Thursday, March 28, 2013

The plight of older ministers

As I work with pastor search committees I find that many of them are wanting a young creative pastor who will bring new life into their churches.  There are several things wrong with their request.  One, quite often if a pastor does attempt to do anything that will bring new life into a church it is met with resistance.  A church once told me they wanted a pastor who would grow their youth group.  A few months after calling a new pastor I met a member of that church's search committee at a restaurant.  When I asked if their pastor had grown a youth group in the church she replied that he had.  I commented that must have made the church happy, and she replied that it had actually created problems in their church.  Many of the older members were upset because the pastor was spending all his time with the young people and ignoring them.  Some had left the church and others had quit giving creating some financial problems in the church.  That pastor did not last long.

About a year ago I met with the search committee of another bivocational church who told me they wanted a pastor who would grow their church.  I had never done this before but this time I asked, "Are you sure about that?  You do realize that if you could grow this church by doing what you've been doing it would already be growing, don't you?  That means you are telling me you want a pastor who will come in here and turn everything upside down.  Is that what you really want?"  They began to look sideways at each other and smile.  Finally, one of them said, "Maybe we need to think about that for a little while."  The fact is, many older, established churches really don't want a new pastor to bring new life into their church.  They want a chaplain, a caretaker, someone who will love them and be there for them and keep things relatively calm, and if any growth does occur without upsetting things that will be a plus.

The other problem with the original statement is the belief that young pastors will be more creative than older ones.  That simply is not always the case.  Yes, there are some older pastors who are very traditional in their approach to ministry, and they are locked into doing things like they did when they began ministry thirty years ago.  However, there are many pastors nearing the age of retirement who are very creative in their approach to ministry.  These pastors draw from a lifetime of experience and study and are not afraid to take risks and try new things.  Some ministers fresh out of seminary only know what they were taught in their seminary classes which are not known for being especially creative.

I recently had lunch with a minister colleague who is seeking a place to serve.  His concern is that he is in his early 60s, and he knows many churches will not be able to move past his birth year when they look at his resume.  Talking with this person it was obvious that he has great insights into ministry and probably has many more good years to serve, if a church will give him that option.

Reading through the Old Testament it seems that many of God's choicest servants began some of their best ministry in their later years.  It seems a shame that some of our churches fail to see the value in the experience and wisdom that many of our older pastors could bring them.  These ministers who have seen and heard it all could be the non-anxious presence that some of our churches need to be able to move forward.

When I was in my early 50s a denominational leader told me I should try to be where I wanted to finish my ministry by the time I was 55.  As I now work with churches looking for pastors I see some who are willing to consider a person who is approaching 60 years of age, but not many.  Even fewer will consider someone older than 60.    That's a shame because there are many ministers 60 years of age and older who still have a lot to offer a church.  They are sharp, active, and quite creative in their thinking.  They certainly are not ready to retire.  I believe many of our churches would be well served by these older clergy persons.  If your church is seeking a pastor do not automatically discount those whose age might be above your "magic" number.  You could be missing out on the perfect person for the position.  In fact, you could be missing out on the person God has prepared to be your next pastor.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

When we will see the kids on Sunday morning?

A bivocational pastor recently shared with me a successful mid-week ministry their church began for young people in the community.  It began with just a handful and has grown to around a couple of dozen most weeks.  All of the young people that are being reached by this ministry are unchurched.  A well-meaning church member asked the pastor a couple of weeks ago when the church should expect to see these kids on Sunday morning.  The individual was not happy when the pastor said they might never see these kids on Sunday morning.  The purpose of the ministry was to introduce them to Jesus Christ, not recruit them to Sunday morning church attendance.

I find many smaller churches ask the same question if their church begins an outreach to young people during the week.  It doesn't take long before they want to know when the young people who come to the church during the week will start coming on Sunday mornings as if Sunday morning attendance is how the ministry will be evaluated.  And, of course, in many churches that ministry will be evaluated by some by how many it brings in the door on Sunday morning.

What these church members do not realize is that there are many reasons young people may not attend church on Sunday morning.  A growing number visit a non-custodial parent every other week and may not be in the community that weekend.  The worship services that are meaningful to many of our current members may be extremely boring and dull to these young people.  Various barriers may exist in some churches that make some of the youth uncomfortable.  For instance, even if nothing is said, if everyone attending church is dressed in their finest suits and dresses a young person may feel he or she cannot attend if they do not have suitable clothing.  I've seen church members get very uptight when young people begin attending church services and do not know "how to behave properly in church."  More than once comments have been made to such young people almost ensuring they don't return.  I could probably list a couple of dozen more reasons without even trying, but these should suffice.

What we need to keep in mind is that these young people are more important to God than the number they may add to our attendance figures.  Christ died for these young people, not so they would attend a morning worship service, but so they might have a personal relationship with Him.  After such a relationship is developed they might begin attending church services, but it may not be in the church that had the ministry that reached out to them.  Hopefully, it will be in a church that will help them grow as disciples and allow them to engage God in a worship experience that will be meaningful to them.

A number of years ago our small church purchased several television commercials that we aired on our local cable company.  The commercials were expensive for our little church, but we were fortunate to receive free air time from the cable company to show them.  After the first year I wanted to purchase more commercials, but I knew they were a major expense for our church.  After I made my proposal an older deacon in the church asked how many people started attending our church due to the previous commercials we had purchased.  I explained we had not gained one new person because of them, but that not a week had gone by since we began airing them that I did not receive at least one phone call or comment from the public about the commercials.  He responded that he wasn't concerned with whether or not they brought people into our church; that he was only interested in knowing if they were having an impact on people, and because they were he made the motion to purchase an additional four commercials.  His motion passed unanimously.  I was so proud of our congregation that night because I knew they understood that what we were about was not just our little church but for the advancement of the Kingdom of God.  That must be the mindset of all our ministries, and if it is it won't matter if we ever see the kids on Sunday morning.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Where is the grace?

Many years ago, before I began preaching, I served as a deacon in our church.  One year during Vacation Bible School a young girl came forward during the invitation.  Because she did not attend our church the pastor wanted to visit her family before baptizing her and asked me to go with him.  The girl lived with her mother in a nearby apartment complex.  When we visited with the mother the pastor explained why we were there and asked if she had any problems with her daughter being baptized.  The mother hesitantly asked if that would mean her daughter would be a member of our church.  Our pastor explained that normally one became a member of the church when they were baptized but that did not have to be the case if the mother had any objections.  She then told us her story.

