Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Expectations for the pastor

Meeting expectations is always a tough thing for many pastors to do.  Although many churches have official job descriptions for the pastoral position, that only tells part of the story.  In a church of 50 people there will be 50 different job descriptions in people's minds.  If someone comes to a church from another church they will likely expect their pastor to operate much like the ones they knew in their previous church.  Even if people are still attending the church they grew up in it is likely at some point in their life there was a pastor who had a significant impact on their lives, and they will compare other pastors to that person.  Some in the church have their own agenda for what the church should be and do, and they fully expect the pastor to sign up for their agenda.  That becomes a problem when there are competing agendas in the church.

Perhaps worse that trying to meet the expectations of the members, many of us in ministry struggle to meet the expectations we place on ourselves.  The pastor who grew up in a home where he or she was told they are only as good as what they do will spend a lifetime trying to prove to their parents they were worthy of their love.  Pastors who bought into the seminary professor's insistence they must spend X number of hours in sermon preparation or they will be a disappointment to their congregation and to God will surely struggle on those weeks when those numbers of hours simply weren't available.  More than one pastor has confided to me their disappointment in their own prayer life.  Many go into the ministry believing they will be able to change the world only to find out most weeks the only thing that gets changed is the color of the suit.

I am convinced trying to meet unrealistic expectations, either imposed by others or by ourselves, is a major reason many abandon the ministry within a few years after completing seminary.  What can a minister do to reduce the stress of such expectations?  Let me simply list a few.

  1. Ministers must know their areas of giftedness and strengths and work within those areas as much as possible.  While it is not possible to avoid working in areas of weakness all the time, most ministers will find ministry much more enjoyable when working in the areas where God has uniquely equipped them.  As often as possible, delegate your weaker areas to others who are better able to do them.
  2. Communicate those areas of strengths and weaknesses to others, especially to your congregation, so they can assist.  I tend to not be a great detail person, and I was very fortunate to have lay people in the church I served who were. 
  3. Work on your own expectations.  If you struggle with poor self-esteem it will show itself in the expectations you place on yourself.  Many times, ministers are their own worst enemy.  Ministers who need to be needed will find it hard to say no to anyone, except their own families, and that can cause a multitude of problems.
I discuss these in more detail in my book The Healthy Pastor: Easing the Pressures of Ministry.  You may want to read this book to learn more about how to deal with unrealistic expectations as well as several other stresses common to ministry.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Matching the pastor and the church

One of the frustrations I have in my work with churches is the number of times that problems occur because the church and pastor are not good matches for one another.  Although this should seldom occur, it happens all too frequently.  When a good church and a good pastor are not good matches for one another both pay a price.  The church loses ministry opportunities it could have enjoyed if it had not been spending so much time trying to make a bad match work, and the pastor usually ends up leaving the church feeling as if he or she has failed in ministry.  The reason it is so frustrating to me is that in most cases it could be avoided if both parties really understood God's vision for their ministries.

In my first meeting with pastor search committees I always ask them to tell me the vision of the church.  The best response I usually get is someone reads a vision statement from a piece of paper they had in a file.  Most of the time I get blank stares until someone finally admits they don't have one.  My next question then is, "If you don't know where God is leading you as a church how do you know what ministry gifts your new pastor will need to help you get there?"  More times than I can count someone will respond that they are waiting for a new pastor to come and lead them.  Guess what?  Quite often that pastor tries to lead them where they don't want to go, and that's when denominational leaders receive a call saying the church is having problems with its pastor.  If the church has a clear understanding of the ministry God is leading them to embrace, and they share that with the candidates the potential pastors can then compare that to their ministry strengths and determine if they will be a good fit.

That often does not happen.  Too many churches can't stand to go long without a pastor and they call the first one who seems to have a good personality and can preach a decent trial sermon.  Too many pastors are so desperate to find a place to serve they are willing to take the first one that keeps them close to family, or offers a better financial package, or fits them culturally.  The church and pastor both announce to the world that God has brought them together to do ministry, and three years later it appears that God has changed His mind because they are now trying to separate from one another as quickly as possible.  And we wonder why the church in America is in the trouble it's in.

Let me conclude this post with two quotes.  The first one comes from the Bible: Without a vision the people perish.  Approximately 5,000 churches in America close their doors every year, and it is safe to say that none of them probably had any sense of vision other than survival.  God has a plan for every church.  He has a vision for every church, and a church that identifies that vision and seeks to live it out will not just survive but thrive.  That vision will engage the congregation, bring hope to people who have lost hope, and expand the Kingdom of God in ways many churches cannot imagine.  When the gifts and passions of the people are in alignment with God's vision great things will happen.  When a pastor's ministry gifts and skills are a match for that vision he or she and the church will usually enjoy a long, fruitful ministry together.

The second quote is associated with John Maxwell: Everything rises and falls on leadership.  If the pastor is not a good match for the church it is almost a certainty that the church will wander around in the wilderness confused and unable to enter into the ministry God has for it.  If the pastor is trying to lead the church one way that is in alignment with his or her gifts, and the church has a different destination in mind, there will soon be a parting of the ways.  Ministry opportunities will be lost, some forever.  It is essential that before a church begins the process of seeking a new pastor that it goes through some type of discernment process, and much prayer, to clearly identify a vision that unifies the congregation and captures the commitment of everyone in the church, and that it seeks only those persons whose spiritual giftedness and skills sets will be a good match for that vision.

Monday, October 29, 2012


This past Saturday our Region again hosted Awakening, a ministry designed to help our smaller churches learn new ways of doing effective ministry.  We offer Awakening at three different sites throughout the Region.  This was the third of seven sessions, and it focused on helping our churches learn their core values, bedrock beliefs, and begin a visioning process.  We worked through each of these with the pastors and lay leaders who are part of the Awakening team for each church and encouraged them to return to their churches and repeat the process with the entire congregation.

If you've read my books you know how passionate I am about a church having a clear, unifying vision.  With such a vision a church is better able to minister with a sense of purpose, it can make decisions easier, it reduces conflict, it helps identify what should be included in the church budget and calendar and what things do not need to be included, it guides the pastor in his or her duties, and it encourages lay people to become more involved in ministry because the vision will have been shaped by their gifts and passions for ministry.  Despite all these, and more, advantages of having a vision most smaller churches still cannot articulate any sense of vision for their ministries.  No matter what they may claim, these churches are content to drift along with no sense of purpose and complain about the lack of anything happening in their ministries.

Any church, regardless of size, that is serious about wanting to enjoy a more effective ministry must have a God-given vision for that ministry and be willing to pursue that vision.  Vision is not something that is determined by a 51 percent majority vote nor is it something that comes about as a result of consensus.  A God-given vision must be discerned, a process that can take some time but one that is well worth it.  An important part of that discernment process is identifying the core values and bedrock beliefs of the congregation.

Why is this so important?  The core values and bedrock beliefs of any organization or individual shapes every decision they make.  This is who the organization or individual is at their very core, and to deny their core values and bedrock beliefs would be to deny their identity.  Jesus said that out of the abundance of our hearts our mouths speak.  What is on the inside will eventually appear on the outside.  The same is true of a congregation.  Any vision that a church may have must be congruent with its core values and bedrock beliefs or it will be of little value becasue it will not be a true vision for that church.

