Thursday, October 29, 2015

The power of incremental change

When a pastor goes to a new church, especially one that has been struggling, he or she can often see several things that need to change to turn things around. The temptation is to try to change too many things too quickly. That usually only leads to resistance and frustration for the pastor and the congregation.

It's important for a new pastor to remember that the things that seem to be holding the church back are what the congregation has come to accept as normal. Trying to change too many things at once sends a signal to the congregation that something is wrong with them. That message will not endear a new pastor to the congregation.

Years ago a common phrase we began hearing in the factory in which I worked was "Continuous Improvement." Rather than waiting until someone came up with a major change in the way we were doing things, we were encouraged to look for small changes that would lead to continuous improvement. The theory was that taking incremental steps towards doing things better was better than waiting for some large-scale change. I find that this approach often works well in churches, especially smaller, traditional churches.

One of the things I learned while pastoring a small, rural church for 20 years was that change takes longer than it probably should, but if I wasn't willing to be patient things likely would never change. You might have a large change in mind, but in most smaller churches it's important to break that down into bite-size goals. When you reach those smaller goals you can stop to celebrate the win, and then move on to the next small goal. The key is to remember that achieving each of these small goals leads you to accomplishing the larger goal.

You will often find that people will resist the larger goal but be willing to accept the smaller ones. They appear to be more possible. If you're careful to celebrate the achievement of each small goal you will encourage the congregation to continue moving forward towards the larger one. It's likely that it will take longer to achieve that larger goal this way, but it's also more likely that the larger goal will be achieved.

Smaller churches are often accused of being highly resistant to change, but sometimes that resistance is due to the way the change is presented. If it appears too big it may not seem doable to some people. People often find it more acceptable if it's broken down into incremental pieces. Present your changes this way, and you may find more support for the change than you anticipated.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Begin if you want to win

In yesterday's blog I posted several quotes from leadership guru John Maxwell that have greatly impacted my life and ministry. One of those quotes was "You cannot win if you do not begin! The people who get ahead in the world are the ones who look for the circumstances they want, and if they can't find them, they make them."

From time to time I receive phone calls or emails from people frustrated that they cannot find a church to serve or who have hit some roadblock in their lives. Sometimes they get upset with me because I can't wave a magic wand and solve their problems. I understand their frustration because I've felt that in my own life. I have felt led to do something but it seemed that the circumstances just didn't work out to make it happen. I have learned that Maxwell is right. Sometimes we just have to take the initiative and begin.

I was licensed to the ministry by my church in 1979. I contacted our judicatory leader and offered to do supply preaching or lead revivals. His response was that when I had my MDiv he would be glad to give my name out to churches. Not much help there since I had not even attended college.

For nearly 18 months I went without preaching anywhere until I was finally asked to preach a mid-week service in a church of another denomination. By then, I was really beginning to doubt my call. However, once I preached in that church, other opportunities begin to come from non-denominational churches. One Sunday I was asked to be the interim pastor in a church I had attended as a teenager.

When that church called a pastor it seemed that everything dried up again. I went for months without being asked to preach anywhere. I finally got so frustrated that a friend of mine and I rented a building on the 4-H fairgrounds and scheduled a revival. He preached three nights, and I preached three nights. We didn't have big crowds, but a couple of weeks later I was called to serve the church where I spent the next 20 years as pastor.

If God had called me to preach, I was going to preach if I had to rent my own building. I wasn't going to sit by the phone and wait any longer.

Three years ago I got my auctioneer's license. I helped a few local auctioneers, but during that first year I never received one phone call from anyone wanting me to do an auction for them. I decided I had waited long enough. I rented a building and scheduled an auction. I had a building and a date, now I just needed something to sell. I began to call some pickers I knew and asked if they would consign some items to my auction. Within a month I had plenty to sell at auction and a month later had my first auction.

If you are going to win at anything, you have to begin. It would have been nice if the judicatory leader had been more helpful and opened some doors for me, but I decided I couldn't wait any longer for someone else to make it possible for me to preach. It would have been nice if people had called wanting me to sell estates for them at auction, but I couldn't wait for that either. I had to take the initiative to make things happen, and that is true for anyone who wants to make a difference in his or her life.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Great leadership quotes from John Maxwell

No person has influenced my understanding of leadership more than John Maxwell. He began his ministry in a small church in my home state of Indiana and later pastored the largest church in the denomination in which he served. As he began to develop leadership materials he found that God was giving him favor with the business world as well as the church, and he felt led to resign his church to focus his full energy and efforts in training leaders. A prolific writer and conference speaker, he has trained tens of thousands of leaders throughout the world.

