Thursday, December 31, 2015

Don't give one person veto power in your church

Small churches are often referred to as family churches. They function more like a family than an organization especially in the way they make decisions and in how people relate to one another. This sense of family can be either a positive or negative for the church. It is a positive if it offers people a sense of community or a sense of feeling as if they are part of the family. However, it can also be a negative if outsiders find it difficult to become part of the family.

Being a family church can also have another negative aspect. Many families have at least one member who is always negative, cranky, stubborn, and determined to get his or her way in every situation. Family churches can also have such people, and, to make it worse, these churches allow these people to control what happens in the life of the church.

In my workshops I often talk about the tendency for smaller churches to give veto power to one person or family in the church. The majority of members may think something is a good idea, but they won't act on it because they know that "Joe" or "Josephine" won't like it. Or, if something is brought up for discussion and someone speaks strongly against it, the matter is dropped because no one wants to offend a family member.

Sometimes these naysayers are frightened and concerned that the church might attempt something and fail. If a small church has entered the survival phase in its life cycle such fears are understandable. My experience has been in such circumstances that being patient and taking time to explain the change being considered is sometimes enough to gain the support needed to move ahead.

In other circumstances, the people we give veto power to are controllers who are determined to run the church the way they see fit. I have discussed controllers in other posts such as here and here. We simply must not allow these people to continue to limit what God wants to do in and through our churches.

Healthy families do not want to intentionally hurt other family members, but healthy families also refuse to walk around on egg shells when they are with family members who are always negative or difficult to be with. Only unhealthy families allow selfish family members to always get their way. The same is true of churches.

I pray that your church shares a common vision for ministry in 2016, and that you will not allow one person, or even a handful, veto that vision.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Preaching needs two qualities

As someone whose ministry required him to visit in different churches nearly every week for 14 years I've had the opportunity to hear a lot of sermons from many preachers. The best messages I heard had two qualities. They contained both exposition and application.

There are some pastors today who believe that they have to water down the gospel if they want to reach new (often younger) people. Nothing could be further from the truth. Numerous studies have found that young people and unchurched people are not turned off by biblically sound messages. In fact, they want to hear such sermons. I would encourage you to read The New Faithful: Why Young Adults Are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy by Colleen Carroll and Surprising Insights from the Unchurched and Proven Ways to Reach Them by Thom Rainer for more on this.

But, sound exposition is not enough. There must also be application. As a pastor there were times I would finish preparing a sermon, read it, and then throw it away because it didn't answer the "So what?" question. There was nothing wrong theologically with the message, but it didn't compel anyone to do anything. As pastors we don't want to be content with sending people home from a worship service inspired to eat lunch. We want to challenge people to do something as a result of what they have just experienced and heard.

In one of my favorite books, Jim and Casper Go to Church: Frank Conversation about Faith, Churches, and Well-Meaning Christians, Jim Henderson, a Christian, pays atheist Matt Casper to attend 12 churches with him and then write a book about their experiences and observations in each of these churches. At the end of their experience Casper's primary question was "Jim, is this what Jesus told you guys to do?" It seemed to him after visiting some of the best-known churches in America that the only thing Jesus wanted his followers to do was to have church services.

Casper was looking for people to be challenged to action because of what they claimed they believed. He felt that asking people to "follow Jesus" wasn't enough. He was looking for concrete application. "Because we believe this to be true we should be doing...."

Exposition and application are both important if we want to preach messages that will change people's lives. Leave either one out and we shortchange our hearers. On the other hand, if we make sure to include both in every message we will grow our church spiritually and, often, numerically as well.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Ministry to those hurt by the church

A few years ago I was coaching a bivocational pastor out west. You can read about this coaching relationship in my book The Art and Practice of Bivocational Ministry: A Pastor's Guide. This is one of the case studies I share in this book from various pastors I have coached over the past years. In one of our sessions I asked, "If you could do anything in your ministry you wanted to do, what would that be?"

The pastor hesitated a moment and asked if I really wanted to know the answer to that question. When I replied I was interested she said that no one had ever asked her that question before. She then responded, "I would like to begin a ministry to people who have been hurt by the church." I chuckled a little and told her that if she was able to develop such a ministry her church would not remain small for long. We then spent the remainder of our time discussing what that might look like and how she might begin such a ministry.

Unfortunately, there have been many persons hurt by the church. It is true that the church often does shoot its wounded, or at the very least we send them off into exile. Maybe its not intentional, but some churches seem to send the message that they do not want imperfect people.

Back in the 1970s before I went into the ministry I accompanied our pastor on a visitation. A young girl who did not attend our church had come forward at the close of our Vacation Bible School that year. The pastor wanted to meet the child's mother and talk about the decision her daughter had made.

