Monday, April 30, 2012

But...what do we do?

As someone who visits many churches each year it's not uncommon to hear pastors challenge their churches to do certain things.  In the past year I can remember hearing two different pastors chastise the members of their churches over the lack of growth in the church.  Gesturing wildly, they fussed and fumed about the fact that their congregations were shrinking and placing the blame on the congregation for their refusal to invite people to their services.  I remember leaving both services thinking two thoughts: if I was a member of this church why would I want to invite anyone to be subjected to what I just endured, and, when will we be taught how to most effectively to invite new people to our church?

That latter question came to me rather easily because at one time in my pastoral ministry I made the same mistake these two pastors made.  One week during my sermon preparation God convicted me that I had fallen into a rut of fussing at our congregation for our lack of growth.  He made me aware that there were people in our church who agreed they should be doing more, but they were waiting on me to teach them how.  The next Sunday I shared this with the congregation and asked for their forgiveness for not doing a better job of teaching them how to do what they were being asked to do.  We then became very intentional about teaching our church members the how-tos of ministry.  The more intentional we became about teaching people how to do ministry the more involved they became in actually doing it.  It led to our church growing in some very significant ways.

Those of us whom God has called to pastoral ministry usually spend a great deal of time learning how to be more effective ministers.  We may attend Bible schools or seminaries.  Many of us read a lot, especially in the area of ministerial leadership.  The more we learn, in most cases, the better job we can do as ministers, but it's not enough just for us to get better.  If we want our churches to grow and enjoy a more effective ministry we have to train our lay people using the knowledge we are receiving.

One of the things I often say to pastors at my workshops is that they should never attend a training event alone.  They should always bring one or two of their lay leaders.  It is far better for as many people as possible to hear the same thing at the same time.  When pastors attend a good workshop and return home excited and enthusiastic about what they've heard they are often disappointed that their congregation doesn't share that excitement.  Well...they've not heard what you've heard, and you probably didn't explain it as well as the person presenting the material.  Your congregation might be much more likely to get enthusiastic about what you've learned if others from your church went with you and also returned home excited about the information.

According to Eph. 4 our primary responsibility as pastors is to equip our congregations for ministry.  We need to teach them how to do the things we are asking them to do.  Do not tell them what they should be doing unless you are also teaching them how to do it.  If you will teach the "how" you will often find you have many more people involved in doing the things that will lead to healthier, growing churches.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Working for yourself

I want to share a great opportunity for my readers who read their books on NOOK.  I just found out that today NOOK is offering The Barefoot Executive by Carrie Wilkerson for $1.99.  This book was published by Thomas Nelson in 2011 and has endorsements from people like Dave Ramsey, Tim Sanders, Tom Ziglar and others.

Why would I suggest reading a book I've never read?  Well, for one thing you aren't likely to find it any cheaper!  For another, I believe that every bivocational pastor is an entrepreneur.  We do ministry outside the box and do things that most other ministers would not consider doing.  A third reason is that I believe everyone is self-employed.  Most of us work for a company or some other organization, but I think we all have come to realize in recent years that there really is no such thing as job security anymore.  As I've heard Zig Ziglar say, what each of us needs to do is to ensure employment security so that if we lose a job we currently have we'll be able to find another one.  If each of us approach our ministries and our second jobs as if we are working for ourselves we are likely to be much more effective.  The final reason is that you'll probably not find this book any cheaper (did I already mention that?).

Seriously, this is a book I've seen on the bookshelves and was tempted to purchase and read but really didn't want to pay full price for it.  Maybe I'm becoming more frugal, but I find it harder today to pay full price for a book unless I am really excited about reading it.  When I saw on Twitter that NOOK was running a special on it for today only I jumped at the chance to purchase it.  I noticed that it had only average reviews, but I have found that there is seldom a book I read that I don't get at least a few good nuggets of information out of it.  It's worth $1.99 to me to take the chance, and I might find that I agree with the ones who are giving it 4-5 stars.

If you have a NOOK you might want to take advantage of this opportunity and see if her advice will help you in your ministry and career.

Teaching our children

It is being reported that Dan Savage was invited to speak against bullying at a recent National High School Journalism Conference but instead used his platform to attack the Bible and Christian values.  His verbal assault on Christians and vulgar language caused around 100 students out of the several thousand in attendance to walk out.  As they left Savage continued his attacks and began calling those leaving derogatory names.  The sponsors of the conference later issued a statement offering their regrets about the message Savage gave but offered no apologies to the students or their schools.  Instead, they encouraged the schools to use this as a teachable moment.  To me, it seems that the person who was to speak against bullying in fact used a public forum to ridicule and bully Christian young people, and an organization who should serve to protect students from bullying failed to do so and so far have refused to admit their failure.

Schools across the nation have adopted zero tolerance policies against bullying.  Students have been punished for publishing statements on social networks that were construed as bullying other students.  It has been reported that some schools have even banned students from hugging one another on school property in an effort to stop bullying.  Yet, the sponsor of a major high school conference allowed a speaker to engage in bullying students who hold to Christian beliefs and values.  Did the sound system not have an off switch?  Did no one in charge of this conference have the courage to step up on the stage and inform Mr. Savage that his comments were out of order and his services were not needed?  Or, as it appears more and more to be the case, is it permissable for Christian beliefs to be mocked and those who hold to those beliefs to be ridiculed?  One can't help but wonder what the sponsors would have done if Mr. Savage had attacked one of the Eastern religions instead of Christianity.  At the very least I think it is safe to assume there would have been profuse apologies given immediately instead of saying how this can become a teachable moment for the students.

This is one more example of why it is vitally important that we as Christians take seriously our responsibility to teach our children our beliefs and the doctrines of our faith.  In Dt. 6: 6-8 and throughout the Scriptures we are told that we are to ensure that our children are well-grounded in the teachings we find in the Bible.  In his message to the students Mr. Savage used vulgarities to describe the teachings of the Scriptures, and unfortunately he represents many people our children and grandchildren will encounter in today's society.  Unless they are well-grounded in the teachings of Scripture and are taught to hold the Bible in high esteem, their fragile faith could well be shaken when they encounter those people who detest God and the Bible.

Where are our young people to learn the doctrines of the faith?  It begins in the home.  Some parents think they can drop their children off at church and return an hour later and they've done all they need to do to teach them biblical truth.  There is no way the church can counteract all that young people encounter in a week in only one or two hours on Sunday morning, and, in fact, the church is not given that responsibility in Scripture.  It is the parent's responsibility.  The church is to reinforce and support the teachings the children receive at home, but parents have the primary responsibility to teach their children.

Regardless of the size of one's church, discipleship and biblical instruction must be a major priority.  We need strong Sunday school classes or some type of small group setting where adults can be discipled and taught Scriptural truths.  Unless they are growing as Christian disciples they will be unable to help their children learn and grow.  We need strong classes for our children and youth where they can learn biblical truths and have opportunities to put their learning into practice.  Then, when these children go away to college or enter the workforce, they will be able to defend their faith from those who would challenge it.  I cannot say this strongly enough: it is time to stop playing church games and get serious about giving believers of all ages the spiritual tools they need to stay strong in the faith while living in a culture that is growing more hostile to that faith.

