Thursday, February 28, 2013

Avoid these leadership pitfalls

I just finished reading The Five Pillars of Leadership: How to Bridge the Leadership Gap by Paul Meyer and Randy Slechta.  This is a good book for anyone leading any organization including those who are in bivocational ministry.  Near the end of the book they list several leadership pitfalls to avoid that I thought was especially valuable to those of us in ministry.
  • Doing too much.  Many of us in ministry are not good at delegating which results in our feeling overwhelmed at times.  It also makes us much less effective in our work because we are trying to do too many things rather than focusing on what we do best and allowing others who are more gifted in other areas to do those things.
  • Doing too little.  There are some things that cannot be delegated.  They are our responsibility, and if we shirk them we run the risk of being out-of-touch with our congregation.  Some bivocational ministers use their second job as a reason to not work as hard as they should in their ministry position, but we must realize that some functions of our ministry must be handled personally by us or we are not fulfilling God's call upon our lives.
  • Failing to recognize personal growth needs.  I meet too many ministers who neglect their own personal needs for growth.  A survey I did of bivocational ministers in 2004 found that a high percentage of them had not attended one ministry-related continuing education event in the previous three years.  We all have room to grow and develop and to not develop a plan for personal growth is to short-change our ministries and our churches.
  • Acceptance of mediocre performance.  There should be one goal in every aspect of ministry...excellence.  That does not mean perfection.  Too often people in leadership are willing to allow themselves or others to provide mediocre performance, and that should never be acceptable in a church setting.  We may need to provide additional training or better resources, but we should always strive for excellence in everything we do.
  • Failure to use team member potential.  Just because someone has been doing something for years doesn't mean that he or she has reached his or her potential.  Perhaps moving someone to a different position better suited to his gifts or her passions would enable them to serve more effectively.  Providing training can often lift a person's performance. each person on a team grows, the entire organization grows.
  • Guarding the status quo.  I've learned over the years that many leaders dislike change as much as the members of their congregations do.  It's easier to maintain the status quo.  Everyone knows their roles in the old system, and we can avoid a lot of the conflict that occurs in churches when change is introduced.  When I was a bivocational pastor I knew that every change I proposed would require more out of me than I had been giving, but I also knew the status quo would eventually lead to a dying church.
  • Ignoring problems and postponing solutions.  I am the classic conflict-avoider.  I hate conflict and used to avoid it as long as possible.  I had to learn the hard way that the best time to address conflict is before it occurs.  That's called planning.  The second best time to address it is as soon as it occurs.  Conflict seldom goes away.  It may disappear for a season, but it will soon reappear, and it's often much worse when it does.
  • Poor communication.  Communication involves both listening and speaking.  Poor communication can occur when we fail to listen well to what others are telling us.  It also occurs when we fail to communicate information clearly and accurately.  More than once I've told conflicted churches that much of their problems were the direct result of poor communication.  A good rule of thumb for leaders is that if you do not feel like you are over-communicating you are probably not communicating enough.
The authors go into more detail on each of these pitfalls on pages 149-152.  Again, this is a good book filled with sound leadership practices for anyone in a leadership role.  One of the things I liked about the book is that it is not a book about leadership theory.  It is a book filled with practical advice for persons in leadership positions.  As a bivocational minister I am always looking for the practical, and this book delivers it.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Needing some feedback

For the past several months I've tried to post on this blog at least four times a week.  The material I place here is intended to provide helpful information to the reader as well as make you think.  Because this blog was originally intended primarily for bivocational and smaller church leaders I've tried to provide material that would be especially helpful for them, but much of what I write here would equally apply to most larger church leaders as well.  My concern is whether or not this blog is helpful.

In recent weeks the blog's counter seldom shows more than 30 readers for any one post even though it tells me I have 65 followers.  Both of these numbers are rather discouraging given the number of months I've written this blog.  It does take time to write and post the material, and I want to make sure I am not wasting my time doing it.  Seldom do any readers respond to a post so the only thing I have telling me that anyone is reading it is the counter, and if that is right then this blog has a very small audience.

Late last year I ended the monthly e-newsletter I was sending to several hundred people who had asked to receive it.  Again, because there was so little response from the recipients I had no way of knowing how many were actually reading it or just deleting it when it appeared on their screen.  When I announced the end of the newsletter I referred people to this blog as a way to continue to get articles from me.  I did receive a few e-mails from people who were sorry to see the e-newsletter go away, but obviously few, if any, made the jump from the newsletter to the blog.

I'm not sure what I will do about the blog, but if you find it helpful I need to know that.  If you are reading it on a regular basis I would appreciate it if you would become a follower of the blog.  If you find it helpful I would appreciate it if you would encourage others to read it as well.  I do enjoy providing you with resources that I hope are helpful to your life and ministry, but I also want to be a good steward of my time.  Thank you for any feedback you can give me.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

What I'm reading

Someone recently asked what I'm currently reading so I decided to answer that on today's blog.  One of the books I'm reading right now is The Pastor: A Memoir by Eugene Peterson.  This book traces Peterson's life from a young boy to his pastoral ministry and now to his role as a professor at Regent College.  Peterson's books always makes me think and forces me to look at my own ministry.  He challenges me like few authors, and when I saw he had written his memoir I knew I had to read it.  So far it has been everything I thought it would be.

