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.