Monday, November 25, 2013

People still need to hear the Gospel

Growing up in the church about the only sermons I remember hearing were evangelistic.  Although the small churches I attended during my childhood seldom had anyone in attendance who were not saved, we were reminded again and again how to be saved.  I remember very little teaching about how to live the Christian life, about how to grow as a Christian, or anything else that might help a person enjoy victory over the challenges that exist in this life.  Nearly every message was more concerned with the life to come than how to live as a Christian in this life.

In more recent years the pendulum has swung to the other extreme.  As I visit churches throughout my area of responsibility I seldom hear an evangelistic message.  The vast majority of sermons I hear today are focused on the present times:  How to Pray; How to Conquer Worry; How to Recover Hope When Life Has You Down; etc.  Don't misunderstand me...I think these are messages people need to hear, and I do not think we need to return to a time when every sermon was a call for people to be saved.  I just think that there needs to be a mixture of both types of messages, and I don't hear the one that calls people to salvation very often.

Yesterday was the exception.  The pastor of the church I visited yesterday preached one of the best salvation messages I've heard in a long time.  He talked about what it means to be redeemed and the kind of life a redeemed person should live.  He challenged his listeners to examine whether their lives are really that much different than those of their unsaved friends, and if not to question themselves why that is the case.  It was refreshing to me to hear a pastor present a clear explanation of how a person must come to God through Christ and how that decision should impact that person's life.  No one who heard that message will be able to stand before God on Judgment Day and claim they didn't know what they needed to do.

One of the weights I felt as a pastor was that I was responsible for the people God had given me.  I knew there will come a day when I would have to give an account for my ministry to that congregation.  I was not responsible for the decisions they made or did not make, but I was responsible to make sure they were challenged to make a decision for Christ and I was responsible to explain clearly to them why they needed to make that decision, how to make that decision, and what their lives should look like once that decision had been made.  I do not believe that anyone who sat under my ministry for any length of time will be able to honestly tell God they did not know what they needed to do to be saved.

I'm not sure why there is so little preaching today that points people to the cross of Christ.  Perhaps that message seems to some to be not politically correct.  John 14:6 is not a popular verse in our PC world.  Our pluralistic society wants to make all religious beliefs equal, but in that verse Jesus makes the claim that He is the only way a person can come to God.  It is not politically correct to make such a statement, but I would rather be biblical than politically correct so I make no apologies for repeating what Jesus said in that verse.  The pastor yesterday also did not apologize for quoting that verse.  As ministers of the Gospel we have an obligation to be clear in our thinking and our preaching, and Jesus was very clear when He said He was the only way to God.

When was the last time your congregation heard a message calling them to repentance and salvation?  How long has it been since they were challenged to examine their lives to see if their lives reflected a life devoted to serving God?  They don't need to hear such sermons every week, but there should be times throughout the year that they are challenged with such messages.  As you prepare your preaching schedule for 2014 I pray you will include some messages that presents a clear salvation message.  People still need to hear that kind of preaching from the pulpit.

Friday, November 22, 2013

The growing interest in bivocational ministry

As I've written elsewhere, when I began as a bivocational pastor in 1981 there was not a lot of interest in bivocational ministry.  The Bible school I attended didn't encourage it, denominational leaders often looked upon it as second-class ministry, and even other pastors questioned the validity of a person's call to bivocational ministry.  We were often seen as something less than real ministers by many.  I'm glad to see that continuing to change.

This week I've been asked for an interview by an individual who is doing his doctoral thesis on bivocational ministry.  Just yesterday another individual who recently completed his doctoral work asked if he could send me the manuscript for a book he has written on developing bivocational ministers.  The approach he has taken sounds helpful.  Of course, I agreed to both the interview and to review the manuscript.  Also, this week I noticed a couple of new books on bivocational ministry have been released that I did not know about, and I plan to read them over the winter.  This same week a date in 2014 was confirmed for me to speak at a bivocational gathering on the East coast.  I was already scheduled to speak at another bivocational event next spring.

This is exciting!  For most of my pastoral ministry I could count on one hand the number of books that had been written specifically for bivocational ministry, and I would have fingers left over.  Today, books are being written and other resources are being developed specifically for bivocational ministers and the churches they serve.  Doctoral students are exploring this ministry for their projects, and their seminaries are approving those projects.  Denominations are scheduling events specifically designed for those who serve in their smaller churches because they recognize the value we bring to those churches and to the denominations.

More people are sensing the call to bivocational ministry as well.  Yesterday, an individual called to say he was feeling led to pursue this ministry.  I will return his call later today so we can discuss it further.  Two weeks ago a graduate of our region's Church Leadership Institute called to say he felt called to bivocational ministry and was open to filling open pulpits and perhaps soon to serve in a local church.  Before completing that program he never felt that call on his life.  For many years I have said that I believed God was calling individuals to bivocational ministry, and our role as denominational leaders was to help people hear that call and help prepare them to be able to respond to it.  This is happening, and I believe will continue to happen in greater numbers.

