Friday, June 28, 2013

Bivocational ministry and education

When my first book was published a critic claimed that I, and the book, was anti-education.  Obviously, that was written by someone who doesn't know me or my story.  He based that comment on a section in the book that said that smaller churches are often much less interested in whether or not their pastor has a degree as they are in whether or not he or she can do the job.  I continue to believe that, and I've seen it played out in many churches.  Something else I believe is that the traditional ministerial education, a bachelor's degree followed by an MDiv, is not always the best route to take for someone who is going to serve a church.  At one time that was the primary degree offered by many seminaries, but there are other options available today that might be better for some people.

For those who do not know my story I will give you a brief history.  I began my pastoral ministry as the bivocational pastor of a small, rural church in southern Indiana.  I had no pastoral experience and no education beyond high school.  After several months I realized there was a lot about ministry I did not know so I began a search for a suitable place where I could get some education.  I found a two-year Bible school about one hour south of my home that seemed like it would meet my needs.  The problem was the I worked one hour north of my home.  Another problem was that the school only offered classes during the mornings, and I worked day shift.  I decided to transfer to third shift and enroll in school.  I would drive one hour north, work all night, and then drive two hours south to take classes.  I could only take about three classes a semester so it took me four years to complete that program, but I learned so much that I decided to begin my studies for a bachelor's degree.

I was able to transfer some of my credits to a university also located one hour south of my home so I began the process all over.  It took me seven years to earn my bachelor's degree, but I learned so much that benefited me and my ministry.  I completed that program in 1995 and stopped further studies until around 2002 when I decided to enroll in seminary.  By this time I had left pastoral ministry and was serving as a regional minister for our denomination.  The MDiv didn't appeal to me so I enrolled in a Master of Arts in Religion with an emphasis in Leadership.  Most of the classes I took through distance learning.  On my way home from graduating with that degree I felt the Lord encouraging me to enroll in the DMin program at that seminary, and in 2010 at the age of 62 I earned that degree.

The reason I share this is two-fold.  One, some who reads this blog may be struggling with a desire to further their education and believe it can't be done.  It can be done.  I did it while married with two children, working a full-time job, and serving in ministry.  You can do it!  I'm not saying it's easy, but you can do it.  I know that every class I took improved my ministry, even some of the college required classes that had nothing to do with ministry.  Can you serve a church without a formal education?  Yes, but I also believe you will enjoy a more productive ministry with an education.  You may not go as far as I did, but any education you complete will help you enjoy greater success.

The second reason I wanted to share my story is because many people think education is not affordable for them.  There is no question that education is expensive, but when you do it like I did most people can cash-flow it with little difficulty.  If money is tight you can always set out a semester and build up your reserves.  With so many schools offering distance learning options the expense is much less as well.  One often overlooked way of paying for school is through your employer.  My employer would pay the tuition for any course that had the potential of benefiting the company.  The company paid my tuition for nearly every course I took in college greatly limiting my costs.  Here is another advantage bivocational ministers can sometimes have over their fully-funded peers.  Not many churches will do this, but most large companies have some sort of program available to help fund their employees education.

A study I did in 2004 found a wide variety of educational levels among bivocational ministers.  Like me, many had no education beyond high school while a few had PhDs.  Most fell somewhere in between.  I'm not saying you need to go to school.  What I am trying to say in this post is that if you have felt led to do so you can do it.  Don't allow your doubts to prevent you from investing in yourself and your ministry.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Pastors must never stop growing

One of my professors worked for a number of years for Ford Motor Company.  He had worked in many departments, but for several years he was in Human Resources.  In our first or second class he said something that has always stuck with me.  He said when he was reviewing job applications he was not impressed with the degrees the person may or may not have had.  The only thing a college degree meant, according to him, was that the person was capable of learning.  He emphasized that Ford would teach a person everything he or she needed to be successful in the company as long as the person was capable of learning.  At the time that made a lot of sense to me, and it still does.

Some people believe that once they receive a degree they have learned everything they need.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  I read recently that when one individual received his PhD  his mentor sent him a congratulatory card in which he wrote, "Now you can start learning."  What an insightful comment!  As important as formal education may be, we must always recognize that we must continue to learn and grow if we want to enjoy success in our ministries.

