Thursday, May 31, 2012

Surrounded by friends

As I sat at my desk this morning drinking my coffee and thinking about the day ahead I paused and just looked around my study.  Surrounding my desk are bookshelves filled with books, and I do mean filled.  I consider them my friends because they have encouraged me and mentored me for over three decades of ministry.  I see a shelf of Chuck Swindoll's books.  Chuck taught me the value of preaching without cliches and going deep into a text to find hidden nuggets of truth.  James Dobson is well represented on my bookshelf with books that addressed issues that are important to families.  Eugene Peterson helps me remember that much of a pastor's work comes out of a life that has been immersed in Christ and that to neglect one's personal spiritual growth will eventually leave a person feeling empty inside and have nothing to offer others.  Two complete bookcases are filled with books that address the leadership and management role of ministry.  As I glanced at the older books in the first bookcase and compared them to more recently purchased books that are in the second bookcase I'm reminded how much ministry has changed since I first began in 1981.  One and half of another bookcase are filled with Bible commentaries and other resources that helped me prepare my messages during my twenty year pastorate.  When I resigned from pastoral ministry for my current role I gave away or sold a number of commentary sets or I would have two complete bookcases filled with those books.  Another section of books are related to business leadership which includes many crossover principles that apply to ministry as well.  This section is heavy with John Maxwell's material as well as other well known leadership gurus.  There are shelves of books that address spiritual growth, developing healthy relationships, and books that helped me better understand the culture in which I minister.  I see a number of motivational books by people such as Zig Ziglar that encourage me when I need a little extra shot of encouragement.

In front of my desk is a large framed picture of Glen Payne and George Younce, founders of The Cathedral Quartet.  The picture was printed the year after Glen passed away, the year in which they were going to retire.  For nearly five decades they had toured the world singing Southern Gospel music.  The Cathedrals were one of my favorite groups.  I attended the first concert Glen had missed due to an illness.   During their performance the group spoke to him on speaker phone as he lay in the hospital.  He had been diagnosed with cancer.  He sang a verse and chorus of a song he had sung many times from his hospital bed.  His voice with strong and filled with confidence in Christ.  Glen would die a few days later, but that night I sat in my seat and felt God saying to me that was the faithfulness He wanted from me.  The next year this print was available, and I had to buy it to remind myself of that night when God challenged me so clearly.  George Younce signed my print that evening, and I told him my story before we hugged. 

I am surrounded by friends who sit on the shelves of my study and hang on my wall.  They took the time to write and sing in order to invest in the lives of those persons who would read their words and hear their songs of praise.  It is said that we will become in life what we read and hear and the friends we make along the way, and I know these friends have helped me become a better person and a better minister.

I hope you have similar friends who will help guide you through life and ministry.  I cannot stress enough how important it is that you invest time in reading good books.  Read for instruction.  Read for encouragement.  Read for inspiration.  Don't limit your reading to just books related to ministry but read widely to better understand the world in which you minister.  Read wisely because what you read will help shape your thinking and set the direction you will take in life and ministry.  Chances are you will never meet most of the authors who influence you the most, but they will become good friends as their words travel with you throughout life.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Wisdom for new ministers

I was sent this article yesterday and felt it was important enough to pass along to my readers.  It gives some great wisdom for new seminary and Bible school graduates as they begin their ministries, but I think it also has much to say for those of us who have been in the ministry for a season.  Notice the comment about bivocational ministry that is made here.  Any minister starting his or her ministry that is not prepared to do bivocational ministry is not prepared for ministry in the 21st century.  It may be that one will never serve as a bivocational minister, but that may not be a good assumption to make.  Apart from that, I thought the entire article offered good advice that all of us in ministry need to hear.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Background checks

As I work with the 77 churches that make up my area of ministry responsibility one of my important tasks is to help these churches find new pastoral leadership when the need arises.  We do not assign pastors to churches, but our denomination does offer a process our churches can follow when they seek new pastors.  Of course, as Baptists they are free to follow that process or not and to use our services or not use them.  Most take advantage of the resources we provide.

In recent years part of the process I've recommended to the churches I've assisted is to conduct a background check on pastoral candidates before presenting them to the congregation.  It's sad that we live in a time when that is necessary, but we do.  Pastors are people, and people can make some poor choices in their lives.  Some of those choices may prevent them from serving in a leadership capacity in a church.  Some of the pastors who fail recognize their sins and are deeply remorseful.  These often recognize they have forfeited their right to provide leadership to another church because of their actions.  Unfortunately, others simply move on to another church that is seeking new leadership.  Some of these are sexual predators looking for fresh victims.  Others are con men seeking gullible people who will trust them while they steal from the church or use people for their own selfish needs.  Every year pastors from various denominations have their ministerial credentials revoked or suspended due to unethical or sinful behavior, but the average church search committee is not likely to know about the action taken by a denomination.  Anyone can create a resume to send to a pastor search committee that is not going to include such revocation of their credentials, and if a church does call them to be their pastor, by the time they may find out about the past activities of the individuals it's too late.

I encourage every committee to call the references that are on a candidate's resume, and to ask the people they call if there are others they would suggest should be called.  A committee is not limited to only calling the people listed in the resume, and a diligent committee should want to find out as much as possible about the candidate's character and past record as a pastor.  Call the denominational leader from where this person has last served.  A couple of years ago I was contacted by an individual who was interested in pastoring one of our churches, but he came out of a different denomination.  Before sending his resume to the church I called the judicatory leader of that denomination and was assured this was a very good pastor and one I would enjoy serving one of our churches.  The church did call that individual, and his ministry there has been a positive one, but without the assurance from someone I could trust I would have never suggested the church contact this individual.

After getting as much information through reference calls it's then time to conduct a background check.  You will need the candidate's permission to do this, and if he or she is reluctant to grant permission or gets angry that you even asked, it's a huge red flag.  Personally, I would end all interest in that candidate at that time.  With the candidate's permission you can then do your background check.  Along with doing checks through law enforcement I also suggest that a credit check be conducted.  Only when the candidate passes both of those checks should the committee present him or her as a candidate to the church.

Background checks should not be limited to calling new pastors or staff people.  They should be required of all volunteers as well and especially of anyone who works with youth and children.  This one will be much more difficult to enact because long-term volunteers in the church sometimes balk at such checks. You'll hear things like, "You've known me for 30 years and you're telling me I need a background check before I can teach my Sunday school class!"  The answer is "Yes, because we want people in the church, and especially new people who may be considering becoming a part of this church, to know that this is a safe place for their families.  We're requiring this of everyone who works with young people in any capacity because, although we've known you for 30 years, we haven't known other workers for that long.  Your pastor, staff, and deacons (or elders) will undergo the same background check we will do on you."  Such an answer might satisfy them, but if the church decides to require background checks it should be done for everyone regardless of how long they are have served in the church.

Again, it's a shame that such checks need to be done, but they are crucial in these times.  We want people to know they are safe when they come to our church or the activities we sponsor.  No church wants to be in the headlines because of some inappropriate action by a church leader.  Background checks are not expensive, and they are a small investment to make to help make your church a safe place for everyone.

Monday, May 28, 2012

The reality facing smaller churches

For many years smaller churches were able to attract fully-funded (the term I prefer rather than full time) pastors, especially those who had recently completed seminary or were semi-retired.  Some of that attraction was due to the parsonage many of them provided.  Newly graduated seminary students often didn't have the money to purchase a house, and retired ministers and those nearing retirement liked the idea of downsizing their house.  If they owned a home, they could sell it, invest the profit from the sale of the house, and move into the parsonage.  Many of these churches are finding out the hard way that fully-funded pastors are no longer interested in serving smaller churches, and many entering the ministry are less inclined to want to live in a parsonage as past generations.  Studies have found that many clergy will simply not serve in a smaller church.  There are a number of factors behind this that we won't go into in this post, but it is the reality that smaller church leaders need to recognize when they search for a new pastor.  What are these churches going to do as they begin to look for new pastoral leadership in the future?  Many of them are realizing their best option is to seek a bivocational minister.

