Friday, January 31, 2014

Upcoming speaking engagements

This week I finalized plans for two speaking engagements in March.  The first is with the Old Colony Baptist Association in Massachusetts.  On March 15 they are hosting a conference called "Small Churches Big Possibilities."  I will be the keynote speaker that morning and will be speaking on "The Healthy Small Church."  That afternoon I will lead a workshop on "Transforming the Small Church from Maintenance-Minded to Missional."  In addition, there will be other workshops and a panel discussion on small church issues.  The conference is open to anyone in The American Baptist Churches of Massachusetts.  For more information and registration go to and click on Spring Meeting.

On March 27-29 I will be with the American Baptist Churches of Vermont and New Hampshire for a conference they are hosting.  Thursday evening and Friday I will be presenting a workshop on "The Healthy Pastor."  Saturday's session will address "Bivocational Ministry in the 21st Century."  Ministers in that region should look for promotional material to be coming soon.

It is very exciting to see judicatories offering training opportunities specifically designed for their smaller and bivocational churches.  As more of our marginally fully-funded churches transition to bivocational such opportunities will be even more important.  Not only are they needed for the ministers serving in those churches, they are also important for the lay leadership.  Significant changes occur in a church when it makes this transition, and many churches are not prepared for those changes which often creates problems.

I found it interesting that the four messages I have been asked to present at these events are the most popular workshops I offer.  That tells me there is still a need for this material.  If you are a denominational leader reading this and believe your smaller church leaders would benefit from one of these workshops, or others I offer, I would be glad to discuss presenting them to your leaders.  You can contact me through this blog.

For the bivocational and small church ministers reading this, when your denomination, judicatory, or association does offer this kind of training, be sure to take advantage of it.  For many years those of us in small church leadership had very few training opportunities specifically for us. and many of us got out of the habit of attending any training that was offered.  If your regional or district leadership does offer something like this please make every effort to attend.  Future events often depend on the attendance at the ones that were offered, so you can help ensure more training in the future by attending the events that are offered today.

I hope to see a great turn-out at these two events and look forward to seeing many of the readers of this blog at them. 

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Smaller churches should consider calling older pastors

There is an old joke that says the typical church seeks a pastor who is 35 years old with 25 years in the ministry and has two children and a wife who plays the piano.  After working with many churches in their search for a pastor I can tell you that for some that is their expectations.  I've had many search committees tell me their next pastor needs to be married with children (they hope they will then have a children's ministry), and one actually did say that it would be really good if their new pastor's wife could play the piano.  Countless committees have stated their church would prefer a younger pastor who has "new ideas that would help grow their church."

One of the questions I sometimes ask is why they think only young pastors can have new ideas.  I do know some younger pastors who are extremely creative, and their churches are doing some fantastic ministries in their communities.  I also know some older pastors who are very creative and continue to lead their churches in excellent ministry.  It is a huge mistake to believe that only younger pastors can be creative and that all older pastors cannot effectively lead a church in today's society.

Some churches express a concern that if they call an older pastor he or she will not be there for a long time.  The reality is that most pastors don't remain in smaller churches very long anyway.  Depending on whose figures you read the average tenure in a church is only 3-4 years regardless of the age of the pastor.  Many younger pastors who want to "climb the ministerial ladder" are going to be looking for a larger church soon after arriving at a small church.  Older pastors have little interest in serving in a larger church.  In fact, many of them have already been in those churches and are excited about being in a smaller one.

Another concern is that an older pastor would not be able to relate well to young people.  One church liked a retired pastor after interviewing him but decided to not call him as pastor.  When I asked them why, they said they did not think he could build their youth group.  I pointed out to them that the youngest person in that church was in his mid-50s, the average age of the congregation was probably near 70, and they had no youth in the church and was unlikely to attract any regardless of whom they called as pastor.  I continue to believe that candidate would have been a good match for that church.

One concern that has been expressed only a few times to me about an older candidate is whether he or she would have the energy required to pastor a church.  In most cases, this is not an issue.  Now, if the church expects the pastor to give the church 80-90 hours a week then that will be a problem for anyone regardless of age and is an unrealistic expectation anyway.  The needs of most smaller churches are well within the energy capabilities of older clergy.

Older pastors bring something to the church that younger ones cannot provide: experience.  They have been through the battles and learned which ones are worth fighting and which ones are not.  Many of them understand the importance of building relationships with people which is vital in the smaller church.  They understand the value of timing, and that not every great idea is right for that particular time.  There are some things about ministry that one can only learn through years of doing ministry, and older pastors bring that with them.

One of the things that we in ministry are often told is that we should be where we want to finish our ministry by the age of 55.  After that it can be very difficult to move to a new ministry because so many churches are looking for younger leadership.  There is a great deal of truth in that statement.  I know several ministers in their early 60s who have been looking for a church to serve for a long time with no success.  Many of the churches I assist in their pastoral search simply will not consider anyone over the age of 60.  I think this is a huge mistake.

A reality facing many smaller churches today is the difficulty they have in finding pastoral leadership.  They compound that difficulty by automatically excluding older pastors in their search.  There are many older pastors, even retired ministers, who would enjoy serving in a smaller church, but they do not get the opportunity.  They continue to have much to offer the church, and they want to be engaged in meaningful ministry.  The next time your church is searching for a pastor don't automatically exclude those of us with a little (or lot) of grey in our hair.  You might be pleased with the ministry you would receive.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Ministers and taxes

A pastor called asking a question about his 1099.  I let him finish his question and then asked if the church had given him a 1099.  They had, and I had the unfortunate responsibility to explain to him that it is my understanding of the law that he must be given a W-2 to submit to the IRS.  This is a conversation I have just about every year about this time.  I am not a tax attorney nor am I an accountant, but it is my understanding that the IRS requires that ministers be given a W-2 and not a 1099.  Some churches still have not got that message.

Our conversation worsened when he began asking about his housing allowance.  I asked if his housing allowance was written down anywhere.  He responded that it was just a verbal agreement that so much of his salary would be considered housing allowance.  Sadly, I had to explain to him that a housing allowance must be designated in advance and recorded either in the clerk's report or by being a line item in the budget.  Since neither had been done I told this pastor that in all likelihood he would not receive a housing allowance for 2013 and would have to pay income tax on his entire salary.

These are laws that have been on the books for decades, but many churches and pastors still are not aware of how they work.  It is critical that both churches and clergy learn these laws because the last thing anyone wants is the IRS investigating possible misconduct in how the pastors were paid and how those earnings were reported.

Many years ago the church I pastored became aware of the requirement that their pastor be given a W-2.  Our treasurer was a kind farmer who had kept the financial records of the church for several years, but when we began to discuss the importance of following the IRS regulations, he resigned because he did not feel he could learn those regulations.  Fortunately, a very efficient individual accepted the position and went to a local CPA to ask about how to fill out a W-2 and what laws we needed to be especially careful about.  She never had any problem after that first year of getting me a very complete W-2.  If your financial person is squeamish about issuing a W-2 and other reporting requirements I would highly recommend he or she talk with an accountant who is knowledgeable about church and clergy taxes.

