Tuesday, July 31, 2012

How a congregation learns part 6

Before I left for a few days vacation I was posting a series on how congregations learn that is taken from an article in Congregations, a publication of The Alban Institute.  The article was written by Tim Shapiro, the president of the Indianapolis Center for Congregations.  In this post we will look at Congregations learn well when they slow things down.  Learning anything takes time, and trying to rush the learning cycle often produces less than desirable results.

Church leaders sometimes forget this.  We may examine an idea for weeks or even months before we're ready to propose making a change.  Then we are surprised when the congregation seems less than thrilled with our new idea.  We forget that we have spent a good amount of time exploring and thinking about our idea, and the people we finally share it with are hearing it for the first time.  They need as much time to process it as we had.

A number of years ago the church I pastored at the time recognized it needed to update its church constitution.  It had been two decades since its last update, and there were some things in it that were outdated.  Some of the things we were no longer doing, and there were some new things we were doing that probably needed to be added.  One of our problems was that there was only one person in our congregation who had been involved in developing the old constitution, and no one else in the church had ever worked on one.  At our first meeting we decided to move slowly, try to understand why something was in the constitution in the first place before we tried to remove or modify it.  We also decided that rather than wait until we had rewritten the entire constitution, we would present what we had completed for church approval at each of our quarterly business meetings.  These decisions took away any need for speed in rewriting our church constitution.  In fact, the process took us an entire year, but when we finished the committee that rewrote the document and our entire church had a much better understanding of our church constitution, and we ended with a document that was useful to today's ministry.

I talk with many pastors who recognize their churches need to update their constitutions, but they are reluctant to say anything because they believe it will lead to dissension in the church and create more problems than it solves.  I explain the process we used and describe the learnings that took place in our congregation because of that process.  Because of how we went about it there was very little controversy.  Because we only presented the work we had completed during the previous quarter if there were questions or concerns we could easily address them, make needed corrections, and then go on to the next section.  I only remember having to revisit an article of our constitution once or twice after our committee made their recommendations.  It was always a quick fix, and then we were on to work on the next article.

The next time your congregation is facing a steep learning curve due to a new ministry taking place or a new way of doing some old things, take your time.   Slow everything down.  Chances are the new learning doesn't have to occur tonight, so take your time.  Give people in the congregation some time to adjust to what you are proposing and then give them even more time to learn the new things that will go along with this change.  Doing this will probably lead to your congregation enjoying the new learning that is taking place and will make them more willing to consider even more new things in the future.

Monday, July 30, 2012

A few days away

I've not posted anything on my blog, Facebook, or Twitter for the past few days as my wife and I took a few days off to visit our son and his family in Philly.  We had a wonderful time with family that ended much too soon.  One grandson was playing in a baseball tournament which is always a treat.  When you have family spread out as we do you can never spend as much time with them as you would like, but it just makes it that much better when you are together.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

How a congregation learns part 5

For the past few days we have been looking at how congregations best learn.  These posts have been based upon an article in Congregations, a publication from The Alban Institute.  The article entitled "How Your Congregation Learns" was written by Tim Shapiro, the president of the Indianapolis Center for Congregations.  The fifth element of a learning congregation is that Congregations learn well by attending to rites of passage.  Shapiro believes that when a congregation is in the process of learning new things it is very important that they do not neglect the tender moments of life that bind a congregation together.  These moments would include such things as births and deaths, marriages and divorces, graduation, illnesses, and the other events that shape the lives of people within the congregation.

This honors the importance of relationships in the church, especially the smaller church.  So much of what we do is dependent upon the relationships that exist in our churches.  If a proposed change might have an impact on the existing relationships in the church it will likely face great opposition until those concerns are addressed.  I was asked to speak to a church about a process our judicatory was offering to help churches transform.  During the Q&A time an older woman told me that if what we wanted to do might cause some people to leave she was against it without even knowing what we were offering to do.  In her words, "There's nobody here I'm willing to give up."  The church decided to not invite me back to begin the process.

However, if a church can be very intentional about ensuring that special life's events in the lives of its members are not missed or overlooked, it become easier to learn some new things.  One of the important things a pastor can do when recommending that the church learn some new ways of ministering is to announce some new steps the church is taking to serve well those persons going through transitional times in their own lives.  Knowing that the rites of passage in their lives will be recognized and celebrated makes it easier to learn ways of ministering to others.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

How a congregation learns part 4

This is the fourth post in this series that is based on the article "How Your Congregation Learns" by Tim Shapiro in The Alban Institute's magazine Congregations.  The focus for this post is Congregations learn learn well when clergy and laity learn together

One of the things I suggest to pastors is that they should never attend a training event by themselves.  I've done this myself and I've seen it happen to other pastors.  I would attend some training event and learn new information that I wanted to take back to our church.  The material would be presented with great excitement and anticipation, but it often was met with much less excitement than I anticipated.  For a long time I didn't understand that and would blame the congregation's apathy, but that wasn't the problem.  The problem was that they had not been exposed to this material the same as I was.  They had not had the time to process what they were hearing as I had.  Few people are excited about anything when they first hear it.  I may have had the opportunity to hear directly from the person who designed or used this information while they are getting it second-hand through my filters.

Contrast that with another learning opportunity our church had.  I planned to attend a leadership conference led by John Maxwell one year and decided to invite our church leaders to attend with me.  We spent the entire day together hearing Maxwell present some material that we thought would help our church.  We talked about it over the lunch break and decided to purchase it.  After lunch Maxwell spent more time describing how best to use the material.  When we returned home with the material and a plan for how to use it we had about a dozen people telling others how much this material would benefit our church.  When it was presented to the congregation they immediately approved making some changes that would enable us to use this material in the way it was intended.  I have no doubt that having other people there hearing the same things I was hearing at the same time I heard them was a primary reason why our church so quickly agreed to using the material.  I also have no doubt that the process we used to present the material made a huge difference in the life of our church.

Not only did our church leaders and I learn together about this material and how to use it, the congregation and I learned the material together as well.  It was a great growth opportunity for each of us that led to more respect and trust on both sides.  That learning continued to shape the life of our church for the duration of my time there.

What are you learning together?

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

How a congregation learns part 3

This is the third in the series of how congregations learn best.  Each of these posts are inspired by an article written by Tim Shapiro for Congregations published by The Alban Institute.  The third element for a learning church is Congregations that learn well ask open-ended questions and practice active listening.

Many of us have heard the story of the little boy, when asked a question in Sunday school class, responded, "I'm not sure what the answer is, but it's probably Jesus."  Very often in the church people assume that there is always a pre-determined answer to difficult questions, so they give those responses without spending time to dig deeply into the question.  Each of us, including congregations, learn best by asking questions for which there are no pre-determined answers or, at least, not being satisfied with such answers, spend time examining the issues surrounding the question more thoroughly.

