Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Living on purpose

In 1995 Rick Warren published his best selling book The Purpose-driven Church: Growth Without Compromising Your Message And Mission. In 2007 he followed that book with The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here For? Yet, after all these years, churches and individuals are still drifting through life with no sense of purpose or direction. It's no wonder many of our churches make little to no impact on their communities.

The church is called to be a transforming agent in our communities. As we see the social and moral climate of our nation today we have to admit that the church is doing little in the area of transformation. The salt has lost its savor.

One writer summed up our problem very well when he described the church in this way. "The Church is like a ship on whose deck festivities are still kept up and glorious music is heard, while deep below the waterline a leak has been sprung and masses of water are pouring in, so that the vessel is settling hourly lower though the pumps are manned day and night." Few observers of the church would disagree with this assessment, but what makes it so frightening is that these words were written in 1957! In the past 59 years the band has continued to play while the ship has continued to sink even deeper into the depths, and little is being done about it.

Church leaders have chased one fad after another trying to find ways to fill their congregations with new members. Denominations are seeking ways to become more inclusive to appeal to a broader mass of people. In some situations our theological teachings have become so watered-down and dumbed-down that they are hardly recognizable as Christian. In our efforts to become all things to all people we forget to be the one thing God has called the church to be: an agent of transformation.

The mission of the church is simple. It exists to fulfill the Great Commission and the Great Commandment. This is the mission of the church regardless of its size. How each church goes about doing these two things will differ, but each church shares the same purpose. In fulfilling this purpose we become transforming agents in our communities.

Is your community different because your church exists? That's a fair question for every church to ask. If your church was to close its doors tomorrow, how would that impact your community? Another fair question. If you can't identify a good answer to these two questions then you need to take a long, hard look at what your church is doing.

The church needs to stop complaining about the state of our society and begin to do something about it. We will begin to change our nation one person, one family, one neighborhood, one community at a time. The time to start living our purpose is right now.

Friday, May 27, 2016

What does the future hold for the local church?

We hear much talk about the state of the local church today, and much of it is negative. As some look at declining attendance and giving statistics they wonder if the church will continue to exist much longer. I think it would be a big mistake to count the church out. After all, Jesus Christ said the forces of hell would not prevail against the church. The church does have a pretty solid foundation!

There's no doubt that the church is going through some difficult times right now, but I see these times as more of a transition than anything else. What we don't know is what the church will look like on the other side of this transition. This uncertainty is what scares some people.

One of my favorite images of today's church is that of a trapeze artist. The trapeze artist must go from the swing he is on to the one that is swinging towards him. To go from the safety of the swing he holds onto to the other swing he must let go of the one. For a brief moment he is suspended in mid-air waiting for the other swing to reach him. During that time of suspension he is most vulnerable because if the other swing is not timed correctly he will fall to the ground. I see today's church as being in that in-between time.

Much of what's worked for the church in the past no longer works, but many still want to hold on to it because it's safe and reliable. Before we can experience something new in the church we have to be willing to let go of the one we are clinging to. That in-between time is scary for church leaders just as it is for trapeze artists. It's so hard to let go of the known for something that we don't know in hopes that it will be better.

As the church goes through this time of transition there will be many changes. I'm convinced the church will look much different twenty years from now than it does today. Despite not having a crystal ball I will venture some changes I believe are likely to occur.