One other area I find a lot of smaller churches make mistakes in their pastoral compensation is in their reimbursement policy.  Too many churches still want to have an agreement with the pastor that a certain amount of his or her salary is considered as reimbursement for such things as mileage.  Any reimbursement policy that does not actually reimburse the minister for out-of-pocket expenses will result in that money being considered income by the IRS.  For instance, a church cannot state that the pastor's salary includes $500.00 for gasoline each month to reimburse the pastor for travel on behalf of the church.  No!  No!  No!  The pastor must actually turn in a mileage report and be reimbursed for the miles driven or that $500.00 is considered to be taxable income by the IRS.

I will repeat what I said earlier.  I am not an attorney nor an accountant, but these are the rules as I understand them.  Please check with one if you have any doubts or questions about what I'm posting in this article.   If anyone knows where I am wrong, please let us all know because it is important that churches understand and follow the tax laws.  It just prevents so many problems down the road.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

What makes you angry?

I began my devotional reading this year by re-reading The Cross of Christ by John R. W. Stott.  I'm about half-way through the book and finding so much that I've missed in previous readings.  In my reading today I came across his thoughts on the doctrine of propitiation.  I marked these words.

First, the reason why a propitiation is necessary is that sin arouses the wrath of God.  This does not mean (as animists fear) that he is likely to fly off the handle at the most trivial provocation, still less that he loses his temper for no apparent reason at all.  For there is nothing capricious or arbitrary about the holy God.  Nor is he ever irascible, malicious, spiteful or vindictive.  His anger is neither mysterious nor irrational.  It is never unpredictable, but always predictable, because it is provoked by evil and by evil alone...What provokes our anger (injured vanity) never provokes his; what provokes his anger (evil) seldom provokes ours (173).

As a younger man my anger got the best of me more than once.  I would like to say I've slain that beast, but it would not be true.  I've tamed it quite a bit, but it's still not dead.  I would also like to say that I now have only righteous indignation, but that also would not be true.  Most of the time when I get angry it is because of injured vanity.  When I was saved many of the things that were temptations for me were removed, but God has left this challenge to remind me that I will always be dependent upon him, and I'm thankful that he has done a great work in this area of my life and continues that work today.

Unfortunately, I meet a lot of pastors who also struggle with anger issues.  A few times it has almost been amusing to watch such pastors who were confronted with their anger issue to demonstrate it's reality through their rejection of that confrontation.  Of course, this is not limited to pastors but can be found in all Christians.  I have seen and heard some truly horrible things in church gatherings that demonstrate how much of a problem anger is in people's lives.  As I reflected on Stott's words I realized that most of the conflict and anger that erupts in churches is seldom about evil; it is nearly always about injured vanity.  Somebody didn't get their way, and a firestorm ignites.

The Bible does not forbid anger.  It tells us that we can become angry and yet not sin.  I have to agree with Stott that the anger that is allowed should be towards evil.  We should get angry over the violence that occurs in our streets.  We should be angry at the drug trafficking that destroys lives.  The church should be angry at the exploitation of women and young people in the sex trafficking that occurs today.  We should be angry at discrimination in all its forms.  We should be angry at the death of so many unborn children through legalized abortion.  We should be angry at the number of children who go to bed every night hungry while living in the wealthiest nation in the world.  We should be angry at the lack of moral restraints that passes as entertainment today.  We should be angry at a government that has usurped the role of God in many people's lives, at the political correctness in our society that tells a child he cannot talk about Jesus in school, and at political leaders who fatten their own checkbooks while ignoring the needs of the people who elected them to office.

But, we aren't.  Most political leaders know they can ignore our concerns because many of us seldom vote, and if we do, like most Americans we vote our pocketbook and not our values.  Seldom do we hear preaching from our pulpits that addresses these issues.  Our board meetings and business meetings seldom include any discussion about how to address these issues in our communities.    We are content to talk about whether the pastor should get a one percent or a one-and-a-half percent pay increase and what color carpet should we install in the sanctuary.  And, too often, if our suggestion isn't approved, that's when we get angry.

The church faces some real challenges today, and if we are going to meet those challenges we are going to have to get angry, real angry but only at the things that makes God angry.  God's wrath is directed at the evil that harms his creation and the persons for whom Christ gave his life.  When we get angry enough at that evil that we actually begin to try to do something about it the church will once again become what God intended for it to be and genuine revival will break out.

Monday, January 27, 2014

When life throws you a curve ball

The past two weeks have been interesting to say the least.  Two weekends ago I spent much of my time in bed or on the couch fighting a nasty cold.  Even though I'm feeling better I still have some cough due to drainage that makes it challenging to speak for long stretches of time.  Near the end of that week the heater motor went out in my old van.  Of course, like much of the nation, we are learning more than we ever wanted to know about polar vortex.  Not a good time to have no heat.  I tried to drive it as little as possible and pray the heater motor would kick on.  Sometimes it did, sometimes it didn't.

Monday, we got hit with another big snowfall.  Although I probably should not have done so, I went out to shovel the driveway before we drove over it.  I shoveled the back end of the driveway first and backed the vehicles down so I could do the top part.  When I started the van the heater came on.  Great!  It could clean off the windshield while I shoveled snow.  However, when I pulled the van back up and turned off the ignition the heater kept running.  The only way to shut if off was to unhook the battery cable.  What compounded that problem was that I had to use the van to haul items I was selling at auction on Saturday.  Friday was haul day, and this happened on Thursday.  I quickly called my garage and they were able to get it fixed.

That week the individual who was to provide food service for the auction called saying he could not do so.  He has had health problems and had to go in for a heart cath.  I quickly called some other auctioneers and got the name of another person who might be able to help.  She agreed to provide the food so another problem was avoided.

On Friday my grandson and I spent eight hours hauling items to the auction site.  Others joined us after they got off work and we spent another four hours setting up the auction.  Everything looked great.  That night we got hit with another blizzard that dumped more snow with some major drifting.  The temperatures plummeted.  We had no choice but to go ahead with the auction.  Only a couple of dozen people braved the weather to come (God bless them!), but it was definitely a buyer's market.  By the end of the sale my voice was almost completely gone and never really came back the next day either.  Lots of cough drops and water to keep everything moist.

As we were hauling on Friday the garage door on my wife's side of the garage threw its chain.  My garage door had not worked in about a month, but I was unable to have it fixed because my side was full of items for the auction.  I called the garage door company and was told they could not be here until Monday.  We had to manually raise my door to finish taking everything out to the van.  By this time we were really wondering if God was sending us a message.

Nobody was hurt.  No one was diagnosed with an incurable disease.  No one went bankrupt.  Throughout the weekend I wanted to keep everything in perspective.  A lot of people have much worse problems than I experienced.  But, when one problem after another starts piling on top of you it's easy to wonder what's going on.

