Reconnecting the Church with Millennials

Reconnecting the Church with Millennials

We’re hearing more bad news about how young America feels about organized church. Thom Rainer published this article about young church leaders; it also reveals the brokenness that exists between churches/denominations and a major portion of our adult population. While it’s sort of good news for church planters, it’s bad news for everyone for several reasons: The church is God’s plan to reach our culture. If the plan isn’t working, we’re in trouble. It reveals a lack of grace on the part of younger people. My friend Travis Johnson recently preached, “Flaws and all, the Church must be a central priority of our existence as Christians.” We can’t expect the church to be even close to perfect. The church has a lot of good to offer young adults but if we aren’t on speaking terms, nothing will be shared. We shouldn’t have to learn everything by personal experience. Elders have practical wisdom that is needed. Millennials have a lot to offer the church but if we’re not on speaking terms… And one of the biggest reasons this is bad news is – too much of what Millennials believe about the church is accurate. The church can be irrelevant. The church can care more about maintenance than mission. The church can be myopic. As a denominational leader, I can unfortunately respond: guilty as charged!

So, how do we repair the disconnect? I think that, if these breaches are going to be healed, the church has to do a few things; here are just a few:

We have to go to them. I am bothered by people who say/think, “Here we are, if they need us, let them come.” The title of this article reflects a strategy. The church must take the initiative to reach out. In case we haven’t noticed, no one is beating our church doors down to get in.

We have to be willing to talk. This can be intimidating because many 20 and 30 somethings are accustomed to critical thinking. They aren’t afraid to ask the tough questions. Sometimes their attitudes can be perceived as arrogant (and sometimes they are). But these open and honest conversations must take place. These talks are not lectures. They don’t happen during the preaching – they are over coffee. And they may not conclude with a neat little box with a ribbon on top. These talks can be messy, but they are necessary.

We have to be willing to change. Robert Quinn says, “People must surrender some of their previous attitudes, behaviors, positions, and comforts for their organization to advance.” An attitude we’ve heard in the church is, “This is our church, if they don’t like how we do things, they can just stay away.” I’ve heard this or similar attitudes from people who claim to know the exact way that church should be done and are unwilling to consider any adjustments. Without doubt, this is wrong. While the Spirit of Christ will never compromise on the Word of God, there is great flexibility on the part of God when it comes to reaching people. I do not believe that we should ever change the meaning of the Bible, but our methods of doing ministry must change. A church that refuses to change methods in order to connect with the next generation will soon be a former church.

We must do more than just include. My friend Mel Stackhouse recently tweeted, “There’s a big difference between being embraced, and being included; being welcomed vs belonging.” Millennials aren’t stupid; they know when they are being placated. We must care more about people than we do the compliance of the people. They must be valued and respected. We must embrace them; they must know that they belong. And young leaders want to lead! While wisdom and discretion is required for leaders, let’s not wait until someone is too old and tied to lead before we empower them to lead.

Most of all, we must be real. By real, I mean authentic. There is little tolerance for hypocrisy in today’s culture. Churches that preach what they live and live what they preach will find a following. Don’t be afraid to tackle tough topics and offer real-life hope.

I understand the fears of the boomers/leaders of the church. We fear losing something we love very much. If we do nothing about how Millennials feel about the church, that loss is certain.


Smart Things that Churches Should Do

Smart Things that Churches Should Do

Church is not a building or an institution. Church is people. Because church is people, we have the choice to either do smart things or dumb things. If we do smart things, more people can be led to Christ. Leading people to Christ is a simple way of describing why the church exists.

Here are a few smart things that churches can do that will lead more people to Christ:

Be intentionally multigenerational
Youth are not the church of tomorrow; they are part of the church today. We must provide the resources necessary to reach them now. Quality leaders, authentic compassion and giving them a voice in the ministry process will result in young people who connect with the church. Smart churches know this; they don’t just talk about it, they do it. They invest in young people. But they also respect older people. Those who have paid the price to help get us where we are now need to know that they are treasured. Smart churches value people even if they appear to no longer be on the cutting edge. Smart churches value all generations.

Stay out of ruts
Doing something simply because that’s the ways it’s always been done is the fast track to extinction. Hold to traditions and creeds but do so with purpose. Smart churches change in the right way at the right time for the right reasons.

Stay off of bandwagons
We always have something to learn from others who are succeeding but trendiness and fads can spoil ministry. It appears that God blesses different methods at different times but He doesn’t run out of ideas. Imagination and creativity are spiritual gifts. Smart churches don’t spend a lot of time and energy trying to be another church. Be original, innovative, fresh.

Be real
Speak the language of the people. Do everything with authenticity. Operate with impeccable integrity. Own up to mistakes. Repent often. Be transparent. Smart churches are not manipulative or condescending or disrespectful of people.

Perfect grace
Make room at the table for sinners. Don’t demand perfection. Practice forgiveness and model second chances. Smart churches know that the ground at the foot of the cross is level.

Reach as many people as possible
It’s OK to have a “target market” based on demographics. But smart churches don’t eliminate people because they don’t fit the niche. Specialty churches eliminate people who are different. Jesus doesn’t eliminate these people – neither should we.

