Friday, August 31, 2012

One thing a new pastor should not do

When I began as pastor in 1981 one of the first things I did was to get a list of people who had left our church over the past few years and began to call on them.  There had been some issues in the church, and each of these people left for one reason or another.  I spent many evenings listening to their reasons for leaving.  I encountered a lot of anger from some.  Despite the time I invested in trying to get these people to return to our church only one family did.  In less than a month, the mother was offended by some insignificant event, and the family left the church again.  I learned then what many church leaders now affirm: it is not a good use of the pastor's time trying to get disgruntled people to return to the church.

This is hard for some in the church to accept.  I often hear pastor search committees tell me that their numbers are down, but they feel certain than when the get a new pastor that some of the people who have left will return.  These folks often are disappointed when I tell them that the ones who have left probably won't return, and they might not even want them to.  You can't build a church on disgruntled people who are going to leave when they don't get their way.

It is possible that some might return when they hear that the church has new life and some exciting ministries happening.  These are often people a church wants to return because of the passion and gifts they bring.  From my experience these folks are few and far between.

If someone on a pastor search committee mentions that a number of people have left the church in recent years due to various issues I would recommend the prospective pastor ask if the church has the expectation that he or she spend time trying to get these people to return.  There is a very good chance that will be the expectation.  If I was interviewing with such a church I would make clear that such work would not be a good use of my time.  The people who left have turned their backs on people they probably have known for a long time.  Why would they come back because a pastor they don't know asks them to?  If they left because they were dissatisfied with things in the church what makes current members think they won't leave again the next time they don't get their way?  You can almost count on it that they will.  If the committee or church insisted that their new pastor needed to make it a priority to try to get these people to return I would take that as a sign that this is not the church for me.  I believe it was Rick Warren who wrote that we are called to be fishers of men, not corrallers of old goats.

There is much a new pastor needs to do that will produce much better long term results for a church than trying to appease a bunch of disgruntled church members who have left the church.  The new pastor needs to learn as much as possible about the people who are there, the community in which the church is located, and begin to discern where God is leading this congregation.  These are the kinds of activities in which the pastor needs to invest his or her time.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Does your church have the right leadership?

In his book Make or Break Your Church in 365 Days: A Daily Guide to Leading Effective Change Paul Borden writes, "Often a major reason that congregations are in decline or on a plateau is that the wrong people, for whatever reason, are in positions of leadership."  This sounds much like Jim Collins in his excellent book Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... and Others Don't where he writes of the importance of having the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats.  He explains why this is important.

If you have the right people on the bus, the problem of how to motivate and manage people largely goes away.  The right people don't need to be tightly managed or fired up; they will be self-motivated by the inner drive to produce the best results and to be part of creating something great...If you have the wrong people, it doesn't matter whether you discover the right direction; you still won't have a great company.  Great vision without great people is irrelevant.

In a business environment it is somewhat easier to get people where they need to be.  In a church it can be more difficult especially if you are dealing with long established traditions and people who have served in their positions for many years.  A frequent issue I hear from pastors attending my seminars is the poor quality of their lay leadership who consistently blocks every effort to introduce change to the congregation.  What can a pastor do in such situations?

In my opinion, the most important thing a pastor can do to turn around a church is to cast vision.  The second most important thing is to develop leaders.  You begin with those you currently have in leadership positions.  Some of them may have excellent leadership abilities but have never been trained by those pastors who preceded you.  Such persons would respond very well to your leadership development efforts.  Others have no interest in growing as leaders.  They are positional leaders only and quite often extremely unwilling to step aside and allow others to have those positions.  These are people you love, pastor, and work around.

As I say in my seminars, you have the ride the horse that wants to run.  Identify the persons in your congregation who have leadership potential and invest in their growth.  Eventually, positional leaders will no longer be in those positions, and you will have trained leaders prepared to replace them.  When that happens you will often find your church becomes healthier and growing.

In my denominational tradition many churches have nominating committees that recommend persons to fill positions for the upcoming year.  I would prefer these committees be eliminated, but that is a post for another day.  When such a committee is utilized in the church the pastor must be involved in that selection process.  Some pastors ignore the work of that committee entirely, and in some churches they don't want the pastor to be involved.  Either is a big mistake.  Pastors will have to work with the people selected for these positions for at least the next year if not longer, and they need to try to get the best people selected.  Pastors also often know things about people that make them not good candidates for leadership positions.  Because of confidentiality issues they may not be able to reveal that to the committee, but the committee needs to trust the pastor who suggests a certain person may not be the best candidate for a particular position.

Leadership identification and development are key components of a healthy church.  Both needs to be high on the priority list of every pastor who needs to invest a significant portion of time of his or her time in these areas.  The wrong people in leadership positions will cripple your church and hinder its growth more than almost anything else.

Do you have the right people in leadership positions in your church?  Are they in the right places to best utilize their gifts and passions for ministry?  Who do you have in the leadership pipeline that are being prepared for future leadership needs your church will have?  What are you doing to intentionally help your current and future leaders develop as leaders?

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The question I'm most frequently asked

The one question I am asked more than any other by bivocational ministers is how they can find the time to do everything that is required of them.  Let me begin this post by pointing to two books I've written that include chapters addressing this question in more detail:  The Bivocational Pastor: Two Jobs, One Ministry and The Healthy Pastor: Easing the Pressures of Ministry.  These chapters go into more detail than I can cover in a blog posting.

Time management is really life management.  What bivocational ministers must do is to identify the priorities in their lives and then manage their lives around those priorities.  For me it is my relationship with God, my relationship with my family, my ministry, my other job, and self-care.  These five things must be addressed and kept in balance or my life will soon begin to have problems. 

Once you've identified priorities in your life you are ready to set some goals in those areas.  What are the things you believe to be important in each of the priority areas in your life?  For example, you may feel it is important to spend more time with your spouse, so you will establish a date night.  Your goal might be to have one night a week devoted to a date with your spouse.  For your schedule it might be better if that occurs in an afternoon.  The two of you may discuss this and determine that two dates a month would be sufficient.  Establish your goal, and then get it in your schedule.  Whatever day or evening you decide will be your date night, put that in your calendar.  If anyone calls you for a meeting or asking you to do something else at that time you can tell them you already have an appointment for that time.  You don't have to tell them it's with your spouse.  In cases of genuine emergency (and you decide what is an emergency and what isn't) you may decide that has priority over your date night and agree to respond.  However, that better not happen very often, and you better reschedule that date ASAP or your spouse will soon decide that your dates are not very high on your priority list.

Leaders are readers, and bivocational ministers need to set aside time to read if they want to grow as disciples and as leaders.  Schedule time to do read.  When I was doing my doctoral work I had a lot of reading I needed to do.  I blocked off time in my calendar for reading.  I had an appointment with my books.  Now, when I find that my calendar is a little slower than usual I will set times when I am going to read.  I also keep a book in my car to read in case I'm stuck in traffic, arrive for an appointment early, or find myself dining alone in a restaurant.  I would never think of going to a doctor's office without a book to read while I'm waiting.

I've referred to my calendar a couple of times.  It's critical that you own your calendar.  You control what goes in it.  I would never give my calendar to an administrative assistant to manage for me.  There are things that my ministry requires of me and these must go into the calendar.  As a bivocational minister my other job requires certain things that must be included in the calendar.  Everything else goes in only if I decide it does, and very few things go into my calendar that do not fit in with my priorities or my goals.  Believe me, many people will want to put their agendas into your calendar that have nothing to do with your priorities or goals.  You must learn to say no to those opportunities.

