Friday, July 29, 2016

When your church is between pastors

The first day a pastor begins his or her ministry in a new church that person is a departing pastor. We seldom think of it that way, but at some point that pastor will leave the church. He or she may leave for another church, leave the ministry completely, retire, or die, but, if the Lord tarries, at some point the church will be seeking a new pastor. Instead of being surprised when this happens the church should be planning for that eventual transition.

For many years this was often referred to as an interim time in the life of the church. The person called to lead the church during this time was usually referred to as an interim pastor. In recent years many are calling this a transitional time and the individual serving as pastor is a transitional pastor. I think this is a good change in terminology.

The word interim seems to me like a time when things are at a standstill. Everyone is waiting for something to happen, and that something is the calling of a new pastor. On the other hand, transitional provides a sense that things are happening. You are moving from one place to another. In fact, my dictionary defines transition as "a passage from one state to another; a movement."

This time between pastors should not be a time when a church is idle and waiting, but should be a time when the church is reflecting on who it is and where God wants it to be going. It is a time to seek a fresh vision from God so the church has a better idea of the gifts and abilities their next pastor needs to have to help them achieve that vision.

Too many churches are waiting for a new pastor to tell them their vision. Think of the time that is wasted. It's not unusual to take a year or two to find a new pastor. That person needs to take some time to get to know the congregation and the community, and only then can a vision discernment begin. A church waiting on a new pastor to give them their vision for ministry could easily spend 2-3 years doing absolutely nothing but waiting.

Besides, it's not the pastor's role to "give" the church a vision. A vision discernment process should be done by the entire church, or in the case of a larger church by the leadership. For any vision to truly be owned by the congregation they need to have input into the process of discerning what that vision is. The transitional time between pastors is a great opportunity for such discernment to occur.

It's often helpful to have someone from outside the church lead that process. Denominational and judicatory leaders can often lead that. Church consultants and coaches can do so as well. Regardless of whom you use to lead the process, it's important to do it.

When you can match your next pastor to your ministry vision, you are more likely to call the right person. You also won't lose valuable time when such vision discernment is done before the new pastor begins. Use the transitional time between pastors wisely. Your church's ministry will benefit greatly if you do.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Every week has a Sunday

In my first semester of Bible school I took a class that really impacted my entire ministry. The first day of class the instructor told us that he did not give tests. My first thought was I was really going to like this class! He then explained that he required four papers due on certain dates. If the paper was not turned in for any reasons we would receive a zero. No excuses accepted. None. Zero.

He explained that each of us were there preparing to be pastors. We needed to understand that every seven days we would be expected to stand in our pulpits and deliver a sermon. Our congregations would not care what else had occurred that week. They would accept no excuses. Every week had a Sunday, and we needed to be prepared for that. It was a lesson that I never forgot.

Saturday night specials are never fun. There's no enjoyment in realizing on Saturday you don't even know what you're going to preach the next day much less have it prepared. We know when we're not prepared to preach, and our congregations know it as well. They may be too polite to say anything...for a while, but if we continually neglect our sermon preparation we will eventually hear about it.

The best thing I did was to plan my preaching out at least a quarter in advance. I was flexible enough that if something significant happened I would change my planned message and prepare one to address the event, but that didn't happen as often as some might think.

By planning my sermons weeks in advance I could spend more time in the actual preparation rather than spending half the week deciding what to preach. I could also give this information to our worship team so they could design the entire service around the theme of the message. This allowed for a much better flow to the service.

I share how I did that planning, and many other tips for easing the pressures of ministry, in my book The Healthy Pastor: Easing the Pressures of Ministry. Order your copy and find ways to make your ministry more productive and less stressful.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Election 2016

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post for this blog that looked at the changes taking place in the church. I compared the church of today to a trapeze artist. The performer must let go of the safety of the swing he or she is holding onto in order to leap to the next swing. It is when the trapeze artist is in between the swings that he or she is in greatest danger. The church today is in between the swings. We are having to let go of the familiar, what we know, to be able to catch the other swing. That second swing is unknown to many of us, and that is what makes is frightening.

The political system in America is in a similar state today. I doubt that anyone would have predicted the events of this political season. Donald Trump not only ran against the Republican establishment, but he did and said some of the most outrageous things that should have ensured his defeat. He is now the Republican nominee for President.

