Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Growing leaders grow growing churches

A lay leader I had known for a few years called me several years ago wanting to talk.  A small church that had been struggling had asked him to consider being their pastor.  He had served as a leader in his church and in their association, but to my knowledge he had never considered becoming a pastor until receiving that call.  Knowing this individual's gifts and abilities I had no doubt that he could do a good job as the pastor of that church so I encouraged him to pray about it, and if he felt led to accept it, I felt certain he would do a good job there.  He did become the pastor of that church and has done a fantastic job as their bivocational pastor.  The church has grown both numerically and spiritually.  Guests talk about how warm and inviting the church is, and many of them come back.  The church recently did some much needed remodeling and added to their fellowship area which they had outgrown.  New leaders are being identified, and leadership is taking on added ministry responsibilities as the church grows and the pastor remains bivocational.  It is exciting to be there on a Sunday, and it's even more exciting to hear the pastor and others talk about what God is doing in their church.

What is responsible for the growth occurring in this church?  The pastor will quickly name God as the One who has made all this happen, and no doubt God is at work in this place.  However, it must be said that the pastor has had a major impact on what has happened in this church.  He accepted this call without any experience as a pastor or any ministerial education.  He went into it humbly and a little frightened about what he was getting into, and he has remained humble to this day.  What he did bring to this ministry was a servant's heart, a warm personality that genuinely loves people, and a willingness to grow.  A few years after becoming the pastor he enrolled in a lay ministry training program that demanded a lot of his time and energy, but he understood that he needed to grow if he wanted to see his church grow.

I see so many pastors who do not share his desire to grow themselves, and they wonder why their church is not growing.  As church leaders we cannot take others further than we have travelled, and if we are not growing we will soon be unable to grow others.  This weekend I read a blog by a business consultant who had been very successful and had the bank account to prove it.  One day he recognized that he had been so busy that he had stopped growing himself.  As he thought about that he realized that his former customers had already received everything from him that he had to give them.  There was nothing more he could do for them.  Any future business he might have would have to come from people who needed what he already had learned, and in a changing world fewer people would need what he had learned a decade or more earlier.  He recommitted himself to personal growth so he would be better able to help others.  We in the ministry need to realize the same is true for what we do, and if we want our ministries to remain fresh and relevant we must seek ways to experience growth in our own lives.

A book I haven't read but have wanted to for some time now is What Got You Here Won't Get You There: How Successful People Become Even More Successful by Marshall Goldsmith.  I anticipate the book will address this issue in much more detail than I can in a blog post.  The title is certainly true.  Regardless of how successful you have been in whatever field you work in, the future will require much more from you.  Many of the skills that have been successful for you in the past will be of little value in as little as five to ten years from now.  While we ministers proclaim a Gospel that will forever be true, there are constantly new ways of applying that truth to new challenges that people face that we must learn.  Trying to do church in the 21st century with 20th century tools will fail.  Ministers will face new challenges in the next five years that are yet unknown, but we had better stay on top of those challenges as they become known or we may find ourselves swept away by a sea of change that we never saw coming.

My friend has grown, and as a result the church he leads has grown.  What intentional steps are you taking to grow as a disciple of Jesus Christ and as a leader in the place where He has called you?

Monday, April 29, 2013

The legacy of a leader

When a President leaves office one of the questions often asked is how will history view his presidency.  Most Presidents are quite aware of this are are concerned with the legacy that they will leave behind.  Nixon was widely viewed as a very intelligent individual with a sharp political mind, but his legacy is one of deceit and cover up, and his resignation as President is a legacy no President wants to duplicate.  Carter legacy would have to be that he was one of the weakest Presidents in modern history.  With hostages in Iraq, a 20+ mortgage interest rate, fuel shortages and gasoline lines across the country, and the inability to address them by any means other than sitting in front of a fireplace wearing a sweater and encouraging Americans to cut-back his Presidency was a disaster.  Reagan came into office having to address the many failures of the Carter presidency but was able to get the hostages released within hours of assuming office, returned the nation's economy to health, brought down the Berlin Wall, strengthened the nation's military, and restored hope and confidence to the American public.  His legacy was that of a strong leader, and politicians from both parties often refer back to his two terms as an example of what leadership looks like.  Bush 41 only served one term in office, and he will likely be best known for driving Hussein out of Kuwait and the military restraint he exercised after doing so, a restraint his son may have wished to follow when he became President.  While Clinton had his problems in office, often moral in nature, history is painting a pretty positive picture of his overall accomplishments as President, and his efforts since leaving office has only strengthened his legacy.  It is too soon to know how history will treat Bush 43, but some analysts are now saying that historians are already beginning to focus more on his achievements than on those issues for which he was often criticized.  His overall legacy is likely to be positive.  Of course, there is no way of knowing how President Obama will be viewed by historians since he is still in office with much more time left to serve in his second term.

The point of all this is that as a church leader you will leave behind a legacy.  Some of the challenges you will face will not be your fault as they are part of the previous leader's legacy.  There is no question that President Obama inherited a financial mess when he first assumed office, but it is not true that all that mess was the former President's fault.  Much of that financial mess was the direct result of banks providing mortgages to people who could not afford them, and that was the result of laws proposed primarily by Democrats in Congress and approved by both houses and signed into law by President Bush.  A lot of people are responsible for the poor economy Obama inherited when he entered office.  President Obama's legacy will be influenced by how he addressed that economy and whether or not his policies corrected the mess.

Some of the issues you will have to address as a church leader are the result of actions and teachings that have occurred long before you arrived.  I know a pastor who grieves over a church in which he was raised that has been in a long decline primarily because of the leadership recent pastors have given the church.  Whoever goes to that church next will have serious issues to address, none of which are his fault, but he or she will now have the responsibility to correct them if the church is to become healthy again.

When you begin a ministry in a new place one of the things you need to recognize is that one day you will leave there.  You may be called elsewhere, be fired, retire, or die, but if the Lord tarries you will one day leave that church, and you will leave a legacy.  People will remember certain things about your ministry in that church.  The person who follows you will either build upon that legacy or have to tear it down in order to build something positive.  The earlier in your ministry in that place you recognize this the more likely it will be that your legacy will be a positive one.  You cannot control what you will encounter when you begin a new ministry, but you can control how you respond to that and the legacy you will leave behind when you leave.  Don't leave a mess for others to clean up.  Make sure your legacy is a positive one upon which the next leader can build.

