Monday, August 31, 2015

Church Leadership Institute

This past Saturday our region's Church Leadership Institute graduated five students. Each of these graduates completed the entire three year program earning both the Certificate in Christian Leadership and the Diploma in Pastoral Ministries.

Each of our graduates had family, church, and work responsibilities, but they were willing to give up every other Saturday to attend classes and complete their studies in order to learn how to better serve their churches and the Lord. This is an incredible level of commitment.

When we began the Church Leadership Institute (CLI) fourteen years ago we had an idea of what we wanted to accomplish. These five people, and all our graduates, have far exceeded those expectations. Some are now pastoring some of our smaller, bivocational churches. Others serve in staff positions in their churches while many others are filling important lay leadership roles in their churches.

As I've said many times in this blog, everything rises and falls on leadership. As the leadership level in any organization raises, the potential of that organization rises as well. CLI is helping raise the leadership level of the churches in our region, and it has been exciting to watch the impact this has had on those churches.

Due to my retirement at the end of this year, this is the last CLI class I will see graduate as the director of the program. It has been an honor to be involved in something that has had the impact CLI has had. I am very excited about the future of CLI as new leadership brings new ideas that will improve the program. Some changes are already being discussed that I believe will make CLI more accessible and better.

One change that we implemented just a couple of years ago was that we decided to make this training opportunity available to anyone regardless of church affiliation. Prior to that we only offered CLI to persons who attended one of our American Baptist Churches of Indiana and Kentucky churches. We have now opened it up to anyone who wants to learn how to provide more effective leadership to their churches regardless of denominational affiliation.

If you are a member of a church in Indiana I encourage you to check out CLI on our region website, or contact Jennifer Greene at our region office at 317-635-3552 X221 for more information. If you are a pastor who recognizes the need to train your lay leaders, we can help you do that. Encourage them to enroll in CLI. I think you'll find it will make a difference in your church.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The joy of serving a smaller church

Studies regularly show that many seminary graduates today refuse to serve a smaller church. There are a variety of reasons for this, but I think these individuals are missing a great blessing.

Regular readers of this blog know that I served as the bivocational pastor of a small church for twenty years before being asked to serve our judicatory. My first book was published in 2000 with the working title of The Joy of Bivocational Ministry. When the publisher changed the name to The Tentmaking Pastor: The Joy of Bivocational Ministry I managed to convince them to at least leave my title in as the subtitle.

A pastor friend of mine who served a fully-funded church at the time asked how there could be joy in bivocational ministry. He felt such ministry would be impossible, a belief many people share.

I know some pastors of smaller churches who do feel they are asked to do the impossible. Working with as many small churches as I have over the past three decades I know some can be very difficult to pastor. In fact, in recent weeks I've stated in this space that some do not deserve a pastor and should close due to the way they treat pastors and others. But, that was not my experience and is not the experience of many other bivocational pastors I know.

As the pastor of a small church I was able to be a presence in people's lives. I could be with them in both the good times and the difficult times. I wasn't expected to keep office hours, manage staff, attend countless meetings, oversee a large bureaucracy, and act as the CEO of a corporation. My view of pastoral ministry was to serve people and help them grow as believers in Christ, and I was able to do that in a small church.

The church I served all those years loved me and my family. They gave me a lot of freedom and overlooked a ton of mistakes, especially after I demonstrated my love for them by staying for a few years. We were able to develop a mutual trust and appreciation for each other that made ministry there a joy.

I was able to see people come to Christ and grow in their faith. I watched as people developed their leadership and ministry gifts and had a part in that growth. God trusted me with these people, and I still feel joy as I think of how some grew into mature believers.

In the book I mentioned above I share how the church struggled when I first went there and some of the things we were able to accomplish before I left. I take credit for none of those accomplishments. As I told the congregation before I left, my main contribution was to hang around long enough to help them believe in themselves as much as I believed in them. I give God and our congregation credit for the good things that happened, but I still feel great joy as I think about those things.

A pastor may find greater prestige serving a larger church and find it easier to climb the ministerial ladder of success. He or she will enjoy greater financial advantages serving a larger church. I would imagine many pastors of larger churches enjoy the ministry they are called to. I certainly do not want to imply that serving a smaller church is superior to being the pastor of a large church. I will, however, state again that there is great joy in pastoring a smaller church. Some who refuse to do so do not know what they are missing.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Coaching for bivocational ministers

One of the things I look forward to doing after my retirement at the end of this year is to spend more time coaching bivocational ministers. A few years ago I received training to be a coach and learned how helpful it can be to have a coach.