From the first time I read The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You (10th Anniversary Edition) I knew I had found someone to teach me the leadership principles I needed to better serve my church. A few years later I took several members of our church to a conference he was leading and purchased some materials that we used to teach our church about leadership and lay ministry. We used that material for six months to train our people, and it revolutionized our congregation.

Let me share just a few of his quotes that have greatly influenced my leadership.

  • Everything rises and falls on leadership.
  • Leadership ability is the lid that determines a person's level of effectiveness. The lower an individual's ability to lead, the lower the lid on his potential. The higher the leadership, the greater the effectiveness.
  • The ability to lead is really a collection of skills, nearly all of which can be learned and improved.
  • Trust is the foundation of leadership. To build trust, a leader must exemplify these qualities: competence, connection, and character.
  • The secret of your success is determined by your daily agenda.
  • If you are in a leadership position, do not rely on your title to convince people to follow you. Build relationships. Win people over. Do that and you will never be a lonely leader.
  • No matter if you're just starting out or if you are at the peak of your career, the more you work in your strength zone, the more successful you will be.
  • If you are not willing to take a risk, then you really have no business being a leader.
  • One of the primary responsibilities of a successful leader is to identify potential leaders.
  • When you are trying to connect with people, it's not about you - it's about them. If you want to connect with others, you have to get over yourself. You have to change the focus from inward to outward, off of yourself and onto others.
  • One is too small a number to achieve greatness. You cannot do anything of real value alone.
  • Leadership rises and falls on communication. You must be able to communicate to lead others effectively.
  • No one improves by accident. Personal growth doesn't just happen on its own.
  • You cannot win if you do not begin! The people who get ahead in the world are the ones who look for the circumstances they want, and if they can't find them, they make them.
  • We tend to get in life what we are willing to tolerate. If we allow others to disrespect us, we get disrespected. If we tolerate abuse, we get abused. If we think it's okay to be overworked and underpaid, guess what will happen? If we don't have a plan and purpose for our lives, we will become part of someone else's!
  • Rubber bands are only useful when they are stretched! That can also be said of us.
This is just a small sample of things I've read in his books that have influenced my life, my ministry, and my leadership. If you have not read his books or attended any of his conferences, I would suggest you do so. I would recommend starting with the book mentioned above and then pick others based upon your needs at the time. Our churches need strong leaders, and as you continually develop as a leader it will have a positive impact on your church and everything else you do.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Ministry for the long haul

We often read that half of recent seminary graduates will leave the ministry within five years after graduation. Going into ministry used to be considered a life-long calling, but we see increasing numbers of people leaving the ministry well before retirement. There are many reasons for this, which we will not explore in this post, but what can a person do to make it more likely that he or she will remain in the ministry for an extended period of time? There are several things that can help.

