Thursday, July 30, 2015

You have to ride the horses that want to run

At every workshop I lead someone will ask how he or she can lead change in their church when most of the people are content with the way things are. At the most, they confess, there are only a handful of people who want to see their church do more. I always respond that you have to ride the horses that want to run. Whipping a dead horse won't make it go any faster.

In many churches most people are very content with the status quo. They will say they want to see the church grow, but at the same time they will resist almost anything that might help it grow. However, there are usually a handful of people who are not content with the church's current situation. They want to see change happen. They want to see growth. Unfortunately, they are often in the minority and often not in positions of leadership.

This doesn't matter. These are the people you have to invest in. You want to pastor and love the others, but you must invest in the folks who want to see things happen in the church. Groom them for leadership so when their time does come they will be ready.

In yesterday's post I quoted Seth Godin from his book Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us. He writes something that speaks to today's post as well.

"If your goal is to make change, it's foolish to try to change the worldview of the majority if the majority is focused on maintaining the status quo. The opportunity is to carve out a new tribe, to find the rabble-rousers and change lovers who are seeking new leadership and run with them instead."

The mistake we often make is we try to force change upon people who are not ready for change. Sometimes we think that because we have a title (pastor) that people are going to get excited every time we present a new idea. That is not usually the case, especially in a smaller church. I've known too many good pastors get into trouble in their churches because they tried to force people to make changes who did not want to make changes. Such pastors often find themselves unemployed, and the church becomes even more resistant to future change.

It's far better to identify the people who share your vision and work with them. As you begin to build buy-in around a fresh vision for ministry you will bring more people on board. This new tribe will communicate to others and additional people will begin to come on board. Eventually, enough people will be supportive of the changes that they can be implemented in the church.

Yes, this will take time. It can also be unpleasant at times if the old guard feels you have abandoned them. That's why I earlier said that these folks need to be loved and given good pastoral ministry. As a pastor I want to honor the faithfulness and ministry the old guard has demonstrated in the past, but at the same time I cannot allow them to stop what God is wanting to do now in the church. It's often a tough balancing act, but it's one a wise pastor will do.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Maybe what smaller churches are doing is OK after all

Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us by Seth Godin is not a new book but is one I'm just now reading for the first time. Godin is considered a marketing guru and has written several bestselling books. I've heard him on various podcasts and found him interesting, but I've never been a big fan of his writing. I bought this book after reading a recommendation, and I'm glad I did. Last night I read a paragraph that really jumped off the page.

"So great leaders don't try to please everyone. Great leaders don't water down their message in order to make the tribe a bit bigger. Instead, they realize that a motivated, connected tribe in the midst of a movement is far more powerful than a larger group ever could be."

So often smaller churches are told they have to change this thing or that thing in order to appeal to more people. "You'll never reach young people if you keep singing from the hymnal." "If you don't offer this program your church will never attract certain people to your church." "You better not preach on that subject or you'll run people off." And the list of warnings goes on.

One of my favorite passage of Scripture is John 6. Jesus has done many miracles including the feeding of the 5,000. The masses want to be with him, but they also want him to continue to do miraculous things for them. Instead, Jesus begins to teach some hard truths which alienates the vast majority of the people. In verse 66 we read that many of them turned away and walked with Jesus no more.

What did Jesus do? He didn't run after them pleading with them to return. He didn't beg for their forgiveness. He didn't offer to water down his message to make it more acceptable to them. He didn't promise to be more politically correct in the future. No! What he did was turn to the twelve and ask if they also wanted to leave.

Jesus understood that he could not please everyone. He also knew that a small, committed, motivated few could accomplish a lot more than a large group of people who are just hanging around waiting for the next show or the next serving of fish sandwiches.

A consistent theme in books about reaching out to the unchurched is that churches need not, and must not, water down their message or lower their expectations of what it means to be a Christian and a church member if they want to reach today's unchurched population. This is a generation that is hungry for truth and wants to be involved in something that has high expectations of them.

Does this mean that smaller churches should refuse to make changes that are needed? NO! Anything that hinders our mission must be addressed. Any walls we've created that keep people from God must be identified and torn down. We have to find ways to build bridges into the communities we are called to serve.

This does mean that much of what we're doing is OK. We will never be able to appeal to everyone, and that's OK too. We will advance our part of the Kingdom of God by continuing to be the people God has called us to be, and that's all any church is asked to do.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The power of intentionality in ministry

In some of my workshops I tell the story of fishing one day when my boat motor became stuck on an underwater rock. I had been drifting down the river fishing the banks when my boat went over this rock and became stuck. The boat did not have tilt-and-trim so I had to find a way to get off the rock. To make a long story much shorter, before I got the boat unstuck I broke about eight fishing rods and had three treble hooks stuck in my arms. If you attend one of my seminars one day you may hear the longer, more entertaining version of this story!

So, how did I end up in this predicament? Remember, I said I was drifting down the river. The key word here is drifting. In fact, as I look back, every time I got into trouble in a boat it was when I was drifting. As long as the engine or the trolling motor was running I was going somewhere on purpose, and I never had problems as long as the motors were running.

The same is true in life and in church work. The times we get into the most trouble is when we are content to drift. When we are living a purposeful life we are much less likely to get into trouble, and we are much more likely to be more successful. When a church is ministering with intentionality the same thing is true. The problem is that it's much easier to drift along and hope something good will happen.

After working in and with churches for the past three plus decades I have to say that many of them are just drifting along. They open their doors each week hoping something good will happen and wondering why things aren't better than they are. They lack a clear sense of having a God-given vision. They seem to have little purpose for much of what they do except it's what they've always done in the past.

These churches need to fire up their motors and begin to go somewhere on purpose. They need to invest the time to discern a fresh vision from God for what he wants to do in and through their church today and then identify the steps they need to take to make that happen. We must become much more intentional about what we're doing than many of our churches have been in the past.