Hillary Clinton has been investigated throughout her primary by the FBI for the way she handled her e-mails and national security information as the Secretary of State. Another investigation covered her actions in the Benghazi attack. The FBI concluded she violated numerous laws and put some Top Secret information in potential jeopardy, but since she didn't know what she was doing they recommended she not be prosecuted. The Benghazi investigation found that she and others had been warned numerous times by her own advisers that additional security was needed at the diplomatic compound but had taken no action. Two episodes of such incompetence would hardly qualify someone for the highest office in the land, but this week she will be the Democratic nominee for President.

Both candidates lack the support of key elements of their respective parties. Leading Republicans refused to attend their convention, and Ted Cruz' refusal to endorse Trump will follow him throughout this election. Bernie Sanders, Clinton's primary opponent, complained throughout the primaries that the Democratic National Convention had stacked the deck against him getting the nod. This past week e-mails were released showing his complaints to be valid. The DNC had ensured Clinton would be the nominee. The chair of the DNC was forced to resign because of her role in undermining the candidacy of Sanders. The day after her resignation she joined the Clinton election team. This was way too much for the Sanders' supporters many of whom are refusing, at this time, to support Clinton.

For either nominee to claim the moral ground in this election would be a travesty. Republicans are always looking for the next Ronald Reagan as the Democrats continue to seek the next John F. Kennedy. Both have settled for far less.

Many evangelicals have publicly stated they will not vote for Trump because of what they perceive as his lack of morals and decency. I wonder how many of them also refused to vote for Mitt Romney because he was a Mormon and then spent the next four years complaining about President Obama. They seem unable to see that not voting for Trump is a vote for Clinton.

Some on the far left fringes of the Democrat party are saying they will not vote for Clinton because her VP nominee is not progressive enough. Sanders supporters claim they will not vote for Clinton because of the way their candidate was cheated out of a fair primary. One of my fears is that because of the candidates we may see a poor voter turn-out and have a new President elected by a very small percentage of voters who will then claim a mandate to force through his or her plans. That may not be good for the country.

Not only is the church going through a time of major transition, so is the political system of this nation, and virtually every other aspect of national life. This is a time the church needs to pray and come together for the good of this nation and its future role in the world. Personally, I do not believe God is done with America, but we have far to go to become the nation we once were. The church needs to take 2 Chr. 7:14 seriously and ask God to send a spiritual revival to this nation.

Monday, July 25, 2016

The person across the table is not your enemy

I recently finished reading Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It by Chris Voss. The author is a former FBI hostage negotiator and now owns a consulting business that trains Fortune 500 companies through complex negotiations and has taught negotiation at several leading business schools and universities. There is much in this book that church leaders can learn that will benefit them the next time conflict occurs in their church.

One of the lessons I found very helpful is that the person across the table is never the problem. The issue is the problem. The person across the table is actually your partner in trying to resolve the issue.

If we could learn this we could avoid much of the anger and the other negative emotions that too often occur in church conflicts. Too many church conflicts force people to choose sides and to look at the other side as the enemy. When this happens the church loses. No matter how the issue is resolved, the church loses when its members begin to see one another as the enemy.

Another valuable lesson I learned is that it's OK to say no. Too often we avoid saying no to something that we are certain will damage what we're trying to do to avoid conflict. We've also been taught that in negotiations we want to try to get the other person to say yes to everything we ask. If you doubt that, listen to the questions you're asked the next time a telemarketer calls. Every question is designed to get a positive response from you. They do this in order to get you to give them the big yes when they try to sell you their product or service.

Voss insists that saying no actually starts the negotiation rather than ending it. In fact, he even recommends helping the other side feel comfortable saying no to reduce barriers and allow more effective negotiation.

A word of warning...this book does contain some language. There's not much, but if you find that offensive you may as well not read the book. But, I do believe there are some real helps in this book for the Christian leader who will face conflict at some time in his or her ministry (and that's all of us!). You'll also find some advice you can use the next time you buy a car or make any other large purchase!

Friday, July 22, 2016

The first 100 days as a new pastor

Once when I was being considered for a new position I spent some time thinking what I would do in the first 100 days if I was offered the position. I wasn't, but it was still an excellent process that I went through. I had actually identified a full page of things I would do during that first 100 days that I felt would get me off to a good start.

Years ago pastors were told to do nothing that first year. Enjoy the honeymoon and get to know the people. That's still good a point. It is critical that a new leader spends time getting to know the people, but that first year should not be a time when the pastor does nothing. One of the things a new pastor should do, if the church has not already done so, is to lead the church through a vision discernment process. This will accomplish at least two things.

