Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Connecting with the younger generation

Our local community hired a consultant last year to determine how the historic district could better serve the thousands of people who come to view the houses and other buildings in the district.  One of the things he noticed was that many of these businesses made it hard for these tourists to do business with them.  Some kept irregular hours; some were not open on weekends; and some were open by "Appointment only or if you happen to catch us at the store."  That was a sign on at least one of the businesses.  It almost seemed as if some of these businesses made it almost impossible for anyone visiting our city to purchase anything from them.  Now, how does this apply to smaller, bivocational churches?

Most churches say they want to attract younger people, especially young families with children.  But, what are they doing to be more attractive to these people?  The answer in many cases is very little, if anything.

Has your church ever conducted any kind of study to determine the time of the worship service that would be most attractive to young couples with children?  If your church is like most, it has kept the same times of worship it has had for decades.  If you are in a community with a lot of Sunday sports activities for children, a growing trend today, you may need to offer an earlier service so people can come to church and still allow their children to be involved in other activities.  A Saturday evening service might even be more appealing to some young families.

How easy is it for people to financially support your church?  Most churches take up a collection every Sunday morning, and most of the money raised comes in the form of checks and cash, with the bulk of the money coming through checks.  Many young people write very few checks any more.  They are quite comfortable paying their bills on-line or by using a debit card.  Does your church offer on-line giving?  Does your church have the means by which someone could contribute to the church with a debit card?   Many young people have automatic deductions taken out of their checking accounts to pay their bills and would be comfortable authorizing your church to automatically deduct from their account each week an amount they've agreed to.

What measures has your church taken to ensure the safety of the children who attend your church?  I recently read that the top two things a woman who visits a church for the first time checks is the cleanliness of the facility and the security of the children's ministry.  (I don't know what it would be for first-time male visitors, but it probably has something to do with donuts.)  If your female guests perceive that your church is not clean or that it does not provide adequate security for their children, it is unlikely they will return no matter how much they enjoyed the rest of their time at your church.

Notice that none of these things have anything to do with doctrine or church polity, but they have everything to do with how young people live today.  Long before we can introduce them to what we believe we have to connect with them and build relationships.  We have to make it comfortable for them to come to the services at our church.  So, the next time someone in your congregation says that the church needs to find a way to attract more young people, share this posting with them and ask how much of it are they willing to do in order to actually appeal to these people.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Update on comments

A few days ago I wrote that I had to reject some comments that have been coming in because I could not read the language and did not know if they were legitimate comments or if they had another purpose.  Since posting that I've received a number of comments that proved my fears were correct.  Some are in what appears to be an Oriental language followed by a series of dots.  As I moved my curser over the dots they appeared to be links to various pornographic sites.  I didn't open them to find out, but the site names certainly sounded like they may have been pornographic.  I have received some other comments in English, but they didn't sound right and appeared to be advertisements for various products.  Hopefully, my virus protection would protect me if people are trying to infect my computer with a virus in one of these spurious comments, but my rule of thumb is that if something on an e-mail doesn't seem right I don't open it.  I use the same rule for comments on my blog.  I would like to make a few quick comments about the comments.

First, if you respond to this blog in a language other than English your comments will not be posted.  For those whose comments would be legitimate I apologize.  I wish I spoke and read languages other than English, but I do not.  I have a lot of admiration for those who are able to converse in several languages, but I can't.  I will not post a comment that I can't read and possibly expose my readers to material that is immoral.  I hope you will understand and not be offended.

Secondly, I have two comments for those who have nothing more to do than to try to sneak something onto a Christian web site that could be morally offensive or harmful to people's computers.  The first comment is to get a life.  My days are so filled with constructive things to do that I cannot imagine anyone who has nothing more to do than to try to disrupt other people's lives.  I feel sorry for people whose lives are so empty they have nothing better to do than to send bogus comments to a blog.  A lot of people could be helped with some of the energy you waste on such activities.

The second comment I would make is that if your life really is that empty, you can fill that emptiness you feel inside with a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  I know that there are times when that emptiness seems overwhelming, and I know there are times when you are filled with a sense of guilt and shame for the web sites you are viewing and the ways you are trying to corrupt others with your activities.  Christ died on the cross so your sins could be forgiven and your guilt and shame taken away.  I encourage you to turn your life over to Him and let Him fill your life with His presence.  He will show you a more excellent way to live if you'll just invite Him into your life.  If you doubt that He is real or that He can do the things I've said, I encourage you to read this book and then decide.

Leader or chaplain?