The difficulty churches often have in determining its core values and bedrock beliefs is that they often want to list what they think those values and beliefs should be.  I once had a church list "youth" as one of their core values until someone in the group challenged that by asking, "If youth is a core value in our church, why am I the only one here willing to work with the youth?  Why do you all turn me down every time I ask you to help me with a youth project?"  That led to some interesting conversations that the church needed to have but had avoided to that point.  On the other hand I had another church include "cliques" as a core value.  They recognized that it was a negative, but they also recognized it was true of their church.  I appreciated their honesty and the discussion it created.  Most of the churches I've worked with would not have been that honest.

Church pastors can lead this self-evaluation, but it is often better for someone from the outside to lead it.  There is a process I use for this evaluation that I think is very effective.  If you think this could be helpful to your church, please let me know.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Walking through life

I have to admit that I tend to be a Type-A personality.  Some would argue that should be a Type-AAA.  I seldom slow down for very long nor will you find me in one spot for a long period of time.  I prefer doing a wide variety of things during the course of most days, and I've been like this most of my life.  That's probably why being a bivocational pastor was so easy for me.  I could keep busy doing lots of different things.

Most years I struggled on vacation trying to slow down long enough to enjoy myself.  I can remember a number of vacations on the beach when I stayed wound tight as a banjo string before finally loosening up a little on Wednesday.  The vacation my wife and I enjoyed last week was different.  I never felt stressed at all and never felt like I needed to be doing something.  I played golf our first day there and never had any real desire to play again the rest of the week.  I just enjoyed spending the day with my wife sitting around the pool reading or walking the beach or driving around the community looking at the changes since our last time there.  It was really one of the most relaxing vacations I ever had.

That slower pace has continued this week as I returned to work.  Rather than running from one thing to another I've taken a slower pace.  Although I needed to get some things done today I met an individual who is dealing with some issues and needed to talk.  I gave that person time.  Soon after lunch I had a phone call from a church leader who wanted to talk about some issues at the church he attends.  We spent much more time on the phone than normal as I sensed he was feeling some pain with the things that we discussed.  We scheduled another phone call for tomorrow so he could update me on his thoughts.  A pastor called to schedule a workshop for his church for early next year and there was no sense of a need to hurry through the call to get to the next activity.  I've enjoyed this slower pace, but now I'm wondering how many times in the past I have rushed past a need to accomplish the next thing on my list.

I'm someone who enjoys a to-do list, and nothing makes me any happier than to have everything checked off at the end of the day, but could that have prevented me from seeing someone God had put in my path who needed my assistance?  I hate to admit it, but probably.  A pastor I respect once told me that the most important place he could be was where he was at, and the most important person he could talk to was the one he was with.  At the time I thought he was just trying to excuse his reputation for often being late, but now I think he understood something I didn't.  People are more important than appointments or to-do lists.

It's funny that I have preached sermons on how some of Jesus' most important events occurred as he was walking and encountering people, but I have seldom walked through life.  Somehow I never connected the point of the message with my own tendency to run through life.  It reminds me of an old Andy Griffith episode when a visiting pastor talked about people's tendency to rush through life and never stopping to enjoy it.  As Andy and Barney discuss it after Sunday lunch they remembered how the community used to enjoy a Sunday afternoon listening to the community band.  They decide to see if they can do it that again that Sunday.  They find the bandstand needs some repairs so some people begin to do that.  They also find that the old band uniforms are torn and dirty so some other people begin to repair and clean them.  The community band hasn't played together for years so they need to practice.  The entire day is spent with everybody running around trying to do something relaxing.  The finally have everything ready for the concert when the visiting minister comes by.  They invite him to stay and hear the concert, but, of course, he has to run to catch his plane for his next appointment.  Like me, the minister had a great message but failed to connect it with his own life.

It won't be easy, but I'm going to try to walk through life a little more.  I want to see if there have been some ministry opportunities I've been missing because I've been too busy to see them.  I want to take a little more time to look at what God is doing in our world.  I want to enjoy family and friends a little more than in recent years.  I want to build margin in my life so when emergencies come, and they will come, I'll be ready for them.  I want to be able to hear God when He speaks in a still, small voice as He leads me to new adventures.  What about you?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

When a church needs a bivocational pastor

Many denominational leaders are reporting the same trend: a number of their previously fully-funded churches find they must go to a bivocational pastor.  Often, the change is due to decreasing finances or rising insurance costs.  One church I serve in our judicatory made that move in 2011 and told me they could afford to pay a good salary, but they could no longer afford to provide medical insurance.  So far, the shift has worked fairly well in that church, but that is not always the case.

About a year ago I was asked to speak to a congregation that had told their pastor he would need to become bivocational or seek another place to serve.  I was to address the changes the church should expect as they made the transition.  A large number of the congregation attended the meeting and asked good questions.  The pastor had found other employment and decided to remain at the church in a bivocational role.  For several months the transition went well, but recently things are not going so well at the church.  I'll explain why in a moment.

There are at least two things that congregations must address when transitioning from having a fully-funded pastor to a bivocational pastor.  One is self-esteem.  It is not uncommon for a church to wonder what they have done wrong or why God has seemingly abandoned them when they can no longer have a fully-funded pastor.  I once spoke at a church out west whose sanctuary seated 600 people.  They now had 60 in attendance, and the morale in that church was at rock bottom.  Many in the church saw themselves as failures and could do little but speak of "the good old days."

I try to encourage churches to not see themselves as failures or to believe God has abandoned them.  God uses small churches to accomplish great things.  Rather than focusing on what they have lost these churches would do much better to focus on the new opportunities they now have.  Instead of spending the bulk of their offerings on pastoral salary and benefits these churches now often have additional money that can be used for ministry.   More resources for ministry means that more people outside the congregation can be touched and introduced to the Kingdom of God.  At every workshop I lead for bivocational ministers I remind them that the call to bivocational ministry is not a lesser nor a greater call to ministry; it is the call God has placed on their lives and is equal to every other call.  I would say the same to churches that are moving from being fully-funded to bivocational.  Your church is not less important to God and His Kingdom and becoming bivocational may mean that new ministry opportunities are about to open up.  Look for them.

The second issue deals with expectations.  Churches sometimes find it easier to move to a bivocational salary than to shift their expectations of the pastor.  It is not fair to ask the pastor to find another job to supplement his or her salary and then continue to expect the same work from the pastor.  This is the problem that occurred in the church mentioned above.  For the first few months the congregation picked up several of the responsibilities the pastor had been doing, but as the months went by that started happening less and less.  That was one of the things I cautioned the church about, and I thought they understood that when I left, but they evidently forgot.  The pastor and his wife told me the church was now expecting him to do almost everything he was doing when he was fully-funded.  I doubt he will remain at that church must longer.