If I may use another analogy, let's stop taking a shotgun approach to ministry and begin to take a rifle approach. A rifle approach requires you to be much more focused on your target and more deliberate in what you're doing. As churches, let's begin to focus in on the one or two things we can do with excellence that will make a difference in the communities in which we serve. With that kind of focus and intentionality we will begin to see more fruits from our labor.

If I can help you become more focused on knowing and doing God's vision for your church, please contact me. You may also find my book Intentional Ministry in a Not-So-Mega Church: Becoming a Missional Community to be a help as you get started.

Monday, July 27, 2015

What is the future of the smaller church?

One question I am often asked when I lead a conference is "What do you think is the future of the small church?" My response has consistently been that I think we will see the number of smaller churches increase in the coming years. The ones that will struggle most will be the medium size churches. Many of them will be forced to offer many of the same programs large churches offer or they will see their people leaving for those larger churches. This will create financial challenges for these churches, especially those carrying debt. Some of the financial problems will be the result of people leaving, but some of it will be due to increased staffing and programming costs as they attempted to compete with the larger churches. I sense it is going to be a difficult time to be a medium size church in America in the next couple of decades.

I also believe some large megachurches will find themselves in trouble in the future. What will happen to them if the government ever decides to eliminate tax deductions for contributions made to churches? Will their membership continue to support them at the same level as they currently do? What will happen if church property is no longer exempt from property taxes? These churches have properties worth millions of dollars, and as government finds less and less to tax eliminating the property tax exemption churches now enjoy is going to look very promising to many politicians. Many of these churches continue to be led by their founders. Some megachurches have seen the leadership baton passed on to new leaders. While some made that transition very smoothly, others did not. As more of these founding leaders transition out of their roles it will be very interesting to see how these churches do.

Smaller churches are able to avoid many of these problems. While many of them complain about a lack of finances, the reality is that most are in good financial condition. Many of them have no debt. Increasing numbers of them are calling bivocational leadership reducing the amount of money they must pay for salary and benefits. While most small churches dream of seeing their finances improve the reality is that they are less susceptible to financial setbacks than many of the larger churches would be.

Property taxes would be minimal on most small churches. If the taxes were more than the church could handle, the congregations could walk away from the property and begin to meet in houses. Anything a church of 50 people can do in a church building they can do by meeting in one or two homes. If they have no debt on the property there is no reason they can't just walk away from it. Emotionally, it would be hard, but it could be done.

Smaller churches don't have to depend on putting on a great show every week to attract people. I am not against having a meaningful worship service that incorporates different elements. However, in some larger churches the focus is on the program. The problem with having a spectacle program is that you run into the danger of having to make the next one just a little bigger until eventually it's all about the show. Smaller churches can be more focused on the Scriptures and building relationships with people.

Smaller churches are often criticized for being unwilling to change, but if change is presented correctly they will change and can often do so quicker than a larger church. It's much easier to turn around a bass boat than an aircraft carrier. The larger the bureaucracy the longer it takes to implement change. As things continue to change faster and faster in the 21st century it will become more important for churches to be able to make needed changes quicker as well.

For these reasons, and more, I think the future of smaller churches is very good. Yes, some will close their doors, but that's because they have lost their vision for ministry, their purpose for existence. But, for those who continually seek how God would have them serve their communities I believe the future looks bright. If you are blessed to lead one of these churches, rejoice and see what great things God wants to do in and through you and your church.

Friday, July 24, 2015

TV show about bivocational ministers

Earlier this week I had a very interesting call from an individual doing research for a possible television program about bivocational ministers who are also in law enforcement. Part of the reason for the call was to get background information on bivocational ministry in general and to ask if I knew of any bivocational ministers who were in law enforcement. (I did not.) The caller then asked if the following could be posted on my blog.

Are you a bivocational preacher and in law enforcement? Are you on the pulpit one moment and in a dangerous line of work in another? We’re an award-winning top television production company that’s looking to make a program about preachers across the states juggling it all – church, family and the law. If interested, please send us an email describing why you would be the best person to host this show, along with a recent photo and contact info. Please send to

Obviously, I agreed to the posting! Let me be very clear: I am not representing this television production company nor do I have any ties with the company. This should not be viewed as an endorsement of what they are doing. I agreed to post this on my blog as a courtesy to them, and to give those who might meet their criteria an opportunity to respond.

There was one other reason I agreed. When I did a survey of bivocational ministers in 2004 one or two respondents reported that their other career was in law enforcement. I am very curious about how many bivocational ministers there are who are serving in law enforcement. Whether you respond to the request of the television production company or not, I would like to know if any of my readers are bivocational ministers who also serve in law enforcement.

As I've thought about this over the past couple of days, I would think that would be a tough role. How does one switch from being pastoral in ministry to being rather authoritarian in the other career? Is there actually much of a switch, or am I wrong in thinking there is? 

If you are serving both as a pastor and in law enforcement, I invite you to contact me and share some of the challenges and rewards you face in these two roles. If you are a bivocational pastor serving in some other career that, on the surface at least seems opposed to one another, I would like to hear from you as well.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Why bivocational?

I began my ministry in 1981 when Hebron Baptist Church called me to be their pastor. The church was small and had been served for many years by students at a nearby seminary. I was not a seminary student; I worked in a factory about an hour from our community. Even though I had never heard the term, I was now a bivocational pastor. I remained as the pastor of that church for the next twenty years until our region called me to be an Area Minister covering the southeast section of Indiana.

Three years ago I obtained by auctioneer's license. For years I've enjoyed going to auctions and buying and selling antiques and collectibles. I finally decided I would enjoy becoming an auctioneer. I completed the educational requirements, passed the exam, and received my license. A question people often ask me is why at this stage of my life did I want to take on another role.

