Tuesday, August 30, 2016


Leadership gurus have long noted that leadership is influence, nothing more, nothing less. If you are influencing others, they are following you. If no one is following, you are not leading.

What we often fail to recognize is that influence goes beyond the persons with whom we have direct contact. I recently read a great example of this when the author wrote that when we do something that impacts our son we are also indirectly impacting our son's best friend's mother. Like tossing a rock into a lake, our influence has a ripple effect on the lives of other people whose lives also touch the person we influenced.

This is great news for the Christian who wants to impact his or her world for Jesus Christ. Our ministry to others not only has the potential to change their lives but also the lives of others around them. This literally means that we have no idea of how even the smallest service towards someone can have a major impact in the lives of other people.

In the late 1970s our daughter attended Vacation Bible School with one of our neighbors. We did not go to church in those days, at least not very often. This was probably the 3rd or 4th VBS she attended that summer. On the Friday evening of VBS at this church she told her mother and me that the pastor had given an invitation, and she had gone forward to ask Jesus Christ into her life. The pastor told her if she was serious about this decision she should come back to church next Sunday and make that decision before the entire congregation.

I was scheduled to work overtime in the factory that Sunday, but she insisted she wanted to go to church and make her decision public. There was no way I was going to allow her to do that and not be there to support her, so we went. Sure enough, when the invitation was given my little girl stepped out in front of all those strangers and made her way to the front of the church.

As a result of her decision, over the next few months my wife and I both came to faith ourselves. We became active in the church, and 2-3 years later I felt the call to the ministry. This year I am celebrating 35 years of ordained ministry as a pastor and as a denominational resource minister. I've been privileged to speak in many churches, publish books, lead conferences and workshops, and to assist countless churches as they have sought to live out God's vision for their ministries. All of this has happened because a little girl went to VBS.

You have the ability to influence other people's lives far more than you realize. You can be a world changer just through your faithful service to God and others. Ask God every day for the opportunity to touch someone for Christ and take advantage of those opportunities when they appear. You may find one day that you not only impacted one person's life but many others as well.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Transforming churches from maintenance-minded to missional

This past weekend I had the privilege of leading a conference for a Presbyterian district in northern Indiana on leading a church from a maintenance-mindset to a missional mindset. This is the second year in a row I've been invited to work with these pastors and lay leaders. We had about 35 people attend this event. They took a lot of notes and asked many good questions.

The majority of churches are stuck in a maintenance mode. Such churches have primarily an inward focus that is committed to caring for its members and less committed to serving those outside the church. When churches begin to go down the decline side of their life-cycle they also begin to move from an inward focus to a survival mentality. Now they become very risk averse and are very protective of whatever resources they do have. Although such churches can survive for years, this mindset will eventually lead to their death and eventual closure.

During this conference we covered a number of things churches can do to move to a more missional mentality, but it really begins with capturing a fresh vision from God for their future. The good news is that God does have a vision for each church; the bad news is many churches never understand what that vision is.

The mission of the church is found in the Great Commission and the Great Commandment. It is the same for all churches regardless of size. The vision is how a particular church will fulfill that mission today in the community they serve. For that reason, the vision will be different for each church. Because churches are made up of people with different spiritual gifts and different ministry passions, and because communities have different needs, the vision will be different for each church. It is not enough to try to copy what other churches are doing. Each church must discern God's vision for their church.

Without a fresh vision that is owned by the congregation a church will never move out of its maintenance mindset. Why should they? They have nothing to move towards. However, if a church captures a vision for ministering to those outside the church community it now has a reason to abandon its ruts and identify ways to better serve that community.

Our nation needs the church more than ever, but it needs a church that has a passion to fulfill the mission God has given the church and a vision for how to do that. I pray that your church will begin to make that move to a more missional mindset.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Let's raise children with a backbone

Yesterday I heard a story on the radio that still amazes me. A children's psychiatrist was explaining that he has recently seen several children who are afraid of Donald Trump. He told of one six year old boy who was brought to him because his intense fear of Trump.

I understand Trump makes some people nervous, and some are quite concerned of what might happen if he becomes president, but most of these people are not running to psychiatrists due to a crippling fear of the man. What is going on with today's children?

I read an article this week that urged parents to raise children with a backbone. The article was well written and certainly speaks to the issue of children needing professional help because of their fear of a presidential candidate.

Too many children today are being raised by helicopter parents who constantly hover over them every waking moment. These parents want to make every decision for them, protect them from skinning their knees, and demand that every child receives an award for showing up. When they sneeze they are rushed to the ER, and if they receive a poor grade the parents run to the school to find out what's wrong with the teacher.