This may sound rather structured and that's because it is.  Bivocational ministers really do not have a lot of time to waste doing trivial things that add nothing to their lives.  Regular readers of this blog may remember this saying from earlier posts:  You get done what you spend time doing.  If you want to achieve eight hours of television watching every day it's easy enough to do.  If you want to achieve something that makes a difference it will require a little more structure in your life.  Invest your time in the things that you have determined are most important to you, and at the end of the day you'll feel much better about how that day has gone.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

What is a pastor-leader?

In the last couple of posts I've looked at the need for pastors to provide leadership to their churches.  We can list any number of things that are wrong with our churches today, but at the top of that list has to be the lack of leadership many churches are receiving from their pastors.  In fact, many of the other problems could be directly traced to that lack of leadership.  But, what we have not done is define what it means for a pastor to be a leader.  That is what I hope to do in this post.

Pastor-leaders are not dictators nor are they CEOs.  They do not lead with a "My way or the highway" attitude.  They do not threaten, manipulate, or force anyone in order to get their way.  Unfortunately, when one talks about a pastor being a strong leader this negative image is the one some people immediately think about.  It sounds too much like a cult leader, a Jim Jones type person, who everyone must follow regardless of the cost.  This is not at all what I mean when I talk about a pastor-leader.

A pastor-leader is one who is in the trenches with the people.  He or she has a vision for where God wants to lead this congregation and is willing to lead them there.  A pastor-leader knows he or she is accountable to God for the congregation he or she has been given.  The goal of a pastor-leader is to take everyone on the journey, but he or she also knows that some may refuse to go, and they cannot be allowed to prevent the others from experiencing what God has in store for them.  (Does any of this sound like Moses leading the Israelites to the Promised Land?)  This means a pastor-leader has a spine and is willing to confront those who will oppose or hinder the ministry God has given the church.   Such confrontation is not done in a mean-spirited way or without much prayer, but there will be times when a pastor-leader must take a stand and challenge the controllers and others who would sabotage the work God is doing in the church.

Pastor-leaders do not seek their vision but God's.  They are not interested in climbing the ministerial ladder of success; they are interested in fulfilling God's purpose for their lives whatever that might be.  For some, that may be serving as a bivocational pastor of a small, rural church that may struggle but offers the only hope in the community in which it serves.  Others may be called to a mega-church with thousands of persons attending services each week.  Regardless of where one is called, the pastor-leader rejoices that God has entrusted him or her with the responsibility to lead the congregation that has issued the call.  If this is not be a great place in which to serve, the pastor-leader is committed to staying there until it becomes a great place.

A pastor-leader is committed to personal growth.  Pastor-leaders are often found attending a workshop, reading a book, or enrolling in a course that will help him or her grow personally and spiritually.  Every pastor-leader I've ever known has been committed to lifelong learning.  A true leader knows he or she has much to learn, and the minute they stop learning they stop growing.

Pastor-leaders lead from the front, not from the safety of their office.  They lead by example.  They are not afraid to get their hands dirty.  If they want their congregation to win souls for Christ, they are soul winners.  If they want the members of their churches to be more involved in feeding the hungry and ministering to the physical needs of the community, they will be involved in doing that alongside their congregations.

Pastor-leaders understand the importance of equipping the saints for the work of ministry.  No military leader would think of leading troops into battle without first making sure they were trained and equipped.  However, many pastors spend more time complaining about the lack of commitment on the part of their church members than they do in equipping them so they can do ministry.  Not the pastor-leader.  He or she takes seriously the Eph. 4 mandate to equip the saints for the work of ministry.  Discipleship and lay ministry development is serious business in a church that has a pastor-leader because such a leader knows how critical these are for the personal well-being of the individuals and for the ministry effectiveness of the church.

Pastor-leaders are servant leaders.  They understand that the call to lead is a call to serve.  Again, this doesn't mean they become door mats for every disgruntled controller that calls them on the phone.  It does mean the pastor-leader develops relationships with the people.  He or she loves them unconditionally as Christ does, and the pastor-leader is not afraid to tell them of his love.  He or she admits when they are wrong and quickly extends grace to others when they fail.

No one has to wonder who is in charge of a church that has a pastor-leader.  He or she has earned the right to lead by their faithfulness in small things, their love for the people, and their love for God.  People are not afraid of a pastor-leader because they know that person always has their best interest at heart.  I once heard a pastor-leader tell of a time when some of the lay leadership questioned a decision he made.  He told them if they couldn't trust his judgment on the matter would they at least trust his heart, and at that the opposition ceased because the people knew his heart.  Even if his actions would prove wrong (they didn't), they knew that whatever he did was out of love for the church and its mission in the world.  He had earned that trust through many years of faithful service to that church.

Let me end this post where I began: our churches need strong pastoral leadership if they are ever to become what God envisioned the church would be.  Congregations that will not follow such leadership are destined to wander in the wilderness wasting God's resources and squandering the ministry opportunities that could have been theirs.  Pastors who are not willing to lead are forfeiting their calling and should immediately step down from pastoral ministry.  But, pastors must understand that it will take time to earn the right to provide strong pastoral leadership, and they must be very intentional about earning that right.  If you prove yourself trustworthy, and the church is healthy, the day will come when you will be ready to provide the kind of leadership your church needs.  When that day comes, lead.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Pastor leaders

Yesterday's post looked at the need of our churches to have leaders as pastors.  Today we want to explore this from a pastor's perspective.  As I pointed out yesterday, many churches do not really want their pastor to lead them, at least not to a point where things actually change and they become uncomfortable.  They prefer managers who can keep the church machinery running and keep conflict low.  Such churches seldom grow nor do they have much of an impact on their communities.  They are nice little "Bless me" clubs in which Christians can congregate and feel comfortable.

This is actually good news for many pastors because they don't really want to be leaders anyway.  They prefer the managerial role because that is what they were trained in seminary to do, and this is the role in which most pastors feel most comfortable.  Pastors are human too, and they don't enjoy conflict any more than do the members of their congregations.  They know that if they try to lead any significant change in their congregations that it will create conflict, so the easiest way to avoid that is to manage what's happening in the church, work hard to serve those who are already members, and remain as uncontroversial as possible.  Maintaining the status quo in most of our churches will win you the approval of their members.  Unfortunately, maintaining the status quo isn't what our churches are called to do.

If our churches maintained the status quo most of the older churches in our area would still be meeting in one-room log buildings served by a pastor who spent most of the week teaching school in that same building, farming a small farm nearby, or owning a general store in town.  The status quo would mean our churches would have hitching rails around the building, a couple of toilets behind the building, and a wood or coal stove in the middle of the building.  Assuming this doesn't describe your church then someone at some time suggested some changes to the church.  Someone took a leadership position, confronted the conflict that was sure to arise, and led the church to make needed changes.  These people refused to accept the status quo as acceptable because they recognized the status quo would not take their church where it needed to be.

According to some studies 50 percent of the population in every county in the United States, and in some counties the number is as high as 80 percent, is unchurched.  Some have walked away from the church for various reasons, but a significant percentage of that number represent people who have never invited Jesus Christ into their lives.  The status quo of most of our churches will never reach these people.  The status quo will never even identify who these people are nor consider their needs when developing the calendar and budget of the church.

The mission of your church is simple.  It is to fulfill the Great Commission and the Great Commandment.  That's it.  Those two things are all your church has to do to achieve its purpose in this world.  The vision of your church isn't so simple.  The vision of every church should be how it will accomplish this mission in its community today.  The mission remains the same for every church; the vision will be different as different ministries will be needed to impact each community.  The status quo is not acceptable because it will not allow you to achieve your mission.  It may have worked in 1950, but it will not be effective today.

