Wednesday, July 31, 2013

My heart is heavy for those pastors who are struggling

It seems like a lot of my time recently has been spent with pastors who are hurting, confused, and about ready to give up.    In recent weeks I've talked with pastors who have resigned their churches due to the pressures they were feeling and a pastor who admitted he was near burnout and wanted to talk about how to ask his church for a sabbatical.  The good news in his case is the church did grant him the time away he needed.  I've talked with other pastors who are frustrated with the ministry in general.  Some have said they would leave ministry completely if they had training in any other field.  Some of the saddest pastors are those who have given up and are just going through the motions hoping to endure to retirement.

Church consultant and coach Eddie Hammett has written a number of recent articles on this problem because he is seeing more of it in his work.  I read another article last week saying that there is an increase in clergy depression that is quite troubling to denominational leaders.  The problem for all of us is that no one seems to know a solution to the problem.

I can identify some of the causes, but I struggle knowing how to resolve them.  Some of the causes I've seen are
  • People have not been adequately prepared by their seminary training for ministry in the real world.  As I've written before, too many are trained to be research theologians, not pastors, so when they arrive at their first church they are not prepared for what will be expected of them.
  • Churches and clergy may not be a good fit.  I've seen many good churches and good pastors find out they were not good for one another.  When the expectations of the church and pastor are at variance with one another, and the pastor does not have the gift mix to meet the expectations of the church, problems are sure to occur.
  • Too many ministers and churches have not learned how to properly deal with conflict.  When conflict is on-going it takes a toll on everyone.  Clergy and churches need to learn how to address conflict and be willing to bring in outside assistance early in the conflict.
  • Many clergy have unrealistic expectations of what ministry will be.  Ministry is often messy work that doesn't normally occur within the safe surroundings of the pastor's study.  There can be a lot of drama in ministry, and healthy ministers need to quickly learn how to deal with that drama or it will begin to eat at them.
  • Many churches have unrealistic expectations of their pastor.  One pastor asked his board to list what they believed his primary tasks in the church were and how much time he should spend on each task.  When their lists were compiled the hours that were listed totaled over 100 hours and did not include family time, meals, sleep, or any other personal activity.  He used that to point out to them the need for the church to begin to develop more realistic expectations of his role in the church.
  • Clergy often underestimate how difficult introducing change into a church will be.  Most all church systems prefer the status quo and will resist change.  My experience has been that it takes much longer to bring about change in a church than I would have originally thought when I began the process.  Systems tend to always try to revert back to what was familiar, and that struggle can be very tiring on the minister.
  • Some churches are dysfunctional.  They are led by controlling lay leaders who are simply mean-spirited.  One thing denominational leaders can do in such cases is to refuse to assist them in pastor searches until they are willing to become healthier.
  • Some pastors are dysfunctional.  I've known a few pastors who were also controllers who felt it was their call to beat the sheep, not feed them.  However, not all dysfunctional ministers are abusive.  Some are manipulative, and they abuse their congregations through manipulative means to get what they want.  Again, denominational leaders have a means to address this.  We should feel no obligation to assist such people as they search for a new ministry position.
  • Some pastors should have never gone into the ministry.  They lack the giftedness and the calling to serve as ministers.  The reason such pastors struggle so much is that they are out of their element.  The individuals should be helped to recognize this and encouraged to find other employment outside of ministry.  Such persons may find that they will be excellent lay leaders in a church, but they are not the right person to pastor a church.
There are many more reasons that could be listed, but these are enough to illustrate that the solution to this problem is not a simple one.  I do think the problem is serious enough that denominations and seminaries need to become quite intentional about addressing it.  I also believe that we need to spend much time in prayer for these hurting ministers.  I have done that today.  We also need to let them know that it is OK to talk to others about their pain and their questions.  Every pastor needs a coach or counselor with whom he or she can openly and honestly share their fears, their frustrations, and their doubts.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Joy and enthusiasm in church is contagious

This past Sunday I was privileged to preach in a church that I always enjoy visiting.  They have between 450-500 people attending two services and are enjoying steady growth.  The week prior to my being there the church had over 100 people at a nearby Christian youth camp several of whom made professions of faith there.  The worship services were good, the people were friendly, and they came expecting God to do something.  Dress was casual.  In fact, I received a message earlier in the week reminding me to dress casual.  So many of our churches still demand their pastor wear a suit and tie so I am always happy to preach in slacks and a polo shirt.  In some churches I feel like I am trying to penetrate a wall when I preach, but not in this church.  It does not surprise me that the pastor has served this congregation for over two decades.

I don't mean to imply there are never problems in this church.  Anytime you have more than one person in any group there are going to be disagreements, but I've watched this church over the years address them in a positive way so that they are not distracted from their mission.  As a result, this church continues to grow.  They reach young families and youth, the two groups most smaller churches struggle to reach.  At the same time they attract senior citizens to their church as well.  Why are they able to do that when so many churches cannot?

The minute you walk into the building on Sunday mornings you are met by people who obviously are glad to be there and glad you are there as well.  There is a joy and enthusiasm present in that congregation that one cannot miss.  People are smiling.  They are friendly.  There is a buzz present in the congregation that come from people talking with one another.  There are the sounds of laughter heard throughout the building.  When the service ended few people were in a hurry to leave.  When I left there were still groups of people in the sanctuary and lobby enjoying one another's company.

These are also people who are fed a diet of good theological preaching and teaching.  This church proves what numerous studies have found: you do not have to water down your preaching to attract people to your church.  In-depth Bible studies are regularly provided for the congregation, and many in the congregation take advantage of those opportunities.

Contrast that to some other churches I visit.  People sit stiffly in their pews speaking to one another in low tones, if they speak at all.  Their faces look like they've sucked on a lemon on the way to church.  There are no greeters at the entrances; only stacks of bulletins on a table or chair where the current membership knows to find them.  The worship service lacks energy, and when it ends the people quickly leave the building inspired to eat lunch.