  • Commit to being a life-long learner. Anyone who believes that his or her education ends at graduation doesn't understand the realities of the 21st century. We must continually sharpen the tools God has given us if we want to serve new generations. It doesn't take long to become irrelevant or out of touch so it's imperative that we continue to expand our knowledge base.
  • Set reasonable boundaries. Many ministers are people pleasers, and it's difficult to tell someone no. You can easily find yourself working 60-70 hour weeks just trying to meet the various requests people make of you, but such a schedule is not sustainable over the long-haul. There will be times when such workloads are necessary, but you will find yourself getting into trouble if they become normal for you.
  • Develop a prayer team. One of the best things that happened to me when I was a pastor was when a group of leaders came to ask if we could meet each week for a time of prayer. Prior to our Sunday evening service we met. Each person present would begin to pray for me, my wife, and our church. It was one of the turning points in the life of our congregation, and it was a tremendous blessing to my wife and me.
  • Have the support of your family. As a judicatory minister I have seen clergy families separate and even divorce because the minister's spouse became fed up with ministry life. Sometimes this was due to a sense of feeling neglected for the ministry. One pastor's wife told a counselor that if her husband was cheating on her with another woman, she could address that, but what can she do when his mistress was the church? There are other times when the minister isn't doing anything wrong, but the spouse decides that living in a ministry fish bowl is no longer tolerable. We all have also heard stories of pastor's kids getting into trouble and rebelling against the church. It's important for ministers and their families to have regular discussions about any issues that ministry may be creating in the family and address those issues immediately.
  • Request a fair salary and benefit package. It is not uncommon for family issues to revolve around finances. Scripture is clear that believers are to provide for their families, and there is no exception for those in ministry. More than a few pastors have left the ministry in order to provide for their family financially. I realize this can be a difficult subject for many pastors to address with their churches, but we must learn to advocate for ourselves. Each minister's family must decide what is needed for them to live comfortably, and that information then needs to be shared with the appropriate people. Sometimes the church just needs to have that information and is quite willing to meet that need. Sometimes they cannot afford to do so. At this point some discussion needs to occur about the possibility of going bivocational, or you may need to find another place of service that can meet the financial needs of your family. Ignoring the financial aspect of ministry and family will eventually cause the minister to leave the ministry.
  • Develop friendships and interests outside the ministry. For several years I owned a bass boat and enjoyed fishing. My wife and I would even fish in some local tournaments. I have owned a motorcycle which we would ride just to get away. One year we even rode it 2700 miles on vacation. I still enjoy golfing and going to the beach on vacation. I enjoy going to auctions, and, as many of you know, two years ago got my auctioneer license and started an auction business. The ministry is serious business and deserves our best efforts, but if that is all we do it will soon eat us up. Having interests outside the ministry helps being balance into our lives and keeps us fresh.
There are many more things that could be added, but these should suffice for now. It's important that we make a commitment to the ministry to which God has called us, see it as a life-long calling, and then identify the things we can do to help make that a reality.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Advantages of a small church

Yesterday I received a call from a person writing an article for a Christian publication. The article will focus on rural churches, and he had been given my name as someone to call with some questions. One of the questions is one that I am asked quite often, "What are some of the advantages of a rural church?" After responding that while some rural churches are large, many of them are smaller so I would give him the advantages of a smaller church. They include

  • People experience community in a smaller church. We live in a time where many people feel alone. We do not know our neighbors. Family members often move away due to their careers or other reasons. As a result, many people crave a sense of community, and a smaller church can provide that. A small church can be a place where "everybody knows your name." I am convinced that smaller churches that do a good job of offering community to people will grow.
  • People have an opportunity to serve. It is true that people today are less likely to join an organization than in the past, but it is also true that people are looking for a place where they can serve and make a difference in people's lives. Smaller churches never have enough volunteers. If we give people opportunities and the freedom to serve in places where they feel needed, we will see our ministries expand.
  • Small churches communicate quickly. I know...sometimes too quickly, especially if there is some controversy. But, rapid communication is important as it allows the small church to rally around a family or member that may be going through a difficult time or who has lost a loved one. This increases the sense of community referred to above.
  • People share common experiences. The small, rural church I served as pastor consisted of many retired people, blue collar workers, farmers, and very few professional people. When I first went to the church there was only one person with a college degree, a teacher. In the smaller church, everything is based on relationships, and it is much easier to build relationships with people who share common experiences. When I went to the church as a bivocational pastor my other job was working on the assembly line in a factory. I had been raised on a farm and understood that life. I quickly was able to fit in which was a huge advantage for me as the pastor.
  • People are more important than programs or performances. You seldom have to audition to sing in a small church choir! In fact, you may not even be able to carry a tune, but no one cares because you are part of the family. Again, it's about relationships and community. One of the first questions people ask when challenged with change is how will this change impact the relationships that exist in the church. If it is feared that the change will have a negative impact, it will often be resisted because people are more important.
I realize that each of these can also be a hindrance to the ongoing ministry of the church. Resisting change because it might lead to damaged relationships in the church can hinder a church from a new ministry God wants them to pursue. A church where everyone is alike can lead to a very narrow understanding of the world in which we live and serve. While there can be negatives for each of these strengths, these are some of the elements that have enabled smaller church to survive and provide ministry to their communities for decades.

In recent years we have been challenged to build on our strengths and find ways to manage around our weaknesses. As a small church leader you want to build on these five strengths found in many smaller churches.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Looking for nuggets

I always read a book with a highlighter or marker to underline the things I want to remember later. After I finish a book I go back through it looking for those thoughts that I want to file away for future reference. My favorite books are those that are really marked up.