My parents had a simple rule: If you get a spanking at school you'll get another one at home. If I got a bad grade I was grounded until the next grading period so I had plenty of time to study and bring that grade up. More times than I wanted to hear it my parents reminded me that society doesn't owe you anything. If you want something you work to earn it. Parents used to teach children responsibility and accountability; now many only teach them that the world revolves around them. Our granny government takes it even further as it assures people that they don't have to work or do anything except receive their government handout. No responsibility, no accountability, and no self-esteem.

Many young people on college campuses demand "safe spaces" where they won't hear anything that upsets them. Invited speakers, usually conservative speakers, are uninvited when students demand these speakers not be allowed to speak on campus. Their poor little ears couldn't take hearing a viewpoint different than one they've already formed which kind of makes attending a university a waste of time and money. We can only wonder what some of today's children will be like when they reach college age.

As parents and grandparents we need to raise children with a spine. They need to be allowed to make mistakes, allowing for age-appropriateness, and learn from those mistakes. They need to be allowed to play in the mud, work to earn money, and disciplined when they make poor choices. They also need to be taught that no means no and that temper tantrums are not allowed. They also need to be taught unconditional love so they know that no matter what, we will always love them.

Churches have a role to play in this as well. We need to teach them biblical truths so they will know how to make better choices. We need to prepare them for the challenges to their faith they will encounter in school and life. We need to teach them how to stand for what is right, and that Jesus is a friend that sticks closer than a brother.

We need to raise our children to be prepared to be the leaders our nation, our communities, and our churches will need. We need to help them develop a strong moral and ethical foundation for their lives, and we need to help them develop a spine.

Monday, August 22, 2016

A good reminder from a blues festival

Each year our small Indiana community hosts a two-day Blues Festival that brings thousands of people to listen to some great blues music and enjoy some wonderful barbecue. Nine acts play over the two-day event. Local acts open up each day, and some of them are very talented. Each following act typically is better known leading up to the headliner who closes the show each night. We've been blessed to have some of the biggest names in blues music play in this event.

I attend both days each year. If you buy your wristband early it only costs $20.00 and comes with $10.00 worth of food coupons. To hear nine acts of the quality who come to this event for $10.00 is an incredible value.

This year one of the earlier acts made several references to their inability to crack the big time. They never came right out and complained, but they made a few comments that showed their frustration. While they were good I could tell them some of the reasons why I thought they had not enjoyed the success they desired.

One of the biggest reasons, IMHO, is that they are trying to be something they aren't. They sang several songs they had written and covered some others from other groups. Almost every group does that, but I think the better ones stay away from covering songs that are strongly identified with major performers. This group covered a song that is a classic by a well-known singer now deceased. Their attempt paled in comparison to the original which, I felt, detracted from the talent they do have. They would have been much better off to have stayed with their own compositions.

Ministers can fall into the same trap. I've heard pastors who tried very hard to sound like well-known ministers. They even sounded out some of their words like their hero. When Rick Warren became so well-known I heard a ministry leader in Kentucky say he had never seen so many preachers in that state wearing Hawaiian shirts and going without socks. He made the point that what might work in Southern California doesn't necessarily fit in other parts of the country.

God has not called us to copy other ministers. He's called us to be us. God does not want me to be Billy Graham, John Piper or Rick Warren. He wants me to be me. He created me, and if he wanted me different he would have created me to be different. The same is true for you. Yes, we are to be continually growing and developing new skills, but at the core he wants to use us as we were created.

When I resigned my church in 2001 I told the congregation that their new pastor would not preach like I did nor would he or she pastor or do anything else exactly like I did. If God wanted another me there, he would not have led me to resign. A new pastor with new gifts and skill sets was needed to come in, and my gifts and skill sets were needed elsewhere. If we try to be something we aren't we will only frustrate God's purpose for our ministry.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Bivocational ministers get to minister in two jobs

One of the exciting things about bivocational ministry is the opportunities such ministry provides to minister in both worlds. Of course, a bivocational pastor has the opportunity to minister to people in his or her congregation, but we are also often allowed to minister to people in our other work setting. Some of these are people who would never consider entering a church building, but because we have built relationships with them we are allowed to minister to them at unexpected times.

Since getting my auctioneer's license people have asked why I decided to do something like this at my age. I enjoy it for several reasons, but being an auctioneer also allows me to minister to people outside the church setting. I've had people ask me about doing an auction for them, and when I've gone to look at what they want to sell they would begin to open up about some pain in their lives. At that point, if they do not already know, I mention that I am a retired minister. If it seems appropriate I ask if it would be OK to pray for them, and I've never been turned down. I then ask if they have a church home, and if not I will recommend a church in the area to them.

