Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Favorite books of 2011

As this year winds down I thought I would share my favorite books of 2011.  For whatever reason, I felt somewhat frustrated by my reading this year.  Several books I read left me rather empty, and as I finished them I wondered why I had even bothered to read them.  I usually judge a book by how many nuggets I highlighted, and some, quite frankly, had very few highlights.  But, these ten are not in that category.  These were books that were enjoyable, informative, and gave me much to think about.  That is why I want to share them with you.  In true Dave Letterman fashion I'll start with number ten and work my way to the top.

#10 - Muzzled: The Assault on Honest Debate by Juan Williams.  Williams was the news analyst who was fired by NPR for comments he made on Bill O'Reilly's program.  The outcry after his termination led to the removal of those who made the decision to fire him.  Williams is an African-American who, in my opinion, is one of most honest analysts on TV.  On some issues he takes a more liberal approach, and on other issues he is more conservative.  The thesis of this book is that it is increasingly more difficult today to have a debate on any issue without it leading to a personal attack.  Discussions too often turn into shouting matches that seldom lead to any positive outcome.  Sound like any church business meetings you've attended?  I really enjoyed this book and found Williams' honest comments about this problem refreshing. 

#9 - Practicing Greatness: 7 Disciplines of Extraordinary Spiritual Leaders by Reggie McNeal.  McNeal acknowledges that we have many good leaders in the church, but he believes one of our greatest needs is for great leaders.  He also believes greatness is not accidental but is experienced by those leaders who seek to be great, and this book is to help leaders develop themselves into great leaders.  I agree with McNeal and often quote John Maxwell in my workshops:  "Everything rises and falls on leadership."  If that is true, then our churches will never rise above the level of the persons leading them, and this is why every pastor and lay leader should aspire to become a great leader.  This book will help you achieve that.

#8 - Steering Through Chaos by Scott Wilson.  Everything today is changing at a rapid rate.  Everything that is except many of our churches.  We are living in a time of chaos as change is impacting everything we have known for years, and if we are going to lead our churches to have any kind of effective ministry in our communities we will have to embrace change.  Wilson gives the reader some tools to help them to do and to lead through the chaos that will result.  He admits there will be pain involved in leading churches through times of transition and growth, but the pain will be worth it for the difference you will make in the Kingdom of God. 

#7 - Has Christianity Failed You? by Ravi Zacharias.  This year I re-read several of Zacharias' books as part of my devotional reading.  While I enjoyed all of them I found this one especially helpful.  There comes a time in every Christian's life when he or she feels that somehow their faith has not produced the results they were hoping for.  Some become bitter and turn away from God; others simply decide that perhaps they can't trust Him as they thought they could or perhaps something is wrong with them and they are being punished for their misdeeds.  With great sensitivity Zacharias addresses this issue in this book.  This will be a book that will help you during those times of questioning in your life, and it will be a valuable resource when you are ministering to others who are going through dark times in their lives and wondering where God is in the midst of their suffering.

#6 - Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink.  What things motivate you?  How do you attempt to motivate others?  How can we move from extrinsic (external) motivations to intrinsic (internal) motivations, and does it matter?  If Pink is right and external motivations can become entitlements in some people's minds, we cannot continue to dangle the carrot out there as our primary means of motivation.  I found this book to be a very interesting read about motivation and how a lot of what we thought we knew about motivation simply isn't true.  I will caution you that this is not a quick read, but I think you will find it helpful as you lead volunteers in your church.

#5 - Recapture the Wonder by Ravi Zacharias.  As many of Zacharias' books as I read this year it is not surprising that two of them made my favorite's list.  Let me ask you a personal question...are you as on fire for God as you were when you were first saved?  Does your call to ministry continue to burn within you, or are there days you wish you were doing anything but ministry?  In time, most believers lose that initial sense of wonder and excitement of being a child of God and serving Him.  In this book the author challenges us to recapture that wonder and gives us some means by which we can do that.

#4 - Weird: Because Normal Isn't Working by Craig Groeschel.  I've heard from some pastors that this book became the foundation for a sermon series they preached this year, and I can understand why.  Most Christians are content to live normal lives that look much like the way everyone else is living, and we wonder why so few people are attracted to the Christian life.  Groeschel challenges us to begin to live differently than the world.  I know you may be thinking about some really weird people who attend your church, and you might be thinking you don't want to become those people.  You're right...no one wants to become those people, but that isn't what Groeschel is talking about.  He is challenging us to begin to live our lives according to the the red letters in our Bibles, the words Jesus spoke.  If we just starting living like Jesus taught, that would be weird, and it would give us opportunities to share our faith with others.  I think you'll like this book.

#3 - On the Verge by Alan Hirsch and Dave Ferguson.  The authors challenge us to begin to think of the church as an apostolic movement rather than as an organization.  This will require a paradigm shift that will not come easily to many people, but they believe as I do that such a shift is necessary.  While many churches still struggle with introducing change into their church, such as music styles, the authors believe that such changes really won't amount to much.  They view such changes as cosmetic and insist that only deep changes in the culture of the church will bring about signficant change.  One comment I especially enjoyed was "In the church Jesus built, conversion was commission or baptism is ordination, take your pick."  In other words, God has called each believer to ministry; there are no spectators.  If we could introduce only that shift in our thinking into our churches it would revolutionize many of them.

#2 - Dangerous Church: Risking Everything to Reach Everyone by John Bishop.  Why do many church members not invite their friends to attend church with them?  This is only one of the questions Bishop asks in this book that is both uncomfortable but necessary.  Another one is how much is your church willing to risk to reach the unchurched?  In this book the author is calling the church back to becoming the church Christ called it to be, a church that is willing to risk everything to reach the world for Him.  This book will help you look at your church through new eyes.

#1 - EntreLeadership by Dave Ramsey.  Ramsey built a highly successful business from a table in his dining room after going bankrupt.  Best known for his books on financial principles, his radio program, and Financial Peace University Ramsey released this book in 2011 to help develop entrepreneurial leaders.  Although it is written primarily for business owners and leaders, many of the principles you find in this book are easily transferrable to church leaders.  I believe most bivocational ministers are entrepreneurs so I think you'll find this book to be especially helpful to you.  This was easily my favorite book of 2011.

There's my top 10.  I realized as I was compiling the list that all but two of these books were read on my NOOK.  The two Zacharias books have been on my bookshelf for a few years and had been previously read, but the other eight were downloaded and read as e-books.  That certainly represents a paradigm shift for me!  The Ramsey book came with embedded videos with him briefly commenting on some item he had written which made for an interesting change in reading.  I have downloaded several new books on the NOOK and have purchased some "real" books that are sitting on my shelf, so I'm ready to start my reading adventure in 2012.  I hope you will find some books in this new year that will inspire you to grow and think.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas

Our home is filled with the wonderful smells of recently baked cookes and bread.  Presents for the grandchildren are wrapped and ready for delivery.  Christmas music has been playing in the house all day.  This has been a challenging year in many ways for our family, but this morning during my devotions I couldn't do anything but thank God for the blessings we've enjoyed this year.  Regardless of the situations, we have enjoyed a sense of His presence throughout the year.  All I could do this morning was to give Him thanks.

I also thank God for all who follow me on this blog, on Twitter, and my Facebook friends as well as the hundreds who now receive my monthly e-newsletter.  Each of you are a blessing to me, and I pray that I have been to you as well this year.  May you and your families have a very Merry Christmas and a most blessed 2012!

Friday, December 23, 2011

2nd book published in Korean

I was excited to learn today that my publisher has signed an agreement with a publisher in Korea who wants to publish Intentional Ministry in a Not-So-Mega Church.  This will be my second book produced and sold in Korea and my third foreign language book.  In addition, I've been asked this year if I would be willing to lead workshops for bivocational ministers in Scotland, India, and Canada.  There have been no invitations as yet to do that, but at least there is some interest.

Not only is bivocational ministry growing in the US, but it is very common in many parts of the world.  I feel privileged to have the opportunity to develop resources that are not only helpful to bivocational ministers in this country but are seen as important to bivocational ministers around the world.

My next book, The Healthy Community: Moving Your Church Beyond Tunnel Vision, is now available for pre-order on amazon.com with a scheduled release of March 1, 2012.  Pastors of all size churches will find this book helpful as they consider what they need to do in the coming years to enable their churches to have more of an impact on their communities.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Light and salt

We hear much talk today of the need for the church to adapt itself to the world if it is to effectively impact society.  In fact, we hear it so much that it has almost become a mantra to many church leaders.  In my devotional reading I am reading the classic, The Christiam Mind, by Harry Blamires.  Published in 1963 this book still has much to say to Christians and to the church today.  Here is an except from the book that speaks to today's post.

