Wednesday, February 29, 2012

In over our heads

One of the frightening things about bivocational ministry is how often we feel like we are inadequate for the tasks of the day.  Even in a smaller congregation there will be times when we feel overwhelmed and underqualified.  A young couple may come to us seeking advice on how they can avoid divorce.  Another person may ask to meet with us to find out how he or she can believe that their mistakes from a decade ago have truly been forgiven by God.  A respected businessperson may share with us how close he or she is to bankruptcy.  A family may ask us to meet with their alcoholic son who is in jail on another DUI charge.  There are those times when Sunday is drawing near and our spiritual wells are dry and we have no idea what our sermon will be.  We lay down at night unable to sleep wondering how we can minister to these various needs, and many others, when we honestly don't know what to do to help any of these folks.  We may even wonder what made us think we could do this anyway.

The older I get the more I appreciate Moses.  Think of the impossible task he was given.  God directed him to convince Pharoah to let the Israelite slaves leave Egypt and then he was to lead them to the Promised Land.  There may have been in excess of one million people in this journey, and you think your church of 50 are a problem!  It's no wonder Moses resisted God's call on his life.  He did everything he could to convince God he was not adequate for this responsibility, but God countered Moses' every argument by assuring him that He would be with him in the process.  It has become a cliche in recent years, but Moses learned what you and I need to remember: God does not call the qualified; He qualifies the called.

If we try to do the ministry God has given us through our own resources we will often find ourselves in over our heads.  God has given each of us gifts through which we are to do ministry, and there are things we can do to sharpen those gifts.  We can pursue an education and learn some things about ministry, but I can assure you that in pastoral ministry you'll encounter things seminary never prepared you for.  We can read books and attend seminars on various ministry-related issues to help learn some new ways to minister to various issues.  We should do all those things, but we will still encounter challenges that nothing has prepared us to face.  The good news is that nothing we encounter is greater than God's ability to address.

Spending time on our knees and in the study of the Scriptures is absolutely essential to a successful ministry.  The ability to hear the still, small voice of God can sometimes make the difference in our being able to help someone or not.  We may not know what to do, but God always knows the right answer to every situation we face.  Nothing is more exciting than to be talking with someone about a major challenge in their lives and hearing ourselves suggest something we had never thought of before.  Later, we may wonder where that came from until we realize that is came from the Holy Spirit ministering through us to that person.  It is in those times that ministry becomes the most exciting and rewarding.

When you find yourself in over your head in ministry-related challenges, don't fret or begin to question your call to ministry.  Let those times drive you to your knees and seek the solution there.  God will provide the answers you need to best serve those He has called you to lead.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

What do you do to relax?

From surveys I've conducted of bivocational ministers and discussions I've had with many others it is obvious that many really do little to relax.  Before I coach someone I ask them to fill out a Life Satisfaction survey, and most of the ones who do often score very low in the areas of hobbies.  Some indicate they just don't believe they have the time to invest in some relaxing hobby.  I would challenge such people to make the time.

In case you haven't determined this about me yet, I am a Type A personality.  In fact, some would say that I'm AAA.  I do not find down time very enjoyable.  I get bored rather easily if I haven't something to do.  Because of my personality I can identify with those who give excuses why they do not have a hobby or engage in some activity that is relaxing.  I can fill up my calendar with the best of them.  Unfortunately, I had to learn the hard way that is a very foolish thing to do unless that calendar includes time spent with the family and time spent in doing things apart from work that is enjoyable and relaxing.

Before I sold my motorcycle a couple of years ago I would take a two hour ride somewhere to unwind.  I often didn't know what direction I would go in when I pulled out of the garage and didn't really care.  I just wanted to feel the wind, and only those who ride will appreciate what I mean by that.  Now, I enjoy playing a round of golf or spending a little time at a lake fishing.  I enjoy going to auctions trying to find some treasure at a bargain price.  It doesn't really matter what you do as long as it is something you find enjoyable and relaxing.

When you are relaxed you think more clearly.  You find work more enjoyable.  You become re-energized which improves not only your ability to be more productive, but it also improves the time you spend with your family.  You have greater satisfaction in what you do and are less likely to be looking to change churches or jobs.  Your hobby often allows you to meet new people who help you grow in many ways.

If you do not currently have a hobby or some activity I want to urge you to find something that will help you relax before this year is out.  At first it may be challenging to schedule something new into an already busy life, but once you do I believe you will wish you had done so years ago.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Success in bivocational ministry

I'm sometimes asked to define what successful bivocational ministry looks like.  My short (and financially inspired) answer is to recommend the questioner read my book The Bivocational Pastor.  The working title for that book was Success in Bivocational Ministry which pretty much defines what the book was about.  If a bivocational minister tries to define ministry success in terms of nickels and noses he or she isn't likely to feel very successful, but I believe there is much more to successful bivocational ministry than that.