One, you'll get to know the church as they work through vision discernment. The process I use to lead churches seeking a fresh vision is to first help them identify the core values and bedrock beliefs they share as a congregation. That not only gets them talking about these things, often for the first time in many years, it helps the new pastor better understand the church.

This will also help the new pastor begin to identify the steps the church needs to take to achieve this vision. As these steps are identified the pastor better understands how he or she needs to prioritize his or her time and how to lead the church.

The first 100 days is also the time for the pastor to establish personal boundaries and to teach the church those boundaries. The temptation for a new pastor is to try to do it all when we first start at a new church, but this only sets up unrealistic expectations for the congregation. As Dr. Phil says, we teach people how to treat us. If we begin by teaching the congregation that we will do it all, five years later they will still be allowing us to do it all.

We need to be talking with church leadership about the things we can do and those things we expect others to do. Before I entered the ministry our church called a new pastor. In our first deacon meeting he asked for our expectations of him, and then he shared his expectations of us. It was an excellent discussion that laid the foundation for his ministry in that church. Each of us needs to have that conversation with our lay leaders when we begin a new ministry.

It is always exciting to begin a new ministry, but it's critical that the new ministry gets started right. How we handle that first 100 days will play a large part on how effective our ministries will be.

If you about to begin a new ministry you may want to read The First 100 Days: A Pastor's Guide by T. Scott Daniels. It can also be a good resource for someone wanting to re-start his or her ministry in a current church. Sometimes we can start over.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Connect with God, at home and in the community

For the past few days I've been privileged to be part of the General Baptist 2016 Summit in Bowling Green, Kentucky. The theme of this summit has been "Connect...with God...At Home...In the Community." It ended last night after three days of wonderful meetings, informational workshops, and excellent worship. Attendance was great, and there has been a magnificent atmosphere throughout the event.

This year I was invited to lead three workshops: "The Healthy Small Church." "Bivocational Ministry for the 21st Century," and "The Healthy Pastor." I've had the opportunity to meet some wonderful church leaders who are passionate about what they are doing as well as the opportunity to learn from other speakers at the plenary sessions.

I always enjoy working with General Baptists. Several years ago I participated in two leadership events hosted by Oakland City University, a GB related school and made connections with several of the leaders of this great denomination. One of the reasons I enjoy working with them so much is their commitment to the Great Commission and to the local church. Another reason is the cross-section of people who attend their meetings. It seems that they have many young pastors and church leaders who are really on fire for ministry. I always enjoy continuing our conversations after a workshop because they are like sponges wanting to soak up more information. Quite frankly, I learn a lot from them and am always energized by our interactions.

The focus of this conference was on connecting with people. We can't influence people if we don't first connect with them. Too many churches want to do ministry but really don't know the people they are called to serve and how they can best serve them. When we first connect with them and learn their needs and hopes we will be better able to provide meaningful ministries to them.

I also greatly appreciated the focus on connecting with our families. Sometimes our families get left out when we think about doing ministry. As I've often said, if we fail our families we will have failed as ministers. This conference understands that and there was a major emphasis on connecting with our families and ensuring that our family relationships remain strong.

Of course, none of this really matters if we haven't first connected with God. Our relationship with Him is foundational for everything else we do. Without that relationship with God as our foundation everything else is building upon sand.

The final service was very moving as several people responded to the invitation to consider God's call to ministry and to the mission field. A number of young people to answer that call signifying a great future for General Baptists as it moves into the future.

I want to thank Franklin Dumond for inviting me to participate in this year's Summit and to everyone who worked so hard to make it happen. Great things are happening in this denomination and even greater things will continue to happen in the future.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Who cares about a speech?

I have to be upfront and admit that I did not listen to Melania Trump's speech that is causing such an uproar in the media. Some claim that about three lines of the speech were lifted from Michelle Obama's convention speech a few years ago. Others are now saying that President Obama, Michelle Obama, and Hillary Clinton all plagiarized from others in speeches they delivered in 2008.

First, convention speeches all sound very similar. After all, how many ways are there to tell everyone how wonderful a candidate is and how much you love America? That's why I don't bother listening to them. For the most part, they are canned speeches that follow set formulas that seem committed to getting lots of applause without providing any real content.

