Monday, June 30, 2014

Many churches need revitalization

I've been thinking about the situation many of our churches are in today.  We are told that 75-80 percent of our churches are plateaued or declining.  In my opinion, the majority of those churches are in decline.  On a life-cycle, the plateau area is a very small section so I believe most of these churches would be on the decline side of that life-cycle.  Depending on who you read, between 4,000-5,000 churches close their doors each year in the United States.  Most, but not all, of these troubled churches are smaller churches.

Each of these churches began as a vision someone had of starting a church in that location.  That vision was shared with others until a church was formed.  People's lives in those communities were changed because of the ministries these churches offered.  Perhaps those ministries are no longer needed in some of those communities as people have left, but in the vast majority of cases there is still a need for these churches.

That need is compounded even more when one looks at the spiritual condition of our nation.  We are a nation that has turned its back on biblical values and the historic teaching of the church.  We are a nation that values diversity over truth.  Every philosophy and religious belief is given equal status and respect...except Christianity.  The moral teachings of Scripture are ridiculed and ignored, and the result has been tragic to our nation and to our families.  We are in desperate need of a spiritual revival in America, and that revival cannot happen unless it first happens in our churches.

Revitalization cannot occur in a church until it first sees its need for such revitalization, and that begins with the church understanding why it is there in the first place.  Church leaders must capture a fresh vision from God for its future purpose and how it can begin to impact its community again.  It doesn't matter what the original vision was 50 years ago or 200 years ago when the church began.  What matters is what is God wanting to do in and through your church in 2014 and beyond.  If you can discern that you can then determine if you are willing to make whatever changes will be required to fulfill that purpose.

Do not be naive at this point...changes will have to be made.  If your church has been in a plateaued or declining state changes will have to occur if your church is to be revitalized.  If what you've been doing hasn't been working, what makes you think it will work in the future?  Change will have to occur.  You may not like some of those changes, but it's not about it?  If any needed changes has to pass your litmus test before you can approve them then accept the fact that your church will continue to decline as long as you live or until it decides that it would rather please God than you.

Revitalization will require courage and sacrifice from both the pastoral and lay leadership.  It will force the church to go into uncharted territory and begin to live out a new story, but it will be a story of God at work in new ways through the ministries of your church.  It may require changes in how your church is structured.  It may require new alliances between your church and other churches and/or organizations.  It may require changes that cannot even be contemplated right now, but if they bring us into the place where God can begin to use us once again, those changes will be worth it.

A number of denominations and judicatories have persons on staff to assist their churches with revitalization efforts.  You may want to contact them to ask for their assistance.  Other organizations such as Acts 29 are working with churches as they begin to look at renewing themselves.  There is help out there for your church so you do not have to do this by yourself.

If your church is one of the 75-80 percent, it's time to stop hoping things will turn around and get better.  Hope is not a strategy.  It's time to become intentional about revitalizing your church.  Pray about what God would have you to do.  Invite a partner to help you through the process.  Begin to take the hard steps to bring renewal to your church, and when such renewal comes you will then be able to bring renewal to your community.

Friday, June 27, 2014

The pastor and social media

On this site I frequently encourage small churches and their pastors to have an Internet presence.  Basic web sites that offer an overview of the church and the times of the worship services can be had for little or no money.  For less than a couple of hundred dollars a year a small church can have a nice site that would make their church visible to those who seek a church to visit on the web.

Some pastors may be afraid to tackle a web site although they are not difficult to set up and maintain.   With or without a church web site, there is no reason that a pastor not have a presence on social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and a blog. This provides the pastor with the opportunity to have a much larger ministry than his or her local parish.  This blog is read by people all over the world.  Blogs also make it possible to have good contact with members of the congregation.  Reminders can be sent about upcoming meetings.  A blog or web page can take the place of a mailed newsletter saving the church a significant amount of money each year.

At this point some will object and claim that many of their congregation doesn't use computers and is not on social media.  I hear this frequently, and while it remains true in some situations, it's probably time we quit using this excuse.  The fact is that more and more of our people are online and on social media.  Let's quit letting the handful in our churches who are not online keep us from joining the 21st century.

A couple of years ago I gave up my web page to focus more on this blog.  I found it difficult to keep both the web page and the blog fresh and current, and it is vital that the information on both are kept fresh.  I decided to concentrate on the blog.  I'm also on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+.  I use these sites to post articles I think will be interesting to my readers and to see what other people are talking about.

Like anything else we do in ministry, there are some cautions we need to know about when it comes to social media.  First, and most important, it is vitally important that we set boundaries on our use of social media.  It is reported that the number one cause of divorce in America today is Facebook as people get reconnected with people they used to know and develop inappropriate relationships with them.  Pastors and other in ministry positions must be cautious about who they "friend."  One must be careful about discussing one's personal life on a social media page intended for ministry purposes.  This can lead to a problem of dual-relationships and a host of other issues that should be avoided.

It is very easy to spend too much time on social media sites and not get the work done that we need to do.  Pastors can easily get caught in the trap of checking their Facebook page every 10-15 minutes to see what people are saying or spend hours each day sending and receiving texts.  You must set limits on how much time you'll spend on social media or a helpful tool will turn into a time-sucking monster.

We also must be careful about what we post.  As a pastor you represent your church 24/7/365.  You can argue that what you do on your personal page is your business and you can even add a disclaimer that your comments are your opinion and does not reflect your church, but many people will still associate your comments to your church.  It may not be fair, but it is reality.  Anything you post is online forever and can quickly go viral.  Numbers of people have lost their jobs because of things they posted on social media that reflected poorly upon their place of employment, and I would imagine that number would include some pastors.  Don't join their number.

A final caution I would make is that it is not becoming to Christians to engage in online battles with people with whom they disagree.  It amazes me to read some of the comments I see online made by Christian people when they are opposing something that has been posted.  I have been in a couple of discussions with people online when we have been in disagreement.  In both cases, we each kept the discussion civil, made our arguments, and avoided personal attacks.  After a couple of exchanges I responded that online was not the place for an extended discussion of our differences, and I withdrew.  At no time did either of us ever become nasty towards one another as I see happen so often in these types of discussions.  Don't do that.  It doesn't strengthen your position and it gives other readers a poor image of Christians.

Social media can be a very helpful tool for a small church leader.  Use it wisely, maintain good boundaries, and extend your ministry.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Sunday morning in the smaller church

Larger and mid-size churches often have activities at the church building nearly every day.  There are various Bible studies, worship services, small groups, committee meetings, choir practices, and a host of other activities that bring members of the congregation together.