Research has found that bivocational ministers often provide excellent ministry, and the churches they serve can often thrive under that leadership.  Despite that, many smaller churches struggle with the idea of calling a bivocational minister.  They see it as taking a step backwards rather than an opportunity to begin doing ministry a new way.  The fact is that many marginal fully-funded churches have not enjoyed a good ministry in years (decades?).  They might be able to call a fully-funded pastor, but that person often does not stay long enough to provide effective ministry and leadership.  In some cases, the people they have called turned out to be highly dysfunctional who caused much harm to the church during their tenure.  Such churches would often find that calling a bivocational minister as their next pastor might actually put them on a road to a much more effective ministry.

Bivocational ministers often bring some strengths to a smaller church.  If the church has experienced several short-term pastorates, they will often find that the bivocational minister tends to stay longer at his or her church.  More often than not, the bivocational minister already lives in the general community, has ties to the community, and is less likely to be interested in moving.  Virtually every church growth book I've ever read and said that a longer pastorate is one of the keys to a growing church, and bivocational pastors can provide that to their smaller church.

Because they often already live in the community there is not the learning curve someone new will have.  When I became the pastor of the church I served as a bivocational minister I was already part of the community, and that gave me a big advantage over someone who would have just moved in. 

Small churches that call a fully-funded pastor usually do not pay a very good salary and offer few benefits, but even that consumes a large portion of the church's budget.  There is little money left over for ministries that might reach new people which limits the growth of the church.  During times of financial challenges like many churches have experienced in the past few years there are few places to cut spending except clergy compensation.  Obviously, this creates problems for the pastor and his or her family, and will often cause them to leave in order to better provide for the family needs.  Many smaller churches can pay a very fair salary to a bivocational minister and still have sufficient funds left over for ministry purposes.  If the bivocational minister has health insurance in his or her other position that can save the church even more money that can go to ministry.

Smaller churches need to do away with the false pride and ego that demands they have a fully-funded pastor and recognize the reality of ministry in the 21st century.  We are already seeing more and more churches move from having a fully-funded pastor to a bivocational pastor, and the churches that are doing that are much larger than the ones we used to associate with bivocational ministry.  Leaders from various denominations are telling me they expect the trend to continue.  If your church is going through a transition from having a fully-funded pastor to a bivocational pastor, and it's struggling with that transition, please contact me.  I've spent three decades as a bivocational pastor and a judicatory minister working with bivocational churches, and I might be able to help.  If you make the transition well, you will find that your church will do quite well with bivocational leadership.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Entitlement thinking

According to news reports this week one Washington DC lawmaker is considering a proposal that would require insurance companies to cover people up to 31 years of age on their parent's insurance coverage.  Are you kidding me?  Those parents would never get that "child" to move out of the basement.  By the time I was 31 I had been married for 13 years, served a four year enlistment in the Navy, had two children, was working a job in a factory and serving as a bivocational pastor.  At what point does this congressman think it's the proper age for a person to grow up and provide for their own needs?  Before you begin thinking I'm ranting against the Democrats who seem to support a lot of entitlements, the congressman who is proposing this is a Republican.  I'm sharing this to illustrate that the entitlement mindset exists on both sides of the aisle.  We have a growing number of people in this country who believe that the government exists to provide a nanny state to solve all of life's problems, and we have a growing number of politicians who will provide whatever entitlements it takes to ensure their re-election.

Of course, the purpose of this blog is not political, and now that my little rant about entitlement thinking is completed, let me suggest that same mindset exists in many churches, and especially in smaller churches.  Churches claim they want a pastor who will help their church grow when in reality most of them want a chaplain who will tend to the needs of the flock.  In too many churches pastors are running around trying to take care of all the needs of the church while the congregation sits back and evaluates how well he or she is doing and pointing out the times when the pastor failed to call on them in their time of need.  And, while the pastor is tending to the needs of the congregation, some are complaining to one another about the lack of growth in their church and suggesting that perhaps it's time they begin to look for a pastor who will be able to attract new people.

To make matters worse, not only is the church not attracting new people, they are losing some of the older members because "the pastor isn't feeding us spiritually."  They are going to look for another church where they can be fed.  I cannot tell you the number of times as a judicatory leader that people have told me that. Everytime I hear that I have an image come into my mind of a nest full of baby birds, no feathers, unable to fly, who stretch their necks up so their mother can drop a worm into their open mouths.  I want to ask them, "Can't you feed yourself?  Are you not spiritually mature enough at this point in your life that you can feed yourself spiritually?"  Yes, the pastor has a role to play in your spiritual development, but at some point you have to take responsibility for your own spiritual growth.

By the way, those who complain about the lack of numerical growth in the church, how many people have they brought into the church or the Kingdom of God since the pastor has been there?  Most born again Christians will never lead one other person to Christ in their lifetimes, but many of them will complain because the pastor isn't growing the church.

This mindset is nothing more than entitlement thinking by people who see the church as "their" church and the pastor as "their" family priest who has been hired to meet "their" needs.  Such people want a spiritual nanny state that will solve all their problems while asking nothing in return.  This kind of thinking is destroying our nation, and it will destroy the church as well.

As a nation we need leaders like JFK who challenged us to "Ask not what our country can do for us, but what we can do for our country."  We in the church need the same kinds of leaders who will issue the same challenge to us.  I'm sorry entitlement thinkers, but the world does not revolve around you and neither does the church.  It is not all about you.  Jesus made it clear that the Christian life was a call to service, not one of ease.  Jesus said we need workers in the field, not scorekeepers in the pews.

Both our nation and our churches need people who will roll up their sleeves, begin to solve their own problems instead of waiting on someone else to do it for them, and who will select leaders who won't promise to care for all their needs but who will lead them to a better place and give them the tools to prosper and be a blessing to others.

Thursday, May 24, 2012


A challenge for all ministers is how do we stay motivated to do the work God has called us to do.  We can say the right words about how God's call on our lives should be motivating enough, but anyone who has been in ministry for any length of time knows that ministry can wear on you pretty quickly.  Church work can be just as political as anything else.  Church leaders can be petty and controlling.  Working with volunteers can sometimes be a struggle.  Preparing messages each week that will be shared with the same people each time can be quite challenging.  Being one of the few in a congregation who can see the changes that need to be made can be frustrating.  When you factor in the additional stresses of serving as a bivocational minister staying motivated can be a challenge.  In my own ministry there have been seasons when my motivation wasn't where it should be and I was only going through the motions, but over the years I have learned some things to help counteract that.  I should add here that I have a personality that can be easily discouraged.  As I've shared in some of my books, in the mid-1980s I went through a time when I was clinically depressed, and one of the things I learned through that experience was that it is very important that I remain aware of my feelings and immediately address any negative emotions I might feel.  It has been very important for me to learn how to remain positive and motivated, and I hope what I've learned will be helpful to you.

Something that everyone needs to understand about motivation is that it is always internal.  No one can motivate you, and you can't motivate anyone else.  What we can do is to create a climate in which motivation can occur, and we can do that when we are wanting to motivate someone else or when we ourselves need to be motivated.  Here are some of the things I do to maintain a climate conducive to motivation.

I try to surround myself with positive people.  Life is too short to hang out with negative people all the time.  Negative people aren't going anywhere, and they don't want others to go anywhere either.  Negative people never see the good in anything.  They can find a dark cloud in any sunny day and immediately predict rain.  I try to avoid perpetual complainers and victims as much as possible.  In the ministry that's not always easy because we tend to attract such people.  I have found that the best thing I can do is to minister to them as best as I can, and then I need to get back to positive, upbeat people as quickly as possible.

Every since I was a child I have read a lot, and this is something I continue to do as an adult.  I typically average reading one book a week.  The vast majority of these books are non-fiction.  I seldom read more than one or two fiction books a year.  Most of my reading is related to ministry, business, biographies, politics, and self-improvement.  I will read through the Bible or at least through the New Testament most years as part of my devotional reading.  I believe the human mind is like a computer, and the principle of garbage in - garbage out applies to both, so I read books that have a positive message to help maintain a climate that keeps me motivated.

In our digital age I find podcasts to be a great motivational tool.  I download several podcasts on my I-Pod that I can listen to while driving.  The podcasts I currently listen to are from Dave Ramsey, Ravi Zacharias, William Lane Craig, Tony Campolo, Freakonomics, EntreLeadership, and a couple of church services.  Occasionally, I will download some other podcasts to see if they are something I want to listen to regularly, but these are the ones I find most helpful.

