Friday, December 28, 2012

Do you need a coach in 2013?

At this time of the year many in leadership are looking ahead to the next twelve months.  This week is a good week to clean up loose ends of 2012 and prepare for 2013.  Some will make New Year's resolutions while the most effective leaders will set some challenging goals for themselves and their churches or other organizations.  One of the things I always include in my goal setting is a list of people who I will need to help me accomplish that goal.  I agree with John Maxwell's teaching that if one can accomplish his or her goal by themselves the goal was too small.  We need a team to help us achieve the goals that will bring the greatest accomplishments.  For some, that team needs to include a coach.

The ministry in which I serve saw the value in coaching a few years ago and provided training for our staff.  As past of the coaching training we received we were coached by one of our trainers.  It so happened at that time I was facing a crossroads in my life and wasn't certain which way to proceed.  I was really torn between taking two different roads and wasn't sure which I was being called to take.  That became the focus of our coaching sessions, and by the time those sessions ended I had a clear direction.  My coach did not direct me in one direction or the other but simply challenged me with questions to help me clarify in my own mind which road God was calling me to take.  Coaching made such an impact on me I have sought to coach others to help them find the answers to some of their challenges.  It has been my privilege to have coached a number of bivocational and fully-funded pastors and to do my DMin project on the value of coaching bivocational ministers.

In coaching, the coach is not the expert as might be the case in a counseling or mentoring relationship.  The person being coached is considered the expert in his or her life.  The coach functions to help draw the answers out of the person being coached that already reside within the person.  This is done primarily through asking powerful questions to help the person being coached think through possible solutions to his or her issues.  One of the greatest moments for me is when I ask a question and the person being coached suddenly becomes very quiet as he or she becomes aware of the answer to their challenge.  As they describe that answer they sound as if the weight of the world has been taken off their shoulders.

Most coaching is done over the telephone so it doesn't matter where the coach or person being coached lives.  My sessions usually last 45-60 minutes at a time that is convenient to each person, and because I see coaching as part of my ministry to leaders my fees are much lower than you might pay to a life coach or executive coach.

If you believe coaching would help you achieve your goals in 2013 I would love to talk to you.  Due to my other ministry responsibilities I limit myself to only five persons being coached at a time so it's important you contact me soon if you are interested in having me on your team and you seek to accomplish much more in 2013.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Why does the church struggle to keep young adults?

A common problem found in many churches today is the absence of young adults.  There is a noticeable absence of twentysomethings in many of our churches today.  That is not necessarily a new thing.  I think back on my own life and can see how I started drifting away from the church in my mid-teens, and after joining the Navy at age 19 I was seldom in a church until I gave my life to Jesus Christ in my late twenties.  It is a story I hear from many my age.  But, just because it's not a new phenomenon doesn't mean that we do not need to find a reason for it, and better yet, a solution.

I just finished reading You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church...and Rethinking Faith by David Kinnaman.  Kinnaman is pesident of the Barna Group and a researcher who has studied 18-29-year-olds with a Christian background.  He wanted to hear from them why so many leave the church during those years of their lives.  I found his research interesting and most helpful to any church serious about wanting to reach young people in this age category.  Although his research found many more reasons why young people leave the church than we can cover in a blog, one in particular jumped out at me.  He writes

We interviewed young people who were de-churched (former churchgoers) and discovered that one of the major reasons they had left the church was that their faith community had not been able to help them deal with the life issues they faced.  Too often, we have not provided practical coaching on marriage, parenting, vocation and calling, and all the smaller choices emerging adults must make along the road to maturity.

What is this but a failure of discipleship?  The author's words wounded me because the church I pastored for twenty years never once addressed any of these issues in ways that would specifically help twentysomethings with these issues.  Sure, I preached on these topics from time to time, and they may have been addressed occasionally, very briefly, in Sunday school material, but we never intentionally did anything to help our young adults deal with these issues in depth.  And, like many churches, we could not understand why we couldn't keep our young adults.  Now, too late, I better understand why.

One of the challenges we have with discipleship is that too many churches never really identify what a Christian disciple should look like.  How does one's faith impact his or her choice of college and areas of study?    How well has his or her church prepared that young person for the challenges he or she will face as they go away to school?  If one is a Christian, how should that impact the person he or she marries and what that relationship should look like?  What are the responsibilities of a Christian parent as found in Scripture?  How does one's faith impact what one chooses to do with his or her life vocationally?  As one enters adulthood how does one's faith grow deeper and more mature?  How does a young adult address finances from a biblical perspective?

Is your church doing anything intentionally to help your young adults find the answers to these, and other, questions they face as they begin to enter adulthood?  If not, then don't be surprised when they decide that your church really isn't relevant to their lives and walk away.

Regardless of the size of a church, this is an issue that needs to be addressed.  Please forgive the caps, but I need to shout this from the rooftops, MOST OF WHAT WE ARE DOING AS DISCIPLESHIP IN OUR CHURCHES IS NOT WORKING!  If it was, our churches would be overflowing as people would be finding the answers to some of their most pressing questions.  Many of our churches need to seriously revamp what they are doing in the area of Christian education and discipleship.  Especially as our young people begin to enter Junior and Senior High school they need far more than what I've seen in most Sunday school books.  They need more exposure to a Christian worldview and how that is different from and better than other worldviews that exist.  They need practical help through their lessons and coaching in how to apply biblical principles to the areas mentioned above and many others that could have been mentioned.  As these young people become young adults, this practical discipleship needs to become even more intense as we help them as they begin to apply these principles to some of the issues that will impact them for the rest of their lives.