However, not every book I read hits a home run. Sometimes there will only be a few nuggets of new information or thoughts. A book I am currently reading is like that. In fact, last week I seriously considered putting that book in my sale pile and starting on another one. I almost never start a book that I do not finish, but this one just did not seem to be worth my time. Then I started on a new chapter, and everything began to change. Finally, half-way through the book I found the gold mine I was looking for. There were nuggets on every page of that chapter, and the next chapter was the same way.

Those nuggets can be life-changers for a leader. It might be the illustration that really makes your message stick in the minds of your listeners. It might be the new idea that propels your church or organization to another level of growth. It might be the insight that helps restore balance to your life. It might be just the thing you need to share with the next person you coach.

I have to remind myself that gold nuggets are rare. That's what makes them so valuable, and that's what makes people seek them out. The same is true for the nuggets of wisdom you'll find as you read. There may be only a handful of nuggets in the book you're reading, but they will be valuable when you identify them and begin to use them.

As I've shared in other posts, I have a filing system where I record the nuggets I find when I'm reading. For too long, I would find a nugget and then forget where it was for later reference. These nuggets are too valuable to lose once they've been discovered so a good filing system is a must. Develop a good filing system that meets your needs, and you'll know exactly where those nuggets are located.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Surplus churches

I just finished reading Boom! written by Kevin and Jackie Freiberg. The book addresses how to transform a business or other organization to lift it above the competition. Towards the end of the book they quote another book that discusses the problem we have living in a surplus society.  "The 'surplus society' has a surplus of similar companies, employing similar people, with similar educational backgrounds, coming up with similar ideas, producing similar things, with similar prices and similar quality." They then ask the question, "What makes you unforgettable?"

Sometimes I will ask churches why anyone would want to attend their church. I'm not trying to be mean. I want to remind them that there are dozens of churches in every community that people can attend, so why should people choose their church?

If every church sings three songs, has a couple of prayers, takes up an offering, has a sermon, and sends everyone home inspired to eat lunch, what difference does it make which church a person attends? In the quote above change the word companies to churches and the statement still rings true. We have surplus churches, not because we have too many, but because the vast majority of them do nothing to make them different from dozens of others in the same community.

In one of the greatest leadership books I've ever read, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap...And Others Don't, Jim Collins writes "We don't have great schools, principally because we have good schools. We don't have great government, principally because we have good government. Few people attain great lives, in large part because it is just so easy to settle for a good life. The vast majority of companies never become great, precisely because the vast majority become quite good - and that is their main problem." In the margin next to that statement I wrote "The same is true of churches."

If your church is to make an impact it has to find ways to stand out from the rest. Get outside the ministry box and identify the needs of the people you are trying to serve and develop ministries that will actually meet their needs. Pursue excellence is all you do and refuse to settle for good enough. Stand for truth and practice grace. Determine that your church is going to be a world-changer. Open yourself up to the Spirit of God and invite Him to lead you in the vision God has for your church. Ignore those who say you can't, and follow the One who will make it possible.

We have an abundance of surplus churches. We need churches that will stand out and make a difference. Which church will you lead?

Monday, October 19, 2015

Always more than two choices

When I travel in the car I often listen to podcasts I've downloaded for that purpose. One of those podcasts is Dave Ramsey. People call into his program asking for financial advice. Many of them are in financial trouble and feel like they have to made a choice between one or two options, neither of which are very good. Ramsey always challenges them to find more than two options. He explains that there are almost always more than just two options.

It's easy to get caught up in the either/or mindset. I know it is for me especially if I'm feeling stuck or caught in a difficult situation. When we feel we are limited to just two choices we can begin to feel really trapped, and if we focus too much on those two choices we become unable to identify other choices that may be available to us.

A church is feeling financial pressures and begins to look at cutting the budget. Someone suggests the church may need to cut staff salaries or reduce benefits. Another person suggests reducing the money that goes to mission support. Neither are options that the church wants to do, but the more they discuss these two options the more it appears they are the only choices they have.

But, there are other choices. Instead of cutting the budget could the church find ways to increase revenue? How long has it been since the church taught on stewardship or challenged the congregation to give sacrificially? Is it possible for the church to apply for grants for specific ministries they are doing? Has the church helped its members with estate planning which may not lead to immediate increases in revenue but could remind people to remember the ministry of their church in their estate planning? Could the church offer Financial Peace University to help its members gain control of their finances which could lead to increased giving?