This is not the case in most smaller and bivocational churches.  Many of these churches had services on Sunday mornings and evenings and a Bible study/prayer meeting on Wednesday evening, but the mid-week service has disappeared in many of these churches and the number of churches having Sunday evening services has been declining over recent years.  This leaves the Sunday morning worship service as the primary contact the pastor of these churches will have with the majority of the congregation.  That means that these services are crucial to the growth and well-being of the congregation.

Since the Sunday morning service is so vital to the smaller church, the pastor and worship team must be well prepared.  This is a time for the pastor to cast vision, challenge and encourage the congregation, and deliver a message that is both sound theologically and applicable to people's lives.  I will quickly admit that this is a huge challenge, and you might not do all these things every week, but it does demonstrate the importance of being prepared for Sunday morning.  The impact a pastor can have in a small church on Sunday morning must not be underestimated.

Occasionally, a pastor will admit that he or she was not well-prepared for Sunday due to the various other things that came up during the week.  Usually, they don't admit it, but it's evident in the poor message they deliver and in their general lack of preparedness.  This is unacceptable.

It should come as no surprise that Sundays come every seven days regardless of what has occurred in the other six days.  As a bivocational pastor for 20 years I learned very quickly that life happens, and if I allowed it, those events could damage my sermon preparation.  I will also be the first to admit that there were weeks when I did allow that to happen, especially in my earlier years of ministry.  It did not take long to learn the value of working ahead, planning out my sermons weeks in advance, and tying those messages to our vision and to the needs of our congregation.  I learned to refuse to allow a hectic schedule to affect what I would do on Sunday morning.

As I've posted here before, you get done what you spend time doing.  You will invest time and effort in those things that you believe are a priority.  If you want to lead a healthy, growing congregation then you must make that Sunday morning service a priority and refuse to allow other responsibilities to cause you to be unprepared when Sunday comes.  Some weeks that may mean waking up an hour earlier a couple of days to study or going to bed later at night.  It might require you to miss an evening of watching television or reading another chapter in your favorite novel.  You may have to cancel a golf outing you had lined up with your buddies.  Whatever it takes, you must be prepared when your service begins on Sunday morning.  It is the one time when you have the greatest opportunity to impact the most people in your congregation, and you don't want to miss that opportunity.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The most critical time in the life of a small church

After spending 20 years as the bivocational pastor of a small church and the past 13 years as a leader in our judicatory often working with smaller churches I have decided the most critical time in the life of a small church is the time they spend between pastors.  This is a time that should be spent in reflection as they review their history and look towards the future.  It is a time to discern a fresh vision from God regarding their future ministry.  The selection of their next pastor is a critical decision that will largely determine whether or not that vision is fulfilled, and the person they call will shape their congregation for good or bad for years to come.  Unfortunately, many churches do not use this time wisely and end up calling someone who is not a good fit for their church and/or does not have the gifts to lead their church towards their God-given vision.

Some smaller churches cannot stand to not have a pastor.  Their attitude seems to be that most people wouldn't want to come to their church so they will take the first person who shows an interest.  This usually does not end well for the church.   Sadly, many of these churches do not learn from their mistake, and when they begin the search for their next pastor they take the same approach...and they continue their downward spiral.

I have worked with some smaller churches that are unwilling to spend the money for a quality interim pastor who can help them become better prepared to call a pastor.  These churches view the interim time as an opportunity to build up their financial coffers.  They look for someone willing to preach for little salary so they can replenish their bank account.  As a result they lose the opportunity to have someone lead the reflection they need before calling a new pastor.  A good interim minister will have some skills that can be very valuable to a church in a pastoral transition, and these folks should be used as often as possible.

Some of these churches really do not want a pastor, or at least one who will provide leadership to the church.  These churches want a chaplain who will care for the flock.  They simply want someone to preach on Sundays, visit people in the hospital, and perform weddings and funerals.  A problem arises when the number of funerals continues to increase much faster than the number of weddings.

Everything rises and falls on leadership.  No church can be any healthier than its leadership, and this includes both pastoral and lay leadership.  A church will not be healthy and growing if it does not have a healthy, growing pastor who is willing and able to provide leadership to the church, and the church is willing to follow that leadership.

Equally important is that the pastor is a good cultural and spiritual match to the congregation.  I have seen too many short-term pastorates because the pastor and the congregation were not a good fit.  There is little excuse for this if the church has done proper reflection and has performed a quality search.  Smaller churches cannot afford short-term pastorates if they want to go to a higher level of ministry which makes this search process even more critical.

A final mistake I'll mention in this post is that some smaller churches fail to utilize the services of their judicatories.  Our region offers the services of our Resource Ministers to assist our churches in their pastoral searches, but some of our smaller churches refuse to use that assistance.  I'll be the first to admit that it is often not easy to find quality persons to serve in some smaller churches, but we do have some resources at our disposal that can help that process.  We have a process that we can give our churches to help them through the time of reflection, and we have persons who can provide quality interim ministry during the search process that we can recommend.  Call your judicatory and ask what resources they have available, and use them.

Remember - you are better off without a pastor than to call the wrong person to be your next pastor.  The search process may take longer than you would like, but if results in a better match it will be well worth the wait.

Monday, June 23, 2014

The dilemma for the bivocational minister/small business owner

Those who follow me on Twitter know that most days I post several articles I find on other blogs that relate to ministerial matters, leadership, or small business.  Most small business owners are entrepreneurs as are many bivocational ministers.  Both require good leadership skills, and I have found that many of the leadership principles that are helpful for one are transferable to the other.  Of course, my entire ministry has been bivocational, and for many years my other occupation had been heading a small business.  I find both enjoyable and challenging.

Combining ministry with business leadership brings its own set of challenges.  I sometimes found it hard to make needed decisions in my business because those decisions went against what I tried to do as a pastor.  There would be times when an employee needed to be let go, but I usually found that extremely difficult.  As a pastor I was wired to retain people, not send them away.  As a preacher of grace I believe in giving people second and third and fourth chances.  God has certainly forgiven me many time when I have failed and never once ran me off.  How then could I fire someone for his or her mistakes?  More than once I knew as a small business owner what I needed to do, but it was very hard to convince my heart that it was the right thing.  This was always a difficult decision that cost me many nights of sleep.

