Lifeway recently conducted an interesting study of how pastors spend their time. Not surprisingly, many pastors work long hours, and some struggle to maintain a balanced life. The study found that bivocational pastors typically worked 30 hours a week in the ministry. In some companies that is enough hours to qualify for benefits! Here is a chart showing some of their findings.
Some time ago George Barna surveyed pastors about the most important emphasis in their church as they began a new year. Surprisingly, prayer was listed dead last in their plans for church health and growth. Maybe we shouldn't be surprised because prayer is something many of us talk about a lot more than we practice. However, although prayer should have been first on the list it ranked last. Could this explain the absence of spiritual power in so many of our churches?
Many churches today have eliminated their mid-week prayer meetings, and for good reason. Too often, very few people show up and, even more often, the prayers that are lifted up are weak and lack faith and focus. Many prayer meetings have turned into another Bible study with a brief prayer tacked on at the end. These could hardly be called prayer meetings. They certainly do not resemble the prayer meetings we read about in the book of Acts when God's power shook the very place where the disciples were meeting.
Ragardless of the size of your church, I am convinced that until we recapture the priority of prayer in our churches we will never be the church God intended. Planning and programs are all important and have their place in the life of the church, but these must never replace prayer as the primary means of experiencing God's blessings on our work. For much of my pastoral life I was too focused on planning and programs, and I must confess that I often failed to give prayer the priority it should have had in my life and ministry. I deeply regret that today and would give anything to relive those early days of ministry. I can't, but I hope to encourage you to not make the same mistake I did.
As you begin a new year of ministry, make prayer a priority in your life and in the life of your church. Invite people to become part of a pastor's prayer team and meet with them regularly to bathe everything you are doing in prayer. Spend sufficient time in personal prayer that you sense God's guidance in your work. Pray down God's blessing on your family and your ministry. Refuse to let the challenges of life and ministry detract you from your commitment to pray. I believe if you will do this one thing you will see a major difference in your own ministry and in your church at the end of 2010.
I want to share with you some of the books I read in 2009 that I found to be excellent and that I would highly recommend to anyone involved in church leadership.
Fusion by Nelson Searcy. This was my favorite book of the year by far and one that should be required reading by every church leader interested in attracting guests to his or her church and maintaining a relationship with them once they have come. I have recommended it to a number of people who found it as helpful as I told them it would be.
Turn Your Life Around by Tim Clinton. Life doesn't always work out the way we think it should. When that happens, and it will to each of us, we can begin to lose heart and start down a path of despair and hopelessness. Even ministers are not exempt from such pain. This book describes that path and shows the way to healing and wholeness. Not only will you find this book personally helpful when you become troubled by life's disappointments, you will find it a rich resource when you are ministering to others in that condition.
Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. The subtitle of this book is A Rogue Economist Explains the Hidden Side of Everything, and that should give you a glimpse of what this book is about. Levitt asks questions that most people would never think to ask such as "Why do drug dealers still live with their Moms?" and "What do schoolteachers and sumo wrestlers have in common?" He not only asks such questions, and more, in this book, but he finds answers to them through economics. It is a fascinating look at our culture, and to be a successful minister today we must be able to exegete our culture as well as exegete the Scriptures.
The Amazing Law of Influence by King Duncan. The author believes that one person can make a difference and that small changes can trigger major transformations. If you are in a position of leadership I hope you also believe that. This book shows how to be a person of influence and how to introduce small changes that will make a difference. It's worth reading the book just to read one story that occurred in the church Duncan attends. After installing video screens in the sanctuary a lady complained to the pastor, "Reverend, if God were alive today, He would turn over in His grave at the changes in this church!"
Wide Awake by Erwin McManus. Too many people spend their lives sleepwalking. This book challenges us to wake up, rediscover the dreams God has for our lives, and begin to live out those dreams. McManus challenges the reader to realize that the future is not waiting for us; it is waiting within us. We need to begin each day excited and determined to fulfill the purpose for which we were created.
I read many other good books this year, but these are my top five for 2009. I think you'll find they will not only benefit you personally, but they will also give you some important ministry insights that you will find helpful as you lead your church in the coming year. If you decide to read any of them, please let us know your thoughts on the book.
I pray that you and your family had a very enjoyable Christmas. For the first time in several years our son and daughter were able to be here with their families for Christmas. My wife fixed way too much food for dinner (which was nearly all consumed), and we had a great time exchanging gifts and memories. There has been much laughter in our home during the past three days. Now, everyone has returned to their homes, and life is returning to normal. For me, that means it is time to start thinking about about the upcoming year.
Our judicatory has a theme for 2010 called "1010 in 2010." We are challenging our churches to have 1010 baptisms in 2010. We are making evangelism an emphasis in the new year. I think it should be the emphasis in all our churches every year, but let's be honest...it isn't always. For too many of our churches the emphasis is on survival. I don't think that is the right emphasis because I'm not sure that God cares whether or not a particular church survives or not. I believe He is passionately interested in whether or not our churches are on mission with Him, and that means at the very least that we are seeking to lead people into a personal relationship with Him. If one church isn't interested in doing that He will raise up another church that will.
The Great Commission and The Great Commandment should be the focus of everything a church does. The two work hand-in-hand. We cannot earn the right to share the good news of the Gospel if we do not love people and allow them to experience that love. I want to challenge you today: How will your church intentionally do that in 2010? What intentional steps or actions are you planning for 2010 to take the Gospel into your community in new ways? Have you set a goal of the number of people you want to see come to a personal relationship with Christ in 2010? Do you have goals set for your church and for yourself? If you are a leader in your church, the members of the church won't make anything a priority that isn't a priority in the life of the leader.
I encourage you to look at your community and determine the best ways you could show the love of Jesus Christ. As you begin doing that you can then begin to ask God how you can share the hope found in the Gospel to those whose lives you are touching. Faithfully and intentionally doing these two things can bring transformation to people as they begin to experience a personal relationship with Christ, and that can make 2010 a very good year.
I have to admit that for many years I didn't like the Lord's Prayer, especially when it was repeated in a church service. It seemed too mechanical. I always felt most people were just repeating words rather than praying. I still feel that way at times, but I have come to appreciate this prayer in my own private devotional time.
The Lord's Prayer is the perfect prayer in many ways. It includes worship as well as petition. It addresses our own personal needs and acknowledges that there is a larger Kingdom that has needs as well. It asks God for assistance as we face the temptations that come into all our lives. It is also short which means that it can be quickly repeated at any time. I have started using the Lord's Prayer in a couple of ways in my own daily walk with God.
Every morning before I get out of bed and every evening when I lay down I silently pray the Lord's Prayer. I do have to admit that I often struggle in the morning because I'm usually wanting a cup of coffee before I try to do anything, but on my better mornings I begin the day by voicing this prayer. I hardly ever miss a night when I don't pray this before going to sleep. What this does is to help me focus on God as the first and last thing I do every day. It is a wonderful way to begin and end each day. It helps put the day in perspective for me.
The second way I use the Lord's Prayer is as a way to help me stay centered during the day. Bivocational ministers live very busy lives, and it is very easy to forget that God wants to be a part of all we go through. Praying the Lord's Prayer at various times during the day helps me focus again on God in the midst of my busyness. I can pause for a moment and talk to God asking once again for daily bread and voicing my praise for who he is and for all he has done in my life.
I encourage you to try making this prayer a part of your daily time with God. Of course, this isn't the only thing you will pray each day, but it can be a great way to get the day started and a great way to end each day. If you want a good resource that talks about the Lord's Prayer I would recommend Praying the Lord's Prayer for Spiritual Breakthrough by Elmer Towns. I plan to read it again in 2010.
One of my goals for 2010 is to help persons who have been called to bivocational ministry recognize and respond to that call. Nearly every Protestant denomination is seeing a growing number of smaller churches that are unable to find qualified pastoral leadership. Studies consistently show that many seminary trained pastors are not interested in serving in smaller churches. There are a number of reasons for that reluctance, but they all result in smaller churches finding it harder to find pastors. One of the things I believe is that this problem has not caught God by surprise. I am convinced he is and has been calling people to bivocational ministry so they can serve these smaller churches. The challenge for us is identifying that call on a person's life.
Right now I know an individual who is struggling with God's call on his life. He has a very good career, and feels that when he retires he wants to enter the ministry. Currently, he preaches in churches in his community when pastors are away, but he knows he is called to do more. His struggle is whether or not he is called to be a bivocational pastor now or to use this time before his retirement to further his theological education and serve as a fully-funded pastor when he does retire. To complicate this issue even more, he wonders if his company may be planning to downsize in the near future and if that will cost him his job. These are questions only he can answer; the good news is that he knows he is called into the ministry.