For the bivocational minister success will be found in faithfulness.  It is in recognizing that God has called you to this place of service and has asked you to be faithful in that service.  Success is understanding that these people are persons for whom Jesus Christ gave His life and deserve the very best ministry you can provide them.  It is in being willing to sow seed and allow God to give the increase and patiently waiting for that increase to come.  Success is in being willing to watch others climb the ministry ladder of success moving every 2-3 years to a larger church because "God called them to this new place" while you remain in your current place of ministry.  Success for the bivocational ministry is often found in being more concerned with what God thinks of your ministry than your peers.  It is in knowing that you have chosen to serve this particular congregation for as long as God asks you to.

Successful bivocational ministry happens when you love the people you serve, when you maintain your passion for the ministry even when the numbers are few, and when you serve with integrity.  You enjoy a successful ministry when you and your congregation discover God's vision for your church and you seek to live out that vision in your community.  You will enjoy a successful ministry when long-time members of the church share painful experiences in their lives with you and then suddenly look at you in surprise and say, "You know, I never told another minister that."  Your ministry will be successful when your church attempts to do something far larger than anything they have attempted in recent years because they trust your leadership.  You will know your ministry was successful when someone you haven't seen since they were a small child asks to be your friend on Facebook because they remember when you were their pastor.

I hope this helps you define success for a bivocational minister, but I had to admit that I haven't scratched the surface.  Just don't get caught up in nickels and noses or any of the things denominations consider as marks of successful ministry.  You have been called to your place of service by God, and if you are faithful to that call your ministry is a success.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Finding balance in bivocational ministry

This is a topic you'll find addressed in more than one of my books.  Balance is absolutely essential for the bivocational (and fully-funded) pastor.  There are so many different demands on a minister's time each one screaming that it is a priority that the minister has to decide for himself or herself which ones are actually a priority and which ones can wait.  The danger is that we keep responding to the urgent issues and neglect the more important ones.

For the bivocational minister there are five areas of life that must be kept in balance:  our relationship with God, our relationship with our family, our church work, our other job, and self-care.  If we focus on one or two of these and neglect the others we will find our lives out of balance, and we will soon be in trouble in the neglected areas.  For me, the best way for me to ensure that I keep all five in proper balance is to establish priorities in each area and intentionally focus on those priorities.

This does not mean that at every given moment each of these will receive equal time and attention.  For instance, there may be times when time spent with the family receives a little less attention because of ministry-related needs.  For example, your family may have planned a Saturday picnic at a nearby park, and a member of your church passes away and the funeral is set for that Saturday.  As we all know, people die at inconvenient times, but as ministers we have a responsibility to minister to the family during those times and conduct the funeral if asked.  Sometimes our plans get changed, but when that happens we have to set aside time to focus on the areas that have been neglected.

Another good example for many smaller churches is the annual Vacation Bible School.  That is not a week where the minister's family gets a lot of quality family time.  Meals are often eaten on the run or consists of a hot dog at the church before VBS begins.  By the end of the week everyone is exhausted (would anyone like to return to the two week VBS I attended as a child?), Little League games have been missed, and there has been little family interaction.  So what do we do with such imbalance?

Knowing that this will be a hectic week with little family time available, you schedule the following week with minimal activity.  Schedule appointments with your family each day so you will have a good reason why you can't meet with some group.  Avoid scheduling committee meetings and non-emergency pastoral activities so you can reconnect with the family.  As soon as your church sets the week for VBS you immediately block off the next week for your family.

Ministry is never set up in a neat schedule like a job where you punch a time clock, but with some good planning and a commitment to do so, any bivocational minister can enjoy a balanced life that keeps all five areas in balance.  Doing so will lead to a much more productive ministry, better family relations, and personal growth and enjoyment in life.

Cheerleader or quarterback?

Cheerleaders work hard to help encourage and motivate their teams to do well and win games.  Quarterbacks lead their teams to victory.  It seems that many pastors work more like cheerleaders than quarterbacks.  They stand up each week to encourage, challenge, motivate, and sometimes shame the congregation to do what needs to be done, but few seem interested in providing the leadership their churches need to successfully implement the work that needs to be done.  Both cheerleaders and quarterbacks have important roles to play, and there are times when our congregations need pastors to be both, but I've never seen a team win just from the cheers that come from the cheerleaders.  They need someone to lead them to victory, and so do our churches.

Ephesians 4 teaches us that the role of the pastor is to equip the saints to do the work of ministry.  As pastors it is not enough to challenge our church members to become more involved in ministry; we have to equip them for that task.  That means we have to understand their spiritual gifts and their passions and help them direct those into real hands-on ministry that have a positive impact on people's lives.  We can't stand on the sidelines and cheer them to victory; we have to be on the field with them to implement the work God has given each church to fulfill.

