Saturday, September 29, 2012

Leadership development

Today is a special day in our region.  Our Church Leadership Institute (CLI) will be graduating six new students from our program.  Some of these are already serving as bivocational pastors in some of our churches while others are lay leaders in their respective churches.  Each of them have earned either the Certificate in Church Leadership or the Diploma in Pastoral Ministries depending on whether they have completed the two year or three year program.  These individuals have worked hard giving up four Saturdays for each course they completed.  For most, this has been a three or four year process.  Some had well over an hour's drive each way to the classes that are taught on the campus of Franklin College here in Indiana.  They were challenged by instructors who have the education and experience to teach the courses they led.  Each of these individuals have the right to feel good about their accomplishment.

At every CLI graduation I am amazed at the students who are graduating and their stories.  Some have driven three hours each way to attend classes.  Some needed financial assistance to complete their studies and found sources of funds that enabled them to do that.  Many of them speak of the sacrifices of their family members who allowed them to give up their Saturdays to attend classes.  A few began their studies desiring to learn more about the Bible and church leadership so they could return to their churches and be more effective leaders only to feel a call of God on their lives to pastoral ministry. Every graduate has a story to tell.

Why do these individuals enroll in CLI?  Each of them take seriously the call upon every Christian's life to be a disciple.  These are individuals who want to go deeper with God than many of our church members.  They sense a call of God on their lives to serve as leaders, either pastoral or lay, in their churches, and they want to be as prepared as possible.  We offer a depth of instruction that is deeper than most churches can provide, and this is what they want.  They want to be stretched in their faith, and I believe every class does that.

In my opinion, our Church Leadership Institute is one of the best ministries our region has offered our churches in some time.  It is a way for our region to partner with our churches in the area of discipleship and growing healthy leaders.  If I was pastoring a church again I would want every leader and potential leader in my church to be enrolled in CLI.  I would challenge my church to pay at least part of their tuition as an investment in the future of our church.

We are about to make some significant changes in our Church Leadership Institute.  Up until now we have only made it available to our American Baptist churches here in Indiana, but we are now opening it up to anyone regardless of denomination.  Currently, we still only offer it through a classroom setting at Franklin College, but we are exploring some other options.  If you are within driving distance of Franklin College (and we currently have a student driving down from Michigan!) and would like to know more about how the Church Leadership Institute can help you grow as a disciple and a leader in your church, please contact me or check our website at and look up the Church Leadership Institute.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Planning for retirement 2

In 1996 I was able to take early retirement from the factory where I had worked since 1966.  Our contract had a 30-and-out retirement available to us so I took it.  I've never regretted that decision.  A few months after I retired a person with whom I had worked took early retirement.  I happened to run into him several months later and he complained that retiring was the worst thing he had ever done.  He had nothing to do.  He was bored.  I told him to buy a fishing pole.  Get a job at Wal-Mart.  Find something you enjoy doing and do it.  A few months later he died.  I knew his brother well and asked if they knew what caused the death of his brother.  He said there were no physical problems; his brother had literally bored himself to death.  He could find no reason to live, and stopped.

Yesterday I focused on the importance of preparing yourself financially for retirement; today I want to address the emotional preparation.  Pastors are typically busy people.  Bivocational ministers are often extremely busy people.  The day after your retirement you will wake up and not know what to do.  There is no job to go to, no office, no hospital visits you need to make, no sermon to get ready for Sunday, no meetings to prepare for.  One minister told me after his retirement he couldn't believe how few e-mails he now received.  His inbox used to be full every day, and now he seldom gets more than a half-dozen.  After retiring life will change, and you need to be prepared for it.

Part of that preparation will be deciding how you will spend your time.  Some ministers want to travel.  When you have spent a lifetime of your weekends being filled with responsibility it is nice to be able to get away and see all the places your congregation got to visit while you were at the church.  I can see my wife and I taking off for a couple of months touring the country when we finally retire.  Some will decide to move away to a different climate, and some may already have purchased retirement homes in places like Florida or Arizona.  They want to get away from cold winters, play golf, fish, and enjoy life.  Some will devote more time to their favorite hobbies.  I know pastors who look forward to spending more time in their workshops or on the lake.  Some will want to spend a lot of time with family visiting children and grandchildren. It really doesn't matter what you decide to do, just plan on doing something.

At some point you will have to make some decisions about ministry.  It is one thing to retire, but I'm not sure one ever completely retires from ministry.  Many pastors offer to become interim pastors or to fill the pulpits in churches when the pastor is away.  Some take on the role of Visitation Pastor in a church.  Doing these types of ministries does a couple of things.  One, it keeps you involved in the work God called you to do without tying you down.  Two, it helps remind you that God is not finished with you.  Just because your phone doesn't ring every time you sit down to a meal or your e-mail inbox isn't full doesn't mean you have nothing to contribute to the Kingdom of God.  It is a big boost emotionally to be reminded that God can still use you even in retirement.

Finally, I must insist that part of preparing emotionally for retirement is accepting that your work with your previous church is finished.  In my final message to the congregation I served 20 years I told them I would always be their friend, but I could never again be their pastor.  I told them I could not do their funerals or their weddings unless their new pastor personally asked me to be involved.  Remaining in the same community has made that difficult at times, but I have honored the pastors who followed me by not interfering in their ministry to the people of that church.  I hear from too many pastors who complain that the previous pastors keep coming back to do funerals and weddings making it hard for them to ever become any more than the preacher in the church.  Friends, it is a violation of ministerial ethics for any minister to return to the church he or she formerly served and participate in those kinds of activities.  You must come to grips with this or emotionally you will not be ready to retire.

If you have prepared yourself financially and emotionally for retirement you will enjoy your retirement much more than those who are not prepared.  You will be able to enjoy a new sense of freedom and be able to do things with family that were not possible when you were employed.  The younger you are the easier it will be to prepare yourself for retirement, but regardless of you age you need to start now to prepare for retirement.  As I said yesterday, you may not want to retire but circumstances may be such that you have no choice at the time but to retire.  If you're prepared it will be a much easier transition. 

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Planning for retirement

Let me say from the outset that I am not a financial guru and that some of what I will recommend in this post I have not done in my life.  My thoughts here are from one who learned late how important it is to plan well for retirement.  I write this because I meet too many pastors who are nearing retirement age and realize they are not prepared either financially or emotionally for retirement.  Preparing ourselves for retirement is simply one more act of stewardship.

A few of you will immediately think, "Nowhere in the Bible does it say anything about retirement.  Pastors should never retire.  Ministry is a call of God on a person's life so why should anyone who has been called by God even think about retirement?"  It all sounds so spiritual and holy, but that doesn't make it true.  Such comments ignore the fact that ministers can develop illnesses or be injured in a manner that forces them to retire.  I know one pastor who, in the course of about five years, had emergency heart surgery and a major back operation that left him in incredible pain.  He could only be on his feet about two hours a day before the pain became unmanageable and he became so weak he could hardly stand.  He was under 45 years of age when his health forced him to retire.  He is not alone, and it is nothing but arrogance that would cause any of us to think it couldn't happen to us.

The stresses of ministry can seem more overwhelming as we grow older.  We may find we have less tolerance for the chronic complainers (which may not be a bad thing!).  Evening meetings may make us want to stay in bed a little longer the next day.  I find that it is not just the older church members who dislike change; many older pastors I know do not get too excited about it either.  They have ministered in a certain way for much of their lives, and the thought of doing things differently do not appeal to them.  Although they may not have thought much about retirement when they were younger, it suddenly becomes a little more appealing to them as uncomfortable changes are forced upon them.

So, what can we do to prepare ourselves for retirement?  The first thing is to make sure we will be prepared financially to retire.  For years financial advisers have suggested that we not count on Social Security to be there when we retire.  That's still good advice.  If SS is still around when you get ready to retire then that money will be a bonus, but the best strategy is to develop a retirement financial strategy that does not include Social Security.  Many financial people recommend that a person has ten times the amount the person thinks he or she will need per year for retirement.  If that money is invested in a good stock fund that averages 10 percent a year, the retired person can live on the income and never touch the principal.  So, if you believe you will need $50,000 a year to live on you would need at least $500,000.00 in investments earning 10 percent a year.  Otherwise, you run the risk of outliving your money.

