Monday, December 30, 2013

Is your church ready to receive guests?

A few days ago I posted on this blog how critical it is that leaders model the behavior they want to see from those who follow them.  This is especially true when the leader is trying to introduce change into a church or another organization.  However, it is also true when the leader is trying to create a church culture.  As I thought about the recent post on this matter I was reminded of a church I visited earlier this year.

It was a small congregation with about 50 people attending the morning worship service.  It was my first time in this church although I had been with the pastor on several occasions.  I arrived early and took a seat three rows from the front.  Only one couple sat between me and the pulpit area.  Several people smiled or nodded, and a few shook hands with me.  Interestingly enough, not one person asked who I was, where I was from, or why I was at their church on this morning.  About 7-8 minutes prior to the service the pastor came from the back area into the sanctuary and started speaking to various people.  He walked past me three times without ever acknowledging my presence.

As one of the leaders in our judicatory I am usually introduced to the congregation whenever I visit one of our churches, but this morning nothing was said about my presence.  When the service ended people started leaving fairly quickly.  As I neared the entrance where the pastor was standing another gentleman asked my name.  When I told him who I was the pastor heard me and responded, "I'm sorry I didn't introduce you to the congregation, but I didn't recognize you."  It had been a couple of years since we had seen one another so I could accept that, but what wasn't acceptable was that this pastor had a guest in the church who he did not recognize and made no attempt to do so.

When I arrived home after the service I told my wife about what had happened.  I ended the story by saying, "I guess the congregation was playing "Follow the leader" because they did exactly what he did.  They made no effort to find out who the visitor was in their church that day.

I wish I could say this was an isolated incident, but it's not.  I spend a lot of time working with smaller churches, and nearly all of them complain about their inability to grow and reach new people.  The problem is many of them don't know what to do when they do have guests.  That may also be why they don't have more guests.  In his book Fusion: Turning First-Time Guests into Fully-Engaged Members of Your Church Nelson Searcy asks, "Why would God send new people to a church that is not ready to welcome and nurture them?"  I think it is a great question that explains why so many of our churches see so few guests.  I also believe this is the best book I've ever read on the subject of how to be prepared to properly prepare for first-time guests at your church and the steps to take to encourage them to return.

Again, the pastor must take the lead in this.  If he or she does not welcome guests properly it is likely that the church will not either.  If the pastor does not train people how to properly follow-up with first-time guests, the odds are good the church will not see those people return.  Any church that is serious about wanting to reach new people must be equally serious about being prepared to receive them when they do come.  Searcy's book is a great tool to help in such preparation.  I've also developed a workshop based on many of the principles he writes about in the book and on some other material I've gathered over the years.  This workshop has been presented at several pastor leadership and church events.

We live in a time in which it is difficult to get people to visit our churches at all.  Let's be sure we don't make their first visit their last because of our lack of preparation

Friday, December 27, 2013

Walking the talk about change

In his excellent book, Leading at a Higher Level, Revised and Expanded Edition: Blanchard on Leadership and Creating High Performing Organizations, Ken Blanchard writes that "It is estimated that a leader's actions are at least three times as important as what he or she says...The minute that associates or colleagues sense that their leader is not committed or is acting inconsistently with the desired behaviors of the change, they will no longer commit themselves to the effort."  Leaders should always walk the talk, but it becomes even more critical to do so when their organization is going through a change.  Failing to do so eliminates any chance that others in the organization will be committed to the change process ensuring the failure of the change effort.

As I reflected on Blanchard's words I thought of the many churches that have attempted changes in the past few years and how many of those change efforts simply didn't go anywhere.  In some of the churches of which I am familiar at least part of that failure was the result of the leaders not demonstrating through their actions that they were committed to the change.  In some cases, it was the pastoral leadership while in other churches it was the lay leadership.  As the church members saw their leaders acting inconsistently with the changes being promoted they soon lost any interest in the change themselves.  Every organization will strongly attempt to return to what it knows throughout a change effort until that change becomes part of the DNA of the church, and if the leaders do not demonstrate a 100 percent commitment to the change through their actions that organization will return very quickly to its previous state.

I see the same thing happening in judicatories and denominations.  I regularly hear from bivocational pastors who tell me their judicatory leaders speak of their commitment to bivocational ministry, but their actions indicate that commitment is very limited.  Their judicatories offer no specific training for its bivocational leadership.  What training is offered usually occurs during the day when the bivocational ministers are at their other jobs.  There is little recognition of bivocational leadership in the official publications of the judicatory, and bivocational leadership is seldom showcased at the regular gatherings of the judicatory.

Many denominations are going through difficult times right now, and there is much talk of the need for significant changes to occur to help make these denominations more viable.  However, there often seems to be much more talk than action.  Boards are sometimes reduced to make them smaller and quicker to respond to the needs of their churches, but in reality there seems to be little difference in how these boards operate.  I doubt that a casual observer would say that they are responding any quicker now that they are smaller than when they were larger.  There are still the bureaucratic hoops to jump through.  Bylaws are not changed to make the boards more responsive to the rapid changes occurring in society.  It often appears that any changes that are occurring at the denominational level amounts to little more than re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.  No matter how the chairs are arranged, the ship is still going down, and no matter what surface changes these denominations make, people and churches are still becoming less and less dependent upon them.

Let me approach this issue from one more perspective: the family.  I cannot understand why parents criticize their children for the poor choices they make when those children have watched their parents make the same poor choices throughout their lives.  A single parent who lives with his or her lover should not be surprised when their child become sexually active.  That child is simply playing Follow the Leader.  A parent who spends time at the bar has no reason to complain when their child becomes involved in drugs.  A parent who lies to others should expect to have a child who will lie to the parent.  Children learn through observation, and if they see their parents engaged in activities that have no consequences they will be more likely to engage in those same activities.

It does not matter what type of organization you lead, as a leader it is critical that your walk matches your talk if you want others to take you seriously.  It you are trying to lead a change process in your organization, that match becomes even more critical or you will soon learn that no one is following you.  And, if you have no followers, then by definition you are no longer a leader.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas!

May God bless each of you this Christmas season and throughout the coming year.

Monday, December 23, 2013

What is your church doing to make disciples?

A few years ago I attended a meeting of leaders from different denominations.  During the meeting someone commented on the rapid growth of a church in one of the denominations represented.  The individual from that denomination admitted that particular church was growing in its worship attendance but the attendance in that church's Christian education program was declining at almost the same pace.  He explained it was the same problem many of their denominational churches was having, and his fear was that this would lead to serious problems in the next 10-20 years.  The reason for his fear was that the new people their churches were reaching were doing little to grow spiritually, and in the next few years they would be the next generation of leaders in their churches.  Unfortunately, this problem is not limited to his denomination.

The church must do more to help its members grow spiritually.  The Great Commission  does not simply tell the church to lead people to a decision or to baptize people; it says we are to "make disciples of all the nations."

When many evangelical churches think of discipleship they immediately think of their Sunday school program, a program that is in decline in many churches.  If we expect our Sunday schools to be sufficient for producing disciples it demonstrates we have a mistaken concept of discipleship.  Being a disciple is more than just acquiring knowledge.  To be a disciple we must be transformed by the knowledge we gain.

Discipleship is more caught than taught.  Yes, we need to be taught the truths of Scripture, but we must also have the opportunity to put those truths into practice.  The challenge for the church that is serious about discipleship is helping people apply what they are learning.  Too many of our churches fail to provide those opportunities.  We call ministers to provide ministry services to the congregation who sees themselves as consumers of those services.  Clergy is then evaluated on how well they provided such services.  We need to involve everyone in ministry if we are to create disciples.

Jesus called those who would be his disciples to "Follow me."  He then took them on a journey that would shape their lives and prepare them for the ministry they would be given.  Part of that journey involved listening to his teachings, and part of it involved hands-on ministry.   This is the same model churches must follow if we are to be serious about raising up disciples.