A second book I'm reading is The Five Pillars of Leadership: How to Bridge the Leadership Gap by Paul Meyer and Randy Slechta.  John Maxwell endorses this book by writing, "This book will bridge the leadership gap for you."  I knew I would finish reading this book when the authors pointed out that although not every challenge we face today is the result of poor leadership, it will require good leadership to correct our problems.  The book is a quick read but one that is full of good insights into leadership.  The amount of highlighting I'm doing will attest to that.

I'm also reading Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith by Douglas Groothuis on my I-Pad Kindle device.  This book is going to take a while!  It is definitely not light reading, but I enjoy Christian apologetics and appreciate a challenging read.

Recently, I completed another book by well-known Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias titled Why Jesus?: Rediscovering His Truth in an Age of Mass Marketed Spirituality.  This book examines what makes Christianity different from other religions and why a relationship with Jesus Christ is the only way to God.  As usual, Zacharias did not disappoint.

Last week I finished reading Amazing Law of Influence, The by King Duncan.  If leadership is influence, and it is, then it is vital to understand how to most effectively influence others.  I had read this book a few years ago and felt it was time to revisit it.  I'm glad I did.

I should mention that as part of my devotional reading this year I am reading through the New Testament.  You can never go wrong reading the Bible!

If you are wanting something to read I would recommend any of these books to you. They will benefit anyone in Christian leadership whether you are a pastor or lay leader. 

Monday, February 25, 2013

The power of passion in a leader

As a fan of college basketball I continue to be amazed at how one player can sometimes carry an entire team to victory.  These players always have talent and experience, but there's usually talent on the other team as well.  The difference maker is the passion these players bring to the game.  That passion causes them to be the first one in the gym for practice and the last one to leave.  While other equally talented players are out on the town the passionate player is studying game film and reviewing scouting notes on the other other team.  When the game is close the player with passion wants the ball on offense and more often than not makes the defensive play on the other end of the court.  He simply will not quit until his team has won the game.  Such players are a joy to watch because of their passion and desire to be the best.

I thought of these players as I read The Five Pillars of Leadership: How to Bridge the Leadership Gap by Paul Meyer and Randy Slechta.  In their chapter on passion they wrote

These elements of effective leadership represent an overwhelming inner demand for change, a personal rejection of circumstances as they are, and the willingness to make any sacrifice or bear any burden in order to bring about that change.

Every advance in history - in thought, in government, in ethics, religion, or science - has resulted from a single individual's desire to change the status quo, to win a race with time, with custom, tradition, or with self.  This is why passion and desire burn like a flame in the heart of every effective leader. (pp. 84-84)

A leader in any endeavor will make a difference in direct proportion to his or her level of passion.  Talent is never enough.  There are many talented people in the world that never achieve anything of significance.  Passion and desire will trump talent every time.  They will take a person much further than mere talent.  If a person with passion has talent as well, so much the better, but given the choice I would prefer the person with passion over the person who only possesses talent.  Passion enables a person to almost will himself or herself over every obstacle that stands between him or her and the goals they seek to achieve.

I look at many of our churches and see a lot of talented people with little to no passion.  Perhaps ministry has beat it out of them.  After years of working with stubborn and stiff-necked people the only thing they are looking for is retirement.  Every molehill becomes a insurmountable mountain in their eyes.  They have a laundry list at their disposal as to why every new idea won't work.  In the tight games they don't want the ball, and, frankly, no one else really wants them to have the ball either.

Without passion leaders merely goes through the motions.  Their team can't win; their church can't win; their business can't grow.  However, with passion and desire there are no mountains that can't be conquered.  Do you have an overwhelming desire to see change occur in your church?  Are you willing to make any sacrifice necessary to see that change become a reality?  Do you have the passion and desire that will enable you to overcome every challenge that would prevent that change from occurring?  Your talent, skills, and training will only take you so far.  It requires passion to take you rest of the way, so how far do you want to go?

Friday, February 22, 2013

Unfinished business

Of all the books I've read in the past five years, Unfinished Business: Returning the Ministry to the People of God by Greg Ogden has to rank in my top five.  The thesis of the book is that the first Reformation in the 1500s put the Bible in the hands of the people and the Second Reformation will put the ministry back in the hands of the people.  Ogden is calling for this Second Reformation to occur now and provides in this book the tools by which this can happen.

If the church is going to have any significant impact on today's society we must move from a pastor-centered ministry model to a people-centered ministry model which is the biblical model for ministry anyway.  Ephesians 4 teaches that the pastor and others are to equip the saints to do the work of ministry, not function as the hired guns of the church.  Every believer has been equipped to do ministry through the use of the spiritual gifts given them by the Holy Spirit.  Unfortunately, many of them have never been encouraged or equipped to use those gifts.  They are content to be the recipients of ministry and not doers of ministry.  Not only does this limit the effective ministry of the church, it also does nothing to promote discipleship.  Read what Ogden writes:

In the healthy family, the goal of parents is to grow children into responsible, self-initiating, caring, and serving adults.  The church, on the other hand, has more often than not viewed the role of pastor as parent and the people of God as dependent children who need to be constantly cared for.  As a result, the children remain perpetually children. (p. 115)

The fact is too many pastors and congregations prefer the current dependency model.  As long as the pastor cares for the flock he or she can enjoy a relatively pleasant ministry.  Many in the congregation like not having any responsibilities.  They can come to church when convenient, provide whatever level of financial support they decide to give, and trust that whatever ministry needs occur will be taken care of by the professional.  The problem is that this is not the way it is supposed to be and is one of the primary reasons why so many churches are ineffective in their ministries.

