Sunday, January 25, 2009


I just finished reading Boundaries by Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend. It was one of the required readings for my DMin class. As I read the book I kept thinking about the boundary issues many bivocational pastors have with their churches. Unfortunately, too many churches think their pastor is at their every beck and call. So many people want something from the pastor, and it all seems to come at the same time. It's no wonder many pastors feel like a stray dog at a whistler's convention. We as ministers may complain about this, but few of us do anything about it for fear of offending someone. So who actually pays for this lack of boundaries in a pastor's life? Usually, the pastor and/or family. And who is really the person at fault for this situation? I tend to agree with Dr. Phil on this one when he says that we teach people how to treat us. If that is true, then we are the ones really at fault because we've taught our church members to treat us in a way that does not respect our boundaries. What are some of the ways we do this?
  • We answer the telephone during our family meal time or while we are spending some time with our families. Most homes have an answering machine or voice mail, and if your home doesn't it's about time to invest in one. Let the machine take the calls while you're involved with your family. You can return the calls later.
  • We don't advocate for a fair salary and benefit package. I know how difficult this is, but we cannot expect our churches to provide a decent salary and benefit package if we don't even ask for it. At the very least we can let our churches know what it costs to maintain our families.
  • We accept responsibility for tasks that are not ours. Someone in the church accepts a position in the church but doesn't fulfill the tasks of the position, so we follow along behind them and make sure those tasks gets done. Too many pastors are dusting the church furniture, picking up loose bulletins, mowing the grass, and making sure all the lights are out after everyone else leaves on Sunday.
  • We refuse to take our vacations and days off, and if we do take them we allow people to contact us during those times. I heard of a pastor this week who was on vacation last week and called a church leader every day he was away to find out how things were going.
  • We allow others in the church to voice their expectations for how our children and spouse should fit in the life of the church. Some in our women's mission circle didn't like it when I told them my wife would not serve as president of their organization nor would she take certain roles in the church. This was her wishes, but I made sure the right people understood she would not take certain roles in the church just because I was the pastor. I protected both our children in the same way when they were younger. Some pastors don't, and their families resent being expected to do certain things because they are part of the pastor's family.

I could continue to list more examples, but I hope you get the picture. If persons in the church consistently violate boundaries in your life and that of your family members it is because you have taught them it is OK to do so. If that is the case, today is the day to begin to set new boundaries and teach them to the congregation. Some won't like them, but that is their problem. I realize this may get you in trouble in some churches, but that is only because people have never been taught to respect the boundaries of a pastor, and they are not going to learn any younger! I do think you owe it to yourself and to your family to try to help the congregation learn the importance of respecting the boundaries you and your family have established, and if they won't learn this it may be time to begin asking God to open up new opportunities of ministry.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A new president

I'm sure most of you saw at least some of yesterday's inaugaration. How could you help it? It was on just about every channel for most of the day. It was a pretty impressive way to welcome a new president.

In my six decades I have never seen the excitement over a new president as we have seen since President Obama was elected. I have never seen a man generate so much hope and expectation as he has. Maybe people have struggled for so long with financial difficulties and with the wars that the election of anyone new would have generated a spirit of hope, however I doubt that such hope would have been generated if Senator McCain had won the election. Maybe it's because this nation has just elected its first African-American to the highest office of the land. Maybe it's simply that President Obama generates that kind of hope through his presence and message. Whatever the source, this nation desperately needed a fresh shot of hope that things could improve. Reagan brought that with him when he was elected, and now Obama has done the same thing, and I hope it means that we as a nation have at least began to turn the corner.

Of course, not everyone is happy Obama was elected. I have seen some very hateful statements about him. I was reading comments on a Fox news article on their web site yesterday, and it was unbelievable what a few people were saying. No one should believe that this election proves that racism is no longer a problem in this country.

