Thursday, June 28, 2012

Booking workshops

Each year I am privileged to lead workshops and speak at events for various denominational groups in the United States and Canada.  The majority of these are related to bivocational and small church ministry although occasionally I am asked to speak on other topics such as clergy self-care and church hospitality.  Earlier this year, for the first time, I trained a group of clergy who were going to coach some of the bivocational ministers in their District.  Because I believe coaching will become an important tool in equipping bivocational ministers I anticipate doing more of that training in the future.

It has been interesting to see how different denominations approach their training.  In several instances I have spent a week with a judicatory leading four to five events throughout their judicatory in a week.  Others schedule me for a Saturday only event and ask their pastors to travel to a central site.  At one event in Canada I was shocked when I learned that a car load of bivocational ministers had driven nine hours one way to attend the workshop I was leading.

At every workshop I am humbled by the persons who attend.  These are usually very dedicated men and women who have felt the call to bivocational ministry.  Some felt forced into that role, but many believe they have been specifically called to bivocational ministry.  They often serve for a very small salary and few benefits.  For a variety of reasons outsiders may not see where their ministries have made much of a difference, but the ministers know how their service has changed people's lives in ways the casual observer may not see.  Most of these are people who have a deep love and appreciation for the churches they serve.  Many of them talk to me during the breaks and meal times about the challenges they face.  They often talk about their struggle to do more to address those challenges.  I don't remember a workshop I've led where at least one pastor didn't ask how I knew so much about his or her church.  I always respond that the issues they face are common to most small church and bivocational leaders.  Many of them I experienced during my pastorate in a small, rural church.  I am touched at the numbers of pastors who tell me how much they appreciate the encouragement and practical helps they were given in the workshops I lead.

If your association, judicatory, or denomination has been thinking about offering some training for your bivocational and small church leaders later this year or in 2013, please contact me by responding to this post.  I offer a number of workshops that can be presented in a full-day, half-day, or 90 minute format depending upon your needs.  I also offer coaching for pastors and other leaders.

For 20 years I served as the bivocational pastor of a small, rural church in southeast Indiana.  Since leaving that ministry I have been committed to developing resources that will help the leaders of such churches.  I am convinced that we will see the numbers of bivocational ministers continue to increase throughout most of our denominations, and it is critical that we become intentional about equipping them for the ministry God has given them.  Please let me know if I can assist you in doing that.  In the meantime you may want to check out one of my books, The Bivocational Pastor: Two Jobs, One Ministry.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The entrepreneurial pastor

Yesterday I tweeted an article I read from entitled "Would you attend your church if you weren't the pastor?"  I thought it was a great article because it asked a question that many younger pastors, and probably some older ones as well, are asking.  The author, Philip Wagner, talked about all the things he tried to do to satisfy the people of his church from the way he preached to the way he dressed.  He finally came to the place where he accepted the fact that God had called him to be the person He had created.  Wagner realized he could not satisfy everyone, and the only person he really had to please was God.  He began to live and minister in ways that honored who God created him to be.

That's really a pretty risky step for a pastor to take.  In many churches the term for a pastor who makes that type of decision is "unemployed."  I remember several years ago a woman in the church I pastored, a person who was a strong supporter of my ministry, and I were talking about a pastor who had recently purchased a Cadillac.  She said she hoped to never see me drive such a car.  I assured her I would not because if I could afford a Cadillac I would probably buy a Mercedes.  She was not amused!  That conversation demonstrated how people in our churches have certain expectations for their pastors, and I'm convinced that more pastors are terminated or forced to resign because they fail to meet those expectations than for theological reasons.

When churches are seeking new pastoral leadership they often say they want a pastor who will be able to grow the church.  Few of them realize what they are saying.  I like to remind those churches that if they could be growing by doing what they have been doing, they would already be growing.  I then ask if they are sure they are willing to allow a new pastor to make the necessary changes that will enable growth to happen.  It is then that I often get a look from the committee members that reminds me of the last time my burrito didn't agree with me.

If we are serious about wanting to see churches grow and people reached with the gospel then we have to accept the fact that this is not 1950.  We need entrepreneurial pastors who are not afraid of coloring outside the lines to lead our churches, and we need churches willing to let them do that.  If I may be so blunt, let me say that if the churches are not inclined to support such a pastor then they should stop saying they want to reach this generation for Christ.  They are lying both to themselves and to God.

For many traditional churches, such a change will not be easy.  Many of them will need someone to help them process the transformation that will have to occur within their churches that will permit their pastor to be more entrepreneurial.  A good consultant, coach, or someone from within their denomination can help them in that process.  My book, Intentional Ministry in a Not-So-Mega Church, addresses this and could be a good resource for a church interested in changing to study.

Wagner's question is a good one.  At this stage of my life and ministry I would have to say that I would not pastor a church that I wouldn't attend if I wasn't the pastor.  Life is too short, and the work is too important to be playing church games and trying to please everyone.  I was blessed in that most of the people in the church I pastored were willing to let me be the person God created me to be, and that would have to be true of any church I would serve.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Church Leadership Institute

About ten years ago our region, the American Baptist Churches of Indiana and Kentucky created the Church Leadership Institute (CLI) to help train lay leaders and bivocational pastors in our churches.  It has been exciting to see the people go through this program and the growth they have experienced as a result.  Each class is currently taught at Franklin College and consists of four Saturday sessions over a two month period.  Students can take up to four classes a year.  You can get more information about the program and register at

This past Saturday I taught my class on "Personal and Family Health."  This class examines the challenges of ministry and the importance of maintaining balance in one's life.  Time management is always a challenge for bivocational ministers, and we looked at how time management is really life management.  The class also learned about some of the effects a lack of balance in one's life can have on one's ministry, family, and personal life.  It was a very good session with great discussion.  Much of the discussion in this session came out of The Bivocational Pastor: Two Jobs, One Ministry.  I'm really looking forward to our next session.