In his book How to Thrive as a Small-Church Pastor Steve Bierly writes, "If you are not trying to grow as a pastor, you won't be able to retain even the level of competence you have now."  As a regional minister I can say sadly that I sometimes meet pastors who have never grown beyond what they learned in seminary years earlier.  Such ministers leave a trail of destruction behind them everywhere they go and cannot understand why.  Every two or three years they change churches never realizing that their problems are not coming from their churches but from their own lack of personal growth.

What are some of the areas in which we need continual growth?
  • Spiritual growth - A major risk that many ministers face at some point in their ministries is neglecting their own spiritual development.  We can become so busy doing things for God that we forget our own need to maintain a growing relationship with Him.  We cannot give out what we are not taking in.  The pastor who neglects his or her personal walk with God will eventually dry up and have nothing fresh to give.
  • Relational skills - Everything in smaller churches is based on relationships.  The pastor who is weak in relational skills will never enjoy a successful ministry in a smaller church.  The good news is that this is an area in which anyone can grow.  One place to start growing in relational skills is by becoming a better listener.  Another is by spending time with people.
  • Leadership skills - In the past several months I have worked with churches that asked their pastors to resign.  In every case the primary complaint was that the pastor failed to provide leadership to the congregation.  One of the problems faced by pastors is that many seminaries have not trained their students to be leaders.  They've taught them how to manage their churches, not lead them.  Churches that are serious about growing and serving their communities are looking for leaders, and if we are not growing in that area we will find ourselves limited to serving only those churches who are satisfied with the status quo.
  • Communication skills - Pastors must be great communicators both in and out of the pulpit.  As far back as 1870 John A. Broadus wrote, "The record of Christian history has been that the strength of the church is directly related to the strength of the pulpit.  When the message from the pulpit has been uncertain and faltering, the church has been weak; when the pulpit has given a positive, declarative message, the church has been strong.  The need for effective preaching has never been greater."  I agree totally, and I also believe that ministers must be skilled at interpersonal communication.  Such communication is directly related to our ability to lead, and if we can't communicate with others we cannot lead them.
  • Conflict resolution skills - Church conflict is a reality.  While it will never be entirely eliminated, it can be managed and even resolved.  The problem is that many of us in pastoral leadership have never been taught how to do that.  At a workshop I once led a pastor asked why so many pastors get stabbed in the back.  I responded that I wasn't sure that we get stabbed in the back as often as we shoot ourselves in the foot.  I've witnessed many pastors who made the conflict in their churches much worse by the steps they took to address it.  We must continually be learning ways to better handle conflict.
These are only five areas in which we need to continue to grow.  There are more, but these are a good place to start.  I cover each of these in much more detail in my book The Bivocational Pastor: Two Jobs, One Ministry.  I would certainly recommend you read that book and Bierly's book mentioned above for more information on the need for continual growth and some helpful steps you can take to experience that growth in your life.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Equipping the saints to do ministry

I apologize for not posting for a few days, but we've been visiting our son and his family in Pennsylvania and just returned home yesterday evening.  We had a great time with him and our grandchildren, but all good things must end so we had to return home and to work.

One of the positives about bivocational ministry is that people in bivocational churches often understand the pastor is not always available.  These people are often willing to take on more ministry responsibilities simply because they know their pastor has another job that prevents him or her from doing ministry at certain times.  However, just because they are willing doesn't mean they will step in and do things if they haven't been trained to do them.  That was a mistake I made early in my pastorate and one I had to correct if we wanted to see more of our members involved in ministry.  I see many pastors making the same mistake.  We may fuss about the lack of ministry involvement by the people in the churches we serve, but if we have never trained them we shouldn't expect them to be involved.

Actually, regardless of whether one serves in a bivocational church or is fully-funded, the biblical model is that the pastor is to equip the saints to do the work of ministry (Eph.4).  The failure of many churches to follow that model is one reason so many churches are not living up to their ministry potential.  We have separated the roles of clergy and laity to the point that too many clergy persons do not trust the laity with ministry responsibilities, and many lay persons do not feel confident or called to do ministry.  We forget that Scripture teaches that the Spirit of God has given every believer at least one spiritual gift that is to be used for ministry and that one of the responsibilities God has given pastors is to train the people entrusted to him or her how to use those gifts.  If we could recapture that message we would soon find our churches serving in ways far beyond what we often see today.

