Friday, November 17, 2017

Exciting journeys begin by saying yes to God

Two years ago I retired as a Resource Minister with the American Baptist Churches of Indiana and Kentucky. The Region held a retirement party for me which showed up yesterday on Facebook as a memory from the past. Looking at that picture brought back a lot of memories.

In 1981 I responded to God's call on my life by accepting the pastorate of Hebron Baptist Church, a small, rural church near my hometown of Madison, IN. As I've shared many times I went there with no experience and no education beyond high school. I only knew God had called me to the ministry, and this church needed a pastor. I continued working at Cummins Engine Co. and served the church as a bivocational pastor.

For 20 years I served that church before being called to serve as a Resource Minister with the American Baptist Churches of Indiana and Kentucky. I went from having one church of about 50 people to serving around 80 churches in my Area. I continued in that ministry for 14 years before retiring.

During that 34 years my life experienced many interesting and rewarding transitions. I furthered my education by earning the bachelor's, master's, and Doctor of Ministry degrees. I published eight books focusing on bivocational and small church ministry. As a result of those books I've been invited to lead conferences and seminars for numerous denominations across the US and Canada. I've had the opportunity to work with many wonderful ministry leaders in our Region and across our denomination as well as others serving in other denominations.

Of course, for a minister retirement is merely a word that has little meaning in real life. For the past year I've been privileged to serve Madison FBC as their Transitional Pastor. It has been a joy to return to pastoral ministry, working with a great congregation and a very capable staff whom I've come to appreciate very much. I pray for the church's Pastor Search Team every day, but until God leads them to their next pastor I am enjoying working with this church during this transitional time.

No one knows growing up what life will look like for them. As a child growing up on dairy farms I never dreamed I would have the opportunities I've had. My life has been a journey that I could never have dreamed possible, and it all began by saying yes to God when called to that small, rural church.

I pray the same can be said about you. God has a plan for each of us, but that plan can only come to pass if we are willing to say yes to Him. Saying yes to God will lead you down paths you could not have imagined on your own. It will give you opportunities you never dreamed possible. At times it will seem frightening, and you'll not be sure where some of these opportunities will take you. Just're always safe in God's arms. The safest place anyone can be is in the middle of God's will for his or her life.

Has God been calling you to something that has caused you to be hesitant? If you'll say yes to that call you will find yourself on a journey that will be more rewarding than you can imagine.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

How will you grow in 2018?

We've all heard the warning: If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Unfortunately, many of us still refuse to create plans to accomplish things that will impact our lives the most. For instance, few people create a plan that will help them grow personally or spiritually. We seem to think that personal and spiritual growth happens automatically. It doesn't.

In yesterday's post I mentioned the impact that Zig Ziglar had on my life. One of the things he did was to encourage me to set personal growth goals and then work on those goals throughout the year. I found that when I did that I became much more focused on how I spent my time and the activities I said yes to. I tracked my time every day to make sure I had spent some time that day working on my goals. Doing this enabled me to write books, develop seminars, and do many things I probably would not have accomplished if I had just drifted along hoping to accomplish something along the way.

A person committed to personal growth begins by identifying the areas in which he or she wants to grow. A Facebook friend asked the other day if a 60 year old man should be thinking about going back to school. I replied that I earned my Doctor of Ministry degree at 62 so if he felt this was something he wanted to do he should go for it.

Financially, I doubt I will get back the money I spent in earning that degree, but I didn't do it for the money. I did it to grow personally. BTW - I don't consider that I spent money. I invested money. I invested in myself. Another recession can come and take your retirement money away, but when you invest in yourself it's going to be there regardless of what the economy does.

Spiritual growth is just like personal growth. Only you can decide how much you want to grow spiritually, and only you can decide the best the way to accomplish that. You may want to map out a personal reading and study plan for the new year. You may want to check out upcoming conferences in your area and make plans to attend. You may want to be a part of some short term mission trips.

It doesn't really matter what you do. What's important is that you do something, and that you do it now. Today is not too early to begin planning for your personal and spiritual growth. Today is not too early to begin identifying the means by which that growth will occur.

If you fail to intentionally plan to grow chances are you won't. When the end of 2018 rolls around you will be exactly like you are today except a year older. Don't be that person. Determine the areas in which you want to grow, identify the means by which that growth can occur, and take definite steps today to make that happen.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

zig ziglar

My daughter called yesterday saying she had gone online to buy something from Zig Ziglar's company when a screen popped up on her computer stating that it would have been Ziglar's 91st birthday, and to celebrate they had all his merchandise 50% off. She called knowing I am a big fan of Zig Ziglar.

Several years ago Ziglar was one of several motivational speakers touring the country and speaking at various cities. Nearly every year I would get tickets for myself and our daughter to attend. His presentation was usually the longest and the best of any of the speakers. I heard him so many times I knew most of his stories before he would tell them.

During that time I purchased a number of items including a three-volume cassette series on success and goal setting. For four years I purchased his planner and used it to not only track my goals but to track my time. I literally recorded everything I did during those four years in 15 minute segments in that planner. It changed my life, and I became much more focused and goal oriented. Don't tell me you don't have time to do the things you claim are most important until you have tracked how you actually spend your time. Chances are, you have plenty of time to do those things that are truly important.

Ziglar was not always the success he was when I first began to hear him speak. In fact, he was very honest about how many different endeavors he was involved in before finally realizing success in sales and motivational speaking. I'm sure much of his wisdom was gained during those difficult years.

What endeared me to him was the way he shared his presentations. He was full of energy as he told story after story to drive home his points. He could relate to anyone and seemed genuinely interested in everyone he met. I bought the higher priced tickets that offered a number of perks at these events which included having a pre-conference breakfast with Zig Ziglar. He would be standing at the door of the dining hall to shake hands with everyone who entered. He didn't have to do that, but he was determined to make everyone feel welcomed.

Another thing I appreciated was his faith in God. He was very open about his faith and how it impacted his life. One of his most powerful books was Confessions of a Grieving Christian in which he told how he dealt with the loss of his oldest daughter after a lengthy illness. Of course, he credited the Lord with his ability to get through that painful period.

Few people have impacted my life more than Zig Ziglar. His books are well worth reading, and I have recommended his goal setting program to hundreds of people.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Tragedy in Texas

We were all shocked yesterday to hear of the shooting in a Baptist church in Sutherland Springs, Texas that resulted in the deaths of over 20 people with that many more wounded. The shooter later died, apparently in a shoot-out with a neighbor of the church although that has not been confirmed as I write this post.

What would possess someone to enter a church and randomly shoot people, men, women, and children, as they gather to worship? As yet, officials have not given a motive for the shooting, so I will not speculate here. Whatever the reason, it certainly does not justify this cowardly act.

Responses across the country have been varied. Some in the entertainment industry, well-known for its moral superiority to the rest of us, immediately blamed Republicans, called for more gun controls, and ridiculed faith and prayer. The vast majority of people, including many others in the entertainment business, called for prayers for the church and community.

No doubt, as the shock of this wears off, there will be more demands for gun control. As violence increases across the nation such calls are to be expected even though such restrictions would not reduce the violence. Timothy McVeigh killed 168 people and injured over 600 more using fertilizer. Jim Jones killed 909 people with Kool-Aid mixed with cyanide. Hopefully, we haven't forgotten that on 9/11 nearly 3,000 people were killed when aircraft were flown into buildings in the United States. Furthermore, millions of Americans own guns that have never been used to harm another human being. Those who argue that tighter restrictions on guns will reduce violence are simply presenting a red herring to avoid the real issue here.

It's not a gun issue; it's a heart issue. As a nation we have strayed far from God and the way He teaches us to live. Since we as a nation have determined that it is not politically correct to promote a Christian worldview we have to look for other means to control people's behavior. Today, it's restricting access to guns; tomorrow it will be controlling something else. No restrictions, no laws, will prevent someone determined to harm other human beings from carrying out their desires.

Until our vertical relationship with God is right our horizontal relationships with one another will never be right. As long as we continue to hate one another, carry bitterness towards others, envy one another, or feel superior to others we will see continued violence. As a nation, we need God.

Will such a spiritual awakening occur? I don't know. For now, we need to be prayerful. We certainly need to pray for our brothers and sisters impacted by this latest tragedy. We need to pray for one another, and we need to pray that America will see its need for God once again. I still believe in 2 Chronicles 7: 14, and it is that belief that gives me hope for our nation.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Sermon planning for 2018

Every year about this time I post an article about the importance of using the fall to think about your sermons for the upcoming year. Well, it's fall, and it's time to start that planning.

Some pastors are able to plan their entire preaching schedule for a year. I was not that good. I tried to plan at least three months worth, and I could often get six months of planning done before the new year started.

