Thursday, January 31, 2013

Finding a Sabbath for bivocational ministers

Someone recently asked my thoughts on the Sabbath for bivocational ministers, and it triggered a memory from the past.  Several years ago when I was pastoring I was preaching a series of messages through the Ten Commandments.  I was doing rather well until I got to the one that addressed the need to remember the Sabbath to keep it holy.  There was an immediate conviction as I had never kept a Sabbath.  As a bivocational minister I worked five to six days a week at my factory job and, of course, Sunday is hardly a day of rest for any minister.  Although I was now retired from the factory position I was managing a small business while pastoring the church.  A Sabbath had just never been a part of my life, and now I was about to preach on the importance of the Sabbath.  For a few days I really struggled trying to decide what to do.  Before Sunday arrived I decided I would make Monday my Sabbath.

During my message I shared my own lack of a Sabbath and my frustration throughout the week.  I talked about the importance of Sabbath-keeping, why God gave us the Sabbath, and how I would begin the next day taking Monday as my Sabbath.  The next day I went into our company and explained what I was doing to my administrative assistant and told her to call me on Monday only in cases of extreme emergency.  Throughout the rest of my pastorate I did a pretty good job of taking a Sabbath on Mondays.

As the owner of the company I did enjoy more flexible hours and could set my own schedule.  Obviously, when I worked at the factory my time was not that flexible, and that schedule would not have worked.  In my current judicatory role it is also difficult to set aside a Sabbath day due to the fact that I relate to so many different people with various needs.  What I find works best for me now, and I believe will work for many in bivocational ministry, is to set aside blocks of time for a Sabbath.

Actually, I first began doing this when I was doing my doctoral studies.  I saw others blocking off periods of time in their calendars for reading and writing, and that made sense to me.  That transferred over into my doing the same for mini-Sabbaths.  I may not be able to set aside an entire day, but I can set aside a three hour block of time two or three times a week to relax, to read, and to reconnect with God.  While that may not be the ideal Sabbath, it is far better than what many of us are doing, and this will fit in with the busy schedules most bivocational ministers maintain.

It will require discipline, at least it does for me.  I am an admitted workaholic.  I enjoy staying busy, and I enjoy doing a wide variety of different activities.  It is not natural for me to just stop, so it is a personal challenge for me to set aside a period of time for Sabbath.  After meeting many bivocational ministers through the years I have found that most of them are very similar to me in makeup.  They also like being busy.  They could never survive bivocational ministry if they didn't.  For them, and me, part of the benefit of the Sabbath is the discipline of stopping what we are doing to just reconnect with God.

For some of you, setting aside a half-day once or twice a week for a Sabbath doesn't seem possible.  It may not even sound like something you would enjoy.  Let me suggest you start off slow.  Could you block off one hour a week and make it a Sabbath?  Perhaps after a few weeks of that you could schedule a second hour and begin to work your way to a Sabbath schedule that works for your schedule and your temperment.  What we don't want to do is to violate this commandment from God and ignore the Sabbath completely.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

New book

This September Beacon Hill Press will release my next book, and things are already starting to happen.  I received two proposed covers today for my approval.  Naturally, being that I am difficult, I asked if the color of one could be used with the font of the other.  That will probably happen, but marketing has to approve the change.  I received two endorsements for the book which were sent in to the publisher today as well.  Within the next few weeks I will start getting requests for some rewrites that will make the book better.  If you are thinking of writing a book you need to understand that completing the manuscript is only the first step!  You'll have a lot more to do before that book ever hits a shelf.

Of course, the publisher changed my title as they always do.  Sometimes, I have to admit I'm not too crazy about the changes they make, but I like this title.  This book is now The Art and Practice of Bivocational Ministry: A Pastor's Guide.  Frankly, the working title I had been using was a little clumsy so I'm glad they've changed it to this one.

This book comes out of my doctoral study on how coaching can be used to help train bivocational ministers.  Much of the book looks at several actual coaching relationships I had with bivocational ministers in the US and Canada, the topics we addressed, and the solutions the ministers found.  I include not only the persons who were involved in the doctoral thesis but also a number of other bivocational ministers I've coached in the past several years.  The topics we cover are quite common to many bivocational ministers (and fully-funded ministers as well), so I think the reader will find some very practical help in this book.

One of the advantages coaching provides is that it can be done at any time from any place.  Every person I coached set the time when he or she would call me for our appointment, so it was always at their convenience.  Some calls were in the morning while others occurred during the afternoons or evenings.  Another advantage coaching offers is that we always address the issue that is most important to the person being coached.  They set the agenda for the conversation, not the coach.  That ensures we are always covering the most important issues to them at that particular time.

Persons who receive the most benefit from coaching are those who are ready to move forward with their lives.  Sometimes they are persons who are stuck and don't know how to get unstuck, but other good candidates for coaching are persons who are already moving forward but believe that with some outside assistance they can become even more effective in their lives and ministries.  People who are satisfied with the status quo or are unwilling to be held accountable to do the things they say they will do should never have a coach.  But, if you are in the first two categories of people I mentioned, coaching may be the thing that will help you get to the next level in your ministry and in your life.

I continue to coach a limited number of persons, and I do have some openings for people who want to make a greater impact in their ministries, their families, their careers, and in their lives.  If you think you may be interested in having a coach, please contact me and we'll explore that together.

In the meantime, my book is scheduled for release September 1.  I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

7 attributes of healthy churches

In the excellent book The Pastor's Guide to Effective Ministry Ron Blake shares seven attributes of healthy churches which I include in my book The Healthy Community: Moving Your Church Beyond Tunnel Vision.  The seven are

  1. Healthy churches help everyone discover a sense of purpose.
  2. Healthy churches create a place of belonging for people.
  3. Healthy churches intentionally create trust among its members.
  4. Healthy churches provide many opportunities for people to form relationships.
  5. Healthy churches get as many people as possible involved in ministry.
  6. Healthy churches keep the mission and vision before the people.
  7. Healthy churches regularly train and equip their people for ministry.
It is rather easy to measure the health of a church simply by examining how well it is doing in each of these areas.  Many churches would score well in one or two of these areas but score much lower in others.  The healthiest churches will score well in each of them and will be looking at how they can improve in each of these areas as well.  Healthy churches are never satisfied with their status quo but continually look for ways they can improve.

Although it is not listed among the seven it should be noted that healthy churches will always be led by healthy leaders.  I'm not sure why Blake did not include that in his list, but I did add it in my book because it is very unlikely that a church will be doing any of the seven if it does not have healthy leadership who is intentional about leading the church to health.  I would go so far as to say that a church will never be any healthier than its leadership, and, even more, I would make the claim that if a church is not healthy and the pastor has been there for an extended period of time he or she is probably not a healthy leader.