You might be asking how he knows that, but the real question you're concerned about is how can you know if God has called you into the ministry? As someone told me years ago when I was struggling with my own sense of call: You just know that you know that you know. I did not know what my call to ministry would look like, but I had no doubt that God had called me to ministry. Virtually no one close to me supported me when I announced that God was leading me into the ministry, and some in my family were strongly against it. That did not stop me because I knew that I knew that I knew that God was leading me into the ministry. What were the indicators to me that God had a call on my life? There were several.
The first is that I recognized that I had some spiritual gifts for ministry, and these gifts were confirmed by others. Soon after being saved I felt an urge to become involved in some type of ministry, but I didn't know what I could do. I ended up serving as a mid-week teacher in our church of pre-schoolers. While their parents attended Bible study my wife and I taught this class about mission work around the world. I was a new Christian and didn't know much, but I figured that with the teacher's book I could stay at least one week ahead of pre-schoolers. I taught that class for a year before being asked to teach a young adult Sunday school class. It became obvious rather quickly that God had given me teaching gifts. I also found that I had other gifts as well, and when I approached our pastor about being licensed to preach, he agreed that he saw the same gifts in me. The church also affirmed those gifts and my call to ministry.
Second, I had a burning desire to minister. That pre-school class was normally led by our women's organization, but they had no one who wanted that responsibility. When I heard they needed someone to lead it I volunteered. I felt I had to do something even if it was making mistakes. God had given me a hunger for ministry, and I was willing to do anything to satisfy that hunger. After I started preaching in churches I would become upset if I didn't have the opportunity to preach for several weeks. One time, a friend and I rented a building at our local fairgrounds for a revival. We paid for the building, set up the chairs, bought advertising, arranged for some special music groups, and held services there for a week. I preached three nights, and my friend preached three nights. I had to preach even if I had to pay for the opportunity.
Third, I had a desire to make a difference for the Kingdom of God. God had done so much for me that I did not want to waste my life. I wanted to see people's lives transformed as God had transformed me. I couldn't not be a minister.
Some of you reading this are pastors. I want to encourage you to begin looking at some of the leaders in your church. Could God be calling some of them into the ministry? I encourage you to approach this question prayerfully because your response at this point could be critical as to whether or not those leaders respond to that call. I am in the ministry today partly because a pastor asked me if I had ever felt God might be calling me to the ministry. I had to admit to him that I did think that at times although I had never admitted it to anyone before then. His simple question and affirmation led me to say yes to the plan God had mapped out for my life. You may have people in your church who are just waiting for someone to ask them the same question.
I believe God has more than enough people called to fill every pastorate in the land, but we have to challenge people to respond to that call. You and I cannot call anyone into the ministry. All we can do is to challenge people to listen for God's call on their lives and respond to it.
I have written on this blog before about my concern about the libraries of many bivocational ministers. As I visit these ministers in their offices and notice the books they have on their shelves I am often appalled at the lack of good books on theology, ministry, leadership, and spiritual development. It is not uncommon to see a dozen or so books that are woefully dated with little to help a minister in the 21st century. Perhaps it is because I enjoy reading so much, but I do not see how some of these bivocational ministers are able to effectively serve their churches with the resources they have. In 2010 I encourage you to determine some resources you need that will help you grow in your ability to better serve your churches. I keep an on-going list of such resources, and when I run across a reference to a book or other resource that I think will be beneficial to me I write it on the list. Then, when I know I'm going to a bookstore I take that list with me so I can check out the book. Currently, there are seven books on my wanted list for 2010, one of which I recently purchased.
Good books are expensive. but it's important to see them as investments, not expenses. Good resources are investments into your life and ministry. By the way, your church should provide you with a book allowance that will help you pay for the books you need. When I was a bivocational pastor my church gave me $400 a year for books and resources. I spent that and more every year. Your development as a minister benefits them, and they should be willing to pay for that. However, even if they refuse, you still need to invest in yourself and seek out those resources that will be most helpful.
There are a number of ways to buy books that can save you money. I find that amazon.com and CBD can often be less expensive than local bookstores. This is especially true if you buy your books from Amazon's used book sellers. I have recently bought a number of books from those sources and found some really good deals. I bought a couple of books two weeks ago at the Salvation Army for $2.00 each, and these were books I had been interested in reading but just wouldn't pay full price for. I usually check out their book racks every couple of weeks to see what might have been donated. Each year our local library has a book sale, and nearly every year I walk out of there with a stack of books that were bought for virtually nothing. My greatest find at the library book sale was the two volume Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament by Harris, Archer, and Waltke. This set retails for around $75.00, and I bought it that day for $1.00. Nearly every community has used book stores, and if your area has a university or seminary there are probably used book stores that cater to students. When I was a Bible college student I went first to such stores to see if I could buy my textbooks. Only if they didn't have them did I go to the school bookstore.
I have decided to sell some of my library on e-bay. Because my primary ministry has changed from pastor to judicatory leader I simply don't need some of my books any longer, and I think they could be more helpful to someone still in pastoral ministry than they are sitting on my bookshelves gathering dust. As I get closer to retirement age it makes sense to begin getting rid of some of these books as well. Besides, my seven bookshelves are nearly full, and I need the room for new books!
We opened a store on e-bay at http://stores.shop.ebay.com/Ellies-Grace where we will sell these books as well as Boyd's Bearstones and other items. My wife and I had an arrangement for many years: She wouldn't say anything about the books I bought, and I wouldn't say anything about the Boyd's she bought! We both feel it is time to begin parting with our collections. Maybe if you go to the site and buy your spouse a gift you'll be able to buy some books for yourself! These books will be in good shape and priced right for any minister to be able to buy. There are only a few items currently available, but more will be added daily as we begin to clear out some of the things we have accumulated over the years.
What kinds of books should you be looking to buy this year? Every pastor needs books that will help in sermon preparation, and that includes books on theology as well as commentaries, Bible history books, and, for many bivocational ministers, books on how to prepare and deliver sermons. You need to buy books on leadership, both pastoral and secular. There are many transferable concepts from secular books that can be used in ministry. Books on church history can be helpful in understanding what the church has experienced in the past. I read a couple of books this year on the Puritans and found them enlightening and inspiring. Autobiographical books on Christian leaders are beneficial. Sometimes we put these people on pedestals and think they never had to go through some of the things we've experienced in ministry. Reading some of these books will change that thinking real fast, and we'll gain a new appreciation for their accomplishments. Reading books on new trends in ministry is a must as is reading about the culture in which we live. Those of us in ministry must be able to exegete our culture as well as Scripture if we want to effectively reach this culture for the Kingdom of God. I would also recommend occasionally reading something you know you will not agree with. It's helpful to understand other's viewpoints and it helps solidify your own beliefs as you internally challenge your writer's perspective. Many ministers fail to read devotionally for their own personal spiritual growth, and I challenge you to find some devotional books for your reading in the new year. Don't settle for some of the fluff that calls itself devotional but look for some of the classics that will really help you go deeper in your walk with God.
Please invest in yourself in 2010. God has given you the tools for ministry, but it is up to you to keep those tools sharp. Make 2010 a time of personal growth and spiritual development.
The auction of our former business is over, and it was very disappointing. We knew it was a speciality sale that would primarily attract persons in the same line of work, but we never anticipated the low turn-out. It was truly a bargain-hunter's dream. We let the property go for much less than we planned just to get out from under the mortgage and other expenses of owning commercial property that is no longer producing income. The sale was a disaster financially.
After people left with their purchases we returned home and began to discuss what happened. So many people were praying for a successful sale. I wish I knew why it didn't happen, but at this point I don't. Oh, I can give all the theological reasons why God doesn't answer our prayers just the way we ask, but sometimes when it's so personal those answers don't seem to help much, at least not when things are so fresh. It's like a family wondering why a loved one didn't recover from cancer even though so many people prayed for healing. You can know the theological reasons, and even believe them to be true, but at the time it doesn't help much. You still hurt. Right now, we're hurting.
This doesn't mean I'm going to turn my back on God or doubt the power of prayer or His goodness. It does mean that for now I'm not going to understand why things turned out the way they did, and that's OK. I am not God, and that means I'm not always going to understand everything God understands. Despite my lack of understanding, I still have my faith in God and in His goodness. He has proven Himself too faithful in the past for me to doubt Him now because of an event that happened a few hours ago. One day I will understand, and until then I will continue to trust Him and His grace.
I want to thank everyone for your prayers and your support. They have meant much to us.
Last week I completed my DMin thesis on "Coaching Bivocational Ministers for Greater Ministry Effectiveness." It has been submitted to my mentor and reader, and I expect there will be rewrites in my future after the first of the year. Needless to say, it is a relief to have completed the first draft. It was a joy to coach the five bivocational ministers as part of the project. Getting to meet these individuals and learn about their families and ministries was a blessing, and being able to help them find ways to work through some challenges was an even greater joy. This has been both a learning adventure and a very enjoyable time in my ministry.