I always began by taking a yellow legal pad and writing down the dates for each Sunday in the left hand column. (Yes, you can use your computer. I'm old, and I like paper!) To the left of that I would write out if that Sunday had a special emphasis such as Mother's Day or the first Sunday of Advent. If you have to preach both on Sunday morning and Sunday night you will find that a legal pad will give you enough lines for one quarter of sermons. If you only preach on Sunday morning, just skip a line between each date.

The next thing I would do is pray about what I wanted to accomplish. Your church's vision should inform much of what you are wanting to do. I would then begin to think about themes. Soon these would lead to sermon titles with a text. That's what I would write down. The special emphasis Sundays would have their own special theme. (It really wasn't too hard to know what my topic would be on the Sunday before Thanksgiving!)

One thing I often did was plan a series of sermons on the family between Mother's Day and Father's Day. That was often one of the most popular sermon series I did each year.

The Sunday after Father's Day I would often begin a lengthy sermon series through a book of the Bible or a major portion of Scripture such as the Sermon on the Mount. This series would normally run through the entire summer and sometimes into the fall. This helped make sure I wasn't avoiding difficult passages, and it deepened our congregation's understanding about what the Bible teaches.

There are several advantages to planning your sermons months in advance.

  • It allows you more time to actually prepare your messages. Too often, pastors who go Sunday-to-Sunday in their sermon preparation actually spend more time trying to decide what to preach than they spend in the preparation.
  • It enables your worship planners to know in advance what your messages will be so they will be better able to plan the music and other elements of worship to coordinate with the message. This provides a better flow to your worship service.
  • It lets you have a good overview of your sermons. One year as I was looking back at my messages for that year I realized that I had become rather negative in my preaching. God convicted me of that in such a way I apologized to the congregation the following Sunday and made a shift in my sermons.
  • It makes sure you will have the necessary resources to prepare your sermons. For example, one year I decided to preach through the book of Romans for my summer series. At that time I did not have a lot of commentaries and other sermon helps on Romans. I made sure that problem was corrected before it was time to begin preparing those messages. 
  • It helps ensure you are not just preaching on your current interests. Right now, I am very interested in reading on apologetics. I have shared some of my learning with my current congregation, but it would be unfair to do that every Sunday. By planning my preaching I am more likely to offer them more balanced messages that includes more than just apologetics.
  • It also gives the speaker an opportunity to keep the church's vision before them. We are told that a congregation needs to be reminded at least once a month of its vision for ministry. Planning your messages in advance can help make that happen.
It does take time to plan a preaching scheduled, but after doing this for years I can tell you that the time you spend on the front end will be made up on the back end. It's a great feeling to sit down on Monday and know what your sermon text and theme is for the next week. You can go straight to preparing your message and not spend days trying to decide what to preach. Try it. Just plan one quarter and see how that goes.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Vacation and thoughts about a pastor's library

For the past couple of weeks I've been on vacation in Panama City Beach. I left there yesterday morning after sitting out on the beach and pool side the day before only to be greeted by a house registering 60 degrees on the thermostat. Although I was tired from the long drive, I was about ready to turn around and go back!

It was a great time away. We spent our vacation with our daughter and her family. I think the recent hurricanes down there had lowered the water temperature more than normal for this time of the year, but we still got to spend time in both the ocean and the pool and got plenty of nice Florida sun shine. I also enjoyed a nice round of golf and a couple of rounds of putt-putt with the grand kids.

We've been going there for vacation for several years and have several restaurants we enjoy. This year we did something a little different: we tried some new restaurants. Some had been around for a while, but we had just never gone to them while others had opened since we were there last year. I love fresh seafood and was not disappointed!

Surprisingly enough, I even had time to read. I took two books with me, and bought several more down there. I finished reading A New Kind of Apologist by Sean McDowell and read Deep and Wide by Andy Stanley. Some of the Goodwill stores down there always have a great selection of books and I bought several. The two I bought and read while there were The Time Keeper by Mitch Albon and The Radical Leap by Steve Farber. I really enjoyed all four books.

Books I bought there that have been added to my to-read list include Surprised by Hope by N. T. Wright, Blink by Malcolm Gladwell, The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson and Fresh Air by Jack Levison.

I know I've mentioned this before, but my experience in the Goodwill stores made me want to remind you of something important. Many of you who read this blog are bivocational pastors or pastors of smaller churches who do not have a lot of money for your library. Each of these books cost me between 2.99 and 3.99. New books are expensive, but you don't have to spend a lot of money to build up a good pastoral library. For less than 20.00 I added six quality books to my library. BTW - These books list new for $115.90. They have no marks in them and each are in nearly new condition.

Your local library probably has an annual book sale. Flea markets and auctions are great places to find books. If you live near a seminary there may be a used bookstore nearby where students sell their text books when they finish a class. I bought a number of books in such a bookstore.

If you are in pastoral ministry or any leadership role in a church you need a good library, and it doesn't have to cost a fortune to own one. Oh, and don't forget to enjoy a vacation or two every year!

Thursday, October 5, 2017

When the church becomes a battlefield

Serving as a judicatory leader for 14 years allowed me to see things in churches that should never happen. In yesterday's post I referred to bullies in the pulpit who use their position as pastor to browbeat their congregations into doing whatever they want. These people are especially skilled at using Scripture to prove their point or to challenge anyone who dares stand against them. They misuse their calling, if they ever were called to the ministry, to promote their own agendas, not God's.

These individuals are skilled at dividing church members until it becomes "us" versus "them." Of course, the pastor's group is convinced they are right, and those who refuse to go along with them are wrong. Worse than that, they also are led to believe that the ones who oppose what the pastor is doing is defying God. "Touch not God's anointed" is a common rallying cry even when "God's anointed" is leading the church down a path of destruction. I've seen once strong, healthy churches decline to a pathetic shadow of what they once were, and I'm sure Satan is standing in the shadows gleefully laughing at what he was able to accomplish.

I've also seen church members who once worshiped together and enjoyed spending time with one another suddenly turn against each another. Just recently I heard of some comments one member of a church made to another that were shameful and degrading. These individuals had worshiped together for many years, but this unwarranted attack has led to a serious breakdown in their relationship. To make this even worse, the one who made the attack is oblivious to what he did. He has so little self-awareness that he does not understand the pain he has caused the one he attacked.

While coaching a small church pastor a few years ago I asked her what would she like to do in ministry more than anything else. She responded that she would like to begin a ministry to people who have been hurt by the church. I laughed and responded that if she found a way to do that her church would not remain small for very long!

In every community there are many, many people who have been wounded by churches they used to attend. In some cases, they were able to move on to other churches, but far too often the wounds are too deep, and they simply walk away from the church forever.

Scripture is very clear that shepherds are to love, care for and feed the sheep, not beat them into submission. We are to teach the truth in love, not use the Scriptures as a club to force compliance. The Bible is very clear that those of us who serve as leaders in the church will answer to God for how we served those entrusted to us by God. Some pastors will have much to answer for.

We also note that Jesus prayed for unity among His people, and Scripture gives numerous warnings to those who create disunity and disharmony among the people of God. The church is never to be a battleground. Our battle should be against the forces of darkness, not against one another. A kingdom divided against itself cannot stand. Neither can it be an effective witness for God.

If your church is becoming a battleground, please call in support to help it address the conflicts. If you are part of a denomination, they will have people who can help you deal with conflict. If your church is independent you can call in consultants to address the issues. Whatever you do, don't let it continue thinking that maybe it will get better. It won't, and your church's ability to do ministry may well be affected for decades.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Bullies in the pulpit

When I served as an Area Minister a good friend of mine called one day saying their new pastor did nothing but beat them up every Sunday from the pulpit. My friend attended a healthy small church, but I had been hearing there were problems there since this pastor arrived. Their long-term treasurer had been removed by the pastor when he refused to pay a bill that was not budgeted and had not been approved by the congregation. Several members had already left the church. The church had stopped supporting its denomination because the new pastor didn't like the denomination. Evidently, as tensions escalated in the church the pastor was using the pulpit to try to beat the congregation into submission. I decided to visit the church.

My friend was right. I had attended this church numerous times in the past and always enjoyed the service. Not this Sunday! The pastor spent 45 minutes blasting the congregation. I almost walked out a couple of times and could not imagine why anyone would accept that week after week. Since I represented the denomination he didn't like, there was nothing I could say to him. I watched the church dwindle down to where there are now less than two dozen attending there now. Of course, he left some time ago. This once healthy church is in serious danger of not surviving.

I'm not sure why some pastors believe they need to beat on their congregations. As shepherds, pastors are to lead their sheep, not beat them. Something is seriously wrong with a pastor who feels the need to constantly criticize his or her congregation.