Pastors, your churches need you to lead them to renew the mission God has given them and they need you to lead them in discerning a fresh vision from God as to how that mission will be achieved.  If you cannot do that because you haven't been trained as a leader, then seek that training now.  Leadership can be taught, and every person can grow as a leader.  If you cannot lead because you don't want to be a leader, you need to step away from pastoral ministry and find something else to do with your life.   The work of the church is too important for it to be limited by a pastor who is unwilling to lead.

In my next post I will examine what I mean by a pastor-leader.  You can read more about pastoral leadership in my latest book The Healthy Community: Moving Your Church Beyond Tunnel Vision.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Do churches really want a pastor to lead them?

A few months ago I met with a pastor search committee and began our conversation by asking one of the questions I always ask during our first meeting, "What does your church want in its next pastor?"  I received the answer I almost always hear from smaller churches:  "We want a pastor who will grow our church."  I responded by saying something I had never said before to a search committee:  "Really?  Are you sure about that?"  They looked at me like they couldn't believe someone would ask that question.  I then explained that if their church could be growing by doing what it's been doing it would already be growing.  Obviously, if the church was serious about wanting to grow then things would have to change.  If they wanted a pastor who could grow their church then they were saying they wanted a pastor who would come in and begin to make changes in their church and how it did things.  I asked again, "Is that what you really want?"  At that point one of them smiled at me and said they might need to talk about that some more.

I am convinced that one of the most critical things many of our churches need today is a pastor who will lead his or her congregation.  The problem is that a majority of those churches do not want a leader.  They prefer to have managers for pastors, not leaders.  And the fact is that most seminaries train pastors to be managers, not leaders.  So, the pastor can come into a church and use the training he or she has received and be appreciated by the congregation because that managerial skill is exactly what they want in their pastor.  The greater problem is that this seldom results in the church growing or having much impact on its community.

If a church does call a leader, that person is often in trouble early on when he or she learns that the church is not ready or willing to follow a leader.  Jill Hudson, in her excellent book When Better Isn't Enough: Evaluation Tools for the 21St-Century Church, writes

When churches say they desire a transformational leader, they usually have no idea what they're really asking for.  Often they mean someone who will bring just enough change to keep the pews and offering plates full.  Pastors have historically been rewarded for being effective managers, for keeping the church stable and moving.  Pastors who are transformational leaders often find they are not universally valued or praised.

Judicatory leaders like myself who work with pastor search committees and other leadership groups in churches need to begin having some bold conversations with these groups and challenge them on what they want from their pastors.  Those who insist they want a pastor to lead them need to be further challenged on how far are they willing to follow that pastor.  I recently heard a leader from one organization that hired a consultant say that before hiring that individual he made sure from everyone who reported to him that they were willing to actually do what the consultant would recommend.  The cost of hiring the consultant was too great to not put his recommendations into practice.  The same is true for churches.  Although there is little financial difference between a pastor who is a leader and one who is a manager, there is a big cost to calling a leader and then refusing to follow his or her leadership.  The cost to both the church and the pastor can be great and can last for years and even decades.

We must have pastor-leaders for our churches if we have any hope of turning around our existing churches that have plateaued or are in decline.  Managers can offer technical changes by tweaking what we've been doing, but our times require more adaptive changes, and those can only be led by leaders.  Churches that are unable to understand this and accept the kind of pastoral leadership they need will continue to remain stuck and unable to provide very effective ministries to this current and future generations.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

One thing killing our small churches

Over the past couple of weeks I've had some challenging posts on this blog.  Yesterday I wrote about how churches need to address the problem of controllers.  A few days earlier my blog post was about the desire of smaller churches to develop a youth group even when there are no youth in the church.  The post about youth has been the most read and circulated post I've had in a long time.  Today, I'm sorry to say that I'm going to have yet another post that may upset some people.  I want to briefly touch on one thing that is killing many of our smaller churches, and that one thing is their buildings.

Churches have become fascinated with buildings.  Many believe "If they build it they willl come," and don't realize that isn't reality until it becomes difficult to meet the mortgage payment each month.  In recent years I've seen numerous churches build facilities they didn't need and couldn't afford, and these facilities have often had a very negative impact on the church's ability to do ministry.  They have also been an issue when the church needs to seek a new pastor or staff person.  The building consumes so much of the church's income that there is little money left for ministry or for salaries.

It has become popular for churches to build family life centers which are often little more than glorified basketball courts.  These churches are often strapped for years trying to pay off the mortgage on that FLC.  When I was pastor we could rent a local armory for a Sunday afternoon of basketball for $20.00 a day.  We didn't have to worry about utilities, insurance, upkeep, or a big mortgage payment.  We paid our $20.00 and enjoyed an afternoon playing basketball.  Some churches are able to use their FLCs for outreach programs such as Upwards Basketball, but many other churches see both their sanctuaries and FLCs sit unused five or six days a week.

I cannot remember where, but recently I read a comment that said many new church starts do very well until someone gets the idea they need a building.  At that point efforts to reach new people cease and all the focus and energy are directed to finding property.  For some reason it stops being acceptable to rent worship space from some organization once someone suggests the new church needs to own property. 

This problem is not limited to churches building facilities they cannot afford or new churches wanting to own property and have a "proper" church building.  It also involves churches that have older facilities it struggles to maintain and churches that have large facilities from a time when the congregation was much larger that it no longer needs since the congregation has declined.  In some cases the upkeep and fixed expenses of these properties consume whatever ministry money a church may have almost ensuring the church will never effectively reach the unchurched in their communities.

An organic church planter once told me that he believed a church of 30 people could do anything in a home they could do in a church building.  He's absolutely right.  I believe it is time to make this a stewardship question and ask if spending so much money on buildings is really the best way to utilize the resources God makes available to us. 

I know this will be difficult for some people to handle, but many of our smaller churches would be much better off to sell their properties, begin to meet in homes or rented facilities, and use the money they gained from the sale of their property to do ministry in their communities.  Schools, clubs, motels, and various other organizations would be delighted to offer your congregation a place to meet on Sundays for much less money than what many churches are paying to maintain their properties.  A church that made this change would then be able to be more missional as it focuses on serving the community in which Christ has placed it, and it would have the financial resources to be better able to do this.

This post does not mean that I am against church buildings or even churches building new facilities to enable it to provide better ministry.  There is certainly a place for church buildings, but that does not mean that every church must have its own building.  Many churches would find great freedom in no longer owning property and find it much easier to begin offering new ministries to people who need Christ in their lives.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Controllers in the church

In every workshop I lead, regardless of the topic, at some point the problem of controllers in the church is raised.  Sometimes, dealing with controllers is part of the presentation, but even if not someone in the audience will ask about how to handle them.  Controllers are those people who see the church existing for their own benefit.  They may or may not hold official positions in the church, but they wield a great amount of power and influence.  They are great at organizing "parking lot meetings" where they spread their opinons like a virus.  Many prefer working in the shadows and letting others do their dirty work in public.

Tom Bandy, in his book Fragile Hope (Convergence Ebook Series), suggests controllers make up only about 20 percent of the congregation, although in declining churches the numbers may be higher.  The reason they can exercise such influence is because most people in the church won't stand up to them.  Most of our congregations consists of "nice" people who don't enjoy confrontations, so we allow 2-3 people in the church to have veto power over every suggestion made.  The vast majority of a congregation may believe the suggestion is a good one, but no wants to say so until they find out how "Brother Joe feels about it."  If he's against it, others will be too because they don't want any problems in their church.  The result is the church remains stuck and dying.

After explaining this to my workshop attendees someone usually asks what can be done with the controllers.  Here is where I sometimes upset a few folks when I tell them that church controllers are a cancer.  They are cancerous cells attacking healthy cells in the body of Christ.  I remind them that cancer can't be cured without drastic steps.  A bandaid won't cure a cancer.  Neither will ignoring it.  In most cancer cases, difficult measures must be taken to stop the cancer or the body will die.  It's no different for a church.

