Thursday, June 30, 2016

You can only cut so much

When the economy tanked in 2007-8 it finished off a small business we had owned for 15 years. Sales had been down for a couple of years before the economy went south, but the recession finished it off. I do not blame the economy. A poor economy only points out the problems that exist in an organization that a strong economy hides. I have written an e-book that I believe will benefit any small business owner who wants to avoid the mistakes that can cost him or her the business they've worked so hard to build. The name of the book is Mistakes: Avoiding the Wrong Decisions That Will Close Your Small Business. It's a bargain at only $4.99, especially when you consider that it can save you thousands of dollars if your business folds.

One of the lessons I learned through that painful process is that you can only cut costs so much. We had reduced expenses as far as we could and remain open. While reducing expenses in a down economy is often necessary, it's not enough to sustain the business. You also have to find ways to increase income.

It can be tough trying to find a way to increase sales in a slow economy and it's not always possible to maximize profits. In fact, to get the sale you may have to reduce your profit margin. The one thing you can't do is ignore cash flow. Cash flow is always important, but when money is tight it is king. When you're out of cash, you're out. Believe me, I know!

What does all this have to do with churches? Many churches have not seen their giving improve since the recession. Although I'm retired now from my judicatory role I still talk to numerous church leaders. Some report their giving is strong, but the majority has seen a steady decline in giving since 2007-8. Many of them have cut their budgets almost every year since then, and they are still not reaching their budget requirement.

In most smaller churches the biggest component of the budget is the pastor's salary and benefits. Some pastors have been forced to become bivocational if they wanted to remain at the church. Others are trying to support families on salaries that have been reduced. There is only so much that can be cut from the pastor's salary and benefits if the church wants a quality pastor.

Larger churches can cut staff and reduce programs. Smaller churches do not have the ability. Many of them have minimal funding for their ministries, and if they cut those they eliminate the limited ministry they are offering. If a church offers no ministry, how does it justify its existence?

By the way, denominations are struggling with reduced funding as well. Many have significantly reduced staff, cut back on missions work, and offer reduced resources to their churches. Some have restructured their financial systems to reduce the amounts going to regional ministries and increased the amount going to the national denomination.

Churches and denominations need to realize they can only cut costs so far. Cutting costs alone will not enable some of these organizations to survive long-term. They have to find ways to increase revenue if they want to continue to have productive ministries.

Increased funding will come when the church does a better job of teaching sound biblical stewardship principles. Casting a vision for ministries that capture the passion of the people will also result in increased giving. We are far removed from the time when people gave just to keep the denominational wheels greased. They will give to a vision for ministry for which they feel some passion. They will be generous towards ministries that are making a difference in people's lives.

It's time church and denominational leaders stop avoiding the elephant in the room and realize the current financial reality many of them are facing. It's time they begin to address this reality and take the necessary steps that will result in increased giving. In fact, it's long past time.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

When only a few seem to care

Seldom do I lead a conference that I am not asked the question, "How can I lead my church forward when only a few people seem to be willing to do anything?" Usually, when the question is asked several heads begin to nod indicating they face the same problem. When I began my pastoral ministry I faced the same issue, and what I learned continues to be the advice I give to those who ask the question.

You have to ride the horse that wants to run. Whipping a dead horse won't make it go any faster. You have to dismount from a dead horse and find one ready to run. Climb on that one and let it take off.

What do I mean? There are some people who will never engage in the work of the church. Unfortunately, some of them will be in positions of leadership. No matter how much you challenge them, how often you cast the vision to them, no matter how much you urge them to become involved, they are not going to do anything.

At that point, you have to find those persons in the church that share your vision for ministry and who have a heart to see the church develop a more effective ministry to the community. When you find those individuals you begin to invest your life into them. They may not be in current leadership roles, but you can help prepare them for the time that they will be.

What do you do with the others? You love them, you pastor them, but you invest yourself in those who are going to work with you to lead the church forward. As the Pareto Principle teaches us, we invest 80 percent of our time in the 20 percent of the people who will provide the greatest return on that investment.

Admittedly, this will probably cause some problems for some pastors. People will accuse you of having your clique in the church. Church gossips will talk about how much time you spend with your "friends" while ignoring others in the church. When such talk begins remember that while Jesus had many disciples he spent most of his time with twelve. In some instances he purposely reduced that number to three. He understood that some people would do more for the Kingdom than others, and he reserved the majority of his time and his greatest lessons for those few. We need to do the same.

It doesn't take great numbers to do great things. A few passionate people who own the vision and have been trained to use the gifts God has given them will accomplish more for the Kingdom of God than a hundred of people who want to ensure the church has a worship service every week. Identify those people and pour yourself into them...then watch and see what God will do.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Abandoning the faith

A few weeks ago I shared that I had began re-reading some of the older books in my library as part of my devotional reading. This week I began reading Life Looks Up by Charles B. Templeton. Written in 1955 it is as current as today as it describes many of the issues facing mankind. What makes this book even more interesting is that just two years after its publication Templeton walked away from the Christian faith and declared himself to be agnostic.

He had began his ministry as an evangelist a decade earlier and became good friends with Billy Graham. Some believed that Templeton would have an even greater impact for the Kingdom of God than Graham, but after serving as an evangelist for a decade he left it all.

I do not know all the details behind his decision. I'm sure it's been written about elsewhere, but I really haven't probed into it. It does appear that one primary factor was that he decided he could not longer believe the Bible. He described in his last book a conversation he had with Billy Graham after he abandoned the faith. He insisted to Graham that no one could honestly believe the creation story in the Bible. I suppose once he made that determination it followed that he would question everything else written in the Scriptures.

Graham responded that although he certainly could not explain everything in the Scriptures, including the creation story, that he had chosen to believe them as the written Word of God. Of course, that belief in the Bible is what made his preaching so powerful and anointed.