I find it interesting that I am starting to hear from others who are writing their DMin theses on bivocational ministry as well. As I was doing some research I did not find many theses on this subject, and I think it is a positive that people are exploring this ministry and addressing some of the challenges and advantages that we bivocational ministers face. I believe it demonstrates a growing awareness of the importance of this type of ministry, and that can only be a positive thing for the church.
If you know of doctoral studies that have explored bivocational ministry I would like to know about them. I would especially like to know of those that can be downloaded on the Internet. I haven't been able to find many, but perhaps you know of some. I would like to read some of the research others have done on this topic.
I mentioned in an earlier post that we will sell our former business at auction this Saturday. For the past few weeks I have been very busy trying to get things ready for the sale. This business had started in 1962 so you can imagine how much there was to go through. I have found some amazing things in the shelves and tucked away in corners. I found two new motors still in their boxes that are for air conditioners that haven't been made in probably 30 years. I found files in filing cabinets from back in the 60s and 70s that had absolutely no value to anyone. Some shelving back in the warehouse was filled with dust balls that were so thick I had to wear a mask to vacuum the shelves. The auctioneer told me to throw nothing away unless I knew it was simply trash because someone would buy it. The motors are ready for sale, but I've still hauled three truck loads to the city dump and have a fourth load ready to go as soon as we finish cleaning today.
As I have worked over there I have thought about our personal lives. How much junk have we accumulated over the years that have no value to us? I think it is very telling how many storage facilities are going up so people can store things that they can no longer get in their garage or attic. I wonder how much of that stuff is really important enough to pay someone to store, or is it that we just can't stand to part with our things?
But, I'm not really talking about material things in this post. Actually, I'm wondering how much junk we keep inside that have no value. How many of us continually review old wounds that others have caused us? How many of us remember harsh, hurtful words that were spoken to or about us? How many of us still recall the time when a trusted friend or family member hurt us deeply? How often do we still think about how we might get even with someone for the pain they caused us? How many of us harbor anger towards God because our lives didn't turn out the way we had hoped? How many pastors hold anger against deacons or others in the church that have created so many difficulties for the pastors and/or their families?
I read once when a friend of Corrie ten Boom was trying to remind her of a hurt someone had caused Corrie. Corrie kept saying she didn't remember, but her friend replied that she had been so hurt by the event that she must remember it. Finally, Corrie answered, "No, I distinctly remember forgetting that event." In the Lord's Prayer we ask God to forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.
Many of us might be helped if we began a thorough cleaning of our lives. My guess is that many of the material things you have laying around the house could be pitched without any change on your daily lives. But, more important is that there is probably a lot of stuff within us that could also be eliminated, and this would have the potential to add much to our lives. Maybe it's time to take the vacuum to the dark corners of our lives and begin to clean up the junk we've allowed to accumulate. Before you do, ask God to illuminate those corners so you can more clearly see what is there that needs to be removed. He'll gladly do that, and your cleaning will be much more thorough.
In 1981 Charles Swindoll wrote a great book titled Improving Your Serve. On page 29 he quoted a now-famous statement by Wilbur Rees that I have never forgotten.
I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please, not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep, but just enough to equal a cup of warm milk or a snooze in the sunshine. I don't want enough of Him to make me love a black man or pick beets with a migrant. I want ecstasy, not transformation; I want the warmth of the womb, not a new birth. I want a pound of the Eternal in a paper sack. I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please.
Today I met with a pastor who is leaving his church after a five year ministry. I wanted to talk to him about what he believed his church needs to do to move forward, and his answer sounded similar to what other pastors have told me. He said the people in that church needs to grow spiritually as disciples. Like many, including the one Rees was describing, they want a God who will care for them and serve their needs, but they are not interested in a God who wants to transform them into fully-functioning disciples. This may be the critical piece that is keeping our churches from truly being the church in our society.
In my book, The Healthy Small Church, I talk about the importance of spiritual leadership, and I am including both pastoral and lay leadership. A church will reflect its leadership. If the leadership is growing spiritually the congregation will often be growing spiritually, but if the leadership isn't growing it's unlikely the congregation will grow. If the leadership is satisfied with $3 worth of God so will the congregation.
How would you describe your own spiritual growth for 2009? Do your actions and words reflect growth this year? What about your lay leadership? Are they growing spiritually and leading others in spiritual growth? If you are relatively pleased with your answers to these questions, what can you do in 2010 to improve in this area? If you are not at all satisfied with your answers, what changes do you need to make in your own life and in the church's programming to intentionally help people become disciples of Christ?
Christ did not come just to make us comfortable. He came to transform us completely so that we would reflect Him to all who observed our lives. Our Christianity should impact the way we live, talk, and think. If we are truly growing as disciples it should be seen in the way we treat our spouse, our children, those we work with, those we worship with, and those we do business with. Every aspect of our lives should be impacted by our growing as disciples, and if there are some areas that are not impacted it is an indication that something is lacking in our spiritual development.
This morning I was interviewed by Marty Guise from KSIV, a Christian radio station in St. Louis. The focus of the interview was my book The Healthy Small Church. Marty had several questions pertaining to healthy small churches that he thought his listeners would find helpful. I don't know when this interview will air, but those of you in the St. Louis area should check it out and plan on listening.
It is exciting to me that there is a growing interest in small church and bivocational ministry. Large churches and mega-churches have their role to play in the Kingdom of God, but so do the smaller churches. For a long time it seemed the smaller churches were being ignored as if they had nothing to offer the Kingdom, but that attitude is beginning to change. People are starting to understand that smaller churches can make a signficant impact on their communities.
Those of you who lead smaller churches should be encouraged. Your work is important, and that work is being noticed by a lot of people. It doesn't matter if you are called to serve a small church or a large church as both are equally valid calls on one's life. What's really important is that God has equipped you with the gifts to enable you to do the work He has called you to do. As each of us does his or her part the entire body of Christ is strengthened and people are impacted by the life changing power of God.
When I began my pastoral ministry I did so without any formal education beyond high school. After a few months I realized there was a lot about ministry I didn't know and began to look for a way to receive some education. At that time there was no such thing as an on-line education. I was able to receive a good education, but it was very difficult to do so. I had to juggle a full-time job, a bivocational pastorate, my coursework, a 200 mile commute each day I had classes, and my family responsibilities. Today, with the advantage of on-line courses, it is much easier for a bivocational minister to get the education he or she needs to better fulfill the call of God on his or her life. In this posting I want to introduce you to the on-line program Campbellsville University offers that bivocational ministers should find very appealing.
First, as a matter of editorial honesty...I am a member of the Church Relations Council at Campbellsville University. I am not an alumni, but I have grown to appreciate this school and the work it is doing in preparing young people for whatever their future has for them. The individuals who lead and work at CU are people of Christian character and integrity who take seriously their responsibility to raise up young men and women with similar qualities. The leaders are also people who appreciate and value the work of bivocational ministry. In fact, several campus leaders are bivocational ministers of area churches.
The school recently implemented a 27 hour course of study that leads to a Certificate of Christian Ministry. This is an excellent opportunity for a bivocational minister seeking to learn more about the Bible and ministry. It can be taken entirely on-line so you never have to leave your home for any classes. This program can actually be completed in only one year.
For those with a college degree Campbellsville also offers their Master of Theology on-line. This is a 39 hour program that is offered in nine week terms. It can be completed in as little as 18 months.
As you think about what you would like to accomplish in 2010 I encourage you to consider investing in your education. Bivocational ministers come from a wide variety of backgrounds and educational levels. If you are one who has never had the advantage of a formal education, this is an opportunity you should seriously consider. Just think...by the end of 2010 you could have earned your Certificate of Christian Ministry or be well on your way to your master's degree. One of the things I have learned over the years is that any investment you make in yourself can never be lost. My retirement accounts have taken a beating over the past several months, but the money I have invested in my education is still providing me with great returns. I think you'll find that to be true for you as well.
Go to www.campbellsville.edu/school-of-theology and check out the information on these two programs. Call Dr. John Hurtgen, the dean of the school of theology, and talk to him about your interests in one of these opportunities. If you will, I think you'll feel very good about your decision when 2010 draws to a close.
I realize that many of our readers serve non-denominational churches, so this question may not pertain to you. One of the complaints I sometimes hear from bivocational ministers is the lack of denominational support they receive. This lack of support involves training offered during their regular working hours, training and resources that are not applicable to their church settings, and assistance in finding churches to serve among other issues. One bivocational pastor told me he had served a church in an association for five years and had never met the judicatory leader of that association. Now, I realize that blade cuts both ways, and I wonder how much of an effort this pastor had made to meet this associational leader, but still one would think that in five years there would have been some contact from the association office.
