Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Understanding relationships in the small church

The small church is often referred to as a "family church."  Quite often, a handful of families make up the majority of those who attend a church.  I know of one church with four primary families who have made up the bulk of the membership for decades.    Sometimes only one family provides most of the members.  In one church almost three quarters of the members come from one family.  Unfortunately, if there are problems in one of the families there are often problems in the church.

There is another reason these churches are known as family churches.  They function much like a family.  There is often a matriarch or patriarch, sometimes for each family represented in the church, that everyone looks to for guidance.  If these folks are not present, it is not uncommon for decisions to be deferred until they return.  Votes are unlikely to be taken until their input is received.

One of the key principles that pastors need to know about small churches is that everything in these churches is built upon relationships.  All the leadership skills and seminary training in the world will not help a pastor if he or she does not build good relationships with the people in a small church.  Regardless of your title, you are not the leader of that church; the family is, and until you are adopted into the family you will be an outsider.  You are invited to give input and recommendations, but you will not be a leader in that church until the patriarchs and matriarchs adopt you into the family.

I once had a young pastor call asking me to assist him in finding a new church.  He had been at his present church less than a year.  When I asked why he wanted to leave he said that no one wanted to do anything he suggested.  I asked him why he thought they should.  I explained that he had not been at the church long enough to build relationships with the people, he had not yet earned their trust, so he should not be surprised that he was not able to lead them.  This was a church that treated him well and had made a substantial investment in his ministry.  They wanted him to succeed as their pastor, but he refused to spend time with the people and build much needed relationships with them.  A few months later he left for a staff ministry position in another church, and a couple of years after that was out of the ministry.  New pastors must spend substantial time building relationships with the people in the church if they want to enjoy a productive ministry.

It's also important to know that these relationships impact any change efforts that may be suggested.  One of the first things people want to know when a change is suggested is how will it affect the relationships that exist in the church.  A pastor once invited me to speak to the church about its future.  He felt the church may have no more than ten years left if it didn't change some things and begin to reach new people.  I preached and offered to assist them in identifying some changes they might need to make.  After the service we had a Q&A time which went well until one older lady said, "I was excited about what you were saying until you said if we make changes we might lose some of the people we now have.  When you said that, I looked around and didn't see anyone I was willing to give up."  When she said that I noticed several others shaking their heads in agreement, and I knew they were not going to be open to even looking at change.

To build the relationships you need to enjoy a productive ministry in a small church you have to be willing to stay there.  As most of you know, I served as the bivocational pastor of our small church for twenty years.  Our church enjoyed some very positive ministry especially later in my pastorate.  I've often said the only thing I can take credit for was that I stayed there long enough to build relationships with the people.  We learned to trust one another, to forgive one another, and to work together to accomplish wonderful things for the Kingdom of God.  We laughed together, we cried together, we worked together and played together like a family.  We were family.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Leaders and forgiveness

No one serves in church leadership for very long before being hurt by something someone does or says.  We work hard with the best of intentions, and someone misunderstands what we are trying to do or the motives behind our actions.  We say something that is misunderstood, and rather than coming to the leader to clarify what was said people tell everyone how wounded they were by our comments.  Things are going well in the church until suddenly we learn that a group of people are committed to getting us out of the church.  A leader's pain is made even worse when it is our spouses or children who are under attack by people within the church we are serving.

Leaders have a number of options available to them, but one option that is not available is to refuse to forgive those who bring us harm.  Such forgiveness does not come easy, but it is vital to our well-being and our ministry that we are able to forgive those who hurt us.

I remember an incident that happened when I was the pastor of our church that upset me far more than it should have.  The actions I took were private and no one except my wife knew how upset I was or the problem may have become much worse. For several weeks I remained upset at the few people who had upset me until I finally realized that I had to forgive them if I wanted to move forward with my life and ministry.  I chose to forgive the ones who had wounded me, and we will choose whether we will forgive or not.

In some recent posts I've quoted from Reggie McNeal's book A Work of Heart: Understanding How God Shapes Spiritual Leaders.  One chapter of the book discusses conflict, and McNeal writes, "Those who withhold forgiveness do so in the belief that in some way they are inflicting damage or hurt on the object of their unforgivingness.  The trouble is, while the unforgiving deals with excess stomach acid and sleepless nights, the unforgiven sleeps like a baby.  An unforgiving spirit is a cancer of the soul...

"The leaders who do not forgive wind up with bitter spirits, persons of negative energy.  They wonder where their spiritual energy and power went.  Their negative spirit pushes people away from them.  They live in the past, their conflict scar tissues making it difficult for them to move forward.  They see the world and life experiences through victim eyes."