There is also something wrong with a congregation that accepts such pastoral leadership. Congregations are to respect their pastors and allow them to lead, but that does not mean they are to allow their pastors to abuse them. That is what this was: pastoral abuse. No congregation should have to endure that.

I'm sure my friend who called wanted me to intervene and either stop the pastor's misbehavior or have him removed from the church. In our tradition, we do not have the authority to do that. The congregation calls the pastor, and only the congregation can remove the pastor.

The problem in this particular church is that people would talk to the pastor individually. When he refused to listen or respond to them, they would leave the church. I suggested that if the bulk of the lay leadership were dissatisfied with this pastor's behavior that they confront him together and make it clear that they were not going anywhere and they were also not going to tolerate abusive behavior. Unfortunately, they did not do that which is why the church is in danger of closing now.

There is a fine line here. On the one hand, Scripture is clear that we are to follow those in authority over us. At the same time, Scripture is also clear that shepherds are not to abuse those placed under his care. When such abuse happens a congregation must be willing to confront the pastor and demand that it stop. There's been a lot of talk lately about stopping the bullying that goes on in our society. Let's also stop it in the pulpit.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Plan your own life

We are now at the start of October, and I've done something I've done for years. I ordered my 2018 planning calendar. For my younger readers who keep everything on their smart phone or tablet, this is an annual ritual you don't have to follow. However, I prefer paper over technology to schedule my life, so I have to order a new planner each year.

As a bivocational pastor I soon learned that time management was essential to being effective in the many roles of someone in my position. When I went on staff in our judicatory time management became even more important.

In our November staff meeting we would list all the things we knew would occur in our region for the coming year. I would write those down in my planner. I often referred to these items as the "pay the rent" requirements. These were things I needed to attend or do as part of our region staff. But, once those were noted in the planner, then the planner belonged to me. It was then that my wife and I could schedule vacations. I could then begin to fill the calendar with local events that would occur in the area I served. I could also schedule my days off and reading days. Reading days?

Leaders cannot spend all their time leading. We need time to take in new knowledge and learn new skills. We need time to sit and think. A pastor who spends every waking minute working on sermons, attending meetings, and visiting everyone in the church will soon wear out. If a pastor never takes time to fill his or her own tank, that pastor will soon be running on empty.

I have to admit that I learned about reading time later in my ministry. It was during my doctoral studies. I quickly realized that there was so much reading required for the program that I had to schedule blocks of time for reading. Once my "pay the rent" items were written in the planner, and I knew what reading was required for a particular course, then I could schedule 2-3 hour blocks during the week just for reading. If a request for my time was made during that schedule reading time I would just explain that I already had an appointment. It never created a problem. Of course, if it was a genuine emergency I had space to respond to it and would then schedule reading time for a later date.

My wife and I enjoyed a date night during my pastoral ministry. That was also put in the planner. We selected Friday evenings as our date time, so every Friday my wife's name was written in the planner for the evening hours. Again, if someone wanted to meet or call me during that time I would explain that I already had an appointment and would need to schedule them for a later time.

If you don't plan your life, someone else will plan it for you, and chances are they will not have the same priorities for your life that you have. By planning ahead and ensuring that your priorities are given preferential treatment on your schedule you will feel less stress, enjoy better relationships with those closest to you, and be more effective in everything you do.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Real life bivocational ministry

For my entire ministry I have been bivocational. Even while serving as a judicatory minister in our region I owned and managed a small business. People often ask what kinds of jobs are suitable for a bivocational minister, and I respond that almost anything that is legal, moral, and offers the flexibility that allows you to minister is suitable. I have found bivocational ministers doing everything from teaching grade school to universities, serving as policemen, running a business, working in a factory, sales, etc.

In my own life while serving as a bivocational minister I have worked in a factory, owned and managed a small business, and now own and operate an auction business.

I suppose one of the things I've enjoyed about being a bivocational minister is that it has kept me in the public. There's no danger of a bivocational minister getting caught up in a church cocoon where everything he or she does is surrounded by people who share your faith. In those environments I have an opportunity to not only be a witness for Jesus Christ, but I often have the opportunity to minister to people where other ministers would not.

For instance, a couple of years ago I was asked to sell some things at auction for a lady. When I went to look at what she wanted to sell I mentioned that I was a minister. She then began to tell me about how difficult her life had been for the past couple of years. Her boyfriend had committed suicide. Her son was having serious personal issues. It sounded like a soap opera. I asked if I could pray for her, and she agreed. After praying I asked if she had a church, and when she said no I was able to direct her to a good church in her community that would love her and minister to her. The very next week a similar incident occurred with another individual.

I had never met either of these individuals before, but they were willing, almost eager, to tell me of their personal pain once they learned I was a minister. Neither had a church and may have had little interest in spiritual things, but in the midst of their pain they allowed me to pray for them and direct them to good churches in their areas. And because both needed to raise money I was able to help them do that by selling some things they no longer wanted at my auction.

Next Tuesday I have another auction. Several consignors have brought items for me to sell. Some need the money; others need to downsize and get rid of things they've had for years. It is an opportunity to minister to people. On Sunday I will preach at the church where I serve as their Transitional Pastor, and on Monday I will begin moving things to the site where I have my auctions. Tuesday night I'll sell the merchandise, and by the end of the week the people will have their money. This is what bivocational ministry looks like in the real world, and I love it.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Taking responsibility

By now you've probably heard that Hillary Clinton has published a book that explains why she lost the recent presidential campaign. In the book she evidently blames just about everyone for her loss: Bernie Sanders, Matt Lauer,  James Comey, the Russians, WikiLeaks, President Obama and VP Biden and even female voters. For some reason she seems unable to take any responsibility for her loss herself.

Since the election I've been amused at how the Democrats have been in a panic over the results. Even before the new President was sworn into office there were talks about impeachment. After all, they had rigged the primary so no one but Clinton could get the nomination, and when Trump became the Republican nominee I'm sure they thought they had the election won. Trump wasn't a politician. He said some really stupid things at times and was certainly not politically correct in most things he did. He had very low trust rating. The problem was, so did Clinton.

After the election I believed that if Democrats had ran anyone other than Clinton they would have probably won the election. People did not trust Clinton. There were too many unanswered questions about Clinton's handing of Benghazi and the blatant lie she told about what incited the attack. There were other questions about her truthfulness such as the time she claimed she landed in Bosnia under sniper fire when video clearly showed just the opposite was true. Many people rightfully questioned the vast wealth the Clintons amassed after leaving the White House, and of course there were the missing emails, some of which contained classified information. The Democratic party had many people who would have been a more viable candidate. People may not have liked Trump, but they had even more concerns about Clinton.

One of Clinton's problems is illustrated once again in this book. She simply cannot accept responsibility. Even when she says she is responsible that statement is always followed by a "But...," at which time she shifts the blame to someone else.

What does all this have to do with persons in ministry? None of us enjoys admitting when we've made a mistake. Taking responsibility for our mistakes isn't easy or fun, but it is the adult thing to do. Trying to shift the blame to someone else just compounds the problem. And, when we try to avoid responsibility we really aren't fooling anyone.

A key element of leadership is admitting when we're wrong, and we will be wrong many times. That's the nature of leadership. If you never make mistakes you're not leading, you're managing. Leading dares to venture into new territory, and not every venture works out the way we want.

Zig Ziglar used to say "Failure is an event, not a person." Failing at some task does not make a person a failure. It simply means the individual did not succeed at that particular effort. The wise thing to do is to admit the failure and begin to look for a better way that will succeed.

People know when we've messed up. The good news is that many of those people are willing to forgive when they see us take responsibility for our mistakes. Few people expect us to be perfect, so they are often willing to forgive us if we are willing to admit those mistakes and take ownership of them. Admitting responsibility for our mistakes will actually cause people to trust us even more which is essential to a successful ministry.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Do you love your church?

When I served as a judicatory minister one of the things that bothered me most was when I would talk to a pastor who had nothing good to say about his or her church. I sometimes felt the pastor literally hated the church he was serving. In some cases the pastor was nearing retirement and staying until retirement came. Other pastors were asking my help in finding them another church to serve.

Certainly, some churches can be difficult, and some of the people in our churches can be hard to love, but I never understood a pastor who seemed to resent or despise the church he or she was serving. If they truly believed God had called them to that place, then there must be a purpose for them being there.

Several years ago H. B. London, Jr. wrote The Heart of a Great Pastor, a book I would recommend to any pastor. In that book he said that if you are serving in a great place it is because someone stayed there to make it a great place. If you are serving in a difficult place, then perhaps God has called you to stay there and make it a great place. In my 35 years of ministry I think those may be some of the most important words a pastor can hear. We need to stop looking for that perfect place and determine to thrive where God has planted us.

In order to do that, we must first love the place we are serving. People can tell how you feel about them. You can smile all through the morning worship service, but you won't fool your congregation. They can tell your true feelings about them.