Many churches feel frustrated that they are unable to attract young families. Some of these churches believe that is the only way their church will continue after their current membership is gone. Regardless of the size of your community, there are dozens of people groups your church can minister to and perhaps encourage to be part of your ministry. What about reaching out to senior citizens, single parents, families providing care for their children and their parents, grandparents who are raising their grandchildren, widows, persons with various addictions, latchkey children, persons who have been previously hurt by a church, business people, homeless persons, or the unchurched wealthy people in your community?

As you can see, most of the challenges you face will have more than two options, but you have to look for them. The more time you spend focusing on just two choices, the more difficult it is to identify other options. The more options you have the better decisions you will usually make.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

The church in the wilderness

Some of my favorite stories in the Bible are the ones where people are on a journey to an unknown destination. Abram was called by God to leave his people and go to a place where I will show you meaning that his final destination would not be revealed unless he had the faith to begin the journey. The Israelites left 400 years of slavery for an unknown destination and to begin a new life. When they arrived at the Promised Land they refused to enter it and spent another 40 years in the wilderness as God prepared the next generation to possess the land.

Although the disciples were commanded by God to preach the Gospel to every person, they were reluctant to leave Jerusalem until persecution finally forced them to do so. Things may not have been good in Jerusalem, but at least they were familiar, and the disciples were in no hurry to leave for unknown destinations.

The wilderness is where the church finds itself today. Many churches struggle to know what they should be doing in a culture that rejects the Gospel to seek gods of their own making. Denominations struggle to keep their mechanisms and bureaucracies operating. Some compare the situation of today's church to a hamster in the wheel running faster and faster but going nowhere.

I prefer to think of our situation as being in a wilderness. We know what doesn't work (much of what we've done in the past), but we don't know what will work. Not knowing what to do, many of our churches and denominational bodies try to do the same things they've always done but with little results for their efforts. Like the Israelites in the wilderness who wanted to return to being slaves in Egypt, we want to return to what we know even though it is no longer effective.

Maybe we should embrace the wilderness as God's time for us right now. That doesn't mean that we do nothing, or that we push to return to a past way of doing ministry that no longer works, or that we chase every fad that comes along. It does mean that we spend this time seeking a fresh vision from God for our future ministry as churches and denominational organizations. It might mean that we become less dependent upon programs and more dependent upon the Spirit of God to reveal to us where we are to go.

Abram became Abraham, the father of many nations, when he arrived at the place where God was leading him. The Israelites conquered the much stronger inhabitants of the Promised Land when they entered the place God wanted them. The disciples became known as the people who turned the world upside-down when they left the comfortable for the unknown destinations God had for them. When we come out of the wilderness we may find that we have become much stronger than when we entered it and find that God will accomplish great things in and through us.


Wednesday, October 14, 2015

When others talk about your church

Several years ago a denominational leader asked if he could submit my name to a church that was searching for a pastor. I felt no leading to leave my church, and I knew the reputation of the church he wanted me to consider. It had a reputation for being tough on pastors, and I didn't want any part of that church.

A few months ago I met with the remaining members of a small church that wondered whether or not to keep their doors open. When I asked them about the reputation of the church in the community one individual admitted it was very poor. The church was known for being difficult, and the previous two pastors had alienated many of the people who used to attend the church, and the community had heard nothing but bad reports about the church for years.

Sometimes a church gets a bad name not for anything they've done but because other churches are jealous of them. I know of one small community with an abundance of small churches and one church that had grown dramatically in recent years. Some of the smaller churches are very critical of the larger church, but much of that criticism is unwarranted. The pastor of the larger church is a very committed Christian who preaches a sound, conservative theology. The larger church and its staff have done nothing unethical, unbiblical, or immoral in growing the church. It is jealousy that drives the criticism it receives.

What does a church do if it has a bad reputation in the community or is being unjustly criticized? The first thing to do is to evaluate if the criticism is justified. You may think your church is the "friendliest church in town," but if others believe it is unfriendly they may be right. You may need to take steps to improve the way you treat your church guests or even in the way you treat your members.

Of course, you want to take whatever steps you can take to improve your church's reputation. One church with a history of poor treatment of their pastors recently invited them back to the church to publicly repent and ask their forgiveness. The church took out large ads in the local paper admitting to its previous poor treatment of its pastors and asked the community to forgive them. Many of the pastors did return. The paper ran a front-page story on the healing service and interviewed some of the pastors about their response to the service. It was a very touching story that found its way into a national Christian publication.