As part of our training we received coaching for a year, and it so happened that I was facing a crossroads at the same time. There were two paths that looked equally inviting so I used my coach to help me choose the better path for me. From that experience and the training I received I became convinced that having a coach could be a huge asset for a minister.

Good coaches don't give advice. They are not counselors. They are not consultants. They are not even mentors. They ask questions. Powerful questions that force the person being coached to look deep within himself or herself for the answers. Coaching begins with the premise that we often already know the solution to our problems, we just need help in bringing that solution to the surface.

Since receiving the training I've had the opportunity to coach a number of ministers, both bivocational and fully-funded. I chose to coach a number of bivocational ministers as my DMin thesis and write my dissertation on the results of that coaching. That dissertation became my latest book,The Art and Practice of Bivocational Ministry: A Pastor's Guide. I think the title of the book is unfortunate because it doesn't indicate that the book is about coaching ministers, but it is the title the publisher selected. However, the content of the book is what is most important, and the content describes ten coaching relationships I've had with ministers, the issues they raised, and the solutions our coaching relationship helped them identify.

Coaching isn't just for persons with problems. It can be very helpful any time someone feels stuck and isn't sure which direction to take. Coaching can help someone who wants to raise his or her leadership skills to a higher level.

For a long time I've wanted to have more time available to coach ministers, but my current ministry has limited the amount of time I could commit to that. As I prepare to retire from that role at the end of December I am praying that coaching opportunities will occur.

If you feel having a coach could help you more forward with your life and/or ministry, contact me. At least read the book. You may find that your challenge is addressed in that book and you may find solutions there to help you overcome the challenges. At least, after reading the book you'll better understand coaching and can determine whether it is something that can benefit you.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Excellence, not excuses

In my small church workshops I challenge the attendees to focus the ministries of their churches on one or two things they can do with excellence. Many smaller churches are trying to do too many things. Often, they are still structured as they were when they were a larger congregation and trying to do all the ministries they did back then, or they are trying to compete with the larger churches in the area in an effort to attract people. Either reason will get a small church in trouble. They simply don't have the resources to offer a lot of ministries. Such churches offer all kinds of excuses why some programs or ministries are not effective, and fingers are pointed, but the bottom line is they just do not have the resources to do more than a few things.

When a church tries to do more than their resources allow they end up doing a lot of mediocre things. Great ministries are built around excellence, not mediocrity. Despite what many people believe, a small church can enjoy an excellent ministry, but only if they focus on doing those few things they can do with excellence.

Leaders in smaller churches need to take a hard look at their structure. How many of your committees and boards are really necessary? Committees and boards focus on making sure things are done right, but are they doing the right things? Does their work actually contribute to achieving the mission and vision of the church? Committees and boards do maintenance work; you need to free people up to do ministry. I would guess that most churches could eliminate 80 percent of their committees and boards, and no one would be able to tell the difference.

How effective are the ministries your church currently offers? Many of those ministries exist today because at one time they provided excellent ministry opportunities for your church, but have you evaluated their effectiveness today? Things change, and what was effective in the past may not be effective today.

When I was growing up the churches in our area offered two-week Vacation Bible School, and our small church was full of kids both weeks. Later, when I was a pastor, churches offered one-week VBS. Today, I see churches offering weekend VBS, one night a week for a month VBS, and other alternatives. Still, many complain that it's hard to get the kids to come because there are so many other things for them to do. Maybe it's time to consider if this is really a good use of our resources.

I'm not picking on Vacation Bible School. This is just one example of how things have changed over the years. I know many churches that still have vibrant Vacation Bible School programs, and it would be a mistake for those churches to eliminate that ministry. But, what about your church? Is this a vibrant ministry in your church or is this one that needs to be changed or even eliminated for something that might be more productive?

Many smaller churches will have much more effective ministries if they can focus on a few things they can do with excellence rather than trying to be all things for all people. For some churches, that may mean doing only one or two things, and that is alright if they can be done with excellence.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Controllers will kill your church

In yesterday's post I commented on churches that close and pointed out that when a church no longer has a vision for ministry it should consider closing. Some of the churches are already spiritually dead and remain alive thanks to endowments, denominational support, and the fact they don't need much to stay open.  Such churches might better serve their communities by becoming a legacy church and giving their resources to another ministry that is better ministering to the community. To learn more about legacy churches I recommend an excellent book, Legacy Churches.

There is another type of church that should consider closing its doors. This is the church that is led by controllers in the church. In some churches, the same controllers (or controlling family) has ran the church for decades. Such churches often have a revolving-door pastorate as the ministers soon recognize the dysfunction that exists in the church. New people may come but seldom stay long until eventually the congregation consists primarily of family members of the controllers. When this happens, no one is going to confront the controller, and the dysfunction only grows.