Maybe it's because I've written three books that explore healthy churches and pastors, but I am more convinced than ever that it is essential that churches focus on their overall health.  An unhealthy body simply cannot grow as it should, and too many of our churches are not healthy.  Over the years they have allowed various diseases to creep into their lives leading them to become unhealthy and ineffective in their ministries.  If diseases are allowed to continue unchecked in the body long enough eventually the body will become terminal.  Perhaps the body can be put on life support and kept artificially alive for a period of time, but for all practical purposes it's life has ended.  Does this sound like any churches you know?

Healthy leaders will be very intentional about promoting each of the seven attributes in their churches.  They will identify the areas in which they are strongest and find ways to make then even more effective.  They will also identify the areas in which the church needs further training to build up those areas of church life.  I think the two key words in this paragraph are healthy and intentional.  It will take healthy leaders to be intentional about doing these things.  My question to the reader is are you that kind of leader?

For more detail about these seven areas I would refer you to the two books listed above.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Your system is perfectly designed for the results you are getting.

This past weekend I met with leadership groups of two different churches.  One has recently added new staff, doing innovative ministry, and growing very rapidly.  The other church has struggled for the past few years and resembles many of our churches.  One comment I made to both churches is that their system is perfectly designed for the results they are getting.  The one church has systems in place that encourages growth while the other has systems that limit growth.  This is true of all churches.

Because it's true I share it with those who attend my various workshops, and sometimes I get some push back from the pastors in attendance.  They argue that they are in a church that wants to grow but they cite one reason or another why they cannot.  I ask if there are churches in their area that are growing, and almost every time they admit there are.  My response then is that this proves that the reasons they gave why their church can't grow isn't valid since there are growing churches in their communities, and I then repeat my statement that their systems are perfectly designed for the results they are getting.  Our churches are what they are today because of decisions those churches made 5 years ago, 10 years ago, and even 20 years ago.  Those decisions created certain systems in the church, that may have made sense at the time, but now they limit growth in that church.  It is also true that your church will be 5 years from now, 10 years from now, and 20 years from now what they decide today they want to be.  The systems we create in our churches will determine what our churches will look like and what they will be able to do for years to come.  If we want to change the results we are getting we have to first change the systems that influence those results.

An example of this is the decision making process in a church.  We live in a time of rapid change in our society, and the church needs to be able to respond to those changes just as rapidly as they happen.  In many of our churches the decision making process that are followed make this impossible.  Even the most basic decisions often must be assigned to a committee for study, then taken to various boards in the church, and finally presented at a business meeting for a vote by people who have never studied the issue and have only heard a two-minute explanation.  The decision can be blocked by anyone anywhere in the process, and by the time it does come to a vote the need may no longer exist.

Decisions must be made quicker and by the people who are closest to the situation.  That will often be the pastor, staff, or key lay leaders.  My experience in judicatory ministry has shown me that staff-led churches often grow much faster than board-led churches.   This may not be possible in churches with rapid pastoral turnover, but in churches with stable pastoral leadership it is time that church boards cease being managing boards and turn that over to the pastor and his or her staff.  The old board-led structure limits the church's ability to respond rapidly to new needs and limits the church's ministry efforts.   Despite that, it will not be easy for many of these boards to begin operating differently.

I can quickly think of three reasons why this is true.  One would be the church that does suffer from rapid pastoral turnover.  Churches that have new pastors arrive about every 2-3 years are going to be very reluctant to trust these new pastors who know little about the church to make major decisions without board oversight.  This is understandable.  In this case, it is the frequent pastoral turnover that is part of the church's structure that produces poor results, and the cause of this turnover needs to be investigated.  The second reason is unfortunate but needs to be named.  Many boards want to retain their decision making power to control the church.  Being on the board in some churches gives persons a level of power they have nowhere else in their lives.  Such persons see the church as existing to meet the needs of them and their families, and they will not relinquish their decision-making power in fear that they may lose the ability to control the church.  The third reason is just as sad: the board does not trust the pastor and staff to make good decisions for the church.  This be true even in churches with long-term pastors who have demonstrated good leadership skills as they've served the church.  Such faithful service often does not matter in a low-trust church.  In my opinion, this attitude will also have a negative impact on the church's effective ministry.

This is only one piece of the overall structure of a church.  As you spend time looking at how your church is structured, what aspects of that structure promotes growth and ministry and what prevents or limits that ministry?  What needs to be changed about those aspects?  What can you do to effect such change?  Your system is perfectly designed for the results you are getting.  If you are not happy with the results you see in your church you will have to begin changing the aspects of that system that no longer produces the results you want to see.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Campbellsville University

As regular readers of my blog know, for many years now I have been a member of the Church Relations Council at Campbellsville University in Campbellsville, Kentucky.  Yesterday was our Executive Committee meeting to plan for the spring meeting of the council.  As always, I was blown away by the various reports we were given about student enrollment and other things happening on campus.  At a time when so much of higher education seems to have lost its way it is refreshing to see a university that is committed to education and to Jesus Christ.

One of the things that originally attracted me to CU was their involvement with bivocational ministry.  Some of their staff and faculty serve as bivocational ministers in the surrounding area, and this school has a deep commitment to this ministry.  In past years they have sponsored bivocational conferences in Kentucky and held workshops on campus led by bivocational ministers.  Their School of Theology is very intentional about making their programs accessible to bivocational ministers.  They now offer three programs students can take on site or online.  I'll give you a thumbnail look at the courses but you can get more information about them here.

  • They offer a Certificate of Christian Studies which is a 27 hour, 9 course program that is excellent for a bivocational minister beginning his or her education.
  • The Associate of Christian Studies is a 60 hour, 20 course program that provides more in-depth instruction.
  • The Master of Theology degree is a 30 hour, 10 course program for the student that wants to pursue graduate level work.
When I began my pastoral ministry I had no education beyond high school.  It only took a few months to realize there was much about pastoring a church that I did not know, and I began to look for some way I could get the training I needed without leaving my job or my church.  I found a school about one hour from my home that provided me with a great foundational education for ministry, but because of the drive and my schedule it took me four years to complete a two year program.  When I did my studies in the early 1980s there were no programs like Campbellsville offers today.

Bivocational ministers run the gamut of educational backgrounds.  Many have college and seminary degrees, but a large number begin their ministries as I did without any formal training for ministry.  What convinced me that I needed to seek training was when I came to understand that my congregation deserved better than I could give them.  I could preach and provide basic pastoral care, but beyond that my ministry was rather limited.  I knew nothing about church administration, or developing a good Christian education program in the church, or how to put together a meaningful worship service, or how to lead change in a church, or how to address conflict in the church, or anything else.  And my congregation deserved better than that!  Even more, I became convicted that if God had called me to the ministry as I believed He had then I needed to be better than I was.  I hope you feel the same passion about being the best possible minister you can be whether you are bivocational or fully-funded.

If you need to begin or further your theological education and learn new skills needed for ministry in the 21st century, it has never been easier to do so.  You really have no excuses anymore.  With Campbellsville University online programs you can receive the education you need to be the best possible minister you can be and do so in the comfort of your own home.  Check out the programs and then contact the university and begin your studies today.  Both you and your church will be glad you did.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

What's your point?