Every church needs to return the ministry to the people, but this is especially important for the bivocational church.  Everyone in a bivocational church must be involved in the ministry of the church if it is to have any influence on its community.  Many people criticize bivocational ministry as being invalid because they claim that a minister cannot fulfill his or her pastoral responsibilities and hold another job.  Anyone making that claim is obviously looking at the pastor having all the ministry responsibilities in the church, which as we've seen above, is an incorrect model for ministry.  A bivocational church that has a pastor who understands the pastoral role as that of an equipper and a congregation who rightly understands their responsibilty to minister can have a very significant impact on its community.

We must acknowledge that to move from a pastor-centered model of ministry to one that is congregation-centered will be painful for many congregations.  Pastors will have to move from a model that many have been trained to provide to a model that will often be contrary to the expectations of the congregation.  Ogden asks, "Are we willing to experience short-term pain for long-term gain in ministry?"  Great question and one that each pastor and congregation will have to answer for themselves.

I highly recommend every church leader read this book.  It will challenge many of your beliefs about ministry and provide you with some valuable tools to help you make some needed changes in your ministry.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The challenge facing churches of 100-200 in attendance

Recently, I met with a pastor search committee of a church that averages 125.  One of the members told the group that a judicatory leader of another denomination told him that their church was at a dangerous point.  He wanted to know what that leader meant by that.  I responded that his friend was probably referring to the size of the congregation.  I explained that they were at one of the attendance ceilings that are hard to break through.

This is a healthy church in many respects, but they are going to face some significant challenges in the next few years.  The 125 people who attend services there each week make up well over 80 percent of the sanctuary's capacity.  Their parking lot is filled with many parking on the streets around the church.  They are landlocked and unable to build new additions to their building.  A previous pastor encouraged them to try two services a few years ago, and that experiment did not work well leaving a bad taste in the mouths of many.  They are at the size that is the practical limit of most solo pastors to manage.  As we see so often, even if a church does grow beyond 125-150 they are often not able to hold to that growth because it overwhelms the abilities of the solo pastor.  While this church provides a good compensation package for their pastor, most people in leadership in this church doubt they can bring on another staff person.  Without doing so it is unlikely they would experience much growth and even more unlikely they would sustain any growth that might happen.  Unable to grow there is only one other option which is to begin to decrease in size.  That, I explained, is why this person's friend said they were at a dangerous point.

I am frequently asked my view about the fate of small churches.  My response to that question is that small churches will be around forever.  They have learned to survive on little, and the relationships that exist in smaller churches can sustain them for a long, long time.  The megachurches and other larger churches are able to provide programming and ministries that will appeal to many people assuring their survival.  My sense is that most of our largest churches will also be around for a long time.  The churches that are going to face challenges in the future will be the medium size churches.  Unable to offer the programming of the larger churches and the sense of community the smaller churches provide, these medium size churches are going to be squeezed on both sides in coming years.  Many of them are already on the declining side of their life cycle, and if they are unable to make some significant changes in their structure and ministries they may find that decline begin to speed up.

The committee I met with was not comfortable when I told them they may find themselves seeking a bivocational pastor in the near future.  The church does offer a good financial package, but it does not include health insurance.  They are hopeful the pastor's spouse's employment will provide insurance for the family.  That is only one step away from having a bivocational pastor.

Like many churches this size, this is a church that needs to begin rethinking ministry.  I explained that just because two services didn't work well before doesn't mean it might not work now.  Perhaps they had gotten ahead of God's timing for two services.  I also told them that they are limiting their thinking to how many people can fit in their sanctuary.  Could they offer services at an additional site or start another church near their community that could minister to more people?  They also need to review how their ministries are structured.  To grow they need to staff for growth, not maintenance, and a solo pastor in this size church is staffing for maintenance.  If they truly cannot afford another staff person, even bivocationally, (which I don't believe) they need to look at how they are using their lay leadership.  Volunteers can accomplish great ministry if they are trained and freed from maintenance tasks so they can actually be involved in ministry.

There are significant challenges facing churches averaging 100-200 people, but there are also solutions to these challenges.  These churches need to begin to discern God's vision for their future ministry and determine the steps that will help them achieve that.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Coaching book for bivocational ministers coming in September

This week I am beginning rewrites for my next book that will be released September 1 of this year.  The title of the book is The Art and Practice of Bivocational Ministry: A Pastor's Guide.  Once again, Beacon Hill Press will publish this book for me.  The book comes out of the research and project I did for my doctoral degree.  That project examined the benefits coaching offered for bivocational ministers and the churches they served.  I believe coaching is one of the most effective ways to assist bivocational ministers as they address the various challenges they have in their lives and ministries.

Over the past several years I have served as a coach for a number of pastors, both bivocational and fully-funded, and the case studies of many of these relationships are included in the book.  Many of the readers will find some of their own challenges in those case studies and will be able to learn how we addressed them.  This will make it possible for some ministers to coach themselves.

However, self-coaching is not for everyone.  We often need someone else to help us process our thoughts and concerns.  Depending on the issue that person may be a counselor, a mentor, a consultant, or a coach.  A few years ago I was facing a crossroads in my ministry.  I had come to a fork in the road and felt really stuck as I didn't know which way to go.  I was torn between pursuing a doctoral degree or going another direction in ministry.  At the time I had a coach who helped me think through the alternatives.  At no time did she tell me what to do or try to direct my thinking.  She merely kept asking questions that forced me to think through the issues until I was able to come to the decision that I knew was right for me.  That experience was a two-fold blessing for me.  Not only did I earn my doctorate; I also received coach training and began to coach other ministers in order to help them get unstuck in their own lives.

