Friday, November 30, 2012

What is the church to do to reach the next generation?

It's a call I receive nearly every week from a pastor or lay leader in a smaller church.  "Our congregation is growing smaller every year.  We have no young people attending our services any more.  If we don't start reaching more young people I'm afraid our church will soon close.  What can we do?"  Many of those who call are hoping I can give them a special secret that will fill the church the next Sunday with young people and youth.  They are sincere enough to be concerned, but many of them are not sincere enough to do what it takes to reach those younger people.

Marketing people know if they want to successfully market their product or brand they have to know as much as possible about their target audience.  They want to know what need their target has that their product or service will meet and how best to get than information to that audience.  Those churches that call me with the concerns  mentioned above have indicated they want to reach young people and youth.  How well do they know that target group?  Why have so many in that age range chosen to avoid church and have serious questions about God as He is presented in so many churches?  Few churches that claim they want to reach the younger generation have made any attempt to understand why they have been unable to do so.  They assume that what they have done in the past that worked then should be just as effective today as it was back in the past.  That is a very poor assumption.  The first thing these churches need to do is to better understand the people they want to reach.

With a little research they would learn that nearly one-fourth of young people 18-29 years of age with a Christian background have "significant intellectual doubts about their faith."  These are people who were raised in a church atmosphere but have serious questions about what they were taught about God and Christianity that no one has answered to their satisfaction.  That tells me we need to take a serious look at our educational systems within our churches.  Personally, for the last several years of my pastorate I felt the Sunday school curriculum had been "dumbed down" so much that it really wasn't very useful.  I think we need a more rigorous curriculum that will stimulate people's thinking that also includes more apologetics.  Rather than just giving our young people facts about the Bible to learn we need to help them understand why what we are teaching them is true and how it can be applied to their lives.  We also need to give them opportunities to put into practice what they are learning.  As I have stated elsewhere, discipleship is not just the sharing of information but giving people an opportunity to do something with that information.

Such research would also show that many young people have very negative views about the church.  This is true of about 20 percent of the young people raised in the church and a much higher percentage of those who have little or no church history.  Young people want to be involved in things that make a difference in people's lives.  Many of them see church as a place where people come once a week for an hour or so and then return to their homes and careers to live out the remainder of their week.  They hear about the wonderful ways Jesus touched people's lives during His time here on earth, and they wonder why the church isn't doing more of that.  Some who grew up in the church saw too much of church politics to trust the church.  They saw the smiling faces sitting in the pews on Sunday morning and then heard the comments around the dinner table when the family returned home, and they don't want to be part of that.  Many see the church as too judgmental towards others who are different.  They wonder why more women are not involved in leadership in many of our churches.  They see women serving in some of the highest positions of leadership in government, in academia, and in business and can't understand why they are not allowed to teach men in a Sunday school class in many churches much less serve as pastor.  The fact is, many of the young people we have lost from the church walked away because they didn't want to become like the people they saw growing up in church.

Young people have many questions about God and the church, and they want honest answers to those questions.  "Because the Bible says so" isn't going to cut it with this generation.  "Because this is what the church has always taught" is also not an acceptable answer.  They want to know why something is true and why alternative possibilities are not true.  They also want to know that it's OK to have questions and doubts and that there are people willing to walk with them as they seek answers to those questions and doubts.  Many of our existing churches are going to find it challenging to reach the younger generation, but those who are successful in doing so will find a new energy pulsating within their churches.

I repeat, if you are serious about wanting to reach the next generation for Christ you need to learn as much as possible about them and what their spiritual needs are.  Let me recommend some books I've found especially helpful on this topic.  You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church...and Rethinking Faith by David Kinnaman.  They Like Jesus but Not the Church: Insights from Emerging Generations by Dan Kimball.    Lost and Found: The Younger Unchurched and the Churches that Reach Them by Ed Stetzer. Jim and Casper Go to Church: Frank Conversation about Faith, Churches, and Well-Meaning Christians by Jim Henderson and Matt Casper.  You should know if you click on one these books and purchase it I will receive a small referral fee, but that is not the reason I recommend you read these books.  They will help you better understand the younger generations and how they view faith and the church.  These books will also provide you with some insights on how to reach out to them, and, frankly, if your church is even ready to do so.  Quite honestly, not every church is ready to reach out to the younger generation and may never be ready, but that is a topic for another post.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Memory triggers

Isn't it funny how certain sounds, places, or events triggers memories from long ago?  As I'm working at my desk right now I'm playing a CD of oldies but goodies.  The song that just finished was "Harper Valley PTA," a song that was popular in the late 1960s.  As soon as the song began I began to remember being in Bremerton, Washington where the ship on which I was stationed was being serviced.  My wife and daughter were back home in Indiana, and we had not seen each other in months.  When I would go into town on liberty I often stopped at a little cafe on my way back to the base to drink a few cups of coffee and feed the juke box.  That was one of the songs I always played.  Today as the song played I could see the inside of that cafe, the place I often sat, and could almost taste the coffee.  I even felt some of the lonliness I felt back then.

Memories are funny things.  Some people live their whole lives trapped with hurtful memories of abuse and/or neglect.  Such memories keep them from ever moving forward with their lives.  Others were blessed to have been raised in situations that were positive, and those memories make it easy for such people to enjoy great success in life.  I doubt that most parents have any idea how the memories we create for our children will impact them for the rest of their lives.

I've made poor choices in life as we all have, but I've also avoided some because at the right moment something my parents or some other important person in my life said or done would come to mind.  Occasionally, it might have been something I didn't appreciate at the time, but many years later I've come to understand the wisdom behind what they said or did.  As a parent and grandparent I pray that I will have that kind of impact on my own family. 

As a minister we also have an opportunity to create memories for the people we serve that can serve them throughout their lives.  As a young boy of five or six I was often allowed to stand beside the pulpit in our little church and read the scriptures or sing a special.  (I'm not allowed to sing specials now, but back then I was cute!)  No one can find the pictures but many of us remember seeing them of me dressed in a little suit standing beside the pulpit with a Bible in my hand.   Many years later our pastor at that time spoke at my ordination service and admitted he never knew if I had memorized those verses or could read at that young age.  That was nearly 60 years ago, but that image is still in my mind and I know it had an impact on my later going into the mministry.