Someone once wrote that the first question many people, especially in a smaller church, has for their pastor is "Pastor, do you love us?" If they believe the answer is in the affirmative, they will gladly follow you. But, if they feel the pastor is just using them as a stepping stone to the church they really want to serve, or if they feel that the pastor really doesn't care for them, they will resist everything the pastor suggests.

Also in the smaller church, it takes time for them to decide if their pastor loves them or not. Many of these churches have been abandoned by their pastors so often that they are gun shy. Your love for them will have to be demonstrated not just with words but by your actions as well. If the church has been deeply wounded in the past by their pastors it can take years for them to trust another pastor. Here is where London's words take on even more importance.

Pastor, do you love your church? I hope you do. The Son of God loved your church so much He gave His life for it.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Your life can influence others

Last week I met for breakfast with some men I worked with at Cummins Engine Company. All of us took early retirement back in the 1990s, but we get together every other month at a local Cracker Barrel to check on each other. The numbers vary each time, but our enjoyment of being with one another isn't influenced by how many people show up.

What makes these men so special in my life is how they influenced my decision to become a Christian. When I first met them on the assembly line I was not a Christian. These men were, and they were not ashamed of their faith. They never tried to push their beliefs on anyone, but they lived out those beliefs in all they did.

There came a time in my life when things began to get a little intense. Somehow, I knew that I needed God in my life although I wasn't sure how to verbalize that. One morning before our shift started I asked one of these men if he had anything on faith. He reached in his tool box and gave me several tracts and pamphlets. I read them all that evening, and the next day I asked for more. I began to ask questions. I did not have a Bible so one of the men gave me an old Bible he had in his tool box. Within a few short weeks I asked Jesus Christ into my life. I seldom see these men except at our bi-monthly breakfast, but I think of them often and the impact they had on my life.

After my wife and I were saved we began to attend a church where we became pretty active. After going there for about a year the pastor asked if I would teach a new adult class the church was going to start. A few months into teaching the class we traveled together for a training event. On the way he asked if I had ever felt God might be calling me into the ministry. I admitted I had but had not shared that with anyone. He encouraged me to pray about it, and a few weeks later visited my wife and I to answer any questions we might have. It was a year or so later, after he had left our church, that I finally yielded to that call of God on my life.

For the past 40 years I have been a Christian because people modeled for me what a Christian was and were willing to gently answer my questions and love me into the Kingdom. For the past 35 years I have served in the ministry because a pastor spoke into my life and encouraged me to pray about what God wanted to do in my life.

The most effective evangelistic outreach today isn't found in large crusades or church revivals. It doesn't usually happen when churches pass out tracts door-to-door. It happens through relationships. It happens when people see God's people living lives that are different from theirs and they begin to ask why. It has become a modern day cliche, but it's true: Your life may be the only Gospel some people ever read. Your life can influence others to invite Jesus Christ into their lives.

Virtually every minister I know entered the ministry because someone challenged them to consider that God might be calling them to do that. Perhaps one reason some churches now struggle to find pastors is because we've quit challenging people to pray about the possibility that God is calling them into the ministry.

Your life can influence others. In fact, I will take it a step further. Your life WILL influence others. Now for the question: What kind of influence is your life having on others?

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

You notice the things you're looking for

A few weeks ago I read The Noticer: Sometimes, all a person needs is a little perspective by Andy Andrews. It tells the story of a drifter who sees things that others miss. As he talks with people going through various problems he reminds them that sometimes all that is needed is a "little perspective."

The first person the drifter talked to was a young man named Andy who was struggling with his life. In one of their early encounters he brought Andy a meal which they ate on the beach where Andy was living. The meal consisted of sardines and Vienna sausages. During their conversation he asked Andy what he was eating and where. Andy replied he was eating sardines and Vienna sausages in the sand. When they finished their conversation the drifter told Andy that maybe that was what Andy was eating, but he had dined on surf and turf with an ocean view! It's all about perspective. He then reminded Andy that "Whatever you focus upon, increases."

What a powerful reminder! It's so easy to grow critical about our churches, our families, our businesses, and our lives in general. I've certainly had times when everything I focused on was negative, and the more I focused on the negative the more negative I became.

As a judicatory minister working with numerous pastors I met many who seemed to hate the churches they served. Some of these pastors never had a positive thing to say about their church or their ministries. I wondered why they stayed in the ministry if it made them that miserable. Such ministers seemed to change churches fairly often, I assume thinking they would eventually find one they liked, but it seldom happened. They would not be long in their new church before they found things to complain about in that church.

There were times during my pastoral ministry when I became frustrated with our church. We all do. But, each of us have the option of focusing on the negative things happening in our churches or focusing on the positive things. I once coached a bivocational pastor who was very frustrated that things were not moving forward faster in his church than they were. He was ready to leave until I reminded him of all the positive things he had told me about the church. Even though he had told me about the positive things, he had forgotten them as his focus had drifted to some negative things that had occurred recently.

If you look for negative things, you'll find them regardless of what you do for a living. However, the same thing is true of positive things. You will find what you are looking for, and those things will increase.

The next time you become frustrated with some aspect of your life step back and begin to look for the positive things about that aspect. I bet if you look for them you'll find them, and when you do it will begin to change the way you look at it. Sometimes all you need is a little perspective. This book can help you get that perspective.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Relationships in the church are critical

One of the serious problems we see in the 21st century church is that we are disconnected from one another. There is little interaction among members of many churches other than for an hour on Sunday morning. We drive into church for the worship service, perhaps attend a Sunday school class, and then return to our homes. For many of us, there is little thought about or contact with the church until the next Sunday.

We've compartmentalized our lives into various cells with little overlap. We have our work cell, our family cell, our hobby cell, and our church cell. In addition, there are numerous other segments of many of these cells such as baseball practice and games for the children or volunteering at a charity event.

There is little wonder that growing as disciples of Jesus Christ is so difficult for many believers. We've isolated our Christian life from every other area of our lives, and that particular cell is given very little time.

For several years I've had youth and children's ministers complain about the declining numbers of young people involved in their ministries. There are several reasons for this.

  1. According to Tom Rainer's research only about 15 percent of Millennials are Christians. Since many of the parents are in this generation it stands to reason that if few of them are Christians we will see fewer young people and children involved in our churches.
  2. We have a growing number of children and young people growing up in single-parent and blended families. Often, they spend every other weekend with the non-custodial parent so they may only be able to attend their home church half-time at best.
  3. Many of the parents, even Christian parents, do not see the need to make youth and children's ministries a priority in their families. Several years ago when I was pastor of a church we had an excellent youth minister who tried everything possible to develop a strong youth ministry in our small church. He and the youth would plan an activity, and on the day of the activity no one would show up. When asked, they would say that their parents decided to do something else that day. They considered their "family time" to be more important than providing their children an opportunity to be with other Christian young people. When this youth minister resigned the question was asked when we would hire another youth minister. I responded we would hire another youth minister when we had different parents who cared about their children's spiritual development. We never hired another youth minister.
  4. Although there are no doubt other reasons, the last one we'll mention here is refers back to to the first comment. In many churches we are not socially connected with one another. We do what we need to do to meet our individual spiritual needs and move on to the next thing
Ed Young, in his excellent book, The Creative Leader: Unleashing the Power of Your Creative Potential clearly states the problem. He writes, "Drive-through people fill our churches today. They pull up every weekend and expect an inspiring McMessage, fun-filled McChildcare, heart-warming McMusic, sensational McProgramming, and then they're off."

This was not the experience of the first century church. In Acts 2 we read that the people were together, sharing meals together, sharing their resources with one another, sharing their lives together. The result of those strong relationships with one another was two-fold. They had favor with the people, and the Lord added to their numbers daily.

We need to take a look at the relationships that exist within our churches. Individually, we need to look at the relationships we have with others within our church. Do we see church as something we do together, or do we see church as something that will meet our individual needs? Is our church involvement something we minimally do each week so we can check it off our to-do list for the week, or is this a relationship we make a priority for ourselves and our families?

There is an old Proverb that says it takes a village to raise a child. We could also say it takes a community to raise a disciple of Jesus Christ. Are you part of such a community? If not, what needs to change?

Monday, August 28, 2017

Purple cow ministries

In 2002 Seth Godin published his best selling book, Purple Cow, New Edition: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable. This marketing book emphasized that to be successful it was important to stand out. When all the cows are brown it becomes pretty boring, and people stop noticing. However, if you have a purple cow in the field, people are going to stop and pay attention. In this classic book Godin linked success to doing things worth noticing.

Cal Newport has written a book titled So Good They Can't Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love that I'm currently reading. In one chapter he writes about how one computer programmer took Godin's words to heart and looked for ways to stand out. As he sought to develop a program that would truly be remarkable he finally achieved it when he created an open-source artificial intelligence program that writes and plays its own dance music.