Act outside of the local church
Embrace other ministries. Do life in the neighborhood. Minister with a global mindset. Be sure to connect with people outside of your immediate circle. It’s a big world and God is doing amazing things. Smart churches don’t want to miss that!

Promote justice
Don’t tolerate the mistreatment of the innocent. Stand up for victims. Speak out on behalf of the marginalized. Smart churches act as part of the solution to society’s ills.

Release people into ministry
We should encourage people to practice their spiritual gifts. Empower people. Entrust people with responsibility. Smart churches understand that every person and gift is necessary for a fully functioning church.

Be comfortable with not pleasing everyone
Smart churches know that they are not for everyone. Let people disagree and let some leave, if necessary. Pursue those God has called you to reach.

Insist that people dream
Life beats the hope out of people. Smart churches spend a lot of energy building up people. Encourage them to dream again, to chase the vision that God put in them. “Remember who you wanted to be.”

Know what we’re supposed to do and do it well
What is the end goal of church? Jesus summarized our job description in Matthew 28 by telling us to make disciples; we help people by showing them how to be authentic followers of Jesus. That’s it. If we’re smart, we’ll focus all of our attention on that task.

Smart churches do smart things and lots of people come to Christ. You and I are the church. Let’s do smart things.


The 5 Hardest Things I’ve Done as a Pastor

The 5 Hardest Things I've Done as a Pastor

When you are a pastor, you have a lot of really great days. But you also have your share of bad ones. These are the times when your responsibilities force you into spots that you’d rather not be in. In thinking back over the last 25 plus years, I have mostly good memories, but some difficult times stand out.

Warning: the list below may not be what you’re expecting and it may be difficult to read.

The 5 Hardest Things I’ve Done as a Pastor:

Watch a child die. While we’ve had that unfortunate experience a few times, the day a little boy hemorrhaged to death while his mother held him in her arms is burned into my memory.
Inform two children their father had died. This is a conversation that no one wants to have. I still recall their response.
Identify the bodies of a father and his four-year-old daughter who died in a fire. The sight and smell created lasting trauma for me.
Watch a young leader and friend die a slow and excruciating death. I still argue with God about that one.
Preach the funeral of a 17 year-old suicide victim. There is no adequate way to prepare for that.

No, these events were not about me. But I was there. This is not an effort to garner sympathy. Of course, I did not hurt as much as the family members of these people hurt, but I did hurt.

Notice something about all of the above events – they all involved death. They did not involve a church fight or an argument over money or even a moral failure. Here is the purpose of this article: Sometimes the things that we think are serious are not. The things that really matter involve life and death and eternity.

I hope that the Church can begin to focus more on issues of eternity.


5 Ways Pastors Frustrate Church Members

5 Ways Pastors Frustrate Church Members

My last post, “5 Ways to Discourage Your Pastor” generated a good amount of interest. In keeping with that theme and in an effort to look at the other side of the issue, we are publishing this quick look at things pastors do that church members dislike. This is not a comprehensive list. It is not an attack on pastors. In fact, this list comes from my personal experience. The goal is to encourage both pastors and church members in ways that they can be more supportive of one another. The goal is unity in the church.

Here we go:

Don’t prepare for message. Pastors who “wing it” aren’t fooling anyone. Modern worshipers are savvy. They know when we have not given 100% in preparing for the message. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been preaching for 25 years; the church, and more importantly, the Lord deserves your very best. Pray, study, get ready! Preaching is a huge responsibility and it should be approached with utmost sincerity and preparation.

Preaching to those not in attendance. It is tempting to pour out frustration while preaching and many times it can be directed toward people who are not in the worship service. Here’s the thing: if the topic you are addressing only addresses the people who are not there, those who ARE there may regret their decision! Don’t preach your frustrations and do preach to those who are there.

Doing everything themselves. Some pastors are control freaks, some are insecure and some simply have not learned how to delegate. But many church members get frustrated when they see their pastor be the “jack-of-all-trades” at church. God has gifted every member of the body to contribute something of significance. Let’s let them.

Being unapproachable.
While it is not practical or even safe for all pastors to be available to members before and after worship services, no one likes to see a pastor whisked away after service like a celebrity. Pastors, make yourself available on some level. Remember that we are shepherds and we should know the sheep.

Make big changes, then leave. Name changes, vision/direction changes, building projects, incurring debt, hiring or firing staff…all of these big issues should be followed with an increased tenure on the part of the pastor. Don’t make someone else pay the price for your decisions. If possible, stick around and see the thing through.

To our former church members: I am sorry for the times I failed, and thank you for your patience.
To pastors: Do yourself and your church members a favor and assess this list. If no adjustments are needed, that’s awesome! If you need to tweak a few things, let me encourage you to do so.

By the way, this is round one. Another list of 5 is coming soon!

God bless you!

Photo by Jenny Kaczorowski


5 Ways to Discourage Your Pastor

5 Ways to Discourage Your Pastor

As a pastor of a local church for over twenty-five years, I had my share of buildups and letdowns. Sometimes I recall the discouraging times more. I know that I was not supposed to get down because of people and circumstances, but it happens. I also know that the people who discouraged me did not always mean to do so. But it happened.

