Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Getting unstuck

One challenge many bivocational ministers often face is finding someone to turn to when they feel stuck or need help.  Some of them are not comfortable talking to fully-funded pastors because many of them really do not understand the unique challenges of bivocational ministry.  I've had enough bivocational ministers tell me the same thing about their judicatory leaders to know that many of them also do not really understand bivocational ministry, and some ministers tell me their judicatory leaders are not supportive of bivocational ministry.  So, who do they turn to when they need help?  For some, the answer is finding a coach to walk with them through these times of confusion.

My DMin thesis was "Coaching Bivocational Ministers for Greater Ministry Effectiveness."  For my project I coached five bivocational ministers in the US and Canada.  It was a great experience for me and for those selected to be part of the project.  Each minister had to write a report of the experience, and each of them reported that it was a very positive experience that helped them move forward over some challenges they had been facing.

In addition to the ones I coached as part of this project, I have coached a number of other bivocational ministers.  I believe coaching is a very effective tool that can be a great benefit to a bivocational minister who is seeking some direction in his or her life.  If you believe coaching might benefit you, I would love to talk to you about entering into a coaching relationship.  Because coaching is part of my ministry, my fees are much less than those charged by most life coaches.  It would certainly be worth that investment to get unstuck and able to move forward in one's life or ministry.  Due to my other ministry responsibilities I can only coach five persons at one time, but I do have openings at this time.  If you are interested in learning more about how coaching could benefit you, please contact me.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Small church self-esteem

Many writers have noted that one of the major problems smaller churches face is poor self-esteem.  They simply don't feel good about themselves.  This can especially be a problem in a church that once was much larger than it is now.  It is also often a problem for a church that goes from having a fully-funded pastor to a bivocational pastor.  Churches that have frequent pastoral turn-over can also have self-esteem issues.   They wonder what is so wrong with them that pastors do not want to stay with them.  Churches that have more than one of these issues going on at the same time will certainly struggle with maintaining a good image of themselves.  What can pastors and lay leaders do in such churches to help raise the self-esteem of the church?

The first thing I would recommend is to constantly remind them that they remain God's people, and God doesn't measure success the same way we often do.  Churches do go through cycles, but they always remain God's people.  His love for them never fades away.

One of the things I often did as a pastor was to tell the people from the pulpit that I believed in them more than some of them believed in themselves.  I would tell them that by working alongside God we could accomplish amazing things.  Some of them didn't believe me at first, but I kept that message in front of them.  They finally began to believe me when we did start getting a few victories under our belt.

The second thing I often suggest is to challenge these churches to a task you know they will accomplish.  Some of these churches feel they haven't accomplished anything worthwhile in years, and this is in fact the case for some of them.  Give them a goal they can't fail to accomplish, and then celebrate the victory, celebrate it again, and then set another challenge.  Start small and work your way up to larger challenges.

The author of a book I'm reading believes that success can become addictive, and I think there is some truth in that.  We've all seen sports teams that seem to be defeated when suddenly their offense scores a couple of times.  The momentum shifts, and the team that was losing now appears to be able to do no wrong.  They score again and again until they finally win the game.  The same thing happens in churches.  They can be going through a rough spot and everything seems to be working against them.  One day they are given a goal which they achieve.  The bar is raised a little with the next goal, and again they are successful.  Soon, they begin to feel a little better about themselves, and eventually they find they accomplish far more than they thought possible.  One success builds upon another.  Not only do the members of such churches now believe they can accomplish something worthwhile, they refuse to not succeed in their efforts.

Finally, encourage them when things don't work out as planned.  We set some goals we didn't achieve.  We had more than our share of failures.  I would remind them that failure is never final.  I would challenge them to help identify the reasons we didn't initially succeed and make revisions to our plans.   Sometimes we identified that our timing was off, or we had not done enough planning, or our efforts weren't there.  Sometimes I just missed God and led them in the wrong direction.  Regardless of the reasons, I would remind them that failure is just an event; it didn't make us failures.  We would learn some things and move forward in ministry.