Sometimes pastors believe they can survive the controllers, but this often requires so much compromise that the pastor has to leave to maintain his or her integrity. Some pastors think they can challenge the controllers only to find themselves terminated as others who thought the same thing experienced. These churches are responsible for many pastors leaving the ministry disillusioned, hurt, and angry.

Jesus told his disciples that they would go to some places where they would not be received. In such places, they were to shake the dust from their feet and move on (Mt. 10:14). I believe there are churches when this advice still applies today.

I have seen such churches do great harm emotionally, physically, financially, and spiritually to the pastors and their families. I have seen some wonderful pastors beat down trying to turn-around a controller-led church. More than once I have told pastors that they were doing harm to themselves and their families and needed to leave before things became even worse.

Unless the congregation wants the controller stopped and is willing to confront him or her, nothing in the church will change. A new pastor will not successfully challenge a controller, and most pastors won't remain long enough to do so. It is my belief that such churches can only be turned-around by the congregation, and most congregations do not have the stomach for the fight that will be required to change things. After all, they've already lived with it for all these years so why would anyone think that they are going to challenge the controller now.

These churches do need to close. They give the church a bad name in the community and do great harm to the cause of Christ. Unfortunately, they are unlikely to close as long as the controller lives or other family members are willing to take up the cause and become the next generation of controllers. About the only thing we can do is to recognize their dysfunctions and stop supplying them with pastors. At the infrequent times they do ask for help denominational leaders need to offer them the help they really need and refuse to resource them further until they begin to take steps towards health.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Should your church remain open?

We often read figures that tell us that 3,000-5,000 churches in the US close their doors every year. When I share this figure in some of my seminars people's eyes open wide in shock. Some of them fear their church could be next. Others believe that it is a terrible thing for a church to close its doors. Perhaps it is, but for some churches it's probably the best thing that could happen.

I argue that no church closes because there's no work for it to do. They close because they have lost any sense of vision for ministry. Every church began because someone or group had a vision for a church in that community. They could see a spiritual need that only a church could address. Such a vision drives the direction of the church, but if that vision is lost or new visions are not discerned, the church soon loses its sense of purpose or mission. It begins to drift and soon will find itself drifting towards a survival mentality.

Such churches can exist for an extended period of time, even decades. As we know, small churches don't need a lot to remain open. As long as they can pay their utilities and find someone to serve as their pastor for what they can pay, they can remain open. But, one needs to ask if that is good stewardship of God's resources. Is keeping the lights on and the doors open good stewardship, or does God expect more from His church?

These churches are often already dead but are being kept alive by means of life support. Perhaps such support comes from denominational support. Sometimes they are kept alive thanks to endowments they received in better times. However, the reality is that there is no life in these churches. The Bible tells us that without a vision the people perish. A church without a vision needs to either spend time seeking a fresh vision from God or it needs to consider closing its doors and turning its assets over to a ministry that is better serving its community.

Several years ago I read an interesting book by Stephen Gray and Franklin Dumond titled Legacy Churches. They describe how a struggling church can give birth to a new church that will carry on the values and beliefs they hold that will continue to bless and impact the community. A legacy church views its closing not as a failure, but as an opportunity to start something new that will continue to bring hope and life to the community. It takes wisdom and courage on the part of the leadership and congregation to become a legacy church, but to leave such a legacy is a great act of love to the community your church has served for many years.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Can ministry exist in a secular job?

I hesitated to use the term "secular" in the title for this post, but I knew this is a question people sometimes ask, and they often use the word secular to separate it from ministry. Some bivocational ministers even do this. I don't think there should be that separation because I believe that everything that a Christian does should be seen as ministry.

I have been a bivocational minister throughout my 34 year ministry. I've always done something else besides my ministry. Much of that time I worked in a factory. During part of the time I owned and operated a small business. Recently, I obtained my auctioneer's license and started an auction business. In each of these settings I've had the opportunity to minister to people who I would never have met in my formal ministry settings.

Since starting an auction business people have asked why at my age I would want to start doing something like this. For starters, I love auctions, and the idea of being an auctioneer appealed to me. Secondly, I saw opportunities to minister to people in this setting. Essentially, there are three groups of people who use the services of an auctioneer.