Second, what really makes the difference if someone uses a few sentences someone else used in a previous speech? I doubt that you said anything yesterday that someone, somewhere has not previously said some time in the past. I'm sure I didn't. The comments in question can be heard in just about every valedictorian speech ever given at a high school graduation. It's not like either woman was announcing some major scientific discovery.
What the media and some "stars" are doing is focusing on something so minor that it isn't worth discussing and trying to act like something horrible has happened. There are serious issues facing this nation that are much more important than a brief speech given by a presidential candidate's wife. When the conventions are over and the candidates start talking about substantial issues then it will be time to take note of what is being said.

But, what does this have to do with churches and ministry? The same thing too often happens in our churches. We focus attention on minor issues that have little to do with anything important and ignore more serious issues that may be occurring. For instance, we might spend a lot of time debating the purchase of a new hymn book and no time at all addressing the lack of baptisms happening in our church.

A few years ago a lady called me greatly concerned about what she felt was inappropriate dress by the pastor. He no longer wore a suit when he preached. She went on to complain that the deacons didn't wear suits when they served communion. She said they looked like they were going golfing instead of serving communion. To say she was upset would be putting it mildly.

This was a church that had declined by about half in a few short years. That decline had nothing to do with how the pastor and deacons dressed but was due to a number of issues that had caused great division in the church. Instead of being a growing church that was reaching people for the Kingdom of God, they had become a divided church that was declining and becoming more dysfunctional. Rather than address the real issues that might improve things in the church and have an impact on the community, a few in the church was concerned about how people dressed.

No doubt, this is going to be an interesting election season, but let's concentrate on things that really matter and not get sidetracked by minor issues that have no real bearing on anything of substance. This nation has serious problems. Let's demand the candidates address them and then we can decide which one seems most likely to turn things around. Our churches face serious challenges. Let's address those and quit nit-picking minor issues that add nothing to ministry.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Advantages found in a smaller church

When I lead my workshop on "The Healthy Small Church" I ask the attendees to share what people think of when they think of small churches. The answers I get are always the same regardless of the denomination I'm working with, and they are always negative. However, I believe there are some advantages found in smaller churches, and it are these traits that we need to focus on when leading our smaller churches.

Smaller churches offer a sense of community. We live in a time when people do not know their neighbors and often feel very alone. I am convinced that churches that offer a sense of community will be able to reach more people for the Kingdom of God, and smaller churches can naturally offer that community. Large churches have to form small groups to provide that sense of connectedness. Small churches are already a small group! Granted, there are some small churches that are very closed off to new people, but a healthy, small church will provide a sense of community to those who are connected to it.

People have an opportunity to serve in a smaller church. In fact, I often joke that a Baptist church will work someone to death until they learn to say no. Although it is true that people today are less likely to join an organization as a member, they are interested in being involved in things that are important to them. Small churches give people the opportunity to serve, to engage in meaningful ministry that makes a difference in people's lives.

A third advantage is that small churches communicate quickly. If there is a death in the church or community, that word gets around quickly. If someone needs help others soon know it. and people respond. I realize that negative communication also gets around quickly, but the positive aspect of this far outweighs the negative.

People in smaller churches share common experiences. This is one reason there is that sense of community. The church I served as pastor for 20 years was made up of blue collar, rural, mostly retired people. Those were the groups that we continued to reach throughout my ministry there. Because we shared common experiences it was easier to assimilate new people into the congregation. While there is nothing wrong with new people outside your demographic coming into your church, you will often find that those who share the most in common with you will be the ones most likely to become part of your fellowship.

Finally, people are more important than programs or performances. You normally do not have to try out to sing in the choir of a smaller church! Just show up for choir practice. Relationships are key in the smaller church. Everything else takes a back seat. Small churches are loathe to do anything that will damage relationships in their churches. While this can be a problem sometimes, it is also a strength of the church because it supports that sense of community that exists.

We could list many more advantages found in smaller churches, but these are enough to demonstrate that there are many positives to be found in such churches. Focus on these positives and build your ministry around them.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Are you sure God is calling you to another church?

As many of you know, I served my church as pastor for 20 years before leaving to accept a new ministry with our judicatory. This is one reason I am supportive of long pastorates. Another reason is that research consistently finds it takes 3-11 years for a pastor to effectively lead his or her church. Few small churches enjoy those kinds of pastorates, and that is one reason many of them struggle. It's hard to be a healthy, growing church when you're looking for a new pastor every couple of years.