God is not done with small churches.  The large churches may continue to get most of the attention from many people, but God is still working in smaller churches, and He is calling people to provide leadership to those churches.  Bivocational ministry is rewarding, and the need for additional bivocational ministers is growing.  More and more of our smaller churches are looking to call bivocational ministers, and God is calling people to meet that need.  It's been quite a turn around since 1981, and I'm glad to have seen it happen.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Mistakes churches make when making their budget

This is the time of year many churches are setting their budgets for the upcoming year.  Many of these churches make some common mistakes that affect their ministries.  My experience has been that these mistakes occur in all size churches but are most prevalent in smaller and mid-size churches.  It may be too late to redo your 2014 budget, but it is not too early for church leadership to begin to discuss how to improve the process for next year and avoid these mistakes.
The first mistake these churches make is to simply go through their budget line items, add a little to each one to cover anticipated increases, and present the budget to the church for approval.  This is a time to discuss how effective these items have been and if any of them need to be eliminated or changed.  The finance committee does not usually have the authority to make such changes, but they can discuss with church leaders their concerns and recommendations.  In a perfect budgeting system, the leaders of the various ministries would present their budget requests to the finance committee after having already examined the programs and ministries for possible changes.  However, I know how it really works in smaller churches, and any such recommendations are more likely to come from the finance committee in most churches.  Regardless of where this occurs, prior to setting a budget for the upcoming year is the perfect time to evaluate every thing that is happening in the church.  Possible changes can be identified and the budget set to reflect those changes.

A second mistake many churches make is closely tied to the first one.  They set a budget without the church having any sense of vision for ministry.  What does God want to do in and through your church in the coming year?  Until you can answer that how can you set any kind of realistic budget?  The majority of smaller churches I know operate year in and year out without any vision for ministry.  They open their doors each Sunday hoping something good will happen and close them following their services wondering why it didn't.  They have no vision, no goals that would help them achieve that vision, and no purpose beyond coming together each week.  They are merely drifting from week to week, and their budget reflects that drift.  A budget should reflect the ministry plan for a church, and it does.  What it reflects for many churches is that they have no plan for ministry.  Before your church develops another budget it should have a clear sense of God's vision for the church and a plan for how you will achieve that vision.  Many churches will find it helpful to invite a denominational leader, a consultant, or a coach to come and help them discern that vision.

The third mistake often made is that a budget is made without any idea of what the anticipated income will be.  Many churches assume their income will be rather flat and will often base it on what was given during the past year.  That is one way to almost guarantee your income will be the same as last year.  If people are not being challenged to give more why should they?  Without any kind of stewardship training people will often just do what they've been doing.  Depending on whom you read, the average giving of Christians in the US is reported to be around 2 percent of their income.  That is a far cry from a tithe.  Most Christians in the US can do better than they are doing when it comes to their giving, but if they are not challenged to give more and are not taught sound stewardship principles they are unlikely to do so.  I recently served as an outside speaker for a church that did a very intentional stewardship campaign, and slightly over half of the pledge cards that were turned in indicated they were increasing their giving for 2014 over 2013.  That is a good start, and I expect if that church continues to use this campaign over the next few years they will see a significant increase in their income.  To set a budget using last year's giving levels is too safe and demonstrates a lack of faith on the part of the church and a very low bar of expectations for the congregation.

A fourth mistake often found is that most budgets are focused on the inner workings of the church.  For smaller churches an extremely high percentage of their income is often spent on salaries, building upkeep, and the things that the current congregation needs.  In a way, this is all tied into the previous mistakes.  Without a vision, there is no real plan for ministry to those outside the congregation.  Nothing is being done to increase the giving levels of the members.  Whatever money comes in is spent on keeping the doors open and the congregation satisfied, and little is left for outreach and ministry to the unchurched in the community.  These churches may claim they want to grow, but their budget says otherwise because without the ability to do ministry outside the church little growth is likely.  This mistake will continue to hamper the growth of the church until the first three mistakes are addressed, but now is the time to begin correcting them for a better budget and more ministry in 2015.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

When churches transition to bivocational ministry

What changes occur when a church transitions from having a fully-funded pastor to a bivocational pastor?  This is a topic that needs to be studied because it is a scenario that is happening across denominations and one that is likely to increase in the years to come.  In the past few years I have seen several churches make this change.  Sometimes the change went well; others times it did not work out well for the pastor and/or the church.

One of the first things that has to change are the expectations that the church and pastor have about ministry.  I met with one church whose pastor was moving from being fully-funded to bivocational.  We talked about how the congregation would have to step up and assume some of the ministry responsibilities the pastor had been doing.  One of the dangers in this transition is that the church begins paying a part-time salary and continues to expect full-time service.  If the pastor has begun working another job he or she simply isn't able to continue to provide the hours the church used to expect.  Either others in the congregation has to take over some of the ministry responsibilities or they need to be let go.  Some churches find this to be very difficult.

Such churches fail to understand the role of the pastor and their own role in ministry.  Whether the pastor is fully-funded or bivocational, it is not his or her responsibility to do all the work of ministry anyway.  Ephesians 4 makes it clear that the primary responsibility of the pastor is to equip the saints to do the work of ministry.  The pastor is not the hired gun of the church expected to do ministry while the congregation sits in the pews and evaluates.  The pastor is to train and equip the congregation so that everyone in the church is involved in ministry according to their gifts and ministry passions.  That is the only way our churches will ever significantly impact their communities with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Of course, it is not only the churches that struggle with this.  Many pastors have a problem of letting go of ministry.  Most pastors enter the ministry with a desire to help improve the lives of people.  We have a servant's heart.  If we've been to seminary we may feel that we have been trained to do ministry so it is our responsibility to do it.  Besides, doing it ourselves is often quicker and easier than training others to do it.  Even if we do transition to being bivocational we may find it hard to give up some of the ministries we've been doing.  We may have started another job that requires 20-40 hours a week, but we will still try to do all the ministry our church needs done if we are not able to accept the role of an equipper.  If that happens, our families, our ministries, and our own well-being will suffer.

