Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Do you want a great church?

"A great commitment to the Great Commission and to the Great Commandment will grow a great church." This has been a slogan at Saddleback Church in California for 30 years. Pastored by Rick Warren, this church reaches over 20,000 people each weekend. The church has over 200 ministries, but each of them are focused on either the Great Commission or the Great Commandment.

The church has a bad habit of chasing fads. We are always looking for the new thing that will grow our church. Church leaders run from seminar to conference trying to learn the secret to make their church great. We seem to think if we can learn the secret of this growing church or that one we can just duplicate what they are doing and reap the same benefits.

In his 2001 book Carpe MaƱana Leonard Sweet writes, "The church has tried everything except the one thing that is needed. It has tried to be an inclusive church. It has tried to be a confessional church. It has tried to be a program-driven church. It has tried being a purpose-driven church. It has tried to be a seeker-sensitive church. What if it tried to be a spiritual church?"

A spiritual church doesn't need gimmicks to reach people. It merely attempts to do what Jesus taught us to do in the Great Commission and the Great Commandment. Fulfilling these two directives is the mission of the church, and when a church is focused on doing these two things it will be a great church.

Smaller churches, in particular, need to be very careful they do not overextend their resources. This includes both their financial resources and their human resources. Many smaller churches are attempting to do too much, often in an effort to compete with larger churches in the area. When this happens they find themselves spread too thin and not doing anything very well.

Most smaller churches would accomplish more by doing less and by focusing more on the Great Commission and the Great Commandment. Anything that is not tied to these two things should be eliminated in smaller churches and in most other churches as well. We cannot afford to allow ourselves to be distracted by trying to do other things.

If you want to be part of a great church focus on fulfilling the Great Commission and the Great Commandment. When your church is reaching people for Christ and serving people in His name, it will be a great church.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Wounded by the church

A few years ago I coached a pastor in North Dakota. In one of our coaching sessions I asked her, "If you could do anything in ministry that you wanted to do, what would that be?" She responded that she would like to create a ministry that ministered to people who had been hurt by the church. I chuckled a bit and responded that if she developed such a ministry her church would not remain small very long because there are many such people in every community.

Unfortunately, I hear their stories too often. In my book, The Healthy Community: Moving Your Church Beyond Tunnel Vision I share the story of a woman I once met. Her daughter had accepted Jesus Christ into her heart at Vacation Bible School. The pastor and I visited her single mother to see how she felt about her daughter's decision. Although she was pleased that her daughter had made her decision, she was concerned about the baptism. She didn't want her daughter to become a member of the church.

When we asked why, she shared that she had been an active member of a church in our community until her husband divorced her. The Sunday after it was known she was getting a divorce she said it felt like she had walked into a freezer when she entered the church. Former friends ignored her. Few would even speak. After this went on for several weeks, she left the church and never returned. She did not want her daughter to be hurt by the church as she had been.

For some reason too many churches forget that Jesus showed the most grace to those the religious leaders of the time condemned. When religious leaders wanted to stone a woman caught in the act of adultery Jesus extended grace to her. Zacchaeus, a despised tax collector, was the recipient of Christ's grace when Jesus spent the day with him. Lepers, who were shunned by religious leaders as unclean, received a healing touch from Jesus. In fact, the only ones Jesus did condemn were the religious leaders who refused to offer grace towards those they deemed unworthy.

It is time the church repents of its tendency to shoot its wounded. We are not called to judge people; we are called to love them. This does not mean we have to compromise our beliefs or ignore the clear teachings of Scripture. It does mean that we treat others as individuals created in the image of God and as persons for whom Jesus Christ gave His life on the cross. It also means that we love people with the same unconditional love that God has for each of us.

The church is not a hotel for saints; it is a hospital for sinners, and we are all sinners. We need to offer grace to one another because we all need to receive grace for our own shortcomings. The Christian life can be difficult enough without being wounded by "friendly fire." When one of our fellow believers falls or is going through a tough time, let's extend grace and a helping hand to lift them back up to a healthier place in their lives.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Transition times are not for rest

As many of you know, I am currently serving as the Transitional Pastor of Madison FBC in Madison, Indiana. This is one of the oldest churches in the state of Indiana with a rich history of ministry in this area and around the world. It enjoys a sister church relationship with a church in El Salvador, is a strong supporter of American Baptist mission work, supports a number of individual missionaries, and has numerous ministries in the community. In the few short months I've served in this current ministry I've been impressed with the dedication and commitment of its members as well as the fellowship that exists in the church.

I was called to be the Interim Pastor as is common in churches seeking a new pastor, but in my first message I shared that I would prefer to be seen as a Transitional Pastor. The term interim seems to have the image of something that is biding its time while it seeks more permanent leadership. The word transitional sounds more like something that is moving forward. A transition is going from one place to another, and that seems to be a better image for a church than one that is just sitting around. The church responded very well to that shift in thinking, and we are moving forward even while the Pastor Search Team is doing its job.