One of the strengths of bivocational ministry is that church members often become more personally involved in ministry.  They understand the pastor has a job just like they do and is not available 24/7, so many of them step in and fill more ministry roles.  Actually, this is a scriptural way for the church to operate.  Eph. 4 tells us the role of the pastor is to equip the saints to do the work of ministry, and when this model is followed good things often happen.  Bivocational churches must move from a pastoral care model to a congregational care model.  The pastor may not always be available to minister to someone in need, but there is usually someone in the congregation who can do that if they understand they are called to do so just as much as the pastor.

For more on this and other aspects of bivocational ministry you may want to read The Bivocational Pastor: Two Jobs, One Ministry.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

How many of your first-time guests are now involved in your church?

In yesterday's post I discussed some of the problems I noticed with the motel we stayed in while vacationing last week and how they relate to some of the same problems I sometimes see in churches.  I mentioned that the motel looked "tired" when compared to the more modern motels in the area, there was inconsistent cleaning of our rooms, and the free breakfast left a lot to be desired.  Today I will address the biggest shocker that completely surprised me.

Shortly after getting into our room I decided to check the Internet connection with my laptop.  I was able to immediately gain access to the motel's wifi and had an excellent connection.  When I clicked on my homepage another screen appeared informing me Internet service was $24.95 per week.  I have stayed in countless motels across the country and have never paid for Internet service.  I thought that charge went the way of the dinosaur.  My wife asked if I was going to pay for it, and I responded absolutely not.  We were on vacation, and if I didn't have it I wouldn't be tempted to do any work.  Besides, my phone provides me with Internet and e-mail access so I could still check things if needed, but that doesn't allow me to accomplish much work.  One day while sitting by the pool I was reading my NOOK when an elderly lady asked if I had wifi connection.  I explained I did not, and she responded she could not believe the motel actually charged to connect to the Internet.

There are at least two problems here that I see.  One, nobody likes being nickled-and-dimed.  Even your cheapest motels advertise free Internet service; there was no reason this motel feels they have to charge for it.  I felt this made the owners look cheap and greedy.  We were on vacation so it wasn't absolutely necessary we had Internet service, but what if I had been in town on a working trip?  I would have had to pay the fee or move to a different motel that offered free wifi.  Since the motel has a 72 hour cancellation policy it would have cost me more to move than to pay the fee, and the owners of the motel know that.

The second problem is that the owners either do not understand or care about how important it is for younger people especially to be connected.  I'm 64 and I would judge the woman who asked if I had wifi was maybe 10 years older than me, and it was important to us.  Imagine how younger people who are connected 24/7 would feel about being forced to pay additional for Internet service.  I can't see how this policy does anything to attract younger clientele to the motel, and I would think that would be a group they would want to reach.

Many younger people also do not understand why churches aren't more involved with modern technology.  Being a visual generation they struggle to understand why many churches do not use video technology in their services.  They wonder why there is no way for them to connect online with the church or their small group.  Studies continue to show that churches that offer online giving opportunities often see an increase in their finances.  That's because younger people are used to paying their bills online and do not understand why they can't give to their church the same way.  The churches that make that option available will be the churches that will be more apt to reach the younger generation.

I believe every church regardless of size should have a webpage, a blog, and a Facebook account if they are serious about wanting to attract younger people.  They probably won't read the newsletter you mail out, but they would likely read your blog.  They are unlikely to pick up the bulletin from last Sunday to check on the time of a church event, but they might attend if they are reminded on Facebook.  Churches should not claim they want to reach young people if they are not willing to communicate with them in methods they use.

Now that I've addressed the problems I noticed about the motel, will I stay there again?  Maybe.  See, like someone who has been a member of a church for a long time, I have some history with that motel.  I don't know that any of these issues are deal-breakers for me.  My wife and I did talk about checking out some other motels in the area before we make reservations again, so we'll have to wait until that time to know whether or not we return to that same motel.  But I do know this, if I was driving into Panama City Beach for the first time looking for a place to spend a few days I would drive past that motel to one that looked fresher, and if I was looking online for a place to make reservations and was considering this motel but did not see something promoting free Internet I would continue looking until I found one that did.

Forget what you keep telling yourself about how inviting your church is to outsiders.  How inviting is it really?  If you want a good way to gauge your answer, how many first-time guests have you had this year and how many of them came back for a second visit?  Finally, how many of them are now regularly attending your church.  When you answer those questions you will be able to accurately answer the one about how inviting your church is.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

What might keep guests from returning?

Yesterday I mentioned that my wife and I had been on vacation at Panama City Beach.  While staying at a motel we've stayed at numerous times before I began to notice some issues that are often found in churches.  Some of these issues are likely to go unnoticed by regular members of the church, but guests to the church will notice them and can deter them from returning to the church.  I want to look at some of those issues in today's post.

If I could describe the motel in one word it would be "tired."  Several years ago a major hurricane damaged many of the building on the beach front, so there have been a number of new high rise motels and condominimuns built to replace the ones that were damaged.  Compared to those new structures the motel where we stayed just looked tired.  It needed fresh paint.  The rail on our balcony had large areas of rust and needed painting.  The pool had a different color of paint around its edge, and there were places where the paint had chipped away.  Many of the signs around the pool were faded and difficult to read.

The legs on the stove in our room had large rust places that had eaten away at the enamel.  The mitred corners on one picture frame in the living room had come apart and needed to be reglued.  While our room was comfortable, it too looked a little tired.  I really believe that if someone came to PCB and was looking for a place to stay based on the appearance of the property, most would pass by the motel where I stayed for one that looked fresher and more modern.

As one who is in a lot of churches in a year's time I can say that some of them look tired as well.  A fresh coat of paint, maybe some new carpet, and some quality landscaping would do wonders for many church properties.  When churches are allowed to look tired it sends a message to outsiders that says the people lack pride in their facilities and just don't care any more.  If the members don't care, why should the non-members?

A second frustration we had was with the maid service.  Quite frankly, we need little in the way of maid service.  Our rooms are usually as clean when we leave as when we arrive.  All the maids have to do in make the bed, empty trash, and replace towels and coffee.  That seemed to be a challenge.  Only one day the entire week did we have our coffee service replaced.  (That wasn't all bad because the coffee they use isn't that great anyway, but it's the principle.)  Only one day were all three trash cans emptied.  Every other day one trash can was left full.

One of the top things first time guests at a church check is the cleanliness of the facility.  They will notice the cobwebs in the corner that the church members never see.  They will see the overflowing trash cans in the bathrooms or the lack of towels to dry their hands.  They will wonder why anyone would purchase toilet paper that is only two inches wide and so thin you can see through.  If the church isn't clean it again sends negative signals to guests that this church doesn't care.

The last thing I'll mention in today's post concerns the free breakfast.  Most motels offer similar free breakfasts, but this one didn't even meet the minimum standards found in most motels.  Their offering consisted of yogurt, bagel, and two types of muffin, coffee, and juice.  It never changed all week.  They also posted a notice that each resident was to only take one serving of breakfast.