This doesn't happen every time I view items people want me to sell for them, but it does happen often enough to give me a sense that I am touching people for Christ who never darken the door of a church. I firmly believe that God opens up these doors of opportunity.

There are other ways I'm able to minister to people as an auctioneer.

  • Some people make their living picking, buying and selling. Often, they resell through an auctioneer. I am helping them provide for themselves and meet the needs of their families.
  • As people move into assisted living facilities or decide to downsize they find they cannot take everything with them. Oftentimes, they also find out that family members are not interested in their possessions. The only thing they can do is to sell those items they can no longer keep, and the easiest way to do that is through an auction. Many of my auctions come from this scenario.
  • When a loved one dies family members may find out they have inherited a lot of things they don't want. In many cases, the individual owned far more than anyone in the family realized. It's not uncommon for the heirs to feel overwhelmed. If they live some distance from the estate they may feel even more stressed as they consider what to do with everything. For these people an auction often makes sense. As an auctioneer I can relieve some of the stress they are feeling.
Each of these are legitimate ministry opportunities. In retirement I find that I preach somewhere nearly every Sunday, but being an auctioneer allows me to connect with people outside the church, and those connections often allows me to introduce them to Christ if they are not already Christian.

If you are a bivocational minister, how are you able to extend your ministry to your other work?

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Church Invitations

A few weeks ago I preached in a nearby church. As people were leaving several made the usual comments about how much they enjoyed the sermon. I'm often amused by this when some who mentioned how much they enjoyed the message wasn't awake long enough to hear most of it! However, one person's comment caught my attention. She added, "And thank you for giving an invitation. We haven't heard that much lately."

Their former pastor was a student at a nearby seminary so I was surprised that she indicated he did not normally end the service with an invitation. However, I was not surprised at the statement because it's one I hear too frequently when I'm asked to preach somewhere.

Some pastors have stopped giving an invitation at the close of the message. I've sat in a few of those services when visiting churches and always felt like something was missing when the service ended. I'm not sure why there has been a movement away from giving an invitation. Perhaps it's felt like doing so isn't "seeker friendly." Some may feel that it is putting pressure on people to respond. Certainly, no one wants to sit through 27 versus of "Just As I Am" while the minister begs people to come forward, but that's no reason to stop giving invitations.

While I appreciate some of the changes we see in many churches, this is one change that I think is a mistake. Every sermon should challenge people to make some type of decision in their lives, and they should have the opportunity to make that decision public while it's fresh.

I challenge people to make several decisions.

  • The decision to invite Jesus Christ into their lives for the first time.
  • The decision to rededicate their lives to Christ.
  • The decision to move their membership to this church.
  • A life decision in response to a specific challenge in the message.
  • In addition, I offer to pray for anyone about any issue going in their lives. I also invite people to come to the altar to pray to God without talking to me.
I believe in keeping the invitation brief. I announce to the congregation that we will sing just the first two versus of the invitational hymn, and if no one responds we will close the service. I feel that if someone is going to come forward it will happen quickly if they know we are not going to prolong the invitation.

If you've stopped issuing an invitation at the close of the worship service, I invite you to reconsider. Give people the opportunity to respond publicly to whatever God may be doing in their lives.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

What do younger pastors need?

At a denominational gathering one day we were discussing the problems younger pastors face when they begin their ministries. I don't think there is little argument that many pastors were not prepared for pastoral ministry by their seminaries. While a seminary education is a good thing, in most cases, many of them do not adequately prepare someone for the challenges of pastoral ministry. While they may have a basic knowledge of biblical languages and understand the history of their denomination, few pastors leave seminary trained in how to lead a meeting or how to deal with church bullies. Few have a good understanding of how to manage their time or how to set priorities and goals.

So many new pastors find themselves in trouble soon after beginning their pastorate, and we were trying to determine how we could best help them. One suggestion was to help them find mentors.

We wanted to match our new pastors with one of our more seasoned ones. Finding a good mentor can be a rewarding experience  regardless of what one is doing at the time. A mentor is one who has walked where you are going and is willing to share his or her life's lessons learned along the way.

On the surface, it sounds easy to match a mentor to a young leader, but in practice, it's not that easy. We found some new pastors were not interested. They either did not feel they had the time or they did not believe having a mentor would be a positive thing for them.

This is a very short-sighted approach. No, you won't have the time. You make the time. This is an investment in your future as a ministry leader, and like nearly all investments, there is an initial cost involved.

To believe you will not benefit from having a mentor is not just short-sighted; it is arrogance magnified many times over. These senior pastors have experienced many things throughout their ministries. Some good and some not so good. Why not learn from their experiences rather that have to go through them yourself?