I do agree with the conference sponsors that Mr. Savage's comments at this conference can be a teachable moment. I pray that it teaches our parents and churches the importance of adequately teaching our children and youth the tenets of the Christian faith.  I pray that we not only teach them what we believe but why we believe it, and that we help each of them to make that faith personal for themselves.  I further pray that churches of all sizes will decide that disciple-making is going to become a priority for their churches and that they use whatever resources it requires to do this with excellence.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Front door and side doors

When many smaller churches think of reaching new people they often focus on how they can get people to visit their churches on Sunday morning.  That is trying to get people to come into a church through the front door.  There is nothing wrong with that, but it is too limiting.  Along with a front door strategy churches also need to consider how they can get people to come through the side doors.  You'll notice that when I talk about the front door I use the singular term, and when I talk about the side doors I'm using the plural.  The front door is primarily limited to one event, the Sunday morning service, that people might be attracted to, but the side doors can be muliple opportunities through which people can become involved in the life of your church.

Side doors are often the activities that your church is involved in outside the confines of your building.  For example, your church may have a food pantry that makes food available to persons who need assistance.  It may be that you could not only assist a family with food but you could also invite members of that family to assist you by serving in that pantry and give them an opportunity to meet the persons from your church who minister in that pantry.  Through the relationships you would build they may be interested in finding out more about your church and begin attending the services.

Another side door might be something related to sports.  A member of your church may coach a summer baseball team and be able to build relationships with the player's families.  In those relationships it is likely there will be opportunities to share discussions about spiritual matters.  I know one church that started a group for persons in the community who enjoyed bass fishing.  A member of the church who fishes bass tournaments led this group and taught them some of his techniques.  The intent was to reach unchurched persons who would enjoy being a part of this affinity group and to build relationships with these persons.  A few years ago I was told of one megachurch that had over 200 such groups meeting in their church facilities each week.  It has proven to be a very effective way to build relationships with unchurched persons and earn the right to talk to them about spiritual matters.  There may be some persons in your congregation who enjoy quilting and would want to begin a group that would be attractive to other quilters.  Some of those persons might be unchurched persons in your community who would enter into relationships with the quilters in your congregation.  The side doors for your church is only limited by the number of things people in your church are passionate about and how many of them are willing to use that passion to build bridges to the unchurched in your community.

People who would be resistant to entering your church through the front door may have no problem  being part of a group within your church when that group is focused on things that interest them.  As they find the leaders of these groups to be people who are genuine, relational, and equally interested in the same things they are they will become more likely to be interested in learning more about your church.  I should give a word of warning here.  If they sense that this group or leader is only interested in putting another notch on his or her spiritual gun they will leave and never return.

Another thing to consider is that it's not necessary to have church members lead this group.  If an affinity group was going to meet in our church I would want members of our congregation be part of that group, but that doesn't mean that only members could lead it.  It could be a positive thing if non-members led some of these groups, especially if they brought a level of excellence to the activity.  By having church members as part of the group the church would continue to have a connection with the other participants in the group, and they could ensure that whatever ground rules had been developed for these groups were followed.

I encourage you to sit down and make a list of how many side doors there are into your church.  The next time you meet with your church leaders ask them to made a similar list and then begin discussing what other side doors might be possible in your congregation.

Monday, April 23, 2012

How's that working for you?

I've read that a good lawyer always knows the answer to a question before he or she ever asks it.  When I hear Dr. Phil ask the question, "How's that working for you?" he knows the answer before he ever asks.  Whatever the issue is, it's not working for them.  That's why the people are on his program, and yet they will often argue with him until he asks the question.  I see the same thing happen on shows like Bar Rescue and Kitchen Nightmares.  Both shows begin with a serious problem with the bar or restaurant, but when the experts begin recommending changes the owners resist insisting they know their business better than the outside expert.  One would think if that was the case, the bar or restaurant wouldn't be in trouble in the first place.  Of course, such challenges don't exist only on television or in bars and restaurants.  They exist in many declining and plateaued churches as well.

Few church leaders get excited about change even when things are going really poorly in the church, and such changes are likely to meet strong resistance.  These leaders insist that there is nothing wrong with their church or the way they approach ministry.  I think it's fair to ask the Dr. Phil question to them as well: How's that working for you?  Church leaders, whether pastoral or lay, that refuse to face the reality of the problem will often point the blame in other directions.  Here are some common blame statements:  Younger members aren't as committed as the older members were, and if they would just raise their level of commitment things would be better.  Too many outside influences pull people away from the church.  Our finances are down because of the economy.  The big, growing church down the road has pulled away all the church members because they have compromised the Bible and offer entertainment rather than genuine worship.  We don't worry about numbers; we only want to be faithful.  I'm sure each of my readers can add other excuses they've heard.

The unfortunate fact is that your church structure will produce the results you are getting.  The bars and restaurants on TV that are in trouble are in that condition because they created a business structure that has cost them business and profit.  They are in business to gain business and earn profits, but their current structure prevents them from achieving either of those goals.  What is the mission of your church?  The mission of the church is also two-fold: to fulfill the Great Commission and the Great Commandment.  Now, the question church leaders must ask is "How well are we doing these two things?"  How many people came to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ last year in your church, and how many of those people became involved in a discipleship program whether it was in Sunday school, small groups, or however your church promotes discipleship?  How many of your older members are involved in discipleship ministries?  Those questions will help you get a handle on how well you're doing with the Great Commission.  Now, what about the Great Commandment?  How many of your people are regularly involved in coroporate worship?  How many are involved in ministries outside the walls of your church in surrounding communities?  In what ways are the members of your church reflecting the love of Jesus Christ to their unchurched friends, co-workers, and neighbors?

In declining and plateaued churches, leaders probably won't like any of the answers to these question, and that's why they are seldom asked in such churches.  Each of them are a way to measure how well your church is fulfilling the two primary purposes of your church, and who wants to do such measuring if you already know there's a problem?

However, the only way to turn-around a declining or plateaued church is to ask these questions and answer them honestly.  Placing the blame on outside influences will not solve the problem.  The problems that exist in most of our churches are primarily internal.  The church has created structures that prevent positive answers to these questions.  Every church (and I said every) has created walls that reduce the effectiveness of the church's ministry.  Some walls are much higher than others, but every church has them.  The challenge is to identify those walls and find ways to knock them down and replace them with bridges into the community.  I have to be honest and tell you that some of those walls will be sacred cows to your congregation, but as long as they remain part of your church's structure you will continue to get the same results you've been getting.  Some churches with shorter walls are getting good results, but could enjoy an even more effective ministry by removing the barriers that prevent that more effective ministry.  Other churches with higher walls face more difficult challenges, but if they want to change the results they've been seeing they have to address those challenges.  Perhaps the best way to do that is to begin by looking at everything you're currently doing and asking, "How is this working for us?"

