Thursday, May 26, 2016

Winning the battle against Pastoral 'Burnout'

Exhausted?  Discouraged?  Feeling like your ministry doesn't matter?  I understand you.  I know what it is to spend yourself in service only to feel 'it is all for naught.'  For some, these feelings pass rather quickly - a card in the mail, an invite to lunch or a golf outing is all it takes to ward off  the impending 'doom' the minister often feels.  For others, despair is like an old friend that shows up every Monday with questions that seem more like accusations- "How'd it go yesterday?  Too bad no one got saved yesterday. Wonder why so many missed?  Maybe your best days are behind you?"

What should we do to stave off ministry doldrums?

  1. Re-Center yourself - Are you spending time in God's Word like you ought (and I'm not referring to sermon prep)? Have you opened your heart to the Lord and quieted yourself in Him? 1 Samuel 30 shows the importance of the man of God 'encouraging himself in the Lord.' God will probe you, like He did in 1 Kings 19, when He asked, "What are you doing here, Elijah?"  We who so often speak of 'the help of God's Word' ought to take our own advice and get alone with God.
  2. Take some time off - It will likely take more than a week.  It may take a month.  If you are not in the habit of doing things for yourself - maybe it's time you did.  Do something that refreshes you.  Staring at the four walls of your office will suffocate you.  Read a book.  Get some rest. Nourish yourself.  You will be a better servant if you take care of yourself.
  3. Tie up any loose ends that may be causing greater angst - A real stresser for me is feeling the weight of so many unfinished tasks.  Before I know it, I have so many things I 'should do' and no energy or desire to do them.  If there are some visits you need to make, conversations to have, goals to establish, plans, etc. - get on it.  Focus on one thing before you go to the next. Clear your desk. 
  4. Share your heart with a friend - Allow someone to sit on the ash-heap with you.  Share your concerns.  Invite their counsel and accountability.  "Two are better than one," said Solomon, "For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!"  Things are not often as bad as they seem.  Someone who isn't in the 'fray' can offer the objectivity you need. 
Can I pray for you? "Dear Lord, I thank you for my brother or sister... a person whose significance is not tied to their performance (successes or failures).  I thank you for loving them, knowing them, and reaching out your encouragement to them.  Clear their minds, I pray.  Help them sift through the things that need to be done - and provide clarity about what is necessary.  Fill them with joy and peace.  Bring your strength to bear on their weakness.  And may YOU get glory in and through their life.  In Jesus name... amen"

Thursday, October 29, 2015

How to have a successful 'Friend Day'

Friend Days are an excellent way to boost attendance. More than ‘a one-time shot in the arm,’ these days should be a piece of the growth-strategy-puzzle for your church.