  • More churches will be led by bivocational pastors and/or bivocational teams. Some of this will be driven by economics but not all of it.
  • Seminary training will not be a requirement for a growing number of churches. Growing numbers of seminary students will earn their degrees online. Persons going into pastoral ministry will often pursue degrees other than the traditional MDiv. They will want more practical MA degrees offering courses that will speak more to the needs of pastors. Look for the MDiv to be the degree of choice for those planning to earn a PhD.
  • Mid-size churches will face a lot of pressure to compete with much larger churches in the programs and ministries they offer. Some will be able to meet those expectations and will grow. Others will not and will begin to lose people to the larger churches.
  • There is already a lesser commitment to the denomination in which people were raised. Expect to see this continue and even increase. A growing number of people simply won't care about the name of the church as much as what ministries the church offers.
  • Lay people will be much more involved in ministry that they are today. This is be partially due to their churches calling bivocational ministers but mostly due to more people realizing they have been gifted and called to do ministry.
  • Churches will become more creative in raising funds. This will become critical in the next few years as the Builder generation continues to decline. Churches that are effective in teaching sound stewardship will see more of their people supporting the church financially. Growing numbers will begin offering online giving if they want the Millennial generation to support their church financially.
  • Expect to see more home churches. Zoning restrictions in some communities, the cost of new construction, and a desire to plant new churches rather than erect great buildings will cause many to decide to meet in homes. Some denominations will be forced to determine how they will recognize these churches.
  • Speaking of denominations, they will also have to make some major changes as their churches go through their transitions. The same is true of seminaries. While there's not space in this post to address these changes, they will be significant. I'm not sure all denominations and seminaries will survive this transition.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Ministers and retirement planning

Over the years I've heard that retirement is not found in the Bible so there is no justification for ministers to consider ever retiring from the ministry. While I will admit that we should not abandon God's call on our lives, that does not mean that we will serve in a ministry position throughout our lives. Because of health reasons, limitations as we grow older, or the sense that our ministry skills are no longer effective in a changing world, most of us in ministry will retire at some point. To not plan for that eventuality is foolish on our parts.

As a judicatory minister for 14 years I met several pastors who wanted to retire but could not for financial reasons. They had very little in savings, and their Social Security would barely cover their monthly expenses, especially if they had debt. Some of these pastors resented having to continue working, and they were not doing their churches any good by their continued service.

Many of these pastors had been fully-funded throughout their ministries, but their salaries were meager at best. In many cases their churches did not pay into any kind of retirement account on their pastor's behalf leaving them at the mercy of Social Security. However, when your income is low your Social Security payout is going to reflect that as well.

Those of us in bivocational ministry may be better able to fund a good retirement. Not only do we have outside income paying into Social Security, we often have more disposable income to invest in retirement planning. The secret is to not dispose of it before doing so!

As one reaches a certain age (like me!) he or she wishes they had done some things differently. One of the things I wish I had done was to begin early in my working life living on 75 percent of my income. That would leave 10 percent for my tithe and 15 percent to invest in retirement. One of the things I've learned late in life is that investing 15 percent in a good retirement account throughout one's working life will often lead to over $1 million dollars in retirement. And that's not even including Social Security!

I know many will argue that it's not possible to do that. It is possible but it's not easy, especially if you started out living on 120 percent of your income and you've piled up a bunch of debt that has to be paid off before you start saving for retirement.

Seminaries need to teach every ministerial student a course on personal finance. Of course, most won't because if they taught the course no one would take out student loans and they would lose income. But, their students would have a much better idea of what to expect financially in the ministry and how to prepare financially for each phase of ministry including retirement.

If you feel that you are sinking financially it's time to do something different. I would suggest start by reading The Total Money Makeover: Classic Edition: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness by Dave Ramsey and following the Baby Steps he presents in the book. By doing that you can begin to better prepare for retirement. Believe me, you and your family will be thankful you did.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Healthy churches needed to advance the Kingdom of God

Since the publication of my book The Healthy Small Church: Diagnosis and Treatment for the Big Issues I've had the opportunity to lead several conferences and workshops for numerous denominational groups. I've responded to many emails from pastors with questions about how to help their churches become healthier. Church health is very much on the minds of many Christian leaders today. This is probably why this is the best selling book of all I've written.

A few years ago one judicatory evaluated each of their churches based upon the health of the congregation. They found that the majority of their churches would be classified as unhealthy. Only a few were rated as very healthy with the remainder somewhere in between. Helping their churches become healthier became one of their goals.

