Monday, February 29, 2016

Your church does not have money problems

In early 1981 I sent a resume to Hebron Baptist Church, a church in our area that was seeking a pastor. Before I was contacted by the church a person called and introduced himself as the Area Minister for our region. The church had asked him to interview me before the pulpit committee did. The interview went well, and he recommended the church interview me. A few months later I was the pastor of that church where I served for the next 20 years.

During the interview he explained that the church had numerous problems one of which was financial. However, he quickly pointed out that people in the church had money. They just weren't giving much of it to the church.

I soon discovered the reason why. There just wasn't much happening at the church. There was no real reason to give money because there wasn't much to spend it on. Besides, there was a question if the church would even remain open much longer. There's no reason to give money to something that's about to close.

Like many small churches, they had money problems because the church lacked any sense of vision for ministry and many of the people had not been taught how to be stewards of their possessions. Financial problems are never the real issue in a small church; they are merely the symptoms of larger problems. Often, these larger problems are the lack of a vision and the lack of sound stewardship training.

There's not space here to talk about specifics, but within a couple of years we began some projects that required special giving on the part of our people. We began small, but each time we succeeded in raising the money needed for the project. At the same time, we saw an increase in our regular giving. Sometimes we even amazed ourselves with the money that came in.

The projects got bigger and bigger, and we were always able to fully fund them. Our regular giving continued to climb as well plus we soon raised our mission support to the denomination from the ten percent we had been giving to 15 percent. Since our mission giving was tied in percentage-wise to our regular giving, our mission giving continued to climb as well.

About a year before I resigned as their pastor we began building a new fellowship hall for the church. I challenged the church to fund the building themselves and not borrow the money. I believed if God was truly behind our vision for this new addition to the church that He would provide the money. Several months later the building was complete and was debt-free. That small congregation raised an enormous sum of money for its size in two years and built a debt-free fellowship hall. To make it even sweeter, that year it also gave more money to missions than ever before.

Small churches are often quick to point out their limited resources, but the reality is that most of them have far more than they realize. However, to tap into those resources requires vision and solid stewardship training. It's OK to begin with small challenges. As you see them achieved you will be setting the foundation for bigger ones later, and you will be amazed to see what God will do!

Friday, February 26, 2016

Healthy churches need to change

Most of us are familiar with the saying that "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Unfortunately, that is not always good advice today. A better statement might be "If it isn't broke, break it. It's going to be obsolete soon anyway." Things continue to change so rapidly these days that many of the things you are doing today that make you successful will actually harm you in the future.

Many healthy organizations struggle with such change. Many of them took years (maybe decades) to enjoy the health they now have. It's frightening for a healthy organization to think of changing what seems to be working so well. This is especially true for healthy churches. Churches don't enjoy change very much anyway, so why begin changing things in a healthy church that is currently enjoying good ministry?

It's an honest question. For years I've known that healthy churches need to experience regular change, but I've always struggled to give an adequate answer to those who asked why. I was greatly helped this week as I read Less Is More Leadership: 8 Secrets to How to Lead & Still Have a Life by H. Dale Burke. He explains that healthy churches need to change because

  • our world is constantly changing.
  • our mission is yet to be accomplished.
  • our people are constantly changing.
  • every new generation is a new challenge.
  • change is easier when you are healthy, not unhealthy.
  • Scripture gives us our functions, but not our forms.
  • flexibility should be the norm if we value people over programs.
  • creativity should also flow from the children of the Creator.
  • the church is a body, a living organism, and a body must change to grow.
  • every church or ministry has a natural life cycle and will eventually die unless it is "reborn" from within.
Each of these are valid points. The one that resonated most with me was the last one about the life cycle of churches. This is an illustration that I often use in various presentation. A church will go through a normal life cycle of birth-growth-maturity-decline-death. Although it cannot reverse that cycle, it can begin new life cycles and see it's ministry "reborn" from within. New life cycles can begin at any time, but if a church waits until it is well down the decline side of the cycle it become much more difficult. By this time a church is often so concerned about its survival that it is reluctant to do anything that might threaten that survival. Change will be strongly resisted in most churches well down the decline side.

The growth phase is the best place to begin new life cycles because the church is the healthiest at this place. It feels less threatening to take risks and attempt new ministries. The leaders of healthy churches should be regularly identifying new ministry opportunities that will bring new life cycles for the church. Not only does this bring new life into the church, it takes ministry to new people and continues to advance the Kingdom of God.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Successful conference

Last night I returned from leading a conference for Transformation Ministries in Orange County, CA. Held in Dana Point, the weather was perfect and the conference was excellent. This was the Mustard Seed Conference that TM holds each year for smaller churches within their network. About 60 people attended including staff from TM and pastors and spouses.

This was a dynamic group of church leaders who are adamant that when healthy leaders lead healthy churches they will enjoy a much more effective ministry in their communities. The energy was high throughout the two-day event.

One of the things I enjoyed about this conference was that TM did not pack sessions and meetings into every moment. The first day of the conference didn't begin until after lunch. They scheduled a harbor tour for anyone interested that morning. Of course, I jumped at it. During the 1 1/2 hour tour we managed to see a whale, a pod of porpoises, and several sea lions. For an old farm boy from Indiana that is not something I get to see everyday! And to enjoy 80 degree weather in February was just icing on the cake!

The seminar they asked me to lead was "The Healthy Small Church." This is the most requested seminar I lead, and it fit in perfectly with what they wanted to do in this conference. Many of the pastors told me throughout the conference that the topics I was addressing was exactly what they were experiencing in their churches. Some pastors were bivocational and they appreciated the encouragement and affirmation I give to bivocational ministers. One admitted to me that he sometimes struggled with negative feelings about being bivocational, and he was especially grateful for the positive comments I made regarding bivocational ministry.

I have several of these events scheduled throughout 2016 for various denominations and organizations. My next speaking event will be to deliver a keynote address at an upcoming conference on bivocational ministry at Earlham College in Indiana. If your church, association, judicatory, or denominational group would be interested in having one of my seminars I would be more than glad to discuss the possibility with you. I still have several open dates on my calendar for this year.

I have several seminars I have done for various church groups in addition to the one I did for TM. They would include

  • Transforming the Small Church From Maintenance-Minded to Missional
  • Bivocational Ministry in the 21st Century
  • Time Management for Church Leaders
  • Church Hospitality: How to Turn First-Time Guests Into Members of Your Church
I've also developed specific seminars to meet the special needs of some of the organizations that have invited me to speak. I may be able to address some issue that is important to your church leaders. Just give me a call, and we can discuss how we might partner together.