There is a limited, specialized sense in which it is true that the Church must adapt itself to the modern world.  But over a whole range of controversial issues - and in the deepest and most controversial sense - it is rather true that, far from the Church adapting itself to the modern world, the modern world must adapt itself to the Church...For if the Christian faith is true, and the Christian Church the authoritative vehicle of salvation in time, then it is the most urgent, inescapable need of the modern world to adapt itself to the Church.

 As I say in my workshops, one of the primary reasons unchurched people avoid church is that they consider it irrelevant to the time.  In some ways, they are correct.  We often spend time answering questions that no one is asking, and we do not spend enough time addressing the needs of the day.  However, ultimately, the church can never be irrelevant because at its best it is answering the timeless questions that all people ask at some time in their lives.  It also cannot be irrelevant because the morals, ethics, and values it teaches are timeless as well.  Critics of the church say that the church must adapt to the realities of the age, but I believe that Blamires is correct when he insists that the greatest need is for the world to adapt itself to the Church.

How much more evidence do we need that the values, morals, and ethical systems of the world do not work?  Read the headlines and listen to the news.  As a society we are morally bankrupt, and that bankruptcy is having a much more devastating effect on society than the financial bankruptcies that are so common today.  In fact, the financial meltdown of today can largely be traced back to the moral and ethical failures of those who led the various financial institutions.  Millions of Americans and people around the world have been financially destroyed because of the greed and utter lack of moral consciousness of many of the leaders of financial institutions, corporations, and our government.  Even worse are the stories of child abuse that are currently in the headlines.  How many more children will come forward to tell of abuse at the hands of adults in whom they trusted?  Even more haunting, how many will remain silent while their untold stories continue to eat away at their insides?

There is no such thing as a values-free society.  The question is whose values will prevail?  On the one side we have the values that have been taught by the church and on the other side are those taught by a society that opposes the church's teachings.  Which values bring decency and order to society?  An even greater question is which ones come from the highest authority?  The values taught by the church come from God while those promoted by society come from fallen individuals.  I know that those who deny God exists will reject my last statement, but that rejection is immaterial to me.  It is not my job to appease non-believers; it is my job to shine light into the darkness in which they live and speak truth to them.  It is my job to be salt, to live my life in such a way that people become thirsty for God in their own lives.  This is the task of all of us who call ourselves Christians, and we cannot succeed at this task if we merely adapt ourselves to the world.

In 2012 how will your church be light and salt to your community?  I believe that if we are going to be successful at this we will have to speak truth to our communities.  We must boldly proclaim that God's Word is true and that what He has taught us about morals and values must be followed if we are to live in a society that will protect its weakest citizens and enjoy the blessings of God.  It is time that the church stop worrying about what society might think or what the media might say and determine to once again become the light and salt God called us to be.  Jesus said if the salt loses its savor it is useless and fit only to be cast aside.  This should serve as a warning to every church that refuses to be salt and light to its community.  We have spent too much time in recent years trying to adapt ourselves to the world in an attempt to be more acceptable to them.  It is time that we tell the world that it needs to adapt itself to the church if it has any hope of surviving.  

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The power of coaching

Next month I am scheduled to train some UM pastors who will be coaching bivocational ministers in their district.  I'm really excited about this for a couple of reasons.  One, it's exciting to see judicatory leaders looking for new ways to resource their bivocational ministers.  Two, I know how helpful it can be to a bivocational minister to have a coach.  This will be a win for both the pastors and the district plus those who are serving as coaches are going to be blessed in ways they do not yet understand.

Over the past 3-4 years I have become convinced that there are few things more powerful in a leader's life than having a coach.  I benefitted from a coach who helped me through some decisions I had to make about my life and ministry, and I've been privileged to coach a number of other ministers.  We all get stuck sometimes in our lives.  We all have those times when we just aren't sure of the best direction to take.  Every minister has those seasons in his or her life when there is more doubt and frustration than faith.  Often, in our most challenging moments, we aren't sure who to turn to or talk to about the issues facing us.  In those times, having a coach come alongside to walk with you can be quite powerful.

Coaches don't give advice; they ask questions.  They challenge the person being coached (PBC) to think deeply about the issues facing them and to consider possible solutions.  Coaches encourage and at the same time hold the PBC accountable.  They speak directly to the PBC, sometimes saying things the PBC would prefer not to hear, but it is always with the desire to help the PBC move forward in his or her life.  Coaches don't dwell on the past; they help the PBC move forward in life.  The best coaches want the PBC to experience everything God has planned for his or her life and is committed to helping them achieve that.

As you think about 2012, are there goals you would like to accomplish but are uncertain how to best do that?  Do you see some decisions that you will have to make next year that have you really concerned?  Are you fearful that 2012 will be a repeat of 2011, 2010, 2009, etc, and the thought of that bothers you more than you would like to admit?  Does your life and ministry feel like a wheel in a hamster's cage, and despite all your activity you feel like you're going nowhere?  If you answered yes to any of these questions you might be ready for a coach to help you move forward.

With my other responsibilities, I can only coach up to five people at a time, and I currently have openings.  Virtually all my coaching is done over the telephone so it doesn't matter where you live.  I've coached people from several states and Canada.  Most of the people I've coached have been bivocational ministers, but I've also coached fully-funded pastors, and I am open to coaching persons who are not in the ministry but want help with some aspect of their lives.  I am a charter member of the International Christian Coaching Association.

If you want to move forward in your life and ministry in 2012 I encourage you to consider having a coach assist you in that process.  If you feel that I may be able to assist I would be honored to discuss that with you.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Growth in the small church

In my files I have a cartoon of a church business meeting.  There are three people at the meeting.  Behind the pastor/moderator is an attendance board that shows attendance for this Sunday at 2, attendance the previous Sunday was 2, and attendance a year ago was 2.  The moderator is addressing one of the attendees and saying, "So you believe we should become a mega-church.  Would you like to elaborate on that?"

I think of this cartoon every time I hear of a small church pastor who tries to copy a model that they learn from one of the mega-churches.  Let me say upfront that I have absolutely nothing against mega-churches, and I believe that smaller churches can learn from the larger churches.  I used to attend a quarterly prayer meeting in a nearby mega-church, and I always made sure that I took a member of our church with me.  I wanted to expose them to the excellence in everything this church did.  But, I never once wanted to pattern our church after this mega-church.

Some members of a small, rural church recently told me that all their new pastor did was talk about what the mega-churches do.  He took several church leaders to meet with the pastor and other leaders of a mega-church in their state.  This mega-church church averages between 1/3 and 1/2 of the total population of the entire county where the smaller church is located, and yet this pastor has a vision of duplicating their growth and numbers.  While trying to become a mega-church pastor he is driving away several of the long-term members of the church who have become totally frustrated with this pastor's unrealistic obsession.

One of the qualities of a good goal is that while it should be challenging it must also be realistic.  I applaud this pastor's desire to have a growing church.  He has a passion for unchurched people and a deep desire to see people commit their lives to Christ.  I have no doubt that any church he leads will grow, but it is foolish to believe that the church he now serves will become the next mega-church.  His goals needs to be smaller, and as those goals are met he can begin to expand them.  Unfortunately, instead of doing that he is alienating the people who have been in that church for years and rapidly losing their support.  The minor growth their church has experienced is in danger of being lost.

If you are the pastor or a lay leader of a smaller church I encourage you to set some challenging goals for 2012.  Those goals should include reaching new people with the gospel.  However, at the same time it is important to remember those who are already part of your church family.  To ignore these people or to insinuate their needs are not important is poor pastoral ministry.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Worship in a small church

This past Sunday I visited a small, rural church pastored by a bivocational minister.  I always enjoy the opportunities I have to visit this church because I am blessed every time I'm there.  So much is written today about everything a church needs to do to attract people that it is easy for one to assume if a church isn't doing these things it can't grow.  That simply isn't the case.  Yes, in some churches there is a need for innovative worship, but there is also a need for those churches who continue to worship as they have for years.  And...these churches can grow.  The church I visited has more than doubled in size since this pastor began there about 4 years ago.

The pastor isn't seminary trained.  The church has no choir or video equipment.  Congregational singing is led by the pianist.  There are no worship bulletins.  During the pastoral prayer people shared various prayer needs they knew about and mentioned those who were doing better since the previous Sunday.  After the congregational singing ended the pianist asked if anyone had special music they wanted to do.  When no one volunteered, the pastor picked up his guitar and sang a beautiful song.  The message was simple but challenging.  No bells, no whistles, no frills.

