Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Think like a freak

Ever since I read Freakonomics [Revised and Expanded]: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything I have been a fan of Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner. I listen to their Freakonomics podcast when I'm traveling, and I just finished their book Think Like a Freak: The Authors of Freakonomics Offer to Retrain Your Brain. What I enjoy about what they do is that they challenge the way we often think about common occurrences and they encourage us to think about things we probably would not think about. After all, any book with a chapter title of "What Do King Solomon and David Lee Roth Have in Common?" is probably asking you to think about something you've never considered!

In Think Like a Freak: The Authors of Freakonomics Offer to Retrain Your Brain they explain how Takeru Kobayashi was able to not only win the hot dog eating championship at Coney Island but to blast the previous record. The record at that time was 25 1/8 hot dogs and buns; Kobayashi ate 50! He merely changed the way he thought about how to eat the hot dogs. He asked different questions which gave him a different approach to the contest. You'll have to read the book to find out more.

Too many churches are still approaching today's challenges with yesterday's thinking. We think we know the answer because those answers worked once upon a time. We try harder. We cast blame. Finally, we give up and congratulate ourselves for being the faithful remnant.

Maybe we need to ask different questions. Instead of asking why fewer people attend church today perhaps we should be asking what barriers have we created that make it hard for people to attend worship services. Rather than complaining about the decline in giving we should ask how can we help people better manage their money so they would be in a position to give more. Maybe we need to stop trying to figure out a way to make an old program work better and admit that it may be time to discard that program for a new ministry.

By the way, there's a chapter in the book on that as well. It's called "The Upside of Quitting." One section of that chapter is "You cannot solve tomorrow's problem if you won't abandon today's dud." I think this chapter, and the whole book, should be required reading for church leaders.

As you prepare your church for 2016 what questions should you be asking? Make sure they are the right questions that will lead you to answers that will make a difference in the lives of those you serve.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The problem of small churches and too much money

In yesterday's post I discussed the problem of smaller churches and their often heard complaint about not having any money. Today, I want to address another financial problem sometimes found in smaller church; the problem of having too much money.

One small church that averages about 12 people each week told me they had over $100,000 in savings. An even smaller church has nearly double that amount. A third small church was struggling a few years ago to find a pastor. I told the search committee that they needed to increase the salary they were going to offer if they wanted a pastor. The committee chair finally admitted to me that they had a "rainy day" fund. Although he wouldn't tell me an amount, from the way he said it I felt it was fairly sizable figure. I responded, "Look outside. It's pouring. The church is going to have to use some of that money if it is going to attract someone to serve as their pastor."

I realize that fear drives a lot of this. People see their attendance figures and giving going down. They are afraid their little church may have to close so they reduce their expenses to a bare minimum and start stockpiling money. Maybe they had a building fund they've converted over into a savings account, and they hold onto those funds with clinched fists.

Unfortunately, those clinched fists do more than hold onto the money. They also strangle the ministry of the church until it's no longer even a church. It's reduced to a small wealthy club that provides services to its members.

This is poor stewardship of God's money. That money was given in the past by faithful members of your church to support the ministries of the church. There is nothing wrong with a church having money in savings. There is much wrong with a church having large sums of money it never intends to use for any purpose other than ensuring its own existence. Such an attitude dishonors the purpose for which it was given and dishonors God.

There is a second problem with small churches having inordinate amounts of money in savings. People stop giving. They see no reason to give their hard-earned money to a church that has lots of money it's not going to use anyway. Since the church has demonstrated it's OK to hoard money the members believe they should hold onto their own money or at least use it for their own pleasure.

We teach stewardship by our actions as well as through sermons and lessons. Because the church I pastored believed in and taught people to tithe we demonstrated that in our church budget. Ten percent of our offerings went to our denominational mission support program. After I served the church for a few years and we became a little more financially sound, I encouraged the church to increase that to fifteen percent. We did that by increasing our mission giving one percent a year for five years. As our mission giving increased so did our general church giving.