The first thing that must happen is the leaders of the church must develop a backbone and lead.  That will often require confronting the controller(s).  They will not like such confrontation and may strike back.  At the very least, they will often threaten to leave.  So what!  Churches with controller issues usually tell me of the numbers of people who have left their churches due to the actions of these controllers.  Let me ask you a simple question: would you rather the controllers leave or the people they are running off?  You WILL lose people either way, so who are you willing to give up?  If you are in leadership you get to make that choice, so which will it be?  In the same book mentioned above Bandy asks

Is it more important to keep controlling clergy, matriarchs, patriarchs, wealthy trustees, or domineering institutional managers, rather than welcome your own teenagers, parents, and immediate loved ones into the community of faith?...For most people it is as simple as "Controller or my teenager."  If one must go so the other can belong, what will be your preference?

If this post seems a little harsh, it probably is.   I recently received another e-mail from a church that decided to not move forward in order to appease a controller.  The persons who wrote me are tired of doing everything they know how to help their church develop a more effective ministry only to see it overturned by a handful of people.  I'm tired, too.  I'm tired of churches being held hostage by small-minded, selfish individuals who are able to manipulate the workings of the church because no one in leadership is willing to confront them.  I'm tired of people dying and going to hell because the church is so weak it can't move past one or two people determined to control everything the church does.  I'm tired of churches wasting years of ministry trying to appease the small number of controllers that make up their congregation.  I'm tired of seeing churches trying to play nice with people who are not nice while forfeiting their very reason for existence.  You should be too.  Do churches really love their controllers more than their own teenagers?  It often seems so. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Long-term pastorates

I have yet to read any study that did not find that one of the keys to a healthy, growing church was a long-term pastor.  For many smaller churches the likelihood of having a pastor stay for an extended time is rather small.  The church I served as pastor had an average pastor tenure of about 12 months before I went there.  Most of its pastors were students from a nearby seminary who either left when they graduated or chose for one reason or another to not remain at the church while they completed their studies.  After I had been there for only six months one of our deacons told a Sunday school class that he expected I would soon be leaving for a better church.  Spend a few minutes thinking through his comments and you will soon recognize the image this church had of itself and the amount of pain it felt after being abandoned every 6-18 months by yet another pastor who previously announced he believed "God has called me to serve this church."  I'm sorry if I sound a little cynical, but I just never thought God was so confused that He changed His mind so often about who should serve as the pastor of a church!

Certainly, there are legitimate reasons for a pastor to seek a new place to serve, but too often pastors leave for the wrong reasons.  I know one pastor who flees every time there is a problem in the church he is serving.  He has grown every church he has served, but there will never be growth in a church without some level of conflict.  When that conflict gets a little intense he announces God is leading him to another place of service, and within a short period of time what growth the church experienced under his ministry disappears.  He will never enjoy a great ministry if he doesn't learn how to manage conflict.

Other pastors leave their smaller churches because they are looking for the perfect church to serve.  The grass always looks greener around other churches.  Such pastors never unpack all their shipping boxes when they move into the parsonage because they know they will be packing everything up again in a couple of years.  The truth is they look for a great place to serve because they are not capable of making their current ministry a great place.  As one former seminary president once said, "The minister who is unable to make a place great is too weak to hold a great one."

Our small church was able to accomplish some pretty remarkable things during my pastorate, and I will quickly tell anyone that had nothing to do with me.  As I told the congregation one Sunday while I was listing some of the things we had done, "My primary contribution was to hang around long enough for you to realize what you were capable of doing."  I brought stability and encouragement to the congregation; I challenged them to dare to attempt great things for God; and I frequently reminded them that I believed in them more than they believed in themselves. 

One of the most important things a pastor can do is to demonstrate his or her commitment to the church being served.  When the congregation knows the pastor is committed to their church it makes them more willing to take greater risks.  When they know their pastor loves them and truly believes in them good things begin to happen.  Now, this takes time, especially in a church that has been trained to expect the pastor to leave after only a few months.  Trust isn't earned overnight.  In my case, the pastoral turnover had been so frequent it took about seven years before some of our folks finally decided that I wouldn't abandon them the first time a pastor search committee came calling.  They knew that they were more than just a rung on my climb up the ministerial ladder.

To remain at a smaller church for an extended period of time isn't always easy.  It requires that the pastor is committed to personal growth, and it requires a number of intentional actions the pastor needs to take.  This issue of long-term pastorates is so important I dedicated an entire chapter to it in The Bivocational Pastor: Two Jobs, One Ministry.

Monday, August 20, 2012

The passion of a leader

One of the things I often notice while spending time with pastors is the lack of passion many of them demonstrate for what they do.  I can understand that to a point.  Ministry can often be rough.  Most people enter ministry with expectations of what it will be like.  They have a desire to truly make a difference in people's lives.  Most ministers work long hours and too often are rewarded with little to show for their efforts.  In some churches they are quickly beaten down by the low expectations of those they have been called to serve.  Too many find their seminary classes didn't do much to prepare them for ministry in the real world.  Their recommendations for needed change are frequently voted down.  Many feel isolated in their work.  For some there comes a time when they doubt that anything they are doing is really making a difference in people's lives.  They decide to settle for the role of a chaplain, and in some churches, a hospice chaplain.  The spark is gone from their eyes and their sermons while they look ahead to retirement.

Probably most pastors go through this at different times in their lives.  I did.  The thing that always brought me out of such times was to remember that I had been called to this work by God.  The One who spoke this world into existence and who has sustained it by His hand spoke to me and called me to lead His church.  That's pretty incredible and should be enough to keep us passionate about what we are called to do.  Sometimes the pressures of ministry may cause us to forget this, but the key is to not stay stuck being willing to settle.  We need to remember our calling, and that memory should re-ignite in us a passion for what we do.

Paul Borden, in his book Make or Break Your Church in 365 Days: A Daily Guide to Leading Effective Change, writes

A passion fueled by truly righteous indignation does a number of things in the hearts of pastors.  It causes us to want to make a difference for God, no matter the cost.  It produces a vision that says the status quo is unacceptable and there is a preferable future.  It provides the courage to risk and do what needs to be done, even at the expense of our reputation and paycheck.  It causes us to minister in places where we would typically not like to live and work long hours because without an investment of time we know little good will happen.  Passion comes because we are doing what we do for the cause of Jesus Christ, not our political or social agenda.

Do you have this kind of passion for the ministry you've been given?  Are you leading your church or your ministry with passion, or are you merely going through the motions?  Are people lining up to follow you because they are inspired by the passion you demonstrate?

If you have lost your passion I urge you to do whatever it takes to recapture it.  Take a sabbatical.  Get a mentor, a coach, or a spiritual director to help you identify what has taken away your passion and what you need to do to get it back.  Set aside time for a personal spiritual retreat.  Put it in your calendar right now and make that an appointment with God.  Read biographies of people God used in remarkable ways.  You'll find many of them went through dry times in their own lives and ministries and came through them spiritually stronger and with even greater passion for their work.  You cannot effectively lead without passion, so do whatever it takes to get the passion for ministry back.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Meeting expectations

This is a journal entry of a minister as recorded in Pastors at Greater Risk written by H. B. London Jr. and Neil Wiseman.  See if it sounds familiar.

If I wanted to drive a manager in the business community up the wall, I'd make him responsible for the success of an organization but give him no authority.  I'd provide him with unclear goals, ones the organization didn't completely agree to.  I'd ask him to provide a service of ill-defined nature, apply a body of knowledge having few absolutes and staff his organization with only volunteers who donated just a few hours a week at the most.  I'd expect him to work 10 to 12 hours per day and have his work evaluated by a committee of 300 to 500 amateurs.  I'd call him a minister and make him accountable to God.

