Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Coaching opportunities available

What would you like to accomplish in 2015?  In your personal life?  In your family?  In your ministry?  In your work?  Would you like to enjoy more balance in your life?  Would you enjoy being able to spend more time with your family?  Would you like to see your church get unstuck from ruts that may be decades old?  The reality is that if you merely hope that things will improve in 2015, they probably won't.  If you keep doing the same things you've been doing you will get the same results.  Nothing will change.  Two things need to happen if you want to see your life and ministry improve.

The first is that you need a goals program.  This season from mid-November through December is when I typically identify the goals I want to pursue in the coming year.  I began doing this several years ago, and it has had a very positive impact on my life.  I began using a program offered by Zig Ziglar that is probably still available through his organization.  I continue to use a modified version of that same program.

I begin by identifying some goals for the different areas of my life that I want to pursue in the coming year.  These areas will include my family life, my ministry, my career (if you are bivocational that will often be different than your ministry), my relationship with God, and my own self-care.  Writing these goals on paper turn them from being a dream to an actual goal.  This helps me be very intentional about pursuing these things and keeps me from merely drifting from one activity to another.  Once I've listed my goals (no more than one or two in each area) I then write down what I will gain from reaching the goal, I list the things I can identify that will hinder my reaching the goal, I identify the people and groups that can help me achieve the goal, I list some new skills or knowledge I might need, and then I begin recording the action steps I will take that will lead me to achieve the goal.  These action steps become mini-goals that reduce the big goal down into bite-size chunks.  I do not believe anyone can reach their fullest potential without setting challenging goals each year that will help them grow.

The second thing that is often helpful is to have a coach who believes in you and your goals.  The coach helps us stay focused and holds us accountable.  Many people will make a New Year's resolution to lose weight and will join a gym and begin an exercise program and diet.  All of this will last about three weeks.  One of the biggest reasons they will fail in their effort is that there is no one to hold them accountable.  The ones who succeed will often have invested in a trainer to work with them, show them the right exercises that will be most beneficial to them, and will often help them with their diet.

The business world has known for several years that a coach can help a person or organization get unstuck.  A good coach can help the one they are coaching to elevate their sights and begin to see past where they are to what they can become.  Many major corporations provide outside coaches to their top executives because they know that they get a good return on their investment.

Some in the church world are now seeing the same value in coaching.  At a time when 80 percent of our churches are plateaued or declining and ministry frustrations are driving many out of the ministry, some are turning to coaches to help their churches move forward and to regain control of their personal lives.  They are finding that this investment in themselves makes sense and provides a great return on both their time and money.  But coaching is not just for when things are not going well.  Some of the best returns is when things are going well, but the leaders want to take their church and themselves to an even higher level of ministry effectiveness.

For the past few years I have coached a number of ministers, both bivocational and fully-funded.  Due to my judicatory responsibilities I can only work with a few people at a time, but as we approach a new year I do have a few slots open.  My doctoral thesis was on "Coaching Bivocational Ministers for Greater Success."  I have found that coaching is an excellent tool to assist bivocational and fully-funded ministers move forward with their lives and ministries.  If you wonder if coaching could benefit you, please contact me so we can discuss it.

My latest book is a look at my doctoral project and the information that came out of it.  Included in the book are ten case studies of ministers I have coached and the results of those coaching relationships.  You may want to pick up a copy of the book to learn more about how coaching can benefit you.

Monday, November 24, 2014

A word for those who are always late

My current ministry often requires me to attend meetings with various church boards and committees to provide whatever assistance they might need to accomplish their tasks.  Some of these meetings will require me to drive up to three hours one way.  It is not uncommon for these meetings to be held up while we wait for one or two people who are running late.  No one considers that I have another three hour drive to return home or that I might have another meeting scheduled for later.  Those who are late don't even consider that their fellow board members might have other plans or have families waiting for a meal when they return home.  They usually walk into the room mumbling about being behind.  No, they are not running behind; they are rude and inconsiderate of other people.

I typically arrive at events too early because I hate being late to anything.  I keep a book in my car to read if I've arrived before the others which is often the case.  I feel if I am late that I am insulting those who arrived on time and have insinuated that my time is much more valuable than theirs.  Unfortunately, not everyone feels that way, and too often others on the board or committee are willing to delay the meeting until these people finally arrive.  There have been times when I've suggested we go ahead and start the meeting without the late comers.  Sometimes, people agree but other times my suggestion is not well received.