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Looking through the windshield

Yesterday I had a five hour drive to the Parchment Valley Conference Center in West Virginia where I will be leading a workshop on "Transforming the Small Church from Maintenance-Minded to Missional."  It was a beautiful drive to a part of the country I had not seen before.  Before leaving home I synced my I-Pod to add the new podcasts that had  downloaded onto my computer.  For much of those five hours I listened to podcasts by Dave Ramsey, Ravi Zacharias,William Lane Craig, Freakonomics, and Relevant magazine.  Talk about a great drive!  I turned a long drive into a very nice experience enjoying both the scenery and the material that was covered in those podcasts.

Zig Ziglar always talked about Automobile University.  He often said that with tapes and CDs a person could learn a great deal simply by using the time we spend in our cars listening to good material.  I had learned that long before I ever heard him say it and used to keep a number of teaching tapes in my car.  When everything went to CDs it became even easier, and now with I-Pods it's even better.  Fortunately, I have the capability to plug my I-Pod into my car's sound system so I don't have to fool with headphones.  It is much better that listening to a lot of the junk on the radio.  Don't misunderstand.  Sometimes I want to listen to music when I'm driving, and I've got well over 100 songs on the I-Pod as well, and they are all songs I enjoy.

If you spend much time in your car you should consider how you use that time.  Use it wisely and you can use that time to learn new things and grow as an individual and a minister.

Friday, April 20, 2012

How does your church treat you?

I pastored a small, rural church as a bivocational minister for twenty years.  The vast majority of that time my family and I were treated with great respect.  There were a few instances when that was not the case, but that came mostly from individuals and not from the congregation. At the same time, I saw pastor friends of mine who were treated very poorly by their congregations.  In my current role as a judicatory minister I've seen some pastors who have simply been abused by their congregations.  They and/or members of their families have been treated in ways that I would not have believed if I had not witnessed it myself.  Why do such abusive churches exist?  No doubt there are a number of reasons, but in this post we will look at just two of them.

Some churches are controlled by bullies.  They may have been the schoolyard bully in grade school, and now they have a bigger arena.  They also have no one who is willing to stand up to them.  They scream and yell and threaten, and everyone backs away until they get their way.  The entire church walks around them on pins and needles fearful that anything they say or do might set them off again.  Until someone within the congregation stands up to them they will continue to hold the church hostage and abuse every pastor who attempts to serve them.

I've seen two churches that finally stood up to the bullies in their congregation.  Both churches called me to attend a leadership meeting to address some events that were happening in the church.  In one church two families were primarily responsible for running off new people who joined their church, and in the other church a bully was trying to run off the pastor.  In both cases, the bullies were acting entirely inappropriately.  As I met with each church's leadership I explained that since they were the leaders in the church they were responsible for addressing this problem.  One leadership group told me there really wasn't anything they could do, so I told them if they weren't going to deal with it to learn to live with it because it would not go away on its own.  A few weeks they did talk with the people who were creating the problems, and these individuals left the church.  In the other church the leadership met with the individual soon after I met with them and explained they could no longer accept his behavior.  He also chose to leave that congregation.  Unfortunately, I've seen other churches that did not address the inappropriate behavior, and these churches are in various stages of decline and unlikely to turn that around until someone challenges the bullies in the congregation.

A second reason some pastors are treated so poorly is that we teach them it is OK to treat us in that manner.  Dr. Phil has a great line in one of his books that says that we teach people how to treat us.  I think he is exactly right.  When we as pastors refuse to demand that we and our families be treated with respect we should not expect to be respected.  When we refuse to advocate for fair salary and benefit packages and time off to spend with our families we should not be surprised when we are not given pay raises or time away from the church.  Some pastors are so eager to please people in their congregations they will not stand up for themselves or their families.  If a pastor presents himself or herself as a doormat then he or she should not be surprised if people treat them that way.

Of course, it may not be us that is doing the teaching.  Pastors who have served your church previously may have taught the congregation it was OK to show disrespect to the pastor or even abuse him or her.  In that case, you have a responsibility to change the culture in that church, but it won't be easy.

In order to demand respect you must be a person who deserves respect.  As you model integrity in all you do and say, exercise sound wisdom and judgment in your decisions, and demonstrate humility in both your successes and failures you will earn the respect and trust of your congregation.    You also have to be a person who respects others if you want them to respect you.  The easiest way to demonstrate respect is to live by the Golden Rule.  If you treat people as you want to be treated, you will often find they treat you the same way.  This may not work with the bullies, but it will work with the majority of the congregation.

If I found myself in an abusive church I would not stay there.  If I could not begin to turn around the negative attitudes that permitted a church to abuse their pastor in a reasonable amount of time I would leave.  Life is too short to subject yourself and your family to that kind of abuse.  Shake the dust off your shoes and move on.  At the same time, if I am in a church that treats its pastor with respect I would want to put down deep roots and stay there for an extended period of time.  This is a church in which you can enjoy a good ministry.  As the same time, I would make sure I continued to earn the respect the congregation was giving me by doing the things mentioned in the paragraph above.  I pray you are in such a church.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Healthy pastors need time away

A lot of pastors I know are much better at caring for others than caring for themselves.  Bivocational ministers certainly fall into this camp.  Because of the many demands on their time, bivocational ministers tend to not take the time away they need to refresh themselves.  Many of us, myself included, are borderline work-aholics and some of us have crossed the line!  This is not healthy for our own well-being nor is healthy for our families or our churches.

None of us are indispensable.  Cemeteries are filled with people who thought they were indispensable.  The church will not collapse if we are not there.  If we try to become indispensable we are short-changing our congregation and not allowing them to be the church.  Even worse, we are not being the spouse and parent God has called us to be.  We prevent our families from receiving from us what they need and then wonder why they resent the church.  I once read one wife's comment that if her husband had another woman she could fight that, but how does she fight the church when it becomes his mistress?  She was bitter towards the church because her husband had focused all his attention on it and neglected his family.

Let me make some suggestions.  Set aside time each week for a date with your spouse and spend time with your children.  When you are with them, be with them.  If you attend a child's event you don't need to take a book to read or spend time checking emails on your smart phone.  Be there with them.  Take every week of vacation the church gives you, and if you are given less than four weeks a year begin to advocate for the four weeks.  I tell churches all the time the cheapest thing they can give their pastors is time away.  The pastor's salary is already budgeted so the church is going to spend X amount of dollars for salary.  What difference does it make if he or she is there 48 Sundays a year or 50?  Every pastor should receive four weeks vacation a year and should be required to take them.  When your family sits down for a meal, it is family time.  Let the phone ring.  Will the earth end if you don't answer your phone by the second ring or if you don't return the call until the family finishes their meal?  Begin to talk to your church about a sabbatical.  I know the vast majority of bivocational, and fully-funded churches for that matter, do not provide sabbaticals for their pastors.  A sabbatical is often three months paid time away from the church every seven years, and it is a great time for a person to become refreshed and an opportunity to study some aspect of ministry without having to worry about the day-to-day responsibilities of pastoral ministry.  Most churches think they can't afford a sabbatical.  I think it is a great investment in their pastor that will pay great dividends.