One reason more churches do not do this is because discipleship is messy.  It's often easier for the pastor to do the ministry than it is to send out others to do it.  Besides, how can we know when someone is ready to minister to others?  Often, we can't until they are actually involved in ministry.  There is the real possibility that people will mess things up when they try to minister to others...just like Jesus' disciples did.  They couldn't cast a demon out of a young boy, and they didn't have a clue what to do when Jesus told them to feed the multitudes with a few pieces of bread and fish.  Of course, nothing matched their biggest failure when they ran away on the night Jesus was arrested.  But, the important thing is they learned from their mistakes and eventually became known as people who turned the world upside down.

As we approach 2014 I encourage you to take a look at your discipleship efforts in your church.  Are those efforts producing disciples?  Are the members in your church becoming more like Jesus, and are they involved in ministering to others?  What ministry opportunities will your church provide for those who want to grow as disciples of Jesus Christ?  These are important questions you need to answer as you prepare to lead your church into next year.

Much of this material comes from a chapter in my book The Healthy Community: Moving Your Church Beyond Tunnel Vision where you will find some more recommendations on how to help improve the discipleship ministry of your church.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Setting your goals for 2014

Those who know me are aware that I love setting goals.  With the proper focus on the right goals one can achieve far more than most believe is possible.  Without goals one is doomed to drift from one thing to the next hopeful that in the process something good will happen.  In his book Goals!: How to Get Everything You Want -- Faster Than You Ever Thought Possible Brian Tracy recommends that we do three things:  write down our goals; make plans to achieve those goals; and work on those goals every day.  This is a great strategy and one I try to follow.  The first two recommendations I have done for years.  Working on the goals every day is sometimes a challenge, but I have found that the more days I spend focused on the goals the more likely they are to be fulfilled.  That doesn't mean that the entire day is spent only on one or two goals, but it does mean that every day something is specifically done that will help make that goal a reality.

I have found that the week between Christmas and New Year's is a great time for me to focus on goal setting for the coming year.  Most of the churches I serve take a break during that week so there's usually little demand for my time which allows me to spend some time thinking about what I need to address in the coming year.  During my years as a pastor I usually found this same week to be a great time for goal setting.  If you haven't already set your 2014 goals you may want to take that week to work on those goals.

Your goals should include every aspect of your life.  You should have goals for your family life, your career, your ministry, your own self-care, and your relationship with God.  By writing down goals in each of these five areas you will find it easier to keep your life in the proper balance.  Without written goals in each area it will be easy to ignore the areas that are without goals.  Don't overdo it!  A couple of goals in each area is plenty.  That means you need not have more than 10 goals that you will pursue in the coming year.  People who set more goals than that often end up not achieving many of their goals leaving them frustrated.

Each goal should be SMART.  S - Specific, M - Measurable, A - Attainable, R - Realistic, and T - time defined.  When you write out your goal make sure it includes each of the elements.  You want goals that will stretch you but are attainable.  If they are not specific, measurable, and time-defined you won't be able to know whether or not you've reached them.  Take the time to ensure that each of your goals are SMART goals, and at the end of the year it will be easy to determine whether or not you've achieved them.

One of the exciting things I've learned over the years is that one need only spend a small amount of time each day specifically addressing the goals in order to achieve them.  Allyson Lewis explains in her book The Seven Minute Difference: Small Steps to Big Changes that taking small steps each day will enable one to make a big difference in his or her life.  What might happen if you read only 10 pages of a book a day, or got up 15 minutes earlier to do your devotions, or make just one more call to a recent guest at your church?  It is in those small daily habits that the seeds are sown that lead to success.

Do you want to see your church grow in 2014?  Set a SMART goal and develop an action plan to make that happen.  Do you want your family to enjoy a special experience next year?  Set your goal and make it happen.  Do you want to grow in some area of your personal or professional life?  With a SMART goal and an action plan it can happen.  Are you ready to get control of your finances?  You can do it.  Now is the time to set your 2014 goals.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Do you want to be made well?

"Do you want to be made well?"  This was the question Jesus asked the man at the pool who complained he had been there thirty-eight years waiting to be made well when the angel would stir the waters.  His complaint was that he had no one to help him when he needed to get into the water and others would get in the pool before him and receive their healing.  Jesus' question seems on the surface to be confusing.  One would think that if the man had been there that long to be healed that he surely wanted to be made well.  However, that is not always the case.

In my pastoral ministry I met many people who seemed addicted to dysfunction.  Married couples argue for years over the same issues, often minor ones, and never seem to be able to get beyond them to enjoy a much more satisfying marriage.  They go to marriage counselors, pastors, and others for help, but soon return to the negative behaviors that define their relationship.  Individuals remain trapped in circumstances, often of their own choosing, and do nothing constructive to change those circumstances.  An individual told me one morning that her life had never been better only to call that same night complaining about some perceived slight.  As she raged on about the most minuscule issue I finally stopped her and said, "Your problem is that you have been so unhappy for so long that you don't know how to do happy.  When things begin to go positive for you, you look for things to get upset about."

Such people are very difficult to help because their lives are defined by their problems.  If their problems were solved they would have nothing to talk about.  Even if you help them resolve one problem another one will soon appear.  It's like trying to plug a leak in the dam with your finger.  You can expect another leak to soon appear, and eventually you run out of fingers.

Of course, none of their problems are their fault.  "They did this to me, and they did that to me," is the refrain you hear over and over from people I call perpetual victims.  This does not discount the fact that some people have had very difficult lives and have been victimized by others, but there comes a time when each of us have to take responsibility for ourselves and accept the fact that we do not have to allow others to define us any longer.  Maybe the past was harmed by others, but who will be in charge of the future?  Those who want to be made well will take control of their future and make the decisions that will lead to a better life for themselves and those they love.

All of this is true of churches as well.  In 30+ years of ministry I have seen many dysfunctional churches.  I have worked with some as part of conflict mediation teams and have taken recommendations back from the teams after we've met with people in the church.  The churches that want to be made well will try to implement many of the recommendations we make.  Those that prefer their dysfunction ignore those recommendations.  They talk about wanting to be healthy, but they are unwilling to do anything to become healthy.  Such churches continue to fight amongst themselves squandering any opportunity to have a positive presence in their community.

You, your family, and your church all have the opportunity to be made well, but you must take responsibility for any healing you may need.  You have to take charge of your life, your family, and your church and make the decisions that will lead to a better tomorrow.  Some of those decisions may be painful in the short-term, but they will produce a must more positive future than if you continue to do what you've been doing.  The good news is that it is God's will for you, your family, and your church to be healthy.  God will help you overcome the past if that is needed, but you have to decide that is what you want to happen, and He will lead you into better decisions if you ask Him for the wisdom to do that.  So, the question is: Do you want to be made well?

Monday, December 16, 2013

Important changes coming to Bivocational Ministries

For a number of years I have had a website at www.bivocational as well as this blog.  For the past two or three years I've concentrated on posting on this blog while neglecting the website.  I've simply found it much easier to write for the blog than trying to maintain the website.  Although the website does not cost a lot of money there is an expense involved.  It is time to renew the website with my server, and I've decided not to do so but to continue to post on this blog instead.  The traffic to the website hasn't been that great in the past few years so I doubt that many people will even notice that it is gone.  The regular readers of this blog seems to be growing, and my hope is that will continue.  I would be especially excited if those who do read it would decide to be a follower of the blog.

One of the things that the website did offer was the ability to purchase my books on line with a credit card.  You will now notice that I've listed my books on the lower left of the blog page.  At the bottom of the page is information on how you can order the book directly from me.  I am not set up at this time to accept credit cards so you will need to pay by check or money order.  The shipping costs of a single book is $3.00 which will need to be added to the cost of the book.  If you wish to order more than one book please let me know, and I will combine shipping costs to save you some money.  If you wish to order 20 or more copies of a single title, please let me know and I will quote you a discounted bulk rate and have the publisher ship them directly to you.

As I look ahead to 2014 I am excited about what is happening with bivocational ministry.  I already have two speaking engagements scheduled in March, and I'm hopeful those opportunities will continue to come.  Last week I had a very encouraging e-mail from a bivocational minister who had never written to me before expressing his appreciation for the support he found in this blog and in my books.  Another e-mail came from an academic leader who had finished The Healthy Pastor: Easing the Stresses of Ministry.  He said he found it very helpful and intended to recommend it to his students.  Two weeks ago I received an e-mail from a doctoral student wanting to interview me for his dissertation project which will focus on bivocational ministry.  I believe that was the fourth doctoral student that contacted me in 2013 wanting information for their dissertations.  In recent months has posted a number of articles from this blog and has asked me to write a couple of posts specifically for them.  I anticipate that relationship will continue as well.  All of this is very humbling and reminds me how important this work is.  The numbers of bivocational ministers are growing across most denominations, and their need for helpful resources is growing as well.  I'm glad that I can help provide some of those resources.