  • Some people make their living buying and selling. Many of these people are pickers who support their families by buying what other people don't want and selling those items for a profit. I work hard to see that they get top dollar for these items, and in so doing I'm able to serve them and their families.
  • A second group of people are those who need to downsize or begin to sell off items that their family members do not want. A common statement I hear from many of these people is, "We're getting older and need to get rid of some of this stuff, and no one in our family is interested in it." It's a relief to these folks when I'm able to begin selling these items and getting them out of their homes.
  • The third group of people are those who have an estate they need to sell. Parents or other family members have passed away, and often their heirs don't even know what all is in the estate. Perhaps they live in another state and cannot easily dispose of the estate. An auctioneer is able to minister to these family members by selling off the estate for them.
In each of these scenarios I'm able to provide a service, a ministry, to people. It is not unusual when I tell people that I am a minister that people begin to open up personal issues they are dealing with. Recently, this happened to me twice in one week when I was meeting with people who wanted me to sell some items for them. These folks began to share some significant recent hurts in their lives. Neither of them attended church or had a pastor to talk to. Not only was I able to listen and minister to them, I was able to suggest a good church in their communities that had pastors who could continue to provide ministry to them.

The answer to the question is that ministry can exist in your secular job. In fact, if there are no opportunities for ministry you may be in the wrong job. I believe God places His people in situations, including work, where we can be a light to a people who are trapped in darkness. Our ministries must not be limited to the church facility but must occur in the workplace, the market place, and anywhere else we may be.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Will your church guests return?

From the moment a first-time guest to your church arrives on your property you have seven minutes to make a positive impression. That's how long it takes that person or family to decide whether or not they will return to your church. This means they will make that decision before they experience your worship service or hear the message.

In his excellent book, Fusion: Turning First-Time Guests into Fully-Engaged Members of Your Church, Nelson Searcy tells us that everything the guest experiences informs that decision. They are looking at your parking lot, your grass, and the condition of your facility as they drive into your property. The appearance of the front door speaks volumes to the first-time guest. So does such things as signage, the cleanliness of the restrooms, and the security of the child-care area.

As they encounter the greeters and others in the congregation they are looking for people who are genuinely friendly who know how to smile. Unless your front doors open directly into the sanctuary, it is helpful to escort a guest to the sanctuary rather than just point in the general direction of where they will find it.

During the service most guests want to be anonymous. I still see churches have their guests stand up and tell everyone where they are from. If you're still doing that, STOP IT! This isn't 1950 anymore. People despise that when it happens to them. They also don't want to wear a special name badge or ribbon that identifies them as guests. This is not being friendly or welcoming. It is an intrusion into their privacy. They are there to check you out, not to become a spectacle.

Studies have shown that guests also do not like the "stand and greet" time. By the way, these studies also show that a majority of church members don't like it either. As I tell people who attend one of my workshops, if you have to have a time in your program where you tell people it's now time to be nice to one another, you've got problems. "Stand and greet" times are a distraction from the worship service, people don't like them, and they need to be eliminated.

Good hospitality begins with preparation. Greeters should be trained before they are allowed to serve. An honest look at the church property needs to be done and anything that sends a message you don't want first-time guests to receive should be corrected. Sometimes all it takes is pulling some weeds or putting a coat of paint on the front door. Signs pointing to the restrooms and other areas of the church should be posted. Do everything possible to make your guests feel welcomed, and you'll start seeing more of them return.

If you've not read Searcy's book I highly recommend it. In my opinion, it is the best book on the subject of how to treat first-time guests available today.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Develop the leader within you

Image courtesy of

In my e-book Mistakes: Avoiding the Wrong Decisions that Will Close Your Small Business I discuss numerous mistakes I made running a small business our family owned.  Although I learned a lot from those mistakes, there were enough of them that they eventually proved fatal to the business.  I wrote the book to not only warn the reader to avoid those mistakes but to share the important lessons I learned along the way.

If someone was to sum up all the mistakes I made into one core mistake it would have to be the lack of leadership I provided the business.  When we got the business it had nearly thirty years of successful operation in our community, but with new ownership came new leadership needs which I failed to provide.  All of the various mistakes I cover in the book were merely symptoms of the core problem of a lack of leadership on my part.

John Maxwell insists that "The key to success in any endeavor is the ability to lead others successfully."  Furthermore, he teaches that everything rises and falls on leadership.  I believe he is right on target.  No organization will rise any higher than the lid of its leadership.  As the president of our company I put the lid on how effective our business could be with the leadership I provided, and that turned out to be a very low lid.

The same is true for churches. No church can rise any higher in its effectiveness than the lid of its leadership. This includes both pastoral and lay leadership. When a church stops growing or its ministry becomes less effective it's always tempting to blame the pastor, but it's also fair to look at the lay leadership as well. Sometimes the pastor may not be a good leader and is the reason the church is struggling. At other times, the pastor may be limited by the lid the lay leadership places upon him or her.

It's also important to note that even if your church (or business) is doing well, by raising your leadership lid it can become even more effective. There is always room for improvement. That's why leaders must be committed to life-long learning and growth.