I want to thank Transformation Ministries for their hospitality and their invitation to spend some time with their church leaders. I had an awesome time!

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Get the best sound system you can

When I began my pastoral ministry in 1981 the little church had a terrible sound system. There were about half-dozen microphones sitting on a ledge behind the pulpit area. Only one worked, sometimes. Of course, this was before cordless mics were easily available so I always felt I had a rat's tail following me around that I had to handle. To make matters worse, occasionally a trucker's CB radio would come blasting out of our sound system even though the church was a good mile off the highway. There's few things worse than asking the question, "What would you say to God today?" than to have a trucker shout out "Hey, good buddy." Actually, there could be many worse things, but fortunately they didn't happen.

We eventually purchased some new microphones, but that only solved part of our problems. Things improved greatly when we decided to have a professional sound company install new equipment in the church. They ran new wires (we found out the wires someone in the church had ran were wrong) and pointed out the system that was best for our facility. Surprisingly, it wasn't really that expensive. In fact, it was probably less costly than if we had continued to try to fix it piece by piece ourselves.

My voice carries well in a small church auditorium, and I seldom need a sound system to be heard by most people. However, having a quality sound system lets me not have to worry about being heard and ensure that everyone can easily hear me. Over the years I've had many senior saints express their thanks that they could hear and understand everything I said and their frustration that wasn't always the case with other speakers. If a person can't hear what's going on eventually they will just stop coming to church.

Smaller churches often want to do it yourself when it comes to their sound systems. That's probably a mistake unless you have someone trained in how to put together the right system for your situation. You run the risk of getting the wrong equipment, setting it up incorrectly, and having the expense of having to do it over again. At the very least, get an estimate of what the right system would cost. That won't cost anything, and you might find it much less expensive than you thought.

The other aspect of a quality sound system is having people who know how to operate it. I've been amazed at churches with very good systems that have no one who really knows how to run it properly. Or, they have one person who does know but no one to fill in when he or she isn't there. I know I'm in trouble when I go to a new church, ask for the speaker's mic, and no one is sure where it is. I'm in worse trouble when the person who gives me the mic tells me the regular sound guy isn't there, and he's going to do the best he can.

If you're going to invest in a good sound system, invest in training several people in how to properly use it. Any system is only as good as the ones who operate it.

Along with this, the church's sound system is not a toy to be used by anyone who wants to use it. I advise keeping the system unavailable to those who have not been trained in how to use it. You don't want people coming in during the week playing music on the church's sound system, or changing the settings on the mics and volume. I've seen sound people spend 10-15 minutes trying to get everything back where it needs to be to function properly. Lock it up if you have to protect the church's investment.

Good sound systems are not cheap, but they don't have to be so expensive your church can't have one. Get the best system you can afford, train people how to properly use it, and it will be add much to your church's worship experience.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Don't give up the ship

Thousands of people have given me advice over the years. Some of it was very good, and some of it was rather poor. But, there are two pieces of advice I've remembered that have served me well.

In 1967 I enlisted in the US Navy and was sent to Great Lakes for Boot Camp. The first week there was mostly filling out forms, taking tests, and becoming prepared for the real training that would begin the next week. Another boot about half-way through his training was in charge of us that first week. I hated him. He was constantly yelling and asking us to do things I thought was stupid. It was a miserable week.

On the last night before we would cross the highway to where we would meet our Company Commander and begin training in earnest he called us all to the front of the barracks. He admitted he had been hard on us and assured us that we hadn't seen anything yet! He asked if we had questions about what our training would entail and tried to answer everyone's questions as best he could. He almost seemed human! His last comment to us was, "Just remember, the Navy will never ask you to do anything that is impossible to do. It may be difficult, but it will be doable." I reminded myself of that throughout my tour and beyond.

About ten years later I was being ordained as a deacon in our church. The final part of the service was the "Laying on of Hands." As I knelt in the front of the church all the ordained people in attendance formed a line and one-by-one came by to offer words of encouragement and/or a prayer. I have no idea what anyone said to me except for the last person in line. One of our deacons was from Scotland and as he leaned in to whisper in my ear all he said in his rich accent was "Don't give up the ship."

Ministry is often difficult and frustrating. I cannot tell you how many times in my 34 years of ministry I have thought back to that first week of boot camp and reminded myself that God also will not ask us to do the impossible. Difficult, yes. Challenging, yes. Impossible, no. "With God all things are possible."

There have also been many times when I've been tempted to leave it all and just walk away from the ministry. But, how can anyone walk away from God's call on their lives? This is who I am. This is what God has gifted me to do. I can't give up the ship.

It's funny that two people whose names I long ago forgot has had such an impact on my life through just one sentence each. In His wisdom God branded those words onto my spirit to encourage and strengthen me for the task He would give me.

Perhaps they will encourage and strengthen you today.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Ministry success is more than nickels and noses

The message all around us is that bigger is better. When I owned a heating and air conditioning business I received at least one invitation each week to a seminar to teach me how to grow our business. As a pastor I got invitations to events that would tell me how to grow our church. There is certainly nothing wrong with growth, but ministry success cannot be measured by counting nickels and noses.

In my book The Bivocational Pastor: Two Jobs, One Ministry, I point out that such a definition of success will discourage most bivocational pastors. For many of us, significant growth in numbers may not happen for reasons beyond our control. Unfortunately, I have met too many bivocational ministers who have accepted some common myths about successful ministries. The ones I list in the book are from Ron Klassen and John Kessler's excellent book
No Little Places: The Untapped Potential of the Small-Town Church.
  1. To be successful, my ministry must be big.
  2. To be significant, my ministry must be in a big place.
  3. One measure of the significance of my ministry is how much recognition I receive for it.
  4. Career advancements are signs of a significant ministry.
Not only do such beliefs discourage a small church pastor, they are not biblical. I won't take the time to quote the better definitions of success I share in the book, but basically they have to do with understanding God's plan for our lives and seeking to fulfill that plan.
When Joshua was commissioned to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land God told him that if he would observe the laws of God he would have success. His success, and ours, has to do with our relationship with God. 

Man always wants to judge based on outward appearances so seeing regular increases in the number of people in our services and in our budgets would appear to be a measure of success. Again, I am not discounting healthy growth. But, God judges the heart. He is looking for people who are committed to knowing and doing His will for their lives. 