When I began my pastoral ministry in the early 1980s I soon found myself in the church office of one of the senior pastors in our association. As we talked about pastoral ministry he related how he had ignored his family while serving the church. I won't go into details, but that failure on his part was now coming back to haunt him.

I left that meeting with this pastor determined to not make the same mistake. My family would be a priority even if it cost me my ministry. The church I was serving had many pastors in its long history, and if the Lord tarried, would have many more after I left. I was the only husband my wife had, and I was the only father my children knew. I would not neglect them in an effort to climb the "ministerial ladder of success." Today, thirty-five years later, I'm convinced that I made the right decision, and that decision was prompted in part because of that meeting with a more experienced pastor.

Find someone to mentor you. Take them out to lunch and pick their brain for an hour or so. Take plenty of notes. If they suggest something, make every effort to do it. A mentor is giving up part of his or her life to invest in you, and they want to see you taking this relationship seriously. If you'll do this, you will learn some things about ministry you'll never hear in seminary. You will be exceedingly glad you did.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Reflecting on yesterday

Yesterday I was privileged to preach at Madison FBC, a church in my hometown. The two services were both very good although I can't take credit for that. I was there to preach. The worship planners for each service are the ones who arranged the service and gave it a good flow. They did an excellent job. Still, I've taken time to reflect on the service and my message and see what I learn for future worship services.

Monday is a good day to review what took place the day before in our worship services. Many pastors take Mondays off claiming that they are tired and feeling run down after the pressures of leading worship. I never wanted Mondays off. If I'm feeling bad, why take a day off? I'd rather take off a day when I'm feeling good! However, that doesn't mean that I wanted a full day of ministry activities such as counseling sessions, committee or board meetings, or strategic planning. I preferred a day with more simple tasks and reflecting on the worship service from the previous day is a good example of that.

I'm sure many people told you on their way out the door how much they enjoyed your sermon, but how do you think it went? Was there a flow to the message? Do you feel you accomplished your goals with the message? Did people seem engaged? Could you have used more study before presenting it? What did your spouse say about it on the way home? Did you say some things in your message you now wish you had not said? Could it have been better presented another way? How did people respond?

What about the rest of the service? Was there a good flow to the entire service or did it seem to jerk from one thing to another? Did the service have energy? Were the worship leaders prepared? How well did the congregation engage in worship? What changes might need to be made to the worship service?

Especially in smaller churches, the worship service is the one time when a pastor is able to connect with a large number of the congregation. It's important that these opportunities are not squandered. I've preached in some small churches when the pastor and song leader got together five minutes before the service to decide on the hymns. That showed me how much they valued the service that was about to begin.

Worship should be planned at least a few weeks in advance so the musicians and other worship leaders can be prepared and to ensure a good flow throughout the service. That does not mean that everything is so rigid there is no room for the Holy Spirit to work. At times he does take over a worship service and it becomes something very special, but he also can work in our planning for the service as well.

However, planning is not enough. There must also be a time of reflection, a time to ask the above questions to see if we accomplished what we intended to do in our worship service. If we do that on Monday we'll have time to make needed changes before next Sunday.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Friends are essential to a growing church

One of the most helpful books for pastors that I've seen in many years is What Every Pastor Should Know: 101 Indispensable Rules of Thumb for Leading Your Church by Gary McIntosh and Charles Arn. It is packed with practical information for pastors and church leaders designed to help them be more effective and grow their churches.

Rule #22 says that "Newcomers must have seven-plus friends in the church within the first six months to become fully assimilated." This rule explains why some new members become involved in the life of the church while others seem to disappear. The authors explain that the friends are the bridge for outsiders to become insiders in a congregation. Without those friendships the new member never seems to fit in and eventually leaves.

Nearly every church I've visited have told me they are the "friendliest church in town." I often joke in my workshops that I've yet to meet the second friendliest church in any community I've been in. However, while these churches may be friendly to one another, they are not always friendly to new people. I know because I've been in many of those churches.

When I first became a judicatory leader I was not well known by many of the congregations in my Area. I had been a bivocational pastor of a small, rural church for twenty years. Being bivocational I had not attended a lot of conferences in our region or been very active in the larger denominational family. When I would visit a church for the first time, there was a good chance no one would know who I was. I used that anonymity to see how these churches received first-time guests.

In many churches I was well-received, but there were some exceptions. My wife and I noticed that some people went out of their way to ignore us. While there was often a lot of talking and laughter all around us, in some instances not a single person spoke to us. Had I been looking for a church I would not have chosen those to join.