Being an auctioneer offers me an opportunity to expand my ministry to people who might not attend a church anywhere. There are three primary classes of people who use an auctioneer's services.

  1. People who make their living buying and selling. Some of these people depend on auctioneers for their livelihood. Others may not make their living doing this, but they need money for an emergency and an auction is often the quickest way to get that money.
  2. People who need to downsize. Last week I received a call that is becoming increasingly more common. A lady said she is moving from a 2,400 square foot house to an 800 square foot apartment, and she has a lot of items she needs to sell. Another common call I receive is from elderly people who have found out their children are not interested in their antiques, collectibles, and other items. They want to begin to sell off these items so the family doesn't have to deal with them.
  3. People who have inherited an estate and need to sell it so the estate can be closed. Often, these people don't even know what is included in the estate. These folks may not even live in the same state as the estate, and would find it very difficult to sell the estate except at an auction. 
Each of these are ministry opportunities. Although I've only been doing this for three years, there have been many opportunities to minister to people who felt overwhelmed or desperate. Many of these people had no church home, and in some cases I've been able to point them to a good church in their area. I've been able to pray with some of these folks. It's been rewarding to know that I've been able to help solve a problem they had.

That is what I've always enjoyed about bivocational ministry. It keeps the minister out in the community opening up ministry opportunities that go beyond what we can do within our churches. Bivocational ministry helps break the false perceptions some unchurched people have about ministers. I'm not someone who sits in a church office all week dispensing advice about matters I've never experienced. I worked 40+ hours a week in a factory for 30 years. I've managed a small business. I've loaded and unloaded furniture out of an old beater van I use for the auction business. As people see me living and working just like they do, sometimes it causes them to be more willing to share with me things that are going on in their lives and gives me ministry opportunities I might not otherwise have.

Please do not think I am saying anything negative about those serving in fully-funded ministry. We each have our calling and neither fully-funded nor bivocational is superior to the other. What I am saying is that being bivocational has worked well for me, and it has for many of you as well. Rejoice in the calling God has given you! Bivocational ministry is a wonderful way to serve God and mankind.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

E-book that will help you avoid foolish mistakes

Most people who know me are aware that I've written several books primarily related to bivocational and small church ministry. Most people don't know I've also written an e-book on business. It's titled Mistakes: Avoiding the Wrong Decisions That Will Close Your Small Business.  It's currently only available for NOOK devices.

Over twenty years ago our family took ownership of a successful small business that we operated for fifteen years. The business was very successful for the first few years, but for a number of reasons we were forced to close that business a few years ago. Most of those reasons were due to mistakes I made managing the business. When the economy was strong my mistakes didn't matter as much, but when the economy tanked those mistakes were costly. I learned a lot about leadership and business management from the mistakes I made, and I wrote the book to help others avoid the same mistakes.

There are many similarities in leading a small business and leading a small church. While there are obvious differences, there are transferable principles that apply to both. Some of the mistakes I made leading our business can also cause great damage to a church.

Owning a small business can be a very good situation for a bivocational pastor. When I was a bivocational pastor and worked in a factory I was expected to be at work 40 hours a week on the shift I was assigned to. After retiring from the factory and taking ownership of the business my hours were much more flexible. This made it much easier for me to do funerals and meet other ministry needs.

Our business also gave me opportunities to minister to people who did not attend church. People soon learned I was a minister and it was interesting what people were willing to share with a stranger, especially if they were hurting. This continues to happen for me when people call me needing an auctioneer.

Recently, a woman called saying she needed to sell some items at auction. I went to look at what she had, and in our conversation I explained that I was a minister. It turned out she was going through a lot of personal issues that was causing her emotional and physical problems. There were spiritual issues as well. I was able to minister to her and to recommend a good church in that community that she should visit.

Not long ago I had a discussion with a Christian realtor who told me he has had numerous opportunities to minister to people who contacted him to either sell or buy a house. Like me, he feels this is part of what it means for a Christian to be in business.

Owning your own business is a dream for many people, but it can also be a nightmare. A large percentage of small businesses fold within the first five years of their existence. Most of those failures can be traced back to poor leadership and mistakes that can be avoided. If you currently own a small business or are thinking of starting one, you may want to invest in this e-book. Right now it's for sale for only $4.99. Since many of these principles are transferable into church leadership, you may want to read this book even if you're not involved in your own business.

Monday, July 20, 2015

What do people hear when you preach?

Yesterday I had the opportunity to preach in a wonderful church that has two worship services with a Sunday school class in between. As people began coming in for the second service an individual I knew said the ones in his Sunday school class who attended the first service talked about my message during their class. He said he was excited to hear the message himself due to the positive comments he had heard in class.

This individual went on to talk about how excited they were about one of the points of the message. The only problem was that what they were excited about was not mentioned in the sermon! Now, I could see how someone could draw from the message that particular point, but it was not one that I had made nor was it ever mentioned.

That's not the first time that has happened to me, and if you've been in ministry very long it has probably happened to you as well. People tend to hear different things from the same message. This becomes a problem if someone hears something negative that was not said in the sermon. A couple once stopped coming to the church I pastored, and when I finally got them to tell me why they quit coming it was because they took offense to something in one of my sermons. I never said what they heard, but I could not convince them of that. I even told them I would have been offended if someone had said that in a sermon, but I still could not get them to return.

However, in most cases I believe God speaks to people words they need to hear from our messages. We focus on a point which causes someone to begin thinking, and their thoughts lead them to apply our words somewhat differently than we might have intended. They respond positively to that application, and they are convinced that it was our words that led to the positive conclusion.

Several years ago I preached in a particular church. A couple of weeks later in a local store I met a young man who attended that church. He complimented me on my message and told me he had taken my advice. I smiled and asked what he had done. He replied he had quit his job! My jaw almost hit the floor. He went on to say that he had wanted to start his own business but had been reluctant to do so, but my message convinced him that now was the time. There was absolutely nothing in my message to insinuate to anyone that they should quit their job to start their own business, but that is what he heard, and that is what he did. The good news is that his business has been very successful, and he's doing something he really enjoys.

