Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Pastors work long hours

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.

You can read the full report here.

How does this compare with your schedule?  I think this could be an interesting discussion for all of us to share with one another. 

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Prayer for your church

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.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Favorite books of 2009

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.
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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!"
  5. 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.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Thinking ahead

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 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.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Lord's Prayer

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.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The call to bivocational ministry

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.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Minister's Library

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 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 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.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The auction

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.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

DMin thesis on bivocational ministry

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.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Finding stuff

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.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

$3 worth of God

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.

Don't settle for $3 worth of God.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Radio interview

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.