Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Building relationships

Successful ministry, especially in smaller churches, is directly related to the relationships the pastor has with his or her people.  I find many pastors today unwilling or unable to develop healthy relationships with members of their congregation.  Churches often tell me their pastor is unwilling to visit people in the hospitals, nursing homes, or even in their homes.  Too many ministers, even in smaller churches, sometimes get caught up in a CEO mentality and forget that they are called to be a shepherd to their people.  Just this week a church member told me their pastor was asked three times to visit an individual in the church who had been quite ill for an extended time.  He finally, reluctantly, I'm told, made the visit.

As I have shared elsewhere, it took me seven years to earn the trust of my church that allowed me to become a leader in that church.  This was due to many factors, not the least of which was that their average pastoral tenure for many years before me was 12 months.  The church had been conditioned to believe that the pastor would not be there long so there was no reason to really get acquainted or develop much of a relationship.  But, I stayed, and I worked hard to build good relationships with people.  I let them know my heart, and even when they might disagree with me about something they knew that everything I tried to do was out of a deep passion for that church and its people.  A series of events at my seven year anniversary at the church indicated that I had finally earned the trust of the congregation, and our ministry there began to flourish at that point.

As bivocational pastors we share a common struggle with time issues, but one of our priorities must be relationship-building.  Even a mediocre pulpit ministry can be accepted in a church when the people knows the pastor loves them and is available to them.  That availability doesn't have to be 24/7 either.  Your people are smart enough to make allowances for your other work, especially when you have proven to them that you will be there for them as soon as possible.

I do not believe that seminaries stress enough the importance of relationships in the church.  Too many of them continue to teach a professionalism that stresses keeping distance between the pastor and the congregation.  That may be one reason so many pastors leave ministry within five years after graduating from seminary.  Building relationships is key to a healthy, successful ministry. 

Monday, February 21, 2011

Transitioning to bivocational ministry

One of my goals for this year is to try to find or develop a template churches could use as they transition from being fully-funded to bivocational.  Of the churches in my Area there are two who had pastors retire in January.  Each of these churches had been served by fully-funded pastors in the past but find they are not financially able to continue to have fully-funded pastors.  I believe this will be a growing trend in the next several years, and I do not have a good method for helping such churches make that transition.  One of the churches simply called a local person the Sunday after their previous pastor's retirement became effective.  We'll see how well that works out, but I must admit I am concerned about the long-term effects of such action.  The other church has yet to create a search committee, and I am hopeful that I will be able to work with that church and lead them through a systematic search for a bivocational pastor.

Have any of my readers led a church through such a transition?  If so, what were some of the major challenges you and the church faced?  Looking back, what do you wish you had done differently?  What was the most effective part of the transition?  If the transition  occurred more than three years ago, what have been the consequences to the church with the move to bivocational ministry?  Any help or advice you can give me will be greatly appreciated.  If you wish to make a long comment, please send it to  THANKS!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Vision and timing

Sometimes it's hard for us to recognize that just because God gives us a vision it doesn't mean that it will quickly come to pass.  Abraham is a good example of this truth.  God had promised him that he would become the father of many nations if he faithfully followed God's leading.  Twenty years later, long after Abraham didn't think it was possible for him to father a child, God's promise was finally realized and Abraham and his wife became parents.  If you remember the story you will recall that there came a time when Abraham decided to help God out a little bit and father a child through his wife's servant.  That decision led to disasterous results as it always does when we try to help God out a little.  I do not say that to condemn Abraham because quite frankly it would be hard for me to wait twenty years to see a promise of God fulfilled in my life.  In fact, there have been a few times when I've decided to help God out and tried to complete some endeavor I felt God had been calling me to do without waiting on Him.  Most of the times such efforts on my part have led to greater problems.  God's vision doesn't always mean right now is God's timing to bring that vision to fulfillment.

This morning I attended a church that was dedicating a new sanctuary.  They have been at their current location for five years.  They completed their fellowship hall first and began worshiping there while they raised the funds to complete the sanctuary.  This church encountered numerous obstacles and roadblocks from the time they first voted to relocate.  It seems the obstacles intensified during the five years they were waiting to complete their sanctuary.  There were times of frustration and confusion, but they kept moving forward until the sanctuary was finally completed this past November and dedicated today.

The church had a great time of celebration today as they met in a beautiful, new sanctuary.  It is an excellent facility that provides them plenty of room to grow.  I suppose they could have tried to help God a few years ago and built the building at the lowest possible cost.  They might have been able to move into a sanctuary sooner if they had done that, but it would not have been the quality of worship space they now have.  They waited upon God to act, and when He did He enabled them to build a wonderful place of worship with excellent seating, great sound and video systems, and a beautiful spirit.  I visited the facility a couple of times when there were not even studs up for the walls and told the church members then that I felt a sweet, strong sense of God's presence in that area.  That same spirit was evident today as well.