About every two years I attend a day-long motivational seminar.  I ordered my tickets yesterday for one I'll attend next month.  The speakers at this event include Bill O'Reilly, Bill Cosby, John Calipari, Steve Forbes, Rick Pitino, Steve Wozniak, Danica Patrick, Stephen M. R. Covey, Krish Dhanam, and Dakota Meyer.  At previous events I've heard Colin Powell, Barbara Bush, Laura Bush,, Tom Hopkins, and Zig Ziglar.  You cannot leave one of these events without feeling like you could take on the world.

Does that feeling last forever?  No, motivation does not last forever.  But, as Zig Ziglar has said, neither does eating or taking a bath.  That's why most people recommend that you do both on a regular basis.  The same is true of motivation.  To remain motivated it's important that you consistently maintain a climate that makes motivation possible and remove as many obstacles to that motivation as you can.  These are some of the things that work for me.

One added note to the seminar I'm attending.  This is always an event that my daughter attends with me.  I paid extra for platinum seating which will put us in the first 20 rows and provide us with some extra perks to make the day a little extra special for us.  This makes a great father-daughter day out that we both greatly enjoy and that creates positive memories for both of us. 

Motivation is an inside job.  What are you doing to maintain a high level of motivation that will enable you to be more effective in all the areas in your life?

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Turning walls into bridges

Every church has walls surrounding it.  I'm not talking about the building; I'm talking about the church.  Some churches have walls that are quite tall and broad while others have much smaller walls that are more easily penetrated, but every church has walls.  At one time these walls were probably seen as necessary for protection, but their existence today serves to keep people out.  Unfortunately, many churches are not even aware they have walls and the way these walls impact their churches.

When I ask smaller churches to tell me their strengths one of the first things peopleoften  tell me is how friendly their church is.  "We are the friendliest church in town," is a phrase I've heard many times.  As I have visited many of these churches I have not always found that to be true.  While they may be friendly to the people they know, many of them are not friendly to new people.  I could tell you some incredible stories from my visits to churches.  More than once my wife and I have been made to feel like we had interrupted a family reunion.  We've been completely ignored in more than one church even though there weren't more than three dozen people in attendance.  One Sunday while I had gone up front to speak to the pastor my wife was asked to move so a church member could have her usual seat.  She didn't mention it to me until after the service or we would have left.  In another church I overheard three ladies in the pew across the aisle asking one another who we were.  Although no one knew, no one made an attempt to find out either.  Hospitality is seriously lacking in many churches.  I have led workshops on church hospitality for several churches, but this is a workshop that many churches need to have.

Another wall often found in churches is the use of insider language.  Consider this bulletin announcement: "The ladies mission circle will meet at Jane's house at the usual time."  How many guests will know who Jane is and what is the usual time for their meeting?  Even if these guests are not planning to attend the meeting, I wonder how this language makes them feel.    Probably like there is a wall between them and the church members.

A third wall will be rather controversial for many people, but it involves how we allow people to become members of our churches.  As a Baptist I believe in baptism by immersion.  It is the only mode of baptism I practiced as a pastor.  A few times people wanted to become members of our church from other denominations who had been baptized in other ways, and they always were willing to be immersed before becoming members of our church.  But, what if they aren't willing?  A friend of mine who pastors a Baptist church has run into this problem.  A family has faithfully been attending the church he pastors for several months and has expressed interest in joining.  This is a very talented family who could bring needed gifts and leadership to this church.  However, the husband was baptized in a different denomination and was not immersed.  Because his baptism was such a meaningful experience, he doesn't want to be baptized again because he doesn't want to lose the significance of the first baptism. By this church's constitution, he cannot become a member of the church unless he has been immersed.  Is this an unnecessary wall that prevents people from involvement in the life of the church or is it a biblically sound effort to protect an important church doctrine?

This is a question that churches need to answer because this is likely to become more of an issue as denominations continue to lose importance in the minds of many people.  Denominational labels have little impact on people's selection of a new church when they move.  They are looking for a church that offers the ministries they need regardless of the name of the church or its denominational affiliation.  How many hoops will we demand that these people jump through before they can become active members of our churches?  How many of these hoops have biblical significance and how many of them are man-made and reflect a much earlier time?

The Bible says that the cross will be a stumbling block to many, and in my opinion that should be the only stumbling block.  It is a very dangerous thing to place man-made traditions as obstacles that will keep people from encountering God or being involved in His church.  It was that very thing that Jesus criticized about the Pharisees.  Each church needs to take a long, hard look at how it functions and what it requires and see what unnecessary walls it has created over the years.  Believe me, there are many more walls than I've mentioned in this post.  It then needs to begin to remove those walls and use them to build bridges out into their communities that will enable people to experience God in life-transforming ways.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Reaching the young people

A few days ago I posted an article about small churches and asked if they could effectively reach a younger generation.  This post continues my thoughts on the subject.

When I assist a church seeking a pastor I begin by asking what the church needs in their next pastor.  In almost every case, the smaller churches will say they need a pastor who can reach young people because "the youth are the future of our church."  Basically, what they are saying is that if they do not figure out how to reach young people their church will close down in a few years when the current membership is no longer able to support the church.  Unfortunately, this attitude almost guarantees that the smaller church will not reach young people.

As my friend, Terry Dorsett, writes in his book Mission Possible: Reaching the Next Generation through the Small Church,  "While church leaders mean well when they say things like this, what they are actually communicating to the next generation is that young people have no current value to the church.  Young adults hear that message and decide that if they are not valued in church, they will go somewhere that does value them.  Churches that do not value young people as the church of today should not be surprised when young people are not around tomorrow."

In the years I've written this blog I have tried to be both honest and gentle, but today I need to be very honest and report on what I've seen in three decades of ministry.  Most of the churches that claim they want to reach young people really don't.  These churches are not willing to make the hard decisions that it would take to reach youth and young adults.  In many cases, they are not willing to consider changes in worship that might better appeal to younger generations.  They may claim they want a pastor who can reach younger people, but not if that will take away from his or her pastoral care of the current flock.  Many of these churches are not willing to share leadership with younger people.  My personal theory is that if these churches cared enough about reaching a younger generation, their own children and grandchildren would be attending the church.  If they can't keep their own family members why would they think their church would appeal to people who have no ties to the congregation?

Young people today think differently than the generations that make up much of our current church membership.  I will soon be 64 years old, and sometimes I don't understand some of the things they do, but who says I'm supposed to?  Whether I understand their thinking or not is immaterial; it's the way they think.  If I'm going to be serious about introducing them to Jesus Christ I've got to do it on their terms, not on mine.  Let me share just a few quick things about how the younger generation is different and how that impacts our ability to reach them with the gospel.

The younger generation is very visual.  They grew up on MTV and television which has made visual images important to them.  I once witnessed an interesting thing at a seminar held on a university campus.  The auditorium was not large.  Many of the students were sitting close to the front.  The speaker pointed out something he was observing.  Most of the older attendees, such as myself, were watching him on the stage.  Many of the students, even though they were sitting closer to the stage than we were, were watching him on the screens behind the platform.  Video projectors and screens will be as important to reaching younger people as hymn books were in reaching the older generations. 

Young people are less likely to join an organization.  This is not only true for religious organizations but most other ones as well.  However, they do want to be involved in projects in which they believe.  They may never become a member of your church, but if your church is involved in a ministry that appeals to them they would like to be involved in that ministry.  In many smaller churches that could not happen.  Churches need to take a serious look at their requirements regarding who can be involved in what activities in their churches.  If younger people can't be involved in meaningful ministries within your church because they are not a member, they won't be around for long.

Most younger people have little, if any, loyalty to a specific denomination.  Neither of my two children attend churches of the denomination in which I pastored.  Some will have little loyalty to a specific church.  We already see some young people attend one church on Sunday morning because they enjoy the worship and messages there, attend another church perhaps on Sunday evening because of the youth ministry that church offers, and yet another church's small groups because of something they offer that appeals to them.  Many believe this trend will increase.

Much has been written about the postmodern rejection of absolute truth and how each person must be free to decide for himself or herself what truth claims they will accept and which ones they will deny. Gone are the days when one could just say, "The Bible says..." and that would settle the argument.  Many in the younger generation don't believe the Bible is any more authoritative than any other religious book or even their own personal opinions.  Churches that effectively reach younger people must develop a new apologetic that can respond to their questions and doubts, and those churches must become comfortable with those questions and doubts.

