Tag Archives: pastors

Dangers for Pastors (part 3)

24301207_10155971895294214_2209181443603559335_nWe will wrap up the theme of dangers for pastors with today’s post. I don’t for a minute think that we have covered every possible topic available. I simply need to move on to some new ideas.

The basic thesis is, the most dangerous thing in a pastor’s life and ministry probably has nothing to do with physical threats or the concern of someone coming into the church to hurt people physically. There are more subtle, sneaky ways that our enemy can destroy us.

In addition to the 24 things listed in the previous two posts, let’s consider these dangers:

Not evaluating. Whether out of neglect or intimidation, many pastors never stop what they are doing long enough to evaluate what is working and what is not. We may be left to assume that everything is going well and everyone is happy. We can even adopt the mentality that, “if it ain’t broke(n), don’t fix it.” I have real concern about this approach to ministry. First of all, pastors may not know if everything is going well. Simply because people tolerate something doesn’t mean it is working. Secondly, pastors are sometimes the last to find out when something is broken. I think it is very important for a pastor to lead the way in evaluating the effectiveness of every aspect of the ministry. Measure it. Get input from others. Create open dialogue about how to make things better. Do yourself a favor – don’t make others be the ones to ask for an evaluation.

Forgetting motives. Religion is known for ritual. While there is nothing wrong with ritual and, in fact, ritual can be very healthy for people, we should continually be asking why we do the things we do and why we do them the way that we do them. It is common to do things in the church without ever considering the “why.” We set our schedules based on history. We have particular ministry events because we have always had those events. We sing music, teach classes and provide training – sometimes because it’s the only way we know how to do ministry. But WHY do we do ministry that way? Why is Prayer Meeting on Tuesday night? Why do we pass the offering plate rather than ask people to come up to the front to give? Why does the Youth Group meet in the basement? Why do we sell fried chicken to pay the bills? Rather than becoming paralyzed by asking the “why” question, we may find ourselves liberated. Many traditions in our churches have no meaning. If they are significant, by all means do them. If there is purpose, be intentional about it. But if much of our ministry is being done only because that’s the way it’s always been done, well – there is a whole new world of exciting and effective ministry awaiting us! Remember the WHY!

Copying ministry. It’s only natural; we learn how to do things by observing others. In ministry, we can be exposed to a particular ministry practice that really seems to be working. It is tempting to try to duplicate that at our church. While I don’t believe there is anything morally wrong with doing this, we may be doing our church a disservice. Pastor, don’t try to preach like the well-know television preacher. Don’t steal sermons from other pastors. Don’t have a goal to be like the church across town. You are an original. Your church is unique. The people that God has entrusted to your care need and deserve something specifically designed by God for them. My friend Dwayne Harris said that we are in danger of, “losing the individuality of our calling. If not careful, we can find ourselves trying to mimic and duplicate the success of others, as opposed to discovering God’s individual and unique design for our personal ministry.” A pastor whom I respect greatly said, “I think one danger in every Pastor’s life is loosing His identity. Becoming someone else rather than what God would want him to be. There is a danger of one patterning their life after someone whom they deem to be much more qualified than themself.” (Harold Miller) While this may sound like intense pressure (who has time to come up with all original stuff?), if all you offer folks is what you got somewhere else, they don’t need you, do they? Seriously, this is not only about job security but don’t be a spiritual middleman (or woman). Hear from God directly for the people you serve. Know them and the issues they are dealing with. Find something fresh from God’s Word that applies to their lives.

Being Emotionally Needy: I must exercise care on this one. While Pastors are people too, and they have needs that must be addressed, it is a dangerous thing to lead a church so one can receive the affirmation they need. If we are not in a good place emotionally, we can find ourselves rising and falling, based upon the interactions we receive at church. Darrin Brown tells us, ”be careful of the pride of success and the discouragement of failure. Do not define success or failure by man’s expectations, but in obedience to God and His word.” We can sometimes feel successful because someone said we did a good job. And we can be defeated and feel like a failure when criticism comes. Pastors must be emotionally stable enough that they don’t require others to build them up, or allow others to tear them down. Get your affirmation from your family and from the Lord. Don’t allow your self-worth to be determined by those whom you serve.