If you pastor a church you may be able to identify with this minister's thoughts.  The expectations placed on most ministers are far beyond what most people have for their profession, and the problem is that it's possible that most of the people you serve have different expectations.  In my book The Healthy Pastor: Easing the Pressures of Ministry I discuss many of these expectations and how impossible it is to meet them all.  In addition to the expectations church members have for their pastor, the minister's family also has certain expectations for their relationship with the minister.  Then, on top of all these expectations, most ministers went into the ministry with certain expectations for what ministry would look like.  Personally, I believe that one reason so many persons leave the ministry after only a few years is because of the stress related to trying to meet the various expectations that are placed on them.

What can a minister do with these expectations?  First, he or she must realize that it is impossible to meet everyone's expectations for his or her ministry.  You have to give yourself permission to accept the fact that some people will not be happy with you.  Second, it's important to identify the things about ministry that energizes you.  The areas where you are gifted will most likely be where you will find those energizers.  For me it is when I am in the pulpit or leading workshops.  I believe it is in those arenas of ministry where I can make the greatest impact on people's lives, and I am energized even as I am driving to the place where I will be speaking.  I even enjoy the study and preparation that precedes the speaking engagement.  I am very disappointed if I feel that my message did not connect with an audience.

On the other hand, I'm not nearly as upset if I disappoint people who expect me to be a great administrator.  I am not a good detail person, and I need people who can help me in that area of ministry.  I would fail miserably in any ministry in which I was expected to be a micromanager.

Churches and ministers need to be very upfront with one another about expectations and strengths and weaknesses.  I've seen too many good ministers and good churches get at odds with one another because the minister was not meeting the expectations of the church, and often those expectations were not clearly identified until the minister violated them.  The best possible time to be candid with one another is before calling the individual to pastor the church.  That is the time for the church to clearly state what the church expects of this minister, and it is the time for the minister to honestly say whether or not he or she can meet those expectations.  And here is the important part...once the church leadership defines what the church needs from the pastor it needs to support the pastor when people begin to criticize the him or her for not meeting their expectations.  If the church tells a prospective pastor that it wants him or her involved in the community to make contact with as many unchurched people as possible, don't allow someone to come along and criticize the pastor for not spending 40 hours a week in the office in case someone from the church wanted to come by to visit.  That is highly unfair, but I see it happen much too often.  For more on addressing expectations in the ministry I encourage you to read The Healthy Pastor.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Listen to the whispers

John Maxwell says, "Listen to the whispers and you won't have to hear the screams."  What great advice to church leaders!  I have worked with enough conflicted churches to know that most conflicts do not happen overnight.  They have usually been building for months before the lid finally blows off.  Most of the time there have been hints that there are potential problems brewing but many of us in leadership either do not take them seriously, believe we are too busy to respond to what we consider insignificant matters, or just don't hear them for whatever reason.  Ignore the whispers long enough and they will eventually become loud enough they can't be ignored any longer.

It helps for leaders to understand that responding to whispers is more than responding to the issues people are raising;  You are often dealing with their concerns and their fears.  It's more than just facts; it's their feelings about the facts.  If you are dealing with a misunderstanding around some issue, resolve that misunderstanding but don't stop there.  Help the person address the feelings and fears that surrounded that misunderstanding.

A number of years ago the finance committee of the church I pastored recommended a substantial pay increase for me.  There had been many years I never received any salary increase and even more years when that increase was rather minimal.  Because the church was doing much better financially they wanted to be able to help make up for some of the years I didn't receive an increase.  A few people opposed the salary increase as being excessive.  These were people with whom I enjoyed a good relationship.  None of them were mad at me, but some of them felt that I may have asked the committee for that increase, and they were not happy about that.  (I hadn't.  I was as surprised as anyone when I saw what they were recommending.)  I met with the people who were opposed to the increase to answer any questions they had.  My mistake was in responding to their misunderstandings around the issue.  I was merely addressing the facts of the matter.  (No, I didn't ask for a salary increase.  No, I didn't manipulate the finance committee.  No, I didn't know they were going to propose that increase until the night of the committee meeting.  Etc.)

Each of these were concerns that had been voiced by the opponents, but a bigger concern for most of them was never addressed.  The church had gone years with little financial reserves.  When I first went there giving was minimal at best.  Even though things had really turned around over the years there was the fear among the long time members, which made up most of the people who opposed the increase, that the church would revert back to its earlier financial situation.  When that was raised I blew it off not recognizing that fear was driving much of the opposition to the salary increase.  In some ways, it would have been better for me to have addressed that fear rather than just answering their questions.  Behind the verbal questions there was a whispered fear that went ignored.  Because it was ignored we had the only really bad business session in my twenty years as their pastor when that budget was presented.  The budget passed with my salary increase intact but it resulted in a breakdown of relationships between a few of our members who had been on opposite sides of the issue.  To a degree, those relationships never fully healed.

Today, I believe that if the fears had been addressed we could have prevented many of the problems this caused our church.  The good news is that we did not lose any members over the issue, our giving actually increased resulting in our becoming even stronger financially, and our church learned that it could have serious disagreements and survive.  In the years that followed our church purchased a new digital piano, increased our denominational mission support to 15% of our offerings, and built a new fellowship hall debt-free.  One of the reasons our small church was able to do such remarkable things was that we learned in the battle over my salary to listen to the whispers.

You can read more about listening to the whispers in my latest book The Healthy Community: Moving Your Church Beyond Tunnel Vision.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

We need to reach young people

As I work with smaller churches one of the things I hear from almost all of them is their need to reach young people.  When I was pastor of a similar church we said the same thing.  We knew there were dozens of children and youth even in our rural area that were not in church on Sunday, and we believed the "youth were the future of our church."  We hired bivocational youth ministers to head up these ministries and did a number of things designed to attract them.  Occasionally, we would be successful for a period of time, but when I left that church after 20 years we didn't have any more young people attending than when I began.  From that experience and from talking with leaders from other smaller churches that have struggled to reach young people I had learned some important truths about the difficulty in reaching this age group.

There might be dozens of young people and children in your community who don't go to church, but there is a reason they don't attend church.  Church is so far off their radar screen of things to do it's not even a thought.  A junior high age boy was recently asked by a church what they could do to reach people his age, and he couldn't think of a single thing.  He had no suggestions, and he was the age of people this church wanted to reach!  When young people can't think of a thing a church can do to attract them it's pretty tough for a bunch of middle age and older adults to think they can do better.  The generation our churches are wanting to reach has not been exposed to church as many of us were growing up, many of them do not know anyone who goes to church, and there are far too many other activities that appeal to them for them for church to be on their list of things to do.

Another thing I learned is that churches tend to reach who we are.  A rural, older congregation will probably find it much easier to reach people who are comfortable in that environment than it will be to reach young professional suburbanites.  A church that does not already have an active youth ministry will find it very difficult to start one from scratch.  One smaller church contacted me a few years ago asking for advice for starting a youth ministry in their church.  The caller admitted to me they had three young people currently attending.  I reminded him their community had at least two churches with youth groups of over 200 that met every week and asked how he thought their church could compete with that.  The phone got real silent for a few moments until he admitted they couldn't.  I know the mantra is that "we need to reach youth because the youth are the future of our church" but it's going to be very, very difficult to develop a successful youth ministry when you have no youth to begin with.  Most churches would find it much easier to identify who they are and target people most like them.

When I was growing up you either went to church on Sunday or did nothing.  There were no organized sports playing on Sunday, virtually all the stores in our area were closed, and we didn't have video games to keep us entertained.  Young people today have a vast array of things they can do on Sunday.  If they play on an organized sports team they will probably play on Sundays, especially if they are in tournaments.  Compound this scenario with the fact that many of them live in single-parent and blended families which means they are often only home every other weekend, and it becomes very difficult to get young people to church activities on a consistent basis.  Youth ministry is much more difficult today than it was even when I was a pastor, and it was tough enough then.