Twelve years ago I left pastoral ministry to begin judicatory work, but occasionally someone will come to me to tell me of a sermon I preached or something that happened in our church that still impacts them today.  I've often forgotten the sermon, but a phrase or a story that it contained is burned into their memory banks and God still uses it to guide their lives.

As parents and church leaders let's make it a priority to help create positive memories for people that will add value to their lives and help them become better servants of our Lord.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The future looks dark for some small churches

This past month I've received a number of calls from pastors and lay leaders of smaller churches asking what they need to do to reach new people.  Some have asked me to come and talk with them about what they need to do to have a more effective ministry in their communities.  Tonight I will be meeting with one of those churches.  I have no way of knowing the motivation behind these requests, but my guess is that for at least some the primary motivation is fear.  For years now they have witnessed the declining numbers of people who attend their services and the increasing graying of those who do, and they have ignored it hoping that it would somehow magically improve.  Since there's been no improvement they have now reached the stage in their life cycle when they are feeling desparate.  They now realize that unless something changes soon their church is in danger of closing, and the thought of that terrifies them.  It has been said that people won't change until the pain of not changing exceeds the pain of the change, and some of these churches are now reaching that place.  Having worked with smaller churches for over three decades my concern is that even though some of them are now reaching out for help in doing something different, when they find out what it might cost them they will go back to hoping for the magic solution.

Let me say quickly that there is no magic solution.  There is no magic formula that I or anyone else can provide a congregation to guarantee their church will not close.  In fact, as much as it pains me to say it, some churches should close.  Quite frankly, it is poor stewardship of God's resources to keep some churches open.  Survival should never the primary goal of a church.  Ministering to people in ways that will advance the Kingdom of God should be that goal.  As I've told countless pastors in workshops around the country, God is not concerned with whether or not your church remains open.  He is quite interested in whether or not your church is on mission with Him.

Most people who read this blog and anyone who has read my books knows my passion for smaller churches and those who lead them.  My ministry focus has always been towards the smaller church because I know how vital they are to the Kingdom.  I hope my long commitment to the smaller church allows me to speak boldly to these churches.  What I'm about to write may seem harsh, but it is being written out of love for those churches that need a wake-up call.

The most common question I get from smaller churches is how can they reach youth and young people.  What makes you think you can reach youth and young people when you couldn't keep the ones you had?  Your congregation consists of people who raised their families in your church.  Where are those young people?  Sure, some moved away, but what about the ones who remain in the area?  Where are they going to church?  Are they going to church?  Why?  When you honestly answer those questions you will probably find out what you have to do to reach new young people, and many churches will not like the answers.

The second most common question I'm asked is how can the church get people more dedicated?  Please define dedication.  By dedication do you mean how can we get people to serve on six committees, sing in the choir, attend monthly business meetings, and teach a Sunday school class?  If so, the answer is you will not get people dedicated to do those things.  This is the 21st century and people are too busy to be involved in doing a lot of things that make little or no difference in the grand scheme of things.  Does a church of 30 people really need three of them to serve on the Flower and Card committee?  What really significant events occur in your church to require a monthly business meeting?  If the meeting consists of listening to a few reports being read and a vote on what color toilet paper the church should buy I don't blame anyone for not wanting to go either.  If you want people to be more dedicated eliminate the various maintenance tasks that exist in your church, assign them to those elected to leadership, and challenge people to become involved in ministry that touches people's lives in real ways.

The third most common question I get from smaller churches involves the worship service.  Some are trying to go contemporary, but I'm not sure why.  I've sat in some of these churches that have really amazed me with the more contemporary feel of their churches, but I've also been in some that have no clue what they are doing, do not have the talent to do this well, and no one is there who appreciates the change in the worship format anyway.  To borrow a common phrase, "If we do a different service, they will come" seems to be the mindset in these churches. Churches should provide a worship experience that enables people to touch God in a signficant way.  Smaller churches cannot be all things to all people so stop trying.  Create a meaningful worship experience based upon the people you have and the ones you would like to reach and stay with it.  However, there are some things you can do to improve the worship service regardless of the format.  The most basic is speed it up.  Put a little life in some of the old hymns.  Sing "Joy to the World" with a little enthusiasm and joy in your voices.  If you are going to sing "We're marching to Zion" then sing it like you want to get there this decade and not drag it out until it sounds more like a dirge.  People who are going to pray or lead some aspect of the service should be near the front when it's their time and not spend five minutes walking to the platform for their one minute announcement.

If a building is allowed to deteriorate over many years it is much more difficult and costly to improve it than it would be if regular improvement and upgrades were made over the years.  Because so many churches resisted change for so many years (decades) it will be very difficult for some of them to be able to make the needed changes now.  The cost will simply be too great, and eventually these churches will close their doors.  Others will pay the heavy cost and endure the pain and make the necessary changes.  Those churches will begin to move forward with a fresh vision from God and will enjoy a long and meaningful ministry in their communities.  You will have to determine which choice your church will make.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Why is it so hard to reach young people?

I just finished reading one of the best books I've read this year.  You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church...and Rethinking Faith by David Kinnaman explains why young Christians are leaving the church and rethinking their faith.  It is a sobering book that examines why so many 18 to 29 year old Christians are walking away from the church.  The author is president of The Barna Group who has interviewed countless individuals and poured over numerous studies to understand what has led so many of our young adults to abandon the faith in which they were raised.  One of the reasons I found this book so interesting is that one of the most frequent questions I get from the leaders of smaller churches is how they can reach this particular generation.  This is the age group small churches want to reach because they believe if they can reach this generation their church will survive into the future.  "Just tell us what we can do," some of they have nearly begged me.  Well, this book will tell them what to do, but my guess is that many of them won't like what it has to say.

Kinnaman believes the core problem that leads to young adults leaving the church is that the church is failing to adequately disciple it's people.  He writes, "The church is not adequately preparing the next generation to follow Christ faithfully in a rapidly changing culture."  The research he conducted found that 59 percent of young people with a Christian background have dropped out of attending church even though they used to attend regularly.  That is a big number!  One of the things that surprised me about this is that most of the ones who drop out do so before they go away to college.  Like many, I had always felt that young people found their faith being challenged while they were in college, and it will be, but most of who walk away from their faith do so before graduating from high school.

His research further found that there are six broad reasons for them dropping out of the church.  They find the church to be overprotective, shallow, antiscience, repressive, exclusive, and doubtless.  The author addresses each of these in separate chapters and provides the church some guidance on how to respond to the concerns young people have about each of these reasons.

