Friday, September 30, 2016

Leaders and impatience

I will admit it. By nature, I am not a patient person. I don't shop; I go buy things and leave, and I get all knotted up inside when I get behind a shopper slowly walking down the aisle, leaning on his cart while talking on the phone. I think microwaves take too long. I want my check on the table as soon as I take my last bite at the restaurant. When I'm busy with a project the last thing I want is a phone call from someone who takes forever to go into great detail about something I'm not particularly interested in. The good news is I'm better than I was. The bad news is I still have a long way to go!

Although it took a few years I finally learned that anything worthwhile that happens in a church will usually take much longer than it should have taken. I've read that it takes up to five years for a new idea to become part of the DNA of a congregation. Until that time the congregation will always feel a tug to go back to doing things the way they used to. Church leaders should never underestimate that pull because if they let down their guard momentarily they will find the change has been abandoned and things have returned to the status quo.

I've also learned that people don't move as quickly as I do, and I'm not talking about just through stores. In every church you will have early adapters, but you will also have some who need time to process new ideas. If you do not give the latter group the time they need you are likely to meet resistance. It's more important to get their ownership of the idea than to rush forward and have to deal with the resistance.

Some pastors get into trouble in their churches due to their unwillingness to go through proper channels. Being impatient to implement their new idea they do so without referring it to the board or team that might have oversight in that area of ministry. Sometimes the new idea works well, but the pastor loses the confidence of people in the process. Long-term, that is not a good trade-off for the pastor or the church.

The one thing that has helped me become a more patient person is remembering how patient God is with me. He pursued me a long time before I finally gave my life to Him. I have failed Him many times since becoming a Christian, but He is always quick to forgive. I can be stubborn and want to go my own way, but He is there is gently lead me back to the right path. When I think how patient God has been with me I am able to be more patient with others. The good news is that I have learned that being patient brings far greater success in everything I do than impatience.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Healthy Pastor

Last night I received a text from a Facebook friend in the ministry who shared with me that he was using my book The Healthy Pastor: Easing the Pressures of Ministry in a seminar he was doing for the pastors in his association. Earlier this year another association had asked me to lead a seminar for them based on the information in that book, but our schedules wouldn't allow it this year. I hope this indicates that church leaders are beginning to find this book because most of the seminars and conferences I'm asked to lead are based on other books I've written.

Much is written about the pressures facing church leaders today. We know these pressures are a primary reason so many church leaders are prematurely leaving the ministry, yet I see few denominations and judicatories proactively addressing the problem. Most of the conferences I see offered are how to grow churches and how to address church challenges; few are designed to help pastors deal with the pressures they face.

Pastors are some of the loneliest people I've known. Many are afraid to have friends in the churches they serve, and there seems to be little time to develop friendships outside of the congregation. Some fear sharing their challenges with other pastors, and even more refuse to talk to their denominational leadership about specific challenges they face. I've had some tell me they were afraid there would be repercussions if they revealed to me some of the struggles in their lives. With few friends to talk to and a fear of sharing struggles with their peers, who do they have to help them through those struggles? It is not a healthy situation.

One of the most common problems faced by church leaders is the time crunch many feel. Most pastors I know work more hours than anyone should expect, and many of them feel they still don't accomplish everything they should. Unfortunately, some in their congregations believe the same thing and let them know it. At the same time clergy families wonder why they can't have more of their spouse's and parent's time. As one pastor's wife asked, "How can I compete when my husband's mistress is the church?"

I address these, and many more, challenges faced by many church leaders. While we cannot eliminate the challenges we face in the ministry, we can do much to reduce it. We can also better manage those challenges so they create less pressure on us and our families. That's what I try to do in this book.

If you are a church leader who is feeling the pressures of ministry I think this book can help you. If you know one who struggles buy him or her a copy of this book. I thank my friend for using it to help his fellow pastors deal with the pressures of ministry.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Tear down the walls

In a 1987 speech President Ronald Reagan called upon the Russian leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, to tear down the wall that divided Berlin, Germany. In 1990 the dismantling of the wall began with West Germans free to cross over into East Germany. Although it took two years for the wall to be completely removed, Berliners were free to move back and forth throughout their city for the first time since 1961.

Walls are meant to separate and divide people. Some walls are good and appropriate such as those found in a house. Our houses allow us privacy and protection, and both are good things. Other walls, such as the Berlin wall, are not good when they prevent people from enjoying the freedoms they deserve.