There are far more differences than we can cover in a blog post, but even the few I've mentioned should be enough to make most people realize that smaller churches will have to change much of what they do in order to reach younger people.  While I've seen a few churches willing to make some of these changes, my experience has been that most smaller churches are not willing to do so.  They want the young people, but they want those young people on their terms, and they don't want to have to change anything in order to reach them.

Youth and young adults are not the future of your church.  You need these folks in your churches now because they will bring value to your church now.  They will bring new life to your church now.  They will provide important leadership and ministry in your church now.  Young people are the hope of our churches now.  It is time we become serious about reaching this younger generation now.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Renouncing citizenship

Now that Facebook's IPO is over it's founder and a few other in the organization are multi-billionaires.  Shortly before the IPO a co-founder announced he was giving up his American citizenship to become a citizen of Singapore, a nation that does not have capital gains taxes.  Some Senators are questioning if this is a way to avoid paying taxes on his new found wealth and are looking into proposing new laws that would restrict such actions.  The co-founder is denying that he is trying to avoid taxes, but the fact is he will save millions of dollars in capital gains taxes by changing his citizenship to Singapore.

I have no way of knowing the reasons behind his desire to change his citizenship, but I see something similar happen in the lives of many Christians.  Christ reaches down into their lives, forgives them of their sins, helps them get their lives back together, and instead of serving Him they begin to slowly drift back into the life they left.  The excitement they originally had for Christ and all He did for them begins to fade.  They begin to find more and more reasons to miss church services.  They stop reading their Bibles and praying.  They may allow some old habits back into their lives, in moderation of course.  Their pleasures and desires take precedence over anything else.  In a very real sense, they have renounced their heavenly citizenship and became citizens of this world.  They may maintain some connections with the Christian faith, but it becomes increasingly a distant relationship.

The fact is that probably every Christian struggles with this at different times in his or her life.  This includes both clergy and lay people.  After all, the demands of the Christian life can sometimes seem overwhelming and the world always looks enticing.  We are bombarded countless times every day with the "good life" the world offers.  In contrast, the Christian life can come across as rather boring and limiting when it seems that it only consists of one long list of "Do nots."  Then there are those times when we wonder why we even bother to try to live a Christian life when it seems that our lives only get harder every time we try to do better.  (I wonder where those thoughts come from?)  More than a few saints had seasons in their lives when they struggled in their relationships with Christ, so we shouldn't be surprised when the enemy of our souls attempts to lure us away.  The key is to recognize that it's happening and refuse to renounce your heavenly citizenship.

It is critical to maintain a strong devotional life to counter the lure of this world.  If I get sloppy with my prayer life or my devotional life I find myself drifting spiritually.  I try to pray the Lord's Prayer the first thing before getting out of bed every morning and when I lay down at night.  That way my first and last thoughts of the day are on the Lord.  I pray throughout the day as well.  Most years I read through the entire Bible or at least the New Testament.  I read a lot in the area of apologetics as part of my devotional life as I find that keeps me connected with the truths about God.  If I allow any of these disciplines to slip, and sometimes they do, then I find my entire spiritual life slips as well.  I have to come back to the basics to keep the connection with God that I desire.

A second thing that each of us must do is to remember where we were before Christ entered our lives.  I sometimes look back on those BC days and wonder why He even bothered with me.  One Sunday during our observance of the Lord's Supper I began to weep as the cup was being passed.  I was just overwhelmed with all Christ had done in my life and I couldn't stop the tears.  When we spend time remembering what Christ has done for us it becomes more difficult to turn our backs on Him.

The apostle Paul wrote in Phil. 3 that he kept his focus on the goal that was before him and said that all mature Christians should do the same thing.  In that same chapter he declared that our citizenship is in heaven.  We dare not denounce that heavenly citizenship to return to our previous status as citizens of this world.  In 2 Tim. Paul wrote that one of his trusted assistants, Demas, had forsaken him because he loved this present world and had returned to it.  The enemy is always looking for leaders in the church who might renounce their heavenly citizenship.  Each of us in leadership has a target on our backs, because if he can get us to lose our first love for Christ and return to the world he will find it much easier to get those who follow us to do the same thing.

The co-founder of Facebook may be able to renounce his citizenship and keep much more of his new-found wealth.  The Christian who renounces his or her heavenly citizenship will not.  We might gain the world, but in the process we will lose much more.  Let each of us remain diligent and faithfully do the things that will keep our focus on the prize that has been set before us, an eternity in the presence of God and His Son who made this possible for us.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

So what?

In the book Jim and Casper Go to Church Jim, a Christian, pays Casper, an atheist, to attend church services with him.  They visit 12 of America's best known churches, and at the end Casper's question was, "Is this what Jesus told you guys to do?"  From his experiences in attending these church services it seemed that the primary thing anyone was asked to do was to attend church services.  He felt that if the things Christians claim to believe are true they should be actively doing them.  He wondered why so few sermons challenged people to do something with what they were learning.  I've often wondered the same thing.

My wife and I are in different churches nearly every week, and more than once we've left a service and wondered what anyone would do with what they had just heard since they hadn't been asked to do anything.  For 20 years I was the pastor of one church, and there were weeks when I would review my message and realize it was incomplete.  It may have been biblical and theologically sound, but it didn't ask anything of anyone.  It failed my "So what?" test.  That was the question I asked of each message I preached.  So what?  What is anyone supposed to do as a result of hearing this message?  If I couldn't identify at least one thing I could ask people to do after hearing the sermon I would scrap the message because it had no value.  Most Christians don't need more knowledge; they need to be challenged to put into practice what they've already learned.

It was interesting that an atheist could see this failure on the part of Christians quicker than their pastors.  As Casper heard sermon after sermon from some of America's best known ministers he felt the main thrust of their messages was to be faithful to their churches and to bring their friends to church with them.  He believed that Christ asked more of His followers than to show up for church services once a week.  This non-believer understood that Christ was much more interested in loving and serving people and seeing people introduced to a personal relationship with God, and that was more likely to happen when God's people was involved in reaching out and ministering to people.

Pastors sometimes complain that people in their congregations are not involved enough in ministry, but I'm convinced that many of them are waiting to be challenged to do something.  They may not be sure what they need to be doing, but if someone asked them to do something specific they would gladly do so if they were equipped to do it.  The church I served changed when I realized my primary responsibility as the pastor was to equip the saints to do ministry, and when I began to do so intentionally it was exciting to see how many people responded well to the challenges I set before them.

In the smaller church the pulpit is the one place where pastors have the opportunity to touch the greatest number of people.  It is critical that every message you preach contains a challenge to do something with the information you give them.  It is in your messages that you can set before the church a vision for ministry and why it's important to achieve that vision.  It is through your sermons that you can challenge your people to a greater commitment to God and to serving others.  As your people leave the church each Sunday your message will either inspire them to do something for the Kingdom of God that week or it will inspire them to go home and eat lunch.

Give every message you preach the "so what" test.  If it fails, it's not worthy of you or your people.  Don't waste your pulpit ministry with such messages.  Either change it so it passes the "so what" test or scrap it and start over.   Don't be afraid to challenge people.  Some will accept the challenge and begin doing some exciting things that will impact people and help introduce them to Christ.  Even if only a few accept the challenges you lay before them it will be enough to make a difference.  Remember, even Jesus had many disciples leave Him as His demands became greater, but the few who were left were enough to turn the world upside down.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Can the smaller church reach the next generation?

It's always dangerous to mention a book before reading it all the way through, but I'm going to take the risk.  I've started reading Terry Dorsett's newest book Mission Possible: Reaching the Next Generation through the Small Church.  Although we've never met, we have become friends through social media and through our common love for smaller and bivocational churches.  I started reading this book last night, and I'm excited about the encouragement I've felt just from reading the first couple of chapters. 

Some question how effective smaller churches can be in reaching a younger generation.  We often talk about the graying of the church and how difficult it is for many of our existing churches to reach new people for Christ.  Well, it is difficult, especially if we continue doing the same things we've always done.  However, Terry points out that it's not impossible as he mentions some churches that are doing this very well.  I haven't read enough of the book yet to know all he's going to say about how to best do that, but just reading about smaller churches that are successfully reaching a new generation is exciting and should encourage the leaders of these churches that their churches can reach that generation as well.