I always pray that God will speak through me and the message I'm about to deliver. I don't know everything going on in people's lives. I didn't as a pastor, and I certainly don't as a judicatory leader who covers a wide area of churches. People come to church with a variety of needs, and my prayer is that God can use the message to speak to those needs. His Spirit can take just one word or phrase and make it come alive in a person's heart that will address their greatest need at that time. He can take a different word or phrase from the same sermon and use it to address a different need in someone else's life.

I appreciate it when people compliment me on a message, but I know if it really spoke to them that God was at work speaking to them through that message. We're the instrument that delivers the message, but it is the Holy Spirit that causes that message to come alive in people's heart.

Friday, July 17, 2015

How bivocational ministry has evolved

In 1981 I was voted in by the congregation of Hebron Baptist Church near Madison, Indiana to be their bivocational pastor. The interesting thing about that is that neither the church nor I had ever heard of the term bivocational. In fact, it was at least a couple of years later before I heard the term.

Like most small churches in our area, Hebron had been served for many years by students from a seminary in Louisville. Typically, a student would enroll in the seminary and begin looking for a church to serve while completing a three year degree. Occasionally, a student would pursue an advanced degree and remain at the church longer than the traditional three year Master of Divinity, but that didn't happen very often.

It was expected the pastor would come to the "church field" on Saturdays and do visitation and lead the worship service on Sunday mornings. Some of the churches had evening services, so the pastors would either do more visitation or stay at the church and do school work until time for the later service. Afterwards, the student would go back to Louisville and either return on Wednesday evening if the church had a service then or the next Saturday.

This had been the model for a majority of the churches in our area for years. Few people referred to these as student pastors, they were just the pastor. So, no one thought it odd that I would pastor the church while working a full-time factory job, and few people considered me to be anything but the pastor.

It wasn't until a couple of years into my pastorate that I heard the term bivocational. The funny thing was that I was providing the church the same amount of ministry, if not more, than most of the student pastors, but their ministry was largely respected while many were viewing bivocational ministry as suspect.

The student pastors were gaining experience while pursuing a theological education. This earned them the approval of church and denominational leaders. These same leaders often looked at bivocational ministers as unqualified for a "real" church. Early in my ministry I had both seminary trained pastors and denominational leaders questioning my ministerial abilities. While most denominational leaders in those days tolerated bivocational ministers, they offered little, if any, support, encouragement, or training specifically designed for us. (In fairness, the judicatory leader whose ministry included our church was very supportive of both me and our church and was most helpful to me. However, I also experienced a lack of support and respect from others.)

I receive enough e-mails from bivocational ministers today to know that some still do not receive the kind of support and respect they need, but I also know that things are much better now than they were when I began my ministry. Bivocational ministry is much more accepted today as a legitimate call of God on a person's life. Studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of bivocational ministry. Some schools have designed specific programs especially designed for persons called to bivocational ministry. Many denominations and judicatories now offer training programs created for bivocational ministers.

It has been very rewarding to see these changes occur, especially in light of the fact that we are seeing increasing numbers of churches seeking bivocational ministers. Most denominations today report a growing number of bivocational ministers serving in their churches, and they believe that trend will continue to be upward.

God is calling men and women to serve as bivocational ministers to meet the growing need for such leadership in our churches. Perhaps he is calling you to this ministry. I served the church that called me in 1981 as their bivocational pastor for 20 years, and I will tell you it is some of the most rewarding work I've ever done. Yes, it was rough, but it was also a joy and a blessing. I left there in 2001 for the judicatory role I have now which includes working with many smaller, bivocational churches, and I continue to be blessed by the work these individuals are doing. If you sense that God might be calling you to such ministry, and you need to talk to someone about that, please contact me. If you would like to better understand bivocational ministry I encourage you to read my book The Bivocational Pastor: Two Jobs, One Ministry.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

What are you thinking about today?

In Philippians 4:8 the apostle Paul writes, "Finally, brethern, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy - mediate on these things."

I've read these words dozens of times, and they came to me again as I was doing my devotional reading last week. In their excellent book Lost Virtue of Happiness: Discovering the Disciplines of the Good Life J. P. Moreland and Klaus Issler address the problems of anxiety and depression. They write, "When we are anxious or depressed, we tend to obsess in cyclical thinking, to think over and over again about certain fearful or hurtful thoughts. We do this to try to anticipate a bad or worse-case scenario and to reassure ourselves that we are safe, that we can handle it...The problem with this strategy is that we get into a rut that is increasingly hard to escape from. As we mentioned earlier, studies have shown that obsessive thought and emotional patterns, as well as behaviors, literally create a neural pathway, a groove in the brain, that becomes habitual and contributes to a situation in which a person is literally stuck on a pattern, stuck in a rut."

In other words, if we continually dwell in negative thinking we can actually create neural pathways in our brains and become stuck in such thinking. Perhaps this explains why some people always seem to be so negative. They have wired themselves to be negative.

As I write these words, several people come to mind. This includes both lay people and pastors. I have met some pastors who always come across as angry or bitter, and they wonder why they struggle so much in the ministry.

The writers provide some helpful tips for those who struggle with negative thinking, but Paul's passage above also gives us insights into how to overcome that kind of thinking. Rather than allowing our minds to dwell on the negative we need to feed it positive thoughts that are true, noble, just, pure and lovely.

This doesn't mean we ignore the negative things that occur in our lives. It means we don't allow ourselves to obsessively dwell on them. We address them and try to resolve them as quickly as possible, but we continue to focus on the more positive things.