Christians and non-Christians alike quickly notice the differences between the two churches I've described.  When people are looking for a church to attend which one do you think they will choose?  They are going to be attracted to a church whose people are excited and enthusiastic about what God is doing in and through their congregation.  They will be drawn to worshiping with people who are not afraid to laugh and who are excited to be in worship.  Joy and enthusiasm in a church is contagious, and I hope your church is infecting your guests with them each week.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Working in your strength zone

Throughout my ministry I have taken a number of spiritual gift assessments.  My primary spiritual gifts have been the same on each of these assessments: preaching, teaching, and leadership.  I have to say that I agree with the assessments, not only because these gifts show up consistently on each assessment I've done but because I am the most comfortable and effective when I am engaged in these activities.  No matter how I may feel physically once I step on a stage I am energized and ready to deliver my message.  While some people find it frightening to think about speaking to a group of people, it is one of the most exciting things I do.

On the other hand, I need to fill out some reports to send into our region office.  None of them would take more than ten minutes to complete, but the very thought of doing them bores me to tears.  (The truth is I should probably be doing them now instead of writing this post, but I enjoy doing this because it goes out to leaders who hopefully will find it helpful.)  There are few things I dislike more than doing administrative work, and I am very glad I have an administrative assistant who does much of it, but there are still some administrative things that only I can do.  I'm just thankful I don't have to do too much of that kind of work.

The Pareto Principle teaches us that 80 percent of our effectiveness will be found in 20 percent of what we do.  When we are able to identify that 20 percent of our activity that provides the greatest return on our efforts and spend more time doing those things we will find that we can increase our effectiveness.  I believe most of that 20 percent will be found in the areas in which God has gifted us.  I want to spend as much time as possible working in the areas of preaching, teaching, and leadership because I am convinced that I can make my greatest impact in those three areas.  If I had to spend enormous amounts of time doing administration or working in some other area in which I am not especially gifted my work would quickly become drudgery and mostly ineffective.  So how do we handle that 80 percent of our work that isn't especially productive for us? 

There are two things we can do.  One, there are some things we just have to do because they are a part of our jobs.  I call them pay-the-rent activities.  They may not be the most productive things you could be doing, but they are necessary to your job so you do them.  I usually try to group such activities as close together and do them all at once.  I'll set aside an hour or so and fill out the forms, send them into the office, and then get back to doing something I believe is a better use of my time.

The second thing we can do is to manage around those areas in which we are weaker.  We delegate those activities to others who are more gifted in those areas than we are.  We don't do that because we want to get out of doing them but because there are other people who will do them much better than we will.  It allows them to use the areas of giftedness God has given them and it allows us to spend more time in the areas of our own giftedness.

This is important for anyone in a leadership position to do, but it is especially important for a bivocational minister.  If you are such a minister and you are feeling overwhelmed by all the demands on your time it may be because you are spending too much time doing things other people could do better.  If you sense you are about to burnout it may be because you are working in areas in which you are not gifted too much of your time.  You need to look around and see if there are some tasks you can delegate to others.  As you begin to unburden yourself from some of the responsibilities that have been given to you there will be a sense of relief.  Doing this will enable you to have more time to focus on the work for which you are gifted and will begin to re-energize you for the work God has called you to do.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Breaking News...Pastor accepts call to a smaller church

That's not a headline you see very often.  Most pastors nearly always are called to a larger church than the one they are leaving.  Yesterday, I had lunch with one who accepted a call to a much smaller church than he has now pastored for the past fifteen years.  In fact, it's almost a tenth of the size of his present church.  No, he's not planning to retire and just serve this church to supplement his retirement income.  He plans to bring leadership and health to this church so that it can once again begin to minister to the community God has given it.  It's also not the case that his present church is struggling or having problems.  In fact, it is probably one of the healthiest churches I know and has just experienced a significant growth in its facilities and the number of people who attend there.  There is absolutely no reason for my friend to leave his present church except one...God has called him to this other church.

He and I have had more than one discussion about this move.  Mostly, I just listened as he tried to sort out the various reasons why he believed God was calling him to a new place of service.  I would occasionally ask questions or offer ideas for him to consider, but mostly I listened.  After the first discussion we had I felt certain he would make the move, and I was not surprised when he called a few weeks later to let me know he was going there for a candidating weekend.  I was expecting that call because during that initial discussion it was clear at least to me that this was God's doing.  I had little doubt that God was calling him to this new place of ministry.

As we ate lunch yesterday it was obvious that he was feeling great sorrow at leaving the people he had ministered with for the past decade and a half.  There was some heaviness at our table as each of us knew this may well be the last time we'll share a lunch this side of heaven.  He's moving several states away and is unlikely to be back in this area any time soon.  But, as he talked about the new church he will soon be serving there was much excitement in his voice.  He talked about the ministry opportunities in the city where he will soon live and minister.  The potential for growth is almost unlimited, and the church facilities are capable of serving many more people than they currently have.  I sensed he feels that God is calling him to that church to lead that growth.

I wondered what his new church thinks about his coming.  They are well aware of the wonderful church he is leaving so that has to excite the members of this new church.  When so many smaller churches struggle with self-esteem issues this has to make them feel that both God and this new pastor they are getting must love them very much for him to accept the call to their church.  I would think their hope level has been significantly raised in the weeks since he accepted their call.

You see, there is a difference between accepting a call to a smaller church because that's the only church that contacted you and accepting that call because God is leading you there.  It makes a difference to both the minister and the church, and both can often sense which situation best describes the minister.  Our smaller churches want so much to have a pastor who will love them and be excited to serve as their pastor.  When that happens those churches also begin to believe once again that God is not done with their church but still has a purpose for them.  I have to believe the church my friend will soon serve feels both of these are true for them, and I predict some great ministry will soon begin to happen in that church.

I will admit that some smaller churches are so far down the life-cycle and so dysfunctional that they are unlikely to ever turn around, but I also know that there are many smaller churches that are just praying that someone will come to lead them who believes in them.  When such a person accepts the call to serve those churches good things will happen.  Please don't automatically discount a call to a church that is the smaller than the one you now serve.  You could be missing out on an incredible ministry opportunity.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The importance of church hospitality

"We are the friendliest church in town."  I can't tell you how many times I have heard that from church leaders.  In fact, it is safe to say that I have yet to be in the second most friendliest church in any community in which I've been.  At least, that the case if I believe these church leaders are telling me the truth.  But, my experience has been that really isn't the case.  Most of these churches may be friendly, but they are often only friendly to one another, not necessarily to visitors.