The good news is that many churches are taking the Ephesians 4 model of ministry seriously and intentionally raising up disciples who are equipped to do ministry.  Greg Ogden, in his book Unfinished Business: Returning the Ministry to the People of God, notes that the first Reformation gave the Bible to the people, and the second Reformation will give the ministry to the people. This Reformation will not be easy for some churches because it will represent a major paradigm shift for both pastors and congregations.  It will require some pastors to learn new skills because many were never taught in seminary how to equip their church members for ministry.  It will also require a much higher level of discipleship that many people in some churches have ever known.  It will require a major restructuring of how churches are structured.  We cannot expect people to sit on a half-dozen boards and committees and also be engaged in ministry outside the church.  It will require pastors to learn how to delegate and trust others to do the ministry that they've often done themselves.  I'll stop here, but I hope you can see it will require a lot to make this change, but I cannot overemphasize how critical it is that this change happens in our churches.

I devote an entire chapter on this subject in my book The Healthy Community: Moving Your Church Beyond Tunnel Vision and encourage you to read it as well as Ogden's book mentioned above.  When the church I pastored became serious about developing our lay people for ministry it revolutionized our church.  I believe it will do the same for your congregation.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Bivocationalism as guerrila warfare

This is a really great post on bivocational ministry that I wanted to share with my readers.  You should add the blog from which this article comes to your favorites list because you'll find some real good thoughts on ministry here.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The disconnect in many churches

Not once in my twelve years as a Resource Minister in our denomination have I had a church tell me they did not want to grow.  When I work with a pastor search committee they tell me every time they want a pastor who will grow their church.  Any time I assist a church in vision discernment they say they want to reach new people with the gospel.  Yet, in many of these churches their core values do not reflect that.  In the vast majority of cases, the core values of these churches focus on their own well-being.  They may say they want a pastor who will grow their church, but that is only if he or she doesn't neglect any of their needs and as long as it doesn't involve change or pain.

That is the disconnect in many of these churches.  What they say they want to see happen and what they value are two totally opposite things.  Recently, as I helped a church identify some of their bedrock beliefs, we got into a discussion about the purpose of the church.  They rightfully stated that the purpose of the church is to reach non-Christians in order to help lead them into a personal relationship with Christ.  I then pointed to the list of bedrock beliefs I had just written on a sheet of paper and asked which of those bedrock beliefs they had given me reflected what they said was the purpose of their church.  They were stunned as they realized that none of those beliefs connected with their stated purpose.  For years they have been saying the right things, but their practices were much different, and that was one reason the church has been divided and why it has been so difficult for them to attract and keep new people.

As I tell attendees to my workshops, your structure is perfectly designed for the results you are getting.  I continue that line of thought by stating that their church is exactly the size they had determined is best, and their church structure is designed to keep it there.  Churches often insist that they want to grow at which time I ask if they want to grow why are they not growing.  It is not for a lack of a mission field.  Some reports claim that 50-80 percent of the population in any county in the US  is unchurched so there is a great mission field available in every community.  The lack of growth in most churches is directly attributable to the way the church is structured and what they truly value as reflected by how the church relates to others.

If you want your church to grow or to develop new ministries or to change in the way it functions, you must first look at how your church is structured.  Many churches are structured to be maintenance-minded, not missional.  They are set up to care for the existing members and to perpetuate the traditions those members believe to be important.  While these may be important, they often do not allow room for ministry to those outside the church family.  When the vast majority of a church's resources (finances, time, and energy) are focused on maintaining what you already have there is precious little left for other ministry focuses.

A church that is committed to new ministries and reaching out to new people will have to determine what they are willing to give up.  Are there programs that need to go so new ministry opportunities can occur?  Do changes in service times or formats need to happen?  Should some roles or positions in the church be eliminated and new ones formed to better reflect a different ministry focus of the church?  Does exisiting ministry responsibilities need to be divided differently?  These, and similar, questions may not be easy to answer, but until they are answered the church will not be able to address potential structure changeds.  And, until the structure is changed it really doesn't matter what the church says is important.  The structure will determine what gets done, and that is what reflects what is truly important in the church.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Great questions can make ministry more effective

One of the things that church leaders need to learn is how to become more comfortable asking questions.  In recent months I've known pastors who found themselves in trouble with their churches, and one thing they all said to me was that they didn't realize things were as bad as they were.  That indicates to me that they were not very aware of what was happening in their churches and what people were saying.  One way to avoid that kind of surprise is by asking questions.  Ministers need to question their lay leaders, people in the pew, and even people in the community.  Although there is no single list of questions some that a minister may want to ask are
  • What is your perception of how things are going here?
  • What are the people saying?
  • What are people in the community saying about our church?
  • What are the areas of ministry I should improve?
  • How effective do you believe me to as a leader?
  • What do you wish I would do more of?
  • What do you wish I would stop doing?
The only way asking such questions will be helpful is if you encourage people to be totally honest with you.  If they are, some of their answers may sting a little.  In fact, some of the answers may be quite painful, but if they can prevent you from being blindsided later they will spare you even greater pain later.  Once the pain eases you can begin to work on the areas that will help strengthen your ministry.