I would encourage you to spend some time looking at your sermon preparation, your involvement with the boards, committees, and teams in your church, and the focus you give your ministry.  Are you primarily a cheerleader or a quarterback?  If your church is going to enjoy a fruitful ministry it needs its pastor to be a quarterback leading the team to victory.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Two Jobs, One Ministry

Two Jobs, One Ministry is the subtitle of my 2004 book The Bivocational Minister.  A common temptation for some bivocational ministers is to focus so much on their church work that they neglect their other employment.  I have known bivocational pastors who were nearly fired from their jobs because they kept missing work to conduct funerals.  I've known others who spent time on their second jobs calling members of their churches and conducting other church business.  From personal experience I know how easy it is to become so focused on something occurring at the church that your mind isn't on your other work even when you are there.  There are a couple of problems when these kinds of things happen.

One, you are stealing from your employer when you are focused on your church work when you are at your other place of employment.  That employer didn't hire you to be a pastor; you were hired for a task at this place of employment.  The pastor I mentioned earlier who almost got fired for absenteeism for conducting so many funerals was angry when he was written up for excessive absences and told he would be fired if he missed another day within a certain period of time.  He complained to me that the company didn't understand that he had a responsibility as a minister.  I responded he evidently didn't understand that he wasn't hired by this company to be a minister.  He didn't care a lot for my response, but it was the truth.  Actually, I worked for this same employer, and they were very understanding when things came up.  His problem was that he took advantage of their understanding.  I saved a few vacation days for emergencies such as funerals and took virtually no personal days to do church work.  If something unexpected came up and I had to take off, the company was understanding because I didn't abuse it.  I think the New Testament is clear that Christians are to be excellent employees, and that includes those of us who are bivocational.

The second problem is that we can't ignore our responsibilities at our job all week and then flip on the switch and become a great minister on weekends.  If we goof off at our second job we will likely goof off at our ministry work as well.  The problem many of us have as bivocational ministers is that we do not find our second jobs very exciting or fulfilling.  They may pay the bills, but they may not make good use of our giftedness, so we don't have the same enthusiasm at that job as we do when we are ministering.

My primary spiritual gifts are preaching, teaching, and leadership.  For nearly all of my twenty years in a bivocational pastorate I worked in a factory on the assembly line or one of many machining lines.  No matter what job I had in the factory, it did not allow me to use the primary areas in which God has gifted me.  If I allowed it to, that work could have become very boring, and I would have coasted through my work just trying to make it to the weekend.  I decided to not do that.

I enrolled in college taking courses that benefitted both my work and my ministry.  My employer paid for my tuition which allowed me to earn my bachelor's degree at minimal cost.  The company I worked for offered a lot of in-house training, and I took as many of those courses as possible, especially the ones related to computers.  I served on the company's community relations committee which allowed me to better understand the needs of the community in which I lived and ministered.  My final two years with that company I had a very unique position that allowed me to provide leadership in the plant even though I remained a member of our union.  Even though I looked forward to taking early retirement, when the day came there was a measure of sadness because that company had allowed me to grow and develop as a person, and through that development I believe I became a better minister.

It is important to remember that regardless of which job you may be doing, you are still a minister.  When a person asked me once if I was a full-time or part-time pastor I responded that I was a full-time bivocational minister.  No matter what I was doing, I am a minister 24/7/365, and so are you.  Don't be one thing at your day job and try to be something else as a minister.  Ecc. 9: 10 says, "Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might...."  Regardless of what you are doing, you are a minister.  Exercise that ministry wherever you are.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Opportunities for bivocational ministers

I've recently been thinking about how things have changed for bivocational ministers in the past decade.  When I began as a bivocational pastor in 1981 there were just no resources that spoke specifically to our situations.  I could count on one hand the number of books that were written to address the needs we and our churches had, and I would have fingers left over!  That is why I wrote my first book, The Tentmaking Pastor, in 2000 and a series of books since then.

But, I am not the only person now writing books and developing resources for bivocational ministers.  Terry Dorsett has developed an excellent book on Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church, and other writers are developing books and other resources as well.  In addition, many denominations and judicatories are looking at how they can better relate to us and our needs, and many of them are looking at new ways to resource their bivocational ministers.  I recently led a day-long training for a number of pastors who will coach the bivocational ministers in their District, and I see other denominational organizations doing similar things in the future.  More workshops and conferences are being planned for bivocational ministers.  A number of schools now offer certificate programs and degrees specifically developed for bivocational leaders.  Many of these are online to make them accessible for anyone regardless of their busy schedules.  It is an exciting time to be a bivocational minister, and there are today a wealth of valuable resources to assist you in your ministry.

In spite of that, many of my bivocational colleagues are not taking advantage of those resources.  In one judicatory an eighteen month emphasis was recently launched specifically for churches averaging less than 110 people on Sunday morning, many led by bivocational ministers.  Out of approximately 200 churches that would qualify, only 13 registered.  Another judicatory brought in a workshop leader to address a group of bivocational ministers and none showed up.  Many denominational leaders are frustrated because they are wanting to come alongside their bivocational ministers to assist them and find that their efforts are largely ignored.  Some are questioning if they should invest the time and expense to offer resources to these bivocational leaders.