Some may wonder why the church has grown.  I believe there are several reasons for such growth.  One, the pastor is a humble man who has told me several times how surprised he is that God had called him to pastor a church.  He loves the people, and they know it.  Two, the people there love God and one another.  One can feel the warmth as soon as you walk in the building, and at the end of the service no one is in a hurry to leave.  Three, the people who attend there are willing to work hard to serve others.  Several from that church recently joined other churches in their association to provide a Christmas party to a group of patients at a hospital.  Because of work their pastor couldn't be there this year, but that didn't stop them.  They spent an afternoon with some people who probably won't have much of a Christmas except for what these churches brought them.

There is a need for those churches who are able to offer a more modern worship experience, but there is also a need for those churches who continue to offer a more traditional experience.  The most important thing about the worship in your church is not that it is modeled after the latest book but that it allows the people who attend your church to experience God in a meaningful way.  I believe such services honor God, and the service I attended this week did that. 

Thursday, December 8, 2011


My current devotional reading is the 1963 classic The Christian Mind by Harry Blamires.  It's not an easy read because Blamires is British and writes in a manner not typically found in much of today's literature.  The good news is this forces me to slow down my reading and really concentrate on what is being said, and that forced concentration has revealed some wonderful nuggets of understanding.

In today's reading he writes, "The marks of truth as christianly conceived, then, are: that it is supernaturally grounded, not developed within nature; that it is objective and not subjective; that it is a revelation and not a construction; that it is discovered by inquiry and not elected by a majority vote; that it is authoritative and not a matter of personal choice."  He goes on to write, "The sense of an objective truth existing within the sphere of religion has been lost.  Religious conviction is, for the secular mind, a matter of individual preference related, not to objective truth, but to personal need and predilection."

Remember, he wrote this in 1963.  How much more true is this today than then?  Since he wrote these words two generations have grown up being taught that there is no such thing as objective truth, that truth is subjective and determined by how one feels or believes about a particular thing.  Even in the church the idea of an objective truth  has largely been ignored which is one reason we have such difficulties in many of our churches today.  Entire denominations struggle to speak with a clear voice on many issues because the idea of a supernatural truth established by God has to be approved by a majority vote.  And even if the majority does vote to agree with God, the minority has to be given its politically correct option to loudly disagree and continue to push its agenda.  If the church struggles with this how much more will the unchurched population struggle to accept supernatural truth?

This is why one student in a school whose parents do not believe in Christ can cause the entire school to abandon its Christmas program in favor of a holiday program.  This is why it is not politically correct to speak of Christ in the public arena.  Talk about God all you want, but expect trouble if you bring Jesus Christ into the conversation.  This is why it is nearly impossible to bring any kind of moral teaching into any discussion of the major issues facing our nation and the world today.  Let's work to eradicate AIDS, but we musn't talk about the moral issues that have brought about this horrible disease.  Let's pour money into assisting children who live in poverty, but we must not mention why so many are living in such conditions: the rising number of children born to unwed mothers, the absence of fathers in the home, no-fault divorce, the rising epidemic of drug addiction, the failure of our educational system to properly educate young people so they will have the skills to provide for themselves and their families, etc.  We can measure the rising crime rates, but we must be careful to not offer any biblical insights into why people commit crime or we might offend someone.  We can continue to pour money into supporting those without jobs until we bankrupt the nation, but we must not point out the immorality of the greed of those who send jobs overseas or the immorality of laws that make such action profitable for those companies who do send those jobs overseas.

A few years ago a movie was made about Al Gore's efforts to promote the concept of global warming.  The film was called An Inconvenient Truth.  Truth as found in Scripture is an inconvenient truth for most of our population today.  Until we in the church recognize that the teaching of Scripture are true and begin to structure our lives accordingly we will never be able to have the impact on society that we should have.  Until we are willing to proclaim that truth regardless of the outcry that will be heard against it, we will continue to live on the periphery of society.  Until we are willing to confront people with the truth about who Jesus Christ is and why He came to earth we will not see their lives changed through a personal encounter with the living Savior.  Jesus said, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and no one comes to the Father except through Me."  That may be an inconvenient truth to many in today's society, but it is the only truth that will change lives, and it is the truth the church must proclaim this Christmas season and throughout the coming year.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Why no vision?

Last week I met with a small church that is ready to seek to new pastor.  One of the questions I always ask the committees charged with this task is to tell me the vision of the church.  As usual, no one could answer.  They all looked at one another, looked down to the table, and admitted the church really didn't have a vision for its future.  I then rephrased it a little and asked, "Tell me where you see the church five years from now."  Still no answer.  I then asked, "How do you know what gifts you need in your next pastor if you don't know where God is wanting to take your church?"  Unfortunately, this is a conversation I have with almost every church I assist in their search for a pastor and most churches I consult with.

Like the old western song, most churches are drifting along like a tumbling tumbleweed.  They have no sense of purpose and no direction because they have no sense of a God-given vision.  They have given little thought, if any, of where they want to be five years from now.  Many of them are just hoping to have enough income this year to pay their bills and hoping that in their drifting along that something good might happen in the life of their congregation.  Well...hope is not a strategy.  Hope is a wonderful thing but it cannot take the place of a God-given vision, and it will not take you to the place where God wants you to be.

Discerning God's vision is not always an easy thing to do.  In fact, it can be quite messy at times.  I wish I could give you a three step process that would give you God's vision for your church at the conclusion of the process, but I don't know of such a process.  There are things that a congregation can do to assist the process, and I've worked with a number of churches to help them with their seeking a fresh vision from God for their church.  Unfortunately, not all of those churches had a better sense of a vision than before we started.

I've thought about why it is so hard for churches to identify God's vision for their church.  I always begin with the assumption that God still has a vision for each church, so why is it so difficult for some churches to discern what that vision might be?  One of the conclusions I've made is that although some churches seem to be seeking that vision, they really don't want it.

Most of the time, a fresh vision from God will require that something has to change for that vision to be fulfilled, and the churches are unwilling to change.  Such a vision might require specific demands upon the church's resources, and the congregation is unwilling to make those resources available.  It might require different leadership, and persons currently in leadership are unwilling to step aside.  Because God knows that heart of each person, He knows whether or not a church is serious about wanting to know His vision for its ministry, and if a congregation is not willing to move forward with that vision He doesn't provide it.

Where will your church be at the end of 2012?  What impact will it have made in  the lives of the congregation and those who live in your community?  Is there a single vision your church is seeking to fulfill in the next year?  If your church closes its doors in 2012 will anyone from the community even know, or as we approach this time next year will your community rejoice for the impact your church made it people's lives?

Friday, December 2, 2011

Growth can lead to problems

This week I met with a pastor and had a conversation with a church leader from another church.  Both conversations centered around pastor problems.  The pastor I met with had recently been confronted by a member who was very unhappy with something the pastor had recently done.  The lay leader asked if I could meet with a contingent from their church who were also upset with their pastor.  An interesting fact about each church is that each pastor has been there for four years or less, and each church has grown by at least double since the pastor arrived.  My hunch is that in each case the problems are due to changes the pastor has made that led to the growth but upset the long-time members.  I'll know if my guess is right in the next week or so.  But, history has taught me that just because small churches say they want to grow that doesn't mean they will be happy about the changes such growth will require.

Virtually every small church I work with tells me they want to grow and reach new people.  Few of them are happy when I tell them that if what they have been doing would grow their church, the church would already be growing.  If they are serious about wanting to reach new people they will have to be willing to do some new things that might reach those people.  Even fewer are happy when I tell them that such change might mean that some of the long-time members might leave, and the church might actually get smaller before it begins to grow.  A woman in one church told me that there wasn't anyone in their church she was willing to lose as that church decided to not implement the recommendations I might make even before hearing them.

Of course, we can't always blame church members who simply don't want any change in their churches.  Sometimes the way a pastor presents possible changes almost assures their rejection.  There is an art to recommending changes in a small church that every small church pastor needs to learn and follow.  The worst thing such pastors can do is to try to force change on a small church or rush it.  It's also a mistake to propose signficant changes without first running them past the lay leadership for their input.  BTW - each church member will decide which changes are significant and which are not so it helps to have been around for a while to know what's important to each member before trying too many new things.