At no place in the book is there ever a sense the author believes the church should compromise its beliefs or values in order to reach a younger generation.  In fact, he would argue that the church should raise its expectations of its members and once again make being a Christian mean something.  He calls for new and better ways to do discipleship as a way to help strengthen the faith commitment of all our members.

Let me add a personal word here.  Before churches ask how they can reach youth and young adults they need to first ask why they were not able to keep the ones they had.  If they couldn't keep the ones who grew up in their churches, why?  And why would they think they would be able to reach others in that age group who have no prior connection with them?

Church leaders whose churches are struggling with keeping their young people need to read this book because it will probably point out some things they need to be doing differently.  Churches who find it difficult to reach new young people also need to read this book for insights on how they can better address the questions and concerns this younger generation has about God and the church.  I think you'll find this to be one of the more helpful books you'll read on this topic.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

$3.00 worth of God.

Several years ago I came across this written by Wilber Rees.

I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please, not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep, but just enough to equal a cup of warm milk or a snooze in the sunshine.  I don't want enough of Him to make me love a black man or pick beets with a migrant.  I want ecstasy, not transformation; I want the warmth of the womb, not a new birth.  I want a pound of the Eternal in a paper sack.  I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please.

Does this sound like any Christians you know?  I've met many in my lifetime.  In fact, I've encountered entire churches filled with such believers.  A few years ago a pastor called to tell me he was leaving his church for another. Since I would be working with the pastor search committee after he was gone I asked what he felt this church needed most.  He immediately replied that many in the congregation needed to become more serious about being disciples of Jesus Christ.  Most were content to attend Sunday services when convenient but were not interested in doing much more than that.  The pastor said that a number in the church could be classified as mean-spirited.  I had met them in the past and mentally agreed with that assessment.  If you asked them they would tell you how they were growing as disciples, but there was little spiritual fruit evident in many of their lives.  They also could not understand why their church could never seem to accomplish much good or grow.

This church isn't alone in their lack of discipleship.  A few years ago I spoke with a leader in a different denomination who was concerned about the low level of spiritual development seen in many of the churches he served.  He said even in the churches that are growing, many of them were only growing in numbers on Sunday morning.  Discipleship training opportunities were rather poorly attended even in their faster growing churches.  His concern was that a few years from then, when this new crop of Christians became leaders in their churches, they would not have the spiritual maturity to provide good leadership.  He saw many of their churches being led with a CEO mentality rather than a servant mentality due to the lack of discipleship training many of their new converts were receiving.

One of the many challenges facing the church today is raising the expectations for our membership in the area of discipleship.  As in many things in life, we tend to get what we expect.  If you expect little you usually receive little.  If you expect more, and let people know you expect more, you often get more.  The church needs to raise the bar on discipleship expectations, and that is not going to be easily done in many of our existing churches.  It will be difficult to convince a congregation to approve expecting more from new people than they've been asked to give in the past.  Their fear will be they will now be expected to meet the new standards!  Despite the difficulty, such higher expectations must be developed.  Even a cursory reading of the words of Jesus will reveal that He did not hesitate to set very high demands for anyone who would call themselves a disciple.  We really do not have the right to change those demands even though we have.

I encourage you to spend some time this fall thinking about the discipleship training your church now offers and the expectations you have for that training as well as the expectations the church has for the spiritual growth of its membership.  If you find this area of ministry lacking in your church, can you find two or three things you could do in 2013 to begin to turn that around?  How can you best implement them?  What results would you hope to get if your implementation was successful?

One last word.  There have been times when I've been content with $3 worth of God myself.  My guess is that most of us could identify similar times in our own lives.  Let us never be content with that level of relationship with our Lord and Savior.  If you are already not doing so, identify what you need to do in your own life to grow spiritually in 2013.  Just because you are in the ministry doesn't mean that such growth will happen automatically.  Be intentional about your own spiritual development.  I already have a book in my library that I plan to start studying on January 1: Why Jesus?: Rediscovering His Truth in an Age of Mass Marketed Spirituality by Ravi Zacharias.  I read the book earlier this year, but I want to dig a little deeper into it as I begin 2013 for my own personal growth.

Much of this post was adapted from my latest book The Healthy Community: Moving Your Church Beyond Tunnel Vision.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Cleaning out the study

For the past couple of weeks I've been cleaning out my bookshelves.  I don't have enough shelf space now for my books, and some were just so outdated that they really were of little value.  Some have been hard to pitch; some I really don't remember why I bought them in the first place.  This past weekend I began working on my Leadership journals.  I began my pastoral ministry in 1981, and one of the first resources I discovered was Leadership.  I devoured every issue, and I have to admit that it's been a little difficult to put them in the recycle bin.  Before doing so I am going through them and cutting out some of the best cartoons!  As I leaf through each issue I am reminded of various articles that were so helpful to me in my earlier years of ministry.  Many of them were highlighted or underlined making it easy for me to remember how much these old journals helped a young, inexperienced pastor. Looking through these old journals I have also been reminded of some of the haircut and suit styles that were popular back then, and I've chuckled as I've seen some that were similar to some of mine during that time.  These issues bring back a lot of memories, but it's time they are gone to make room for new material that is more pertinent to ministry today.

I meet a lot of pastors my age, and many younger ones too, who refuse to recognize that we are living and ministering in a different time.  Our message is timeless, but our methods are not.  I grew up attending church in the 1950s and 60s and remember many of the things we did in church then that will not work in our age.  That was a time of two-week Vacation Bible Schools and two-week revivals.  Many churches now struggle to offer even a one-week VBS, and I know of a couple that have gone to a weekend VBS.  Churches that still have revival meetings now usually offer them three or four nights, and even then it's hard to get people to attend.  That was a time when every young person in our church looked forward to going to church camp, and most camp sessions were filled to capacity.  Now, with the various activities available to young people and changing school schedules many denominations are closing their camps, and the ones that are open are struggling to draw enough young people to pay the bills.  That was also a time when Sunday night and mid-week services drew many people back to the church.  More and more churches no longer have a mid-week service and even more of them have eliminated the Sunday evening service.

That was a time of objective truth, a sense of right and wrong, and respect for the teaching of the Christian faith even by those who were not living according to those teachings.  Of course, that is not the case today.  In our postmodern society each person decides for himself or herself what is true for them, it is considered politically incorrect to say that lifestyle choices are right and wrong, and nearly everyone's religious beliefs are respected except for those of the Christian.