As a judicatory leader for our denomination I am in a different church almost every week.  It is seldom I will be in the same church more than two times in a given year, and usually it will be only once.  From my experience many churches need some serious training in the area of hospitality.  They do not know how to welcome and receive guests to their church.  These people are often ignored on the one hand or embarrassed on the other.  Either no one speaks to them at all while they are at the church or they are asked to stand up and tell everyone who they are and where they're from.  Both scenarios are terrible violations of hospitality.

Few people want to be ignored when they go somewhere new.  They want to meet the people and see if they have anything in common with them.  They want to feel welcomed.  At the same time, they want people to respect their privacy.  Few people enjoy standing up in a room of people and introducing themselves.  Many people today want to be able to attend a church service and remain somewhat private.  While they don't mind meeting people individually they are not prepared to give a public statement about their reasons for being in attendance.  Churches often complain to me that visitors seldom return to their churches, and one primary reason for that may be the way they were treated when they were there.

Being treated as a visitor is not very welcoming.  Visitors are people who are unexpected.  They drop by, but nothing was planned for them.  Everyone ends up feeling somewhat awkward.  On the other hand, guests are expected and preparations have been made for them.  People are excited to see the guests because they had invited them and made sure things would be ready for them when they came.  A leader once asked if one reason some churches didn't have more first-time guests than they do is because God knows they are not prepared to receive guests.  If a time comes when these people decide to visit a church God directs them to those churches that is prepared.  I tend to think that leader is correct.

Some of the churches I serve have recognized they need training in church hospitality so I developed a workshop on that topic which I've led for several churches and one association.  I believe hospitality is a key to reaching and keeping new people, and it's too important to not be intentional about ensuring that the church offers good hospitality to everyone who comes there for worship.

Surprisingly, I've not found a lot of books or other resources on this topic.  By far the best book I've found is Fusion: Turning First-Time Guests into Fully-Engaged Members of Your Church by Nelson Searcy.  I believe every church leader should read every book Searcy has written, but this is the first of his books I read and it remains my favorite.  The subtitle should be enough to make you want to read this book.  Isn't that what every church claims it wants to do?  We want to reach new unchurched people and lead them into a personal relationship with God, help them grow as disciples, and become active members of our churches.  This book explains step-by-step how to effectively reach out to the unchurched people in your community and how to treat them when they do come to your church as well as how to follow-up with them after they've been there.  You will be hard pressed to find any book on ministry with more practical information than you'll find in this book.   One of the things that makes the book exciting for me is that the recommendations Searcy gives can be done by churches of every size.  Your church does not have to be Willow Creek to be able to do the things he recommends.

Most people decide whether they will return to a church within a very few minutes after arriving on your church property.  It happens long before the choir ever sings or the pastor preaches.   Their decision is based on what they see and what they experience in those first few minutes.  If a church is serious about wanting to reach new people it is critical that they become very intentional about providing great hospitality to every person who comes on their property.  This book will be a valuable resource for those churches that want to improve in this area of ministry, and it can be ordered by clicking on the above title.

Monday, July 22, 2013

The pain that exists in small churches

Much of my ministry is done with smaller churches that have a big heart for God and ministry, but after working for years with these churches I've found that many of them carry a tremendous amount of pain.  Some of that pain is associated with the rapid turn-over of pastors common in smaller churches.  When I began my pastoral ministry in a small, rural church their average pastoral tenure for many years had been twelve months.  Some pastors had stayed only six months while a few lasted longer, but one year was the average stay for the pastors of that church.  Can you imagine how a family would feel if the father and husband of that family left every 12 months?  Churches feel that same sense of pain.

I had been the pastor of that church for about six months when a deacon in our church commented in a Sunday school class that their pastor would soon be leaving them for a better church.  I never heard him complete his thought because I was stunned.  Some of the leadership were already expecting me to announce I was leaving, and for what...a better church.  At that time I had no education beyond high school and the only ministerial experience I had was in that church, and yet they did not feel they were a good enough church to keep me as pastor.  Previous pastors had created that sense of expectation in that church and had also left them with a lot of pain.

A second area that causes a lot of pain in these churches is their inability to grow.  Some of the older members remember a time when the sanctuary was full and the church was a beehive of activity.  Today they look at a sanctuary that is a quarter full and a church calendar that is nearly empty of activity.  They have watched their young people leave their church and never return except for special events such as homecomings.  They see a new church on the edge of town start and soon begin building a new sanctuary and other facilities to hold their growing membership while their small church continues to shrink.

Both issues raise the same questions for these smaller churches.  What is wrong with us that pastors won't stay and we can't attract new people?  Has God abandoned us because of some sin in the church?  Is there any hope for our church?

Various authors have addressed the poor self-esteem issue in smaller churches with some calling it the greatest problem facing these churches.  I think this is especially true for those small churches that used to be much larger.  Until churches can begin to recognize that while they cannot recapture the past they will struggle to move forward, and that is the only direction that offers them any hope.

Politicians often like to say that a nation's best days are ahead of it, and, of course, their policies will make that possible.  In the case of many of our small churches I do believe that their best days are ahead of them.  Maybe they will never see the numbers of people sitting in their pews that they had in the 1950s and 60s, but that doesn't mean that they cannot enjoy a healthy and productive ministry in their communities.  Maybe they won't be able to attract the distinguished PhD fresh out of seminary for their pastorate, but that doesn't mean there is not someone out there that God has prepared to lead their church into the future that He has prepared for them.  I far surpassed the six months some had thought I would remain in that church staying twenty years, and our small church enjoyed a very productive ministry together.

To overcome the pain smaller churches need to take their focus off past events and begin to look forward.   They need to dream again of what could be.  They need to prayerfully seek what new doors of ministry opportunities God wants to open for them.   They need to determine if there are barriers that have been created over the years that keep people out of the church and away from God and find ways to tear them down.  (BTW - every church does have some barriers.)  They need to focus again on God and find their hope and future in Him.  As they begin to do these things they will find the pain begin to subside and hope once again begin to rise within them, and then they will be ready to return to Kingdom work.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The church needs a pastorpreneur for 21st century leadership

You may have stumbled a little with the title of this post over the word pastorpreneur.  I can assure you my spell checker doesn't like it one bit, but this is exactly the kind of leadership our churches need today.  The word comes from the book PastorPreneur written by John Jackson.  I think the book may be out of print, but there are still copes for sale at if you click on the above title.  If it is out of print, it's a shame because it is a book that pastors need to read.  It is especially appropriate for bivocational ministers because many of us are entrepreneurial by nature anyway.  The title is a combination of the words pastor and entrepreneur.  The author defines a pastorpreneur as "an innovative leader..., a creative dreamer who is willing to take great risks in church ministry with the hope of great gain for Christ and his kingdom."