It's probably not a coincidence that earlier in the day I started reading Terry's book I was with the pastor of a church that long ago celebrated it's 175th anniversary.  When he went to the church three years ago it was struggling.  Attendance and finances were way down.  There were no young people in the church at all.  More people were spending their time looking back at the "good old days" than were looking ahead to the future.  In three short years the church has tripled in attendance, its finances have improved dramatically, and there are about three dozen young people involved in the life of the church.  A number of their parents have come to faith in Christ as well.  The church is now considering what it needs to do to sustain this growth and continue it.  You may be thinking that it's a good thing that church found themselves a young pastor with a lot of new ideas that could turn that church around.  Actually, the pastor is almost 70 years old, and his new idea was that the status quo wasn't acceptable.  I might also mention that he had never pastored a church before and had no formal ministerial training.

Many smaller churches are struggling and some will not survive.  We're told about 100 churches in the US close their doors every year, and I would assume most of them are smaller.  They offer all kinds of reasons why their churches can't reach new people for Christ, but the sad truth is the real fault lies in themselves.  Countless other smaller churches such as those mentioned in Terry's book and others I personally know prove that smaller churches can reach the next generation with the gospel.  The smaller churches that are dying claim they don't have the resources to reach new people, but it doesn't take a lot of resources; it takes a new mindset.  It requires that these churches begin to understand the people who live in their communities, it requires that these churches get outside the comfort of their buildings and begin to engage people where they are, and it requires that they love unchurched people as much as Christ loves them.  I can assure you that when you do these three things the resources will follow.

Even though I've only read the first three chapters, I think Terry has provided the smaller church with a great resource in his latest book.  I'll do a review in my next e-newsletter after I've read the entire book, but it looks like it's going to be a winner.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Do something

I enjoy reading Larry Winget's books and right now I'm reading No Time for Tact.  It's broken down into daily, bite-size readings that are vintage Winget.  He shoots straight from the lip, doesn't beat around the bush, and is usually right in what he says.  A recent reading said, "Implement now - perfect later."  That is a saying that should be on many leader's desks.

Too often we want to wait to begin something after we've got it perfected.  The problem with that is by the time we get something perfected we might not need it any longer.  That causes us to lose whatever benefit we might have received by going ahead and implementing it sooner while we continue to fine-tune it.  Another problem with that approach is that we often don't find many of the problems with something new until we've used it for a while.  We delay and delay making some needed change while we continue to improve it, and then after the launch we find we still have to make some changes.  In this time of rapid change throughout our society we need to be willing to experiment with new things. When we identify something that needs improved we must have the mindset that we'll try something that seems to make sense and make improvements to the process as they are needed.  Will mistakes sometimes be made?  Yes, but they will often be less costly to the church than doing nothing, and I would rather be making mistakes while trying to improve things than making the mistake of doing nothing but watching things fall apart around me.

Back in the 1990s when I was working in a factory we called Winget's suggestion "Continuous Improvement."  The mindset in industry in those days changed from making a few big changes that would create a big boost to the company's productivity to making small changes as rapidly as possible.  Production and quality engineers determined that many smaller changes instituted frequently made a bigger overall difference to the company than a few big changes made occasionally.  That theory was proven correct, and I believe it is also true for churches.

For an example let's say that a church wants to improve its discipleship program.  Many churches would form a committee to study the problem, call in denominational resources, and after several months of study would propose a change in a business session of the church.  Assuming the change was approved it might take additional time to identify someone to lead the improved program and get the needed resources.  People to participate in the new program would be recruited and a launch date set.  It is likely that the initial launch will reveal some things that were overlooked in the initial planning, and the program will have to be changed.

Could it have been better for church leadership to develop a beta test for a new discipleship program and begin it almost immediately?  Participants could help select material and resouces that would speak directly to their discipleship needs.  People with the appropriate spiritual gifts could be asked to lead this program, and they would meet with church leadership weekly to discuss what is working and what might need to be changed.  While people are being discipled, the program is being improved until finally the weekly meetings are no longer needed.

Someone may be asking, "But what if it didn't work?"  So what?  That means you've discovered one thing that won't improve your discipleship program, so you scrap it and try something else.  The key is that you don't give up looking for a better process for improving the way you minister to others and disciple believers.  Remember...there is always one more thing you can do to get the results you need, and if you won't give up you will eventually find the thing that will work best in your situation.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Troubled churches

This past weekend I sat down and thought about some of the churches I know that are going through difficult times.  Each of these churches have different problems, but in every case their problems are the direct result of leadership issues.  In some cases, it involves pastoral leadership, and in other cases it is primarily lay leaders who are creating the problems.  For years now I have quoted John Maxwell's statement that "Everything rises and falls on leadership," and I have yet to find that not to be true in the church, in business, in families, and every other area of life.

The pastors who are responsible for the problems in their churches often forget they have been called to serve the church.  These are individuals who often want to rule the church as a dictator forcing out everyone who stands in their way.  I personally know of two churches right now that have lost long-term, good members because of this kind of attitude on the part of the pastor.  Interestingly enough, in both cases these churches had called persons from outside their denomination to be their pastor and then wondered why the pastor didn't do things as they are normally done in their denomination.  That part of the problem falls on the congregation who should never have called the persons they did as pastor, but that does not excuse the pastors from their iron-fisted approach to pastoral leadership.  I anticipate both churches will eventually self-destruct, the pastors will leave, and the congregations will be left to pick up the pieces and try to salvage what is left of the churches.  These churches, who have enjoyed many years of good ministry, will be forced to start over in order to recapture what has been lost.  In the meantime, ministry opportunities will have been squandered.

The flip side of the pastoral leadership problem is when the pastor doesn't provide any leadership.  Rev. Milquetoast sits on the sidelines pondering the great theological issues of the day while the congregation waits for him or her to lead them in ministry.  A few years ago I met with the leaders of one church who was going through a significant problem in the church.  One of the complaints was that the pastor provided no leadership to the church.  He was sitting in the room when the complaint was made.  I asked to meet with the entire congregation and asked the pastor how we could best invite the congregation to the meeting.  He looked at me and shrugged his shoulders!  I was stunned.  When I looked back at the other leaders they were looking at me as if to say "See what we mean?"  He resigned soon after, and it has been exciting to see what has happened in that church since they called a new pastor.

Lay leaders who create problems are most often controllers who view the church as their personal territory, and they can quickly get very territorial.  They will oppose anyone and anything that might be a threat to their power or position within the church.  Some work behind the scenes creating turmoil in the church through phone calls and parking lot meetings while others can be quite public with their actions.  Unless the pastor is well-established in the church he or she will usually be unable to stand up against these people, and any pastor who believes a congregation when they tell him or her that they will support the pastor against these people is likely to be very disappointed, and soon unemployed.  These controllers have often acted out for years in these churches because the church has tolerated their behavior.  In some cases, they are merely carrying on an old family tradition that was passed down to them from their grandparents to their parents and now to them.  It always amazes me that these churches act as if they don't know why they continually have problems.

Healthy leadership is essential to healthy churches.  Pastor search committees need to take time to thoroughly review a candidate before presenting him or her to the church.  If the church belongs to a denomination, the committee should work closely with denominational representatives and follow whatever their process might be for calling a new pastor.  One interview and a trial sermon will not give a search committee nearly enough information to make a good decision on calling an individual to be their next pastor.  Multiple interviews are needed over the course of a few months.  I know the church is anxious to have a new pastor; the committee wants to get their work done so they can do other things; and the candidate is anxious for the process to be completed so he or she can move to a new place of ministry.  But, calling a pastor has ramifications for the church for years to come, even after that person leaves the church, so it's critical that good decisions be made to call the right person.

