Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Common pitfalls for Church-growth guys

1 Corinthians 10:13 reminds us how we ALL struggle with temptation.  Those who attempt to build growing churches must be aware of some common pitfalls (these are things I have personally experienced and struggle with):

1) Developing an unhealthy view of yourself.  Pride, an over-inflated view of your own importance, has destroyed many a talented pastor.  Thinking you are the answer to everyone's needs, that you should always be available and approachable, will end up crushing you and your family. Thinking you are above being questioned and shouldn't be held accountable to others in the church is precisely what the devil wants to do to turn God's servant into a taskmaster.

2) Developing an unhealthy view of others.  You may begin to see SOME people as expendables - people who don't bring a lot to the table, as though they only exist to meet some need in YOUR life. Others who aren't your 'yes men' or fail to stroke your ego sufficiently, you will view as your personal enemies - as though disagreeing with you makes them "the spawn of Satan."  You might forget that God puts people in your life to make you better - that you NEED people to help you, to sharpen you, to encourage you, to drive you into the presence of God.  You might view other ministers who haven't risen to your "level of success" as beneath you.

3) Developing an unhealthy view of results.  Deriving your significance from your success will ultimately destroy you.  Pursuing anything above Christ will be like so much sand in your mouth... disappointing... it cannot satisfy.

You were created for God's glory - not your own.  You will face these temptations often in ministry as Satan attempts to make ministry about YOU.  Learning how to navigate these pitfalls will make for a much more fulfilling ministry.  Constantly expose your heart, your innermost thoughts and feelings to the Lord. Pray for pure motives - for honesty/transparency.  Surround yourself with people who love you enough to be honest and to hold you accountable.  Be humble and remind others of your inadequacies. God exalts the humble - if YOU have to do it, then you've got it all wrong anyway.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Importance of Sexual Purity

1 Thessalonians 4:1-8

Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. 2 For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. 3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; 4 that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, 5 not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; 6 that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. 7 For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. 8 Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.

In the forests of northern Europe there lives a little animal called the ermine - known for his snow-white fur in winter. He instinctively protects his white coat against anything that would soil it. His coat, you see, is God’s gift of protection for a little creature with almost no defense against predators. As long as his coat remains white, he remains virtually undetectable from the snow around him. But the moment his coat gets dirty, he becomes easy prey.

Fur hunters take advantage of this unusual trait of the ermine. They don't set a snare to catch him, but instead they find his den and smear the entrance with mud. THEN the hunters set their dogs loose to find and chase the ermine. The frightened animal flees toward its home but refuses to enter because of the filth. That’s right - the animal would rather compromise his safety than soil his white coat. For the ermine / purity / is more precious / than life.

Is purity important to you? According to scripture, the Lord wants His people to keep themselves separated from the filth of this world at all cost. Understand - Your purity is God’s gift of protection to you. He wants to protect you from the awful heartache that comes from sexual compromise; the years of pain and regret; the haunting memories that bring discontentment many years later; the shattered testimonies and damaged relationships that result from sexual indulgence outside of God’s plan.

So AGAIN I’ll ask - Is purity important to you? If so, what steps are you taking to protect it? Have you, like Job, consciously committed to keep yourself from those things that would lead you to compromise? Are you actively feeding your mind those things that are pure and holy? Have you placed safeguards in your relationships so that there is not even a HINT of impropriety? Are you keeping your relationships with God and fellow Christian healthy and strong so that you will be less vulnerable to sin?

People don’t just wake up one day and decide to be sexually immoral. Impurity begins in the mind long before action is taken – that’s why Jesus said, “27You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

Whether you are a teen who will someday be married, or a senior-saint who has been married to the same spouse for decades, purity matters. As a Christian, nothing empowers a testimony, nothing brings your witness greater credibility than living a pure life.

Conversely, nothing will destroy a testimony you have worked a lifetime to establish faster than impurity.

Upon his return from Thessalonica, Timothy must have privately reported to Paul his concerns that the Christians there were struggling with sexual purity. It’s understandable that they would struggle –their culture gave widespread approval to all forms of sexual misbehavior. Sexual purity was completely foreign to the Roman mind. Conventional morality saw nothing wrong with sexual indulgence, whether before marriage or after… so the idea that a Christian must keep himself pure was constantly challenged by society. The prevailing sentiment among the Gentiles was that sexual experimentation was perfectly natural and ought to be encouraged, rather than discouraged or saved for marriage.

Because of this, when the Church decided it was time to evangelize the Gentiles, the leaders of the Church met in Jerusalem and specifically charged Paul to teach them the importance of sexual purity (Acts 15:20). This explains why Paul so often addresses this subject in his writings. Everywhere the Christian turned in the Gentile world, he was inundated with sexual permissiveness. // In a world with so much to say about sex, they must often be reminded of what God had to say about purity.

As a church that desires to know and serve the Lord and take His message to those who are lost, we battle two temptations when it comes to discussing sexual purity: the temptation to EXCUSE (“young people will be young people”), and the temptation to EXECUTE. We’ve gotten to the place where we either close our eyes to clear violations of God’s Word, OR we want to condemn those who have failed. Both responses are wrong.

Somehow, we’ve got to battle through all the emotions of this issue and all the messages of our culture and find what God has to say about this subject. There are two points Paul makes in this passage:

1. First, Paul reveals the Lie the world promotes. The lie the world promotes regarding sex. Notice vv. 4-7, “4 that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, 5 not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; 6 that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. 7 For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness.”

An internet site for men, called “AskMen.com,” recently conducted a survey investigating WHAT a REAL MAN looks like. Given the nature of the online magazine, most of the answers given came from a non-Christian perspective. One of the questions was: “Should a couple live together before marriage?” 81% answered “yes.” In this age of self-gratification, we shouldn’t be surprised by that overwhelming endorsement of cohabitation. In fact, the world has a thought-out response to the church’s “sexual rigidity.” It comes in three parts:

First, the world says sexual desires are natural and therefore should be acted upon. Not that they look to God for anything other than an endorsement, but in their minds, since they have these desires God must have made them this way – and they use that as a justification to indulge. “God wouldn’t give me these desires if He didn’t want me to ACT upon them” is the reasoning.

Second, the world says that, “not only is sexual experimentation natural, it is wise. After all, you wouldn’t buy a car without first test-driving it, so why would you marry someone without first making sure you are sexually compatible?”

Third, the world says, only that which hurts people should be avoided. If both parties are willing, what could it hurt?

In a world where self-gratification is king, you can understand why the church is ridiculed for teaching abstinence and marital fidelity. Sadly, the world seems to be winning the culture war – for even those in the church are questioning centuries of church teaching.

Many in the church no longer take God seriously and have chosen compromise. The church has chosen popularity over purity AND SINCE preaching purity is no longer popular, we are sending mixed signals that imply virtual endorsement and unqualified support even though our young people are violating clear Biblical teachings. Since the world has applied so much pressure, and since we want to be liked, we have weakened our stance on sexual purity. We say little about it anymore. And many “Christians” are guilty of surrendering any credibility they might have had because they are guilty too.

The world tells us that “acting on desire is fulfilling.” And because of this, they trade future happiness and God’s blessings for short-term gratification. And when their whole world blows up and they are dealing with regret and shame, they aren’t able to make the connection between their own wrong choices and their resulting unhappiness. // The Lie the World Promotes.

2. But THEN we should notice the Line the Word Provides. First - the Lie the World Promotes, then The line the Word provides. Notice vv. 1-4, “Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. 2 For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. 3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; 4 that each one of you know how to control his own body[c] in holiness and honor, (skip to v. 7) 7 For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. 8 Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God.”

No matter how much the world resists and resents what the church has to say about moral issues, no matter how much you or I might be ridiculed for our convictions - called “out-dated and out-of-touch,” it doesn’t matter. The establishment of rules and the ensuing penalties for breaking those rules, is God’s prerogative…not yours or mine. There are two things that demand our attention here:

First, I want you to notice how God’s Word clearly marks what is God’s Will. God’s will is mentioned explicitly and implicitly. Explicitly, God says that it is His Will for us to “abstain from fornication.” The Word “fornication” pertains to sex outside the confines of a marriage relationship. Sexual activity outside of marriage in any form must be avoided at all cost. You must protect your mind from exposure to the illicit. You must make it clear in all your relationships that you are committed to purity. You must make a conscious decision not to put yourself in a position where you will be tempted to compromise. That’s God’s will for you. Purity is not optional for the Christian, but a mandate.