Worshipping Success: My friend, Jason Daughdrill discusses this in an eloquent way. “Success… it’s a dangerous blessing. Passionate obedience, which usually is the catalyst for success, can quickly be traded for maintenance/performance pressure to keep up the successful image others around you are celebrating. Your production begins to overtake your person.” How true is that! We can be guilty of continually raising the bar of what others expect of us. The show must get flashier. People won’t respond unless you keep all the plates spinning. We create an atmosphere of performance, competition and showmanship. This will lead to a crash! Pastor, please recall, only God defines success. He’s our audience of One.

Thinking that People “owe” you something: The spiritual climate has changed in our culture. Like it or not, most people feel no obligation to attend church, support the church financially or be responsible for its operation. These things used to be a given in many churches; not any longer. And as a result, some pastors feel as though the people in their community should attend the church, regardless of what is offered. We’ve all dealt with the consumer mentality that has invaded our churches. While this is certainly a bad thing, gone are the days when we can offer up a subpar worship experience and expect people to support it. People have choices. There are many churches they can attend and some of them believe that church attendance isn’t even important. So, if and when people don’t come to church, don’t blame them. Don’t criticize them as “carnal.” Don’t get offended – just find a way to get them there. In my opinion, this is not by entertaining them; it is by providing an encounter with God.

Cultural ignorance: Pastors are priests. By this I don’t mean that pastors wear a clerical collar, take a vow of celibacy and give their life to the Catholic Church. I mean that we are to be in touch with the people. We are supposed to understand their lives, have similar experiences, and be able to identify with their struggles. When a pastor is unaware of the world around them, when they lose touch with current lifestyles and cultural trends, they create a distance between them and those they lead. Too many people think their pastor doesn’t live in the real world. Even things as simple as popular music, movies and world events are opportunities for pastor to show that they are aware of what’s going around them. My next point will deal with Pastors who go too far the other way, but please be aware that, if you want to minister to people where they are, you have to know where they are. You can’t live in an isolated cave and expect people to identify with you.

Cultural saturation: On the flip side of cultural ignorance is cultural permeation. This happens when a pastor spends too much time participating in things outside of the ministry. When a pastor knows all of the lyrics of the top 10 songs, when they can quote limitless movie lines, when they are absorbed with social media…their follows may have need for concern. Most of us have heard a pastor talk about seeing a movie that everyone knows is inappropriate. As previously stated, pastors must know the world in which their followers live. But too much exposure to secular culture can cause church members to lose confidence in their pastor’s spirituality. I think the goal here is balance. Don’t live in a cave but don’t live in the gutter.

Refusal to utilize social media: There are only a handful of pastors who still refuse to participate in Facebook, Twitter and/or Instagram. While this may seem innocuous, don’t assume so fast. Social media is the communication method of choice for millions of church members as well as those we hope to reach. Pastors who refuse to engage in social media may be like the missionary who refuses to learn the language of the people group they are trying to reach. Of course, we all know full well the nonsense that happens on the Internet and we have heard a lot of stories of how social media has gotten people into trouble. But, in my estimation, social media is like relationships: some are good and some are bad. We must know with whom we should connect, we should exercise wisdom and we must practice restraint and discretion. Pastor, don’t eliminate a bunch of people because you don’t speak their language. Take time to learn.

Neglecting Self Care: For number 10 (my final point), I must discuss a huge danger for pastors. It has to do with neglecting one’s spiritual health while caring for others. So many pastors have burned out because they were so busy ministering to others that they forgot to take care of themselves. When helping hurting people, we sometimes pick up their hurt. Some expect us to be impervious to discouragement. Many times we don’t feel free to express when we are in trouble. All of this can lead to a very dangerous spiritual condition. We pray for others. We read our Bibles to prepare for ministry. We go to church often. None of these things guarantee our spiritual vitality. When discussing this danger, Mike Thompson said, “Doesn’t matter if we “transform” an entire city and remain personally unchanged. It leads to spiritual bankruptcy.” In my opinion, this is the most diabolical and subtle danger for pastors. I think it happens to everyone who serves in ministry for any length of time. I’m not sure it can be avoided altogether. So we must build safety nets into our lives. We must have relationships that hold us accountable. We need a safe place to confess weakness and sin. Avoid sliding backwards at all costs, but once it has happened, arrest it!