Every church has a life cycle that can best be represented by a bell curve. The top of the curve represents a church on a plateau. As the church begins to move down the right side of the curve it slowly becomes unhealthy and goes into a decline. Health can be restored to a church anywhere in its life cycle, but the further it goes down the right side the more difficult it becomes to help it become healthier. It will finally reach a point on that right side when its main goal is survival, and it will then be very averse to doing anything that might help it regain health.

The goal of a church leader should be to address health issues on the left side of the curve when the church is growing. Even then it may begin to develop some symptoms of disease. but the earlier these symptoms are detected the easier they are to correct.

What the book does, and what I do in the seminars based upon the book, is to identify some of those symptoms and share ways to resolve them. In the final chapter of the book I list several diagnostic questions to help church leadership give their church a check-up. I recommend that the pastor and leaders work through those questions each year to give their church an annual check-up. Again, the sooner problems are found the easier they are to correct.

The good news is that any church can become healthier than it is today. A healthy church will be more apt to be a growing church. It will have a more outward focus which means it will be more involved in ministering to its community. A healthy church will accomplish much more for the Kingdom of God than an unhealthy church will. The Kingdom and our world needs every church to be a healthy church.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Millennial leadership in the church

There will soon be a paradigm shift as millennials begin stepping into leadership roles in every organization including churches. Many of us currently in church leadership were trained to manage organizations. Millennials will not be content to manage. They want to lead. They want to make a difference.

According to a study reported in a U.S. News and World Report 2015 article, 91 percent of millennials aspire to be leaders. Sixty-one percent of these aspiring leaders "want to challenge and inspire their followers with a sense of purpose and excitement." This is exciting as we continue to lament the lack of true leadership in many of our churches. At the same time, many currently attending church are pretty comfortable with the status quo. Although many claim they want to see new things happen in their churches, many do not react very well when they are challenged to do new things. It will be interesting to see how this will play out.

These leaders are impatient. They are the generation that was raised to expect instant gratification. They also seek to collaborate with others. They like consensus, and we know that it's not always easy to achieve consensus in many of our churches. We definitely know that churches, and especially smaller churches, do not make quick decisions when it involves change. Again, it will be interesting to see how millennial leaders deal with the realities of working in many of our existing churches.

Millennials are also not real excited about preparation. As one millennial leader put it: We like playing in the game, but we hate practice. You can read the entire article here that looks at this in more detail.

When I read this article I immediately thought about a Facebook post I responded to yesterday. A church consultant discussed a growing trend he's noticed. Many of the churches today who contact him seeking his help in finding new pastoral leadership no longer ask about what seminary the potential candidates might have attended or indicate that a seminary education is even required.

On the one hand I am not surprised. Smaller churches in particular have been more interested in whether or not the person can do the job than if they've earned a particular degree. Based on my FB friend's experience, some larger churches are now in that camp as well. If the article above is true, and I believe it is, this will fit in well with the millennial mindset.

On the other hand, I am concerned about the future of the church if we completely discount theological and ministerial education. A good leader can grow a church, but what kind of church will it be if it lacks sound doctrine? I'm excited about the passion that millennial leaders often have, but I also want them to be solid in their understanding of Scriptural truths and be able to present these truths to those who sit under their teaching.

There is no doubt the church is going through a transition right now, and I don't think anyone at this stage really understands what the church will look like when it comes through the transition. I do believe it will look much different than it does today. I also believe that we will see many churches coming through this transition with millennial leaders as their pastors, and I believe that will be a good thing. I just pray that sound doctrine and theology are not lost in the transition. If it is, whatever comes through will no longer be the church.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Class reunion #50

This past weekend was our class reunion. It has been 50 years since we graduated from Madison Consolidated High School. We had a large turnout of about 130 people attend the graduation some coming as far away as Australia and Thailand. I had not seen some of these folks since our graduation.

I had been asked to do a memorial for our classmates who had passed away. There were several. I recalled how each of them had impacted our lives in greater or lesser ways during our four-year high school experience. I also reminded my classmates of some of the joys and even the heartaches we experienced during those years.