One of the best ways to do this, if you are single, is to make a commitment before God that you will not date anyone who does not share your convictions. It doesn’t matter WHAT they look like if their heart isn’t right with God. Remember, it is God’s will for you to remain pure; therefore, you have no business dating anyone who has not made that same commitment. Those who do not know the Lord, do not share your convictions.

Implicitly, God’s will isn’t simply that you abstain from sex outside of marriage, but that you actively pursue those things that will help you better live the Christian life. I am to be obedient to the Lord. I am to be a person of honor and integrity. I am to love the things that are going to help me glorify God. It’s not enough that we “don’t do” certain things – there are many things we must DO. I must make the pursuit of God’s will my singular ambition in life. You will not be content, you will not know peace and purpose living outside of God’s will for your life. It’s not enough to say you “believe in Jesus” – you must put that faith into action. THIS is God’s Will for you.

But THEN we should notice God’s Warning. God issues TWO warnings. In verse 6, God lets us know that when we compromise sexually, that decision doesn’t just affect us – it brings judgment upon the person we have been disobedient with. It hurts those who love us specifically and the cause of Christ as a whole.

God draws a line, beyond which we must not go. The line is simple: no sex outside of marriage. To go beyond that line is to “wrong” somebody. “So, God has written “No Trespassing” over every man or woman who is not one’s own wife or husband. AND, on that sign He has written, “violators will be prosecuted.”

Must I remind you that God punishes those who refuse to listen to His warning. Yes, even those He loves. Take David as an example. He committed adultery and thought it was hidden…but God knew. And God sent Nathan the prophet to expose his sin and pronounce judgment. Remember that David repented of his wrong, but God said, “The sword shall never depart from your house.” He was forgiven, but the rest of his life he suffered the consequences of his sin. Yes you can be forgiven – but you cannot undo the calamity you have invited upon yourself by rebelling against God’s Word.

But there is a second side to God’s warning, found in verse 8, which says, “Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.” All this talk about sexual purity is non-negotiable and unalterable. We can’t say, “Well, that’s just one preacher’s opinion…” Or, “You know, those FWBs are soooo conservative.” No, this is the Word of God – plain and simple.

The Lie the World Promotes – “its no big deal, its natural, its wise, no-one will get hurt…it will bring us closer.” AND, The Line the Word Provides – it is God’s will for us to abstain from sexual activity that is outside the marriage covenant – and its God’s will that we pursue those things that lead to holiness.

Now, what do we do if we have already blown it? First, I want you to understand that God still loves you EVEN if you have rebelled against His Word. But the fact that He loves you doesn’t mean that He will just ignore what you are doing. Neither will He keep you from reaping the consequences of your disobedience. Right now, you need to turn away from that sin… ask God to forgive you… and ask Him to help you hunger for holiness. And God will forgive and restore you. Don’t listen to the lies of this world – God has made it plain – sexual sin is off-limits… no matter who you are or how special your relationship may be – God is not making an exception for you.

The question you’ve got to answer for yourself is – are you going to do what honors God Who has your best interest at heart – OR are you going to follow the “lies” of this world that will lead to your destruction? What will it be? Only YOU can decide.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Objectives of a Men's Ministry

KEY... KEY in a growing church are the men.  To build a stronger, healthier church, you MUST be a builder of men.  What are some basics goals we should have for men's ministry?  You need to:

1.  Pull men IN - In your circle of influence - get involved in their lives.  Surround yourself with men at different stages of growth
2.  Lift men UP - Through mentoring - through teaching - through modeling the Spiritual Man they ought to admire and aspire to
3.  Push men OUT - Men are doers... effective leading of men equips and releases them to serve. You need to give them something to do - you need to trust them to do it sufficiently - and when they don't, don't blow a gasket.  They will learn.

You will never grow a church without men.  Be the man God has called YOU to be and they will naturally gravitate to you

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

3 Keys to growth

Pastors long for church growth for different reasons.  While there ARE a few who have made church growth about ego, most have a genuine desire to fulfill the 'Great Commission.'  What are a few common factors in growing churches?

1) A passionate, visionary pastor.  Though we often downplay the importance of leadership, it is "nigh-to-impossible" to have a growing church without a man who is an enthusiastic, loving, courageous leader.  We must not fall prey to over preoccupation with SELF, but we MUST continue to grow and stretch ourselves as leaders through books, seminars, self-scouting (a sports term for studying your tendencies - your strengths and weaknesses as a leader), and spending time with other, quality men.  Be a learner.  Be a risk-taker.  But above all else, fall in love with your church and the LORD of your church.

2) An outward focused, mobilized laity.  I have been blessed to be a part of several growing churches. And while some had good locations and programs already in place, certainly not ALL of them did.  Some of my most fruitful ministry came while pastoring in a terrible location with extremely inadequate facilities, parking, and music.  What made them successful was a laity with a vision for growth.  Prior to my coming, they had been trained to be public and proactive with their faith.  While the pastor should definitely lead by example, there were two ladies in that fellowship who invited far more people to our church than I did.  If the laity will buy into their pastor and his vision, the challenge will shift from 'How do we grow?' to 'How do we accommodate our growth?' Churches too often make the mistake of hoping their next "big hire" will make them successful - when all they need for growth is already sitting in the pews of their church.

3) A specific plan for growth.  "A failure to plan is a plan to fail."  The church must have a specific plan for growth... from goals to steps for achieving those goals.  From improvement of facilities to development of visitation teams.  From training greeters to decorating nurseries - a church that grows is a church that is concerned with the details.  While we typically think the pastor should lead this effort, he may not possess the vision or following to get it done.  He may be so new to the congregation that he hasn't earned "the right to lead" the congregation.  While involved in the process of growth, the pastor needs people around him who will implement a clear plan for growth.  Most churches love the idea of growth - they just don't know how.  But if you will provide two or three specific things to work on, they will get behind it.

Don't fall into the trap of discounting the importance of growth.  Don't comfort yourself  by emphasizing, "Quality over Quantity."  It is an unwise assumption that for growth to occur it must come at the expense of discipleship.  Hogwash!  God will bless what we do WHEN what we do blesses Him!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014


When your car isn't running properly you take it to a mechanic who has an electronic gizmo that reads your car's computer and diagnoses the problem(s).  Sometimes fixes are relatively simple - a new set of plugs, replacing a bad sensor... other times, problems are much more significant and require greater investment (or trade in :) )

Effective pastoring requires a great amount of diagnostics as well.  Blessed is the man who is able to get to the root of problems quickly and knows how to 'fix' them.  Here are a few 'trouble-shooting' tips from a pastor with a lot of "grease" under his nails:

If your church is experiencing disunity... try getting them to focus outside themselves.  Churches will devour themselves when they are (1) in a pattern of decline or (2) have no vision beyond themselves. For decline, establish attainable goals for your church.  If you average 60 worshipers on Sunday, have a campaign to hit 90 or 100 on a special day.  Say what you will about such tactics, once your church gets some "wins" under its belt, attitudes will change.  (Caution: be reasonable with your goals or you can destroy any momentum you hoped to create)

Compare the church to a football team.  When things are going well, fans exude confidence and praise and call to raise their coach's salary.  When things are going bad, fans will blame it on players, on coaches, on administrations... and such outcry often leads to someone losing their job.  Whether fairly or unfairly - it's just the nature of things.

Pastors often get too much credit for the success of the local church - AND - too much blame when things are in decline.  As leaders, however, we DO bear some of the responsibility for the health and direction of the church.  Start planning for success.  Include your people in your thoughts.  Help them think about something besides the family that just left.

Additionally, focus on giving significantly to missions, the children's home, the local homeless shelter, or whatever outside ministry your church can get behind.  Consider adopting a struggling church you can help with small projects, labor, and/or money.  As people begin to glorify God with their monies, attitudes begin to change from "me and mine" to a Kingdom focus.

Set those 1, 3, and 5 year goals your church can focus energy behind.  Whether it is as small as renovating the foyer or buying a new van... from painting classrooms to building a gym (oops, I mean 'family life center') constantly remind people of the good things going on and the projects in the works.

Momentum is tough to create.  The greatest difficulty most of us will face is getting the decline to stop.  It is a lot easier to move an object that is already moving in the right direction.  But if you will work to change the culture from losing battles, negative talk, and fleshly infighting to working together for the good of the Kingdom, things will improve before you know it!