I can imagine some ministers refusing to do this out of fear that such questions will cause people to start talking and looking for areas of weakness.  Guess what...they're already talking about these things only they often aren't talking to the one person who can do something about it - you.  Believe me, they've known your weaknesses for some time.  They also have opinions about how things can improve in the church, but many of them won't share those opinions with you unless you ask.

If you're not used to asking these types of questions I would like to recommend a couple of books to help you see the value in doing so and to get some suggestions as to the type of questions you may want to ask.  One of the books has been around for a few years, but it continues to be a valuable resource: QBQ! The Question Behind the Question: Practicing Personal Accountability at Work and in Life.  My son actually recommended this book to me a couple of years ago, and I found it to be a very helpful read.  The other book was released just a couple of months ago:   One Question: Life-Changing Answers from Today's Leading Voices by Ken Coleman.  I recently heard Coleman discuss this book on a EntreLeadership podcast and enjoyed the insights he shared from the book on that podcast.  I think you will find both of these very helpful as you begin to think about what questions might be most helpful for you to ask.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The time factor and bivocational ministry

I recently came across this blog post and thought it was helpful.  Anytime I speak to bivocational ministers and ask them for their #1 issue it is always the same: the problem of not enough time to do everything they need to do.  This post addresses this and gives people an opportunity to respond to the article and to one another.  If you follow the link you will find my response to the blog owner.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Math and small church health

I found this blog post very interesting and encouraging to small church leaders and wanted to share it today with you.  This writer has very good insights, and I'm looking forward to following his blog in the future.  You may want to as well.

Monday, June 10, 2013

We may all be headed to bivocational ministry

The following is a guest post from Jason Byassee who wrote this piece for Faith and Leadership which is a publication of Duke Divinity School.  It is shared with you by permission of the publication.  I think you will find it informative and encouraging.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Pastors and denominational support

Since I served as a bivocational pastor for twenty years I understand the time constraints bivocational ministers have.  There were many denominational events I could not attend simply because I was at work.  I understand why I don't see a lot of bivocational ministers at some of the events our region hosts although we try to be sensitive to their schedules and needs.  What I don't understand is why so many pastors do little or nothing to support the denomination their church is affiliated with.

I recently had a phone conversation with a member of one of our churches.  During the course of that discussion I mentioned a ministry our region offers lay leaders.  He had never heard of it.  This ministry has been active for ten years, and we've had well over 100 people go through it, but his pastor had never promoted it.  Think about that for a moment: here is an opportunity to get quality leadership training for the lay leaders in his church, and he's never offered it to them.  In discussions with this same pastor I have mentioned other things our region was doing, and he was unaware of them.  We spend a lot of money every year sending out information on the various ministries in our region, but he evidently never opens them or reads the e-mail announcements we send out.  Unfortunately, he is not alone.  The same could be said of many of the bivocational ministers in our region, and some fully-funded ones as well.  This pastor is not hostile towards us; he's just apathetic, and his church and our region pays a price for that apathy.

Our small church promoted every special mission offering our denomination offered because I promoted them.  We gave a large sum of money to our regular mission support for a church our size because I felt it was important to support our denominational missionaries.  I made sure our church was informed of the events our region offered so they could attend if they wanted to.  Most did not, but it was not because they were not aware of them.

Like most denominational bodies, our region is going through major transitions regarding staffing.  People retiring are not being replaced.  The workload is simply spread out among those of us who are left.  When churches have complained to me about that I simply tell them that it is a reflection of the financial support we've been receiving for the past few years.  It is certainly not our desire to reduce staff and our ability to be connected to our churches, but we are dependent upon the financial support of our churches, and if that support isn't there then we have to make tough decisions.  Interestingly enough, some of the churches who provide little to no support are the ones who often seek the most assistance from our region, and leaders of other denominational groups tell me the same thing is happening in their world.