The mother was pleased at the decision and was willing for her daughter to be baptized, but she wasn't sure she wanted her to become a member of our church. She explained that a few years earlier her family had attended another church in our community and was quite active in that church. One day her husband announced he was leaving her for another woman. She said the following Sunday she felt like she walked into a freezer when she went to church. Former church friends ignored her like she had a disease. When this continued for several weeks, she decided she was done with church. She wanted her daughter to be a Christian, but she didn't want her to be hurt by a church as she had been. Sadly, similar stories are repeated every day in churches across the nation.

Our coaching relationship ended soon after we discussed the possibility of this pastor starting a ministry to people who had been hurt by the church, so I do not know if she was able to develop such a ministry. What steps could a pastor and church take to create such a ministry? I'm sure there are many, but these come to mind fairly quickly.

  • Cover such a ministry in prayer. Of course, this is good advice for any new ministry, but this ministry will deal with people who may still carry deep emotional scars and have serious trust issues with the church.
  • Be a safe place that offers grace and acceptance of people. We don't have to agree with every choice a person makes, but we can accept people as persons created in the image of God and people for whom Christ gave his life on the cross.
  • Pastors need to be more transparent. We need to admit to people when we've messed up and had to ask for God's forgiveness. We need to admit those times when our lives stink and we're struggling just to keep our heads above water. In the mid-1980s I was diagnosed with clinical depression, and it was amazing how many people began to admit to me that they were struggling with the same issue. It opened up many ministry opportunities that would have been missed if I had kept quiet about my situation.
  • We need to quit hiding behind our smiley face masks. Sunday after Sunday people sit in their pews with their masks covering up what's really happening on the inside. It sends a message to others that there must be something wrong with them if they have problems because "real Christians don't have these kinds of issues."
  • Realize that such a ministry will require a lot of time. People who have been hurt by the church will often have major trust issues with pastors and churches. We should not expect them to believe that the church is now a safe place. We will have to earn their trust before we can touch their hearts, and that will require a lot of patience and consistency in our words and behavior.
  • We will have to love people where they are. Sometimes it helps to remind ourselves that God was willing to meet us where we were, and for some of us that was not in a very good place. How can we do any less towards those people we want to minister to?
After reading this you may feel that God is leading your church to reach out to people who have been hurt by the church. That is not a target many churches have in their sights, so you won't have much competition. As I told the pastor I was coaching, if you are able to develop an effective ministry to that group you will have a large plenty of people to serve.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Is your work aligned with your vision?

This week between Christmas and New Year's is often a good time to reflect back on the past year and look ahead to your plans for the new one. Some people like to look back and note all the things they accomplished in the previous year. If they stayed busy and had some measure of success the year is considered successful. I think it's better to measure our activity by how well it enabled us to achieve our vision. It's easy to be very busy doing the wrong things, and much of what we do that is not in alignment with our vision will be wrong. That's why we can be very busy and yet see little, if any, change in our churches and other organizations.

There's not much we can do about the past except to learn from it and ensure we don't duplicate the same mistakes in the new year. As you look at your plans for the new year, how well are they aligned with your vision? Have you planned intentional activity that will bring you closer to achieving the vision God has for your ministry and/or church?

Of course, you can't answer that if you have not discerned God's vision for your church, and unfortunately that is the case for many churches. As I have worked with churches of all sizes, and especially smaller churches, I have found the vast majority of them have no sense of a clear vision for ministry. To make the problem worse, many of those churches that do have a vision have one that is so fuzzy or generic that it is really not helpful at all.

If your church is approaching a new year with no vision for ministry I strongly suggest investing the time and energy in discerning such a vision. Otherwise, your church will spend another year drifting along hoping that something good might somehow happen instead of being intentional about pursuing a God-given vision.

The mission of the church is simple and is the same for every church. It's found in the Great Commission and the Great Commandment. The vision will be different for every church because your vision will be how your church will accomplish that mission today in your community. Since every community is different with different needs, and since every congregation is made up of different people with different gifts and passions for ministry, the vision will be different.

To put this in another way, whether you are in the largest mega-church or you are leading a small group meeting in a storefront, the mission will be the same. However, you will have a different vision for how you will accomplish that mission.

One reason so many churches struggle is because they do not understand God's vision for their church. Content to drift along they eventually drift into problems, conflict, and confusion. Spend time in vision discernment. You may need to bring someone in from outside your church to help lead this such as a denominational leader, a consultant, or a good coach. I've worked with several churches in vision discernment, and many of them found it to be a positive for their churches.