I would be very interested in hearing feedback from you regarding the support you feel you receive from your denomination or judicatory. In what ways have they supported you, and how could they have better supported you or your church?
I have made the decision to shut down my web site after the first of the year. Since starting this blog I've found it difficult to keep both the blog and the web site updated as often as they should be. With the monthly e-newsletter also demanding my time I decided something had to go. Since the web site costs money each month and really didn't generate enough book sales to pay for itself, and since it is much easier to update this blog and the newsletter, it became a no-brainer which one would have to go. As a result, I will now make my books available for purchase on this blog. You can see them listed in the left hand column.
Each book is reduced from the normal retail price you would pay at most Christian book stores. This will help compensate for the shipping charges. Unfortunately, I am not equipped to take credit cards at this time so purchases will have to be paid for by check or money order. If you are ordering only one book, please add $3.00 to the cost of your order for shipping. If you want more than one book, contact me before ordering so I can give you a price for the shipping. There is a significant reduction for shipping on quantity orders. If you are interested in ordering a book please contact me for the address to mail your order and check.
My books can also be ordered from amazon.com, CBD, or other on-line book stores. They can also be found in many Christian book stores. Each of these books have been written to provide a useful resource for bivocational and small church leaders. One of the enjoyments I've had is to see the number of pastors who, after reading one of the books, orders copies for each of their lay leaders and begins to lead them through a systematic study of the book. That's when I know my efforts are adding value to these leaders.
Without the distraction of the web site I hope to update this blog more often. We now have several followers and I know there are many regular readers who haven't signed up yet as followers. I would encourage those readers to do so as it certainly encourages me to know there are people who regularly follow this blog. Please feel free to let me know if there are specific items you would like addressed on this blog as it is written to benefit you.
This morning I was surprised to find out someone had hacked into this blog and left comments on all 229 posts I have written. Because the messages are in some form of Oriental writing I have no idea what they say or what they are promoting. I now have to take the time out of my holiday to delete each of these comments. As a result of this I have made some changes on how people may comment on my postings.
Each comment will be reviewed by me before it is posted on the site, and everyone will have to complete a word verification before leaving a post. This will help prevent spammers from doing what happened to me last night, and me having to take the time to delete inappropriate comments from the site.
I am sorry this is necessary. My hope for this site has always been that it would provide bivocational and small church leaders with an open forum to talk with one another and share their thoughts and ideas. Although that hasn't happened as often as I would have liked, at least the opportunity is there. That can still happen, and I hope it does. You will just have to take an extra step or two before being able to leave your comments.
It is a shame that the actions of a few people who have nothing better to do with their lives than to disrupt the lives of others make this step necessary, but I guess it was inevitable that this would be necessary at some time.
Everyone have a happy Thanksgiving with your families!
2009 has been a challenging year personally for me in many ways. Like many people, we have struggled with finances although we have been able to finish each month in the black. There have been some relationship issues with family members. Trying to complete my DMin work has been very difficult this year, but I think I'm still on track to graduate in May 2010. I've enjoyed the workshops I led this year, but I find the travel has become more tiring and less enjoyable. I could go on listing more frustrations, but you have your own list and are probably not intereted in reading mine.
As I was praying yesterday I began to think about the Thanksgiving season, and I realized how truly thankful I am to God despite all the challenges and frustrations I've experienced in the current year. He has faithfully walked with me through every event as He promised He would. I've not always enjoyed how some have turned out, but I can honestly say that I am trusting Him, and I have to believe God isn't finished. Some outcomes have not been decided, and I have to admit at times they keep me awake at night, but I am still trusting God. My wife and I talked the other day how we frequently find ourselves saying in our prayers, "God, I believe. Help my unbelief." And that's OK. God understands our imperfect faith. Jesus didn't say we had to have great faith. He said we need to have faith the size of a mustard seed in a great God, and I find that tremendously helpful right now. There are many challenges and concerns in my life right now, but I can be thankful to God that He is with me in the midst of every one of them, and He will see me through.
I am also thankful for you. Those of you who serve as bivocational ministers and those who support those ministers in your denominations are doing a special work. I know how difficult it can be at times, and I certainly understand those times when you wonder if it is worth the difficulties that comes with such ministry. I've been there many times, and I can assure you it is worth it. Despite the numerous challenges of bivocational ministry, there is a joy in such ministry that cannot be found anywhere else. Keep your focus on God, and you will see Him bring you through every challenge you will face.
God bless each of you this Thanksgiving season. Enjoy the holiday with your families.
As some of you may remember, about a year and a half ago we sold a family business. Last month we got it back. The new owners couldn't make it go and were not able to make their payments. When I sold it I never thought I would ever have to deal with it again, but things don't always go as planned. The business has been closed, an auctioneer has been contacted, and a sale date is set for mid-December. We will have a complete liquidation auction which means that I have a lot of work to do in the next three weeks. This business has been open since 1962 so you can imagine all the accumulated items we are uncovering. Everything has to be prepared for auction, so just about every spare minute is being spent working on that. That is not how I wanted to spend my time, but things don't always go as planned.
This is a concept you soon learn in ministry as well. You may have big dreams about what ministry will look like, but things don't always go as planned. Despite your best plans and efforts you will run into roadblocks that will cause those plans to change. People you thought were supportive of your efforts will occasionally begin to question your leadership. Funds will unexpectedly dry up preventing some of your ideas from happening. Marriages you thought were strong enough to weather any storm will begin to break up. Sermons that you thought would hit a home run will begin to bore even you about half-way through your delivery. In ministry, things don't always go as planned.
As you read the Bible you will quickly find that God's people have found that to be true throughout history. Israel was God's chosen people, but they found that did not prevent them from struggling at times under various oppressors. The religous leaders of Jesus' time thought they had all the answers, but when they encountered Christ they learned they didn't even understand the questions. After closely following Jesus the disciples were convinced this was the Messiah, but when they saw Him hanging on the cross they began hiding behind locked doors. Things were not going as planned.
Life and ministry often takes us down roads we had not planned to take. Each of us will encounter numerous disappointments in life, and sometimes we may even question whether or not it is worth trying any more. Believe me, it is. Time and again you will find yourself overcoming challenges you were not sure you could overcome, and when you get to the other side you will be amazed at how good it feels. No, things don't always go as planned, but God will always have the final answer. The key is to keep our eyes on Him and watch how He leads us through those challenges. Be encouraged, my friend. God is faithful, and you will come through those times when things don't go as planned.
This past week I led four days of workshops throughout Pennsylvania for about 100 small church leaders. As usual, we had a great time, and it was wonderful meeting so many bivocational and small church pastors and lay leaders.
In one of the sessions I talk about the importance of having healthy pastoral leadership if we want to have healthy churches. Part of that presentation involves me talking about the importance of keeping the Sabbath. I share the struggles I had doing that as a bivocational pastor and how I had to set aside one day a week (Monday) for my Sabbath. At one of the workshops someone asked how a bivocational minister could possibly find a day during the week when it would be possible to enjoy a Sabbath. Great question. At the time I did that I was running a business that did not require me to be present every minute it was open, but it would have been much more difficult if I had tried to take a day off each week when I worked in a factory. How can a bivocational minister honor the Sabbath?
Let's go back to the purpose for the Sabbath. I've always taught that the Sabbath was given to us for rest and a time of reconnection with God and one another. I still believe that. While the ideal would be for that to take a full day, that is not very realistic in the 21st century and especially not for a bivocational minister. It may be that we will need to make chunks of time during the week for a time of Sabbath.
Perhaps you can look at your calendar and see that you have a half-day once or twice a week you could spend in Sabbath activities. It may be that your best opportunity for a Sabbath would be for one hour periods each day. These options may not be as helpful as taking a full day, they may be the best opportunity you will have due to your schedule. For some, it would be better than what they are currently doing. It would also be a place to start, and perhaps your schedule could be changed in time to provide you with larger blocks of time for a Sabbath in your life.
The call to a Sabbath doesn't appear to be an option for believers. After all, it is found in the 10 commandments. I also don't believe that ministers can excuse themselves because of the nature of their call. In fact, I think it is even more important for us to incorporate the Sabbath into our lives as a model to our congregations. It is also much needed in our lives. We cannot give what we do not take in, at least not for long. Many ministers could have avoided burn-out if they had enjoyed a Sabbath in their lives.
Remember, the Sabbath is given to us so we can rest and reconnect with God and others. Each of these are important, so I encourage you to make a Sabbath rest part of your plans for the new year.