It also requires that we avoid toxic people who want to spread their toxicity onto every one they meet. You cannot spend all your time with negative thinking people without finding yourself sucked into their negativity. It's important that we surround ourselves with people who love life and who will help us focus on the right things by their way of living and thinking.

As a pastor there are many things about which I can become upset. But, there are also many other things about ministry about which I can rejoice and enjoy. We can choose which of the two we are going to concentrate our thinking on. If I have the ability to hard wire my mind I would prefer that it would be on the positive things Paul recommends. I think you do as well.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

What is holding your church back?

In last Friday's post I quoted something from Rory Vaden's book, Take the Stairs: 7 Steps to Achieving True Success. Today, I want to share another topic he addressed in the book that I thought would be helpful to my readers. Towards the end of the book he emphasizes the importance of taking action. We can have the best of intentions, but if we never actually do anything we won't accomplish those intentions. Although we may acknowledge this is true, many of us struggle in the area of action. Why?

Vaden states there are three reasons we don't take the action we need to take.

  • Fear - We are afraid to take the action.
  • Entitlement - We believe we shouldn't have to take the action.
  • Perfectionism - We won't do it if we can't do it right.
As I read this section of the book I realized that every time I've hesitated in doing something I knew I needed to do one of these reasons was behind my hesitation. There's a good chance you would say the same about yourself.

The book speaks to each of these reasons so I'm not going into them here. I do recommend you read the book because it addresses a lot of things that will be helpful to those in church leadership.

When I speak to pastors and other church leaders about why their churches seem to be stuck, at least one of these three reasons are usually mentioned.

During my pastorate our denomination announced a capital funds campaign to increase our mission presence in the world. I challenged our church to give far more to this campaign than we had ever given before. The church voted to do that with only one person voting against it. The day after the vote I visited him and asked why he voted as he did. He explained that our church had struggled for years and things were starting to turn around. He felt we would fail to reach the large goal which would cause the church to become discouraged again. I told him I felt certain we could reach it if we were truly committed to world missions. At the end of the campaign we had raised over three times our pledge because we didn't let the fear of failure stop us from trying.

Perhaps the most common of these reasons is an entitlement mentality. Have you ever challenged your church to do something different in order to reach new people only to be told that they shouldn't have to do that? "Pastor, we shouldn't have to change our worship times. If people wanted to come to church they would come at the time we've had services for years." "I don't think we should have to sing different songs just to appeal to new people. The songs in our hymnals are good enough." These, and countless others responses, all reflect an entitlement mentality. "We're members of this church and we are entitled to do things the way we want!" Yea, that mentality is guaranteed to hold a church back.

I think perfectionism may be a bigger problem for us in the ministry than for our churches. We don't want to look like we don't know what we're doing, so we don't do anything until we are certain we can do it perfectly. The problem with that thinking is that no one can do anything perfectly the first time they do it.

The first time I preached in a church service I nearly rubbed the crease out of my pants. My hands were sweating and I kept rubbing them down the front of my pants trying to dry them off. When I got up to speak my throat was dry and it took all I could do to open my mouth. I had carefully prepared a message that I thought would fill the 30 or so minutes I had been given. I was done in ten.

I've now been preaching for over 30 years. I've led workshops for ministers across the US and in two provinces of Canada, given keynote speeches, and spoken to various service organizations. All of this is possible only because one night I was willing to preach a sermon even though I had never done so before. I knew I might fail, and I did! But I learned some things that night, and the next time was a little better, and the time after that was better, and so on. The fact is, after delivering thousands of messages I'm still learning and, I believe, improving. If we wait until we can do something perfectly before attempting to do anything, we'll never accomplish much in this life. Such an attitude will hold us, and our churches, back.

What is holding you or your church back? Is it fear, or entitlement, or perfectionism? You must overcome the thing that is holding you back if you want to begin to move forward. It may not be easy to do so, but it is doable.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Pastoral visitation part 2

A few commented on my blog post yesterday in which I was critical of pastors who refuse to visit members of their congregation. One person responded that he understood the importance of pastoral visitation but wondered whatever happened to the responsibility of deacons to do visitation.

It's a fair question and one that I considered including in yesterday's post. However, I don't like to make these posts too long or people won't read them so I can't always cover everything I might want to in a single post.

In a couple of my books I write about the need for churches to practice congregational care rather than relying on pastoral care. Ephesians 4 teaches us that the primary role of a pastor is to equip the saints to do the work of ministry. Not only should the deacons (or similar group in your tribe) be involved in visitation and congregational care, everyone in your church should be trained to minister to one another.

When I was a pastor I introduced the Deacon Family Care Program to our deacons and congregation. We assigned every family who attended our church, whether they were members or not, to a deacon. Each deacon had 8-10 families assigned to them. They were given a book where they could record information about their families and the visits/contacts they made with each family.

In the training I encouraged them to contact at least one family a week. That is very doable and would mean that each family in the church would have at least one contact each quarter. That's four contacts a year. The contact could be in the form of a personal visit, a phone call, a card or letter depending on the situation at the time. For instance, if a family member was in the hospital the deacon would normally make a visit to the hospital. On the other hand, a birthday card might suffice as one contact.

We discussed how to make hospital visits and home visits. We talked about proper boundaries such as not visiting a single woman at home by themselves. Either a spouse or another deacon should accompany them if calling on a single woman. We talked about the need for confidentiality.

As a result of this training, our deacons began to handle the bulk of our visitation. When a deacon rotated off and someone new replaced that deacon, the book was given to the new deacon who would take up where the previous deacon left off.

However, none of this precluded me from doing visitation as well. A deacon might call to tell me about a visit that probably needed my follow-up, and I would do that. If someone was in the hospital I would normally visit that person even if their deacon had already been there.