There are a lot of resources available today addressing church hospitality as it pertains to how the church treats first-time guests. In fact, I have a workshop that I've done for several churches and associations on the subject. However, not much is done around how friendships are key to keeping our new members involved in the life of the church.

This book offers some good tips for doing this. In this post I'll just mention one. The authors suggest regularly beginning new groups for newcomers. It can be difficult for a new person to break into an existing group. However, it can be much more comfortable if everyone in the group is new.

I'm sure some reading this will object saying that this will lead to cliques in the church. Let's just be honest with one another for a minute. Your church probably already has cliques, and many of them may not be open to receiving new people they don't know. We all associate with people with whom we share common interests, and it's no different in the church.

We should be more concerned about losing new members than we are about the possibility of cliques forming in the church. Helping these new members make at least seven new friends is one way to keeping them involved in the life of the congregation, and creating new small groups for them is one way to do that.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The pastor's library

About a year ago I mentioned to my wife that I needed to do something about my library. I don't want her to have to deal with these books when I'm gone. As I sit here typing this post I am looking at seven bookshelves crammed full of books, mostly theological and ministry related. Actually, to say these shelves are crammed is a little bit of an understatement. Some shelves are double-stacked with books.

Although my comment about eliminating some of the library was meant to encourage her, she really wasn't buying it. In fact, she responded, "If you're going to reduce your library why did we receive a box from Amazon today?" Well, those were books I hadn't read! As usual, though, her observation was on target. I think I've eliminated one box of books so far and probably added more than that to the shelves.

It's hard for me to get rid of books. When I began my ministry in 1981 I had about one-fourth of a shelf of books, and they were not very good. Thanks to a book allowance from the church I was able to add to the library every year. Thanks to discount sellers like CBD I was able to spread that money much further than if I was paying retail for all my books. I also found a used theological bookstore in Louisville that helped me add to the collection. For years I attended the Friends of the Library book sale in my home town. I would head straight for the theological books and fill up at least 2-3 bags. My best deal at a FOL sale was the two volume Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament that I got for $1.00.

My books are highlighted, underlined, and written in the margins. The material highlighted has been recorded in a filing system I use to quickly find material I may want to use later.

I have an older version of a Bible study software program which I use occasionally, but there's something about holding a book in your hands and interacting with it with highlighters and pens. I have books on NOOK and Kindle, but I haven't added e-books in a couple of years. I just can't get excited about reading a book on a screen.

Probably younger pastors are more comfortable with electronic books and software programs for their study and sermon preparation. Regardless of whether you prefer the printed page or electronic books, I encourage you to regularly add to your ministerial library. Commit to a reading program. I try to read a significant book each week. I don't always hit that goal, but I'm at least close. If that sounds like a lot, there are people who read twice that many every year.

Invest in good resources. While you're reading, interact with the material. Develop a filing system so you can quickly find material you want to use later. If you'll do each of these you'll find your ministry to be much more effective and less stressful.

I need to put together another box of books to get rid of, but first I need to check something on Amazon. A church gave me a $50.00 Amazon gift card the other day as part of an honorarium.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

How do you feel about your congregation?

In 35 years of ministry I've had many conversations with pastors about their churches. Human nature being what it is, some of these conversations were not very positive. In fact, some were quite troubling. There is a lot of pastoral frustration out there towards congregations. While I know that some church members would try the patience of Job, most of our congregations are made up of people who love the Lord and want to serve him to the best of their abilities.

One Sunday I visited one of the churches that was in my judicatory. A member of the church had called complaining about the negative sermons the pastor had been preaching for several weeks. I knew this church very well and had seen them do remarkable things for a small church. I didn't know if the report was true or if this person just had some personal issues with the pastor. As soon as I had a free Sunday I showed up for worship.

Never in my life have I heard a more negative sermon filled with near animosity towards the congregation. For 45 minutes he ripped the congregation up one side and down the other. I nearly got up and walked out a couple of times, and once I bit my tongue to keep from standing up and telling him to shut up. I wouldn't talk to a dog like he spoke to the congregation that day. I knew at that moment I would not be back and couldn't understand why anyone else would either. In fact, several did leave over the next few months until he finally resigned as well.

I'm not sure what he, and others who treat their congregations in similar fashion, think is going to be accomplished with a steady diet of negative preaching. It's hardly likely that such preaching will encourage the people to get engaged in ministry nor is it likely that they are going to invite people to come to church with them.

People tend to rise to the expectations we have for them. Rather than beating people down, we need to lift them up. As a pastor I often told our congregation that I believed more in them than many of them believed in themselves. When I first went to that little, rural church there had not been much happening for years. The self-image of many of the members was pretty low, but after a few small victories and a steady diet of expressing my faith in them we started doing bigger things.