He nails it doesn't he?  Unforgiveness eats us up and robs us of the spiritual power we need to enjoy victory in our lives and ministries.  Quite often, the people who hurt us could care less how we feel about what they did or they may not even be aware of the pain they caused.  We are the only ones damaged by our refusal to forgive.

Of course, that's not entirely right either.  When we choose to practice unforgiveness our families pay a price.  So do people in our churches and our work.  These are innocent people who had nothing to do with the pain we feel, but they are the ones who pay the price.

When I find it hard to forgive others I begin to remember how much God has forgiven me.  How can I refuse to forgive others when I have been the recipient of so much grace in my own life?

Leaders are going to be wounded.  It goes with the territory.  There's not much we can do about that, but we can choose how we will deal with the wounds inflicted upon us by others.  Refusing to forgive can only lead to problems that none of us wants.  Choosing to forgive releases us to move forward in life and ministry.  Once again I hear God saying, "I have set before you life and death...therefore choose life."  Choosing to forgive is choosing life.

Friday, July 25, 2014

More churches are calling bivocational ministers.

A story was making the rounds yesterday about a seminary trained pastor who had applied to nearly 100 churches and was unable to find a position as a fully-funded pastor.  You can read the story here.  He asked a question that many recent seminary graduates are now asking:  Why didn't someone explain this new reality before he incurred so much student loan debt preparing for ministry?

The reality is that bivocational ministry is growing across denominational lines.  Four years ago I was on sabbatical, and for my project I contacted leaders from nine different denominations.  I asked each of them what was happening with bivocational ministry in their denomination, what they believed would happen in the future, how were they training these bivocational ministers, and what were they doing to help persons recognize they were called to this ministry.  Every single person reported that the numbers of bivocational ministers were growing in their denomination, they each believed those numbers would continue to grow, most had some forms of training available, and they really didn't have a way to help people identify this call on their lives.

More and more I receive calls and e-mails from fully-funded pastors telling me they believe they will soon have to become bivocational or find another church to serve.  They are frightened.  In some cases they recognize that there are not a lot of fully-funded churches looking for pastors.  Others confess they really don't know what they could do since the only thing they've ever been trained to do is ministry.  Some are carrying large amounts of debt they aren't sure how they will pay off.  Virtually all of them are concerned how this transition would impact their families.

Denominations and seminaries need to recognize this new reality and begin to address the changes they need to make to prepare these new leaders.  Many denominations still focus most of their attention on their larger churches and often ignore their smaller, bivocational churches.  For some of these denominations that means they will neglect up to a third of their churches, and that number is going to grow.  Ignoring that many of their churches, they should not be surprised at the declining financial support they receive from their churches.  They should also not be surprised at the number of these churches that eventually withdraw from the denomination.

Seminaries are still training clergy as if every one of them are going to be the pastor of a large, fully-funded church.  Too many seminaries, and denominations, still believe that the Master of Divinity degree is a necessity for every pastor.  Quite frankly, much of what is taught in the standard MDiv program will never be helpful to most bivocational ministers.  Many of the MA programs now offered by some seminaries will often be much more practical for the average bivocational minister and cost them much less money.

Of course, many bivocational ministers will never pursue a seminary degree.  If we believe that a trained clergy is important then denominations and seminaries must work together to develop training opportunities for these folks.  These courses must be offered at times and locations convenient to the schedule of the bivocational minister.  Some of these can be online for maximum convenience.

We are not entering a new time of church leadership; we are already there.  We just need to admit that the number of fully-funded ministry positions is declining and more churches are looking for bivocational leadership and begin to make the adjustments needed to reflect this reality.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Job descriptions for bivocational ministers

Occasionally, I will be asked about job descriptions for bivocational ministers.  It is assumed that because I have done so much work with bivocational ministers that I probably have a huge file of job descriptions.  The fact is that I don't have any.

I'm not a big fan of job descriptions for bivocational ministers.  I recognize that they are often important, especially in a low-trust church, but I'm not sure how helpful they are in the long run.  I've seen denominational manuals that spell out how a job description should be set up with the number of hours that the minister will work each week, but I've always wondered how practical that was.

The pastor is watching TV on a Saturday night when the phone rings.  A lady explains that her husband has been taken to the hospital with a heart attack.  Is any bivocational minister going to say, "I'm sorry, but I completed my 20 hours yesterday.  I'll check on him Monday morning."?  No bivocational minister I have ever known would say that.