When your work is in alignment with your vision you find that you become much more effective, your work becomes more enjoyable because you can measure what you are doing against a target,and it become easier to prioritize your time.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

You're never too old to grow

My education was a little different than most. I didn't start working on my undergrad degree until I was 39 years old. I was working full-time in a factory, pastoring a small church, and raising a family when I decided I wanted to pursue my education. Some thought I was nuts. I was often asked how long it would take before I graduated, and I would tell them I thought it would take seven years. The next question was my favorite: How old will you be when you graduate? I always answered, "In seven years I'll be 46 years old. Now, in seven years I'm going to be 46 whether I have a bachelor's degree or not. I've just chosen to be 46 with a degree."

In yesterday's post I wrote about the importance of setting goals and developing strategies that will help us achieve what we want in life and work. Without focused intentionality it becomes too easy to drift along thinking that things will somehow work out the way we want them. That seldom happens.

A dying church can turn around and become a vibrant, growing congregation again. A business close to bankruptcy can find new markets and become very successful. Marriages that have lost their spark can relight that flame. Relationships that have been damaged or ignored can be rebuilt. But, a turnaround in any of these areas requires being intentional in our efforts.

The same is true for our personal growth. I have met many people who feel stuck. They are trapped in jobs they don't like and in routines that are not satisfying. They may struggle with habits that they seem unable to break. Although they might want things to be different, they have convinced themselves that things will never change for them. We need to be very careful which internal voices we listen to because some of these voices will lie to us. Some examples of those lies:

  • I don't have the resources to make the changes in my life I want to make.
  • I don't have the time.
  • My situation is largely the result of things that have happened in the past, and I can't do anything now about that.
  • I've made too many mistakes in the past that control my life.
  • I'm too old to change or learn new things.
None of these are true. Many successful people started out with much less than you do. We all have 24 hours in a day. What we accomplish is determined by how we choose to spend those 24 hours. Some people do grow up in difficult situations, but we do not have to be defined by what happened in the past. Mistakes? We've all made them. Thank God for his forgiveness that is available to all who call upon him. Too old? As long as you've got breath you're not too old to learn new things.

A few years ago I was in a meeting. One of the people on our committee was a retired pastor and professor who was in his 90s. He told us he would not attend our evening session because he had a class that evening. He was taking an elementary course in Spanish. Here was a distinguished PhD over 90 years old taking an elementary course so he could learn a new language. I love people like that!

I'm not one of those who believe that you can achieve anything you want to in life. I can assure you that no matter how hard I might try I will never be either a brain surgeon or a concert pianist! But, each of us can grow in many areas of our lives and enjoy life more fully. All we have to do is to stop believing the lies that limit that growth and begin to take intentional steps towards growing in those areas that are important to us.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

What will you achieve in 2016?

We've all heard the adage, "If you fail to plan, you plan to fail." We know that's true, but many of us still fail to set goals or plan intentional activities that will lead to successful outcomes. We are content to drift along hoping that something good will happen to us. As important as hope is, by itself it will not enable us to achieve the things we might want to achieve.

Most churches tell me they want to grow, but many of these same churches have never developed strategies that might lead to growth. While working with a pastor search committee, I asked what they wanted in their next pastor. They gave the usual response I hear to that question: we want a pastor who will grow our church. I answered back, "So you want a pastor who will come in here and change everything you're doing. You do realize that if you could grow by doing what you've been doing, you would already be growing, don't you?" The committee chair looked at me a little startled at my reply and suggested that they might want to reconsider their response. The last thing that church wanted was change, and I knew that from working with them before.

More times than not, successful outcomes come from having a clear vision from God as to what he wants to do in and through your church, setting goals that will help you achieve that vision, and developing strategies that will enable you to reach your goals. As we take these steps we are becoming much more intentional about what we are doing. That intentionality causes us to be more focused in our efforts, and this focus leads to more successful outcomes.

This is true in business as well. Everything I wrote in the paragraph above is applicable to businesses and other organizations. It is also true for family life. It can become so easy for a family to settle in old routines that might be comfortable but which do not lead to deeper relationships. I've learned in my goal setting to set some goals for my marriage and our relationships with our children and grandchildren.

Finally, personal growth also comes from being intentional about becoming the person you want to be. What plans have you made for your own personal growth in 2016? What books will you read? What new relationships will you develop? Will you take up a new hobby? What habits will you break, or which new ones will you develop? What conferences will you attend? Will you take some courses in 2016 to gain new knowledge or skills? Personal growth is a choice that each of us must make, and it requires planning on our part and a commitment to intentional actions that will lead to growth.

So, what will you achieve in 2016?