That means that pastors need to begin early in their ministries putting money into retirement accounts.  Many denominations have retirement plans available to their clergypersons.  It's important that ministers take advantage of these plans.  Many larger churches include paying into their minister's retirement accounts as part of their overall package.  Many smaller churches do not.  One of the biggest battles we had in my twenty year pastorate in the church I served occurred when our Finance Committee recommended that the church begin paying into our denomination's retirement program.  Some of the folks in our small church really struggled with that, and the business meeting where it was discussed was not a pleasant time, but in the end the church did begin funding my retirement account and no one left the church over it.

Bivocational ministers often have another opportunity to build up retirement savings, and that is through their other employer.  Most larger companies, and many smaller ones as well, provides 401-K or IRA retirement accounts.  Many of them will match your contributions to those accounts.  With some exceptions, many of these use pre-tax dollars so you are using some of the money you would be paying Uncle Sam to help fund your retirement.  It is important that you contribute the maximum to these funds.  When I was working in the factory I did not do that, and it ended up costing me a LOT of money that I could have earned over the years if I had contributed the maximum.

If you're not doing anything to prepare for your retirement, I would urge you to contact a financial advisor or a judicatory leader in your denomination and find out how you can begin doing that.  You'll be surprised how quickly the years will roll by.  One day you will be thinking about retirement, and at that time it will be too late to prepare for it.  Now is the time to get ready.  To help you think about getting your financial house in order and preparing for retirement I want to recommend Dave Ramsey's book The Total Money Makeover, in my opinion the best personal financial planning book available today.

In tomorrow's post I'll address preparing emotionally for retirement.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

What is holding you back?

I invite you to do a little exercise.  Write out a list of the three things you do in ministry that bring you the most satisfaction and you feel are vital to the success of your ministry.  Once you have that list, make a similar list of three things you do that deplete your energies and add little to your overall ministry.  Which of those three things on the second list do you feel prevents you from being more effective in what you do?

As you look at your lists I would imagine the first one brings a smile to your face.  These are things you enjoy doing and most likely are ministries for which you are especially gifted.  When you are able to work in those areas of ministry you feel relaxed, refreshed, and competent.  The second list probably didn't make you feel as well.  You may look at these as "pay the rent" activities.  You would avoid them if you could, but chances are you can't.  Some things just have to be done, and if you are a solo pastor it is often up to you to do them.  The third one is the real problem though.  Maybe as you looked at what you wrote down for the response to my final question you nearly became ill just thinking about having to do that again.  You see that activity as a waste of your time and efforts.  You may feel incompetent to do it, but even if you could do it well you question whether it would be worth the effort.  There just doesn't seem to be much reward for doing it.

The Pareto Principle tells us that we achieve 80 percent of our success through 20 percent of what we do.  It seems to me that if we want more effective ministries we need to be doing less and focusing more on the 20 percent that is paying dividends for our efforts.  What can we do about the three things on our second list, and even more importantly, how do we eliminate the one thing we identified that really has a negative impact on our ministry effectiveness?

As leaders we have two options.  We can either live with the way things are and continue spending valuable time in activities that have little reward or we can address the problem and find a solution.  Assuming the first option isn't appealing, what are some ways we might address the problem?
  1. Delegate.  Even in a small, bivocational church everything should not be done by the pastor.  If we want to be more effective in our ministries we must learn to delegate some things to other people.  However, don't delegate a task to someone just so you won't have to do it any more.  Instead, find someone who is more gifted in that particular type of ministry and allow them to take that on that responsibility.
  2. Eliminate.  I find many smaller churches would like to simplify their structure and eliminate activities that are no longer effective, but they aren't sure how to do so.  Within the past couple of weeks I've had this conversation with a church leadership group.  I reminded them that some of the things they needed to address probably made sense twenty years ago when they began, but that doesn't mean they are still needed today.  You may be able to eliminate the activity.
  3. Evaluate.  Is there a better way to do this thing you don't enjoy doing?  Could it be combined with some other activity so it did produce better results?  Is this particular ministry something you really need to learn more about?  Through that learning you may find out that it really is something that is important to the church and to its ministry which means you will need to put more focus on that ministry.
As you consider these potential ways to address the problem you identified don't forget the criteria I have for asking the question in the first place.  This is an activity you have identified as something that is keeping your ministry from being more effective.  This must be unacceptable to you.  Your resources are limited - time, energy, finances, etc. - which means you must be a good steward of each of these.  You cannot afford to spend time doing things that are not productive to your ministry or to you personally.  The time wasters and energy drainers must be addressed so you can remain focused on the ministry God has given you.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Responsibility without authority

In his excellent book Winning On Purpose: How To Organize Congregations to Succeed in Their Mission (Convergence Ebook Series) John Kaiser writes,  "When a congreation has a bureaucratic structure, either by design or default, it assigns responsibility to its pastor but divorces that responsibility from the authority needed to fulfill it.  So the formula is responsibility minus authority, and the result is an organization that may appear safe but is certainly ineffective...The pastor of this congregation fuctions merely as an employee."  There is nothing more frustrating that to be assigned responsibility but not given the authority to fulfill that responsibility.  Unfortunately, that is exactly where many pastors live.

As I meet with pastor search committees to help them find their next pastor one of the desires I nearly always hear from this committee is the church wants a pastor who will grow their church.  Six months later I see these same people standing on the brakes doing everything within their control to stop the changes that will be needed to reach new people with the Gospel.  Folks, it doesn't get any more dysfunctional than that.  Not only is it dysfunctional, it is also the definition of hypocritical.  The church says the right words but their actions are the exact opposite, and that is hypocrisy.

This does not mean that I am advocating that the pastor be given ultimate power to do whatever he or she chooses.  I am advocating that the church leadership and the pastor work together to identify the direction God wants to lead the church (See yesterday's blog post.) and move in that direction.  I also believe that the pastor must be given great authority to lead this movement of the church while remaining accountable to the leadership.  The role of the lay leaders here is to provide the parameters beyond which the pastor may not cross.  These parameters will include the core values and bedrock beliefs of the church.  With the parameters in place and a clear sense of where God is leading the church, the pastor must be free to lead and the congregation must be willing to follow.

This will often cause great discomfort for some because they have never travelled this way before nor have they submitted to any pastor's leadership.  Some may refuse to make the journey, and that is OK.  We worry too much about people who threaten to leave the church if things don't go back to how they used to be.  You want everyone to take this journey with you, but some may choose not to go.  Let them leave.  They are a hindrance to your church fulfilling the vision God has for your congregation.  God's vision always leads to life; the vision of the naysayers leads to death.  As long as the pastor is leading the church in the fulfillment of the vision the church agreed has come from God and remains within the parameters of the core values and bedrock beliefs of the church he or she must have the authority to lead. 

Periodically, the church leaders will want to evaluate the pastor's leadership in this journey.  Here is where a pastor evaluation becomes helpful.   Most pastor evaluations I have seen are extremely subjective and are not based upon vision and the purpose of the church but upon the unwritten expections each person has for the pastor.  In my opinion, such evaluations are worthless and do nothing to advance the ministry of the church.  The only helpful evaluation of the pastor's ministry will be based on previously agreed upon objectives and goals that the pastor and leadership have determined are critical for him or her to achieve if the church is to be successful.  Each of these outcomes must be measureable to ensure helpful evaluation.

It is also important that the leadership have the pastor's back during this time of transition in the church.  Critics will rise up to accuse the pastor of neglecting his or her duties.  The lay leadership must remind such critics of the primary tasks they have asked the pastor to assume.  Others in the church must step up and assume some of the maintenance tasks that too many pastors have been required to do in the past.  Changing people's expectations of the pastor meeting all their needs will not be easy but is the responsibility of the lay leadership if the pastor is to lead the church towards a fresh vision.