Friday, April 26, 2013

The transition time between pastors is important in the life of a church

Yesterday I had the opportunity to help lead a workshop for persons interested in serving churches as interim ministers.  An interim minister is a term often used for persons who fill the pastoral role of a church when their previous pastor leaves and before a new pastor is called.  Another term that is often used today is transitional pastor, and this is a term I am beginning to appreciate more and more. Several of the individuals attending the workshop have been serving as interim pastors for a few years now and wanted to learn how they could be more effective in that role.  Others wanted to learn more about this ministry to determine if this is something they might want to do.

In the past many churches that called an interim minister primarily wanted someone to be there on Sunday morning and preach.  There might be a few other expectations regarding limited visitation and providing some administrative assistance, but these churches mostly wanted to make sure someone would be there each Sunday with a sermon.  That remains the expectation of many churches today, especially smaller churches.  For some, it is a time when they can build up their finances since the interim usually costs the church less than having a pastor.  Marginal churches actually look forward to this period of time as it gives them a chance to replenish their dwindling bank account, but that is a topic for a later post.

The fact is this interim period is a very important time in the life of a church.  It gives the church an opportunity to take a long, honest look at itself and determine if there are some things that need to be addressed before calling another pastor.  Is there a history of on-going conflict in the church?  Now is the time to address that.  Does the church need to transition from having a fully-funded pastor to calling a bivocational pastor?  If the church is struggling to provide a decent salary package to their pastor and maintain a ministry presence in the community, the answer is yes, and this is the time to make that transition.  Are there systems issues in the church that need to be corrected?  A well-trained interim minister can do that and save their next pastor from having to fight that battle.  Does the church need to identify a fresh vision from God for its future?  Doing that during the interim period will give the church the opportunity to call a pastor with the gifts that will allow the church to fulfill that vision.  The church is going through a transition time and using this time wisely will help it come out a much healthier church and better prepared to take advantage of the leadership their new pastor will bring.

I know one church that had struggled for years with a systems problem in their church.  Two previous pastors had been unable to correct that problem.  An interim pastor led the church to make the needed change in less than a year, and their current pastor rejoices today he did not have to fight that battle.  I know another church that had a member who had a history of creating numerous problems in the church.  No one in the congregation was willing to challenge this individual, but within a few short months after arriving an interim pastor confronted her about her behavior, and the individual left the church.  This church has experienced steady growth ever since, and the pastor who followed that interim has enjoyed one of the longest tenures in that church it has known in years.  Countless similar stories could be told of churches that experienced transformation during the interim period leading to these churches being stronger and healthier when their next pastor came on the scene.

Unfortunately, many stories can also be told of churches that did nothing but save some money during the interim period who came through that critical time with the same dysfunctions it had before their previous pastor left.  Pastors come and go in these churches, all fight the same losing battles, and the church never changes.  Such churches often complain how none of the pastors they call grow their church never realizing that it is their own dysfunctions that prevent such growth from occurring.  The interim period is a great time to address those dysfunctions, but these churches are unwilling to do so.  They prefer to use someone they know who can preach a little and will work for little pay so they can save some money than to invest in an interim minister who is skilled and trained to lead a church through this interim time so they come through it healthier and stronger.  Little can be done to help these churches until they take a different approach to the interim time.

Interim ministry is a vital ministry to help churches grow healthier.  It is a great way for a retired pastor to remain in the ministry after retirement, but it's important to recognize that there are some specific tasks interim ministers need to perform that may require some training.  Just because someone has been a pastor for 30 years does not mean that person will be a great interim minister.  There are some new skills that a pastor may need to learn before becoming an interim minister.  Many denominations offer training for persons interested in serving as an interim pastor, and other organizations such as the Center for Congregational Health also offer such training.  This can also be a new role a bivocational minister can consider.  Interim ministry is an important ministry for the church and the Kingdom of God, and it is one you may want to consider.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

What do people want in their leaders?

In 1993 James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner wrote Credibility: How Leaders Gain and Lose It, Why People Demand It.  In 2011 the book was revised based upon new research they had done in the intervening years.  The book examines the reasons people follow the leaders they choose to follow and looks at the traits people identify as the most important qualities they look for in their leaders.  One interesting finding in the book is that the top three qualities had not changed in the nearly two decades since the first book was released.  These top three qualities are
  1. Integrity (honest, trustworthy, a person of character and conviction)
  2. Competence (capable, productive, and efficient)
  3. Leadership (inspiring, decisive, and provides direction)
The writers explain that "The key to unlocking greater leadership potential can be found when you seek to understand the desires and expectations of your constituents and when you act on them in ways that correspond to their image of what an exemplary leader is and does."  This is true whether you are the head of a Fortune 500 company or the pastor of a bivocational church.  People will be more willing to follow you if you exhibit these three qualities and they will be more committed to helping you achieve the vision you have laid out before them.

As I work with church leaders I see some who exhibit some of these three qualities but not all of them.  Some are totally honest people but they lack competence.  It's not that they don't try to accomplish good things; they just don't know how.  Some lack leadership abilities.  The way they relate to the people they serve fails to inspire those people.  They have no vision for the future of the church so they are unable to provide direction.  Like the Israelites in the Wilderness, the church spends its time wandering in the wilderness under their leadership.  The saddest group however are those leaders who lack integrity.  Because of their track record people no longer trust them to tell the truth.  Of the three, integrity is the most important because if the people do not trust you no one will follow you regardless of how talented you might be.  The most successful church leaders are those who show evidence of all three qualities.

Now that you know what people are looking for in their leaders, and if the statement in the second paragraph is true, now is a good time to examine yourself and see how you rate on these three qualities.  As part of that evaluation you should try to see yourself through the eyes of those you are leading.  How would they evaluate you in these three categories? 

Competence and leadership can be learned, and as a person called to a leadership position you should be committed to growing in each of these areas.  Integrity is an inside job and has to do with your character.  Once integrity is violated and people view their leader as a person that cannot be trusted it is very difficult to earn back that trust.  Congregations will often offer grace to a pastor who leads them in a ministry that doesn't produce the desired results; much less grace is often afforded the pastor who violates their trust in his or her integrity.  I once heard a long-tenured pastor of a church say that even when people did not necessarily agree with the direction he sought to take them as a congregation they were willing to follow him because they knew his heart.  They trusted his intentions because they trusted him as a man of integrity.