Your church may or may not offer refreshments before or after the worship services, but if you do go beyond the minimum.  Serve good coffee, not the mud found in most motels.  Don't cut up your donuts into fourths, and fire the donut police.  Who cares if someone takes three?   Offer healthy choices as well.  Have fruit or fat-free yogurt as alternate choices.  Here is one area where it really does cost just a little more to go first class, so don't scrimp.  Either offer refreshments with excellence or don't offer them at all.

I'm sorry I have not touched on anything very spiritual here, but these are the kinds of things that determine if first-time guests return or not, and that decision is made within minutes of driving on the church property.  Before the choir sings or the minister preaches, most first-time guests have already decided if they will return or not, and that decision is based on things such as the appearance of the facility and the hospitality they find once they arrive.  Tomorrow we'll look at a couple more issues.

Monday, October 22, 2012

I'm back

If you've been wondering where I've been the past week or so, we've been on vacation at Panama City Beach.  For safety reasons I do not post on FB, on my blog, or Twitter when we're away.  I've never understood why people post pictures of themselves while they are away on vacation.  Why not just hang a big sign outside your house that says, "Hey, thieves!  We're gone for a week.  Help yourselves!"

We had a great time on this vacation.  The weather was 80-85 degrees every day.  It only rained one day which gave us an opportunity to do some reading.  The fresh seafood was excellent.  I should probably also mention that we celebrated our 46th anniversary while we were there.

We used to go to PCB every year during our anniversary, but we had not been down there for about eight years, so we were really looking forward to returning.  We even stayed at the same motel we normally stay at, but something interesting happened this time.  I began to look at the motel as if I was a guest at a church.  I suppose if you've been in the ministry as long as I have that these kinds of things happen.  I noticed some problems with the motel that have a lot of parallels with people visiting churches that I want to mention in a couple of posts.

Let me begin by noting the things that were positive about our stay at the motel.  We arrived at 1:00 and check-in isn't until 4:00.  Our room wasn't ready which did not surpise me.  The young lady at the front desk took my cell phone number to let me know when we could check in.  We left to do some shopping, and within 30 minutes I received a text letting me know the room was ready.  That is good service.

Everyone we met on staff was friendly and helpful.  Our room was clean and well stocked with the appropriate cooking and eating items.  I had requested a room on a lower floor, and that was granted.

I consider everything mentioned so far as minimal standards, and the motel excelled on each of these.  In recent months I've stayed at a few places that failed even these standards, so I was quite pleased that the place where we were spending a week was better than those other motels.

Most churches probably meet most of the minimal standards.  Staff and members are generally pleasant and friendly.  Most churches maintain a level of cleanliness and try to provide good service to the people who attend.  However, people who visit for the first time often notice things that the regular attenders overlook, and it is often those things that determine whether or not those guests will return.  In tomorrow's post I will discuss some of the things that I noticed at our motel that, if they were in a church, might keep guests from returning.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

2012 revival at Campbellsville University

As some of you know, for the past several years I have been privileged to serve on the Church Relations Council for Campbellsville University in Kentucky.  I believe it is one of the finest Christian universities in America and was delighted to read about twenty students who made professions of faith during a recent revival held on campus.  You can read the article at

Friday, October 12, 2012

Straight talk to people considering attending seminary

In yesterday's post I addressed the problem of seminary trained ministers seeking churches to serve and the reluctance of many of them to serve bivocational churches.  What makes this problem worse is that increasing numbers of our churches are moving from being fully-funded to bivocational.  Many of these churches are not seeking managers as much as they are seeking entrepreneurial leadership who can help them begin to move forward again.  One of my concerns, which I also mentioned in yesterday's post, is that many seminaries continue to prepare ministers for churches that no longer exist.  Today I want to speak to people who are considering a seminary education.

In the past I have been accused of being anti-education.  It may help to know that I have three degrees including a DMin which I received just a couple of years ago at the age of 62.  I am not anti-education; I am anti-education that doesn't prepare a person for living in the real world.  Too many students leave school with enormous sums of student loan debt with an education that has not prepared them to make a living in the real world.  That is a waste of both time and money.  When I decided at the age of 54 to pursue a master's degree I had already been in ministry for nearly three decades. For twenty of those years I pastored a bivocational church, and for the previous five years I had served as a judicatory minister in our denomination.  I didn't need a degree to get a job.  I wanted the knowledge and the personal growth that would come with pursuing the degree.  I purposefully chose not to seek an MDiv but instead enrolled in a MAR program with a concentration in leadership.  After completing that program I enrolled in the DMin program again for my own personal growth.

Why did I not pursue the traditional MDiv?  That has become the degree that most persons going into ministry seek, but I chose the MAR for several reasons.  The primary reason is that I question the value of the MDiv for most pastors.  This post is about talking straight so that is what I am going to do.  The traditional MDiv provides the student with a lot of knowledge and skills that he or she will seldom, if ever, use in an actual church ministry.  In my twenty year pastorate no one ever asked me to exegete a passage from the Bible, but I did have people want to talk to me about a child who had a problem with alcohol or couples who came to me with issues in their marriage.  I can hear some of you asking, but how did you prepare for your sermons without an understanding of Greek and Hebrew?

I'm glad you asked that!  In most MDiv programs I've seen three semesters of biblical languages are required.  That's fine, but that does not make anyone an expert in those languages.  In my library I have several hundreds of dollars of books written by individuals who have spent a lifetime studying biblical languages as well as the history and geography and customs of biblical times.  I can go to those commentaries and reference books and benefit from their years of study as I prepare my sermons.  I simply don't believe that three semesters of biblical languages is a good substitute for the wealth of information I can receive from these trusted authors.  I've come to believe that the MDiv is now the program that persons planning on doing PhD work take while those of us called to pastoral ministry should look at the MA programs being offered by many seminaries today.

My MAR program consisted of courses one would expect from a seminary program but also included a number of courses designed to help me develop as a leader.  Because my program included a concentration in leadership, five leadership courses were included in my studies.  These practical courses would serve any pastor well and provided the kind of training that many churches now seek from their pastoral leaders.

Many of our churches today are much less concerned with a pastor's credentials as they are if he or she can do the job.  I do not mean to take away from the spiritual nor do I want anyone to think I am downplaying the value of biblical studies.  Anyone who knows me will testify as to my strong belief in the integrity of the Scriptures and my use of those Scriptures as the foundation to my messages and my ministry.  But, at the same time, our churches want people who can build relationships with the membership as well as with persons outside the church.  They want people who have experienced more of life than is found sitting in a classroom.  They want people who have skills that are useful outside the church.  They are less interested in someone who can manage the church as they are in finding someone who can provide them with servant leadership.  The degrees you seek from seminary must help you acquire these skills if you want to enjoy ministry in the 21st century.