If the criticism is truly unjustified about the only thing the church can do is ignore it. In Titus 2: 7-8 we read, "And you yourself must be an example to them by doing good works of every kind. Let everything you do reflect the integrity and seriousness of your teaching. Teach the truth so that your teaching can't be criticized. Then those who oppose us will be ashamed and have nothing bad to say about us." Continue to do the work God has given you and let Him deal with your critics. It may take time, but eventually you will overcome the negative comments and false accusations.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Making your guests feel welcomed

As I mentioned yesterday, my wife and I spent the previous week vacationing in Panama City Beach. We've gone there nearly every year for many years. We enjoy the beaches, and there are several restaurants that have been our favorites for years. I love fresh seafood, and the food and service at these places are always excellent.

However, returning home was another story. After driving three hours we stopped at a chain well-known for their breakfasts. We've eaten there before and had a pleasant experience, but that was not the case this time. Our waitress never returned to the table once our meals were brought out. No refills on coffee, no asking how things were, no bill. I finally went to the cash register to pay, and our waitress asked if I had my bill. I told her she had never brought me one, and she just laughed.

Several hours later we stopped for lunch at another well-known chain. It wasn't the cleanest restaurant I've been in. Even though it was not a rush time, half of the tables had not been cleaned. After waiting for several minutes the manager finally came by and asked if anyone had taken our drink order. He took the drink order, and our waitress soon came for our meal order. The table behind me kept asking her for things he had ordered that she had never brought. My wife's drink was finally brought out, but mine never came until several minutes later, and it was wrong. She took it back and got into an argument with whoever fills the drink orders over my drink. After several more minutes went by and my drink and our food never arrived we got up and told her to just cancel our order.

There are several learning opportunities from these two events. We could focus on a lack of proper training, poor management that wasn't aware of what was happening in their restaurants, hiring people with poor attitudes (it was obvious that both our waitresses had attitudes), a lack of good systems, or a host of other issues. But, I think there is a root cause that goes deeper than any of these.

I think the main culprit was that they failed to appreciate their guests. Located near an interstate they may think it's not important to treat their customers well. Millions of people will pass by and some will stop so who cares if any returns because of poor service? While that might work for a while, eventually people will get tired of such shoddy treatment and take their business elsewhere. And, because both of these were chain restaurants, people will transfer the treatment they received at these restaurants to others in the chain.

Does your church appreciate its guests? Have you trained your congregation how to welcome your church guests? Maybe you think it's not necessary since you haven't had any guests in recent years. Did you ever think there might be a reason for that? I once heard a speaker say that there are many churches a person can attend so why would God send first-time guests to your church if you weren't ready to receive them?

As I've posted here before, I am in different churches nearly every week. More than a few of them treat their guests no better than we were treated in those restaurants. I can tell you that we will not be stopping in either of those restaurants again, and first-time guests will not return if they are not welcomed in your church.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Let's learn to celebrate

My wife and I spent last week on vacation at Panama City Beach. The weather was ideal with mid-80 temperatures most of the week, no rain, and lots of sunshine. Earlier in the week the crowds were rather small, but that began to change towards the weekend. This past weekend was a special celebration the city has each year remembering an event in their history.

I don't know all the details, but evidently in its earlier history PCB was home to a pirate, Dominique Youx, who treated the town very well. According to the stories, another group of pirates decided to invade the town, defeat Youx, and take his treasure which he shared with the people of PCB. The townspeople rallied to support Youx and defeated the invading pirates. Every year the battle is re-enacted and a three day celebration occurs with floats, games, and give-aways. We were there for the first evening of the celebration, and I have to say it was fun.

As we drove home the following morning I thought about how our churches often remember their histories. I've been to numerous "Homecomings" and church anniversaries, and I have to say that most of them do not really resemble a celebration. There may be a church history read, a previous pastor is invited back to speak, and there is often a church dinner, but there is seldom anything that I would call a celebration. While I have attended a few that truly did celebrate the history of the church, they tend to be the exception.

If the church you serve is very old it has seen a lot of history and has survived a lot of challenges. The church I pastored began in 1828, the year Andrew Jackson was elected President. It survived the Civil War, two world wars, a depression, and countless other events that could have closed its doors. During WWII a large number of its members were forced from their homes when the government purchased their farms for a large munitions testing range. Many of them moved away never to return.