The more I work with churches the more convinced I am that one of the serious problems we need to address is that of pastoral leadership. This problem has two facets to it. One is that many pastors do not see themselves as leaders, don't want to be leaders, and have never been trained to lead. They have been trained to be managers of the status quo, and that is what their churches expect them to do. Even churches that claim they want a pastor to lead their church often mean they want a good manager to oversee the existing programs and provide quality ministry to their current membership. That brings us to the second facet which is that many churches will not permit their pastors to lead.
Most of our existing churches, especially those that have been around for a few decades, operate through a committee and congregational structure. Committees are formed to discuss issues and make a presentation to a church business meeting which then votes whether or not to approve the proposal. As we all know, this can take months before any decision is reached. Such a structure worked well when the church and society were more settled, but this is a structure that cannot work in the 21st century when things are simply changing too quickly. Today, by the time a church gets around to voting to do something the opportunity may well have already passed.
We need a much simpler leadership structure in our churches if we are going to effectively reach this generation for Christ. We need pastors who are willing to lead, and we need churches who will trust them to do so. I am not calling for a pastor dictatorship, and that is the fear of some churches. Churches can provide the pastor with a leadership team who would work with the pastor in the decision making process. This team would then be trusted to make the day to day decisions that would allow the church to develop an effective ministry to its community. Monthly business meetings could be replaced with an annual business meeting for the purpose of approving a budget and make other decisions for the upcoming year. In the case of a major decision that would require a vote by the congregation a special meeting could always be called. This is a structure that would allow the church to have much more flexibility in responding to ministry needs in its community.
I realize this would be a major paradigm shift for many of our churches. I am a life-long Baptist, and we feel we need to vote on EVERYTHING! But, that's no longer working well for most of our churches. Why is it so hard to trust persons in leadership to lead? I would suggest that if we cannot trust our leaders to lead our churches then we have asked the wrong persons to serve in those positions. We should also be honest enough to admit that most of our churches really don't have a congregational vote to decide most issues. In many of our churches it is rare for more than 10-15% of our normal Sunday crowd to show up for a business meeting. A church that averages 200 on a Sunday morning may not have more than 20 people at a business meeting to vote on the issues that are raised.
This will be especially challenging for most of our smaller, bivocational churches. Many of them are used to such rapid pastoral turnover that it is hard for them to develop a trust for their pastor that would allow him or her to provide much leadership. I still think that some of them could form a leadership team to work with the pastor and trust that team to make many of the ministry decisions that need to be made and eliminate most of the committees and congregational votes that slow the church down. Such churches may find that being able to respond quicker to ministry opportunities will allow them to minister much more effectively to their communities.
I believe this is a topic we need to be raising to our congregations, and I would be very interested in hearing the reactions from our readers. If your church has already moved in this direction please share your story with the other readers of this blog. Your story may help them if they decide to try to steer their congregations in this direction.
We live in a society that increasingly lacks civility in its dealings with one another. I suppose the current economy has made this worse as people are out of work and losing their homes, but people have been growing more rude and litigious for several years. We see this openly on the radio and television talk shows. A guest is asked a question but is interrupted by the host almost as soon as she begins her answer. There is seldom a civil discussion heard in such settings as each side wants to see who can talk the loudest to ensure their talking points are heard. Less openly, but even more disturbing, are the stories of road rage we read about. Cut in too close to a car and shots might be fired. At the very least you'll probably receive an obscene gesture. There are an abundance of court room shows on TV now that show former friends and lovers suing one another over a television set or a dent fender on the car or some other rather insignificant issue. More disturbing are the family members who sue one another over an inheritance or some other issue. We are a rude and impolite people who look to the courts to settle even the smallest of issues. Unfortunately, the same can be said of many of our churches.
In my 2 1/2 decades of ministry I have seen unbelievable behavior on the part of church members. Business meetings turn into shouting matches because someone doesn't get his way. Parking lots become the informal meeting places for disgruntled members who try to recruit people to their side of the issue. Someone reads a newspaper headline about some action that a denomination or individual took and immediately wants to pull the church out of the denomination without looking deeper into the issue. Chuches run off their pastors without providing a fair severance package that will partially provide for the pastor and his or family during the search process for another church to serve. Churches split over the smallest of issues. Pastors and/or churches hire lawyers to protect their interests from the other side. I know of one church that requested extra police patrols because someone had threatened to burn down the parsonage to get the pastor out. There is something seriously wrong with this picture.
Many people in our society and many of our churches are unable to discuss the issues that divide them. Rather than conducting a civil discussion we immediately go into defense mode. It's like we must defend God on every issue. Believe me, God does not care what color carpet your church installs or what hymnal you use. He does care very much what you are doing to minister to those who are separated from Him because of their sins. He does care about what your church is doing to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and provide shelter to the homeless. He also cares about how we treat one another. The Bible teaches us that the world will know we are Christians by the love we show one another.
Will people in the church disagree? Of course. As someone once said, if two people don't disagree occasionally one of them is not necessary. But we can disagree without being disagreeable. We can speak the truth in love and seek to understand the other person's perspective. We can often find areas of agreement that will allow us to move forward rather than remaining stuck in our positions. As the recipients of much grace in our own lives, we can offer that same grace to others with whom we may disagree. We can certainly be civil to people who have been created in the image of God. And, at times, we may have to accept that we will not agree with others on every issue and find a way to continue to relate to one another with respect.
Jerry Falwell was a lightening rod for much of his life. He was not afraid to speak his mind nor was he afraid to debate anyone on any issue. He may not have always been right in everything he did or said, but he was passionate about his beliefs. One of the interesting things after his death was the number of his critics who spoke so highly of him. They often debated issues with Falwell on the national stage, and they held views diametrically opposed to his, but after his death they spoke of their appreciation for him and for the friendships they enjoyed with him. One reported that when there was a tragedy in his family Falwell was the first person he called. Another said that he was always amazed at how respectfully Falwell treated people even while traveling. Falwell held strong views which he defended, but he defended those views with civility and grace towards those who disagreed with him.
We need to recapture that ability in both our society and in our churches. Shouting matches do not resolve anything. Questioning the character of an opponent does not prove your point. Slurs, put-downs, and rumors do not strengthen our argument. We can once again become a civil society if each of us will work at it. Our churches must return to civility if we want to influence this world for the sake of the Kingdom, and some of us need to begin working on that today.
Your organization is only as healthy as the secrets you keep.
This is one of the things I discuss in my "Healthy Small Church" workshop. It's true of any organization whether you are talking about a church, a business, or even a family. When secrets are kept, the organization can never be as healthy as it can be when things are out in the open. And one of the things you can be sure of is that eventually your secrets will come out, and when they do the results are usually worse than if the secrets had not been kept in the first place.
I am aware of a church going through difficult times because the leadership has tried to keep secrets from the congregation. Of course, they say they were just trying to protect the congregation, and that may in fact be what they were trying to do. But, that is not what some in the congregation believe now that the secrets are coming out. What the church is now having to address are trust issues, and it is doubtful these issues will be resolved for months, and probably years, from now.
When I was pastor at Hebron we tried to keep people informed of what was going on in the church. Our finances were published every quarter for our business meeting and copies were left out for people who did not attend the meeting to pick up. The financial report showed every dollar that came in and every dollar that went out. There were no secret meetings held to address issues that came up in the life of our church. At least if there were, they were kept secret from me as well! We tried to keep everything that was done in the church in the open, and if questions were asked we could answer honestly because we had nothing to hide.
One issue die arise during my pastorate there. Some people were concerned that something had been arranged in secret. When one person first heard of it a handful of concerned members immediately began their investigation. It sounded like the Watergate hearings. "When did you know about this, and what did you do?" Despite the fears of these concerned members, nothing had been done in secret. We had nothing to hide. We could answer all their questions honestly and with our integrity intact.
Are there secrets in your church? I encourage you to bring them out into the open. They will probably be revealed anyway, and the sooner they are made known to people the less damage they can do. I also encourage you to refuse to operate secretly. Keep all your dealings in the open so that you can maintain the trust of your people. Once you lose that trust it may never be recovered, and without trust you cannot lead your church.
I want to apologize for not writing lately. As I mentioned in my last post, I was going on vacation. We planned to do some painting on the house, but we got busy doing several other things that we did not have time to paint. The good news is that everything else we did was important to and needed to be done as much as the painting did.
After being off for a week my workload was pretty heavy when I came back, and I just have not been able to take the time to write. I completed another chapter of my DMin thesis and submitted it. I had a workshop on Church Hospitality that I had to prepare to present to a church this past Saturday. We had an all day staff meeting. And in addition to these things I had my usual assortment of church issues to address, some good and some not so good. Needless to say, it's been hectic, and I do hope you'll forgive my lack of writing this month.