2 Chronicles 16:9 tells us "The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him." There can be no greater measure of success than to enjoy God's favor on one's life and ministry.

There is a risk here that must be addressed. After reading this some people might become passive in ministry. Every person who enters the ministry should want his or her ministry to make a difference in the lives of others. We want to touch people's lives in significant ways. There is nothing wrong with developing a vision of what success in your ministry can look like and then develop a strategy for how you can achieve that. Just be sure your vision is appropriate for your church and your gifts. More importantly, be sure your vision is aligned with God's vision for your ministry. It is when those two visions are in alignment that you will experience maximum success.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Celebrate what's right with the church

It is so easy to be negative towards the church. Both those inside and outside the church can find many things wrong with the church. No doubt, it is not a perfect institution, but we sometimes forget that there is much good that we can say about the church. There are many things the church is doing right to celebrate.

A few years ago Elmer Towns wrote a book called What's Right with the Church: A Manifesto of Hope. I don't know, but I imagine it did not sell as well as many of his books. For some reason, people don't seem to enjoy the good and positive as much as they do the negative. I found the book to be a positive reminder that churches are doing many things right.

Every Sunday across our nation, and world, churches are faithfully proclaiming the Word of God. Yes, I know some churches have strayed from the Gospel, but we are focusing on the positive today. Pastors stand behind pulpits every Sunday preaching the Gospel, inviting unsaved people to a relationship with Christ, and challenging people to align their lives with the Scriptures. As a result of their faithful preaching people are finding new life in Christ. Marriages are being restored. Addicts are finding healing. People are growing as disciples of Jesus Christ. People who have lost hope are finding renewed hope in Christ.

A few years ago I joined with a group of Christians from various churches to spend a day in eastern Kentucky helping to winterize houses. Each of these churches were from the same association and each of them were small, bivocational churches. Alone, they were rather limited in what they could do, but when a few people from each church came together they could accomplish a lot. Five truck load of workers went down to this community, bought the materials, and helped prepare several homes for the winter. These churches have returned to that area many times since to minister to the people there. They do so not expecting anything in return. It's not like they think these people will start attending their church (they live four hours away) or that they can pay for what these churches doing. They do so because some of the folks had a burden to minister to this community. Such unselfish service happens in thousands of churches every week.

Churches are working together on justice issues. Whether it was the civil rights issues of the 1960s to poverty and other issues today, churches often lead the way to addressing injustice. When one thinks of prison reform one can't help but think of Chuck Colson, a person who became a Christian after going to prison for his role in Watergate. Upon his release he dedicated his life to prison reform and rallied many churches to work with him in that effort. Who is feeding the hungry in America today? It is often the churches and other faith-based groups. Christian organizations started many of the hospitals to serve the poor and sick. Churches and Christian organizations founded many universities, colleges, orphanages, and homes for unwed mothers to give people opportunities they may not have had otherwise.

In recent years the education system in America has experienced problems. Test scores continue to go down in some school systems, and numerous schools are racked with violence, drugs, and a system that is broken. This is not to say that there are not other school systems doing an excellent job with excellent teachers and administrators. Numerous churches are stepping in to provide a quality education to children who might not otherwise receive it. Their teachers are often way underpaid compared to the public schools, but they view their work as a ministry and are willing to accept less pay for the opportunity to serve. I understand that some are critical of these church-based schools and feel they take money from the public schools, but instead of getting into a fight over who deserves what money let's celebrate the fact that many of the children in these church-run schools are getting a quality education in a safe environment.

There's not space to list all the positive things occurring in churches today, but these should be enough to remind ourselves that there are many good things happening in the church today. Let's celebrate what is right with the church.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Grow the leaders in your church

One of the key responsibilities of a leader is to grow other leaders. This is no less true for pastors. In fact, for pastors of smaller churches it is essential that we grow the leaders in our churches.

Many smaller churches struggle to find pastors today. More than once while working with the pastor search committee of a smaller church I've asked them if there was anyone in their congregation who might be able to serve as pastor. I'm convinced that is where more and more small church pastors are going to be found in the future.

Most smaller churches are going to be calling bivocational ministers for the foreseeable future. Bivocational ministry is very geographical. It's unlikely someone from New Jersey is going to relocate to Iowa to serve as a bivocational pastor. These pastors are going to be found within about a 50 mile radius of the church, and often much closer.

A rural church seeking a pastor was having problems finding their next pastor. A deacon in the church called asking to meet with me. In that meeting he shared that he felt that God was leading him to serve as the pastor of the church, but he wasn't sure he would be capable of doing that. I responded that he was actually the perfect candidate. He was spiritually mature. He had lived in that community his entire life and was well respected by both the church and community. He would begin his ministry with a trust level that a new person might take years to earn. I offered to submit his name, the church called him as their pastor, and he continues to provide excellent ministry in the church. After beginning as pastor he enrolled in our region's Church Leadership Institute to gain more knowledge and increase his ministry skills.

A few years ago I visited one of the smaller churches in our region and learned that the pastor had left a few months earlier. No one thought to tell me! This was a very small church, and two of the laymen were taking turns preaching on Sunday. One of them was taking his last class in our Church Leadership Institute. I approached him about serving the church as their pastor. He admitted he had been considering it, but would only do so if the church asked him. I explained they weren't going to ask because they already considered him their pastor. I just wanted to see it become official. He's been the pastor there now for three or four years and the church has seen very steady growth throughout that time.

Not every leader we help develop will become a bivocational minister. The vast majority will serve in their current church as a lay leader, and that is vital for the long-term health of our churches.

What are some ways to develop the leaders in your congregation?

  1. Identify who these folks are. Until you recognize potential leaders you can't develop them.
  2. Talk to them about their interest in being developed as a leader. What do they sense God calling them to do in the church? This may be the first time anyone has talked to them about this.
  3. Invest time and resources in them. When I first shared with my pastor that I felt God might be calling me into ministry he gave me the keys to his church study and invited me to use it. He began to take me with him to various events and when he was ministering to our congregation.
  4. Offer leadership training in the church. Many small church leaders have never received training of any kind. Be intentional about training. You may find people you never thought of as leaders excited about receiving this training.
  5. Invite potential leaders to go with you to events and visits when appropriate. Use these times as training opportunities.
  6. Give people opportunities to serve in leadership positions. My pastor started a new Sunday school class which our church needed and asked me to teach it. It was great preparation for the pastorate as I had to prepare each week for the next Sunday's lesson. As pastor I had two laymen regularly preach when I was away on vacation. One of them has since served as the pastor of a church and regularly does interim ministry work. We gave other people leadership opportunities as they were ready for them.
  7. Regularly remind your congregation that God has given each of us spiritual gifts that are to be used in ministry. Help them identify those gifts and how they might be used to serve others.
Developing leaders in the church must be one of the top priorities of every pastor. Everything rises and falls on leadership, and if we want to see our churches healthy and effective we must be developing the leadership that will help it achieve that.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Decision making

I just finished reading Decision Points by George W. Bush. It was an interesting look at his eight year presidency through his own eyes. He didn't attempt to cover all the events that occurred during this time but wanted to show the thinking that went behind the decisions he made. He admitted some of the decisions could have been better, and I'm sure his critics would insist most of his decisions could have been better. Regardless of how one feels about President Bush I found the book a fascinating look at how he responded to the various issues that arose during his time in office.