Although the church I spoke of earlier seemed to understand that they would have to become more involved in ministry if their pastor became bivocational, it didn't work out that way.  Problems soon began to surface when the expectations they had of their pastor did not change when he became bivocational.  Within a short time he left that church because he could no longer meet their expectations and work another job.

Another pastor in the early stages of making this same transition asked me to coach him.  His pastoral studies had trained him to serve as a fully-funded pastor, and he wasn't sure how to function in a bivocational role.  He also was not sure what skills he had that might be useful in the public sector.  As we talked he identified two potential positions in his community that might be a good fit.  He applied for both positions and was selected for one of them.  He already had secured the approval of the church board and the congregation to become bivocational so that was not an issue we had to address in our coaching sessions.  This transition to bivocational ministry occurred a few years ago and has been very successful for him, his family, and the church.  His story if one of the case studies I included in my latest book The Art and Practice of Bivocational Ministry: A Pastor's Guide.

Many churches have successfully transitioned from having a fully-funded pastor to a bivocational pastor, but it does a lot of honest dialogue between the pastor and church and a willingness of both parties to see ministry done in different ways.  The pastors have to assume the role of an equipper, and the congregation has to be willing to become personally involved in ministry.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Finishing well

I recently read that one study found that a very high percentage of pastors had ministries that did not end well.  This past weekend I had the privilege of attending a retirement party for one pastor whose ministry did end well.  It spanned over 40 years and included pastoring the same church (the one from which he recently retired from) three times.  In between those pastorates he had several very successful interim pastorates.  His church would not hold the expected crowd so his retirement celebration was held at the local school.  I would estimate the invitation-only dinner crowd at 150-200 people, and I do not know how many people came for the open house earlier in the day.  This individual was not only pastor to his church but to the entire community.

Three denominational leaders, including myself, spoke of our relationship with this pastor and his wife.  Each of us had been profoundly impacted by his ministry and his friendship.  One summed up this pastor's ministry by noting that he had never seen him act in any way but pastoral.  He did not mean by that comment that the pastor had merely acted pastoral, but that he was pastoral.  My experience with him is the same.

My friend never pastored a megachurch nor did he serve in some large metropolitan area. His was a median size church located in a small community surrounded by farm land. He never wrote a book, although he tells me he is writing one now. He was never a featured speaker at a church growth conference. He just went about his ministry serving the people God entrusted to him. When we would eat lunch together everyone we saw wanted to speak to him. He was indeed the pastor to the community.

It is exciting to see a pastor have this kind of impact on his or her church and community.  One can only imagine how many people his ministry has impacted over the course of his ministry.  When it was his turn to speak the words did not come easily.  He was obviously humbled by the love demonstrated in that room and very quickly reminded people that anything he had ever done in ministry was possible only through the power of God in his life.  Reflecting on the evening later I could only sum it up by noting that he was one who has finished well.

I would think every minister wants to finish well, but we need to remember that such an ending to our ministries does not happen by accident.  There are simply too many opportunities over the course of a long ministry to get tripped up.  We can fail to grow and develop as leaders and fail to lead our churches in the vision God has for them.  We can stop learning and fall prey to outdated ideas and ways of thinking.  We can not understand the changes that occur in society and become irrelevant.  We can become isolated and find ourselves involved in behaviors that will wreck our lives and ministries. 

If we want to finish well we must intentionally plan to do so.  We must intentionally seek growth opportunities.  We must learn what is happening in our neighborhoods and in the lives of people and address them from a biblical perspective.  We must commit ourselves to learning new skills that will improve our ministries.  We must develop boundaries that will guide our behavior.  We must maintain balance in the important areas of life - God, Family, Ministry, and Self-Care.  If we do these things we can enjoy a good end to our own ministries.

My friend's ministry really hasn't ended.  He reminded me that night to keep him in mind if I have churches that need someone to fill the pulpit on a Sunday or perhaps even need an interim pastor.  He said that he believes he still has some good ministry left in him.  And, that's the way to finish well.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

What I'm reading

People sometimes ask me what books I'm reading, so occasionally I like to mention the books I've recently read as well as the ones I'm currently reading.  Some of these were read on the Kindle app on my I-Pad and I found them at a greatly reduced price.  For the most part I still prefer reading real books, but when the price is right I have no problem downloading them on Kindle.  I enjoyed these books and learned a lot from them.  I think you might as well.