The other mistake we made in our church was in reaching out to young people believing that if we reached them we could reach the parents.  It didn't happen, and because it didn't happen we could not depend on having our young people show up for anything we wanted to do with them.  Our youth ministers would sometimes plan an activity for weeks, and we would have zero kids show up because their parents decided to do something else that day.  If a church wants to have a successful youth ministry it must be very intentional about reaching out to the parents of these young people.  Developing ministries around family needs might be better than just targeting young people.

Statistics show that most people who make a decision for Jesus Christ do so when they are younger, so it's important that churches reach out to young people.  It is vital that they not be ignored when the church plans its ministries for the year, but smaller churches that do not already have at least a few young people will find it very difficult to develop a strong youth ministry.  My recommendation to such churches is that they focus on offering ministry to the entire family.  Ministries designed to serve single parents or blended families will reach the children but also reach the entire family around the children.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Churches must be willing to ask themselves the hard questions

We are told by researchers that 80 percent of the churches in North America are plateaued or declining.  Personally, I believe the larger percent of them are declining because when you look at a life cycle you find that the plateau phase is relatively short.  Most of these churches do not want to see their doors close, and many of them express a desire to see new people come into their churches.  The problem is that a large number of these churches are unwilling to change anything they are doing to make that happen.  I frequently tell church leaders that if their churches could grow by doing the same old things they would already be growing.  A church that is serious about reaching new people with the gospel will have to examine everything it is doing, identify the walls it has created that are keeping people away from God, and tear them down.  I believe it is important to begin this self-examination by asking and honestly answering some tough questions.
  1. Who are we here for?
  2. Is what we are doing here today worth the life of the Son of God?
  3. Do we love people as much as Jesus does?
  4. Who is Jesus to you?
  5. What price are you personally willing to pay to reach people with the Gospel?
These are not easy questions to ask and they are even harder to answer honestly.  Too often we are tempted to answer such questions with the responses we believe people expect us to give.  We say the right things, but our actions reveal the truth.  Still, I believe these are questions the leaders of every church needs to ask themselves and those who attend the church.

It may be best to have someone from the outside ask these questions.  Such people can often explore the answers more deeply than someone from within the congregation.  A pastor search committee recently told me the church wanted someone who could grow their church, and I responded, "Really?  Are you sure about that?"  They looked at me like I had just come into town on the back of a turnip truck.  I began to explain what might have to happen in their church for growth to occur, and I asked them, "Are you sure you really want a pastor who will do the things that will enable your church to grow?"  At that point they admitted they now weren't so sure that was what the church would want.  The pastor of the church might not be able to challenge growth statements a congregation might say without getting into trouble with the leadership.  A coach, a consultant, or a denominational leader might be the best person to ask these hard questions and lead the discussion that will follow.

Seldom will a church get unstuck or off a plateau unless it intentionally makes the effort to do so.  To begin that intentional process it's important that the church begins by asking the above questions.  Some of the answers to these questions may make you quite uncomfortable.  That's OK because it is revealing some walls that need to come down in your church, and once those walls are removed people will have much easier access to God.

Mission vs vision

I discussed this before in previous posts, but it's so important it's worth addressing again.  The mission of the church is the same for all churches.  It is found in the Great Commission and the Great Commandment.  The church is to be involved in sharing the gospel with people and helping them find faith in God through Jesus Christ.  That is the Great Commission.  The Great Commandment tells us we are to love God with our entire being and our neighbors as ourselves.  That's it.  That's the mission of the church, and it is the same for every church regardless of size.

The vision of the church is how an individual church will carry out the mission.  Because every church is made up of different people with different gifts and located in places with different needs, the vision will be different for every church.  The people who make up your congregation have been given various gifts by God for the purpose of ministry.  They are passionate about different forms of ministry and could care less about other ministries.  At the same time, there are various needs existing in the community where your church is located.  It is where giftedness, passion, and need comes together that God's vision for a church is found, and that's why it will be different for every church.

I often find that the leaders of smaller churches do not like it when I tell them that it might not be God's vision for their church that they have a youth ministry.  Nearly every smaller church I work with tells me they must have a youth ministry because "the youth are the future of the church."  What they are really saying is that they are afraid if they can't get young people into their church the church will soon die.  But, the reality is that some churches do not have people with the gifts and passion needed for an effective youth ministry, and in some cases there are already numerous churches with very successful youth ministries in the community.  Why try to compete with that when you lack the resources to do it well anyway?  There are many other needs existing in every community that your church would have the gifts and passion to meet, and that is where God's vision for your church will be found.

Several years ago I coached a pastor who told me her vision for their small church was to become a healing place for people who had been wounded by churches.  I assured her that if the church she served could make that happen it would not be a small church for long because, unfortunately, there are many people in most communities who have been hurt by the church.  I've also never before or since heard any pastor tell me that was the vision they had for their church.  I know another smaller church that has become a collection site for used clothing that is shipped overseas to mission organizations.  The pastor of that church showed me an entire room in the church that was filled with bags of clothing waiting for shipment.  A third church showed me a building across the street from their church facility that had rows of tables filled with clothing.  In a few days they would open the building for the weekend and people can come in and take all the clothing they need for their families.  This church has volunteers who work for months gathering, sizing, and preparing for this one weekend.  The pastor said that not one piece of clothing will be left by the time they close and begin preparing for the next year.  For many families, this is where the school clothes for their children will come from.

None of these churches have any competition for their ministries from any of the other churches in their communities, and each one of these ministries meet an existing need in their community.  These churches have identified God's vision for their church and are faithfully living it out.  By doing so they are achieving the mission God has for each church.

How can your church best serve your community?  What ministry need exists in your community that your people could address?  If your church does not have a clear vision for ministry, begin to ask God to reveal what that might be, and then pursue it with everything you have.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Why would anyone want to attend your church?

This is a question I often ask pastor search committees and other church leadership groups when they ask me to assist them in some aspect of their ministries.  It's a question that sometimes is not very well appreciated.  In fact, some have been almost insulted when I've asked it.  I try to explain that the reason I ask it is that because in most parts of the US there are numerous churches people can attend.  In fact, the people who attend one church may have driven past a dozen or more churches to get to the one they attended.  My question is why they would do that.

Because of my work as a judicatory minister I am often in a different church every week.  I can go for many weeks and never experience anything different regardless of which church I attend.  If the only thing I want to do is to be able to check "Go to church" off my to-do list I might as well go to the one closest to my home if they are all going to offer the same thing week after week.  That way I can get my obligation to God out of the way, save some gas, and get back home sooner to enjoy my Sunday afternoon.

If churches, especially smaller churches, want to stand out from the crowd they have to have a better than average grasp on their mission as a church.  Too many take a shotgun approach to ministry hoping that if they offer enough different things that something will appeal to somebody.  What they end up with is a number of ministries they do not have the resources to do well and that really appeal to no one.  Larger churches can offer numerous ministries because they enjoy more resources, both money and people.  Smaller churches will find they can actually accomplish more by doing less but doing what they do with excellence.  For many of these churches that will mean that they may only be able to offer two or three ministries, and for some it may reduce that number down to only one.  But, that's OK if that one is the mission God has given you.

The answer to my question of why anyone would want to attend your church is "because you offer a ministry through which God speaks to their deepest needs.  You are providing an excellent ministry that really addresses the issues they have in their lives." ( The Healthy Community, 53)

This answer means that you are not going to reach everyone because you will not be able to address every issue people have in their lives.  That's OK, it's why God has more than one church in your community.  The mission God has given you is to reach those you can with the ministry He has given your church.

