Why Won’t They Come to Our Church?

design-38We visit lots of churches. Part of my ministry responsibility is to be on site at a different church every week, sometimes multiple churches. I have yet to visit one church that has enough people attending. In most churches, there is a desire to reach more people, invite new people to engage, and increase in the number of people being influenced and impacted.

Why won’t more people come to churches like these?

We are not in control of who attends church services. We can’t make, nor would we want to make someone come against their will. But we certainly try to make the place inviting. We prepare our buildings, we plan services and events with guests in mind. We pray and ask God to make our church compelling to others. But the truth is, it is a rare occurrence when a guest comes, stays, and engages in the life of the church.

Some will respond to this query by saying that we are not called by God to grow churches. This is absolutely true. However, God utilizes the church to help make disciples. Growing a church is a very important part of fulfilling the Great Commission to make disciples of all people (Matthew 28:19-20).

Think about this:

Many churches are simply ill equipped to handle new people. Parking is a problem. There is little room in the church for people to sit comfortably. Restroom space is inadequate. While these things may not bother regular attenders, they absolutely bother guests.

Other churches have no nursery facilities or their children’s areas are old and in poor condition. Teen rooms that share space with the furnace are, believe it or not, a bad idea. These types of building issues will repel new attenders.

Sometimes we have rituals, use language and behave in ways that make no sense to anyone but us. While there is nothing wrong with these practices, per se, an explanation to new comers may be helpful. We sometimes forget that what we have been doing our entire lives may be new to people who didn’t grow up like we did.

A little more sensitive, but just as prevalent are attitudes and mindsets that will hinder the addition of new people in our churches. Mono-cultural churches (churches made up of one people group, nationality or skin color) will have a difficult time reaching people from other cultures. Whether or not we are aware of it, we develop habits and style that are not inclusive. Music, clothing styles, even methods of worship are many times, culture specific. If we are unaware of, or unwilling to address the need for adaptation, we will reach very few people who are different from us. If we are not equipped to minister to people different from us, God probably won’t send them. But if we get ourselves ready, God will send them.

Many years ago, I had an older family member say to me, “we just don’t have many colored people attending our church.” She said this innocently. But the statement revealed the reason for their dilemma.

Some folks wonder why their church is not multicultural and/or multi-generational. If it’s: 1) “those people”, 2) “we want a few, not too many”, or, 3) “as long as we don’t have to change anything”, you can stop your wondering. God probably won’t send them. These attitudes reflect a philosophy that lets others know, they are not welcome in your church.

Why would God send people He loves to a church that doesn’t love them, or is ill prepared to minister to them, or won’t make adjustments in order to welcome them? He’ll more than likely send them to a church that will warmly and sincerely adopt them into the family.

One final consideration: getting people to attend church who do not like church is a real trick. Think about it. We are trying to talk them into doing things they have no interest in doing. We preach repentance. We teach contrition. Sacrifice, service, giving money, becoming accountable to others, being responsible for others… are not very compelling to people who are enjoying their sinful lifestyle. So let’s not beat ourselves up if “sinners” don’t line up at the door. There are lots of Christians that prefer to stay away for much the same reason – they prefer life independent from their faith family.

Let’s keep in mind that the Church belongs to Christ. He died for the church. While we love our church and are fiercely loyal to our church, we do not own the church. If we try to control who attends, whether in a positive or negative way, we will give an account to God.

While our church is not for everyone (meaning some fit in better in other atmospheres), everyone must be welcome.

If we really want new people to come, we may need to consider:

  • Adjusting methods without compromising the Message.
  • Sacrificing our preferences for something that may be more effective in reaching new people.
  • Making sure our facilities, programs, ministries and events scream, “we want you here!” to new attenders.
  • Being strategic and intentional in making our churches welcoming to people different from us.
  • Being personally engaged in inviting and accompanying new people to the church.
  • Engaging new people in helping to make your church more welcoming to more new people.
  • Celebrating big time when new people actually attend!

I hope we can be more purposeful and strategic in winning more people to our churches, but more importantly, to the Lord.

We Have Met the Enemy, and He is Us!

design-34Cartoonist, Walt Kelly said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” I am concerned that this has, in too many instances, become the case for some of us. 

Racially, economically, politically, generationally, and stylistically, we are fighting amongst ourselves. Friendly fire, weapon fire coming from one’s own side, is the worst. You expect to get shot at, but not by the folks wearing the same uniform as you.

It appears to me that, at times, the church has been influenced by the culture in this regard. Rather than being the peacemakers our world so desperately needs us to be (and we are called by Christ to be), a few have, I believe inadvertently, taken on the identity of brawlers, combatants, and pugilists. Without exaggeration, I don’t recall a time when Believers, church members, pastors and even ministerial colleagues have been so deeply engaged in battle with one another. I realize that only a minority of people is involved, but it sure feels major when so much of our wars are carried out in public view. Of course, there is so much more good than bad taking place, but the good doesn’t get the press like the bad.