Many of these suggestions will require some education on the part of both the minister and the church.  You may have to move into them slowly.  For instance, when I first asked the church I pastored for four weeks vacation instead of the two they had been giving me, we compromised on three weeks vacation for two or three years and then went to the fourth week.  You may need someone such as your denominational leader to speak to your congregation about sabbaticals as that is a subject many pastors are not comfortable presenting to their churches.  At first, you will probably have to educate your congregation about your date night with your spouse.  I explained to our church when we began our date night that I was not available on Friday afternoons and evenings for anything church related as that was the time we had set for our date.  Occasionally, someone would call asking to meet with me during that time and I would have to remind them I already had an appointment with my wife.  In fact, I wrote our date in my calendar just like I did all my appointments so I wasn't lying.  After a few reminders everyone understood that my wife and I would be on a date every Friday evening, and they stopped asking me for time on Friday evenings.  Not only will this improve your relationship with your spouse, it is a great lesson for your church members.  Soon, we were not the only couple in the church that had a date night each week as others began to follow our example.  One husband jokingly asked me to stop mentioning our date nights in my sermons because his ribs were always sore from his wife punching him every time I mentioned it.  I suggested he consider taking her out on a date and maybe his ribs wouldn't be so sore!

Pastors also need time for themselves.  When I had my motorcycle I used to just take off for a couple of hours to feel the wind on my face.  It was a good time away from everything and an opportunity to pray while enjoying a beautiful afternoon.  For you it might be a walk in the woods or a day or two in a cabin.  Some Christian camps have cabins or other quarters available for pastors who want a day or two away for spiritual refreshing.  Whatever you enjoy, it's important that you take time from everything to focus just on your own well-being.

Ministry isn't a sprint; it's a long distance event.  You don't want to wear yourself out or burnout because you didn't take good care of yourself.  God created us for Sabbath.  From experience I know how hard it is for a bivocational pastor to find time for a Sabbath, but at the very least you can take mini-Sabbaths during the week.  Contrary to what some church leaders believe, the pastor does not have to be available 24/7/365.  He or she must be given time for personal renewal or the day will come when he or she won't have anything left to give anyone.  Most churches understand that; others can learn if we're willing to teach them.  The ones who refuse to understand that are toxic and pastors who find themselves serving in such churches should make plans to leave them as soon as possible.  Your well-being and that of your family are too important to be exposed to such toxicity.  Please, take time for yourself and your family.  If you do, you will enjoy a much better life and ministry.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Identifying bivocational ministers

Anyone who has followed my blog for any length of time knows how concerned I am about how denominations identify and develop persons God has called to bivocational ministry.  As I've talked to leaders in various denominations it is obvious that the numbers of bivocational ministers are growing and every leader with whom I've spoken believes that growth will continue.  However, none I've spoken with tells me their denomination has a way to help identify those persons who are called to such ministry, and few have any intentional way to effectively train those who do not have formal ministerial training.  There are already many bivocational churches needing such leaders, and I predict that even more will be looking for bivocational ministers in the future.  We must find ways to identify persons called to be bivocational ministers, and we must find effective ways to train them.

When it comes to identification one of the simplest things we can do is to ask people we believe have spiritual gifts that would enable them to be bivocational ministers if they have ever felt such a call on their lives.  I remember growing up as a child and hearing the same invitation given every Sunday in the churches I attended.  The invitation was to make a first-time decision for Christ, to rededicate one's life to Christ, to move one's church membership to this church, and to yield to God's call on one's life to full-time Christian service.  I still hear the first three but seldom do I hear the fourth part of the invitation.  I think we need to include it again and add to it the possibility that God might be calling a person to bivocational ministry.

Over thirty years ago I responded to God's call on my life to enter the ministry because a pastor of mine asked me one day if I had ever thought God might be calling me to do so.  I admitted that there had been times in my life when I felt that call on my life, but no one had ever asked me about it before so I had not done anything with it.  This pastor explained why he felt that God might be wanting to use me in ministry, and then he handed me a key to his church study so I could use his library.  Shortly after that he resigned from our church, and a few months later I requested our church license me into the ministry.  Nearly every minister I've spoken to can point back to a similar experience when someone they trusted asked them if they had ever felt God's call on their lives.  I personally believe that there are people out there who are waiting for someone to challenge them in the same way.  We can't call anyone into the ministry, but we can ask them to prayerfully consider if God has placed that call on their lives.  For those who answer in the affirmative we can then encourage them to seek how God might be wanting to use them.

More and more churches today are seeking bivocational ministers, and the need is far greater than the supply.  Most people who serve a bivocational church will do so in or near the community in which he or she lives.  Few people are willing to relocate to serve a bivocational church.  Those of us in denominational work must always be on the lookout for persons who might be called to serve in those churches.  Many of the bivocational pastors in my area pastor a church in which they were a lay leader.  I have a number of former deacons now serving as pastors in the churches in which they were a deacon.  Others are serving in churches that are part of the same association in which their former church was a member.  Few of them live more than thirty minutes from their church and work.  I also know of several churches who need bivocational ministers who struggle to find one to serve their church.

As I tell church leaders in one of my workshops, I don't believe this need has caught God by surprise.  I do not believe for a minute that He is surprised at the number of bivocational churches who need pastors.  I am convinced that He has already called people to serve in those churches, but it falls on us to help people identify that call on their lives.  Are there good lay leaders in your church who might be called of God to serve as a bivocational minister?  Are there people in your church who enjoy going deep into the Scriptures in order to teach others?  Do you have leaders who enjoy a high level of trust with the people in your church and community?  Do you have leaders who seem frustrated with the level of ministry they are able to perform in their current roles?  Are there people in your church with a passion to see people come to Christ and grow as disciples?  Perhaps these are people you need to talk to about a possible call of God on their lives.  As you read this, are there people whose names immediately come to mind?  May I suggest you call them today and set a time to talk to them.  If God has indeed called them to bivocational ministry, the Kingdom of God needs them, and they need to be obedient to that call.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Training for a bivocational church planter

I have never planted a church so this is uncharted waters for me, but I've been reading some blogs addressing the use of bivocational ministers in planting churches.  In the comments section for these blogs some have asked about what training a bivocational church planter would need.  One person in particular was finishing up his MDiv and questioned whether that degree would be helpful as a church planter.  He felt it would be a hindrance if he tried to find a job outside of ministry that would allow him to be bivocational.  He wondered if it might have been better for him to have started a business or began working at a job and then pursued some basic theological training as a foundation for becoming a bivocational church planter.  What he was describing was exactly what I did as a bivocational pastor, and it makes sense to me that is not a bad route for a bivocational church planter either.