For years many bivocational ministers have lived by the motto: Whatever it takes.  We are going to do whatever it takes to serve the church God has called us to.  As pastor I would sometimes remind my church that there were weeks I didn't do 10 hours of church work, but there were other weeks I did 40+ hours of ministry for the church.  Different weeks had different needs.  I always felt they balanced each other out and didn't feel guilty about the slow weeks or worry about the busier ones.

Far better than a job description is to have the church agree on certain goals they want to reach in the upcoming year.  The pastor and leaders then agree on what the pastor needs to do to help the church achieve those goals.  That, along with standard items such as preaching, etc, becomes the pastor's job description for that year.  Everyone is then clear on what the pastor's primary focus is for the year.  At the end of the year an objective evaluation can be done for both the pastor and the church based upon these agreed-upon goals.

I know some are concerned that without a job description that some churches will take advantage of the pastor, and this does happen.  Again, in a low-trust church a job description is almost a necessity, but in my opinion it really stifles ministry.  Having a job description is also no guarantee that the church won't take advantage of the pastor anyway.  I know more pastors who got into trouble because they broke the unwritten job descriptions that some people in the church held for the pastor than got into trouble for breaking the official job description.

It is critical that bivocational ministers maintain balance in their lives, and it is critical that churches understand that they cannot pay for bivocational ministry and expect fully-funded ministry.  To accomplish that, it is far better for the minister and the congregational leaders to have regular discussions about expectations and set the goals as mentioned above than it is to depend on a written job description.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Do not disconnect from your power supply

Bivocational and fully-funded pastors both have times when we grow weary in ministry.  We all have those dry times when we feel we just don't have anything to give.  Preparing a message becomes a drudgery we put off as long as we can, usually until Saturday night.  We grow frustrated at every phone call asking for more of our time.  For some, this is a sign that they need to find a new place to serve.  Others decide it's a sign that they should leave the ministry.  Most of the time it's probably a sign that we've allowed ourselves to be disconnected from our true power supply.

There is no question that ministry is demanding.  At the end of the day there are always tasks left undone.  There is always one more phone call we could, and probably should, make.  There is always one more visit we could, and probably should, have made before we quit for the day.  There's the stack of unread books gathering dust on our shelves that reminds us that we need to spend more time reading.  There are meeting agendas to create.  The list goes on and on.  There is nothing wrong with any of these things, but they are often distractions that leads us from our power supply.

In his excellent book, A Work of Heart: Understanding How God Shapes Spiritual Leaders, Reggie McNeal writes,  "Fax machines, e-mail, telephones, beepers, an overcommitted schedule, the press of people's needs, program concerns, ministry agenda - these are the tools of mass destruction for spiritual leaders.  Their development and deployment proceed often without inspection.  They threaten to shut down the spiritual leader's communion with God.  Once that happens, the leader's effectiveness is destroyed.  The leader becomes a casualty of a struggle that is as old as humanity - the drowning out of eternity by the screams of temporal concerns."

A few paragraphs later McNeal continues, "Leaders who continue to act in this way become cut off from genuine divine intervention on their behalf.  They begin to rely on their own diminishing reserves of spiritual firepower.  Their activity becomes sustained either by adrenaline or perfunctory performance rather than by the Spirit.  They bank on their talents, their smarts, their relationship skills, and their position to cover their basic failure at the critical core function of their call.  That function is to reflect on God's heart to God's people.  This cannot be done apart from a leader's firsthand knowledge of God's heart.  This knowledge does not derive from historical encounters in a leader's past; it springs from a vibrant, up-to-date walk with the Almighty."

Too often, we in ministry give and give and spend very little time receiving, and one day we find we have nothing left to give.  It is then that we find that our giftedness, our seminary education, our commitment to the ministry is not enough to sustain us in ministry.  I know...I've been there, and it's not a pleasant place to be.  The desire to minister is there, but there is no power.  If we allow the demands of ministry to cause us to disconnect us from regular communion with God we will reach the end of ourselves and find there is nothing left.

Each person is different so I will not attempt to prescribe how you should maintain close communion with God.  How you do it isn't the important thing anyway; what's important is that you do it.  Spending time with God each day will keep you connected to the power source you need to fulfill the work God has called you to do.  Don't allow the distractions of ministry rob you of your time with God.  God called you to be something before he called you to do something, and your best doing will flow out of your being.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Exciting study for small church leaders

Out of all the books I’ve written for bivocational and small church leaders The Healthy Small Church: Diagnosis and Treatment for the Big Issues has been the most popular.  Numerous churches have bought copies for their leadership to study as they began to look at the health of their church.  Some churches have purchased copies for every member of their congregation and have used it to study how they can become a healthier congregation.  One church that went through a church split purchased copies of the book for every member so they could try to determine how to prevent such a thing from happening again.  Judicatory leaders have purchased copies for the pastors of every church in their district.  Because of the book’s popularity I’ve led workshops based on this book for numerous denominations across the United States and Canada.  Numerous people have asked when I would develop a study course based on this book, and today I am announcing that study course is now available!