There is another aspect to such problems.  As I mentioned to the pastor, his church is growing so he should expect that Satan will try to find a way to stop their growth.  Because much of their growth is from new believers, Satan is even more committed to stopping this church from reaching into his territory and helping people find freedom in Christ.  I find the only churches the devil doesn't bother are those that are not doing anything.  They are not a threat to him so why should he waste his time on them.  But in the case of a church that is reaching new people, it seems he can always find some button to push to try to disrupt everything.  If your church is growing, and you are starting to sense resistance, just know you are involved in spiritual warfare, and the only effective weapons will not be flesh and blood but spiritual.

At this time, I don't know if the pastor will remain at his church or not.  I'm scheduled to meet with the other congregation next week so I'll know more about their situation then.  What I do know is that two churches that have enjoyed some exciting growth in the past couple of years have been slowed down in their efforts because of problems.  I would call upon each of you to continually be in prayer for all churches as they seek to represent Christ to the world and reach people for the Kingdom of God.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Social media

I will soon qualify for my personal pocket protector.  It seems I become more of a geek every day.  A few months ago I joined Facebook, and this past week I got on Twitter.  I'm now a Twit that Tweets or is that a Tweet that Twits?  Anyway, I'm now posting and reading messages on both.  Besides that, I finally convinced my wife to get her a cell phone which she had resisted doing.  She wanted a less expensive phone, but after sending 2-3 text messages to grandkids she asked if she could get an upgrade.  I THINK she was joking. 

The day after Thanksgiving I noticed that while I was checking e-mails on my I-Phone, our son who was in for the holiday was responding to an e-mail on his I-Pad and my wife was sending a text to our daughter who had returned home earlier that day.  Everyone was communicating, but none of us were talking to one another.  That bothered me.

Social media, cell phones, and computers are all great tools to increase personal productivity, and I believe they can be very helpful to promote church activity, but the danger is that they can take the place of human touch.  Smaller churches, in particular, are all about relationships, and while electronic tools can help communicate they cannot develop the kind of relationships that are most needed in the small church.  That still requires the human touch, the sound of a human voice, and the assurance that you are loved by someone who walks with you in both good times and bad.  If we lose the human touch we will have lost something very important to the community of faith, so I urge you to not let that happen.

In the meantime, feel free to follow me on Facebook and Twitter.  At Twitter you'll find me at DennisBickers.  If you are not receiving the free monthly e-newsletter that goes out to bivocational and small church leaders, send me an e-mail letting me know you want to start receiving that.  I just sent out December's newsletter to over 600 people, and I would love to add you to the mailing list.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Working together to advance the common good

I guess we should not be surprised that the congressional panel set up to cut spending failed to reach an agreement.  Washington has been broken for years and incapable of providing any real leadership that would actually benefit the country.  Former Speaker of the House, Tip O'Neil, was famous for his line that all politics is local.  What he meant by that was that as long as a politician in Washington made sure he kept the streets paved back home, got a few jobs for some of the locals, and earmarked a few million dollars for his district he was certain to get re-elected no matter what he did on the national scene.  Unfortunately, his words are still true today.  People complain about the professional politicians in Washington and how all the incumbents should be voted out, but of course they are not including their own representatives in that mix.  As long as their representative keeps the gravy flowing into his or her local district they will continue to be re-elected.  Somehow that seems like that should almost be considered buying votes, but of course we'll never see that passed into law.  In the meantime, our nation continues to slide further and further into a debt hole that we may never escape.  The people who supposedly represent the people should be proud that the nation continues to grow weaker on their watch.  They should also be reminded of that at the next election and voted out of office and forced to return to the real world where people are out of work, losing their homes, and struggling to put food on their tables.  Personally, I am in favor of voting out every incumbent that runs for office in the next election.  Enough of the political rant.  Unfortunately, some of what I've written also applies to the church.

How many churches are stuck because their leaders cannot agree on the best way to move forward?  I recently attended a meeting where the pastor and church leaders were at a stalemate.  What each of them were proposing was not acceptable to the other party.  It looked for a time like the pastor's time at that church was about to end when one of the lay leaders suggested a possible compromise.  Almost immediately both sides recognized that they could live with the compromise.  The remainder of the meeting was spent discussing how to move forward with the new plan.  I was excited for the pastor and the church because I saw real leadership being displayed, and with that kind of leadership good things can happen. 

I also know that such compromise would not have occurred in all churches.  I've seen too many instances where two sides dug in and refused to give even an inch, and in every one of those cases the church suffered.  At the root of such situations I believe there is a lack of vision that unifies the leadership.  In my workshops I often define conflict as two or more visions competing for the same space.  In the church above the leadership did share a common vision which allowed for a compromise to be reached that would allow them to continue to pursue that vision.  In the churches where compromise is not possible, each party comes to the table with their own vision and goals and the belief that only they know what is best.

This is what happened with the congressional committee.  The Democrats had their agenda, and the Republicans had theirs.  Unfortunately, neither of those agendas included finding out what would be best for America and working together to make that happen.  They failed in their leadership and do not deserve to represent the American people again.  When leaders in the church put their own best interests above what is best for the church and the Kingdom of God, they have also failed in their leadership.  We must learn to work together to advance the common good for both our nation, our churches, and for the Kingdom of God.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


Monday morning my mouse and keyboard both quit working on my HP computer.  The computer is only about 3 years old, but it's been a problem almost since day one.  I've never liked it as well as my previous computers (mostly Dell and some that a computer guru made for me).   I still had my old Dell keyboard and mouse, but of course the connections are different.  The Dell uses USB ports, and all but one of my USB ports on the HP quit working when I installed Windows 7 less than a year after buying the computer.  I got a jack to plug into the one working port that would give me several ports so I can plug in my mouse and keyboard.  When all my ports quit working I contacted HP and Microsoft tech people asking how to fix the problem, and neither of them responded.  I asked the repair people at Staples, and they claim they had never heard of the problem.  I suggested they google Windows 7 USB port problems and they could read about a bazillion complaints.  The guru who usually does my repairs also didn't know how to solve this problem.  Now with the mouse and keyboard issue it's time to get a new computer.

I've looked at some Dell units (HP is out of the question...this was my first and last HP computer), but I'm also considering a Mac.  The problem is I have used PCs ever since we had DOS systems, and I'm quite comfortable doing the things I do on the PC.  I'm not sure how well I would shift to a Mac and how long it would take to make the adjustment.  I do a LOT of work on Microsoft Office, and I wonder how that system works on a Mac.  With the huge difference in price I'm leery to make the jump, but I'm not real pleased with Microsoft either.  Their XP system is the last one that I liked.  Vista was a joke, and I can't say I'm much happier with 7.  I hear they are coming out with the latest and greatest, but they won't have the bugs out of it before they develop its replacement.  I'm pretty convinced that Microsoft is more interested in developing new systems quickly than they are in getting them right before making them available.  I also wonder about how effective it would be to have a Mac desktop unit and the PC laptop I use while traveling.  I do share files between computers.

So, I'm at a crossroads.  Do I make the shift to Mac or stay with the PCs that I know?  Are the new PCs on the market today better than the latest piece of junk I bought about three years ago?  Instead of offering suggestions or advice today I'm asking questions and hoping some of you have some good answers.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Training events for bivocational ministers

In recent weeks I've had the opportunity to talk to judicatory leaders from three different denominations who just had or were planning to have in 2012 a training event for bivocational ministers.  All three said that it was the first event they had offered specifically for bivocational ministers.   This is a great statement of how they view the importance of the bivocational ministers in their churches.  They recognize that we face different challenges and need training to meet those challenges, and it was the goal of each of these judicatory leaders to come alongside their bivocational ministers and provide the assistance they need to accomplish the task God has for them and their churches.  A fourth judicatory is going beyond offering an event but is currently planning an 18 month emphasis that will offer seven different workshops for the pastors and lay leaders of their churches averaging 120 or less on Sunday morning.  Many of these pastors will be bivocational as well.  What a great statement this judicatory is making about the value they place on their bivocational ministers!

One of the fears associated with these events is that bivocational ministers often do not attend these types of training opportunities.  Each of these judicatories is spending a lot of time and money to offer them, and if no one attends they may be reluctant to do anything specifically for bivocational ministers in the future.  I want to strongly urge you to make time in your schedule to attend these types of events when they are offered.  All of the ones I referred to above will be held on Saturdays.  I know Saturday is often a very busy time for bivocational ministers because we are trying to make up for the things we couldn't do during the week, but it is important that you invest this one Saturday a year in your own personal development, and it is important that you support your denomination's desire to invest in you.