If you're feeling stuck it may be time you find a coach.  My prayer is that my book will help many who need, and can, to self-coach, but some will want another person to coach them.  Due to my judicatory role and other things I do I can only accept a few persons who want to be coached at any one time, but if you are ready to move forward and believe a coach can help you do that, give me a call.  I currently can accept a few persons who are serious about wanting to do more with their lives and ministries and who want a coach to help them do that.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Make the best use of your 24 hours

Having led a number of workshops across the United States and Canada in the past seven or eight years I've had the opportunity to talk with a wide variety of pastors, many of them bivocational.  One thing that has remained constant in every workshop is that the number issue these pastors struggle with is time management.  I have coached a number of pastors, and at least one of our sessions always involves the struggle they have with trying to balance all the demands on their time.  If we could only get 2-3 more hours each day the problem would go away, but, of course, it wouldn't.  We would find more things to fill those hours as well.  Since we can't get more than the 24 hours that has been allotted to us we have to find the best use of those hours, and we have to find ways to protect every one of them.  In this post I want to highlight some of the suggestions you'll find for doing that in my book The Healthy Pastor: Easing the Pressures of Ministry.
  • Take control of your calendar.  You have to own your calendar.  If you allow others to control it you'll soon find they don't have the same priorities for your life that you have.
  • Make sure you do the things that are required of you.  Your family, your other job, and your church have certain things they require of you.  It's also vital you don't forget that God has certain expectations on you as well, and you have your own self-care needs that must not be ignored.
  • Know your spiritual gifts and strengths and work in those areas as much as possible.
  • Stop doing things that you do not need to do.  Learn to delegate and learn to allow some things to die that should have died years ago.  Churches are great at keeping dead things alive through artificial means.  Some things need a decent burial.
  • Make use of downtime.  Always keep a book handy so you can read if you get stuck somewhere.  Use that time to return phone calls.  On a long drive listen to CDs that will instruct and/or inspire you.
  • Develop a filing system that will help you locate items you need when it's time to prepare sermons or lessons.  Write things down so you don't have to remember them.
  • Keep your desk and workspace neat.  I admit this is one of my biggest challenges, but I know I am much more effective and efficient when my work area is organized.
  • Remember the Sabbath.  I know...I're a minister so the rules don't apply to you.  Yes they do!  God gave us the Sabbath for a reason, and if you refuse to keep a Sabbath you are saying you are smarter than God.  You don't want to say that, do you?
  • Control people's access to you.  Everybody in your church doesn't need your cell phone number.  (In fact, virtually no one in your church needs your cell phone number.)  Once they get it you'll start feeling like a stray dog at a whistler's convention.  Use your caller ID and screen those people who believe their day just isn't the same if they can't talk to you for an hour or so every day.  Your voice mail will tell you which calls you need to return and how quickly.
For more details on each of these, and some advice on other issues of pastoral health, be sure to read the book mentioned above.

Monday, February 18, 2013

What you have in your heart becomes your experience

The title of this post comes from Paul Yonggi Cho, pastor of the world's largest church: what you have in your heart becomes your experience.  As I came across those words in my reading this past weekend I had to stop and consider how true this is in every area of our lives.  The righteous person focuses this or her thoughts upon God.  The heart of the unrighteous focuses upon the evil.  What is in our hearts comes out through our words.    Jesus said in Matthew 12: 34, "For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks."  It comes out through our actions.  If greed or lust or pride or anger or hatred or prejudice fills out hearts those things will direct our actions.  If one focuses upon his or her failures in life it can quickly become a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Such a person may soon find it difficult to succeed in anything.  However, if we have a healthy image of our abilities and our personal worth before God we often find that positive things continue to happen in our lives.  It is critically important that we filter what we allow to enter our minds and hearts.

No doubt this is true of ministry as well.  The parishioner who is filled with negativity towards life will seldom be excited about any new ministry opportunity that may be presented to the church.  He or she will have a long list of reasons why nothing will ever work, and as long as the church listens to and believes that list the church will continue to be held back from moving forward.  Those in our churches who get excited about following a fresh vision from God will embrace that vision and often see amazing things happen through the ministry of their church.

As pastors and church leaders we must be careful about what enters the heart and what we allow to remain there.  At this point I'm not even talking about the evil thoughts that want our attention.  Instead, I'm referring to our focus on ministry.  What concrete goals have you set for your life and ministry?  Where do you want to be in five years as a minister?  As a spouse?  As a parent?  As an employee or employer?  Where do you want your church in five years?  What goals have you set that will enable you to achieve that five-year vision?  How much do these goals consume your thoughts and direct your steps?  You will be five years from now what you decide today you are going to be.

As I paused in my reading I had another thought as well.  As ministers who speak to our people each week we have the opportunity to impact what goes into their hearts as well.  I know pastors whose messages are filled with so much negativity one has to wonder if they've ever heard of the gospel as being good news.  Some good friends of mine told me they had to leave the church they had attended for over two decades because their new pastor beat them up every week.  I visited that church a few weeks later and had to fight the urge to walk out.  I honestly think that pastor believes that he is called to beat the flock into submission.  I believe that as ministers we must challenge our people with the truth and preach the whole counsel of God, but I learned that I can approach any topic in the Bible from a positive perspective or a negative one.  I've also learned that most people respond better to the positive approach.  If that positive message enters their hearts that will be the message that will become a reality in their lives.