This course will consist of 15 lessons.  Each week you will receive an e-mail containing one of the lessons that comes out of the 15 chapters of the book.  Each lesson will consist of questions based upon things discussed in the chapter that you can use to examine your own church.  These will be ideal to use with your church leadership to lead them through a study of this book as you and they examine the health of your own church.

If you have follow-up questions you would like to have answered you can e-mail me your questions and receive a reply.  In addition, you will be entitled to one 45 minute free coaching call where we can discuss anything you would like to discuss.  (This by itself is a $100.00 value!) 


Research indicates that 80 percent (or more) of the churches in North America are plateaued or declining.  Approximately 100 churches close their doors every week.  Most of these are smaller churches that have been in decline for years.  A healthy body will be a growing body, and the fact that these churches are in decline or closing indicates that they have had health issues for years that have gone undiagnosed and untreated.  I DON’T WANT YOUR CHURCH TO BE ANOTHER STATISTIC!  That’s why I want to make this study available to as many people as possible.

There is another reason.  Most studies of this nature are not designed for smaller churches.  Even though the median size church in America today is 75 people, there are few resources developed that speak specifically to the needs of these churches.  That was why I wrote my first book on bivocational ministry and why I continue to write and speak on the issues that affect the smaller church and its leaders.


  • Because this is the first time I’ve offered this course I am making it available for only $249.00.  For that small investment you will receive:
  •  15 lessons sent to you by email, one lesson each week for 15 weeks.  That’s less than $17.00 per lesson!
  •  One free copy of The Healthy Small Church. (A $13.99 value)
  • The opportunity to discuss with me by email the lesson for the week.
  •  One free 45 minute coaching session by telephone on any topic you choose. (A $100.00 dollar value!)
  • Discounted coaching if you should decide later that having a personal coach would benefit you and your ministry.


This course is designed for bivocational ministers and small church pastors.  If you are a lay leader in a small church encourage your pastor to enroll, or if you do not currently have a pastor you can take the course yourself.  I highly recommend that when you take the course that you do not keep this material to yourself but that you involve your leadership boards in this study with you.


For 20 years I served as the bivocational pastor of a small, rural church in southeast Indiana.  I left that church to become a judicatory leader in our denomination working with churches of all sizes, but the majority of the churches I serve are smaller congregations.  My passion is with these churches and their leadership.  I have published eight books and several journal articles on small church and bivocational ministry.  My Doctor of Ministry thesis was “Coaching Bivocational Ministers for Greater Ministerial Effectiveness,” and I have had the opportunity to coach numerous bivocational ministers and judicatory leaders who work with them.

Over the past decade I have been privileged to lead conferences and workshops for numerous denominations in the United States and Canada that addressed the needs of bivocational and small church leadership.  In these sessions I have been able to encourage and applaud these churches and their leaders for their contribution to the Kingdom of God as well as speak to the real challenges they face.  I want these churches and their leaders to achieve the vision God has for their ministries.

I know most courses of this nature require enrollees to pay by credit card and some even charge the credit card each month.  I’ve been listening to Dave Ramsey too long to ask you to go into credit card debt for this study, so we’re going old-school.  Send me a check for $249.00 with your name, address, e-mail address, name of church, average attendance for your morning service and average attendance for your church school.  Send it to Bivocational Ministries, PO Box 1113, Madison, Indiana 47250.  Lessons will be sent out to this first cohort starting on September 8 which means the registration deadline for this cohort will be August 25.  If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me.  If you’re ready to go, send in your registration material today!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Asking the wrong questions about bivocational ministry

In recent months I've had several seminary students contact me about papers they are doing on aspects of bivocational ministry.  It's always exciting to receive these calls because it's an indicator of a growing recognition of the value bivocational ministry brings to the church.  I've just received another one of those calls from a student who wanted to ask several questions.  As he worked down his list I realized he was asking a lot of the wrong questions.  He was asking some of the questions that too many people are still asking about pastoral leadership, and especially bivocational leadership.

One of his questions was, "If the pastor works in the church for 15-20 hours a week, who is at the church rest of the time?"  I responded, "Who says anyone has to be at the church rest of the time?"  In larger churches with seven-day-a-week ministries someone will be at the church every day, but most bivocational churches do not have those kinds of ministries.  In fact, the major ministry of a bivocational church won't happen inside the church building.  It occurs in the workplace, in the community, wherever the members gather and touch the lives of people with the gospel.  Having someone sit in a church office just in case someone wants to drop by is the mindset of a time that no longer exists.