I don’t like to argue or debate. Conflict is no fun for me. I have friends who enjoy these things. They sometimes want to argue with me about it (LOL). But this seems deeper.

 We all agree that there are times that conflict must be embraced. A few things are worth fighting over. But much of the result of the fighting I’m witnessing isn’t positive; it’s devastating. Families, friends, churches and, perhaps denominations are splitting. If we are detaching over non-negotiables, though painful, we understand. When serious Biblical or theological schisms happen, lines must be drawn. But I don’t see the redemptive value of the disagreements when the disagreements are over negotiable things, yet they end with relational ruptures. Sometimes, situations require that we divide, but more times than not, they don’t.

I hope that we can get a respite from the verbal and relational and social media jousting. It is wearying to continually navigate contention.  And until we stop, we are focused on the wrong enemy.

We have one enemy – the devil. Together, let’s fight him. Until he is defeated, we shouldn’t have enough time to fight each other. Let’s not become our own worst enemies.

When Preachers Want to Quit Preaching

design-33The Gospel is like “A Fire Shut Up in My Bones!” Through the years, countless preachers, including me, excitedly made this proclamation! There are few preachers of any experience who have not quoted or referred to Jeremiah’s pronouncement in chapter 20 and the inability to keep the Word of God quiet. Jeremiah describes it as a “fire shut up in his bones.” Although he had considered trying, he simply could not keep it in; the Message had to come out! It’s an exciting passage to recite, and it usually elicits a warm response from listeners.

But I wonder how many preachers recall the setting of this “exciting” proclamation. Jeremiah had been prophesying (preaching) for years, with little or no positive response. The people didn’t like his prophecies and preferred the prophecies that declared favorable, positive things. He was rejected, ridiculed and denigrated. Years of preaching with no positive response! The people had enough. Finally, Jeremiah was arrested, was beaten and locked up in stocks in prison. He was paying a heavy price for preaching a non-compromised Truth.

Jeremiah was in pain; he was suffering physically, emotionally and spiritually. He was hurt, frightened and disappointed. He opens chapter 20, verse 7 by expressing his frustration with God about how he has been treated. He feels betrayed. Jeremiah 20:7-8 says, “You deceived me, Lord, and I was deceived; you overpowered me and prevailed. I am ridiculed all day long; everyone mocks me. Whenever I speak, I cry out proclaiming violence and destruction. So the word of the Lord has brought me insult and reproach all day long.” These are the words of a damaged individual. Before any of us accuse him of having a pity party, put yourself in his place.

Jeremiah is so hurt, he contemplates resigning as the local prophet. He’s thinking about quitting! Some reading this article are contemplating the same things. The details of your situation are different, but you can identify with Jeremiah’s raw feelings. While you might not dare say the things that Jeremiah said, you have thought them.

After a moment of exploring giving up his ministry, Jeremiah comes back to his senses. There, still in pain and in jail, still suffering and confused, he recalls the power of the Word of God which is within him. He’s still being laughed at, his enemies are still threatening him. He has no reason to believe that he will live through the night. But he simply has no choice but to keep preaching, regardless of his situation or his feelings. If he stops preaching, the fire of the Truth will burn him up from the inside out!

This is the setting of this famous affirmation of the call to preach. It’s not an exciting worship service, it’s not a Campmeeting or revival service. It was the lowest of low pits. At the worst possible moment for Jeremiah, his call to prophecy is confirmed. The call to preach is not about comfort, not about a favorable setting, or even about reception by others. The call to preach is an irrevocable commission to speak the Word of God, regardless of the consequences.

I wonder if any of us, in a similar situation, would end up in such a beautiful and poetic place. If God had allowed me to suffer in such extreme ways, would I be capable of confessing my inability to stop preaching?

I think the next time I am tempted to throw out Jeremiah’s proclamation (maybe looking for an emotional response from the church), perhaps I will weigh out the full context and intent of the statement. It is too powerful and meaningful to be used in a trite way.

And the next time I am contemplating giving up, I will recall what my Brother Jeremiah experienced and how he came to his resolution.

I encourage you to do the same.

Middle-Aged, “Unsuccessful” Pastors

design-32Somewhere around the halfway point in many pastors’ careers, they come to the realization that the dreams and aspirations they envisioned for their ministry will, in all likelihood, not become a reality. Perhaps they aimed too high. Maybe they thought too highly of their gifts and talents. Ambition can be a good thing or a bad thing. But it can be painful to come to the awareness that the vision that you worked on for years won’t materialize.

It’s at this point in ministry that people must make a decision. There are a few options. One can keep dreaming, pressing and working toward the original dream. We can become discouraged and quit the ministry. We can act outwardly like the fire is still burning, but on the inside we are shriveling up and dying.

Depending upon how big the vision, sticking with it can be a good and admirable thing. We can’t be quitters if we hope to succeed. But if you thought you would pastor a megachurch, and at age 50, you pastor a church of 25, perhaps the dream is not realistic or attainable. Of course, with God, all things are possible, but I am writing in general terms.