This is not really a rant because this hasn't happened to me lately.  It is an observation of a trend that I've noticed that some people simply have no respect for other people's time.  Our society is becoming more rude and inconsiderate of others, and this is just one symptom of the problem.

Are there ever justifiable reasons for a person to be late?  Of course.  Emergencies happen that cannot be predicted.  Unusual situations occur that no amount of planning can predict.  I was once late getting to a meeting at a nearby church because there were two combines on the country road ahead of me that I had to follow almost all the way to the church.  There was no place to pass them, and they refused to pull off when they had opportunities to do so.  Although I left early enough to arrive on time, there was no way I would know I would have to follow two combines to the church.

What I've noticed, however, is that it is usually the same people who are always late.  Their problem is not due to emergencies or the occasional unusual circumstance.  They are simply rude and inconsiderate people.  The only way to get their attention is to never delay a meeting because they are late.  We should never reward improper behavior.  If they are late they should understand the meeting will begin without them.  If they continue to be late to future meetings they should be asked about their commitment to the group.  Let's not punish responsible people who make the effort to be on-time by rewarding those who are always late.

Friday, November 21, 2014

2015 Workshops on small church and bivocational ministry

Since 2001 one of the things I've enjoyed doing is leading workshops and conferences on small church and bivocational ministry.  After having spent 20 years as a bivocational pastor, writing several books on small church and bivocational ministry, and doing my doctoral work on coaching bivocational ministers it's not too difficult to tell where my ministry passion lies.  Those who serve in these churches are my heroes.  There are few things in my ministry life that I find more rewarding than being able to encourage these individuals and share with them information that I pray adds value to their lives and ministries.

Many denominational and judicatory leaders will begin now to think about the training opportunities they will offer their church leaders in 2015.  With the rising numbers of bivocational pastors serving in virtually every denomination today I hope they will consider doing something especially for them.  If so, I would love to talk with them about partnering with them to help train their bivocational and small church leaders.

I offer several workshops

  • The Healthy Small Church (My most popular one)
  • The Healthy Pastor: Easing the Stresses of Ministry
  • Transforming the Small Church From Maintenance-Minded to Missional
  • Bivocational Ministry in the 21st Century
  • Church Hospitality: How to Turn First-Time Guests Into Followers of Jesus Christ
  • Coaching Bivocational Ministers (For judicatory and denominational leaders and others who are responsible to work with these individuals)
In addition to these, I have developed specific workshops to meet the needs of individual groups.  You should always feel free to contact me about a particular need you might have.  Each of these workshops are offered in six-hour, three-hour, and one-hour formats to meet your specific needs.

These workshops have been presented to leaders in several denominations across the United States and Canada.  The denominations I've been privileged to assist include

  • American Baptist Churches USA
  • The Southern Baptist Convention
  • General Baptists
  • United Methodist Church
  • The Salvation Army
  •  Atlantic Baptist Mission (Canada)
  • The Wesleyan Church
  • The Church of the Nazarene
Because of my current ministry as a Resource Minister in our region my ability to travel is limited so I can only schedule a few workshops each year.  If you are interested in contacting me I encourage you to do so as soon as possible so we can get your event on my calendar.  Please contact me if you have any questions about any of my workshops.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

We need new ways to share the Gospel

A friend of mine recently had an interesting conversation with a co-worker.  Something was said about Billy Graham, and the co-worker asked who that was.  My friend was stunned.  When asked to repeat his comment, the co-worker said he had never heard of Billy Graham.

It seems incredible that someone in the United States would have no idea of who Billy Graham is.  Even if the individual is not a person of faith most of us would assume that everyone in the United States has heard of Billy Graham.  Those kinds of assumptions is one of the problems of the church today.  We assume people know much more about God, Christianity, the Bible, and church than they actually do know.  The fact is that many unchurched people know very little about any of those things, and, even worse, much of what they do know is error.

When Jay Leno hosted the Tonight show he would occasionally do a "man-in-the-street" interview to see what people knew about various topics.  It was really amazing to see the lack of knowledge people had about even the simplest of topics.  Years ago our nation outlawed literacy tests for voting on the grounds that they were used to discriminate and keep some people from voting, but after hearing some of the responses from the persons Leno interviewed I'm not sure some of these folks should be allowed to vote!  They are certainly not voting based on any factual information about the candidates, their positions on issues, or on their past records.  Unfortunately, as misinformed as most of these people were about politics, they were usually even less informed when asked questions of a religious nature.