One last word to persons considering seminary.  I may have taken a very unorthodox approach to getting my education waiting so long to get my master's and doctoral degrees, but I also didn't incur any student debt either.  When I talk with seminary graduates with $60,000 in student loan debt who are serving in churches paying $35,000 a year I have to wonder why.  It may have taken me longer than most ministers to complete my education, but doing it the way I did I was able to cash flow it and avoid that debt, and I was involved in ministry during all that time so I could put into immediate practice what I was learning.  Just one more thing to consider.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Straight talk to seminary grads

This post likely will not make me popular with some readers, but at some point somebody has to stand up and tell people the truth.  The good news for seminary graduates is that there are a good number of churches currently seeking pastors.  The bad news you need to know is most of them are bivocational.  The likelihood of you pastoring a megachurch is rather slim because more and more of our churches are becoming bivocational.  Some of you are going to find out your seminary education has prepared you for a ministry that was much more common in the past than it will be in the future.  In the past ministers were expected to manage stable churches that enjoyed favor in the community and experienced some measure of growth on a somewhat consistent basis, and that is what many of our seminaries taught their students to do when they were called to a church.  The church of the future will be looking for more entrepreneurial leadership who also have skills that will allow them to seek employment outside the church.  If you want to eat and pay off that big student loan debt you've accumulated over the past seven years you better have skills that will allow you to find a job outside the church because increasing numbers of churches are not able to provide a living wage and a salary package that will provide for your financial needs.

Some believe that economics is the only factor driving this movement towards more bivocational churches.  While I certainly believe this is a factor, I believe there are also other things going on here.  For many of our churches, until the 1950s bivocational pastors were the norm.  It was about that time that denominations began to push their churches to call full-time pastors.  Anything less than that was suspect in many denominations.  We are now returning to an earlier time for pastoral leadership as many of our churches are now moving back to having bivocational pastors.  Believe it or not, there are some positives to this.

One, it is more difficult for the church to consider the bivocational pastor as the "hired gun" of the church who is responsible to see that ministry is being done.  He or she also has another job which means that more people in the congregation must be involved if ministry is to happen.  This takes us back to the Ephesians four model of ministry: the role of the minister is to equip the saints to do the work of ministry.  For many Baptist churches the doctrine of the Priesthood of the Believer was more believed than practiced, but with the increase in bivocational ministers more churches are beginning to learn what this doctrine means.  We've all been called to serve, to minister, and those whom God has called to lead us have been given the task of helping equip us to fulfill our call to serve.

A second advantage is that being bivocational takes the pastor out of the church office and puts him or her right in the middle of the mission field.  As a bivocational pastor who worked on the shop floor of a factory I never had to worry about being isolated from the real world.  At least from 7:00 - 3:30 every day I was in it.  I had the same challenges the people in our congregation faced.  I understood the worry about layoffs, union contracts expiring, and downsizing that others in our church felt because it was part of my world as well.  Few people on that shop floor deferred to me because I was a minister.  In fact, some seemed to go out of their way to act and talk worse when they were around me than when they weren't.

A third advantage is that it may give the pastor more credibility with persons outside the church.  They have the opportunity to watch him or her in their environment, and if they are able to consistently live out their faith while at the same time remaining human, it can make them seem more real to outsiders.  There were times when I was able to minister to persons with whom I worked in the factory who would have never talked about their problems with another pastor.  While sitting at a break table with a nasty cup of vending machine coffee I heard more than one person talk of a troubled marriage or problems with a child or financial worries as well as a host of other concerns.  I had opportunities to share words of encouragement and advice as well as being able to pray for them.  One individual in our plant who had not been in church in years asked one day if I would conduct the funeral for her father who had passed away the day before.  Only a handful of people attended that service, but I was able to offer a comforting word and share the gospel with them.

From research I've studied and discussions with judicatory leaders from many denominations I know that many seminary graduates are very reluctant to serve in bivocational churches.  That is unfortunate because these churches need your leadership, and, as you can read above, there are some unique advantages to such ministry.  You need to understand that the call to bivocational ministry is not a greater nor a lesser call than the call to a fully-funded position.  It is a call from God on a person's life to serve a particular church at a particular time.  As more and more of our churches move towards becoming bivocational many seminary graduates are going to have to make a choice.  Will they serve the churches that God makes available to them or will they be disobedient to that call?  I pray you choose the first option because you will find out just how rewarding bivocational ministry can be.  To learn more about bivocational ministry read my book The Bivocational Pastor: Two Jobs, One Ministry published by Beacon Hill Press.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

How will you leave your church?

At some point every pastor leaves his or her church.  It may happen because the pastor was called to another place of service.  Sometimes it happens because the pastor was terminated or forced to resign.  It is not uncommon today for a person to resign from the church and leave ministry completely.  For others their leaving will be because they retired or passed away.  But, everyone will eventually leave the church he or she serves.  The question is will you leave well?

I only served one church before I began denominational ministry, so I've only left one church.  But, I had been there 20 years and did not want two decades of ministry to be wasted.  I wanted to leave them feeling empowered and capable of doing ministry.  When I announced my resignation I requested six weeks to help prepare them for their future.  During that time I continually challenged and encouraged them.  I reminded them of all they had done over the years I had been with them.  I kept telling them how much confidence I had in them. 

I explained to them what our new relationship would look like after my last Sunday as pastor.  That was critical as my wife and I were not leaving the community.  Some were not happy when I told them I could not return and do their weddings or funerals, but I explained that ethically that was not possible.  Ministering to them during those times was how their new pastor would get to become their pastor.

For several people in the church I was the only pastor they ever knew.  It would be inevitable that some would want to compare the new pastor to me.  There are few things a new pastor hates to hear more than, "Well, Brother So-and-So did it this way."  Such comparisons are not fair.  During one of my final messages to the congregation I explained that their new pastor would not preach like me, lead like me, dress like me, or have the same spiritual gifts or ministry priorities I had.  I told them if God wanted another me to serve the church He would have never led me to leave.  I urged them to allow their new pastor to be himself or herself and to extend the same grace to that person as they had to me.

Since the church had not gone through a pastor search in two decades, and most of our membership were not part of the church since it did its last search, I explained the process our denomination uses and urged them to follow that process.  We encountered a minor problem in the process because this church was located in the geographic area I serve in my new role.  Normally, I would have been the person to lead them in that process, but that simply was not wise since I was the previous pastor.  Our region assigned another person to lead that process in that church to avoid a difficult situation.

You may or may not be at your current place of ministry for that long, but regardless of how long you are there you can continue to serve that church well by leaving well.  Your departure can lay the groundwork for how their new pastor begins his or her ministry.  By helping set that person up for success when he or she arrives you will be able to continue your good ministry in that church.  That doesn't mean that the person who follows you will continue all your pet programs and ministries nor does it mean that he or she will lead, preach, or serve exactly like you did.  It does mean that by leaving well you are laying a solid foundation on which their pastor can build a ministry.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A key to making disciples

I recently had the opportunity to attend a Transformational Church Summit at Campbellsville University.  One of the leaders of the summit was Thom Rainer, president of LifeWay.  Based upon research that organization has done, the number one key to transformational discipleship is getting people to read their Bible every day.  Further research by the organization has found that only 20 percent of Christians read their Bibles daily.  A study done by another organization reported that 35 percent of born again Christians never read their Bibles, and of those who say they do, many of them admit they only read their Bibles when they attend church services.  Clearly, the church has much work to do in this area.