When I began my pastoral ministry in 1981 things in the church had not changed much from when I was growing up, but by the time I resigned the church in 2001 to accept a ministry position with our judicatory ministry had changed greatly.  Ministry had become much tougher during those twenty years as people began to look elsewhere for the answers to their spiritual questions.  The public's expectations for pastors and churches changed as well.  When I began it was common for me and others in our church to go door to door meeting people and inviting them to church activities, but by the time I resigned from the church I seldom visited even a member of our church without an appointment.  Most church growth when I began my ministry occurred through the front door as people would visit the church.  Today a growing church needs a lot of side door ministries that help connect people to the church before they ever attend a worship service.  These only scratch the surface of the changes that have occurred in the church, but they serve to make the point that we cannot depend on the strategies that were effective in an earlier time to be effective today.  Churches and pastors that refuse to adjust will see their churches continue to decline in numbers and influence.

This means that pastors and other church leaders can never stop being lifelong learners.  One important step in learning new information is un-learning old information that is no longer applicable.  That is a primary reason I am discarding some of the old books and journals that address ministry from a different perspective than exists today.  It is a way that I am symbolically un-learning information that used to be relevant but is not so today.  As I remove the old material I am also making room in my bookshelves and in my thinking for the new material I need as my ministry continues.  It's turned out to be a little bit painful process but one that is necessary to my own personal growth. 

I'm not advocating that you discard part of your library as I am, but I would challenge you to ask yourself what do you need to un-learn as you prepare for ministry in 2013 and beyond.  What old traditions are you holding onto that you know deep down are no longer effective but you are afraid to give up?  What new knowledge and/or skills do you need to learn that will help you better serve your congregation and the community your church has been called to reach?

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Do all young people abandon their faith when they go to college?

For years I've heard Christian leaders complain about the number of young people who grow up in churches and then turn their backs on God when they go away to college.  It is a problem, but what is anyone doing about it other than complaining?  How many pastors and/or youth leaders spend time with their young people and talk about this?  How many churches do a good job of discipling their young people so they can defend their faith when it is challenged?   Actually, research indicates that most young people who experience a loss of faith do so before they leave for college.  For most of them it happens before they complete high school.

I came across that information in You Lost Me, an excellent book written by David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group.  He also reminds us that "Millions of young Christians get through college with a flourishing faith.  One of the marks of these individuals is a meaningful connection to some form of Christian community - whether a worshiping congregation, a Christian campus group, or a Christian-oriented college - which makes them less likely to become nomadic or prodigal.  The key here is a meaningful connection, not merely showing up at religious practices. (p. 141)"

How many churches help their young people connect with such groups when they go away to college?  If I had to guess I would say that probably not many.  I never did.  Quite frankly, during my twenty year pastorate I could not tell you the name of any of the campus ministers who were affiliated with our denomination.  I had very few students who went away to college during that time so I really didn't have a need to know that information, but I have to be honest and admit that it probably would not have made any difference.  I doubt that I would have thought about it, and my fear is that I may be in the majority.  Reading this book by Kinnaman made me realize that would have been an important part of my pastoral responsibility towards those young people and their families.

We now live in a time when many state universities are rather hostile to the Christian faith.  Some faith-based groups on some secular campuses have had recent problems with their universities around some of their practices.  Other Christian organizations have ended up leaving the secular campuses because of financial issues.  Some of these simply do not receive the support they need to be viable.  Many others are doing a great job of connecting with students and providing them with meaningful worship, service, and fellowship opportunities.  As church leaders we need to emphasize the importance of connecting with these groups to our students, and it would probably be best, if possible, for us to make the initial introduction.  It would take very little time to send a letter to the leader of these campus groups letting them know one of our folks has enrolled at their school.

This is also a time when Christian higher education is increasingly important.  My son graduated from Liberty University, and I was so impressed with the school that I later went there for my master's and doctorate.  I had earned my bachelor's degree on a very secular campus, had been on other secular campuses, and it was obvious there was something different about Liberty.

Those who follow this blog and me on Facebook know of my involvement with Campbellsville University in Campbellsville, Kentucky.  This is another great Christian university that continues to grow every semester.  This fall they celebrated their 12th consecutive fall record enrollment with over 3,600 students.  One of the great things this school does is require every new student to participate in First Class, a semester long program that helps young people focus on developing character, leadership, and financial stewardship.  What an exciting way to help a young person who may be away from home for the first time to take a good look at his or her personal development in these areas!

We can complain about the number of young people who seem to walk away from their faith when they leave for school or we can do something about it.  We can do a better job of discipling them while they are still at home and in our churches.  We can talk to them about the challenges they will face when they go away to school and how to respond to those challenges.  We can help get them connected with good Christian organizations on secular universities if they choose to go there.  We can also help them identify Christian universities that might meet their academic and spiritual needs.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Sermon planning helps ease the pressure of sermon preparation.

Take a long, hard look at your calendar.  One of the things you'll notice is that there is a Sunday in every week.  If you are a pastor that means for most of those Sundays you will need a fresh sermon to share with your congregation.  Does your church still have a Sunday evening service?  If so, you can double the number of sermons you will need to prepare for the next year.  That is a lot of messages you will deliver to mostly the same people each week which puts sermon preparation at the top of most pastor's priority lists.  I think it is one of the biggest challenges facing many pastors, and this is especially true for the bivocational pastor who often has less time for sermon preparation.  How can a pastor reduce some of the stress associated with preparing weekly sermons?

One of the best solutions I found as a pastor was to do a better job of planning my preaching schedule.  Although I have blogged about this before I believe it is a topic worth repeating simply because of the stress associated with developing a new sermon each week.  This time of the year, November-December, is when I did much of that planning. After listing each Sunday of the next quarter on paper I noted which of the Sundays were associated with special days such as Mother's Day, Easter, etc. to ensure I didn't overlook a holiday.  I would then spend some time thinking of the areas where our church needed to grow and what messages might help with that growth.  I considered any special emphases our church was having in the coming year and possible sermons that would fit those emphases.  I looked for opportunities in the calendar for sermon series that would allow me to explore a topic more thoroughly.  As we entered the summer months I developed a lengthier sermon series that would cover a book of the Bible or a significant portion of it such as the Sermon on the Mount.  That series would cover the entire summer and sometimes go into the fall months.