The book describes five strategies for leading one's church beyond "business as usual."  They are
  1. Grab the community's attention.
  2. Build strategic partnerships.
  3. Conduct faith-building events.
  4. Everyone's a 10 - get them moving.
  5. Multiply your impact.
Of course, each of these are discussed in detail throughout the book.  The first time I read this book I wore out a highlighter and made numerous notes in the margins.  Let me share just one piece of advice he gave in the chapter about conducting faith-building events.

Almost every family in every community in the country is interested in topics like marriage, parenting, finances and handling debt, and finding purpose and meaning in life.  Does the church have anything to say about these things?  You bet it does!  Can the church use its classes on these topics as outreach tools?  Of course.  Entrepreneurs can help the church understand how to position these events to reach the maximum number of people.

Compare that approach to reaching a community for Christ to what smaller churches often ask for.  Several times a year I'll get a call from a church leader knowing if I know anyone who could come and lead a revival to try to get people to come to the church.  Do they really believe a revival is going to attract people?  Probably not, but they don't know what else to do.  It's all they've seen modeled, and just because it hasn't been effective in the past twenty-plus years it's still the only thing they've got.  Jackson would argue there are many things a church could do to attract people and earn the right to share a life-changing message with them, and he gives numerous examples of churches that are doing just that.

Churches need a new style of leadership to be effective in the 21st century, and I believe it will be entrepreneurial leadership that is needed.  Denominational leadership may not like it very much because entrepreneurs tend to color outside the lines.  Their work is often messy, and we often prefer things to be neat and tidy.  Their structures tend to be a little loose.  But, I'm afraid our neat and tidy structures have brought so much order and predictability to what we are doing that they have effectively kept many people from experiencing God in any meaningful way.  If what we've been doing isn't working then maybe it's time to do something different.  Maybe it's time to replace our managerial styles of ministry with one that is more entrepreneurial.

Begger, patron, or bivocational: Which is better for your church and its mission?

For today's post I want to encourage you to read a very informative and timely article written by Ken Carter.  Carter is a Bishop with the UMC and is well acquainted with the leadership challenges of smaller churches.  You can read the article here.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

When smaller churches look for pastors

One of the tasks of my job is to assist our churches when they are seeking new pastoral leadership.  I work with both larger and smaller churches in this capacity.  One of the challenges when assisting our smaller churches is to find potential candidates.  As you might imagine, it's easier to find persons willing to serve in larger churches than smaller ones.  One reason it can be difficult to find pastors for the smaller churches is that they are increasingly becoming bivocational.  This means that most likely the persons who could fill that position will be found geographically near the church.  Few people are going to relocate very far to serve in a bivocational church.  Another thing that makes it difficult to assist these smaller churches is that many of them have unrealistic expectations of their next pastor, especially if he or she is bivocational.  Let's look at some of those unrealistic expectations that I have encountered.
  • This person will be the one who will save their church.  I repeatedly hear from many smaller churches that they are looking for someone who will grow their church or grow their youth group.  What they are really saying is they want someone who will save their church from dying.  Often, their church hasn't grown in years (decades?) and the only young people in the church are grade-school children brought there by their grandparents.  Few of these young people will be found there once they enter junior-high school.  Somehow it has never dawned on these folks that their lack of growth is not the fault of previous pastors but because of the way their church is structured and operated.  For some reason, no one in these churches wants to take on the responsibility of reaching out to the community in ways that could lead to growth.  They keep waiting on a pastor to do that for them.
  • Despite the fact that many of these committees say their church wants a pastor who will grow their church, the truth is many of these smaller churches are looking for a chaplain who will care for the existing members.  One committee assured me the church wanted a pastor to grow the church, but a survey I did of the congregation revealed they really wanted a chaplain.  When I pointed that out to the committee they didn't know what to do with it.  I explained that if they call a pastor with spiritual gifts conducive to growing a church he or she will be in trouble within the first year for not meeting the pastoral care needs of the congregation.  Sometimes, there isn't a second year.
  • Their new pastor will come in with a vision for ministry that will unite their church and return it to the exciting place it was fifty years ago.  I ask every pastor search committee to tell me the vision that has unified their church, and virtually none have been able to give me one.  A couple of them have read from some vision statement document.  When that happened recently I responded, "The fact you had to find that statement and read it tells me that statement really doesn't direct the activities and ministries of this church."  Most of the committee nodded their heads in agreement.  One person complained that they were all busy people who didn't have time to do those things.  That's why they were looking for a pastor.
  • While many are paying for a bivocational person, their expectations are that he or she will work as a full-time person in the church.  One committee was recently concerned about their Sunday evening service and were afraid their new pastor would not be able to lead that if he or she lived too far away.  I asked how many usually attend it and was told they average about ten people.  I then asked if having this service was really a good use of their pastor's time.  I asked if there were no lay people in the church who could lead it (there were).  I asked if this could be held in people's homes rather than in the church (no one had ever thought of that).  I cautioned them that if they were going to call a bivocational pastor they needed to make sure that was was asked of that person was the best use of his or her time and gifts.
  • Some are willing to ignore theology to find someone willing.  A couple of years ago a disgruntled group from a church contacted me complaining their pastor didn't do things like a Baptist.  I reminded them they knew he wasn't a Baptist when they called him.  They were getting exactly what they hired.  That pastor has now left but not before many of the members did.  I recently talked with a search committee from a different church who were excited about someone who had preached there the previous Sunday.    Two of them commented he was a "real barn-burner preacher" who got everyone excited.  I read his resume and pointed out his experience has all been in a different denomination.  I then asked what did they know about his personal theology.  They knew nothing.  One person complained that some of these seminary-trained preachers will put you to sleep, and I responded that was true but some of those who aren't seminary trained will teach you bad theology too, and it doesn't matter how loud they shout it's still bad theology. Can persons cross denominational lines to serve churches?  Absolutely, I've known several who have done that and provided excellent ministry, but their theology was solid and their approach to ministry was healthy.  Search committees just need to make sure that is the case before they present the person as a candidate to the church.
I could give more examples of unrealistic expectations, but these are the primary ones I encounter.  It is critical that churches develop more realistic expectations of their pastors, and that the congregation is united on those expectations.  It is also vital that both the committees and candidates spend sufficient time talking with one another and asking questions to ensure that they will be a good fit before proceeding to a vote.  Some of the churches in our region do not call anyone on our staff for assistance when looking for a pastor, and I think that is a mistake.  Most denominational leaders have resources and procedures that can be of great help to a church seeking new pastoral leadership.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Motivating volunteers in the church