Friends, guard your hearts and focus on those things that will bring life and joy to your life and ministry, and help those who depend upon you for spiritual nourishment to fill their hearts with the life-giving water that comes only through Jesus Christ.  As we focus upon who we are in Christ and His call upon our lives we will see Him do wonderful things in and through us.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

How do denominational cutbacks impact their churches?

I want to ask some questions in today's post and hope to get some responses from my readers.  Many denominations and judicatories are having to cut back on their staff and programming due to funding issues.  Some denominations have combined judicatories while others reduce their staff.  My questions have to do with how that is impacting their churches.
  • How would you compare the ministry support you received from your judicatory five years ago to what you are receiving today?
  • How often do you see or hear from your judicatory and/or denominational minister?  Has that changed in the past five years?
  • What assistance or resources did your judicatory or denominational provide you five years ago that they no longer offer?
  • What do you wish your judicatory or denomination would do to assist your church's ministry that it is not currently doing?
  • How does your church feel about its relationship with your judicatory or denomination?  Has that relationship changed in the past five years?
  • What is your judicatory or denomination currently doing to assist bivocational ministers?
  • Has your church increased or reduced its financial support of its judicatory or denomination in the past five years?  By how much?
  • What do you wish I had asked regarding this issue? 
Many denominations expect to see continued cutbacks in personnel in the foreseeable future, so these are important questions that they need to consider.  As a judicatory leader myself I believe these questions must be answered as we look at how judicatory staff are utilized and resources are developed.  One of my concerns is that too often we fail to ask the local church, the very ones we are supporting, these questions and make decisions that may not be the best for our churches.  That is why I devoted this post to asking these questions, and I am really hoping to get responses from a variety of my readers.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

What does it cost to bring change to the local church?

In recent years there has been much talk about the need for churches to change if they want to enjoy a more effective ministry in the 21st century.  Many excellent reasons have been given why such change is necessary, and churches have been warned that if they do not change they can expect to see their congregations shrink in size and influence until one day their doors are closed.  Despite such dire warnings, little change still occurs in many smaller churches.  One has to wonder if these churches are more willing to die than change, and if so, why?  John Maxwell has well said that organizations are not willing to change until the cost of not changing is greater than the cost of changing.  It appears that many of our churches see the cost of change as simply too great, and they are hoping that somehow positive things will begin to happen in their churches without any changes being made.  That hope will probably not become a reality, but they are correct in that there is likely to be a price to be paid to bring any significant change into the life of their church.

One of those costs involves the pastor.  In his book Turnaround Churches: How to Overcome Barriers to Growth and Bring New Life to an Established Church George Barna writes that one of the things required for a declining church to turn around was a change in pastoral leadership.  When I first read those words the church I pastored was going through a rough time.  Things were not going well, I had been there for some time, and I had ran out of ideas.  I was reading this book hoping to find something I could use to help our church, and the first thing that jumped out at me was that the church needed a new pastor!  Yet, I did not feel God was leading me from that congregation.  In the days that followed I decided that if the church was to turn around it did need a new pastor, and if God was not leading me to leave that church then I needed to become that new pastor.  A couple of weeks later I shared with our congregation Barna's words and how I intended to become a new pastor with God's help.  Gandhi has said that we must become the change we seek, and I sought to do that.  As I began to change so did our church.

Several years later, after I had been at that church for twenty years, I determined the church did need a new person to serve as pastor.  It was painful for me to make the changes in my approach to ministry that I made earlier, and it was even more painful for me to leave the church I loved, but both were essential for the good of the church.  Some pastors are unwilling or unable to change themselves and their churches suffer as a result.  Others refuse to leave their church even thought they are unable to provide the ministry it needs, and these churches suffer as well.  We often want to blame the congregation when a church is unable to make needed changes, but sometimes the pastor realizes such changes will be costly to him or her, and they become the stumblingblock that keeps those changes from occurring.

Sometimes the cost to the church is a change in lay leadership.  Many smaller churches do not have a rotation schedule for their lay leadership positions and such persons continue to serve in the same capacities throughout their lives.  When these persons are controllers it can be problematic.  They will oppose any change that seems to them to be a threat to their power or position in the church.  I have seen such people hold an entire church hostage.  Rarely will the congregation or others in leadership challenge their control.  Because relationships are so important in the smaller church their actions are excused and accepted so as not to do damage to relationships.  Challenging the controllers in a church is a major cost to a congregation, but it is one that must be accepted if the church sincerely wants to experience change.

A third cost to a church is conflict.  You can mark this down as an absolute: there will be no significant change in a church without conflict.  The conflict may be major or relatively minor, but it will occur.  When proposed changes are being considered it is essential that the leadership anticipate possible areas of conflict and attempt to address them proactively.  If the change is presented and managed well the conflict can be minimized.