Every bivocational minister struggles with time issues, and having trained lay people who can do much of the visitation can help ease some of that pressure. That does require training them, and it requires training the congregation to accept ministry from the deacons. However, that training time is time well spent. It allows the pastor to focus on other pastoral chores and on being with those who have more critical needs while still providing on-going ministry to the entire congregation.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Whatever happened to pastoral visits?

For the past fourteen years in my role as a resource minister in our judicatory I've worked with dozens of pastor search committees. Early in this role I was surprised by the number of these committees who contacted me concerned that the persons they were interviewing were very upfront that they did not do pastoral visitation. I couldn't explain it then to these committees and still can't.

The pastors I had growing up were very good about visiting their members when they were sick or needed special attention. That was the model I followed as a pastor. But, later in my pastoral ministry I noticed that a number of pastors no longer felt the need for such visits. It wasn't that these were pastors of megachurches with other ministers assigned to that responsibility. These were pastors of what we would call pastoral churches, but their concept of what it meant to be a pastor seemed to be much different than mine.

In some of my books and in this blog I've written that our churches need to move from a pastoral care model to a congregational care model. I believe that is a more biblical model (Eph. 4) for any size church, and especially for a bivocational church. As church members learn to minister to one another they are also better equipped to minister to those outside the church. This leads to more effective outreach as more people from within the church are ministering to more people both within and without their congregations. However, this does not exclude the pastor from providing pastoral care when it is needed.

Most of my ministry now focuses on congregations and pastors, but last week I made two pastoral visits on individuals. One is a gentleman whose mother is in hospice. They do not have a church home. A mutual friend asked if I could stop by and visit them so I did. I made sure they had a pastor who could conduct the service when that time came, and the son had just contacted a pastor to do that. We spent time talking about this time in this family's life, and I had prayer with him. It was a great visit.

The second visit was to an assisted living facility where I visited a member of one of the churches I serve. She and I have known each other since I pastored my church. I heard she had recently moved into this home and had said I should visit when I had the chance. We had a great time talking about things that had happened in our churches and people we had known. She shared with me a prayer need her family had, and I closed our visit in prayer. Again, it was a great time of ministry.

Pastors, don't ignore these ministry opportunities. You cannot serve your people well spending all your time in your office with your nose stuck in a book. Pastoral ministry means that the pastor ministers to people at all stages of their lives. Yes, train your congregation to minister to one another. This expands the ministry of your church. But, don't ignore the call of God on your life to be with your people during the transition times in their lives.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Self-discipline is the key to successful ministry

In his excellent book, Take the Stairs: 7 Steps to Achieving True Success, Rory Vaden writes, "There is one thing that all successful people have in common: Successful people have all had to do things they didn't feel like doing in order to get where they are." Later in the book he quotes Albert Gray, "Successful people form the habit of doing things that failures don't like doing."

This is true in every endeavor in life. Like me, you have probably known many people who talked about earning a degree or learning a new skill, but talking about it is all they ever did. You may even be that person. Several people have told me they would like to enroll in a degree program and wanted to talk about my experiences in going to school while being in ministry. After our discussion very few pursued the degree they desired.

Numerous people have contacted me saying they wanted to write a book and asked how to do it. When I explain the work involved in writing a book and getting it published they seem to be less interested. So far, I've not seen a book published by any of those people.

How many people do you know who have talked about how they need to get out of debt, lose weight, quit smoking, or make some other positive change in their lives and yet never do anything about it? The one thing all these people have in common is that they are not willing to pay the price to do the thing they claim they want to accomplish. In an age of instant fixes, they lack the self-discipline they need to enjoy success.

Self-discipline is critical for those of us ministry, especially bivocational ministry. There are going to be times when we don't want to study. Maybe we had an especially tough week at work and we just don't feel like preparing a sermon. Maybe this week we can just find something online that would work. Do that a few weeks and it soon becomes a habit. If you think your congregation doesn't realize what you're doing you are mistaken.

A lack of self-discipline shows up when you take calls during your family meal time. Instead of enjoying a family dinner you feel you have to jump every time the phone rings and talk to a parishioner about critical issues such as whether or not the church rummage sale should be included in the church bulletin. Successful ministry includes loving your family well and actually being with them when you are with them.

If we are to enjoy successful ministries and lives we need to learn self-discipline. If we want to get out of debt, we need to live on less than we make, learn to budget, stop using debt to get things we want, and learn the discipline of saving and investing. If we want to lose weight we have to discipline ourselves to eat healthier and exercise more. If we want to stop smoking we need to learn to not smoke one day at a time. If we want to further our education we need to enroll in the program we are interested in, turn off our TVs, and discipline ourselves to do the work.

In order to enjoy a healthy, successful ministry we must learn how to balance the various things that demand our time. I often refer to five areas of life that must be addressed: Our relationship with God, our families, our church work, our other career, and our personal self-care. Vaden also addresses this in his book when he writes, "Balance shouldn't mean equal time spent on equal activities. Balance should mean appropriate time spent on critical priorities." This all requires that we practice self-discipline.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

It's OK to buy used

A few weeks ago I posted an article here about the problems pastors face when they go into debt. Last Sunday morning while on my way to church I was listening to a Dave Ramsey podcast. Two individuals called his program with questions about the purchase of a car and a washer and dryer. As I listened to Ramsey's responses I thought that many of my readers might find his words helpful.

Both of these persons were trying to get out of debt. One had sold her car and bought an older car that had already needed two repairs and was not currently running. She was complaining that it was taking all their money until Ramsey finally got her to admit that so far she had spent about $300.00 on repairs, about one month's worth of payments she had been spending on the car she sold. In the meantime her family had been able to pay off about $10,000 worth of debt in eight months. I understand her frustration about having a car that needed repairs, but the math was working out very well for her. It shouldn't be too long before she can move up in car (one that is paid for), and she'll be out of debt.