As I've written before, change is never easy.  A few years ago I stopped writing a monthly newsletter that went out by e-mail to hundreds of bivocational ministers.  That was not an easy decision to make, nor is the one about letting the website go, but doing so allows me more time to write for this blog.  I believe in the long run that will allow me to reach the most people so it is the right decision to make.

If you find this blog helpful I would ask two things.  The first is to please keep me in your prayers. As most regular readers know, my work with bivocational ministers is only a small part of what I do.  As a judicatory leader in our Region I serve and directly relate to 130 churches plus carry other responsibilities. It is good and important ministry.  Please pray that God will grant me the wisdom I need to fulfill this ministry well.  Secondly, encourage your bivocational friends and leaders of smaller churches to become followers of the blog.  I believe there are thousands of small church leaders that would benefit from the information I try to provide, but I need you to spread the word.

Let me close this post by saying thanks to all of you who have been following the website and blog and those of you who have been reading my books.  I appreciate each and every one of you. 

Friday, December 13, 2013

Many pastors will need to reinvent themselves if they want to remain in ministry

An article I recently read noted that for those churches seeking a new pastor it was a "buyer's market."  The author claimed that many smaller churches might receive 100 resumes for their pastorate while larger churches would receive many more than that.  I'm not sure that is true for all denominations, but one of the problems that is impacting the ability of some ministers in being able to find a place to serve is the growing numbers of churches that are becoming bivocational.  Our Region currently has many more bivocational churches seeking pastors than we have fully-funded churches seeking pastors.  Right now we have some churches who have recently lost their fully-funded pastor and have decided to call a bivocational minister, and this is happening across denominational lines and in increasing numbers.  Frankly, many of these churches struggle to find someone willing to serve as their pastor.

As I share this reality with pastors many of them react with much fear.  Last week a pastor confessed to me that he was afraid he would have trouble finding another fully-funded church to serve and didn't know what he was going to do.  He said he had no training to do anything but pastor a church.  It's a comment I've heard from numerous pastors in recent years.  In a few cases I've been able to help them identify other things they can do to earn a living, but others insist they can't do anything but be a pastor.  I fear for them if they ever leave their current ministry or if their church joins the growing numbers of churches who ask their pastor to become bivocational.

Some ministers take the attitude that God has called them into the ministry, they have completed their education, been ordained, and therefore they should be guaranteed a fully-funded ministry position.  Maybe that was an assumption that could be made in earlier times, but it is not a safe one for today.  I believe many of the churches of tomorrow will be smaller and seeking bivocational leadership.  If I was a young pastor today I would be looking at what I needed to do to develop marketable skills that would supplement my income as a bivocational pastor and not depend on my seminary degree and denomination to guarantee me a fully-funded church.

As regular readers of this blog know, I served as a bivocational pastor for twenty years.  I only left that pastorate to accept my current ministry as a Resource Minister in our judicatory.  During my 30+ years in ministry I have also worked in a factory, owned and managed a small business, led conferences and workshops for various denominational groups, taught an on-line course for a university, published books, and worked as an auctioneer.  Over the years I have met hundreds of other bivocational ministers who have worked various jobs in addition to having very successful ministries.  Because of these experiences I have little patience for those ministers who tell me they just can't do anything but pastor a church. 

The reality is they don't want to do anything but pastor a church.  That's OK, but another reality is that they may not have a choice if the numbers of churches seeking bivocational ministers continues to grow.  If that happens, many pastors are going to have to reinvent themselves and become bivocational ministers or leave the ministry completely.

This may seem like a negative post to some readers, but it is not intended to be negative.  I regularly hear from bivocational ministers who tell me how much they enjoy bivocational ministry.  Some of these came from fully-funded churches and have found new freedoms in being bivocational.  The subtitle of my first book was The Joy of Bivocational Ministry.  I wanted that to be the title for the book, but the publisher insisted on using their own title but did allow that to be the subtitle.  The reason I wanted it for the title was because the book described the joy I had in serving my bivocational church. 

If pastors have to be dragged kicking and screaming into bivocational ministry, and they become bitter and resentful about it, they are unlikely to find bivocational ministry very rewarding and joyful.  That is why I think many need to be thinking today about what they can do outside the church to provide for their families and explore how they can get the skills and knowledge to do something beyond ministry.  Given the growing numbers of churches that are becoming bivocational it might be wise for ministers to proactively prepare themselves if they find they need to become bivocational.  There will always be fully-funded churches who need pastors, but these will be the churches that find it is a "buyer's market" when the time comes for them to seek a new pastor.  If a minister wants to ensure he or she has a ministry in the future now is the time to consider the option of becoming bivocational and preparing for that possibility.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Why change efforts often fail

In his excellent book, Leading at a Higher Level, Revised and Expanded Edition: Blanchard on Leadership and Creating High Performing Organizations, Ken Blanchard gives 15 reasons why change efforts typically fail. 
  1. People leading the change think that announcing the change is the same as implementing it.
  2. People's concerns with change are not surfaced or addressed.
  3. Those being asked to change are not involved in planning the change.
  4. There is no compelling reason to change.  The business case is not communicated.
  5. A compelling vision that excites people about the future has not been developed and communicated.
  6. The change leadership team does not include early adopters, resisters, or informal leaders.
  7. The change is not piloted, so the organization does not learn what is needed to support the change.
  8. Organizational systems and other initiatives are not aligned with the change.
  9. Leaders lose focus or fail to prioritize, causing "death by 1,000 initiatives."
  10. People are not enabled or encouraged to build new skills.
  11. Those leading the change are not credible.  They undercommunicate, give mixed messages, and do not model the behaviors the change requires.
  12. Progress is not measured, and/or no one recognizes the changes that people have worked hard to make.
  13. People are not held accountable for implementing the change.
  14. People leading the change fail to respect the power of the culture to kill the change.
  15. Possibilities and options are not explored before a specific change is chosen. (pp. 195-196)
I think this list accurately lists the reasons change efforts fail and is helpful in two ways.  One, if you've been involved in a change effort that was not successful you will probably find that at least one of the above reasons was violated in the effort.  The second way this list is helpful is that it will better prepare you for the next change effort you attempt to make in your organization.

For more detailed information about each of the 15 I highly recommend Blanchard's book as he discusses each of these in some detail.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

You don't have a problem; you have a decision to make

You don't have a problem; you have a decision to make.  I don't remember the first time I heard that, but I do remember it was at a time when I was struggling with a problem.  I wasn't very happy when I heard this because this was something I already knew, but I didn't want to make the decision.  I had put off making a decision that I knew needed to be made because I was secretly hoping the problem would take care of itself.  It didn't.  In fact, like most problems left to themselves, this one grew bigger while I hesitated doing what I knew needed to be done.  Eventually, I did make the required decision, and within a very short time things improved dramatically. 

One of the criticisms I often received as a younger leader was that I refused to make timely decisions.  You might remember that Bill Clinton was often criticized for the same thing during his first term.  His critics claimed that he required too much information before he could make a decision.  I tend to be the same way, plus I struggled with wanting to please everyone.  It took me awhile to learn that, #1 a leader will never have enough information and, #2 regardless of what I did I would never please everyone.  Leadership is about making decisions based upon the information you do have.  If you get different information later you can adjust your decision, but at least you'll be moving forward.

I often get phone calls from pastors and lay people who want to talk about problems they have in their churches.  Some of these problems have been brewing for months or longer.  Others are fairly recent.  In virtually every case they remain problems because people do not want to make tough decisions.