One of the most important things a leader needs is credibility.  Credibility: How Leaders Gain and Lose It, Why People Demand It by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner was a great read as it clearly demonstrated the need for credibility for anyone who wishes to be a leader and how to obtain and maintain that credibility.  Although my book is filled with highlighted sections, this one paragraph was worth the cost of the book.  "It is the credibility of the leadership that determines whether people will volunteer a little more of their time, talent, energy, experience, intelligence, creativity, and support in order to achieve significant improvement levels.  Managers can threaten people with the loss of jobs if they don't get with the program, but threats, power, and position do not earn commitment.  They earn compliance.  And compliance produces adequacy - not greatness.  Only credibility earns commitment.  And only commitment will get people to work beyond their job descriptions and to their fullest capacity so that businesses, communities, and economies can be greatly regenerated."  The same could be said for churches!

Get Off Your Donkey!: Help Somebody and Help Yourself by Reggie McNeal was a fun book to read.  McNeal bases this book on the story of the Good Samaritan and calls the church to get involved in ministering to the people in our communities instead of focusing so much of our attention on ourselves.  He insists that the church is not the major mission of God.  His mission is "the redemptive restoration of everything that sin has tarnished and broken."  That should also be the church's mission.  However, McNeal does sound a warning to church leaders that if they begin to shift the ministry of their church to those outside the church they should expect significant pushback from the religious crowd.  This book was a good reminder of what the church must be about if we want to significantly impact our communities.

One of my favorite reads so far this year has been The Ascent of a Leader: How Ordinary Relationships Develop Extraordinary Character and Influence by Bill Thrall, Bruce McNicol, and Ken McElrath.  Leadership is impacted by the character of the leader and the relationships he or she has.  I knew I would enjoy this book when on page 9 I read this, "Sometimes the deeper issues of a leader's life can have the same effect on her organization as removing the rudder from a ship: the leader and the organization may move very fast on the surface, but in no particular direction.  It is amazing how such drifting can be covered up by focusing on numbers, reorganizing reporting structures, and creating new programs."  A few pages later the authors point out that "too many leaders spend their energies trying to appear more consistent in a superficial way, rather than becoming more consistent in a heartfelt, genuine way.  They share that there are two ladders leaders can climb.  The first ladder is the Capacity Ladder.  It is based entirely on a leader's title and skill level.  It can only take a leader (and his or her organization) so far.  While this ladder is important and needed, a second ladder, the Character Ladder, must also be climbed if the leader wants to ascend to a higher level of leadership and take his or her organization to a higher level as well.  This book will make you think.

I initially wanted to read Thou Shall Prosper: Ten Commandments for Making Money by Rabbi Daniel Lapin because it is one of the books Dave Ramsey highly recommends.  I found the book to be a fascinating look at why the Jewish people are often very successful in whatever they pursue.  Rabbi Lapin is an Orthodox Jew who has done much research into the qualities and principles that has led to that success.  Interestingly enough, most of these are things that historically people believed in but have abandoned in more recent times.  Here I'm talking about such principles as sacrificing present pleasures for future benefits, respecting the value of education,  believing in the dignity and morality of business, networking, treating people fairly and with respect, understanding the value of money, and a host of others.  The book was an interesting look into the traditions of teaching of the Jewish people and one that I plan to read again next year.

As part of my devotional reading this year I read through the New Testament again.  I just finished and, as always, found some more nuggets of truth I had overlooked in previous readings.  Reading through the Bible or just the New Testament during the year is a discipline I do often, and I'm always blessed when I do it.

These are just a few of the better books I've read so far in 2013.  Currently, I am reading Prodigal Christianity: 10 Signposts into the Missional Frontier (Jossey-Bass Leadership Network Series) by David Fitch and Geoff Holsclaw, Gospel Coach: Shepherding Leaders to Glorify God by Scott Thomas and Tom Wood, and Resilient Ministry: What Pastors Told Us About Surviving and Thriving by Bob Burns, Tasha Chapman, and Donald Guthrie.  Maybe I'll review them next time.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Remembering the past but not living there

Last night while I was working at my computer I turned on the radio feature for I-Tunes and clicked on Classic Country.  This is not normally my first music choice these days, but for some reason I wanted to listen to some of the old country songs I listened to growing up.  It only took about three songs, and my mind was back in our old milking barn.  We lived on several dairy farms when I grew up, but for some reason when I think back to those days I go back to the same farm.  There we still put milk in the milk cans and then placed the cans in a tank of cooling water until the truck came to pick them up.  During school I usually didn't have to help milk in the morning, but during the summer I was in the barn early in the morning and back again most evenings to help.  I can still see the set-up of that barn, I can still remember the names of some of our cows, and I certainly remember the smells.  I also remember an old radio that set on a ledge high up on the wall that was turned to a country music station that we listened to while we milked.  Many of the songs I heard last night were the same ones that we listened to in the barn, and that is why my mind went back to those days so long ago.

Of course, all my time wasn't spent in the barn.  We had a lake that was about one acre big filled with fish and frogs.  I caught many fish out of that lake with an old rod and reel my grandfather gave me, and I caught lots of frogs that provided some good frog leg dinners.  A basketball hoop was nailed on the side of the barn that offered me plenty of time to work on my jump shot.  Even as young as I was I was often driving a tractor plowing a field or raking hay.  I learned how to drive when most kids my age were still trying to learn how to ride a bicycle.  Our TV got three channels, sometimes four, if we got the antenna turned just right.  Sunday afternoons were often spent visiting family.