I know some training events are better than others.  I have attended some where I couldn't write fast enough to keep up with the presentation.  The material was so good that I left there inspired and full of new ideas to take back to my church.  I've sat through others wondering if there would ever be anything presented that mattered, but even in those I always found a nugget of information that was helpful.  (I happen to be in one this week that falls in the latter category, but I will leave here with enough new information to make these three days worthwhile.)

It is exciting to see denominations and judicatories now offering training opportunities specifically designed for their bivocational ministers.  When I pastored that never happened, but it is now happening with much more frequency.  Please take advantage of these opportunities to grow and learn new things that will benefit your ministry and that of your church.

Monday, November 7, 2011


Today and the next couple of days I'm attending a conference on fund raising.  The presenter shared some very interesting statistics today.  In 1970 72% of all charitable giving went to religious organizations, including churches.  In 1990 that number dropped to 49%, and by 2010 it had furthered dropped to 35%.  Many churches have seen their financial support decrease in recent years.  Part of that may be due to a decline in church attendance, and some of it can be contributed to the current economic situation we've been in for the past few years.  However, another reason is that the number of 501 (c) (3) organizations have increased from around 800,000 in 2001 to about 1.2 million in 2010. This means there is more competition for charitable gifts.  Your church is competing with many organizations for the financial gifts of persons who want to support ministries and other charitable organizations.

The Builder generation (pre WW-II) continues to support organizations such as churches and denominations.  Later generations, including those of us who are Baby Boomers, are less likely to contribute to organizations out of loyality to the organization.  These generations give to organizations and causes that we believe in.  These organizations often do a great job of presenting their work in a positive light, and they are not afraid to invite people to support them.  For many of us in pastoral ministry, we are fearful of saying too much about finances out of fear of offending people.  We pass the collection plate and invite people to give without really explaining why they should.

I'm not going to try to go through the entire workshop I sat through today, but I do want to share one piece that I think might prove helpful to you and your church.  People today are much less interested in giving their money to maintain an organization unless they can see examples of what that organization is doing with that money.  They are not going to give just to keep the utilities turned on.  They are going to support organizations that are making a difference in people's lives.  It is very important today that you tell the stories of what your church is doing ministry-wise that is having an impact on people.  These stories provide you with a compelling reason why people should support the ministry of your church instead of giving their money to some other organization.  A question that you must answer is why should people give to your church rather than giving their money to another ministry, and if you can't answer that question you can expect to see a decline in your financial support.

One thing you don't want to do is to fall into the trap of thinking there is a scarcity of money available to churches and other ministries.  Our God still owns the cattle on a thousand hills.  We need to maintain an abundance mentality.  There continues to be an abundance of resources available to every ministry, but only those who can offer a compelling reason why people should support them will see much of that abundance.  I challenge you to sit down with your leadership and begin to formulate the story of how your church is impacting the people in your community and around the world.  With such stories your church should see an increased level of support that will make even more ministry possible in the future.

Monday, October 31, 2011


Can anyone explain to me why churches may have two, three, four, or more doors in the front of their buildings and yet only one is unlocked on Sunday morning?  I can't tell you the number of times I have visited a church and tried several doors before finding the one that was unlocked.  As frustrating as it to me when that happens it must be even more upsetting to an unchurched person who may have decided to visit a church one morning.  I think the message is very clear...we don't want you in here.  Unless you are a regular member who knows the secret to which door we will open you are not invited.  Locked doors are a major barrier that many churches, both bivocational and fully-funded, have erected to make it difficult for new people to feel welcomed.  At the very least put a large sign on the unlocked door making it obvious that this is the entrance to the church facility.  Better yet, unlock all the front doors if you want to send a message that people are welcomed to your church.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Bivocational minister pipeline

While many of my readers are bivocational ministers, some are lay people who are interested in learning more about bivocational ministry.  For those readers I have a serious question to ask:  Have you felt God's call on your life to be a minister, and if so, what are you doing about it?  Recently, an individual called me asking how one prepares educationally for the ministry.  In our conversation he admitted he had felt called of God 25 years ago and had been running from it ever since.  He was tired of living in disobedience to God's call on his life and had surrendered to that call.  While I believe he has a very good future in ministry I can't help but wonder what his ministry might have been if he had obeyed God's call on his life 25 years ago.

Just recently I was talking to a judicatory leader from another denomination who admitted to having the same problem the denomination I serve has.  The number of churches needing bivocational ministers is growing faster than we can identify people who can serve them.  Because we cannot suggest quality people to serve as their pastors some of these churches go out and bring in the first person they can find who claims to be called to the ministry and isn't afraid to get up and preach a sermon.  Sometimes it works out well for the church; sometimes it's a real train wreck when the church realizes they have asked someone to serve as their pastor who has serious issues in his or her own life.  The judicatory leader and I agreed that we need people in a leadership pipeline so we will have them available when our churches ask for our assistance in finding a bivocational minister.  Perhaps we need to be talking to you.

If you have felt called to bivocational ministry but haven't done anything about it I would encourage you to contact a leader within your denomination to discuss your situation.  It isn't required by most denominations that you go to seminary before entering the ministry.  Many denominations do have training opportunities available that would give you some practical and theological training that would be helpful as you serve a church, and I would certainly encourage you to take advantage of such training.  I only know of one denomination that requires their ministers to complete such training before they will assist them in finding a church.  We need bivocational ministers now, and we will need even more in the future, so it is important that we have people in the process of being trained so when one of our churches calls asking for the names of potential bivocational pastors we will have quality people we can recommend.

For those readers who might be part of a denomination, there are still people you can talk to about your sense of call.  You may want to call a denominational leader in your state.  If you live in Indiana and sense a call to bivocational minister you can always contact me.  I'll be glad to talk with you about your sense of call or if you live too far away for us to meet I have other people in Indiana I can have contact you.  If God has called you to bivocational ministry we don't want to miss you, but we will not know of that call on your life unless you let us know.  We have churches who need your ministry, and even more importantly, the Kingdom of God needs your ministry.  Why not contact someone today to talk about your sense of calling?

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Calling: The church's perspective

What is a church doing when they seek a new minister.  Are they hiring a pastor?  I hear that term used sometimes by churches and it always makes me cringe a little.  You hire someone to cut your grass or to fix your roof. Is that the kind of relationship a church wants with their pastor?  I don't think so.  For me, the much better term is that the church calls a pastor to come alongside and lead them in ministry.  That idea of calling seems much better than the thought of hiring.

When a church hires a minister there is the sense that the minister is now an employee of the church.  In some ways, at least in some denominations, the pastor may be an employee of the church.  The IRS treats the pastor in that way and so do many churches.  In a church of 50 people such a pastor now has 50 employers all of whom expect the pastor to meet their own individual expectations of what a pastor should be.  If the pastor violates those expectations he or she could find themselves terminated, and thousands of pastors are terminated each year.  In some circumstances, such terminations are valid and needed because of serious misconduct on the part of the pastor.  But, too often these terminations occur because the pastor upset one of his or her many bosses.  There are some churches in which pastor after pastor has been fired, and it is highly unlikely that each of those pastors were guilty of misconduct.  More likely, the church had the view that the pastor was an employee of the church and expected to jump every time someone yelled "Jump."  (A word to judicatory leaders reading this - It's time we stopped helping these churches find new pastors.  We have sacrificed too many good pastors on the altar of dysfunctional churches.  If such churches are not prepared to address their unhealthy behavior we need to have the courage to tell them to not expect any more assistance from their judicatory.)

What happens when a church recognizes they are not hiring a pastor but calling one?  One thing that will happen is that the congregation can understand they haven't hired someone to come in and do ministry for them.  They have called a person to come and lead them in ministry.  He or she is to equip the saints to do the work of ministry (Eph. 4).  Pastor and congregation are to work alongside each other to impact their community for the Kingdom of God.

When a church calls a pastor they should be willing to follow that person.  I do not mean by this that they give him or her ultimate authority and bow down to every wish.  I have met pastors who demand that kind of power, and these individuals have a warped concept of pastoral authority.  One the other hand, I have seen many churches who claimed they wanted a pastor who could help the church grow, and then they rejected every effort he or she made that might lead to growth.  If a church has called a person to lead them then they should allow that person to lead.  You cannot hold someone accountable for something for which you've not given them authority to do.

Think of it this way...you have called a new pastor who both you and the pastor believes is part of God's calling for each of you.  To refuse to allow this person to lead is to deny God's calling.  Again, I'm not talking about a pastor who acts like a dictator and demands absolute obedience.  These people need to be weeded out of the ministry.  I am talking about trusting the pastor who is seeking God's will for the church and is attempting to the best of his or her ability to lead that congregation in the fulfillment of that will.  When a pastor and congregation can work together in this manner many good things can happen.