Part of the problem might be that for many years we were largely ignored by those organizations now wanting to assist.  I can understand that because I was often frustrated at the lack of resources I had as a bivocational pastor.  But, that was then; this is now.  These same organizations now see the value of our ministry and are wanting to assist us.  Personally, I believe it's a God-thing, and I'm thankful for it.  I want to encourage you to take advantage of every resource offered that will benefit you, your ministry, and your family.  If it's a new book, read it.  If it's a workshop, attend it.  If it's an offer for greater involvement in your judicatory, take it.  As we grow together we grow the Kingdom of God, so take advantages of those opportunities now being offered.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Pain and the minister

Hebrews 13:17 reads, "Obey those who rule over you and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account.  Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you."  Those who accept the responsibility of ministry must realize that they will give an account to God for their service.  As a pastor I always knew that I would one day stand before God and give an account for what I taught and how I served the people He had given me.  It is a sobering thought.

But, it should be no more sobering than the responsibility of the ones being served.  The writer directs them to submit to those called to lead them so their service would be one of joy and not grief.  The idea of submitting is one that many of us in the church struggle with and will be the subject of another post on another day.  In this post I want to focus on the pain that many in ministry must live with.  Too many in the ministry do not find joy in their service primarily because of the pain that is often inflicted upon them by those they serve.

For the past twelve years I have been involved in judicatory ministry, and I have seen some pastors poorly treated by congregations.  In fact, in some cases it went beyond poor treatment to abuse.  I have coached a number of pastors whose pain was almost unbearable.  At least one had left the ministry because of the mistreatment he had experienced from churches, and the fact is that clergy leave the ministry every day because they cannot stand the pain ministry has brought them and/or their families.  To see persons called to ministry by God leave because of abuse by congregations is a shame and one for which those congregations will be judged by God for.

What is a pastor to do when he or she is treated unfairly by the church?  The first response is often to seek another place of service.  At times that is the only solution because some churches are so dysfunctional that they will abuse any pastor who attempts to serve them, and no minister and his or her family have to tolerate abuse at the hands of such churches.  However, leaving isn't always the best option because no matter where one goes to serve, there will be unhealthy people who will fill your life with grief if you allow them to.  Any time I was tempted to leave my church because of the actions of an individual I reminded myself that he or she probably had relatives in any church I went to.  Before leaving, there are some things to do when your ministry is under attack.

  • Look for whatever truth there might be in the attack.  Even though the pain of the attack may be great, if you can find some truth behind it, that pain can be a learning experience that may help you become a better minister.
  • Pray for your accusers.  That isn't always easy to do, but God can do things in their lives that you cannot.  Even if they don't change, your prayers will change you.
  • Recognize there are some things you cannot change and shouldn't try.  You should also remember that just because a critic demands you change something about yourself or your ministry that doesn't mean you should.
  • Recognize that a certain percentage of most congregations are made up of controllers who believe their job is to contain you and limit anything in the church that could become a threat to their position in the church.  Such people are bullies who need to be challenged and stopped or the church will never move forward.  Like Queen Esther, you may be called to such a time as this, but you cannot confront them by yourself.  You need to enlist others in the church who care more about God than they do for the controllers to join you in challenging them.  You may fail and lose your pastorate, but if you are bivocational your other job will support you and your family while you seek a new place of service.
  • Refuse to focus on the critics.  In most churches, the people who support their pastor far outnumbers the critics, but we tend to focus on the critics.  Listen to their criticism when appropriate, but focus your primary attention on those who support you and your vision for the church.
  • Find people with whom you can confide.  That may be a judicatory leader, another pastor, or a coach.  Do not carry your pain and grief alone, and do not expect your spouse to carry it alone either.  You need to talk to safe people about your feelings so they do not become overwhelming.
Ministry will always have its peaks and valleys.  Your church is made up of imperfect people who will sometimes disappoint you.  (It helps to remember that if they were perfect they probably wouldn't have chosen you to be their pastor!)  Learn what you can from the valleys, enjoy the peaks, and give grace to those who may not deserve it but need it most.  Finally, thank God every day that He chose you to serve in the most blessed of all work.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Contract for a new book

On March 1 my next book is being released by Beacon Hill Press.  The Healthy Community: Leading Your Church Beyond Tunnel Vision looks at some of the things that limit the effectiveness of our churches.  It can be pre-ordered through

This same publisher notified me this week that they are sending me a contract for another book with a working title of Coaching Bivocational Ministers for Greater Ministry Effectiveness.  This book comes out of my doctoral thesis by the same title.  It explores how bivocational ministers can benefit from a coaching relationship that will help them find solutions to some of the issues they face.  It includes several case studies of pastors I have coached, their problems, and the solutions they discovered through coaching.  The final chapter specifically addresses judicatory and denominational leaders and encourages them to offer coaching to their bivocational ministers.  I believe this book will help bivocational ministers identify some solutions to some of their most pressing problems and will provide a useful tool to those judicatory and denominational leaders who work with them.  The publisher has not given me a projected release date, but I imagine it will be in the spring of 2014.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Leadership is hard