A pastor told me he recently interviewed with a church search committee and asked them if the church was seeking a pastor whose primary responsibility would be in ministering to the current membership or whose primary responsibility would be in leading outreach into the community.  What do you guess the answer was?  If you guessed both you would be exactly right.  That church wants a pastor who will spend most of his or her time serving the current members and who will spend most of his or her time growing the church!  What the church fails to understand is that no pastor can spend most of the time doing both.  It's one or the other.

In my role I work with many pastor search committees helping them identify the qualities they need in their next pastor.  Almost every one of these churches tell me they want a pastor who can lead the church in growth, but the reality is most of these churches are seeking a pastor who will serve as a chaplain to the church family.  Growth is fine as long as it doesn't take away time the pastor spends with the current members.  Such churches really do not want a leader; they want a family priest.

This is very short-sighted on the part of these churches because the church should be the one insitution that exists for its non-members.  The Great Commission doesn't call us to sit around our churches waiting for people to drop in so we can serve them.  It calls us to be out in the world sharing the good news about Jesus Christ.  That is what pastors should be leading their churches to accomplish.  We should gather in churches to celebrate and worship and to be equipped in how we can take the gospel into our world Monday through Saturday.  If these churches are so wrong in what they are seeking in a pastor, why is this so common among many churches?  As Dr. Phil says, we teach people how to treat us.

Churches have been conditioned in the past to expect the pastor to fill the role of a chaplain and to manage the business of the church.  This is the role many seminaries teach their students, and when these students go into the church this is the only role they know how to fill.  Successful pastorates occur when the pastor is instantly available to satisfy every whim of every member of the church.  That's why many board meetings include a report from the pastor about how many times he or she visited church members that month, how many hospital visits were made, and how many boo-boos were kissed.  If the pastor fails to show up in a perceived time of need, the offended party will make sure the entire church knows how the pastor neglected to provide the approriate pastoral care, and such neglect will be duly noted in the minds of the members.

Do pastors have a responsibility to provide pastoral care to the church members?  Of course.  But the pastor also has a responsibility to lead, to cast vision, and to develop relationships with people outside the church.  So what does a pastor do?  Unfortunately, the answer is both.

If the pastor fails to meet the pastoral care expectations of the church he or she will lose credibility with the congregation.  That will make future efforts to introduce changes more difficult.  The pastor needs to serve as a chaplain, attend committee meetings that often produce little of lasting value, and meet the other expectations the church has while casting a vision to the church of a different way of doing ministry.  The church has been conditioned for years to expect traditional pastoral ministry, and it will take several years to help them understand there is a better, more biblical, way for a pastor to serve his or her church.  Perhaps you have been called to your church for such a time as this.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Friendly churches

Church members consistently tell me they attend the friendliest church in town.  In fact, as I often tell people attending one of my workshops, I have yet to meet the second friendliest church in any community!  There are two things I want to say about this.

One, many of these churches are friendly...to one another.  However, someone new who might drop in on Sunday morning might question just how friendly they are to outsiders.  In my role as a judicatory minister I attend a different service almost every Sunday, and I can tell you that some of these friendly churches seemed rather cold to me the first time I went there.  Many times I, an obvious newcomer to the church, would be completely ignored while members carried on coversations with one another.  Our churches need to become better aware of when they have guests, and it's important that we train our members how to welcome and connect with those guests.  If we don't do that we should not be surprised when these folks do not return.

The second thing I would mention is that many unchurched people are not necessarily looking for a friendly church; they are looking for a place where they can make friends.  That doesn't mean that it's not important that a church be a friendly place, but it does mean that it's more important that it be a place that can offer genuine community to people wanting to connect with others.  Many times their ability to build relationships with Christians directly impacts their ability to build a relationship with Jesus Christ.  I am convinced that a church that can offer genuine community to people will be a growing church.

I would encourage your church to begin taking some intentional steps to connect with your first time guests and begin to create opportunities for people to develop genuine friendships with one another.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Prayer team

Several years ago, when I was still pastoring, Promise Keepers held a major gathering in Washington DC.  I was there with my son, three of my deacons, and a group of men from our community.  That event sparked a desire on the part of my deacons to begin a time of weekly prayer for me, my family, and the church.  Each Sunday evening, a half-hour before our service began, I met with a group of people in a Sunday school classroom, and they would each pray specifically for me and my wife as well as concerns for the church.  This prayer time, more than anything else we did, changed our church.  If I ever returned to pastoral ministry one of the first things I would do is to ask people to serve on my prayer team.