I tried to work one quarter ahead in my planning.  Usually, I would finish my planning with little more than a text and sermon title.  Sometimes, I would jot down some initial thoughts about a text or topic and include them with my schedule to ensure I would have them when I actually began preparing specific messages.  When I finished with one quarter I would begin on the next one.  Very seldom did I ever work out further than two quarters as I wanted to provide myself some flexibility in case things in the church changed.  I never felt locked into my sermon planning to the extent that I couldn't change a message one Sunday if I felt the need to.  Sometimes I even switched the order in which I delivered the sermons if such a switch made sense.  But, by doing this planning I felt much less pressure when it came time to prepare my sermon for the next week.

For one thing, I already knew what my main idea would be.  I didn't have to spend two days trying to decide what to preach.  That task had already been done.  I could go directly to the preparation of the message.  It gave me time to obtain any study materials I might need.  For instance, if I knew that during the summer I would be preaching through the book of Romans I would begin looking for good resources well before I needed to prepare those sermons.  Normally, unless I already had a good collection of commentaries on the book I planned to study I would purchase three or four commentaries or other study helps for that book earlier in the year.  A third benefit was that I was more attuned to any material that I might come across that would be helpful for an upcoming message.  I might find a quote in a magazine that would be perfect for sermon that was four weeks away, but I could put it in a folder now to use later.  That eliminated my spending hours trying to find that quote I remembered reading earlier.

My sermon planning was very simple and low-tech, but it helped ease a lot of the pressure I felt before I began planning my messages in advance.  For more tips on sermon planning and preparation as well as ways to reduce many of the pressures of ministry, be sure to read my book The Healthy Pastor: Easing the Pressures of Ministry.

Monday, November 12, 2012

New experiments in training clergy

The Alban Institute has an interesting article today on the role churches and judicatories are taking in training clergy.  A number of larger churches have developed training to help prepare individuals to serve in ministry roles in their churches as well as in others.  Some denominations and judicatories have developed similar training opportunities to help prepare persons called into ministry be ready to serve in a local church.  In the region in which I serve we created the Church Leadership Institute about ten years years ago to help develop our lay leaders and persons specially called to bivocational ministry for improved leadership in their churches.  It has been a successful effort.

Some may question if training clergy is not the role of seminaries, and it is a legitimate question.  The fact is, both churches and seminaries have a role to play.  Seminaries do an excellent job of preparing persons in certain areas of pastoral responsibilities.  Churches and judicatories can further develop the young clergy person in the more personal responsibilities.  Most seminary graduates will admit they were not prepared by their schools for some of the hands-on responsibilities of pastoral work.  Local training programs can focus on some of those more personal elements of pastoral ministry.

As the number of bivocational ministers continue to grow more of this localized training will become even more important.  Many of these ministers will not have the opportunity for seminary education.  They may be second career or even third career ministers.  In mid-life with growing families they simply cannot take the time for a seminary education, but they also know that God has a call on their lives that they cannot ignore.  Schools led by churches and judicatories can be the answer.  While such schools often will not provide the opportunities for some of the more advanced academic courses, they will offer good basic ministry training.  This training will serve many of our bivocational ministers very well.

As I speak with leaders from many of our denominations about the growing numbers of bivocational ministers in their churches, the issue of training often is discussed.  Many of them currently offer such training through various programs, but some do not.  Some are looking at how they can improve what they do offer.  I believe this will be one of the emphases in the future for many of our denominations, and it will be an important one if we are going to provide our churches with trained clergy.

To read the article by The Alban Institute please click here.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Why won't pastors lead?

Currently, I am aware of two churches that are having serious issues due to a lack of pastoral leadership.  It is a problem I've encountered with a number of churches since beginning judicatory work, and it never ends well for the pastor or the church.  There are a number of reasons why pastors struggle to provide the leadership their churches need, many more than we can cover in this post.  You can read more on this subject in my latest book, The Healthy Community: Moving Your Church Beyond Tunnel Vision.

The first reason we'll mention is that many pastors were never trained to lead, and, therefore, do not know how.  Most seminaries teach their students how to manage their congregations, but they don't teach them how to lead.  Managers ensure that things run smoothly, that people are generally satisfied with the service they receive, and that things are done decently and in order.  Leaders focus on the future and attempt to lead their congregations towards that future; managers are primarily concerned with the present.  Leaders have a vision they are following; managers follow a job description.  Leaders report to their boards where the church is going; managers report where they have been.  Leaders attract other leaders; managers attract followers.  Because pastors were trained to manage that is what they do, and the church remains stuck in its ruts because there is no one who can lead them out of them.

A second reason is that some pastors don't want to lead.  Quite frankly, managing is much easier.  Preach decent sermons, make sure the flock is cared for, and that is all that is required in many churches.  Leadership is risky because it can create conflict.  Not everyone will be happy with the direction a leader attempts to take them.  I find that many pastors, myself included, tend to be people-pleasers.  We don't like it when people are upset with us.  It pains us when people leave our churches due to our leadership.  Most church folks tend to be less upset when the pastor simply manages the affairs of the church, and that makes life much easier for the pastor. 

Also, some pastors don't want to lead because they have misunderstood what leadership is about.  It is not being a dictator as some have suggested.  The pastor is always a servant-leader.  We're not drill sargents barking orders to our congregation; we are persons with a vision calling others to buy in to that vision and follow it to where it takes us.  Leadership is about doing ministry with a purpose and not being content to drift from one Sunday to the next.

The third reason we'll address why more pastors don't lead is because their congregations will not allow them to do so.  In my role I work with numerous pastor search committees.  Many of them tell me they are looking for a pastor who will lead them.  These well-meaning committee members usually don't have a clue what they are asking.  In fact, at one meeting with a committee I responded to that statement with, "Are you sure about that?  Do you know what you are saying?"  I then described what a pastor who was a true leader would do if he or she came to that church.  The committee nervously looked at each other until one laughingly said that they may need to re-think that.  This is a good church in many ways, but it's history says that the last thing they want is a leader.  Many times I've seen churches say they want a leader, call a leader, and then spend all their effort standing on the brake trying to keep the church from moving forward until the pastor finally leaves out of frustration.  You can be sure the search committee will insist they still want a pastor who will lead them when they look to replace the one who left.