I trust you have heard my heart in this little series, Dangers to Pastors. 34 things made the list! And there are thousands more! Perhaps one day someone will develop this into a book – I think there is a great need. And a special “thank you” to all my friends and colleagues who pitched in on this effort. You folks have a lot of wisdom, I appreciate you sharing!

To any pastor out there: please don’t go this alone. If you need someone to talk to, let me know. If I can’t help you, I know someone who can. I pray that something that we said makes your life and ministry easier, more productive – and safer.

Hear the Word of the Lord:Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)

 

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Dangers for Pastors (part 2)

23915882_10155955440214214_6127062570614102048_nThis is round 2 of Dangers for Pastors. Part 1 got some great feedback so let’s move forward with more thoughts on what pastors should guard against. Once again, I believe that threats of violence in our churches are the least of our worries. We have daily encounters with more subtle, but just as deadly threats.

Here are eleven additional dangers to go with the thirteen from last time. Since I got a lot of feedback on dangers, I will try to name the source of the thought.

People pleasing: Unless you have some type of social disorder, you want to be liked; everybody does. Problems arise for pastors when they spend an inordinate amount of time and effort trying to get people to like them. Even worse is when a pastor fails to do the right thing in an effort to gain the approval of others. A desire to please people is an indication of an insecurity issue. If a leader feels inferior or if one’s job is on the line, trying to please people is a real temptation. The problem is, we can’t please people. My friend, Bill Isaacs reminded me of this. So not only do we fail at trying to please others, we fail at leading. The solution? Perhaps focus on pleasing God and making an effort to be at peace with others. Don’t you love the meme going around that says, “If you want to make everybody happy, become an ice cream salesman.”

Isolation: Depending upon your personality, you may prefer to be alone. Introverts sometimes make great leaders (see the article related to this idea). Alone time is necessary but too much alone time is unhealthy. There is a huge difference between alone time and being a loner. When one has been hurt, it is normal to protect oneself. When betrayed by a friend, the tendency is to trust no one. The problem is, a one-strand cord is easily broken. (Ecclesiastes 4:12). Isolation is not a sign of strength; it is a sign of danger. Pastors need confidants. They need friends. Kevin Wells said, “The battles they face that they feel they have no one to talk to about. Maybe it’s that they don’t feel like they can tell anyone.” Pastors need people in front of them pulling them along and people behind them pushing them along. Don’t be an easy mark for the devil; don’t let him catch you alone in a dark alley.

Bitterness: Every person has plenty of experience being hurt. I think that Pastors are especially good targets for inflicting pain. In other words, some people think it is perfectly fine to take cheap shots at the preacher. Even when this is not the case, pastors are susceptible to become bitter and hardhearted. Disappointment, unresolved pain, and failure – all of these can lead one to becoming bitter. Pastor, be aware, your bitterness will lead you nowhere good and you will take those you lead with you.

Getting and staying stuck: It happens to most everyone. We find ourselves in a season of unproductivity, but we can’t seem to make the changes necessary to regain our productivity. For pastors, it may involve ministry practices. We have operated a certain way for a long time but that way doesn’t seem to have the impact that it used to. It takes real courage to risk changing a system. But if pastors refuse to adapt, they will get stuck for sure. Of special concern are the pastors who have a few years to retirement but they think they can do business as usual and survive until they quit. This can be a fatal error. God and His people deserve better than coasting. Get unstuck!

Conflict avoidance. My friend John Upchurch reminded me of this danger. Because we wish to be peacemakers, and most of us have never had any conflict resolution training, we are not good at conflict. Some even avoid conflict at all costs. While conflict must not become the culture of the ministry, pastors must not avoid conflict. We must be skilled at bringing calm into a troubled situation. We must be adept at managing conflict for the good of the church. It is literally impossible to avoid conflict altogether. If unresolved, it will eventually destroy ministries and lives. So pastor, get good at facing and resolving conflict!