A few years earlier she had been an active member of another church in our community.  Against her wishes her husband filed for divorce and left her.  The next Sunday she felt like a stranger in her church.  People would not talk with her and most acted as if she wasn't even in the service.  At a time when she needed her church it turned its back on her.  After a few weeks of such treatment she stopped attending and never returned to a church.  Although she was happy her daughter wanted to become a Christian she did not want her daughter to be hurt by a church as she had been.

 It's a story that could be repeated endless times.  A few years ago I coached a pastor in another state and one of the questions I asked her was if she could do anything she wanted to in ministry what would it be.  She immediately responded that she always wanted to start a ministry to people who had been hurt by the church.  I laughed a little and told her if she was successful with such a ministry her church would not be small for long because in every community there are many people who have been hurt by their churches.

The working title for my book The Healthy Community: Moving Your Church Beyond Tunnel Vision was Heart Disease in the Body of Christ.  One of the diseases I address in the book is the lack of grace that exists in so many churches.  We are known as people who shoot their wounded for good reason.  Too many people in church seem to think that the church is a hotel for saints when in reality it is to be a hospital for sinners.  It is a place where imperfect people should be able to come to when they need to find forgiveness, cleansing, hope, and salvation.  Instead, it is often a place where they encounter condemnation and shame.  When unchurched people see how we treat our brothers and sisters when they encounter failures in their lives it is no wonder they do not believe that they will be treated any better.

Even worse is the way we respond to people whose views are different than ours.  I'm not talking about compromising the integrity of the Word of God or denying its fundamental teachings; I'm talking about such things as the length of a man's hair or whether or not a woman wears jewelry and which version of the Bible is the right one.  I'm talking about being critical of the type of car a fellow believer drives, the size of his or her house, or the clothes he or she wears.  I once had a church member tell me she hoped she never saw me own a Cadillac as she didn't believe a minister should drive such a car.  I assured her she didn't have to worry; if I could afford a Cadillac I would probably buy a Mercedes.  She was not amused!

The apostle Paul warned, "But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another!"  That is what is happening today in many of our churches.  Our lack of grace towards one another is tearing our churches apart and running unbelievers away from God because of what they see in us.   It is driving good people out of the ministry and doing great harm to their families.

Some will argue that if we extend too much grace people might take advantage of it.  No doubt some will.  In fact, I've seen people claim that because they are under grace they are free to do some things that are contrary to biblical teaching.  At such times it becomes important to explain the difference between cheap grace and true grace.  Cheap grace justifies the sin rather than the sinner while true grace justifies the sinner, not the sin.  Some of the greatest heroes in the Bible failed greatly.  Moses, Paul, and David are just a few whose names immediately pop into one's mind.  God never justified their sins, but He did justify them and used them mightily for His purposes.

We must never forget that we have been the recipients of God's grace.  I cannot imagine where I might be today without such grace.  Having received grace can we refuse to extend grace to others?  I think not.  I believe it is time for churches to once again become places where hurting people can experience God's grace through His people. For more on this subject be sure to read my book.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The ministry of the pastor

In yesterday's post I referred to a book I was reading, The Pastor: A Memoir by Eugene Peterson.  Last night I finished reading the book.  I have long been a fan of Peterson's books, but this is my favorite as it gave me some insights into the journey that led him to write his other books.  More importantly, this book explains why he became the type of pastor he was, an unbusy pastor.

Many of us in ministry, especially those of us who are bivocational, are in constant motion.  We go from church to job to family activity to a dozen other things.  What often suffers in all that activity is our own personal walk with God.  We are so busy doing things for God that we fail to spend time with God.  We spend so much time with people that we can never really be with any of them.  Peterson found himself in that situation.  One night his daughter asked him to read her a story, and he responded he had to attend a church meeting that night.  She replied this was the 27th night in a row he had attended a meeting.  She was counting.  It broke his heart, and when he went to the meeting he told his elders he was resigning as their pastor.

When the elders asked why he wanted to resign he explained that he had become a pastor he did not want to be.  He wanted to pray, to study, to spend unhurried time with people so as to really understand their lives, and to lead the congregation in worship and a deeper walk with God.  He wanted to be an unhurried pastor, and he could not do that while trying to run the church and meet all the demands that entailed.  The elders asked him to trust them to handle the business of the church so he could become the pastor he wanted to be. By the end of the meeting they worked together to reorganize the administrative work of the church, and Peterson never attended another meeting except for the monthly elder meeting.

The entire book was a refreshing look at the life of a pastor, but that particular story really spoke to me.  So much of my ministry was spent feeling like I was a hamster in a wheel, always running but often going nowhere.  Although our church experienced many good things during my pastorate with them, much of my activity was just that, activity that accomplished little.  It wasn't until the last few years of my pastorate that we took seriously Ephesians 4 and began training the saints to do the work of ministry.  In the elder's meeting Peterson admitted he didn't trust them to handle the work of the church, and I suppose the same could have been said about me.  The reason Peterson and I didn't trust our church leaders was that neither of us had ever taken the time to teach them how to do that work.  We bought into the separation between clergy and laity and assumed that the work of the church was limited to the professional clergy.  Peterson learned that was not true much earlier in his ministry than I did, but it was a lesson that improved both our lives and that of our churches.

Due to my age it is doubtful I will ever return to pastoral ministry, but if I did I would want to be an unbusy pastor.  Frankly, that would not be popular in many of our churches.  People tend to judge pastors the same as they judge business leaders and those who play sports.  We measure the things that can be seen, and we keep track of the things that are most important to our particular organizations.  For pastors that is often the holy trinity of buildings, budgets, and baptisms.  In smaller churches it could even be how many committee meetings the pastor attended, how many times he or she went to the hospital or visited in member's homes, and whether or not he or she keeps regular office hours in case someone wants to drop by.

It's not nearly as easy to measure the prayer and devotional life of the pastor or the impact a casual conversation the pastor has with a server at a diner.  Congregations that measure the pastors' sermon by how it made them feel often have no idea how many hours were spent in the study to prepare that message or the ones that perhaps didn't create great feelings but took them deeper into the Scriptures in order to solidify their faith.

By the way, we in ministry often judge the quality of our own ministries by how busy we are as well.  I cannot tell you how many pastors have shown me their full calendars as proof of their worth as pastors.  It seems as if they can fill every day with activities it vindicates their calling as pastor.  After reading Peterson's book I will probably ask when they will have time for the unexpected ministry opportunity God will bring into their lives.  Where is their time for God?  If possible, I would make Peterson's book required reading for every minister, especially for those just starting.  I truly believe most of us could learn much about what pastoral ministry really is all about by reading his ministerial journey.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

How do church leaders keep the fire?