How many times do we have to hear that young adults are not leaving Christ, but they are leaving the church before we recognize that we have the power to change how our churches respond to their needs?  We cannot allow this generation of young adults to continue to seek the answers to their spiritual questions away from the church.  Many in my generation eventually returned to the church.  My fear is that many in this generation will not, and if they do not then we should not expect many of their children to return later.  We must begin now to help them address these questions from a Christian worldview if we want to keep them from abandoning the church or even their faith. 

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Do you have the conviction to lead?

I just finished reading Conviction to Lead, The: 25 Principles for Leadership that Matters, the newest book by Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.  Although I do not always agree with Dr. Mohler, I found this book to be an excellent look at leadership.  In his first statement he admits that this book is written to get people to change the way they look at leadership.    Mohler wants his reader to understand that at the center of true leadership there must be strong convictions that drive everything the leader does.  In this view, leadership is more than having a plan; it is having a purpose and guiding everything towards the fulfillment of that purpose.

The book consists of twenty-five chapters each of which looks at different aspects of leadership and how convictions impacts each of those aspects.  One of the chapters that was most powerful to me was "The Leader as Decision Maker."  In this chapter Mohler provides a simple structure consisting of six steps to help a leader make decisions.  My guess is that most leaders do not put this level of thought into many of the decisions they make, and that probably explains why so many of them do not work out the way we envisioned.  (Or maybe I'm just talking about myself here.)  To me, this one chapter was worth the price of the book.

Another chapter that was meaningful to me was "Leadership That Endures" in which the author addresses the importance of long-term leadership.  Anyone who has read my writings or attended one of my workshops knows the importance I place in long-term pastorates.  Mohler affirms my own beliefs that organizations, including churches, need long-tenured leadership if they want to make a significant impact.

I judge a book's value by the amount of highlighting and writing in the margins that I do while reading it.  This book has a lot of both.  I found it both informative and helpful to me as a leader, and I would certainly recommend it to my readers.

I have not reviewed too many books in this blog, but that was a regular feature of my monthly e-newsletter I used to send bivocational ministers and others.  That was one feature that many said that they found quite helpful.  Since I ceased writing the newsletter with the December issue, I decided that once a month I would review a recent book I read that I thought would be helpful to my readers.  Please let me know if you find these reviews helpful.

Friday, December 21, 2012

The lies bivocational ministers believe

Anyone who has been a bivocational minister for a period of time has heard certain things said about that ministry.  Sometimes, we even wonder such things ourselves.  I'm thinking of things like
  1. If God had really called you into ministry you would be serving full-time in a significant church.
  2. You evidently don't have the skills (or faith) to serve in a real church.
  3. You are wasting your time serving in that church.
  4. If you weren't bivocational your church would be growing by now.
I could list many more I've heard in my three-plus decades of bivocational ministry, but these are enough.  The sad thing is that I've wondered about these at times about my own ministry.  Even sadder is that many people believe they are true.  They are not.  These are lies intended to cause you to question God's call on your life.  Don't misunderstand, I don't think the people who say them intend to make false statements about your ministry nor do I think they are usually said with evil intentions.  They are said by people who do not understand the call God has placed on your life and who do not know what God is doing in the church today.

For the past several years we have seen an increase in bivocational ministers serving in smaller churches, and even in some larger ones depending on how you measure large and small churches.  This is happening across denominations, and I am convinced the trend will continue into 2013 and beyond.  These bivocational ministers come from a wide variety of secular experiences and run the gamut of education.  The one thing they have in common is that they have heard the call of God to be bivocational ministers, and they have accepted the challenge. 

If I could give the bivocational ministers who read this blog one gift this Christmas season, it would be the gift of encouragement.  I encourage you to rejoice in the calling God has placed in your life.  It is not a lesser or greater calling than what other ministers have experienced; it is your calling to serve your particular church at this particular time in your life.  Think about this: God has looked into the hearts of those who follow Him and has chosen you to serve Him and His church in this manner.  He could have chosen countless millions of other people, but He chose you and annointed you to serve your church.  You are not only important to your church, you are vital to the Kingdom of God because of your willingness to be obedient to God's call on your life.

Do not let the enemy rob you of your joy in serving.  Do not let those who do not understand your call to ministry discourage you.  Almighty God, the Creator of all the universe, has called YOU, and gifted YOU, and annointed YOU to serve Him in this way.  Rejoice in that call and commit to making 2013 the best year of your ministry.

In 2000 I wrote my first book Tentmaking Pastor, The: The Joy of Bivocational Ministry to encourage and help bivocational ministers.  It is now out of print but is still available on Kindle.  You can order a copy of it by clicking on the above title.

May you have a most blessed Christmas and never take your eyes off your calling.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The loyalty of a leader

I am currently reading Albert Mohler's book The Conviction to Lead.  When I finish the book I'll review it on this blog, but it has been a great read.  I just read a passage that talks about the need for loyalty to the organization that a leader must have if he or she is to be successful.  Mohler writes

The movements that make history are those that breed loyalty, and leaders who want to see that kind of loyalty must first demonstrate it themselves.  Are the people who follow your leadership afraid that you are only looking for the next opportunity?  If so, you can forget loyalty.  Do they see you living with less commitment to the mission than you are asking them to have?  Congratulations, you have just undermined loyalty.