How does this thinking apply to ministries? Much of what churches do today often receives little notice. We tend to approach ministry much the same way we did in the past. We offer the same programs at the same times and in the same ways we did two, three, even five decades ago.

In one of my seminars I like to ask the attendees why would anyone want to attend your church? I then explain that where I live there is a Baptist church on every gravel road in the county. If every one of them sings three songs, has a couple of prayers, takes up an offering, has a sermon and an hour later sends everyone home inspired to eat lunch, what difference does it make which church you attend. These churches are like a herd of brown cows out in the field. People stopped paying attention to them a long time ago.

But, what if you drove past the field and saw a purple cow? You would probably stop, take a picture, and call your friends to come and look at this purple cow.

Churches become purple cows by offering purple cow ministries. They don't try to copy what every other church in the area is doing, and they don't try to do so many things that they cannot do with excellence. Note this well: Ministries done with excellence are purple cow ministries. These are the ones that will change people's lives and cause people to take notice of your church and what it's trying to do.

Maybe it's time to look at everything we're doing in the church and ask if it's a brown cow or a purple cow. When we begin to think of new ministries to launch or new approaches to old ministries let's stop and ask ourselves how we can make this a purple cow. Maybe it won't be a purple cow when we first launch it, but we should never stop tweaking it until it becomes one.

When Jesus was here on earth people could follow Him or reject Him, but they could not ignore Him. Among all the religious leaders living at the time He stood out as someone unique. When He finished the Sermon on the Mount we read that the people were astonished at His teaching because He taught as one having authority. The people were further amazed at the miracles He performed and the changed lives that resulted.

If you're tired of people ignoring your church, if you're tired of the ministries your church offers having such little impact, it's time to begin thinking  how to turn those ministries into purple cows. If you want people to be amazed at how people's lives are being changed as a result of your ministry then transform what you are doing into purple cow ministries. It's only when people are amazed at what you are doing will they begin to want to hear what you have to say, and when they hear the Gospel they will have the opportunity to respond to it and have their own lives changed.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Your church's senior adult ministry is about to change

A few days ago I commented on the changes that will impact our churches in the next 10 years as the Builder Generation continues to disappear from our churches. That post generated a lot of comments on social media and was shared by many of my readers. As a result, I thought I would share another one of the changes that will impact our churches over the next 10 years, and it's also related to the declining number of folks from the Builder Generation.

We've talked for a long time about the overwhelming numbers of senior adults that make up our congregations. Many churches have focused a significant portion of their ministry towards their senior saints. This ministry is about to change, and some churches are already seeing those changes.

The Boomer Generation, of which I'm a part, has always held to our generational differences. This isn't going to change just because we are getting older. Many in my generation won't even accept the term senior adult. Many of us simply don't see ourselves that way.

For one thing, many of us do not do retirement well. Like me, many Boomers take early retirement, and then find something else to do. I retired from a factory job at the age of 47, but at the time of my retirement I was also a bivocational pastor and the owner/manager of a small business. All that retirement meant was that I had one less place to be each day.

In 2015 I retired again from a ministry position I had with our judicatory. But, a couple of years prior to that retirement I earned my auctioneer's license. Eight months after retirement I accepted the call to be the Transitional Pastor of a local church that was beginning the process of seeking a new pastor. So, now I'm doing that and conducting auctions and working for other auctioneers in the area.

Boomers tend to not do retirement well. We may enjoy fishing and golfing and spending time with family, but for many of us we also want to stay active and involved in doing things that we find worthwhile. I don't see a lot of Boomers interested in riding the church bus with their peers to Branson. We are more likely to be interested in taking a mission trip somewhere.

I was sharing that thought with another church leader recently, and he confirmed that they are already seeing that in their church. The Senior Adults in the church take the church bus someplace on a monthly basis for an enjoyable day of shopping or sightseeing. However, the Boomers in the church are seldom interested in taking these trips and few do.

In the next 10 years many churches will have to rethink their Senior Adult ministry and change it to reflect the realities of the way the Boomer Generation looks at itself and their interests.

This will also impact the men's and women's ministries in churches. We find many of the associational men's meetings are very poorly attended. The only thing that keeps them going are the men from the Builder Generation and some of the more senior members of the Boomer Generation. Younger Boomers and later generations do not find the traditional men's meeting interesting or compelling enough to attend. The same is true of many women's gatherings. One woman recently commented on the poor attendance at their state's mission conference. She was quick to point out that it was a good conference, but she was clearly disappointed at the attendance. Again, many younger women do not find such meetings a worthwhile use of their time.

Churches and denominations that are interested in growth need to take a serious look at how they can best engage the Boomer Generation as it replaces the Builder Generation as the senior saints in our churches.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The need is the call

Throughout my 36 year ministry I was bivocational. Even as an Area Minister in our Region I owned a small business that I managed on a part-time basis. Most of my books have addressed aspects of bivocational and small church ministry focusing on both the church and the pastors of such churches. I have traveled to many states leading conferences for various denominations that addressed some of the topics I covered in my books. I've made two trips to Canada doing the same thing. My DMin thesis focused on bivocational ministry. Bivocational ministers are my heroes, and I applaud their selfless dedication to God's call on their lives.

During my 14 years as an Area Minister we saw the need for bivocational ministers grow throughout our Region. Churches that had been served by fully-funded pastors found they could no longer afford such ministers and began seeking bivocational leadership. As I met with the leaders of various denominations I found they were seeing the same thing. The number of churches that needed bivocational pastors were growing, but the numbers of persons willing to serve those churches were not.

Nothing catches God by surprise. We should never think that God looks down upon his churches struggling to find pastoral leadership and be surprised. I'm convinced that God is calling persons to fill those positions. The question is are we listening to that call?

Several years ago I attended a conference led by a minister who told how Christians are always saying they don't know what God's call on their lives is. These persons claim they would respond to that call if they only knew what it was. He then challenged us with this statement, "The need is the call." When a person sees a ministry need he or she should assume that God is calling that person to respond to that need.

When he said that I remembered my call to pastor my church. I had accepted God's call on my life to the ministry, but at the same time I did not feel led to leave my factory job despite several people telling me I needed to do so. I spent several months preaching in various churches waiting for direction from God. Then I heard of a small, rural church in our area that was seeking a pastor. I sent them a resume, and a few months later was called to serve them as pastor. I remained at that church 20 years serving as a bivocational pastor.

This struggling church needed a pastor, I needed a place to serve, and God brought us together. I realize this story could have had a much different ending, but it didn't. I also realize that just because there is a church seeking a pastor it doesn't necessarily follow that you are that person. But, if you have been sensing that God is leading you to do more with your life, that possibly He is calling you to a ministry position, then you should prayerfully consider if this is a door He is opening for you.

There are so many good, small churches that are struggling to find pastoral leadership. They may not be glamorous places to serve, and you are not likely to be highlighted in any Christian publication, but they are filled with good people who love God and just want someone to provide pastoral leadership.

It may be that God hasn't called you to pastoral ministry but that He has called you to become more involved in ministry within your own church. If that's the case, look around for ministry needs and offer to help. My first ministry was within the church we attended and was teaching preschoolers about our denomination's mission work on Wednesday nights. This was a ministry normally led by the women of the church I attended at the time, but no one wanted to do it. I volunteered and did that for over one year before someone else took it over. The need is the call, and you are surrounded by ministry needs every day. Find the one you feel God is leading you to and begin to meet that need.

Friday, August 11, 2017

What happens when the Builder Generation is gone from your church?

This week I've talked to the church staff and our church council about some trends in the church that are going to have an impact on churches in the next 10 years. I plan on addressing this in a sermon in a few weeks. As our church continues to seek a pastor it also needs to understand the changing climate in which it will be doing ministry in a few years.

It's always challenging to predict the future, especially when it comes to churches and ministry. However, we can already see many changes occurring in our society and in our churches, and I believe there are many others coming in the near future. We can complain about them, we can try to resist them, but they are the realities in which we will be doing ministry. Rather than fight them or ignore them, it's best to proactively address them now.

One that is obvious but tends to be ignored in many churches is the declining number of people in our churches from the Builder Generation. This is the generation born prior to 1945 and is often referred to as The Greatest Generation. They overcame two world wars and a great depression to help this nation become the most powerful nation in the world. They built many of our institutions, including churches, and supported them with their finances and their time.

As we look at our congregations we see fewer and fewer of this generation present in our worship services. Many have passed away while others have moved into assisted living facilities. The health of some prevent them from attending church services or being active in the church as they once were. What happens when this generation disappears from our churches?