A woman called to complain that their pastor no longer wore suits when he preached.  She was also unhappy about the dress of some of the lay leaders.  She told me how distressed this made her feel and that going to church was becoming quite a struggle.  I asked if the majority of the congregation felt like she did or if they accepted the more casual dress of their leadership.  She admitted very few felt like she did.  At that time I told her she probably needed to find another church to attend so she could enjoy the worship experience once again. She sounded a little disappointed, and I think she was hoping I would take her side and tell the pastor he needed to start wearing suits again.  She didn't have a problem; she had to decide if she wanted to continue attending that church or to begin the search for another one.

A church board called asking to meet with me to discuss some behavior problems the church had with two families.  In our meeting they explained that these families consistently created problems that caused their newer members to leave within a short period of time.  I asked what they were going to do about it.  Stunned, they insisted they couldn't do anything.  I replied, "Then live with it."  I explained they had already told me two families were driving people from the church.  As the leaders of that church they could decide who stayed and who left.  They needed to decide if they wanted to keep dysfunctional people who had been creating problems in their church for years or if they wanted to keep the new Christians they were reaching.  At that point I left the meeting.  Over the next few weeks they confronted these families about their behavior.  Both got angry, left, and the church has continued to grow.  They just need to make a decision.

Following a business meeting to which I had been invited about two dozen members of a larger church surrounded me complaining about their church and its leadership.  One of their complaints had to do with the amount of money the church spent on youth activities.  They specifically mentioned one recent expenditure of several hundred dollars for one activity.  I then asked how many young people were coming to Christ in that church.  I already knew this church was reaching many of the youth and their families in that community.  They didn't answer.  I then told them that I knew of several churches in that area that would not spend that much money on their youth for an entire year, and that they might be happier attending one of those churches.  Most of them left that church within a few weeks.  That growing church soon replaced them and continues to grow today.

Most of the problems that exist in our churches are the result of leaders refusing to make the decisions that need to be made.  We waste too much time worrying about upsetting the controllers and others who think the church exists for them.  We fear they might leave if we make a decision that they won't agree with.  So what?  Let them leave.  I think it was Rick Warren who once wrote that God had called us to be fishers of men, not corrallers of old goats.  It's time we in church leadership become willing to make the tough decisions that will resolve many of our problems so we can concentrate on our real purpose which is to reach people with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Computers and change

The last few days have been quite interesting.  I bought a new computer.  My desktop was several years old.  The screen froze once in a while, and the computer had really slowed down.  Some of the USB ports no longer worked.  For awhile we were wondering if the house was haunted as we occasionally heard voices until one day my wife was walking past my study as a video on my home page suddenly came on by itself.  It was definitely time for a new computer.  Besides, I had never really liked this one anyway.  I've owned dozens of computers over the years, and I've never been as disappointed in any of them as I was this one.  However, having said all that, I hated getting a new computer.

For one thing it would come with Windows 8.  I recently bought a new laptop for work with Windows 8, and I still wonder why Microsoft stock sells as high as it does.  After living through Vista and Windows 7 I was certain my next computer would be a Mac, but since I needed a PC for my work laptop I didn't want to have to learn two operating systems, so I got a PC with Windows 8 for my desktop.  The second reason I didn't want a new computer was that would mean I would have to transfer all my files and download the various programs I use plus I would have to spend more money for the newest version of Office.  So now, I've got two computers set up in my study while I'm spending hours getting the new one set up.  Not my idea of a fun way to spend one's time!

As I've been working on getting the new computer set up I couldn't help but think about how technology has changed since I began my ministry in 1981.  Back then I had an old Underwood typewriter that must have weighed fifty pounds.  It got replaced with a word processor that only showed two lines when I typed on it.  I went through a lot of White-Out in those days!  My first computer class was DOS, and some of you won't even know what that is.  You're lucky.  I think my first computer used Windows 3.1.  That and XP were my favorites and, in my opinion, the only two really good programs Microsoft has developed.  I suffered through Me, Vista,  and 7.  I hope once I get more comfortable with 8 that I'll learn to like it, but I do miss XP.

Technology has changed a lot since I began my ministry, and I've not always embraced the changes.  That might surprise some of my readers because I'm one who often writes on change, but the bottom line is most of us really don't like change a lot.  As someone once wrote, "The only people who like change are babies with wet diapers."  Change makes us uncomfortable.  It takes us out of our routines, our comfort zones.  It forces us to learn new things and to take risks.  Change means that we move from being self-reliant to once again becoming novices.

However, one of the things I've learned as a church leader is that I'm not called to be comfortable, and I'm not called to live in a comfort zone.  I'm certainly not called to be self-reliant.  I am to be reliant on Jesus Christ, and that does entail some risk.  I don't have to embrace change or even like it; I just have to be willing to change when circumstances call for it.  And right now, the circumstances the church faces in this world not only calls for the church to change, they demand that the church changes.

You've probably heard the expression, "Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die."  Everybody wants things to get better in the church, but nobody wants to make the changes that are needed for that to happen.  Denominational leaders sit around wringing their hands as they watch their churches drift further away from them, but there's little real interest in changing anything to reverse that.  They create another task force to discuss their problems for a few more years while they become more and more irrelevant to their churches, and little, if anything comes from those discussions.  Local church leaders do the same thing.  They worry and complain about their churches growing smaller and smaller but are unwilling to make the significant changes it might take to turn that around.

The reality is this: If your church could be healthy and grow by doing what you're already doing, it would already be doing so.  If it's not healthy and growing, then you have to do something different, and that means change.  If you're not willing to change, then stop pretending you want your church to be healthy and growing because you don't.  At least you don't want it bad enough to be willing to change what no longer works.  Yes, changing things in the church is risky, it's messy, it's often painful, it's time-consuming, and it will be very uncomfortable.  But, it's better than doing nothing and dying.

I've still got more work to do on getting my new computer set up the way I want it, but I can already tell it works a lot faster than my old computer which will allow me to be much more productive.  It also has more features which will allow me to do things I've not been able to do before.  In a short period of time the pain of change will be over, and I'll be able to enjoy the benefits the change will bring me.  The same will be true of your church.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Maybe it's time to eliminate sign-up sheets in church

I was recently visiting a church when the pastor held up a sign-up sheet for some activity the church was having a few weeks later.  He made the comment that if enough people didn't sign up for whatever they needed the church office would have to call folks.  I had the sense that people did not respond to the sign-up sheets very well in this church.

When I pastored in the 80s and 90s we used sign-up sheets a lot to recruit volunteers for the various activities in our church.  Most of the time our folks were willing to volunteer, but towards the end of my pastorate I found that fewer and fewer people would sign up on the sign-up sheet.  They needed to be asked directly to help with the activity.  I think this is even more true today which is why I believe we need to eliminate the sign-up sheets for most activities.

Yesterday, I read an article that promoted the idea that the church needs to cut back on their volunteers and become more intentional about developing leaders.  There was a lot in that article that resonated with me.  Especially in our smaller churches we are always looking for volunteers to do the various tasks in our churches, and those volunteers are getting harder to come by.  Whether it is due to time constraints, a lack of interest in the particular activity, a lack of commitment to church activities, or some other reason, people are less willing to step forward to volunteer today.  They hope someone else will volunteer for the task, and they won't need to.  This can get very frustrating to the few who are willing to volunteer as it seems they are expected to do all the work in the church.

How much better would it be if our churches became more intentional about developing leaders in their churches rather than depending on volunteers?  This about this scenario for a minute.  A small church needs a director for their Vacation Bible School.  About three weeks before the scheduled VBS someone finally volunteers to be the director.  In a short period of time he or she must become familiar with the material, coordinate and train the other workers, make sure the needed supplies are available, plan the promotion, and handle all the other administrative tasks that needs to happen for this to be successful.  Is it any wonder this person is not interested in being the director the following year?

Instead of asking for someone to volunteer to be the VBS director, what might happen if the church leadership sought a person who had the spiritual gifts for the position, had a passion for VBS, and believed in the possibilities that VBS offers?  Such a person could be intentionally approached months ahead of time and asked to serve in that position and then provided the training he or she would need to be prepared.  This would provide them with plenty of time to obtain the material and study it.  They would then be responsible to recruit and train the various workers and teachers they would need for VBS.  Which scenario is likely to result in a better Vacation Bible School experience?