It is equally as important for the lay leadership to be healthy as well.  Persons should be selected for leadership positions in the church based upon their spiritual maturity and commitment to serve, not on their seniority in the church or their last name.  It's also important that a church doesn't fill every leadership slot just because there's a line on the nominating committee's list that needs a name.  If you don't have someone spiritually qualified for a position leave it open.  You're better off without having someone in that position than you will be if you select someone who is not spiritually mature.  This will require a great deal of courage on the part of the church, but it will eventually lead to a healthier church that will enjoy a much more productive ministry.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The secrets of leadership

When I go to a bookstore the first section I usually go to is the one with the leadership books.  This past weekend I went into a bookstore to see what new books had been released, and true to form I headed straight to the leadership section.  Although I had seen them before, I was stunned this time to see how many of these books were promoting "The Leadership Secrets of ...."  For only $25.00 - $30.00 I could learn the leadership secrets of everyone from Attila the Hun to Lincoln to Grant to Colin Powell, etc.  (Actually, I already have the Colin Powell book!)  As I looked at all those books promising to teach me leadership secrets I realized there really aren't many, if any, leadership secrets.  More often than not, leadership is using common sense.  While I believe that is true of anyone in leadership, it is certainly the case when leading a smaller, bivocational church.  It doesn't take rocket science to lead a bivocational church; it takes someone with a servant's heart and some good, common sense who is committed to always doing the right thing.  Let me share just a few things to keep in mind as a bivocational minister, and none of these are secrets.
  1. Everything in the smaller church is based upon relationships.  Anyone who wants to lead a smaller church must first develop good relationships with persons in that church and understand the relationships that already exist.  Everything the leader suggests, especially change, will be filtered through those relationships.  If people believe existing relationships may be damaged, they are most likely to resist the proposed changes.
  2. No one can lead a small church until they have earned the trust of the congregation, and that takes time.  I've said many times that it took me seven years to earn the right to lead the church I pastored.  Few pastors remain at a church that long and then wonder why they've never been able to lead any church they've pastored.  It may not take you as long as it did me, but it will take time. During that time learn how to lead through the leaders who already exist in the church.
  3. Treat people with respect.  The Golden Rule applies to leaders the same as it applies to everyone. If you respect people you will listen to their viewpoints.  You will be honest and upfront.  You will do what you say you will do, everytime.  You won't talk about people behind their backs.  You will forgive them when they hurt you with their words or actions, and you will quickly seek their forgiveness if you sense you may have hurt them.  Most people, if treated with respect, will return that respect back to you.
  4. Many smaller churches struggle with self-esteem.  In such churches the most important question some people will have is "Pastor, do you love us?"  They need to hear you tell them how much you love them and they need to see that love exhibited in your actions towards them.  I frequently told our church that I loved them and that I believed in them more than some of them believed in themselves.  That love was returned to me many times during my ministry there.  In fact, I've been away from that congregation for nearly 12 years and just recently received a very nice card from one of the church families saying how much they appreciated me and my ministry at that church.
  5. This one is practiced so seldom that it almost seems like a secret, but it too is nothing more than common sense.  Smaller churches can accomplish a lot more by doing less.  Stop trying to compete with the larger churches in the community.  Shut down some of the committees and boards that add little or no value to the church's ministry, and free up people's time to do real ministry that will accomplish real results.  I know...your constitution calls for those committees and boards.  Here's another common sense thought...change your constitution to reflect what ministry should look like in the 21st century.  If 80% of your committees and boards never met again, what would be the effect on your church?  My guess is that many people would never know if they met or not.
  6. Always be training new leaders.  Your church cannot grow unless you have the leadership in place to support that growth.  After you grow it is too late to train leaders.  By the time you get them trained it's possible any growth will have been lost.  One of the most important things that any bivocational minister can do is to invest himself or herself in developing new leaders.
  7. Everyone shares the credit for a job well done.  Be lavish with praise and celebrate every victory the church enjoys.  At the same time, the defeats and mistakes belong to the leader.  Don't point the finger to others when things go amiss.  The buck stops at your desk if you are the leader.
  8. Create the future.  Don't be content to drift along responding to whatever happens.  It is the leader's responsibility to capture the vision of God for his or her church and to develop action steps that will help that vision to come to pass.  That doesn't mean the leader comes down from the high mountain with a vision that everyone is to worship.  God's vision can come from a variety of sources so it's important to include many people in identifying that vision.  But, the pastor should lead that process.  Once the church owns the vision, then the pastor's job is to identify the steps needed to achieve it and keep the church focused on those steps.
There are many more common sense principles to leadership, but these are enough for this posting.  As you can see, there are no secrets here.  There is also nothing listed here that is beyond the ability of anyone called to bivocational ministry.  No one needs a seminary degree to implement any of these common sense steps to effective leadership.  A heart for people and for ministry in the smaller church is all that is required, and when that is coupled with a call from God on a person's life he or she is well prepared for an exciting ministry.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Toxic people

Every church has them.  Every business has them.  Every one knows them.  Toxic people are everywhere.  You see them in churches sitting with their arms folded across their chest, their faces getting redder and redder every time certain people speak.  They have a reason to oppose every suggestion made regarding any change.  They gather people in the parking lot trying to recruit them to their side.  They manipulate and control, often behind the scenes.  Whenever possible, they prefer to do their work in the shadows.  Theirs is a whispering campaign filled with gossip and innuendo.  However, if you cross them they can turn into skunks spraying everyone and everything in sight.  When cornered they will threaten to leave, threaten to cause problems, threaten to withhold their giving, and in rare cases even threaten physical harm.

Toxic people exist in the workplace.  These are often passive-aggressive people.  They may agree in public to goals and strategies, but behind the scenes they work to prevent these things from happening.  They also use gossip to create turmoil in the workplace.  In his book, EntreLeadership, Dave Ramsey says he has zero tolerance for gossip in his business.  Gossiping can cost you your job in his company.  That's a good policy.

Many of us have toxic people in our circle of friendships.  These are people who try to pull you down to their level by encouraging you to indulge in their bad habits.  Many years ago when I became a Christian and stopped drinking alcohol I had to end some friendships with people who did not understand the change that had come into my life.  That doesn't mean that I don't associate with people who drink because I do, but at that time there were people in my life who kept trying to get me to return to their lifestyle.  I had to avoid them as they were toxic to my growth as a Christian.  Young people may develop a relationship with someone who encourages them to engage in immoral behavior and doesn't respect their decision to save themselves until marriage.  Those people are toxic and need to be avoided.  Other toxic people are those who do not appreciate your dreams.  Rather than encourage you in the goals you've set for your life they denigrate them and you in the process.  They tell you all the reasons why you can't succeed in life rather than applaud your dreams to accomplish more.  These are jealous, petty, insecure people who do not want to see anyone enjoy greater success and happiness than they have known.

What do we do with toxic people?  In the church the leaders must confront these people and let them know their behavior will no longer be tolerated.  One problem we have in too many churches is that we are filled with nice people who do not feel comfortable challenging the few who aren't so nice.  We give toxic people veto power over every decision that is made because we don't want to upset anyone.  These people wake up every morning upset, so nothing you do is going to upset them any more!   "But they might leave the church if we say anything to them?"  So're losing people anyway.  Good people aren't going to stay in a toxic situation so they are going to leave.  The question the leaders need to ask is who are they willing to give up.  The good folks or the ones spreading hate and discontent everywhere they go.  There came a time as a pastor when I decided I was done walking on egg shells around certain people.  They could either get on board with what the church wanted to do, or they could take their toxicity elsewhere.  (Being bivocational does make it much easier to make that decision!)

With double-digit unemployment there is no reason to keep toxic people in one's business.  There are millions of good people looking for a job with a good company.  You don't need drama in your business.  You need good team members who will be productive and make your business a pleasant place in which both to work and to do business with.  If I still owned a business and had a toxic person working there I would warn him/her once and the second time I would hire a replacement.  The unemployment line is a great place for toxic people to meet.  Getting rid of toxic people will do wonders for the productivity in any business.

Life is too short to spend with toxic friends.  People who do not respect your choices in life are not people you need to spend time with. They are not your friends.   Life is hard enough without having friends who try to keep us in the basement with them.  We need to surround ourselves with encouragers, people who believe in us and respect the choices we've made for our lives.  Occasionally, people with whom we've been friends suddenly become toxic.  When that happens I try to find out what's going on because there is often something happening in that person's life that has flipped that switch.  Friends don't abandon friends during such times without trying to understand what has changed in that person's life.  I can recall a couple of times in my own life when I became rather toxic, and I'm thankful for the ones who stayed with me and walked with me through that valley to a place of healing.  However, there are some people who will always be toxic and the sooner you distance yourself from them the better off you will be.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Be safe

As I mentioned yesterday, I spent a few days with our son while he recuperated from knee surgery.  Like other times when I'm away from home for a few days, I don't report where I'm going to be because I don't want people to know when I'm away from home.  I would like to advertise that I'm going to be somewhere for a workshop or event, but why tell potential thieves I'm not at home?  Social media is good and a very useful tool, but it can also be used to harm a person if we don't use some common sense.  I recently advertised some antique furniture in Craigslist.  I soon had an email  response saying that the person was interested in buying one piece and only needed some personal information to complete the payment.  DELETE!  I later learned that is a common Craigslist scam.