I am currently reading The Pastor: A Memoir by Eugene Peterson as part of my devotional reading.  It is a powerful book that looks at Peterson's life, his sense of call to ministry, and his insights into church ministry.  In my reading yesterday I came across this line in the book: "The pastoral vocation in America is always in danger of becoming flabby with consumer religion and lazy with cliches."  I had to stop my reading in order to reflect on that statement for awhile.  It is certainly a true statement at least for some of us.  Perhaps this has not been a challenge for you, but there have been times in my own personal ministry where it has been true.  Anyone who has been in ministry for a period of time can easily coast through the responsibilities that are expected of us, and the temptation to do so is strong.  We soon learn what will earn us the applause of our congregation, and if we are not careful we will be satisfied with that rather than seeking to hear "Well done, good and faithful servant." from our Lord.  What do we need to do if we want to avoid falling into this trap?  In the midst of pastoral ministry how do we keep the fire, the passion, we need to serve both our God and our congregations?

It will require a great deal of intentionality on our part.  We must understand ourselves well enough to know what will add fuel to our ministry passion and what will dampen it and then seek to do those things that add the fuel.  While you will have to determine what works best for you, let me briefly share some of the things I've found helpful in my own life and ministry.

Regular readers of this blog will not be surprised to hear that I read a lot.  Most years I will average reading about one book a week.  I read for information and illumination primarily; seldom do I read a book just for entertainment.  In addition to my Bible I will read another book as part of my devotional time.  Sometimes it will be a book like Peterson's.  Sometimes I will read books on apologetics and occasionally I even read commentaries.  One year I determined to read through my various commentaries on the book of Romans.  This is all designed to help me go deeper in my faith, to help me understand not only what I believe but why I believe it, and to put down theological roots that will help me when the storms come.

Spending time with other ministers, not to talk about your war stories but to discuss some of the questions you've encountered in your ministries.  For bivocational ministers this is often difficult to do, but it's important enough that we need to find time to do it.  I was recently with a group of pastors, all bivocational, who spent a couple of hours talking about some of their recent learnings about ministry and to ask some questions of one another about various doctrinal beliefs.  It was a good time of fellowship and growth for all who participated.

Every pastor, both bivocational and fully-funded, must spend some time at continuing education events.  Not all those need to be ministry-related.  I have often attended a popular motivational conference that is more business oriented than ministry oriented, but much of what is shared at these events are easily transferable to ministry leadership.  I realize that a lot of what we hear at motivational conferences don't seem to last long, but neither do the meals we eat.  That's why we need to eat regularly, and that's why we need to experience these kinds of events more than once.

One of the things that I find helpful in my life is listening to podcasts while driving.  Because I spend so much time in my car I keep several podcasts on my I-Pod to listen to when traveling.  Most of these are ministry related but not all of them.  I could just listen to the radio, but listening to these podcasts is often a much better use of my time, and they help me stay focused on the call God has on my life.

Avoid the traps Peterson mentions above.  Find those things that will help you go deeper in your faith and maintain the passion we need for ministry and commit yourself to those practices.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Try this tip to better manage your time and be more productive

Any time I meet with bivocational ministers the number one problem they identify is time management.  Virtually every bivocational minister I meet struggles with responding to all the demands on his or her time.  As I say in my book The Healthy Pastor: Easing the Pressures of Ministry, time management is really life management.  The better we can organize our lives the more efficient we will be with our time.  One simple life/time management technique is to work from a clean desk.

As an act of editorial honesty I must admit that I often affectionately refer to my desk as "the landfill."  Papers cover much of the desk top.  Bills, books, receipts, tape, magazines, etc. are all interspersed across my desk top.  Periodically, I have to stop and take the time to completely clean the top of my desk so I can concentrate on the work I need to do.  When I do that I find that I am much more efficient in everything I do.  I've come to the conclusion that a cluttered desk leads to a cluttered mind, and a cluttered mind does not lead to efficiency.

I began thinking about this today as I finished re-reading Organized for Success: Top Executives and CEOs Reveal the Organizing Principles That Helped Them Reach the Top.  The author found that these top executives refuse to allow paperwork to remain on their desk.  Seldom will they allow anything to remain on their desk overnight, and many of them strive to deal with it within the hour after it reaches them.

One of the reasons we sometimes feel overwhelmed with all the demands on our time is that we allow things to build up.  We don't deal with things promptly until several items accumulate that require our attention.  As we begin to search for the paperwork or other material that we know is somewhere on our desk we lose valuable time making us much less productive.  Even worse, we miss deadlines because the paperwork associated with something we needed to do found its way to the bottom of a stack and was forgotten.

We've all heard the advice to handle a piece of paper only once.  Either file it, deal with it, delegate it to someone else, or pitch it.  Good advice, but many of us don't do it, and it costs us valuable time.  If it's good advice why don't we take it?  For me it's a lack of focus.  I allow myself to get overwhelmed with many things demanding my attention and fail to focus on dealing with one task at a time and staying with it until it's completed before moving on to the next item.

I hope by posting this article I can not only help my readers but will also help affirm in my own mind the importance of working off a clean desk.  Now that I've published this post I need to clean up my landfill.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Who is your church trying to reach?

Despite the many things our small bivocational church did well, there was one thing that always frustrated me.  (Actually, there were more, but we'll just talk about one today!)  I could never get our congregation to understand the importance of targeting a specific group in our community for outreach.  The response I always received when I brought up the subject was that we were to try to reach all people for Christ.  I could agree with that mindset except it isn't feasible.  Trying to reach everyone meant that we seldom reached anyone.

In one of my small church workshops I ask why anyone would want to attend the churches represented in the workshop.  I explain that in the area in which I live there are Baptist churches on every gravel road, and where those roads intersect there are often two!  If each of these churches sing three songs, have a few prayers, take up an offering, a sermon, and send everyone home inspired to eat lunch, what difference does it make which church people decide to attend?  Often, the response I get has something to do with the friendliness of the church, but most churches believe they are "the friendliest church in town."  In fact, in all my travels I have yet to meet the second most friendliest church in any community!  While people want to attend a church in which people are friendly and welcoming, they are more interested in finding a church that "gets them" and understands the challenges they face. 