A few years ago I was around an individual who would always ask when challanged by a statement he didn't like, "What's your point?"  He said it so often that it really became annoying, and the way he said it showed his dislike for whatever you had said.  It soon climbed up my most disliked comments list right beside "Whatever."  However, I find I often ask that question soon after I've left a worship service.  As a judicatory minister I am often in a different church every week, and many times I've wondered what the point of the message I just heard.  I've never been bold enough to ask the pastor that question, but it is one I frequently think about on my return home.

The sermon may have been well constructed and quite biblical, but if it doesn't challenge people to do anything I have to wonder what the point of the message was.  It's not uncommon to hear pastors complain that their people won't do anything, but those same pastors should be asking themselves if they've ever challenged the people to do anything.  A sermon should challenge people to do something.  They should be stretched out of their comfort zones.  When I was a pastor I tried to give every sermon my "So what?" question.  Here's the information I'm going to give them, but so what?  Is there anything here to make them think differently or to act differently?  Will this message lead to action on anyone's part, or will everyone return home inspired to eat lunch?

I never did this as a pastor, but I really like the Communication Card concept Nelson Searcy uses at The Journey church.  He asks every person attending the service to fill out the card at the end of the service and turn it in.  The cards can be used to gather a lot of information, but one thing on the card is a way for every person to respond to the message in some tangible way.  Every message Searcy preaches calls for some type of response, and the card gives people a good way to respond. 

I think it also sets the expectation that people will respond to the message.  As the pastor closes out the message he or she can remind people of the cards, suggest several ways they could respond to the message, and then ask them to fill out the card and turn it in.  Do that often enough and people begin to expect that they will be asked to respond to the message.  People are much more apt to do what is expected of them.  Communication cards can set a high level of expectation, and the result may well be that more people become involved in the various ministries of your church.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Dealing with gossip

As a Baptist minister I have often said that gossip is one sin that Baptists obviously approve of since we seem to be so good at it.  I was once asked to deliver a sermon at a Baptist church that had gone through some major conflict and had lost several members.  I was told that I was one person who could get away with telling the congregation things they needed to hear.  The conflict was specifically addressed, and the first thing I told the congregation they needed to do to end the conflict was to go home and disconnect their telephones because they were burning up the lines with gossip about the situation.

Dave Ramsey defines gossip as speaking to anyone about a problem who does not have the ability to resolve the problem.  That is a great definition.  If someone has a problem with a decision the pastor makes, and that person talks to the church secretary and a Sunday school teacher about what was wrong with that decision it is gossip.  Neither of those people can do anything about a decision the pastor made.  If someone has a problem with that decision then the proper thing to do is to talk to the pastor about it.  If the pastor, or anyone with whom you disagree, will not hear you then you follow the order we find in Matthew 18: 15-17.  That is proper.  What is not proper is having little meetings in the parking lot complaining about things that no one in the discussion can resolve.

Ramsey's company has a simple rule about gossip in their workplace.  They will warn a person once if they find them gossiping, and the second time it happens they are fired.  They take it that seriously because they know that gossip is poison to an organization whether it is a business or a ministry.  Gossip undermines people's confidence and loyalty towards the organization as well as generates distrust towards the leaders.

What can a person do if someone begins to spread gossip in their presence?  One thing would be to tell the gossiper that you are not interested in hearing this and walk away.  Tell them that what they are doing is gossiping and that you consider that to be a sin that you do not wish to participate in.  A second thing you can do is to offer to go with the person to talk to the one who has offended them.  They will seldom agree to do that, but it will often shut them up.

I've actually done this on several occasions.  As a judicatory leader I sometimes receive calls from church members upset over something their pastor has done.  One caller asked that I meet with the leadership of the church and some "concerned" persons to talk about the pastor's shortcomings.  I said I would agree to meet with them as long as the pastor attended the meeting.  The caller was not pleased and was even less pleased when I told her that she had to invite the pastor to the meeting.  However, I explained that if the pastor was the problem then there was no point in having a meeting without the pastor being present so we could all discuss the situation like adults.  In that case the meeting was held, but often my requiring the pastor to be present ends the conversation the person wants to have with me.

Ramsey can fire an employee, but what can a church do with someone who continually gossips?  Such a person is creating disharmony in the church and that needs to be addressed by the church leadership.  What would the church do if a member was putting poison in the church's drinking water?  It would take whatever steps necessary to stop that person from doing that.  As I wrote earlier, gossip is poison to an organization, and the church should put an end to that as soon as it hears that this is happening.  The leadership of the church must confront the person guilty of spreading the gossip, let that person know that such behavior is not acceptable and further action will be taken if the person persists, and then follow up with such action if it occurs again.  Such strong action will probably create some conflict in the church, but it's better than gossip continually pecking away and undermining the church's ministry.  A church will never be any healthier than the behavior it accepts, and accepting gossip in the church is not a sign the church is healthy.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The problem of pastors leaving the ministry

A statistic I find very troubling is one I first heard several years ago and continue to see it repeated.  Approximately 50 percent of pastors will leave the ministry within five years of graduating from seminary.  That is very troubling.  I assume that most of these people, at some point in their lives, felt called to the ministry.  They invested a great deal of time and money into earning their college and seminary degrees.  No doubt they felt excited about being involved in ministry, and yet within a few short years they turn their back on that calling.  Why?

For some it is as simple as burnout.  Ministry is challenging work.  Pastors often find themselves at odds with controllers in the church who insist everything must be done to suit them regardless of the impact on others or the overall ministry of the church, and they often find the congregation will support the controllers.  A pastor may feel called to the ministry but is also a human being who will quickly grow tired of being beaten up every week by unhealthy church systems.  Selling insurance can start to look pretty good to a pastor whose work is consistently criticized by persons who do not understand the nature of ministry.

Some leave for financial reasons.  I recently had a conversation with a church leader who was upset that they have not been able to find a pastor despite searching for one for a year.  They've interviewed several candidates but nothing has worked out.  I reminded him again of an earlier conversation I had with the church regarding their salary and benefit package.  At the time I encouraged them to seek a bivocational person to serve as their pastor, but they insist that their pastor must be fully-funded.  He said that none of the candidates who decided to not go there made their decision because of the salary package the church was offering.  I have to wonder how many of them may have given other reasons so as not to appear greedy but that the minimal salary the church is offering was simply not enough to support their families.  Churches need to understand that few people ever reach a spiritual maturity level where they no longer need to eat.

A number of ministers leave because of moral failure in their lives.  They make choices that disqualify them for ministry, and they have no choice but to leave the ministry.  I have sometimes wondered how many of them may have wanted out of ministry, but saw no way out unless they were forced out.  So, they participated in behavior that would cause them to be removed from ministry.  This would mean that such a person would prefer to be known as a person who had moral failure in his or her life than to be known as someone who walked away from God's calling.  I don't know if this theory could be right, but I would love to see someone do a study on this.  Such a study could be invaluable to denominational leaders and pastoral leaders, especially if my theory is right.