In a 2004 survey I did of bivocational pastors I found the average tenure was slightly over four years for these pastors. That's still not long enough. It took me about seven years to earn the trust of our congregation before I was able to become a leader in that church. I have found that the smaller the church and the more frequent pastor turn-over they have, the longer it takes for a pastor to become a leader in that church

In my judicatory ministry of 14 years there were churches I helped find pastors 2-3 times. This was frustrating to the church and very demoralizing to their self-esteem. They couldn't help but wonder what was wrong with them that no pastor would stay. In some cases, the church was as fault, and in two of those situations I refused to help the church search for another pastor until they addressed the problems in their church. However, in most of these situations the church was not dysfunctional and was calling pastors who were always looking for the next open church that was a little bigger and offered better salaries.

These pastors always began their new ministries claiming God had brought them to these churches, and then 2-3 years later, when they announced they were resigning to accept another church they again claimed God was leading them. I'm sorry, but I don't believe God is that confused! I really question whether God leads people to jump from church to church every time a larger church becomes available. I wish these pastors would stop with the religious speak and just admit they want to move to a larger church. Stop blaming God for your decisions!

Certainly, God does call people to new ministries. There are times when a pastor is serving in a situation that is so toxic that the pastor needs to get out of there. There are also times when a pastor has done all he or she can do in a church and needs to step aside so a new pastor with different gifts and skill-sets can come in. However, this will seldom happen in 2-3 years.

Don't leave a church because things aren't going your way. Don't leave because some people oppose what you're trying to do. Learn to work with them. You need to know that whereever you go you will find people who will oppose new ideas. These people have family members in every church! I've read that the average pastor leaves a church because of seven people in the church who do not like the pastor or what he or she is trying to accomplish. This is regardlesss of how many other support the pastor. Don't let seven people control your ministry.

Smaller churches need long-term pastorates who will help them pursue God's vision for their church. If you will commit to being that pastor you will reap tremendous blessings.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Are you ready for fall?

The summer is often a slow time for many churches. Some disband their choirs for the summer. Others cancel small groups or evening services. The thinking is that with many schools shortening their summer vacation many families will attempt to take theirs in that short window of opportunity.

This makes summer a great time for church leadership to begin planning for the upcoming fall and winter. As people begin to return to their normal routines once school resumes it's important for the church to hit the ground running.

In his excellent book, Ignite: How to Spark Immediate Growth in Your Church, Nelson Searcy recommends having several "Big Days" in your church to spark growth. He defines a Big Day as "an all-out push toward a single Sunday for the purpose of breaking the next growth barrier and setting an attendance record in order to reach as many people as possible for Jesus."

One of the times he suggests for a Big Day is approximately one month after school resumes. People are often trying to get back in their regular routines when school starts, and this can take a few weeks. Most schools now start before Labor Day, and families often take trips on that last holiday that seems to signal the end of summer. Five to six weeks after school begins is a good time to schedule a Big Day. As he does in all his books, Searcy does a great job of leading the reader though the process of developing a Big Day that will help grow your church.

Summer is also a good time to develop your preaching schedule for the remainder of the year, if you haven't already done so. Your worship team should be making their worship plans including any special services for the holidays. Summer is also a great time to develop a stewardship emphasis that will help support the next year's budget. I worked with one church a few years ago that had a series of stewardship events in the fall leading up to a special service that challenged each family to pledge their giving for the upcoming year. It was their first time to do this, and it significantly increased their giving. In fact, it was so successful that the church agreed to do it the following year as well.

Summer is a great time for pastors and other church leaders to spend extra time with their families and to relax. I encourage every pastor I work with to do that. But, it's also a great time to plan ahead so when things begin to pick up in the fall the pastor and church will be ready.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Do we really know what others feel?

Much has been said in recent days regarding all the shooting incidents. Unfortunately, much of it has generated more heat than light. The one thing nearly everyone agrees on is that each shooting is a tragedy that should not have happened. The disagreements come from how to prevent such incidents from happening again.

Politicians on one spectrum insist that banning guns or at least making them more difficult to obtain is the answer. While exact numbers are impossible to know, it is estimated there are between 270-300 million guns in the possession of American citizens. Approximately, 41 percent of Americans households own at least one gun. The vast, vast majority of those who own guns are responsible individuals who own guns for hunting, for personal protection, or for collecting purposes. We are consistently told that all Muslims should not be judged based on the actions of a few radicals. The same principle should be applied to those who own guns.