A moment of confession, I was one of millions of Americans who did not vote for President Obama. I did not believe he was prepared to be president, and many of his views are opposite of mine. I must also admit that I did not believe the Republicans offered a great alternative, but McCain's platform more closely represented my own views. Regardless of whom I voted for, I am excited about the hope and anticipation that many in our nation feel right now, and I pray that hope is fulfilled by the actions and decisions of our new president and his leadership.

As Christians we have two responsibilities regarding our leaders. We are responsible to pray for them and to hold them accountable when they make decisions we believe are irresponsible and unbiblical. It does not matter what political party you are affiliated with or who you voted for. We are mandated to pray for those in leadership over us, and I will pray for President Obama every day he is in office. I will pray for his safety and I will pray that God would give him wisdom to lead this country. Likewise, I will pray for Congress that they would also guide this country with godly wisdom. Because I voted I also have the right to hold our elected officials responsible if they make decisions I believe are not healthy for our nation, and I will do that as well.

One other thing I would remind my readers, God does not fly on Air Force One. President Obama is the leader of this nation, but there is One above him who ultimately holds this nation in His hand. The decisions made by our president and other elected officials may have tremendous impact on our nation and the world, but God is the one who has the power to turn this nation around to its former greatness. Yes, we need responsible laws and direction, but even more we need a spiritual revival that would turn America back to God. Such revival will not come from Washington, but must begin in the churches throughout this nation. Only as our churches begin to experience true revival can it begin to spread out to our communities and across this nation.

Friends, pray for our new president and congress, and pray that God would pour out His Spirit upon this nation and bring a revival that would turn us back to Him. That is the real source of hope for our nation.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Hope is not a strategy

What specific ministries does your church plan to do this year? Who are the people your church has developed specific plans to reach? What are the goals your church has for 2009? Without clear goals and a clear purpose it is likely you and your church will look back on 2009 and see little that was accomplished.

Most maintenance-minded churches open their doors each week and hope somebody comes. They take a shotgun approach to ministry and hope that something they do will touch somebody's life. After all, when you shoot a shotgun you don't necessarily need all the shot to hit your target. You just hope that the shot will be spread out far enough that some of it hits its mark. This is also the way many churches do ministry. They believe if they do enough things something will make a difference, at least they hope it will. These churches are usually very disappointed if they ever stop long enough to evaluate what they have been doing and see that very little of what they have been doing has impacted anyone's life. Hope is not a strategy.

If a church wants to make a difference in 2009 it needs to have clear plans of what it is going to do. It needs to have clear goals for ministry that comes out of a vision that is commonly shared by the congregation. Action steps need to be developed that will allow those goals to be achieved. I encourage your church to live 2009 with a purpose and a plan that will allow you to achieve far more than you will by merely hoping something good happens this year.

By the way, that is also how you need to live your personal life. I have seven goals for my life and ministry for 2009, and I have listed a number of action steps that must happen for those goals to be achieved. Every day I work on at least one or two of those action steps. Unless I am intentional about doing that the pressing issues of the day will take all my time, and at the end of the year I will have accomplished nothing that I believe God would have me achieve this year. This may sound rather regimental to some of you, but it enables me to live my life with a purpose and a focus. People sometimes ask me how I accomplish all the things I do, and now you know the secret! Structure, purpose, and focus are the key essential elements to accomplishing the things that are important to you.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Nobody answered the phone

George Barna released a study some time back that revealed how many churches have no one to answer the telephone during normal office hours. Smaller churches would be even less likely to have someone in the office. An even greater problem is that many of these churches also did not even have an answering machine to record any messages that do come in. This means that people trying to contact the church is unable to reach anyone and no one in the church knows there was even an attempt to contact them.

My own experience confirms this. As a judicatory minister I often try to call churches and pastors only to hear the phone ring and ring with no response. More often than not, they also do not have an answering machine so I can't leave a message. The cost of an answering machine is so low today there really is no reason for every church not to have one. If the church only ministered to one family a year as a result of a message left on an answering machine it would be well worth it.