Vision vs. Management: According to Jonathan Augustine, managing expectations rather than visionary leading can be hazardous to a pastor. There are times in every ministry where the passion of the vision gets watered down by the reality of what people expect out of the leader. Ministers have one foot in each camp: vision from God and the real life scenarios of those they lead. Where we get into trouble is when the vision grows distant because we are too busy managing what people say they want from us. If I always have my head in the clouds, being hyper-spiritual, I will lose contact with people. If I never have my head in the heavenlies, I will lose touch with God. It is vital that we stay focused on the vision that God has given us because it is by realizing the vision that we can minister to the needs of the people.

Greener Grass Mentality: My good friend, Pastor Chad Dunford speaks about “refusing to be where you are (current ministry assignment), love where you are (community and congregation) and serve where you are (equipping for works of service through example). It can be tempting to always look for the “next” place, people or opportunity. Some of the best advice I was given was from my mentor in the following statement – “Unless you have knowingly disobeyed the will of God for your life, you are where you are because He put you there.” I agree, Chad!! The danger of this kind of thinking is, we are never satisfied. There remains a deep unrest, we are disgruntled and always feel as though we are missing something. This is a trap and will lead to misery for us and for those we lead. Thanks, Chad for the reminder!

Fearing questions: Many pastors are afraid of questions. They equate people asking questions to doubting and skepticism. Some like to appear that they know all the answers – and questions complicate this ruse. Pastor, just because someone asks questions doesn’t mean they are attacking you or trying to overthrow your leadership. Of course, some are trying to do this but the vast majority of people just appreciate information. Today’s culture requires that leaders be engaged and willing to share important information. The “on a need to know basis” doesn’t work anymore. By the way, one of the things you can do to bolster your leadership strength is to admit when you don’t know something. Whether or not you admit it, everybody knows it. Pastor, genuinely invite questions.

Lack of transparency: Information is power. When a leader possesses information and doesn’t share it with followers, people think they are shady. We cannot expect people to trust us if we give them reason to doubt. Leaders – try something: offer up more info than your team requests. Share details that show you have nothing to hide. Then watch the level of trust increase on your team. And then watch how others begin to share openly with others. Transparency is a powerful friend.

Sex and money: When I asked colleagues for input on dangers for pastors, several mentioned some rather obvious ones. Bucky Ray Sitsler said, “It seems to me that sex and money are the two greatest dangers. Thus, the two most important areas of life to ensure accountability processes are in place.” Eric Rogers said it in a humorous way: “Sex and silver. Dollars and dames. Monies and honeys.” M.E. Woody commented, “Pride, Petticoats and Pennies.” And my friend, Dr. Hong Yang quipped, “girls, gold ‘n glory.” I think we get the idea. Few dangers have brought down as many ministers as sex and money. They are the oldest tricks in the book. So why do we not protect ourselves better?

Leading but not following: This smacks of arrogance, don’t you think? But in reality, there are a lot of leaders who unwittingly find themselves in this situation. Leading is a demanding task. Most of us are pretty busy. And busyness can result in a lack of connectivity. We don’t have much choice but to connect with those we lead. But connecting with those who lead us is another matter. Sometimes we have to pursue those over us, and to be honest, our pride can become a hindrance here. Pastor, you are too strong to not have a leader. Too many pastors spend all of their time showing others the way when they have no one showing them the way. Leaders, don’t be so busy leading that you forget to follow.

Well, that’s the next eleven on the list. I plan to add more in a week or two. In the meantime, if you have any feedback or ideas for our consideration, I’d love to hear it!


Should a Church Have a “Nest Egg”?

designSome churches have money in the bank. A few have a lot of money in the bank. There is nothing, in my opinion, inherently wrong with that. An emergency fund is a great idea, and none of us know the future so a few months of operational funds is probably a great idea.

But I have great concern about churches that hold on to a fund and refuse to invest it in ministry. I know of several churches and organizations that hold a large amount of money in the bank while the needs of the ministry go unmet. I do think it is wrong for a church to have a large account while people need help.