As I read the section of the book that addressed these issues I was reminded again of how important a long tenure is in a church, especially a smaller church that has experienced frequent pastoral turnover.  It takes time to prove you are a person of integrity.  It takes time to prove one's competence and ability to lead, and until these qualities are proven to the congregation they are unlikely to accept the pastor as a leader in the church.

If you are a leader of a church, or any organization for that matter, keep these three qualities in mind at all times.  Be a person of your word.  Don't promise something if you do not intend to keep it.  Remember that people are watching you at all times so be a person of character.  Work as much as possible in the areas of your strengths because that is where you will be most competent.  Prayerfully seek God's vision for your church and lead the people in the fulfillment of that vision. Demonstrate courage and lead.  As you consistently focus on demonstrating these three qualities in your life and ministry you will find greater acceptance as a leader, and one day you'll suddenly notice just how far you have led the people God has given you.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Accomplish more by doing less

A common problem among many smaller churches is that they are over-structured.  Often, their structure reflects a time when they were a larger church, but as they have declined over the years nothing ever changed about their structure.  They have the same number of committees, many of which are really no longer needed.  They have the same number of leadership and teaching positions, many of which are no longer needed.  They are over-programmed for the number of people who participate.  As a result, many of the people are exhausted from all the activities going on in the church, most of which are really not very productive.

Church leaders should spend some time at the end of the year looking at all the activity that has occurred during the previous year and then see how those activities changed the church and impacted the community.  Many churches will find that their church looks much the same on December 31 as it did on January 1 despite all the activities that occurred in the church in the months in between.  Activity for the sake of activity is not a productive use of the resources of a small church.  Trying to compete with the larger churches in the community is also not wise.  I know every church believes it must have a youth ministry, but it is really foolish to try to build a youth ministry with the three young people in your church when two other churches in the community have youth groups that exceed 100 kids each week.  You are not likely to grow your church through your youth group.  So what should a smaller church do?

Find one or two things that your church can do with excellence and pour your resources (people, time, and money) into those one or two things.  If these are ministries that other churches in your community are not doing that is even better.  Eliminate as many of the maintenance tasks you've asked your members to do as possible, eliminate the activities that are not productive, and streamline your approach to ministry.  Identify the vision God has for your church and stop trying to copy what other churches are doing.  Focus your attention on that vision and allow everything else to fall away.  Challenge your people to work in the areas of their spiritual giftedness and passion, and if there are tasks that do not match those things in your church membership accept that as a sign that those tasks no longer need to be done in your church.

This will not be easy for many smaller churches because it will mean the loss of some sacred cows that have almost risen to the status of idols, but we've got to stop doing things that no longer matter in the 21st century.  Ministry is a stewardship item for which we will one day give an account to the One who called us to the task.  We must be wise in how we use the resources He has provided us for the ministries to which He has called us.  Our congregations need to hear this message and be challenged to put aside those tasks that no longer help us achieve our purpose as a church and recognize that for most of our smaller churches our greatest effectiveness will be found in doing fewer things but doing them well.  When a church can find a niche ministry it can do with excellence it will find greater enjoyment in ministry and will see real results at the end of the year.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Smaller churches and finances

One common comment I hear when assisting smaller churches that are seeking a new pastor is their lack of money.  There is usually some sort of apology and a promise that if the church grows they will be able to pay more, but right now they just can't provide much of a salary.  Recently, I've been responding, "So in other words, you're looking for a commissioned salesperson.  The more revenue they bring in the more you'll pay them.  Is this what you're saying?"  Of course, they deny that is what they mean, but in some ways it is what they are thinking.

I understand that every church, regardless of size, has limited resources.  But, that doesn't mean that smaller churches have money problems.  In most cases, they have stewardship problems or a vision problem.  Churches are notorious for not wanting their pastor to speak on money issues from the pulpit, and yet to ignore that topic is to ignore a significant piece of the New Testament.  Jesus had much to say about money.  The Bible speaks about tithing and offerings.  For a pastor to not address these issues is to fail to preach the whole counsel of God.

My experience has been that the churches that are most offended by stewardship teaching are the ones that need it the worse.  These are churches made up of a majority of people who rob God of His tithe each week.  They are also often people who will withhold their giving in protest to something they don't like in the church.  As a judicatory leader I've seen more than one pastor forced to resign because small-minded people in the church quit supporting the church financially so the church would be unable to pay the pastor.  In two of those cases, I've confronted the congregation in a public setting and told them that is one of the most unspiritual things they can do.  Pastors need to teach stewardship to their congregations whether the congregations want to hear it or not.  Often, the reasons the church has not been more faithful in its giving is because they've never been taught what the Bible says on this topic, and once they learn that they will improve their financial support of the church.

The second cause of poor giving to a church is a lack of vision.  If the only thing a church is going to do with its finances is pay the utilities and salaries, that is all the money that will come in.  People give to vision; they give to ministry; they give much less to maintenance activities.  In a lifetime of attending smaller churches I've seen it happen numerous times that a church that struggles to pay its bills each month suddenly raises a large sum of money within days or weeks to fund a major project.  That alone proves the church is not without resources.  The problem is that we've not challenged the people to part with those resources for something more exciting than an electric bill.

When a church pursues a fresh vision from God and has been taught biblical stewardship it is very unlikely to have money problems.  The challenge then will become how to be good stewards of the funds coming in so they are used to honor God and advance His kingdom.  That is a much more exciting financial challenge for a smaller church to have!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Discerning a fresh vision for ministry

Yesterday I spoke at a church and offered to assist them in discerning a fresh vision for ministry.  Like many churches, this church has been in decline for a number of years.  They have the location and the facilities to enjoy a good ministry.  What they have not had is a common, unifying vision that would get everyone pulling in the same direction.  As I shared with them, this will reduce the amount of conflict and give the church a focused approach to ministry.  It will also give them a more outward focus as God's vision for a church is never an inward one.  Following my message the church held a special called business meeting and voted to begin the vision discernment process with me.  I am excited to be working with this congregation in such an important process.

Few of the churches I see on a regular basis have such a vision.  Most open their doors each week and hope something good will happen.  As important as hope is, hope is not a strategy.  While God can do anything He wants when He wants, I find that He often does His best work when we are working alongside Him.  The exciting thing is that God has a unique vision for each church, and if we are willing to strive to discern that vision it will be shown to us.  At that point, we are ready to move forward with a singleness of mind and purpose to advance the Kingdom of God.