Quitting altogether is not an option, unless one never belonged in the ministry in the first place. This is a possibility, but I would advise in-depth consultation and counseling before coming to such a conclusion. The more common response to this experience is, middle-aged pastors keep on going, and no one knows that they are struggling. But deep down inside, they’re miserable.

One of the saddest seasons of a minister’s life is when they have lost their ability to reach their goals but they refuse to acknowledge it. Many feel as though they must stuff their feelings and keep grinding. Some would gladly quit if they could, but they have no other viable employment options. Still others fear being perceived as a failure. There are many ministers who are caught in this painful trap. I am of the opinion that many middle age pastors are going through the motions, with no real expectation of fulfilling a God-given vision.

Enough of the problem; are there solutions?

I believe that we can survive the disappointment of unrealized goals if we will:

Adjust passions: refocus your attention on what God called you to do. He doesn’t want you to live in a constant state of frustration and discouragement. Graciously let go of the unrealistic plans you made, and pay attention to the plans that God has for you.

Emphasize quality over quantity. Too many of us still measure success by numbers: attendance and giving. We are not called to build big churches; we are called to make disciples. If you are leading unbelievers to become solid, mature Christ followers, you are succeeding!

Share your reality with your spouse, a trusted colleague or a counselor. Pent up frustration and disappointment will eat away at a leader until is destroys them.

Humble yourself before God. Don’t be humiliated; that is the result of pride and insecurity. But God knows us; He promises that He will gladly lift us up if we’re humble before Him. (James 4:10)

Know that, if you are faithful, God is pleased with you. Let’s drop the “performance = acceptance” lie. When we stand before Him, He won’t say, “well done, good and productive servant…” He measures success according to our faithfulness.

Pastor, hang in there. Even if you feel like a failure, God knows better. If you’re still in the game, you are succeeding.

And finally, let’s pray for our pastor-friends. None of them/us are perfect. We all need an extra measure of grace. And the work we do affects eternity.

An Apology for Racism

design-31I feel the responsibility to repent and apologize for racism. Not everyone is a racist. Some who are accused of being a racist are not; some who deny it, are. Few people admit to being racist.

Regardless, there is a lot of racism on display in our world today. I have seldom been a victim but I have, without doubt, been a perpetrator. For those times, I am sincerely sorry. Due to insensitivity, a lack of exposure, and plain ignorance, it is easy to be unfair to others. Sometimes emotional pain, unforgiveness and bittnerness results in hatred for other people. My sincere desire is to treat everyone with respect and honor. When I fail in this area, I need God to help me.

But I am also sorry that some people openly practice racism with no sense of guilt. I am convinced that some of them don’t think their words and activities are racist. But they appear to take delight in hurting innocent people with their brazen prejudice. While they may never apologize to those they’ve hurt, perhaps it will help a victim if someone else does.

So, for those of you who have been called names, for those who have been treated unfairly because of your race, if you’ve ever been overlooked, ignored, ridiculed or marginalized because of the color of your skin, I am truly sorry. You are my family and friends. If you’ve been hurt, we’ve all been hurt. While you have taken the brunt of the pain and feel it more deeply than I, everyone is suffering the effects of racism. It’s terrible, and we should all be sorry that it happens. We should all repent and apologize for the sin of racism (unless we have never been guilty). And we should all work to try to end racism.

As a Christian who is expected to love everyone, I have a calling. As a leader who is responsible to influence others, I have a responsibility. As a white man, I have an opportunity. As a human being, I have an obligation. As a minister of the Gospel and a representative of God’s Kingdom on earth, I will give an account to Him.

Let’s end racism.

Perhaps this apology doesn’t help but it is worth a try. Someone must do something to try to bring healing to the races.

God help us.

What am I against?

design-28Someone asked me, “What are you against?”

I’m for love, justice and freedom. I’m pro life, racial equality and equal rights for all. I support helping the poor, feeding the hungry and welcoming the stranger. I’m in favor of ministering to widows, orphans and the elderly. I’ll defend victims, include the marginalized and serve those in need. I’m a fan of mercy, grace and peace.

I honor my wife, treasure my family and am loyal to my friends.

Most of all, I stand with the Bible, Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God.

Now, what was the original question?

When we’re busy being “for” the right things, there won’t be much time to worry about what we are “against.”

But for the record, I am against anything that is against the list above.

Shepherds: the Sheep are Watching

design-26While it should be intuitive, I think it needs to be said: people follow their leaders. Leaders influence and impact. Those who lead others must understand their responsibility. Those we lead watch our behaviors. They listen to us talk. Whether intentional or not, followers pick up traits and characteristics from their leaders.

But some of the influence wielded by leaders morphs into, perhaps, unanticipated results. It may be assumed that a happy leader produces happy followers, but it’s not that simple.