Apply this same thinking to the other ministries your church offers, and I believe in almost every case to intentionally recruit and train leaders to lead these ministries will be far superior to putting a sign-up sheet on the back bulletin board hoping to get enough volunteers.  Not only will this result in better ministries, it will also raise the level of leadership in the church which will have far- reaching benefits for the church for decades to come.

Chances are your small church would have to make changes in its by-laws before this can happen.  Many of these volunteer positions are likely to be assigned to a nominating committee to recruit, but in my opinion, nominating committees are much like sign-up sheets.  Both served a purpose at one time in church history, but that time has passed.  Let's stop depending on volunteers and become more intentional about recruiting and training leaders in our churches.  The benefits of doing so are likely to be impressive.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Why do people resist change in the church so strongly?

The title of this post is a little misleading.  People in the church are not the only ones who resist change.  Everybody resists change, but because this blog is primarily for leaders in smaller churches we will just focus on why church folk can be so resistant to change.

Several years ago a small church leader called to say their church had recently appointed a church growth committee, and they wanted me to meet with them and explain how they could grow their church without making anyone mad.  Just the fact that they had formed a church growth committee made me cringe.  I can think of few things more likely to cause a church to not grow than a church growth committee.  If you have a church growth committee, whose job is it to grow the church?  Why, it's the committee's responsibility so everyone else is off the hook!  My second thought was not to laugh at his request for me to explain to them how they could grow the church without making anyone mad.  I responded, "I'm going to save myself a trip and you a meeting.  You can't.  If you could grow your church by doing what you're already doing, your church would already be growing.  It's not growing so that means you will have to begin doing some things differently, and that means you will have to introduce some changes into the church, and somebody isn't going to like those changes."  Although he was obviously disappointed in my response, he still wanted me to meet with them.  When I did, I explained in more detail why people would get upset in that church if they tried to do some new things.

There is something comfortable about being a part of a smaller church.  For one thing, we know our roles in our church.  It's not uncommon for the same people to be doing the same things in a small church for years, even decades.  In a world of constant change, it's nice to know on Sunday morning which pew we will sit in, which Sunday school class we'll attend, and what others in our church expect from us.  We are settled in our roles.  Any time some change is introduced in a small church one of the first questions people will ask is, "What will be my role in this new system?"  That is a very scary question for some people.  An even scarier question some will wonder is, "Will I even have a role in the new system?"  For people who have been Christians for a number of years we find our identity in the roles in which we serve our churches, and if those roles are changed or no longer needed it becomes a very frightening thing.

A second reason people in the church often resists change is because they fear the change will impact the relationships that exist in their church.  It is important for small church leaders to remember that everything in a smaller church revolves around relationships.  The thought of someone leaving the church because of some change is enough for some to oppose any change that is proposed.  I once offered to help a church change some of the things they were doing.  After my presentation we had a Q&A session where a number of good questions were asked.  The session soon ended when an older lady mentioned that she had been in favor of doing what I was proposing until I mentioned if the church did make some of those changes they might lose a few people.  She said, "When you said that I looked around the room and realized there wasn't anyone there I was willing to give up."  The church decided to not attempt any of those changes because they did not want to risk losing people.  That same scenario is played out in small churches every week.

The third reason many resist change is because they do not understand why it is needed.  Church leaders are better at explaining what needs to be changed than we are at explaining why something needs to be changed.  We need to talk about the why before we start talking about the what.   Being clear on the why will help us create a sense of urgency around the change which is critical for its acceptance.

Of course, there are many more reasons why some people resist change, but these are some of the primary ones.  As you are contemplating changes you want to propose to your church, spend some time thinking through each of these issues that can lead to resistance to your proposal.  Proactively address them in your initial presentation to remove them as possible objections.  Doing so will often lead to less opposition and a greater and quicker acceptance of the changes being proposed.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Wait for me, I'm the leader

A friend of mine accepted the pastorate of another church a few years ago.  He had served his previous church for over ten years but had very little success leading them out of their comfort zone.  Like many churches, they said the right things, but when it came time to making the changes necessary for those things to happen, they refused.  A few months after moving to his new place of service I asked my friend what the biggest difference was between the two churches.  He quickly replied that in the previous church he felt like he was always trying to move an object that would not budge; at the new church he was having to run to keep up.  Fortunately, he is an excellent pastor and leader, and he has had no trouble getting out in front and providing the leadership this church expects from their pastor.

That is not the case with many pastors.  The church today has many needs, but one of the greatest is they need a pastor who can provide leadership.  I've referred to John Maxwell's book, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You (10th Anniversary Edition), numerous times in this blog in which he reminds us that everything rises and falls on leadership.  This is true in businesses, in families, on sports teams, and it is certainly true for churches.  When things are going poorly in any organization one can point the finger at many possible causes, but it eventually comes back to leadership. 

I heard Maxwell make that statement when his book was first published several years ago.  At the time I was the pastor of a church and managing a small business our family owned.  Neither was going well, and I blamed everything and everyone.  Then I heard Maxwell say, "Everything rises and falls on leadership."  I sat there stunned and angry.  He was blaming me for the problems in our church and business!  The longer I sat in the audience the more I realized he was absolutely right.  I was the leader of both organizations.  I was the person responsible to see that they functioned properly.  I was the one expected to provide the vision and the plans to see those visions achieved.  If I did not provide leadership, how could I expect anyone to follow?  I had to immediately change how I served in both organizations, and when I did things began to improve.

Leadership is not simply having a position or a title.  It's not about educational degrees nor is it the ability to force people to do things they don't want to do.  Leadership is about influence.  It's the ability to cast a clear vision and influence others to go with you on the journey to see that vision fulfilled.  One cannot have influence without being a person of integrity and one others can trust to lead them.  And, yes, it is about leading.  A leader is one who is out in front of those who follow.  He or she must be able to see further than anyone else because as a leader he is she is leading from the front.  Leadership is also about being willing to take risks to accomplish the tasks that need to be accomplished. 

If you have no vision for your church or your organization, by definition you cannot be the leader.  You are not leading them anywhere because you have no idea where they are to go or what they are to do.  If that describes you, and you are supposed to be in a position of leadership, you need to fall on your knees before God and seek His vision for your church.  If you are a person who lacks integrity with those you are supposed to lead you will never be able to lead them.  People will not follow those they do not trust.  If you are not willing to get out in front of the people and lead them, you cannot be a leader.  Finally, if you are not willing to take risks to accomplish the vision God gives you, you will never be able to lead your church.  If any of these describe you, you have two choices.  Either repent and correct the problem or resign your position.  Your church deserves better.

The church has drifted along for too long.  A church without a leader is like a ship without a rudder, and without a rudder the ship can only drift.  Our society today is paying a terrible price because the church is failing to be the church God intended it to be.  If the church is to have any impact on our society it must have men and women who are willing to rise up and become the leaders our churches require.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Thanksgiving or Thingsgetting

Our daughter and her family were here for a few days for the Thanksgiving holiday so I took a few days off from blogging and writing to just enjoy them.  I'm old-fashioned enough to still believe that Thanksgiving is an important holiday and is a day for families to spend time with one another reflecting on the many ways they have been blessed throughout the year.  Unfortunately, Thanksgiving was over-shadowed this year by the Black Friday shopping that many retail stores started Thursday evening.  I really appreciate those few large retailers who decided it was more important for their employees to enjoy the holidays with their families than open their stores, and we will be doing much of our Christmas shopping in those stores this year as a way to thank them for the kindness they showed their employees. 

As usual, we saw on the news the reports of shootings, stabbings, and fights breaking out in stores across the country as people fought with one another for the items being offered for sale.  It seems ironic that on a day that was set aside as a day of being thankful for what we have has become a day when corporate and personal greed rears its ugliest head of the year.  Rather than being a day of thanksgiving it has become a day of thingsgetting.