Monday, September 29, 2014

Exit Etiquette

Last night I  finished a great ministry in an awesome church.  Not all exits are bad.  In our case, God was moving me into church planting - so leaving was bittersweet.  United  respected our decision and loved us till the end.

That said, the way you leave a ministry says a lot about you as a leader.  The calling of God does not end when a man resigns.  The way you leave will define your ministry in the minds of that congregation for years to come.  How can you be sure you leave...well?

1.  Understand your role.  You are no longer their pastor but you can still offer helpful advice that will aid their transition.
... be an encourager.  It is perfectly natural for a church to think "What's wrong with us?" when a man they love resigns for another work.  You need to be sensitive to their needs and affirm them.
... be helpful.  Help the church publicize the vacancy and include contact info of members of the pulpit committee.
... put together a list of immediate needs the church should address.  If you know a family is planning to leave, let someone know who will visit them.  If the office needs some updating, encourage them to use this time to dress it up.  If there are ministries or business items you have been handling, chances are the church has taken it for granted and doesn't know what needs doing.
... teach them to put together a helpful packet for potential candidates that includes stats, budget info, salary package, community info, church-expectations, etc.  The packet should also include a "methodology" for calling the next preacher (details of the process you are following).
... don't control the process or the selection of a replacement.  While some churches hire a "pastor-in-waiting" who will spend time being groomed as your replacement, most do not.  Now that you have resigned try to stay out of their business UNLESS they ask for your input.

2.  Set the table for your predecessor.  Teach your congregation about breaking away from you... about not expecting too much too quickly from the next preacher... to not make unfair comparisons. After the transition is made, don't invite negative talk about the new guy.  Pray for their success. Pray the church would support them.  Encourage people to get behind the new pastor.
... leave any relevant information that will be helpful to the next pastor - from stats to budget info - from membership roles to officer/teacher info.
... tie up loose ends.  If there is an incomplete project, finish it if possible.  Encourage them to have a work day to ready the property for the new guy so he won't have to focus on those things right away. If the church has a parsonage, provide a list of things you would like to see fixed, improved, or changed if YOU were the one being hired.

3.  Preach challenging messages that will focus the church on the task at hand.  Remind them of their purpose.  Fix their minds on the future.  Challenge them to growth.  Warn them against division. Encourage them to pray for the pulpit committee.  DON'T USE THE PULPIT AS AN OPPORTUNITY TO GET IN A PARTING SHOT!

Exit etiquette.  It matters.  I have followed men and thought, "What a great pastor they were!"  And I have followed men and thought, "I wonder if his new church has any idea what they have gotten themselves into?"  If you must leave, leave WELL!!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Determining the Will of God

Would be nice to hear from God sometime, wouldn't it?  I mean, we want to be in the center of His will, working in a ministry that honors Him.  It is the deepest desire of my heart to do and be what God would have me do and be.  So...Why is finding the will of God so difficult??  We pray, "Lord, if it is your will, open the door,"  but then two or three doors open simultaneously.  How do you know you are where God wants you to be?

It's interesting the answers you get when you talk to peers about 'God's Will.'  A lot of men believe there is only one church on earth they can serve and be in the center of God's will.  Similarly, and I admit it sounds very romantic, people believe there is only one person in the world they could marry and be in God's will.

If true, what happens if one guy makes the wrong choice in a church or mate??  The whole world is thrown off its axis and people are marrying the wrong people unintentionally; pastors serving the wrong churches unintentionally.  No, I am pretty sure there is another way to find the will of God than discovering that proverbial "needle-in-a-haystack."  Here are a few things you need to settle...

1.  Has God truly called you to pastoral ministry?  Compare YOUR experience with other men who have demonstrated the giftedness of God.  Talk to those who know you.  Consider your walk with the Lord. Can you do anything else and be happy and at peace?  It is paramount, when searching for God's will, to be convinced that God has called you to this work.  Discernment is important here because there are times when God might be calling a man to rededicate his life or start teaching a class, but that wooing of the Spirit is misinterpreted as "a calling" to pastoral ministry. Discernment is ALSO necessary because there will be days when you don't FEEL called of God to pastoral ministry. Feelings cannot be trusted when attempting to find the will of God.  Nail this down before you proceed.

2.  Is there a need?  When you hear of churches struggling to find ministers, when you consider a map and see how many cities (and even whole states and countries for that matter) with no FWB church or very few evangelical churches, does that lodge in your soul, troubling you?  Do you find yourself praying Isaiah's prayer, "Here I am Lord...send me?"  Trust me, there IS a need - but only you and the Lord can answer if you are the man to fill it.

3.  What is your particular skill set?  God's gifts are with purpose.  God gives some an uncanny ability to lead.  Others are unusually gifted to preach.  Some are tremendous administrators, visionaries, or soul-winners.  What gets your ministry "juices" flowing?  What are you passionate about?  What kind of preachers or pastors do you want to emulate?  God validates one's calling through His gifts, through fruit, and through other Christian people who can see God working through you in ways you cannot.

4.  If God has called you and IF God has given you a particular skill set, would it not then behoove you to find a church that best fits your skill set?  If there are 10 churches needing pastors but there is only one or two of them that match your giftedness, then it would SEEM the other 8 are outside God's Will for you.  Avoid taking the easy path, the big salary, the cushy position.  Choose a ministry that will allow you to use your gifts to the fullest.  Why would your main concern be financial?  Money is an easy fix... lack of giftedness is not.

5.  Pray, pray, PRAY.  Ask God to show Himself to you.  Ask God to help you see things in the churches who would have you as pastor - that you would be able to get beyond the thrill of being considered/wanted and help you see the health of the church ministry and how your family would fit there.  Ask God to give you peace and to prepare the people in your life for this decision.

Too pragmatic for some, I know.  But don't be guilty of making the will of God so mystical that you act like one who must go behind the curtain and put on magic glasses to enable him and only him to see the truth.  God's will isn't nearly as complicated as we make it.  "Where can I serve to the best of my ability?"  Sometimes it really IS that simple.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Three things I didn't learn in Bible College...

I was a young father when I felt God calling me to pastoral ministry.  At the urging of my pastor, I moved to Nashville to learn how to be a "pastor."  While my experience there was invaluable, learning from great men like Bro. Forlines, and Drs. Miley, Pic, Outlaw, Woodard, and Reed, there were some things I was left to get on my own.  What are they?

1.  Stay out of debt - In the interest of self-preservation, colleges don't simply INFORM students about loan options, they actually ENCOURAGE indebtedness.  Recruiting tactics include more than the benefits of a Bible College education, they are now aimed to eliminate financial concerns parents might have as their child forgoes local, more affordable options for the much more expensive private college. College costs across the board have skyrocketed and Bible College is not the "exception."  In an attempt to appeal to more students, Bible Colleges have broadened their offerings and found "painless" ways to pass on the costs to future decades (and yes, I mean 'decades.')

This poses quite the conundrum for ministry students.  Expected by family, pastors, and churches to receive a quality Bible College education in order to "qualify" for God-called ministry, young people rack up 40 or 50 thousand (or more) in student-loan-debt.  Upon graduation, however, they are told by prospective employers (churches) "This is a ministry... and as such, you need to be willing to sacrifice salary for the Lord and His work."  <crickets> Such cases often lead young people to view their Bible College diplomas as 'boat anchors,'  forcing them to forgo ministry positions suited for their skill-set, in pursuit of larger churches they are not capable of leading (at the moment).

Do everything in your power to stay out of debt.  If it means going to school for 8 years instead of 4, do it. If the Bible College experience is worth the sacrifice, then commit to staying debt free.  It is better to sacrifice for an additional 4 years than to sacrifice for the next 20.

2.  Please God, not people.  Don't seek man's applause.  Your significance comes from Him, not them. We have too many man-pleasers in the pulpit today... and sad to say, I was one of them.  When you let your hunger for approval drive your ministry, you will find yourself in the unenviable position of compromise often. If you are pleasing the Lord, you WILL please the right people.

3.  Your family is more important than your work.  Success is an idol... an unrelenting false-god.  When this idol is present in your life, it will force you to choose between IT and your character, your family, and everything else that is important to you.  Many talented men have lost everything chasing after nothing.  That isn't God expecting you to sacrifice your family in order to be successful - that's your idol.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Are we as a denomination in trouble?