Leaders are required to make decisions. Many of those decisions will be tough ones. People under the leader can make the easy decisions; the toughest ones will be the ones that find the leader's desk. Some of the decisions you make will be unpopular. Some will be wrong. Some will be resisted by the people you serve.

As I wrote in yesterday's post, churches need pastors who will be leaders. They need people who won't be afraid to make the tough calls in order to move the church forward. Today's pastors need to be people who are guided by God's vision for the church they are serving and are determined to lead according to that vision. Such leadership will not always be appreciated, and in some churches it will get you fired. But, that's better than leaving the church in the same ruts it's been in for the past many decades.

The secret is learning how to make the right decision most of the time. No leader gets it right every time, but most of us can improve our average. As the decisions we make prove to be the right ones people will trust us more and give us more authority to make further choices.

Chip and Dan Heath wrote Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work to help leaders make better decisions. They suggest a four-step process for making better choices they call WRAP.

  1. Widen your options. Too often we go into a situation thinking we must choose between A and B. Most of the time there are more than two alternatives, and as you seek out further options you are more likely to make the best choice.
  2. Reality-test your assumptions.  It's vital that you collect information from people you trust. Too often we look only for information that confirms our biases, and this can lead to bad decisions. Some of Bush's poor decisions, like those of all in leadership, came from not having good information. We may never have all the information we want before making a decision, but the more accurate information we have the more likely our decisions will be better.
  3. Attain distance before deciding. Emotions can cloud our thinking much more than we might think. When Peyton Manning was asked after winning the Super Bowl if he was going to retire he responded that he didn't want to make an emotional decision. We need to put some distance between us and the situation before making a decision.
  4. Prepare to be wrong. Sometimes we are overconfident we know what the future holds. Bush admitted in his book that no one on his staff understood how serious the financial crisis was. They quickly learned that the initial steps they took to turn the economy around was insufficient. The fact is that we don't know what we don't know. You may make the best decision you can make based upon the information you have, but when new information becomes available you may have to adjust your response.
How could you use this WRAP approach in the decision-making process you use in your church?

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

It's time we find true leaders

Agree with him or not, people have to admit that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia had a major impact on our nation during his time on the bench. His death set off an immediate firestorm among politicians on both sides of the aisle. Liberals want one of the most liberal Presidents our nation has ever had to appoint someone to fill Scalia's vacancy in hopes of reversing the 5-4 majority the conservatives have had for the past few years. Conservatives insist with an election coming up that the new president should have the opportunity to name someone to that seat. Of course, they are hoping the new president will be a conservative and that he or she will name another conservative to the position. There is no doubt that this vacancy will have an impact on both President Obama's final year in office and the presidential race. We are likely in for a rough time over this issue.

As I watched politicians from both parties preen before the news cameras to plead their case I thought that this is what is wrong with America today. It's no wonder that the approval rating for Congress is only 11%. There's no leadership there. People elect individuals to represent them and to do what's best for the country, but once they arrive in Washington it's all about their own petty interests and that of their financial backers. Nothing can be done for the good of the nation because these clowns want to run for the cameras and spout off  sound bites instead of sitting down like adults and discussing how to best govern for the good of the nation.

I have to admit that I have not watched any of the primary debates which is unlike me. I have watched the highlights (lowlights) that have appeared on the news. It's like watching a day care center with all the screaming and finger-pointing. When I think of the many great statesmen around when this country was founded I have to wonder where such persons are today. They are certainly absent from this presidential race.

Unfortunately, I see the same scenario played out in many churches. Pastors and lay leaders who lack any sense of a God-given vision for the future of the church cannot lead the church forward. Leaders who put themselves and their agendas before the good of the church are strangling many churches. Church business meetings that ensure the status quo of the church rather than embracing needed change guarantee the eventual demise of the church.

The church, like our nation, is facing serious challenges today, and those challenges cannot be met by continuing to operate like nothing has changed or that nothing is wrong. We need men and women who understand the issues and are willing to think seriously about them. Leaders are needed who will put the good of the church before their own preferences and comfort. We need to learn to work together if we are serious about advancing the Kingdom of God and transforming our culture.

Until we elect men and women who love this nation more than their Super Pacs and their own prominence and are willing to govern for the good of the nation we can expect America to continue its downward spiral. Until we select spiritual leaders to serve as the pastors and lay leaders in our churches who love God and His vision for the church more than their own comfort and position we can expect the church to continue to become more irrelevant to our culture. In both cases, ladies and gentlemen, the choice is ours.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Do you self-destruct?

One of the things that always amazed me as a judicatory leader was the number of pastors who seemed to enjoy two or three years of good ministry in a church and then self-destructed. They often blamed the church or other forces and seldom saw anything they had done wrong, but the fact is that much of their undoing was their responsibility.

I often wondered if some of this self-destruction was intentional. I doubt that any of these pastors intentionally meant to shorten their ministries in these churches, but my theory was that in some cases their ministries were enjoying successes that these pastors did not feel they deserved.

Some pastors have a very low self-esteem. Once they experience a certain level of success they become very uncomfortable. Others do not believe they have the gifts and abilities to lead a healthy, growing church. Their fear is that their weaknesses will become obvious to others in such a setting. Their self-doubts cause them to do things that undermine their ministry almost as a way to prove to themselves and others that their self-doubts were valid. Again, this is probably not done consciously, but the end result is the same.

John Maxwell wrote in Put Your Dream to the Test: 10 Questions to Help You See It and Seize It, "You may succeed if nobody else believes in you, but you will never succeed if you don't believe in yourself."

What can a pastor do if he or she struggles with self-destructing when things are going well?