I recently found solace in the fact that T. D. Jakes admits to some of the same problems.  I'm currently reading his book Instinct: The Power to Unleash Your Inborn Drive.  In one chapter he discusses how challenging it can be to be both a pastor and a business owner, and he specifically addresses the area of hiring and firing.

Instituting change is also a challenge for ministry leaders who are also small business owners.  As we well know, change occurs very slowly in the church as the cost of such change is minimized as much as possible.  Again, we are wired in the church to retain people.  In the business world change happens much quicker with little concern for how it will impact people.  If people don't like the change they are free to leave and seek employment elsewhere.  I found that in most cases I chose the pastoral model when trying to introduce change into our business.  I wanted to move much slower than I should have, and it created problems for the business.

Another challenge pastor/business owners can face is when people owe their business money.  I would listen to every sad story people wanted to give as to why they couldn't pay their bill.  Cash flow is king in a small business.  You can be profitable and go broke if you don't have the cash to pay your bills.  The problem became worse when the person who owes you money is a Christian.  Our small business once had a client who owed us money and was several weeks late paying it.  Some wanted me to take him to court to get our money.  I refused.  The man was not only a Christian; he was a leader in his church.  I took seriously the biblical admonition to not take a brother to court.  He eventually did pay us what he owed, but it created a lot of grief for a lot of people.

There were people, usually other Christians, who thought that because I was a minister they should get special deals.  They failed to realize that our business had bills to pay just like any other business.  We had employees who needed us to be profitable so they could receive their pay checks each week.  A few Christians just assumed I had to be greedy since I would not give them special pricing, and I'm sure a percentage of them became angry with me as a result.  The minister/small business owner often has to work very hard to help others understand that his or her business must remain profitable to exist.

Occasionally, our business would make mistakes and have unhappy customers.  That's going to happen, and you try to minimize it and resolve it to the satisfaction of the customers.  What hurts is when people question your integrity and even your calling as a minister because of an honest mistake that your business made.  I even had one or two question whether I was even a Christian because of a simple mistake that we made.  We resolved the issue with the customer, but the pain their accusations caused did not go away for some time.

Despite the challenges, I still enjoy both ministry and small business.  I also believe that the flexibility owning a small business can bring can be an asset to a bivocational minister.  Knowing some of the unique challenges that a minister-owned business can bring can help one avoid them or at least not be surprised when they occur.  If you want to read more about some of the mistakes I made as a small business owner read my book Mistakes: Avoiding the Ones that Will Close Your Small Business.  It is only available for the NOOK device, but it will help you avoid some of the mistakes that are common to many small business owners.

Friday, June 20, 2014

What door is God preparing to open in your life?

One of the benefits of living to a certain age is the opportunity to look back and see how things unfolded in your life.  I still remember the day in 1981 as if it was yesterday when Hebron Baptist Church voted unanimously to call me as their pastor.  I had no experience and no education beyond high school.  The only thing I did have was the absolute confidence God had called me to pastor a church.  Few churches would have called me as their pastor, but God led me to one that would.

Although bivocational ministry was not uncommon in those days, it was not widely respected by many denominational leaders and others in church leadership.  For 20 years I served that church as a bivocational pastor until I was called to a judicatory ministry position at least in part because of my experience with bivocational ministry.  Never did I think this ministry opportunity would present itself, but God opened the door.

Soon after beginning my pastoral ministry I decided that I needed some formal education if I was going to be a more effective minister.  Working a full-time job, pastoring a church, and raising a family did not lend itself to pursuing an education, but God opened a door that allowed me to attend a Bible school.  After completing that program he made it possible for me to continue my education allowing me to earn three degrees.  Even now I sometimes wonder how that happened, but I realize that God kept opening doors and I kept walking through them.

One of my frustrations as a pastor was the lack of resources specifically created for bivocational ministers.  Towards the end of my pastoral ministry I decided to try to write a book that would encourage bivocational ministers and present this ministry as a viable option that others should consider.  I had never attempted to write a book before, but I sat down and began to write.  A couple of years later that book was published becoming the first of eight books (so far) that I've published on bivocational and small church ministry.  God opened a door that gave me an opportunity to not only write but to lead workshops and conferences for bivocational and small church leaders for numerous denominational bodies.

I mention these things not to focus on what I've done with my life but to recognize that God is continually preparing us for doors he plans to open for us to walk through.  Scripture is clear that even before we are born God has a plan for our lives.  I sometimes wonder how many times God has opened a door for me that I refused to enter thus missing out on that opportunity he had for me.  How many times have I failed to prepare myself for an opportunity that God couldn't give me because I wasn't ready?

I also mention these things to encourage you to look for the doors God may be opening for you.  Too many of us limit ourselves by failing to take advantage of the opportunities God gives us.  We are presented with an opportunity but begin to make excuses why we couldn't possibly do that.  Have you ever been faced with a ministry opportunity that you turned down because you are "Just a bivocational minister?"  Do you spend more time looking at all the things you don't have than you do looking at what God has been doing in your life that may have prepared you for more responsibilities?  In one of the sermons I sometimes preach I remind the congregation that "God is more interested in your availability than in your capability."

Believe me that although I was excited about being called as the pastor of that small, rural church, I was also fearful because I didn't know if I could lead a church.  When I was asked to come on our region staff it was also a fearful time.  By then I knew I could pastor that church, but I had no idea about how well I could serve in this new role.  I know what you experience at times when God seems to be opening new doors for you, but if he is opening the door it means that he knows you are capable of performing the task.  If God is opening a door for you he just wants you to be available, and if you'll do that he'll make you capable.

Is God opening a door for you?

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The need for church revitalization

Eighty percent of the churches in America are either plateaued or declining.  Some put that number even higher.  Personally, I believe most of those churches are declining as the plateau level on a life cycle is really a rather small period of time.  It is estimated that 4,000 - 5,000 churches close their doors each year.  The number of churches per capita continues to shrink meaning that our churches are growing at less than the rate of population growth in this country.

Many denominations are focused on planting new churches which are greatly needed, but we are not starting enough new churches to make up for those that are closing.  It is critical that new church planting continues, but we also need to find ways to bring new life into our existing churches.

Church revitalization is not easy work because it requires that churches are willing to change, and change does not come easy for many churches.  It requires that their primary focus is no longer on themselves but on those not yet reached with the Gospel.  A few years ago I talked with a church about some changes it needed to consider making in order to bring new life into their congregation.  I cautioned them that if they began making some of those changes they might lose some of their existing membership.  One person responded she didn't see anyone in their church she was willing to give up, and the rest of the congregation agreed.  What these folks failed to realize is the impact that decision will make on future generations, their children and grandchildren.  Change is not easy, but neither is seeing a church lock its doors for the last time.