"Having given ourselves to God, by faith in Christ, and adopted the Word of God as our rule of faith and practice, we now give ourselves to one another..."  Recognize that statement?  It's the opening line of our covenant - a document expressing the desire of our forbearers to work together for the greater good of the kingdom.  Our covenant calls us to lay aside petty differences voluntarily... for the purpose of fulfilling the Great Commission on earth.  As a fundamental denomination tracing it's roots deep into church history, we have had our fair share of disagreements and divisions that threaten our success.  Still we continue to affiliate, we continue to work cooperatively, convinced there is strength in numbers and that the good accomplished by our collaboration far outweighs the bad we've tolerated.

Is that fellowship on the verge of failing?  Are lines being drawn in the sand, are powerful personalities forcing brothers to 'choose sides' demanding 'uniformity' rather than unity?  From my perspective, we have arrived at a critical crossroads as a denomination.  I do not boast special insight or great wisdom or to have so much respect in our movement that I can effect change.  But I do see trouble on the horizon - and the things that threaten our success and survival have nothing to do with Biblical Doctrine.  Our denomination isn't suffering from worldliness as much as our unwillingness to love one another.

We have two camps who have dug in their proverbial heels in our denomination that threaten our success as a movement.  The first group looks for things to be disagreeable about - things that divide, so that they may further marginalize our denomination through infighting and separation, pulling support, forming their own movement within a movement.  To them, disunity seems a badge of honor.  The smaller the pond, the bigger fish they can be. The other group consists of those with little courage, who think greener pastures await them elsewhere, who have no stomach for the fight or enough love for the denomination to stick around for it.  I read a former FWB pastor's blog about why he left our denomination and how we need to modify our position on alcohol if we want to be successful.  DUDE! FIX YOURSELF!

When I look at our denomination, I see a looming crisis.  Veteran leadership retiring, fewer men answering the call, churches closing their doors because they can't pay a preacher a livable salary and too proud to unite with other struggling fellowships.  I see a leadership crisis - young men coming out of college ill-prepared for awaits them but expecting to have good churches given to them on a silver platter just the same.  Men who are too pragmatic in their thinking - grasping at whatever passing fad available to save their dying work.

Can anything be done to stop this pending implosion?  I think its time our pastors quit being so selfish and prideful and started thinking about the bigger picture instead of only focusing on their church, their control, their power.  We need a grassroots, bottom up change in our movement.  We need guys who are successful in ministry mentoring young men.  We need leaders who are more interested in helping, building, and reaching than in receiving big paychecks.  We need power in the pulpit.  We need a zeal for souls.  We need a commitment to work together regardless the trivial things that divide us.  Do we have it in us to do the right thing?  I certainly hope so.

I prefer to be us than any other denomination I know - even WITH our problems.  We are not of those who spend their national conventions arguing whether the Bible is inspired or if we should ordain homosexuals to ministry.  Whew!  I'm glad we are not them.  But that doesn't mean we should tolerate our own failures as a movement.  

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Facing the difficulty of ecumenism as a FWB Pastor

I have a confession to make.  Please don't judge me for this.  I went to an ecuminical service last night. There.. I said it.  I realize in our ranks there are those who would tell me to 'Lighten up!'  "It's no big deal!!" And there are others who would tell me I should turn in my FWB credentials.  One side might need a bit more wisdom in such things.  The other, well, I don't really know what to say to them.

If you are like me, it's hard to find a comfortable balance between being Free Will Baptist and joining in with others who might disagree with our doctrine.  We don't have any trouble buying their commentaries or reading their books - but  is there a difference between going to an event with them and owning their church growth materials?  What if your church is invited to participate in a men's event where there will be ten or twelve denominations present?  Where do we draw the 'theological line' of separation?  Here are a few questions only YOU can answer:

1) What are the Risks?  If you are spiritually mature, the risks are likely minimal.  You are confident in your faith, grounded in the word, settled in your doctrine.  It isn't likely you will find yourself struggling with pentecostalism simply by being exposed to charismatic people.  But what about those who go with you? What about the excitement of fleshly worship and the natural desire your people might have for that kind of thing in YOUR church?  What about the layman who was saved out of the Catholic Church who hears there were Catholics assembled with those who are born-again?  Will this overthrow their faith?

2) What about your Example?  Akin to the above, are there people you might offend through this affiliation? Paul addressed something similar in 1 Corinthians.  The church at Corinth was a fractious church - personalities and personal liberties had them so divided that the reputation of the church was being sullied in the community. When Paul spoke to those "with knowledge," he challenged them to remember to love, to show deference to those who are weaker AND EVEN sacrifice their personal liberties for the good of others. Attending these events may not rise to the level of eating meat offered to idols - but then again, it might.

3) What might be Gained?  Maybe you are trying to build a relationship with a man who is out of church and you go to an event with him to grow your influence with him.  Maybe he has no problem attending a nondenominational concert or men's event on a Friday night, but can't get out of bed in time for Sunday Worship.  Maybe you will be exposed to some things that will actually help hone your own skills and ministry.  You might even learn what NOT to do in your ministry as you expose yourself to the way others are doing it.  There are things to be gained by exposing yourself to others ideals.

Some of us need to learn that chasing after the latest fads, the lights and fog machines, the comedy or the latest techniques to grow are often like chasing a mirage.  They might SEEM like the answer to our dying churches thirst, but in the end, they are only so much sand in the mouth.

Others of us need to learn that holding to tradition to the detriment of truth is what the Pharisees were guilty of.  And I distinctly recall that these were the people Jesus called "blind leaders of the blind."

How about we all exercise spiritual maturity and Christian love and take some of these things on a case-by case basis.  I might not have benefitted personally from the things at the event I attended - but I DID greatly enjoy the fellowship of one of my close friends I seldom get to see.  I did get to tell him, "No matter what, I've got your back."  Could I have done that WITHOUT the event?  SURE!  But I might have forgotten to do it.  Don't throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater as you decide what you should do in good conscience.  Pray for wisdom.  Check your motives.  Follow the Spirit... and you will be fine.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Pastoral Candidate check-list, p.2

What information should churches provide prospective pastors?  Boards expect honesty and transparency from the men they interview as candidates.  Should pastors not expect the same?  For those laymen who might happen to read this blog, let me be frank with you for a moment...

1.  You should be willing to discuss issues surrounding the former pastor's exit.  There are legal concerns obviously - particularly where there are churches and pastors who have failed to handle an exit in a biblical fashion.  A violation of confidentiality can create a cloud of suspicion on BOTH parties.  I get that. But you need to be prepared to be as transparent as you can when asked by a candidate.  "There were some personal problems involved that we cannot talk about because of a confidentiality agreement, but you can rest in the fact that we handled things as spiritually as possible."  Obviously there are two sides to every story, and if you handle YOURS correctly, you shouldn't be upset if he checks into the other side of the story.  If everyone handled things according to the Bible, this wouldn't be an issue.  But I digress... 

2.  You should put a copy of the budget in the candidate's hand.  A lot can be said about the things a church values by looking at how it spends the Lord's money.  There he will see your heart for missions, your level of indebtedness, how you pay your staff, the projects you currently have going.  If you have a big pile of money in the bank and you aren't doing your share to support external missions - he will see that.  If you have very little money budgeted for the youth or for CE or whatever, he will see where your heart is.  He shouldn't have to ask about salaries and other benefits... you should have all that available early in the process.

3.  You should avail him to your church stats/attendance records.  He can see if you have been in decline and for how long - if you are growing or have plateaued, etc.  Sometimes an outside pair of eyes can identify what the problem is and can offer you wise counsel whether you hire him or not.  Think about it: if you have plateaued and one candidate has some insight to help you possibly overcome that, wouldn't you WANT that information?  It might even be THE THING that provides needed clarity on both sides of the decision process.

4.  You should give him a copy of your constitution and by-laws.  Here he will learn things about the leadership structure that might provide clarity - "Who will he report to?"  "How much notice should be given in the event he is asked to leave OR if he feels led elsewhere?"  He will learn about the committees and meetings of the church, fiscal restrictions regarding how much money can be spent without a church vote, how a church views the ordinances and the practice of them.  He doesn't know much about you and your operation and may not know to ask on the front end.

