Thursday, May 26, 2011

Manuscript mailed

Sorry I haven't posted much lately.  Even though my next book isn't due to be released until the spring of 2012 the publisher asked for the manuscript by June 1.  I still had some material to add to one chapter and the initial editing to do before sending it, so that has taken up a lot of my "spare" time.  I sent the manuscript out this morning just before noon.

I am excited to be working with Beacon Hill Press again on this project.  Assuming I have the same editor again, he knows my material better than I do!  His insights really adds much to my thoughts.  He's not afraid to challenge some of my thinking and asks the really tough questions that I believe helps make my books much better.

I promise to be better about posting, but right now my brain is cooked.  I'm going to spend a little time relaxing this afternoon.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Storms of ministry

Every minister will face various storms during his or her ministry.  A sudden accident, a medical test that doesn't come back the way you wanted, a spouse leaves, a child rebels, a disgruntled church member that causes the minister to be terminated, a series of bad choices that lead to moral failure, and a host of other issues can create storms.  When Jesus taught on the two men who built their houses, one upon sand and the other upon a rock, He taught us that it is never if a storm comes into one's life; it is always a matter of when the storm comes.  No matter how well things may be going today, storms do come into every life.  This isn't being pessimistic; it's being realistic.  What do you do to prepare yourself for those storms?

While traveling to a church meeting yesterday I listened to the latest CD of Pastor to Pastor by H. B. London, Jr.  The title of the CD is Storms of Ministry.  I have subscribed to these CDs ever since they became available, and this may be the most helpful one I've heard.  H. B. interviews three individuals who have weathered major storms in their lives.  One pastor of a mega-church developed a disease that nearly killed him.  He was unable to swallow for months and needed constant care from family members.  Doctors never properly diagnosed his illness.  Although he had to resign as senior pastor he remains on the staff of the church he served as he continues to recover.  The second minister was involved in a motocycle accident that led to him going through multiple surgeries and an extended stay in the hospital.  The third pastor's storm was of his own doing as he entered into a relationship with another woman that led to him leaving the ministry.

Listening to each of these individuals talk of their experience, their challenges, and the things that got them through their storms was inspiring, and I have to admit, challenging.  As I listened I wondered if I could have come through their situations as well as they did, and it was encouraging to hear one say that we should not worry about that: God gives us the grace we need at the time we need it.

You can get a free download of this edition at  I would encourage each of my readers to do so.  If you do, please let me know how listening to these stories impacted you.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Staying positive

One of the books I'm currently reading emphasizes the importance of staying positive in our thinking, our words, and our attitudes.  This evening it hit me just how difficult it is to stay positive.  One would think that anyone who knows Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior would find it easier to maintain a positive outlook on life, but we also know that isn't always the way it is.  Christians face the same challenges and struggles that non-Christians experience.  It becomes easy to take our eyes off our Lord and begin to focus on the circumstances, and when that happens we can soon fall into a negative mindset that doesn't do anyone any good.  Yes, it even happens to ministers.

Several years ago when I was still pastoring I spent an afternoon reviewing some of the sermons I had preached that year.  It became obvious to me that I had become quite negative in my preaching.  This wasn't intentional on my part, and I hadn't even realized it happened until I began looking back at some of the sermons I had preached in the previous months.  But, there was no mistaking the fact that I had become quite negative.  I was probably tired and frustrated that things were not going the way I hoped, but that's no excuse.  That afternoon the Lord really convicted me about my sermons and my attitude.  He showed me the people were beaten up all week by their own circumstances, and they didn't need to get hammered again when they came to church.

The next Sunday I apologized to our congregation for my negativity.  (BTW - it never hurts to apologize to your church when you mess up.  They already know you did and will be relieved to find out you now realize it as well!)  I explained that I could preach the same sermon from a positive perspective as I could from a negative one, and I promised them future sermons would come from the positive perspective.  During my remaining years with them I tried very hard to remain positive even if I had to address difficult subjects.

We live in a very negative world, and I am convinced that unless we intentionally take steps to remain positive we can fall into that negativity. Some of those steps are to read positive books, surround ourselves with positive people, watch what we view on TV or at the movies, and avoid news programs that major on the sensational.  If one eats nothing but junk food it will have a negative impact on his or her health, and the same thing is true of the material we feed into our minds.

I would encourage you to examine your recent sermons.  Were they designed to build people up or tear them down?  Would you say you have been mostly positive or negative in your relationships with family members?  How are you feeling about yourself right now?  Your ministry?  If you've allowed negativity to creep into your thinking and your words, what do you need to do to turn that around?