Regardless of where your personal leadership lid is right now, it can be raised.  While I do believe some people are born to be leaders, I also believe that leadership can be learned, and that everyone can learn to be a better leader than he or she is right now.  The challenge is that leadership growth is hard work.  It requires much self-discipline.  It requires that one identifies a clear vision of where the organization is to go and the steps it will take to get there.  Priorities must be set that will enable that vision to be achieved.  A leader must learn how to solve problems, deal with constant change, work with people who can sometimes be difficult and help develop them into persons who believe in the vision you've set forth.  Everyday he or she must step away from the urgent in order to focus on the most important priorities of the day.  It can get overwhelming, especially when you realize that you will never reach the finish line as long as you are in the leadership role in your organization.  Achieving your vision only means you get to celebrate one day and then it is time to start over with a new vision if you want your organization to continue to move forward.

Leading a church or business is not easy, but the most difficult aspect of leadership is leading yourself.  A leader must always be in a learning mode.  He or she must keep up with the technical changes.  The leader must pay attention to changes in the culture.  You don't want to be the last company still making buggy whips.  Leaders must focus on the needs of the people they serve.  Leaders have to control their attitudes when things don't go the way they planned.  There are many things we cannot control, but we can always control our attitudes.  Staying focused and optimistic isn't easy, but it is necessary, and for some people with certain personalities (like me) it can be a real struggle.

As the head of your organization, you must always be growing in your leadership abilities.  That means you have to be a life-long learner of leadership, of people, and of culture.  You have no choice but to read the current journals, books, and articles relating to what you do.  You have to invest time and money in attending workshops and seminars that will help you grow.  The more you grow as a leader the more confidence you will have in leading, and the more willing others will be to follow your leadership.

For more on this vital subject I recommend you read John Maxwell's book Developing the Leader Within You.  As you apply the recommendations you'll find in this book you will find that you will grow as a leader and your organization will grow alongside you.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Perceptions of the smaller church

In one of my workshops I begin by asking people what most people think of when they think of a small church. The answers are almost the same in every workshop.

  • Dead or dying
  • Made up of old people
  • No money
  • Nothing is going on
And the list goes on. When I ask the attendees what each of these responses have in common they always recognize that each of these are negative. When people think of small churches they usually do so in a negative light.

Not me. I believe small churches are an essential part of the Kingdom of God, and that these churches have an important role to play in doing God's work. I have found many of these churches to be dynamic, full of excitement, and fun to be with. Many of their leaders are my heroes, Often bivocational, these small church leaders are dedicated, focused, and hard-working. They are not interested in climbing the ministerial ladder of success; they are committed to providing the best leadership they can to this place where God has called them.

Smaller churches have much to offer that people want from churches.

  • Small churches offer community. Many people live rather lonely lives today and seek to be a part of a community. Smaller church can provide such community, a place where everyone knows your name.
  • Small churches offer opportunities to serve. Although many people today are not interested in joining a church, they are interested in being a part of something they believe in. Small churches provide such opportunities.
  • Small churches communicate quickly. Yes, I know...sometimes we communicate too quickly! But, it's nice to be a part of something that cares about one another and can let others know when one is having problems.
  • Small churches care more about people than about programs or performance. We care more about who you are as a person than what you can do, and who doesn't want to be appreciated just for who they are?
I know some small churches have problems, but I'm still excited about the potential that exists in our smaller churches. We have much to offer. Don't believe the negative publicity that often exists about small churches. Identify the unique vision God has for your church, begin to live it out, and see what wonderful things happen as a result.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

What am I reading?

People often ask what I'm reading so occasionally I like to share my current reading in this blog.

My devotional reading right now is Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream by David Platt. It has been a long time since a book has challenged me the way this book has. For many of us, our Christianity is more influenced by our culture than the Scriptures. Platt takes us back to the Scriptures and encourages us to not only believe what the Scriptures teach but to put that into practice. He then shares stories of people who are doing just that. My biggest regret is that I have not read this book sooner.

Another book I'm reading is Business Secrets from the Bible: Spiritual Success Strategies for Financial Abundance by Rabbi Daniel Lapin. Rabbi Lapin shares insights into business and financial success from the Bible and Jewish wisdom. This is not a "get-rich-quick" book nor is it one that would be promoted by the prosperity preachers. The book focuses on being a person of integrity, serving others, being faithful stewards, avoiding debt, sound planning and other strategies that leads to a successful life.

On my bookshelf right now waiting their turn is The Pastor Theologian: Resurrecting an Ancient Vision by Gerald Hiestand and Todd Wilson, Think Like a Freak: The Authors of Freakonomics Offer to Retrain Your Brain by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, and Re:Vision: The Key to Transforming Your Church by Aubrey Malphurs.