In January we will begin a visioning process to see where God might be leading the church in the next few years. It has been ten years since the church went through a similar process and formed a vision statement. Vision needs to be re-visited every 5-6 years anyway, and the transitional time between pastors is a great time to do that.

We will also begin small groups in January. These groups will meet for ten weeks and address a number of subjects designed to help persons grow in their faith. We've had several people volunteer to lead these groups, and we are praying that a large number of our members and others from the community will join one of the small groups.

Our Sunday night Bible study has begun a study through the book of Acts with a special focus on the first century church. It's been interesting to see how many of the challenges that church faced are similar to ones the church is currently facing.

We will begin the new year challenging people to read through the Bible in 2017. Many, including myself, have found this to be a meaningful devotional exercise, but there are many others who have never read through the Bible in one year. We want to encourage people to spend more time in God's Word, and this is one way to promote that.

There are a number of other events being planned for 2017 that are designed to increase the ministry and fellowship opportunities in the church and community. Transition times are not times to settle in but a time to grow and expand what God wants to do in and through the church. This is exactly what this congregation is doing. When they do call a pastor he or she will not have to figure out how to get them started doing ministry. The new pastor's biggest challenge will be trying to figure out how to get on board a moving train! Believe me, most pastors would prefer the second challenge over the first one!

Wednesday, November 23, 2016


This past Sunday I encouraged our congregation to begin to list the things for which they are thankful. We have had it so good for so long in America that many have forgotten how blessed they really are. Yes, some might have more than others, but even those with little have far more than many people throughout the world. If you have food to eat, clean water to drink, and family and friends who love you, you are blessed.

As we approach Thanksgiving Day I have thought about some of the things for which I am thankful.

I am thankful to God for loving me enough that He sent His only begotten Son to die for my sins. I am thankful that He has extended His grace towards me, forgiven me of my sins, and adopted me into His family.

I am thankful for my family. I had parents who loved me enough to discipline me and teach me right and wrong. Fifty years ago I married a wonderful girl who has continued to show me unconditional love and is my best friend. We have two children who have been a blessing to me in every way, and we have seven grandchildren who are a joy and delight.

I am thankful for good health. Yes, I have some health challenges as most people have as they get older, but they are minor. There are many much younger than me who have much more critical health issues.

I am thankful to serve a wonderful church, Madison FBC, as their Transitional Pastor. This is an incredible church with great people committed to ministering to this community and around the world. It is a privilege to serve them in this capacity while they seek their next pastor.

I am thankful for the opportunities God has given me. Growing up on dairy farms in southern Indiana I never dreamed I would serve as the pastor of a church for 20 years, serve in judicatory ministry for 14 years, publish books related to ministry, be invited to speak to numerous denominational groups throughout the United States and Canada, and now continue my ministry even after I "retired."

I am thankful that God has brought us through many valleys in our lives. I've enjoyed many mountaintop experiences, but I've also known deep valleys. In every instance God proved Himself faithful bringing us through every one. Jesus has proven over and over again that he will never leave us nor forsake us.

I am thankful that when my race here on earth is done I have the promise of eternal life with Him. My last breath on earth will be my first in eternity where I will be reunited with many loved ones who have gone on before. Why anyone would reject Jesus Christ and the eternal life He offers is beyond me.

I am thankful for the many freedoms I enjoy as a citizen of the United States of America. There are many people around the world who can only dream of the freedoms that many of us take for granted. I am thankful for the opportunity to have served in the US Navy to help protect those freedoms for all who call this nation home.

I am thankful for the friends I've made along the way. It has been said that if a man has 2-3 really close friends he is fortunate. Well, I am beyond fortunate as I have far more than that. I have friends who have stood by me in good times and bad, friends who would literally do anything to help me in a time of need, friends who can laugh with me in the good times and cry with me in the bad times.

This list could go on and on. I am indeed a blessed individual who has much for which to be thankful. Thursday will be much more than a day to eat turkey and watch football games. Our family will gather and do that, but we will also celebrate the many things for which we are thankful. I pray you and your family will as well.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Success is just around the corner

Why does one marriage work out while another one ends in divorce? Why does one small business succeed and another one down the road closes its doors within months after opening? Why do some churches seem to attract people to Christ while others struggle to keep their doors open? Why do some teams seem to always be ranked near the top and others rarely have winning seasons? We could ask similar questions of every endeavor known to man, but the fact is that some have found the secret to success, if it may be called a secret, and others seem unable to recognize what it takes to succeed.

A few months ago I read a very insightful book about success called Take the Stairs: 7 Steps to Achieving True Success by Rory Vaden. One of the reasons I enjoyed the book is because Vaden doesn't pretend there are secrets to success. In fact, he insists throughout the book that success is hard work, and that is a fact that many in our society today have either forgotten or want to pretend it isn't true. He writes

"The vast majority of Western societies have adopted an 'escalator mentality' - one that says getting what we want shouldn't require much work, and that there are always shortcuts in business and in life." There are no shortcuts to success. There is no easy way to the top. Most of us will find that finding success is more like climbing stairs than riding an escalator.