We now have a generation (or two) that has had very little, if any, exposure to Christian teaching.  Many of them have been influenced by university professors who denounced Christian values and beliefs.  Others didn't want their lifestyles impacted by any kind of restrictions so they accepted the postmodern view that whatever choices one made for themselves was proper.  Still others had questions about God and Christianity, but sought answers to their questions from some of the New Atheist writers that are so popular today and never compared what they had to say with what Christian apologists say about those same questions.

Any time you try to share your faith with these individuals you can expect some of the same responses.  "The church is full of hypocrites."  "With all the evil there is in the world there cannot be a God."  "The Bible is just a book of myths written by men."  "If you want to believe that Jesus Christ is the way you came to know God that's fine, but there are many roads to God."  "All religions are the same."  There are others, but these seem to be some of the most common reasons people give for rejecting biblical Christianity.  So, how will you respond to them?

The church must do a better job of not only teaching people what they should believe, but why they should believe it.  We need to help Christians be able to defend their faith when challenged by unbelievers.  I can remember as a young Christian being told that people might argue your doctrine, but they couldn't argue your experience.  That's no longer true today.  They may applaud your experience and be genuinely glad that your experiences have been so meaningful to you, but in our pluralistic society your experience is just that: your experience.  In a postmodern world you have no right to state that your religious experience is better than anyone else's.  We must be able to show them why their beliefs are logically inconsistent and be able to present the teachings of Scripture in a way that will speak to their minds and their hearts.  At that point, we can trust God to begin to water the seed we've planted.

The church needs to find new ways to do evangelism.  The old models that were successful years ago depended on people having at least some knowledge about biblical teaching.  That time no longer exists.  We must patiently and lovingly develop relationships with people and earn the right to respond to their questions and concerns about the Christian faith.  Jesus met people where they were.  We can do no less today.

Monday, November 17, 2014

The importance of the pulpit

Bivocational ministers face many challenges as they try to meet the many demands that exist on their time.  In order to succeed in ministry bivocational ministers must set priorities for how they will use their time.  When it comes to ministry priorities one that must be near the top of the list is sermon preparation.

Sundays come around every seven days whether we are prepared for them or not.  We should not be surprised that we are expected to be prepared to share a message with our congregations every Sunday.  In fact, we should look forward to it.  That time on Sunday morning is the one time that we will be with the most people.  It gives us our greatest opportunity to challenge and encourage our congregation.  In my book, The Bivocational Pastor: Two Jobs, One Ministry, I write:

Nothing the bivocational minister can do has the potential to impact a church more than his or her pulpit ministry.  John A. Broadus wrote in 1870, "The record of Christian history has been that the strength of the church is directly related to the strength of the pulpit.  When the message from the pulpit has been uncertain and faltering, the church has been weak; when the pulpit has given a positive, declarative message, the church has been strong.  The need for effective preaching has never been greater."  John MacArthur agreed with Broadus when he wrote, "No man's pastoral ministry will be successful in God's sight who does not give preaching its proper place.

The apostle Paul asked, "If the trumpet makes an uncertain sound who will prepare for battle?" (1 Cor. 14:8)  Pulpit ministry enables the pastor to sound a clear message to his or her congregation.  In preaching the pastor can cast vision, teach doctrine, and challenge, inspire, and encourage the church.  The results can be a more unified church with a clear purpose. Both are essential to a successful ministry.

I believed these words when I served as a bivocational pastor.  I believed them when I wrote this book in 2004, and I continue to believe them today.  Since beginning judicatory ministry in 2001 and spending most Sundays in a different church I can say without fear of contradiction that I have never seen a strong church that had a weak pulpit, and I have never seen a weak church that had a strong pulpit.  A weak pulpit can turn a strong church into a weak one, and a strong pulpit can turn a weak church into a much healthier church.  Unfortunately, in my travels I encounter too many weak pulpits.  On the Sundays when I visit such churches I leave the service wondering what I had just experienced.  I'm sure I'm not the only one leaving a worship service that had weak preaching confused and disappointed.