That work must begin by the pastors and other ministers on staff setting the example.  I recently had a phone conversation with a minister who told me he graduated from a relatively liberal seminary.  In one of his early classes the professor asked how many students had read the entire Bible.  Out of a class of about 50 students he was the only one who raised his hand.  If our clergy do not find it important to read the Scriptures we should not be surprised that many in our pews don't read them either.  Although I did not do it every year, as a pastor I often followed an annual Bible reading plan that allowed me to read the entire Bible that year as part of my devotional reading.  When I knew that would be part of my devotional practice for the year I would buy a new Bible in a translation I had not read before and use it for my reading.  I also made sure the congregation knew what I was doing, not to impress anyone with my spirituality but to encourage them to follow my example.  Many years I would issue a challenge to our congregation to make that the year they would read through the entire Bible before the end of the year.  We in pastoral leadership should not expect members of our congregations to read the Scriptures if we are not setting the right example.  And, if they are not reading the Scriptures we should not be surprised at their lack of growth as disciples.

Studies find that people often rise up to meet the expectations they are given.  This is an area in which I find many church leaders fail to challenge their people.  As Christians they should know that it is expected that they will spend time in the Bible each day and apply what they learn to every aspect of their lives.  The Bible is not a book that is to be thrown in the back seat of the car after church and not taken out again until the next Sunday.  It is the textbook for the Christian life.  It teaches us how to grow as believers and become more mature in our faith.  But none of this can happen if we are not diligently spending time reading and studying it.

Church leaders must set the example, we must establish the expectation that members of our congregations will spend time in the Word each day, and thirdly we need to present a high view of Scripture to people.  I've been in a few churches where the Bible was never read as part of the service or as a text for a sermon.  I've been in many more churches when a passage was read and then forgotten about as the pastor began to discuss some issue that didn't pertain to the passage.  I've occasionally sat in services in which a text was read and then challenged and rejected by the minister as error.

If clergy have such a low view of Scripture we can expect our congregations to have the same view.  Such people, in my opinion, have forfeited their right to serve as church leaders.  The Scriptures are the infallible Word of God given to mankind to teach us how to live and how to conduct ourselves in this life and prepare for the life to come.  The Bible is not a book about God; it is God's self-revelation of Himself to humankind so we can worship Him and trust Him.  I may misinterpret or misunderstand what the text says, but that's my fault, not God's.  It reflects my own lack of knowledge and understanding, but it doesn't change the truth of God's Word.

I often hear pastors complain about the lack of discipleship evident in the lives of their people, but one has to wonder what they are doing to address that.  Are they demonstrating by their own behavior that we need to be regularly reading and studying the Scriptures?  Are they setting the expectation before their people that they are to be reading the Bible daily?  Are they demonstrating a high view of Scripture before the people?  If the most important factor in helping people grow as disciples is to be daily reading the Bible, what are you doing to promote that in your church?

Monday, October 8, 2012

Where do I begin?

I recently received an e-mail from an individual who said he was a first time pastor of a small church.  He is serving as a bivocational pastor.  The church is not healthy, and he wanted to know which of my books he should read first as he attempts to lead this church to become healthier.  I recommended he begin reading The Healthy Small Church: Diagnosis and Treatment for the Big Issues.  This would help him with several different areas of church life that may need to be addressed.  I also felt the last chapter which contains diagnostic questions he and his church leadership could answer together would be beneficial.  However, as he reads this book there is something he needs to be doing before he starts addressing problems.

Everything in a smaller church is built around relationships.  When change is introduced one of the first questions people will ask is how it will impact the relationships that exist in the church.  Smaller churches are often referred to as family churches for a very good reason: they operate like a family.  There are patriarchs and matriarchs who sit at the head of the table.  New people can join a small church but they never really become part of the family until the patriarchs and matriarchs adopt them into the family.  (By the way, that includes the pastor as well.)   A new pastor of a smaller church must be very intentional about building relationships with the people in the congregation before attempting to make any significant changes in the way the church operates.

Small church pastors cannot spend the bulk of their time in the church office.  They have to be with their people.  I remember visiting one of the patriarchs of the church I served and found him in the barn working on a piece of farm machinery.  I grabbed a nearby five gallon bucket, turned it upside down and sat there with him as he continued working.  Our entire visit was spent in the barn as he finished getting his disk ready for spring.  When I was leaving he smiled and said, "You know.  You just might do all right here."  I had entered his world and was not uncomfortable and we were able to make an immediate connection.  It also helped that I was raised on farms so it wasn't the first time I had ever sat on a bucket in a barn.

Relationships are key to an effective ministry in smaller churches.  Spend time with your people where they work, in their homes, at school functions.  Get to know their hearts and allow them to know yours.  The time may come when they will disagree with an action you want to take but will trust your heart and be willing to follow your leadership.  As you know them you will avoid making decisions that you know will create undue pain in their lives.  That kind of wisdom cannot be learned in a classroom but can only be found through the relationships you have with people, and that will make you a much better leader.  It will also lead to a healthier church.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Pastors and finances

Four years ago our region was blessed with a Lilly grant designed to assist our pastors with financial needs.  Since we began we have been able to assist pastors with several hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt.  Much of this was to pay for medical expenses that were not covered by insurance.  We've paid off thousands of dollars of student loan debt.  We were able to help a pastor who lost his library and office equipment in a fire replace his books and equipment.  A number of pastors with automobile problems have been helped get them repaired.  I could go on and on telling amazing stories of pastors whose lives and ministries have been changed due to this grant.  Lilly believed that if pastors did not have to worry so much about bills they could be more effective pastors, and I believe their theory is correct.

This has been an eye opening experience for many of us in the region.  Going to school part time I was able to cash flow my education.  I did not know until we began doing this that the average seminary graduate leaves school with $40,000-50,000 in student loan debt.  I've personally talked to one who had over $60,000 in student loan debt.  I've been blessed as a bivocational minister to have excellent insurance through my other employer and didn't realize some of the medical debt some of our pastors were carrying.

I've also been amazed at how difficult it is for pastors to talk to their churches about their debt.  This grant requires that every dollar our region gives must be matched, usually by the church the pastor serves.  I know many pastors who should be applying for assistance but won't because they do not want their church to know of their financial plight.  As many as we've helped we know we haven't scratched the surface due to the fear or pride that prevents the pastors from admitting they have needs.  In some cases, the pastor's concerns are justified due to the size of the church and its inability to provide those matching funds.  Fortunately, we do have other avenues we can use to find matching funds.  But, in too many cases the pastors do not want to admit their needs because of pride.  This pride places continued stress on both the pastor and his or her family and is unfortunate.

Most judicatories do not have the opportunity to help their pastors as we do in our state thanks to the generosity of Lilly, but that doesn't mean the need isn't there.  In fact, our experience shows just how great a need does exist.  Many pastors are drowning in debt, not always the result of their spending habits.  Some of these will leave the ministry to seek careers that offer larger salaries in order to pay their bills.  Others will continue to struggle financially which will impact their ministry effectiveness.

Here is a way for churches to step in and help their pastors.  I know only too well how many churches, especially smaller ones, like to poor-mouth.  Although they claim to struggle financially, I also know many that have large sums of money in savings or on CDs.  What a blessing they could be if they would help their pastor with some of his or her financial needs.  October is Pastor Appreciation Month, and I can think of no better way to show your pastor how much you appreciate him or her than to help ease his or her financial burdens.