He goes on to write that, "There is one thing that all successful people have in common: Successful people have all had to do things they didn't feel like doing in order to get where they are."

We've all heard the saying: No pain, no gain. Well, this is certainly true when we think of success. It's true whether you are considering how to have a better marriage, a more profitable business, or a growing church. All require a lot of hard work, and there will be times when you find yourself doing things you would prefer to not do in order to enjoy the results you are seeking.

Many decide the hard work isn't worth it. They prefer to take the easy way out and seek a new spouse, a new career, or a different church. Surely, they think, the reason the current situation isn't working out is because they chose the wrong spouse, the wrong career, or the wrong church, and all their problems will be over once they correct their mistake. WRONG!

Running from one spouse to the next isn't going to solve your marriage problems. Jumping from one company to another probably won't be the solution. Church leaders who go from one church to another certain that this one will be the perfect church for them soon come face-to-face with the reality that there are no perfect churches. Success comes to those who are willing to work hard to make their current situation the right one.

Vaden points out in his book that success is often just beyond the point you feel like quitting. It's often just around the corner. I wonder if there will come a time in eternity where we will discover how many times we were inches from the goal line of success only to walk away defeated. One more play would have put us over, but instead we gave up.

It's almost always too soon to give up. When you feel that you've done everything you know to do, think of something else to try. Ask to see someone else's playbook. There's lot of things you can still try to do to succeed. Isn't success worth at least one more effort on your part?

Monday, November 21, 2016

Common trait of growing churches

In 1972 Dean Kelley stunned many in the church world when he published WHY CONSERVATIVE CHURCHES ARE GROWING: A Study in Sociology of Religion with a new Preface (Rose, No. 11). Two factors led to people being surprised by this book. One, at that time many thought the church was nearly dead, and now they were being told that some churches were actually growing. The second reason this book surprised many is that Kelley was a leader in the National Council of Churches, an organization mostly composed of liberal and moderate churches.

Since the book was first released it has been applauded by conservative Christian leaders and challenged by liberals. The conservatives have pointed to its findings and felt their approach to the Scriptures and ministry had been validated. Liberals claimed the findings were wrong and other things, such as birth rates, accounted for the growth among conservative churches. However, a more recent study has again confirmed Kelley's earlier finding that theologically conservative churches led by theologically conservative pastors is a key to growing churches.

A major five year study of churches in Canada involved a survey of 29 clergy and 2,255 lay attendees of mainline churches in Canada. The results are quite telling. In the growing churches there was an emphasis on prayer. 71 percent of the clergy in growing churches read their Bibles daily while only 19 percent of the clergy in declining churches did the same. There was a similar difference in attitudes towards evangelism. 100 percent of the clergy in growing churches agreed that it was very important to encourage non-Christians to become Christians. Only 50 percent of the clergy in declining churches felt this was important.

Conservative Christian teachings about the basic articles of faith, the authority of the Scriptures, the exclusivity of Christianity, and other aspects of conservative theology were stressed in growing churches. These churches also had an emphasis on youth groups, a commitment to evangelism, and enjoyed a higher presence of young families.

Another interesting find in the study was that if a pastor of one of these conservative, growing churches left for another church it would also begin to grow even if it had not experienced growth in the past. This pointed out how critical it is for the pastor to hold to a conservative theology and the impact such pastors have on churches.

This is not to say that all conservative churches are growing, but growing churches share these values and theology. The same is true in the United States. Where you find a growing church you are apt to find people holding to conservative theology and values and putting them into practice.

While there isn't space in this blog to discuss all aspects of this study, one thing is evident. Churches do not have to water down their theology to attract people. People are not looking for a watered-down theology and churches that really don't believe anything. They are looking for churches that are not afraid to stand for the things they believe in, a theology that will provide them with a firm foundation for their lives, and a relationship with God that will sustain them. They are looking for churches that can provide solid answers to their spiritual questions and churches that can help teach their children good morals and values.

There are many things a church can do to become more attractive to non-Christians but compromising biblical teaching isn't one of them. In fact, doing so will cause more people to leave a church than it will to attract people to the church.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Repairing a divided nation and church

In 1963 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his "I Have a Dream" speech which impacted all America. In this message he shared how he dreamed that one day people would not be judged by the color of their skin but by their character, and that people would not let their differences continue to divide them. This message resonated with people from all walks of life and helped this country begin to heal some of the racial divisions that had longed plagued this nation. Obviously, we still have a long way to go to see his dream completely fulfilled, but we have made progress.

We are today a nation divided by more than racial divisions. Our recent election process has demonstrated how divided a nation we are. In the past elections produced winners and losers, and everyone went about their business after the election. Some were pleased with the results, and others were not pleased, but the results were accepted and people went on with their lives. That has not been the case this time.