If anyone tells you that leadership is not difficult you can be certain that person is not a leader.  He or she might hold a leadership title, but that person is not exercising leadership.  Leaders are often misunderstood and their motives questioned.  Leaders often have to make the tough decisions that no one else wants to make and that they would prefer to not make.  They have to be willing to step out into the unknown and risk their reputation and even their position to lead their organization to a higher level.  Many of the decisions they make have to be made without having as much information as the leader might prefer.  Sometimes neither option in a decision is the one that a leader would prefer, but knowing that a decision has to be made the leader takes a deep breath and makes the call.  Leaders know that their decisions not only impact themselves but their organization, and even more importantly, every person and their families that work for that organization or are involved in some way with it.  At times, leadership can be very lonely because although the leader can and should seek input from a number of sources, there are times when he or she alone has to make the final decision.  No one knows how many sleepless nights it might take before the hardest decisions are finally made except the leader and his or her family.  Not only is leadership often hard for the leader, but it is also hard at times for the leader's family.  They alone see the struggle and pain the leader goes through and how it impacts his or her life.  Whether you lead a large company, a large church, or a small, bivocational church if you are providing leadership to your organization there will be times when it is hard.

The only thing harder than leadership is the lack of leadership.  Without leadership, organizations flounder around without any sense of direction or purpose.  Eventually, such organizations decline and finally crash.  Lacking leadership, organizations and people operate in a rut with little forward movement.  The person in the leadership position who does not provide leadership wastes his or her gifts and calling as well as the trust that was been given by the organization.  Opportunities are squandered by organizations that lack leadership.  Much more painful than leadership is the lack of leadership.

If you are a pastor or lay leader in your church, unless it is dysfunctional and unhealthy, your congregation is looking to you for leadership.  They want someone who has caught God's vision for what they can become and do and they expect you to lead them in that direction.  They want someone willing to take risks to advance the Kingdom of God, and many of the people in your congregation are wanting you to challenge them to greater responsibilities than they've ever accepted.  Yes, some will resist such leadership, and a few of them will make your life miserable.  However, leaders do not allow such people to deter them from where they know God is leading them.  It is far better to have a handful of people trying to make your life miserable than for you to feel miserable yourself knowing that God has something far better for you and your congregation than you're experiencing.

Friend, if you have been called to lead, then lead.  Yes, it will be hard at times, but failing to lead will be much harder in the long run.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Tomorrow's worship service

As you prepare for your worship service tomorrow take a few moments to reflect on your congregation.  Most of my readers will be preaching to or sitting in congregations numbering between 20-50 people.  The facilities may be dated, the choir small, and the hymnbooks worn.  Many in the congregation may have gray hair or good hairdressers.  Some may sit there remembering when things were better in the church.  There are a number of things that may discourage or disappoint you, but there are some things you should remember.

Each person gathered tomorrow comes to worship God in a way that will be meaningful to him or her.  They have walked with God through both good times and bad, and there will be some there tomorrow going through such times now in their lives.  They will come with prayer concerns and praise reports, and as a family it is important to hear those.  They come wanting to hear a message that will offer them hope and encouragement for whatever it is they are facing in their lives.  They come wanting to meet God, and the good news is that He will be there to meet them.

It is so easy to become so focused on all the things we don't have or can't do in our smaller churches that we forget all that is available to us.  As I recently read, many small congregations need to move from a scarcity mentality to an abundance mentality.  Our numbers have no bearing on what God can do in the life of our church and our congregation.

Make tomorrow a day of celebration, a day of encouragement and hope!  Celebrate the God of creation who gives new life to all who ask.  Celebrate the victories won during the past week, and celebrate the presence of God in current struggles.  Tomorrow, let all that have breath praise the Lord so people leave your place of worship refreshed, renewed, and re-filled with hope.  Your worship service tomorrow is a day of wonderful possibilities.  Make the best of those possibilities.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Planning worship in the smaller church

Smaller churches can never offer all the ministries larger churches provide.  In larger churches there may be various small groups meeting throughout the week, various Bible studies, activities taking place in a Family Life Center, and other ministries designed to reach the unchurched and minister to the faithful.  In comparison, the smaller church primarily has its morning worship service.  This is the one opportunity most smaller churches have to reach out to unchurched people and minister to their members, so it is very important that attention be paid to this service.  Far too often I have been in smaller churches on Sunday morning and watched as the pastor, song leader, and pianist met around the piano before the service to plan their music.  This service is too important for such poor planning, and I believe it is an affront to those who came to worship God.  While a blog post cannot contain everything associated with planning worship, I do want to mention a few things that are important to this task.  If you need help in this area there are numerous books and resources available to assist you.