Those challenges will be different for a young, professional couple than they will be for a family of six who farm for a living.  The needs of a teenage goth female are likely to be different than those of a second career individual who has returned to school to earn an advanced degree.  The hip-hop artist will often seek something different in a church than will country music fan.  We need to come to terms that a one-size fits all mindset simply does not work for churches in the twenty-first century.

In addition, every church has limited resources that can be used to reach people with the gospel.  I find it interesting that mega-churches such as Saddleback and Willow Creek have determined specific targets they want to reach while smaller churches cling to the idea that they are called to reach everyone.  It's time we realize this is one reason these churches are growing while many of the smaller churches continue to decline.  They are very intentional about who they target while these smaller churches intentionally do not target anyone.  I learned early in hunting that you are most likely to hit a target you aim at than just shooting randomly in some direction.  A small church working with a few volunteers and an outreach budget of a few hundred dollars needs to be very intentional about using those resources in the best possible way, and that means targeting your outreach efforts to a select, specific group within your community.  Yes, you want to reach everyone, and no, you won't turn anyone away because they don't fit your outreach profile, but it is important that you begin to specifically target those you want to reach.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Pastors can try too hard

Most people who know me personally know that I am a very goal-oriented person who is not the most patient person when it comes to seeing things accomplished.  I often think microwaves take way too long.  One of the lessons I learned as a bivocational pastor was that anything of significance that would happen in a church would probably take much longer than I wanted it to.  When I saw something that needed changed I wanted it to change right then, and, of course, that is not the way it normally works in a smaller church.  I also learned that the more I pushed change the more it was resisted.  I had to learn to work within the existing structures of the church and attempt to change those structures when possible, but until changes were made it was necessary to not try to work around that structure.  Once I learned that lesson I found that we were able to accomplish much more in our church with a lot less stress.

I visit with a number of pastors who are still trying to learn that lesson.  These pastors are usually tired, frustrated, discouraged, and often feel like they've been whipped.  Some express an interest in leaving their church for another one that might be more open to ministry, and some are ready to leave ministry all together.  These are usually good people with a great heart for God and a vision to see their church do more than it's currently doing, but they have grown weary with the resistance they've experienced to many of the suggestions they've made.  If I question the ones who mention they would like a new place of service, many of them admit they are just tired.  Perhaps another church would be more receptive to their ideas.  At least they could enjoy the honeymoon period.  What I try to explain to these pastors, and they already know it, is that they are going to run into the same opposition in almost any church they go to.  Going to a new church only results in having to start over again.  It's often better to remain at the current church and continue to build up credibility with the congregation so that it will become more receptive to your leadership.

However, in order for this to work, many pastors need to change the way they go about their work.  At least in my denominational tribe, trying to force ideas on people is like trying to push a rope.  It simply will not work.  Some pastors simply try too hard to push their congregations to do things they are not yet ready to do.  This can lead to tragic consequences, not the least of which is the pastor being terminated and/or the congregation being split causing the church to gain a bad reputation in the community.

One of the things pastors of smaller churches must learn is that just because God gives one a vision of what can be doesn't mean that now is God's time for that to happen.  God gave Moses the vision to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land, but that didn't occur for forty years, and think of all the opposition Moses encountered during that time.  You may have a vision for a new ministry in your church, but a lot may have to happen before that vision becomes a reality.  I believe our task as ministers is not to make that ministry happen but to lead our congregation to the place where it becomes a reality.  We can wear ourselves out trying to do new things in our churches or we can lead our people in the process of bringing those things to pass.  Which of the two options do you think will be most successful and create the least amount of stress in the lives of the minister and the church?

We give lip service to the claim that Christ is the head of the church, but many in pastoral ministry act like they are.  They scurry about trying to make things happen in the church instead of allowing God to bring these changes and ministries to pass in His time.  By this I do not mean that we have no role or that we are to just sit back and wait on God to do something.  We are to talk about what we believe God wants to do in and through our churches.  We are to challenge the people to consider making needed changes.  We are to lead our people in prayer about those changes and work with them to explore all the possibilities associated with it.  Yes, it will take longer than most of us prefer, but if it does come to pass it will be because in God's perfect timing He brought it to pass, and in that scenario it will probably be a much more successful change than if we have somehow forced it through on our own efforts.

My last act of leadership at our church before I resigned was to lead them into a building program to build a new fellowship building.  We had talked about it for a few years and started a building fund to begin raising money towards a new building.  A committee was formed to explore our options.  We needed to purchase a small tract of land, and after over a year of negotiating we finally was able to get an easement on the parcel we needed.  An architect was hired to draw us a model of what we said we wanted.  He gave us an estimate of what he felt it would cost which was more than some in our church felt we could afford.  Nevertheless, after a few years of discussing this and working on the details our congregation voted to build the building.  We wanted to see how committed people were about this project so I called for a special offering on a selected Sunday, and that morning our congregation of 50 people contributed over $50,000 to the new building project.  With that gift and what we already had in our building fund we had nearly one-third of the estimated cost.  At that point I challenged the church to build the building without borrowed funds, and we broke ground with that goal.  As the sub floor was finished I announced I was resigning to accept another ministry position.  Some worried about the building, and I assured them it would be built.  A year later it was completed debt-free.

I am convinced it I had tried to force the church to move forward on the building when we first began talking about it we would have never built it.  As it was, there was no opposition to the building, and there was obviously much support for it.  Despite people's misgivings about the cost and my encouragement to build it without borrowing any money, it happened.  I am convinced it happened because everything was done according to God's timetable, not mine or anyone else's.

Pastors, let's learn to provide the leadership we've been called to provide and trust God with the final results of our efforts.  When we try too hard to make things happen it only leads to problems.  When we trust God to bring things to pass in His time good things happen.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Workshops for bivocational ministers and churches

One of the things I have enjoyed about doing workshops and seminars for bivocational ministers and their churches is the opportunity to serve ministry leaders outside my own denomination.  So far, I've led these events for eight different denominations in various judicatories in the US and Canada.  Occasionally, I'll ask the host why they have chosen someone outside their denomination to lead this event, and the answer I get is almost always the same:  the needs of our bivocational ministers are far more important than the minor denominational differences that we have.  And, of course, I agree!

Yesterday I spoke with an individual asking me to lead two workshops at their annual meeting later this year.  He suggested two workshop ideas that his judicatory thought would be helpful to their bivocational leaders.  I already have workshops on each of these topics because they address issues common to bivocational and small church leaders regardless of their denominational label.  I am looking forward to being with these folks and sharing my material.