Another comment he made was that it seemed bivocational ministry was a fairly recent development.  I had to remind him that churches expecting to have a full-time seminary trained pastor is actually a fairly recent development.  Prior to the 1950s many churches were served by bivocational ministers.  As this country was settled it was bivocational ministers who served the churches that were established as people continued to move west.  Of course, bivocational ministry goes back even further than that.  The apostle Paul was a tentmaker and supported himself through that trade even while taking the message of Jesus Christ throughout the Roman world.  The fact is, we are seeing the pendulum swing back the other way as more churches are moving back to having bivocational leadership.

Another wrong question often asked is "If our pastor has an outside job who will call on people in the hospital, respond to emergencies in the church, and do other pastoral duties while he or she is at work?"  This question assumes the pastor is supposed to do all these things.  The Bible (Eph. 4) assumes the role of the pastor is to equip the saints to do the work of ministry.  Many churches have found that one of the strengths of having a bivocational pastor is that more of the members are willing to do ministry because they realize that the pastor is not always going to be available.  If a church has 50 members and even half of them recognize that God has called them to minister to others, and has been trained to do so, that church is going to have a much more effective ministry than if everyone sits around waiting on the pastor to do everything.

A very popular wrong question that churches ask, especially if they are transitioning from having a fully-funded pastor to a bivocational pastor is "How much do we need to pay?"  Of course, the real question often is, "How little can we pay and still get someone?"  My answer is always "As much as you can afford."  I truly believe that one reason some churches find themselves dying is that they want to do everything as cheap as possible.  They want to pay their pastor the least amount they can, give little or nothing to missions, spend nothing on facility maintenance and upkeep, and nothing on ministry in their communities.  It's no wonder they can't attract new people.  Who wants to be a part of that kind of thinking?

The young man who called me seemed to be a very bright individual who will learn a lot about bivocational ministry through his research.  He told me of others he is calling as part of his project, and he will learn much more from them than he did from me.  It is my hope that as more scholars study bivocational ministry and publish their research that many of the misconceptions people have about this ministry will be changed.  Those of us currently serving in this role can help by challenging the wrong questions we hear people asking and helping them better understand bivocational ministry.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Is your church in trouble?

We know many churches today are in trouble.  Studies show that 80 percent (or more) of the churches in North America are plateaued or declining.  Depending on who you read anywhere from 3,000 to 5,000 churches close their doors every year.  The majority of these are smaller churches, and none of them go to this desperate place overnight.  A church can be in a state of decline for years, and even decades, before its death is inevitable.  Turnarounds are not easy, but they can happen at any time on the decline side of a church's life cycle.  What's better than a turnaround is realizing that a church is in trouble and starting to enter a downward spiral and doing something about it then.

In his excellent book, There's Hope for Your Church: First Steps to Restoring Health and Growth, Gary McIntosh provides us with eight signs that a church may be in trouble.  They are

  1. Low Morale
  2. Downward momentum
  3. Survival mode
  4. Passive attitudes
  5. Consolidated power
  6. Lack of vision
  7. Toleration of known sin
  8. Unproductive ministries
These problems are easy to detect, but too often pastors and church leaders fail to see them or recognize them for the problem they are.  Doing such assessments are often uncomfortable for leaders because they are afraid of what they will find and how it will reflect on their leadership.  In other cases, leaders often don't know what to assess or what questions to ask.

The final chapter in my book The Healthy Small Church: Diagnosis and Treatment for the Big Issues gives the reader a series of questions to ask about various aspects of the church's life to help in evaluating the health of the church.  Many churches have provided copies of the book to all their leadership and used it to assess the health of their church.

One of the responsibilities of church leaders is to ensure the health of their church.  A healthy church will be a growing church that will be able to have a positive impact on its community.  Pastors and lay leaders must not continue to hide their heads in the sand ignoring the signs that their church is in danger.  As uncomfortable as it might be to assess the health of your church, it is necessary to ensure the continued health of your congregation and its continued ministry to your community.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Bivocational ministers need teams

Last week my wife had surgery.  She spent three days in the hospital before I brought her home.  While in the hospital she received excellent care from 24-hour nursing staff who made sure she had everything she needed to heal from her surgery.  Housekeeping came in every day, at least once, to make sure her room was clean.  Food services brought her three good meals every day, and yes I said the meals she got while in that hospital were good.  She had two physical therapists work with her twice a day to help her regain mobility.  Her surgeon and a hospital doctor checked on her every day and ensured she received what she needed to recover.