However, at the core of all the surface reasons people leave the ministry after only a few short years is their inability to create healthy boundaries in their lives.  Too many neglect their families for the sake of ministry.  They allow others to regulate their calendars and their lives.  They build up debt which cannot be covered by the salaries many churches can afford to pay.  They do not practice good self-care leading to physical and emotional problems.  They isolate themselves from others and soon feel they are all alone in ministry.  They put themselves in situations where poor moral choices are more easily made.  Ministry is tough, and pastors need to be very intentional about finding ways to ease the pressures of their ministries.

After being in ministry for over three decades and working with hundreds of pastors I understand some of those pressures.  That led me to write a book called The Healthy Pastor: Easing the Pressures of Ministry.  It addresses each of the issues listed above and several others and provides recommendations for how to avoid them and how to create healthier boundaries for your life and ministry.  I believe the call to ministry is a life-long calling.  While ministry will always be challenging, there are many things a minister can do to ease many of the pressures he or she will face.  It is my prayer that this book will help the reader take intentional steps to enjoy a healthy and effective ministry and a more enjoyable life.

Monday, January 21, 2013

The Healthy Small Church

My most popular book continues to be The Healthy Small Church: Diagnosis and Treatment for the Big Issues.  Published in 2005, it remains the best selling book of the ones I've written primarily due to the desire by most people to be in a healthy church.  Recently, I was asked to preach in a church and lead a workshop afterwards on healthy, small churches.  The person who introduced me said that she thought their church was healthy until she read the book and realized there were many areas of church life they needed to address if they wanted to be healthier.

For a long time our churches were focused on church growth until people began to realize that church health was really a precursor to church growth.  An unhealthy church will not grow, and if it did it would only grow to become even more unhealthy.  We do not need nor want that.  We want to pursue health in our churches knowing that such health will lead to growth. 

This does not mean that if our smaller churches become healthier they will turn into mega-churches.  Many factors besides the health of a church impacts the size of a congregation, but any church can grow in various other ways than just numerical growth. Churches can grow in their missional outreach into their communities.  They can grow in their level of stewardship enabling them to do more local ministry and better support the worldwide ministry of the larger body of Christ.  They can grow in their focus on justice issues.  They can grow deeper in their understanding of the Scriptures.  And, they can experience numerical growth as they invite people to faith in Christ even though they may never become a large church.

As I state in the book, the first step in a church moving towards becoming healthier is having a proper theology and doctrine.  It all begins with what we believe about the Scriptures.  As Glenn Daman has written, "The theology of a church will have a greater impact upon the future health of the church than will all of the church's programs and strategies."  A biblical theology provides the foundation upon which a church can become healthier and the foundation for everything else the church will do.  A house built upon sand wil not stand; one built on a solid foundation will stand against everything that comes against it.

Other keys to church health addressed in the book include vision, transformational worship, the acceptance of change, the ability to handle conflict and a host of other factors that are covered.  The final chapter of the book consists of diagnostic questions that church leaders can use to measure the health of their church in each of the categories covered in the book. 

One of the interesting things that has happened is that some churches have bought copies of the book for each of their church leaders.  At each leadership meeting they address a different topic from the book and use the diagnostic questions to grade how their church is doing in that area.  One church bought 95 copies to distribute to every family in their church so they could study it as a congregation.  They later invited me to speak and hold a Q&A session after their service so people could ask questions the book generated for them.  This was a church that had recently suffered a significant church split and had much healing that needed to happen.  Judicatories have purchased copies for every pastor in their district to study.  I encourage churches and others that want to purchase bulk copies to contact me directly as I gladly sell them their books at a significant discount.

Some churches are quite unhealthy and will require a lot of intentional work to return to health.  Most are healthy in general but can become healthier in specific areas of their lives.  The healthier a church becomes the more effective it will be able to minister.  I'm excited to have been able to provide a resource that is helping so many churches enjoy the health they want.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

When you talk with a pastor search committee

When a Baptist minister, and others whose denomination's polity include pastor search committees, meets with such a committee it is often a time of great stress.  The minister is usually seeking a place to serve as a pastor and wants to give a good appearance to the committee.  The committee wants the church to look good to the candidate.  It is very easy in such a tense environment for both sides to leave out important information about themselves or fail to ask good questions of the other party.  When this happens it is not unusual for serious problems to appear within a few short months as one or both learn that this is not a good fit.

In over thirty years of ministry I've only had seven ministry related interviews.  The first one led to a twenty year pastorate at Hebron Baptist Church, and the last one brought me to the region staff of our judicatory.  The five in between were with pastor search committees, and after those interviews I realized that God was not leading me to that place of ministry.  Most of the time I made that determination after I completed asking my questions of the committee.  In one case, had I failed to ask my final question that I asked of all pastor search committees it is likely that I would have gone to a place that would have very quickly turned into a major train-wreck.

My experience has been that many pastor search committees do not ask many of the questions they should ask.  During most of my interviews I was surprised at how the committee failed to ask what I would consider to be some of the most important questions.  Many of the committees I've met with never even asked me to tell them about my salvation experience or my views on biblical authority or how I would lead someone to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  In my current role I often try to assist pastors in trouble with their churches because they and the search committees who interviewed them failed to ask important questions.  A good pastor and a good church can sometimes be a poor fit for one another, and this always leads to problems.  These are problems that could be avoided if the committee and candidate were more upfront with one another and asked the questions that need to be asked.

After my second interview I developed a list of questions that I've asked every search committee since.  These fill up two typewritten pages and are almost always more questions than the committee asks me.  Sometimes during the interview some of my questions are answered before I would ask them, but I have usually found that I have to ask most of my questions if I want to know the answers to them.

I ask many of the common questions that most, I hope, pastoral candidates would ask, but I add a lot more.  One of my favorite questions is "What organizations in the church are the most active?"  That answer can tell you a lot about the priorities of the church.  I ask about their church growth goals and what specifically are they doing to achieve those goals.  This tells me if they are engaged in ministry or sitting back waiting on a new pastor to grow the church.  I ask questions about church indebtedness and if they are having problems making their budget.  I want to know where most of the church members and attenders live.  Asking that question of one committee revealed that most of the membership of that church had left the neighborhood several years earlier and returned only on Sunday morning.  There was little to no ministry in the immediate area.  That's important to know.  I ask about the church's relationship with other churches in the community and their relationship with their denomination.  My final question is "Are members of all races and cultures welcome to attend and become members of this church?"  I encourage you to reread the last sentence of the second paragraph and you will understand why I was extremely glad I ask that question.

Sometimes pastors are so desperate to go to a new place to serve they purposely don't ask the questions they should.  They assume this place would have to be better than where they currently are serving.  That is not always the case.  Ask the questions that are important to you so you can find as much about that church as possible.  If your questions reveal answesr that send up a red flag be glad you found it out now rather than six months into the new pastorate.