The Church Leadership Institute can be an excellent tool for churches to use in training their lay leaders.  On the web page mentioned above you can see the various courses that make up the program, and I can assure you that the instructors for these courses are well qualified.  Most of them have earned doctorates and great experience in the particular course they are teaching.  Some of our students are not American Baptists and we are certainly open to having persons from other denominational groups enroll in our program.

One change that was made in the program a couple of years ago is that it is not necessary to enroll in the entire program.  Students may take just one or two courses if they choose for personal enrichment.  The cost for each course is quite reasonable, the courses are very practical for both lay and pastoral leaders, and our students are able to take what they learn in CLI to make a difference in their churches and in their own personal spiritual development.

If you think you might be interested in learning more about CLI or to register for an upcoming class, please contact me or the persons listed on the web page.  We are now accepting applications for the fall term.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Taking the wrong road

This past Sunday was very frustrating.  I was supposed to take part in a pastor friend's ordination.  A few miles from the church he serves I found the road was out due to construction.  I still had plenty of time if I could find a good alternate route.  I entered the address of the church into my GPS and began following the directions.  It took me nearly four miles away and then would have me turn around and go back the same way I just came only for an additional nine miles.  I knew I would not go the entire 13 miles back the way I came, but I had already lost valuable time going the four miles.  On my way back I noticed a road that I thought might take me around the construction.  About four miles on that road I realized it was not taking me where I needed to be.  My GPS kept telling me to take the route it had mapped out.  I soon found the detour that had been set up by the state highway department, but it was a long trip to the church.  However, nothing else I had tried worked so I thought I would see how long I would be on that road before I needed to turn to go to the church.  By the time I got to my turn the service had already been underway for 20 minutes, and I was still 20 minutes from the church.  I turned the other way and returned home.  I explained what happened that evening to my friend, and he was very gracious and apologized for not telling me the normal route to their church was closed.

On my return home I couldn't help but think of how true Proverbs 14:12 is.  "There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death."  My instincts pointed me to a couple of roads that I thought would lead me to my destination, but in both cases they took me somewhere I didn't want to be, and they cost me valuable time.  Technology failed me as well as my GPS couldn't deliver on its promise to guide me to my destination.  Because I followed the wrong roads I did not arrive at my planned destination and my plan to participate in my friend's ordination died.

There are so many people on the wrong roads in life.  They travel on various roads thinking these roads will take them to where they want to be.  Some of these roads include materialism, power, drugs, alcohol, perversions, and countless other pursuits that people believe will provide them with what they are seeking in life.  It is so sad to see people making choices that they think will help them become successful and happy, and yet the end consequence of those choices is a life of pain and bondage.  Even worse are those who are seeking to find God but are traveling on paths that will never lead them to Him.  Jesus said, "I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me."  It may not be politically correct in today's postmodern world to say, but there are not many roads to God.  There is one, and it is through Jesus Christ.  Every other road that one takes to find God will turn out to be a dead end.  Sadly, some will stay on that road until it is eternally too late to turn around.  Others will abandon that road only to turn down another road that also will not lead them to God.

I was on four or five wrong roads Sunday, but the only thing it cost me was the opportunity to participate in my friend's ordination service.  We were both disappointed, but there was no real damage done.  However, traveling on some wrong roads can destroy a person physically, emotionally, financially, and spiritually.  It can create major problems not only for that person but for others around that person.  In some cases, the damage is permanent, even eternal.  God created us and loves us.  He has given us in the Bible the directions we need to experience life in the fullest sense, and  the only way to enjoy a personal relationship with Him.  The only correct road to God is through Jesus Christ.  If you want some help in finding that road, please feel free to contact me.

Friday, June 22, 2012

The power of focus

The idea for this post came from a John Maxwell blog posting.  I will be sharing his article later today on Twitter, but for this posting I want to concentrate primarily on how this applies to bivocational ministers.  Sometimes, with the various demands on our time it's hard to maintain focus.  So many things demand our attention that we can get caught up in the tyranny of the urgent.  It happens to me, and I would guess it happens to you.  Some of this goes with the territory of being in ministry.  You may have your day planned out until the telephone rings and changes everything.  Some things do require our immediate attention, but my experience has been that the list of those things is not as long as some people would like us to believe.  When I worked in a factory I used to keep a sign in my work area that said "Your lack of preparation does not constitute an emergency on my part."

My hope is that you live your life with certain written goals that you want to achieve.  The key to achieving your goals is to work on them nearly every day.  Without focus we will find that we may go weeks without ever doing anything that will help us accomplish even one of our goals.  Chasing after the shiny things, the urgent things, can keep us from doing the most important things.

This past weekend one of my grandsons and I were talking about this.  He wanted to know how I managed to write books and do the many different things I do.  I shared with him one of my beliefs: You get done what you spend time doing.  The person who sits for eight hours in front of a television has accomplished eight hours of TV watching.  If that was his goal then he should feel good about that, but if he had other goals for his life then that eight hours might have been better spent working on one of those goals.  I talked with this grandson about the importance of goal-setting and gave him the method I used, and then I gave him a goal.  We were going to see them again on Wednesday, and I asked him to take one of his life's goals and follow my goal-setting method to write out the goal and what he needed to do to achieve it.  He showed me his paper on Wednesday, and it was very good.  Whether or not he is able to achieve it now depends on his ability to focus on that goal.  He has a good sense of what he needs to do; now we'll see if he does it.

This is true for most of us.  We usually know what we need to do to achieve the things we want to achieve in life.  It's a matter of focus.  Can we ignore the many voices asking us to do this and that in order to concentrate on the most important things?  Can we focus long-term on the goals we believe God has given us?  To the extent we do so we will achieve those goals, but if we allow ourselves to be easily distracted by less important things we will probably come to the end of our lives and ministries disappointed.