On Thursday I brought her home.  Who do you think her nurse, her housekeeper, her cook and dishwasher, her therapist, and the one who ensures she has what she needs to recover is now?  You are!  It is a labor of love, but it is labor.

Sometime on Friday I got to thinking how much this looks like bivocational ministry.  In larger churches different ministries are led by various people.  Depending on the church there may be a fairly large staff.  Even in a smaller church with a solo pastor there is often at least a part-time administrative person and someone to clean the facility.  However, sometimes in the bivocational church the pastor wears all those hats, and is expected to by the congregation.  A friend of mine told me of resigning a small church when a woman complained after church that he had not replaced the burn-out light bulb in the ladies bathroom since "that's what we pay you to do."

When bivocational ministers are expected to do all the ministry (as well as the maintenance and everything else in the church) and work an outside job it gets overwhelming.  In fact, it is more than overwhelming; it is impossible.  It is also unbiblical.  The work of the church was never intended to be done by one person.  You need a team of people working together to make your church have the impact in its community God intends.  If you are serving as a bivocational pastor your church is probably too small to have a paid staff, but you are not too small to develop ministry teams.  My friend, Terry Dorsett, has written the best book to help you develop the teams you need.  The title of the book is Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church.  This is not a book about theory; it is a book that walks you through how to build the teams you need.  It is the book I wish was available when I served as a bivocational pastor for twenty years.

The second thing you need to remember is that you have a responsibility to take care of yourself.  Yes, bivocational ministry makes a lot of demands on your life, but you are responsible to take care of yourself.  You must make sure to keep your life in balance.  My book, The Healthy Pastor: Easing the Stresses of Ministry will help you do that.  It addresses some of the common challenges that can keep a pastor's life out of balance.  While we will never eliminate many of these stresses, there are ways to limit their impact on our lives.

There is good news ahead on the home front.  On the day this article will be posted we will begin having therapy at a nearby rehab center.  We will go back to see her doctors and, hopefully and prayerfully, get some restrictions lifted.  We now have a routine set up that makes everything run much more efficiently and doesn't require so much time to accomplish everything.  Stress comes into our lives from many directions, but with the right teams and the right methods of dealing with them, much of their impact can be reduced.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

We must reach the fathers with the gospel

In the mid-1980s I attended a pastor's conference that had an impact on my life and ministry.  The speaker made a comment that I remember to this day.  He said, "We have become a weak nation because we have weak churches.  We have weak churches because we have weak families.  We have weak families because we have weak fathers.  We have weak fathers because no one has ever taught them how to be the spiritual leaders God intended for them to be."  If this was true in the 1980s, and I believe it was, how much more true is it today?

For decades the church has wanted strong children's and youth ministries in an effort to reach these young people.  The mindset was that if we could reach the children we might be able to reach the parents.  That often worked.  Our daughter come to faith in Christ at Vacation Bible School.  My wife and I became Christians a few months after her baptism.  When I was a pastor a young girl in our youth group asked if I would visit her parents and talk to them about God.  I did, and in time they began to attend our church, were saved, and became very active leaders in our church.  No doubt, reaching young people can provide an opportunity to reach others in the family, but I think the church needs to shift its emphasis to reaching the fathers.

What I saw later in my pastoral ministry was that despite our best efforts as a church, if the father was not involved in the church his children would often follow his example.   Despite the best efforts by the mothers, it seemed the children's spiritual commitment often matched their father's.

With the growing numbers of single-parent homes today the problem only gets worse.  Many children do not even know who their father is and have no male model to emulate.  Children whose parents are divorced are often with the non-custodial parent every other weekend which often means they are only available to attend church half the year less the times they are away on vacation or at other functions.  This means that your church could have one of the best youth and/or children's ministries possible and yet some of your young people might only be available 10-12 times a year.

How would this change if we were focusing on reaching the fathers with the gospel?  For one, I believe it would cut down on the divorce rate and the number of single-parent homes.  It wouldn't eliminate them, but it could reduce the numbers quite a bit.  A second benefit might be that the father would have a greater commitment to Christ and the church, and that commitment would be a model for his children to follow.  Put these two things together and you have the potential for children to be raised in a more stable home with Jesus Christ at the center.

In order to better reach men with the gospel, the church needs to become much more intentional than it is today.  Reaching and discipling men is hard work and will not be accomplished without intentional effort.  When Promise Keepers was at its height many people thought this would be enough, but the only thing PK could do was to encourage men to take their place as spiritual leaders in the home.  Attending the big events was so exciting and promising, but much of that promise never materialized because the church failed to follow up and disciple the men who attended their church.