Some of our teachers also attended, and I commented on how blessed we were to have teachers who cared about us. Sometimes they cared more than we cared about ourselves. They were dedicated to the teaching profession and more than willing to help any student who sought help.

It was a fun evening, and it also reminded me of the fact that we are all influenced by the people we come in contact with. The people with whom we work, those with whom we attend church, our neighbors and family, and even some with whom we have little contact all impact our lives. We are shaped by those relationships, and we have the opportunity to shape the lives of others through those relationships.

Some interpret the Great Commission as an order to go out to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I think a better interpretation is "as we are going" we are to share Christ with others. In other words, as we go about our normal lives, as we interact with others in the various aspects of life, we are to be ambassadors of Jesus Christ. We are to reflect Him to others in our conversations and other interactions with people. We are to model Christian values and principles in all our interactions. And, when we have opportunity, we can share the Good News with those ready to receive it.

Friday, May 13, 2016

What is an acceptable standard of living for a pastor?

A number of years ago when I was the pastor of a church a member commented one day about a pastor she knew who started driving a new Cadillac. She was offended by that and said she hoped she never saw me driving such a car. I assured her I would never do that because if I could afford a Cadillac I would probably buy a Mercedes. She was not amused!

One pastor friend of mine was bivocational and very successful in his other job. A few people became jealous of his success and constantly bought up what they believed was his extravagant lifestyle. (It was definitely not extravagant although it was comfortable.) He traded for a new truck every couple of years and told me he always got the identical truck so his critics would not notice he had a new pickup.

We've all read about some celebrity pastors who do seem to live an extravagant life with enormous houses, luxury cars and private jets. What no one ever talks about is whether or not they are generous with their finances. For instance, my friend basically supported one or two ministries in that church out of his own finances. Some of these celebrity pastors accept no salary from their churches due to being successful authors or having other outside income. This provides the church with additional money to be used for ministry. A few have said that they give a major portion of their income to various ministries outside of their own churches as well. Seldom does anyone talk about that when criticizing these pastors.

I am certainly not a prosperity preacher, but at the same time I do recognize that God might choose to bless some Christians, including pastors, more than others financially. I would have a problem with a minister who deceives his or her people to enrich his or her personal bank account. Just because they tell me God has shown them that I'm supposed to send them "seed money" so I can be blessed that doesn't mean I'm going to do it. I'll wait until God tells me to send the money!

At the same time, if a minister prospers because he or she becomes wealthy due to hard work and honest effort I'm not going to protest or assume they must be doing something dishonest. It's not uncommon for a bivocational minister to earn much more in outside income than is earned as a pastor. Even fully-funded pastors who live on less than they earn and invest wisely can become quite wealthy later in life. Why should such persons be chastised for being wise stewards?

We still have too many in churches today who believe that pastors need to be humbled by receiving little salary and trusting God for what they need. I'm sorry, but your church is what God intended to use to provide for the pastor and family, and if you are not providing a salary that allows them a comfortable living in your community you are guilty of clergy abuse.

At the same time, we have even more who are quick to judge a pastor who seems to have "gotten above his raising" to use a common term in my part of the country. Small people with jealous hearts often watch to make sure the pastor isn't living a lifestyle they believe is unacceptable for a pastor. They are also guilty of abusing their pastors.

Rather than judge a pastor by the car he or she drives why don't we look at their work and what they preach. Instead of discussing how little we can pay our ministers let's look for ways to ensure that their ministries are not distracted by financial worries.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Do all to the glory of God

1 Corinthians 10: 31 tells us that whatever we do we should do to the glory of God. I wonder how a pastor might prepare his or her sermon next Sunday if the Lord announced He would be attending the service. Would more thought go into the worship service? I've seen singers get nervous when they realized one of their heroes was in the audience. If you are a member of a Praise Team would you feel prepared to lead worship or sing a special if you saw Jesus sitting in the congregation? I think sometimes we forget that He is there. Every Sunday.