Sometimes it seems all life does is throw you curveballs.  It can be somewhat suffocating at times, and it can get very easy to become discouraged and want to give up.  Many potential major league ball players never made it to the majors because they could not hit a curve ball, and some people never experience victory in life because they can't overcome the curve balls that come their way.

Jesus taught us that storms come into everyone's life, and when they come the only way to withstand them is by being firmly grounded on a solid foundation.  He is that foundation.  When I went to bed Saturday night I thanked God for a warm house, for good food to eat, for a family who loves me and one another, and for Jesus Christ who has promised to never leave us nor forsake us.  When I woke up Sunday morning I prayed the same prayer, and did so again this morning.  I am a blessed man and I owe that to my Lord and Savior.

Today, I have to wait for the garage door repairman, and while I am waiting I will make two phone calls to confirm information for a couple of bivocational conferences I'll be doing on the east coast in March.  I'll spend some time preparing for a conference call from a church's pastoral search committee later this week and for a meeting I will attend at Campbellsville University this week.  Life is good because Jesus Christ is Lord over all!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

How should we dress in the pulpit?

A few months ago I preached in a church that had a traditional and a contemporary worship service.  For the traditional service I wore a suit and tie.  During the interim period between services I removed the tie but left on the suit jacket.  No one said a word that day, but later in the week I encountered one of the older members of the church who attended the contemporary service.  He said, "Sir, when you preach you should always wear a tie."  I made an off-hand comment and went on my way.  When the pastor returned the next week I told him of the gentlemen's comment.  The pastor said he learned he could take his coat off for the second service, but he always kept his tie on.
In the twenty years I pastored Hebron Baptist Church I don't believe I preached without a wearing a tie.  In the summer months, especially before we air conditioned the church, I did forgo the jacket.  However, that was 1981-2001.  Is a suit and tie still necessary to be worn in the pulpit today?  Does not wearing a suit and tie distract people from the message, and if it does what does that say about where people have their attention focused?

This blog is primarily read by leaders of smaller churches, often bivocational ministers, so I'm not addressing questions about clerical collars, robes, and other formal attire worn by some ministers although I am sure there are many bivocational ministers who do wear such formal clothing in the pulpit.  I'm just questioning if the wearing of a suit and tie every Sunday when we stand in the pulpit is necessary in the 21st century.  Personally, I feel that business casual may allow for a better connection with many of the people who would attend our churches, especially if they are unchurched.

How the minister dresses in the pulpit is a major issue in some churches.  I had a woman call one time asking if I could convince their pastor to start wearing a suit and tie on Sundays because she was offended by his dress.  I told her if the majority of the church was comfortable with how he dressed (they were) that perhaps she would be better off finding another place of worship where she would be more comfortable.  Some people in one church complained about the fact that their pastor wore the same pair of pants every Sunday.  I suggested they consider giving him a salary increase.

I hesitate to even mention the apparel of female ministers and worship leaders.  One female minister once told me of an interview she had with a pastor search committee.  This church had never considered calling a woman pastor before, and, at times, seemed to struggle with what to ask.  She said one gentleman asked how she would dress when she preached.  She said she held her hands out to her side and said, "Like this."  His only response was, "Oh, OK."    I believe the biblical injunction would be that both males and females should dress in such a way that is modest and does not call attention to one's appearance.

I am old enough and traditional enough to not be in the camp of those who say ministers should never wear suits and ties in order to better connect with unchurched people.  Some in that camp won't even wear suit and tie when conducting a funeral.  I'm not with that group.  Some of the churches I serve in my area are more formal, and to dress casually there when preaching would be a distraction, and I don't think my dress should be a stumbling-block to anyone.  I have a few churches that require the KJV Bible be used in the pulpit so I dust off my old, black KJV when I preach in those churches to avoid unnecessary distractions.  However, I do think that in many of our churches today we are at a time when more casual dress should be accepted.

When I began as pastor of our church in 1981 we began a Sunday evening service about a month after my arrival.  As we were getting ready for the service my wife was wondering what to wear.  I encouraged her to wear slacks and a blouse, but she was concerned that she would be expected to wear a dress.  I finally convinced her to wear slacks.  She was the only woman there that night wearing slacks.  All of the other women were wearing dresses.  She felt horrible and probably felt my tenure there would be very short until she overheard two of the women around a corner speaking after the service.  One said to the other, "I'm so glad the pastor's wife wore slacks tonight.  Now we can wear ours."  That was probably the only Sunday night in twenty years that any women wore dresses in that church!  If you are in a traditional church where the pastor has always wore a suit and tie maybe that is a conversation you should have with your church leaders.  If they object to your wearing business casual when you preach, then don't.  You may find they really don't care.  I know I feel more comfortable wearing more casual clothes when I'm preaching, and when we're more comfortable we probably do a better job.  That alone makes this a conversation worth having. 

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

How does your church respond in times of crisis?

As I write this we are getting hammered by a winter storm.  I shoveled about 4" of snow off the driveway before taking my wife to work this morning, and they are now calling for another two inches.  The temperatures are dropping fast as the wind picks up.  The weather reminds me of a winter back in the late 1970s when it was cold like this.  We lived in an old farm house with no insulation.  We closed off almost all the house and tried to live in just the living room and kitchen.  We were running a gas furnace and a wood stove in the living room and could not get the house to 60 degrees.  After several days of that the weather finally broke, but it was really brutal.  I know there are people living like that today as well.

About a week ago our local newspaper ran a story on how people are being helped in our small community during these real cold spells.  The Salvation Army of course is providing a warm place for people to gather and warm meals.  I wasn't surprised by that, but the article really caught my attention when it went on to mention a small church across from the Salvation Army that has set up cots in their building to provide a place for people to sleep at night to get out of the cold.  The article said the church had about 14 cots available for people, and that they were being used in the real cold nights we've been having this year.

I know the pastor of this church, and we've been friends for a number of years.  I know she has a heart for people who need help because, like most of us, she's been there herself.  This church is in the right location as it is in our downtown area where it provides for easy access.  I imagine some of the folks who spend their days at the Salvation Army simply cross the street when the SA closes their doors for the night.

The article reminded me again of the ministry smaller churches can provide.  When I hear so many members of smaller churches complain about not being able to do things like the big churches do, this story just goes to show that regardless of size a church can provide ministry to people in difficult times.  More than 30 years ago I heard a Christian leader tell a congregation to quit waiting for a call of God to act.  He said, "The need is the call."  When you see a need you can fulfill that is God's call to respond.  My friend's church saw a need and has responded.  I pray your church is doing the same.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Dysfunctional churches are led by dysfunctional people

Because of my writing and speaking I receive a lot of phone calls and e-mails from pastors and church leaders from numerous denominations.  Most are seeking my advice about something that is happening in their churches.  Many of the questions I receive are related to inappropriate behavior that an individual or small group in the church is doing.  If it seems that I write about controllers fairly often in this blog it's only because I have a lot of people asking how to deal with such people.  These controllers are taking a huge toll on their churches, but they are also taking a big toll on their pastors and the work of the Kingdom of God.

