that it needs to make.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Web sites

Studies have found that a church web site is one of the best ways to reach people under 30 years of age. Larger churches know this. George Barna recently reported that 91% of churches that average 250 adults or more on Sunday morning have web sites. Only 48% of the churches that attract 100 or less adults have a web site. While this number is up substantially from only a few years ago, it still represents less than one-half of the smaller churches.

Web sites do not have to be expensive. In fact, some denominations make a site available to their churches at little or no cost. Even if you purchase a site it doesn't have to cost thousands of dollars to create and maintain. Your church can have a nice site for less than $20.00 a month, and that is very inexpensive outreach.

I would recommend you speak to your denominational leaders and see what they may offer. They may also be able to point you to some companies that would host your site for very little cost. Most smaller and bivocational churches say they want to attract younger people to their churches, and if we are going to seriously attempt to do so then we must use the technology they use. A web site is a good place to start.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

In, Through, or As

I'm currently reading Edward Hammett's book, Spiritual Leadership in a Secular Age: Building Bridges Instead of Barriers. I'm finding it very interesting and wanted to share one paragraph with you.

"Spiritual leadership in the church sees their primary function as preserving the institution and its history. Often these leaders give verbal assent to carrying out the biblical mission, but their behavior and schedule more often than not are dominated by institutional concerns over mission objectives. Spiritual leadership through the church focuses more on mobilizing members for mission rather than pacifying members or maintaining institutional matters. Spiritual leadership as the church dissolves the distinctions between clergy and laity and creates a mission-minded, culture-penetrating partnership for the cause of Christ."

Providing spiritual leadership in the church merely maintains the existing system and is the primary reason 80% of our churches are now plateaued or declining. Unfortunately, this is type of leadership that most churches want from their pastors. When churches say they want a pastor who is a strong leader, they mean they want a pastor to provide strong leadership in the church to ensure its survival.

Real spiritual leadership must happen through the church as the members are encouraged and trained to minister to the surrounding community. This is the leadership required for the church to begin to become a missional church. However, the best spiritual leadership occurs as the church removes the barriers between clergy and laity and truly begins to impact its culture for the Kingdom of God.

The question for each of us is are we providing leadership in our churches, through our churches, or as the church? The answer is important.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

It's been two weeks

I can't believe it's been two weeks since my last blog! Last week we visited our son and his family in Philly and had a great time. Our granddaughter had a soccer game we got to watch, and our grandson had a football game. It's always fun to watch grandchildren play sports, and both are very good. Of course, I may be a little prejudiced.

Next week I will be in Michigan speaking to a gathering of Salvation Army officers and pastors on the healthy small church. I'll speak there on Thursday and Friday. They anticipate 30-40 people will attend the event. Calls are coming in from various judicatories asking about me speaking to their pastors and leaders in 2009, but nothing is scheduled yet.

My publisher sent my manuscript asking for some re-writes. The book Intentional Ministry in a Not-So-Mega-Church is now at the copyeditor, and they need me to do some work on it. My deadline is Oct. 20 so I'll have to work on it this weekend.

I also need to finish my paper for my last DMin class. It's not due until December 1, but I want to get it over with. I've registered for my last two classes, one in January and one in March. All that will be left then is my dissertation.

We have staff meetings today and tomorrow, so I better finish getting ready for that. Now, do you understand why I hadn't written in a couple of weeks? Of course you do, you're a bivocational minister, too!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The party's over

I apologize for not posting new blogs for awhile. Two weeks ago I had another DMin class that was real intense. While attending the class the remnants of hurricane Ike hit our Indiana community causing a lot of damage. We lost some shingles, but that was the extent of our damage. I spent much of last week getting repair estimates and doing some other work around the house.

Today ends my sabbatical. I have to admit that I've enjoyed the three months away from my normal ministry responsibilities. It allowed me to focus on some studies I had been wanting to do and to do some other work that has needed done for some time. But that all ends tonight! Tomorrow I have a meeting at our state office, and our biennial meets this weekend. I have a feeling my telephone will be ringing tomorrow with all the stuff my churches and pastors have been holding onto while I've been on sabbatical. The party is indeed over.

I'm afraid the party is also over for our nation's financial well-being, at least for right now. We have a president whose approval rating is so low that he cannot lead even his own party to pass a plan to address the financial crisis that is impacting this country, and the entire world, so severely. The do-nothing Congress we have would rather point fingers and blame each other for the problems we're facing than do what they are supposed to be paid for and find solutions. I'm not just talking about the failed bail-out they voted down yesterday either. These problems have existed for years, and because so many of them are in the hip pockets of Wall Street and banking lobbyists they have ignored the problems that have led to this crisis. This current crisis can be blamed on one thing: failed leadership.

This blog is not political even though I have some strong political beliefs. I'm not blaming any person or any party. I believe every person who supposedly represents the American people in Washington shares the blame. There has consistently been a lack of leadership committed to addressing the real issues that affect the American public. The majority of our politicians in Washington are more concerned with re-election and pork barrel spending for their districts than they are in making this a better nation and world. They are elected to provide leadership, and they have failed, and millions of innocent Americans are suffering because of their failure.

I encourage you to pray for our nation, and pray that in this next election men and women will be elected to political office who will have the interests of this nation above their own interests. I can think of few people currently in office who are worthy of re-election. They have already proven they cannot provide the leadership this nation needs.

This is also a time to think of your own leadership in your church. The primary reason churches get into trouble is a leadership failure. That failure may be related to pastoral leadership or to lay leadership, but as John Maxwell reminds us, "Everything rises and falls on leadership." Use this national emergency to talk to your church and its leadership about the importance of providing solid leadership in a church. Pray regularly for your own leadership and that of the other leaders in your church.

Now that I'm back to work I'll try to be more faithful in my blogging.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Know thyself

I am spending another week at Liberty Theological Seminary taking a DMin class. This class is unlike any I've ever taken. It's called "Growth and Development of the Contemporary Minister." It involves a lot of testing to help us better understand how God wired us. We've taken the Myers-Briggs, DISC, and several other temperment tests. It's been an eye-opening experience and not always a good one. Our final project will be to write a paper on where we are, where we want to be, how we can get there, and who can help us make that journey. I think it will be one of the most challenging assignments because it addresses who we are at our very core and forces us to determine if that is really who we want to be.

It's important to remember that there are no bad findings in this process. God has created each of us with the personalities and temperments we have. However, He has also called us to submit ourselves to Him and to allow His Holy Spirit access into those personalties and temperments. It is not enough to excuse our bad behavior by saying we're merely human or that is just the way we are. As believers in Christ we are to be continuously being remade into the image of God, and to do that we have to open ourselves up to Him. It can sometimes be a painful process, but it is one each of us must do if we are to grow in Christ.

These tests have shown me why I have done some of the things I've done and made some of the decisions I've made. They have also shown me why I enjoy doing certain things and why I avoid other things. My DISC scores reveal that I am perfectly suited to lead workshops and to preach, and these are things I greatly enjoy doing. They also show I will try to avoid conflict at all costs, and there are some personality issues I have that are not positive. In other words, there are things I need to work on. Just like you.