Let me end this post with one suggestion.  As a bivocational minister you will often be pulled in many different directions.  Wherever you are, be there.  In other words, if you are meeting with a member of your congregation, be there for that person.  Don't just be present physically with your mind elsewhere.  Always focus on the task at hand.  The most important place you can be is usually where you are, and the most important thing you can be doing at a given moment is often what you are doing at that time.  Focus on what you are doing, and then when you move to the next task or event focus on that.  Such focus will help you be much more effective in all your tasks.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

SBC elects new president.

I am not a Southern Baptist, but I have been watching the reports about their election of Dr. Fred Luter as their new president.  As the media has reported, this election is a historic event in the life of this denomination.  The SBC was birthed, at least partially, as southern Baptists separated from their northern brethern over the issue of slavery.  The election of Luter, an African-American, as president of the SBC will certainly go down in Baptist history as a monumental event.  Some reports state this is a way for the SBC, who has seen a decline in membership in recent years, to appeal to more ethnic churches and perhaps convince them to join the denomination.  Time will tell if that happens or not.  Other reports claim this is the next step for Southern Baptists as they attempt to put their pro-slavery past behind them.  In 1995 the SBC apologized for supporting slavery in their early years, and the election of Luter is one more step in their effort to separate themselves from that past.  For some in the denomination, this is probably also true.  However, my concern in all this is that Dr. Luter is more than the color of his skin, and in all the excitement I hope people do not miss that.

While attending a pastor's conference at Campbellsville University a couple of years ago I had the opportunity to hear Dr. Luter preach and was able to spend a brief amount of time with him.  This does not make me close friends or an expert on Dr. Fred Luter!  But, that brief exposure to him made me a big fan.  I found him to be a man of passion for God, for people, and for the ministry.  His work in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina was huge for the people of his church in New Orleans and for the entire city.  His story of coming up out of a rough neighborhood where he admits he made his share of mistakes to becoming one of the premier ministers in America is inspiring.  The bottom line, in my opinion, is that Dr. Fred Luter would be a great president of the SBC, or any denomination, regardless of the color of his skin.

In my recent book The Healthy Community: Moving Your Church Beyond Tunnel Vision I noted that one of the problems many churches have today is a lack of excellence in their denominations.  Many denominations are mired in controversies they won't resolve, they lack vision, and they are too much controlled by the politicians within their denominations.  They pass resolutions that say the right things, but often the implementation fails because of a lack of passion around the issue.  For years one of my prayers is that God would send us leaders who have passion about what they are doing.  Dr. Fred Luter is a man of passion, and I predict the SBC will be a stronger denomination when his term expires.

As denominations seek new leadership in the future I would hope they would look for men and women who, like Luter, are passionate about ministry.  We don't need more bureaucrats leading our denominations.  We don't need more people who have played the political games of their respective denominations until they have worked their way to the top spot.  We need individuals who believe in the authority of Scripture, who believe that the Great Commission gives churches their marching orders, and who believe that Christ came so that all who believe in Him can be saved.   Such passion is contagious, and when the leaders are people of passion we'll see it trickle down throughout the denomination and its churches.  When such passion exists in the churches we'll see them begin to impact their communities for the Kingdom of God in new and exciting ways, but it begins at the top.  Congratulations to my SBC friends...I believe you have elected the right person for this time in the life of your denomination.  I pray other denominations will follow their example.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Are you willing to pay the price of change?

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In my newest book The Healthy Community: Moving Your Church Beyond Tunnel Vision I discuss the cost of change.  In this post I want to briefly touch on the different ways change will cost you.  I included this chapter in the book because of a phone call I once had from a church member who invited me to attend their next Church Growth Committee meeting and talk to them about how they can grow their church without making anyone mad.  I told him that I would save them a meeting and me a trip: You won't.  He sounded surprised until I explained that if their church could grow by what they are doing, it would already be growing.  Obviously, something needs to change, and change will always produce conflict in any organization.  In fact, change will cost the organization in a number of ways.

First, the leader will have to pay a price.  Very often, for a significant change to occur the leader has to be changed.  Sports teams fire the manager when they want to turn their team around.  Corporations fire managers and CEOs if the organization isn't producing the results they expected.  Sometimes churches fire their pastors if things in the church are not moving in a way that suits the leadership.  Whether the pastor is terminated or not, any significant transformation in a church will require the pastor experience that transformation first.  George Barna insists that a new pastor must be brought in to introduce significant change to the church.  Shortly after reading that the first time I seriously considered resigning as pastor of my church so they could bring in a new pastor who could begin the changes the church needed.  However, what I ended up doing was to allow God to make me into a new pastor.  I explained to the congregation that I had to become a new pastor if we were going to be able to move forward, and I began to reinvent much of what I had been doing as the pastor.

There is also a cost to the lay leaders in the church.  Some of them may need to step down from their positions before the church can move forward.  The church controllers will have to be confronted and may well need to leave the church.  Leadership roles will need to be changed

Any significant change will being about conflict, and sometimes the change doesn't have to be very significant for that conflict to sweep through the church and community.  Such conflict is often seen as a sign by the pastor that it may be time for him or her to resign and move to another place of ministry.  Unfortunately, where ever you move you will eventually encounter conflict.  That conflict may well cause others to leave the church.  For many churches, the fear of losing people is enough to stop the changes because it's a cost the church is not willing to pay.