It was a simple time.  No cell phones, no computers, no being available 24-7-365.  A big event for me was going to the feed mill with Dad and getting a nickle for the coke machine.  The good old days.  Or was it?  Living on a dairy farm meant that we never went far from home.  There was a lot of hard work that is easily forgotten now thanks to our selective memories.  Sometimes I think it would be nice to return to those simpler days, but the fact is the world has changed.  Most of us will never recapture those days, and maybe we shouldn't even try.

A lot of churches would like to return to a time when it was easier to be a church.  All a church had to do in those days was open its doors and the people would come in.  The Baptist church took care of the Baptists in town, the Methodist church met the needs of the Methodists, and each denominational church cared for its own.  As I said, we moved several times when I was growing up, but finding a church was easy.  We just attended the closest Baptist church.  They all used the same literature and pretty much followed the same worship format.

Well, those days are over.  As much as some churches would like to return to those days, it's never going to happen.  People come to church with different expectations, and fewer people go to church at all.  A few years ago studies came out explaining why the unchurched were staying away from the church.  Now, those studies are finding that even many believers are avoiding traditional churches as they feel such churches are hazardous to their spiritual health.  Many question if today's church is even relevant to the needs of our society.

The answer to that question is yes.  The church will always be relevant because we proclaim a message that continues to address the deepest needs of mankind.  We offer a message of hope, of forgiveness, of justice, of mercy, and an opportunity to reconnect with our Creator.  However, if that message is packaged in programs and ministries that fails to connect with people we will continue to be seen as irrelevant.  Let's stop trying to recapture the good old days and look for ways to share the great message of Jesus Christ that will capture the minds and hearts of people today.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Preaching hope

I missed the initial broadcast of Billy Graham's "My Hope America" but had the opportunity to watch it last night.  Several things came to my mind as I watched the broadcast.  The first was the simplicity of the message.  One of the things that always fascinated me about Billy Graham's messages was how simple they were.  They were clear, simple, and direct to the point.  Mankind is lost without Christ, but because of the cross a relationship with God is available to anyone who will simply invite Jesus Christ into their lives.  And, like in this most recent message, he wasn't bashful about insisting that Christ is the only way to God.  You may not agree, and you may even want to argue, but Graham would just respond, "The Bible says...," and you would be left to deal with it.  Anyone was free to reject what he said, but no one could walk away and say they didn't understand his message or how he was asking them to respond.

A second thing that I thought about was the level of respect he has maintained throughout his long ministry.  We live in a time when religious leaders are not held in the highest esteem by many people, but Graham has always been respected.  He has modeled a life of integrity that has earned him the right to be respected.  This is something that each of us in ministry must seek to emulate.  If we can finish our ministries respected by the majority of people who have known us we will have done well.  Such respect does not come naturally.  Scripture teaches that we are to avoid even the appearance of evil, and that requires that we set boundaries for our lives and activities.  Graham always carried himself with dignity and avoided the kinds of scandals that brought down other ministers with high-profile ministries.  He was able to do that by identifying the core values that would guide his life and ministry and then faithfully living according to those values.  We should do no less.

In his younger years his voice rang with authority and his eyes flashed with passion when he preached.  I enjoyed the clips of him preaching in some of the great crusades he led.  I was privileged to attend several nights of the crusade in Indianapolis in 1980, and I still remember the power of his voice.  I listen to so many preachers today who seem timid when they speak.  Their voices lack authority and passion.  Graham had both when he preached, and I think it is because he believed what he was saying.  He didn't apologize for anything he said because he believed he was right.  We need that kind of bold preaching in our pulpits today.  Although his voice was not as strong in this recent telecast, the passion and authority is still there.

Finally, I thought about how true his words were.  Jesus Christ is the only hope for America, and for our world for that matter.  Our salvation will not come out of Washington DC.  It will not come through the United Nations.  It cannot come from technology, science, the business community, or from other religions.  The stories of the two young people that we saw throughout the telecast illustrates how every path other than the one that leads a person to the cross of Christ proves to be a dead end.  There is no hope at the end of those false paths.  It is only when one takes the narrow path that leads to the cross and salvation can one find the hope we all need to live our lives.

Friends, you are the messengers of that hope.  No one else has the message that you and I have to share.  Mankind is lost because of sin, but God loves us so much that he sent his Son to be the sacrifice for our sins.  All who will may come and enjoy a relationship with God, but such a relationship is only available through Jesus Christ.  That may not be PC enough for some folks in our pluralistic society, but that is their problem, not ours.  God sets the conditions for a relationship with him.  We are free to accept or reject those conditions, but we are not free to change them to suit ourselves.

It is time this message of hope is heard once again throughout the churches of our nation.  It is time for a clear trumpet to be heard throughout the land.  We who have been called to serve as pastors and ministers must preach once again with passion the message of hope that is the Gospel.  When we do that we will once again see our altars filled with people seeking God, and when that happens a revival will break out that will bring hope back to America.

Friday, November 8, 2013

The bivocational entrepreneur

I am occasionally asked why I post articles on ministry related articles and articles that address small business and entrepreneurialism.  Some people think that because I write a blog for bivocational ministers and smaller churches that I would only post ministry related articles on my social media accounts.  Actually, there are several reasons why I also post business related articles.