Recognizing the growing need for bivocational ministers a few schools now offer dual-degree programs.  I haven't checked lately, but it seems like a common one is an MDiv/MSW.  My guess is that these types of programs will grow in the future as denominations need more and more bivocational ministers, but I'm not sure they will include the MDiv.  As others and I have argued, the MDiv trains people to be research theologians, but I'm not sure that is what church planters need.  Church planters might find other degrees would provide them a more practical education than the MDiv.  I'm thinking of MAR, MTh, and other two year degrees that offer a good combination of theological  and practical ministry skills training.  Many of these can be taken on-line from accredited schools making them accessible to anyone regardless of their location or schedule.

Let's consider one possible scenario.  A church decides to start a new church in a nearby community.  Perhaps one of their leaders lives in that community and has some gifts that would allow him or her to be successful as a church planter.  The person already has a job or owns a business so that part of the equation is already covered.  A process is developed for starting the new church, and the church planter begins to work that process.  The denomination comes alongside to provide assistance, resources, and perhaps some limited financial support.  The church planter begins work on one of the two year degrees that were mentioned above.  While the new church is growing, the church planter is also growing as a result of his or her educational experiences.  A new church is born.

I know this scenario makes it sound much easier than it is.  We all know that birth is always messy, and it won't go nearly as smoothly as I make it sound.  But, at the same time, this is a scenario that is doable.  It's much more organic that many of the ways we've tried to plant new churches in the past.  It gets more people who may be called to plant new churches involved much quicker, and I believe it puts church planting where it needs to be: under the direction of the mother church rather than under the control of a denomination.  It provides the education for the church planter that will enable him or her to be more successful in ministry, but it does that in a timetable that will better fit the planter's schedule.  Personally, I believe the upside for this scenario far outweighs the downside.

This may be a time when schools that offer these two year theological degrees look at adding a church planting component to the degree.  I earned an MAR with a concentration in leadership that I have found very useful to my ministry.  Perhaps a similar degree with a concentration in church planting could be developed that would be even more specialized for the church planter.  If anyone knows of an existing degree of this type I would be very interested in knowing about it.

We simply have to find ways to begin planting more churches and one of the things we will need is church planters.  We also have to find better ways to train and develop these planters, and I believe this is one way to do that.

Friday, April 13, 2012

The balance question

Recently while reading another blog a person asked the question of how a bivocational minister can maintain balance in his life.  This is one of the most frequent questions I'm asked and thought it was time to touch on it again in a post.  For a more thorough answer please read my book, The Healthy Pastor: Easing the Stresses of Ministry.  Here I just want to give a couple of quick responses.

Bivocational ministers need to stop trying to be the Lone Ranger.  There is too much to do for you to try to do ministry by yourself.  You need to surround yourself with a good team of mature Christian leaders who can help carry the load.  The best resource available today to help you develop such a team is Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church written by Terry Dorsett, a pastor and church planter in Vermont.  This is by far the best book I know about that will help you develop the teams you need to effectively pastor a smaller church and have any life outside the church.

John Maxwell says that if you can accomplish your dream on your own, your dream is too small.  What I tried to do early in my pastorate was to accomplish dreams that were too small because I was always reluctant to ask for help, and sometimes too stupid to accept help when it was offered!  Just trying to be honest here.  With a quality team you can dare to dream bigger, accomplish much more, and still have a life that you and your family can enjoy.

The second thing that is essential for a balanced life is the setting of priorities and goals.  A bivocational minister does not have the time to run around in circles.  It is vital that you and your church leaders have agreed on priorities and goals for your ministry so you can pursue those while allowing other people to handle the other things that come up.  As an example, our church began seeing a number of first-time guests in our morning services.  At our next deacon meeting I told the deacons that I simply could not visit these first-time guests and handle the visitation needs of our congregation.  I asked them to tell me which one they wanted me to focus on and they would be responsible for the other one.  After some discussion they agreed that I should focus on visiting our first-time guests and they would handle the normal visitation needs of our congregation.  They would contact me if it became obvious to them that a pastor visit was needed, but they would at least make the initial visits to our church members.

Do you see how freeing that became?  I knew what my priority was in the area of visitation and knew what my focus was to be.  Yes, it took some time to educate the congregation but not as long as one might think.  It also took some time to train some of our deacons on how to do a good visit in the home, in the hospital, or elsewhere, but again it didn't take that much time.  Most of them were already gifted in such ministry and the others learned quickly and did a wonderful job.  Whatever time I spent in educating the congregation and training our deacons was an investment that resulted in a much more balanced ministry and life for me.

Just doing these two things will help you enjoy much more balance in your life and make your ministry more enjoyable and effective.  I do recommend you purchase the two resources mentioned above.  You'll find them in most Christian bookstores and on  I would also suggest you read Margin by Richard Swenson.  I've often said that is the one book I wish I had read early in my ministry because he explains why maintaining margin in one's life is so important.  I might have avoided a lot of problems if I had only read his book and followed the recommendations he made.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Addressing the cult of harmony in the church

In Fragile Hope Tom Bandy talks about the "Cult of Harmony" that has pervaded the Christian church.  We prefer harmony over mission and even truth.  We don't want to offend anyone so we allow everyone an opportunity to vote on every matter whether they are informed on the issue or not, and we often are willing to give veto power to a small, vocal minority who might be upset over a different direction for the church.  Few churches are willing to enact any kind of church discipline over disruptive or contentious people because they don't want to appear to be mean-spirited.  Wanting to promote harmony in the church, too many churches are willing to allow such people to hold the church hostage and keep it from moving forward.  The cult of harmony even impacts what many pastors are willing to say from the pulpit.  In this politically correct world in which we live pastors don't want to risk saying something that might offend someone, so they preach messages designed to soothe the consciences of their listeners, ignore some Scriptures completely, and water others down to make them virtually meaningless.  Rather than preaching the truth they proclaim an easy, greasy gospel that goes down smoothly but poisons their listeners.

One of the things needed in many of our churches are pastors who are not afraid to speak the truth as found in Scripture.  There needs to be a boldness in the pulpit that is not found in every church.  Such boldness will be based upon the belief in the absolute integrity of Scripture.  We need fewer pastors who say, "I believe..." or "I think...." and more who will say "The Bible says...."  One of the things that always impressed me about Billy Graham's preaching was the number of times he would say, "The Bible says...."  He never intended to purposely offend anyone, but at the same time he never backed away from telling his audience what the Bible said about any topic.  The result was that thousands of people responded to his messages in ways that changed their lives forever.

The Bible isn't always politically correct.  In fact, it will often be offensive to those who disbelieve it or would prefer to not accept the truths of its teachings.  I have found that those who are often most offended become upset when the Scriptures challenge the life choices they have made.  That was true in the times of Jesus Christ and it remains true today.

I want to make sure that my readers understand that I am not advocating that pastors begin beating up their listeners with their sermons.  A good friend of mine called me several months ago complaining about the sermons their pastor was preaching.  He said that he felt he was beaten on every week.  In a few weeks I visited that church and understood exactly how he felt.  For 45 minutes that pastor hammered the people and after the invitation ended he started in again by chastising them because no one came forward.  I was exhausted when I left there and vowed I would not return to that church again.  My friend and his family left soon after.