It is really a reflection of one of the biggest problems in our nation today, a lack of gratitude and thankfulness.  The apostle Paul said he had learned to be content regardless of what was going on in his life (Phil. 4:11). That is a lesson that many Americans need to learn today, but two things make it very difficult for that lesson to be learned.  We are continually exposed to advertising that is designed to make us discontented.  Advertisers bombard us with the idea that we must have the newest, shiniest, most advanced gadget or our lives will be ruined.  The cell phone you purchased new six months ago simply isn't good enough so you must run out, stand in line for hours, to get a new one that will be replaced by the manufacturer in another six months.  Of course, it's not just cell phones.  It's our television sets, our cars, our kitchen appliances, our clothing, and everything else we own.  We are told that unless we rush out to get the latest and greatest we are failures, and we buy into it!

The second thing that makes it difficult for us to be content is the entitlement mentality that is so rampant in America.  Not only do we need these things to be fulfilled, we are entitled to them, so if we can't afford them we have the right to go deeper into debt to buy them or the right to steal them from someone who could afford to buy them.  After all, we DESERVE these things that will provide us happiness.  If a store offers what we want at a reduced price we have the right to fight another shopper to make sure we get what we want because we are entitled to have that thing.

It would be one thing if these were just problems that afflicted non-Christians, but, of course, we know that isn't true.  As a judicatory leader I hear from plenty of church members and pastors who are not content.  The church members often want their churches to grow without changing anything, and too many pastors are always looking for the next place to serve.  However, this is a topic for another blog on another day!

What can Christians do to make Thanksgiving a day of true Thanksgiving?  How about if we just stop going to the malls and stores on Thanksgiving Day.  The reason the workers are forced to be away from their families on Thanksgiving is because people are willing to shop on that day.  Let's tell the retail stores that their employees need to be with their families on Thanksgiving, and we'll be in over the weekend to see what specials they're running.  Of course, they won't listen; we'll have to show them by our refusal to participate in their Thursday madness.  Will we miss out on some hot bargains?  Yes, we might not get that super-special item for only $29.95 that regularly sells for $49.95, but that's a small price to pay to enjoy the holiday with our family and to help others spend the day with their families.

As pastors we need to be preaching on contentment.  I once preached from the passage I quoted above, and that day one of our church members told me it really got her to thinking about what a life of contentment might look like.  Our churches need to hear this message because they sure won't hear it from any other source.  Let's challenge the discontent and entitlement mentality that is so strong in our nation today and encourage people to become more grateful for the blessings they already have.

Monday, November 25, 2013

People still need to hear the Gospel

Growing up in the church about the only sermons I remember hearing were evangelistic.  Although the small churches I attended during my childhood seldom had anyone in attendance who were not saved, we were reminded again and again how to be saved.  I remember very little teaching about how to live the Christian life, about how to grow as a Christian, or anything else that might help a person enjoy victory over the challenges that exist in this life.  Nearly every message was more concerned with the life to come than how to live as a Christian in this life.

In more recent years the pendulum has swung to the other extreme.  As I visit churches throughout my area of responsibility I seldom hear an evangelistic message.  The vast majority of sermons I hear today are focused on the present times:  How to Pray; How to Conquer Worry; How to Recover Hope When Life Has You Down; etc.  Don't misunderstand me...I think these are messages people need to hear, and I do not think we need to return to a time when every sermon was a call for people to be saved.  I just think that there needs to be a mixture of both types of messages, and I don't hear the one that calls people to salvation very often.

Yesterday was the exception.  The pastor of the church I visited yesterday preached one of the best salvation messages I've heard in a long time.  He talked about what it means to be redeemed and the kind of life a redeemed person should live.  He challenged his listeners to examine whether their lives are really that much different than those of their unsaved friends, and if not to question themselves why that is the case.  It was refreshing to me to hear a pastor present a clear explanation of how a person must come to God through Christ and how that decision should impact that person's life.  No one who heard that message will be able to stand before God on Judgment Day and claim they didn't know what they needed to do.

One of the weights I felt as a pastor was that I was responsible for the people God had given me.  I knew there will come a day when I would have to give an account for my ministry to that congregation.  I was not responsible for the decisions they made or did not make, but I was responsible to make sure they were challenged to make a decision for Christ and I was responsible to explain clearly to them why they needed to make that decision, how to make that decision, and what their lives should look like once that decision had been made.  I do not believe that anyone who sat under my ministry for any length of time will be able to honestly tell God they did not know what they needed to do to be saved.

I'm not sure why there is so little preaching today that points people to the cross of Christ.  Perhaps that message seems to some to be not politically correct.  John 14:6 is not a popular verse in our PC world.  Our pluralistic society wants to make all religious beliefs equal, but in that verse Jesus makes the claim that He is the only way a person can come to God.  It is not politically correct to make such a statement, but I would rather be biblical than politically correct so I make no apologies for repeating what Jesus said in that verse.  The pastor yesterday also did not apologize for quoting that verse.  As ministers of the Gospel we have an obligation to be clear in our thinking and our preaching, and Jesus was very clear when He said He was the only way to God.

When was the last time your congregation heard a message calling them to repentance and salvation?  How long has it been since they were challenged to examine their lives to see if their lives reflected a life devoted to serving God?  They don't need to hear such sermons every week, but there should be times throughout the year that they are challenged with such messages.  As you prepare your preaching schedule for 2014 I pray you will include some messages that presents a clear salvation message.  People still need to hear that kind of preaching from the pulpit.

Friday, November 22, 2013

The growing interest in bivocational ministry

As I've written elsewhere, when I began as a bivocational pastor in 1981 there was not a lot of interest in bivocational ministry.  The Bible school I attended didn't encourage it, denominational leaders often looked upon it as second-class ministry, and even other pastors questioned the validity of a person's call to bivocational ministry.  We were often seen as something less than real ministers by many.  I'm glad to see that continuing to change.

This week I've been asked for an interview by an individual who is doing his doctoral thesis on bivocational ministry.  Just yesterday another individual who recently completed his doctoral work asked if he could send me the manuscript for a book he has written on developing bivocational ministers.  The approach he has taken sounds helpful.  Of course, I agreed to both the interview and to review the manuscript.  Also, this week I noticed a couple of new books on bivocational ministry have been released that I did not know about, and I plan to read them over the winter.  This same week a date in 2014 was confirmed for me to speak at a bivocational gathering on the East coast.  I was already scheduled to speak at another bivocational event next spring.

This is exciting!  For most of my pastoral ministry I could count on one hand the number of books that had been written specifically for bivocational ministry, and I would have fingers left over.  Today, books are being written and other resources are being developed specifically for bivocational ministers and the churches they serve.  Doctoral students are exploring this ministry for their projects, and their seminaries are approving those projects.  Denominations are scheduling events specifically designed for those who serve in their smaller churches because they recognize the value we bring to those churches and to the denominations.

More people are sensing the call to bivocational ministry as well.  Yesterday, an individual called to say he was feeling led to pursue this ministry.  I will return his call later today so we can discuss it further.  Two weeks ago a graduate of our region's Church Leadership Institute called to say he felt called to bivocational ministry and was open to filling open pulpits and perhaps soon to serve in a local church.  Before completing that program he never felt that call on his life.  For many years I have said that I believed God was calling individuals to bivocational ministry, and our role as denominational leaders was to help people hear that call and help prepare them to be able to respond to it.  This is happening, and I believe will continue to happen in greater numbers.

God is not done with small churches.  The large churches may continue to get most of the attention from many people, but God is still working in smaller churches, and He is calling people to provide leadership to those churches.  Bivocational ministry is rewarding, and the need for additional bivocational ministers is growing.  More and more of our smaller churches are looking to call bivocational ministers, and God is calling people to meet that need.  It's been quite a turn around since 1981, and I'm glad to have seen it happen.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Mistakes churches make when making their budget

This is the time of year many churches are setting their budgets for the upcoming year.  Many of these churches make some common mistakes that affect their ministries.  My experience has been that these mistakes occur in all size churches but are most prevalent in smaller and mid-size churches.  It may be too late to redo your 2014 budget, but it is not too early for church leadership to begin to discuss how to improve the process for next year and avoid these mistakes.
The first mistake these churches make is to simply go through their budget line items, add a little to each one to cover anticipated increases, and present the budget to the church for approval.  This is a time to discuss how effective these items have been and if any of them need to be eliminated or changed.  The finance committee does not usually have the authority to make such changes, but they can discuss with church leaders their concerns and recommendations.  In a perfect budgeting system, the leaders of the various ministries would present their budget requests to the finance committee after having already examined the programs and ministries for possible changes.  However, I know how it really works in smaller churches, and any such recommendations are more likely to come from the finance committee in most churches.  Regardless of where this occurs, prior to setting a budget for the upcoming year is the perfect time to evaluate every thing that is happening in the church.  Possible changes can be identified and the budget set to reflect those changes.