So many of our smaller churches have had revolving door pastorates, and this is one reason that many remain small.  When congregations have been conditioned to expect their pastors to leave every 18-24 months we should not wonder why they are not enthused about change.  This is the scenario many of them have seen played out for years, even decades.  A new pastor comes in excited about being in the place where "God has called me to serve."  A couple of years later he or she announces that "God has called me to a new place of service" and abandons them.  During that time he or she has asked for commitment, dedication, and sacrifice from the people, but they have not seen such things from their previous pastors nor do they anticipate seeing them from this individual.  Such churches will never make history nor have much impact on their communities.

We have too many ministers who never unbox their belongings.  Almost as soon as they arrive at a new place of ministry they begin looking for the next opportunity.  I once had a young pastor call me within months after starting a new pastorate to tell me he felt God was leading him to another church and wanted my help in finding one.  His reason was that he didn't feel the church was following him.  I asked him how long he had been there, and the answer was eight months.  I then asked, "Why do you think they would follow you?  You haven't been there long enough for them to trust your leadership?  I know for a fact that they have paid for some of your education, bought you a new computer system, and done some other things to invest in your ministry there.  They've demonstrated their commitment to you, and now they are looking for the same commitment from you to them, and you're talking about leaving."  I refused to help him find another church.  He soon found one on his own, and within a few months it blew up.  To my knowledge he's out of the ministry now.

This same church then called an older, bivocational minister who has now been there for several years.  The church has a solid ministry going on in its small community and is supporting some missionaries both in the US and overseas.  This pastor has demonstrated a loyalty to the church they have not experienced in recent pastorates, and they are gladly following his leadership.  They are willing to go the extra mile because they see him doing the same.

It's time we in the ministry stop blaming God for our wanderlust.  If you want to leave, then leave, but stop acting as if God is so confused about what He wants to do with your ministry that He changes his mind every couple of years.  Climb the ministerial ladder if that is what you want to do, but don't be surprised if when you reach the top you find it's not what you thought it would be, and don't be surprised when you close out your ministry that you don't look back with regret at what your ministry could have been if you had only remained somewhere for an extended period of time.

More pastors need to fall in love with their congregations.  In my book The Bivocational Pastor: Two Jobs, One Ministry I wrote these words found in the diary of a pastor many years ago to express how I felt about my congregation.  "This morning I prayed hard for my parish, my poor parish, my first and perhaps my last, since I could ask no better than to die here.  My parish!  The words can't even be spoken with a kind of soaring love."  Do you love your place of ministry like that?  Do the members of your congregation know of your love for them?  Do they see in you the kind of loyalty that such love should create?  When they are convinced of your loyalty towards them, they will return that loyalty and follow your leadership.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Developing the leaders in your church

A primary responsibility of a leader is to develop other leaders.  If you are a leader in your congregation, either a pastor or lay leader, someone invested themselves into your life and leadership.  You had to have had the drive, the call, and the desire to be a leader but there were people who helped you learn what you needed to know and experience what you needed to experience to make that a reality in your life.  Now, as a leader you have the responsibility to help other potential leaders develop and grow into the calling God has for their lives.  While this is true of all size churches, it is especially important in the smaller church.

People from small churches often call asking if I know of someone who could lead their youth group.  Typically, this will be a church that has 6-10 young people of various age levels, and people are concerned if the church doesn't do something for them they will lose interest in the church.  Such churches often say they could afford to pay maybe $100.00 for someone to lead this.  Unfortunately, it is almost impossible to find someone to fill such a position from outside that church.  My response is to usually ask if there isn't someone in the church who could do that.  Sometimes there have been persons who have been doing that work, but they are getting tired and want to step aside; other times the answer is that the church doesn't have anyone who can lead such a youth group.

My personal belief is that God has the people in a local church to do the work that needs to be done.  If there are young people in the congregation there usually one or two people who could lead the ministry for those young people, but they often need training.  One of the reasons people get tired and want to step aside is that they've done all they know to do.  They believe there is so much more that could be done, but they don't know how or what.  They are both frustrated that they cannot do more, and they are concerned that the young people are being hurt by their lack of knowledge and skills.  With the proper amount of training their knowledge and skill levels can improve, and a renewed energy can occur in the work they are doing.

In the smaller church most of your staff will be volunteers from within the congregation, and there is nothing wrong with that.  They already know the history of the church and they have bought into the ministry philosophy of that congregation.  They are a known entity in the church so they bring instant credibility to their work.  The only thing that is lacking is they need training, and it is the responsibility of the leaders to provide that training.

This does not mean you have to personally train them, but you do have to help them identify the training they feel they most need and where such training can be obtained.  Begin to coach them to learn where they feel the lack the knowledge they need to lead their ministry.  Once that has been determined look around at the training opportunities that might be available in your area.  Are there workshops coming up they could attend?  Are there other churches that are doing with excellence what they want to do with their ministry?  Take them to those churches and talk to the ones leading those ministries.  Does your judicatory or denomination offer courses that could help them develop as a leader?  It is also important that you arrange for the church to pay for these training opportunities.  Every church should have money set aside in its budget for continuing education for both the pastor and for lay leaders.  This is an investment your church is making in its future.

Two final thoughts.  If the church will pay $100.00 a week for someone from the outside to lead that ministry, there is no reason they shouldn't pay a church member the same amount of money for the same work.  Even a small stipend demonstrates that people believe this is important work, and it shows that the congregation supports this ministry.  Along with that salary, give your volunteer staff a lot of encouragement.  People want to know that others notice their efforts, and when they hear their leaders thank them for their work and that they are doing a good job, it provides that extra boost we all sometimes need.

What will you do in 2013 to intentionally develop the leaders in your church?