If you want to learn more about this process and see the entire list of questions I ask pastor search committees you will find it in my book The Bivocational Pastor: Two Jobs, One Ministry.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Some keys for sermon preparation

Whether one serves as a bivocational minister or fully-funded minister, one of the challenges he or she will have is to be prepared to preach every week.  It really does not matter what else you had to do during the week, when Sunday comes you must be prepared to deliver a message to the congregation.  This will be true virtually every seven days you are in the ministry so time must be set aside for proper preparation of your message.  In this post I want to share some tips that helped me be prepared when I served as a pastor.

As a bivocational minister time was always a challenge.  I found I could prepare sermons much more effectively if I had planned them well in advance.  I always tried to work ahead at least one quarter in planning my messages.  You can read how I did my planning in my book The Healthy Pastor: Easing the Pressures of Ministry.  By taking time to plan ahead I didn't have to spend time every week trying to decide what I was going to preach next Sunday.  I already knew that; I could focus my attention on the actual preparation of the message.

Every pastor needs a good library.  Most ministers starting out do not have a lot of money for a library so I recommend that a minister look at his or her library as a life-long investment.  Build up your library as quickly as possible.  Keep a list of books you want to add to your library, and if someone asks what they can get you for a gift you can suggest one of those books.  Having such a list will help you find such books at used book stores, the Goodwill store, at library sales, or at yard sales.  It is amazing what good books you can find at such places for pennies on the dollar.  Buy quality reference books and commentaries that will help you better understand the meaning of the Scriptures and any background information that might help the message.  Ask that your church provide you with a book allowance.  My small church gave me a $400.00 book allowance each year, and I spent every dime of it.

A library is more effective when you have a good filing system.  It's so easy to not remember which book had a quote you want to use about a particular subject.  You can waste large amounts of time trying to find the right book without some type of filing system.  The system I use involves numbering every book in my library.  On my computer I have a folder marked "Book Notes" that contains well over 100 files for different subjects.  When I am reading I highlight important pieces of the book.  When I finish the book I go through it searching for the various highlights which I then type into the proper file.  At the end of the quote I add the book number and the page on which the quote is located.  My notation will look something like this 280.4 MIL: 47.  With that information I can go directly to the correct page in the book to verify my quote is correct.  While it takes time to put that information into my computer it saves me much more time when I'm preparing a message or writing a book because I don't have to take a lot of time to find the material I need.

Before going to my commentaries I will read my text from several transations to get a feel for what is being said.  I spend time thinking through the meaning of the passage, and then I turn to the commentaries to see what others have written about the passage.  Assuming I have properly understood the text I seek material that will help me with the specific application I want to make from the passage to my listeners.  At that point I am ready to begin developing the sermon.

For many years I would write out my sermon in manuscript form and from that would develop an outline I would take with me to the pulpit.  I seldom write out the sermon now.  Instead I jot down what I am gleaning from the passage and from those notations I prepare the sermon outline.  This saves me a large chunk of time, and I'm now comfortable enough in my preparation that I no longer feel the need to write it out.

With good sermon planning, a growing library, and a good filing system actual sermon preparation becomes much easier and takes far less time.  It does take commitment on the part of the pastor.  I always gave my sermon preparation high priority because that message was the best opportunity I had to connect with our congregation.  Such priority reduces the number of "Saturday-night specials" that one will preach.  Even in the busiest of weeks, if a minister has given proper priority to the sermon, he or she will carve out the time to adequately prepare the message.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Dealing with toxic people in the church

I had a conversation this week with a pastor who has been beaten almost into submission by toxic people in the church he serves.  When we met it was obvious he was feeling a tremendous amount of stress.  He admitted he had lost weight in the past month due to the stress.  It was impacting his wife, and although he never said anything about his children I'm sure they are feeling the stress of the situation as well.  A number of people have left the church, some because of him and his ministry in the church and others because of the toxic environment that exists in the church.  What is so sad is that, as in so many cases, it can all be traced back to a small handful of people who are convinced only they know what the church needs.

In past postings I've addressed the problem of controllers in the church, and this is another classic case of a handful of controllers allowed to operate unchecked in the church.  I often refer to them as cancers in the church, unhealthy cells that attack healthy cells until the body eventually dies.  As I've written before, one does not fight cancer with a band-aid; it often requires drastic measures to stop the spread of cancer and bring health back to the body.  The measures are often not pleasant to the patient, but they are the only means of restoring health, and if they are not taken the body will almost certainly die.  The problem in so many of our churches is that we are filled with nice people who are not willing to take the measures needed to stop the controllers.

Lately, I've wondered which group of people upsets me more: the controllers or the ones who allow them to get away with their activities.  As one writer said, the American church prefers harmony over truth or mission so many are unwilling to confront the controllers in an effort to maintain peace in the church.  But, at what price does such peace come?  Good people are leaving the church.  Another pastor and his family have been abused.  Any momentum for ministry the church may have had has been lost as the community hears about the problems at the church.  The controllers are even more entrenched in the church ready to pounce on anyone who would dare challenge them in the future.  I simply cannot understand why good Christian people who profess love for their church would allow a small minority of people to get away with such behavior, but it happens every day in too many churches across our land.

A few years ago I met with the lay leadership of a church with a similar problem.  They identified two families in their church who were the controllers.  They told me of all the people and pastors these two families had caused to leave their church.  When I asked what they were going to do about it they looked stunned and said they couldn't do anything.  I then said, "Then live with it.  You are the leaders of this church.  You decide who stays and who goes.  You've already told me about all the good people who have left this church in the past several years because of these two families, so I assume you've decided it's OK for them to leave so you can keep the controllers.  You're going to lose people either way, but it seems to me that you would want to keep the ones that are not causing the problems.  But, that's your choice and you will have to live with the decision you make."  Within a few months these leaders did take a stand against the two families who each decided to leave the church.  Since then that particular church has more than doubled in size and is doing more effective ministry now than it has in years.

Are there controllers in your church who have been the source of most of the problems that exist in your church?  Does your church have a high pastor turn-over rate because of these people?  Are they keeping the church from moving forward because no one will stand up to them?  Well then, what are you going to do about it?

Monday, January 14, 2013

Do not be afraid of the truth

How does the church minister in a world in which many no longer believe in absolute truth?   It is one of the great challenges of our time.  Our Lord Jesus Christ taught that He is the truth, the life, and the only way to God, but many find His words to be unacceptable.  They argue that other great religious leaders also taught paths to God so who is able to say which one is true.  Many prefer to take bits of teaching from one religion and mix it with teachings from other religions to develop their own religious system which satisfies their spiritual longings and yet does not crimp their personal moral behavior.

Some churches have been willing to compromise their doctrine in order to accommodate this postmodern view of truth and reach today's spiritual seekers, but numerous studies tell us this is not necessary.  Tom Rainer's studies led him to insist that the church should never dilute the Gospel in an effort to reach the unchurched as many formerly unchurched report that the church's doctrine was one of the elements that attracted them to the church they eventually joined.  Colleen Carroll's year long study of young adults who turned to orthodox Christianity found that this was also a major reason for their decision.  They wanted a belief system that actually believed something.