I would recommend every minister go through some testing to learn more about who you are and the opportunities that exist in your life for improvement. If you are interested in taking the DISC assessment you can do so for about $15.00 online at I took the test called 7 Spiritual Gifts with 4 (DISC) Personality Types. This not only showed me my DISC scores but related them to potential spiritual gifts that I might have. It was very informative.

It's time to leave the motel room for class. Let me know if you take the test and how it spoke to you.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Hurricane in Indiana

You don't normally think of hurricanes hitting Indiana, but the remnants of Ike went through our community today. I am in Virginia again this week for a DMin class. My wife called as I neared my motel to tell me we had lost quite a few shingles. Neighbors have trees down, and there is widespread electrical outages including at my house. I was able to call a roofer, and he will try to put a tarp on our roof before dark, but he said his phone is ringing off the hook with similar calls. Our daughter in Lexington, KY called to say they were about to get winds of 60-80 MPH and some neighbors have already lost siding. We have heard of the widespread damage Ike caused the Houston area, but it looks like it isn't finished yet. Let's join in prayer for the people from all over the country who are suffering due to this storm.

Monday, September 8, 2008

National Quartet Convention

The National Quartet Convention begins tonight in Louisville, KY, and for the first time in many years I will not be in the audience. For many years my wife and I held permanent seats for all six nights of the convention, but we decided this year not to renew our tickets. There are a number of reasons. My wife's hours at work have changed. Last year she only got to attend two nights with me. Gasoline prices impacted our decision. We live about 90 minutes from the convention hall and drove back and forth each night. That would have been expensive this year. The cost of the tickets is reasonable, but when they are added to meal and fuel prices it became an expensive week. Finally, we just didn't think the talent is there to justify spending six nights at the convention.

A number of groups have retired over the past few years and others have left Southern Gospel music for various reasons. Some of the top groups change their members so often that you never know who will be singing with a group from one year to the next. You typically won't hear your favorite groups for more than 20 minutes a night. Frankly, I wasn't impressed with a lot of the newer songs last year, and I haven't heard too many new ones this year that are much better. I just feel that the talent has been going downhill for the past few years causing me to lose interest in spending all week at the convention.

I am glad that Gaither and Signature Sound will return this year after being absent for the past few years. I've never been clear why they haven't been there, but I understand there was some fighting between Gaither and NQC over various matters. Now, there's a good Christian witness! I don't know if the fighting has been resolved, or if they've just decided to bury the hatchet for financial reasons.

I have tried not to complain too much in this blog, but since I'm on a roll let me mention one more thing about the NQC that has become a turn-off. The merchant displays have become a flea market. I think every group at the NQC should have a display area to sell their merchandise. It's a great opportunity for their fans to meet the groups and purchase their material. But a lot of the other junk in there should not be allowed. I'm sure the NQC profits from each of the booths, but selling ugly ties and cheap jewelry adds nothing to the convention, and in my opinion cheapens the whole experience.

Is it possible that people would give similar reasons for not attending church as often as they once did? Are people staying away from our churches because they simply do not believe there is value in attending? Are they avoiding the power plays that occur in some of our churches? Are they staying away because of the quality of the music, the messages, or the overall worship experience? I know several people who have left churches they attended for many years for such reasons. Some found other churches to attend while others just dropped out of church completely.

Some would argue that people should not attend church because of what they receive from it, but that arguement is not going to fly today. Why would someone want to attend a worship service in which they will not be able to experience worship? I have visited too many churches that I don't ever want to return to because of the worship experience.

We need to look at our churches and determine if we are attracting people or turning they away. We need to examine everything we are doing: our worship, our programming, our sermons, our service times, our outreach and see if each of these are attracting people to our churches, and even more importantly, to Jesus Christ. If any of these things are barriers that are keeping people from Christ and the church then changes need to be made.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Strengths and weaknesses

Jesus told a story of a wealthy man who divided some of his wealth among three servants before leaving for a trip. When he returned he asked for an accounting. One servant who had received 10 talents had doubled his investment and was able to return 20 talents to his master. Another had received 3 talents, but he also was able to double them for his master. Each of these individuals were rewarded for their faithfulness. However, the third servant only received one talent and promptly buried it so as not to lose it. When the master returned this servant returned the one talent back to his master who rebuked the lazy servant for not receiving even a minimal return on the talent. He was not rebuked because he didn't return as much as the other two; he was rebuked because he didn't do anything with the one talent he had.

Some people who are called to bivocational ministry are multi-talented people with numerous ministry strengths. Others of us have far fewer talents, and it is this crowd that I want to encourage today. First, remember that it is the Holy Spirit who passes out his gifts as he wills, not as we might desire. God knows the ministry he has called you to achieve, and he has gifted you to achieve that ministry. You don't have too few gifts, and you don't have the wrong gifts. God knows exactly what he is doing, and he has given you everything you need to succeed in your ministry.

Second, in their book, Now, Discover Your Strengths Marcus Buckingham and Donald Clifton writes, "You do not have to have strength in every aspect of your role in order to excel." Bivocational ministry is one of the few generalist positions remaining today. We are expected to be able to do almost everything in the church, and chances are at some point we will do just about everything that needs to be done. Some of those tasks will be easier because you are gifted in those areas. Other tasks won't be so easy because you are not gifted in them, but you'll be expected to do them anyway.

My primary gifts are leadership, preaching, and teaching. As long as I am working in those three areas I am content and feel reasonably comfortable that I will do a good job. However, as a bivocational minister there will be a lot of things expected of me that do not fit in one of those three areas. A good example is leading worship. I enjoy music and love singing. The problem is I am a horrible singer. I know nothing about pitch, keys, or anything else about music. However, more than one Sunday morning I would lead the music in our church when our music leader could not be there. I learned very quickly to step up to the microphone, announce the song we were going to sing, and then step back when we started singing so the microphone wouldn't pick up my voice. I did what Buckingham and Clifton call managing around your weaknesses.

It would be great if we only had to function in the areas of our giftedness, but that is not realistic for a bivocational minister. Work in the areas of your giftedness as much as possible, but don't worry when you have to do things for which you are not especially gifted. God will honor your efforts. However, while you're doing those things be looking for someone else who could do them better. Chances are God has equipped someone in your congregation to do those tasks for which he has not gifted you. Just do not have to have strength in every aspect of ministry in order to excel.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Pastor and church leader conference

There is still time to register for the Pastors and Church Leaders Conference at Campbellsville University in Campbellsville, Kentucky. The conference will occur September 25-26. Keynote speakers are Dr. David Emmanuel Goatley, Executive Secretary-Treasurer of the Lott Carey Baptist Foreign Mission Convention, and Dr. Frank Page, former President of the Southern Baptist Convention. The conference theme is "Servant Evangelism in the 21st Century Church." There will be a number of breakout sessions including one which I will help lead. These sessions are designed to speak to the needs of churches of every size. Registration fees are only $30.00 for the two days. Registration will begin at 1:00 EST on September 25 in the Ransdell Chapel foyer. For more information please go to the university's website or send an e-mail to Please look me up and let me know you are a reader of this blog.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

The big 6-0

Yesterday was an interesting day! I turned 60 years old. I wasn't looking forward to this birthday, but I never dreamed I would spend most of it in bed...with a major stomach virus.