As stated above, the Builder Generation were generous financial supporters of the institutions they belonged to. In many churches this generation is responsible for a significant amount of the financial support that comes to the church. That support will be gone when the generation is gone.

One thing churches will need to consider (sooner rather than later) is how to make it easy for younger generations such as millennials to give to the church. These generations are used to automatic withdrawals to pay their bills. They are also used to using their debit cards when making purchases and buying and paying online for purchases over the Internet. Many of them do not write checks.

Is your church set up so the people who attend your church can give their tithes and offerings to the church online? Many churches are now offering that option because they know their younger attendees are comfortable giving in that manner, but I don't believe most churches are set up to receive financial gifts in that manner.

The Builder Generation also makes up much of the leadership of the church. They are the ones willing to serve on boards and committees. They are often the ones willing to teach in the church's education ministry. Younger generations are often less likely to volunteer for these positions. How will this impact the way your church is structured 10 years from now?

Finally, how will the absence of this generation impact the worship services of your church? Will your church continue to offer the same worship experience it has for the past 50 years or will it need to look at different ways of doing worship as new generations replace the Builder Generation?

These are not easy things to consider, but they are the realities facing every church. The time to begin talking about them is now. Don't wait until 2027 and suddenly realize something is different about your church, and somehow it seems to have gotten smaller. Now is the time to have the hard discussions about what your church will look like 10 years from now and you can prepare for that reality.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Prayer vigil

This past weekend our church held a prayer vigil from noon on Friday to noon Saturday. Our deacons took turns staying at the church so no one would be there alone when they went to pray. When I arrived a few minutes before my scheduled time there was soft music playing in the sanctuary where we prayed. Because I'm having some knee problems I sat in my usual spot in the sanctuary rather than kneeling at the altar to pray. I read a few verses in my Bible about prayer and began to pray. In what seemed to be a very short time I looked at my watch and realized it was time for the next person. I closed with praise and giving thanks and quietly left.

Our deacons asked that we hold the prayer vigil during this time of pastoral transition. The pastor search team is currently doing initial interviews of a few candidates and plan to narrow their focus in a couple of weeks. This is a critical time in the life of any church, and our deacons rightly decided to call for a time of dedicated prayer for the process, our search team, and the candidates as well as for the church as it continues in its transition.

Jesus said that His house would be called a house of prayer, but the reality is that many believers talk more about prayer than actually pray. The church today has a lot of good things going for it such as technology, the latest in biblical knowledge, fine facilities with modern conveniences, but many churches lack power. As a result, the church today struggles to reach people for the Kingdom of God and to have much of an influence on the world around us.

Every great movement of God began as people prayed. In a recent sermon I traced the number of spiritual awakenings around the world that began from simple prayer meetings. In some cases, these prayer gatherings were conducted initially by children. As God's people began to seek God, He poured out His Spirit and power upon the church and great things happened.

As the Transitional Pastor of this wonderful church I certainly want to see it go through this transition and come out a stronger church. This prayer vigil is an important step in help making that happen. Whether your church decides to hold a 24-hour prayer vigil or find other ways to have your people pray, I do encourage you to lead your church in continual prayer. Such prayer can unleash God's power within your congregation.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Busy hands are happy hands part 2

A few days ago I discussed why it was so difficult for me to retire. The simple reason is that I enjoy doing what I do so much. The focus yesterday was on my work as a pastor. Today, I'll focus on my work as an auctioneer.

I got my auctioneer's license four years ago at the age of 65. Some wondered why I would do that at that age. One reason is that I enjoy auctions. I typically will go to several auctions every week, and I thought it would be fun to be licensed as an auctioneer.

The other reason is that it is another way in which I can minister to people. Who is it who needs the services of an auctioneer?

  1. There are some people who make their lives picking and buying items to sell at auction. This is how they support their families.
  2. Some people find they need money to pay bills or other expenses and need to sell things to raise that money. Rather than list their items on Craigslist or E-Bay or have a yard sale, they call an auctioneer to sell their items.
  3. There are people who need to downsize or move into assisted living. They have too much to move, and they find out their children are not interested in owning the items their parents have spent a lifetime accumulating. Probably one-half of the auctions I do are for people in this category.
  4. When family members pass away the family is often left with the responsibility of disposing of the estate. Often, they do not even know what their loved ones had. Auctions are the simplest way to dispose of that property, especially if the family members live some distance away.
Each of these are an opportunity to minister to people. Any time I am called upon to discuss having an auction for someone I tell them I am a minister. I cannot tell you how many times I've had the opportunity to pray with people who are dealing with pain in their lives while I am there discussing their auction. Many of these people feel overwhelmed by the need to dispose of the items and are relieved when I tell them I can solve that problem for them.

Every believer in Jesus Christ is a minister. You don't have to stand behind a pulpit every Sunday to be a minister. Each of us are called upon to serve people where they are. You can minister to someone as a sales associate. You can minister to someone as a nurse, an attorney, a clerk in a gas station, or whatever your occupation might be. In fact, some of the best ministry that happens occurs as two people meet in everyday settings.

As I wrote in yesterday's post, retirement should be about doing what you enjoy doing. I love ministry. I love the auction business. I enjoy staying busy and making a difference in people's lives. I thank God every day for the health and the ability to stay busy and serve others.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Busy hands are happy hands

I haven't posted much in recent weeks. The simple reason is I have been busy. As my regular readers know, I am currently serving as the Transitional Pastor of Madison FBC in Madison, IN and I have an auction business. My days are pretty full.

Someone recently asked if I wasn't retired. I think it was my wife! Actually, I've retired twice from two different organizations. I just don't do retirement well. A few weeks ago I bought a couple of books on retirement, but I haven't had time to read them! Later this month I'll be 69 years old, but I enjoy staying busy, and I love doing what I'm doing. Isn't retirement supposed to be about doing what you want to?

Pastoral ministry has been a blessing to me. I served as the bivocational pastor of Hebron Baptist Church for 20 years before going into judicatory ministry. As a bivocational pastor I was busy, but it was such a rewarding time in my life. After retiring from my judicatory role I've had the opportunity to spend almost a year as the Transitional Pastor in my present church, and it has also been a very rewarding experience.

I love preparing and delivering sermons that have the potential to change lives. It's not the sermon that changes people's lives; it's the foundation upon which the sermons are developed: the Word of God. When we stand before the people God has entrusted to us and proclaim His Word people's lives can be changed forever. As they say down south, if that doesn't light a fire under you your wood is wet.

I love the way ministry touches people's lives. To see families healed, to see addicts set free from their addictions, to see people who had no hope find hope in Christ is a joy. In my present place of ministry I've been blessed to watch people within the church find creative ways to minister to hurting people who needed someone to come alongside them.

I love to be with people who gather together to worship God. Our current church has two worship services: a traditional service and a contemporary service. Both have excellent worship leaders. Both are very different in their approach, and both provide an outstanding worship experience. Week after week I look forward to being a part of both services.

I love being a part of a denomination that is so diverse and yet committed to ministry. Perhaps this will surprise some because denominations get so much negative press these days, but it's true. I don't always agree with everything our denomination does, but I appreciate the support I've always received. I appreciate the faithful work of our missionaries around the world. Having served 14 years in judicatory ministry and getting to know many of our regional ministers around the country, I appreciate their faithful service to the pastors and churches that comprise their regions.

Yes, ministry can be tough at times, but it is the most rewarding thing I've ever done. Why would I want to retire and never again serve in such rewarding work?

In tomorrow's post I'll talk about why I enjoy working as an auctioneer.

Monday, July 31, 2017

When leadership is lacking

Everything rises and falls on leadership. I've written that in many articles in this blog. I'm certainly not the first to say it. John Maxwell wrote about it in his book The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You (10th Anniversary Edition), and others have written about it as well.

No organization can rise any higher than its leadership. It's true of churches, businesses, families, and governments. I've seen churches about ready to close their doors, but when a new pastor arrived the church suddenly regained life and became a vibrant place of ministry once again. The difference was in the leadership abilities of the new pastor.

I know of one business that operated for over forty years. It was a strong, profitable business until a new owner began to run it. Within a few years it was forced to close its doors.

Donald Trump surprised many Americans when he was elected President of the United States. He ran on a platform that resonated with many voters. Seven months into his presidency the White House is in shambles with several of his top officials resigning and others seemingly confused about what will happen next. Nothing has been done on many of his top campaigns promises including repealing Obamacare and building a wall between the US and Mexico.

For seven years the Republican party resisted virtually everything President Obama proposed. They fought against Obamacare and promised to repeal it as quickly as possible. Today, they control the White House, the House of Representatives, and the Senate and have not been able to do anything with Obamacare.