Jesus taught that we should always count the cost before starting something.  Before you introduce a significant change to the church you should try to visualize some of the potential costs that such changes will require of you, your family, and your church.  The more you think of these things before presenting the changes to the church the better prepared you will be to lead the congregation around some of those costs.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Pastors and counseling

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I recently received a call from a student at the university where I received my undergraduate degree.  It's time to hit up alumni for donations, but of course she had to act like she was interested in what I had been doing since graduating before asking for money.  When she found out I was in the ministry she did ask some good questions and seemed quite interested in the answers.  As a psychology major she wanted to know if I did much counseling when I served as a pastor.  My response was that I did when I was younger in the ministry until one day I realized I wasn't a very good counselor.  I believed I better served my congregation and others who came to me for assistance when I made that discovery, and it's a discovery other ministers probably need to make as well.

I had one psychology course in college and a pastoral care course in Bible school.  That's about enough knowledge to become dangerous.  No way does that equip a pastor for a counseling ministry.  Many of the churches I've assisted in finding a new pastor have listed counseling as one of the traits they are looking for in their next pastor until I ask them if they mean they want someone who has a degree in counseling or just someone who will meet with people having problems and try to help them through those difficulties.  They usually want the latter, and that begins my lecture about not confusing that with counseling.

Too many pastors seem to believe their seminary degree equips them to be a counselor.  Even worse are those in the ministry without any formal education who believe their calling to the pastorate includes the ability to counsel others.  Neither of these beliefs are correct.  Pastors would better serve their congregations by recognizing that unless they have specific training in counseling they need to limit their ministry to troubled people to providing pastoral care and referring those people to trained counselors for long-term assistance.

Bivocational ministers especially need to be careful about doing counseling.  Real counseling that changes people's lives often requires far more time than most bivocational ministers can provide.  When one has neither the time nor the training to do quality counseling then referrals are a must. 

When I realized that my counseling skills were very limited I was in the second session with a couple who were having marital difficulties.  I had worked with the same couple several years earlier, and when they came back to me they were still dealing with the same issues I thought were resolved earlier.  At that time I referred them to a Christian counseling service in a nearby community that I knew provided excellent counseling from a Christian perspective.  I offered to meet with them once a month to check on their progress and provide pastoral care, but that meeting would not occur until they had their first session with a counselor at the center.  As their pastor I wanted to remain involved in the healing of their marriage, but I could not lead that process.  They needed someone with the skills, training, and specific experience in that work to lead their healing.

As a pastor it's important for you to identify professional people in your community who can provide the best assistance possible to meet the needs of your congregation.  Certainly, at the top of that list should be some Christian counselors you trust who you can refer people to when the need arises.  That will give the people you serve the best of both worlds.  They can receive pastoral care from you and skilled counseling from persons who have been trained to provide that ministry.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Father's Day thoughts

Dad has been gone for a few years now, and I still miss him.   Dad was a big baseball fan and always enjoyed it when I could call to tell him how our son had done in his recent game.  Now I have a grandson who plays baseball pretty well.  Several times I've started to pick up the phone to call Dad when my grandson had an especially good game before remembering I can't do that any more.  He would have been proud.

Our mother had a stroke several years before she passed away that caused some serious problems on many levels.  Dad chose to keep her at home and care for her needs even when they were pretty overwhelming at times.  He taught me much about faithfulness and commitment during those years.

For much of my growing up years we lived on dairy farms which meant a lot of hard work for all of us.  Small dairy farms did not provide much in the way of material possessions, but we learned the value of hard work and how to live well with little.  A large garden provided much of our food in the summer, raising strawberries and picking wild blackberries gave us delicious fruit in season and jellies throughout the year,  chickens provided the eggs we needed, a few hogs provided the pork, and of course we had plenty of milk to drink.  Even towards the end of his life Dad could still work circles around me.  If he ever complained about having to work so hard I never heard it.

One day as a small boy I went with Dad to the bank.  I don't remember if he needed money to put out that year's crops or if he was buying more cows.  What I do remember is that the banker gave him the money.  I'm sure there was paperwork involved, but the only thing I remember was a handshake.  I left there amazed that Dad could go into the bank and they would loan him money on a handshake.  Later I needed a short-term personal loan to help fund a mission trip I was taking.  While talking to a loan officer another officer in the bank who knew my Dad and me stepped into the room and said, "Give him whatever he needs."  My mind went back to that day when I went with Dad to the bank, and I was thankful for his reputation and integrity and resolved to always live the same way.

Operating a dairy farm didn't make it easy for Dad to go to church a lot when I was growing up, and I don't remember a lot of "God-talk" in our home.  Mom took us to church almost every Sunday, and Dad went when he could.  Years later as a pastor I had the privilege of ordaining my father as a deacon of the church I pastored where he served for several years.  It was one of the high points of my ministry.

Early one morning I went to a hospital where Dad was scheduled for heart surgery.  I prayed with him in his room before the attendants came to get him.  A nurse came in asking if he was nervous.  Dad said, "No.  The doctors think this surgery will be successful and I'll feel better than I've felt in a long time.  If not, I'll be with Jesus.  Either way I'll be OK."  As he was being taken back to surgery I stopped and said one last time, "Dad, I love you."  He squeezed my hand and said he loved me.  He did not leave the hospital.

There are five of us kids, and each of us have our own memories of Dad.  He impacted our lives in many different ways, but each of us feel fortunate to have had him as our father.  I look forward to seeing him again.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Finding common ground

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The other day I posted a list of books I was reading.  Although it wasn't on that list, I later read a good review of The Presidents Club: Inside the World's Most Exclusive Fraternity and downloaded it onto my NOOK.  I've just read the first two chapters and am greatly enjoying the book.  Those chapters discussed how Harry Truman and Herbert Hoover worked together to accomplish some things that would change the presidency and the world.  These two men had little in common except each knew the challenges of the presidency and each had a desire to see positive changes occur in America and throughout the world.  Hoover mistrusted Truman at first and never did trust some of Truman's associates, but they found ways to work together to make a positive difference.  As their work drew to a close, they went from being allies to becoming friends.