One final thing. Many of the churches that do have an answering machine only ask people to leave a message and their phone number. This is a great opportunity to tell your callers the time of your services and any special events that might be coming up. The caller may only want to know what time your worship service starts so they can attend. If they can't get that information from you, they may decide to attend a church that does make that information available. Keep the information on your answering machine current and you just might see some new faces in your congregation next Sunday.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


Here is a definition for tragedy I would like for you to consider. Tragedy is succeeding in life in the things that do not matter. Think about this for a minute. It is being successful in things that ultimately make no difference while neglecting the things that matter most. It is like climbing the ladder of success only to find that it is leaning against the wrong wall. We may reach the top, but for what purpose?

Over the years I have seen many ministers change churches supposedly climbing up the ministerial ladder. Most would not put it that way, but I've seen very few ministers actually move to a smaller church or one that paid less. Some have achieved very "prestigious" ministry positions, but I wonder, when they reach the end of their lives what they will see as the difference their ministry made. Instead of being shepherds who knew their sheep and ministered to each one according to their needs (like Jesus), they became excellent managers and skilled administrators. Some become highly respected church leaders with broken homes and families. They may travel the world speaking at church conferences but cannot win a hearing in their own homes.

Every so often we need to stop and look at how we are spending our time, our energy, and our financial resources. Are we investing those resources in the things that really matter? Are we focusing our efforts on things that will really make a difference in people's lives, or is our life a tragedy in the making? My prayer for myself, and for the readers of this blog, is that God will show us anytime we are focusing too much on the wrong things and bring us back to those things that really matter.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The love of God

I heard a Christian counselor say today that most men do not believe God loves them. He went on to say that this includes most pastors. He believes that because many men are so performance driven that we believe we must earn God's love by the things we do, and this is why many men, including pastors, can so easily become workaholics. No matter how much we do, it is never enough to earn the love of God we so deeply crave.

There is a big disconnect between what we say, and preach, and what we believe deep within our core. Nearly every preacher I've ever heard can preach a great sermon on the unconditional love of God, but I'm not sure all those preachers really believe it for themselves. Many of the ministers I encounter are trying so hard to earn something, whether it is God's love, the respect of others, or, in some cases, the approval of their fathers. We know in our minds that God loves us, but sometimes it can be hard to really believe it in our hearts. This is a heavy burden that many ministers carry.

Do you believe there is some truth in this? Do you really believe that God loves you unconditionally or do you believe there is some stuff in your life that make such love impossible? Do you find there are times you feel you have to prove your worth to God? What about the other men in your church? Are any of them struggling with receiving God's unconditional love? How can your church help them experience that love?

Monday, January 5, 2009

Church and the family

No doubt your church has had many discussions about how to reach new people and grow the church. You have probably also been considering new Bible studies for the upcoming year. But, what are you doing about growing healthy families? How is your church helping wounded people experience healing? How might doing that impact your church and community?

According to some studies one of every three girls and one of every five boys have been sexually violated by the age of 18 by someone who they trusted. Is it possible that any of these people, maybe now adults, are sitting in your congregation? It is also estimated by some that 43% of American women have had an abortion. Is it possible that some of these women are members of your church? 40% of American children are now growing up in a single parent household. Numerous studies have pointed out many problems these children may face. How is your church addressing the needs of these children and their parents?

It would seem that there is a major need for churches to begin to seriously address issues of the home and family. According to scriptures such as Dt. 6 the home should be the primary place where Christian discipleship occurs, but can discipleship happen in the dysfunctional situations described here? When people experience the kinds of pain mentioned here today it impacts the way they look at themselves, others, and God. Many find it very difficult to trust in God when their whole lives they have been taught they can't trust anyone.

Our churches need to begin speaking truth regarding family life, human sexuality, trust, and how to build healthy relationships with others. So much of our society is sending messages about all of these issues, but these messages often run counter to biblical teaching. If the church does not address these issues, then who will do so in a way that honors God and His plan for mankind.