An example...A church notices that its giving level has been declining for the past several months.  In recent years church leaders have told me that it's probably due to the economy, and when it improves their giving will climb back up.  Maybe, but I know a number of churches that have not seen a decline despite the economy.  Others contact me asking if the denomination has a new stewardship program they can use.  They assume people need training, and they may be right.  Many of the churches I serve have neglected stewardship training in their churches for years because "people don't like it when I talk about money."  I sometimes tell church leaders who attend my workshops that another reason for poor giving is a lack of vision.  People are reluctant to give money if it's only going to be used for maintenance.  If their money is only going to be used to pay utilities and a small salary to the pastor many people will hardly be inspired to give much more than what's needed for such purposes.  They may well give to another ministry that is doing some things they support, so a church that has no real vision for ministry will likely see a low level of financial support from its members.  Any of these could be the cause for the poor giving level in the church, but what if it isn't one of the obvious issues.  Just assuming it is could lead the church to miss the real reason for the poor giving costing them an opportunity to learn some new things about themselves.

Perhaps it's a problem with how the church is structured.  For instance, I have seen people who disagreed with the direction the church was going withhold their money.  In some cases it's to punish the church, and that is sin.  But, in other situations, they felt their view was being ignored, that no one was listening to them, and they withheld their money in an effort to get people's attention.  They weren't necessarily mad, and they didn't want to punish the church, they just wanted someone to hear them.  Once they felt they were being heard they returned to their previous level of giving whether their view was adopted or not.

No one wants to be ignored, but sometimes a church's systems set people aside and make them feel their opinions are not valued.  A new stewardship program will not fix that, and neither will an improved economy.  By immediately assuming that one of these is always the cause of poor giving a church can miss a learning opportunity that it needs to include everyone in its discussions and needs to honestly hear those who may have a different perspective than the majority of the membership.  That does not mean that we give that minority veto power over the decision, but it does require that we hear them out and that they believe they have been heard.

Monday, July 23, 2012

How a congregation learns part 2

Today we will continue our discussion of how a congregation learns taken from an article in Congregations published by The Alban Institute.  The article was written by Tim Shapiro, president of the Indianapolis Center for Congregations.  As in yesterday's post, I will briefly share Shapiro's thoughts on the subject and then add my own thoughts.  The second element that permits a congregation to learn is that Congregations that learn well live within a worldview of theological coherence.

These are congregations that have a clear theological foundation for all they say and do.  You will find this theological coherence in their mission statements, their education and discipleship programs, conversations in the hallways and hospital rooms, and even in their business meetings.  Members of such congregations have spent time thinking through their theological beliefs and they are not reluctant to share those beliefs with others.

For me, this begins with the view one has of Scripture.  Is the Bible the revealed Word of God or is it a book written by men in an attempt to explain their views of God?  Is it authoritative or does it merely make suggestions about how one lives his or her life?  Do the Scriptures have the last word on any topic that it addresses or can man change what the Bible says to fit present day circumstances?  If the Bible is not the revealed Word of God, if it is not authoritative, and if it does not have the last word in any topic it addresses, then it will provide a very shaky foundation for anyone's theological beliefs.  It will be shaky because it can be changed at any time by a majority of people advocating a particular stance.  We see this happening in recent years as denominations have voted on particular issues that are addressed in Scripture to determine whether or not the majority of people still agree with the interpretations that have stood the test of centuries.  What arrogance to believe that man can vote on God's declarations as if they are nothing more than the color of carpet we prefer for our sanctuaries!

I experienced this personally last week when I became involved in a Facebook discussion on an issue that divides Christians.  My position was one that can be defended from Scripture; others chose a different position.  My view of biblical authority would not allow me to have a different position.  I cannot say what their view of biblical authority is because it did not come up in the discussion.  I made two mistakes in that discussion.  The first was that I should have never entered into it on Facebook because that is hardly the forum for an in depth discussion on any serious topic, and after two or three posts I announced I was done posting on the issue for that reason.  The second was that before responding to what was being said I should have questioned where these persons stood on biblical authority (another topic not really suited for Facebook!).  If two parties engage in a discussion on theological issues and each of them are coming to that discussion with opposing views on biblical authority, there is really little use in having the discussion.  There is not common ground for such a discussion in such circumstances.  As it turned out, they gave their talking points, I gave mine, but no learning occurred because we did not have a coherent theological worldview from which we could debate.

Tim Shapiro is absolutely correct when he notes that such coherence is necessary for a congregation to learn.  This presents a number of challenges to the pastor who serves a church that lacks theological coherence.  One, he or she should expect a higher number of conflicts and disagreements between the membership.  The members are operating from different theological perspectives.  Two, he or she may need to spend some time teaching the congregation how to think theologically.  Three, he or she may need to begin teaching the basics of theological beliefs if it is determined that the church has not been taught these in the past or if they have been taught a theology that does not agree with biblical teaching.

The question then for church leaders who want to introduce new learning into their congregation is how ready theologically is that congregation for such learning?  How would you answer that question for your church?  Do you think it is even a question that needs to be asked?

Sunday, July 22, 2012

How a congregation learns

I recently read the latest edition of Congregations, a magazine published by The Alban Institute, that contained an excellent article on "How Your Congregation Learns" written by Tim Shapiro.  Shapiro was a pastor for 18 years before becoming the president of the Indianapolis Center for Congregations.  I felt the article was excellent and wanted to share it with the readers of this blog.  Each day I want to take one element that is addressed in the article and add some of my own thoughts to it.  As you read these think about how they might apply to your congregation and what changes they might make in how your church addresses whatever challenges it may have.  The first element Shapiro lists is Congregations that learn will find and use outside resources.  He correctly notes that an outside resource provides a new perspective to a congregation. 

Sometimes a church becomes stuck in its thinking because it can't find a new way to think about its existing challenges.  When any group has been together for some time certain thinking patterns take root.  When old issues arise again it's always tempting to deal with them in the same ways we did before.  We really have little choice because it's the only way we know to approach them.

Bringing in an outside resource gives us a new set of eyes to look at those old issues.  This resource may be a judicatory leader who has seen how other churches have approached the issue.  It may be a coach who can lead persons to begin to think differently about the issue.  It may be an author or consultant who has spent signficant time studying the issue and who has learned a number of ways to approach it.  Regardless of whom this resource is he or she will bring new ways of thinking to the challenge.  The congregation then can take their new learnings and adapt them to their context.

So far, my comments have focused primarily on bringing someone in to the church, but it's not always necessary to incur that expense for outside resources.  Every year there are numerous workshops and seminars made available to churches to provide them with those resources.  Churches need to take advantage of these opportunities, and yet few do, and then they complain that they can't seem to get unstuck.  Some of these are offered by the church's denomination at little or no cost.  Few workshops and conferences I've seen offered to churches are beyond any church's budget and should be seen as an investment in the future of the congregation.  These opportunities offer a great way to expose your church leaders to some of the best thinking on virtually any challenge that your church may be facing.