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

More than ever we need to remember the reason for Christmas

For the past few days my wife and I have been visiting our son and his family near Philadelphia.  It was our Christmas with them.  We exhanged presents, ate some great meals, and really enjoyed being with each other.  In view of the horrible tragedy in Connecticut, my time with our grandchildren was even more special than usual.  As I looked each one in the face I could not imagine the pain I would feel if for some reason they were not here.  Like most Americans I have prayed for the families and close friends who have been impacted by this horrible event.  I listened as President Obama spoke to the nation, and then to the people in Newtown, Connecticut and felt that he has never spoken more eloquently.  I pray that the people most impacted by this event received the comfort and encouragement his words were intended to convey.

Like so many, I can't make any sense out of this tragedy.  The killer evidently left no note so we don't know what motivated him to commit such a horrible crime against so many innocent people.  Perhaps as the investigation continues we'll learn more about his reasons for his actions, if there are any reasons. 

A second challenge is determining what we as a nation needs to do to prevent this from happening in the future.  Of course, there are renewed calls for stricter gun laws, and even some lawmakers who have opposed such laws in the past are announcing they are rethinking their position.  That is understandable in light of the events of the past weekend, but my fear is that stricter gun laws really won't do anything to make people safer.  They may give people the appearance that they are safer, but the fact is such laws will do little to make our lives safer.  The problem with gun laws is that the people who promote them forget that evil people don't care about such laws.  Such laws penalize law-abiding people and do nothing to to deter those people bent on harming others.  Do I believe the average American needs an automatic weapon?  No, but how many hundreds of thousands of these weapons already exist, and how difficult will it be for a criminal to obtain one?  Will the passing of any law change that?  Very doubtful.  Therefore, how will such laws make our lives any more secure?

It could be argued that stricter gun laws would at least be a deterrant to someone who wanted to harm others.  Timothy McVeigh killed and injured hundreds of people with a bomb made out of fertilizer.  On 9/11 terrorists killed thousands of people with planes they secured by the use of box cutters.  Guns are not needed by someone determined to inflict pain and death on others.

The fact is that the one thing that so many do not want to recognize is that evil exists in the world.  We live in a time when people want to argue that there is no absolute right and wrong, but such people are hard pressed to defend that position when something happens such as the killing of innocent children.  Evil does exist, and there are evil people in the world today who seek to harm others, and they will do their best to carry out their plans by whatever way they can find whether that is with a gun, a knife, a ball bat, a box cutter, or bags of fertilizer.  No law can address evil no matter how much we might wish otherwise.

Only one thing can conquer evil, and that brings us to the message of Christmas.  Jesus Christ came to overcome the evil that exists in the world and in the hearts of mankind.  Born in a simple manger he was eventually crucified on a cross to offer all mankind the transformation that we all need.  No law can transform the heart and soul of a human being.  Laws can only attempt to regulate the sinful nature that we are all born with, and as we see all too often they fail at such regulation.  Only Christ can change a person's heart and transform evil into good.

This is a message that has been removed from the public square in the past few years.  We've eliminated Christmas programs in our school or at least replaced them with holiday programs.  Companies order their employees to say "Happy holidays" rather than "Merry Christmas" so as not to offend their customers.  Nativity scenes have been removed from government grounds.  Christian values and teachings are ridiculed and mocked in much of the media today.  I could go on listing the assault on Christianity, but all we are left with now is the hope that more laws will somehow address evil when we all know they can't.  Today, more than ever we need to remember the reason for Christmas.  Christ came to offer the things we need more than ever: hope, peace, love, forgiveness, and transformation.  If we can help even one person receive these this Christmas season we will have given him or her the greatest gift they will ever receive.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The consequences of our choices

By now most people have heard the tragic story of Josh Brent, lineman for the Dallas Cowboys, who has been arrested for manslaughter after after an intoxicated Brent crashed his car killing his best friend, Jerry Brown.  The two had played college football together and were now both playing for the Cowboys.  Brent has said that Brown was the best friend he ever had.  He now will live the rest of his life knowing that his actions led to the death of his friend.  Besides that, he is facing likely jail time and possibly the loss of his football career.  Even though he survived the accident, his life will never again be the same all because of his choice to drink and drive.

As free people we have the ability to make a wide range of choices, but the one choice we cannot make is to avoid the consequences of the ones we do make.  We need to remember that every choice we make carries with it certain consequences.  Sometimes, we get lucky and avoid the worst consequences that could happen, but sometimes we don't.  According to reports Brent had been arrested before for DUI.  On that occasion he avoided the worst of the possible consequences.  This time he didn't, and the lives of two families will never again be the same.

Our churches are continually challenged with various choices to make.  We can choose to focus our primary attention outwardly to those folks who do not know Christ or we can focus inwardly on our own needs.  We can choose to be a loving, forgiving church that extends grace to hurting people who have made mistakes or we can choose to be legalistic Pharisees.  Our churches can choose to work cooperatively with other churches or we can choose to be separated from other churches to avoid the chance of contamination.  We could fill a book with all the choices available to churches, and we can argue which choices are best for churches to make, but there is one thing certain: the choices we make will result in consequences for our churches for years to come.

Your church is what it is today because of choices it made five years ago, ten years ago, and twenty years ago.  Often, when I share this statement in a workshop someone will want to argue and insist that they are in a church that wants to grow but can't.  I'm sorry, but at some point in the life of that church a decision was made that resulted in the lack of growth they are experiencing today.  I'm sure nobody made a motion that their church should stop growing, but some decision that church made has limited its ability to grow, and until that decision is reversed that church will not grow.

The same thing is true for the future of your church.  Your church will be what it is five years from now, ten years from now, and twenty years from now because of the decisions you make today.  Your choices today will determine what your church will be in the future.