The process I use is simple but not easy.  I will spend one evening with the church identifying their core values.  The challenge with this is getting people to identify the church's true core values and not the ones they believe they should have.  A second evening will examine the church's bedrock beliefs, those biblical beliefs that are at the foundation of everything they do.  We will then spend a Saturday in a discernment process trying to identify God's vision for the church.  That vision must be congruent with the core values and bedrock beliefs we've already identified plus it must be in line with the gifts and ministry passion of the people.  This entire process must be bathed in much prayer if we want to hear God speak to us throughout the process.  I explained to the congregation that this will take much time on their part and will cost them in numerous ways, but it is a process that is much needed to help this church move forward.

What is the vision of your church?  I'm not necessarily interested in a vision statement that was developed a few years ago by a committee and voted upon by the congregation and now sits gathering dust on a shelf somewhere.  What single purpose drives the ministry of your church?  What is your church budget and calendar built around?  Without such a vision your church is probably wandering around in the wilderness wondering why good things seldom happen in your church.  It's time for your church to identify the vision God has for your church and focus all your resources to make that happen.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Smaller churches with a missional mindset

The past couple of days I've been with some wonderful church leaders in the American Baptist Churches of the Great Rivers Region leading a workshop that addresses how to help a smaller church transition from a maintenance-mindset to a missional one.  It was a joy to be with these church leaders and the leadership of the Region and share with them some of the ideas that come out of my book Intentional Ministry in a Not-So-Mega Church: Becoming a Missional Community

Many of our smaller churches have a maintenance-mindset that has greatly limited their impact on their communities.  These churches have an inward focus rather than an outward one, they seek chaplains rather than pastors to lead them, they work very hard to preserve their resources instead of using those resources for ministry, and they see missions as something they support instead of do.  Most of these churches are either plateaued or declining with the majority of them in decline.  They can often survive for decades in this state, but for all practical purposes they have forfeited their right to call themselves a church.  They long ago forgot their purpose for existence was is to impact their communities with the Gospel.

The good news is that these churches can change and become more missional in their understanding of their ministry.  As they develop a more outward focus and recognize that their primary mission field is within their own communities they can see lives changed through their ministry.  Such a transition does not occur quickly; in fact it can take years to transform a church from being maintenance-minded to missional.  The important thing is to begin making that transition and doing it in a way that makes it more likely to succeed.

This is why these small church leaders attended these workshops this week.  They know their churches can do much more than they are currently doing, but they needed help in knowing how to lead their churches in the needed transition.  The Region provided copies of my book to the pastors attending the workshops, and we spent the day at two workshops discussing the steps their churches need to take to become more missional in their ministries.

Would you describe your church as maintenance or missional?  What kind of impact is your church making on its community, or is it even involved in the community at all?  How much of everything your church does is for itself and how much of it is for persons outside your church membership?  Does your church need to make the transition discussed above?  You can start by reading my book.  As you think about hnow to implement the ideas you'll find there you may want to ask your denominational or judicatory leader to invite me to lead this workshop for the small church leaders in your judicatory.  I would love to help your church become more missional in its approach to ministry.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

My workshops

In the past several weeks I've had a number of bivocational ministers asking if I was scheduled to lead any of my workshops in their areas.  In every case the answer was no.  I am doing workshops in the Great Rivers Region in Illinois this week and another one in Michigan later in the year at an annual meeting of a state convention, and those are the only two I currently have scheduled this year.  Most years I will lead 3-5 workshops so this is a slow year, but that happens sometimes.

I only go where I am invited, so anyone who is interested in one of my workshops should contact their state convention, judicatory leader, or denominational leader and ask them to invite me to lead a workshop for their pastors and lay leaders.  Although I serve in the American Baptist Churches of Indiana and Kentucky, I have led my workshops for Southern Baptists, General Baptists, Church of the Nazarene, Salvation Army, United Methodist, Wesleyan, Atlantic Baptist Mission (Canada), and Lutheran.  I am willing to work with any denomination or group that wants to encourage and equip their bivocational leaders and the churches they serve.  I have also done workshops for interdenominational events held at universities.

The workshops I currently offer are:
  • Bivocational Ministry in the 21st Century
  • The Healthy Small Church
  • Transitioning the Small Church from Maintenance-Minded to Missional
  • The Healthy Pastor
  • Church Hospitality: How to Turn First Time Guests Into Followers of Christ
  • Coaching Bivocational Ministers for Greater Ministry Effectiveness  (This workshop is primarily for judicatory leaders who want a tool they can use to better serve their bivocational leaders.)
Most of these workshops are available in a 90 minute format, a half-day format, or a full day event.  I prefer the full day workshops as they permit the most coverage of the topic, but I have adapted them to fit the needs of the inviting agencies.

Because of my work I limit myself to 5-6 workshops a year outside of our Region, so it is important that people contact me as soon as they can to get me on their schedule.  There is still time to schedule me for an event this fall although 2013 is filling up with other activities.  Again, if you are interested in attending one of my workshops, talk with someone who can host an event and ask them to invite me.  I'll be more than happy to speak with them about their needs.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Bivocational ministers and education

About nine years ago I conducted a survey of bivocational ministers in the American Baptist Churches USA.  One of the questions addressed the level of education these ministers had.  The responses ran the gamut from high school diploma to PhD with most of the responders falling somewhere in between. 

As I've shared elsewhere, when I began my ministry I had no education beyond high school.  It took me only a few months to realize that some ministerial training and education might be helpful!  As I began to look around I found a two year Bible school about one hour away from my home, and I soon enrolled as a student.  It was a wonderful experience although it was challenging to work a full-time job, serve as a bivocational minister, be a student, and have a wife and two children.  However, I finished that program and enjoyed the learning process so much I enrolled at a university and began working on my bachelor's degree.  Before completing that degree I added running a small business to the other responsibilities listed above.  It took me seven years to finish that degree, and I graduated at 46 years of age.  Several years later I felt the need to earn a Master's and then a doctorate.  I was 62 when I received my doctorate.

My educational experience was certainly not the normal route most people take, and much of it occurred before distance learning was available.  Today there are many more options for the person who wants to further his or her education.  Not only are there opportunities for persons to earn accredited degrees online, but there are many non-degree educational opportunities available as well.  Bivocational ministers need to take advantage of these opportunities.