We don't have to hammer the people with the Scriptures.  We just have to teach them without apology and allow the Holy Spirit to convince people of their truth.  We can do that in a positive way that will be much more effective than using the Scriptures as a sledgehammer.  As God begins to convict people of the truth they have heard He will lead them in the changes they need to make.  From personal experience I can assure you that many people will resist those changes, but it's hard to resist God for long when you are regularly exposed to the truth especially when that truth is presented in love and with an obvious concern for one's well-being.

I argue in one of my books that the most important decision someone can make is what they believe about the Bible.  Some disagree and say that the most important decision is what we will do with Jesus Christ, but I counter that we base our beliefs on Christ by what we read in the Scriptures.  If we decide that the Scriptures are not the infallible Word of God then we can't be sure that everything they say about Christ is true.  If that's the case, then how can one make a decision to make Him the Lord and Savior of one's life.  If the Scriptures are not infallible then the 10 commandments may be nothing more than 10 suggestions for how to live and each person is free to pick and choose which ones he or she will follow.  That means that any choice that anyone makes is right for him or her. 

Many years ago I read that early in his ministry Billy Graham went into the woods to pray.  In his prayer he told God that until he could be certain that the Bible was true he could not continue to preach.  After a prolonged time in prayer he returned to his home convinced that the Scriptures were inspired by God.  From that time on he could preach "The Bible says..." with a conviction that led to many lives being changed.  That same conviction is what we need today in every pulpit if we want to see revival replace the cult of harmony that now exists in too many churches.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


There are many things I enjoy about ministry.  The ones I enjoy the most are those in the areas of my giftedness.  I love to study, to teach and preach, and I enjoy providing leadership.  It's a pleasure to provide pastoral care to someone who is hurting or seeking guidance.  I enjoy coaching people to help them achieve their life's goals.  There are also some things in ministry I don't enjoy, and at the top of that list is administration.  Filling out reports, doing paperwork that I feel will probably go into a file somewhere and never again be seen, filing, tracking expenses, and the list goes on.

In my current role I have an assistant who handles a lot of the administrative tasks for me, but she works out of our regional office in Indianapolis.  I still have to send her some reports so she can do her job and it's not convenient for her to handle the everyday administrative tasks that come across my desk 90 miles away.  But, believe me when I say I appreciate everything she does because she does administrative tasks much better than I ever would.  As you might imagine, my administrative gifts are not too high on the scale.

As a bivocational pastor I didn't have even that amount of assistance.  I was the one who got the church mail and had to open it and deal with it.  I was the one who prepared the church bulletin for each service and wrote, copied, and mailed the monthly newsletter.   The phone calls for the church came to me whether it was someone needing assistance or someone wanting to sell the church insurance.  Many of my readers are bivocational ministers so you know what I'm talking about, and you could probably add to this list.

Even though I'm not good at adminstration, it's part of ministry and has to be done.  There are good reasons denominations ask for certain reports.  It is important to properly track what is happening in the church so you can know if your goals are being achieved.  Even though most of the mail we received at the church went directly into the circular file, there were important pieces of mail that enabled us to better minister.  The person who followed me at the church stopped the monthly newsletter, but I still believe it was an important communication tool that kept not only our church members but also our prospects informed of what was happening at the church.  We need to remember that good administration allows us to better minister so it's important that we do it well.

I'll never be great at administrative tasks.  I often refer to my desk as a landfill.  I would love to have a nice, tidy desk that allowed me to immediately put my hand on any item I needed, but that's never going to happen.  I often find myself close to a deadline before finally doing something that needs to be done, but I continue to work at doing better because I understand the value that good administration adds to ministry.

Let me encourage my readers who do not enjoy the administrative part of your ministry to remember that this is the part that really enables you to do the remainder of your ministry tasks better.  The better you become at handling the administrative tasks the more effective you will become in all your ministry tasks.  

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Adapting to change

In yesterday's blog posting I referred to an article that predicted that within 50 years there would be only 10 institutions offering higher education, and I asked several questions about how that might impact seminaries, denominations, and church leaders.  I certainly do not know if such a monumental change in education will occur or not, but there is no doubt that in the next 50 years there will be huge changes impacting society and the church.  Institutions and individuals who are flexible enough will do well when these changes occur; those that are rigid in their thinking will not do so well.  The track record for how churches respond to change is not good, and one has to be concerned about how many will survive the next five decades.

Many of the people reading this will decide that since they won't be around 50 years from now they're not going to worry about it.  Agreed, they won't be impacted by most of those changes, but how will their children and grandchildren be affected?  I pastored a church that has already celebrated its 175th anniversary.  The church originally met in a log building and is now in its third building.  During those 175 years it met many challenges and faced numerous changes it had to address.  I often wondered as the pastor what would have happened if it had refused to address the changes that they encountered.  Even in my 20 year pastorate there we had to deal with changes that not everyone liked.  In a few instances, the opposition to some of those changes was quite strong.  But, we addressed them head-on and every time we dealt with the changes in a positive manner we came out stronger as a congregation.  I am convinced that the changes churches have dealt with in the past 50 years will pale in comparison to the ones they will face in the next 50 years, and if we want to have a church that will minister to our children and grandchildren we had better learn to adapt to the changes that are coming.

Like most people, I enjoy my ruts.  As long as we operate within our ruts we know the boundaries, we know what we need to do, we know our roles, and we are comfortable.  The minute change comes we are knocked out of our ruts and we find ourselves in a world in which we do not know what to do, what our roles are, or if we even have a role.  An illustration I read and like is that in times of change we are like the trapeze artist who is between swings.  He has had to let go of the one swing, but he hasn't yet grabbed the other one.  In times of change we often have to let go of the safety of the known before we can fully grasp the unknown, and that's a scary place to be.  It's also the place where we must learn to get comfortable if we are going to do well in a rapidly changing society.

Those churches that are still fighting over which version of the Bible to use or whether or not to replace their 30 year old hymnal, or who is allowed to serve Communion are probably not going to do well in the future.  They will continue to congratulate themselves on their faithfulness to God while they grow grayer and smaller until one Sunday morning there is no one there to turn on the lights.  They will be abandoned by a culture who sees them as irrelevant to the spiritual needs of 21st century people.

More and more people are saying that while they are attracted to Jesus, they are not interested in the church as it often exists.  As painful as it is to admit, this is not their problem, it is the problem of the church.  Jesus always met people where they were.  Too often, the church isn't willing to do that.  We set up artificial barriers that keep people away.  These barriers are nothing more than stumbling blocks, and Jesus had some strong things to say about those who set stumbling blocks before people that would keep them from Him.  If we want to reach this generation of people we have to tear down the walls we've erected and begin to build bridges to the people.  If we refuse to do that, we will forfeit our right to exist, and the people seeking to find Christ will find Him elsewhere.