Books that I've recently completed include Living the Resurrection: The Risen Christ in Everyday Life by Eugene Peterson, Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us by Seth Godin, and The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism by Timothy Keller. I enjoyed each of these books and learned from each of them. If you're looking for something to read you may want to check out these books.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Are you more focused on the past than the future?

One way a church knows it is in trouble is if it spends more time talking about its past than its future. I go into many small churches and find pictures of their congregations from back in the early to mid 1900s. I often wonder how they ever fit that many people in the building, but obviously they did. There may be as many as 200 or more lined up for the photo. Today, the church may have 30 people show up on Sunday morning, but some of them still remember those days when the place was full every week. These pictures they have hanging on their walls are almost a shrine to a better time in their church.

As I work with various churches in my current ministry role I often hear stories of those "good ole days" when the church was the center of life in their community. What I don't hear very often are the dreams of what their church can be in the future. I don't hear their vision for ministry, and that's because they don't have one. They are living in the past, trying to survive in the present, and fearful of the future.

This is not how the church of Jesus Christ is supposed to function. Your church may have had a great history, but the reason why it enjoyed a great ministry in the past is because the people had a vision for ministry. They may not have officially called it a vision, but they shared a common vision anyway. Your church began because a group of people had a vision for starting a church in your particular area, and people continued to live out that vision. They understood their purpose, and they attempted to live out that purpose as best they could.

There is no reason your church cannot enjoy an even greater future than its past. The best days of your church are not behind you, they are before you if you decide to become intentional about doing the ministry God has given you. However, that will not happen if you spend more time focusing on the past than on the future.

The best way to have a great future is to create it. Too many churches want to react to whatever the future throws at it. A much better way to approach the future is to create it as best we can, and that involves discerning a fresh vision from God for ministry and living into that vision. This allows your church to approach the future with intentionality, and such intentionality leads to more effective ministry.

Every meeting that occurs in your church should have at least one agenda item that is looking towards the future. A church should have regular times of inviting people to share their dreams of what their church might look like in in the future. Those dreams that are consistent with the vision of the church can be given legs to help make them happen. Such a church will be a much more exciting place than one that is living in its past glory.

I challenge you to begin listening to the conversations that occur in business meetings, board and committee meetings, and when small groups in your church gather. Are they talking more about the past glory of the church or are they talking about the future opportunities that exist for your church? It's OK to celebrate the past, but let's begin living in the present and preparing for the future.

Monday, August 10, 2015


Letters went out last week officially announcing my retirement as a Resource Minister with the American Baptist Churches of Indiana and Kentucky. This is something I've considered since the first of the year and finally made the decision a couple of months ago that it was time. My retirement will be effective on December 31, 2015.

My ministry began in 1981 when I was called to be the bivocational pastor of Hebron Baptist Church near Madison, Indiana. At the time I had never heard the term "bivocational," and suddenly I was one. I served that church for twenty years until being called to my present ministry in 2001.

Over the past 34 years I've seen many changes in ministry and especially in bivocational ministry. When I began there was not the acceptance of bivocational ministry that there is now. We had few resources that had been created especially for us, and many of us felt as if our denominations had forsaken us. (I have to say that was not the case for me. I had excellent support from the leaders in the ABC/INKY.)

I wrote my first book, The Tentmaking Pastor: The Joy of Bivocational Ministry, due to the lack of resources available to us. I never dreamed it would lead to seven more books related to small church and bivocational ministry. Nor did I ever imagine I would be asked to lead workshops and conferences on the topic. This ministry God has given me has been a true blessing. Bivocational ministers are my heroes, and I've been privileged to be allowed to serve them in this way.

I will continue to minister in retirement. I've been working on two more books I plan to complete in 2016. I already have two speaking engagements scheduled for next year, one in California and the other in Indiana. If you are looking for a conference speaker for next year, please consider giving me a call. Since I love preaching so much I am hopeful to have the opportunity to fill the pulpit as often as possible.

As I've mentioned in this space before, about two years ago I started an auction business, and I will be working to build that business up in retirement. Many people have wondered why I would want to be an auctioneer, but I view it as another way to minister to people. I'll explain that in a later post.

My wife and I will celebrate our 49th anniversary later this year, and we look forward to being able to spend more time together. We also want to spend more time with our two children and seven grandchildren, none of whom live near us. It's time to make some family memories, and I am looking forward to doing that.