If you are in a small church with a large savings account you're not using, you need to do something with that money. If you're not going to use it for Kingdom work, then give it to a ministry that will. Pay your pastor a decent salary. Give part of it to your denominational mission program. Support local mission work even if it's being done by other churches or ministries in your area. This money was given for ministry, and it needs to be used in that way.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Small churches and money

As I work with smaller churches a frequent complaint I hear is their lack of money. When we begin talking about ministries they might consider or the low salaries they pay their pastor they often insist they don't have the finances to do new ministries or improve the salary and benefit package of their pastors. My response is always the same: Small churches don't have money problems. They may have a vision problem or a stewardship problem, but they don't have money problems. Money issues are just a symptom of the real problem.

If a church has no real vision for ministry they are merely doing maintenance work, and that is the level of financial support they are going to receive. When a church does nothing but pay utility bills and a small stipend to the pastor, there is no incentive for people to give any more than what's necessary to keep the lights on. People don't give to pay the light bill, but they will give towards a vision.

A few months before I resigned my pastorate our church voted to build a new fellowship facility. Our architect told us what we wanted would cost us about $250,000.00, a large sum of money for a church that averaged about 55 people each week. Still, we felt this would provide us more ministry opportunities so we voted to build the facility. We scheduled a Commitment Sunday to see how much we could raise in one service. We raised about $52,000 that Sunday.

When asked where we should borrow the remainder of the money I challenged the church to trust God to provide the funds. Some were skeptical, but we proceeded to build as the money came in. About 18 months later the building was dedicated and was debt free. People give to vision.

I've seen this happen when churches want to begin new ministries. People get excited and give more than usual to help fund these ministries. If God's people have bought into a shared vision they will financially support it.

However, this is only true if they've been taught stewardship. Some pastors are so scared to talk about money their people have never even heard of the tithe. They don't know how to give to the church. We are told to preach the whole counsel of God, and you cannot do that if you never talk about money.

I've had pastors tell me their church doesn't allow them to talk about money and giving. Those are the churches that need to hear it the most. I absolutely would not serve a church that spent all its time poor-mouthing and demanding that I not talk about money. Life is too short, and there are too many churches looking for a pastor to lead them to waste time in such a place. We must teach sound, biblical stewardship principles or we are cheating our congregations of the opportunity to grow in that area.

With very rare exceptions, your small church has plenty of money available. As church leaders our responsibility is to teach them about healthy giving and keeping a vision before them worthy of their support. If we do these two things, God's people are often very generous.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

When you leave your church, leave

Although it was 15 years ago I resigned from the church I was serving to accept the call to a new ministry, I still remember that last Sunday well. For twenty years I had served as the bivocational pastor of that small, rural church. Those people had become my friends and family. I knew beyond a doubt that God was calling me to leave for a new opportunity, but it wasn't going to be easy.

When I announced I was leaving I asked for six weeks in order to share some messages I hoped would make the transition easier. The church constitution called for four weeks, but the church readily agreed to give me the other two weeks. I talked to them about the changes they should expect and the importance of taking their time to search for a new pastor.

The messages went well, but that last Sunday was rough. As I shared my love for them and my appreciation for all we had been through I included these words. "In a few minutes I will walk out that door. I will always be your friend, but I can never be your pastor again. I will not come back to do your weddings or your funerals. That is how your next pastor will become your pastor and not just someone preaching each week. The only way I will even consider being part of a wedding or funeral is if your pastor asks me to, and then it will just be a supportive role."

On the way home my wife said she wished I had not said those words. She could see the pain they caused on people's faces when they heard them. I reminded her that pastoral ethics requires that a pastor not interfere in the life of a church he or she has left. Since we were still living in the same community it would be hard enough, but I had to tell the people clearly that I was no longer their pastor.

Within a year there was both a wedding and a funeral for people who were very close to me. Their families honored my request and had their new pastor perform those ceremonies. I did attend the funeral viewing the evening before, but I did not attend either the wedding or the funeral.

Every year I receive at least one call from a pastor saying that a former pastor is returning to do funerals or weddings or interfering in some other way in the life of the church. This is not only unethical, it is very disruptive to the church. A pastor only becomes the pastor when he or she is involved in the lives of the congregation. When a former pastor returns to do weddings and funerals or otherwise interferes in church business it makes it very difficult for the new pastor to ever be recognized as the pastor.