Two days before we had visited our daughter and her family. The following morning our son-in-law called to say that she and three of the kids had a bad case of an intestinal virus. He wanted to know if we were OK. We were until about 3:00 that afternoon. I felt my stomach starting to rumble and knew that things were not going to be good. I was up most of the night and spent the following day in bed. I felt much better this morning, but at times I still have a pain go through my stomach. I've sat around most of the day trying to get my energy back. Not a good way to celebrate a birthday.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Latest book information

I just received word that my publisher has signed a contract with a Portuguese language publisher to produce The Bivocational Pastor in that language. Last year a contract was signed to publish The Healthy Small Church in Korean, but I have not heard if that book was ever released or not. The foreign language publishers have 18 months to release their books after they sign their contracts. It is exciting to know that these books are finding an audience all over the world.

My next book will be released in March 2009. The title of this book is Intentional Ministry in a Not-so-Mega Church: Becoming a Missional Community. This book will explore how to help a small church transistion from being maintance-minded to missional.

Monday, August 25, 2008

A church with a vision

I am using my sabbatical to visit a few churches I would not normally be able to attend. Yesterday I attended a local church of a different denomination that has experienced significant growth in the past decade. When their pastor came 10 years ago the church was averaging about 130 people on Sunday morning. Since then they have relocated to the edge of our community and now average about 700 people in three morning services.

Their praise band was very good, and the worship had an excellent flow to it. There were not a lot of announcements and no dead time in the service. The pastor preached without notes in a conversational style. His message had a solid scriptural base. People were encouraged to come as they were, and most were casually dressed. I attended the earliest service and noticed that many in that service were older. As we were leaving the sanctuary the next crowd was waiting to go in, and I noticed that it was a much younger crowd.

I had a very good worship experience, but the thing that impressed me the most was the clear vision the pastor shared with the congregation. I happened to hear the first of a three part message in which the pastor will lay before the people the future of the church. They intend to grow to 1,400 people by the year 2014. We live in a community of 13,000 people so this is a significant goal for this church. The church will have to address several issues to reach that goal which will be the topics of the remaining two messages in this series.

They currently meet in the fellowship building. I believe they are ready for phase two of their building program which I assume will be a new sanctuary. When they build it they will also have to build new parking. Their current parking is located on the site where they plan to build a new sanctuary. This will be a significant investment, but I have no doubt they will pull it off.

However, their vision is not limited to buildings and parking. He also plans to share a vision for new ministries that will impact our community. I have friends who attend this church, and they are excited to hear what the future of their church will look like.

This is the fastest growing church in our community which has brought criticism from some. Any time somebody is actually doing something they will be criticized by others who usually are not doing anything. This church is focused on reaching new people for Jesus Christ. They are not intentionally trying to pull people from other churches although I know some who have left their church to attend this one. I think there is a very good reason for that: People are attracted to an organization that has a vision for its future.

Few churches have any sense of vision for the future. Each week they open their doors hoping that people will come and something good will happen. Hope is a pretty poor strategy. This pastor and the leaders of the church have sought God's vision for the church, and they have the courage to lay it before the people and challenge them to rise up to it. I firmly believe they will accept the challenge and will achieve it. Our community will be better off because of it.

What is the vision of your church? I left that church yesterday with a clear understanding of where that church is going over the next six years. If I visited your church next Sunday would I know your church's vision for the future? I should.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Aging and ministry

A number of years ago I was told that I should be in the ministry I wanted by the time I reached 55 because it would be very hard to move to another church once I reached that age. After working with church search committees for the past eight years I understand how true that is. Very few churches will consider a person over the age of 55. In fact, some go so far as to advertise they are looking for a pastor between the ages of 35-55. You can often find that criteria listed on some of the popular ministry search web sites.

Do churches really believe that ministers cannot function past the age of 55? I'm sure some churches would argue they do not want a pastor older than that because he or she might retire when they turn 62. That would still give them seven years which is longer than the average pastoral tenure anyway.

Other churches argue they are looking for a pastor with fresh ideas, but that argument doesn't really fly either. I know a lot of pastors older than 55 with a fresher understanding of ministry than many recent seminary graduates. In case you don't know it, most seminaries do not teach cutting edge ministry styles! Many of their graduates may come out of school able to parse Greek verbs, but they don't have a clue how to do ministry in the real world. It takes time and experience to learn those things, and about the time a minister has sufficient experience to minister in the real world churches no longer are interested in what he or she has to offer. Besides, many churches really are not looking for a minister with innovative ideas anyway, and if one was suggested it would likely be voted down by the congregation.

I know a minister in his mid-70's who was recently called by a church to be their pastor. He is providing them excellent leadership based upon a wealth of knowledge and experience, and he is challenging them in ways they have not been challenged for years by much younger pastors.

If you are part of a church search committee I would encourage you to look beyond the birth date on the resumes you receive. You may find that some of your best candidates have a little maturity, and that is not a bad thing for a minister.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Training to win

Although the Olympics is only a few days old the excitement around Michael Phelps continues to grow. With the two gold medals he won yesterday he now has captured more gold medals than anyone else in history, and he's not done yet! He is an amazing athlete.

Now, I have a question for you. Has he earned those medals because he has tried really hard or because he trained for years to put himself in this position? I could try really hard and probably not swim the length of the pool. Phelps would be able to swim the length of the pool by trying real hard but not in record time, and he wouldn't have won any gold medals just by trying. He has spent hours every day for years training for this opportunity. As a result, he is now living his dream.

Another question: Can you and I grow as believers by trying really hard or by training ourselves to practice the spiritual disciplines that will enable us to achieve the kind of transformation in our lives that God wants us to have? Much of the time I seem to believe that transformation and spiritual growth will just happen. If I become convicted that it isn't happening as it should I'll determine to try harder to read my Bible more and pray harder, but it never seems to last.

The apostle Paul tells us we compete for a prize that will never fade away. The prize we are seeking is more valuable than any gold medal, so we should be just as serious about training ourselves to compete as the Olympic athletes. We must discipline ourselves to read the Scriptures, pray, and do the other spiritual disciplines that will lead to spiritual growth in our lives. I encourage you to read Richard Foster's book, Celebration of Discipline, or John Ortberg's book, The Life You've Always Wanted. Ask God to show you the practices that will help you grow spiritually and commit yourself to those practices. It will make a difference in your life.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Where can you find help?

I survived another intensive class at Liberty Theological Seminary and have returned home. The class was very good, but it was good to pull back into my driveway Friday night. Now I have to get everything ready for my next class in about a month. That class looks to be the most difficult one to date.