Let me ask an important question.  Where do you believe God wants your church to be 5-10 years from now?  This is another way of asking what do you believe God's vision is for your church.  As your congregation begins to visualize what your church should look like 5-10 years out you then need to begin asking the question, "What do we have to do now to help us achieve that?"  The choices you make today will largely determine whether or not you see that vision fulfilled.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A dangerous tendency for bivocational churches

For much of my ministry bivocational churches and their pastors were largely ignored by denominations and judicatories which focused much of their attention on their larger churches.  Suddenly, these organizations realized one day that a significant percentage of their churches were made up of smaller churches, many of which were led by bivocational ministers.  As they looked closer they found in some cases these churches were supportive of the denomination, gave a high percentage of their income to denominational mission work, and were active in their local association or district.  They then realized something they had not noticed before, the numbers of these churches were growing throughout their denomination.  One of the joys of my life has been to see denominational and judicatory leaders begin to reach out to their bivocational churches and pastors and offer them support and resources.  I've been blessed to have had the opportunity to lead numerous workshops and conferences for the bivocational leaders across numerous denominations and provide some of the resources they are using to help train them.

However, I am hearing a common concern expressed by many denominational leaders.  Their bivocational ministers are not taking advantage of the support now being offered.  My initial response to denominational leaders was to remind them that for many years they had not offered these leaders any assistance so they had grown used to being ignored by the larger organization.  They had sought out their own resources and developed their own fellowships with other bivocational ministers.  That initial response is losing traction because these resources now have been available in many judicatories for a number of years, and their bivocational churches and leaders are still not taking advantage of them.  If a denomination or judicatory plan an event specifically for bivocational ministers they are often more than mildly disappointed at the turn-out. 

One judicatory developed a two-year ministry to assist their smaller churches in seven primary areas of church life that most smaller churches frequently request help.  They intentionally kept the costs low so it would be affordable for any church.  The sessions were scheduled throughout their district to make travel easier for each church.  Less than one percent of their eligible churches enrolled in the program.  Coaches were provided for each pastor of the registered churches, but few of these pastors have ever contacted their coach despite being asked repeatedly to do so.  Although judicatory leaders report to me that it is too early to tell, it appears that some of the registered churches are doing very little with the material they've been given so far.  Unfortunately, this is too descriptive of other attempts by other denominational bodies' efforts to assist their smaller churches, and my fear is that these denominational groups who have made the effort to reach out to their small churches and had this type of response will decide to go back to ignoring these churches.

I've been involved in bivocational ministry for over 30 years so I know how difficult it is to do everything that one needs to do.  For most of those years I didn't have to worry about attending training events geared specifically for me and my church because they didn't exist.  I tried to seek out those that I felt addressed the ministry areas in which I needed to grow and then try to adapt what I learned to my small church situation.  Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn't.  Today, many of you now have learning opportunities I didn't have during most of my ministry.  Events are being specifically designed with the smaller church in mind, but if more bivocational ministers do not start taking advantage of these training opportunities they will soon disappear. 

Let me speak bluntly.  If you are too busy to grow as a leader, you are not a leader, and it won't be too long before you won't have anything to lead.  If you believe you know all you need to know to pastor your church, you are doing your congregation a disservice.  (I decided to avoid the use of the word arrogant in that statement.)  God has called you to a place of service and has gifted you with the tools you need to fulfill that call, but it is up to you to keep those tools sharp.  There are more opportunities today to sharpen those tools than ever before, but you have to take advantage of those opportunities.  Our bivocational churches and pastors have a tendency to ignore the training opportunities now being offered by their denominational and para-church groups, and if that continues much longer I am afraid we will soon see those opportunities disappear and possibly never return. 

What training opportunities will you seek out in 2013?

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Would you be prepared if growth occurred in your church?

A few years ago I preached a series of messages in a church that said they wanted to grow.  In one of the messages I challenged them to consider what many might consider an unrealistic rate of growth over the next five years.  I explained that I wasn't trying to set a goal for them but wanted them to think about how such growth would impact their church.  When I first gave them the number I urged them to sit there and think about what their sanctuary would look like if such growth occurred.  There were more than a few smiles on the faces there that morning, but those faces became more somber as I continued to ask what would have to change if that growth did occur.  Here are some of the questions I asked that congregation that morning.  If such growth happened how would it impact
  1. Your parking?  Would you have adequate parking for the number of cars that would represent?  Would you need to add additional entrances and exists into your parking area?  Would you need people to direct parking.  Would you offer valet parking?
  2. Your worship service?  New people bring new expectations.  Do you have sufficient seating for the larger number of people we are talking about?  Would you need to add another worship service, and how well would that be accepted?  (I knew this church had tried a second worship service earlier, and it did not please many of the congregation.)  How many new children's workers would you need for the influx of children?
  3. Your discipleship ministry?  How many new Sunday school classes and/or small groups would you have to start for the additional people?  Where would you find teachers and workers?  Who would train them, and when would that training begin?  You can't wait until you realize you need six new classes and start looking for people to lead them.  Do you have the space for additional classes?  Is your property conducive to building additional facilities if needed?  Would such building impact your parking?
  4. Your youth and children's ministry?  Nearly every smaller church I talk to tells me they want to reach young families with children, but few of them have anyone willing or prepared to work with those young people.  How will you recruit and train your children and youth workers?  Are you willing to require background checks on these people?  Is sufficient space available for youth and children's ministries?  Are you willing to invest the funds necessary for a quality ministry to children and youth?  (These are not usually financially self-sustaining .)
  5. Your staff?  Who will determine what staff needs to be added and when?  Who will your staff report to?  Will these be fully-funded or bivocational positions?  Will your church staff for growth or maintenance?  What will be the expectations of your staff?  A church of 100 people will have certain expectations for their pastor which would need to be much different if the church grew to 400 people.  How comfortable will your congregation be with such different expectations?
  6. Your church structure?  Will your church need to revise its constitution to change how the church is structured?  (The answer is usually yes!)  In a congregational church that is used to having monthly business meetings and voting on even the most mundane issues, will you be willing to trust your leadership to handle most of the decisions that need to be made?  What other changes would have to be made to enable your church to become more permission giving and simplify decision making?
I could ask many more questions similar to these, but I hope these are enough to convince you that it is important that we do more than sit around hoping that our churches might grow.  I am convinced that most of our churches will not experience significant growth until we are prepared to handle such growth.  I completely agree with  Nelson Searcy when he writes, "God will not draw people to himself in your church unless you are prepared...Why would God cause people to accept his invitation of salvation under your care if you aren't ready to receive them and start shepherding them toward becoming fully developing followers of Jesus?"  For more help on being prepared to receive new people into your church and reaching out to them I highly recommend Searcy's book.

