Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Leadership development for the bivocational church

It's always a risky thing to look ahead and try to predict the future, especially when you are looking at churches.  As I've recently tried to look 10 years down the road one of the things that I think is a pretty safe prediction is that we are going to see a lot more churches that are going to be looking for bivocational leaders.  Most denominational leaders will tell you that they are already seeing more of their churches seeking bivocational ministers, and these same leaders will also tell you that they see that increasing in the future.  So do I.  There are many reasons for this which I won't get into in this post, but I am convinced that some churches that currently use fully-funded pastors will be taking a serious look at calling a bivocational pastor the next time they need a pastor.  The challenge is going to be where do we find people who have been trained to be bivocational ministers.

Bivocational ministers come from a wise range of backgrounds and educational levels.  I've known bivocational ministers who had PhDs from major universities, and I've known others who had a high school education.  Some are seminary professors, and others work in a factory as I did during much of my bivocational pastorate.  How do we develop these individuals who have been called by God to this specific ministry, and a second question is what kind of training do they need?

I will devote a few future postings to these questions, but let me just touch on one area of training these individuals will need.  Few things are more important in a smaller, bivocational church that relationships.  These churches are often called family churches for good reasons.  Relationship in these churches is #1.  This means that the pastors of these churches, if they want to enjoy successful ministries, must be relational people.  They must be persons who can interact successfully with members of their churches.  It hurts me to say this, but I see a lot of pastors who seriously need to work on their people skills.

Once again LifeWay did a study on pastor terminations and found that the top five reasons pastors were terminated by their churches were due to relationship issues.  These same top five reasons may shift places from one year to the next, but they have remained the top five reasons for a decade or longer.  More pastors lose their jobs each year because they cannot work well with members of their congregations than lose their jobs over doctrinal issues or any other issue.  I don't know if the numbers have been broken down by size of church, but my guess is that, because smaller churches are so relationally driven, a large percentage of these terminations were in the smaller churches.

I don't remember a lot of classes in seminary that addressed relationships; in fact, I don't think I had any.  If this is the number one reason why ministers are terminated it seems that this is a topic that should be addressed as we prepare persons for ministry.  Until that changes it will be up to judicatories and para-church groups to develop that kind of training for their ministers, including their bivocational ministers.

Leadership is all about having people willing to follow you, and if they don't like you or respect you they aren't apt to follow you.  Relationship building develops trust, and trust is the currency of leadership.  As we think about helping prepare people for bivocational ministry I think we have to begin by helping them understand the importance of developing healthy relationships with persons in their church and give them the tools to do that.

What do you think?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The mission field

If you want to see your mission field all you have to do is to look outside your window.  In today's mail I received a mailing from our denomination's home mission society that included some interesting information.  The United States is the third largest and most diverse mission field in the world today.  71% of Americans are unchurched.  Although it will vary slightly by geography approximately 7 out of 10 of your neighbors are not involved in any church, and many of them do not know Jesus Christ.

Your denomination has individuals who have been called to mission fields in places like Japan, Africa, Russia, and nations throughout the world.  If you are non-denominational you likely know, and support, independent missionaries who serve in those areas.  But, your primary mission field sits across the road and down the street.  You and your church have been called to reach this mission field, and if you are not successful in doing so many of the people within that mission field will face a Godless eternity.

For many smaller churches summer is a slow time with people away on vacation.  Choirs may shut down for the summer and in some churches committee meetings are postponed until fall.  This is a great time for small church leaders to begin planning for how they can effectively reach out to their communities when people return from vacations and children return to school.  I would encourage you to prayerfully walk, or drive if you're in a rural community, around your community and begin to ask God to open your eyes to the spiritual needs of the people who live there.  Take a really good look at the people through God's eyes.  Then begin to ask Him what you can do about those needs.  Don't offer excuses about how small your church is or how it is lacking in resources.  Simply pray asking God to show you what you can do.

Once you begin to have a glimpse of what can, and should, be done, talk to other leaders in your church and tell them what you've been doing.  Ask them to help you form a plan to reach your community starting in the fall.  Find some intentional ways you can make a difference in people's lives.  Don't be afraid to start small.  Just start.  Take seriously the spiritual, emotional, and physical plight of your neighbors and find ways to minister to them in a way in which they can see Jesus in your actions. 

You will be amazed at what God can accomplish through even the smallest church that is committed to serving Him.  In one of my sermons I tell people that God is more interested in our availability than in our capability.  God is looking for people and churches who are willing to do whatever they can to impact their communities, and He will give them the tools they need to get the job done.  I encourage you to be one of those churches.


Transformation is a word I find myself thinking a lot about right now and writing a lot about.  As I read the New Testament I find that people's lives were transformed when they encountered Jesus Christ.  Blind men could see; people were healed of illnesses that had impacted their entire lives; even people who had made poor choices in life found forgiveness and experienced transformation. 