Not all walls are visible, and some of the most destructive walls are the invisible ones we create to isolate ourselves from others. A person struggling with depression may create such barriers to keep others at arm's length. At a time when we need other people the most we sometimes shut them out with these invisible barriers.

Churches also build invisible walls that determine who is allowed in and who is kept out. Of course, with few exceptions, we do not intentionally try to keep people out, but often our man-made rules and behaviors often do just that. A friend of mine told me years ago that she finally convinced her husband to attend church with her. Everything went well until after the service when a member informed him that he would be expected to wear a suit the next time he came back. He never returned. Yes, I know that was in another time, and that would seldom happen today, but we still have those artificial barriers that keep people out of our churches. More importantly, they keep people away from God.

In a doctoral class I took we were challenged to identify the walls that surround our churches and tear them down to allow people in. The professor insisted that every church has such walls. Even though we may not know they exist, they are there, and we would do well to identify and remove them. He pointed out that we don't have to worry about how to grow our churches. If we just remove the walls our churches will grow, and, more importantly, people will find God. The cross of Jesus Christ should be the only stumbling block people have to encounter in their search for God.

If our churches want to impact their communities we not only need to remove the walls that are keeping people out, we need to build bridges into our communities to invite people in. The tearing down of the walls and the building of bridges both involve intentionality on the part of the churches.

What walls exist in your church that are keeping people out? How much longer will you allow them to stand?

Monday, September 26, 2016

Preach to the hurting

Someone has said that if you preach to the hurting you will never lack an audience. How true that is! Yesterday morning our choir sang There is a Balm in Gilead. As I went to the pulpit to preach following their special I thought how thankful we are that there is healing available for each of us. Just prior to the choir's special we had a time of prayer, and many in our congregation shared prayer needs they had. There was a wide variety of needs expressed, and I thought that the balm the choir sang about could address every one of those needs.

While preparing a sermon I remind myself that there will be hurting people listening. I want to offer them hope. I can't take away their pain, but I can point them to the One who can. I cannot bring healing into their lives, but I can tell them that Jesus Christ is the Great Physician who can heal the worst of the issues that bring pain into our lives. I can also often demonstrate that the challenges they are facing are in reality symptomatic of the spiritual issues they are trying to resolve.

Congregations are full of people trying to make sense of life. About the time they think they have it resolved something new challenges their thinking. A person struggling with long-term unemployment may wonder what the future holds. A parent with a child that has drifted away from the way it was raised brings many questions for that parent and a sense of dread for the fate of that child.

Many sitting in the pews try to mask their pain. Outwardly, they appear to have it all together. They smile the biggest, they sing the loudest, but when they lay down at night their fears and pain rise to the surface. Do not let those masks fool you. Behind them are hurting, fearful people who need who need the healing that only God can provide. It is our job to point them to that healing.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Would your church be missed if it closed its doors?

What would happen if your church closed tomorrow? How long would it take for the people in your community to know your church was no longer providing ministry to the community? Other than members of your congregation, would people care if your church closed?

With about 100 churches in the US closing every week these are fair questions to ask. The answer to these questions might even determine if your church should remain open.

Several years ago when I was beginning my work as a Resource Minister I was asked to meet with the Pastor Search Committee of a small, rural congregation. They had given me directions to the church, but the directions weren't real good. Since I didn't know where the church was located I left early so I could find it before dark.

I followed the directions, and they did not take me to the church. I continued driving around the country roads looking for the church or at least a sign but found neither. I even stopped at two houses and asked where the church was located, but no one could tell me. It had grown dark, and it was now thirty minutes past the time we were to meet. I decided the next place I found to turn around I would do so and return home. The place I found to turn around was the church parking lot. The really sad thing about this story is that the two houses I stopped at were within a mile of the church, but the people at neither house knew where the church was located.

This was a nice little country church with nice people, but they could close their doors and it would have minimal impact on anyone other than the members of their congregation. If people near your church do not know where you are located it says something about the impact your church is making in your community.

Another church called me when their pastor became ill. The church had about a dozen people attending but only three were members. One of the members questioned whether they would be able to get another pastor or even remain open. This was a very troubled church so I asked about the church's reputation in the community. She admitted it was very poor. This was another church, that if it closed its doors, would not be missed in the community.