Why Friend Day is successful
  • Statistics don’t lie – the vast majority of people who visit a church are the result of a friend inviting them. Of those with no previous church affiliation, most (82%) say they would visit a church IF invited by a friend
  • A Clear Objective – Friend Days work because both, the church and those invited to attend, understand the purpose of the event. By making it a bi-annual event on the calendar, the church will focus prayer and energy on the effort. Every time the announcement is made, people begin to think about who they can invite. By having a meal and a special invite, friends think they are painlessly doing us a favor by coming, all the while enjoying the fellowship of a loving, positive congregation.
  • It restocks the visitation “pond” with viable prospects – Culture is forcing a change in visitation tactics. The day of “cold-calls” is quickly passing as more and more people isolate themselves from strangers and despise door-to-door “salesmen.”
  • The momentum created. Momentum is virtually impossible to create when a church has been in decline. Special days help the church refocus on the things that matter… gets their vision on something other than themselves… generates excitement by achieving goals and experiencing growth. New life is always a good thing.
Important Elements in a successful Friend Day
  • Prayer – concerted, specific, rigorous praying
  • A goal – 50% is a reasonable goal – If you avg. 50, your goal should be 75
  • Publicizing the event (bulletin, marquee, handouts, posters, newspaper, but the greatest of is word-of-mouth)
  • Organization – parking strategy, special music, ushers/greeters, welcome packets or brochures, visitor cards, promotional items, a simple gospel sermon (limit whole service to 50 minutes in length)
  • Have a work day to spruce up the building and grounds BEFORE the big day
  • A meal - Food prep (always have more than expected) – minimize wait time through sufficient staffing. Use nice supplies – table cloths, center-pieces, plates, cups, utensils, etc.
Those who come to Friend Day
  • Saved /satisfied members of other churches.
  • Lost people with little or no church exposure
  • Backslidden Christians who have fallen out of church
  • In each case, something productive has occurred. Those who are lost will be exposed to the gospel… those backslidden will be reminded of what they are missing… and those who are satisfied will remember the good experience should they ever be faced with the need to change. Never underestimate the power of people talking about their experience at your church.
What to do afterwards
  • Praise your people specifically for things they did to help the day be successful. 
  • Share the Statistics from the day and any testimonial you can think of that would encourage your people to do this again
  • Sit down immediately and write down any flaws or problems you can brainstorm and solve for the next big day.
  • Contact every visitor card with a nice letter from the pastor, thanking them for attending and saying SOMETHING about the mission, the purpose of the church and the hope of seeing them again soon
  • Have a “kind voice” call those cards that provided a phone number (keep it BRIEF!) Calls should be made between Thursday and Saturday night… no later than 8 PM.
  • Pray for those people who came on Wednesday night and get any “stories” you can use for follow up visits: “I understand you are friends with Jim and Judy Smith…”
  • Begin visiting those who are genuine prospects – keep the visit BRIEF
While a pastor should be contacting people on his own, the old saying “many hands make short work” is true. There is power in team-work. By having two days per year for the church to make a concerted effort, souls will be saved, families will be strengthened that might never have darkened the door of your church otherwise. Make the effort – and see what God will do!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

3 Tips for Preachers

Weekly we are inundated with sales brochures, materials, and conferences promoting some new strategy for pastoral success.  While many of these things are helpful, sometimes the message is lost in all their words.  If I could encourage you to make 3 small changes to your preaching, I would challenge you to:

1.  Preach Passionately - You must feel your sermons before you can expect others to be moved by them.  No, I am not encouraging you to turn on the tears like one might flip a light-switch, but I am encouraging you to ask God to ignite a zeal in your heart for the messages you bring.  Feel it.  Let it effect you emotionally.  Lord, deliver us from dry preaching.

2.  Preach Pointedly - Stay on point.  When your people leave they need to have a good grasp of the 'Big Idea' of the sermon.  What is the one thing you want them to remember?  Could they explain in one sentence what the message was about?  What action or step can they take to apply the message? Without a point, the best contextual analysis is lifeless and uninspiring.

3.  Preach Purposefully - Develop a preaching plan... a calendar.  Prayerfully outline ministry objectives and preaching schedules well in advance.  If you cannot produce an annual calendar, in the very least stay 3 months ahead of yourself.  This will give you time to think through your topics/texts strategically. This will help you avoid 'hobby-horse' preaching where we only hit the topics we are particularly interested in.

These three "tweaks" will dramatically improve your preaching.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Why I believe Pastoral Visitation is STILL important

Thankfully I was taught the importance of in-home visitation from my Pastor 28 years ago. I'll never forget how he trained me to approach virtual strangers with the timeless appeal of the gospel, or to share time with a shut-in, or pursue a straying member.  While our culture no longer views pastoral visitation kindly, I still believe it should be a priority for most Free Will Baptist preachers.  Why?

1.  Because visitation allows you to build relationships - and relationship building is key to successful ministry. You will have an opportunity to lead people to Jesus through relationship.  You will be able to minister to hurting, lonely people through relationship.  You will be able to offer that timely piece of advice or counsel that might be life-changing because you took the time to build relationship.