In one of their books, Elmer Towns and Ed Stetzer said that if we "Take away the authority of the Bible, or the essential content of the Bible, [we] no longer have Christianity."  We may still have a belief system or a religion, but it will not be Christian, and it will not have the power to change people's lives.

We do not have to be afraid to present the Gospel as true even at a time when truth is being questioned and Christian doctrine and values are under attack.  I believe that just as God has protected the truth of His word for all these centuries, He is still able to protect it as it comes under attack today.  Let those who reject biblical truth challenge it with their man-made philosophies and see how effective such arguments are against the truth of Scripture.  Their mocking may last for a season, but in the end truth will prevail.

While God is certainly capable of protecting His word, the church has a role to play in this as well.  Today, it is essential that we develop an apologetic that will respond to the critics and provide answers to the sincere seekers.  We must not only know what we believe but why we believe it, and be ready at all times to give an answer for the hope that is within us.

Our society is searching for spiritual answers to their deepest questions.  The church has the responsibility to provide those answers from the Scriptures.  Such answers will not always make some people happy, but it is not our job to make them happy; it is our responsibility to give them the truth.  When we plant the seed of truth in them God then has something to work with to help them experience the transformation they need.

For more on this topic be sure to read my newest book The Healthy Community: Moving Your Church Beyond Tunnel Vision.

Friday, January 11, 2013

From the center to the margin

According to recent studies one of the fastest growing groups of people today are referred to as "nones."  These are people who list no connection to any organized religious group.  They are one more example of how evangelical Christianity is losing ground in this nation.  Of course, this was not always the case in America.  Drive through any of our small communities and you will often find in the middle of that community a church signifying its place in the hearts of the people who lived there at the time the church was built.  I believe one can argue there was a time in our nation when American was a Christian nation, but even if someone disagrees with that there is little doubt that the church and God held a central place in the lives of many people and the communities in which they lived.  That is not the case today.  While many people claim to be spiritual, many of them are not sure what that means and are even less certain what it is they are seeking.  One thing these spiritual seekers share in common is that the church is not at the center of their lives.  If it is on their radar screen at all it is down on the periphery somewhere.

More and more we see evangelical Christianity being pushed to the margins of the public square.  Anyone holding to conservative Christian beliefs and morals is subjected to ridicule, isolation, and even persecution.  Our society prefers to reverse the story of creation and wants to create a god in their image, a god who will approve of their lifestyle choices, offer universal salvation to all, provide heaven on earth, and kiss away their "owies" when their choices brings pain into their lives.  I once referred to this in a sermon as "an easy-greasy gospel that goes down smoothly but will make you sick and eventually destroy you."

The reality is this is the world in which you and I are called to minister.  We may not like it, but that is immaterial.  I'm sure the first century Christians didn't like a lot of things about the world in which they ministered either, but despite the horrific obstacles they faced they became known as people who turned the world upside-down.  How were they able to do that?  By staying true to the message Christ had given them even though it cost many of them their lives.

Like others, I believe that the church in America is facing some tough days ahead.  I believe we will find ourselves forced even more to the margins in public life.  Those of us in ministry, both bivocational and fully-funded, will be challenged in the days to come like we've not seen in this country before.  Our beliefs and teachings are going to be criticized even by our own colleagues unless we compromise and begin to proclaim a more socially acceptable gospel, which is really no gospel at all.  I believe that conservative churches are also going to come under more governmental scrutiny in the days ahead not only by our state and national government but also by local governments.  Some local communities are already making it nearly impossible for churches to build new facilities or hold home Bible studies or small groups in people's homes, and as more of them lust after the property taxes our churches do not currently pay we can expect to see more challenges of that nature as well.

However, the church has often done its best work under persecution.  This was certainly true of the first-century church and in more recent times has been true of the church in China, Russia, and other places where government attempted to stamp out the church in those nations.  Perhaps finding ourselves under attack in this country will wake the church out of its slumber and help it return to the mission God has given it.

Regardless of what happens, the one thing I am certain about is that we will have to learn how to live and work on the margins.  It will be a long time before the church ever returns to the center of life in America, if it ever does, so let's get used to doing ministry on the margins of our society.  Expect to have your message and your motives questioned by people who do not understand what the church is about.  Expect to have the majority of people ignore your attempts to point them to the God they are seeking.  Our challenge in these difficult days ahead is to remain faithful in proclaiming God's truth and grace to all who will listen and to be prepared to receive those who respond.  My final prediction is that we will eventually see people respond as they finally discover the emptiness of their lives due to the choices they have made.  When they have sought God everywhere else and not found Him, perhaps they will return to the place where He can be found if we have remained faithful.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The unknown god in our churches

Three times in the past week I have been challenged by the passage we find in Acts 17 starting with verse 22.  Twice I encountered the passage in books I was reading, and today it was part of a devotion someone shared in a meeting I attended.  The apostle Paul is speaking to the philosophers in Athens when he says, "Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship I even found an altar with this inscription: TO THE UNKNOWN GOD.  Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you."

Most of the time we apply this passage to the unchurched, but I think it has much to say to many of our churches.  How many of them are worshiping a god they do not know?  I'm thinking of gods like tradition, superstition, power, false doctrine, harmony, control, and many others that prevent our churches from carrying out the mandates of God.  None of these churches would admit these are the gods they worship, but how else can we explain their refusal to do the ministry God has called them to do?

I think of the many pastors who struggle to introduce needed change into their churches only to be met with a stone wall.  These are pastors who recognize the disparity between what God calls churches to do and what their churches are actually doing.  One would think that if a church was truly worshiping God they would seek ways to be obedient to His commands such as the Great Commission and the Great Commandment.  If a church is worshiping God it should be concerned about the things that concern Him, things such as social justice, evangelism, compassion, grace, and truth.  But, many churches give little more than lip service to these things.  Such churches are often more concerned with protecting their rituals, their ways of doing things, their self-righteousness and self-importance, and their current structures that have not served them well in decades.  So, what god are these churches worshiping?

Paul used that altar to point the Athenians to the true God; we need to be bold enough to point out to those churches who are worshiping false gods what they are doing.  Unless they are challenged about the false gods they worship they will continue to drift further away from God and see their ministries come to an end.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Who will train the bivocational ministers of the future?

There are some things we know about bivocational ministry.  We know that the numbers of bivocational ministers are growing throughout most denominations today.  From talking to various leaders of these denominations, it is expected that those numbers will continue to increase in the near future.  Various studies show that bivocational ministries are just as effective in most measurable ministry areas as fully-funded ministries.  We currently have too few bivocational ministers to cover our existing churches, and this problem will grow as new church starts begin using bivocational people.  We know all these things about bivocational ministry; what we don't know is who will train the bivocational ministers in the future.