I've just started reading a new book The Carrot Principle: How the Best Managers Use Recognition to Engage Their People, Retain Talent, and Accelerate Performance [Updated & Revised] by Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton.  The book is based on a 10-year study of 200,000 managers and employees and is obviously written primarily for business leaders and managers.  However, even though I have just started reading the book, I am finding some principles that can certainly transfer to ministry leaders as well.  We often note that leading volunteers in a church is difficult because there is little we can do to motivate them.  When we say that we are probably referring to the fact that they are not getting paid.  As this book, and other studies, point out, money is not a primary motivator for most people.  A much more important motivator is recognition and appreciation for their work.

The authors write, "79 percent of employees who quit their jobs cite a lack of appreciation as a key reason for leaving.  Sixty-five percent of North Americans report that they weren't recognized in the least bit in the previous year."  Over three-fourths of people who quit their jobs do so because they did not believe anyone appreciated their efforts.  It had nothing to do with money.  They refer to another study that asked employees what they really wanted from their jobs.  Number one was the opportunity to grow on the job, number two was recognition, and number three was pay.  Again, recognition was more important to these employees than their salaries.

If we transfer this thinking to the church it's easy to see that recognition and appreciation is what will motivate our volunteers, and yet I'm not sure that happens very often in many churches.  I think back to my pastoral ministry, and I can remember two individuals who were very involved in the life of our church.  They faithfully served for many years in a number of capacities.  In time, both dropped out of active involvement.  One told me she was burned out from all she was doing and needed to step back.  She never became as involved in our church as she was previously.  Another individual left our church and never told anyone why.  Until recently.  I was talking to him recently and he confided that the reason he left our church was because he felt burned out with all he was doing and didn't know what to do about it.  Chances are there were others who felt the same thing that I am not aware of.

As I began reading the reasons why people left their jobs I realized it was the same reason these two individuals dropped out of their church roles.  Our church never did anything to intentionally recognize our workers.  I might make a comment once in a while from the pulpit about a specific activity and the persons leading it, but that did not happen nearly often enough.  Like too many church leaders I'm afraid I assumed their dedication to God and to our church was enough for our volunteers. As a pastor I should have known better.  What pastor has not had periods when he or she felt unappreciated by the congregation and thought of leaving for another place of service?  Why would we not recognize that those who volunteer in our churches might feel the same way?

If we want people to engage in the life of our churches we need to do a better job of demonstrating our appreciation for their work.  We need to recognize those who are doing an excellent job.  Such recognition needs to happen publicly and privately.  We must become very intentional about showing our appreciation.  We can do that by having appreciation dinners, by making sure they have the resources they need, by providing learning opportunities for them so they can grow in the ministries they are doing, by speaking words of appreciation to them at various times, and by asking them what challenges they are facing in their tasks.  This is certainly not an all-inclusive list; you need to find the methods of expressing appreciation that will work best in your church.  But, the key thing here is that you become much more intentional about demonstrating that appreciation.

I seldom recommend a book until I've read all of it, but this one has really spoken to me in the first few pages.  I think it's a must read for church leaders.  You can order it by clicking on the title above.

Friday, July 12, 2013

The challenge of turning around a declining church

We regularly read that 80 percent of the churches in North America are plateaued or declining.  As I've written elsewhere I believe that the majority of those churches are in decline.  A plateau is a relatively short period of time on a life cycle.  Although I do not know the actual percentage of declining churches that have been turned around, my experience would suggest it is a fairly low number.  In his excellent book Taking Your Church to the Next Level: What Got You Here Won't Get You There Gary McIntosh explains why it is so difficult to turn around a declining church.

McIntosh writes that a turn-around pastor must be a reorganizer.  Such a person must be skilled at multi-tasking and able to build a new vision for the church while at the same time satisfying the existing members.  This requires excellent people skills that enables the pastor to enjoy credibility with the membership and the ability to attract new people to the church.  One challenge is that if some headway is not seen within two or three years the reorganizer will leave.  A second challenge is that such pastors are in short supply with the author suggesting that only about five percent of ministers would fall into this category.

As the church continues down the decline side of the life cycle into the dying stage it requires a super reorganizer.  This person will have the ability to raise the dead as the only thing that can save such a church in this stage is a rebirth.  The problems encountered at this stage is the very low percentage of ministers capable of such a rebirth, perhaps 1-2 percent, and the fact that the church must be willing to try almost anything to survive.  The truth is most churches at this stage of life have become very risk averse and will refuse almost any suggestion that they fear might actually shorten their lives.

Is it difficult for a declining church to turn around and experience new life and new ministry?  Absolutely, but it is not impossible.  The primary cause of such decline in McIntosh's opinion is a loss of vision for ministry, and I completely agree.  If the church can discover a fresh vision from God for a future ministry then a turn-around is possible.  Without such a vision, and the courage to live into that vision, a turn-around is unlikely.

What makes this book so valuable is that McIntosh gives some very practical ways for different types of churches to find that vision and put it into practice..  For better or worse, I seldom re-read books, but I am currently re-reading this one.  It is filled with practical ideas that any size church can implement to experience a turn-around if they are determined to do so.  If your church is currently struggling and in that 80 percent I would certainly recommend this book to you.  If you are fortunate enough to be in a church that is in the 20 percent I urge you to read it to learn how to avoid falling into the plateau/decline trap.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