The first thing people in a smaller church want to know about their pastor is whether or not he or she loves them. In many cases, they've seen such rapid pastoral turnover they're convinced that no pastor could really love them and want to stay with them as their pastor. It can take time to convince them of the value you see in them and how much you do love serving as their pastor.

Were there times when I was frustrated with how things were going in the church? Absolutely! And I would voice those frustrations, but always privately with our leadership. A wise leader doesn't make public pronouncements of how frustrated he or she is unless it's absolutely necessary, and never do you make it a weekly habit.

Review your recent preaching. Have you tried to build up your congregation or have you beat on them? They get beat on enough during the week; they don't need to come to Church for another beating. Does your congregation believe you are excited to serve as their pastor? Do they believe that you really love them? If the answer is yes, they will follow your leadership. If they're not sure, don't expect to accomplish much because people have to know they can trust your heart before they will follow your lead.

Monday, August 8, 2016

This election is bringing out the worst in Christians

America has become a nation of rude, vulgar, and crass people. The lack of civility has only increased in recent years, and this election is making it even worse. Most disturbing is that many Christians can be included in this description of our society.

People seem more divided in this election cycle than in any I can remember. Although neither party nominated a person of sterling character, it seems that we are blind to the negatives our candidate brings to this election while believing that the other candidate is the devil incarnate. It is a shame in a nation of over 300 million people these are the best we can get to run for the highest office of the land, but this is where we are.

Both national conventions revealed how divided even our major political parties are in 2016. Republican leaders stayed away from their convention in droves at least partly in opposition to the nominee who would represent their party. The Democrat held a convention in which even the opening prayer was booed. According to one video I saw, one night of the convention Sanders supporters found their seats filled with non-delegates in an effort by the DNC to silence their protests.

Even more disturbing is the way Christians are attacking one another, especially on social media, for supporting one candidate or another. I've seen many comments from Christians that are just as ugly and crass as those coming from non-Christians. Christians are challenging the intelligence and even the faith of fellow believers who are supporting the candidate they oppose. It's fine to have a debate on the qualifications of the candidates and even to disagree, but we don't need to be disagreeable when we do so. Followers of Jesus Christ should at least be civil to one another when we disagree. If this isn't possible to do then the least they can do is to stay off social media until the election is over.

Like many, I know which candidate I prefer. It wasn't my first or even second choice during the primaries, but between the two candidates this is the only one for which I could vote. No doubt some of my friends will vote for the other candidate. They will have their reasons as I do for supporting their candidate. I may disagree with those reasons, but they have a right to hold them as I do to mine. When the election is over we will still be friends regardless of which candidate is elected.

Our goal should be to treat one another with respect regardless of our differences. I never want to have to apologize for something I've said or done while disagreeing with someone, and that should be a goal for every Christian.

Let's tone down the rhetoric and stop the personal attacks on those who hold opposing viewpoints. When this election is over, regardless of who wins, remember three things. Scripture commands us to pray for those in authority over us, God doesn't fly on Air Force One, and our salvation does not come out of Washington, DC.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Self-care is not selfishness.

Yesterday I was privileged to speak at the summer meeting of the Church Relations Council (CRC) at Campbellsville University. For several years I have served on this council and just agreed to another three year term. I love CU and their emphasis on the gospel of Jesus Christ. If there was ever a time when Christian higher education was important it is the time in which we now live.

The CRC meets twice a year to update us on what is happening at the campus and to seek our input on how the university can improve. We hear numerous reports from the heads of various schools in the university, but the report I most enjoy comes from students who have been involved in mission trips. A lot of people criticize this younger generation, but they should see how many of students from CU go on mission trips every year and hear how God used them to make a difference in people's lives.

I was asked several months ago to be the keynote speaker at this particular meeting. Because I was speaking primarily to pastors and university and church leaders I decided to speak on the important of practicing good self-care. As I explained in my presentation, self-care is not selfishness; it is stewardship of a valuable resource God has given us...us. In my message I shared my own story of how I allowed my life to get out of balance and the lessons I learned from that experience.

During the break several of those in attendance told me the message really hit home with them. They admitted they often struggled to keep the various elements of their lives in balance, and some could identify with some of the struggles I had.

Many of us in Christian leadership do a much better job of caring for others than we do in caring for ourselves. Clergy have a very high rate of burnout and depression, and this is one reason we see half of all seminary graduates drop out of the ministry within five years after graduating from seminary.

I understand the desire for pastors and church leaders to want to make a difference because I share that desire. However, I've also learned I'm not going to save the world tomorrow. Ministry is supposed to a distance event, not a sprint, but many of us go at it as if it's a 100 meter dash and then wonder why we struggle physically, spiritually, and emotionally.