The real solution is two-fold. The first is dealing with sin. That may sound off-putting to this postmodern generation, but sin is at the heart of all hatred, racism, and acts of violence. The answer to sin is to commit one's life to Jesus Christ and allow Him to change our hearts. More than one person filled with rage and hatred has seen his or her heart changed through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. As society has become more and more secular we have seen a steady increase in evil and a general devaluing of life. America desperately needs a spiritual revival, and such a revival must begin in the church.

The second solution is that we need to know one another, and that begins by talking to one another.

I was raised in a small, rural community. I attended rural grade schools and was never in a school with an African-American until I started high school. Even there, we had few black students. I never knew any of the problems they faced in our community until years later I read a book written by a number of African-Americans from our town. It wasn't until then that I learned that my black classmates had not been allowed to try on their clothes in many of the stores in our community, and if they didn't fit after they got home, they were not allowed to return them. I didn't know that for many years blacks in our community were required to sit in the balcony in our movie theater nor did I know that they were required to enter a local drug store through the side door. They could order lunch there, but they were not allowed to remain to eat it. They had to take their meals outside to eat them. Needless to say, the book was an eye-opener and showed me a side of the community I never knew existed.

About the same time I was reading this book I was working one Saturday by myself in a family-owned business when an older African-American gentleman came in. We had never met, but we were soon engaged in a conversation that showed me there was still much about my community I had never considered. He asked why there were no black doctors or dentists in our area. He wondered why our school system had no African-American teacher working in our schools. Many years previously a black school had closed and, to my knowledge, only one teacher was retained. I had her for one class in high school, and she was a great teacher. But, I had never realized that there were no other African-American teachers in any of our schools. We had a very good, long discussion,and when he left I realized that his experience in our community had been much different than mine.

These are the kinds of discussions we need to have with one another. Until we understand the experiences of others we need to be very careful about offering advice.

The church should be a place where such discussions should take place, but this will require some intentionality to make it happen. We should also be aware that such discussions will likely make some people very uncomfortable. But, how do we get to know one another unless we can talk with one another? If we cannot talk about our differences and how we view our world, we will never understand one another, and we will never come together.

It is also time the church becomes more intentional about pursuing diversity. A pastor friend of mine was confronted a few years ago by an African-American pastor who told my friend, "You're always inviting us to be a part of what you are doing. When are you going to become a part of what we are doing?" Soon after, my pastor friend's church became a part of this black Baptist association, and they have became very involved in the work of this association. Both the church and the association have benefited from the relationship.

The racial problems in America are not going to go away in the near future, but until the church and individuals begin to intentionally work towards understanding one another and developing relationships with one another, these problems will only grow worse. Simplistic answers won't solve our problems, but prayer and building relationships with one another will go a long way to resolving them.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Is your vision big enough?

Few things generate excitement among people more than an inspiring vision that people have bought into. Whether you lead a church, own a business, or manage a team your people want to be led by a leader who has a vision for where the organization is going. Few people want to be managed; most want to be led.

Most small churches do not have a vision for ministry, and the impact of that is shown in the lack of ministry that occurs in the church, the absence of new members and in decreased giving. Most people want to be involved in a church or other organization where things are happening, and they are not going to be attracted to a place that seems to committed to survival.

In churches that have a vision statement, these statements are often little more than a document that has little impact on the decisions the church makes. They were created because someone suggested it would be good to have one. Once formed, they went into a folder and placed in a file never to be seen or heard of again.

If a church has bought into a vision it should impact every decision the church makes. The first question that should be asked when something is presented to the church is "How will this enable us to fulfill the vision we believe God has given us?" Your planning calendar and budget should reflect your vision, and if they don't then something is wrong.

The vision for every church will be different because every church is different. Each church has different people with different spiritual gifts, different passions for ministry, and serve in areas with different needs.

Your church's vision should be big enough to challenge your congregation. If you can accomplish your vision through your own abilities, it is too small. Brad Lomenick, in his book H3 Leadership: Be Humble. Stay Hungry. Always Hustle, quotes another pastor who said, "The stakes are too high for us to die with a small vision."

Our churches need a vision that will change people's lives, both the lives of our members and the lives of those who are not people of faith. When our vision begins to change people's lives we will also begin to change our communities. If enough churches have big enough visions we will change our world through the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

But it all begins with a vision. What's yours?