Most of us, including myself, are not comfortable waiting.  We prefer action to waiting, but sometimes God calls us to wait.  Yes, He might show us the vision of where He wants to take us, but then He calls on us to wait for His timing.  When we do we will find the results will be much better than if we had pushed on ourselves in an attempt to accomplish His will without His involvement.

I have no doubt this church learned some valuable lessons about waiting upon the Lord.  I also have no doubt that because they did they will see God begin to do some new things in and through them that they will find exciting in the months ahead.  I believe this church is poised to have a far greater impact on their community than they have ever known at any other time in their history.  Finally, I believe God wants to do the same thing in each of our lives if we will be willing to work within His time frame.

Friday, February 18, 2011


Most of us know what we believe.  It may not always be right, but at least we believe what we believe.  I like a Mark Lowery comment he made one time about a pastor who wasn't always right, but he was never confused!  I have often found myself in that same condition!!

But, why do we believe the things we believe?  Is it because we've done an extensive study on the subject?  Do we believe some things because we've been told that is what we should believe by a parent, a seminary professor, or some other person in authority?  How much of what we believe simply comes from our denominational heritage?  How do you answer when an unchurched person asks why you believe some particular doctrine?  Unchurched people are not shy about asking that question, and they are usually not satisfied with a shallow, vague answer.

In our postmodern world today many people are willing to accept all "truths" as equally valid and equally wrong.  I wish that had been the mindset when I was in high school.  Every math test I turned in included answers that were true for me, but for some reason the teacher did not consider my answers as valid as her answers.  Had I waited to be born fifty years later and had a postmodern math teacher I might have made straight As in math.

Actually, it is primarily when we are talking about God that this postmodern mindset comes into play.  We live in a time when people want to believe that all religions lead to God and all religious systems and philosophies are equally valid.  The problem with that mindset is that all religions contain teachings that, if true, make all other religions false.  Critics often accuse Christians of being exclusivistic in their teachings, but the fact is that all religious worldviews are exclusivistic.  This is why I believe apologetics may be more important today than ever before.

If I was a young man today starting my theological study I think I would focus on apologetics.  The Bible teaches that we are to always be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in us, and apologetics can help us do that.  Since I am not a young man starting my theological study, I have decided to focus my devotional reading this year on books written by some of my favorite apologetic writers such as Ravi Zacharias. 

I would encourage you to commit to reading at least one book this year written in the area of apologetics.  Can Man Live Without God is a very good place to start.  Has Christianity Failed You? would be another good book, especially if you are someone who often feels that God has disappointed you despite your faith in Him.  It is important to not only be able to tell others what you believe but why you believe it, and I have found that apologetics can help me do that.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Coming together

Yesterday afternoon (Sunday) I joined five bivocational pastors for a light lunch, some good fellowship, and a time to pray for one another.  There was no agenda, no items that had to be discussed.  One of the pastors had invited the others to join him just to spend some time together and to pray for one another.  Each pastor went around the table sharing the happenings in his church before we prayed.  It was a very enjoyable time spent with dedicated, faithful bivocational pastors.

One of the common complaints voiced by many bivocational ministers is their sense of being alone in their work.  It is a valid complaint.  Many pastor gatherings are held during the day when bivocational ministers are at their other employment.  The same thing is often true of denominational training events.  Even if the bivocational minister can meet with other pastors in the area, they often do not understand or appreciate the work that the bivocational minister does.    One of the suggestions I would make to my readers is to not expect that to change any time soon.  At times you are going to feel isolated in your ministry, and the only one who can do anything about that is you.

This gathering happened because the host pastor was feeling very lonely.  He decided to do something about it.  He invited all the pastors in his association to his church on a Sunday afternoon and promised them nothing but a good lunch, a time of sharing, and a time of prayer.  Because this is one of the associations I serve I volunteered to attend as well and offered to bring desserts to ensure I would be welcome!  The host pastor made some delicious soup for lunch, and we sat around the table and just shared with one another for about ninety minutes.

You can do the same thing.  Don't wait until your judicatory leader creates some event like this for the bivocational pastors in your area; that may not happen.  Invite some of your fellow bivocational ministers to join you for an hour or two on a Sunday afternoon.  Fix a light meal, and promise them there is no business to discuss or events to schedule.  It's just a time to build relationships with people with similar callings and a time to pray for one another.  Don't be discouraged if the turn-out is less than you hoped.  Wait a few weeks and invite people back again.  As you become accustomed to coming together like this you will find those feelings of lonliness will become less and less, and you will be developing prayer partners who can help one another through the challenges of bivocational ministry.  And those are good things!