  1. Remember that God called you to this ministry. He saw in you gifts and abilities that perhaps you didn't see in yourself, but God does not make mistakes. If He can trust you in this ministry you can trust yourself.
  2. You are not responsible for any success you might enjoy in ministry. As a minister you have certain responsibilities and tasks, but any success ultimately comes from God. Our job is to plant and water the seed; God provides the increase.
  3. God is always preparing us for the next phase of ministry. So many times in ministry I've been confronted with challenges that I would not have been prepared to address six months earlier, but God had been working in my life and when those challenges came I was ready for them. God is always equipping those He calls for whatever the future holds.
  4. Ignore any negative tapes that people might have placed in your mind as you were growing up. Maybe your parents, teachers, or other significant persons in your life told you that you would never do much with your life, but they don't have the final word. God does.
  5. Constantly read those Scriptures in which God tells us how He views us. He knew the plans He had for us even before we were born. We are heirs of God and joint-heirs of Jesus Christ. Reminding ourselves of how God sees us will help erase those negative tapes.
  6. Find yourself a good mentor or coach to help you process any negative feelings you may have about your ministry. If these feelings are strong enough you may need to talk to a counselor to find out where they are coming from and get help to overcome them.
The worst thing you can do is to get into a pattern of self-destruction every time things begin to go well in your life and/or ministry. Your calling from God to serve in ministry is the highest calling to which anyone can receive. See that you live up to it.

Friday, February 12, 2016

The joy of bivocational ministry

My first book The Tentmaking Pastor: The Joy of Bivocational Ministry was written with the subtitle as the working title. That's when I learned that publishers have the right to change the title of a book. I argued my case and fortunately the publisher agreed to at least use my title as the subtitle.

The reason I wrote the book was because I wanted people to know that there is joy in serving a small church as a bivocational pastor. A fully-funded pastor friend of mine told me after the book came out that he could not understand how anyone could find joy in working a full-time job and serving as the pastor of a church. I doubt he ever understood.

When I was called as pastor of Hebron Baptist Church it was a church that was struggling in every sense of the word. Giving was down. There was little self-esteem evident in the church. Little had been done to the property in years. Sunday school was poorly attended with only a senior adult class and a children's class. The Sunday school and morning worship were the only services being held. Worship attendance averaged about 30 people. The previous pastor resigned just before being asked to do so. This was not a healthy church that would appeal to many people.

I didn't exactly bring a lot with me when I accepted the call to be their pastor. I had no education beyond high school and no pastoral experience. Evidently, the church didn't feel like it had anything to lose by asking me to serve as their pastor. What I did have was the absolute sense that God had called me to pastoral ministry, a quick appreciation and love for the people of this church, and a lot of bull-headedness that would not allow me to leave every time things got a little tough.

There were time when things were tough, and these were not times of great joy! But, those rough spots usually came just before we had major breakthroughs as a church. Twenty years later when I left the church it was a much different place, a place that was a joy to serve. The book talks about some of the victories we enjoyed and the lessons we learned along the way.

There is tremendous joy when you see a church begin to come together for ministry. As new people became a part of the church I felt great joy for the new gifts they would bring. We had many joyous times as we accepted challenges that changed us as a congregation. We began to believe that God was not done with this little church so we were willing to stretch ourselves to attempt new things. We saw people come to faith in Jesus Christ and have their lives changed forever. I felt great joy as I watched new people begin to grow into leadership roles. Our mission support increased dramatically, and at the same time we were doing more ministry to people in our community. There was tremendous joy in the congregation when I read to them that our region had selected us as small church "Church of the Year" in the Region. I had tears as I read the letter to them and showed them the certificate we had received for the honor. A few years later we received the same recognition again, and the tears flowed once more.

There's not room in a blog post to list everything that brought me joy as the pastor of that church. I do write about several of them in the book, but I couldn't describe all of them in the book either. Perhaps one of the things that brings me the greatest joy is that my role in all that was very small. My main contribution was to hang around for twenty years. The accomplishments of that church was due to the faith and passion of the congregation to make a difference. They were willing to step out in faith and do things others told us we could not do.

Believe me, there is tremendous joy in bivocational ministry.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Pastor, do you love us?

One of the most important question a small church asks its pastor is, "Pastor, do you love us?" As I've written before, everything in the smaller church revolves around relationships. A small church functions much more like a family than an organization. People do not join a small church; they must be adopted into the family. Within the first few months a new pastor also must be adopted into the family before he or she can offer any significant leadership. That adoption will not occur until the church, and especially the matriarchs and patriarchs, believes that the pastor truly does love them.

Part of what lies behind this question is the rapid turnover many of these smaller churches experience. It's not uncommon for pastors to serve a smaller church for 18-24 months before moving on. Before I arrived the church I served as pastor had an average pastoral tenure of 12 months. Remember, that was the average!

If your church had a family whose husband/father abandoned them every 12 months you would say the family was dysfunctional. The abandoned family would soon decide that there must be something seriously wrong with them if they are abandoned that often. Churches often feel the same way. They wonder what is so wrong with them that no one loves them enough to stay.

Some smaller churches had decided that their role in the Kingdom of God is to be a place where pastors can come to hone their preaching and leadership skills before going off to a "real" church. Personally, I don't find the kind of church described anywhere in the New Testament.

Other churches have a different vision of ministry, but they realize that if they are to live into that vision they will need leadership. Many if these churches do not have concerns about what theological degrees their pastors have or where they earned those degrees. More important to them is how the pastor feels about them because if they can be certain that the pastor loves them they will feel more free to follow his or her leadership.

It's always easy to respond to the question by insisting that we do love this church, but our actions will speak much louder than our words. We show we love them by getting to know them as persons, not just members of the congregation. We demonstrate our love by staying with them and not constantly looking for the next available (larger) church. We spend time with them apart from the church or one of its ministries. We love them by listening to them. One important way we demonstrate our love for the church is by learning the history of the church. A lot of things over the years shaped the church you now serve, and you should want to know as much of that history as possible. There are so many ways to show our love for your church, and you need to know that the people in your church are watching to see.

Once your congregation knows that you truly do love them, they will be much more willing to follow your leadership. It will take months, and maybe years, of consistent behavior before they will believe that you love them. But, once that day arrives your ministry will take on a whole new level of excitement and effectiveness.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Is a blended worship service right for your church?