I am convinced that without good pastoral leadership our churches will never rise to the level of ministry they should enjoy.  It is believed that 80 percent of our churches are plateaued or declining, and I believe that a lack of pastoral leadership is responsible for much of that.  As stated above, that is not always the pastor's fault.  Some churches will destroy a pastor who attempts to lead them out of their comfort level.  However, in other situations it is the direct result of a failure of the pastor to provide the leadership he or she has been called to give.  If the church in North America is ever to make a difference it will require solid pastoral leadership.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

What does the church do now that the election is over?

By a rather sizable electoral majority President Barack Obama has won re-election.  Both sides are now spinning the election results to make their side look better.  The popular vote was much closer than the electoral vote which indicates our nation is a divided nation in many aspects.  Political analysts will have much to say in the coming weeks about what this election means.  There will be much discussion about the need for bipartisan cooperation, but if the past few years are any indication it will be mostly talk and little action.  For reasons I do not understand it seems the American people prefers gridlock over forward progress.  We elect a Democratic president and Senate and a Republican House of Representatives and refuse to hold them accountable to do the work they've supposedly been elected to do.  I can think of very few incumbents in either party that deserved re-election based upon their work in the past.  In any job in the real world they would have been fired for incompetence and lack of effort, but we keep electing these people to office.  House Speaker Tip O-Neal said many years ago that all politics is local.  As long as a person in office can help someone's cousin Fred find a job and fill a few pot holes in the street he or she can remain in office to do whatever they want to do. 

Several of my Facebook friends posted today that while they did not vote for President Obama, he is their president.  They promised to pray for him, support him when they feel he is right, and criticize him when they think he is wrong.  That is their right, and I believe it is the correct thing for any Christian to do.  One of the disturbing things in this election has been the rancor in some of the posts on FB by people of both sides.  Such mean-spiritedness should not be seen in a believer.  It is fine to hold strong opinions and express those opinions, but there is no reason for some of the nasty comments I've read that came from both sides.  Scripture teaches us to respect the position of those who rule over us.  You may not agree with everything that President Obama says or does, but he is the President of the United States and as such deserves the respect that goes with that responsibility.  As a person for whom Jesus Christ gave His life, he also is due the honor and respect that we should extend to all people.  He has a challenging task ahead of him over the next four years, and the future of our nation will be impacted by how well he is able to lead.  He needs and deserves our prayers.

At the same time, we must not forget that our hope is not found in Washington DC.  There are things that the president and Congress can do, but there are many things they cannot do.  We must not look to the government for our salvation.  Quite frankly, the future of our nation is not as much in the hands of the politicians as it is in the hands of the church.  For many years much of the evangelical church ignored the political process as if it was something evil.  In more recent years the church has become more involved in politics, but it has come dangerously close to believing that government will solve our problems.  Some Christians go into a panic if their candidates are not elected to office apparently certain that Armageddon is just around the corner.

The church must not forget 2 Chronicles 7:14 - "If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land."  God is not saying that a nation's healing comes from it's political leaders.  The healing of America is not dependent upon the Democrats, the Republicans, or the Independents.  It's not dependent upon Supreme Court rulings or whether or not Congress passes certain laws.  It's not dependent on what the ACLU, the national media, Wall Street. or any foreign government does.  The healing of a nation is dependent upon what God's people does.  Specifically, God calls His people, the church, to repentance and prayer.

The church has much to repent from.  We have grown lazy in our efforts to reach people with the Gospel.  The fact that Christians from other countries feel called to come to America and spread the Gospel should make the church in America ashamed of its failure to evangelize our own people.  We have been willing to compromise the truth of Scripture for the sake of harmony and pluralism.  The church too often fails to extend grace to those both within and outside the body of Christ.  We still shoot our wounded, ignore our youth, beat up the ones who have been called to pastoral leadership, and rob God of our tithes and offerings.  We build monuments to our leaders and ignore the homeless, the hungry, and the poor.  We have forsaken the widows and children and sent them to the government for assistance and then wonder why they worship at the altar of Washington rather than God.  We "love everybody" as long as they look like us, talk like us, dress like us, and believe like us.  Too many of us talk about prayer more than we pray, sing more than we worship, and take more than we give.  Too many of our churches and denominations are more in competition with each other than they are with the demons of hell.  I don't know how you feel right now, but I wrote these words and find much that I need to repent from.

Such prayer of repentance will not be easy.  That's why the writer said that we first had to humble ourselves and then pray.  One church recently had a worship service where they invited a number of previous pastors back for a time of confession and restoration.  They acknowledged they had not treated many of their former pastors very well and asked them to return to ask for their forgiveness.  They made a public pronouncement of their former attitudes of pride and arrogance not only in their worship service but in advertisements they took out in the local paper. They asked the community to forgive them as well.  Following the worship service when the church asked their previous pastors for forgiveness the local paper reported it on the front page.  That required a great deal of humility on the part of this congregation, and it is the kind of humility that the church as a whole must show if it is adequately repent of its sins and seek God's healing of our land.

We must not believe that God is finished with America or that our nation cannot be restored, but we must not look for any outside agency to make that happen.  Such restoration can only be brought about by God and will only happen if God's people become serious about repenting of its sins and seeking God's face once again.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Election 2012

As many predicted, this has been a long and rough political campaign season.  Lots of accusations have been thrown by both sides.  Each had master spinners trying to make their candidates look the best on every issue.  When it comes to the candidates for president I know neither of them are as good as they say they are, and neither is as bad as the other one claims.  The past few days they have bombarded the "swing" states trying to secure enough electoral college votes to win the election.  A Facebook friend of mine predicted that one would be declared the winner and the other would challenge the results, but he wasn't sure which would be which.  According to the media the race may be close enough that my friend will be right.  I question whether there have really been that many undecided voters that required so much effort in these final days on the part of the candidates.  I've known who I was voting for months ago, and the same has been true of the vast majority of my friends.

Many years ago I learned that the best predictor of the future is the past.  I'm not a person who cares a lot about what people say they are going to do.  I am much more interested in what they've already done.  For the first time in several election cycles I didn't bother to listen to the debates.  I didn't care what either person would say they would do.  I evaluated the candidates on what they've already done when they have been in positions of responsibility.  Furthermore, I evaluated them on how closely they reflect my own values and beliefs about the issues that are most important to me.  I doubt that any candidate will ever reflect those values 100 percent which I why I look for the one who comes the closest.  These include not only my religious beliefs but also my beliefs about the importance of family, my beliefs about economics, my beliefs about national defense, as well as others.  I want to vote for those people I believe will present my grandchildren with a strong America that still offers its people the freedoms we have long held dear.