A second mistake many churches make is closely tied to the first one.  They set a budget without the church having any sense of vision for ministry.  What does God want to do in and through your church in the coming year?  Until you can answer that how can you set any kind of realistic budget?  The majority of smaller churches I know operate year in and year out without any vision for ministry.  They open their doors each Sunday hoping something good will happen and close them following their services wondering why it didn't.  They have no vision, no goals that would help them achieve that vision, and no purpose beyond coming together each week.  They are merely drifting from week to week, and their budget reflects that drift.  A budget should reflect the ministry plan for a church, and it does.  What it reflects for many churches is that they have no plan for ministry.  Before your church develops another budget it should have a clear sense of God's vision for the church and a plan for how you will achieve that vision.  Many churches will find it helpful to invite a denominational leader, a consultant, or a coach to come and help them discern that vision.

The third mistake often made is that a budget is made without any idea of what the anticipated income will be.  Many churches assume their income will be rather flat and will often base it on what was given during the past year.  That is one way to almost guarantee your income will be the same as last year.  If people are not being challenged to give more why should they?  Without any kind of stewardship training people will often just do what they've been doing.  Depending on whom you read, the average giving of Christians in the US is reported to be around 2 percent of their income.  That is a far cry from a tithe.  Most Christians in the US can do better than they are doing when it comes to their giving, but if they are not challenged to give more and are not taught sound stewardship principles they are unlikely to do so.  I recently served as an outside speaker for a church that did a very intentional stewardship campaign, and slightly over half of the pledge cards that were turned in indicated they were increasing their giving for 2014 over 2013.  That is a good start, and I expect if that church continues to use this campaign over the next few years they will see a significant increase in their income.  To set a budget using last year's giving levels is too safe and demonstrates a lack of faith on the part of the church and a very low bar of expectations for the congregation.

A fourth mistake often found is that most budgets are focused on the inner workings of the church.  For smaller churches an extremely high percentage of their income is often spent on salaries, building upkeep, and the things that the current congregation needs.  In a way, this is all tied into the previous mistakes.  Without a vision, there is no real plan for ministry to those outside the congregation.  Nothing is being done to increase the giving levels of the members.  Whatever money comes in is spent on keeping the doors open and the congregation satisfied, and little is left for outreach and ministry to the unchurched in the community.  These churches may claim they want to grow, but their budget says otherwise because without the ability to do ministry outside the church little growth is likely.  This mistake will continue to hamper the growth of the church until the first three mistakes are addressed, but now is the time to begin correcting them for a better budget and more ministry in 2015.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

When churches transition to bivocational ministry

What changes occur when a church transitions from having a fully-funded pastor to a bivocational pastor?  This is a topic that needs to be studied because it is a scenario that is happening across denominations and one that is likely to increase in the years to come.  In the past few years I have seen several churches make this change.  Sometimes the change went well; others times it did not work out well for the pastor and/or the church.

One of the first things that has to change are the expectations that the church and pastor have about ministry.  I met with one church whose pastor was moving from being fully-funded to bivocational.  We talked about how the congregation would have to step up and assume some of the ministry responsibilities the pastor had been doing.  One of the dangers in this transition is that the church begins paying a part-time salary and continues to expect full-time service.  If the pastor has begun working another job he or she simply isn't able to continue to provide the hours the church used to expect.  Either others in the congregation has to take over some of the ministry responsibilities or they need to be let go.  Some churches find this to be very difficult.

Such churches fail to understand the role of the pastor and their own role in ministry.  Whether the pastor is fully-funded or bivocational, it is not his or her responsibility to do all the work of ministry anyway.  Ephesians 4 makes it clear that the primary responsibility of the pastor is to equip the saints to do the work of ministry.  The pastor is not the hired gun of the church expected to do ministry while the congregation sits in the pews and evaluates.  The pastor is to train and equip the congregation so that everyone in the church is involved in ministry according to their gifts and ministry passions.  That is the only way our churches will ever significantly impact their communities with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Of course, it is not only the churches that struggle with this.  Many pastors have a problem of letting go of ministry.  Most pastors enter the ministry with a desire to help improve the lives of people.  We have a servant's heart.  If we've been to seminary we may feel that we have been trained to do ministry so it is our responsibility to do it.  Besides, doing it ourselves is often quicker and easier than training others to do it.  Even if we do transition to being bivocational we may find it hard to give up some of the ministries we've been doing.  We may have started another job that requires 20-40 hours a week, but we will still try to do all the ministry our church needs done if we are not able to accept the role of an equipper.  If that happens, our families, our ministries, and our own well-being will suffer.

Although the church I spoke of earlier seemed to understand that they would have to become more involved in ministry if their pastor became bivocational, it didn't work out that way.  Problems soon began to surface when the expectations they had of their pastor did not change when he became bivocational.  Within a short time he left that church because he could no longer meet their expectations and work another job.

Another pastor in the early stages of making this same transition asked me to coach him.  His pastoral studies had trained him to serve as a fully-funded pastor, and he wasn't sure how to function in a bivocational role.  He also was not sure what skills he had that might be useful in the public sector.  As we talked he identified two potential positions in his community that might be a good fit.  He applied for both positions and was selected for one of them.  He already had secured the approval of the church board and the congregation to become bivocational so that was not an issue we had to address in our coaching sessions.  This transition to bivocational ministry occurred a few years ago and has been very successful for him, his family, and the church.  His story if one of the case studies I included in my latest book The Art and Practice of Bivocational Ministry: A Pastor's Guide.

Many churches have successfully transitioned from having a fully-funded pastor to a bivocational pastor, but it does a lot of honest dialogue between the pastor and church and a willingness of both parties to see ministry done in different ways.  The pastors have to assume the role of an equipper, and the congregation has to be willing to become personally involved in ministry.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Finishing well

I recently read that one study found that a very high percentage of pastors had ministries that did not end well.  This past weekend I had the privilege of attending a retirement party for one pastor whose ministry did end well.  It spanned over 40 years and included pastoring the same church (the one from which he recently retired from) three times.  In between those pastorates he had several very successful interim pastorates.  His church would not hold the expected crowd so his retirement celebration was held at the local school.  I would estimate the invitation-only dinner crowd at 150-200 people, and I do not know how many people came for the open house earlier in the day.  This individual was not only pastor to his church but to the entire community.

Three denominational leaders, including myself, spoke of our relationship with this pastor and his wife.  Each of us had been profoundly impacted by his ministry and his friendship.  One summed up this pastor's ministry by noting that he had never seen him act in any way but pastoral.  He did not mean by that comment that the pastor had merely acted pastoral, but that he was pastoral.  My experience with him is the same.

My friend never pastored a megachurch nor did he serve in some large metropolitan area. His was a median size church located in a small community surrounded by farm land. He never wrote a book, although he tells me he is writing one now. He was never a featured speaker at a church growth conference. He just went about his ministry serving the people God entrusted to him. When we would eat lunch together everyone we saw wanted to speak to him. He was indeed the pastor to the community.

It is exciting to see a pastor have this kind of impact on his or her church and community.  One can only imagine how many people his ministry has impacted over the course of his ministry.  When it was his turn to speak the words did not come easily.  He was obviously humbled by the love demonstrated in that room and very quickly reminded people that anything he had ever done in ministry was possible only through the power of God in his life.  Reflecting on the evening later I could only sum it up by noting that he was one who has finished well.

I would think every minister wants to finish well, but we need to remember that such an ending to our ministries does not happen by accident.  There are simply too many opportunities over the course of a long ministry to get tripped up.  We can fail to grow and develop as leaders and fail to lead our churches in the vision God has for them.  We can stop learning and fall prey to outdated ideas and ways of thinking.  We can not understand the changes that occur in society and become irrelevant.  We can become isolated and find ourselves involved in behaviors that will wreck our lives and ministries. 