There is not sufficient space in a blog post to discuss ways to become more intentional about discipling men, but there are tools available to help a church do that.  I would encourage the leaders of your church to begin talking to the men in the church about what would appeal to them.  One of the things we did was to invite the men in our church to breakfast every two weeks where we would discuss one chapter in a book we were all reading.  We began with Disciplines of a Godly Man (Paperback Edition) by R. Kent Hughes.  Our sessions were not limited to just the men in our congregation.  Others were invited to join us as well.  The material in the book was excellent, and the discussions we had may have been even more helpful.

If you reach young people you might reach the family, but if you can reach the fathers it is much more likely that you will reach the other members of the family as well.  Men today need to learn what it means to be a spiritual person and the spiritual leader in their home, and if the church does not teach them these things they are unlikely to ever learn them.

Monday, July 7, 2014

A messy desk

The past few days have been a little frustrating.  It seems like everything I've tried to do has taken much longer to accomplish than it should have.  I get ready to do something and realize I've left something on my desk I needed to accomplish the task.  I can't find a phone number I need.  There are so many things on my to-do list that I can't decide where to start.  I'm not normally like this, and I'm a person who writes about leadership and ministry issues!  Yeah...frustrating is a good word.

Suddenly, as I sit down at my desk to write, I realize why everything seems so disorganized.  My desk looks like a landfill!  I have stacks of stuff stacked on top of other stacks of stuff.  One quick look and I see my day-timer sitting on top of a bunch of papers, an I-Pod earpiece laying beside a thumb drive on top of another stack of papers.  Beside those are two sharpies and a pack of CD/DVD markers on top of a couple of bills to be paid and my pad of post-it notes I use to take down voice mails.  Another stack has folders and spiral notebooks in front of my computer screen.  Sure, that's not a distraction.  Next to four empty coke cans is a book I'm using for my devotional reading.  I think I now realize why everything seems disorganized.  It's because everything is disorganized!

Believe me, I'm not normally like this.  I like to keep my desk clean and everything filed away.  The past few weeks have been busy.  It's been easier to set things down on the desk and go on to the next task rather than putting things where they needed to go, but now I'm paying the price.

The funny thing about this is that I've read (and quoted) efficiency experts who insist that a messy environment is a distraction and keeps one from being effective.  I even lead a workshop on pastoral stress and spend time talking about the value in keeping things neat and orderly.  Maybe I need to review my notes!  Or maybe I just need to remember that clutter creeps up on you quietly and quickly and robs you of your ability to focus and be as effective as you can be.

How does clutter impact your ministry and your life?  Some claim they work best in clutter, but I've noticed that most of these folks are one box away from being on the TV show Hoarders.  Sorry, but I don't buy their claim.  I just can't believe that having a desk and the surrounding floor stacked with papers and books is not a distraction.  My guess is that this is true for you as well.

If you are feeling like your life and/or ministry is disorganized, take a look around you.  What does your desk and study look like?  Are your bookshelves neat and organized?  What about the inside of your car?  Yeah, maybe I am meddling, but if you have to kick aside the McDonald's bags to find your gas pedal you may have a problem with organization which may also mean you have a problem with productivity.

Whether you are bivocational or fully-funded I want to reduce the stress in your life and ministry, and one way to do that is to get organized and stay organized.  If you have to spend 10 minutes to find a piece of paper with the agenda for your next meeting and another 10 minutes to find a pencil, you are going to feel stress.  Unnecessary stress.  You are not going to be productive.  At the end of the day you will be exhausted and frustrated that you didn't accomplish more than you did.

Now, if you will excuse me, I have some filing to do.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Developing leaders for the church

The question is often asked, "Are leaders born or trained?"  The correct answer is "Yes!"  So far, I've not met a leader who had not been born, and most of them had received training of some kind.  No doubt there are some who were born to be leaders.  There's something in their DNA that just enables them to be a leader.  For others, leadership is more difficult, but even these people can often become a better leader with the proper training, and the right training will help the born leader be better as well.  The challenge for the local church is how to provide the training required that will develop the kinds of leaders our churches need.

In the region in which I serve, the American Baptist Churches of Indiana and Kentucky, we developed the Church Leadership Institute (CLI) several years ago to provide training that would help raise the leadership level in our churches.  CLI consists of two tracks: a two-year program that leads to a Certificate in Church Leadership and a three-year track that earns the graduate a Diploma in Pastoral Ministry.  The two-year track requires that the graduate complete eight courses, and the three-year track requires an additional five courses for graduation.

