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.