As your church considers calling a pastor the next time I hope you will give some thought to the concepts discussed here.  To call a pastor rather than hiring one will lead to much better results.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Calling: A pastor's perspective

Ministers and churches alike talk a lot about being called to ministry.  A person senses that God is calling him or her to ministry.  He or she often finds it hard to explain to someone who hasn't felt that call on his or her life.  After all, how do you explain something that you just know you feel deep within yourself?  It really can't be explained, but those of us who have been called to the ministry know what that feeling is like.  Perhaps the best explaination I've ever heard was that a person who has been called by God to the ministry just can't refuse.  It is a burning that will not be quenched until the person accepts that call.

Of course, people do run from a call of God on their lives all the time.  Such persons are often no more successful than Jonah.  Seldom are such people swallowed by a great fish, but the ones I've talked to report a lot of miserable times as they try to refuse God's call on their lives.  Just last week an individual called me saying that he had run from that call for 25 years, and he couldn't run any longer.  He is hopeful that he will enjoy a good ministry throughout the remainder of his life.  I think he will.

Once we accept the call to ministry we then must find where we are called to serve.  That can become more difficult.  In our tribe churches looking for a new minister will often receive numerous resumes from potential pastors.  They have to sort through them and begin the process of interviewing the ones that look most promising.  Somewhere in that process it can be easy to lose the sense of a call.  One must assume that every person who applied felt that God was calling them to that position,  If a church receives twenty resumes to consider then it must mean that at least 19 of those persons were mistaken.  God had not called them to that position.  I've known churches that went through nearly 100 resumes before selecting a new pastor.  How could 99 people, supposedly mature Christian ministers, have missed God call on their lives so badly?  By the way, I've noticed that the larger the church the more pastors seem to have missed God's leading!

A few years ago a bivocational pastor sent his resume to a small church seeking a pastor.  The search committee told him that he would not be a candidate.  He called me a couple of times and asked to meet with me once to talk about this.  He was absolutely certain that God had called him to pastor that church, and he couldn't understand how that committee could have missed God so badly!

Then there is the situation where a church calls a new pastor who is excited about this call of God on his life.  Both the pastor and church are certain that God has brought them together.  Three years later the pastor is just as certain that God is calling him to a new place of service.  The people are stubborn, they won't listen to anything he tries to tell them, the church leaders are spiritually immature, and the list of complaints goes on and on.  Did God not know these things when He called this person to this church?  Could God really be so confused that He changes His mind where these people are to serve every 2-3 years?  The longer I'm in ministry the more I wonder about such things.

I am not trying to be overly critical, but I do want to call attention to the fact that sometimes we get our sense of God's call on our lives and our own wishes confused.  It's easy to do.  Like my pastor friend above, there was a time when I felt certain God was calling me to a particular ministry position, and it didn't happen.  I also wondered at the time which of us, the search committee or me, got it wrong,  I finally had to accept the fact that perhaps I should trust the wisdom of the larger group than my own sense of call.

Have you been called to the place where you now serve?  Then serve there.  Yes, most places we serve will be challenging at one time or another, but if we have truly been called by God to serve that place then He must have believed we could handle those difficult times.  In fact, it might be that the reason some places are so challenging is that no one has remained there long enough to help them address some of their problems.  We must always prayerfully seek the place of service where God has called us and once there give it the best that we have.  If there is a time when God does call you to another place of ministry, you'll know that as well.  Like your first call, you might not be able to explain it, but you'll know.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


If you often read this blog I encourage you to sign up as a follower.  It's always interesting to see who is following this blog, and it's quite enjoyable when one of the followers responds to a post.  One of the stated purposes for this blog is to have a place where a community of bivocational ministers can dialogue about the issues that are important to us.  So...feel free to dialogue.

There are currently 49 followers for this blog.  I would love to reach 100 followers by the end of this year, but only you can make that happen.  If you enjoy reading this blog please consider signing up as a follower.  Thank you.

Coaching new pastors

This afternoon I had lunch with a new pastor of one of the churches in my Area.  He is a very impressive young man with an obvious love for Christ, for ministry, and for the Word.  He is already involved in a challening situation in his church, but he is approaching it with grace and with Scripture.  I believe he will be a good pastor for this church.

Our Region recently decided to offer to provide six months of coaching for our new pastors, so our meeting today was not only a get-acquainted session but also to get started on our coaching relationship.  Our plan is to have a coaching conversation every three weeks for six months, and we will extend that time if he feels it would be helpful.  Our Region staff felt this would help us give our new pastors a boost as they begin their ministries.  I know I would have loved to have had someone to coach me when I began my pastoral ministry.  The pastor today said it was very helpful for him to have someone with whom he could discuss this early challenge he's encountered.  He doesn't feel he's all alone in his new place of service, and that was our goal.

You may or may not be starting a new pastorate but you might feel that you could benefit from having a coach to work with as you are facing new challenges or seeking new direction.  Coaching is especially helpful when one is considering something new in their lives or ministries or when one is feeling like he or she is caught in a rut.   During such times it can be very helpful to have someone to talk to and having a coach can be especially helpful.  A coach can help a person begin to move forward with his or her life.

It's been my privilege to coach a number of bivocational and fully-funded pastors.  Most began their coaching sessions with me seeking direction for some area of their lives or they were facing challenges in their ministerial or personal lives.  In virtually every case, they were able to move forward with a sense of purpose at the end of our coaching relationship.

If you believe a coach could benefit you, I would be glad to talk to you.  I do limit the number of people that I coach at any one time, but I currently could accept 2-3 persons who would like to have a coach to help them address some issue in their lives.  If you are one of those people, feel free to contact me so we can discuss it.

Monday, October 24, 2011


This past weekend I was privileged to lead a revival in a church of about 200 people.  Although it is an aging congregation the music and worship was awesome.  The pastor is a man with a great vision for the church.  Like most churches, he sometimes runs into some challenges when he begins to move the church towards the fulfillment of that vision, but it was obvious from talking to many in the congregation that there are a number of people ready to move forward.  The messages were well received and a number of people came forward for prayer and to talk to the pastor at the close of the message.  I left there feeling good about the future of the church and its impact on its community.

Did revival happen during those three days?  I doubt it, but I do believe there were some seeds planted in the hearts of men and women that may lead to revival in the future.  Several people told me throughout the three days of something I said during one of the messages that spoke to them in powerful ways.  It was obvious that they had not just heard my words but had heard the Spirit of God speaking to them, and he was continuing to speak to them after the services closed.  These people are now praying about the best way to respond to the messages they heard.

As I explained at the start of the services, revival seldom breaks out on an entire congregation at once.  It normally begins as one person responds in some meaningful way to the leading of God in their lives.  It can then begin to spread from that person to another and then to another until eventually it has spread throughout the congregation, and from there it can go into the community.  But it begins with that one person who decides to simply be obedient to something God is calling him or her to do with their lives.

The same things can happen in your church, and you don't have to invite a special speaker to come in for that to occur.  Just continue to preach the Word with boldness and confidence, and challenge the people to respond to that Word in tangible ways.  Invite people to open themselves up to God in new ways and not to try to limit what God might be wanting to do in and through their lives.  Begin to personally challenge those you sense might have a special call of God on their lives, and if they are willing, invest yourself in their lives.  Let them catch your vision for mission and help them develop a passion to see that mission occur.  As they become more focused on what God is doing in and through their lives they will begin to experience a personal revival that could infect the whole congregation.

Thursday, October 13, 2011


This evening I attended a prayer meeting for a bivocational pastor friend of mine who suffered a major stroke earlier in the week.  The doctors said there is nothing they can do for him, and he is being moved to a nursing home.  I received an e-mail this afternoon informing me of the prayer meeting that was being held in the church he was pastoring.  That small church was about half full of people who attended that church, other churches in the association, and a handful of pastors who knew him and was notified about the meeting.  Several people stood up and told how this simple pastor had ministered to them or to members of their family.  One young man who was recently ordained as a bivocational pastor spoke about how this man had mentored him over the years.  Many shared their stories with tears running down their faces.  I doubt this pastor knew of the impact his life had on so many people.