Whether you use someone specific to your congregation or take a group of leaders to an upcoming conference, find some resources outside your church to help you look at your challenges through different eyes and who can offer new solutions that can enable your church to move past whatever barriers may be holding them back.  Stay tuned tomorrow for the next factor that helps congregations learn.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Straight talk to small churches

I am currently writing a book with the same working title as the one for this post.  In this book I will address some of the issues that plague smaller churches (and many larger ones as well) and speak to those issues.  Due to the years I have invested in smaller churches and their leadership I feel I have earned the right to speak bluntly about these issues.  No one can accuse me of not understanding the smaller church or not appreciating them, and, I believe most people who would read the book understands my love for the smaller church.

The fact is that approximately 100 churches in the US close their doors every week, and most of them are smaller churches.  Many of them used to be much larger, thriving communities of faith, but due to a variety of reasons they have seen their attendance and impact lessen over the years until they finally could no longer remain open.  Some of those factors were beyond their control while others resulted from poor decisions made by the churches over the course of many years.  What is so sad about this is that many of these troubled churchesthat remain open continue on the same path they've traveled for years unaware that there is anything wrong.

A number of these churches have told me in the past that they are stuck, but a quick glance at their records indicate they are far from being stuck.  They are moving...downhill.  Many of these churches do not appreciate a pastor telling them they have become dysfunctional and unhealthy due to poor habits they have acquired over the years.  There is a term for pastors who insist on telling these churches what they do not want to hear: unemployed.  That's why I decided to write this book.  Someone has to sound the alarm.  I can't make anyone respond to the alarm, but at least I can provide it for those willing to hear.

Max DePree says the first responsibility of a leader is to define reality, and the reality is that we are going to see a growing number of smaller churches close their doors in the near future unless they take specific steps to become healthier and more missional in their approach to ministry.  Even worse than these churches closing their doors is the fact that in the years leading up to that they will add little to the Kingdom of God.  While these churches gather in their holy huddles trying to survive, the world around them will be ignored.  Men and women will die eternally separated from God.  Families will continue to struggle without any kind of spiritual guidance.  Young people will grow up knowing nothing of the Christian faith.

What is the cause of all this?  In the book I'll address several issues and offer suggestions for how to turn them around, but at the core of the problem is that people within these dying churches believe that the church exists for them.  I don't think I've ever heard a congregation complain because the pastor led too many people to Christ last year, but I've heard many complain that the pastor didn't visit in the member's homes enough.  Seldom have I heard a congregation complain about the cost of purchasing new hymn books, but I had a group of adults complain to me one night about the amount of money their church was spending on reaching the youth in their community.  When I responded that according to their newsletter almost every week young people and/or their family members were being saved the complainers just looked at me.  I then asked what they thought the value of a soul might be.  They soon walked away.

We are not saved to be pampered like small children.  We are saved to reach others for Christ.  Our pastors are not supposed to be chaplains, but persons called to lead our churches in effective ministry to our communities.  Too many small churches want a chaplain to tend to the needs of the flock not realizing in many cases they are calling a hospice chaplain to tend to their needs while they are in the process of dying.  Our churches are not called to live in the past remembering the good old days; we are called to live in a fresh vision given to us by God for ministry today.

I am convinced that there is a great need for smaller churches in the 21st century.  These churches can reach people that larger churches cannot reach.  I am further convinced that God intends to use these churches to do that, but I also believe that He will leave those churches that choose to not be outward focused to themselves until they eventually close their doors.  I often tell church leaders who attend my workshops that I do not believe God particularly cares if your church survives or not.  He does passionately care about whether or not your church is on mission with Him to touch your community for Christ.

That's straight talk that many of our churches need to hear.  Your church is today what it decided 5 and 10 years ago it wanted to be, and it will be 5 and 10 years from now what it decides today to become.  The choice is yours.  What will it be?

Friday, July 20, 2012

My first book on small business

I am excited to announce that I have just published my first small business related book that you can purchase here.  As some of you may know, for 15 years I managed a small family owned business.  A couple of years ago we closed the business due to poor sales.  As I have reflected on the reasons for that failure I was able to identify a number of poor management and leadership decisions of mine that contributed to that failure.  That is why I titled the book Mistakes: Avoiding the Wrong Decisions that Will Close Your Small Business.  The book not only details the mistakes I made to help small business owners avoid them, but it also gives a number of recommendations for how to do better in each of those areas.  I want my readers to be able to compare my practices as a business owner to those of people who have been successful in small businesses so they can enjoy the success and avoid the pain I have felt after closing our business.

You may be wondering why I released it as an e-book and not have it published as my ministry books have been.  Actually, there are several reasons.  One is that I could control the cost of the book this way and keep the price lower than if a publisher released a print version.  Any time a small business owner can save a few bucks it's a good day!  A second reason is that I could get it into the hands of the readers quicker.  My experience with print publishing is that there is at least a year's lead time by the time the writer sends a proposal letter to the publisher, the publisher agrees to publish the book, and the book actually hits the book shelves.  With our current economic times small business owners need help now.  They don't need to wait to get the information they'll find in this book a year from now.  A third reason is that a growing number of people download e-books today rather than going to bookstores.  I read at least 5-6 books on my NOOK for every physical book I read, and many others would say the same thing.

Probably the most important reason is that I wanted to have control of the material.  Out of all the books I've published, only one has the title I gave it.  Book publishers always maintain the right to title a book, and I haven't always been happy with the titles my publisher has selected.  (That is the only thing I've not been happy with, and I intend to continue to use my publisher for future ministry related books.)  I really didn't think most book publishers would want to release a book entitled Mistakes.  You don't find many books that dwell on the mistakes people make, especially books on leadership and business.  The shelves are full of books that promise amazing success and tell stories of how leaders defied the odds and built huge companies out of small ones.  I've got many of those kinds of books in my library.  What you don't find are books that honestly tell of the mistakes leaders and business owners make and how those mistakes impacted them and their businesses.  Believe me, I'm quite honest about my mistakes (and they are many!).  I take full responsibility for how our business ended.  I don't blame the economy, politics, our employees, our customers, our suppliers, or anyone else.  It's all on me, baby, and I just didn't think that was a message that would resonate with book publishers.  And, it's the message I wanted to send.

As the leader of your organization or business, the buck truly does stop with you.  You will make some great decisions and you will make some poor ones, but you own the end result of every decision you make.  My hope for this book is that as you read some of the poor ones I made you will avoid those and make better ones.  Throughout the book I point out what some of those better decisions would have been if I had only made them at the time.  At the end of the book I list a number of books that I believe every small business owner should read, and I believe you will find that list to be a valuable resource.  This book is over 200 pages of helpful information for anyone who currently owns a small business or is thinking about starting one.