It seems that is a lesson we need to learn in the church as well.  Whether we are talking about people within a congregation, churches in a community, or denominations, we need to learn to work together to accomplish the task God has given the church.  I've been privileged to work with a number of denominations in conference settings to lead workshops and other events for their bivocational and small church leaders.  We may have had some different beliefs on minor theological issues or church polity, but we shared a common desire to see their smaller churches minister more effectively.  Years ago when I began my conference ministry I was asked by one denominational leader to speak to their small church leader gathering.  I jokingly reminded him of my denominational affiliation and asked if he was sure he wanted me to attend.  I knew some in his denomination would not have appreciated my being there.  He said that the work of bivocational ministry was too important to worry about the minor differences that existed in our denominations.  That is true of all of the tasks that are before the church today.

When unchurched people read about some of the silliness that goes on in our denominations and churches it's no wonder they write us off as irrelevant.  Just this week I read of a decision made by one denominational group and later saw a comment on Facebook from a woman who said that was the reason she wasn't a _________.  When people see churches unable to work together they must wonder if Christ really does make a difference in people's lives.  Jesus said one sign that we are Christians is that we love one another, and when churches refuse to work with other churches it has to make people wonder about the love we profess.

I'm not saying that we must compromise our beliefs.  There are some core values that I cannot compromise and remain loyal to my understanding of Christianity.  However, that does not mean I cannot work with other believers whose beliefs may differ somewhat from mine to accomplish needed ministry in our community.  It also does not mean that I cannot respect their beliefs and traditions while holding onto mine.  In recent years I have worshiped in various denominational churches, and although some of the practices may have varied from what I was used to, I certainly respected and honored those practices, and I found the Gospel they proclaimed was the same that I preach.  It's often been said, but I'm not sure how often we really believe it: What we have in common is much more important than our differences.

There are some big challenges in your community.  People are hurting.  They need the church to minister to that pain and to help them find Christ as the ultimate answer to their greatest need.  How can your church partner with other churches in your community to make that happen?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Member values vs missionary values

In my book The Healthy Community: Moving Your Church Beyond Tunnel Vision. I quote Reggie McNeal who wrote "Member values clash with missionary values.  Member values are all about church real estate, church programming, who's in and who's out, member services, member issues (translated: am I getting what I need out of this church?)  Missionary values are about the street, people's needs, breaking down barriers, community issues (Translated: am I partnering with God's work in people?)."  The question for each church leader is which of these values best represents the thinking in your church?

Maintenance-minded churches focus primarily on member's values.  That is why these churches are often plateaued or declining, and usually declining.  If people are not having their needs met they will either go elsewhere or change the leadership in hopes that new leaders will meet their needs.  As members, they expect to be served.

Missional churches focus more on the missionary values.  The majority of their congregations see themselves as called to serve others, not to be served.  They seek to minister in the areas of their giftedness and passion to make a difference in the lives of people in their community.  They continue to enjoy great fellowship with other members of their church, but that fellowship is often in the context of ministering to the surrounding community.

The values your church focuses on will determine the look of your church five years from now.  I recently spoke to a men's group and told them their church will change in the next five years.  It will either have a number of new people attending who have been reached through your church's ministries into the community or it will be a smaller, grayer congregation.  Either way, it will change, and their decisions about whether they focus on member values or missionary values will determine which change they will experience.  The same is true of your church.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Developing teams in your church

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Whether you are a bivocational pastor, a fully-funded pastor, or the leader of any other organization, your success will depend largely upon the people you have around you.  It does not matter how talented a person may be, he or she can only do so much alone.  To accomplish more it is imperative that we have quality people working with us who have training and passion for the task they are doing.  In his book, Developing the Leaders Around You: How to Help Others Reach Their Full Potential , leadership expert John Maxwell said these things,  "Great leaders - the truly successful ones who are in the top 1 percent - all have one thing in common.  They know that acquiring and keeping good people is a leader's most important task," and "Those closest to the leader will determine the success level of that leader."

A major mistake I made early in my ministry was that I tried to do too much alone.  My Lone Ranger approach to ministry had held back our church from achieving more than it could have.  Although I would occasionally complain that too many members of our church were not as involved as they should be, I had done nothing to equip them for ministry.  As I was preparing to preach from Ephesians 4 one week I realized that one of my primary roles as a pastor was to equip the saints to do ministry, and I had failed to do that. That failure deeply convicted me, and in the message I gave our congregation the following Sunday I admitted to them my failure and promised we would soon begin to offer some much needed training to help each member identify their spiritual gifts, their passions, and how to turn those into ministry.   I began to gather the resources we would need for that training, and within a few months we began a six month intensive training program in our church designed to equip every member for ministry.  That was our focus for every Sunday morning, every Sunday night, and every Wednesday night for six months.  It had an immediate impact on our congregation and the ministry of our church.  I can only wonder what might have happened if I had done that much earlier in my pastorate.

It is essential that you identify the leaders in your church and get them in the right teams to help you lead the church more effectively.  It is equally important that you identify persons who have the potential to be leaders and begin to invest in training them so when you need additional leaders they will be prepared.  The only way to have sufficient leaders is to make sure there are always people in the pipeline being trained to provide leadership in your church.  There are few things you can do that will be more important to the long-term success of your ministry and that of the church.

Terry Dorsett offers a great resource written especially for bivocational churches to help them develop leadership teams.  I wrote a recommendation for the back cover of the book because it's a book I wish I had written myself.  It lays out a very easy to follow plan to developing the leaders your church will need.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Long term pastors and vision

This is a post that I first published on this blog five years ago that I felt deserved to be repeated for my newer readers.  It points out the value of long-term pastorates.  I would be interested in hearing your reponses to the questions at the end.