Bivocational pastors of smaller churches often get frustrated because of all the things their church can't do, but prayer is something that every believer can do.  Our group each week varied between three and eight people, but the prayers of those people impacted my ministry and that of the church.  I would want to meet with my prayer team on a weekly basis to share with them some of my challenges and to ask for specific prayers for my wife and me as well as for the church.  I would want to meet with them quarterly for a meal together and to express my appreciation for their faithfulness and to share with them any vision I might have for future ministry in the church.  I would not look at these people as advisors but as prayer warriors.

John Maxwell has a great book on how to develop such a prayer team.  If you are serious about wanting such a team in your church I would recommend you read that book to help get you started.

I know the difference a prayer team made in our church and the difference it made in my personal ministry.  I believe it can make a difference in your life and ministry as well.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Healthy Small Church

Some months ago my publisher told me a Korean publisher had requested the rights to publish The Healthy Small Church for distribution in their country.  Today I received a copy of the book.  I am very humbled and honored that this publisher believes this book will benefit the pastors in Korea and other Korean speaking pastors around the world.  This makes my second book to be published in a language other than English.  Last year a Portuguese edition of The Bivocational Pastor was released by a publisher in Brazil.  At times I almost have to pinch myself to make sure I'm not dreaming.  When my first book was released in 2000 I never thought I would write another one, and now two of the books are available in other languages!  Book number six will be released in September of this year.

Each of these books address issues related to bivocational and small church ministry and their leaders who provide such ministry.  For such a long time there were few resources specially created for those of us who serve in such ministries, and I'm thankful that God has used me to make a few resources available.  I continue to believe that small churches will be around for a long time, and we need to be developing persons to provide leadership for such churches.

Those of you who read this blog and who have purchased my books, thank you.  It is always my prayer that you find these to be helpful to you and you complete the ministry God has given you.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Holiness: a personal choice

As part of my daily devotions I am re-reading The Pursuit of Holiness by Jerry Bridges.  I've read the book several times and each time I am convicted about how far I am from being the person I should be.  As I began reading the book this time I paused to read the endorsements in the front of the book.  I found one very interesting:

"Jerry Bridges gives timeless insight into a timeless problem: in our own pursuit of holiness, it's easy to end up in the ditch of legalism on one side of the road or lethargy on the other.  The Pursuit of Holiness has helped so many believers navigate the tricky by vitally important road to personal holiness.  This book should be on every Christian leader's shelf."

The words are true.  What I found interesting about them is that they were written by Ted Haggard.  Now, I'm not interested in playing pile on Ted Haggard.  Many others have assumed that role for themselves.  What is interesting to me is that I assume Haggard was sincere when he wrote them, but we know that he failed to walk his talk.  What disturbs me about that is that each of us are susceptible to the same failure.  None of us achieves the level of holiness God wants for us.  We all fight our personal temptations, and each of us are aware of just how often we fail to measure up.  Because Haggard, like so many before him, was such a public figure his failure also became public.  Our failures may not achieve the public scrutiny that his did, but we are certainly aware of our failure to live holy lives that are pleasing to God.  We have all known times of shame and sorrow because of our failures to overcome the evil desires that live within each of us.

Satan may not be all-knowing, but he certainly knows which buttons to push for each one of us.  He knows the areas in which each of us are the weakest, and he will make sure we are consistently tempted in those areas.  But, we cannot blame the devil for our failures.  We would not struggle with a temptation if there wasn't something within us that desired whatever the temptation offered.  Each time we sin it is because we have chosen to yield to that desire.  Each time we overcome a temptation it is because we have chosen to overcome it.  You and I are never defeated by sin.  We sin because we have chosen to be disobedient to God.  We must take personal responsibility for our holiness or the lack of it.

Perhaps that's why I keep re-reading this book.  I need to be reminded of my personal responsibility to live a holy life that is pleasing to God.  I need to be reminded that I have to be extra vigilent in the areas of my life where I am the weakest and most susceptible to temptation. I need to be reminded of the importance of prayer in defeating temptation, and  I need to be reminded to keep short accounts with God and to not delay in asking for His forgiveness when I do fail.

Your holiness is important to God and it should be to you.  2 Timothy 2: 21 tells us, "Therefore if anyone cleanses himself...he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work."  You and I have been called to a good work, but that work can be damaged if we become unclean vessels because of choices we have made.

None of us will ever be perfect this side of heaven.  We will fail at times despite our best intentions.    But, our goal should always be to measure up to the standard of holiness God has set, and that standard is perfect holiness.  Every day we will be confronted with choices, and our desire should always be to choose holiness in our actions, our thoughts, our motives, and our words.  When we fail to do so, it is imperative we confess our failure to God and seek His forgiveness and His assistance the next time we are confronted with the same temptation.