The churches Kaiser describes in the above quote will make up many of the 80 percent of the church in North America that are plateaued or declining.  Frankly, there is little hope of most of these churches turning this around unless they are willing to give their pastors the authority to lead them to the new place God has for them.  I encourage you to read Kaiser's book.  It really does provide an organization model to help your church succeed in its mission.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Where are you taking the people you lead?

I recently spoke to a member of a church who was frustrated with things that were happening in her church.  Part of her frustration was that she saw the church repeating the same mistakes over and over again.  She didn't know what to do and called hoping I could solve her problems.  I'm afraid I made them worse.

A major part of her concern was over some in the congregation who were becoming very critical of their pastor.  She said she would hear complaints about aspects of the pastor's ministry from one person and before the day was out she would hear from someone else how helpful they found that particular part of his ministry was to them.  I tried to explain that although the church had a formal job description for the pastor, in reality there were 150 job descriptions he was expected to meet.  That's how many people attend that church, and each of them have different expectations for the pastor.  Those who are happy with his ministry are happy because he is meeting their expectations while those whose expectations are not being met are going to be unhappy.  I then explained this is due to a failure of leadership.  I asked her if the church leaders had ever worked with the pastor to develop a set of goals for the coming year.  When she said they had not I asked how could anyone be expected to properly evaluate the pastor if he has had no goals to achieve?

After giving her a quick overview of SMART goals and how important it was for the church leaders and pastor to agree on 3-4 primary goals for him to give priority to, I shared that before they could do that the church needed to have a clear God-given vision for ministry that he would be expected to lead.  Only with such a vision could the leadership develop and agree upon goals for the pastor that would enable him to lead the church towards that vision.

I told you I made things worse for the caller.  She was hoping for a quick fix to resolve the problem and I began explaining that their problems are due to a number of structure problems in the church that can not be resolved easily.  As a result of those problems the church has been wandering around for years with no sense of direction or purpose.  They merely open their doors each week hoping something good happens before the day is over, but they are doing nothing intentionally to help something good to happen.

At this point I took my caller back to Moses and reminded her of him leading the Israelites round and round the wilderness for 40 years.  Why?  Because the Israelites earlier had refused to live into the vision God had for them.  That refusal sent them back into the wilderness until the rebellious generation was gone, and when that generation was gone God called Moses to take them back to the edge of the Promised Land where they would enter it.  One translation has God saying to Moses, "You've circled this mountain long enough," it is time to go back to the land I have given you.  I told the caller that her church has wandered around in the wilderness for years because the church refuses to live into the vision God has for them.  They need their pastor to lead them to the place God has for them, but he cannot do that until the church has a clear understanding of where that is.  I explained to her that there was nothing wrong with her church that a unifying vision, a pastor who clearly understands what the church expects of his leadership, and a congregation willing to follow that leadership would not resolve.

Leaders, where are you leading your people?  Lay leaders, what exactly is God's vision for your church?  Is your leadership team on board with that vision?  Have you given your pastor the authority to lead you towards the achievement of that vision?  If so, are you protecting him or her from the complaints of those who believe the church (and pastor) exists to tend to their personal agendas?  Are you gladly following his or her leadership and challenging others to join you on that journey?

Pastors, where are you leading your people?  Are you leading them towards the destination that God has determined for them, or are you just circling the mountain, wandering in the wilderness, hoping something positive will eventually come?  Has the church given you the responsibility to lead them but withholds the authority to do so?  If so, who have you spoken to about this?

Both lay leaders and pastors need to understand something: while we play little church games people are dying and going to an eternal hell.  Families are falling apart.  Our young people are leaving the church and the faith in droves.  Our nation is moving further and further away from God.  False religions are growing rapidly as people look to other belief systems to feed their spiritual hunger as they become convinced that Christianity has nothing to offer them.  It is time that leaders begin to lead their churches to the place where God wants them or step aside and allow real leaders the opportunity to do so.

Friday, September 21, 2012

When asked to pray

Maybe I'm the only one who's done it, but somehow I don't think so.  You're walking through a store when you see a friend in the next aisle.  Suddenly, you remember that last week he had asked you to keep him in your prayers although you can't remember why.  However, you do remember that you've not prayed for him once since then.  Quickly, you send up a prayer bolt, "Lord, be with ________." About that time he turns the corner and begins walking down your aisle.  As the two of you meet you ask, "How are things going?  I've prayed for you."

Prayer.  There are probably few things in our churches that are talked about more and done less than prayer.  I don't think it's intentional.  We are just so busy that few Christians are satisfied with their prayer life.  We mean to pray more but it never seems to happen.  Then we start feeling really convicted and vow that we are going to spend more time in prayer every day...starting tomorrow.  Of course, the problem is that tomorrow comes and nothing changes.

I got to thinking about this earlier today as I was leaving my bank.  I had stepped up to one of the teller's windows to make a deposit.  She stepped away to do something and one of the managers came over to the window and began looking at me with tremendous pain in her eyes.  She leaned forward, took me by the hand, and whispered, "Please pray for me.  I am under a great deal of stress right now."  I looked at her and started to respond that I would keep her in my prayers when I felt a nudge from the Holy Spirit saying, "Pray now."  I have prayed for people in public settings like that but not very often.  I paused for only a moment and when I looked back in her eyes I knew she needed to hear me pray.  I took both of her hands in mine, leaned forward and began to quietly pray for her.  Only she could hear what I was saying, but it was obvious to everyone in the bank what was happening.  The prayer itself didn't last but a minute or so, but I'm hopeful it helped make the rest of her day a little better.  She whispered, "Thank you" and went on about her work.

A couple of years ago I was on the campus of Campbellsville University for a meeting.  I passed three students on the sidewalk holding hands and praying.  As I walked past I could tell they were praying for a fellow student.  The fact that three college students would pray publicly for a classmate showed me they believed in prayer.  These young people refused to just talk about praying; they were committed to prayer even to the point of standing on a university campus to pray publicly for a friend.

Jesus cautioned about praying in public but His warning was to those who did it for show.  Other than two tellers in the bank this morning I couldn't tell you if anyone else was there or not.  I didn't pray for the manager this morning to attract attention to us but because she needed prayer, and I could sense she needed to hear someone praying for her.  Those three students were not attracting a crowd nor were they praying over a loudspeaker to draw attention to themselves.  Like me, they sensed that prayer was needed then, not just later, and certainly not if they happened to remember to pray.

When someone asks you to pray for them they are inviting you into a very important part of their life.  We need to take that more seriously.  I would just encourage you at such times to be sensitive to the Spirit to determine if you should pray right then for the person.  It may not always be feasible to do so, and you certainly want to respect the privacy of the other person, but if you feel led to pray then for the person, do so.  Quietly.  Privately.  And, whether you pray then or not, be sure to keep that person in your prayers and check back with them in a few days to see how they are doing.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Becoming the leader

As I point out in a couple of my books and in my workshops, a pastor does not become the leader of the church simply because he or she has been called to serve there as pastor.  Perhaps in a mega-church where the church is looking for a CEO the pastor can assume leadership almost immediately, but certainly in the smaller, family church that will not happen.  It takes time, sometimes years, before the pastor earns the confidence of the family church that will allow him or her to provide leadership.  In my experience I have found that the smaller the church and the more frequent pastoral turnover has been the longer it will take.  To shorten that process requires intentionality on the part of the pastor.  Paul Borden, in his book Make or Break Your Church in 365 Days: A Daily Guide to Leading Effective Change, explains four ways the pastor can begin to establish his or her leadership in the church.
  1. Provide leadership training for the board or council.
  2. Demonstrate competency in fulfilling the role of pastor.
  3. Develop personal relationships with those in leadership roles.
  4. Act like a leader when you are around members of your congregation.
In my role as a judicatory minister I have seen pastors ignore these steps and create major problems for themselves.  I cannot list the number of times a pastor, who has served a church for several years, has called asking if I could provide training for his deacons.  In most cases, the pastor's complaint is that they have never been taught the role of the deacon, and I always wonder what he or she has been doing that was more important than training the leadership.