Last night I had a call from a bivocational minister who was voted in as pastor of his church. He's had a couple of difficult pastorates before this one and wanted to know where he could get some help in learning how to be a better pastor. It's a question I am frequently asked, and the good news is there are a lot more opportunities to find good help than there was when I began my bivocational pastorate in 1981.

A growing number of schools now offer on-line programs that can lead to a certificate or a degree. Campbellsville University now has a certificate program on-line that is ideal for a bivocational minister. Their program provides a good mix of theological education and practical ministry skills. Liberty is now considered one of the top three distance learning schools in the nation, and they offer everything from their home Bible institute to doctoral programs. A number of seminaries now offer dual degree programs that allow someone to earn an MDiv and an MBA or MSW at the same time. This is a great opportunity for someone seeking to be an intentional bivocational minister.

If you are not ready for a formal education program there are numerous workshops and conferences offered, and don't limit yourself to only religious conferences. Classes on computers, public speaking, financial management, etc. are often offered by community colleges at very reasonable costs. Such classes can be very beneficial to a minister. Most denominations and judicatories provide training opportunities for ministers, and these are usually free or at a greatly reduced cost. You may want to talk to your judicatory leader and ask them to have me come in and do one of my workshops for bivocational and small church ministers.

One final option is to find a mentor or coach. Last night I received an e-mail from a bivocational minister who is interested in having me as his coach. It has been my privilege to coach a number of bivocational ministers who felt like they were stuck in ministry or some other aspect of their lives and needed some assistance. Coaching is a very powerful tool, and I highly recommend having your own personal coach. The costs are minimal, and the potential rewards are great.

When I began my ministry I felt that I was pretty much alone. There were few books or other resources written specifically for bivocational ministry. That is not the case today. There are a number of resources to help you in your ministry. The only thing you have to do is decide which ones are best for you and then use them.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

DMin class

I'm here at Liberty Theological Seminary for another DMin class. This class focuses on developing lay people for ministry. Today is our second class day, but if the first day is any indication this should be an excellent class. My wife was able to come to Lynchburg with me so we can enjoy our evenings.

There are 16 students in this class representing various size churches. An exercise yesterday showed that most of us have too few people doing too many jobs, and I think it is a common problem in many of our churches. Certainly, many of our smaller churches have a handful of people doing a number of tasks, and this is not healthy for them or for the church.

One of our challenges as church leaders is to find ways to train more lay people to do ministry. This is not only biblical (Eph. 4), but it will also lead to a healthier church and a growing one.

It's almost time for class to start, so I better go.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008


Much of the first month of my sabbatical has been spent preparing for a couple of DMin classes I'm taking in August and September. The August class is about developing leaders, and the September class is about developing yourself. Both are necessary for effective bivocational ministry.

Bivocational ministers simply do not have time to do all the work that needs to be done in a church. Even if they did, it would not be biblical, and they would be depriving others in the church from the opportunity to use their gifts for ministry. Developing others in the church to do ministry should be one of the top priorities of a bivocational minister. Think about it like this: If you are the only person in the church doing ministry then there is one person doing ministry in one place and any given time. However, if you develop twenty other people in your church to use the gifts God has already given them, and they are doing ministry, your church now has 2o people ministering in 20 different places at a time. Which do you think is better?

It is also important that we continue to develop ourselves. I began pastoral ministry in 1981. I still remember how excited I was to serve God in that way. However, after a while ministry can become routine. The excitement begins to dim. It is very easy for a minister to coast and fall into a rut. Our people may be content with our faithfulness, but deep down we know we could do better.

God calls us to a life of continual growth. We can take the people He's given us only as far as we have traveled ourselves. It is important that we stay on the cutting edge of ministry, but it's even more important that we maintain a close relationship with God. I often say in my workshops that God called us to be something before He called us to do something. Our best ministry will flow out of a growing relationship with God.

Two questions. (1) Are you developing leaders in your church? (2) Are you continually developing yourself through a growing relationship with Jesus Christ?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

New Church Specialties

I am excited to announce that I have accepted a part-time position with New Church Specialties as a Senior Consultant. My primary responsibility will be to develop their ministry to bivocational and small church leaders and the churches they serve. NCS works with over 20 denominations and judicatories to provide consulting, teaching, and coaching services to them and their churches. This is a great opportunity to expand my ministry to bivocational ministers and their churches. You can learn more about NCS at their website.

The research I'm doing on my current sabbatical indicates that most denominations have the same issues with bivocational ministry. Although the denominational leaders with whom I've spoken all agree that bivocational ministry is increasing in their denominations, they have no intentional effort to identify persons who might be called to this ministry. I'm also finding big differences in how training is offered to these persons. Some denominations have very specific requirements for training while others make it available but do not require it. There are also differences between judicatories within the same denominations regarding training. Most denominational leaders also admit they have very poor records concerning their current bivocational ministers. Because there are often various ways a minister can be identified, not all bivocational ministers are identified as such.

It is my hope that my work with NCS can address some of these problems. Nearly everyone agrees that bivocational ministry is growing and that it is difficult to find leaders to fill this need. Believing that God is calling persons to these positions I believe that we must find better ways to help people identify that call on their lives and find better ways to train and develop these persons for ministry.

If I can be of assistance to your church, judicatory, or denomination, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The leadership baton

I have started reading The Leadership Baton and ran across this thought: "At some point, a leader believed in you enough to hand you the baton of leadership."

When I read that I immediately thought of the pastor who first asked if I had ever considered that God might be calling me into the ministry. We were traveling to a conference when I began sharing a thought I had about a sermon. That was when he asked about my sense of call. We discussed it as we drove to the conference and on the return trip. He talked to me about seminary, ordination, and some of what I could expect as a pastor. When we got back to the church he gave me a key to his office so I could use his library to study. Although I did not decide that God was in fact calling me into the ministry until he had left our church, Ron Williams was certainly instrumental in my becoming a minister. He believed in me enough to hand me the baton.

It has been my privilege to be able to encourage some folks to consider that God may be calling them into the ministry. I have also encouraged even more people to remain in ministry when they were going through rough times. These were individuals in whom I could see that they were being used by God. They were persons who seemed to have a passion to serve people and had gifts that God could use to minister to others.

One of the challenges facing the church today is that fewer people are sensing God's call on their lives. Fewer people today are entering pastoral ministry, and many leave soon after graduating from seminary. Even more troublesome is the difficulty in finding people to serve in smaller churches. I am convinced that one way to address this is that those of us in leadership must find others to whom we can pass the baton.

The quote above is true. Most of us are in ministry today because someone believed in us enough to challenge us to prayerfully consider if God might have a call on our lives. Now it is up to us to prayerfully look at people around us who might have the same call on their lives, and then we need to encourage them to consider if God is calling them to ministry. Who will be the next generation of leaders in our churches if we do not do this? To make the question more personal, who will be the next leader of your church if you do not intentionally pass the baton on to someone else?