I am currently reading The Hidden Lives of Congregations written by Israel Galindo. He writes, "Pastors cannot even begin to formulate a vision until well into their fifth year of ministry at the church...Until a pastor has been at a congregation for at least five years, he or she does not know the congregation well enough to shape a vision."

I was the bivocational pastor of my church for seven years before I was able to lead the church in some new directions. Based on my experience and research by George Barna that shows the most effective years of a pastor's ministry doesn't occur until at least the third year, I believe Galindo is right. What has been your experience? How long did you serve at your church before the congregation recognized your leadership and begin to allow you to cast a vision for the church's ministry?

Monday, June 11, 2012

Drifting vs focus

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Several years ago I owned a bass boat and enjoyed fishing in tournaments and in the local lakes and on our river.  My wife enjoys fishing as much as I do so it gave us something we could do together that was a lot of fun.  I learned an important lesson about life in that boat.  The only time I got into trouble in the boat is when I would let it drift down the river while I would fish the banks.  One time I drifted onto a large rock and had trouble breaking free from it.  Another time my motor was wedged in a submerged tree that had been left behind the last time the river flooded.  I couldn't get free and couldn't raise the motor because of the way it was in there.  It took quite a while to get my boat free from that tree.  But, not once did I ever get into trouble when I had either my big motor or the trolling motor running.  See...when the motors were running I was going somewhere on purpose and could steer the boat in the direction I wanted it to go.

Life is like that.  Most of the time when we get into trouble it is when we are drifting.  When we are living life on purpose, when we have a focus to what we are doing, we are much less likely to get into trouble.  When your life has purpose you can steer your life in the direction you want to go.  When you merely drift through life you end up wherever circumstances take you, and sometimes that is not where you want to be.

This is true on so many levels besides just our personal lives.  It is true for businesses, it is true for families, it is true for relationships, and it is true for churches.  The Bible tells us that without a vision the people perish.  Why?  Because without a vision the people are just drifting along without purpose until they finally end up somewhere they didn't want to be and wonder how they arrived there.

Let's just look at churches for now.  How many churches do you know that have a clearly understood vision that has unified the church and that nearly everyone in the congregation not only understands but knows what role they play in that vision?  Some have a vision statement, but that is not the same thing as a vision.  Personally, I know of few churches with such a vision.  Most open their doors every Sunday morning hoping something good will happen, but they've done nothing intentionally to cause something good to happen.  This may well be why we are told 80 percent of the churches in North American are plateaued or declining.  They are just drifting along without focus or purpose, and they are drifting towards irrelevancy.

The most important thing many churches could do between now and the end of the year is to identify a vision from God for the next few years of the church's existence.  The leaders need to begin prayerfully begin a time of discernment as they seek to understand that vision.  Such discernment must include input from a wide variety of people both within and outside the church.  In some smaller churches it should include everyone associated with the church.  It is often helpful to have someone from the outside lead that process.  That may be a denominational leader, a coach, or a consultant.  I have worked with several churches in a process to help them in this discernment process, and it's always exciting to see the light bulbs begin to go off as they draw closer to identifying God's vision for their church.

As long as you drift along you will only go where life takes you.  You will spend your time reacting to whatever life sends your way.  Operating with a vision gives you a focus and purpose that helps you create a preferred future for your life or organization.  That doesn't mean you won't have bumps along the way.  Life does have a way of interrupting even the best of plans, but those interruptions won't derail you.  As you work through them you will return to the vision that is taking you where you want to be.  That is an exciting and much more enjoyable way to live.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

What I'm reading

Right now I have the fewest number of books in my to-read stack that I've had in some time.  Obviously, I will have to get some more to be ready for the summer.  I'm occasionally asked by my readers what I'm reading so here's the current list.

Soul Detox: Clean Living in a Contaminated World Craig Groeschel
Just Walk Across the Room: Simple Steps Pointing People to Faith Bill Hybels
We Are Soldiers Still Harold Moore and Joseph Galloway

In the past few weeks I read

Platform Michael Hyatt
Tribal Church: Lead Small. Impact Big. Steve Stroope
The Barefoot Executive Carrie Wilkerson
EntreLeadership Dave Ramsey

I found all these books interesting and helpful.  Although my stack is low right now, there are more on the way so I should be in good shape.  I do hope you are finding some good books and resources that will help you in your personal and professional growth for this summer's reading.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Monetizing the blog

If you read yesterday's post you know that I offered a link to a book I recommended in the post.  As I said in the post, if anyone clicks on that link and purchases the book I will receive a small affiliate commission.  I've never made a dime from writing this blog.  It has been done because I love smaller churches and the people who lead them, and I wanted to encourage and resource them in any way I can.  However, after reading Hyatt's book I realized that there would be nothing wrong with offering resources and collecting a small fee for doing so.  Actually, most of the blogs I read have a great deal of advertising on them.  Not only do they have affiliate links but many sell advertising space on the blogs as well.  The question for me was how could I do that and not feel I was taking advantage of the people who read my blog.

One of the things I realized is that I occasionally recommended books and other items in the blog anyway.  The readers would decide whether or not they would purchase those items.  If they were interested in a particular item then my providing a link to that item was a convenience to them.  You can click on the link, find out more information about the item, and then make a decision about purchasing it.  You won't pay any more for the item if you click on my link than if you went directly to Amazon and purchased it (if you find out that is not the case, please let me know).

The other thing I committed to is that I will not provide a link to something that I have not used or read and feel comfortable recommending it to others.  In other words, I'm not going to link to a bunch of stuff just in hopes of earning commissions.  The commission isn't that much, and even if it was I would not do that to my readers.