Church revitalization is also difficult because it demands courage from its leadership.  Everything rises and falls on leadership.  Several years ago when I was a pastor I read a book on church turnarounds.  One of the statements in the book was that every church turnaround was prefaced by a change in pastoral leadership.  The church I pastored needed to change, but if the author of the book was right such change could not happen under my leadership.  I didn't feel led to leave the church, but I also didn't want to be a stumbling block to its needed transformation.  I decided that I needed to change how I led the church.  The church would have a new pastor because I became committed to changing my ministry.  As my ministry changed so did our church, and many positive things began to happen.

Unfortunately, too many pastors are not leaders.  Some have admitted to me that they don't really know how to lead; they've never been taught how to lead; and they really don't want to be a leader.  They are managers.  They are comfortable maintaining the status quo.  Such pastors are unlikely to ever bring new life into a church.  Often, they are little more than hospice chaplains tending to a dying patient.

Unless a pastor is willing to lead the effort church revitalization will not happen.  He or she must have the courage to challenge the tunnel vision that has led the church into its current situation and a vision for how to lead the church in a different direction.  The lay leaders of the church also need to be people of courage willing to follow the pastor's lead.  Only when the pastor and lay leaders demonstrate their commitment to turning the church around will it experience new life.

We cannot afford to lose any more churches.  There is so much spiritual confusion today in our nation and world, and they need a healthy and revitalized church that can bring them the clear message of hope found only in the Gospel.  Our children and grandchildren need to hear that message, and where will they hear it if not from the church?  Is your church growing or is it in decline?  Where do you see your church ten years from now if it continues its current trend?  If your church is in need of revitalization now is the time to contact your region or denominational leadership and ask for their assistance.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Church or mission station

In yesterday's post I discussed the problem the church faces today of being unable to reach younger people.  You can read that post here.  I shared how we now serve in a mission field, and if we want to effectively reach the people God has given us we must understand how they think and how they view God and the church.  Before we will be able to do this we are going to have to rethink what it means to be a church.

For the past few years I have challenged those attending my church leader's seminars that we need to stop viewing ourselves simply as churches and begin to see ourselves as mission stations.  America is no longer a Christian nation. Christian thinking and values no longer shape our society.  One writer has referred to our society as a "rapidly emerging pagan culture."  Many of us would agree with that assessment.  We now do ministry in a society that is as ungodly as any in which our missionaries serve.  Being content to be a church isn't going to have much of an impact on such a society, and, in fact, it hasn't had much of an impact now for several decades.  We have to change our mindset and begin to view ourselves as mission stations God has placed to reach the unchurched people around us.

We get up on Sunday mornings and talk about going to "church."  We put on our nice clothes, drive to a nice facility, often with beautifully manicured lawns, and sit in comfortable pews or chairs.  Our music may range from pipe organ to a praise band, but they are all playing music that points us towards God.  Everyone is pleasant and polite (at least during the service).  Everyone present basically thinks alike and shares the same core values.  The speaker delivers a message that most people agree with, and an hour or so after arriving we all return to our homes inspired to eat lunch and get on with the remainder of our day.

As the atheist Matt Casper in the book Jim and Casper Go to Church: Frank Conversation about Faith, Churches, and Well-Meaning Christians asks, "Is this what Jesus told you guys to do?"  After spending a summer attending church services with the book's author, Jim Henderson, he couldn't get past the fact that he saw little action on the part of the people who sat in pews week after week.  Henderson writes, "Casper simply could not imagine Jesus telling his followers that the most important thing they should be doing is holding church services.  And yet this was the only logical conclusion he was able to come to based upon what he's observed."

Casper's question is a valid one.  Jesus gave the church a mission.  We call it the Great Commission (Mt. 28: 19-20).  We talk about it often in church.  We just don't do it.  Attending church services is great, but it's not fulfilling the Great Commission.  The purpose of attending worship services is to worship God and to be equipped to do ministry the rest of the week.  This is what a mission station would do.  It would give God's people an opportunity to come together to worship and to celebrate God, and then equip and encourage people to be engaged in ministry the other six days of the week.

If we view ourselves as part of a church we will have certain expectations of what that means.  If we view ourselves as a mission station we will have a different set of expectations.  I would encourage you to take a sheet of paper and draw a line down the middle.  On one side list the expectations you would have of a church, and on the other side list the expectations you would expect of a mission station.  Which list best represents your congregation?

Our society needs the church to rise up and be a body of Christians with a mission.  We must be willing to leave our "sanctuaries" and go into an evil and hostile world with the transforming message of the gospel.  The church must take the Great Commission seriously and begin to boldly share the gospel with those who have not heard it.  Let's turn our churches into mission stations and begin once again to make an impact on our society.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Is the church not paying attention or does it just not care?

For decades we have witnessed a decline in the number of people attending worship services in the United States.  The membership roles of most denominational churches continue to shrink as does their revenue.  We have long noticed the "graying" of our congregations as growing numbers of young people have turned away from the church or have sought out churches that are not part of the denominations in which they were raised.  Recent reports indicate the fastest growing group in America today are the "nones."  These are the people who indicate "none" as their religious preference.  This is the reality facing many of our denominational churches today, and the question has to be asked, "What are they doing to address this reality?"  The answer must be "Not much" since the problems have only gotten worse.  The next question that must be asked is, "Is the church not paying attention or does it just not care?"

Part of what makes this so sad is that many young people today are drawn to the person of Jesus Christ.  It is the church that they don't trust and don't like.  Many younger people do not believe the church represents the real Jesus so they have turned away from the church and sought out other means to practice their spirituality.  A number of books address this problem, but none does it better than They Like Jesus but Not the Church: Insights from Emerging Generations by Dan Kimball.

At a church leadership conference Kimball challenged the approximately 500 pastors in attendance to leave the confines of their church offices for part of each week to spend time with persons not involved in a church.  Their response amazed him.  Many believed their congregations would not approve as they were expected to be at the church office in case they were needed by one of the members.  Some felt that it was not their responsibility to go to the people; they should come to us.  Few seemed to be willing to spend time building relationships with unchurched folk and discussing with them the reasons they are turned away from the church.