Riots broke out in many cities with much loss of property. People were pulled from their cars and beaten because of the candidate they supported. Some were shot. Numbers of people were arrested, and innocent people were terrorized by thugs all in the name of protesting the results of the election. Schools canceled classes so students could go to their "safe places" and grieve in safety over the election results. Suicide hot lines were reportedly overwhelmed with callers thinking of ending their lives because their candidate was not elected. Never in the history of this nation have we seen such actions at the end of an election.

We are a divided nation. We are a nation of African-Americans, Greek-Americans, Asian-Americans, Euro-Americans, Native-Americans, etc. As long as we are a hyphenated people we will be a divided nation. There is nothing wrong with appreciating our heritages, but we must first and foremost be Americans or we will continue to be divided. We are conservative, liberal, independent, libertarian, green, etc. As long as we are more focused on our political bents than on focusing on making American great for all Americans we will remain a divided nation. Until Democrats and Republicans commit to working together to ensure that all Americans can share in the American dream we will be a divided nation. Until political parties are more committed to America than they are to winning votes we will continue to be a divided nation.

For 35 years I have served in pastoral and judicatory ministry, and I have seen the church divided over both major and minor issues. I have seen some of the most childish behavior among church people, most of whom would insist they were mature believers, over matters that didn't deserve even minor discussion. I have witnessed believers scream and curse at one another over matters of minor church polity and then wonder why their children were not interested in the church or the Christian faith.

Because of social media this election has brought out some of the worst in many Christians. The election is past, but some are still whining about the results. They are judging the actions of a man who has not even taken office and expressing their fears about what he might or might not do. At the least one would think they would withhold their criticism and judgement until he has actually done something that alarms them, but they are already demonstrating a critical spirit.

The church is divided among liberals, moderates, and conservatives and a host of newer categories. Seldom are these various factions able to work together on matters of importance. Billy Graham was often criticized because he invited leaders from all factions of Christianity to work together to help his crusades touch the most people possible. It's like some Christians would prefer that people not hear the Gospel than to work alongside some they disagree with to help make that possible.

America and the churches within its borders are in a dangerous place right now. Until we address the divisions that exist in both we are going to continue to drift away from what we might have been. Until we recognize that what we have in common is far more important than what divides us we will never be able to work together for the common good. I'm not calling for us to ignore our differences or pretend they don't exist. I am calling for us to stop putting people in boxes based upon those differences and refuse to work with anyone who isn't in our box.

If we truly want all Americans to once again participate in the American dream then our leaders and those of us in the streets and fields of this nation have to put aside our differences and find ways to work together to make that happen. If we in the church want the church to once again influence and impact our culture we have to find ways to work together to make that happen. If we fail, our nation and churches will continue their downward spiral, and the dreams of Dr. King and countless others will never be realized.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Current reading list

Every once in a while people ask what I'm currently reading, so occasionally I like to post my current reading list. I don't mind doing this because I'm often curious about what other leaders are reading. A few years ago one leader I appreciate posted a rather long list of books he had read the previous year, and I made it a point to read as many of them as I could. If you find this list helpful then I'm glad to provide it. I do want you to know that if you click on the link to the book I will receive a small percentage of the book's cost. You should also know that I have no plans to quit my day job over the amount I might get!

For my devotional reading right now I am reading Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical by Timothy Keller. This book will probably be my favorite read of 2016. I am late to the game of reading Keller, and I'm trying to catch up. Everything of his that I've read has been excellent, and this is his best one IMHO.

It has been years since I read The Great Evangelical Disaster by Francis Schaeffer, but I am currently re-reading it now. Published in 1984 it is as current today as it was when it first hit the stands. Schaeffer understood better than most what the result would be if Evangelical churches began to turn away from the authority of the Scriptures as the liberal churches had already done. The chaos he predicted is what we see on the news every night. The book provides a much needed warning to those churches and denominations who still hold a high view of Scripture to not accommodate those who would challenge and attack that view.

The third book I am currently reading is The Return of the King: Being the Third Part of the Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien. Earlier this year I read The Hobbit and the first two books of the Lord of the Ring series by Tolkien. I'm now finishing the series and enjoying it immensely. I will have to say that I enjoyed the movies more, but the books have helped fill in some gaps that I missed in the movies.

Some other books I've recently read include Connect: How to Double Your Number of Volunteers by Nelson Searcy, Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin, Growing Young: Six Essential Strategies to Help Young People Discover and Love Your Church by Kara Powell, Jake Mulder, and Brad Griffin, and The Relationship Principles of Jesus by Tom Holladay.

Sitting on my shelf patiently waiting their turn is Walking with God through Pain and Suffering by Timothy Keller and Why Christian Faith Still Makes Sense: A Response to Contemporary Challenges (Acadia Studies in Bible and Theology) by C. Stephen Evans.