In a church with poor self-esteem it can be hard to create any momentum, but once you start getting some momentum working for you it can take you further and faster than you may have thought possible.  If you serve a church with a poor self-image of yourself focus your ministry on raising that self-image.  It will pay great dividends in the future.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Fanning the Flame

In about an hour I'll be leaving for a pastor's conference called Fanning the Flame.  It is sponsored by my denomination and promises to be a good event.  Our first Fanning the Flame conference was held two years ago, and I've often said it was the best event our denomination has ever offered.  My prayer is that this one will compare quite favorably to the first one.

The good news about this one is I'm not leading any workshops.  I can simply "sit and soak" throughout the entire event.  Everyone in ministry needs such times in their lives.  Think about the title of this conference: Fanning the Flame.  Each of us in ministry carries a flame within us, but over time that flame can begin to dwindle.  The various pressures of ministry can cause the flame to almost go out resulting in less passion within us for what we do and less light to those who observe what we do.  All of us need to take time to fan the flame to help it grow brighter and produce more heat and more light.

I know I write often about the importance of bivocational ministers attending workshops and conferences, but it's because I know how important it is for us to keep the flame within us burning brightly.  I also know from experience how easy it is for the flame to almost go out and the results of that happening.  I don't want you to experience that.  Find at least one event this summer that you can attend that will help fan the flame within you. 

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Marketing your church

Many people really dislike the concept of marketing the church, but I've never understood why.  When I talk about marketing the church I am referring to finding ways to let people know about your church.  A few months after joining our church a new member told me we were the best kept secret in town.  That really bothered me.  Our church should not be a secret.  If we are pleased with the ministries we offer we should want everyone in our communities to know about us.  Yet, I find that many small churches seem to go out of their way to remain a secret.  Maybe that is one reason they remain small.  What are some inexpensive ways a small church can let its community know it exists?

One of the simplest ways is to put up good signs.  I serve a number of small churches located in rural areas, and it was very difficult to find some of them during my first year as an Area Minister.  I remember being 30 minutes late to a meeting at one church because I couldn't find it.  I stopped at three different houses within five miles of the church, and none of them could give me directions to the church.  They had a sign on the highway, but to get to their church building I had to turn on three different county roads after leaving the highway, and none of them had a sign.  I had decided to turn around at the next driveway I came to and return home, and the next drive way was the one into the church property.  Put up some good signs and help people locate your facility.

Speaking of signs, one of my pastors had 12 signs made that resemble realtor signs.  The signs simply invite people to the church and gives the address and the time of the morning service.  Each week he moves the signs to different church member's yards.  This way he avoids problems with the highway department regarding signs.  Because they are the same size as realtor signs he avoids problems with having signs too large for the city zoning codes, and by moving them each week the entire community will see these signs at different times.  What a great idea, and the cost of doing this is very reasonable.

There are many web hosting sites that will allow a church to have a simple web site at no cost.  You won't have a fancy site, but it will allow you to give basic information about the church and some of your ministries. Other sites provide web sites for less than $20.00 a month that will allow you to post even more information about your church. People do look for information on the Internet about churches, and there is no reason why every church doesn't have a presence on the Internet.

Marketing your church can be as simple as having voice mail on your church phone that gives the callers the times of your services.  Many small churches do not have someone at the church office during the week.  If this describes your church you are likely missing phone calls which means you are missing ministry opportunities.  It amazes me that many churches do not have even an inexpensive answering machine, and some who do fail to give the caller the times of their services.

Church marketing does not have to be 'in your face."  Just these simple steps can let more people be aware of your church and help them feel that you sincerely want them to check you out.  Why not try at least one of them this year and see if it makes a difference in your ministry to the community?