Monday, December 10, 2012

We must be willing to pay the price of change

This post is condensed from a chapter in my newest book The Healthy Community: Moving Your Church Beyond Tunnel Vision.  Church leaders often tell me they want to see their churches grow, and many of them claim to be willing for change to occur for that to happen.  However, few are willing to pay the price of such change.  As soon as things start to become difficult they quickly revert back to what they were doing to alleviate the pain of the change.  Change often requires a tremendous price on an organization and its leadership.  Jesus taught us that before engaging in a new endeavor we should count the cost, so what are some of the costs that a church might encounter as it begins to make significant changes?
  1. It could require new pastoral leadership.  George Barna insisted in his book  Turnaround Churches: How to Overcome Barriers to Growth and Bring New Life to an Established Church, that a new pastor had to be brought in to turn around a church.  In some cases, a pastor could re-invent himself or herself, but quite often a pastor must be willing to step aside so a church can make the necessary changes to become healthier and grow.
  2. It could require new lay leadership.  In some churches lay leaders may be willing to step aside, but often it will require either intervention or confrontation.  Neither are likely to be easy.  Pastors who attempt to do either are often the ones who actually end up out of a job.  In many cases, the best opportunity for ineffective or dysfunctional lay leaders to be challenged is when the church is between pastors.  This can be a very important task for an interim minister to achieve before the new pastor arrives.
  3. Any significant change will lead to conflict.  A church will not experience a significant change without conflict of some type.  Such changes often bring a sense of loss to some people, and most people resist losses in their lives.  Before introducing change into a church the wise leader will consider what possible conflicts it might create and proactively address them as much as possible before the change occurs.  At the very least, anticipate that conflict will occur so that you are not surprised and unprepared when it does occur.
  4. There is always the potential that change will cause some people to leave the church.  Some will leave because they were unable to stop the changes from occuring and sense that their power and influence in the church are gone.  Others will leave because the changes create a church different than what they prefer.  Although no church wants to see people leave the congregation, the threat of losing members should not deter the church from moving forward in the direction God has laid out for them.
  5. If the change successfully leads to growth there is often an unexpected cost to a congregation.  It is no longer the same church that current members have become used to.  New people may park in "their" parking spots and sit in "their" seats.  If young children begin to attend the church the noise level may be greater than people have been used to and it may be more difficult to keep the carpet and walls clean.  New people will be available for leadership and teaching positions which some of the old guard will find threatening.  The church structure may have to change to reflect the differences in the church.  I am convinced that some people resist change in the church because they are fearful of the costs that might be involved if the changes are successful.
You can find more information on these possible costs and some recommendations for how to avoid them in my book.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Tentmaking Pastor

My first book, The Tentmaking Pastor: The Joy of Bivocational Ministry, was published in 2000.  It was my attempt to add a resource to the few that existed at that time for bivocational ministers.  It told the story of my bivocational pastorate at Hebron Baptist Church that eventually lasted twenty years and what I learned during that time.  I also wanted something that would encourage those who were serving as bivocational ministers and those who might have been contemplating entering such ministry.  My working title was The Joy of Bivocational Ministry, and when the publisher changed the title I resisted.  That's when I learned that the publisher always has the right to name a book they are publishing.  The publisher did finally agree to use my title as the subtitle of the book.  The book has been out of print for a few years but is still available on Kindle.  I received an e-mail just this week from one who had recently read it and wanted to tell me how much it helped them.

After the book was released a fully-funded pastor friend of mine told me he could not see how bivocational ministry could be a joy.  He felt that he would be overwhelmed by all the demands that would be on him if he was bivocational.  It can be overwhelming at times, but as I point out in my various books, bivocational ministers must be masters at controlling their time and ensuring that the important areas of their lives are kept in balance.  It requires that one is clear as to what his or her primary responsibilities are and that focus is kept on those responsibilities.

Let me give one example.  Growing up, every pastor I had would take the kids from the church to our summer youth camp.  Since we often copy what we are familiar with when I became a pastor I decided that I needed to take our kids to camp.  I spent an entire Sunday afternoon getting the kids and their stuff together, taking them to camp, and then returned home in time to preach that night.  I was exhausted.  The pastors I had as a child all had the luxury of resting on Monday after such a day; I had to be at my factory job at 7:00 the next morning.  Being a slow learner the next year I took the kids to camp again, but that was my last time.  That was not my primary responsibility as a pastor so the next year I told the parents they would have to make arrangements to take their kids to camp and pick them up at the end of the week.  Everybody got to camp just fine, I was not as tired when I preached the evening service, nor was I as tired when I went to the work the next morning.