A few weeks ago I read an article warning people about leaving personal information in their car when they go to the movies.  Thieves break into cars in movie parking lots, get the person's address off their car registration and call their friends with the information.  They know they have about two hours before the people will return home.  I've read another warning for people who use a GPS in their car.  The article said to never use "Home" with your address.  Again, people are stealing the GPS from cars and using them to go directly to people's homes to rob them.  I would be cautious about even putting my home address in the GPS.  On my GPS I use the address of a local store as my home address.  I know that I can get home from that store, and if my GPS is stolen the only address they're going to get won't get them within a mile of my house.

Earlier this week a person on my email list was hacked and I received an email saying he was stuck overseas.  His wallet had been stolen, and he needed money to get back home.  I've received similar emails from supposedly from 5-6 of my friends over the years so it wasn't hard to delete that one.  You should also know that no dictator is fleeing the country and needs to use your back account to deposit a large sum of money into of which he will donate half to you for the use of your account.  There are also no widows in Nigeria who want to invest in your ministry.  I shouldn't have to warn people of these scams, but since they continue to generate millions of money for those who use them it doesn't hurt to remind people that if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

I've never understood the thrill behind creating a virus to attack someone's computer, but it seems that is all some people have to do in life.  If an e-mail looks funny, I don't open it.  I've had viruses on my computer, and they are not fun.  But, no matter how careful one is, viruses and spyware will get on computers.  I run a couple of spyware programs every 2-3 weeks or any time I think my computer is acting funny, and my virus protector is set to check my computer every night at 2:00 am as well as monitor my emails.

Being extra cautious takes time, but trying to fix problems takes even more time.  A few years ago I realized someone was using my credit card.  My bank noticed some suspicious purchases and called asking if I had made them.  I had not, so we cancelled that card and got a new one.  I have no idea who was using it or how they got that information.  Having a computer repairman come and clean viruses out of the computer takes time and costs money.  When I first learned about spyware my computer was filled with them.  It was running so slow I thought I was back on dial-up.  In addition to the spyware, he found three different viruses on the computer.  My old virus detector didn't pick up any of them.  An entire evening was shot with him fixing my computer problems plus I got to write him a nice check for his efforts.

I just want my readers to be safe.  Use common sense with your personal information and with what you share on your social media sites.  Be cautious with email and the Internet sites you view.  Unfortunately, we live in a world where they are people who wish to harm others, so protect yourself and your families.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Windshield time

I haven't posted much in the past couple of weeks as I've been with our son in Philadelphia helping him after his knee surgery earlier last week.  I'm glad to say he is recovering nicely and was able to start driving again last Sunday.  It is about a ten hour drive from our home to his which is a pretty good drive when you're alone.  Due to some things happening at her work my wife wasn't able to go with me so we weren't able to share the driving.  I'm used to a lot of driving in my role as an Area Resource Minister, but ten hours on the road alone is still a bit much, and on the way back it seemed even longer.  I made an extra stop or two, grabbed an occasional Starbucks coffee, and listened to a lot of podcasts.

Years ago I learned that time alone in a car is a great opportunity to learn.  Back then I had numerous cassette tapes of various speakers.  Every half-hour or so I would have to turn the tape over and listen to the other side, and having a bunch of tapes in the passenger seat was a mess.  At some point I could always figure some of the them would find their way into the floorboad.  When CDs came out it made life a little easier, but they were often a little more expensive.  Two years ago our son gave me an I-Pod for Christmas, and life hasn't been the same.  I can download podcasts from some of my favority speakers for free, plug it into my car speaker system, and I've got one small device with hundreds of podcasts and songs to listen to while driving.  I can save the ones that I want to hear again, delete the others, and keep adding new ones to listen to on my next drive.

On this last road trip I listened to several Dave Ramsey podcasts as well as a couple of his EntreLeadership podcasts.  I also listened to Ravi Zacharias and William Lane Craig discuss issues related to Christian apologetics.  In addition, I heard podcasts from Freakonomics Radio and Tony Campolo.  Finally, I listened to a sermon from one of the church services I download.  When I got tired of listening to the podcasts I could choose from about 150 songs I've got on this device that include a mix of Southern Gospel, Blues, Country, early rock-and-roll, and a handful of modern songs that I got for free from Starbucks.

I'm not trying to sell I-Pods.  What I am doing is suggesting that time spent in the car can be productive, and this is very good news for the busy bivocational minister who wants to find ways to learn and grow.  Whether you are driving half-way across the country or across town, the time you spend in your automobile can be used to learn new things and be exposed to new ideas.  You can listen to motivational and informative speakers who will challenge and encourage you.  Sometimes I download a new podcast and find that it really isn't helpful or interesting.  It cost me nothing, and the next time I sync my I-Pod I just delete it.  Sometimes I find that something new is also something very interesting.  That was the case with Freakonomics Radio.  I enjoyed the book Freakonomics and when I saw they had a podcast I downloaded it.  It has been very interesting to hear their take on some of today's issues.  I don't always agree with their conclusions, but it exposes me to new ways of looking at things and helps me better understand how some people view some of life's issues.  That's good for a minister to know.

Use the time you spend in your car productively.  Bivocational ministers are always looking for ways to maximize their time, and this is one of the best ways I know.  It is the easiest multi-tasking I do and one of the most productive.  I-Pods and similar devices are now inexpensive enough for any budget, and I believe they can be a great investment in one's personal growth.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The importance of family

This week I have been in Pennsylvania helping our son after he had some surgery earlier in the week.  Today my grandson played a Jr. High baseball game which I got to see.  He had two hits, including a double, drove in four runs, stole a base, and scored once.  He caught the only fly ball hit to him in left field.  It was a great game for me to get to watch, and one of the things I kept thinking after the game was how much I wish I could call my Dad to tell him how his great-grandson had done.  Dad passed away a few years ago.

No one loved baseball more than my father.  He was a good player as a young man and loved and respected the game.  My son was a pitcher in high school and Dad loved to keep up with his games.  When he received a baseball scholarship to pitch in college Dad always enjoyed it when I would call to give him an update on how my son had pitched that day.  He would have been thrilled to hear how the latest generation is doing in the game he loved so much.

I share all this to emphasize how important family is.  We often think we have all the time in the world to do things with family, so the temptation is to put off doing some things we should be doing.  After all, we have so much to do.  If we serve as a bivocational pastor we have our church work, our other job, plus all the other demands on our time.  It is so easy to keep telling family members that we'll get to them as soon as we get some of the other things done.  Of course, when we do get them done other things appear demanding our time and attention.  Then, one day before we're ready, a family member is no longer with us.

We do have important things to do, and they should receive priority, but we need to remember something very important.  Unless your church is a new church start, it has had many pastors before you, and unless the Lord returns soon it will have many pastors after you're gone.  You are the only person your spouse is married to and you are the only mother or father your children have.  They also deserve a high priority in your life, and it's critical that you create special memories with them and share special times with them.

I have to admit that I've not always done that in my ministry.  Like so many pastors, there were times when I was not there for my family.  I tried to minimize those times, but there were still too many of them.  None of those times can be recaptured.  Those opportunities are lost forever.  The funny thing is that I can't remember any of the things I did that took me away from my family.  That tells me that they really weren't that important.

Years ago I read some advice a denominational leader supposedly made to a new pastor.  He told the pastor that if he took care of the church God would take care of his family.  I can't think of worse advice, and there are too many stories of minister's families that have been destroyed because the minister focused all his or her attention on the church and ignored the family.  Just as God has called you into the ministry, He has given you a family to serve.  You cannot ignore that family and be successful as a minister.  Make your family a priority in your life.  Spend time with them.  Create memories that will survive even when you're gone.  Believe me, those memories will remain long after you've forgotten the church council meetings you attended.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Simple courtesy

The CEO of Spirit Airlines has recently made the news with his refusal to grant a refund to a dying Vietnam vet who recently canceled his flight plans on the recommendation of his doctor.  The comments of the CEO seemed harsh and uncaring to many and prompted a Facebook page that advocates people avoid Spirit Airlines.  Spirit Airlines has the highest rate of customer dissatisfaction of all airlines, a statistic the CEO insists is irrelevant.  He seems to believe that people will fly on Spirit for their low fares regardless of how poorly they are treated.  It seems odd that such an attitude would still exist when so many successful companies point to their customer satisfaction as a driving force behind their success.  The future success of Spirit Airlines will prove whether the CEO's contention that consumers only care about low fares or whether customer satisfaction is important.