Both of these are sad situations. I don't know the stories of these churches, but I am sure that both were founded because someone had a vision for ministry in their communities. I do remember years ago when the second church was nearly filled every Sunday with worshipers and had an active ministry in the area. I don't know what happened, but somewhere along the line people lost their vision for ministry, and the church began a long, slow decline.

It's sad to see a church close its doors, but all things do have a life cycle. If a church no longer understands its purpose and has no vision for ministry, it's probably time to close and allow new ministries to begin who have a fresh vision for ministry. I'll ask the question again, if your church closed its doors, how long would it take people to know it?

Monday, September 19, 2016

Preaching to needs

Someone once said that if you preach as to hurting people you will never lack an audience. Yesterday I preached on "Dealing with Grief," and found those words to be true. Numerous people came after both services telling me about grief issues they were currently addressing. Last night at our Bible study we discussed the morning message, and several more shared their stories.

The message itself was intended to be very practical. After sharing how grief follows the loss of anything significant in our lives, I pointed out some events that people often do not associate with grief. I went through the five stages of grief and talked about some of the wrong ways people sometimes respond to grief. I also shared some of the steps we can take to properly address grief and emphasized the need we have to be gracious towards ourselves and to others who might be grieving.

One well-known pastor once spoke against preaching to people's felt needs, but I do not agree. As I read the account of Jesus' ministry I find Him responding to the needs of people throughout His ministry. He healed the blind, the leper, and the lame. At one point He asked one man what he wanted Him to do for him. He met people where they were.

Certainly, there were times when Jesus refused to merely address the felt needs of an individual. When the woman at the well asked about water Jesus offered her living water. When the crowds asked for bread He offered them living bread. In both cases He understood that their true need was much greater than their felt need, and He offered to meet that true need.

Pastors are called up to do both as well. While we present a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as the means to meet the deepest need in a person's life, we also must address the felt needs of people.

Studies continually point out that people desire preaching that addresses real issues. This doesn't mean that people want their ears tickled. They want to know that Christianity speaks to real life. So many have rejected the Christian faith and the church because they believe they are irrelevant to the real world. Part of our role as ministers is to demonstrate through our preaching and ministries that Christianity is relevant to 21st century needs.

Jesus said that He came to bring us life and life more abundantly. Not only does He bring us the opportunity to enjoy eternal life with Him, He also desires to minister to our current needs. Our preaching should reflect this.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Has Christianity failed you?

The title of this post comes from the title of Ravi Zacharias' book Has Christianity Failed You? I began to re-read it this morning as part of my devotional time. Many are leaving Christianity and the church because in some way either the faith or the church failed them. That failure may be due to Christianity not being what they thought it was or it may be because they began to have intellectual problems with its teachings. It could also be because the church failed them in some way.

Many years ago when I was serving as a deacon the pastor and I visited a single mother in an assisted living apartment complex. Her young daughter had made a profession of faith at our VBS, and we wanted to follow up with the mother regarding baptism for her daughter. While the mother was pleased at her daughter's decision to become a Christian and was willing for her to be baptized, she did not want her daughter to become a member of our church.

A few years earlier she had been very active in another church in our community. Her husband left her and filed for divorce. She said the Sunday after the divorce was public she went to church and felt she had walked into a freezer. Few people would speak to her. Everyone avoided her like she was a leper. After a few weeks of this treatment she never went back to church again. When she needed the church it turned its back on her. Her story is not an unusual one.

While working on my DMin degree I coached a number of pastors for my thesis. When I asked one pastor what ministry dream she had she replied she would like to minister to people who had been hurt by the church. She was serving in a small church at the time, and I responded that if she began such a ministry she would not have a small church for long.

Sometimes people feel God has let them down. Perhaps they prayed and God did not answer their prayer. Many of us create a God in our image, and when we find that he does not fit that image we walk away disappointed. Others begin to struggle with the Christian faith when they began to ask questions that no one seems willing to answer. This causes them to suspect that Christianity is intellectually dishonest.

There are a host of reasons people may feel that Christianity has failed them. How could your church minister to these people to help bring them back to the faith and church?

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

What is the pastor's role in growing a church?