Friday, May 21, 2010

New Book

I am excited to report that Beacon Hill Press will release my next book on September 1.  I can now announce the title of the book is The Healthy Pastor: Easing the Stresses of Ministry.  This will be my first book that does not specifically speak to issues faced by bivocational and small church leaders.  Most of the stresses that we in ministry face are common to all ministers, and this book wil look at 14 of them.

You will notice that the title does not refer to eliminating the stresses of ministry.  I'm not sure that some of the stresses can be eliminated, but all of them can be managed and lessened.  After identifying some of these stresses and their sources, the book offers some practical ways to address them so they become less stressful.  I believe this book will be a valuable help to everyone in ministry and their families.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


My graduation went great.  Our motel was about an hour away from the campus which made for a lot of travel, but other than that it was a wonderful weekend.  The graduation was held in the football stadium.  I had been praying that we would have sunny weather, but I soon realized I should have prayed for sunny and cool weather.  It was hot!  Around 4,600 graduates attended the graduation which was about half of the number graduating.  Liberty University has really grown over the past few years.  Our son graduated from there in the mid-90s, and I think we had about as many attending graduation as the school had for total students when he attended there.  They announced they now have over 60,000 students attending on campus and in their distance learning program.

I am in Illinois to speak at the PALCON conference for the Church of the Nazarene this week.  I'll be speaking in the morning plenary session in a couple of hours and will lead two workshops today and tomorrow.  I think there are around 400 pastors here for this event.  Today is Bivocational Day so I hope to meet many bivocational ministers and be able to visit with them.

It seems more denominations are realizing how important bivocational ministry is to their churches and are trying to host some events specific to their needs.  That is a great step in the right direction.  I received some complaints from a few bivocational ministers about having Bivocational Day on Tuesday.  I understand where they are coming from, but we need to realize there are some scheduling issues with anything we do.  When I was a bivocational pastor I would try to reserve 2-3 vacation days to attend events that I thought would be helpful to my ministry.  I believe there needs to be some give and take on both sides.  Denominations and judicatories need to offer more events for bivocational ministers, and many of these need to be on Saturday.  However, bivocational ministers need to understand that not everything can be offered on Saturday.  We need to be willing to invest a vacation day or two to attend some events as well.  With a little compromise on both sides, we could see a lot more events geared specifically for bivocational ministers and much better attendance at the events that are offered.

I need to finish getting ready.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


I apologize for not posting much in recent days.  With my graduation coming up this weekend I have been quite busy getting things finalized for that and preparing for the workshops I'll be leading at the PALCOM conference next week.  The next few days will be quite full and hectic, but I'm excited about both events.  This graduation has been a long time coming.  Someone recently asked how long it took me to earn my DMin, and I answered, "All my life."  I began by taking classes at Boyce Bible School starting in 1983.  I have taken time off between the various degrees, but it seems I've been in one class or another ever since.  The only regret I have with my education is that I waited so long to do it.  I certainly don't regret the classes or the work that brought me to this point.  Every class, even the ones I didn't enjoy, helped shape me and make me a better person and a better minister.

I'll post more about this next week.  I need to get packed tonight.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Homegrown leadership

One of my responsibilities as a judicatory leader in our region is to assist the churches in my Area when they seek new pastoral leadership.  Our denomination has a procedure that we follow, and it is one that has worked for many years.  However, it does not work so well when we are seeking pastors for our smaller churches, especially if these pastors will be bivocational.  When I work with churches seeking such pastors I tell them to expect a longer process because these folks are often hard to find.  Someone may be willing to move across the country to pastor a church of 350 people, but not too many are willing to travel across state lines to pastor a church of 50 people, especially if they are going to have to find other employment to make ends meet.  I'm not saying that's right; it's just the way it is.

As difficult as it is to find pastoral leadership for these smaller churches, it is even tougher to find staff persons.  Many of our churches want to find someone to lead their youth ministry or some other specialized ministry in the church.  Many are willing to pay a small salary, but in most cases it is very small.  I frequently receive phone calls from these churches asking where they can find someone willing to serve in that capacity.  Most of the time I refer them to seminaries, Bible schools, and colleges in the hope that they will find a student seeking such ministry while they earn their degree.