I know of a church whose leaders complained that the pastor often referred to a document he wanted to read as part of his sermon but had left it in his office.  As one person said, "Why tell us that?  If he forgot it, go on.  When we hear that week after week we begin to wonder about his competency as a pastor."

Many pastors have got into trouble due to their failure to develop relationships with persons in the congregation and especially with those in leadership positions.  As I often say, in the smaller church everything is built around relationships.  If you cannot build relationships with people you cannot serve a smaller church.  It's that simple, and without those relationships you will never be able to lead that congregation.

The pastor, the leadership team, and I sat around the tables in a large room to discuss the pastor's lack of leadership.  The leadership team liked one suggestion I made and asked the pastor how it could be implemented.  He sat there for a moment and then shrugged his shoulders.  One of the leaders looked at me with a "See what we're talking about" look in his eyes.  This pastor was soon asked to submit his resignation.  This was a good church with strong lay leaders, and the pastor could not lead this church because he didn't act like a leader and no one had confidence in him.

Borden explains each of these in more detail in his book which I recommend every pastor who wants to lead his or her church should read.  Our churches will never turn around and become the effective places of ministry God intended without strong pastoral leadership.  Borden will help you evaluate your own leadership and give you some direction how to become a more effective leader.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Sharing the faith

In my lifetime I've seen many ways the church has been taught to share the Christian message. As a child I remember one week and two week long revivals often with red-faced evangelists challenging their listeners to get right with God while there was still time.  Early in my pastorate I taught our church members the techniques of Evangelism Explosion before we went into nearby neighborhoods and asked the five questions that would allow us to witness to unsaved people.  In Bible college we were taught that evangelism was one of the primary purposes of Sunday school and we should expect to see many converts come through that important ministry of the church.  Throughout my lifetime I've watched the Billy Graham crusades on television, and a couple of years before beginning my pastoral ministry had the privilege of attending a Billy Graham School of Evangelism.  Despite the various methods that have been used and taught over the years many Christians still find it very difficult to share their faith.  A large percentage of believers have never led anyone to Christ, and many of them haven't even tried.  Most of them would probably admit to feeling very inadequate if they tried to witness to someone.

There are people who have the gift of evangelism, and it seems they can lead someone to Christ as easily as you or I might order a cheeseburger through a drive-through.  You and I might not have that gift (I don't), but that doesn't mean that we are exempt from the Great Commission.  Every Christian has the responsibility of sharing our faith with others, and the good news is we don't have to memorize a canned approach to be able to do that nor do we have to have complete knowledge of everything written in the Scriptures.  Many times we just need to walk across the room.

If you didn't recognize it, Just Walk Across the Room is the title of a book written by Bill Hybels designed to help every Christian point people to faith.  This is not a new book.  It was published in 2006, but I just read it this week.  In the book Hybels makes evangelism seem so simple that anyone can do it.  It begins by believers developing relationships with non-believers.  That may seem rather elementary, but the fact is that the longer a person is a Christian the fewer non-Christian friends that person has.  (Question - How many non-Christian friends do you have?)  The second thing we do is to develop stories that will point people to God and then begin to look for opportunities to share those stories with them.  For example, what were the events in your life that led you to invite Jesus Christ into your life?  Your exact situation may not be the same as those of your friends, but it's likely the emotions you felt at the time will be similar to what they are feeling: fear, shame, guilt, confusion, helplessness, hopelessness, discouragement, etc.  Since I gave my life to Christ I have probably told my story to hundreds of people, and some element of that story connected with the vast majority of them at some point.  Not everyone I've told my story to invited Christ into their lives at that moment, but the results are not up to me.  I'm only responsible to tell the story.

A couple of weeks ago I preached a revival meeting in one of our bivocational churches.  During one of the final messages I challenged the congregation that the church needs to make a decision.  If we truly believe the Bible is true and is the Word of God then we have to accept what it says about eternity and the final destination of mankind.  Those who are saved through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ will spend eternity with God, and those who do not will be eternally separated from God.  If we really believe the Scriptures are true then we should feel compelled to share our faith as God provides opportunities so all will have the opportunity to invite Christ into their lives. 

I believe two things need to happen before we can expect our churches to take seriously the Great Commission.  The first is they must see their pastors and other leaders sharing their faith with people.  Remember - Everything rises and falls on leadership.  If the leadership isn't sharing their faith with people then they cannot expect the rest of the congregation to do so.  The second thing that needs to happen is we need to help people become more comfortable in sharing their faith.  I really believe this book by Hybels can be a good tool to do that.  It needs to be studied in your small groups, in your adult and youth Sunday school classes, and be included in your leadership development ministry. What he describes is not dependent upon the size of a church or their resources.  It is only dependent upon the willingness of God's people to be obedient to the Great Commission in their lives.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The family church

This past Sunday my wife and I visited a small church pastored by a bivocational friend of mine who is about to graduate from our judicatory's school for lay leaders.  In my workshop on healthy small churches I talk about the strengths and weaknesses of family churches.  As I sat there Sunday morning I left like I was sitting at a family dinner where everyone was trying to catch up on everything that had happened since the last time they were together.  There was no rush to get to the next item in the bulletin (there was no bulletin) as most of the people attending had something to add during the prayer and praise time of the service.  It felt comfortable, and good, and warm.  The music was good as was the message.  I can see why people want to go there every week for fellowship and worship.

It is easy to become critical of smaller churches, especially when we focus on the things we think they lack.  Some do have their problems, there is no doubt about that, but there are others like the one I attended Sunday that are providing good ministry to their members and community.  We need to recognize and celebrate these churches when we find them.  As I left the service I told the pastor, "I am so proud of you guys."

I doubt this church will ever add a video system to their service mainly because the way their sanctuary is built I don't believe one would work well in their setting.  Chances are they won't go to a contemporary service so they aren't likely to attract a lot of Christian rocker teens unless those young people are looking for someone who will love them and care for them like family.  They are not going to get political during this election cycle so they won't create a lot of spectacular headlines.  What they will do is go to the nursing homes in the area and minister to the residents there.  They will go to a nearby mental health facility and take Christmas presents to the patients and sing carols and share a Christmas dinner with them.  They will join other churches in their association and go to the Appalachia area of Eastern Kentucky next spring and hold a weekend revival for one of the churches in that area.  In short, they will share the gospel with everyone who will listen and love anyone who will accept their love.  My friends, in my book that's not bad ministry for any church.

Monday, September 17, 2012

How tall are your walls?

I was privileged to have two of my doctoral classes taught by Elmer Towns.  One day in class Dr. Towns was talking about the walls that every church has built that keep away outsiders.  He then walked around the room and asked every student, "How tall are the walls around your church?"  He stood there in front of the student until he or she gave an answer.  Some indicated their walls would be a 3 or a 5 or a few said their church had walls that would probably rate an 8 or 9.  From that class we learned that we needed to identify the walls, tear them down, and begin to build bridges into the community.

Our churches all claim to be friendly and inviting, but the fact is that every church has walls that have been created over the years to keep out certain people and identify who is in and who is out.  A friend of mine told me years ago about the time she finally got her ex-husband to attend a church service with her.  Following the service a person in the congregation suggested to him that the next time he came to church he should come wearing a suit and tie.  He never returned.  Another person asked me about closed communion because she and her husband were told they could not take communion in the new church they had recently began attending until they had been baptized by the pastor of that church and became members there.  A pastor recently asked my advice on a baptism question his church was facing.  A family had become quite active in his church and wanted to become members, but they came from another denomination that had different baptism practices.  The husband's baptism had been a very special experience in his life, and he did not want to be re-baptized, but the church was adamant that unless he was immersed he could not become a member of their church.  I am familiar with another church that had a youth minister that developed a heart for the Goth young people in their community.  He began bringing a number of them to the church for youth activities until the young people in the church quit attending because they didn't want to be around those other young people.  I could list hundreds of other examples of walls churches have created, and so could you.  The question is: What are you going to do about the walls that exist in your church?