I wrote The Healthy Pastor: Easing the Pressures of Ministry to help church leaders enjoy a healthier life and ministry. Ministry is challenging, and we'll never eliminate all the pressures associated with it, but we can take steps to ease those pressures. I made the book available at the meeting and several copies did sell after my message.

Enjoying a healthy, productive ministry is a choice any of us can make. No one can force you to become overwhelmed by ministry and your other responsibilities. We can get control of our calendars and our lives if we choose to do so. We can take our days off and our vacations. We can make time for our families if we decide to do so. We can deepen our spiritual lives if that is what we need to do. Eliminating many of the pressures of ministry simply requires a decision on our part to do so and then setting the boundaries that are needed to remove those pressures.

We had a great meeting at CU with good worship and exciting presentations. The school expects a record enrollment this fall, and it excites me to know the impact the school will have on these students.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Your ministry - a job, a career, or a calling?

For a long time ministers viewed their work as a call of God upon their lives. Churches often talked about "calling" a pastor rather than "hiring" a pastor. This is beginning to change a little, and that isn't good. Words matter. There is a big difference in mindsets between calling a pastor and hiring a pastor.

Unfortunately, some ministers have also begun to view their ministry as a career. They go to college and seminary to have the right degrees that will get them hired. Many work the denominational systems so they can move up the ministerial ladder of success which always includes moving to a larger church with better salaries, benefits, and recognition.

We also see this in the way they approach ministry. Many have automatically ruled out serving in smaller churches according to various studies. When meeting with pastor search committees these pastors are quick to set boundaries for what they will and will not do. Numerous pastor search committees I've assisted over the years have complained to me that the ones they interview make it very clear that they don't visit people in the hospitals or in their homes. Other boundaries are set as well. Evidently, these individuals believe that their role is limited to sitting in the church office, preparing sermons, and directing others.

An excellent book I'm currently reading is The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work by Shawn Achor. In the book he tells of research done by a Yale psychologist on how the mental conceptions we have of our jobs affect performance. He writes

"She has found that employees have one of three 'work orientations,' or mindsets, about our work. We view our work as a Job, a Career, or a Calling. People with a 'job' see work as a chore and their paycheck as the reward. They work because they have to and constantly look forward to the time they can spend away from their job. By contrast, people who view their work as a career work not only out of necessity, but also to advance and succeed. They are interested in their work and want to do well. Finally, people with a calling view work as an end in itself; their work is fulfilling not because of external rewards but because they feel it contributes to the greater good, draws on their personal strengths, and gives them meaning and purpose. Unsurprisingly, people with a calling orientation not only find their work more rewarding, but work harder and longer because of it. And as a result, these are the people who are generally more likely to get ahead."

When we understand our ministries as a calling the external rewards are not as important. If we need to be bivocational in order to serve in the place where we believe God has called us we will be willing to do that. If we serve in places where there is little recognition for what we do, that's OK too because we know that God sees, and that's all that matters.

Churches also need to recapture this idea of calling. When a church hires a minister they can also fire him or her. The minister becomes no different than a car salesperson working for a dealer. If he's not producing he gets replaced with someone who can bring in the customers and close the deals. Again, words matter, and so do mindsets.

If churches and ministers want to enjoy healthier and more productive ministries, both need to recapture the mindset of calling. To be called by God to a place of ministry is a wonderful thing. Let's not cheapen it by viewing this as just a job or a career.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Sometimes it's best to keep your mouth shut

Yesterday I pointed out that Hillary Clinton would struggle to get people to trust her because of her repeated lies to the American public. The lesson from that for those of us in church leadership is that we must be truthful and honest in all our dealings with our congregations if we want them to trust us and follow our leadership. Trust is a very fragile thing, and once it's lost it can be very difficult to recover.

In the interest of fairness we can look to Donald Trump for today's lesson. Trump found himself attacked at the Democratic National Convention by the parents of a soldier killed in Iraq twelve years ago. As a Navy veteran I appreciate those who serve our country, and I hold in highest regard those who pay the ultimate sacrifice. Having never lost a child I cannot imagine the pain this family feels.

Trump should have allowed the family to have its say and moved on and focused on his campaign. Few people remember anything said at a political convention a week after it's over. However, as is his custom, when he feels he's being attacked he has to go on the offensive. He made some unfortunate comments about the Khans that the media will now focus on for a few more weeks. No doubt we'll also see his comments aired in future ads by Clinton supporters. Some of Trump's supporters are now saying that he is making it tougher for them to continue their support due to lack of discipline.