Please understand something...I am not saying that Obamacare should be repealed. I'm not saying a wall should be built. This isn't a statement about the desirability of either action. It's a statement about the lack of leadership in the Republican party including those serving in the White House. They are proving to be a party who can only oppose what others want to do but are unable to lead when they have the opportunity.

America needs leadership, and I don't see anything resembling leadership from either party. Leadership requires that opposing parties find ways to work together for the common good of all people. I said it over a year ago, and I'll say it again...there are very few people who deserve to be re-elected to office. Until Americans stop sending the same self-serving individuals to Washington nothing will change.

Our churches need leadership as well. We need men and women who care more about the Kingdom of God than they do about their own preferences and comfort. We need individuals who have God's heart for lost and hurting people and are willing to put the needs of others ahead of their own needs. We need pastors who will preach the Word of God with boldness and authority. We need pastors and lay leaders who have captured God's vision for what their churches could do and will take whatever steps necessary to accomplish that.

Those who are in positions of leadership, whether in the church or government, need to lead. If they are unable or unwilling to do that then they need to step aside and let those who can lead do so.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Suggested books

Every year about this time I share a mid-season report of some of the books I've read this year. Today, I want to list five of the books I've read so far this year. They are not listed in any specific order but are books that have impacted my life and ministry. If you are looking for some reading to help you grow as an individual and a Christian, I would recommend these to you.

Grace Is Greater: God's Plan to Overcome Your Past, Redeem Your Pain, and Rewrite Your Story by Kyle Idleman. The author is currently the teaching pastor at Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, KY, the fifth largest church in America. I recently read this book as part of my morning devotions. Idleman points out that God's grace is far greater than anything you have done or experienced. Sometimes those of us who have been Christians for a number of years forget just how powerful God's grace is. This book helped me rediscover that.

Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air by Francis J. Beckwith and Gregory Koukl. Beckwith is a professor of philosoply and Koukl is head of an organization dedicated to training Christian thinkers. This book is an excellent resource for anyone wanting to better defend their Christian beliefs. Their primary focus is on moral relativism, the belief that there are no absolute moral absolutes but everyone must be free to choose for themselves right and wrong. They powerfully demonstrate how dangerous such beliefs are when carried out to their logical conclusion. They write

For to deny the existence of universally objective moral distinctions, one must admit that Mother Teresa was no more or less moral than Adolf Hitler, that torturing three-year-olds for fun is neither good nor evil, that giving 10 percent of one's financial surplus to an invalid is neither praiseworthy nor condemnable, that raping a woman is neither right nor wrong, and that providing food and shelter for one's spouse and children is neither a good thing nor a bad thing.

And this is just in the introduction! Although moral relativism may be the mantra of our society today, it is an evil philosophy that is doing great damage. This book will help the reader address such a worldview when it is encountered.

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport. Too many of us try to multitask in order to accomplish more. We believe if we can do several things at one time we will get more of our work done faster. I've certainly thought that in past years. Newport shows how such work is often shallow and actually leads to us accomplishing less. He writes, "To produce at your peak level you need to work for extended periods with full concentration on a single task free from distraction. Put another way, the type of work that optimizes your performance is deep work." He then goes on to demonstrate how to shift from shallow work to deep work. This book is not written for ministers, but I found a lot in it that certainly transfers to what we do.

Taking Pascal's Wager: Faith, Evidence and the Abundant Life by Michael Rota. Essentially, the Blaise Pascal Wager, as it came to be known, stated that if one accepted Christianity as true and learned at the end of his life that it wasn't, that he had not lost anything. On the other hand, if one rejected Christianity and came to the end of his life and learned that it was true, he has lost everything. Another way of looking at it is that if it is even 50 percent possible that Christianity is true it is rational for one to commit to living such a life. Rota builds on this argument and presents a powerful argument that Christianity is true. I will warn you...this is not a quick read, but it is a very worthwhile read. The book stretched me at times, and I grew as a result.

Designed to Lead: The Church and Leadership Development by Eric Geiger and Kevin Peck. Churches are called to do many things. One of them is to develop leaders, and it is in this task that too many churches fail. Leadership development requires intentionality and a commitment to the task. The authors insist, "Developing leaders must be a burning passion, a non-negotiable part of the vision of a local church and her leaders, or it will never become a reality." They go on to share several ways churches can go about leadership development.

It's always a dangerous thing to recommend a book because each of us have different needs and different books speak to different needs. Still, these are some books that I would certainly recommend to anyone in church leadership or anyone wanting to grow in their faith. Happy reading!

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Don't live on autopilot

In yesterday's post I quoted a statement I discovered in a book I am reading. The statement reminded us to not waste our lives living below our potential and outside our calling. That reminded me of another quote from another book I recently completed, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport. The statement is

We spend much of our day on autopilot - not giving much thought to what we're doing with our time...It's difficult to prevent the trivial from creeping into every corner of your schedule if you don't face, without flinching, your current balance between deep and shallow work, and then adopt the habit of pausing before action and asking, "What makes the most sense right now?"

The strategy the author suggests may sound extreme. He recommends that you schedule every minute of your day, and that you do that every day. While I certainly agree with his emphasis on intentional living, I have two problems with this solution. One, no schedule is going to be accurate. Some things are going to take longer than you anticipated, and some things will go quicker. When that happens the author recommends revising the schedule. I would think we would spend too much time revising schedules!

The second problem I have is that interruptions are going to occur, especially for those of us in ministry. People are going to call and need to speak to us. Interruptions are part of ministry, and there is no way to plan for them. That's why they are called interruptions.

I am a big believer in scheduling our time, but I do so around tasks. There are certain times of each day when I need to accomplish certain tasks. For instance, on Monday morning I go into the church office and prepare my preaching outline for the following Sunday and prepare the PowerPoint presentation that will be used. That presentation is then sent to our office manager so she has the entire week to get it ready for our computer system. On Thursday mornings I go into the church office and prepare my Sunday evening Bible study.

In a couple of weeks I have a large auction scheduled, and I've identified days in my schedule when I need to complete the various tasks associated with conducting an auction. I know what dates I will send in my newspaper ads, the date I will mail out flyers to my regular buyers, when I will begin preparing the items for auction, etc. I don't try to schedule every minute, but I do schedule the various tasks I need to complete for all that I do. Incidentally, the author also recognizes the value of block scheduling for those who are not comfortable with trying to schedule every minute.

Living our lives according to a schedule eliminates the possibility of living on autopilot and ensures we will get done what we need to accomplish. This is critically important for anyone involved in bivocational ministry, but it's also important for anyone who wants to fulfill God's calling on their lives.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Don't forsake your calling

This week I came across a powerful statement that I had to highlight in the book I was reading. I normally read with a highlighter in one hand, but the significance of this is that, although I am over half done reading this book, this is the first thing I've marked.

 The statement is this: "We all exchange each day of life for something, and it is a prostitution of life to exchange it for something unworthy of our potential and our calling."

How many people do you know drifting through life living far below their potential? How often have you felt you were doing the same thing? I know I've felt that way at times. When leaders drift, the organizations they lead drift as well. When pastors drift so do their churches.

Each of us have been given gifts to be used in serving others. Each of us have a calling on our lives. So often we think of a calling as something that just applies to ministers and missionaries, but the truth is that every person has a God-given calling. As God told Jeremiah, even before Jeremiah was born God had a purpose for his life. The same is true for you and me.

Every day we get to make choices. Among those choices is whether or not we are going to live into that God-given purpose or drift along doing something far less.

I've retired twice now, and my wife likes to point out that neither of them really took. The problem is that I see too much that I can still do and enjoy doing. I know the gifts God has given me, and when I see opportunities to use those gifts I have to do so.

I enjoy playing golf, and in fact I am playing golf later this week with a couple of friends. I enjoy fishing and have owned a couple of bass boats in the past.  I dearly love sitting on the beach and watching the waves. But, the thought of doing nothing but playing golf and fishing and sitting on the beach makes me tremble. It may sound wonderful, but that is not God's calling on my life.

We each have a set number of days on this earth. Only God knows that number. You may be like me and have more years behind you than before you. Or, you may be a young person really just getting started out in life. Determine to live every day to your full potential and in a way that honors God. The best way to honor God with your life is to fulfill the calling He has for you.

Monday, July 3, 2017

A leader's demeanor

There has been much in the news about President Trump's latest tweet showing him wrestling someone with a CNN image over his face. This video came from a WestleMania match several years ago when Trump attacked WWE owner Vince McMahon ringside. Of course, it was all staged as part of a script that led to McMahon's head being shaved. In today's tweet the CNN logo was placed over McMahon's face. CNN and other news agencies attacked the tweet as inciting violence against news reporters.