2.  Because so few participate in visitation these days.  Many outside the South are not accustomed to preachers dropping by.  Some don't appreciate it and it would be good to be sensitive to their concern. I'll never forget one home I dropped by that had a sign next to the doorbell that read, "I shoot every 7th preacher who comes by, and the 6th just left!" However, most people treasure thoughtfulness and consider it an act of love that you take the time. If I attempted to provide a number for the times I've heard people say, "Our former pastor didn't visit," or "Preachers today don't visit like they once did," the number would be so high you would think I was exaggerating.

3.  Because the need for visitation is great.  Cultivate the habit of calling, texting, emailing, AND visiting your people.  They will appreciate your heart.  And besides, when they know you love them, they will allow you to broach the sensitive subjects.

4.  Because it is very difficult (and likely unfair) for you to expect your people to do something you don't do.  While the pastor shouldn't be expected to do ALL the visiting, he SHOULD DO his share.

Here are a couple of keys to good visitation ministry:

... Have a goal.  "This year I want to make _____ visits."  Break that number into weekly and daily goals.
... Have a plan.  Form a list of shut-ins who need visiting monthly.  Keep watch over your rolls to see who has  been missing service.  Utilize visitor-cards in worship as a pool to draw from. Find out where your people live and get to know their schedules. Drop by your young-peoples sporting events.
... Have a purpose.  While the art of communication requires us to engage people where they live, our conversations should always point people to Jesus.  Pray with them before you leave.  Tell them you love them.  Tell them you hope to see them again soon.
... Never go out without a card, brochure, or bulletin to leave in their door if they are not home.  Jot a little note with the time and date on it because some people don't ever use their front doors.

Enough of my rambling... time to go visiting!

Monday, March 30, 2015


Self-scouting is a tool used by football coaches that helps them discover tendencies in their team... weaknesses that can be exploited by their opponent.  Self-scouting is a helpful tool for preachers too. Studying yourself as you preach will be eye-opening... helping you identify those nervous tics, oft-repeated/overused words, distracting gestures, poor grammar.  The more honest you are in your evaluation, the more helpful it can be.

However, there ARE dangers to self-scouting too.  Here are 4 of the most obvious:

1) Perfectionism - You will never be perfect and you are going to frustrate yourself and those who follow you by being too hard on yourself.  Perfectionism will ooze out of your pores when aren't even aware of it - image will become too important - you will call your observations of others "honest," but the people around you will see you as "harsh."

2) Myopia - You might become everything you think a preacher or leader SHOULD be, but your perspectives might be entirely wrong.  If you think a "good preacher always does THIS" then you will also do it (even to your detriment.)  You will establish habits that are difficult to break.  Your methods will become stale and uninteresting.  You will be critical of others who are highly effective and miss out on necessary change.

3) Discouragement - You can be so hard on yourself that you constantly need the affirmation of others to prop you up.  That neediness is wearisome to those who follow you.  Self-preoccupation is counter-productive to ministry because NOT EVERYTHING is about you - but it will seem that way if you are always measuring yourself.  Failures will be blown out of proportion (and so will victories.)  That roller-coaster you are building for yourself won't be fun.

4) Pragmatism - results can become an insatiable idol that will lead you to down the shady-lane of hypocrisy.

Self-scouting can be likened to other good things (like exercise or dietary supplements.)  In moderation, those things are good for you.  But if you don't believe you can have too much of a good thing, try fiber :)

Monday, February 23, 2015

5 gifts every man should give his children

"Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one's youth." Psalm 127:4

I am so thankful for my arrows. They are doing what "arrows" are created to do - inflicting harm to the enemy. Raising children to be used in the work of the Lord is the call of every Christian parent, but oftentimes we father's feel overwhelmed just doing our best to keep our heads above water. The "daily grind" becomes THE excuse for leaving the task of "nurturing" and "admonishing" our children to our wives. In the end, however, God will judge us men for how we have led our families.