Now, I know the arguments about time and other demands on your time.  I didn't list all the things I had going on in the above paragraph to boast on all the things I did but to demonstrate that any objection you can give can be overcome.  And, there is not a age limit on when you can earn a degree or further your education.  When I began my bachelor's studies someone asked how long I thought it would take.  When I replied I thought it would take me about seven years they asked, "How old will you be when you graduate?"  I responded in seven years I would be 46 years old, but in seven years I would be 46 anyway.  The only thing I had to decide was did I want to be 46 with a college degree or 46 without one, and I chose to be 46 with one.

Doing a Google search will take you to a number of excellent schools where you can do much or all of your studies online.  I always recommend Campbellsville University as a great place to start.  They have a diploma program specifically for bivocational ministers, and they offer a very solid Master of Theology degree which can be taken entirely online if you wish.  You can get more information about those programs here.

Some judicatories have training programs available.  Our Region has offered the Church Leadership Institute to lay leaders and bivocational ministers in the American Baptist Churches of Indiana and Kentucky for the past ten years.  This year we have opened two additional locations for classes and now offer it to anyone regardless of denominational affiliation. 

You will have the opportunity to attend numerous workshops and seminars hosted by a wide variety of groups, and you should make every effort to attend at least one or two of these each year.  Ministry is changing rapidly, and you owe it to yourself and your church to learn new insights that will make you a more effective leader in your church.

I am a strong believer in being a life-long learner, and I hope you are as well.  The more I have learned the better minister I have become.  I don't ever want to stop learning and growing because I don't want there to ever be a lid on my ministry abilities.  I pray you feel the same way.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Bivocational ministers are found around the world

This past weekend I received a message from a Facebook friend from Brazil.  He is attending seminary preparing for the ministry.  He speaks no English and uses Google translator to communicate with his English speaking friends.  His message was to thank me for my books which he has found has been a great encouragement to him and very helpful.  I am assuming one of the books he has read is Conciliando Profissa E Ministeri which is my book The Bivocational Pastor translated into Portuguese and published by CPAD which I believe is the publishing arm of the Assembly of God in Brazil.  I appreciated his comments very much.

A few years ago my book The Healthy Small Church was published in Korean by Word of Life Press.  I won't even try to reproduce the title of that book here!  The church in Korea continues to grow, and with the recent issues in that part of the world I would anticipate even more people will be coming to Christ.  I am honored to know that my work is playing a small part in meeting the leadership needs of the church there.

Last year I received e-mails from bivocational ministers in Scotland and India asking if I had plans to do any workshops in their countries.  They were reading my books and following my blog and other writings.  Perhaps God will one day open doors to do that, but for now I continue to develop resources that they can use in their churches and in their own personal lives.

It is easy for us in bivocational ministry to feel like we are all alone, but nothing could be further from the truth.  In the US bivocational ministry is growing across all denominations, and in some that growth is rapid.  Although I have not seen figures, my guess is that it is growing even more outside the US.  The fact is that God has been calling, and continues to do so, an army of bivocational ministers to serve the needs of His church around the world.  My friends, if you have responded to this call on your life you are part of that army.  Do not ever allow yourself to become discouraged and feel like you are "just a bivocational minister."  No, no, no...you are part of a significant move of God that is occurring around the world.  You are God's elect.  We should be both proud and humbled that He has chosen us to be part of this work.

Do you know a bivocational minister who is a little discouraged in the work right now?  If so, send him a link to this post.  It is my prayer that all who read it will be encouraged and reminded of the special call God has placed on their lives.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Avoiding problems before they happen

I was part of an interesting Facebook discussion yesterday about church treasurers.  A question was raised about how a church can have accountability with its treasurer.  Several people suggested having a regular audit of the books, and others pointed out that often leads to treasurers being offended by their perception of people not trusting them.  One pastor told how their small church lost three primary families when an audit was suggested for the books.  In my pastorate we lost two families partly because I made a suggestion that would have eliminated a financial officer whose work was redundant.  They perceived my suggestion as a statement of my distrust of the individual, and no matter how much I tried to explain my position they were not satisfied.

The vast majority of church treasurers are honest people who often protect the church's money more closely than their own.  However, anyone can make a mistake.  Who hasn't overdrawn a checking account because of a mistake?  The most honest treasurer may be inept.  One church learned their treasurer had not balanced the checkbook in years, and when that individual stepped down it cost the church a lot of money and time to go back and bring the accounting current.  No one would accept the position until that was done, and I don't blame them.  And, unfortunately, there are a few who are dishonest.

We need to remember that we are dealing with God's money.  People have given their tithes and offerings to the church in the belief that they will be used for the ministry of the church.  It is an act of stewardship on the part of the church to ensure those funds are properly accounted for and used for the purposes for which they were given.  It is also an integrity issue.  I speak to numerous pastors who have not seen their church's financial statement in years and claim they cannot get the treasurer to produce one.  That is unacceptable.  In a situation like that I would either have a copy of the statement or a new treasurer regardless of how many families the church lost.  In the small, bivocational church which I pastored we had a treasurer and a financial secretary who produced a four page financial statement for every business meeting.  I have never seen such a detailed statement in any church I have visited, and when one read the statement there was no question that every dollar given and spent had been accounted for.  We left copies of the statement on a table in our entrance so anyone attending our church could pick up a copy and see how we handled our finances.  We wanted complete transparency.  For our church it was a stewardship and an integrity issue.  There were no trust issues with either our treasurer or financial secretary; they were some of the most honest people I have ever known, but we wanted to be completely open with our finances and they were not afraid of being transparent with their records.

However, I also know that asking for the financial records of a smaller church can sometimes lead to hurt feelings and loss of members.  What I suggested in yesterday's discussion is that between treasurers is a good time for a church to develop a policy that would require an annual audit of the books and an additional audit any time a treasurer resigns.  This does several things.  It establishes the audit as part of the expectations of the position.  Anyone accepting that responsibility knows ahead of time that an annual audit by an outside firm will be done.  In case of problems, it protects the outgoing treasurer from any allegations of misconduct, and it assures the incoming treasurer that everything is correct before he or she assumes responsibility.  Finally, it assures the church and anyone interested in the workings of the congregation that everything is being done openly and with integrity.