The other thing I often tell these churches, whether they are seeking a pastor or staff person, is the best thing they can do is to grow their own leaders.  The fact is that it is not easy to find bivocational leadership.  Yes, there are some people out there who want to pastor a church, but some of these people are downright scary in their theology and their practices.  I have seen incredible damage done to small churches by such people in a very short period of time.  The safest place to find new leadership is among the membership of the church whenever possible.

One of my churches is currently being served by an individual who had served as a deacon in that church for many years.  The church was having difficultly finding a new pastor, and after a few months of searching this individual asked to meet with me.  He admitted he had been feeling that God was leading him to accept the pastorate of the church if they wanted him to.  He wanted to know my opinion.  I responded that he would be an excellent choice.  He would come in with instant credibility with the congregation.  He had obviously bought into the ministry philosophy of the church, he knew most of the people in that small community, and he was well liked by most of them.  He did become their pastor and has done a great job of leading the church.  He recently completed training offered through our Region to church leaders who do not have a seminary education.

Could just anyone make this step to pastoral leadership?  No, but there are those who can.  They have the spiritual maturity, a sound theology, and the willingness to work hard to lead their church.  We need to begin to challenge those who have these characteristics to consider that God may be calling them to lead a small church.

We cannot call anyone to pastoral ministry.  That calling can only come from God.  But, most of us who are currently in ministry were probably challenged by someone to prayerfully consider if God might be calling us to that role.  All I'm saying is that we need to do the same thing with some of the better leaders in our smaller churches.  It may be that God has raised up the next pastor or staff person for your small church from within the congregation.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Investing in yourself

The past few months have seen wide fluctuations in the stock market.  Both large fortunes and small savings have been lost.  I have some pastors who planned to retire in 2009 and decided to wait because their retirement accounts had lost so much money.  Although things are slowly improving, we still have a long ways to go.  My last 401-K statement showed I was almost even with what I had two years ago, but it's doubtful that I'll ever get back what I lost during that time.  A lot of companies are now running ads promoting various investments they insist are the way to protect yourself from future financial meltdowns, but how can ordinary people know which ones are really the safest.  Well, there is one investment you can make that will never go down in value and that is investing in yourself.

In a couple of weeks I will graduate with my DMin degree.  I've spent much of my life going to school as a part-time student.  It's never been easy, but I considered every class an investment in myself.  Stock prices can go up and down.  Interest rates can fluctuate.  But, what you learn can never decrease in value.  It's not just the information you receive; it's how that information changes you as a person.  I admit that some of what I've learned is already outdated, but I have been able to build upon that knowledge with new information, and the process has helped transform me.  It has made me a better minister, a better husband, and a better father.

It has never been easier to acquire new information.  Workshops are held all over the country and many are now available through the Internet.  College and seminary classes can now be taken on-line and today it is possible to even get an accredited degree entirely on-line.  Some of these programs have even been created specifically for bivocational ministers such as the certification program offered by Campbellsville University.  Does it take time to take one of these classes?  Of course, anything of value requires an investment of time, energy, and money, but I encourage you to think of it as an investment in yourself.  You will grow as a result of taking that class, attending that workshop, or earning that degree, and that growth will impact your ministry, your relationships, and every other aspect of your life.

In addition to the certification program at Campbellsville University they offer on-line classes at the bachelor's level and they now have a fully-accredited Master of Theology degree that one can earn entirely on-line.  I am pleased to announce that I will be teaching an on-line class this fall on "Growing a Healthy Church" for Campbellsville University's School of Theology, and I would love to have you as a student.  There is still time to enroll as a student and register for that class.  You can get more information about Campbellsville at their website.  I have been a member of the Church Relations Council for the school for several years, and I can tell you I am extremely impressed with the school and everyone associated with it.  Now is the time to invest in yourself, and this class is a great way to begin.

There is time to enroll as a student and register for the class.