As of today the book is only available for NOOK reading devices.  I plan to have it available on Kindle soon, but due to my schedule it will probably be a couple of weeks.  Again, if you are interested in ordering the book or want to read more about it, just go here.

Please let me ask one favor.  One huge disadvantage of self-publishing an e-book is the author is primarily responsible for marketing.  If you have friends who own small businesses I would appreciate it if you would foward this post to them so they would learn of this resource.  Thank you.

Challenging people to respond to God's call on their lives

I have been asked to address a gathering of youth this fall to challenge them to prayerfully consider what God's call on their lives might be.  The young person who invited me had attended a worship service where I was the guest speaker earlier this year, and in the message I mentioned that many churches were failing to challenge their young people in this manner.  Almost every person I know who is in the ministry today is serving in that capacity because someone challenged them to consider if God might be calling them to do that.  Personally, I felt called to the ministry as a youth but did nothing about that until a pastor challenged me again when I was in my mid-twenties.

Growing up in Baptist churches I remember every service ended with an invitation which usually consisted of four parts: salvation, rededication, transfer of membership from another church, and responding to a call of God to "full-time" Christian service.  I still often hear the first three as part of the invitation in the churches I visit, but I seldom hear the fourth one any more.  BTW - That needs now to be changed to full-time or bivocational ministry since God is now calling many to a bivocational role.

Many persons now serving in pastoral or missionary roles are nearing retirement age.  My personal opinion is that a large number may have already retired if the economy wasn't so bad.  A number of denominations have aggressive new church planting goals they want to reach over the next few years.  Due to the economy and the stress of ministry, a large number of clergy leave the ministry each year.  While most studies indicate there are still sufficient numbers of clergy for our churches, that may not be the case in the near future.  It certainly is not the case now for smaller churches as many current clergy will not serve in such churches.  The need for bivocational ministers to serve these churches is great now and only expected to increase.

You and I cannot call anyone to the ministry.  That must be the work of God in a person's life.  But, we do have the responsibility to challenge people to consider if God may have such on call on their lives.  We can talk with persons we believe demonstrate pastoral gifts at work in their lives about ministry and offer to pray with them as they seek God's guidance in that area.  We can give them some pastoral tasks to see how well they do and what that feels like to them.  After my pastor asked me to seek God's will in this area he invited me to go with him on pastoral visits when appropriate.  One day he handed me a spare key to his study and told me to feel free to use it and his library any time I wanted to study.  With my love of books that was almost confirmation by itself that God wanted me in the ministry!

One of the tasks of a leader is to identify future leaders and help develop them for the work to which God has called them.  What a loss to the Kingdom of God if there are people in our churches God is calling into the ministry and we fail to help them identify that call.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The centrality of the gospel

The authors of Transformational Discipleship: How People Really Grow quote Tim Keller, "The Christian life is a process of renewing every dimension of our life - spiritual, psychological, corporate, social - by thinking, hoping, and living out the ramifications of the gospel.  The gospel is to be applied to every area of thinking, feeling, relating, working, and behaving."  At a time when many in the church are tempted to isolate their faith from the rest of their lives, these are sobering words that should make us think  The Christian faith was never intended to be put in a special box that is only opened on Sunday morning, and the gospel was not given to merely provide us with an introduction to Christ and faith.  The gospel speaks to the most important issues in one's life, and to try to separate discipleship from the gospel must not be done.  Someone has said that the gospel is not the ABCs of the faith but the A-Z of the Christian faith.  It encompasses everything.

Churches today offer a variety of ministries intended to address human needs.  Smaller churches may offer a marriage enrichment class while larger churches may have an entire weekend conference dedicated to building up marriages.  Financial Peace University is conducted in numerous churches each week.  Organizations dedicated to helping people overcome a variety of addictions often meet in churches.  The list of such ministries could go on, and many of these are wonderful ministries designed to assist people overcome challenges they may be facing.  But, if they are offered apart from the gospel they lack the power to truly transform someone's life.  For example, teaching the correct techniques may improve the communication between a husband and wife, but if they do not learn to apply Ephesians 5: 25-32 to their relationship their marriage will not experience the transformation God desires for it.

This transformational aspect is what is absent in many of our discipleship efforts.  It is one thing to give people a list of do's and don'ts; it is another thing entirely to change people's hearts so that the gospel becomes the influential force in people's lives it was intended to be.  If we can somehow once again help people apply the gospel to every aspect of their lives we will see remarkable things happen in their lives, and we will see our ability to take the gospel to those who doubt its validity increase as well.  One of the reasons so many remain skeptical of the gospel is that they haven't seen it make much of an impact in the lives of those of us who call ourselves Christians.  Unfortunately, it is not the gospel that is lacking; it is our application of it to every area of our lives that is lacking, but they do not know that.

Leonard Sweet asked a powerful question in his book Carpe Manana: Is Your Church Ready to Seize Tomorrow?.  He wrote, "The church has tried everything except the one thing that is needed.  It has tried to be an inclusive church.  It has tried to be a confessional church.  It has tried to be a program-driven church.  It has tried to be a purpose-driven church.  It has tried to be a seeker-sensitive church.  What if it tried to be a spiritual church?"  We can become the kind of church that reaches unbelievers for Christ and helps those who have trusted Him in their discipleship journey if we return once again to the centrality of the gospel.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The pain of pastoring a church

I recently spent some time with a hurting pastor.  He called me a couple of weeks ago to ask how to deal with a situation he was having with a layperson in the church.  This man was going to everyone he could trying to get the pastor fired.  He is making allegations that are not true according to the pastor which has greatly hurt this minister.  The fact that he is doing this in public in front of church members and guests alike is also hurting the church.  The lay leadership seems to have rallied behind their pastor and have confronted this individual about his actions.  He did not respond well to the discussion the lay leadership had with him.  It's a very painful time for the pastor and his family, and I'm sure it is for the church membership as well.  What makes this especially sad is that it all could be avoided.

I do not know what issues or complaints this person has with the pastor.  According to Scripture, he should be in private contact with the pastor so they could address the concerns this individual has and not going around the hallways at the church building telling everyone about his perceived short-comings of the pastor.  Based on my conversations with the pastor, that did not happen.  One positive thing that did happen is that a couple of the lay leaders in the church asked the individual to step into an empty office where they confronted him with his actions and attitudes.  The pastor and lay leaders alike told him that if he was unhappy with the pastor and his ministry at the church there were better ways of addressing that other than taking it to the streets.  They also reminded him that several recent actions he had taken are grounds for removal from the church.  Only time will tell whether or not he heard these lay leaders, but I applaud them for standing up for their pastor. 

Too often, especially in smaller churches, the lay leadership decides to remain neutral during times of such conflicts.  You may remember from previous blog posts that everything in smaller churches revolves around relationships.  The congregation may realize that certain people are acting irresponsibly, but they refuse to address it because of the relationship they have with that individual.  They do not want to risk damaging that relationship.  In such churches the pastor is expendable.  Brother Joe may be acting as a total jerk in his efforts to have the pastor removed, but no one in the church will confront him because, "That's just the way Brother Joe is, and we love him despite his issues."  The next sound you hear in such churches is that of the pastor being thrown under the bus.