At the risk of over simplification and generalizations, I think…

Angry shepherds lead wounded sheep.
Critical shepherds lead insecure sheep.
Disconnected shepherds lead wandering sheep.
Shallow shepherds lead vulnerable sheep.
Arrogant shepherds lead cynical sheep.
Manipulating shepherds lead confused sheep.
Selfish shepherds lead hungry sheep.
Doting shepherds lead entitled sheep.
Cowardly shepherds lead endangered sheep.                                                                                                                                            Rebel leaders lead rebellious sheep.

And

Compassionate shepherds lead recovering sheep.
Gracious shepherds lead transparent sheep.
Patient shepherds lead confident sheep.
Courageous shepherds lead secure sheep.
Consistent shepherds lead stable sheep.
Kind shepherds lead trusting sheep.
Nurturing shepherds lead healthy sheep.
Engaging shepherds lead connected sheep.
Serving shepherds lead committed sheep.                                                                                                                   Empowering shepherds lead growing sheep.

Of course, these are not written in stone, but you get the concept.

Leaders carry the heavy load of being influencers. If you are a leader, lead well. The wellbeing of the people you lead is dependent upon you.

Shepherds: the Sheep are Watching.

Let’s Wear Out Our Church Buildings!

design-25Years ago, I wrote an article about how to keep the church spotless and looking brand-new: simply don’t use it! Never walk on the carpet. Don’t use the restrooms. Keep kids out of the nursery… you get the idea. It will stay brand new; but we would be missing the entire point of having church property.

I was talking to some pastors recently about the flack they’ve received from church members when they made changes to the church building or furniture. Horror stories abound among those of us who’ve been in ministry for a while. Churches have blown up (figuratively) because someone moved an altar or traded pews for chairs or painted a wall (or covered the lovely hand-painted mural in the baptistery!).

My thoughts today are headed this way: I would love to see all of us absolutely wear out the carpet in our sanctuaries! I hope that we see our pews or chairs fall apart. We should get great joy when we see little hand prints on the hall walls. I have no problem with glass doors with tons of fingerprints on them.

All of these things are telltale signs that the building is being used. People are coming together, fellowshipping together and experiencing life change. Isn’t that the point of our buildings in the first place?

Please understand, I am not condoning dirty buildings. In fact, dirty smelly church properties should be a bane for all of us. What I am referring to is: heavy usage! We should expect furniture to wear out. But once furniture or floors show wear, replace it or clean it. The purpose of carpet is not to make it last, the purpose of carpet is to make the building more conducive to worship and ministry.

Getting new carpet? Pray that so many people walk and worship on it that it must be replaced soon. Painting the walls in the Children’s Ministry Center? Work to bring in so many kids that it needs to be painted once a year. Let’s start wanting our buildings to show signs of wear – so we must maintain it often.

Note: I am not suggesting we allow people to destroy the property – that is ridiculous. I am suggesting that a church that is busy ministering to people will need to maintain more than a church that no one attends.

Let’s stop trying to make the furnishings last forever. Furnishings are not sacred; ministry is.

Let me conclude with a cool little proverb: “Without oxen a stable stays clean, but you need a strong ox for a large harvest.” (Proverbs 14:4 NLT) In essence, if you want a clean church, don’t use it. Empty churches stay new (but they sure smell stale!) But a well-used church will produce an even more used church!

Let’s wear out our church buildings!

Bowls of Prayer

65185704_10157380289694214_6884856528520609792_nPsalms 141:2 says, “May my prayer be set before you like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice.”

The Bible speaks of “bowls of prayer” that are in front of the golden altar of God in heaven (Revelation 5:8 and 8:4). It says that these are the prayers of the saints, those Christians who have prayed to God throughout the generations.

Apparently, when we pray, the prayers stay before God, even after we have stopped praying. Even after we have died. Think about that!

Every prayer ever prayed is saved by God.

God is still hearing and answering prayers that were prayed thousands of years ago.

Once a prayer is offered, nothing can remove that prayer from God’s altar.

If your grandmother prayed for you 20 years ago, her prayer is still working.

When we pray for people, our prayers will last.

We are all benefiting from the prayers that people prayed on our behalf.

Our ancestors whom we’ve never met prayed for future generations that they never met, their prodigy – that’s you and me! We are riding on those prayers, still today. Any good thing that is accomplished by us is happening because someone prayed for us.

Let’s be sure to invest in the future by praying today. Prayer is the most powerful resource we have!

There’s No Hurt Like Team Hurt

design-24This post is directed toward ministry leaders.

I’ve adapted the current phrase, “there’s no hurt like church hurt.” We’ve all come to understand that there is no avoiding pain in ministry. While some heartache can be dodged through good decision making, leaders are never exempt from hurt. Samuel Chand addresses this eloquently in his book, “Leadership Pain.” I highly recommend this resource.

But I want to address the type of pain that ends some ministries and cripples countless others. When a close associate, an “inner circle” team member or a trusted staff member betrays a leader, the cut is deep.