We live in a very challenging time in denominational life.  Most denominational groups are struggling financially.  Since our nation's latest economic downturn giving to churches has decreased which has led to a subsequent decrease in denominational funding.  Many denominations and judicatories are seeking ways to reduce costs, and for many that involves cutting personnel.  That spreads remaining personnel thin which reduces the amount of personal contact these people have with their local church leaders which can lead to a further decline in financial support from those churches.  In addition to cutting personnel, reduced funding often means fewer training opportunities at a time when the rapid changes in our society calls for more training being offered.

At the same time all of this is occurring, many denominations report increasing numbers of bivocational ministers leading their churches today, and they anticipate those numbers will only increase in the near future.  Bivocational ministry has its own set of unique challenges.  For some ministers and churches they must learn how to go from being fully-funded to bivocational and how to make that work.  Others going into bivocational ministry do so with little to no pastoral experience and face almost overwhelming challenges trying to figure out how to do ministry while balancing that ministry with all the other demands on their time.

Because I spent twenty years as the bivocational pastor of a small, rural church in Indiana and the past twelve years as a judicatory minister focusing much of my attention on smaller, bivocational churches, I understand many of the challenges these ministers and their churches face.  The books I've written, this blog, the workshops and seminars I've created, and much of my other work speak to these challenges and reveal the passion I feel for those persons called to this ministry.  That is why I get so excited when I am called to speak to these church leaders.  I love to encourage them and provide them with resources that I believe will add value to their lives and ministries.

Your bivocational ministers need you to provide them the training they need to be successful in their ministries and their lives.  Whether you do it with persons from within your judicatory or bring in someone like me, they need that training, that encouragement, and the sense that people care about what they are doing.  If you are interested in learning how I might be able to help you provide that training, please contact me and we can discuss how we can partner together to better serve your bivocational and small church leaders.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Leaders know the way

John Maxwell has given us dozens of excellent quotes about leadership.  One of my favorites is "A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way."  All three of these are required for a person to succeed in a leadership position.
Leaders have to have a vision for the organization they lead.  Allowing an organization to drift along hoping something good will happen is not leadership.  Leaders have a destination in mind for their organization.  They are not in the race just to be running; they are in it to complete the race at the goal.  For those of us in ministry this vision cannot just be something we want to see happen.  The only worthy vision for a church or ministry is a God-given vision.  What is it God wants to accomplish in your church?  How does He want to use your church in the next five to ten years that will impact your community?  A ministry leader seeks out that vision and then leads his or her ministry to fulfill that vision.

It is not enough for a leader to point to a destination and yell "Charge!" while he or she stands back to watch the action.  Leaders are in front leading the charge.  They have identified the key result areas that are necessary to achieve for the vision to be reached, and they are engaged in those tasks alongside the people they lead.  A ministry leader does not sit in his or her ivory tower office all day waiting to hear reports of how the troops are doing.  He or she is out there with them leading by example.  If our church's vision is to reach a certain number of unchurched people by the end of the year, the pastor is engaged in evangelism, both from the pulpit and one-on-one.  No pastor/leader should ever ask the congregation to do anything he or she is not willing to do.  Leaders go the way, and by doing so set the example for others to follow.

An important role of leadership is communication.  Communication is never more important than when it comes to vision.  Leaders must be the chief vision-casters of any organization.  It's not enough that they know what God's vision for the organization; they must show that vision to others. Rick Warren insists that vision must be shared at least every 21 days.  People get busy and forget.  That goes for leaders, too.  Leaders can get so busy putting out fires that they forget the vision.  When this happens the organization is back to drifting again.  You cannot overcommunicate vision.  In fact, if you don't feel that you are overcommunicating the vision of the organization, you are probably not communicating it enough.

So many of our churches, both bivocational and fully-funded, are adrift.  They are uncertain about their theology, their purpose, and their vision.  It is a failure of leadership to allow this to happen in any organization including churches.  Pastors, if you do not know where God wants to lead your church you need to seek a fresh vision from Him or recognize you have forfeited your right to lead.  If you are not communicating that vision to the point that everyone in your congregation knows it by heart, you have not communicated it enough.  If you are not in the battle with your people to achieve that vision, you are in the wrong place.  Real leaders know the way, go the way, and show the way.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Why you may feel led to leave your place of ministry

I admit that I am a little biased about long-term pastors.  As many of you know, I served one church as a bivocational pastor for twenty years before believing that God was calling me to judicatory ministry.  Depending on the particular survey, the average pastoral tenure is normally about 3-4 years, especially in smaller churches.  This simply is not enough time for a pastor to enjoy an effective ministry in his or her church.  In one of my pastor workshops I comment that many pastors will reach the end of a thirty year ministry and realize they really didn't have a thirty year ministry; they had 10 three year ministries, and none of them were especially memorable.  Studies have found that growing churches are nearly always led by pastors who have invested several years in that congregation, and the growth is a return on that investment.

When pastors announce they are leaving their current place of ministry it is usually for another church.  They tell their congregation that they feel God has called them to this new place.  But, isn't that the same thing they told their last congregation only three years earlier?  Is God confused about where He wants them?  I think God gets blamed for a lot of decisions that are really the result of frustration, burn-out, laziness, the lure of a larger church with comparable income, or the desire of a spouse who wants to be anywhere but where they are.  However, having said all that, there are several valid reasons why a pastor will want to change his or her ministry.
  • You may be called to a different type of ministry.  That is what happened to me.  God opened up a door for me to serve in a region-wide ministry that also allowed me to continue to focus on resourcing bivocational ministers and the churches they served.  Someone else may be called from a pastorate to a teaching ministry or asked to lead a para-church organization.  Any of these could certainly be a valid reason to leave your current place of ministry.
  • Your church does not share your vision for ministry.  A pastor who is especially gifted in evangelism will struggle in a church that wants their pastor to serve as a chaplain.  A minister who whose vision is for a missional church will not fit well with a church that is maintenance-minded with no desire to change.  Too often, pastors and churches find they are not good fits for one another, and it's usually best if the pastor leaves when that occurs.
  • You have financial needs that cannot be met by your present church.  Some churches want to spiritualize their inadequate salary and benefit packages by questioning the motivation of the minister.  Maybe someone should question the spirituality of a church that doesn't tithe and refuses to provide a decent salary and benefits.  The fact is that ministers and their families are entitled to live as comfortably as others within their congregation, and a church that refuses to treat their pastor fairly in this area should not be surprised when the pastor leaves for another church or secular job to provide for his or her family.
  • You or your spouse develops health problems.  Little needs to be said about this reason.
  • You are in serious conflict with people within your church.  No pastor should run at the first sign of disagreements in the church.  If a minister attempts to lead he or she is going to run into challenges with people.  However, some churches are filled with controllers who are determined to oppose anything that threatens their power of position in the church.  No one in the congregation will stand up to them, and if the pastor tries to do so he or she will find themselves abandoned and at the mercy of the controllers.  Such churches are usually so toxic that no pastor can serve there.
If any of these exist in your situation it does not mean that you must leave your church, but if you find that despite repeated attempts to correct the problem it may be an indication that it is time to begin asking God to open up new doors of ministry opportunities.  You can read more about this in my book The Bivocational Pastor: Two Jobs, One Ministry.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Hungering and thirsting after God