What can happen:

A fund can become our hope. Some churches no longer practice stewardship because they have money in the bank.

A fund can become our trust. We no longer rely on God to bless the church – we have money to take care of that.

A fund can become a god that we worship. I have personally witnessed churches fight and divide over what to do with money in the bank.

A fund can earn interest that can prevent us from sharing it, because we don’t want to lose the interest.

I even know of groups that loan these moneys out to brothers or sisters – at a significant percentage rate.

Something is wrong with this picture.

No, I am not a proponent of giving away all of the church’s funds. We shouldn’t enable the entitled. Jesus said that there will always be needy people so we can’t fix everyone’s problems. Since these funds belong to God, we are required to handle them with great caution. But that leads me to my basic point:

God does not provide money to the church so we can keep it safe in the bank. He provides money so we can do ministry.

The Parable of the Talents is all the evidence we need. When God puts money in your hands, He expects you to multiply it by investing it into ministry. See Matthew 25:14-30; Luke 19:12-28.

I do not want to give money to a church that hoards it. When people are in need, the church must find a way to utilize the money to help people.

Consider these Bible verses on the topic:

Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?” James 2:16-17

If you have two shirts, give one to the poor. If you have food, share it with those who are hungry.” Luke 3:11

And perhaps the most direct: “If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion how can God’s love be in that person?” 1 John 3:17

With all of the scrutiny being placed on churches, we must be fiducially responsible.  More importantly, the money belongs to God, not to us.  He states unequivocally how He feels about selfishness.

So if a church has an account for the building fund, or for missions or for a special purpose – that is a great thing. But churches that are holding a sum of money that is not earmarked for ministry should be challenged to invest it into effective ministry. If you need help with some ideas on where to invest your money, contact me – I have a few ideas.

 


Empty Nest Churches

What Do We Do About Our Kids Leaving the Church?

designThe problem was been well documented. Lots of analysis and research reveals that the generation gap in the church continues to widen. There is an issue, especially in the North American church, in that many younger people are not staying or they aren’t coming in the first place. The statistics are alarming. It’s a concern for many Baby Boomer parents and a dilemma for church leaders.

As far as I can ascertain, no one else has coined the term, “empty nest church.” You get the concept: the kids leave, and mom and dad are left alone. In the home, though adjustments need to be made, this can be a refreshing and fun time for couples. In the church, it is a sign of looming extinction. If adjustments aren’t made, the church will soon no longer exist.

Conferences and ministry forums are addressing this problem. Books are being published and denominational leaders are deep in dialogue. It’s baffling, however, that others seem to be unaware of the problem. Or perhaps they are aware but are clueless about solutions. But make no mistake, this matter is not going away, and sooner or later, we will deal with it.

So, what are we to do when the next generation disengages from the church? I would like to discuss 3 possible responses.

Would we allow our kids to walk away from our home and their relationship with us without pursuing them? Most parents would make every effort to assure their children that they are loved and valued and an integral part of the family. It’s unthinkable that we would stand idly by as they depart the house, promising never to return. Would we refuse to go after them in the name of “tough love?” (Sometimes tough love is a cover-up for a hard heart). Would we accuse them of being entitled or spoiled? Why then do we see this in the church? All indicators point to a several year crisis that has developed in many evangelical churches. The problem is not new – but where are the solutions? When discussing the issue of the younger generation leaving the church, we hear people say things like, “it’s up to them to come back” or “we’re not the ones who left.” In a recent social media discussion, an article addressing Millennials leaving the church created a lot of dialogue. The author of the article encouraged churches and ministry leaders to take the initiative to go after people who leave the church. One commenter, a Christian leader said, “Instead of: “it’s your move church,” I keep saying, “it’s your move millennials.” Stop looking for others to change things for you and just start being the change you want to see.” While I concur with the concept of personal responsibility, when it comes to spiritual disengagement, this type of thinking creates more problem than solutions. We cannot expect those who have left the church to assume the responsibility to make the needed changes.

It seems to me that older Believers have the responsibility to go after, even pursue younger Believers who walk away from the church. I think that is what the Father would do.