Churches today are struggling to reach new people, and most of them are targeting young people.  They may have changed their worship format to a more contemporary style, installed video systems in the church, removed the pulpit, replaced the pews with chairs, and permitted the pastor to stop wearing a suit and tie when he preaches.  In short, they have done everything they can think to do to appear more appealing to younger people, but they have forgotten one very important thing.  They have no relationships with the people they claim they want to reach.  They've never earned the right to invite them to church much less to talk to them about eternal matters.

In a workshop I was leading I once challenged the pastors to develop ministries that would address real world needs the people had that they were trying to reach.  A pastor raised his hand and asked, "How do we find out what those needs are?"  I was stunned for a moment but finally responded, "You might try asking them.  You may want to leave the comfort of your church, go into the community you want to reach, and talk to the people there."  I responded much more calmly than I felt on the inside!  He just nodded at me.

Smaller churches are all about relationships.  Everything in the small church is based on the relationships that exist between the members.  Why would we think that relationships do not matter when we are wanting to reach new people?   If your church is serious about wanting to reach people for Jesus Christ, you begin by developing relationships with those people.  You love them like they are, where they are.  These are people for whom Jesus Christ gave His life.  You don't judge them because they sin differently than you do.  You earn the right to share your faith with them through the relationship you develop with them.  But, this all begins with your church identifying the walls that it has built to keep people out, tearing them down, and building bridges into the community.  Only then will you begin to reach the people you claim you want to reach.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Doing discipleship in the small church

In recent blogs I've pointed out that discipleship is more than learning facts.  Over the years many of our churches have determined that education=discipleship, and that simply isn't the case.  If it was we would not have many of the problems in our churches that we have.  Many of our churches offer Sunday school classes for all age groups, a morning worship service, a Sunday evening worship service/Bible study, and a mid-week Bible study.  In addition there are often a morning Bible study group for women and perhaps a Saturday morning group for men.  Other churches also offer small groups that meet for fellowship and more Bible study.  John Maxwell once said in a conference I attended, "The average Christian is educated far beyond his or her level of obedience."  I have to agree.

Education is only one component of discipleship with the other component being the opportunity to put into practice what one is learning.  In other words, discipleship comes by doing the Word as well as learning the Word.  Still another way to put it is that discipleship is as much caught as it is taught.  If we want to develop disciples we have to provide them with opportunities to use their gifts and their knowledge in serving other people.

This is not a problem in larger churches that may have numerous ministry opportunities each week in which people can participate, but it can be a problem for smaller churches that have fewer such opportunities.  In these smaller churches, what can be done to help our members grow as disciples?
  1. We can challenge people to identify ministries for which they have some gifts and passion to do and work with them to begin such ministries.  For example, your church may not have a ministry to a local nursing home, but if two or three people identified that as a ministry they would like to do encourage them to develop that ministry and do it.  Your church can come alongside with resources and support.
  2. Work with other churches in your association/district to do ministry together.  One of my associations is made up entirely of smaller, bivocational churches.  A number of these churches work together in a variety of ministries both in their local community as well as in another state.  Men, women, and young people from these different churches work side-by-side, and not only do they accomplish good ministry they are also growing as disciples.
  3. Work with churches of other denominations in your community.  When I was pastoring my church we had a few people involved with the local Habitat for Humanity.  Every Saturday they were building homes for people alongside others from various denominational backgrounds.  Doctrine and polity took a backseat to ministry, and many families in our small community have benefited from this ministry.
  4. Talk to your judicatory or denominational leaders about possible mission opportunities.  Every year at least one or two of our larger churches in our Region plan mission trips outside the country, and most of the time they have available seats for persons from other churches.  Several years ago I went with such a group to Haiti, and that week not only changed my life but had a very positive impact on our church as well.
  5. Find small projects your church can do on its own.  I remember once when a widow in our church needed a new roof.  She could afford the materials but not the labor.  We had a couple of men who had worked construction and knew how to install a roof, so a group of us spent two Saturdays removing her old roof and installing the new one.  It was a growing opportunity for us and a blessing to her.  Your church can find projects that your resources can handle as well.
Don't let the size of your church or limited resources be an excuse to not do discipleship well in your church.  As you teach your people the truth of God's Word you must also challenge them to put that Word into practice if they want to grow as disciples.  There are many ways even a smaller church can make such opportunities available.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Planning for the pastor's departure

In my Baptist tradition the announced departure of a pastor is usually a big event in the life of the church.  Some people are cheering the news while others are deeply saddened, but for many of the people in the congregation there is often a sense of uncertainty.  Where will we find an interim pastor during the search for a new pastor?  Who will serve on the search committee?  How long will the search process take, and what will happen to our church during that period?  How difficult will it be to find a pastor who is a good fit for our church?  What kind of changes will calling a new pastor bring to our church?  For many churches today there is often the additional question of will they be able to get a fully-funded pastor or is this the time for them to call a bivocational person?

As an Area Resource Minister in our judicatory I have worked with many churches during their search process, and I find these questions are asked by many of them at some time during the process.  However, this does not have to be such a traumatic time especially if the church has been discussing the possibility before the announcement is made.  I have not understood why a pastoral transition is always such a shock to a congregation.  Assuming the Lord tarries, your pastor will one day leave your church.  He or she may move to another place of ministry, retire, leave the ministry, or die, but the bottom line is there will come a time when that pastor moves on and the church will begin the process to find a new pastor.  Rather than being surprised and caught unawares by the announcement that the pastor is leaving, the church would be better served by having already discussed the process that will be followed when the time comes.  I have found no better resource for this type of strategic planning that the book The Elephant in the Boardroom: Speaking the Unspoken about Pastoral Transitions (Jossey-Bass Leadership Network Series).

The authors write, "Succession planning is the second most important need in every church in the country...and few if any do it or do it well."  Based upon my observations and experiences I would agree with that statement.  This may be due to our fear of offending the pastor or making him or her feel that we are planning to replace the pastor in the near future.  Because churches do not normally do this type of succession planning that would be an easy assumption for a pastor to make.  So, the whole issue of the pastor one day leaving the church is ignored until the day the announcement is made, and then the church goes into crisis mode.  Would it not be better to have already planned for that announcement and made the necessary plans for how to respond when it is made?

One thing that might help churches become more willing to do succession planning is to count the cost of not having a pastor.  Many churches will see a steady decline in the number of people attending services during the interim process resulting in decreased giving.  These numbers will not immediately return once a new pastor is in place.  There are costs associated with searching for a new pastor and relocating one once the call is given.  In addition to the financial costs there are emotional and morale costs to the church. Churches often find that whatever momentum they had for ministry fades during the interim period.  It will take a while for that momentum to return as the new pastor has a steep learning curve before he or she is able to provide effective leadership.  According to the authors, about half of the members of the search committee will leave the church within three years of the new pastor's arrival.  While my numbers are not that high, I have seen a number of search committee members leave their church after it called the person they recommended.  If it turns out the new pastor is not a good fit for the church and ends up leaving after only two or three years, there is a repeat of all these costs and even more as the church begins to wander without capable leadership.