Kimball is willing, and this book contains some of the conversations he's had with numbers of the emerging generation.  I will warn you...some of those comments people have made to Kimball about the church are not comfortable to read.  The folks he talked to had some harsh things to say about church leaders, about some of the teachings of many churches, some of its practices, and its political agenda.  Some of their accusations seem a little unfair, but much of it is accurate, and whether we agree with their comments or not, they are the perceptions held by many unchurched people today.  If we are not willing to build relationships with these folks and earn the right to discuss their perceptions, how do we ever expect to be able to reach them?  Perhaps just as important...if we are not willing to listen to these folks how will we know which of their perceptions are actually valid and need addressing by those of us in church leadership?

Those of us who have been Christians for some time often live in a bubble.  We speak a secret language only known by other Christians.  We listen to Christian music, buy Christian books, attend Christian events, watch Christian programming on television, listen to Christian radio, and the majority, if not all, of our friends are Christians.  Our churches have conducted their activities in the same manner for years (decades?) so we assume that everything we do is normal and should appeal to people today just as it did to our grandparents.  If we want to learn how others see us, we have to get out of the bubble and enter the world we've been called to impact with the Gospel.

Isn't that what missionaries do?  If they spent 24/7/365 with their fellow missionaries they would never make an impact on the people they are trying to reach.  America today is just as much of a mission field as any other nation, and the church needs to learn that it must treat it as a mission field if we are going to have any influence on it today.   For a missionary to be effective he or she must understand the people they are trying to reach, their beliefs, their practices, their thinking.

For us to effectively reach our mission field we must do the same thing.  This book is a great place to get an overview of the people God has given us to reach.  Then, we must be willing to go out among the people and engage them, develop relationships with unchurched people to help them see that their perceptions of Christians are not valid of all of us, and then earn the right to share our faith.  It would be a shame to lose a generation of people because we weren't paying attention to the reasons why they didn't like the church.  It would be a greater shame if we lost that generation because we simply didn't care.

Monday, June 16, 2014

The problem with quick fixes and easy answers

This past week I was asked to preach the funeral of a young woman who was killed in our community by a hit-and-run driver while she was walking.  This mother of an active duty serviceman was a member of the church I pastored for twenty years so I knew her and her family very well.  Only after the funeral did the police announce that they had a person of interest, but at this point no arrest has been made.  Over 900 people attended the viewing, and nearly 300 came to the funeral.  I knew that at least some were hoping I could explain why this happened.

Early in my message I explained that I could not answer their "why" questions.  I shared some of the simple answers some would have given them, but I said that I would not use any of those responses to try to explain the events of the past few days.  This was not because I didn't believe any of them; it's just that I don't find those responses that helpful and comforting.  I explained I also did not want our unanswered questions to overshadow the celebration of this woman's life and its impact on so many people.  She was a person who was a friend to everyone she met and a blessing to so many people, and that was my focus for the remainder of the service.

As I younger pastor I probably would have used some of those answers in an attempt to explain what happened.  "God had a purpose for calling her home."  "She's in a better place now."  Etc.  Fortunately, I learned long ago that I did not need to always have an answer to everyone's questions nor did I need to defend God when tragedies occur.  I learned that while going through crises in my own life.  I've spent a lot of time asking the "why" question myself and never finding an answer, and through that I've learned that sometimes the only thing we can do is to trust that the presence of God will carry us through those dark times in our lives when there are no answers.  The one thing I could do is to promise the family and friends of this young woman that God would be present with them as they struggle with their loss.

Giving people easy answers and looking for quick fixes for problems may make ministry simpler, but it doesn't really address the issues people face.  "There is a time to be born and a time to die" may be biblical and true, but it's hardly comforting to a parent grieving the loss of a child.  As ministers we have to be willing to go beyond that to walk with that parent through that loss.  To give a struggling family "Three keys to a happy marriage" probably isn't going to resolve the issues they are facing.  Families do not get into trouble overnight, and their problems are not going to be resolved overnight with a brochure and a prayer.

Ministry is often complicated and messy, and the more complicated life becomes the more difficult ministry will be.  Often, the best thing we can do is to refer people to specialists trained to address the specific issues they are facing.  We provide pastoral care and support, but we also refer them to others who can provide the professional help they need.  Sometimes, pastoral care is enough, but sometimes it isn't.  The wise pastor will be able to understand the difference.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Think twice before leaving your present place of ministry

A few weeks ago I spent some time with a pastor that was struggling with his call to the church he had served for the past several years.  A few years ago there were some in the church who wanted to remove him as their pastor, but he survived their efforts.  However, things have not been good for him since that time.  Some of the folks who wanted a new pastor found one by leaving their church, but others remained behind.  The pastor said things had not improved since that struggle, and it was evident that the situation was wearing on him.  He was seriously considering seeking a new place to serve.

I could certainly understand his feelings, but I cautioned him to think about some things before making that decision.  Perhaps if you're thinking of leaving your current ministry my suggestions to him may help you.

  • Pastors never escape their problems by going to another church.  Every church has people who seem to think it is their spiritual gift to make things difficult for the pastor.  At the most, you may enjoy a brief honeymoon, but sooner or later you'll meet kinfolk of those you were trying to escape in your new church.
  • Sometimes problems indicate a significant breakthrough is about to happen.  The enemy of the church can sense when something significant is about to happen and will do everything in his power to prevent it.  If you leave you may miss out on a major spiritual breakthrough in your church, and the church may miss it as well by your leaving.  Some of the worst problems we had in the church I served were followed by major breakthroughs.
  • The problem you may be wanting to escape may be the one thing God wants to use to shape you for greater ministry responsibilities.  I have found that God has done most of his work on my character when I was going through situations I would have never chosen for myself.  As painful as they were at the time, they were the springboard that prepared me for greater ministry responsibilities.
  • Smaller churches, especially, are used to seeing their pastors flee every time things become a little difficult.  We wonder why these churches are often resistant to change, and this is one of the reasons.  Too many times in the past they have agreed to some change, and when problems or conflict arose as a result of the change the pastor took off.  These churches need a pastor who will stay and fight the good fight to see needed changes occur in the church.
  • Studies have found that a longer pastorate often leads to a more effective ministry.  In a smaller church it often takes several years for a pastor to earn the trust of the congregation necessary to provide the leadership that it needs to move forward.  Too often, these churches never have a pastor stay long enough for that to happen.  Many pastors will retire after spending 30 years in the ministry and realize they didn't have a 30 year ministry; they had 10 three year ministries, and none of them had any significant impact.
  • It's OK to quit; just don't tell anyone.  As I shared with that pastor, the folks at my church had no idea how many times on Monday morning I quit as their pastor.  I just had the good sense to not tell anyone, and by the end of the week I was feeling better about the situation.  One thing a pastor does not want to do is to get mad about something and quit on the spot.  Sometimes a few days and some conversations make everything look a little different.
None of this means that there is never a good reason to seek a new place of ministry.  Obviously, there are many good reasons, but my concern is for those pastors who leave their church without a good reason.  If God called you to that place of ministry you need to make real sure he is now calling you to another place to serve before you leave.