The other caller was asking about the benefit of buying a washer and drier versus spending about $50.00 a month at the laundromat. While Ramsey said that made great financial sense, she didn't have the money to pay for a new washer and drier. He encouraged her to buy them used and save up enough money to purchase new ones later.

Two years ago our washer and drier needed replaced. We had them for years, and they were both worn out. We had looked at new ones, but I really didn't want to spend that much money. I was attending an auction when a washer and drier set came up for sale. They were nearly new. They would have cost about $800.00 if I bought them new. I paid $200.00 for them. We haven't had any problems.

About three years ago I obtained my auctioneer's license and needed something to haul things in. On a used car lot I found an old van that seemed perfect. I found out it had been previously owned by a local person I knew so I called and asked about the van. I returned to the lot and bought the van for a little over $2,000. Today, it has over 200,000 miles on it and is still running. Yes, I've had to spend a little money on it, but every time I wonder if I should spend any more money on repairs I just drive on the new car dealer's lot, look at the prices on the stickers, and head to the garage. Do I want to drive that van forever? No, but it's doing what I need it to do now, and one day I'll get something better (for cash).

As Ramsey explained to the callers, it's OK to buy used when you don't have the money to pay for the new product. In the previous post I wrote on pastors and debt, when you have debt you have a lot of problems that can impact your personal life, your family, and your ministry.

I had to learn this the hard way. I used to think I had to buy everything new. I never worried about going into debt because I had always been taught that debt was normal. When this country ran into the financial mess we were in a few years ago people found out just what a horrible master debt was and the pain it could cause.

I have seen solid wood dining tables and chairs in perfect condition sell for $50.00 at auctions. That doesn't happen at every auction, but it happens enough that it's worthwhile going to an auction if you need a new dining room set. I've seen very nice sofas sell for $2.00 at one auction and one just like it sell for $100.00 at the next auction. You never know, but if you need furniture and don't have the cash to pay for something new, I would be checking out auctions. Yard sales and Craigslist are two other good options. It's OK to buy used.

This blog is dedicated to helping ministers, especially bivocational ministers. You will have much less stress in your life if you can avoid debt as much as possible. Believe me when I say I write from experience. There is so much more freedom to enjoy life and ministry without worrying about having to make payments on consumer debt. One way to avoid a lot of debt is to be smart when you are buying the things you need. If you can pay cash for new items, great, but if not, it's OK to buy used. Then you can save your money and replace those items with new ones.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Reaching your community

While leading a seminar for pastors on how to transform their small church from maintenance-minded to missional I challenged them to identify some needs in their communities that their churches could meet. One pastor raised his hand and asked, "How do we find out what those needs are?" My response was a little snarky when I replied, "You might go out into the community and ask people what they need." He had not thought of that!

Too often churches decide they are going to offer some program or ministry and then wonder why the response was so poor. Often, the response is poor because few people were interested in what we were doing. We sit in our church buildings and try to guess what the unchurched community around us wants and needs without ever asking them. That is a mistake. We need to ask.

We may find that what they need and/or want has little to do with faith issues. This will be a problem for some churches that are reluctant to introduce secular events in the church, but it is one that they need to overcome if they are serious about wanting to reach out to their communities.

Let's say that your church talks with people in the community and finds out that many of them are struggling with debt and other financial issues. They want to know how to better manage their money. It is doubtful that your denomination's latest stewardship training program is what they are seeking, and they will probably stop coming after about the second week if that is what you offer.

Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University has been taught in hundreds of churches. Based upon sound biblical principles, it offers advice on how to live on less than you make, how to get out of debt, and how to invest and save for the future and retirement. What a way to make an impact on the people in your community and in your church. I consider being financially responsible as part of Christian discipleship, so this could be a way to both reach people in the community and disciple your current membership as well.

A few years ago I attended a satellite conference on leadership led by some of the best known leaders in America. It was held in a local church. The cost was very small, and I didn't have to go out of town. The church invited business, government, and church leaders to the conference. The speakers were from both secular and religious backgrounds. There was a nice turn-out for this conference, and the church had the opportunity to make connections with people who are not involved in a church.

You may feel your church is too small to offer something like this, but there would be nothing wrong with several churches going together to make this available. Actually, it is my understanding that it is not that expensive or difficult to get a satellite hook-up and would probably be affordable for most churches. But, if your church is a member of an association of churches perhaps the association could make this part of their outreach into the community.

One large church hosts weekly small groups in their facility. These groups are based upon common interests. For instance, there might be one group that focuses on bass fishing, another group is interested in RC planes, while a third group may be interested in quilting. I've been told this church has as many as 200 such groups meeting in their church building each week.

I don't know how much of their meeting is spent addressing spiritual issues. Probably very little. However, these groups bring people into the church building who would likely not go there otherwise. They build relationships with people from the church who are also in these groups, and if they do come to a worship service they now know people in that service. It has proven to be a very effective outreach ministry for this church.

For more ideas on how to transform a maintenance-minded church into one that is more missional, I encourage you to read my book Intentional Ministry in a Not-So-Mega Church: Becoming a Missional Community.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Drowning in the shallows

Last week in something I read I came across the phrase "drowning in the shallows." The writer used these words to describe people who spend much of their time concerned about smaller issues while ignoring the larger ones. As a denominational minister I occasionally receive calls from such people. They are upset over something trivial and oblivious to the bigger picture.

A few years ago a group of people in one church confronted me about money that had been recently spent on a youth outing. The amount was a very small fraction of their total budget, but this group was out for blood. They had tried to get petitions signed, had met with church leaders, but they had received no support for their position. While I was at a meeting in their church they came to me with their grievances.

I listened to them until they asked my opinion. I responded that I received their church newsletter every week and in almost every edition there was mention of someone who had been saved in that church during the preceding week. These were often young people or members of their family. I then asked the group, "What do you think is the value of a soul? Do you think a soul is worth the amount of money you seem to be so upset about?" I went on to tell them that if this expense bothered them so much they might be happier in another church that wouldn't spend that amount on their youth during an entire year. At that, they walked away. This group was drowning in the shallows and couldn't see the greater good their church was doing.