The first reason is because some bivocational ministers are involved in small businesses.  Based on a survey I did in 2004 and numerous conversations I've had over the years with bivocational ministers I know that their other careers run the gamut.  Certainly, not every bivocational minister owns or works for a small business, but some do.  I want to believe the articles I post will help them operate their businesses better.

A second reason is that I am convinced that many leadership principles and activities from the business community are transferrable to ministry.  Just as it's important for a small business to properly market itself it is important for a small church (and larger ones) to market themselves if they want their communities to know they exist.  A bivocational pastor needs to understand sound marketing techniques.  A minster also needs to understand budgeting, how to best develop a team, the importance of vision and how to pursue one, how to effectively communicate to the various groups he or she will come in contact with each day, how to more effectively manage time, how to make the best use of his or her strengths, how to manage conflict, how to introduce and manage change, and numerous other tasks.  The business community can tell us much about how leaders should go about these various tasks, and we should take advantage of what they can teach us.  I try to pull out some of the best advice from the various sources I read and share that advice with my readers in the hopes that it will benefit them and their ministries.

A third reason I post leadership and entrepreneurial information from the business community is that most bivocational ministers I know have entrepreneurial mindsets.  In fact, I would go so far to say that if one is not entrepreneurial he or she will likely not enjoy a very effective ministry.  Bivocational ministers take risks every day and face challenges for which there are no easy answers.  We often have to do things that had never been done before in our particular ministry setting especially if we are the first bivocational minister our church has had.  It's not that we just color outside the lines; sometimes we don't even have any lines and have to insert them as we go.  Personally, I enjoy learning from entrepreneurs regardless if they come from a church background or a business background.

Finally, I post the business articles because I believe ministers today, and certainly those in the future, will have to become even more entrepreneurial.  Years ago I heard Zig Ziglar speak at a leadership conference.  One of the things he said that day was that there was no such thing as job security.  He insisted the best anyone could experience was employment security.  I agreed with his comments as soon as he said them.  I graduated from high school, got a good job with a local factory, and worked there for thirty years until I qualified for their early retirement.  Those jobs and opportunities are not going to be there for future generations.  Even blue collar workers like me will have to be continually learning new skills in order to qualify for the jobs of the future.  Staying with one company until retirement will soon be unheard of.

The same is true for those of us in ministry.  In the past a student graduated from college, went to seminary, and after graduation went to his or her first church.  It was expected that the seminary trained minister would remain in full-time ministry until he or she retired.  That is not a safe assumption to make today.  Increasingly, I find myself talking to fully-funded ministers who are convinced that they will soon have to become bivocational if they wish to remain at their current church.  They often tell me that they don't mind going bivocational, but their fear is that they are not trained to do anything but ministry.  They literally do not know what they could do apart from ministry to provide for their families.

These folks better start exercising their entrepreneurial muscles, and I am hopeful the articles I refer them to will help them do that.  I refer my readers to articles that address business start-ups, financing, marketing, how to supervise team members, how to overcome obstacles, how to do strategic planning, and virtually everything that a business leader might need to know.  With the many changes occurring today in the business and church world, we need to know how to do all these things if we want to remain employable in the future.

I am convinced we will see the numbers of bivocational ministers continue to climb in the foreseeable future.  Some of these will be former fully-funded ministers who will begin to serve as bivocational ministers out of necessity.  Now is the time for them to begin learning new ways of thinking and to seek out the skills apart from ministry that God has given them so they can be prepared if they find they need to transition into bivocational ministry.  I hope that I can help them do that.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Because it's ministry we shouldn't be paid?

Yesterday I posted an article on why people think it is OK to ask creative people to work for free.  If you didn't see the article you can read it here.  We need to ask why the same thing is often true for those of us in ministry.  I lead workshops and conferences on small church and bivocational ministry.  I cannot tell you the number of times I've had requests to lead a conference and was told that the organizers didn't have much money and would only be able to provide a small honorarium plus expenses or ask me to do the event for free.  One organizer put a cap on the expenses he would cover about three weeks before the event was scheduled which meant I either had to accept that limit or cancel the week long series of seminars.  Guess who would have been blamed for the cancellation?  That limit did not cover my expenses so I had to cover them myself from the already reduced fee I had previously agreed to.  I was away from home for a week, lead three six-hour long workshops during that week, and got to pay for the privilege out of my own pocket.   But, after all, it's ministry so it's OK...right?

I have friends in the Southern Gospel Music industry.  Most performers in that industry work jobs throughout the week and travel on the weekends to various churches and events to sing.  These include not only local groups but also some who are well-known nationally.  They have to work in order to provide for their families because their music ministry won't pay the bills.  I've been told of churches that agreed to receive a love gift for the group, and when the pastor saw how much had been given decided it was too much.  He kept some of it for the church and gave the group what he thought was fair.  Some have told me after spending a weekend on the road away from their families they didn't receive enough to even pay for their fuel.  Yesterday, I saw an advertisement for a upcoming event for a country music performer.  Tickets were $69.00 and $87.00 each.  I've heard people complain when organizers raised their ticket prices to $15.00 to hear 12-15 different Southern Gospel Music groups perform on the same night.  But, after all, they are doing ministry so they shouldn't expect to be paid much...right?