The purpose of this post is to let you in on a few things to avoid (unless you want to discourage your pastor). If you are bent on discouraging him or her, here are 5 surefire ways of doing so:

1. Be a no show at Sunday service. Vacation, kid’s sports, sleeping in … pretty much any excuse for not going to church serves as a way to frustrate a pastor. Of course, there are legitimate reasons for missing church. But the general lack of commitment to the church by members is a major source of discouragement for most pastors. Here is why: non attendance is a statement that whatever we chose over church is simply more important to us at that time; that is discouraging to a pastor, and understandably so.

2. Don’t support the church financially. Statistics show that an overwhelming majority of church attenders give little (or nothing) to the church. Although they are limited in what they can say on this topic, pastors get upset about this for a few reasons. There are spiritual implications and consequences. Lack of generosity indicates a lack of gratitude to God. Lack of giving limits the blessings that God will provide for individuals and churches. It’s no wonder why Pastors get discouraged about this issue.

3. Don’t grow as a disciple of Christ. Good pastors will want to measure the progress of the church members. We preach, teach, pray and counsel with the goal of spiritual maturity for the people. While we see with physical eyes and spiritual growth is difficult to measure, it is frustrating to perceive people as stagnant and stuck in their relationship with Christ. It’s sometimes enough to make a pastor want to quit.

4. Fight progress and growth; refuse to accept change in the church; don’t welcome new people into the church. I once had a church member say to me of our church, “the smaller, the better.” Spiritual leaders take people on a journey. They are assigned by God to move people toward God. They discover where the church is and where God wants to take it. There is no such thing as a leader who remains motionless. When God places a vision for growth in the heart of a leader, it can be devastating if people refuse to go. Certainly, there are many conditions that are required which pastors must observe. They must earn the trust of the people and be able to discern the direction of the Spirit. But once this is realized, the refusal of participation by church members is one of the greatest sources of frustration that a pastor can experience.

5. Leave the church. Although many people approach church as consumers and change every time something happens that they don’t like, pastors hope for more dedication. When someone leaves the church, it hurts personally. It is rejection. Pastors suffer when people leave.

The list could go on…

Most people don’t want to hurt their pastor; I hope you don’t. But please don’t overlook the possibility that you may be doing so inadvertently.

Grace and peace to you!


Resolutions that Actually Work

2014

Most people don’t stick with their New Year resolutions. Many people no longer bother making them. A few of the reasons that they’re not as effective as we would like are:
They can be emotions based and therefore difficult to sustain long term.
We lack the necessary tools needed for follow through.
We get discouraged when met with resistance.
The New Year isn’t new for long – a week or two in and it’s “business as usual.”

So this year, I’m going with a better plan:
100 Days Resolution.
100 days from January 1 is April 10. I plan to do a few new things for the first 100 days of 2014. I figure they will be solidly embedded into my life by then. Because the resolutions are made for 100 days, I am careful not to overcommit or set some grandiose or unattainable goals. I think this will work!

A few things I am committing to for the first 100 days of 2014:
Take better care of myself physically. I’ve been too hit and miss recently. There will be changes for the first 3 months of 2014.
Read the Bible through with an emphasis on digging deeper. I’ve read cover to cover for many years but, admittedly, there have been times when it has become a project. Not next year. Until at least April, I will slow down and absorb.
Have more fun. I am scheduling in more days off. We have a nice vacation planned in February. I enjoy working a lot of hours but all work and no play makes me dull. The first quarter of next year, I’m playing more.

How about you? Going to make a list of resolutions? I suggest you set a timeframe of 100 days. If April 10 comes and you’re still going strong, the rest of the year will be a no brainer!


Is Peace on Earth Possible?

manger-to-the-cross

John 20 recounts the resurrection of Christ after He had been crucified. He appears to His disciples on three different occasions. Each time, He greets them with the same phrase: “Peace be with you!” (John 20:19, 21, 26) I believe the reason for this is that they were very troubled by the events of the past few days. Their friend and leader had been killed; they were in hiding, afraid the same may happen to them. Jesus calmed them with His presence and His promise of peace.

I can’t think of a more appropriate greeting for today. If we’ve ever needed peace on earth, we need it now.

A significant statement is made when the angels appeared to the shepherds, announcing the birth of Messiah: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2:14) This is the message of Christmas – peace on earth.

The purpose of the coming of Jesus is to bring peace, to make a settlement between God and humankind. Clearly, those who are odds with Christ will not enjoy His peace. In fact, He once said, “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.” (Luke 12:51) He was speaking of the necessity of choosing Him. Jesus is what separates good from evil, peace from war.

So the only way to have peace is to know Jesus; not just as a newborn baby, but as the resurrected Lord and King. You’ve seen the bumper sticker: No Jesus, No Peace. Know Jesus, Know Peace.

“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:7

Peace be upon the earth, peace be upon you.

Photo: phillipgreene.wordpress.com


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