Most pastors I know serve their churches because they are convinced God has called them to do so.  They enjoy being in the ministry, and they enjoy helping their churches become healthier.  They hurt when those they serve are hurting, and they also hurt when people misunderstand what they do or misrepresent them to others.  I was a pastor in the same church for twenty years, and I never got over the pain that came when I knew people felt I had failed them in some way as a pastor.  It always hurt when I learned they had taken their grievences to others in an effort to rally support around their position.  It hurt me, and it brought pain to my family.

Even though I continued to feel this pain, I learned to minimize it with a few simple responses.
  1. I considered the accusations to see if there was any truth in them.  If so, then I needed to use them to improve my ministry, and I needed to apologize to those I had harmed.
  2. I confessed where I had erred to the leaders of the church, but I did not accept blame for things that I had not done.
  3. I accepted the fact that I would never please everyone. This was not easy because I tend to be a people-pleaser.  I had to learn to let people go.
  4. I also had to learn to confront the accusers quickly.  That also was not easy because I am also the poster boy for conflict avoider.  I had to move beyond my natural make-up and address the accusers and their claims rather than trying to avoid them hoping their would go away.
  5. Finally, I had to accept the fact that there would be some pain with being a pastor.  Anytime one works with people there will be the possibility for conflict and pain, and the longer one works with the same people the higher the odds are that conflict will come.
These did not make the pain go away, but they did help minimize it for me.  When I was able to put these into practice the pain did not occur as often as it did before, and it disappeared sooner.  That made my ministry much more enjoyable and much more effective.  For more help on easing some of the pressures of ministry you may want to read The Healthy Pastor.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Overwhelmed by change

When I'm talking to both pastors and lay leaders one of topics that frequently comes up is the rapid rate of change that is occurring in our society.  They understand there have been some major shifts in how people view the church, denominations, and the Gospel, and, quite frankly, they're not sure what to do about it.  It's been fascinating in recent months to hear so many of these leaders questioning how they and their churches can respond to such rapid changes.  We sometimes think that churches resist change just because they don't like it, but I've come to believe that some of that resistance is due to their confusion about how best to respond.  Smaller churches, especially, can quickly feel overwhelmed by the changes they see occurring around them.  Since they are concerned that any response they might make to the rapid changes occurring in our churches would only make matters worse, they opt to not make those changes.

Unfortunately, we should not expect to see the rate of change slow down any time soon.  In fact, I believe it will only intensify putting even greater demands on our churches.  To make the problem even worse, many of these changes will be adaptive in nature which means that the old methods of responding to them will not be effective.  The need to come up with adaptive solutions for these changes is likely to contribute to higher levels of stress for church leaders.

What are some examples of adaptive changes that many of our churches face?  I often hear church leaders complain about the poor attendance for their Sunday school program.  If that happened in the past church leaders would make technical changes such as changing the curriculum that was being used to encourage more people to attend.  Or, the church might have held contests to see who could bring in the highest number of guests.  But, there are many reasons why a church's Sunday school attendance is in decline that these technical fixes cannot address.

Perhaps the attendance is lower because some of the children and youth in the Sunday school department live in single parent homes, and they are with a different parent every other week.  Three children spending the weekend with their father in a community thirty miles from the church could have a big impact on the Sunday school attendance in a smaller church.  Also, when one drives around most communities today one will find a number of athletic events for young people occurring on Sunday mornings.  The church's attendance numbers can easily been impacted if a number of the children are involved in summer sports programs.  Again, a technical fix is unlikely to address this change in our society. An adaptive change might be to offer a Sunday school class on Sunday evening or to develop an entirely different discipleship ministry in the church that would be accessible to more people.

I'm hearing that many churches are struggling with Vacation Bible School attendance.  In the past they might have addressed that with a more aggressive door-to-door campaign in neighborhoods they wanted to reach.  But, there are some causes for this attendance problem that technical fixes can not change.  More schools are going to a year-long school format now, and families are forced to schedule vacations during the brief periods when their children are out of school.  The increase in both parents working not only makes it more difficult for their children to attend VBS, but it often results in a problem of finding sufficient workers.  These are the realities churches face, and if they want to have a successful VBS they will have to adapt to those realities.  Perhaps they offer a one weekend condensed VBS, or they have it one evening a week for four weeks rather than trying to do a week long event.

Dozens of other changes and challenges could be listed that will require adaptive changes and have the potential to overwhelm churches.  Don't let yourself become overwhelmed.  Check out what other churches have done to address these challenges.  Remain flexible.  Which is more important, that you have a successful Sunday school program or that you continue to do it as you always have?  Brainstorm a number of options and settle on one that seems to produce the best results.  After you implement that solution be sure to evaluate it to measure the results it did produce.  You may want to try another option the next time.  The secret is to adapt to the realities of today's society and you will be much less likely to be overwhelmed by the changes you will face.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Maintaining passion for ministry

Approximately 50 percent of seminary graduates leave the ministry within five years of graduation.  One of the primary reasons is that the demands of ministry just become too much on the minister, his or her family, or both.  I've not seen any kind of breakdown for bivocational ministers versus fully-funded ministers, but my assumption is that they would be similar.  I have known a number of bivocational pastors who have stepped away from ministry after 3-5 years of serving a church because of the pressures they felt.  Some have told me they didn't believe continuing to serve as a pastor was fair to their families.  Usually they say they are going to sit out for a couple of years and then return to ministry, but many of them never do.

It would not be fair for me or anyone to criticize the decision of a person who leaves the ministry.  I do not know what is going on in their lives or in their homes.  I do know that the Bible says the gifts and calling of God are without repentence, so I don't believe God changes His mind about whether a person is called to ministry or not.  What I believe is that the primary reason that people abandon the ministry after a short period of time is that they lose the passion for what they are doing.
Andrew Blackwood once wrote, "In pastoral work the most serious obstacles lie within a man's soul." That means the battle to remain or leave the ministry lies within us.  Ministry is tough and often thankless, and unless a person finds a way to maintain his or her passion for ministry it can become a burden to carry.  So, how does one maintain that passion?

First, we must return to our original calling.  I found it helpful when things were not going well in ministry to remember God's call on my life.  This was not a career I chose for myself; this was a ministry to which I believed God had called me.  When I remembered that it became easier for me to remind myself that God could sustain me in this work.  For bivocational ministers it's also important to remember that God has called us to this unique ministry.  Not everyone can do what we do.  Our work and calling is not inferior in any way to that of a fully-funded pastor.  It is God's call on our lives to serve this particular place at this particular time.  Think about this for a moment: Out of the billions of people God could have called, He chose you to serve in your place of ministry.  I find that reflecting on that is both humbling and re-assuring.  It strengthens me for the battles and pressures I face, and it helps renew my passion for ministry.