Thursday, June 12, 2014


I'm sure you recognize the title of this post as a combination between two words: pastor and entrepreneur.  I wish I had come up with that word myself, but I didn't.  It comes from a book by the same title, PastorPreneur: Pastors and Entrepreneurs Answer the Call by John Jackson.  I have an entrepreneurial spirit and feel that most bivocational pastors do as well so the title really reached out to me.  It's been a few years since I've read the book, but occasionally I'll check out some of the places I highlighted and a few of the notes I made in the margins.

The author defines a pastorpreneur as "an innovative Christian leader, a creative dreamer who is willing to take great risks in church ministry with the hope of great gain for Christ and his kingdom."  Does that define you?  I hope it does.  Jackson goes on to ask, "Are we content to remain comfortable doing ministry the way we have always done it, with some positive but limited results, knowing in our hearts that we aren't making much of a dent in our culture?  Or will we take the risk of boldly trusting God for a fresh vision, powerful strategies, and incredible results?  I believe that a fresh, Spirit-led burst of entrepreneurial activity will lead the church to greater impact that ever before."  I agree.

Unfortunately, I see too little of that entrepreneurial spirit at work in our churches today.  I believe most ministers go into ministry with such a spirit, but then lose it as they deal with the day-to-day aspects of ministry.  It is so easy for a pastor to get caught up in trying to maintain the status quo of the church.  (Someone once defined status quo as "the mess we're in."  Not a bad definition!)  How does a pastor keep the church machinery running and find the time to seek a fresh vision from God and develop a strategy for getting buy-in from the congregation?  This book addresses these challenges, but I can tell you that it's not easy.

It requires an entrepreneurial spirit, but that can be a problem as well.  Many churches don't like entrepreneurs.  These churches want a chaplain as pastor, not someone who is a risk taker, someone who too often thinks outside the box and then asks the congregation to join him or her there.  Denominational leaders are also often uncomfortable with entrepreneurial leaders.  They prefer pastors who are willing to follow the manual, march in step with the rest of the denomination, graduate from the denominational seminaries, and fill out their reports in a timely manner.  Entrepreneurs are too often people who ask questions, and some churches and denominational leaders are very uncomfortable with questions.

However, without such an entrepreneurial spirit we are unlikely to have the impact we planned to have when we entered ministry.  We may have a more comfortable ministry, but I'm not sure we were called to a comfortable ministry.  We are called to impact our culture for the Kingdom of God, and by any measurement the church in North America is not doing a great job of that.

I have always felt that most bivocational ministers are entrepreneurial by nature.  It's part of our DNA, and that is why God called us to this ministry.  Let's not allow that part of our nature to be sucked out of us by the expectations of others or by the daily demands of ministry.

Fully-funded pastors also need to maintain an entrepreneurial spirit.  Our culture is changing so rapidly today that we need to be constantly looking for new ways to do ministry.  The strategies we learned in seminary twenty years ago (five years ago?) are often going to be ineffective today, but the call to impact our communities for Christ remains the same.  PastorPreneur...that's a good way to look at the calling of today's minister.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Pastors need to cut back on the whining

For twenty years I served as a bivocational pastor of a small, rural church.  For the past 13 years I have served as a regional minister in our denomination working with dozens of churches.  I have led numerous workshops and conferences that focused on small churches and their leaders, and I have heard tales of clergy being horribly treated by members of their congregations and have seen first-hand how poorly some of my clergy friends have been treated.  Two of the books I've written focus on clergy health issues.  I am well aware of the unfairness that sometimes goes along with serving in ministry positions and the pressures ministers and their families face.

Despite all this, I still want to say that some of our clergy needs to cut back on their constant whining about how poorly they are treated and how difficult their lives are.  I hear from pastors about how underpaid they are, and many of us are underpaid compared to what others with comparable education and responsibilities earn, but did you go into the ministry thinking you would become rich?  Historically, most ministers have been underpaid.  However, I would also insist that some of that is our own fault.  Many of us are reluctant to ask for better compensation.  We don't tell our church leadership about the struggles our inadequate income causes our families.  Instead we tell one another, people who can't do anything about it.  In some situations, if we asked for higher salaries we may run the risk of being fired.  I realize that, and that is one more reason I remained bivocational!  But, I would counter that by saying that if you're fired for pointing out that the church isn't paying you a fair salary you now have the opportunity to find a position that will pay you better.  That might be better than remaining at the church and doing a slow burn over what you feel is unfair compensation.

In my position I hear from a lot of pastors who complain that people in their church oppose every change they propose.  (Believe me, I had some of their family members in the church I served as well.)  Of course they are against it.  You're suggesting change, and a large percentage of people will be against any change the first time they hear it.  In a smaller church they are afraid the change may result in the loss of people, and these are persons with whom they have gone to church for years and even decades.  They don't want to lose those relationships.  They also are not sure how your proposed changes will impact their roles in the church or if they will even have a role.  It takes time to introduce significant change into a church so that it will be accepted by most of the people, and there is an art to doing this as well.  Instead of complaining that people don't like your recommendations, learn the art of leading change and be willing to invest the time it takes for your recommendations to be accepted.

Another complaint I often hear from pastors is that they are always on call and never have any personal time.  Sorry, but that goes with the territory.  People get sick and even die at inconvenient times.  Accidents happen without being on a schedule.  That's why they are called accidents.  If you have been called to be a shepherd then you need to be there when your sheep need you.  If you want a 9-5 job you probably need to put in an application at the local factory.  BTW - I never hear pastors complain about having the freedom to attend a day event at their child's school or being able to spend a day with the spouse shopping in a nearby city while the church members are working their 9-5 jobs.  Yes, there are occasions that ministry seems to require a lot of time, but there are also those down times when we can enjoy some free time to do things with our families that others can't always do.  I've found it balances out.