This means that everything we do must be done with excellence. Notice I did not say with perfection. Mistakes happen. Perfection is an impossible standard and not a healthy one to pursue. People who insist on perfection will often be very disappointed. However, we should seek to do all things with excellence. We serve an excellent Lord, and our service to Him should be done with excellence as well.

Excellence is also the way we have our greatest impact on our communities. A great ministry cannot be achieved through mediocrity. This is why I tell small church leaders that smaller churches can often accomplish more by doing less. Too often we try to do too many things in an effort to compete with larger churches in our areas. We do not have the resources to compete with them, and that is never God's intent for us. He has a vision that is unique for our church, and it is that vision that we are to pursue.

A church that tries to exceed its resources by doing too many things wears its people out and has minimal impact on its community as well. By identifying God's vision for our particular church and focusing on the two or three things that can enable us to achieve that vision we will find that we will make our greatest impact on the lives of others.

By following the Pareto Principle I estimate that most churches could eliminate 80 percent of what they are doing and accomplish more in the long run. When we work in the areas of our natural strengths we are much more effective. Identify those ministries that are a natural fit for your congregation and community and focus your efforts and resources on them. People's lives will be changed and God will be glorified as well.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

We don't need more entertainment

I recently saw a picture on my Facebook page that had the caption "Ditch the man cave and bring back the study." I don't have a man cave, but I do have a study so that post really spoke to me.

Personally, I have nothing against man caves. The only problem I see is that they are primarily about entertainment. I also have nothing against entertainment except I think we spend too much time pursuing entertainment and too little time thinking and studying. I also think this is why our nation and many of our churches are in the trouble we are in.

For several decades now we've seen this nation continue to go down morally, ethically, financially, relationally, and just about any other way you can think. As we've taken this downward plunge it seems we've also seen an upswing in entertainment. We now have 24/7 television programming, professional sports seasons that seem to last longer and longer, computer games that can quickly become addictive for many people, social media, and other sources of entertainment that seem to keep us from thinking about what's really important to the future of our nation and our families.

Man caves are just the latest symptom of this "entertain me" society with its media areas, various gaming systems, wet bars, and whatever else some wants. Rather than spending time with good books and thinking about important things, we numb ourselves with our toys and entertainment.

Pastors are not immune from this either. As a judicatory leader for 14 years I had the opportunity to be with many pastors in their studies and was often shocked at the lack of good resources they had available. Few lacked the latest in computers and other electronics, but many did lack serious books and other resources they would need for effective ministry. Some may question if they had these resources on their computer. Certainly, there are some excellent resources available for computers, but many of these pastors were unaware of them or didn't invest in them. I know because I asked.

If we are serious about wanting to turn this nation (and our churches) around it may be time to get rid of our toys and begin to read and do some serious thinking about what's really important. Maybe if we begin to do that we'll quit drinking the Kool-Aid our politicians are trying to give us and begin to demand the quality of leadership our nation deserves. If we continue our current pursuit of entertainment then we are probably already receiving the quality of leadership we deserve.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Working together for the Kingdom of God

As many of you know, a couple of years ago I began conducting auctions. It's not uncommon for other auctioneers to attend my auctions. One of the things I always try to do is introduce any auctioneer who might be in attendance and ask them about upcoming auctions. They often do the same when I attend their auctions.

Although we are competitors I also see these folks as colleagues. Sometimes I work for fellow auctioneers when they need additional assistance. I attend their auctions when possible, and I usually buy at every auction I attend. I believe I enjoy a great relationship with other auctioneers in our area, and I believe that relationship is good for all of us.

Shouldn't the same thing be said about churches? Unfortunately, it's not always the case. Some churches believe they are the only church that proclaims truth, and they warn people to stay away from churches of other denominations because they hold to minor doctrinal differences.