If God has called you to leave a church, then leave. If He wanted you to continue to minister to that congregation He would never have called you away. Respect your former congregation and their new pastor by refusing to accept invitations to return. There will be enough homecomings or other special events that will give you an opportunity to renew old acquaintances, but even then remember you are a guest there and not the pastor. When you leave a church be ethical enough to leave.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

What do we need to experience revival?

There are many people today saying that nothing short of revival will save America. There's no doubt that our nation has turned far from God and the clear teaching of Scripture. In his inaugural address to Congress newly-elected President George Washington warned that "We ought to be no less persuaded that the propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right, which Heaven itself has ordained."

A nation that turns its back on God and biblical teachings can only expect turmoil and chaos, and that certainly describes the age in which we are living. Throughout Scripture God promises to bless the nation that honors Him and to curse those nations that turn away from Him to serve other gods. No nation can turn away from God and expect to prosper. Every great nation that has abandoned God has fallen, and only the arrogant can believe that our fate will be any different if we do not, as a nation, experience a revival that turns our hearts back to God.

Of course, before a nation can experience a revival such a revival must first occur in the church. The lukewarmness found in many churches will never spark a national revival. You can't start a fire with wet wood, and the wood in many of our churches is wet. Go into many churches and you'll find uninspired worship, dull sermons that fail to speak to anything that people are experiencing, a lack of passion for God, little awareness of sound doctrine, and a refusal to evangelize. Until the church is revived there can be no national revival.

What is needed for such a revival? Many are calling for prayer, and certainly prayer is an important component of any revival. Read 2 Chronicles 7:14 if you want to know how to pray for revival.

Along with praying for revival the church must recapture a sound theology. I recently finished reading The Pastor Theologian: Resurrecting an Ancient Vision by Gerald Hiestand and Todd Wilson. They correctly state that "the renewal of the church depends on a renewal of the church's theology." Too many in the church lack an understanding of even basic theology, and their lifestyles reflect this. They do not know how to incorporate their Christian faith into their life choices and behaviors.

Good theology will not always be considered politically correct, and many will be offended by it. Preach it anyway. Some religious leaders have abandoned sound theology preferring instead to tickle the ears of their listeners with messages that are more politically correct. They will criticize you. Preach it anyway. Some heavy financial supporters will threaten to leave. Preach it anyway.

Hiestand and Wilson remind their readers repeatedly that the pastor is the primary theological teacher in a congregation. Teaching sound theology is the responsibility of the pastor. This means that we must first have a solid understanding of biblical theology before we can teach it to others. This requires that we be lifelong learners and that we spend the time each week necessary to prepare theologically sound messages.

America will never turn back to God until the church first humbles itself, confesses its own sins, prays, and recaptures sound, biblical theology. Those of us in pastoral ministry must lead the way.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Time with family

We spent the past few days visiting our son and his family in Philadelphia. Living some distance from them means we don't get to see them often enough, but it's always exciting when we are able to make the trip.

Shortly after accepting the call to pastor the church where I spent twenty years of pastoral ministry I visited one of the senior pastors in our association. He told me during that visit how his wife and children had suffered due to his ministry. His wife maintained a pastor's spouse demeanor on the outside, but inside she experienced a lot of emotional pain. This pastor confessed that his adult children seldom visited since he had little time for them when they were growing up.

His story confirmed a vow I had made when I entered ministry: I would not sacrifice my family on the altar of ministerial success. Yes, God had called me to ministry, but He had also called me to provide for my family. I always took that to mean more than financial provision. I also have an obligation to tend to their emotional and spiritual needs as well

I was the pastor of a church, but I was also the pastor of my wife and children. More than that, I was a husband to my wife and a father to our children. I made sure our church understood the priority I gave to my family, and I was blessed that they honored that priority.

It's easy to allow other things to interfere with time spent with family, but we must not allow that to happen. Even when I had the most demands on my time I still made the time to coach our son's little league and pony league baseball teams. We made time to attend our daughter's junior high and high school track events and our son's high school baseball games. I can count on one hand the number of track meets and baseball games I missed.

One of the most important things a family can do is to create memories that will last when members of that family are no longer around. My parents have both been gone for several years, but there are some memories I have of them that always keeps them close to me. We've tried to create the same kind of memories with our children.

The people in your church needs you, but so does your family. Keep your family a priority in your life. Take the time to create wonderful memories that your children will be able to share with their children.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Can a coach help a bivocational minister?