New book ready for the publisher


Yesterday I finished my last (I hope) edit for my newest book The Art and Practice of Bivocational Ministry: A Pastor's Guide.  The book is scheduled for release October 1 so unless my editor finds something else that needs addressed or clarified it should be going to the printer in the next few weeks.  Every book I've written has excited me for different reasons, but I may be more enthused about this book than any of the others I've written.  It looks at how coaching can help bivocational (and fully-funded ministers, for that matter) find answers to some of their most pressing issues.  The book includes a number of actual coaching relationships I've had with primarily bivocational ministers and the issues they presented that we addressed in those relationships.  I believe most readers will find some of their challenges represented in those case studies, and I further believe that they will find some of the answers these other pastors discovered to be applicable in their situations as well.  I really believe this will be an intensely practical book for anyone serving in ministry today, and especially those in bivocational ministry.
A second reason I'm excited about this book is that it devotes an entire chapter to helping judicatory leaders better understand those persons who have been called to bivocational ministry and gives them some tools they can use to assist and resource those individuals.  Having worked as a judicatory leader for the past twelve years I've met a number of my peers who struggle to understand bivocational ministry.  As one explained to me a couple of years ago, his executive added bivocational ministry to his portfolio, but he really didn't understand bivocational ministry.  He had served in fully-funded ministry roles his entire ministry and just didn't know much about bivocational ministry and those who feel called to such ministry.  I believe he and others in his position will find a lot of useful information in this book.
There is a third reason I'm excited.  You can preorder it today from here and save 20% off the retail price.  I've never asked this before with any of my previous books, but I am asking that you preorder this book.  The reason is very simple.  If enough people preorder the book it will send a signal to the publisher, Beacon Hill Press, that resources on bivocational ministry are needed and appreciated.  They have published many of my books and have been a great advocate for bivocational ministry, but if a large number of people preorder the book it will affirm their decision to make such resources available.  Amazon guarantees that, if for some reason the price drops after a book is pre-ordered, you will receive the book at the lower price, so you can't lose.  So...go ahead and click on the above link and pre-order the book. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

High-trust vs. low-trust churches

A church lay leader recently contacted me asking some questions about church structure.  The church had an interim pastor a few years ago who encouraged them to change the way they were structured.  They went from having deacons, committees, and boards to forming a Church Leadership Team that made many of the decisions.  According to this lay leader, this new structure had never worked the way the church thought it would and people wanted to return to their previous structure.  One of the reasons people did not like the new system was they believed the leadership team was not adequately communicating to the congregation, and some in the church wanted to return to the days when the congregation voted on everything.  I cautioned the caller that the older system would not allow the church to respond quickly to rapid changes and that ministry opportunities could be lost in a maze of committees and business meetings, but he felt the church would probably make the change anyway.

When I explained that this was symptomatic of a low-trust church, he agreed that was what their church was.  In a low-trust church people feel they have to vote on everything that might affect the church because they do not trust others to make the best decisions for the church.  In many traditional churches, even though the people have attended church together for years, there is a lack of trust among the church members.  People are afraid that others will make decisions that will give them more power or prestige in the church.  The only way to prevent that from happening is to have numerous committees where people can watch one another and a requirement that everything has to be brought before the church in a business meeting for a vote.

In a high-trust church people trust the leaders to make decisions that will be best for the church.  It has always amazed me that churches will select people to positions of leadership but will not let them lead.  In high-trust churches the leaders do lead.  The structure of such churches is reduced to a minimum so people have time to actually be involved in ministry.  Standing committees are eliminated and replaced with ad-hoc committees when needed.  Rather than having people serving in maintenance tasks they are encouraged to be involved in ministries that impact people in the community.  Pastors and lay leaders are allowed to make decisions that improve the ministry of the church.  Such churches will often have only one business meeting a year to approve the budget and perhaps to elect new leadership.  Special called meetings are held when major decisions need to be made, but the leadership team is trusted to handle the other decisions that keeps the church functioning smoothly.

No doubt there are a lot of factors that influences whether or not a church is low-trust or high-trust.  Many of those factors will probably be found in things that happened in the church's past.  The problem is that low-trust churches are seldom growing churches.  These churches simply cannot respond quickly enough to the ministry needs they might encounter in their community.  They are too busy watching one another to be looking for such ministry opportunities.  If past events create low-trust churches, and that trust cannot be recovered, then the history of the church will determine the future of the church.  As long as it remains low-trust it will be unable to grow and unable to enjoy any significant ministry to persons outside the church.

How does a church move from a low-trust status to one that is high-trust?  The answer depends on the reasons why it is low-trust, but one important piece is the length of time the pastor has been at the church.  It is very difficult for a church to be high-trust if its track record is that it changes pastors every 2-3 years.  Especially in smaller churches, it will normally take longer than that for the pastor to earn sufficient trust in the church to be able to lead it.  Churches need the stability of a long-term pastor to become a high-trust church.

Another factor that leads to a church becoming high-trust is that there is good communication throughout the congregation.  No one believes that others are keeping secrets.  I recently told a low-trust church that it was impossible for them to over-communicate right now.  I cautioned them that if they didn't get tired of communicating what was happening in the church they probably were not communicating enough.

The questions you need to ask are
  • Are we a high-trust church or a low-trust church?
  • If we are a low-trust church, what can we do to change that?
  • If we are a high-trust church, what do we need to do to ensure we don't lose that?

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

When you manage your life you will manage your time

Several years ago our region created the Church Leadership Institute to help develop lay leaders and bivocational ministers for our churches.  Nearly each year I teach a class on "Personal and Family Health" that addresses the importance of maintaining balance in our lives and ministries.  The first assignment I give the students is to keep a record of everything they do for one week and write a brief report on what they learned from the exercise.  I provide them with a chart to help them track their activities in 15 minute segments.  The students often complain when the assignment is explained that they won't be able to track their time, but in their reports they usually note that they learned a lot from the exercise.  What many of them learn is that there is a lot of time each week that is used in things that really don't matter very much.  They recognize that instead of complaining they don't have time to do all the things that are expected of them, they really have plenty of time if they just use it wisely.

That is true for many people.  There is no question that time management is one of the most critical issues facing most bivocational ministers.  So many things demand our attention.  If we're not careful we can spend so much time dealing with urgent issues that we have no time left for the things that really matter.  More than one pastor's family has been alienated from the church because of the amount of time church work took away from them.  Several years ago I read the comments of a pastor's wife who said if her husband was having an affair she could fight that, but she wondered how she was supposed to fight when her husband's mistress was the church.  She is not the only pastor's spouse that has asked that question, and similar questions often come from the pastor's children as well.

In my class I stress there are five areas that bivocational ministers must keep in balance: our relationship with God, our relationship with our families, our church work, our other jobs, and our own self-care.  Neglecting any of these can lead to bad results, and focusing too much on one area while only giving an occasional glance at the others will lead to an unbalanced and unhealthy life.  What is needed is for us to set goals in each of these areas to ensure that we maintain a healthy balance.