5.  Let him know about those "immovable objects" on the church calendar or in the budget - in other words, those things that are so much a part of your identity as a church that you don't see changing them.  For instance, if your church has a Christian School ministry, he needs to know your passion for it, your expectations regarding his relationship to it, and how that ministry might impact facilities, monies, and the churches ability to draw from its pool of volunteers.  Some church members might work in the school and might see THAT as their ministry, making themselves off-limits to the church's mission.  There are other things like campaigns, days of emphasis, church-trips, habitat for humanity, etc., that churches place a high premium on keeping and their staff supporting.  He needs to know about these things BEFORE you hire him.

6.  And finally, you need to convey a thought out job-description for him that he might use as a measuring rod of his work and ministry.  He may not know he is expected to preach at the Nursing Home once a month because of a commitment the association has made to it... he might not know the church has had a radio ministry for 30 years and that he must handle all the aspects of it... he might not know you expect him to make a certain number of visits per week - or the opposite, that you have OTHERS to do that so he can study and see to administrative duties.  A failure to communicate always makes for a rocky start.  Let him know the things you want him to do to keep confusion to a minimum and watch how God will prosper this relationship!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Pastoral Candidate check-list

If I was on a pulpit committee, what would I look for in my future pastor?  What questions would I ask that might rule out potential candidates?

1.  "Describe your personal devotional life."  I would explore this topic beyond the initial response.  I would be looking for something specific.  If a man doesn't have a significant prayer and study life, he is not qualified to be a pastor.

2.  "Can we pull a credit report on you?"  If a man's financial house is not in order, he is not qualified to be a pastor.

3.  "Tell us the last time you lost your temper and why."  If a man is a hot-head, he is not qualified to be a pastor.

4.  "How many people have you personally led to Jesus Christ?"  This is not about notches on the belt.  If a man is not a soul-winner, he is not qualified to be a pastor.

5.  "Does your family support your ministry and how do they show it?"  If your family isn't solidly behind you, you are not qualified to be a pastor.

Additionally, if his primary concern is money, I wouldn't want him to be my pastor.  If his track-record is one of a dictator, I wouldn't want him to be my pastor.  If he is vague in his responses to test the waters before he gives his true answer, I wouldn't want him to be my pastor.  If his children do not seem well-adjusted, but have been stifled by a father who is more concerned about what people THINK of him than being a loving leader of the home, I wouldn't want him to be my pastor.  If he doesn't have a growth plan or vision for the work, if he is lazy or sloppy in his appearance, if he doesn't demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit... I wouldn't want him to be my pastor.

It is sad, really, how little a church knows about a man before they are forced to decide to call him as pastor. Leaders of churches are so eager to fill the vacancy they often fail to do due diligence.  Go beyond cherry-picked references and flowery resumes.  Take the time to ask the right questions.  Substantiate his claims of achievement.  You may save BOTH OF YOU a lot of heartache.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Earning respect by being human

I have mentioned a couple of times how 'respect is earned, not deserved.'  When churches hire a pastor, they want the experience of an elder statesman in the body of a youth.  What often happens to younger men in the ministry is they don't have the respect the office needs in order to lead the congregation.  When a new idea or a vision is cast, the people look the the real leaders in the church (that old respected deacon, that former pastor who still attends, or that guy with lots of money) before they voice support of your idea.  That is reality for many of our young pastors.  What can the younger man do to earn their respect?

1.  Accept the reality - the longer you stay, it will change.  Right now, be the best YOU you can be.  Learn the ropes.  Use the respected men as sounding boards and don't worry about who gets the credit for the idea.  The work is what matters - and according to the Bible, God is a good Accountant and remembers your labor of love.  Stay in good graces with the power brokers (unless a decision clearly violates scriptural principle.)  If you refuse to accept this reality, you will have ulcers and a lot of enemies.

2.  Be yourself - Be authentic, real.  Be as candid as you can about your struggles as a man, a Christian, a husband and father.  People identify with a pastor who struggles with some of the same stuff they struggle with.  It is endearing to people when you occasionally admit personal struggles.  Don't do it too much - or they will begin to think they made a mistake hiring a guy with so many problems.  Authenticity will help people be less defensive when you are rebuking them, insisting "We need to change," instead of "YOU need to change."

3.  Don't run from problems or pain - EMBRACE THEM.  A pastor proves his mettle, not during the good times, but during times of loss.  When people are broken, when they have lost all sense of self-reliance, when they are vulnerable, you being a calming voice in their storm will earn you buckets of leadership cred.  People will always remember that 'when pawpaw died, you were so compassionate and helpful...' or when two deacons were more interested in fighting with each other than doing God's work, you were a peacemaker, or when the Davis' house caught on fire, you showed up in your work clothes with food and and the promise of church help.  Being God's man in their trials, controversies, and heartaches of life will earn GREAT respect.

Remember, 'the proof is in the pudding.'  As you make good decisions, people will begin to look to you more and more as their leader.  All those times you 'showed up' in difficult moments, they will remember your love, advice, and confidentiality. Time will prove your character and devotion.  And before long, when some idea is bandied about in a business meeting, every eye will be on you.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The art of following the former pastor

Ahhh the excitement of a new pastorate.  The organized books on the shelves, the smell of pencil-shavings and cardboard... the first time someone dials your phone and calls you"Pastor!" It's good to be the new guy.  Everything is fresh.  They don't know your flaws.  They are happy to see you.  They want to know what you think.  Inevitably, as you get to know your new congregation, you will begin to hear a lot of talk about the former pastor.  How great he was.  How awful he was.  How powerful his sermons were... how he was prideful and rude.  Yep, you will hear a lot of things about the pastor, his family, and his tenure.  What should you do with this information?

1.  Don't listen to it.  Being a pastor is one of the most difficult jobs I know of because everyone is a critic.  Everyone thinks they know how it should be done.  People are unfairly critical.  I remember telling a woman in my 2nd pastorate, "If your son answered the call to preach, how would you feel if you knew someone was talking about HIM the way YOU are talking about ME?"  People speculate about things they have no knowledge about and spout their opinions as though they are truth.  Don't listen to it.

2.  Be gracious.  Speak positively about him or don't speak at all.  Avoid the silly comparisons.  Appreciate his strengths.  Ask him for advice.  Invite him back for special occasions.  I read a quote once on forgiveness that provides a principle we can apply to THIS situation: "He who refuses to forgive, burns the bridge over which he himself must pass." Remember, one day YOU will be the "former pastor."  Treat others the way YOU WANT TO BE TREATED.  You can be respected without having to tear down your predecessor.  You can earn your way out from underneath his shadow on your own merits.  It won't be long and they will stop talking about him every time you visit.

3.  Remember why you do this.  You are not seeking the praise of men.  You want the applause of heaven.  You do what you do NOT for your own glory, but His.  When you are so insecure that the absence of profuse praise means 'they don't like me anymore,' you are in for a very difficult ministry.  Your sufficiency, your adequacy comes from GOD, not your people.  It is pride in us that longs to be praised.

Why yours should be a 'Relational Ministry'

"So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight,not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory."  1 Peter 5:1-4(ESV)

Pastoring effectively requires us to find that difficult balance between being OVER our people and yet AMONG them.  How can a pastor be friends with his members and yet maintain the respect necessary to lead them into uncharted territory?  Peter teaches us to have a three-faceted ministry.  Hear his call to...

1.  Feed them - "Shepherd the flock of God..." "ποιμάνατε"  As a shepherd scopes out pasture for grazing his flock, you must know the needs of your people, know the word of God, and connect your people to life-changing principles from the word of God.  Know the weeds that threaten the health of the flock (false doctrine).  Properly feeding the flock requires you to make the kind of connection with your people that you know where they are, what their struggles and concerns and needs are.  You have got to be involved in the lives of your people to know how to feed them.  You might wax eloquently on any NUMBER of subjects - but if you aren't meeting their needs, they won't eat your food.

You also need such a passion for the word yourself that you can draw from your own walk with the Lord to nourish them.  Don't get in the rut of only studying scripture for a sermon.  Have an all-together separate time in the word to meet your own personal needs.  We fishermen must restock the pond or we will fish the pond dry.

2.  Lead them - "exercising oversight..." Our friendship with our congregation must have certain limits.  We must have the wisdom, experience, and courage to earn their respect.  Not only must we "encourage," we must also "reprove and rebuke" them.  Leadership is earned.  As we prove ourselves in small situations, conflicts, battles, we earn the right to be heard in the complex problems.  Cast a vision for your people.  Set attainable goals.  Challenge them.  Stretch them.  Encourage, yes, but keep pressing them to achieve more for the Lord.  Lead them.