What does a bivocational pastor do when it seems nothing he or she does makes a difference? This was the issue confronting one of the pastors I coached for my DMin project. This pastor was a seminary graduate who had served several years as a fully-funded pastor before becoming bivocational. He was frustrated that he was not able to provide leadership to his church, and he felt that his ministry had made very little impact on the people in the church, especially the younger people.

As we went deeper into what had been accomplished in the 2 1/2 years he had served as pastor I was amazed at what he had been able to do. His impact on that church had been far more than he realized. I began to remind him of the things he had shared with me that had been done since his arrival as pastor. As I affirmed the significance of his ministry he immediately became encouraged and expressed optimism about his future dreams for the church.

In future coaching sessions this pastor was much more focused on the future. He developed a preaching schedule which he shared with me, looked into furthering his education, and began to discuss the need for the church, and he, to become more evangelistic oriented.

It is easy for ministers to become discouraged at what we feel is a lack of results from our efforts. During such a period in my own ministry I met with a more seasoned pastor who reminded me that ministry is often two steps forward and one step back. Things don't often happen as quickly as we might prefer, and sometimes it is difficult to see that what we are doing is making any impact on the lives of others. It is in those times that we need someone to come alongside to clear away the fog and reveal to us the good that our ministries are accomplishing. Often, that person is a coach.

My DMin project was "Coaching Bivocational Ministers for Greater Ministry Effectiveness." That project was later turned into a book,The Art and Practice of Bivocational Ministry: A Pastor's Guide. As part of the project I coached five bivocational pastors, but the book records the stories of ten pastors I have coached over the years and the results of those coaching relationships. Most were bivocational; a couple of pastors were fully-funded.

Chances are you will find some of the challenges you are facing in those stories, and the solutions these pastors found might be the answers you're seeking. Coaching is a powerful tool to help a person move forward in his or life and ministry, and having a coaching relationship with an experienced coach can be life-transforming. But, if you cannot have such a relationship, this book may be the next best thing. You'll find that you are not alone in the struggles you face, and that there are solutions to every challenge.

After reading the book, if you feel that having a coach for a period of time would be beneficial, contact me. As I am retiring from my judicatory role at the end of the year I will be taking on more coaching relationships in 2016. Perhaps we can work together to help you move forward in your life and ministry.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Plan your preaching for 2016

Now is the time to begin thinking about your preaching plan for 2016. As a bivocational pastor I found that planning my preaching schedule in advance was a major time saver and added continuity to my ministry and my preaching. It also ensured that I had the needed resources when it was time to prepare my messages. Another benefit was that it allowed for better worship planning.

My planning was fairly simple. I would take a sheet of paper and write down the dates in the left column. Since our church had a morning and evening service I listed AM and PM for each date. I then took a calendar and noted holidays and special events on the Christian calendar on the appropriate dates. One piece of paper gave me a quarter of the yearly calendar.

Once I had the mechanical pieces in place it was time to think and pray. Did I sense God wanted us to have a specific focus for the upcoming year? Were there issues in the church that needed to be addressed? Were we about to enter into a significant time in the life of the church? Each summer after Father's Day I would preach through a book of the Bible or a significant section of Scripture so I would spend some time thinking about that series of messages.

Sometime around the middle of November I would begin listing sermon titles and texts on the paper for each Sunday. By noting the dates of special events I not only ensured I didn't overlook one, it also showed me when I had stretches of Sundays I could do a series of messages and when I needed to do a stand-alone sermon.

I never planned the entire year of messages in the fall of the year, but I did try to work 3-6 months out. At the end of each month I would give the next month's sermon plan to our worship leaders so they could coordinate the services with the messages.

Earlier I mentioned this allowed me to have the resources I would need to prepare my sermons. This was especially important for the series I would preach through a book of the Bible. I was able to purchase the commentaries and other helps that would be needed for a more in-depth look at these books.

A busy pastor may wonder how to find the time to do such planning, but this is time well-spent. I found that the demands on my time were less around the holidays so this was an ideal time for such planning. Once I finished my planning I could focus my time each week on sermon preparation and not on wondering what to preach about the next Sunday. There are few things worse than when you realize on Friday that you still don't know what to preach on Sunday.