I am enjoying reading Gary McIntosh's book Growing God's Church: How People Are Actually Coming to Faith Today. The chapter I read this morning addressed the pastor's role in evangelism and church growth. In a survey he conducted only 5.3 percent reported that the pastor or staff member was the greatest influence on their initial decision to attend a church. However, when asked the reason they decided to remain in their church, the pastor's role ranked very high.

Eighty percent of the respondents identified five factors that led to them choosing to attend their church.

  1. Preaching that teaches and applies to my life
  2. Authenticity of the pastor
  3. Pastor's convictions
  4. Pastor's leadership skills
  5. Feeling at ease around the pastor
The top three were selected by all generations as critical factors. Millennials also mentioned the pastor's sense of humor as an important factor. In smaller communities there was more emphasis on the relational nature of the pastor. People want to feel comfortable around the pastor.

McIntosh suggests several things the church and pastor can do, and this one chapter is worth more than the cost of the book. I'll just mention two thoughts that come to my mind.

The first is that churches, especially smaller ones, expect far too much from the pastor in the area of bringing in new people. Church growth is the responsibility of the entire congregation. Family and friends have far more impact on their loved ones attending a church than does the pastor.

The second thing that jumps out at me is that the pastor does play a major role in keeping people in the church. We need to closely examine our ministries in light of the five areas mentioned above. Although we may have a minor role in bringing people in through the front door, we do have a great deal of responsibility to make sure they don't go out the back door.

People are seeking spiritual answers to their real life problems. They want a pastor who will speak to those issues with authenticity and conviction. They will not remain in a church with a pastor who cannot do that.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The truth and a leader's integrity

The Clinton campaign is insisting that her medical problems this past weekend is due to her having pneumonia. The video clearly showed that she would have fallen to the ground if the Secret Service men had not held her up. The way she was dragging her feet in the video indicated she may have even been unconscious when they put her in the car although she was able to communicate that she did not want to go to the hospital but to her daughter's home instead.

There has been a lot of speculation in recent weeks about her health. Some have suggested she might be dealing with Parkinson's Disease while others have speculated she may have other undisclosed medical problems. I've mostly ignored the speculations  simply because it's an election campaign and candidates on both sides long ago stopped discussing real issues and just look for ways to attack the other person. Still, this recent video does give one cause for concern.

Of course, social media was buzzing with speculation about the cause of Clinton's medical condition after this latest video went viral. Very troubling was the number of persons whose posts seemed to relish the possibility that Clinton has a serious medical condition, and this includes some Christians who posted about this event. I don't care how much one may dislike an individual, to wish poor health on them is far from Christlike.

Eventually, her campaign announced that she is being treated for pneumonia. Of course, her campaign was criticized for withholding this information from the public until they were forced to admit it. Some also question whether this is true or if she does have more serious medical issues.

The problem is that a majority of people do not trust her honesty. She lied about Benghazi. She lied about her emails. She lied about landing under fire overseas as Secretary of State when videos clearly showed her arrival was normal. She is the person who has cried wolf so many times that she cannot be trusted to tell the truth. Maybe her condition is no more serious than pneumonia, which is serious enough but treatable. But, how can anyone be sure?

This isn't a rant against Hillary Clinton. It is a demonstration about the negative impact being untruthful has on one's ability to lead. No leader can effectively lead a church, a business, or a nation if that person cannot be trusted to be truthful. Sometimes the truth hurts, but avoiding the truth eventually proves to be even more harmful to a leader.

As a judicatory leader I encountered a few situations where the church lost their ability to believe their pastor. He had been caught in too many lies and half-truths for the people to trust him. It was impossible for him to lead that church because he had no integrity with the people there.

Tell the truth. Do what you say you will do when you say you will do it. Be a person of integrity so that when you say something the people believe it. Only then will you be able to effectively lead your church.

Monday, September 12, 2016

5 questions the church must answer

Yesterday marked my first Sunday as the Transitional Pastor of Madison FBC. As a church seeks new pastoral leadership it is important that it spends time reflecting on its history and even more on its future. In my message I challenged the church to begin asking five questions to prepare them as they move forward. These questions need to be asked periodically by every congregation as it seeks to minister.