It also seems odd to me that some churches have still not realized that simple courtesy and hospitality are so important when it comes to seeing first-time guests return to a church.  For several years we have read that guests want to remain anonymous when they visit a church, and yet in the past two months I have attended two churches that asked their guests to stand to be recognized.  It was painfully obvious to me that these guests were extremely uncomfortable doing so.   In another church I visited virtually no one except the "official" greeters spoke to my wife and me until the pastor came into the sanctuary.  In still another church I visited the greeter asked if I needed my own program or if I could use my wife's.  I guess paper is in short supply in that church.

These are all small issues, but each of them created an image in my mind of a church that was not one that would inspire me to return.  I don't know if these churches do not care about the image they project to guests and potential new members or if they just lack common courtesy.  In either case, they are unlikely to attract new people despite their stated desire to do so.

I've talked about this before, but some suggestions still seem to be in order.
  1. Allow guests to remain anonymous.  Do not ask them to introduce themselves, wear a "Visitor's Badge" or do anything else to identify them as guests.
  2. Teach the membership that everyone is a greeter and is responsible for making people feel comfortable.
  3. Avoid insider language when making announcements.  It reminds them they are not part of the "family."
  4. Have plenty of signage.  Be sure people can easily find child care and restrooms without having to ask.
  5. Take people where they need to go.  Do not point or give directions.
  6. Greeters should introduce guests to others in the church, especially to persons of a similar age or life situations.  For instance, introduce a visiting family with small children to church members with small children.
  7. Use common sense and exercise common courtesy.
The news reports today are saying that Spirit Airlines' stock has fallen today after the CEO's comments.  Another Facebook site is now demanding his ouster.  Time will tell whether the airline and the CEO recovers, but unless they begin to provide more customer-friendly service I would think their business will suffer.  Unfortunately, the same thing is true of churches.  Those who do not demonstrate common courtesy to their first-time guests will continue to decline even if they do some other things well.  Common courtesy is really a matter of common sense and is nothing more than following the Golden Rule.  My suggestion to church leaders is that they teach the above suggestions to every person in their churches and look for ways to go above and beyond when it comes to treating your guests and members well.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Who do you follow?

Those of you on Twitter know that on the left side is a list of 3-4 people you can consider following.  A few minutes ago I happened to look at that list and saw some names there of people I definitely don't want to follow, not even on Twitter.  It then struck me that some of us might be following people on various social media or in real life that will not take us where we need to go.  It's even possible that we have allowed people to mentor us who have not provided us with the tools we need to be effective in life or ministry.

Young people are often susceptible to idol-worship but so are adults, including ministers.  I once heard a denominational leader laughing at the number of pastors in his district who believed that if they could channel Rick Warren they could pastor the next mega-church.  The executive said that somehow Hawaiian shirts and shoes with no socks just didn't seem to fit Kentucky.  Even pastors who don't take things that far can get caught up in trying to copy the things the "more successful" pastors do.  They might attend every Willow Creek and Saddleback conference offered.  They buy the books, the DVDs, and go home to implement what they've learned only to find out a lot of it simply doesn't work where they live.

Do not misunderstand me.  There is nothing wrong with attending conferences and buying resources.  In fact, I hope you attend my conferences and buy all my books!  But, I don't want you trying to copy me or anyone else.  God created you to be you, and he has placed you in a church that probably doesn't look anything at all like Saddleback, Willow Creek, or even the small, rural church I pastored.  He created you with unique ministry gifts and placed you in a position where you can use those gifts.  Gather all the resources and helps you can, but do not try to be anyone but you.  Learn everything you can and then adapt those learnings to whom God created you to be and the ministry He has given you. 

If you follow me I can assure you there will come a time when I will disappoint you.  The same can be said of any other Christian leader.  That is why the Scriptures challenge us to keep our eyes on Jesus Christ because He is the one who will never disappoint.  He will never give us bad advice nor will He ever lead us to a place where we will cause harm or be harmed.  With our eyes fixed on Him we can lead our church with confidence believing He will take us where we need to go.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Church bullies

Author and ministry coach Eddie Hammett is currently working on an article about church bullies.  For the past few weeks he has posted an occasional article on Facebook regarding church bullies and asking people's opinion on how to deal with them and why more churches seems to ignore them.  One person responded that many churches see pastors as Bic pens:  they are inexpensive, easily replaced, and won't be around long anyway.  When the bullies attack the pastor the church allows it to happen because of the low value they place on pastoral ministry.  Another person replied that, in her opinion, most churches ignore the church bullies in an effort to keep the peace in the church.  I think both perspectives are valid.  Unfortunately, both are also symptomatic of short-term thinking with disastrous long-term results.

When churches devalue their pastor it has an impact on everything that happens in the church.  There was a time when pastors were among the most respected persons in a community.  People sought their advice on many matters, not just on spiritual issues.  There was a level of respect and authority granted to the pastor because of his or her position.  I have written elsewhere that in smaller churches a pastor must earn the right to lead a congregation and such a right is usually given only after the pastor has proven himself or herself faithful for a period of time.  While that is true, there should be some measure of respect given to a person because he or she has accepted the call to pastoral ministry.  That respect is often lacking in many churches today.  That makes the pastor an easy target for church bullies.  What these churches fail to realize is that when they repeatedly abuse pastors word gets around and it becomes more difficult to find someone willing to serve in such a place.  The pool of available pastors can dry up rather quickly for such churches.  What they also fail to recognize is that such action is contrary to Scripture that admonishes churches to treat their leaders well (Heb. 13: 7, 17; 1 Thess. 5: 12-13). Dishonoring Scripture is never a good thing for a church in either the short-term or long-term.

In some of my books I've quoted Tom Bandy's comments in his book Fragile Hope about church controllers which, in my opinion, is the same thing as church bullies.  He believes controllers may only make up 20 percent of a congregation, but they are given an enormous amount of power because the Christian church has joined the cult of harmony.  Too many churches value harmony over truth or mission.  They want peace at any price, so the 80 percent of the congregation will not stand up to the 20 percent that are acting like bullies.  In effect, they give the 20 percent veto power over any effort to move forward, and even worse, they allow the controllers to bully anyone who would stand in their way.

Several years ago a pastor friend of mine left his church after serving there over 20 years.  He left with great sadness and a lot of unfulfilled dreams.  One of his comments to me was that one of the biggest problems in that church was that it was filled with nice people who were not willing to stand up to the ones who were not so nice.  Perhaps 20 people in a congregation close to 300 were holding the church hostage to their own agenda, and the others were allowing them to do so in a misguided attempt to preserve peace.  The long-term effect is that they lost a very good pastor and have spent the past 10 years trying to return to where they were when he left.  They are still not there.

It is important to also point out that the desired peace doesn't really happen anyway.  Things might quiet down when the bullies get their way, but they will heat up again the next time the bullies feel threatened.  I've seen churches repeat this pattern again and again and wonder why they never seem to be able to move forward.  As a very young deacon in a church I was speaking one evening prior to our meeting to one of the older deacons.  He said, "I just don't understand why every time we start to move forward as a church something happens to derail it."  I thought to myself, "Take a good look in the mirror and at your wife and you'll see part of the reason," but I said nothing.  I should have.

To substitute short-term peace for long-term ministry is a poor substitute.   Church bullies must be called out and their actions addressed.  They must be told that future actions will have consequences.  When I've seen church leadership do this in the past the bullies usually threatened to leave the church, and at that point the leadership is tempted to back down.  Who cares if they leave?  We place too much value over not losing someone not realizing that we are already losing people.  Would you rather lose the bullies who will continue to create problems or the people they are running off by their dysfunctional behavior?  They will have to decide for themselves how they will respond to the church leadership's ultimatum to stop their negative behavior, and if they decide to leave that will be their choice.  I have to say that when church leadership has stood firm against church bullying the church began a time of significant growth because one of the barriers to such growth was removed.

I am really looking forward to Hammett's article on this topic and hope he publishes it soon.  I pray that many church leaders will read it and find some helpful advice if this is something they are dealing with in their congregations.