Our original plan for CLI was to offer the two-year program to help develop the lay leaders who were serving in our churches.  As the first class neared the completion of the program they kept asking for more courses.  We then developed the third year track.  This program has been very successful in developing leaders in our churches, and we recently expanded the program from offering it at only one site to now making it available at three sites in Indiana.  We are currently exploring the possibility of adding two additional sites and looking at how it might grow even more in the future.

CLI has been successful in another way as well.  Some of our graduates are now serving as bivocational pastors in some of our smaller churches.  Many of their churches struggled for years with revolving-door pastorates and had been in decline.  Our CLI graduates have brought stability to these churches, and most of them have seen solid growth under the pastoral leadership of our CLI students.

CLI was never intended to replace a seminary education.  In fact, it was not originally designed to train pastoral leaders at all, but God has used this program to prepare some of those he has called to bivocational ministry in this region.

Across denominations, the numbers of bivocational ministers are growing, and most denominations expect that number to continue to climb.  The challenge facing each of us is how do we train these folks God is calling to this ministry.  Some will find ways to attend seminary, but many will not.  If we want trained bivocational ministers, denominations and judicatories are going to have to provide that training.  Some already offer such training programs, but many do not.  Those that do not need to take a long look at what this is going to cost them long-term if they have increasing numbers of churches being served by untrained pastors.

While we are training bivocational ministers we must not forget the importance of developing our lay leadership as well.  That has been one of the strengths of our program: it offers training for both lay and pastoral leadership.  We believe that if the leadership level is raised in our churches it makes it possible for our churches to enjoy more productive ministries.  I encourage our churches to view CLI as a training partner to help them develop the leadership their churches need.

Has God called you to leadership in a local church?  It doesn't matter if it is a pastoral role or a lay leadership position, that call to serve is also a call to prepare.  If you serve in Indiana or Kentucky you are invited to enroll in our CLI program regardless of your denominational affiliation.  If you serve outside our region, I encourage you to contact your state convention or district office and ask if they offer leadership development programs.  You may be a born leader, but you will become an even more effective one if you are also a trained leader.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Workshops and conferences for bivocational and small church leaders

One of the things I enjoy is leading workshops and conferences for bivocational ministers and leaders of smaller churches.  When I served as a bivocational pastor I never felt that any of the workshops I attended were developed specifically for me and the church I served.  My hope at these events was that I could learn a principle, down-size it to fit our church, and our church benefit from my effort.  Sometimes that worked, and sometimes it didn't.  When my first book was published in 2000 I began receiving invitations from various denominational leaders to speak to their small church leaders, and I always enjoy these gatherings.

It's been fascinating to see how these leaders responded to the opportunity to attend a session devoted specifically to their needs.  In some cases, very few attended the session.  In fact, at one meeting no one showed up, and the sponsors and I returned to our motel rooms early that evening.  At other times there have been large turnouts.  The most remarkable story I heard came from a group of pastors I was eating lunch with one day in the midst of a day-long conference.  They told me they had driven nine hours one way to attend the meeting!  The next year their denomination invited me to lead the same conference at a setting near where these people were from, and they were back the second year.

The thing I enjoy so much about these meetings is the opportunity to speak into the lives of those who attend.  Because I served as a bivocational pastor for 20 years I understand some of the challenges and frustrations they face.  Along with the practical material I share with them, I also offer them encouragement and affirmation.  For some of them, the latter two are the most important things they receive from these meetings.

I currently offer several workshops and conferences.  Each of them have been developed for an all-day session (six hours), a half-day session (three hours), or for a workshop (one hour).  The titles I offer are

  • The Healthy Small Church  (My most requested one)
  • Transforming the Small Church from Maintenance-Minded to Missional
  • The Healthy Pastor: Easing the Stresses of Ministry
  • Bivocational Ministry for the 21st Century
  • Church Hospitality: Turning First-Time Guests into Disciples
  • Coaching Bivocational Ministers for Greater Ministry Effectiveness (This is primarily for judicatory leaders who want to use coaching techniques to assist their bivocational ministers.)
Each of these are based upon some of the books I've published and contain practical ideas that small church leaders can implement in their churches.  In every session I hear repeatedly from pastors that I must have visited their churches because I've described them perfectly.  There is not a lot of theory in these sessions.  Instead we focus on real world situations and offer solutions for how to best address them.

I have led these sessions for the Southern Baptist Convention, the American Baptist Churches, the General Baptists, the Atlantic Baptist Mission, the Salvation Army, the United Methodist Church, the Church of the Nazarene, the Wesleyan Church, and at leadership conferences hosted by various universities.  If you feel that one of these sessions might be helpful to your bivocational and small church leaders, please feel free to contact me.  My 2014 calendar is filling up fast, but there are still some open dates this fall and winter, and it's not too early to be thinking about 2015.