I've known the occasional pastor who would plan their preaching schedule, sometimes a year in advance, and never veer from that schedule no matter what happened. This is a mistake. One pastor got into trouble after 9/11 because the following Sunday he preached the message he planned to preach that day a year earlier. Like many churches, this church had numerous first-time guests that day wanting to know if the Scriptures had anything that would address this disaster, and they left hearing nothing.

I did my planning but remained flexible. If another message was more timely or needed due to some unforeseen event, I changed the message to fit that need. However, that seldom happened. Develop a preaching plan for 2016. Both you and the church will benefit.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Panel discussion on bivocational ministry

Last week I had the privilege of being part of a panel discussion on bivocational ministry. This discussion was hosted by The Columbia Partnership which is led by George Bullard. Other members of the panel were Angela Jackson from Central Theological Seminary, John Chowning from Campbellsville University, and David Tate from Truett Seminary. We responded to several questions about bivocational ministry from the hosts and a few more from an audience that was listening to the live taping. At the end of our time George asked if we could have a second discussion which we all agreed to do.

This second panel discussion will occur on September 24 and will feature the same panel members. The theme for this discussion is "The Positive Impact of Bivocationalism on the Ministry of Congregations." You can find out more about this discussion and find a link that will allow you to hear the first discussion here.

George Bullard and The Columbia Partnership coach church leaders, consult with churches, and provide numerous written and video resources for churches. It is exciting to see them develop resources especially for those serving in smaller church settings. You may want to look at some of the resources this organization can provide you and your church and take advantage of their expertise. You'll find their website here.

It is an honor to be part of this panel discussion, and I encourage you to listen to both recordings. I believe they will encourage you in the important work you have been called to do as a bivocational minister.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Change or die

About two years ago I met with the pastor search committee of a smaller church to assist them in their search for a new pastor. I usually begin these meetings by asking what they are looking for in their next pastor. The committee chair gave me the answer I hear most often, "We want a pastor who will grow our church."

I did something I had never said before. I asked, "Are you sure about that?" She looked at me kind of odd like I wasn't supposed to ask that question so I continued, "You do realize if you could grow your church by doing what you've been doing, you would already be growing. So what you are telling me is that you want a pastor who will come in here and change everything you've been doing. Is that what you want from your next pastor?" She got a funny smile, looked at the other committee members and said, "Maybe we need to talk about this a little more."

What I said to that committee needs to be shouted out to all churches. I hear church after church complain about their inability to grow, and yet they refuse to do anything different that might encourage such growth.

Change is happening everywhere at warp speed except in the church. I understand that change isn't fun. I'm an old guy. I still have a landline telephone although I communicate much more through my smart phone than I do the phone in my home. And much of that communication isn't through calling people. More and more it's through Messenger, texting, and direct messages on Facebook. That's how people communicate today, and chances are, before 2016 ends I'll have to learn new ways of communicating through social media.

I still get a daily newspaper although I get most of my news from the Internet. In fact, it takes me very little time to read my paper because most of what's in it I read the day before online. I understand that giving up things we are comfortable with isn't easy.

I also understand that if the church isn't willing to make the necessary changes that will reach out to new generations of people it is going to become even more irrelevant to people's lives. It will eventually die. It may take a while, and it might not happen in your lifetime so you won't have to worry about it, but it will die.

But, there is something much more important than whether or not your church remains open. That's the least of my concerns. I am much more concerned about the dozens, perhaps hundreds, maybe even thousands of people who won't have the opportunity to hear the Gospel because your church refused to make changes that would touch their lives.

What needs to change in your church? I don't know, but I would challenge you to find the walls that exist in your church that is keeping people out and do whatever it takes to remove them. How can you identify those walls? Maybe you could ask some folks who don't attend your church if there is a reason for that. Maybe you could ask some folks who used to attend there and have left. Maybe you could ask your own young people who attended there as children but have chosen not to return as adults.

Two warnings. Don't get mad if they tell you the truth as to why they aren't attending your church, and don't ask if you are not willing to make some changes.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Planning 2016 around the church's vision

Earlier this week I had the privilege of working with a larger church on its vision for ministry. I met with many of the leadership in this church for a conversation around the importance of vision. This church has a good vision statement. My challenge to them was to live into that vision rather than just let it lie on a shelf gathering dust. On my way home after the meeting it dawned on me that this is a good time for all churches to have this conversation.