3.  Exceed them - "...being examples to the flock."  In all aspects of life - you are their example.  The stream will never rise above its source.  You must be the pace-setter.  As a husband, father, neighbor, church-worker, evangelist, person of integrity, financially, in your commitments, on the ball-field... be an example to them.  This is why we find the counsel of Paul to avoid ordaining a novice - because the pressure of life often reveals cracks in character that may prove the undoing of a man's credibility with his people.

Love your people.  Show your love.  Tell them you love them.  When they believe you really care, they will allow you to say the hard things.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The importance of a well-defined 'Philosophy of Ministry'

While churches are about as varied as the flavor offerings at Baskin Robbins, they generally fall into two distinct camps when it comes to how they do ministry.

The In-Reach model - These churches see their main purpose as leading Christians in worship and discipleship.  Sermons are directed to Christians and the issues they face.  Growth strategies focus on the quality of programs, buildings, and staffing.  The danger of such a model?  These places often become so "Christianized" over time that the people who attend hardly know ANY lost people personally.

The Out-Reach model - These churches have as their main emphasis evangelism and church growth.  Instead of the "Come and see" approach of the in-reach model, these churches have a 'Go-and-Tell' approach to ministry.  The question "How can we grow?" permeates every planning session.  The danger of such a model? Often more emphasis is placed on decisions than discipleship, leading many to a live out a very shallow, emotional spiritual experience/existence.

A successful ministry will intertwine both models.  The better you are at melding the two, the more successful your ministry will be.

Churches need a well-defined philosophy of ministry.  You may call it a "purpose statement."  Every church needs a succinct, clear statement of purpose that can be used to focus/channel ministry resources and staffing.  Should a project, program, or idea NOT fit the purpose statement, it shouldn't be a part of the church's vision.  Our statement of purpose is very simple.  We exist to Exalt Christ, to Equip and Encourage Christians, and to Evangelize the Community.  Everything we do should fall under one of those categories... SOME things will fall under two or more categories.  This helps focus your church on the essentials.  Each individual ministry MUST HAVE the same purposes the church has.  Think what your Sunday School would look like if it had as one of its core values winning the lost.  THINK of what that looks like and how it can be done.

Just as churches need a clearly defined philosophy of ministry, so does the pastor.  FIT is crucial for a long-term, fruitful ministry.  It will be a rough row-to-hoe if a church that follows the In-Reach model hires an Out-reach minded pastor (or vice-versa).  Though churches and pastors can and DO change, it isn't likely for either of them to experience fundamental, drastic change.  Save yourself some heartache and consider the things you are passionate about as a pastor.  What are your goals?  What are the things that make you tick and get your pastoral juices flowing?  Look for those things when considering a potential ministry.  Money should be your LAST consideration when choosing a place to serve.  You can make a good living and be miserable.  Think about it.

Take a few moments to think about how you spend your time, money, and energy.  Is there a way to do it better?  Solomon teaches us to work SMARTER, when he said in Ecclesiastes 10:10, "If the iron is blunt, and one does not sharpen the edge, he must use more strength, but wisdom helps one to succeed." (ESV)

Next time, I want to share how I came about my approach to pastoral ministry through study of 1 Peter 5:1-4

Monday, July 14, 2014

Boundaries and why you need them, p. 2

I have always been a fairly driven, structured time-manager.  I like having a schedule.  Juggling the demands of a large family and a growing church is challenging.  That's why you need boundaries. Those little time killers that eat away at your schedule - you need to control those as much as you can.  Why?

1) Your stress level, for one.  There are only so many hours in a day and when study time or visitation is compromised, you begin to panic.  You get slack in your study and cannot feed your congregation or pray for them as you should.  If you already battle flare-ups of temper OR depression, the best way to extinguish those character killers is to reduce stress.

2) Another reason to control those non-scheduled drop-bys is that it creates a neediness in your people - the unhealthy expectation that they deserve more of your time than something or someone else.  Your accessibility has to be guarded because they will just drop by to have coffee for no particular reason.  Though some of that is good and you want your people to love you and to enjoy your company, sometimes it boarders on the ridiculous because they have nothing else to do and they want you to entertain them.

3) The primary reason you should limit your availability is for your family.  Your stress level, your time - these things directly impact them.  Some pastors neglect their families, thinking, "They'll understand I am doing the Lord's work..."  When in reality, they end up resenting the ministry and rebelling against your leadership.

How can you limit this?  What can you do that will not be offensive but will still accomplish your objective?

1) Teach your people to protect your time.  Subtle and not so subtle statements like, "I need a quiet office from 8 to 12 everyday for study, prayer, planning, administration, etc.  If you need me, unless it is an emergency, call after 12."  "Monday is my off-day.  I need it to recover from Sunday.  It is my "Sabbath" so please understand that I won't be in the office on Monday."  "Friday night is 'Family Night.'  We like to keep our family healthy by doing things together on THAT night.  Unless your house is on fire or you have some emergency beyond needing me to crank your tiller (yes, that happened to me before) I am unavailable."

Some people will get the message immediately.  Those are the folks who probably wouldn't trouble you anyway.  Others will have to be reminded from time to time because they think you are talking to everyone BUT them.  You have to teach them, pastor.  And if you can't, teach your deacons to do it for you.

2) When you are busy and have that drop in, limit the time to 15 minutes.  If it feels it will go beyond that, tell them you have to go make a visit that you had planned for that afternoon and see if they will go with you.  You can fellowship in the car on your way to do ministry together.  Chances are they will just leave at that point.  But if they want to go with you, you have accomplished three goals: a visit, mentoring a member in visitation,and protecting your schedule.

3) Stand up after 15 minutes and tell them you have got to get back to your study but you want to pray for them, that God would do a great work in their life.  Then walk them to the door.  Sometimes we just need a little courage, men.  If you have the luxury of having a church secretary, teach him/her to run interference for you.

Remember - you need boundaries in your relationships.  Hopefully these few suggestions have been helpful to you...

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Boundaries and why you need them, p. 1

We appreciate boundaries in life.  Though there ARE personality types that like to push boundaries, we have a pretty good sense of what it looks like when relationships don't have appropriate boundaries: a deacon who doesn't respect confidentiality or the role of the pastor; a Mother-in-law who has difficulty hiding her disagreement with your parenting philosophy; a friend who never gets the signal when he is encroaching on family time.

Boundaries are important - and none more so than in the ministry.  Here are a few you need to consider:

1) Limited access from the opposite sex.  Pastors so want to be "all things to all people," that they boarder on inviting emotional affairs and questionable/reproachable contact.  The advent of social media has created a firestorm of "e-affairs."  What often begins as a comment on a Facebook page or photo, can devolve into private messaging and conversations that we wouldn't want our spouses to know about.

Counseling... a distraught woman calls with an urgent need to stop by the office.  Her emotions are raw and says you are the "only person she can talk to about this."  You need someone with you whenever you counsel a woman who is not your mother's age.  You should NEVER be behind closed doors with a woman without your wife or a deacon present.  This is going to be incredibly blunt, but it must be said: Your reputation is more important than helping this person.  They can get help through other people - but when your character is destroyed, it will take years to overcome it.

Texting... emailing... Instant Messaging... whatever form it takes, it is Instant Access.  You need to be completely transparent about every activity or relationship or conversation you possibly can with your wife.  When people ask you to keep something confidential, you need to tell them BEFORE they share that you keep nothing from your wife.  If a woman makes a pass at you and you are afraid to tell her, you need to tell her anyway.  That "secret transgression" on the woman's part, is just looking for a crack to get lodged in your mind.  Before you know it, you find yourself looking forward to conversing with that person, entertaining sinful thoughts and rationalizing how "thoughts aren't as bad as deeds."  Decide right now you are never going to meet with or carry on conversations with other women in a private place or about certain subjects. You don't need someone other than your wife invading your thought-life.

In part 2 of this topic, I will share about preventing "neediness" in your people...

Monday, July 7, 2014

"80% of success is just showing up"

Terrible, terrible person to quote, I'm sure, but Woody Allen had a point.  When it comes to successful ministry, a great part of it is showing up.  Showing up at the hospital when one in your 'sphere of influence' is sick.  Showing up at the funeral home, where loss is felt keenest.  Showing up at a members home when his wife has left him.  Showing up at a preachers house who is discouraged.  80 percent of success is just showing up.