A study I did a few years ago of bivocational ministers in my denomination found a wide variety of educational levels.  Many ended their formal education with high school.  A large number had at least some college training.  Several had been to seminary or graduate school.  A handful had PhDs.  Many of them who had seminary degrees had been fully-funded at one time in their ministry but either were unable to find such ministry now or had chosen to pursue other careers and serve smaller churches in a bivocational capacity.  As I travel the country leading workshops for bivocational and small church leaders I find my study parallels the educational levels of many bivocational ministers regardless of their denomination. 

The problem is that bivocational ministry continues to evolve.  It's no longer relegated to the smallest rural or urban churches that are about to close their doors.  For various reasons, larger churches are calling bivocational ministers to assume their pastorates requiring much more ministry awareness than some bivocational ministers possess.  The demands placed on many bivocational leaders are as great as those fully-funded pastors must address, and the expectations being put on these bivocational ministers by their congregations are growing as well.  There was a time when a bivocational minister was only expected to preach each Sunday and be available for an occasional wedding, funeral, or hospital visit.  Those expectations have changed and changing now even more rapidly in many of our churches.

Many churches now expect their bivocational ministers to be able to lead a meaningful worship service, provide direction to the various ministries and organizations within the church, have at least a minimal connection to the community, preach messages that are relevant and biblical, and provide good pastoral care to the congregation.  One can complain that such churches are expecting too much but that doesn't take away from those expectations.  And, quite frankly, I don't think God calls a person to bivocational ministry expecting any less either.  Just because one is bivocational doesn't mean that he or she is allowed to offer second-class ministry.  This does mean that a bivocational person better understand how to manage time well, train others to do ministry, and delegate responsibilities to those who are trained.

Can we depend on the seminaries to train our future bivocational ministers to do ministry in the future?  My initial response is no unless some of our seminaries begin to realize that bivocational ministry is a calling that requires different skills than what many of them currently teach.  If they want to have a part in training bivocational ministers they are going to have to re-think their current degree plans and courses.  They will also have to make their programs more accessible off-campus.  The good news is that some have already done that.  Campbellsville University now offers their Master of Theology degree entirely off-campus if a student wishes to pursue that degree.  Liberty Theological Seminary provides a host of master's level programs off campus that would be suitable to many bivocational ministers.  Other seminaries are following suit, and this is going to be a good thing for bivocational ministry in the future.

Another option will be some of the Bible schools that provide bachelor level programs in pastoral ministries.  Some of these schools may be conveniently located to the students to allow them to participate on campus.  My first post-high school education experience was through one of these schools, and it provided me with an excellent education for my ministry.

A third option that I think we will see more in the future is the training programs offered through various denominations and judicatories.  Our judicatory offers a Church Leadership Institute that was not designed only for bivocational ministers but for all leaders in our smaller churches.  However, a number of our bivocational ministers have completed this program and are now serving well in our churches.  Other judicatories have similar programs and those who do not need to carefully consider developing one or encouraging their bivocational ministers to attend the ones that do exist.

At least one judicatory has added a fourth option: coaching.  They now provide coaches for the bivocational ministers in their district to help them deal with the challenges they face.  Most of these coaches are experienced pastors or retired.  It was my privilege a year ago to provide some training for these coaches as they began to serve their bivocational ministers.

These are other options must be explored.  Anyone who has been in ministry for any period of time knows how difficult ministry can be, and the challenges will only continue to grow.  God has called men and women to serve Him in bivocational roles, and we must find ways to provide them with the best possible training to help them enjoy effective, productive ministries.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Because you can

I enjoy reading Larry Winget's books because of his practical and pointed comments.  He doesn't spin anything he writes and doesn't allow anyone to make excuses for their misbehavior.  Some of his titles include

Currently, I'm reading No Time for Tact: 365 Days of the Wit, Words, and Wisdom of Larry Winget when I came across this comment.  "Why should you care about becoming as successful as you possibly can?  Because you can.  Those three words are the key.  Make as much money as you can, be as happy as you can, be as good at your job as you can.  Be as successful in every area of your life as you possibly can.  Why?  Because you can.  You are obligated to become as much as you can be simply because you can!"

How would our lives change if we began to live like we really believed these words?  What if we approached everything in ministry with this attitude?  What would happen in our churches if our members began to live as if these words are true?  How would our homes change if we began to live like this?

We have been created in the image of God and given various gifts and talents that are to be used in service to Him and to others.  Every believer has been called to use those gifts in ministry.  Why should we?  Because we can, and, just as importantly, because we must.

Virtually within the shadow of our church steeples are dozens, perhaps hundreds, of people who need to meet the living Christ.  Their lives are filled with frustration, confusion, pain, fear, and worry.  Many of them think there is surely something or someone bigger than themselves, but they have no idea how to find what that is.  They may have read about some of the different religions, but that has just added to their confusion.  Much of what they have read about Christianity or seen in Christians has not convinced them that it is true or even desirable.  What they need is to see someone actually living out the teachings of Christ and how that impacts a person's life.

That was the first image that came to my mind when I read that we need to be as successful in every area of our lives as possible.  It's not about money or success; it's about living faithful lives according to the teachings of Scripture in a manner that draws others to Christ and those teachings.  It's about showing the world how a Christian treats his or her spouse, how Christian parents raise their children, how Christian children respects their parents, how a Christian manages finances, how a Christian responds to those with needs, how a Christian applies himself or herself on the job, how a Christian business owner conducts that business and treats those who work there, how a Christian addresses the social issues of the day, and how Christians  experience peace in their lives.  I know that's a lot to ask, and we have far to go before we can declare we are as successful as we can be in every area (at least I know I have far to go!).   But, we must try because the world is watching us to see if what we claim to believe is actually true.  Only if they determine that it is true will they be interested in talking to us about Jesus Christ.  Why do we need to do these things?  Because we can, and we must.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Working together to reach our youth

In recent weeks I've posted several articles on this blog about the challenges churches face in trying to reach young people.  One reader responded saying that he felt it was important for churches to work together to better impact this age group.  I think he is right on, especially in smaller communities that have a number of smaller churches.

Let's be honest here for a minute.  Most of us serve in smaller congregations that will never have the ministries for young people that mega-churches offer.  I know of a church that has a minister to Jr. High girls and another one for Sr. High girls as well as other ministers who have primary responsibilities for the boy's ministries.  Many of us are lucky to have a volunteer who's willing to work with all our children and youth.  We are very limited in what we are able to offer in the way of ministry to young people, but if a number of area churches were willing to work together some of those limitations could be reduced.

What could happen in a small community if four, five, or six churches in the community came together to minister to the young people in that community?  It would not be unrealistic to assume that the Baptist church in that community had four young people, the Methodist church had seven young people, the Presbyterian church had three young people, the Nazarene church had twelve young people, and...well you get the idea.  Change the denominational labels and the numbers any way you want, but the end result is the same.  None of these churches have sufficient numbers of young people for a dynamic youth ministry, but together there are 26 young people, a number that allows for more ministry programming.  Perhaps even more important is there is now a group large enough that other young people in the community might be encouraged to attend.  Also, with several churches involved there is the potential for stronger leadership in the youth ministry which is likely to also improve the overall ministry of that program.