Good systems in place with documented policies can protect a church in so many ways.  If your church does not have such a policy in place, talk to your treasurer and ask his or her feelings about an audit policy.  Explain how it will protect him or her from allegations of wrong-doing.  If you are not comfortable with such a discussion, at least implement such a policy in between treasurers.  If the treasurer opposes such a policy, you may want to keep a closer eye on the books.  A good rule of thumb might be that the more angry the treasurer gets over your suggestion the more apt it is he or she is hiding something.  It may be that the loss of a family over such a policy might be a small price to pay to assure financial integrity.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

When a church transitions to bivocational ministry

A few days ago I met with a small congregation to discuss their pastoral needs.  For many years they have enjoyed a fully-funded pastor who recently left the church, but their numbers have declined to the point that they weren't sure that was still a possibility.  Like many marginally fully-funded churches, the salary wasn't the primary issue; providing benefits such as insurance was the problem.  I was asked to talk to the congregation about what having a bivocational pastor would look like for them.  About half of the congregation came for the discussion.

Because this was new to them I wanted to assure them that what they were considering was becoming more common across denominations today.  I have talked with leadership from numerous denominations, and every single person has told me their numbers of bivocational ministers are growing, and they expect that growth to continue in the forseeable future.  Every leader with whom I spoke said it is becoming more common for their smaller fully-funded churches to seek a bivocational pastor when it's time to call a new pastor.  This information seemed to help this church realize that there was nothing wrong with them nor had they failed God in some way by not being able to support a fully-funded pastor.

We began to talk about the changes that would occur.  How the pastor would not be available as easily as their fully-funded pastors had been.  How they would have to step up and take over some of the responsibilities they had previously entrusted to their pastors.  How the church would need to move to a pastoral care mindset to a congregational care mindset.

I then began to explain some of the benefits the church would receive by having a bivocational pastor.  I gave them figures on how bivocational ministers often have longer tenures than their fully-funded counterparts.  Because most bivocational ministers come from the general geographic area of the church they already have roots in those communities and already know the general area of the church.  I told them how most bivocational ministers have great work ethics and how many of us have adopted the motto "Whatever it takes" to accomplish the ministry.

After discussing many of the benefits and challenges bivocational ministry would bring to the church the congregation began to ask some really good questions.  It was obvious they had been talking about this before asking me to meet with them.  Their questions were honest, and I felt their responses to my questions were honest as well.  When we finished our 90 minute conversation the church moderator asked how many in attendance would be in favor of calling a bivocational minister as their next pastor.  Every person raised their hand.  This was not an official vote; that will come later in a regular business meeting, but it was an indication that this is the direction this church will go.

The good news for this church is that I already have several possible candidates I can share with their pastor search committee.  That is not always the case when a church seeks to call a bivocational pastor.  I am excited because this church is going into this transition with their eyes wide open.  I have no doubt there will be some challenges down the road as they transition from having a fully-funded pastor to one who is bivocational, but I believe we will be able to work through them.  I also believe this will provide this congregation with a new focus.  Part of our discussion centered around potential ministries the church could provide to impact their community, and calling a bivocational minister will free up some of their finances to offer those ministries.  Both the congregation and I left the meeting excited about the possibilities as this church begins a new era of ministry.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The bivocational minister and passion

For twenty years I served as the bivocational pastor of a small, rural church in Indiana.  During most of that time I worked in a factory on the assembly line and various machining lines.   We also took ownership of a small business which I managed, and on top of all that I decided to earn a college degree.  Yea, I was busy.  There were also times when I was operating on autopilot.  I often felt like a robot.  Push a button and out would pop a sermon.  Press another button and I would show up in a class.  A third button would put me running a machine.  I was doing everything I was supposed to do, but there was no passion in anything I did, and that is especially dangerous when it comes to ministry.  Unfortunately, I have met many pastors who also lack passion for what they do.

There are many reasons pastors lose their passion for ministry.  We face challenges that threaten to overwhelm us, people who oppose what we are doing, frustration due to a lack of immediate results, fatigue, a sense of loneliness in ministry, and the various pressures that go along with ministry.  However, those by themselves are not enough to rob us of passion.  Andrew Blackwood once wrote, "In pastoral work the most serious obstacles lie within a man's soul."  It is not the problems themselves that take away our passion, it is how we choose to respond to those problems.  I have found two things to be essential to maintaining passion for ministry.

The first is to reconnect with God's call upon our lives.  When I stop long enough to remember that it was God Himself who called me to this work, it puts ministry is a completely different perspective.  He could have called anyone, and certainly there are people who would have been more qualified and capable, but He chose me.  Furthermore, He called me to bivocational ministry.  During my years as a pastor I would remind myself that perhaps one day He would call me to a different ministry, which He eventually did, but at time I was doing what God had called me to do.  When we can rejoice in that call of God on our lives it becomes much easier to maintain passion for what we are doing.

The second thing that is so essential is to maintain our passion for Jesus Christ.  As ministers it can become easy to get so involved in studying about Christ and telling others about Him that we neglect our own relationship with Him.  We become professional teachers and managers and forget that everything we do should flow out of our relationship with Him.  If we allow that relationship to grow stale, our ministries will become stale and our passion for that ministry will quickly fade.

Congregations can tell when we lose passion for what we are doing.  In fact, they may notice it before we do.  It shows up in our sermons, the way we go about our ministry, and our personalities.  If we lack passion it won't be long before our congregations will also lose their passion for ministry, and soon both the pastor and the congregation are just going through the motions.  There is little life in such places.

Don't let this happen to you.  Stay mindful of God's call on your life and maintain your passion for Christ.  If you do these two things you will find it much easier to deal with the challenges of ministry and maintain your passion for the ministry He has given you.

For more on this read The Bivocational Pastor: Two Jobs, One Ministry.

Monday, April 8, 2013

John Maxwell and the law of the rubber band

Anyone who has followed my writings know how much John Maxwell has influenced my thinking about leadership.  Out of all his books The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You remains my favorite and The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth: Live Them and Reach Your Potential is right behind it.  Both are must reads for anyone called to be a leader of any organization including ministry related roles.  In the second book one of the laws of growth is called The Law of the Rubber Band.

This law teaches that a rubber band is only useful when it is stretched.  A pile of rubber bands laying on a desk is just that: a pile with very little value.  But, when a rubber band is stretched it is capable of doing many worthwhile things.  There is an important application here at both the personal and the organizational level.

Most of us, myself included, enjoy the status quo.  Since we already know how to do whatever it is we've been doing for some time we enjoy continuing to do that.  To do something different would stretch us out of our comfort zones, and most people don't find that especially enjoyable.  However, it is when we are stretched that we become more valuable.