Many years ago Billy Graham held a crusade in Indianapolis. I spent a week there attending the crusade meeting each night and their School of Evangelism during the day. As I traveled from my motel room to the crusade site I passed a large church on the interstate bypass. The church had erected a huge banner on their front lawn facing the bypass asking people to challenge Graham's beliefs about a certain doctrine.

I kept thinking about the confusion such a banner must create in the minds of unchurched people thinking about attending the crusade, and, in fact, it still saddens me after all these years. I can imagine them wondering why such a large church was so opposed to a Christian minister with the reputation Graham enjoyed. I've often wondered since then how many people never came to faith in Jesus Christ because of the divisiveness of this church's actions.

Churches and denominations do have doctrinal differences that divide us, but these are usually over minor differences of church governance and polity. When it comes to the major theological beliefs most evangelical churches are amazingly similar.

For the past several years I've spoken to gatherings of numerous denominational groups. Most of these gatherings have been of bivocational and small church leaders. Only one time have I ever been invited to speak to one of these groups and then had my invitation revoked when the sponsoring denomination found out I belonged to a different denomination. The funny thing about that is that I have led the same conference for numerous other groups in that same denomination. As one leader told me, the needs of their bivocational pastors are much greater than the minor differences than exist between our denominations.

How much more effective would the work of the church be if the various churches in a community could find ways to work together to impact their community for the Kingdom of God? Instead of seeing ourselves as competitors trying to build up our individual church let's begin to see ourselves as colleagues on mission with God to take the Gospel of Jesus Christ into our communities.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Pastor's Prayer Team

In 1997 men from across this nation came to Washington DC to participate in Promise Keeper's "Stand in the Gap." Estimates of the size of the crowd vary widely, but it's probably safe to say there were one million or more men in attendance. I was there that day along with my son who had recently moved to the area and three men from our church. It was an incredible experience as we spent the day listening to various speakers and praying for our nation.

The next morning the group we were with left the hotel on our rented bus and after driving a couple of hours stopped for breakfast. The three men from our church was sitting at a table with their food when I sat down. They said they wanted to talk with me.

After the event our son had taken me to their apartment where we had dinner. By the time I returned to the hotel room I shared with the three men from the church they were all asleep. Evidently, as they had returned from the Mall they began talking about the day's activities. During that discussion they realized they all had been thinking the same thing: they needed to have a regular time of prayer for me as their pastor. That next morning over breakfast they asked if I would be interested in meeting with them each Sunday evening before our service for a time of prayer just for me and my family. Of course, I was more than agreeable!

The following Sunday morning I announced that at 6:30 each Sunday evening there would be a time of prayer for me. my family, and the church. These men shared their conversation that led to this decision and invited anyone who wanted to participate to join us in a back Sunday school room. From that time forward, every Sunday evening 4-8 people would meet to pray. They would ask what prayer concerns I had and then each of them would begin to pray.

This had an incredible impact on me, my family, and our church. There were times the evening service began late as we spent extended times in prayer. There's not enough space in a post to describe the many ways this impacted my wife and me personally as well as the impact it had on the church.

John Maxwell often talks about the prayer team that surrounded him when he was a pastor and the impact it had on his life and ministry. I experienced the same impact, and I believe any pastor will as well when people begin to intentionally pray for him or her.

Do you have a Pastor's Prayer Team who meet with you regularly to simply pray for you and your family? If not, I would encourage you to develop one. Ask some of your prayer warriors if they would be part of that team. If you can only start with one person, begin there and let it grow naturally as people begin to understand its value to you and the church.

If you are a layperson in a church that does not have such a prayer team, begin to ask God if you should begin one. Talk to your pastor to determine his or her interest in meeting with a prayer team on a regular basis. My guess is your pastor will be as excited as I was to have a group of people meeting for the express purpose to pray.

Pastors are often under a lot of pressure today. They need the support and prayers of those they lead. Sometimes, their families need it even worse. A Pastor's Prayer Team can make a big difference in the lives of your pastor and his or her family. It can also make a difference in the life of your church.