For new readers of this blog, controllers are people within the church who see the church as existing for their own benefit.  They see the church as their church, and they will run it the way they want to.  These are very dysfunctional people.  Some may work their way into leadership positions in the church while others prefer to work in the shadows.  The former group likes to use the church business meeting as their public forum to denounce everyone and everything they don't like.  The latter group prefers to talk privately in the parking lots and hallways hoping to get others to do their bidding while they appear to be above it all.  These folks seldom represent the majority of the people in the church, but for some reason the majority of people are intimidated by them and refuse to stand up to them.  As one pastor who finally resigned after having been beaten down by a handful of controllers in the church told me, "The problem with our church is we have too many nice people here who won't stand up to the ones who aren't so nice."  The same could be said of many churches.

Recently, I've been told of churches where the controllers are demanding things that are incredible.  In every case these churches have a long history of this kind of dysfunctional behavior on the part of the same people, and nobody is willing to confront them.  Frankly, I'm afraid I'm not much help to those who call with these issues in their churches because one of my first questions to the caller is, "What are you going to do about it?"  The first thing I usually hear when I ask that question is a long silence followed by something to the effect that there really isn't anything they can do.  I then ask if these people represent the majority of people in the church, and I'm usually told they do not.  I then repeat my first question.

I then begin to explain to the callers that controllers are cancers in the church.  They are unhealthy cells attacking healthy cells, and if they are not stopped they will eventually kill the body.  Cancer cannot be cured by putting a Band-Aid on it or by ignoring it.  Most cancers require drastic measures in order for a cure to occur.  Those measures are often not pleasant or enjoyable at the time but are essential if the body is to live.  Controllers are not nice people, especially if someone crosses them, and they usually will not be stopped by trying to be nice to them.  These people will attack anyone they consider to be a threat to their power or position in the church.  As I write about in my book The Healthy Small Church: Diagnosis and Treatment for the Big Issues most people will not enjoy the confrontation that is required to resolve issues with controllers, but such confrontation is necessary if the church is to become healthy once again.

One unfortunate reality is that the pastor is not usually the one to lead such confrontation.  Too many times I have seen the pastor try to stand up to the controllers only to find himself or herself unemployed.  Church folks are great about telling the pastor how they will back them up in any such confrontation, but often they are so far back they are invisible.  It is the congregation itself that must stand up to the controllers if they are to be stopped, and, bluntly speaking, if they are unwilling to do that then they deserve the church they have.

Controllers are destroying their churches, driving pastors out of the ministry, and keeping unchurched people from hearing the gospel because of their insatiable desire for power.  Many of those unchurched are the children of the congregation who are turned off by what they see occurring in the church.  As I ask in the book mentioned above, you have decide who you love more: the controllers or your own teenagers?  Once you answer that question then you can answer my other question: "What are you going to do about it?"

Friday, January 17, 2014

What options does your church provide people?

In the small community where my wife was raised there was a grocery store that always amazed me.  It had two aisles.  You entered the store, walked up the first aisle, turned the corner where the meat counter was, and then walked down the second aisle to the cash register.  What amazed me was that it was possible to buy everything a family would need in those two aisles.  They didn't offer 47 varieties of catsup; they probably had at the most two brands to choose from.  When you were looking for something you didn't have to make sure you didn't get the package that was low-fat, or the one that had 50 percent less sodium, or the one that had extra flavoring added, or the one with the fresh fragrance that would make your whole house smell better.  You simply bought the item because it was the only one available there for purchase.  The butcher cut all the meat by hand while you watched, and he didn't bury the marbled park chop on the bottom of the stack.  Grocery shopping was so much easier in those days, and you didn't have to invest two hours of your life to do it either.

Unfortunately, life isn't as simple today.  People want all those options.  In fact, they expect it, and if they can't get the exact product they want, they will go to two or three different stores until they find it.  This is not limited to their purchase of groceries either.  We live in a time when people expect options in everything they do, and this can be a problem for a lot of churches, especially smaller churches.

Many churches of all sizes report a steady decline in their Sunday school programs.  Could that decline be due to the fact that many of these churches have not changed how their Christian education ministry is structured since World War II?  Could it be that not everybody is excited about sitting in a room looking at the back of people's heads while someone reads from the Uniform Lesson Plan teacher's guide?  What could happen if optional, short-term classes were offered that looked more like a discussion group than a formal Sunday school class?  What if 3-4 of those classes were offered at the same time giving people an option?  What if the church eliminated Sunday classes completely except for those who do enjoy the Uniform Lesson Plan and offer small groups that meet at various times during the week?  Maybe, if people were given more options, we would see more people involved in our Christian education ministry of the church.

There is always a risk when one begins to talk about music in the church, but I believe it was Rick Warren who once said that when a church decides upon the music it will use in worship it also determines the people it will reach. As I meet with small churches a common refrain I hear is that they wish they could reach younger people.  Well, how many younger people do you see lined up in a music department somewhere buying CDs of organ music?  Now, I'm not opposed to organ music.  I enjoy the great hymns of the faith.  I also enjoy some contemporary music, but I'm finding that I'm singing less and less of it in worship services.  I sense that much of our contemporary music today is not really meant to be sung as a congregation.  It seems more suited for a performance by the worship team, but this is a topic for another blog on another day.  We really do need to look at how we can give people more options when it comes to the music we have in our worship services, and in my opinion the best option for that will usually involve two or more worship services regardless of the size of the congregation.  I plan to have a post on this in the near future to explain in more detail what this means for the smaller church.

How many ways does your church have to communicate with people?  Do you send out newsletters weekly or monthly?  Have you determined how many people read those expensive snail mail communication pieces?  I would guess a large percentage never opens them.  Does your church have a Facebook account, a blog, a webpage that communicates not only to the church membership but to anyone who wishes to check you out.  I cannot tell you how many times I have wanted to visit a church on Sunday morning only to find out they didn't have a web page and I had no way to find out what time their service started.  I just took my offering check and visited another church.  Yes, some people will read their newsletter, but to communicate with the largest possible number of people you have to give them other choices.  Some will check out the church Facebook page every day to see what's going on.  Others will be interested in reading the pastor's blog.  Others will prefer e-mail notices about church events.

For this post I'll give just one more choice that we need to offer people.  How do you receive your tithes and offerings?  If your church is like most you receive an offering at some point in your worship service.  My 40 year-old son recently told me I was one of the only people he knew who still writes checks.  Like many younger people he simply does not write checks.  A person much closer to my age told me this week that she seldom writes a check but depends on direct billing to her bank account for all her utility bills and pays for nearly everything else by cash or debit card.  Does your church offer your members (and others) the option to pay their tithes and offerings online by debit card?  Do any of your members donate to your church through automatic payments from their bank account into that of your church?  Dare I ask if your church has an ATM in the church to allow people to withdraw cash if they want to make a cash contribution?