There have been so many times in my life when I've allowed myself to be stretched.  As a factory worker the only thing I had to worry about was showing up to work on time and doing what I was told.  When I felt God calling me into the ministry I found myself stretched.  Suddenly, I was working in the factory and serving a small church as their bivocational pastor.  I had no pastoral experience and no education beyond high school.  Believe me when I say there were many times I felt stretched way beyond my comfort zone.  Later I decided to earn a college degree and became a college student in addition to my work and church roles.  Now I'm stretched even further.  After twenty years of pastoral ministry I'm quite comfortable in that role when I felt God calling me to a new role serving in our judicatory.  I knew how to pastor; I didn't know if I could do this new work, but I also knew God had called so I accepted it.  Stretched again.  Later, I decided to pursue a master's degree and then a doctorate.  Talk about being stretched outside my comfort zone!  Over and over again God has challenged me to stretch, and it was always to prepare me to become more useful to His kingdom.

Our churches are no different.  Many of our churches are still doing ministry today as they did fifty years ago.  They are comfortable in doing what they have always done even if it's not as effective today as it once was.  Until these churches are willing to be stretched into new ways of thinking about ministry and doing things that are not comfortable at first they are unlikely to ever regain their usefulness to the Kingdom.  They will continue to decline until they are finally only a memory in a few people's minds and a name on a long-ago abandoned church building.

Stretching always involves change, and many churches associate change with risk.  I've come to believe that refusing to change is actually riskier than change.  Everything in today's culture becomes obsolete much sooner than ever before, and that includes the systems and processes found in organizations.  The good news for churches is that we do not have to change our message, in fact we must not change that, we only have to find new ways to get that message out.  We have to find new ways to connect with those outside the church.  We have to find new ways to proclaim the only message that offers hope to hurting people.  But, doing any of these will stretch us and force us to change the way we go about ministry.  Like rubber bands, churches that are willing to be stretched will be useful.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Paper cuts to our souls

While driving to a meeting yesterday I listened to a podcast from Ravi Zacharias.  In it he told of a late night phone call he once received from a friend who was asking for his prayers.  The friend was an Emergency Room doctor and earlier that evening a woman who had been badly beaten by her boyfriend was brought into the hospital.  The woman was near death.  The doctor quickly scrubbed and began working on the woman.  He opened her up and began to massage her heart with his hand trying to keep it beating.  In a few minutes he realized she was gone.  As he was cleaning up a nurse brought in a bag that came in with the woman and told the doctor he needed to see it.  It was filled with dirty needles; the woman was a serious drug addict.  He told Zacharias that in the course of treating her he had cut his hand on a rib bone, and now if the woman had a drug-related disease he could be infected.  Zacharias asked if the cut was large, and the doctor said it was like a paper cut.  Zacharias said he asked if the doctor was saying that he could be exposed to a possible life-threatening disease from a paper cut, and the doctor said yes.

Zacharias went on to ask in his message how many Christians are damaged spiritually by paper cuts to their souls.  A small cut here, another small cut there as we compromise our values and beliefs little by little.  Few people fall into major sin all at once.  Most begin with a small compromise here and another one there, and then one day we find ourselves in major problems spiritually and wonder how we ever got there.

Society makes it easy for such paper cuts to occur.  We listen to the radio and hear a song we like, and although it may have some questionable lyrics we download it to our I-Pods so we listen to it as often as we want thereby feeding its message into our minds.   We reason that most of the song is OK so it's alright to listen to it.  We go to a movie and tell our friends how good it was and recommend they go see it.  We might even mention that there are just a couple of scenes that caused it to get an R rating.  We watch television and become immune to the growing amount of sexual scenes and foul language that is making its way into our living rooms.  Things aren't going well at home and we meet someone who seems to really understand us and even appreciate all we do, and soon an emotional connection is made that should not happen with someone other than our spouse.  We get up a little late and reason that we'll skip our morning devotions and Bible reading because we just have too much to do.  All small things no more than paper cuts, but over time they can create huge problems.

Do we stop listening to music or watching movies or television?  Should we all slip off somewhere to a monastery and hide out there until Jesus comes so we are not polluted by the world?  I don't think so.  Jesus said His disciples were to be in the world but not of the world.  Our ministry is right here in this imperfect, sin-filled world, and to abandon it is to abandon our mission.  But, we need to be aware of the paper cuts that can occur in our lives and take steps to deal with them immediately.  To pretend that this one thing is no big deal is like saying it's OK to drink just a little poison.  How much does it take to cause you great harm?

Maintaining the spiritual disciples is never easy is our fast-paced world, but they are essential if we are to protect ourselves from the paper cuts our society tries to inflict on us.  Even then, there will be times when we will realize we have been cut, we have allowed a measure of compromise into our lives, and at those times we thank God for His forgiveness and confess once again our failing.  Paper cuts do not have to lead to a damaged soul if we will remain vigilant and deal with them as soon as they occur.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

An 8-Track Church in a CD World

The title of this blog post is also the title of one of my favorite books on ministry.  An 8-Track Church in a Cd World: The Modern Church in a Postmodern World by Robert N. Nash, Jr. describes the problem many churches have trying to do ministry in the 21st century.  I fell in love with the book as soon as I read the following on page 2.

We play a little game each week in church called "Let's Pretend."  We pretend that people want the same things from church in the 1990s that they wanted in the 1950s.  We pretend that the majority of Americans are churchgoing Christians who believe in the God of the Bible and who order their lives to reflect this reality.  We pretend that the spirituality of Americans in the 1990s is enhanced by a decades-old diet of practical faith, old-time religion, revivals, and personal "quiet time."  We pretend that the church is still the center of community life and that people will come back to church "when they get their lives straightened out."

This book was published in 1997; imagine what he might write today!  Our culture has changed even more since 1997, but his words are still true today.  And we wonder why society thinks the church is irrelevant.  Later, in his book Nash shares a study done by Barna that found that only about one-fourth of Americans believe that the churches in their area are relevant to the way they live.  If they perceive that what we do and teach is not relevant we should not be surprised that they are not interested in being a part of our churches.

Nash writes that "The number-one religious story of the next century will be the deaths of thousands of local Christian churches.  These churches will die slow and painful deaths brought on by changing demographics and their unwillingness to face the reality of their own spiritual inadequacy."  Of course, that is already happening with about 100 churches in the United States closing their doors every week.  Most of these are smaller churches that long ago forgot why they existed and had no vision for their future.  The good news is that does not have to happen to your church if you are willing to make the changes necessary to effectively reach out to your community with a Gospel message that speaks to the real needs of postmodern people.