There's no danger of me sleeping until noon and then heading to the golf course when I retire. There are plenty of things to keep me busy, and I look forward to having the time to do them.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Doing the work of God

Smaller churches often point to their size or lack of resources as excuses for why they are not more involved in ministry. "We just don't have the people," or "We don't have the finances," are the reasons some churches give for not engaging their communities for Christ. Neither are acceptable reasons.

In Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream David Platt points out that "The plan of Christ is not dependent on having the right programs or hiring the right professionals but on building and being the right people - a community of people - who realize that we are all enabled and equipped to carry out the purpose of God for our lives."

We often have the tendency to look for a program or strategy for evangelism or discipleship. Platt is telling us that the only strategy we need is for each of us to use the gifts and passions God has already given us to touch the lives of other people. In his book he shares the stories of several individuals who are doing just that. They are not waiting for a denomination to give them the flavor of the month program. They are living their Christian faith in community with others who do not yet share that faith and impacting those lives.

Smaller churches are uniquely positioned to offer this kind of relationship to others outside the faith. Larger churches have to form small groups for relationship building; we are already a small group. Such community should come natural to us. The challenge is to be willing to invite others to be a part of the community we share, and this is sometimes a challenge for smaller churches.

The even greater challenge is often to be willing to take that community outside the church. We often still have the mindset that people need to come to us. The biblical model is that the church goes to them. I'm not talking about going door-to-door handing out tracts. I am talking about developing genuine relationships with people outside the church and finding ways to serve them.

Right now I'm thinking about a woman who is very involved in the local chapter of Habitat for Humanity in her community. She has the opportunity to build relationships with the people building the houses as well as the families who will eventually move into those houses. She's had many opportunities to share her faith within the context of those relationships.

I'm also thinking of two women who recently walked with a co-worker whose mother was in hospice. This family had no church home. These women, from different churches, was able to point the co-worker to a pastor who could conduct the funeral service when the time came and who provided great pastoral care to this family during the woman's illness. These women continue to minister to their friend in his time of grief.

How do we do the work of God? As Platt wrote, it's about being the right people, a community of people, who are willing to invest their lives in the lives of others. Any of us can do that.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Work mostly in the areas of your giftedness and talents

Last year I read Rabbi Daniel Lapin's book Thou Shall Prosper: Ten Commandments for Making Money. It was a very well written book on personal finance from a Jewish perspective. Rabbi Lapin pulled from the Old Testament, the Torah, and other Jewish writings to make the case for personal responsibility, avoiding debt, wise investing, and making wise decisions that lead to financial security.

I enjoyed that book so much I am currently reading Business Secrets from the Bible: Spiritual Success Strategies for Financial Abundance also written by Rabbi Lapin. Don't let the titles fool you. These are not "get rich quick" books that might be touted by prosperity preachers. Both books address taking responsibility for your life, living lives of moderation, developing relationships with other people, and other aspects of a successful and rewarding life written from the perspective of Jewish wisdom.

Some of what he writes would be criticized in our PC-dominated world if they didn't come from a Jewish rabbi. For instance, in the introduction to the second book he mentions the power of specialization and exchange.  He writes, "This is why you will almost never find Jews tinkering with their cars in their driveways on weekend afternoons. In the Jewish neighborhoods of most cities, you'll almost never find Jews mowing their laws. Why? Because we understand the power of specialization." He goes on to say that if he pays a mechanic to maintain his car and someone else to mow his lawn he can focus more time and energy on doing the work he does best. The mechanic wins, the lawn mowing service wins, he wins, and those he serves wins.

This sounds to me like the Pareto Principle in practice. This principle teaches that we achieve 80 percent of our results from 20 percent of our work. If we have more time to focus on those areas that produce the greatest results, we can be even more productive and effective. If we spend too much time on the 80 percent of what we do that only produces 20 percent results we seriously dampen our effectiveness and those we serve are harmed by our reduced productivity.

As I write this, my car is in the shop getting the oil changed and having an issue repaired. My mechanics can do in one hour what it would take me a half-day (or longer) to do. In that half-day I can accomplish a lot of work that I am more gifted to do. My mechanic will receive payment for his work, I will get some work done that I need to do, and the people I serve today will (hopefully) benefit from the time I'll be able to give them.

Bivocational and fully-funded pastors both often complain about the lack of time they have to accomplish everything that is expected of them. One of the reasons for that lack of time is that we often refuse to delegate some tasks to others. There are lay people in our churches who could do some of the things we do better than we can, but we never give them the opportunity.

Each of us are given certain gifts by God for the purpose of ministry. None of us have all the gifts which means we are not going to be good at everything. While we may be responsible for certain things to be done, that does not mean that we have to do them. We should assign responsibility for some tasks to others who are more gifted in those areas than we are. We are responsible to see that those things are done, but we can allow others to do them while we focus on those areas of ministry in which we are more gifted.