Because Sundays do come around every seven days, and because bivocational ministers are often over-committed it is vital that we begin working on our sermon as early as possible.  We don't want to plan to work on our sermon on Saturday evening only to be called to the hospital that evening.  You may think you will be able to fake it this one time, but your congregation will see through your efforts.  Some will be disappointed while others will be offended that you thought so little of them that you did not take the time to prepare a message they needed to hear.  Even worse, you will have forfeited the opportunity to cast vision, challenge, encourage, and preach an evangelistic message that might bring one more person into the Kingdom of God.  You might meet with various committees throughout the week, but you will hardly ever gather as many people into one group to speak to them as you will have sitting in your congregation on Sunday morning.

Make your sermon preparation a major priority in your ministerial life.  When you have prepared properly you can go into pulpit with confidence and preach the kind of life-changing messages people need to hear.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Handling change

One of my favorite authors is Dr. Richard Swenson who wrote the book Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives.  I've often said that if that book had been available when I began my ministry it might have saved me a lot of problems, including a bout with clinical depression due to overload.  It remains one of my favorite books and is one that I re-read to help me remember how to care for myself.

A few years ago he published a book that follows up with the general theme of his earlier work titled In Search of Balance: Keys to a Stable Life that I believe is equally helpful.  In this book he addresses the the rapid change and explains why it often feels so overwhelming.  He writes, "What we are witnessing is a continuous escalation of the norm followed rapidly by a normalization of the escalation that then becomes the new normal."  In other words, our definition of what is normal is constantly and rapidly changing.  About the time we think we have it figured out, our new normal changes again.  It's no wonder we feel overwhelmed.

It's also no wonder why the church struggles so much with the changing landscape.  In the past change was very slow, almost like the lava flow we've been watching on television the past few days.  Even when we could see it coming it was moving so slowly that we had time to prepare.  And many in the church still was opposed to it!  Now, it seems that every publication, every denominational pronouncement, every new book and workshop declares that the church must be doing _________ if it wants to remain relevant and effective.  About the time a church gets that implemented something newer and shinier is presented as the next great thing the church must do.

Now, I'm not advocating that churches do not need to change.  Some need to make some drastic changes to try to make it into the 20th century!  (We're taking it one century at a time.)  However, churches also don't need to be chasing every shiny thing that suddenly appears and is heralded as the solutions to all the church's problems.

Swenson shares several ways to address this escalation of the norm, and one that is especially helpful to churches is to "Stop staring at the neighbors."  If we start playing the comparison game we will be quickly sunk.  They get a new car, we need a new car.  They put in a pool we need a pool.  They build an addition to their house and suddenly our house seems too small and we need a new addition.  We can quickly go broke buying things we don't need with money we don't have to impress people we don't like.  It's the same with churches.

A church down the road puts in a new video system so we need one.  They hire a youth minister, and suddenly our volunteer youth workers are not enough.  They buy a van, and we feel we need a bus.  Since we've never spent any time discerning God's vision for our church we are left with trying to copy what other churches are doing, and this can quickly turn into an escalation of the norm requiring more and more change that produces little return for our efforts.

There is no question that our culture is changing at a rapid rate and that the church must make changes to be able to minister well to that culture.  But, those changes should be informed by our vision for ministry and not what other churches are doing.  Whatever changes we make should occur to make it easier to reach those persons God has given our church to reach and not because our favorite religious personality endorses them.  There should be a balance to our ministry that allows us to be relevant to the world God has called us to reach and be able to breathe as a church as well.

Swenson's book has much to say to us about balance as individuals as well as to our churches.  I highly recommend both.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Pastoral transitions

One of the toughest decisions a minister must make is knowing if it is time to leave his or her present place of ministry for another.  Of course, sometimes the church makes that decision for the minister eliminating any confusion on the part of the minister.  But, most of us will struggle with this decision at times in our ministerial lives, and it has been well said that it is the loneliest decision a minister must make.

Some ministers do not seem to struggle too much with deciding to move.  They do it so often that they never unpack most of their belongings and have a discount plan with their moving company.  You can count on these individuals changing churches about every 2-3 years or whenever they find an open church that appears to be a move up the ministerial ladder of success.  I consider these persons to be hirelings, not pastors, and nothing I say in this post is likely to influence them.