When one begins to doubt the truth of God's Word it becomes easy to question everything about the Christian faith. There is a reason the enemy has fought throughout the ages to keep the Scriptures away from people. When that failed his next strategy was to get people to doubt them. "Has God said..." was his approach in the Garden of Eden and continues to be one of his most effective methods of keeping people from a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

It is critical that we settle in our minds once and for all what we believe about the Bible. If it is nothing more than the writings of men trying to explain their sense of a deity then we are free to believe whatever we want. However, if we believe that the Bible was written by persons inspired by the Holy Spirit and contains the very Word of God, then we need to respond accordingly.

We are free to choose how we want to think about the Scriptures, but we are not free to avoid the consequences of that choice. And there is a consequence, an eternal one. Graham made his choice and so did Templeton, and time will tell which one made the right choice. As for me, I have chosen to believe the Bible to be the infallible Word of God. It is what I preach and it impacts the way I try to live my life. I pray you will make the same choice.

Monday, June 27, 2016

The problem of suffering

Last week someone on Facebook posted a picture of a well-known televangelist holding a healing service. Below that picture he had another picture showing children in a third-world hospital obviously ill. The person posting asked another individual why these pastors didn't go to such hospitals to heal these innocent children.

His comments were obviously reflecting his feelings toward this individual (who is definitely not a pastor) as well as his feelings towards God. Another person chimed in stating her strongly atheistic beliefs. I wanted to respond, but I made a decision a long time ago to avoid Facebook discussions on the existence of God and most theological questions. It's simply not the best medium for such discussions.

But, his question and the lady's response did point out what is probably the greatest difficulty many people have in believing in the existence of God. They insist that if God exists, and if he is all-loving as Christians teach, then he could not allow innocent people to suffer. Their argument is that since people do suffer either God doesn't exist or is incapable of doing anything about their suffering or that he doesn't care that they suffer. Therefore, either he does not exist or, if he does, he is not worthy of worship.

Answering this question is one of the biggest challenges facing the church today as we attempt to reach out to the unchurched. It is also a topic that is seldom addressed in our pulpits simply because it is so difficult to answer.

Ravi Zacharias wrote Why Suffering?: Finding Meaning and Comfort When Life Doesn't Make Sense to respond to this very issue. Zacharias is a great Christian apologist who isn't afraid to tackle the tough issues that non-theists often raise. I would recommend that every pastor and anyone serious about reaching people for Christ to begin to study this issue of suffering, and this book is a great place to begin.

Zacharias begins by responding with a question of his own. He asks, "Why is it that we finite, self-serving, time-constrained, so-often-wrong human beings think we have all the wisdom needed in which to castigate God and hold Him before the bar of our wisdom within our timetable?" Great question, but fortunately he doesn't stop at asking questions. He goes on to demonstrate how other religions and worldviews have addressed the issue of suffering and points out how the Christian response is actually a more satisfying answer.

We are far removed from the time when a preacher could read something from the Bible and expect people to accept it simply because it came from the Bible. We now have to be able to defend not only our words but the Word as well.

In 1 Peter 3:15 the apostle commands us to "always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you...." What is your answer to the one who asks how an all-powerful, all-loving God can allow innocent people to suffer? How do you answer the person who insists that all religions are basically the same and lead to God? How do you defend the existence of hell? What is your response to those who claim that morality is determined by each person for himself or herself?

We cannot avoid these hard challenges to the Christian faith that are raised by so many people today if we are serious about reaching people for Christ. These are serious questions that require serious answers.Let each of us study to show ourselves approved so that we will be prepared to respond to the challenges people have to the Christian faith.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

The pain of pastoral termination

Last night I received an e-mail from a pastor telling me he had been asked to resign from the church. It was a fairly short message primarily asking for prayer, but the pain he was feeling was evident even in the few words he sent.

I was blessed to have not gone through that as a pastor. However, I worked with enough pastors who did experience that to give me a sense of what they and their families went through. Most will go through all the normal grief process plus have the added burden of wondering how they will provide for their families and struggle with questions of their call to the ministry. Some never recover and leave the ministry completely. Others remain in the ministry but remain wary lest it happen again. Most will work through their pain and remain in ministry, but it will still leave scars.

I do not know the circumstances of what prompted this most recent event, but somehow there was probably some unmet expectations the church had of the pastor. Sometimes these are unrealistic expectations, sometimes they are not conveyed well to the pastor, and in some cases the pastor understands the expectations but is unable to meet them.

One of the things I have noticed was that often there was a good pastor and a good church who were not a good match for one another. Every pastor cannot serve every church. Early in my pastoral ministry I received a call from a denominational leader asking if I would be interested in starting a new church in an urban area of a large city. I've spent my entire life on farms and in farm communities. I know nothing about urban ministry other than what little I've read. I thanked the caller but explained that I would likely not be a good fit for this church start. As Clint Eastwood said in one movie, "A man has to know his limitations."

What should a pastor do when asked to resign? A good ending will make it more likely that you will have a good start in your next place of ministry.