After a few decades of worship wars I hesitate to post this, but I will anyway! As one who has spent the past 14 visiting numerous churches in my role as a judicatory leader I have experienced some wonderful worship services and some that were not so good. Some of the latter often included an attempt in a smaller church to offer a blended worship service. No doubt, they were trying to satisfy the needs of their older members with an attempt to reach out to younger people, but the end result was often disappointing.

I recently worshiped in a smaller church that began the service singing a couple of hymns from the hymnbook. Later they switched to some contemporary songs that were projected on a wall. The first song was an older one that the people knew and sang well. The next two I had never heard before (which means nothing), but evidently neither had the congregation. The only person I could hear sing was the person on the CD they were singing to. No one said anything about learning a new song that day which would have made it a little better. The words just appeared on the wall and people were expected to sing. It really detracted from the entire worship service.

There is a medium size church I attend occasionally that does two worship services, one traditional and one contemporary. The traditional service uses a large pipe organ, has a well rehearsed choir, and offers a fairly structured service. The contemporary service features a praise band and a much less structured service. Both services are exceptionally well done, and I enjoy each of them. Rather than trying to combine the two forms of worship, they made the decision to divide them into two services and deliver each of them with excellence.

Most smaller churches do not have the resources to do that, so I understand the desire to try to appeal to a larger group of people by provided a blended service. But it won't bring the results these churches want if the service is not well done or seems disjointed. Frankly, my experience has been that most of these smaller churches do not have the talent needed to deliver a meaningful blended service. What is offered is often more likely to drive people away than to draw them in.

I know this may seem harsh to some churches, especially if they are trying hard to do a blended service, but my comments are based upon several years of working with smaller churches and seeing their efforts at a blended service not produce the results they were hoping for. As I mentioned in yesterday's blog post, focus on doing those things that you can do with excellence. Excellence builds ministries, not trying to be all things to all people.

Your church may decide to continue to offer a more traditional service. That's fine. You may decide you want to develop a contemporary service in your effort to reach new people. That's also fine. Just pick one and pour your resources and efforts into making that one worship service the best it can be. In the long run, I think you'll find this approach will produce better results than trying to blend the two formats.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Ministry opportunities for the smaller church

Small churches often feel the pressure that comes from having to compete with the larger churches in the community. Personally, I hate this idea of competition between churches, but it is something I frequently hear from smaller church pastors. The facilities of the larger churches may be nicer, their youth groups larger and more dynamic, they can offer more programs that appeal to a greater number of people, they have more resources to draw from, their worship services offer live praise bands and seems more powerful, and they have a greater presence in the community. This list could go on, but these are the common complaints I hear most often. And...for the most part, they are true.

These small church leaders then ask me how their church can compete with all that. Again, I think this question is the wrong one to ask because churches are not called to compete with one another. Perhaps a better question is how can we complement what these other churches are doing?

Despite what we sometimes think, there are many ministry opportunities these larger churches are not meeting. Some of these opportunities are where a smaller church can complement the ministry of the larger church.

  1. There are many people who do not feel comfortable in a large church and prefer a smaller church. Smaller churches can offer a sense of community that will appeal to these people. These folks are not looking for a "friendly church" as much as a place where they can make friends.
  2. In every community there are likely to be people groups that are not being reached by any church, large or small. Identify them and begin a ministry that will best serve their needs.
  3. Despite all the talk around contemporary music and praise bands, there are many people who prefer a more traditional worship experience with hymnbooks, pianos, and organs.
  4. Smaller churches often offer a more personal touch than larger churches can. There is something very appealing about a small church that still recognizes birthdays and anniversaries to many people.
  5. People with average gifts may be overlooked in a large church but find numerous opportunities to serve in the smaller church.
  6. Some people have no desire to go to any church but may have issues in their lives for which they seek spiritual answers. They may not want to wait three weeks for an appointment to speak to one of the pastoral staff.
Smaller churches that try to compete with larger ones often attempt to do more than their resources allow. This usually results in mediocre ministry which further frustrates the small church. As I've often said, small churches can usually accomplish more by doing less, and doing it with excellence. Identify those two or three things that your church can do well and focus on those. Let the rest go. As your church becomes known for doing those two or three things well you will begin to make connections with the people listed above.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Return to my former church

Yesterday I had the privilege of preaching at Hebron Baptist Church, the church I served as bivocational pastor for 20 years. Their pastor had resigned, and I was asked to fill the pulpit yesterday. It was a great experience being back in that church and brought back a lot of memories.

I had last visited the church about five years ago, and at that time I had noticed a lot of changes even then. Yesterday, I noticed even more. There were a lot of new people that I didn't know, and many of my former congregation were no longer there. The format of the worship service had changed. The appearance of the sanctuary was somewhat different although there's not a lot that can be done to a sanctuary built over 100 years ago.

There's an old proverb that says you can never step into the same river twice. Even if you step in, step out, and step right back in the river will be different. The water is always moving and changing so the river is constantly changing.

Churches definitely do not change that quickly, but change is always happening in a church even if it's not immediately noticeable. The people who attend the church are experiencing changes in their lives. During any given week a person may receive a poor medical diagnoses from tests they've had, someone else may have a loved one in a serious accident, a third person may have received a lay-off notice from his or her employer, a fourth may be dealing with marriage or family issues, and the list goes on. Because the church does not consist of the building or the organization, but the people, the church is always going through changes. How we minister to those changes must change as well.

When I was the pastor of that church I was privy to many of the problems the people were facing. Yesterday, because I didn't know most of those in attendance I could not know what they were dealing with in their lives. What I did know what that they had recently lost their pastor which often results in some level of pain. I also knew that because they live in a fallen world that many of them had some issue in their lives that was causing uncertainty, sorrow, grief, or fear. So I did what I try to do every time I preach; I shared with them how Jesus Christ can minister peace and healing to them no matter what they might be going through.

The church is the one place where people can hear a message of hope. Many people are hammered six days a week; the church should be a place where they can be encouraged and hear words that offer them a peace that passes all understanding and a hope that will endure the storms of life. That's what I tried to do yesterday and what I try to do every time I preach. I pray you do the same.

Friday, February 5, 2016

It's OK to repeat sermons

A few years ago I was invited to preach in a church. I had preached there about five years earlier. It was a larger church with two morning worship services. As I considered what to preach I kept feeling drawn to a sermon I had preached there previously. It seemed like the right message to address some issues I knew was going on in the church. Since I felt so strongly that this was the message I decided to go ahead and preach it again. After all, I reasoned, no one would remember this sermon after five or more years.

No one mentioned they remembered the message after the first service. However, when the second service ended a teenager came to me and asked if I had not preached that message previously in that church. I was busted and by a teenager no less.