Many churches will soon be preparing their 2016 budget and planning their ministry calendars for the new year. The budget and calendar will always reflect the true vision of the church. Regardless of what a church claims its vision to be, its vision will always be found in its budget and calendar. We will spend money and time on those things we consider most important.

As your church begins developing its budget and ministry calendar I would encourage you to do so with a copy of your church's vision before each individual involved in these discussions. What would happen if you asked how each line item in your budget enables you to better accomplish your God-given vision? What if every calendar item went through the same filter?

My concern is that many smaller churches basically look at their budget, add a few dollars in some categories to adjust for increased costs, and submit it to the church for approval. There is very little discussion about whether or not this budget reflects the church's vision for ministry. Believe me, I've sat in many of those kinds of budget meetings, and I've seen it happen time and again. My guess is that it happens in some larger churches as well.

The same concern exists for the church's calendar. Many churches have done the same things for so many years that they are just expected. No one ever asks if these things are actually effective or if they do anything to help the church achieve its vision.

Of course, all this assumes that the church has a vision for ministry, and for many of our smaller churches that would be a false assumption. The closest thing some of them have for a vision is to survive another year. That is not a vision that honors God.

In fact, I've told several churches and pastor gatherings that God really isn't concerned if your church survives or not. He is very concerned about whether your church is doing effective ministry that makes a difference in people's lives. If it is, He'll take care of the survival. If not, He will raise up another church in your community to provide such ministry.

As you begin your planning for 2016 I encourage you to do so with your vision in mind. Make sure your budget and calendar reflects that vision. If you do, you'll find that 2016 will be an exciting year of ministry for your church.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Heart disease in the body of Christ

Does your church have a heart problem? Many do, and that's the reason they have some of the problems they have. My book, The Healthy Community: Moving Your Church Beyond Tunnel Vision was written to discuss this condition and some of the symptoms associated with it. These symptoms include

  • A lack of biblical authority
  • A lack of grace
  • A lack of pastoral leadership
  • A lack of discipled believers
  • A hardened heart.
A chapter was devoted to each of these symptoms, plus there is an additional chapter on a lack of denominational excellence. Too often churches have looked to their denominations for help and found that they were so caught up in their political agendas and so divided by the positions they took on various social issues that they were as unhealthy as the churches seeking assistance.

Many people have found that there were cures available for their heart conditions, and the same is true when a church suffers from the same ailment. Sometimes the cure isn't pleasant in the short term, but it's essential if the patient wants to return to healthy living. In the second section of the book I give three cures for a church suffering from a heart condition.

  • Ask the hard questions. Believe me, these are not simple questions to answer, and a church might be better off not asking them if they are not going to honestly answer them.
  • Pursue congregational health. Again, not as easy as it might sound.
  • Pay the price of change. This is certainly not going to be pleasant for many churches. Sometimes, the price to change is greater than the church is willing to pay, but without making the needed changes the end result is that they church will eventually die.
As I have worked with churches for over three decades I have seen many with the symptoms I've described above. Only a few of them have been willing to pay the price to regain their health, and these now enjoy good ministry in their communities. Most continue to limp alone either ignoring or denying the symptoms of heart disease. Some are now at death's door and will likely close their doors within the next year or two. The others continue doing what they've been doing and wondering why things aren't better.

If your church is suffering from heart disease the good news is that you can turn that around and become healthy again. The bad news is that it won't be easy. But the choice is yours. I think I know which choice would be God's will for your church. but you'll have to decide that for yourself.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Dangers of loneliness in the ministry

A 2005 study found that feeling isolated and lonely was one of the top four reasons ministers gave for leaving the ministry. There are stresses associated with feeling alone and having no one to talk to, and sometimes these stresses can lead to depression and burnout. When this happens some ministers feel they have no choice but to leave the ministry.

Loneliness can also lead to sexual addictions and misconduct. This same study found that 75 percent of the people who left the ministry due to sexual misconduct indicated they were lonely and felt isolated from others.