Since I became eligible to vote I have not failed to vote in a single election and that includes every primary.  While in the military I voted by absentee ballot and when at home I was usually at the polls within the first half-hour they opened.  By the time you read this post on election day I will have already cast my ballot.

I would encourage you to vote as well.  When I think of the price that has been paid to ensure the American people the privilege to vote I am appalled at the small voter turnout in most elections.  Seldom have we had two candidates that offered such contrasting choices.  Because of that this election will set the direction of our nation not only for the next four years but probably for several years to follow.

Be an informed voter.  So many people go to the polls to vote without ever actually studying the person or his or her views on the issues that should be important to every American.   An "on-the-street" interview recently broadcast showed a large number of likely voters who didn't know even the basics of our government system, the major players in our political arena, or the basic stands of the candidates.  Their vote will likely be determined by something they heard someone say that they thought they read somewhere that a candidate supposedly said about something.  It has been well said that a nation has the government it deserves, and if a nation's people elect persons to office without ever studying the issues for themselves then they have no one to blame when that nation begins to crumble around them.

Let me close by saying that no matter who wins the election, as a Christian I have an obligation to pray for that person and to respect the office he or she holds.  If you are a believer you have the same duty.  As I used to tell the church of which I was a pastor after every election, "Your candidate may or may not have won, but remember that God doesn't fly on Air Force One."  He is still the one ultimately in charge, and it is to Him that we must all look for our salvation.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Daring to think great thoughts

This past week I read a great quote by Oliver Wendell Holmes: Man's mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions.   That went into my file on "Challenging Thoughts" because it's one I plan to revisit from time to time.  How does one grow as a human being, as a spouse, as a Christian leader, as a business person?  Growth comes through the discovery of new ideas and finding ways to apply those ideas to one's life.

Charles "Tremendous" Jones is famous for saying, "Five years from now you will be pretty much the same as you are today except for two things: the books you read and the people you get close to."  I believe he is absolutely correct because these two things have the capacity to stretch your thinking as few other things in life.  I worry about people who tell me they never read.  I worry even more when I see what some people are reading!  As I visit with pastors I am often disappointed in the books they have in their libraries.  I am disappointed in both the quantity and the quality of their books and wonder what is helping them grow.

Jones also includes one's friends and associates as the other influence that helps us grow.  Last week I heard a podcast that included an interview with John Maxwell who said that if you are at the top of your class, you need to go to another class.  If you're already at the top you can't grow any more.  Get in an environment where you will be challenged and stretched.  Associate with people who have gone further than you have, who have accomplished more than you have, and who are smarter that you are.  You will learn from such people, and you will grow as a leader.

About an hour from where I live is a megachurch, Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky.  It is a good church that has done excellent ministry in that community.  When I was the bivocational pastor of a small, country church I would attend their quarterly pastor lunches they held for area pastors.  It was a time to eat lunch while listening to some of the leaders of that church share some of the needs of the community before we joined together in prayer.  Not only did I go to every one my schedule allowed, I usually took one of our lay leaders with me.  I wanted to expose them to ministry at a different level than what our church could offer.  I wasn't intimidated by that church nor was I jealous of them.  Quite frankly, I do not believe I have the leadership gifts that could lead a church like that.  But, I wanted to make sure that I, and our lay leaders, were exposed to new ways of doing ministry and new ways of thinking.  I wanted us to be stretched so we could grow in our leadership abilities and lead our church in new ministries that would impact others.

One of the podcasts I listen to when driving is by a philosopher-apologist who addresses some of the challenges to the Christian faith from his training.  I'll be honest:  There are broadcasts I don't understand half of what he's saying!  I can't even spell some of the words he uses much less know what they mean, but as I continue to listen to him I am starting to better understand his arguments.  I appreciate knowing we have people on our side who are not afraid to debate some of the new atheists who have developed such a following today especially since he wins most of those debates.  Listening to him exposes me to a depth of thinking that stretches me and helps me grow.

What are you reading that helps you think great thoughts?  Who are you spending time with that stretches you and helps your personal and professional growth?  As you look back over the past year, in what ways have you grown, and what areas do you need to work on?  As we prepare to begin a new year, what specifically will you do to grow as a person, as a Christian leader, as a spouse?

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The next generation of leaders

If you read this on the post date I will be attending a youth rally to lead a workshop on "Do I Have a Future in Ministry?"  I've been excited ever since I was asked to address this particular topic because I am convinced we need to challenge more of our young people of the possibility they have a call of God on their lives.  When I was young I can remember an invitation being given at the end of every church service.  Included in that invitation was a challenge for those who had been called to Christian ministry.  Even in those churches that still offer an invitation at the end of the service I seldom hear anyone being challenged to respond to such a call.  Perhaps this is one reason we see so few young people looking at the ministry as they consider what they want to do with their lives.  No human can call someone into the ministry, but I believe those of us who are in Christian leadership have a responsibility to challenge persons we see with certain ministry gifts to pray about and consider if God has called them into the ministry.

I have yet to meet anyone in ministry today who was not approached by someone in their lives and challenged to consider such a call.  Because I avoided the call on my life I had several who issued that challenge to me.  Finally, one day as my pastor and I were traveling to a conference he confronted me with the possibility that this might be God's plan for my life, and I had to admit that I felt that it was.  Several days later he came and talked to my wife and me about the ministry, prayed with us, and offered to talk to us at any time we wanted to discuss it further.  Unfortunately, a few weeks later he announced he was leaving our church for a ministry out of state.  A few months later our church called a new pastor, and about a year after his arrival I talked to him of my previous conversations with our former pastor.  I asked if he would support the church granting me a license to preach which he did.  About a year later I was pastoring the church I would then serve for the next twenty years.

What if no one ever challenged me to consider such a call on my life?  Would I have pursued ministry?  Of course, it's impossible to say, but it's unlikely.  I was a young man with a good job and active in my church.  Most people would have been content with that, but deep down inside I knew God had called me for more than that, and having people come alongside and confirm those inner thoughts brought me to the place where I had to yield to God's call on my life.