Set visitation goals for yourself.  Stay connected to your people emotionally.  When you sense someone is down, send them a card in your own hand-writing.  When an important milestone is passed, recognize it publicly - "We are so proud of Angie for graduating college this week..."  "2 years ago, John had open-heart surgery, and now look at him - serving more now than ever!"  Details matter.  Make it a point to remember names.  Ask good questions - as a general rule, people love talking about themselves.

When people begin to miss, let them know you missed them.

Next time, I want to talk to you about one of the hardest subjects pastors face - setting boundaries, healthy boundaries in pastoral ministry.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

When to pull the plug on a ministry...

As a leader in growth, there may come a time when you have to "pull the plug" on a ministry.  Let's look at this objectively:

1) Is the ministry valid?  That is, does it serve the basic purposes of the church?  Ministries often lose their purpose over time.  For instance, some men's prayer ministries really turn into an opportunity to eat a free breakfast and talk about fishing (or worse, the pastor).  Some women's ministries devolve into gripe sessions about their husbands.  When any ministry does not fit a defined purpose of the church, you may need to pull the plug.

2) Is the ministry suffering for lack of leadership?  I am convinced that God gifts us uniquely and for a purpose - that we might serve others.  That said, not everyone is called to teach a class or head a ministry.  They may be excellent at other things, but it's a very painful thing to drive a square peg into a round hole.  The wrong leader can KILL a ministry.  Before pulling the plug, ask yourself if this ministry might thrive under different leadership?  THEN ask yourself, 'do we have such a person?'  I am of the conviction that is better to pull the plug on a ministry than to run it poorly.  Just because you have 3 boys who are aged 10-12 doesn't mean you should start a class for them OR keep a class for them.  You might have to figure out another way of ministering to them until the right leader avails him/herself.

3) Does the ministry lack vision?  If that is true, pastor, you aren't doing your job.  Every church ministry should set goals for itself and constantly review those goals and how to achieve them.  If a Pastor longs to see his Sunday School ministry grow by 25% next year, how can he break it down in achievable goals for his Sunday School Superintendent and individual Sunday School teachers?  What is your vision?  Define it. Articulate it.  Let that vision permeate every business meeting, every casual conversation, every sermon.  Set reasonable goals for the leaders under you.  "For us to grow our Sunday School by 25% next year, we need to add 4 people to our Adult Men's Class this year.  Four people.  We can do that.  And here are some names we can be praying for and reaching out to this month."  The primaries need to add X number. Juniors X number. The teens, young married, and the senior ladies X number.  You get the drift.  The vision for the organization MUST COME FROM THE PASTOR!

You might need to pull the plug on a ministry that is not serving a valid purpose, lacks spiritual leadership, and does not have a viable vision.  But what about YOUR ministry, Pastor?  When is it time to pull THAT plug?

  • Don't be reactionary or emotional about this.  Sometimes we pull the trigger and end up regretting it. Take time to pray about it.  Talk to your spouse.  Call a trusted peer/friend outside the church.  There is safety in godly counsel.
  • If this ministry (or the way you have built it) is destroying your marriage or family, pull the plug. Instead of preaching sermons to your wife or telling her to suck it up, love HER more than the ministry. Your FIRST obligation is to God.  Your second is your family. Your third is your work.
  • Consider a sabbatical.  More than a week or two of vacation, you might need a month off where you can spend time healing, praying, and clearing the cobwebs.  It would be better to take some time off than it would to completely jump ship (if you aren't sure).
  • Have I lost my vision for the work or fulfilled all my goals and now feel ready for another challenge? THIS is THE question so many are asking.  Nobody can answer that but you.  While I encourage longer pastorates, God has different men for different works/needs.  Some of us are church planters. Others are built for long-term discipleship.  Some are growers - others maintainers.  God needs all of us for His work.
  • Is this work damaging you personally?  Face it, some churches are man-eaters, abusive, hard-hearted, and mean.  Some will fight with you over every dollar you spend... "WHY DO YOU USE SO MUCH PAPER???"  Sometimes God wants us to work WITH and IN SPITE OF those people. God will refine YOU through THEIR fire.  But sometimes the attacks are just too personal.  If the board is too opinionated (judgmental) about what your family should be doing, this pastorate probably isn't going to last.  While no pastor should pursue "filthy lucre," a church is obligated to offer reasonable care for their pastor and family.  If staying in this ministry will cause you to be unfaithful financially, you either need to become bi-vocational or find another church.
I am sure there are many more 'what ifs' that have already popped into your mind.  Put yours in the comment section and we will discuss it.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Developing future workers for future growth...

Plan ahead for growth.  Don't wait for it to happen before you do something to your organizational structure.  I call it "the pyramid principle."  The structure can only reach as high as the base allows it.  A tall pyramid on a small foundation will easily topple over.  Churches that are growing because of the personality of the pastor or the gifts of a limited number, will reach a certain height and fall over.  I have seen pastors with great charisma take a church to higher heights than they've ever reached before, but because the structure didn't grow WITH the new growth, it didn't last.

What can we do to grow our leadership team?  A few things...

1.  Pray.  Pray God would make you a leader.  Pray that He would help you spot leadership qualities in others.  Pray that God would send you people OR help you identify people from within, who you should spend more time equipping for leadership.  The more you grow, the more selective you will have to be in the amount of time you give people.  You want to spend the greatest amount of time, effort, and sacrifice on those in your inner circle.

2.  Develop assistants for future teacher roles.  A few years back, my staff discussed the idea of mothering a church plant in a nearby community.  To do this effectively (mothering a church-plant), you should send people who live in the target-area, who possess an evangelistic spirit and leadership gifts, and make them a part of the new plant.  I realized this would need some extra work that I hadn't done.  I would need to be ready to absorb the losses of those leaders and teachers at the "mother" church.  I asked our CE Board to begin asking assistant teachers to stay in the class they assist full-time.  Until this time, the assistant only visited the class when the teacher had to be away. 

This accomplished several things:
  • It added to the teacher's ability to manage a growing class.  The teacher could teach while the assistant helped with crowd-control (record keeping, rowdy students, bathroom trips, etc.)
  • It acquainted the assistant with the dynamics of the class.  The assistant already knew the unique needs of each student, could relate to them because they had already invested time in them, and maintained a seamless transition from teacher to assistant.
  • It prepared the assistant to take over a class.  This was the primary aim.  The assistant got to watch a trained, successful teacher in action.  Mentoring often occurred without the two people even knowing it.
The greatest accomplishment of this approach is that you are doubling your teaching staff every 2 or 3 years.  If someone moves away, or worse dies, the class doesn't have to stop and the pastor doesn't have to put an unknown commodity at the helm.  Should your church develop a vision to mother another church, you can be sure to send discipled/trained workers to the daughter plant.

3.  Pull people into your leadership loop.  Be willing to let go.  Often pastors have a difficult time with delegating because they have been burned or because they have experienced what I call "reverse delegation;" where the delegatee ends up giving the task back to the delegator.  Other times we fail to delegate because we just don't trust our people enough to do a good job with the task.  We might struggle with perfectionism and find ourselves wanting to hold on to things because others won't do it as well.  And others of us are timid and are afraid to ask for help - thinking it reveals some sort of weakness in us.  You have got to let go of tasks other people can do.  Be looking for people who are willing to serve but don't already have a ministry.  Ask them specifically, "Are you computer savvy?  Do you know how to use a word processor?  Would you consider giving 30 minutes to and hour to doing our bulletin?"  You will be turned down sometimes.  But other times, people are praying you will ask them to do something.  Remember this: Christians cannot be what God designed them to be IF they are not serving.

4.  Don't do too much.  Too many smaller Free Will Baptist Churches think they need to offer the same program options as the big church down the street.  In an earlier blog I told you to "do two or three things really well."  Don't start 2 programs at the same time unless you have a large pool of workers. Starting a class isn't enough - you have to have a teacher and an assistant.  If your leadership circle has too many ministries they have to lead, the work will be less than excellent OR they will grow discouraged and quit.  A layman should only have 1 or 2 ministries (generally speaking).  The more jobs a person has, the less opportunities others have to serve and the more likely the ministry offered will be less quality.

5.  Keep your finger on the pulse.  As a pastor, you must keep your fingers in everything going on.  Have regular meetings with your workers to encourage them, equip them, and PRAISE them.  People will work themselves to death for a pastor who knows how to edify and lead them.  Stay positive.  Think ahead of those under your charge.  PLAN for growth!

Next time, I want to talk to you about 'when to pull the plug on a ministry.'