  • Leave graciously. There's no sense in burning bridges or to unleash a scathing attack on the church. Such behavior has a tendency to follow you later.
  • Seek support. I promised the person who contacted me that I would keep him and his family in prayer. Hopefully, he has also contacted denominational leaders where he serves to gain their support.
  • Allow yourself to go through the grief process. You've lost something important so it's normal to grieve. Work through each of the steps but refuse to get stuck on any one of them. If you find you are unable to move through the process find someone to help you do that.
  • Try to not become fearful. Many churches do not provide pastors with sufficient severance pay in these circumstances so you may need to get a temporary job while your work through your emotions and through the process of finding another place to serve.
  • Reflect. One of the worst things that happen in such circumstances is that you don't learn anything. Are there things you could have done differently to have prevented this? Did this catch you unawares? What are your primary ministry strengths, and was this the best place to use those strengths? You may want to take advantage of a ministry assessment center to help with this reflection.
  • Trust your calling. Scripture tells us that the gifts and calling of God are without repentance. Just because things did not work out well in this place does not mean God has withdrawn his call on your life.
  • Spend extra time with family. They are hurting and may even be more concerned about the future than you are. They need you to be strong even while you grieve. Remind one another that in ten years you'll look back on this as a difficult time but that God proved himself to be faithful. 
  • Pray. That should go without saying, but sometimes we forget to pray when we need it the most. Be very upfront with God about what you are feeling and what you need.
Pastoral terminations and forced resignations are always very painful times. Even doing everything I've suggested won't make them any easier to go through, but they will help you go through. As I shared in yesterday's post, God has promised to uphold you by his righteous hand. Rest in that promise.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Working without a net

Most of the time when I'm working at my desk I have Pandora playing on my computer. I do have a Southern Gospel channel on my station list as well as the Blind Boys of Alabama, but most of the channels are secular. Several of them are Blues channels, a couple of them are older Country channels, and there is one Classic Rock and Roll.

Yesterday I was playing the Country Outlaw channel when I heard an old song by Waylon Jennings, "Working Without a Net." One line in the song says, "Some want you to fly, some want to see you fall." I thought how that also describes the way some people feel about their pastors.

Most people want to see their pastors succeed because if the pastor succeeds so does the church. However, in some churches there are a few who want to see you fall. I've never understood that mindset, but I assume if the pastor fails it somehow justifies their own short-comings. If the individual holds some position of power, perhaps the pastor's failures helps to strengthen their hold on that position. Again, I really don't understand why some would enjoy watching the pastor fall, but I've met some who seemed to take a measure of pleasure when their pastor proved to be human.

Since these people do exist in some churches, what should the pastor do? First, a pastor cannot operate out of a fear of failure. We are human, and if we attempt to do great things for the Kingdom of God there will be times when we fail. Some of our great ideas will prove to not be so great after all. Our failures do not define us unless we let them.

Second, remember that the vast majority want to see you succeed. As they trust your heart they are willing to forgive those times when your plans didn't work out as you thought. When such times occur be willing to admit them to the congregation, and you'll find most folks will surround you with love and understanding.

Third, accept the fact that we do work without a net. At least, we do not have a physical net. But, always remember that Is. 41:10 reminds us, "So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; will uphold you with my righteous right hand." We do have a safety net available. God has promised to uphold us in His righteous hand. There is no greater security than that.

Finally, there's little we can do about those who would like to see us fail. Love them, pastor them, and ignore them. Except in very unusual circumstances they will never support you or anything you want to do. Worrying about what they think will limit your effectiveness as a pastor. Keep your focus on those who want to see the church move forward and on the vision you believe God has given you. If you do this and fail, you'll have the most secure safety net you'll find anywhere.

Monday, June 20, 2016

The coming pastor shortage

Before retiring as a judicatory minister I assisted dozens of churches as they sought a new pastor. It was always a challenge to find a pastor for smaller churches, and it became increasingly more difficult to find pastors for medium and larger churches as the years went by. As I talk with church leaders telling me their struggles in finding qualified pastors willing to serve their churches I realize this problem is growing worse.

Unfortunately, I do not see this improving any time soon, if ever. Growing numbers of pastors are approaching retirement age. Many seminary trained pastors refuse to consider a call to a smaller church. There are not enough students in seminary today to fill the empty pulpits that already exist, and many of these students do not plan to enter pastoral ministry. Some current pastors are drawn to new church planting as a way to escape some of the problems found in existing churches. For several years we have seen about 50 percent of pastors leave the ministry within five years of graduating seminary. When you add all these together, plus other factors not mentioned, we have far fewer pastors than we have churches with nothing on the horizon that will change this.

What are churches to do when it is time to call a new pastor? Some churches are so healthy and growing that their biggest challenge will be to be sure they call a pastor who will keep them moving forward. However, for many traditional churches they will be forced to consider options that may make them uncomfortable. Some of these options are:

  1. Many smaller churches will be calling bivocational pastors and/or bivocational teams to lead them. We are already seeing this happening across many denominations, but this trend is only going to increase, especially if the church is determined to remain an independent body.
  2. Two or more small churches may decide to merge into one larger congregation. This seldom works as well as people hope. Too often after such a merger there is one church with two congregations that never really merge together. If a merger has any hope of being successful it will usually require that all the congregations sell their properties and obtain a new one. The thoughts of selling "our church" usually ends the talk of a merger.
  3. Because bivocational pastors can be difficult to find in many cases a church may want to consider calling a lay leader from within the church to serve as pastor. There are numerous ways in which such persons can receive pastoral training, and because these lay leaders already have the trust of the congregation, this can work very well.
  4. For many years the United Methodists have been willing to share a pastor between two, three or even four small churches. This is an option other churches need to consider. I know many churches want their own pastor, but the reality is that this may not be a realistic expectation in the near future.
  5. Many churches need to take a hard look at their refusal to call a woman pastor. Are you sure your objections to women in ministry are theological or are they cultural? Have you ever really studied what the Bible says about women in leadership roles in the church or are you just repeating what someone told you a long time ago? 
  6. Churches need to look at what they present to a prospective pastor. Does your church have a history of being hard on pastors? Some do, and these churches will find it almost impossible to call a new pastor until they change their bad behavior. If a church is dysfunctional, the word gets out, and smart pastors avoid such churches like the plague.
  7. Some churches may be so far down the decline side of their church life cycle that they will never be able to call a pastor. Such churches either need to find alternative ways to operate or made the tough decision to close.
None of these options mean that your church has settled for inferior pastoral leadership. I know that some people will view these as representing a failure on the part of a church, but that isn't true. They are realistic ways of dealing with a problem that isn't likely to improve in the near future. As changes occur in every aspect of society we have to find ways to adapt to those changes. This addresses a change we are seeing in pastoral leadership, and if we cannot adapt to this change we will see many of our churches without that leadership.