Some of you will challenge me and say that you're working at the church seven days a week and you never have any free time.  Two things: that's sin and it's your fault.  The Bible talks about the Sabbath and no where in there does it say that clergy are exempt from having a Sabbath.  There came a time when I found that I was not taking a Sabbath, and I confessed that to our church and defined for them when my Sabbath would occur.  (It was Mondays.)  Believe it or not, they honored that throughout my remaining years in that church.  Also, if you are doing church work seven days a week it is your fault.  Dr. Phil is right when he says we teach people how to treat us.  If your congregation expects you to work seven days a week it's because either you or a previous minister have taught them by example to have that expectation.  Don't complain about it.  Begin to teach them that you need time to refresh yourself and your relationship with God and your family, and do it.

A final common complaint I often hear from pastors is that very few people in their churches are willing to do anything.  My advice is simple.  Ride the horses that want to run.  You can't make a dead horse run any faster by whipping it.  Instead of whining about the people who won't do anything, invest yourself in those who are willing.  You love the others and pastor them, but you have to invest yourself in the ones who are going to move the church forward.

As a pastor I spent too much time whining about things that would not change instead of focusing on the things that would make a positive difference in the life of our church and my own life as well.  I see too many other pastors making the same mistake in their own ministries.  Whining about things that won't change won't do anything but distract you from seeing the positive aspects of ministry life.  We are called to the greatest opportunity that exists.  We are invited into people's lives at a time when many of them are vulnerable and need someone to provide them with guidance and grace.  Much of what we do doesn't seem to make much difference, but there are those other times when we see people's lives radically transformed through the grace of Jesus Christ.  Those times can make all the difficult times fade away if we will just allow ourselves to focus on those positive moments that happen in and through our ministries.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

That second job

One of the challenges a bivocational minister must face is choosing a career besides his or her ministry.  In recent years I've had a number of conversations with fully-funded pastors whose churches were considering asking them to become bivocational due to financial issues.  Virtually, all of them were concerned that they were not trained to do anything else.  After some discussion we were usually able to find some possible career choices for them based on their interests or their undergrad degrees, but this can be a difficult decision for one to make when he or she has only seen their calling to be church ministry.

Some of us, like my own experience, had other jobs when we entered ministry so this wasn't a big issue.  I had a very good factory job when I became a pastor, and I remained there until I was eligible for early retirement.

However, the future challenge for bivocational ministers is how will they remain employable in the secular world.  I worked for my employer for 30 years and qualified for early retirement.  Those days are virtually over.  People entering the work force today do not expect to remain at one job for 30 years and leave with a gold watch.  Many young people today think that a year in the same job is an eternity.  Even if people do remain with one company, the needs of most companies are rapidly changing, and the skills required to remain current on many jobs are changing just as rapidly.  In his fascinating book, Promote Yourself: The New Rules for Career Success, Dan Schawbel points out that one estimate is that 60 percent of new jobs by 2015 will require skills that only 20 percent of the population currently has.

Several years ago I heard Zig Ziglar warn his audience that there was no longer anything such as job security regardless of your career.  He said the challenge was to seek employment security, and the only way to do that was to be a life-long learner.  Schawbel makes the same point in his book.  To remain employable one must continually be learning new skills and become known as the go-to person in the company.

As a bivocational minister this may seem impossible.  How can we serve a church, work a second job, meet the needs of our families, have any kind of life for ourselves, and find the time to continually be learning new skills?  It's not impossible, but it's also not easy, but we really have no choice if we believe we are called to bivocational ministry.

Actually, bivocational ministers may find it easier to learn these skills than they think.  Many employers now offer classes that will teach those skills in-house.  Often, these classes are even taught during working hours.  My employer offered numerous courses that almost anyone in the company could attend, and they were all taught during working hours so it didn't require any additional time on our part.  I took many of those courses that were related to my work to improve my skill sets, and I took many that were not directly related to what I was doing at the time so I could be better prepared for something else in the future.

Some of those latter courses involved computers.  I took some introductory computer classes that began with showing us how to turn them on!  Later, I took classes on the various tools found in Microsoft Office and learned how to use them.  When I bought my first computer one of the first programs I bought was Office.  Not only did I have new skills to use at my work, but I now had new skills that made ministry much easier, and I was able to learn how to use it through classes taught by my secular employer who paid me to attend the classes.  It doesn't get much better than that!

Be sure to check with your employer to see if they offer classes or will pay for you to take courses off-site so you can learn the skills needed in the 21st century to remain employable.  You'll find that many of those skills will transfer over into your ministry enabling you to do a better job there as well.  Being a life-long learner is no longer an option if we want to remain employable in the future, and it's not an option if we want to be faithful to our call to bivocational ministry.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Creating a guest-friendly church

I heard Nelson Searcy ask one time, "Why should God send guests to your church if you are not ready to receive them?"  I thought it was one of the best questions a church could be asked.  Virtually every church, many of them smaller churches, complain about the lack of new people who visit their church, but the reality is they would not be ready to receive them if they did come.  Their lack of preparation would likely mean that the guests they will not return.

Unfortunately, many of these churches would be surprised if someone told them they were not ready to receive guests.  After all, they are the friendliest church in town!  However, I can speak from experience, having visited in many churches over the past 12 years, that these churches are not ready for new people to visit their churches.  They may be friendly to the ones they know, but they are not ready to welcome first-time guests.  What do these churches need to do to become ready?  Here are some suggestions:

  • Have your doors open.  One of my pet peeves is to visit a church for the first time, find four front doors and then have to guess which one is unlocked.  Either have all of them unlocked or have the door that is open clearly marked so people don't have to try all the door handles before finding the one that opens.
  • Have TRAINED greeters at the door ready to greet the people when they enter.  It's even better to have one or two outside.  These should be people with gifts of hospitality who are truly excited to see people come to church.  Besides your grounds and outside facilities, these are the persons who will often create the first impression of your church for first-time guests.  You want that impression to be good.  At the same time, don't have a gauntlet of people greeting folks.  When I have to pass by five or six greeters just to get inside the building it seems a little much.
  • Post signs everywhere.  My wife wonders how I can visit a restaurant for the first time and immediately know where the bathroom is.  Easy...I look for the signs.  How will people know where your sanctuary is, where the education rooms are located, or where to find the bathrooms if you don't have signs.
  • DO NOT ASK YOUR GUESTS TO IDENTIFY THEMSELVES!  I cringe every time I visit a church and hear someone ask the visitors to stand and tell everyone who they are.  That may have been OK in the 1950s, but people today prefer to remain anonymous when they visit a church for the first time.  I visited a church once and was asked to wear a name badge to let people know I was a visitor.  I refused which did not make the "greeter" very happy with me.
  • If you provide pew Bibles list the page numbers of any Scripture texts you will be using in the service.  This can be a big help to your guests who may not be familiar with the Bible.  (It could be a big help for some of your members, too!)
  • One of the things I did as a pastor was that I recognized the presence of guests in our service as we prepared for the offering.  After thanking them for coming, I mentioned that their presence today was their gift to us and they should not feel that they needed to give anything to the offering.  I explained that our ministry was funded by our members and regular attenders and again emphasized that they had already contributed to our church through their presence.
  • If you want your guests to return, be prepared to do follow-up within a day or two.  If your church has few guests, now is the time to prepare for that follow-up.  Again, maybe the absence of guests is a sign that God doesn't think your church is ready to receive them.  Be very intentional about your follow-up.
Earlier, I mentioned Nelson Searcy.  He has written a book that I believe is the absolute best on this subject titled Fusion: Turning First-Time Guests into Fully-Engaged Members of Your Church.  If you are interested in how to be better prepared to receive guests I highly recommend this book to you.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