You’ve heard about or experienced the scenario: a longtime staff member splits the church and starts a new one down the street. An apparently loyal colleague tries to destroy you behind your back. Someone you were sure you could count on quits unexpectedly in a crucial time. It all hurts, deeper than many other things.

Of course, Jesus had His Judas. But Jesus knew who His betrayer was before Judas himself knew. We are not omniscient; we get shocked by this kind of betrayal. And for the record, none of us have been sold to our executioners.

Here is the danger: when you get hurt in this manner, your first inclination is to prevent, at all costs, a repeat event. I know guys who absolutely refuse to lead a staff. While we must learn from our mistakes and while discernment grows with painful experiences, we must prevent adjusting our leadership approach in an effort to prevent all future pain.

If you’ve been hurt deeply, just a little advice:
Don’t harden your heart.
Don’t stop trusting people.
Don’t stop risking.
I’ve been guilty of all of the above and it didn’t turn out well.

Now, you’re not a punching bag, and there is no glory in considering yourself as a leader/martyr. But it is absolutely necessary for us to remain tender hearted. If we ever stop hurting, we’re in deep trouble.

Keep hiring staff. Keep building your team. Keep letting people get close to you. You will be let down and you’ll get hurt. But the pain of this kind of hurting is nothing compared to the hurt of refusing to ever trust again.

I hope this helps someone. It helped me to write it.

What Story Do You Tell About Church?

design-21Anyone who has ever been a part of a church has a story to tell and the story we tell tells a lot about us.

Some tell stories of grace and support and growth.

Some tell stories of boredom and disconnect and departure.

Others tell stories of insult and offense and hurt.

The stories we tell are a narrative of our experiences. When we publicly share the events of our church history, we give a glimpse into our spirits. If our stories are sweet, it’s a clear indication that we had a good history in church and we are presently in a good spiritual place because of it. When our stories are bitter, our past has not been good, and our current spiritual condition is suffering as a result.

But anyone who has been part of a church has had both bad and good experiences in church. Upon which do we focus?

If your story features a crooked preacher, a lying leader, a gossiping deacon, or a corrupt Elder, you focus on the bad. In fact, through our stories, some of us reveal that we are deeply hurt, bitter and wounded. This is tragic. If your story features supportive leaders, honorable pastors, godly deacons and compassionate members, you focus on the good.

But interestingly, some who have been exposed to the same experiences tell different stories. Some who tell good stories have been brutally hurt in the church.

What’s the difference? While it is not good to compare ourselves to others, some choose to heal while others choose to remain hurt. And you can hear it in our stories.

You don’t necessarily choose your stories (some things happen to you) but you definitely choose the stories you tell.

If your stories reveal that you have been hurt – and we have all been hurt – find healing and the ability to forgive and move forward. Then your story will reveal a spirit that is whole.

What story do you tell about your church? It’s really more a story about your heart.

5 Things Ministry Leaders Should Expect From and Provide for One Another

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  1. Assume the best. Don’t assume that another leader is corrupt or disingenuous. Expect and assume the best for one another. Let’s not become cynical about our colleagues.
  2. Give the benefit of the doubt. Don’t be quick to believe everything that is said about someone else in leadership. If they are accused, wait before judging, and assume the accusation is false.
  3. Innocent until proven guilty. Be slow with your judgments and even slower with your condemnation of other leaders. If solid evidence of wrongdoing is presented, gently engage in Biblical discipline. But if not, absolve the accused.
  4. “I got your back.” Stick up for one another. Your turn for being attacked will come soon enough; you’ll be grateful for the support.
  5. Treat with honor. Respect other leaders, practice mutual deference. Don’t think, feel or act negatively about them. Never speak disparagingly of other leaders. Practice mutual honor.

In a day when leaders are highly mistrusted and eagerly destroyed by an antagonistic culture, we must stick together, fight for one another and watch out for the good of our co-laborers.

Pastor: Smile!

IMG_5316The world is full of negativity. People are swamped with pessimism. Doubt, fear and pain paint the world in a pale shade of gray. People need some bright colors of Good News.

My wife and I recently visited a brief church meeting. The entire team of leaders was full of joy. They cheered one another on. They smiled and gave high fives. The atmosphere was electric with joy and expectation. What a wonderful ministry climate! Immediately, I found myself drawn into their joy. But I also realized how rarely I have been a part of an atmosphere such as that.

If we hope to reach our communities, churches must create a sense of hope and optimism. (Actually, God has already created that atmosphere; all we have to do is tap into it.) If we expect to attract unchurched people with a frown, we should think again.

It may sound elementary, but pastors must be positive. Let me give you a few easy ideas:

Smile when you see people. Make eye contact and be genuinely glad to say hello.

Smile when you talk, sing and worship. Looking as though you are in anguish is not necessarily godly, and it may send the wrong message to others.

Smile when you preach. Unless the topic of your sermon is sad or painful, a smiling face creates an atmosphere of well being and confidence.