Any ministry will have its rough times, but I continue to say that my pastorate at Hebron was one of the most joyous times of my life.  Day to day it often felt like I was taking two steps forward and one step back, but when I'm able to get up on the balcony and look down over everything that occurred during those two decades I can see so many positive things that happened in people's lives.  Today, I can laugh at some of the dumb things I did as their pastor, but I can also see the times God used me to make a difference in a person's life.  I also know that ministry enriched my own life in more ways than I can count.

If you are currently serving as a bivocational minister, let me say to you, "Thank you for your willingness to follow God's call on your life."  I hope you know how important you are to your congregation and to the work of God's Kingdom.  You are one of my heroes because I know how challenging it can get at times.

If you sense that God might be calling you to this ministry, continue to pray, remain open to the possibility, and see what doors God might open for you.  The need for bivocational ministers is growing throughout most denominations, and I am convinced that God is calling men and women to meet that need.  If you believe that He is calling you, rejoice that God sees in you the gifts and abilities it takes to be a bivocational minister.  My prayer for you is that you will experience the same joy I have as a bivocational minister.  I would encourage you to read any of my books on bivocational and small church ministry as a way to learn about this ministry, and if you have a Kindle you may want to pick up the book that started my writing ministry.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Growing ministers, growing churches

Many years ago I read a book with the same title as this blog post that was written by Reginald McDonough.  The premise of the book isn't hard to figure out.  Only those ministers who are growing can lead a growing church.  What I found helpful as a young pastor were the four areas the author identified in which we needed to grow.  To neglect any of these areas will cause our personal growth to be limited which will then hinder our ability to lead our churches.  He said we needed to
  • Grow in our self-understanding
  • Grow in relational skills
  • Grow in leadership skills
  • Grow as a person in Christ.
One of the challenges I've had during my ministry was keeping these in balance.  I'll work on one area for a season and then realize that I'm slipping in another one.  For example, I find it very easy to want to focus on developing my leadership skills, but then I wake up one day and realize that my relational skills have become poor.  Usually, when that happens I have become so focused on achieving the tasks I need to get done that I ignore the people around me.  I begin to see them as a hindrance to my ministry rather than seeing that they ARE my ministry! At that point I have to repent and start over rebuilding those relationships.

Similarly, there will be times when I really want to focus on trying to better understand myself that the focus becomes on me rather than who I am in Christ.  Can you see how easily any of these can get out of balance and have a negative impact on our lives and our ministries?  It is vital that we continually seek ways to grow in each of these areas.

In the book McDonough writes that "Meaningful personal growth has four basic characteristics; it is intentional, directional, dynamic, and relational."  Briefly, by this he explains that personal growth is not automatic but is by choice.  Each of us must decide that we are going to grow as individuals, that we are not going to just react to what life brings us, but that we are going to develop a personal growth plan and set goals for our growth.  Growth is directional as it comes as we pass through the various stages of life well prepared for the next stage.  It is dynamic in that it never finishes.  Success in personal growth in never a destination but will always be a journey.  Finally, growth is relational.  It occurs as we interact with other and with God.  Growth does not come as we isolate ourselves from one another; it comes through our relationships with the various people we encounter in life.

Growth is always a process whether we are talking about personal growth or church growth, but it is a process we must enter into intentionally.  What will you do in 2013 to grow as a person, as a spouse, as a parent, as a minister?  If you are bivocational, how will you grow as an employee or employer?  What are you doing now that hinders your personal growth that you are willing to set aside?  What books do you plan to read in the coming year that will aid in your growth?  What new relationships do you want to develop?  What old relationships do you need to avoid?  In our hurry-up world of multi-tasking, how will you slow down enough to be able to hear the still, small voice of God speaking to you?

There really is a correlation between growing ministers and growing churches.  Looking back at my pastorate I can now see that it was during the times when I was growing that our church also grew, and when I was coasting personally so did our church.  I see the same thing now as a judicatory leader working with numerous churches.  The benefits of having a personal growth plan are huge for you, your family, and your ministry.  If you haven't already done so, begin now to develop such a plan for your life in 2013.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Let them leave

Churches, especially smaller ones, worry too much about people leaving for another church.  As a result, we allow individuals to derail our best efforts at doing new ministry.  All they have to do is threaten to leave if we don't do things the way they want.  Such people have been known to hold a church hostage for years, even decades.  If some churches ever want to get to the place where it is able to offer relevant ministry to the 21st century they are going to have to stop giving these people veto power over decisions the congregation wants to make.

There are two types of people who threaten to leave a church, and how a church responds depends upon which category they would fall into.  As a pastor the ones I hated to see leave were the ones who simply were not comfortable with the changes that were occurring in the church.  These were good people who did not want to create problems, but the new directions the church was taking were not what they wanted in a church.  It affected their ability to worship and to serve, and as painful as it is to lose such people it is probably best for them and the church for them to leave.

I was working with a church one time that was trying to make a decision between two options.  At a leadership meeting one night one of the leaders said that if the church chose one option he and his family would leave.  He wasn't angry, and he didn't say it as a threat.  He just wanted the others to know that his family would not be comfortable with that choice.  I immediately said to the group, "And that's OK.  If he and his family chooses to leave that is their choice to make and should not influence the decision you make."  In the end, the church did make the choice that he was not comfortable with, and he and his family left that church.  Within a few weeks they settled into another nearby congregation where they continue to be very active members and hold leadership positions.  You hate to lose such people, but if God is leading one way and they felt led another direction you have to respect that and make the decision that God is leading the entire congregation to make.