While those of us of a certain age are fairly well committed to our denominational tribe, most young people could care less about the name of the church.  What they are interested in is that people care enough about them to come together to provide a ministry that relates to them and their issues.  In such an environment they can be introduced to a God who loves them and wants a relationship with them.  They can find answers to some of their most pressing questions and find the hope that so many young people are desperately seeking today.

A bivocational friend of mine served a very small, rural church.  He asked other small churches in his local association if any of them would join him in developing a ministry to young people in their community.  He was amazed that not one single church was willing.  None of them had anything resembling a good youth ministry, but these churches were so afraid of dying that they didn't want to risk losing any young person to another church.  As a result, none of them were reaching any youth and still do not to this day.

If we truly believe the Bible to be true in what it teaches, then people without God are lost and condemned to an eternal hell if they die in that state.  Is it more important to attempt to rescue young people from that or to remain stubbornly independent and do nothing but sit around and complain about the lack of young people in our churches?  I want to encourage the small church leaders who read this blog to approach some other small churches in your communities and see if a coalition of churches can come together to reach out to the young people in your community.  Get something started by the first quarter of 2013 and at the end of the year see what kind of impact that ministry has had.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

My top 10 books for 2012 (1-5)

Today I will complete the list of my top ten books I read in 2012.  If you didn't see 6-10 you will find them on yesterday's post.

5. The Presidents Club: Inside the World's Most Exclusive Fraternity written by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duff takes the reader behind the scene at the relationships that exist between today's living presidents and reveals stories of past presidential relationships.  Former presidents can be an asset to the current president or a real thorn in that person's side.  If you are as interested in politics as I am you will want to read this fascinating book.

4. Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World is written by Michael Hyatt, chairman of Thomas Nelson Publishers.  He notes that in our global economy it can be difficult for our message to be heard, but through social media anyone has an inexpensive way to reach out with their own message.  This book is filled with practical advice for anyone who has a product to sell or a message to proclaim making it a good read for both business and ministry leaders.

3.  In my opinion, The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth: Live Them and Reach Your Potential is John Maxwell's best book since he wrote The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership.  No leader can take his or her organization further than he or she has travelled.  For any organization to grow, those leading it must grow first, and this book takes the reader on such a growth journey.  This book doesn't say do these three things and you will grow; it provides laws of growth that one must follow each and every day to experience the kind of growth necessary to continually lead effectively.  This book will be re-read in 2013.

2. You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church...and Rethinking Faith by David Kinnaman.  Church leaders often ask me why their church cannot attract young people, and this book explains it as well as any you'll read.  The author and his team interviewed hundreds of young Christians to find out why they have left the institutional church in which they were raised.  What he found out will disappoint many readers because the reality is the church has driven many of them away as if it intended to do so.  Fortunately, this book also provides helpful suggestions for things the church can do to encourage young adults to return.  This book needs to be studied in depth by the entire leadership team of many churches.

1.  My favorite read of 2012 was Conviction to Lead, The: 25 Principles for Leadership that Matters by Albert Mohler.  Numbers one through three were almost a toss-up, but I ended up choosing this book as my number one simply because Mohler brings a topic into the leadership discussion that is often missing: conviction.  Frankly, I don't always agree with Mohler on various topics, but in this case I believe he is on target.  He writes The leadership that really matters is all about conviction.  The leader is rightly concerned with everything from strategy and vision to team-building, motivation, and delegation, but at the center of the true leader's heart and mind you will find convictions that drive and determine everything else.  Unless a leader leads from the convictions he or she holds they may go through all the right motions, but they will lack passion and a proper direction, and I see that in too many ministry leaders today.  I believe this is an important book for every leader to read and study.

Well, there are my top ten for 2012.  I found each of these books interesting, informative, and helpful.  If you are interested in what I am currently reading as we begin a new year I have started reading Why Jesus?: Rediscovering His Truth in an Age of Mass Marketed Spirituality by Ravi Zacharias, Small Is the New Big: and 183 Other Riffs, Rants, and Remarkable Business Ideas by Seth Godin, and Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith by Douglas Groothuis.  The last one may take a while!  Will any of these make my top ten list next year?  We'll know the answer to that question about this time in 2014.  In the meantime, invest in your personal growth through the reading of good books.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

My top 10 books for 2012 (6-10)

In recent days I've posted several articles listing the top books recommended by various people and organizations.  Today I want to continue a two or three year old tradition of sharing my top 10 favorite reads of the previous year.  Quite frankly, this was a difficult year for my reading.  For the first time in many years I did not average reading a book a week.  I only read 31 last year, and many of them were disappointing.  In some cases I felt they promised much more than they delivered.  Some offered little new information.  I started a few books and soon stopped reading them because I just didn't see any value in continuing (those are not included in the 31).  Still, I found some to be enjoyable and helpful to me in various ways.  Today I will give you 6-10 with the remainder coming in tomorrow's post.

10.  We Are Soldiers Still: A Journey Back to the Battlefields of Vietnam by Harold Moore and Joseph Galloway.  Moore is a retired Army General who fought in Vietnam.  He returns to that country to meet and talk with some of the military leaders he fought against.  It is an incredible look at how that war changed two nations and the people who were involved.  As one who made two tours to Vietnam onboard an aircraft carrier during that time, this book fascinated me as it gave me a much better idea of what was occurring on the ground and what has happened since.  It is also a book that says much about forgiveness and reconciliation.

9.  Beyond Boundaries: Learning to Trust Again in Relationships by John Townsend looks at relationships and how to handle them when they go bad.  In every area of our lives relationships are important.  Toxic relationships will damage us if we allow them to.  Healthy relationships make us stronger and better.  A central element of healthy relationships is trust, and this book explores what we can do when that trust is violated.

8. Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard written by Chip and Dan Heath examines how to implement change in any organization.  Reducing the size of the change and focusing on how a change will impact people's identities are only two of the suggestions made by the authors.  This is one of the best books on change I've read in recent years.

7. Killing Lincoln: The Shocking Assassination that Changed America Forever by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard takes the reader far beyond what we were taught in school about one of the most important events in America.  The details that were covered in this book makes it one of my all-time favorite US history books.

6. Reaching People Under 40 While Keeping People Over 60: Being Church for All Generations (TCP Leadership Series) written by Eddie Hammett.  Eddie is one of my favorite authors and I would recommend anything he writes.  This is one of the biggest challenges facing most churches today, and the author addresses it in a way that will benefit any church.  While most churches claim they want to reach younger adults many of them do little to intentionally do that.  In fact, much of what they do actually drives away young adults.  This book identifies some things that churches can do to better attract younger adults while not ignoring the needs of their older members.  This is a must read book for every pastor.