I do want to direct your attention to the blog at http://z410.blogspot.com. They are in week six of discussing my book The Healthy Small Church. There have been some excellent comments shared in that discussion that I think you'll want to read. This week's topic looks at the chapter that addresses change in the church. We all know how much churches like change! Ed McCallum provides some great questions at the end of his post and encourages church leaders to sit down with their church leadership and discuss them. I'm looking forward to reading the comments people have for this week's discussion.
Next week I will be with the American Baptist Churches of Pennsylvania and Delaware leading the "Healthy Small Church" workshop at four sites in their region. If you are a member of one of their churches I encourage you to plan to attend the meeting closest to you. I look forward to meeting some of you at those meetings. You can check the locations on their web site. If you would like this day-long workshop to come to your area, please contact me for 2010 dates. I provide other workshops for small and bivocational churches and their pastors as well.
On a personal note, I would ask for your prayers. There are several personal issues that we are dealing with right now. One involves a granddaughter who has contracted the H1N1 virus. She is not real sick with it, but of course everyone in the family has been exposed. One brother and our daughter have experienced some symptoms and we are waiting to see if anyone becomes ill from it. In addition to that issue, there are several others, so please keep us in your prayers. Thank you.
This past weekend we enjoyed a few days visiting our son and his family who live near Philadelphia. We were able to enjoy watching our granddaughter play in a soccer game and our grandson play in a football game. Our time went by too quickly, but it was a very enjoyable time. I continue to be on vacation this week, but we probably won't go anywhere. We need to do a few repairs on the house and paint a couple of rooms.
I hope you take your vacations each year. Too many pastors, including bivocational ministers, do not. We need the time away from the demands of pastoral ministry, and our families need us to slip away with them as well. In my earlier years of ministry I would never take but one week of the two weeks I had coming. As a result, there came a time when I was burned out, depressed, and of little use to anyone. I had given and given and never taken the time to replace what I was giving out. I learned a lot during my time of recovery, and one of the things I learned was that I needed to take my vacation time in order to recharge. I took every week of vacation I had coming after that, and I encourage you to do so the same.
Please remember this...taking care of yourself is not selfish. If you do not take care of yourself you may find that you will come to a place where you cannot care for others. Taking care of yourself is good stewardship. Take your vacation, take your days off, and do not allow others to make you feel guilty for doing so.
I won't post much this week. It's hard to type and hold a paintbrush at the same time!
A few weeks ago I posted a sermon outline on my web site at www.bivocationalministries.com. Some of you have told me you used that outline for a sermon and how much you appreciated it. My plan is to post a new outline each month, and there is a new one on the site now.
I encourage you to use these outlines. You probably won't use it exactly how it is written, and you probably shouldn't. Make it your own with your own illustrations and applications. Make it fit your personality and purpose. God may open your eyes to an entire series of messages from this one outline. That would be great for sermon planning!
Speaking of sermon planning...when I was a pastor I would use the fall of the year to plan my sermons for the upcoming year. I would sit down with four sheets of legal paper and write out the dates of each Sunday of the new year. I would have two lines for each date since our church had both morning and evening services on most Sundays. In the margin I would then write in special days from the church calendar so I wouldn't forget them. At that point I was ready to start thinking about what messages I would preach on each Sunday. I enjoyed preaching series of sermons whenever possible because I believe that allows the minister to approach a subject with more depth than is possible in just a 30 minute sermon. If I determined that a subject or text would need four Sundays then I would look to see where that could fit in with the special Sundays such as Mother's Day or the Advent season so a sermon series would not hit on one of those Sundays. For many years I would preach a series on the family between Mother's Day and Father's Day, and this was often one of the more popular series of messages. In the summer I often preached through a book of the Bible or a long section such as The Sermon on the Mount. This gave our congregation a more in depth look at that book of the Bible or the section, and it made my sermon planning a lot easier. I would try to determine what I would preach each Sunday of the upcoming year. Even if some Sundays were left open in my planning I was always able to plan at least one quarter ahead.
The advantage of doing this is that you are not sitting around on Saturday night still trying to figure out what you are going to preach tomorrow. Instead of starting out each week not knowing what you will preach, you can begin your week actually preparing the message. By creating a preaching schedule you can spend more time in sermon preparation which, hopefully, will lead to better sermons. The time you spend upfront in planning a preaching schedule will be more than offset by the time you save each week in sermon preparation. It also gives you the opportunity to be on the lookout for good illustrations or applications for a text you know you will be preaching from next month. You will be surprised how often you will find items you can incorporate in your sermons simply because you are aware of your upcoming sermon topics. Saving time is a good thing for bivocational ministers and better sermons is frosting on the cake.
I know there are some who refuse to plan their sermons or even prepare a sermon in advance. There are still some who believe they are simply to pray and let the Holy Spirit guide them when they step to the platform. I have endured a few sermons that obviously had no thought go into them before they were delivered, and personally I would not want to blame the Holy Spirit for them. I believe that God can guide us in our study even better than He can guide us in our pulpits. If we believe in the omniscience of God then we can believe that He knows what our congregations need to hear from us six months from now. There is no reason we cannot believe that He can guide us in developing a sermon plan in advance.
One final thought. Sometimes a situation occurs that will cause us to change our sermon, and we need to be sensitive to that. A good example of that was 9/11. The Sunday after 9/11 I did not preach the sermon I had planned for that week. People came to church to hear if God had anything to say about that horrible tragedy. I am aware of a pastor who went ahead and preached a message he had planned six months earlier to preach on that Sunday. Members of his church told me that they would have never known 9/11 happened based on what was done at their church that Sunday. That pastor was soon asked to resign. Some things happen that must be addressed, and we should not be so locked into our preaching plan that we cannot speak to those issues when they happen.
I encourage you to begin planning your preaching at least three months in advance and see if it doesn't make you sermon preparation time more productive. Feel free to use the sermons I will share with you each month in your planning. I also hope you will share with our readers how planning has helped you or the techniques you use to create a preaching schedule.
Ed McCallum is leading a discussion of my book The Healthy Small Church at http://z410.blogspot.com/. Ed is with the Evangelical Presyberian Church. Each week he addresses one of the chapters of the book and invites people to respond. Approximately 30 people were encouraged to read the book and contribute to this discussion. There have been some very good comments and insights that pastors have shared in this discussion. I encourage you to check it out.
As mentioned in an earlier post I am currently reading A Quest for Godliness written by J. I. Packer as part of my daily devotional time. This morning I read a section that really spoke to me, and I decided to share it with you.
First, we cannot but conclude that whereas to the Puritans communion with God was a great thing, to evangelicals today it is a comparatively small thing. The Puritans were concerned about communion with God in a way that we are not. The measure of our unconcern is the little that we say about it. When Christians meet, they talk to each other about their Christian work and Christian interests, their Christian acquaintances, the state of the churches, and the problems of theology - but rarely of their daily experience of God. Modern Christian books and magazines contain much about Christian doctrine, Christian standards, problems of Christian conduct, techniques of Christian service - but little about the inner realities of fellowship with God. Our sermons contain much sound doctrine - but little relating to the converse between the soul and the Saviour. We do not spend much time, alone or together, in dwelling on the wonder of the fact that God and sinners have communion at all; no, we just take that for granted, and give our minds to other matters. Thus, we make it plain that communion with God is a smalll thing to us.
From my experience, Packer is absolutely right. As I reflect on my own life and my spiritual journey there have been a few times when I have been overwhelmed by the fact that God was willing to enter my life and adopt me into His family. Occasionally, I will think about how amazing His grace truly is, but I must admit that such times are few and far between. As I think back over 20+ years of preaching, such communion with God has rarely been the topic of any message I have preached. I have taken it for granted and have focused on other aspects of the Christian life. But, isn't such communion really the foundation for all of those other aspects?
In my denomination churches often celebrate the Lord's Supper once a month. Some may only do it quarterly. We often refer to this as communion, and it is conducted in most churches with great reverance with soft organ music playing in the background. However, in reality this celebration is often tacked on at the end of the worship service because it is the appropriate Sunday to schedule it. I fear that most people partaking feel little communion with God during the service. A small glass of grape juice and a dry cracker once a month or once a quarter is a poor substitute for real communion with God.
Once again, Packer has invaded my soul and forced me to think deeply about how incredible it is that a pure, holy God would even consider wanting to relate to such a fallen individual as myself. How imperfect each of us are, and yet a perfect God has chosen to relate to us as a loving Father to his children. He wants to walk with us each day through all the ups and downs that life brings. He has a plan and a purpose for each of our lives that he will bring to pass if we will only stop resisting and allow Him to do so. He wants to lift us out of the foul pits we often place ourselves in and set our feet on solid ground, give us new life, and a renewed sense of joy and peace. And in the process He wants to walk with us through life every single moment of our lives.