My experience has been that a church, regardless of size, is likely to support its denomination or district at the same level of commitment as its pastor.  Several years ago our denomination was involved in a large capital funds campaign.  When a denominational leader asked a group of pastors how many of their churches were committed to the campaign a number of them responded their church was not interested in supporting it despite their best efforts to convince them to do so.  The leader then asked them where their gift was!  He explained that if they (the pastors) made a gift, their church would be on record as supporting the campaign.  The room got real quiet!

It takes little effort for a pastor to promote ministries and programs the district or denomination is offering.  It also takes little for the pastor to support the mission giving programs of his or her denomination.  What it does take is gratitude for the efforts the districts and denominations make on the behalf of their churches and pastors.  Some of these pastors would not be in their positions without the recommendation of their judicatory leaders, and these same leaders are the ones these pastors will turn to when problems arise in their churches.  If your church is not supporting its denomination and district ministries and mission work you may need to check your own level of gratitude for all these leaders do for your and your church.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

My first book is available as an e-book

In 2000 my first book The Tentmaking Pastor: The Joy of Bivocational Ministry was published.  At that time it was one of the few books available specifically for bivocational ministers and the churches they serve.  That book has been out of print for a few years, but the publisher has made it available on Kindle as an e-book.  You can order it here.

This book tells the story of my ministry as a bivocational pastor of a small, rural church in southern Indiana that spanned twenty years.  I share both highlights and some of the challenges we faced as well as important lessons learned about doing bivocational ministry.  That book was my first that was written especially for those who serve in smaller churches, and it made it possible for me to speak to pastor and denominational groups in the US and Canada.  It reflects some of the passion I have for bivocational ministry and those who accept God's call to such ministry.

If you are now serving as a bivocational pastor and are looking for something to encourage you, this book is a great place to start.  For those who are considering that God may be calling them to bivocational ministry, reading this book can help you make the right decision.  One reviewer of the book wrote that after reading it she had a greater appreciation for everything her pastor does and planned to look for ways to better support him in the future.

This e-book retails for only $8.99.  I don't know where you will find the encouragement and advice this book offers for such a low price.  You may want to purchase your copy of The Tentmaking Pastor today.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Why so many changes in the church fail

For the past few years our denomination has offered pastors and churches the opportunity to receive excellent training on various aspects of ministry with the hope that we will see some of our churches make some changes that will help them be more effective.  This multi-year training begins with the pastor receiving some individual instruction, and for the final few sessions a leadership team from the church is encouraged to attend with the pastor.  I personally know a number of pastors who have attended this training, and with few exceptions not many of their churches have experienced any real change.  The pastors and the leadership teams who attended the events returned to their churches excited about new opportunities to do ministry, but in many cases they ran into the same mindsets that have kept those churches in decline for years.  Some of these pastors eventually gave up and accepted the status quo or sought new churches to serve.

In my 30+ years of ministry I've seen this scenario played out time and again.  Denominations and other groups develop training for pastors and lay leaders that gets these people excited about new possibilities only to have their new ideas rejected by the church when they return.  I think we've been missing an important piece to church transformation.

I don't believe we can transform our churches simply by teaching church leaders new information and giving them new ways of doing ministry.  It does little good to train a person and send him or her back into a system that isn't willing to change.  It is also true that it usually isn't helpful for a church to be ready to be transformed if the pastor is stuck in the same old ways of thinking about ministry.  Both the pastor and the congregation needs to be on the same page if we want to see real change occur in our churches.  Otherwise, we will continue to see pastors become frustrated with ministry to the point of abandoning it completely, and we will continue to see churches stuck in decline because their pastors are unwilling to try new ways of doing ministry.

One of the best training events I attended as a pastor ended up making a big difference in our church because about ten other people from the church attended with me.  That is a high number of people for a congregation of 50-55 people.  Essentially, someone from nearly every family in our church attended that event, and when we left there that evening we were all on the same page as to what we needed to do as a congregation.  One-fifth of our congregation were immediate advocates for the changes we needed to make as a church, and none of those changes were resisted.  As a congregation we were ready for change, and a large enough group of people from the church learned together how to begin to implement those changes.  By the way, this is often done more easily in the smaller churches bivocational ministers are likely to serve.  It takes fewer people in such churches to convince others to accept the change.

I often encourage pastors to never attend continuing education events alone.  Always take as many from your congregation as possible so everyone can hear what you hear exactly as you hear it.  When you return to your church you will find you have a number of people ready to promote the changes you want to make.  You will likely find there is less opposition, and if there is you have a number of people to advocate for the changes you recommend.