I really thought when I retired in 2015 that my reading would slow down, but that hasn't been the case. I was certain I would read more non-fiction, but that hasn't happened either. Being a life-long learner demands that I continue reading good books that touch on those aspects of ministry and leadership that I continue to do. As a Christian and a leader I hope you feel the same way and are investing in good books to help you on your journey.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Your life can change in 2017

I know we still have the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons ahead of us, but it's not too early to be thinking about 2017 and how your life can change in the coming year. I hope one of your goals for each year is to grow spiritually, emotionally, physically, and mentally every year. We never get so old or mature that we cannot grow so growth should be on everyone's list of goals for the coming year.

Spiritual growth is most important. If you are not a Christian spiritual growth begins by inviting Jesus Christ into your life as your Lord and Savior. If you are a Christian then you should seek to grow deeper in your walk with God. Daily Bible reading and study is a must. No one can grow spiritually without spending time in the Scriptures. Daily prayer is also important, and not just over your meals or before you go to bed. We need to get in the habit of praying all through the day if we want to grow spiritually.

Healthy relationships with other people is one key to emotional growth. We need positive people in our lives who will encourage us to achieve all our goals and who will lift us up when we get down. We need people who will laugh with us and cry with us and who will love us unconditionally. Men often struggle the most developing such relationships, but they are essential to everyone if we want to enjoy emotional health.

We all know what we need to do to grow physically. We need to eat right, exercise more, and get sufficient sleep. The problem is many of us fail to do one or more of these things even though we know we need to. These are the areas most likely to be found on many people's New Year's resolutions, and they are often the first resolutions to be broken. Rather than making a resolution it might be better to set realistic goals in this area and work to achieve them.

Finally, we come to mental growth. This might come through learning a new skill or developing a new hobby. It certainly will include reading good books. According to research, 28 percent of Americans did not read a book in 2015. The median number of books read by individuals was four. However, highly successful people read between one to two books per week! When Warren Buffet began his investing career he read between 600-1,000 pages per day. Even today, this multi-billionaire spends 80 percent of each day reading. Mark Cuban reads three hours a day. One very effective minister says he reads about 100 books a year.

It doesn't matter where you are in any of these areas of your life today. You can improve in 2017, and that improvement will begin when you set goals to grow in each of these four areas. Unless you intentionally plan to grow, you probably won't, and you will be the same person at the end of 2017 as you are today. It's your choice, but it's always in your best interest to be steadily growing in each of these areas.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Accepting responsibiity

The day after the election a news program was interviewing various people about the results of the election. One of the interviewees was a former adviser to Bill Clinton when he was President. In fact, I think he might have managed one of Clinton's campaigns but I do not remember. Regardless, he had been in close proximity to the Clintons and had seen behind the curtain.

He was asked how Hillary Clinton would take this surprising defeat. He was certain that she was blaming various persons, that she was not one to admit that she might be responsible for losing the election. It appears he may have been right.

She reportedly did tell some of her campaign staff that she had "stepped in it" when she said that half of Trump's supporters were "deplorables." However, according to news sources, in a telephone call to large donors, she was putting much of the blame on the FBI's letter announcing that new emails had been discovered on another computer, and the case was being re-opened. Her internal poll numbers immediately went down. They rose when a few days later the FBI reported there was nothing new in these newly discovered emails, but she claimed that report re-energized some of Trump's supporters even more.

The fact is that these emails would not have been much of an issue in the election if (1) she had not used a private server to send classified information and (2) if she had not lied about it to the FBI and the American public when it was discovered she had done so. The FBI is not responsible for her email problems, she is.

Clinton's response to her election loss is typical of many of us today. We always want to find a scapegoat to blame instead of looking at how we have responsibility for our problems. It is so easy to play the "victim" card and pretend that all our problems are the fault of others.

Maturity comes when we accept responsibility for ourselves. Instead of pointing the finger at others when we fail we look inside to find out why we did not succeed as we wished. After our family-owned small business went under I could have blamed the economy, our suppliers, our competitors, our employees, but the truth was that none of them were ultimately responsible for our problem. As the owner/manager I was responsible. As Harry Truman said, "The buck stops here." After the business sold at auction I wrote a book called Mistakes: Avoiding the Wrong Decisions That Will Close Your Small Business. The book is available for either Kindle or NOOK devices.

Some who have read the book have said that I was too rough on myself, but I don't think so. The closing of our small business was the direct result of poor decisions I made. I accept total responsibility for it. I wrote the book to help others avoid similar mistakes that might lead to losing their businesses.

Our God is a God of grace and forgiveness, but in order to receive that forgiveness we must first admit that we have made mistakes. We have to own them and stop blaming others. Maybe the environment we grew up in wasn't the best. Factors outside ourselves may have made it easier to make bad choices, but ultimately the choices we make in life are ours. While it's never easy to admit we messed up, it is the only way to true redemption and ultimate freedom and success. Own your mistakes, and ask God to forgive you. He is far more willing to do that than many people believe.