I have to admit I miss shopping in that old two-aisle store, but even it remodeled several years ago and now offers many more options to its customers.  The owners recognized their customers wanted more options than they could provide in their smaller store, so they made it possible to offer them those options.  Thinking about some of the options I've mentioned may seem overwhelming, but they're really not.  Most would cost very little money.  It would require more planning and some changes in your current structures, but even these are not as great as one might think.  None of these involve changing anything about your message.  They just offer your church the opportunity to have more people hear that message, and that's a good thing.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Tough questions the church must ask

In the movie Sister Act the character played by Whoopi Goldberg wanted the nuns to leave the safety of their convent to go into the dangerous neighborhood that surrounded them.  The Mother Superior forbade it saying that is was much too dangerous.  When the priest overruled her ban the nuns went into the neighborhood where they found numerous ways to minister to those who lived there.  As the weeks went by the church sanctuary, which had been nearly empty, began to fill with those folks whose lives had been touched.

The world is a dangerous place, but it is in exactly that dangerous place where we are called to serve.  Too many churches want to sit in the safety of their "sanctuaries" and wonder why the people are not coming to them.  Jesus taught that we are to go into all the world and make disciples, not sit around and hope people will come to us.

I was involved in conversations with some folks yesterday about the situation facing many of our churches, especially our smaller ones.  Some of them were amazed when I told them that approximately 100 churches in the US close their doors every week.  I explained to them that the size of the church had nothing to do with that although the majority of those churches were smaller churches.  The primary reason they closed their doors was that they had forgotten why they existed.  At some point in history people had a vision that involved a church in that location, but over the years succeeding generations lost that vision.  They no longer had a purpose for existing other than ensuring that the existing members had their spiritual and other needs met.  While this is important, it is not a vision that can sustain a ministry nor should it be the primary focus of the church.  Eventually, a church with such a tunnel vision will cease to exist.

Scripture clearly gives each church its mission.  It's found in the Great Commission and the Great Commandment, and neither can be fulfilled unless the church is in the world touching people's lives.  Unfortunately, the reality is that too many churches have abandoned this God-given mission.  Such churches need to ask some really tough questions.
  • Who are we here for?  If a church exists for those who do not yet know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior it should be reflected in their budget and in their programming.  You might want to check out those before answering this first question because it could change the way you answer it.
  • Is what we're doing worth the life of the Son of God?  Think back to your last board meeting or business meeting.  How much of the time in those meetings were spent discussing vital issues that will impact the lives of people and how much of it was spent discussing trivial things that won't matter five years from now?
  • Who is Jesus to you?  How the church answers this question will determine what kind of church it will be.  Any church that calls itself a conservative or evangelical church that is not reaching unchurched people for Christ has some serious problems.
  • Do you love people as much as Jesus does?  On the night he was betrayed Jesus took a basin of water and washed the feet of his disciples, including the one he knew would later betray him.  Many churches claim to be the friendliest church in town, but from my experience of being a different church nearly every week I would say that many of them are only friendly to one another, not necessarily to the stranger in their midst.  People matter to God.  Do they matter to your church?
  • What price are you willing to pay?  Many of the churches I work with claim they want to reach new people until they learn they will probably have to change some things to do so.  After all, if you could reach people by doing what you're doing, you would already be reaching them!  What preferences, what traditions, what sacred cows would your church give up to reach people with the gospel?
These are tough questions which I believe every church is going to be forced to ask at numerous times in its life.  Based upon your answers your church will be set on a path that will lead you to a destination.  The right answers will result in transformed lives and the advancement of the Kingdom of God.  The wrong answers will lead to the church becoming irrelevant and useless to the purposes of God.  Is it time to begin asking these questions of your leadership?

For more on this issue I recommend you read my book The Healthy Community: Moving Your Church Beyond Tunnel Vision.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Transferable skill sets

While traveling recently I listened to a Dave Ramsey podcast I had downloaded onto my I-Pod.  One caller had left a teaching job due to serious hip problems making it impossible for her to stand for extended periods of time.  She called asking what she might do to return to the work force.  Ramsey responded by asking how might she find other ways to use her skills and passion for teaching in other areas.  He explained she might consider starting a tutoring business so she could better control her work hours and conditions.  She could consider teaching on-line courses.  Perhaps she could further her education qualifying her to teach at a university.  His point was that she had skills that were very transferable and she just needed to determine which options appealed the most to her.

The podcast was very timely because I was on the road to meet a pastor who wanted to talk to me about what a transition to bivocational ministry might look like.  He had read a recent blog post of mine that challenged fully-funded pastors to recognize that many churches are already transitioning to bivocational ministers and more are expected to do so in the near future.  He wanted to discuss what that might look like for him if things were to change in his ministry. 

This is a conversation I've had with several pastors in the past couple of years.  One of the main concerns these ministers have is what they would do for a second job.  Some tell me that ministry is all they know and all they've been trained to do.  They seem a little stunned when I remind them of all that ministry involves.  Pastors teach, they counsel, they deal with conflict, they administer the affairs of an organization, they lead, they manage staff (either paid or volunteer), they work with a range of age groups, they fund raise, they do research, they cast vision and set goals, they provide comfort to hurting and frightened people, they are cheerleaders, they influence the thinking of others, and the list goes on.  All of these are transferable skills into other types of jobs.  The only thing a minister has to do when transitioning from a fully-funded position to a bivocational one is to determine which of these many tasks he or she is doing as a ministry is the most rewarding and is there a market for that where they live.

Many bivocational ministers work as teachers in schools, universities, and seminaries.  As more schools increase the number of online courses they offer I anticipate seeing many bivocational ministers teaching those courses.  Such a position would provide them with great flexibility and enable them to have more control over their schedule.  Such flexibility is wonderful for the bivocational minister. 

Bivocational ministers who have degrees in counseling can often find opportunities working for Christian counseling organizations.  Others find work with social agencies.  I know one bivocational minister who now directs an organization that works with troubled young people.  It is the perfect setting for a minister who once served as a youth pastor, and he is flourishing in this role and providing excellent pastoral ministry to his church.

We could go on citing other examples, but the bottom line is that many of the things we do as ministers can easily transfer into secular employment if we find it necessary to become bivocational.  Again, it's a matter of determining among all the things we do as clergypersons what brings us the most enjoyment and is obviously a strength of ours and then looking to see if there are employment opportunities available in our communities that would allow us to do those things.  Fortunately, the individual with whom I was meeting had already asked those questions of himself.  He presented to me a number of options that would be available for him if he became bivocational.  If that day should come he will be well on his way to a healthy transition.  Would you?

Monday, January 13, 2014

What books do you need to read in 2014?

As we entered the new year a host of blog writers shared their top reads of 2013.  Regular readers of this blog know that I was among those who shared such a list.  I enjoy reading those lists because they often expose me to books I did not know was written.  After reading one such list I bought three of the books on the list for my Kindle.