  1. Why are we here? This goes to purpose and mission. Many churches struggle with their purpose for being. They don't understand the mission they've been given. Actually, the mission for every church is the same: The Great Commission and the Great Commandment. Churches that do not understand that fulfilling this mission will find themselves struggling to enjoy a productive ministry.
  2. How will we accomplish our purpose? This goes to vision. While the mission of every church is the same, the vision will be different for every church. Churches are made up of different people with various gifts and ministry interests, plus each church serves in different areas that have different needs. The challenge for each church is to understand God's vision for their ministry.
  3. What will hinder us from achieving our purpose? This goes to leadership. As John Maxwell reminds us, "Everything rises and falls on leadership." No organization, including a church, will rise any higher than its leadership. This includes both pastoral and lay leadership. Churches need strong leadership, and we need to develop leadership pipelines that are developing future leaders so when time comes they will be ready to provide the leadership the church needs.
  4. Who are we here for? When a church answers that question it is ready to begin preparing its budget for the upcoming year and to develop its programming. The church should be the one organization that exists for its non-members. While we do need to minister to one another and enjoy times of fellowship, we always need to remember that our primary focus must be on those who do not yet have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
  5. Is what we are doing here today worth the life of the Son of God? This may be the most powerful question we must answer. When I think of some of the things churches have focused on, fought over, and divided because of, I have to ask this question. Did Jesus really leave the glory of heaven to die on a cross just so churches could do some of the things they do?
These are not easy questions to answer, and no congregation that seeks to answer them should expect every answer to be pleasant. However, answering these questions will prepare us for the future ministry God wants to do in and through us.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Life can get challenging

This has been quite an interesting week. As mentioned in yesterday's post, Madison FBC called me as their interim pastor this week, and I will begin in that capacity starting Sunday. I had a meeting this morning with the Associate Pastor to get some information about events coming up soon. I also had a chance to talk to the office manager for a few minutes. Both are great people who will be a joy to work with. I've known both of them for several years, and they are super people. I've also known the Children's Director for several years and consider her one of the best. As in any transition, there will be challenges, but with the quality of the church staff and lay leadership I think we'll meet those challenges.

Much of my attention has been focused on preparing for an auction I have for tomorrow (Saturday). The family has moved out of state and sold their home which closes a few days after the auction which means we need to sell their personal property. As the week has progressed we have encountered one challenge after another.

  • The date of the auction is the same as a festival in a small community about a mile from the site of the auction. Trying to not conflict any more than necessary I moved the auction to a noon starting time which is later than usual.
  • I was told this week that part of the major highway that will bring people to the auction will be shut down for about an hour for a parade. If things run on time it should reopen about a half hour before the auction is scheduled to begin.
  • We have a 60 percent change of showers and thunderstorms throughout the day of the auction. I've had to set up everything with the expectation that most of it will have to sell inside. This will make for crowded conditions if the number of people I'm expecting shows up.
  • Several of my regular workers are gone on vacation. Due to the closing on the house we could not schedule a day when everyone will be back. I will be using experienced people, but they haven't worked with me before.
  • Since I initially looked at what will be sold the family brought out many items that I had not seen. This will be a big sale.
  • The state highway decided to mow the grass on the roads leading to the auction. In doing so, they ran over my directional signs tearing them to shreds. I'll have to install new ones on my way to the sale Saturday morning.
  • On Wednesday I was checking my supplies and realized I had almost no clerking sheets. I thought I had a half-box full of clerking sheets, but it turned out that box contained other supplies. I quickly ordered the sheets and asked that they be shipped overnight. Doing so made the shipping costs more than double the cost of the sheets I ordered, but I had no choice. You cannot have an auction without clerking sheets. I called that extra cost "stupid tax." It's the price you pay for doing stupid things like not checking my supply inventory earlier.
  • I've been battling a cold since last Saturday. Although I no longer have a sore throat, I'm fighting sinus issues and coughing spells. None of that is good for an auctioneer.
This week has definitely been a challenge, but I still see God at work in my life. What if I hadn't checked my quantity of clerking sheets until the day of the auction? When I realized I had more to sell than I first realized I asked a fellow auctioneer if he could sell in a second ring for part of the auction. He agreed, and found the additional people I needed to work the auction. My signs are destroyed, but last year I had additional signs made, so I have them available to put up. With the expectation of rain we probably won't be able to park people in the field behind the house, but the house sits on a corner so there is plenty of paved county road for people to park. I'm not 100%, but my cold has improved. I'm thankful it didn't begin this Saturday just before the auction. The rain? Well, I can't do much about that, but we'll see what God might do. Maybe it will hold off long enough to sell what needs to sell outside, and even if it doesn't, we'll make it work.