Such transformation continued after Jesus' resurrection.  The disciples were changed from men who hid behind locked doors to men who could not be silenced.  Persecutors of the early church (Saul) were transformed into mighty witnesses for Christ.  Thousands of men and women gave their lives for their new faith rather than be silent about the transforming power of Jesus Christ.

I have to ask where is that transforming power today?  As I visit different churches each week I see too many that are just going through the motions.  They are structured and orderly and dead.  Cobwebs are growing in their baptismal pools.  Their prayers lack passion.  The congregation is graying and shrinking.  People who live around the corner from the church may not be able to direct someone to it.  Too many ministers are hanging on until retirement and wonder why they ever chose to enter the ministry in the first place.

The purpose of the church is to introduce people to Jesus Christ that their lives would be transformed forever.  We are to become new creatures in Christ.  I believe we need to look at everything we are doing in our churches to determine now many of them are actually helping people live transformed lives.

Since I believe that everything rises and falls on leadership we in leadership positions must first be living transformed lives.  We need to be spending time with God every day in prayer and study of Scripture.  We need to look at God's call on our lives with fresh eyes and see how the ministry He has given us is impacting the lives of those we touch.  I don't know what this might mean for you and your ministry, but I do know that I'm spending more time these days looking at my own life and ministry and trying to see where transformation needs to occur.  It's rather unsettling, but I think it's necessary if we want to be faithful to God's call on our lives.

Sunday, July 18, 2010


This morning I had the honor of visiting a small church that baptized seven people at the start of their worship service.  These individuals ranged in age from 86 to children and included a father and son and a husband and wife who were baptized together.  A long time member of the church said that he could not remember ever seeing that many people baptized at one time in the church.

Different denominations have different understanding of baptism, but for those of us who are Baptists, baptism is a special event in the life of the individual and the church.  For the individual it signifies something that has taken place in his or her life.  This person has invited Jesus Christ into his or her life, and baptism represents the death of the old life (being lowered into the water) and the new birth (coming out of the water).  It is a public statement that he or she has begun a new life that has been transformed by the power of Jesus Christ.  For the church it represents the start of a new relationship with the individual being baptized.  For most Baptist churches, one must be baptized by immersion before becoming a member, so the baptism is seen as the beginning of that relationship.  So, I hope you can see the importance of this day for both the individuals and the church.

I attended services there this morning because I had heard about the planned baptism, and I wanted to be there to celebrate with the church.  Two years ago this church was struggling.  Their attendance was dwindling, they had few youth, and their financial support was declining.  Their fully-funded pastor had resigned to move to another church, and the church was realizing it needed to look for a bivocational pastor.  This was a disappointment to some within the church, and I would not be surprised if a few didn't see it as the first step towards their demise as a church.  About a year ago the church did call a bivocational pastor, and today they were able to celebrate a significant event in the life of their church.  Later this evening they held a special business meeting at which they approved the purchase of equipment that will help their outreach to the children of the community.  Because this involved a significant outlay of money for a smaller church this decision represented a genuine step of faith for the church.  The pastor called me after their evening worship service to thank me for attending the morning service and to tell me the results of their business meeting.  It was a great day in the life of this small church and their bivocational pastor.

Many churches today are finding they also need to make the shift from having a fully-funded pastor to a bivocational pastor.  For many of these churches this decision often comes with a sense of loss and a fear that their days of ministry are about to end.  What many of these churches find is that they are able to move into a new era of ministry that is exciting and rewarding.  Calling a bivocational pastor is not a step backwards for these churches but an opportunity to begin again with a fresh focus on ministry that can transform people's lives.

I'm excited about the future of the church I visited this morning.  I believe they are trusting God to do great things in and through them, and, as a result, they are going to see lives transformed and they will have a greater impact on their community than they've known for years.  Your church can experience the same thing as you seek a fresh vision for ministry from God for your church.

I would love to hear about the exciting things that are happening in your bivocational churches.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Thesis now available online

The thesis I wrote for my DMin is now available online at http://digitalcommons.liberty.edu/doctoral/345.  My title is "Coaching Bivocational Ministers for Greater Ministry Effectiveness."  It describes the value coaching can provide as a training and support tool for bivocational ministers, and I believe for all clergy.  In the thesis you will read about the five persons who volunteered to be part of the project and some of the issues and challenges they were facing.  You willl also read how they found the solutions to some of those issues through the coaching relationship they had with me.  For me, it was a very interesting project that I believe shows a lot of promise for bivocational ministers and those who work with them.  I believe judicatory leaders should look at coaching as a important tool as they work with their ministers, both bivocational and fully-funded.