If you raise your voice when you preach, be sure not to yell at people. You can be enthusiastic without appearing angry. Few emotionally healthy people are interested in being screamed at.

Ask your leaders to smile. Greeters, ushers, worship leaders, and children’s workers should be happy.

Consider a pre-service meeting to set the atmosphere of joy and happiness. You will find it is contagious – the atmosphere will be transformed.

Admittedly, leading a church is an arduous task. There are times that the burdens are heavy. It is easy and perhaps natural for us to become so serious in our efforts that we appear to be stressed and distressed. But a smile communicates inner peace and joy. Jesus brings us true joy and He wants us to share it with others. Marcus Aurelius said, “The mind reveals itself in the face.” What does your face say about what’s going on in your mind?

We may need to retrain ourselves and others. Old habits (frowning) are hard to break. But let’s encourage the people at our churches to take advantage of the nonverbal and body language signals we send to others.

So, here is a lovely Bible verse that communicates my hope for you: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:14

Let’s overflow with hope and joy, and observe the positive impact it has!

Counting Attendance Can Kill You

design-17It’s Resurrection Week and church leaders all over the world are headlong into a massive ministry week. Most dream of capacity crowds and are focused on either filling their buildings or a specific numerical goal. While this is reasonable and usually honorable, the focus on “counting” can become deadly.

Allow me to explain.

God cares about numbers, so much so that He wrote an entire Book in the Bible called “Numbers”! But there are serious considerations in the Bible when leaders focus on numbers – when they should be focusing on obedience.

King David counted his military troops in I Samuel 24. This wasn’t the first time the troops had been counted, but this time was different. God was angry with Israel and some versions of the Bible says He incited David to count the men. F. LaGard Smith says that the problem may have been with David’s motivation for counting. “Selfish ambition for aggressive expansionism” is a possibility. Regardless of the motivation, God was not pleased and Israel paid a heavy price.

Listen, God is not against us counting our influence and impact. We are expected to know how many people attend our services and it is an important part of fulfilling our Mission. But God is against us trying to make a name for ourselves, competing with other ministries, manipulating God’s work to advance our reputation, or simply trying to make ourselves look good.

Thankfully, we are now under grace and God rarely acts in such harsh ways (at least perceived as harsh) when He punishes us. But this makes us wonder if we are being punished nonetheless.

This Easter, let’s keep track of numbers for the right reasons. We want to make progress; we must bear fruit. But let’s not fall prey to trying to impress anyone – except God.

Blessed Easter!

6 Reasons Why Easter is So Hard for Pastors

(and what we can do about it)

design-16I’ve never been fond of the references to Easter as the “Super Bowl of the Church”, but it has some validity. Most ministries are very active during Holy Week as they build up to a Resurrection Sunday Celebration. Excitement is high and we all hope for a great season. But for some pastors, the season is very stressful. There are several reasons for that.

  1. High expectation: most people realize that Easter is the highlight of the church year and they demand that the church be firing on all cylinders. There is little room for subpar ministry.
  2. Comparison: The advent of social media has unfortunately fueled competitive flames among ministers as many tout what an awesome day/service they had.
  3. Guests: we all know that some folks only go to Church on Christmas and Easter (CEOs). This places a lot of pressure on a minister to reach these people in the very little time that they will be in church.
  4. Critical culture: Pastors are being critiqued as never before. People watch famous television preachers and expect their pastor to “perform” on a similar level.
  5. Visiting family and friends: when people bring their family to church, they don’t want to be embarrassed. Preachers feel this pressure.
  6. Concern for souls: Pastors care deeply about the spiritual condition of the people in their Easter services. While we know we can’t save anyone, if we blow this opportunity, there could be eternal consequences.

What can we do to help our Pastor (or ourselves) to find some relief during Easter?

  • Pray for your pastor, especially this week.
  • Don’t place unrealistic expectations on yourself or your pastor. Billy Graham has gone to heaven so let’s not expect that kind of effectiveness.
  • Don’t criticize a pastor. Instead, encourage them. A note card or quick text expressing appreciation and prayer support can have a huge impact this week.
  • Distribute expectations. While Easter is the big week, taking a longer view of ministry will help to balance things. While we want the church to be full on Easter, we really desire long-term growth in our ministries.
  • Prepare ahead of time. Pastor, work early on your sermon. Try to be finished early in the week so the last few hours can be spent in quiet reflection and rest.
  • Don’t compare! In fact, stay off of Facebook on Easter Sunday afternoon.
  • Give God the glory for the privilege of ministry, even in stressful seasons like Easter.
  • Take Monday off!

Easter is all about the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. It’s not a performance or production. Keep it simple; don’t try to impress people. Relax, and worship the Risen Lord!

Blessed Easter 2019!

 

 

 

Hiding Behind Servanthood

IMG_5262About 20 years ago, my father in law was visiting our church. We had a meal event after the service. As the meal was finishing up, I grabbed a broom and started cleaning up. He called me aside and told me that I shouldn’t be doing that, I should allow others to do the clean up. I told him that it was important for me to exemplify servant leadership.