Just because life can throw challenges at us doesn't mean that God isn't at work. As each one of these challenges have been met I've been able to say, "Thank you, Lord." I'm sure there will be times in this interim pastorate I'm about to begin when things become very challenging, but I also know that God will be with me and others as we lead this church through this transition period.

Don't ever assume that because things are difficult that God has abandoned you or is no longer interested in your life. I believe God is at work even when we do not necessarily see his activity. The Bible is very clear that God is interested in our lives and ministries. Let your challenges drive you to your knees in prayer and let them cause you to lift up your eyes to the heavens where your help comes from.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Starting a new ministry

Last night something happened that I had not planned when I retired last December. Madison FBC voted to call me as their interim pastor. I had really not given much thought to doing interim work when I retired. Although I had interviewed with another church that asked me to serve as their interim pastor, I had decided to not accept their offer. I was preaching just about every week somewhere, leading my workshops and conferences, and growing my auction business. I thought that was enough for a retired person!

Several times in the past few weeks Madison FBC had asked me to fill their pulpit. This is a church I've known for over 30 years and was happy to do so. A couple of weeks ago their pastor search team asked me to consider becoming their interim pastor. After some prayer I decided to accept, and last night a congregational vote made it a reality.

Madison FBC is a great church that has served this area for over 200 years. The church has an Associate Pastor who also leads a dynamic youth program and a Children's Director who leads a great children's ministry. A number of lay leaders are also involved in leading various ministries. The church has a traditional service at 8:45 and a contemporary service at 11:00. Both services are very well done. During my time as a Resource Minister in our region I worked with the church on two occasions when they were seeking pastor leadership. Now, I get to be part of its transition in a new way.

I find this call to be both exciting and humbling. It's exciting because it's an opportunity to lead a church through a transition period as they prepare for and seek a new pastor. It's humbling because of the rich history of ministry that this church has known over the years and the excellent ministerial leadership it has known.

As I tell pastors in some of my workshops, do not limit what God might want to do in your life. I've been surprised at the ministry doors God has opened throughout my ministry. This one is no different. What we need to do is to be open to God's leading and be willing to walk through the doors He opens.

Please keep me and the church in your prayers.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The pastor and evangelism

For years we have relied on information about evangelism from old sources that are no longer valid. For instance, Gary McIntosh, in his book Growing God's Church: How People Are Actually Coming to Faith Today, points out that "in the 1980s it was reported that 85 to 90 percent of people were coming to Christ through family and friends. This statistic is still widely quoted, but my research reveals it is no longer factual. Family and friends now account for just 59 percent of faith conversions...Another example reveals that thirty years ago pastors were responsible for just 6 percent of faith decisions, but my new research reveals that pastors and other staff members are now responsible for 17 percent of all commitments to Christ." While that is still lower than family and others, it indicates that the role of the pastor is much more influential in a person's decision to become a Christian.

When McIntosh asked new converts to Christianity to name the factors of the pastor's ministry that led them to the church they now attend they identified five.

  1. Preaching that teaches and applies to life
  2. Authenticity of the pastor
  3. Personal contact by the pastor
  4. Pastor's sense of humor
  5. Pastor's leadership skills.
He also noted that in smaller churches it is often the pastor who actually leads the persons to faith in Jesus Christ. While members and others may bring the person to church, it is often the pastor who actually leads the individual to faith.

If a pastor is serious about evangelism, what are the ways he or she can increase his or her effectiveness? Again, McIntosh shares several ideas.

  1. Maintain your passion for evangelism. If the pastor is not passionate about evangelism the church will also not have that passion.
  2. Build relationships with unbelievers and spend time with them.
  3. Pray every day for the salvation of people in your family and others with whom you have a relationship.
  4. Create casual forums for spiritual conversations.
  5. Preach regularly on salvation and the need people have for a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
  6. Begin a class that will train 10 percent of your people each year in evangelism.
  7. Continually work to improve your preaching and public speaking.
Doing each of these things will help create an evangelistic climate in the church. As more and more people begin to share your passion for evangelism, you will see more people making decisions for Christ.

