Thursday, March 27, 2008

The danger of lonliness

I am currently re-reading a book entitled Coping with Depression in the Ministry and Other Helping Professions by Archibald Hart. I wanted to share a paragraph with my readers because it is one of the dangers of bivocational ministry.

"The lonliness of ministry, although essentially positive, can shape the minister toward being cut off from support systems. It can keep him from having close confidants with whom problems of the work can be discussed. It is a psychological fact that one cannot resolve conflicts or clarify issues simply by thinking about them. Self-talk and introspective rumination with no outside input leads inevitably to distortion and irrationality, whereas talking things over with someone else can help to clarify issues and remove distortions. Every minister needs close confidants - staff, family, other ministers, trusted laypersons in the congregation - to help in this clarifying process. If steps are not deliberately taken to develop these trusting and supportive relationships in each pastorate, the loneliness of leadership responsibility will lead to isolation and a distortion of reasoning - and this spells depression for many ministers."

How did you feel as you read that paragraph? Bivocational ministers can feel very isolated in their work. Our second jobs can keep us from building relationships with others in ministry, and most of the people we work with do not understand the challenges of ministry. If we are able to establish relationships with fully-funded ministers they often will not appreciate the unique challenges of the work we do. There is no question that bivocational ministry can be a very lonely place, and yet the author is right in his warning. Without strong support we do run the risk of distorted thinking and depression.

Do you have a supportive people in your life? Who are they? I think it would be helpful if we shared with one another who we turn to when we need to talk things out.

My primary support is my wife. She has helped me work through many ministry and personal challenges in the nearly 42 years we've been married. The region staff with whom I work is another support. We spend time at each staff meeting discussing any personal or professional challenges we may be having. Each staff meeting includes a case study from one of the staff persons about some issue we are having, and it is always helpful to hear the comments and questions that come from those around the table. I also know that each of them are just a phone call away if I need to talk. In the past I have also made use of a life coach to help me address some challenges, and for a year I met with a pastoral counselor to help me deal with some major issues in my life.

Where do you find your support? I am also very interested in knowing if you feel you have no support.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Church cemetaries

Like many small churches, the church where I served as pastor had a cemetary behind it. Some of the stones marked the remains of persons who had been buried there since the 1800's. There were family plots containing the remains of fathers, mothers, and children. Many of the stones merely contained the names and dates of birth and death while others told stories. Of course, the stories were incomplete, and I never read the more interesting stones without wondering about how interesting the entire story may have been. I occasionally would walk out in the cemetary and read the stones and wonder about the lives of the people who were buried there. I often thought about what it would be like to preach some Sunday using one of the headstones as a pulpit. Talk about an object lesson for a sermon on eternity.

I see some churches where the cemetaries have grown so large that they are no longer behind the church but now surround the church. I'm thinking of one church where you walk among the stones to get to the church's front door. The cemetary is symbolic of the church itself. It is a dying church surrounded by the momuments of those who have died before.

New churches are being built now that will never have a cemetary on its property. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? I recently read an interesting comment on that very question that I want to share with my readers at

Monday, March 17, 2008

High Attendance Sunday

This morning I ran into a friend who is a bivocational minister. We talked about how the church was doing, and he said that he challenged them last Sunday to try to set a record attendance in their church this coming Easter Sunday. He said a member of the church asked what he would like them to do to make that happen. He said to begin spreading the word that after the service on Easter Sunday the church would be voting on raising the pastor's salary by $500.00 a week. He promised that they would see people there on Easter that they never knew were members of that church!

I love it!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Yoked churches

This is my 100th blog! I wasn't sure I would ever do that many, and I do hope you have found at least some of them helpful. Today's blog is seeking input from my readers, so I do hope you will respond with your thoughts.

Due to the difficulty in finding bivocational ministers for many of our smaller churches, some of us have been discussing encouraging some of our smallest churches to share pastors like many smaller Methodist churches do. What do you think of that idea? Would you be willing to pastor two smaller, bivocational churches? How many of the churches in your areas would be interested in such an arrangement?

I would like to hear from some Methodists who may be serving in such ministries to find out how that is working for you.

Let's generate some conversation around this topic because I think it is one we need to discuss.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Church health

In my reading this morning the author (whom I respect and appreciate) wrote that he has a problem with a concern for healthy churches. He believes that the health of a church has little to do with whether or not it is faithfully carrying out the Great Commission. I believe he is seeing church health as the goal and not a product of fulfilling the Great Commission.

My book The Healthy Small Church describes several characteristics of a healthy church one of which is that it is a church that is faithfully taking the Gospel to its community. When you and I go to the doctor for a physical exam our doctor checks numerous things. He or she will not only take our temperature and blood pressure but check our hearing, our eyesight, draw blood for various tests, poke and prod, and at the end of the testing he or she will tell us how healthy we are based on the results of all the tests. Perhaps everything is good except that it is found that our blood pressure is high. Our overall health may be good, but this one aspect needs addressing for our health to be better so a treatment plan is given.

A church is healthy based on a number of things including its faithfulness in carrying out the Great Commission. To the extent that it fails in any of the various areas of church life, it is less healthy. Certainly, if a church is not taking the Gospel to the people it is not a very healthy church.

Church health must never be seen as an end result but as a measurement of many factors of church life. I think it is important for a church to regularly check itself to see how healthy it is and look for areas in which it can improve. The final chapter in my book provides a list of diagnostic questions to help a church check itself in several different areas of church life to determine which areas it needs to improve in order to become healthier.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Pastors and Church Leaders Conference

Campbellsville University will have their annual pastors and church leaders conference on September 25-26, 2008. This year's theme is "Servant Evangelism in the 21st Century." Special speakers for this year's conference will be Dr. Frank Page, current President of the Southern Baptist Convention, and Dr. David Goatley, Executive Secretary-Treasurer of the Lott Carey Baptist Foreign Mission Convention. This promises to be an excellent conference with outstanding speakers and workshops. The first session will begin at 2:00 p.m. I will have more details when they become available, but you should mark your calendar now and plan to attend this conference.