If I ever returned to pastoral ministry, one of the first things I would do is start a Pastor's Prayer Team. I encourage you to do so as well.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Open doors

When a person begins to serve God he or she never knows what doors God might open. Very shortly after I was saved I knew that God wanted me involved in ministry, but I wasn't sure what that might look like. I was married with two children and a good job in a factory. I had no education beyond high school and saw no way to get further education. I was involved in our local church teaching a Sunday school class and serving as a deacon when our pastor asked if I had ever felt called to the ministry.

A few months after that the church granted me a license to preach, and then nothing. The church had called a new pastor whose theology was more liberal than mine. I was never allowed to preach in the church that licensed me. I wrote to our judicatory leader telling him of my availability to fill the pulpit. He responded that once I earned my MDiv he would be glad to help me find a church. For a year no preaching opportunities appeared.

Slowly, such opportunities did come. Independent churches began to ask me to fill the pulpit when their pastor was away. Several months later a church in which I was raised asked me to serve as their interim pastor. A few months later they called a pastor, and I had no place to preach. Soon a neighbor told me of a small church in our county that was looking for a pastor. I contacted the church, and a few months later became the pastor of Hebron Baptist Church. I served there as their bivocational pastor for the next 20 years.

While serving in that church I did graduate from a Bible school and later earned a bachelor's degree. In 2000 our Region asked me to serve as an interim Area Minister. Although I had good relations with our former Area Ministers I wasn't sure what all the job entailed, but I felt led to accept it. Later that year the interim label was dropped as I accepted the call to be the next Area Minister.

I never dreamed such a ministry would be offered to someone without a seminary degree, and at one time I'm sure it would not have been. For the next 14 years I served in that ministry until I retired at the end of 2015.

The reason I share this brief overview of my ministry is because of a question I was asked last week. Another minister asked if I ever thought I would have the opportunity to speak to bivocational and small church pastors across the country and write books that would encourage and support them. Frankly, I've been surprised at every door God has opened for me. I've never felt qualified for any ministry that has come my way. Perhaps I'm the poster boy for the saying: God doesn't call the qualified; He qualifies the called.

I felt called to serve as the pastor of that small, rural church even though I knew very little about pastoral ministry other than what I had observed in my pastors. I felt called to judicatory work even though I did not have the experience or the education most people bring to such ministries. I felt called to write the books I've written even though when I began I didn't have a clue how to write a book or get it published. I felt called to travel the country to speak to bivocational and small churches pastors and try to provide them with some resources that would help them. And in every case, God has opened doors that only He could open.

You may struggle at times wondering if God can ever use you in some significant way. If you are serving him in any kind of ministry, you are already being used in a significant way. Never look down on your current ministry. In God's time He will open the doors He wants you to walk through. Our role is to be faithful where we are, continue to grow in our relationship with God, and be willing to walk through those open doors. You may find God will take you places you never thought possible.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Render unto Caesar

The Bible teaches us that Christians have an obligation to be good citizens. We are to render unto Caesar what is his and to God what is His. The past few days I've been rendering unto Caesar. Yesterday I voted in the Indiana primary, and the day before I paid my property taxes. On April 15 I mailed in my income tax payment. Last week I paid the sales taxes from the preceding month's auction's sales.

In addition we are taught in Scripture to pray for those in authority over us. I admit that following this one can be difficult at times, but I remind myself that I am to pray for the office and the person who occupies that office. I may not personally like or admire the person, but I am to respect the office he or she holds, and it is out of that respect that we are to pray.

When I turned 18 this nation still had a draft system in place due to the war in Vietnam. Knowing that I was getting close to being drafted I decided to enroll in the Navy instead. This nation enjoys the freedoms it enjoys today because brave men and women have been willing to serve in the military to protect those rights. I was not going to burn my draft card or run away to Canada to avoid serving my nation as some did, and I look on those four years in the Navy with a great deal of pride. I appreciate the opportunity to have served our nation in that way.

