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 http://www.UniquelyYou.com. 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 remember...you 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 jechowning@campbellsville.edu. Please look me up and let me know you are a reader of this blog.