Jesus warned that it is important to count the cost before beginning something new.  If the cost will be major it may be a sign that it is not yet time to introduce the change.  Some preliminary groundwork may be needed to prepare the congregation for the proposed change.  New people may need to be brought into leadership positions before moving forward.  I've seen too many pastors feel that they had to force change on a congregation before it was ready, and that has never turned out well.  Usually, after a few months of conflict they contact me asking for help in finding a new place of service.  Perhaps even worse, the church becomes more change-resistant as a result.  Calculate the potential costs.  Anticipate the obstacles you will face before proposing your recommended changes and remove as many of them as possible.  When the cost of change is lowered the people will be more willing to consider it.  You can read more about the cost of change and how to address that in my latest book The Healthy Community: Moving Your Church Beyond Tunnel Vision.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Bivocational ministry is not a new idea

Yesterday I was talking to a person about the books I have written.  He wanted to know what the theme of my books were.  I explained that most of them were written for bivocational ministers and the churches they serve.  It was obvious that bivocational was a term he had never heard before as he mispronounced it several times before finally asking what it meant.  He is not alone in not being familiar with the idea of bivocational ministry.  Even though bivocational ministry has been around for a long time many people seem to think it is a new concept not realizing it was the norm for many ministers in this country until the mid-1900s.

In my book The Work of the Bivocational Minister (The Work of Series) I quote Luther Dorr who wrote "Baptists and Methodists in particular owe a deep debt of gratitude to the farmer/preacher and the school teacher/preacher of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.  These men followed the people to the frontier and supported themselves in order to preach the gospel."  The same could be said of Presbyterian ministers and others whose work allowed them to serve their congregations.   Doran McCarty has written that bivocational ministry was the norm among Southern Baptists until around 1940 when that denomination began to encourage its churches to seek full-time ministers.

Those of us who serve as bivocational ministers have a rich history that began with the apostle Paul who made tents to supplement his ministry right on through today.  We are part of special group of men and women who have faithfully served their churches while providing much of the financial needs of their families through other employment.  That is why at every workshop I lead I encourage bivocational ministers to never feel like their calling is in any way inferior to the calling of a fully-funded minister.  Our call is not a call to a second-class ministry.  It is not better nor lesser than the call God has placed on any other pastor.  We have been called to serve in a particular place at a particular time, and each of us should embrace that calling.

When I began my pastoral ministry in 1981 many denominations paid little attention to the churches that called bivocational ministers.  There were few resources developed specifically for us or our churches.  Few people were writing about bivocational ministry.  I was fortunate that I had judicatory leaders who seemed to appreciate the work I was doing, but I have met many bivocational ministers who felt ignored and unappreciated during that time.  The good news is that is changing.

Many denominational leaders now see the value bivocational ministers bring to their churches and are seeking to resource these ministers and their churches.  Publishing companies are now willing to produce books and other resources specifically developed for bivocational ministers.  I really need to recognize Beacon Hill Press for the support I have received from them in publishing many of my books.  In September they will release my eighth book The Art and Practice of Bivocational Ministry: A Pastor's Guide.  Their support for bivocational ministry has been wonderful.  Universities and seminaries are developing specific programs suited for bivocational ministers; some now even offer dual-degree programs for persons who feel called to bivocational ministry.

It is an exciting time for those serving as bivocational ministers.  You are providing the Kingdom of God with an important ministry.  You have many new opportunities for training and resources and the number of churches who need your ministry is growing.  While we have a wonderful history, our future is even brighter.  Thank God for calling you to this ministry and commit yourself fully to it.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Reversing the decline of denominational importance

Yesterday I addressed two issues that have led to a decline of denominational importance for many churches.  That post was only a summary of an entire chapter I devote to the subject in my book The Healthy Community: Moving Your Church Beyond Tunnel Vision.  This is not easy material for me to write as I have been a solid supporter of the denomination in which I serve since beginning my ministry in 1981.  Even when I didn't agree with everything the denomination did I continued to support it because I firmly believe that churches can do more together than they can isolated.  This is especially true of the small, bivocational churches.  As a pastor I led our church to increase our giving to our denominational mission program from ten percent to fifteen percent of our offering.  One year that amounted to over $14,000.00, not bad for a church that only averaged around 50 people.  Our church supported a capital funds campaign the denomination had to fund an increased mission presence around the world.  For the past twelve years I have served as a judicatory minister in our denomination helping resource the over 300 churches in our region.  I have continually seen value in working with and within a denomination, but that does not mean I am blind to the reality for many of our churches that their denominational connection is not as important today as it once was.

This relationship break is easily seen in the decrease of funds churches send to their denomination.  As mentioned yesterday, many denominations are cutting staff, merging districts, revising how money is shared between national and regional organizations, reducing the number of missionaries serving in the field, and finding other ways to cut costs.  The break is seen in the decreasing numbers of people who attend associational, judicatory and national meetings of their denomination.  While there are exceptions, many of these meetings have very poor turn-out and and those who do attend are composed primarily of the older members of our churches.   The break is seen in the number of churches who no longer want the denominational name as part of their church name, as more and more churches use literature and resources from groups other than their denominational headquarters, as churches are willing to seek pastoral leadership from outside their denominational family, and as young people preparing for ministry look at non-denominational seminaries for that training.  Max DePree writes that the first responsibility of a leader is to define reality, and as painful as this is it is the reality facing most of our denominations.

What has to happen for denominations to once again regain influence with its churches?  First, some denominations must recapture a high view of Scripture.  There is often a mismatch in theological beliefs between denominational leadership and their local churches with the local churches typically being much more conservative than the denominational leadership.  I understand there is a political element to denominational work, but we answer to a higher power than that.  The question must not be what some group within our denomination will think about this decision but what does Scripture say about it.  Because I have the opportunity through my workshops to work with various denominations I have seen how those denominations with a high view of biblical authority are much stronger than those who do not hold such a high view.