I know churches that spend enormous sums of money painting everything there is to paint and remodeling everything that hasn't been remodeled in the last five years. At the same time these churches are not reaching anyone with the Gospel and wondering why they grow smaller every year. They are doing the only thing they know to do, but they are drowning in the shallows.

Other churches are so focused on keeping every jot and tittle of their pet doctrines while ignoring the community around them. Some of our churches have so many Bible studies going on every week it's no wonder that they are not involved in community ministry. All their time is spent in their holy huddle. As I heard John Maxwell say one time, the average church member is educated far beyond his level of obedience.

Am I against remodeling the church and making it a nice place in which to worship? Absolutely not. I love a beautiful church facility. Am I against Bible study and being faithful to the Scriptures? Of course not. But if all we're doing is giving everything a fresh coat of paint and trying to understand who the antichrist will be because it's all we know, we are drowning in the shallows. God has called us to do much more.

As one auctioneer friend of mine puts it, we chase nickles while letting dollars slip away. By that he is saying that he's not going to spend a lot of time trying to sell inexpensive items while he's got valuable items sitting on the side. That's a good way to lose an audience. It's another way of drowning in the shallows.

The Great Commission and the Great Commandment are the marching orders for the church. Faithfully doing these things are the deeper things of God. We must not ignore them or refuse to do them while we focus on lesser things or we will drown in the shallows.

Friday, July 3, 2015

The benefits of coaching for bivocational ministers

My thesis paper for my DMin was "Coaching Bivocational Ministers for Greater Ministry Effectiveness." That paper was written five years ago. Each month I receive a report of how many times the paper has been downloaded from Digital Commons. Last month it was downloaded 43 times for a total of 1,713 downloads since it was written. That amazes me!

When I was doing my research I found very few papers written specifically for bivocational ministry. In the five years since writing my paper I have been contacted by several individuals who were writing papers on various aspects of bivocational ministry. This is just one more indication of how this ministry is growing and finding greater acceptance.

What really amazes me about the number of times my paper has been downloaded is that doctoral papers are not the most entertaining reading available. They are to required to be written with strict guidelines that make them more scholarly than the general public would find enjoyable to read. This causes me to assume that other scholars are downloading this paper for their own research.

My latest book, The Art and Practice of Bivocational Ministry: A Pastor's Guide, takes the information I learned from that research and puts it in a more readable format for the general public. I was not happy with the title, but the publisher has the right to give titles to the books they publish. My title was the same as my doctoral paper which I felt better described the content of the book.

This is a book about how coaching can benefit any minister and especially those of us who are bivocational. It includes ten case studies of pastors I have coached and describes the challenges they were facing and the solutions we identified through the coaching process. Chances are you will find some of your own issues in these examples, and the solutions that helped them may resolve your issues as well.

Coaching is a powerful tool for addressing those times when you feel stuck and not sure which direction to take. I have benefited from having a coach in my life during such times, and I believe I have helped others as a coach when they've felt pressured by things in their lives.

Coaching goes right to the issues you are facing and looks forward to find the solutions to those challenges. It doesn't spend time looking at the past. That's counseling, which is sometimes needed, but that isn't the role of a coach. It's also not consulting which you may need in certain instances. Coaching depends on asking powerful questions that enables the person being coached to find the solutions that are often already within the person but just needs help in coming to the surface. I believe it is a great tool for anyone in a leadership position and certainly for the bivocational minister.

I encourage you to read this book, especially if you are feeling stuck or frustrated with your life and ministry. Each of these ten pastors brought different issues to our coaching relationship so you may find your situation addressed in these examples. If nothing else, I believe you find this book will encourage you that no matter how difficult your challenges may seem, there are answers to them that will allow you to move forward with your life and ministry.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Learn how to better manage your life and ministry

One of the great challenges of modern day life is trying to maintain some semblance of balance in our lives. I'm old enough to remember when people were saying that technology would simplify our lives and we would wonder what to do with all the spare time we had. It didn't quite turn out that way!

Instead, we are trying to balance the demands of our jobs and careers, the needs of our families, our spiritual lives, and our personal well-being. If one is a bivocational pastor there are the added demands of that role that must be factored in. We feel the tyranny of the urgent and often find ourselves feeling guilty for neglecting  things that we know are important. Like the proverbial hamster in the wheel, we keep running in circles without really going anywhere and with no idea of how to get off.

For those of you in Indiana we have a class that will be offered as part of our Church Leadership Institute (CLI).  "Personal and Family Care" looks at the various demands on people's lives, how to discern God's vision for your life and ministry, and how to develop goals that will help you achieve that vision. We will also explore how to ensure that you have margin built into your life so you are better prepared for the emergencies that will occur. One section of the class will discuss what a pastor's salary and benefit package should include and a look at how to manage one's finances. The class focuses not only on our individual lives but how the decisions we make impact our families.

This course will benefit both clergy and lay people and is open to anyone interested in enjoying a healthier and more balanced life. The course includes four classes that will held on the campus of Franklin College on July 11, August 1, 15, and 29. I am the instructor of this course. Our CLI courses are not limited to American Baptists, and we invite anyone to enroll and take advantage of this training opportunity.

Registration for this course ends on July 3 so you need to hurry. If you cannot get registered by then, call our office at 317-635-3552 and talk to Jennifer Greene.

For more information on CLI, to view the syllabus, and to register for the course go to  Scroll to the bottom of the page and click on CLI-Summer Term 2015 and follow the links. This class is only for those people who want to enjoy a healthier and more balanced life, so if this describes you we encourage you to register today. We would love to have you in class this summer!