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

A church worth leading

When I finish a book I go back through it and file the highlighted areas in a filing system I have on my computer. I have to confess I am a little behind on my filing. The other evening I was filing a very good book I read on leadership, The Conviction to Lead: 25 Principles for Leadership That Matters by Albert Mohler. One statement he made really jumped off the page at me. He wrote
   No organization that exists simply for itself is worth leading.
   Leaders want to lead organizations and movements that make
   a difference - that fill a need and solve real problems.

As I read those words I thought about the two ministries I have had, pastor at Hebron Baptist Church and resource minister with the American Baptist Churches of Indiana and Kentucky, and realized what I enjoyed most about them was that they were organizations that were making a difference. Both were committed to solving real problems. They were worth my investing my time and life in leading.

At times, both presented challenges, but they were challenges worth addressing because at the end of the day people's lives were going to be changed because of the work of these two ministries. I consider myself quite blessed because God gave me the opportunity to serve 34 years in two ministries that were (and are) making a difference in people's lives.

I cannot imagine serving in a ministry that isn't going anywhere or doing anything. A church worth leading has a vision that provides direction and inspires people to join in the fulfillment of that vision.

A church worth leading doesn't take itself seriously but takes its purpose very seriously. I remember a new member at Hebron once saying after a business meeting, "I didn't know people could laugh at a business meeting. That sure didn't happen in my former church." To be honest, we had a few that didn't contain much laughter, but these were very rare.

A church worth leading is willing to change. That doesn't mean that change comes easily, but at least there is a willingness to change. That willingness is not found in every church.

A church worth leading is inviting to new people. Some churches have erected huge walls that tend to keep people out. Churches worth leading remove those barriers so persons can come in.

A church worth leading is always pointing people to Jesus Christ. It is when we lift him up that he is able to draw others to him, and a church worth leading understands that one of their primary purposes to is invite people to a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Is your church worth leading? If now, what can you do to help make it such a church?

Monday, December 14, 2015

My top ten books for 2015 (Part 2)

Last Friday I shared the first five of my top ten books for 2015. I will finish my list today. It was not easy to limit my list to just ten books this year as I read several that I found very helpful. Some of them I commented on throughout the year so you can go back to previous posts and see some of those. Again, these are not in a particular order, but they will round out my top ten for this year.

On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision was written by Christian philosopher and apologist William Lane Craig. Craig has debated some of the leading atheists of our time and in this book shares some of his strongest arguments for the existence of God. He also addresses the problem of suffering which may be one of the most common complaints non-theists make about God. Craig can be challenging for some not trained in philosophy to read, but this book was written especially for those of us who want to better defend our beliefs.

Think Like a Freak: The Authors of Freakonomics Offer to Retrain Your Brain was written by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, the authors of Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything. I love these books because they challenge much of what we commonly accept as true, and they address issues most people (certainly economists) never discuss. In this book they explain why Nigerian e-mail scammers make such a point of saying they are from Nigeria as well as explain the amazing success of a Japanese hot-dog-eating champion. One of my favorite stories was of how a cure for ulcers was discovered and why the medical community refused to recognize this cure for so long. This is fun and informational reading.

Timothy Keller wrote The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism to respond to the most frequently voiced doubts and concerns non-believers bring to his church. As he does this, he provides Christians with the answers we need when we face the same challenges. Since reading this book I have become a big fan of Keller and have another of his books on my to-read shelf.

Kingdom Triangle: Recover the Christian Mind, Renovate the Soul, Restore the Spirit's Power is written by J. P. Moreland, a professor of philosophy at Talbot School of Theology. In this book Moreland seeks to replace scientific naturalism and postmodern worldviews with a Christian worldview. Even many Christians have been influenced by the first two worldviews which is one reason the church is as weak as it is. As he explains in the preface, "I want to foment a revolution of Evangelical life...My purpose is to mobilize, inspire, envision, and instruct an army of men and women for a revolution on behalf of the cause of Christ." I've also added a couple more of Moreland's books on my to-read shelf.

Wrapping up this year's top ten list is Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work by Chip and Dan Heath. Too many of the choices we make are based on information we have sought that would support the decisions we want to make while ignoring information that doesn't support our presuppositions. Short term emotions often overrule logic leading to poor choices. By sharing information gained through various studies and numerous stories the authors show how we can make far better decisions that will have a positive impact on our lives and our organizations.

I hope you will find this list helpful as you think about your reading for 2016. As I written before, leaders are readers. It's important to look at reading as an investment in our ministries so we need to read those books that will add the most value to our leadership. I found these books to be very informative and beneficial to me so I encourage you to at least look at them as possible helpful resources to your own ministry.