Monday, November 14, 2016

The church is not dying as some hope

We have heard much in recent years about the fastest growing religious groups in America: the Nones. The Nones are those who, when asked for their religious preference on a survey, respond None. The fact that increasing numbers of people are responding that way has given rise to the belief that the church in America is dying and that Christianity is finally slowly fading away.

Unfortunately, for those who wish it was true, it's not. More recent studies have found that there is a rising number of people who identify themselves as having no religious preference, but many of these are coming out of liberal and mainline churches and denominations. At the same time, Evangelical and conservative churches are growing.

People are leaving the liberal and mainline churches because they have found there is nothing there to sustain them in their search for spiritual truth and meaning. They go there spiritually hungry and leave the same way. Since they find little there to satisfy their search for spiritual truth and meaning some decide to give up their quest. They reason that if what they have experienced is all there is to the Christian faith they don't need it.

It reminds me of the story in Jim and Casper Go to Church: Frank Conversation about Faith, Churches, and Well-Meaning Christians. Casper, an atheist, agrees to attend church with Jim, a Christian, for several weeks one summer. Although an atheist, Casper admits that he is open to believing in God if he can be given enough evidence that God exists and Christianity is true. They attend some of the most-recognized churches in America. Although many of them would be considered conservative, at the end of the summer Casper remained an atheist. What he saw and heard in these churches did not convince him of the truth of Christianity. It is an interesting read as they debrief each church they visited, and Casper points out his concerns about each of them.

The churches that are growing as those that challenge people to make a decision about becoming a Christian through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. These churches have a high view of Scripture and they take the teachings found within those Scriptures seriously. They hold to a conservative theology without apology. Those on a spiritual journey are often attracted to these churches because they stand for something.

This country is more divided today than it has been since the Civil War, and this is true of the church as well. For years many churches and denominations have tried to straddle the fence on many of the social issues that have divided this nation, but they are not going to be able to do so much longer. It's time that churches take a firm stand on what they believe theologically and about the moral issues facing the nation. There have been enough "study groups" and "focus groups." It's now time to say where you are on these issues, and then let the people decide what to do.

Churches that try to be all things to all people have been slowly bleeding to death for years. It is from these churches that many of the Nones have come. These are among those who have been wounded by the church, and their wounds run so deep that they may never recover spiritually.

A couple of months ago I was called to be the Transitional Pastor of a church in my community. In my first sermon in that role I told them they deserved to know where I stood on the Scriptures. I explained that I believed the Bible to be the inspired, infallible Word of God, inerrant in its original languages, and that belief would serve as the foundation for every sermon I would preach there. This is not a church where a lot of "Amens" are heard, but there was a loud Amen from the congregation when I said that.

If you want your church to grow, if you want your church to make a difference in people's lives, if you want your church to have an impact on your community, I encourage you to take a stand for the "faith which was once for all delivered to the saints." Do so with love but without apology.

Jesus promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against the church. Don't let anyone tell you the church is going away. When the church goes away it will be because there was a trumpet sound and the saints were gathered into heaven!

Friday, November 11, 2016

Learning to work together

After every election there is always a lot of talk about how we now need to learn how to work together, and there has certainly been a lot of that talk in the past couple of days. Both sides have promised to do just that, but we'll have to wait and see if it happens. Quite frankly, it hasn't happened much in recent years, and I will be somewhat surprised if it happens this time. Of course, there have been lots of surprises in this election cycle so it could happen.

If it does not happen we can expect at least two more years of gridlock with nothing done to help make our nation better. If history is any indication, Democrats in office will block every effort the new President and the Republican Congress tries to make to ensure they are unable to improve things for the nation. Each side will point their fingers at each other in blame for the stalemate, but it is the American people who will suffer. To be fair, the Republicans did this to Obama, and the Democrats will attempt to do so to Trump. Depending on your theological bent, you may approve of such action, but the intention of most who are standing on the brakes of change is not the good of the country but to gain enough votes to be re-elected and to cause others to be defeated in the next election. This is sad, and it is not the way to lead a nation.

The same thing happens in many churches. People come to church from a variety of backgrounds. They have been taught to interpret Scriptures differently. They have competing visions for the church. When a change is proposed that goes against what they have been taught in the past and how they understand Scripture they rise up against it. Each side insists their vision for the church is the correct one. Because they believe they are taking God's side on this matter the conflict can become quite intense at times. Meanwhile, the church sits stuck in the past and condemned to doing the same old things that ceased to work decades ago.

If America is to move forward, those in leadership must find common ground and find ways to work together. If churches are to move forward, they must do the same thing. Instead of pastors and congregations blaming each other for their inability to move forward they need to find a shared vision for ministry and work together to achieve that. Competing visions in a church guarantee that a church will never move forward. Such visions are certain to create conflict and stall any forward progress.

The good news is that I've seen churches that have a history of conflict learn to work together for the good of the Kingdom of God. Each side learned to listen to each other, and often found they really weren't that far apart. They found ways to agree and compromise on workable solutions. Such solutions did not give each side everything they wanted, but they did enable the church to move forward. As that forward progress resulted in success, it became easier to find other areas of ministry in which the church could come together.

