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.