The second thing that must happen is that denominations must capture a fresh vision of what God is calling them to be and do in the twenty-first century.  Part of that, I believe, is to realize that the denomination exists to serve the local church, not the other way around.  For some denominational groups that may be a major paradigm shift.  Those of us in denominational work are there to provide the resources our churches need to to fulfill their mission in their communities.

Many denominational bodies are already restructuring their boards to a smaller board, and those that have not will need to.  This not only saves money but also allows for quicker decision making.  Our world is changing too quickly for denominations to take five years to study a topic and make recommendations that will be voted on in two years.  There is a time to study an issue, to pray, but there is also a time when a decision needs to be made.  Denominational leaders need to stop studying an issue until they retire so they don't have to make an unpopular decision.  Smaller boards and quicker decisions will make it much easier for denominations to serve their churches.

Some have already written off denominations as a relic from the past, but I believe they still have an important role to play.  They enable like-minded churches to come together to accomplish much more than they could if they were apart.  But, for them to recapture their role there will have to be changes made.  Some of those changes will be painful, but what change isn't?  Those denominations that can transform themselves will enjoy an effective ministry with their churches, and the Kingdom of God will advance. Those that cannot or will not make the adjustments will find their influence continuing to wane.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The decline of denominational importance

Few would doubt that denominations are in trouble today in the United States.  Even traditionally strong denominations such as the Southern Baptists are seeing a decrease in mission dollars coming from their churches resulting in lay-offs at state convention levels and a move towards a different split of mission dollars resulting in the denomination receiving a larger share than they used to receive.  American Baptist missionaries now have to raise their own support as the funds coming into the denomination is not enough to keep their missionaries on the field.  That denomination, of which I am a member, is also seeing people reductions at both the national and regional level.  Some denominations are merging judicatories in an effort to cut expenses.  No doubt there are a number of reasons for this decline in denominational support; we will just address two in this post.

Many churches have shifted how they think about ministry.  In the past churches sent money to their denominations to provide support for their missionaries; today many churches see their primary mission field as their own communities.  The result is that fewer dollars go to the denomination.  Churches used to feel obligated to help fund their denominational colleges and seminaries as that is where their pastors were normally trained; now many churches do not limit their search for a pastor to those educated in their colleges and seminaries.  Back when I began my pastoral ministry many churches used the educational literature and programs developed by their denominations and help fund that development through their mission dollars.  Today, churches are apt to use materials and programs obtained through various para-church groups.  More and more churches no longer feel the need to have a denomination tell them how they should serve their communities.  Churches are taking the lead in their own ministry efforts, and if they need assistance they may ask their denomination for resources, and if those are not available they will seek those resources elsewhere.  Denominations unable to adjust to this new paradigm will grow increasingly irrelevant to their churches until they are ignored completely by the churches.

A second issue that has led to the decline of denominational importance is the divisive issues that have plagued denominations now for the past couple of decades.  Issues such as abortion, homosexuality, same-sex marriage, and now gun-control laws have divided many denominations.  Numerous churches have withdrawn from their denomination as a result of this issues while other churches funnel their giving to specific ministries within the denomination to show their dissatisfaction with the direction of their denominational leadership.  Of course, these issues not only affect the churches but also the general public as these battles are fought over the public airwaves.

Part of what makes this latter issue so divisive is that some denominations won't take a stand one way or the other.  They prefer having study groups analyze these issues ad nauseum while those on both sides of the issue grow increasingly frustrated with the lack of decision.  Some are so intent on being politically correct and inclusive they are incapable of making a decision knowing that any decision they make will upset people.

I have a suggestion for denominational leaders: grow a backbone and make a decision or admit that you have forfeited your right to lead and step aside.  As much as people may not want to admit it, these divisive issues are not to be decided by what is popular or politically correct.  The only ultimate guide to the decisions you have to make should be the Scriptures.  The decisions denominations will make about these decisive issues are really a decision about biblical authority.   How do you interpret what the Scriptures teach about such issues?  Once a denomination has decided where it will stand on these issues then the local churches can decide what they need to do, but this indecision is doing nothing but hurting the ministry of the local church and the Kingdom of God.

I personally believe there is still an important role for denominations to play in the religious life of the United States, but we need denominations to fulfil their roles with excellence.  We need men and women in denominational leadership who are committed to the authority of Scripture, who have a fresh vision from God where He wants to lead their denomination, and the courage to lead.  When denominational leadership has these three things their churches will gladly follow their leadership and support their denomination.  This will be one more factor that will help our churches become healthier and more effective in their ministries.

In The Healthy Community: Moving Your Church Beyond Tunnel Vision I devote an entire chapter to the importance of denominational excellence that includes more suggestions than could be covered in this post.

Monday, February 4, 2013

The power of influence

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I often joke that my contribution to my high school class was that I was in the part of the class that made the top half possible.  Actually, I was a better student than that and could have been much better if I had applied myself more to my studies.  Math and English were two that gave me a lot of problems.  Part of that was due to my own attitude towards those subjects.  I had only been the pastor of our small, rural church for a few months when a member came to me expressing her concern about my poor grammar.  She was a teacher and the only person in our church at the time with a college degree.  She admitted that our church would not be troubled with my use of poor grammar, but she was concerned that it could hurt me in future ministry.

A few months later I enrolled in Boyce Bible School (now Boyce College) to better equip myself for pastoral ministry.  The only concern I had was the two semesters of English that the school required.  The day finally came when I had to register for English, and I soon learned that I was not the only person in the class not looking forward to it.  The first day of class one student remarked to the teacher that no one had ever been able to teach him English, and she responded that was because he had never had her for a teacher.  Her method of teaching English was to go over the basics and have us write and write and write.  Our first assignment was to write a brief item for a newspaper.  When I received that assignment back she had written on it that I was a good writer.