This is what those of us in Christian leadership must do today with those people in whom we see ministry gifts at work.  Again, we are not telling them to go into the ministry; we are just confirming that we see in them the gifts they have and encouraging them to seek God's guidance if entering the ministry might be part of His plan for their lives.

I'm looking forward to my time with the young people in our Region today.  I pray that some of them might hear in my words confirmation of what God has been speaking in their spirits.  I would encourage you to begin to challenge some of the young people in your churches as well.  The Kingdom of God needs more quality leaders for its churches, and I believe the next generation of leaders are now sitting in our churches.  Let's invite them to the work.

Friday, November 2, 2012

What is real ministry?

I recently heard someone say that they believe real pastoral ministry is about being available any time someone needs you.  Is that what real ministry is about?  Now, I do not know this person nor anything about him, so I would not begin to judge him.  I do know he is struggling with the fact that he may have to become bivocational soon, and it would appear that he questions whether such ministry is real ministry.  Certainly, anyone who has a second job cannot be available to everyone 24/7/365, but is this what defines real ministry?  Obviously, as one who has spent a lifetime as a bivocational minister and supporting those called to such ministry I don't think so.

From Ephesians 4 I understand the role of the pastor is to equip the saints to do the work of ministry.  As a pastor my primary role is to train and equip others to minister to one another and to those outside the church.  Along with that I have a shepherding role where I am responsible to ensure the flock is cared for, but that doesn't mean I have to be available to them every moment.  There will be times when I am available, and there will be times when others will have to respond to needs.  If I have fulfilled my equipping role properly there will always be persons available to minister to the needs of the congregation.  From this, I believe churches that move from a pastoral care model to a congregational care model of ministry will be much healthier.

For much of our nation's history bivocational ministers were the norm.  As people moved west churches were built to meet the spiritual needs of the people.  Many of these were pastored by circuit riding preachers or bivocational pastors.  The circuit riders may have only been at a particular church one Sunday a month, and in his absence lay people would minister to the needs of the people.  The bivocational pastor may have been a rancher, a shopkeeper, or a teacher in the community.  He wasn't always available either, but that didn't mean the people didn't have others to help when they had needs.

This began to change in the 1950s.  At that time denominations began to emphasize the need for fully-funded pastors, and soon after that many pastors who had a second job became suspect as ministers.  Many of these would tell you they were treated as second-class citizens in denominational life, and some of those attitudes still linger among some groups although that is changing as the numbers of bivocational ministers continue to climb.  With the push towards fully-funded pastors the ministry became more professional.  Some denominations required the Master of Divinity degree for ordination, and without such ordination it became difficult to find a place to serve in some denominations.  Although I have not researched this I have a feeling that seminaries began to train their students differently about that time as well.  (If anyone knows of a study that has been done on this I would love to have that information.)  

Perhaps some would say my brief history lesson refers to a simpler time that cannot be compared to the 21st century.  Some might argue that the demands of ministry are such today that anyone trying to meet them as a bivocational minister will fail.  To that I would respond that Ephesians 4 has not changed, and our primary God-given role is still to equip others to do the work of ministry.  In recent years we have been challenged by some excellent books to return to a simpler form of church.  Perhaps we need to return to a simpler form of pastoral ministry as well.

I would make one more response to this issue.  In a large church of several hundreds or thousands the pastor is also not available to people 24/7/365.  In those churches much of the pastor's work is done with others in leadership roles who in turn leads others who leads the various ministries.  However, few would question whether or not this is pastoral ministry just because the senior pastor is not readily available to serve the members of the congregation.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Do not allow yourself to be limited by your environment

I'm currently reading John Maxwell's latest book The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth: Live Them and Reach Your Potential.  Yesterday I came across his caution about allowing our environment to define and limit us.  He said that if you put a pumpkin in a jug when it's only the size of a walnut it will grow to the size and shape of the jug and never get any larger.  As I read that I thought how many people I had seen who had allowed that to happen to them.  Then I thought of how many times it has happened to me in my own life.

Our friends certainly have an impact on our success in life.  If one constantly hangs out around losers that person will become like them.  If one spends much of his or her time with complainers and whiners that is what this person will become.  Some psychologists claim that the people we spend the most time with will determine as much as 95 percent of our success or failure.  That's huge, and it's the reason we need to be careful about the people we spend most of our time with.  We need to spend time with people of integrity, people who are going somewhere in life, people who encourage us and lift us up when we are down, and people who are always seeking to grow in their own lives.  If you want to grow, then spend time with others who are growing.

The mental tapes we play over and over again in our minds also impact us.  It is very difficult for anyone who was constantly told they are a loser growing up to erase that tape from their minds.  Every time they fail at something they will be reminded that they were always told they were failures and assume it must be true.  Eventually, such people often give up.  One of the most important things any person can do to grow is to record new mental tapes.  Again, being around positive people can help you do that.  It's also important to force yourself to focus on your successes as well as the things you learned from your failures.  I have found that it hurts much less to fail if I can learn a valuable lesson from the experience, and believe me I've had plenty of practice.

These mental tapes are often the result of growing up in difficult circumstances.  You may feel that others have had advantages in life you never enjoyed, and that could be true.  But that doesn't mean you have to settle for where you are now.  Becoming a mature person means taking responsibility for your own life.  You can spend forever pointing back to the disadvantages you had as a child, but that won't change a thing.  If you want a better future than your past, then you have to make that happen.  Determine what you want to do in life and go for it, and do not allow one single excuse to stand in your way.

Some bivocational ministers never grow beyond the size of the churches they serve because they can't see beyond the walls of those churches.  They compare the 35 people in their church to the church down the highway with 3,000 in attendance and decide that somehow they just don't measure up to the pastors in that church.  "If God had really called me into the ministry He would have called me to a more significant place by now," is a complaint often thought, if not spoken, by many in bivocational ministry.  Over time it becomes easy to forget the call from God you once felt for this place where you serve.  This is the place where you are to blossom and grow.  This is the place where people are trusting you to minister to them and assist them in their own spiritual development.  Comparing yourself to other pastors is a waste of time.  Focus your time and energy on your own personal growth and development.

At the same time, you don't have to limit yourself to the walls of your church.  Do you want a larger ministry?  Write a blog as I do and have a ministry with the potential to reach people around the world.  Write a book or articles for magazines that will impact people you will never meet.  Become creative and stretch yourself and your understanding of ministry, and in that process you will not be confined by your environment.