I know very few ministers who receive a decent salary and benefit package.  If the average income of their congregation was determined, in many cases, the pastor's compensation would be well below that average.  And, if church income drops what does the finance committee begin looking at?  Since in smaller churches, especially, the pastors salary and benefit package is often the largest single expenditure on the church budget, that is where many of them look to make cuts.  Little thought is given to urging the congregation to increase its giving; it's easier to make cuts, and since the pastor is doing ministry it's OK...right?  GOD will take care of the pastor and his or her family...right?

If you haven't guessed, none of these are right.  Scripture clearly teaches that churches have an obligation to provide financially for those who minister to them.  If music and seminar organizers don't have the funds to pay for their singers and speakers, then don't host the event.  If churches cannot provide responsibly for those who provide leadership, then use lay leaders or close your doors.  It's time that churches, denominational bodies, and others stop thinking it is OK to use the gifts and talents of people for free just because what they are doing is ministry.

My main concern here is for pastors.  The fees I charge are very small, especially when compared to most secular speakers, and for some groups I discount that even more, but I have the flexibility to decide whether or not I'm going to speak to some group.  Most pastors do not have that flexibility.  Their financial futures are sometimes at the whim of a small controlling group in the church who still believe that it is not necessary to provide fair compensation for ministry.  That is a mindset that needs to end now.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

When you want to move to a new place of ministry

In recent weeks I've talked with some pastors who are considering if it might be time to move to a new place of ministry.  Some of them are under pressure to leave their current church so it probably is time for them to be seeking a new church.  Others feel that they have accomplished everything they can do in their present ministry and are using that as a springboard to begin searching for new ministry opportunities.  This is a difficult time for clergy and their families and is not a time to get hasty and do something you'll soon regret.

For two years before I left my pastorate at Hebron Baptist Church I knew my time there was drawing to a close.  I did not especially want it to leave, but I could sense my ministry at that church was closing down.  We had enjoyed eighteen years of positive ministry there, but I felt the church had gone as far as it could under my leadership.  They needed a new pastor with different gifts than I had in order to move forward.  This was a scary time and I sought the counsel of family and our Area Minister.  Although I felt certain it was time for me to go the question was where?

Many years earlier I had read a book on pastoral transitions in which the author wrote that this is the loneliest time in a clergy person's life.  One can seek counsel from as many people as possible, but it is still a decision only the minister can make.  Family needs and considerations play a huge part in that decision, but it remains one that the minister has to make by himself or herself.  It is important to know why you are leaving your present ministry and to be willing to wait for God to open the right doors.  For two years I prayed and considered various ministry options until God opened the door to my present place of service.

I see too many pastors run into this process willing to pursue any open ministry opportunity they find.  That is a recipe for disaster.  This is a time to move slowly and deliberately.  Both the church and the minister should take time to really get to know one another.  It is expected that the church will contact references; the minister should also contact people about the church.  Call other churches in the area and ask about the one you are considering.  If the church is in a denomination call the denominational or judicatory leader who serves that church.  I was once being considered by a church in another state, and I called the judicatory person who had the area in which that church was located.  Interestingly enough, that happened to be the church of which he was a member so he was able to tell me quite a bit about the church.  Although he was very positive about the church, after further discussions with the search committee I decided this would not be a good fit for either of us and declined their offer to become their pastor.

There will likely be several meetings with the committee or team designated by the church to search for candidates to bring before the membership.  Be prepared for those meetings.  My experience has been that many committees, especially in smaller churches, are not prepared with good questions to ask the candidate.  As the potential new leader of this congregation this is a great time to demonstrate your leadership abilities.  Be prepared with good questions you can ask the committee that will not only answer your questions but help them better know you.

When I interviewed with Hebron I didn't know what to ask them, and they really didn't ask very good questions either.  We were fortunate.  Despite doing everything wrong in the interview process we turned out to be a good match and enjoyed a good ministry together.  Others I have known were not so fortunate.  They ended up accepting a church that was not a good match for their spiritual gifts and personalities.  In many cases those ministries were both miserable and short-lived.  As I have coached bivocational pastors who were seeking a new place to serve I have found that many of them were uncertain what to ask the search committees.  In my book The Bivocational Pastor: Two Jobs, One Ministry I list the questions I began to ask church search committees.  I would have these typed out and laying before me.  Often, during the interview process, the committee would answer some of them during our conversations, but at the end of that process I asked the ones they had not answered.  Sometimes, the answers I received prevented me from accepting a church that would certainly not have been a good match for me and my family.

This period of seeking a new place of ministry is a challenging one.  If you are in such a place now spend much time in prayer, talk to spiritual leaders you trust, and when new doors of ministry seem to open, do your homework and find out as much about that church and what they need in a new pastor as possible.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Leadership is about taking responsibility.

I find it interesting that everything that was wrong with America was President's Bush's fault when President Obama came into office and throughout his first term, and now none of our nation's problems are the President's fault.  Every day there seems to be a new problem that the President knew nothing about.  Now, I am not one who believes every problem is the fault of the President regardless of his party affiliation, nor do I believe that the President has the power to resolve every issue.  But, leadership is about taking responsibility, and our current President is unwilling to accept responsibility for the problems that threaten to engulf his administration and this nation.  He was more than willing to blame the previous adminstration for the problems he inherited but is unwilling to accept the responsibility for the ones he and his administration have created.  That is not leadership.