Like Trump, some pastors cannot keep their mouths shut when they feel people oppose them. Certainly, there are times when we need to respond, but most of the time we need to just keep silent. When we do need to respond it's usually best to do so privately with the critic. To go on national media, which isn't friendly to him anyway, to make the statements he made about the Khan family showed very poor judgment on his part. It's also poor judgment when pastors and other church leaders make public responses when criticized.

A few years ago a pastor I knew got tired of one person in the church who opposed everything he did. He sent her an e-mail responding to her criticism. In the email he made some very unfortunate comments that were unnecessary including some that questioned her relationship with God. Of course, the family made copies of the email and showed it to everyone in the church. It cast the pastor in a very poor light.

Another pastor was determined to make changes in the structure of the church. When long-time members opposed those changes he took it personally. He also made unkind comments about the critics, and soon they left the church. However, many were offended by the way the pastor handled the opposition and many others left. Today, the attendance has fallen off by quite a bit. The pastor still blames the critics for what has happened and apparently doesn't see his role in what has happened. Instead of attacking the critics he should have worked with them to help make the church healthier.

Church leaders need to determine what battles to fight. You don't need to die on every hill. There are some critics you will never win over. Love them, but ignore them. I once read that the average pastor leaves his or her church due to seven people regardless of how many believe the pastor is doing a good job. I've got news for you, those seven people have relatives in any church you go to so you'll never escape them.

When you refuse to respond to your critics you'll never have to be the one who has apologize. If their criticism isn't valid, it will be revealed in time. But, if you get sucked into defending yourself every time someone says something negative about you, you will lose respect from your followers.

I was once asked at a pastor's conference I was leading why I thought pastors got stabbed in the back so often. I responded that I didn't think we got stabbed in the back as often as we shoot ourselves in the foot. Responding to every attack is unneeded, and responding publicly makes that mistake even worse. If we are going to be in a leadership position we need to have some tough skin, learn when and how to respond to criticism, and focus on the task God has given us.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Trust begins with truth

Hillary Clinton has commented several times in the past week that she has a lot of work to do due to the large percentage of people who do not trust her. While both major party candidates have issues and neither can claim the moral high ground, polls continually find that many more Americans trust Trump more than Clinton. The reason really is simple: she has been caught lying too often.

  • She claimed in several speeches that she landed in Bosnia under sniper fire. None of her companions on that trip remembered that fact, and a video of her landing and leaving the airplane clearly showed her calmly walking out of the plane.
  • When terrorists attacked the diplomatic post in Benghazi Clinton blamed the attack on an anti-Muslim video on YouTube. This was the story she told the American public and the families of those killed in that attack even though she e-mailed her daughter and the Prime Minister of Egypt that the Administration knew the attack was planned and had nothing to do with the video. 
  • Despite insisting that none of her e-mails that went through her personal computer as Secretary of State contained classified information, the FBI found that several of them were classified and some were even marked Top Secret.
These are only a handful of many, many lies Hillary Clinton has been caught telling. We should also remember that she blamed a vast right-wing conspiracy for her husband's problems after it was claimed that he had an affair with a White House intern. She insisted on national television that she and her husband had discussed in depth the matter and she was satisfied with his answers. Bill Clinton would later be impeached for perjury after he lied under oath about his relationship with the intern and obstruction of justice by the House of Representatives after a Federal Judge held him in contempt of court for giving false, misleading and evasive answers designed to obstruct the  judicial process.

I am not making a political statement here. This is not a Democrat issue or a Republican issue; it is a character issue. A leader's effectiveness will be determined by his or her character. People do not follow people they do not trust, and we do not trust people we believe do not tell us the truth. Certainly, this does not mean that Clinton won't be elected because many do not trust Trump either. This is likely to be a wild campaign season with a lot of mud-slinging by both sides, and there's plenty of mud to go around.

This trust issue is also important to those of us in church leadership. I've known too many pastors who lost the trust of their congregations because they began to doubt the pastor's character. In some cases, he or she was caught in untruths. Sometimes the problem was that the pastor did not do what was promised. Some pastors refused to take responsibility when mistakes were made and tried to shift the blame on others. Whatever the reason, when a congregation begins to question the character of their pastor, that person's ministry is done in the church unless he or she is able to demonstrate to be a person of character.

Church leaders must tell the truth every time even when it hurts. We need to own up to our mistakes when they occur. We need to do what we say we are going to do when we say we'll do it. We need to avoid making promises that we can't meet. Although none of us will ever be perfect we need to attempt to live our lives, with the help of God, in line with what we preach. When we demonstrate our commitment to such a life we will find people more willing to follow us, and we will enjoy a much more productive ministry.