When my students complain about having to track their time for one week I can usually get them to stop complaining when I tell them I tracked my time every day for four years!  It was part of a goal setting program I got from Zig Ziglar's organization.  Not only did I track everything I did for four years, in the book that was part of that program was an area where I had to mark down whether or not I had done something in eight different areas of life.  Those eight included the five I mentioned above.  Nobody would mark down they had done something in each of those eight areas every day, but at the end of the week it was very obvious that something was out of balance if one or two of those areas had no marks for the entire week.  It just provided me with a quick overview of my week and how well I was able to manage my life and my time.  Did I stay focused on the priorities I had set for myself, or did I allow myself to be pulled away from the things that were most important to me?

It is true that time management is really life management.  One can only manage his or her time if that life is lived with purpose.  Setting priorities and goals help prevent the urgent from taking us away from what is really important in life.  Living life in such a way helps one reach the end of the day feeling as if he or she accomplished something important that day.  It ends the frustration one feels when at the end of the day it is felt that nothing worthwhile was done

You can read more about this in my book The Bivocational Pastor: Two Jobs, One Ministry. One entire chapter is devoted to this topic and it includes some of the information I give my students.  If you're struggling with time issues in your ministry I would certainly recommend you read this book and begin to implement some of the suggestions you'll find there.

Monday, July 8, 2013

The death of dreams

I write another blog for small business owners that address leadership and business challenges they face.  You can find that blog here.  While writing a recent post I drifted over to talking about church leaders who have stopped dreaming.  They have become content to do through the motions and often provide solid pastoral care for their congregations, but they stopped dreaming and leading their churches forward to seize the new ministry opportunities that exist for them.  The question is why does that happen and how does one begin to dream again?

The why answer can be any number of reasons.  Most people go into ministry with dreams of changing the world or at least one of impacting the people in the communities in which they serve.  But, something begins to happen to those dreams.  Often, their dreams are shot down too often by small-minded people with big pocketbooks.  They finally get to the point that it's easier to stop dreaming than it is to see those dreams denied by the power brokers in the church.  The fear of failure is also a major deterrent to dreams.  I used to tell my congregation that if we don't try we've already failed, but that doesn't mean that I enjoy failure because I surely don't.  I have to admit there have been times in ministry that I've listened to the voices in my head telling me what a major failure this will be if it doesn't work, and there have been more than once I've felt like a failure myself because one of my plans didn't work.  Believe it or not, some people are not afraid of failure; they are afraid of success.  They know what is expected of them in the status quo; they don't know what might be expected of them if this thing works, and they fear not being able to live up to those higher expectations.

When we stop dreaming we stop leading, and that describes too many of the ministers I know today.  They have forfeited their roles as prophets and leaders and accepted the role of chaplain.  In some cases they have become hospice chaplains of the churches they serve.  One of the problems with that is that their churches are not always terminal but will be if they continue to provide hospice chaplain ministry.

So how does one begin to dream again?  How do we move beyond the status quo and once again begin doing ministry that matters?  We need to change the way we think and learn once again to dream big and take risks.  One resource that can help you with that is Jon Acuff's book Start: Punch Fear in the Face, Escape Average and Do Work that Matters.  Although it was not written specifically for ministers the recommendations he makes will certainly apply to ministers.  What I like about it is that it provides practical, real-world solutions for the fears that often hold us back.  What's more, the book identifies five stages of life that people who live awesome lives goes through, and he describes what each of these stages looks like and how to maneuver through them for maximum impact.  The five stages are learning, editing, mastering, harvesting, and guiding.

There will come a time in every life when we realize there were dreams we had that will never be accomplished.  Maybe they were dreams that were never meant for us to achieve.  Like many young boys I grew up dreaming of being a major league baseball player, but I didn't have the skills that could make that a reality.  That's OK.  What's not OK is reach a place in our lives when we recognize that some of the dreams that should have been realities in our lives were never realized because we simply never followed through on them.  We allowed fear or some other obstacle keep us from living up to our potential.  That damages not only our ministries but also that of the churches we serve.  If this is something you are struggling with right now in your life and/or ministry I would recommend you read Acuff's book.

Friday, July 5, 2013

It's time for the half-time review

It is hard to believe that the year is already half over.  Although it may not be time to begin thinking about doing your Christmas shopping, it is time to review where you have been during the first half of the year and where you plan to go in the remaining months that make up 2013.  The place to do that is by reviewing your goals for this year.  If you created goals using the format I shared early this year or late in 2012 you should have had a number of Key Result Areas (KRAs) for each goal.  These are the things that, when accomplished, help move you closer to achieving your goal.  How many of the KRAs have you completed for each of your goals?  Are you ahead or behind where you thought you would be for this goal?  Why?  These are the kinds of questions you should be asking yourself for each goal you establiehd for 2013.

This is also the time of the year when you may realize you need to revise or even completely change some of your goals.  Things change, and one of the marks of an adaptive leader is to know when to change some of your plans or goals to adapt to the changes occuring around you.  I've seen churches change their budgets mid-year as they realized their finances had changed for the better or for the bad.  Personally, I think it is fine to change some of your goals mid-year.  Maybe something that seemed to be a priority is now seen as an option, and other things have become more pressing.

I can give an example.  My work load changed greatly as we entered the month of May.  One of our staff members retired and was not replaced.  I became responsible for most of the churches he worked with for our region.  I went from having 77 churches that I was responsible to assist to having 130 churches.  The geographic area I cover virtually doubled in size as well.  I need to change some of my goals and add a couple of new ones because of these changes.  Some of the things I used to do with our churches I may not be able to do now.  I need to focus on some of the most critical issues facing our churches and spend less time on maintenance activities.  I'm not doing that because I want to but because the changes that have taken place in our region force me to determine new boundaries for how I will invest my time in the churches for which I am responsible.

I hope you set goals at the start of the year for a variety of items in most people's lives.  Your relationship with God must be a priority, and I pray you've set some goals and identified KRAs to help you achieve those goals that will help grow your relationship with Him.  Your family should also be a priority in your life, and you should have set some goals to strengthen your relationship with members of your family.  Obviously, if you are the leader of a congregation you should have some goals that will help you provide the best possible leadership for your congregation.  One critical area that too many clergy neglect is their own self-care.  Every leader should have goals in place to help him or her practice good self-care.  I hope you also have goals around finances, health, relationships, and anything else you believe is a priority for you, your family, and your ministry.