I hope you see that I gave this a great deal of thought before deciding to offer a link to products on the blog.  I pray my decision to do so will not offend anyone.  I wanted to use my post today to be upfront about what I am doing.  My desire for this blog continues to be to provide resources and encouragement to my readers, and that will continue to be the driving force behind everything I do.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Using social media as an outreach tool

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How does a small church let people know about their ministries?  How can they effectively reach out to their communities?  Few have funds to advertise what they are doing.  Actually, that's OK because many business people say traditional marketing is not very effective today.  Few people will show up any more for the traditional weekly visitation program, and that's OK too because it's increasingly difficult to catch people at home, and the ones who are home often don't like having their evenings interrupted by people ringing their door bell.  The fact is that most of the ways churches did outreach in the 20th century simply are not very effective today.  So, what would be effective?  Social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and church blogs might be the most effective way to reach the unchurched people who live in your community.

Most churches tell me they would like to reach new people and share the Gospel with them.  If I ask what groups of people they would most like to reach the answer I usually get is young adults and youth.  Who are the people most likely to use social media?  Young adults and youth.  Are you seeing a connection here yet?  If that is the generation our churches want to reach then it is important that we use the tools they use to let them know about our church and the ministries it offers.

I have promoted the idea of using social media before in this blog, but I still see few churches using it effectively, if at all.  It is possible for even the smallest church to have a website that costs them nothing or very little.  Blogs, Facebook, and Twitter can all be used at no cost to the church.  While you can pay for a blog that offers more bells and whistles, starting out you can have a very nice blog for free.  This blog costs me nothing except the time I spend writing.  Not only do these offer you a means to reach out into your community, they give your church a world-wide presence.  Your church that may not average more than a dozen people on Sunday morning can spread the Gospel all over the world through the use of social media.

You can use your blog or webpage for your primary content.  There is where you want your primary message to be found.  You then use Facebook and Twitter to send people to that message and to develop an on-going relationship with the people who read your Facebook posts and tweets.

Let me suggest a resource for anyone interested in using social media as an outreach tool for your church.  Michael Hyatt has written a most helpful book, Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World.  I devoured the book in two evenings. Although it is written primarily for businesses, it is equally helpful for church leaders.  He presents a very simple step-by-step way to effectively use social media to get your message out to the people.  One of the things I enjoy about the book is that he points out specific resources you can use to get the best use out of social media.  If you are interested in using social media in your church and are not certain how to do it, this is a great resource to get you started.  If you are already using it chances are this book will teach you some ways to use it more effectively.  I've learned a lot from the book that I'm now applying to my own social media sites.

Our churches should not be afraid of using technology to get out the message we've been given.  The Gospel has the power to change people's lives, so let's take that message to where the people are.  For many of them, that will be on social media.

If you are interested in reading Hyatt's book, Platform, you can order it here.  I do want you to know that this is an affiliate link, and if you click on it and purchase the book I will receive a small affiliate commission.  I share this with you to be completely upfront with my readers.  I also want you to know that I will not offer anything that I myself have not personally used or read and would recommend to others. 

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The invitation (cont)

Yesterday's post was the most read post I've done and it generated the largest number of comments on my Facebook page.  All of the comments agreed with the post and many of them explained the various ways they give an invitation in their churches.  If you didn't read yesterday's post it focused on the importance of explaining how one can have a personal relationship with Christ and giving people an opportunity to do that through an invitation at the end of the service.  As critical as that is, that is not the only decision people can be encouraged to make.

Growing up I remember several elements of most invitations in the small churches I attended.  In addition to the invitation to salvation, there was an invitation for those who wanted to rededicate their lives to Christ, an invitation to persons who wanted to transfer their membership from another church, and an invitation to those considering a call to "full-time Christian service."  Occasionally, I hear the first three elements in churches today, but I seldom hear the invitation to those who feel called to the ministry.  We need to recapture that.  Of course, I believe that invitation should also include those who feel called to bivocational ministry.

I am in the ministry today because a pastor asked if I had ever considered that God might be calling me into the ministry.  I admitted that I had often felt that call, even as a child, but had never acted on it.  I've often wondered if I would be in the ministry today if that pastor had not challenged me to pray about it and encouraged me by saying he saw ministry gifts at work in my life.  Most ministers who read this blog probably had someone give you a similar challenge, but who are we challenging?  One of the roles of a leader is to raise up other leaders, but I don't see many pastors today raising up those leaders.  Is it possible that one can be in the ministry for a lifetime and never recognize a call of God on another person's life?

We cannot call a person into the ministry.  That is God's work, but we can be an instrument He uses to issue that call.  We can let people know we see certain gifts in their lives that could be used for ministry and ask them if they have ever felt God might be calling them to do so.  We can pray for them and be willing to answer any questions they might have.  We can look for ways to help them explore the possibility of that call.  A few days after that initial conversation with that pastor he handed me a key to his study and told me to feel free to use it and his library any time I wished.  I spent hours looking through his commentaries and ministry-related books, and the time I spent there helped confirm God's call on my life.  He offered to talk to my wife and me about ministry and helped answer some of our questions.  At no time did I ever feel he was pushing me to become a minister, but there is no question that God used him to help me process that call on my life.  You and I can do the same in other's lives.

The church is in desperate need of quality leaders, especially smaller churches.  Studies have found that many seminary graduates will not serve in smaller churches.  Unless we raise up leaders for these churches they will be forced to close.  Due to the difficulty they have in finding a pastor some churches settle for almost anyone when they look for a new pastor and pay a terrible price.  In my three decades of ministry I have met some very dysfunctional ministers who have left a trail of destruction in every church they've served.  Our churches deserve better, but until we raise up good leaders they will continue to call the poor ones.  Identifying persons God has called to ministry and helping them process that call must become a priority for us already in ministry.