By “go after”, I don’t mean simply trying to talk them into coming back. While this is an excellent place to begin, we must be willing to face the difficult truths behind the decisions being made. Rather than being defensive or dismissive, we must be open and willing to learn. Teenagers and young adults should know beyond any doubt that we love them enough to come find them – wherever they are. We can’t wait for them to come home; we must go after them with our words and our deeds. And once this dialogue has begun, we must be solutions oriented.

In addition to pursuing them, we should be willing to explore new ideas in regard to ministry. So many of the conversations I have observed between the generations involve an assumption that “my way” is the best way. I think every generation is guilty of this. Until we are ready to explore a different way of doing ministry, the potential of the harvest will be limited. Adjusting methods is not a matter of watering down the Truth. Let’s not fall prey to the claims of our unwillingness to compromise our standards in order to reach people. Many of us compromise every day in order to keep the people we have. Let’s be honest with ourselves.

If I can adjust my preferences, be flexible in my approach and possibly compromise on my methods, and thereby win a younger generation to the Lord, why would I not do so? (Previous experience compels me to state that I in no way propose lowering the standard of God’s Word!) By the way, I am simply providing for others what was provided for me. My elders didn’t insist that I do it their way – they allowed me to connect in a fresh and new way. I owe this gift from an older generation to a new generation.

In addition to going after the new generation and compromising on methods, one more consideration may be helpful.

This week I once again heard someone refer to today’s youth as “the church of tomorrow.” We simply must stop saying this! The message implies waiting. While younger people certainly will be the backbone of the future church, they must be viewed as an indispensable part of the church right now. We wouldn’t think of segregating our children in our home when it is mealtime, only to let them join us for special occasions. I believe that young people should be integrated into every worship experience. Youth Sundays are awesome but highlighting the new generation a few times a year is inadequate. Allow them to serve now. Respect their gifts and talents. While they may not be mature enough to lead every ministry, there must be a place for people of all generations in the family of God. Young people must be a part of the church of today!

One more thought: prevention is key. Let’s not wait until there is an exodus of young adults from our churches. Let’s be proactive rather than reactive. Start the dialogue before the bridge is burned.

In summary:

When we observe the problem of younger generations leaving the church:

  1. Go after them
  2. Consider a shift in methods
  3. Recognize them as an important part of the church today

I think we (the church) should accept the responsibility for fixing this problem. If we refuse or fail to do so, it is likely that we will lose a majority of people age 30 and younger. No one, especially the Lord is good with that.

No more Empty Nest Churches!


Gotta’ Keep the Preacher Hungry

designA long time ago, there was a wicked little statement going around some churches that indicated that it was to the benefit of the church members to keep their pastor poor. Sometimes used as a joke, there were cases where no one was laughing.

I absolutely believe that purposefully keeping anyone in poverty is evil – but that is not the focus of this article.

Preachers need to stay hungry. By “hungry” I mean having a strong desire or craving. If I do without a meal or two, I feel it. My empty stomach complains and I start focusing on my next meal. As in any line of work it is easy to become complacent in ministry. Pastors can become apathetic toward their calling. This isn’t because they are lazy or otherwise unfit for the ministry. We simply get weary. And sometimes disappointment can lead to stagnation. When we don’t see progress like we envisioned, it is easy to allow discouragement to cloud our passion. This discouragement morphs into impassivity.

Preachers – stay hungry! We can’t do what God called us to do if we are bored with our calling.

We stay passionate when we:

  • Keep the main thing the main thing. Don’t get sidetracked with peripheral stuff. Know what God called you to do and do it.
  • Stay in close relationship with colleagues. Isolation is dangerous and lone wolves get outnumbered.
  • Practice the spiritual disciplines. Pray. Read Scripture (outside of ministry preparation), fast and give.
  • Read. If you don’t have time to read current books and articles on ministry, you may dry up.
  • Access resources: conferences, podcasts and live video feeds can be a great source of inspiration.
  • Take time off. Sabbath is not a suggestion – it is a Command.
  • Regularly renew your experience with the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit that keeps us passionate for the work we do. Stay in His presence.
  • When you feel yourself growing cold – pursue God. We don’t stay hungry for ministry by pursuing ministry. We must pursue God!
  • Know that regardless of how talented you are or how hard you work, you simply cannot be effective in ministry with the power of God at work in you. This keeps us hungry for Him!