An article on President Harry Truman reports that "in an address at the National War College on December 19, 1952 Mr. Truman said, "You know, it's easy for the Monday morning quarterback to say what the coach should have done, after the game is over. But when the decision is up before you -- and on my desk I have a motto which says The Buck Stops Here' -- the decision has to be made." In his farewell address to the American people given in January 1953, President Truman referred to this concept very specifically in asserting that, "The President--whoever he is--has to decide. He can't pass the buck to anybody. No one else can do the deciding for him. That's his job."  In a statement to reporters who were asking why President Bush was defending Rumsfeld Bush responded, "I am the decider, and I decide what's best."  One can argue as to whether or not a decision was the best one, but it is the responsibility of the leader to make decisions and then to own them.  Most Presidents have understood this; our current one does not seem to.

The same responsibility falls to those of us in ministry leadership positions as well.  We have to seek advice from various people and search for the best possible solutions to the challenges we face, but at the end of the day it is our responsibility to make the decisions that we believe gives our churches and ministries the best opportunities to excel.  Will every decision be the right one?  I wish, but sadly they won't.  In fact, sometimes we will make some really poor decisions that can set our ministries back.  At such times the real leader will admit his or her mistake and begin to move the ministry in a different direction.

One of the things I appreciated about the church I served for 20 years was their willingness to support me even when I made poor decisions.  Believe me, in twenty years of ministry in one setting a pastor has the opportunity to make numerous bad decisions, and I took full advantage of those opportunities!  In some churches it would have been three strikes and you're out, but I was blessed to have a congregation that allowed their pastor to be imperfect.

However, I am convinced they may not have been so forgiving if I had not been willing to admit my mistakes.  Had I tried to blame others or pretend I wasn't aware of things that were happening that should have been under my watchcare our congregation would have challenged that and held me well as they should.

As a leader you are called upon to make decisions some of which only you can make.  Some of those decisions will be great ones, and some will be really bad.  Regardless, you have to own all of them, and if you are not willing to do that you are not qualified to be a leader.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Building up your library

I've spent a little time this evening looking at the shelves of books that line two+ walls of my study.  There are hundreds of books on these shelves plus I have more on my NOOK and Kindle devices.  As I was looking at the shelves of books I was reminded of when I began my pastoral ministry in 1981.  I had one three-shelf bookshelf that that had books on one shelf.  I found it very difficult to prepare proper sermons and do the study I needed to do on various topics of pastoral ministry.  Two or three times a month I would visit a nearby college library to use their commentaries and other religious books.  While that helped I dreamed of developing a library of my own.

I now have the opportunity to visit numerous pastors in their churches, and one of the troubling things I find in many of their studies is the lack of good books.  Sometimes this is true of fully-funded pastors, and it is often true for the bivocational ministers I visit.  As one who has always believed that leaders are readers, I wonder what they are doing to grow their leadership and communication skills.  Perhaps, like me in my earlier years of ministry, they make use of public and college libraries, but this has its limitations.  It takes time to go to the library, and the resource you need may not be available when you need it.  My recommendation for ministers is to build up a library of the resources that you need to be effective in ministry.

Books are expensive so most ministers will need to build their library slowly.  The good news is there are many ways to save substantial dollars on the books you want.  For several years I attended the annual book sale our local public library held each fall.  I became a member of the library so I got access to the sale the day before it opened to the public.  That cost me $10.00 a year.  When the doors opened I went straight to the religious section.  Most years I left there with at least one sack of ministry-related books.  My best find was the two-volume Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament which sells for around $100.00 which I bought for $2.00.

Many of the books I purchased were ordered through CBD which offers Christian books at very good prices.   I also had some success visiting a used Christian bookstore near the seminary when I was a student where I found books at greatly reduced prices.  It's also amazing what one can find at yard sales and at the Goodwill stores.  A pastor friend of mine who has thousands of books in his library regularly visits Goodwill stores looking for books.

Some publishers look for persons to review their books.  A few years ago I began reviewing books for one such publisher.  From a list of books I could select one that I thought I would enjoy, they would send me the book free of charge (which I got to keep), and when my review was published I could select another free book as payment for my review.  I did this for a few years and added several books to my library at no cost to me.

Although many e-books are nearly as expensive as printed ones, both NOOK and Kindle do offer some great prices on quality e-books.  Just last night I purchased a book for my Kindle that normally sells for $16.99 for the printed version for $2.99.  That kind of savings can really help your book budget.

Speaking of book budgets, your church should have in its budget a line item that will reimburse you for the books and other resources you purchase.  Our small church provided me with a $400.00 per year book allowance.  They saw it as an investment in their future, and so should your church.  If your church does not offer the pastor a book allowance ask for one.

Because books are so expensive one needs to purchase them carefully.  Early in my ministry I spent quite a bit of money on two commentary sets that proved to not be very helpful.  That was money I could not afford to lose, but I did learn a valuable lesson about being sure the books I bought would actually be helpful to my ministry.

The books you buy are an investment in your ministry.  They will shape you and the way you think.  They will help you as you prepare your messages and as you lead your congregation.  They will give you new tools you will use as you minister to people.  They will also help expand your thinking and challenge some of the preconceptions you may have about various issues and doctrines.  I would not be the person and the minister I am today if I had not read the books I've read.  Invest in yourself and build you a library that will serve your ministry well.