In tomorrow's post I will explain the difference between mission and vision and why every church will have a unique vision that will be different from the churches around them.  In the meantime be thinking about what one or two ministries your church could do with excellence and the difference those ministries might make in your communities.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Without integrity you cannot be trusted and cannot lead

A political campaign advertisement for President Obama uses a man who accuses Mitt Romney of being partially responsible for the death of his wife.  The gentleman claims that he lost his job and health insurance when a company Romney was involved with closed the plant where the gentleman worked.  A few years later his wife was diagnosed with cancer and soon died.  The claim is that if he had health insurance she might have sought treatment sooner and lived.  Republicans point to the number of years that passed between the closing of the plant and the death of this lady and the fact that by that time Romney has left Bain.  The purpose of this post is not to determine whose spin of this event is the most accurate.  I think we have already seen that this campaign is going to be ugly, and I imagine it will get much worse before the election.  At a time when our nation needs real solutions to real problems all we are getting is a lot of mud being slung by both sides  It has been said that a nation gets the government it deserves which says to me that the United States is in serious trouble.  If our current elected officials and candidates for office is the best we have then we have failed miserably as a country.

But, what led to this post is White House Press Secretary Jay Carney's response to a question from a reporter from CNN about the above campaign ad.  He claims he has never seen it and therefore cannot comment on it.  Does he seriously expect anyone to believe that?  Is he the only person in America that has not seen that ad and hasn't formed an opinion about it one way or another?  White House Press Secretaries do not go before reporters without a thorough briefing and a review of likely questions.  Is he trying to tell us that no one anticipated a question about such a sensitive issue as this campaign ad?  I often err on the side of giving people the benefit of the doubt, but this is too much.  I can understand his reluctance to respond to the question and even to defer it to campaign officials (which he did), but to stand there and say he has never seen it and therefore cannot respond is to stretch his credibility past the breaking point.  Can I prove he has seen the ad?  No.  But, I will say that if he in fact has never seen the ad and was not provided with talking points about the ad if asked then someone in the White House failed to do their job in preparing him for this briefing.  I will also say that people who have risen to the level of White House staffers usually do not fail that miserably.  If they weren't smart people they would have never got to the White House in the first place.  For that reason I simply do not believe Carney was being truthful with the reporters and with the American people, and that means I cannot trust anything he says.

Reporters tend to be a rather skeptical bunch.  The CNN reporter certainly did not seem to believe that Carney was being truthful when he said he had never seen the TV spot.  I would have liked to have seen the entire press corps walk out of the room.  They are there to ask questions and receive truthful answers to pass on to the American public.  Did they believe Carney was telling them the truth about never having seen that ad?  If so, then perhaps I'm wrong.  If they didn't why would they remain there to ask him additional questions?  If he didn't answer that one truthfully why should they expect him to respond truthfully to any other?  Or, have they become so used to hearing half-truths and stonewalling answers that they've grown immune.  That also spells trouble for the American people because we depend on journalists to report what is happening in our nation and if we cannot depend on them to report the news factually we will see increasing problems in the future.  Our nation needs journalists who will not accept the spin offered by both parties but will demand truthful answers to the tough questions they need to be asking and then passing those answers to the American people.

How does this correspond to the church and its leaders?  If your word cannot be trusted you cannot lead.  If you lack integrity in your life, in your words, and in your attitudes you cannot lead.  Leadership is not about position; it is about trust, and people cannot trust you if they question your honesty and integrity.  If they do not trust you they will not follow you.  This is true in the church; it is true in business; and it should be true in government.   I believe one reason we have such a crisis in leadership in this country today is because of a lack of trust in the ones supposedly leading us, and, unfortunately, that includes many church leaders.  Trust is built up over time, but it can be lost rather quickly, sometimes never to be regained.  So what can a church leader do to live a life of consistent integrity?

Keep your word.  Honor your commitments.  If you find out you were wrong, quickly own up to it and apologize.  If you got your facts wrong, admit it as soon as you discover it and share the accurate information even if it hurts.  Be truthful at all times.  Remember the lessons you hopefully learned as a child: it hurts much worse if people find out later you were lying to stay out of trouble.  Keep confidences.  Don't lie to protect someone who is doing wrong.  A person once asked me to lie on his behalf, and I refused.  It would have been a little white lie, but I told him that if I would lie for him I would lie to him.  I don't think he understood because I learned later he lacked integrity in his own life.  Practice civility towards others whether you agree with them or not.

Everything I said above about Carney I will probably be able to say about some of Romney's people before this campaign is over, and that's a sad commentary on our nation's political leaders.  My prayer is that I will never be able to say those things about the pastors I know.   Conduct your life and ministry is a way that will earn you the trust of the people, and if you do so you will be able to lead them to fulfill the vision God has for them.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Does your church exhibit grace?

A young man recently visited a church for the first time.  He sat near the front and took copious notes of the message.  He brought with him a can of soda.  After the service a woman in the church went to him and told him he was never to bring a drink into their sanctuary again.

At the end of a message a guest speaker was told that the church consititution required that the minister preach from the King James Version.  I was the guest speaker and had used the NKJV.  I never returned to speak at that church again.  Another minister was asked to lead a revival in yet another church.  He did use the KJV, but his Bible had a burgundy cover.  At the end of the first service he was told by the deacons that their church only permitted black covered Bibles and he did not need to return for the remaining services.

A pastor was laying in a hospital room recovering from an illness that he had fought for several days.  A representative from the church visited to tell him that he was being asked to resign immediately.  It had been learned a few weeks earlier that his unmarried daughter was pregnant, and since he did not have control of his household he could not lead their congregation.

Another pastor became angry during a business meeting because one of his proposals was rejected by the membership.  He stormed out of the church as soon as the vote on the matter was taken leaving a stunned congregation.  The next Sunday he called in "sick."  A member told me that was not the first time this had happened when he didn't get his way.

I could go on and on with similar stories.  The bottom line is that while our churches like to sing about grace, teach about grace, and experience grace for our failures, we often do a very poor job of giving grace to others, both inside and outside the church.  The world looks at our lack of grace and quickly determines that it's not interested in anything we have to offer.

Graceless churches often do not understand why they always have the problems they have.  The apostle Paul explained the situation this way, "But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another."  That is exactly what is happening.  Graceless churches are being consumed internally by their own lack of grace.  We attack this and that and soon become much better known for what we oppose than what we support, and our ability to present Jesus Christ to an unbelieving world is forfeited.

I realize that grace can be risky.  Some will want to take advantage of it and turn grace into license.  Nothing I've written here says that we can ignore the clear teachings of Scripture and appear soft on sin.  Jesus confronted sin whereever He encountered it, but He did so in a manner than demonstrated His love for the person.  Churck Swindoll once wrote, "'Cheap grace' justifies the sin rather than the sinner.  True grace, on the other hand, justifies the sinner, not the sin."  There's a huge difference.  We do not have to be afraid of extending true grace to others.

It has been well said that the church is to be a hospital for sinners, not a hotel for saints.  At various times in our lives we all need forgiveness for our sins.  Let's be as quick to extend grace to others as we are to receive it for ourselves.  You can learn more about this problem in my book The Healthy Community.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Doctrinal confusion

I began my latest book The Healthy Community: Moving Your Church Beyond Tunnel Vision by addressing the problem of doctrinal confusion that exists in so many churches today.  This problem is at the core of most problems in the church.  In an effort to try to appeal to unchurched people many churches and denominations have watered down the gospel message.  Not only is this not biblical, it's unnecessary.  Thom Rainer's research found that 91 percent of formerly unchurched people said that doctrine was one of the important factors that attracted them to the church they eventually joined.  People are seeking answers to the complicated questions and issues facing them, and they are not interested in spending time listening to diluted messages that refuse to speak an authoritative word to those questions and issues.