Church leaders may be thinking that their pastor doesn't have any financial challenges, but you won't know until you discuss this with the pastor.  Believe me, many of them are hiding major financial difficulties from their congregations.  You may be reluctant to discuss this with your pastor thinking it's none of your business, but if you are talking to him or her because you want to help then it is your business.  Your church may not be able to pay off the sums of money our region has been able to pay with our grant, but if you paid off even one bill it might relieve a lot of stress.  I can remember a time in our lives when if we had just one less bill it would have made a tremendous difference.

Another thing our grant enables us to do is to send our pastors to receive financial counseling.  There are pastors who are seminary graduates who can't balance a checkbook.  Some have adequate income but have never learned how to prepare a budget or manage their money.  When we find a pastor who would benefit from financial counseling we send that person to some people we have identified throughout our region as being especially competent.  Your church could do the same for your pastor.  In fact, most pastors I know would benefit from some level of financial counseling that might range from how to balance a checkbook to investing and planning for retirement.  Here's another way you could demonstrate your appreciation for your pastor in October.  I know I would prefer something like that to a Wal-Mart gift card!

Pastors are people called by God to serve God's people.  That doesn't mean they don't have financial challenges like many others.  Their cars break down, their children may need braces, they go to the emergency rooms, they misuse credit cards, and the list goes on.  As their financial challenges increase so do their stress levels.  Few pastors receive large salaries, and if they get behind financially it's very difficult for them to catch up.  How great it would be if their churches would begin to invest in the future of their pastors by helping financially when they have unexpected needs.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The changing role of denominations

Much has been written lately about the demise of denominations.  Some question if they still have value in the 21st century.  Churches are leaving their denominations for a variety of reasons while others are changing their denominational affiliation.  For some churches this is related to theological differences between them and their denomination while others feel the denomination they have belonged to for decades is now a hindrance to their ministries.  As a judicatory leader in a mainline denomination I still believe there is value in denominations, but I also recognize that many need to make some significant changes that may be difficult.

The primary advantage to denominations is the same as it's always been.  Belonging to a denomination and/or an association allows churches to do things together they could not do by themselves.  The church I pastored was giving 15 percent of its offering to our denominational mission program when I left.   It was a sizable amount of money for a church our size, but by itself it would not have supported a missionary more than five or six months at the most.  Alone, our overseas mission support would have amounted to very little, but when added to the gifts of thousands of other churches our denomination was able to fund mission work around the world.

A few years ago I went with several individuals to an area of Appalachia to help winterize a couple of houses.  About 15 individuals from seven churches in one association was part of this effort.  Every church in that association but one is bivocational.  Alone, none of those churches could have done what we were able to do together.  Sadly, it seems that seldom do churches in associations get together for ministry any more, but that day was a prime example of what can happen when they do come together for the purpose of ministry.

In addition, denominations and judicatories are able to provide resources to their churches, assist when problems arise in the church, assist in finding pastoral leadership, offer training opportunities, and provide a connection with other like-minded churches.  And, they are able to do that with a personal touch.  In our Internet-connected world, virtually anything a denomination can offer is also now available online through some para-church organization, but what you lose by using those resources is the personal touch from a person who knows your church, has visited your church and its leadership, and has a vested interest in seeing your church succeed.   That is an often overlooked advantage that comes by being connected with a denomination.

Despite these advantages denominations can bring to their churches, there are some things they need to address if they want to survive and thrive in the 21st century.  For the sake of brevity, I'll just touch briefly on three.

They need a clear identity.  Many denominations have been in turmoil for years over controversial social issues.  While some have taken definite steps to say where they are on these issues, many others continue to try to manage them by developing yet one more task force to study the issue.  Studying an issue seems to be a safer place to be than to actually state the official denomination stand on the issue, but the continual stress around these issues does nothing but erode trust in the denomination.  With decreasing trust comes decreasing dollars which may explain why many denominations today are struggling financially.  Here's an idea for denominational leaders.  Grow a spine.  Take a stand.  Stop trying to appease both sides on these issues because all you're doing is hindering the work of God's Kingdom.  At least if you'll simply issue a definitive statement about the position the denomination takes on the issues everyone can make whatever decisions they need to make about their continual association with the denomination.  It may be painful for awhile, but in time everyone will be able to move forward.

They need a clear understanding of their role in the 21st century.  Too many denominations seem to believe that the church exists for them.  They don't, and frankly never did.  As denominational leaders our role is to do whatever we can to assist our churches in the fulfillment of their ministries.  It is the church that God called to advance His Kingdom, not denominations.  Our role is merely to assist them.  Denominations exist for their churches, and those that can't understand that will continue to decline, and should.

Finally, they need a clear vision for their ministry.  This is really connected to the first two mentioned.  I suppose every denomination has a vision statement, but that doesn't mean they have a vision for ministry.  Writing words is easy; putting them into practice on a daily basis is much more difficult.  Some denominations have a vision that is primarily maintenance-minded.  Their vision is to preserve their historic policies and polity, to ensure that all things are done decently and in order, and, frankly, to survive.  Such vision lacks the heart of God for what is really important.  Unless denominations recover a vision that honors God and the work of their churches they will become irrelevant to both God and their churches.

Denominations are huge bureaucracies and change will not be easy.  In fact, it will likely come with much weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth.  There will be much pain as denominations transition into new roles and relationships with their churches, but such transformation must happen.  There can be so many benefits coming from the relationships between a denomination and its churches, but many of these benefits are going to be lost if the denominations are unable to make the changes required of them.  I address this in more detail in my latest book The Healthy Community: Moving Your Church Beyond Tunnel Vision.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Measuring success in the bivocational church

Churches in America tend to measure success by counting nickles and noses.  When our numbers are up we assume God's favor is upon us, and when the numbers are down something is wrong.  Pastors and other church leaders look for the latest and greatest strategies for growing their churches by reading the newest books and attending the right conferences.  Now, there is certainly nothing wrong with wanting to grow a church.  Any minister would prefer growth over stagnation.  Numbers are important because they represent people, and in the best of situations they represent people whose lives are being transformed through a relationship with Jesus Christ.  The problem is when we assume that the smaller church is less important to the Kingdom of God than the larger ones, and when we in ministry begin to measure our value to that Kingdom based upon numbers.  The fact is that if big numbers are the only sign of God's favor on our ministries then few bivocational ministers will feel very good about their calling.  I believe there are more biblical ways of measuring success.

Robert Schuller once defined success as "discovering and developing your potential as well as seeing the new opportunities born all around you every new day."  John Maxwell defined it as "knowing God and his desires for me; growing to my maximum potential; and sowing seeds that benefit others."  Charles Stanley described success as "the continuing achievement of becoming the person God wants you to be and accomplishing the goals God has helped you set."  Each of these are individuals who are considered to be successful Christian leaders and pastors, and yet none of them defined success with numbers.  Their idea of success was more personal.  It involved one's personal growth, recognizing the call of God on one's life, and seeking to be obedient to that call.