Begin to share messages on God's call on people's lives with your congregation.  Identify some persons in your church you believe have spiritual gifts that would qualify them for ministry and meet with them to ask if they've ever felt such a call on their lives.  During the invitation give people an opportunity to make a public declaration of God's call on their lives.  Let us work hard at raising up a new generation of ministry leaders to serve our churches in the future.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The invitation

This past Sunday my wife and I visited a small, rural church led by a bivocational pastor.  I've known this pastor for a number of years and have always been impressed by his life and the way he goes about his ministry.  As the service ended my wife looked at me and said, "For once someone told people how they can ask Jesus Christ into their heart."  As we left the building she told him how often she is disappointed that so many of the churches we visit end their services without ever telling people how they can become a Christian and giving them an opportunity to do so.  She told him how much she appreciated the invitation he gave.  When we drove away from the parking lot she said that I needed a lot more pastors like him in my churches.

She's right.  We visit a number of churches that may give an invitation at the close of the service but at no point does anyone ever explain how people can respond.  I'm old-fashioned enough to believe that people need to be told they can invite Christ to become their Lord and Savior at the end of the service.  The pastor can then pray with those who respond at that time or take them to a prayer room or office to more fully explain what becoming a Christian means.  I always tell the congregations I preach to that I am available to pray with them if they want to come forward for prayer for anything.  I then take that one step further and tell them that even though many Baptists seem to have forgotten the old-time prayer altar there are times when people don't need to talk to a preacher; they just need to talk to God, and I invite them to come forward and kneel around the front of the church and pray about anything that may be troubling them.  I have been surprised at the number of people who do that even though that is not normally done in their church.

I do not understand the mindset of some churches today.  Some churches offer a good worship experience that allows people to connect with God, they have a good message that is biblically sound, but then they fail to give people an opportunity to respond to what they've experienced.  It seems to me that the natural flow of things would be to give people that opportunity at the end of the service.

Is it possible that there are people who attend our churches faithfully who desire to know more about how to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ but leave each week frustrated that they still don't know how to experience that?  I think it is possible, and it's unnecessary.  I encourage every pastor reading this to spend some time each week telling people how they can experience a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and then allow them an opportunity to do that during the invitation.

Some might argue saying that everyone who attends their church is already a Christian so such an invitation is not needed.  If that's true then there is a big failure on the part of your church to reach out to the unchurched community around your church.  But, are you sure that's true?  Billy Graham once estimated that as many as one-half of the church members in the US were not saved.  Not only do we have a huge mission field surrounding our churches, many of our churches have a large mission field sitting in their pews and on their boards and committees each week.  Through an invitation God might be able to reach into their hearts and lead them to Him.  We need to give such an invitation each week to those who attend our services and then trust God to do the rest.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Tricks and shortcuts

On the right side of myFacebook page this morning I noticed a list of advertisements offering several tricks and shortcuts to a better life.  One promised a sure fire way to avoid a speeding ticket (don't speed, perhaps?); another one promoted a way for people who live in my state to pay lower insurance premiums; of course there was one offering the best way to meet that special person we are all looking for.  In addition to these great opportunities I read this week how knowing the right 10 words can change an unruly child into an angel and for a reasonable fee I could learn those words.  Believe me when I say that it didn't take my Dad 10 words to change my behavior when I was growing up.

What makes these ads so interesting is that there are people who will respond to them and spend their hard-earned money on these wonderful tricks to improve their lives.  They appeal to the commonly held belief by many Americans that life should be easy and our lives can be improved quick and easy with little effort on our part.  We want the quick and instant fix to our problems.  We give our money to any snake oil salesman who promises to take away any pain or discomfort we may be feeling.

Sadly, that mindset exists in the church as well.  Congregations want to see their church grow, but they don't want that growth to cause any pain.  They want an exciting worship service with preaching that challenges them and helps deepen their faith, but it must end by noon.  Most would like to see their sanctuaries full of people, but they shouldn't be expected to invite their friends and family (after all, one's religious beliefs are private you know).  Every church would like a growing youth group as long as it doesn't contain any youth with problems and the youth who attend knows how to act in church.  When looking for a pastor they always claim they want one who will grow the church with new members, but he or she must keep regular office hours in case a member needs to get in contact, he or she must regularly visit the hospitals and nursing homes in the area to call on the members, attend all the board and committee meetings, and then any spare time can be spent reaching out to the unchurched in the community.  The congregations are looking for a shortcut to a more effective ministry that will grow their church and ease their pain.

Some pastors are just as guilty.  Many go to conferences and attend workshops hoping to find some magic formula or shortcut to a more effective ministry.  I certainly advocate that clergy and lay leaders should attend conferences and workshops, and I lead several each year myself, but the purpose of attending them is not to find some trick that will make your church the next mega-church and you the next superpastor.

The fact is there are no shortcuts to an effective ministry.  Ministry is hard work for both the pastor and the congregation.  There are no 10 magic words that can be uttered; there is no easy way to impact the community for the Kingdom of God without leaving the comfort of your office; there is no way of growing your church without it going through some pain and discomfort.  To take the gospel to those who need to hear it will require that we go where they are.  We can't unlock the doors of our church each Sunday morning and wait for them to come to us.  Someone I once read said we will have to learn to sit in the smoking section if we want to reach people with the gospel.

To effectively minister to many people today will require that we enter into their world, a world that is often filled with pain and a world in which we may not be comfortable.  We may see and hear things that we would prefer to not see and hear, but that is the world in which some people for whom Jesus Christ gave His life live.  It is also the world, in one degree or another, in which you and I once lived.  Someone entered our world, introduced us to Jesus Christ, and led us to a relationship with Him that forever transformed our lives.  That is what you and I are now called to do.  There are no tricks.  No shortcuts.  Just a lot of hard work, but if even one person has a life changing experience with Christ it is worth it.