The stress of feeling alone in ministry affects not only the minister but also his or her family. They can sense the stress their loved one feels and want to help, but there are many aspects of ministry that cannot be shared with family. Seeing the family's frustration with not being able to help only adds to the stress the minister feels.

So what can be done? In my book The Healthy Pastor: Easing the Pressures of Ministry I devote an entire chapter to the problem of loneliness in ministry and offer several ways to address this sense of loneliness.

Every pastor should have a prayer team who can come alongside to pray for the minister and his or her family. When I was a pastor a group of deacons approached me asking if I would agree to meet with them each Sunday evening before the service for a 30 minute time of prayer. This prayer time would focus entirely on me and my family and any needs I wanted to raise. It was a very powerful time that I looked forward to each week, and it had a great impact on my family and me as well as the church.

Ministers also need trusted colleagues they can talk to. These may be ministers from another denomination, a trained counselor, a judicatory leader, or a coach. One must be careful not to violate confidentiality, but this can be done by talking about issues and not individuals.

Those of us in ministry are called to be spiritual directors for those we serve, but how many of us have spiritual directors ourselves? Such a person would help us with our own spiritual development, and this is essential to combat the sense of loneliness as well as many of the other challenges of ministerial life.

Finally, we must not forget prayer. We are never alone. God is always with us and is eager for us to share our burdens with Him. Any time a minister feels alone it is an indication that he or she needs to stop and look at the time being spent with God.

There are too many dangers associated with feeling alone in ministry to ignore such feelings. The good news is that there are numerous ways to ensure that you are not alone. There are many ways to receive the support you need, and you should take advantage of as many of them as possible.

In the book I address 13 other pressures that ministers often face. While we may never be able to remove them entirely, there are ways to ease those pressures and make them more manageable.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015


I have tried to avoid addressing the Supreme Court's ruling on same sex marriage and the recent issues surrounding Kim Davis in Kentucky. Unless you have been living in a cave for the past few weeks you know she is a county clerk who was jailed for refusing to grant marriage licenses to same sex couples. Both sides of this issue have had plenty to say, and I felt no need to contribute my thoughts. That is not the purpose of this blog, and nothing I would say has not been said by others.

However, there is one aspect of this that is very unsettling to me that I feel needs to be addressed. Critics of Kim Davis have pointed to her past, failed marriages and children born out of wedlock, and claimed she has no right to pass moral judgments on any one else. As I've heard and read those comments I recognized they were coming from people who have never known the forgiveness that comes from asking Jesus Christ into one's life.

This past weekend I read a statement on Facebook from an individual who began by writing that he was a Baptist pastor who wanted to speak to the Kim Davis issue. He then began to criticize her past and quoted the Bible verse that says that he that is without sin should cast the first stone. In his opinion, she should have resigned from her position if she would not do her job, and because of her past had no moral grounds to hold the position she has. In a statement I found incredulous he claimed that if she could not put her name on a marriage license for a same sex couple, she should not have put her name on three of her own marriage licenses. He admitted in some follow-up comments that he recognized she had become a Christian after her last marriage, but he still held to his original statement.

Maybe this pastor needs to read a few more verses from the Bible. 2 Corinthians 5: 17 comes to mind, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new." In Micah 7: 19 God promises to cast our sins into the depths of the sea, and in Jeremiah 31: 34 he says that he will forgive our iniquity and remember our sins no more. Evidently, this pastor wants us to remember things that God has forgotten. These, and many other passages of Scripture, make it clear that when a person comes to faith in Jesus Christ that our past sins are forgiven and we become brand new persons.

Arguments can be made on both sides of this issue, and Christians can disagree about whether Kim Davis was right in refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. However, no one has the right to point to her past mistakes and use them as a weapon to criticize her. She claims she has given her life to Jesus Christ, and if this is true then God has forgiven her past sins, as He has for each of us who are believers.

The Bible is clear that we have all sinned. Our sins may differ from one another, but we are all guilty of sin in our lives. It is only through the grace of God and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ upon the cross that our sins can be forgiven. When we repent of our sins and ask Christ into our lives we are born again, and it is at this point that we become the new creatures referred to in 2 Corinthians. Our sins are forgiven and should no longer define us.