This will allow them to serve in the areas where they are gifted, and it will allow us additional time to work in the areas of our own giftedness. Everyone wins in such a scenario.

As I finished writing this article, my mechanic called to say my car is ready to be picked up. Win-win!

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Everything rises and falls on leadership

Yesterday's blog article looked at the impact leadership has on the life of a church or other organization. Several years ago John Maxwell wrote one of the best leadership books ever written, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You (10th Anniversary Edition). If you've never read this book, you should. In the book he makes the statement, "Everything rises and falls on leadership."

This statement is in the first chapter titled "The Law of the Lid." This law says that the lid of any organization is found in its leadership. If the leaders have a leadership ability of a three, the organization can never rise above a two in effectiveness. If that lid can be raised to an eight, the organization can then rise to a seven in effectiveness. This is a powerful law that demonstrates that the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of any organization is directly related to the leadership abilities of its leaders.

I heard Maxwell speak to this before I read the book. I attended a conference he was doing to promote the book, and when he began talking about the Law of the Lid I became angry. The church I pastored was not doing well at the time. The small business we owned, and I managed, was also not doing well. I was frustrated with both and was convinced if people would just do what they were supposed to do both the church and the business would do better. Now, Maxwell is saying that these problems were my fault!

I was the leader of both organizations, and if the organizations were not doing well it was a direct reflection on my leadership. I didn't like what he was saying, and I don't think I remember him talking about the next two laws as I processed his comments on the law of the lid. I finally realized he was right. It was my fault.

If I wanted the church to do better, I had to be a better pastor and leader. If I wanted our business to do better, I had to do a better job of providing leadership to that business. I was the lid holding both organizations down.

About that same time I read another book on turning around troubled churches. The author of that book stated that it required new leadership in order to turn around a troubled church. As I wrestled with that I wondered if this was all an indication I needed to leave the church. Eventually, I decided that I could become a different pastor and learn to lead in a new way.

The next Sunday I shared with our congregation some of my frustrations with the church and my leadership. I told them that according to one author our church could not change without new leadership and how I had considered that perhaps my time there was finished. Some became concerned I was about to resign (others were hopeful!) until I told them that I had decided to be the different leader the church needed. That began a transition time as I had to learn new ways of leading and serving, but it also became a springboard from which our church began to move forward in positive ways.

The pastoral and lay leadership in every church determines the level of that church's effectiveness. If you are frustrated at how things are in your church, take a long look at the leadership you are providing. For some reason, the people are not responding to that leadership, and it is the height of arrogance to assume that they are all wrong. If your church or business is going in the wrong direction, and you can't turn that around, you have to change something in the way you are leading that church. You could be in a church that will never change regardless of what you do. In that case you may need to leave them to their dysfunction, but don't assume that until you attempt to make some changes in your leadership first.

Monday, August 3, 2015

It's all about the leadership

Yesterday I visited a church that had gone through some difficult conflict just a year earlier. During that conflict I was called to work with them to determine the source of that conflict and suggest how they could address it. As usual, there were several issues that were creating the problems, but at the root of each of them were failures of leadership, both pastoral and lay. The pastor had already resigned, and after I presented my report to the congregation one of the lay leaders also resigned and left the church.

Now the church needed to find a new pastor. An interim pastor was brought in to begin the healing process. I asked the church to not even begin a pastor search for several months to allow healing to occur which they agreed to do. Eventually, I began to work with them in their search for a new pastor.

This pastor would need to be bivocational. I suggested their next pastor also needed both ministerial training and experience. The lack of each of these in their previous two pastors were partially the reasons for their earlier problems. It took several months to find someone to meet this criteria, but God had a person prepared to become the pastor of this church, and at the right time the church discovered this person.

Since calling their new pastor I had not been back to this church. Yesterday, I decided to visit the worship service to see how things were going. The difference in that congregation was amazing.

Previously, the congregation seemed defeated. There had been little energy in the church and a lot of distrust. Yesterday, the worship was lively. People were laughing. It became obvious during different parts of the service how much they cared for one another. There was discussion about new ministries they were doing in their community.

Several people I had worked with earlier came to me after the service to say how much the church had changed for the better since calling their new pastor. One said that their healing was complete and now it was time to grow.

I often quote John Maxwell's statement that everything rises and falls on leadership. My experience in this church once again proves how true that statement is. Today, this church has a pastor who loves this congregation and proves it by both word and deed, and the congregation is returning that love. His experience and training allows him to provide solid leadership to the church, and the church is already trusting that leadership. I am excited about the future of this church.

Tomorrow I want to share from my own pastoral experience the truth of Maxwell's statement.