I visited one of the churches in my judicatory yesterday and learned the associate pastor was speaking that morning.  His sermon was on the need to hunger and thirst after God.  It was an excellent message that spoke to both believers and the unchurched.  During the message and at times throughout the afternoon I reflected on my own spiritual journey.  See if any of this sounds familiar.

When I was first saved I could not get enough of God.  I read my Bible every day at work during breaks and during the evenings.  I not only attended nearly all the services at our church but often visited other churches for their mid-week service.  I spent a lot of time with fellow Christians at work who helped me better understand the Christian faith as we shared the differences between our faith traditions.  I felt called to the pastorate and accepted the call to a small bivocational church where I served for 20 years.  During those early days I simply could not get enough of God and His Word.

Then something happened.  I enrolled in a Bible school to learn how to better serve my church.  It was a great school that taught me much, but the commitment of family, work, pastoring, and school left little time for God.  One day I realized I was learning a lot about God but wasn't spending much time with God.  My prayers were largely pastoral, not personal.  The time I spent in the Scriptures were for study, not personal growth.  As I spoke with other students I learned many of them were experiencing the same thing.  We felt sure that once we graduated and had this commitment behind us things would return back to normal.  They didn't.

At times I felt great passion for the ministry; other times I was going through the motions.  There would be seasons when I truly did hunger and thirst after God while there were also times I felt as dry as an empty well.  Rather than seeking living water I would be content to draw from my own well which will always run dry at times.  Quite frankly, this is an on-going challenge for me.  I can get so caught up in doing the work of ministry that I neglect the personal growth that must precede every true ministry effort.

What I've learned through the years is the need for me to be very intentional about pursuing God.  It requires great discipline on my part, and I suspect on your part as well.  That discipline begins with maintaining a devotional life.  Some years that involves reading through the entire Bible.  This year I am focusing only on the New Testament.  It also involves reading other good devotional books, autobiographies of Christian leaders, and even commentaries.  Some days I have to fight the urge to get busy because I have so much to do, and then I remember the words I wrote in one of my books that God called us to be something before He called us to do something.  If I am going to be what He wants me to be I have to spend time with Him.

Are you hungering and thirsting after God, or are you so busy with ministerial duties that you find it easy to neglect Him?  I have over 70 churches in my judicatory I could have visited yesterday.  I am so glad to decided to go to that one because the message was a timely reminder to me of what my priorities must always be.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Leaders act like leaders

One evening I met with a church committee and their pastor.  This church was having problems and asked me to spend some time with them to see if a solution could be found.  Among the issues was a lack of leadership on the part of the pastor.  As we began to discuss the issue a way to address it was proposed, and the majority of people felt it was a possible option.  Someone asked how this could be communicated to the congregation as a whole.  I suggested a couple of options.  The pastor was asked which he believed they should do.  He looked at the questioner and shrugged his shoulders.  The questioner looked at me with a look that could only be asking, "Now do you see what we are dealing with here?"  To move the conversation forward I suggested the steps the pastor and lay leaders should take.  Although the church followed my recommendation the pastor did leave a few weeks later.

Leaders must project an attitude of confidence or they will soon be unable to lead.  A military officer who expresses doubt that their unit will successfully carry out its mission will not be able to lead that mission.  A business person who sits in the office day after day discouraged because of the lack of sales will soon find employees looking for jobs elsewhere.  Church leaders who cannot demonstrate optimism and courage will not enjoy a very productive ministry.

Of course, pastoral leadership entails more than appearance.  True leaders find ways to balance the need for long-range planning and the need to be prepared for next Sunday's message.  They find ways to invest themselves in developing future leaders while not ignoring the pastoral care needs of today.  They have a vision for the future of their place of ministry and the ability to articulate that vision.  Their words and actions instill confidence in those who follow them.  When such leaders suggest change it seems a little less threatening because of that confidence.

Smaller church pastors need to understand that doing all of these things will not automatically make them a leader in the church.  It can take years before the pastor actually is accepted as a leader in a small congregation.  In a church that has had rapid pastoral turnover in the past it can take a very long time because the church is always anticipating the pastor's resignation at any time.  After all, they've been conditioned to think like that by their previous pastors. 

The secret is to keep acting like a leader even though you know that others in the congregation are the true leaders.  As people see consistency in your words and actions and you don't run off the first time another church opens up they will begin to accept your leadership.  One day you will suddenly be recognized as one of the primary leaders in your church, and it's likely you may not even notice it.  You'll first recognize things have changed as people begin to open up to you with deeper personal issues than they've ever shared with you before, when they begin to ask your advice before offering their own, and when they start giving you much more freedom to lead than you've previously experienced.  This is an exciting time for a pastor, but to get there you must act like the leader God has called you to be.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Equipping lay people for ministry

Bivocational churches need to be very intentional about equipping lay people to do ministry.  The most common complaint among bivocational ministers is that there is not enough time to do all the things that are expected of them.  This is true, but many of us make it more difficult on ourselves by our unwillingness or inability to delegate ministry responsibilities to others in our churches.  Some of us need to learn how to delegate while others of us need to better equip our congregations so they can do ministry.  I am convinced that many of the people sitting in our pews are willing to be more involved in ministry, but they are waiting either for permission from the pastor or they are waiting for him or her to teach them how to use their gifts for ministry.  It was late in my pastorate when I learned it was the latter in our church.  I had failed for many years to properly equip our saints to do the work of ministry (Eph.4).

