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.