Monday, September 5, 2016


In a match in 1974 known as the Rumble in the Jungle George Foreman was considered a heavy favorite to defeat Muhammad Ali due to his superior punching ability. However, Ali decided to use a strategy that would be known as rope-a-dope. Early in the fight he angered Foreman causing him to drive Ali to the ropes where he threw punch after punch. Ali laid back on the ropes, allowing them to absorb much of the punishment, and let Foreman wear himself out throwing punches. Finally, when Foreman was noticeably tired, Ali came off the ropes and quickly ended the fight by knocking him out.

This fighting strategy came to mind last week as I began to wonder why Clinton was spending little time on the campaign trail. I wondered if the rumors about her health might be true. Or, perhaps she was just avoiding questions about her e-mails or foundation. Maybe she felt she had such a comfortable lead that she didn't need to campaign and just preferred spending time with major contributors. After Trump's trip to Mexico which seemed to make him appear more presidential which was followed by his continued statements about immigration and the wall which he insists Mexico will pay for I decided that maybe Clinton is just employing the old rope-a-dope strategy. Let the opponent defeat himself.

The strategy is well named. The only way it works is if the person it's being used against isn't smart enough to recognize what is happening. Other boxers tried to use it against their opponents only to find that they refused to take the bait. The opponent just waited in the middle of the ring and challenged the boxer to meet them there. Rather than challenging Clinton's policies, her wisdom, and her fitness for office he seems unwilling to do that. He just keeps swinging wildly making statements that continues to drive up his negative ratings while Clinton sits on the sidelines watching him self-destruct. It is a strategy that is serving her well.

Sometimes, this isn't a bad strategy for those of us in ministry leadership. We will certainly have persons who oppose us and what we are trying to do. Some of them will make outrageous claims about us. Our initial reaction is often to respond in kind in an effort to defend ourselves. At least, that's my first reaction. However, there are times when the best strategy might be to ignore their attacks and continue doing what God has called us to do.

Give some people enough rope and they will eventually hang themselves. When people hear the complaints of your accusers and yet see you living and ministering with integrity and humility, they will see through the complaints. On the other hand, if they see you and your accuser each throwing mud at one another they may decide there might be some truth in what is being said about you.

I'm not saying there is never a time to defend yourself, but choose carefully the battles you engage in. As I told a group of ministers recently, you don't need to die on every hill. Lean back in the arms of Christ and let him absorb the blows you are receiving.

Friday, September 2, 2016

The next generation of ministers

For fourteen years as a Resource Minister in our denomination I worked with dozens of pastor search committees. It was often an exciting and frustrating time for the committee and me. One of the most frustrating aspects was the small number of pastors available for the churches to interview. By a few number I'm writing more about the quality than the quantity. Sometimes I could get 40-50 resumes, but often there would be no more than 3-4 who actually fit the church and its needs.

Smaller churches faced the biggest challenge due to the growing number of people who will not even consider interviewing with smaller churches. Many of these churches are bivocational, and the majority of pastors are still seeking fully-funded positions. Many of these pastors will soon realize the number of these fully-funded pastorates are rapidly declining as many churches are becoming bivocational.

Even larger churches often face challenges when seeking new pastoral leadership. Due to a lack of education, a lack of pastoral experience, or a host of other issues, churches often find it difficult to find a candidate that will be a good match for their current needs.

I thought that this problem might be isolated to the denomination in which I serve, but as I talk with leaders in other denominations I find they struggle to find good matches for their churches. Is there a solution? There is, but it's not a quick one.

Growing up I heard my pastors give an invitation every Sunday at the close of the service. The primary purpose of the invitation was for those who wanted to ask Jesus Christ into their lives as Lord and Savior to come forward. However, almost every invitation in those days also included a call to persons who might sense a call to "full-time Christian service." That was the term I remember hearing most often. Many churches do not give an invitation any more, but among those who do, very few invite persons who sense a call to ministry to respond.

I find this odd because nearly every minister I talk to tells me they are in ministry today because someone asked them to consider that God might be calling them to such service. Many of those conversations may have been private, but there are still many of us who were first challenged by the invitation our pastor gave at the close of each worship service.

Those of us in ministry today need to help others hear God's call on their lives. We cannot call anyone into the ministry. That is God's job, but we can challenge persons to consider that they may have such a call on their lives. If we are to have ministers in the future we need to be prayerfully challenging persons today to consider that call on their lives.