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.