Thursday, June 18, 2009

A church that breaks God's heart

Some time ago I read that the average seminary graduate remains in the ministry only 5 years after completing seminary. There are many reasons for this, but one of those reasons is the pastor grows tired of the constant fighting that goes on in many churches. As a judicatory leader I have had to referee too many of these fights, and it doesn't seem to be getting any better.

Usually there are only a handful of people who are creating the problems. In fact, I remember reading that the typical pastor leaves his or her church because of seven people. A hundred people may have thought the pastor was doing a great job, but seven people made his or her life so miserable that the pastor left. The reason these seven people could do that is because the other hundred didn't publicly support the pastor. They often excuse themselves by saying, "We don't go to church to fight." Well, that's good, but that doesn't mean they can't support their pastor and stand up to the controllers that exist in their church.

I often tell people that one problem we have in our churches is that we are made up of nice people, and nice people don't enjoy confrontation. However, in many churches there are some folks who are not so nice, who see the church as their own little fiefdom, and who believe the church exists for their benefit. And nobody will stand up to them, so they get their way. The result always is that the church remains stuck, it cannot grow, pastoral leadership will not stay, and people for whom Jesus Christ gave His life die and go to hell. It has to break God's heart.

I'm not asking nice people to become like the controllers. I am saying that it is time that we become firm with these people and tell them their childish behavior will not be accepted any longer. I am saying that they need to be confronted when they exhibit poor behavior that is threatening to the health and well-being of the church. I can hear some readers now, "Well, if we confront them they will leave the church." And the problem is....? The fact is, you are already losing people. Too many churches have lost their teenagers because of these controlling tyrants because young people will not tolerate such behavior. You are losing new members who leave your church within a few months after joining because of comments these controllers make to them. Visitors are not returning because they can sense the tension in the church as soon as they walk in. Here's my question..."Who are you most interested in keeping, and who are you willing to lose?"

Until these people are confronted with their improper behavior your church will remain stuck and will have little or no effectiveness in your community. It will break God's heart because He has so much more for your church, but His heart won't stay broken for long. He will simply raise up another church in your community to do the work you won't do, and He will allow your church to die a natural death brought on by the disease within it.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

First book published overseas

Last week I received a copy of The Bivocational Pastor in Portuguese that is being published in Brazil. I had been told a couple of years ago that a contract had been signed for this book to be published there, but other overseas publishers had signed contracts to publish some of my books and had not followed through. This publisher did, and I couldn't be happier. It shows that bivocational ministry is not just happening in the US but is occurring around the world. In fact, I would guess it is even more common overseas, and it probably enjoys greater acceptance than it often does in the US. It is my prayer that this book will be a blessing and encouragement to the bivocational ministers serving in Brazil.

Monday, June 15, 2009

To do or not to do

E. Stanley Jones wrote, "Your capacity to say no determines your capacity to say yes to greater things." Bivocational ministers consistently point to time issues as the biggest challenges they face. There are tremendous demands on the life of every bivocational minister, but one of the reasons many of us struggle in the area of time is that we find it hard to say no to anyone.

Most people feel called into ministry to serve other people. Any time we say no to someone or to some opportunity it feels like we are failing to serve. I know this is true in my life, and I've had enough bivocational ministers admit to me their own challenges in this area to know it is true in the lives of many of us. We don't want to disappoint people, and most of all we don't want to disappoint God. Refusing an opportunity to serve someone can feel like we are failing God, and none of us wants to do that.

At the same time we need to realize that every resource is limited including the resource of our time. We do not have unlimited amounts of time, and there are legitimate demands on our time that we have to meet. As a bivocational minister you have either a full-time or part-time job that demands a certain number of hours each week. You have family responsibilities that must not be neglected. There are tasks at the church that only you can do. To stay spiritually and emotionally strong you need to set aside time each day for God. Finally, it's important that you invest in your own well-being by taking time for yourself. These are non-negotiable items that will require a certain number of hours of your life each week. After setting aside time to eat and sleep, just how many hours do you have left for other efforts?

Too often we overload our schedules because we don't want to disappoint anyone. Then when an emergency occurs we have no time to respond to it without seriously overloading ourselves and taking time away from other responsibilities. Unfortunately, when this occurs we often take time away from our families or from our own self-care. While this may occasionally be necessary, doing so on a regular basis will cause long-term damage to our families and to our own well-being.

Such overloaded schedules also means that when a great opportunity for ministry comes along we have no time for it. We have so committed our limited time to maintenance items that we have no time for new opportunities that God may send our way.

Having a Daytimer that is overloaded with commitments is not a sign of spirituality or commitment to ministry. It is a sign that you struggle with priorities and the ability to say no. Is there any place written in your Daytimer for a date with your spouse? Is there any time scheduled in your Daytimer for personal growth? Are there blank days in your schedule where things can be moved if you have an emergency that requires you to have to rearrange your schedule?

As a bivocational minister we will always struggle with time issues, but let's not compound them by failing to act wisely in the commitments we make. Set aside time for the things that are most important to you, and set aside time when activities can be rescheduled if need be. It will greatly reduce the stress you feel and make you more productive and effective in your ministry and in your relationships with others.