God has given us these gifts and expects us to release them (as arrows) into spiritual battle. What are 5 gifts you should give your children that will help them "fight the good fight of faith?"

1) Fair expectations - I owe my children a heartfelt apology for the times I expected perfection - the times I was more concerned with image than integrity - the times I gave too much thought to the leering looks of critical church people who thought my children made too much noise or didn't look the part. Be fair in your expectations. I think this is what Paul meant when he warned fathers not to exasperate or frustrate their children.

2) Love - start by loving their mom, showing her affection, cherishing her friendship, respecting her feelings, inviting her thoughts. A girl learns how a man should treat a woman by watching her father love her mother. Affirm your children often. They need to hear two statements from you dad - "I love you!" and, "I'm proud of you!" Dr. James Dobson used to say, "Children spell 'love' T-I-M-E.

3) Prayer - Every-single-day! Pray for their heart. Pray for their salvation. Pray for their future mate. Pray they would hear the gentle voice of the Holy Spirit louder than the call of immature friends. Pray they would grow to love and serve God... that they would devote themselves to be "living sacrifices" to God.

4) Training/experience - Lead them and encourage them to serve the Lord and their fellow man. Give them opportunities to minister in the church. Look for ways to include them in your own ministry. Talk about serving God. Talk about the Word of God and the faithfulness and goodness of God. Teach them the importance of serving their family, showing love to the elderly, sacrificing for those less fortunate, encouraging the down-trodden, visiting the sick.

5) Forgiveness - The story of the Prodigal Son has always struck a chord deep in my soul. Here was a young man who essentially said to his father, "I wish you would hurry up and die so I could have my inheritance!" How that father's heart must have broken to see his son prefer the ways of the world to the warmth of his home. But what brings conviction to me as a father is the fact that this disobedient, undeserving, self-serving young man came to his senses and thought of returning home. Just the fact that he knew he COULD return home says something about the father, don't you think? Even though he had his speech prepared to say he would be a "servant," the very idea that his father would take him in after so much failure and disrespect, speaks volumes of the steadfast love of his dad.

Do my kids know I love them unconditionally? Do they know I will forgive them no matter how far they go or how bad they fail? Do YOUR kids know that? They need to... they REALLY need to.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Developing the Leaders around you

Good leaders aren't just a steady hand in an hour of crisis - they are constantly on the search for potential leaders they can pull into their circle and develop.  Every pastor should have a leadership team through which he runs the business of the church.  What are the benefits to such a team?

1) It will give you an opportunity to share your vision with those who are most likely to help it become reality.  Face it - you can do very little without the help of others.

2) It will foster a spirit of transparency and unity.  Sometimes people are guilty of "leading from behind."  They have a misinformed opinion about where the church is headed or how decisions are made.  Bringing others into the decision making process will quell some of the squawking that breeds division.

3) It will develop in your leaders the importance of teamwork and group-think.  Have you ever thought that some of the "freelancing" people do in church life may be caused by the way they perceive their pastor and how the pastor works?

4) It will improve your ideas.  Solomon tells us there is "safety" in a multitude of counselors.  If you surround yourself with people who have the freedom to express themselves without fear of harsh criticism, you will have some of your bad ideas culled and some of your good ideas improved upon. Just this Sunday afternoon I had a leadership team meeting and one of my leaders offered insight I had not even considered.  Through that insight, we were able to improve an idea.

5) It will give people a sense of purpose and a greater desire to be a part of the work of the church. We have some very talented people whose gifts are being wasted in the Lord's work.  There are people God has gifted who could be an incredible blessing to the church if invited to serve.

6) Another seldom discussed benefit to this concept of leadership is that people will give more when they take ownership of the work.

Why wouldn't you WANT others helping you carry the burden of leadership?  Are you afraid it will be a sign of weakness or that others might see it as a defect in you?  A fool calls it "weakness."  I call it "wisdom."