Now that the final summer holiday is behind us and the pace of our church activites begins to slow down until the fall it is a great time to begin reviewing your goals for this year.  Rejoice over the short-term goals that you may have already achieved.  Take a second or third look at some of the other goals and determine where you are as far as implementing them.  Do they seem as important to you now as they did when you wrote them down?  Determine whether or not to remove them as goals for this year or how you might modify them.  You may even decide to add a new goal to the mix in order to address a challenge or an opportunity you've been given since the year began.  These are your goals, so make them work for you.  By taking a mid-year review and making whatever adjustments you decide need to be made, they will work for you.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The power of having a prayer team

One of the best things that ever happened in my pastoral ministry occurred in 1997.  Three men from our church went with me to the Promise Keeper's event in Washington, DC.  As we returned home they asked if they could meet with me once a week for prayer.  When they had returned to the hotel room that night and began to talk about the day each of them felt led to be part of a prayer team who would pray for me, my wife, and our church.  When our bus stopped for breakfast they approached me about the idea, and of course I agreed to it.  They shared what they wanted to do with others in the church, and from that point forward several individuals and I would meet in a Sunday school class room about a half hour before our Sunday evening service where they would pray for me, my wife, and our church.  No matter how difficult a week I might have had, I knew there were people in our church praying for me and that we would gather on Sunday evening for a time of special prayer.  To this day I believe that our small church was able to do some incredible things as a direct result of those times of prayer.

If I returned to pastoral ministry one of the first things I would do is to invite a group of people to become my prayer partners.  Ministry is tough and often feels very lonely.  To know there are individuals committed to praying for you is a great source of encouragement.  It serves as a reminder that you are not alone in what you are doing and that there are people who care very much for you and your family.  It was also a reminder that we were engaged in spiritual warfare, and the Christian has no greater weapon than prayer when doing battle with the enemy.

Many pastors I know feel that they have few people they can turn to when facing challenges in their lives or ministries.  Some are afraid to appear weak to members of their congregation so they don't confide in people when they are struggling.  There were times in my own ministry when I felt like that, but those times ended when we began our prayer team.  One of our leaders would usually begin our time by asking how they could pray for me, and that gave me permission to share the things that might have been going on in my life, in my family, or concerns I had about the church.  Then the people gathered in that classroom would begin to pray one by one.  More than once I would have tears in my eyes as I heard these men and women praying specifically for me and the concerns I had.  Once in a while we would still be praying when the service began in the sanctuary because our time of prayer had been so powerful.

There was another thing that occurred as a result of that prayer team meeting.  They would often pray for my wife as well when we met.  One Sunday morning the person who prayed for our offering mentioned my wife in his prayer.  On our way home I noticed she had tears running down her face.  When I asked what was wrong, she said that was the first time she had ever heard anyone other than me pray out loud for her.  It deeply touched her and reminded her how important she was to our church and to my ministry.

If you don't have a prayer team in your church that meets regularly to pray for the pastor it is important that one is started as soon as possible.  I would never want to pastor again without such a prayer team.  You can read more about this and other ways to ease some of the pressures of ministry in my book The Healthy Pastor: Easing the Pressures of Ministry.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Passing the leadership baton

Probably the one thing that brings me the most pleasure these days is training future leaders. This past Saturday I taught the first class of a course I teach in our Church Leadership Institute on "Personal and Family Health." This term we have six students. Some are already serving as bivocational ministers; some are considering such a call while others in the class plan to continue as lay leaders in their churches. The course examines the challenges of ministry and how to maintain balance in the various areas of life that makes for a healthier life and ministry. I look forward to teaching this course each year because it addresses an aspect of leadership that is often overlooked.

For the past several years I've had the opportunity to lead a number of workshops for various denominations. Most of these workshops have focused on bivocational ministry, small church health, and transforming the small church. Some are scheduled for one-day events. Others are scheduled for multi-site, multi-day events. More than once I've done the same workshop in four different cities in four days in order to reach the greatest number of participants. I usually sleep well on the way home when these are over, but I am always energized by the opportunity to help equip current and future leaders.

A couple of years ago I was asked by a university to teach an on-line course on "The Healthy Church." I had taken on-line courses, but I had never taught one. I was impressed with the amount of work that went into the preparation of the course material and how it would be presented on-line. I think we had sixteen students enroll in the course. It was an intense time, but I loved every minute of it. Again, it was the excitement of training future leaders for our churches, being able to interact with them, respond to their questions, and listen to their concerns. Unfortunately, with a DMin and not a PhD not many of these opportunities are available to me due to the accrediting agencies preferring the PhD for instructors. Still, I would not have traded teaching that course for anything, and my prayer is that I helped at least one student as he or she moves forward in ministry.

As a denominational leader I sit in many meetings where the topic is the lack of great leaders for our churches. One of the aspects of our region's vision is to grow healthy leaders. Unfortunately, for many of us in these positions this has been talked about more often than it's been done. About 10-11 years ago we developed our Church Leadership Institute (CLI) in an effort to do that in our region, and since then we've had over 230 students taking classes with many of them completing a two or three year program of study. But, with over 300 churches in our region we need many more involved in such training. I often think if only ten people from each church in our region completed our CLI program it would have a tremendous impact on our churches and on our region. We now have a team looking at how we can do more to intentionally develop leaders in our region,and I think by the first of next year we will have implemented some new ways to do that.

What is your church doing to develop leaders in your congregation? Most churches are doing nothing intentional about leadership develop and wonder why they struggle to find excellent leaders. As the authors of The Leadership Baton: An Intentional Strategy for Developing Leaders in Your Church write, "The answer to the shortage of church leaders is...restoring the church to the center of leadership training....When the church is actively fulfilling its mission of raising up leaders for the harvest, nothing can stop it. The answer is church-based leadership development."  I would challenge you to become intentional about developing the leaders you need in your congregation.  Bivocational churches in the future are going to find it much easier to raise up men and women to serve as pastors from within their congregations than it will be to find some person from the outside to serve in that capacity, but the time to start developing these leaders is now.  Our churches also need to focus on developing their lay leadership if they are serious about becoming more effective in their various ministries.  The key word here is intentional and the time to begin is now.