For the past 30 years I have served as a pastor and judicatory leader.  Much of my time has been spent working with smaller churches.  I have to say that I'm not sure many of these churches, and even some mid-size churches, will survive the future.  They are old wineskins that will not hold the new wine of the 21st century.  They are not flexible enough to contain the changes that will be required of them.  New churches will replace them, but I'm not sure many of them will look like what we have today.

Some churches may be groups of people who work together and meet during their lunch hour for Bible study and prayer.  They may get together five days a week at work, but not meet on Sunday at all.  Other churches will meet in homes during the week and spend part of the weekends doing ministry in the community.  Some people may become a part of an online church and minister through various social agencies in their community.  Growing numbers of people who want a more traditional church experience are likely to become part of a satellite church that is part of one of the megachurches.  Even more likely is that there will be church structures develop that we can't even describe right now.

The question for our traditional churches is whether or not they can adapt to some of these changes.  Could your church help resource a small group that met at work during their lunch hour?  Can you provide meaningful ministry opportunities to persons who want such opportunities or will you force them to look elsewhere for places to serve?  Does your church need to become a satellite of a stronger church in your community?  Could your congregation shift its thinking about discipleship away from a Sunday school format that draws very few people in many churches today to a format that meets in other places?  The core question behind all these others is how flexible is the wineskin of your church?

Your church's adaptability to change will determine what it will be ten and twenty years from now. The time to begin discussing this is now.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Education in the future

There is an article in this month's Wired magazine about two Standford University professors who offered an artificial intelligence course they teach on line to anyone for free.  They were shocked when 160,000 students enrolled, two-thirds of whom live outside the United States.  Over 100 volunteers worked to translate the lectures into 44 languages.  The university offered no credit for this course, but that did not deter the many who were not interested in college credits; they only were interested in the learning they would receive from this course.  Students had to take the same exams and tests that traditional students took and submit weekly assignments.  137,000 students dropped out before completing the course, but that is still a huge number of students who completed this difficult course.  This success has led to additional courses at Standford being offered in a similar format, and MIT planned to offer their own program to compete with Standford's this year.  The person who developed this course, Sebastian Thrun, predicts that within 50 years there will be only ten institutions offering higher education, and he is hopeful that a digital university he is developing will be one of those ten.

When I read that I thought there is no way there will be only 10 institutions of higher education in 50 years, but as rapidly as things are changing today I guess it's a possibility.  With technology growing as it is it's dangerous to make too many predictions.  Only 44 years ago, in 1968, a writer for Business Week magazine predicted it was unlikely that Japanese cars would find a market in the United States.  It was just 35 years ago, 1977, that the founder of Digital Equipment Corporation said there was no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.  I guess time will tell whether Thrun is right or not.

His prediction did cause me to wonder what theological education would look like if he is correct.  Which of the 10 institutions would be training future ministers, and what would be included in that education?  Assuming denominations are still around 50 years from now, how would a seminary education offered by such few schools impact them?  What current seminaries, if any, would survive such a monumental change in higher education, or would future ministers receive their theological and ministerial training through schools that do not currently exist?  Would future seminarians receive traditional degrees such as are now offered, would there be different degree programs, or would students simply take the courses they feel they need to be effective in ministry and be content with receiving an education without seeking specific degrees?  If the latter is true, how will that impact the ordination and placement polities of some denominations, again assuming they still exist 50 years from now?  How would such changes in education impact the training bivocational ministers could receive?

I have no predictions for any of these questions nor do I have any answers.  I am not an educator, and I am certainly not a prophet, but I do find such questions interesting.  When I think of the changes that have occurred in my 63 years I wouldn't rule out any possibility of what might change in the next 50 years.  The only thing that is certain is that changes will occur, and. most likely, on a scale we have never seen before.    

Friday, April 6, 2012

Searching for a pastor

One of my roles as an Area Resource Minister with the American Baptist Churches of Indiana and Kentucky is to assist our churches when they seek a new pastor.  In the eleven years I've served in this capacity I have seen changes in how many of our churches search for a new pastor.  Thom Rainer, CEO of LifeWay, has identified seven new trends in the pastor search process which he describes in his blog.  I predict we will see more churches follow these trends in the future for a variety of reasons which will lead to denominational churches becoming less connected to their denominations.  This will also lead to more pastors coming to churches with little or no knowledge of the denomination to which their church belongs.  It could be an interesting study for someone to examine how this will impact denominational churches and denominations over the next 20-30 years, but for the purpose of this post I want to focus on a few things pastor search committees that utilize these trends should consider.

There are a number of web sites today that allow churches seeking a pastor to post information and invite persons to apply for the position.  These same sites often have a section in which pastors seeking a new place of service can post their resume in the hope that a church will contact them.  I know at least one church that called a very good pastor that they found from one of those sites.  I also know that anyone can post a resume on these sites, and some of them might be persons a church would not want as a pastor.  If a church does a pastor search on one of these Internet sites or receives resumes from persons who read their information on these sites, it is imperative that a thorough background check be done early in the process.  I would recommend not only criminal and credit checks, but I would insist on references from persons who knows the person both personally and professionally.  Not only would I check every one of these references, but I would also ask the references if they could direct me to other persons I could contact.

Rainer notes that many search committees review candidate's Twitter and Facebook postings, read the blogs and/or web pages the candidates may have, and check out the candidate's current church's web page.  This seems to be a good way of getting to know how the candidate thinks about various topics and how well he or she communicates.  What if the candidate doesn't do social media?  That will tell you some things about the person that may need follow-up questions.  Why doesn't he or she use social media?  How does this impact this person's ability to connect with younger generations?  If the candidate is uninterested in using social media how might this impact the church's use of such technology if this person becomes the pastor?

Rainer admits he was surprised by how much search committees depend on the candidate's current church's website to give them information about the pastor.  These search committees should also know that candidates will be looking at their website for information about them as well.  Churches that do not have a website or one that is not current may send a very negative signal to candidates.  If I was interviewing with a church that did not have a website or one that had not been updated since 2009 I would have a lot of questions for that committee.

Another trend that was identified was that search committees now ask more questions about leadership than they do about a candidate's theological beliefs.  While I believe that leadership questions are very important, so are the questions about a candidate's theological beliefs.  A church is not hiring a CEO; they are calling a pastor, a spiritual leader, and his or her theological beliefs are critical to the health and well-being of the congregation.  I would urge churches to not compromise here.  You must not  accept a pastor with a weakened theology in order to get one with strong leadership gifts.

Denominational leaders...are you seeing the same trends in your churches that Rainer has identified in his blog?  Pastors, what was your experience when you were meeting with search committees?  If any of my readers are currently serving on a pastor search committee I would be quite interested in hearing what you think of Rainer's comments and my suggestions.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Leaders are readers

I still remember when I was a child one of my favorite times was going to the library.  We lived on farms and didn't go into town too often, but when we did we usually went to the library.  Each summer I would sign up for some reading contest and would always exceed the goals we had for the number of books we read.  During school times the library bus would take books to the area schools, and I would always check out one or two books to read.  I can't count the number of times I read Tom Sawyer and The Hardy Boys series of books.