The second thing that we must do is maintain our passion for Jesus Christ.  I've written about this elsewhere, but I continue to be amazed at how easy it is for a minister to become so consumed with what he or she is doing that we forget God.  We neglect our own spiritual development.  We ignore our need for private times of worship and reflection.  If we lose our passion for Christ it follows that we will soon lose our passion for the work to which He has called us.  We simply must set aside time to strengthen and grow our relationship with Him.

The final thing I'll mention is that we must set aside time for family and for some personal R&R (that's rest and relaxation for all you non-Navy types).  If you work a 40 hour week on a job and then spend every waking minute doing ministry, you'll lose your passion for the ministry rather quickly.  So will your family.  Get a life!  Have a date night with your spouse.  Enjoy your children while they are growing up and participate in their activities.  Make friends with people outside the church and spend time with them  When you work, work hard.  When you play, have fun and don't worry about the work.  If you do that, when you return to work you'll find it much more enjoyable and you'll find it much easier about doing it with passion.  For more on this subject you may want to read my book, The Bivocational Pastor: Two Jobs, One Ministry.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

What does a disciple look like?

Discipleship is a word that is used often in the church but seldom explained or defined.  We talk about being disciples of Jesus Christ, but what exactly does that look like and what does that mean?  I often hear people try to describe what it means with the typical Christian cliches: "It means I am becoming more Christlike." or "I am following Jesus." or any of the others you've probably heard a dozen times.  But, what do they really mean?

Because we do not have a clear image of what a disciple looks like our efforts at discipleship often fail because we really don't have a target that we are trying to achieve.  We offer Sunday school classes, mid-week Bible studies, and/or small groups trying to teach information about the Bible and Christian living as if discipleship is produced through education.  Certainly, education is one component, but it is not the only one.  Along with education we need to provide opportunities to put into practice what the people are learning.  We have to give them ministry opportunities that will add to their discipleship experience.  But, this still doesn't address the lack of an image of what a disciple should look like.  So, let's ask some other questions to help us identify what a disciple should be.

If your disciple-making ministry is successful, how would your people relate to their spouses?  What kind of husband would a disciple be?  What kind of wife?  How would a disciple of Jesus Christ relate to his or her children?  How would the children relate to their parents and others in authority?  What kind of employer would a disciple be?  Employee?  How well would a disciple share his or her faith with others?  How would a disciple relate to people who have chosen different lifestyles or have acquired habits with which the disciple might disagree?  How would a disciple handle money and other material possessions?  What ethical and moral convictions would a disciple have?  What character traits would be produced that would make it clear to observers that this person is a disciple of Jesus Christ?

You can probably think of more questions, but the whole purpose of these questions is to help church leaders get a clear image of what a disciple would look like so they can create a discipleship ministry that will produce those results.  At a time when studies indicate there is little difference between how Christians and non-Christians live it's important that we become much more intentional about developing disciples.  If you want a great resource to help you think through this process more I would suggest Randy Pope's excellent book The Intentional Church.  In it he describes the time when he realized his church's discipleship ministries were not producing the results he desired and how he set out to identify a better way to help people become mature followers of Jesus Christ, in other words, disciples.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Pastoral care and counseling

When I began my pastoral ministry I believed that one of my responsibilities was to offer counseling to people.  One of the reasons why I decided to begin attending a Bible school after being at the church for eighteen months was because I felt inadequate in counseling.  I assumed I would learn a lot about counseling people at this Bible school.  I was wrong.  I had one class in pastoral care and none in counseling.  That didn't stop me from trying to provide counseling to people though until one day I made two interesting discoveries.  One, I really wasn't very good at counseling, and, two, as a bivocational pastor I didn't have the time to spend in a long-time counseling relationship.  It was at that point that I decided I needed to refer people to persons who had been specifically trained in counseling and had the experience and resources to offer real value to those who needed it.  I found a Christian counseling service in a nearby community and began to refer persons who came to me for counseling to them.

Having worked with a number of pastors over the years I believe it would benefit most of them if they began to refer persons who come to them for counseling to those who are trained to do it properly.  I've seen too many well-intentioned pastors do more harm than good when they have tried to counsel people without proper training in that area of ministry.  Just because someone is a licensed or ordained minister it does not mean they are prepared to offer counseling to people.  Counseling is a ministry that requires certain skill-sets and knowledge to do it properly.  It sometimes requires numerous sessions to find the root cause of the problem that brought them to seek counseling.  Few pastors, and especially bivocational ones, have the time to invest in that type of commitment.  One of the first things I would recommend a minister do when he or she begins a ministry in a new church is to seek out the Christian counselors in the area and contact them.  Find out a little about their counseling ministry and how their theology impacts that ministry.  When you find one with whom you are comfortable you can ask if it would be OK for you to refer persons to them.

This does not mean that you abandon those who come to you for help.  When I determined that someone needed more help than I could provide I would give them the name and phone number of the counseling center and ask them to contact them to set up an initial appointment.  I asked them to contact me after their first appointment so we could meet again.  What I offered to do was to meet with the individual or couple once a month as long as they were in counseling to walk with them through this experience.  I would provide pastoral care while they received professional counseling.  One interesting thing I discovered was that few of them ever made an appointment with the counselor.  Even though the center I referred them to worked with a sliding pay scale based on their income, if they couldn't get free counseling from the pastor they wouldn't get it.  That told me they really weren't that motivated to resolve their issues in the first place so any time I would have spent with them would probably have been wasted.  People who really want help will seek it out regardless of what they have to do to receive it.

I would encourage the pastors reading this to think back to recent counseling experiences you've had.  Was the time the people spent with you helpful for them to resolve their issues?  How much progress did you make with them, and how did it affect the time you had available for the other areas of ministry responsibility you have?  Were you able to get at the root causes of their issues or did you merely address the surface symptoms?  If you did not address the root causes there is a good chance they will be back.  For many of us, people who need counseling would be better served if we referred them to skilled Christian counselors while we provided pastoral care during this time in their lives.

For more information regarding the ideas in this post and other suggestions on how you can ease the pressures of ministry I encourage you to read my book.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Adopting new identities

Each of us create different identities for ourselves as we go through life.  You had one identity as you went through high school.  Perhaps you were a nerd, a jock, a geek, or one of the many labels young people give each other during that period of life.  Whatever identity you had, you played the part.  You dressed like others with that identity, you talked like them, you read the same kinds of books and magazines they read, you wore your hair like the others in your tribe, etc.  When you went to college your identity may have changed a little.  If you are married you created a different identity, and that identity changed again if you had children.  Various jobs you've worked and hobbies you've enjoyed have given you other identities.  The fact is, throughout our lives we will have numerous identities that will define who we are during that stage of our lives.  Those identities will determine the friends we have, the types of work we do, and how we conduct ourselves.  They also impact the way we think and how we process change.