For many of us, it is a struggle.  We don't want to leave too soon and miss out on something God is planning for our church, and yet we don't want to stay when we have nothing more to offer.  In yesterday's post I mentioned John Maxwell's book Good Leaders Ask Great Questions: Your Foundation for Successful Leadership.  As I was reading it today I came across a chapter that addresses this very issue.  One of the things in the book that really connected with me was a statement Maxwell shared from Elmer Towns, co-founder of Liberty University, "Don't leave something; go to something."

In about my 18th year as pastor of my bivocational church I felt that my time there was about over.  There had been various times during those years when I had felt that previously and had even interviewed with a handful of churches, but after those interviews I just didn't feel called to leave when I was serving.  All of those churches were larger than the one I was in, and several of them had much more growth potential than our rural church had, but I just didn't feel led to leave.  This time was different.  I knew my time there was over.  What I didn't know was what my next place of ministry would be.

About a year later the Executive Minister of our region called asking if I would be willing to serve part-time as an interim Area Minister.  The person in that position was leaving for another ministry.  It was anticipated that the search for a new person would take about a year, and they needed someone to serve during that interim period.  My duties would be limited since I was pastoring a church, but I would be able to do many of the tasks our Area Ministers were doing.  After taking a weekend to pray about it and discuss it with my wife I accepted.  Several months later the region began accepting applications, and I was told that I could submit one if I wanted to.  At the end of that search process I was selected for the position.

Submitting that application was a scary moment.  After serving the church for nearly 20 years I knew I could do that standing on my head.  I didn't know if I could do regional ministry.  I lacked the education and many of the experiences others on our staff had.  I could easily fail, but I also knew God was calling me to this new role, and I had to accept it.  Nearly 14 years later I am still serving in this ministry.

It was very difficult to announce my leaving to the church, but it was helpful to know that I was not leaving something; I was going to something.  The church was as healthy as it had been in decades.  We had a new fellowship building under construction that was being paid for in donations.  Our mission giving was strong.  There were no issues in the congregation.  I wasn't leaving problems; I was going to a new ministry that God had been preparing me for.

As you consider making a transition in your ministry ask yourself if you are leaving something or going to something.  If you are only wanting to leave, you may need to check your motives.  If you are going to something, you may be on the right track for making such a transition.

Monday, November 10, 2014

The necessity of vision

This past Saturday I finished teaching the course "Personal and Family Health" for our Church Leadership Institute.  This course examines how clergy and lay leaders can maintain balance in their personal and ministerial lives, enjoy a healthy family life, set and achieve goals, and live their lives and fulfill their ministries according to God's vision for both.  A significant portion of one class session was spent exploring the value of that vision and how to determine what that might be.

Anyone who has read my books knows the importance I place on vision.  In my workshops and classes I explain that a church without a common, unifying vision is like an octopus on roller skates.  There may be a lot of activity, but it's not likely you will go anywhere.  What's true of a church is true of any organization, family, or individual.

I am currently reading John Maxwell's latest book Good Leaders Ask Great Questions: Your Foundation for Successful Leadership.  I recently came across what he has to say about vision in this book.  He writes:

Leaders without vision will fail.  Leaders who lack vision cannot inspire teams, motivate performance, or create sustainable value.  Poor vision, tunnel vision, vision that is fickle, or a non-existent vision will cause leaders to fail.  A leader's job is to align with the organization around a clear and achievable vision.  This cannot occur when the blind leads the blind.

That's about as straightforward as you can get.  Without a vision leaders will fail.  There's no maybe.  There's no perhaps.  Leaders will fail without a vision.  There may be some sporadic successes, some temporal gains, but in the long run a leader with no clear vision will not be successful.

Yet, I find few churches that have any vision that informs their ministry.  When I've asked a church if they have a vision some will produce a vision statement that some committee created in the past, but if I ask how that statement influences the ministries and programs they provide the vast majority of churches admit the vision is never considered when ministries and programs are discussed.  A vision statement is not a vision.

This lack of a clear, God-given vision that directs the decisions made in the church is one of the primary reasons why so many churches are struggling.  They may have full calendars and lots of activities, but at the end of the year there is little to show for all that activity.  Without vision there is a lack of focus, and without focus a church is just drifting along hoping something good comes out of all their activity.