It's important to determine what you want to do in your worship service.  I believe the purpose of worship is to glorify God and enable people to experience Him in a way that is meaningful to them.  That alone is a challenge in a congregation that may consist of four generations of people who experience worship in different ways which demonstrates once again why it's important to plan our worship services.  The music, the prayers, the message must all come together in a way that allows worship to happen.  I recommend there be a common theme throughout the service.  In other words, the music, Scripture readings, and everything else that is selected should fit with the message that will be presented.   This requires that the pastor must make available to whomever in involved in worship planning his or her message title and text well in advance so they can properly develop the service.  As a pastor I tried to provide that information at least one month in advance to those who developed our worship services.  That gave them sufficient time to develop a theme for our services, and I was never disappointed in their work.  Incidently, if a bivocational pastor can develop a worship planning team it will save him or her a lot of time by allowing them to develop the worship services.   They may need coaching at first, but in time you'll be able to trust them to do this while you focus on other ministry activities.

One thing I've noticed in a lifetime of worshiping in smaller churches is that most of these services need to be speeded up a little.  The worship service can often be helped just by speeding up the tempo of the music.  You can sing out of the hymnbooks if you want, but you don't have to make every song sound like a dirge.  I stopped the singing one Sunday in our church after the first verse.  We were singing "I'm marching to Zion," and I told our folks we would never get to Zion at that pace.  We picked up the tempo a little and the song was much better, but this is a constant struggle in some churches.

Everyone who is scheduled to participate should be sitting down front, at least until they do whatever they are expected to do.  Nothing brings a worship service to a halt faster than to have Brother Joe scheduled to lead a prayer, and Brother Joe is sitting in the back pew.  When he's asked to pray, he walks slowly to the pulpit in front, prays, and then slowly heads back to his seat.  For two or three minutes the entire service comes to a standstill while everyone is waiting on Brother Joe.  It would be much better for him to be sitting in the front pew, step to the pulpit when it's his turn, and then he could return to where his family is sitting, and the church doesn't have to wait for him to sit down before continuing the service.

Announcements must be kept to a minimum.  Announcements seldom have anything to do with worship and serve as a major distraction to worship for many people.  I simply cannot understand why every announcement in the bulletin has to be read exactly like it's printed in the bulletin.  When I ask pastors why they do that it's usually because the people insist on it.   Can they not read?  Can they not be taught that worship is too important to spend time reading announcements?  I have been in services where more time was spent with the announcements than in the sermon.  That should never happen.

These are only a few thoughts about worship planning.  Again, if this is an issue in your church there are many resources available to help.  Purchase a couple of these and share them with the folks who help plan the worship in your church, and if you're doing that by yourself, my final suggestion is to invite some others to assist you in that planning.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The speed of change

This evening I began reading a book on how to integrate technology into a business.  The book was published in 1998, only 14 years ago.  That didn't seem that long ago until I began reading the suggestions the author was making about technology.  Enjoy of few of his quotes.

"With the price of fax/phone machines now down around $300, they are almost as cheap as a sophisticated voice mail machine alone."

"There will be no heavy discussions on the relative merits of the new 56K modems that enable you to access the Internet at zap speed...."

"Many computers now come standard with 32mb, which is more than enough for you."

Talking about hard drive capacity the author writes, "Most computers now come with 1.8 to 2.1 gb...Who cares if you have 2.1 units of storage?  It's more than most of us will ever need."

Wow, technology has certainly changed a lot in 14 years.  He didn't even mention cell phones, but he did insist that business owners make use of pagers.  Obviously, the section of the book that discusses technology is vastly out of date even though it is only 14 years old, but that section makes the whole book seem questionable.  Are any of his suggestions still valid in 2011?  Actually, I have found some that makes sense, but after reading the chapter on technology I'm not nearly as excited about reading the rest of the book.

Many people feel that way about church as well.  One of the primary reasons people do not attend church is because they find it to be irrelevant to their lives.  In a WI-FI world they see the church as a dial-up modem.  By the time we finally getting around to implementing some change that we've discussed for three years we find that society has already moved on.  It's like we finally get around to getting that 8-track player only to find that CDs don't work in it and that we can't download podcasts to it.

It's not only technology that has changed so much in the past 14 years; it's virtually everything in society that has changed as well.  If the church is going to be relevant to the current generation it is going to have to learn how to share the gospel message in language and in methods that speaks to the challenges and needs of today.  The inability or refusal to do that will mean that people will continue to ignore our churches and the life-changing message we can bring to hurting people.

Monday, February 6, 2012

My weekend

Last Friday I posted on this blog about the importance about making time to do things with your family.  At this point you would be right in asking if I followed my advice, so I thought I would tell you a little about our weekend.

Saturday morning I had a couple of things I wanted to do, but after about two hours I realized that I wasn't going to spend any more time doing them.  As I returned home I called my wife to tell her I was on my way home and to ask if she would like to go shopping.  As soon as I got home I cleaned up, and we headed for Louisville.  We discussed where we wanted to eat lunch and decided on one of our favorite restaurants.  After that we headed to a mall to spend a couple of gift cards we had received for Christmas.  After wiping them out, as well as a few more dollars from our bank account, we headed home.  On the way we stopped at Starbucks for a couple of coffees for the road.