I believe the authors have done a good job of identifying a number of strategies for churches to consider based upon their size and make-up.  They do not offer a one-size-fits-all model for planning for pastoral succession since different churches will have different needs.  I would recommend that the church find which church culture best fits them and begin to study the suggestions associated with that culture and determine how to best implement them in their own planning.  To me, the best of all worlds would be for the current pastor to lead this study.  This removes the fear that the pastor may feel the church is seeking to find a new pastor by engaging in this study.  When the pastor leads such a study, what he or she is really doing is helping ensure the ministry he or she has enjoyed in the church will continue and the church and new pastor will be able to build upon that legacy.  This makes pastoral succession planning a win for everyone.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Simplifying church structure

As I coach churches one of the things I typically find is that they are often over-structured.  Members of the congregation complain that they are asked to serve in too many places within the church, and yet when I question them about their structure many of these same people want to defend it.  What I have learned is that quite often the structure that is being followed was put in place many years earlier when the church was much larger.  It made sense to have all the committees back then, but it makes much less sense now, especially if the same people are being asked to serve on several of these committees.  One church leader confessed that their average attendance, including children, is ten less than the slate of officers and committee people their constitution requires.

At the same time, during most of my workshops someone will ask how they can get their congregations involved in ministry.  The first thing I do is ask them to take a long, honest look at their structure and see what can be eliminated.  In most churches, a large percentage of the boards and committees could be eliminated, and the church would not suffer.  Eliminating these formal positions would free people for ministry.  The way many of our churches are structured right now really works against having people involved in any type of ministry to persons outside the church.  You cannot ask someone who sits on 3-4 church committees, teaches a SS class, and sings in the choir to engage in a ministry to unchurched people.  They have a life and a family outside the church.  If we simplify our structures, eliminate those committees and boards that are not necessary, and trust our leadership to make the decisions that have been made by these committees and boards we will have people with the time to serve those outside the church.  Those are the ministries that will grow our churches and, more importantly, the Kingdom of God.

The question that follows this discussion in my workshops is how does a church do that when their constitution calls for all these committees, boards, and positions?  Here's a thought...rewrite your church constitution to reflect what your church is going to do in the future and not what it has done in the past.  Your church constitution should be a fluid document that provides order to your church but not strangle it as you move forward.  It should be reviewed at least every five years to make sure it is serving you and not hindering you.  When I was pastoring we spent a year revising our church constitution and removed a number of positions that were no longer needed.  Every board, committee, and position in your church was created because they were needed at the time, and they made sense.  But today is a different time.  If it no longer makes sense to keep them, revise your constitution to eliminate them.

One caution before you do that.  Several of my churches began by voting to suspend their constitutions for a period of 2-3 years.  They did not necessarily suspend the entire constitution but only the part that addressed church structure.  They did this so they could experiment with a new structure that was less detailed and gave more authority to make decisions to leadership.  At the end of the suspension they would vote on making that permanent or they could go back to the old committee/board structure.  So far, none of the churches I served that have done this have voted to return to the old system.  They found the new, leaner structure was much improved and led to more people involved in ministries outside the church.

You can read more about this in my book Intentional Ministry in a Not-So-Mega Church.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

You need a plan if you're going to transform your church

I constantly run into pastors who are frustrated that nothing ever changes in their church.  They explain they want to see their church transform and become more than it is, but when I press them about what they are doing to intentionally bring about that transformation they can't give an answer.  I sometimes think they pray, "Lord, change our church," and then sit back to see what He will do.  When nothing changes they get frustrated, and I wonder if they don't get a little angry at God for not doing anything.  Prayer is certainly part of the transformation process, but a pastor can't depend on prayer alone to transform his or her church.  A pastor must have hope that things can change, but hope alone is not a strategy.  Transformational pastors have a plan that will begin to change the conversations in the church, and as the conversations change there is the opportunity that action will soon follow, and that is when transformation begins.

In smaller churches the Sunday morning sermon is the one opportunity the pastor has to speak to the most members of the congregation.  The planning must begin here.  I would recommend that a pastor who is serious about wanting to bring transformation to his or her church develop a preaching plan for at least six months, if not a year, that will focus on the missional nature of the first century church.  Within this series should be sermons that address the importance of every believer being involved in ministry.  One of the things I did as pastor was to give our members a spiritual gift assessment during the morning worship service one Sunday.  This was the one way I had of ensuring that the most people took the assessment.  Later, I took the results of that assessment to each member and we discussed the findings and how they might translate into personal ministry for them.  Too often a pastor will address this one week, and then the next week preach on a topic completely different.  If you want transformation to occur you need to focus on that for an extended time to get people using the language of transformation and to help them realize that God is calling them to do so much more than what most of our churches now do.

Training is a second component of transformation.  Pastors should not expect their congregations to be involved in ministry if they've never been taught how to minister to one another.  The Ephesians 4 model for ministry has become increasingly important to me in recent years.  The saints are to do the work of ministry, but the leadership has the responsibility to equip them to do that.  Do not criticize your congregation for not being more involved in ministry if you've not equipped them to do so.  We in leadership need to be very intentional about the training we provide our lay leadership and our congregation.

A third thing we need to plan for is how we will get our folks involved in actual ministry.  Again, we need to be very intentional about this.  It is not enough to post a sign-up sheet on the bulletin board asking for volunteers for some project.  We need to find appropriate ministry opportunities in our communities that will be a good match for the gifts and interests of our people and then approach them directly and ask that they become engaged.  It is important that we do this making it clear that they are expected to be involved.  Obviously, we cannot force them to do something they do not want to do, but we can make it known that there is a certain expectation that they will be involved in ministry as a part of being a member of our church.  Sometimes we find that people will act their way into new ways of thinking.  It is only after they get their hands dirty in ministry that they realize this is what the church is supposed to be about.

I recently preached a revival for a church.  Following the final service an elderly lady who had been a member of the church for many years said to me, "Now, we've got to do what you've challenged us to do.  We've talked and talked about these things, and it's time we do them."  I smiled at her and responded, "And when you do is when your church will experience revival."  This is true for your church as well.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Sharing pastors

This past weekend I spoke with a lay leader in a church who wanted to know how many of the churches in my judicatory share the same pastor.  While that is common in some denominations, especialy the United Methodists, we do not currently have any of our Baptist churches in our region sharing pastors.  He was surprised as he feels that is the next thing that is coming for our smaller churches struggling to find pastoral leadership.  I agree, but it won't be easy.

As a Baptist for over 50 years I can tell you we are a stubborn people.  Several years ago when I was still a bivocational pastor my Area Minister asked if I would consider serving a second church.  I was agreeable, and the leadership in the church I was serving agreed to share me with the other church.  However, when he approached that church of less than a dozen people they declined.  They insisted they wanted their "own" pastor.  For the next several years they cycled through a new pastor about every 12 months.  They were able to have their own pastor, but they never experienced any kind of continuity in ministry making it impossible for them to enjoy any type of positive ministry in their community.  Unfortunately, that mindset can be found in many, if not most, of our smaller Baptist churches.

Max DePree tells us the first responsibility of a leader is to define reality.  Sometimes that reality is painful and hard to hear, but it needs to be heard.  Studies consistently find that a growing number of pastors are unwilling to serve in smaller churches.  (You'll have to define what a smaller church is for your denomination because it does vary.)  There is not a clergy shortage as far as raw numbers of clergy persons vs the number of churches, but there is a severe clergy shortage for smaller churches.  You can criticize this all you want and question their faithfulness to God's call on their lives, but that doesn't change the reality of our situation.  Many pastors are not going to serve smaller churches.

This is becoming painfully obvious for the growing numbers of churches that have been served by fully-funded pastors in the past but find they cannot find one willing to serve their church now.  In the past five years I have helped a number of these churches make the shift from fully-funded leadership to bivocational leadership.  In most cases it has worked well once we got past some self-esteem issues in the church.  The second reality is that more of our churches are going to be making this same shift in the near future as their current pastoral leadership retire or accept other places to serve.

The problem here is that there is not an unlimited number of bivocational ministers either.  I do not talk with leaders of any denomination who tell me they have an abundance of good bivocational ministers.  Often, bivocational ministers will serve in churches that are geographically feasible which reduces the number of available bivocational people even further.  I may have one or two bivocational ministers seeking a church to serve in southern Indiana, but that doesn't help the church in northern Indiana because these folks can't move that far from their other employment.