My hope is you are a reader, and that you have a list of books you're planning to read this year.  The reason I hope that is because few things will shape you and your ministry more than the books you read.  As I've written before, leaders are readers, and if you read this blog you are likely a leader.

While I will select some books to read on a whim, much of my reading is intentional.  Many of the books I choose are books that speak to specific topics I might be interested in.  When I was a pastor I spent each summer preaching through a book of the Bible, so at the start of the year I would buy various commentaries and other study helps that focused on the biblical book I had chosen to preach through that year and begin to read them.  One year I decided to focus my devotional reading on books written by apologists so I purchased several books of that genre.  Because so much of my interest is in the areas of bivocational ministry and leadership I look for books on those topics to read.  This year I plan to re-read a number of books in my library I found to be great reads because I know I can learn even more from those books by re-reading them.

I would recommend you develop an intentional reading plan if you do not already have one.  What goals have you set for your church, your personal life, and your family?  Do you need to read some books to acquire the knowledge you'll need to achieve that goal?  Is there a hobby you're interested in pursuing but aren't sure what all it might entail?  A good book or two could be a great help.  Are there some theological issues you struggle with?  Reading can help you find the answers to those challenges.  Maybe you need to develop some new knowledge or skills to advance in your job.  Instead of wishing you had that knowledge or those skills begin to study to acquire them and go after that promotion.

Let me share what I've read so far this year and why.

The Heart of Leadership: Becoming a Leader People Want to Follow by Mark Miller is an excellent book on developing as a leader.  He points out in his easy-to-read book that the most important leadership tool we have is our heart.  When we have the heart of a leader we will find that people want to follow us.  As I stated above, one of my primary focuses is on leadership so I try to read several books on that subject each year.  The next such book I plan to read is Hacking Leadership: The 11 Gaps Every Business Needs to Close and the Secrets to Closing Them Quickly by Mike Myatt.  I will begin this book this week.

Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions is written by Gregory Koukl.  This is one of the books that I discovered from one of the "favorite reads" post by another blogger.  Koukl is an apologist who provides his readers with clear and effective ways to address the questions and concerns people have about Christianity.  I believe this book will help me be a more effective evangelist.

A few weeks ago I purchased a box of books at an auction, and in the box found a copy of Payne Hollow: Life on the Fringe of Society by Harlan Hubbard.  Harlan and his wife Anna started out as shantyboaters on the Ohio and Mississippi rivers before finding a spot on the river known as Payne Hollow.  This spot was just a few miles down river from where I live.  In the early 1950s they built a house there and lived a simple life largely self-sufficient from the conveniences of the modern world.  I seem to remember seeing them once or twice when they came into town to purchase the few things they could not provide for themselves.  Hubbard was a very well-known artist in this area, and his paintings today sells very well.  They often hosted college students, professors, and others who wanted to know more about their lives, and I have spoken with some who had visited them in their home.  I've wanted to read about his life for some time, and when I found the book in that box I knew now was the time.  It was such a fascinating read of a man and woman who determined to live a simple life that I completed the book in two days.

For my devotional reading right now I am re-reading The Cross of Christ by John R. W. Stott.  I first read this book in the late 1980s or early 1990s and felt led to re-read it now.  It has not disappointed.  After one has been a Christian for some time and hears (and preaches) so many sermons related to the cross of Jesus Christ it becomes easy to lose some of the awe and appreciation for all that it means.  Much of my devotional reading this year will be theological books that have some real substance to them, and this has been a great start to that reading.

As you can see, I have reasons for selecting most of the books I read, and I encourage you to also become intentional about your reading.  Your reading will shape you in so many ways so read well this year.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

What would be best for many smaller churches that are struggling?

In recent weeks I've had a number of interesting conversations with small church leaders, denominational leaders, and others about some of the challenges facing smaller churches.  Our nation is dotted with smaller churches.  Some have very effective ministries while others struggle to keep their doors open.  Some are led by student pastors, others have found bivocational leadership, and growing numbers of them are finding it difficult to find pastoral leadership.  Even finding good lay leadership is a struggle in some of these churches as their membership ages and people do not want the responsibility.  Those churches with healthy leadership and ministries will do quite well, but what about the others?  What lies ahead for them?

There are several options.  One obvious option would be to close, and for some of those churches it is the best option.  Such churches could probably contribute more to the Kingdom of God by becoming a legacy church than to remain open as long as they can pay their light and heat bills.  For more information on legacy churches I recommend reading Legacy Churches by Stephen Gray and Franklin Dumond.

A second option is to have several churches served by one pastor.  The United Methodist Church has been doing that for years.  We have proposed this to some of our American Baptist churches in our region but it has not been met with a lot of acceptance.  There is a strong tradition of our churches having their own pastor, and that tradition has been difficult to overcome.  This is unfortunate because it can be a viable option.

Some ask why many of these smaller churches do not merge to become a larger church.  Those asking assume that once the churches merge and become larger they will be better able to attract leadership and develop more effective ministries.  Unfortunately, mergers are much more complicated than many people think.  Often, when two or three unhealthy small churches merge you have one larger unhealthy church.  Mergers do not solve underlying issues in a church.  Another common problem is that these merged churches sometimes continue to be two churches who now happen to meet at the same time in the same location.  The congregations never truly merge into one, and it can be easy for an "us vs. them" mentality to take over.  Another issue that arises is where will this new, merged congregation meet.  It's often best if both churches sell their facilities and purchase a new one.  Otherwise, the congregation that keeps its building may feel their vote counts a little more than the other congregation who has been merged into their church.

There is another option that I think needs to be explored more than it has.  Some smaller churches have become satellite sites of larger churches in the area.  These churches are able to keep their property and much of their identity, but they often benefit from having more experienced leadership and more resources than they would have on their own.  Many of them have live worship in their own building and at a prescribed time the teaching pastor appears on the screen to deliver a message.  Many of them will have a site pastor who will provide pastoral care and local ministry.  This person may or may not be ordained.  He or she might be a lay person with the spiritual gifts for such ministry.

There are challenges to this option.  A recent study found that a majority of churchgoers prefer a live speaker to one on video.  I enjoy watching a baseball game at the ballpark, but I might do that once or twice a year.  The rest of the time I watch it on television and still enjoy the game. I have to wonder how many people who would object to having their pastor preach on video never miss a Charles Stanley sermon on Sunday morning before they go to church.   I believe once people got used to having their minister deliver his or her message on a screen they would find this is a not a problem.

If the speaker is live the satellite church would have to be very careful about timing.  There may not be time for every person in attendance to share their prayer concerns which is an important part of the worship service in many smaller churches.  The service would have to be scripted much tighter than sometimes happens in smaller churches which some might find troublesome.  Some churches get around this problem by using a video from the previous week's message so they can play it at the appropriate time and not have to worry as much about timing everything so the church is ready for the speaker.