Sunday morning we visited one of the churches I serve in my Area.  Since we attended the early service, after church we enjoyed breakfast and returned home.  My wife spend part of Sunday afternoon baking some cookies for a friend of ours and working on a quilt she is doing.  I spent some time reading and enjoying a free afternoon.  We called our two children to check on them and our grandchildren, ate supper, and watched the Super Bowl.

Nothing I mentioned is too exciting, is it?  But, the key is we were doing things together and spending time with one another.  You'll also notice that we didn't spend a great deal of money in anything we did.  You don't have to spend money to be together and create good memories.

Most pastors want to impact the lives of other people, but what some don't realize is that while they are doing that they may be ignoring their own family members.  Don't do that!  Don't try to save the world while losing your own family.  If you have to schedule time with family put them on your calendar and don't let anything interfere with that appointment.  Whatever you have to do, do it so your family will know how much you cherish them and value the time you spend with them.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Family as priority

As has been noted on this blog many times, the number one challenge for bivocational ministers is time constraints.  There never seems to be enough time to do all the things that need done.  It becomes very easy to focus on the hottest, most urgent needs while neglecting the ones that don't seem to demand our attention.  Unfortunately, doing that can easily lead one to lose sight of important things in life such as our families.

When I began my ministry I determined that I would not sacrifice my family on the altar of ministerial success as I had seen other pastors do.  During my ordination examination I made that very clear to the ones questioning me.  Incredibly, one pastor who had earlier confided in me how he had damaged his relationships with his family because he neglected them for the church spoke up stating he had a problem with my commitment to my family.  He continued to believe that a minister's primary focus must be on the church and God would take care of the family.  I didn't respond, but my thoughts on his beliefs were not very favorable (to say the least).

We do have many important things to do, but that does not mean that we can neglect our families to do them.  How we treat our spouses and our children is a reflection on our faith and will either add to or take away from our witness to others.  Scripture is very clear on the priority that believers are to give to their families, and being called to bivocational ministry does not negate that.  As I have said many times, if Jesus tarries my church will have many pastors after I've left, but my wife has one husband and my children have one father, and I have a commitment to them.  Part of that commitment is to create memories that will last a lifetime and even beyond.  When I have left this world I want my children and grandchildren to be able to remember wonderful family times that we shared, but that will not happen if we do not create such memories.

We are entering the weekend.  What are your plans?  If you are a pastor I know your Sunday is pretty full, but what about this evening and tomorrow.  I hope you don't need Saturday to develop your sermon for the next day.  Could you spend one day this weekend creating family memories?  How about half a day or even one evening?  Believe me, your family will remember those memories long after they have forgotten what you preached on Sunday.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Shooting ourselves in the foot

At a workshop I was once asked why so many churches stab their pastors in the back.  I responded that I wasn't so sure that we get stabbed in the back as often as we shoot ourselves in the foot.  I know there are some very dysfunctional churches that eat up pastors.  For many years I have wished denominations would stop helping such churches find pastors until they take the steps they need to become healthy, functioning churches. Too many good people have been sacrificed to the controllers in those churches by denominational leaders unwilling to confront the churches about their dysfunctional behavior.  But, I have also seen many pastors get into trouble in their churches because of choices they make that they should have known would get them into trouble.  When such pastors talk about their situation to me they act amazed that they got into trouble. 

As a pastor, we need to remember that our churches are filled with imperfect people.  If they were perfect they probably wouldn't come and listen to such imperfect people as ourselves!  Persons within our congregations come from a variety of backgrounds, they have different life experiences, and they are in different places in their spiritual journeys.  Those backgrounds, experiences, and different spiritual levels cause each of them to have different expectations of their churches and pastors.  Some of those expectations are valid; some border on ridiculous, but each of them seem right to the ones who hold them.  It is possible if you are serving a church of 50 people that there are 50 different job descriptions for the position of pastor in the minds of your congregation.  Most pastors I know do not get into trouble for violating the written expectations of their church.  Their problems come  when they violate one of the numerous unwritten expectations.  Is it possible to satisfy every one of those expectations?  No, and you will be foolish to try, but you should try to discover what those expectations are and begin to address them.  And, if you find you have violated someone's expectations respond to their concerns as quickly as possible.