That was not the first time I've repeated a sermon in a church nor will it be the last time. If a few years has passed since I preached a particular message in a church I don't feel it will hurt anyone if I preach it again in that same church.

  1. There are new people in the church who did not hear it previously. This will be a new sermon for them.
  2. I'm sure the church has sang the same songs since I was there. If repetition is OK for the music it will also be OK for the sermon.
  3. People's lives change. The message may have a greater impact on them the second time they hear it because it addresses an issue that is current in their life. That issue may not have been a problem the first time you preached the sermon.
  4. If a message is worth preaching once it should be worth repeating.
  5. When we re-read a book we often discover things we overlooked before. The same thing happens when people hear a sermon for the second time. They will hear something they didn't hear before.
Sometimes you don't plan to preach a sermon in a church the second time but find you are. A few weeks ago I was scheduled to preach in a church. I pulled out a message that I thought was applicable to the church and planned to preach it. Just prior to the service I was placing my Bible and sermon on the pulpit when I noticed I had preached that message just a couple of months earlier in that church. I always write down the church's name and date when I preach a message in the left margin of my sermon notes. I had looked but failed to see this church's name before leaving for the service. I had taken only this one message with me.

When I began the message I mentioned to the church that I had preached it in that church a few weeks earlier but I felt there was still a message there the church needed to hear. While the main body of the sermon was the same, I used some different illustrations and made a slightly different application than when I preached it before. Only one person commented that she remembered the message but noted that it was different this time.

This is yet another reason it's Ok to repeat a sermon. Most sermons will have more than one application. Although I was preaching from the same outline and from the same text, the Holy Spirit led me in a slightly different direction from the previous time I preached it. Most likely, it spoke to different people than the first time I delivered it.

You may feel that you're being led to repeat a message to your congregation. If so, do it. We can trust God to know how to lead us in our pulpit ministry. There may be people there who did not hear it the first time. There may be people there who have different needs this time and need to hear this message again so it can speak to those needs.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Preach the Word

Regular readers know that I recently retired after spending the past 14 years serving in a judicatory ministry capacity. Nearly every week I was in a different church in our judicatory either to preach or to visit. Prior to that I was the bivocational pastor of a small church in our community for 20 years. Since retirement I have preached a few times, and on those Sundays I haven't preached I've been visiting different churches of various denominations. After 34 years it's interesting to see what churches are in our community.

This past Sunday I visited a church affiliated with Calvary Chapel. Calvary Chapel churches are often known for their verse by verse exposition of Scripture, and this one was no different. The pastor is a local doctor who serves the church as a bivocational pastor.

I have to say that I enjoyed the in-depth study of the text. Although as a pastor I often preached expository messages I had not experienced that very often since leaving pastoral ministry. Most of the churches I visited as a Resource Minister tended towards more topical preaching. While such preaching has its place at times, I do believe that expository preaching will do more to build up the faith of the listeners.

The pastor was working his way through 2 Samuel. Again, it brought back memories of my own pastoral ministry. Each summer I would preach through a book of the Bible or a major section of Scripture such as the Sermon on the Mount. I always enjoyed the preparation that went into that style of preaching. It prevented me from always preaching on my favorite topics and it did not allow me to skip over controversial issues. I had to preach what the text gave me. That's good discipline for any preacher.

It's also good for the congregation. It allows them to see how a particular passage fits into the overall message of the book. It takes them much deeper into the passage than when the pastor preaches a sermon on this text one Sunday and jumps to another text and topic the next.

Our opinions will do little to change lives. Preaching the Word under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit allows that Word to penetrate into the hearts and souls of the listeners. It is then that real change can begin to take place.

If you do not regularly preach through a book of the Bible you may want to prayerfully consider doing so this year. Rather than starting with an entire book you might want to begin with a section of Scripture such as the Sermon on the Mount or the Ten Commandments.  Try it and see if it makes a difference in the life of your church and in the lives of the individual members.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Taking your church to the next level

One of the most difficult things for a pastor to do is to successfully grow a church from one level to the next. Churches have a life-cycle, and during that cycle there will be times of growth and decline. The church hits a plateau and sits there for a period of time trying to move past it, and if it doesn't the church will begin to decline. Sometimes the church is able to regain its traction and begin to grow again, and sometimes it never does and continues its decline to eventual death.

I'm familiar with one church that grows to around 180 people before declining back to 140-150. In time it starts another growth spurt to about 180 again before beginning another decline. It's done this several times. The reason for this is that the church and pastor have never discovered what keeps it from moving past that 180 barrier.

Gary McIntosh wrote an excellent book to help churches that are stuck in this growth/decline cycle. In Taking Your Church to the Next Level: What Got You Here Won't Get You There he calls churches at 200 or below in attendance relational churches. Approximately 80 percent of the churches in the US are in this size category. Busting through the 200 barrier is difficult, but it can be done if one understands the dynamics that makes it so difficult to grow a church beyond that number. McInstosh points out that some of those dynamics are:

  1. The church sees the pastor as a caregiver, not a leader. This makes it very difficult for the pastor to provide the leadership needed to grow the church beyond 200 worshipers.
  2. Churches of this size often do not have sufficient capacity to grow beyond 200 people. If the sanctuary seating, the parking lot, and the education space are at 80 percent capacity they are full. You might exceed that 80 percent for a short period of time, but eventually people will begin to leave until the space feels more comfortable to those who remain.
  3. To grow beyond 125 the church needs to call a second fully-funded pastor and two full-time support staff. This means the church is staffing for growth, but paying for that additional staff before the growth occurs can be a major challenge that many smaller churches do not want to tackle. Fortunately, there are some options available which the author offers.
In addition to the issues McIntosh addresses I believe there are some others. A growing church must have a leadership pipeline in which leaders are being continuously developed. Churches cannot wait until they are running 200 people to begin developing new leaders, but where will those leaders come from before the growth occurs?

The same is true of teachers for Church school classes. We are often told that it's important to be adding classes in order to grow the education ministry of a church, but it's not always easy to find teachers for these classes. There needs to be on-going recruitment and training of people to serve in these classes if one wants to take the church to a higher level.

A third requirement is that the pastor must be committed to remaining at the church for an extended period of time in order to see significant growth occur. Taking a church from one level to another will not happen quickly and is unlikely to happen at all if the pastor is not committed to staying at the church.