However, we must never forget that as Christians we hold a dual citizenship. We are both citizens here, and we are citizens of the Kingdom of God. We are called upon to also render unto God what belongs to Him. That includes our ultimate loyalty and faithfulness. Any time the state asks us to do something or accept something that is contrary to the clear Word of God we must obey God.

Sometimes people will say they would suffer the consequences if needed to obey God rather than the state. I have to admit that I wonder about that because there are many things in the Bible that we are commanded to do as citizens of God's Kingdom that most Christians do not do.

  • We are commanded to share our faith, but few Christians have ever led anyone to faith in Christ.
  • We are taught to tithe, but the average Christian gives less than 2.5% of their income to the church.
  • We are commanded to gather together for corporate worship, but for many Christians today attending church on Sunday is something they do if there's nothing else going on.
  • We are told that we are to grow in our faith, but many Christians have never grown beyond their initial salvation experience.
  • We have been given spiritual gifts by the Holy Spirit for the purpose of ministry, but few Christians can tell you what their gifts are or how they are using them for ministry.
  • We are told to pray without ceasing, but many Christians admit to seldom praying unless they are facing a crisis.
  • We are taught to honor and care for our spiritual leaders, but many pastors and other ministry leaders often struggle financially. Clergy abuse accounts for a large number of clergy persons leaving the ministry every year.
  • We are commanded to work for justice for those who are oppressed, but how many Christians or churches can you name who are doing that?
The list could go on and on, but I think this is sufficient. Most of us are faithful in rendering unto Caesar what is his, but that is often due to the fact that if we don't we break the law and face penalties. We are often less likely to render unto God what belongs to Him because we don't see an immediate penalty if we don't. We forget that there is a day of judgment coming for each of us.

But, we should not be motivated by the fear of God's judgment to do the things He has directed. Our motivation should come because of our love for Him and our appreciation for all that He has done for us. We should seek to be good citizens of the Kingdom of God because we are the recipients of Gods grace, not because we fear His judgment. We should desire to obey Him because blessings come through obedience, and those blessings are not only ours to receive but will also be experienced by those whose lives we touch on His behalf.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Sharing with bivocational ministers

This past Saturday I was privileged to share with Church of the Nazarene bivocational and small church pastors from the Michigan District. That morning I shared a workshop on "The Healthy Small Church," and after lunch I shared on "Transforming the Small Church From Maintenance-Minded to Missional." We had a great day with a lot of questions and discussion among those attending.

This event was the idea of District Superintendent John Seaman. John and I first met when I was a speaker at PALCON in 2010. He has a deep appreciation for bivocational ministers and wanted to offer them some training opportunities that would address some of their particular challenges. This fall I will return to lead two more workshops.

It is exciting to me that more and more judicatory leaders are seeking ways to offer training to their bivocational and small church pastors. These leaders recognize the growing numbers of such ministers and their importance to their churches. They also realize that these pastors face unique challenges and need training to help them address those challenges.

This recent conference was my third one for this year, and I have seven more currently scheduled for 2016. Seven different denominational groups have invited me to speak to their bivocational and small church leaders this year. There has been a very good turnout at the three previous events, and I look forward to the remaining ones on the schedule. It is exciting to meet these pastors and lay leaders, hear their concerns, and try to answer their questions. These are sharp folks who are doing a great work for the Kingdom of God.

There is still time for your church or denomination to get on my schedule this year, and it's not too early to be thinking about 2017. I was surprised at how quickly these 10 events were booked this year.

Before leaving Michigan I was invited to preach at Elmdale Church of the Nazarene on Sunday morning. We had a great service with some wonderful people. Their pastor, Nate Gray, has been at the church for six years and reminded the congregation when he introduced me of how my book The Healthy Small Church: Diagnosis and Treatment for the Big Issues had been instrumental in turning their church around after he came. It's always nice to know that something you've done has had a positive impact on others. I was blessed by being with this growing congregation and getting to know this young pastor and his family.