Some of these options may be more acceptable to a particular church than others, but this is a conversation that needs to occur in many churches, especially smaller ones. It's a conversation that should take place even before your current pastor leaves, and he or she will leave. Every pastor is a departing pastor from the first day he or she arrives at the church. One way or another, your current pastor will one day no longer be your pastor. Now is the time to begin discussing how the church might respond when that time comes.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Finding my books

I recently put a link to one of my books on a Twitter feed. An individual told me the link was to the book on Kindle and he wanted a hard copy. He asked if it was available on hard copy. It is.

All of my ministry books are published in paperback and can be found on, CBD, and in many Christian bookstores. My first book, The Tentmaking Pastor: The Joy of Bivocational Ministry, is out of print but you can find used copies for sale on Amazon. They also sell it for Kindle devices.

The only book I've written that has not been published in hard copy is a business book I wrote called Mistakes: Avoiding the Wrong Decisions That Will Close Your Small Business. It is available for Kindle devices from Amazon and on NOOK at Barnes and Noble's site.

If you scroll down to the bottom of this site you will see you can also order my books directly from me. You will need to send me a check as this site isn't set up to accept credit cards, so it's a little inconvenient, but I did want to make this option available.

Each of my books were really works of passion for me. The ministry books focus primarily on issues specifically faced by smaller and bivocational churches and leaders. This particular ministry has been my focus throughout my 35 years of ministry. When I served my church as a bivocational pastor for 20 years I found there was very little in the way of resources especially designed for us. People tell me my books have been helpful to them which is very rewarding to me.

The business book came out of my personal experience of having to close a small business we owned. As I reflected back on what happened I realized that the primary reason the business failed was due to mistakes I made as its leader. I wrote the book to help others avoid those same mistakes.

I'm working on a couple more books at this time and hope to complete at least one of them by the end of the year. Please keep me in your prayers as I continue my writing.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Penetrating society

This election campaign has been unlike any seen in modern history. It's been long on nasty personal attacks while little has been said about addressing the real problems facing America and the world. The two persons chosen to represent their parties are among the least qualified to serve as President of the United States that we have seen in a long time. It was said a long time ago that a nation gets the government it deserves, and in my opinion this election demonstrates just how far this nation has fallen. Like many Americans, I will go to the polls this fall to vote, but I'll do so holding my nose.

Both candidates will seek support from Christians and will claim to be "one of us." Neither reflect the moral values and beliefs found in Scripture, but there will  be churches and church leaders who will embrace both candidates as "one of them." This shows how far some of our churches have fallen as well.

Scripture teaches that believers are to be light and salt in our world. Salt and light have penetrative qualities. Salt penetrates meat to keep it from ruining. Light penetrates darkness so we can see clearly where we need to go. The church is to penetrate the world to help keep it from ruin and to shine a light into a darkened world so people can see clearly the direction they need to go. It is obvious that we have failed to do that.

I grow weary of Christians complaining about the state of our society while they do nothing about it. We have sat on the sidelines for decades allowing secular philosophies to gain control of the minds of the people. Rather than taking the teachings of Christ into the world we gathered in our holy huddles each week waiting for the world to join us there. Doing this we have given to the enemy the political system, the educational system, the financial system, and the family system of our nation. Our only hope, many think, is for Christ to come back and unleash judgment upon the world.

That is not the only hope. We don't know when Jesus will return, but until that happens we as followers of Him are to occupy the land. We are still called to be salt and light. We are to penetrate every aspect of our society with the teachings found in Scripture.

Christians need to penetrate the educational system of our nation. In order to do that Christian men and women who sense a call to higher education need to prepare themselves theologically and philosophically for such work. The same thing needs to happen in the public school systems. We need Christian men and women on school boards, in teaching positions, in administration, and as superintendents. Many Christians now serve in such positions, but we need more.

This needs to happen in the legal system, in the business world, in the financial world, and certainly in the political system. If Christians cannot gain influence within the political parties then it is time that we create a third party that will actually have a chance to win elections. If there was ever a year when a viable third party candidate had a chance to win national office, this is it. Unfortunately, it is too late for that to happen in this election, but now is the time to begin preparing for the next election.

Such penetration will take a long time to accomplish because we have sat on the sidelines for too long. But, it will never happen if we don't begin now. Our task is not to sit safely in our "sanctuaries" while the world around us crumbles. Christ has called us to go into our world and penetrate it with the Gospel. It's time we did so.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The second reformation of the church

In yesterday's post I discussed how each Christian is ordained for ministry at the time of his or her baptism. Every believer has been called to minister and given spiritual gifts by the Holy Spirit to enable us to do ministry. The role of the pastor is not to do the ministry of the church but to equip each member of the church to minister according to the gifts given to that person.

Greg Ogden, in his book Unfinished Business: Returning the Ministry to the People of God wrote "It has been broadly observed that the first Reformation of the early 1500s placed the Bible in the hands of the people and that the Second Reformation will place the ministry in the hands of the people." This is occurring in churches across the country, especially in those served by bivocational pastors.

In a bivocational setting there is a lot of ministry that will not get done if the pastor is expected to do it all. There simply isn't enough time. By definition, a bivocational pastor has another job. It may be a part-time or full-time job, but in either case this pastor is not always available to do "church work." In my experience I have found that in healthy bivocational churches members of the congregation are willing, and even expect, to minister when the pastor is not available.

However, returning the ministry to the people is not merely a pragmatic action because the pastor is not always available. It is the biblical model for ministry. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons we have not emphasized the ministry of the laity for the past several decades. As a result we have perpetuated an unhealthy family system.