As a pastor I often told our church that our primary responsibility was to win people to Jesus Christ and our second primary responsibility was to help develop healthy families. I still believe that. I would like to hear your opinion and what you are doing to do both. Maybe what you are doing would encourage other readers of this blog to attempt something similar in their church.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Favorite books for 2008

Here is a list of the five books I most enjoyed reading in 2008. I think they would be helpful to many bivocational ministers. They are presented in no particular order for your consideration.

  • Greg Ogden, Unfinished Business: Returning the Ministry to the People of God (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003). This excellent book discusses how to return ministry to the people. Ministry was never intended to be done only by trained clergy but by the entire body of Christ. This book was first published in 1990 as The New Reformation and has been updated to include references to eight new movements in the church.
  • Ravi Zacharias, Can Man Live Without God (Nashville: W Publishing Group, 1994). Anything written by Zacharias is worth reading. This book provides one of the most compelling apologetics for the Christian faith you will ever read. He also challenges the postmodern view that absolute truth doesn't exist by pointing to the One who said He was the truth.
  • William P. Young, The Shack (Newbury Park, CA: Windblown Media, 2008). I seldom read more than one fiction book a year, and this was the one for this year. I found the book fascinating. It is a very controversial book that some people have called heresy. The book tells the story of a man racked by grief who encounters God, but he encounters God in ways that he never expected.
  • Edward H. Hammett, Spiritual Leadership in a Secular Age: Building Bridges Instead of Barriers (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2005). This excellent book explains how churches can build bridges that will reach out into their communities. I think I used an entire highlighter on this book.
  • John Jackson, PastorPreneur (Friendswood, TX: Baxter Press, 2003). The author defines a pastorpreneur as an innovative leader, a creative dreamer who is willing to take great risks in church ministry with the hope of great gain for Christ and his kingdom. This book provides five strategies to help lead your church into the future. The strategies include (1) Grab the Community's Attention; (2) Build Strategic Partnerships; (3) Conduct Faith-Building Events; (4) Everyone's a 10-Get 'Em Moving; and (5) Multiply Your Impact.

Happy reading

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Goals vs resolutions

I stopped making new year's resolutions several years ago when I found I consistently broke most of them by noon on new year's day! However, I do set some goals at the beginning of each year, and I take these goals very seriously. A few years ago I began using a goal setting form that Zig Ziglar's company produces. Not only do you write out your goal, but you also write out why you've established this particular goal, a list of people you will need to help you achieve it, potential obstacles, and new things you may need to learn to achieve the goal. Finally, this form requires you to write out the action steps you need to take to achieve the goal. I like using this form because it forces you to think through the goal rather than just writing down something you might want to accomplish.

I develop goals for my personal life, my family life, and my ministry. These goals may include financial targets, vacation plans, educational goals, and anything else I want to accomplish in the new year. For instance, one of my goals for 2009 is to complete my DMin. In order to do this I need to take two more classes, which I will take in January and March, and write my thesis. Another goal for this year is for my wife and I to take at least one vacation by ourselves. When you have children and grandchildren living in different parts of the country it is easy to plan vacations to visit them, but this year I want to make sure my wife and I have a week to ourselves. We will sit down in the next few weeks and schedule a week for that vacation. I have several other goals as well for the new year.

I learned a long time ago that writing one's goals was the first step to achieving them. An unwritten goal is usually just wishful thinking. Something happens when that goal is put on paper. I keep the goals in front of me so I don't forget about them. A few years ago I spent some time every evening evaluating what I had done to accomplish my goals that day. I did this every day for four years until it became second nature to me. It really helps keep me focused on achieving them.

What about you? What are your goals for 2009? Do they include your family, your church, your personal development, and anything else that may be important to you right now? Are they written down? Do you have specific plans for how you'll achieve them? Do your goals include both short term and long term goals? I believe goal setting is one of the most effective things you can do to ensure a productive year. Without goals you're apt to just drift along hoping something good will happen, but with some clear goals in mind you can be working to make good things happen in your life. If you need help in setting your goals feel free to contact me.