In my workshops I always remind church leaders that the call to bivocational ministry is not a greater nor a lesser call than the call to fully-funded ministry.  It is God's call on a person's life for that particular time and for that particular church.  Our willingness to be obedient to that call is the beginning of a successful ministry, and our faithfulness to that call allows our success to continue.

Success must be seen as a journey, not a destination.  It begins with an understanding of the vision God has for your ministry and then taking the steps needed to achieve that vision.  Every step of that journey represents success.  Failure isn't taking a step backwards; we will all do that at times.  Failure is when we stop the journey, when we stop moving towards the vision.  Success isn't found in achieving that vision.  Too many will achieve that initial vision and stop.  A successful ministry will achieve the vision, stop long enough to celebrate, identify a fresh vision from God, and begin the journey again.

For more information on how to measure success in a bivocational church and how to take the success journey I refer you to an early book I wrote on the subject, The Bivocational Pastor: Two Jobs, One Ministry.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Now is the time to begin preparing for 2013

We've just entered the fall season which is when church calendars begin filling up with all kinds of activities.  Many churches do a "Trunk-or-Treat" alternative to Halloween.  Even more have Thanksgiving dinners, and nearly every church has some special events for the Advent season.  Finance committees begin meeting in many churches to prepare budgets for next year while nominating committees begin their work trying to find people to fill the various positions in the church.  There's a lot going on, but this is also the time when pastors need to begin thinking about the church's focus for the coming year and his or her sermon plans.

It's always amazed me that a church could develop a budget and a list of people for various leadership positions without any clear sense of what their focus would be for the coming year.  Such visionless churches are merely ensuring they can maintain what they have without giving any thought to what God might want for their churches.  Maybe, just maybe, God wants to call your church to a great evangelism emphasis in 2013.  Do you think that should be reflected in the budget?  Do you think there might need to be some people identified who could provide leadership to that?  Should that enter into the pastor's preaching plans for the next year?  The answer to all three questions is yes.

If a church has not had an active evangelism emphasis in several years it is likely to need training for its members to help them feel more comfortable sharing their faith.  Money should be in the budget for such training.  You may identify resources that will be used by your people when they share their faith.  The cost of those would be included in the budget.  Part of your evangelism efforts may include some special events which should be covered in the budget.  All of this will have an impact on the work of the Finance Committee.

You may need special people to lead some of this training or programming.  (Please don't elect an Evangelism Committee because if you do evangelism then becomes their job and everyone else is off the hook.)  These folks will need to be released from some other responsibilities in order to focus on this new role.  Their old positions will either have to be filled by someone else or eliminated if those positions no longer add any real value to the church.  The Nominating Committee needs to know these things before they begin their work.

How will this emphasis affect the pastor's preaching schedule?  To keep any vision alive the congregation must be reminded of it at least once a month.  A variety of ways can be utilized, but the one way to reach the most people in a smaller church is through the pastor's messages.  He or she might want to preach a series of sermons on the topic and follow that with an occasional reminder.  The pastor may prefer to address it in the sermon at least once a month.  However he or she feels will work best, that needs to be planned out so it's not forgotten in the rush of all the things a pastor does.

When I was a pastor I spent some time each fall thinking about my preaching schedule for the coming year.  I took sheets of paper and wrote down the date of every Sunday.  If it was a holiday I made a note of that to prepare an appropriate message.  I could then begin to think about possible sermon themes that would tie in with our emphasis that particular year.  I always tried to work one quarter ahead with at least a text and a sermon title.  The actual messages were often not prepared more than a couple of weeks out.  All that was done in pencil so if events occurred that required a change it could easily be done on my simple planner. 

This all took time, but when it was time to prepare my sermons I didn't have to spend half of the week trying to decide what I should preach.  I could focus my attention on the message itself.  It also helped me be more alert to things that would apply to my message when I would be reading.  When I've shared this strategy with pastors attending my workshops someone will often ask if this doesn't negate the leading of the Spirit in sermon planning.  My response is that I believe the Holy Spirit can lead us three months ahead of time the same as he can on Saturday night.  The story of the wise and foolish virgins in Mt. 25 teaches us that thinking ahead and being prepared is a good thing.  Now is the time to be thinking ahead to 2013.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Transformational church

Last week I had the privilege of attending a Transformational Church Summit on the beautiful campus of Campbellsville University in Campbellsville, Kentucky.  The principle speakers were Thom Rainer and Dan Garland from LifeWay and Rusty Ellison, pastor of Walnut Street Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky.  Several other individuals led workshops as well.  All I can is WOW!  It was a dynamic two days filled with encouragement, hope, and tools that can help almost any church transform.

Thom Rainer explained the research that went into their book Transformational Church: Creating a New Scorecard for Congregations.  As they researched churches that are being transformed they found some common characteristics.  Although there are more than three such characteristics three primary factors include the church having a missionary mentality, relational intentionality, and a prayerful dependence.  In a workshop Dan Garland taught us how to use a Transformational Church Assessment that measures the worship, the sense of community, the level of vibrant leadership, the relational intentionality, the missionary mindset, the prayer dependence, and the sense of mission that exists in the church.  This assessment provides insights into the strengths of the church and areas that can be improved.  Rusty Ellison explained how their church is currently involved in that assessment and how it is impacting their church.

For quite a while we have been told that 80 percent of the churches in America are plateaued or declining.  Many of our churches recognize that things are not right with their churches and claim to want to make changes, but how many of them are actually doing anything intentional to change anything?  I know of very few.  Here is an assessment tool that can help a church identify areas in its life and ministry that need to be examined, and there are people who can assist with that examination and the changes that need for transformation to occur.  If the leadership of a church did nothing more than study the book mentioned above and begin to implement some of the suggestions transformation could at least begin.

As excited as I felt when I left the summit I was also deeply concerned because I really wonder how many churches will actually use this tool now that it's available.  Perhaps I am getting a little cynical, but many of the churches I know will prefer to wring their hands complaining about how bad things are in their church to actually doing something about it.  They won't take this assessment and implement any of the recommendations that would come from it.  They won't call the hundreds of judicatory and denominational leaders who are eager to help their churches that are serious about transformation.  They won't call the hundreds of church consultants and coaches that are available to come alongside them and help develop a plan of action to transform their church.  They won't even read the book I listed and attempt to implement even one suggestion in it.   It's much easier to remember the good old days and hope that somehow, someway, sometime they will be able to recapture it.

Take a look at your church.  Look at the people there now and look back at all those who have been a part of your church.  How has God used your church over the years to impact and change people's lives?  How has He blessed your church in the past?  Do you believe He has done all that just to be done with your church now?  I don't, so if your church is one of the approximately 100 churches that closes their doors every week it won't be His fault. 

Your church is much like people.  It doesn't matter how much of a reprobate they may be, God can still transform their lives if they will allow Him to.  It doesn't matter where your church is today, God can transform it into a ministry center that changes people's lives if you will allow Him to.  Make this a matter of prayer this week.  Get this book, read it, and listen for what God might say to you as you read.  Your church can be transformed.