Of course, if those proclaiming those messages have a low view of Scripture then we should not be surprised if they can't offer anything more than what a person can get from any television talk show.  Many years ago I read statistics that showed the percentage of ministers who denied the basic doctrines of the Christian faith.  The numbers of such ministers were shockingly high.  If such a low view of the Scriptures was being proclaimed from the pulpit then we should not expect those listening to such messages week after week would have a very high view of Scripture either.

Ed Stetzer and Elmer Towns wrote, "Take away the authority of the Bible, or the essential content of the Bible, and you no longer have Christianity."  Many in our postmodern world will find their words offensive, but they are absolutely correct.  I actually began this book by asserting that the most important decision any individual or church can make is what it believes about the Bible.  If the Bible is not the authoritative Word of God then we have no basis to believe anything it says.  That is why the enemy has attacked the Bible so hard since it was given to us.  If he can discredit the Scriptures then he can more easily cast doubt in people's minds as to the identity of Jesus Christ, the way of salvation, and the morals and ethics by which we should live our lives.  Without an authoritative Bible then everyone's beliefs are equal and everyone is free to choose the values by which they will live, and no one can say they are wrong.

The church and its leaders must address the doctrinal confusion that exists today and begin to speak with a clear voice.  We will not find the answers we need from Washington, from the media, from the statehouses, or even from religion.  The answers we need to resolve mankind's greatest problems and needs will be found in the Scriptures and through a relationship with Jesus Christ.  The churches that will proclaim that message will thrive while those that continue to deny the Scriptures and the uniqueness of Jesus Christ will eventually shrivel up and die.

Monday, August 6, 2012

The growing need for bivocational ministers

As I speak to leaders from numerous denominations they all tell me the same thing.  The numbers of churches being served by bivocational ministers are growing, and these leaders expect that growth to continue.  I agree with their assessment and believe that we are likely to see those numbers increase at a faster rate.  Right now we need more bivocational ministers than we have, and I'm convinced that need will grow rapidly in the future.  There are a number of reasons for this.
  1. There are a large number of pastors and missionaries approaching retirement age.  Many have already reached retirement age and would retire if the economy was stronger.  I personally have spoken to a couple of pastors who would have retired at least a year earlier than they did, but they were hoping the economy would improve so their retirement checks would be larger.
  2. Studies have found that a percentage of pastors refuse to serve in smaller churches.  Some believe that serving in such churches would not use their gifts and training very well.  Others came out of larger, suburban churches and are not comfortable going to a smaller church.  Still others are not willing to pastor a church for the salary and benefits a smaller church often offers their pastors.
  3. Finances are certainly a factor.  Many marginally fully-funded churches that were barely able to provide a living salary find their finances have shrunk to a point that they have had to lower the salary they are paying the pastor.  Even if they do not lower the salary they are unable to provide increases which reduces the purchasing power of the pastor's salary.  Ministers with growing families find they cannot provide for them with the salaries these churches are paying, so the churches are forced to seek bivocational ministers.
  4. Several denominations have set aggressive goals for new church starts, and many of them are depending upon bivocational ministers to start these new churches.
  5. Many today are second-career ministers.  They may be well established in the workplace or have their own business.  While they do not feel led to give those up, they still feel called to the ministry. If they are settled in their other occupation they are also likely settled in the communities in which they live and may want to remain there and not have to move to lead a church.  For such persons bivocational ministry makes a lot of sense.
No doubt there are other good reasons why more churches are seeking bivocational leadership.  The challenge is finding persons to fill these ministry roles.  It is much easier today to find a pastor for a fully-funded church than to find a person willing to serve as a bivocational pastor.  I have long argued that one of the critical tasks of denominational and judicatory leaders is to identify and equip persons who have been called to be bivocational ministers.

One of the things I am certain of is that our growing need for bivocational ministers has not caught God by surprise.  I believe He has been calling men and women to such ministries to meet this need.  While no one can tell someone they have been called I do believe that those of us in leadership positions can challenge people to pray about a possible call of God on their lives.  While denominational leaders can do that, the best person to issue such a challenge is the pastor.

I want to encourage every pastor reading this post to begin thinking about possible people in their churches who might have such a call on their lives.  Are there persons who seem to have spiritual gifts that lend themselves to ministry?  Are there persons who seem to be natural leaders in your church?  Are there people who have a hunger and thirst for God and the Scriptures and who are able to share with others what they are learning?  These are the people that should be approached and asked to pray about a possible call on their lives to the ministry.  It should be explained that if such a call does exist it might be to fully-funded ministry or bivocational ministry.  I think it's important for a person with such a call to first say yes to the call and then see what doors God opens up.

The need for bivocational ministers will not shrink any time soon.  If those of us in leadership are not proactive in helping persons with a call of God on their lives recognize that call, many of our churches will soon find it difficult to find pastors and other ministry leaders.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

We can't grow disciples if we do not learn to delegate.

Early in my bivocational pastorate I tried to do everything at the church.  I was worn out and about ready to leave the ministry when our judicatory had its annual meeting.  I scheduled a time to meet with a denominational leader to discuss what was happening in our church and my own frustrations and temptation to leave.  When I finished speaking he did not hesitate with his answer.  He said the problem was that I had become the church.  Not only was I wearing myself out by trying to do everything I was preventing others from being the church God had called them to be.  He was right.  I might complain that few people in the church would help with the ministry, but the truth was that I never asked.  The next Sunday I announced the title of my message, "Confessions of a Tired Pastor," and began to share with the congregation the conversation I had the previous weekend, my own sense of weariness, and my apologies for limiting them in their own spiritual growth as disciples.  I then announced that as of that moment I was not doing anything for which someone else had responsibility.  No longer would I go behind people and do the things they failed to do, and I would be asking others to step up.  Quite frankly, delegating tasks to others does not come natural to me.  I can do most of them quicker than I can train someone else how to do them, I know they are done if I do them, and I dislike asking people to do things.  But, not delegating prevents others to grow as disciples and it limits the ministry in our churches to only the things we can do ourselves.  No pastor should want to be guilty of either of these.

Delegation is more than just assigning tasks to people.  For delegation to be successful it has to be done while taking into consideration a person's unique spiritual giftedness and passion.  For instance, no pastor would want to ask me to become a choir director.  My musical abilities are extremely limited, and I am being kind to myself.  I have a great voice in case of fire or shipwreck, but you don't want me to lead singing.  In a similar fashion you would not want to ask the church grouch to lead the church greeter team.  One of the most important things a new pastor can do is to identify the gifts and passions of the people in the church so when it comes times to ask people to do certain things the pastor will know who is the best person for each task.

There are several good reasons why we need to do a better job at delegation.  One is that it provides our church with more ministry points.  If the pastor is the only minister in the congregation then the ministry of that church is limited to one person.  But, if the ministry has been delegated to a number of people the church has just multiplied its ministry by that number.  Second, it helps prevent fatigue for the minister.  Involving many people in the ministry of the church reduces the burden the pastor must carry.  Thirdly, it helps with disciple-making.

Growing disciples is more than just offering a number of Bible studies in the church.  Disciples need to learn the Scriptures, but in order for them to become disciples they must have opportunities to put into practice what they are learning.  Discipleship is education + service.  Delegating ministry opportunities to others enables them to grow as disciples.  Refusing to delegate stunts that growth.

If our churches are to be serious about developing disciples we must learn to delegate.  If we are serious about wanting to grow our churches we must learn to delegate.  If we who are in the ministry want to enjoy more productive ministries while maintaining a measure of balance in our lives we must learn to delegate.