Despite all the obstacles, countless thousands of people have worshiped in that small church during its 187 year history. Many found Christ and were baptized in that church. Families worshiped together. No doubt there have been thousands of weddings in that church and perhaps as many funerals. I doubt that anyone could count the number of pitch-in dinners that took place on the property. Members felt the call of God to enter the ministry or the mission field and pursued the training they would need to respond to that call. Church records can only hint at the ministry that country church provided to the community at large.

As time passes by it's easy to forget all the positive things that have occurred in our churches, but we must not forget. God has been at work in our churches, and we need to pause from time to time to celebrate that. I mean really celebrate. Think about it, Almighty God, Creator of the universe, has chosen to work in and through your church to impact the lives of the people in your community. That is something worthy of celebrating!

Does your church have a special anniversary coming up in 2016? Is there something significant in your church's history that must never be forgotten? The best way to remember these things is to celebrate them. Go ahead. It's OK for God's people to celebrate the great things God has done.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Bivocational ministry and a balanced life

Virtually all bivocational ministers will struggle occasionally with time issues. For some, it's a constant battle to meet all the demands on their time. How to better manage their time is the most frequently asked question I receive from bivocational ministers.

Time management is really life management. It begins by knowing who you are and your purpose in life. The reality is that none of us will ever meet all the expectations that people have of us, so we have to be able to identify the expectations God has for us and plan our lives accordingly. Once we have a clear God-given vision for our lives we are able to determine the priorities we need to establish that will help us achieve that vision.

For bivocational ministers there are five areas of life we need to balance.

  • Our relationship with God
  • Our relationship with our families
  • Our church ministry
  • Our other jobs
  • Our own self-care
These are not listed in order of importance because they are all equally important. Unfortunately, what many bivocational ministers have admitted to me is that they struggle most with their relationship with God and self-care. Others tell me their families often receive less attention than is healthy for that relationship.

There needs to be a healthy balance in these five areas of life, and such a balance will not happen unless we plan for it. We must be intentional about each of these areas, setting priorities for each of them, and living into those priorities.

Let's take just a brief look at family. As a bivocational pastor it was important to me to keep my family a high priority in my life. I planned my schedule to coach our son's baseball team when he played Little League. My wife and I had a regular date night each week. The telephone was not answered during meals. We scheduled vacations and took them. We attended school events and other activities our children were involved in. We did many other things as a family, but in order to do them I had to schedule them in my calendar or other things would crowd them out. I had no problem telling someone I had another appointment at a time they wanted to meet when that other appointment was a date with my wife.

The brutal fact is that if a person's life is out of balance, it's their fault. You control your calendar, or at least you should. There will be times when life gets out of control such as during illnesses or other catastrophes that sometimes occur in life, but these will be limited. For most of our lives, we can control our schedules and give priorities to those things that are most important to us.

For more help in this or other ministry challenges you may want to read my book The Healthy Pastor: Easing the Pressures of Ministry.

Friday, October 2, 2015

The wisdom of elderly Christians

He had grown up during the depression and served in World War II. After returning home and becoming a Christian he and his wife began attending the church I would later pastor. He had been a deacon in that church for decades. When we began taking communion to our shut-ins he would go with me since he had known these folks for years.

We didn't always agree, especially when I would introduce a new idea that would cost the church money. The church had been on the verge of closing and struggled keeping their bills paid when I came there as pastor. This farmer remembered those days very well, so he was reluctant to spend money on things he didn't think was necessary.

Eventually, we grew enough so we could rotate our deacons as our constitution required. Any time he would rotate off he would be re-elected as an active deacon a year later when he became eligible. It was about a year after his second re-election that he came to me saying he thought he would resign as deacon. Our church was experiencing some good growth and doing new things. His concern was that due to his life experiences he would be a hindrance to all the things the church was doing. He enjoyed the new life in the church and didn't want to do anything that might hinder that.

I urged him to not resign from his leadership position. I told him the church needs to hear from those with his experiences, and we needed to hear his concerns when he felt we were going too fast or in directions that might not be wise. Fortunately, I was able to convince him and he remained serving as a leader in our church until health issues forced him to step aside.

Too many pastors, especially younger ones, don't want to hear from the older members. I certainly didn't, especially when I felt they were hindering the forward movement of the church. I especially didn't want to hear from them when they were opposing my latest, greatest idea. Looking back, I realized that their concerns often prevented us from making unwise decisions. I learned to appreciate their wisdom.