Ogden explains, "In the healthy family, the goal of parents is to grow children into responsible, self-initiating, caring, and serving adults. The church, on the other hand, has more often that not viewed the role of pastor as parent and the people of God as dependent children who need to be constantly cared for. As a result, the children remain perpetually children."

He goes on to note that too often the church and the pastor have entered into an unhealthy conspiracy of dependency which has been equally unhealthy for both. Pastors are burning out and leaving the ministry at frightening rates, and churches are continuing to decline in attendance, finances, and impact on their communities. It is vital that we rediscover the equipping role of the pastor and the ministry role of the congregation.

How would a pastor go about equipping his or her congregation to do ministry?

  • Begin by casting the vision for such ministry. Be sure to begin with the why before you go into the what or some people will think you're just trying to get out of work. Because the church has operated in the old, incorrect model for so long this initial phase will take time in most churches.
  • Change your role from teacher/caregiver to that of a coach. This may be a difficult change for the pastor, especially one trained in seminary for a very traditional form of pastoral ministry.
  • Train your leaders. Ogden suggests a pastor should spend 80 percent of his or her time with 20 percent of the congregation who has the greatest ministry or leadership potential. I agree with this. In the old model we often spent 80 percent of our time with the 20 percent of our congregation who had the most problems. We need to reverse this.
  • Help people identify their spiritual gifts. There are numerous surveys to help you do this. Challenge them to work most in the areas where God has gifted them.
  • Model ministry to those you are equipping. Invite them to go with you and participate in various ministry activities. In time, you will be able to send them to minister to these needs. In fact, they will be able to take others with them to help develop them as ministers as well.
  • Demonstrate your trust in them as ministers. Believe in them. They may not do things the same way you would do them, but that's OK. 
  • Do not underestimate the desire of the church to want to go back to the old way of doing things. Remember, it's what they knew for decades, and there is always a pull to return to what we've known. Don't allow that to happen. Keep this vision before them. Celebrate and publicly recognize those in the church who are doing good ministry.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Ordained at baptism

In 1982 a group of pastors and lay leaders met to ask me questions about my beliefs  before making a recommendation that I be ordained to the ministry. The recommendation was made and a couple of weeks later I was ordained by my church and our association.

The truth is that I had been ordained years earlier, but it was an ordination that is not often recognized. We don't usually associate ordination with baptism, but in reality God does ordain us to ministry at our baptism.

One of the tenets of my Baptist tradition is "the priesthood of the believer." We believe that we have all been called to minister and have been given spiritual gifts through which such ministry can occur. However, this is often talked about more than actually done.

Far too many in our churches are willing to sit in their pews every week and evaluate the work of the minister rather than engaging in ministry themselves. The mindset in these churches is to call a seminary trained pastor who will them be responsible for the ministry of the church.

The problem with this mindset is at least two-fold. One, there is far too much ministry that needs to be done for one person to do it. The second, and more serious problem, is that such a mindset is not biblical. The Bible is clear that the work of the pastor is to "equip the saints to do the work of ministry."

Each of us who call ourselves Christians are called to be engaged in ministry. This responsibility cannot be satisfied with us providing financial support for a professional to do that work for us. We are each called to be on the front lines of ministry.

This does not mean that we are all called to preach or lead a church. As mentioned above, we have all been given unique gifts to enable us to minister so our ministries will each take on different characteristics. One may have the gift of teaching while another has the gifts of mercy and healing. Their ministries will look different, but when each are serving in the areas of their giftedness it adds to the overall ministry of the church.

Even when some churches emphasize lay ministry the idea too often is that lay members are to be helpers to the pastor. That thinking is wrong and needs to be turned around. The pastor is to assist the lay persons in the work of their ministries. The role of the pastor is to equip each person in his or her church to perform their ministries in their daily lives.

I am convinced that each believer is Jesus Christ was ordained for ministry at their baptism. The pastor's role is to help each person fulfill their calling as ministers. Until the church recaptures this biblical mindset it will continue to limp along relying on the professionals to do the work each believer has been called to do.

Friday, June 10, 2016

First, earn the trust of the congregation

One of the most enjoyable things I've done in life is to earn a Doctor of Ministry degree. I was 61 years old when I completed the degree so I obviously did not pursue it to advance my career! The work was challenging, but I have to say I enjoyed every moment of it.

The most enjoyable aspect was working on my project and writing my thesis. The project I submitted was "Coaching Bivocational Ministers for Greater Ministry Effectiveness." My plan was to coach six bivocational pastors over a three month period and write on the process. Through a selection process I chose the pastors who would be coached and began the coaching relationship with each of them.

After graduation, I turned the thesis into a book which the publisher titled The Art and Practice of Bivocational Ministry: A Pastor's Guide. I've never been happy with the book title, but I am very pleased with the content because the book shares the coaching relationship I've had with ten bivocational ministers, the issues they had, and the solutions we were able to help them discover during the coaching process. Because coaching always works with the needs of the person being coached, we  were always working on the most important challenges they were facing. Many of these are challenges common to many in ministry, so the book offers possible solutions to issues you may be facing.

For example, one pastor was serving as a bivocational pastor after having spent several years in fully-funded ministry. In the 30 months he had pastored his current church it had grown from about  13 people to 30, but he felt that the lay people were still leading the church, not him. He wanted to know how long it would take before he might become the leader he wanted to be.

As we talked he shared that the previous pastor had created deep divisions in the church which nearly closed after he left. The pastor being coached understood the fear and reluctance the remaining people felt in giving the pastor too much authority, but he still wanted their trust.

This pastor had been doing a lot of right things which I encouraged him to continue doing. We then began to talk about the need for him to lead through the leaders. I asked if there were leaders in the church who seemed to have the ear of the congregation. He identified two such persons and indicated he had a good relationship with them.

I then challenged him to think of some changes he wanted to make in the church, and he named two of them. Before our first session ended he committed to talking to these two leaders about these possible changes and report back in two weeks for our next coaching session. You'll have to read the book to get the rest of the story, but it's a good one.