If your church does not have such a vision I urge you to begin to discern what that might look like before you make your plans for 2015.  Having a vision is not a guarantee that your ministry will be successful in 2015, but not having one almost assures you that it will not be.  You may need to bring in outside help to lead your church in that discernment process, but do what you have to do to identify God's vision for your church.

Friday, November 7, 2014

What do the Republicans do now?

In the midst of all the excitement about the Republicans regaining control of the Senate and extending their control in the House some are now reminding anyone who will listen that their next challenge will be to govern.  No doubt, some of the voters selected candidates based upon their own frustration at the failures of those currently in office.  As a nation, we have grown tired of the stalemate that has existed for too many years, and it has hurt us economically, socially, militarily, and in nearly every other area of life.  Americans have selected new leadership, and the challenge for these individuals is to now lead our nation.

Relax, I'm not going to explain how that should happen or what it should look like.  We in ministry face the same challenge that these new Republicans face.  I still vividly recall that Sunday night in July 1981 when the impact of a church vote that morning hit me.  Following a trial sermon that morning the church voted unanimously to call me as their next pastor.  To say I was excited would have been an understatement.  I'm not sure I stopped smiling the rest of the day.  That night I laid down in the bed when suddenly I sat straight up.  The thought had just entered my mind, "Now that I've got them, what am I going to do with them?"  I had no pastoral experience and no education beyond high school at that time.  I knew God had called me into the ministry, but now I had a church and no real idea what to do next.

There are many serving as bivocational ministers in the same situation I was in.  Lacking experience and ministerial education we can quickly feel overwhelmed by all the responsibilities that goes along with being a pastor.  New ministers have no idea what it's like to prepare a new sermon (or two) every week.  We don't understand the administrative needs of even a small church and the amount of time we will give to those needs.  It can quickly get overwhelming when people start coming for advice or counseling.  We know we've been called to lead our church; it's just that we didn't know what that entailed and now we're not sure we can provide the leadership our church needs.

When a newly elected politician begins his or her term, it's important that they get the lay of the land.  They need to find out who the players are and how things really work in the political world.  Ministers need to take the same approach.  I did very little for the first few months except to spend time knowing the people and learning the history of the church.  My first business meeting was rough because I made a recommendation that was met with angry opposition.  Later I learned that people were not responding to me or even the recommendation I made; they were responding out of emotions my recommendation caused them to have.  There was a painful episode in the history of the church I did not know about, and that caused the reaction I received.  I knew after that night that I needed to spend some time learning more about the church's history and how things really worked in that church.

When these newly elected individuals go to Washington the wisest ones will begin spending time with some of the senior congressional leaders to learn more about how things operate.  Ministers should follow the same strategy.  I have been pastor of my church for only a few short months when I made an appointment with one of the older pastors in our association.  He had been in the ministry for a number of years and in his present church for much of that time.  I considered him a good pastor and knew I could learn much from his experiences.  I was right.  The afternoon I spent with him, and others, were very helpful as I began my own ministry.  I learned some things to avoid in ministry.  It was far better for me to learn these things through the mistakes they had made than to have to make those mistakes myself.

During the election I heard numerous complaints from politicians about how their opponents missed votes and committee meetings.  For the first few months you can almost guarantee that these newly elected officials will demonstrate how hard they are willing to work.  We in ministry must do the same only we can't do it just for the first few months we are at our post.  Ministry is hard work, and if a person isn't willing to work hard he or she should not consider ministry to be their calling.  The church I served was blue collar, and one of the things that helped me as a bivocational pastor was that everyone knew that every day I went to my factory job, worked an eight-hour shift, and came home and focused on ministry responsibilities.  Not once in that 20 year pastorate did anyone ever question my work ethic.  As the pastor, as a leader in your church, you must be willing to work harder than anyone else in your congregation.

While there is much debate over what mandate came out of this election I think it's safe to say that one mandate is that American people want to see results.  If these newly elected individuals do not produce tangible results they may find themselves replaced the next time they run for re-election.  When I became pastor of that small church it was broken in many ways.  Some thought it was time to close its doors.  After taking some time to know the people and the history we began tackling small challenges and seeing positive results.  Even small victories can make a big difference in how people perceive themselves.  Positive results led to people being willing to accept larger challenges, and when those produced positive results we took on even bigger challenges.  Not everything we attempted succeeded, but because we had already accomplished some good things these failures were just seen as setbacks.  Such victories are critical to the long-term success of a minister and the church being served.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

A modern day parable on giving

It's been some time since I've seen this parable on giving, but my friend Terry Dorsett published it yesterday on his Facebook page.  I thought it was so good I needed to share it.