Another thing I learned to do was to talk to them when they opposed some new thing. Several area pastors told me when I went to that church that I wouldn't last there six months due to the people who ran that church. Fortunately, I learned that these were not evil people. They were people who were concerned about the future of that church in which they had invested their lives. Sometimes when I explained to them why I wanted to do certain things they became my greatest supporters, and much of our success was due to their support.

Appreciate the wisdom that your older members have. Yes, some of them are church controllers who will do all within their power to protect their position in the church, but many of them are people who love both the Lord and the church. They have experiences you may not have so you need to listen to them. Many of them have given much to your church, and they still have a lot to offer if you'll allow it.

Training for bivocational ministers

As I talk with leaders from numerous denominations I find that there is a wide variation in the educational levels of their bivocational pastors. This is in line with my own survey of bivocational ministers in American Baptist Churches, USA which I conducted in 2004. I found that the educational levels ranged from those who had PhDs to others who had a high school education. Those who know my story know that I began my pastoral ministry with no education beyond high school.

Each of the leaders I spoke to agreed that training their growing numbers of bivocational ministers was often a challenge. Declining revenues common to most denominational bodies today also means less money available for training. Much of the training that is offered is not specific to bivocational and small church settings so many pastors from these churches do not attend the training that is offered. It also doesn't help that this training is often offered during the day time when bivocational ministers may be at their other jobs.

For 20 years I served as the bivocational pastor of a small church in rural Indiana. I left that ministry to become a regional minister in our denomination working with many bivocational and smaller church leaders. In the past 14 years I have published a number of books on small church and bivocational ministry and led seminars and workshops for numerous denominations.

At the end of this year I will retire from my denominational work and will be available to lead more training events for church leaders. I have several seminars that I have led in the US and Canada that are specifically designed to speak to the needs of small church and bivocational leaders. At every event someone will come to me during a break and ask, "When did you visit our church? You've described it perfectly." The material I present is applicable to to every small church.

If you are interested in providing a training event for your bivocational and small church leaders in 2016 I invite you to contact me to see if we might be able to partner together to make this event happen. I already have three such training events scheduled for 2016 and would love to work with you to help equip your small church leaders.

You can contact me at  I would love to hear from you.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Bivocational ministers are entrepreneurs

The best bivocational ministers I have met have been entrepreneurs. The very nature of their calling forces them to approach ministry with a different mindset. This mindset is very similar in many ways to that of a person starting a new company. An effective entrepreneurial, bivocational pastor will share some common personality traits with the entrepreneurial business person.

There have been numerous articles written on these personality traits, and the list of these traits number anywhere from 5-25 depending on the article. I think these five personality traits will be found on most of these lists. These five traits are explained in more detail in a Forbes article you can read here. These traits are

  1. Passion - Most bivocational ministers I know serve because they are passionate about their calling. Few people would willingly serve as a bivocational pastor if they were not passionate about doing ministry in that context.
  2. Resilience - Not everything we attempt to do works out the way we planned. Most bivocational ministers do not view failure as the last word. When something doesn't work out as we planned we try to learn from the failure so we can improve. It's hard to keep a good bivocational minister down.
  3. Strong sense of self - Entrepreneurs are normally very self-confident, and the same is true for many bivocational ministers. It's not so much a confidence in ourselves because most of us know our weaknesses and limitations, but it is a confidence in our calling. A weak leader who lacks self-confidence, bivocational or fully-funded, cannot effectively lead a church, and it's painful to watch them try.
  4. Flexibility - A bivocational minister better be flexible. Every day is an adventure. I always use a pencil when I schedule something in my calendar because the one thing I know that's constant is change.
  5. Visionary - The only thing more painful to watch than a minister who lacks self-confidence is to watch one without vision. If the pastor doesn't know where God is leading it will be impossible to lead the congregation in that way. Entrepreneurs in business and ministry have a sense of where they are going, and sometimes it is that vision that prevents them from getting stuck.
How many of these personality traits do you have? Chances are that if God has called you to bivocational ministry you have some of all five of these traits. You may be stronger in some of them than in others, but it is likely at least part of all five of these make up your personality. If you identify some that cause you to struggle, they may be something you want to address. As you become stronger in each of these traits you will see positive improvement in your ministry and in your overall life.
If you struggle to improve in some of these areas a good ministry coach might be able to help you. If you think that is the case, it would be a good investment of your time and finances to work with a coach to help grow in those areas. If you do not know a ministry coach in your area, feel free to contact me.