A good rule of thumb is that the smaller the church and the more frequent the pastoral turnover has been the longer it will take for a new pastor to earn sufficient trust to lead the church. It will typically take a minimum of three years in a smaller church to earn that trust, and it can be much longer. (It took me seven years in my church.) Like this pastor, you have to lead through the existing leaders. Some pastors seem incapable of doing that, and they seldom last long enough to ever provide leadership in the church. These pastors not only damage their ministries, they also make it harder for the next pastor to be able to lead the church.

A small church will allow you to preach and minister to them, but they will not allow you to lead until you have proven trustworthy. Work very hard to earn that trust, and one day you'll become a leader in your church and your ministry will become much more effective.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Leadership books I recommend

A few months ago I began publishing a second blog that focused primarily on small business, leadership, and my auction business. Today, I am doing something I've not previously done: I am publishing the same article on that blog and on this one. For some time I have been deeply concerned about the leadership abilities of some of the pastors I've met and have become convinced that if we want to turn around some of our churches it is going to require stronger leadership from pastors.

Most of the books mentioned in this post are written primarily for business people, but you will find they offer many leadership principles that are easily transferable to those of us in ministry. I hope you'll consider ordering some of these resources to help develop your own leadership and those around you. Enjoy reading this post that will also be on  

After serving for the past 35 years in ministry positions and owning a small business I am absolutely convinced of the truth that everything rises and falls on leadership. Good leaders will develop good organizations; great leaders will create great organizations; and poor leaders will run their organizations into the ground. When I first learned this truth I evaluated my own leadership abilities and realized I was not a very good leader. Fortunately, leadership can be learned, and I set out to become a better leader than I was.
When I returned to school to earn my master's degree I included a concentration on leadership. I also began to read as much as I could about leadership, both ministry related and business related. I learned some of the principles in both were transferable to the other. In today's post I want to share some of the books that I found the most helpful to me as I began to grow as a leader. They are not in any particular order although the first one is the one that really got me started and continues to impact my thinking about leadership the most.
That book would be John Maxwell's The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You (10th Anniversary Edition). While attending a conference in which Maxwell was teaching through this book I first realized that my poor leadership had a negative impact on both my ministry and the small business I owned at the time. The laws he taught in that book have shaped most of my thinking about leadership. While I have profited from each of his books, none have impacted me as much as this one.
In Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap...And Others Don't Jim Collins noted that while we have many good companies we do not have many great companies because most are satisfied with being merely good. This would probably be my second favorite book on leadership.
Leading Change by John Kotter is the best book I've read on the subject. Much of leadership deals with change, and many change efforts fail because the leader approached it poorly.
Up Your Business!: 7 Steps to Fix, Build, or Stretch Your Organization by Dave Anderson is just a book filled with solid advice for any leader wanting to grow his or her organization.
Derailed: Five Lessons Learned from Catastrophic Failures of Leadership by Tim Irwin reminds us that even the best leaders make mistakes. Every leader should read this book as a reminder that if he or she fails to pay attention to early warning signs they can run the train off the track.
As a person of faith I found Spiritual Leadership: Moving People on to God's Agenda, Revised and Expanded by Henry and Richard Blackaby to be very helpful. I believe there is a spiritual aspect to all things including leadership. While written primarily for ministers, this book contains important principles for all leaders.
EntreLeadership: 20 Years of Practical Business Wisdom from the Trenches by Dave Ramsey combines entrepreneurial thinking with leadership. The book tells how he built his own business after going through bankruptcy and provides helpful advice and the tools for anyone who wants to be a more effective leader.
The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth: Live Them and Reach Your Potential is another book by John Maxwell. Leaders need an intentional plan for growing, and this book identifies some areas in which growth is needed.
If a leader wants people to follow him or her it's important to remember that skills alone are not enough. A leader must be just as intentional about developing character as he or she is in developing skills. The Ascent of a Leader: How Ordinary Relationships Develop Extraordinary Character and Influence presents a process for intentionally building character.
Too often leaders spend a lot of time casting vision and setting goals but nothing seems to ever happen. Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done by Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan gives great advice to leaders about how to actually get things done.
Here are ten books that have greatly impacted my thinking about leadership. Believe me, my bookshelves contain many more books focusing on leadership principles, but these are at the top of my list. I encourage you to plan on reading at least one or two this summer and see if they help you develop into a more effective leader.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Terminating a pastor

A Facebook friend, Joe McKeever, had a post earlier this week about the problems that arise when a church dismisses a pastor. As he noted, such action causes the church to pay a heavy price, especially if the termination was not warranted. Termination also impacts the pastor and his or her family, and many never recover from the ordeal. Scripture warns us that we need to be very cautious in how we treat those whom God has called into ministry.

I served as the bivocational pastor of one church for twenty years. During that time there were two significant conflicts, both concerning me, but to my knowledge I was never in danger of being terminated. Both were resolved, and we were able to move forward. Unfortunately, that does not happen in every church.

In fourteen years of judicatory ministry I saw some pastors treated terribly by their churches. I could not believe the reasons some churches gave for terminating their pastors. In at least one instance a pastor was forced to resign because many in the congregation quit giving so the church was unable to pay his salary. Numerous pastors resigned because they grew tired of having to deal with church controllers. One of my responsibilities was to assist churches seeking pastors, and in a couple of instances I refused to assist them due to the way they had treated too many pastors in the past. As I explained, I would not sacrifice any more good pastors on the altar of their dysfunction.

What are some reasons churches give for terminating a pastor or asking for his or her resignation?