At the present time I am able to accept a few persons who would like to have a coach, but the number I can accept is small, so if you believe having a coach might be helpful to you I encourage you to contact me as soon as possible.  I am a certified coach through New Church Planting and have coached a number ministers, both bivocational and fully-funded.  Coaching can help anyone who is
  • Feeling stuck in life and/or ministry and needs help to move forward.
  • Facing a crossroads in their lives and ministers.
  • Trying to find a fresh vision for their lives and ministries.
  • Wanting to grow as an individual.
  • Needing help with challenges related to life, family, work, or ministry.
  • Willing to do the hard work that leads to transformation.
My fees are much lower than most life and executive coaches charge.  My thirty years of ministry experience and my coaching experience have prepared me to help you move forward, and I would enjoy the opportunity to work with you to help that happen.  Please contact me as soon as possible if you think you might be interested.  Just send me an e-mail and let me know you would like to discuss the possibility of entering into a coaching relationship.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The continuing attack on Christianity

I have been very careful to avoid addressing political issues in this blog.  This blog's focus has been on bivocational and small church ministry, and I did not want to distract from that emphasis.  However, there continues to be an assault on Christianity in this country that must be recognized due to the threat it presents to churches of every size.  I read a recent story of a pastor in North Carolina who was removed from being the honorary chaplain of the state house of representatives for ending his prayer with the name of Jesus.  He is a Christian pastor!  How did they think he was going to close his prayer...by calling on the name of some other diety?  The reason given is that by invoking the name of Jesus some in the chamber would be offended.  So what?  I am regularly offended by some of the religious statements of various religious leaders who serve on the far fringe of their religions, and this includes some supposedly Christian leaders.  This is still America, a land in which there is supposed to be free speech.  Free speech may make people uncomfortable, and may offend some people, but it is still free.  I seriously doubt that many people in North Carolina would be offended by a minister praying and ending his prayer in Jesus' name which means that we have given a small minority of people veto power over the right of a religious leader to pray as his conscience dictates.  It is just one more sign that Christianity is under attack in this country, and our religious freedoms are being stripped from us little by little.

Churches are finding it difficult to get zoning approval in some counties to build new facilities.  In some communities home Bible studies are being banned.  The ACLU seems to be on the constant lookout for any public practice of Christianity such as having a prayer before a sporting event or at a high school commencement.  The list goes on and on and every item is just one more effort to remove Christianity from public life.

Can our leaders not see the correlation between this continual attack against Christian values, principles, and morals and the continued decline of our society?  The more we remove Christianity from the public square the more we see the spread of all forms of evil in our culture.  As a nation we need to hear again the words of George Washington in his farewell address as president:

…Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labour to subvert these great Pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men and citizens. The mere Politician, equally with the pious man ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths, which are the instruments of investigation in Courts of Justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition, that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that National morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.

Washington understood that this nation would prosper only as it was supported by religion and morality, and he further understood that there could be no morality without religion.  Friends, these props have long been under attack, and we are now paying the price as a nation.   As a church we need to repent of our own sins in allowing this to happen.  We need to pray that God would once again pour out his Spirit upon our nation.  We need to work to elect men and women to office who share our faith and our values and who will not be silenced by those who want to destroy the Christian faith.  We can no longer be silent.

Bivocational numbers may be higher than we realize

At a recent small church leader's conference several pastors told me they had not thought of themselves as bivocational even though they had other sources of employment and income.  Most of these pastors were from mainline denominations where the term bivocational may not be used quite as often as in other denominations.  They just saw themselves as pastors who happened to have a second job.  Most of the jobs were part-time that just required a few hours each week, but they still added income for the minister and his or her family.  For instance, I spoke with one individual who had a number of dogs he walked for a few hours each week.  He never really considered himself as bivocational partly because he often used the time he spent walking the dogs to think about upcoming sermons or church issues he had to address.  I felt there were a couple of interesting insights in this.

One, these individuals just saw themselves as pastors.  This pastor was not a dog walker who happened to pastor a church.  He was a pastor who spent a few hours each week walking dogs.  I was not a factory worker who spent time each week pastoring a church.  I was a pastor who spent a few hours each week working in a factory. 

How we see ourselves will have a great impact on our self-esteem and how we value what we do.  I was a pastor 24/7/365.  I just happened to have a factory job to help pay my bills and provide for my family, but my identity was in being a pastor.  I think this is a very healthy way for bivocational ministers to view what they do.

The second insight is that there are probably far more bivocational ministers already serving churches than we have previously believed.  If the pastors do not see themselves as bivocational it is highly unlikely their denominations will capture that distinction either.  It again affirms a comment I frequently make: we really have no idea how many people are currently serving as bivocational ministers, but it is more obvious that there are more than we believe and the numbers are growing.  God is using bivocational ministers to lead his smaller churches (and sometimes larger churches) in effective ministry to their communities and to fellow believers.

If God is using you in a bivocational role, rejoice.  You are in good company.   Rejoice also because bivocational ministry is becoming recognized by more and more church, judicatory, and denominational leaders as an effective way of providing leadership to a growing number of churches.