What causes leaders to fail?

Over the past few months there have been numerous stories of senior pastors whose ministries did not end well.  We've read of misconduct leading to the arrest of some, moral failures resulting in forced terminations, and pastors leaving the ministry because of burn-out and/or depression.  While these situations make the headlines, the more common pastoral failures result in troubled churches that fail to enjoy productive, effective ministries.

What causes these pastoral failures?  Sometimes the pastor lacks the skill sets needed for ministry.  Such persons have not been called into the ministry by God but have entered the ministry of their own choosing.  Perhaps the minister did have the skills to serve a church of a certain size, but lacked the skills to serve in a different setting.  It may be that the minister failed to grow as a person and as a minister making his or her ministry ineffective.

However, most leadership failures are not due to a lack of skills.  They are a failure of character.    Tim Irwin provides us with a fascinating look at the failures of leadership in his book Derailed: Five Lessons Learned from Catastrophic Failures of Leadership (NelsonFree).  Irwin studied six well-known leaders in the business community and sought answers as to why they failed to successfully lead the companies that hired them.  He notes that their derailments were due to a failure of character that was tied to one of four qualities:

  1. Authenticity
  2. Self-management
  3. Humility
  4. Courage
While we often look at failure as an event, Irwin found that derailment occurs over time.  It happens before the crash itself occurs as we miss warning signs that things are not right.  We ignore the feedback others might be giving us.  Our arrogance assures us that we are on the right track, and even that still, small voice inside of us cannot get us to turn aside and avoid the crash.

One of the leaders he profiles is Durk Jager who was CEO of Proctor & Gamble for only seventeen months before the board forced him to resign.  One of the failings noted in the book is that Jager pitted himself against the P&G culture creating distrust between himself and those he was leading.  In the margin of the book next to this section I've written, "Pastors who do not appreciate the history of their church and its former leaders make the same mistake."

When I speak to churches that have suffered under poor pastoral leadership I hear the same character failures Irwin found in his research.  One recent church described their last two pastors to me as dictators.  These pastors lacked the ability to manage themselves and lacked any sense of humility.  They arrogantly believed they were the pastors of that church, and it would be their way or the highway.  Significant numbers of people chose the highway and it is questionable as to whether or not this church will survive.  Other churches tell of the absence of leadership on the part of their pastor.  Pastors fail to lead due to a lack of courage.  They don't want to be responsible if something goes wrong.  What these pastors do not realize is that their lack of leadership is failure on their part that hurts the church and the community the church is called to reach far more because it keeps them stuck in the status quo.

This book was written about business leaders who failed, but the lessons learned apply to anyone in a leadership role.  Inside the dust jacket we read, "Ultimately, Derailed is not about six high profile's about how YOU avoid derailment.  When you apply these principles about leadership and life in the upcoming pages, you will stay on track!"  I agree and believe this is a most helpful book for anyone in a church leadership position.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Learn from your mistakes

One of the frustrations I sometimes feel in working with smaller churches is that they often repeat the mistakes they've made in the past that has got them in trouble.  There is nothing wrong with making mistakes.  Much of our learning comes from making mistakes, at least that's been true for me, but if we don't learn from our mistakes we will find ourselves continually in trouble.  We've all heard the old cliche: Insanity is believing we can keep doing the same thing over and over again and get different results.  The truth is if we keep doing the same things we've been doing we will continue to get the same results.  If the results we've been getting is not what we want, then we have to begin doing some things differently.  What are some of the mistakes smaller churches seem to repeat that leads to problems?

  • Calling poor pastoral leadership.  One small church called me a few years ago asking for a reference on an individual they were considering calling as their pastor.  I suggested they not call this individual based on his ministry in previous churches.  Two different members of the church called me on two different occasions, and I gave both of them the same advice.  They called him anyway, and even though he's been gone for some time, the church is still suffering the consequences of his ministry.  Small churches need pastors who can provide healthy leadership.  They don't need chaplains nor do they need dictators.  They need pastors who have been called by God to serve their church and lead it in the vision God has set for the church.
  • Lack of stewardship training.  A committee chair in one smaller church was complaining to me about the lack of funds in the church.  I asked how long it had been since the church received any training in biblical stewardship.  She asked, "What's stewardship?"  When I started to define stewardship she quickly stopped me and let me know that was not going to be discussed in their church.  This church continues to limp along financially.  We cannot preach the whole counsel of God without talking about money and what it means to be a steward of what God has given to us, but many smaller churches do not want to hear any of this.  As a result, they continue to struggle financially.
  • Lack of training in general.  How long has it been since anyone in your Christian Education ministry received any training?  Are your deacons and other lay leaders regularly receiving training?  It always amazes me that the church can ask someone to serve in some position and then provide them with no training in how to effectively perform in that role.  Training should be ongoing in the church if we want our lay leaders to provide the quality of leadership our churches need.
  • No vision.  I find that many smaller churches drift along from Sunday to Sunday hoping something good will happen.  Because they lack a God-given vision they do little with any sense of purpose or intentionality.   Drifting seldom leads to a successful ministry or to transformed lives.  God has a vision for your church, and one of the most important things any church can do is to identify that purpose and then direct its resources towards that purpose.
We could list many more common mistakes smaller churches often make, but this will suffice for now.  If the leadership in a church would focus on just these four issues it would dramatically improve their church and set it on a positive course for the future.