Friday, December 11, 2015

My top ten books for 2015

Every year I publish my favorite ten books from the ones I read that year. Many of these books are ministry related while others were written primarily for business leaders. I've always believed that many of the principles of leadership that come out of the business world are transferable to ministry leadership as well so I tend to read in that area quite often. In 2015 I also read more in the areas of theology and apologetics than usual so that will be reflected in this list as well. In no particular order, here are five of the books that made my top ten list for 2015. I'll share the remaining five in Monday's post.

Activating Leadership in the Small Church: Clergy and Laity Working Together (Small Church in Action) by Steve Burt is a very helpful book for pastors and lay leaders in smaller churches. Burt addresses how to recruit, train, and reward the volunteers that are so necessary to smaller churches.

The Pastor Theologian: Resurrecting an Ancient Vision by Gerald Hiestand and Todd Wilson reconnects theology and pastoral ministry. At a time when so many believers are uninformed about sound theology, this book reminds us that the pastor is the primary source of theology for most Christians. Historically, the pastor was the resident theologian, not the CEO, of the church. This is an excellent read.

Take the Stairs: 7 Steps to Achieving True Success is written by Rory Vaden. True success is any endeavor requires discipline. As Vaden explains, we live in an escalator world that seeks shortcuts and quick fixes. These seldom lead to long-term success. One of my favorite quotes in the book is "Success is the aggregate sum total of small, seemingly insignificant choices that when compounded over time create the trajectory of our lives." Discipline and integrity will inform those small choices.

John Kotter, the guru of change, has written a great book titled
The Heart of Change: Real-Life Stories of How People Change Their Organizations. Focusing on the eight steps in the change process, he describes true stories of how people actually led change in their organizations through these steps. One of my favorite stories was the "Gloves on the Boardroom Table." This book will help you if you need to bring change to your church.

The latest from John Maxwell is Intentional Living: Choosing a Life That Matters. Anyone in ministry or in a leadership position wants to live a life that matters. We want to know that we have made a significant impact on people and our organizations. Such a life does not usually occur by accident. Maxwell teaches us the intentional decisions we need to make in order to live such a life.

Watch for my post next Monday for the remaining five books.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Church consulting and workshops

As many of my readers know, I will retire at the end of this month from my position as a Resource Minister with the American Baptist Churches of Indiana and Kentucky. It has been my privilege to work in this capacity since 2001, but I've decided it's time to retire. However, that doesn't mean I'm going to sit around the house eating bon-bons and watching soap operas all day.

I currently have four speaking engagements lined up for 2016. In February I will be in southern California leading a two-day conference. In March I'm doing a keynote speech at a bivocational conference in Indiana, and in July and August I will be speaking at two events in Kentucky.

These speaking opportunities are something I enjoy doing, but in the past I've had to limit the number I could do due to my regular ministry. I am very excited to have these four already lined up, and I am hopeful other opportunities will develop. Each of the conferences I do are available in a full-day or half-day format and also as a one-hour workshop or keynote. Obviously, the full-day format provides the most information and is the one most often requested. The titles of these conferences I currently offer are:

  • The Healthy Small Church (This is the most requested.)
  • Transforming the Small Church from Maintenance-Minded to Missional
  • Easing the Pressures of Ministry
  • Bivocational Ministry for the 21st Century
I have also developed specific training that addressed various needs for different denominational groups. Each of these special presentations were focused on smaller churches and/or their leaders.

If this is something your denomination or judicatory would like to consider offering your small church leaders, please feel free to contact me. Pastors and lay leaders who might be reading this, pass this information on to your denominational leadership and ask them to consider providing this training to your churches and pastors.

Also, I am now available to coach individual pastors or churches. One church has recently talked to me about leading them through a visioning process. Their church has struggled in recent years, and when I asked, the leadership admitted the church had no unifying vision. They became interested as I described the process I use to help a church through a vision discernment process.

This is a process I've used with other churches that was very helpful to them. Recently, a church invited me to lead them through the process as they were preparing to call a new minister. As I explained to them, how do they know what they need in a new pastor if they don't know where God is wanting to lead them in the next few years? Other churches have found this process helpful as they were struggling with conflict. (Conflict is nothing more than two or more visions competing for the same space.) A church without a common, unifying vision is likely to experience conflict as competing visions begin to bump into one another.

If you would like to know more about this process to see if this is something that would benefit your church, contact me. I'll be glad to explain the process to you and help you determine if this could be a positive next step for your church.