Some in the church world believe that you have to pastor a large church to make a difference, but that's just not true.  This man never pastored a church with an average attendance of more than 25-30, and yet his ministry touched lives.  His faithfulness, his sincerity, his servant spirit allowed him to minister to some people who never had an interest in talking to a pastor until he showed up in their hospital room or at some other event.  I doubt that a building will ever be named after him.  People won't study his six step method for growing a megachurch and buy his books and tapes, but he left a legacy that any minister should be glad to leave.  He served his churches with a true servant mentality.  People were able to see the compassion of Jesus Christ through his life and ministry

When people finished sharing their stories of how this pastor's life impacted their lives, we began to pray for him and his family.  Many of us thanked God for allowing our lives and my friend's to intersect.  We prayed for his family, and we prayed that God would bring healing into our friend's life.  Each of us recognized that his healing may be the ultimate healing that will allow him to enter into the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ, but we also know that God might choose to bring physical healing to our friend.  It was a very simple, yet meaningful service, one that was quite appropriate to the person it was for.

Events such as this remind me that I am leaving a legacy for others to study.  Whether I am aware of it or not, people are watching, and they are forming an opinion about me, my ministry, and more importantly, my God.  They are watching you as well.  The challenge for each of us is to leave a legacy such as the one my friend has.

Please keep this pastor, his family, and the church he has been serving in your prayers.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Author's proofs

I received the author's proofs for my next book yesterday.  There are a few areas I need to address but not as many as in some earlier books.  It's funny how when you are writing you think you have clearly stated your thoughts until someone challenges you and asks you to explain what you meant by that.  My first reaction is always, "Well, anybody knows what that means," and then I read it again and see how the statement could have been misunderstood in two, three, or even more ways!  Believe me, my editors make me look much better than I really am!

The same thing can happen in our preaching.  How many times have we said something from the pulpit and then later heard that someone completely misunderstood what we said?  It's happened to me more than once.  When I was a pastor a couple started coming to the church.  They would attend two or three Sundays in a row, and then we might see them for a month before they returned.  Suddenly, they stopped coming completely.  I visited them a couple of times, but they would never give me a reason for why they stopped attending church.  Finally, the husband admitted that the last Sunday they were there I said that if a person didn't come to church every Sunday they wouldn't go to heaven.  I remembered the sermon,, and I knew I never said that.  I explained what I did say, but it didn't matter.  They heard what they wanted to hear and used that as an excuse to not return.

However, just because they misunderstood me, that does not take responsibility away from me.  Years ago I adopted the philosophy, "The message received is the message sent."  In other words, if I say brown dog, and you repeat back to me that I said black dog, I said black dog.  I take 100% responsibility for what my listeners hear.  As the communicator it is my responsibility to be clear in my message.  The Bible teaches that those of us who teach have the greater responsibility, and I believe part of that responsibility is to be clear in our message.

As you critique your sermons and lessons, are you clear with your message?  Believe me, if something we say can be misunderstood by someone it will be!  To stand before a congregation week after week to deliver a message requires a lot of commitment to study and to clarity.  It is hard work to properly prepare so that our messages are not only biblical but clear, but it is work we must be willing to do if we are called to this ministry.

Now, excuse me...I have some corrections to make for my publisher so they can get this book ready for the printer.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Leadership development

Who are the future leaders in your church?  As I attend various associational and denominational events I notice that it is often the same people at these events year after year.  Many of those attending are older individuals who have provided leadership in their churches for decades.  I have attended denominational events for two different denominations in the past three years that amazed me at how young many of their attendees were, but for the most part the leadership I meet look a lot like me, gray.  At some point the ones who have provided leadership in our churches for decades are not going to be able to continue.  What will our churches do then if they have not been preparing people to step into those leadership positions?

Smaller churches now face a number of challenges, and one of them is the challenge of developing leaders.  What we don't want to do is to find we have an open position and ask someone to fill it without having prepared them for the task.  We've done that too often in the past, and that is one reason we have some of the problems we have.  We need persons in the pipeline who are being prepared to provide leadership in our churches.  If John Maxwell is right, and I believe he is, our churches will never rise above the lid of their leadership.  If we want to see our churches become more effective in their ministries we must be intentional in identifying potential leaders and providing them the resources that will enable them to provide solid leadership.

As a bivocational minister you may wonder how you can add this task to your list of duties.  First, you have to understand that leadership development must be a priority for you.  Other people can fill the communion cups and visit Sister Bertha when her cat stubs its toe; you have been assigned the task of equipping the saints to do ministry (Eph. 4).  Developing leaders will do more to ensure the future success of your church's ministry than any else you do, so it must be a priority.

Second, realize that not everyone wants to be equipped to be a leader nor should they be.  I believe leadership is a spiritual gift that God gives certain people, and they are usually easily identified.  They will be the ones who will want more than what is offered in Sunday school.  They want to go deeper in their relationship with God.  They ask good questions about faith and ministry.  They are often dissatified with the status quo and may have some ideas about how to move the church forward, but because they are not in a leadership position they may be reluctant to share those ideas.  You want to identify these people and begin to invest more of your ministry into their lives.  Isn't that what Jesus did with the twelve?  I believe His example is a good one for each of us to follow.

Third, don't fall into the trap of thinking you have to develop leaders by yourself.  Your denomination or judicatory may have a leadership development resource you can use.  Our region offers the Church Leadership Institute to train lay leaders and bivocational ministers, and we've had over 100 people take classes through this program.  Some who have graduated felt called to bivocational ministry and are now pastoring some of our churches.  Many others are providing leadership to the churches as lay leaders.  If you have something similar available, challenge your potential (and current) leaders to consider enrolling.  I would also encourage you to challenge the church to invest in this training by paying at least half of the fees.  They should see this as an investment in the future of the church and in the future of the Kingdom of God.

Leadership development is one of the most important things a church does.  Many of our churches are in a downward spiral, and they will never get out of that spiral without excellent leadership.  Even more churches are caught in ruts that in some cases have lasted for decades.  It will require great leadership to bust out of those ruts and once again become the church God had in mind.  As you begin to think of 2012 I urge you to put leadership development at the top of your list.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

What do you want people to understand about bivocational ministry?

I apologize for not writing more lately.  We have some family issues that are requiring a lot of my time right now, and I just haven't been able to post anything on the blog.  I wondered if any of my regular readers were still with me, but I see that they are.  I appreciate that very much and will certainly appreciate your prayers as well.

My next book is scheduled for release next spring, and I'm in the process of writing another one.  The final chapter of this book is primarily addressed to denominational and judicatory leaders.  In that chapter I want to tell them what bivocational ministers wish they understood about what we do, the way we feel about our ministries, some of the challenges we face, and how they can help us.  I could use your help.  What do you wish your denominational and judicatory leaders understood about bivocational ministry?  If you are not part of a denomination, pretend for a few minutes that you are and think about what you might want them to know about your ministry and life. 

While I believe that bivocational ministers will find this new book helpful, I really want it to provide some tools denominational leaders can use to better support the bivocational ministers who serve in their districts.  Your input to the questions in the previous paragraph can help make this book better.  I look forward to hearing from you.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Lifelong unlearning

I have posted several times about the value of being a lifelong learner, but in a book I'm currently reading the author mentioned that "lifelong learning actually means lifelong unlearning."  He's right!  Quite often, in order to learn something one must first unlearn something.  I remember reading several years ago a quote by a Fortune 500 CEO who said that he had learned much in his 30 years of managerial experience, most of which was no longer true.  He had been successful because of his willingness to set aside old truths as they were replaced with new ones.  We in the ministry must be willing to do likewise.

Earlier this week a pastor friend and I were talking about a particular issue and found that each of us had changed our beliefs about this issue.  At one time we each believed one way, and as we continued to study the issue and discovered new information we found out we had been wrong.  As we talked we further discovered that the change was not easy for either of us, but facts and truth are stubborn things, and once new facts and truths are discovered one must either accept them or deny them.  I understand the Flat Earth Society had approximately 3,000 members in the 1990s so I guess it is possible to deny facts, but why would anyone want to?

Many church leaders continue to operate in the church as if it was still 1950 believing if they remain faithful and work hard that things will turn around and they will once again become the robust church they were back then.  That is Flat Earth Society thinking.  We are in the 21st century.  Our world is much different that 1950.  People's needs are different; their way of thinking about religion and faith are different, the family structure is different; people are facing new challenges.  The Good News of the gospel has not changed, but the way it is presented to people must change or the church of today will not impact this generation God has given us.

I hear a lot of small church pastors and lay leaders complain that nobody comes to the revivals any more.  Maybe it's because the day of revival meetings have passed.  Maybe it's because families have so many different directions to go each evening that trying to attend a revival service just isn't very high on their list of priorities.  Am I saying that's a good thing?  No, but it's the reality.  Maybe, instead of complaining that no one comes to the revival meetings, we should not schedule one and do something different.  I hear the same complaints about the lack of people attending Sunday school, and yet those who complain typically are doing the same thing today they did in Sunday school they did 30 years ago.  Maybe we need to restructure our Sunday school or offer something entirely different to promote biblical understanding and discipleship.  A common complaint today is that people don't attend association meetings like they used to (in 1950?).  Maybe that's a sign that it's time to stop having those meetings.  Maybe people are trying to say that those meetings don't have the importance they once had.