This is not always the case, however. Sometimes the division between the two sides is so severe that one side needs to leave the church. If your church shares a vision that is completely contrary to your vision, and you see no way to find common ground, then it's time for you to leave that church and find one whose vision for ministry is more like your own. As painful as that decision may be, it's the right one for both the church and for your own personal spiritual growth. BTW - I once had to make that choice many years ago, and as painful as it was it turned out to be the right decision.

My prayer is that the new President and Congress will be able to come together for the good of the nation. I pray the people of this nation will do so as well. My greatest prayer is that our churches can unite around common vision and find ways to work together to share the Good News of Jesus Christ around the world.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Maybe we shouldn't listen to the experts

I had entirely too much fun yesterday watching the major news people trying to understand how Donald Trump won the election. Every poll they had showed him trailing Clinton by several points. They had spent much time discussing how unpopular he was, and most had spent weeks explaining how his campaign was destined to fail.

Yesterday, they literally had no explanation for how wrong they had been. Some thought that perhaps the polling questions were wrong, and that produced the wrong results. One said that perhaps Clinton's "ethical lapses" cancelled out Trump's negatives. Others blamed various decisions made by Clinton's campaign team such as not going to Wisconsin after the primaries. But one thing was obvious, no matter which channel I was watching, they were all stunned at the election results.

Now, I didn't enjoy this because I am a big Trump supporter. Among all the people who ran in the primaries he would not have cracked my top five. My pleasure came because I enjoy watching the elite who believe they know all that is worth knowing struggle trying to explain how they could have been so wrong. The mainstream media was so obviously biased towards Clinton throughout the campaign that any sense of journalism went right out the window. They did everything they could to convince the American public to vote for Clinton, and believed they had succeeded only to learn too late that they had failed.

For decades we have been told that the church in America is dying. We have been told that our beliefs are archaic and have no place in the public square. Christians are told that we have no right to try to force our beliefs on others, while others are free to force us to bow to their values. Years ago we were told God was dead, and many believed it.

Who told us this? It was the elite in the media, in government, in entertainment, and in the universities. The ones who believe that they alone know all that is worth knowing decided that God and religion, especially Christianity, was no longer necessary to our society so they began to do all they could to remove both God and Christianity from society.

Their problem is that God is not dead, and neither is the church. There's no doubt that the church has challenges and problems, but we are far from dead. Yes, liberal churches and denominations are dying, but conservative, Evangelical churches are growing. We may not be growing as much as we should, but we are still growing and we still have some measure of influence on society. Once the Evangelical church wakes up and realizes it has been lied to I'm convinced we will see the church become a force in our nation.

Like him or hate him, Donald Trump refused to let the media define him. The church needs to follow that same attitude. If the church doesn't define itself others will define it, and the results won't be good. It's time for the church to define itself and invite all who wants to be part of what God has called the church to be and to do to join us. If we'll do that, one day we'll turn on our televisions and watch the elite scratching their heads wondering how they could have been so wrong about God and His church.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Bivocational Ministry for the 21st Century

This past Saturday I had the privilege of leading a seminar for Church of the Nazarene pastors in Michigan. The morning session was "Bivocational Ministry for the 21st Century." That afternoon I spoke on "Time Management for Ministers." These are two of the seminars I offer, and either of them can be a half-day or day-long session. The DS there asked me to present each of them in the half-day session.

We had a great turnout of pastors who were very appreciative of the material we covered. They asked a lot of questions throughout the day including a number of more private questions they asked me during our breaks. Not only were these individuals appreciative of the material, but they were appreciative of their District for hosting this event specifically for the bivocational ministers serving there.

One of the things I try to ensure is that the bivocational ministers who attend these seminars understand how much I appreciate their ministry and that they are not alone in their work. As a bivocational pastor for 20 years I understand how easy it is to feel that you alone are doing this work. It helps to know there are many, many others with this same call on their lives who are faithfully serving their congregations.

In every seminar I've led for bivocational ministers time management has been identified as their greatest challenge. As we ended the morning session on bivocational ministry, it was a very easy lead in to the afternoon session on time management.

As these pastors learned, time management is really life management and priority management. As one identifies his or her priorities in life and ministry it becomes much easier to identify the best uses of one's time. Then it's a matter of getting those things on the calendar and saying no to those things that are not priorities. These are often not easy, but they are essential if you want to better manage your time and ensure you take care of the highest priority items in your life.

This was my last seminar scheduled for 2016. I've traveled to several states and worked with a number of denominational groups this year and enjoyed every one of them. The feedback continues to be strong from both the sponsors and those attending. If you are interested in scheduling me to present one of my seminars to your pastors and church leaders in 2017 please feel free to contact me as early as possible to make sure we can get your event on my calendar. I am currently serving as a transitional pastor so I will be limited on the number of events I can lead in 2017 so it's best to get me on your schedule as soon as possible. In the meantime, I'm going to enjoy being home!