In my mind there are two things that must take place.  One, churches and denominational leaders must become more intentional about identifying and training bivocational ministers.  The identification will come primarily through the local churches while the training will often need to be provided by denominationa and judicatories.  In our case we developed what we call the Church Leadership Institute to help develop our lay leaders and bivocational ministers.

The second thing that needs to happen is that more of our smaller churches must accept the idea of sharing pastors with another church.  There is not time in this post to address all the excuses I hear from churches that do not want to do that, but I will say that every concern can be overcome.   Having a trained, dedicated bivocational pastor that you share with another church will serve your church much better than if you hire someone who is related to a church member's uncle's step-sister on her father's side just so you can have your "own" pastor.

For years many fully-funded churches believed they would be going backwards if they called a bivocational church.  Many of these churches who have now called a bivocational minister tell me they wish they had done so much earlier.  I believe the same thing will happen as churches begin to share pastors.  Once they get the details worked out many of these churches will enjoy the quality of ministry they receive from their pastors, and they too will wish they had done so much sooner.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

A truth about revivals

This week I am preaching a revival for one of the churches in my judicatory.  Last night as we were leaving a seasoned pastor visiting from another church leaned over to me and said, "You know, you can't have revival in a comfortable church."  He is absolutely right.

I doubt that I could go into many churches and have any of them tell me they are not interested in having a revival in their church, but it is not likely to happen in most of them because they are too comfortable where they are.  They may complain, but the reality is they like the status quo.  Everyone knows their role, they know what's expected of them, and they like it like that.  Revivals are messy things.  They turn things upside down, make people feel uncomfortable, and challenge people like they haven't experienced in a long time.  When revival broke out in Acts 2 the people accused the Christians of being drunk.  When it occurred later in Acts 2 the people sold their possessions and gave the money to those who had need.  In Acts 3 the religious leaders tried to stop the revival by ordering Peter and John to stop preaching about Jesus.  (I have often found that religious leaders are often the most upset when revival breaks out.  Seminary never taught them what to do in such cases!)  And so it went throughout the book of Acts.

Revivals make people uncomfortable.  They might lose their seat in the sanctuary if new people suddenly begin to come!  (I said that on the first night of our revival.  As the service was about to begin on the second night a man who wasn't there on the first night but whose wife was turned to me and said, "My wife told me that you said if we had revival someone might take our seat."  He pointed across the aisle and whispered, "We've sat there for years" and started to laugh because some guests had their usual seats.

We are beginning to see a measure of persecution against Christians and the church in this country like we've not had before.  Some communities are now using zoning laws to prevent churches from building new facilities.  Other communities are passing laws making it impossible for Christians to have Bible studies in people's homes, and at least one pastor was recently sentenced to jail for constantly violating that law in his community.  The DNC removed any mention of God from their national platform this year and only restored it when they received widespread criticism.  It took three voice votes to pass the measure to restore it, and although the moderator announced the measure passed, there is legitimate questions regarding if it actually received sufficient votes to pass.  Many in attendance booed when it announced that God was added back into their platform.  A court has recently permitted a case to move forward that challenges the clergy housing allowance as being unconstitutional.  I could go on and on with examples, but it is obvious that the church in America is under attack today as never before in our nation's history.

Could it be that God is trying to shake us out of our comfort zones?  The OT is full of examples of God using ungodly nations to shake Israel out of its comfort zone.  The church would be foolish to think it is safe from having the same thing happen to it.  God has called our churches for a purpose, and the fact is that most of our churches have forgotten what that is.  We are comfortable in our air-conditioned buildings with our little committees, our denominational literature, our endowments, and our properly educated leadership, and we have forgotten why we exist.  We say the right things: we want to grow, we want to reach new people, we want revival, but we do nothing to actually experience any of these things because to do something would take us out of our comfort zone.

If your church sincerely wants to experience a fresh move of God in their midst they are going to have to leave their comfort zone and become burdened for God's vision for their church.  They are going to have to go out of their "sanctuary" into a dark and dangerous world to share the message that our rapidly emerging pagan culture desperately needs.  It won't be easy and it won't be comfortable, but there is where they will find God already working.  It is there they will find revival.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Scaling back

As I work with smaller churches across denominational lines there is one issue that is common to many of of them: they are much too structured for their size.  In many cases, they currently have the same structure they had when they were a much larger church.  The church may have shrunk in size over the years, but they still have the same offices, committees, boards, and organizations.  Trying to staff these positions each year becomes a major challenge.  Often, some positions go unfilled even while people in the church may hold five or six different positions.  What I tell these churches is that smaller churches can accomplish more by doing less.

Too many smaller churches are trying to compete with the larger church in town by offering ministries and programs they are not equipped to provide.  These churches believe if they don't have the same ministries as that larger church they will lose their people to that church.  They're probably right, but it's likely they will lose those people anyway.  See, it's not just a matter of offering a program; it's doing it with excellence.

Several years ago a smaller church asked how they could develop a youth ministry.  My recommendation to them was that they not.  I told the church there were two churches in their community that had youth groups of over 200 young people that met each week.  This church had three youth.  I asked how they thought they could compete with the ministries of the other church.  A person in that church corrected me saying there were actually four churches in their community with large youth groups, and I was right in saying they couldn't compete.  My challenge to them was to find a target group of people in the community that were not being served by another church and develop a ministry to them.

A smaller church should identify two or three ministries their church can do with excellence and focus on those ministries.  Everything else should be let go.  Concentrate your resources (time, energy, finances) on two or three things and drop everything else.  You will find that you can build your church on doing those few things rather than trying to be everything to everybody, and you'll find that ministry is much more exciting.

You also should look at your church structure.  Do you really need all the committees and boards that exist in your church?  Quite frankly, you could probably abolish 80 percent of those committees and boards and nobody would ever tell the difference.  If your church is like most, the majority of time these groups add very little, if anything, to the overall ministry of the church.  The benefit of doing away with non-productive boards and committees is that more people would be freed up to do actual ministry that makes a difference.  If a committee is needed for a specific need, create a ministry team to address that need, and as soon as their work is complete, the team is abolished, but eliminate the many standing committees that are doing very little.

In order to do this your church will have to become a permission-giving church.  Instead of making people jump through various hoops by getting approval from this committee and then two more, a permission-giving church has a clear vision for its ministry and anything that fits within that vision receives automatic approval.  This encourages people to become more creative in their thinking and challenges them to pursue their giftedness and passion for ministry.  As more people become involved in ministries they have created more people are reached for Christ and for the church.

How can your church begin to scale back?  As we approach the autumn months, this is a great time to look at how your church is structured and what changes you might want to make in that structure.  You'll find that the more simplified your structure is the better it will be able to serve others.  You will find more help on this issue in my book Intentional Ministry in a Not-so-Mega Church.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

When renewal comes

This week I am preaching a revival at one of our area churches.  My prayer is that this will be more than five special services which generates a little excitement that lasts a few weeks before everything returns to normal.  But, as I will point out to the folks, I really have little to do with whether or not they experience genuine revival.  Revival is between them and God.  If they seek God and are willing to repent of the things that have come between them and God, revival can come.  It will have to come to individuals first and then to the church.  If revival does come, what will be the changes that occur in the lives of the congregation and the church as a whole?  I believe there will be at least four specific things that will happen.
  1. People will once again experience the joy of their salvation.  Many have lost that joy and need to recapture it if they want to live the kind of life God intends for His children.
  2. Their personal and corporate worship will become celebrations for who God is and all he has done.
  3. People will want to minister to the needs of others.  Perhaps the thing most needed to transform an inward-looking, maintenance-minded church into a missional church is revival.
  4. People will have a burning desire to share their faith with other people who do not yet know Jesus Christ. 
Please pray that God will use me to help create a climate in which his Spirit will be able to freely move throughout the hearts and lives of those who attend these meetings.  Pray that I will be sensitive to what the Holy Spirit is wanting to do and that I will be willing to step aside and let Him touch the lives of men, women, and young people.  I covet the prayers of all those who follow this blog at all times, but I especially ask for them this week.  Thank you.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Church constitutions

Isn't it funny how nobody in a church cares about the church constitution until something is about to happen that they don't like?  Suddenly, constitutional lawyers show up all over the church waving their coffee stained copies of the church constitution.  The problem with most church consitutions is that they were usually created to ensure that things in the church were done decently and in order, but this is only in good times when people are feeling agreeable.  When things aren't going so well you'll find many church constitutions have more than enough loop holes to make life miserable for a congregation.