But here’s the thing: I wasn’t being a servant leader, I was hiding behind servant leadership.

I am an introvert, so my first preference is to do something other than engage with people. I called it servant leadership, but in reality, I was in my comfort zone.

Servant leadership is not necessarily doing what others don’t want to do; it is doing what you don’t want to do, but need to do.

My father in law was correct (as usual). It wasn’t that I was too good to sweep up, it was that I was more needed interacting with people.

How will you serve? My advice is, find something that really needs to be done but you don’t want to do. Then serve.

Why Some Churches Die

design-15I’m Palm Sunday sermon prepping. Of course, included in the Biblical texts of Passion Week is the little understood phenomenon of Jesus cursing the fig tree. If you are not a Bible scholar, this “cursing” has nothing to do with inappropriate language. Jesus cursed the tree, in essence, killed it with His words, because the tree was not producing fruit.

Here is the Biblical account as provided by Mark:

“The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. 13 Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. 14 Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it. (Mark 11:12-14) “In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. 21 Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!” (Mark 11:20-21)

There is an obvious application to the religious leaders of Jesus’ time. Though perhaps not as obvious, there is a possible connection with this obscure event and today’s church.

Jesus expected that this fig tree should produce fruit. The purpose of the tree was to produce fruit. While it may serve other purposes (shade, nice to look at), without figs hanging on its branches, the tree was a failure. It was good for firewood.

Fast forward 2000 years. Many churches produce no fruit. The fruit of churches is Christ followers; disciples. Churches are supposed to produce more churches. While a church may serve other purposes, bringing people into the Lord’s Kingdom is its primary purpose. Jesus expects us to produce!

Could it be that Jesus has cursed some churches as He cursed the fig tree? There is no indication in the Bible that the fig tree represents today’s church. But there are indicators that if we don’t produce, we will be cut down. See: Matthew 7:19.

Of dying churches, Thom Rainer says, “Between 6,000 and 10,000 churches in the U.S. are dying each year. That means around 100-200 churches will close this week. The pace will accelerate unless our congregations make some dramatic changes.”

I contend that churches that decide to stop producing new Christians are dead already, regardless if they are still having services. But maybe the final death knell is the Lord drying the church up until it withers away – closes its doors. Maybe it’s a “chicken or egg” proposition: do churches die first and then stop producing new fruit or do churches stop producing new fruit and then die?

We may never know. But let’s learn the lesson provided. Let’s remain productive and fruitful. Let’s be purposeful and intentional about bringing people to faith in Christ through our churches.

p.s. Let’s not avoid the little statement in Mark 11:13 “it was not the season for figs.” Adam Clarke says, “It has been asked, ‘How could our Lord expect to find ripe figs in the end of March?’ Answer, Because figs were ripe in Judea as early as the Passover. Besides, the fig tree puts forth its fruit first, and afterwards its leaves. Indeed, this tree, in the climate which is proper for it, has fruit on it all the year round, as I have often seen. (Adam Clarke’s Commentary).

So there you go.

 

Hope for Dying Churches

Where Are The Young Leaders?

IMG_4998-1Moses raised up his replacement, Joshua. But Joshua did not raise up his successor, and the people suffered as a result. Let’s not make the same mistake.

We have a problem brewing. For a variety of reasons, there seems to be a lack of leaders coming up through our churches. Of course, there are some young women and men who are preparing themselves for productive leadership in their churches. But considering the great need that we have for leaders, the number of new churches that must be planted, and the age of many of our current leaders, we need many more young leaders! We are experiencing a decline in the number of young people that are entering the ministry; this trend must be reversed.

There are a few legitimate reasons for the decline in young leaders, but some of the reasons must be addressed and turned around. Some young people feel that there is no place for them in the church. They feel unwelcomed and unneeded. They are not included in the life of the church. Their participation is not encouraged. They are told that they must wait their turn. They are ignored. Brothers and Sisters in Christ – these things should not be.

While most of us love the young people in our communities, we can inadvertently drive them away from the church. When we criticize a generation for being different than us, we drive them away from the church. When we refuse to allow them a voice in the direction of the church, we drive them away. When we refuse to change anything in the church, we drive them away. When we look to the past more than we look to the future, we drive them away. When we disrespect a generation, we drive them away from the church.

God help us to turn this tide!

We all agree that God loves the young generation and wants to include them in His church. We simply must do whatever it takes to engage these young people as leaders in training. Here are a few practical things you can do:

  • Pray for the young people in your church and community.
  • Purposefully engage young people in the life of the church.
  • Build personal relationships with young people in the church.
  • Strategically identify young people with the gift of leadership.
  • Develop a plan, formal or informal, to develop the young leaders in your church.
  • Share leadership responsibilities with young leaders.

If the current trend continues, we will not have enough leaders to lead our churches and churches will close. If the current trajectory of many of our churches continues, they will close within the next 10 years – simply because no one will be leading or attending. Of course, we plan to change this course.