In my opinion, our first responsibility is to win people to Jesus Christ and lead them into a life of discipleship. Our second responsibility is to raise up the next generation of leaders of the church. It is God who calls a person to this task, but we have the responsibility to help them identify that call and to encourage them to pursue it.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Been away

I'm sorry I haven't posted anything for a few days, but my wife and I have been visiting our son and his family in Philly. We had a great time. Our grandson's baseball team was in a tournement and played Friday and Saturday. Although they ended up losing both games, he played well. Our granddaughter had a dive meet as well, and it was fun watching her do the dives. We had attended a dive meet last year, and it was great to see the improvement she has made. Our youngest grandson scored a lot of points with Granny with his grins and activity. It was a great time. I'll have something to post later this week.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008


Greg Ogden writes in Unfinished Business: Returning the Ministry to the People of God:

An equipping leader is fundamentally a player-coach. A coach has a game plan, a vision of how the game can be played. He or she also is vitally concerned that all the players on the team are valued for their contribution and growing in their giftedness so that they can make the maximum contribution to the whole team.

I think this is a very good description of what a pastor is called to do. Our task is to equip the members of our congregations so they can use the gifts God has given them in ministry. As more of our folks use their gifts the ministry of our churches will expand and impact the lives of more of the people in our communities.

Admittedly, this is a different model than many of our churches are used to. They are used to having a pastor who provided ministry while they sat back and evaluated how well we did. It will take some time to turn around the thinking in these churches so that people begin to see that God has gifted them to do ministry and has called them to that ministry the same as He called those of us who serve as pastors. The old preacher/teacher model that many of us were taught will not be able to help our churches make this shift. That is why I think the player/coach model is a much more biblical model for pastors in the 21st century. I also believe it is essential that those in bivocational ministry adopt this model for ministry. To have an effective ministry to our communities we have to have every member serving as a minister.

Ogden's book can help a pastor lead his or her church into the transition to make this happen.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Why can't we reach young people?

This is one of the most common questions I am asked from the churches I serve and from those who attend my conferences. Although I have answered this question many times, this morning the answer became even more clear to me as I was working on a paper for my upcoming DMin class. In fact, I immediately came to this blog to share it with you while it was still fresh on my mind.

The primary reason many of our existing churches are not reaching younger people is because our structures, our ministries, and our programs are not designed to reach them. The current structures, ministries, and programs in many of our existing churches were designed to reach the parents and grandparents of the young people we are not reaching today. In fact, in many cases these structures, ministries, and programs were designed to reach those older generations and replaced even older systems that were not reaching them. It seems odd to me that we are so resistant to make the changes necessary today to reach the current young people when changes were made many years ago to reach out to us.

I encourage you to closely look at your current church structure, your current programming, and your current ministries and try to determine if any of that would be appealing to young people today. Ask your own teenagers what they would change if the could, but be ready for an honest answer that you may not appreciate! If you don't have teens, borrow some and ask for their input. Ask young families in your neighborhood what they would look for in a church.

Unless we are willing to change the current way we do church we will see more and more young people abandon our churches. If we're lucky they will go to the Community church down the road that doesn't have some of the hang-ups we have about our traditions. If we're not so lucky our young people will abandon the church altogether.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

I need your help

Next week I will begin a three month sabbatical. I'll talk about some of my plans in a future blog, but my project for this sabbatical is to learn how other denominations identify, credential, and train the bivocational ministers who serve in their churches. I will soon be contacting some denominational leaders to discuss this with them, but I also want to hear from you

Who helped you identify your call to bivocational ministry? What training, if any, have you received? Are you licensed, ordained, or does your denomination have another way of recognizing your ministry? These are just some of the questions I would like for you to respond to plus tell me anything else you want to about your journey as a bivocational minister.

As I've stated many times before, bivocational ministry is going to continue to increase. One of my concerns is that we may not have a good idea of how many bivocational ministers we currently have and what their greatest needs are. It seems to me that the first step in resolving this problem is by identifying our bivocational ministers, finding ways to help train them for the ministry God has called them to do, and find appropriate ways to honor their calling.

I would appreciate from hearing from each of my readers on this post. Thanks!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

An intentional investment of time

I know I haven't written much lately. We had a two day staff retreat last week followed by another meeting the next day. Plus, I'm taking a DMin class in August, and all the work for that class has to be turned in on the first day of class. The fact is I've just been too busy the last few days to blog. I apologize for that, but I also know you understand being busy. After all, you are probably a bivocational minister or you wouldn't be reading this blog. So, you know what being busy is all about!

While writing a class report this afternoon I found myself thinking something that I wanted to share with you. It has to do with being more intentional with our time. As I've noted here before, time is the greatest challenge bivocational ministers face. There are so many demands on our time that we can sometimes struggle to know what to do next. One of the problems is that some of our time is wasted on activities or people whose lives we really are not going to impact very much.

As an judicatory minister I have some people who want a lot of my time who are never going to change. There are certain people I know who will call me at least once a month, if not more often, wanting advice or my help on some matter. The problem is that they never take my advice or learn from their mistakes or benefit from any assistance I give them. Like clockwork they will soon call back needing assistance again, and likely as not, for the same type of problem as before.

People call whining about people in the church. One man called from a church that had just forced their pastor to resign. He was upset because, in his opinion, this was all caused by one person who had done that before to other pastors. When I asked him why the church didn't stand up to this person he responded they couldn't do that. The person had too much influence in the church and community. I have to admit I wasn't very pastoral at that point. I told him if the church wouldn't stand up to this person then they would just have to live with it. I wasn't going to interfere.

As bivocational leaders we need to decide if we are going to spend our time doing things that offer little benefit or are we going to invest our time in the lives of people and activities that will make a real difference. The older I get the more committed I am to investing my life in things that are really significant. I want to invest it in future leaders who will soon have the baton of leadership passed on to them. I want to invest it in churches that want to move from a maintenance mindset to a missional one. I want to invest my time in people who are going to make an impact in the world. Finally, I want to invest my time in those who love me the most, my family. I want to be make sure I leave a legacy for my family that will impact them long after I'm gone.

How do you want to spend your time?

Saturday, June 14, 2008

A challenge to help

I spent yesterday working in the home of a retired couple who lost just about everything to recent floods in their community. The American Baptist Men Disaster Relief trailor has been moved into this community, and I was working with three other men removing the hardwood floor from this couple's home. It was long, backbreaking work, and it still isn't finished. Another team will be there today to continue the work and begin removing the drywall. It will take months for this family to return to normal, but they will never be able to replace the personal items such as photos, etc. they lost to the flood waters.

Every house in the surrounding blocks was in the same shape. City streets were basically one lane with all the mounds of ruined carpet, furniture, and other personal items. I commend the city for their work removing these mounds and getting these personal items hauled off. Not only does it help with the repair work that is going on, but people don't have to be reminded of all they lost by looking at it day after day. The city has responded quickly and efficiently and not waited on FEMA and other governmental agencies to come in.

State police were pulling trailors loaded down with water and other necessary items to pass out. A woman from a local bank was walking up and down the street passing out water and soft drinks to the hundreds of workers in the neighborhood. The Mormons were there as well distributing buckets of cleaning supplies. As I was leaving the city after we stopped work I saw a city bus with a large sign saying that people could ride for free. A lot of people are coming together to help rebuild people's lives, and I was glad I could help out a little.