Today my reading list is much different, but my enjoyment of reading hasn't waned.  I will average reading one book a week and have done so for years.  I usually have two or three books I'm reading at the same time.  I don't go to the library very often any more as I prefer to own the books I'm reading so I can highlight helpful material and write in the margins, so my study is lined with filled bookshelves.  Two years ago our daughter gave me a NOOK for Christmas so much of my reading is now done on that.

I share all of this to admit my bias for reading.  This makes it very hard for me to understand why so many people read very little.  According to some studies 20 percent of Americans will read no books this year, and of those who do read they only average reading 4-5 books per year.  The majority of clergy will do much better than that.  According to some research, 20 percent of pastors will purchase 50 books per year, and an even greater number will purchase at least 24 books.  We will assume most of them are read  This is good news as it demonstrates the desire for ministers to know what is going on in the culture and the latest trends in ministry.  Both of these are important for an effective ministry.  Reading has also been shown to be a key element in pastors remaining at their church for longer periods of time.

What are your reading habits?  How much of your reading is for sermon preparation and how much of it is for your own personal growth?  Reading good books will help you grow as a leader, and the more you grow the further you can lead your congregation.  That's why I insist that leaders are readers.  Reading is not an option, so if you have not been a reader in the past I encourage you to become one.  If you only read one book a month you will be far beyond what most people are doing.

Books do not have to be expensive.  You can save money by buying e-books.  I have found good books at the local Goodwill store for $1 and $2 each.  You can purchase used books for pennies on the dollar on  I have bought cases of books at auctions and found some wonderful books which I kept and then donated the rest to Goodwill.  You can purchase books at library book sales.  A few years ago I bought the two-volume Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament at a library sale for $2.  Of course, there is still the local library.  No one can use the cost of books as an excuse for not reading more.

In closing, last week at an event I attended someone asked me what I was reading.  That's the first time anyone has ever asked me that question.  If you're interested, I'm currently reading The New Testament (NKJV) for my devotional reading.  Also on my desk is Lou Dobbs' book Independents Day.  On my NOOK I'm reading Leonard's Sweet's book Viral: How Social Networking is Poised to Ignite Revival, and in my car I have Bill Hybel's book Just Walk Across the Room which I read when I have to wait in traffic or when I arrive at an appointment too early.  This gives me a variety of reading options and ensures that no matter where I am I have material to read.  I hope you'll do the same.  Happy reading!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The call

Several years ago I attended a church conference led by a person who had a ministry to street children in New York City.  Having lived my entire life in a rural setting his story fascinated me as he told of some of the challenges he and his staff encountered trying to serve these children.  One comment he made has stayed with me for 30 years now.  He said that many Christians say they would do something if they felt called to do it, but his response to that was "The need is the call."  Rather than waiting for some thunderous voice from heaven or a burning bush we need to become more aware of ministry needs around us and respond to them.

I think of his comments when I think of the difficulty in finding people to serve as bivocational pastors.  When I work with the pastor search committee for a fully-funded church I can get 20-50 resumes from people who are interested in the position.  I'm lucky to have one or two names to give a search committee for a bivocational church.  Research in recent years have found that people are not interested in serving in smaller churches for a variety of reasons.  I understand the financial limitations of pastoring a smaller church and the sense a seminary graduate might have that such a church would not make the best use of his or her gifts, but what about the call?  When I felt called to the ministry these things didn't matter.  I only wanted a place to serve.  I heard about a church that needed a pastor, I sent them my resume, they called me, and I spent the next twenty years as their pastor.  Yes, it was a small struggling church when I went there, and most of their previous pastors had used it as a springboard to a "real" church, but these were people for whom Jesus Christ gave His life.  They deserved a pastor who would love them and lead them in the ministry God intended for them to have.

There are thousands of small, bivocational churches struggling to find pastors who would do the same thing.  One thing of which I am certain is that this has not caught God by surprise.  I am convinced that He is calling men and women to serve these churches, but too many of them are ignoring that call.  Bivocational ministry is very geographically based.  Few people are going to move from New York to be the bivocational pastor of a church in Wyoming.  That means that if you know of a bivocational church seeking a pastor in your area, and you are called to pastoral ministry, you need to prayerfully consider if this might be the need you are to meet.  There are wonderful opportunities to serve bivocational churches for those who have ears to hear what the Spirit is saying to them.  I pray you will be one who will hear.

Monday, April 2, 2012


Does your church operate from a mindset of abundance or scarcity?  I was speaking to a woman the other day who told me their church has had some financial struggles as a result of our national economy.  Like many churches, they keep looking for places to cut expenses to match their declining revenue.  She said some people in the congregation believe the church will not survive 2012.  I frequently hear this from smaller churches, especially when I'm helping them find a pastor.  "We're just a small church.  All our people are on fixed income.  We just don't have any money."  Every time I hear these kinds of comments I know these people are operating out of a mindset of scarcity, and as long as people continue to think like this they will continue to struggle financially.

Contrast this to congregations that have a mindset of abundance.  While they are realists, they also know that all of God's resources are available for them to use for His purposes.  When I challenged our congregation of 50 people to build a $250,000 fellowship addition and to do it without borrowing money, some thought I was nuts.  But they did it.  When a few wanted us to cut back on our denominational mission support during this building project they weren't happy when I refused to make our missionaries build us a new building.  During the project we continued our mission giving at the same level as before, and the year the building was completed we not only had built it without borrowing money, we gave the most we had ever given to missions.  That year our small congregation gave over $14,000 to our denominational mission work.

I recently heard of an association of churches that raised funds to assist a pastor who had some major medical expenses.  Every church in this association is small and served by bivocational pastors.  In one evening they received a special offering for this pastor and raised over $6,000.  These churches have an abundance mindset and they are not afraid to dig deep to minister to someone who needs assistance.  They understand that God is ministering to this pastor through them and they will be generous because they believe in the abundance of God's resources.

Financial mindsets are self-fulfilling prophecies.  If you begin with the mindset of scarcity you will find you have few resources to work with.  If you have a mindset that believes in the abundance of God's resources, you will find that those resources will come your way when they are needed to do God's work.  These mindsets often come from the leaders.  I've seen churches that had a scarcity mindset change when they had a pastor come in that believed in the abundance of God's resources.  It always took time for that mindset to change, but it did change.  At the same time, I've seen churches that had a mindset of abundance also change to one of scarcity when they got a pastor who lacked faith in the availablity of God's resources.

Pastors, if you have been operating out of a mindset of scarcity it's time to raise your sights.  You are a stumbling block to your church limiting their effectiveness as a congregation.  It's time you re-read the Scriptures that address the abundant resources of God and their availability to His people when they are attempting to do His work.  It's time to challenge yourself and the congregation you serve to look beyond their own limitations to the abundance that is God's.  It might take time, but if you can move to a mindset of abundance you will find that you will be able to do far more ministry than you've previously imagined.