Thursday, July 7, 2016

New ways of doing church

I recently came across a quote that said, "There are ways of doing church that no one has thought of yet." That statement keeps running over and over in my mind. I don't know what those ways are at this point. (Obviously, since no one has thought of them yet!) But, they are out there. Someone will think of them, and as new ways of doing church are discovered new people will be reached with the Gospel.

A few weeks ago I posted an article on this site that addressed the future of the local church. You can read that post here. In that article I suggested several changes we would likely to see in the future church, but there are many, many more changes that we will see in the future that have not even been considered yet.

Some find that this much change will be a scary thing. I find it fascinating. My biggest regret is that at my age I will not see much of it. At a recent pastor's conference I was leading I told the younger pastors that I envied them because they were going to see exciting changes occur in the church that those of us in my generation will probably not experience.

But, such changes will require innovative thinking that is not afraid to fail. There will be organic churches develop that will frighten denominational leaders and cause established churches to question their authenticity. These churches will reach people who would never darken the doorway of most traditional churches.

I expect many of these will be new church plants that do not have a history or tradition people want to preserve. They will be free to create their own systems and traditions, and these will be created to enable them to fulfill the vision they believe God has given them for ministry.

It will be much harder for established churches to create new ways of doing church because there is such an emphasis in these churches to preserve their past. Some in these churches see their role as that of a protector of everything that has gone on before. They will oppose any suggestion of doing anything that has not been done before and will attempt to remove anyone, pastor or lay person, who suggests such a thing. Such people forget that virtually everything their church does now was once a change from how things used to be done. Few churches operate today exactly as they did 150 years ago. (If nothing else, most of them have inside toilets today!)

Leadership will be required for a church to launch out into new ways of doing church. It will require visionary leaders who are not afraid of conflict or failure, and who can withstand the challenges that are sure to come from within Christian circles. Such leaders will have to be passionate about what they are trying to create and be highly skilled at casting vision so others can share in the ownership of that vision.

I'll close with a few questions. If you are in a traditional church today, how many churches in your community function almost exactly like your church? Does your community need that many churches that are almost carbon copies of one another? Are there new things you can do that will allow your church to reach those in your community that are not being reached by any church? Do you care enough about those people to make the necessary changes?

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

You are not indispensable

I retired as a Resource Minister with the American Baptist Churches of Indiana and Kentucky December 31, 2015. Prior to my retirement I was responsible for relating to the 133 churches in my area plus I worked indirectly with the additional nearly 200 churches that made up our region. Nearly every day there were phone calls to answer, e-mails to address, and meetings with the various churches to attend.

After 14 years I retired from that ministry...and there was nothing. My home office phone was disconnected a couple of days after I was retired. Various internet accounts were closed. If it wasn't for SPAM e-mails I would hardly receive any e-mails anymore. Before, I was involved in much of the work going on in our region; now I have no idea what's happening. It was like I had fallen off the face of the earth.

My ministry has certainly not ended. I've preached in numerous churches since I retired. I've led several conferences for small church leaders since retirement and have several more to do this fall. A couple of churches have asked me about doing some consulting work with them, and we are in the process of exploring that possibility now. My ministry has not ended; it's just taken a different direction.

My experience has been a good reminder that none of us is indispensable. Early in my pastoral ministry I never took all the vacation the church allowed. I think I was afraid that if I wasn't there things would fall apart. That's terribly arrogant when I read this on paper, but I've seen many pastors with the same mindset. They just won't say it out-loud.

The cemetery is full of people who thought they were indispensable. So far, the world has done OK since they've been gone. There will come a time when you will no longer be the pastor of your church. You should not be surprised when it goes along just fine without you. In fact, a few years after you're gone some will struggle to remember your name. That's OK, too.

Remember this, it's not about you. You are filling a role for a period of time. Unless you're in a new church plant your church has had many pastors before you, and if the Lord tarries, it will have many after you're gone. Take your vacations. Take sabbaticals. Spend time with your family. Develop hobbies and interests outside the church. When the time comes for you leave your current ministry you won't be sitting around wondering why the phone never rings. Instead, you'll be prepared for the next stage of your life.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Good leadership comes from developing good habits

Yesterday I began reading H3 Leadership: Be Humble. Stay Hungry. Always Hustle. by Brad Lomenick. I did not get out of the introduction before I began highlighting passages that were jumping off the page.

The first line I highlighted was "Leadership is more than hard work; it is habitual work...When you rise in the morning, nearly half of your day will be determined by the patterns you've either intentionally created or passively allowed." That is a powerful thought that I had never considered before, but it is absolutely true.