  • The church was not growing as if church growth is the sole responsibility of the pastor.
  • The pastor would not bow to the whims of the deacons. You will not find anywhere in Scripture that teaches the pastor is to be controlled by deacons.
  • The pastor's family has problems, and if a man does not rule his own household well he cannot lead. A lot of church families have problems. Prayer and support might be a better alternative than adding to their problems.
  • The pastor will not yield to the church controllers. He or she should receive a salary increase when this happens. Finally, someone in the church was willing to stand up to the people who are killing your church.
  • The pastor did not visit me when I was in the hospital. Did he or she even know you were in the hospital? Who called to tell them?
  • The pastor won't keep regular office hours in case someone wants to stop in to talk. Except in the largest churches with staff, most pastors have to much to do to sit around an office in case someone decides to stop by. That's why people make appointments.
Of course, there are many other reasons, but these are some of the most common I've encountered.

We have to admit there may be some valid reasons for asking the pastor to resign. If the pastor is teaching false doctrine or has a moral failure then for the health of the church he or she needs to leave.

Even then a church needs to be very cautious about how this is handled. Before entering the ministry our family left the church we were attending due to the pastor's liberal theology. I was a deacon in the church and therefore one of the leaders. It was obvious to me that the majority of the congregation did not share my concern about his theology. Rather than push the issue, I resigned and we began attending another church. The pastor asked me to address my concerns at the next business meeting of the church, but I knew that would only create disharmony in the church which I did not want. I assured him I was not his enemy and did not want to bring turmoil to the congregation. I would leave a church again before trying to force out a pastor with whom I disagreed. Two weeks after we left my wife was told by a member that she heard we had left because we were unhappy the choir got new robes!

Don't put a pastor on a pedestal, but be careful about how you treat that person. A lot of church leaders are going to answer before God for the way they treated these men and women God called to serve them. That may not be a pleasant experience.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Do not overlook the value of older books

In Ecclesiastes 12:12 Solomon reminded us "Of making many books there is no end...." That is certainly true today! Those of us who enjoy reading are glad about that, but it does present a dilemma when we have to choose what to read. Just because there are many books does not mean that all of them deserve to be read. Books are also expensive so if we buy ones that we find are not helpful or enjoyable to read we can waste a lot of money.

Most of us have our favorite authors. These are men and women whose writings we have found helpful in the past. We know their books will usually be a safe investment and will provide us with enjoyable reading.

Unfortunately, many of us overlook some valuable books that need to be read and re-read. They are written by what one person called "dead authors." These are older books written by persons who have passed away. We seem to think that these books have little to say to us in our postmodern era. Such thinking is wrong.

In my devotional reading I am currently re-reading The Company of the Committed: A Bold and Imaginative Re-thinking of the Strategy of the Church in Contemporary Life by Elton Trueblood. It's been years since I read this book. While searching my bookshelves for something to read I ran across it. I've been amazed at how this book, published in 1961, speaks to the issues still facing the church today.

This morning I began reading the chapter on "The Vocation of Witness." The Great Commandment calls us to go into all the world and be a witness of what God has done for us. However, we know that few Christians ever share their testimony with others. Trueblood challenges this failure on the part of believers reminding us that our failure in this area is directly counter to God's command to us.

He shares some thoughts on the matter that came out of an even older book written by a French existentialist, Gabriel Marcel, that addressed the sharing of testimony. There's not room in this post to include all that was said on this matter, but I will share one quote from Marcel, " the act by which man is called to be a witness." That line jumped off the page as I read it.

Trueblood went on to write, "The call to witness is a call which men can answer affirmatively or negatively, but one who answers it negatively, however kind and pious he may be, is not in the Company of Jesus."

Will that preach today? It did in 1961 and it still does in 2016. If we read only the latest and newest books we will miss out on reading some of the greatest thinkers from the past. I encourage you to go to your back shelves, blow the dust off the covers of some of those older books you read years ago, and re-read them. I bet you'll find some nuggets you didn't notice the first time. Besides, you've already paid for that book!

Monday, June 6, 2016

What causes churches to be unhealthy?

We've heard for years that 80 percent of the churches in America are plateaued or dying. I think it's safe to assume that most of these churches have some degree of poor health. Although there some valid reasons for a church to not grow, most plateaued and dying churches are not healthy. That is why I wrote my book, The Healthy Small Church: Diagnosis and Treatment for the Big Issues. It has outsold all of my other books because it has obviously spoken to church leaders.

More than one pastor has written to say this book helped turn their churches around. I recently spoke in a church in Michigan for a pastor who told me he led the church through a study of the book four years earlier when he first went there. It was exciting to hear how the church had changed during his ministry.

Turning around an unhealthy church begins by first diagnosing the problems that are causing the poor health. While there may be many causes, I have found that six problems are often at the root of a church's unhealthy state.

  • Poor self-esteem. This is frequently a major problem for smaller churches that were once much larger.
  • Conflict. While conflict cannot be avoided in churches, it does not have to be unhealthy. However, it does need to be resolved or it will keep resurfacing.
  • Lack of vision and purpose. A church that is merely drifting along hoping something good will someday happen will be a very unhealthy church.
  • Focusing inward. Too many smaller churches are more concerned about their own survival than they are about making a difference in their community.
  • Poor leadership. Everything rises and falls on leadership. If the pastoral and/or lay leadership is poor, the church will struggle.
  • Cultural indifference. Too many churches want to live in the 1950s and cannot understand that the world has changed.
The book addresses each of these problems and offers some solutions. However, it does more than that. It offers solid ways to lead your church to become healthier and begin new phases of ministry.  This is why this book has been so popular among pastors and why my seminar on this topic has been my most requested.

You can order the book online or find it in most Christian bookstores. I encourage you to read it, and if you believe it will be helpful to your church, ask your lay leaders to read and study it with you. One congregation purchased 90 copies to give to every family in their church. May their tribe increase! Several judicatory leaders have purchased copies for each of the pastors in their districts. Thank you!

I have led several conferences this year where I've spoken on this subject and have more scheduled this summer and fall. If you believe this could benefit the churches in your area, give me a call and let's discuss doing one for your church or the churches in your district.