As Christians we are the recipients of great grace, and we should be the first to extend that grace to others. Whether you agree with Kim Davis on this issue or not, no Christian should judge her based upon her past unless you are willing to be judged for your own past sins.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

How to manage your time wisely

A few years ago I heard someone say that we can either spend time or invest time. I had never heard that comparison before, but it made an impression on me. Because time is an expendable commodity it is important that we invest our time wisely.

Last night I was reading How to Get to the Top: Business Lessons Learned at the Dinner Table (Fox Business Library) by Jeffrey Fox. He was writing about bad ROT which is bad return on time. While the book focuses on business the principle is true for those of us in ministry. There are some things that we in church leadership should avoid doing as much as possible because the return we get from that activity will be low.

Fox explains that bad ROT is squandering time solving minor problems. Sometimes it seems as if that is how we spend much of our time, and we need to stop and ask if it is worth it. How long are you willing to stay on hold waiting to talk to a person about a $5.00 charge that you think is excessive? Is it important to respond to every perceived slight or criticism, or might it be better to simply walk away knowing that you'll never please some people.

Another way we get a bad ROT is doing things we're not very good at doing. I can change the spark plugs on a car, but because I am not very mechanical it will take me three times longer, and there is no guarantee the car will run when I'm finished. I get a much better ROT taking my car to the garage and reading a book in the waiting room or getting a loaner car to continue my planned activities while trained mechanics work on my car

Learning to delegate is one important way we will get a better return on our time. Spend more time working in the areas of your strengths and gifts, and you'll accomplish a lot more than if you try to do everything yourself. Pastors are not always good at delegating, but this is something we need to learn if we want to better manage our time.

It's also important to invest your time in the things that will help you achieve your goals and the vision of the church. This is why it is so important to understand your priorities and to set annual goals that will help you achieve those priorities. This helps you stay focused on the most important tasks. Time you spend on these tasks will be an investment of your time on truly important things, but this will not happen if you spend too much time dealing with lesser things.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Others have faced your struggles before you

In 1967 I went away to Navy boot camp at Great Lakes, Illinois. The first week was especially hard. An experienced recruit who was half-way finished with boot camp was in charge of us during that first week, and he was determined to make it as difficult for us as it had been for him. It's probably safe to say that all 80 of us in our company hated him...until the last evening he had us.

The next morning we would leave processing and go across the highway to really begin our boot camp experience. Before we turned in that final night he called us all together and admitted he knew he had been difficult on us. He said it would only get harder when we went across the road the next morning, but he wanted us to remember one thing. We would never be asked to do something we could not do, and we would never be asked to do something that tens of thousands of sailors had not done before us. He assured us that the things we might be asked to do may seem impossible, but they were not.

I've never forgotten that advice. It serve me well during my 12 week boot camp experience and throughout my four year enlistment. I still remind myself of those words of wisdom even though it has been 48 years since they were spoken to me. Life can get hard sometimes, and it's helpful to remember that others have  faced the same challenges I've had to face, and they came through those challenges victorious.

Like every bivocational pastor, I faced numerous challenges during my ministry. There were times I felt like giving up. A few times I wasn't sure I could do what needed to be done, and there were times I wasn't sure it was worth it even if I could. Then God would remind me that He would never ask me to do something I could not do and that thousands of other bivocational pastors had not done before me. That reminder never failed to renew my strength and my commitment to the calling God had given me.

No doubt, you have had those challenges that threatened to overwhelm you. Family and friends may have even told you that it's too much and you need to give up. Please don't do that. Whatever you are going through, you are not the first one to experience it. Others have overcome the same challenges that you face, and you can too.

My latest book, The Art and Practice of Bivocational Ministry: A Pastor's Guide, tells the story of ten ministers I have coached over the years. These ten were chosen from the many I've worked with because the challenges they were facing will be common to many of us in ministry. In our coaching sessions each minister has the opportunity to tell me what he or she wanted to work on in that session. We tried to identify the main issue and find solutions to address that issue. At the end of each chapter, the ministers tell how they benefited from our coaching relationship and the victories they enjoyed over their challenges.

Chances are good you will find some of your challenges in their stories. You may even find that the solutions that worked for them will also work for you. At the very least, you'll be encouraged to know that others have faced the same issues you face and were not destroyed by those challenges. Remember, others have faced your struggles before you and found ways to emerge victorious over them. So can you.