Let me give you an example from my own pastoral experience.  One year our Vacation Bible School dates were changed to a different week than normal.  It so happened it was rescheduled for a planned vacation my wife and I were taking to visit our son who was in another state that summer between his Sophomore and Junior year of college.  Although I did not hold a regular position in VBS it was expected by many in the church that I would be there to greet people and help out as needed.  As soon as I saw there was a conflict I contacted the VBS director who said we should go ahead with our planned trip.  The Sunday after VBS I was confronted by one of the matriarchs of the church who wanted to know why I had decided to be away during VBS.  She was obviously not happy.  I explained we had made plans to visit our son and had made all the arrangements before the date of our VBS was changed.  I told her I had contacted the director as soon as we saw there was a conflict, and she had encouraged us to visit our son.  My explaination satisfied the matriarch, and it was never brought up again.  I also made sure to confirm the dates of our VBS in the future before making any plans.  If I had made a habit of being away every year it would probably have become an issue.

A pastor I know kept his church leadership upset because he absolutely refused to do certain things in the church.  I happened to be with him and some leadership one evening when one of his leaders mentioned that he would have to be absent the next Sunday and asked if the pastor would fulfill a responsibility he had.  I won't be more specific than that because I don't want to take a chance of identifying the individual.  The pastor refused and did so in a manner I felt was unnecessary.  He justified his position to me by saying if he agreed to do it the church would soon be asking him to do so all the time.  I didn't see it that way.  I felt he was being asked to help out in an unusual situation, and he wasn't willing to do so.  It wasn't long before that individual was no longer the pastor of that church.

I am certainly one who believes in taking a strong position when the occasion calls for it, but I also know that in smaller churches everyone has to jump in occasionally and do things he or she might not necessarily want to do.  I also believe that it is important to pick our fights.  Some aren't worth it and cost us our ability to take a stand on more important issues.

How do we avoid shooting ourselves in the foot?  Give some careful consideration as to the unwritten expectations in your church you might violate if you go forward with what you are thinking about doing.  If that is a possibility, try to identify who will feel their expectations are being violated and talk with them about what you are thinking about doing before you make a public announcement of your plans.  This may seen unnecessary, but it is really nothing more than the Golden Rule.  If we always try to treat people in the same manner we would want them to treat us we will seldom go wrong.  If you find you have offended someone by an action or decision you have made go immediately to them to discuss it.  Believe me, it won't get better in time by ignoring it and hoping it goes away.  That was my usual strategy early in my ministry, and it never got better.  Even if you don't convince people your action or decision was the right one, most people will appreciate the fact that you came to talk to them about it.  Finally, be sure to offer the same understanding towards others when they violate your expectations of them.  We can't expect grace from others if we have never extended it towards them.  If you are in ministry for any length of time you will be disappointed and hurt by things people say and do.  If you can forgive them for the times they disappointed you, they will be more apt to forgive you when you fail to live up to their expectations of you.  By practicing these recommendations you will be more likely to enjoy a long and enjoyable ministry in your church.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Goals check

As we begin the second month of the year it's a good time to review the goals you've set for 2012.  Of course, this assumes you have such goals and that they are written.  A goal that is not on paper is just a hope and a dream, so if you've not written down your goals, do it now.  If you've not set specific goals for this year now is the time to do that.  You still have plenty of time to achieve them.

If you do have written goals it is good to review them at the beginning of each month.  Actually, you should review them weekly, but at a minimum take a look at them at the start of the month.  What have you done specifically in the past month to help your goal be achieved?  You can't wait until November to begin working on your goal.  You need to work on each goal on a consistent basis throughout the year until it is achieved.

For instance, one of my goals for 2012 is "I will develop new resources for small church leaders and bivocational ministers including the publishing of at least one new book in 2012."  Here is what has been done towards this goal already.
  • My next book is being released on March 1 entitled The Healthy Community: Moving Your Church Beyond Tunnel Vision.
  • I have sent a book proposal for another book to my publisher for their consideration.
  • I have been in discussion with an organization to produce a sermon workbook that bivocational ministers have found helpful.  We have not yet made a decision on whether to proceed on that or not.
  • I developed a new workshop on "Coaching Bivocational Ministers" and presented it to a group of Methodist pastors who will begin coaching the bivocational ministers in their district.
  • I developed a presentation we will use in our Region on "Healthy Churches" and taught it to a group of individuals who will be presenting it on March 10 to small church leaders in our Region.
  • I have added a number of new recipients to the e-newsletter that goes out to bivocational and judciatory leaders around the world.
  • I offered to coach a young man who is considering attending seminary and am waiting to hear if he wants to begin that relationship.
All of that was done in just the first month of the year towards achieving this one goal.  Admittedly, I did more towards this one than my other goals, but I have at least done something in January that will enable me to achieve each goal by the end of the year.

Sit down in the next day or two and review your goals and the progress you've made in achieving it.  You may be pleased with the progress you've done, or you may realize that you really haven't thought much about it since writing it down.  If that's the case you may need to review whether or not it should even be one of your goals for this year.  At the time it might have made sense, but as circumstances change sometimes we find that our priorities, and therefore our goals, need to change as well, and that's OK.

When you live with intentionality you will find you accomplish much more in life and ministry, you feel better about yourself, and you will have a much greater effect on other people.  Part of that intentionality is living with goals, reviewing them regularly, and working on them each day. are you doing?