A church spent months preparing for a vote on building a new facility.  They had raised a substantial amount for the building which was in savings.  Leadership believed that if the church waited much longer building costs would climb costing them more money than initial estimates.  The church had secured good financing if the vote to build was approved.  Numerous information meetings were held to inform the congregation of all the details of the project.  On the day of the vote it was rejected.  The reason for the rejection was that a group of people who had left the church years earlier returned for the vote and voted against it.  The only requirement the church constitution had for voting eligibility was that the person had to be a member in good standing, but nowhere did it define what that meant.  Since this church never purged its membership list, they could not prevent this group from voting down this project.

Another church called a pastor who did not come from its denominational background.  Soon after his arrival he began to change people's roles in the church.  He removed some from serving as a deacon in the church and forced others to stop teaching their Sunday school classes.  He assigned persons to the roles he wanted them in.  There was nothing in the church's constitution to prevent him from doing those things.  The church was nearly destroyed by the time he finally left.

When most churches drew up their constitutions they never dreamed of the kinds of things that some people might do simply because the constitutions did not prevent them from doing them.  Many church constitutions are grossly outdated.  These are two good reasons for a church to review and rewrite its constitution.  When I was a pastor we were using a constitution that was more than twenty years old.  Some of the things it called for the church had not done in years.  We formed a committee to review and rewrite the constitution.  It took a year before the work was finally completed, but when we were done we had a document that better reflected who we were as a church and ministry in the 21st century.  We removed a lot of things that no longer needed to be there and closed up some of the loop holes we discovered.

I would recommend a church review and revise its constitution at least every ten years.  I have found that many constitutions of smaller churches have a lot of material that would be better in a policy manual.  By taking it out of the constitution and putting it into a policy manual it becomes much easier to change later, and it simplifies your constitution.  Spend time identifying potential loop holes that could hinder your ministry in the future and close them tight.  Do not presume on the Christian conduct of the good people who make up your membership to do what is right or you'll find some of them waving your constitution in your face the next time they oppose the plans of the church.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Is your church needed in your community?

I recently had two interesting conversations with pastors of very different churches.  One is a small, struggling church in a rural area.  The church isn't the healthiest church according to a denominational leader who knows it well, and some would argue that it should be closed.  However, what this ministry leader told me is that this church is located in a very poor area in their state that has a high level of problems - economic, family, violence, crime, etc, and this is the only church in that area.  He said that this church, even with all its problems, offers the only message of hope in this community.

Only a couple of weeks after that conversation I was speaking with the pastor of a larger congregation who was telling me they are quickly running out of space in one of their worship services.  Their church is landlocked and cannot build at its present location.  As we were talking about possible options I mentioned they should consider starting a satellite church in a nearby community.  They already have people driving from that area due to the fact that there are no churches of his denomination in that community.  He not only agreed with me but had already been thinking of the same thing.  The only other option for that congregation would be for them to relocate their entire facility which would make no sense.  Besides, the pastor told me, their community needs their church.  While there are a number of other churches in the immediate area, none of them are reaching out into the community as my friend's church is doing, and none of them are growing.  That community needs this church in that area so the church will have to look at starting a second site if it wants to continue its growth.

Two very different churches.  One is growing while the other struggles to remain open.  One has a bivocational pastor, and the other church has three fully-funded ministers on staff.  What they have in common is that their communities need them because of the spiritual impact they make on those communities.

Does your community need you?  One writer once asked, "If your church closed tomorrow would anyone in your community know?"  If your church did not open next Sunday would your community be impacted at all?  How long would it be before some people even knew your church had ceased to exist?  What difference is your church having on your community?  By honestly answering these questions you will also answer the one that is the title of this post.

Several years ago I was scheduled to meet with a church committee.  This was before GPS so I got directions to the church from MapQuest.  I soon found out MapQuest did not know where this church was located.  I had seen a sign for the church from the highway so I knew I was in the right vicinity so I continued to drive up and down the country roads looking for the church or at least another sign.  I stopped at two homes to ask directions, and neither of them could tell me where the church was located.  I was late for the meeting and about to give up and return home when I found the church.  The incredible thing was that the church was within two miles of both homes where I had asked for directions.  This church had been in the same location for over 100 years, but people within two miles of it didn't know where it was located.  Could that happen if someone was trying to find your church building?

Our churches should be well known in the communities they serve as ministry centers where people can find hope and comfort, and most of all God.  People should smile when they say the name of our churches because of the ministries we provide.  People from all denominations, and people of no faith at all, should recognize our churches as people who are having a positive impact on their communities.  What specific things will your church do in your community between now and the end of this year that will serve the people of that community?  When you live your faith outside the four walls of your building your church will be needed in your community.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Bivocational Newsletter

For the past several years I have published an e-newsletter written especially for bivocational and small church leaders and the churches they serve.  This month you can read the newsletter here. You may need to enlarge it with the tools below.


Saturday, September 1, 2012

Who are you willing to lose?

A few years ago a pastor called asking if I would lead a visioning process for his church.  He believed if things remained the same that church had maybe ten years left before it would close its doors.  A few weeks later I presented what I would do to help them discern a fresh vision from God if they invited me to do so.  Following the service we had a Q&A session which went fairly well until one older lady spoke up and said, "I was feeling good about what you were talking about until you said if we began to change we might lose some people.  When you said that I looked around the room and didn't see anyone I was willing to give up."  As she spoke I noticed heads nodding in agreement and knew this church was not ready for transformation.  A few months later the pastor resigned for another church.

What I wish now I had said in response was, "The reason you don't see anyone you are willing to give up is because they are not here.  You've already given them up.  They are your teenagers, your children, and grandchildren who do not attend church here or anywhere else.  They are the new people who have moved into your community who find no reason to come here to be involved in your ministry.  They are the persons who may face eternal separation from God because you are more concerned about the relationships you have with a dozen or so people than you are about people who need Jesus Christ."  I expect the results would have been the same (I wouldn't have been invited back) but at least I would have left them with something to think about.

One of the great tragedies in the North American church is how many of them are totally engrossed in their own comfort and fellowship and have little or no regard for the people God has called them to reach.  How many churches will spend weeks preparing for a rummage sale that will allow them to send $100.00 to a missionary overseas but won't spend an hour reaching out to the unchurched people in their own communities?  We have forgotten the purpose for our existence which is found in the Great Commission and the Great Commandment.

Our young people are leaving the church in droves, and I doubt many of them will return.  They simply find nothing in their churches that compel them to stay.  No sense of mission, wishy-washy doctrine, continual turmoil, and a preference on styles and traditions that no longer make sense are not appealing to the younger generation.  Some will abandon the Christian faith entirely and seek to satisfy their spiritual hunger in other ways.  Some will maintain their Christian heritage but develop other forms of church that may be much different than what we are now used to.  In either case, buildings that were built with a vision of providing needed ministry to a community will become empty testimonies to the loss of vision in later generations.  They will become monuments to a church that turned its back on its God-given purpose and found, in turn, that people turned their backs on the church.

80 percent of our churches are plateued or declining, and I believe the vast majority of them are declining.  Depending on how far down the life cycle they are there is still hope they can create new ministries and rise up from their decline, but that won't happen unless they are willing to expeience significant change.  Yes, change may cause some people to leave, but you're already losing people.  Are you willing to lose a few that feels uncomfortable with change or are you willing to give up entire future generations when your church is closed when the last few faithful members are gone?