If we want to finish well we must intentionally plan to do so.  We must intentionally seek growth opportunities.  We must learn what is happening in our neighborhoods and in the lives of people and address them from a biblical perspective.  We must commit ourselves to learning new skills that will improve our ministries.  We must develop boundaries that will guide our behavior.  We must maintain balance in the important areas of life - God, Family, Ministry, and Self-Care.  If we do these things we can enjoy a good end to our own ministries.

My friend's ministry really hasn't ended.  He reminded me that night to keep him in mind if I have churches that need someone to fill the pulpit on a Sunday or perhaps even need an interim pastor.  He said that he believes he still has some good ministry left in him.  And, that's the way to finish well.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

What I'm reading

People sometimes ask me what books I'm reading, so occasionally I like to mention the books I've recently read as well as the ones I'm currently reading.  Some of these were read on the Kindle app on my I-Pad and I found them at a greatly reduced price.  For the most part I still prefer reading real books, but when the price is right I have no problem downloading them on Kindle.  I enjoyed these books and learned a lot from them.  I think you might as well.

One of the most important things a leader needs is credibility.  Credibility: How Leaders Gain and Lose It, Why People Demand It by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner was a great read as it clearly demonstrated the need for credibility for anyone who wishes to be a leader and how to obtain and maintain that credibility.  Although my book is filled with highlighted sections, this one paragraph was worth the cost of the book.  "It is the credibility of the leadership that determines whether people will volunteer a little more of their time, talent, energy, experience, intelligence, creativity, and support in order to achieve significant improvement levels.  Managers can threaten people with the loss of jobs if they don't get with the program, but threats, power, and position do not earn commitment.  They earn compliance.  And compliance produces adequacy - not greatness.  Only credibility earns commitment.  And only commitment will get people to work beyond their job descriptions and to their fullest capacity so that businesses, communities, and economies can be greatly regenerated."  The same could be said for churches!

Get Off Your Donkey!: Help Somebody and Help Yourself by Reggie McNeal was a fun book to read.  McNeal bases this book on the story of the Good Samaritan and calls the church to get involved in ministering to the people in our communities instead of focusing so much of our attention on ourselves.  He insists that the church is not the major mission of God.  His mission is "the redemptive restoration of everything that sin has tarnished and broken."  That should also be the church's mission.  However, McNeal does sound a warning to church leaders that if they begin to shift the ministry of their church to those outside the church they should expect significant pushback from the religious crowd.  This book was a good reminder of what the church must be about if we want to significantly impact our communities.

One of my favorite reads so far this year has been The Ascent of a Leader: How Ordinary Relationships Develop Extraordinary Character and Influence by Bill Thrall, Bruce McNicol, and Ken McElrath.  Leadership is impacted by the character of the leader and the relationships he or she has.  I knew I would enjoy this book when on page 9 I read this, "Sometimes the deeper issues of a leader's life can have the same effect on her organization as removing the rudder from a ship: the leader and the organization may move very fast on the surface, but in no particular direction.  It is amazing how such drifting can be covered up by focusing on numbers, reorganizing reporting structures, and creating new programs."  A few pages later the authors point out that "too many leaders spend their energies trying to appear more consistent in a superficial way, rather than becoming more consistent in a heartfelt, genuine way.  They share that there are two ladders leaders can climb.  The first ladder is the Capacity Ladder.  It is based entirely on a leader's title and skill level.  It can only take a leader (and his or her organization) so far.  While this ladder is important and needed, a second ladder, the Character Ladder, must also be climbed if the leader wants to ascend to a higher level of leadership and take his or her organization to a higher level as well.  This book will make you think.

I initially wanted to read Thou Shall Prosper: Ten Commandments for Making Money by Rabbi Daniel Lapin because it is one of the books Dave Ramsey highly recommends.  I found the book to be a fascinating look at why the Jewish people are often very successful in whatever they pursue.  Rabbi Lapin is an Orthodox Jew who has done much research into the qualities and principles that has led to that success.  Interestingly enough, most of these are things that historically people believed in but have abandoned in more recent times.  Here I'm talking about such principles as sacrificing present pleasures for future benefits, respecting the value of education,  believing in the dignity and morality of business, networking, treating people fairly and with respect, understanding the value of money, and a host of others.  The book was an interesting look into the traditions of teaching of the Jewish people and one that I plan to read again next year.

As part of my devotional reading this year I read through the New Testament again.  I just finished and, as always, found some more nuggets of truth I had overlooked in previous readings.  Reading through the Bible or just the New Testament during the year is a discipline I do often, and I'm always blessed when I do it.

These are just a few of the better books I've read so far in 2013.  Currently, I am reading Prodigal Christianity: 10 Signposts into the Missional Frontier (Jossey-Bass Leadership Network Series) by David Fitch and Geoff Holsclaw, Gospel Coach: Shepherding Leaders to Glorify God by Scott Thomas and Tom Wood, and Resilient Ministry: What Pastors Told Us About Surviving and Thriving by Bob Burns, Tasha Chapman, and Donald Guthrie.  Maybe I'll review them next time.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Remembering the past but not living there

Last night while I was working at my computer I turned on the radio feature for I-Tunes and clicked on Classic Country.  This is not normally my first music choice these days, but for some reason I wanted to listen to some of the old country songs I listened to growing up.  It only took about three songs, and my mind was back in our old milking barn.  We lived on several dairy farms when I grew up, but for some reason when I think back to those days I go back to the same farm.  There we still put milk in the milk cans and then placed the cans in a tank of cooling water until the truck came to pick them up.  During school I usually didn't have to help milk in the morning, but during the summer I was in the barn early in the morning and back again most evenings to help.  I can still see the set-up of that barn, I can still remember the names of some of our cows, and I certainly remember the smells.  I also remember an old radio that set on a ledge high up on the wall that was turned to a country music station that we listened to while we milked.  Many of the songs I heard last night were the same ones that we listened to in the barn, and that is why my mind went back to those days so long ago.

Of course, all my time wasn't spent in the barn.  We had a lake that was about one acre big filled with fish and frogs.  I caught many fish out of that lake with an old rod and reel my grandfather gave me, and I caught lots of frogs that provided some good frog leg dinners.  A basketball hoop was nailed on the side of the barn that offered me plenty of time to work on my jump shot.  Even as young as I was I was often driving a tractor plowing a field or raking hay.  I learned how to drive when most kids my age were still trying to learn how to ride a bicycle.  Our TV got three channels, sometimes four, if we got the antenna turned just right.  Sunday afternoons were often spent visiting family.

It was a simple time.  No cell phones, no computers, no being available 24-7-365.  A big event for me was going to the feed mill with Dad and getting a nickle for the coke machine.  The good old days.  Or was it?  Living on a dairy farm meant that we never went far from home.  There was a lot of hard work that is easily forgotten now thanks to our selective memories.  Sometimes I think it would be nice to return to those simpler days, but the fact is the world has changed.  Most of us will never recapture those days, and maybe we shouldn't even try.

A lot of churches would like to return to a time when it was easier to be a church.  All a church had to do in those days was open its doors and the people would come in.  The Baptist church took care of the Baptists in town, the Methodist church met the needs of the Methodists, and each denominational church cared for its own.  As I said, we moved several times when I was growing up, but finding a church was easy.  We just attended the closest Baptist church.  They all used the same literature and pretty much followed the same worship format.

Well, those days are over.  As much as some churches would like to return to those days, it's never going to happen.  People come to church with different expectations, and fewer people go to church at all.  A few years ago studies came out explaining why the unchurched were staying away from the church.  Now, those studies are finding that even many believers are avoiding traditional churches as they feel such churches are hazardous to their spiritual health.  Many question if today's church is even relevant to the needs of our society.

The answer to that question is yes.  The church will always be relevant because we proclaim a message that continues to address the deepest needs of mankind.  We offer a message of hope, of forgiveness, of justice, of mercy, and an opportunity to reconnect with our Creator.  However, if that message is packaged in programs and ministries that fails to connect with people we will continue to be seen as irrelevant.  Let's stop trying to recapture the good old days and look for ways to share the great message of Jesus Christ that will capture the minds and hearts of people today.