The second group consists of the controllers.  Any time they don't get their way they stomp and snort telling everyone they are going to leave the church.  These are people who believe the church exists for them and their families, and everyone else there is expected to bow down to their wishes.  They may or may not be major givers in the church (sometimes you might be surprised to find out that the ones who demand the most give the least).  They will announce to anyone who will listen that they represent a large group within the church, and if they leave that whole group will leave.  Sometimes that happens, but in my experience I've learned that they usually represent their family who were conditioned years ago to not cross them and few others outside their immediate family.  Even if a large group does follow them out of the church, are these people with whom you would expect to build a ministry?  If they are following a controller that means they are not following God.

I would never lose a minute's sleep when these people leave.  I would wish them well and then turn back to the task God had given me.  While I would never invite people to a party to celebrate that these people had left, I might be tempted to thank God for a blessed reduction in our church.  Sometimes a church needs to grow a little smaller before it can grow larger.

A church will never be any healthier than its members and its leaders.  If your church consists primarily of controllers and other dysfunctional people it will never be healthy until these people are gone, and until it has a measure of health it will not be able to do much for the Kingdom of God.  For more on healthy churches and how to deal with controllers you may want to read my book The Healthy Small Church: Diagnosis and Treatment for the Big Issues.

Monday, December 3, 2012

You must take responsibility for your ministry

The passing of Zig Ziglar last week has caused me to reflect on the numerous times I heard him speak. So many of his sayings are so memorable I couldn't help but quote him in numerous sermons and in several of my books.  He began every session I heard by asking two questions of his audience.
  1. How many of you believe that regardless of how bad your personal, family, and business lives are at this moment there are still some things you could do that would make them even worse?  (Nearly every hand would be raised.)
  2. How many of you believe that regardless of how good your personal, family, and business lives are, there are still some things you could do to improve them?  (Again nearly everyone would raise their hand.)
Zig would then tell the audience that what they just told him was that regardless of what their lives are like today there are things they can do to make them better or worse.  He was pointing out that each of us must take personal responsibility for our lives.  Our situations are not the result of what "they" have done to us regardless of who "they" are.  Our lives, our businesses, our family relationships, our ministries, our finances are our responsibility and the choices we make will determine whether each of those aspects of our lives improve or worsen.

I had been pastor of our church for a year or two when one Sunday morning one of my more plain-spoken deacons told me as he was going out, "You're starting to turn into a decent preacher."  I took his comment as a compliment because I knew he would not have said it if he didn't believe it.  I also knew that I had worked hard to become a better speaker.  Every one of those early sermons had been taped and most of them were not very good.  I looked for any resources I could find that would help me become a better speaker.  Another member in our congregation shared her concern that my poor grammar would be a hindrance to my ministry, so when I went to Bible school one of the first things I did was take two semesters of English grammar to improve.  During my twenty year pastorate at that church I completely changed my preaching style three times in an effort to improve until I finally found a style that fits my personality and my way of speaking.

In my judicatory role I encounter too many ministers who do little, if anything, to improve their ministries.  I hear experienced pastors who are very poor communicators.  One church I visited several years ago was pastored by an individual who was just a few months from retirement.  He had been in ministry his entire adult life, and the sermon he delivered that morning was the poorest attempt I had ever heard.  He preached for ten minutes and said absolutely nothing.  I meet others who have poor social skills.  They are obviously uncomfortable around people which makes others around them uncomfortable as well.  I've seen pastors bounce from one church to another due to poor leadership skills who have done nothing to improve those skills.  Some ministers seem to think that once they receive their seminary degree there is nothing else they need to learn.  I would argue that one's education is just beginning if the minister wants to enjoy a successful ministry.

The best preachers are those who frequently read books on preaching and speaking techniques.  They attend workshops on preaching.  They invite criticism and use it to improve.  I read of one large church with multiple services whose staff meet between the services to discuss how the message could be improved for the next service.  The speaker better have thick skin for that to work, but what a great idea for improving one's message and delivery.  Ministers who provide excellent pastoral care are continually learning as much as they can about human nature and the needs of their congregation.  They build relationships with members of the church which creates deeper levels of trust, and that in turn makes it possible for them to better minister to those individuals.

What I've just written about preaching and pastoral care could be said of any role the pastor might have in a church.  The key is taking personal responsibility to continue to grow in every aspect of pastoral ministry.  As one who is a strong believer in spending most of one's time in the areas of your strengths I recognize that in some areas of pastoral work the minister will never be extremely comfortable, but even in those areas each of us can grow.  We can also identify ways to use others who are more gifted in those areas to come alongside.  I am not a great counselor; I have no special training in pastoral counseling; and I believe that most pastors should not provide long-term counseling to people.  One of the things I worked on to improve in that area of my ministry was how to identify the times when I needed to refer someone to a Christian counselor and to identify the ones I would refer people to.

The bivocational minister will always struggle with time issues which makes it even more imperative that he or she seeks ways to grow in every area of ministry.  The better you get at something the easier it is to do it and the less time you will waste.  But, it is important to recognize that you will never arrive.  The best are always seeking to learn new ways of doing things that will better serve their people.  God has called us and given us the tools we need, but it is up to us to keep those tools sharp.  Each of us must take responsibility for the ministries He has given us.  You may find this book helpful in that effort.