While there are other challenges let me briefly mention some big advantages this could have for the smaller church.  The quality of the sermons could be much better.  Most people who become pastors of larger churches are usually very good communicators.  Many of them would bring better preaching skills and scholarship than what some smaller churches have been used to having.  A second benefit would be the additional resources the smaller church would have available through their relationship with the larger church.    Additional training opportunities that could be offered by the larger church is a third advantage.

Smaller churches are going to have to begin looking at some of these options are they look ahead.  It will become increasingly more difficult for them to just continue as they have for decades.  Changes are coming whether we like them or not.  The wise churches will be those who recognize that and begin now to transition to the options that will make the most sense for them.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Bivocational ministers redeem the time

I recently had a regular reader of this blog send me an e-mail which he has allowed me to share with you.

"I just had lunch with a fellow bivocational pastor and independently we both came to the conclusion that we waste far less time than our friends who are fully funded pastors.  We spend less time interacting on FB about the latest Christian controversies and far less time schmoozing in coffee shops with other pastors for hours on end talking about nothing in particular.  I know this isn't a universal truth and that many fully funded pastors use their time wisely, but having 2 jobs and a family of eight really forces me to redeem the time and shut out the noise.  Do you find this to be the norm?"

Yes, I do.  Most bivocational ministers struggle to find the time necessary to meet all the demands on their time, and we tend to be pretty careful about what we give time to.  This sometimes leads to criticism from fully funded colleagues and denominational leaders who wonder why we are not more involved in associational and denominational activities.  Even members of our congregations may get upset because we do not give much time to such things as associational men's or women's meetings.  People who have not been bivocational often do not understand how difficult it can be to keep our lives and ministries in balance and how adding an activity that might not be essential can disrupt that balance.

I know one bivocational minister who often receives criticism from other pastors in his association for his lack of involvement in associational activities.  One pastor who sometimes voiced that criticism to me recognized that this bivocational minister's church was one of the few in their association that had experienced significant growth during the past few years.  He recently told me that while the rest of the pastors had spent endless times in meetings, this bivocational pastor spent his available time reaching out into the community and growing the church.  The former critic confessed to me that he wished he had followed the example of the bivocational minister.

I was glad my friend acknowledged that many fully funded pastors also use their time wisely.  I know many fully funded ministers who also struggle to maintain balance in their lives and have to make difficult decisions about how to invest their time and energy.  They often find they are also criticized for not being involved in activities that others deem important.  More than once I've heard someone criticize a fully funded pastor for not supporting some associational activity.  The critics usually have no idea of the demands this minister already has on his or her time.

The ones who do struggle to redeem their time wisely are those serving in what I refer to as "marginally fully-funded" churches.  Over 30 years ago I was asked by a church member of one such church if I would be interested in serving as their pastor.  This church had been served for many years by student pastors and averaged around 90 people in attendance.  They wanted to transition to a fully funded pastor. 

Quite honestly, at that time I had not even heard of bivocational ministry and had never served as a pastor.  For those reasons it probably sounded a little arrogant to the other person when I responded that I did not believe they needed a fully funded pastor.  Their salary package would have been marginal at best, and their work load was not enough to keep a pastor busy.  I told the person, whom I had known for a long time, that if they called a fully funded pastor they would probably find that within a few years he would become more involved in denominational work and his garden would keep getting bigger each year.  Parkinson's Law would go into effect:  Work expands to fill the time available for its completion.  Their pastor would have to find things to do to fill his workday, and in that small community in a church that size they would probably find their pastor doing a lot of things that would add little value to their church.

This church called a fully funded pastor. and within a few years I heard that his garden was one of the largest in the congregation.  Over the years the church had a number of fully funded pastors and yet never grew.  A few years ago they allowed their pastor to become bivocational.  The church continues to be about the same size it was 30 years ago, but the church seems to have less stress.  Although their pastor now has to balance a second job with his church responsibilities, it seems that he is more focused and less stressed today than when he was fully funded.

Many of us in church leadership, including myself, continues to believe that more of these size churches will be transitioning to bivocational ministers in the near future.  Finances are often the reason given, and for some churches it will be a financial decision.  But, many of these churches will also realize that they can enjoy a more productive ministry from a bivocational minister who is able to focus on the truly important things and wisely redeem the time given to ministry.

I should close by adding that some bivocational ministers do not invest their time well.  Perhaps they've not learned how to manage their lives and their time.  They may struggle with effective delegation.  Their priorities may be wrong.  If this is a problem area for you I would recommend my book The Healthy Pastor: Easing the Pressures of Ministry.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Prepare yourself for what God has in store

A couple of years before I took early retirement from the company I worked for I was selected for a new job.  For 28 years I had worked in the shop, belonged to our company union, but now I was chosen for a very unusual position.  Several things made it unusual.  One, because our company was unionized all shop jobs were given based on seniority; this job would not be based on seniority.  Two, the union was responsible for selecting the person for this job.  Third, there were only about five people working this job throughout this world-wide company.  Fourth, I would continue to be a shop employee but would work from an office and would report directly to the quality manager and the plant manager.  Finally, I was the contact person for every customer for every product our plant produced.  I would receive all complaints from every customer we had around the world, and it would be my role to find out why there was a problem and how it would be corrected.  Needless to say, it was a very interesting job.

Out of all the persons in our plant who could have been chosen, why did our union rep select me?  I believe one reason was that about five years earlier I had began working on my bachelor's degree and was nearing graduation.  To my knowledge, I was the only shop person in our plant with a college education.  I also think it was because I had been a pastor for a number of years, and our rep knew that I could work with people.  He also knew I would represent our company well and treat our customers with integrity and courtesy.

I did not enroll in college with the hopes of being qualified to get this job.  In fact, these positions did not exist in the company until about three years after I enrolled.  I was completely surprised when our union rep told me he wanted to submit my name for the position.  However, I don't think it caught God by surprise.  Scripture teaches us that he has a path prepared for each of us even before we were born.  Whether we follow that path or not depends on us and the choices we make.  In this particular situation, I had made a choice to pursue an education later in life than most that turned out to prepare me for a new position in the company I was working for.  Not surprisingly, that choice has also prepared me for several other opportunities I may not have been given otherwise.

Mark Miller has written a wonderful book, The Heart of Leadership: Becoming a Leader People Want to Follow, in which he writes, "Others control many of our opportunities, so that shouldn't be our concern.  We control our readiness."  Too many people want to be in positions of leadership but have done nothing to be ready if and when their time comes.  They are by-passed over and over and wonder why, and the reason is that others can tell they are not ready to lead.  The same thing happens for those of us in ministry leadership as well. 

I think of the time when Samuel was to select the person who would follow Saul as king of Israel.  God kept rejecting the ones Samuel chose.  God explained that while mankind often chooses people based on their outward appearance, he looks at the heart.  Only David was prepared to become the next king, and he was the one Samuel (and God) anointed.