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

The pastor as coach

Some people see a pastor as a person who is able to fix their problems. I've had couples want me to fix their marriages. Parents have wanted me to fix their children's problem. Others have asked me to help solve their financial problems. In a few instances people have asked me to make a decision for them they didn't want to make. As much as I enjoy helping people, I really can't solve problems for other people. I might be able to solve a short-term issue, but if I do so they are apt to return later with another problem they want me to solve for them. How can we in ministry best help people address their problems? Here's an excerpt from my book The Art and Practice of Bivocational Ministry: A Pastor's Guide.

"Mentors, counselors, and consultants come in to solve problems. Coaches attempt to help the persons they are coaching to develop their problem-solving skills. As Tony Stoltzfus explains, 'We can build people or we can solve their problems. Transformational coaching is about building people. This approach is a far more powerful method of producing leaders, and yields long-term results.' Elsewhere he explains why this is so important.

'I'm much more interested in helping people become great decision-makers than in helping them make a right decision. If they make a good choice, I've influenced that one situation. But if I help them grow in their ability to make great choices, I've affected every decision they make for the rest of their life.'" Stoltzfus' comments come from his book Leadership Coaching: The Disciplines, Skills, and Heart of a Christian Coach.

This is why I enjoy coaching people. A coach does more than solve people's problems. A coach helps people solve their own problems which means the coach doesn't have to be an expert on any particular problem. By asking questions a coach can often help the person being coached discover the answer to their issues. I found out how powerful that was when I was coached by a trained coach, and, as I've coached others, I've seen in work in powerful ways in their lives.

In today's culture coaching is a necessary tool for a pastor to have in his or her tool belt. Rather than answering people's questions we need to be the ones asking the questions. Doing so forces people to examine their own values and beliefs and challenges them to think more deeply about their problems. Quite often, as they think deeply they suddenly find the answer that will solve the problem. Since people are more apt to implement their own ideas than those suggested by others, they will usually follow through with that implementation.

However, a good coach will hold the person being coached accountable to do what they said they were going to do. This is usually not a problem because they are going to do what they themselves identified as the solution to their problem.

I enjoy serving as a ministry and/or life coach because I enjoy helping people. Because I see this as an important aspect of my ministry, my fees are much lower than those typically charged by life coaches.

If you believe having a coach to help you address challenges you are facing in your life or ministry would be helpful, contact me and together we'll see if a coach would be beneficial.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

One essential quality of a leader

At a pastor's conference I was leading one time a pastor asked why pastors so often get stabbed in the back by people in their churches. My response was that we probably don't get stabbed in the back as often as we shoot ourselves in the foot. I have known many pastors who were treated poorly by their churches. Some churches are serial pastor abusers and don't deserve a pastor. But, I've known many other pastors whose troubles came about due to mistakes they made in leadership.

Pastors, and anyone in leadership, are expected to be proficient in several things, and their success will be directly proportionate to their abilities in those areas. However, one thing more than any other factor is essential for a leader: integrity. A person may be extremely competent in every area of leadership, but if he or she lacks integrity his or her leadership will never rise to the level it should. People, especially in a church, have to know they can trust their leader before they will follow that person.

When a person demonstrates integrity they earn the trust of the people they lead. If the leader demonstrates that he or she lacks integrity the trust level required to lead will never grow to the level it needs to in order to have an effective ministry.

How do we demonstrate integrity? It begins by doing what we say we are going to do when we say we are going to do it. People will overlook the occasional situation that might prevent us from doing things in a timely manner, but if we have a history of failing to do what we say we will do they will determine we cannot be trusted.

Integrity also is shown when we refuse to keep secrets. By this I don't mean that we violate confidentiality when it's required. Pastors are told many things, especially in counseling situations, that we are required to keep confidential. In fact, to violate that confidentiality would show a lack of integrity.

A church is only as healthy as the secrets it keeps. The same is true of a pastor. I've known pastors who were able to get things done without going through the proper committees or boards, but eventually their efforts caught up to them, and they lost the trust of the congregation. As a judicatory leader I was occasionally amazed when churches told me of some of the antics their previous pastor pulled. When those antics were revealed their ministries were doomed because they had lost the trust of the congregation.

One final way to be a person of integrity is being willing to work hard. Most pastors I know work too many hours, but I have also known some that did very little. I've often said the ministry is a great place for a lazy person because we don't punch a time clock. People in our churches assume we are doing ministry somewhere and very few churches hold their pastors accountable. However, a lack of integrity in this area will eventually be revealed,, and when that happens the pastor seldom lasts much longer in that church.

Although it takes time for trust to be established between a pastor and the church, it takes much less time for that trust to be lost. Once it's lost it becomes very difficult for a pastor to ever regain it. It just takes too long. Be honest with people. Be upfront with them. Work hard. As we continually demonstrate integrity our people will follow us and we will enjoy a long, productive ministry.