I'm looking forward to retirement, but I'm also looking forward to working with churches in new ways to help them live into the vision God has for them. I want to continue to encourage and resource small and bivocational churches and those who lead them. God has given me 35+ years of experience working with churches, and it's my prayer that I will have opportunities to share some of what I've learned with others.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Bivocational ministers and delegation

Editorial honesty requires that I admit that even though this post is about delegation, I am not naturally good at delegating. I am of the school that believes that it's easier to go ahead and do what needs to be done than it is to explain to someone else how to do it. At least, if I do it I know it will be done right. Right?

Not necessarily. The last time I changed the spark plugs in a car was in the late 1960s. After spending several hours changing eight plugs I found out the car wouldn't start. It had to be towed into a local garage. It didn't take the mechanics long to correct the problem, but I still remember the way they looked at me with pity as I drove away.

There are other things I am not good at doing. If I try to do them, it will take me three times longer, there's a good chance it will not be done properly, and I will have enormous opportunity costs in what I was attempting. The more time I spend doing things I'm not good at doing, the less time I have available to do the things I'm gifted at doing.

But, there's an even greater problem when we refuse to delegate. I had been at my church a few years when I shared with our Area Minister how tired and burned out I was feeling. His immediate response was that I was doing too much. He told me I was trying to carry the church on my back. Even worse, he said that I was depriving the church of being the church. People were not being challenged to be involved in ministry because I was doing everything myself.

That really stung because I knew it was true. As a bivocational pastor I was trying to be SuperPastor. It was taking a toll on me and hurting the church at the same time. I had to change my approach to ministry or I would shortchange our members and hurt the overall ministry of the church.

I shared the conversation I had with our Area Minister with our congregation, and I began to intentionally ask people to do certain tasks that I had been doing. Nearly everyone agreed and, in fact, seemed pleased to have been asked. We began to train people for certain tasks so they would feel more confident. Within a relatively short period of time we had much greater involvement from our church members which multiplied our church's ministry.

Pastors make a mistake if they try to do ministry by themselves. This is even more true if the pastor is bivocational. Due to the time limitations bivocational ministers have, if they attempt to do ministry alone they will suffer the consequences as will the congregation and the overall ministry of the church.

Learn to delegate. Trust the people to do ministry. Perhaps they won't do it exactly like you would, but who says your way is the best anyway? You'll find many people will step up if you just ask, and when they do they will grow and so will your church.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Denominations must do a better job of supporting their bivocational ministers

Last Friday I wrote about the need for denominations to do a better job of identifying persons who might be called to bivocational ministry and training these individuals for such ministry. Today, I want to focus on the additional need to support and resource these ministers and the churches they serve.

Several years ago I contacted a leader of our denomination and challenged him to identify ways our denomination could intentionally support bivocational ministry. A few days later I received a response from him saying that it would be brought up in an upcoming meeting, and he would get back with me. I never heard from him again. And nothing has been done at the national level.

I frequently hear from bivocational pastors who tell me they feel they are ignored by the denomination, and they are largely right. There is a big disconnect between our denomination and many of our churches, and many of them question why they bother remaining members of the denomination. With such attitudes so prevalent our denominational leaders should not be so surprised at the declining financial support they receive from their churches. They have essentially written off one-third of our churches.

At the regional level it's a different story. Many of our regions are very supportive of their bivocational pastors and churches and do work very hard to resource them. The region in which I've served for the past 15 years has been very intentional about honoring our smaller churches and those who lead them. We have developed resources and offered workshops specifically for these smaller churches. Bivocational ministers have been invited to speak at our biennial events. I know of many other regions that have been just as intentional as our region has been in supporting their smaller churches and bivocational ministers. May their tribes increase!

I singled out my denomination because it is the one with which I am most familiar. However, the same thing exists in many, if not most, denominations. How many have an individual or department specifically charged with supporting and resourcing their small churches or bivocational ministers? How much of their budget is focused on these churches? How often are their bivocational ministers invited to the big stage at their large gatherings or even asked to lead a workshop?

Some do a much better job than others, and I've been privileged to work with them. I find in these denominations a much greater connection between the denomination and their smaller churches. I also find the energy level is higher among their bivocational ministers. A few years ago I led a workshop at a national gathering for one denomination, and I was surprised at the high energy and excitement I experienced among those pastors. I was also surprised at how young many of these pastors were.

What should denominations do who have not provided a lot of support to their bivocational ministers and church in the past? Here are some quick suggestions to consider.