Friday, June 3, 2016

What are you teaching the church about giving?

In a meeting with a group of men one of them began to talk about the giving in their church. Thirty years ago the church was nearly broke. A new pastor came to the church and slowly the finances began to improve until giving nearly doubled the budget needs of the church. This church was able to become a significant support of mission work in its denomination as well as do some incredible ministry locally. After several years this pastor left. Today, the church's giving has declined significantly. It gives almost nothing to mission support. When I asked the individual why the church had such a financial roller coaster he responded it had to do with the pastors and their teaching on giving.

The one pastor presented a biblical view of giving which included tithing. He was not afraid to preach sermons on stewardship, and he backed his teachings with his own faithful tithing. The pastor taught that a church does not take up an offering but receives an offering as part of its worship experience. As money came in it was wisely invested in Kingdom work. In time, giving improved dramatically in the church.

When this pastor left the new pastor told the church that tithing was not taught in the New Testament. He eliminated receiving an offering as part of the worship service and put up a collection box in the back of the sanctuary where people could put their offerings if they so chose to do so. Many of the new people who came into the church under his ministry did not have a biblical view of stewardship and did not support the church financially at the same level as before. As a result, the church is financially unable to minister as it had been doing.

As I've often written in this blog, everything rises and falls on leadership. This is certainly true in the church. After about three years the pastor's ministry philosophy and theology will become that of the congregation. If a pastor has a poor understanding of some aspect of biblical teaching it won't be long before many in the church shares that same understanding.

If a pastor wants his or her church to be an evangelistic church, then he or she better be evangelistic themselves and need to teach people how to share their faith with others. If a pastor wants a church with a biblical understanding of stewardship then he or she better be tithing and teaching biblical stewardship to the congregation.

What is the giving like in your congregation? What does that pattern say about what you are teaching about stewardship?

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Let your speech be with grace

The Apostle Paul reminds us in Colossians 4:6 "Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one."

I have to admit that there have been times I've struggled with this one. In fact, many times. Once, as I was reviewing my sermons for the previous few months, I noticed that many of them were quite negative in tone. The more I read through my sermon notes the more convicted I became. The next Sunday I began my message by apologizing to the congregation for the negativity that had been in my sermons for the previous months.

Many people come to church having been beaten up by life all week. They don't need to come to church only to have the pastor hammer them as well. As I shared that morning, I can say anything I need to say in a positive manner as well as in a negative one. I was committed from that time forward to eliminate the negativity from my sermons. I would not compromise the Gospel in any way, but I would also not beat up my listeners anymore either.

Writing this blog presents many opportunities to rant about some issue that is especially troublesome. Although I have written the occasional rant, I've tried to do so as graciously as possible. Believe me, there was much more I wanted to say in some of those rants! I tried my best to edit out the negativity and voice my concerns in a more positive and gracious way.

Yesterday, a friend of mine posted something on Facebook. I agreed with him, but another of his friends attacked his post. I responded in a very sarcastic manner, published my response, and was immediately convicted. I instantly deleted my post.

We seem to live in a world of crudeness. We have lost the ability to be civil with one another. People on social media say the most disgusting and cruel things to each other. If you read a news item online the comments that follow are often crude and ugly. Rather than commenting on the article these comments are more often than not personal attacks on the persons mentioned in the article. Unfortunately, Christians are included among those who resort to personal attacks and rude comments towards those who disagree with them.

Political events result in arrests as mobs run wild. Road rage incidents continue to escalate. Just yesterday the news reported that a car purposefully ran over a motorcycle injuring both riders after words were exchanged at a stop light.

We cannot control the actions of others nor can we control what they say and write. But, we can control our own speech. Maybe if each of us takes personal responsibility for our speech we can begin to restore some civility to this nation once again. Let's make sure our speech is always full of grace.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Have fun this summer

Summer is usually a slower time for many churches. Church attendance often drops during the summer months as families try to squeeze in vacations, family reunions, and other activities before school resumes. In some churches, the choir disbands during the summer and other committees and/or boards may not meet.

All of this makes the summer a great time for pastors to get away and enjoy more family time as well. I will be preaching for a friend of mine soon as he and his family enjoy a two week vacation on an Alaskan cruise. Another church recently called asking about my availability to fill their pulpit while their pastor goes on sabbatical this summer.

Unfortunately, not every pastor will take advantage of the slower summer months to get away. I know because for many years in my earlier ministry I didn't, and in my work as a judicatory leader I met many other pastors that made the same mistake I made.

I shared before in this blog about my bout with clinical depression in the 1980s. The root cause for the depression was that I had over-extended myself. I had pushed myself almost to the point of exhaustion until I had nothing left. I never slowed down even when I had the opportunity. The counseling I received during my recovery helped me learn to take better care of myself.

It wasn't long after I had conquered the depression that I bought my first bass boat. At least once a week after work my wife and I would be on a nearby river fishing or just enjoying the summer evening eating dinner in the boat while floating down the river. The factory where I worked had a bass club which we joined. We tried to fish all the Saturday tournaments which took us to some great fisheries in Indiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee.

After taking early retirement from the factory our fishing slowed down to the point that I sold my boat. I replaced it with my first motorcycle. Now, instead of heading to the lake we took to the road. We rode it on a 10-day vacation out west. Some evenings we would ride a couple of hours just to get an ice cream cone. One weekend we had free, and my wife asked what I planned to do. We ended up riding to Nashville, Tennessee for the weekend and came back Sunday evening. We still agree it was one of the best weekends we've ever had.

The point of all this is for you to enjoy the slower months of summer. Take advantage of the longer days and do things that are fun and relaxing. Visit your state parks and hike their trails. Take in a music festival (and it doesn't have to be a religious one!). Go to a ball game. Start a new hobby. Please take some vacation. It doesn't really matter what you do, just have some fun this summer.