The treasurer of a congregation resigned. The church asked another to take his position, a man who managed a local grain elevator. He agreed, under two conditions:
1. That no report from the treasurer be given for one whole year.
2. That no one ask him any questions during this one year period.
The church gulped, but finally agreed, since he was a trusted man in the community, and well known because most of them did business with him as manager of the local grain elevator. At the end of the year he gave this report:
The indebtedness of $250,000 on the church was paid.
The minister’s salary had been increased.
The mission quota was paid 200%.
There were no outstanding bills.
There was a cash balance of $12,000.
Immediately a shocked congregation asked, “How can this be?”
Quietly, he answered, “Most of you bring your grain to my elevator. As you did business with me, I simply withheld ten percent on your behalf and gave it to the church in your name. You never missed it. Do you see what we could do for the Lord if we were willing to give the first tithe to God, who really owns it all anyway?”

Wow!  The average Christian gives less than three percent of his or her income to the church.  That's why I never believe a church when they tell me they don't have the money to do this or that.  Few churches truly have money problems.  Their problems are most often related to a lack of vision that challenges people to give and a failure to teach sound stewardship to the congregation.  The results in the above parable could be duplicated in nearly every church if the people were tithing.

Incidentally, Terry has an excellent book called Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church that I highly recommend for bivocational ministers and the churches they serve.  I think it is a very good resource to help these churches better organize themselves for ministry.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Leaders must learn to listen

A common thread found in many troubled churches is that a lot of discussions about their problems occur in the parking lots, hallways, and empty rooms in the church.  These impromptu meetings may have taken place for months before any official complaint was made public.  There are various reasons why such meetings exist.  In some cases, disgruntled church members are trying to win converts to their cause.  Often, controllers like to work in the shadows and this is a way they try to find someone else to take the public stand they desire while keeping themselves out of the limelight.  I think a very common, and perhaps the most common, reason for such meetings is that people feel the leaders won't listen to them so try to find someone who will.

John Maxwell makes this point in his excellent book Good Leaders Ask Great Questions: Your Foundation for Successful Leadership.  He writes, "When a leader listens to members of the team, that act gives the leader greater credibility and therefore influence.  On the other hand, when team members no longer believe that their leader listens to them, they start looking around for someone who will." If people believe, right or wrong, that their pastor will not listen to what they have to say, they will find someone who will listen.  One of the ways wise pastors can stop conflict in the church before it starts is to make sure people believe that you are listening to their concerns.

Strong leaders often struggle with this.  As a younger pastor I was not a good listener.  While others were talking I was thinking of what I was going to say next.  I would interrupt sending the message that what I had to say was more important than what they were saying.  Sometimes I completely misunderstood what people were trying to tell me because I wasn't focused on what they were saying.  Even if I did understand them, they would leave the discussion feeling they had not been heard because of my interruptions and responses.

I admit that I am a bottom-line guy.  I don't want to hear a lot of detail.  Give me a brief statement of what you want me to know, and I'll want to respond with 3-4 bullet points that will solve your problem. At that point I'm ready to move on to the next thing.  The problem with that is that sometimes we need the details or we end up solving the wrong problem, and then we've made it worse because now the person is convinced we don't care and aren't taking their issues seriously.  Their next step is apt to be the parking lot where they will find someone who will listen.  So, I've had to learn to be a more active listener, and doing so has prevented some minor issues from becoming major conflicts.

Active listening involves actually listening to what people are saying without going over in your mind what you're going to say in response.  It involves asking questions and paraphrasing what you think you heard back to the speaker to ensure you heard him or her correctly.  When done correctly, the speaker leaves the discussion feeling that their views have been heard and understood even if they don't agree with your response.

I have found that responding as a coach rather than as a consultant often helps me be a more active listener.  Because coaching involves asking powerful questions it is far more likely that I am going to correctly understand what the other person is saying, and it often helps me assist the other person to find the answer to their concern from within themselves.

Leaders who don't listen to the whispers will eventually have to hear the screams.  Listening well can help reduce the number and severity of the conflicts that will arise making this is a vital responsibility for every leader.