Regardless of the size of your church, there are things you can do in such circumstances. Sometimes people from smaller churches think because they can't put together a large work group that they can't make a difference, but that isn't true. The four of us who worked together yesterday were from three different churches. I know a group of men from an association of small churches who plan to go to this community one day next week to help out wherever they can. I doubt there will be more than 2-3 men from any one church in that group, but I have worked with these men before, and I know they will make a difference in someone's life that day.

You may not be able to physically work, but you could help fund the work others are doing. Our judicatory is receiving money from our churches earmarked to assist the persons affected by the flooding in Indiana. 100% of that money will be used for that purpose. Many judicatories permit persons and churches to designate financial gifts to be given to specific causes. A lot of people in the midwest have been hurt by recent floods, and it won't be cheap to clean up their homes and help return them to normal. Many won't have adequate insurance, and we shouldn't count on the government to provide all the assistance that will be needed either. Just ask the folks in Louisiana.

I think it is up to God's people to rise up to the challenge and help these folks. If you can physically help, that is great. Like me, you may be sore and still the next day, but I guarantee you'll feel good about what you achieved. If you can't physically help, you can help financially, and you can certainly pray for these individuals and the ones who are helping them. God's people can make a difference in the lives of the folks who have lost so much in these floods, and I challenge you to ask God now how He would have you respond.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Churches set up for failure

This afternoon I was contacted by a pastor who had a rough weekend. This bivocational pastor made a decision in a small church that has turned into a firestorm. The decision doesn't matter, but it was a minor decision that would have had no negative impact on the church until some people went on the attack. They insisted the pastor had no right to make a decision; the church had to vote on every decision that was made in their church.

I've been a member of Baptist churches most of my life, and that is the way we are structured. Every member has the right to vote on every issue that may come before the church. Somehow we have determined that Scripture teaches that churches should operate under a democratic form of government. More and more I am realizing that this structure has set us up for failure.

God calls individuals to serve His churches as leaders, but many of these individuals are never allowed to lead. Someone has said that God has called us to save the world, but we can't spend $10.00 without a church vote. Does anyone else see how ridiculous this is? Our churches call persons who have been gifted by God and trained to lead in ministry to be their pastor and then refuses to allow them to use their gifts and training. Pastors are called to lead and grow their churches but refused the authority to do so. Then when the church doesn't grow a group within the church determines it's the pastor's fault and he or she must leave so the church can get a pastor who will grow the church.

A person recently wrote that if he wanted to drive a person insane he would make that person responsible for the success of the organization but not allow him to have any authority. I can't think of a better description of many of our pastors. I also believe this is one of the primary reasons so many of our churches remain so small.

You won't find any of the mega-churches holding business meetings every month to vote on the color of new carpet. Larger churches trust their leaders to make the decisions that will benefit the church and lead to a more effective ministry. Even many mid-size churches will only have an annual business meeting to approve the upcoming budget and the new slate of officers. A Board of Trustees often provide oversight for the financial and legal responsibilities of the church, but the remainder of administrative responsibilities fall to the pastor and staff. This allows the church to respond quickly to the needs of its community. While many of our smaller churches are announcing special-called business meetings in at least three services prior to the meeting so they can form a committee to consider responding to a ministry opportunity, the larger church has already taken steps to meet that opportunity. Then the members of the smaller churches sit back and complain that their church just can't compete with the larger churches in the community. Of course not! Those churches are structured for success while many of our smaller churches are structured for maintaining the status quo.

If you are serving in a smaller church that has overcome this type of controlling structure I would like to hear from you. Please respond to this post so we can discuss the type of structure your church now has and how you were able to lead that change.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Technology blues

This has been a frustrating week with my Internet service. After having intermittant service the past few days I called tech support. They sent a technician over who found that I have a weak signal coming into my house. The signal is strong in their box but by the time it gets to the house it is very weak. They are supposed to come today to bury a new line, but it's been raining so I don't know if they'll be able to do it or not. They have responded very well to my problem, but I have learned how dependent I am on my Internet connection and to technology in general.

When I began my pastoral ministry in 1981 my primary communication tools were the telephone and an old upright Underwood typewriter. Mistakes were corrected with White-out, not a delete button. It's funny to look back on the changes that have occurred since those days.

Many of our churches still function like it was 1981, or 1950, and they wonder why the unchurched think we are largely irrelevant to their 21st century lives. We're still singing the same songs, played the same way, and doing church like we've done it for the past 50 (or more) years. We have an ageless message, but we must continue finding new ways to present that message. Our churches may not always like the new methods, but the church is not to built upon our likes and dislikes. Frankly, I would be just as content to still rely on my telephone and typewriter, but my ministry would suffer if I depended on them to do everything the new technology allows me to do.

I encourage you to challenge your congregations to begin to think creatively how you could present the message of Jesus Christ to your communities in new ways. Everything you try won't always work the way you had hoped,but it is through those failures that you will find the methods that will work. Let me know what new ideas you come up with.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Church hopping

Normally when we think of church hopping we think of people who are always changing churches, but that is not the subject of this post. Today I want to talk about pastors who are always changing churches. These are the individuals who never completely unpack their boxes. Almost as soon as they move into a new parsonage they are looking to see what other churches (larger than the one they just starting serving) are open or about to become open. These individuals change churches every two or three years and sometimes more often than that. They would be quick to complain about church members who frequently move their membership but think nothing about seeking a new place to serve every 2-3 years. Of course, they can rationalize that by claiming that God has opened up a new place of service for them. I sometimes wonder if God is omniscient why He can't decide where these ministers should serve. I just can't see God changing His mind every 2-3 years!

This isn't to say there are not valid reasons why a minister will move to a new place of service. Actually, there are many valid reasons which we do not have time to discuss in this post. I'm talking about the ministers who consistently change churches always moving up the ladder to greater (?) places of service until they finally reach a church that is worthy of their labor. Let me make a couple of brief points to these ministers.

One, churches are growing tired of being abandoned every 2-3 years, and they are taking a careful look at resumes to see how long their prospective candidate stays at a church. When I work with a pastor search committee I encourage them to look hard at this. The best way to predict the future is by looking at the past. I tell them if a candidate has a history of changing churches every 2-3 years they will probably only stay at their church for that length of time. I see a growing number of churches automatically excluding candidates who can't seem to stay put for a time in any one church.

Two, many ministers will retire with 30 years in the ministry and realize they have not enjoyed a 30 year ministry. They had 10 three-year ministries, none of which really accomplished much of any great value. They didn't want to begin any new ministries when they first arrived at the church because they wanted to take time to know the people. By the time they knew the people they didn't want to start any new ministries because they knew they would soon be leaving. So, they did nothing that really made a difference in the life of the church or for the Kingdom of God. Anything good that did happen was almost by accident.

