Friday, October 23, 2009

Pastoral leadership

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.

Thursday, October 22, 2009


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.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


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.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Bad blogger

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 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.

Monday, October 5, 2009


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!