  • Assign a national staff person to specifically focus on the needs of these churches and pastors. Obviously, this person will need staff and a budget. This should be someone with actual experience in bivocational ministry.
  • Include the stories of these churches in your mailings and marketing material. Everyone appreciates being recognized for the good work they are doing.
  • Develop a caucus of bivocational ministers in your denomination. This caucus can help the denomination identify their specific needs.
  • Invite bivocational ministers to speak at your national gatherings. Put them on the "big" stage as well as leading workshops.
  • Honor these men and women who serve your churches so faithfully in addition to holding down other jobs. These individuals deserve to be honored and not ignored for what they do.
  • As mentioned in last Friday's post, develop training programs to help these leaders succeed. Such training in an investment in your smaller churches and must be seen as critically important to the future of your denomination.
  • Be patient. If your denomination is one that has largely ignored your bivocational leaders in the past don't expect them to come running to the first few events you offer them. It may take time for them to believe that you are serious about wanting to support them.
No doubt, there are many other things that could be done, but start here. As you begin, other things you can do will quickly become obvious. The important thing is to begin intentionally supporting these churches and their leaders. (Church may need to send this post to your denominational leaders!)

Friday, December 4, 2015

Denominations must get serious about identifying and training bivocational ministers

Bivocational ministry has made great strides in recent years. While there are exceptions, there is much greater acceptance of bivocational ministry and a greater appreciation of what these ministers are capable of doing. There have been several doctoral theses written on bivocational ministry since I wrote mine, and all of them I have seen have been very positive towards this ministry. Still, there is much more that needs to be done.

Seven years ago my sabbatical project included talking with the leaders of several denominations to learn the status of bivocational ministry in their denominations. To a person, they all admitted that bivocational ministry is growing within their denomination, and they expected that growth to continue if not increase.

On the negative side, none of them were able to tell me how they identified persons who might be a called to ministry. Also, with the exception of one denomination, they all admitted they had no unified plan to train persons who might have been called to bivocational ministry.

This seems problematic to me. If we believe that the need for bivocational ministers in our denominations will increase over the next several years then it would seem logical to seek ways to identify those persons who have been called to such ministry and ways to train those persons for the work God has given them.

Most ministers I know can remember a time when someone talked to them about the ministry. Sometimes this conversation was one-on-one as one person identifies qualities and gifts another person might have that are needed in ministry. A former pastor asked me one day if I had ever felt that God was calling me to the ministry. The answer was yes although I had never told anyone until he asked.

There was a time when an altar call often included asking people to respond if they felt called to the ministry. Many people initially responded to God's call on their lives by responding to that altar call. I seldom hear that invitation included in today's altar calls.

I see few times when persons are intentionally challenged to consider the possibility that God is calling them into bivocational ministry. We can't call anyone to become a minister. That is a call that must come from God. However, we can tell people the gifts and abilities we see in them, and we can invite them to pray about the possibility that they may have such a call on their lives.

Then, we come to the challenge of training these individuals. Many of these persons will not be interested in or able to attend seminary. Denominations, perhaps in cooperation with their seminaries, must find ways to provide quality training for these ministers. Currently, much of the training I've found has been offered by individual districts and regions, and the quality of this training varies widely.

Would it not be better if denominations could identify the core knowledge base and skills they want in their bivocational ministers and then develop a program where those things could be taught? As mentioned above, this could perhaps be done with the help of their seminaries and Bible colleges. Once such a program was developed it could then be given to their state conventions or districts who would be encouraged to offer it to their bivocational ministers and those who are considering such ministry.

This will cost time and money to develop, and I realize that many denominations are struggling right now with finances, but this must be seen as an investment in their churches. As many as one-third to one-half of the churches in many denominations are now bivocational. In some denominations the figures are much higher. Can denominations continue to ignore the needs of these churches any longer?

We simply must do a better job of identifying and training persons who will be serving in bivocational ministries.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Advantages of bivocational ministry

Most articles I read about bivocational ministry focuses on the challenges often found in this ministry. Having served as a bivocational pastor for twenty years and worked with many bivocational churches for an additional 15 years I am well aware of the many challenges. However, I have also learned that bivocational ministry provides many advantages to the church and to the minister.

  • Longer pastorates are often possible. Studies find that longer pastorates often result in more productive ministries. In my research I have found that bivocational ministers tend to remain at their churches longer than fully-funded pastors.
  • Smaller churches can receive quality ministry. For decades in the area in which I live most of the smaller churches depended on seminary students to serve as their pastors. While these young people were eager, they seldom stayed more than two or three years. These churches lost out on having mature pastors who could provide the kind of ministry and leadership they needed.
  • Bivocational ministers have relationships with unchurched people. As a bivocational pastor working in a factory I was in the midst of our mission field every day. It gave me an opportunity to minister to them that other pastors might not have, and this allowed our church to have an impact on their lives.
  • Lay people are more involved in ministry. They have to be if bivocational ministry is going to work in their church because their pastor is not always going to be available. The more people who are involved in ministry the more effective the church's efforts are going to be.
  • More money is available for ministry. Smaller churches that try to keep a fully-funded pastor often pay a large percentage of their income just for the salary and benefit package of their minister. This leaves little money for ministry, and this reduces the church's impact on their communities.
There are also some advantages for the minister who is bivocational.