As I work with pastor search committees I often hear them say they would like a younger pastor with some new ideas.  Two things I want to say about that.  One, most of the committees that say that don't mean it because if the pastor came with a new idea they would reject it.  Two, it's not always the young pastors who have the new ideas about doing church.  I've seen a lot of 30 and 40 year old pastors who have some really old ideas of how a church should minister.  I've also seen some older pastors who have a much better understanding of ministry in the 21st century than their younger counterparts.  I'm now 63 years old, and I can tell you if I returned to pastoral ministry I would not function as I did for the 20 years I pastored.  In the past 11 years as a judicatory minister I've learned some things about ministry I didn't know back then.  To learn those things I've had to unlearn a lot of things I had been taught and some things I just assumed about ministry.

Unlearning isn't easy, but it's necessary if you want to remain useful to the Kingdom of God.  It's hard to give up some cherished truths you've clung to for years (decades).  It helps to remember those truths were once new truths that replaced some cherished truths our ancestors believed about ministry years earlier, and one day, as new discoveries are made and things continue to change in our world, these new truths will also be replaced.  That is why each of us must be committed to a lifetime of unlearning and learning.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


The past couple of weeks have been extremely busy as we have dealt with the passing of my step-mother and some other family challenges.  I just have not had time to blog.  However, I did find an article today of an interview with Eugene Peterson that I thought was really good that I wanted to share with my readers.  Everything he says about pastoring in this interview really fits in well with what most bivocational ministers do in their ministries.  I thought you would find this interview encouraging and helpful.  You can read it at http://www.christianitytoday.com/le/2011/summer/presenttense.html.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Don't be the church

I had a call yesterday from a bivocational pastor who seems near burnout. He wanted a coach but wasn't ready to commit to a coaching relationship yet.  The church is struggling a little financially due to the current economic situation, and he expects a salary cut by the end of the year.  He only works part time.  His family is already struggling financially, and a salary cut at the church will only make things worse.  When I asked how many people normally attended services he responded about 50 people attend on Sunday morning.  I then asked why he could not work a full-time job with a church that size.  He felt that he would not be able to be able to respond as pastor quickly enough in times of emergencies if he had a full-time job.  It was then I told him it sounded like he had become the church.

I was in his shoes about my fifth year in my pastorate.  I was physically and mentally exhausted and about ready to give up.  At a judictory meeting I spoke with one of our leaders about my situation.  He explained that my problem was that I had become the church.  I was the person doing everything that was getting done in the church.  He told me that not only was I damaging myself in the process I was preventing the congregation from learning how to be the church.  Everything he said was right on target, and the longer I remain in ministry the more bivocational ministers I see making the same mistake that I and yesterday's caller has made.

According to Ephesians 4 our role as ministers is to equip the saints to do the work of ministry; it is not to do all the work of ministry.  Yes, there are tasks that are primarily the responsibility of the pastor, but there are many other things that many of us do that rightly should be done by others.  By the way, this is not only a problem for bivocational ministers.  I recently had lunch with a fully-funded pastor who is also trying to do much more than he should, and he has nearly burned himself out in the process.

We need to be training the people sitting in the pews how to identify and use the gifts God has given them.  If we do not we are cheating them out of the opportunity to be used in signficant ministries that God has called them to do, and we are shortchanging the church by not making those ministries available to others.  People need to understand that discipleship is more than attending a Sunday school class and memorizing some Bible stories and principles.  Discipleship is about putting into practice those things we have learned.

If you are scurrying around like a rat in a maze, exhausted, frustrated, unable to spend quality time with your family and your own self-care, you are probably doing way more than God ever called you to do.  You need to slow down, begin to train your lay people to do ministry, and take a healthier approach to the calling God has placed on your life.  Don't be the church.  The Kingdom needs all your people to be the church.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Renewing our minds

Yesterday I had the privilege of visiting a small town congregation for worship.  The pastor was preaching on the need to renew our minds.  Although I had heard numerous sermons on that topic I left there thinking this one was probably the best I've ever heard on the subject.  We spent much of our time in Philippians 4:8 for the message as he reminded the congregation of the types of things we should focus our thinking on if we want to renew our minds.  He also reminded us that it isn't easy because we are constantly bombarded with the other kinds of things that do not lead to renewed minds.

How many of the television programs you watch are uplifting and positive?  What about the movies you see?  The music you listen to?  Do you find that most news programs encourage you and focus on things that are lovely and of good report?  Do you find images on the Internet that burn themselves into your mind?  Did those images appear while you were looking for something else, or did you go looking for them?  What about your friends and people with whom you spend much of your time?  Are they encouragers, positive people with positive attitudes that uplift you just by being around them, or are they mostly negative people who spend much of their time complaining about all the negative things in life?

We cannot ignore that there are negative things in this world in which we live.  We shouldn't stick a finger in our ears and sing "La, la, la, la, la, la" real loud so we don't have to hear about the negatives and don't have to do anything about them.  We are called to minister in this world in which we live with all the negative and bad things that exist.  The challenge is to not allow these things to control what we dwell on.  Our focus is to be on the person of Jesus Christ and His call on our lives and on our churches.  We have to choose every day whether we will focus on the negatives that exist all around us or upon Christ and the good things He is doing through us to make a difference in this messed up world in which we live.  That choice will impact our attitudes and how we go about our days.

One other thing...we also can't focus on the negative things that goes on within our churches.  Virtually every week church leaders are confronted by the complainers, the controllers, the perpetual victims, the whiners, and the spiritually immature who have been languishing around the church for decades.  These people are real joy suckers.  Don't let them.  Minister to them the best you can but maintain your focus on Christ and His call on your life.  I've read where the typical pastor will leave a church because of seven people.  That's what happens when we focus too much of our attention on the joy suckers and fail to remember the many others whose lives have been impacted by our ministry.

Why not make Philippians 4:8 your verse for this week?  Write it down on a card and carry it in your pocket.  Every time you find yourself focusing on the negative things that are going on around you, pull out that card and read it.  Intentionally force yourself to begin to dwell on the positive and allow those thoughts to help renew your mind as you go about the day.  It might make a big difference.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Happy Birthday

Today I turned 63 years old.  We didn't do much to celebrate.  A good number of my Facebook friends sent me greetings, and my wife took me to one of my favorite restaurants, P F Chang's, for dinner.  Over the past few days I've spent some time reflecting on my journey through life.  It has been an amazing adventure that has provided me with opportunities I could never have imagined.  Not every opportunity turned out the way I would have preferred (!), but it is obvious that God has been with me through each of them.  It is for this reason that my life verse for many years has been His promise to never leave me nor forsake me.  Looking backwards is easy enough; looking forward is more challenging.  I think there is a reason that God only allows us to see so far into the future and no further.  It is enough for me that He continues to hold my hand as He leads me down the paths He has prepared for my life.  I can only pray that I have the wisdom to follow.

Although I do not know the future there are some things that I believe about my future.  One is that retirement isn't anything that appeals to me, at least not for the foreseeable future.  If my health remains good I intend to work for many more years.  I enjoy the ministry I do as well as the writing and speaking engagements I receive to even consider retiring.  I plan to write more books that will benefit the church and especially the smaller, bivocational churches and their leaders.  I have a new  book scheduled for release next spring and I'm working on another one now.  I would like to do more teaching.   I taught an online course last year and enjoyed it as much as anything I've ever done.  There is a tremendous blessing in knowing you are involved in preparing the leaders of the future.  I hope to lead more conferences and seminars.  For many of the bivocational ministers who attend, these are the first conferences and seminars they have attended that were created specifically for them.  I plan to spend the remainder of my ministry encouraging these wonderful leaders and providing them with resources they can use in their churches.

Before he died Jerry Falwell used to say that if you heard that he had died that he would be the most surprised of all.  Even in his later life he believed God had a 20 year plan for his life and wanted to fulfill that plan.  Of course, he did die.  None of us knows the time when God will call us home nor can we know of events that might dramatically change our plans.  But, I appreciate the mindset Falwell modeled.  As long as we remain healthy there is Kingdom work we can do.  Today, on my birthday, it is my prayer that God will continue to use me for many more years to make a difference for His Kingdom.