Sunday, May 31, 2009

Date night

I read yesterday that President Obama was being criticized for going out for an evening date with his wife. Some critics said that did not look very presidential with all of the problems facing our nation. Baloney! Obama has made decisions that I disagree with, and I am perfectly willing to criticize when appropriate, but how can anyone complain about someone's decision to take his wife out for an evening together?

For many years my wife and I have enjoyed a date night. We found that unless we scheduled time to be together it seldom happened. As a bivocational pastor something always came up that would prevent us from enjoying some time together. We decided to schedule an evening or day that would be our date time for the week, and since starting this there have been few weeks that we have not enjoyed a date.

Typically, our date will consist of going out to eat, often in a city about an hour from our home, maybe do a little shopping, often stopping in Barnes and Noble, and grabbing a Starbucks for the trip home. Nothing fancy, but the best part of the date is often that two hour round trip drive when we are all alone and can just talk without fear of interruption.

We protect this time. Her work schedule sometimes changes, so as soon as I find out her day off I schedule that day on my calendar. Her schedule is usually posted three weeks out, so I can schedule this time that far in advance. I simply write her name down for that day, and if anyone calls wanting a meeting or wanting me to do something else I tell them I already have an appointment for that day. The caller is usually satisfied, and I've never been asked what the appointment is for.

It is too easy for busy people to forget the most important people in their lives. We in the ministry do not want to take our families for granted or give them whatever left-overs we might have. Most likely, our churches have had many pastors before us, and if the Lord tarries they will have many pastors after we've left. However, I want to be the only husband my wife ever has and the only father my children ever know which means I have to invest in those relationships.

President Obama has given us a good example. The demands on his time are far greater than most of us will ever experience, but he will still take some time to spend with his family. I hope he and his wife had a great time on their date, and even more I hope you will follow their example.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

A growing problem

A judicatory leader recently told me he had contacted a new pastor of one of his churches. The church had called this pastor a few months earlier, but the judicatory leader had not been able to find out any information on the pastor and could never catch him in the church office. After a few minutes of conversation the pastor informed the judicatory leader the church had voted to leave their denomination, but he didn't know who should receive the letters informing the denomination of this decision. The judicatory leader asked why the church had decided to do this, and the pastor replied he was an "independent, fundamentalist Baptist who didn't believe in denominations."

It is incredible to me that a church with a 100+ year history of belonging to their denomination and their association could decide within 2-3 months to leave that relationship because a pastor who had just began work with their church asked them to. I do not understand why the congregational leaders would not at least invite their denominational representative in to discuss their thoughts about doing this. I certainly do not understand the arrogance of a pastor who believes that it is his duty to lead this church in making this decision. He knew he was an "independent, fundamentalist Baptist" when he went there, and he knew this church belonged to a denomination. If he had any sense of pastoral ethics he would never have accepted a call to this church if he could not support the denomination in which the church belonged, and, in my opinion, this pastor's actions in leading the church to become independent illustrates that he is lacking in pastoral ethics. The result is this church of 70 people is now independent, the pastor is likely to leave in 2-3 years, and they will be out there by themselves.

A similar problem is occurring in churches who call pastors from a different denomination and soon find themselves being asked to leave their present denomination to join the one the pastor has belonged to. Two different denominations have recently told me they are having problems losing churches in this manner. Most of the pastors are from a certain denomination that set a very aggressive goal of new church planting. Anytime a church leaves their denomination to join this denomination it is counted as a new church plant. I suppose it's easier to steal churches that to do the hard work of actually starting a new church, and again I personally believe there is an ethical boundary that must be crossed before this can happen.

Does this mean that a church must remain forever in the denomination in which it is a member? No. It is possible that a denomination may significantly abandon its core theological beliefs and adopt practices and doctrine that is contrary to biblical teaching. In such cases churches may choose to leave and become part of another denomination that better reflects their beliefs. However, such decisions should be made very carefully and only after much prayer and conversation with their judicatory leaders. Too often people react to some headlines that tell of isolated incidences that occur within a denomination, but these incidences do not reflect the denomination or the beliefs of the vast majority of that denomination.

What bothers me most is the arrogance of pastoral leaders who will knowingly go into a church that belongs to a denomination they cannot support and who immediately begin to encourage the church to abandon their roots. Smaller, bivocational churches seem to be at most risk for this because they often struggle to find pastoral leadership. Too often, they are willing to accept the first person who shows an interest in their church regardless of this person's qualifications or background. Now that they have this person serving as their pastor, they are willing to do almost anything to keep him or her including leaving a long historic relationship with other like-minded churches. This is a decision that will have long-term impacts on the church, and I caution churches to not make that decision quickly or lightly.

A final word to pastoral leaders: If you are talking to a church about becoming its pastor and you do not like the denomination in which that church is a member, make a decision about whether or not you can work within that denomination. If you believe you cannot, have the ethical integrity to refuse to become pastor of that church. Find a church whose beliefs are in alignment with your own and begin to pastor that church. To do otherwise is wrong.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Healthy Small Church

I recently led four workshops on "The Healthy Small Church" in our region. We had about 200 people attend the sessions representing a number of our smaller churches. The workshops went well, but now the real work begins. It is one thing to sit and listen to someone explain how a church can become healthier; it is another thing to apply what you've learned.

Many of the churches attending the workshops are now looking at how they can become healthier. Some ordered enough copies of my book The Healthy Small Church for each of their lay leaders, and they intend to work through each of the chapters and use the diagnostic questions at the end of the book to examine their church. Some churches are going to meet with other churches that attended the workshop so they can learn from each other. A few have indicated they will probably call me to come in and work with their church leaders to help their churches become healthier.

This book and workshop has been a real help to a number of churches that believe they now have the tools to help them begin to look at their churches in a new way. After sitting in the workshop many have realized for the first time they have become primarily inward focused and stuck in a maintenance mode. Some church leaders have said they knew something was wrong, but they couldn't identify what it was until they heard me describe the characteristics of a maintenance church. Several came up to me during the breaks and said I was describing their church.

If your church would like to go through this workshop, please contact me. Better yet, you may find several churches in your association or district that would want to experience this workshop together. I am also willing to serve as a consultant for your church if you would like for me to spend a day or two with your leadership to help them look at your congregation and make some recommendations how it could become healthier.

I believe in the small church and in bivocational leadership. If possible, I would enjoy working with your congregation as it seeks to be faithful to God's purpose for its ministry.