How have you prepared yourself for whatever God has in mind for you?  I'm not talking just about educational achievements, either.  As Miller writes about in his book, a leader's character is more important than his or her skills or knowledge.  What are you doing to grow your leadership character?  Are you consistently trustworthy in your words and actions?  Do you put others first?  How well do you listen?  Do you accept responsibility for your failures, or do you blame others?  Miller discusses all of these, and more, in his book.  I've had the opportunity to do things I would never have supposed possible because I was prepared when the time came.  At the same time, I sometimes wonder how many other opportunities were never presented to me because I wasn't prepared.

You never know what God may have in mind for you.  Look for ways to develop your skillset and your leadership character so you'll be ready when God opens up a new door of opportunity for you.  I think Miller's book will help you do that.  You'll find it to be an enjoyable and a quick read.  I read it in two days because I found it so helpful.

Friday, January 3, 2014

My top ten reads for 2013 1-5

Today I will complete my list of my top ten favorite reads for 2013.  Yesterday I listed numbers 6-10, and today we will look at numbers 1-5.

5.  The Painful Side of Leadership: Moving Forward Even When It Hurts by Jeff Iorg.  This former pastor and now seminary president understands leadership and the pain that often accompanies it.  He cautions that leaders should expect opposition and that they should gather around them people committed to praying for their ministry.  Any leader who does not do that he describes as both arrogant and foolish.  He also warns against having one's spouse as the only source of emotional support during leadership trials.  The book is full of helpful information for anyone in a leadership role, and I would highly recommend it.

4.  Why Jesus?: Rediscovering His Truth in an Age of Mass Marketed Spirituality by Ravi Zacharias.  There is seldom a year that I do not read at least one of Zacharias' books.  In this book he takes on the New Spirituality that is presented as gospel by such people as Deepak Chopra and Oprah Winfrey and shows how it pales in comparison to the true gospel of Jesus Christ.  In my opinion no apologist today does a better job of explaining the superiority of Christianity over any other religious system.  As church leaders we are continually confronted by people who hold to the teachings of the New Spirituality.  Some of these people are even in our churches.  We need to be able to point out the differences between these those beliefs and the Gospel, and this book can help you do that.

3.  The Ascent of a Leader: How Ordinary Relationships Develop Extraordinary Character and Influence by Bill Thrall, Bruce McNicol, and Ken McElrath.  According to the authors, most leaders are on a Capacity Ladder.  That ladder can take them only as high as their individual potential will allow.  Some can become very successful on that ladder, but they point out that there is another ladder that can enable a leader to go even further.  That ladder is the Character Ladder.  These two ladders can actually integrate with one another, and as the leader climbs this integrated ladder he or she becomes the kind of person others want to follow.  This leads not only to greater success for the leader, but more importantly it allows for the organization to be more effective in its efforts.  This is a great book for one who wants to improve his or her leadership abilities.

2.  The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth: Live Them and Reach Your Potential by John Maxwell.  Like Zacharias, there is not a year goes by that I don't read at least one book by Maxwell.  One of the goals of every leader should be to reach his or her potential every year and then to expand that potential.  This book can help one do that.  No matter where one is in his or her development, there is always room for growth.  I plan to read this book again in 2014 because I don't ever want to stop growing.

1.  Credibility: How Leaders Gain and Lose It, Why People Demand It by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner.  These leadership experts believe that leadership is something that one must earn every day because others will decide each day whether or not they are going to follow you.  One of the critical components they will consider is whether or not they believe their leader is credible.  Once a leader loses credibility it becomes very difficult to regain it.  This book explains how to maintain credibility with those you are leading  Being honest, being pro-active, developing relationships with those you lead, and listening well are only four of the things discussed in this book.  I decided to make it my #1 pick because if we don't get this right we won't be leaders for long, and this book can help ensure the reader can remain a credible leader.

That's the list.  I did not include the New Testament in the list.  I did read it through again this year, but I hope every Christian understands that it should always be at the top of our reading lists!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

My top ten reads for 2013 6-10

Each year I like to post my top ten favorite books for the year.  I read similar lists on other blogs and often find some books I think I would like to read.  I think it's beneficial to read books other leaders have found helpful. A few years ago one leader I respect published a list of several books he recommended to ministry leaders, and over the next two or three years I read over half of those books.  The vast majority I found to be excellent reads.  Maybe you'll see a book or two on my list that will appeal to you.

10.  Success over Stress: 12 Ways to Take Back Your Life by H. Norman Wright.  Every ministry leader knows what stress is like.  We often find it difficult to keep our lives and ministries in balance.  Wright recognizes that we can't eliminate stress from our lives, but he provides some great advice to lessen the negative impact that stress can create.  This was a book I kept in my car for those times when I was between meetings.  Just having this book to read during such times helped reduce that stress!

9.   Taking God Seriously: Major Lessons from the Minor Prophets by Stuart Briscoe.  This was a book I read as part of my devotional reading this year.  It is a book I used several years ago when I was preaching a series of sermons through the Minor Prophets.  I really enjoyed re-reading it this time simply as a devotional reading as it reminded me of God's faithfulness and the grace he demonstrated to the nation of Israel even when they would turn away from him.  Reading this caused me to reflect on the times God has extended the same grace to me.

8.   The Carrot Principle: How the Best Managers Use Recognition to Engage Their People, Retain Talent, and Accelerate Performance [Updated Revised] by Adrian Gostick.  Based upon extensive research the author believes the most effective leaders add a fifth element to the four basic tasks of leadership: Goal setting, Communication, Trust, and Accountability.  The fifth element he would add is Recognition.  He then goes on to describe how to build a carrot culture in any organization.  For ministry leaders who often work with volunteers I think this book is a must read.

7.    Thou Shall Prosper: Ten Commandments for Making Money by Rabbi Daniel Lapin.  I first heard Rabbi Lapin on a Dave Ramsey podcast talk about the principles in this book.  Despite what some in the media and government may want us to believe, there is nothing sinful or wrong about capitalism or making money.  Rabbi Lapin acknowledges that the Jewish people are good business people and he understands the reasons for this are found in the principles they are often taught in childhood.  This book attempts to share those same principles with everyone.  Let me mention just two he discusses: One should sacrifice present pleasures for future benefits, and have respect for the value of education.  In addition to the business aspects found in this book I greatly enjoyed his teachings from the Torah and from Jewish traditions.

6.   Get Off Your Donkey!: Help Somebody and Help Yourself by Reggie McNeal.  Taking his cues from Jesus' parable of the Good Samaritan, McNeal challenges the church to get out of their comfortable church pews and go out to minister to a hurting world.  He insists the church is not God's major agenda and writes that "God's mission involved the redemptive restoration of everything that sin has tarnished and broken."  He also warns the reader that any pastor who attempts to lead the church to serve the people in the street should expect pushback from the religious crowd.  This is an important read for a church serious about ministering to people as Jesus did.

Tomorrow, we will complete the list.