A Successful Church

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A church will most likely succeed when:

  1. There is a clear and united understanding of the Mission and vision of the church.
  2. Members care more about the lost than they do their own preferences.
  3. The lost are saved, disciples are made, and people engage in ministry – on a regular and consistent basis.
  4. There is an ethos of grace.
  5. Leaders are continually trained and deployed to serve.
  6. All generations are included equally.
  7. There is a strong priority on regional, national and international missions.
  8. The church reflects the cultural diversity of the community.
  9. The worship services and gatherings are training and preparation for ministry outside the building.
  10. Generosity and tithing are the norm.
  11. There is a systematic approach to prayer.
  12. The pastor shares leadership authority and responsibility with others.
  13. There is a culture of financial accountability, transparency and fiduciary responsibility.
  14. The buildings and grounds are well used but meticulously cleaned, and frequently updated.
  15. The Gospel Message remains the same but methods are adjusted as necessary.
  16. The people love God, love others, and love one another.

These are 16 chapters for a proposed book on successful church ministry.

That’s a lot; we have a lot of work to do.

What are We Good At, What are We Not?

design-48Definitions for this article:

  1. Product: The Gospel of Jesus Christ.
  2. Promotion: Marketing or advertising the Gospel.
  3. Presentation: The method utilized to deliver the Gospel.
  4. Productivity: The positive results of the Gospel of Jesus.

We don’t have a product problem. We don’t have a promotion problem.

We have a presentation problem. Because of this, we have a productivity problem.

While visiting a large suburban mall, I noticed that the Apple store had relocated. They had outgrown their space and moved to a larger spot in the same mall. In a few moments, we walked by their new location. But here was my surprise: they had yet to put up their sign. There was no indication anywhere on the outside that this was the Apple store. I wondered about their decision to open the new location without first putting up the sign. But, as you can see, everyone knew exactly what store it was – the place was full; business as usual.

Apple has great products. They’ve done their promotions. Their presentation is unquestionably effective. Of course their productivity is unparalleled. They have been so good at what they do, the temporary lack of a sign had no negative effect whatsoever.

I don’t work for Apple; I work for the Church.

Let me say, church signage is very important. Like it or not, we must brand our churches. We must market the ministry. In our culture, if people don’t know about us, they aren’t coming. But I don’t believe our biggest issue (why more people don’t come) is promotion.

I know for sure that our product (the Gospel of Jesus) is the most valuable and important product ever.

I believe we have two problems that we should address and solve:

  • Our presentation suffers sometimes. The way we communicate the most important product is sometimes subpar. A lack of quality, ill prepared sermons and worship services, and ignoring the needs of our “potential audience” can really hurt our efforts. Our “potential audience” is our unsaved community. Churches that operate in ways that disconnect them from their unsaved community will suffer.
  • Our productivity is stifled. In many churches, very few people are coming to salvation in Christ. The harvest is sitting in the fields. This is a major problem.

I would remind you that the product needs no adjustment. The Biblical Gospel can stand for itself. I would also suggest that better promotion might not be the answer. If our presentation is poor, the best promotion in the world won’t help. The fact that our productivity is suffering is enough to cause us to evaluate and adjust our presentation.

Pastor, don’t change the product. Go ahead and improve your promotion. But if your productivity is less than you desire, invest in changing your presentation.

We’re not Apple. But wouldn’t it be cool if our presentation of the product was so amazing that promotion wasn’t necessary? It’s possible!

We don’t have a product problem. We don’t have a promotion problem.

We have a presentation problem. Because of this, we have a productivity problem.

Focus on your presentation of the most amazing product ever, and productivity will take care of itself.

Concern for Pastors

design-44I’m concerned about pastors.

I’m concerned about pastors who isolate themselves. Young leaders with no mentor worry me. Middle aged pastors who’ve given up on their dreams are a huge heartache. Older pastors who are tired but can’t quit are a burden to my heart.

Those who “mail it in” on Sundays. Those who’ve quit praying. Those who only preach the sermons they’ve found online. Those who would quit, if they could afford to. Those who despise “successful” pastors. Those who lie about statistics in order to make themselves look and feel better.

I’m concerned about Pastors who are having affairs. Pastors addicted to porn. Pastors getting drunk. Pastors whose family knows they are a phony. Pastors who are racists. Pastors who are stealing from their church.

I’m concerned about Pastors who are under the control of a contributor. Those who compromise their morals. Those under heavy criticism. Those with no confidant. Those whose spouse is disengaged. Lonely pastors. Confused, discouraged, exhausted, depressed Pastors. Cynical, skeptical, sarcastic Pastors.

I’m concerned about Pastors, even the successful ones. The ones who get lots of votes. The ones who have it all together. The ones who preach the big meetings. The ones with a full compensation package. The big name Pastors.

I’m concerned about pastors.

My concern only leads to prayer and help where I can. But the Lord cares, and He cares deeply. His care and compassion is what keeps Pastors safe, strong and moving forward.

Pastor, you matter to God and to so many more. Stay faithful.

Everybody Loves a Flashy Preacher!

design-39Or do they?

Sure, it’s fun to attend church when the minister is charming. If he/she dresses well and is in touch with culture and quotes current song lyrics, services are never boring. A good joke teller keeps you entertained. And it sure helps if the pastor is good looking!

If we want to attract a crowd (and who doesn’t?), we need a pastor who is articulate and confident. High energy presentations complete with multimedia elements, expensive stage sets and props, and impressive illustrations are required. Cool clothes, perfectly coiffed hair and an attractive spouse are non-negotiables.

I’ve seen some very good people be compelled to follow a pastor precisely because of these things. We have actually heard people say that they selected their current church because the pastor was so cool.

But wait a minute.

Pastors are spiritual shepherds. They guide and lead. They teach and train. They serve and sacrifice and work hard. They make disciples of Jesus. At least, that is the Biblical perspective of what a Pastor should be.

Flashy, exciting, showy, and edgy has nothing to do with sustainable, productive, stable and unrelenting. In order for ministry to succeed, we need more than a show.

While we shouldn’t criticize ministers who pay attention to style and current trends, we also shouldn’t confuse these things with being an effective preacher or pastor. One can look the part but not fit the part. In fact, it’s actually substantially easier to look cool than to be a strong pastor.

If your pastor loves you, knows and preaches the Bible, and can be counted upon to lead well, count yourself blessed. How he or she dresses shouldn’t be a deal breaker. While they may not be able to quote the script from the latest Hollywood movie, if they know you and lead you with integrity, you have a solid pastor.

Be aware than some who call themselves pastors, and may indeed hold that responsibility, never fulfill the responsibility. You may not realize that on a Sunday when the service is hopping. But let a crisis strike – you will then be able to distinguish between who is a Pastor and who is not.

A few necessary points:

  • An out of style preacher does not equate to an effective preacher.
  • Preachers and pastors should try their best to connect with their culture and community. This includes clothing style and awareness of modern entertainment.
  • Substance is to be valued more than appearance, but appearance cannot be ignored.
  • Pastors who think they have a “pass” on relevance because they are a pastor are mistaken.

Let’s not be shallow enough to follow a person because of their persona. Stage presence is overemphasized in some churches. Character is far more important.  Holiness is immensely more valuable than coolness. Give me a pastor who will laugh with me in happy times and cry with me in sad times over one who can put on a great show on the stage.

We shouldn’t want a flashy preacher; we should want a preacher who loves God, loves people and leads us to follow Christ.

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.

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.