About eighteen months after starting as a bivocational pastor I decided to attend a nearby Bible college to further my education. In the first semester one of the assignments in a class was to record everything we did for one week. We were to do this in fifteen minute segments. The instructor questioned whether my life could be as structured as the form indicated. I assured him it was as that level of structure was the only way I could accomplish everything I needed to do.

Whether you are a church leader or a leader in another organization, the habits you ingrain into your life will play a large part on how successful you will be. Failing to build the right habits in your life will cause you to be very sloppy in your leadership. Setting priorities and building habits to achieve those priorities leads to greater success.

Think back to the above quote. Nearly one-half of your day will be determined by the patterns or habits you've built into your life. Those habits may be intentionally created or you may have passively allowed them to become habits in your life, but in either case they are the way you govern your life.

Any time you do not intentionally build good habits in your life you are drifting, and drifting almost always leads to a negative situation. Few people drift into success.

It's true that you cannot control everything that occurs in your day, but with the right habits you will control nearly half of what happens in your day. The structure that results from those habits will enable you to accomplish the most important things every day. Not only will that make your leadership more effective, it will also provide you more time to deal with the unexpected things that will demand your attention.

What habits define your life and work? Are they habits that you've built into your life, or are they habits that just seemed to show up? Are there new habits that you need to develop to become a more effective leader? What do you need to do to develop those new habits?

Monday, July 4, 2016

The Christian foundation of America

As we celebrate this Fourth of July we must recognize that America is in trouble today. It could be argued that America was once a Christian nation. In fact, in 1892 the U.S. Supreme Court did state that America was a Christian nation. Few would make that claim today. We have wandered far from the Christian principles upon which our nation was founded, and the Supreme Court has played a large part in making that happen.

Our schools no longer teach how the faith of our Founding Fathers was instrumental in creating this nation and the Constitution that governs it. History revisionists have tried to paint the Founding Fathers as deists who held no strong faith in a God who acted in the affairs of a nation. Our Constitution is continually chipped away through presidential Executive Orders and decisions by the courts that ignore the clear intent of the Founding Fathers. Even worse, the Christian values that served as the foundation of this nation are under attack as never before.

Just what did our Founding Fathers believe about God and how did those beliefs shape the founding of this nation? Rather than accepting what today's textbooks and critics say, we'll let them answer this question in their own words.

The Constitutional Convention was not going well, and some delegates were ready to give up and go home. One morning Ben Franklin, who many claim to be a deist, rose up to address the convention and its President, George Washington. He said, "I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth - that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings, that 'except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it.' I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without his concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel...I therefore beg leave to move that henceforth prayers imploring the assistance of heaven, and its blessings on our deliberations, be held in this Assembly every morning before we proceed to business, and that one or more of the clergy of this city be requested to officiate in that service."

In his first inaugural speech George Washington said, "We ought to be no less persuaded that the propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right, which Heaven itself has ordained."

John Adams, our second President, said, "We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge or gallantry would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other."

Our third president, Thomas Jefferson, asked, "Can the liberties of a nation be sure when we remove their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people, that these liberties are a gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with His wrath? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever."

James Madison, our fourth president, said, "We have staked the whole future of American civilization, not upon the power of the government, far from it. We have staked the future of all of our political institutions...upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to control ourselves, to sustain ourselves according to the 10 Commandments of God."

Patrick Henry wrote, "It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religion, but on the gospel of Jesus Christ!"

John Jay, the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, wrote, "Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty...of our Christian nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers."

There are far more examples that could be given, but it should be clear that this nation was founded on Christian principles, values, and teachings. For much of our history the Bible was taught in public schools to sustain the values that shaped this nation. In fact, in 1844 the Supreme Court asked, "Why may not the Bible, and especially the New Testament be read and taught as divine revelation in the school?...Where can the purest principles of morality be learned so clearly or perfectly as from the New Testament?"

Some claim that America is a far different nation than it was at its founding. Of course it is, but is it a better nation? One cannot destroy the foundation of any structure without having that structure destroyed as well.

We are too far removed from our Christian heritage to expect anything less than a true revival to return us to our spiritual roots. No President, no Congress, no court can save this nation. Only God can do that. As Christians we need to take 2 Chronicles 7:14 seriously and begin to pray that God will heal this nation. It's up to the church to humble ourselves, confess our own sins, and pray for revival. If revival is to come to America it must begin in the church.