Something about that two or three word comment struck a nerve deep within me and inspired me to really focus on that class as well as the second semester of English, which she also taught.  Suddently, the laws of grammar began to make sense to me, and I became much more focused on them in any writing I did as well as in more formal speaking.  A couple of years later I was asked to give the commencement speech at our local high school where our daughter would be graduating.

This was the same school from which I had graduated, and many of my former teachers were there.  As the bivocational pastor of a small church I had never spoken to more than 50 or so people at one time; there would be thousands of people attending this graduation.  I was quite nervous as I began my message, but the confidence I had from having learned how to use proper grammar helped me find the courage to give my talk.  Afterwards, some of my former teachers told me how proud they were that I had been one of their students.  Later, at Boyce, I told my English teacher that it was her teaching skills and encouragement to me that enabled me to make that speech.

A few years later I wrote my first book.  I had never taken a class on writing except for the two semesters of English I had at Boyce, but I remembered that teacher's comment that I was a good writer.  When the book was published our local book store had a book signing, and I invited that teacher.  She made the one hour drive to the signing where I told her that her class gave me the confidence to attempt to write a book.

None of us ever knows how we may influence someone with just a brief comment that we may not even remember making.  Those of us in ministry have a wonderful opportunity to encourage others and influence them in ways that will enrich their lives.  There is an old saying that if you see a turtle on a fence post you know he didn't get there by himself.  Anytime you see someone experience success in life you can be sure that he didn't do that alone.  Along the way someone spoke words of encouragement and provided positive influence.  There are enough people out there who want to tear down others; let us be people of positive encouragement and influence.  Let us aspire to be people who lift others up and help them be all God intended them to be.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Bivocational ministry and the challenge of time

Yesterday's blog looked at the problem bivocational ministers have keeping a Sabbath.  Working two jobs does not lend itself to having an entire day that can be spent as a Sabbath.  Some bivocational ministers have a more flexible schedule and can choose a day for Sabbath, but for many of us we are somewhat limited.  One suggestion I made was to block off sections of time throughout the week for mini-Sabbaths.  While not ideal, it's better than what a lot of us are used to.  Today, I want to spend more time looking at the overall time challenge bivocational ministers face.

Without fail, at every workshop I've done for bivocational leaders they have identified time constraints as their number one challenge.  The demands of ministry on top of what is required from a full time job outside the church can easily lure a bivocational minister into working non-stop and completely ignoring other aspects of his or her life.  Too many families have been sacrificed on the altar of ministerial success by both bivocational and fully-funded pastors.  Pastors have ignored their own personal spiritual growth and excused it by claiming to be so busy working for God they don't have time for God.  A significant number of ministers burn out each year because of a lack of self-care, and this burn-out leads many to abandon the ministry prematurely.  Most of us know the problem, but few seem to know how to address it.

First, the bivocational minister must own his or her calendar.  Even with a second job that may require a certain number of hours each week, we all have some discretionary time.  Some of those hours need to be blocked off for activities that are important to you personally.  For instance,  when I was pastoring and working in the factory I knew that I would work Monday through Friday from 7:00-3:30 and sometimes on Saturday.  I also knew there were certain things scheduled each week related to my pastoral ministry.  That still left me with some free time that I needed to use wisely.  One thing I did each week was to schedule a date night with my wife each Friday night.  Only genuine emergencies and the occasional wedding rehearsal interfered with that date.  Because I wrote that date in my planner I treated it like I would another appointment.  I woke up a little early each morning for some time alone with God before starting my day.  You must set the priorities for your life and then schedule your calendar to ensure that you address each of those priorities.

In the preceding paragraph I covered four of the priorities I've determined for my life:  God, family, ministry, and work.  There is a fifth priority I have, and that is self-care.  It is crucial that ministers set aside time for their own well-being.  I had to learn the hard way that self-care is not selfishness, it is stewardship of a valuable resource God has given you: you.  Getting away to rest and renew yourself is important if you are going to be in the ministry for the long haul.  This means taking your vacations, finding regular times of Sabbath, and separating yourself from the church at times.  For example, you don't have to answer the phone when you are having dinner with your family.  You do have voice mail or an answering machine, don't you.  Enjoy the meal and the time you are spending with your family, then you can check the message the caller left you and return the call.

Another important piece of self-care is taking a sabbatical.  I know, your church doesn't understand the importance of a sabbatical.  Almost none do until someone takes the time to explain it to them.  An older lady challenged me at a workshop I was leading once by asking why they should give their pastor a three month paid sabbatical when no one else in their church got paid for taking three months off.  I responded that their pastor was the only person in the congregation who was on call 24/7/365.  When I worked in the factory I was theirs for eight hours a day.  As a pastor, I was always the pastor regardless of where I was or what I was doing.  Few people live with the stress of always being on call as pastors do.  That is why we need that extended time away to renew ourselves.  One thing I like to explain to churches is that the cheapest thing they can give their pastors is time away.  Every pastor should receive four weeks vacation each year and a three month sabbatical every seven years.  If that helps keep him or her renewed and refreshed and prevents burn-out it will be much less expensive for a church to do this than to have to seek a new pastor.

For more information on this important topic be sure to read my book The Healthy Pastor: Easing the Pressures of Ministry.