It takes time in one place to see lasting results. In most churches, the pastor doesn't even earn the right to lead the congregation until 3-5 years have passed, and in smaller churches the time frame may be 7-10 years. I want to encourage you to unpack your boxes, settle in to your place of service, and commit yourself to serving these people who have called to as their pastor. Stay there until you know God is calling you elsewhere. Such a commitment will lead to some of the most productive and enjoyable ministry you will ever experience.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Bivocational salary and benefits

In view of the recent economic struggles facing many Americans some of our fully-funded pastors are seeing their salaries being cut or some of their benefits being reduced. According to one recent report, the salaries of the fully-funded ministers in our state decreased last year by almost 2 percent. I know of a few churches who told their pastors the church would have to cut their salaries substantially and they would need to find another job to make up the difference. At least one of those pastors went to another church, and that church is now seeking a bivocational minister.

How has the economy affected the giving in your church? Has the church cut your salary or benefits due to reduced giving? Or, has your church found a way to increase its financial support despite a declining economy? I think we would all benefit from hearing what is happening in our churches, so let us know how it's going for you and your congregation.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Unsettled times

We are living in very unsettled times. The costs of fuel continue to rise driving up the prices of everything else we need. Families are feeling the pinch and having to make hard lifestyle choices. Home foreclosures in America continue at record rates. We remain stuck in yet another war we cannot win that we entered based upon false and misleading information. Drugs and violence continue unchecked and have now infiltrated even smaller communities that used to be relatively free from such problems. The politicians are apparently helpless to do anything to resolve any of these issues, or any other issue for that matter. Business and industry will not address the problems because many of the problems are the result of their greed, and to solve the problems of high fuel costs and other issues would eat into their profits. Science and technology seem to create almost as many new problems as they resolve. Many people today now realize none of the institutions they used to believe would protect them are capable to doing so in the 21st century. Like the individual in one of Jesus' parables, they realize they have built their lives on sand, and the storms of life are now threatening their existence. Some are looking for spiritual answers; they are looking for God but uncertain where they will find Him.

We see this searching every time we enter a book store and read the titles of newly released books. We see it whenever we watch a talk show and hear some new philosophy touted as the cure for people's problems. Books like The Secret sell millions of copies because people are wanting something to believe in. Oprah is now promoting an author who has introduced a new belief system that she believes will save the world. Of course, it's not a new belief system at all. It's the age-old religion that places man at the center of life and leaves Jesus Christ out.

This search for God is providing the church with a great opportunity to present the truth claims, not of some modern-day guru, but of Jesus Christ. One of the challenges we face is that while many people are searching for God they are not searching for Him in our churches. In fact, that may be the last place they would believe they would find God.

Let's face it...the church today is carrying a lot of baggage. Too many of our national leaders have experienced well-publicized moral failures. Too many of our congregations have been more interested in building great buildings rather than helping people build great lives. We have spent too much time fighting one another rather than looking for ways to work together. Too many of us prefer to re-live the 1950's instead of entering the 21st century. Too many of us have adopted an attractional model of ministry (our doors are open every Sunday and we hope you'll join us) instead of a going ministry as we were commanded to do by the Great Commission. We simply have been more interested in sitting in our comfortable pews rather than engaging the world by trying to understand it and being willing to enter it. I could list more baggage, but this is enough to keep many people from believing they would ever encounter God is such an environment.

If we want to truly make a difference in people's lives we must enter the world in which they live. That does not mean we compromise our faith or our values. It does mean we become willing to understand their world, learn to speak their language, and begin to present Jesus Christ to them in ways that will be meaningful to them. It means we find ways to enable them to worship God even if "we've never done it that way before." It means we love them as Christ loves them. Our small bivocational churches can have a great impact on our comunities if we will do these things. I believe these unsettled times have given us a great opportunity. Let's not miss it.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Canada trip

This week I have been in Canada leading the "Healthy Small Church" workshop in four different cities. It has been a tiring schedule, but this has been a great week. The attendance has been strong, and the people attending have had a lot of good questions. Many of the churches in this area are smaller so this subject matter has interested a lot of the church leaders. One of the things that has been so pleasing to me is the large number of lay leaders who have attended the workshops. Pastors are coming with their lay leaders, and I always think that is a good thing. It is always helpful when more than just the pastor hears the information that is shared at a workshop. Tomorrow will be the last workshop, and I'll return home Saturday. I promise I'll start blogging more when I get back.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Clergy misconduct

The news this morning reported a minister in a well-known megachurch has been arrested in an on-line sex sting. This minister thought he was talking to a young girl and drove to a location to meet her. According to the news report the on-line discussion was sexual and inappropriate.

After reading the report I was deeply grieved for the minister, for his family, and for the church he had been serving. I prayed for each one. I also prayed for the persons who will read this story and believe their misconceptions about the Christian faith are true. Every case of this nature has the potential to turn people away from Jesus Christ, and unfortunately, we hear of too many such cases today.

According to one study, approximately 30 percent of clergy persons reported they had been involved in inappropriate conduct with a member of their congregation. That is a staggering number, but it is possible that it is low. Some would never admit they were guilty of such behavior to themselves much less to someone else.

I encourage the readers of this blog to put measures in place to prevent misconduct from destroying your family, your life, your ministry, and the lives of others who would be affected by such behavior. Some judicatories offer workshops to help their clergy develop safeguards in their lives to help prevent such misconduct. I would recommend that you read Karen McClintock's book Preventing Sexual Abuse in Congregations. It is an excellent book that warns of potential situations in a church that could lead to abuse. It also puts the responsibility for the misconduct squarely on the person who is responsible: the clergyperson.

Too often clergy caught in such misconduct try to blame the other person. As the leader, the person in authority, it is your responsibility to avoid the potential for misconduct. Blaming the other person makes them a victim a second time.

Bivocational ministers are no different than other ministers. In this life we are all tempted at times to do things we know we should not do. Be very careful about ever thinking that you could not be tempted. The old cliche is true: There but for the grace of God go I. Let's pray for one another that we all might be strong. Let's pursue holiness in all areas of our lives, and when we fail in some area, let us be quick to pray for God's forgiveness. Finally, let's make sure we've put safeguards in our lives to help us protect ourselves from the temptations that will come.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Pursuing Holiness

In my devotional reading I am currently re-reading The Pursuit of Holiness by Jerry Bridges. Each time I read it I'm reminded of how far short I come in being the person God wants me to be. It's not that I don't pray or read the scriptures; it's just that I know that after 3+ decades of being a Christian I am still a work in progress. Reading this book reminds me how high the bar really is, and while I have come a long way I still have my moments when I come up short. However, Bridges also reminds us that we are to be engaged in the pursuit of holiness. None of us will ever achieve perfect holiness this side of heaven, but we should all be pursuing holiness in our lives. Bridges writes, "God does not require a perfect, sinless life to have fellowship with Him, but He does require that we be serious about holiness, that we grieve over sin in our lives instead of justifying it, and that we earnestly pursue holiness as a way of life." (35-36)

As bivocational ministers we balance so many different things in our lives. We struggle to find sufficient time for our jobs, our ministries, and our families. It becomes easy to ignore God for days at a time. We tell ourselves we'll try to find time to pray later. We'll try to spend time in God's Word before we go to bed; we're just too busy right now. We'll deal with that rather insignificant sin later. Right now we'll just throw up a quick, "Forgive me" prayer as we move on to our next task. Does any of this sound familiar? It does to me because it sounds like the traps I find myself in from time to time.