I encourage you to take a new look at your life as you read this post. Is your primary focus the relationship you enjoy with God or is it on the things you do for God or the things you hope God will do for you? For me, it is very easy to focus on the things I am doing instead of focusing on the relationship, and I think that might be true of many of us. Packer would encourage us to intentionally focus on the relationship. Never lose sense of the awe that comes when you realize that the Creator of the universe wants to enjoy a relationship with you.
In the past few days I have spoken with a pastor whose wife has filed for divorce, a pastor who is in great despair over the church he is serving and needs to leave, and another minister diagnosed with cancer. Each of these feels a certain darkness in their lives. I, too, feel that darkness due to some personal issues currently going on in my life. We've all been there, and if you haven't you just haven't lived long enough. The dark night of the soul comes into every life at various times, and these dark times can be a challenge to your very faith.
It's not that you doubt the existence of God or that He can intervene in your situation, at least in your mind. But in your heart you may wonder where He is and why this is happening to you. Life isn't supposed to work this way; these things shouldn't happen to you. You cry out to God and wonder why He doesn't seem to respond. Perhaps He doesn't even hear. Doubts begin to overwhelm your thinking. The recent CD from Pastor to Pastor covered "Nagging Doubts." The ministers interviewed on this CD all admitted to having these kinds of doubts, and they stressed that we all experience them from time to time.
At times like these we need to fall back to the basics. We need to spend some time reflecting on our core values, those things we stand on when everything around us seems to be collapsing. My core value is Jesus' promise, "I will never leave you nor forsake you." When I am in my dark times of the soul I continue playing that promise over and over again in my mind. It helps remind me what I truly believe about God. I must admit there are times when I wonder if Christ has in fact abandoned me, and I need that tape running through my mind to remind myself that even when I cannot see Him that doesn't mean He's not there.
I spend more time listening to Christian music. When some people are going through difficult times they want silence, but I need to listen to music and allow the songs to wash over me. I normally listen to certain artists during these times as their music seems to minister more to me than others.
Like many others, in dark times I pray more even if I am not certain at the time that God is hearing my prayers. I know God always hears our prayers, but during the dark times we can wonder if God is really hearing our prayers since we can't see any immediate action on His part. Difficulties force me out of my prayer ruts and force me to get more real in my prayers, and I imagine many of my readers would say the same thing happens to them.
Finally, I begin to look for the light that tells me I am coming to the end of this trial. Sometimes that light may look real dim, but even a dim light can give us a sense of hope that we will survive this challenge. John Maxwell says where there is hope for the future there is power in the present, and I find that so true.
Many years ago I went through a time when I was diagnosed as being clinically depressed. For a year I functioned in a dark mist that surrounded everything I did. During that time I took medication and saw a Christian pastoral counselor on a weekly basis, and by the end of the year I was well. I have no doubt the medicine and the counseling helped, but perhaps the thing that helped me most was reading a book by another minister who had been so severely depressed that he had to be hospitalized. He wrote that when he entered the hospital a nurse looked at him and said, "You will get better." That gave him the dim light he needed, and those words remained with me during my year long battle.
If you are going through a dark time in your life right now let me encourage you to remember these words as well. You will get better. Your situation will change for the good, and you will get through this. God has not abandoned you, and He is working in your life in ways that you may not be able to see. Your victory may not come as soon as you would like. I know I wish my own personal situation was resolved already, but I keep reminding myself that God has not abandoned us and that He will bring us through.
Let me close with this. Sometimes a minister is made to feel that something is wrong with him or her if they go through such dark times in their lives. Where do you think such feelings come from? The enemy seeks to compound our difficulties by seeking to add guilt to the issues we are battling. Having doubts during difficult times isn't sin; it is very human. Do not let the devil add to your problems by making you feel like you don't measure up as a Christian or a minister because you are struggling with faith issues. Don't listen to him. Instead turn towards Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, and look to Him for sustenance. He has brought me through every dark time in my life; I know He will bring me through this one; and I know He will bring you through your current challenges. I pray His blessings on you now.
I recently heard a pastor talk about the times in his life and ministry when he had doubts about God, his call to the ministry, and even the genuineness of his faith. Readers should not be surprised that even ministers can sometimes have such doubts. In fact, my guess is that all of us do at some time in our ministries just as I believe that lay persons often have such doubts as well. This pastor said during such times one of the things he does is fast from reading church growth books. Good advice! He then went on to say that he now tries to read two dead guys for every live person he reads.
He was trying to explain that we in the ministry are prone to look for books and resources that will help us identify the one thing we need to do to grow our churches. After all, most pastors wish their churches were bigger. For some that may be an ego thing, but for most of us those bigger churches mean that our ministries are making a difference in people's lives, and there is certainly nothing wrong with that. However, many of these books describe fads. I would encourage the pastors reading this posting to look at their bookshelves and see how many of their church growth and evangelism books describe a technique that worked at an earlier time or for a particular church. How many of them have you re-read in the past five years because of the timelessness of their truths? As I looked at my own bookshelves I found too many such books that are really outdated and of little use in this postmodern world in which we live.
How much better would it be to read material that would help nourish our own souls? It seems to me that a growing minister will often lead a growing church because there will be an inner spirituality that will attract others. I mentioned a book in my previous post that I'm currently reading during my devotional time each day. This book is challenging reading, and I certainly do not agree with everything the author says, but it is stretching me in new ways. I am forced to think about why I do not believe a section of the book or a sentence, and such thinking helps lead to growth. It is also making me rethink my own relationship with God and look at the relationship through new eyes. That too leads to growth. I have already found another book on my bookshelf that I will read next during my devotional times. The interesting thing about these two books is that they have been on my bookshelves for well over a decade, but I've never read them. During that time I have read hundreds of other books that were written to help me be a better minister, but I had continually by-passed these two books that were written to help grow me spiritually.
None of this means you should stop reading the other material designed to help you better lead your church. Certainly you should be reading the books I wrote!!!! I just want to encourage you today to balance out your reading between the books that will help you better lead your church with those that will help grow your soul.
For my devotional reading I am currently reading J. I. Packer's book, A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life. This is not an easy read. In fact, I've tried to read it before and never could get more than half way through the book. This time it is really speaking to where I am in my life. It's still not an easy read, but it is challenging my own spiritual walk with God in ways that can only be beneficial. In today's reading I came across this section
In Western society as a whole, conscience is in decay;apostasy has set in and hence, as always when faith fails, moral standards are falling...In the Christian church, consciences should be sharp and alert; but are they? It is to be feared that we whom Christ calls to be the salt of the earth have lost much of our proper savor. Are evangelicals noted these days for goodness and integrity? Are we distinguished in society for sensitiveness to moral issues, and compassion towards those in need? Do our preachers, earnest and eloquent as they may be, win for themselves the name that God gave to Noah - 'a preacher of righteousness (2 Pet. 2:3)?...Once Christians were taught to commune with their consciences daily, in the regular discipline of self-examination under the word of God; but how much of this remains today? Do we not constantly give evidence of our neglect of this secret discipline by unprincipled and irresponsible public conduct?
Before reading this morning I saw on the news a politician who was recently caught on a live mike telling another politician about his sexual conquests with two women neither of whom were his wife. Once the news broke he confessed how sorry he was for his behavior, but listening to him tell of his relationships with these women he didn't sound sorry. Could he have only been sorry he had been caught? In recent months we have heard similar stories of various individuals in leadership positions caught in relationships outside of their marriages. Of course, we cannot point too many fingers at the politicians because we've also heard story after story about ministers caught in similar situations. Everyone is sorry after they've been caught, but none seem to have been too sorry while they were enjoying their relationships.
The conscience is a funny thing. When a person first contemplates doing something they often know is wrong the conscience cautions them loud and long to not yield to the temptation. Even if they do yield, their conscience begins to convict them of how wrong that behavior or action was. Many times there is remorse. But, when our conscience is ignored long enough it becomes silent. The alarms no longer go off, and we no longer feel conviction for our wrong actions. At that point we are in a dangerous place in our lives. We no longer hear the voice of the Spirit trying to guide us in paths of righteousness.
In order to have a pure conscience, we need to examine it on a regular basis. In the Psalms David cried out asking God to search his heart to see if there was any wicked way in him. That is a prayer that we all, minister and lay person alike, need to pray on a regular, perhaps even daily, basis. And when we do pray that prayer we need to take some time to listen for that voice that does begin to convict us of sin in our lives, and we need to listen for the directions in righteousness that will come, and then we need to be obedient to what we hear. Doing this will be a little like reading Packer's book. It won't be easy, but it will be beneficial to our souls.
One of the primary challenges for many small churches is the expectation that people have for their churches. Larger churches are able to provide numerous ministries that appeal to many people. If smaller churches try to compete with that they will end up offering a number of mediocre ministries which usually satisfies no one. As a result, they will often see numbers of their members leaving for the larger church with its many ministries. How does the smaller church compete?