Monday, May 9, 2011

Death tsunami

I got this interesting title for a blog post from an article I recently read about the financial problems facing denominations.  The article's author correctly noted that the financial struggles currently experienced by many denominations are not likely to improve even when the economy improves.  This is due to a number of reasons but one that many people do not seem to grasp is that we are facing a major loss of people in the coming years due to the aging baby boomer population.  This will not only affect denominations, it will affect many of our churches as well.

The WWII generation is often referred to as the builder generation because of their commitment to building churches, businesses, companies, institutions, organizations, and much of the infrastructure that exists in our country today.  They not only were personally involved in building these organizations, they supported them financially and with their time.  The boomer generation (my generation) that followed has not demonstrated that same commitment to these institutions, and succeeding generations have shown even less commitment.  In many of our churches, especially bivocational churches, a good percentage of the financial support has come from the builder generation and the older baby boomers.  If your church is an exception, count yourself fortunate.  As these generations continue to pass from the scene, many churches can expect to see their finances shrink which may spell trouble.

There is seldom a week goes by that I do not see persons my age in our local newspaper's obituary column.  There are fewer of my classmates at each high school reunion.  I think the term "death tsumani" is an accurate way to describe what is going to happen during the next decade, and I'm afraid that some of our churches do not realize how that may impact them.  Right now is a good time for church leadership to sit down and identify where the church's financial support is coming from.  Rather than waiting until finances nearly disappear now is the right time to be proactive and make some decisions based on the strong possibility that financial support will drop off in the coming years.  Here are some things to consider.
  • Now may not be a good time for a church to go into debt.  I already know too many churches that have reduced staff or cut programs because of debt they incurred in better economic times.  If giving levels continue to shrink it will become more difficult to make the mortgage payments and provide ministries to the membership and community.
  • Teach on stewardship.  I know many churches resist stewardship training, but these are probably the churches that need it the most.  Younger generations such as Gen-X do not understand tithing or the basic stewardship principles.  There is a reason the builder generation and older baby boomers support their churches financially.  Most of them were trained to do so before churches decided it wasn't cool to talk about money.
  • Encourage church members to do responsible estate planning that would include remembering their church in that planning.  I doubt most pastors have the knowledge to lead people through estate planning, but many denominations have persons who can come to your church and lead people through that process.
  • Do long-range planning figuring on reduced giving levels in the future.  I think it would be very dangerous to plan for the future believing that giving levels will remain the same or will increase.   If you plan on lower giving levels, and those levels do increase, then you will be in a position to do additional ministry, and that would be great.  However, if you have to cut back on anticipated ministries and programs because of lower than expected giving, everyone is disappointed.
If you have other suggestions for how to plan for what many believe will be reduced giving levels in the future, please share them with other readers of this blog.  That way we all will benefit

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Does absence make the heart grow fonder?

I realized today I had not posted anything since Easter.   The truth is I have been quite busy with a number of things including some personal family issues that will linger on for a few more months.  I am learning that getting older doesn't mean you get to slow down or that life becomes easier, but, of course, no one really said that it would.

This past week I have been thinking about two bivocational churches.  One has been bivocational for several years and the other one is in the process of transitioning to being bivocational after having been fully-funded for a number of years.  The bivocational church has seen some significant growth in the past few years.  In fact, its attendance has nearly doubled to around 100 people on an average Sunday morning.  They have baptized a number of new believers in recent months, many of them adults.  Parking is now at a premium, and I have to believe that their Sunday school space is getting rather tight.

The church that is transitioning to being bivocational has seen a steady decline over the past several years.  Their average Sunday attendance is probably around 50 people now.  The church realizes it can no longer afford a fully-funded pastor and is looking for a bivocational pastor.  Unfortunately, many in the church seem to believe that their new pastor will be bivocational salary-wise, but they still have the same expectations for this individual as they have for the previous pastors.  I have been working with their leadership over the past few months to help them understand that members of the congregation will have to take on some of the ministries their previous pastors have done.  I think the leadership gets it, but I'm not sure about rest of the congregation.  I do know that if they expect their new bivocational pastor to do everything their previous fully-funded pastors did, their church will continue to decline and will probably have to search for another pastor in the near future.

Much of the growth in the first church can be traced to the hard work of a number of people in the congregation, not just the pastor.  Both new and older members of the church are involved in a wide range of ministries in the church and out to the community.  People are not afraid to invite their friends and family members to visit the church, and many of the visitors return.  It will be interesting to see how the church will change if it continues to grow, but this is a better problem to have than wondering of anything will stop the church's decline.

Everyone has to be involved in ministry in a bivocational church if it will have a positive impact on its community.  The first church understands that; I'm not sure the second church does yet.  Does yours?