You may want to read this book, often.  It's full of good reminders.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Comment moderation

WOW!  I go for days without a post and this evening I do three.

In the past few weeks I've received some comments from readers that I have rejected and did not allow to be posted.  The reason for this is that the comments were not in English, and I had no idea what the people were saying.  For years I did not moderate the comments people made even after one person posted a comment in Spanish that someone later told me was an advertisement for a shirt.  I had to change that policy when I woke up one morning and found the same comment written in an Oriental language had been sent to every posting I had at the time.  I had to go into 159 postings and delete the comment since I had no idea what it said and doubted that if it was legitimate it would apply to all 159 postings.  Since that day I have moderated every comment that has been sent to this blog.  I have accepted every one, even if I didn't always agree 100% with the writer, except for the ones that are not in English.

I know people from around the world read this blog.  I have often been amazed where some of the readers of this blog live, and I feel honored that they find value in this blog.  I certainly do not want to offend any reader by rejecting his or her comments, but if I do not know what the comment says I simply cannot allow it to be posted on this blog.  I hope everyone understands and appreciates my position.

What do you need?

In recent weeks I've had some telephone and e-mail conversations with denominational leaders about training opportunities for bivocational ministers.  We've been able to share with one another the things that have worked in our specific regions, and we've talked about developing additional training.  As I prayed a few minutes ago I was struck by the thought that one thing we haven't done is ask you what you need to feel better equipped to do your ministry.  So...I'm asking.

What are the areas of ministry in which you feel you need the most help?  What type of training material or programs would best help you feel more comfortable doing ministry?  Let's move beyond ministry for a moment and ask what areas outside of ministry do you feel you need help?  Let me be very pointed with some questions.  How is your relationship with your family?  Are they enthused about your ministry or do they sometimes feel that it interferes with family life?  How are your finances?  How is your relationship with God these days?  Be very honest now...how are you doing?  Are you practicing good self-care?

I really want to know, and I want to be here for you.  I wouldn't do all the things I do if I didn't have a passion for bivocational ministry and those who serve in that role.  I can sit behind my computer screen and think of my own bivocational pastorate and assume that the needs I had are the same ones you have and be completely wrong.  The group with whom I'm talking can discuss all the things we want to do to help bivocational ministers, but if we don't ask then how we can best do that we're just guessing and likely to miss the mark.  Your ministry is too important for that to happen.  So, I need to know if I'm going to be able to provide asssistance that will add true value to your ministry.  If you don't want to share in the comments section, send me an e-mail.  I hope to hear from you soon.


I will be speaking at the PALCON 2010 at Olivet Nazarene University on May 18 and 19.  They have designated May 18 as Bivocational Day.  I will be speaking at the plenary session that morning and then leading two workshops: "Bivocational Ministry in the 21st Century" and "The Healthy Small Church."  On the following day I will present another workshop: "Transforming the Small Church."  I feel honored that my friends with the Church of the Nazarene have invited me to be part of this regional event and look forward to spending those days with them.

I would encourage all the Nazarene readers of this blog to make plans to attend the PALCON event hosted in your region.  Each event will have a number of great workshops that will help you in your ministry.  If you will be attending this one I hope you'll introduce yourself to me.  I would like to get to know the readers of this blog better.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Have a blessed Easter

I want to wish each of you a most blessed Easter Sunday.  May you be truly blessed as you celebrate the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.  All that we are, all that we have, all that we are called to do is because He lives!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Thesis defense

As many of you know from reading this blog, for the past three years I've been working on my DMin.  Today I had to defend my thesis, and it went well.  My thesis was "Coaching Bivocational Ministers for Greater Ministry Effectiveness."  It was a good project, and I had the opportunity to coach five excellent individuals serving in various ministry roles.  I should be able to graduate in May with my degree.

Many who work with bivocational ministers should look at coaching as a great tool.  It's hard for bivocational ministers to find time to attend classes, workshops, or pastor's gatherings.  Coaching can be worked into their time schedule, and since it can be done over the telephone it makes it even easier to pull off.  Coaching also addresses the issues the person being coached needs to address at the time.  The person being coached always sets the agenda for each coaching session, so he or she knows that the issues most important to them will be the ones addressed.

If you would like a coach to help you with some of the challenges you face in ministry or life, feel free to contact me.  I have now coached several ministers, most of them bivocational, and every one of them said that it was very helpful.  Because I see coaching bivocational ministers as part of my ministry, my fees are much less than what most coaches charge.  However, due to my regular work, I can only coach a few people at one time.  If you're interested in seeing if a coach could help you, contact me as soon as possible to ensure I'll have a spot for you.