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Can Free Will Baptist Churches Grow? p. 4

Today I want to talk about assimilating new people into the church body.  As you begin to eat, drink, and sleep the Great Commission (impacting YOUR world with the Gospel) you will find two churches developing in your congregation - the veterans who have seen many a battle and have remained loyal to the church through thick and thin, AND the new Christian (or at least new member) who is filled with zeal, but has little appreciation for the wars of old. Both groups tend to be impatient with the other.  An unnecessary tension that is often unconsciously (or consciously) encouraged by the Pastor.  Don't be a reactionary leader.  Don't wait for fires to start popping up BEFORE you do anything to put them out.  Naturally assume your church is no different than others and that the enemy looks for opportunities to press his advantage to thwart growth.  There are a few things you can do as a leader that will head off SOME of the division that develops with growth:

1.  Present a vision your church can own.  It may take a couple of years of preaching/teaching to lead them to a place where they are ready to own your vision.  As John Maxwell once said, "People must buy into YOU before they will buy into your vision."  It takes time to earn credibility as a leader.  The Holy Spirit will give your people a new heart... a tender and compassionate heart that will help them endure through many of the sacrifices they will have to make for the church to grow.  What sacrifices??  They have been accustomed to their opinions carrying greater weight than they will after the church experiences growth.  Some will have to move over and give up positions of ministry and leadership to people they don't know and haven't been to battle with.  Facilities will need changing - even if they don't see the need.  Services will be structured differently and they won't understand why we 'no longer sing happy birthday' to the veterans.  They will likely have to serve in areas they don't like - for example - their nursery will need updating and staffing each service, and "Before all these new people started coming, I could sit in the service and I knew everybody..."  They will have to get used to you paying OTHER PEOPLE attention - attention you once gave to them.

All these complaints ARE legitimate AND can be headed off with good leadership.  If you don't cast the vision and prepare your people, they will resent you and the growth of the church.

2.  Form a 'new-comers' class.  The class should be structured to answer three basic questions: What does it mean to be a Christian?  What does it mean to be a Free Will Baptist?  What does it mean to be a member of this local church?

What does it mean to be a Christian?  This segment should cover the basics of Christianity.  Why and how is a person saved?  What is baptism?  How do I grow in the word and prayer?  What if I sin?  How do I share my faith with my friends?  What is my spiritual gift?  What is 'stewardship?' Answering these and similar questions are absolutely essential for discipleship.  They need the material printed with blanks to fill in as they listen to the lesson.  It will be a tool they can reference for years to come.

What does it mean to be a Free Will Baptist?  While Christianity is certainly bigger than Free Will Baptists, we ARE talking about assimilating new believers into a Free Will Baptist Church.  It is important that new-comers learn the doctrines and distinctives of the FWB church.  One day some of these people will be leading the church or teaching your grandchildren - you want them to be grounded in the word and able to defend it.

What does it mean to be a member of this local church?  Here you have a wonderful opportunity to pour your vision into others.  They learn what is expected of members - from their personal lives to their public service.  They learn that the expectation is that they find areas of service immediately.  Christians will not grow WITHOUT serving others.  Here they learn about the leadership structure of the church, who the leaders are, how they are elected, etc.  They are acquainted with the constitution and by-laws of the church. They learn the purposes of the local church and how they fit IN those purposes.  They learn the importance of tithing - yes, I said TITHING.

While you are leading them through this study, you need to constantly remind the class that WHEN you are finished with the study, they will become a part of another class or classes.  I have ideas about this that I will share in the future.

3.  Develop a mentor program.  In Titus chapter 2, Paul instructs the veterans of the faith to mentor the younger men and women of the faith.  This important ministry will head off any sense of rivalry that sometimes develops between the two groups.

4.  Remember - not EVERY idea is a GOOD idea.  As a leader, you will have to exercise extreme caution when new ideas for the church are presented to you.  New folks are FILLED with ideas.  Some of them will be very helpful.  Others...not so much.  You as a leader have to learn when to say NO (graciously).

Be proactive in leading your church in building healthy relationships.  Keep your circle of friends ever growing.  Often the veterans will feel disappointed that you spend so much time building new relationships and pay so little attention to them.  Learn to balance yourself.  Also, don't create an unhealthy dependence in your people where they need you for everything.  We will talk about THIS in the days to come...

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Can Free Will Baptist Churches Grow? p. 3

If you hear the subject of "church growth" discussed and come away feeling one of two ways - Pumped and ready to storm the gates of hell with a water-pistol (but having no practical steps for growing in MY context)... or, Discouraged - "What is wrong with me and my church?  Maybe I should just move to another work with fewer obstacles..."  I understand you.

Key to the whole discussion (at least in Free Will Baptist circles) is the pastor - from his leadership to his example.  There are a few things pastors can do to help his church become Great Commission minded:

1.  Preach passionate gospel messages with an urgent plea to see people come to know Christ.  Sunday morning is the service in which you will have the most non-members attend.  Some are searching for a new church.  Some are searching for meaning and purpose in life.  Some are searching for a reason to keep living.  Preach the gospel.  People need Jesus.  Craft your sermons to include something for the saved AND the lost alike.  Talk about evangelism when you are out of the pulpit too.  Pray for it constantly.  Let your people hear your concern.  Have 'altars of prayer' where you encourage your people to gather at the front to pray, in unity, for souls to be saved.  Soon your passion will become infectious. 

2.  If you don't have a visitation program, start one.  In the course of your pastorate, surely you have come across men who share your passion for souls.  They may not know WHAT to do or HOW to do it, but they want to learn.  If nothing else, start asking one man to go with you on visitation.  All the while, talk about why it is so important and tell him to run "interference" for you if there are interruptions during the visit.  Pour your knowledge of evangelism into him.  Once you have trained him, the two of you can multiply yourselves into others by finding other men who desire to be involved but don't know what to do.  Before you know it, you are impacting lives both INSIDE and OUTSIDE your church.  You may not see many people come as a direct result of your visitation efforts, but God WILL bless and send other visitors because He rewards faithful obedience.

3.  Develop a "Visitor" or "Guest" packet with sufficient info about your church with a visitor card inside. Train your ushers to put the packet in the hands of every guest and ask them to fill out the info card and drop it in the offering plate when the offering is received.  All cards should be given to the pastor immediately following the service.  The pastor should send a "thank you" or "welcome" note, printed, signed, and mailed on Monday.  Then add those cards to the visitation list (unless they have indicated NOT to contact them.)

Another way to compile a 'visitation list' is to constantly appeal to your church for the names of Neighbors, Friends. and Love-ones (your NFL list) who do not attend church OR have drifted away from church.  Today it is much more difficult to get into a person's home without an appointment or invite - but if you say, "Your aunt wanted me to meet you and I just wanted to drop by and introduce myself.  Here's my card if I can serve you or your family in any way, call me.  Would you mind if I pray right now and ask God to bless you and your family?"  In those few moments, they have already made a decision about YOU and your church.

THEN, twice a year have a push to get those on your NFL list to a church service.  Once in October and once in the Spring (I always use Easter), we make an all out blitz to contact our NFLs and invite them to be our guests for a special service where the Gospel will be shared. Have a meal planned afterwards.  Go all out to put your best foot forward in this service -  Your best singing, your best preaching, meet-and-greet... do it big!  Prep your people for the logistics of parking, seating, handing out visitor packets, etc.  This is a great way to give your people a painless way to invite their friends.  It creates momentum AND restocks the card file for visitation.  If you do this correctly, you will find your average attendance rising significantly.

4.  Enroll people in a Sunday School class after their 2nd visit (unless they live out of town).  This will create another contact point within the church from someone other than the pastor.  People halfway expect pastoral contact when they visit a church.  But to be contacted and invited to a Sunday School campaign or activity by A LAYMAN might provide just enough to distinguish YOUR church from their experiences with other churches.

5.  Everything in your Sunday morning service should be geared toward leading people to make a commitment - whether they are lost and need Jesus, or saved and needing to take the steps of membership or service.  Be encouraging, engaging, and evangelistic.

6.  Get out in the community.  Look for ways to minister to people who do not attend your church.  A GREAT way of meeting people is by developing a relationship with the local funeral home(s) and tell them to call you if they have a client who doesn't have a church home.  Volunteer to preach funerals.  People will never forget you were there at a critical time in their lives!

Next time I want to talk about how to assimilate new people into the church family...