The fact is they can't compete and should stop trying. A small church can accomplish more by doing less but doing it with excellence. Vision is important for every church, but it may be most important for the smaller church. A clear vision of its purpose can lead it to develop the one or two ministries that will enable it to fulfill that vision. It doesn't feel that it has to offer a multitude of ministries because many of those ministries would not accomplish its vision anyway. Such a church can focus its limited resources on the one or two things that will accomplish its purpose.
This can also help a small church's esteem. No longer will they feel bad about not being able to offer a multitude of ministries. They can feel good that the ones they do offer are done with excellence and are making a real difference in the lives of the people they serve. People will have the opportunity to serve in ministries that make best use of their gifts and passions, and they will feel good about the work they are doing.
I would encourage church leaders to look closely at the ministries their churches offer and ask some tough questions. Are these ministries being done with excellence or are we forced to do an average job because we lack resources to do them better? Are they making a difference in people's lives? Do they fulfill the commonly shared vision of the congregation? If we stopped doing this ministry tomorrow would anyone really notice? What would be the impact if we never offered this ministry again? As you begin to eliminate some ministries that are really not productive you can put more resources in the ones that remain, and that should have a positive impact on your church and the people you are trying to reach.
Several years ago I heard Bill Gothard make a statement that made a major impact on my ministry. He said "We have become a weak nation because we have weak churches. We have weak churches because we have weak families. We have weak families because we have weak fathers, and we have weak fathers because no one has ever taught them how to be the men God created them to be." I immediately saw the truth in what he was saying and began to work on how that could be addressed in our church.
In my opinion the number one task of every church is to help persons come to a relationship with Jesus and then become a fully-devoted disciple of Him. The second task for the church is to help our families be the healthy families God intended. Certainly, there is no one else given the task of leading people to faith in Christ other than the church, and who else is doing anything positive to assist the family but the church and faith-based organizations such as Focus on the Family? The church may be involved in many good tasks, but these two, in my opinion, must be at the forefront of all we do.
One of the things I did for many years at Hebron was to preach a series of sermons every year on the family between Mother's Day and Father's Day. These messages would address various aspects of family life and the relationships that exist in the family. The Bible contains a wealth of information on family life, and it was never difficult to develop a series of messages on this topic.
I also believe it is important to focus on the men of the family. In too many of our churches the men are missing, and I am convinced they are the key to reaching the family. When Promise Keepers began we arranged to take a group of men every year to a nearby stadium for their gathering. It was always a high point for me, and I believe it was for our men as well. We began a Saturday morning breakfast twice a month. After breakfast and chitchat we would study the book Disciplines of a Godly Man by R. Kent Hughes. We spent months discussing that book.
I am convinced there are few things you can do that will have a bigger impact on your church than getting men involved in Bible study and helping them address the issues that men face. It will take some intentional work on your part to make that happen, but the return will be well worth it. I would also encourage you to intentionally focus on how to improve your ministry to the family. Virtually everything in today's society attacks the traditional family, and our families need help in order to survive in today's environment. Your church may be the only hope they have in your community.
As you begin thinking about your fall and winter programming, let me encourage you to consider how your church can better minister to the men and families in your church and community.
What do you do to stay motived in ministry? There are so many challenges for bivocational ministers and so many thing that constantly demand our attention it is easy to grow weary in our work. I find there are times when I need some outside stimulus to help keep me motivated to press on. One of the tools that I find to be helpful is attending motivational seminars. In October my daughter and I will attend one of these seminars.
This all day event will host speakers like General Colin Powell, Terry Bradshaw, Zig Ziglar, Rick Pitino, Rudy Guiliani, Robert Schuller, and Laura Bush among others. Each speaker is in person and will be sharing from their specific areas of leadership expertise. The amazing thing to me is that the cost is only $4.95 to attend this event. Having attended a number of these in the past I can assure you that five minutes from any of these speakers is worth much more than that. I always leave these events refreshed and with new ideas to try. I usually leave with a few more books and resources as well.
Our daughter and I have attended a number of these seminars in the past which makes it a fun father-daughter day out. It's not often a father gets to spend a day with his grown daughter doing something they both enjoy, so it's always a special time. In fact, to make it more special I spend a few extra dollars to get us premium seating and some other special rewards to make the day even more enjoyable.
A motivational seminary won't cure all your woes, but it does help charge up your batteries for a while. It helps take your mind away from some of your challenges so you can focus more on the possibilities that exist in each of our ministries. You will laugh, possibly more than you have in some time. And if you come away with even one new thought it is well worth it. Finally, if you can share the day with someone special in your life it is like frosting on the cake.
These seminars are held across the country. Check out your Sunday paper and see if one is coming to your area soon.
A church called today asking for advice about a salary package for a bivocational minister. This church has had fully-funded pastors for many years, but they are considering a bivocational candidate for their open pastorate. From what the committee chair told me the candidate would be a good match for their church, has roots in the community, and is very interested in the position. The problems the committee is facing is they do not know how to structure a fair salary for a bivocational minister and there are people in the church who are upset that they are only going to have a "part-time" pastor.
The chair and I discussed the "part-time" issue, and she is in full agreement with me that this person will be able to meet all their pastoral needs. I gave her some information to share with others in the church and offered to come and speak to their congregation about the benefits of bivocational ministry and try to answer any concerns they might have.
Regarding the salary issue I encouraged the church to be as fair as possible with the salary package they offer this candidate. Because he has insurance through his other employer they can save some money there, but this is not the time for this church to think they should short change their new pastor on salary so they can fatten their church bank account. I have seen too many churches do this, and eventually it creates a sense on the part of the pastor that his or her ministry isn't appreciated. I doubt that many bivocational ministers go into the ministry for financial reasons, but I think most of us will admit that the salary we are paid provides us with a sense of how much we are appreciated for what we do. In a 2004 survey I did of bivocational ministers one minister reported he had not received a single salary increase in seven years of ministry in his church despite the fact that the attendance and offerings had gone up every year since he had been there. His survey responses showed a very dispirited minister who was trying to be faithful to his calling despite feeling that his ministry was taken for granted by the people who had called him.
Who determines the salary you receive, and what are the criteria they use to arrive at those figures? How satisfied are you and your family with the salary package you receive? In what areas do you think your church could do better?
As the number of bivocational ministers continues to increase this will become an increasingly important issue. I think it is important for us to be proactive in this matter, and I am hopeful that we can learn from one another. Share your answers with one another,and let's see if there are some common ways we can be advocates for fair salary packages for one another.
Today is my birthday! I have celebrated by staying inside and napping off and on all day like I have for the past couple of days. I've been running a low grade fever and have a steady cough and sore throat. I'll call the doctor tomorrow and see what's going on, but this is not the way I planned to celebrate my birthday.
Since I've been pretty much confined to the house for the past few days it has given me time to reflect back over the past 61 years. I've thought back to the days when our family had dairy farms and my summers were spent working in hay fields, corn fields, and tobacco fields. Oh yes, there was also the opportunity to milk cows twice a day every single day of the year. I have thought back to the time when Faye and I first met, in 1965, and began dating. By the end of 1966, at the ripe old age of 18, we were married. I've thought about our children and now our grandchildren, and I took some time to thank God for each of them and for the blessings they have brought into our lives.
This evening while we were eating supper I could hear one of those Time-Life commercials on television. Micky Gilley was selling a collection of old time country classics. I could hear those songs playing on the TV while we ate, and it reminded me of my Navy days. Many an evening I would sit in a restaurant or bar and play those songs. Back then you could play six songs on a jukebox for a quarter. Faye and I spent a lot of months apart in those days as my ship went back and forth to Vietnam, and I dropped a lot of quarters in jukeboxes.
I then began to think of how God had reached down into my life in the late 1970s. A couple of years later He called me to serve Him as a minister, and within a few months I was called to become the pastor of Hebron Baptist Church as their bivocational pastor. For the next 20 years I served that church until He opened up a new ministry opportunity to become an Area Resource Minister. He gave me the opportunity to write books and speak to ministers and church leaders in various parts of the US and Canada.
It's been a fascinating birthday. One moment I could actually see myself sitting in a restaurant in Bremerton, WA drinking coffee and listening to Jeannie C. Riley singing "Harper Valley PTA" on the jukebox and the next moment I saw myself standing behind the pulpit at Hebron. God has brought me a long ways in these 61 years, and I believe He isn't through with me yet. I have more books to write, more sermons to preach, and more life to live. With God's grace I have a lot more hugs to give my children and grandchildren and a lot more walks holding Faye's hand. I have been blessed beyond measure, and I want to give God thanks for everyone of those blessings.