Here is the main point I am making: it’s normal to lose your hunger! It happens to everyone. You can’t do ministry very long without struggling to stay passionate. But we don’t have to stay in that rut. It is not a crime to lose your drive but lasting indifference is preventable.

There are a lot of really good pastors who stop producing – because their fire has dimmed. Don’t let it happen to you; and if it has already happened, stoke the fires of passion again!

Preachers – stay hungry!


5 Ways to Change Your Church (When You’re Not the Pastor)

design.pngFew things are as painful as watching a church you love struggle.

Many church members would agree that churches must adjust to the needs of the people in order to stay effective. A church that refuses to change will soon cease to exist. But what is a church member to do if the church they love is stuck, in decline and headed toward extinction?

This article has nothing to do with signing a petition. You won’t see the idea of secret meetings or anonymous letters to the pastor. Nor will I justify withholding financial support in an effort to “starve the preacher out.” For years, these antics have been successful in giving the church a bad reputation but they have never resulted in positive change in a church.

I believe that there are many things that an average church member can do in order to bring change and transformation to the church they love, all without compromising integrity or dignity. I list only five below:

Invest: Those who give of themselves over the long haul tend to gain the respect of others and enjoy influence among other church members and leaders. If you do not support your church financially, with your prayer and your faithful attendance, you have no business trying to affect change (IMO).

Study: What exactly is the problem and, just as important – what is the solution? Any critic can point out a problem – it takes a real leader to discover solutions. A lot of thought must go into an evaluation of a church. Assessments, evaluations, and investigation into successful ministry models may be necessary. If it seems that you don’t have the time and energy to put into this effort (and if you think it is the pastor’s job to do all of this) maybe you should just keep quiet about your feelings of dissatisfaction. Bringing change to a church is harder than you may want to imagine.

Pray: Because I didn’t want you to dismiss this section as obvious, I saved it for third on the list. Positive transformation will never occur in a church unless someone is praying. Diligently. Before you say a word to anyone, prior to expressing dissatisfaction, and ahead of any meetings, the whole idea must be bathed in prayer. The Lord is the only One who has the power to bring true lasting change to a church.

Communicate: This may be the diciest part of this conversation. Members who want to influence change in their church have a spiritual obligation to communicate their desires correctly. Complaining, gossiping, murmuring, and politicking are not solutions; they are problems.

I believe these “change” conversations begin with the pastor. Please understand, your pastor is not perfect. They are human and they deal with lots of issues. Before you call the office to schedule coffee with your preacher, please, put yourself in their shoes for a moment. How would you feel if someone called and asked for a meeting and you did not know the topic of discussion? How would you respond if someone starts the conversation with, “you know I love you, but…”?

The absolutely worst time to speak to a pastor about issues like this is just before a worship service. Just please don’t. And blindsiding a pastor with a “may we have a word with you?”, as you and the Elders wait in the lobby after church is a really bad idea. Treat the church leader with respect. Approach them with a humble spirit. Dignity and decorum are not too much to ask. And please give your pastor some room. By this I mean, you may have been kicking these ideas around for months but this may be a new thought for them. It is always a great idea to pray together and to ask for future conversations. Involving others in the discussions will come but in the beginning, keeping the group small may be a good idea.

You simply must do well at communicating the desire for change. To fail in this point may be to sabotage any hope for transformation.

Lead: If a church member desires to see change, it is important that they change. It is not reasonable to expect a group to change when individuals of influence refuse to change. If you want to change your church, lead by example. What is the problem in the church? Not enough evangelism? Become a more effective soul winner. Not enough new people? Invite and bring new people with you. The church is spiritually dead? Catch on fire in your relationship with the Lord. Many times, we are the solution to the problems in our church. We can affect change and impact the church simply by becoming what we want the church to be.