It should be noted that this is a need not only for churches led by bivocational ministers.  The Ephesians 4 model is the biblical model for all size churches.  Our ministries are much more effective when we have all the people in our congregation involved in ministry.

Unfortunately, it is still true that some of our churches believe that ministry is reserved for the paid ministers who have been hired to do that work.  These congregations will have to be taught the biblical model of church ministry.  Ephesians 4 is a good place to begin.  It's also helpful to begin talking about spiritual gifts and their purpose.  However, no matter how much you teach this model of ministry, there will be some within your congregation who will not be interested in doing ministry.  In virtually every seminar I lead a pastor will state that he or she has only a handful of people willing to be involved in ministry which is followed by the question of what is he or she to do.  My response is always the same: you have to ride the horses that want to run.  Whipping a dead horse won't make it go any faster.  The wise pastor will invest his or her time and energy in those who want to make a difference with their lives.  The pastor is to love all the congregation and minister to their needs as needed, but his or her primary investment must be in the ones who want to be involved in ministry.

I'm sure you can quickly see this can lead to problems.  Those who refuse to engage in ministry will complain that the pastor has developed favorites in the church as he or she spends more time with those who want to be equipped to do ministry.  Because relationships are so important in the smaller church such accusations can sting (and shorten the pastor's tenure).  To avoid this many pastors try to spend equal time with everyone, but this is a mistake if the pastor is serious about wanting to equip people for ministry.  You want to provide pastoral care to anyone who is hurting, but you must invest the bulk of your energy and time in those who want to be involved in ministry.

Jesus is a good role model here.  Scripture tells us He had many disciples, but most of His time was spent with twelve.  In His most special moments that number was reduced to three - Peter, James, and John.  I'm sure the other disciples felt slighted at times and probably grumbled about the special attention given to a few, but Jesus knew that much of what would happen after He was gone would depend on this small band of individuals.  He was determined to pour Himself into them.  So must we.

In my book, The Bivocational Pastor: Two Jobs, One Ministry, I go into more detail about how to equip people for ministry and share some things that worked for us during my pastorate.  I also want to recommend another book written by my friend Terry Dorsett, Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church.  This is an excellent workbook that will help you develop the leadership teams you need in your church.  It is a resource that every bivocational and fully-funded minister needs to have.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The right way to begin anything new

While reading through some blogs this week I came across one posted by Inc magazine.  It was about how to successfully start anything.  A successful start begins by asking, "What does a wildly successful outcome look like?"  What a powerful question for a church leader to ask when preparing to start a new ministry!  Starting with this question allows one to work backwards to design the ministry in a way that is more likely to produce a successful result.

As a pastor I often began new ministries, new sermon series, and just about anything else new hoping for a positive outcome.  Sometimes the outcome was OK, sometimes not so great.  How much better could those outcomes have been if I had started with an image in my mind of what a wildly successful outcome would look like?  Obviously, there is no way now to know the answer to that, but my guess is that many of those efforts would have been much more successful than they were.

For many small church pastors the idea of wildly successful seldom crosses their minds.  It's too tempting to focus on the limited resources, the traditional mindsets found in many small churches, the resistance to change, and many other limiting thoughts to think about being wildly successful.  We're satisfied with a positive outcome that doesn't create too many problems for us and/or our churches.  Unfortunately, that is a management mindset, not a leadership one.

One of the greatest needs in our smaller churches are leaders who are willing to raise their sights and that of their congregation.  It's time we stop being satisfied with OK and begin to pursue excellence in all we do.  How do we preach about God in all His glory and then be satisfied with offering Him our OK efforts?  In the OT He expressed His opinion of the sacrifices the Israelites were offering Him; the blind, crippled, diseased sacrifices were not acceptable.  Is there not a parallel here with our attempt to offer Him our less than best efforts in ministry?

If we want our service (worship) to be acceptable to God then we have to seek ways to be wildly successful in our ministry efforts.  I would challenge you to refuse to start anything new in your church until you have a clear, mental image of what the best possible outcome of that new work would look like and then plan the steps that will help achieve that.  It could be a life-changer in your church and in your personal ministry.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Symptoms of an unhealthy church

My best selling book continues to be The Healthy Small Church: Diagnosis and Treatment for the Big Issues.  This book begins by looking at some of the symptoms or problems that can lead to a church being unhealthy.  Among others they include:
  • Conflict.  Conflict does not have to be unhealthy and will never be avoided in any church that is moving forward in ministry.  However, in many churches long-standing conflicts have turned toxic.  Church structures can often be the source of much of the conflict, and until these structures are addressed conflict is apt to rule the church.  A church's refusal to confront controllers is also a source of perpetual conflict in many churches.
  • Focusing inward.  Many smaller churches are so focused on their own survival and needs that they fail to see the ministry needs that exist around them.  Because they cannot see those needs they never attempt to minister to them.  As they become less connected to those outside their church and more focused on themselves they continue a downward spiral to their eventual death they tried so hard to avoid.
  • Cultural indifference.  I like to tell those who attend my seminars that many of our churches continue to offer flannelgraph ministries to a generation that is used to I-Phones, I-Pads, I-Pods, Facebook, computers and other technology of our day, and we wonder why so many think the church is out of date.  As hard as many of our small churches try, we cannot relive the 1950s.  If we are going to effectively minister to this generation we must first understand it and then create ministries that address the real needs of today.
  • Poor leadership.  This includes both pastoral and lay leadership.  In every struggling church I see there is an obvious lack of good leadership in that church.  In some cases, a good pastor is struggling trying to get lay leaders on board while in other churches the lay leaders are trying to get the pastor to provide some leadership.  Excellent leadership is needed by both the pastor and lay leaders or the church will be unhealthy and struggle.
  • Lack of vision and purpose.  A church that is merely drifting from Sunday to Sunday is a very unhealthy church.  God has a unique vision for each church, and it is the responsibility of the church to discern that vision and live it out.
  • Poor self-esteem.  This is often a problem in many smaller churches, especially if those churches were much larger at one time.  These churches look at other churches around them that are growing and wonder what is wrong with them.  Some believe that perhaps God has abandoned them.  There are many reasons for a small church to feel good about itself, and a positive self-esteem is often the first step towards a church becoming healthier.
In the book mentioned above I address each of these issues, and more, and try to show how a church can overcome these challenges and become healthier and enjoy a more vital ministry.  I've also led seminars in the US and Canada on this same subject for numerous denominations where I've shared this material.  If your judicatory or denomination would like to host one of these workshops please feel free to contact me.