I began thinking about the various identities that have defined me during my lifetime as I was reading Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath.  In this excellent book the authors discuss how our identities impact the way we make decisions and how those identities can be changed.  In the margin of the book I began to write down some of the identities I've had throughout my lifetime.  For four years I was in the Navy, and that was my identity.  It took several months after returning to civilian life to adjust to that life because the Navy identity was so ingrained in me.  Since then I worked in a factory for 30 years and developed a mindset of one who worked on an assembly line and on machine lines and was part of a union.  I have been a business owner and salesperson and that shaped my identity during that period.  During one period of my life I enjoyed hunting, especially raccoons, and found that much of what I did revolved around that identity.  Many of my friends were coon hunters.  We chewed tobacco together, hunted together, sold our furs together, but since I quit coon hunting back in the early 1980s I seldom see any of the people I associated with back then.  Of course, for over 30 years now I have been a bivocational minister, and that has been an important part of my identity.  Much of my time is spent with other bivos and learning more about that ministry as well as developing resources to help others who serve in that capacity.  When I returned to school for my masters and doctoral degrees I had the identity of a scholar (somewhat!), and that identity shaped much of what I did.  Since 1966 I have had the identity of a husband, and since 1968 my identity has been further shaped as a father.  I share all this to say this: our identities are constantly evolving, and if we have an identity that is holding us back from fulfilling God's purpose for our lives, that identity can be changed.

What really caught my attention in the book is when the authors noted that any effort to change something that will violate someone's identity will likely fail.  Think of what this means to a church leader.  If you as the leader want to introduce something new into your church that is contrary to how the people see themselves, they are much more likely to reject it.  If the people in your congregation continually refer to themselves as just a small church with few resources and talk fondly of the good old days when things were much better they are very unlikely to get excited about a new ministry that might attract new people into your church.  They just can't see themselves capable of doing that because it doesn't fit with the identity they have for themselves.  Perhaps what needs to happen first is that the leader needs to help them begin to develop a new identity.

When I first went to pastor the church I served for twenty years I found a group of people who had not seen many good days in many years.  There really was little going on in that church that was very exciting.  One of the few questions I was asked by the pastor search committee was, "Do you think there is any hope for our little church?"  That should give you a clue about the morale in that church at that time.  I didn't intentionally do this at the time because I didn't know to do it, but one of the things I did was to keep reminding them that with God's help we could do great things.  Later in my ministry I would often tell them during a message that I had much more faith in them than some of them had in themselves.  We began to do some little things that were easily done and that gave people a sense of victory.  We would then attempt something a little bigger.  As we continued to achieve these goals our folks began to develop a new identity.  They saw themselves as people who were capable of doing big things for the Kingdom of God.  At first we just wanted to accomplish something, but later we sought to do things with excellence, and we often did.  There's not space in a blog posting to record all the amazing things that bivocational church did, but it was incredible what those folks achieved simply because they began to believe they could.

Perhaps one of the things you need to do in your church is to help people develop a new identity for themselves.  I will tell you that it can take time to do so, but it will be time well spent.  If you're not sure how to do that you may want to find a coach to help you with that process.  There are many ministry coaches, including me, who would work with you as you help your congregation develop a new identity.  Because it can take time to help people develop new identities I encourage you to start soon.  The sooner those new identities are formed, the sooner you will be able to implement some of the new ministry plans you have for your church.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

A brief parable about lawns

In the book Transformational Discipleship: How People Really Grow one of the authors describe what it's like to return from vacation and find large brown spots in his lawn.  He compares that lawn to a congregation.  Let me now quote a section from the book because I want to make sure I properly capture what he writes.

"If there are dry and parched sections in your church, hopefully your heart is filled with much greater dissatisfaction for the level of deficient disciples than for a subpar lawn.  Perhaps you are thinking of some of the people who sit in your church, those whose lives seem parched.  Maybe you are frustrated with the lack of passion in worship, apathy toward the Scripture, an inward focus, the grip of materialism, childish men, or failing marriages....

"Some don't care.  Some leaders are consumed with creating a bigger field, even if it's a parched field.  Other leaders mask the lack of life with the multitude of activities on the church schedule.  Size and activity often cover immaturity.  Some leaders have given up the dream of leading a movement of people transformed by Christ.  They have become apathetic chaplains of a mediocre institution.

"If you don't care, repent.  If you do care, be careful."

That's powerful stuff, and I think it captures where many churches and church leaders are today.  But why did he say that if we care we should be careful?  He goes on to warn against the temptation of finding ways to cover the parched lawn.  Specifically, he warns of the danger of painting over the lawn to make it appear better than it really is. 

The first time I saw someone paint grass was at a NCAA baseball sectional.  Our son's team played that year for the chance to go on to the College World Series.  As we were sitting down I noticed a groundskeeper with a spray can painting the grass behind home plate.  He touched up the brown spots, and although the paint didn't exactly match the color of the grass, it did make it look better.  If the games were televised I doubt the viewers would have noticed the different shades of green behind home plate.

We must not attempt to cover over the lack of discipleship in our churches and declare our churches healthy.  We can make all the external changes we want to but until we address the heart issues that prevent our people from developing spiritually our churches will remain unhealthy.  When we see a lack of spiritual fruit being produced in the lives of our people we should know there is a problem that needs to be addressed. That should challenge us to take a hard look at the discipleship efforts in our churches and make the necessary changes that will help transform people's lives.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The lies we believe

Some bivocational ministers are hampered by lies they have come to believe about themselves and their ministries.  Sometimes, we hear these said by other people often enough that we start to believe them ourselves, or, at least, we begin to wonder if they might be true.  Some examples of such lies are:
  • If I were really called by God to pastor, he would call me to another (usually larger) church.
  • If I were a real pastor, we would have seen growth in the church by now.
  • I must not be doing something right.  People's lives are not being affected by anything I say or do.
Can you see how limiting such thinking is?  When a leader begins to think like this it impacts everything he or she does.  I doubt there is a bivocational minister who hasn't had at least a brief period of time when such thoughts clouded his or her thinking.  I know I allowed such thinking to sidetrack me once or twice during my twenty year pastorate, and every time I did my ministry and that of the church suffered.  Feeding us such lies is a great way for the enemy to encourage us to have a pity party for ourselves and stop any momentum that may exist in our ministries.  As Zig Ziglar says, the problem with pity parties is hardly no one comes, and those who do never bring good gifts.

How do we counteract such negative thinking?  The first thing is to relive the call of God on our lives.  Anytime I struggled with negative thinking about my ministry the way I overcame it was to remind myself of the ministry to which God had called me.  I reminded myself of how our pastor talked to me one day and challenged me to prayerfully consider whether God might be calling me to pastor a church.  I would remember how God opened up a small, struggling church in our county that needed a bivocational pastor at the time I was ready to serve one.  I would think about the many doors He opened that permitted me to be called to serve that church.  I'm convinced that reminding ourselves of God's call on our lives is essential when we begin to question our ministries, and this is true for both bivocational and fully-funded pastors.