So what does a church member do if they follow these steps and nothing seems to change? Please keep in mind the church does not belong to you. Nor does it belong to the pastor or to the members. You will not give an account to God as to how the church progressed. But you will give an account to God as to how you handled yourself in regard to the church. If you have given it your best shot and nothing happens, my advice is… do nothing. Wait on the Lord. He is in control. Don’t get frustrated and don’t leave. Wait on the Lord. The church is His. You are His. And He will handle it.


Investing in Others: Buy Low and Never Sell

designPlease don’t take financial investing advice from me. My pattern has been, “buy high and sell low.” Actually, to my shame, I don’t even put that much thought into investing money. I tend to ignore it, hoping that magically, my money will increase. Not a productive plan.

When it comes to relationships, especially ministry relationships with younger ministers, I seem to have more of a knack. One of my greatest joys in ministry is to invest myself into the ministry of a younger man. This isn’t something I have to remind myself to do – I tend to gravitate naturally to it. For that, I am grateful.

I feel as though we should find people younger than ourselves – unproven, raw and green – and “buy into them.” And we shouldn’t “sell” on that relationship unless it is absolutely necessary. Perhaps it is because my elders invested so heavily in me. Some never gave up on me, although they had every reason to do so. Maybe I innately grasp the truth that, if I invest wisely, my influence may live on after I’m gone. It is certain that we have heard too many young people say, “no one else believed in me or gave me a chance.”

The Apostle Paul is the standard bearer when it comes to investing in others. Rather than viewing his famous relationship with his spiritual son, Timothy, let’s consider his lesser-known, but equally as efficacious relationship with the Thessalonians. Paul writes to them from his heart: “…Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.” (1 Thessalonians 2:8 NIV)

Here is a very busy man with a lot of responsibility that is willingly and joyfully investing his life into the lives of others. They didn’t have it all together. He had little or nothing of earthly value to gain from his investments. Yet he saw something in them that motivated him to give of himself to them.

We all need to love someone enough that we give our time and attention to them.

Paul expresses his compassion for his friends:

“…we were like a mother feeding and caring for her own children.”1 Thessalonians 2:7b (NLT)

We see tenderness and empathy and patience. In this passage, unlike others, we do not see Paul demanding progress nor censuring them for their failures. Rather, he presents his relationship as a mother – feeding and caring for his friends.

Too many of our relationships are performance and productivity based. I am guilty of running short of patience when a leader is slow to develop or, even worse, unproductive long-term. Perchance this is the case because I have been the one who is unproductive.

The “buying low” part of this equation has to do with recognizing potential. Anyone can spot an Apple stock, once it has developed. In other words, there are plenty of people to jump on the celebrity bandwagon. Once a person becomes successful, everyone wants to be his or her friend. It takes true perceptivity and discernment to be able to identify a diamond in the rough.

But, what do I have to gain from my investments?

While this is a reasonable question and we should not be ashamed to ask it, the point is not about returns – it is about investment. Many of us who impart into others expect and even demand productivity. However, an honest evaluation of our relationships may prove that we have actually become a burden to those in whom we are investing. We consider ourselves as serving but we actually are being served.

Paul says,Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you.” 1 Thessalonians 2:9 (NIV) He makes it clear that he is the one sacrificing. This is not a pity-party – he is simply pointing out that he has been a giver and not a taker.

   Leaders: If we only take from a relationship, we cannot consider ourselves the investor; we have become the beneficiary.

Relational investments are expensive. When endowing and entrusting others, especially less experienced people, we owe them. We owe them the extremely valuable assets of honestly, integrity and character.

You yourselves are our witnesses—and so is God—that we were devout and honest and faultless toward all of you believers.1 Thessalonians 2:10 (NLT) In the times in my life when I was hesitant to invest in others, perhaps it was because of a lack of these elements in my life. I simply didn’t have enough to share!

     Relational investments are expensive for a reason. The resources we are investing and the return we are expecting are not monetary – they are eternal.  

Buy low and never sell. This is all about promise and potential. It’s about patience and productivity.

So, find a less-experienced person than yourself. Same gender. Less-than-perfect. Build a relationship. Serve them. Pour into them. Care for them. Be patient with them. Invest in them, and watch how you both grow.