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 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.