  • The minister can enjoy greater financial security. I've known fully-funded pastors who allowed themselves to be intimidated by their congregations out of the fear of losing their income. They had families to support and other financial obligations. I always knew that if the church decided to terminate me I would be going back to my other job the next morning, and on Friday I would receive a paycheck.
  • There is greater freedom in ministry. This is closely connected to the above advantage. I could say things and take positions that some of my fully-funded colleagues couldn't. I could take more risks and try things that I believed would benefit our church.
  • Being bivocational helps keep the pastor fresh because he or she is doing different things. A bad day at church could be offset by a good day at my other work and vice-versa. I was also always learning new things by having two careers which help keep my mind active and inquisitive.  
  • Families can benefit from longer pastorates. I've always felt sorry for the families of ministers who move every 3-4 years. There is no time to put down roots. It's hard to build relationships with others when you know you'll be moving soon. 
  • The minister can enjoy a great relationship with the church. While I was always open to God's leading, I never spent time looking to see what churches might be seeking pastors. We served a church in the county where my wife and I were raised. We had roots here. We had no interest in moving which meant that I could concentrate on serving my congregation and building relationships with those folks.
For me, the advantages of being bivocational always outweighed the challenges that comes with such ministry. I can truly say that knowing what I know today I would still choose to be bivocational.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Today is auction day

This evening I'll have my last auction of 2015. Since starting this business a couple of years ago I've learned a lot about auctions that was never taught in auction school. For instance, most people have no idea how much work goes into setting up an auction. They show up for the auction and evidently just assume that everything somehow mysteriously appeared on tables and chairs had aligned themselves up in neat rows.

Believe me, there is a lot of work in setting up an auction. You begin by finding items to sell, either by selling an estate for someone or having several consignors bring items to you to sell for them. These have to be listed and contracts signed. I take pictures of many of the items I'll be selling and post them on on a listing I create for the auction. (My auctionzip ID number is 36965 if you want to see what I'm selling in this auction.) Since I don't have an auction house I have to store these items in my garage or in a storage unit I rent. The day before the auction a helper and I set up the building I rent for the auction. We put out the tables and chairs and begin hauling everything that will sold to the building. Once we get everything inside it's time to start setting everything out on tables or around the walls. Everything has to be numbered with the consignors number so we'll know whose items we're selling. Set up usually takes most of the day and about half the day of the actual sale.

Then it's back home to clean up, eat a meal, and go back to open the building ninety minutes before the sale so people can check out the merchandise. At 5:30 we'll begin the sale and usually sell three to four hours until everything is sold. Then we tear everything back down and put it away, load up our items in the van, and take them back to the storage unit. Early the next morning I begin adding up the sales so I know how much is due each consignor and deposit the money in the bank. A few days later I make out the checks and mail them to the consignors, and then it's time to prepare for the next sale.

People just see what happens during that 3-4 hour window when the auction is occurring. They don't see all the behind-the-scenes work that is required. It sounds a little like ministry doesn't it?

We are often evaluated by what is seen during a couple of hours on Sunday morning, but few people know what occurred during the remaining 166 hours of our week. They never saw us in our studies preparing messages for the worship service. They couldn't know about the hours we might have spent visiting persons in the hospital or the amount of time we spent in pastoral care or counseling. Unless they were involved in the committee meeting we led they have no idea of the amount of time those meetings require much less the amount of time we spent preparing for those meetings.

There is a lot of unseen work that goes into ministry. It's not only unseen, it's also unappreciated by many people. Yet, we know it is vital if we are committed to serving people. Much of what we do behind the scenes cannot be shared in public so we keep quiet about it and remind ourselves how important that work is to the people we are serving.

Auctions involve a lot of work, but I also see it as a ministry. Some of the people I represent are elderly people who need to downsize. Their children are not interested in their items, and they don't want their estate to be a burden to others so they begin to slowly let go of things. Others need the money they will get from the sale of their items. Some of the people I've sold for have inherited estates and have no idea what to do with them. They turn to auctioneers to help them dispose of those estates. Often, when people find out I'm a minister they begin to share with me some of their pain and/or problems. More than once I've been able to pray for someone who has called me to sell some items for them, and I've been able to point them to good churches in their communities.

Yes, auctions are a lot of work, but they also give me a chance to provide a unique ministry to people. A lot of it reminds me of when I was a pastor, only now I talk a little faster!