The second thing that we need to do is take a long-term view of our ministries.  Some writers describe this as going up on the balcony so you can see the overall impact of your ministry.  Few bivocational ministers are going to see 100 people come to Christ in one weekend because of a major event in their churches.  More common is we might see two or three a year.  Most of us won't see a hundred couples come to a marriage enrichment conference in our churches led by a nationally known speaker.  We're more apt to spend three months helping Joe and Sue find solutions to a problem in their family.  Sometimes these small miracles get lost in the course of a year's worth of ministry, and it becomes easy to forget the differences our ministries have made in people's lives.  That's why we need to back up once in a while and look at the overall impact of our ministry.

A final thing I would mention in this post is that we need to fill ourselves with positive affirmations about what we do and who we are.  When self-doubt comes creeping in or when others begin to question our value to the Kingdom of God, we need to counteract that with the many verses in the Bible that affirm our value before God.  We need to be reading other books that reinforce a positive image of ourselves.  We need to surround ourselves with people who affirm our ministries and our own personal self-worth.  I try to keep the negative thinkers at arm's length and people who encourage me much closer.  Now, I sometimes need to hear the negative thinkers, but I don't need to hear them all the time. 

As we overcome the lies that would limit our ministries and challenge our self-worth we will find that our ministries will become much more productive, our relationships with family and others will become better, and we will approach everything we do with confidence.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Overcoming the loneliness of leadership

These are some thoughts from a chapter in my book The Healthy Pastor: Easing the Pressures of Ministry entitled "The Pressures of Being Alone."  Whether one is in ministry or in another position of leadership there will be those times when you are all alone.  You will have to make decisions that no one else understands because they don't have the information you have.  There are sermons to prepare, there are people who will need to share with you some of the most painful details of their lives, and there is the need to spend quiet time alone with God to prepare yourself for the work to which He has called you.  The responsibilities of leadership force us to experience many hours of being away from other people.

Such loneliness can have a negative impact on the minister, the church, and his or her family.  It is a proven fact that one cannot resolve conflict and clarify issues merely by thinking about them.  We need others to talk to in order to make the best possible decisions.  Spending too much time alone can lead to stress and depression which has caused some to leave the ministry.  Spending too much time isolated from others can lead to poor moral and ethical choices.  One study found that 75 percent of clergy who left the ministry due to sexual misconduct reported feeling alone and isolated.  Pastors and others in leadership need to intentionally develop relationships with key people to ensure they do not become isolated.

If I returned to pastoral ministry there are several teams I would want in the church I served.  One would be a leadership team.  In a larger church this team may come from the staff, but in smaller churches it would be composed primarily of lay people.  The people I would ask to be on this team would be people who were godly, spiritual people, people who were competent, and people who shared my vision for ministry.  They would help hold me accountable for the choices I made, and they would help me make better choices.  This would not be an "official" church team.  No one would vote on these people serving in this capacity, and they would not have any official duties as a part of this team.  I would select the persons I wanted to be a part of this group.

The second team I would develop would be a pastor's prayer team.  We actually had that in the church I served, and it was a tremendous blessing to me.  Several men in our church felt led to begin a pastor's prayer team, and each Sunday evening they and a few others would meet with me before our evening service to spend about one-half hour just praying for me and my wife.  I believe to this day that it turned our church around, and it helped me become a much better person and minister.

In addition to teams within the church I would want to create relationships with people outside the church.  This would include trusted colleagues who understand the challenges of ministry.  This group might include other pastors and counselors in the community.  Without my violating confidentiality this group could provide me with suggestions how I could help some of the hurting people who would come to me for advice.  I would want a coach, and I would probably require the church to pay for that before I would agree to serve there as pastor.  I have had the benefits of having a coach in the past, and I have had the privilege of coaching a number of pastors since then.  In my opinion, every pastor needs a coach to help him or her work through the challenges that come to every leader.  The congregation would receive the benefits of their minister having a coach, and they should be willing to pay for that.  Finally, I would seek out someone to serve as a spiritual director.  This person would help me maintain a growing relationship with God.  Over the years I have recognized times in my own life when that relationship was not nurtured as it should, and I have seen many other pastors struggle with that as well.  Those of us in leadership simply cannot ignore our personal spiritual development or we will soon find we have nothing to share with others.

For more information on how you can ease the stress of loneliness, and many of the other stresses church leaders face, I encourage you to read the book mentioned above.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

One of those days

The past two days were not the best ones I've had.  Nothing major; just a lot of little things that added up to a lot of frustration.  It began Sunday evening when a storm went through and knocked out our power.  I called the power company and was told it would be back by 9:30 PM.  It came back on around 8:30 AM the next morning.  I had the opportunity to remember what it was like growing up trying to sleep in the heat without air conditioning.  Not a great memory.  When the power did come back on my computer and Internet were not happy.  The Internet connection kept dropping out after about two minutes of use which meant I couldn't send out my e-newsletter or do any of the other things I needed to do Monday morning.  I made a trip in my old work van and discovered the a/c had leaked out the coolant again.  Another discovery you don't want to make when the temperature is hovering at the 100 degrees level.  Due to the heat we decided to order a takeout dinner from a local restaurant we normally enjoy.  Not the best meal we've had.  Oh, yea, my car had a flat tire on Saturday.  In fact, it was the same tire I had just had put on a week earlier after that tire went bad.  A very frustrating weekend.

But do you know what?  I still have much to praise God for.  This was one weekend.  Many people around the world live in this heat without a/c their entire lives.  I made have had one bad meal, but some people would be thankful they had a meal to eat.  Our son and his family were in New York to watch his son play in a baseball tournement, and they made it home safely.  Our daughter and her family spent the past week in Panama City Beach, and even though their first couple of days were impacted by a tropical storm, the rest of the week was great, and they also made it home safely.  I have a family who loves me, a ministry that God has given me, a wife who supports me, and a dog who makes us all laugh.  Life is good, and one rough weekend won't change that.

Even in the rough times God sends moments of great joy.  While visiting a church Sunday morning a woman came up to me after the service.  She told me she used to attend another church in which I had filled the pulpit one Sunday about five years earlier.  She went on to tell me how important that message was to her.  She reminded me that I had preached on how our faith can be an anchor for us when going through the storms of life.  Later that week their young daughter was diagnosed with leukemia.  This lady said that she played that sermon over and over again in her mind over the next several months.  She said it was what she held onto when things seemed overwhelming.  I was humbled that a sermon I had preached five years ago in a church in which I had never been before (nor since) would have been used in such a powerful way in the life of a family I had never met.  What a blessing to have encountered this lady this past Sunday morning!

Now that I think of it...maybe this weekend wasn't so bad after all.