Breaking through various attendance levels is difficult. There are many factors responsible for the size church you have today, and some of them are not easily overcome. But, with commitment, vision, and a sound strategy, bathed in much prayer, these barriers can be overcome.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Larger churches still need their denominations

My friend, Terry Dorsett, wrote an article on his blog yesterday on the need for larger churches to remain involved in their denominations. I thought it was an excellent piece and asked him for permission to share it with you as a guest post. Of course, he was agreeable. Larger churches can do much to encourage and support smaller churches. If you are serving in a larger church I hope after reading this article you will contact your denominational representative and ask how you can be more involved in the life of your denomination.
This is the third in a three-part series by Terry Dorsett, executive director of the Baptist Convention of New England, on the topic of joining a denomination. For the first and second articles in this series, click here and here
NORTHBOROUGH, Mass. (BP) -- Though many feel we are living in a post-denomination age, I believe denominations still have a valuable role to play in God's plan for the church. Denominations provide a way for local churches to work together on projects too big for any one church to handle on their own.
(Click here for Part 1 of this series on why I joined a denomination and here for the article on denominations serving churches.)
But what about churches that have grown numerically to the point when they no longer need many of the services the denomination provides? Should they remain invested in a group that provides many services they may no longer need? With the rise of the mega-church, this is a question that even many non-mega-churches are asking.
I think there are a number of reasons why larger churches need to remain involved in and actively support their denomination. Large churches have often learned something about reaching people that other churches need to learn. They often have developed specialized ministries that other churches need to know about.
One might argue that those churches can host their own training conferences and seminars to promote these ideas without any connection to the denomination. While that might be the case, why recreate an information distribution system and spend money on mass advertising when the denomination already has numerous the channels needed to get that information out to hundreds, perhaps thousands, of churches? It would be better for larger churches to partner with their denomination to provide those training experiences through the denominational system.
Think about this from a local church perspective. If the most gifted church members decided to keep all their talents and abilities to themselves or to only use them for para-church groups and never use them in the local congregation, it would adversely impact the ministry of the local church. It would set the local church back and hinder its effectiveness greatly. The same thing is true when the largest churches in a denomination start doing their own thing outside the denominational system. It robs the group of the very thing they need to move to the next level. When large churches work through the denominational system, instead of outside of it, they help raise the level of training and effectiveness in the entire group.
Then there is the issue of money. Larger churches almost always have more financial resources than smaller churches, yet as they grow, they often redirect their resources away from the denomination toward their own causes. That lowers the resources available to the denomination to offer high-caliber services to the smaller churches that remain -- churches which often need those services the most. For example, I serve a denominational missionary organization that serves 337 churches, most of which average less than 85 in regular worship attendance. Twenty five of those 337 churches provide 61 percent of the financial support for our ministry. If any one of those 25 key churches withdrew its support, it would severely limit the services we could provide to the other 312 churches.
Some might be tempted to disparage all of those smaller churches as "ineffective" and therefore not worthy of support. That is not always the case. In our situation, 40 percent of our churches are from 19 different ethnic groups we serve, some of which are economically disadvantaged. Nearly 50 percent of the churches in our network are new church plants less than 10 years old and are still in the process of becoming stable. Many churches in our family of faith are located in small villages and mountain towns or other out-of-the-way places that will never be serviced by a larger church. For the sake of the Gospel, we must have a strong denominational budget so these small churches can continue to be assisted. The only way we can have a strong budget is for our larger churches to continue to support the denomination.
Larger churches may no longer need someone from the denomination to train their Sunday School teachers or deacons, but that does not relieve them of the obligation of assisting the denomination in training Sunday School teachers and deacons in other churches. Larger churches may no longer need financial assistance from the denomination, but many smaller churches do need it and larger churches should have a Kingdom mindset and continue to invest the funds needed for the whole family of churches to be healthy.
There may have been a day when denominations had bloated staffs and wasteful budgets, but those days are long gone. Denominations that are thriving today are lean and efficient and need their larger churches to remain engaged for the sake of the Kingdom.

Monday, February 1, 2016

When church leaders grow weary

One of the disturbing things I saw again and again as a judicatory leader was the growing number of pastors who had grown weary in ministry. There is an excitement in first sensing a call to ministry. That excitement often continues as one pursues a seminary education and then culminates when called to that first pastorate. There is an anticipation that one is going to be involved in changing people's lives for the better by helping them encounter the living Christ.

Unfortunately, that excitement can begin to wane when things don't go as exactly as planned in that first church. In my first business meeting as pastor of our small church I made just one announcement, and it was soundly rejected by everyone in the meeting. I hadn't even made a motion or asked for a vote. It was merely an announcement, but those present let me know immediately that what I was announcing was not going to happen. I left that meeting wondering if I had made a serious mistake and completely missed God!

The good news is that I remained in that church for two decades and saw many wonderful things occur. Other pastors are not so fortunate. As they go from church to church they are confronted with apathetic church members, manipulative boards, dishonesty, and pure pastoral abuse. There are few things more frustrating and painful than realizing that much of what you're doing is little more than spinning your wheels waiting for retirement.

I've never felt that way about ministry, but I have met many pastors who did. More than a few admitted they were just trying to hold on until they could retire. Others didn't feel they could wait that long and left the ministry for secular work.

What can a minister do when he or she begins to feel weary in ministry? I think there are several things.

  1. Remember that weariness in ministry is not a new thing. Go back and re-read the stories of Jeremiah, Elijah, and others who grew weary serving God. It seems to be an occupational hazard for many of God's servants throughout history.
  2. Remember your calling. One thing that always helped me when facing weariness was to think back to the time I knew God had called me into the ministry and to that specific ministry I had at the time. As I remembered that calling it energized me and helped overcome any weariness I was feeling.
  3. Remember who your Sustainer is. The one thing each of the persons in the Bible who grew weary in ministry had in common is that God came alongside to comfort and sustain them. When we grow weary we need to call upon the Lord to come alongside us to strengthen us.
  4. Remember that we are ultimately accountable to God for our ministries, not someone else. People will cause us pain, but we need to take that to God and let him deal with it. Prophets, priests, and pastors alike have all been persecuted by those who did not want to hear a message sent by God. When we are doing God's will we should expect to experience rejection and even abuse at the hands of those who oppose God's will. When such rejection and abuse comes, turn it over to God.
For most Christian leaders, it's not a matter of if we will become weary but when we become weary in ministry. Weariness is likely to come, but if we are prepared for it and able to remember these four things it will not have the impact on our lives and ministries that it would have if we were not prepared.