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...