The book offers some recommendations for such ministry.
  • Churches must find their niche.  We should not attempt to copy what other churches are doing but identify the unique vision God has for our church and live into that vision.
  • Churches must localize their ministry.  Our primary mission field is just outside our front door.  The 8-track church believes it is a mission-minded church because it sends money to the denomination to support mission work around the world.  While that remains important, it is not enough.  We must do our own mission work in our own communities.
  • Churches must let leadership "trickle up."  Another writer calls this the second Reformation.  He wrote that the first Reformation gave the Word of God to the people, and the second Reformation will give the ministry back to the people.
  • Churches will become more dependent upon lay ministers or bivocational ministers, many of whom will not have been to seminary.  Churches and judicatories must assume a more active role of training these individuals for ministry.
In my opinion, many smaller churches in the United States will have to make some major decisions in the next decade.  They will either decide to make the changes necessary to enjoy a productive, effective ministry or they will, by default, choose to die.  Some will die rather quickly.  For others, it may take several decades before the doors actually close but they will have been walking corpses for many of those years.  God will already have moved on and raised up other churches in their communities to achieve His purposes.  Which will your church choose?

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The life of a writer

It is not uncommon for people to ask how they can become a writer.  They have an idea floating in their minds they would like to write about but don't know how to get started.  Since I've published a few books they want to know how I began and how they can start.

Many people don't believe me when I tell them that when I wanted to write my first book I literally went to Barnes and Noble and bought a book on how to write a book.  After reading the book I sat down in front of my computer and began writing.  A year later I had a manuscript finished and didn't know what to do with it.  I had no idea how to get it published, so I went to Barnes and Noble and bought on a book on how to get a book published.  I learned about query letters and after several attempts at writing one I sent it to a publisher.  It was at that point that I learned about rejection!  Several weeks after sending the letter I received a short response indicating the publisher was not interested.  I sent another query letter to another publisher, and this time it was accepted.  Then began the rewrites, editing, and more rewrites until it was finally accepted.  In 2000 my first book was published, about three years after I first began writing it.  Since then I've published seven more books and have the eighth one scheduled for release in September of this year.

Writing is hard work, and unless you are a well known writer or want to write about end times you probably won't make much money writing for a church audience like I do.  I read somewhere recently that the typical book in America sells an average of 500 copies.  I don't know if that's true or not, but if it is think of the books written by people like Max Lucado, Rick Warren, John Maxwell, Leonard Sweet, George Barna, and others of that caliber.  There must be a lot of books published that pull their numbers down to that 500 level.  While my books sell above that 500 average, believe me when I say my writing won't allow me to quit my day job.

Once I explain this, people then ask why I write.  The answer is that I am providing resources to meet a need that has mostly gone unmet in years past.  As a bivocational pastor for twenty years I was amazed at the lack of resources specifically developed for us and the churches we lead.  Nearly all the books I've written have been about bivocational and small church ministry.  I'm happy to say that there are now others who are writing for those leaders, but the available resources that address bivocational ministry are still limited.

I still believe the best reason to write is to add value to people's lives.  Give them tools and resources that will make their lives better.  Leave something behind that will outlive you.  My hope is that when I've gone on to meet my Lord that my writings will still impact people and churches.

If you want to write the best advice I can give up is to start writing.  When you finish your manuscript find a publisher interested in publishing books on your topic and find out how they want you to contact them.  Check out their websites and you'll get the information you need.  Even if you find a publisher, you still have a lot more work to do.  You'll have questionnaires to fill out, editing and rewrites to do, deadlines to meet, and maybe much more depending on the publisher.  But, if the day comes when your doorbell rings and sitting on your porch is a box of books fresh from the printer that you have written you'll quickly determine it was all worth it.  Then when people begin to send you e-mails and phone calls telling you how helpful your material was to them you'll forget about all the work that went into it, and you'll simply thank God for giving you the opportunity to bring encouragement and help to others.

Monday, April 1, 2013

With whom should you spend your time?

One of the things I believe in very strongly is the value of being a life-long learner.  There are various ways one can approach this: formal education that leads to degrees, attending workshops and seminars, taking courses at a community college to help develop areas that need improvement, reading good books, and spending time with persons who are ahead of us.  It is this last way that I want to focus on today.

I have read most of John Maxwell's books, and The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth: Live Them and Reach Your Potential is one of his best.  I read it for the first time last year, and I'm currently re-reading it now.  One of the laws he talks about is the Law of Environment, and one part of this law is being intentional about whom you spend most of your time with.  He quotes Charles "Tremendous" Jones who once said, "You are the same today that you are going to be in five years from now except for two things: the people with whom you associate and the books you read."  I completely agree with that observation.

Maxwell then goes on to write that, "It is not always comfortable, but it is always profitable to associate with people larger than ourselves...What kinds of "larger" people should we spend our time with?  People with integrity.  People who are positive.  People who are ahead of us professionally.  People who lift us up instead of knocking us down.  People who take the high road, never the low.  And, above all, people who are growing."

In Proverbs 13:20 Solomon wrote, "Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm."  Jones, Maxwell, and Solomon would all agree that if we want to be life-long learners one important way is to intentionally spend time with people from whom we can learn, and that will be people who are ahead of us on the journeys we are taking.

If you are a bivocational minister you should seek others who successfully travelled that road before you to learn from them how they managed the land mines associated with such ministry.  Bivocational and fully-funded ministers alike should want to spend time with people who grew their churches, not necessarily to learn the "secret to growing a church" but to learn the heart and soul of the minister who has advanced the Kingdom of God.  Each of us needs to spend time with people who have the gift of encouragement.  There are so many people and circumstances that drag us down that we need to be surrounded by people who will lift us up just by their presence.

We not only need mentors in our lives who can give us direction, we also need coaches who will help us grow by asking tough questions and holding us accountable to do the things we say we will do.  We need friends who will love us unconditionally, encourage us in the things we attempt, and also challenge us when they think we are going in the wrong direction.  We also need persons who will inspire us by their success.  When I am with someone who has enjoyed true success in his or her life it always inspires me that I can experience similar success in my life.  By true success I refer to one who became successful with integrity, who always took the high road.  I will admit it is not always easy to find each of these kinds of people nor is it always easy to spend time with them.  We really do have to consider it an investment in our future to take the time to identify and spend time with each of these kinds of people.  But, if we will I believe we will find it to have been a good investment that yielded a high rate of return.