Reading this book again reminds me that God wants us to deal with those "rather insignificant" sins right now, not later. He wants us to spend time in His Word and in prayer as part of a disciplined life. He wants me to give Him time each day to shape and mold me into the person He has called me to be. It is in that disciplined daily relationship with Jesus Christ that we pursue holiness.

Do you grieve over the times in your life when you come up short of what God intends for you to be? Are there some changes you need to make in your life that will help you pursue a life of holiness? I encourage you to make these questions a matter of prayer.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

A new day

For the first time in 27 years I am not a bivocational minister. We sold our business yesterday, and while there will be transitional items I'll need to address for a few weeks I'm no longer responsible for the management of the company. Quite frankly, I don't think it has hit me yet because I don't feel any different than I did two days ago. I think it will take time to sink in that I can now spend my time on ministry work and not have to divide my time. Of course I will continue to write books and give workshops and seminars, so in a sense I'll still be bivocational, but it will all be ministry related.

This also does not mean that I will now turn my back on bivocational and small church leadership. I continue to have a passion to help those of you serving in those roles. I understand many of the challenges you face, and I want to continue to provide resources that will help you overcome those challenges. I also know from talking to many of you that there are not many people you can talk to who appreciates your ministry. I hope to be able to coach more of you now that I do not have the business to manage.

I wonder how long it will be before this all sets in. All day today I wanted to call in to the business and see how things were going. I did stop in and talk to the new owners for a few minutes to see what questions they had on their first day. I have meetings scheduled out of town for the first three days next week, and that might help me find it easier to pull away from the concerns of managing the business.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008


Each month I send an e-newsletter to persons interested in bivocational ministry. There is no charge for the newsletter, and I never sell or give e-mail addresses to others. If you would be interested in receiving this helpful resource, please respond to this post. Thanks.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Growing need for bivocational ministers

I wonder how many readers of this blog have been thinking about doing bivocational ministry but have never committed themselves to actually doing so. You may be like me three decades ago. I knew God was calling me into the ministry but could not see how it would be possible. I had a family, a job, and no formal ministry training. Finally, God showed me how I could serve a church as a bivocational minister, and I soon became the pastor of Hebron Baptist Church where I spent the next twenty years.

Currently, I have several churches in my area looking for bivocational leadership. I have 2-3 names that I send each of them. There are far more bivocational churches than there are persons to serve as ministers to these churches. It is my belief that God has called persons to serve these churches, but like I was, they can't see how they could do that.

Most judicatory leaders I speak with tell me they have the same problem. If God has been calling you to go into the ministry, I encourage you to contact your judicatory leaders and see what is required in your denomination. Some require some training which they often provide, but many are willing to use persons who feel called of God and are willing to serve.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

My response

A few days ago I published a question regarding church membership that was asked of me by one of our readers. I promised that I would provide the answer I gave that pastor.

I believe God meets each of us where we are in our lives. Some people have the ability to understand far more about God than others do, but God is always willing to meet us at our level of comprehension. This pastor stated that this individual had professed faith in Jesus Christ and had been baptized. Due to learning issues this individual may have a limited understanding of faith, but I believe God accepted this person's level of understanding and honored the statement of faith the person made.

Although this individual may also have a limited understanding of church membership, I would be more than willing to receive this person as a member of the church I pastored. If God can meet us at our level of understanding I believe the church can do no less. I would gladly recommend this person to be a member of the church.

Agree or disagree? Let me hear from you.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Church membership

A reader of this blog recently e-mailed me a question that I thought would be important to share with you and to ask how you would respond. I did request the pastor's permission before sharing his question in this space, and he gave me permission to do so.

This pastor has a person in the church who has limited capacity to understand some things due to a disease. This individual has professed faith in Jesus Christ and been baptized. The parents are strong members of this pastor's church. The individual has requested to become a member of the church, but the pastor was concerned that the individual might not be able to understand what church membership means. This church is also in the process of re-writing its church documents to specify more clearly what church membership means. The pastor asked for my thoughts on this issue.

I'll share my response in a later blog, but I'm interested in hearing from our readers. Would you allow this person to become a member of your church even if the individual might have a limited understanding of what church membership means? If the church did accept this person as a member, how would that affect the re-writing of the church documents intended to strengthen the meaning of church membership? If someone may not be able to understand the purpose of church membership, can they understand enough about Jesus Christ to accept Him as Lord and Savior? Would you consider this person's acceptance of faith in Christ as valid? Would you baptize someone with developmental challenges?

One reason I was interested in posting this question is because we seldom consider such issues in our bivocational churches. I am very familiar with hundreds of bivocational churches in many parts of the country, and I don't know of any, until now, who have had to consider these types of questions. I believe the best time to consider our responses to these issues is before we are confronted with them, so this can be a time of real learning for many of us. I hope to hear from everyone of our readers on this issue.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Healthy Small Church II

Yesterday I had the privilege of leading another workshop on the Healthy Small Church in Palisade, CO. We had another great meeting with several small church leaders attending. Once again, there were a number of good questions and a lot of sharing between the participants.

My wife and I left western Colorado this morning to drive to Cheyenne, WY for the third workshop which will be held tomorrow. During the night a major winter storm hit the mountains creating some really tough driving conditions, but we made it through just fine. We're hoping things settle down before we start home Saturday morning.

One of the things that excites me about this workshop, and the others I have scheduled for this year, is the growing number of judicatories that are seeing the importance of investing in the well-being of their smaller churches. For many years, denominations and judicatories largely ignored their smaller churches, but some are now beginning to see that their smaller churches have much to offer the Kingdom of God, and they are looking for new ways to assist those churches. I believe this workshop is one way to do that. If you are a judicatory leader feel free to contact me for information about bringing this workshop to your small church leaders. If you are a small church leader and believe a workshop on how to help your church become healthier encourage your judicatory leaders to contact me.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Healthy Small Church Workshop

This week I am with the American Baptist Churches of the Rocky Mountains leading workshops on the Healthy Small Church. On Monday we were with 20 small church leaders in Colorado Springs, CO for a great day. It is always exciting to see pastors and leaders of smaller churches coming together to learn new ways of leading their churches.

Today my wife and I drove through the mountains to Grand Junction, CO. We took a more scenic route than my GPS recommended which gave us the opportunity to see part of the country we would not have seen otherwise. For a couple of people who grew up on farms in southern Indiana the mountains were amazing. We saw big horned sheep, hundreds of deer, and two dog sled teams riding through the snow.

Tomorrow we will have our second workshop at a church in Palisade, CO. I understand about 15 people are registered, and I am looking forward to spending the day with them.