No matter how healthy or unhealthy your church is today, it can become healthier.  Jesus taught that a healthy tree produces good fruit.  I also believe a healthier church will enjoy a more productive ministry.  Begin today to address the issues you believe are keeping your church from being as healthy as it can be.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Church structure is key to its growth

This past weekend a colleague of mine and I had the privilege of meeting with leaders of six churches to discuss the importance of church structure on its ministry effectiveness.  Each of these churches average less than 100 people on Sunday morning.  Many of them are pastored by bivocational or retired pastors.  Each of these are older, traditional Baptist churches that are involved in an eighteen month process to help them experience renewal and revitalize their ministries.  They found they shared many common characteristics regarding how their churches are structured, and that those structures often limit what they are able to do.  None of those present struggled with the discussions and exercises they worked through as they examined how they might make changes in their structures, but it might be a different story when they return to their congregations and begin to talk to the larger bodies about those changes.

At the outset we talked about how a church is structured is a tradition that is often sacred to the congregation.  Each of these churches are older congregations, most I would imagine more than 100 years old, and for many of them their current structure is the only one the church has ever known.  For some in those congregations their current church structure is almost on the same level as the inerrancy of the Bible.  What these churches came to realize is that their structure, as defined by their church constitutions and by-laws, were written for a much earlier churched culture that no longer exists.  New structures are needed that will enable churches to better respond to the rapid changes occurring in our society and that reflect the way people think and work today.

What are some of those changes?  Due to the hectic pace in which many people live today they value their time much more importantly than people did in earlier times.  They are not willing to spend endless hours in meetings discussing things that make little difference in the lives of most people.  They are also not going to commit vast amounts of time to the church to sit on committees and boards.  In fact, growing numbers of people will not even join a church even if they are active in its ministries.  People want to able to respond quickly.  While many churches were discussing having a special offering to assist those impacted by hurricane Sandy and deciding when to best have that offering multiple thousands of dollars were being immediately raised through the Internet and cell phone texts.  People are also accustomed to working in teams with specific goals to accomplish.  Churches seem almost reluctant to set measurable goals so we ask people to serve on committees whose primary task appears to be to endlessly discuss things.  Since few of these committees work with specific, measurable goals no one on the committee can experience the joy and satisfaction of completing those goals.  Many feel they have committed themselves to this committee or board for life, and in some churches they have.

Churches that fail to take these changes into account when they look at how their church is structured are likely to continue to decline in both their numbers and their ministry effectiveness.  They will continue to find that fewer and fewer people are willing to serve on their boards and committees, and the numbers of empty slots on their Nominating Committee report will continue to grow.  Many of these churches will blame the lack of commitment on the part of their newer members, but in reality the blame will really be on the church's unwillingness to take into account the realities mentioned above in its structure.

How does a church begin to change its structure?  V-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y.  Trying to make wholesale changes immediately is almost sure to be a recipe for failure.  Again, in many churches their structure is holy to many people.  It will be critical that leaders address why the changes are needed before talking about the changes that are needed.  Only after the majority of people recognize that changes do need to be made will it be safe to begin discussing what changes need to occur.  One of our churches suggested that pastors need to address this in several messages while the church leaders who recognize the need for these changes talk it up with other leaders in the church.  There needs to be prayerful discernment about what changes do need to occur and a consensus reached that God is leading the church to make such changes.  This is not something that should be forced upon a congregation once a 51 percent majority agrees to it.

I am familiar with several larger churches that have made some major changes in their structure, and these changes did not happen overnight.  In some cases there were lengthy discussions and much discernment before the decision was made to make the changes.  Most of the time the changes were made on a two or three year trial basis after which the congregation would evaluate if the changes were positive or negative on the church.  If they were deemed to be negative the church would revert back to its old structures.  So far, none of the churches I am familiar with went back to their old structures.  In every single case, the changes were seen as positive.  This is a model that smaller churches could follow as well.  It is much less threatening to make temporary changes that can later be reversed after a sufficient trial period.

Your structure is perfectly designed for the results you are getting.  If you are not satisfied with those results it may be the result of a structure that is limiting your church's ability to effectively minister to your community.  If so, a leadership team needs to begin exploring what changes might be needed to make that structure more conducive to ministry.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Bivocational ministry and ministry passion

There were many times in my twenty year bivocational pastorate that I felt exhausted.  There were so many demands on my time especially when I added school to my ministry and work.  As I explained in my book The Bivocational Pastor: Two Jobs, One Ministry, there were days when I felt like "Robo-Pastor."  Just push a button and out would pop a sermon.  Push another button and I would show up in a congregant's hospital room. During such times I was on autopilot.  There was little passion in my ministry.  I was also not very effective.

Passion in the ministry is an essential element for an effective ministry.  Such passion begins with one's call.  Peter Marshal once wrote, "The true minister is in his pulpit not because he has chosen that profession as an easy means of livelihood, but because he could not help it, because he has obeyed an imperious summons that will not be denied."  Not once during that twenty years did I ever doubt I was called to that place of service, and it was always helpful to return to that call when I began operating on autopilot.  When one relives the call of God on his or her life there springs up a renewed sense of passion for that ministry.

I found two primary obstacles to maintaining my passion for ministry.  The first was fatigue.  I often say that a bivocational minister can feel at times like a stray dog at a whistler's convention.  He or she doesn't know which way to go when there are so many people who need you.  One of the things I had to do was to learn how to build margin in my life so when emergencies did occur I had room in my life to address them.  One book I wish I had read early in my ministry was Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives by Richard Swenson.  As I began to implement the ideas found in that book I found it much easier to maintain balance in my life and reduce the times I felt fatigue.  Doing so also helped me maintain passion for what I was doing.

The other obstacle I often found that threatened to rob my of passion was pressure.  All ministers deal with various pressures in their ministries, and bivocational ministers have the added pressures associated with their other employment.  In my book mentioned above I discuss several ways to alleviate some of those pressures: developing friendships, meeting with other bivocational ministers, planning sermons in advance, knowing when to refer people to others when their problems are more than you are equipped to address, and developing a good self-image of yourself and your ministry.

One other thing we need to do when we feel the passion for our ministries is waning is to refocus on our relationship with God.  In the midst of ministry we can sometimes neglect our own personal walk with God.  We begin to neglect our Bible reading, our prayers, our times of meditation.  As the spiritual well becomes empty our passion for ministry decreases.  When we build ourselves up spiritually we often find that passion returns as well.