When I was a teenager, some leaders in the church pursued me and encouraged me to engage in the church. They recognized leadership potential in me and affirmed me. This changed my life. Can you do the same for a young person in your church?

Let me state: we value all people, young and old. The church family is made up of multiple generations. We cannot focus on one generation to the detriment of another. So let’s change the current direction. Please, young lives are at stake and the future of the church hangs in the balance.

God, help us to raise up a generation of young leaders!

The Sword

There is a beautiful and powerful scripture verse in I Samuel 21:9. At a point of desperation, David is in need of a sword. The only one available is the sword that he took from Goliath when he had killed the giant some time earlier (see I Samuel 17). When offered the valuable and rare sword, David said, “There is none like it; give it to me.”

This verse is powerful for us because it indicates the value of victories won. When God brings us through a potentially destructive time and we overcome, something significant happens within us. We have seen God do the impossible. A standard for impossible victories is established. From this time forward, we have no need to fear battles. We are able to return again and again to the time of miraculous deliverance, and we trust God, regardless of the challenges at hand.

From time to time, I need to go back and recall the specifics of when God came through on my behalf. There are some swords that are very valuable to me; the swords that decapitated some of the giants I was facing. These swords are proven, trusted. And they provide the confidence I need to slay another giant.

While every battle requires its own strategy, there is nothing like the proven, trusted and effective Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God.

When in peril, my response will be: “There is none like it; give it to me!”

Leadership Succession

design-11One of my greatest concerns about our current approach to church leadership is that not enough young leaders are being engaged in preparation for future leadership. We need to do better. This post is a series of thoughts that I originally shared on Twitter. I apologize for the choppy nature of the thoughts.

One of my most important tasks as a leader is to prepare future leaders to go farther than I ever will.

My predecessors invested heavily in me; I owe it to them as well as my successors to pass on what I’ve been given.

Leader, if you are indispensable to your organization, if they couldn’t survive without you, perhaps you’ve neglected an important responsibility. You won’t live forever.

One of the most important Bible verses to me: “Take the things you heard me say in front of many other witnesses and pass them on to faithful people who are also capable of teaching others.”
(2 Timothy 2:2 CEB)

Moses raised up Joshua. Elijah raised up Elisha. Paul raised up Timothy. Who are you raising up?

Moses passed on his leadership to Joshua. But Joshua did not prepare his successor, and the entire nation of Israel suffered because of it. Who are you preparing to succeed you?

Until current leaders and emerging leaders stop competing, the future health of our organizations is in jeopardy.

The most effective way for aging leaders to assure that they won’t be forced out is to make themselves perpetually valuable by virtue of the respect they’ve gained because of their investments in emerging leaders.

Current leaders must possess discernment regarding future leaders. See them, not for where they are now, but for where they can be.

If those who succeed me don’t enjoy more success than I have enjoyed, I’ve failed as a leader.

Leaders: use a relay race as a metaphor. If the next leader is not out in front of you, ready when you’re done, you’re going to get really tired; and your team won’t win the race.

Young leader, your best asset may be the leader in front of you. Pursue a learning relationship with them. You may know a lot, but if they’re in front of you, they know stuff you don’t.

Young leader, some current leaders think you’re arrogant. Prove them wrong. Stay humble and teachable.

Young leader, be humble enough to learn from the successes and failures of those who go before you. You’ll save yourself a lot of pain.

Young leader: find a coach, mentor. Pursue them. Respectfully follow them. Then ask then to train you. It’s humbling and necessary.

While the world is changing and leadership methods are shifting fast, some principles are timeless. Don’t discount old wisdom.

A focus on young and rising #leaders is not to the detriment or disrespect of older leaders. On the contrary; a focus on younger leaders assures that the faithful work of the seasoned leaders will continue and advance. If no one is prepared to succeed you, your work will stop when you do. The task requires both!

Leader, you’ve given your life to the task. Why cause your influence to be limited in longevity by not raising up your successor?

Leader: if your succession plan isn’t intentional and strategic, it is probably non existent.

The greatest hindrance to successful leadership succession is insecurity on the part of current leaders; we’re afraid of being put out to pasture. What you’ve done is too significant to be limited by intimidation of being replaced. Be strategic with it, your legacy will live on once your gone.

Leader, you may have started your organization, but it’s not yours, don’t hoard it. The next generation will need it once you’re gone. Get the next leader ready!

Leader, if your vision can be fulfilled by you alone, your vision is too small. Unless your vision outlives you, your vision is too small. Unless someone is being trained to take over once you’re gone, your vision is too small. But your vision is big.

Leader, you are reaping the rewards of those who came before you. Someone behind you will reap the rewards of your hard work. Be strategic about who succeeds you.

If current #leaders don’t prepare their successors, we will soon have a dearth of leaders. Don’t let that happen.

If every generation of leaders has to begin at square one, we’re all in serious trouble. Let’s learn from the past and make the future better.