While I believe the tweet was unfortunate, as is most of his tweets, I certainly did not feel the need to run out and attack a journalist after watching it. Once again, the news media overreacted as did many others in the nation. There are people calling for the President to be evaluated for mental health issues and many others calling for his impeachment. There are some people who cannot accept the fact that he won the election and will not rest until he is out of office. My guess is that they will spend the next four years, and possibly eight years, being miserable.

The reason I said it was unfortunate is because it was another stupid tweet from the President of the United States. If he had hired someone to run one of his companies, and everyday that individual spent time putting silly and/or offensive things on social media he or she would be fired.

President Trump needs to understand that the major media will never accept his presidency. He was not supposed to win. They all backed Hillary Clinton who was supposed to win in a landslide, especially over Donald Trump. They ridiculed his candidacy even as he defeated one opponent after another. Trump will never have the support of the media. He needs to ignore them and get on with leading the nation.

I realize it's not easy for the Donald to take criticism, but he's now the President of the United States. Criticism goes with the territory. It goes with being a leader. Leaders cannot take the time to respond to every critic and negative comment. The best way to respond to a critic is not to respond to his or her comments but to lead in such a way that they are proven wrong.

What is true for the current president is also true for those of us in church leadership. We are going to be criticized at times. Pastors are often people-pleasers, but the reality is that we are not going to please everyone. Leaders have to make tough decisions which are not always going to be popular. Those decisions will sometimes lead to criticism. Sometimes it's important that we investigate the criticism to see if there is some truth in it that we can use to make better decisions in the future, but other times we just need to ignore the critic and continue doing the work God has called us to do.

The demeanor of the leader is also important, and that is the second reason I found today's tweet unfortunate. It's time President Trump starting acting presidential. Many of his tweets and comments are anything but presidential but come across as childish and immature. He did not become a successful businessman by acting this way, and he will not enjoy a successful term of office acting this way either.

As pastors, our demeanor is also important if we want people to take us serious. Anyone who knows me will tell you I enjoy joking around. I really do not take myself very seriously, but I do take my calling as a pastor seriously. For any leader to be successful it's important to treat people with respect and dignity. This is especially true for those who have offended us or criticized us. Failing to do that only gives our critics more ammunition to use against us.

Leaders never lose by taking the high road and conducting themselves with integrity and grace.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Transitioning from fully-funded ministry to bivocational ministry

I'm working on a new book. Part of it will address the challenges a pastor faces when transitioning from being a fully-funded pastor to a bivocational pastor. I believe we will see more pastors being asked to make that transition. As I've watched others make the change I've noticed many struggled and some were not very successful.

If you've made the change, what were the challenges you had to overcome? How did the change impact you emotionally? How did it affect your family? What jobs outside the church did you pursue? Anything you can tell me about the transition will be helpful, and I believe will be even more helpful to those who have to make that change in their own ministries.

I will use some of the stories I receive in the book, but your personal information will remain confidential. I look forward to hearing from you.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Should you preach your old sermons again in the same church?

A few years ago when I was serving as a Resource Minister in our Region I was asked to fill the pulpit in one of my churches for a couple of weeks. I used to joke that I really only needed five sermons as a Resource Minister since I was usually in a different church every week. Since I would be in a different place the people there would not have heard the sermon I did the previous week in a different church.

On the second Sunday I was scheduled to preach in that church I decided to preach one of my favorite sermons even though I had preached it in that church seven years earlier. Few people remember a sermon more than a few weeks at the most so I wasn't worried. After the second service in that church a teen came up and asked, "Didn't you preach that message here before?" Busted! All I could do was smile and admit that I had.

There's nothing wrong with preaching a sermon over again in the same church. After all, the church sings the same hymns and songs over again. If a sermon is worth preaching once it's probably worth preaching again. Sometimes.

When I began my current ministry as the Transitional Pastor in a church I was convinced that sermon preparation would be the least of my concerns. After all, I had been a pastor for twenty years and had a file drawer full of sermons I had preached in my previous church. However, as I've gone through them I've discovered some problems with most of those sermons.

One, many of them are outdated with illustrations that have no relevance to our culture today. Two, most of them no longer reflect my preaching style today. Three, the majority of them lack the scholarship I now want in my messages. Fourth, few of them are pertinent to the church I'm currently serving. They were addressed to another church for another time. Almost none of them are suitable to preach in my current church.

Occasionally, I'm able to use one for inspiration and can sometimes use bits and pieces from it as I prepare a new sermon on the same topic. That's what I would suggest you do with your old sermons. A sermon that is not culturally relevant is of little value and will lack the impact on the congregation that you want.

There's nothing wrong with preaching a sermon over, but before you do check it over and make sure it will still communicate the message you want today's audience to hear.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Is your church ready for a new pastor?

In yesterday's post I focused on one reason it may take longer than expected to find a new pastor. Today I want to address a new question: Is your church ready for a new pastor? I believe one reason it may take longer for a church to call a new pastor is that they are not really ready to have a new pastor.

Calling an interim pastor should be one of the first steps a church takes when beginning the search for a new pastor. Surprisingly, some churches do not want an interim pastor. They are content to have people fill in each Sunday while the search team quickly looks for someone to come as pastor. These churches often mistakenly believe that it will be a quick process. It isn't unless they are willing to call the first person who comes down the road wearing a cross around his neck.

A good interim pastor can take the pressure off the search team to hurry through the process. He or she will provide quality ministry during this interim time especially if he or she has been trained in the work of interim ministry.

There are certain tasks the church should address during this time of transition which an interim pastor can lead. Certainly, if there is unresolved conflict in a church that needs to be addressed before calling a new pastor. It is very unfair to ask someone new to come into a church that has such conflict.

Another task the interim pastor can address is any changes in church structure that should occur. Some churches have very outdated systems in place that need to be changed but are seen as sacred cows by some in the congregation. The interim can help lead changes in those systems. If people become upset, they will be upset at the interim rather than the new pastor if he or she tries to lead such changes.

Churches that have had long-term pastors and are now seeking a new pastor need to call an intentional interim pastor. I often encouraged such churches to not even begin looking for a pastor for at least a year. Since it often takes a year or more to find a pastor the interim will be serving there for 2-3 years. This gives the church time to transition away from the leadership of the previous long-term pastor and be better prepared for the new pastor. Failing to do this often results in the new pastor being an unintentional interim pastor who will leave within a couple of years because the church was not ready for new leadership.

I am a believer that God knows the person He has prepared to serve as the pastor of a church. The process of seeking that person provides the opportunity for the church to be prepared to receive that individual. It helps ensure the church is actually ready for new pastoral leadership. Only when the church is ready will God reveal the right person.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The challenge of seeking a pastor

I apologize for not posting more often in recent weeks. Since last September I've been serving as the Transitional Pastor of a church. That responsibility plus my auction business has kept me rather busy and has limited the amount of time I can devote to social media and writing.

I'm certainly not complaining as I've enjoyed the work of Transitional Pastor. The church I'm serving has a lot of exciting ministries, a fantastic staff, and some amazing lay leaders. This has been a great opportunity to help prepare this church for their next pastor.

A few weeks ago the Pastor Search Team was ready to recommend an individual to the church to serve as Senior Pastor, but he decided he felt called to remain in his present ministry. This means the search will continue, and while the Team was disappointed, they accepted the decision as God's will and are moving forward.

This highlights the challenge many churches have today finding their next pastor. It is not unusual for a church to spend 18-24 months searching for a pastor. When I served as a Resource Minister in our Region I often cautioned search teams to not get in a hurry and to expect the process to take longer than many expect. It's far more important to get the right individual than it is to take the first person who expresses an interest in the position.

Why does it take so long for a good pastor search process? For one thing, at least in our denomination, there are not a large number of candidates seeking to move. Once a search team identifies several potential candidates that number is reduced even more as they compare the gifts and skills of the candidate to the needs of the church. It's possible that out of 15-20 possible candidates there may only be 2-3 who appear to be a good match for the church. Further interviews and reference checks may even reduce the number further.

For smaller churches the number of possible candidates may be even smaller. Studies have found that many pastors are unwilling to serve smaller congregations so the pool of available pastors is even smaller for these churches. Many of these churches are now seeking bivocational pastor, because these pastors are often found in or near the church's community those churches may find an even smaller number of candidates. People are not apt to be willing to move across country to serve in a bivocational church.

Every Sunday we ask the church I'm serving to be in constant prayer for our Pastor Search Team. Prayer is absolutely vital if the church is to identify the person God has prepared to serve a church.

So is patience. Some churches cannot stand to not have a pastor and will rush their search team to quickly find someone they can call to be their pastor. This often proves to be a mistake. Calling a pastor will impact the life of the church for years, and even decades to come, and is not something that should be rushed or entered into lightly.

If your church is currently seeking a pastor, pray for your search team. Encourage them. Respect their need to maintain confidentially. Prepare yourself for the next pastor. Oh, yea, pray and then pray some more.